Monday, October 19, 2009

The Big Move

Hey guys!

I'm making The Big Move... from a little personal blog to a big... um... personal blog. From now on, I'll be posting my videos and my silly little thoughts here. Check it out, and have a little patience with me as I work out some of the kinks. Oh, and if you like the logo, give my youngest sister, Crish, props. Perhaps she can design yours!



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 27: "I Ain't Chicken" Chicken!

What an odd day it's been. I started writing this post about how this recipe celebrated my choice to live bold, about how the phrase had entered my consciousness a couple of years ago, and how it had led, through baby steps like taking improv classes, designing my first original recipe, going to Burning Man for the first time... to finally shooting this little engine-that-could of a show, and finding my purpose in life.

It was, I realise, going to be a bit of a celebration of myself.

But I'm realising that for all the trumpets I have been playing for myself, for all the parades I've thrown myself in my head for being so bold, for all the ways I am grateful for the changes He's worked in me, I have stumbled big time. I have let people down. I have ignored the plight of others because I've been so obsessed with my own. I may have been bold, but only in the pursuit of what made ME happy. When it came to other people, I was chicken.


Sorry guys! Usually, these little show intros are upbeat and funny, but I'm feeling a bit introspective today.

Oooof! Well, let's disband this pity party and focus on the recipe, shall we? WOW!

This is a simplified version of the "I Ain't Chicken" Chicken recipe that I wrote two years ago. It's a milestone of a recipe, because it was the first original recipe I'd ever written.

This version uses just chicken breasts, on the bone, and it's flavoured with cardamom, orange and fresh ginger. It's a fresh, innovative combination I think -- reminiscent of Middle Eastern tea time flavours I think. I love this technique because everyone gets a juicy, flavourful chicken breast and it's done in just 40 minutes! So much quicker than roasting an entire chicken.

Take a look:

"I Ain't Chicken" Chicken
Roasted Crispy-Skin Chicken Breasts with Cardamom-Orange-Ginger Butter

2 big russet potatoes (optional)
2 chicken breasts, on the bone, skin intact, preferably kosher
1 tbsp butter, softened but not melted
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
Zest of one large orange
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Handful minced fresh parsley
Salt & pepper

1) Turn oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit/260 degrees celsius, gas mark 10. Grab a broiler tray, and line the bottom with aluminium foil. If you like, slice some potatoes about 1/2" thick, and throw them in there, tossed with a little olive oil and salt. Place slotted tray over the top.

2) Pat chicken dry with some paper towels. Poke a small opening in that clear membrane between the skin and the flesh of the chicken breast. Glide your index finger through the opening, loosening the skin from the flesh, without removing it completely. You're creating a big pocket in which the butter will sit! Repeat with the other chicken breast. Set aside.

3) Wash your hands thoroughly.

4) In a small bowl, combine butter, ground cardamom, orange zest, ginger, parsley, salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp of kosher salt if you're using a kosher chicken. Use more if it's a regular chicken). Stir together with a spoon until well mixed.

5) Place a spoonful of the butter mixture through the opening you made in the skin of the chicken breast. Once it's in there, smooth out the butter by gliding your finger over the skin, until it's evenly distributed. Repeat with the other breast.

6) Place chicken breasts on broiler tray. If you wish, drizzle skin with a little oil, for extra crispy skin. Throw the whole shebang into the oven, and roast for about 40 minutes, turning once halfway through the cooking time. Relax, sip a glass of wine, bask in the crackling sounds of butter and comforting smell of roasted chicken on a rainy day!

7) Check the breasts about 30 minutes in, just in case. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast, but not touching the bone, should register about 160 degrees F when it's cooked. Pull them out at this point, tent with foil and allow to rest about 5 minutes.

7) Using a fork and sharp paring knife, slice breast off the bone, and serve alongside some sauteed spinach and a dollop of Indian shredded mango pickle. Yum!



Monday, October 12, 2009

Veggie Chili for a Blanket-y Day

Sometimes, I wonder whether LA's bright, sunny weather is wasted on me. I mean, I love waking up to sunshine every day, but nothing makes my heart sing like a grey day.

The past few days have seemed too good to be true: a thick, grey, woolly blanket has landed over LA, accompanied by a gentle breeze that tickles the leaves of the giant sycamore tree outside my window. The blanket deadens the sounds of freeway traffic, intensifies the lushness of any greenery my eye falls upon, forces me to slow down and enjoy the simplicity of blankets and tea. I'm so scared these days will go away; LA weather is so fickle!

The blanket's arrival coincided with that small span you may or may not relate to: those days/weeks between a dwindling bank account, and the next check. Rather than freak out, I've chosen to take this on as a challenge: what can I make for the least amount of money, that will last a few meals, and keep us sated?


Veggie chili is wonderful because it's packed full of nutrition, but between all those veggies and all that liquid, you fill up FAST. Plus, the longer it sits in your fridge (within reason), the better it tastes. And, since you're cooking vegetables, it doesn't have to cook for hours, as its carnivorous cousin does. If you're scared of cooking, this is a great place to start, because it's hard to mess up!

So, before I give you the recipe, here are a few thoughts/tips -- then you can make your own version. The process of making chili usually goes something like this:

1) Sautee your aromatics in a nice big pot.
In this category, you'll find: onions, ginger, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, bell peppers (green, red etc), jalapeno or serrano peppers. Always start with an onion though. You should also throw your harder root veggies in at this point: parsnips, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, turnips, butternut squash etc. Sautee for about 10 minutes in olive oil over medium heat, until the onions soften and turn translucent.
Fill it chock-a-block with vegetables: the more you throw in different textures and flavours, the less you're going to notice that it's meatless! Plus, the better it'll be for you! Save more delicate veggies like cauliflower, spinach and peas until closer to the end, so that they don't turn mushy.

2) Cheat with chorizo!
Listen people. I'm married to a proud carnivore. We needed something that mimicked that meaty texture, and soy chorizo is awesome for that. I used soy chorizo because the thought of eating salivary glands (which you'll find in the regular kind) doesn't always sit that well with me. Ok, I admit my hypocrisy: I'll eat processed hot dogs with nary a thought about what's in those.
What was I saying?
Oh yeah, the cool thing about (Mexican) chorizo is that it's already been spiced with paprika and garlic, so it does a lot of the work for you! Plus, it gives you that meaty mouth-feel, fooling your canines and incisors into thinking you're eating meat. And, it's packed with protein! Boom! I found it next to the regular chorizo in the refrigerated section at the supermarket, next to the Mexican cheeses, and the cream cheese.

3) Spice it up!
I added chili powder (duh), cumin, ground allspice, and ground ginger, but play around with paprika, smoked paprika, ground coriander, turmeric, worcestershire sauce, nutmeg... You could also add a chopped up chipotle pepper at this point too. Yum, yum. Oh and don't forget the salt (although if you're using chorizo, you may not need that much, since it's usually pretty salty on its own). Also if you like a little sweetness, you can add some honey, brown sugar, molasses, agave or heck, even plain ol' white sugar will do.

