Diwali, Coconut & Quinoa Kheer and Win Flights to India!

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (2 of 5)

Of all of the stories that are associated with Diwali, the tale of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman has to be the one that is dearest to my heart.  It is a tale of honour, exile, self-control and eventually, triumph.  This part of the epic Ramayana begins with the self-imposed exile of Rama after an administration bungle involving his stepmother and the throne.  Despite the pleas of his father the King, honour drives Rama into the forest, where he is willingly followed by Sita and Lakshman to begin what is to be an adventure-filled, fourteen year camping trip.

And what of Sita?  Her adoptive father, also a King, discovered baby Sita in the fields (one assumes she was discovered by one of his staff as what King would toil the fields?).  He is delighted with his find, which if you ask me is a refreshing change in the attitude of that time, when female babies were generally considered a consolation prize to sons.  He raises her as his own and when she is of marriageable age, hosts the equivalent of a celestial weight lifting championship to filter out the men from the mice.  Thus, Rama is found.  He is known in Hindu mythology as Purushottama, literally the Supreme Being, or Perfect Man (thereby confirming that on Earth, one may find Mr. Right but can forget any hopes of finding Mr. Perfect).

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (5 of 5)

So after having to suffer through watching keen suitor after keen suitor attempt to lift the heaviest bow in the world, the Princess Sita finds her perfect man, marries him and is rewarded with a honeymoon of more than a decade in the woods with no mobile phone connection and barely a hairdryer to her name.  As if having to wander around in the forest with your husband and the third wheel his brother wasn’t trying enough for the poor lady, she manages to get herself kidnapped by Ravana, an obnoxious demon with appalling table manners.

So Diwali marks the return from exile of the trio, after Rama proves his perfection by slaying the evil Ravana, rescuing his wife and bringing her back to civilisation before she can get herself into any more trouble.  Known as the Festival of Lights, an important feature of Diwali is the lighting of lamps and of firecrackers.  The flames and bursts are a symbol of good triumphing over evil, of light obscuring the darkness.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (1 of 5)

In Sydney, the law dictates that we be content with the lighting of sparklers and of small oil filled lamps, or diyas.  When I was in Mumbai as a child however, it was a different story.  Weeks before the much anticipated festival, we would stock up on firecrackers of all shapes, sizes and colours.  Then the day would come and after the religious rituals were duly observed and obscene amounts of food eaten, all of the inhabitants would gather in front of the apartment block, the youngest kids hoisted safely onto their fathers’ shoulders.

We would often start softly, with flower pots that would spray a bouquet of light upwards and chakkars (wheels) that would spin madly when lit, spraying colourful sparks unpredictably in all directions.  Some of the braver boys would venture onto rockets, placing them in used soda bottles. These had to be lit quickly, legs in take-off position, so that the mad dash to safety could be done before they launched.  The grand finale would be strings of tiny ‘Dum Dum’ crackers, named so for the deafening cavalcade of explosions that began when they were lit, leaving ears ringing till Christmas.  When the boxes of firecrackers had all been systematically reduced to burnt paper and the air was heavy with the strangely intoxicating scent of over-done popcorn, we would all head back into our homes (or each others’) to enjoy a vast array of sweets for dessert.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (3 of 5)

Firecrackers and sweets jostle for first place among the highlights of Diwali and in Australia, where the law is limiting, sweets win every time.  There are no rules against sugary, milky gratification and indulge we do, with at least three different types of sweets every year.  This year, I played with a variation on kheer, a popular condensed milk and rice pudding.  In this version, the quinoa lends a nuttiness which cuts through its creamy, mildly sweet coconut vehicle.  There is a pleasant coating of the tongue of thickened coconut milk and the delicate balance of the cardamom, saffron and vanilla that it carries.  Jaggery lends a warm, caramel sweetness, but you could use brown sugar if you don’t have any on hand.  An abundant drizzle of toasted, crushed nuts is mandatory and gives the molars something to work on in an otherwise soft world.  I chose almonds and also used some Persian fairy floss that I happened to find strutting around in the pantry.  From a nutrition perspective, quinoa is mostly protein and therefore a healthier option to rice.  Also, the natural sweetness of coconut products means that only a small amount of sweetener is required.  Serve in small bowls, as both quinoa and coconut milk are filling entities and the last thing we all need is dessert fatigue*.

