clean as a whistle corn on the cob

I know summer’s right around the corner because I purchased my first ears of corn from the grocery this week, and know that in a couple more months it’ll be available at the farm markets. My favorite way to eat corn is to cream it the way generations of women in my family did it, and still do as far as I know, but Hubby and the rest of our little family here in Utah prefer it on the cob, cooked on the grill or steamed. [Incidentally, my son-in-law who grew up in Germany is appalled that anyone in his right mind would eat it at all (!) because Europeans all know that corn is pig food. To that I say oink, oink, oink. Simply leaves more for me!]

With near perfect timing, a friend recently sent us a link to a video demonstrating a way to prepare it without having the brush the silks out. It combines taking the shuck off and cooking in a couple of easy steps, so naturally Hubby and I could hardly to wait try it ourselves. I’m here to affirm it works beautifully! Comes out clean as a whistle with nary a pesky silk hanging on! All you need to do for perfection is to slather it with a little butter.

Now this may be all old news for you, but if so I won’t apologize. If you knew already, then why didn’t you tell me!?

Credits: video via YouTube, photo of butter/sugar corn licensed under creative commons (catchesthelight/flickr).

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.

Thinking and Cooking and Smelling . . . Garlic

Do you ever get sick and tired of thinking about, preparing and cooking meals either for yourself or your family? What kind of tricks do you have for keeping things fun and interesting in the kitchen? If you have any tips that work for you, please take the time to comment. As a not-so-interested in cooking anymore woman, I can use all the help I can get.

I’ve recently set myself a new goal in an effort to get re-acquainted with the act of not just cooking, but enjoying the production of a simple meal at home. So I’ve set out to find interesting new recipes and methods for cooking, all with the main focus for such meals to fall under one main heading: S I M P L E. These recipes should also be geared to two or less people who don’t eat as much as they did when they were in their thirties, because while Hubby loves to eat the same leftovers days on end, I cannot stomach the same dish more than two times in a row before I’m ready to dump it in favor of something new and fresh. And in our kitchen the rule is and always has been, if Mama ain’t happy with it, then ain’t nobody happy with it. I hope that doesn’t sound self-centered, just that the cook–whoever that may be–has to like it first.

One of my more interesting finds was the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Garlic Lovers’ Greatest Hits, which is a collection of 20 years of prize-winning recipes collected from the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, and you can get your own copy here (used) for as little as $1.99. For those who may not be familiar with this festival, it’s a yearly tradition started in 1979 as a fund raiser for local charities. Usually held the last weekend of July, the festival is sometimes referred to as the “festival of the stinking rose,” and if you’re driving in from points east (or any other way for that matter), you can tell when you’re getting close by the smell penetrating your car which gets even more pungent when you stop and open the door. Everything offered in the food booths there (for 2008 at least) must have at least six cloves of garlic in it to fit the recipe competition rules. You can buy anything from dried garlic & floral head garlands to garlic ice-cream, and eat so much garlic-laced food you’ll have garlic oozing from the pores of your skin. While I’m one who actually enjoys the smell of garlic, whether in a dish or on my hands after chopping or mincing it, from the pores of my skin–not so much!–ever since I ate dinner at The Stinking Rose in San Francisco and literally got sick after a garlic overload. So if you decide to go, be forewarned.

As to the subject at hand, relearning to enjoy cooking, on a recent chilly spring day that lent itself to cooking in the oven, I decided to try a slightly revised version of Jo’s Baked Garlic Soup from the aforementioned cookbook. She made it with heavy cream or whipping cream; I toned down the fat content a bit by using non-fat half-n-half instead. I call my version Baked Garlic/Vegetable Soup, and while I’m sure the real cream version would be stupendous, the half-n-half was pretty damn good, too. Paired with a salad and a loaf of hard bread, this one fits my criteria very well, while using all fresh ingredients. Also, soup lends itself to leftovers that can be safely refrigerated a few days.

Baked Garlic/Vegetable Soup

2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
1 can (~15 oz) garbanzo beans, undrained
4 or 5 summer squash, sliced
2 large onions, sliced
½ green pepper, diced
1 ½ cups dry white wine
4 or 5 fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon paprika
1 ¼ cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup grated Romano cheese
1 ¼ cups non-fat half-n-half (or as Jo did, heavy cream or whipping cream)

Generously butter the inside of a 3-quart baking dish (I used a 4 1/2 quart Dutch oven since the smaller baking dish was difficult to stir without slopping over). Combine all ingredients, except for the cheese and cream, in dish.

Cover and bake for an hour and a half at 375 degrees. Stir in cheeses and cream, lower heat to 325 and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Serves 4-6.

Great Cookbooks: more than a recipe collection!

