Mar 27, 2017

Bibi's Budget Beauty Booty!

Today Bibi turns beauty blogger to show off her recent budget finds! 
How exciting is that, eh? I have to admit to being a bit of a beauty snob for most of my life. Yep, just about every other weekend you'd be likely to find Bibi perusing the fragrance and beauty selection at Nordstrom or Sephora back in the US of A. But there's no place for beauty snobbery in Nepal. Department store and boutique brands are not available here. So what's a beauty addict like Bibi to do? Well about six months ago I spotted a new little store in our shopping district carrying these unfamiliar inexpensive cosmetic brands:

A brief foray on the internet informed me that Catrice and Essence were popular and affordable German brands with some excellent products! 
Both companies are owned by Cosnova and all their products are cruelty-free. Both brands have been available in 55 countries for over 12 years. Catrice has aligned itself with the fashion industry sponsoring and doing makeup for runway shows at Berlin's fashion week. Catrice's colors and products skew more classic but with innovative formulas. Think of Essence as the younger, trendier, little sister to Catrice. Essence's website looks like it's designed to appeal to 7 year olds but it's products certainly aren't kid stuff. Both companies are said to have inexpensive cosmetics that rival pricey prestige brands in performance. Yippeee! So I purchased  the Catrice Blush Artist Shading palette in Corall I Need, Catrice Nude Illusion Transparent Matt powder, Essence Pure Nude Highlighter in Be My Highlight, and a Rimmel lipliner I'd read about online to check'em out!

First up, here's Catrice's Blush Artist Shading palette in O20 Corall I Need. 
As you can see it comes with three shades that don't look very coral to me. Has the definition of coral changed in the fashion world recently? Is coral no longer pinkish orange? It's in your standard clear plastic cheapie drugstore case we've all seen a jillion times.

Above are swatches of the three shades contained in Catrice's Blush Artist Shading palette in O20 Corall I Need taken in natural mid morning light. On the right is a muted deep cool pink flecked with fine gold sparkles, the center shade is a warm matte muted coral(?), and to the right is a highlighter shade that's a very shimmery rose gold. All three powders were reasonably pigmented, remarkably finely milled, and easy to blend. Thankfully none of the shades had chunky visible glitter. I've had quite a lot of fun mixing the shades for various effects. The fine shimmer and textures of the blushes remind me of the highly rated Nars blushes. Mixing the rose gold highlighter with the center matte coral resulted in a shimmery peachy pink shade quite comparable to the cult favorite Nars Orgasm blush. They all kicked up a bit of powder in the pan but I didn't experience any fallout or shimmer anyplace on my face once applied. All three shades applied sheerly but were buildable to greater intensity. I did not experience any chalkiness, streaking, or patchiness upon application of any of the shades. Unfortunately all three shades did accentuate my skin's texture a bit. All three shades wore for a good 6 hours before starting to fade. I paid about $7USD for this palette which contains 10g of product. This palette is also available in 010 Bronze Eclat (warm bronze and rose gold shades) and 030 Rock'N'Rose (looked like 2 coral pinks with a lilac pink highlighter).

Next up we have Catrice's Nude Illusion Transparent Matt powder. 
I've been looking for a transparent powder to set my foundation with and minimize skin texture so I thought I'd try this cheapie. It promises a a soft-focus effect with a velvety, matt finish that is universally suitable for every skin type and tone. And it does all that! I did find it to be a tad drying though. I'll probably be using this powder mostly during the hot and humid Monsoon months. For all you selfie-prone beauties - this stuff does not flashback nor look whitish on camera! (See my liberally daubed nose in the photo below for proof positive.) I do prefer a pressed powder over a loose powder though. Loose powders somehow manage to eventually spread everywhere and are not travel-friendly. I saw that Essence had a couple of pressed translucent powders in compacts so perhaps I'll try them. Does everything I want a setting powder to do for $6USD. Made in Italy.

