Category Archives: Stories

Basil……A Yarn and a Recipe.

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My kids love Pasta Pesto. It is a lunch box staple, which I have always prepared using the bottled Organic Pesto from Auroville.

However on my recent visit to Econut for my Organic provisions, I struck it lucky with a big bag full of fresh basil. I just couldn’t resist. I picked up a bag full of organic walnuts and extra virgin olive oil as well.

Although pesto is traditionally made with Basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and a hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino, I decided to do a more economical version with walnuts and skipped the cheese altogether.

I guess here in India one would say I made a chutney.

Holy Basil or Tulsi is revered in India in every Hindu household, especially in those of Vishnu devotees.

Read this wonderful story from Hindu Mythology about the Tulsi plant here.

However the Christians, too, consider Basil holy especially the Greek Orthodox Church.

St.Helena, was born somewhere in the region of modern-day Turkey. Although just a stabularia or inn-keeper she married Constantius I Chlorus in 270 BC. They had a son Constantine.

As Constantius became co-regent or Ceasar, he had to, for political gain, forsake Helena and marry the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximinius Herculius.

Disgraced in a court that was full of intrigue and murder, Helena never fought her rival but faded into obscurity till her own son Constantine became Emperor. She then was bestowed with the title of Augusta or Empress.

Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. Legend says that he had a dream of a burning cross with a message that he should ‘in this sign conquer’. So he did, earning control over western Europe.

They say it was Constantine’s influence on his mother that made her too, embrace Christianity. She mingled freely with worshippers did many acts of charity and released prisoners too.

Although she was pretty advanced in age, Helena set out on a pilgrimage to Palestine, visiting Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Sinai. She built many churches and continued her charity work.

She was very keen to find the ‘True Cross’….the cross on which Jesus had been crucified.

She had been searching for many days, when on a barren hill outside Jerusalem she noticed a sweet-smelling plant. That plant happened to be Basil. She gave orders that the area under the plant be excavated and found the True Cross.

So to this day, especially in the Greek Orthodox Church,Sweet basil is used in the preparation of Holy water.

Two religions, both have reasons why this plant is so special…..and there are many more cultures that venerate the Basil. In many other cultures like Mexico, Romania and Italy it is associated with love.

Not just a ‘holy herb’, but also one which is full of health benefits!

It is one of the most highly regarded herbs in Ayurveda.

“Scientific research offers impressive evidence that Tulsi (basil) reduces stress, enhances stamina, relieves inflammation, lowers cholesterol, eliminates toxins, protects against radiation, prevents gastric ulcers, lowers fevers, improves digestion and provides a rich supply of antioxidants and other nutrients. Tulsi is especially effective in supporting the heart, blood vessels, liver and lungs and also regulates blood pressure and blood sugar.Dr. Ralph Miller, former Director of Research for the Canadian Dept. of Health and Welfare.

Makes me wonder at how religion often guided people towards what was good for them, not just spiritually but also physically and emotionally. The environment, too, benefited from many of the old rituals which ensured its protection.

Although I am not a regular church goer, my deeply Catholic upbringing, ensures that I have a prayer on my lips often. From this ability to just utter a silent prayer, I drawer a lot of strength. It has a calming meditative value about it which I treasure.

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So here is the recipe I used to make Basil and Walnut Pesto:

Adapted from http://cookieandkate.com

Ingredients

  • 2 lightly packed cup of basil
  • 2 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • squeeze of lemon juice
Instructions
  • Over medium high heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant, about three to five minutes.
  • Wash and dry the basil leaves
  • In a food processor, combine the basil, walnuts and garlic.
  • Pulse while drizzling in the olive oil. Do not over mix as I felt the pesto gets darker.
  • Remove the mixture from the processor and pour it into a bowl. Stir in salt and a squeeze of lemon (optional), to taste.

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I did not add in the cheese as I felt it would keep better this way.

When I made it for lunch, I added some grated cheese to the ready dish.

  • Pesto freezes well, so you can make a larger quantity and freeze for later use.
  • Traditionally made by hand in a mortar and pestle…..I did not have one large enough to take this quantity so I just made it in the mixie.
  • Make the pesto as soon as you get fresh basil.
  • I replaced the traditional pine nuts with walnuts…..it’s just as tasty.

