When I was growing up in America, completely immersed in I guess what you would call “Western” culture, there were certain things that I took for granted.


Wise Owl.

Like for example, how the Owl is considered a symbol of Wisdom. Wise Owl was always featured in our little children’s books, shining down on wonderful, fumbling cartoon children, teaching them right from wrong.

I took this truth for granted, just like I took for granted how when I came home, and my mother referred to someone as an “Ooloo” (or “Owl”) in Hindi, that she was calling that person stupid. Because, naturally, the animal that represents stupidity in India, is the Owl.

stupid owl 2

Stupid Owl.

Stupid Owl and Wise Owl existed, in my mind, in the same universe, just divided into two worlds that did not seem to be in conflict. I would go to school, and function in a world which revered the Wise Owl, and then come home, and operate in a world where a person should not behave like a Stupid Owl.

wise owl 2

Wise Owl. En.Wikipedia.Org.

I went through life like this–receiving information from the two worlds, and placing them promptly into their own separate compartments in my head, because if I didn’t, I found myself in grave trouble if ever I made the mistake of confusing the two. Imagine please, for a moment, if you grew up believing that owls were stupid, or that getting a tan was a terrible thing, or that being called fat was a wonderful thing, how mortified you would be if a little girl tried to compliment you by calling you a tan, thin, owl.

stupid owl

Not so wise owl.

So distinct  were these worlds in my head, that it would always strike me as a pleasant surprise when I would come across the occasional bit of information that was the same for both worlds–like how calling someone an ‘ass’ never means anything good in every language on earth.

Discovering these rare, few phenomenons that passed the “Ass Test” grew into something like a side hobby of mine, and it brought me great joy every time I come across a new one.


The latest thing I discovered which passed the Ass Test is known as “Pajiri”.



Pajiri, a ground up combination of nuts and spices consumed by lactating women in India, (you can put it in your morning oatmeal, or in a baked good recipe, or just add milk and sugar and eat it plain) contains all the ingredients that help you make the food to feed your baby.

At some point, my Indian ancestors figured out which foods stimulate breast milk production in a way that aligns with modern articles written in the west like this one.

I will never know for sure if it has really helped, or whether my milk production would be any different had I never eaten it.

But what I am sure of, is that sometimes, in two different worlds, one in which the owl is known unquestionably as ‘stupid’ and the other, in which it is known unquestionably as ‘wise’, when one, single truth unites—like the fact that an ass is a universally, irrevocably stupid creature, and likening a human being to one will never mean a good thing–perhaps that is a truth to which one should pay attention.

Donkey from Shrek.jpg

The Ass Test. Donkey from Shrek (Wikipedia)



  • Almonds, 4.5 Cups
  • Walnuts, 4 Cups
  • Pecans, 2 Cups
  • Dil Seeds, 100 g
  • Flax Seeds, 200 g
  • Edible Gum, 200g
  • Fenugreek Seeds (or powder), 3 tbps
  • Sesame Seeds (black or white), 1/2 Cup
  • Ginger Powder, 1/4 Cup
  • Black Pepper, 2 tsp
  • Ground Cardamom, 2 tbsp
  • Wheat Flour, 1/2-3/4 Cup
  • Clarified Butter (Ghee), 2-3 tbsp


  1. First, the toasting. Toast the almonds, walnuts and pecans for 10-15 minutes at 200F.


IMG_8757IMG_87612. Toast the dil and flax seeds together at 100F for 2 minutes.


Combined dil and flax seeds

3. Toast edible gum for 5 minutes at 400F. Keep an eye on it, the individual kernals will turn opaque and then pop up.

4. Now, the roasting. Dry roast the fenugreek seeds on medium heat until they turn red.


5. Dry roast sesame seeds for a few minutes.


6. Dry roast the ginger powder.

7. Put the wheat flour in the pan and add the clarified butter. Until it smells cooked, like roti.


8. The third phase is the grinding. In a food processor, begin grinding the nuts. In a smaller mixer, grind together the dil seeds, flax seeds, fenugreek seeds, sesame seeds and edible gum individually. Mix all these ingredients together.



9. Add the black pepper, ginger powder, and wheat flour. Mix the whole thing together.


10. Divide into little bags and freeze them. This mixture can be added to morning oatmeal, or any cookie or dessert recipe that calls for dry ingredients. Enjoy!



The Chocolate Chip Cookie


*The Chocolate Chip Cookie*

I had several other post ideas lined up before this one, but this could not wait.

This is the best cookie ever.

And here is how you do it:

Recipe: From America’s test kitchen.

  • 14 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 oz. granulated sugar
  • 5 1/2 oz. brown sugar (I used a 50/50 combo of light and dark)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 whole egg, 1 egg yolk
  • 8 3/4 oz. bleached or unbleached AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cup Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips

Equipment needed: Kitchen scale, pan, bowl & stand mixer/hand mixer/fork and a bowl


1. Melt 10 tbsp of butter on medium low heat. Watch for the bubbles, which will start to pop very rapidly. After a few minutes, you’ll see the brownish solids. Remove from heat, and add remaining 4 tbsp butter, and mix in pan until dissolved.


2. Put clarified butter in the fridge.

IMG_4645 (2)

3. Go eat dinner. Or go do something else. Forget you’re going to make chocolate chip cookies for a couple of hours. This step is important because most people on the quest to make chocolate chip cookies want them immediately. There is nothing that comes closer to knowing the feeling that you are slowly aging than having to wait to eat chocolate chip cookies because one of the ingredients needs to cool down. So go do something interesting and distracting.

4. Now that you’re back, scoop the cooled butter into the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. (Or a hand mixer, or a perfectly good fork and bowl will do, too.)


5. After weighing the sugars, add them to the butter, along with the salt. Mix for about a minute, and then let rest.


6. In a separate bowl, weigh the flour, and whisk in the baking soda.

7. Add eggs to the mixer and mix for a minute or two until combined.


8. Add the vanilla to the butter/sugar mixture, and mix until just combined.


9. Remove the bowl from the stand attachment, and fold in the flour mixture.


10. Pre-heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.

11. When the cookie dough is at a point where you can still see lots of flour and it looks under-mixed, add the chocolate chips.


12. Fold the batter together only a few more times, you should still be able to see several streaks of unmixed flour in the batter.


13. Place parchment paper on top of a cookie sheet, and with an ice cream scoop, scoop out the cookie dough onto the sheet, no more than 8 at a time. (Spread out in a three-two-three pattern.)

IMG_4654 (2)

14. Bake for about 12 minutes, until crisp golden brown edges, and soft and cakey in the middle.



15.Wait until they are fully cooled to— Yeah, right.


Halo of white light. All hail. Just kidding, something was wrong with the camera.

These are the best cookies in the entire freaking world.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

*Oatmeal Raisin Cookies*


Oatmeal Raisin Cookie with its friend, Vanilla Ice Cream


People always have this way of organizing themselves into groups.

Starting from early developmental years, children tend to befriend other children who look like them, and then of course, they grow up into perfectly reasonable, rational adults who form into other kinds of groups, based on other kinds of similarities. These groups are many and multifaceted.

In the cookie group, for instance, people are divided into four major camps.

There are the Chocolate Chip Cookie people, the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie people, the Sugar Cookie people, and the Peanut Butter Cookie people.

Occasionally, there will be a Snickerdoodle person, but we don’t talk about them.

(Just kidding.)


When it comes to fantasy book series, people in my generation are divided into Harry Potter people and Lord of the Rings people. I’ve always been a Harry Potter person, but I can make room in the world and in my heart for some Lord of the Rings people too.

After my “generation” (I guess that means after I stopped being a teenager), people started dividing into Twilight people and Hunger Game people, and as with everything that came after my “time”, like Justin Bieber and boys with skinny jeans, I regarded them with nothing but incensed ridicule inter-mixed with a thinly disguised sense of superiority. But I can live in a world with Twi-hards and Hunger-Bungers or whatever they call themselves. I can make room in my heart for people who prefer different books to me.

