It’s nice to see vegetables, as opposed to miles of digital footage, on my chopping board.
That too complete with foreboding, suggestive shapes, glossy red balls, and a whole load of innuendo.
or so i think it is.
When I was on holiday this time in July, my Nikon D40x never left the suitcase. Except when I went to Bath for a night and even then it’s battery turned out have one photo worth of charge. I let it go, that pressure of capturing something, feeling like a maniacally clicking factory of beauty, therefore capturing the mediocre. It’s a struggle I’ve started to experience in the kitchen of all places.
I’m sure the visuals are an important part for many people who like to produce food. I also like the flat, even lighting I get on our kitchen counters from the flood of fluorescent lights under the cabinets. It enhances the details in the surface and produces these mild, looming hovers of shadow.
i’ve totally forgotten how to write in html.
that’s how long it’s been since i last blogged.
It seemed a shame not to capture one month of soul-searching, eating, drinking, looking at bright colours, and walking, walking, walking… on london’s bridges, through alleys, round quaint corners.
but tied down by laptop i wasn’t going to be.
along with my usual pillage of art-officiale …
(ok, more like an overnighter-full)
of H&M shopping…
…one of the more easily relatable forms of baggage i brought back with me was a sampling of some alternative food.
also got organic butter beans and multi-grain flaxseed, spelt, [thingamajig] crackers.
back to quinoa.
the thing that makes a big difference in my diet picture, and makes me so happy every time i cook with it, i want to don a fifties-style kitchen glamour suit complete with sky-blue apron and matching patent later heels and kick one up behind me in delight.
i’d heard of bulgar wheat, but that was my only (imaginary) foray into serious alternatives to the all-encompassing problem of wheat. brown rice is fine, but it still felt like i was just compartmentalizing my eating life between portions of desi-home-made-dish no.1/2/3/4 + roti/brown rice.
So what makes quinoa so special? It was more just the way i rethought my relationship with food, got inspired to make it my own, while i was away in london. i once again saw the simplicity of grilling assorted vegetables, baking fish within ten minutes, and perhaps most importantly, got an inner whiff of the simple herb, spice and vinegar combinations that sort of liberate your palette.
i got a whiff, and i’ve been intoxicated every since, to buy, plan, re-use ingredients: to make the most of the the eatables i love.
Today was the third time i used quinoa.
A simple online concoction using zucchini, eggplant, cherry tomatoes & red onion as a grilled warm salad along with chopped-basil-infused quinoa.
Before the two are united in a hearty, healthy union, the cooked quinoa is doused with the a dressing of all-essential balsamic vinegar, whisked with olive oil, minced garlic, and salt and pepper. The same dressing marinates the chopped prepped vegetables before they’re grilled.
One of the things that appealed to me about this recipe is it celebrates the way balsamic vinegar can make the simplest ingredients robust and full of tangy, zesty lightness. As the author said, “repeat after me: balsamic makes everything better.” The famous balsamic vinegar / honey reduce will always make a lot of salads taste divine. If it’s an emergency and I just want some taste in a psuedo-gourmet snack, i’ve even whisked balsamic vinegar with maple syrup and its served me just fine.
Some say it’s a key source of potassium, a good carb before a workout; according to my grandfather, a sheer necessity of life, the proverbial apple to keep the doctor away. From an entirely too well-stocked pile of stomach-upset-experiences, I know its apt to make hell freeze over, under that stubborn stomach hide.
In my kitchen, the banana has become a bankable prelude to muffins.
Overdue comfort, a whiff of flour, a peek at those cuddly, fisher-price-esque plastic measuring spoons, and a few overripe banana’s on the dining table.
Surefire signs that a batch of banana chocolate walnut muffins are in the offing.
Because it’d never be just banana muffins.
Not to take back my testament to their gooey wonderfulness. But it serves as such a perfect encasement for the comfort-oozing amalgam of melted, pliable chocolate and walnut. Not to mention, it’s simply incomparable in its function as an enhancer of batter.
Talk about the consistency of heaven. Instead of milk, or excessive oil, or any of those other liquid elements that moisten dry ingredients, the mush of mashed bananas simply makes everything stick with a stodginess that would leave even the most nervous, scatter-brained baker feeling completely secure.
Thus, in a day dedicated to the fluff-realm of lets-pretend-we’re-hip-amateur-cooks-who-know-something-about-food, S and I embarked on the non-stop banana-chocolate-walnut procedure.
Chocolate chopped. eggs. mixed with oil.
poured into pristine white.
This (Fig. 4) is another one of those sights that reminds me of childhood. The sound of the plastic spatula scraping against the bowl, and the simplicity with which the yolk and oil mixture remains distinct from the flour. I almost hate forcing them to mix, and tend to just circle around the side of bowl so that the liquid merges slowly.
With the florid, reassuring elasticity of banana mush, everything turns warmer. The expectant piles of deep chocolate shards and smokey walnut browns are set off against the summery mixture.
I know I’ve written before about my OCD mushroom ritual, but I think I got a little closer to capturing their compelling alabaster veneer with the camera this time. Thus it had to be shared. There’s something about their squishy, rubbery softness when you slice into their sublime purity. So disarmingly whole, when they gaze (un-quartered), face upwards, like a one-dimensional collage of organic circles.
Until they’re cut.
Then, deep, velvety eggplant tinged cores bristling with fibry detail, softly blemish the inner edges of these unabashedly pristine fans of creaminess.
