Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chickpea-Flour Pancakes!

The chickpea-flour pancake. So... perfect, and I can't believe I haven't yet taken a picture of it for all of you. (If you follow my Twitter, you might notice that I tweet about the chickpea-flour pancake way too much.)

This is how it's done: 1 part chickpea flour (I use about 1/3 cup for one pancake) to 2 parts water. Stir the water in very slowly to avoid lumps. Add spices to taste; chilis or mustardseed or turmeric for a savory pancake, cardamom or cinnamon for a sweet one.

Oil your pan and pour in the pancake. Cover and keep on low heat for about six or seven minutes. The top will look "silky" (Jaffrey's term) but not cooked like a pancake. The underside, meanwhile, will be getting all brown.

You'll know when it's done. That is to say, you'll know when it's started to burn. Stop right before that point.

Take the lid off of the pan and put some filling into the "silky" side before folding the whole thing up with your spatula and sliding it onto your plate. As you can see, I've filled mine with some of the potato mixture left over from the sambar. My favorite thing to stuff inside a chickpea-flour pancake is Jaffrey's cabbage recipe (recipe itself at the link), but you can put just about anything in there, including sliced fruit and honey.

Oh, and that other thing on my plate? Chutney powder. That stuff is so awesome. I tasted it for the first time in Bangalore and was so excited to get some of my own.

Tonight is silverbeet night and there will be pictures...

Saturday, March 28, 2009


So. Julia Child.

I mean, of course, I was aware that a person named Julia Child who had written a lot of cookbooks was out there somewhere, but I hadn't really known anything about her until I was leafing through the Borders "Food Reference and Literature" section (my favorite section) and noticed that she had spent a significant portion of her life living in Washington, DC--and so I sat down over the next few days and read My Life In France.

(Yes, to me the fact that Julia Child lived in DC is much more interesting than the fact that she lived in France. Go figure.)

She has one of those biographies where you read it and think "wow--what a serendipitous series of events!" What luck for her to have met and been able to collaborate with the exact right people at the exact right time. Maybe it was the work, too; the fact that she was willing to work so hard on testing and writing out recipes ensured that she would have found a publisher regardless, and it was less "luck" when she literally stumbled into Judith Jones and Knopf in the streets of Paris than it was... um... that thing that isn't The Secret.

It was really funny, though; I read the whole book, and then I went to visit her kitchen at the Smithsonian, and they were showing a running loop of old episodes of The French Chef, and that was the first time I had the opportunity to see--or hear--Julia Child in action.

Completely unexpected. It put an entirely different color on her life. ^__^

Now I want the universe to help me figure out a way to watch all the old episodes of The French Chef (and yes, the obvious answer would be "go out and buy them, ding-dong" but it would be more fun if, say, the Smithsonian had a screening).

I also picked through the closest analog to my own cooking experience, Julie and Julia (which I resent just because it means I will never be able to write a book titled Madhur and Me). Without being too mean to Julie Powell, who has, after all, gotten her blog turned into a book and a soon-to-be released film starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, I was really disappointed. The book is about cooking in the way that Bridget Jones' Diary is about the publishing industry.

Anyway, if you haven't yet, do watch the YouTube video and then I dare you to not immediately get up and try to make an omelette. ^__^

Idli Sambar!

Yep. It's the lighting. Photos taken during daylight hours turn out much better than photos like the one above, taken after dark.

(Note to self: future cooking show to be named Blue's Cooking... After Dark.)

Also not the best choice to serve peas on a pea-green plate.

But look at those idlis! Let it NEVER be said that I cannot steam an idli. Ignore the fact that they're a little larger than traditional idlis and focus on the fact that I jury-rigged my own idli steamer using tea saucers.


More Food Photography (paratha, "Punjabi" dal, fruits and veg)

I think it's all about the lighting; maybe about the angle. You can see the steam coming off of the dal, the crispness of the apples, and the reflection on the teacup--without any photoshopping.

Compare this to yesterday's photo, which had to be photoshopped into scurity:

Actually, it doesn't look that bad either... but I had to work to get each individual pea to look like an individual pea.

Don't those paratha slices look delicious? I love having them in the freezer and available for reheating. I also love the way they transform my meals from "pile of goo, piece of fruit" into something that looks like a proper dinner.

The dal is Jaffrey's "Urad Dal cooked in the Punjabi Style," except it isn't really because she meant "cooked in a tomato-cream sauce" and I was all "um... how 'bout cooked in a tomato-yogurt sauce instead?" And I have to say that as nice as it turned out it still wasn't as good as when I made it last month and followed the recipe more closely.

Oh, and the cheese: Farmers' Market cheddar, which tastes nothing like store cheddar. There's no oil in this cheese. Like really good chocolate, a few bites are completely satisfying.

I know I am over-pleased with myself, but I look at these dinners and think "I am so lucky to have the Farmers' Market and to have learned cooking well enough to make and eat this."

I guess the next thing is for me to have a dinner party or something. ^__^

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Here Come The Paratha One Two Threes!

This whole project came about just because I didn't want to schlep.

See, the closest desi grocery requires both the Metro and a bus. At the same time I was tired of not having parathas and rotis to go with all the dal I was cooking up. The one time I did schlep out to the desi grocery, I bought all of these frozen breads and pickles and each meal, for a while, had dal/rice/bread/pickle/curd just like a complete meal should.

Then the breads ran out, and eventually the pickles ran out too, and there I was, trying to plan out another lengthy trip.

And then I thought "But all of those frozen Indian breads at the desi grocery are pre-packaged and probably full of preservatives. It would be so much healthier if I could make my own..."

So I sat down with my cookbook and analyzed the bread possibilities. Pooris were out because of the whole "open flame" thing; I could all-too-easily imagine myself setting my kitchen on fire. The "how to make naan without a tandoor" looked interesting, but I had no white flour on hand.

