Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art, Stories Around the World

Little like the “Donut”

Deeply fried, made from flour dough, typically ring shaped with a hole or similar round shaped (without the hole), or filled with various toppings and flavourings, this sugar delight goes by the more popular name of “donut”. While donut may be considered more of an 18th century preparation with their origin more likely from the Dutch oliekoek, fried dough based confectionery has been there for quite some time in the various indigenous cuisines across the globe. The tradition of frying foods in edible oils have been evidenced to the era of Ancient Greece and Rome. As other cultures began to adapt their own methods over time, different variations came into the local cuisines, though the roots may trace back to common ground.

Made usually from flour (can include finely milled or regular variety) with a mix of water, eggs, milk, sugar, oil, shortening or leavening agents as well as flavourings added to the dough which is then shaped(or not) and deep fried. While doughnuts may be based on their shapes as rings, filled, balls, flattened spheres or twists; other variants include the cake type (like old fashioned doughnut) and the yeast-risen doughnuts. Exploring the indigenous variants to the modern “doughnuts” based on the indigenous cuisines, there a huge number of delicacies that fill the list with legends of their own.

“New mysteries. New day. Fresh doughnuts.” David Lynch

What happens when a baker accidentally drops a ball of dough into a pan of hot oil ? The resulting culinary experimentation would result in a light, spongy ring of dough fried in oil, when had in the Maghrebi cuisine, is known as “Sfenj” (translated as sponge). Also known as Khfaf (Algeria) or bambalouni (Tunisia), Sfenj is usually had for breakfast or tea, had plain or sprinkled with sugar or dipped to drizzled in honey or sweet syrup. Originating in the Al-Andalus era (8th to 10th century), the accidental drop of dough, had evolved to be an important part of the Andalusi cuisine, spreading over to the Banumarin dynasty (Morocco, 1270-1465) and then onto the France (13th century) where it had inspired beignets. Making homemade Sfenj, all depends on how long one wants the dough to rise and temperature of the oil while frying. Of recent, there have been recent variations to the regular sfenj, that is “Sfenj matifiyya” (sfenj pounded flat and fried a second time) and the “Sfenj matifiyya bil-baydh” (sfenj matifiyya with an egg added before refrying).

Moving across to the French Beignet (almost similar to the English fritter), these are basically a type of deep-fried pastry. Although beignets were more popular in the medieval French cuisine, the earliest similar forms may have been there in Ancient Rome. With the basic ingredients of flour, granulated sugar, evaporated milk, shortening agents and confectioner’s sugar; beignets can be made in various varieties depending on the pastry type used. While the French-style beignet is essentially deep fried choux pastry, beignets made with yeast pastry ( boules de Berlin) or those made with chestnut flour (Corsica, beignets de farine de châtaigne) with the latter being known as fritelli, are just few of the variants made. While making at home, many variations, add-ons or substitutes to the usual dough mix may be made, starting with the flour or adding of mashed bananas (plantains) or berries just to start off a few changes. Beignets may be served either as sweet desserts or breakfast food, the choice is own.

There are countless styles and variations to the various forms of “deep-fried dough” across the globe. While exploring and experimenting with the various cuisines, absorbing those recipes into the home kitchen and indigenous cuisine makes the fun part of cooking. Food is essential to life. Imbibing a litte bit of the food culture into the usual mix would not only excite the cooking bug or the palatal buds, but also start off a pleasant home and family tradition. After all, experiences are the what fills the treasure chests of life.

“Frosting was his favorite. He liked to eat doughnuts at every meal. Because it was healthier to eat six small meals a day than three large ones, he restricted himself: jellied for breakfast, glazed for brunch, cream-filled for lunch, frosting for linner, chocolate for dinner, and powdered sugar for 2 a.m. supermarket stakeout. Because linner coincided with the daily crime peak, he always ate his favorite variety to ease him. Frosting was his only choice now, and upsetting his routine was a quiet thrill.” Benson Bruno ( author of A Story That Talks about Talking Is Like Chatter to Chattering Teeth, and Every Set of Dentures Can Attest to the Fact That No..)

Posted in Food, Photography Art, Stories Around the World

Shape in Style

“Life is a cake and love is the icing on top of it. Without love, it becomes difficult to swallow life.” Mehek Bassi

Accompanying my cousin to the bakery was an enlightening event yesterday. With the twins birthday approaching in two weeks time, it was time for the placing the order for the cake. Like all to-be-four year old minds, they had very specific ideas for their cake; from the “Cars” based theme to the Disney’s “Frozen” theme, the possibility of getting one big cake design was the heart of the discussion with the main baker.