4) Keep it saucy!
I use whole canned tomatoes, and crush them (rawr!) right over the pot; that way you get nice big chunks of tomato. I also dump in all that lovely tomato juice. Some people like to add tomato sauce too, I'm guessing to thicken it up, but I haven't found I needed it.
In addition to the tomatoes, you'll need to add more liquid: water, stock or...
A CAN OF BEER! This is my favourite, because its bitterness cuts through all the tomato sweetness. Plus my friend left a six-pack of Simpler Times in the fridge ($2.99 for a sixer at Trader Joes!), and I need to finish it before I get a beer belly.
If you don't like that idea, just use more water or stock. Just eyeball it -- add enough to semi-cover all the veggies. You can always add more if it gets too dry, or boil it off if it's too watery.
I might try making a green chili next time with smoked tomatillos. Doesn't that sound good?!

5) Simmer for 30 minutes.
Bring the entire concoction to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer (gentle but steady bubbles on the surface of the chili). Since you're only cooking veggies, you'll need just 30 minutes to cook all the veggies through and develop the flavours.
If you're thinking about adding a grain like white rice to the chili, then about 15 minutes into this simmer time, add a cup of water, bring it back up to a boil, then add 1/2 cup of white rice. Take it back down to a simmer and let it cook for 15 minutes.

6) Bean there, done that
I love beans, but I don't add a ton because I'm a big fan of the, ahem, consequences. But they're a great source of protein and fiber, so the more you add, the more filling your chili. Plus they're so cheap!
And you don't just have to use kidney beans: black beans, white kidneys, black eye peas, frozen limas, frozen peas, corn, chickpeas and cooked lentils are all great options!
Add them after your 30 minutes have elapsed, rinsing the canned ones under water to get rid of that goopy stuff, and let them warm through about 5-10 minutes. And you're done!

Phew! I know that was a lot, but I suppose what I'm trying to tell you is, you don't need a recipe to make chili! As long as you have a onion, some veggies, chili powder, ground cumin and a can of tomatoes, your chili is just 45 minutes away.

Here's the one I made last night, while we watched not 1, not 2, but 3 movies in a row (I love you, streaming Netflix) but experiment with your own versions!

Veggie Chili for a Blanket-y Day

1 yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
1 green bell pepper/capsicum, membranes removed and diced
1 red bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 package soy chorizo, casing removed
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
28 oz can whole tomatoes
1 can beer
1 15oz can red kidney beans
Lime, cheese and scallions to garnish

1) Sautee onions, carrots, parsnips, bell peppers, jalapeno and garlic about 10 minutes until softened.

2) Add chorizo and sautee a couple of minutes until it smells really good in your kitchen.

3) Add chili, cumin and allspice powders. Sautee about 30 seconds to get the flavour out of 'em.

4) Add juice from tomato can, then crush each whole tomato with your hands over the pot, leaving them as chunky as you like.

5) Add beer, and much water as you need to almost cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 30 minutes.

6) Drain kidney beans, rinse. Add to chili, and cook another 5-10 minutes until beans are warmed through.

7) Serve, squeezing a wedge of lime over the top, garnishing with scallions and cheese if you wish.



Friday, October 9, 2009

Take the Cake!

(Isn't this photo gorgeous? Joo took it.)

My friends Elizabeth, Joo (Emmy and Peabody Award-winner! Woohoo!) and Mandi were here this past weekend, for our annual girls trip. We had tons of fun chin-wagging, making fun of Mandi, scaring me half to death on roller-coasters meant for toddlers, making fun of Mandi...

If you've read this blog long enough, you'll know that we meet up every year, that these three ladies are women I knew in college, but with whom I grew much closer after I graduated and Bren left, because I realised that I had turned into one of those awful girls who had abandoned her friends in favour of her boyfriend. Ugh!

Needless to say, these girls are precious to me.

This trip, we marked Mandi's milestone 30th birthday. She's the baby of our little gang; the rest of us celebrated en masse last year. On their last night here, they came over to my house and, we all made dinner: Sheesh! kebabs and cucumber salad (oops, did I not post that recipe?! eeks!), mac 'n' cheese and to top it off, possibly the tallest chocolate cake I've ever seen, save a traumatic experience at Claim Jumpers.

You can kinda see it here. I think it's something to be quite proud of, no? It's only TWO LAYERS!

I have kept this recipe top secret for a while, mostly because I was trying to build a small baking business to supplement our income, but since that hasn't really taken off, I may as well share the "wealth". I adapted a recipe I found on Epicurious, by subbing in 1/2 cup of brown sugar which I think gives it a bit of rich, dark sweetness. Finding a good chocolate cake recipe is sort of like finding the holy grail these days; every tom, dick and harry has a recipe available online, but beware! Not every recipe is equal! This recipe contains a few ingredients that make it very, very special:
  • Coffee: it heightens the chocolate flavour, but no worries if you don't like the flavour of coffee (you weirdo). You won't taste it at all. And yes, you can use decaf. I do.
  • Cocoa AND real semisweet chocolate: recipes that only call for cocoa hardly ever come out chocolate-y enough for me. Use good quality chocolate if you can, and don't use chips; they are apparently coated in this weird waxy stuff that's yucky.
  • Buttermilk: I've found that the key to a gorgeously moist cake is either yogurt or buttermilk. I don't know why, but trust me brotha-man, it works!
  • Vegetable oil: The most bothersome part of baking, to me, is the creaming process. OH MAN! It makes me shudder thinking of the long minutes that pass by as my arm turns asleep whilst beating butter and sugar into submission. And, even when I was blessed with that kitchen superhero, the KitchenAid mixer, I could never get the sugar completely incorporated into the butter, even if I use fine baker's sugar. BORING! Vegetable oil eliminates this entire process.
So without further ado, here's the recipe. Remember to subtract 1/2 cup of white sugar and add 1/2 cup of the brown stuff. Also, don't overbeat your cake at the end -- mix until it's just combined and no more, or else you end up with a tough cake. And yeah, you'll need a pound of chocolate for the ganache. Yeah, it's worth it. This is, hands-down, the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE EVER!

There! I said it! (And quite appropriately, was first published in the recently-defunct Gourmet Magazine. RIP Gourmet. I loved you well.)



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Facial Massage

It's been a bit nuts around here recently. Thankfully, the laptop is back, and so is the internet, and I was so lucky to have my besties from college come visit me this past weekend (pics coming!). Whee! This morning, I found myself watching almost every one of these makeup videos from a woman called Oxford Jasmine. She has one up on facial massage, which she won't allow me to embed for some reason, but here's the link. I think I'll be giving myself one of these every week, using some coconut oil!



Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 26: Beatnik Spinach!

It’s getting to the end of the month, which means I’m looking for cheap recipes! Thank goodness for my stash of Indian vegetarian recipes; I already have the spices, and the lentils in my cupboard, so all I had to do was buy a bag of spinach, and hey presto: dinner’s ready!

Spinach with moong dal (a small yellow lentil, which you can find at Indian groceries, and online) offers you all the nutrition of leafy green vegetables, alongside a light dose of lentil protein, and the healing properties of both turmeric and garlic.

