Lavender Love: May It Grow

You know who your friends are when you are in trouble. Especially the kind of trouble where you totally put your foot into your mouth. They stand by you and send you recipes for ingredients that you have only heard of till now and brushed aside with "probably tastes like soap. Or potpourri."

The lovely and enterprising Suganya of Tasty Palettes is one such - and only - friend. All the others threw their heads back to guffaw in delight, put their feet up, and settled down to watch the spectacle. The recipe Suganya sent me was for a Lavender Coffee Cake but as luck would have it, my oven has been on the blink for what seems like forever. There's nothing wrong with the oven but the circuit trips after 8-10 minutes of use. The resident electrician has had no time until late yesterday to take a look at it. He thinks he has nailed it and I hope he has. If he has, this post may grow. If he hasn't, it won't. So the long and short of it is that I haven't been able to use the recipe she sent me. But this is what a good friend is all about. She doesn't wait to be asked; she goes ahead and does.

Thank you, Suganya!

The Joy of Cooking doesn't have too many recipes with lavender since cooking with these flowers is a relatively new phenomenon, aside from using it to make herbes de Provence. I could have used lavender mint tea but it's already been done by Andrea for the GYO event. Then I found what I was looking for - a no-bake no-cook recipe - in Beautiful Breads & Fabulous Fillings by Margeaux Sky. Perfect to reciprocate the love: to Suganya! And, to Bee, without whom I would never have done anything with lavender flowers.

Lavender Mint Love Sauce

  • 2 cups of plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup softened cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1.5 tbsp dried lavender flowers
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp red chilli powder
  • salt to taste

  1. Combine the yogurt, cream cheese and honey in a large bowl and mix well.
  2. In a smaller bowl, combine the lavender, mint, chilli powder and salt.
  3. Add the herb mixture to the yogurt mixture ad mix well.
  4. Serve at room temperature with sandwiches or as a topping on toasted bagels.

  • This is adapted from the recipe in Beautiful Breads & Fabulous Fillings. That recipe has more ingredients like green tea, sage, basil and even curry powder. I preferred to stay with simple flavors and went with lavender flowers and mint but added a dash of red chilli powder for some zing.
  • The next time I will use much less honey or skip it entirely. I prefer the subtle sweetness that these lavender flowers bring to the sauce instead.

This is my entry to Grow Your Own, made with some mint from my backyard, some lavender flowers from Bee's backyard and a lot of love from Suganya.

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Lavender, lavender everywhere

Lavender showed up in my mail box, thanks to Bee.

My poor mailman must have loved delivering this package. He probably didn't sneeze his lungs out for a change and instead inhaled a wonderful bouquet. I will ask him the next time I have the courage to go out and meet him; after the last package of masala he delivered, I am still hiding from him.

I loved the aroma of lavender. I can now identify that wonderful whiff I get from my neighbor's yard every time the wind blows with it something other than the smell of grilled hot dogs or seared meat.

The mint in my yard was also begging to be annihilated picked and lovingly used. What?! You are surprised that mint grows in my yard? It fulfills all the required conditions. Which also means it is an obnoxious weed whose roots can travel for miles under the soil.

So yes, I made tea. Not just an infusion but real tea.

Lavender Mint Tea

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
  • About 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, loosely shredded by hand
  • 1/4 tsp orange pekoe black tea leaves
  • 1 cup boiling water

  1. Combine the herbs and the tea leaves in a teapot.
  2. Pour boiling water into the teapot and allow to steep for 3-5 minutes.
  3. You can have it hot with honey or lemon. It is delicious.
  4. Or you can cool it and have it over ice. Again, with honey or lemon, as you wish. Either way, remember to strain it before you enjoy it!

This lavender had a lovely sweetness about it that the tea did not need any honey or lemon. In any case, I have my tea sans sugar or honey.

This tea can be had as a simple herbal infusion if you skip the tea leaves.

The last photo is my entry to Click: Coffee and Tea

Grow Your Own? Whatever are you talking about?!

Update: I am also sending this refreshing tea to the Flower Power Girl, Rachna of Soul Food, who is hosting JFI this month. The theme is Edible Flowers.

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Ever looked at your child and felt like she's grown so much and so suddenly? Then you look at the other kids in the neighborhood and they have turned into giants, too? Because you are now looking up at them? It turns me into a mess because I start worrying whether she is getting the nutrition she needs to see her through this growth spurt. That always sends me in the direction of the energy store: sprouts.

This time I sprouted masoor or lentils. I had several friends who would bring sprouted masoorichi usal for lunch and I willingly traded my lunch for theirs. We never sprouted masoor in our family and I am not entirely sure why - even though masoor was and is always a staple in our pantry. They are not toxic when sprouted, for sure. I threw all inhibition aside and went ahead. Now, I am even more flummoxed because these are the easiest to sprout! Easier than green beans, matki and vaal. They also cook very quickly and are a delight to discerning taste buds.