Now onto the competition! St.George Bank is giving away 2 tickets to India this Diwali (see the video below), and if I hadn’t spent my leave galavanting around Tuscany and the UK, I’d be entering.  To enter, all you have to do is snap a pic of some aspect of your Diwali celebrations.  Post the pic on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, with the #StGeorgeDiwali by 12 noon Sunday, October 26.  The best entry will win flights for 2 to India!  The competition is open to NSW, ACT and QLD residents.  For further info, including T & C’s, head to http://www.stgeorgediwali.com.au/

So whether your Diwali consists of Dum-Dums and squealing children, or quiet rituals and too much food, may it be filled with light, love and sweetness.  Happy Diwali!

Looking for other eggless sweet options? Try these chocolate burfi. or this raw mint slice, or these truffles or these ones.

This is a sponsored post, but words, opinions and ramblings are my own.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (4 of 5)

Coconut and Quinoa Kheer (Pudding)

Makes  8-10 serves

Get:

1/2 cup quinoa
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin coconut cream
50-70g jaggery, powdered, or brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
The insides of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/8 tsp (generous pinch) saffron strands
1/2 or 1 whole vanilla bean
About 1/4 cup crushed, toasted nuts of your choice

Make:

Boil the quinoa in plenty of water for 6-8 mins. Drain and rinse the quinoa well.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the drained quinoa, coconut milk, coconut cream, powdered jaggery or brown sugar, powdered cardamom seeds and saffron.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Place the seeds and the bean into the pan.

Bring gently to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the pudding has thickened to a porridge consistency.  Crush and toast the nuts in another pan while this is happening.  Serve topped with crushed nuts and whatever else happens to be serving a purely decorative purpose in your pantry.

 

Notes:

*We all know dessert fatigue is a myth, but the weak amongst us claim it exists.  Also, I may have made way too much of this and eaten it for breakfast 3 days in a row.

Jaggery is an unrefined Indian brown sugar that you can pick up at Indian grocery stores.

If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can substitute with vanilla extract or paste.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (7 of 2)

 

Mum’s Natural Cough Remedy

For the past week I’ve been struck down with bronchitis, resulting in a pesky, guttural cough that is as unsavoury as it is exhausting.  To say that I’m not great at being a patient is putting it mildly.  It took me several days to see the doctor for some antibiotics, and a whole lot of parental coaxing to convince me to take time off work to recuperate.  Having time on my hands is something I always crave, but time combined with a physical inability to do things I want to do is not quite what I had in mind.  After almost a week at home, I am truly insufferable and yet this tiresome cough lingers.

All this whining has a purpose, I promise.  There is a natural relief for coughing and head colds that I want to share with you, something that my mother forces into me at times like this.  A few days ago I was home alone with Cookie the pooch, and on my second consecutive night of incessant coughing, an activity that seems to be incompatible with sleep.  Sometime around three am, I had had enough and was feeling borderline murderous.  When I got out of bed and turned the light on for the third time that night, (ignoring an exasperated gaze from the long-suffering Cookie who had the misfortune of sleeping in my room) I knew that a solution had to be found.

Turmeric Pepper Milk (1 of 3)

So the stove was lit, milk poured, pepper ground and white yellowed with turmeric.  A short boil later, I was sipping my mother’s medicine for the first time without her insistence.  To say it worked, the cough subsided and I enjoyed a few hours sleep for the first time in what felt like forever would be an admission that my mother is right.  That she told me so, and that I would’ve done well to listen earlier.  And we know, you and I, that we never admit such a thing, regardless of how old or supposedly mature we are.

There are no pretensions about this milk.  It may be, at least initially, one of the worst things you’ve ever put in your mouth.  I don’t sweeten mine anymore, but you can and I suggest you do the first few times.  Honey would be the obvious choice because of its soothing properties.  You could also use a nut milk or soy milk.  Be sure to drink it as hot as you can possibly manage.  I think it works partly because turmeric has known anti-inflammatory properties which have long been recognised in Ayurvedic medicine.  Pepper was thought to have the ability to clear congestion but my personal theory is that in such a high concentration, it just annihilates the sensation in the nerve endings in the throat.  For whatever reason, this concoction, while unappealing in taste, seems to work well as a natural cough suppressant, and will provide some flu relief also.

Please don’t tell my mother I said that.

So tell me, what natural remedies do your family members swear by?