Then I read the recipe titled "Delicious, Flaky Parathas."

I think I'm a sucker for recipes with the word "delicious" in the title. The roti recipe, after all, was just called "Roti." So of course I picked the paratha recipe--and as a bonus for all of you devoted readers, photo-journaled every step.

Here we go!

Mix 3 cups white flour with 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 5 tablespoons melted ghee and mix until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs. (I used 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour because I had no white flour; olive oil because I had no ghee.)

Add 1 cup water and knead until the dough forms a ball. (I used 2 cups because whole wheat flour needs more water than white.) Rub ball with ghee and let sit for 1/2 hour.

Divide dough into six equal parts; roll each part out flat, then roll the flat part into a tube, then coil the tube up like a snake, then rub the coil with ghee. (Does that make sense?) Cover and let sit overnight.

The next day, roll out the coils into parathas. Heat up your largest pan, pour out some oil, and cook, flipping occasionally, until both sides are bubbly and brown.

Like this!

Madhur Jaffrey says a serving size is 1/4 paratha. I cut mine into thirds instead, stacked them all in-between layers of foil, and fit them in the freezer next to samosas, dal, soup, and cabbage.

Except for the one piece, of course, which I ate for dinner. ^__^

How did the parathas fare? I didn't miss the white flour, but I did miss the ghee. Oil is oil is oil in terms of its ability to create brown bubbles on a piece of bread, but I think we'll all agree that ghee tastes different than olive oil, and it was this difference that showed up after the whole thing was done.

I mean, the thing turned out fine, it tastes good, it's both flaky and delicious, but it doesn't taste right.

Which means that in a few days you should see a post about me trying to clarify my own butter. ^__^

Monday, March 23, 2009

More Thoughts On Ashtanga (or "that other thing I do besides cooking")

How long have I been at this Ashtanga thing? One of these days I’ll catalogue the scars Ashtanga has ravaged along my body; mat burn along my thighs from jump backs and jump throughs, a crescent-moon-shaped scab at the edge of my right wrist where my toenail scrapes against my skin (again, jump backs/throughs); the “friction cysts” on my left ankle, right knee, right rib, and left backbone.

And I’m just getting serious.

The “beginners group” who started Mysore at the same time I did in July are all of us now stuck on Marichyasana D in some form or another; our yoga teacher (now returned from her yearly trip to the real Mysore) goes around the room and adjusts us, one at a time.

My practice takes about 75 minutes to complete now that I’ve started doing backbends, which were killing my wrists for a while until I figured out how to do them correctly, and I still do it every morning except rest days and “ladies’ holiday,” going in to Mysore class twice a week for adjustments and spending the rest of time at home on my mat trying to figure it out.

Sometimes I think/wish/plan to go to Mysore more than twice a week, but I think I need the “figuring it out” time too. Despite the fact that I know that it isn’t, Mysore still feels like a piano lesson: a performance for a teacher to prove that you’ve been practicing, and then a series of adjustments.

For a while I felt guilty about not going to Mysore more often, for economic reasons: we’re in a recession, my yoga teacher runs a small business, and every month I buy the 10-class pass instead of the Unlimited Monthly pass. If I bought the Unlimited Monthly, my yoga teacher would get $30 more from me each month, which would only be about $12 after taxes because self-employed people pay both sides of Social Security, but it would still be something.

Then I realized that my only going twice a week opens up mat space for other students to only go twice a week, and that she had the potential to get more money by splitting the same rectangle of space up among several students than she would if one student used it exclusively. So I stopped feeling bad about that.

(Then I was online looking for yoga retreats and I saw that this other Ashtanga school in Virginia requires students to go to Mysore at least 4x/week. So then I started feeling badly again.)

They say that the hamstrings hold the body’s anger. I wonder sometimes if either A. my hamstrings are tight because they’re full of unreleased anger, or B. my hamstrings are tight because I’m not a particularly angry person.

I guess I’m at the start of the place where—if we’re still comparing things to piano lessons—I can play Ode to Joy and people can recognize the tune, and I know how to find middle C and my five-finger positions, and now I have so much work ahead of me.


I have a pot of fresh coriander on my windowsill.

Unfortunately I went a little overboard and had to pick some of it off of the soup; too much of a good thing isn't always a better thing, after all.

Tonight's dinner: cabbage/potato/Jerusalem artichoke soup, Gala apple, locally made cheddar cheese. (Not pictured: slice of bread, square of Lindt 85% cocoa dark chocolate.)

This Week's Submission

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Let's Go Exploring!

I was re-organizing my closet yesterday, taking out the winter dresses (like my pretty black-and-white mandala dress that I bought for the office holiday party) and putting in the warm-weather dresses that I bought last summer (and the ones that I bought last week).

I made three interesting discoveries.

First: ATL has been “price-fixing” its dress sizes. Last summer when I started buying clothing at the ATL I wore a size 2 petite, and now I wear a 4 regular, and I was all “zomg I have to lay off the Hello Cupcakes” but when I tried on my size 2 petite dresses I found out that they all fit just fine. So ATL has been messing with my head for no good reason.

Secondly: I own seventeen warm-weather dresses, all of which I love wearing. This is important because it means I’m very close to a critical number.

See, once back when Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was on the air, I heard Carson Kressley say that a person’s goal should be to have a unified style but to not repeat the same outfit more than once a month.

It was a big deal for me back in August when I was able to go two weeks without repeating an outfit. (I don’t think I’d ever been able to do that, ever, in my life.)

Now I have seventeen dresses. Add in Jeans Fridays and I can go for four weeks without repeating an outfit and still have a dress left over. This is phenomenal.

