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Lights on 20(14...)15!

Lights on 20(14...)15!

I considered doing a round up of the year like so many we see around this time floating around the web-o-sphere. Some are quite entertaining or inspiring but I realized none really stood out to me as being THE list. So, instead of boring you with a re-hash of previous posts, I decided, I would just be realistic and share a recipe; something you'll probably appreciate a lot more than me waxing about how awesome this year has been for me!

I mean, really, what is the fun in relating only one side of the equation. It simply becomes a gargantuan joke like the Facebook experiment. Everyone knows that there is yin and a yan to life and without the other, neither is appreciated. Yet, it seems society as a whole shuns hearing the 'other' side of life. I am pretty sure someone somewhere has done some study on the hypothesis I am going to expound (if not, it should be done. I think it would be fantastic insight into cultures!).

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Happy Thanksgiving!!

As analysis of when to publish posts go, today is possibly the worst day to put up one and possibly I am shortly encroaching on the most insane hh:mm of the year! But, I cannot let the day go by without giving my thanks. 

Also, I am wrought with guilt in having been making merry and not quite showering this space with the love I had originally planned. As you know, I had been in Israel last week. Now, I am in Turkey amidst the stunning beauty of inland Cappadoccia where the natural geography is as awe inspiring as the history of the original cave dwellers. There is much here that makes me marvel at the tenacity and ingenuity of the early civilizations. 

In the two days that I have been in this country, I have smitten by its beauty, the hospitality of its people and the general welcoming feel around here. I will write more about my experiences in a later post when I have properly collected and collated my thoughts. 

In the mean time, I simply want to take this day as an opportunity to thank you, my wonderful readers, friends and well-wishers for the support, feedback and shower of love that you have given this site and me over the years.

While this is a time to cherish our loved ones ever more, I feel it also time for me to be grateful for the generosities and kindness of unknown faces. For the unexpected niceties that life throws at me. For the strength within to face up and out ride challenges. For the wonderful beauty around that takes my breath away as soon as I pause for but a moment. For the freedom I have  that so many more aspire to. For love, joys and sorrow!

Oh to celebrate this wonderful feeling of thankfulness and being alive, we must of course share something sweet. So here is a simple Pumpkin Cheese Cake that is elegant and at the same time rather light, befitting the end of a surely coma-inducing dinner... :)

This is a very simple one pot dessert that comes together very easily and takes about half hour from mixing bowl to plate. I serve it here with a side of boozy fruits but you can go with ice cream just as well.

So, here is toasting to the life that pulses within us! Happy Turkey day!!

Pumpkin Cheese Pots

1/3 cup fresh ricotta cheese, drained

1/3 cup cream cheese

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup homemade pumpkin puree (unsweetened)

1 T potato starch

2 T whole milk/cream

1 egg

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg + more for finish

1/2 tsp grated cinnamon

3 T brandied dry fruits {to serve}

Preheat oven to 350F.

Puree all the ingredients to a fine, smooth mixture.

Pour into molds of desired size and shape.

Line the molds in a baking pan with about 1/4 inch of hot water, creating a water bath.

Bake for about 25 minutes until just set.

Let cool for a few minutes and serve warm or cold with the brandied fruits,

Hallowed be thy Halwa

Happy All Hallows Even ! :)

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Cracked Rice Saffron Halwa

And may we remember the martyrs, saints and blessings in our life tomorrow. For the we live and life is a treasure.

No, I am not turning soft. I am though fascinated by the history and culture and have been doing a bit of reading on this day that now stands for anything other than the solemnity in which it was originally conceived. Did you know, that the history of the day is marked by Pope Gregory III, who in the Eighth century, designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs. This day is name All Hallows Day or All Saints Day.

Beginning as a celtic tradition, the evening before, the day straddles pagan and Christian beliefs. The day before, hence became All Hallows Eve. In Scottish (I have developed a rather sudden and intense crush on Northern Scotland and hence my enthusiastic researching on all things to do with Celts), the word for Eve is 'even' and is slanged to e'en or een. So, thus was Halloween.


Jack O'Lanterns were representative of souls that belonged to neither Heaven nor Hell. Traditionally, on this evening, fires were lit to guide these souls on their way and deflect them from haunting honest Christian folk. In Scotland and Ireland, it was marked by carving turnips because that was the harvest of the season. This festival was called Samhain, or "Summer's End" in Old Irish, marking the end of harvest season and beginning of Winter and the colder/darker part of the year. In parts of Northern Scotland, winter days are so short that daylight was but a few hours and everything was dark, gloomy and bitterly cold.

The association of Pumpkins began in the Americas, where they are harvested at this time of the year, and these squashes took the place of the turnips. As a casual immigrant I was well taken in by the concept as is the modern application of it here. Since, it typically coincided with Diwali, the festival of Lights for Indians, I was happily taken in by all the glittering pumpkins.

Cracked Rice Saffron Halwa

In fact, I still love it for that reason, rather than the dressing up. I like the idea of light up the way for souls. Diwali is celebrated to bring light into our lives and about appreciating family and friends, those who enrich us and make us thankful. Kind of parallel thinking, eh! :)

Anyway, in honor of all that is Hallowed, and appreciating the confluence of several cultures,

May the Light Shine Through You!