Turmeric Pepper Milk (3 of 3)

Milk with Turmeric and Pepper

Makes 1 serve

Get:

1 cup milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp turmeric powder
Sweetener of your choice, to taste (optional)

Make:

Place all ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan and stir to disperse the turmeric.  Bring slowly to the boil and simmer on low heat for 2-3 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and drink as hot as you can handle.

Sleep well and allow those around you to do the same.

Turmeric Pepper Milk (2 of 3)

 

Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal Curry + Nourishing Spinach Broth

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 1

The young man always set his stall up just outside the main gate.  He would line the steel canisters up on the cheap plastic table, leaving the lids on until the first few walkers would trickle past.  The gate behind him led into a paved path, which encircled a large man-made lake called Sankey Tank.  Every morning, the sweetly smiling, crisp shirted young man would peddle his wares to the local residents who walked or jogged the popular Bangalore path.

Two large signs rested against the front row of vessels.

Nutritious and Healthy Hot Soups are Available Here explained the first one

Next to it, the other sign went on to list the options: Hot Ragi (millet).  Palak and Methi (Spinach and Fenugreek). Vegetable. Baby Corn.  Aloe Vera and Wheat Grass. 

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 2

In the earlier part of the morning, it was mainly the office-goers he served, confidently ladling hot liquids until he achieved the mixture that each customer looked forward to.  They would drink quickly, blowing into their cups between sips, then rush off with a wave to begin a new day.  Later in the morning came the housewives and retirees, often in pairs or threes.  There was no air of urgency about this bunch and they would linger a little longer around his stall, sipping the spiced, healthful broth and exchanging news.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 1

He wore no watch, but guessed the time according to the regulars.  The old man who fed the pigeons arrived at precisely eight am, and left at nine fifteen.  There was the trickle of school children that would begin at around 8.30 and trail off around nine. And the aunty who always wore a woollen beanie, regardless of the weather, usually arrived around ten.

Then, at around ten thirty, when all the walkers had walked, joggers had jogged and soup drinkers had drunk, the young man would meticulously pack away his things and head home.  Every day he would take pleasure in the lightness of the canisters at the end of the morning.  It made him happy that people liked his soup, so full of nourishment.  And it made him even happier that the cycle home from Sankey Tank at the end of his shift was always easier than the one he had done in the wee hours of the morning.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 4

Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal curry

Get:

2 large bunches English spinach, leaves and tender stems only, finely chopped
8-10 fresh baby corns, sliced to 2-3mm pieces
1/3 cup dried split mung dhal
Salt
Lemon juice
Boiling water
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder
2-3 dried red chillies, broken into large pieces

Make:

Boil the spinach in 2-3 cups salted water (enough to submerge it) for 5-7 minutes.  Drain and reserve the water.

In a large non-stick saucepan, dry roast the mung dhal, stirring continuously until they have gained a little colour and are fragrant.  Remove from the saucepan and set aside.

Boil the sliced baby corn in plenty of salted water until they are starting to become tender.  Then add the roasted mung dhal and cook until the dhal is mostly but not completely cooked.  Drain and reserve the water.

In the non-stick saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds.  When the seeds have popped (adjust the heat to prevent burning them), add the other tempering ingredients.  Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes, then add the baby corn and mung dhal.  If the mixture is a bit dry, add a little of the spinach water.  Add salt to taste- start with 1/2 tsp.   Stir through, taste and add more salt if needed.  Cook, covered,  until the baby corn is fairly tender and until any excess water has evaporated (you may have to cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end).

Squeeze in a generous about of lemon juice (start with a tbsp, add more according to taste) and stir through just before serving.  Enjoy with your favourite Indian flatbread.

Nourishing Spinach Broth:

Get:

The spinach and baby corn water from the previous recipe
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, split down the middle
1-2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt and lemon juice to taste

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
Make:

Boil all the ingredients (apart from the oil, cumin and lemon juice) in a pot for about 15-20 mins.  Add salt only if needed after tasting.  Strain the broth to remove the garlic and chilly.  In a separate small non-stick pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds.  When they have popped, add the mixture to the broth and stir.  Add lemon juice to taste.

Notes:

Mung Dhal, dry red chillies and all the spices are readily available in Indian grocery stores.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 3

Raw Mint Slice for The Sweet Swap 2014

Mint Slice 3

The punch of peppermint is what first makes

It’s presence known in the rich nutty base

Then sexy dark chocolate, creamy with coconut

Widens the smile on the indulger’s face

Mint Slice 3

So as a nibble with tea

Or an after dinner zing,

This raw mint slice will make

Your taste-buds sing!