Except of course, the Fifty Shades of Grey people.

I will never understand Fifty Shades of Grey people.

But I guess they have their dungeons, so they don’t really need me to understand them.

Just kidding.

Sort of.


In the technology world, there are the Mac people and the PC people. (There are divisions in my household over this. My sister is a Mac and I am a PC. Neither of us knows how to use the other’s computer.)

In my nerdy high school, there were the Casio people and the TI-89 people. I was a TI-89 person. Turning on a Casio was like an eight step pointless process.


Across our seven continents, there live brown people, and white people, and black people and green people.

We love all of them equally, although we do politely inquire into the health of the green people.


So when my soon to be brother-in-law popped in last week, I was giddy with both joy and anticipation.

“What kind of cookies does he like?” I asked my sister, bouncing excitedly. “What kind?”

I was waiting for the answer I thought I knew was coming.

Because you see, even though we all know the world is divided into many different people, with many different likes and many different dislikes, it always–remarkably–surprises us, to find out this fact, again and again, in different areas of our lives.

We seem to forget, at every conceivable opportunity, that given a choice between two things, another person might choose differently from us for no other reason other than that they have different preferences than we do.

And when those people are people we love, we understand it less.

The same basic principle applied here.

My sister, hesitating in response to my question, gave me a look. It was the look a doctor gives when diagnosing a patient with chicken pox. Grim, and firm. The you-aren’t-going-to-like-what-I-have-to-say-but-you-are-going-to-have-to come-to-terms-with-it look.

“He likes Oatmeal Raisin.” she said.

Oh dear. I thought.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

“Yeah” she shrugged, reading my expression, “I don’t get it either.”

So entrenched were we both in the Chocolate Chip Cookie camp, that coming out of that tent and peering across the creek at the distant, scantily populated Oatmeal Raisin Cookie camp seemed like star-gazing at a different planet with a strange alien race.

Peering across, and wondering if I could make the journey, I realized something.

If my soon-to-be brother-in-law (that is a lot of hyphens) lived in the same Chocolate Chip Cookie camp as me and my sister, I would never have had the opportunity–or reason–to bake Oatmeal Raisin cookies.

I would have been so happy to party in my own Chocolate Chip Cookie camp, recreating the Chocolate Chip cookie a hundred times, trying to find the perfect recipe, that my oven would never have known the subtle and rich flavors of the Oatmeal Raisin cookie.

Without the refreshing inclusion of people in life who are different from you, I realized, your existence would be reduced to a prolonged and tedious study of yourself. And if you only spend time thinking about what you like, what you want, and what you enjoy– and spending time with only those who agree with you–you turn into a human being who is about as interesting as a contaminated sack of rotting potatoes lying forgotten in a shed.

And so I resolved to take the first step, sniffed the air around me, and tiptoed towards the creek, venturing out to try something new.

“I’m going to do it.” I said excitedly, with a sense of purpose. I looked at my sister–so much insight had revealed itself to me in those moments, and I wondered if she knew the importance of the journey I was about to take. She grunted, eyes stuck to her i-phone. I knew she was masking a sense of awe and admiration.

The creek was not too far, not too wide, nor too deep for me to wade through it, to try a taste from the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie camp, and wonder whether I could alter the recipe, just so, so that it would be favorable to me.

I could, I thought. I very well could.

And after baking those Oatmeal Raisin cookies, I packaged a few and brought them back with me, into my own Chocolate Chip Cookie camp.

As I waited, bated breath, for the verdict, the tension could be felt heavy in the air.

“Damn, this makes me actually like Oatmeal Raisin.” My sister said, chomping.

“YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARS.” I roared triumphantly.

And the world felt like just a little bit better place.


Recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies adapted from here.

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 ¼ cup flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 3/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins, soaked


  1. Cream butter and sugars together. (I like to leave them together, sitting outside, so that the butter comes to room temperature while I prepare the dry ingredients.


2.  Let the raisins soak in hot water. They start to look weird, but plump up nicely.IMG_4546

3. Prepare the dry ingredients. Add flour, salt, and baking soda. Then add the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cardamom to taste. Mix thoroughly. Smiley face mug is watching you.IMG_4547

4. Watch the mixer do its thing with the butter and sugars. Be amused as your 8 month old mimics the noise of the mixer. “AAAAAAAAAAAA”IMG_4548

5. Add the eggs, and mix again. Then add the vanilla and almond extracts, and give it one more good mix, just a few seconds.

6. Add about half of the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, and stir until well blended.


7. Add remaining flour mixture, and stir until well blended. You can use the mixer for this step, but apparently these cookies can become over-blended easily, so I just did it by hand.

All mixed up!IMG_4553

8. Add the rolled oats…IMG_4554

9. And the raisins, and mix together, thoroughly.


10. Scoop the batter onto a cookie tray lined with parchment paper using an ice cream scoop.


11. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. The outer edges will be crispy, the inside will be chewy, the sweetness will be just right, and the blend of spices will add a subtle complexity of flavor impossible to resist. Enjoy!

The Coffee Macaron

*The Coffee Macaron*

one macaron

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman attempting a French macaron recipe must be in want of unnecessary frustration.

“It’s the only explanation…” I exclaimed the other day, standing over a tray of systematically arranged macaron shells, just as my sister skipped down the staircase.

“Are you quoting Shakespeare to yourself again, weirdo?” she asked, approaching the stove to see the baked pastries, fresh out of the oven.

I hadn’t realized I had been speaking out loud.

“It is the only explanation…” I continued, “for why an otherwise balanced and sane individual would embark upon such a seemingly fruitless journey.”

“Why do you stand in the kitchen making loud random proclamations, oh ‘balanced’ and ‘sane’ one?” She asked.

“How do you not know the difference between Jane Austen and Shakespeare, oh college graduate?” I asked in return.

“I know the difference! I was’t paying attention to what you were blabbering!” She responded, but I was too wrapped up in my train of thought to hear.

“A fact has dawned on me, dear sister,” I interrupted –she shot me a very familiar look of annoyance–“that after spending not one or two, but THREE days of massaging, sifting and aging every ingredient in these macarons, what I am left with are A)–” (I held up one finger for her) “bland cookie shells which completely rely on the flavor of the filling for their taste and B)–” (I held up a second finger) “–A very large– and perhaps misguided–sense of immense pride and accomplishment.”

“You? Proud?” She coughed, disbelievingly, her voice entering a high octave of concern as she removed my fingers, still hovering in mid-air, away from her face.

“Startling, isn’t it?!” I agreed. Her eyes narrowed.“Even one as humble as I must experience a dash of pride! Do you have any idea how hard it is to make these?!” I asked, as my sister gave one of them a poke.

“Yeah, you told me only eight hundred bajillion times.”

“But.” I looked at her.

“But what?”

“I don’t get it.”

“What” she enunciated quietly, like a teacher trying to extract a difficult answer from a particularly slow student, “–don’t you get?”

“Basically, if these were pre-packaged and sold next to twinkies at the grocery store instead of prettied up in a glass case, no one would bother paying a million dollars for them.”

“Well, duh.”

“I must enjoy frustration,” I said, pacing back and forth now, “because the more complicated I found out the process was, the more determined I became to make them… I spent weeks!” I said, turning towards my sister, who was now looking as though she regretted coming downstairs, “Weeks!! It would be constantly running in the back of my head, as I tried to figure out the best way to mix the ingredients, how I’d sift them–I could have spent the same amount of energy to learn rocket science, or a new language, but I chose this!”

My sister offered some words of what sounded like compassion intermixed with several pointed aspersions directed at the state of my mental health.

Wrapped up in my thoughts, I hardly noticed when she nudged me towards the couch, then went back to the kitchen to dig a spoon into the coffee-infused white chocolate ganache and dollop it onto a nearby macaron, twisting a second on top and taking a large bite.

