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24 November 2010

Giving Thanks



I hope your day is filled with family, friends, food and fun.

Take a moment out of the feasting, football watching, and sneaking stuffing while grandma isn't watching to be thankful. Seriously. We all have something to be thankful for.

Do whatever you have to in order to keep the peace this year.



And, just because I have a very macabre sense of humor, I leave you with a link to Lemony Snicket Videos.

Happy Turkey Day!
~Jen

PS: I'm taking a wee break until December 01. Good luck with those NaNo novels! Write on.

23 November 2010

Chai Time



*photo found HERE, which, incidentally, is a fabulous article on chai. Check it out!

I learned today that "chai tea" is redundant. Chai means "tea" in Hindi. Sounds so much more exotic than plain, old "tea", doesn't it?

I am a tea lover. A tea drinker extraordinaire! Chai and I, however, never got along until recently. I wanted to like chai. I drank it hot, cold, in a frappucino, in a smoothie. I tried it with milk and with hot water. I just could NOT like it. Then, as I was preparing to go to India, my friend said, "Oh, and chai is everywhere! You'll love it!" "One problem," I admitted. "I hate chai."

Until I had it.
In India.
Simmered over a gas stove, in milk.

Two words: Yum. O.

I've grown to like chai, but not the American version of the drink. Masala chai, which literally means "spiced tea", has grown on me and I've found even a bagged version that I like. But nothing takes the place of the "real" deal.

True story: I'd planned to post on chai today. I checked my email and one of my weekly emails about tea and coffee had an article link on (you guessed it) chai. Serendipitous I say!

And here it is! Masala Chai 101. It's got so many chai recipes, you'll be swimming by the time you've brewed and tried them all. I sifted through them, however, and found the one that (to me) seems the most authentic. This is the one I plan to try at home (just as soon as I can wrangle me up some cardamom pods).

*This chai recipe was found on About.com's site under the heading "How to Make Masala Chai" by Lindsey Goodwin (their tea and coffee guru).

•2 cups milk
•2 cups water
•4 whole cloves
•2 crushed green cardamom pods
•2 crushed peppercorns
•1 cinnamon stick
•1 grape-sized piece peeled, chopped ginger
•2 tbsp. sugar
•2 tbsp. black tealeaves (preferably Assam)

Combine your milk, water and spices in a medium saucepan.

Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add sugar and tealeaves. Stir, and then simmer for 5 minutes.

Strain into glasses or mugs and serve.

(This recipe makes a bout 4 cups of masala chai.)

For all you celebrating Thanksgiving this week, why not try this as an alternative to the traditional apple cider or coffee after the turkey? Or, if you're like me and decorate for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving, why not have a pot of this simmering while the Christmas carols play and the twinkle lights get untangled. You know, by someone else. YOU have to watch that simmering milk ;)

Cheers!
~Jen

(For those of you not up to simmering milk, or you don't feel you have the time to make the chai via stove top, The Republic of Tea has a wonderful chai concentrate that you can add to warm milk. This was the ONLY chai I liked before I learned to make it the Indian way.)

22 November 2010

Chutney


lovely image of tomato chutney found HERE

I'm quite a few words ahead in my NaNo novel, so I thought I'd let the foodie in me back out to play :)

For some reason (perhaps the fact my mom mentioned cranberry chutney last night), chutneys have been on my mind. Hmm, thought I, chutneys are Indian. Huzzah! An Indian themed post!

Off to Google I go and if I thought for a moment this would be a short and easy topic, I was very, very wrong.

Chutneys are quite diverse and (as you'll see from the links I've added at the bottom of this post) there are more combinations than I thought humanly possible.
The word "chutney" is derived from caṭnī , a term used for spicy preparations that are used as an accompaniment to a main dish. They usually contain ingredients that don't, at first, seem to go together but are surprisingly complementary. Chutneys usually resemble paste and are coarse in texture (though some can be smooth). In India and in the states, I've only had a green one. I don't know what was in it, or what it was called, but I call it "the really, really, REALLY tasty green mush". Most people who have had Indian food perk up and say, "Oh yeah! I love that stuff!" If anyone knows what it's called...or could even suggest what it may be, I'd be grateful. Of course, I could just as the next time I'm at an Indian restaurant and they plop the "good green mush" down in front of me :)

They can be sweet or savory and come in a seemingly endless variety of spice/veg/fruit/herb combinations. The types and preparations of chutneys vary across their native lands of Pakistan and India, though I did discover a traditional "rule" to chutneys. No raisins. Yay! (I don't like raisins). But of course, this rule has been broken and a raisin chutney was created for John Abercorn, 5th Viceroy of Calcutta. Darn viceroys.

