Things to do with a hand blender that aren’t chutney: Vol. I

It takes a special type of self-absorption, that or near-total desperation, to make one reach out to a mother of newborns and demand her help. Immediately.

But that’s where I found myself last weekend. Tired of raking clean forks across my itchy pregnant midsection, I was ready to crowd-source my discomfort and ask some been-there/done-that kind of women for advice on soothing a third-trimester tummy that itches like a verdant private patch of poison ivy.

So I emailed my friend at 3 p.m. central standard time. I didn’t want to bother her. What with her nursing week-old twins and raising a toddler and also trying to bathe, eat and sleep infrequently herself, I was sure she’d be too busy to respond to my third-trimester-with-singleton woes.

Not 30 minutes later, and from the front lines of a post-partum English evening, she responded.

A simple salve for stretchy times

Because this friend is a private sort of person and I have neither requested nor received permission to share her personal writings to me, I post below only the recipe portion of our correspondence:

“I whipped together like 2 cups of coconut oil (the solid kind) with a table spoon of vitamin E oil, and a few drops of lavender oil (or whatever smell you like or none). Literally whip it together with a hand mixer and it will become like a soft body butter and should stay soft if you put it in a jar or back in the container your coconut oil came in. You could try that maybe?”

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Call me. I will spare you a few drops of lavender oil. That stuff is not cheap.

Without incident or delay, lavender and Vitamin E oils were procured. I brought out the hand blender, sullen yet shiny after months of neglect. One kid asked, betraying only a hint of “Now-what’s-for-dinner?” anxiety: “Mom, are you making more chutney?”

“No. A belly rub.”

I followed the recipe exactly. After a few seconds on the lowest setting, the mixture slackened and smoothed itself from a lumpy, lard-like consistency into a friendlier, creamier-looking substance. Bedtime was approaching and I was ready to apply the cream and settle in for some peaceful sleep. Peaceful sleeping now means several hours of bizarre pregnancy dreams, interrupted by bathroom breaks and foot cramps that feel like stage three labor in your feet and calves. I have highly arched feet. When that first pinch hits my ballerina-like arch, I am out of bed and flexing like an Olympian in seconds. Cold floors also help.

Please don’t think I am complaining. If I had to choose between 15 minutes of foot labor and this recurring dream wherein I give birth to a balloon baby that deflates before my eyes every time someone walks into the hospital room, I will take the physical torture every time. Balloons are for animals, magic shows and properly supervised kids’ parties. There their charm ends. Also, they are acceptable in science class and at pool parties.

From chutney to coconut oil

Well, the simple salve worked. It just did. Cool but not too greasy, it dulled the itch slowly, though my spider’s web of scratch marks lingered. As the weekend progressed, I resumed the use of silverware for dining purposes. I marveled at the compassion  of a friend who would reach out across continents and from the depths of new milk, slumberless nights and not-so-sleepy newborn twins to soothe my petty discomfort. It felt good to grip my hand-blender once more and fantasize about new recipes, to remember the bite and bliss of chutney-cheese sandwiches and remind myself I can make it all again and again. I just need to get myself together and buy some more green goods. Or as my husband calls it: “$8 of cilantro. Plus the mint!”

‘Secret Fit Belly’ reveals her secrets

Update: In an editorial meeting today I grabbed desperately at a ballpoint pen, retracted its tip and started to scratch. It was a slow build-up from the morning, when the itchy sensation had first returned in fits and jabs – like barely-there grazes from a sharpened, wool-covered needle. Then they lengthened their path across my body, staying longer, reaching deeper. I withdrew my hands from my keyboard every other sentence or so to scratch, rub, pluck a new Brillo pad from the box under my chair.

But in the staff meeting, that was when I realized: “This is not normal.” When I asked myself: “Where did my simple salve go wrong?” I had a flash of common sense. By now, the itchy sensation was more akin to a low-grade fever burning across my midsection. An inflammation or crop fire – not a tickle! Could I be allergic to my pants?

Yes, I can. About two minutes after I pushed down the “Secret Fit Belly” stretch panel on the only pair of pants I wear anymore (because, like, they still fit), the feverish itch began to subside. The staff meeting resumed. When I got back to my desk, I could type whole paragraphs (lucky readers!) between scratch breaks.

I was allergic to my made-in-the U.S.A. maternity jeans. I still haven’t found the exact breakdown of fibers in this coveted and lucrative “Secret Fit Belly” material, but I know something in that patent ends in “ex.” I now wear the pants slung lower, looser, and only with flowing tops that might look Greek-chic on a taller lady, but function more like Colonial-era nightgowns on me.

Oh well. I have a new DIY body butter and a loving and lovely friend abroad. I made two batches of chutney this weekend and served friends a chatty chaat dinner while Nina Davuluri took the crown in a pageant most of us don’t care about, yet found ourselves talking about this week.

