Cooking at Home with Pedatha

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is how I push pleasure off. I save “good” things for a special day, but no day ever seems special enough. For example, I was given a bottle of champagne as a wedding gift 14 years ago, but never found an occasion to drink it. Currently I’m saving it to drink the day my divorce is final – maybe that day will be special enough! I’ll often purposely not wear my favorite clothes because today isn’t going to be “good” enough. I think maybe I need to start seeing every day as special instead of as something to just get through. One weird exception, though, is I tend to think nearly every single day is special enough for a grand meal and I have no trouble at all spending an hour or more in the kitchen on a weeknight. I pretty much refuse to serve myself (or certainly anyone else!) bad food.

In fact, I was seeing a therapist earlier in the year and one week I told her I thought maybe I had a bad – or really an overly good – relationship with food, because I eat too much of it and it’s too important to me. “You see,” I told her, “I’m a really good cook and I eat too much because I make too much and it tastes too good.” Now this is a true story: the following week, I went to a session directly following an incident where I made a mistake working with an education owl in training, and the owl got me in the face with a talon and I had to file an accident report even though it was really very minor, and I was SERIOUSLY upset. Like really, really, really upset that I had made the mistake and not forgiving myself about it and devastated about the whole thing. I spent the whole session talking about it and feeling awful. Then the very next week after THAT, I went to my session directly following a FAR more successful session with the owl – I pranced into the office announcing the owl and I had made up and showing the therapist this picture of us:

So at the end of that session, I told the therapist that if my two biggest problems in life were I’m too good a cook and I got into a fight with an owl, then I really didn’t need to be seeing her. And I was serious; that was the last time I went. Of course, I am still struggling with despair and depression, but what sane person isn’t right now? I am very deeply suspicious of anyone in this country who is NOT depressed and despairing right now. The people that need psychological help are anyone who works for, voted for, or defends that evil sham of a president.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is I tend to start my days assuming they won’t be anything special, but I end them really well. All of which was a really long introduction to show you what I made for dinner last night. I had the rest of a bunch of purple amaranth leftover, and since I had mentioned it in my previous post about my new cookbook, Every Grain of Rice, I decided to make one of the recipes in Cooking at Home with Pedatha that calls for amaranth. Actually the one I chose calls for spinach but says you can substitute amaranth. The reason I ended up on the tangent above was to explain how although that recipe wasn’t a particularly time consuming one, I ended up spending two hours in the kitchen (all of which I enjoyed). The authors suggested you serve the dal I made with one of the spicy chutneys in the book. So I chose a chutney, but the chutney then called for a podi in the book that I ALSO had to make. (And I was also making one of my huge batches of yogurt at the same time.) This sounds like a lot of work to make dinner just for myself, but honestly I think I’d go insane if I didn’t cook. It’s how I decompress. On the extremely rare days I don’t cook, something feels amiss. I need to cook. I might never drink that bottle of wedding champagne, but every day is special enough for good food! Having too much good food is a good problem to have. (Fighting with owls isn’t even always a bad problem to have: it’s not good to fight with education owls, but when I have rehab owls and they fight me, I know they are feeling better and I’ve done good work.)

Cooking at Home with Pedatha is kind of a weird book. I don’t even know if I recommend it because it’s not for everyone. It’s small, and it sometimes calls for ingredients that *I* can’t even identify and I have no problem buying and identifying weird ingredients (I thrive on it, even), and some ingredients are referred to by names other than what I’m used to in American English (like brinjal for eggplant). Many of the recipes require you to make another recipe first (there are several “podi” or “powdered seasoning” recipes that are used in other recipes). It’s not vegan (though it is vegetarian). I love it nonetheless. I’ve probably made relatively few recipes from it, but every time I do, I’m happy with the results, and some of them are things I never would have come up with on my own. With some cookbooks, particularly “American” vegan cookbooks, I find the recipes aren’t that different than what I would have just done on my own. And because I have absolutely no need, or even desire most of the time, to follow a recipe, what’s the point? But the chutney I made from Pedatha last night? I NEVER would have come up with anything like that. So do I suggest you buy this cookbook? If you love Indian food and don’t already have a cookbook you really like and aren’t looking for something big and comprehensive and don’t mind doing some translating and can get to an Indian grocery store, sure!

Moving on, here’s what I did last night:

First I made the Sambar Podi, which I didn’t take a picture of because it’s just a powdered seasoning. It involved roasting coriander and fenugreek seeds, along with dried coconut and red chilis, then grinding them all up.

Then I made the Cucumber Sweet and Sour Chutney, which was quite interesting. I didn’t like it quite as much as the Smacked Cucumber I made earlier in the week from Every Grain of Rice, but whereas the smacked cucumber was pretty similar to something I would have made up on my own, this was definitely something I’d never have dreamed up.

Then I made the Red Gram with Spinach, only I substituted amaranth for the spinach (which was a suggestion in the book).

