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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Christmas Paper Wreath

This week, I am in full on craft mode. It dawned on me that this is the last week of November (can you believe it?). I have to finish the advent calendar by this Sunday. But I did make a special ornament for an ornament exchange at a party I am attending this weekend, and from then onward, the mood was set.
All warm and geared up, I decided to get into a little project I had in mind to decorate the top of that new chest of drawers that sits in our living room.
Christmas wreath made of paper strips
I knew I wanted a new wreath. We already made one last year, and I plan to reuse it on the same door. I just wanted another one, one more refined and less child-crafty looking. After spending a little time on Pinterest for inspiration, I ended up making the one above. Following several ideas I found and compiled them into one.
I used a big paper plate for the base of my wreath, the cheap type you find in most stores in India. You know the ones that have a silver foil lining inside and are still untreated grey cardboard on the outside...these ones!
I cut out the center following one of the conveniently embossed lines, and because I wanted to take advantage of the silver foil, I pushed the inside out (just reversing the embossing that gives the plate its shape). You can of course take whatever plate you want, and even paint it if you want the base to be a specific colour, after all, some of it will peek through once you are done with the project.
Christmas themed craft paper
I then used the Christmas themed craft paper I bought last year. I cut long strips in an assorted lot of patterns, and pasted them one by one on the paper plate base. I repeated the process on two rows.
Close up of the Christmas wreath
Once I was done with the paper strips and let it dry properly, I used 3D liner glitter glue. You know, to put my usual finishing touches...I use 3D liners a lot, I love them, that is my thing. Finally, once all that glitter got dry, I used some Christmas coloured cable string to conceal the unevenness at the edge of the opening in the middle. I used plain old white glue to do it. I used the same string to make a bow loop to hang it on the wall.
Wreath viewed at an angle
It is then that I realised that I'd better put it up already. instead of shoving it in a wardrobe until next week. And that is the first year I officially have anything Christmassy out before the start of December.
Christmas wreath above chest of drawer
Needless to say I am working on several other small things to make the space below and around the wreath a bit more festive. That will make for more pictures later on...

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chicken Momos

Chicken dumplings, known as momos in India
Momos, dim sums, dumplings...they go by many names and will always remain one of these Asian cuisine favourites. In our home, this is one of Ishita's favourite food. Between her and I we can easily eat a dozen and call it a meal. That is how much we love them, if that means anything.
Sadly, no matter were you go, you will end up spending way too much money for really not much. For the dumplings fanatics that we are, making them home becomes a very viable option. And they aren't even that hard to make.
Time consuming? A little bit. Hard? Nope, not at all. Not with a little practice, and certainly not with this nifty little tool :
Dumpling mould, or gujiya mould as they are known in India
This little kitchen gadget is a pasty mould, in India they are often known as Gujiya moulds as they are usually used to prepare the pastry of the same name. You will find it in most stores that sell kitchen items. Mine is part of a set of four in various size, so that I can make tiny dumpling (the one above is the smallest), bigger puffs and pasties, or even giant hot pockets backed in the oven. They make my life much much easier each time I am making some stuffed dough items, and they are just about ideal to make momos without messing everything up.
Make your dumpling without making a mess
Before I acquired that nifty little tool, I used to make them round, spent a lot of time making sure the bottom was thicker to prevent the dumpling from breaking in the steamer, and always ended up with stuffing stuck to my hands, and spreading to the whole work surface. They were also taking much more space in said steamer and cooking enough to feed us all became time consuming. Considering we eat these often enough, I am all for simplifying the process as much as possible. Because this is the part that is really the trickiest with dumplings. The stuffing is easy to pull and you can pretty much put whatever you want in it.
In this recipe, I made plain chicken ones, but I made vegetarian one in the past, they even became an instant hit at my in-laws place last Diwali.
I can't tell you how many dumplings this recipe does really, it depends the size of said dumplings. With our little mould, it yields a LOT, enough that we usually don't make them all in one meal, I store the remaining stuffing in an airtight container for the next day.

For the dough : 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour (maida)

Stuffing :

- 400g chicken keema (ground chicken)
- 2 medium large onions
- a piece of ginger the length of your thumb
- 2 tbsp corn flour (known as corn starch by many)
- a pinch of salt and a splash of soy sauce

How to:

1) in a bowl, mix the flour with enough water to make a smooth elastic dough and cover and set aside.
2) peel the onion and ginger and throw in a mixer grinder to make a paste. Then in a mixing bowl, combine the ground chicken and onion paste evenly, add the salt and soy sauce and mix. last but certainly not least, add the corn flour. This step ensure that the water in the mix is absorbed, this will prevent the dumplings from filling with juice during the cooking stage and prevent the dough from breaking apart once you remove them from the not forget the corn flour!