While waiting, scanning through the cake design books and available cakes on display was a feast for the artistic eye. While my childhood consisted mostly of cream with icing birthday cakes, these days fondant designed and themed cakes are the rage. Today, the early methods akin to construction of a structure by cutting shapes out of cake and piecing them together have been superseded by preformed character based designs and the shaping of cakes out of fondant and different forms of marzipan. From fondant (sugar paste or ready roll icing), royal icing, marzipan, modeling chocolate, gum paste and latest of few, edible ink printing, the design over cake has been transformed greatly.

Cake decorating had originated in Europe around the 17th century. With the production of baking powder and temperature controlled ovens (1840s), baking cakes became easy and the presentation more elaborate. The exact origins of cake decorating was believed to from a French bakery (1840s) when prices were increased on their cakes as the latter were decorated. With decorative shapes, cakes were adorned with icing, formed into patterns, flowers and food colouring was used to accent the frosting or layers of cake. Over the years depending on the occasions, cake decorating styles have been enhanced along with the ornamentation being more artistic.

These days even homemade cakes are being embellished with something simple as powdered icing, chocolate layer with sprinkles or the good old coloured icing. With the numerous designs and models of 2-D or 3-D made, no wonder that cake shows and related artistry are the all time rage not just for the special occasions or celebrations but also for avid dessertarian, dessert chefs or simply for the love of baking and art. 

“Whether you’re a bride or a birthday boy, your options are much the same. Cake comes in chocolate, yellow, or white. Frosting comes in chocolate or vanilla buttercream, or you can opt for whipped cream. Fillings are either chocolate or vanilla custard, fresh bananas, or strawberries or raspberries in season. For birthday cakes, you can have either flowers or balloons in your choice of colors. For wedding cakes, you can add either fondant or marzipan covering, or either smooth or basket-weave buttercream, in white or ivory, with either pearl-like dots or ribbony swags made of frosting, and fondant faux flowers are extra.” Stacey Ballis ( author of Wedding Girl)

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art, Stories Around the World

Of Cheese and Blue Streaks

While cleaning out the larder over last weekend, I had chanced upon a blue veined gooey stuff enclosed tight in a packet. On closer inspection, apparently it was a piece of cheese misplaced post the local grocery shopping and was out of sight for a month, resulting in the mold setting in. Seeing the blue green veins streaking across the white; what came to mind was the difference between blue and bad cheese.

Blue cheese was believed to be an accidental discovery. As legend says of the making of Roquefort cheese by a young boy who had abandoned his meal of bread and ewes’ milk cheese (on seeing a beautiful girl) returned back months later to find his old cheese soft, crumbly, blue veined and with a tangy flavour transformed so by the mold (Penicillium roqueforti). Similar legends have been heard with the drunken man and his cheese. The early years saw that cheeses were stored in natural temperatures and moisture-controlled caves which happen to be favorable environments for many varieties of harmless mold.

Over the years, many varieties of blue cheese have been created with few having their own stories. For instance, the Gorgonzola one of the oldest known blue cheeses, having been created around AD 879, is said that to have its blue veins only around the 11th century. Stilton cheese, an English cheese (popular since the 1700s) was set in the modern shape and style by Frances Pawlett (or Paulet), a “skilled cheese maker” of Wymondham, Leicestershire. Thus with strict codes, only the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire had market the cheese as Stilton. Later varieties(20th century) of blue cheese like the Danablu and Cambozola (cow’s milk cheese of a combination in style of a French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola) were made with few variations from the original. Danablu was made from full fat cow’s milk and homogenized cream with copper wires or rods used to pierce the formed curds to distribute the mould (Penicillium roqueforti) evenly through the cheese and then the cheese is aged for eight to twelve weeks.

With blue cheese varieties, one must know to differentiate between the good and bad mold. If mold grows on soft cheeses like cottage cheese, cream cheese or ricotta; or on shredded, crumbled and sliced cheese, it is best to be discarded. As far as hard and semi-soft cheese like cheddar, Colby, Parmesan or Swiss are concerned, the moldy part with an inch extra around it can be removed and the rest of the cheese can be used. With moldy cheese one has to be careful with its’ use and storage.

For foodimentarians with a special love of desserts, home food or for that quick added or unique touch to the regular meals, cheese (be it from cow, goat or sheep milk or homemade, local store bought, cheese market special or blue cheese varieties) is a pantry must. With a change from the regular, cheese gives an option of taking Stilton sandwiches to work, Gronozola on toast, shredded Brie or Danablu on salads, dressings or crumbled and used in cheesecake recipes, cheese themed parties or simply the change from the sweet dessert to the cheese platter with wine for afters.