This Essence Pure Nude Highlighter in the shade Be My Highlight was truly the budget beauty gem! 
This baked powder highlighter is so luxuriously finely milled, subtly luminous, and easy to blend it rivals my Cle de Peau Luminizer in Golden Apricot that cost $55USD! This stuff is absolutely  amazing and I've already purchased 2 more for backups!

Here's a swatch of Essence Pure Nude Highlighter in the shade Be My Highlight on my freckly arm. Yes, I know it barely shows up in the photo. But the finish is a true glow with imperceptibly fine particles of shimmery mica. The product kicks up a bit of dust in the compact but looks silky smooth when applied. The shade is a warm golden apricot that works perfectly for my fair skin tone. It yields a non-glittery subtle metallic sheen but amazingly does not emphasize my pores or my skin’s natural texture. (Some of these highlighters can be garish and make you look lit up like a disco ball. Some make even barely noticeable pores appear cavernous.) A few minutes after application it seems to meld with my skin resulting in an even smoother finish. I use a very light dusting of this product as a setting powder and bronzer. It works fabulously giving me a natural 'lit from within' glow for 8 hours without drying my skin nor looking ridiculously 'robot face' shiny. Impressive! At only $5USD for 7g it is truly a steal and is part of Essence's permanent collection. Essence has a selection of eyeshadows in this Pure Nude collection I'm going to have to check out too. Made in Poland.
Last but not least is the Exaggerate lip liner in East End Snob from good ol' British Rimmel. 
I'd always heard Rimmel had great products for the price but had never tried them. I was looking for a lip liner that was less drying than my super long-lasting luxury brand lip liners that parch my lips. Over and over Rimmel's Exaggerate lip liners kept showing up on the beauty blogs I perused as being the least drying yet long wearing that beat the spendy brands in performance. Is an East End snob a sort of high class yob?

The shade East End Snob is said to be a great dupe for Charlotte Tilbury's famed Lip Cheat pencil in Pillowtalk. The color is a muted mauve pink that is quite neutral and would suit a variety of skin tones. It is a twist-up pencil that works like a mini lipstick bullet. The texture is a bit waxy when applied but does not sit in your lip lines. It is neither moisturizing nor drying to the lips. If your lips are chapped, peeling, or otherwise misbehaving this pencil will not do them any favors. It has enough color on it's own so that it could be as a matte lipstick or a liner. It does leave a bit of a stain on the lips after it evenly fades after 4 hours which I like. It is not as long-lasting nor as brown in tint Charlotte Tilbury's Lip Cheat pencil in Pillowtalk. I like Rimmel's East End Snob liner better than Pillowtalk because it is pinker in hue. It's the perfect shade of 'your lips but better' pink for my coloring. Best of all it was only $5USD compared to the Charlotte Tilbury Lip Cheat pencils that are $22USD!

Here's Bibi's FOTD featuring the above mentioned products. 
Please pardon my miserably bloodshot and swollen eyes as agricultural burn season is in full swing here. I'm wearing It Cosmetic's BB cream in the shade Fair because it has 50spf (you NEED 50spf daily living at 4,000ft in elevation) and It Cosmetic's Bye Bye Under Eye Anti-Aging concealer in Light. The blush palette was a really fun way to try out new shades of blush. I used a light hand applying the deep pink to my cheeks. I'm one of those weirdoes that uses blush for eyeshadow so I used the coral pink in the palette on the crease of my lids. I did a bit of strobing on my brow bones and upper cheek bone with the rose gold shimmery highlight from the blush palette too. My shiny schnozz is matt and soft focused thanks to the Catrice transparent powder. I used the Rimmel liner as a lippy and topped it with a clear balm for a bit of definition and color. Due to poor air quality this was NOT a mascara day so I did a simple smudgy smoky eye with my long time Holy Grail Elizabeth Arden eye pencil in Gunmetal. I then set my makeup with light overall C3 dusting of the brilliant Essence Pure Nude highlighter in Be My Highlight for that sublime glow. TA-DAAAA! Oh my eyes look horrid and sinuses are aflame. Blargh.

