Is it right?

“Cowardice asks the question: is it safe?
Expediency asks the question: is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., February 6, 1968

How to make Idli/Dosa batter in the Vitamix

My husband and I recently invested in a Vitamix. The Vitamix, which most people might think of as an expensive blender, is a high-quality food preparation machine that can pretty much do it all. Its high price point definitely reflects that, which is one of the only off-putting things about this amazingly versatile kitchen tool. As a person who values simple and frugal living —  why would we ever think about buying one of these newfangled, trendy machines?

The main reason: after many years of regular and consistent use, our blender broke. We prepare a lot of food which requires grinding/pureeing, and the blender we were using (which was decades old) just couldn’t take it any more. We decided it was time to upgrade.

The other reasons:

  • It enables us to make more of our own food at home (which is healthier and reduces the amount of waste we produce in the form of food packaging).
  • It is convenient. (The idea of preparing the food we choose to eat using manual methods is romantic and is something I am happy to consider doing one day, but it is not practical for our lifestyle right now.)
  • We wanted to be able to grind idli/dosa batter.

Idli/dosa batter is typically made in a wet grinder, which is a tabletop kitchen appliance that uses granite plates to grind grains into pastes and batters. They are hard to find in the USA and costly to ship from India; importing one is almost as much as one of those fancy Vitamix machines. When we considered that, we thought, “Wait a minute… can you use a Vitamix to make idli/dosa batter?”

After my husband brought one home for Christmas, we  immediately started the preparations for making our own idli/dosa batter.

How to prepare idli/dosa batter in the Vitamix: 

  1. Measure the urad dal and idli rice (1:3 dal, 3:4 idli rice). Place in separate vessels and soak overnight. Add a few fenugreek seeds for color if using mainly for dosa.
  2. ‘Pulse’ the dal with a little bit of water until the batter is smooth. Pulsing (as opposed to blending) is done because continuous blending can cook the batter. You should pulse for 2-3 minutes. (Warm batter is okay; hot is not.)
  3. ‘Pulse’ the rice in a similar way until silky smooth.
  4. In a large vessel, hand-stir the dal & rice batter together, and salt to taste. The vessel should be large because the batter will ferment and rise.
  5. The batter prep is now done — now let the batter rest for 8-12 hours!

If you live in a cold climate (the ambient temperature in your house is below 80 degrees), you will need to put your batter somewhere warm. This usually means inside of an oven or by a warm radiator. Check out this post for more tips — I found it helpful after researching why our batter wasn’t rising on the countertop.

How to ferment idli/dosa batter in cold weather:

  1. Heat the oven until it’s warm, around 85-90 degrees F (30-32 degrees C). It’s not important to measure it exactly if you roughly know what 85 degrees feels like.
  2. Turn off the oven.
  3. Place the vessel of batter inside the oven. We partially covered ours with a loose plate but I don’t know if that’s necessary or not.
  4. Turn on the oven light (will help maintain the temperature).
  5. Let batter rest in the oven for eight hours. Try not to peek or you will let most of the warm air out and it wont’t rise as much.
  6. When ready, properly-fermented batter should have about about 25-50% more volume than when it was fresh as well as air bubbles on the surface.

When you are ready to make idli/dosa or any of their permutations, give the fermented batter a good stir and have fun cooking! 🙂

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Fun for all ages!

Blooming Orchids

We currently have five orchids in our house — in part to ensure that something is perpetually in bloom. (All of them are phalaenopsis orchids, which are among the easiest to grow; all I do is immerse their roots in water once a week and leave them in a semi-sunny windowsill to do their thing.)

Each orchid has gone through at least two bloom cycles since I’ve owned them over the past two years. Every time they bloom, I always get the idea to record a time lapse video of the petals opening — but never got around to it because I was too busy and didn’t care enough.

Now that I am on maternity leave, I’ve found some extra time here and there to pursue small projects: reading, arts and crafts, and learning more about my new camera — including how to make time lapse videos. Exciting!

Here are two time lapse videos I made showing two of our blooming orchids:

Details:

  • Camera: Nikon D7100
  • Lens: Nikkor 35mm/1.8 prime lens
  • Settings: Aperture priority mode set to f/10; interval shooting timer set to one photo every ten minutes for 500 shots (see #5 for more info on how to do it)
  • Editing: Photoshop (tutorial)
  • Location: Orchids were set up in an empty storage room with a table lamp with color & light corrected in Photoshop

They’re not perfect but the videos were fun to shoot and put together. Looking forward to seeing what else I can do with this camera beyond what I am already used to doing.

Enjoy!

 

“Expecting” Great Things in 2016

 

Below is the article I recently submitted for my organization’s winter newsletter, looking back on the old year and peeking ahead at the new.

Quick — name something that flies!

The first thing that comes to mind might be birds — and naturally so, since is is a newsletter is from Detroit Audubon, and a love for birds and their kin is something we all share. You’d also be correct in saying that bugs, bats, butterflies, flying fish, flying squirrels, airplanes and balloons all fly — but nothing flies like the thing I am about to mention.

