A little lesser than the little more

Over the past three years I have begun to realize that when it comes to cooking, less is good. What I mean is, you don't need to overwhelm a dish with spices to makes it taste good..In fact a dish doesn't always taste great when overwhelmed with spices. But the right spice/s (and some indispensable salt) can turn a common vegetable into a thing of ...of..gustatory beauty..?..Ok-that might have been a bit of a hyperbole, but you get the jist..:)
I'm beginning to realize that this is true while making perfume too. Though, I do need to keep telling myself that this is not the only perfume that I'm going to make and that every essential oil, absolute or concrete that I love needn't be used in the same perfume..lol. And I *am* learning (I didn't add ANY Jasmine Sambac absolute to my blend, even though I love it!).Oh..I didn't tell you did I, I blended some stuff today after aaaages..I am letting the essences 'marry' and I am not sure how it is going to turn out..I will need to play some more with it, I am sure. But the initial testing and sniffing showed promising results. We shall see..As you can tell, I am also starting to show restraint while describing my perfume blends.(Reference: Read this, for my 'oh so poetic' description of my 'not so great' first effort. In my defense I didn't think it was 'not so great' then..lol: http://drriftwood.livejournal.com/1273.html)

Since I am not ready to actually describe the perfume, here are some pictures:

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Minty Cilantro and Potato Bhaath (Pulao)

There is something very calming yet exciting about strolling through a farmer's market on a beautiful Saturday morning. For me, that is. (My husband would probably tell you a whole different story). The spinach and herbs are reassuringly green. The apples are cream and red, the oranges are..well..orange. And there is this sense of everything being alright with the world. Watching an episode of the Daily Show/Colbert Report gives me the same feeling. But let me not digress..:) Nothing says Saturday to me better than picking a bunch of basil and mint and sniffing their unique 'greenness'. And sighing after sniffing.

And then the cooking.

Bhaath means 'cooked rice' and is a term commonly used in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
I think Bhaath differs from the (ubiquitous) pulao in that it allows for a more sludgy texture, unlike pulao which requires each grain of rice to be 'separate'..I have to admit, I started out thinking I was going to be making a green veggie pulao. But, since the only vegetables I had on hand were potatoes AND because, the potatoes took more time to cook than the rice, what was born was a more social, sticky dish which preferred to be called Aloo (potato) Bhaath

The recipe
(adapted from Shilpa's recipe: http://www.aayisrecipes.com/2005/07/19/green-pulav/)

You'll need:

1. Two medium sized potatoes (I used yukon gold potatoes), cubed (make them small, so they cook faster)
2. One onion sliced
3. Cilantro and mint leaves washed (I didn't really measure, but used enough to almost fill a small salad bowl- so maybe 1 cup of each)
4. 1 green chile
5. 2 bay leaves
6. A teaspoon of garam masala (you can use more or less)
7. A heaped teaspoon of chole masala (You can use any other powdered spices of your choice like corriander or cumin powder, as well. Or instead)
8. 2 teaspoons of oil (I used extra light tasting olive oil) and cumin seeds to season
9. two cups of rice (I used basmati rice)

Wash and soak the rice in water for 10 minutes. I soaked the rice and then proceeded to cut the veggies etc.

Grind the cilantro, mint leaves and green chile with a little bit of water to make a paste. Alternatively, you can skip grinding the chile and just chop it and use it while sauteing the onions. This will result in a less spicy dish.

Drain the rice.

Heat the oil in a pan and add a teaspoon of cumin seeds. Once the cumin seeds begin to sizzle, add the onions and the bay leaves. When the onions become translucent (I usually wait till they begin to brown), add the paste. Add the rice and saute for a few minutes, add the garam masala, chole masala and then the potatoes. You could cook the potatoes, for a few minutes in the microwave before hand to ensure they'll cook fast- I didn't. Or, you could add the potatoes first. Add four cups of water and salt. Close the pan and let everything cook. Check on the rice after 10 mins. If the water has been completely absorbed, but the rice and/or the potatoes aren't cooked, add more water, close the lid and continue to let it cook.

Once done- season with corriander leaves. If you are feeling especially indulgent you could add a little bit of ghee (clarified butter) on the top.

I made this on Sunday morning, thinking it would last for atleast two meals, for the two of us. Not only was I wrong, it was 'encored' and I had to make it again for dinner. It was less sticky this time around. To end with a cliche- Simple yet delicious!!

Rainy days, Pakodas and other stories

Its cold and drizzly outside..the kind of day that always makes me feel like writing.
I wish I didn't have my candidacy talk next week.This is just the kind of day that I'd like to spend, curled up in my multi colored quilt, eating hot samosas or pakodas and re-reading a favourite book..Except that if I did have the day off, I would probably be spending time with the darling baby boy that one of our friends/neighbour just delivered.The baby was born this morning and is the cutest thing you ever saw (But then aren't all babies..:)).

