Posted in Life, Daily, Stories Around the World

Plant the Right Seed

To stick to one’s own internal policy is never easy, especially in the modern world where the temptations are too strong and the lure to be “the important one” quite potent. Which is why when any event or project happens; versions vary a lot, the outcome goes tangentially way off the expected on the downward spiral and tensions cause plenty unrest. In short, somewhere along the way of growth, success, achievement and modernism; the core principles of integrity, respect, honour, kindness and humaneness have been lost. While each one pursues their own versions of truth; eventually the masks will fall off and the bare bones of evidences will expose themselves. By then, if the path travelled is on the right grounds, one can safely move ahead with integrity and above all, peace of mind.

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” Spencer Johnson

“The emperor grew old in one eastern country and realized that it was time to choose a successor. But instead of nominating a successor from among one of his assistants or his heirs, he decided to choose something else. All the young people who only lived in the empire, he asked to come together in one day. When everyone gathered together, the emperor addressed the young people with these words: “I am already old, it’s time for me to resign. We need to choose the next emperor. I decided to choose one of you. ”
The children of the emperor were shocked! But the emperor continued. “Today I am going to give each of you one seed. These are seeds of very special plants. I want you to sow the seeds, pour water on them, and a year later, starting today, you must return here to grow from these seeds. Then I will compare the plants you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor! ”

One young man named Ling was also at the emperor’s reception that day, and he, like the others, received the seeds. He went home and anxiously told his mother about everything that had happened in the palace. Mama Ling helped the young man pick up the pot and soil for the plant, he sowed the seed and poured it. Every day he watered him, looked after him and watched if the sprouts appeared. After about three weeks, other young people started talking about their seeds and plants, which began to grow. Ling continued to check his seed, but nothing grew. It took another 3 weeks, then 4 weeks, then 5 weeks … However, nothing grew in Ling’s pot. While all the other young people were talking about their plants, about how fast they grow, Ling didn’t have anything, and he felt like a loser. Half a year has passed, but even a tiny sprout did not appear in Ling’s pot. With bitterness in his heart, he was forced to admit to himself that he had ruined his seed. However, Ling said nothing to his friends. He simply continued to wait, in the depths of his soul hoping that his seed would grow.

Finally, the year ended, and young people from all over the empire brought their plants to the emperor for testing. At first Ling told his mother that he was not going to carry an empty pot to the palace. But his mother advised the young man to be honest, to tell how everything happened, and although Ling felt devastated, in his heart he knew that his mother was right. He took his empty pot and went to the palace. Coming to the emperor, Ling was amazed at the variety of plants grown by other young people. They were beautiful, varied in shape and size. Ling put the empty pot on the floor and everyone started laughing at him. Some felt sorry for him, and they simply said: “Hey, well, that I tried.” Then the emperor entered the hall and greeted the young people. Ling tried to hide behind the backs of others.

“There are three constants in life . . . change, choice and principles.” Stephen Covey

“Well done! What magnificent plants, trees and flowers you have grown, ”said the emperor,“ Today one of you will be appointed emperor! ”Suddenly, in the depths of the hall, the emperor noticed Ling and his empty pot. He ordered the guard to lead him forward. Ling was terrified. “The emperor knows that I am a loser!” – he thought. “Maybe he will order me to be executed?” The guards brought Ling forward, and the emperor asked him his name. “My name is Ling,” he answered timidly. Everyone laughed. The emperor asked everyone to calm down, and then looked at Ling, and declared: “Here is your new emperor! His name is Ling! ”

Ling could not believe his ears. After all, he could not even grow his seed. How could he have been chosen by the new emperor?

Then the emperor said: “Exactly a year ago, I distributed the seeds to all those present here. I ordered you to take the seeds, plant them, water them, and come back to me today. But I gave you all the boiled seeds that could not germinate. All of you, with the exception of Ling, brought me trees, plants and flowers. When you realized that the seed would not grow, you replaced the seed that I gave you. Ling was the only one whose courage and honesty was enough to bring me a pot with my seed. That is why he will be the new emperor! ”

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” Nelson Mandela

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Splash of White

“I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee.” Carly Simon

For coffee connoisseurs around the globe, knowing the exact coffee-lingo is a must. Following the dictum of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, coffee lingo too changes as per place. Be it the espresso macchiato or the Caffè macchiato (not the latte macchiato) or the “café pingado”, all routes lead to another coffee concoction.

