Quand à Paris-1

When in Paris or Quand à Paris in french. Early June, the husband and me flew to the City of Love, hearts heavy with desire to bring to life the titillating words that I had absorbed from a plethora of books , to bask in the romance of a French summer and  attempt to satiate my ravenous longing for sugar in its many avatars. A week’s worth of vacation to make up for a decade’s worth of dreams. I attempt to share and narrate the magic that this darling city sprinkled on us, I hope you love it as much as we did.

Day 1

-Apprehension has captivated me in the flight and no, it is not aviophobia. After devouring and gobbling books about this enchanting city the past few years, the desire isn’t only to navigate and strut down those winding, cobbled streets. It’s more than that. I’m inclined to fit in, ramble in french, splash on that red lipstick, strap on those stilettos and feel at home.

-The taxi ride from the airport to our Air Bnb appartement in Rue Humblot begins uneventfully. However, many zinc rooftop sightings and a handful of traffic violations later, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the Iron Lady, La Tour Eiffel, a glorious manifestation of my dreams, standing tall, proud and bewitchingly beautiful. What follows however, isn’t so pretty. I bawl like a baby, face buried in the husband’s old backpack while he quietly caresses me, fully in the know of these disobedient but happy tears. After I regain composure, I wonder if Parisian cabs are more equipped to handle emotional outbursts, the likes of the above, presuming the likelihood of their frequency!

-The appartement is quaint, tiny, possessing a tinier kitchen. I assume the owner to be an equestrian or an enthusiast . The walls proudly display paintings of horses. The remaining walls are stacked with books and other collectibles. A large window opens to a busy street, the Paris metro chugging frequently. Fingers crossed, I take a quick peek into the minuscule kitchen, smiling as I spot the baking oven.
I attempt to chat with the owners in french, unsure if months of classes will payoff. But, thanks to my teacher and the homework I so religiously abided by, the language flows without interruptions. Admittedly, the words are simple, the sentences are short and blemished grammatically but the components are glued correctly much like the compartments of a train. I’m now overcome by a rush of optimism, enthused to immerse myself in this verbal dance of words, en francais.

-The first stop: The street is enlivened by a Sunday farmer’s market spilling with colours and fresh smells. Chaos, cacophony and conversations reign along with nature’s bounty.Under a tarpaulin sheet, crimson hued cherries, miniature radishes shaded in fuchsia, delicate strawberries, plump peaches, grande et petit tomatoes are organised in mounds and crates. A sight for sore eyes, a plethora of inspiration for a food lover. I request the grocer to bag some fruits; a Galette is brewing in my mind.

-We promenade to the Champs Elysees; the walk is très long. Fortunately, not one minute under the blazing sun is tiring or boring, it is instead, unraveling mysteries and satiating the imaginative mind, one cobbled street at a time. Of course, I bid goodbye to my heels and I rely on my very dependable, flat, ballerina shoes.
The Pont Alexandre Bridge spanning the Siene is studded with ornate nymphs, cherubs and the quintessential Parisian lamps. Woody Allen has magnificently captured it in the final scene of Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni walk under the rain and I had always wondered if reality channels the same charm. Turns out , it does and more, even if at this moment, the earth is parched beneath the afternoon sun.

-The Champs Elysees is car-free since it is a Sunday mais  siezed by throngs of people. The pavements house quaint patio-style restaurants, all flaunting red and cream woven chairs. We silently navigate through them all because I’m miserably sugar starved and nothing will appease this monster like French dessert. Lo and behold, shimmering in the sunshine is a soft green facade with gold gilded intricacies. C’est Laduree! Macarons, a passionfruit-chocolate bar and a raspberry-litchi-rose cream concoction are devoured with an intense fervor and a silent exchange of smiles between the husband and me. We are after all, at a temple, a temple where peity is reserved for macarons & its kin.

– Jardin des Tuleries near Place de la Concorde is peppered genrously with tall, boxed trees. Under the canopies of these trees are cafes enticing one with the luxuries of shade and respite from the sweltering heat. Glasses clink, plates clatter, wines flow.  A little girl glowers at her mother’s cigarette, clearly unmasking her distaste towards smoking, a couple transforms menu cards into makeshift fans and we take pinched sips of iced drinks After traipsing around the city for 15 kms, we concur that sipping on iced drinks isn’t doing the needful. Fortunately, nestled within the jardin is a pond and at its hem are lawn chairs with low hanging backs. An hour later I realise, a nap did do the needful.

