Posted in Food

Of Bread, Soupy and Homemade

Staying at home, meal hours have been shifted earlier with the children demanding a bit of variety from the regular meals. The catch is to keep it simple, nutritious and wholesome without using sugar as a lure. Which is why when there is an excess of bread going dry, soon added to the menu is bread soup.

As the namesake goes, “Bread soup” is essentially a simple soup mainly made of bread (stale preferred, white or brown) with the base being either as a meat or vegetable broth and the bread being either cut into pieces and then into the broth, or those little pieces being cooked with onions and spices in a broth and pureed. While scouring for new recipes, it was interesting to note that there were plenty of varied styles depending on the country and the local cuisine. While the origin may be traced to the Lenten days, it is no longer confined to them or even the cold winters. Bread soup is a welcome add to the menu, for quick dinners or light repast.

One of the famed bread soups is the, Acquacotta. A hot broth based bread soup with primary ingredients of water, stale bread, onions, various vegetables, leftovers and olive oil which came into the early local cuisuine of Maremma (southern Tuscany and northern Lazio). Records mention of agresto (juice derived from half ripened grapes) used in the earlier 1800s, till tomatoes took their place in the recipe.

Another famed Tuscan bread soup is the Ribollita. Originally dating back to the Middle Ages, this soup was originally made by reheating the leftover minestrone or vegetable soup from the previous day. Later on, this hearty pottage was made with leftover bread along with cannellini beans, kale, cabbage, carrots, beans, chard, celery, potatoes, onions or other vegetables of choice. For all those who love tomato in any form, there is the “Pappa al pomodoro” literally translated as tomato mush. This thick bread soup is prepared with fresh tomatoes, bread, olive oil, garlic, basil and various other fresh ingredients, served hot or chilled.

Bread soup per se, can include the addition of bacon, egg or cream. Millefanti, an Itlaian variation uses egg and Parmesan cheese. Certain recipes include wine and more rustic version, include addition of malt or beer. One of the specialities of Portuguese cuisine especially in the Alentejo region, is the Açorda. Made typically of thinly sliced bread with garlic, lots of finely chopped coriander, olive oil, vinegar, water, white pepper, salt and poached eggs. First a mashed coarse paste of garlic, coriander, salt are mixed with olive oil and vinegar; then poured over the bread. The poached eggs are then placed over the bread with the salted water used poured over with chicken stock added. Left to steam for a few minutes, the final dish may have a bright green touch. Other variations include the açorda are the açorda de marisco or camarão (made with shrimp) or açorda de bacalhau (codfish).

While one can go with the exotic touch for bread soup, keeping it simple gives its’ own rustic flavour. With the purchase of groceries being limited in the present locked down state, stretching provisions with inventiveness is the need of the hour. Which is why in the hunt of simple new recipes, sprucing up old ones and keeping to home grown ingredients get an upper hand. With all these in mind and the summer fruit slowing coming through, inventiveness and resourcefulness help to give sparkle to the stay-at-home days. For these occasions give photographic memories and moments for the next generation, realized in retrospection over the span of time.

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Posted in Family and Society, Personal Musings, Quotes, Reflections, Work

More than Exist

While working in the first job opportunity after college, my brother had to move out to the new city. Over the next couple of months as the call duration and frequency to home decreased, my parents’ radar went into full frequency mode and it had grabbed yours truly. After all a couple of calls, the instinct sense that something was wrong was pretty strong. Whether it was by His Grace that a work travel opportunity had presented itself to his office or just a matter of chance; making the visit was an eye-opener. The short phone conversations and the decreased frequency of calls wasn’t just due to work stress but the unhappiness in doing something which he never wanted to. Though it took plenty of courage and risks; he did get out of the mess and went on to another office doing the advertisement projects that he had trained and wanted to.

“Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.” Theodore Roosevelt

We all get stuck in those unexpected ruts. Full of promise and hope of what was once good, mayn’t seem so a couple of months later. That is when it is time to call a temporary halt to reexamine the situation and find a path out. The tussle is between the surety of the present and the uncertainty of the next that causes one to choose the former. Yet in the long run, it isn’t just existence that drives one person forward, but the courage to take the path to do what one loves to do.

