Thursday, October 30, 2008

Big one, Little one

This is my favorite pan in my kitchen: a teeny tiny cast iron skillet!

It's no bigger that my hand, just big enough to fry an egg, or one sausage, or four gyoza. It's also the perfect size for the Indian cooking technique known in our house as "bagaar", where whole garlic cloves are toasted in oil before throwing in pinches of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal, curry leaves and turmeric powder. (It's that South Indian flavour combination I talked about in my Lucia & Lucica Indian Fried Rice).

I could never get myself to BUY this pan though, even though it was only a few dollars at the hardware store. That didn't stop me from fantacizing about it every time I saw one though. I wanted it so badly!

And can you believe it: Burning Man furnished it for me! On our last day out there, we went on a scavenger hunt, picking through the things that others had left behind. Not only did I find this little one, I also found THREE other cast iron skillets in different sizes, all in horrible states, but completely curable following this technique. So I got four cast iron skillets at Burning Man, in total probably worth about $100... FOR FREE!!

Oh, and right before Burning Man, we managed to snag this enormous nonstick skillet for free too, off Craigslist.

I make most everything in this big momma -- the fried rice, the hot dogs, veggies burgers... these two are the hardest working pans in my kitchen. And they were both free. So they are doubly-loved. :)

Isn't fate a funny ol' bird?!



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Aarti Cooks: Hot Dogs/Sausages a la Rose

In these recessionary times, (or as my friend Mikael likes to call it, GD2, ie. Great Depression 2), it's nice to have some cheap meals in your arsenal. This recipe is one of my cheapest, and funnily enough, one of the most delicious. And yes, of course, there's a story.

This recipe came about as a result of my Dad's extensive travels, work trips that happened practically every month and which took him everywhere from Djibouti to Malaysia. He loved and hated it. So did we. We hated that he had gone away, but we loved the tradition it created. Dad, being a curry-and-rice stalwart, hardly ever indulged in fast food. Hence, when the cat was away, the mice made a beeline for Hardy's and Shakey's Pizza (hey, it was Dubai; there weren't a lot of fast food options).

The mother mouse (Rose) also experimented with fusing fast food fixin's with Indian food fixin's. Only my mum would think about slicing tubes of processed "meat" into pretty rounds and cooking them up with onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala and... ketchup. Yes ladies and gents, the glorious tangy sweet ketchup, that underestimated occupant in your quiver of kitchen arrows.

This weird combo of common and exotic became our favorite thing that Mum made, and she wisely sent me off to college with this recipe in hand.

I remember the first time I made it for Bren. I can still picture him sitting in the shabby kitchen of our Ridge & Davis apartment, looking at it with a puzzled look on his face. It was even more puzzled once he ate it. He looked up at me, saw my forlorn face and said, "It's just... I don't... get it." So I understand the face you're making at the thought of this combination. But give it a try: it's Bren's favorite now too.

I have made this for him countless times over the past 12 long years and each time, we disagree over what to call 'em: I call them sausages, but Bren says they're hot dogs. I suppose we could settle on calling them "frankfurters", but really, does that sound appetizing? It sounds like "farts".

In any case, I hope you try this. It's wicked easy and it really is delicious. I normally serve it stuffed into some warmed pita bread halves, with a crisp, green salad. I adapted it a little bit for our taste, adding some smoked paprika (pimenton) to fancy it up a bit, and some shredded carrots that I had in the fridge, but you don't need either. I've named this recipe as my Mum would always refer to it:

Sausages a la Rose!

Serves 3
You'll need this stuff:

1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled, sliced thinly
1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 handful shredded carrots (optional)
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp pimenton aka smoked paprika (optional)
1 large tomato, diced
1/8 cup ketchup
1 pkg hot dogs, sliced about 1/16" thick (I like Hebrew National; you can choose whether you like chicken, turkey or beef. Trader Joes also has some Niman Ranch ones that I used today, which are awesome)
Handful of cilantro, minced

1) Set a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, swirling 1 tbsp canola oil until shimmering. Prep your onions, garlic and ginger whilst the oil is heating up.

