Posted in Daily, Food

Flavoured Hot and Spicy

“Great cooking is about being inspired by the simple things around you – fresh markets, various spices. It doesn’t necessarily have to look fancy.” G. Garvin

The Latin root “spec” became Old French of espice or epice, what we now commonly call as “spice”. Add to it the original Nahuatl “chilli” of today and voila, we are ready for the International Hot and Spicy Food Day tomorrow. The origins of both happened quite exclusive of each other, although when we blend the hot and spicy, a whole new palatal feast is experienced.

“Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.” Erma Bombeck

Spice trade had developed in Middle East, South and East Asia as early as 2000 BCE with predominant use of cinnamon, black pepper and herbs. As the Egyptians practised mummification, the constant demand for imported spices and herbs kept the “spice trade” alive. The earliest written records from the Egyptian, Chinese and Indian cultures connect spices with magic, medicine, religion and tradition. On the other hand, capsicum and chilli peppers were originally in wide spread use in the Americas primarily, Central and South America as well as Mexico around 6000 to 7500 years ago. With the advent of Portuguese trade and spread of the chilli peppers to Asia around the 15th century, the cooking of hot and spicy food took onto newer shores.

“A good spicy challenge strikes a balance between flavour and fear.” Adam Richman

For every food enthusiast, celebrating ” International Hot and Spicy Food Day” ( January 16th) is different every year as each spicy cuisine ranging from the Indian masala to spicy Mexican tortas or Vietnamese Bun bo Hue to Cajun cooking and so on; no cuisine mimics the taste of the other. As for those who have been challenged to enter the hot and spicy waters on this day, keeping the spice to low numbers as per the Scoville scale ( the spiciness or heat scale) helps to ace the test. An additional tip would be to keep starch rich food like bread or “naan” with cold water to combat the heat and spice. Hot and spicy can be tuned to one’s own taste bud, for the beauty lies in experience, experimentation, fun and art of cooking and dining.

“From a young age, I understood the idea of balanced flavor – the reason you put ketchup on a hamburger. I was that kid who wouldn’t eat something if there was something missing. I never really understood it until I began cooking professionally, balancing acids, sweets, spicy flavors and fat.” Michael Mina

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Posted in Daily, Food

Origin of “Curry”

On experimenting with various recipes, one interesting fact I had realized that there are so many things about “curry” that we take for being true or ascertained facts, when they may not be so.

Curry applies to dishes with gravy, spicy origins and can range to a variety of South Asian as well as South East Asian dishes, based on the type of spices. Curry technically is not a word actually used in most vernacular Indian languages. Each of the Indian states have their own terminology for “curry” ranging from “shaak” of Gujarat to “saaru” in Karnataka and “jhol” of Bangal. Historians noted that the word had been into common use when the British had tasted and brought the South Asian dishes to the west.

Curry is not a spice but a mixture of spices (often sold grounded as curry powder, mostly of turmeric, cumin, coriander, chilli and ginger) which can used with a variety of vegetables or meat, even seafood to make a variety of dishes, each having their own name in the region. Depending on the addition of water, milk or even curd, the base can be liquid or kept dry.

Curry powder has been one of the world’s oldest medicinal and cooking mixtures ranging back to Mesopotamian era (1700 BC). Although the roots of curry powder may be traced to Asia, documents and books on English cooking as early as 1300s mention the use of this concoction.

“Curreier” vs. “kari” The word “curry” has different meanings when used as a verb and noun. The Vulgar Latin “conredare”, Middle English “currayen” or Old French word “correier” had given roots to the Anglo-French “curreier” which later gave rise to the verb of “currying” meaning to seek favour by flattery or attention. Whereas, the noun “curry” was derived from Tamil “kari” (or a cognate word in a Dravidian language) as states in the Marrian-Webster dictionary. Another derivation I had read online was that the word curry was derived from a South-Asian word “Kori”; a sauce with cooked meat or fish.

Another reasoning behind everything “stew based being called curry” was based on the first English cookbook. In the 1300?s, King Richard II had summoned several cooks and philosophers to produce the first English cookery book known as ‘The Forme of Cury’ (1390). The old English word “Cury” was used to describe cuisine based on French ‘cuire’ meaning: to cook, boil or grill. The word “Cury” became associated with stew.

Either way, “curry” has come a long way especially with the advent of trade and later on travel, led to the exchange of cuisines, culinary ideas as well mixing of flavours with local available ingredients. Soon the indigenous recipes became globalized. Whichever dish it may be especially today as National Curried Chicken Day (January 12th); for an exotic, spicy and different blend of curried chicken; try making the sauce with ghee (clarified butter), onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric powder with a dash of ginger or just add the right amount of “curry powder” and get the taste buds going.

