Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ni Hao!

"Ni Hao" came the voice as I lifted my head to enter the lift.

I was just shooting off an apologetic message to the husband that I was ready to head home. Inside there was guilt, for not having kept dinner ready before heading out. Inside there was hunger, for I too had not eaten. Inside there was this rush to get home.

Outside could have been a wildest dream come true. But everything inside was replaced with one feeling "PANIC".

The "Ni Hao" had come from one of the 5 guys already in the lift. He had even made a bow. How cute I thought to myself.

Thoughts were cut short by "No, no, don't be shy" by the guy next to him. I was beginning to take in the scene. 5 guys in all, 3 to the right and 2 to the left of the lift. The entire middle space was taken by a trolley bag with its handle stretched out to its owner on the left.

All the 3 guys on the right pushed themselves to a corner and had made a tiny space for me to squeeze into. It was one of these guys who had voiced "Ni Hao". The guy to whom the bag belonged seemed to ignore me and it stood where it was.

I stood there tongue-tied.
"What does Ni Hao mean anyway? Does it mean hello?"
I thought of saying something quirky.
I thought of squeezing in.
I judged the space and felt it was too small for me to feel comfortable in.
I felt fear.
I thought of saying "Excuse me" but the words would not come out.
I said to myself "Be Brave".
I thought "Why can't that guy move the fucking bag?"
I inhaled the beer.

And thankfully the lift doors closed.

Another press of the lift calling button and up came an empty lift. Disappointment! Relief! Relief won over. Obviously I could do nothing else about it. I had maybe missed some fun.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My recipes have a new home!

I finally bit the bullet and decided to split the content on the blog. A weekend when we have been "cyclone"d in made me finally get down to it.

I started off this blog as a journal of my thoughts and then it went on to becoming my recipe book. Slowly posts on movie reviews and restaurant reviews began to creep in. It looked like a nice collage to me but friends mentioned that blogs should not be a collage.

Gathering a fan following was never really an agenda item, neither was there the awareness of laurels and blog awards. A bout of web trawling eats into moments of reflection and those started leaving me depressed. But the "chalta hain" side of me, never allowed the depression to turn into a drive to excel or to do better.

A few times, I did manage to incorporate templates and indulge in joining focus groups but I really could not keep up with that. It seems hollow to visit a blog and then leave a comment on a post hoping that the person would take notice and return the favour. Don't get me wrong. Not all the comments would fall into this category. But this is not the kind of satisfaction that I am looking for. I'd rather some one really tried out the recipe and gave me honest feedback. But what are the chances of someone really following a recipe to the tee? I think I myself have a 0.1% record. Either I don't have all the ingredients or I prefer to add an ingredient or two, to suit my taste. And that reminds me of the fact that people are so much more fussy about food nowadays than I can remember in the days when my mom and her friends entertained.

But I still went ahead and am giving it another chance. I think I have succeeded. All the recipes are now available here. You can also access them from the "Recipes" link in the top menu bar. Feedback is welcome.

Blueberries!!! From picking to preserving

(NOTE: This one has been in the drafts for more than 4 weeks now, but there's not a word I have changed cause it all holds so good and true. I am loving the jam and a friend to whom I had given a bottle gave me a telephone call just to let me know that the jam was really good and that her son too had praised it)

Here is a glance of the stuff I've been using the preserve for
Blueberry Cheesecake
 Blueberry Cheesecake
Blueberry CreamCheese Muffins
 Blueberry and Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Blueberry Preserve

A glance through the newspaper while catching up on office gossip caught the words "Pick your own blueberries". Twas an ad by the 400 acre blueberry orchard. Some googling revealed that blueberry season ends mid Jan. I discarded the thought of going blueberry picking thinking I was late and began looking for orchards offering  PYO Strawberries. But blueberries sounded more posh so I made the husband make a quick call to confirm if we could go for the blueberry picking and they said they were open all days from 8am. So it was decided that we'd go blueberry picking and if time permitted, go for a trek at the famous Blue Springs. Another post on that coming up real soon. The day before we went, a colleague mentioned the Hamilton gardens as a must visit. So we had a plan.