I am so jazzed to try Catrice and Essence's Spring and Summer 2017 collections! 
If you live in the US you can find some of the Catrice and Essence line at Ulta, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Target. I have heard from my Irish girlfriend that they have both brands in Penney's in the ROI. Ms Vix say Essence is available in at Wilko's and Asda in the UK. Catrice and Essence are available throughout the Middle East and the rest of Europe too. Rimmel is available all over the US and of course the UK. The Sheikh (my husband) is rolling his eyes and asking if we should request wholesale pricing. Sounds great to me!

What are your fave drugstore makeup lines?
Any Holy Grail status budget beauty products you recommend?

Mar 22, 2017

Peanut Butter Shorties (eggless)

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This decidedly decadent shortbread recipe makes the peanuttiest peanut butter cookies ever! Adding salted peanuts lends an extra bit of crunch and a deliciously salty-sweet flavor. Buttery, meltingly tender, and so simple to make this egg-free recipe can can easily be made vegan by substituting a good quality margarine or shortening for the butter.

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I think it's well known worldwide that Americans love peanut butter. Yes, it's as American as apple pie, hot dogs, and the 4th of July! Peanut butter has everything we American love with it's salty, savory, and rich peanut flavor. Unfortunately the rest of the world seems to find peanut butter's rather sticky and somewhat velvety texture revolting. That would include my Kashmiri family. So I found this classic un-foul-uppable recipe in my Sierra 4-H Club cookbook from 1973. Baked into a cookie is the only way my Kashmiri clan loves peanut butter. Actually, now that I think about it they'll eat peanut butter in these chocolatey easy no-bake 5 Minute Cowpat cookies too. But that's about it.

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What's not to love?!?
 All cultural considerations aside, these cookies store well, are eggless, and super easy to make. They can certainly be made vegan by simply substituting a good quality vegetable shortening or margarine for the butter. Whether you make these made these with the organic Hessian-weave peanut butter from the health food store or the greasy kid stuff from the supermarket they turn out great! Chunky or smooth both work well too. I prefer to keep them strictly peanut-y by adding salted peanut but you could get posh and personalize them by adding white or dark chocolate chips or even honey roasted peanuts. If you really wanted to get fancy you could drizzle or dip them in white or dark chocolate for a true indulgence! And so without further ado here is the recipe, enjoy!

1 C butter or margarine, softened and at room temperature
2/3 C peanut butter, chunky or smooth
3/4 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2&1/4 C all purpose flour
1 C salted and roasted peanuts, or mini chocolate chips

Here's what to do:
1) In a large mixing bowl beat together softened butter, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Be sure there are no lumps of butter. (The lumps or bits you see in the photo below are peanuts from the chunky peanut butter I used.)

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2) Add flour and peanuts to creamed mixture and mix until dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The dough will start out a bit crumbly but should start sticking to itself after about 2-3 minutes of mixing. Cover dough with cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

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3) When ready to bake heat oven to 325F/170C. Shape tablespoonfuls of dough into balls the size of walnuts. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment or a silicone mat about 2 inches apart. Flatten with the bottom of a glass wrapped in cling film or the heel of your hand. (I used a tablespoon sized cookie scoop to form the dough into balls before flattening with the bottom of a glass wrapped in cling film.)

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 4) Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until bottoms of cookies are slightly browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from baking sheet with spatula. Makes about 3 dozen. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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Helpful Hints:
This recipe can easily be made vegan by the use of a good quality vegetable margarine or shortening in place of the butter.

This recipe could easily be customized to your tastes by adding dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, or honey roasted peanuts instead of salted peanuts. 

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Mar 20, 2017

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail....

