Friday, February 27, 2009

Lucky, Lucky, Lucky Me!

If y'all watched Episode 3 of Aarti Paarti, you may have heard me send a shout-out to someone named "Beanie". She is Bren's aunt, his mum's youngest sister, and I can't remember why, but no one calls her Sabrina. Her name is Beanie and that's that.

The other day, Beanie left a note on my "wall" on Facebook.

"You could not possibly have 530 friends..."

I double-checked, and yes I do. Some of my friends have somewhere in the range of 900 friends so I never thought anything of it, but once Beanie had pointed it out, I realised, "Wow! Even if it's less than other people, that still is a LOT!"

I explained that Facebook, bless it, has helped me reconnect with friends from Dubai (hi Sallyanne!) who probably haven't seen me since I was 15 or so, Northwestern friends, Chicago friends, New York friends, LA friends, improv friends, church friends... not to mention my massive-and-proud-of-it Indian family.

This is a particularly sweet blessing because when I was in primary school, I never had more than one friend at any time. First it was Suzanne Wynne, who very sweetly said "I will", when I asked the teacher to ask the class if anyone would be my friend. I wish I knew where she was. That was such a brave thing to do, especially not knowing anything about me, and especially because I was one of the few Indian/non-white kids in that class.

I had another friend, Eliana when I was 10, who I loved so much, that when she returned to Italy about a year later, I cried myself to sleep for about a week. We became pen-pals and wrote each other letters for a few years. Now, thanks to Facebook, we are back in touch, and (gasp!) we might be able to see each other if she decides to visit the States! Yippeee! Eli!!! She is the sole person in the world, who is not a family member, who has known me the longest of anyone!

(Head exploding).

I was reminded again, about how lucky I am in the friend department this week. My friends Alex and Sara are some of the sweetest people you will meet. Seriously. They listen, they ask questions, they're honest, they remember stuff... they're awesome. They watched episode 1 of Aarti Paarti where I mentioned that I didn't have a "fancy-dandy" food processor, and...

BOOM! They presented me with THIS the other day:

Ain't she a beaut?! I can't thank you guys enough! In addition to being shiny (and who doesn't like shiny), she is strong. I've already used her to make a batch of ginger-garlic paste (the secret to all good Indian cooking) and this Indian pesto, the recipe for which I'll share either this week or next. Isn't it pretty?

THEN, the other day, after I rambled on about the quandry I was in with regard to my broken coffee grinder, sweet sweet Laura piped in. "I've got one you can have!" she said. A few days later, Bren went and picked it up.

This one is even better than the one I had -- bigger and snappier! Thankyou Laura! This week, I used it to make garam masala (a gorgeous cinnamon-clove concoction) which I then used to try to crack the holy grail of non-Indian Indian (more on that when I actually write the recipe): Chicken Tikka Masala. I'm still working on the recipe but I couldn't have even started to do this without the grinder. Next up, fresh ground coriander seeds. I'm so excited!

I am so lucky to have such thoughtful friends. You guys are making it possible for me to keep playing and experimenting and improving in the kitchen. Thankyou so much! I owe you dinner! And more!



Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tattoo Obsession

Do you ever obsess over things for a short amount to time, until (poof!) they disappear never to be pondered over again?

I am having one of those sessions about a wrist tattoo. I have wanted one ever since I saw my friend Lacey's g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s cuff. I wish I could find a photo of it. It's so beautiful -- lots of layers of intricate henna-like patterns with jellybelly colours. So pretty. Andy, do you have a photo of it?

After gazing at Lacey's cuff longingly, I realised that I couldn't get one because I am a furry flower, so any intricate design on the outer wrist would hibernate under my woolly mammoth covering. :(

Recently, I thought that I'd like to tattoo something on the inside of my wrist, like my friend Keven, who has "and so it goes" on his left wrist -- a reminder, I think, not to freak out about things that he can't control. Cool, huh? I fear, however, that I might just be part of the wrist-tattoo zeitgeist, since, the other morning at breakfast, I noticed not one but two waitresses had a small symbol tattoo'd in that same spot. Dammit! I mean, dash it!

I wrote a small verse (Matthew 5:16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven") on my wrist the other day to see whether I would like that. Even though I love this verse, it seemed a bit too big.

So I'm thinking that either a short phrase or a small image is the right choice. I've always liked the dove, but that seems a bit trite, no? This one is awesome:

Image from someone's myspace page

The tattoo obsession is not new. A little while ago, after Bren got his "aarti"
tattoo, I started envisioning a sacred heart in the middle of my back, surrounded by layer upon layer of henna designs. While I was in India, I bought a book of gorgeous henna designs. Aren't these amazing?

And so, armed with authentic henna design, I was all set to do it for my 30th birthday. But then, we were too busy, and Burning Man came around, and we were low on money... anyway, long story short, I put it off. And now I'm thinking that was probably a good idea because I should probably start with something much smaller. But I'm having such a hard time deciding what to do!

So do you have tattoos? Do you have your heart set on a particular tattoo? HELP!



Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Serendipitious Pancakes

Let's talk about serendipity, shall we? Not the movie, or that spot in New York. The real thing.

"the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, at least.

Allow me a moment of etymology geekdom. Did you know that that word "serendipity" was apparently coined after the Persian tale of the three princes of Serendip (Sri Lanka)? The trio embarked on a mission, only to meet seemingly irrelevant things. Ultimately however, those irrelevanices ended up being exactly what they needed. NEATO!

Yesterday, whilst up to my ears prepping and photographing this week's recipe, my head nearly snapped off my neck when I noticed the quintessential video of Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans playing on TV.


Could it be that it was actually Fat Tuesday? Could I have been so absorbed in my own petty comings and goings that I forgot Lent was upon us?!

Yes, I had. What kind of Catholic-raised girl am I? But before I could beat myself up with my whisk, serendipity and what I'm calling my "subconscious Catholic" kicked in.

I looked down, realised what I was making and laughed. See, when I was little, my first and only cooking experience at primary school coincided with Fat Tuesday. We made pancakes that day, and guess what this week's recipe just so happens to be? PANCAKES! Isn't that wild?

Why did we make pancakes that day? Well, since Lent was a time when you would abstain from fat and eggs, you would try use up all the remaining bits on the last day before Ash Wednesday. Hence the name Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday" in French). Pancakes were a perfect way to use the last bits up. And so, Shrove/Fat Tuesday is also called Pancake Day in the UK. Other cultures make doughnuts and sweet pastries.

What a great day it is around the world! Flour! Eggs! Butter! Sugar! Down the hatch!! Eat it quick before the sun goes down and we have to start fasting!

And so I present you my humble offering for the global gorging of sugar and fat ahead of the long Lentan season: Meyer Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Maple-Cinnamon-Chile Caramelized Apples. It's an adaptation of a Bobby Flay recipe.

But before I leave you, since Lent is a reflective, sober time, and I'm a self-professed Jesus freak (ha!) I thought I'd end with a quote from the One to whom the next 40 days is dedicated, a rebel even by today's standards who challenged you and me to embrace this radical idea:

"You have heard it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?"

Like the princes of Serendip, this seems like an unlikely, irrelevant practice for me to achieve MY enlightenment or inner peace, doesn't it?!!! But I have a feeling that this is exactly what I need. What about you?


Serendipitous Pancakes: Meyer Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes with Cinnamon-Chile-Maple dipped Apples

You'll need this stuff (plus sugar!):

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2/3 cup almond milk (or regular milk)
1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced
1 apple
3 tbsp maple syrup (fake or real stuff)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chile powder

(You can also make some cinnamon-chile maple syrup on the side to pour over the pancakes at the end by following these proportions)

1) Don't be a dummy like I was; peel the apple BEFORE you start slicing it!

2) Cut down the side of the apple, around the core. Alternatively, if you have a corer, core the apple and cut pretty rings. Slice the apple thinly, but not so thin that it will fall apart in the pan.

3) In a bowl with a wide, flat bottom, whisk together the cinnamon, chile and maple syrup until combined. You can also sprinkle a little salt in this mixture. Yum. Dip apple slices in the the maple syrup and let them hang out while you make the pancake batter.

4) Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, ricotta, eggs, milk, lemon zest and juice, until the mixture just comes together. Don't over-stir; you'll get tough pancakes. Don't stir until all the bumps are gone -- those will give you fluffy pancakes.

5) Warm a griddle or a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Melt some butter in the skillet or brush some melted butter over the griddle. Meanwhile, if your house is cold like mine, set your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and place an oven-safe plate in there. You can keep cooked pancakes on this plate until you're ready to serve!

6) When the butter is nice and hot, grab three slices of dipped apple and place them in the skillet, like they're spooning (awww!). The syrup should bubble and sizzle and your mouth just might start watering.

7) After about 10 seconds, spoon a ladle of batter (about 1/3 cup) over the apple slices, and cook on both sides until golden brown (don't burn them like I did!). Keep cooked pancakes on your nicely warmed plate in the oven, until you've finished all the batter.

8) Serve with a squeeze of lemon and either regular syrup or a batch of cinnamon-chile syrup.

I hope your Lent is full of serendipity!



Aarti Paarti #3 Recipe: My mum's Basic Dal (lentils)

As promised, here is the written recipe to accompany the latest episode of Aarti Paarti!

This is probably the first Indian thing I ever made. It's your basic dal recipe, and I bet every mother makes it a little differently. When made well, it is so satisfying that you really don't need to eat anything else, even though it's nothing more than lentils, water and tomatoes. Oh, and the holy trinity of Indian cooking: turmeric, chili powder/paprika and asfoetida (aka hing). I only have one bowl of it left after we demolished it for dinner last night, and you best believe that I will fight Bren, dodge all his Krav Maga offenses, in order to eat it myself!