Cool, huh? Real cool. Beatnik cool, even. Yup, stay with me... there's a connection. Check it:

Spinach with Yellow Moong Dal (lentils)

1 handful (about ¼ cup) yellow moong dal, washed and soaked for 30 minutes
2 tbsp vegetable, canola or peanut oil
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 medium clove garlic, crushed and peeled
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly lengthwise (about 1½ cups)
1 green Serrano chile, sliced and seeded if you don’t want it spicy (optional)
1 tbsp ginger, peeled and minced
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp paprika
¼ hing (asfoetida poweder, available at the Indian store)
1 medium roma tomato
1 bag baby spinach

Serve with: brown basmati rice and plain yogurt

1) Heat oil in big skillet over medium heat until shimmering.

2) Add cumin seeds and garlic. Wait until the seeds have finished spluttering, and then add onion, Serrano chile and ginger. Saute until onion has softened.

3) Add spice powders, and sauté for 30 seconds.

4) Add tomatoes; cook until they go mushy.

5) Add lentils, and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook about 5 minutes until the lentils are almost cooked.

6) Add spinach, covering to allow the leaves to wilt. Toss, and cook another 5 minutes so that the flavours go through the spinach. Add a little water if the dish gets too dry. It should have a sauce-y consistency. Serve!



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tech Support

Oh man. It just keeps coming. First my laptop died. I mean, DIED. And I lost everything on the hard drive. And no, before you ask, I didn't back it all up. Don't even think about saying "I told you so". I've been saying it to myself (and Bren, poor thing) for weeks!

Thankfully, it's back up now, and I didn't have to pay for anything (thankyou AppleCare!). But now I have to restore everything, installing all the programs I normally use, and devising a bullet-proof backup system. And, just when I was about to get that going...

My modem died.

No internet.

Until Friday. Thankfully, I don't have to buy a new modem... funny how one customer "service" rep will tell you one thing, and another one will tell you the opposite. Don't take no for an answer folks! It gets here Friday, so for the moment, I'm at an office somewhere, typing as fast as I can before we have to leave.

Keep your fingers crossed that we won't need any more "tech support" in the next few days! Goodness!



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 25: Sheesh! Kebabs

Growing up in Dubai, Dad would sometimes surprise us with a feast of Lebanese food on Fridays (our day off).

I'd wait impatiently whilst he drove to the little place 10 minutes down the road from us, prepping the ONE soda that my parents allowed me per week (chilling the glass in the fridge, slicing a piece of lemon to top the whole thing off. Yup. I went through that kind of trouble over a diet Coke. At that age, I thought everyone did it. Telling, huh?)

Once the food had arrived, we'd pile our plates high with generous dollops of smooth hummus, pleasantly bumpy babaghanoush, fresh peppery greens, crunchy radishes, warm bread and of course, the piece de resistance, KEBABS!

Chicken, beef, lamb -- why are kebabs so much fun to eat?! Perhaps it's that inviting char, the pre-portioned pieces of meat, the promise of a crispy exterior and a tender interior. Perhaps though, it's something deeper: a pull only explained by our ancestry as cavemen? Man, woman, fire, meat? Heehee!

As if they weren't delicious enough, I fondly remember that one piece of pita bread that had been lying under the kebabs, soaking up all those exquisite juices; we'd fight over that piece of bread! Ooof!

My favourite kebab is the Lula kebab, or the Koobideh kebab, as the Persians put it. The Indians have their own version of this one too, called seekh kebab. Great minds must think alike: All of them consist of ground beef or lamb (or mutton), mixed together with some onions and spices, shaped into long logs, skewered and then cooked over a grill or in a tandoor oven. I find them so much more satisfying than other kebabs: tender, flavourful, and easy to digest.

But they are harder to make than you think. I literally made this recipe 3 or 4 times, hoping to get it to the right consistency. Finally, one late Wednesday night, when Bren was away at a rehearsal, I cracked it! And I had no one to shout to about it! Thank goodness I get to share it with you!

The secret lies in two parts: first, use a little baking soda to help the meat hold together (I can't tell you how disappointing it is when your skewer falls apart before you very eyes) and secondly, knead the heck out of it!

I know that second secret may strike some of you as blasphemy. I don't know how often I've been told not to overwork ground meat, whether it's for burgers or meatloaf, or else you run the risk of eating a tough, dry hockey puck. In this case though, if you don't knead it well, the meat doesn't turn sticky, and your kebabs turn out tough and oddly-textured.

So this is probably the only time you'll hear me say this: BLASPHEME AWAY! You'll thank me, I promise you!

I made them using lamb, because I love the way lamb stands up to the combination of shallot, ginger, garlic and mint. But you can use beef if you don't like lamb.

Oh, and I hope you'll allow me to gild the lily a little, by adding some pomegranate molasses to this recipe -- I made a glaze using lemon juice and pomegranate molasses that turns the ordinary lamb kebab into something extraordinary: sweet, tangy, sour, umami. Pardon me while I faint.

If you have trouble finding pomegranate molasses (Middle Eastern shops have it), you can make your own by boiling down some pomegranate juice (the pure stuff, not the kind mixed with blueberries or mangoes or whatever) with some sugar. Presto!

I hope you'll give these a go. They're a cheap way to work some meat into your menu (the whole thing, including a bottle of molasses probably cost me about $15 and it'll feed 4 quite comfortably), and your friends and family will think you're extraordinarily fancy, even though they are super easy and quick to pull together. Plus you can make the kebabs up to a day in advance, and grill them right before serving! Sheesh! Splendid!

Sheesh! Kebabs
Ground Lamb kebabs with Pomegranate glaze

2 medium shallots
2 cloves garlic
3 quarter-sized slices ginger
Handful of cilantro
4 sprigs mint
Zest of one lemon, and separately, its juice
3/4 tsp kosher salt
Lots of freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp garam masala (optional)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1lb ground lamb
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses + 2 tbsp extra for glaze

Special equipment: Food processor if you have it, 8 bamboo skewers, stovetop griddle or big nonstick pan or outside grill

1) Bring lamb to room temperature. If you're going to cook your kebabs on the grill, soak 'em in water for at least 30 minutes, so they don't burn.
2) Grab your food processor. You can chop all this by hand too; just make sure to chop it all up very finely.
3) Throw shallots, garlic, ginger, lemon zest, cilantro, mint and salt into processor. Grind until very finely chopped.
4) Throw lamb into big bowl. Add the shallot mixture, pomegranate molasses, baking soda, garam masala and pepper to the meat. Using your hands, knead 2 to 5 minutes until meat lightens in colour, taking on the appearance of knitted fabric. It will also be very sticky. Perfect!
5) Divide the meat in half, then half again, and then half again, until you have 8 mounds.
6) Have a platter ready for your completed kebabs. Drizzle a little oil on the platter so the kebabs don't stick.
7) Have your bamboo skewers standing by. Take one ball of meat, and roll it into a short stump. Thread the skewer through it, then begin shaping the kebab with quick strokes, pulling the meat down. It should be a little over 1/4" thick. Roll the kebab between your hands to seal the meat. Repeat.
8) Heat griddle over medium heat, drizzling oil over it, so that when it starts to smoke, you'll know it's ready. Meanwhile, mix the juice of half the lemon with extra 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses in a small bowl.
9) When it's hot, place the skewers on the grill. Cook about 2 minutes, then turn a quarter of the way. Brush with lemon-molasses glaze, and cook another 2 minutes. Continue in this way until you've cooked the meat 8-10 minutes.
10) Serve, alongside cucumber-pomegranate raita (recipe tomorrow!).