Posted in Daily, Life, Personal Musings, Photography Art, Quotes, Stories Around the World, Work

Dance through the Storm

“ Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.” Allen Klein

Although the skies have been still cloudy and the roads are wet and slippery, with children clambering to escape outdoors and get wet with every opportunity that presents; the regular downpours don’t seem like a hindrance. The daily adult life, both at home and at work involves getting past the rain and into safety of the indoor world, regaling adventures in, around, about and out of the rain. The dark clouds outside need not necessarily darken the mood within, especially if one doesn’t allow it to happen.

“Our attitudes control our lives. Attitudes are a secret power working twenty-four hours a day, for good or bad. It is of paramount importance that we know how to harness and control this great force.” Tom Blandi

Like the rainy days, each one of us have our own “personal bad”. Whether it be the lack of material comfort, an uncomfortable job or family situations, ill health, difficult employer or simply being there at the wrong time; things will pass on. Yet never let those dark moments define or destroy the brightness that each day brings forth. Just as each one has their own “kettle of troubles”, it’s how one reacts hen the water boils that makes all the difference. From being irritated by the noise or rising steam to whistling out a tune from the “singing steam”; one’s attitude defines the circumstances more than “the reverse manner”.

“Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.” Charles Swindoll

There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed she had only three hairs on her head.
‘Well’, she said, ‘I think I’ll braid my hair today?’
So she did and she had a wonderful day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head. ‘H-M-M,’ she said, ‘I think I’ll part my hair down the middle today?’ So she did and she had a grand day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she had only one hair on her head. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘today I’m going to wear my hair in a pony tail.’ So she did and she had a fun, fun day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn’t a single hair on her head. ‘YEA!’ she exclaimed, ‘I don’t have to fix my hair today!’
Attitude is everything.
Author Unknown

“A healthy attitude is contagious but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.” Anonymous

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Cooking to Culinary Arts

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

For most gastronomes, culinary specialists, chefs, nutritionists as well as home cooks, food being cooked, served or even eaten reflects a lot of the “mood within”. For instance, if one is extremely tired after a long day, the easiest meal to make in a jiffy for a home cook is pasta and cheese followed by ice cream for the sweet end. On the other hand, to mark any special occasion, the requirement of a full three course meal (salad or appetizer, main course and meat) completed by a splendid (if not necessarily elaborate) dessert is a must. When in an angry mood, every chef at heart will go with their inner basic meal, not tuning to art of the eye, but just ensuring that the basic taste is palatable. Too irritated or bothered to cook, it will be pizza or “Chinese order” on the house. And when the mood is sad, it will be the comfort food , homemade, with a striking resemblance to one’s childhood or mother’s style, or the fast food version.

“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living.” Dione Lucas

Essentially, cooking is a very sensitive art. While one mayn’t have the intensive training or qualification to be a chef of Michelin three or five star rated restaurant, but if one can make a complete wholesome meal for self, family and friends, that alone is enough. In fact, cooking is an expression of love. For every ingredient which balances the meal, it is a reflection of the care, precision and the basics of science behind it.

“Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.” Francois Minot

The “effective cooking” of today, is a balance of food and fun, of taste, experimentation and readily available ingredients. While baking involves following the written or “handed down” instructions to the point; cooking involves a little experimentation of ingredients, spices as well as art. The evolution of cooking into “culinary arts” over the years, has resulted in a whole new range of varied dishes blended together with taste, nutrition, quality, tradition, serving, managing as well as visual presentation to complete the effect.

“The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Entering into the month of “culinary arts” (July); the professional cooks and chefs who bring innovative cuisine from their kitchens to our tables every day are being recognized not just for their talent but devotion as well as contribution to cooking as an art form. For the home cook to experiment with technique and style, vast differences can be made by the order of adding the ingredients, plating as well as trying and blending the new recipes with the old ones. To start off, experimenting in small amounts can be tried. While most of the time, home cooking involves the regular, to celebrate this month, it would be good to plate the regular different or try something new altogether. For every cook, is indeed a chef with a hidden artistic side.