To sprout whole masoor or whole lentils:

  1. Soak overnight, 2 cups of masoor in 4 cups of water. Or for 6-8 hours.
  2. Drain the water and rinse them well.
  3. Keep them in a colander or even the inner basket of your salad spinner and cover.
  4. A warm and dark environment helps.
  5. Check them after another 8-10 hours and you should see small sprouts already.
  6. Rinse them again and cover for another 8-10 hours. They should be ready by then.
  7. If not, repeat #6.

Sprouted Masoor Usal

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2tsp mustard seeds
  • a pinch asafetida
  • 7-8 curry leaves
  • 2 dried red chillies, broken into 2-3 pieces each
  • 1 large clove of garlic, julienned
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 cups of masoor
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • lemon wedges, finely chopped onions and cilantro for garnish

  1. Sprout the masoor according to the directions above.
  2. Heat the oil in a kadhai.
  3. Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add asafetida, red chillies, curry leaves.
  4. Add the garlic and toast it gently.
  5. Add the turmeric powder.
  6. Add the sprouted masoor, brown sugar, salt and mix well.
  7. Add water, cover and cook on medium-low flame for about 20 minutes until the masoor has cooked. Do not overcook the sprouts.
  8. Garnish with chopped onions and cilantro and wedges of lime.

  • This is a meal that must be planned ahead as the masoor takes 2 days to sprout well.
  • Medha likes to add Khatta Meetha to hers while her Dad prefers the spicier Bhujia Sev or Hot Mix. (These can be found at your friendly neighborhood Indian grocery store.)
  • I don't eat oily fried stuff - except to celebrate blogversaries - so instead I douse my usal with yogurt and also add a splash of cilantro-mint-ginger chutney. Mine is then more of a misal. Nupur has an excellent post on misal, with updates from her Mom.
  • I usually add julienned ginger with the garlic or just ginger and skip the garlic.
  • My recipe is a very basic usal and this can be made with any other type of sprouted bean, too. Matki is one of our favorites.
What have you sprouted this summer? Not in the ground but in your kitchen?

Oh and this is not my entry to Bee's Grow Your Own event. Just saying. Especially since most of you will be wondering.

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Orange Overload

There was once a cherry tree in my 'hood that decided to bear apricots after 15 years of barrenness.

They glowed and insisted on a few more photo ops.

They were teeny. Only slightly larger than a cherry. And deliciously and totally over-the-top tart. The best thing to do with them, I was told, was to dry them. So I sliced each little apricot into two and saved the stones. I might as well have not bothered for the kernels were bitter beyond compare.

I also sliced the flesh in a couple of places but not through the skin. This was to allow the apricot to retain its semi-circular shape to a certain extent. It took less than two days in the heat of the Colorado sun for them to lose their water content and harden into these unattractive shriveled bits.

I went through severe remorse each time I looked at in their direction. Worse still, the entire neighborhood had whooped at the marvel that was the apricot tree and for all practical purposes, it might have been barren again - for there wasn't a single fruit to be spied on those branches. We should have just eaten them as is or I should have cooked with them while they were fresh.

Then I soaked one half in some water. It rehydrated beautifully and the tart flavor is so intense that this could be a rival for kokum! A happy ending, after all!

And, just to make things very clear, this is not my entry to Bee's Grow Your Own event.

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Simple Flavors for Simple Living

The art of simple living - Voluntary Simplicity - is a lifestyle choice that many of us have already made. Then there are those who are moving towards it, given economical pressures. Voluntary Simplicity has often been confused with forcing yourself to live in poverty or leading an overtly frugal life, which it is not. There are as many definitions as there are practitioners of Voluntary Simplicity, which traces its roots to the days of the Buddha. The focus is on inner happiness through Less is More rather than how much more can I have and what else can I get. Well, that is this muddled practitioner's definition.

Less is More is the theme of this month's Monthly Blog Patrol, hosted by Nupur who elaborates:

What is the idea behind this theme?
1. To explore minimalism in cooking.
2. To appreciate the pure taste of ingredients and flavors as themselves.
3. To understand the role of each ingredient in any recipe.
I will always love to both cook and eat elaborate creations, but sometimes it is magical to see how a handful of ingredients can come together into a great dish with the right recipe.
I love it! Especially since that is the underlying theme of my cooking. There are very few recipes that I make on a regular basis that are complicated or have more than a few ingredients. Most of the time, all it takes is a fresh vegetable, and a khamang phodni.

In the bumper loot that I carried away from the Louisville Farmer's Market recently, I had two types of kohlrabi, green and purple. Both are white on the inside and I really couldn't tell the difference in flavor and taste.

