Friday, December 19, 2008

On Holiday!

I'm on holiday in Florida at the moment, visiting Bren's parents! Then, we're all going to drive up to their cabin in the Smokies! So, it'll probably be quiet here for the most part.

I will mention that we saw "Slumdog Millionaire" last night; it's a very strong film, which everyone in our little party adored. I had a couple of issues with it (the main character's Indian accent really wasn't very good) but overall, I really liked it. If you see it, let me know what you think!


Monday, December 15, 2008

First Rain!

The first big rain has hit LA. It's gorgeously grey and wet outside and genuinely chilly inside. And so, I am treating myself to a big cup of tea and an hour of knitting with my soft, cuddly bathrobe on.

I am so lucky!

What are you doing?



Sunday, December 14, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Would a rose by any other name...

I've got baby on the brain!

My friend Talika did have her baby boy the day I blogged in excitement about it. Beckett Tucker Freundlich is a sweet little man, with a hearty appetite for such a little thing, and who we joked has a little bit of Benjamin Button going on. He has two characteristics that would make any Indian mother swoon: a full head of hair, and a high forehead (sign of intelligence apparently, which would make me the dumbest of the dumb :)

Isn't he adorable?! I'm such a proud aunty!

My other friend Joanna is due to pop any moment; she was due two days ago but the little one is still cooking! She and Talika are best friends, and they got pregnant around the same time. Those are true best friends, so simpatico that their ovaries are on the same timer. Ha! And in case you thought it couldn't get any more storybook, she's having a girl. So now Beckett and the unnamed one will grow up together and get married, right? Just like Jed and Sarah!

Yesterday, I dropped a bunch of dvds off at the Harvest Home, a home for homeless pregnant women here in LA. I taught a cooking and food sanitation class there this summer to 12 very, very pregnant women. When I went to visit yesterday, one of the women was still there, with her huge eight month old baby in tow! What a great reward! I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that this separate living thing, with her own personality and body parts came out of a girl no bigger than me. It reminded me that our very existence is a miracle; I mean, even if a scientist could build all our parts, our lungs, heart, liver, capilliaries, bones, marrow... how do you make it tick? Where's the spark that gets the battery going and keeps it running?

(Pause for really deep thoughts)

Tangetial moment: I saw "Expelled". You should see it, no matter how you feel about the ID thing. It's a very fair analysis of the whole subject.

Anyway, then I saw this New York Times blog about the baby name game. I know so many Sophia's born this year just in my little circle. Turns out it was the second most popular girl's name of 2008, following Emma. The most popular boys name was Aidan. Isn't the shared human consciousness interesting?!

Since Gwenyth Paltrow stole my favorite name of all, I would like to bagsie the following girls names before any of you rob my psyche again. :)

Moses (can you imagine a little girl named "moe"? so cute!)

Lots of 'm' sounds. Interesting.

If I have a boy, he's done for, because I can't think of any names I like; Dad's dad was named Raphael, which is pretty cool. Bren has some ideas though, and lordy, they are very... Bren-like. He wants a boy named "Quest". Or "Toussaint".

God help us! I'm warming to Quest. Maybe. Oh! I just remembered one I like! Finn!

What are your favorite baby names?



Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making a Difference?

Anyone wanna do this with me?



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Aarti Cooks: Tiger vs. Dragon Soup

I have so much to say about this recipe that I don't even know where to start!

First off, this one is for all the people who have told me that they are intimidated by the recipes I post. This one is wicked easy. Really. You cannot screw this up. And it's really cheap to make. Nothing fancy here. I'm talking to you, Genie.

Secondly, the name of this soup comes from a little-known fact: Did you know that Indians loooove Chinese food? When I was in India number of years ago, I noticed that the restaurants in Bombay fell into two categories: Indian, or Chinese. We might be competitors on the world market (Dragon vs. Tiger!) but in the kitchen, we're BFFs. In fact, when I was scouring the internet to see how other people make it, I found recipes on a number of Indian websites. Methinks this might be an Indian kitchen classic.

Anyway, Dad would get us take-away from a restaurant called the Golden Dragon, and we would always order the sweetcorn and chicken soup. I don't even remember what else he would get. All I can remember is that sweet sweet soup.

Then the restaurant burned down. We were left to fend for ourselves.

Enter stage right: Mum! (Cue trumpets!) She came up with a recipe, which became the backbone for this one.

