Of Chai and Chewbacca

NOTE:  I meant for this post to go out on October 29.  My apologies for such tardiness.

Jump to Chai Masala recipe

Jump to Kenyan Chai recipe

It’s difficult not to think we are having winter in October.

In the South, winter brings temperatures where the lows are in the 30s and the highs are in the 50s. In the North, apparently it still qualifies as fall.

Strawberry yogurt, to be exact.

This is just one of a hundred daily parenting adventures I get to experience: Chewbacca doing the macarena in yogurt. Strawberry yogurt, to be exact.

But it’s been so chilly in the mornings that I can’t take the kids out, and it’s not sufficiently warm (to my standards) to play outside until about noon, which is lunchtime–followed by naptime. So the kids have spent a lot of time indoors lately, which makes them restless. And that results in episodes of Chewbacca doing the macarena in yogurt.

Adjusting to these new temperatures–especially after enduring record heat (in the triple digits for pretty much the entire summer)–has been a challenge. Needless to say, this has been a drastic temperature change.

And with temperature change comes the sniffles.

As the mother of two toddlers, I know that there isn’t much in the way of over-the-counter medicine available if they get sick.  So, I try to keep the sniffles from getting worse so that they don’t get so sick as to warrant a doctor’s visit to get some prescription expectorant.

Since we don’t have the thick fur of Wookiees to keep us warm (although if you met the men in my father’s side of the family, you may wonder if we had Wookiee ancestry), I have to fall back on traditional recipes and herbalism.  Among at-home remedies, I make lots of chicken soup, put some eucalyptus oil in a cool mist vaporizer, feed them fruits rich in vitamin C, and serve them hot beverages.

I particularly like serving them teas with ginger because ginger is so great for their health in general.  One of the teas we make in this household is a Kenyan version of chai.

It’s worth noting, for those who may be familiar with Indian foods and culture, that Kenyan cuisine (at least for the region my husband is from) is heavily influenced by Indian cuisine.  They are not identical (for instance, the way I learned to make pilau involves beef, which is typically off menu in Indian cooking), and so I find learning to prepare Kenyan food teaches me about several cultures.

The British Empire in 1919.

The British Empire in 1919. (Image via Wikipedia)

In case you needed an explanation of how Kenyans got to cooking Indian food, I’ll give a brief history lesson:   Indians were brought to the various British colonies in Africa in the 1860s as indentured laborers.  While treated horribly by the British and hated by Africans, many eventually worked their way out of servitude and became very prosperous.  This led to much friction between ethnic groups, to say the least (not to gloss over history–but examples include Idi Amin‘s expulsion of Asians from Uganda, apartheid in South Africa, and the treatment of Indian laborers in the British colonies that changed the life of Mohandas Gandhi).  Despite all this, Indian-Africans were able to contribute much in terms of culture, business and industry, and cuisine to the new continent they called home.   And many of the contributions were downright awesome.

But back to the topic.

Tea that grows on my inlaws' tea plantation. They are small shareholders in one of the many growers' co-ops in Kenya.

Kenyan chai is similar to, but still different from, traditional Indian chai.  Indian chai, to begin with, is usually made with Darjeeling tea or some other black tea grown in India.  Kenyan tea is mostly grown in the Rift Valley province.  It has a unique flavor because of the volcanic soil and, because of the country’s equatorial location, tea growers can produce tea year-round, making it the third-largest tea exporter in the world.

And because it was a British colony, tea is now the drink of choice in Kenya.  (This little tidbit has made it easy for my husband to hit it off with Britons and anyone from any of the former Commonwealth states.  If at a social gathering, he simply complains at the lack of “real tea” around such people, and then they make insta-friends, laughing at us Americans and our coffee addictions.)

There are countless ways to prepare chai.  It’s generally black tea, milk, sugar, and spices (usually pre-mixed into masalas–which could be likened to dry rub salsa in Indian food).  The spices one chooses depends on taste and intent (there are recipes for Love Chai and Health Chai, just to name a few).

The spices I put in my chai masala are tailored to my husband’s tastes and are chosen for the medicinal qualities the spices possess.  (DISCLAIMER:  I am not claiming to have any special medical knowledge; what I mention is based on studies in herbalism and alternative medicine.  Consult your doctor before taking any herbal supplements or alternative medicine.)

Chai Masala

You will first need a clean, empty jar into which you will pour the finished product.  I have a terrible habit of saving all my glass spice jars for making various spice blends for this purpose.  If you don’t have any old spice jars, many grocery stores sell empty jars that would be just as suitable.