My mum's basic Dal

1/2 cup masoor dal (red lentils)
1/2 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas)
(alternatively, just use 1 cup of either one)

1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2" piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 serrano chile, sliced in two (optional)
2 cups water

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp (generous) turmeric powder
1/2 tsp paprika (or bafaat powder if you have it)
1/4 tsp asfoetida (hing)
1/2 sprig curry leaves
2 extra cloves garlic, whole, with papery wrapping still attached
Handful chopped fresh cilantro

1) Sort lentils, picking out pebbles and shmutz. Wash under running water, and then cover with water and soak for 30 minutes.

2) In a 3qt saucepan, combine water, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and drained dal over a medium-high flame. Cover and bring to a boil. Skim any scum that has built up. DO NOT ADD SALT YET. It will toughen the lentils, thereby elongating their cooking time. Turn heat down until dal mixture is gently simmering, cover and cook 30-40 minutes until lentils are tender, almost translucent and almost falling apart.

3) Whisk the dal, releasing its natural starch and mashing some of the more delicate pieces so it thickens the soup. Add salt. I use about 1 tsp of kosher salt.

4) In a small skillet, over a medium-high flame, warm 1 tbsp vegetable oil. In a small bowl, combine cumin and mustard seeds. In another bowl, combine spice powders. Have all the ingredients ready to go because this will move very fast!

5) Once oil is shimmering, add garlic. Allow the outsides to toast a little, turning a light brown, then throw in seeds and immediately cover so you don't get covered in spluttering oil and seeds!

6) Once the spluttering dies down a little, grab the curry leaves and chuck 'em in. Again, immediately cover the skillet until the spluttering dies down. It should smell like heaven in your kitchen right now!

7) Finally, add the spices. They should sizzle and bubble a little -- that's the blooming and it's exactly what you want. Don't let them burn however. Let them bloom for about 30 seconds, no more.

8) Pour the oil mixture into the dal, standing back so you don't get hurt when the mixture splutters again. Stir all the oil, seeds, spices and garlic into the dal. Finish with a handful of chopped fresh cilantro and serve!



Aarti Paarti #3 is up!

Take a look! Man, I was up 'til 2:30 this morning finishing that thing. I'm still surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning. Ha!

This week, a subject you loyal readers know I'm obsessed with at the moment: lentils! This time, a more traditional dal recipe that I grew up with. It's a soupier version that you can eat on its own, or yes you guessed it, over rice. You can also spice it up with a green serrano chili or two. I didn't, because of Bren's delicate-flower constitution. Love you ba!

We're using red lentils (masoor dal) and split pigeon peas (toor dal) in this recipe. If you'd like to simplify, just use the red ones. Other specialty ingredients: curry leaves (of course! I know! I have a problem!), turmeric and asfoetida powder.

I'll put the recipe up a little later.



Friday, February 20, 2009

Twist on CSAs

Hi luvvies...

Since so many of you are fans of CSAs, thought I'd pass on a development in the movement: meat CSAs. It's a sad commentary on how far away we've gotten from the days of yore or even from my hometown in India where the fact that the meat you're putting in your body once grazed somewhere near you... is a given.

In a related matter, did any of catch the episode of "The F Word" when Gordon Ramsey had to take his pigs (whom he'd raised in his backyard) to the slaughterhouse, so he could put them on the restaurant menu the next week? I have never seen that tough exterior so visibly shaken. Truly tearful. But he wasn't a hypocrite; he saw it through. I can truly say that I have never liked Ramsey as much as I do on this show. It's my favorite food-themed show on television. Take a look, but watch out, it's gruesome:



Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Me & Stephon" - The Saga Continues

Ha! Well, quandry over -- Laura has very kindly offered me her coffee grinder! Yippee! Ask and ye shall receive! Whooppeeeeee THANKYOU LAURA!

In other bountiful news, Bren's improvised chinwag with the NY Knicks' Stephon Marbury has garnered even more eyeballs! The first episode (of 5) has over 11,000 hits. That isn't a typo. Eleven thousand. Cool, eh?

The second episode has about 1,000. The third episode went up today, and actually I'm having a hard time choosing which is my favorite. I mean, likening Stephon's tiff with the Knicks to a break-up with your live-in boyfriend, whose apartment you're still inhabiting... brilliant!

Which one is YOUR favorite? Click below and you can see for yourself!

Episode 1 (in which Bren and Stephon discuss why a million dollar player is waiting for the bus)
Episode 2 (in which Bren asks Stephon what he'd have to do to get his name tattoo'd on his arm)
Episode 3 (in which... well I just told you!)




My coffee grinder is broken. This is not a new development. It's just like me to keep something that's been broken for MONTHS in the hope that I'll figure out what to do with it. I have been going without it, but now it's starting to get on my nerves; poor Bren has heard me moan and groan about this silly thing for weeks now, and I'm sure he's bored to death by my external dialogue about it!

See, I don't use it to grind coffee. Yes, coffee purists, I grind mine at the supermarket and then work my way through the grounds in the next couple weeks. Shock, horror... now pull your knickers up and listen, 'cos I need your help!