My mother used to make navalkolachi bhaji but I had only ever gobbled it down and never paid attention to how she made it. First, I tried to deconstruct it in my mind and then went blog-hopping to see who might have the nearest recipe. I had a feeling it would be Vaishali, the Happy Burper, who has unfortunately been so immersed in offline pursuits that we haven't seen or heard from her since she moved back to India from Germany about a year ago. I hope she revives her blog as she was Queen of Word Play!

Navalkolachi bhaji (Simply Spiced Kohlrabi)

  • 4-5 tender kohlrabi
  • 1/3 cup chana dal
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
  • pinch asafetida
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder, more or less according to taste
  • 1 tsp brown sugar or succanat
  • 1 tomato, cut into 6 wedges (optional)
  • salt to taste

  1. Soak the chana dal in about 1/2 cup of water for an hour or so.
  2. Wash and peel the kohlrabi so that all tough fibers are discarded.
  3. Slice it long and slender, rather like french fries, so that it cooks quickly.
  4. Heat the oil in a kadhai and when hot, add mustard seeds.
  5. When the mustard seeds start popping, add asafetida, turmeric powder and red chilli powder.
  6. Move quickly at this point and add the chana dal and kohlrabi and mix well. If you linger, both the turmeric powder and red chilli powder will burn. Turn off the heat, if you have to.
  7. Add the tomatoes.
  8. Stir in the brown sugar and salt.
  9. Add about 1/2 cup of water. Cover and cook until the kohlrabi has cooked until it is tender but not soggy or overcooked, about 15-20 minutes. The soaked dal will also cook within this same time. If required, add more water.
  10. Serve hot with hot rotis.

  • I made more than a few changes to Vaishali's recipe but the essence remained the same. Instead of a jeera phodni, I used mustard seeds and hing as that is what my mother used. I also preferred to slice the kohlrabi rather than dice it for the same reason.
  • I added a tomato as it was very close to the end of its useful life in the refrigerator.
  • I did not pressure cook the kohlrabi as it was very tender and would have turned into mush had I done that. The chana dal was also very tender and did not need much coaxing to cook quickly.
  • Since Nupur allows phodni to be counted as one ingredient: oil, mustard seeds, asafetida, turmeric powder and red chilli powder are all being grouped together as phodni.
A very simple but delicious and rather fulfilling recipe!

There's no need to worry about the lack of kadipatta or the pathetic quality, if available. There's no need to freak out about ginger for $6.99/lb at the local Safeway. Or rushing to the Indian grocer to get the last few dry knobs of ginger that other eager beavers left behind when they emptied the box of $1.49/lb ginger. Just open your masala box and you have what you need for the phodni. Add a fresh vegetable, a souring agent, a sweet touch if you wish and you're all set.

Putting it down Nupur-style: kohlrabi + chana dal + phodni + tomato + sugar. How's that for Less is More?

Extend the simple living philosophy to your cooking styles and eating habits and you will soon be eating healthy. Simple meals reduce both cooking time as well as the clean-up thereafter.

As for the rest of your life - if you haven't already then, start small, keep it simple - but start somewhere. The more we lead our lives towards sustainable living, the better the health of the planet we leave behind for our children. Remember that simple living is about making conscious choices to lead a better and healthier life. It's about reaching that place within oneself and finding a balance where we realize and recognize what we need and live within those parameters.

You can also join Jack in his journey to breaking free of material encumbrances, including debt. And glean more wisdom and tips from the inspiring blog, Choosing Voluntary Simplicity.

And, don't forget to read about my ordeal, Don't Let the Bed Bugs bite, over at The Daily Tiffin.

Weekend excitement


Buh-bonk! Thud!

Bonk! Bonk!

It all came from the direction of the new egress windows we had installed in winter. I wondered if my worst fears were coming true or if the boys in the 'hood had taken it upon themselves to dig my yard.

Even my aching legs - from the hiking and exercising - did not stop me from racing to the yard. No-one in sight. No cracks in the brick or the foundation. Then we heard it again.

Bonk! Thud! followed by silence.

I went back downstairs to peer through the window to get a better look.

A rake?! Rake?!

It had to be a reptile. Last night's scare was bad enough. My garage had a rotten smell which my husband insisted was that of a dead animal or a dead snake. Yes, snake, he said. And he went to look. When he came back in, he had a sack of something held high in his hands. It had to be the dead snake so I screamed the neighborhood down. It turned out to be a few potatoes that I had forgotten about. Oops!

Needless to say, there was now a very interested crowd that had gathered.

But what was it?! Please join me in my ewwwwww! that echoed through the neighborhood, yet again, when you see it:

Not a reptile but an amphibian. It was named within seconds of being spotted: Toadert

My Superman managed to get it to climb onto the rake and flicked it into my lilies. The girls immediately started trying to get it out of there lest it jump right back into the 5' well.