A nice meal:

On a nice balcony. 🙂

And this post was way more than I intended it to be!

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Rasam from Cooking at Home with Pedatha

I’m pretty sure I’ve raved about Cooking at Home with Pedatha before. I can’t share today’s recipe because it was a faithful following of the rasam recipe in that book, but I do want to urge you to consider buying this book if you are at all interested in Indian food. Although it’s very pretty (there are pictures of all the dishes, and even a picture glossary), there are a few factors that would ordinarily prevent it from being one of my favorite cookbooks: it’s quite short, it calls for some ingredients that I have difficulty obtaining (and I live in an extremely ethnic food-friendly area), and the authors use unfamiliar names for even those ingredients I can get, requiring me to have to translate many of the recipes. Several of the recipes call for other recipes, increasing production time.

But don’t let those things scare you away! Where this book excels, other than its inherent charm (it’s a loving tribute to a grandmother compiled by two family members), is the podis and all the dishes that call for them. A podi is a “powder”, or spice combination, usually calling for various whole spices to be roasted then ground together, which is then used to flavor dals, rice, and soups. Every podi-related dish I have made from this book has been magical. When I commented above that some recipes call for other recipes, I was referring mostly to the use of these podis. It’s unfair, however, to ding the book for this because the podi recipes make about a cup and the recipes calling for it use about a tablespoon each, so once you make a podi, you won’t have to go through that process the next several times you make the recipe. And believe me, you’ll want to make these recipes again and again.

Friday night I made up a batch of the rasam podi and made Pedatha’s rasam. Rasam is one of my favorite soups. I did a post on it a long time ago, and I posted a picture of some homemade rasam a co-worker sent me home with when once I proclaimed my love of it. Pedatha’s rasam is, of course, AWESOME. Mark and I ate the entire batch in one sitting. And the great thing is, now that I have the podi prepared, I can whip some more up from some late summer tomatoes in mere minutes!

In other food-related news, I bought a dehydrator last week and am currently going crazy dehydrating everything possible. I’ve literally had the dehydrator going non-stop since it arrived. Skeptical Mark has pointed out that I tend to enthusiastically start projects and then quickly lose interest in them and he seems to think dehydrating will be another such fad. I don’t think so. Dehydrating is so easy that I don’t think it will take up much time I could later decide I’d rather be spending doing other things. Really the only time investment is chopping and I enjoy chopping. And buying dehydrated fruits and vegetables in incredibly expensive, so I’m very excited about the money I’ll save, for example on my trail mix. Plus, I can use the dehydrator for making tempeh and yogurt, both of which I’ve been meaning to get back into doing and now I have a great reason. I can also raise dough in it. I’ve never had a problem raising dough in the house, but if I want to time it a bit more precisely, the dehydrator’s temperature regulation will allow that. Also, although there are a couple of months left before I’ll need to come to terms with it, at some point the farmers market is going to close for the season and I’m going to freak out. So I’ve been trying to capture an essence of it by dehydrating what I can so I can use it over the winter.

Here’s what I’ve dried so far: tomatoes (there a another huge batch of tomatoes nearly ready to leave the dehydrator tonight), bananas, strawberries, (I have another quart and two huge bunches of bananas to get to this week), onion powder, carrots, and bell peppers. The latter two I may combine along with some potatoes, onions, and celery into a “soup mix”. When I’m desperate for a lunch to take into work, I’ll sometimes whip up a super-quick soup from a can of tomatoes, some bouillon, some dehydrated veggies, and orzo. I used some of my dried tomatoes on pizza last night and they were quite good.

I have also dried some garlic and am drying a whole bunch more right now, which I’ll grind into garlic powder. The dehydrator will also save me money at my notorious Penzeys binges! I’m also planning to make tofu jerky as a treat for Mark. I’ve made it before but it’s been a long time – anyone have a favorite tofu jerky recipe? What are your other favorite things to dehydrate? Any other creative uses for the dehydrator?

Not much else food-related has been going on. I’ve been super busy lately; annoyingly so. I can’t even remember what I’ve been cooking, I’ve been so busy. Lots of stuff involving farmers market fare, but I guess nothing earth-shattering enough that I’ve felt compelled to make a post, or maybe I just haven’t had time. I’m enjoying blackberry season; my current favorite snack is Daiya jack on crackers topped with blackberry:

As for animal news, I transported a baby chimney swift the other day and he was by far the cutest baby bird I’ve ever seen. This is a bad picture, but it’s all I have:

Today as I pulled into the raccoon sanctuary, there was a family of deer standing about five feet from my parking spot, so I wasn’t able to drive down the driveway. Instead I slowly got out of my car and started snapping pictures.