2) Add onions, garlic, ginger and carrots, seasoning with salt and pepper. Saute until softened and slightly brown around the edges. Make sure your tomato is all chopped up and ready to go for the next step.

3) Add turmeric, garam masala and paprika's, quickly stirring for about 20 seconds to keep the spices from burning. Add tomatoes and stir. Cook until the mixture turns mushy.

4) Add ketchup, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Cook 5 minutes.

5) Add hot dog rounds, stirring to cover with tomato mixture. Add 1/4 cup water if the mixture is too dry and cover. Simmer over medium-low heat 15 minutes.

6) Taste and season accordingly. Off heat, stir in cilantro. Serve!

Let me know if you try it!


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sweet Sweet Joo

I am lucky to have circle upon circle of friends, a special blessing given my years of not having any (backstory here and here).

One of them lives far away in New York. We lived together oh so many years ago in Hoboken, sharing bags of bacon cheddar chips on the weekends, whilst watching Real World marathons. We caught matinee horror movies ("I'll never teeellllll!") at crappy shopping mall cinemas, whilst chomping on Arby's roast beef sandwiches. On Sunday mornings, we'd walk to the overpriced coffee shop opposite the overpriced laundromat, grab a cuppa and the Sunday paper, and trade off on reading various sections while our laundry whirled in the dryers. She even woke me up when the US invaded Iraq so that we could watch the coverage together (although we did battle over whose coverage to watch: NBC or CNN!).

Sweet sweet Joo is on assignment this week in LA, so we got to hang out this weekend. She even spent the night at my house, so that we could go to church together in the morning! And I'm so glad she did because the sermon that morning, (a continuation of a great series about being friends with God that I urge you to listen to here) began with a meditation on real friendship, one that had us poking each other in recognition of the ways in which we are each real friends to each other.

"A simple friend has never seen you cry.
A real friend has shoulders soggy from your tears.

A simple friend doesn't know your parents' first names.
A real friend has their phone numbers in his address book.

A simple friend brings a bottle of wine to your party.
A real friend comes early to help you cook and clean.

A simple friend hates it when you call after she has gone to bed.
A real friend asks you why you took so long to call.

A simple friend seeks to talk with you about their problems.
A real friend seeks to help you with your problems.

A simple friend wonders about your romantic history.
A real friend could blackmail you with it.

A simple friend, when visiting, acts like a guest.
A real friend opens your refrigerator and helps herself.

A simple friend thinks the friendship is over when you have an argument.
A real friend knows that it's not a friendship until after you've had a fight.

A simple friend expects you to always be there for them.
A real friend expects to always be there for you."




Friday, October 24, 2008

Portrait of a Present

My dear friend Alex Scarlis has known me since freshman year, when I thought he was hot and he thought I was... loud. Apart from both being gorgeous (I mean, look at his headshot. Ooof!) we have a lot of other stuff in common: a passion for international news, a passion for Indian women (ha!) and of course, a passion for Brendan McNamara.

Leave it to my considerate friend to drop by this week and give me a fantastic birthday present:

It's me!

Well, of course you knew that.

But, even better, now we have a matching set!

Alex gave Bren his portrait on Bren's birthday. What a great idea, huh? I can't believe he found the same Venice boardwalk artist to do mine. Thankyou Alex!

It makes me think of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," one my favourite books of all time.

"How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrid, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June. . . . If it was only the other way! If it was I who were to be always young, and the picture that were to grow old! For this--for this--I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give!"

I can't say I'm AS obsessed with my youth as Dorian was, but I wouldn't complain if our real-life visages stayed just the way they are, whilst our portraits wrinkled and sagged. Ha!