Third: So… um… the New Dora. That is to say, they’ve given Dora the Explorer a new look, from this:

To this:
And say what you like about the change (Jezebel says plenty), but the first thing I thought of when I saw the New Dora was “oh crap, that’s what I look like every day.”

Cute dress (like the one pictured above), leggings, ballet flats, long hair worn straight down my back, pretty jewelry.

My professional look is the same as a cartoon character who hangs around with a talking backpack and a monkey.

Crap crap crap crap crap.

I suppose the plus side is that, with the advent of spring, leggings season is nearly over. And maybe enough people will complain about the New Dora that she’ll get retired before next fall. ^__^

Karma Kitchen Update

One of my regrets, in life, is that I haven't always been as generous as I could have been. It had to do with the assumption that I had very limited resources, which, in a way, I did; but I think of myself in Bangalore haggling with auto drivers over twenty rupees and I'm a little embarrassed.

One of the pleasures, then, of my life in DC is that I have the opportunity to give more; and I've found that going to Karma Kitchen has made me hyper-aware of ways in which I could pay-it-forward. It also helps that they give you a card at the end of your meal on which you can write down your thoughts (and then drop the thoughts, anonymously, into a box) and I've been using the card as a way to commit myself to various giving actions (e.g. "this week I will donate to such-and-such").

After my experience last week, I wrote that I hoped to be able to pay my meal forward by (once again) feeding someone else. There was, in fact, a specific person I had in mind; he stands outside of the Corner Bakery with a sign that reads "VET NO DRUGS HONGRY" but he too seems to have anticipated my overenthusiastic do-goodery because I didn't see him once this week.

So instead, on Friday with my promise almost due, I brought in donuts for the office and fed twenty-four people instead of one.

(Then, on Saturday, my sister called me up and said "I'm hungry. What do you have in your refrigerator?" so that kind of counts too.)

I also:
  • Donated to Nina Paley (as promised)
  • Donated an ATL dress (nearly-new; had only been worn 3x) to the Karma Kitchen "kindness table"
  • Gave $1 to a guy standing outside of the Metro who said he needed money for a ticket
Not a lot but still better than nothing. I also have a plan for how I'm going to pay-it-forward this week, and will keep you updated. ^__^

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Food Photography

So I do, nearly every night, photograph my dinner. Sometimes I don't put up the pictures if they're redundant, or if I don't have enough time to blog that evening.

But something happened today that puzzled me:

The above two pics are Thursday and Friday's dinners; yes, I ate cereal and toast for dinner on Thursday night, and the bottom one is potato-cabbage-Jerusalem artichoke soup (you can see a samosa peeking out from the top right corner).

Always when I photograph my dinners I have to photoshop them afterwards because the resolution on my camera is so poor. The above two pictures have both been run through the "sharpen" and "contrast" filters and even still they look blurry--particularly that potato soup pic.

Then this morning I took this picture, straight off, with no photoshopping:

How'd I manage that one???? You can actually see the reflection on the bowl and the individual grains of Kashi and even the wrinkles in the raisins! This looks like a breakfast someone might actually want to eat.

I suppose it has something to do with the whole "a good photographer takes 100 pictures and uses 1," but I don't have time to photograph every meal 100 times. Maybe the lighting is better in the morning or something, or maybe the side angle works better than the top-down one.

But that last picture seems to make clear that it isn't actually the resolution on my camera that's off: it's the photographer herself! Hmmm...

Saag Paneer Samosas

I have to start out by saying that I did not come up with this idea on my own. I didn't sit down and think "what if I put one classic Indian dish inside of another one?" as if I were trying to invent the next turducken. I've actually eaten "saag paneer samosas" at a restaurant (Indebleu) and so all the "you are bastardizing a cuisine" comments should go to them. ^__^

But I will take credit for stealing Indebleu's idea.

I learned two important things while making these samosas:

  1. Adding a coating of oil to the outside of the samosas before baking them made the dough all flaky... on the inside. I don't understand this, scientifically. My first samosas were baked "dry," with no oil, and the outer crust was solid as Barack. Rub a little olive oil on the outside before baking, and suddenly the inner dough begins to flake a bit, croissant-like. Of course, the real reason the dough flaked might have had to do its juicy innards, which brings me to:
  2. Samosas don't seal up when they're full of wet saag paneer. This doesn't make sense, because Madhur Jaffrey says to use water to seal the tops of the samosas, and the saag paneer mix was very wet, so it follows that the samosas should have had no problem staying closed, but the seams all fell apart in the oven.
But, as I've written before, "surface area does not affect taste," and they were certainly tasty. ^__^

Next up I really really really want to samosa a PB&J. (Okay, now you can accuse me of bastardizing a cuisine.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If It Exists, I Will Make A Samosa Of It

Pictured above is a combination of Jerusalem artichokes and peas, eaten with the softest, sweetest loaf of oatmeal bread I've yet made.

But that's not what I want to write about tonight.

Tonight, I want to write about samosas.

When I was in grad school, I used to eat frozen burritos all the time. I used to make this thing I called a "burrito bowl of death" where I would fill this giant pink bowl with a frozen burrito (or two), salsa, and shredded "Mexican" cheese; then I would microwave it until it bubbled and crush corn chips over the entire thing.

The thing about the frozen burrito was that it was a handheld, instant meal; it lived in the freezer until I needed it, and then I popped it out and was eating protein and carbs in 60 seconds. This is something I don't get to do anymore; although my artichoke meal was simple enough I still had to wash and slice and peel and grate the ginger and let the whole thing steam for 15 minutes. (And, truth be told, it should have steamed longer.)

But two days ago I learned how to cook samosas. I also learned how to freeze and reheat samosas. And I rediscovered the simple pleasure of microwaving my own little handheld meal.