I make this recipe at least once every winter, as soon as one of us gets the sniffles. Grandma's chicken soup might be good, but *this* one tastes way better. In addition to chicken soup's inherent healing properties, the hefty amounts of fresh ginger not only open up your nasal passages and soothe your throat, it also soothes your tummy. Add corn, with its soft, enveloping flavor and, combined with soup's inherent warm-you-to-the-core properties, CTHD soup leaves you feeling hugged, inside and out.

This is my favorite soup in the world, hands down. I hope you try it.

But first... a few notes:

1) Food snobs look away! This recipe calls for... duh, duh, duuuuuhhhhh: chicken bouillon cubes. Yup. I've tried not to use them, tried using real chicken stock, tried the liquid chicken concentrate that comes in packets... nothing works as well as these little babies. Sad but true. Must be all the sodium. You can bypass 'em if you like, but I re-introduced these babies to the soup last night, and it was the best batch I've made in a long time.

2) Chicken. I use two chicken breasts on the bone. It keeps your chicken moist, and the bones make the broth taste even better. At the store, it'll say "chicken split breast with ribs". That's the kind you want. Alternatively, you can use plain chicken breasts. They'll cook much quicker though, so check 'em after 10-15 minutes. If you prefer dark meat, I used to use chicken thighs (with the bone) but they are a pain in the butt to shred once cooked. You can also cut a whole skinned chicken; you won't need all that meat, but you'll have some lovely poached chicken that you can use the rest of the week in salads and quesadillas.

Tiger vs. Dragon Soup: Sweetcorn, Chicken & Ginger soup

You'll need this stuff:

10 cups water
1 leek, green parts too if you have 'em, sliced in half and thoroughly washed
1 carrot, peeled and chopped in two
1" hunk of fresh ginger left whole, plus additional 3" hunk, minced
2 dried bay leaves (optional)
2 chicken breasts on the bone
3 14oz cans creamed corn
1-2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 tsp sesame oil
4 spring onions, chopped finely, white and green parts (reserve some green for final garnish)
4 tbsp cornstarch
4 tbsp water
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
Soy sauce to taste

1) Pour 10 cups of water into a big stock pot and bring to a boil over high heat. While it's coming to temp, throw in the leek, carrot, 1" hunk of ginger and bay leaves. Lightly season.

2) Skin the chicken breasts, remove excess fat, and once the water comes to a boil, throw the chicken breasts into the pot. Allow the whole lot to come back to a boil, then turn it down and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until chicken is cooked and tender.

3) Extract the breasts and allow to cool. Strain the stock, and discard the leeks, carrots, ginger and bay leaves.

4) Return the stock to medium heat. Add creamed corn, crumbled stock cubes (I use two), 3" hunk of minced ginger, spring onions and sesame oil. Allow to simmer, while you remove the chicken from the bone and shred finely using a fork. If this is too much work for you, you can just slice it really thinly.

5) Bring the soup to a boil. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the corn starch with the cold water, until dissolved. Add to the soup whilst stirring. Allow to boil until it's thickened. If it doesn't thicken, add another cornstarch slurry, this time using only 1tbsp cornstarch and 1 tbsp water.

6) In another small bowl, beat the egg whites with a little water. Stir the soup in circles as you add the egg whites in a steady stream; it should form pretty white wisps on the surface of the soup. It didn't work for me this time for some reason, so I don't have a photo of it. Meh!

7) Add the chicken and rice wine vinegar. Heat gently through. Taste for seasoning.

8) Serve, with a splash of soy sauce and some of the reserved green portion of the spring onions in the middle. Flu be gone! Karate chop!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008


It's definitely getting nippy here in LA, sinking to the 40s and 50s at night. Ooh! I know there's a fair number of you rolling your eyes at me, but I've earned the right to sunny winters dammit! I lived in Chicago remember?!

There are many blessings that accompany cold weather, at least at the beginning when the novelty hasn't worn off: sipping hot chocolate at night, slow-cooked meals like stews and roasts, the muted sunshine that glows a pale buttercream-yellow instead of the harsh paintbox-yellow synonymous with summer... and of course, the return of BLANKIES!

Had you come over any night this week, you would have found me swaddled in one of two treasured blankets in the McSequeira house; our childhood blankies!

Here's the blanket that Bren grew up with, AKA "the Dinosaur blanket":

Bren got this back a few years ago. I think it had been co-opted by Jed, Bren's younger brother, the one who just got married, and who Bren often remembers said as a child, "everything is mine".