Whether it’s mushrooms and tomatoes sandwiched between mustard-slapped bread, or mushrooms lightly sauteed and salted along with spinach, their robust smokiness is always enhanced by a burnished garlic clove that’s literally melted into them in the pan.
Break a clove upon the edge of your knife, slide it onto the fat in the pan, and watch its flavour permeate.
Sacrifice the virginal mushrooms to this smoldering altar, till they are sullied by heat and poignancy into a completely different form.
smoky hues of brown and violet fuse together as they sizzle in a lemon zing.
I can’t say enough about the combination of these ivory mushrooms with florid, squishy cherry tomatoes.
A few months ago I was experimenting with combinations of mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach with eggs, for breakfast. This particular rendition kind of stuck.
It’s an almost daily fall back now.
I’ve started adding a crushed clove of garlic in the olive oil before burnishing the mushrooms’ alabaster skins.
There’s something so satisfying, so earthily grounding, about knowing that you’re releasing these robust, plentiful flavours at the start of the day. Just inhaling sizzling garlic makes you feel validated somehow.
Mingled with this is the nutty smokiness released by the mushrooms. After they’re browned and softened, a mellow flush of the cherry tomatoes descends. The sharpness of rock or sea salt against the delicate, blended flavours is so satisfying.
Almost as essential as…
Lemon and sea salt seasoning mushrooms and cherry tomatoes sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Mmmm hmm. On toast. For breakfast.
Maybe when its a midday snack and not breakfast, or a really, [really] light dinner in a fit of health-consciousness, one could add a sprig [ had to get that TV chef term out of my system] of a fresh herb like coriander or mint [a.k.a. dhaniya paudina, the only two herbs one tends to have lying around in these parts].
Also, if feeling hungry for more flavour, a few shavings of cheese? Would be great if its not KRAFT square packs, maybe something like real sharp cheddar or goats cheese, but then again, the lying around factor, plus little quirks like reality, availability and money, tend to reign supreme.
I was recently watching Star Trek TNG, like I often do, and in one of the later Season 3 episodes, a morally apathetic, keenly twisted collector of rarities shows Lieutenant-Commander Data (whom he has also “collected”) an ancient Earth relic: a baseball card that he has preserved – along with its… smell.
As the ever-empirically obsessed, intensely human-like android methodically sniffs the air as the card’s framing is opened, the evil-collector-man squeals with delight and says:
“Bubblegum. We’ve preserved the smell.”
Now that’s a smell I wish could be preserved.
Not so much to use it again in any practical way, but just to document the very experience of that age-old ritual of domesticity:
For me at least, the mystique of specialized baking utensils, with their rounded, plasticky comfort always brings back some of those multi-sensory flashes of childhood. There’s something so definitive and compartmentalized about the baking process as compared to other food. It’s a more fundamental approach: a few basic elements that do very predictable and unalterable things to each other. Not like the subtle cross-overs between different flavours you can play with in regular cooking.
Perhaps that’s the science behind its ritualistic balm for the psyche.
Egg, milk, yeast, heat correspond to our basic instinct for hearth, domesticity, control, nurturing.
In any case, for many of us, it’s always an experience that takes away the sharp angles of every day life and becomes more than a practical function. My recent muffin batches have been eaten by everyone except me. Happily so. It’s a visual feast, experimental play and an activity no one will ever criticize you for doing.
FLOUR: 1 3/4 cups or 250 g
PLAIN/CASTER SUGAR: 3/4 cup or 175 g
BAKING SODA: 1/2 tsp
BAKING POWDER: 2 tsp
COCOA: 2 tablespoons
CHOCOLATE CHIPS / CHUNKS: little less than 1 cup
MILK: 250 ml
VEG. OIL: 90 ml
PRE- PREP: Oven preheat to 200 degrees C • Line muffin tray with muffin paper or grease each cup •Make sure ingredients are room temp before baking • Egg from fridge should be put in medium temp water to take chill off • If flour in fridge (like in hot sticky climates like mine), it’ll need some time to warm.
ACTION: Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl • Put all wet ingredients in measuring jug • Mix! • If you like, sprinkle more chocolate chips on batter and then spoon out into muffin tray. Bake for 20 min (do knife dip test a little before incase)
The Chocolate Chip Muffin recipe from Nigella is amazingly simple. I got sucked into muffins a few months ago, but was refraining from making such a predictable combination of flavours as chocolate chip, since I just love finding myself knee-deep in the complex before I even get past basics. But, since I was in a hurry and had limited ingredients, this seemed to fit the bill.
I simply love using cocoa in baking, just for the visual you get when you sprinkle it on flour. It’s like you’re playing with real powder pigments. Although i love having the iPhone handy, these aren’t the best images, but still.
Dark, jagged chunks of almost ebony crisply stud the pristine whiteness.
Ok, something had to be said.
I don’t know about you, but this is the part in a runny, choclately batter like this that really hits home.
It’s that scrape of the spatula against the plastic bowl, as everything turns shapely, smooth, chocolatey, swirly. Those thick chunks of ooziness that form in the wake of the spatula movement really seem to evoke some kind of distinct childhood memory.
Dolloped by the spoonful into the muffin tin, they sat in sublime liquid serenity, till heat conjured forth from their depths a deep, rich, earthy aroma that would bring sheer love to any house.