Lenten Promise

Posted by Aarti on February 15th, 2013

My Lenten promise this year is two-fold.

One: to write here everyday except Sunday.

Two: to think ONE kind thing about myself everyday.

I am in serious need of some “renewing the spirit of the mind” (Ephesians 4). I realised today that overall, my mind does not say kind things to me. It tends to say things like, “you don’t know how to do that” or “you suck at this” or “you’ll never figure it out” or the very worst, “you’re going to fail and ruin everything”.

Insidious isn’t it? Well, until you actually write it out and realise how silly those thoughts are, huh? You should try it if you haven’t: write out the things those unkind voices say to you. Somehow, writing them out takes all the power out of them! Or at least, a LOT of power out of them.

Anyway, this morning, as I was praying, I wondered aloud how Jesus battled those sorts of thoughts. I mean, talk about bold and confident; think of the things He walked around doing! Imagine ordering the lame man to walk, and then falling flat on your face if he didn’t! With all those people watching!

That takes some serious cojones, my friend.

When I asked Him where He got His confidence, it occurred to me that it wasn’t that He was so confident in His own abilities. It would seem much more like Christ to be confident in His Pappa, in how much He loved His little boy that He would always catch Him before He hit the ground hard (which is why the cross is such a heartbreaking concept to bear). Jesus worked out of that one moment in the river Jordan when God said “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased”.

From Lego Bible

If we’re honest with ourselves, haven’t we heard that in one form or another about ourselves even once?

I’m realising that it’s ok to embrace that, to be proud of that, to own it. God loves me. He’s proud of me. Even though I mess up all the time, He sees my heart and He’s cheering for me.

Because that’s the key.

I asked myself this morning, how would I act differently if I KNEW that God was going to catch me when I jumped?

KNEW.

That it didn’t matter what it looked like, whether there were snakes below me, or roaring rip-tides or just hundreds of feet of nothing… that God would catch me anyway? That if I have given my life over to Him, He has my back?

Woah.

I think I would act a little differently, don’t you?

So, that’s my little message today. For me, for you… renew your mind. And then… jump.

-x-
aarti

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Cooking Soundtrack, Part 2

Posted by Aarti on February 6th, 2013

Sometimes I need to listen to music when I cook. Sometimes I need to hear people talking, thinking, telling stories. When I’m in the mood for that kind of thing, here’s what I hunt down online:

This American Life
I interned at WBEZ, home of This American Life, when I was in uni. It was my first internship in fact, and I kept hoping that I’d get to meet Ira Glass because I. Love. Him. These stories are equal parts thoughtful, goofy, funny… it’s the kind of show that gets the rusty cogs in my mind going again. It’s like WD40 for the mind.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
Yet another NPR show, with that same combination of wit and cutting social commentary. When I worked in a newsroom, I knew the answers to every question. These days, I listen to this show to catch up on the news more than any other news source! Shameful. But honest. It’s one of Bren’s life goals to be a panelist on this show, and I’m confident that when that happens, he will KILL it!

Beth Moore sermons

When I listen to Beth, I feel like I’m sitting on her porch, sipping on a sweet tea with my Bible fluttering on my lap, and her dogs at my feet. I love that she is as serious about her hair as she is about Jesus.

Food is the New Rock
I love how there is very little of that pretension here that comes with a lot of food shows. Just a couple of guys who are music geeks, geeking about food with other fellow (famous) music geeks. One day I will be on this show!!

Music-wise, it’s always changing. At the moment, I’m back to my ol’ faithful, Iron & Wine… but I’ve been clicking on Great Lake Swimmers, Alt-J, Old Crow Medicine Show, Last Bison and whatever Bren tells me to listen to.

-x-

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Cooking Soundtrack

Posted by Aarti on February 5th, 2013

One of the most interesting questions anyone asked me was what I listened to while I cook. These days, with hours and hours clocked in the kitchen, and Bren out of town, I crave music to make me feel like I’m not alone.

