Have Yourself A Literary Christmas…

Season’s greetings to my bibliophile family! Five days to go for Christmas. Woohoo!! Here are my ongoing reads for the festive season. From thrillers and mysteries, to humor and drama, in the form of novels, anthologies or novellas, literature sure has some variety to offer through Christmas. Has anyone read any of these? Feedback is always appreciated.

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A Pawsome Christmas

The weekend ensured a pawsome prelude to Christmas Day, playing Santa to our furry friends. A canine Christmas party organized by the Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD), comprised various sessions with behavioral therapists and grooming experts.  Pawfect – The Pet Salon and Spa, conducted the session on grooming tips, engaging kids in the talk as well, to teach them how to look after a pet. Spoilt Brat Barkery taught us to make and decorate cupcakes and treats for the doggies. All (human) attendees got a baked pug that could be decorated, or served to the dogs just like that. There were dog-related puzzles and games for the kids, and a quiz for the adults featuring dogs in movies, literature, cartoons, across history and science. WSD dogs Akshay, Sakshi, Donald and Marshall ably supported the volunteer team, with Marshall literally patrolling the area outside the venue. The doggo volunteer squad was absolutely thrilled to play with the kids, and seek head pats from the adults around. The wooftastic campaign had humans playing Santa to these canine companions by bringing biscuits and treats, collars, leashes, towels, brushes, medicated shampoos – anything to help the homeless dogs. There were WSD products available at the venue as well, which one could pick up to support the cause.

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Donald moderating the Q & A session
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Akshay finds the best spot in the room – in the middle of a circle of kids.
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Lokashi Agarwal from Pawfect conducts the session on grooming, with Donald ably keeping track of the proceedings.
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The poser!
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The baked pug for all attendees. Spoilt Brat Barkery specializes in doggie treats.
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A hand painted tote from WSD
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WSD note pads and bookmarks made from recycled paper.

Food Photography – True Tramm Trunk

Some members from my book club got together for a mid-week dinner, to discuss possible activities the club could take up for its readers in the upcoming weeks to end the year, and also initiatives to usher in the new year. We met at a restobar called True Tramm Trunk ( a homonym for Too Damn Drunk), described as “the best place to go for a mid-week party” (which I found out just now). Since we happened to show up on a Wednesday night, the music was just too loud – shifting from English classics of the eighties, to electronica, and Bollywood music. The musical mishmash made speaking over the noise a strain. The place is too chaotic, lighting is low, outdoor seating is claustrophobic rather than relaxing, and the indoor section is even noisier. Service, however, is prompt and the multi cuisine dishes were a treat to the taste buds. I started off with a Sweet Orange mocktail (which I don’t have a picture of) – made up of star anise, orange, passion fruit and lime. Here’s a glimpse of what we ate:

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The Mezze Platter – Comprising falafel, hummus, labneh, tahini and baba ghanoush, with homemade pita and lavash.
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Salmon Sushi – Salmon, avocado and cream cheese.
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Paneer Pizza (thin crust) – Tandoori cottage cheese, capsicum and onion.
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Pesto Pizza (thin crust) – Creamy pesto, sundried tomato, bellpeppers, mushroom and olives.

All in all, the food was a delight, even though the ambience was not. I would recommend this place for a night of dance and drinks; not really to catch up with friends or enjoy a peaceful meal.

Food Photography – Olive Bar & Kitchen

A friend from across the globe had a rushed weekend visit scheduled to my city. With his return flight taking off from here in a few hours time, we had planned an early dinner last Friday. Olive Bar & Kitchen in the Western suburbs opens at 8 pm, but they were more than ready to accommodate us at 7:30 pm when we mentioned about our friend’s flight at 1:30 am. We opted for the outdoor seating section – with white sand spread on the ground, cane chairs, low tables, string lights and glass bottles filled with lights hanging from trees in the compound, the outdoor section has a more casual and friendly vibe. Here’s a glimpse of what we ate:

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The bread platter with an assortment of butters.
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Hummus and falafel platter with grilled veggies and vegetable nuggets.
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Smoked tuna with prawn paste.
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Roast chicken with pickled oyster mushrooms and almond purée, and a sprinkling of almonds on top.
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Pepperoni pizza.
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Orange crème brûlée.

A pleasant evening spent discussing books, food, running, hiking, with engaging conversations accompanying the delectable meal in a wonderful ambience.

