Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Baking Experiment- Pound Cake with Craisins and Almonds

Schools have closed for the summer and I feel that after a marathon I am finally due for a bit of rest. Relaxed no rush days will be the norm for the next couple of months.

I have read baking is an exact science unlike cooking where straying from the list of ingredients and measurements is usually not disastrous. Whereas with baking usually sticking to the measurements and steps is a good thing. Alas, I feel alive only if I tweak and change a bit of this and that. They have worked most of the time but in the last one I did one too many substitutions and the result though not a complete disaster was not a grand success either. The kids ate them with their usual enthusiasm and also give a bit of praise in the process. Thank God! for kids. On the other DH's face said it all. The cake turned out denser than usual and a tad sticky. With the craisins the cake looks beautiful though.


The recipe I have and which never fails calls for 2 cups of flour and 2 sticks of butter. I substituted with a cup of whole wheat flour (atta - used for making chapatis), cut out one stick of butter, added 16 oz of unsweetened flour. I should have stopped there, I added a 1/4 cup more whole wheat flour because the batter was slightly loose which probably was the undoing. I tried the same recipe before but with 2 sticks of butter and the Whole wheat flour and it was really good. I will present here only the recipe that worked and gave good results and I will stash the experiment for now till I actually have it working.

Pound Cake with craisins and almonds
1. 2 Cups Flour (1 cup whole wheat flour + 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour)
2. 2 Sticks butter (16 tbsp)
3. 4 Eggs
4. 1/4 cup milk (optional)
5. a pinch of salt
6. a pinch of baking powder
7. handful almonds run through the food processor once
8. handful of craisins
9. 3/4 cup sugar
10. 1/2 cup maple syrup
11. 1 tsp vanilla extract

- Preheat the oven to 375F
1. Prepare the cake pans by coating the sides with butter ( I used a loaf pan)
2. Beat the butter and sugar together with a egg beater
3. Whisk the eggs separately
4. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt to mix
5. Add the flour to the butter and sugar mixture slowly and whisk it in.
6. Add the eggs as the mixture starts to get dry.
7. Add the milk only if the mixture is too dry
8. Add the vanilla extract
9. fold in the crushed almonds and craisins.
10. Pour it into the pans and let bake for 40 minutes till the sides are brown and a knife inserted comes out clean.

Have a great summer everyone. Will talk to you all from near the equator when we meet next time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bird Watching!

I like to watch birds! Who doesn't? Spring time is a bird watcher's paradise and the backyard serves as a fertile ground for bird watching. Linda sent the girls a goldfinch bird feeder and now we have a steady sightings of gold finches.


It is a joy watching these tiny birds as flit among the branches of the trees. This year we refilled the feeder with multi bird feed and we have been seeing lot more of them. The usuals like the robin, cardinal, finches, grackle and occasionally a indigo colored bird.

Can you spot the bird singing mournfully at dusk one day?

The grackles have single handedly eradicated the tent caterpillars. While a few summers ago there were everywhere this summer all of them had been eaten by these birds before they could spin their cocoons. Photgraphing these birds has not been an easy task. When the camera is handy the birds are nowhere to be seen and when we catch sight of a beautiful birds, you get the idea. I have a lot more apperciation of nature photographers.

Can anyone resist ducklings?

The robins who had nested in my neighbor's bushes during early spring have raised thier young and flown away. I was walking around camera in hand trying to take a picture of a lone robin when grandma from the neighbor's house ran out frantically calling her cat's name. It seemed to have gone through the fence to explore the woods and missing. But grandma was frantic repeating that her daughter(my neighbor and a middle aged lady) will cry. It is her grand daughter's cat entrusted to the care of mom while she is away practising as a lawyer and mom to her mom who takes care of the cat in the mornings. We ran around searching the neighborhood and the woods but no sign of Ginger(that is the cat's name). Keeping my fingers crossed for Ginger to return safely. I feel sorry to see grandma so unhappy and clearly not looking forward to inform her daughter of the cat's disapperance. Hopefully he will get home by this evening.

This little one seemed lost but knew exactly where it was going!

Occasionally we have some nice quiet visitors. This one stayed with us for 5 days before he was on his way.




Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spicy, Sweet and Sour Chickpeas and Blog Stats!