"Rage" - Banksy
Nor nationwide strikes, nor intermittent internet service lapses, and nor electricity outages shall stay Bibi from blogging! Well, maybe power outages and no internet connection might but I'm still trying! At least once a week anyway. Yup, we had a huge storm the week of March 5th, then a nationwide strike for two days, and then two days of Holi holidays. The storm brought high winds, heavy rains, lightning, and a cold snap which left over a meter of snow at higher elevations. All that wild weather caused power outages for three days. Then our internet tower went kaput so no internet connection for over a week. No one could go up and fix the tower due to the nationwide strike or banda being enforced by one of the myriad political parties here in Nepal. Of course the strike was called off for the Holi holiday which lasted another two days. Even now we're having intermittent power shortages and gaps in the internet connection so bear with me! 

Curious as to what a nationwide strike is like here in Nepal? Well, a strike is called a banda and they occur quite frequently. Culturally, a banda is the preferred form of protest by Nepal's myriad political parties. A banda can be determinate, indeterminate, partial, regional, or all sorts of things. Usually all shops are closed, schools are shut, and vehicle traffic is prohibited. The banda is enforced by whichever political party declared it. Those who defy the strike are threatened with arson, vandalism (usually smashed windows or windshields), or other harm. Goons are sent door-to-door to threaten shops to close so that the banda can be declared both successful and peaceful. Party enforcers roam the streets with clubs or lathis looking for any motorcyclists or vehicles that dare not to conform to the strikes. Everyone keeps updated on the banda by watching local television stations or checking the banda page on Facebook.

"Torching" is a common enforcement tactic utilized by political parties in Nepal too. Vehicles, shops, or police officers defying the strike are set afire by tossing a bottle of flammable liquid and a lit match upon them. The above photo is of one of three trucks that were torched by cadres of the United Democratic Madhesi Front for defying a banda in September 2015. When asked why the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) resorts to torching the official spokesperson of the party exclaimed-

"The media never gives attention to us when we carry out peaceful protests. We held a motorcycle rally in Kathmandu yesterday, the media did not cover it. But when our cadre torched a taxi today morning, it was reported by every single media outlet."
-Santosh Budha, spokesperson for CPN (M)

Why this sort of strike enforcement isn't called terrorism is beyond me. If any Muslim or Islamist group did this it would be broadcast worldwide as acts of terror.

After two days of the entire country coming to a complete standstill only a tiny column was written about it on the second page of the national newspaper. Two days of empty roads, closed shops, shut schools, and reports of vehicles being torched and properties vandalized condensed into 3 brief paragraphs. That's how habituated and normalized strikes are here in Nepal. Can you imagine if this happened in a Western country? 

What triggered this banda? There was an altercation over the building of a culvert in the remote western border district of Kanchanpur on March 9th. The Nepalese side was building the culvert in an area that is claimed by the Indian side. About a dozen Nepali citizens and two Nepali police personnel were fired upon by officers of the Indian border security forces (Seema Sashastra Bal or SSB). Three shooting victims succumbed immediately to their injuries and two died later in hospital. Just how many bullets were fired in total and exactly by whom still seems to be a bit of a mystery. After reports of SSB firing on March 9th the Embassy of India refuted the claims, saying “there was no incident of firing by SSB in Kanchanpur.” A day later, the Nepali goverment delivered a diplomatic note to India condemning the killings, demanding investigation, and urging the Indian side to refrain from “such inimical activities." New Delhi replied stating the SSB had started an enquiry on the matter and sought reports to facilitate the process. This usually means we'll never truly know what actually happened. 

Prince Harry gets Holi-ed at the local airport, March, 2016
And then came Holi! The problem with a banda is that after a few days the law of diminishing returns takes precedence. Frustration, necessity, and boredom build to a point where it begins to overcome the fear factor and people start venturing out regardless of threats. Or a popular festival occurs. Nepalis aren't about to miss a festival! Especially one as fun as the Hindu festival of Holi. Whether demands have been met or not the banda organizers usually end up finding some creatively face-saving way to call the banda off. And so it was! The free-for-all festival of Spring then commenced with revelers being smeared and drenched with water and many-colored powders. In the above photo you can see Prince Harry getting politely Holi-ed at our local airport on his visit to Nepal last year.

