Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Green, Blue and Irish

“May your heart be light and happy, may your smile be big and wide, and may your pockets always have a coin or two inside!”- Irish Proverb

Although the Lá Fhéile Pádraig, “the Day of the Festival of Patrick”, or more commonly known as St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish cultural and religious celebration was observed worldwide on 17 March, (the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461)), celebrations are still afoot at most restaurants. One of the official Christian feast day, the day commemorates Saint Patrick, the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, celebrating the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. While going “green” coloured marks St. Patrick’s Day (although the Order of St. Patrick, an Anglo-Irish chivalric order (1783) adopted blue as its colour), indulging in Irish cuisine would be an added bonus, besides savouring the difference in flavours and style.

“Only Irish Coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, sugar, caffeine and fat.” Alex Levine

As a part of the celebrations, representative traditional Irish dishes like Irish stew, bacon and cabbage (with potatoes), boxty (potato pancake), coddle (sausage, bacon, and potato), colcannon, drisheen (a type of black pudding) or goody (A dessert dish made by boiling bread in milk with sugar and spices.) and gur cake have been on the menu in select restaurants and cafes. Yet the best of all, Irish Coffee, Irish Whiskey and Irish beer have been one of the favourite for many. For a weekend or weekday break from the routine cuisine, “going Irish” would be a welcome change.

“Bless us with good food, the gift of gab and hearty laughter. May the love and joy we share, be with us ever after!” Irish Kitchen Prayer

The Irish has evolved over the ancient times, largely based on the cereals and dairy products with meat cooked fresh, stewed (at times flavoured with honey) or used “purple berries” to colour the meal. Largely the cuisine has been modified by the English conquest in early 17th century followed by the migration of the Irish to the Americas. With the development of technology and media, Irish recipes gained its’ own level of global popularity. For the cuisine experimenter, trying out the barmbrack (leavened bread with sultanas and raisins) with colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage) or the traditional Irish stew (of lamb or mutton with potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions and seasoning) with gur cake (a confectionery made of a dark brown paste, containing a mixture of cake or bread crumbs, dried fruits (sultana raisins etc.) with a sweetener, put as a thick filling between two layers of thin pastry. Not to forget, the Irish Coffee or beer as a go along.

However basic and simple the Irish cuisine may sound, they never fail to please the taste buds with the different flavours. As the Irish often say, “Bíonn blas ar an mbeagán” (Bee-on bloss err on myah-gon) translated as “Though a small amount, it’s tasty.”

Sláinte (Pronounced Slawn-che, Health! (Cheers)) !!!

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Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World, Work

Stepping Above the Complaints

Going for a walk in the farm can be a tedious if one isn’t fond of trekking or nature hikes. For along the paths, there are numerous small stones strewn alongside. While they were initially put in place to mark boundaries for the sown fields and as paths, with the frequent winds and foot traffic they often get displaced and serve more as a hindrance than as a boundary. As i was walking, stepping over the stones; it brought memories of the footpaths near the sites where construction was going on. One has to watch the way, not just for stones but also for manholes, cement, gravel and the like.

“We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them.” William Arthur Ward

All this reminds me of life, as we go on our route. We come across numerous “stones” en-route. Some we kick about, some we step over and few get into our footwear. Along the way, we keep on complaining and rambling about how inconvenient things are. But alas, it doesn’t change anything.

“When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.” Eckhart Tolle

Life throws her challenges to us, shaping us and hoping that we would learn from it. By complaining and ranting we just go off track and lose purpose. Instead, finding a way around it, makes the day more interesting, delightful and meaningful; worth the time, energy and peace well-spent.

“People visit a wise man complaining about the same problems over and over again. One day, he decided to tell them a joke and they all roared with laughter. After a few minutes, he told them the same joke and only a few of them smiled. Then he told the same joke for a third time, but no one laughed or smiled anymore.
The wise man smiled and said: ‘You can’t laugh at the same joke over and over. So why are you always crying about the same problem?’”

“It doesn’t matter what cards you’re dealt. It’s what you do with those cards. Never complain. Just keep pushing forward. Find a positive in anything and just fight for it.” Baker Mayfield

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Chips and Crisps

“No One Can Eat Just One”

Ask any school kid, most would know the famous tag line, “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One” of Lay’s® Potato Chip Slogan from the early 1960’s. Over the years, although the slogans have under gone a little modification with endorsers changing, the flavours still holds us captive.

Early recipes similar to the potato crisps of today, was in William Kitchiner’s cookbook “The Cook’s Oracle” (1817) with “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings”. The methodology reads to “peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping”.

Yet legend attributes the first potato “chips” to George Crum, an American chef of African American and Native American heritage at Saratoga Springs, New York in 1853. Trying to appease an unhappy customer on August 24th, 1853 who had kept sending his French-fried potatoes back, complaining that they were too thick, too “soggy,” and/or not salted well enough. Frustrated, Crum personally sliced several potatoes extremely thin, fried them to a crisp, and seasoned them with extra salt. To Crum’s surprise, the customer loved them and soon came to be called “Saratoga Chips”. Food history truly appreciates Crum’s customer Cornelius Vanderbilt for triggering the innovation.

