Stacked, birthday parties and roses

Nothing to waffle about

For CLICK: Stacked, I dug into my archives and pulled out this picture of waffles that Medha made me take in the first week of 2009. She had made breakfast and wanted a picture of her waffles, all stacked, with a dab of butter and as she poured syrup over them. "Just like in the magazines, Mumma!" she said. She was mighty thrilled with it. So off it goes to the Jugalbandits as my judge's entry for CLICK.

Medha celebrated her golden birthday earlier this month: 11 on the 11th. She was super-excited about it and, unlike last year, wanted to celebrate with a birthday party. I prefer to keep her parties small and simple. That means not more than 5 girls in all and no sleepover. I won the first battle but lost the second. She wanted a repeat of the Backyard Campout Party but gave in to roasting marshmallows and making s'mores for dessert instead.

We baked a carrot cake from The Joy of Cooking and then quibbled over what kind of frosting: cream cheese or sprinkled sugar. No prizes for guessing which one I was leaning towards! When it came to making the cream cheese frosting, she realized how much easier it is to simply sprinkle the sugar over the cake and promptly presented it as her idea. I pulled out all the colored sugars and sprinkles I had and we used them to decorate her birthday cake. I then displayed great creativity when I used a metal skewer and wrote Happy Birthday, Medha on the cake with great flourish.

She was somewhat happy. I think. We covered it carefully and left it on the table on an increasingly hot evening. Never do that because, you see, powdered sugar dissolves into the cake. Like so:

This carrot cake was the second best carrot cake I have ever had. After much giggling and talking in sentences where every third word is "like" and every other phrase is "you know", the girls went with me to Louisville's Street Faire for some fun. They jumped, they flipped and came away with their faces painted.

We had a minor family emergency which led to the cancellation of the marshmallow roasting session; but it's generally been agreed that we will do it another time before summer is done. They played Guitar Hero and ate ice-cream without any complaints. The next morning they made some crafty mementoes to take away with them.

(She is the teeniest of the lot but my driveway has a reasonably steep slope making her look even smaller.)

Thanks to The Cooker for this fantastic idea! The girls first painted and decorated 6in terracotta pots and then potted sun-loving annuals in them. To make these, you need:

  • 6in terracotta pots and saucers
  • Several bottles of bright paints (I bought acrylic paints)
  • Foam stickers, buttons, dragonfly charms and similar embellishments
  • Hot glue gun
  • Pebbles to line the hole in the pot, or not
  • Compost and top soil
  • Annuals like marigolds, salvia, phlox (more shade than sun), verbena and any other flowers that thrive in the sun.

  1. Turn on some music, anything but Taylor Swift.
  2. Paint the pots first and allow them to dry.
  3. Decorate the pots.
  4. Plant the flowers.
  5. Watch their faces light up at every stage.
In lieu of birthday gifts, Medha asked her friends if they could sponsor our friends John and Lisa for their Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, if they were so inclined. Or donate to a charity of their choice. John and Lisa walked 39 miles this past weekend and were only $2 short of their goal of $1,800 each.

Medha declared this to be the best birthday she has ever had! In many ways, it probably is! And rightly so. For golden birthdays come only once in a lifetime.

Oh. See that climbing rose bush in the picture of the girls holding their pots? Yup, I made gulkand. There's a real recipe, after all. Over on The Daily Tiffin.

Summer's here

Lifeguard at the Boulder Reservoir.

Guard Shack with the Flatirons in the background.

Sunflowers just beginning to bloom. Blue skies.

Yup, summer's finally here.
Have a great weekend!

A cultural thing, perhaps

Generally - which means in general, so don't jump on me all at once and show me examples of where it has been done - Indian food blogs don't entice you with pictures of empty bowls that once had delectable food in them. Or with half eaten food, with teeth marks showing on the food or a sizeable chunk of the food missing.

Therefore my question: Is it a cultural thing? You know, kind of like
- how you don't offer jhoota food to dinner guests.
- how you quickly do away with dirty bowls but proffer bowls filled to the brim with goodies instead

I wonder if that held me back from participating in a Dirty Dishes Challenge last year. This year is different. So much of what parades as tradition and culture is old ladies saying whatever they want and getting away with it. Some of it made up on the fly just before they spout it, that I thought Pfffft. Here's more anti-culture for you:

I ate half of that before I took the picture and I don't regret it. My hips and thighs do, but I don't.

The only part I do regret is that I may have been cursed in return, as I have a new affliction: shakinghanditis. No matter what I do, my hands tremble when I point the camera in any direction and then when I press the shutter, my hand moves downwards to assist the camera with that action.

Result: blurry pics all the time.
Proof: all the pictures in this post. I have cleverly masked the effects so that they are not easily apparent.
Attitude: I really don't care, the gajar halwa was perfect!

Gajar Halwa

There are several regional variation of gajar (gah-juhr) or carrot halwa. The further North in India you are, you will get grated carrots that have been cooked in ghee and mawa. I am biased to the one stewed in milk forever, with very little ghee. I also prefer gajar halwa that is not cloyingly sweet.

Sue Darlow's recipe seemed like the perfect way to have the carrots cook on their own without much fuss. That it is pressure cooked and uses sweetened condensed milk appealed to that part of me that likes to cock a snoot at the purists. My first attempt over three years ago was a hit with my dinner guests. The leftovers were frozen and flown like a trophy to the East Coast where they were shared with more willing mouths who now swear that I am best halwai, in the world. We won't shatter their beliefs or my ego; instead, we'll just ride on the positive feelings that ensue. But the sad part is that I was not completely satisfied and I kept tweaking this recipe until I hit the jackpot - just right for our tastes.

  • 2.5 lbs fresh carrots, grated
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1.5 tbsp blackstrap molasses
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 10-12 pods green cardamoms
  • crushed almonds (optional)
  • crushed pistachios (optional)

  1. Put grated carrots, condensed milk, molasses, and heavy cream directly into the pressure cooker and mix well.
  2. Cook under pressure on medium heat and after the first whistle, turn the heat down to low and cook for at least another half hour.
  3. Release the pressure slowly and safely. Be prepared to see some liquid in the pressure cooker when you open it, as it depends on how juicy your carrots are.
  4. Crush the cardamom seeds, discarding the outer pod and add to the mixture. Also, stir in ghee
  5. Heat on medium, stirring continuously until any excess liquid has evaporated.
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl and decorate with crushed almonds and pistachios
  7. Gajar halwa can be served warm or cold. We like the warm-cold thing and so I serve it warm with ice-cream!

  • I was dismayed by what masqueraded as carrots in this country, especially since I moved here when India was a luscious deep red into the carrot season. Supermarket carrots - because I did not know any better at the time - tasted like wood, and carrots were near eliminated from our diet. Those 'baby' carrots are just as bad. Until I discovered fresh locally-grown carrots and later, organic carrots. These are sweet and very juicy. Very orange, but still. So spend that extra 50 cents per pound and get yourself some real juicy carrots.
  • Much as I espouse the benefits of stirring, I don't have the luxury of standing by the carrots, watching as they stew slowly in the milk since this has become a standard dessert when we have guests for dinner. I had to say that before the hoards of hecklers arrive to make smart comments on that, apart from expressing disbelief that this post actually has a recipe. So there!
  • The blackstrap molasses adds a deeper dimension to the gajar halwa: to the flavor and to the color. It also serves to add a sweet tone without the added moisture of a medium like condensed or even evaporated milk.
  • You could add more but remember that blackstrap molasses has a complex flavor and you might be better off adding some brown sugar instead, if you like it sweeter.