They eventually got tired of that and ran off, so I was able to park. Today was a big day for the last six raccoons in the nursery, who graduated to the big outdoor enclosures! I coined a new saying to replace one I hate, “curiosity killed the cat”: “curiosity captured the raccoon”. Unfortunately, out of context it sounds like a saying I would dislike just as much as the original because in general capturing raccoons is a bad thing. But raccoons who want to leave their baby cages in the nursery and move to their big-boy (and girl) enclosures outside need to be temporarily captured in a carrier in order to be transported. Many of you with cats may be familiar with the difficulty of putting an unwilling cat into a carrier. It CAN be the same, possibly even worse due to their super-dexterous fingers and toes, with raccoons, however, we were lucky with these six. We put some pork rinds (a raccoon favorite) in some carriers and simply waited for their curiosity to prevail and soon enough all six had climbed into a carrier and were briskly locked in and carried out to their new home. Raccoons are so curious we probably didn’t even need the pork rind incentive, but it sure didn’t hurt. I was so into this task I forgot to take pictures, but here is a picture from last week that I love, which incidentally is of a raccoon eating a pork rind…and smiling about it!

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Saag

I started this post – which isn’t even very long – three days ago and I’m only now finding the time to finish it. What’s more, I ate this dinner a week ago! I’ve always written up and published posts the same day as I’ve eaten the meal in the past. Unfortunately, that’s how busy I’ve been lately. The good news is that after a slump of a couple of months, I’m getting excited about cooking again so you should be seeing more from me. Of course, on the other hand, it’s about to be baby wildlife season which means the small amount of free time I have now is about to go away. But there’s good news there too because baby wildlife season means tons of pictures of baby raccoons – and maybe, JUST MAYBE (cross your fingers!), baby skunks – to share.

Enough blabber. On with the food. One of my favorite Indian dishes is saag, or spinach and mustard greens, but it’s often made with paneer, which is cheese, in restaurants, which means I can’t have it. What’s a girl to do but make it at home, right? Here’s what I did.

Saag

All the “1/2 tsp”s below? Yeah, I just wrote “1/2 tsp” as a guess. I didn’t really measure any of the spices.

10 oz spinach, chopped fairly well
1 small bunch mustard greens, chopped fairly well
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 heaping Tbsp grated garlic
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 dried chili peppers, lightly crumbled, or 1/4 tsp dried chili flakes
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp asofoetida
dollop vegan plain yogurt or vegan sour cream
salt to taste

Heat some oil in a large pot or skillet (a wok would work well) over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and stir a bit. When they start to pop, turn the heat down and add the fenugreek and cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until the fenugreek is beginning to brown, then add the turmeric and asofoetida, then the onions, chilis, garlic, and ginger. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the greens, in batches if you have to, letting some cook down a bit before adding another handful. Add a little bit of water if seems a little dry. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until the greens are soft. Salt to taste. Stir in a dollop of sour cream or yogurt (this is optional but adds a little bit of creamy tang that you’re not getting from the paneer that is so often added to this dish).

Here is the saag with some perfectly cooked basmati rice (thank you, rice cooker!).

Also served with chana masala and some naan. Yummy and makes for a good lunch the next day or two.

I came home well after dark most nights this week. Leaving work after the sun has set is always depressing to me, but it gets better when I come home and see this:

The fat one is Torticia and the prim one is Gomez. 🙂

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Chole Saag

Mark’s been sick this week and wasn’t up for dinner tonight. Long-time readers may know that when Mark doesn’t eat dinner, dinner is Indian! I’d been planning a nice autumn meal of seitan, kale, and delicata squash before he announced he wasn’t hungry, so I decided to save it for tomorrow instead of eating it alone. But then I eyed up the kale and considered how much I’d been looking forward to eating it…so I didn’t put it away.

Like a lot of my Indian meals, because they are generally impromptu affairs born of Mark’s refusal of dinner, this recipe was made up on the fly using ingredients I had on hand and needed to use up. I’d done a really smart thing Sunday afternoon after returning home from LA: I cooked up a pound of dried chickpeas, reserving some for salads, and freezing the rest. I also cooked up a large batch of rice and portioned it into single serving sizes, which were also frozen, ready for me to grab for a quick meal down the road. Tonight that quick meal was realized.

Chole Saag

1/2 large or 1 small onion, small dice
about 1″ of ginger, grated
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 bunch kale, chopped into fairly small pieces
8 oz spinach, also chopped into fairly small pieces
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water, plus additional (I start with 1/2 cup broth and add plain water)
salt to taste (I used Indian black salt, but regular old salt is fine)
asafoetida to taste (optional; I love the stuff)
lemon wedges, for serving

In a large pan, pot, or wok, heat some oil over medium high heat, then add the onions, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, turmeric, garam masala, and asafoetida if desired. Cook until soft, then add the kale. Stir and cook down slightly, then add the spinach. Stir and cook down again, then reduce heat to medium and add about 1/2 cup broth or water and the chickpeas. Cook for about 20 minutes, adding 1/4 cup of water or broth periodically if it looks dry. Salt to taste. Serve over basmati rice with lemon wedges.