It’s funny; while I recognise that God has gifted me in the kitchen, it was always music that I thought was my real natural talent.

We couldn’t afford a piano, but my parents got us an electric keyboard and I played for hours on that thing, without being able to read a stitch of music. I’d listen to a song and figure it out by ear. When my mum said that she was getting me a piano teacher, I was dismayed.

“Why do I need one of those?” I said (more than likely accompanied with a stomping of my foot). I think she may have tried to explain it to me, but ended with something akin to a “because I said so” when it became apparent that reason was not going to work.

And I remember her saying this: “One day, you’ll thank me.”

And oh how thankful I am… while I never climbed to concert pianist levels, the piano became my best friend when I had none, a place to express the numerous emotions that course through your veins when you’re a teenager… and in a school dominated by athletic ability (something I thoroughly lacked) it gave me something else to do, to excel at.

There were only four of us who studied music for our ‘A’ Levels, and we were such a crew. We understood each other, understood that need to play, to hear music wherever we went, to analyze how in the world Beethoven wrote an entire SYMPHONY off just one simple motif (you know the one), to practice trilling with our third and fourth fingers, that laughed at one of our friends trying to make the piano play vibrato by shaking on the keys (I’m looking at your D!). We were so tight. It was awesome.

I still remember us performing “The Teddybears’ Picnic” in four-part harmony… on the kazoo. Just the memory makes me laugh!

While I don’t play as much as I used to, music still soothes this soul of mine. Spiritually, sometimes a song will minister to my heart sooner than the written word will.

So, I’m creating a little playlist on Spotify called “The Creator” where I’m depositing all the songs that are rocking my spiritual boat. I have a hard time with most of the “Christian” music out there because it tends to sound the same. But I’ve found a few gems that buoy my soul when the darkness threatens. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy it too. If you use Spotify, just type in “The Creator” and it should come under playlists. At least I think so.

Here’s a little taste, the first song on the playlist. I wake up singing this song in my heart. I pray that it blesses you as much as it blesses me!

Oh and… thanks Mum. You were right.

-x-
aarti

p.s. List of other music I listen to coming tomorrow!

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Look at that mug!

Posted by Aarti on February 1st, 2013

I wrote earlier this week about my peculiar coffee-brewing process every morning.

And I hinted that I might have an opinion or two about mugs.

Why yes, since you asked, I DO have an opinion about mugs!

These are the ones most heavily in rotation at the moment. From left to right, the mug we got from attending LA Weekly‘s Pancake Breakfast food festival a year or so ago designed by one of my fav artists Deth P. Sun; a random mug I got at some housewares shop; a mug given to me in December by the kind folks at Mama’s Boy in Athens, GA (where Bren got his tattoo from the inestimable David Hale).

See something in common? All the mugs, to one degree or another, have a narrow mouth and a wide bum (resisting… the… urge… to… make… a joke… about my own… rear… end…).

That way, the hot drink stays hotter longer. Why oh why do people serve hot drinks in those huge French-bowl style cups with the extra wide mouths? Or in mugs that a wittled bottom and a wide mouth? Unless you’re a fan of lukewarm or tepid coffee (there goes my lunch), I just can’t imagine why.

So there you go. My incredibly opinionated post about coffee mugs. What’s your favourite kind of mug?

-x-
aarti

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My coffee habit

Posted by Aarti on January 30th, 2013

(Note: I already wrote this post once. And set it to publish in a couple of days. And then it disappeared. SO ANNOYED. In any case, here I go again.)

In some ways, I am a creature of habit. I wasn’t always this way. But I suppose that since my life has changed now, and every day is different from the one before it, I cling to ritual more than ever before. There is something about the rhythm of it, the familiarity of it… it’s comforting, something like the sound of waves crashing… it makes me feel like everything is under control.