Now I want to samosa everything. I have a batch of samosa dough proofing in my refrigerator at this moment. I want to samosa my saag paneer recipe and my aloo gobi recipe, and then I want to samosa some black beans and cheddar to see what happens, and then I want to go to the farmers' market and buy blackberry jam and samosa that, Hamentaschen-style.

I could even get graham flour and chocolate and marshmallow and samosa up some s'mores.


I am so excited at my first venture into pastrying. ^__^ It's also comforting, in a way, to know that I can spend a few hours on Saturday or Sunday cooking these things up and then lining them in foil rows in my freezer, to be microwaved later. It's like I'm my own little Sysco, only without the HFCS.

w00t samosas!

Monday, March 16, 2009


Dear Madhur Jaffrey:

Today I made your samosas and they were fantastic. I baked them instead of deep-frying them, so that's why they're not quite glisteny-gold, but they're theoretically healthier this way. (Also I am terrible at deep-frying. Don't ask me about the time I tried to make your chickpea dumplings.)

Thanks for writing your awesome cookbook. ^__^

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Be Still, My Artichoke Heart

Later, when they were east of Roma, someone gave her the gift of a Jerusalem artichoke.

--Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Jerusalem artichokes are actually native to the US, so I don't know how that particular artichoke made it to Roma. They do taste surprisingly like artichoke hearts. For some reason they have this reputation for being "difficult," but I found mine very easy to cook.

I steamed my artichoke with fresh ginger (yay farmers market!) and it's shown here with an Autumn Gala apple, some homemade yogurt, and a loaf of oatmeal bread.

I wonder how Hana cooked hers...

Sita Sings Some Awesome Blues

I screened Nina Paley's Sita Sings The Blues last week on a borrowed projector to a group of friends.

The movie is, essentially, awesome; lovely animation, clever storytelling, vivid imagery. I have to admit, though, that part of it made me a bit jealous; Paley was selling an idea that I had tried for years to sell to various theatre faculty: the idea of telling a story "traditionally," then stopping and re-telling the major emotional moment of the story through music/movement.

"No," they said, "it's too intellectual."

I should have taken up animation.

Dear Nina Paley, you share my artistic sensibilities. I shopped this idea for years, storyboarded it, but could never get anyone to believe that someone would want to watch a few minutes of story (what happened "in real life") spliced with a few minutes of music (what happened "emotionally"). I staged a performance and was told, a week before it opened, to take all of the music parts out.

I'm so glad you made this film.

Oh, and I'm even more glad that you drew this particular cartoon:

That's part of the reason why I changed career paths--everyone told me I was thinking too much. I like being somewhere, now, where I can think as much as I want!

(Yes, as promised, I did send Sita a donation.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Burgers and Ballerinas

One of the things I didn't really think about when I started to post my cooking projects onto my blog was the way it might open up criticism about my eating habits.

I mean, when I look at the above picture, instead of thinking "she should have run those sweet potato fries under the broiler for a few minutes to make the tops all crispy and bubbly," I think "wow, that doesn't look like enough food; does she have an eating disorder???"

Of course, what the picture doesn't tell was that I had taken the laptop out for a spin earlier that evening and had played internets while eating a cup of all-natural frozen yogurt. So I didn't need a lot of dinner.

But yes, dinner last night was a black bean burger without bread (I hadn't yet baked a new loaf), sweet potato fries, and turmeric pickle in lieu of ketchup.

I saw the movie Ballerina last week, in a theater full of "former dancers" (aka women who had taken ballet lessons as children), and was struck by how ridiculously, unhealthily thin these women looked. Shot after shot of concave stomachs with nary an abdominal to be seen.

Meanwhile, underneath my clothes I have abs of all kinds, and underneath my sleeves I've got my own set of secret biceps (if Michelle Obama's are called Thunder and Lightning, I nominate that mine be named Action Item and Open Loop), and all that does for me is make me look... well, not fat, but definitely not skinny.

So about once a month, usually during the same week (the unfortunate one when both weight and the desire for cookies are at their peak), I think to myself "do I need to exercise more? do I need to eat less?" And then I think "no, you've been underweight before"--my first month in India, or the semester in grad school when I could only afford rice and yogurt--"and it wasn't any fun."

Which it isn't. Being too skinny hurts. The only fun thing about it is that fake sense of superiority one gets when one's jeans are falling off.

But at the same time--it's frustrating for me, in a very stupid and shallow way, to accept that even though I walk four miles every day and do Ashtanga and eat healthy meals, those ballerinas in the movie are going to be the ones considered "ideal" and I have to go to the store and buy the "curvy fit" pants.

Anyway. Off to peruse cookbooks for tonight's dinner! I bought some Jerusalem artichokes and I am dying to learn how to use them...

Facebook V. Twitter

I actually like the new Facebook layout. It means I can spend less time on Facebook.

Arguably, Facebook has stolen both Twitter's visual style and method of dissemination. Meh. Let them sue each other. The new Fbook layout means I can just scroll down the page, take a mental note of which of my high school friends has started a new job or had another baby, and get out of there.

I follow Twitter. I check in to Facebook. I post regularly to Twitter; every once in a while, I throw a tame, inoffensive, status update bone at Facebook.

Now that they're essentially the same and I can update both my Twitter and my Fbook simultaneously, why don't I merge the two streams?

Here's why, succinctly encapsulated in the New York Times:

Six of my nieces will head off to college over the next several years. Some have been Facebooking since middle school. Even as they leave home, then, they will hang onto that “home” button. That’s hard for me to imagine. As a survivor of the postage-stamp era, college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity. Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching, all tweeting to affirm ad nauseam your present self? The cultural icons of my girlhood were Mary Richards of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Ann Marie of “That Girl,” both redoubtably trying to make it on their own. Following their lead, I swaggered off to college (where I knew no one) without looking back; then to New York City (where I knew no one) and San Francisco (ditto), refining my adult self with each jump. Certainly, I kept in touch with a few true old friends, but no one else — thank goodness! — witnessed the many and spectacular metaphoric pratfalls I took on the way to figuring out what and whom I wanted to be. Even now, time bends when I open Facebook: it’s as if I’m simultaneously a journalist/wife/mother in Berkeley and the goofy girl I left behind in Minneapolis. Could I have become the former if I had remained perpetually tethered to the latter?

