Monthly Archives: March 2014

Recipe : Spinach Raita (Palakchi Koshimbir)

This is the first of my recipes from the recent Traditions with a Twist post.

I grew up knowing Raita as something made with cooked vegetables such as pumpkin, squash or potatoes mixed with spices and yogurt.  Anything with raw vegetables such as cucumber or tomatoes was always called a Koshimbir which is a Marathi word.  Most non-Indians know raita as typically made with cucumber and rather liquidy intended to soothe the palate while eating the spicy meal on the plate.  I question the nutritional value of cucumber and so opted for this much healthier version of the traditional version of this cooling side accompinement to any Indian meal.


2 – 5oz bags of baby spinach leaves
1 cup plain non-fat yogurt
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 dry red chile
1 garlic clove slightly mashed but left intact
5 or 6 kaffir lime leaves chopped finely
½ tsp salt or to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Recipe: (serves 8 – 10)

Wash, dry and coarsely chop the spinach leaves and place in a large bowl.  In a small heat proof pot (I use a small kadai), add the oil and cumin seeds and heat until the seeds start to sizzle.  Add the chile and the garlic and continue to heat until the garlic starts to brown and chile turns darker.  Add the kaffir lime leaves and immediately turn off the stove.  Be careful, the lime leaves will splatter a bit.  Immediately pour the hot oil over the chopped spinach and stir.  Add yogurt, salt & pepper, adjust seasoning as needed and serve chilled.  If not serving within two hours, add the yogurt about two hours before serving and chill until needed.

Traditions with a Twist

When my parents first moved to the US from India in 1975, things were very different for them than they are for today’s immigrants.  We live in a much more global world now where family is a mere phone call, email, text, Skype or even a flight away at an affordable low price.  Back then my parents might as well have moved to another planet, and as an adult today I really admire their courage in leaving their families and support system behind to find a better life.  I’m pretty sure I don’t have that kind of courage…..or perhaps I don’t really want to test it.

Amidst a new land, a different culture with strange customs & foods, they found a bond in others from India who had migrated to the US much like them for education, career opportunities or a variety of other reasons – my father’s was to escape the bureaucracy of daily life in India.  Some of the friendships they formed were so close that they became an extension of our family.  The families would gather together for holidays and special occasions and all us “kids” also became friends, many of whom I still have as friends after so many years, and our children are now becoming friends.  It is something that lacks in the Western culture, in my opinion.  There is too much formality in relationships to form that kind of closeness even amongst real family members.  We may not see someone for years but when we do, we’ll pick up right where we left off as I validate on every trip I make to India about ten years apart.

Over the past 40 years and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve enjoyed staying in touch with not just the friends in my generation but also with my parent’s friends.  I really do consider them my aunts and uncles, and want my son to know this part of our culture.  And so last night I hosted a dinner for a few of my parent’s friends who they traveled with often and my mother continues to travel with after my father’s passing.  We get so caught up in our lives that evenings like these need to be planned well in advance and I was so happy I was able to set a date that worked in everyone’s schedule.  I also included a couple from my generation who I’ve been friends with for nearly 25 years just to keep it even.

As I planned the menu for dinner I knew it would have to be Indian food but felt rather intimidated.  Yes, I know my way around a kitchen, but I was cooking for some women (including my mother) who are amazing cooks in their own right.  To try and compete with their style of cooking would be pointless so I decided to do what I do best….start with the basics and add my own twist to it.  After all, after living here for forty years, it is ok to wield a bit of American into the Indian food world right?  I had to be careful though, because many Indians don’t really appreciate changing it up too much.  It would be important to maintain some integrity in the flavors when experimenting with an ethnic cuisine so rooted in tradition.

I was offered help from everyone asking if they could make something, but I declined for two reasons: 1) I wanted to do this on my own and impress them and 2) I’m a control freak and like to plan a menu that works together well and someone else’s style doesn’t always match with mine.  The menu I planned was:

Appetizers : Haraa Bharaa Kebabs with Peach Chutney, Spicy garlic & herb roasted shrimp, Burrata cheese with sundried tomatoes and basil along with some French bread, a 5 year aged gouda, some nuts and olives

Dinner : CKP style Lamb Curry (we call it mutton), Spinach Raita, Roasted mixed vegetables, saffron rice and chapatis (these were store bought)

Dessert : Mango-Cardamom Crème Brulee

Wines we drank from my cellar :              
1997 Gundlach Bundschu Zinfandel – held up quite nicely for its age
1999 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon – my last bottle and definitely needing to be drunk now

At the last minute I also made up a cocktail with the leftover mango pulp that I am calling the Spicy Sunset.