Mint Slice 4

Ok so a poet I clearly am not.  But I am kinda tickled pink with this recipe, and boxes of the decadent yet goodness-filled squares went out to three lovely bloggers.  Amanda of Chewtown, Bryton of Food in Literature and Cassandra of Journey From Within each received a box of these gluten-free, low sugar, raw goodies.  In turn, I welcomed sugary goodness in the form of Butterscotch Pecans from Fiona of Tiffin and Raw Date and Almond Truffles from Karla of Get On Up.  In its second year, the Sweet Swap, organised by Amanda (Chewtown) and Sara (Belly Rumbles) is a fun, innovative event that brings Aussie bloggers together and benefits a worthy cause.

Raw Mint Slice

Makes 24 squares, approx 4cm x 4cm

Get:

Base:
3/4 cup cashew or macadamia nut butter (homemade or store bought)
2 tbsp milk powder (or pea protein powder for a vegan option)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 tbsp rice syrup
4 drops peppermint oil (available at cake supply shops)
1 1/2 tsp spirulina powder (for colour, optional)

Topping:
120g good quality dark chocolate
1 tbsp thick coconut cream* (see note)

To Sprinkle:
Small handful cacao nibs or shredded coconut

Make:

See the note below first regarding coconut cream.  Prepare a tray lined with grease-proof paper.  To make the base, place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir.  It will probably be a little too thick to stir, at which point you can knead with clean hands.  If the nut butter you use is on the runny side, you may need to add a little more milk or protein powder to achieve a bread dough consistency.  Press the mixture down into the tray to roughly a 6-8mm thickness.

To make the topping, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in 20-30 second bursts in the microwave.  When it is fully melted, quickly stir through the coconut milk before the chocolate seizes up.  Quickly spread the mixture evenly over the base and sprinkle with cacao nibs or coconut.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before slicing with a sharp knife.

Notes:
Use coconut cream with no additives (I use Ayam brand), and pop the can in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.  Then, open the tin without shaking and use the thick part of the cream off the top of the tin.

Mint Slice 2

Click the Month: August 2014

Cakes 9

I have cake!! Well, pictures of cake, anyway.  Some time ago I attended a cake decorating workshop with Celebrations Cooking in Sydney, where Andrew taught a small group of us how to work with chocolate to cover and decorate cakes.  I found the course so fulfilling and such great value that I recently attended another workshop, this time working with RTR, or fondant icing.  I think I’m hooked and will be attending more classes, of which they have many including more advanced cake decorating, pastry and cooking classes.

The best part?  At the end of each class, we all skipped home happily with the cakes that we had decorated, to eat or gift as we pleased.  And yes, those are sheep on my chocolate cake.

Cakes 1

Cakes 2Cakes 3Cakes 4

Cakes 5Cakes 7Cakes 9Cakes 8

This is not a sponsored post, and the class was paid for by Deepa.

Tuscany in Transit

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 1

The man sat on a platform bench, directly in my line of sight as I peered out of the water-stained window of the train carriage.  His shirt hung completely open and the dazzling rays of the Tuscan sun reflected off the curves of his generous belly.  The equally reflective surface of his bald head was surrounded by a thick ring of dark, unkempt hair that spilled over the tops of his ears.  He held a brown glass bottle in one hand which he rested on his knee.  An unlit cigarette dangled from the fingers of his other hand.  It was lit as if on schedule by a passing man of about the same age who was, bafflingly, wearing a knitted beanie and sweater.  Large sunglasses were perched on the bare-chested man’s nose, heightening the sense that he should be the head of a crime ring in some Hollywood movie.  He held a grotesque fascination for me and before my train pulled away from Pistoia station, I fought the urge to take a picture, reminding myself that I was in his direct line of vision just as he was for me.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 1

The train I was on was headed for Lucca, a walled city about 140 km from Florence.  Almost three hours earlier, I had entered Santa Maria Novella Station after a brisk twenty minute walk along the sun-baked streets of Florence.  I had approached a small biglietteria, a stall selling tickets for the buses that stopped on either side of the city’s main station.  There, I met the very first impolite person I had come across in Florence, an insipid man who reminded me (in appearance but not in attitude) of my high school economics teacher.  He had set his mouth, sliced his hands through the air and in no uncertain terms told me “Lucca? NO!” promptly turning away as if I had just asked for his bank account details.