To me, Facebook is all about the past; high school friends, college friends, graduate school friends. Except... not exactly friends, because for the most part I've kept in touch with my actual friends; Facebook is more like a classroom noisily filled with everyone I used to sort of know.

Twitter is about the present.

What's the difference? On Twitter, I'm pseudonymous, which allows me to be a bit more honest and--which I didn't fully realize until I read the NYT article--disconnects me from the "I sat behind you in geometry so now I want to know everything you're doing" melee. Which, more importantly, lets me control the story.

Which, surprisingly, seems to be a key aspect of the "growing up" that the NYT article is all about.

At Karma Kitchen last week, I was talking with a new friend about whether or not people should go pseudonymous online. He said that he would never go pseudonymous; that it was important for him to build a body of work (even if said "work" was just tweets and blog posts) under his own name. I argued that pseudonymity allowed for the exploration of different identities, which was necessary for growth. (Believing that everything is connected under your own "body of work" leads to presentation rather than exploration.) I started blogging when I was exploring an identity shift, away from the work I had been studying for the past fifteen-odd years (through high school, college, and grad school) and towards something new, with a shape I couldn't yet understand or predict. Having the ability to do that pseudonymously was essential.

Anyway. This is one of those blog posts that it's hard to put a button onto because there's no clear end thought; am I glad Facebook lets me see, every once in a while, what happened to So-and-so? Yes. Am I also glad that I have a place online where I can share myself only with the people in my present, instead of everyone in my past? Absolutely.

And that's why I spend the absolute minimal time possible on Facebook. ^__^

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Pee Post

So there was this article on Jezebel about Susie Orbach, who wrote Fat is a Feminist Issue and just published a new book titled Bodies which is about (obvs) loving our bodies. Orbach is all about telling women to stop having these weird relationships with food/hunger/overeating/dieting, and to prove the point Jezebel links to an Orbach quote:

It’s very hard—when you have a population that is disturbed by eating—to know how to eat the right amount of food without going nuts.

The only way out of that is knowing what hunger is and what satisfaction is the same way we know what peeing is. That could be the only guide.

At first glance that quote seems to hold up. But when I thought about it I realized that I, like many people, have a bit of a complicated relationship with peeing too. Complicated in the same way that my relationship with eating is. Consider this:

  1. The first thing I do in the morning is pee, even if I don't have to.
  2. The last thing I do before bed is pee, even if I don't have to.
  3. Sometimes I pee just because friends are peeing.
  4. Sometimes I want to pee just because someone else mentioned pee.
  5. Sometimes even thinking about pee makes me want to pee.
  6. Sometimes I pee just because I know I won't be able to pee again for a while.
  7. Sometimes I pee just because I want to see what the inside of a bathroom is like.
  8. Sometimes I pee because I need to get away from my desk for a moment.
  9. Sometimes I pee just because I'm in the bathroom (doing something unrelated like brushing my teeth) and the toilet is, like, right there.
  10. I always have to pee extra when I'm nervous, stressed, or tired.
Substitute "eat" for "pee" (and "refrigerator" for "toilet" in number 9) and it's the same thing. Sure, we all know when we really have to pee (and when we're really hungry), but many of us pee for unrelated, emotional/social/habitual reasons. Just like we eat.

Or am I the only one who does this? ^__^

(Thought I'd throw that one out there to the blogosphere for your amusement. )

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cabbage and Potate

So I found out today that Julia Child lived in Georgetown before she moved to Paris and started that whole "mastering the art of French cooking" thing. There is hope. ^__^

The top one, btw, is a sweet potato with toast and an Asian pear (Monday's dinner). Tonight I had my favorite cabbage recipe with more toast (with honey!) and a Fiji apple. I had run out of olive oil so I cooked the cabbage in a yogurt-besan sauce. I don't know which version I like best.

This cabbage recipe is one of my favorite things to make, and it goes something like this:

Temper appropriate amounts of coriander, turmeric, black pepper, salt, mustardseed, and cayenne pepper in a bit of oil. Add cabbage and whole urad dal. Cover and steam for about fifteen minutes. Jaffrey adds onions too but I've never liked onions and so I leave them out and add asefoetida instead.

When cooked, it can be eaten equally well with coconut chutney, yogurt, rice, or--my favorite--wrapped in a chickpea-flour pancake. It's what I plan to do tomorrow with the leftovers. ^__^

Monday, March 9, 2009

Banks, Debt, and the "Problem" of Karma Kitchen

I listened to the third part of This American Life's series on the economy this morning. (If you haven't had a chance to listen to parts 1, 2, and 3 of TAL's economic-crisis reporting, drop what you're doing and load up the free content.)

There's a lot to wonder about in these programs: how credit default swaps managed to run unregulated beneath the surface of outward commerce, for example. One of the huge takeaways from this series is that a lot of people were actually predicting this would happen, sort of; hundreds of thousands of people and companies were betting--banking--on the idea that individuals wouldn't be able to pay back their loans. And then hundreds of other companies were betting that banks themselves wouldn't be able to pay back their loans.

So people knew. They literally knew this would happen. They invested in the promise of it happening.

But the other half--the idea that the same people who were selling individual debt to companies on the hope that those people wouldn't be able to pay back the loans, and the people who were playing the credit default swap game on the hope that institutions would go bankrupt didn't put together that an individual bankruptcy could lead to an institutional bankruptcy which could lead to an everything bankruptcy--amazes me.