Food Photos:

CKP Style Lamb Curry

Roasted Vegetables
Haraa Bharaa Kebabs with Peach Chutney
The Complete Meal minus Saffron Rice

Mango-Cardamom Creme Brulee

I started prepping about two days before the dinner so that I had plenty of time to relax and converse with my guests on the actual day.  By 3 o’ clock on Saturday, I even had time to play a little monopoly with my son.  I posted on Facebook asking for volunteers to taste the food (proving my level of intimidation) and had a few local friends stop by and give me very positive comments which made me feel much better.  And trust me these are friends who would tell me the truth so I wasn’t worried about false build up.

The dinner was a big hit!  I even lit my fireplace for the first time in 11 years because it was a perfect evening for a fire with the pouring rain and cold, damp feel in the air.  The food was a success and everyone really enjoyed it.  It is always a good sign when there are very few leftovers, not to mention all the rave reviews.  I was so thrilled that I had succeeded in wowing these great cooks and food lovers. 

We had a fun evening with conversations about old Hindi songs, trips down memory lane, current events, dental work and of course food.  It was such a treat to have some of my extended family sitting in my living room with a fire on a rainy evening and just relax.  I wish life made it possible to do it much more often. I really hope I can pass along the so many positive aspects of the Indian culture to my son such as showing respect for these elders that I grew up with, and would never have known had my parents not ventured on their long journey to a new home. 

A big thank you to my dinner guests from yesterday evening and to so many others who befriended my parents all those years ago and are now a part of such a large network in my life.  The sheer number of people that came to my father’s memorial service spoke volumes for the strong connections my parents nurtured over the years.  It is something I hope I can foster as well but it is certainly not as simple as they made it seem.

I will be posting all the recipes from this dinner one at a time over the next couple of weeks as I write them down.  The roasted vegetables were the biggest surprise for me as I came up with this idea so very last minute.  I hope you get to try some of them on your own family.

New York New York

I imagine everyone has a favorite place or city.  Mine is New York City.  There is just no place like it!  I have lived near “The City” for nearly forty years and over those years have worked in Manhattan, lived in Queens for a short while, attended college in Brooklyn and visited the Bronx and Staten Island.  It is a city full of energy, diversity, culture, and most of all amazing food from all over the world.  I have traveled to many cities around the globe and New York is the only city that is literally awake all the time.  There’s even a 24 hour hardware store somewhere.  Food choices in New York are endless and new restaurants open daily while some close down.  New neighborhoods rise overnight (refer to my previous posts on Williamsburg & DUMBO sections of Brooklyn) and create new destinations for those like me who like to explore the little nooks and crannies of the city.

I had this epiphany recently while walking around Manhattan on a beautiful Fall day with a close friend. Many of my friends have heard me say that I could live in Portland Oregon and while that is true, I realized during my walk that Portland could never compare to New York.  It is just not on the same scale or in the same league.  I haven’t spent as much time in “The City” this past year because of my travels and general busy schedule so on this particular weekend I decided to take my friend S there to cheer him up after a tough week.  My mission was to find a way for him to relax and de-stress, find food that was gluten free & spicy and lots of good wine.  This is not an easy feat I learned. The gluten free part always throws me off as I can’t imagine living without bread.  After much pondering and a little bit of research I settled on Korean BBQ.

We started off our day a bit later than expected (It wasn’t because of me).  Luckily I had made some Pohe (pronounced PO-hay) – a popular Maharashtrian food that is savory/spicy and made with flattened puffed rice, chilies, ginger, peas & kaffir lime leaves – for a late breakfast to hold us over till what was sure to be a later lunch.

An old chuch to be turned into condos
Pier 66

 After a surprisingly quick drive in via the Holland Tunnel and finding a parking spot on the street, the first thing on the agenda was a walk along the Hudson to start the destressing.  We entered the walkway near Chelsea Piers and just wandered around with no specific plan or destination.  I come to this area fairly often in the summer time and it is absolutely packed.  What was nice about it on this particular day was that there were hardly any people at all.  It was almost as if we had the entire river front to ourselves which made it very relaxing and was perfect for us after a very stressful few weeks.  We discovered Pier 66 which is being developed into an outdoor space with restaurants and bars to be opened to the public next summer.  I am constantly amazed at the new things I discover every time I go to the city even after all these years.  Pier 66 for example has a railroad track that runs right to the Hudson River.  I imagine it was used at one time to carry cargo to the ships.  A bit geeky I know, but I find things like this very cool!

