Dec 24, 2017

Vegan Peppernuts (Päpanät)

Peppernuts (also called Pfeffernüsse or päpanät) are a tiny cookie baked in Mennonite homes during the Christmas season. This recipe for peppernuts is egg-free and vegan. They're deliciously crunchy, delightfully spicy, and highly addictive little cookies that are perfect for gift giving during the holidays!

My mother is from the Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites who left the steppes of Russia in 1874. They chose the Kansas prairie for their new home and the modest home my great-grandfather Jacob Krause built in 1874 is part of the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum near Goessel, Kansas. Peppernuts are found in various forms across Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In Plautdietsch they are called päpanät (pronounced pay-pa-nate). The name peppernut does not mean it contains nuts, though some varieties do. The crunchy cookies are roughly the size of nuts and can be eaten by the handful, which may account for the name.

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Traditional Mennonite recipes for peppernuts usually contain beaten egg. Eggs are not considered suitable for vegetarians in South Asia so through a little trial and error I came up with this egg-free adaptation of my aunt's original recipe. My vegan version of her recipe is just as flavorful, crunchy, long-lasting, delicious and sturdy as the Mennonite original. Mine may be a tad spicier in keeping with the South Asian influences though. Although these little cookies are not the prettiest of holiday treats- they are truly addictive. It's really hard to stop eating them, once you start. You are warned! Nary a Christmas goes by that I don't bake a huge batch of these for friends, neighbors, and even the Imam!


Every Mennonite family has a slightly different recipe for peppernuts. The variations are multitude. Some use butter or vegetable shortening. Some use corn syrup, molasses, or golden syrup. Some use brown sugar and some use white sugar. Spice mixtures may or may not include black pepper, white pepper, or even no pepper at all! One thing that is constant in Mennonite recipes is star anise- not ground anise, not anise oil, not anise extract - it has to be STAR ANISE. I have to say that star anise does have a tad extra sweetness as well as a slightly root beer-ish note in addition to the licorice flavor of plain anise. I also like the warmth of black pepper and the citrusy zing of green cardamom in my peppernuts. Any way you spice them, I really hope you give this unique little cookie a try! No doubt they'll become a favorite made year after year in your home too!

Ingredients:
1&1/2 C vegetable shortening or margarine*
1&1/2 C sugar
3/4 C golden syrup or corn syrup**
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground star anise
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg or allspice
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground green cardamom
1&1/2 tsp baking powder
5 C flour
extra flour to roll out dough

Here's what to do:
1) Melt shortening or margarine in a large saucepan. Add sugar, syrup, and salt to melted oil and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and allow mixture cool to room temperature.

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 2) Combine ground spices, baking powder, and flour in large mixing bowl. Stir until well mixed. I use my stand mixer to do this.

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3) Add cooled syrup mixture to the flour and spices. Stir until well blended. The dough should be a little sticky yet stiff. Cover dough with cling film and refrigerate overnight or for several days.

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4) When ready to bake preheat oven to 350F/180C. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking matts. Sprinkle a little flour or your counter and roll dough into long ropes about as thick as your ring finger. It's usually best to take about a half cup of dough at a time. This dough is really easy to work with despite being a little sticky. I put the ropes of dough onto a baking tray while I'm rolling them.

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5)  Cut the ropes into 1/2 inch pieces and place on prepared pans at least an inch apart. Cookies will puff up and spread a little bit. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in preheated 350F/180C oven or until cookies just begin to brown.

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6) Remove from pan and allow to cool. Cookies will be soft when warm but will gradually crisp up when completely cooled.

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7) Makes about 4 liters or 16 cups of little cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. (Yes, I said 3 months - these are typically sturdy Mennonite cookies!)

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Helpful Hints:
*I have made this recipe with vegetable shortening, margarine, and butter (and various combinations of whatever I could find here in Nepal). All work fine in this recipe but I prefer the extra crunchiness you get with vegetable shortening (Crisco to be precise).

**I have made this recipe variously with dark corn syrup, light corn syrup, golden syrup, honey, and molasses. Light corn syrup would be what Mennonites from Kansas would use but our Canadian brethren prefer golden syrup. I have to agree with the Canucks on their preference for golden syrup in this recipe. I like the slight caramel flavor that golden syrup gives this recipe best.

This recipe is time-consuming but the results are well worth it. Traditionally this cookie is often made in huge batches as a community at the local church to reduce the tedium. (My aunt's original recipe called for a whopping 15 cups of flour!) I usually make the dough one day and freeze it. Then I roll out the ropes of dough and place them on a tray in the freezer until the next day. Then on the last day, I fire up my tiny toaster oven, chop the ropes of dough into half inch pieces, and bake them. (This takes all day with our random power outages.) A more efficient plan would be to get a few pals together and delegate the tasks of rolling, chopping, and baking.