Ira and his buddies were talking about this on the program. "Whose fault is it?" Ira asked. They hemmed and hawed for a minute, and then the guest (whose name I can't remember) said that in the end it was the fault of everyone, all of us, everyone who has borrowed money and hasn't yet paid it back. We've all borrowed, and now it's time to pay.

What does this have to do with Karma Kitchen?

Yesterday, when I was there, I was talking with some of the volunteers about their experiences working at the kitchen. They all said the hardest part was convincing the people who could afford to pay that they didn't have to pay.

"We get a lot of people," they said, "who ask how much their meal is worth, so they can donate the right amount."

So Karma Kitchen is giving free meals to people, both to those who cannot afford them and those who can, and those who can get a little nervous about the whole thing and start asking "well, what's the appropriate donation?" And then Karma Kitchen says "you don't have to donate to us; pay it forward!" and truth be told nearly everyone puts some money in the donation box anyway.

I think the uncomfortability of that moment, the uncomfortability that the staff at Karma Kitchen are trying to prevent by insisting that the meals are a gift and that any "repayment" should be paid forward outside of the kitchen, has to do with the majority of people understanding, on some basic level, the true mathematics of the thing.

Without donations, there is no Karma Kitchen. So a certain percentage of guests need to donate. The meal is a gift, but it also needs to be paid for by someone.

So here's the question: why is it that the people who sit in Karma Kitchen understand these mathematics (input and output must balance) and yet everyone who gambled on debt did so without really processing that every dollar borrowed had to be accounted for at some point?

With a wink towards the Karma crew: there is no such thing as a free lunch, after all. ;) Someone's got to pay, either forwards or backwards.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

After Karma Kitchen

So today, because it was my first trip to Karma Kitchen, I was treated as a guest (after which, I promptly signed up to volunteer). Lunch was a thali which included aloo gobi, chana masala, saag paneer, dal, naan, rice, and kheer (also lassi and chai); since I am a small person who eats small meals, there was about twice as much food as I cared to eat.

Unfortunately because the food had already been plated, it couldn't be sent back to serve to someone else; so the kitchen wrapped it up for me and said I could take it home if I wanted.

But taking home the food didn't make sense; this was food that was meant to be given to people, not stored in a refrigerator. So I set off, doggie bag in hand, to pay-it-forward to the homeless man who sits outside of the Starbucks near Dupont Circle. (I picked him because I knew he would be there. He's always there.)

When I saw him, sitting on the sidewalk, I suddenly thought that it might be embarrassing for him to eat this leftover meal with his hands, so I decided to get him a fork and some napkins. I went into the Starbucks and swiped a few napkins, but couldn't find a fork; they only had straws and sugar packets. So then I went into the Marvelous Market next door and stole a plastic fork when nobody was looking; but when I walked outside with it this guy on the street bumped into me and I dropped the fork onto the ground. I couldn't give the homeless man a dirty fork, but I didn't want to steal two forks from the same place (stealing one was okay, but stealing two just seemed wrong), so I walked down the block to Firehook Bakery and stole a plastic fork from them.

When I made it back to the Starbucks, the homeless guy was gone. I walked around Dupont Circle and didn't see him. (No doubt he anticipated my presumption and vanished.)

So, disappointed, I took my leftover food and my stolen fork and began to walk back home.

Then, on the corner of 18th and Columbia, as I was crossing the street (the one near Tryst and the McDonalds), this man looked at me. Literally as we were passing each other in the middle of the street. He didn't look "homeless," not like the guy who sits outside of the Starbucks and wraps himself in newspaper, but he looked right at me as we were crossing the street and he said "Lady, can you help me get something to eat?"

And right in the middle of the street I handed him my doggie bag and the fork and napkins and said "here--it's for you!"

I think I have to be a bit cautious about what I ask the universe for. But I hope the man enjoyed his meal.

Karma Kitchen DC

So I've been thinking lately that I need to "give back." I mean, here I am with a great job and a great apartment and a daily yoga practice (and a toaster) and I couldn't have done any of this without a combination of work, luck, friends, and gifts.

I've also been thinking that I want to go out and meet more people.

Oh, and I also want to learn how to cook a dosa that doesn't look like a dead pancake.

I happened to write all of those things down yesterday afternoon, as I sat in Tryst with my laptop and thought to myself "what do I want to do next?" I mean, I wrote that I wanted to meet Ira Glass, and he showed up three days later in the Borders across the street. I wrote that I wanted to see They Might Be Giants, and two weeks later I was there, singing along to "Whistling In The Dark."

So I wrote a whole list of things, which included the above list: "giving back," meeting people, and cooking. (It also included "meeting Madhur Jaffrey," but the internet says she lives in London right now.)

At first I thought they would all be separate things. "Giving back" would mean sending money to Nina Paley because I'm hosting a screening of her movie Sita Sings The Blues later this week; meeting people would mean dragging myself to something at Meetup.com, and cooking would mean shelling out $300 for classes at L'Academie de Cuisine.

And then the universe said "No, I will give you all of these things in one neat package. Although you should probably still give that donation to Nina Paley."

In short: Karma Kitchen.

What is Karma Kitchen? It's based on the same principles as a langar hall; fresh, free vegetarian food available to anyone who walks in the door. Karma Kitchen takes it in a few different directions; for starters, they want the guests to have a "fine dining experience," which means linens and china and attentive waitstaff. More importantly, Karma Kitchen gives all of its guests a "bill" at the end of the meal that reads:

Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. We hope you will pay-it-forward however you wish.

In other words, it's not a soup kitchen. It's an... anyone kitchen. Anyone who needs a meal, and anyone who wants to share a meal with other people. Pay-it-forward however you wish.

