Sunday, 20 July 2014

Cottage Cheese Ice-Cream -- An ice cream that could actually be good for you

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Summer, ice-cream. They kinda go hand in hand.
But if you are the health conscious types... hmmm well...
But, what if there was a healthy way to eat your ice-cream?

Here is the recipe:

  1. 1 tub of cottage cheese -- low fat, no fat, full fat -- choice is yours
  2. Add to this 3 or 4 tsp of unsweetened cocoa powder
  3. Add stevia to taste -- go real easy on this, because it is very sweet.
  4. Give it all a whir in your favorite food processor. Until the texture is mousse like
  5. Use any freezer safe container. Pre-chill it in the freezer for 5 minutes or so, if you like. 
  6. Fill the good stuff in it.
  7. Freeze until done. If you are really finicky you can take it out of the freezer in 20 minutes an churn it again before returning it to the freezer.
  8. You may have to thaw it in the fridge before serving.
  9. Serve with berry coulis for add fun!

Closer look at the texture
Cooking the berry coulis
Nutrition information:
If you don't add the berry coulis, it is pretty much what is in the cottage cheese you put in. Stevia does not really add anything.
Other flavors to try:

  1. Mango ice cream -- add some ripe mangoes instead of the cocoa powder -- no additional sweetener necessary
  2. Pina Colada ice-cream -- replace the cocoa powder with frozen pineapple + frozen coconut and maaaay be a hint of stevia.
  3. Berry ice-cream -- your choice of frozen berries replaces the cocoa.
  4. To boost protein content, add eggs or protein powder.

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Saturday, 5 July 2014

Tofu Cabbage Kofta = Tofta?

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Presenting the tofu kofta.
Inspired by:

What you need:

1/2 a medium cabbage
2 packets extra firm tofu
3 green chillies
3 pods of garlic
1.5 inch piece of ginger mashed
1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds ground up
oil of choice (I used Coconut oil)
chili powder to taste

To do:
  1. Shred the cabbage
  2. chop the green chilies finely
  3. mash up the ginger and garlic
  4. grate the extra firm tofu in a food processor or a hand grater
  5. mix all of the above with 1 cup besan, salt, ground cumin, turmeric, chili powder and a little oil
  6. It will look something like this
  7. Heat oven to 350 F
  8. On a large baking tray, spread some aluminum foil and grease it with a little oil
  9. Arrange the kofta balls and slide it in the oven

  10. Cook until done. Time depends on the oven. It took me nearly 45 minutes. Next time, I might set the oven temperature to 375.
  11. Should look like this when done:
  12. Enjoy with either the traditional kofta sauce or in a pita with other veggies, like a falafel; or just eat it as is!

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Sunday, 15 June 2014

It's Groundhog Day

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When we moved in to this house oh-so-many years ago we thought these guys: a Mom and baby, hanging out on the deck were very very cute. They stood on two legs, ``hung out" with their fore arms on the lower railing of the deck and looked very much like a pair southern cowboys, in one of those action movies, before all the action broke loose!

Flash forward a year, and my dormant interest in gardening returned. I already knew that there were deer all around my home. In fact, we always woke to a herd that was munching away on something or the other not 20 feet from the bedroom window. It was the most relaxing way to wake up everyday.

I also knew what deer can do to a garden from my childhood when the deer and the gardeners (my parents) were almost always at loggerheads. If you did not latch the gate before going off to bed, you can guarantee that the deer would have decimated all the blood, sweat and toil in a single feeding frenzy. So, we struck an accord with the deer. The garden was off limits, but the trees on our street leading to the main road was all theirs. And they loved those trees, often standing up on their hind feet to munch on the lower hanging leaves. In fact, when we saw a pregnant doe who could no longer stand on her hind feet to get at the leaves, we used to knock out large branches for her with a long stick.  She would patiently wait for us the leaves to fall on the ground and then she would eat to her heart's content. We even named her Radha!

But I digress!

The point was, I knew what damage deer could so, and so I spent hours researching deer resistant plants for my front garden. My garden looked lovely with shasta daisies and lavender and roses (oops! blooper with the research), lupines and delphiniums, even a hibiscus called Baltimore sun (oops! again a deer candy). This lasted a couple of years and all on a sudden I woke up one morning to see the garden decimated! Where there stood tall delphiniums blooming in shades of pink to lavender there was trampled ground, where the star shaped pretty lupine leaves with the their lovely flowers there were empty stumps, standing two inches above the ground. Where there was shasta daisy, there was simply, nothing!