This was the post I started before the last post happened. Like everything in life there is always unintended consequences. The post certainly made this blog suddenly spikes its readership. "Controversy sells man big time". I am also sleeping like a baby these days with nary a worry about the motherland, the defense of which is certainly in very good hands. These patriots are going to stop enemies dead in their tracks, fear of food scarcity and disappearing farmland -nope those will be so scared to rear their ugly head, corruption and bureaucracy well that is only in people's imagination, well the pollution you just have to suck it in and hold your nose, as for the 3/4th of the population living below the poverty line - well that is a statistic someone cooked up to get popular and the last but not the least the upwardly mobile who just can't wait to get out - well they have will have the cake and eat it too. Heck how about the disappearing tigers from wilderness, not to worry the paper tigers will easily replace them. I am positively deliriously happy about the situation that exists there. Those sharpening your blades beat it will ya? But on second thought, I like this spike in blog stats though. So go ahead "Bring it On!".

My cheek is prtoesting to the tongue already. So lets move on to more pleasant topics and straight talk, like this sweet and sour chickpeas. I arrived at this recipe on Laura Rebecca's Kitchen via Kalyn's South Beach Phase One Recipes . The same combination of onions and tomatoes with chickpeas was getting repetitive and this sounded really good and the lemon juice was too attractive to resist. I precooked the chickpeas and used but you can also add the raw chickpeas to the masala and pressure cook all in one pot. The sweet comes from the addition of some purple potatoes. It gave a slight sweetness to balance to the dish. I was in the moods for some bay leaves so added some.


Spicy, Sweet and Sour Chickpeas
1. 2 Cups Chickpeas soaked overnight and cooked ( I added a handful of small red beans)
2. 1 Medium Red onions (color does not matter any onion is fine)
3. 6 green chilies slit
4. 1 1/2 roma tomatoes
5. 1/2 tbsp ginger grated
6. 1 tbsp lime juice (juice from one lime)
7. 2 tsp red chili powder
8. 1 tsp cumin powder
9. 1/2 tbsp coriander powder
10. 1 tsp chicken masala powder (substitute with garam masala powder) - optional
11. 1 Purple Potato cooked and chopped into bite sized pieces (substitute with regular potatoes 1 cup)
12. Salt to taste
13. Seasonings: Cumin seeds, bay leaves
14. 1 tsp oil

1. In a pressure pan or any pan heat oil and add the cumin seeds and bay leaves
2. Add the onions and green chilies and saute till onions are translucent
3. Add the powders (cumin, chili, coriander powders) and mix well
4. Add the tomatoes and cook till they are mashed thoroughly
5. Add the cooked chickpeas with a cup of water and salt and let them boil together for 5-8 minutes. Mid way add the lemon juice and give a stir.
6. When the desired consistency is reached add the potatoes and give a good stir and turn off the heat.

Serve as is or with chapatis or even rice.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Opinion Police anyone?

Regular Readers,
Please skip this post if you are rant averse. I had to get something off my chest and here I am. I am not in the mood for a recipe and I am sorry.

I am sure it is fascinating to watch how children(by this I mean all ages) react to criticisms about their parents. It is easy when the parent is non controversial. But when a parent is a larger than life figure who has done countless good things and in the process rubbed a few people the wrong way there is always going to be opinions good and bad. The usual way this works is children tolerate crticism among themselves and their shared upbringing and decency makes it possible to weather them down in a civilized way. But one sibling does not have a right to censure criticism or police opinion about the parent does he/she? What if he/she is under illusion that his/her opinion holds more weight than the other siblings?

Wondering why the story above is to make a point. Even with the anonymity the cyber world provides, bad mouthing, opinion policing and personal attacks have no place. All of this done under the name of patriotism. I would laugh if I were not mad. To become better one has to accept their faults first. No amount of sweeping under the carpet and pointless defense is going to achieve that result. Same applies to the pseudo patriotism and bashing that has been going on the last few days. This 'Mere Bharat Mahan' fervour while sitting comfortably in a foreign country is getting to be very irritating. Every NRI (anyone who has stayed outside of India for more than 182 days is one) has a choice. This pseudo patriotism is simply a waste of time for everybody. A simple google would throw up umpteen ways to help India. If you have the time to sit and have a pseudo patriotic fit in front of your computer, you certainly have the time to find ways to make life there better. The last time I checked India did not entrust the job of defending its reputation and forcing patriotism down people's throat to any other RI or NRI. India is not in that sorry state. The vitriol and personal attacks that has come forth in the name of defending the motherland is nothing short of childish.

