That's What Friends Are For

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Health insurance agencies control our decisions about our health, right down to the medication they will allow us to take. I've been battling a sore hip with pain radiating down to my ankle for more than the last couple of weeks - I think I finally figured out what I did to bring this on - and I've been balking at the idea of going to the doc, only to be thrown out in less than 10 minutes because it's nothing and then be presented with a $200 invoice shortly thereafter.

But I can get treatment when I want it, for however frivolous a reason it might appear to be. It remains within my reach, with or without these health insurance agencies. We may have heated discussions about how medical tourism is adversely affecting hospitals in America when foreign nationals fly in, head straight for the hospital and fly out without paying their hospital bills. Or we may have mixed emotions about the recent case about the blind Ecuadoran, without health insurance and not qualified to receive Medicaid, who was 'dumped' by a leading hospital in New Jersey, only to show up in another hospital nearby and that led to the latter suing the former.

It is the lack of primary health care at the appropriate time in developing countries that leads to such desperate acts. Medical tourism is a booming industry in India and there is cutting edge technology available - but only to those who can afford it. For most of the population, it remains a pipe dream. You may need surgery now but you will get it only 6 months from now. To get it now, you have to be 'equal' to those who can get it now. Yes, you need tens of thousands of dollars.

Anita Lakshmi is one such individual. She is a 28 year old woman, with two very young children, who needs heart surgery as soon as possible. If she joins the line, she may get it in another 6 months. But by then, she will most probably have succumbed to the disease, leaving her children without any responsible parents. Her husband has already left her a while back. Anita Lakshmi's parents work as domestic help in the home of an Indian food blogger we all know very well - Srivalli of Cooking 4 All Seasons.

Anita Lakshmi needs about $15,000 for heart surgery and subsequent care. Her parents have already spent their life's savings for her first surgery and have turned to Srivalli for guidance for Anita Lakshmi's future care. Kudos to Srivalli for doing all the right things to ensure treatment for this young woman, who can have a future if she gets the proper medical treatment in time. Please do read about the fund raiser on Srivalli's blog and Chip In to help Anita Lakshmi. Even $10 will help. That might mean going without two Starbucks Coffees in your work week. Maybe brew your own cup before you leave for work? And help bring Anita Lakshmi closer to getting the treatment she needs and rightly deserves? Think about it. Just two Starbucks Coffees.

If you can donate $25, that would be even better. That might mean carrying your own lunch from home for one work week, or less. It will mean life to Anita Lakshmi.

I am offering four handmade coasters, made by Medha, to help with the fundraiser. These are made from marble tiles and the underside is lined with cork. The designs are bright and will be similar to those in the picture, not necessarily identical:

These coasters are sealed with a water-proof sealant, making them ideal for use with cold and hot drinks. They are great to look at, too! These coasters are the work of a 10 year old so please keep that in mind when you bid for them.

You may bid for Medha's coasters if your donation to the fund raiser is at least $15. At this time, please note that shipping is only within the US.

Here is a list of all the raffle prizes and instructions on how to bid.


I sincerely hope you will help. Because that's what friends are for.

Speaking of friends, Mad Hatter Anita is celebrating the second anniversary of her blog. And like last year, she has created a shortage of cooking oil as everyone rushed out to buy oil to do some wholesome frying. All, except some spoilsports and other copycats.

Who am I to say no to Anita? So here goes...

Dear Anita,

Happy Second Anniversary of your lovely blog!

So what if you copied the title of my ode to your blog from last year for your own entry to the celebrations this year. I will assume you either have photographic memory like Kaavya or that you were inspired. I like the latter better. I feel honored. Even if it's me who is honoring myself at this time.

So what if you ignored me when I proclaimed that your blog was so well written. I still say it is the second best written Indian food blog around. Mine being the first, of course.

So what if you ignored me again. But since I know a good thing when I see it and I don't give up easily, I forced you to take notice.

There was no looking back after that, was there But there are no regrets on this side, at least! It's been a fun ride since September 22, 2006. We've had some crazy conversations, and done some wild things together - albeit virtually. You bring such wonderful flavor to the word friendship, that the rest of this post is just for you. So that you, too, can some day make the authentic batata vada that so personifies the streets of Bombay. Aye, I refuse to call it Mumbai. (Sundar Mumbai, Swachha Mumbai; Sundar Mumbai, Phukta Mumbai. Now say it as though these Marathi words are in English. Get it‽)

Anyway, despite my sore hip and general malaise, and despite the desperate desire to lose weight, I, too, joined the masses in the line for some cooking oil. And here is the recipe that you should follow henceforth.

much love to you from your friend and nemesis,
swimmingly yours,

The Batata Vada

There are four basic things that make an authentic batata vada, one that brings memories of the dirty sidewalks of Bombay and its overcrowded streets:
  • a khamang phodni,
  • totally mashed potatoes, so no chunks (we're going to make batata vadas, not samosas),
  • no onions,
  • and no peas

  • 6-7 medium red potatoes, boiled
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • pinch asafetida
  • 1-2 Thai bird chillies, sliced fine (preferably more but my hands are tied)
  • 5-6 kadipatta leaves
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp grated garlic
  • 1/8 cup chopped cilantro
  • a dash of lime
  • 1 cup besan or chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup water, approximately
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • salt, to taste

