Sunday, April 24, 2011

All Indian - vegetarian Easter Sunday

I trotted out to one of our local shops today to buy a bottle of sparkling water. As luck had it, a particularly well-stocked Indian shop was open so I raided the shelves.

First a bag of channa dal to make a spicy dal mix with onions and tomatoes.

Next pappadams. I bought a bag flavoured with cumin.

Then, I wondered if I could find a jar of chutney without added sugar. I've made chutneys before, usually a mango one, but as I didn't have any mangoes in, it seemed a good opportunity to try a bought one.

The first jar I picked up listed sugar as the main ingredient. It got put down very quickly. I headed for the savoury pickles instead, chilli, hot lime, vegetable ones or hot ones. They didn't list sugar in the ingredients, probably because there was enough sweetness from the fruit in the pickles. I looked at the three jars I had selected and reluctantly put two back. I settled for mixed pickle. Check out the Patak web site for recipes and products. I was pretty impressed by it which is a rare occurence. It's well-designed, easy to use, and very informative. The ingredients of each product are listed, and there is a guide as to how hot the product is. The mixed pickle was very hot apparently.

Back home I flicked through my excellent Indian book - Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery by Julie Sahni - and settled on a coriander chutney.

So here we go.

Listed ingredients in the pappadams: urid flour, cumin, asafoetida, salt, sodium bicarb as raising agent, oil, and other spices.

Instructions for cooking are: 1) fry quickly in hot oil 2) microwave 3) cook over hot flame. Well as 2) and 3) are out here that left 1). But I've fried them before and not been happy with the result. A bit of lateral thinking and I figured the equivalent of a hot flame could be a hot grill.

Quickly grilled pappadams

And there they are. Quite perfect. Served as a starter with the bought pickle and the home-made chutney. (I'd had to try the pickle before we ate of course. Excellent.)

Served with pickle and chutney

Coriander chutney
Add large bunch of coriander leaves to blender container, plus green chillies to taste, some salt, a couple of slices of ginger, lemon juice or white wine vinegar, and 3-4 fl ozs of water. Mint leaves are optional and luckily I found a few in with my coriander bunch.

Chutney ingredients

Whizz up and that's it. Takes no time at all. Next time I would use more vinegar and less water, but that's because we like vinegar here. I suppose it's similar to mint sauce with coriander added.

It keeps for a couple of days in the fridge.

Finished chutney

Spice-perfumed dal
Add lentils or channa dal or whatever to water, with a teaspoon of turmeric, and as many green chillies as you like. Let simmer away merrily while you get on with everything else. Channa dal takes longer than lentils but has more texture when finished.

Dal under way

Prepare the onion and tomato mix. Chop them all finely.

Add onions to frying pan with oil (I use olive). When golden add tomatoes and grated ginger.

When soft and pulpy, add to dal mix.

For spice perfumed butter, ie oil in my case, put oil in frying pan, heat, and add panch phoron to pan. This is a mix of seeds: fennel, fenugreek, black onion, mustard and cumin in equal proportions. Add around a tablespoon in total. Mustard seeds splatter so cover with a lid.

After not long at all, ie when cumin seeds are darkening, add a couple of bay leaves and some dried red chlllies. When they darken, turn off the heat, and add garlic if you are using it. Let garlic sizzle and then add the mixture to the dal.

For me, it is the addition of the ginger in the onion and tomato mix and the panch phoron that really lift this recipe so that it has so many sublime flavours.

The finished dal - not just another bowl of lentils at all

Spicy potatoes
Boil potatoes, my recipe book says in skins and then peel when tender but still firm. Slice, and place in bowl with some general curry powder/garam masala. Turn them to ensure they are evenly coated and after they have cooled down, saute them. Can serve them at any temperature.

Couple of comments.

The pickle and the chutney went down faster than I expected. I thought the pickle was expensive at £3.50 but it is delicious and there is no junk in it. The coriander chutney worked out far cheaper.

Cost of rest of today's purchases, all of which were only about half used, if that:

Channa dal - around £1
Pappadams - around £1
Coriander plus three green chillies - £1

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spanish round-up

A quick photoshoot of our time in Spain.

Let's start with the winter jasmine - in its full glory. It looks so delicate and abundant and smells delightful.

But not to Adelina next door. 'Me molesta,' she said. 'Are you going to cut it down?'

Er no Adelina, it only flowers for a few weeks a year and we like it. We didn't even plant it, the previous owner did. It's a bit like the smell of our neighbours' washing which gets hung out on the terrace, it isn't exactly my favourite but it isn't there all the time, just like the jasmine.

Now, where was I before I got distracted? Oh yes. The locust. I need JB and his mum or anyone else to tell me if this flying monster is a locust.

'Mire el cigarrón! Matalo!' said José when he spotted it on the olive tree. He says that about most things.

We didn't kill it. I picked it up and took it over to show Adelina but she nearly had a heart attack. It was even worse than the jasmine.

I let it go and it sat on the step. Then it jumped to the gate.