America is full of surprises. So is the Secret Fit Belly stretch panel.

 

Lost Recipes, Quotes, Deleted Posts from the southside

Sunday morning I woke early to write a warm, endearing, totally heartfelt and original post to relieve any guilt I felt about not buying my husband a Father’s Day gift. Yet. To a larger extent, this Pulitzer-caliber post talked about the weird stuff I am finding in my basement, with carefully edited photos of that weird stuff.

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(Hey Lightbox app, the 1970s called to get its ’70s retro photo filter back. Not going to happen. I overuse that editing effect all the time.)

It also contained a few bits of tid about my home’s previous owners, about whom I know little save that they were very DIY and made all kinds of things themselves: the house they sold us, dresses, diapers, Ruth Hoffman’s Peanut Krunch Cookies. I know this because the house, which we unknowingly bought about 25 percent furnished, has left clues to our predecessors’ lives in obvious and not-so places. 

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I don’t know what Peanut Krunch is, exactly. Is it these overpriced cookies all mashed up? Chopped peanuts? A retro peanut butter? Please reply.

Home, Stuffed, Home

If you want to know what it’s like to buy your first home at 25 percent furnished with a ten-day-old and a three-year-old, it goes like this:

  • Sign closing papers
  • Get key
  • Drive to house after your attorney takes you out for celebration luncheon
  • Nurse newborn child in car for five hours outside new home
  • Open door with sleeping child firmly in hand
  • Weep weep weep upon realizing the house is full of stuff, and only about 70 percent of it is stuff you packed.

In the years that have transpired we’ve slowly unpacked, added a third kid to the mix, went to graduate school and gradually got over the shock of owning the previous owner’s stuff. We got over “stuff shock” through a combination of using, donating, selling, forcibly gifting and/or delivering these items to a city-sponsored hazardous chemical drop-off at my old high school.

Obscure but unforgettable quote

Perhaps “God and Cudahy don’t make junk,” as Mayor Glowacki told hundreds of high schoolers at suburban pep rallys way back when. But Cudahy High will accept junk in its parking lot when sanctioned by the MMSD. 

Anyway, point is, in the act of uploading a seventies-filtered photo of a ’60s era doorbell I found in my basement, I lost my draft of that Sunday post. Seven hundred words vanished and my husband still didn’t have anything for Father’s Day. Briefly and desperately, I thought about giving him the doorknob in a cool gift bag. But I had already showed him the doorbell, and it was basically half his. Even as a gag gift, it would fall flat.

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I opened a dusty drawer and there these were.

Can I get the old magic back?

For days now, the memory of that post has haunted me. Every night I think I’ll try to recapture its magic and nostalgia, reconstruct the alliteration and adjective trios that made the whole thing read just like something you might find in a “People” magazine “Greatest Generation Special Issue.” 

But I’m moving on. Instead, I’m sharing with you a recipe for Ruth Hofmann’s Peanut Krunch Cookies and a few photos.

“Ding Dong!”

Hear that? It’s the 1970s calling, and they totally want to hang out in my kitchen.

Ruth Hoffman’s Peanut Krunch Cookies

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup peanut Krunch (not really sure what this is)

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

1.25 cup flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

Bake at 375F for 10-12 minutes. Makes four dozen.

Chivda cheap & charred

One of the best things about chivda is its versatility. When recipes are more oral tradition than Martha Stewart, you can throw anything into them, make them yours, compensate for a missed or mispriced ingredient. In December, I started making my own chivda because buying it for $5+ per pound felt like cheating and because the restaurant I buy it from closes at 9 p.m. That’s prime bed-time. I never made it, and then I had to bring Entemann’s to the office breakfast potluck.

Anyway, I love chivda. It’s great at parties. Salt-sugar-sour is a most-compelling taste sensation. It’s just fun to eat, to sift through, to talk about.

I began my chivda chronicles here: http://www.manjulaskitchen.com/2011/11/11/cereal-chivda-snack/ The how-to video is great and my six-year-old loved to follow along with Manjula. However, I quickly reversed course on the cereal base. The rice krispies were too sweet and didn’t blend well with the spices. I bought a 500-gram bag of murmura, amplified the spices by a bit, threw in my cherries and waited for the potluck invites to pour in.

Tonight I was missing the shoestring potatoes. I had no cumin seed. That box of cornflakes had been taunting me for weeks. I tried to find a murmura-based recipe that didn’t require either of the missing ingredients, but everything was coming up poha – the seemingly delicate white rice flakes. Finally I found one that called for an 8:2 powa to murmura recipe. I decided to consider the corn flakes poha and move on. http://chakali.blogspot.com/2007/12/chivda-marathi-snack-recipe.html

What follows is a cautionary tale and an offer of free, charred chivda.

Curry leaves are fun.