And, I share a recipe for a typical Saffron Halwa that is made on many festive occasions, especially in the South, where I come from. Since I am gluten free, I made this halwa with finely cracked rice, called rava, which, is available in Indian stores. You can also use fine semolina or very fine corn meal to make this. The flavors will be accordingly slightly different but the essence quite the same.

Saffron Rice Halwa

Cracked Rice Saffron Halwa

1 cup Rava, cracked white rice

1-1/2 cups whole milk, warm

3/4 to 1 cup cane sugar

1/4 tsp saffron threads

1/2 cup mix of nuts and dried fruits

5-6 T of ghee, clarified butter + more for the mold

In a heavy bottomed pot, warm about 4 tablespoons of ghee on low heat. Add the rava and sauté the rice until ever so lightly browned and it does not taste raw, approximately 4 minutes.

Add the sugar and sauté for a few minutes. Add in the milk and whisk briskly to prevent lumps.

Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a quick boil and reduce it back again to medium-low. Cook, stirring continuously, until most of the liquid is absorbed and it is of the consistency of porridge. Fold in the remaining ghee into the cooked halwa.

Spread a little ghee at the base of a 8 x 4 inch baking dish. This will be the mold. Spread the halwa evenly on it and press in to the mold. While the halwa is resting, gently roast the nuts and fruits in ghee until fragrant and golden.

Pour the nuts and any ghee in the pan over the halwa layer and press into it. Let the halwa cool to room temperature. Unmold the halwa on to a plate and cut into pieces to serve.

Six Years have Passed!

Brandied Raisin Rolls to celebrate

This is the anniversary month of my blog. It has been with me for six years. Seriously! Six years! When I started, I had hardly envisioned this day. At some level, I may have seen it being a entertaining hobby. Scarce did I expect it to become an engaging profession! Sometimes I find it amazing that this has been my longest, steadfastly, passionate vocation. One that I saw no dip in interest, one that I see only continuing deeper involvement in the coming years.

Over the years, it has seen several sides of me from the hesitant toddler steps to the stomps of a teen to the ambitious marches of an young adult to the difficult metamorphosis into a responsible adult to the zealous entrepreneurship today. A true best friend, albeit silent, one who listens without judgement, always dependable through my flippant dithering, a home to come back to when I am done traipsing about, a place of rest, peaceful reflection, a serene sounding board for my torrid outburst, a quiet therapist to my introspective outpourings.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Brandied Raisin Rolls

So, I think I must take time to celebrate another year of my growing solidarity with this blog.

When I say blog, it paraphrases for not the words and visuals but really all you readers. My blog is my space to express, indeed, but ever more than that it is my excuse to reach out and connect. And those qualities of a good friend, that isn't due of an abstract virtual space but rather the pulse of a real, living breathing person. Several persons. Some I have gotten to meet, know and cherish and many more of you I hope to in coming years.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Brooklyn Botanical Garden

And, so today, I want to take a beat and a post to thank all of you, each one of you, those who comment and those who don't, those who share and those who don't, those who read what I write, those who view my photos, those who tolerate my ramblings, those who recreate my recipes, those who tell me here or in mails what you really think, those who criticize, encourage and support me. Thank you for making my life full. Thank you for making my passion a vocation. Thank you for showing the patience that I did not possess. Thank you for being a friend in times of need and a partner in times of joy. Thank you for cheering my good moves and supporting my bad ones. Thank you for letting me find my way and being my beacon when I get lost.

Thank you, dear visitor, for making this blog, one of the dearest joys of my life!

Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Second proof of raisin rolls

To celebrate, I am sharing a recipe for brandied fruit rolls. I always have some brandied fruit in my pantry. This one was made with brandy (of course), cinnamon and saffron. I keep it in a glass jar buried in my pantry away from the light and simply top up the jar with more fruit and liquor and give it a good shake as I use up the stash. It is a handy pantry item that makes pretty much everything taste great, from bread puddings to ice cream toppings.

The rolls are a riff off these pesto ones or the traditional cinnamon rolls that are rather popular in the US. You can make this into a loaf if you prefer. I made this as rolls because they look like cupcakes and well, we are celebrating after all. Hope you enjoy these little bites!

Whole Wheat Brandied Fruit Rolls

Baked raisin rolls

For the dough:

1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 egg

1-1/4 tsp active dry yeast

4 T olive oil

1/3 cup warm milk

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

For the filling:

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup or so of drained brandied fruit

1 tsp grated nutmeg

In a bowl, soak the yeast in warm milk and set aside for a few of minutes until frothy. Whisk in the egg, oil, salt and sugar. Mix in a cup of flour. The dough will be very sticky, don't worry.

Set the dough in warm place to rise and double for an hour. Sift together the rest of the flour, baking soda and mix into the dough to form a pliable and soft dough which is very elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Leave the dough in an oiled bowl and allow to proof for an hour or so in a warm spot.

Dump the dough onto a well floured surface, cover with bowl and let it sit for a minute or two. Roll out the dough into a rough rectangle, really thin and long. Sprinkle the sugar and nutmeg all over and then spread the brandied fruits.

Roll in the dough along the length as tightly as you can to form a log. Finish off by sealing the seam with a brush of oil.

Slice pieces of the roll to fit into cupcake molds. This recipe should make enough for 6 fat rolls.

Cover with cloth and proof for another 30 minutes during which preheat the oven to 400F.

Brush with oil and bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Serve with warm honey or cream.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Share your creations tagging @ashafsk on Instagram and hashtag #MadeFromFSK