Our Ms Dawg unwisely ventured from the compound gates on Holi morning. Yes, dogs get Holi-ed too! Foreigners and animals are not spared the festivities. A few years back I was smeared with some red powder on Holi that triggered an allergic reaction on my skin that lasted a month. That's why I don't go out on Holi anymore. And so after the dismal silence of the banda the air was filled with loud music, boisterous squeals, and the happy cheers of the Holi-gans. At any rate, Bibi's internet connection wasn't going to be fixed anytime soon. 

Spring weather in the Himalayas is certainly capricious. That storm last week brought a cold snap as well as copious precipitation. Gone was our balmy, tropical weather and in blew grumpy gray skies and icy blasts from the mountains. Elevations above 3,000m/9,000ft got over a meter of snow. Tourists and middle class Nepalis had fun riding buses up to play in the newly fallen snow. All the wind, snow, lightning, and rain knocked out our electricity, internet, and satellite television signals for three days.

At least my garden fared well over our recent debacles. Fortunately we haven't had the hailstorms that usually shred my flowers. Above is a double petunia. Rather than the typical trumpet shape of regular petunias it is a pom pom of frills and flounces. At first glance it looks almost like a wadded up and soiled facial tissue to me. The flowers are a bit prone to rot as water tends to puddle in it's many crevices. It also reminds me of those spectacular parrot tulips with their fimbriated petals and ombre coloring. Not sure if I'd plant it again though. I'll bring you up to date on the other flowers in all their Spring glory in my next Life & Love post.

That's all the news that's fit to spit around here. So far. 
I better not speak too soon, eh?
I've heard y'all have had some wild weather in the US and Europe too?
I'm still having internet issues over here so my posts might be sporadic until we get these tech problems figured out. 

Mar 14, 2017

Understanding Desi Culture: Ultracrepidarianism

Ultracrepidarianism [uhl-truh-krep-i-dair-ee-uh n] 
1.  the habit of criticizing, judging, or giving advice on matters outside of one's knowledge.

One particularly annoying habit that pervades Desi culture is offering unsolicited advices.* Yes, in South Asia we have an abundance of self-proclaimed experts with absolutely no expertise on just about everything. Judging or advising with little to no understanding of the matter at hand is de rigueur here. I'm certain this is a natural tendency in all people but in Desi-dom it is a common, socially acceptable, and supposedly well-meaning practice. In South Asia don't be surprised if complete strangers as well as relatives feel entitled to criticize anything and everything about you, ask you the most personal or intimate questions, and or offer unsolicited advices. The Western idea of privacy is unknown in Desi lands and is in fact considered rather selfish.

Living in India and Nepal and being married to an Indian for the past decade has been quite the intercultural experience. To deal with the culture shock my mantra has been, "Don't take it personally." In Western cultures we are generally taught to refrain from the innate human trait to initially judge others (or at least don't say anything publicly) and restrain ourselves from offering advices unless asked. In fact we Westerners find it rather offensive to be subjected to others' random judgements or unsolicited but supposedly well-meaning advices. This is not so in Desi-land, judge and give advices first then maybe attempt to understand later is the norm. What I have found is that this aspect of Desi culture will extend this to not only personal matters but darned near everything. Likewise on this blog I have deleted many comments from Indians who offer advices on posts that are so completely off topic, absurd, or so obliviously nonconstructive in criticism as to be ridiculous.