Known as espresso macchiato or Caffè macchiato (latter in Italy), it is essentially an espresso coffee drink with a small amount of milk (usually foamed) in it. The origin of this drink could be possibly attributed to the baristas which needed to show their serving waiters the difference between an espresso and the effect to it after a little bit of milk was added to it. The purpose was to just mark or stain the espresso. In Italian, macchiato means “stained” or “spotted” so the literal translation of caffè macchiato is “stained” or “marked coffee.” Moving over to the Portuguese version of this drink where it is renamed as “café pingado” literally translated to coffee with a drop. Although in Mexico, it is called a cortada, the latter terminology mayn’t be used in other countries as it meant for another coffee beverage with a higher amount of milk in it as compared to the macchinato.

“Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.” Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

As compared with any other similar coffee drink with milk, the caffè macchiato has the highest ratio of espresso to milk. The key to a perfect macchiato lies in getting the quantities right. As the name suggests, this coffee should contain just a splash of milk, which is added to pure espresso. The traditional macchiato is about one and a quarter ounce that is one ounce of espresso with a small amount (around one to two teaspoons) of milk, the latter is mostly steamed with slight foam so there is a visible mark. The purpose of the milk is to enhance in moderation (rather than being overwhelming), preserving the bold flavour and the taste of the coffee while adding a delicate touch of sweetness (as an alternative to added sugar).

For coffee cognoscente attention to details are required for the preferred coffee. While an average cappuccino has an 1:2 ratio and latte has a 1:3 ratio of espresso to milk, the average size espresso macchiato has a 2:1 ratio. To prepare the drink at home or in a semi-professional barista set-up, a single shot of espresso is poured into a demitasse (a small espresso cup) and then a splash of hot milk is added. Few recipes suggest adding 1–2 teaspoons (approx. 5 to 10 grams) of milk heated to 140 to 150°F (60–66°C). Heating the milk so, would introduce steam into the milk causing the fats to expand and develop a layer of little bubbles like a “micro-foam.” This is most often done using an espresso machine and a steam wand.

For a change, as the autumn showers run by and the cold wintry winds approaching soon, the scent and flavours of coffee maybe enjoyed the “macchiato” way. As any javaphile would agree, those little beans can liven up the day at any hour or moment of time.

“To espresso or to latte, that is the question…whether ’tis tastier on the palate to choose white mocha over plain…or to take a cup to go. Or a mug to stay, or extra cream, or have nothing, and by opposing the endless choice, end one’s heartache.” Jasper Fforde



Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

As Basic as Bread

One of the after-effects of mixing flour, water and yeast which was later baked had resulted in the preparation of the one of the most staple foods had across different countries of the globe. With the dawn of civilization and agriculture leavened (or in certain areas the unleavened form) bread has become a part of the local cuisine and culture, such that existence without it for a couple of days would be quite unthinkable.

Etymology tracing the roots, the word “bread” originally meant “broken piece” or “morsel”, as evidenced by the appearance of West Frisian brea, Dutch brood, German Brot, Swedish bröd, Norwegian and Danish brød; all a part of the Gemanic languages which had transferred few of it’s roots to the Middle and Modern English. Although “hlaf” was the old English name for bread (hlaifs in Gothic: modern English loaf).

One of the earliest prepared foods, archaeological evidence shows starch residue on rocks. Possibly roots of certain plants (possibly cattails and ferns)were pounded on these rocks for their starch extract, then placed over a fire and cooked, which would be the earliest primitive form of flatbread. With the rise of agriculture ( Neolithic Age) and cultivation of certain plants, cereal may have then been the mainstay of bread making.

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” James Beard

Leavening of the bread in the early years may have happened through multiple sources. One possibility would be that leaving the uncooked dough exposed to air for sometime would result in the airborne yeast spores falling in. Another fact is that many yeast spores are naturally found on the surface of cereal grains, so if any dough is left to rest, it may leaven naturally. Records of Pliny the Elder report that the Gauls and Iberians used barm (the foam skimmed from beer) to produce “a lighter kind of bread than other peoples” such as barm cake. Other parts of the ancient world used their knowledge of wine to find a source of yeast, either by making a paste composed of grape juice and flour that was allowed to begin fermenting or wheat bran steeped in wine. Another common source of leavening was to retain a piece of dough from the previous day to use as a form of sourdough starter.

Modern methods of bread making was initiated by the Chorleywood bread process (1961) which uses the intense mechanical working of dough to dramatically reduce the fermentation period and the time taken to produce a loaf. Mostle used on a factory scale, this resulted in bread being easily available on a large scale and in the commercial market.

Alternative to the regular wheat bread, bread may be made from other wheat species like spelt, emmer, einkorn and kamut or made from non-wheat cereals like rye, barley, corn, oats, sorghum, millet and rice have been used to make bread. Although only rye bread can be made exclusive of wheat, others may need a little of wheat flour for binding process. Although for the purpose of preparing gluten-free breads, ground flours from various alternatives like almonds, rice, sorghum, corn, legumes (like besan), tubers (cassava) maybe used. As these flours mayn’t hold their shape as they rise and hence may be dense without the aeration, additives such as corn starch, eggs, xanthan gum and the like are used to compensate for the lack of gluten.