Ingredients

I find that using a funnel to pour my masala into little spice jars makes life infinitely less messy.

  • 3 tsp cardamom†
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram†
  • 1-1/2 tsp nutmeg†
  • 2 tsp ginger†*
  • 2 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp cinnamon†
  • 1/2 tsp allspice

*Note:  You can omit the ginger and instead add freshly grated ginger directly to the tea.  Or if you love ginger as much as my family does, you can do both.

† These spices are said to have immune-boosting qualities.

Directions

  1. Thoroughly mix all the spices together in a bowl.
  2. Pour the mixture into a clean, empty spice shaker.

That’s it!  You can double the mixture if you have a larger container and plan to use it up pretty quickly, as the spices may lose some of their freshness over time.

Three types of Cardamom

Three kinds of cardamom. Cardamom and ginger are actually in the same family. In many masalas, redundancy is often the key to great flavor. - Image by FotoosVanRobin


Making Kenyan Chai

To make chai, you will need tea.  You can use loose tea (that is how many Kenyans make it) or tea bags.  If you use loose tea, the conversions would be 1 teaspoon of loose tea to 1 tea bag.  You would then need to strain the tea before serving.

In reality, you can use any black tea when making chai.  We try to use Kenyan tea whenever we can.  My husband’s preferred brands are Ketepa (which also markets under the Safari brand) and Kericho Gold (which only buys from organic growers); either of these can be purchased online through various merchants, but it can sometimes be rather costly.  Darjeeling teas and English breakfast teas are more affordable and easier to find in your average grocery store and will do just as well.

Ingredients

  • 4 tea bags
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp chai masala

Directions

  1. Pour water and milk into medium saucepan.
  2. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
  3. Add tea bags, masala, and sugar.
  4. Heat for 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat.  Remove tea bags.  Serve.

Makes approximately 3 cups of tea.

Kenyan chai goes great with toast, peda, or pumpkin bread.

Kenyan chai with peda. It goes quickly in our house.

Peda is Pedagogical

Dry harvest-field of Aegilops sp.

Wheat harvest - Image via Wikipedia by Alvesgaspar

Jump to Peda Recipe

One other thing I’ve always loved about autumn is the holidays, which are, by far, my favorite.  Sure, winter has the popular holidays (Christmas, Chanukah, Yule, etc.) with the warm fuzzy togetherness, passing out of gifts, lots and lots of lights, chestnuts roasting on an open fire… that kind of thing.  And spring has all the cool fertility festivals (even Easter is about new life).  And summer is all barbecue and fireworks and sweltering heat and hanging out by the lake with a cold beer and good friends.

Autumn, however, is the culmination season.

It’s the time of year that our ancestors revered because it meant all their hard work on the farm was finally paid off.  Even today, when so many of us do not share the agrarian lifestyles of our ancestors, autumn is still a culmination season.  It’s the World Series and football season and hunting season.  It’s the end of vacation season.   We are wrapping up the fiscal and calendar year and so are retailers (our consumer culture is driven in part by “Black Friday” and “end of year clearance sales” that actually start in October).  In fact, it’s the November shopping that retailers count on all year.  And, of course, we are still planning the big feasts that bear a different meaning to us now than it did to our ancestors.

It’s also a season of prudence and preparation.  It’s canning and preserving and freezing.  We’re in the last quarter of tax season, sending kids off to school, and stocking up freezers and cabinets and coat closets for winter.

And, as the adage goes, of reaping what you sow.  Literally, for farmers.

I think the sense of warm fuzzy hope is greater this time of year than the postcardy winter days, because the harvest is in hand, all the riches are there.  Or not (think “the Grasshopper and the Ant“).

That’s because the autumn holidays are all about being grateful for what we have and hope that we will make it through the dark, cold, relentless winter.

The Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving with the Iroquois for this reason.  Pre-Christian Europeans celebrated variations of Halloween (in Celtic-based Wicca, we call it Samhain) for this reason.  Yom Kippur, in many ways, is about reaping what you’ve sewn in your actions (it’s an atonement holiday).  (I’d like to say Eid ul Fitr falls into this category, but I’m afraid I don’t know enough to make that analysis–and I’m sure there are many other holidays that I’m missing.  Forgive me.)

Diwali, the festival of lights, is a prime fes...

Traditional Diwali lanterns - Image by dhondusaxena

And, similarly, Hindus celebrate Diwali–a holiday that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, of light conquering the darkness (it always falls on a new moon), and of the blessings of the harvest (it marks the final harvest; also, this is when the beautiful goddess Lakshmi is said to bless her worshipers with both spiritual and worldly riches).  People light up their houses with candles and electric lights and bright colors everywhere, forcing away the dark of night.  (The lights part of Diwali also has midwinter holiday parallels, but that adds to Diwali’s awesomeness, in my opinion.)  There is feasting and sharing sweets.