You can eat chutney as a snack, a meal, or as an accompaniment to a meal. According to the research I've done, they are still popular in the Carri bean and the American South where they are used with pork and fish. Mmmm, pork...

Here's a good intro to chutneys along with lists of type and regional examples. It's also where I go most of the information in this post :) Thank you, Wikipedia :D

And if you're looking to experiment with chutney in your own kitchen, or you're just wanting another way to shake up the Thanksgiving turkey and madden all the staunch traditionalists, I leave you with THIS, THIS, and THIS. Don't say I didn't warn you. There's a lot of chutney out there!

18 November 2010

We're off to see the wizard!


awesome picture found here

Soooo.

Anyone else as excited as I am to see Deathly Hallows tonight?

Anyone?

Midnight showing, IMAX theatre, DAY OFF WORK TOMORROW! Check, check and triple check [hey, I know how bad those fire whiskey hangovers can be ;)]

Are you guys dressing up or just going undercover as a muggle? Me, I'm debating between wearing my "HUNH?" inducing combination of a Draco t-shirt with my "Dumbledore's Army" jacket or just wearing something muggle-ish and comfy for the 3 hour tour.

Have fun tonight, portkey safely and for heaven's SAKE keep your wands at the ready.

Jen
(Of the House of Slytherin)

16 November 2010

NaNo Blabberings

I've passed the halfway point and I'm still a bit clueless as to how this story is going to pan out. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write and NaNo helps to solidify this as my "go to" way of writing. Of course, this makes for all manner of plot tangles, rabbit trails and random characters popping up and the most inopportune times.

Ever had a character arrive unannounced and uninvited? It happens to me every time I start a story.

For example, this story was cruising along. My main character was looking out her second story window over the eerie Irish landscape when a voice spoke up behind her. We were both shocked. She was in the house alone. Her uncle was outside in his wood shop, working on a shelf unit for the village pub. My main character and I looked at one another and then looked behind. There was a young girl standing there, smiling, blinking at us as if we were the ones in the wrong place. I looked at my main character and sighed.

"Not again."

My MC looks to me for advice.

"Go with it," I tell her. "See what she has to say."

And lo and behold, this little girl is going to be the turning point of this story.

Oh, and did I mention this "story" has turned into something longer? Yes, dear friends, it seems I may have TWO books on my hands instead of just one. Surprised?
Don't be. If I were to sit down and write and honest to goodness one shot, I might faint.

Or dance around and cheer, scaring the cat and the neighbors. The neighbors I wouldn't mind, especially the one whose second hand smoke makes my lungs feel like they're going to collapse.

But I digress.

Tell me: do your characters randomly appear, seeking employment, auditioning for roles you didn't even know were there to audition for? Or are you one of the lucky ones who outlines and casts and has characters who only arrive when asked?

Just curious.

Ah, the ramblings of a mind that won't sleep. Did I mention I'm writing this at 2:30 am?

12 November 2010

Naan Success!

The Naan turned out fabulously! I do, however, have a few tweaks which (to me) made it better.

You do not need four and a half cups of flour! Dear Lord! There's a reason in the actual directions it says "add enough flour to make a soft dough". I started with one cup, stirred, another cup, stirred, and after the third cup was stirred in, I started kneading and added half of the fourth cup with my hands until the consistency was good. Use your own judgement in this.

Also, two TEASPOONS of garlic? For real? Come on. You couldn't even kill Edward with that amount. I added at least two TABLESPOONS and could have added more. Of course, you be the judge of the garlic in your own naan. Leave it as written if you don't like garlic. Or really love Edward.