I use the thing to grind up freshly toasted spices (cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, chilies...). Freshly ground spices taste so much better, don't you think? My mortar and pestle is a delicate thing, no match for the robust outer shells of cloves and cumin, and so I rely on my coffee grinder. Made in Germany, but no match for an Indian cook I'm afraid. It bit it after I ground up some toasted coriander seeds.

So here's my quandry. Do I try to find a place that'll fix it, no doubt costing more than the $20 or so that the thing cost in the first place? Or do I throw it in the garbage, where it will occupyup more space in a landfill and come back to haunt my grandchildren?




Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Aarti Cooks: "Blessed are the Meek" Dal

Last week's recipe was an exercise in extravagance. At least, as much extravagance as we're allowed at the moment: steak, onion-date compote, parsnip chips and of course a glass of wine. What better way to toast the essence of our role on earth: love!

This week, I yo-yo'd down to earth, seeking a culinary-cuddle from one of the most humble ingredients in any Indian kitchen: dal (lentils). Indians love their dal. Especially the vegetarian ones. These tough little nuggets don't look like they're very helpful: brittle, long-cooking, bland. But, if cooked right, they are a vegetarian's dream. Beneath that tough exterior lies a satisfying bite, a healthy source of protein, fiber and surpisingly, calcium. That's especially helpful to me since I am keeping away from dairy at the moment, but I'm still concerned about my bones shattering if I break it down too hard on the dance floor.

There's another thing to love about dal.

It's cheap. CHEAP people! If you're trying to cut down how much you're spending on food, buy dal, and eat it once a week. I bought a bag that will provide 3 separates meals, each of which will serve the two of us for a couple of days... for $3.

I invite you on my journey to discover new ways to cook dal, thus upping our calcium intake, and lowering our grocery bill. Shall we begin? Yes, lets.

There are tons of dals: yellow, orange, green, chubby ones, petite ones... lentils, they're just like us!

Each of those dals can be cooked in a hundred different ways. Just make sure that you pick over them, to grab any stones or yucky looking ones, before you cook them.

I usually have a few different kinds buried in my cabinets, but when I pulled them out to take a photo of them, they looked so pretty above my stove (next to a photo of my mum!) that I think I'm going to leave them there from now on:

From near to far, I have: green split peas, toor dal, kala channa (black chickpeas) and yellow moong dal.

So, let our journey begin with the humblest of the humble, the most unassuming of the bunch: ye olde green split pea.

I've never had split pea soup. I remember having a nightmare about it though, when I was little. In my dream, everyone was at our house (D148, Sequeiras!) and we were playing with some other kids whilst the adults sat around sipping on Johnny Walker (ha!). Suddenly, this putrid smell pinched my nostrils together. "Ewwwww!" I thought, but followed the trail anyway, as Marmaduke might follow the scent of a cat... and I came upon a big tureen of green split pea soup on the dinner table, the texture of diarrhea with a smell to match. It was a horrible dream. Haunted me forever.

Ever since then, it has taken every ounce of my strength to re-embrace the split pea. This was the one dish that helped me get there.

Serve it over rice, and you have that classic rice-and-beans combo that apparently, creates a perfect protein: all the amino acids strains that you find in meat, lined up in a nice row. While white basmati is traditional, I prefer both the taste and nutrition of brown basmati rice. So. Good.

I'd like to dispel one myth in the legend of the lentil though: beans and lentils DO NOT contain a lot of protein. A 1/2 cup serving of lentils contains 9g of protein, whilst a chicken breast contains 30. But something is better than nothing, and if you're not Gina Carano, it probably doesn't matter.

Beyond the physical satisfaction of eating dal, there's also a philosophical, almost metaphysical satisfaction too that always brings a smile to my face when I make dal. Personally, I feel connected to my homeland; I can almost feel invisible roots sprouting from my tummy to my mum's tummy. But there's even more.

There's something magical about eating a food so humble and yet so beloved as dal, a food eaten by India's elite and poor alike... savored by both vegetarians and carnivores, that in its dry form, keeps forever, waiting patiently, meekly in your cupboard for that day you run to it with a smile on your face saying, "There you are! How could I overlook you for so long! I can't wait to eat you!". The meek shall indeed, inherit the earth! Or at least, my tummy!

This preparation of dal takes the least amount of time (about 35 minutes total). It also requires that bagaar technique I may have mentioned in the past where once the main part of the dish is cooked, you finish it off with a tablespoon of mustard seed and curry leaf-infused oil. Oh and don't forgo the lime! It's really important!


Altogether, this dish packs a whallop of flavor: nutty, sweet, smoky, fresh and pungent, joining hands to wrap me up in that culinary cuddle that reminds me not only of home but of the joy of taking the unassuming pauper, gussying her up and standing back in awe of the princess she really is.

"Blessed are the Meek" Dal: Green Split peas with Sweet Potato, Curry Leaves, Tomato and Lime.

You'll need this stuff: Oh and that lime form last week? We'll need that too.

