Christmas carols would fill the corners of my home all year long if I would allow it, and if Medha's piano teacher would allow it. I hide the Christmas CDs as soon as possible. It's bad enough that some stores like The Great Ignore were dressed for 'The Holidays' in September itself and that the only station we are allowed to tune into is Denver's KOSI 101.1 FM, which plays Christmas music all day long. The same songs over and over and over again. But no matter how much I complain, I love Christmas carols and it brings back memories of school and singing in our school's beautiful chapel.
And yes, we are not Christians but we call it Christmas. And, we have a Christmas tree. And, we put up Christmas lights and Christmas decorations.
Every year as the houses start lighting up in early December, Secret Santa comes into town. One of the Moms in the neighborhood takes the responsibility of assigning each child the task of being the Secret Santa for another child in the neighborhood. Two homemade items must be delivered secretly anytime during the week, followed by a party on the day school ends. A final gift, worth not more than $10, is given in person at the party, revealing just who the Secret Santa was! The kids have a blast trying to figure out who is who's Secret Santa. There are sure-fire giveaways: same wrapping paper or the same craft is delivered by siblings. Some kids even hang around by the door, hoping to catch their Secret Santa!
Last year Medha made penguin ornaments. I helped her draw the various parts on sticky foam; she then cut them and pasted it all together. She painted some parts and used glitter glue on others. She then slipped over to the neighbors with a black Hallowe'en mask covering her face and an extra large sweatshirt, rang their doorbell, left the gift at their door and ran in the direction opposite to that of our house. My husband was waiting for her around the corner in the car and they sped off in the wrong direction, made a full circle around the block before returning home. The car was too far away and gone by the time it could be seen! Medha stumbled back into the house, rolling with laughter at her escapade.
It's Secret Santa time again. We started making the first gift this evening, a nameplate wall hanging made of clay. No, neither she nor I are that creative to come up with it on our own. We did refer to Craft Fun (Art & Activities for Kids), an amazing book with over 90 projects for kids from ages 6 to 11. Medha designed the nameplate and so far, this is what we have:
It has since been taken apart carefully and each piece is now drying. Tomorrow we will paint each piece first as it is easier to paint each piece separately than to paint it as a whole. Then we will slip and score an area of each piece and pray to the Santa in the North Pole to make it stick to the plate. If they don't stick, I guess we will have to call on Super-Glue for help.
I thank God for the wonderful neighborhood we moved into a year ago. Most of the families go back at least a couple of decades. They have shared the joy of new births as well as grave illnesses where children from the affected home were taken in by several families, while others kept vigil at the hospital. It can be quite daunting to move into an extended family such as this, but they have only welcomed us with open arms. They keep the warmth alive by the things they do for one another. Especially when Old Man Winter decides to blow. But when he blows like he did last week, there is one more thing that I long for. Comfort food. From that place within me that I cannot define. My roots, perhaps.
So last week, when one of my readers left me a comment with a recipe for one such food that fits the bill perfectly - for a cold and wet evening - I decided to give in to the urge and it was by the far the quickest and the simplest dinner we have had in a long time, and also the most fulfilling.
- 1/2 cup besan (chickpea flour or gram flour)
- 4 cups buttermilk
- 3 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- a pinch of hing
- 1 dried red chilli (use more if you like it hot!)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 cup red onion, diced
- frozen drumsticks (not the chicken kind! But the veggie saragawa kind), about 9-10 pieces
- salt to taste
- chopped cilantro for garnish
- Put the drumsticks in a pot with enough water so that they are covered completely. Add some salt to the water and cook on medium-high until the tender. Usually about 10-15 minutes, depending on the quality of the drumsticks. Drain when cooked.
- Mix besan with buttermilk to make a paste that is the consistency of pancake batter. Use your hands to mix it as that is the best way to ensure that there are no lumps.
- Add turmeric powder to this paste
- Heat the oil in a saucepan
- Add mustard seeds and when they start popping, add hing
- Break the red chilli into two pieces, shake out as many seeds as you can and discard them, and then add the red chilli pieces to the oil, taking care that neither the mustard seeds nor the red chilli burns. If the oil gets too hot, simply turn off the flame and move the pan off the stove.
- Add chopped onions to the oil and sautée until they are pink in color. About 5 minutes, if you have done a good job chopping it fine!
- Turn the heat down and slowly add the besan-buttermilk paste to the pan. It tends to splatter at this point so be careful.
- Add the cooked drumsticks and salt to taste
- Cook on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring every so often, until the mixture thickens into a yummilicious pithla. The consistency is very similar to that of thick slip that you would use to glue clay together. (Perhaps I am not helping much with that analogy but the common thread here is clay!)
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve over hot steamed rice (bhath) and enjoy to your heart's content.
There are several variations of Pithla. Many of which are mentioned in the comment that led to this meal.
Nupur of One Hot Stove has her own take on pithla. And, there are more recipes on Mumbai-Masala's Maharashtrian food.
And then there is the drier version of pithla: zunka, which Ashwini made me drool over recently.
Pithla is just so quintessentially Maharashtrian and earthy that it brings to mind the smell that goes with cooking on a coal stove in the ground.
- If you don't have buttermilk on hand, whip some yogurt and add water to make a buttermilk substitute
- Save the water that the drumsticks cooked in. If your pithla thickens too much, you can add this water slowly to the pan, stirring it in as you add it
- An important point to note is that a little bit of besan goes a long way in this dish. I used 1/2 cup of besan and made enough to feed the three of us. We could have fed a couple more but since everyone was over-eating that night, there were no leftovers. So don't go overboard with the quantity of besan. You might be eating it for days!
Wish us luck with the nameplate. I'll post an update with a picture of what it looks like once we are done with it. And, Shhh! Don't tell Jessie!
Update: We finished and delivered the nameplate late Tuesday evening. separating all the individual elements seemed like a good idea at the time, it really was not because they warped as they dried. So we had to remake most of them and speed-dry them with a hair-dryer. It was easier for Medha to paint them though. Putting it back together and then touching it up was not easy! But we did a rather decent job, I think!
Here's another picture just before it was wrapped in bubble-wrap and delivered in heavy disguise.
Medha got her first delivery, too. The door almost came down in her effort to catch her Secret Santa in the act but she failed. She got some really delicious Puppy Chow that I can't stop reaching out for!
Medha made the bowl it's in!
Have a wonderful Holiday season! And if you have kids in the neighborhood, it's still not too late to start playing Secret Santa!