From sliced bread to sourdough loaves, there are a variety of breads being made pertaining to each locality and region like the yeast based anadama bread, hoppers, Scottish bannock, cottage loaf, Austrian kifli, Spanish mollete or the Swiss Zopf to mention a few. There is nothing more satisfying than making own bread once in a while. From the regular bread to short bread, the choice of recipes and methods are plenty. Giving the sweet tooth a rest, it would be an interesting experience to give bread baking a try, may be adding a more individual, experimental and creative touch to it.

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight… [Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.” M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

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

Beyond the Odds

Thomas Edison tried two thousand different materials in search of a filament for the light bulb. When none worked satisfactorily, his assistant complained, “All our work is in vain. We have learned nothing.” Edison replied very confidently, “Oh, we have come a long way and we have learned a lot. We know that there are two thousand elements which we cannot use to make a good light bulb.”

“You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss

It wouldn’t be just the assistant of Edison alone felt defeated, but thousands of like minded innovators and entrepreneurs who would have had similar feelings during their line of work. While working out their dreams and designs, many a time the negativism felt would have to be replaced with practical optimism for things to succeed. What would have been the outcome if they were still stuck in the crypts of negativity ? While the obvious was that they may have lost out on their invention; the reality is that they may lost out on their dream.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Every experience has something to teach each one of us. Being human, one is bound to make mistakes, feel low during the time of repeated setbacks, open criticism and rejection. Coming out of those dumps is what makes the difference for each one of us. Life is all about growth and finding new shores. Find the realistic optimistic side of each failures or setback. Use them as stones to rebuild the dream and finally one would achieve it over the course of time.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

The “Petit Four” Story

“It was the best first kiss in the history of first kisses. It was as sweet as sugar. And it was warm, as warm as pie. The whole world opened up and I fell inside. I don’t know where I was, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care because the only person who mattered was there with me.” Sarah Addison Allen (author of The Sugar Queen)

Craving for a snack between meals, especially during office hours wherein it is a situation between the need for the sugar versus the knowing that control is a must (mind vs. body), the deli across the road offers a relief during the short breaks. With the variety of mignardises of petit four on display, these cravings can be satisfied when their effect runs too hard.

Known more commonly as petit four than mignardises, the former word when literally translated from French means “small oven”. These small bite sized single piece confectionery or savoury appetizer arose in the 18th and 19th century French cuisine.

Before the gas ovens had been invented, those years saw the large brick ovens (more common Dutch design) being used. The latter used to take a long time to heat up (especially to the bread baking temperatures) as well as cool down. Taking advantage of the stored heat, bakers used these ovens to bake pastry during the cooling process which was known as baking à petit four (literally “at small oven”).

Walking into any French patisserie, these assorted small desserts are usually called mignardises; whereas the hard, buttery biscuits are called petits fours. Similar to the petit four is the classical Austrian confection of pastry known as Punschkrapfen or Punschkrapferl (punch cake), which has a legend of it’s own.

These petits fours come in three main varieties, as Petit Fours Glacé (“glazed”) predominantly served as iced or decorated tiny cakes topped with marzipan covered in fondant or icing. The second category includes savoury bite-sized appetizers usually served at cocktail parties or buffets known as Salé (“salted”). The third category are the Sec (“dry”) which encompasses dry cookies, dainty biscuits, baked meringues, macarons, sable beurre, palmiers, duchesses and puff pastries, all baked at low temperatures for a long time. Other categorizations also include the Petits fours frais which are any small pastries like sponge cakes like madeleine, financiers, creme filled pastries like eclairs or tartlets, all these must be eaten the same day they are made for the quality is lost if they sit longer. On the healthier front, there is the “Petits fours Deguises”, made of fresh or dried fruit dipped in a sweet coating such as chocolate or cooked sugar.

Homemade petit fours can be made on a more simple and creative way with plenty of icing sugar, fondant, candied bit and pieces as well as the good old chocolate to add to the flavours and sparkle it to a work of art. With this wide assortment of treats, petit fours are indeed a delightful to enjoy that little bit of sugar, the concentrated way or slightly less or simply be savoury for a change.

Posted in Christian, Daily, Reflections, Stories Around the World

Of Faith and Prayer

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Lost opportunities, being unemployed, opportunities being cut down and so on. What drives one to go through the difficult times ? While it is true that the core inner will and perseverance may be strong; yet the pillar of support arises from different sources. One of the most strongest grounds is one’s own Faith. The faith that lies in His Grace and His Hand guiding one out of the current mess. For Faith is one of the most powerful aspects of life.