After walking more than 3 miles we were getting hungry and made our way to the restaurant I had selected, Don’s Bogam on 32nd Street.  I chose this restaurant because it had good reviews, specialized in gluten free food, and is known for it’s wine bar, thus satisfying all of my criteria or should I say my friend’s criteria. Actually I was surprised to see a decent wine list at a Korean Restaurant and was curious to try it.

We were pleasantly greeted and seated promptly at a table with indented seating so it made us feel like we were sitting on the floor.  A bit difficult, especially for those with long legs (not an issue for me), but cool nonetheless.  As I was looking through the wine list, I noticed an impressive list of sakes too and asked S if he would consider sake. He confessed he’d never tried it and so I suggested a slight variation to our wine plan.  It took a bit of convincing but we ordered a carafe of the Naraman Muroka Junmai.  It was described as fruity & floral with scents of peach and melon.  I thought it would make a good introduction to sakeland. For our lunch we decided to go with the cook your own BBQ and ordered Yangnyeom Galbi (spicy beef short ribs) and the Anchangsal (sliced skirt steak).

Very shortly, the carafe of sake arrived along with a whole slew of condiments and pickled foods as an accompiment to our meat.  The BBQ flame was lit and they placed our meat on it for us.  The meat on both orders was tender and flavorful.  We loved the spiciness of the Galbi and finished it all not quite recalling the last time we had consumed so much.  My favorite thing about this place, aside from the food, was that they did not rush us.  We sat there for hours and just took our time because we weren’t in any rush.  It was nice to just let a Saturday pass by over Korean BBQ and Sake and great conversation.  In fact, after our meal was finished, we decided to linger over another carafe of Sake, this time ordering a bit more boldly with a Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai “Man’s Mountain” which was a dry, full bodied wine that was absolutely delicious.  My sake newbie decided he liked the latter better than the floral one which I should have known since he generally drinks full bodied, Italian reds.

We were relaxed in our below the floor seats and hated to leave but thought we’d best before they started charging us rent.  We strolled around for a while and S decided he wanted some wine.  A quick search on Google Maps found us at Wine 30, a very small but cozy wine bar I instantly liked.  We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of glasses of red (wish I could remember what we drank, I just know it was good) and continued our relaxing day.  I opted out of a second glass as I had to drive home at some point and stuck to water for the rest of the evening.  After lingering for quite a while and some friendly conversation with our neighbors at the bar, we decided it was time to make the long walk back to the car and head toward home.

To readers of my blog it may seem like I have many of these fun adventures and relaxing days but in reality they are few and far in between.  I do believe in living my life to its fullest which is something I learned from my father.  No matter how busy life gets, I always make time for fun when I can; sometimes at the expense of necessary chores which will always be there tomorrow.  So how fortunate am I to live so close to the best city in the whole world, where life never really stops and yet can be slowed down at the same time, and have some wonderful friends to share it with.

Cheers New York!!

Fun Times at Hunter Mountain

This past weekend I was fortunate to be invited to a company’s annual ski weekend to Hunter Mountain in the Catskills region of New York State.  As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I am an avid skier.  I will give up most anything to be out on the slopes and the odds definitely shift with conditions.  I was excited at the opportunity to get in a bit more skiing as the season comes to an end and the forecast promised excellent spring surface.

Kaatskill Mountain Club
A last minute postponement of my Friday night plans allowed me to join the group for the full weekend instead of Saturday morning.  With an early afternoon start on Friday, we arrived at the Kaatskill Mountain Club by 4:30 giving enough time to read & relax until others arrived.  We started our evening with drinks at Van Winkles bar right in the hotel and moved on to their dining room for dinner when most of the party of 10 had made their way in.  For me it was an interesting experience as I only knew one person in the group and I must admit I was a bit nervous about spending the weekend with a bunch of people that didn’t know me and I didn’t know.  Well the nervousness lasted all of five minutes as everyone was very friendly and immediately welcomed me into the mix. 