One of my rituals is making myself a pot of coffee every morning. But Lord, do I like to get caught up in the details. And while some of you may think my coffee-nerdiness a tad extreme, let me assure you that I am nothing, NOTHING, compared to some of the coffee nerds I’ve met. You know who you are. You carry beans, a grinder and a French press when you travel. Uh-huh. Now I’ve got your number.

Anyway, here’s a little walk through my morning bliss (read: madness), along with a new addition to the ritual. Which has of course taken my madness to a new level.

1) First, I boil the water. This is my Le Creuset kettle.

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While I love most everything Le Creuset makes, this is not a favourite. I love how she looks — that colour, that curvaceous bod — but that whistle? It screeches. Anemically. It’s not a good sound. And the handle gets so hot that you have to use an oven mitt to grab the thing once the water has boiled.

Apart from that, she’s great. Hmph.

And here’s the first point of pedantic-ness: I don’t let the water come to a full boil. A friend of mine, Mandi, a professional barista, told me that the temperature of boiled water is a touch too hot for most coffee beans. So I do as she does: as soon as I hear the bubbles rattling against the bottom of the kettle, and a few wisps of steam floating out of the spout, I turn off the heat.

2) By this point, I’ve ground the beans in my burr grinder, which apparently grinds the coffee more evenly and without heating up the precious oils thereby compromising the coffee’s delicate flavours. I know.

I do 1/2 cup of beans (in rotation now, the beans roasted by my favourite coffee shop in the neighbourhood, Paper or Plastik) for a 34 ounce French Press. Coarse grind.

3) Next, I pour the grinds into the French press (which I sometimes warm with hot water so the coffee stays nice and hot). Then I cover with a little water, and stir with a chopstick. I don’t know why I do this.

I just do. Just call me Rain Man.

4) Now it’s time to add the rest of the water, pop the lid on and wait for exactly 4 minutes. Yes 4. It’s perfect.

You know what’s not perfect? The way this excruciatingly-crafted pot of coffee is just standing there, all by ‘er lonesome, exposed to the elements with nary a petticoat to her name.

5) Which is why, over the Christmas holiday, I knitted her a little sweater! Isn’t it cute? It took hardly any time, and given that I’m hardly a strong knitter, I loved that the design was essentially… a rectangle. I can wrap my minds around that.

Did I just say “minds”?

Oh dear.

The original design calls for using buttons to hold the sweater together, but I can’t be bothered. So I’m using a particularly festive bedazzled safety pin, a remnant from my bellydancing days.

6) And that’s it! Now I just pour myself a cuppa, in a carefully-chosen mug (more on that in a couple of days!), no sugar, no milk — a relatively new development. Until just last year, I have always doctored my coffee to about my skin colour with a little sugar. But then the kind folks at Paper or Plastik pointed out that if I was going through the trouble of ordering such fine coffee, I should drink it black in order to truly taste all the notes. And so, this is now how I drink it.

It’s an awful lot of fuss I know. But I don’t buy designer handbags or shoes. This is my luxury, and given that I only have one cup of coffee a day, why not make it count, eh?

What rituals do you nerd out about?

-x-
aarti

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Juggling

Posted by Aarti on January 28th, 2013

I’ve never been a good juggler… both literally, and metaphorically.

In secondary school, our drama teacher Mr. Jones spent a couple of lessons teaching us how to juggle. I’m still unclear what the dramatic purpose of this was, but I’m sure it had something to do with separating our minds from our bodies from a little while, teaching our bodies a new skill. He’d put on “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel, which he said was the perfect tempo to which to juggle.

But try as I could, the balls would never fly in those perfect orbits jugglers manage… those perfectly symmetrical ovals, ringing around each student like Saturn’s rings. Mine would wiggle through the air, and land hopelessly on the floor, gleefully bouncing away from me.

I still can’t juggle.

And now that I have a few things to juggle, metaphorically, I am finding it hard to juggle them all. Cookbook, TV, blog, husband, friends, family, God, me… Oh boy.

