Living the Good Life…

My food blog & cookbook in progress

Around the World…

When I started this blog back in the day, it was meant to be a repository of recipes and anecdotes which would eventually become a cookbook. In fact more than one cookbook–one was going to have the same title as this blog, i.e. Living the Good Life, originally with the extension as a graduate student (as was the case with this blog actually), but those days being long gone and good food still being one of the things that makes life good, I think the truncation is better. But there was always a second idea, maybe not strictly a cookbook but a food t with recipes where possible and mere descriptions of dishes and places to eat them, which I would title Around the World in Eighty Meals (my love for literary allusions lives on!). Fast forward to the present day and I have yet another idea–a food and culture book about the lesser or even unknown cuisines of India, but that I’ll save for later–though there may be come overlaps.

My rules for 80 Meals in order to make this a authentically personal book are simple.. I must have visited the country myself and be able to either cook or described a restaurant where I ate said meal. India, where I grew up will obviously be featured, although I’ll stick mainly to breakfasts and snacks/street food there because they are unusual, even unique, compared to the rest of world. For the rest I will make a list in roughly chronological order of my visits or residence. This will be “vanity project” for sure and something I’m going to use as my “productive procrastination” project (another of my favorite writerly tics–alliteration). In case it comes to fruition.. remember you saw it here first!

The Covid-19 recipe chain

I’ve tried to part of such an endeavor before and received precisely one (that’s right one) recipe and that too from one of my own links. That was Sara Cooper. This time around I’ve gotten one bonafide contribution from further down the chain. Lets see how many more I accumulate. It’s a nice heart-warming exercise during these trying times.

Sensory peeves

Being a regular watcher of food shows and a reader of the New York Times cooking pages among, I’ve found myself irritated on several occasions when I hear food and tastes described in ways that are, well, just plain WRONG! Tamarind for instance was described by one woman (who as a subcontinental should have known better) as sweet-bitter with nary a mention of its tang or sourness, which is after all it’s predominant taste–though I’ll admit to a certain fruity sweetness in most batches. Elsewhere, in a diametrically opposite note, someone kept describing a honey as imparting a tang, as though that rather than sweetness was the predominant taste.  Okay I get it.. you want to highlight something unusual about an ingredient. But when the ingredient itself is unusual, one should say something about its main properties.?

South meets south

So the other day I was watching an episode from the current season of Top Chef, which is based in Charleston this year. The challenge was to make a creative brunch to serve a large number of people, that both celebrated the local ingredients and traditions, but also brought in the chef’s personal touch and experience. Here’s what I thought would have made for a cool South Indian spin on ingredients from the American South, using grits, green tomatoes, buttermilk and okra:

Upma korykotai (grit dumplings), something that Amma has done for decades. Will provide link when I include the recipe.

Green tomato chutney, using the gingery pacchidi recipe I posted a long time ago.

South Indian styled kadi (buttermilk broth) using deep fried okra as garnish.

To give yet another dairy punch, small pots of either bhapa-dohi with peaches, or chilled masala chai flavored baked custard.

Would have worked really well given the over-night prep time they allowed for this challenge. Could make and shaped dumplings night before and steam them in morning, before which would get chutney going. Time permitting prep the okra by washin, drying thoroughly and slitting the night before. Originally I thought to even deep frying ahead of time but to add them only shortly before serving would offer a better texture I think. Finally make the dessert and put in fridge also night before.

Turkey 2016

Happy Thanksgiving all. Despite some bleak things in my life lately– joblessness for 17 months and counting…, Trump as president elect, other fascists ruling elsewhere–the food and togetherness of this festival in the US never fails to remind me how MUCH I have to be grateful for. And here I offer some nifty ways to adapt the classic TxG staples–turkey, stuffing, roasted roots etc–in the days that follow. Well here’s one recipe and others will follow as I make and post em:

Stuffing soup


Turkey biryani (no links for this one, but mentioning it because I remember cooking this atop Shomik & Renu’s stove top in 2004. Don’t think it ever made it to the table but was consumed directly from the pot by all those of us who passed it by).

Hot cranberry pickle (thokku)

Muddled in migration

Here are two words related to food that I  have used without thinking until I heard them used differently in a way that made me think…” wait a minute… that makes more sense than what I’ve been saying all along.” I’m not about to go to war over it, but I’m just saying, don’t be surprised if one day when you order a spaghetti marinara as an an entrée, you get an appetizer of a small (starter) plate of spaghetti studded with seafood in an olive-oil-and-lemon base and nary a tomato in sight.

