From the Department of What-Not-To-Do

Some people are destined for greatness. And then theres the rest of us, shining examples of what-not-to-do. My experiments with beauty, glamor and other elusive feminine attributes continue unabated. Gentlemen, avert your eyes. I may hold forth on topics unsuitable for your untried ears (or eyes, in this case)

I have been dressing up and going to work for the whole of last week. Feel the fatigue in my spirit. Of course, I don't go to work undressed. But, gentle reader, note that I am a lab rat, of the species Geekus Supremus. If I had to choose between spending time with a muscle, a neuron and epidermis, I would pick muscle. Any day. Any time. Never-the-less, the epidermis is what the world sees first. And therefore, it is often important to package self suitably and deliver self to work.

Interminable loads of laundry were done. My spirit cringed, weighed down by domestic chores as I ironed my 'formal clothes'. Got the hair situation under control. Even wore foundation. And then, drat it all, it rained. %$#@! I went to work looking vaguely mottled. Perhaps speckled. Sigh.

Needed something that would serve as a balm to my wounded soul. Lavender Tea Bread. Ah, the sight of billowing curtains and the lovely bread... I'm beginning to recover already!

Bought this lavender plant at the public market. It is wonderfully fragrant. Followed the original recipe quite closely. Substituted 1/2 cup plain flour with 1/2 cup amaranth flour. Also topped it with a lemon glaze. The lavender flavor is not cloying and paired up quite nice with lemon. While whole wheat flour would not work, amaranth held its own. All in all, its a delicate, girly bread. Quite dainty. I'm hoping some of that will rub off on me. Ha.



As we say goodbye to a gorgeous summer, fond memories from this winter tiptoed into my head... Curled under a down comforter, I listened to the muffled sounds of the world outside. It was snowing, gentle reader, and I was cocooned in warmth, trying to stretch this moment out indefinitely.

Transported to a different time and place, the luxury of waking up leisurely at my grandparents' came back to me. Bright sunlight streamed through the windows, the bed was enormous and always smelled good. Ajja (our grandfather) would bathe and do his morning prayer (japa). Sacred thread on his brown back, he would sit crosslegged and read the Gita. In an attempt to inculcate some goodness into his fiendish grandkids, he read some of his shlokas out loud.

AkAshAt patitaM toyaM yathA gacChati sAgaram |
sarvadevanamaskAraH keshavaM prati gacChati ||

"Just as water that falls from the sky goes to the ocean,
so also all our prayers ultimately reach the Lord"

These words have always been reassuring. Like that raindrop inching towards its eventual destination, its good to be reminded of the inevitability of our absolution.

If you're a raindrop in Upstate New York, the journey may be a little longer. From the giant lake into vapour. Carried by clouds, swollen and tremulous. Finally take the shape of a little snowflake. Swirling through space and time. To eventually land on an eyelash, maybe sparkle on a windowpane or perhaps frozen into an long, sharp icicle, waiting for spring... Nevertheless, the gentle earth will draw you close and send you on your way.

In keeping with the mood, lets make Raagi Haalbai. This is one of those dishes that loving family makes for you. Its not glamorous. Its never featured on a menu in a restaurant. But your mother or devoted aunt will bring out pieces of cool halbai on a warm afternoon, as post-lunch treat perhaps. Or when you come home from school, grimy and ready for stick-to-your-ribs sustenance.

Many many thanks - you know who you are... Everytime I think of halbai, I think of all the ways you've nurtured me.

How to make it:
1. Mix on low flame: 1 cup ragi flour, 1 cup coconut (fresh / frozen), 1 tablespoon rice flour, 1 cup jaggery.
2. Stir till everything mixes and the the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan.
3. Sprinkle a little cardamom into it. Cool and pat into a flat surface. Enjoy and know that you're loved, inside and out.


Inconstant Craving

Our tastes at the table, I suppose, are a reflection of our choices, food and beyond. I come from good South Kanara stock. My people LOVE rice. I've walked to my dodappa's house, some distance from the paddy field we parked the car in. We've balanced on the mud dividers between rice fields... the earth warm and squelchy under our feet.

Every meal featured rice in all its versatile splendor. Fluffy little mountains on a banana leaf. Spongy idlis. Crisp dosas. I marvelled at the women who cleaned and washed the rice, ground it to precise coarseness, steamed it, waited for it to cool, cooked it, flavored it and served it. Even tucked it into little packages to sustain us on the road. And then disappeared to do it all over again for the next meal, the next clutch of guests. What a labor of love!

I confess that my own adoration of rice has not been steadfast. I've experimented with brown rice, substituted with barley, fallen headlong in love with israeli couscous. My list of sins is long. Sigh.

But every once in a while, I return to the fold. Some things work best with white rice. Nothing else quite hits the spot!

I came across this recipe for Cabbage Rice many years ago in a cookbook by Tarla Dalal. Its one of those iron-clad, infallible recipes. And is strangely popular to boot! It has grown to be one of the cornerstones of my quasi-traditional menus!

The rice is flavorful and easy to put together. Just sauté all the ingredients and let them pressure cook. You can make it as spicy or as bland as you'd like based on whether its summer or winter and who you're going to make it for. I've usually served it with plain yoghurt but any raita will work.

Heres what to do:
1. Chop up about 2 cups of cabbage. Add vegetables of your choice. I've chucked in cubed potatoes, carrots, beans, cauliflower florets and peas.
2. Soak 1 cup of rice.
3. Heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Throw in a stick of cinnamon, a bay leaf, a couple cloves and a couple pods of green cardamom. Whole spices are critical.
4. When they're hot and smoky, add a tablespoon each of minced giner and garlic. Cover your eyes and forget about ever smelling pretty for your dinner guests. Add a chopped onion.
5. Start throwing everything in: add cabbage and other vegetables. Add a quarter cup of coconut. Fresh grated will go a long way, but if all else fails, use the dry kind.
6. Time to get the spices going. Add turmeric, salt to taste, 2 teaspoons of cumin powder and a pinch of coriander powder. If you like your rice good and spicy, add one or all of the following: red chili powder, garam masala or biryani / pulao masala.
7. Add the soaked rice and 1.5 cups of water. The rice is now spicy enough to float a nail. Add a dollop of yoghurt and pressure cook. (It is usually done at the first whistle)
8. Garnish with a squeeze of lemon and chopped coriander. Serve hot with yoghurt.

United in the love of rice, join us at Sharmi's for JFI-Rice!