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.” Henry David Thoreau

The inner spirit has to stay strong. When things may go downhill for a time, take a break and choose to do something about it. Even though it may be a late attempt, but it is way better than to just exist. It is that spark in each of us, that gives the glow and a special meaning to the gift of life, time and love that we all have been fortunate to be blessed with.

Credo
by Jack London

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark
should burn out in a brilliant blaze
than it should be stifled by dry-rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor
every atom of me in magnificent glow
than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The function of man is to live
not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

 

Posted in Christian, Family and Society, Personal Musings

From the Centre-point

With the advent of Google Maps, finding a new place may seem to be like a piece of cake. Practically speaking, at times it may be so, while at other times it make be like running around in circles or trying to locate the nose by going around the occiput. No matter how techno savvy one may be, to locate certain local landmarks one needs to still refer to the good old map. Interestingly even in Google Maps what stands out are the highlighted places enroute. Wile the hand-drawn maps may focus on the local highlights of importance based on historical, size or accessibility; google maps makes it a bit more personified depending on the local places of popularity, shopping, theatres, emergency services (police stations, hospitals) and the like. Yet each zone of the map lays importance on what lies in it, most times smack in the middle of it.

Ever tried describing your residence to someone, like when inviting colleagues home for dinner. Keeping own home in the centre, one tries to map places of easy accessibility, popularity and well known landmarks to guide one to own abode. In short, maps guide others to ourselves. Extrapolating these maps to own inner being, have we been able to follow directions and reach the essence of our own inner mental, spiritual and emotional health.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:01)

The Christian Faith lies in using the Word of God to find our inner spiritual essence. It strengthens our faith through troubled and joyful days. It guides us in finding the path through the various uphills, curves, downhills and narrow turns that life often unravels bit by bit. Yet to read these maps, one needs sufficient understanding, insight and prayer to discern His Word. Keeping the principles of Christian teachings to own heart is extremely important.

To read, comprehend and go by these maps is never easy. To understand the roads, one must be willing to explore the available options in the best possible manner. What may appear to be an easy way out may tend to be a long drawn difficult path to walk on, like a short narrow path of flaming coals as compared to the wide stretch of road curving through the other side. We all need these maps in various phases. At times, they help us to find a way out; other times they are needed to help us understand ourselves and His Teachings in a better manner. For to live and experience His Grace and His Love is a blessing in this short span of time that we are here on Earth.

“Your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 48:10)

Posted in Food

Of Crunch or Munch on a Stick

With summer slowly climbing it’s peak, school on vacation mode and indoors being stifling, impromptu midday lawn picnics followed by the noon siesta is what cools down the hot days. While packing for picnics, the whole concept is to keep it simple, less messy, wholesome and in own backyard. When almost every other day, mid-day becomes a family picnic or tree house lunch for the kids, getting innovative is what makes lunch hour fun for them.

Up the tree house, where plates and cutlery are out of question; it will be something dry, in bite-sized pieces or filling but in neat pieces which can be had at one go and less mess. On days like these, one can borrow plenty of ideas from the favoured street vendors and summer stand owners. From the caramels pops to candy apples on sticks, corn dogs, funnel cake swirls, hot dogs on sticks or swirls of saratoga chips on sticks. Fusing a bit of common ideas with their favoured list of foods or snacks; the mid-day picnic basket contains plenty of surprises.

From waffles on sticks (stuffed or plain), bite sized peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on sticks, solled pizza slices, marshmallows interlaced with crackers and cinnamon squares melted on the stick or corn dogs with pieces of hot dogs or bacon in between, assorted fruit salad or vegetable pasta salad, donuts and rolls in bite-sized servings to the more elaborate “nuggets on sticks”; these are just few of the many ideas that can go into the menu for “food on sticks”. The most recent addition to the kids’ recipe book was “macarons melted in chocolate, dipped in sprinkles and a small stick at the base”. From toothpicks to full or half sized skewers, one can go into the full blast of creativity.