1 cup dried green split peas, picked over for stones and washed
1 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 onion, sliced thin from pole to pole
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1" piece ginger, peeled, and minced finely
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced (not too small, or they'll fall apart)
2 - 3 medium tomatoes (I used 2.5, hence the vagueness here)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp bafaat powder or paprika
1 tsp cumin powder
3 cups water
1 tsp kosher salt
Handful fresh cilantro/coriander leaves, chopped
Wedges of lime to finish off

Finishing touch/Bagaar
1 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
Leaves from 1 sprig of curry leaf

1) Cover the split peas with water in a small bowl. Soak while you're doing the next few steps.

2) Heat oil in a 3 qt saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion once oil is shimmering.

3) After a minute or so, when onions are softening, add the garlic and ginger. Cook until light golden brown colour.

4) Add sweet potatoes, turn up the heat a touch and saute until a sweet browned onion smell wafts up your nose! The sweet potatoes can pick up a little colour too; that's yummy!

5) Sprinkle in the spices and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds. Stirring keeps the spices from burning, which you don't want, but they do need about 30 seconds to "bloom".

6) Quickly add the tomatoes and stir. Allow the mixture to cook until the tomatoes turn mushy.

7) Drain the dal and add to the saucepan. Pour in the water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer, cover and cook 25-35 minutes, until split peas are very tender, fall apart. If you're making brown rice, you can get that going once the dal has started to simmer. They should finish around the same time.

8) Once cooked, add salt. Don't add salt to the dal before this point because it tends to elongate your cooking time!

9) Turn the heat off. In a small pan or skillet, add 1 tbsp of oil and heat over a medium-high flame.

10) Hold the lid of the small pan in one hand, and once the oil is shimmering and hot, add the mustard seeds. They should start to fizz and splutter. Immediately, throw the lid on.

11) Once the spluttering subsides, pick up the lid and throw the curry leaves, immediately throwing the lid back on. Once again, wait until the spluttering subsides.

12) It should smell ridonkulously good in your kitchen right now!

13) Pour the oil, seeds and leaves into the dal mixture, standing back a bit because it will splutter. Mix it through, fold chopped cilantro leaves into the pot and serve over rice, with a generous squeeze of lime!



The Best Food Blogs

'Ello luvs! I'm writing this week's installment of "Aarti Cooks" now, but in the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this list of the 50 best food blogs in the world, compiled by the Times of London. No, I'm not on there. YET (bwaaaaaahahahaaaa). Although I should probably check out my competition huh?




Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Power of "Yes"!

Did any of you see "Yes Man", the Jim Carrey movie that came out a little while ago? I didn't, mostly because the trailer didn't look great, but also out of deference to my improv guru, John Thies.

John had already lived that movie in real life, and his stories were so rich, so surprising, so joyful that I knew the Hollywood version would not compare.

What do I mean?

Well, John spent a couple of years in New York just following his gut. He would wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, and say to himself, well which direction to do you want to go? His gut would say, that way, to which John replied, "yes!". And he would head in that direction until his gut said, take a left here... you get the picture. He did this everyday. High-jinx ensued, and he said to yes to all the situations his gut led him to, not least of which led him to a job at Conan O'Brien and I believe a couple of gigs at SNL. Not bad, huh?

John asked us to do the same thing when we started class, and let me tell you, I couldn't even do it for a day. I am a control freak. There. I said it. But I'm realising that my kind of control freak-ism also belies an innate lack of trust in my gut. I can't imagine what kind of confidence a year of living that way would build in your gut -- your gut, that got you jobs you dreamed of, adventures you never imagined, risks that showed you how strong you really are! John says that he's got a book in him somewhere, and when that book arrives, I will be the first to buy it.

I mention this philosophy because Brendan followed his gut the other week, and I am proud to say that it rewarded him greatly!

It was a risky proposition. Bren came home from a Hothouse Films shoot, and the following conversation unfolded.

B: "So, I was driving home, and I saw Stephon Marbury sitting at a bus stop down the street."

A: "WHAT? The basketball player Stephon Marbury?!!"

B: "Yah. I think I'm going to go see if he'll shoot some scenes with me."

A: Pause. Pause. Pause. "WHAT?"

B: "Yeah, I mean, he's right there, right?"

A: "Well, yeah! That's a great idea. Go baba!"


A: "Um, what are you going to have him do?"

B: "I dunno. But I'm an improv-er! This is what I'm supposed to be able to do!"

And with that, Bren grabbed his camera and left.

Now, Bren has followed Stephon Marbury since Bren was in highschool. This is a multi-million dollar player, who will forever have a place in my heart for his line of basketball shoes. "Starburys" buck the trend; rather than charging $80-$100 for his shoes, his cost less than $20. Anyone who can withstand the greed that comes so easily when you have that kind of pull, goes in my "that guy's cool" category. He's also in Bren's "cool guy" category because of the recent scandal Marbury's in with the Knicks.

So Bren was understandably nervous about propositioning Marbury, who was minding his own business, and probably under a bit of stress waiting for his car to get fixed. But lo and behold, ask and you shall receive! Marbury was TOTALLY cool about the whole thing, and, while sitting at the bus stop, and shot the breeze with Bren, messing around and talking about everything from the Knicks, to his tattoos (and Bren's!) to of all things, "Curb Your Enthusiasm". My favorite parts are when Bren makes Stephon laugh so hard that he breaks his tough-guy basketball player character. Isn't that amazing?