Then one summer afternoon I saw the oh-so-cute,-may-have-been-a-cowboy-in-a-western dude happily munching away on my prized garden. The battle was on! I looked to the all powerful Internet for guidance and it mostly said "trap 'em and relocate em" or , "smoke them out" or "pour cat pee into their holes" or "get a dog" and finally and most damningly, "kill 'em dead"  and so on. I started with the "get a dog". Well turned out, my Diva and Doofus were not made to kill. They mostly got all excited by the visitors and just wanted to say "hello" to their new friend. In fact, Doofus, who was way faster and more agile than Diva (and who could also see very well) was the first to get real close to these dudes. For his troubles he was bitten on his nose and that ended in an emergency vet trip with a very confused dog bleeding profusely from his snout, undergoing a bunch of tests to check for rabies!

Then I tried the "pour cat pee" suggestion. My version was to just wash the kitty litter boxes and generously dump the wash water into their doorway. Well, there was on entrance right under the deck, one in the far end of the property, in a wooded lot. That year, the resident bachelor decided to relocate and my plants, which were by now mostly peonies, lilies (inside the fenced areas) and few others, survived. That peace of mind lasted an year, when yet another bachelor set up his pad right under the deck. The hunger games continued: him playing "can I eat this?" and me playing, "should I buy this".

Well, that battle finally came to a head yesterday. It all started with me returning from a 10 days hiatus from home to see my stonecrop, yarrows and another pink flowering, deer resistant plant whose name I don't even know were gnawed to within an inch of their lives. The Russian sages were dead and he had even eaten up one whole chipotle pepper plant and the damage done to the other is so severe, that it does not look good.

Yesterday, this n-th generation settler of the Marmota Monax kind, was trapped.

In broad daylight. The back-stabbing, ever commiserating critters came out to check what all the noise was about.

The bravest of them, Polisamiyaar, went straight up to the groundhog and sat looking at him face to face. 

The intimacy that these cats were displaying towards the Great Marauder left me in no doubt that they had happily co-existed for years. In fact, my husband found this dude grazing right behind Polisamiyaar, right by the deck, when the house was wide open and we were sitting right there. Obviously, our specimen had no fear whatsoever!

I have to admit, though, that he did look very cute looking at us with an expression that seemed to say, "so when are you going to open this thing?" Got to love that attitude. Anyway, he has been safely relocated with 15 minutes of his capture, so I am fairly certain that he has set up shop where he wont be a complete nuisance to anyone's garden.

Dare I dream of Shasta Daisies and Black-eyed Susans and Echinacea purpureas and lupines and delphiniums and ...

Well let's not count our flowers too early!

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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Sittannavaasal --- Southern India's Tiny Ajanta

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One day before we were to catch the Rockfort Express back to Chennai from Trichy (Thiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu), we looked for something to occupy us for a day. We flipped open the yellow pages and it listed the usual -- Thiruvaanaikkaval, Rockfort Temple, Srirangam, Mukkombu. Been there done that.

Then my eyes fell on ``Sittannavaasal". All that the Yellow Pages would divulge was that Sittannavasal has a Jain Rock Temple constructed sometime, BC  and was remarkable for some paintings using vegetable dyes and Jain sculptures. It was sufficiently different than the usual, so we decided to try that. Besides, it was close enough to another temple called Thirukokaranam,  a Tamizhaization of the Sanskrit, Thiru-Go-Karnam which literally translates to Thiru-Cow-Ear. The temple and the town derive their name from the legend of a cow filling her ear with water from the Cauvery to worship the Shiva Lingam. Interesting enough.

We hired Fast Track (local cab company) on a package deal and as soon as we left the city limits of Trichy, we were treated to beautiful country side flanking either side of the road. The blue-grey clouds rolled low, but stopped short of threatening us with a squall. A pleasant December breeze ruffled the arching thorn bushes and kora-pull (a Pampas grass look alike, which goats feed on).
Well fed looking cows and goats grazed nonchalantly ignoring man made constraints like time and property boundaries. Peace reigned. My mind raced to the times of Kings and Queens and passages from Ponniyin Selvan.

The driver knew the broad strokes of how to get to Sittannavasal, stopping every now and then to query the locals to fill in the details. As always in India, they obliged. Each person would point us out to the next big land mark and tell us,``then you can ask around". One such stop brought us to a place called Mei Vazhi Chalai (Truth-ward Path). Apparently, this was not just a place but also the name of a group of people who eschew differences in religion and believe that mankind and hence God, is one. The men wear turbans with an inverted crescent moon pin on it.