Aaahhh! There she is!
A good example of this were comments left by an Indian woman I called the "Onion Troll." Over a period of about two months when I was first starting this blog this woman would leave very critical advices on every post. This was her first comment on my first recipe:

"I don't  like the sound of this recipe. Why a Northern style? Why not one of the very many well known dishes from this region. Is Delhi really northern? If you liquidize onions and use in a marinade, they will become very bitter because of the acids produced. The onions cooked in oil are not small enough, and require much more cooking, 20 minutes at least for N Indian cooking. Milk or western style cream is no substitute for yoghurt, and what are sesame seeds doing in this dish? Can't say the tomatoes bring anything to the dish, either. Maybe this dish should be cooked in the bhuna style! Other than that.."- the Onion Troll

Now I know that trolls aren't very happy nor intelligent people no matter what their nationality. But this comment was ridiculous. The last I heard Delhi was in the north of India, not all Indian dishes require a base of caramelized onions, I've successfully used whole milk and cream in curries in a pinch, and there weren't even any sesame seeds in the recipe she left this comment on! I deleted this comment because it just seemed like an overly emotional tantrum rather than a rational critique. Perhaps she was just having a bad day. Or maybe she's just plain ordinary stupid? Who knows?

Safety first when chopping onions! I like this jugaadi use of a motorcycle helmet.
(Jugaadi means something like makeshift)
The "Onion Troll" became more persistent in leaving comments demanding to know why her comments were being deleted. She would also often comment on about onions such as this gem:

"As soon as the onion is cut or wounded, enzymes start to work and turn the juice to an acid, this is bitter. If you refuse to believe this, then get a pH meter, a beaker of water and throw some freshly cut onions into the water monitoring the pH. The water will become very acidic within two minutes. To stop the onion becoming acidic add lemon juice or vinegar (if appropriate). This will stop the enzyme in the onion from working." - the Onion Troll

This bombshell was to be her final comment. After a bit of online sleuthing I found this was a woman living in the UK but originally from India with her own established Indian food blog. Her blog had many unusual claims. Things like shahi means friendly (it means royal) and there is no such thing as Kashmiri mirch (all red chili powder is the same in her opinion). Exasperated, I finally responded to this last comment in a firm but genial tone-

"Dear Troll,
The enzyme you are talking about is called alliinase. Alliinase is responsible for catalyzing chemical reactions that produce the volatile chemicals that give onions their flavor, odor, and tear-inducing properties. The same reaction occurs when onions are cut with a knife or liquidized to paste. All plants and animals have an acid pH. Acids are sour not bitter. Adding an acid (like lemon juice or vinegar) to an acid as you have suggested will only make something more acidic. If you wish to neutralize an acid you would use a base or alkaline substance such as baking soda. I have used ground or liquidized onions in many dishes with no bitterness whatsoever. 
If the intention of your inane commentary was to make an complete and utter ass of yourself on my blog you have greatly succeeded. Any further asinine comments will be deleted also. Your ignorance is your choice in this age of information." -Bibi Maizoon

Perhaps I could have been a bit gentler but I really don't do well with stupid. I left her final comment and my response up for about two weeks before deleting them. I've never heard from her again. I found it amusing that she could write well and had some vague concept of pH but not a clue about acids and bases. This is sort of misunderstanding is often the unfortunate result of cultures which consider education to consist solely of rote memorization and mindless parroting.

Miss Manners, an American icon & authority on etiquette.
I wonder what she'd think of Indian advices?
In these modern times just about all the cultures of the world are rubbing elbows in this grand social experiment we call the internet. I realize this a first in human history and cross-cultural toes are inadvertently going to be stepped on. And so Gentle Readers I've decided to give some advices to all and sundry on effective and polite intercultural communications online and off. I find the popular T.H.I.N.K. acronym to be highly effective:

T = is it true?

H = is it helpful?

I = is it inspiring?

N = is it necessary? 

K = is it kind? 

If in doubt in any multicultural situation just ask yourself if what you're about to write or say is true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind, or any of your darned business? If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all. Negativity can be come an unhealthy habit. Choose to be positive and people will usually react positively to you!

