Five Must-Eats Before You Die

Taking inspiration from BBC's 50 things to eat before you die, Melissa of Traveller's Lunchbox came up with Bloggers' Picks of Five Foods to Eat Before You Die. I don't blame her for being taken aback by BBC's list and wanting to come up with foods that are more specific, for BBC's list includes sandwiches and burgers! How generic is that?!

Faith tagged me for this meme a few weeks ago. I was very excited and thought I'd do an initial survey with the family. Medha came up with: rice, tomato, and peaches. At this point, I wondered if she had some British genes. Where were her favorite foods in that? So she added idli and lime pickle to it. As for my husband, all he wants to eat before he dies is Mensaf stew from Diana Abu Jaber's The Language of Baklava, made with goat meat. Our Bosnian neighbor has goats hanging in his garage from time to time. I am very tempted to ask him for 2lbs of that meat. I borrowed his Hollyhocks for the Flower Fest, some tender mutton would be good, too! I'd pay for it, of course!

My list does intersect with BBC's list. Curry. Yup! That's me, too! Mango. That's me! Maybe I am responsible for Medha's choices, not the British! But I will get into specifics, just like Melissa wanted us to. So here goes...

Hapoos Amba or Alphonso Mango

I know what you're thinking. How predictable! But really...everyone must get a bite of this luscious fruit at least once in their lifetime. The Ratnagiri Hapoos is the more coveted of the two famous varieties grown in my home state of Maharashtra. The other being Devgad Hapoos. If the mango is often called the King of all fruits, the Hapoos is the Emperor! The best hapoos are available during the month of May. I haven't eaten these for over 8 years now and I often wonder whether I should brave the summer heat and make a visit to India in May just for hapoos!
Photo credit: Gauri V was very gracious about letting me use her fantastic picture of the Alphonso Mango on Indian Food Rocks. Gauri's photostream has some simply amazing pictures of nature and a whole other bunch that make me plain nostalgic!

Idli Any-which-way

In the southern regions of India, idli is a popular breakfast food. For me, it's an anytime food. Idli-sambar. Idli-chutney. Idli-sambar-chutney.

Dahi idli. Fried idli. I'll take idli any which way.

And at any time of the day or night. In my home or out camping in the bitter cold. In fact I had the ultimate idli experience last weekend when we camped in the Moraine Campground in Rock Mountain National Park. It was 35F, windy and raining hard. I had carried frozen idlis that I had made a few weeks earlier and lots of sambar. We huddled around our little camping stove sipping on tea that went cold almost as soon as it was poured out. Luckily we had winter-wear: jackets, hats, gloves, the works. I heated the sambar and as soon as the sambar started boiling, I set the idlis loose in the sambar and after about 5 minutes, turned the heat off. We sipped on ice cold tea in great anticipation. The piping hot idli-sambar was the best I have ever had in my life. It warmed us up so completely and filled us with awe at what lay around us: wet ground, biting wind, raw nature and elk poop. The rain turned into snow as we heated more sambar and more idlis. The snow fell and melted into the sambar bringing us even closer to nature cos now, along with feeling it, we were eating it, too! I was just too busy heating and eating to take pictures. Once we were done, I tried to take pictures and this was the best I could come up with. It's very lame and not quite representative of the experience but I thought I'd share it anyway...

Garma garam roti or Hot off the Flame Roti

There's nothing as satisfying as a 100% roti. A perfectly round roti that puffed up to all its goodness, served right off the flame of the burner to your plate. With a dollop of ghee, if you like.

Dinner at Charlie Trotter's, Chicago

Housed in two gorgeous Chicago walk-ups, Charlie Trotter's is a dining experience that must be had at least once in a lifetime. In many ways it's better than a Broadway show! The food is simply divine, right from the amuse guele to the seven course meal. It's a medley of flavors, one even more delightful than the other, balanced by the right wines chosen by the resident sommelier. Mmmmmmm!

And, after the meal, you can tour the kitchen and even see the wine cellar which has over 1800 wines from the world over.

You can choose to dine in the kitchen itself. A 15 course meal is served when you do. You have to make reservations at least 4 months in advance. This makes sense if you need to see how the food is cooked and plated but it was far too noisy for me. I get to hear clanging pots in my own kitchen for free, I'd preferred the meal away from the intensity of the kitchen.

Avlyachi Supari or Amla Supari

Avla or amla is the Indian gooseberry. According to Aurveda, it is a balancing food because it has 5 of the 6 tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent tastes. The only missing flavor is saltiness. Well, according to me, avlyachi supari makes it complete! Avlyachi supari is made from Indian gooseberries that have been sun-dried and coated in salt. It's a taste that has to be experienced to be fully comprehended. As the salt layer wears off, the other flavors kick in. The lingering flavor is one that can best be described as: if you drink water, it will taste sweet!

If you've reached the end of this post and you've experienced what I have, I think we're both ready to die!

I know I am supposed to tag 5 more bloggers for this meme but since I still seem function on IST, everyone I know and read has been tagged. In fact, I am so late with this meme that two other bloggers did me the honor of a tag: Shilpa of Aayi's Recipes and Meena of Cooking Pleasures. If I missed you and you'd like to do this meme, you're tagged!

I am going to be on a brief hiatus from food blogging. I need to recoup my strength after a very cold but exciting camping trip, a bad back aggravated by a terrible slip last night, and a huge overload at work that must be plowed through with an earthmover. I'll be back in a couple-two-three-four weeks!