Beginning sometime last summer, the leaves on a two-year-old violet in my family room began to turn white, beginning with the leaves at the pot edge and continuing over the wintertime, until there were only a few green leaves left in the center. I added the liquid fertilizer from the plant store, the kind made with chemicals, but the green in the center kept getting smaller and smaller until there was only a smidgen of green color left.

Then as I was brewing tea one day I decided on a whim not to throw them away, as was my usual habit, but instead sprinkled them around the roots of the sickly violet. If I hadn’t done and seen it myself I’m not sure I would have believed it, but–within days–the green circle began to widen from the center. Now, the plant is looking quite healthy; there are only a few white and pale green leaves left around the edge of the pot, and I predict it’ll be totally green in a few days. It hasn’t shown signs of blooms yet, but I’ll bet it won’t be long. And my thumb feels and looks a tiny bit greener too. So, just where is this leading, you ask?

Well, this weekend I was reading through a cookbook you’ve probably heard of–Bert Greene’s GREENE on GREEN–a vegetable cookbook. As I often do, once I’ve discovered or re-discovered a book or an author I like, I go to the internet and google them to see what else I can learn about them, other books they’ve written, etc. Now keep in mind that I’d just picked up the book Friday night and started idling through the pages that night, and then just last night, (Monday) was looking through it again trying to pin down which recipe to try first, the Tater’N’Tomater pie recipe he was given by a woman in San Antonio after a department store cooking demonstration, or Batter Fried Kale, the idea of which intrigued me. I was not prepared for, nor could I have been more startled by what I was to read from the first of the searches:

May 19, 2008: Bert Greene, a cookbook author and food columnist, died of a heart attack Friday at New York Hospital. He was 65 years old and lived in Manhattan and Amagansett, L.I.

Oh my! When did he die, I wondered, so I quickly glanced at the date and source and found it was an online version of the New York Times obituary section, and the date was Monday, May 19, 2008, and he had died Friday, May 16th. Just as I was beginning to become acquainted with vegetable master Bert Greene it was strange to think that he’d just died, perhaps at the very moment I’d first begun leafing through the pages of his book, full of the stories about the beginning of his lifelong affair with vegetables. It was a little like reading the beginning and then switching to the last page of a novel before you’ve finished the middle. Life is full of little ironies.

You can learn a lot of interesting stuff in some cookbooks, and this one was much more than a collection of recipes. In it Green relates the story about how his grandmother used the water she cooked vegetables in to sprinkle on the gladiolas, dahlias, and tulips. We called that vitamin-laden water pot-liquor where I grew up. “Bulb plants,” she insisted. “Not roots,” she emphasized to her young grandson of about eight at the time. “Soup stock or fish broth is what makes a root grow strong. And as a special treat, maybe a little meat juice once in a while.”

I remember how my own mother and grandmothers too used every bit of the water they pumped from their new fangled pump on the porch by the kitchen. The water left in the pot after cooking vegetables was either given to us to drink as a snack or at dinner, or it was poured over slices of cornbread to eat. Most every drop was consumed, and what wasn’t was poured on the flowers that grew outside near the kitchen steps, nothing ever wasted. I thought of the giant sized elephant ears that grew from bulbs by the porch. Had Aunt Annie poured her pot-liquor over them to get them to grow leaves so wide?

With these new insights gleaned from Bert Greene’s Yogoslavian grandmother, the tea leaves saving my sick violet, and remembering my Aunt Annie’s giant sized elephant ear plants, I may just have learned something about living a little greener. And I leave with one more moving story from the book. It seems when his grandmother died, Greene’s grandfather took over her beloved garden and it survived for another seventeen years:

“. . . because my grandfather doggedly took over the task of its cultivation. It was not an easy chore for an old man with a bad leg and no apparent horticultural skills, but clearly he undertook the enterprise as a memorial to his wife.”

Have you ever heard of anything so romantic? Now go find your own cookbook to read. No telling what you’ll learn about when you do. More than how to cook in the best ones. You’ll see!

Update: Tuesday, May 20, 2008: Is my face red! I’m reading the book page by page now and read a revealing sentence: “I grew up in the drear days of the 1930’s” which sent me back to google. I find I didn’t read the fine print under the headline that reads: published June 12, 1988. Is my face red?! Changes the whole timbre of this piece doesn’t it? But hell, the book is still a great treatise on vegetables. I’ll share one of the recipes with you one of these days.

