23 December, 2011

Santa Claus - Myth or Reality ??

(Image courtesy : blogs.babble.com)

The other day, some talk had come up about the festive season and about Santa Claus being busy and things like that. “Gawd !! We know Santa Claus doesn’t exist !!!” exclaimed Pecan. I looked at Macadamia, only to find her shooting looks in my direction – looks that seemed to speak out loud and clear in saying “Exactly how old do you think we are ??” “Santa !!!” “Good Lord !!” She did not say it out aloud but “the look” said it all.


This Santa issue is indeed a big one. In fact, there are debates as to whether parents should even introduce the concept of Santa to their kids. Some parents nod in the affirmative while others insist that a negative answer to this question makes more sense. “Don’t lie to your kids !” state some websites, which encourage parents to tell kids (no matter how young they are) that Santa is nothing but an illusion. One website I looked at actually called Santa a “Hogwash”.


I don’t know if it is me or if it is the child in me (yeah – there definitely exists a child in each and every one of us – deep down inside our hearts – no matter how old we grow !) but it seems infinitely sad that there seems to be no room for that childish hope for a ray of magic (albeit an illusion) in this fast paced world of today.


I don’t remember ever bringing up conversations about Santa during my childhood. Not that I didn’t know about Santa but simply because ours was a conservative family which did not even think of celebrating festivals other than Diwali, Vishu or Onam and the like. Christmas and the celebrations thereof, were a far cry. So yeah, I did read about the jolly old man with a long white beard who embodied the concept of giving and spreading joy but never once did I bring up the topic – for, it would have lead me nowhere.


But think – honestly – does the air not change around this time of the year ? Things do get and feel more festive. There is more than just a nip in the air – there is a distinct feel of something upbeat. And that big jolly old man in a red suit with a long white beard is in the centre of it all. Even if Santa is just an illusion – for me, he embodies something deeper. He embodies the very spirit of “giving”, of “sharing joy”. I may sound extremely childish in saying this but yes – “Santa is magical”.


As compared to when we were kids, when I look at kids nowadays – and I’m talking in general here – not just Macadamia and Pecan, it does seem as though kids nowadays are getting sophisticated way too early in their thoughts. I mean, look at this generation of kids – all Kindled, IPODed, PSPed NDSed, IPADed – and you will find that they begin scoffing at the very concept of the jolly old bearded man in a red suit at a much younger age. And the average age when disbelief sets in about Santa is steadily decreasing, as we speak.


I really don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but to have this charming myth put to rest so early in kids’ young lives – seems a tad tragic, actually. I know it is not true but isn’t there something magical about believing in magic ? And Santa represents the magic and the innocence of childhood, more than anything else.


I still remember the times when Macadamia and Pecan were much littler and come Christmas morning, the first thing they used to do was rush over to the Christmas tree to check what Santa had left for them. I still remember the time when Pecan insisted on leaving a whole pack of cookies for Santa because he’d said “Santa will be so tired and he will be hungry”. I still remember the smiles on their faces as they looked at the goodies under the Christmas tree. I just have to close my eyes and I can still feel that buzz of excitement that used to zoom all around them like little atomic particles as they opened their gifts. I still remember the starts in their eyes, as their little eyes shone with joy and excitement. I still remember them, with those twinkling eyes and those sweet smiles, as the festive season and the jolly old man wove their magic around them and as Macadamia and Pecan willingly entered that world of magic. I still remember the time when we had made one of those online videos for both Macadamia and Pecan and I remember Pecan being thrilled to bits about having received a message from Santa – directly addressed to him. Macadamia had, by then, already stepped into that phase which is fuelled more by realism than by magic.


And I see them now, both of them - totally worldly wise and it is yet another one of those little reminders that life sends your way in saying “Look. Your kids have grown up.” In my case, I guess it is pretty much saying “Look your kids have grown up. It’s about time you did, too !” J Santa is no more that unexplained figure of enchantment, he simply was a wispy figment of imagination that they’d come across when they were a lot younger.