Taking copyrights and attribution seriously

I do. Take copyrights seriously. I also give credit where it is due by saying so and providing a link wherever possible.

Recipes cannot be copyrighted. Culture cannot be copyrighted.

Images are. Recipe methods are and can be.

What sense does it make to steal other people's images and present them on your own blog without attribution? In many cases, a simple email asking for permission is all it takes!

Why copy a recipe from another source word for word? And even use their picture?

You know who you are. You know where the discussion is. It's available publicly.

I chose to inform. I left my name and address. You learned. Now there is at least one less person in this world who will take other people's content and use it as their own. That you chose not to publish my apology for assuming that yet another image was perhaps not your own and my kudos for taking things in the right spirit, is your decision. What you post on your blog reflects on you. What you allow to be posted by way of comments on your blog also reflects on you. Just as what I post and allow to be posted on my blog reflects on me.

I say to you: Congratulations! On giving attribution where it was due. On actually making the recipe you posted and uploading your own images. Bravo! You got the message.

You know who you are.

I take copyrights seriously. Ask Indira how she feels. She'll tell you. Ask Barbara. She'll tell you how she feels.

I'm glad you finally got it.

You know who you are.

Struck by Lightning!

Life is never dull around here!

We experienced a sudden cloudburst yesterday. I saw a flash of lightning that was followed immediately by a loud clap of thunder. The roof rattled. The ground shook under us. A worried Medha ran to the basement - it reminded her of the severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings when we lived in Chicagoland. There was no time to even begin counting to figure out how far away it was. It had to have been overhead. We found out this morning that it was.

Lightning from that cloudburst struck a tree right across from Medha's bus stop. Less than 5 minutes from our home.

Wood has been flung everywhere. As far as 300 yards away. On the roofs. The fence has been ripped apart. The trail is littered. The houses across from the trail have fragments. And, we have one, too! Not because it was flung into our yard but because it was carried home as a souvenir! Life in Colorado is never dull! It's nature, nature, nature - in your face!


Handmade, jagged edges and all.

Update: This is a picture from my "More than a Recipe" series. Everything in this picture is handmade by me. The little bowl is something I made in the pottery class I have been going to for the past 4 weeks or so. It was the first thing I made on the wheel. The clay I throw on the wheel always assumes a life of its own. In this case, it is the most perfect yet simple bowl I have ever made. The glaze turned out great, too. Since the glaze has been fired in a kiln at over 2200F, this bowl can be used to serve food, heat in the microwave and eat out of.

The food in the bowl was supposed to be til gul. Or tilache ladu. But the gul or the jaggery was not the sticky kind and the ladus flopped miserably. I had over 1 and half cups of sesame seeds, 1/4 packet (1/4 kg) of jaggery, 1/4 cup of peanuts and a couple of tablespoons of coconut powder vested in this so I was not ready to give up yet. I greased a small casserole dish, pressed the hot mixture into it and heated it in the microwave for a minute at a time, pressing it down further after each minute. I cut it and let it cool. But the darn thing was stuck to the casserole and I got all kinds of wierd shapes when I tried to pry it out. My family, who had previously scorned at my efforts to make til gul, helped themselves to this new avatar of til gul, tilachi chikki or sesame brittle, with abandon. That gave me enough incentive to try again with what was left. Only this time, I lined the casserole with wax paper. It worked. Kind of. There was nothing stuck to the casserole. The wax paper on the other hand was one with the chikki. I pulled out as much as I could. The rest, we just ate along with the chikki!

Stuffed Sunburst Squash

Perhaps they were just too cute to be eaten. Or perhaps we had very high expectations. Perhaps we were all just too tired from a very exhausting week and needed some comfort food instead. Prep time was just too long for the mood we were in and by the time the squash was ready, any interest in how cute they were had all but dissipated. Perhaps I should have made them on another day when everyone was in higher spirits.

I stuffed the sunburst squash and took pictures rather half-heartedly.

For those who asked me what the inside looked like, here's a picture:

The sunburst squash that I bought were small in size - between 2 to 3 inches in diameter. I wanted to preserve the scalloped edge so I sliced the top off one and then realized that I didn't have much space left for the stuffing. So for the rest of them, I just sliced off a little cap from inside the scalloped edge. They had been blanched before they were decapitated. I scooped out the inside, chopped it fine and mixed it with the stuffing. I sliced off the base so that the squash would hold its own weight.

I then stuffed them with a filling made of lightly sautéed onions, finely sliced celery, finely chopped mushrooms, a finely minced clove of garlic, and finely chopped cooked shrimp with a dash of lemon and some chilli powder for some zest. I topped this off with Kraft's 4 cheese.

And then put the caps back on after lightly buttering them.

I covered the dish with foil and bunged it in the oven for at least half an hour. It may even have been 40 minutes.

Unfortunately I served it with pasta smothered in Arrabiatta sauce, also known as the "angry sauce" and that overshadowed the subtle flavors in my stuffed squash. The Arrabiatta sauce stole the show. Like the squash, I found it at Wild Oats. If you haven't tried it yet then go out and get it! It's different. It's such a delightful change from the usual zugu. It's happening again: the Arrabiatta is getting the accolades instead of the sunburst squash!

There were just too many things that went wrong that evening. The mood, the pairing, the expectations...

Thank you so much for your suggestions and ideas: Prita, Anupama, KrishnaArjuna, Mythili, Archana, Diane and Shilpa. I will definitely make this again. Next summer will be a great time to do so. We will have forgotten what went so wrong with this meal.