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A "healthy" appetite

I heard Frank Bruni on my favourite public radio station, KPCC, yesterday. He's promoting his new book, "Born Round" which details his lifelong battle with his weight, and how that was impacted by his long years as the famed New York Times restaurant critic.

My favourite part was when he described how, as a baby, he would howl when he hadn't been given what he had determined was enough food. In fact, he cried so hard and long, that he would end up throwing up, thereby needing even more food! None of his brothers had that issue. For some reason, only he was blessed/cursed with that kind of appetite.

Today, after years of trying every diet out there, and making up a few himself, he's come to realise that he needs to eat a 3500 calories a day. That sounded like a helluva lot to me; I don't count my calories at all, but I think I'm supposed to be eating somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1500 a day. (You can figure out how much the USDA thinks you should consume, here).

BUT, and this is the amazing part, rather than limit his calorie intake to the conventional levels, he just makes sure to exercise enough every day to maintain his weight below 200 lbs.

What a generous way to look at yourself. So much of weight loss theory is about punishing yourself, no pain, no gain... I restrict indulging my sweet tooth to once a month. Growing up, I often compared my plate to my sister's, whose more delicate appetite made me feel like a whopping great big oaf. My close friend and work mate in New York had a small appetite too; I would match my lunches to hers, and while I lost so much weight that I was the thinnest I've ever been, let me tell ya... I was hungry! I still do it now. And come to think of it, I wonder if I subconsciously pick skinny friends with small appetites to keep myself in check? Hmmmmm. That's not entirely true, but there is something there. Thank goodness I picked a husband who can and will eat an entire rack of baby back ribs, twice over, and want dessert. Soul mates indeed!

Bruni talked about exercising self-control of course, about how he still has to grit his teeth every now and then to keep himself from eating more than he needs to, but I was struck by the compassion in his voice when he talked about how he had come to accept that he was born with a big appetite. That's just the way it is. Perhaps I could learn a thing or two from him.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Seeing Red

I'm inspired!

I've never felt like I had a beautiful figure. Not one person on TV or in the movies has ever made me feel like my particular configuration of boobs, hips and thighs was beautiful. Not Marilyn Monroe (my boobs are bigger), not Salma Hayek (her waist is smaller), not even the heroines of Bollywood who have, sadly, now embraced the tiny waist 'n' hip silhouette so common amongst their Hollywood counterparts.

Apparently, when it comes to women, bigger is NOT better. God forbid you do like bigger women; you apparently have a fetish.

Ah, but finally, someone whose buxom beauty has helped me embrace my funny ol' figure!

She's Christina Hendricks, the actress who plays the sexy, confident (if a titch bitchy, really) Joanie on AMC's Mad Men. The critically-acclaimed show follows the life of New York ad men during the late 50s, and Christina plays the head secretary at the ad agency. Every time she's on screen, my eyes sparkle.

She saunters into each scene, her ample hips patiently swaying from side to side, slowing down the anxious, obedient patter of other secretaries. She's always dressed in bright, mono-toned shifts, that fit her voluptuous ins and outs so exactly that she must have been sewn into her clothes; the bright colours offset her curves against the drab, pillared background of the ad agency walls. That naturally-narrow waist, the generous bosom, the exaggerated derriere... there's no mistaking this creature for anything other than a WOMAN -- capitals intended! Here's a woman who's curvy 'cos she likes to eat, not because she's squeezing herself into a ridiculous corset.

I find myself reading every article about her, about how she has struggled to love her figure, how designers still don't send her clothes because she isn't a size 4, about how she tucks into a plate of rabbit ragu and sips a second glass of wine during her interview. Oh, and she's marrying a half-Pakistani actor. Ah, this girl and I could be friends!

I found myself examining my own figure in the mirror. Our silhouettes aren't too different, although I'm working on the cinched-in waist part. Our boobs are too big for Victoria's Secret (I guess the secret is she doesn't make bras for ladies over a D cup), our bums too full for the Gap (insert joke here).

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is something beautiful about my figure too... for the first time, I'm able to see what works about it.

Apparently, the curvy figure is back, because even Kate Moss has put on a few pounds. From the looks of it though, she's going to have to tuck in a few more plates of rabbit ragut before she qualifies as curvy, though. At least in my book.

In an effort to further embrace my inner old-school WOMAN, I bought my first tube of red lipstick. My first. Isn't that crazy? I love it. I find myself wearing it for the smallest errands, even to just pick things up around the house. It just feels... fancy.

If you're my skin tone, my fellow Indians, you know how hard it is to find a red that suits you. I found this one at the Body Shop; it's called "Brilliant Red". It looks a little harsh in photos but in real life, it's awesome.

Here's to your inner WOMAN!


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 24: White Gazpacho

The mercury is coming down a tad now, thankfully. But a few days ago, it was so hot that I realised that I didn't want to cook. That hardly ever happens! Thank goodness I had this recipe tucked away: a thick, chilled soup made with cucumbers, green grapes, yogurt, almonds and mint. Just listing the ingredients brought my temperature down a degree or two. Right? I've never been a fan of the regular kind of gazpacho, but this one really makes me sing. It's stunning.

You will have to cook just a little tiny bit, but it's totally worth it. I am quite impressed with my shortcut technique to soften garlic enough to mimic the way it gets when you roast it for 45 minutes. This way takes only 5 minutes, and is a close cousin. Try it!

If the idea of feta-topped crostini makes you run for the hills, then just omit it, and sup this chiller on its own. You could also poach some shrimp for some extra protein if you like. This is a cheap, quick, easy recipe that is filling enough for a light lunch with the family, and easy-breezy (cover girl!) elegant enough for a dinner with friends.

Sadly, its elegance was lost on a couple of celebrity tasters in my kitchen this week: yup, you guessed it. Heidi and Spencer Pratt stopped by, although I don't know how or why. Watch and see what they thought of my precious white gazpacho!

I'm putting up two versions today, in case your computer struggles with the higher-quality version.

This is the high-quality one:

Aarti Paarti Ep. 24: White Gazpacho (w/ Cukes, Grapes, Almonds, Mint) from aarti on Vimeo.