I remember having said in many of my blog posts “the kids are growing up”. Looks like it is about time I started saying “the kids have grown up”.


I still can’t let go of those Christmas memories and I guess these are things I never will let go of. It was just a few years back when they used to sit still, stay awake as long as they could, waiting to hear the hooves of Rudolph and the other reindeers, waiting to hear the squeak of the window as it opened and the scrape as the rotund, cheerful Santa Claus squeezed his girth through the small windows in HongKong. There was such an intense air of anticipation that it actually hung over the whole house, over all of us. They believed in Santa then, because they wanted to believe.


This whole thing about the jolly old man is all about believing or not believing. It is simply about adding an element of mystery, an aura of mystery, if you may. It is all about trying to work and weave a little magic into this world of today. To me, Santa embodies the concept of “giving”, of “sharing”. Which is probably why I don’t really want to “grow up” and say that Santa is unreal. Santa does not have to be unreal. He can be real, if we choose for that to be so. It does not have to be a huge bag full of goodies. It can even be something little, doing something as little as say donating some toys to orphanages or even food to orphanages or old age homes, sponsoring education for children in remote parts of the world where education is not something that can be taken for granted, where education is a luxury that few can afford or have. It is all about trying to add that extra bit of warmth into the world of today. God knows that the world of today needs it more than it did in the past !!


Like Edwin Osgood Grover once said

“Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy ; who gives himself/herself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he/she bestows.


To all of you out there – let the magic live on ..........


Here’s wishing all the readers at Tiny Tidbits a very happy Christmas. May this Christmas and the year to follow be filled with joy, love, good health, peace and hope.

22 December, 2011

Granola Bars .....




What are Granola Bars ?

The names "Granula" and "Granola" were trademarked in late 19th century for foods consisting of whole grain products which are crumbled and then baked until crisp.

They are found in large numbers on the shelves in supermarkets. Ever taken a close look at the ingredients and the nutrition labels on the packs of these supposedly "healthy" granola bars ?? Trust me, you'd be shocked.

The store bought granola bars range from the very healthy ones (which taste like packed dry cardboard) to the supposedly healthy ones (that are pretty much sugar bombs with loads of the fructose and maltose packed in - through the syrups).

I came across this recipe on Nigella's website. I know Nigella isn't exactly a person known for brandishing healthy recipes - I mean, almost all her recipes are quite high in fat / calorie counts. Yet again, it is a matter of personal preference and when it comes to our diet, we prefer to eat healthy (for the most part, that is !!) :-).

But this recipe caught my attention and I decided to give it a go after having made a few changes to the recipe mentally. What remained was to actually give it a try and see how it turned out.

Ingredients
------------
4 baking cups rolled oats (not instant oats)
100 gms unsalted sunflower seeds
100 gms unsalted pumpkin seeds
100 gms roasted unsalted peanuts
8-10 dry apricots (chopped)
5 tbsps dry blueberries
8-10 dry strawberries (chopped)
5 tbsps dry cranberries

1 can sweetened condensed milk


Directions
----------

1. Add all the dry ingredients and mix them together.



2. Warm the condensed milk in a saucepan on low heat, stirring all the while. If it is left unattended (even on low heat), the sugar sticks to the bottom of the pan.

3. Once warm (it does not have to boil), add this warmed up condensed milk to the dry ingredients.



4. A wooden spoon or a silicon spatula works best for mixing the whole lot together.

5. Preheat the oven to 130 degrees celsius.

6. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil or wax paper and grease with either oil or butter. I used a little bit of melted butter to grease the pan. You will need less than a teaspoon to grease the pan. I also coated the back of the wooden spoon with the leftover bit of melted butter.

7. Pour the granola mix into the baking tray and use the back of the wooden spoon to smoothen and even the mix in the baking tray.