The DC Karma Kitchen is an offshoot of the original Karma Kitchen in Berkeley. Anyone can volunteer. I can volunteer. Which means that I can spend Sunday afternoons working with fun, interesting people; providing excellent service to guests (all those years of waitressing can be put to good use!); and--selfishly--watching the cooks do their thing.

I spent today at Karma Kitchen and had the best time. I'm absolutely going back next week.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Dosa Problem

I can flip a perfect fried egg. I can cook chickpea-flour pancakes crispy around the edges and fluffy in the middle, and scoop them onto a plate without tearing them in half. I can even make my own idlis (which is a completely different cooking technique, but I needed a third example).

But I can't make a dosa that's anything like a dosa.

This is what a dosa should look like (from Wikipedia, natch):

And these are what my dosas look like:

This was from two nights ago: dosa, coconut chutney, dal, and a sliced Fiji apple. Clearly that dosa has issues.

And this was from last night: dosa, haldi pickle, and steamed (frozen) broccoli and spinach cooked with ginger.

Here are the problems with my dosas as I understand them:

  1. I am not actually making the dosa batter. I'm using MTR-brand Dosa Mix (which is, apparently, sold on Amazon). Maybe this stuff will never actually make a dosa no matter how hard I try.
  2. I'm not getting the batter to spread thinly enough in the pan. Madhur Jaffrey says the technique is to start with the spoon in the center and make circles as you move outward towards the edges of the pan, flattening as you go. My batter hits the pan and goes "clump," and when I try to use the spoon, I just make a spoon-shaped groove in the middle of my dosa. Probably means I need to turn down the heat a bit. Maybe more oil.
  3. I can't get the dosas to flip without breaking. This has to do with the thinness issue; they're too thick, so when one side is done, the middle is still raw and they won't flip over properly. And if I keep the done side cooking in the hopes that the middle will cook too, the done side burns.
  4. White girls just can't cook dosas. Ever. No matter what.
I've got two bags of this dosa mix so I'm going to keep trying... but I'm not sure I'll ever get even close to what the dosa looks like in that first picture. What I'm cooking is not inedible, but it has the look/texture/taste of a Bisquick pancake. Which is not exactly what I had in mind.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What A Dal!

It tasted so good I ate two bowls. ^__^

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bread, Broccoli, and a Book

So here's the bread I cooked up this weekend. I was running out of flour, so I used a 2/3 ratio of oatmeal to flour (that'd be two cups to one cup) and four heaping tablespoons of wheat gluten to hold it together. I was all ready for the bread to bake into a crumbling mess, but it turned out surprisingly well. Also I like that I can see the individual oats. ^__^

Here's last night's dinner: two slices of bread with Crazy Richard's Peanut Butter (the only one I can find where the only ingredient is peanuts) and steamed broccoli with a little salt, pepper, and chili powder. Yes, the broccoli came out of my freezer (the shame!). It's actually been in the freezer for several months (bought before I discovered the farmers' market) so it's probably good that I'm using it up.

And this is a book: Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. It's the latest "food pr0n" book I've uncovered; the latest book I'm reading chapter-at-a-time at the local Borders. Twenty-six essays about cooking for one, plus recipes. Plenty of paragraphs about chopping, roasting, and baking. Muchly recommended.

(Right now, btw, I have masoor dal simmering in the crockpot with black beans and spinach. Tonight's dinner will be the last of the beet stew (I freeze portions, so it's not like the thing has been sitting in my refrigerator all week) with a slice of oatmeal bread, and the dal mixture will go into my bento for tomorrow's lunch.)

Seriously: don't you all wish you could have dinner at my apartment? *__^

Monday, March 2, 2009


So after I wrote what I did about the two nerds I met at the concert, I felt a little badly about it. I mean, what if one (or both) of them found my interpretation of their stories?

I was careful. I changed some of the details. The actual thing that "llama picture" guy wanted TMBG to sign wasn't a llama picture, but something else with similar scansion. I also didn't include enough information in the post for anyone to google, say, the concert location and date and find themselves reading my blog.

The more I think about it--particularly the Apartment 4 guy, whose song title I didn't change because it would take away the meaning of what he was trying to say to me--the more I think how brave he was to go up to a stranger and tell her that his favorite song was this one about a person who doesn't have any friends and wants another person to be his friend, because it was exactly like his life.

I used to be brave like that when I was nerdier. During my first year of grad school I wrote this guy unsolicited love letters and slipped them underneath his door. (That is a longer story for another time.) At the same time, though, it's a combination of bravery and blindness; the belief that the truth will literally "set you free" without realizing that your own uncomfortable honesty--writing a letter and slipping it under a door, or telling a stranger that you wish you had a friend--is getting in the way of what you actually want.

What is it about nerds that cause us to do things like this?

(And if the Apartment 4 guy or the llama guy ever find this blog, email me. ^__^)

They Might Be Giants, Part III: Video From The Concert!

Yes, the two instruments are accordion and bass drum.

Now you know why all the nerds showed up.

(Also I swear I can hear my voice from about 0:13-0:22. But I could be wrong.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

They Might Be Giants, Part II: John and John and Ira and Sarah

So my friend from undergrad and I were talking, before the concert began (he would have gotten tickets too, but they were all sold out) about TMBG, which we both liked, and This American Life, which we both liked, and how interesting it was that John and John regularly, like, hung out with Ira and Sarah and David and the whole This American Life crew.

"It's weird that they're all friends in real life," he said, "and that they've got the same group of fans."

I disagreed; it made sense that people who liked each other would have creative enterprises which might attract the same audience. Here was what was weirder:

"They all turn fifty years old this year," I told him.