Curry leaves are fun.

*Roast the poha and corn flakes in a large, dry sauce pan. Consider crumbling the cornflakes first. Remember: they heat quickly and burn easily.

*Use split dalia in place of cashews if you don’t have any, but don’t overdo it. Some recipes call for peanuts, almonds, cashews and pine nuts and pipian. Ignore them and just throw in crunchy things that can withstand heat and spice if you want to keep this chivda budget-friendly.

*Add 1/4 cup of raisins.

*Garam masala can be substituted for cumin seed. Sort of.

*If the finished chivda tastes like it looks – slightly charred – add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of amchoor (mango) powder. It will help just a little by souring the charred the flavor.

*Go ahead and use all 12 chilies.

*Curry leaves are fun.

*No matter what the end product looks/tastes like, take it to your office. Someone will eat it.

Well, now I still have no cherries but lots of gently singed chivda. I suppose it would do well on hikes, at camp, with a cup of coffee after a rainy spring trail run. If you’ve read this far, dammit you deserve some of “Angie’s Smokey Blend Chivda.” Just ask.

Carrie Bradshaw on chex mix, cherries, chivda

Tonight at the food co-op it got real. In my attempts to curb a distracting and defeating late-night cookie habit I’ve been turning to dried fruit. Namely, the dried tart cherry. For several weeks now it has ca-chinged at the register @ $16.99/pound. I buy it in quarter-pound increments and drop the glossy, pruny treats into everything from oats to yogurt to my hand.
Tonight they were $18.99/pound. I grabbed a box of cookies — for support — collected myself, decided to keep the peanut-butter-sandwich cremes anyway and found myself a co-op employee.
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“Commodities,” he said. “All the prices are going up. We’ve tried to absorb costs as much as we could.”

One of his favorites, the roasted salted peanut, is inching skyward in cost as well.

“Will chex mix be the new caviar?” I tapped into my iPhone like some penny-pinching Carrie Bradshaw.

Reflectively, I drove home with my peanut butter cremes – munching and resigning myself to deleting dried tart cherries from one of my go-to Indian recipes: chivda.

Chivda is this spicy/sweet/sour Maharashtran snack mix. You can make it with rice krispies & corn flakes, jagged and flat rice flakes called poha, or mumra – a puffed rice. There are about as many different recipes for chivda (CHAVE-da) as there are for chex mix, but they’re all better than chex mix. Tempered spices, toasted nuts, dried fruits are the dominant additives. Garlic, coconut, chick peas and other items can play supporting roles. Nobody ever adds M&Ms, but I think pretzels would be okay. Actually, peanut M&Ms might work if the toasted powa/mumra doesn’t melt them first. Golden raisins are preferred, but once you add the turmeric the entire dish glows a toasty yellow-brown and you can’t see them. No fun. Plus golden raisins are a pushover in terms of texture, and they don’t hold up well compared to the dalia (roasted chick peas, I’d use them halved or split – not whole), peanuts and the crack of roasted cornflakes. Curry leaves and green chilies are non-negotiable ingredients. You need oil to heat and pop the mustard seeds, and to adhere the spices that come next to each other and the mumra or poha. Then you’re done.

Cherries have been my signature Wisconsin contribution to chivda since I began blogging for Chutney Challenged the New York Post. Tarter, tougher, redder than raisins they stood up so boldly to everything else chivda has to offer. Until tonight.

Once the kids were in bed, I put on my snoopy flannel pants from T.J. Maxx Manolo Blahnik slippers and Dolce jersey pajamas, busted out my laptop, a box of cornflakes and proceeded to make a budget batch of chivda. If Aidan liked it, I knew it wouldn’t mean much. That guy is a carpenter and he eats anything. But if Big likes my budget chivda…

Happy Valentine’s Dal

In my husband’s family there are many cooks. My MIL is one of them. My aunt-in-law is another. She lives in suburban Columbus and if you ever are lucky enough to be invited there for a meal, please clear your calendar. Over the course of four to five hours so much food will be presented to you — from frothy hand-whipped coffees and gently fried, spiced chicken to vegetarian nachos and omelets. If you’re from Senegal, there might be lamb. If you’re my husband, you love her rotli dal bhath shaak. If your child is a picky eater, there will be fresh steamed green beans prepared instantly, instead of making that poor child eat shaak. Tins of cookies are in the house somewhere. Ice cream is in the freezer. Everything is made in real time, while you are there. Please clear your calendar.

I can’t even remember what Indian delicacies kaki makes because I always am overwhelmed by the multinational feasts she prepares. And usually I am so worn out by the 8-10 hour drive from Milwaukee to Columbus that I do not pay a damn bit of attention to how the food is made. Sorry. I said damn. It’ll happen again.

Those football lentils in my hand transform into a low-fat, high-fiber, vitamin and protein-rich stew in just 30 minutes.