8. Bake at 130 degrees celsius for an hour.



9. Once baked, take the tray out of the oven and lift the whole block of granola off the baking tray. This is just to ensure that the bars do not cook further in the heat that the baking tray would have retained from the oven.

10. After about 15 mins (while the block is still warm), cut into pieces.



11. Stored in an airtight tin, these bars can well stay upto 3 weeks. But then again, you have my word on this - they will NOT last that long. They will be merrily consumed well within the week !!

One serious disadvantage to these bars - they are dangerously addictive !!!!!!

The original recipe which was syndicated from Nigella's website, can be found here.

Changes I made to the recipe
-----------------------------
1. Nigella's recipe calls for dessicated coconut. I substituted this with more of rolled oats.

2. Nigella's recipe calls for just cranberries. I used dry apricots, blueberries and strawberries too.

Variations
----------
You could use chocolate chips, flax seeds, pine nuts. I mean, there's a whole world of variations that one could try with granola bars. The next time around (yes - there definitely is going to be a next time baking these), I'm going try using some bran flakes with the rolled oats.

Happy Baking !!! :-)




20 December, 2011

Stuffed Paneer Parathas





Ingredients
-----------
Atta (Wheat Flour) - 3 cups
2 tbsps oil (I use Canola)
1/4 tsp salt

 For the stuffing
----------------
Paneer - made from 1 1/2 litres of full cream milk
Vinegar / lemon juice - for making the paneer
1 large potato - boiled and mashed
8 fresh green chillies (chopped fine)
a bunch of coriander leaves (chopped fine)
a few sprigs of spring onion (chopped fine)
salt to taste
2 tsps (flat) red chilli powder
1 tsp chaat masala

 Directions
----------
 Mix the flour and the salt. Add oil and mix it in using your fingertips. Add small quantities of water till the dough comes together nicely. I make it slightly softer than the normal roti dough. Cover the dough and let rest for about half an hour.

 1. Heat the milk in a deep pan and add about 3 - 4 tbsps of vinegar. This makes the milk curdle. Once the milk fat and the whey separate, strain the mixture through a thin muslin cloth. Squeeze out the whey and place something heavy on the cloth so that all the excess moisture drains out.

 2. Once the paneer is slightly cool, crumble it until it resembles bread crumbs. Add the mashed potato, all the other ingredients for the stuffing and mix well.

 3. Divide the stuffing into 12 parts - for 12 parathas.

 4. Divide the dough into 12 parts as well. Roll out the dough into a small roti, ensuring that the middle is thicker than the sides of the roti.

 5. Place one portion of the stuffing in the centre of the rolled out roti and brings the edges together so that they overlap. Dust with flour and gently roll out the paratha.

 6. Heat the griddle. Place the paratha on the griddle and use either oil / margarine or butter to drizzle over the paratha. Flip the paratha over and repeat the process on the other side of the paratha as well. Cook until light brown spots begin to appear.

 7. Serve hot with pickle and yoghurt or raita.



We had these parathas with the homemade green chilli pickle and cucumber raita.

19 December, 2011

Homemade Green Chilli Pickle




Ingredients
-----------
700 gms fresh green chillies
10-12 tbsps salt
3 tbsps haldi (turmeric) powder
5 tbsps amchur (dry mango powder)
200 ml oil
juice extracted from 2 lemons

For Dry Roasting
----------------
6 tbsps fennel seeds (saunf)
2 tbsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tsp methi seeds (fenugreek)
6 tbsps mustard seeds


1. Wash the green chillies and lay them out on kitchen napkins or tissues to dry. It is important to ensure that the chillies are completely dry before pickling them. Any retained moisture only serves to reduce the shelf life of the pickle.

2. Once the chillies are completely dry, slit the chillies lengthwise - about halfway up the chillies. You could remove the stalk from the chillies if you wish to. I did not.