Since I didn’t take prep photos (I didn’t know it would be blog-worthy!), this post seems uncharacteristically short. To make up for it, here are some pictures I took shortly before our vacation, when I spotted a cardinal outside the window taking a bath in an overturned planter. Not the greatest pictures since I was taking them through both a screen and dirty glass, but the subject is pretty.

I wasn’t the only one charmed!

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Chana Masala

Life’s been hectic! I constantly feel as if there are not enough hours in the day, even on weekends. Especially on weekends. I’m busy at work and in my personal life. Work intruded upon personal life this evening when I got home late. Waiting for me was an unhungry Smark, who confessed he’d filled up on tomato sandwiches all day. (We love tomato season in this household!) When Mark is not hungry or eating elsewhere, that ordinarily means Indian food, yay! But I was hungry and it was late, so I didn’t want to spend a long time making some authentic, perfectly spiced, slow cooked meal just for myself. What I did want to do, however, was use up the cooked chickpeas I had in the refrigerator, so I decided to make an easy, low-stress chana masala, which is Fortinbras’ favorite Indian meal. The “easy” part is that I didn’t measure any of the spices, although I’ve tried to estimate the amounts. Interestingly, midway through my meal, Mark showed up exclaiming, “that smells good; can I have some?” He then proceeded to have two servings, which he does every time I make Indian food. So how he can go around saying he doesn’t like Indian food is beyond me. Anyway, here’s what I did:

Chana Masala

3/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp asafoetida (this doesn’t usually go in channa masala, but I love the taste and even the smell of it; you can omit it)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp (or to taste) cayenne pepper
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp amchoor (dried mango powder; can substitute lemon juice, which you would add at the end of the cooking time)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground ginger (I was too lazy to use fresh, which I would ordinarily do)
1 tsp (or to taste) salt
4 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup frozen peas, optional (I like to have at least a bit of green in everything I make)

Heat some oil in a pot, like a Dutch oven, over medium high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they begin to pop, then turn the heat down and add the fenugreek and cook for a few seconds or so. Then add the cumin seeds, garlic, and asafoetida (if using) and cook about a minute. Next, turn the heat back up a bit and add the onions, turmeric, and cayenne and cook for about 7 or 8 minutes, or until the onions are well-cooked. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, amchoor, garam masala, paprika, ginger, and salt, and about half a (tomato) can of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are starting to break down. Add the chickpeas and cook for about 30 minutes, adding a half-cup or so of water if it gets too dry. Adjust the seasonings. If using, add the peas and cook until they are heated through. If you don’t have amchoor, add some lemon juice for tang.

I served it with roti.

Wow, I feel I’ve posted so infrequently this busy summer that we need to catch up! I made my first batch of beer and it was really good! So good I wish I’d made a lot more than a gallon. I’ve also been baking bread from the spent grains, which I’ve been dying to do ever since Peter Reinhart raved about it in Whole Grain Breads. I tried nagging the few people I know who have made beer before to make some more so I could have the grains, but finally I decided to just make my own damn beer! I can’t wait to make more. Any fellow brewers out there?

I got my copy of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food and I can’t wait to make everything in it! If I use it half as frequently as I use the original Papa Tofu, it’ll be worth far more than I spent on it. If you love Ethiopian food, you will love this zine. If you’ve never had Ethiopian food, now’s the time to find out what you’ve been missing!.

Mark has taken an interest in cooking and been making our Sunday meals for a couple of weeks now, which is nice because I’ve been so busy, especially on Sundays. He kept declining my requests to do a post until he surprised himself with his awesome summer roll-making skills yesterday and announced he may do a post after all. He submitted what he described as “the first chapter” of his upcoming post to me today and all I can say is, um, prepare yourselves. I’m not sure what you should do to prepare yourselves, but you may want to brew your own batch of beer and drink a few before attempting to read Mark’s manifesto theory of the universe science fiction novel recipe for summer rolls. In the meantime, here is his first Sunday meal: nutloaf.

Torticia is fat! She doesn’t overeat, so I’ve been trying to make her exercise more, with varying degrees of success. One thing I do is play “the food game” with them. The rules of this game are I throw pieces of dry food across the floor and they have to run after it and eat it. Their little chomping of each tiny bit of kibble reminds me of Pac-Man. They love this game and demand to play it several times a day. I try to get Tortilla Chip to run up and down the stairs as much as I can.

Gomez waits patiently.

She’s fat, but she can run.

And now, for your enjoyment, here are some pictures of raccoons, who are responsible for taking up a lot of my precious time, not that I’m complaining:

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Chickpeas in a Spicy Cilantro Sauce, and BABY RACCOONS!!

This is my adaption of Madhur Jaffrey’s chickpeas in a mint sauce recipe from World Vegetarian. (I’ve linked to a blog that has the original recipe, but I got it from the book itself and I highly recommend it.) I adapted it mostly because I didn’t have any mint, and anyway, I was a bit skeptical about getting Mark – who claims not to like Indian food – to eat anything that tasted too minty. I also made substitutions for other ingredients I didn’t have.