The reason for the disconnect between what you think you ordered and what you got lies in the original meanings of the words. Entrée is the French word for starter, which is how it’s used in France (I think), and even some English-speaking countries. But in the Americas and in India too (especially in those pretentious restaurants where the waitstaff speak to you in phony accents with noses held high), it has come to mean the main course. Why, I simply can’t fathom. After all, the word even sounds like what it is, something with which one “enters” a meal.

The marinara muddle also makes sense if you think about it, for the word derived from a common root with marine or mariner, i.e. having to do with the sea. Wikipedia tells me that the dish spaghetti alla marinara means a pasta dish cooked in the style of the mariners or seamen. I suppose these medieval mariners might have preferred the fruits of their New World discoveries to those from the sea, but am willing to believe that someone Down Under got it right, and marinara sauce should contain ingredients from the sea. Anyone have any alternative evidence for which one might be more correct? Or should we just go the Winnie-the-Pooh route not make a choice. Hey! I’d not say no to an plate of pasta two ways, regardless of whether it’s served as the starter or the main.

Foodie update

No I haven’t (despite admitted appearances to the contrary) abandoned either this or my other site. It’s just life’s been such a mad frenzy for such a long time that blogging is backlogged till kingdom come. Although on this site I do sporadically add recipes if not food encounters and so they make their way to individual pages instead of posts. And I recently have added a section which ought to increase the pages since it’s a section for contributions… specifically at first recipes I may or may not receive because of a recipe network (or rather chain mail) that I just got roped into joining. So check out the pages that will show up in under the chapter marked “From fellow foodies.” My own contribution will appear in the butterfruit page in twisting themes section .. it uses avocados in what I (and those served) thought was a delicious alternative.

Long time…

since I’ve visited these pages. Seoul life is taking its toll on me in many ways and leaving no enthusiasm for blogging. But I have updated a few pages with additional recipes and thought I should make a note of it. Check out the ‘more daal’ page for an addition there… coming soon: something with tofu & oranges, and a Thai-inspired eggplant dish that tickles taste buds you didn’t realize you had!

Kim Chee chapters

They are about to begin. Foodwise Korea promises to be very, very interesting indeed. Restaurants are inexpensive and bountiful, and already I’ve had my first dinner invitation to a Korean home and been treated to the ultimate in comfort food, and sent home with a heavy bag full of food. Some of which is going to be turned into soup in short order…

Weeks later…

I suppose the honeymoon had to end sometime. i.e. Sooner or later I would get tired to Korean food and start craving Indian (read my own) cooking. But I still don’t like cooking for a just myself. Have become so unused to  it in fact, that when a pot of stew (imitating Moon yi) didn’t “get over” within the next couple of days, I simply lost track of time, and ate it 3 weeks later only to give myself my first awful bout of food poisoning! I won’t go into details but I blame the ingredients and my forgetfulness, not the recipe which was fantastic!

Meanwhile,  kimchee doesn’t go bad – ever – but does after a while start to taste a but much in its cold state and so can be converted to soups and stews (and even pancakes) the first which was highly recommended by Emily’s sister as a way to reduce my coughing. A nice twist on the theme was to stew it with using leftover gravy (I would call it broth but it get’s quite solid in once it cools down) from a curry whose main contents were all gone. Said gravy has also been used to make a dalia (wheat porridge, North Indian style) and a very quick egg curry.

Well, as you may guess I have started my kitchen running again. Not with the frequency or Cairo or B-22 but better than at the outset. The setup of the apartment with its open kitchen is nice and conducive for a few visitors at a time. Guests sit around the counter – the only dining table actually – on barstools (folks living in the same building, as many of the UIC-ites have a request to bring their own since the management provides only two per household) and we eat, drink and make merry. Or we sit around the low coffee table in the living room, but the kitchen area works better because of easier access to food. A mini ritual of gathering here after Western Civ lectures on Tuesdays has been tentatively started with speaker (Kelly last week, Michael last night…) organizer and 1-2 others chosen at whim. Would be nice, because I’m getting real tired real fast of my own company and even that of my precious Kindle at mealtimes.

Les Menus

Disclaimer: This long entry is more of a way for me to keep track of combinations that work and those that don’t or didn’t. I had actually made it an ‘invisible’ or private/password protected post, but that seemed silly and secretive when there was nothing to hid, so I lifted that embargo, but please… feel free to skip and go directly to the pages on the 2nd column…

A shopping spree in Gourmet Egypt led to an abundance of fish and hence a few fish dinners among friends. Menus follow, with dinner guests and links to actual items (if available).