And this is the regular-quality version:

White Gazpacho with Cucumbers, Grapes, Almonds, Mint

1/4 olive oil
4 cloves garlic, in their skins
Slices of baguette, as many as you like
Feta cheese, enough to top the crostini
Smoked paprika (optional; you can substitute regular paprika)
3 cups cucumber, chopped (use long, English ones or Persian ones. If you use the regular bumpy kind, peel it, and scoop out the seeds because they are quite bitter)
2 cups green seedless grapes
1/2 cup skinned almonds
2/3 cup yogurt
2 sprigs of mint
1/8 tsp ground coriander
Pinch ground cumin
4 tsp sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Alternatively, you could throw the bread in the toaster oven.

2) Heat olive oil in small skillet over medium heat. When it's shimmering, add the garlic and toss, sometimes tilting the pan so that the garlic "deep-fries" in the oil for a few second. Cook until the skins look translucent, even lightly browned. Remove garlic from the pan, and allow the oil to cool.

3) Brush one side of the bread slices with the same oil you just used to cook the garlic. Place on baking sheet, oiled side up, and bake for about 5 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the oven. Top with feta cheese. Bake another 5 minutes until cheese softens. Set aside.

4) Blend together cucumbers, grapes, yogurt, almonds, mint, spices, sherry vinegar and a couple tablespoons of the garlic oil you just made. Season with salt and pepper. Chill until it's time to serve, with crostini on the side!



Monday, August 31, 2009

Holiday Photos

I'm about to settle into editing Aarti Paarti, but thought I'd put up a few pics from our holiday up the coast. Bren's brother Will, and his lovely lady Rachel, invited us on their trip to Yosemite, San Francisco and Big Sur. Can you believe we did all of this in 4 days? Driving?! It was crazy. But so much fun!

So, consider this part 1. On the drive up to Yosemite, we were enticed by the promise of delicious jerky at this truck stop looking place. It seemed like it was from another time altogether.

The jerky wasn't that great, but there were a few other surprises, such as the old west-lookin' building that housed the restroom:

And the chickens! So random! I have no idea why these chickens were here.

They weren't very happy, although I've rarely met a chicken who is. I'm totally in love with this photo -- click on it to see it full-size. I love how the face of the chicken on the left is so in focus, even though its body is a blur of motion.

Whilst Rachel is definitely the photographer of the family, Will manages to take some pretty cool shots too. Ah, Will, how do I love thee? I cannot count the ways!

Y'all know how much I love cast iron skillets. This state of this one brought a tear to my eye. I just wanted to grab it and take it to a good home (namely, mine). But I suppose there's something pretty about it, no?

I can't remember what this was about, but I'm sure it was Bren's fault.



Saturday, August 29, 2009

Station Fire

UPDATE: National Weather Service says that plume is 20,000 feet high!

After living in Los Angeles for a number of years, and covering a handful of wildfires, I'm kinda used to them. But I still gasped when I climbed out on our deck and took in an eyeful of this:

That's the "Station Fire", burning about 30 miles northeast of us. 30 miles away and not only can we see it, but that plume of smoke is ENORMOUS. I was reading that some of that brush hasn't burned in 60 years!

Throwing up a prayer for those firefighters who are battling not only a vicious 5,000 acre fire, but triple-digit temps and low humidity. So thankful for my quiet, safe, air-conditioned living room right now!



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 23: Bacon Wrapped Dates aka Happy Pig Dates

One Thanksgiving, I brought bacon-wrapped dates. When I got there, the poor, over-worked mum asked that I please not put the dates in the oven until dessert. At first, I was at a loss. These were the perfect appetizer, they were how I was going to win over a family I had never met before! But then I realised that these little puppies are good enough to eat as an appetizer, mains or dessert. And so, there they sat, alongside 3 different kinds of pie. At first, folks were a little reluctant to try something so odd. But one brave woman did, and as soon as her boyfriend (or brother, I can't remember! Ugh!) saw the ecstasy on her face, he quickly grabbed one. And so on, and so forth. Cue a whole host of people hovering around the plate of dates until they were all gone.

So if these sound a little odd to you, sally forth dear reader. I'm pretty sure you won't turn back, and you'll soon be fantasizing about how these would go with your eggs, your salad and your ice-cream.

These are a wonderful appetizer for your next gathering, ESPECIALLY if you don't feel comfortable in the kitchen. All you have to do is roll a date in a strip of bacon, secure it with a toothpick and throw 'em in the oven for 10 minutes. That's it!

Oh, and why's it called Happy Pig Dates? Watch the episode and you'll see.

Aarti Paarti Ep. 23: Bacon Wrapped Dates (aka Happy Pig Dates) from aarti on Vimeo.

Thanks as always, to my wonderful husband Brendan for helping make my weirdo ideas look good. Also, thanks to J. Anthony McCarthy for reading the book. He's a wonderful actor! Put him in your next project! And while you're at it, put my husband in it too!

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

Bacon, each rasher cut in two
Dates, pitted

1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit
2) Roll a piece of bacon around a date. Secure with toothpick. Place on foil-lined baking sheet.
3) Bake dates in the oven for 5 minutes. Turn each one over. Bake another 5 minutes or until deep caramel brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then devour!

UPDATE: My friend Ryan reminded me that I only use Medjool dates for this recipe. They're my favourite, and the mushiest/sweetest ones I've encountered. Plus, they're the most common so chances are, if your supermarket stocks dates, they're Medjool. Thanks Ryan Caldwell!



Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Birthday Message

I'll shut up about my birthday eventually, but in all honesty, I'd like to hear this particular birthday message every day. And I figured that you all might like hearing it too.

Every year, the awesome folks at my awesome church sends me a card with these verses. I'm holding onto it this year, and putting in on my mirror, because for some reason, I still can't accept that God, whoever He is, loves lil' ol' me... and what that means exactly. THIS is how much He loves me:

"You may not know me, but I know everything about you... (Psalm 139:1)
I know when you sit down and when you rise up... (Psalm 139:2)
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered... (Matthew 10:29-31)
For you were made in my image... (Genesis 1:27)
In me you live and move and have your being... (Acts 17:28)
For you are my offspring... (Acts 17:28)
I knew you even before you were conceived... (Jeremiah 1:4-5)
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book... (Ps. 139:15-16)
And it is my desire to lavish my love on you... (1 John 3:1)
Simply because you are my child and I am your father... (1 John 3:1)
My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore... (Ps. 139:17-18)
And I rejoice over you with singing... (Zephaniah 3:17)
For you are my treasured possession... (Exodus 19:5)"

And then, just when you don't think your heart could soften any more, the church prints this after that love song:

your Dad, Almighty God."

Isn't that just the coolest? HE SINGS OVER ME!!!!!

I wish THIS had been the first I'd ever been taught about God, as opposed to the wrathful side (which is true, but not His only personality). Perhaps then I would not struggle so much today, with the seemingly inconceivable truth that He loves me. Hmmmm.



Monday, August 24, 2009

Unnecessary, but very welcomed, kindness.

They don't have to do this. And that's why I love Silk for printing this on their soy creamer:


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bren's Birthday Feet

I know you've been besides yourself waiting to see how Bren's first pedicure went. Here ya go:


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Birthday Feet

Last year, on my birthday, I painted my toes blue. I take it as a bit of metaphor that this year, I chose to paint my nails a bright, cheery yellow!