I was already proud of Bren for shooting the bless-ed thing. But this evening, I am jumping up and down for joy.

Bren put up the first video on his YouTube page. He then submitted it to the premier baskbetball online magazine, Slam, which happily posted it under the "Links" section... aaaaand... as I type, the video has garnered more than 1,000 hits!

Have I piqued your interest? Well, then go check it out! And while you're on YouTube, check out a couple of my favorite shows on Hothouse Films this season: Action Figure Theatre and Tender Hooligans. I make a cameo in one of them! And if you're interested, Bren will be posting further installments of his time with Marbury later this week.

Three cheers for following your gut and three cheers for my sweet Brendan!



Monday, February 16, 2009

Cooking show is up!

Hey guys! Sorry for the late post; I spent almost the entire day editing THE SECOND EPISODE OF AARTI PAARTI!

Yes, I know you've been waiting with bated breath, so wait no longer my sweet friends! It's up! Go take a look and let me know what you think. And if you missed last week's debut episode on baba ghanoush, you can check it out there too.

What could this week's recipe possible be, I hear you whisper to yourself? Well, it's Bren's favorite meal. And that's all I'm going to say about it. So there.



Sunday, February 15, 2009

Things that make me go, "YIPPEEEEE!"

Just received a most awesome comment on this week's recipe (Giddyup Steak with Yee-Haw compote and Parsnip Chips) from Ross, the boyfriend of my dear friend Mandi. My inner child is doing cartwheels, which is to say that she is throwing herself on the ground unsuccessfully but very, very joyfully.

"secretagentmartens said...

mandi & i made this incredible dish last night and let me tell you, it was bleepin' incredible. INCREDIBLE! Parsnip chips are better than french fries, and i LOVE fries. OMG U R da best. <3"

I believe you are mistaken, sir. You and your lady are the best. Thank you for trying it out and letting me know how it turned out. That's the greatest reward and motivation to keep me going on this adventure!



Friday, February 13, 2009

Things that make me happy

That last post was the epitome of laziness. A lazy post about being lazy!! I owe you better. Soo...

There are a few things in my kitchen that make my life just that little bit happier. I thought you might want to see them. Ready?

1) Soy milk creamer
This is one of the few soy products I have tried that (I hear the angels singing!) doesn't taste like soy! What joy! I can now enjoy my morning cuppa without having to submit my body to breaking down milky lactose, which it cannot do, resulting in a distended tummy and um... ummmmm... ok fine I'll say it, "air pollution". It's also lower in fat than half and half so I can have my Halle-Berry coloured coffee with a guilt-free (fat-free!) conscience.

2) Toasted Sliced Almonds
I love these! They're great for mindless snacking when I'm stressed about something and just need to fill my gob... they're also good for healthier options (!) like salads, oatmeal and veggie sautes. I keep mine in the freezer; it seems to ward off that stale taste, and if you haven't tasted very very cold nuts before, I think you might be in for a treat. (For those of giggling at that last statement... well, I was going to say get your mind out of the gutter, but my mind went there too so... I'll shut it. :)

3) Liquid concentrate broth
A friend shared these with me a couple of years ago and I have bought them ever since. If you ever just need a cup of broth for something, the box comes with a number of individual packets, each making a cup of broth when added to hot water. I much prefer their flavor to bouillon which is too salty for me. I have 'em in beef, chicken and vegetable. So good. Trader Joes makes them too.

4) Organic Turmeric Powder
I'm almost ashamed to admit that, even though I grew up in a staunchly "Jai Hindh" (Viva India!) household, complete with the mandatory worship of Indian cuisine, it wasn't until two Christmas-es ago that I realised what the spice-box staple, Turmeric Powder, actually smelled or tasted like.

That's because the majority of turmeric sold here isn't pure turmeric... there's usually some kind of filler in it. Mum and Dad discovered this organic brand in Bangalore, and I loved it so much that I had to buy a jar and bring it home. Now I worry about what to do when I finish it. I'm sure I can find some here, right? Right?!

What are some of your favorite things in your kitchen?



Feeling Laaaaaaazy

I have worked out ONCE this week. ONCE. And last week, I worked out three times. I want to go back to working out 4 times a week, but I just cannot bring myself to the gym at the moment, or to yoga. Anyone else suffering from the workout blahs?



Thursday, February 12, 2009

I asked for it...

Well, after all my moaning about wanting rain and low temperatures, God answered with an almighty, "OH YEAH?!!!".

Cue one gorgeous rainy (but oh so cold in this drafty apartment) day after another, replete with moments when the rain came down so hard that I got a little scared. But it was all worth it; the mountaintops were covered in snow here this week, a gorgeous sight with palm trees in the foreground. I neglected to snap a photo, but here's one from the LA Times on Monday.