Thursday, October 23, 2008

Keep the Light On/Off For Me

Ah the joys of being a single-car family! Due to unexpected auditions and callbacks (yippee Bren!), coupled with my bellydance class, Bren and I left the house at 10am and probably won't be back home until 9p. So this is a very short post, written from the hushed environs of the Buena Vista Library.

Yesterday, I mentioned the war between India and China. I confess that I didn't know that much about it, and still don't, having only taken a cursory look at the Wiki entry. It's an interesting piece of history given the present day tug-of-war over autonomy in Tibet. Who knew that part of India was considered South Tibet by the Chinese?!

In any case, Mum and Dad were kids during that war, and while the battles raged far, far north of them, the repercussions were felt all the way to the south where they were. Mum says the Indian government instituted a ration system, where your family card got you an allotted amount of food, soap and kerosene. I mentioned that my Mum's mum got into deals with the neighbours in order to get the best for her children, and even ventured into black market purchases. It's cool to think that every woman is capable of lioness courage for her children.

Here again is my mum's account:
"It was a bad time in India when China attacked India and then Pakistan did the same.
Food produced did not meet the needs o the people so the Govt. started the Ration Card which still exists today as a mode of identification and proof of residence or belonging to a particle state in India.

So we got all our food items that is rice, wheat, cooking oil, kerosene - we cooked on kerosene stoves, soap (for washing clothes) etc.

We had to buy what ever was available and each family had a quota, above which we could not purchase from the ration shop, but had to buy on the black market. They normally two qualities of rice and wheat, one was superior kind and more expensive that the lower quality which was of course cheaper. Now the inferior quality was really bad, but we could only buy so much of inferior quality and so much of the superior quality, we could not buy all our rations in superior quality!! So my Mum had a deal with our neighbour who was a poor fisher woman who could not afford to feed her family with the superior quality of ration from her entitlement. She gave us her quota of the superior rice and wheat and we gave her our inferior quota of rice and wheat. It worked quite well for us, but the rice was never enough for a family of 8 (5 children + mum + 2 maids)and Mum had to resort to the Black Market many times. The soap was a glutenous stuff that had to be dissolved in hot water, before we could soak our clothes in the solutions. Also the sugar that was available was unrefined sugar not the white sugar that we were used to do. But it was probably better for us than the while stuff. Often the wheat would be in short supply and Mum would have to make chapatis with millet flour. This was quite different than preparing the wheat chapatis. We would have to mix the flour with hot water and then knead it. Chapatis would have to be rolled like the puffy ones, without the oil layer in between, and would have to be roasted and eaten immediately or they would turn rubbery!!

Well that is all, but another thing I remember was that behind our house was the creek and fields and mostly uninhabited,; we were told that spies would land in the night and we always had helicopter surveillance. I also remember the sirens that would go off both during the day and night and that we would have to keep our windows shaded to avoid giving the enemy planes their bearings and also to keep us from being bombed!! If there was any light showing through the windows the police would come and knock on our windows with their night stick!! Very scary stuff."

It's a nice reminder now, especially with the hallowed financial system collapsing around us, that things could be much much worse.



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Aarti Cooks: Lucia & Lucica's Indian Fried Rice


My middle name is Lucica, an expansion on my mum's mum's name, Lucia. She’s in the middle, between my Aunty Ruth on the left, and my mum (Rose) on the right. She died when my mum was young. Mum inherited the heavy mantle of surrogate motherhood: cooking, cleaning and taking care of her 4 younger siblings and her dad. My grandpa never remarried, spending the rest of his life pining for his wife. He died almost 2 years ago, so I like to think that they’re reunited and making up for all those lost years.

I don't think you ever get over losing your mum or your dad, no matter how much time has passed between then and now. Mum always talks about her with so much sadness in her voice -- and as I'm writing this, I realise that we, her grandchildren, don't even know what to call her. We call our Dad's mum, "Mamma". I wonder what she would have wanted us to call her.

