Monday, June 13, 2011

Adios, Austin (part two)

So the GRE happened...

It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. I keep trying to stay positive and focus on the fact that one test doesn’t define who I am as a person or determine the rest of my life. But when all you really think about is getting into graduate school, it’s kind of hard not to think that.

I started bawling hysterically when I left the testing center. It was pretty dramatic. I immediately called my advisor and made an appointment with her for the following morning. I rushed to her office and collapsed in the chair near her desk. I’ve done this a few times before, so she didn’t exactly look surprised. They know me so well in the advising office that they let me just go straight to her office instead of checking in at the front desk (you call it excessive, and I call it a toll tag). Anyways, I started blurting out a million questions. Should I take it again? Was this competitive enough of a score?  They’re changing the test in August so even if I want to take it, will I have time to prepare for the new one? What should I do? WHAT SHOULD I DO?

She shrugged and smiled, “Well, I guess it’s up to you. I’m not really the person to talk to, honestly.”

I just blankly stared at her for a few moments. I felt like I had just been diagnosed with some horrible disease and I was asking my doctor for a recommendation, a suggestion, an idea, for the love of god, anything. And my doctor just shrugged and said, “Well, I guess it’s up to you. I’m not really the person to talk to, honestly.”

How is this helpful at all? Aren’t you an advisor? Isn’t your job to give people advice?

I left her office feeling even more lost. I had originally asked all of my friends to come over to help me say goodbye to Austin, but honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to see or talk to anyone. I wanted to cry in bed for the rest of the night, watch the Food Network, and come up with a new life plan that had absolutely nothing to do with graduate school.

But I knew that if anyone could make me feel better about everything, it was my friends. So the night was still on, everyone came over, and together we drove to South Congress to hit up the food trailers.

There is something pretty extraordinary about the food truck scene in Austin. Not only can you find your typical hot dogs and burgers, but you can also find some unique gourmet food. Our first stop was the Mighty Cone. The little trailer has become a pretty popular joint here, and they’ve even been featured on the Travel Channel and Food Network on numerous occasions. All of their snacks come in these little tortilla wraps, but in an easy-to-hold, drip-free paper cone. It’s pretty ingenious. I had the chicken-avocado cone, which had slices of chicken and avocado fried in a batter made from sesame seeds, corn flakes, crushed red pepper, and almonds, and topped with a light cole-slaw. Soul satisfying.

We spent some more time exploring the food trucks. John and I decided that if I never get into grad school and he never gets into med school, we’re just going to start a trailer that sells fried oreos and other artery clogging items. I don’t think the world is ready for this.

We usually make plans for the rest of the night, but what consistently happens is this: we plop down somewhere in the living room, start discussing something ridiculous, and we don’t get up until one or two in the morning. We talk about everything and nothing. We laugh. We tell each other stories. It turns out that this was all that I really needed to say goodbye to Austin. I didn’t need to go food-trucking on South Congress or catch a movie at the Drafthouse. I didn’t need a drive to Mt. Bonnell or a late-night pancake run to Kerbey Lane. I needed to be around the people who love me, support me, and accept me no matter what.

I didn’t get a perfect GRE score. This is not my first disappointment, and it will not be my last. But I’m not going to allow this to make me take the important things for granted, including how lucky I am to be going on this trip abroad, and the amazing life that I have waiting for me at home.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Morning Therapy- The Omelet

I’ve never been a huge stickler for rules, but some things are just easier to do when you have a formula to follow. This is why cooking can be extremely frustrating at times.

When I get a recipe from my mom or nani, it’s always “oh add a little of this and a little of that…” Um, what does that even mean? What if your little is a pinch, and my little is a palmful. And what the heck is a “dash” or a “bit”?

While baking requires exact measurements, cooking relies mostly on instinct. When cooking, you have to trust your taste buds and just go with what feels right to you. You have to accept the fact that the way your food turns out depends on the quality of the ingredients, the heat of the pan, the hot spots in your oven, the weather, your mood, and the list goes on.