When we got back to Gib and the internet we looked it up and figured it was a locust. Hope I have some plants left when I get back!

Although, if it wants to eat the spider plants it can. They are nothing but weeds I have discovered. Plant them in the ground and their wretched tuberous roots take over the place. This is clearly why the Spanish plant them in twee little plant pots. They are pretty drought resistant too, presumably storing all the water in those invasive fat tubers, so they need little attention. That was one of the reasons why I had the bright idea to stick some in the walled garden. Until I discovered how far they spread once they got hooked in.

Marguerites are also weeds in my opinion. They provide a good splash of colour for a large part of the year - until they default back to white of course - and if you don't cut off the millions of dead heads, they reseed all over the place. So all the little seedings came out too. I don't want a garden full of big daisies.

We had our usual walk around the beach and gazed at the lovely finca which is everyone's dream buy for around £40,000. It's owned by a Scandinavian embassy - I don't think they would be selling it for £40,000 somehow even in these times of recession.

And we finished the sitting room. Finally. Rehung the paintings (Turner prints) and the mirror.

Some food - looks like another paella....

Monday, April 04, 2011

Good news, bad news

The first dog walk of the day yesterday brought some good news. A dog-walking friend who has been unemployed for a few weeks, maybe a month or more, had finally found a new job. Excellent. We were both really pleased for her.

Similarly, the next dog walk brought more employment news. In this case, a small, but still a job, for us.

I'd not gone on the second dog walk. I'd been faffing around on the computer and wondered why it seemed to be wobbling. I clicked on the casing to make sure it wasn't coming loose. I checked the cables at the back which sometimes catch in the hinge of the screen (it's a laptop).

Then I picked up the computer to look underneath - there must be something small hidden on the top of the makeshift desk that was making it move. Nothing. I glanced at the base of the computer as I was putting it down again.

The battery was sticking half out of its slot. I gazed at it horrified. Precious Hal was poorly again. I dived for the skimpy First Aid instruction manual. Turn off, disconnect cables and wait ten mins.

Turned off, disconnected and waited. I paced up and down the flat for ten mins. Poor poor Hal. His insides could be eaten away by battery fluid even as I waited.

Started trying to slide the catch things. The catch for the side of the battery that was still in place slid beautifully. The catch for the side that was sticking half out - did nothing. Immovable.

No! No! No! More expensive recovery at the Apple Shop. Boooooo. Hoooooo.

Partner came in wanting to chat about the small job. I dragged him to look at poor Hal. I gazed at him (Partner, not Hal) with sad green eyes. Beseechingly. I hoped.

He pedantically put on his glasses, pushed me out of the way, and said something dismissive about manual dexterity skills, or lack of in my case. Cheek. The battery flipped out. Bloated, expanded, and presumably knackered. No wonder the battery light thing had been messing around and the fan had been working overtime ....

OK, so far, three bits of good news - well the battery was retrieved from Hal which was good, and as I never move the lappy, I don't actually need the battery. Also took the one out of the HP reserve lappy as well just in case that decided to take a turn for the worse. Now for the bad news. Sad news is more appropriate I guess.

All was restored to calm in Gibflat. Later in the evening, after sleeping through most of Quantum of Solace, I flicked onto FB. One of the recent posts puzzled me. It was from someone I had met some six or seven months ago when she visited Spain.

We'd 'met' on FB via a mutual (virtual for me) friend, and we'd shared some laughs and silly games. It had been fun, and she seemed like a warm, caring, witty, and friendly person.

When she announced last year that she was coming to Andalucía, I asked, out of interest where she was coming. It turned out to be not too far from us. She was coming with a friend who I didn't virtually know, but I said, if they had time it might be nice to meet up.

First Friend, let's call her F for first, agreed, but like lots of meet-ups no more was said. But then, suddenly, she was here in Spain, and we agreed a day and a time at their small private hotel.

We drove up and up into the hills where they were staying. F came out to meet us. I won't forget her face, lovely smile and arms wide open to greet us.

I should say that these two women had given up a day's excursion just to stay at the hotel to meet us. Even worse, although they thought they had missed the beach day which they could live with, there was a change of plan and they had ended up missing a national park day. Much worse. Still feel guilty about that now.

So we sat down inside their hotel. It was a lovely peaceful tranquil place. Reformed, but not over the top, and just, comfortable and a pleasant place to chat with - new - friends.

Second Friend, we'll call her S for second, came down to meet us shortly afterwards. Bearing in mind we hadn't even corresponded via FB, she too had a lovely smile and a warm welcome for us. Later we moved outside as the weather cleared up and chatted and gazed at the beautiful mountain views.

Er, rather cloudy mountain views here

These sort of situations are fraught with potential difficulties. We didn't find any. Both women were friendly, good company, and there seemed to be loads to talk about. I've spent a harder few hours with people I have known far better.

We left at their lunchtime, having spent - on our part - a super few hours. Apart from anything else, we had left the dog behind and it was at least an hour's drive back, so time to go home.

