“Holi Hai!”

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Think “Color Run 5K”. Now multiply by 50,000 and replace “run” with dancing, giggling and frolic. And that’s Holi in India for you! “Holi Hai!” translates to “It’s Holi!” and is the warcry of one of the funnest Indian festivals, usually around the beginning of March, to celebrate the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. Part 1 of Holi is celebrated late in the evening with huge bonfires, where people burn statues of a demon princess. The only “ritual” on the following day (Part 2) is to have fun and lots of it: friends and family visit each other and throw colors on each other, hose each other down with colored water, and other such activities.

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A few of the many colors that will cover the streets of India (and also some in the United States)

Music, dancing and good food is involved, as with most Indian festivals.

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Finding Pho!

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Did you know that all the good “Pho” puns are taken? What the pho!

Anyway, over a year ago, we traveled to Sri Lanka through the always-amazing Black Swan Journeys based out of Pune, India. Since then we visited 3 more countries with them and I’m still working off the pounds I gained from (cooking and) eating my heart’s content in those fantastic countries (Maldives, Georgia, and Azerbaijan)! Black Swan Journeys specializes in highly customized, curated tours (culinary tours being just one of the many types), and their famous culinary tour in Vietnam entitled “Finding Pho” is coming up next month. After seeing these videos, I want to jump on the next flight out to join them! But considering we came back from Hawaii not 2 months ago, and the fact that our wallets and waistlines don’t always allow last-minute escapades half way across the world, we’ll have to settle for finding our “Pho” bliss here.

Luckily, we recently acquired an Instant Pot that makes “Finding Pho” both cheaper and faster than getting to Vietnam from California! But if you are anywhere near Vietnam, you have no excuse! While the folks on the culinary tour will find things much bigger than Pho in Vietnam, we’ll temporarily make our peace with the Pho concocted here, with some Vietnamese Spring rolls for company (and crunch). This will do for now, although I hope we get to find ourselves (and Pho) in Vietnam soon enough!

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Confessions of a Wonton Addict

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In an effort to formally learn some kitchen skills (and if we are being very honest, in an effort to feed myself delicious wontons any time I want), I recently took the amazing “Wonders of Wonton” class with Chef Lorraine Witte at San Francisco’s newly minted pop-up cooking school: “The Civic Kitchen“. It was my first time in a cooking school and boy was I in wonderland – state of the art equipment, cleavers so sharp you could cut yourself just looking at them, wonderful atmosphere and very helpful instructors!

I’ve been known to hightail to San Francisco’s many amazing dumpling places, and also down to Din Tai Fung in San Jose (whenever they’ll let us in, that is – typically that  happens once a year) to get my Xiao Long Bao/Scallion Pancake/General Dumpling fix from time to time. Life has its way of getting in the way of my love for dumplings. Also, traffic on highway 101. So I figured a lesson on wontons would help bring them closer, and also give me an opportunity to fill them with the things I want to eat (less pork, more shrimp, some chicken), alongside other things I want to eat with them (1/4 cup chili oil, anyone?).

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Breakfast Banana Bread

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Banana Bread, or Banana Nut Bread actually, is the one of the first few cakes I learned how to bake, way back in 2009. It was a simpler time when I had only a couple of baking pans, one tacky whisk, and I didn’t know the difference between cake flour and all purpose flour. And boy did I end up learning the difference! I followed some recipe from the Food Network Test Kitchen and over a period of several months and years, iterated over it to come up with my own variations. Almost always one-bowl, minimal prep work, no fancy ingredients, infinitely adaptable, forgiving, freezer-friendly, reheats like a dream…are just a few ways to describe a good loaf of Banana Nut Bread, and this recipe always hit the mark.

With requests from friends, I started making them eggless (swap each egg with one medium sized banana), with different nuts (pecans are wonderful too), with seeds, with or without chocolate (chips, chunks and cocoa powder versions), in pretty bundt pans instead of loaf, with or without chocolate ganache on top, and so on. The combinations are endless.

But the banana nut breads I was making were an indulgence. I mean they were worlds apart from the high-calorie, compressed sawdust you get in Starbucks but they weren’t something I could have all the time, because of all the sugar and butter and of course the banana itself is pretty high calorie and a sugar bomb when ultra ripe. So I fiddled with the recipe a bit to make it less indulgent, and it completely sucked. Much like the direction this blog post is taking.

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Raw Mango and Avocado Salad

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I almost didn’t write this post. I was planning to just cop out and post a few pictures on Instagram about this truly simple yet delicious salad and be done with it (terribly long week!), but there is so much to be said about the star ingredients of this salad – I decided to properly introduce them to ya’ll.

This salad features the seasonal Raw Mango (technically it’s “Unripe Mango”, although it sounds far less glamorous), known as “Kairi” in India and is on the farm stands a lot longer than its more celebrated incarnation, the Mango (riper, sweet version). Sure, the Mango is eaten many different ways (mostly as dessert) but the Raw (Unripe) Mango is extremely versatile and used in a lot of savory preparations in India. More on the subject to come your way on this blog, as we make our way through summer.

In North America, Raw Mangoes are available in regular grocery stores periodically in the spring and summer. I picked some up at the Indian grocery store few weeks ago to snack on (cut into thin wedges, with some salt and red chilli powder sprinkled on top), and figured that their tartness would pair really well with the richness of avocados! When picking these, be sure to choose Mangoes that are slightly pale green and softer to the touch (the harder ones can be bitter sometimes).

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Chouriço Pão (Goan Chorizo Sausage Bread)

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The “Chorizo Scramble” has been dominating my breakfast/brunch order for years now, right from the first time I had it 7 years ago at a cafe on Catalina Island. Occasionally I’ll order poached eggs with hollandaise sauce if the restaurant is particularly spectacular, like The Table in Willow Glen, but most of the times its the Chorizo Scramble. And it doesn’t photograph too well, now that I think about it. And honestly, most of the time it tastes just about okay. If you order the version with all eggs (no egg whites), then it tastes rich enough, but 3 egg yolks in one go is dangerously close to my weekly egg yellow quota. If you order the version with egg whites…well, you may as well order saw dust. The egg whites are so overcooked that they are reduced to a pile of pea-size bits. Either way, you need some cheese to bring it all together and hide the inadequacy of egg whites, but cheese is something my body stopped processing gracefully 5 years ago, so that’s not an option. “Wow, you sure are demanding!” is what I get most of the times when I describe my scrambled egg problems to people, so I decided to just make it myself going forward.

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Time for penance (not really)

While I love to bake and cook elaborate meals on weekdays and some weeknights, on a day to day basis I like to keep it light yet fun. These smoothies and juices are so easy to make, especially if you have the Vitamix (seriously, that thing could pulverize, well…anything)!

In my opinion, the best thing about the Vitamix is the convenience of keeping the smoothie/juice ingredients portioned-out, frozen and ready-to-go. The “frozen” part of it lends a great body to the juice/smoothie. The same result can be achieved without the Vitamix, but crushed ice will have to be used with chilled ingredients.

A great way to reduce the number of calories and natural sugar in these drinks, is by replacing regular milk with dairy-free alternatives, such as Almond Milk (Califia is a great brand, usually stocked in Lucky or Whole Foods) or Coconut Milk (can’t go wrong with So Delicious plain Coconut Milk).

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