“Do you realize what this means?!” I burst forth, getting up again. “I could have learned French in the time it took to make these little round pointless cookies! How many hours of my life have I wasted?!”

But then I heard a sound.

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm” my sister said, closing her eyes, almost reverently.

I hadn’t noticed that she had tried one.


Suddenly, it didn’t matter how much effort was expended after all.

“Is it good?”

“MMGGOOD SOO GOOD” she articulated, mouth full of macaron.

“Huh,” I said, a new realization dawning on me, “I guess some frustrations are worth it after all.”

“No.” She stated.


“No, not worth it. Way too much work. But SO SO GOOD.”

“What’s going on?” My mom wandered into the kitchen.

“It turns out, dear mother,” I began, recovering, “that frustration is its own reward, and a woman wanting to make a French macaron recipe…must be in want of that rewarding frustration…”, and as my mother raised her eyebrows, my sister, with the freed air of an escaped zoo animal, tucked out of the room, three macarons in hand.



In my opinion, the only macaron worth creating is the Colombian Coffee.

The first step of making macarons is to clear your mind of doubt, and exercise the same amount of resilience and focus as when embarking on a project that could go wrong at pretty much every moment. Good luck.

Day One

Step One: The Egg White… The Older, The Wiser, The Better.

The story begins with three egg whites.

You separate the egg yellows from the whites, and then measure them, by the gram. Specificity is a necessity in this adventure. Remember, making a macaron is like dating the most high-maintenance partner in the world. They will never be happy until you jump through all the hoops. And then they still probably won’t be happy. But don’t think about that.


How many grams do you want? About 90g. But if you get 95g or 96g, then that’s okay too. The macaron will allow you some margin of error, but not too much.

Now that you’ve measured the egg whites, you can’t just use them.

You have to age them. (This is the part where my sister rolls her eyes. She spends a lot of time rolling her eyes when I explain the process going into this recipe.)

So stick some aluminum foil on top and put them in the fridge. The longer the better. But a day or so should be fine.

Day Two

Step Two: Almond Flour and Powdered Sugar…The Friends Who Are Sifted Together, Stay Together

Ah, the dry ingredients.

The second step begins with three pieces of equipment: The sifter, the weighing scale, and the food processor.


Sift the almond flour onto a plate or bowl, and then measure about 110g.

Next, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl, and measure about 200g.

Third, sift the ground coffee. I’d use about a tablespoon or two.

Put the three ingredients into a food processor, and pulse together until well blended.

Then, when you think you are done, you sift the ingredients again together.

Cover the dry ingredients with foil and put away in the fridge.

Day Three

Step ThreePreparing the special equipment

The day that you want to make the cookies, keep the aged egg whites outside on the counter.

Take two pieces of parchment paper, and trace circles onto them to ensure symmetry. I use the lid of my baby’s bottle. It makes the perfect-sized circles.

Place a large ziploc bag in a tall glass, with one corner at the bottom of the glass, and fold the ends of the ziploc bag over the edge of the glass.


Step Four: Coffee White Chocolate Ganache

(This ganache is the best thing I’ve ever had. I could eat a bucket of this.)

Heat the heavy cream and coffee beans in a separate sauce pan until steaming, for a few minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes to an hour.

Heat some water over the stove in a saucepan–it shouldn’t be steaming but not boiling. Place a heat proof bowl on top of the sauce pan, and break white chocolate pieces into the bowl and stir until melted.

Warm the coffee mixture again, and pour the strained mixture into the melted white chocolate. Throw away the coffee beans.

Mix the ganache together until a thicker consistency and set aside. You could place the ganache, once cooled, into a plastic bag to pipe onto the cookies later, but I find it easier to just spoon it on.

Step Five: It All Comes Together

In a bowl –preferably steel, but at this point, who cares– whisk, (on medium speed) the aged egg whites, lemon juice, vanilla and salt together until frothy. Once frothy, whisk on high speed and slowly pour in the granulated sugar.

When the egg whites form stiff peaks–this is when they stand on their own–fold them into the dry ingredients.

But, WAIT!

Do not over mix.

And do not under mix.

Because if you do, the cookie will grow angry.

Fold the mixture until it forms a lava like consistency–usually 37-40 folds–and place the batter into the plastic ziploc bag assembled earlier.

Cut off the tip of the bag. At this point, you can get a second ziploc bag and poke a round piping tip into it, then stick the bag with the batter inside to make the piping more “round” but you don’t have to.

Step Six: You’re not done yet.


Preheat the oven to 350F.

Pipe cookies onto a parchment paper lining a cookie sheet until they fill out the circles. If after doing this for a while you find, like me, that you cannot draw circles with batter even when they are drawn onto the paper for you–make different shapes. I chose hearts.

When the batter is piped onto the parchment paper, tap the cookie sheet on the counter a few times. When members of your family look at you like you’re insane, explain that it’s all a part of the process.

Once tapped, take a little toothpick, and smooth out the air bubbles that will have risen to the top.

“Are you kidding me?” Well meaning loved ones might ask, incredulously, as they watch you hunch over your little circles of macaron batter, staring maniacally over the tops of them to see if they’re smooth and perfect. Ignore them and plow on. It is too late to turn back now.

Let sit outside for 20 minutes until the tops are dry, and batter doesn’t come off on your fingers when you poke them. Don’t let them sit for too long, because that causes them to crack.

“You don’t even bake them yet!?” They might interrupt.

They don’t know the half of it. It’s better they not know.

When the cookies are dry, use two cookie sheets underneath each parchment paper to bake. This distributes the heat better or something.

Bake cookies–until lightly golden brown, for about 25 minutes. If they under bake, they won’t scrape off the parchment paper, but they’ll still taste good. If they over bake, they get a little hard.

Step Seven: The Assembly

The cookies have to be completely cooled before the ganache can be scooped in the center. Assemble the cookies based on the shape. You won’t have too many problems unless like mine, your macarons are less circular and more amoeba shaped. Find the two amoebas that most closely resemble each other.

Scoop ganache into the center of one cookie and gently twist another on top of it.

Step Eight: You thought you were done.

Don’t eat them all right away. Store in the fridge; they are better the next day. The flavor of the ganache must have time to infuse into the macaron shell.

I wish I was kidding.

After writing all this down, I kind of feel like I deserve a cookie.

Maybe I’ll just go to the store and get a twinkie.


Recipe, with ingredients are included on a previous post.

Coffee Macaron Shells

  • 90g Aged Egg Whites
  • 110g Sifted Almond Flour
  • 200g Sifted Powdered Sugar
  • 2 tbsp Sifted Ground Coffee (I use Colombian decaff)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/8 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 25g Granulated Sugar
  • Pinch Salt

Coffee Infused White Chocolate Ganache

  • 200g White Chocolate
  • 150g Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 cup Whole Coffee Beans (I use Colombian decaff)

To make ganache, warm heavy cream with coffee beans in a sauce pan until simmering, then let steep together at room temperature for about 30 minutes to an hour. Heat white chocolate pieces over a double boiler. Strain and re-heat heavy cream mixture. Pour the cream over the melted white chocolate, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken. Set aside or refrigerate.

For cookies, put the sifted coffee grounds, sifted almond flour and sifted powdered sugar into a food processor. Sift all the ingredients together again and place in a large bowl. Next, make a meringue by whisking egg whites, lemon juice, vanilla and salt until frothy. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar util stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients until a lava-like consistency, then pour into a piping bag. Pipe cookies in circular shape onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Once piped, tap the cookie sheet down on the table a few times to release air bubbles. Pop the air bubbles with a toothpick to smooth out the surface.

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Let cookies dry at room temperature for 20-25 minutes until the surface is elastic when touched lightly and you don’t get batter on your finger.

Bake cookies with two cookie trays to one parchment sheet for about 25 minutes.

When cookies are completely cooled, make sandwiches with them by putting ganache in the center. Enjoy!