Anyway. Mum’s mum was a fantastic cook. She made delicious meals out of the measly rations they received during the Indo-China war, even making deals with the neighbors to make sure her family was fed right (I’ll tell you about that tomorrow). She didn’t let a small hurdle like not having an oven keep her from baking a cake – she just made it on her stove-top, with nary a recipe in sight.

Thankfully (for my hungry tummy!), my mum inherited that understanding of kitchen alchemy, an impressive feat in Indian cooking where jar upon jar of delicious, pungent spices sit before you. And she’s had years to practice her dark arts (!), so now, unlike a lot of Indian food I’ve sampled, her dishes are spiced with a sure hand, subtle but precise, soothing not overwhelming, with a gentle burn not a third-degree one… prompting meals that are eaten in relative silence, except for the occasional “mmmmmm”.

Every now and then, Mum would make this “jiffy pulao” for us, using leftover rice, peanuts and my favorite bouquet of spices: mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves and turmeric.

Here’s how mum remembers this pulao:

“My Mum's Jiffy pulao was made out of necessity in the days when for most Indians having a refrigerator at home was a luxury. For us it was an impossibility because right until I left India for Doha, we did not have electricity in our part of Mumbai!! Can you believe that??

Anyway, my Mum's way of using the leftover rice was making a quick pulao for us, which was precious to us as it was very rare that she would cook us something like this. And the day she gave it away to a poor beggar woman who was hungry and begging for food, it was a sacrilege for us children!”

The other day, with a number of cups of leftover rice in the fridge, I remembered my gran’s pulao and decided that I would try to make my own version. And I must say that for the first time, I think I may have located that little touch of alchemy in my own blood. This pulao is the best thing I’ve made in a long time. In my gran’s honour, I’m calling this:

Lucia & Lucica Pulao: Indian Fried Rice with soy chorizo, peanuts and curry leaves.

A quick note:
“Pulao” is the Indian version of pilaf, and pronounced pu-LLOW (rhymes with allow). Curry leaves do not make curry powder as I’ve heard some people say. The leaves are a spice/herb unto themselves, and you can get them from Indian grocery stores. Just ask quietly because the last I heard, they were banned in the US. I want to buy a curry leaf tree!

Hunt down the turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves from your Indian market; it is really worth it. Don’t worry that you’ll be wasting money on spices you’ll never use again. You can use that combo again and again to spice most anything you want: vegetables, soups, eggs. It’s an authentic South Indian flavour combination that you won’t find in most Indian restaurants.

Soy chorizo
: Bren found some awesome soy chorizo at Trader Joe’s, but you could use regular chorizo. Just make sure you cook it separately first, and drain off all that oil. You don’t need it.

I leave the skins on the garlic – they’re aren’t edible but they keep the garlic from burning, and at the end, the clove slips out of the skin and is deliciously soft and sweet.

I took 10 minutes assembling this bevy of ingredient into a photographer’s dream, only to realize at the end that I didn’t use any ginger. So disregard the ginger, as gorgeous as it looks there!

Canola oil
3-4 cups COLD cooked medium-long grain white rice (basmati is my fav)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 bell pepper, diced small
½ pkg Trader Joe’s soy chorizo, casing removed
(or ½ pkg of regular chorizo, casing removed)
Handful frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, skins on, very slightly crushed
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp mustard seeds
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 sprig curry leaves, stem discarded
Small handful peanuts
Juice of half a lemon

1) Heat a little oil (about a tsp or so) in a wok or nonstick skillet, over medium heat. Once warmed, add the beaten egg and cook into scrambles. Remove from wok and set aside.

2) If you’re using regular chorizo, throw that in now and cook until slightly crispy and glistening. Remove from the wok, draining the oil, and setting the meat aside.

3) Swirl a little oil in the work (2 tsp) and once hot, add the bell peppers. Cook 30 seconds, and then add the soy chorizo if that’s what you’re using. Cook until bell peppers have softened and taken on a little colour. Add peas, cook until warmed through. Remove from wok and set aside.