Use it as:

  • A pasta sauce.
  • Marinade for grilled fish of chicken.
  • Stirred as a flavouring into soups.
  • Sandwich spread.
  • Healthy pizza sauce alternative.

Do you use pesto in any other way??

I’d love some new ideas

Aside

Every new academic year (in India it starts in June), I go through what is often termed as ‘starting trouble’.

I work as a resource teacher at a Montessori school, telling stories from mythology to elementary age group children.

My job involves linking topics that are part of the curriculum or current events, to mythological stories and folktales from around the world.

I absolutely love my job.

I love the fact that I learn so much through the research I need to do for each story, the imagination and creativity I need to exercise to present foreign mythology to kids aged 6-11 and the fact that I get to sing with them….story-songs, songs in other languages…..tops it all.

Yet every year, before I begin, I always wonder whether I really want to continue.

But just one class with the kids is enough to convince me that, I do.

I love their reactions, the interactions, their honesty and guilelessness.

They never fail to make me smile. It’s always a day well spent.

When I wrote the Pizza post…..‘The Need to Knead’, I remembered the most wonderful story that I tell my school kids.

This one comes from West Africa:

IYADOLA’S BABIES

Nyame the sky God was sitting bored up in the sky. So he took a basket, a big round basket, filled it with leaves and plants and trees.

He cut a curved hole in the sky so that he could push the basket out through it and he hung this basket from a cloud.

To see the basket better, he cut out a few jagged holes in the the sky.

The curved hole was the moon and the jagged ones the stars.

He enjoyed watching the blades of grass dance in the breeze, the leaves change their colour and the creepers wind their way around other plants.

But after a while this too was boring. So he took another basket and filled it with all kinds of wonderful creatures. Birds, animals, fish …..some soft and fluffy, others colorful, some huge, others minuscule, some fierce, others gentler.

He poured the contents of this basket out through the curved hole, into the first basket, The Earth.

He loved to watch the animals frolic through the cutouts in the sky.

Inside Nyame there lived two little spirit creatures. They loved to creep up to the edge of Nyame’s mouth or nose and look out onto the earth along with him.

One day while they were all watching the animals on the earth, Nyame sneezed…..a humongous Sky God sneeze!

Out tumbled the spirit man and woman, out through Nyame’s nose, through the holes in the sky and down into the earth.

Once they reached the earth they found it so different from the warmth and darkness of Nyame’s body. But soon they began to enjoy it. They loved walking on the soft grass and relaxing under the shade of a tree. They learnt to eat what they could find on the trees and bushes.

The spirit man began to make a few weapons and soon he was off hunting animals for their food, leaving behind the spirit lady in their cave home.

The spirit lady was very lonely as the spirit man never ever took her hunting.

She got a brilliant idea and told the spirit man that they should make little clay creatures that looked exactly like them. They could bake them in a fire, blow on them and make them come to life. They would be able to move and talk just like the spirit man and lady. They could be our children, she said.

The spirit man liked the idea and began to build a fire while the spirit lady moulded the clay children.

As they put the first few clay dolls into the fire and sat back to wait and see how they would come out, they heard Nyame come thundering through the trees. The spirit man and lady quickly pulled out the clay children, wrapped them in leaves and hid them under the bushes.

Nyame had just dropped by to check what the spirit people thought of the wonderful earth he had created. Then he stomped out the way he came in.

The spirit man and woman quickly made some more clay children……but as they put them in the fire, Nyame was back and they had no time to even pull them out of the fire.

‘Why are you sitting by a fire?’ asked Nyame. They mumbled something about how they were feeling cold, but as the sun was shining bright, Nyame did’nt seem convinced. As soon as Nyame left they pulled them out and wrapped them in leaves.

Every time they put more clay children into the fire, Nyame would unexpectedly pop by to check on them on some silly pretext or the other.

Finally, Nyame got hungry and went back up, to the sky.

The spirit man and woman unwrapped all the little clay children they had made. Such a variety of colours!! Some were in the fire for a very short time and so were very pale. Others had been there for too long and were dark, almost black. Then there were a whole range of different colours like yellow-brown, rosy pink, red-brown and plenty in between.

The spirit man and woman blew on these clay children and they all began to stretch out their legs and move….running around the earth.