What incredibly fast and furious flyer am I talking about? … Time, of course!

Time has flown by (faster than a Peregrine Falcon doing a 240 mile-per-hour dive bomb) during the past few months I’ve spent as Program Coordinator. While it sometimes still feels like I just started, I also can’t believe how much I was able to help us accomplish in 2015 — coordinating a number of programs and events, building up partnerships, and reaffirming our place in the regional bird conservation network. We expect even greater things for 2016.

On a more personal note, more programs and partnerships are not the only things we are “expecting” in 2016. I am both happy  to announce that my husband and I are expecting our first child in January — which is why I will be officially stepping down from the Program Coordinator position in mid-December. Because I believe in our mission and want to continue helping Detroit Audubon grow, I look forward to re-joining Detroit Audubon as the Education Committee Co-chair sometime early next year.

It was a pleasure to spend the past few months working for such a wonderful organization, and consider it a real gift to have helped advance its mission during this special time in my life.

Below are some of the programs I was proud to have been involved with during Fall 2015. (For Summer 2015 programs I was involved with, see the Summer 2015 Flyway.)

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Who Inspires the Inspirers?

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What inspires people who inspire others?

Here is an instance where one great mind took the time to answer that question.

In an excerpt from his book recently published here, India’s late past president and renowned missile scientist Abdul Kalam lists three of the most influential books in his life, which included:

∙ “Lights from Many Lamps” (by Lillian Eichler Watson)
∙ Thirukural (by Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar)
∙ Man the Unknown (by Nobel laureate and doctor-philosopher Alexis Carrel)

Mr. Kalam appeared to be influenced by a variety of sources, from all different places, times and cultures — and lived an exemplary life, not only as a scientist and politician but as a human being (e.g., thanking a guard for having to stand because of him).

While it is easy and tempting to limit your sources of inspiration to one person, one book, one culture, one religion, one what-have-you, great thinkers like Mr. Kalam serve to remind us of the importance of having many sources of inspiration and influence — discovering commonalities between them while cultivating a mind that is full of ideas that are all together diverse, complementary, and competing. A mind that is all at once broad, deep, fast, and high-thinking is an asset for for leaders in today’s world, which is in a stable state of constant change.

They say this about nature — the more diverse and complex an ecosystem is, the more resilient it becomes. Perhaps that is also true of the mind; and each of us should strive to be well-read, or at least knowledgable and seeking learning experiences from all sources.  Thank you for that insight, Mr. Kalam!

Books were always my friends
Last more than fifty years
Books gave me dreams
Dreams resulted in missions
Books helped me confidently take up the missions
Books gave me courage at the time of failures
Good books were for me angels
Touched my heart gently at the time
Hence I ask young friends to have books as friends
Books are your good friends.

– A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

May his soul rest in peace!

Adventures in South Indian Cooking

It’s been a while since I posted about food. And boy… do I have a lot to update about. Since I last posted about food, my cooking skills have really gone South… and by South, I mean South India! 🙂

Thanks to my Indian in-laws, as well as the motley crew of South Indian friends who have practically adopted me as one of their own, I have learned to cook (with lots of guidance and trial and error) the following dishes:

These are just a few of the things that have been “on rotation” here in the house.

Among these dishes, the pesarattu dosa has got to be my favorite. I admit, these dosas are not a blow-your-mind good, but they are tasty, highly nutritious, and easy-to-make.

Tasty: It’s like a thin, crispy pancake fried on a hot griddle.

Nutritious: The primary ingredient in pessarattu dosa are mung beans, which contain 49 grams of protein per cup.

Easy-to-make: Soak the beans in water overnight. Next morning, blend them with salt, chopped green chili, and ginger.  Voila, dosa batter!  Spread that batter on a hot tawa, and you have a dosa.

We have gotten into the habit of cooking pesarattu dosas for breakfast on the weekends (which we usually eat with an easy-to-make chutney or upma). Despite having made them a few times now, mine still aren’t perfect — they’re always a little limp and not as crispy as I’d like them to be, but I feel like perfection is just a few more tries away.  (Any tips on achieving that would be most welcome.)

It’s been great — learning to cook by trial and error, troubleshooting, and sometimes succeeding. Trying new dishes made by friends, and having them over to help me cook mine. I love how most of the dishes are vegetarian and  full of protein. That’s great for people like me, who are either vegetarian or seeking to be more vegetarian. (I am all veg except for the occasional fish now.)

I like to think that this is only the beginning of a beautiful, delicious, nutritious, and spicy journey. 🙂

Goals for the future: I would love to learn to make biriyani that actually looks like biriyani:

I would also learn to love to make perfect idli/vadas:

This post wouldn’t be complete without a picture of me in one of my sister-in-law’s beautiful sarees:

Probably one of the most feminine garments I’ve ever worn.

Hope you are all having great adventures of your own, whether it is in the kitchen close to home, or elsewhere in the world!

Wild Geese

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“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

– Mary Oliver