4) Swirl 1 tbsp oil in wok, and once warm, add the garlic cloves (they should sizzle upon contact). Cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. If the skins are starting to burn, turn the heat down, or take the wok off the heat before you add the mustard and cumin seeds. You don’t want them to burn.

5) Add the mustard and cumin seeds. Cover. When the seeds begin to splutter, pick up the lid, but hold onto it; throw the curry leaves in, they will splutter rather furiously, so immediately cover. Allow to cook about 10 seconds, until you hear the sizzling die down.

6) Add turmeric. Allow to bloom; the powder will sizzle gently and release its aroma. This takes anywhere from 10-30 secs. If you don’t see the turmeric blooming, add a touch more oil.

7) Add the peanuts and toss, allowing the peanuts to toast a little in the spices.

8) Add the rice and toss, covering the rice in the spices.

9) Add chorizo mixture and egg. Toss gently. Add a little water if it’s too sticky.

10) Season with salt and pepper. Off heat, sprinkle lemon juice over the rice. Toss and serve!

Seriously. This is the best thing I’ve ever come up with. So so so good. Let me know how you like it!



Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What are YOU eating?

The other day, whilst wasting yet another hour (and who knows how many braincells) on Facebook, I wrote this as my status: "Aarti can't decide what to eat. What are you eating?".

(N.B. for those of you who are unfamiliar with the cyber-crack that is Facebook, you can input your status anytime you want, as if to broadcast what you're doing for the thousands of hungry eyes that really and truly do care. I'm not kidding. They really do care. It's weird but true. I love knowing what people are up to RIGHT NOW.)

Imagine my surprise! I got a flood of responses -- the most I've ever received on my status!

"Jelly." (Jello to the US folks)



"A roast beef sandwich with onions, lettuce, mayo and a touch of oil & vinegar."

"Soy chocolate ice cream mixed with organic almond milk and roasted almonds. Divine!"

"A chupa chup lillipop - coco vanilla flavor...and some beer! mmm!"

"Vegimite on's breakfast time here. But I'm also in the process of making a beef rendang."

I just loved hearing what everyone was eating! And moreover, I loved the fact that so many people were eating at 3 in the afternoon. Maybe my oddly-timed hunger pangs are not so strange after all -- Bren always makes fun of me because I'm always hungry... even if I've only eaten an hour ago. In fact, I'm hungry right now. Hmmm. I know exactly what I'm going to have too. Plain yoghurt (gotta get those digestive enzymes in somewhere!). Maybe with some honey and some toasted sliced almonds. That is my favorite snack.

It all begs the question: what are you eating? Or, what are you having for dinner? I can't wait to hear all your responses!

And don't forget, the next Aarti Cooks installment drops tomorrow. And this one is good my friends. Very, VERY good.

Write soon!



Monday, October 20, 2008

Playing Dress Up

I have never been a fan of Halloween. Getting dressed up seemed like a trial, a test of my ability to be creative, an ability I thought I lacked. I also struggled with the tired notion that being a girl on Halloween means having to choose between Skanky Witch Costume #1 or Frisky Tavern Wench Costume #5...

Burning Man unlocked that part of my brain. There was no mandate to wear a costume at BM, just a suggestion that you wear whatever you think makes you look like the fabulous warrior that you are inside. Hence, my warrior look included knee-high polka dot socks, a big block poofy petticoat skirt, a bellydance scarf, and the piece de resistance, a big yellow feather perched on my head. You can sort of see it here (apologies for the boobage!).

It was great practice for this weekend. Our friend Todd (one of Bren's improv teachers at the Hothouse) celebrated his birthday by requesting his guests show up dressed as a resident of Neverland. Donning a perfect pair of pointy ears, Todd dressed as the chairman of Neverland, Peter Pan.