Ice cream cake

*Ice Cream Cake*

Sometimes, in life, you need cake.


Chocolate cake all around. Coffee ice cream center. Coffee macarons on top, with dark chocolate ganache filling.

But it isn’t always that people celebrated milestones with cakes. The tradition of celebrating birthdays with cake originates from ancient Romans.


Cake just before frosting, out of the freezer.

In the 1400’s, bakeries in Germany started marketing one layer cakes (which were basically sweet breads) for birthdays and weddings.

Frosting the cake.

Frosting the cake.

The song “Happy Birthday To You” was popularized in the early 1900s.

Early 1900s! I had great-grandparents alive then.

I know what you’re thinking. Where does she get all this wonderful information? Surely not from Wikipedia. She must be filled with wise tidbits about history.

Coffee Macarons

Coffee Macarons

The history of ice cream, however, extends far further–as early as the second century BC.

I did not have great-grandparents alive then.

People used to eat flavored snow, then one fine day, Marco Polo came with a recipe for sherbet from the “far east”. So really, it’s the far east we have to thank for modern ice cream.

And also, spaghetti. But that’s another story.

Birthday cake slice cropped

First slice.

Ice cream cake is a relatively recent invention, dating back to the Victorian era.

Until the industrial revolution, layers of cake with frosting were reserved only for the wealthy. Until the internet, recipes were only passed down in families, or through friends.

Today, everyone can make their favorite cake at home, and world class recipes are just a click away.

Which is why, this year, for my birthday, I decided to make something I had never made before.

“Please don’t.” members of my family cried, “Please stop baking things…we can’t fit into our jeans.”

“It is my birthday” I replied, triumphantly. “No one can argue about a cake on a birthday.”

And no one did.

So I made three things. And put them all together.

And no one fit into their jeans ever again.

The End.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Decorations done by my sister.

Decorations done by my sister.


Recipe for chocolate cake & frosting adapted from the Pioneer Woman.

Recipe for coffee macarons adapted from the spice train. Recipe for white chocolate coffee ganache adapted from oven loven:

  • 90 grams aged egg whites (weigh them, keep them in the fridge for at least a day, and then leave on the counter until room temperature).
  • 110 grams almond flour (sifted)
  • 200 grams powdered sugar (sifted)
  • 2 tsp ground coffee (sifted)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1/8 tsp lemon juice
  • 25 grams granulated sugar


  • 200 grams white chocolate
  • 150 grams heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup whole coffee beans

For Ganache: Heat white chocolate over double boiler. Warm heavy cream with coffee beans in a sauce pan and whisk into melted white chocolate. Store it in the fridge until ready to use.

For macaron cookies:

Take egg whites out of the fridge and wait until they are at room temperature.

Draw circles (if needed) on parchment paper on cookie sheets. Place a ziploc bag in a tall glass, with one corner at the bottom like a piping bag.

Pulse together almond flour, powdered sugar and ground coffee. Sift the whole mixture together into a bowl.

Whisk egg whites, vanilla, lemon juice and salt until frothy. Slowly pour in granulated sugar as they whisk into stiff peaks.

Fold egg mixture into almond flour mixture until lava like consistency then put batter into the Ziploc bag. Cut end of the bag and pipe cookies onto parchment paper.

Slam tray down a few times to bring air bubbles to surface. With a toothpick, pop the bubbles and smooth out the surface. Let dry for 20 minutes.

Bake for 20-25 minutes with two cookie trays (rather than one), and watch carefully for browning.

Wait until they cool, and add ganache.

Recipe for coffee ice cream (from David Lebovitz’ “The Perfect Scoop”):

(This is easily the best coffee ice cream ever. I’ve never had a coffee ice cream that tastes better than this version.)

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups whole coffee beans (I use decaff Colombian coffee; quality of brand doesn’t matter.)
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 10 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tsp finely ground coffee

Warm milk, sugar, coffee beans, salt and 1 cup of the cream. Once steaming, remove from heat and let steep for an hour.

Pour 2 cups of heavy cream into a bowl sitting over an ice bath, with a mesh strainer on top.

In a second bowl, whisk egg yolks. Rewarm the coffee-milk mixture and slowly pour a little into the egg yolks while whisking egg yolks vigorously. Pour the egg mixture int the coffee-milk mixture and continue to stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens, like custard.

Pour custard into the bowl with heavy cream sitting on the ice bath, and strain out the coffee beans and whatever eggs may have scrambled at the bottom. Scrape all the custard through the strainer.

Add vanilla and coffee to the ice cream base, and then refrigerate until cold.

Stick in ice cream machine (according to manufacturer’s instructions.)


Assembly: Freeze each cake layer, then add the coffee ice cream in the middle. Freeze whole thing, and then add ganache frosting and cookies. Enjoy!

Cartman cropped

“Screw you guys, I’m making cake.”




Can you spot Mr. Angry Pants?

I have a problem with being a perfectionist.

I wish this meant that everything I tried to do turned out perfect. Instead, what it means is that the first time I do something, it is always terrible. So I do it again, and it is less terrible. Then, the third time, it’s not terrible, but it could be better. The result of this phenomenon is that many of my actions follow the same, neurotic pattern.

I can be found studying how to accomplish a new task for days before actually doing it (“But let’s look up the best recipe for plantains” I tell my sister, who, ignoring me, just chucks them onto a sauce pan, and finds they turn out perfectly fine). When outside, I try to pull out the last of the tiniest weeds from the ground long after everyone else is bored and wants to go inside, and just the other day, I realized I am probably going to re-write this blog post several hundred times to get it just right, and probably forget about it after a week of tinkering with it, and never hit ‘publish’.

So in an effort to throw caution to the wind, I will only revise this post once. Okay, maybe twice. Eight–eight times.


This is Mr. Angry-Pants, hanging out with Mr. Escaped Convict, both removed from the happy, normal Minions living in Minion-Land.

The good thing about minions is that they are most “perfect” when they look a little demented.


I recently discovered a great book, called “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, by Marie Kondo, the successful Japanese consultant who developed the “Kon-Mari” method of organization.

My husband likes to say that every time I read a good book, I become a little crazy.

I would like to say that his argument is baseless, but then he reminds me of the three months I kept talking about farming after reading “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball; the four months I went to the gym every day after reading “The Power of Habit”by Charles Duhigg, and not to mention my long-standing, but still unrealized desire to be invited to study at Hogwarts.

(I could go on, which is sort of the point, but let me not get distracted. After all, I’ve only allowed myself two revisions. Eight. We’re on the eighth.)


Husband’s Pants. No one is safe from my tidying rampage. I was not allowed to photograph the underwear drawer.

To everyone’s general annoyance, all I’ve been talking about for the last week and a half is how different categories of my possessions have become “KonMari’d”, and how they all now “spark a joy”.

The great thing about this method of tidying is that it takes into account that we are all in fact lazy and pointlessly attached to our ridiculous memorabilia.

But the most interesting part is the philosophy behind the technique—which relies on the premise that maybe what you are meant to do with your finite time in this long expanding universe is whatever will make your soul spark with joy. And the simple, meditative act of thinking about performing the actions and hanging onto the objects which truly ‘spark joy’ for you make you connect more closely to who you are–one little action, or one little button–at a time.


So ever since I saw Nerdy Nummies’ Rosanna Pansino make these Minion cupcakes, I was itching to make them, and only needed an excuse.

Mr. Happy Pants. We didn't name all of them, but we should have.

Mr. Happy Pants. We didn’t name all of them, but we should have.

The other weekend, my oldest best friend came to visit, and that was my excuse.

She needed minion cupcakes in her life. I needed minion cupcakes in my life.

In fact, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t need minion cupcakes in their life.

My daughter stuck her foot on the smiley face.

My daughter stuck her foot on the smiley face.

In her book, Marie Kondo claims that she is always surprised by the seemingly random things people are in love with–old things, tattered things, things that you wouldn’t think twice to chuck in the bin.