The making of the naan turned into an entire Indian themed dinner. I even wore my punjabi pants (although I didn't think about it until I was in the kitchen and realized I'd put them on unintentionally). Dear Jon made dal makhani (black lentils to us non-hindi speaking folk) and chicken curry.

YUM.

And because I know you will all be clamoring for the recipes, here it is:

Buy a can of Jyoti brand Dal Makhani and a jar of curry and follow the instructions on the label.

Lame. I know.

But trust me when I say your kitchen will smell like India for days! And that's a very good thing indeed :)

Oh, one word of caution. We grilled the naan inside because we don't have a grill and it was rather cold. We have a cast iron stove top grill. The butter drips on the grill and causes clouds of smoke to fill up your kitchen and 20 foot high ceilings. Open the windows, turn on the fans, bundle up, and be prepared to tell the neighbors "It's alright! I'm a professional!"

Cheers!
Jen

11 November 2010

Updates and Garlic

NaNo is going pretty darn well. I've got over 24,000 words (hence the absence from the blog)!! According to the NaNo "official" novel stats, I should finish by November 21 at this rate. My official stats say I'm taking a day off! My arm is killing me!

I found a fabulous recipe for garlic naan which I'm going to try tonight. It's really simple and sounds exactly like what I had while in Delhi. The only differences I can tell from the recipe alone are the size of the naan and the amount of garlic and butter in the finished product. Talk about greasy! But oh so good...



(The original recipe -and the above picture- can be found at Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)
1/4 cup butter, melted

Directions
1.In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

2.Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

3.During the second rising, preheat grill to high heat.

4.At grill side, roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

If you try it, let me know how it turns out! I'll be firing up the grill tonight (well, the cast iron stove top grill at any rate). Maybe I'll even whip up some type of curry dipping sauce to go with it.

How are you other NaNo-er's doing? Any of you reached the 50,000 mark yet? Is your story taking shape? Mine has definitely taken some bizarre twists and turns from my original idea but I'm happy with it. I think with some (read a LOT) of editing, I might have something here.

Cheers!
Jen

09 November 2010

Candy Shop of Horrors



Hey guys!

I know, I've been AWOL for far too long. I blame stress. Sounds good, eh?

NaNo progress is up, up, UP! I topped my count at just over 11,000 words on Saturday and I've got another chapter to upload tonight. I'm hoping to get at least one more chapter done by this evening. We shall see.

I wanted to post a bit about something I saw last night. A film, to be exact, only it wasn't a "hey let's all go to the movies" type of film.

"The Candy Shop" is a thirty minute film from director Brandon McCormick and Whitestone Motion Pictures. It stars Doug Jones of Pan's Labyrinth and Hell Boy fame. It is a film made to help raise awareness of and initiate a movement to stop child sex trafficking.

Frightening statistic: Atlanta, GA (my 'hometown') is one of the TOP cities in the NATION for sex trafficking. Sadly, most people are completely unaware that this is going on practically in their backyards.

I was first introduced to this horrific "business" about four years ago. A friend mentioned that she was working with a non-profit to raise awareness of child sex trafficking. I had no idea there was an actual name to this nor did I know that it was happening in Atlanta. I guess no one thinks horrible things like this happens in their hometown.

Several years later, at a photographer event with my husband, a pair of photographers spoke on the atrocities of human trafficking.

It was not until I was in India and met a 13 year old girl that it really hit me how sickening trafficking really is.

Pinkie is a sweet heart. I didn't get to really know her while I was there because she was the oldest girl in the orphanage and was at school most of while I was with the other, younger children. Happy, healthy, and in school. That's how all 13 year olds should be, right?

Had Pinkie NOT been in the orphanage, she would most likely have been either sold into sex trafficking OR (and this really floored me) MARRIED to a man AT LEAST 50 years old!?!?!?!?!

Married.

At 13.

To some perv old enough to be her grandfather.

Shocked?

It happens every day.

Every. Single. Day.

And it's not just in India, or Bangladesh, or any number of easily brushed aside third world statistic. It's in Atlanta. Portland. New York. My hometown and possibly yours.

Check out the trailer for the film The Candy Shop. Got to the Stop The Candy Shop website to learn more. Right now, the film has only been released in Atlanta but will be submitted to several national film festivals in the coming year.