Interestingly the concept of using sticks or skewers can be dated back to the prehistoric years of the Lower Palaeolithic Era. Archaelologial excavation have unearthed stone “fire dogs” used in the early 17th century BCE. Writings of the Greek classic Iliad mention the obeliskos, a small spit or skewer with pieces of meat roasted on it. Legends and tales often passed over the centuries, mention of medieval soldiers especially Middle Eastern, who cooked meat skewered on their swords. In fact, one of the most well loved skewered foods, the shish kebab may well have an evolution of the earlier skewered meat. As per the records of Mahmud of Kashgar (11th century), the shish (Turkish şiş) was used as a skewer and ‘tool for arranging noodles’. As the years progressed, wars fought, mixing of cuisines, modernization and social revolution leads to the occasion of small to large scale celebrations, leading to the need of a set of recipes with minimal fast, large scale access and widespread acceptance as far as taste and ingredients are concerned. Which is maybe why the social gatherings of today, have their special set of “food on stick” recipes.

While these ideas have always made their entry into cocktail parties and cookouts, bringing them into the family picnic menu with minimum work is what makes cooking and experimentation fun. Even better would be to try something new, exotic or wildly different taking the special national “Food on a Stick” Day (March 28th) into consideration. As all foodimentarians believe, sustenance isn’t for mere existence, but is an art to the eye and creative buds, beyond the wildest imagination.

Posted in Christian, Daily, Family and Society, Random Thoughts, Reflections

In Disguise

Suffering from osteoarthritis, an elderly lady made her way out of the train and found herself in front of a flight of stairs with no directions leading to an elevator in sight. As she got prepared for the tedious journey up the stairs, a station attendant arrived and lend a hand. Imagine her surprise when she reached above and saw a wheelchair waiting for her. As we saw from the platform across, she was assisted till the main station entrance.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” (Mathew 25:40)

While getting stuck in traffic, imagine the fiasco created when a car stalls with a flat tire. While fist-waving with blaring of horns were started by some, two others stepped out of their cars and assisted the driver in changing the flat. Whether it was done to ease their comfort of travel or simply helping a fellow traveller, that extended support of actions gave the day a better feel.

Arriving at the departure gate and waiting at the airport in the check-in luggage queue, when an elderly couple had arrived with their crying grandchild in tow, the support extended by the airport officials as well as fellow passengers in quietly allowing them to move ahead soon, gave an added touch to the meaning of “hospitality, humaneness and kindness”.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Whether these helpers were doing their job or lending a helping hand, they were the cloaked angels of many. Being hospitable doesn’t mean simply a warm welcome when there are visitors but by radiating warmth and a welcome feel in our day-to-day activities. It is when one chooses to help those who we don’t know, is when the real feeling of warmth seeps in for all.

Essentially we are on similar lines or pages, though it may be on different curves, tangents or views. Each of us have our own baggage of personal, professional, social, physical, emotional and mental issues. Though the baggage may be light for some, heavy for others; it s always there. Being nice or doing good, doesn’t require all of us to hang on a banner and light up the lights. Rather it involves, simple acts of kindness and hospitality. Angels don’t simply come as radiant or winged beings, but also as weary travellers, hungry or hassled and tired. In those moments, when we become angels for some or be served by angels, we become closer to Christ and experience the true warmth of His Peace, His Love and His Grace.

Posted in Christian, Family and Society, Life, Personal Musings, Reflections, Stories Around the World, Work

One Pair to Many

During the initial phases of my career, there were many roadblocks, of which one stays prominent in the mind. This instance was when a project had to submitted within three days, instead of the stipulated one week timeline. With the project being allotted to three colleagues, time was too short to complete the work in a satisfactory manner within three days. During the coffee break, the rest of us were informed. What happened then was those three pairs of hands were joined by another four pairs, the latter having near about met their own deadlines. Suddenly the three day deadline was not an impossible feat to achieve.