Since then packaging and production took over the regular potato chips to a mass commercial enterprise. In United Kingdom and Ireland, “Potato Chips” are referred to as “crisps” when eaten at room temperature, while when served hot and fried are “chips”. But in many places, largely these terminologies are interchangeable and not very specific.

“Did you know that when potatoes go to the barbers, they can either have a straight cut, a crinkle cut or a slice?” Anthony T. Hincks

The mass popularity of “potato chips” is evidenced by the regional varieties as well as local flavours and seasonings like dill pickle, ketchup. red paprika and so on. Additional variants like potato sticks, also known as shoestring potatoes; baked potato chips have been marketed. The “chips” craze has also been spread to corn, rice, arrowroot or cassava as well as root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and rutabagas. Though not known as chips, but crisps in some places, the snacking options are varied and plentiful.

“Every potato is just a chip waiting to get out.” Anthony T. Hincks

One can be quite innovative with potato crisps, besides having them direct from the packet, they can be tossed into salads or crushed to make spicy mixes for “party snacks”, as “chaats”, sandwich fillers “sweet, sour or spicy and hot” and the like.  Though not advisable on a regular basis, “potato chips” are here to stay. Better late than never, what better to celebrate “National Potato Chip Day” (March 14th) by indulging in a couple of them. As they say, all good things come in small packages; keeping “potato chips” in moderation would help us in indulging these cravings for snacking once in a while, for a longer time.

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Noodle, Origin, Evolution and Style

“Noodles are not only amusing but delicious.” ~ Julia Child

Derived from the German word “Nudel”, noodles has been one of the earliest staple food for many civilizations. Made from unleavened dough which is stretched, extruded or rolled flat and cut into a variety of shapes,as long thin strips or strings to waves, helices, tubes, strings or shells to mention a few.  Often pan fried or deep fried, they can be made from wheat, rice, buckwheat, acorn meal and even seaweed.

The oldest historical mention of noodles are in the Chinese records as per a book dated to the eastern Han dynasty (25 to 220 BC). Archaeological evidence unearthed an earthenware bowl that contained 4000-year-old noodles at the Lajia, China. These noodle were said to resemble “lamian”, which are a type of Chinese noodle that is made by repeatedly pulling and stretching the dough by hand. In fact records show that the earliest Chinese noodles, don’t appear as strands of dough but were shaped into little bits, formed from bread dough and thrown into a wok of boiling water. This type of noodles, known as “mian pian” is still eaten in modern day China.

The udon (wheat noodles) of Japan were adapted from the Chinese by Buddhist monks. Across Europe and Near East, records mention about fried sheets of dough called lagana ( first century BC). Greek and Latinized itrium refer to homogenous mixture of flour and water, boiled in the case of the latter. The Jerusalem Talmud (fifth century A.D.) mentions itrium. Arabs adapted the form to a string-like pasta, “itriyya” made of semolina and dried before cooking. Regional specializations of noodles and pasta began, with concrete information traced back to 13th and 14th century Italy. Since then on, pasta as well as noodles have been globalized.

Various varieties have been present globally, forming the staple diet of many local cuisines. While in China, chefs pull the thinnest of noodles, “la mian”, bathing them in a long-simmering beef soup with chili, coriander and crumbles of meat. Whereas, “Spätzle” egg noodles are the highlight in Germany and the Alps and Italy delicate thin sheets of spinach noodles are rolled out, baked with bolognese and bechemel sauce. The Indian cuisine has its’ own rice noodles, “idiyappam” and Thai cusine have their “Khanom chin”.

Bake it, chill or fry them, or toss them along with rice after boiling them, noodles can be simple and basic or artsy and innovative, the choice is ours. Little wonder why then march 11th has been celebrated as “Eat your Noodles” Day by foodimentarians globally.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘cooking’ but I can make noodles. That means I can boil water, put the pasta in and wait until it’s done.” ~ Devon Werkheiser

Posted in Daily, Food

Basics, Creativity and Flour

“Your bread assumes the shape of the pan you use to bake your flour. Therefore stand still and know that you can’t use a rounded pan and ever get squared bread. Change the pan and change the shape of the bread!” Israelmore Ayivor

One of the items landing a place on the “weekly shopping list” is flour and the like. Whether the principal cereal we take be cassava or wheat, rice, corn or chickpea; flour is the necessity of any home cooking or kitchen experimentation.

While the earliest archaeological evidence for wheat seeds crushed between simple millstones to make flour dates to 6000 BC; other types of flour have been in use in various countries. With the Industrial Revolution, mills as well preservation techniques of flour were drastically modified and improved. As flour began to be enriched and trade and transport options increased; flour trading became prosperous. Throw in the green revolution and flour of all types began to be available in any places.