As it turns out “perfection” or true tidiness, involves embracing those aspects of ourselves which are imperfect, and arranging them around us in a way that makes us happy.

Normal citizens of Minion Land.

Mr. Angry Pants disrupts the Normal citizens of Minion Land.

Look at their adorable little demented faces.

None of these minions are drawn perfectly. But at least for me, looking at their abnormal, imperfectly assembled faces sparks joy.

Look at his happy, unsuspecting face.

So unsuspecting. So trusting.

At least until I eat them.


Good-bye, happy minion.


Recipe for chocolate cupcakes adapted from The Pioneer Woman:

(This is the most requested cake I’ve ever had. It’s not fair to the other cakes. Thanks, Pioneer Woman.)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 4 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup coffee
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (fill it up to almost 1/2 cup, then add water to make liquidy)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp vanilla

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar and salt. In a measuring cup, add yogurt, 2 eggs, baking soda and vanilla. Melt butter on a saucepan. Add cocoa powder to it. When the butter is all melted, add coffee. Stir until slightly bubbly; just a few minutes. Stir into flour mixture. Add yogurt mixture to flour mixture.

Recipe for cream cheese frosting:

  • 2 packages cream cheese
  • 1/4 stick butter
  • 3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • blue food coloring

Cream together room temperature cream cheese and butter. Add vanilla, powdered sugar and food coloring. Put into a piping or ziploc bag, and attach whatever tip you want.

Recipe for minions from Nerdy Nummies:

  • Smarties candy
  • Chocolate cookie icing
  • Blue cookie icing
  • Milano cookies

Separate out the white smarties from the other colors. Stick it onto the milano cookie with chocolate icing. Make eyeballs, hair, and glasses with chocolate icing. Make overalls with blue icing and add buttons with brown icing.

Once they are dry, stick them into the frosted cupcakes.

Enjoy getting to know your minion community. And then eat them, mercilessly, one by one.

Of Marriageable Age, by Sharon Maas

There is something about the experience of reading a good book; that like a well-brewed cup of coffee, stays with you long after it is finished.

A little over a month ago, I had the opportunity to read Of Marriageable Age by Sharon Maas, in exchange for an honest review on a popular reading and book review website.

I don’t know what I was expecting, when I began–but it certainly wasn’t to find myself in the middle of the night staring entranced at the laptop, feverishly swishing at virtual pages; blatantly ignoring the loud, throbbing sleep signals pulsing in my forehead.

The next morning my husband woke up a little alarmed at what must have been my demented, unblinking expression; and suggested, a little gently, that it might be healthy for me to stop reading after midnight.

But good books, often by definition, tend to command your attention; and though I spent the next 24 hours walking around like a catatonic zombie, it was worth it.


“That is the only reason I did not speak up sooner, because I knew you could offer more [You, of all people! An Oxford man!] — the West, a good education, but not this! If you had taken him to England, let him grow up there and be a doctor worthy of the name and with all the privileges he deserves I would not have interfered, but this…’

“Privileges! I remember a day when there was no talk of privileges but only of shame.”  –Nataraj’s father, p 106-7

The story begins in an orphanage in 1947, Tamil Nadu, India—from the perspective of a little boy called Paul— on the day that he is adopted by a kind, gray-blue eyed man he refers to as “sahib” (a term which I have only known to mean “sir” in Hindi, but which at the time, was–and apparently still is in Tamil–a race distinction meaning “white”.)

Paul notes that instead of wearing trousers like other sahibs, his soon-to-be father was wearing a lungi like “any other man”, and instead of shaking hands, the way that sahibs and memsahibs do; upon greeting the nun, Mother Immaculata, at the orphanage, the man makes a pranam to her.

After a very grateful Paul is chosen, desperately clinging to his new father’s finger, the sahib props him up on his motorcycle and tells him that from now on, Paul will be called “Nataraj”.

Nataraj grows up in a remote little impoverished village in Tamil Nadu, serving as his father’s assistant. His father is the village doctor (called “daktah sahib” by locals), and is highly respected in the community—serving anyone and everyone who travels to see him.


“’Ma,’ Saroj began, tugging at the skirt of Ma’s sari.

Ma looked down and smiled. Her hands were white with flour up to the elbows.

‘Yes, sweetheart?’

‘Why’s negro bad?’

Ma’s brow creased but her smile remained. Her hands went on working as she


‘Don’t believe that, dear. Don’t ever believe that.’” — Saroj’s mother, p 23

Stabroek Market, Guyana

The second chapter hops across a decade and a continent to 1956, in Georgetown, British Guiana to introduce a little girl named Saroj, accompanying her mother on a curious shopping trip in which they buy a Rajasthani sword.

Saroj pleasantly wonders who her gentle, soft-spoken mother is planning to kill with it, as the two of them walk through Stabroek market; the little girl bouncing about admiring the wonderful, bustling city of Georgetown, which could ‘reach out and fold you into soft wide arms and let you snuggle in.’

The sordid reality of a divided, racist Georgetown opens up to little Saroj not too long after however, when “Baba”, her father, discovers she has been playing with a black neighbor, whips her, and forces her to write “I must never play with negroes” on every line of her schoolbook.

Burning with anger, Saroj decides that one day she will get her revenge.


‘They’re looking for a husband for me,’ [six year old Savitri] said, ‘and that’s why I can’t play with you any more.’

‘But that’s so silly,’ said David.  ‘Because I’m going to marry you myself !’ ”  — Savitri and David, p 34

The final protagonist, Savitri, is introduced in the third chapter—as a little girl growing up in 1921, Madras, India– the daughter of a cook called “Iyer”, who works as a servant for a British family on their estate.

Savitri is a bit of a wild child. Much to the chagrin of her parents, unlike the other girls, she is always hiking up her skirt and petticoat to play cricket or climb trees. But her mother’s biggest concern is that she is in love with David, the master’s son.

David’s parents allow for the children’s friendship, seeing it as harmless, and Savitri innocently flutters and skips around the estates lining the streets Atkinson Avenue, and plays with David on the beaches of the Indian Ocean, knowing even then, in the back of her very young mind, that it is not meant to last.


Each chapter weaves the three stories of Nataraj, Saroj and Savitri together as they grow up– amidst the backdrop of racial tension, changing societies, and oppressive governments or families–across different parts of the globe; providing shades and touches to the other two story lines, until they come together in book’s resolution.

Rich, vivid and beautifully painted—the imagery sucks you in from the first few words. The author doesn’t just write about tropical Georgetown, or freezing London, or a flood in Tamil Nadu; she makes you feel as though the scenes are unfolding around you.

Reading this book is a sensory experience–characters pop alive vividly, warmly inviting you into their vibrant, colorful world. Sharon Maas has lived in all the places described in the book, and this is apparent in every line.

“Betty Auntie was really nice. She would offer them soursop juice and pine tarts and tamarind balls, guava-jelly sandwiches and ice cold Milo.” — Saroj, p 20

When I asked her how she was able to recreate all these places for us, and get the rhythm just right, she said “I think it is just that wherever I am, I tend to “absorb” a country’s spirit more than I take in the facts.

“I might by shaky, for instance, on India’s history, politics, statistics and so on, but I can actually feel India’s soul, its essence. So when I write about India – as an example – I tune into that memory of India’s essence, which is still somehow within me, and it let it flow into the writing. The other things, the facts, I can always check up on Google or by reading books. But it’s the spirit that interests me more, and that I would like to transmit to readers.”

IMG_0182 (1)

Sharon Maas in India


It’s perhaps this spirit that is captured not just in the various parts of the globe where the author has lived or traveled, but also in the characters who are born to those cities (and those distinctive decades). Dripping with symbolism, the book comes alive as each character has to transform—managing, slowly, in his or her own way, to emerge out of the darker aspects of the humanity surrounding them and making the challenging choice to live in the liberating light.