Take care Gentle Readers,

*To those who may not know what the term Desi means, from the legendary oracle of Wikipedia: Desi [d̪eːsi] - A loose term for the cultures and products of the Indian Subcontinent or South Asia and their diaspora, derived from the ancient Sanskrit देश (deśá or deshi) meaning "land" or "country." Desi countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

*Advices are what they are called in Hinglish, I suppose they are always plural because they are always doled out in quantity.

To read more about this amazing aspect and contrast between Western and Desi cultures check out this brilliant commentary written by  Ms Grete Von Housen.

I'm having technical difficulties on my end that I hope will be amended soon. Snowstorms, strikes, and other assorted mayhem are making blogging difficult if not impossible but stay tuned!!!

Mar 8, 2017

Kashmiri Onion Chutney (Ganduh Chetin)

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In Kashmiri, ganduh means onion and chetin means chutney. This authentic recipe is a savory relish that often accompanies meals and street foods like kebabs in Kashmir. A simple pickling process and marination with traditional herbs and spices brings out the piquant and zesty flavors typical of Kashmiri cuisine.

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This is a favorite chutney or chetin that regularly graces our family dinner table. It's so easy to make and we most always have all the ingredients necessary on hand. We usually enjoy it as a condiment alongside our rice based lunches and dinners. Be forewarned, this chutney is quite fiery and a bit tart so it is definitely not for the timid of palate!

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The red chili powder or Kashmiri mirch, dried mint, and shahi jeera or black cumin are all hallmark flavors of Kashmiri cuisine. The locally grown and brilliant red Kashmiri mirch chili powder is what gives this condiment its color and rich flavor. If you don't have Kashmiri mirch a mix of half paprika and half cayenne powder makes a good substitute. Dried mint is very much a signature taste in Kashmiri dishes but fresh mint is often used in a lesser amount when available. Shahi jeera or black cumin is a spice native to Kashmir with a uniquely herbaceous and mild cumin-like flavor. A reasonable substitute for shahi jeera or black cumin is a lesser amount of regular cumin. Anyway you choose to make this recipe, if you love hot and spicy foods you'll love this!

2 C onions, thinly sliced into half moons
2 tsp salt
3 TBS vinegar or lime/nimbu juice
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1 tsp paprika plus 1 tsp cayenne powder)
2-3 green chilis/hari mirch, chopped finely
1 TBS cilantro/dhania or fresh mint/pudina leaves, chopped finely (or  2 tsp dry mint/pudina)
1 tsp black cumin/shahi jeera (or 1/4 tsp cumin/jeera)

Here's what to do:
1) Mix together sliced onions with 2 teaspoons salt and place in sieve or colander over plate. Allow mixture to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Some liquid may or may not come out of the onions.

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2) After 20 minutes transfer salted onions to a plastic, glass, or stainless steel container that can be sealed airtight. Mix salted onions with vinegar or lime juice, Kashmiri mirch, chopped green chilis, chopped cilantro, dry mint, and shahi jeera.

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3) Seal container with mixture airtight and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Stir well before serving as a condiment alongside savory dishes. Makes a great sandwich or salad topping as well as a relish with kebabs. Keeps for about 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Helpful hints:
If the chutney is just way more heat than you can handle try adding a couple of tablespoons of yogurt to it to cool it off.

Mar 6, 2017

Tips & Tools: Some Like It Hot!

Well, I really wasn't talking about fiery chilis or spicy heat.

No, no, NO! Not the movie Some Like It Hot (1959) either. Although that is my favorite movie. How could you go wrong with an all star cast (Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon) and Billy Wilder's brilliant script and direction? If you haven't seen it, SEE IT!