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)

The Christian faith has various facets. From steadfastness in the teachings and beliefs to being a gift of His Grace and His Mercy; faith involves not just prayer but living by His Will and His Word. Faith exists as a part of salvation through Christ but also as strength from the Lord for man to face the trials, temptations and tribulations. Faith is what gives water to the kernels of hope during the hard times, the times of self doubt and difficulties. Yet faith doesn’t grow by itself. It too needs it’s own nourishment through prayer and growth in the Scriptures. When one learns to grow in His Faith, miracles no matter how small they be or difficulties no matter how mentally overwhelming they may be, will be faced and brought down through His Love, His Works and by His Grace.

“….that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,..” (Ephesians 3:17)

A poor woman from a small family was a believer. And one day, when there was not enough money even to feed the children, she called the radio station and left there an appeal to God for help. While employees of the radio reacted with understanding to the believing woman, one of the listeners was touched by her words.
He was a staunch atheist and decided to indulge himself by mocking the stranger. The man found out her address, called the secretary and instructed her to buy many products. What was her surprise when the boss gave the following order: deliver the products to the address and if the woman asks who sent the food, say it is from the devil. When the secretary handed the products to the stranger, she was so grateful that tears flowed from her eyes. She never ceased to thank and bless the girl. But when the woman had already begun to say goodbye, the secretary asked: “And you do not want to know who you these products?” To which the woman replied: No. It doesn’t matter at all, because when God gives an order, even the devil obeys.

“So that in the name of Jesus every knee of the heavenly, earthly, and underworld bows, And every tongue confessed that the Lord Jesus Christ was in the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2: 10-11.

Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Of Kladdkaka and Chocolate

Butter. Eggs. Sugar. Cocoa or chopped dark chocolate. Vanilla sugar. Flour. Pinch of Salt.
Minimum Baking Time.

While prepping a sudden luncheon meet for old friends, the dessert dish had to be something different, for we three ladies were all dessert connoisseurs. Hunting down for quick cake recipes, had led to the Swedish Kladdkaka, a gooey choclate cake that requires the very basic ingredients and minimum preparatory as well as baking time. This venture had led to the revelation of interesting tidbits and details of this favoured Swedish delight.

Kladdkaka, literally translated as gooey or messy cake (more commonly known as “chocolate mud cake” is a dense sticky chocolate cake with a soft and gooey center, often served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and raspberries. Widely believed to be one of the best cakes for chocoholics, there are many variations to the standard recipe for this delight. One of the major reason for it’s gooey nature (quite different from brownies and other regular sugar cookies) is the absence of baking soda in this preparation. With just mild whisking, the absence of air bubble results in the stickiness.

While tracing the exact origin of this cake didn’t lead to any specific occasion or person, it is believed to have been inspired by the brownie or the French chocolate cake recipe; with its’ origin being at a time when baking soda wasn’t routinely available (probably around World War II). Another theory was that Kladdkaka came from Örebro where Gudrun Isaksson (1938) baked brownies from a recipe she received from the USA. As baking powder was difficult to get hold of then, the dough became liquid resulting in the chocolate mud cake. Alternatively it was believed that this cake came to Sweden via the editor-in-chief of the Veckojournalen (1968), Margareta Wickbom who had visited a cafe in Paris where she tasted chocolate cake and brought home the recipe. It was known as “Elake old man’s muffins” then, believed to be made first in muffin form.

Regardless of the roots, with the simplicity of the recipe, ingredients and quick baking time, it makes for a welcome change for the quick but elaborate dessert. Variations are there with coffee added to the regular flavour or making the cake on block chocolate to give a whitish texture to it, adding fruits or nuts as well as making the batter more lighter or luxurious or give it a flour-less twist. So for the kitchen experimenters or home chefs, dessertarian and chocoholics, here is another recipe and delight to add to the ever growing list.

“This cake is one of those cakes I take for granted somehow. I love it so much but I rarely bake it. Before I started baking like crazy, about 5 years ago, I used to bake two times a year, tops. Two times a year, that’s it. And when I did, it was always “kladdkaka” (roughly translated “sticky cake” or “gooey cake” but I’ll just call it Swedish chocolate cake). Why kladdkaka then? Well, first of all, it was the only recipe I knew how to make. Second, it’s probably the easiest thing you could possibly make, and it’s just so darn delicious. You simply have to make this one! And don’t forget to serve it with whipped cream (vanilla ice cream is ok as well)!”
Linda Lomelino, Call Me Cupcake