“Culinary tradition is not always based on fact. Sometimes it’s based on history, on habits that come out of a time when kitchens were fueled by charcoal.” Alton Brown

“In the abstract art of cooking,
ingredients trump appliances,
passion supersedes expertise,
creativity triumphs over technique,
spontaneity inspires invention,
and wine makes even the worst culinary disaster taste delicious.”
Bob Blumer

Posted in Family and Society, Life, Photography Art, Quotes, Reflections, Stories Around the World, Work

Learn to “Notice”

Very often, when rushing for the next appointment or meeting, we often hunt for the needed items of the hour, but fail to notice the rest, like the fact that the main laptop power switch was on, the colleague next door was on leave or that the driver of the car parked nearby was having abnormal movements, most likely that of an early stroke. While these details may be excused when overlooked while in a hurry, the mind has become accustomed to seeing what it wants to see. Sadly with the rise of modern era, one of the most frequently lost out art is the power to observe and notice the details.

“To acquire knowledge, one must study;
but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”
-Marilyn vos Savant

Are the other details important ?

One of the most common feelings that often swamp one are the feelings of regret, guilt and lost opportunities. Unfortunately all these can be avoided by observing the details that may seem unimportant then, but later becomes vital. Time is one factor that will never wait. Besides it’s always the details unasked but observed that make the difference, build and sustain relationships or clinch the idea as well as effect the change.

“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.” Susan Sontag

The observations made by one will be reflected in their words, actions and thoughts later, many a time unknown to them. While we may miss them out at times, learning to look for the bigger picture will help us prevent regrets and fatal errors. Hindsight is a keen thing. Once we reflect back and retrospect and learn from the errors, the more progress we can make ahead in our lives. Each day, hours and minutes of observation are lessons as well as occasions to make our life worth living and making memories to treasure.

“I think that my job is to observe people and the world, and not to judge them. I always hope to position myself away from so-called conclusions. I would like to leave everything wide open to all the possibilities in the world.” Haruki Murakami

Once a teacher said to his student: ” Look around you, and then tell me all the white objects.” The student looked around. He saw a white ceiling, walls, white window frames, a tablecloth, curtains, book covers and many other things.
“Well, Now I want you to close your eyes and name everything in this room that is yellow,” said the teacher. The guy was at a loss: ” But how can I answer you, I did not notice anything!”.
– Now open your eyes and see how many yellow things here !!! Yellow pillows, a yellow frame with a photo, a yellow pencil stand, a yellow rug …
– “But it’s not fair! You yourself told me to look only for the white color,
but there was not a word about yellow!” – the student was indignant.
– That’s what I wanted to show you! You focused and searched for objects of only white color, but did not notice the others.

“Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.” Arthur Conan Doyle

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

Stepping Out of the Game

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” John Burroughs

There lived two families in the neighborhood. In one family there was silence and grace, while in the second there were endless quarrels, showdowns etc. And then one day the wife said to her husband, “Why don’t you find out how they next door, turn out to live without scandals.” The husband went and hid behind their common fence and watched. As the neighbor washes the threshold, a bucket of water stands next to her and then her husband walked. Inadvertently he hooked his foot on the bucket and overturned it. “Well, it will start now,” thinks the neighbor behind the fence. Instead he heard the wife as she apologized to her husband that she had put a bucket of water in the way. And her husband also apologized to her for he had walked without looking and also added work to his beloved. In general, they apologized to each other, cleaned up everything together and went into the house. And the hapless neighbor came home in bewilderment and told his wife: “You know, my wife it is strange, we try to do everything right and have endless scandals, whereas they are both to blame and everything is amicable”.

“At the end of the day, you are solely responsible for your success and your failure. And the sooner you realize that, you accept that, and integrate that into your work ethic, you will start being successful. As long as you blame others for the reason you aren’t where you want to be, you will always be a failure.” Erin Cummings

Famously and colloquially known as “the blame game”, we all have been a part of it at some point in our life. From the high school days of incomplete assignment, low grades or addled performances to the college or university days, leading on to the work front; assigning of blame to someone else’s shoulders have been done consciously or subconsciously.

“Everyone’s quick to blame the alien.” Aeschylus

Like the spider’s web, once we get caught in this game; we tend to apply the same tactics in all the spheres of our life. Consequently the price paid is heavy, for not just effort but energy, work, relationships and above all, time is wasted. To get the trend down, a few quick steps would aid in sorting out and settling the mess.

“No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you. The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you are looking for… reasons to explain your unhappiness or frustration.” Casey Stengel

When stuck in the mess or being falsely targeted for the work; first take a deep breath. Second were we in any way wrong, either while doing the task or assigning the task. If yes, take corrective measures; if not, still the option is to settle the scene and correct the wrong. Third and very practical of all, let bygones be bygones. Learn form the past, but don’t dwell too much on it, to spoil the pleasant surprises of the future.

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” Henry Ford