Imagine Bren's glee when his mum returned the blanket a few years ago! It's been well-worn but this thing is the warmest blanket in our arsenal. There's something beautiful about things worn out by love isn't there? Especially a little kid's love.

Plus, it makes you feel tough because you're covered in prehistoric animals.

Here's mine, "the clownie blanket":

Clowns may have freaked you out as a child, but these ones saw me through the chicken pox, the measles, all manner of tummy upsets, and oh yes, the big move from Dubai to the States when I started college. I didn't think twice; Clownie had to come with me. My sister, Kuv, has one too.

The blanket has greyed a bit over the years, but the colors are still so vivid.

That's my favorite clown of the whole lot. Look at her tights!

Worn and faded as they may appear, there's nothing warmer than a blanket that has kept you warm since your milk teeth days. I like to imagine that one day, when we have kids, they'll be able to use these blankies. On second thought, I don't think I want to share. Get your own blanket, kids!

Clownie is even going to make an appearance in the first season of Hothouse Films! Tune in and watch "Clown Covers" when it debuts this weekend!

Do you have your childhood blankie?



Hothouse Films!

As I may have bragged to you before, Bren has been spearheading the film arm of the Hothouse, the improv theatre where we both take classes and perform.

It launches this Friday! So make sure you check the Hothouse Films YouTube channel on Friday, and check back every week for new episodes of the 7 series Bren created! If you prefer, you can subscribe to the channel, and it will email you when new episodes have been added I believe. Bren shot and edited these all by himself. It's amazing to think that two weeks ago, he didn't know how to edit on Final Cut! Now look at him!

As a taste of the quirky, sunshine-filled humour you might find in the coming weeks, check out the commercial Bren conceived, directed and shot for the Hothouse, emphasizing a little line we say to each other before we go on stage, a reminder that none of us is going on stage alone:



Friday, December 5, 2008

The Christmas Story in 30 seconds!

I heard this on the radio yesterday and I knew I had to share it with you!

Church attendance has been falling in Europe as a whole, and so England's Churches Advertising Group decided to hold a competition to try to encourage people to re-think the old stodgy church of their memories: Tell the Christmas story in 30 seconds or less, and the winner will win £500.

As Bren has pointed out before, Jesus had a sense of humour. So I think He might enjoy this, the winning entry:

There are a few radio ads that I think are even funnier. Check out the third one, "Consolidate all your doubts". It's so smart!



Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Aarti Cooks: Mum's Stuffing Cupcakes

There are few things that say "home-cooked meal" more than a roast chicken. But let's face it. If there's stuffing on the table, the chicken takes the backseat. I see it as a vehicle to get more stuffing in my mouth.

As promised earlier this week, I give you my mum's stuffing recipe, slightly adapted since my memory is not that great. We always loved our mum's stuffing. The only thing I didn't like about it is that there was never enough. Now that I'm a big girl, I decided I had to figure out a way to make more stuffing, cooking some of it inside the bird cavity, and the rest outside of it.

I was inspired Rachel Ray.

In one of her earliest episodes, she made "stuffin muffins". Genius. They're cute, easy to cook and easy to portion out too.

I'm calling mine "Stuffing Cupcakes" even though there's no frosting. Hmmmm, stuffing and frosting. Maybe?

Stuffing "Cupcakes": Stuffing with bacon, mint, pine nuts and raisins

You'll need this stuff:

6 rashers bacon, chopped into 1/4" pieces
2 medium onions, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1" piece of fresh ginger, chopped
2 serrano chiles, sliced in half and seeded (optional)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup raisins
1 small loaf of bread (in this case I used a brioche. It's better if the bread is a couple of days old.)
Splash of brandy or whisky (optional)
2 cups chicken stock
2 eggs
Handful of mint leaves, minced
Cooking spray

1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prep your muffin pan with cupcake liners, spray them with a little cooking spray.

2) Put a big skillet over medium heat, and add the bacon. Don't let it burn! If it's browning very quickly, turn the heat down; you want to render as much fat out of the bacon as possible before it turns a dark caramel brown. Once it's cooked, remove the bacon from the pan. Return the pan (and delicious ambrosia aka bacon fat) to the fire.

3) Add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Let them pick up some colour so that they're soft and slightly browned. While it's browning, cut the crusts off the loaf of bread and cut it up into very small cubes. You can use the crusts too if you like.