Happy Holidays!
Wishing you all the best in this festive season - Peace, Love, Hope & Joy!
Bibi

Dec 18, 2017

2017 Holiday Recipe Roundup!

Treat your family and friends to something sweet this holiday season. I've got vegan, gluten-free and no-bake recipes, as well as flavors that range from chocolate to cherry and coconut to cardamom. Whether you're looking for something new or you just want to add options to your holiday party repertoire, check out some of my most popular recipes from the last few years. Enjoy!

There are vegan, gluten-free and no-bake options, as well as flavors that range from chocolate to citrus and basil to bourbon.

Kashmiri Cardamom Cookies-Buttery and tender, this simple to prepare eggless cookie features Kashmiri walnuts and the warm flavor of cardamom. Can easily be made vegan too. A perfect cookie to make for any holiday

There are vegan, gluten-free and no-bake options, as well as flavors that range from chocolate to citrus and basil to bourbon.

Bollywood Banana Bread- An American classic done Desi! Good old banana bread gets a Bollywood makeover. This recipe makes a tasty, dense, moist loaf that tastes even better the next day! It freezes well, can be made eggless or "veg," and makes a great holiday gift.

There are vegan, gluten-free and no-bake options, as well as flavors that range from chocolate to citrus and basil to bourbon.

Chinese Chews- These old fashioned chewy date cookies are baked in a pan, cut like bars, and then rolled in granulated sugar to give them a unique knobby shape. A nostalgic recipe that's easy to make and perfect for holiday platters, snacks, or packed lunches.

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Cherry Cardamom Snowballs- A touch of warm cardamom spices up chewy cherries in this tender and buttery cookie. So easy to make and so pretty too!

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Mexican Chocolate Snowballs- A spicy twist on an old favorite with almonds, chocolate, cinnamon, and a pinch of chili powder. Buttery, delicately spiced, and rich with chocolate flavor this egg free recipe can easily be made vegan too. A simple to make treat to serve any holiday!

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Date and Crispy Rice Laddoos- Easy, eggless, gluten-free and no bake these laddoos are a quick and delicious treat to make! Dates are simmered into a rich caramel then combined with crunchy puffed rice for a delicately crisp and divinely sweet indulgence. Perfect for any other holiday featuring lots of decadent goodies.

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Pistachio, Rose, and Cardamom Snowballs- A classic American Christmas cookie gets a flavor makeover with rich pistachios, delicate rose, and spicy cardamom! Buttery, tender, and eggless these snowball cookies are always a hit no matter what the occasion. These beautiful treats can easily be made vegan and would be a delicious addition to any holiday platter.

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Classic American Oatmeal Cookies- Buttery, sweet, with a hint of spice and a texture that's a delectable combination of crispy edges with delightfully chewy centers. Embellish them with raisins, walnuts, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, dried cherries, or chopped dates as you choose. This tasty recipe can easily be made vegan too. Great as a snack or gracing any holiday platter!

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Hawaiian Coconut Cookies- From the beautiful island state of Hawaii comes this eggless sweet treat. Tenderly crisp, buttery, and rich with the flavor of coconut these cookies are sure to please anyone's palate. Such an easy recipe to make and perfect for any holiday platter.

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Red Velvet Snowball- Get festive with this recipe for buttery, chocolatey, and meltingly tender Red Velvet Snowball Cookies! An easy to make, eggless, and nut free treat that be made vegan too. The perfect addition to any holiday platter!

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Persimmon Cookies- Spicy, moist, and tenderly soft these persimmon cookies are truly a Winter treat! Lavishly laced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, raisins, and walnuts this recipe is full of the flavors of the season. So simple to make and the easiest answer to the question, "What do you do with persimmons?"

Happy baking and sharing!
Bibi

Dec 11, 2017

Everything I've Learned about Life: It Goes On


Despite unabated violence here in Nepal-  political freedom prevailed, my garden's growing, cows are mooing, my smartphone got fixed, California's aflame, and elephants don't play polo anymore! Yes, life truly does go on.



Nepal's first post-war parliamentary and provincial elections concluded last Thursday. The two-phase election lays the groundwork for Nepal's transition to a democracy- after the end of a civil war in 2006 and the abolition of the country's 239-year-old Hindu monarchy two years later. According to results released by the Election Commission, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist–Leninist (CPN-UML) has won 59 seats while its alliance partner CPN Maoist- Centre gained 22 seats out of the total 165 seats under the first-past-the-post election system. The new government will likely reinstate Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli (pictured above) as prime minister. The ruling Nepali Congress (which was the largest party in the last election) managed to win only 12 seats according to preliminarytallies. The two winning parties are also considering merging to form the largest communist party in Nepal. Voter turnout is estimated at a "satisfactory" 67 percent among the 15 million eligible voters.