Dinner at Van Winkles was quite good.  I had every intention of staying healthy but ordered their Signature Crab Cake and the Black & Tan Onion Rings.  I also tried the shrimp & lobster from my friend’s Seafood Cocktail.  The crab cake was delicious with big chunks of crab and not too much else.  The onion rings, crispy on the outside and perfect on the inside, were the best I’ve ever had, and that says a lot because I am very particular about my onion rings.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the lobster (something I don’t usually care for – yes I’m strange) was very good.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say, I’d order lobster there next time.  My one negative comment would be that the service was less than friendly but hey, our table of skiers made up for it and we had a great time.  An evening of beer and pool at The Spinning Room rounded out the night that lasted well into the wee hours. 

Last Trail of the day – The Cliff
We had a late and windy start on Saturday but managed to get to the slopes by 10:30am.  After a quick gathering at the lift, we were off for the day.  It’s always great when everyone in the group skies/rides at more or less the same pace and ability.  We mostly stayed together throughout the day except for those who opted not to ski or were taking lessons.  Short lift lines allowed us to cover a lot of terrain in some awesome snow conditions.  The day saw us in wind, snow and rain before the sky opened up to a beautiful sunny day and the temperatures warmed enough to allow for outdoor beverages during breaks.  After skiing, we said goodbye to half the group as they headed home for various reasons.  After a much needed nap and shower, I met the remaining five at Van Winkles for drinks before heading to our dinner destination.

The Deer Mountain Inn

The Burlesque Show
The restaurant that our host had chosen for dinner was the Deer Mountain Inn and this evening was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.  We drove off the main road in Tannersville up the mountain past old stone walls, beautiful houses and a fascinating old stone church.  The Inn itself is quite an interesting building with a bright red door to welcome its visitors.  We were greeted promptly and shown to our table but opted to sit at the bar for a drink before beginning our meal.  The bartender, an interesting woman named Cidra, had a large personality and certainly knew how to draw in a crowd.  She didn’t just mix and pour the standard drinks but instead began to concoct all kinds of strange cocktails for each of us.  Mine was called the The Burlesque Show made with strawberries, bitters, egg whites and gin.  It was quite delicious.    

As the sun set, we made our way to our table and perused the menu.  Everything looked delicious and choices were difficult, but we managed to order a good variety including Prosciutto wrapped Quail, Slow cooked Pork Belly, Oysters Raclette, Roasted Beet Salad, Veal Tenderloin, Short Ribs, Seared Scallops and Salmon.  Everything was absolutely amazing and we tried a little bit of everything so that we could taste it all.  More than the delicious food at the Deer Mountain Inn, what makes the experience special is the warm ambiance of the restaurant with burning fireplaces under large mantles with deer heads and the fantastic service. From the starting cocktail, to the final Espresso Martini with dessert, we received their undivided attention.  Quite happy with our meal, we called our taxi and said farewell to a lovely evening we will not soon forget.  We made our way to MacGregor’s at the base of the mountain for more pool and a little karaoke before ending our evening far too late yet again.  I was definitely not skiing on Sunday!!

Prosciutto wrapped Quail
Oysters Raclette
Slow-cooked Pork Belly

On the drive home Sunday morning, we stopped at Maggie’s Crooked Café for breakfast in Tannersville.  It’s a small place in an old house with about 10 tables.  Considering its size, they have quite an extensive menu that looks quite good, especially when you are as hungry as I was at that point.  I skipped my usual breakfast of two eggs over easy with a side of wheat toast and ordered the Eggs Benedict Fume which substituted the usual Canadian bacon with smoked salmon.  Served alongside were roasted potatoes and a green salad.  Despite the fact that it was far too much food, I ate most of it and enjoyed every bite.  I would skip lunch and dinner to compensate. I was thankful for the early start home so I could take a nap before my son’s tennis match.  Just can’t recover from those late nights as quickly any more.  After the match, I made some tea and was asleep before nine o’ clock!!

A great big thank you to my host, J, for a fun and delicious weekend!!  Thank you to all the others who welcomed me with open arms.  I will need to start practicing my pool skills so I can kick some butt at the next opportunity.  I will leave the singing skills to the others who have more guts than I do.  Thank you to Smiley’s for providing taxi service all weekend and to all the staff at the Kaatskill Mountain Club and bars and restaurants we visited in the three days.

Happy Trails!!

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