Posted in Family and Society, Life, Stories Around the World

Keeping Our Dream Alive

“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.” Albert Einstein

From the very early days of school, in the course of growing up and gleaning knowledge we all dream of doing something or being that someone. In the course of time, some of us follow up on them while others shelve them waiting for the right time or completely foregoing them. During the period of achieving the dream, we come across various faces of people, some who burst our bubble, a couple of people who try explaining the practical aspects so as to make sure we know the reality and “hard facts” while others just watch to criticize and the very few who observe and offer unasked help or when requested.

“Don’t let small minds convince you that your dreams are too big.”  Unknown

What happens when someone tells us that our dreams will never happen? Despite all the facts of reality, when our dreams come from an inner belief, no realism will put out the fire. To question our dream, the ideal response is to either ignore but what really happens is that we break down our dream to smaller sizes or forego it completely. But when we silently work and prove ourselves right would be like the cat that got the cream. Just as the story “Keep your dream” says, strive to prove that your dream will happen, not simply to set others right but also to keep your inner light, desire and wish burning bright.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”  C.S. Lewis

 

Keep Your Dream

I have a friend named Monty Roberts who owns a horse ranch in San Ysidro. He has let me use his house to put on fund-raising events to raise money for youth at risk programs. The last time I was there he introduced me by saying, “I want to tell you why I let Jack use my horse. It all goes back to a story about a young man who was the son of an itinerant horse trainer who would go from stable to stable, race track to race track, farm to farm and ranch to ranch, training horses. As a result, the boy’s high school career was continually interrupted. When he was a senior, he was asked to write a paper about what he wanted to be and do when he grew up. That night he wrote a seven-page paper describing his goal of someday owning a horse ranch. He wrote about his dream in great detail and he even drew a diagram of a 200-acre ranch, showing the location of all the buildings, the stables and the track. Then he drew a detailed floor plan for a 4,000-square-foot house that would sit on a 200-acre dream ranch. He put a great deal of his heart into the project and the next day he handed it in to his teacher. Two days later he received his paper back. On the front page was a large red F with a note that read, `See me after class.’The boy with the dream went to see the teacher after class and asked, `Why did I receive an F?’ The teacher said, `This is an unrealistic dream for a young boy like you. You have no money. You come from an itinerant family. You have no resources. Owning a horse ranch requires a lot of money. You have to buy the land. You have to pay for the original breeding stock and later you’ll have to pay large stud fees. There’s no way you could ever do it.’ Then the teacher added, `If you will rewrite this paper with a more realistic goal, I will reconsider your grade.’The boy went home and thought about it long and hard. He asked his father what he should do. His father said, `Look, son, you have to make up your own mind on this. However, I think it is a very important decision for you.’ Finally, after sitting with it for a week, the boy turned in the same paper, making no changes at all. He stated, ‘You can keep the F and I’ll keep my dream.’”

Monty then turned to the assembled group and said, “I tell you this story because you are sitting in my 4,000-square-foot house in the middle of my 200-acre horse ranch. I still have that school paper framed over the fireplace.” He added, “The best part of the story is that two summers ago that same schoolteacher brought 30 kids to camp out on my ranch for a week. When the teacher was leaving, the teacher said, ‘Look, Monty, I can tell you this now. When I was your teacher, I was something of a dream stealer. During those years I stole a lot of kids’ dreams. Fortunately you had enough gumption not to give up on yours.’
“Don’t let anyone steal your dreams. Follow your heart, no matter what.” – Jack Canfield

If your mom asks you to do the dishes, do not pull out your pirate attitude. But if someone tells you you’re not good enough, says your dreams are too lofty, or claims there is no room in showbiz for a dancing violinist – well then, by all means, pull out your eye patch, my friend, and take to the high seas. Lindsey Stirling

Keeping our dreams alive despite all odds is never easy. Yet the fruit of the toil is worth the sweat and the efforts as well as the dust and the grime. For all of us who have shelved our dreams, restore them and start off working on them so that we can look back and cherish the happiness of our hearts’ desires. To quote Emma Heatherington, “Life is, most of all, about love – follow your heart, live out your dreams, smile, be happy, see the good in everyone you meet and rise above those who try to make you feel low. Fill your heart and fill your soul – love, no matter what, is always the answer.” 