The other day, we also experienced the most curious thing: full-on rain, full-on sun! Some of you may have seen this before, but I have never witnessed a moment when BOTH aspects were exerting themselves at full force. Bren and I just stood watching for a while, no words passing between us. Then he quickly leaped into the living room to grab the camera and take some shots; I told him they wouldn't come out. Shows what I know! Click on them so you can see them full-size, especially the last one which captures individual rain drops falling off our roof. Awesome.

And as if that wasn't gorgeous enough, He then spoiled us with a great big stairway-to-heaven looking rainbow. WTF! (aka what the "fiddlesticks" :) Oh, and all this on my friend Elena's birthday! Lucky chestnut!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Giddy-Up Steak with Yee-haw Compote and Parsnip Chips!

Image from The Poster Place

Who doesn't love them a cowboy? Gallopin' across the prairie to the next saloon, his piercing blue eyes peering out from under his dusty 10-gallon, worn-out leather boots stompin' one foot, then the other with a determined gait, lassoin' ladies left and right, wrastlin' a fiesty calf to the ground using his bare hands, scars tellin' stories of gunfights and fisticuffs... all this with only his trusty horse and his coffee can as company.


And so, today's recipe is brought to you by the Paul Newman cowboy seared in my mind... and that low-life, Valentine's Day: Coffee-rubbed Flank Steak with Onion-Date compote and Roasted Parsnip Chips.

Speaking of which, one of my favorite cowboy phrases is "hitch in your giddyup". Isn't it cute?

I don't know why, but whenever I think of a Valentine's Day dinner, I always imagine steak, wine and chocolate. Do you? Bren and I used to ignore this holiday at the beginning of our relationship; we were all "F the Man!" and boycotting Hallmark's sick attempt at making single people feel more lonely than ever.

Over the past few years, we've tried to do a little something, whether it's writing something to the other person or talking to each other without the TV on (!). Doods, it's the little things, ok?!

I hate going to a restaurant and paying extra for a meal just because it's Valentine-inspired. I would rather cook something at home. And this year, with all of our collective wallets looking a little thinner, I thought I would share this great way to make your honey, or yourself, a special meal, a tasty slab of red meat and still have money left over for a bottle of wine.

In fact, Bren and I had this last night, and calculated that the entire meal, with leftovers, cost us less than $20.

Take THAT, Ruth's Chris (and change your name for Goodness' sake, it's too hard to say).

N.B.: I would make the onion-date compote a day ahead if you can, because it does take almost an hour. Don't be put off by that though; it is absolutely, totally worth it, and it makes a ton, so you can use it the next day on a cheese sandwich or on a homemade pizza or on ice cream. Yeah, I said it.

Also, I kinda made up the onion-date compote as I went along last night, so forgive me for the photo below, which shows a lime I didn't use, and is missing a few things. I thought I might use the lime at the end. But I didn't. So there.

Seriously, if you make nothing else, make the compote. It will become a staple in your cooking repertoire and people will think you're oh-so-fancy for making a COMPOTE!

Giddy-Up Steak with Yee-haw Compote and Parsnip Chips!
(Coffee-rubbed Flank Steak, Onion-date Compote, Roasted Parsnip Chips)

You'll need this stuff (minus the lime, plus some dates and balsamic vinegar... oops):

1 flank steak, about 1.5 lbs or so
1 lb parsnips (about 3 big 'uns)

2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground espresso/coffee
1.5 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt


2 tbsp olive oil
4 large onions, sliced very thin
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
5 dates, pitted and minced


1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit/190 degrees celsius/gas mark 5.

2) Clean your flank steak, removing any extraneous fat and silver skin, slipping your knife under, like so... (sorry it's so dark!)

3) Mix rub ingredients together in a bowl, then massage the rub into the meat. I mean it, try to get it in there! You might have a bit of the rub left over, depending on the size of your flank steak. You can save that for the future, as long as your meat-tainted hands haven't touched the remaining rub. Set aside.

4) Start with the onion compote. Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium flame until shimmering.

5) Add onions and stir occasionally until pale golden brown (10-15 minutes). Meanwhile, peel your parsnips and cut them in half crosswise, then again lengthwise (or quarter them if you have big puppies like I did), until you have spears of about the same size.

6) Once onions are a pale brown, turn heat to low. Spread onions out across the bottom of the skillet in a tin layer. Stir very rarely, allowing onions to caramelize and turn a deeper brown, about 25 minutes.

7) While onions are caramelizing, throw the parsnip chips onto a foil-lined baking sheet, toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and throw them in the oven for 30 minutes, rotating your pan at the halfway mark to ensure even cooking.

8) Add water, vinegar and dates to onions. Stir and cook, covered, 15 minutes. Your parsnips should be done by now, so pull 'em out and keep 'em warm.

9) Meanwhile get your stove-top grill nice and hot. If you don't have one of these sweet things, you can use a big nonstick skillet. Fold a paper towel in four, pour a little veggie oil onto it, and wipe down your griddle (or pour a bit of oil into your skillet).