Yes friends, I turned 31. I am for real-zies in my 30s now. There's no frontin' about being in my "late" 20s anymore. And I'm (mostly) ok with that. My 20s were all over the place. I've spent the past 5 years wandering through the proverbial wilderness, wondering about my purpose and my career after the news one seemed to vanish without me really caring too much about it... looking back, I can see that my pillar of cloud and fire (Fire! He's so bad-ass!) was guiding me the whole way. Even though I couldn't see it. Ever, really. Finally, this year, I feel like the promised land is in sight. And that's worth getting yellow nail polish over! Woohoo!

My husby Brendan organized a lovely day for me, sneakily emailing my friends in secret, asking them to stop by and wish me a happy birthday, since I wasn't really up to organizing a big party or anything. I woke up to a chocolate croissant and a latte from my favourite place, Conservatory (LA folks, you must check this spot out! Washington and Motor, kinda, opposite Sony!), delivered by my man. Then Karen came over, bearing gorgeous lilies that I'm still staring at... she had dedicated the entire day to me! Isn't that sweet? Then, one after another, I was graced with surprise stop-bys -- and only after hours of these "surprises" did I realise that it wasn't a surprise at all! Haaahahahaa! I am so oblivious! It was such a great day -- just as one person left, another stopped by. I am starting to understand the term "grace", at least the way it's used biblically -- that there's no way I did anything for these friends to deserve this level of love and friendship, yet I still get to have them. It's pretty humbling.

I've been a bit obsessed as of late with this Australian blog called Definatalie. Not only is this woman a talented artist, she's also an inspiration in the love-thyself department; I love her style, the way she's not afraid to talk about how being big is being beautiful. I crave her wardrobe and her photographs. Sigh! Take a look at her art "reel". Those of you who know me will understand why I love her art so: beautiful henna-like designs, and nouveau-retro Rubenesque ladies. It's beautiful, dainty yet dangerously... "meaty".

I think I need to sweet-talk her into designing my tattoo. Seriously. Can't you just imagine a sacred heart surrounded by all those flowery paisleys? What WHAT?!

Anyway, she challenged her readers to come up with a list of things that we love about ourselves. Funng that even as I was writing that, I wanted to say "like" because I'm not sure I'm comfortable with "love" yet. So (deep breath), here's what I (eeeeeeeek) love about myself:

1) That I've been so bold: improv classes, Burning Man, cooking show, speaking openly about God stuff.
2) That cool people like me and call me their friend and tell me they love me.
3) My smile.
4) My eyebrows; they're thinning as I get older, so I'm trying to eat more fish and flax seed but I am so happy to have thick ones that frame my face!
5) My feet: I have my mum's feet. Mum says that Dad first fell in love with her feet, so my love for my feet is... multi-layered.
6) That I type really fast. Seriously. You should be in the room when I'm typing. Everyone says, "woah!".
7) I really love and am proud of my cooking show doods. I even love my recipes.
8) My hair. Curls. Rule. They don't rule when you're 12 and you don't know why your stick-straight hair is suddenly frizzy. But once you figure them out, they rule.
9) The colour of my skin. Especially after a day at the beach.
10) That I managed to hook a man like Brendan.

Brendan, who by the way, had his first pedicure on my birthday. And got his nails painted... gold. Pic will be up tomorrow!



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Speidi" Spirituality

I'm slowly getting back into civilization -- I promise a post on my little holiday jaunt up the California coast is coming, complete with hundreds of pictures! In the meantime, perhaps a little chuckle will distract you.

Are you familiar with Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt? The well-heeled, matching blonde couple of The Hills and "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" fame? I can never work out whether they're really as superficial as they appear, or if it's an act. Or if it's both -- and if it is, where does reality stop and acting begin?! And while I suspect the whole born-again Christian thing is part of the act, part of me hopes that it isn't and that we get to see a real transformation happen in these two, possibly the (staged?) epitome of most everything wrong with us these days.

Check out my husby Brendan and my bestie Karen imagining what really deep thoughts Heidi and Spencer share in their private moments, in a segment Bren's called: "Speidi Sense". Oh and just a reminder that this entire episode was IMPROVISED!

(Forgive some of the fuzzy shots -- that was me, and the auto focus was on, which I didn't know.)

Want more? Voila!

Episode 1: "Jaguar"
Episode 2: "Discipleship Branding"
Episode 3: "Life is so Hard"

And there are more coming! Watch this space!



Friday, August 14, 2009

Which One's Better?

I'm watching Monsoon Wedding right now.

I think it's way better than Slumdog.

What do you think?



Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lisa Hannigan

I already loved Lisa Hannigan -- she's the woman who sang with Damien Rice on his angst-ridden, heart-wrenching ballads that were ubiquitous a few years ago when "Closer" came out. She was always my favourite part about those songs because her voice is so gorgeous: husky, strong, feminine. I didn't think I could love her any more than I already did, but then I heard her solo stuff and THEN this morning, I watched her videos! Be still my beating heart! Not only does this woman have an amazing voice and spirit-lifting songwriting skills, she's also a captivating crafster!

Check out the video for Lille, in which she flips through some of the most amazing pop-up books you've ever seen (that I believe she made)... then watch the video for I Don't Know where, with a flick of a skilled wrist, she makes beautiful, intricate papercuts while singing a cute, old-fashioned romantic song. For some reason, she won't let us embed the videos, but take a minute to watch 'em and let yourself be waltzed into a romantic, fairy-tale land where everything is pretty and precious and made of paper.



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 22: Best Grilled Cheese with Tomato Chutney

I've never met anyone who didn't smile at the thought of a grilled cheese sandwich. Just one bite and you're back to being in that magical place where sandwiches cut into triangles tasted better, where Mum could kiss all your boo-boos away, where boys had cooties...


The only thing that makes a grilled cheese sandwich better? Dipping it in a bowl of creamy tomato soup! In this summer heat though, the very notion of hot soup sets my anti-perspirant working double-time.

And so, I present you the tomato chutney: whole grape tomatoes cooked in a little vinegar, onions, garlic, ginger, cilantro and brown sugar, finished with a mustard seed-infused oil. Drop a dollop in your grilled cheese, and prepare yourself for explosions of savory tomato flavour every time you bite into a whole tomato. It's great when you're in the mood for something a little different.

Not in the mood for grilled cheese? This chutney is a great one to have on hand for these grill-happy days. Make a batch, and keep it in the fridge for your cookout days: smush some of this chutney on grilled chicken, pork, veggies or even a burger!

Oh, and don't miss a funny little trick to make grilled cheese sandwiches taste even better, that I learned at Burning Man from my friend Graham. It's an odd one, but try it once and see if you like it... it'll make it crispy but not greasy!