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Art of Chantilly Cream

Whipped cream also known as Chantilly cream or crème chantilly, is one of those discoveries whose origins have been lost in obscurity. From being attributed to accidental discovery in the ancient times, to whipping instead of churning the cream for butter or the common folk tale of a fast horse ride with a half filled container of cream, whipped cream has become an answer to transform the boring mundane to fresh, new and exciting view.

Essentially whipped cream is made by whipping the cream by a whisk or mixer until it is light and fluffy. It is often sweetened and flavored with vanilla, coffee, chocolate, orange to mention a few. The colder the equipment, ingredients and the cream, the easier to whip and better the results. Cream must be below 50 degrees to whip, for at 50 degrees or above it gets churned into butter. From whipping siphons to food processors and electric mixers, the hand whipped cream has progressed with time and technology.

Popularized from the 16th century onward, whipped cream became aromatized and sweetened. Then it was added to various desserts from pyramidal shapes with coffee, liqueurs, chocolate, fruits and so on, to make either as a mixture or poured on top known as crème en mousse (‘cream in a foam’), crème fouettée, crème mousseuse and fromage à la Chantilly. Modern mousses including “mousse au chocolat” have continued this tradition. As written, “Mousses are made with sweet cream, not very thick; one whips it, which makes it foam, and it is this foam that one uses: one may give it whatever flavor one wants, with aromatics, flours, fruits, wines, or liqueurs.” M. Emy, 1768

Continuing through the years, whipped cream still remains a popular topping from fruit to desserts of pie, ice cream, cake, puddings, waffles and even to beverages ranging from coffee to milk or plain hot chocolate. These days imitations of whipped cream, for those with milk allergies or vegan diets, extended shelf life and convenience have been made available as whipped topping or squirty cream. Although the original whipped cream is the best, whichever way it may be made, whipped cream makes a good treat for the eyes as well as the palate. So in honour of National Whipped Cream Day (January 5th), I’m planning to shut down the inner calorie counter, to have whipped cream on any topping like, cake, pie or even coffee for a delicious weekend splurge.

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Oatmeal Art

“The oat is the Horatio Alger of cereals, which progressed, if not from rags to riches, at least from weed to health food.” Waverley Root, ‘Food’ (1980)

From being a weed, oats has been transformed to being one of the essential health foods, so much so as to declare January as the month of oatmeal as per “foodimentarians”. From its’ origin as early as 3000 years ago, oats were a common occurrence among the cultivation of other crops. Greeks and Romans considered oats to be a diseased form of wheat. Though most of the Scottish and the Germanic tribes would disagree with that thought.

Slowly over the years, oats has been embraced as a part of dining, especially for breakfast. The slow acceptance can be attributed to the fact that oats was and still is a primary fodder as pasturage and hay crops especially for cattle and horses. Additionally oats can turn rancid pretty quickly if not processed immediately after harvesting.

It truly amazes me all the things you can add and mix in to truly transform a plain old bowl of oatmeal. Ayesha Curry

Nevertheless the acceptance of oats especially as oatmeal (made of hulled oat grains, groats which have either been milled or ground, steel-cut or rolled) is on the rise. From the least to most processed oatmeal can be prepared from oat groats or whole oats, oat bran, steel cut (Irish) oats, rolled oats ( known as old fashioned oats), quick oats as well as instant oats and oat flour. From simple oatmeal to protein bars, brownies, oatmeal bread and cakes; the experimentation with oats is endless.

Oats are great – you can make meatloaf and use oats instead of bread as the binder, or you can make oatmeal cookies, my husband’s favorite. Ree Drummond

Besides being wonderful art decor for foodists, oats can be mixed with an “n” number of ingredients to make weird combination like oats dosa, oats and chicken salads, oats “upma”, to shakshuka, medley of vegetable or meat and even into stuffed bell peppers or spicy seasoned stuffed bitter-gourds. Try an online search, there would be numerous recipes including the addition of oats.

There is no doubt that some plant food, such as oatmeal, is more economical than meat, and superior to it in regard to both mechanical and mental performance. Such food, moreover, taxes our digestive organs decidedly less, and, in making us more contented and sociable, produces an amount of good difficult to estimate. Nikola Tesla

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Winter, Soup and Holidays

“What a marvelous resource soup is for the thrifty cook – it solves the ham-bone and lamb-bone problems, the everlasting Thanksgiving turkey, the extra vegetables.” Julia Child

With the season’s celebrations underway, one of the ideal ways to put the extra meat and vegetables to good use is to make them into soup. From the clear soups ( bouillon, consomme) to thick (purees, bisques, veloutes) soups are a consistent favourite with many. Its origins can be traced back to the Roman Era as evidenced by use of the middle English word “soup” from the Old French “soupe” which in turn is derived from “suppa” of Late Latin of Germanic roots. Additionally evidence of existence of soup can be found to as early as 20,000 BC with the discovery of the technique of “boiling” and waterproof jars. Yet since then, soup has been revolutionized to the traditions, customs, flavours, taste as well as style of the local cuisine to the extent that soup is not simply a starter or appetizer but also eaten as dessert or with fruit, as well as being served hot or cold.

“Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor.” Marge Kennedy

Come December with the cold and snow, there’s nothing more apt than having pepper pot soup. This soup made from scraps meat and peppercorn had gained mass popularity during the Revolutionary War days in Colonial America. As the legend goes, during the battle of Valley Forge in an exceptionally cold harsh winter of 1777-78, food was often scarce and conditions deplorable. The soldiers were low on food and Christopher Ludwick, a baker general of the Continental Army, gathered whatever food he could scrounge together to feed the cold and frail soldiers. Gathering scraps of tripe, meat, and some peppercorn, he mixed the ingredients together with some other seasonings and created the hot, thick, and spicy soup we now know as pepper pot soup. It quickly became known as “the soup that won the war” as the soup gave the soldiers the warmth and strength that they needed to push the enemies back through the harsh winter weather.

It is impossible to think of any good meal, no matter how plain or elegant, without soup or bread in it. M. F. K. Fisher

From the Belgian Waterzool to the Russian Solyanka, Vietnamese Pho, Partan bree of Scotland; each country, place and local cuisine have their own version of soup of meat and vegetables. Whichever name it may be by, essentially soups ward off the wintry chill satisfying not just the palate and hunger, but also keep us simply warm, comfortable and nice.

Posted in Daily, Food

Fruitcake Time Again !

When the Romans had shaped “the satura”, as a cake of pine nuts, barley mash, pomegranate seeds, raisins with honeyed wine “satura”, little did they imagine the evolution of their creation years in the future. Over the centuries the entire month of December has been dedicated to the creation whose origins may dated back to even before the Romans. If one hasn’t yet figured out what the above lines were about, it can be credited to the modern version of “satura”, i.e. the fruitcake.

Each year, the holiday season marks special traditions in many homes and among many communities, some which center around food while others revolving around the various customs and heritage. The fruitcake enjoys its’ own special relation with people. For some, fruitcakes bring nostalgic memories of warm kitchens, family specialties, the smell of spices in the air and the feel of Christmas baking. While for others, fruitcakes epitomize tasteless bricks or unwanted gifts that probably came from a factory kitchen rather than a homemade specialty.

“There’s a little bit of fruitcake left in everyone of us.” Jimmy Buffett

Yet the origin of the fruitcake was one of love and survival for difficult times. It was believed that the ancient Egyptians would put an early version of the fruitcake in the tombs of loved ones as means of providing food for the afterlife. The ancient Romans popularized the fruitcakes especially for the soldiers as these early fruitcakes were easy to carry and remained edible for a long time. Gradually over the years, other ingredients, such as honey, spices and preserved fruits were added. Towards the 16th century, the discovery that fruit could be preserved by soaking it in heavy concentrations of sugar (candied fruit) lead to its’ experimentation in fruitcakes especially when excess amounts were there in the kitchens.

“Friends are the fruitcake of life – some nutty, some soaked in alcohol, some sweet.” Jon Ronson

Slowly fruitcakes became layered, dense and heavy with a typical fruitcake having citrus peel, pineapples, plums, dates, pears, cherries, candied fruits and even nuts or raisins. With a long storage life and easy to preserve, fruitcakes have been popular during Victorian England especially during holidays and special occasions. This British tradition has spread over to many of its’ colonies although other countries have their own set of “fruitcakes”. From the Stollen of Germany, panforte of Italy, keks of Poland and Cozonac of Romania to light coloured or rum soaked fruitcakes, the variants are many to list. Although by convention fruitcakes are made more around December (Christmas time), they have been traditional for certain weddings especially as seen in the royal weddings.

“Reality is like a fruitcake; pretty enough to look at but with all sorts of nasty things lurking just beneath the surface.” A. Lee Martinez

Although fruitcakes can certainly be delicious, they’ve declined in popularity over the years primarily as the richness is a little too much especially with calorie counting and the arrival of other decadent delights. Despite the declining demand, fruitcakes are still a holiday tradition in many areas though not beyond that period.