Friday, August 30, 2013

The Power of Ritual

Happy (belated) Raksha Bandhan!

For those who don't know, Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. In honor of the festival, on campus this past Wednesday ISU Hindu YUVA commemorated the event with "Universal Oneness Day." Traditionally a small band called a rakhi is tied on the brother, husband, father, uncle, neighbor, or good friend's arm, along with a ceremony that symbolizes protection. Today on central campus we tied rakhi on all friends to symbolize unity and respect for everyone. 

First I place vermillion powder, tilak, on his forehead....

Next, I tied the rakhi on his right wrist in a specific way that was a little difficult for this clumsy lady....

Then he touched my feet (not shown) and we hugged in celebration :) Rakhi is a beautiful Hindu tradition to bring to Iowa State University. For me, it was a moving way to show that my close friends in Ames have become family. This has made me feel at home in a way that I have not really felt since I left my parent's home in Minnesota many years ago, so I am forever grateful for my Ames family!

Rituals like the rakhi ceremony--religious, cultural, or personal--enrich our lives by helping us enjoy and appreciate our daily experiences. They affect not only our connections to people, but also to activities such as eating. (You had to know I was coming to this ;)

I recently read an article about a group of studies on rituals and eating. Researchers found that even small, seemingly insignificant rituals can change a person's eating experience, leading them to perceive the food as more flavorful and to savor it more.

This reminded me of a ritual that I perform almost morning cup of coffee. I use a stovetop steam coffee maker, or moka pot, which makes about 2-3 (American sized ;) cups of coffee.

First I pre-warm the water and place it in the bottom of the pot, placing the filter cup on top.

Next I add the coffee grounds, place the top part, and turn the heat to medium. This particular coffee is special to me because it was a gift from a friend from Colombia. He knows the people who grew, harvested, and processed the beans, and drinking the coffee makes me think of the amazing stories he has shared about his life and family back home. Knowing the "story" of the coffee makes this small ritual even more powerful for me, helping me stay mindful while preparing and drinking my brew.

I have to stay close to the kitchen while the coffee brews, listening for the sound of steam bubbling up through the grounds and into the top. If left to long the coffee will scorch in the pot, making it bitter. I love the sound of the coffee bubbling up into the top of the pot, that means it's almost time!

When my coffee is done I pour it into a thermos with warm milk. Then I sit down and savor one single cup, taking the rest with me to school. 

There are many ways I could get my caffeine/coffee fix in the morning, yet I enjoy this ritual so much that I wake up a few minutes early to make sure I have enough time on class days. It helps transition my sleepy mind into a more alert and reflective state. As I sip, I take time to "check in," thinking about how the day before went, how I am feeling today, and what plans I have for the day. 

What rituals enrich your daily life? 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Nature's Bounty

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself” - Henry Miller

Each moment is a precious gift. As I reflect on this during my last hours of summer break, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It has been a bountiful summer filled with joy, sadness, hope, laughter, and love. I have spent countless moments with friends and loved ones, and each moment has truly been a gift. To all of you, thank you for sharing those moments with me....I cannot ever fully express how grateful I am to have each and every one of you in my life!

We all live such busy lives--pulled here and there, distracted by worries about the past and future. I understand that feeling of having no time to waste, yet wasting time distracted by worry. That is why I love the ritual of cooking. When I cook I am mindful, fully in the moment--enjoying the aroma, color, texture, and process of creating a meal. I never consider time spent cooking wasted. For me it is a form of meditation; a time to be creative, to nourish the soul along with the body. And in the end, I hope the food I prepare is savored because it came from my heart. 

Thanks for the amazing bounty of vegetables from your gardens Mom and Dad! Food that is both grown and prepared with love must be filled with super-powers....I feel stronger already :)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How do I love ghee, let me count the ways...

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!

I have discovered a new love...and her name is ghee.  I didn't know butter could taste even more...well....buttery.  I am not afraid of animal fat or cholesterol. I happen to know that the "lipid hypothesis" is just that, and until someone can give me definitive proof of a mechanism by which saturated fat causes cardiovascular disease, I will keep on eating it. Remember when coconut oil was "bad" for us?  Science is all about research, and research takes time. It has always involved slowly putting the puzzle together, connecting ideas slowly over time, changing them as needed. One thing I have learned in school is that there are always more questions, especially when it comes to nutrition and human health. So from now on there will be a jar of ghee in the pantry right next to my beloved virgin coconut oil....

And in the spirit of new love, I am dedicating one more post to ghee and laddu before I move on to something else :)

I spent 2 hours studying this past Monday and then rewarded myself with 2 hours in the kitchen. This time I went to the store first and bought ghee, chickpea flour (besan), cashews, and golden raisins. I wanted to try different flavors of besan laddu. The first batch had cashews, cardamom, raisins, and toasted coconut. I made the second batch for my lovely roommate who is allergic to pretty much everything but chocolate chips. This turned out fortunate for all of us, since chocolate chip laddu taste like chocolate chip cookie dough cake-balls!

Yes, there is a full cup of ghee (aka love) in every batch of laddu

This time I simply warmed a cup of ghee in a heavy-bottom pan, added two cups of besan, cooking on medium-low until it deepened in color and began to smell "toasty," then turned off the heat, stirred in a cup of sugar (forgot to get jaggery), and let it cool 10 mns. Meanwhile, I chopped and toasted the coconut and choppped the cashews, raisins, and chocolate chips.