If I'd had more time I would have also made a journal entry sooner about my Birthday, which, inspite of my packed schedule, I actually enjoyed! I live in Orange County and have often complained about the lack of 'hole-in-the-wall' kind of restaurants,that exhibit a little more character than your average chain restaurant, without being exhorbitantly expensive.
So, this birthday S decided to gift me a 'gastronomy festival'- thats what he called it..lol.. A few days before my Birthday, every other day, he'd take me out to an eating joint that I'd never been to, and since I have a terrible sense of direction, I'd never realise which part of town we were in, until we actually reached our destination..:)It ended up being the perfect gift and SO much fun. I am actually beginning to like Irvine.

We went to this tiny Italian place which served only vegetarian food (yay!), a Greek restaurant which served the most delicious eggplant dip and some delightful conversation. We had breakfast in a cafe in the middle of a beautiful park.This cafe allowed dogs and I enjoyed watching the atleast 50 dogs that were there. And finally on my Birthday, we went for wine and cheese tasting. This was my first ever tasting session. While I do feel an academic interest in wine, I absolutely LOVE cheese. The presence of the various cheeses just overrode every other potential flavor explosion and so the wines were kind of wasted on me..but I am not complaining..:)I was impressed with the amount of 'restaurant research' that my dear husband had actually done!

Other highlights of the day: I spoke to my family and received a package (the next day) from my parents and sister which included the cutest set of blue and green cloth covered bangles. My parents also sent us a carton of Indian mangoes all the way from India (*drools*) and my parents-in-law sent me two very sweet e-cards!
Sandeep panicked that he hadn't gotten me a "formal" gift so I picked a perfume that I'd wanted for a while (online and at a discount..:)- Caron Aimez Moi)..I also had the most scrumdylicious chocolate cake from this indie cake shop that I finished the last of,just yesterday..

Aah..It felt good to write all that down!!Sometimes, I feel scared that if I don't record all my memories, they will suddenly all fly away..But there are some that are too sweet to record and those I hope that I will just remember..:)


This journal was primarily started to record my scent experiments but it has slowly evolved to include more than just perfume.But in my justification (to myself?)- perfume isn't just smell (and smell isn't just perfume..)..it is a reflection of a million sensory experiences(some of which can't help but find their way into my journal).

Tiny bits of glinting glass (my recurring metaphor) that catch
this and that or the other;some
yellow sounds, some purple things, some soft black dreams;
but sometimes, just sometimes when warm and wet with memories, they melt
and then I'm left, with
a silver perfume..
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the same something- a little longer

More goose flesh- this song is so beautiful that it hurts- maybe because it speaks of a happiness so deep that it... hurts ( Is happiness as moving as sadness?..Or does happiness touch us only because of (or when there is) the accompanying fear of losing it?..*shudder*)

Aaj kal paon zameen par
Nahin padte mere
Bolon dekha hai khabhi tumne
mujhe udte hue

Nowadays my feet
don't touch the ground...
Tell me,
Have you ever caught me flying?

Again, something is lost, not so much because of language, but because the music adds so much to the lyrics of this song.

Edit: here is a link to the song, if you are interested:

something short

I have goose pimples. I'm listening to music after quite a while (2 weeks)- This kind of music, that always evokes a sense of nostalgia-even though these songs were made long before I was born and the nostalgia it generally evokes, I have no part in. But these songs were the first that I learnt to love...and sing..
(It doesnt help that it's one of those days, when it is, or atleast seems like it is, raining outside)
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A little bit of coconut milk

I needed to cook something really quickly for dinner yesterday and thought I'd make a Rajma Sabji (A north Indian curry made using kidney beans, onions and various other spices) which among many other Indian dishes takes me relatively less time to make..However, owing to the fact that at one time I had increased the frequency with which I used to make this, coupled with my using some strange brand of organic kidney beans on more than one of those ocassions, S rarely looks forward to dinner when there is Rajma on the menu..

So, each time I make this, I try to give it a little twist to tempt his palatte.
This time, I remembered that I had a wee bit (a little more than a tablespoon)of coconut milk in my refrigerator and amidst protests from S I decided resolutely to use it. And since I was adding coconut milk I went ahead and added some other spices that I thought would 'go' with it. Now, if you are familiar with Indian cooking you will know what a sea of difference there is between North Indian and South Indian cooking. Coconut milk is used mainly in South Indian Cuisine, especially in dishes belonging to coastal regions of the country (like Kerala and Goa). So I was slightly apprehensive about the result. But...
I quite liked how it turned out- sort of like a stew . I am posting my recipe below. The measurements are kind of approximate.

You will need:

Kidney Beans-I used 2 cans
Corriander powder - 4 tsps
Cumin Powder - 2 tsps
1 large onion - chopped
1 large tomato - chopped
coconut milk - 2 Tbsp (you can experiment with more or less)
salt - to taste

For the seasoning/tempering:
oil (I used canola)
panch phoron - 1 tbsp( a Bengali seasoning mix - containing fenugreek ,nigella ,mustard and fennel seeds etc and found in Indian markets) You can alternatively also use Cumin/Jeera seeds
Cinammon stick -1
Clove - 2 or 3
Star Anise -1
Kasuri Methi (dried fenugreek leaves - optional)
Turmeric- a pinch
3 green chillies (more or less depending on taste) - slit and chopped

How To:

