colorful, spicy and healthful indian cooking

Over the years I have prepared Indian (or Indian-style) dishes, even developed a few of my own when I used to cook a lot. The past few years, I’ve been very reluctant and usually leave the Indian meals for Hubby to prepare. He does an admirable job, too, but I still have this innate desire to be able to whip up a fantastic Indian meal myself. I have a few good Indian cookbooks, and I’ve turned out some decent meals with the help of some of them, but what I’m missing in (most of) them, is technique. I didn’t grow up in India learning to cook at the knee of an Indian mother, so I’m short on technique as well as imagination.

So whenever a Wintersong reader (and blogger friend) left a comment suggesting some Indian recipes, I remembered a discovery I made months ago that renewed my hope in learning how to cook Indian dishes seat of the pants style, i.e., without recipes. I’m still working on it, and want to share my discovery with my readers. The video below is one of six of a series called Healthful Indian Cooking by Alamelu Vairavan of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In it, Alamelu will show you how to prepare a typical Indian vegetarian meal of Lemon Rice, Eggplant Masala, and Lima Bean Poriyal. She also takes you shopping in an Indian grocery store to explain how different rices taste.

Here’s my tip of the day for you: don’t worry about trying to jot down the ingredients while you watch. At the end of each dish preparation, the ingredients are listed. Just pause the video and copy them down so you’ll be able to actually read it when you’re ready to try them yourself. Also, I’ve made a list of the other five episodes that I consider eye candy for foodies. If you enjoy #101, you’ll probably want to see the others as well. They’re all on YouTube, and each contains nutritional information and tips in choosing ingredients, and runs about 27 minutes.

#102: features a Raita (Cucumber/Tomato/Yogurt Salad), Garlic & Pepper Chicken, a colorful rice dish featuring vegetables.
#103: featuring Cauliflower Masala, Green Beans Poriyal, Black-eyed Peas Kulambu, plus a visit to a farmer’s market to choose vegetables.
#104: featuring Brussels Sprouts Kulambu, Roasted Potatoes, Turkey Podimas cooked with split peas and coconut, plus a tour of an Indian grocery to learn about spices used in Indian cooking.
#105: features Tuna Masala, a Carrot Sambhar, Chickpea & Mango Soondal, and tips of how to select the right kind of lentils at an Indian grocery.

Finally, I thought you might find this little-known fact–about me–a little interesting. It’s my Indian name. An Indian friend of ours since more than 40 years ago, Gangs, an Indian friend of ours at the time, decided I should have an Indian name. Since my real name was and is considered “old-fashioned” in the U.S., Gangs reasoned that I needed an “old-fashioned Indian” and came up with Alamelu. He claimed it was very old-fashioned. Years later, when Hubby and his three brothers were performing a ceremony of homage at the one-year anniversary of their father’s death, the Brahman priest asked for the names of the son’s wives. When it came time to provide mine, they were at a loss as how to translate Alice into Tamil, so Alamelu was substituted. Thus, my (unofficial) Indian name has been Alamelu for about 45 years. Now you understand how I was attracted to this video when it first came to my attention. Since the video Alamelu is actually younger than me, I surmise the name has enjoyed a resurgence as India, just as mine has (in various spellings) in this country.

a late christmas story

Not many weeks ago on a windy evening as we were hurrying to the entrance of the Broadway–to see  MORNING GLORY I believe–I saw the familiar face of a skinny man with shaggy beard and knitted stocking cap standing outside the theater holding a beat-up cello he sometimes plays if enough people are about for an audience. I’ve seen him many times before and wondered about him but was always in too much of a hurry and a little bit afraid to get involved.

Most people usually are in a hurry–trying to get to the theater on time, trying to get out of the rain or cold, and many pay him very little mind. Then there’s also that bad experience I had a few years ago when a mentally-unbalanced or drug-crazed homeless man in a wheelchair seemed to be chasing me down the street, haranguing me about the government’s bad treatment as I hurried to get away from him. I’m often reluctant to look directly at street people sometimes, I think, because there’s the thought that in different circumstances that might have been me. Had I not had the family I had, the advantages I’ve enjoyed, known the people I’ve known.