4) Add the raisins and the pine nuts to the skillet, cooking until the pine nuts have picked up a little color too.

5) Now add the bread and toss, trying to cover each cube of bread in the yummy bacon-fruit-nut mixture. Turn the heat off. Add the bacon bits, a splash of brandy/whisky and the mint. Stir. Taste and season according to your palate.

6) In a bowl, beat the two eggs lightly, and add the chicken stock. Make sure your skillet is still off the heat and has cooled slightly, because you don't want the eggs to cook in the next step.

7) Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture and stir thoroughly.

8) Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin cups. You can press the stuffing down into each cupcake liner so it'll hold together after baking, but don't overload them.

9) Put the muffin pan in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top is browned and your kitchen smells goooooooood. Serve!

They're great alongside a roast chicken, roast meat of any kind really... or like we did tonight, you can eat them on their own.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fat Kids and Heavy Cream

Brendan and I jokingly refer to ourselves as "fat kids".

But in every joke, there's an element of truth! All butter-chomping and chocolate syrup-guzzling aside, the yo-yo'ing between losing and gaining weight marked our childhoods in such a way that, as adults, we are both prone to all-encompassing obsessions about our weight.

I will look up the latest, most radical diet, try it for a couple of days, then decide that it's "unhealthy" because (gasp!) I'm hungry. Bren will embark on a self-diagnosed new ritual with sniper focus, giving up ALL carbs or giving up ALL fat or ALL breakfasts, never deviating for a second. Inevitably though, the radicalism will fizzle out, and we'll find ourselves even heavier than we were before.

Aha, but we are triumphant at the moment. We have found a happy medium between caring about it (making a plan), doing something about it (sticking to the plan) and then... letting it go (not talking or thinking about the plan all the time). It seems to be working for both of us.

Part of the plan is eschewing sweet, sweet dessert.

Earlier this year, Bren decided that he wasn't going to touch dessert of any kind until Burning Man, the light at the end of a three-month tunnel. He asked me if I wanted to do it. I, of course, balked.

"Brendan," I said. "I know you think this is going to work. But *I* go to Weight Watchers."

He blinked. Not being a convert, he had not idea what that meant. I realised a little enlightenment was in order.

"Well, Bren. *My* group leader says that we shouldn't deprive ourselves in this radical fashion, because... well, I'm prepared to say it now." I paused for dramatic tension. "I. am. A food addict. I have a problem. If I deprive myself of dessert, even the low-fat kind, then you'll come home one night to find me indulging in an ice-cream facial, under a carpet of chocolate bar wrappers and cookie boxes, with a cheesecake baking in the oven. And I think you know you might end up that way too."

Bren rolled his eyes.

"I know, I know. You don't believe me. I didn't believe it either. It took me months of meetings to get this point," I preached at him.

"Well, I'm doing it. We'll see what happens," he said, flashing just the slightest verbal gauntlet.

I sighed an all-knowing sigh. We'll see indeed, I thought. "Come here my precious," I whispered, grabbing a Skinny Cow from the freezer.

A week later, for some reason, I decided that as a good wife and partner, I should join his crusade. So I left the low-fat ice cream bars untouched, cast the weekly chocolate croissant out of my mind and turned away from anything fried. My sole sweet-tooth soother was a small cup of warm chocolate almond milk at night.

At first, I was a maniac. My sweet tooth snarled at me every couple of hours. "This isn't sane!" it roared, pointing out that God didn't give us a "sweet" portion of tastebuds for nothing. But Bren was steady; the second I started to whine about craving some chocolate, he shrugged and said, "Just wait for Burning Man."

Ha! Easy for him to say. I marvel at his ability to just give something up so easily. Once it's given up, it's given up, with nary a thought given to it afterward. Meanwhile, I salivated over the thought of that chocolate almond milk. All. Day. In fact, a couple of times, I ditched the almond milk portion altogether; I grabbed the chocolate syrup and quickly drained a big squeeze of it directly down my gullet before the fridge door had time to shut. Yup. I did that. I guess it's kinda cheating huh? I don't know -- I figured it's choclate-FLAVORED syrup, not the real thing, right? And if it's ok in the almond milk, then... oh forget it.

But then a funny thing happened. Against all odds, I didn't crash; it only took a few days to shake the sugar monkey off my back; I thought it would take weeks. Funny what you tell yourself is the truth huh? I was CERTAIN that I would break at some point and end up in a binging abyss. But Bren never came home to find me sitting in front of the telly, hoovering through my second pint of Ben 'n' Jerrys. I was good! I was strong! I did it!