Each character’s voice is unique, and presented authentically—even the less-sympathetic characters are depicted with honesty.

In each situation, the story presents both sides—for Nataraj, this means discovering a balance between the lure of first world England versus the rural, third world village from where he came. For Saroj, this means fighting her way through an oppressive Hindu family life, but slowly understanding the truth behind her religion. For Savitri, it is in the complex and endearing form of unconditionally loving the British, who ruled her people, and unconditionally loving her family, who rebelled against them.

The story never idealizes one side over the other, but rather paints the world as it appeared from both sides of the battle lines. Perplexed by what they felt were extraordinarily repressive customs, women with power–who in a less skilled author’s hand could easily be depicted as villains–in this story try earnestly (albeit condescendingly) to help those whom they view to be the repressed, voiceless girls of Indian families–forced to acquiesce their own destinies to the will of their family and broader society–the moment they grow to become ‘of marriageable age’.

The author has drawn on her own experiences to describe the struggle of women growing up in the last century.

“I grew up in the 20th century and I had a first-hand experience of the changes women as a whole went through. My mother was one of the first feminists in my country [Guyana] and raised me with feminist ideals; but I was critical of some of these ideals and as a young girl coming of age I was very eager to explore, to examine for myself, to see what works for women and what doesn’t, and what kind of woman I myself wanted to become.

“I have lived with women in traditional set-ups in India and Guyana, and with liberal, modern women in developed Western countries; I see failings on both sides, pain and heartache in all models, so in the end I think that each woman must find out for herself what it means to live in this day and age. There are more opportunities for us than ever before, but we have to be careful not lose the essence of what makes us women. Not just to become men with boobs, copying what men do and reproducing all the mistakes they made, but to be unique and whole and free. It’s not as easy as it seems!”


“Saroj chased the butterflies all through the back garden. ‘Don’t chase them,’ Ma said. ‘Just stand still, and if you’re lucky one might alight on your shoulder. See…’

Saroj stood stock still so the butterfly would land on her but it didn’t.

‘You want it too much,’ Ma said smiling. ‘You have to be still inside as well as outside.’” Saroj’s mother, p 14-15.

Nataraj, Saroj and Savitri’s stories are written in a time when countries all over the world were shedding their colonial-era cocoons—and illustrates how people had to transform themselves as individuals to begin the slow process of creating a better world.

At its heart, the novel’s philosophy emerges through the character of Savitri—who is able to turn her ego inwards and listen to the sense and hearts of all the sentient beings around her.

But Sharon Maas did not set out to promote any philosophy; rather, her ideals came through her characters, when they had to deal with the things life threw at them. In the end, her philosophy rang through in the novel: “I believe that the human species is at its core good, and that our life on earth is about learning to find that goodness and to live it. I believe that love is the highest good, and that to live is to learn to love – completely and unconditionally.”

Sharon Maas


After telling her that I connected with the book personally, I asked how she was able to create this dynamic between the story and her readers.

“My way is to absorb more through the heart, rather than through the brain. Perhaps this allows readers to connect in a more intimate way than through the intellect. Through the spaces between the words rather than through the words themselves.”

When asked what she would like readers to take from her story, she said “I would like them to just come along with me for the journey and afterwards, when they close the last page, say it was a wonderful, unforgettable one.”

Since my husband can attest for the “unforgettable” expression on my face while I guzzled down a pot full of coffee after a night of no sleep thanks to Of Marriageable Age, I can say that for my part, this hope was fulfilled.

Photo Credits:

Stabroek Market, Guyana:

Sharon Maas in India: Sharon Maas, personal photographs

Sharon Maas:

Granadilla Tarts in Mozambique and Sisterly Bonding in Supermarkets

Granadillas. Wrinkly and yellowish on the outside. Gooey, sweet and tangy eye-things on the inside.

Granadillas (Passion Fruit): Wrinkly and yellowish on the outside. Gooey, sweet and tangy eye-things on the inside.

I remember it being really rare, while growing up in Florida, to come across litchis, guavas or any other “exotic” fruits in the local grocery stores that my parents would remember from their childhoods in India–outside of maybe the occasional crate of mangoes during the summer time.

But as we had a mango tree in our own backyard, I did not consider this to be very “exotic”; and always felt that our grocery stores were missing something.

Life has a funny way of being ironic.

These days, I come across so many new and exotic things that I find myself sometimes clinging on to the rare, battered box of chips ahoy in the grocery store in Mozambique, and turning to my loved ones to say, “Look—SNIFF IT—you can still smell America.”

For some reason, people don’t like to shop with me.

Supermarkets in Maputo, the capital city, are much like those I grew up with in the US, (except decidedly less organized); and the open air markets here most closely resemble flea markets back home. But when you begin to drive to the outer skirts of town along the coastline and start to approach the farming villages–the markets on the side of the road begin to take on a distinctly rural, African vibe.

Women and young children, some dressed in traditional capulanas–swarm you, the moment you get out of the car–to get you to buy their cashews, or fresh honey, or a gigantic pile of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Ladies who, a moment ago, were enjoying the shade of nearby trees rush to get up in the scorching Mozambique sun, as you express even the slightest interest in their baskets of assorted piri-piri peppers, or neat rows of sugar-apples (“Seethaphal” in India) lined up on a thin sheet on the dirt road–some dark shades of green, others spotted and crusty. They break off chunks of the sweet potato roots–which look as though they have just been plucked out of the earth, caked as they are with dirt–with their teeth, to show you their quality.

Sampling Seethapal

Sampling Seethaphal, (August 2012)

I’ve had to ask the locals, many times, while pointing to a particular product I’ve never seen “Que é isso?” to be answered with free samples of fruits and vegetables; some varieties of which I doubt exist outside of this little bubble of society–as they form on little vines, or taste too leathery, but have just a tiny little bit of sweetness at the end–(not likely marketable to a wide audience, perhaps; but as fascinating as they are untouched by the ever-present branches of the industrial revolution).

It’s at the same time humbling—a glaring example of disparity in global wealth distribution—as it is remarkable: an organic farmer’s dream come true.

And it was with this bustling image in my mind that I went back home to the US this last holiday, and experienced a bit of reverse-culture-shock while admiring the pristine, gleaming rows of identically shelved boxes in every aisle of the Publix grocery store–and gawked in surprise at the polite, efficient and non-invasive customer service.

“Why are all the employees smiling and so happy to see us?” I whispered to my sister suspiciously, “…and how come everyone shopping here politely says ‘excuse me’ from three feet away, when they haven’t even bumped us with their carts?”

Several times, my sister had to smile apologetically at other patrons, as I startled them by jumping excitedly, sporadically shouting “Look at how CLEAN everything is! Look at how orderly!” and then grabbing items from the shelves to show her, “LOOK! No sugar is spilling from the packets!”

But after an especially sharp whisper from her telling me to “get a grip” when I burst into applause at the Publix bakery aisle and tearfully hugged a box of chocolate chip cookies while singing an impromptu rendition of “America the Beautiful” — I had to stop abruptly, not at her reprimand, but at the sight of the produce section.

I stared, but this time not in awe—something in my brain registering a familiar sight, but with a different lens; like a familiar family picture, but with an odd new lighting—the same problem, but the other side of it—

A meticulously arranged pyramid of circular apples–blindingly bright red, each the same size, each the same shape.

Rows of gigantic bananas stacked on one another aesthetically–blindingly bright yellow, each the same size, each the same shape.

A neat bunch of symmetrical, cylindrical clean carrots–blindingly bright orange, each the same size, each the same shape.

I blinked several times.

My left eye started to twitch.

Standing there, for several moments, gaping uselessly—I next remember being dragged out of the store slowly; still clinging, of course, to the box of cookies, but now suddenly unable to produce speech– pointing in blank shock–while my sister tugged at my arm, muttering things (in what I would like to think was a tone of irritated affection) that sounded like ‘gimme the cookies so we can pay, weirdo’.

But I didn’t hear her.