So there was that little man again, and how I was going to act this time? I hurried to catch up with Hubby–I was a good 8 or 10 steps behind him as he walked briskly ahead of me to secure a place in the line inside the entry door where the line was already snaking up the stairs. For some inexplicable reason though, instead of hurrying by, that night I paused and looked straight at this strange little man standing there alone with his cello, and without even thinking  about it I said something, can’t remember exactly what–probably some pleasantry about the weather–but it didn’t really matter because I smiled as I hurried on this time.

“You are a very kind lady,” he called after me.

Taken somewhat aback by his response, I remember shaking my head and saying “No, not really,” admittedly more to myself more than him.

Later, thinking back on it, I could still feel the warm feeling that always creeps in unbidden when you let your guard down just a little during those what I call serendipitous moments just being yourself.

When I opened the paper a day or two before Christmas I was gratified to finally have part of the mystery of that little encounter solved.

My street musician had a name after all. Eli Potash. He says he’s not that “good a musician” but “you know what I am? Good with my hands” and for 15 years he’s been playing his cello downtown, mostly for moviegoers outside the Broadway Cinemas. Sometimes he rests and warms up from the cold at a nearby bar where a local trio plays. That’s where he met the Daniel Day Trio, who sometimes play in the Red Door martini bar. From the Tribune feature story I read that the group had struck up a friendship with Potash and occasionally play with him, collecting donations from listeners. Day noticed the beat-up cello and remembered an old one of his that had been collecting dust a few years. One thing led to another–someone else donated labor to refurbish it, then the trio purchased a new instrument case for it from the donations because, as Day said, “He’s (Eli) somebody who could use some love and some care and some thought.”

And so it was that on another windy night not long passed, during the holiday festivities, they all played a rendition of Silent Night together in front of the Broadway. After they finished, they presented Potash with the new cello, all wrapped up in giftwrap. All this was caught on video by Sidewinder Media’s Rusty Sessions, and it’s been posted on YouTube. It’s not polished and slick, and it does lag in places, but it is a perfect example of the real spirit of Christmas, and it’s the Christmas story I was hoping to write. Here it is if you’d like to see it yourself. (At 11:21, it’s a bit long, but Eli’s Silent Night begins about 4 minutes in if your time is limited.)

the critters deck the halls

Twelve more shopping days until Christmas. My holidays are getting complicated more than I wish–trying to get things done for the holiday and travel at the same time is a huge challenge–the usual traditions, cookies, fruitcake, the holiday cards, shopping, etc. I didn’t need the additional complication of a rheumatoid arthritis flareup too, but got it all the same. (Someday I’ll try to explain how RA differs from Osteoarthritis, as the difference is dramatic.) My oncologist told me that the chemo treatment I received often inhibits RA for long periods. Alas, I only made it around seven months.

Since we’re trying to be prepared to leave the country, it’s become necessary to reinstate the RA treatments. We’re trying now to get the necessary insurance permissions as well–all before we leave. Once begun it should be reasonably easy. Two intravenous solution every six months at an interval of two weeks. That means I’ll need to have the first one accomplished by Christmas, with the second part done two weeks later, in order to make it in time for traveling.

Since it’s also an open enrollment period for Medicare, that points to additional delays as insurance companies are busy. Meanwhile the clock ticks down. Nothing to do but believe things will work out.

It’s pretty well accepted among health professionals that pets have a calming effect on a lot of people. I no longer have any pets, so I kinda use my backyard critters as substitutes, but I can’t invite them in to sleep on my lap like my cats (and my Bichon Charley) used to. So when I found this video featured on my Facebook page a short time ago, I watched it several times. And laughed and laughed. And felt better. So if the holiday flurry or a health related issue is beginning to get to you, do watch it. If you love animals, I guarantee you’ll love it. And it’ll only take two minutes and 46 seconds. I have a feeling I may need to watch it a lot next week.