All cooked and ready to eat dumplings
3) I use the steamer basket in my rice cooker for this, but you can use a bamboo steamer, or put a sieve inside a sauce pan. What matters is that the basket does not touch the water and sits high enough above it.
If you are using a plastic or metallic steamer, lightly spray it or brush it with oil first, to ensure the dumpling won't stick to the bottom.
Start making your dumplings. Take small balls of dough and roll them down to a disk shape on a floured surface. At this point, I am giving you the mould technique, because that is the easiest. Place the disk of dough on the mould, and add enough stuffing to fill the center. Fold and press hard to seal the dumpling. Remove the excess dough and repeat. Place each dumpling in the steamer's basket.
4) place the steamer basket into a pan that contains a little boiling water at the bottom and steam for about 4-5 minutes.
Enjoy them hot, with some soy sauce on the side. It goes well with a salad or some steamed veggies.
I sometimes add green peas to the chicken stuffing, or grated carrots, you can really adjust the base chicken stuffing to your taste, the only thing to mind is the water content in the stuffing, so if you feel yours is a bit runny or you see any water in it before cooking, add a little more corn flour.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Storm Brewing

A storm brewing in Bangalore
This picture was taken in May 2010 (16th to be exact). I fished it out of the SD card in the digital SLR after I decided to use it more often, and instantly remembered how we came to take that very picture.
It was while we were still living in our old rooftop terrace apartment in Bangalore. DH had given his one month notice to his previous company, and we knew we were Navi Mumbai bound. We were making our peace with the fact we were leaving Bangalore, and the flat we loved to turn a new chapter in our life.
May in Bangalore sees more and more Summer storms, promising the arrival of the monsoon and much cooler days to come for the remaining of the year. These storms usually develop very quickly and hit with a lot of violence. That one in particular did show as a dark mass of clouds in the distance, that moved toward us at a sudden fast pace. Like in movies, you could see the swirls of clouds growing and moving like greedy hands toward you.
DH only had the time to run inside to grab the camera hoping to catch the creepy mass of cloud opening like a vortex of doom. Alas when he came back out seconds later the mass had exploded into an all dark sky already, and the wind started howling and threatening to flatten a few trees. Minutes later it was thundering, then pouring down. And as quick as the storm came, it left.
We loved watching these storms, the light show alone is usually worth it. And I remember we talked about how we would miss these in our new life in Mumbai. And I do still miss them...years later. How can you not just stop what you are doing to gaze at such a sky? This storm in the picture occurred around noon, our terrace was South facing, the sky turned from bright and sunny to almost night like in minutes. How can you not be humbled by such a fierce display by Mother Nature?
I am glad this picture survived all our computer crashes over the past few years and lived on the SD card instead. It was one good memory to stumble upon in an unexpected way.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Indian Raspberries

