Thursday, May 27

Food and Love

Sorry for the late post from this side of the Pond, dear readers! My excuse is that I was at the London Book Fair a few weeks ago, and it resulted in me running with some of my other writing projects (which needed a leg up the ladder) for a while. But I did come away with something very interesting to tell you about!

The London Book Fair is an annual publishing trade show. As yours truly is currently writing a novel, I went along to see what I could absorb that'd help with that. Sadly, I found that the industry is bent on keeping as many people out of it as possible. All day I listened to complaints about too many books being published, how not everyone who thinks they can write should, that technology is democratising the literary craft, etc. etc. As I wandered around the aisles of the exhibition after listening to a particularly energy-sapping talk, I was surprised to hear warm tones from home - a Malaysian accent speaking over a microphone from somewhere nearby, accompanied by the smell of frying shrimp paste. I had homed in on a cooking demonstration!

Chef Wan, a celebrity chef with his own talk show in Malaysia, was presenting Solidarity Sports, an English charity that works with disadvantaged children, giving them a chance to be involved in team sports and ... cooking! It all started, apparently, when they tried to get the kids to make their own sandwiches, instead of having to bring food from home when they came for sports training. Tapping on the international background of their students and volunteers, Solidarity Sports eventually gathered enough recipes from around the world to put together a cook book: World of Flavours.

And what a different message I was hearing in this corner: one of inclusion, sharing and, most of all, love. Chef Wan rattled on, entertaining the audience as the young crew from Solidarity Sports whipped up a Brazilian fish stew with shrimp paste, one of the international dishes featured in World of Flavours. He spoke of the charity's good work, and talked of his own experience of helping others in his community, and how the Universe liked "positive-energy people" spinning in it, raising the world's energy level. And I found myself thinking: yes, this is such a different approach to life from what I witnessed earlier - to share your knowledge and experience, to use it to help others, rather than jealously guarding your industry secrets and know-how, hoping no one ever makes it as good as you or better, and discouraging them from trying.

So, thank you, Chef Wan and Solidarity Sports, for cheering me up that day and giving me hope again. You guys are positive-energy people spinning in the Universe, and Cinnamon and Truffle wish you all the best!

Visit if you'd like to watch a video with excerpts from the cooking demo I saw, or if you'd like more information on Solidarity Sports or their book, World of Flavours.



Saturday, May 22

Serving Leftovers with Flair

When the weekends arrive, we are usually left with a few leftovers. Rather than re-heating the same and serving them up, I try to be creative, or should I say recreative. Last week, we had a fridge that included spiced, sauteed chicken filling for tacos, cherry tomatoes, rice, pasta and a pantry full of the usual suspects. Wanting to make some form of Mexican rice, the internet seemed to suggest that onion, cumin, garlic and beans were the integral ingredients. So, I sauteed some onions, added cumin, threw in the chicken, sprinkled garlic powder, a can of black-eyed peas, cherry tomatoes, chilli powder and finally the rice. As a side dish, opened up a can of refried beans and heated it up. I grabbed a handful of cilantro (coriander) from the backyard, chopped it up and threw it on the rice before turning it off. Note on cilantro, do not overcook, and do not cover the dish after adding it. This is my mother's advice when cooking Indian food. 'Cause if you do, it turns bitter.

A family favorite is a re-hash of leftover pancake batter. The one-cup flour recipe I detailed last week shouldn't leave a family of four with leftovers, but doubling the recipe might... So, my solution is to make my version of Okonomiyaki - a type of Japanese pancake with vegetables and a tasty dipping sauce. Please see link for an authentic recipe:

Okonomi literally means "as you like it" - quite Shakespearean... Yaki means fried. It usually comes with a thick dark sauce and some mayo and is covered with fluffy bonito flakes - flakes of dried tuna. My version lacks all the above, except for the Shakespearean title. It originates in Osaka, which is where I had my first Okonomiyaki.

Here is my recipe for leftover pancake batter:

1. Make pancake batter from "Lemony Pancakes"

2. Saute one of the following veg combos-
*sliced cabbage and carrots
*leeks and ham
*onions and spinach
with garlic powder, soy sauce,salt, and pepper

3. Prepare sauce of soy, sesame oil, and Chiu Chow Chilli oil (or any Chinese chilli oil).

4. Add sauteed vegetables to batter and mix well. Make small pancakes and serve with sauce.

It's a great way to get kids to eat vegetables! I hope you enjoy it.