Chickpeas in a Spicy Cilantro Sauce

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked (if you have a pressure cooker, you can use non-soaked if you must)
1/2 cup toor dal (the original recipe called for chana dal, which I thought I had but didn’t; you can also substitute yellow split peas)
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 large tomato, chopped
fistful of tamarind, or a few tablespoons tamarind paste
1-2 Tbsp chopped ginger
5-6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 jalapeno, chopped
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, or, in my case 2 cubes frozen cilantro (from Trader Joe’s)
1/4 cup water
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp garam masala (I used the version in World Vegetarian)
1/4 tsp ground cumin

I actually soaked chickpeas when I left for work this morning, but managed to somehow overcook them when I started making this dish (I saved those for hummus), so I ended up using non-soaked chickpeas. So my time in the pressure cooker may be different than yours. Try just 5 minutes if pressure cooking soaked chickpeas, in water to just cover. I pressure cooked my non-soaked ones for 15 minutes in water to cover by about an inch. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook the soaked chickpeas in about 5 cups of water for an hour.

Measure the toor dal (or chana dal, or yellow split peas).

When the chickpeas are just barely tender, release pressure if pressure cooking, and open the cooker. Add the toor or chana dal and about a cup and a half of water. Bring back up to pressure and cook for another 15 minutes. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until both are tender.)

Meanwhile…

If you are using tamarind in non-paste form, place it in a glass and cover with hot water, and set aside. (These Luminarc glasses are a great size for this; they are kind of wide, which will later allow you to stick your hand in there.)

Hmm, that looks a little disturbing, but it’s really quite awesome.

Measure out the curry powder, ground coriander, garam masala, ground cumin, and salt.

I used Bolst’s curry powder.

Place the cilantro, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, and 1/4 cup water in a spice grinder or food processor.

Process until smooth.

Finely chop the onions.

Chop the tomato.

Stick your hand in the glass of tamarind and squish all around until it forms a paste.

Strain.

When the chickpeas are done, set them aside. (You can boil off extra liquid first if you need to.)

Heat some oil in a wok over medium high heat and add the onions.

Cook until browned.

Add the tomatoes and cook until they start to break down.

Add the cilantro mixture and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the chickpea and toor/chana dal mixture. If necessary, add some water to make it kind of – but not overly – soupy. Add the spices, then the tamarind paste to taste. (By the ratio of the original recipe, this would be a bit more than 2 Tbsp, but I like a lot of tamarind in mine so I added about 1/4 cup.)

Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover, and cook for half an hour.

Remember how I said Mark thinks he doesn’t like Indian food? Guess who had two large servings of this? Guess who said these were the greatest chickpeas in the universe?! Smark, that’s who!

In other news…

So we’ve been visited by a couple of raccoons for a while now; I call them Rocky and Rachel. They used to enjoy overturning our recycle bin. I was always excited to see them because I love raccoons. When Brachtune was alive, though, she HATED the raccoons. She would scream like a banshee! You never heard such terrible noises come from a cat. Gomez and Torticia are more accepting – when a raccoon peers into one of our sunroom windows, they just silently stare back.

Several weeks ago, the cats and I heard footsteps in the attic. I knew it was a raccoon because they were heavy steps, but Mark NEVER managed to be in the room when I’d hear them, and he insisted I was insane. I also saw Rachel scaling the side of the house, but still Mark denied there was ever a raccoon in the attic. I only heard her periodically, though, so I never did anything about it. As far as I was concerned, she could stop by to visit if she wanted.

Last week, though, I started hearing the noises not just above the sunroom, but above our bedroom – which is at the opposite end of the house – as well, and I realized we probably now had a new family of raccoons. They’re mostly nocturnal, so there was a lot of creaking and thumping around right over our heads all night long, which drove us out of the bedroom and made me sleep-deprived for days. And then the chattering began. You may not know this, but baby raccoons make a kind of purring noise that could easily be mistaken for birds if you don’t know what it is. It’s actually really cute (search for “raccoon chatter” on youtube), but when it’s right over your head and you’re trying to sleep – not so much.

I know a little bit (and am gradually learning more) about wildlife laws in Virginia, and I knew that we have a really, really, really stupid law that says that if you remove a wild animal from a property, it must be “euthanized” (read: murdered). Most wildlife removal services (in this state) will kill whatever they remove from your house; sometimes they lie and say they “relocate” it, but if that’s true, they are breaking the (very stupid) law. I didn’t want that to happen, so I told our landlord I would handle everything (except paying for it! I love renting!), and called our local wildlife rehabilitation organization, who directed me to a company that will not harm the animals.

So the guy came out, went up into the attic, and very quickly snapped up three baby raccoons while the mother watched, popping them into a soft, fuzzy bag. He came back down from the attic and let me pet one. There are three of them, they are two weeks old, their eyes aren’t open yet, and I nearly passed out from the insane cuteness.