When it didn't emerge nor jump back into the well, they pondered on what they should do next. It didn't take more than 3 seconds for them to reach a unanimous decision:

Snow cones! That certainly helped me cool off!

What did you do this weekend? Did you have any random excitement like we did?

There is talk...

...that nothing much grows in my yard. That's true. Very little does. If you're a plant and you want to grow in my little backyard, there are a few rules.

  1. You will not be mollycoddled.
  2. You will get water when the skies deign it fit. The zone is semi-arid. Learn to deal with it.
  3. The soil is clay, lumpy and rock hard.
  4. I don't spray my plants with pesticides. So if your tender leaves are a meal for those nasty bugs, so be it.
  5. My yard has very damaging exposure to the sun.
  6. I am lazy. I have a bad back.
  7. He is lazier. He works for a start-up.
So, as a plant who wants to be seen in my yard, you need at the very least to be
  • drought-resistant
  • squirrel-resistant
  • rabbit-resistant
  • and a perennial
for us to have a love-love relationship.

I planted an entire packet of Echinacea purpurea late last spring. A whole packet. Echinacea purpurea is all of the above and the coneflower is one of my favorites. I nurtured them, talked to them, watered them...against all my better instincts. Out of the zillions that germinated, only four young saplings survived. When I transplanted them to their final home, the leaves were attacked by pests almost immediately and before old man winter showed up, there was nothing there. But come spring, three little shoots made a brave appearance. And now I have this:

So some things do grow in my yard...just not anything anyone would want to cook with.

Rat-a-what no longer

Thanks to Remy, the medley of vegetables that is ratatouille that had been indelibly imprinted on my taste buds almost a decade ago, was no longer just another unpronounceable French dish. I empathized completely with Ego as he ate every spoonful of ratatouille, even though I prefer the chunky version to the layered confit byaldi that was served to him in the movie. Mmmmmm!

Recently I came home with $10 loot from the Louisville Farmers Market. It contained 7 green bell peppers, which by themselves would have cost me $7 anywhere else. Then there were large succulent zucchinis and gorgeous farm fresh tomatoes. All locally grown. I supplemented these with an eggplant from the grocery store and other veggies that I had at home to make the best ratatouille ever! Most of this ratatouille went to one of my neighbors whose little boy decided to announce his arrival 2 months before his time. Along with it went lentil stew, pasta salad and Greek pitas. I think I was really lucky to have chanced upon such fresh, locally grown veggies just in time for my turn on the dinner calendar for my neighbors. I think I received well before I was able to pay it forward.


(based on Ratatouille Provençale from The Joy of Cooking)

  • 1/4 cup olive oil (+ another 2 tbsp, if desired)
  • 1 medium eggplant, diced into 1 inch pieces (approx 1lb)
  • 1 lb zucchini, also diced into 1 inch pieces
  • 1.5 cups sliced onions
  • 2 large red bell peppers, cut into 1 inch squares
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 1.5 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or
    1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley, optional
  1. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot over high heat.
  2. Add eggplant and zucchini chunks. Cook until golden and just tender, stirring frequently, about 10-12 minutes.
  3. Remove cooked vegetables carefully to a large plate, draining the oil back into the pot as much as possible. Turn down the heat to medium-high.
  4. Add additional 2 tbsp olive oil only if required.
  5. Add sliced onions and cook until the onions are slightly softened.
  6. Add bell peppers and chopped garlic and cook until just tender.
  7. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to suit your taste.
  8. Add the diced tomatoes, rosemary and bay leaf.
  9. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 5 minutes.
  10. Add the eggplant and zucchini and toss to coat the vegetables with the onion and tomato mixture.
  11. Cook for another 15-20 minutes until everything is tender.
  12. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
Ratatouille is often called a vegetable stew. Serve it over rice or with thick crusty bread or warm pitas to soak up the delicious juices. It can be made dry, too. The choice is yours.

  • I chose to use green bell peppers instead of red bell peppers since that is what I had on hand. Red bell peppers add color to this dish.
  • The original recipe called for peeling the eggplant but I chose not to. If you have issues with the thick peel, take it off and then dice the eggplant into 1 inch chunks.
  • Once I had shared with my neighbors, I added some crushed red pepper to the ratatouille to up the heat a little bit.

To those who thought and still think - and there are quite a few that fall into the latter category, believe me - that the animated Rat Chef was called Ratatouille? I am really sorry for you. Truly. But don't let that stop you from recreating it.

I am sending this colorful ratatouille made mainly of locally grown vegetables to Beth of Muffin Love for her event, Living la Vida Local.

Tomorrow, July 15, is the last day for the fund raiser for Bri.


There are amazing prizes waiting for a bid. Now is your chance to help support a fellow blogger.