The great thing about living in India, is that even after 11 years, you still get amazed and surprised, and still make great little discoveries. Such as this one :
Raspberries from India
Raspberries! These are fruits I did without for over a decade, the only one I ever stumbled upon in markets and supermarkets over the year were the ridiculously overpriced imported ones. Heck in the first few years I didn't even know berries of any kind were grown in India. That was until strawberries started making an appearance about 6-7 years ago. This was the time I started wondering if there were other berries produced in the country we were not aware of.
Then, a few years ago, after moving to Navi Mumbai, I came to know that raspberries were grown in Mahabaleshwar, a few hours drive away. Yet, no store, no fruit and vegetable vendor seemed to have them in stock. Each time I finally came across a pack, it came from Europe, and did cost about 3-4 time the price I would pay for them in Switzerland ( which is one of the European country with the highest cost of life already).
It is only this year that I came to know that it was possible to get my hand on some at a decent price in Mumbai. They are probably sold in Crawford market and to fancy hotels and restaurants across town, but provided you know the right person, and are willing to place a bulk order, they are yours. Hanging out with expats is what brought me to them. Because you see, we all talked about the fact that imported food is out of price (that's right even for those expats living on an international package). One thing lead to another and one lady heard of a supplier shipping berries straight from Mahabaleshwar to Mumbai, and provided our order would be substantial enough to make a delivery worth it, there was no problem for us getting them. Now, since we are a substantial group of ladies in my area interested in getting some, meeting the quota was more than easy. Beside, raspberries while having a very low shelf life at room temperature or even in the fridge, do freeze extremely well.
The season for them in India is fairly short from what we understood, October being the peak months, by November end they become scarce again. The one in the picture above are probably the last few of the season. But they have made way to the much longer and now hugely popular strawberry season.
What still bugs me, is that despite local producer shipping them to the city, most supermarket chains willing to carry the fruit, including Godrej's Nature Basket will only stock up on the imported ones. Right now my local store sell about 100g of them straight from Portugal for a whooping 600 rupees.
Mine came in a 150 g box at the price of...hold your socks...150 rupees. That is right! I paid 4 times less for them, they were local, and it was already a retail price, meaning the farmer and supplier did make money out of it.
Granted that raspberries in general do not travel well over long distance without being properly handled, and clearly can't be available everywhere in the country. How come still that in a city like Mumbai were local suppliers do ship ( Mahabaleshwar is about 5 hours by road from Mumbai), mass retailers will still prefer selling less fresh, and far less tasty imports from Europe? WHY?
I could understand if it was bridging a gap in the demand, or if the fruit was clearly NOT available locally. Why oh why rob local farmers from earning more? Why marketing these to expats thinking they are all made of gold and will buy them at any cost? Why this racket?
Raspberries will always be a bit pricier than strawberries because they are more labour intensive to harvest and pack, but they grow well in any temperate regions of the globe, and do not require a massive amount of space, this is the kind of crop small farmers could keep on the side of other crops to supplement their income.
Beside, did you know that raspberries are considered a superfood? They are jam packed with nutrients in a very low calories, low sugar and low fat form. Many scientific studies have been done about them and other berries. They have a very high vitamin C content, eating a 100g of them nearly meets half the daily requirement for an adult. Vitamin C is what helps boost your immune system, and in India they come in season just when the weather starts changing and people get more prone to falling sick. But their health benefits do not stop there, there has been studies proving that they have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer properties. The are food of choice to keep your arteries young and plaque free, making them an ideal fruit to eat to keep cardiovascular diseases at bay. Having a low sugar and low glycemic index, they also are ideal to manage blood sugar issue, every diabetic in Europe will tell you that of all the fruits this is the one that gives you the most in one serving without running havoc on insulin and glucose levels. It even seem that they are now the object of obesity fighting related research.
Does that start sparking your attention? In a country were the city dwelling population is at increased risk of heart problem, diabetes educator and lifestyle diseases? India is the diabetes capital of the world already, doctors are pulling the alarm on the fact obesity is on the rise in cities, even more frightening, among children. What if, crazy idea I'll give you that, we do make the most of what nature has to give us where it is possible to do so?
All the while giving local farmers a boost and encouraging crop diversity...not such a crazy idea after all right?
This year I got my hand on them a bit late in the season, but next year I plan buying in bulk and freezing them. Like strawberries, they have become an instant hit with Ishita who loves them as much as I do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Decorate with fruits

The weather is playing a strange game of yo yo over here. We had some less humid days that pointed at a gentle fall into "Fall" and the promise of cooler days, then for some odd reason it started to get humid again, and a few thunderstorms and drizzles later were are back into Summer. This is draining, and everybody around here have dreams of long sleeved tops, socks, and sleeping in sweat pants (aren't we a crazy bunch over here?)
One of the joy of Winter to come, is that it means oranges season. Ishita and I can't get enough of them. The Indian one that is not yet available taste far more like the tangerines I was getting in Switzerland. Which is not to disappoint me as I have never been a super huge fan of the ones that are impossible to peel and taste bitter (the one called Navel oranges). The good new is that since last year, or local fruit vendors and the supermarket took on stocking baby mandarins to make us patient until the big ones arrive.
Baby mandarins in a bowl
We first saw them last year when we were spending our vacation in Thailand and the day after we came back they were for sale at my local supermarket, at a decent price. They usually disappear quickly in our home, Ishita will eat them between meals, and ask to have them in her tiffin daily. And I do the same ( well not the tiffin bit obviously, since I work from home).
What oranges, any type of them are also great for, is decorate your home. Forget the flowers, the expensive candles, and cute figurines. Just put a big bowl of oranges on your table or on top of a shelf, or chest of drawer and you have an instant eye catcher. One that you get to enjoy with more than just your eyes. And by the time you get bored of them, chances are they will be in your stomach already.
You can of course use any fruit you like, I did similar things with cherries, lychees and apples. But in India, be mindful of the climate, a lot of fruits that would be fruit bowl material in more temperate climate hardly survive more than a few days outside the fridge in the hot and humid climate of Mumbai. Fall and Winter are the ideal season in this city to take advantage of them as a piece of temporary home decor.
Oranges and candles for a holiday feel
Beside, what fruit spells Christmas better than oranges? In our home this is often the first piece of holiday decor we have up, or rather out. Add some candles around and you have an instant festive glow, not to mention there are ways to put these peels to good use once you ate the fruit and infuse your home with its warm smell...but I degress.
Growing up, my parents had a big fruit bowl sitting in the living room, between meals, this was the only thing my sister and I had the right to dig in freely, and placing it where the TV was meant we always ended up munching on healthy stuff while in front of the idiot box. My mom made sure to keep it loaded with seasonal stuff. I obviously repeated that pattern with Ishita, with one fruit bowl in the kitchen, the decorative fruits in the living room, and all the ones that really can't survive at room temperature in the her eye level. Fruits are often the only snack option you will find in my home.

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