Carousel at Jardin des Tuleries

-We head back to the apartment meaning for it to be a quick stop only to discover that all water for the entire building has been shut off. A phone call with our owner informs us that a leak in the basement has resulted in the above and it being a Sunday, the plumbers aren’t showing up anytime soon.
But, one never sulks in Paris; her magic is too entrancing. One instead, scours for grocery stores and lugs back 10 litres of water in bottles to make do for the next 24 hours simultaneously hoping the universe is transmitting telepathic pleas to the plumbers. One smiles and forgivingly succumbs to the magnetic attraction because,  C’est Paris! Oui?

-We are strolling by the greens in the confines of La Tour Eiffel, when delicious wafts engage our senses, shaking us off from our nonchalant walk. In a little concession stand, a man is making crepes. We stand in line and gaze at the sight like little children; he pours loose batter on a hot griddle and quickly using a spreader transforms it into delicate pancakes, then slathers them with generous spoonfuls of confiture de fraises. Dinner looks good.

-The evening light is gently masked by deeper hues. Dusk is working its way in signalling a time for the stars to shine and more importantly for the golden lights of the Eiffel Tower to shimmer by the Siene. And shimmer she does as if swarmed by a million fireflies. The city is crackling with magic and unfurling the sweetest dreams, trapping us into her cadences and we are not ones to be repelled. We let her sweep us…..We’re in Paris.

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls with Matcha Frosting

Imagine a morning when sweet, intoxicating wafts of cinnamon pervade your home, perhaps a pot of coffee brewing on the side, an instrumental rendition of La vie en rose gliding through the air and a flood of sunshine complete with floating specks of fairy dust. The magic I share with you today may not guarantee the full picture I’ve painted but promises to fulfill at least a portion of it, one that is most delicious. These are Sourdough Cinnamon Buns slathered with an earthy Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting. Before we head to the recipe, allow me share a little backstory.
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Little did I know that yeast, water, flour and salt can conjure magic; harmonize to create beautiful joys together. Bread and all its fluffier and denser cousins have been making their presence in my hardworking oven for a while now.The journey began a year and a half ago and the entailed learning has me bewitched in its charm. Baking bread lets me satiate the mad desire to bake; it tells me to revere & revel in the little things: watch that dough majestically rise, inhale evanescent aromas and listen in silence as the knife through a crackling crust; it indulges the insomniac in me and well, it brings the husband many smiles. More importantly, it slows me down.
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In the midst of this delicious journey, I stumbled upon a whole other dimension of bread that had forever piqued my curiosity: Sourdough. After umpteen patient trials, tear jerking failures and finally squeal worthy successes, I can safely say that nothing has challenged and enamored me more than the process of baking and finally slicing into a boule of sourdough bread.

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The ‘mother’ aka the sourdough starter

I’m only gracing the surface here but in technical terms sourdough bread is essentially bread that arises from naturally occurring yeast and bacteria as opposed to ones where we employ commercially occurring yeast products. While the latter works just fine, the benefits of sourdough are plenty including several that are health related since increased proofing times lead to better digestion of grains. The taste takes on a variation too and these breads possess a slight sour taste which again depends from starter to starter. However, the main ingredient this bread calls for is patience since the ‘mother’ aka the sourdough starter takes a couple of weeks to come to life and the bread itself takes anywhere between 12-24 hours to conjure. But, mind you, once she does(the starter),she won’t leave you unless you want her to. If you want to explore my journey in sourdough and other breads alike, please to stop by my page on Instagram, La Vie Of A Baker . I hope you will enjoy exploring through crumbs and crusts.
A fun side note, I have named my sourdough starter, Khaleesi and yes, it is inspired y Game of Thrones!
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Before I go any further, I have to mention that this recipe requires one to have a 100% hydration sourdough starter. (I hope to share the recipe for that too sometime in the near future). I would also like to recommend certain books that only helped introduce me to sourdough but also gave me an experience very similar to a private class. Sarah Owen’s ‘Sourdough’ is one such. The other one is Emilie Raffa’s, ‘Artisan Sourdough Made Simple’. Both these books assist in creating the Sourdough Starter and breads employing the starter.
Now, the recipe. Like I mentioned earlier, these buns will ensure a beautiful morning owing to the presence of cinnamon in the filling. The bread itself is soft and fluffy, perfect to tear away whilst indulging in pinched sips of coffee or tea. To jazz them up further, I paired them with a decadent Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting. The aromatic, sweet flavours of Matcha take these humble breakfast quintessentials to a whole new level but the frosting’s creamy nature shouldn’t be ignored either. Hope you like this one!