So if you get the drift from the first paragraph, everyone who was Indian at any point in their life and still has ties to that country has the right to criticize/praise it as much the other one. That would make 1 1/4 billion of us. The sanctimonious few have no more no less rights. I can already hear cats clawing in the background.

Who gave anybody the right to be an opinion police by the way? Nobody is denying your right to your opinion are they? The minute the attacks cross over to being personal all bets are off. I hate the opinion policing period. Mob mentality does not make it acceptable. I for one am scratching my head to figure out how beloved became a bash word! Freedom of Speech anybody?

PS: I am sure some of you are scratching your head about this rant. This did not happen to me personally but a fellow blogger and a friend.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Swiss Chard Challenge Roundup - 1

This is a great article, Read on,

It's often said that a green thumb is a dirty thumb. The best way to learn to garden is simply to start doing it, with a sharp eye out for the way plants grow
successfully in the wild. Certain rules apply, and whether those are unchanging natural laws and part of a grand plan, nobody knows. But there are enough observable patterns of cause and effect that if you jump onto nature's merry-go-round at the right speed, you are guaranteed a good ride.

-- Click to continue reading the article in the Washington Post titled Nature and Nurture, Slowly.

Yup, gardening requires a lot of patience and a bit of hardwork. But the rewards are huge. I am very happy that a lot of people are taking up the Swiss Chard Challenge and growing their favorite greens. I got a few entries for the roundup this month. Here I present the entries I have received so far.

Asha of Foodie's Hope with Swiss Rainbow Chard Dal and Stir-Fry


Asha's enthusiasm is infectious. Amidst the hustle and bustle of returning from India and having to get ready for her daughter's graduation (Congratulations! Trisha)she took the time to send me some beautiful Chard.

Aarthi of Random thoughts and musings


While waiting for her Swiss Chard Aarthi sent me some green green Methi. I am looking forward to seeing her Chard plants.

and finally my Chard Plants.


Roundups will continue every month till October. So go ahead and send in your entries. Details here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Swiss Chard Paruppu (Dal)

The population for the planet is projected to be 9 billion in 2050. Wow that is a lot of people! At the rapid rate farm land is getting converted to suburban housing, food insecurity will be more the norm than the exception. Though my observation is based on what is happening here in the US and India, new reports about development in countries like Brazil, China it is pretty much the same story in most parts of the world. It is either housing or food! Fear of food insecurity has prompted China to buy/lease land in Africa and South America to keep its supply of food.


Switching back to my backyard and several others dotted along suburbia there is plenty of land which is where the food revolution should start. IMO, this is where city planners in cahoots with the corrupt government officials and developers have played havoc with people's lives for generations to come. Recently there were news reports that had the fire chief complaining about the narrow streets and the difficulty of getting fire trucks into neighborhoods because the roads are very narrow. The fire department which is usually part of the planning process was kept out. Left to the developers everyone would be living (and some are probably already living) in their own version of hell in the suburbs in the years to come. Just like wall street there are many villians waiting to take advantage of people with grands visions of the American/Indian/Chinese dream.


If there is will most planned developments would be child and garden friendly. Eliminate the huge yards which encourage lawn growth with dumping of fertilizers and pesticides thereby polluting the streams, creeks and eventually affecting the marine life. Instead provide land for common gardens where vegetables,flowers and other vegetation can be grown. This benefits the young, old, middle aged, everybody and teaches kids at a young age the cycle of life.


Well the speech has nothing to do with my backyard garden. I did not have any lofty purpose when I first started planting vegetables just that it made me happy. I had to share the produce, sometimes the whole plant with the wildlife that abound around here deer, rabbit,racoon, groundhog, you name it we had them eating my plants. We erected a fence and when the fence was not enough some deer netting to keep the smaller creatures around. But these days I harvest most of what I plant, the taste has been nothing short of spectacular. It is easy to differntiate when garden fresh ingredients have been used and when vegetables languishing in the fridge have been used.