Then he climbed the roof with his bag o’ babies and tried to get them to cry for their mother, hoping to entice her to come out through the attic fan (which is how he figured she’d been coming and going) and rescue the babies. (Seriously: ridiculously cute. Look at their little tails!)

Rachel wasn’t being cooperative, however, and refused to come out. This meant extra work for the guy, but secretly I was glad because while he spent 15-20 minutes closing up holes, installing a one-way door on the attic fan, and putting together a box for the babies, my job was to play with them!

Baby raccoons are crazy cute. I mean, THE cutest. They are about 1,000 times more cute in person than these pictures show.

They have these amazingly dexterous hands, which were already gripping me. It’s easy to see how when they get older they will be able to root through my garbage and pull it apart. They are also incredible climbers, and these little guys were already trying to climb around, even though they can’t see!

When I was finished petting and cooing over them, I put them back in their fuzzy sack and sat it on my lap to keep them warm. Do you know how awesome it is to have a sack of baby raccoons on your lap?! (I’m not kidding. These were the cutest things I’ve ever seen.)

Meanwhile, the raccoon guy had put a special box on the roof, and once he was able to wrest them away from me, he put the babies in it. It has a flap the mother can use to get in and out. Raccoons have many alternate dens available at all times, so usually if they don’t come out right away, they’ll come out that night and rescue the babies. Unfortunately, our Rachel only collected one of the babies overnight and we still have two on the roof (who were at least fed while mom was around). The raccoon guy is coming back tomorrow to check on them. Hopefully the last two will be gone as well, but if not, they’ll be taken care of. If the mother ends up abandoning them, they’ll go to a rehabilitator until they are old enough to survive on their own, then they’ll be released back into the wild.

Raccoons are beautiful, fascinating, wonderful creatures. If you find yourself in the situation we were in, where they, or any other wildlife, have invaded your house, please research the laws of your state – Maryland and DC have the same awful one Virginia does – and find someone who can humanely evict them for you.

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Roti (Indian flatbread)

As I’ve mentioned, since I got the great cookbook Cooking at Home with Pedatha, I’ve been determined to make more Indian food at home and convince Mark to like it. To that end, I decided to learn how to make roti, which I figured would entice the carb-loving Smark. Breads aren’t covered in Pedatha, but a quick google turned up this excellent video by Manjula, who made it seem so easy. If you are fortunate enough to have a gas stove, search for some of the other roti videos as well because it looks like it’s even more fun to make them on a gas stove (you puff them directly over the flame), but being stuck with an electric stove, I feel particularly attached to Manjula’s procedure.

I was worried that having years of experience, Manjula was making it look a lot easier than it really is, but I’m happy to report it really is (almost) that easy. The hard part is not getting it to puff (though they didn’t puff as nicely as those in the videos by people with gas stoves), but finding the perfect balance of using enough flour to prevent sticking when rolling but not adding so much the extra flour burns when frying. It probably took me a bit longer than Manjula to pull the roti together, but considering it was my first time making roti AND I was photographing every step (which requiring washing my hands every 30 seconds in order to be able to touch the camera), I’d say the time it takes to make these is really negligible and it’s easily doable for a weekday meal.

Roti
This recipe is direct from Manjula’s site, and I urge you to watch her video a couple of times because she demonstrates the process far better than I can.

1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat and ended up using 1 cup + 1 Tbsp)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup lukewarm water

Mix all ingredients. You can do this with your hands (or a wooden spoon) or cheat like I did and use a food processor (actually, I used a Sumeet grinder, but it’s an Indian machine so I decided it was okay…in fact, I think the instruction manual came with a recipe for roti, come to think of it).

Knead until it forms a very soft, cohesive dough. The consistency you are looking for might be a little more difficult to determine for people less accustomed to working with wet bread doughs, but if you watch Manjula’s video I think you’ll get the idea.

Drizzle just a couple of drops of oil on the dough to keep it from sticking and place it into a bowl. Cover and let sit for at least 10 minutes. (I went on a 45-minute walk at this point so mine sat for a while.)

When you are ready to make the roti, heat a very heavy – preferably cast iron – skillet over medium heat. I set my burner just a tiny smidge past “medium” and it seemed perfect. Do not add oil. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts.

Prepare a workspace by sprinkling it with flour. You want to use as little flour as possible to prevent sticking when rolling, but the dough is going to stick, so don’t be too stingy either. Take one of the balls and flatten it, turning it in the flour to coat.

Roll the dough into a circle; don’t worry how rough your circle is. (Mine were awful!) Constantly turn the dough over and sprinkle with and roll in additional flour to prevent sticking. You’re striving for a 5-6″ wide circle.

Place the flattened dough into the hot skillet.

It will cook very quickly and you will see bubbles forming on the top as the edges lift up.

When the top surface changes appearance, flip the roti over with a spatula. Use the spatula to press down on the roti as it cooks; this helps it puff up.

Flip it back over and cook another few seconds.