It's not often I get on my soapbox here. But I couldn't let this topic pass by without some vocalization.

If you have a child, know a child, know someone who does, or simply have a soul, WATCH THIS TRAILER, learn about child sex trafficking and what you can do to stop it.

Yes, YOU.

03 November 2010

NaNo-Day Three (and other such musings)

First off (before I forget again), a big "hello, how are you" to my new followers. I see you over there. Thank you so much! I'll pay you a visit as soon as possible :)

Day three of this literary madness and I've got 5,000+ under my belt. Woohoo! Are they all genius? Not hardly, but they're words and words can be edited, words can be strengthened, tightened, filed down and built upon.

Needless to say, I'm excited.

So...butter tea. Yeah. I tried it. Around midnight Monday night. I boiled 6 cups of water, threw in one of those Lipton tea bags, let it boil for about 3 minutes. Then I dumped it in a large container, added 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a 1/2 cup of milk. And we whisked vigorously. The instructions say to shake vigorously or put in a blender. Our blender (quite honestly) sucks so bad I don't trust it to blend tea so that was a pass. The shaking was much more amusing. You know those Tupperware pitchers with the lids that stay on due to suction? You push the button on the top, press the lid into the container and *poof* it stays. Like magic. Wrong. Not with boiling water. The steam creates pressure and soon as you start shaking, the top blows off! We didn't lose any limbs, but it was rather amusing.

It looks and smells and tastes like the liquid residue left over from oatmeal made with too much water. Complete with the butter and salt. The tea somehow disappears in all that shaking. It's rather...well...as I said yesterday, it's not as bad as salted laasi (is anything worse than that?) but it's bad.

Now that I've had it, however, just let 'em try and get a laugh out of this American when they offer me an "innocent" cup of butter tea on my first visit to Tibet. I'll already know what to expect. Who knows. It might be better with yak butter and milk. Or it could be a lot, lot worse!

We're moving into India now, a country I spent two weeks in, two years ago. A fascinating conundrum of a country, one that you can't wait to leave but long for and wonder when you'll get to go back. The sights, the sounds, the smells are NOTHING a Westerner can prepare for. The closest I've come is the Dekalb International Farmer's Market here just outside of Atlanta and it doesn't even hold a candle to the chaos and baffling wonder that is India.

When I think of India, I think of the color brown. I was in Delhi (not where tourists go) and everything was brown: the ground, the cars, the buildings, the sky. Even the sky. Especially the sky. The people. Oh, the gorgeous, gorgeous people. Their skin varying shades of caramel and coffee. The women, all stunning, riding side saddle on tiny dirt bikes, pink, orange and blue saris decorating them, making them stand out like fragile Christmas ornaments on an already dead tree.

The children. I could have adopted every one of them! I spent two weeks sitting in an orphanage, watching, enjoying, interacting with over 30 children, ranging in ages one to thirteen. Let's just say if my suitcase had been a little bit bigger I'd have two daughters.

The food. Oh my gosh the food. Smells like you've never experienced. Tastes that baffle your tongue (and stomach) and make you beg for more. Curry in everything (even the Kentucky Fried Chicken...no joke!). Chicken briyani that comes in a bag no bigger than the foil bags of a Chick-fil-A sandwich yet when you dump it out, it could feed an army (or one, fifteen year old Indian boy). Salted laasi (that must be experienced to be believed) and pickled water buffalo (yum. Water buffalo).

By far the most bizarre thing I had over there was this strange, curdled milk, rice and red onion dish. It tasted interesting. I have no idea how to explain it except to imagine curdled milk with rice and red onions. Or better yet, don't. They eat it to settle their stomachs during the heat of summer (I was there in May). Note: it does NOT settle a western stomach. Not at all. Not hardly. But it does give you a fabulous excuse to eat nothing but french fries for the next two days.

This post turned out to be a long one. I won't bother you further. Just know that I have a connection with this next, virtual location. My goal for this trip is to make naan. Garlic naan. The one recipe that sounds authentic says it takes two days to make. I'll do some more research. Oh how I miss that greasy, garlicky goodness.

02 November 2010

I Has an Award!