I went, ironically enough, as an Indian, whilst Bren went as a Lost Boy. And for the first time, outside of Burning Man, I really enjoyed dressing up! Plus, it makes for fabulous photos. Check 'em out.

And finally, playing dress up inevitably leads to... swashbuckling!


Friday, October 17, 2008

To Every Season, Turn, Turn, Turn...

Hey guys!

We just got back from the East Coast, where with much vim and vigour, we celebrated the wedding of Bren's brother Jeremiah to a woman he's known his entire life, Sarah! Yippeee!

I only met Sarah about a year ago, and I admit: when Jed told me about this girl he was into, I was skeptical and protective as only an older sister can be (Kuv and Crish know what I'm talking about). But after only a few hours of hanging out with her, I was hooked. Sarah is the perfect match for Jed, and more importantly, the perfect match for me. Ha!

She very sweetly asked me to be a bridesmaid... so I wasn't able to take photos of the actual ceremony at all. Luckily, Bren's brother Will is dating a very very talented photographer, so we're all waiting with bated breath to see how all the photos come out. (On a selfish side note, I was able to fit into a dress I haven't been able to wear for FIVE YEARS! Yippee! Size 8 here I come!)

Some background before I show you this next photo. The story of Jed and Sarah is storybook perfect. Bren's mum, (Patte), Sarah's mum, (Marlene) and the mother of the maid of honor, Jill, (Marie) have been friends since they themselves were kids. Flash forward to now, a season that I only dream about now with my friends, ie: you'll have a boy, and I'll have a girl, and in 20 years, they'll get married so we'll always be in each other's lives!

And it happened! In fact, Marie found this unbelievable photo of Jed (the pudgy baby sitting on the left), Sarah (smiling coyly at the camera in her little bikini, a face I have seen her make now!), her brother Ryan sitting next to her, Bren (the pale, pale, skinny lad with astounding ab muscles standing in the back) and Jill, (sitting on the right with the big smile on her face). "First Summer Together". Amazing, isn't it?

They couldn't have gotten married at a better time of year. The trees in Boston and Maine were breathtaking, putting on their finest show before they lay bare for the next few months. I have never seen autumn like this; Chicago's autumn lasted about 3 days before winter kicked in and stole all the vibrancy away, and LA's autumn is laughable.

Bren's Uncle Brian shared his home with us, a gorgeous home south of Boston, with this as his backyard:

That's acres and acres of Nature Preserve, and an unused cranberry bog, which they fill up once it's cold enough so you can skate on it.

This is my favorite photo: you can see the trees reflected in the pond. COME ON! Beautiful enough?

Anyway, all this to explain the absence and why, sweet Elizabeth, I didn't post a recipe this week. Thankyou Eli for trying all my recipes out!!!


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Aarti Cooks: Sausage with Apple & Potato "Crush"

I have a crush. On whom?

As McCain would say, "THAT one." (The one doing the choking, not the other one.)

She's Gina Carano, the face of women's MMA (mixed martial arts). And not only is she beautiful, she also kicks arse at kicking arse. If you're an American Gladiator fan, then you'll know her as "Crush", but she was making waves in MMA circles way before the show. Bren has been raving about her for two years, but I was too busy ogling the men of MMA to notice!

It was only this past weekend, when I watched her clobber her opponent, Kelly Kobold, that I realised how talented she is. She's strong, fast and her kicks are vicious. And I love that she has trouble making weight (she had to weigh in NAKED to make weight for this most recent fight). I love that woman! I even let Bren show me a few Krav moves this morning at the gym, subconsciously inspired by her. Bren said I have good form!

I dedicate this dish to her; I made it this past weekend for our little MMA-viewing party (Kevin and Catie!). To me it's only fitting: the sweetness of the apples alongside the ahem, male-ness of sausages. Right? And the mash potato represents um, the beating their insides take. Get it? Right? Hello?