But isn’t it nice once in a while to know that if you just follow a few simple instructions, the dish is going to come out perfect every time? This may come as a surprise to you, but omelets are one of these dishes.

Their delicateness makes them a intimidating. I didn’t even attempt to make an omelet until a few weeks ago. I was fine sticking to scrambled eggs, the one dish that you can’t mess up because it’s supposed to look like you messed it up. But let’s face it, there is nothing more satisfying than a warm, soft, cheesy omelet for breakfast. They may seem difficult to master, but if you stick to these rules you’ll get great results each time.

  1. Use a combination of butter and oil. The oil prevent the eggs from sticking to the pan, duh, and the butter adds flavor.
  2. Maintain medium-heat. If the pan gets too hot it will cook the eggs too quickly!
  3. Have ALL your ingredients prepared and ready to go. Don’t be choppin’ them onions while your eggs are in the pan!

Omelet (for one)
2 eggs
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup of shredded cheese
any other filling ingredients like ham, onions, mushrooms, etc. (optional)

Beat the eggs in a bowl with salt and pepper. They should become a pale yellow color. When the butter has melted and the pan is hot, pour the eggs into the skillet. 

Let them set  around the edges for a few moments, then gently scramble them in the middle to allow more of the runny egg to set on the pan. 

The omelet should still be a little runny on top. Sprinkle your filling (cheese, vegetables, etc.) evenly down the middle of it.

Using the spatula, gently fold a third of the omelet over the filling, as if you’re folding a letter.

As you transfer the omelet onto a plate, fold the middle over the final third of the omelet. Voila! It’s easier than you thought, huh?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Adios, Austin (part one)

In less than a week, I will be on a plane to London. It just hit me.

I, along with my friends Jenny and Kelsey, will be spending three weeks backpacking around Europe. After we spend a few days getting over our jet lag in London, we'll start our travels with a bang. Yes, I'm talking about a weekend in Amsterdam (um to check out their windmills and tulips, obviously). Then will make our way to Prague via overnight train. Now, no European vacation is complete without a stop in Italy, so we'll spend a few days visiting Venice and Florence. You can expect the cliché sunset-on-the-Rialto-Bridge photograph as well as an abundance of pictures of gelato. We will then head to southern France for a few days of cleansing and relaxing in Nice. Why? 

Because we will definitely need it before my 21st birthday weekend in Paris! Am I the luckiest girl, or what?

I'm, trying not to get too enthusiastic just yet, because I still have to take my GRE on Thursday. I'm trying my best to stay calm and hope that my studying paid off.

Now, I know I shouldn’t be sad to leave considering all the amazing adventures I’m about to have, but there is a part of me that is feeling a little depressed about saying goodbye to Austin. I’m not trying to be melodramatic. I know I’m going to be back in a few months. It’s just that Austin is most vibrant at this time of the year! People are spending time at Barton Springs or checking out the latest produce at our local farmers market. The same people who were moody, stressed out, and just difficult to put up with during the school year are actually happy.

See, even if you are working or studying over the summer, it’s hard not to look around and just feel thrilled to live here. I have always enjoyed spending my summers here for this reason. The hustle and bustle of campus is replaced with a refreshing tranquility. Everyone is spending time outside with their friends. It’s absolutely peaceful.

My farewell to Austin begins today. I got an email about a secret sale at STRUT, so I bought a new dress and a pair of sandals. I spent some time wandering through the aisles of Book People for no particular reason. And now I am sipping on an iced hazelnut latte at a coffee shop on Lamar Street after reviewing some vocabulary. Sure, I’m a little anxious and nervous. But it's just too lovely outside today to feel anything but happiness.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Zucchini Pancakes

I have been spending a lot of time working and studying lately, so I've been using my down time in the evenings as an opportunity to get creative. I figured that if can’t enjoy my summer outside, perhaps I can enjoy my summer in food.