Everywhere; all around us–there had been a group of fruits that were all exactly the same in color, all exactly the same in shape–and when we went home to try them, all exactly the same in taste.

Fretfully, and to the growing bewilderment of my family, I ate one sickly sweet grape after another, becoming progressively more annoyed with every bite. My sister was regaling my parents with the day’s events. “Never taking her shopping again—”

“Why are they ALL sweet?!” I interrupted, finally finding my voice as my parents raised their eyebrows; concerned– “Why are they ALL so large? And ALL the same color? This is NOT normal! Some grapes are supposed to be tart! Some are supposed to be sweet! Some are supposed to be large–some are supposed to be small!”

My parents examined the grapes curiously. “Oh yeah…” they said, peering at them more closely.

“Are you a Dr. Seuss character?” My sister demanded, while popping a steady stream of grapes into her mouth and maintaining an eerie level of eye-contact; like a freedom fighter glaring at a poster of his dictator. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Wha–what’s wrong with that?”  I spluttered, a little unhinged, “This does not occur in nature!” I picked up three abnormal grapes to demonstrate. “Look at them–they all look like they’ve had some kind of grape-plastic-surgery! There is no nutritional point in eating this! We’re artificially increasing the amount of sugar we’re getting out of each fruit…why don’t we just  be honest with ourselves and eat plain sugar that just contains ‘essence of grape’ ?!”

Her eyes narrowed spitefully, as though I had said something unpatriotic.

After all, over the course of the last three years, my sister had been used to having the upper hand. “Oh, we can’t load the video you sent,” I would say over the phone, “–because we’re almost out of gigs this month. GIGS–as in, GIGABYTES.” or “No, we can’t watch TV and have the internet on at the same time; but now I want to watch this TV show, so I have to unplug the coffee pot.” or, “The Mindy Project? No, what documentary was that?” and so on.

So when the time came for frustration, it was normally the other way around.

But here I finally had my chance.

Here is where Mozambique wins.

Bilene Beach (August 2012)

Bilene Beach, Mozambique (August 2012)

“Because you see,” I began, in the kind, loving voice in which I give my sister life lessons–(which I say sounds slightly like Morgan Freeman; and she says sounds slightly like “Miss Piggy”)– “…the world was meant to be filled with variety.” I gestured towards the kitchen to indicate “the world”. My parents nodded, politely. My sister looked as though time had started to move very slowly.

“In the natural world, species that vary; prosper. They are more resistant to diseases, more resistant to change, and therefore, better equipped for survival…” I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, as my parents’ expressions glazed over, my sister began to stuff larger handfuls of grapes into her mouth like a panicked chipmunk; sensing a threat. I swatted the bag of grapes away from her. She scowled.

“…When all fruit trees produce identical fruits, like this; when there is too much homogeneity–” I enunciated the last word a little condescendingly–My sister lunged for the bag of grapes–I waved it out of her reach. “…that sameness makes a species weak.” I gestured suggestively in her direction. She had hunched over, a little, onto her knees, choking on the already excessive number of grapes in her mouth, and looked up at me; eyes brimming with rage. “–All fruit…” I continued, in a lilting voice heavy with emotion, “must not look the same…the way that all… humans…must not look the same–”

“I liked it better–” she said, clearly captivated; in between coughs, “–when you weren’t talking–”

“–Our world…” I went on, a little louder– “…thrives on our differences. When you try to make things look –and taste–and be the same, you are messing up the great balance of the universe.” I waved the bag around the kitchen again to indicate “the universe” and continued, eyes closed almost reverently now for discovering the great link between evolutionary biology and the human spirit– “Without knowing the tartness of a sour grape,” I paused for emphasis, concluding in a whisper, “–one will never…be able to value life’s sweetness.”

I opened my eyes to observe how the full effect of my profound observations had moved my family, when my vision obscured–

My sister lunged for the bag again—and this time was successful–managing to somehow tackle me to the ground and stuff her mouth with another twenty gigantic grapes—all the while releasing a manic, wild laugh of victory.

“SHKOO YOU!” she said, as I tried to get up, “WHO YOU CALLING WEAK NOW?”

I know I made a difference that day.

And so, last weekend, after carrying back bundles upon bundles of various fresh fruits from the farming village market, including an extra giant bag of granadillas–this conversation came to mind as I looked down to proudly see it contained a wide array of browns and yellows, often sweet and orange on the inside, but occasionally pale yellow and satisfyingly sour.

And as I admired their diversity, content in their bumps and flaws and differences; I knew the best thing to do would be to turn them into identical little yellow tarts.



Crust: Recipe adapted from:

Granadilla Tart

Granadilla Tart (March 2014)

1 and 1/4 cup AP flour (I use cake wheat flour)

1/2 cup Unsalted butter, cold.

1/2 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Sugar

3-4 tbsp Ice cold water

Mix salt and sugar to flour in a large bowl. Measure out cold butter, and chop it into cubes in the flour mixture (I used two butter knives). Then mix with fork to get tiny pieces. If you feel butter is melting, just stick the bowl in the fridge for a while. Add cold water by the tablespoon and mix with fork. Dough will be crumbly, but will start to stick together. Roll into a ball, cover in cling wrap and stick in fridge for an hour.


Filling: Recipe adapted from:

4 Eggs, Beaten

2/3 to 1 cup Granadilla Juice (from about 10 granadillas)

2 tbsp Full Cream Milk

1/2 cup Confectioner’s Sugar

Put the pulp of about 10-12 granadillas into a bowl, and strain out the liquid. (This part is a little time consuming, but worth it.) Save the seedy pulp.

Beat 4 eggs in a bowl. Add granadilla juice, milk, and sugar. Mix well. You might have to strain it once to make sure the sugar is dissolved. Stick bowl in fridge.

Preheat oven to 175C (350F). Roll out the pie dough over a floured surface, and cut into rectangles. Place in a buttered muffin pan, adjusting the uneven sides. Stick muffin pan in fridge until oven heats up.

Place dough in oven for about 10 minutes. Take out and spoon the granadilla mixture into each tart. Place back in oven for about 15 minutes.

When done, add pulp on top for decoration, and to add a bit more sour-sweet tartness.


Granadilla (Passion Fruit) Tarts


These tasted kind of like lemon tarts, but with a definite granadilla body. Next time, I would probably cook the custard before adding it in the oven, because the four eggs were a little overwhelming. I’d also thin out the dough to 1/8th of an inch rather than 1/4th. Adding the pulp on top brought out the granadilla flavor more. It is a little bit time consuming, with all the straining and draining–but you can always just use store-bought pulp or liquid.

Granadillas can last at room temperature for maybe a week, but in the fridge they last for a pretty long time.

Admittedly though, they taste best when in their purest form, just smashed open with your bare hands; revealing the gooey, sweet and sour seeds inside–freshly picked from a town that I would have once called  ‘exotic’ –in a little farming village 30 kilometers away from Bilene Beach, in Mozambique.

Happy Birthday, Purvi :-)

Happy Birthday, little sis 🙂

Homemade Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies


Ding Dong!

“Would you like to buy a Girl Scout cookie?”

Thus began the sales pitch–we were told to smile sweetly as the door creaked open, revealing our next-door neighbors–taught to pay small compliments to the potential clients–as they looked at us, politely; questioningly–were trained to develop our budding skills of careful flattery–by saying things like, “Your daughter is so beautiful!” only to be informed the baby they were holding was a boy.

Casting blundering small talk aside, out would come the folder.

Usually the grown-up would smile grimly at our gap-toothed, hopeful  expressions as they took it from us reluctantly–the folder which had a list of all the Girl Scout cookies on the margin, along with little squares for them to mark their orders–frowning in concentration as they thought of their waistlines, probably, or their bank balances (though, this was during the Clinton era, so maybe more the former than the latter)–and after a few moments of staring intently, they would sigh–the first sign of a withering willpower.