Bibi's cooking - FIRE IN THE HOLE!!!
I'm talking about food temperature! When we were first married my Indian husband would complain about the food I served being too hot. "Why so hot!?!" I looked at him absolutely bewildered as I proudly put a piping hot dish on the table. That just boggled my American brain. The objective of getting the food as hot as possible to the table was something that I'd just never questioned about my Western culture. With the exceptions of certain foods like salads and ice cream why are we Westerners so obsessed with our food being served so hot? And why do Indians not want their food served sizzling hot?

Well, duh Bibi. Indians eat with their hands! Nobody wants to stick their hands into scorching hot food. Traditionally, the fingers are used to determine the temperature of the food as well as combining flavors. In fact, there is a Hadith in Islam that warns there is no blessing in food that is too hot. Ayurvedic practices too recommend eating food that is warm or at room temperature for optimal health. 

So where did this Western notion of the hotter the better for certain foods come from? After all we Westerners eat certain foods with our hands. Fried chicken, pizza, french fries, and hamburgers are all eaten commonly with hands and are served hot. A tepid cooked item tends to induce unease in the Western palate. A lukewarm temperature suggests that the food has been languishing, possibly festering, or has at best been poorly reheated. I actually like cold fried chicken and pizza but a congealed burger and fries is truly icky.

Apparently this fetish for piping hot foods began with the 19th century trend of higher social classes' dining styles switching from the service à la française to the service à la russe in Western Europe. The service à la française (literally service in the French style) began in the 17th century and evolved over the next 150 years. A formal dinner served à la française would have a variety of hot and cold dishes all set on the table at one time before the diners arrived. The diners would then seat themselves and enjoy the dishes communally. The great disadvantage of this à la française style of service was that hot foods often became cold before it was even time for the diners to eat. Contrast this to the service à la russe (literally service in the Russian style) in which dishes are brought out sequentially in courses and served individually. Dishes such as roasts served à la russe were prepared in the kitchen then sent out to the table whilst still hot, similar to a Western style restaurant today. And so the rush to get hot food from the kitchen to the table was on! (Service à la russe also gave way to the Western fascination with the esoteric and redundant cutlery you see in the above photo too. No one ever heard of a salad fork or dessert spoon before service à la russe became en vogue.)

I thought it would have more to do with Western cultures preferring their foods served hotter due to colder climates or something more mundane. I am certain fast food commercials in the West have reinforced the notion that hot equates to fresh. It probably doesn't occur to the average Western consumer of such items that their hot food item is hardly fresh at all. In reality it was probably lurking in the walk-in freezer for months previously to being served. Come to think of it, most all foods Westerners eat with their hands are rather informal and cheap foods. Perhaps that's part of the disdain Westerners have about eating with their hands?

Anywho, be sure to serve your Indian guests warm food not sizzling hot. It doesn't matter if your guests are seated at a table, on flimsy plastic chairs at a wedding, or on the floor aside a dastarkhaan. I'm not going to go into the details of how to properly eat with your hands as I still can't do it. Always eat with your right hand even if you are a lefty though. (Although you can use your left hand to pass dishes or to serve or drink water.) If you don't feel comfortable eating with your hands don't feel embarrassed if you need to ask for a spoon, special requests are usually welcomed at an Indian dinner table.

There are some things that are traditionally served quite hot on the Subcontinent though. Momos are a juicy, stuffed dumpling popular in Nepal but often found as a street food all over India now. Freshly steamed momos taste best served piping hot  arranged pleated side up on a warmed plate. Yes, momos are eaten with hands only also. Nobody wants cold or lukewarm momos! 

Chai or milky tea must always be served scalding hot. No matter if the weather is oppressively humid, swelteringly torrid, or blisteringly broiling. Your chai must be served positively burn-your-mouth and cauterize-your-tonsils HOT! We Americans like our coffee served about the same temperature as molten lava too. Be forewarned the majority of times your chai will be pre-sugared to syrupy sweetness. Actually it's becoming fashionable to serve sweeteners on the side so that guests may adjust it to their tastes. But it better be HOT!

So always remember, some like it hot!!!

Please be doing the needful,
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