    1. Peel and mash the boiled potatoes completely. There should be no chunks.
    2. Heat oil in a pan.
    3. Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add asafetida, green chillies, and kadipatta.
    4. Turn off the heat.
    5. Add turmeric powder, ginger and garlic and stir till you can smell their fragrance.
    6. Add the mashed potatoes and some lime juice to this spicy tempered oil and mix well. It should all come together like so:

    7. Whoops! Forgot to add chopped cilantro:
      There! So much better!
    8. Roll into balls - usually the size that fit your mouth. Naturally, mine are very small. After much hand-slapping and pilfering, I had 15 small vadas, waiting patiently to go for a swim.

    9. Heat lots of oil in a kadhai. Approximate depth to which you should fill the kadhai with oil depends on the size of your vadas - it should be slightly more than the size of your vada.
    10. While the oil is heating, take the besan in a bowl and add water to it slowly, mixing as you add. Prepare a batter that is slightly thicker than pancake batter. It needs to coat the vada and not slip off into the hot oil. Add salt and red chilli powder and mix well. I also like to add turmeric powder - about 1/8 tsp - to the batter. It's up to you.
    11. Line a plate or large bowl with paper napkins. Please avoid using newspaper or sheets from a magazine as newsprint is not the something you want on your food.
    12. Test the oil for readiness by releasing a drop of your batter into it. Like a good Olympic diver, it should make a clean entry and surface immediately. You know you're all set to send the vadas in next.
    13. Drop each vada into the batter and ensure that it is coated well, and drop it into the hot oil. Repeat this until you have 4-5 vadas in the kadhai. Turn them over after a few minutes and fry until they are a beautiful golden color. For a great technique, see How to Fry Batata Vadas Without Getting Your Hands Dirty.
    14. Serve hot with thecha and hot tea.

    • Ideally, ginger, garlic and green chillis should be pounded to death in a mortar. But since we have taste buds in training, we need the green chillies to be visible so that they can be yanked out at will.
    • My Indian grocer cursed himself for being out of thecha. I was so committed to the batata vadas that I went to the other Indian grocer in my area only to find that he had gone out of business. I was not committed enough to make it myself. In fact, I was so exhausted by the end of my day - sore hip, remember? and I worked in my yard, too - that I didn't have the energy to make cilantro-chutney. So I served it with the best ketchup in the world - Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup. My husband says it tastes just like Kissan, which would make Kissan the best ketchup in the world but I was never a fan of Kissan. Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup is really by far the best tasting ketchup ever.
    • You may see baking soda or soda bicarb or Eno fruit salt being added to the batter in many recipes. I think baking soda is over-rated when it comes to making things crispy. It makes the batter froth and less batter can then be used over more vadas - a trick that the street vendor uses to maximize his return on investment. I prefer to avoid baking soda in my cooking as far as possible because I don't like the flavor it imparts, especially to fried or steamed foods.

    So, there you are, Anita, the yummiest batata vada ever. Just for you:

    Happy Anniversary!

    Flipping Over and Out...

    I will be taking a break for the next couple of weeks, maybe more. I have too much to do and I also want to spend time with Medha before school starts in another three weeks. She has been a very busy girl this summer and I loved seeing so much of her innate character and talents finally begin to emerge. She started a Friday Afternoon Dessert Club in the neighborhood that goes from home to home, making dessert for a lucky family that agrees to host them. Every meeting has a coordinator who sends out a list of ingredients that each member must bring with them. The host family is also welcome to contribute ingredients. They meet at the appointed time, make a dessert, eat at least half of it and leave the rest for the host family to enjoy.

    Medha plays a central role because she often has to nudge the next coordinator into action. But she has the maturity to take a step back and hand over complete responsibility to the child who is now in charge. The Club started with large Snickerdoodles for our annual July 4th party. Since then they have made brownies, sundaes and turtles at three other homes in the neighborhood. Their current calendar runs to the end of August. It's an exercise in planning and follow-up, with a sweet return.

    I am organizing an Art Expo mainly for the kids in the neighborhood where the kids can display and/or sell their art, baked goodies and services. I am crocheting a small version of this bag with cotton yarn for a raffle. Anyone who buys an item from one of our kids will get a ticket to the raffle. A friend of mine may crochet some skullies and hats as raffle prizes, too. This is the first year for this activity in our neighborhood. The timing is poor since several families are out of town but if it works, I want to do it again and see if we can convert it into Art with a Purpose. Or maybe even take it to the Farmers Market. These are all ideas in my head right now - how much of that will come to fruition, I don't know. For now, my fingers and toes are crossed in the hope that this will work!

    My post Lavender Love:May it Grow will grow sometime soon, too. Yes, my oven works without tripping the circuit every 10 minutes!

    If you haven't already, please subscribe to my feeds using Google Reader or Bloglines, as Taste of India does not seem to pick up updates to my feed.

    Have a great weekend and enjoy the last few weeks of summer doing things with your family and preferably, away from your computer!