This was really, really delicious, and unlike some of my other recipes, fantastically simple. I used Trader Joe's Chicken-Mango sausages, but you can use whatever sausage you want -- chicken-apple, turkey, even sweet Italian pork sausage would be good. Just make sure you cook them all the way through.

Sausage with Apple & Potato "Crush"

1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 packet pre-cooked chicken-mango sausage (about 5 of them)
4 shallots, chopped medium-fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1" ginger, minced fine
4 apples, cored, peeled and sliced thinly into half-heart shapes (I used 2 Granny Smith and 2 Gala)
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp sherry
3/4 cup Half and half (or more depending on how starchy your potatoes are)
3 tbsp butter (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper

1) Set potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain.

2) Meanwhile, set a wide skillet over medium-high heat, and swirl a little oil in the pan. Add the sausages, and allow to brown on all sides and cooked mid-way through if they're the raw kind, 5-10 minutes.

3) Add 1/3 cup of water to the pan and immediately cover, allowing the sausages to steam for about 4-5 minutes. Check that they're cooked all the way through. If you like, turn the heat up and allow any remaining water to evaporate. Remove the sausages from the pan and keep in a warm place.

4) Add a touch more olive oil to the pan, and add shallots, ginger and garlic. Saute until the shallots begin to caramelize.

3) Add apples and fennel seeds. Stir gently so you don't break 'em. Cook until the apples have started to turn brown and tender.

4) Add the cider vinegar and the sherry, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you'd like more of a sauce, add a little water. Return the sausages to the pan and combine.

5) Meanwhile, mash the drained potatoes. Microwave your half and half so that it's warm and, by turns, add a little butter and a little half and half, stirring in between. Make sure you add a good amount of salt (especially if you're using unsalted butter, which you really should be using anyway).

Plate, eat and cheer for Gina!


Monday, October 6, 2008

Sunset on a Plate

The weather in LA is as manic as the people are. I'm not sure which came first -- the people or the weather.

Last week, it was cool and slightly rainy one day, 90 degrees the next. This PMS-y weather often arrives around autumn here, thanks in part at least to those annoying Santa Anas. It has made us all prone to mood swings, lethargy, coughs and colds, and for me, manic cooking. One day we're having tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches...

...the next we're having salad and cold cuts.

I cannot tell you the heartbreak of walking past gorgeous beets at the farmers market, their leafy tops crying out for a quick saute, whilst their saucy round bottoms are just ASKING for a good roasting... all the while mopping the rivulets of sweat pouring down your brow. Oh the heartache!

This week, I gave in. I hopefully grabbed a bunch of golden beets and a bunch of carrots at the farmers market, crossing my fingers for a cooler day later in the week to roast 'em; our apartment is so small that turning on the oven makes a drastic impact on the temperature of the entire flat.

Yesterday, EUREKA! A nice cool day. I cranked the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, wrapped the unpeeled beets in foil, threw them on a foil-lined baking sheet (you'll see why in a sec) and bunged them in the oven for about an hour. Here's a tip for you, if you didn't know it already: most ovens are very uneven. For example, I've figured out that the right side of my oven is much hotter than the left. That's easy to remedy if you're using a baking sheet. Just rotate the pan half way through, or if you're really obsessed, you can rotate a quarter of the way 4 times. Make sense?

These beets are just gorgeous, the colour of a sunset.

When you're about halfway through the cooking process, move the beet foil packets to one side of the sheet, and throw the peeled carrots on there, whole (I halved the bigger ones lengthwise). Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and my favorite, coriander powder. Seriously, try it. Your house will smell amazing.

The beets are ready when a knife glides smoothly through them. Same with the carrots. Let them caramelize a little -- that's my favorite part! Oh, and yes, peel the beets once they've cooled down a little.

It was hard not to eat them all right then, but I decided to save them for a quick salad later in the week. And boy was it worth the wait. Tonight I had a nice cool salad that looked like a sunset on a plate: Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad, with Blue Cheese and Salami!