Quinn over at Seeing, Dreaming...Writing gave me this awesome little bloggy award. H says that he has secretly coveted this one for a long time. Guess what? So have I :) and I can't tell you why, just that I'm happy to say it's found a home with me.

I gots to list seven things about myself and then pass it along. Here goes...

1) The only times I've "crossed the pond" while traveling was to go to countries that begin with the letter "I": Ireland and India. I have a sneaky suspicion that I'll be found next haunting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

2) I have a strange and overwhelming addiction to tales of the odd and otherworldly. For real. Even though they scare the socks off me, I keep reading them, keep watching them (Hello old X-Files episodes. How lovely to see you on Netflix :))

3) I secretly want to be an opera singer. For reals. Josh Groban...call me ;)

4) I have reoccurring fantasies that I somehow get enlisted by a secret society to investigate strange cases ordinary law enforcement can't solve. This is most likely encouraged by the aforementioned X-Files and an obsession with Sherlock Holmes.

5) During the past week, I have dreamt about or had someone reference in a conversation Scooby Doo. Those meddlin' kids and their stupid dog!

6) I'm an old soul. I don't "fit" in modern society. I'd much rather wear tweed than skinny jeans and have an obsession with Victorian England.

7) Butter tea is awful. Not as repulsive as salted laasi, but close. Imagine cooking oatmeal, salting and buttering it until the butter pools around the edges of the mush in the bowl. Strain it. Now drink it. I can officially say I DO NOT like butter tea. (More on this later...)

Now I get to pass it along. Hmmm, to whom shall I pass it? You know what? I know this might seem kind of lame, but I've seen it done and I like it. Besides...there's too many awesome blogs out there. So, here's the scoop: if you, like me, have always wanted the Versatile Blogger award, have at it. It's yours. With love and sincerity. Seriously. Not a cop out. Every blog I read, every blogger that stops by here is versatile. Seriously. How many of you blog in spite of life, family, jobs, obligations, craziness, alien abductions, land slides, zombie apocalypses (apocalypsi?) All of you face reasons (and darn good ones, too) NOT to blog. But you do it anyway. Faithfully. More faithfully that I do, that's for certain. So go on, you've earned it. Every. Last. One of you.

And go by and say hi to Quinn. His blog is a wonderful breath of fresh air :)

Cheers,
Jen

01 November 2010

aaaaand WE'RE OFF!

Aspiring novelists the world over are beginning their journey to writerdom over the next 30 days. Yes, kids, NaNoWriMo started TODAY! Technically, it started at midnight, but I wasn't about to start typing then. I had to get to work, but I'll be putting in the hours at random intervals during the next month. There's still time to sign up if you're interested: NaNoWriMo.org

Expect updates on my own NaNo experience, more writing related posts, and a rant or three!

We're also off to India this month. Apparently, the extreme altitude and climate of Tibet and Nepal didn't sit well with me (read: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome flare ups) but not to worry! I'm feeling better and I'm determined to take us through India. Even if I have to crawl.

However, I did want to share a few links that I discovered about those marvelous little Himalayan countries that we only touched on. I found several very informative sites while researching. Nepal in particular holds a special interest for me and I'm a bit bummed I wasn't able to pursue it's cuisine. These links will allow you to do so in your own time (and I'll be visiting them as time, health and budget allows).

Enjoy!

TIBET
Simply Tibetan
Yowangdu.com
The Infamous Butter Tea Recipe

NEPAL
Food-Nepal
SAARC Tourism
Nepal Home Page (Recipes)

BHUTAN
Asian Recipes (Bhutan) **Beware the annoying pop-ups!
Washington Post coverage of the Smithsonian Folk Festival of 2008 which featured Bhutanese Cuisine
A Brief Intro to Bhutanese Cuisine

Stay tuned for NaNo Madness, India (which is definitely madness) and that blasted butter tea which keeps mischeviously avoiding me. What I need is an accountability partner. How about....YOU! I will go home this afternoon and make butter tea to the best of my American supermarket ability. What do you say? Are you still curious> Have I driven this one so far into the ground you're thinking, "Gosh shut UP about the butter tea already!!"?

Can you tell it's Monday?