My roommate let me use his awesome chopper....I may have to get one of these. The curved cutting board kept the coconut and chocolate chips from flying everywhere.

Fresh toasted coconut....mmmmmm

The supplies: chopped flaked (or shredded coconut), chopped golden raisins, chopped raw cashews, cardamom, besan (chickpea flour), ghee. Not pictured: a few tablespoons of milk

Chopping chocolate while the first batch cooled enough to handle.

First batch with cashews and raisins

Ready, set, roll!. I added about a tablespoon of milk at a time until the dough thickened enough to roll into little balls. I then dipped them in a bowl of powdered sugar and toasted coconut.

Batch number two before adding the chocolate chips. I added them after the milk once the ghee/flour mixture cooled enough to avoid melting the chips, then formed balls and rolled them in a mixture of powdered sugar and cocoa powder. (Can you spot Roxy the beggar dog hoping I will drop some laddu under the table)

Looks like cookie dough, right? Tastes like it too!

The final product. They taste even better than they look!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

So it Begins: Ghee and Laddu

This poor blog has been neglected for over 2's about time to bring it back, mostly because I need an outlet for my obsession with taking photos of food that does not directly involve FB. I'm going to start out small, since I don't have much time during the school year for lengthy explanations and recipes. I will mostly post photos of food with short explanations and recipes. Feedback of all kinds is much appreciated, since I would like to write a blog that you would like to read ...enjoy!

For my first post after the long hiatus I will start with my newest adventure in Indian cooking: laddu. Laddu are sweet, delicious desserts made with some type of flour, sugar, and ghee. My first batch were made as a spontaneous birthday gift, so I made them with what I had in the cupboard: whole wheat flour, brown sugar, palm sugar, raisins, toasted sesame seeds, and ghee. I actually had to make the ghee myself, since I began after the local Indian grocery store was closed last Sunday. Making ghee is a process unto itself, so I will start with that...

Ghee is basically clarified butter that has been cooked longer and reduced more. It has a golden color, deliciously strong butter flavor, and a higher smoke point. As it is cooked, the milk proteins separate out  and are strained from the butter. In the recipe I used, this happens twice and the second time the protein on the bottom of the pan toasts slightly - you have to be careful not to burn them. Making ghee is actually quite easy, and less expensive than purchasing it. Time is the one drawback to making your own....the entire process took me about 15-20 minutes.

Once the ghee was made I searched for laddu recipes using whole wheat flour. I found some, but of course they included other ingredients I didn't have, and most involved making the laddu and then frying them in more ghee. Since I wasn't keen on making more ghee or frying, I just combined recipes that involved no frying with those that had the ingredients I wanted. 

This is the basic recipe I used to make these wheat flour laddu. I used cardamom, but not milk masala, and I added raisins and toasted sesame seeds, and rolled them in powdered sugar. This made them easier to package since I did not have time to let them cool properly and didn't want them to stick together. 

I would say my first attempt at laddu was a success. They were much prettier in person, since my retro fluorescent kitchen lighting gives them a greenish tint in the photos. I took them to a birthday party, a little nervous about how they would be received. Luckily, they were a hit! My favorite comment of the evening was "These are really good, actually!" 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thai Cooking Class Part 1: Getting Ready

Last Saturday, Gerry and I spent the day at Thai Farm Cooking School, about 17 km north of Chiang Mai. We stopped along the way at a local market so our instructor, Kook (pronounced "cook"), could explain about the ingredients, how they are made, and how they are used. The market turned out to be the same one Gerry and I visited daily during lunch break from massage school, so we ran into an old friend who serves great Ka Prao. This is stir-fried meat (pork, chicken) served over steamed jasmine rice with the option of a fried egg on top. Our lovely new friend from Slovakia introduced us to both the place and the dish, kop khun ka Tomas!

fresh veggies and herbs at the market
thanks for the great ka prao :)
Kook explained that MSG is often used at restaurants here, but is added separately from sauces, so we can easily request  a meal without it

mmmm, chicken

Kook explained how jasmine rice, brown, and red rice are prepared differently than sticky rice 
This is palm sugar. We used it in the green papaya salad. It is semi-liquid with a wonderfully mellow flavor , similar to real maple syrup. Kook said we could substitute honey or brown sugar - but I need to find this stuff - yum!

bugs, anyone?

I ate one of these, couldn't manage to try the beetles or crickets. These weren't half bad - salty and crispy like french fries

this nice girl from Canada tried one first

I don't think she minded the taste, just couldn't get over mental side ;)

It's not all bugs at the market - you can also buy donuts :)

these small grilled bananas are delicious and cheap! 4 for 10 baht (about 35 cents)

Kook opened a "century egg" and encouraged us to try it - I was first to take a bite, and it wasn't that bad! Just very "eggy." It was more the texture combined with taste that was weird - like egg flavored jello :)

After our trip to the market, we head off to the farm, about 10 minutes down the road.

These lily pads were HUGE! I was tempted to step across them,...

The kitchen

outside the kitchen: sinks to the left, dining table to the right
Before taking us on a garden tour, Kook taught us how to prepare the sticky rice....

She rinsed the rice two times, strains it, then pours it into a bamboo steamer

She sets the rice to steam for 30 minutes as we tour the farm
Jasmine rice was even easier: just add rice and water to the electric cooker ;)

Next post: touring the farm and first course: curry and soup...