My latest obsession has been growing Swiss Chard. It has been the most rewarding. I have harvested them twice already this spring. I have found that growing them in pots works better than in the ground. Trim the leaves and leave the plant alone. They regrow till early winter. With the batch from 2 weeks ago I made some Swiss Chard sambhar and the from the leaves harvested s few days ago made some simple dal. The fresh taste without the metallic taste which is usually the case the store bought greens was something to be savored.

This will be a submission to the Swiss Chard Challenge hosted by me.


Swiss Chard Paruppu
1. 4 cups of chopped loosely packed Swiss Chard leaves and stems (or choice of any greens)
2. 1/2 cup moong dal + 1/4 cup Toor dal washed
3. 1/2 red onion chopped
4. 3-4 cloves garlic
5. 1/2 tbsp sambhar powder
6. 2 tsp turmeic powder
7. seasonings: mustard, cumin, curry leaves, red chili
8. salt to taste

1. In a pressure cooked add ingredients 1-7 along with 3 cups of water and cook for 3 whistles.
2. Let cool, open the lid, add salt.
3. heat 1/2 tsp of oil in a separate pan and season with the mustard, cumin, curry leaves and chili and pour over the dal.
4. Turn off heat.

Serve with chapatis or rice.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pan Roasted Cauliflower and Creek Visit

After the non-stop rains of last week the weekend was beautiful with no humidity and a slight breeze. We were curious to check out the water levels in the creek which was very low during the late winter and early spring. Took a slow walk to the creek. The rains had surely helped, the water was gushing along and the path had tall grass swaying in the wind. Our plans was to fly the kite in the meadow so we had brought along the kite but no camera and had to make do with DH's cell phone camera.


Serene and Peaceful

As we were walking along the creek, we came by a fallen tree, probably lying there for a few years now. The tree provided a pathway to the island in the center of the creek with a lot of pebbles and smooth stones which the kids could not resist. DD,DD2 and DD's friend also had come along. DH made the climb across, which means DD would most definitely follow and you know the routine. Everyone but me made it across and came back armed with smooth stones and pebbles and planning to return soon.

Making it across

We were of course extremely careful and I could help but reminiscence what our reaction would have been if we came across something like this when we were kids. Most definitely an adult would not have been involved and the rare chance an adult was around and we were stopped from doing something we would have gone there again without an adult and tried it out. Where has the spirit of adventure gone from kids these days? We(by which I mean parents) have probably driven them out kids with our fear of everything and anything. We read and watch and listen to the most obscure dangers and imagine them to be lurking in every corner. The more educated the parent the more restrictions that are placed on the children what with the availability of repeated replay something happening in a far away continent would induce a whole host of restrictions for the kids. We of course do not stop to think of the damage that these additional restrictions wreak on our children. But I digress.

Ah! Nature!

Cauliflower is one vegetable that does not induce groans or moans and is enjoyed by everyone if (a big If) if prepared the right way. The only complaint I would hear of it is when it is cooked to mush. If the cauliflower is dry or crunchy it is relished by all. Srivalli had posted this Dry Spiced Cauliflower recipe on her lunch box series which I wanted to try. The addition of powdered peanuts was the speciality here but I did not have any so added powdered dhalia


Pan Roasted Cauliflower
1. 1 head of cauliflower - florets separated into desired size and washed and drained completely
2. 1/2 Medium sized Red onion chopped
3. 2 cloves garlic minced
4. 1/2 tbsp chili powder (adjust to taste)
5. 1 tsp turmeric powder
6. 1/2 tbsp coriander powder
7. 1 tsp cumin powder
8. 1 tbsp powdered dhalia/roasted channa dal (pottukadali)
9. salt to taste
10. seasonings: cumin,mustard and curry leaves
11. 1 tsp oil

1. Heat oil in a roasting pan and add the seasonings.
2. Saute the onion and garlic till translucent.
3. Add the chili,turmeric,coriander and cumin powders and give a good stir
4. Now add the cauliflower and salt, give a good toss, close the lid and cook for 10 minutes
5. Remove the lid and if there is any moisture let it cook on high heat till all the water evaporates.
6. Add the dhalia powder and mix well to coat all the florets.