It’s a holiday of thanksgiving and hope.  And, considering that my husband just got a promotion, I could offer up a little thanksgiving and be hopeful that things keep going for the better.

In 2011, Diwali falls on October 26.  That’s today, if you weren’t checking your calendar.

Raja Ravi Varma's painting of Lakshmi, showing...

The Goddess Lakshmi (Image via Wikipedia - public domain)

To honor their tradition, I attempted to make a popular treat served in some parts of India during Diwali: Peda (pronounced pay-dah).  There are two ways to make peda:  on the stove or in the microwave (I got the recipe from a Hindu friend).  I tried the stove version, but I will share both recipes here.

Microwave Peda

Ingredients

  • 1 can condensed milk (15 oz)
  • 1 1/4 cup milk powder
  • 3 Tbsp butter or margarine
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder (or more to taste)*
*If you can’t find cardamom in your local grocery store, there are several retailers online where you can purchase them.  Or, alternatively, you can substitute for 1/2 teaspoon each of cloves, allspice, and ginger (but it won’t taste quite the same).
Directions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Microwave them for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. You want it to get to a slightly sticky consistency that will hold its shape.
  3. Roll 2 Tbsp at a time into balls and press down so they look like cookies.
  4. Decorate with cardamom powder, almond slivers, or pistachio pieces.
Dharwad pedha

This is what they should look like. - Image via Wikipedia by Pamri

Stove Top Peda

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 9 cups sugar

Directions
  1. Pour the milk into a large saucepan and heat on medium-low, stirring continuously.  This may take about 15 minutes.
  2. When the milk thickens, add the sugar and cardamom.  Reduce the heat to low.  Keep stirring continuously, or the milk will burn.
  3. The mixture will eventually have a brownish color and will get sticky enough to hold its shape.  (This could take as long as 30 minutes.)  Remove from heat.
  4. Roll 2 Tbsp at a time into balls and press down so they look like cookies.
  5. Decorate with cardamom powder, almond slivers, or pistachio pieces.

I think I overcooked the mixture. It was bubbling a lot and so it was difficult to tell whether it had reached the right consistency. When it cooled a little was when I realized I'd overcooked it. So I emphasize the need for low heat.

When I made the peda (using the stove top recipe), I accidentally let the mixture get too solid, so they didn’t come out nearly as pretty.  They did taste very good, however, although on the sweet side.  I found that they went well with a cup of unsweetened Darjeeling tea, although they’d do well with a cup of chai as well.

Peda is Pedagogical

When I served the dish to my children, I turned it into a bit of a cultural and geography lesson.

They are already familiar with the goddess Lakshmi, so I explained that these were sweets that people served on a special day to honor her and her husband Vishnu.  And I explained that people celebrate the special day by lighting up as many lights as they can, much like Christmas lights in America.

I proceeded to show them on a map where India was (I’ve done this a few times before when I’ve prepared curries) and explained that this is where the food comes from and where the stories about Lakshmi and Vishnu originated.  And then I explained how people from India traveled to the US and even to Kenya, where my husband (their father) is from.
This led to toddler-level discussions on how people share the things that matter to them whenever they travel, and if someone they meet likes it, it becomes theirs, too.

This is how mine turned out. The flattened balls were on the crumbly side, but they still tasted yummy!

Starkitten has already declared that all the peda is hers.

Butternut Bisque and Crisp Autumns

Jump to Butternut Bisque recipe

One of the really nifty things for a Southerner moving to Ohio during autumn is that, well, it’s autumn.

You see, in the South, “autumn” is when the temperatures actually get below 80˚F for a change, and the leaves turn dead brown.  Not pretty colors like yellow or purple or red–unless you buy one of those fancy Japanese maples and they actually survive the sweltering heat (or just oven heat, depending on whether you live in Texas or Louisiana).  Autumn doesn’t really exist in the South.  It’s fall: fallen dead leaves, fallen deer that fall dead during hunting season, ducks that fall dead during hunting season, pecans that fall, and temperatures that, uhm, fall.

This is what Louisiana looks like in the fall: misty and slightly chilly, with the pin oaks and crepe myrtles stubbornly clinging to their leaves until Thanksgiving. Everything is green because it rains. A lot.