The roti is done when it’s puffed up and has brown (but not burnt) spots on both sides. As you finish with each roti, move it to a stack with the others, keeping them covered with a tea towel. Ideally put the tea towel in a covered container to completely trap the steam, although just a towel worked fine for me.

The finished roti:

From the cookbook, I made vegetable sambhar.

it may have made more sense to serve the roti with something other than sambhar (which the cookbook suggested I serve with idli or steamed rice) but I’m not known for always making sense. And the sambhar was thick enough to scoop up with the roti anyway.

This was a SUCCESS! When I announced dinner was ready to Mark, I added, “I hope you eat it,” to which he asked, suspiciously, “why, is it Indian?” and I answered, “what it is is yummy!” “It’s basically lentil soup and bread,” I added in my most convincing manner. He poked the sambhar with a spoon and sniffed it, again, with an air of suspicion. Then he ladled a small amount into a bowl and scooped it up with a roti. “It’s good!” he said, somewhat surprised, returning to the pot to fill his bowl. His final verdict: “it may be Indian, but it’s good anyway!” There’s hope for him yet!

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Red Gram with Spinach

Sorry, but this post is just a teaser. I think I first read about Cooking at Home with Pedatha on Tigers & Strawberries, or maybe it was Mahanandi, but in either case I’ve had it on my wish list forever. I recently decided I was going to start making more Indian food – whether Mark likes it or not! – and immediately ordered this very nice cookbook with so many rave reviews. I received it yesterday and as Mark is out of town again, tonight was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

I made Red Gram with Spinach, or Palakooora Pappu. It was REALLY good!

The book is really nice – almost too nice. As in, it’s so nice I’m afraid to get it dirty and all my favorite cookbooks are filthy. It’s very pretty to look at, has full-colour photos of every dish, contains a pictorial glossary of just about every ingredient so you can find it in your Indian grocery store, and makes the dishes seem a lot simpler to pull together than it sometimes seems Indian recipes are. In fact, this meal took me less than half an hour to make and 15 minutes of that was pressure cooking the dhal (gram), which required no supervision.

Want to see it closer up?

I can’t wait to make more recipes from this book, and maybe I’ll adapt a few to put up here. All I need to do is convince Mark he’s going to like these recipes as much as I do…

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Tomato Dal, and quick papad snack

After nearly 8 years of living together, I am still excited to see Mark when I get home from work and I miss him when he’s not here for dinner. Nonetheless, on the infrequent occasions that we don’t eat together (or at least eat the same meal), I am happy to be able to make Indian food, of which he’s not that fond. Upon hearing he’d be out with a friend tonight, I leapt at the chance to put some of the Indian supplies I bought recently to use, but I was starving when I got home. I could barely think straight, so instead of improvising or coming up with something on my own, I once again turned to Mahanandi and made a soup straight from Indira’s site: Tomato Dal.

Adding to my excitement was the fact that I stopped by Super H on my way home from work and happened to pick up some fresh curry leaves, not knowing when I’d be able to use them. (In fact, because Super H is usually the only place I can buy them and because they sell them in quantities much larger than I can ever use at one time and because I’m often annoyed that I don’t have any curry leaves, I’m thinking about trying to dry them.) I was able to use a few of them tonight!

This is another recipe that is going to tempt those of you who have been telling me you’re thinking of overcoming your worries about pressure cookers…

Tomato Dal
From Indira at Mahanandi

1/2 cup toor dal (yellow pigeon peas)
1 1/2 cups water
1 large tomato, chunked
1 onion, chunked
1 cayenne pepper (Indira calls for 6-8 green chilis; I used what I had on hand)
1/4 tsp turmeric
marble-sized piece of tamarind
1 tsp salt
a few curry leaves (optional; I know they can be hard to find and when I can’t, I just skip them)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds

Measure the toor dal and chunk the tomato and onion.

Place the above as well as the water, chili, turmeric, and tamarind in the pressure cooker.

Cover and heat over high until it comes up to pressure, then reduce heat to low or medium low and cook until the dal is falling apart. Now, Indira says this will take 10 to 15 minutes, but I think she must have soaked her dal first (I’ve seen her advise elsewhere doing so for about an hour) because mine was still hard after 14 or 15 minutes. One of the few drawbacks of using a pressure cooker is you have no idea how done something is without releasing the pressure (which takes time, though using the “quick” release method, not much), and if it’s not done, you have to go through the process of bringing it back up to pressure to continue cooking. The good news is it’s hard to overcook dal, so I upon finding it not done, I just brought it up to pressure and cooked for another 15 minutes. When the dal is so soft it’s falling apart, add the salt and mash the dal up with the back of a large wooden spoon or a wide spatula.

Bring a bit of oil up to temperature in a small skillet or pan and then add the curry leaves, cumin, and mustard seeds, frying until the mustard seeds pop. (You can do this step while the dal is cooking; it can cool in the pan before using.) When the dal is ready, stir contents of the skillet or pan into the dal.