Now the spirit lady was no longer lonely when the spirit man went hunting, her children kept her occupied.

The spirit lady would hug them all, loving each one equally.

The spirit lady is called Iyadola, which means ‘Earth Mother.’

I love this story, which explains how there are so many different skin colours in the world and the allegory that we were all baked……for different times…..but essentially all the same…..just clay, with a common Mother!!

Picture credits: http://dickinsg.intrasun.tcnj.edu/Docs/iyadola/iyadola.html

http://child-of-africa.blogspot.in/2007/09/beauty-of-human-diversity.html


Iyadola’s Babies…………A Yarn.

Foodie Gyans and Yarns – 1 Peach Melba

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I have a fascination for culinary terms and love to know the origins of the names of dishes.

This obsession started from when I was quite young and I know precisely, the exact moment it did.

We are three siblings and all three of us have formally studied food. My sister and myself are HAFTies’ (Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai) ….proud to be so too!

My brother a CRAFTie was formally trained as a baker and is currently working as one.

I remember many moons ago, when my sister ML, was at HAFT, she decided that she needed her own copy of the Larousse Gastronomique.’

The Larousse Gastronomique is probably THE cookery Bible.

Written by ‘Prosper Montagne’, it’s preface is written by Auguste Escoffier!

Schoolgirl me, tagged along to pick up her copy. A heavy tome, ML lugged it home like it was a chest full of gold.

She was very protective of her Larousse. But I would still manage to sneak a look very often.

Oh! The pages of the Larousse…..they held treasure!

Treasure in the form of knowledge….foodie knowledge!

I was in heaven. I did not know what the food I was reading about, was. I didn’t think I ever would.

But the stories within, of historical events, lovers, royalty and famous stars all having dishes created especially for them, fascinated me.

I did not realize that all this information was filed away, only to surface 8 years later when I myself became a proud HAFTie!

With my parents running a catering business, our house was filled with all kinds of cookery books as well as constant discussions about food.

So it was natural that I had unknowingly absorbed so much of foodie knowledge, that I was teased in college and called ‘The Walking Talking Larousse II ‘.( I had a senior who was the first)

But I love my Larousse and now have my own copy which I still browse through, eagerly.

As part of my this blog I’ve decided to write about ‘Foodie Gyans and Yarns’.

This will include foodie terms I find interesting as well as those that confuse me…..my gyans.

Sometimes I will write stories…..my yarns.

 

I hope you will enjoy this and would love to hear about what you would like to see on the blog.

 

Talking about Escoffier, its only natural that I should talk about his acclaimed dishThe Peach Melba.’

Nellie Melba was a renowned Australian opera singer who was very popular in the late 1800’s.

Whenever she performed in London she always stayed at the Savoy or the Ritz Carlton.

Escoffier was the chef at both these landmark hotels at different points in his career.

Once when Nellie Melba was unwell, Escoffier created a very dry, thin, crisp piece of toast for her to eat. This toast came to be known as ‘Melba Toast.’

Normally eaten with some pate or cheese, Melba Toast is often served with soup or salad.

In 1892, when Nellie Melba was performing Wagner’s opera Lohengrin in Covent Gardens, London, she sent her fan Escoffier 2 tickets for the show.

Escoffier was so grateful that he created a dish of poached peaches on a bed of vanilla ice cream for Melba.

Later he added a topping of raspberry sauce to the dessert and served it in a swan shaped bowl carved out of ice.

Lucky Melba!!

Although many of us may have never heard of her, she is alive in history every time your eyes skim over a dessert menu and spies a dish called ‘Peach Melba’.

Or whenever you are served a soup or salad with Melba Toast on the side.

Now you are ‘in the know’.

Picture credits……Cooking in Provence

Anything to please the ‘Recipe Spirits’.

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Well, you know what they say about sharing recipes?

There are many of us….myself included, who hate to share recipes.

We hold them close to our chest much like cards in a game of poker. I don’t know why. Is it because we love a certain ‘special recipe’ to be just ours? It brings us so much pride and recognition that we can’t bear to have someone else bask in that same glory?

My husband takes many a dig at me, its something that just infuriates him. I was totally serious about not giving out my recipes and always joked about it, laughed it off as being a trait well embedded in my genes. I can’t help it. I’m EI……East Indian.