Let me tell introduce to you two amazing words that will change the way you cook for as long as you’re in school, and possibly forever. Roast Chicken. Yes, I am talking about one of those big birds you always pass by at the grocery store. They appear to be meant only for a hungry family of four, but did you know that if you take it home and immediately shred it off the bone, it can last for days in the fridge? I’m serious! Don’t let the bird intimidate you anymore! It’s a budget friendly move that can help you add a little protein and pizzazz to salads, pasta, and more. Stuff shells with it, use it in cheese quesadillas, make a chicken salad, and sure, go ahead and stir it into your easy mac. I promise I wont judge. In fact, I ate that yesterday for lunch. I love that I can buy a chicken on Sunday and use it a million different ways throughout the week.

Okay, I made it pretty clear that I hate boring food. However, I also hate complicated food. Sometimes simplicity is key when making a tasty dish. Great food doesn’t need to be over the top or difficult to make. So if you can make pancakes, then you can easily make this tasty supper.

Sadly, I lost the picture I took of the final dish. But this is way too tasty for me to keep from you, so I promise I will make it up to you!

Zucchini Pancakes
makes about 3 medium-sized pancakes

1 zucchini, grated
1 tbsp grated onion
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup shredded cheese
3-4 tbsp all-purpose flour
black pepper
crushed red pepper (the kind that came with your pizza last weekend)
vegetable oil
shredded chicken
sour cream

Wash, then grate your zucchini with the large side of a box grater. Then grate about a tablespoon of onion (or more if you would like). You can use red onion, yellow onion, or whatever you have at home. Combine in a bowl with the beaten egg, about three tablespoons of flour, salt, pepper, and the baking powder. If the batter is too thin, add a little more flour. Mix in the cheese, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper. Make sure to use a generous amount of salt and pepper because zucchini doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own!

Combine a little vegetable oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is heated and the butter has melted, pour some of the batter onto the skillet. Just like regular pancakes, when you see some bubbles at the top, it’s probably ready to flip!

Make the rest of your pancakes and keep them warm on a pan in a 300 degree oven.

Finally, top one or two of these pancakes with a generous handful of your shredded chicken. I like to heat mine up on the skillet really quickly. For the final touch, add dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of pepper.

I usually only cook for myself, especially during the week, but this recipe can easily be doubled to make more. Also, if you’re going meatless, these pancakes are great on their own! Enjoy!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

dilettante, dabbler, novice, amateur, or whatever.

My name is Megha. I go to school in Austin, Texas, which is one of the weirdest and greatest places on earth. I am a psychology major, a lover of food, and a dabbler in the art of cooking. You’re probably asking, “Don’t you have better things to do than start a blog, like say, trying to get into graduate school?” Okay, okay, I can’t argue with that. I do have a million and a half things on my plate from an on-campus job to an upcoming summer semester at Oxford University. However, nothing in this world breaks my heart more than horrible, bland, tasteless, college cafeteria food.

Freshman fifteen? I haven’t heard of that. Oh, you must be talking about the freshman THIRTY.

During my freshman year of college I was completely clueless, to say the least. I was eating pints of chunky monkey for dinner (and hey now, it wasn’t always because I had been stood up and forced to spend another lonely night creeping on facebook). I felt too rushed, too exhausted, and too tired to bother with the daunting task of finding healthy food to eat. I scrounged around for a meal whenever I had a moment to breathe. I was depressed and feeling absolutely terrible about myself. And if there was good food out there, I certainly didn’t know how to find it or even what to do with it.

So many students seem to think that just because we are poor, unfairly busy, and beyond stressed out, we can't eat healthy and delicious food. I am here to prove that you don’t need to be a chef to eat well and that you CAN make quick, simple, and healthy food without spending an arm and a leg or slaving away for hours in the kitchen.

The moment I moved into my apartment, I started cooking food. No. Actually, I started falling in love with food. I no longer needed a giant plate to satisfy my taste buds, because the big flavor was all in the few simple, quality ingredients I was using. I was shedding weight, spending less money, and learning more and more about the fine art of preparing food. I began to appreciate simply cooked asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of cracked black pepper, and a sprinkling of salt more than a bowl of ramen noodles or easy mac.