RECIPE FOR EGGFREE SOURDOUGH CINNAMON BUNS WITH A MATCHA FROSTING
Please note: This recipe requires 100% hydration sourdough starter

Makes 9 cinnamon rolls
Equipment needed- Food Scale
Stand Mixer
INGREDIENTS
For the Dough
100 gms active Sourdough Starter
160 gms Whole Milk
42 gms unsalted butter
1 tsp egg replacer plus 2tbsp water( I used Pane Riso, please see notes)
24 gms Sugar
300 gms Unbleached All purpose flour
3 gms sea salt
Oil for coating
For the Filling
1 cup light brown sugar
1.5 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter, softened at room temperature

METHOD
-First we prepare the sweet dough and this is best to make at night since it can rise overnight and be ready in the morning.
-Warm the milk and butter in a pan until butter has completely melted. Cool slightly.
-In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachement, add the sourdough starter along with the egg replacer and water. Whisk at low speed to ensure that it is mixed. Add the warm milk and butter mixture. Then add the flour and salt and mix just until the dough comes together and no dry bits are lift, approximately 1 minute.Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
-After the dough has rested, change to a hook attachment and continue to knead at medium speed for about 6 to 8 minutes until the dough is soft and smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
-Take another bowl, and grease it with a little olive oil and place the dough in it. Let it rise at room temperature for 8-10 hours.(the recommended room temperature is around 70F).
-Next morning, once it has doubled in size, carefully tip the dough onto a lightly oiled counter and let it rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the filling.
-In a bowl, mix together light brown sugar, cinnamon and salt and keep aside.
-On a large cookie sheet with edges, place a sheet of parchment.
-After the dough has rested, using a rolling pin, stretch the dough to a rectangle measuring 22inches x 16inches, taking care that the longer side is facing you.
-Spread the 4 tbsp of butter on the rectangle using an offset spatula ensuring that the about 1 inch of the border are not touched. Sprinkle the filling and spread evenly
-Next roll the rectangle into a cylinder, slowly and gently, making sure that it is taut. The tighter you roll, the more layers you’ll have.
-Place this log gently on the cookie sheet, cover with a damp cloth and refrigerate for 30 minutes.(If the weather gets a little warm, I also cover the cookie sheet completely in plastic wrap and freeze additionally for 5-7 minutes).
-Remove the chilled dough and cut off the edges .Then cut into 2 inch cylinders.
-Place these in a 3×3 fashion on the same cookie sheet and cover lightly with plastic wrap for 1-1.5 hours until the rolls are puffy.(Alternatively, they can be baked in a square or round cake pan).
-Meanwhile preheat your oven to 425F. Brush the rolls with some melted butter
and bake the cinnamon rolls for 25-30 minutes or until they turn a light golden brown.
-When they are getting baked, the frosting can be made. In a bowl, add the cream cheese and butter and beat with a hand mixer until fluffy. Add the icing sugar and incorporate it into the butter and cream cheese by whisking it for a few minutes. Then add the sour cream and matcha and mix again. Cover and refrigerate until use.
-Spread the matcha cream cheese frosting on the warm cinnamon rolls and enjoy!

Notes:
The egg replacer that I used(Pane Riso) demands 1tsp of it plus 2 tbsp of water. But, this can vary from brand to brand. Please see the directions on the product that you choose to use.