Our flatmate joined us but we never really knew who he was picking the berries for. I had instructed the husband to strictly pick the ripe ones and the ones that came with just a slight feather nudge. We both managed to pick 2kgs together. Our flatmate had picked 2.3 kgs single handedly. Imagine my fear when we had to pay for that 2.3 kgs as well. I was hoping and praying that they were all good. Skeptically I opened up the bag which had the berries which he had picked to clean and sort. Kudos to him, they were good enough but now we were stuck with 4.4kgs of blueberries. So, I decided to make a preserve. I had eaten Kitchens of India Strawberry and Mint preserve back in India so I decided to make Blueberry and mint preserve with most of them. Some I used in pancakes, some I froze, some I distributed amongst friends and some are still in the fridge waiting to be used in muffins and the odd baking. 

Now, this is the first time I was gonna make a jam/preserve and that too in a huge quantity. My friend had mentioned to me about how canning had to be done and what mason jars were but I had never done something like that before. So I had to google, not only for the canning but to confirm if the combination of blueberries and mint would go well. This blog confirmed it and had easy to follow instructions for the canning. So all set. The previous evenings, I cleaned and picked the stems from the berries. I also chanced upon Revati's Strawberry jam recipe and decided to use the balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice. The next morning, I washed them berries and mashed them. Leaving them to macerate in sugar, we headed out to buy jars for canning.

Briscoes had these real cute vintage mason jars which I picked up. I did see a canning kit for 50$ but decided that it was not something that I should pick up when I was trying something for the first time. After all who knew it would yield 5 jars of delicious yummy jam. Anyways, once back home, I turned on the heat to medium and let the jam and sugar cook. The whole process of making the jam and canning them and sterilizing, etcetera took about 5 hours. We got five 500ml bottles of jam from the 3.5kgs of berries. I added minimal amount of sugar as blueberries are already quite sweet. I gave myself a pat on the back this morning after having the jam on my toast. (Psst.. I had it again with some fresh cream as an after dinner easy dessert just now too)
Blueberry Mint Preserve

Detailed below is the recipe I used as well as how I went about the canning. I am not sure if I've nailed it so I will be putting my jars into the fridge to be on the safe side. 

Preparation time : 1.5 hrs picking by 3, 1 hr cleaning and sorting, 1 hr for macerating
Cooking time : about 1 hour plus extra for canning

Ingredients (makes 2.5litres of jam):

  1. Blueberries - 12 cups as tightly packed as you can or approximately 2.6kg
  2. Sugar - 2.5 cups
  3. Balsamic Vinegar - 2tbsp
  4. Mint leaves - about 15 leaves
Apparatus required :
  1. 5 canning jars of 500 ml capacity each
  2. 1 pakkad - something with which you can have a good grip of the tops of the jars
  3. 5 litre cooker or bigger vessel
  4. Kitchen towels
  5. 2 frozen spoons - keep stainless steel spoons in freezer while you get your jam cooking
How I made the blueberry mint preserve :
Sterilizing the bottles :