Dinner for 7 (at table) as a sort of lets welcome ourselves back to Cairo back in later August (pre-Eid). Salima and Hoath, Belle, Emmanuelle, Camillo and Mate were there. Peter’s familiar mug was missing (and missed by some but no matter, he’s been before and after). After an apperitif of what I fondly call Brazilian iced tea – Cacaxa mixed with a mint/orange peel/ginger and tea infusion – we wined and dined on the following:

Doi maach (fish in yogurt sauce – Bengali style as I fondly hope)

Spinach Daal

Vangi Bhaath (Eggplant rice)

Arbi sabzi

Green apple salad

Think that’s it. The range and mix of flavors worked well, although I’m wondering if I could have just served plain rice?  My thought was that both the yogurt sauce for the fish and the daal could complement the rice without either overpowering the other, and this way way I didn’t have to make a separate vege (since the arbi/colocasia qualifies as a starch). It was successful. Oh and there was the labna+ cream served with mangoes.

Barely had I gotten back than I took off again for Switzerland during the Eid break. And returned armed with plenty of goodies from Neuchatel. Sausages, Rillettes and wine and more wine, and oh yes the inevitable collection of chocolates. I got back on the 12th and was barely off the plane when I was invited for an impromptu dinner at Louise and Michel’s, which was so welcome. It hasn’t been quite 3 weeks yet, but I’ve not done badly in terms of issuing invites from my end.

Not counting dinners for 2, over the weekend had Louise and Michel, Kevin of US-Aid, Emmanuelle and Camillo and Peter. Dinner was in two rounds that evening. A first round of Cheese and charchuterie – wild boar sausage, taleggio, and a nice ripe Camembert (courtesy E&C) set off by nice Bordeaux reds and a white brought by Kevin. Some melon and baguettes served as vehicles for the cheese and sausage. Oh and I completely forgot the star of this round – the goose rillettes. Yum! Indian dinner followed:

Mango salad

Meen kolambu (fish in a tamarind sauce)

Avial-type vege medley


No formal dessert really, chocolates galore – Grand Marnier bomb + those covered in dates (L&M’s contribution). Some Grand Marnier to go with.  Then finished with a final cup of chai nicely scented with ginger and cardamom.

How was it that despite L&M cleaning and putting away dishes, I had a nearly full sink by Sunday morning? or not quite full but not empty either. For one I did make a big batch of vangi bhath as a way to ensure being able to carry lunch AND use up an excess of eggplants. Louise and I shared it on the Monday.

A small intimate mid-week (or in Belle’s case weekend end) girls night in for Belle, Mel (anie) and me. Another Gourmet Egypt spree in prep for Saturday already, brought home, among other things, two luscious sushi-grade tuna steaks.  And I had some peaches of indifferent quality. Inspiration struck and we had a meal in 3 courses. First Gazpacho/Sal Morejo, then seared, mostly raw tuna with a peach chutney – recipe forthcoming topped off by a pasta aglio e olio embellished my style with anchovies, dried chillies and walnuts.  The big pay-off was lunch for the next day.

Weekend was Zane and Adam’s first visit home with their parents Duncan and Hala (her first time too),  Peter (naturally) and Steve and Helen after a long time. Like the weekend previous, dinner was in two shifts – cheese, charcuterie and gazpacho followed by a northern Indian meal. Truffled salami and a truffled pecorino were the C&C items this time around. F0r actual dinner

Jungli Maas on a bed of greens

Rajma (Peter’s call)

Dill & Peas Pulao

Radish raita

Fresh mango chutney

Naan/Parathas (from Indian restaurants)

The mango and labneh dessert though planned never materialized, and we made do with chai, oh and I forgot Hala’s chocolate cake, which went nicely with and has fed me and Fawzeya a few breakfasts since.

Sunday was supposed to have been a working/shop  talk dinner for Drew, Kate and myself but she couldn’t make it, and his mother was in town, and then Salima called and brought a friend along as well so plans changes and voila another dinner on the way.

Gazpacho with some cheese

Quinoa with zucchini and carrots

Chicken Mole (another successful experiment)

Daal (Salima’s offering)

All this followed by cupcakes brought by Drew’s Mom. the evening ended relatively early which was good as school was on the next day..

And guess what it’s Wednesday again and folks are coming over …again. Charles, Tim, Peter and Melanie this time. The planned menu:

Doi Macch

Chane ki daal

Green beans with coconut (South Indian style)

Mango salad

PLAIN rice

Methinks that ought to be enough.  Choco-dates to follow. Will check in later and tell me how it went. School tomorrow so insh’allah for an early night.