Seven Random Things About Me

I was tagged by G at Big Apple to Big Bear to write another meme making the rounds, seven random things about me. Because the cartoon I drew for yesterday’s class and thought I’d post here today didn’t turn out so well, I decided to do the meme today instead. Too bad I’ve lost any inclination I ever had to draw good cartoons. Getting old makes me lazy! As an assignment we were to draw a cartoon character and fashion a hat for it from odds and ends around the house to signify the 500th hat of Bartholomew Cubbins. (Dr. Seuss’s first published book THE FIVE HUNDRED HATS of Bartholomew Cubbins)  So instead of my tacky cartoon character, here’s what you get instead:

(1) Since G (above) lives in Berlin, I was reminded of my visit to Berlin in the late 1990’s. It was around this time of year and I remember it rained a lot and was quite a dreary city overall. Hubby and I stayed in a B&B hostel and rode the buses and trains everywhere. In every one of my travels abroad I’ve noticed how easily people can tell who the Americans are. It’s our clothes! I like bright colors, and because I’d just come from a week in India where it was hot, I had mostly summer clothes with me. Lots of white slacks and bright colored kurtas and blouses and sandals. Everywhere I went, people were dressed only in dark colors, mostly black. I might as well have painted a sign on my back. AMERICAN! but I had a great time anyway. I loved the big department store restaurants popular for afternoon cake and tea. The parks were luscious, the museums superb, I especially enjoyed Saturday morning at the Turkish outdoor market. AND Hubby and I fell asleep during a performance of the Berlin Symphony (jet lag).

(2) I have a bad habit of doing the laundry and a million other things at the same time. That often means bringing the clothes up from downstairs and carefully folding them over the dining room chairs so as not to wrinkle until I can get them folded. Then I get too pooped from everything else I’m doing and they often stay there for a day or two until I get around to folding and putting them away. It’s an awful habit made all the easier because there are seldom visitors to our house during the week. I get away with it because I CAN! (Today’s laundry is waiting there for me right this minute!)

(3) I started taking writing courses at Ohio U in 1987. One of the first things I ever wrote was a children’s book that I called A KITE FOR BALU about a small boy in India and his infinite patience waiting for a kite to fall from its tangled resting place in the tree outside his grandmother’s home. It was the first thing I ever sent out to a publisher. Lo and behold, it initiated some interest and the editor pitching it asked me if I could rewrite it for a different age group. Well, I didn’t know enough about writing at the time but I said I would and did. But it was turned down, and I could certainly understand why. It had lost the charm and the flavor of whatever worked so well in the first version. I think back and know that it’s good it was turned down; otherwise I might have gotten cocky and quit going to school to learn how to write.

(4) I hate to cook! For about eighteen years I cooked essentially two meals, one meatless for Hubby who’s a vegetarian who doesn’t care much for vegetables or fruit unless they’re cooked to death, another with meat for the girls growing up, so they would be invited to friends for dinner without worry. I used to like baking, but since we moved to a high altitude here along the Wasatch I haven’t yet re-mastered my baking technique. Now that he’s retired and home 24/7, it sometimes feels like food is on my mind constantly. I married him for better or for worse but not for lunch! Poor Hubby. He puts up with me. He’s a saint. (But don’t tell him I said that!)

(5) I like people, but I have to admit that sometimes I like animals more. If I were filthy rich I’d buy a huge facility where I could take in all the homeless animals in the world and take care of them. the way I see it people make messes of their own lives, but too many animals have to put up with the mess humans make of their lives. I worry about wild animals and those who don’t have homes or have bad keepers. I keep a little two-story carpet-covered “apartment” thingie outside below the upper deck so the cat that runs around the neighborhood all winter will find a warm place to sleep when it snows. Hubby says they let him inside at night, but I’m not so sure!

(6) When I visited my mother-in-law in India for the first time she didn’t know what to do with me. For a highest caste Brahmin such as she I was an untouchable you see, and I knew from the stories Hubby had told me that as soon as we left, she’d probably be scrubbing the benches I’d sat on while I was there. So he told her I was an American Brahmin. I couldn’t touch her, yet she was adamant about preparing food for me to eat while there to show her hospitality for her infidel daughter-in-law. I don’t think it was for my benefit at all, but I noticed she had a picture of Jesus Christ, the one with the beating heart on the chest, in a frame on the wall. There was also a portrait of Hubby’s deceased father as a young man. They were the spitting image of each other (Hubby and his father, not Jesus).

(7) I’d rather read or write or tell stories than eat when I’m hungry, which only exacerbates the situation of which I speak in item #4. In fact when I’m doing any one of those things I often forget to eat unless Hubby reminds me it’s time! And now it’s time to stop just because I’ve shared seven random things already. But I could go on and on. Aren’t you glad I’m limited to seven?

Thanks G. This turned out to be both easy and fun, and fast too. Now I’ll pass the gauntlet to another of my new young blogger friends on Strawberry Mountain. How about it Monni? Seven things! And if anyone else reading this is hankering to give it a go, please be my guest!