 

Sassy Spoon – Food Photography

When friends visit from out of town, it’s a wonderful time for catching up. And food can never be far from the occasion. The day was spent meeting an old friend over lunch. (I had to create a ragtag prompt in advance yesterday, since I was scheduled to be out the entire time today.) The restaurant chosen to feast at was a place called Sassy Spoon, which serves mixed cuisines – Mediterranean, European, Asian. I had heard good reviews of the place that is known for its decor, food presentation, and courteous staff. Sharing a few pictures to feast your eyes on.

We started off with the beverages – a Fizzy Meloni – muddled fresh watermelon, with basil, lime and fizz, and Very Berry Khata comprising mulberries, orange, pomegranate and grape with kala khatta (jamun/jambolan syrup).

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Starters comprised garlic bread with cheese.

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From here we proceeded to the main course – grilled chicken in their house soaked BBQ sauce, grilled veggies and mashed potatoes.

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This was followed by dessert – a signature dessert titled “Seven textured hazelnut and chocolate”, comprising numerous layers of brownies, chocolate chips, mousse, and both solidified and dripping chocolate.

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All in all, a very enjoyable meal in one of the sassiest places around. The decor and ambiance are fabulous, with the rustic lighting adding a homely touch. Having visited during lunch hours, the place was packed, but never noisy.

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The sedate lighting.
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The wall covered with these trunk prints, providing a very old school vibe.
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A close-up of the wall featured above. See that palm print? It signifies a door that leads to the restroom. But the door is so ingeniously hidden in the wall.

A Brewing Obsession

Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love” , goes a Turkish proverb. Coffee is one of my favorite beverages, consumed in different forms on the basis of where I am, what I’m doing, my mood at that particular time, if I’m eating anything along with it, or consuming it by itself. My friends and family know this too and frequently pick up coffee for me from their travels. Presently, I alternate between three types of coffee that were gifted to me at different times, from different places. Being the only coffee drinker at home, my stash is never-ending, for the time being at least.

The first variety is a Lebanese coffee a friend travelling from Lebanon had presented some months ago. (Those following this site since a while might remember the blog-post I had put up at the time.) Lebanese coffee, known as kahweh, is black, strong, and takes a while getting used to. The Arabic word for coffee, qahwa, is a shortened version of the phrase “qahwat al-bun” which means “wine of the bean” . It is also referred to as Turkish coffee, and is identical to the coffee available in the neighboring countries of the Middle East. It is derived from the Arabica bean, known as the Brazilian bean. Lebanon does not grow coffee beans; its coffee is imported from Nicaragua, Brazil and Sumatra. Coffee is served in Lebanon throughout the day, and is a sign of welcome when guests visit home. Lebanese coffee is usually prepared with a teaspoon of ground coffee, half a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of cardamom with a cup of water. The particular coffee grinds my friend had picked up were a blend of coffee and cardamom.

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The coffee is traditionally served in tiny cups. He got me the cups as well as the pot, along with the coffee.

The second type of coffee I have here is Dormans Coffee, brought by a friend visiting from Nairobi. Dormans is a premiere coffee trading company based in Kenya. The coffee is grown organically, processed, and blended, and is derived from pure Kenya Arabica beans – harvested from cooperative farms across east Africa. I didn’t take a picture of the pack, but it came as a box comprising individual sachets of 2 grams each. (Something like the image below.) Again, a very strong coffee – I had to use one sachet for a large mug to dilute it.

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The third variation of coffee available at home is Coorgi Coffee, picked up by a friend visiting the rural district of Coorg or Kodagu in the state of Karnataka in South India. The coffee is grown in high altitudes, having originated among the Chandagiri hills of Chikmagalur district. Coorgi coffee is said to be one of the best “mild coffees” in the world, on account of being grown in the shade – resulting in a coffee with a low acidic content, and carrying with it a tropical full-bodied taste and aroma. The mountainous region of Coorg blends both Arabica and Robusta beans, grown in the shades of the Rose Wood, Wild Fig and Jackfruit trees. The person who brought me this, sourced it from one of the coffee grinding mills itself. So, they packed and sealed freshly ground roasted coffee. Again, I didn’t click a picture – there was not much to document; having been procured from the source, the pack did not have any branding yet. It looked something like the image here.

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I usually drink my coffee black. The Dormans variety is an instant mix, so if I’m in a rush I make it with milk occasionally. The Coorgi coffee is relatively mild and tastes good when prepared with milk and chilled. But the grind needs time to brew. The Lebanese variant takes the longest time to prepare, since traditionally brewed coffee in Lebanon is made by boiling the coffee with water three times – till the sediment settles at the bottom of the pot, and brown froth is visible on the top. I drink this one hot and black due to the coffee-cardamom blend.