Best Grilled Cheese with Tomato Chutney

2 cups grape tomatoes
a little more than 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup red onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tbsp brown sugar
Handful cilantro, minced
2 tbsp vegetable/canola oil
1 tsp urad dal (optional)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Pinch of red chili flakes
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
White bread
Cheese of your choice, freshly grated (I used cheddar)

1) Throw tomatoes, vinegar and onions in a pot over high heat. Season with salt, boil for 5 minutes.
2) Add garlic, ginger, cilantro and brown sugar plus a splash of water if it's too dry. Stir and boil for another 5 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, in a small skillet, warm oil until shimmering. Add urad dal and red chili flakes. When dal has turned a little darker, add mustard seeds, and stand back! They'll splutter! Once they're done spluttering, pour into the tomato mixture (which should be done boiling).
4) Turn the heat down, simmer 20 minutes until the tomato mixture takes on a jam consistency. Try to keep some of the tomatoes whole.
5) Allow chutney to cool. Then make grilled cheese.
6) Heat nonstick or cast iron skillet over moderately low heat. Make sandwich with cheese and tomato chutney. Slather some mayonnaise on the outside of one side of the sandwich. Place it mayo-side down in the skillet. Slather mayo on the other side. Wait a couple of minutes, until it's browned, then flip and brown the other side.
7) Cut into triangles and serve!



Monday, August 3, 2009

Look up, dammit!

Ah the ups and downs... I know we're meant to love the downs as much as the ups, but seriously, I don't think I've ever met anyone who does. Can I get a witness?!

One of the hardest things about going through a valley is that it obstructs your vision; maybe you can see the peak off in the distance, but the sun might be in your eyes, or the shadows might drape over it so it's partially hidden, you can't see what it looks like up there, or what lies beyond it... you certainly can't see how to get there.

When you cry, you literally can't see.

Pain forces you inside yourself. That can be helpful in some situations (especially if you're trying to escape something that you simply must face), but if it's not one of those situations... it just exacerbates our ingrained self-centeredness. "Whyyyyyyy meeeeeeeee?" we wail. Incessantly.

Or maybe that's just me. :)

I dragged my butt through a bit of a downer in the past couple of weeks, as you may have guessed. Things were uber-tight money-wise, and I was flummoxed about the whole thing. How could this be happening to us?
Didn't Jesus promise that we only needed to ask, and that we would receive? Doesn't God constantly promise to provide for us, when we surrender to being His children? Weren't we good, obedient servants? Weren't we having conversations about God with those around us? Weren't we surrendering ourselves to Him as He asks us to? So... what's all this about? How come other people who don't do any of this stuff get the nice house, and enough money and and and...?

I spent a lot of time in prayer, begging Him for just a little bit of His presence, for a little answer, for a just a little sense that I wasn't talking to myself. My brain waved her naggy little finger at me, reminding me of some Scripture about how God hears all our prayers, and because He hears them, He answers them... but my heart cried out: "but, but... well then, why won't He say anything to me?"

God's (apparent) silence is one of the hardest things for me to cope with. He's told me to do some pretty difficult things in the past but, whenever I did them, I never felt like I was walking through the fire on my own. This time, the fire was drawing toward me, so close that I could feel my eyebrows singeing, but I couldn't feel God's cool breath on my shoulder. I was petrified.

Bren kept telling me that God loved me, and that He hadn't abandoned me. Huh, I thought. Easy for YOU to say. He keeps talking to YOU. Lucky &$@%#&)(!

No, Bren said. He's blessing you all over the place, but you're so busy whining to Him, talking at Him on your own terms, that you can't see it.

Oh, really?

Then he pointed out how just that week, I had finally had tea with two cool ladies at church who I'd been eyeing for years at our church gathering. I had envied their connection on both a spiritual and a "normal" real world level. "Wow!" I had whispered to myself. "I wish I could have that."

Cut to Tuesday of that week: having tea with the two of them, cutting through the bullhonky small talk, and getting to the stuff that you can only get to that quickly with people who understand your spiritual underpinnings; I mean, I would normally never share the intricacies of my pain with people I had just met!

Organically, we talked about our struggles and our pain, shedding a tear, wiping it away with a piece of pumpkin bread (heehee!), and ending in the most precious gift: we grabbed each other's hands, bowed our heads, and started praying for each other. Every now and then, one of them would stroke the knuckles of my hand with her thumb, and I would choke up. I choke up even now at the memory. Sometimes it's the smallest things that get you through. I'll never forget that little thumb stroke.

"Oh, alright," I said. "But Bren, that's not what I was asking for!" As I said that, a little voice said, yes, but perhaps that's what I needed.

Then, that week, I got a precious email from a friend who has been examining her relationship with God in small part because (gasp!) of things I write on here. I cried. This was so much more rewarding than a paycheck. Then, wait for it, the next week, ANOTHER friend wrote me a similar email (she has no relation to the other friend) saying the same thing, how reading what I go through makes her wonder how she can get a piece of that peace. How humbling! How rewarding! How my heart still sings over it!

(And yes, of COURSE I wrote them back!)

And yet, STILL, every morning, I'd wake up thinking, "Yes, well, those things are irrelevant to the problem at hand. We need that check!"

I'd wake up and walk to the mailbox wondering why that check hadn't arrived yet.

Now, during these weeks, what I think was a phoebe, or maybe a mockingbird, had taken up residence outside our windows, singing the most drop-dead gorgeous song I've ever heard a bird sing.

A chirp here, and I would drop my spoon into my cereal bowl and look outside and listen.

A trill there, and I would tear myself away from Facebook (WHAT?!) to catch to his song.

He sang so loud, so proudly, never ceasing. His song would lift my spirits a tad, and I wondered, did He send me that little phoebe? To remind me that He hasn't left me? It comforted me for about a second before I told myself that I was mad and I needed to get back to work.

Then, then... oh, this is the longest build-up ever, but it's so worth it. What happened the next morning made me cry in my driveway! I wish I'd had my camera with me!

It was early. I had resolved NOT to check the mailbox on the way out to the gym. I walked around to the driver's side of the Jeep, and just as I was about to get in the car, I heard that sweet bird sing again. I looked up, and there he was, singing at me from the arm of the telephone arm. He was jumping up and down, almost frantically, up and down, spreading his wings as he did so, his little legs akimbo, singing at the top of his little lungs. I was so sure that he was looking directly at me. The sun was shining from behind the telephone pole, shooting solar flares at my eyes, and that's when I gasped... then cried. Because all these 6 years I've lived here, I had never noticed this:

It's a cross, people. A huge fiddlestickin' cross. Sure, maybe a Greek orthodox version. But there's no mistaking it. And it's right over our house. And, it stands facing our bedroom (to the left of the cross, right side of the house). The little bird was sitting on that arm closest to the camera, jumping nearly 3 feet into the air, and then falling back down. That cross has been there the whole time: every night I went to sleep, and every morning I woke up over the past 6 years. And I'd never even noticed. I'd never looked up.

I stood there in my driveway, in my ugly workout clothes, doing the ugly cry, gasping for air in between, licking the delicious, salty tears as they ran into the corners of my mouth.