In the South, there really are only two seasons:  hot and extremely dry; and cold and wet.  Sometimes there is snow in the winter.  Sometimes (during El Niño years, I think) in Louisiana and parts of Texas, it rains all the way through the end of June (and sometimes it will rain just on the Fourth of July, just to spite everyone who wanted to play with explosives, as is the American way).

Fall is also about cooking chili and gumbo.  It’s about pecan pies and deer sausage.  And tailgating any kind of football game.  It doesn’t even really feel like fall until mid-October, unless it was a really rainy summer (El Niño again).  And then fall lasts only about a month before it plunges into winter, or what we call “cold, rainy time.”

Fall in the North, I’ve learned, is drastically different.  It’s properly autumn.

Thomas Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade - Image via Wikipedia (public domain)

Autumn in Ohio is like a postcard autumn, or a Thomas Kinkade painting.  It’s amazing.  The air smells sweet from the leaves turning colors.  And I mean colors.  It’s like Mother Nature took a box of warm colors and dumped it: cornfields and bean fields in fuzzy greenyellowbrowns, trees in redpurpleyelloworanges, red berries everywhere, acorns and buckeyes and walnuts crunching under your feet when you wander through a quiet wooded nature path.

An Ohio lake

See? Ohio looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting.

In the South, it’s state fair time, and everything is deep-fried and oh so delicious.  In Ohio, I discovered farmers markets.  Every weekend, there is some small town hosting one.  And even if you don’t want to brave the freezing cold (it goes down to 40˚F or even in the 30s here!), on any afternoon down a little country road, there will be some farm with a sign advertising homegrown produce.  And the produce you buy there is better–and cheaper–than anything you can find at the grocery store.  And if you know where to look, they may even be organic (or pretty close to it).

One of the first things I did upon moving to Ohio was buy some local honey to cope with the allergies my family suffered from (me the most–as I write this I am recovering from a sinus infection).  I was amazed to learn that some local farmers also keep bees and sell them at local stores.

Squash also make great additions to autumn-themed or Halloween displays. Or footballs for your toddlers.

And then I set out to find the one fruit that is the first thing I think of when I think of fall: squash.  Man, do I love me some squash.  And I terrified my poor husband when he came home from work one day to discover that a quarter of the fridge was suddenly filled with various types of edible squash.

“What are you going to do with all this squash?” he asked me.  “We’re going to get sick of eating baked squash every day.”

“I’ll get creative,” I replied.

And so I did.  Here is one of my alternatives to my go-to of baked squash.  It’s called butternut bisque, and it’s a variation based on a recipe I found in “Simply in Season.”

You’ll need one medium butternut squash.  They are a pain in the rear to peel, so what I did was cut it in half, scoop out the seeds (you can wash the stringy parts off of them, soak them in some salt water, and then toast them in the oven to use as garnish when you’re done with the bisque), and bake it face-down on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes to get the meat soft.  After baking the squash, let it cool and then scoop out the meat.  Whatever you don’t use for this recipe, you can refrigerate (it will last about 3-4 days) or freeze for later.

Butternut Bisque

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup of sliced baby carrots
  • 3 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups of cooked butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup lowfat, plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
Directions
  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the onion and carrots and sauté over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Add broth.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for 1 cup of the squash (set it aside).
  4. Then transfer the mixture to a blender in small batches and purée until smooth.  Return the mixture to the saucepan.
  5. Mash up the remaining squash and break apart the pieces as much as possible.  Then add it to the mixture.  (Note:  If you don’t want a chunky soup, you can just throw all the squash in the blender and skip this step.)
  6. Cook over medium heat until hot.
  7. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and the baked seeds.
The soup is pretty sweet, and so I found that serving it with something sour works well to complement the tastes.  To keep with the autumn foods palette, I served it with my pot roast recipe (which includes vegetables) and a side of purple sauerkraut.  My kids, who are usually quite picky about their soups, destroyed everything.  We had enough left to refrigerate and make as a side with sandwiches for the following lunch.

Butternut bisque, served along with purple sauerkraut and pot roast with veggies

Howdy!

Hello!

After moving from Texas to Ohio and subsequently transitioning from lawyer to housewife, I’ve picked some new hobbies: arts and crafts with my kids (ages 2 and 3), foodie-type cooking, sewing… and now blogging.  I’m also trying to renew older hobbies, like gardening and critical reading/film-watching.  I’m going to start sharing recipes I’ve learned, projects that work (and ones that don’t), parenting challenges, and other random bits.  Since I’m new to the blogging world, I’m open to feedback on form or content (i.e. if my topics are too scatter-brained).

–Mommysaurus

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