On Monday the winning parties' victory marches and rallies blocked streets and roadways across the nation. Unfortunately there are reports of over 5,000 ballots deemed invalid due to ineffective voter's education. (I'm guessing that means the ballots were improperly filled out.) The final result of the election may not be known until mid-December according to officials. Nepal has suffered a succession of governments over the last 10 years that have been mostly short-lived due to political infighting.



Gardening update: Marigolds are blooming! I planted a large packet of marigold seeds from Kashmir in my garden this Winter. Everything from solid pom pom's to single, double, and triple blooms.  As you can see in the above pics every seed has produced a different flower. The seeds weren't labeled as any particular breed so I'd guess their open pollinated and field collected. Marigolds generally repel soil pests like nematodes and not many insects will eat them so I like to plant them every other season as sort of a natural cleanse for the garden.


Roses in December? How weird is that? These local roses in my garden are almost more like camellias in form. Their color is just as eye-searingly beautiful in person.


This is mallow. When I was last in Kashmir I was served a tasty stir-fry of mallow leaves. I had no idea the mallow plant is completely edible. Mallow is a common weed seen by freeways in my native California. An online search revealed that several Middle Eastern cultures eat mallow served stewed or stir-fried. Where have I been? Anyway, my in-laws sent some seeds from Kashmir and I planted them - recipe soon!


In the ongoing drama of our local vacant lot: This lovely lady and her extremely vocal estranged child have been spending the better part of their days in our neighborhood vacant lot. I went out to see what all the ruckus was. I brought some leftover rice as a peace offering. With those pointed horns atop half a ton of possibly peeved bovine it's best to be careful.


I'm guessing the problem is that Madame Pointy Horns is not allowing Junior here to nurse any longer. The reason Mdm. Pointy Horns no longer wishes to feed Junior is that's she's due to have another calf in a few weeks. Junior is voicing his protestation to this situation LOUDLY. I brought another bowl of rice, cut up fruit, vegetable trimmings, and stale biscuits for him. He now shows up at our front gate at 8 AM every morning demanding his treats and a neck scratch LOUDLY.


In other news: Chitwan, Nepal will be celebrating it's 14th annual Elephant Festival on  December 26th through 30th. The five-day event features an elephant walk, elephant calf football, elephant beauty contest, elephant picnic, and elephant painting. Elephant polo will not be played at the festival this year as it has been deemed to be animal cruelty. Elephant polo originated in 1982, the bizarre idea of two British entrepreneurs, Jim Edwards and James Manclark. Edwards had established Tiger Tops, a tourism venture which offered elephant safaris in 1961, and which has since become a family-run ecotourism lodge in Royal Chitwan National Park. It was a rather slow sport which seemed to truly annoy the elephants. About three years ago they had to switch from using soccer balls to regular hockey balls. The elephants figured out if they popped the soccer balls by stepping on them the game would stop. And if more soccer balls were provided the elephants popped them also. The long and flexible bamboo mallets would often break too. I agree with the elephants: GAME OVER!

Mr Gardner I presume...

I fixed my phone with a little help from a friend! My Samsung Galaxy Zoom smartphone developed some glitch that would not allow me to use the camera about 3 weeks ago. We took it to the local Samsung dealer whom said he needed to send the phone to Delhi to be fixed. Two weeks later the phone wasn't fixed nor did the dealer send it to Delhi. I bravely took matters into my own hands and tried to Google how to fix the blasted thing. Eventually I ventured onto the maelstrom of YouTube and found some videos by a Mr Ricardo Gardener on how to fix various gizmos from phones to laptops. (No this is not THE famous Jamaican footballer Ricardo Gardner.) Not only did I fix my phone using a video on his YouTube Channel but I sorted the neighbor kid's HP laptop that wouldn't start. Woohoo! If you're in need of some DIY repair work on home electronics I highly recommend Mr Gardener's YouTube channel.



California's on fire again. Not surprising after many years of drought and subdivisions being built in forested and overgrown areas that are no longer grazed nor control burned. For some reason my friends in California all wish to email me photos of my former home. Here's the latest photo of what's left of my former northern California house. The front lawn still looks fairly decent. Apparently the houses just across the street were untouched. Fortunately the Gujarati family I sold it too escaped unharmed. Over 2,000 residences were destroyed on this fire in October, 2017. Un-freaking-believable!