Any more coffee lovers here? The weekend is near. Time to prepare a brew and settle down with a good book. 🙂

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Blogging Anniversary

This blog-site completes a year today. Woohoo!! Those of you who have been following this site for a while, would be aware that Curious Cat was the outcome of an accident I had last year. For the uninitiated, I suffered from nerve damage and was bedridden for a couple of months – the entire right leg being paralyzed from hip to foot. Being a marathoner and dancer, staying put was more difficult than the actual injury. Books, movies, art and craft, online courses came to the rescue. I did a couple of random courses on Coursera, and began learning Russian on Duolingo. Along with painting, paper quilling and various other home-made crafts, I was aching to create something more. There was too much information input and not as much energy output. I decided to start a blog to write about things I was doing – thoughts on books I read, experiences on races I had run and dance shows I had performed at; just idle ramblings on whatever came to mind.

Curious Cat was named after my pet cats, who are always interested in what’s going on. And having spent much time with all my pets during the recovery period, I noticed how snoopy cats can be – in contrast to the indifference they are usually known for. This blog was not intended to be read by anyone; just a means of putting my thoughts into words. The settings were initially set to private because I didn’t think anyone would want to read any of it. Unlike a travel blog which would interest travellers, or a fitness site that would bring in exercise enthusiasts, or cookery or book blogs which cater to specific reader groups, I have varied interests. I love all of those things and write about all of them, and much more, and that was where the dilemma lay – in finding like-minded people who also share varied interests. About two months after I started Curious Cat, two friends found out about it from a casual conversation and wanted to read. So I had to change the private settings to public. Within a few days, a large number of “followers” cropped up. I had no idea what they were “following” because my “about” section clearly mentions my ramblings, without offering anything specific to follow.

The initial write-ups centered around book reviews and art work since I was reading a lot and crafting some thing or the other at the time. I’m not from a writing background professionally and didn’t know what to write on, besides the topics that randomly came to mind. When I turned the settings public, I also chanced upon The Daily Post and the word-of-the-day they offered bloggers to write on. November and December were spent diligently writing to every word – I didn’t miss a day! I learnt new words, and expanded and expressed on the ones I knew. It was a great initiative for newbie writers, offering them a base from where to grow. Sadly, The Daily Post discontinued this endeavor within a few months of me finding out about them. But I did connect with some like-minded people through the daily prompts, and realized there were many like me who benefited tremendously as non-writers turned somewhat writers, who wanted to continue writing daily. Stephanie from Curious Steph was instrumental in bringing us all together, and in June this year we formed the Ragtag Community – seven of us from around the globe, working in different time zones to fix a word each day for bloggers to write on. The team presently comprises Sgeoil, Margaret from Pyrenees to Pennines, Tracy from Reflections of an Untidy Mind, Mary from Cactus Haiku, Gizzylaw from Talkin’ to Myself, and of course, Steph and me. The ragtaggers recently completed three months and are growing by leaps and bounds with fellow bloggers dropping in daily to share stories, poems, photographs, or just about anything related to their interpretation of the daily prompts. Each of us has our day to fix the prompt, and Margaret has given us today’s word – energy. (For those who would like to participate.)

About two months ago, some reader friends mentioned they found it difficult to navigate Curious Cat for book reviews and literature related articles. So I started Tomes and Tales – a purely literary venture for fellow bookworms. I love reading and there’s always lots to say and share about books and authors. So at the moment, I manage three blog-sites.

At current count, Curious Cat has 211 followers. I still don’t know what everyone’s following since this was never intended to be a technical blog. But I’m glad to have you all here. The stats show I published 389 articles in the last one year, and the blogging community has played a huge role in inspiring me to write more and connect with fellow readers, athletes, musicians and a plethora of individuals with varying interests. It is rightly said, good things can come out of the bad too. The accident and its aftermath was a horrible time for someone accustomed to moving about, but if not for that forced sedentary lifestyle I might never have ventured into the blogging sphere and met so many lovely people out here. Even a year later with all my energy returned, and easing into races and dance shows step by step, I still try keep up with writing almost every day. It has been great connecting with you all. Keep reading and sharing. 🙂

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Rasmalai – Weekend Kitchen Experiments

The weekend was busy, and a few spare moments of wanting to create something led to some sequacious cooking from readily available ingredients. Rasmalai is a dessert which finds it’s origins in the Indian subcontinent. Also known as “rossomolai” due to it’s genesis in the state of West Bengal in India, derived from the words “rosh” meaning “juice” and “molai” meaning “cream”. It can be described as a rich cheesecake without crust. It was invented by Krishna Chandra Das – a confectioner, entrepreneur, businessman, and cultural icon in the early 20th century Bengal.