Sunday, May 16

Lemony Pancakes

Good news! One of our followers has requested that I blog about the pancakes that she had at my place when she visited NC three years ago. I must be doing something right! I must be a good blogger or at least a good pancake maker!

Pancakes are a weekly tradition at our household on Sundays. It is usually preceded by some discussion between my two children (read fighting) about who will help Mamma make the batter. Then there is the routine cracking of the eggs, the measuring, the beating of the mixture and much smiling and washing of little hands. I dread the day that my little children lose interest in this ritual that I treasure so much.

Before you get too excited about the recipe, I have to inform you that my pancake recipe is not American - it is more European by nature. You are not going to have thick, starchy, steamy pancakes, but rather thin, eggy, unevenly golden pancakes. I was first introduced to them by my friend, Lemony, during our first year at Cambridge. She had decided she was going to have a party for Shrove Tuesday, a.k.a Pancake Day, which is the day before Lent begins. I believe Shrove Tuesday is about indulging oneself before giving up a list of things for Lent. Here's a link for those who might be interested in finding out more:

So, she invited a few friends, all male, to our women's college, not that we were desperate to meet guys or anything, and we all enjoyed an evening of pancakes. The pancakes were delectable - thin, eggy, unevenly golden. She served them with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar. And no, prayers were neither said nor thought about. She was an atheist, I Hindu, and the handful of others were more interested in the food and beverage.

I was reminded of those pancakes during a couples-only trip to Amsterdam for a dear friend's wedding. At the boutique hotel we stayed at, we were offered pancakes for breakfast, and lo and behold, they were just like the pancakes that Lemony had made! Upon our return to North Carolina, I was determined to make them for my little family. Some brief internet research was enough to make that first Sunday morning a hit and a tradition was born.

Here is my recipe for my dear friend in San Francisco:

1 cup flour
1 cup milk
a pinch of salt
1 Tbsp brown sugar (more if you like)
1 capful vanilla essence
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbps melted butter
4 eggs

The trick I learnt from my mother is to beat everything but the flour together really well and then to add the flour at the very end. This takes the recipe to the next level. Serve with real maple syrup.



Sunday, May 9

Zen and the Art of Mother's Day Brunch

Today is Mother's Day in the U.S. It usually starts with families rushing to make their brunch reservations, waiting in line, ordering, keeping their kids in tow and hoping for the best experience ever. Yes, all-in-all quite a stressful morning for someone like me, who is always seeking a state of Zen.

A few days earlier, my colleague, who lives in Charlotte, asked me for a recommendation in Davidson for his wife who had obviously mothered his child. I mentioned Restaurant X, Toast and the North Harbor Club. As he considered the North Harbor Club and started calling for his reservation, it dawned on me that my sweet husband would probably not have made a reservation by that point. So, I called him and very cordially informed him of my wishes. And my wishes came true.

I have a rose garden in my backyard which helps transport me to that state of Zen I mentioned earlier. The table had been set before the roses, with white linen and four chairs. Breakfast of whole wheat bagels smeared with cream cheese, smoked salmon, eggs over easy, home-made hollandaise sauce and turkey bacon awaited. Two Mimosas waited in the kitchen. We had all dressed up for the event. I had on my purple linen dress from Malaga, my five-year old in her pink silk dress from her grandmother, my husband and son were smartly dressed in shirts and khakis. The roses were in full bloom and the weather was perfect. The light filtered through the trees onto the beautiful table.

As I set my Mimosa down, I had forgotten the foldable table was not to be trusted. To the cry of "Mamma!" I watched my glass topple over and the mixture of champagne and orange juice wash over the eggs with the hollandaise sauce, toasted bagel with cream cheese with sides of crispy bacon and soft smoked salmon. I screamed my son's name thinking it was his fault. Thankfully, he kept his calm and said, "Mamma, it fell over on its own. I was only trying to help." My husband was watching from the deck with furrowed eyebrows, not knowing which direction this was going to take. I was determined to enjoy this morning despite the drink on my dress. I picked up my plate, held the food in place with my fork, and tipped it slightly to drain the drink off the plate and set it back down. We all sat down and I informed my little family that I had an extra champagne sauce on my dish. It turned out to be the best Mother's Day brunch ever.



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