A more kindly man at another stall had told me that he too did not sell bus tickets to Lucca, but that if it was him, he would take the train.  I needed no more reasons to opt for the train, especially as I hadn’t been looking forward to the queasiness that I often experienced on drives along winding roads.

Through a combination of my suboptimal touristic Italian and my misreading of the train boards (who knew that they would have both departure and arrival information?), I failed to board one train and had to wait an hour for the next one.  It gave me the opportunity to explore Santa Maria Novella station.  The hub of the Florentine rail and bus networks, it’s imposing ceiling was what kept drawing my eyes upwards.  An intricate arrangement of criss-crossed steel beams supporting panes of grey tinted glass looms over scores of purposeful commutors and bewildered tourists. It’s cavernous underside houses a string of shops selling anything from cheap clothing, to mobile phones and gelato.  The shopping was not exactly a must-do in Florence, but an acceptable way to while away half an hour or so, if one happens to misread the train time signs.

All that speed-walking around a city and missing of perfectly good trains makes one hungry and so I picked up a pizzetta (mini pizza) at a nearby pasticceria.  The round of flaky puff pastry was smeared with pizza sauce and topped with good prosciutto, a puddle of mozzarella and sprinkling of herbs.  It was a simple but satisfying snack that proved to be worth the train mishap.  I picked up another for the journey and vowed to replicate the recipe in my own kitchen.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 2

Finally aboard the train, I settled into one of the comfortably cushioned seats and set my bottle of water on the tiny table.  In front of me was a young African woman who was engaged in a very loud and animated phone conversation, seemingly oblivious to the annoyed looks she was receiving from other passengers.  Across from me sat a middle-aged man in army pants, sporting a mohawk and impossibly dark sunglasses.  He left the train at a station midway to Lucca, with a chesty swagger that I couldn’t help but watch.  A young, slim woman, probably a gypsy, walked up and down the aisles using printed flyers to beg for money.  As always, I was mildly surprised that she wore jeans and a sweater rather than the flowing skirts and jangly bangles of storybook gypsies.

So it was that for the eighty minute ride to Lucca, I took in the undulating emerald green Tuscan hills, dotted with old farmhouses and historic towns.  At each station, I admired the bright scarlet poppies that grew like weeds along the tracks and around the stone buildings.  I peeped at the laundry drying out of windows and in balconies, guessing what kinds of people lived there and how many.  I observed the Italians that I saw on the many platforms that we passed.  Some were intriguing like the very proper little old lady dressed all in grey, others distasteful like the bald, abundantly bellied platform sitter at Pistoia.

I was surprised to find the train mostly filled with residents rather than tourists.  For me, the gentle rhythm of a train has always had a lulling effect, and it was a forced time-out in what had so far been an overly active holiday.  I sunk into my seat, chewed on my pizzetta and I people-watched.  The good, the bad and like that bare-chested gentleman, the downright unsavoury.

A recipe is probably more effort than a pizzetta needs.  You see, it’s as simple as an assembling of tasty, quality ingredients followed by some oven time.  When Spiral Foods sent me a few bottles of their Sugo (Italian Pasta Sauce), I started using this to smear onto the puff pastry and it worked a treat.  It truly is a fresh, homely tasting pasta sauce.  If you are vegetarian, swap the prosciutto for a few thin slices of flavourful tomatoes or red onions.

In other news, can you believe this is my 100th blog post?? I must admit I’m a little shocked that one with as limited an attention span as myself (ohhh…..look…..a butterfly!) would have lasted this long.  But here I am.  And here you are, reading each new post and supporting me with your presence, comments and encouragement.

Thank you!  Keep coming back, and enjoy the Pizzetta.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 3

Prociutto Pizzettas

Makes 8

Get:

4 sheets good quality frozen puff pastry, thawed
Olive oil
Melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup passata
1 tsp (3-5) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus a couple of leaves
Generous pinch salt
8 slices good quality prosciutto
150g buffallo mozzarella
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Quarter the pastry sheets.  Lay 8 pieces out onto oven trays and brush with melted butter.  Lay the remaining 8 sheets onto the brushed sheets, lining the corners up with the middle of the sides to form a star.

In a small bowl, mix the passata, basil and salt with a drizzle of olive oil, or use Spiral Foods Sugo straight up.  Taste and add a little more salt if desired, remembering that the prosciutto will be a little salty.  Spread the sauce over the middle of the pastry squares, leaving a 2 cm border clear all the way around each square.