Serve with rice. (You can’t see it but there’s a serving of rice under the dal; it got mixed together before being eaten.)

As I mentioned, I was famished when I got home, and although I thought the dal would take me 15, not 30, minutes, that still wasn’t fast enough for me to get food into my system. So as soon as the dal was in the pressure cooker, I made myself a snack of papads. Papads are very thin, crispy wafers made from lentil (or other) flour and spices. They are often served as appetizers in Indian restaurants. I like them as a snack because they are quick, tasty, and healthier than chips (my favorite kind says there are 136 calories and 0.66 grams of fat per 100 grams, which, as they’re about 11 grams each, is about 50 to 70 grams more than I usually eat at a time). This is my favorite brand, although the reason it’s my favorite has nothing to do with the taste and everything to do with the label because I find it hilarious:

Here is an uncooked papad. My favorite flavor is asafoetida, although if you aren’t familiar with the smell of asafoetida, I have to warn you you might not like it. They are also spicy from black pepper. You can get plain and other flavors as well.

Another great thing about papads is you can microwave them! It’s best to microwave them individually; they don’t like being crowded. It takes about 45 seconds per papad. This one is nearly, but not quite, done.

You can also cook them over an open flame. I did this from time to time when I had a gas stove, using tongs, turning it constantly. You should also be able to cook them on an electric stove by cooking them in a dry skillet (flip them a couple of times). However, the microwave is really the easiest and fastest.

Here are my cooked padads, ready for snacking:

I served them (to myself) with mango chutney and lime pickle.

In completely unrelated news, here’s Renae’s Random Fact of the Day: Quarks – the particles that are components of hadrons such as protons and neutrons – were named after this passage in Finnegan’s Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark. And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

I’m a big fan of Ulysses, and in fact one of my primary domain names comes from a word that’s repeated in it, but I’ve never even attempted Finnegan’s Wake. I’m reading Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages right now – I periodically punctuate my relentless reading of novels with books on string theory – and about this fun quark fact, Randall says, “This, so far as I can deduce, is pretty much unrelated to the physics of quarks except for two things: there were three of them, and they were difficult to understand.” Lisa Randall is funny! Also, I may start calling Mark Muster Mark. Maybe he’ll like that better than Smark.

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Tomato Rasam

I often order tomato rasam as a starter in Indian restaurants because I love the tomato-y, sour, super-spicy flavor of it. Seeing super-ripe, very flavorful tomatoes at the farmers’ market makes me think of it and this week I managed to keep Mark off the four large tomatoes I bought, so I was very excited to make rasam with them tonight. I based my recipe off Indira’s version on Mahanandi, though I also tried to make it taste like what I get at the restaurant down the street from us. To make it more like the latter, I think I need to spice it up a bit more next time, but this was delicious and Mark, who doesn’t normally like Indian food (what’s wrong with him?!) really liked it, too.

Tomato Rasam

4 large, very ripe tomatoes
2″ piece tamarind
2 cups water, divided
1″ lump jaggery, or 1 Tbsp brown sugar
a few springs fresh cilantro, or cheat like me and used a lump of frozen cilantro
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
8 dried red chilis + 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (or whatever amount/combination gives the heat you can tolerate)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp asoefetida
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp oil (I used mustard oil)

Core the tomatoes.

Chop them roughly and place in large bowl (or right in the soup pot so as to not dirty a dish unnecessarily).

Here is what tamarind looks like when you buy it in a package. I think it looks like nougat. You can also buy tamarind concentrate, which I always have on hand, but since you have to squeeze the tomatoes I figured I’d squeeze the tamarind right along with them (as Indira describes).

Break off a piece of the tamarind and put in the bowl with the tomatoes. Tamarind purchased this way contains the stones of the fruit. If you feel one when you are squeezing, you can remove it, but you need not worry about it because the soup will be strained later.

Add a cup of water to the bowl or pot, wash your hands, then stick them in and start squeezing! Try to grab and squeeze some of the tamarind every time because it needs a bit more massaging than the tomatoes to break down. Here’s the bowl after a minute or so of squeezing:

Continue until the tomatoes are well broken up.

If the tomatoes are in a bowl, transfer to a large soup pot. Add the remaining water, jaggery or sugar, cilantro, salt and pepper, ground coriander and ground cumin, and chili peppers and/or flakes.

Meanwhile, heat a mere 1/4 tsp of oil in a small frying pan, then add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and fry until the mustard seeds pop, then add to the soup.

Cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes. I like mine pretty sour and when it didn’t taste sour enough to me, I added some tamarind concentrate.

Place a colander into a large bowl (it doesn’t matter if seeds and other small matter pass through, so I didn’t use a sieve because they are so hard to clean) , then pour the rasam into it.

Push down on the tomatoes with the back of a soon or a spatula.

Remove the strainer and there’s your rasam!

You can eat it plain, or do as we did and put some rice in your bowl …

… and then add the soup.

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