The dressing is a simple one: White balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice), olive oil, a touch of agave nectar if your lemons are very sour, salt and pepper and some fresh herbs if you have 'em.

And voila! Quick weeknight meal!


what He sees

French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand takes gorgeous aerial photos of our planet from helicopters and hot air balloons, views you have probably never ever seen before! He has collated about 150 of them in an exhibit, "Earth from Above", in an effort to get us to appreciate our planet a little more. I can't imagine how awesome they look in person -- they're apparently 4' by 6'. They're coming to NY in 2009, and LA the year after that.

Trying to waste some time? Check out about 40 of them here.



Just the Facts, Ma'am

First off, I would just like to wish my wonderful mother a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Yipppeeeee! I won't mention how old she is, but let's just say you would be surprised because she still looks so young. :)

Secondly, there have been so many half-truths uttered by both sides in this political campaign (in my opinion, more by one side than the other...) that it's hard to know when they're uttering facts and when they're... "conjecturing."

If you haven't already, I would urge you to check out, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that aims to shine a light on every bit of deception in US politics. It doesn't take any money from either party, nor lobbyists, corporations or individuals. Besides which, I have tremendous respect for Brooks Jackson, the site's political director. That man is rad.

The site sifts most every ad for fact and fiction. It also goes through each debate and highlights the "inaccuracies" candidates slung at each other. The one on the Palin-Biden debate is particularly interesting to me. To me, it seems that one of them in particular is having a hard time sticking to the facts.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Friends on TV!

My friend Catie booked a Home Depot ad! Look! (She's the pouty teen).


Best. Present.

Last week, my sister Kuv sent me the best present ever.

A gorgeous photo album! But wait! There's more! Open it!

That's a baby picture of my mum on the left, and a family portrait of my mum, HER mum, and my Aunty Ruth. There are pages and pages more: photos of them, photos of dad, photos of us as babies and through the "awkward years" (if you ask me really nicely, I might just the awkward ones up. Although I suppose you already got a taste of it.)

Last Christmas, when our family had a reunion (the first time we had all been in the same room in seven years - my parents, my sisters and myself), we spent hours pouring over all the photo albums. Kuv tediously picked out the ones we liked, scanned them and emailed them to herself. I thought I would never get to see them. Think again.

Best. Pressie. Ever.

I thought you might like to see where I came from. Here's my mum. I *believe* this was her proposal photo, sent to all the handsome single suitors in town, so they would ride to her house on a white steed and challenge rival suitors to a duel in her name... well, maybe not the last part, but this was the photo that caught Dad's eye I think. And no wonder. Look at those lips!

I remember Mum telling me that she never felt pretty growing up, because people made such a fuss over her sisters. I wish I could punch those people in the face because Mum is so beautiful in this photo.

And then, there was my Dad, with his full head (and chest!) of hair, and his hazel eyes. As I may have told you before, Indians go CRAZY for coloured eyes. I shake my fist at the heavens quite often, wondering why I didn't inherit his eyes. MAN! Doesn't he look like a South Indian film star in this picture?

So the two of them fell in love, Dad asked her to marry him a few WEEKS later, and then they were engaged for about a year, as Dad took off to the Middle East to find his fortune. They wrote each other gorgeous letters, tons of them, each one numbered, so they'd know if they had missed one in the mail. Sweet, huh?

Then I arrived on the scene. With a full head of hair.

Mum said the hospital nurses wondered if I was a Filipino baby.

Kuv came along a couple of years later. Here she is modeling her get-out-of-bed look. So saucy!

Here I am showing off before my first concert ever. We had to do the birdie dance, (the chicken dance?) which is why I'm crouching.

And finally, Crish made her grand entrance...

...striking a pose her oldest sister (me) had struck eleven years earlier!

Thanks Kuv! What a perfect way to look back at the last 30 years. I treasure it.

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