Lay a slice of prosciutto onto each square and top with pinched off pieces of mozzarella, again leaving the border clear.

Scatter torn basil leaves over the top and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is fully cooked and browned.

Tuscany in transit 3

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, however Sugo product samples were provided by Spiral Foods.

 

Why I Write

why i write 2

I write because when I do, I forget all else.  As my fingers bounce across the keys, as words tumble over each other to land in succession on the page, as letters become words become sentences become paragraphs, life becomes something that makes a little bit of sense.

why i write 2

To write makes my heart beat faster with the sheer invigoration of it.  It is my car racing, my bungee jumping, my watercolour.  It makes me more of what I am, the best version of myself.

There are days when ideas and concepts in my head that are jostling their way out of my little brain.  Characters….some real, some imagined and some real-imagined.  Each being born in the fog of science in my cranium, elbowing their way past treatment protocols, drug contraindications, suture properties, principles of wound healing.  Many of these men, women and yes, animals, never see the light.  Some underdeveloped and some not very interesting in the first place languish quietly before they can emerge into the world.  But a few remain, laying low, biding their time, building their strength until they can climb out onto my laptop.  Others form stories that blossom, give me hope, then whither like the end-of-day flowers at the railway station kiosk.  The ones that sell for half price to husbands who are home late again and couples who don’t like to turn up empty handed to dinner parties.  Perhaps one day a concept, an idea will take on a bigger life….one that makes it to my screen and eventually onto paper.

Why do I write? I write because that act of weaving words, of hitting keys to make people, places, animals and situations take shape is what allows me to call myself a writer.  I write because writing is like medicine for my soul.  Because what I have written may be all I ever leave behind, even if no-one ever reads it.  Writing allows me to start to un-jumble the mess that at times is life, to put it into simple words and complex sentences.  I write because sometimes the beauty and sorrow of life is so overwhelming that I need to reduce it to mere words to improve my grasp on it.  When I write, I at times escape reality and at other times embrace it.

I write for me.  I write to show you a piece of me.  To connect with you, even if it’s only through words on your screen.

I write because I am a writer.

Why do you write? And if you don’t, what is it that takes you to that happy place?

why i write 3

This is a blog hop and the lovely Kate of Raising Misters gave me the opportunity to participate.  Check out her post here.  The bloggers I am tagging are Amy from Milkteaxx, Zarine from Maybe in Madras and Tammi from Insatiable Munchies.  These ladies are very talented so do keep an eye out for their posts.

why i write 1

Cooking with Enrico

Gnocchi Pan fried 2

Gnocchi Pan fried 3

He would stride confidently into the dining room, his kingdom, all six foot something of him.  He was the pulse of Antica Tenuta Le Casacce…….big hair, big smile, big personality.  His welcomes were always warm, his attire always quirky, and his enthusiasm always infectious.

Every evening with pride, he would make a booming announcement at dinner before each course.  All the diners were served the same thing.  There were no menus, buffet or orders.  Instead, we all trusted that Enrico would look after us, fill our stomachs beyond belief and leave our palates wanting more.  When he appeared in the archway, we would stop shovelling forkfuls of his food into our mouths, put down our wine glasses and cease the chitter chatter to just listen.  Animatedly, the Roman chef would describe the course before us, proudly declaring the ingredients were of this land, the Tuscan land he loved.  With a flourish of his hand, he would finish with the most important of those ingredients…….

“My olive oil, and my love!”

It was only after I heard of his passing, not long after I had left Italy, that I realised what an instrumental part Enrico Casini had been in the happiness these two weeks away had brought me.  From his warm smile to his willingness to tailor my meals to exclude beef, a real feat when it came to Tuscan cuisine, he had made a real impact on our group.  Our group was one of the last few to be welcomed to Le Casacce by Enrico.  One of the last to share his kitchen with him for a pasta-making class.  Probably the very last to tease him about his kooky, colourful spectacles.

It is some reassurance to know that he died in his sleep, a smile on his face.  Perhaps it was the same smile he wore when he taught us how to make his favourite sauces, or the cheekier one he sported when he made it a point to assure me there was no beef in the Tiramisu.