“Can I put you for a box of Thin Mints then?” We would ask innocently. Clench the deal.

You could see the battle on our clients’ features; the desire for cookies–the desire to have them, to eat them, in the near, yet distant future–slowly, visibly vanquishing the whispers of that irritating adult voice of rationality which says–you don’t really need this.

That would be our cue to smile and look up at them; eyes wide with little-girl wisdom.

And they would break.

“ARGHGH Fine. Yes. No! Make that THREE boxes of Thin Mints. And one of those Samoas. No, two! And the Peanut Butter ones as well!”

Who could blame them? There were cookies of all kinds at the supermarket, yes, but Girl Scout cookies are seasonal–after the season is over you have to wait a whole year to have them again–and anyway, they would convince themselves, which cold-hearted ogre could say ‘No’ to cookies–brought to their doorstep by people who themselves are made of ‘sugar, spice’ and all that other stuff?

The orders would come in, and we would deliver, our pigtails a-swinging, not knowing one day we would grow up to be on the other side of that door. Our clients’ eyes would grow large with happy anticipation–lighting up at the colorful, rectangular Girl Scout cookie boxes…and you could see the exact moment that the latent sleepy cookie monster (which lives in all of us) would wake abruptly–

Thin Mints.

The ring of euphoria would cloud their senses, as they would gaze down at the green box; opening it, ready to devour its contents.

The first crispy bite, the happy snap of the peppermint-chocolate cookie; with its smooth chocolate coating–would  dissolve their surroundings–and suddenly they would be reminded of a time when they were Girl Scouts, selling cookies door-to-door– and their Inner Cookie Monster would rejoice–his laughter echoing loudly through years of suppressed cookie-cravings…bursting open the doors of nostalgia.

But then, they would wake from their daydream, realize they live in Africa, and remember that no one here knows what on earth Girl Scout cookies are, and are much less likely to ring the bell selling them.

Sighing through memories of decades past, a solution would flash before them, rousing them to the present–their Inner Cookie Monster would sit up, blinking dramatically–the year is 2014, Inner Cookie Monster would prompt its owner to think–the age of information. The internet is filled, nay, seething with recipes! How many other people would have had the same daydream?

The Cookie Monster would twitch his head, as realization would dawn on them.


A distant bell would ring. Ding Dong!

And they would have to answer its call.


Recipe adapted from:


1/2 cup butter

3/4 to 1 cup white sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp peppermint extract

1 cup flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/8 tsp salt


1/2 bar Baking Chocolate

1 tsp Peppermint extract

1/4 cup Full cream milk (add bit by bit until correct consistency)

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and peppermint. In a separate bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add dry ingredients slowly to wet ingredients. Batter will be sticky. Transfer onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a cylinder (dough will be soft, but will come together). Cut cylinder in half, transfer onto saran wrap and roll up snugly into a paper towel roll (if available). Keep each roll in fridge overnight. (Or for a few hours, and then in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking.)

Heat oven to 175C (350F), and slice each cylinder into thin cookies (1/4 inch thick, if possible), and place onto buttered cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Prepare coating: Melt baking chocolate in the microwave until consistency is less than solid, but not liquid (when it gets pliable). Add peppermint extract and full cream milk. Chocolate will solidify a little after adding peppermint extract. Keep stirring and heating until reaches the consistency of chocolate fondue.

Dip cookies into coating (I used my fingers) and let set in the fridge.


These cookies turned out really well, satiating my craving for Thin Mints, and though they weren’t exactly like the real thing, they were close enough for my liking.

I did have to leave them in the fridge the whole time for the coating to stay the right consistency; and this time I used 3/4 cup sugar but next time I would use a little bit more.

My husband, who had never tried Thin Mint cookies before, curiously looked at the carefully arranged platter of little brown round cookies and poked them, skeptically, before popping one into his mouth.

Within seconds I turned around–the plate was half-empty, my husband was patting his belly contentedly, and through his eyes–I could see it–the Inner Cookie Monster–purring with satisfaction, as he turned to me to ask, Why have you never made these before? These are the greatest things ever!

…and the Girl Scout franchise took another cookie monster for its own.


Spicy Vegan Chili & Secret Ingredient


Last June, my mom called to ask me if I needed her to bring anything for me from America.

I looked in my pantry. I was running out of the special ingredient.

This recipe for vegan chili is delicious, healthy, super easy to make, and for this reason, is cooked almost every week in our home. A little over a year ago, I discovered that it is made even better with a special secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient is a unique, smoky hot sauce from a local Mexican restaurant chain in Florida called Tijuana Flats.

But I was in a conundrum, as I looked inside my pantry–did I need this sauce enough to make my mother have to say its name out loud in the restaurant?

I decided I did.

A little sheepishly, I explained to her what I needed, and my husband asked for his favorite sauce as well. We sent the names of the bottles and the quantities we wanted in an email, which she jotted down on an index card, a little skeptically.

The next day, while my mom was running errands, I happened to call her, and overheard the following polite customer-client exchange.

“Hi, Welcome to Tijuana Flats!”  

“Hiiiiii, Thank you…[awkward pause]…Do you sell sauces?”

“Yes! Yes, we do.”

“Goooood. Uh… could I have three bottles of…[mumbling] Don’t be a…Chicken…uh [incoherent]”

“[a little flustered] A–a chicken…? OH–OH YES! Yes, we have that. [polite, uncomfortable laughter] Yes!”

“–And, and one more..this…Slap my…sweet…”

“[unnaturally high] what?!”

“Yeah, ok, you read this. It’s on the index card.”


Recipe adapted from:


1 cup red-speckled (sugar) beans

1 cup red kidney beans

1 cup black beans

1 red onion

1 green bell pepper

2 carrots

1 jalapeno pepper (or green chili pepper)

3-4 cloves garlic

4 tomatoes or 1 can diced tomatoes (I use the ones with garlic, basil, oregano seasoning in them.)

Enough water to cover beans

1 can corn

Seasoning: Bay leaves (6), Dried Basil (2 tablespoons), Dried Oregano (2 tablespoons), Ground and/or Whole Cumin (1-2 tablespoons), Salt, Black Pepper

Secret ingredient: Tijuana Flat’s Don’t Be a Chicken Shit hot sauce.



Soak the beans in water for 3-4 hours until double in size.

Put about a teaspoon of oil into a pressure cooker. Chop up onion, green bell pepper, carrots, jalapeno pepper, and grated garlic cloves, and just throw them in the oil as you chop them, or you can put them in all together at the end, whatever’s easier for you. At the end, throw in the diced tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes.

Drain the soaked beans and rinse them a few times, and then add them into the pot, with enough water to cover the beans and vegetables completely.

Add the spices: bay leaves, basil, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. You can also add taco seasoning, red pepper flakes, or red chili powder depending on how spicy you want it. Seasoning is always to taste, but I love to add as much basil and oregano as I possibly can.

Pressure cook for about 7-8 whistles, or about 45 minutes to an hour.

When cooked, let pressure cooker cool down and release the whistle. The chili should have thickened, but if it’s watery, mash some of the beans together. Add the can of corn, and taste for salt.



Normally, chili is of course served with cheese, but we like to eat ours with yogurt (but it’s good enough on its own). Then we drizzle the secret ingredient: Tijuana Flat’s Don’t be a Chicken Shit hot sauce on top. Sometimes, my husband likes to add Slap My Sweet Ass and Call Me Sally, which is a garlic infused, sweet-and-spicy sauce, but I prefer the smoky, tangy, cayenne flavor of Don’t be a Chicken Shit. (You can buy the sauces online here.) This dish would probably be enhanced by other Mexican spices or sauces as well, and is the kind of food where you enjoy the taste, but you feel good afterwards as well, because you are pretty much just eating proteins, vegetables, water, and spices.

And it’s the kind of taste for which you would go so far as to ask your poor mother to speak unspeakable words in public. But sometimes, it has to be done.

Thank God for the index card.