I don’t mean to complain. I am so grateful for all the things I have on my plate. And I know that so many of you juggle even more, or even more important things than I do. Normally, I just suck it up and handle it. But today I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

How do you handle being overwhelmed?

-x-
aarti

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Sonic Truth

Posted by Aarti on January 3rd, 2013

Bren is the real music collector in the McSequeira household. Every few months, he puts together a mix of songs he’s jamming to, and it’s always, always good.

(If you wanna hear his end-of-the-year mix, listen here. It’s called “If’n a Flame”.)

Music is one of the things that brought us together, since we both were lovers of angst-y women who played the piano. Think Tori Amos and Fiona Apple. I know. Now you know what my “dark” side looks like.

Ha!

Bren oftens uses music to describe what God feels like: you can’t touch it, but you know it’s there and it’s swelling your heart to heights previously unscaled.

To that end, Bren discovered this song yesterday, by LA artist Active Child. It’s storming the music blogs with its plaintive, other-worldly cry to the heavens, a cover of “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.

I CANNOT STOP LISTENING TO THIS!

And perhaps, as we scribble down New Year’s resolutions, attempting to grab hold of this tenuous thing called time… as we eye the horizon with hope and — in my case — trepidation… this song might be the most appropriate soundtrack to keep us rooted in the reality whispering to us from behind the mist.

-x-

aarti

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Punky & the Freak Flag

Posted by Aarti on December 12th, 2012

When I was 11, I had a little pink Minnie Mouse journal. Minnie. Mouse. At 11. Ah, the innocence!

Anyway, it had a lock on it, which could easily be picked with a bobby pin, but I felt cool about the whole thing, because it was wholly and truly mine.

Here was a place to store all my secrets, all those things that I thought but never said out loud. Here was a place where no-one could tell me what to say or think, a place of freedom in a world full of rules.

I felt very grown-up and cool. At that time, it seemed that most every girl on TV whom I loved, had a diary. Including my favourite: Punky Brewster.

Oh Punky.

As I head through my 30s I’m realising that, curiously enough, much of my life has been influenced by Penelope “Punky” Brewster. My love for bright colours and eccentric hair accoutrements. An appetite for adventure and striking out on your own. A sense that life should be bigger and more exciting than colouring between the lines (although I am a STICKLER for colouring between the lines; ask Bren).

Oh and speaking of Bren, an unstoppable attraction to the free-thinkers, the people who have never given up on their childlike sense of wonder and joy, the freaks and the artists, the people who swim upstream and cause others to question why they’re following everyone downstream.

I had totally forgotten about my love for Punky until a few weeks ago, when my friend Mona called me. I was shooting the second season of Drop 5 (whoopee!), so she left me a voicemail that I’ll love until the day the good Lord takes me:

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“Hey, it’s Mona. From church. Listen, the past couple of mornings, I’ve woken up thinking about you. And usually, when that happens, it means that I should call you. So, I just wanted to call and check on you, and tell you that I’m thinking about you, and I’m praying for you… well, not that last part because honestly, I’m not good at that part. But I AM thinking about you, so… give me a call back.”

I hooted with laughter, because I don’t know how many times I have chided myself for saying that I’m praying for someone and then forget to pray for them. Can I get a witness?!

Anyway, a week later, Mona is sitting on my couch asking me why I hold myself to such an impossibly high standard, and then judge myself so harshly when I fall short of it. Oh, did I mention Mona is a therapist? Yeah. An AWESOME one.

In answering her, I told her about my Dad’s nickname for me when I was a toddler: “showcase”. I guess I always a bit of a performer, a lover of putting on a song and dance! Whether it was singing a song, pretending to be a waiter at lunch (complete with a written menu, and a choice of red or white “wine” — soda) or regaling a dinner party of executives with a quintessential Englishman-Scotsman-Irishman joke (those always went over huge!)… I remember wanting to make people smile and laugh, and what a kick I’d get out of it.