Gnocchi Pan fried 2

After two previous gnocchi disasters, Enrico’s gnocchi recipe gave me my first success.  It is cloud-like and delicious cooked in the traditional way, in salted boiling water for a few minutes.  I choose instead to pan fry it, not with Enrico’s olive oil but using Spiral Foods’ Rosemary and Garlic oil.  The range of ‘Dip ‘n Toss’ oils is a range of delicately infused organic extra virgin olive oils that also includes Sundried Tomato & Basil as well as Garlic & Parmesan.  The oil brought a wonderful crispy skin to the pillowy ricotta gnocchi, as well as imparting a herbaceous, subtle flavour.  The enoki mushrooms do a great job of soaking up the rosemary and garlic flavours of the oil, but you could use thinly sliced button mushrooms if those are all you have on hand.  This is a ricotta gnocchi, and the cheese needs to be drained for at least a few hours, requiring some forward planning.

Gnocchi Pan fried 5               Gnocchi Pan fried 6

Pan-Fried Rosemary and Garlic Gnocchi with Enoki Mushrooms

Serves 2.  Gnocchi Recipe serves 4 and can be frozen for later use

Get:

500g fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese + extra for sprinkling
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
Plain flour (about 1 cup + more for rolling)
Salt
Sprinkle of freshly grated pepper
4 tbsp + extra Spiral Foods Organic Rosemary & Garlic Dip ‘n Toss Oil
Generous handful enoki mushrooms, fibrous part of stems cut off
Small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

Make:

To make the gnocchi, the ricotta needs to first be drained.  Tie the ricotta up in a clean cheese cloth or thin cotton tea towel and place in a colander.  Sit the colander in the top of a deep bowl.  Place a weight (I used a tub of rice) on top of the cloth covered ricotta and leave to drain for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Once the ricotta is drained, place it in a large bowl with the egg, parmesan, nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of flour.  Before you start kneading, have a large tray or two small ones ready, as well as a hand held sieve/strainer.  With clean hands, knead the mixture, combining well and adding more flour until a soft and slightly sticky dough is achieved.  I ended up using about 3/4 cup of flour.  Transfer the dough onto a clean, floured surface and knead for another minute or so.  Have a small pile of flour on one corner of the bench.  Pinch off golf ball sized parts of the dough and roll into logs about 1 to 1.5 cm thick.  Cut into 1cm wide pieces and add these to the pile of flour.  When you have made all the gnocchi, toss them well in the flour.  I found this easier to do in small batches.  Sieve the gnocchi to get rid of any excess flour.  Place on trays in a single layer to dry for an hour or so, then place any gnocchi that you are not intending to use immediately in an airtight container and in the freezer.

You will need about 2 cups of the gnocchi to serve 2 people.

In a large non-stick fry pan, heat 4 tbsp Spiral Foods Rosemary and Garlic Oil.  Add 2 cups of the gnocchi and fry on medium heat, turning the gnocchi over every couple of minutes so that it is evenly browned.  Toss in the mushrooms and a generous sprinkle of salt and cover.  Cook on low heat for a further 1-2 mins until the mushrooms are tender.  Toss through before serving.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan and finely chopped fresh parsley, as well as a generous drizzle of the oil.

**Disclosure: The Dip ‘n’ Toss oils were product samples provided by Spiral Foods, however this is not a sponsored post.  Opinions are my own.

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Curry Leaf Thambuli

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 1

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 1

My parents are farmers, of sorts.

Not really, but in one corner of the garden is a curry leaf tree of grand proportions.  It towers above the hibiscus, overshadows the quietly achieving chilli plants and puts the tiny basil crop to shame.  The slender, lustrous leaves caress the fence and carpet the garden bed, softly making their presence known.  They tickle your face as you walk past, filling the nostrils with their subtle but unmistakable scent.

It is quite common for Indian families to have a curry leaf plant.  The herb is a staple in South Indian cuisine, most dishes bearing a scattering of the deep green leaves.  That they aid digestion is well known, but curry leaves are also packed with iron, buzzing with antioxidants and help regulate blood glucose levels.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 6

Couple that with the fact that a small package of shriveled leaves, their fragrance but a distant memory, will set you back at least four dollars in most Australian supermarkets, and growing your own just makes good sense.  My parents’ version however, is one of mammoth proportions that surpasses what is dictated by that good sense.  It turns out that this particular Indian has taken a liking to Aussie climate and soil.  This piece of urban foliage could probably supply a small Indian city or a large Indian town without too much trouble.  It certainly does supply a sizable sector of my parents’ friends circle on a regular basis and anyone who dares to ask for a few curry leaves is usually bombarded with an overstuffed shopping bag of vegetation that will suffice for the coming year or so.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 2

The tree’s offspring have been adopted out to various friends and colleagues in the past and are now thriving like leafy teenagers in pots and backyards.  When it begins to flourish out of control, Dad has been forced to prune the tree back lest it completely destroy their pergola and invade the garden, engulfing the house and possibly even the entire street.