Spring laden Pasta in a Basil Pesto

Many of our Saturday mornings, winter or warmer, have adopted a little ritual. A sanctimonious one, demanding equal parts worship and sacrifice. The sacrifice involves rejecting the few extra precious hours of weekend sleep and beginning the morning a tad earlier than usual. The worship comprises a prayer to the Transit Gods of Toronto, hoping for a bus that arrives on schedule. And finally, the ritual in question implies a rejuvenating escape to the St.Lawrence Farmer’s Market.
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Thriving amid fresh,seasonal produce, strolling along the aisles encompassed by the profusion of vegetables and fruits, their vibrant skins dappled with shimmering droplets of water, is admittedly my kind of meditation, my panacea, my prayer. St. Lawrence Market offers just that and appeases my soul whilst simultaneously exciting and enthralling my creative side of the brain.
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The saturday market is huddled within a white tent and the vendors entice customers who are still warding off the sleep bug with, little cups of apple cider,swigs of fermented yogurt, fresh cut apple slices, trimmings of cheese and spoonfuls of olive tapenade. If that doesn’t entail enough enlivening, then rows of neatly lined herbs in a deep, verdant green, stacks of colour coded bell peppers, mountains of earthy potatoes, minuscule baskets heaped with tomatoes in a variety of sizes, each one more darling than the other, buckets plopped with lovely, seasonal flowers, these definitely do the trick.

Sticklers to our timetable, we headed there one spring morning. As suspected, the market was alive with its usual hustle-bustle, brimming with the bounty of spring. Tall stems of tulips, towering pyramids of asparagus, bunches of seasonal ramp, bouquets of rhubarb; it was verily a festival, one that pleased the soul, the eyes and the belly.
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As you can imagine, there is no dearth of inspiration here and we hauled back fresh basil, bunches of ramp, asparagus stalks, cherry tomatoes and a carton of pasta. I decided to pour this bounty into a dish, a new adventure considering I had never tasted ramp and asparagus, both harbingers of spring.
The culmination of that inspiration is what you see here: A Strozzapreti pasta slathered unrestrainedly with a Basil-Walnut Pesto mingling with peas and ramp leaves and a side of asparagus and cherry tomatoes. This is my  tribute to the languid breeze of spring, my gratitude to Mother Nature’s fresh bounty.
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Before we head to the recipe, a little more about the ingredients-
Ramp is essentially a wild onion, rather pungent and taste like a mixture of  onion and garlic. I employed all the leaves but only used a few of the bulbs in this pasta since their aroma was a little too strong for us.
Asparagus spears are described to have earthy undertones and they can be grilled, boiled or fried. Here, I’ve just stir fried them with some oil and salt.
Common to the Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany regions of Italy, the Strozzapreti is a hand-rolled pasta that is similar to cavatelli but it is slightly more elongated, and features a light twist. A little Italian store in the heart of St. Lawrence Market has a wall dedicated to pastas in all shapes and sizes. The owner always treats to a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar before fixing up our usual cup of joe. Bellissimo!

RECIPE FOR PASTA IN A BASIL PESTO AND SPRING VEGETABLES
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
250 gms Strozzapreti pasta or any other kind
2.5 litres water
2 tbsp of salt
For the Basil Walnut Pesto:-
2 cups loose basil
12 walnuts
1/3 cup oil 
Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste
Other vegetables:
2 bunches ramp- 25 leaves
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup heaped cherry tomatoes
10 stems of asparagus
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil

METHOD
-Place the water in a large vessel and bring to boil. Once it’s boiling, add the salt and pasta. Cook until al dente according to the directions on the carton. Then drain(Tip: keep about 1/3 cup of pasta water aside before draining) and pour cold water on the pasta to stop it from getting cooked any further.
-To make the pesto: In a blender/food processor, blend the fresh basil, walnuts, oil, salt and pepper until a coarse paste is achieved. Keep aside.
-Prepare the vegetables. Wash them all clean.
Cut off the bulbs from the ramp leaves. The bulbs can be chopped and used. (I used about 2-3 of them). Chop off the woody portion of the asparagus stems.
-Heat a large saucepan and add some oil. Once it is heated add the cleaned asparagus and sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until softened. Keep aside once cooked.
Do the same with the cherry tomatoes and keep aside.
-Heat a teaspoon of oil and add the chopped bulbs of the ramp, saute until they brown and then add the leaves, sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until they wilt an soften.
-To this, add the pesto, frozen peas and the drained pasta.Add the pasta water which had been kept aside if you feel the need to make a thinner sauce. Let the dish heat up for a few minutes.
-Serve hot with a the cherry tomatoes and asparagus on the side and perhaps a grating of parmesan.