You might scoff, might think it's a coincidence, might think I'm reading too much into things... but in that moment, and even now, I know with the same certainty that I know that I'm alive, that little message was meant for me. That was my Father reaching down and gently tugging at my shoulder, saying, Hey! I haven't forgotten you. In fact, I've been watching over you for so long, and you hadn't even noticed. Don't worry. I've got your back.

A few days later, we got the check. And then, we got another one. And then, yet another (unexpected but highly appreciated!) one.

(We also had wonderful friends who took care of us in the meantime, who bought us burgers and offered to write us checks and hugged us. We love you guys. You know who you are, and that meant a LOT.)

I think God wanted to really shake my attachment to money, and instead show me the kinds of things He's really interested in, the things He values -- relationship with fellow Christians (aka my new favourite, "Jesus freaks". I can just imagine the tshirts: I'm a freak for Jesus! I freak out for Jesus! hahahahaahaha), relationship with friends who are wondering, relationship with Him. Money is important, yes, but not to the point where it eclipses the real value of those person-to-person or person-to-Creator bonds. Getting those paychecks was not nearly as satisfying as cool-christian-chica tea time or getting those awesome emails or seeing that bird jumping up and down to get my attention.

I'm not saying that God will always answer your prayers exactly the way you want Him to. And I'm not saying that the next time I'm in a valley I won't be whining to Him about what we need (as if He doesn't know already!). What I *think* I'm trying to say is that the next time you're in pain, look up. Look outside of your valley. I'm pretty sure He'll be blessing you in ways you didn't think you wanted, but they might just be what you need.


p.s. and just in case you think I'm getting too serious, here's some phun with photobooth for ya:

Friday, July 31, 2009

New Good Bite videos!

Hey guys! I made a simplified version of my Tiger vs. Dragon soup for Good Bite earlier this month and the video (called sweet corn and chicken soup) is up! Thanks Good Bite guys for making me look so good!!

I must say that there's a recipe for one pot bittersweet brownies by Jeanne Kelly (author of the gorgeously-titled Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes) on there that is making my mouth water. I'll have to try it.



Emails that make me smile

I just got this fantastic email from my friend Vivian -- she's a brand new mum (hi Tempest!) and she's experimenting over the stove between feedings and diaper changes. She tried my babaghanouj recipe after watching the very first episode of Aarti Paarti (wow, has our production value gotten better!!!) and she shot me this email after she made it. I can't stop smiling!

"I made your babganouj from the first episode. I've made it before using other recipes and I have to say from now on I will always use *your* recipe. Why? It's simple, easy, cheap and most of all cooking the eggplant directly on the burner gives it a smokey flavor that makes it absolutely super-yummy. In the episode you suggest that "you might want to try" cooking it that way, but other ways are okay too. NO!!! This is now the ONLY way to cook eggplant,at least for babaganouj! We both loved it - I put in extra lemon, which is so great with the smokey flavor! It got eaten up too fast. Next time I go to the store I'm getting ingredients to make it again!

My eggplant just disintegrated on the burner, that's how I knew it was ready, making it kinda hard to peel. Maybe I cooked it too long (was less than 15 min - mine was probably smaller or flame hotter).

Anyway, thanks!


Isn't that great?



Thursday, July 30, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 21: Peanut Noodles for Miss Piggy!

When I was little, Dad called me Miss Piggy. I think there was something about her, um, "pleasantly plump" build, and her playful pride that reminded Dad of lil' ol' me. Somewhere around the age of 11, I lost that pride, and became painfully self-conscious, lacking a vat of self-esteem (a battle I still struggle through today I'm afraid). The pleasantly plump thing stuck around... the pride went out the window. Ugh! Ah, for a pubescant switch-a-roo!

Anyway, I digress. I have always had a soft spot for Miss Piggy. There's something about the way her snout moves, her fierce semi-obsessive love for Kermie, her ability to drop-kick anyone that gets in her way...

But, believe it or not, I had never seen the Muppet Movie. The one created in the year of my birth! And so we just HAD to get a bunch of friends together to go watch an outdoor screening of the Muppet Movie at Hollywood Forever, a famous LA cemetary where luminaries of old glam Hollywood (Cecil B. Demille, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks...) have been laid to rest. No, honestly, it's not creepy! The event is managed by Cinespia, and they show movies all summer long. So. cool.

I decided to make a big batch of peanut noodles to bring to the picnic -- a great option because it feeds a ton of people for just a few dollars. It's also great at any temperature, particularly when they're cold, which is great for a hot, summery day. And, with a bunch of raw veggies, and a crisp salty-sweet cucumber salad, you don't have to feel guilty about scarfing down noodles covered in peanut butter. I must say that I worked on this peanut sauce recipe over and over, until I managed to get one that packs a wallop; most recipes I've tried yield a sallow, wimpy sauce that gets even wimpier once you pour it over the noodles. This one is bold, fierce and unapologetic -- kinda like a certain porky heroine I love dearly.

Thanks to Bren for shooting everything so lovingly, and to every one of my friends who made it out. A special thankyou to those who tried to get in, but were turned away at the door, because the cemetary was filled to capacity. Sorry guys!

Peanut Noodles for Miss Piggy

With "pickled" cucumber salad and pan-fried sesame chicken

For cucumber salad:
1 large cucumber, sliced thin on a mandoline or by hand
Rice vinegar

For the chicken
2 chicken breasts (pounded thin)
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sriracha hot sauce
1 tbsp honey

For the peanut sauce:
1 cup chunky peanut butter (not the natural kind)
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
6 tbsp ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sriracha
1 tbsp brown sugar or honey
1 tsp sesame oil (plus more drizzling)
Handful cilantro
1 cup hot strong black tea
2 red bell peppers, sliced thinly
1 bunch thin asparagus, cut into 1" pieces
Juice from 1 lime
1lb thin spaghetti

1) The night before: Mix chicken marinade ingredients. Toss chicken in the marinade and let it sit overnight in the fridge.

2) The next day, set a big pot of water to boil. For cucumber salad: Sprinkle a little sugar and salt over the cucumbers. Drizzle with a little rice vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning as you like. Let it sit in the fridge while you prep the rest of it.

3) Warm a cast iron skillet over medium heat, swirling a tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil in the pan. When it's shimmering, add the chicken breasts, and don't move them. Let them cook about 5 minutes, then flip and turn the heat down. Cook until thermometer registers 160 degrees. (If this takes too long, throw a lid on the pan for a couple of minutes. They should cook faster this way).

3) Drop spaghetti into boiling water, and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Meanwhile, throw peanut butter, sesame seeds (reserve 1 tbsp for garnish), ginger, garlic, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, sriracha, brown sugar/honey, sesame oil, cliantro and tea into a big food processor. Whiz 'em up until the sauce is smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

4) Toss veggies with a little sauce in a separate bowl. Drain cooked pasta, and then drizzle with a little sesame oil. Toss with a pair of tongs. This will help keep the pasta from sticking.

5) Slice chicken thinly. In a big bowl, toss pasta, veggies, reserved sesame seeds, freshly squeezed lime juice and sauce together. Serve with chicken and cucumber salad on the side, alongside with a full serving of the Muppet Movie!


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