I wondered aloud where that confidence, that joie de vivre had gone.

“It sounds like you were a precocious little girl!” Mona said, smiling.

“Yeah. I guess I was,” I said, sorrowfully.

“Well, why can’t you let that precocious little girl out? The girl that God created you to be?” she said.

In that moment, all my childhood icons flashed before my eyes: my beloved Punky, Anne of Green Gables (to this day, I love saying “kindred spirit”), Rainbow Brite, Lisa Bonet on the Cosby Show… heck, even ol’ Tori Amos has some of that energy, right?

Perhaps I’ve been so attracted to them not because I wanted so desperately to be like them but… because I AM one of them!

WOAH WOAH WOAH!!!

Cue a bit of an identity re-hashing. Wasn’t I the girl who coloured inside the lines, the linear thinker, the person who goes with the flow, who doesn’t question authority, who follows all the rules and is constantly seeking other people’s approval?

Maybe. Or maybe that’s who I’ve allowed myself to become.

I remember a very rare moment in my life when I felt God literally whispering in my ear: “I’ve packed you full of so much life! You’re my spirited little girl! I love you so much!”

Gimme a second. It always makes me cry when I think about that. God is such a sweetheart, isn’t He?!

Why cry? I get a touch sorrowful when I think about that, as if it’s too late to go back. The ship has sailed on that spirit, right? Too many years of rule-following, and approval-seeking to undo?

“Jesus looked at them intently and said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God, everything is possible.’”
Matthew 19:26

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Genesis 18:14a

So, I’ve decided to re-identify myself. I may colour between the lines now, and fear colouring outside of them… but once upon a time, I joyfully eschewed the lines. I may fear what people think about my abilities (or lack thereof) now, but back then, I shared what made me happy and left it at that. I’m giving my inner Punky a hug, and asking her if she’d like to come out and play. Because I miss that vivacious multi-hued little girl, so much so that I don’t even fully remember what it’s like to be her. She’s been stuck in the corner for way too long. God planted her in me, and I’ve let the weeds of conformity and achievement strangle her.

I’m going to let my freak flag fly! Because God sewed that freak flag Himself — “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”.

What about you? Who did you relate to as a child? Are you the same person you were as a kid? Has the world strangled your freak flag?

-x-
aarti

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Watch me on the Teevee!

Posted by Aarti on November 30th, 2012

Between the season finale of Boardwalk Empire and the season premiere of the Shahs of Sunset (I know, I can’t help it. Bravo is my guilty, VERY guilty, pleasure), I’ve giving my DVR a workout this Sunday.

Might I be so bold as to suggest you add a couple more things to your DVR record list?! Especially those of you dear hearts who keep asking when you’ll see me on TV next? (Especially those of you who make that request in ALL CAPS; for some reason that tickles me even more!)

This Sunday, the 2nd of December, I’m on The Best Thing I Ever Made, at 1130am ET/PT on Food Network. This episode is about Stocking Stuffers, and I’m making my Coconut Toffee, the new and improved version! Easy, impressive and a little taste from every Catholic Indian’s childhood.

I’m honoured to be on the same episode as Alex Guarnaschelli, Ted Allen and Jacques Torres. Pretty killer.

Then, for those of you have Cooking Channel, I’m part of the Holiday Special this Sunday! It airs at 8p ET (and PT?). I’m cooking alongside Roger Mooking, Nadia G, Eden Grinshpan, Bobby Deen, Kelsey Nixon and G. Garvin. Roger and I had a blast, and couldn’t stop laughing and high-five’ing all the way through our shoot. Can’t wait to see how that turns out!! I made my version of the standard fruit cake we ate growing up: this one is a date, cardamom and pistachio cake, with plenty o’ booze.

Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

So yeah, check out your DVRs and then let me know what you think!