Those football lentils in my hand transform into a low-fat, high-fiber, vitamin and protein-rich stew in just 30 minutes.

Meet My Cousin

Thank goodness for her daughter,  beloved cousin and blogger Foodie Brooklyn Mom. She is slowly going through her mom’s mental archive of recipes and translating them into written form for those of us who lack a certain ability to read minds and memorize forty years of cooking at this point in our brain’s slow deterioration toward middle age. You may recall an earlier conversation about chutney, how I was feeling unimpressed by the cilantro-dominant blends I was putting together in my kitchen. I wanted to add mint and see what this could do for the green. My cousin had posted a recipe that features a simple 2:1 cilantro to mint ratio and a few other ingredients. I have modified it slightly, and it’s working out great. Allergic friends reading this recipe, I don’t always use the tree nuts. Like when you come over.

Tonight I dashed out to the Best Foods with my daughter in crime to buy some lentils and try another of my cousin’s recipes: dal and rice. It’s a staple. In South Asia its popularity permeates borders. Sri Lanka, north and south India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal: everywhere they eat dal. “Dal” is the basic word for lentil, of which there are many kinds. What you eat with the lentil (vegetables, rice or roti?) is influenced by where in South Asia you’re eating. We’re Gujarati, so it’s rice and dal.

Lentils Red Football

I panicked for a moment in the aisle of lentils. The recipe said “red lentils,” but did that mean split or whole? After a few missteps with mustard seed, I now think that unless the recipe says “crushed,” you buy crushable ingredients in their whole form. Delightfully, this meant walking out of the store with a bag of masoor dal, discreetly parenthesized on the package as “LENTILS RED FOOTBALL.” From now on it’s Football Dal to me. Despite a lapse in planning that left me without any coriander seeds, the recipe turned out okay. Good, even, although I may bump up the spice from two chilies to three and amplify the ginger/garlic blend. But Valentine’s Dal was a bust for the rest of the family.

Football dal & rice with garnish. Mansoor is the lentil's proper name.

Football dal & rice with garnish. Masoor is the lentil’s proper name.

“Not all kids like Indian food,” said the Indian kid who had helped me pick out chilies just 90 minutes earlier.

“I don’t like dal, but it definitely smells like Indian food in here,” said my husband.

I expect little in the way of responsiveness-to-new-foods from my sons, and they delivered. They said: nothing.

I’m the best mom ever

We ended the evening with some marathon Valentine making. Glue, cue tips, posterboard, fiber paper, sharpies, regular and textured scissors. It was ON. Twenty-five valentines later my daughter said: “You’re the best mom ever.” I know she meant this barely and briefly. Tomorrow I will be the  ______ who won’t let her wear a striped rugby shirt on top of a striped polo shirt with Packer sweat pants. But at 8:41 p.m. I was the best mom ever. And I made Football Dal and rice.

For dessert we made Valentines. Be mine?

For dessert we made Valentines. Be mine?

Ragda Patties Part Three: The Recap

Listen, folks, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for this recap thing. My experiment with ragda patties proved several things. It proved I have the mettle and the enthusiasm to tackle complex recipes. It proved that pressure cookers are not that hard to work with but they are hard to handle. Practice taking the lid on and off several times so that you don’t get all nervous and fumbly when that thing is hissing at you and you need to take that lid off Immediately. 

Writing about ragda demonstrates the inadequacy of my current blog design for publishing compound recipes in a way that is readable and printable for anyone who might actually trust that “Chutney Challenged” knows what she is talking about and then come here for cooking advice!

I learned, I was challenged, but I also was reminded. I’ve had ragda patties only a handful of times. Even for the most practiced cook with free time like a middle schooler on her hands, ragda patties are work. I was reminded of this as I prepared the ragda patties for New Year’s Eve. Overall, I’d say they are worth it. I’ll try and get some reader feedback to back that up.

Making resolutions, ragda pattice

You'll need jaggery, mustard seeds, tamarind chutney and paste, vatana. Oh yeah, and a pressure cooker.

You’ll need jaggery, mustard seeds, tamarind chutney and paste, vatana. Oh yeah, and a pressure cooker.

I started this blog to force myself into doing two necessary, important things that have thus far avoided any mention on my lifely to-do lists:

1. Cook hard & healthy.

2. Write often.

My earlier experiments with bhel puri and chivda were fun. I still haven’t told you about the chivda, but we’ll get there. My New Year’s Eve experiment, however, is the real deal.

I sweated through 24 chilies, 14 potatoes, 8 spices, three pressure cookers, six hours in the kitchen, and two chutneys to bring you the queen of Mumbai street cuisine: ragda pattice.

More on this one to come. But in the meantime, here’s another sneak peek.

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Pattice uncooked: potatoes, chilies, cornstarch, coriander, etc.

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