In fact, I did so well that one day, I realised that it had been a week since I'd had any chocolate almond milk. Soon, Burning Man was just around the corner, and even then, the food gods determined that ice cream (with which I had been planning to break my sugar fast) was not in my future; Bren found free ice cream with no problems at all. I didn't find even a lick.

When we got back, Bren weighed himself and realized that, thanks to Burning Man and the new dessert-free lifestyle, he'd lost SIXTEEN POUNDS. I hadn't lost even a quarter of that but I felt cleaner, emancipated. Even when we had ice cream, I didn't curl up in the fetal position the way I thought I would. It just wasn't that satisfying anymore. I can't even believe I wrote that! Don't get me wrong, I still love ice cream, and ate as much as I could on Thanksgiving Day, but it didn't make my eyes glaze over the way it used to.

I didn't realize how much I had bought into the "fat kid" or "food addict" persona... shows you the power of words, doesn't it? I know that Weight Watchers is right; and in fact, this plan is a great compromise between Bren's radical nature and my overly-indulgent one. We haven't deprived ourselves since we still give ourselves permission to indulge, except that rather than indulging whenever we feel a craving coming on, our indulgence is built into the calendar.

So we get dessert about once a month. First it was no dessert until Burning Man. Then, no dessert until Jed's wedding in October (when we found the best ice cream I've ever had in my whole life of ice cream consumption, at the Black Cow. So good that I actually, really, genuinely did a happy dance. Swear on my life).

Then, Thanksgiving, and now, Christmas Day. After that, I think it's no dessert until Valentine's Day.

Anyway, it's funny that I launched into this whole story just to tell you that I'm at a loss as to what to do with these:

They're left over from Bren's ice-cream making adventures, and they go bad on Dec. 12th. Having never had that much cream in my fridge before unless I was making dessert, I am racking my brains for uses. So far, I have planned a frittata, and maybe a creamy sauce thingy over pasta? Do you guys have any ideas? I could really use them!



p.s. I wrote this whole thing and realized that I hadn't said the most important thing: Bren (wince)... for once, your radicalism worked. You were right.

Monday, December 1, 2008


We had so much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Examine:

1) J. Anthony McCarthy's birthday!
On Thanksgiving day! Even though birthdays are rightly set aside to do nothing for anyone but yourself, Tony spent the afternoon helping hand out free Thanksgiving dinner to the needy. Then, he came over and shared his day (and his mum's perfect stuffing) with us. And so, we give thanks for Tony!

2) Vivan's preggo!
Vivian and Brendan have played on stage so many times, and made me laugh so heartily that I dropped my wine. That is hearty laughter indeed my friend. And now, Vivian is the one laughing -- she's preggers! And her baby (girl! yippee!) is perfectly healthy! We were all praying for her when her doctor told her she needed to do extra tests, but thank the heavens, they came out normal!

Here she is telling Garland the splendid news...

...and then here's Garland's reaction.

We give thanks for Vivian and her bambina.

3) We have a new aunty!
Bren's Uncle Dan popped the question to his love of many years, Jean (whom he affectionately and slightly deviously referred to as "my friend Jean" over the years, even though we had met her several times and knew for sure that she was more than a "friend" hahahaha!). They got engaged on Thanksgiving, a perfect backdrop to a gesture that emphasizes how much one is grateful for the other. They even came over to our house to share the good news. And as if they couldn't make us any happier, they brought a bottle of champers to celebrate. Ha!

(Point of interest: Those champagne flutes were a gift from my friend Elaine, on the occasion of my own engagement/marriage. It felt so great to be able to use them to celebrate another impending nuptial.)

We give thanks for a wedding in our future!

4) Bacon-wrapped dates!

Need I say more?



Far be it from me to get in the way of my people's shot at making a living; especially after years of colonization, corruption and poverty, but this scares me; a small paper in Pasadena has outsourced all its reporters to India. And they cover... Pasadena.

I think it works for this guy because he only has a small number of reporters working for him, so it's easy for him to walk each one through not only Pasadena issues, but American journalism style. Fingers crossed, this isn't the wave of the future for newspaper giants like the New York Times. Again, I don't to underestimate the ability of my bretheren at covering the news; it's just, you need to be where the news IS to cover it.


all text and photographs on aartilla the fun © 2005-2009 Aarti Sequeira unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.