The preparation consists of a mixture of curd and cream, kneaded with milk and butter, and shaped into small dough balls which are then flattened into discs. I made bite-sized discs; you can make them as small or large as you want. These discs are subsequently immersed into boiling water, the utensil is partially covered, and the discs continue to boil along with the water, for about ten minutes on medium heat. A point to be noted here is that the discs swell in water, so place them at a fair distance from each other. I had dipped them too close, and an attempt to shift them while they were inside resulted in some of them cracking and crumbling.

A sugar syrup is prepared simultaneously as the water boils. I used 200 grams of sugar with 200 ml of water, suitable for about 200 grams of the dough I had started with in the beginning. Once the sugar dissolves, the discs are transferred from the water into the sugar syrup, and left to soak for about five minutes. Make sure the syrup isn’t too thick, or the discs won’t soak in the milk from the steps that follow. Transfer them gently with a huge spoon, as they are quite delicate and can crumble easily. There is an alternate method of boiling the discs directly in sugar syrup, but I didn’t want them overly sweetened with all the extra syrup soaked in, so I preferred the method of cooking in boiling water and then soaking in the syrup for a little while.

In addition to the water and sugar syrup, about half a liter of milk is boiled simultaneously as well, with sugar, finely chopped almonds and pistachios, and ground cardamon and a few strands of saffron. Stir constantly till the milk thickens, the sugar dissolves and all the ingredients are mixed properly. The discs that are removed from the sugar syrup are placed in a bowl (or two, depending on how many you have), and the milk mix (called the “ras“) is poured on top of the discs (the “malai“). This can be served warm or chilled.

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The dough balls flattened into discs. My quantity of about 200 grams of dough gave me thirteen bite-sized discs.
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Immersed into boiling water. Make sure to place the discs apart from each other, since they swell in the water and crack open if you attempt to move them while they’re in.
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The milk mixture or the “ras”.
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The discs removed from the sugar syrup. Be gentle while transferring them into a bowl or they can crack open.
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The “ras” poured on top of the “malai”. The discs gradually soak in the milk-mix, so leave them in for a while before rushing to devour them.

A yummy Sunday treat that is almost melt-in-the-mouth. You can regulate the sugar content in the syrup and the milk mixture, to avoid making it too sweet. I preferred adding more nuts and seasoning for stronger flavors.

Happy weekend all! 🙂

Kitchen Experiments – Basbousa

Some extra time on this week day evening had me tinkering around the kitchen, looking for something to try out from what was available in the house. I remembered a recipe I had read some days ago, of the traditional Middle Eastern sweet cake known as Basbousa. The cake has various regional and dialect names – basbusah in Arabic, shamali in Armenian, revani in Turkish, gabelouze in French. Nammoura in Lebanon, hareesa in Jordan, pastusha in Kuwait. It is popular in the cuisines of the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Horn of Africa, and is primarily composed of semolina or milled wheat, soaked in sugar syrup. All the required ingredients readily available at home, I decided to have a go in trying it out.

I used semolina and desiccated coconut, to which yogurt and butter were added along with lemon juice, rose water, and baking powder. The entire mixture was filled into a baking tray, and baked for about twenty minutes at 160° Celsius. On cooling for a little while post baking, hot sugar syrup was poured on the warm cake. I cut the cake first, giving the syrup space to soak into each piece. Alternately, one can also poke holes with a knitting needle for the syrup to soak in completely. Garnishing is optional – I used an almond for each piece.

For those without a sweet tooth, this recipe is not very sweet and fun to try out. I used homemade yogurt which was unsweetened and made from low-fat milk. The desiccated coconut was also unsweetened. Remember, you can avoid the sugar syrup topping if you want – the cake is soft enough due to the yogurt. It makes for a healthy and filling snack.

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All ingredients mixed together, except for the sugar syrup.
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Out from the oven and left to cool.
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Pieces cut before pouring the syrup, ensuring it soaks in completely.
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Optional garnishing. You can also use chopped walnuts or pistachios or flaxseed powder.

If you like trying cuisines from around the world, have a go at this and let me know how it turns out.