Once we got off the main highway and into the little villages, the road's purpose was more to serve as a test of human spinal alignment and vehicular shock absorption than actually getting you anywhere. Or so it seemed! Many twists and turns and bumps and jolts later, we arrived at the hills of Sittannavasal in about an hour and 10 minutes.

Sittannavasal rocks. Beds for the Jain monks reside on top of this hill. Just a shallow cradle like dig out on the rocks.
There is a walk that leads up to the little rock/hill outcroppings. The first mound is the site of the beds for the Jain monks. Once you pass that, you walk up a little slope in the rock towards what appeared to be the cave temple, passing a few workers lunching off their boxed carriers, while a stray dog watched for hopeful morsels. A man overtook us up to the cave temple, saying as he walked up that he came in at around 9:45 am and that no one usually shows up here. He turned out to be an employee of the Archeological Society of India, and the sole caretaker of the rock temple. The keeper of its keys.

There, on top of the rocks, sat the cave temple, completely unassuming in its stature. Much like the Thirthankaras it was home to.

The blue gates guarding the Jain temple. To the right and left were sculptures, the ceiling had paintings similar to those in Ajanta and Ellora caves. The temple is dug out from the sheer face of the rock
The temple itself is dug out from the sheer face of the cliff/rock. We admired the sculptures on either side of the entrance and were busy discussing the paintings on the ceiling. The caretaker was observing us the whole time and finally stepped forward to introduce himself as an ASI representative. He said that since we seem to be interested in the paintings and the carvings and not just there as "ordinary tourists" he thought we would be interested in learning more about the paintings. We were. So he showed us the paintings of the princess and the lotus pond and then, the piece de resistance -- the chamber beyond the front room.

The ante-chamber contained a large Buddha (yes, it did look like the Buddha) like relief carved on the rock face and some more carvings on the ceilings and the sides of the cave. He then told us about a phenomenon that he did not usually share with tourists. He motioned us to stand beside him outside the cave. In few seconds we heard a low meditative hum that clearly emanated from the cave and seemed to circle around it and envelop us, while we still stood outside. It sounded a lot like the low rumbles of the Om. We looked in surprise inside the cave and there was nothing in it. When we turned back to look at the ASI employee, we saw that he had his lips ever so slightly parted. Clearly he was producing the sound from deep within and the chamber was carved so it would amplify this low frequency to render the most magical meditative quality to it.

He then invited all of us to step inside and took his position at the dead center of the cave. Once again he produced the sound and this time we heard it even more clearly than ever before. He invited our driver try it himself. The driver did and although he could not produce quite the same quality of sound as the ASI employee, he certainly did produce a reverberation. The guide went on to say, "no woman can produce this sound. I have years of experience doing this and I can even get this to happen when I stand outside the chamber".  Since I can never let a challenge like that go unanswered and since I have a pretty low pitch, I gave it a try. May be I imagined it, may be it was a bit real, there was a very faint rumbling.

My theory is that the parameters of the cave are just suited to resonate with low-pitched voices. How easy it is to interpret things wrong and how easy it is to make snap judgements regarding a subset of the population and how long do these judgements last! Despite this, the man was pleasant. He also told us about a lot of other historically and archaeologically significant temples in the vicinity. One of them had three distinct sculpture and architecture styles from three different periods. His brother, also an ASI employee, was a the caretaker of that temple. He gave us the general directions to the that temple. We thanked him for this most awesome demonstration and decided to stop over at this new temple before we hit Thirugokarnam.

No photography is allowed inside the cave, so here are a few from outside of it.

View from the top of the cave temple
Way up on top of this rock lie the beds of the Jain monks

The Logistics: 

  • Sittannavaasal can be reached in about an hour by car from Trichy. Start on the Trichy-Pudukkottai highway and veer off at around Keeranoor. 
  • Trichy itself is easily reached from Chennai via trains ( or buses ( Train tickets are harder to get at the last minute. Book at least 10 days in advance during non-peak times and perhaps months in advance if traveling during peak times (like during festivals etc.)
  • We used a fast track (a cab company working in Trichy and Chennai) package. There are other cab companies that may offer similar package deals. You would need a local cell phone to book your cab because there is a lot SMS exchanges between the company and you for everything including your booking number and receipt at the end of the trip.
  • The cab package deals workout to be cheaper than tourist cars and are just as comfortable.
  • Be aware that there are no restrooms in Sittannavaasal although there is a children's park area in near the rocks. There are several gas stations (petrol bunks) along the highway that have fairly clean restrooms. The gas station owners typically don't mind letting you use them.
  • Since there are a lot of rocks to walk on, it would be best to choose a pleasant day for this trip. Sometime in December would probably be ideal.

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