10) Once it's nice and hot (oil shimmering or lightly smoking), throw your rubbed-down meat on. It should take between 12 and 15 minutes to cook, depending on the size of your steak. Use a meat thermometer and pull off the steak when it reads about 135 for medium, 125 for medium rare; let it rest on a board, tented with foil for 5 minutes. Unless you really like dry steak, don't cook it above these temps!

9) Slice the steak thinly across the grain; if you don't, your precious steak will be incredibly chewy and deeply unsatisfying. I found a video that might help you.

10) Serve, alongside compote and chips... and love the one you're with! Even if you're by yourself!



Monday, February 9, 2009

Help a sistah out...

Hey guys, would you do me a favor and rate my video on YouTube? There are a row of stars under the video, and all you have to do is select how many stars you would give my video... that will help me get some more interest... Also would you forward the YouTube link to anyone you know who might like it? Grassroots campaign here!

Thankyou so much!




UPDATE: This is the better Vimeo version. Man, I love Vimeo.

I edited it!



Drumroll please...

Hey guys! Stay tuned for a VERY EXCITING new addition to my blog... check in a little later today (still trying to get it on here). You won't be sorry!

Eeek! I'm so excited!



Friday, February 6, 2009

How's Your News?

Have you heard of the new show, "How's Your News"? It's a feature news show hosted by a group of mentally and physically disabled people, that premieres on MTV this Sunday. At first, I thought this was a horrible idea, meant to make us laugh at people we shouldn't laugh at, but then I realised these guys were having so much fun, and actually catching a side of people that is a joy to see.

I love this clip, because it is a cooking segment and it features the unique and adorable Amy Sedaris.

How's Your News meets Amy Sedaris from How's Your News? on Vimeo.



The Challenge

With Valentine's Day around the corner, I thought this was particularly appropriate.

Bren talked about this in his vlog today (Chapter 101, which will post in a few minutes), about the challenge of truly loving everyone you meet. Everyone. From my adorable husband to my annoying landlord, from my friends to my foes, to a political figure I adore to one I think very little of, from the person who treated me with unspeakable kindness, to someone who treated me with unspeakable hatred. I am charged with loving them both. It is one of the central tenets of what Jesus told us to do, and I am so crappy at it!

So, following Bren's challenge this morning, I am going to try to live with this verse in my memory today. Let me know if you are doing it too!

1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 (The Message)

1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.



Thursday, February 5, 2009

Clouds and Curry Leaves

It worked! Look at the clouds outside!

Aren't they gorgeous? I can already hear a very delicate pitter-patter on the windows. Since it was raining, I was finally motivated to do something I should have done MONTHS ago.

A while ago, when I wrote about the Lucia-Lucica Fried Rice, I mentioned curry leaves and how much I adore them. The Murraya koenigii's bold, green flavour is indispensible to South Indian cooking, our one big trump card over the North's delicious creamy curries. Put garlic, mustard seeds and curry leaves in some warm oil, stand back and wait for the explosion of delicious smells (and spluttering seeds) and pour the flavoured oil over cooked dal (lentils) or veggies. Shakabooli it's good!

Annoyingly, every time I need them, I have to run to the Indian store and ask them very quietly for a bag of cuddipatha (the Hindi name) since I'm not sure whether the ban has been lifted on them or not. Sometimes they don't have them, and my soul sinks. They're not expensive, but I feel bad about having a whole bag wasting away in my fridge. I've tried drying them but that mutes their flavour and turn an ugly black when cooked. Cue a frantic period of trying to use the fresh curry leaves in everything. Last night, I tried curry leaves with orange juice. Seriously.

When I was little, we had a curry leaf tree in our garden, in a nice shady spot. I remember it being huge, almost as tall as I was. Mum would send me out to grab a sprig whenever she needed it, and I remember Dad once telling me that I couldn't use a pair of scissors; I had to twist it off. I'm not sure what that was about; maybe he was just taking the piss. I'm hoping he'll clear that up in the comment section. Your move, Mr. Merlin.

ANYWAY, what a tediously long way to tell you that a few months ago, I found a company that sells curry leaf plants! I created a section called "I want..." on this blog, and put the link to that plant underneath it, in case anyone was feeling particularly generous. A few weeks later, this arrived in the mail, courtesy of my adorable husband.

Isn't she cute? I was in tears when Bren directed me to the newest inhabitant of my window sill. That Brendan knows just how to treat a little ol' weirdo food-cultist like me: random acts of ice cream and curry leaves.

I was supposed to re-pot the sweet thing months ago, but I got caught up in trying to figure out the perfect soil mixture for her. Today, with the clouds building up, I thought the rain might make her flourish, so I pulled out my favorite pot, the first one I ever painted, and transplanted my little murraya into her new spacious digs.

She is now bathing on the steps alongside the succies, and I'm hoping she'll plump up in the next few days. Her leaves are still young and tender, and lack the smack-your-face flavour of the more mature ones I get at the store. It'll be a while probably before I can cook with her, but I can't wait! Pray I won't kill her like I killed my tomatoes!


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