  1. In the cooker heat water till the brim such that it will immerse completely the bottles that you will be using for preserving.
  2. Place only the bottles without the lids in the water and boil for 10 minutes. 
  3. For the lids, do not boil as if you are using the seals, the heat will melt the rubber coating. Just place in  warm water and let it simmer.
Onto the jam :
    PreservingBlueberry Preserve
  1. Wash mint leaves and keep aside to dry
  2. Wash and pick blueberries, sorting them so as to remove rotting ones. Overripe or underripe is perfectly fine for the jam. Remove any stems. Infact, I kept the just ripe ones for making muffins or froze them for use later in the year.
  3. In a huge pan, throw in the blueberries and mash them. I used my hands and the potato masher. Hands have a better effect.
  4. Add the sugar and let it macerate for about an hour.
  5. Turn on heat on medium and let it slowly come to a boil. 
  6. When it comes to a boil, keep stirring frequently to prevent any sticking/burning. Continue doing this for about 20 minutes.
  7. You could also do this on high flame if you are going to be constantly on watch and stirring.
  8. To test for doneness, use frozen spoons as suggested here. Take a spoon at a time from the freezer. Dip in jam and place back in the freezer until neither cold nor hot. Since I was cooking on medium to low flame, it was not that hot. In less than a minute, it was at room temperature and was set. I did give it a boil for a few extra minutes just to be doubly sure. I love the consistency of my jam. It is not to runny and not too thick. It is easily spreadable and mixes well in cream for desserts. 
  9. Throw in the balsamic vinegar and mint leaves.Turn off heat and let these sit for about 5 minutes.
  10. Now put the hot jam into the bottles leaving 1 inch from the top.
Sealing the bottles
  1. Place the seals and screw up the lid until finger tight and place into the hot water in the cooker or any vessel which ensures that it is completely immersed. Boil for 10 minutes. Take out and leave in a corner untouched for at least 12 hours. I did hear from my colleague who made 18 bottles of plum jam that the best way is to allow them to cool as slowly as possible and they kept theirs under a blanket. By the time I had known this, my jam had already cooled down. So you could try that. His grandmother made jam that way and they had jam even after she had sadly passed on.
  2. Inspect all bottles after 12 hours. If the lid of any of them can be pushed further, it means the seal has failed. These need to be kept in the fridge and used first. The others are good to be used for up to a year. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Where I introduce you to my bucket list!

So today is an interesting day for a number of reasons. From today, I get to press the cursor keys one more time whenever asked for my age. Oh what happiness! 
And(here comes the best part) it is a year since we touched down in the land of the Hobbiton. Aha! That's something to be really happy about. Aha! And so it means that I also get back to blogging with this post. Smile! 
Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined a life different from my mother or even away from my mother for that matter. And here I am now, gloating with pride that I am now quite well settled across the Indian Ocean (oh and the Tasmanian Sea) ticking off quite a few items on my bucket list for the one life that I am gifted with. Bear with me cause you may have seen such lists but mine is different - true to the fickle minded Piscean nature my bucket list is never the same. He He.
  • Move and settle comfortably in a new country. At least as comfortable as it was back in Bengalooru.
  • Live alone for sometime to get in touch with the inner you
  • Jump out of an airplane at 16500feet - this was never on the list but once I did it, it had to be here
  • Grow your own vegetables - hmm.. at least I got started and managed a few tomatoes, green chillies, basil, coriander, mint, green beans. Not sure if the bell peppers, eggplants and papaya will survive
  • Reduce the daily caffeine intake - half tick for this one
  • Explore the outdoors EVERY weekend - well almost "every"!
Soon I'd like to tick off "Find a mantra to easily get rid of body hair forever". Countless hours have been spent in general upkeep. Creamy, smooth legs sticking out from under the shortest boyfriend shorts are the ONIDA of Korean and Chinese damsels. Makes me go green with envy. I comfort myself with the fact that winter is just around the corner. Out will come all my beautiful woollens, figure flaunting skinny jeans, scarves and coats and feeling like a gorilla will actually be a blessing. 

Other half ticked items 
  • Maintain weight - A toughie!! Just about everyone claims a 10kg weight gain is inevitable once you move to New Zealand. Ironically, the husband, who worked on the butt the whole week now walks a bit to get to work and back, has lost a couple of kilos. I, on the other hand, devour cupcakes, which I can't stop baking, and then find every possible way to burn off the extra calories. Dance a little here,  do a little jig there aka  Jumba (Jo's Zumba) to the beat of dabang kuttu is a new fill in activity.
  • Build more muscle so that I can open a bottle of jam or pasta sauce without having to run to the husband
Some things already on the bucket list may be 
  • Open a cafe
  • Show mortgages the finger
  • Backpack across the world
  • Outdoor camping trip - may soon be the next item to be ticked off! Glee!