3. Dry roast the spices (fennel seeds, jeera, fenugreek, mustard seeds). Let cool.

4. Once cooled, give it a quick blend in the mixer. Just so that they break up and blend with each other to give you a uniform powder. This will ensure that you actually bite into these seeds once in a while while having the pickle.

5. Mix the salt, amchur, lemon juice and turmeric powder. Add this to the slit green chillies and mix well.

6. Once cooled, add the dry roasted/ground spice powder to the above chillies and mix well.

7. Warm up the oil and pour onto the chillies when the oil is still warm. Mix well.

8. Do not cover the dish at this point of time as the oil is still warm. Just cover with a kitchen tissue which lets the dish breathe and the pickle mixture cool down.

9. Once cooled, cover the dish.

10. The dish will need to be placed in direct sunlight until the chillies lose their rawness and are pickled. I had to place the pyrex dish in sunlight for about a fortnight. Every morning, before placing the dish near the window, I used to give it a good mix and then put the lid back on. Another quick mix in the evening before the dish was put away in a dry place. This process was repeated for 15 days.

11. Once the chillies have lost their rawness and turned into pickle, they are ready to be stored in airtight bottles.

10 December, 2011

Gingersnap Cookies


Christmas is just around the corner and one does associate Christmas with aromas of baked goodies. I've said this before and I shall say it again - there is something so intensely satisfying about the home being filled with the aroma of something "freshly baked". Be it bread, be it cookies, be it cakes, be it muffins - there is something hugely gratifying about it.

Also, the entire process is something that I personally find de-stressing. Vic asked me the other day "why don't you use ginger in baking ?" and therefrom germinated the idea of baking gingersnap cookies.

The original recipe was from here.

As I normally do, there were many changes I made to the recipe.

Here goes .....

Ingredients

3/4 cup melted butter (I pop the butter for 40 secs into the microwave)
1 cup lightly pressed light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg (at room temp)
2 cups + 3 tbsps all purpose flour (I used the organic unbleached flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 1/2 tbsp ground ginger
3 pinches of salt
granulated sugar (for coating)


Cream the butter, brown sugar and the white sugar together. Once that's done, add the egg (at room temperature - not right out of the fridge). Cream the mixture till the egg whites and yolk are all incorporated well into the butter/sugar mix.

Add the spices (cinnamon and ground ginger powder), baking soda and salt into the butter/sugar/egg mixture and work the mixture with a spatula, making sure the spices/baking soda do not leave any tiny lumps.

Add the plain flour and mix to bring the whole dough together. I found the dough a bit on the looser side with just 2 cups of plain flour and ended up adding another 3 tbsps of flour.

The dough is extremely malleable and is quite soft as compared with the cookie dough that I normally make for choc chip cookies.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Roll the dough into small balls and dip one side of the dough ball into a bowl of granulated sugar.

Place the dough balls on the cookie sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart as these cookies really spread while baking. Place them sugar side up.

Bake for about 12 minutes at 180 degrees C.


Changes I made from the original recipe

1. The original recipe called for 1/4 cup dark molasses but I substituted with 1/4 cup white sugar.

2. The original recipe called for oil - I used butter. (Policy : when you sin, make sure you sin properly !!) :-))

3. The original recipe called for 2 tsps baking soda. I reduced this to 1 1/2 tsps because I've found that baking soda tends to really "dry out" the cookies. These were perfectly fine with 1 1/2 tsps of baking soda.

4. All cookie recipes normally call for the dry ingredients to be sifted together and then added to the wet ingredients. I never do this. I add the baking soda/salt etc directly into the wet ingredients. This way I can make sure that the soda or the spices (in this case) do not leave small lumps.

5. The original recipe calls for 1 tsp clove powder. I omitted this. Cloves do tend to have a very strong flavour and I had a feeling that the cloves would completely have taken over the flavour and the taste of the cookies.

Happy Baking !! :-))