-x-
aarti

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Pumpkin Soup with Coconut, Tamarind and Black Lentils

Posted by Aarti on November 20th, 2012

By overwhelming demand, here’s the recipe for the soup! A word of caution; I’ve only made this soup once, so it’s not tested as many times as I would like. But you guys wanted it so badly that I felt bad not posting the general idea at least. Also, using the full amount of dried coconut might be a touch too rich. Next time, I’m making it with half the amount. You may want to as well.

This soup came about last night after a nasty run-in with the closet door left me with a massive goose egg on my forehead. I was scurrying around the house, trying to do 600 things at once; unpack from a trip to New York, put clean dishes away in the kitchen and listen to a sermon on my computer. Funnily enough, it was a sermon about anxiety, and how the underlying cause of so much of our anxiety is a overly-tight clenching of the blessings in our life, as if clenching them would keep them from disappearing. As I was scurrying about, I was worried about writing my cookbook, figuring out when I’d get around to starting on the danged thing. And boom. Right into the closet door. I saw stars, and I immediately collapsed in a puddle of tears. Feeling quite sorry for myself, I listened to the pastor talk about turning my eyes upward, and as I did, I realised that the kitchen was, uncharacteristically, calling my name for a little bit of relaxation; in the weeks leading up to that moment, the kitchen had been somewhat of a stressful spot for me, a place of “work”. That had troubled me so.

But that night, as the bump on my head enlarged, the stress in my heart died down. I listened to Cindy Morgan croon some good ol’ fashioned hymns, and sang along as I churched this soup into existence. Leanin’ on His everlasting arms.

Note about ingredients: the dried coconut, spices, tamarind paste and curry leaves are available at Indian supermarkets, at better supermarkets or online. If you can’t find curry leaves, just go without.

You’ll need:

1/2 cup black lentils
4 cups water + (3/4 to 1) cup extra
1 cup dessicated, finely grated or ground coconut (Sold as “coconut powder” at some Indian stores; do NOT use the sweetened kind you find in the baking aisle at the regular supermarket. Also see my note above about halving this amount)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or powder)
2 teaspooons paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of garam masala
2 15-ounce cans of plain pumpkin puree
2 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons tamarind paste
3 tablespoons grapeseed/canola/veg/sunflower oil
1 ½ teaspoons mustard seeds
2 large cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 dried red chiles (such as chiles d’arbol)
1 large sprig fresh curry leaves, stripped from the stem
Salt to taste
Big pinch of brown sugar

1) Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Season with a couple of big pinches of salt. Meanwhile, pick through lentils for stones and other crap, then rinse. Add lentils to boiling water, stir and bring back to a boil, partially covered. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook 20 minutes or until lentils are tender but still hold their shape. Drain and set aside.
2) Meanwhile, put coconut powder, cumin seeds, paprika, tumeric and garam masala in a blender. Blend to combine, about 10 seconds. Then add 1 cup water and blend again until semi-smooth paste forms. Pour into a bowl. Don’t worry about scraping all of it out.
3) Scoop pumpkin puree into blender, add stock and tamarind pasted, and blend until smooth.
4) Make sure you have the mustard seeds, garlic, chiles and curry leaves set up on the counter next to your stove because the next few steps move quickly!
5) Warm oil in a large deep skillet until nearly smoking. Add mustard seeds and cover immediately because if the oil is properly heated, then they should be spluttering! As spluttering dies down, remove lid and add curry leaves then quickly cover. Shake pan so curry leaves are evenly distributed. Wait 5 seconds until spluttering diminishes, then add garlic and red chiles. Remove lid and stir well. Cook another 5 to 10 seconds.
6) Add coconut paste, and sauté for about 5 minutes until fragrant.
7) Add pumpkin puree mixture and lentils. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Stir together and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, until heated through. Taste, and if you can, allow this soup to sit for 15 minutes before you serve, so that all the flavours come together. Serve with fire-roasted poppadums.

-x-
aarti

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