This Curry Leaf Thambuli sees the leaves blended with fresh coconut and yoghurt to make a spicy cold soup or condiment.  This is another recipe from my cousin Chaithra, you know, the one who brought you that delicious ivy gourd and coconut dish, Thondekaye Sukha.  You will have to make a trip to the local Indian store for this one, and a good food processor is important.  Eat it on its own, stir it through rice or even drizzle it onto a piece of grilled, Indian spiced fish.  Should you find yourself in possession of a large overstuffed shopping bag of these leaves, this is a fabulous way to use them up in a healthy, nutrient-rich way.  If you do not have access to such a bounty, well then the investment is probably worthwhile.

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Curry Leaf Thambuli

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Get:

2 tsp ghee
70-80 curry leaves (or the leaves from 4 sprigs)
1/3 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
1 cm ginger
1-2 hot green chillies (I used frozen ones), to taste
1 tbsp + 1/4 cup Greek style yoghurt
Water
Salt, to taste

For the tempering:
1/2 tsp ghee
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli, broke into pieces
Pinch asafoetida
2 tsp urad dhal

Make:

In a small saucepan, melt and heat 2 tsp ghee.  Add the curry leaves.  If they are fresh, they will splutter, so stand back.  When they are browned and crisp, take off the heat and allow to cool a little.

In a food processor, blitz the ghee/curry leaf mixture, coconut, ginger, green chillies 1 tbsp yoghurt and a couple of tbsp water.  When it is a slightly coarse paste, add it to the remaining yoghurt in a bowl.  Add 1/4 tsp salt and stir through.  Taste and add a little more salt if needed.  The mixture should be spicy and slightly sour.  The salt serves to balance out the sourness of the yoghurt.

In a small saucepan, on medium heat, melt and heat the ghee.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds and when they are popping, turn the heat down to low.  Add the other tempering ingredients and stir until the urad dhal browns a little.  If it is browning quickly, take the pan off the heat and just stir the hot oil mixture.  Add a few more curry leaves if available and stir until they are crisp.

Add the tempered mixture to the Thambuli and stir through.  Serve with rice or as a sauce.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 3

On grassy slopes

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It is my firm belief that as adults we don’t take enough opportunities to roll down grassy hills.  To lie supine, succumbing to gravity, body against plush felt and eyes squeezed shut.  To relinquish control, if only for a minute, like kids do without a second thought.

What holds us back? Is it the a fear of scratched knees, bruised elbows and scraped egos?  Of nice clothes stained with chlorophyll and indignity? Of achy joints and stiff muscles that may groan a little the next day?  Or is it that our grown-up, weary eyes just see grassy slopes as a part of the scenery, their true potential buried under the clutter of finances, relationships and other sensibilities.

Childhood holidays to Canberra, the nation’s capital, included a mandatory visit to Parliament house.  It was an oblong white structure on top of a hill where the country’s politicians would discuss, defend and decide on how best to run this place.  As kids though, the drawing card was the immaculately manicured carpet of green lawn that sloped away from the building without a tree or even so much as a pebble to interrupt it.  It was the perfect grassy hill to roll down, gathering speed until we would land at the bottom in a pile of grass and giggles.

The sculptured lawns of Parliament house paled in comparison to the emerald slopes of Tuscany.  As we drove to Pienza, a tiny Tuscan town nestled in the Val D’Orca region, winding roads took us past the velveteen undulations of the Tuscan countryside .  There were patches of vineyards here, a punctuation of a farmhouse there but mostly, it was the vast expanse of many-shaded green.  The town itself was a tangle of intriguing, winding. streets and charming shops.  Of inconspicuous restaurants and dusky pink stone walls.  It’s cathedral was as lovely as any, the immense ceiling stretching away from its wooden pews, polished by hands for centuries.

But what drew my attention again and again was the view from the city walls.  From there one could see a circumferential expanse of the voluptuous green hills.  Those hills that the child in me wanted to roll down fearlessly, gathering speed and momentum.

Unhindered, without a second thought and never looking back.

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