Our community is well known for its culinary prowess among the Catholic communities in Mumbai, especially our skills in ‘sweet’ making.

However, we are equally known for NOT sharing recipes……and if we do, there are many a doubt to its veracity.

So, why would E.I. me, decide to blog and disclose my favourite recipes? ( I can vouch that all the recipes I share are correct) ; )

My job as a storyteller, working with elementary age group children, linking topics from the school curriculum to stories from mythology and folklore brings me immense joy and creative satisfaction. This is one of the stories I tell them when I want them to share their own stories.

THE STORY SPIRITS

(A tale retold from Korean Folklore)

A long time ago there lived a young boy Kim.

Kim was very lucky because he had an old servant, called Jung, who used to look after him.

Jung was like a treasure trove full of stories and every night he would tell Kim a new one.

Kim was very proud of all the stories he heard and all the wonderous things he learnt from them.

At school or the playground he would boast about all the wonderful stories he knew.

His friends and cousins begged him to tell them some of the stories but Kim always refused, saying the stories were his and his alone.

As the years went by and Kim grew up, he continued to hold onto the stories.

Soon Kim’s marriage was arranged and a big ceremony was planned. As per the custom, Kim and his family had to journey to the brides house for it.

As Jung was packing up for Kim, he heard strange sounds coming from behind the door.

When he went investigate what was making the sounds, what he heard, stunned him.

For in that bag there seemed to be little spirits with sinister voices and what they said chilled old Jung to the bone.

The spirits were angry and upset that Kim was lucky enough to be happy and free and getting married, but because Kim had never shared his stories, the spirits of the stories were trapped in his room, unable to travel the world.

They wanted revenge.

One story, that had a poisoned well featured in it, decided to change itself into a poisoned well along the path that Kim had to pass. It was sure that Kim would stop for a drink of poisoned water.

Another into a field full of poisoned strawberries, just in case he did not drink along the way, he would definitely be unable to resist juicy strawberries.

The third into a red-hot poker in a cushioned footstool so that when he stepped on it to get off his horse, he would get seriously burnt and the fourth into a poisonous snake under the rug in the bedroom…..just incase all else fails.

Jung lunged for the bag, but when he opened it,he found that all the spirits had disappeared.

It was the custom for the bridegroom to ride on a horse and his Uncle would have the important role of leading the horse.

As the wedding party was ready to leave, old Jung pushed the Uncle out of the way and pulled the horse along.

He pleaded with all the family to let him lead the young boy he had looked after from birth. The family realising that Jung must be very emotional, let him do so.

Along the way, Kim saw the well and wanted to stop for water, but Jung insisted that he could have the cleanest water at the brides house. Kim was annoyed as it was not Jung’s place to disobey his master.

At the strawberry field, Jung put off Kim by telling him that the strawberries he wanted were really tiny and sour, while those at the brides house would be red and juicy.

At last Kim arrived at the brides house and the page brought forward cushioned footstool for Kim to step on. When Jung saw this he dived forward and pushed the stool out of the way causing Kim to tumbled to the ground.

Kim was really angry with Jung and asked his father to keep him away.

The wedding ceremony went of without further disruptions from Jung. But soon it was time for the couple to retire to their room.

As they were about to shut the door, Jung rushed in with a big bamboo stick.

He pushed past the bride and groom and began to turn over cushions and mattresses till at last he found the snake under the rug and killed it.

Kim was shocked.

Jung told him what the ‘Story Spirits’ had planned and all because he did not share the stories!

Kim promised to start sharing the stories immediately and did so by narrating one every night to his new bride.

 

Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”

—Salman Rushdie


Just like stories, yarns and gossip, that bring people together, constantly spinning a web of connections, of bonding, of roots, so does food.

All our celebrations to mark important occasions, involve food.

We treasure recipes which have been passed down through our families and friends, preparing them on special occasions and always thinking kind thoughts about the ‘giver’ of the recipe.

In both storytelling and cooking, we give so much of ourself, changing , adapting, refining to get the best results.

To me these are the two most powerful tools of connection.

So I wish that you share my story, just as you must share my recipes and my blog………..

ANYTHING TO KEEP THE RECIPE SPIRITS HAPPY!!

With their blessings I’m sure every dish will be perfect. : )

 

The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for each other.–Barry Lopez in Crow and Weasel.