Saturday, December 24, 2011

The things I love about winter

It's a very cold day here. I went out to stand in a patch of sunshine but a chilly breeze chased me back in. I have another six weeks of winter left. I was inclined to be gloomy about it, but well, that doesn't help anyone, does it? So I decided to make a list of the things I love about winter, to read over whenever the cold makes me grumpy.
1. There's a deep pleasure in sipping a hot cup of tea.
2. The wind stings my cheeks to a rather becoming pink.
3. Scarves! I love my multicoloured scarves, but feel a little silly wearing them in the summer.
4. Getting myself to go for a run in winter is especially hard, but once I do, I get the roads all to myself. And the cold air causes a weirdly pleasant brainfreeze.
5. Now, admittedly I haven't been to any this year, but still, bonfires!
6. Socks. I could write an ode to my socks. Indeed, I'm only just battling the urge. But never was an item of clothing more appreciated.
7. Winter vegetables. Everything is young and green and crisp in the winter. And once you've screwed up the courage to plunge your hands into cold water and wash them, they're a real pleasure to cook with.

I'm going to continue adding to that list, each time I find myself thinking nasty things about the cold. Sigh. It'll probably be a mile long by New Year's. Still, I meant what I said about the vegetables. Rooting about in fridge recently, I found a couple of ears of sweet corn. Now, roasted corn on the cob is delicious, but I wanted something I could dish out and share. So I took the extra step of cutting the corn off its cob with a knife.
Then all I did was saute it with a little salt, sugar and pepper. A squeeze of lime juice and a few coriander leaves for colour and it was ready. I do love sweet corn. I eat it kernel by kernel, and love how they burst in my mouth. There are a hundred different ways in which you can make this, of course. Chili powder, butter, chaat masala, mint... But I like simple best.

I have no real recipe for you today. Just saute your corn with a little salt, sugar and pepper, till it changes colour slightly, going from yellow to orange. Err on the side of undercooking. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter porridge

The cold makes me very grumpy. For the past month, I've been surviving on large amounts of caffeine and a steady stream of cussing. This morning was no different. The dog woke me up at six and no amount of pleading or shouting would stop him from barking in my ear. I could've slept through that too, but once his barks hit a certain hysterical note I know I had better get moving. I dressed, attached the leash to his collar, and led him out, all the time cursing inventively. Indeed, the very colourfulness of my tirade gave me a grim sort of satisfaction. Panda danced beside me, quite oblivious while I blistered his ears.

Somewhere after the third block though, I finally ran out of nasty things to say and was forced to look about for inspiration. The street was very foggy; it was like looking through an out-of-focus lens. Strange then, how it made the tar road look blacker, the green of the ferns greener. Panda's whiskers quivered when he spotted a labrador ambling past, while the lab's owner wished me a cheery good morning. And at around that moment, I finally tired of being grumpy.

I came home full of good resolutions and I cemented them with porridge. Now, I've been on a bit of a health kick lately, and it has become my habit to eat some sort of porridge for breakfast. Usually quick-cook oats in milk with a swirl of honey hits the spot, but today, I wanted something more. I dug out Amma's stash of daliya (broken wheat) and soaked a couple of tablespoonfuls in hot water. In half an hour the grains were soft and chewy. I cooked them down with milk, threw in a few chopped almonds and raisins, and added a whole bunch of spice: cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, a  pinch of cardamom, and a grating of orange peel. I sweetened the whole mixture with jaggery and it was ready.

Now, I'm the first person to admit the stuff is distinctly homely looking. It's clumpy and the jaggery turns it an uninspiring beige. But oh, it smelled so good that the dog stopped worrying the sofa cushions to sit at the kitchen door and whine. And as I finally sat down to my bowlful, wreathed in fragrant steam, winter didn't seem too bad.

Broken wheat (daliya) porridge (1 serving)
Daliya: 1 1/2 tbsp
Water: 1/2 cup
Milk: 3/4 cup
Nutmeg: 1/4 tsp
Cinnamon: 1/4 tsp
Cardamom: 1/4 tsp
Jaggery: 1-2 tbsp
Almonds (blanched) : 5-6
Raisins: a small handful
An orange

Boil the water and pour it over the daliya. You can also cannily use the same water to blanch your almonds in. After a half-hour of soaking, transfer to a thick-bottomed pot and pour in the milk. Boil on medium-high heat, while stirring continuously till the mixture thickens. This will take about 8-10 minutes. Once it is sufficiently thick (remember, it will continue thickening even after it's been taken off the heat) turn off the stove and stir in the spices, jaggery, raisins and almonds. Grate a little orange peel over the porridge and serve, steaming.
Note: I used jaggery because that was what I had on hand. I'm trying to stay away from processed sugars these days and I was out of honey. But I imagine honey, or molasses, or even maple syrup will be very good too.