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life. 
-Omar Khayyam

Ciao for now,
Bibi

Dec 3, 2017

All is fair in love & democracy



Nepalis began voting in a two-phase election for a new federal parliament and provincial assembly last week with the army on high alert. These are first parliamentary polls in Nepal since 1999. Most Nepalis are hopeful this will complete their nation's long journey from a monarchy to an independent federal republic. Unfortunately violence blamed on a rogue Maoist group brought back memories of the ruinous instability Nepal was hoping to leave behind after a bloody civil war a decade ago.

Every time I see these guards holding a rifle like that I cringe.
I guess they train them to do that but I was taught proper gun safety is to point that rifle straight up or down.
The tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal is currently conducting federal parliamentary and provincial assembly elections for the first time after the promulgation of it's new constitution. The first phase of elections were held in 32 of 77 districts on Sunday, November 26th and comprised the mountainous and hilly districts. The second phase of elections will be held on Thursday, December 7th in the remaining 45 districts. Voters are set to fill more than 800 seats in Nepal’s parliament and state assemblies.

Nepal-China border crossing

Both election days were declared national holidays.
The Nepal-China and Nepal-India borders are sealed for 72 hours prior to each polling date. Even the sale of alcohol was banned for 72 hours prior to the election in some districts. Active campaigning is also banned for three days before polls open. Over 300,000 security personnel have been deployed at polling stations.

Old and young doing their civic duty.
This election is very important because whomever wins at the national level will shape the newly formed state institutions. This new balance of power will elect the upper house of the national parliament and the new president of the republic. That's why the stakes are high - not only for Nepalis but those who want to have control over developments in Nepal. The election is also being construed as a face-off between India and China at the ballot box.

Election posters everywhere!
The primary contest in this election is between the Nepali Congress party (NC) led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and a new alliance of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) led by K. P. Sharma Oli with Maoists led by “Prachanda” Pushpa Kamal Dahal.  K.P. Sharma Oli and "Prachanda" Pushpa Kamal Dahal are former prime ministers as well as communist party leaders. The NC party is said to be preferred by India. The recently formed left alliance of UML and Prachanda led Maoists is said to be linked with China. Both India and China are looking to benefit from Nepal’s potential as a source of hydropower.

An IED made from a pressure cooker.
Unfortunately the elections have been marred by sporadic violence that continues unabated. Days before the elections started a Maoist splinter group began the attacks. A leader in the rogue Maoist group has gone on record stating, “We want this election to be dismissed.” A report compiled by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) details 107 cases of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) detonated across the country since November 15th. Surprisingly this has only resulted in 38 injuries and one death so far. The Nepalese Army has reported defusing over 30 IEDS also.

An IED made from a pipe socket- if you didn't look closely you might think it's a soda or beer can.
Reuters and the New York Times have reported land mines and Maoist militants opening fire on politicians- I have not seen, heard, nor read any evidence of this. There was a blast in our downtown shopping area that was not reported on by the media and another IED was defused nearby. Most of the IEDs have been targeted at candidates' homes, offices, and vehicles- well away from heavily touristed areas. I have read reports of ballot boxes being destroyed by fire or other means too.


Here's all the election activity by our house- a taxi cab festooned with party flags blaring campaign slogans from loudspeakers. A political rally was broken up by police at the end of our street for blocking the road. Election rallies and the huge crowds they draw blocking main roads has been a problem during this election. It takes hours just to drive across town due to the impeded traffic. It has gotten got so bad the NHRC declared that political rallies that block roads are a violation of human rights. I didn't know that - I thought they were just a public nuisance!


This was by far the most unique election publicity campaign to date. A camel with cart and driver was hired by supporters of Independent candidate Raj Bahadur Chaudhary in Kapilvastu Constituency-1 (B) (in southern Nepal). The story was reported in the Kathmandu Post. The camel is named Sher Mohammed and his handler is Mr Abdul Mangal of Ajmer, India. It took four months for Mr Mangal and Sher Mohammed to walk all the way from their home state of Rajasthan to Nepal. The candidate and his helpers rode about in the cart handing out flyers to curious onlookers. It seems the children were most excited to see a real camel as they'd only seen pictures of one in books before. Sher Mohammed looks fairly nonplussed (as camels usually do).

The next phase of the election is due to take place this Thursday, December 7th. Our district will go to the polls in this phase. Unfortunately incidents of blasts targeting candidates has continued. I've not heard of any attacks in our district and we are told the Nepalese Army has increased its presence in order to curb anti-poll activities. It has been unusually quiet in our neighborhood. We're not making any trips into town unless absolutely necessary until after the final phase of the election on Thursday. 

Calmly currying on,
Bibi




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