Bisibelebath: food and emotion

Rice and dal(lentils) mingling oh so gently with each other but emerging into a fiery romance of flavors when emboldened with a coarse crumb of roasted spices. The barrage of vegetables ensues a flawless texture. Oodles of melted ghee lends it a dash of oomph. Forgive me for this dramatization but this blessed dish has inadvertently transpired into an emotion and a delicious one at that. I humbly present to you, Karnataka’s pride and joy, the Bisibelebath.
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The affair began years ago. Amid 3 inch candles, an ornate cake, a ceiling masked by balloons & a slightly untuned rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ , my maternal aunt and her kin unfailingly ensured that their guests returned home content and happy. Cake hardly disappoints but this sweet treat was always trivial in comparison to the pièce de résistance of the said series of evenings aka,  The Bisibelebath. Melted Ghee was poured over a sizzling plate housing the above dish and spicy potato chips tossed in chilli powder (that we bangaloreans fondly call ‘khara chips’) were nestled on the side.

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Mangia Mangia!…Submitting to Pizza Margherita

I’m spooling the tape back to childhood. Do indulge me while I unfold a tiny snippet from the past. Sukh Sagar, the famed eatery’s italic lightbox glimmered under the city’s night sky. Serving meals to patrons parked outside the restaurant while they reclined in the comfort of their cars was quite à la mode in 90’s Bangalore. The 5 of us(the parents, the 2 brothers and me), huddled in our car outside the restaurant while the food was brought and stationed on the bumper. The tray wobbled precariously as it hosted glasses of water and other snacks. For the next hour or so, the brothers and me devoured 4-inch discs of dough studded with bell peppers, onions and smothered with a tomato sauce and topped with visible strands of cheese. This was our first pizza and it has tethered itself unrelentingly to fond childhood memories much like the way mozzarella cements itself unyieldingly to a pizza base.
We’ve come a long way since then. Simplicity has transpired into a labyrinthine experience and I say this bearing no complaints. The thin-crust, the thick crust, the cheese-burst, the white sauce, the red sauce, the neopolitan, the Italian version, the Chicago version, there’s also the Indian version that I bake by splashing the base with a spicy Paneer Tikka Masala. Suffice to say, the options have no end.

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Let there be Dal: Gujarati Dal with Green Pea and Coconut Dumplings

Rewinding to languid Bangalore afternoons, when I was younger in a younger city. The sun washing the sand splashed grounds of college. Amid the frenzied flutter that the final years of college demanded, the one constant was my stainless steel lunch dabba. Plain toor dal, rice, salt, jaggery  and unmeasured quantities of ghee tied together into an epitome of comfort. Tovve anna in Kannada or Dal rice in English. On rare occasions, it would be spiked with raw chilles, coriander and perhaps a splatter of mustard and hing tadka. Those few minutes of lunch break dwindled before I knew it, mostly plagued by a string of worrisome thoughts about the remaining day. But devouring this meal was my present moment, my moment of unfettered, happy calm. I’m as drawn to the simplicity of this dish as I am to the  uncomplicated memories that follow in its trail. Long story short, I love tovve-anna and have never shied away from celebrating Dal and its many avatars.

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A slip of sunshine: Blood Orange Galette

“Dear Mother Nature,
I’m entirely seduced by this shimmering blanket swathing the earth. Barren trees revealing gnarled branches, tangled and peppered with snow, they soar unbounded into grey clouds. Frozen icicles precariously cemented to ledges make for enough drama on mundane days and snow dusted church rooftops make for visions that for years, I’ve only vicariously lived through books. Playful mists of breath, tiny impressions of pigeon feet on unblemished snow, ripples of water vanishing into rock …..may the enthusiasm never temper, may the joy never recede,may the beauty never fade.
However, there are times when I find myself pining for a slip of sunshine, just a sliver. Wishful thinking, I know. Fortunately, that coerces me to navigate into other avenues. Therefore, at the moment, I will resort to the warm rhapsody of the blood orange. Blood Oranges are peeled are laid on a a sourdough galette base, slathered with blood orange marmalade,  baked warm and devoured fresh. This is our slip of sweet sunshine this cold, winter morning. Our golden gild.

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