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” John Holmes

Many instances one feels that things mayn’t be accomplished. Yet looking back, at the end of the day, one discovers that it was possible after all. The “hows” of the happening may be because of additional pair of hands, tackling the situation in small bite-sized portions or simply Divine Grace. Most of the times, it is the latter that often helps one face the impossible days.

As the story of the “Stone Soup” goes, each of us needs to just bring what one has at hand to make the final soup. When what one has at hand is submitted to Him, it would be multiplied in a manner beyond expectation as long as one places complete faith and trust in Him. The scriptures teach us of the feeding of five thousand people, all from a sparse fare of five loaves and two fishes. When these items were surrendered to Christ, He had increased it and thousands of hungry mouths.

““Bring them here to me,” [Jesus] said.” (Matthew 14:18)

Such is the outcome when one surrenders their efforts, talents and services to Him; it will be accepted and increased beyond own expectations or imagination, making the impossible possible. All these are possible, only when one is willing to bring what is in their hands to Him and enlist His Help, His Grace and His Mercy. With all this, the feat of achieving the impossible, but possible through Him, gives a feeling of warmth and lightness, filling one with peace and happiness from within.

“Stone Soup,” an old tale with many versions, tells of a starving man who comes to a village, but no one there can spare a crumb of food for him. He puts a stone and water in a pot over a fire. Intrigued, the villagers watch him as he begins to stir his “soup.” Eventually, one brings a couple of potatoes to add to the mix; another has a few carrots. One person adds an onion, another a handful of barley. A farmer donates some milk. Eventually, the “stone soup” becomes a tasty chowder. Though this tale illustrates the value of sharing, but it also reminds us to bring what we have, even when it seems to be insignificant. (Source:vk.com)

Posted in Life, Personal Musings, poetry, Quotes

Not as the Speculation

“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” Toni Morrison

Preparations for the silver jubilee of the high school batch had begun well in advance, almost a year ahead. From inquiries among batch-mates about schedules, plans and venues to coordinating with the present school and alumni council, no stone was left unturned to reconnect with all members of the same batch year. Catching up to the present day, there was a couple of surprises in store for everyone. Besides the personal additions to the class, there were the professional landmarks and various talents that had come into play over the years; all which were way off the conjectures based on the know of the high school years.

“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” Lao Tzu

No matter how many suppositions one may presume, the reality may be something near the perceived or far off the mark. At times, it is more of the latter that makes one realize that at times perceived notions can be way out of the expected. As each of us had made our way into the world, shedding off the cloaks of the teenage years and entering into the young adult stage; not one of us would have been able to exactly predict the directions that we would turn. While for some of us, the final destination of the present day is close to the dream we had seen; for few others the present reality is way better than the future views held in the mind of those days.

“Life is no different than the weather. Not only is it unpredictable, but it shows us a new perspective of the world every day.” Suzy Kassem

Whether the top scorer of the class reaches the pinnacle of success or the one with low grades runs his own company; towards the end of the day all those don’t matter. Neither does each of us have the power to completely judge or label one, neither does one like to labelled or judged. Whether the scorer of those days is successful today or not, it doesn’t affect the present day lives of most of us. As long as one is content from within, the true essence of life is then experienced. Though guess-work and suppositions may be nowhere near the reality, it doesn’t matter as long as each of us are happy in our own paths. And that is the true beauty of life, to feel and explore the dreams, aspiration and talents closest to the heart.

The heartthrob of the school, is a man grim and somber.
That lanky little girl, is now a weightlifter.
The topper of the class, is a happy homemaker.
Back bencher of the lot, is an entrepreneur.
The flamboyant fashionista, became a dreaded lawyer.
Oft ignored average Joe, turned a well known writer.
The one who failed math paper, is a fashion designer,
And one who often got to stand outside the class, is a respected army officer.
The reunion taught me how, people came with many layers, and tell me why should we never, judge a book by its cover.
Anjali Sharma