1. Wash the kidney beans thoroughly
2. In a pan heat a little oil(maybe a tbsp) and add the panch phoron
3. Add the cinammon stick, clove and star anise (Since I used these as an after thought I added them after I had cooked the onions- but this is the 'correct' time to add them)..Fry for a min or so till you can smell the fragrant spices
4. Add the Kasuri Methi and half the green chillies
5. Add the onions and fry till translucent adding the corriander and cumin powder sometime in between (that doesn't sound very helpful does it..:))..Ok, then add the onions and the powders and then let the onions cook till translucent..Smell the onions before and after you add the powdered spices..(hmmm)
6. Add the coconut milk and then the tomatoes.Cook till the tomatoes get squishy
7. Add the Kidney beans and 2 cups of water and add the remaining green chillies
8. Keep on medium heat till gravy thickens (10 mins) then add salt.
9. Let it simmer on low for a few minutes (till the beans have absorbed the spices)
Rajma done! Can be eaten with rice or bread (preferably Indian or Persian bread). It tastes even better the next day!

I tried a variation of this today with canned chickpeas and milk(skim) instead of coconut milk..It was nice (though I had to add a little more corriander powder and a spoonful of black salt) but I think coconut milk brings out the cinammon and clove flavor beautifully whereas with today's variation the other spices(corriander,cumin)seemed to stand out.

Do let me know if you try this recipe..I'd love to know if the instructions were clear enough..:)
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5 Interest Meme (looong overdue)

golden_meliades picked the following interests from my bio (after I had commented on her meme post- this was sooooooooooo long ago that I doubt if anybody remembers):

second hand bookstores, singing in the bathroom, freshly cut tuberoses, talking about glass rainbows and cabbages, perfume

second hand bookstores: second hand bookstores are one of my favourite places to be.I love them for the sight of books piled one on top of the other,for the yellowed and creased pages of old books, for those cozy,dark corners made for hungrily dipping into those pages, for that possiblity of a chat with a usually wise and wizened shop owner who has his own tales to tell and of course for the prices (though I remember on more than one ocassion preferring to pay more for what looked like an older copy of the same book).I love prowling in a second hand bookstore, not knowing what I might find!

singing in the bathroom: I am not sure why, but the bathroom is one of my favorite places to sing- maybe its the wonderful acoustics or the fact that nobody can hear me when I'm in there..
I remember my best friend and I actually choosing the ladies room(owing to its superior acoustics)to 'tape' our voices on the last day of high school. We sang Carpenters' 'I'd say good bye to love' and Vanessa William's 'Save the best for last',fighting to sing our favorite lines, letting everyone think we were crazy..

freshly cut tuberoses: Tuberose or Rajnigandha as its called in Hindi is my mother's favourite flower. One of my Dad's bachelor friends who was often invited for dinner, would bring a bouquet of fresh tuberoses for my mom, as a thank you. And then for the next day or so, a cool elusive smell would float in the living room - sweet,dewy and incredibly beautiful.That is my first memory of smelling tuberoses and it has been my favourite flower since.

talking about glass rainbows and cabbages: 'glass rainbows and cabbages' was kind of my version of ' cabbages and kings'...So glass rainbows refers to those intangible but breakable,beautiful things or thoughts(sort of 'a whiff of wind and they'll blow away' airy fancies)..and by cabbages I mean the more mundane but 'absolutely necessary' daily goings on. I guess..I could mean food too, as I love cooking and experimenting with spices and flavours..but food is not mundane(while cabbage sounds too prosy)..:)I guess its obvious that I am not one of those who eat to live.

perfume:I have always found certain smells to be very evocative of a particular memory or a person- the scent of my grandmother's sarees used to remind me of her, the smell of some South Indian dishes remind me of my mom..If I wanted to intellectualize my love of perfume I would say it was born of my strong scent memories and associations..but I won't- I just love perfume!..I love how it slowly evolves on my skin, how it smells different on different parts of my arm..how it can influence my mood or express how I am feeling...

This and That

There are so many things I feel like posting about that I end up just thinking about them without actually posting...

I feel like posting about my second scent experiment which I can't quite make up my mind about.Sometimes I think it's amazing and sometimes I don't. (Never use too much green cognac oil.I will let you know why in a future post).

I feel like posting about my (very) successful experiments in the kitchen...I am absolutely loving the food I make..yay!!! *wide grin*

I would also love to post reviews of movies that i have watched- except that the movies that I have been watching the past couple of weeks are, at best, absolutely second-rate!..oh well..
But there are some beautiful movies that I would love to write about. One such is Satyajit Ray's Charulatha - languid but rich like a maroon silk saree, it is based on Tagore's short story : The Broken Nest.

Also, here is a link to one of my previous posts (about my New York trip)..I had saved it as 'private' for a long time while I was writing it (its a long post..:)) and when I made it public (finally) it sort of got lost on the friends page.

So here goes:

p.s I need an mp3 player!..I have never been enamored of fancy electronic gadgets (read ipod) but I think I have finally sensed my need for an mp3 player.Thats the only way I'll be able to listen to music while working in the lab. The 2 contenders are: ipod nano and iRiver clix- any input/recommendations?
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