“I love using rice as a flour; I’ll grind roasted rice and dip fish in that. It gives a beautiful, crunchy texture.” Marcus Samuelsson

Being in the National Flour month (as per most foodimentarians), for those of us with gluten problems can resort to rice flour, chickpea flour as well as banana flour. There are many replacements for wheat in the recipes. More fascinating aspects is that non cereal flours like soybean, arrowroot, quinoa are other options to look into. And flour doesn’t restrict itself to being in the meal or as desserts but can also be a part of the gravy as well. With all varieties being available in most supermarkets and groceries; trying new recipes ( all time favourite of rice flour vadais or besan laddoos) can be fun for family, friends as well as a break from the busy world of work, entertainment and schedules.

Gravy is the simplest, tastiest, most memory-laden dish I know how to make: a little flour, salt and pepper, crispy bits of whatever meat anchored the meal, a couple of cups of water or milk and slow stirring to break up lumps.” Dorothy Allison

Posted in Daily, Food

Delights of “Oreo”daphne

The first week of March is awaited by foodimentarians globally, from peanut butter to banana cream pie and ending with pound cake, cheese doodles, Oreo and cereal; there is absolutely nothing better to start and end the week with. At least one favourite of each person is there to indulge in, as part of observing the food holidays.

“Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better.” Robert Redford

One of the most favored foods (for comfort or mini-sized treats) Nabisco’s “Oreo” have taken the world by storm. Interestingly, the origin of the word “oreo” (cookies or biscuits) can be traced to the French word “or” (means gold) or “ωραίο” from Greek meaning tasty, beautiful, nice or well done. Or from the Latin Oreodaphne, a genus of the laurel family evidenced by the design of “the laurel wreath” on the cookies, as noted by food writer Stella Parks.

From the on, Oreo biscuits to pancakes, cakes, sandwiches and ice-cream have been on the food trends, landing its’ own special place on the table, ranging from breakfast, snacks to desserts.

For an interesting “kid or adult” twist to the routine, add oreo crumbs and cheese doodles to pancake batter, cereal or cake, ice-cream or simply milk and enjoy a “foodimentarian” week of desserts or mini-treats and splurge.

Posted in Daily, Food

Beyond the “C”

What connects Camellia sinensis, Coffea seeds, Kola nuts as well as the yaupon holly leaves, Amazonian holly guayusa leaves. The common factor is a simple but bitter, white crystalline purine, a methylxanthine alkaloid compound popularly consumed globally as “Caffeine”. The growing role of “caffeine” related beverages is evidenced by the celebration of March as the National Caffeine Awareness Month” by foodimentarians globally.

Like the two sides of a coin, caffeine has its’ own merits and demerits. Primarily playing its’ role as a central nervous stimulant as well as inhibitor of two major enzymes, phophodiesterase and adenosine; caffeine of coffee, tea as well as the medically available pure form has its’ indicated uses and merits.

From treating to preventing major diseases in neonates (like bronchopulmonary dysplasia, apnea of prematurity) as well aiding asthmatics in reducing their exacerbation; caffeine aids in reducing fatigue, drowsiness and improving coordination and reaction time. Imagine the endless night shifts, cramming before exams, pulling all nighters before the term exams in university and aiding to stay awake during classes after late night events; caffeine was always a life saver. In moderation, caffeine aids in reducing depressive symptoms as well as suicide idealizations.

“It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.” Ernest Hemingway

Not just students or night shift workers, for the gym goers, caffeine helps in improving their endurance, aids weight loss as well as increase the training or exercise volume. Moderate consumption of caffeine reduces dementia and Alzheimer’s risk, neuroprotective for Parkinson’s patients, reduces liver fibrosis and cirrhosis as well decreases risk of throat, mouth, colon and skin cancer.

On the other hand, more than 400 milligrams of caffeine intake has been associated with health risks ( Health Canada limitations) while toxic doses are in the range of ten grams or more of caffeine (50 -100 coffee cups with 80-175 mgs of caffeine per cup). Adverse effects of caffeine have a physical as well as psychological manifestation. In the former group would include raised blood pressure, headaches, increase gastrointestinal motility, increase bone loss in postmenopausal women, stained teeth, increased eye pressure in glaucoma patients, loss of essential minerals like iron and calcium as well as decreasing collagen synthesis i.e. more wrinkles.

“As long as there was coffee in the world, how bad could things be?” Cassandra Clare, City of Ashes

From a psychological viewpoint, increase caffeine can lead to addiction, mood swings, dependency, anxiety disorders, tremors as well as irritability and sleep less nights. For the pregnant women, balancing the daily intake to two or less cups of coffee ( less than 200mg ) helps to reduce the caffeine induced pregnancy complications.

Caffeine consumption, highly depends on the way and reason we take it. From a simple homemade coffee to the “calorie laden coke” (laced with additional compounds) or the simple morning and evening ritual of tea, caffeine intake can be regulated. The more carefully we regulate the caffeine intake, the longer we can enjoy the merits than be affected by their demerits.

“Adventure in life is good; consistency in coffee even better.” Justina Chen, North of Beautiful