While I was puzzling over the strange post on FB last night, by Friend F, I noticed a PM pop up from her. S had died that day in hospital and F wanted to let us know. I thought that was so kind. They had given up a day of their holiday to meet us, a vague couple from the internet, and F still thought to let us know.

Even more sadly, like everyone else who knew S, I had sent birthday greetings from us both on Saturday in advance of her birthday on Sunday so she could read them in hospital. Her Facebook page was full of birthday greetings on Saturday from so many people wishing her well and hoping she would soon be out, and they continued well into Sunday. And then, later on Sunday, the comments changed. Into condolences. Yes, she died on her birthday. From cancer that had metastacised from her original one. Aged 37.

So - S - my memories of you? A friendly person, with a lovely smile, and a translucent skin, that made you look almost ethereal. And never a bad word or complaint or moan or anything about the hell you must have been going through.

Thank you for taking the time out of your too short life and your holiday to meet us. Hasta la proxima, guapa.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Book reviews - Cold Mountain, Book of Negroes and, others

Without any further ado, here are some reviews of books I have been reading over the past few weeks.

First up Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, (1997), a historical novel set towards the end of the American Civil War.

There isn't really a plot. Confederate soldier wounded in war leaves hospital and walks home to find the woman he loved when the war started. Meanwhile she is struggling to survive on the family farm after the death of her father.

I'd picked this book up and put it down a few times at the library, but eventually I decided to give it a go.

The chapters alternate, for the most part, telling the story of the two people. One chapter is him walking home and the adventures that befall him on the way, the other is the woman gradually learning to live off the land with the help of a new friend.

If that sounds dull (and probably the blurb on the back of the book did too, hence me not taking it from the library originally) - it wasn't.

It was well-written, thoughtful, imaginative, and so visual. I read all the way through the book with vivid pictures in my head of both characters and their situations.

There was however, a sense of impending gloom over the book. Would the couple find each other again? Would he even get home to her? At one point he was shot and buried alive.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly, and I won't reveal the ending. I found it slightly twee, but apart from that, it was excellent.

Next one - The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (2007). I thought this was a superb read (I don't often say that).

In a nutshell, it is a story about slavery. An African child is stolen and shipped to America where she changes owners, moves to Nova Scotia, then back to Africa and ends her life in London.

But it is the graphic descriptions of what tortuous conditions the slaves suffered that make this book. In a way it was embarrassing to read - to think that people could abuse each other so much. And yet it continues today in different forms.

I think the scene that impacted on me most was when the slaves were walking across Africa in the coffle - naked - and this girl started her first period. Menstrual blood dripping down her legs for everyone to see. Can you imagine that? I can and it makes me feel sick even now. Then there was the woman who gave birth while on the forced march.

Naturally, once this poor kid was esconced in slavery in America, she was raped by some white plantation owner. The child to her black lover was stolen from her. The list goes on.

Only let down? A bit like Cold Mountain. An unrealistic and unlikely ending. But as an eye-opener into slavery it was briliant. And again, extremely well-written. Another strong recommend.

A couple of rather more lightweight books now.

Letters from a Fainthearted Feminist - Jill Tweedie (1982). Gosh! Was it really so long ago.

I remember hearing about this years ago - nearly 30 in fact - but never got around to reading the columns in the Guardian or the published book until last week. Also a bit horrified to discover she is no longer alive, dying just turned 60 from motor neurone disease.

So what to say? Well, it was an easy read, and an enjoyable one. It's a short book, unlike the other two, so can be finished in a quick session. Some of it was witty and funny, some not. It's hard to write witty funny prose at the best of times, let alone when dealing with the complexities of feminism.

Towards the end it seemed to fade off. Or maybe I did. Either way, it's worth a read. For lefty feminists it's a gentle poke at some of the things we hold dear. No idea how non-lefty non-feminists will find it. But it's short enough for you to try it.

And the last one? Gulp. Never let it be said my reading taste is not catholic. So to speak.

Here goes ...

The Clematis Tree by Ann Widdecombe (2000).

Well the short review is that I don't recommend it. That doesn't mean it is unreadable, but I would certainly recommend the above three first. And a whole load of others.

Here is a summary of some reviews that will save me repeating the same stuff ad infinitum.

The plot (?) is child becomes brain-damaged and parents have relationship problems.

Religious figures abound of course. Not just Catholic nuns, but also C of E clergy and Jewish family (the rabbi doesn't seem to get a mention).

Euthanasia, abortion, guilt - oh! so! much! guilt! Read it if you want. I've wasted enough time writing about it.

What is it with politicians that makes them think becoming an elected member of parliament means they also become a novelist at the same time? Huh?

Just remembered, terrible style. That's what really griped. Not sure whether it was precious, precocious, or pretentious. But it jarred.

I wonder if she has written about animal rights? Opposing fox-hunting seems to have been one of her few attributes. I digress. But should you read this Ann, try another topic next time. Or less topics in one novel in fact.

I'm saving Homage to Catalonia for another post :)