(This, btw, is not completely true. Ira Glass turns 50 on Tuesday. John Linnell will be turning 49 this year, and John Flansburgh will only be turning 48.)

What makes this "weird" is that this is a group of people (the whole TMBG/TAL/David Sedaris/Daily Show crowd) whose fan base is predominantly, though not exclusively, made up of people in their 20s and 30s. So to be all Malcolm Gladwell about it (Gladwell, of course, is also part of this group of real-life friends): what happened in 1959/1960 that caused a particular set of experiences that caused a group of individuals to form creative enterprises which, though unbeknownst to each other, created similar fan bases of people a generation younger; and then, when Glass's intern introduced him to TMBG in 1998, how coincidental was it that Ira, who had not yet heard of John or John, met them and befriended them and helped promote their music? And then John and John in turn helped promote Ira's show? And then John and John met Jon Stewart and helped promote his show?

My friend-from-undergrad and I agreed that it didn't seem fair; that in some imagined apartment in NYC John and John and Ira and Sarah were all pouring drinks for each other and sitting on a couch with their shoes off having a good time and sharing all of these influential ideas with each other. And what was even less fair was that they were our parents' age so they were never, ever, going to think we were cool enough to hang with them.

"Do you think it's the same kind of thing like when we were kids?" I asked him. "Like how we were in junior high and we idolized the high-schoolers? Is that why we like them all so much?"

And then:

"Do you think we can be that cool when we're fifty years old?"

They Might Be Giants, Part I: The Concert

My trip to NYC to see TMBG was one of the most fun things I've done in a long time, in part because I got to ride on a train (which I love) and because I got to spend the pre-concert day wandering around the city with a friend I hadn't seen since undergrad. (We got to eat cream puffs at Beard Papa!)

It was nice to have a change of scene, and NYC is always an interesting place even though it doesn't feel home to me the way DC does. (DC is organized and tidy and small-scale and all of the buildings match and it is full of smart, fun-but-socially-reserved introverts. Thus: obviousness.)

So the concert. First of all I'll get the end of the story out of the way and say that it was so much fun and TMBG was so awesome and I want to go again! Now the story from the beginning:

If you remember, my first thought after "ZOMG I have TMBG tickets" was "oh crap, what can I wear so I don't look like a nerd?" I didn't look like a nerd. I mean, maybe I did look like a nerd, but I didn't look any more like a nerd than anyone else there. For some reason I thought the concert would be a hipster thing, and that I would be out of place in my non-skinny jeans and brown felt beret, but the entire audience was made up of nerds.

How nerdy was it? More than one person brought along their own knitting.

It was worse than nerdy. It was uncomfortably nerdy. It was Comic-Con nerdy. It was "oh no, I wonder if I appear as socially awkward as everyone else in this crowd" nerdy. All four Gregs showed up, in their infinite variations, and one of them tried to hit on me by telling me about how the song "Apartment 4," from TMBG's children's album Here Come The 123s, "blew his mind" because it was so much like his life (the song is about a kid who lives in Apartment 4 and wishes the kid in Apartment 2 would come over and play with him).

Another person had brought over a picture of a llama, in the hopes that he could go up to TMBG after the concert and ask them "will you sign my llama picture?" and then TMBG would be struck by the request and decide the phrase was quirky enough to turn into a song, and then he would have influenced a TMBG song. (Maybe the difference between nerds and other people is that while everyone might have a fantasy like that from time to time, nerds not only create a plan to execute said fantasy but also tell the person standing next to them in line about what they're doing and how they hope it will play out.)

Once the concert itself started, all of the crowd's awkwardness melted away and we became a giant group of sing-along fans. This, after all, was the band who wrote a song with the lyric:

There's only one thing I know how to do well
And I've often been told that you only can do what you know how to do well
And that's be you
Be what you're like
Be like yourself.

So there we were, all being ourselves, non-skinny jeans and llama pictures and knitting and all.

It was really fun. The whole concept of giving fans who have memorized an entire album exactly what they want--the opportunity to sing along with the entire album, in sequence--was brilliant. (Yes, I only heard this album for the first time last week--but I was able to memorize most of it in time so I could sing along too.) What was great was that most of the crowd had decent voices and half of us automatically took the harmony parts.

I only have one real regret, and it's this: the venue was set up so that we were all standing in front of the stage, and because of the architecture of the room there was this three-foot-wide load-bearing post in the middle of the space, and so everyone behind a certain point could really only see half of the band at any one time. So I spent most of the concert watching Flans and trying, during the between-songs bits, to push my way up a little closer. It took me three-fourths of the album to get close enough to see both Flans and Linnell and it was suddenly like the whole thing burst into stereo. (This may have had more to do with speaker positioning than anything else.) It was a shame I couldn't have been that close the entire time.

At a certain point I began to wonder exactly how much money the bar was making (or not making) off of this evening, when I realized that--although many people had purchased a drink--this crowd was ridiculously sober. If TMBG had committed to do one show a month at this bar, and the crowd which showed up was made up of nerds who had never jumped on the whole "heavy drinking" bandwagon (it would interfere with the knitting), how could the bar sustain these concerts?

The answer came at precicely 11 p.m., when the show ended and the bouncers told us we had to leave right now. No hanging around to get llama pictures signed, no drinks for the road, we all had to leave. As we were shoved out, we saw a line of people outside the bar, waiting to get in. These people were the kind who wore skinny jeans and tiny skirts and spiky heels and did not bring along their own yarn. The message was clear: after having dealt with the nerds, the bar was now ready to open for real.

So... yeah, it was awesome. Do I want to go back again next month? Absolutely. Do I think I will? Probably not. But it's nice to know that on the last Saturday of every month, a bunch of dorks show up at a bar and sing along with a band that writes songs about geography and history and how the only thing you can ever do in this life is be yourself. ^__^