Thankfully, I have an inspiring mother who taught me to use food as a therapeutic form of expression. She has shown me how relaxing, enjoyable, and utterly rewarding preparing your own food can be. She is the creative chef who inspires me to cook every day.

"Cooking is an adventure, so have fun with it," my mother always tells me. 

So this, my friends, is my adventure.

Sunday Morning Mango

The best part about being Indian is that every time I come home, my mother gives me lots of yummy goodies to bring back with me to school. On my last trip home, I was given a box of delicious mangoes that I couldn’t wait to dig into.

Now, we Indians take our mangoes very seriously. My father, who spent much of his childhood plucking ripe fruit off the trees of his family’s southern Indian coffee plantation, will obsess over each mango, checking it for smell, color, and texture. The result—the perfect mangoes to eat plain or dressed up.

This morning, I was down to my last mango in the box. I hate to say it, (Shh! Don’t tell my father!) but after the 1236292th bowl of sliced mango I have had for breakfast over the last week, I am now totally sick of eating it plain. I stared at the mango. I rolled it around on the counter a bit, hoping that it would bounce to life and tell me what to do with it. And I was stumped. What to do?

Aha! I recently saw a recipe for a mango parfait in Cooking Fresh magazine. Looks delicious! I’ll just grab a fancy parfait glass from my cabinet—oh wait.

My roommate and I prefer the unbreakable plasticware that our grumpy, temperamental monstrosity of a dishwasher can toss around as much as it likes. Alright, so I don’t have a parfait glass, or really any nice glass. No big deal! I’m not going to let my hodgepodge collection of hand-me-down dishes and cookware stop me from eating like a queen, especially on this beautiful Sunday morning.

After tweaking the recipe a bit to my liking, I came up with a tasty faux-parfait that any plastic bowl should be honored to contain.

Here is the secret- a drizzle of cinnamon and cardamom simple syrup!

Don’t let that scare you! It's called simple syrup for a reason! In fact, it's so simple that I was able to make it in a few minutes between studying GRE vocabulary flashcards. calumny…loquacious…upbraid…oh look, I’m making fancy simple syrup…acrimonious….compendium…

Seriously, it’s a piece of cake.

Cinnamon Cardamom Simple Syrup

¼ cup of granulated sugar
¼ cup of water
a teaspoon of cardamom pods
a piece of cinnamon stick

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat with the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer until it is thickened (about 8 minutes). Let it cool and remove the cinnamon and cardamom.

You are now left with divine syrup that you can drizzle over fruit and vanilla ice cream or stir into a hot cup of chai.


Mango and Greek Yogurt Faux-fait

1 mango- peeled, seeded, and chopped
1½ tsp of cardamom cinnamon sugar syrup
½ cup plain greek yogurt
a handful of chopped nuts (roasted almonds or pistachios are best)

So you're at standing in your grocery store dairy-section, reaching out for the plain greek yogurt, when you suddenly see an abundance of flavors from vanilla to honey. You're starting to change your mind. Whoaaaa! Back off and step away from the yogurt!

Plain greek yogurt, which is regular yogurt that has been strained to achieve a thick consistency, is totally under-appreciated! It's tart and rich in flavor. It's great on its own, and the tangy taste of the yogurt goes perfectly with the sweetness of the syrup-infused mango. Lose the unnecessary calories and artificial flavoring and go for the good stuff! I promise you wont be sorry. And isn't it good for us to step out of our comfort zones once in a while?

ANYWAYS, enough of that, let's get back to the recipe.

Cut up a mango and drizzle it with the sugar syrup. Let it sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes to allow the juice of the mango to mingle with the flavors of the syrup. Do not let it sit for more than an hour or it will become mushy! Slather the mango with a generous amount of velvety yogurt. Sprinkle your creation with chopped roasted almonds, chopped pistachios, or whatever you happen to have on hand. Voila! What you are left with is a sweet, tart, and crunchy breakfast that will fill you up and keep you satisfied.

Goodness, could this be a multipurpose dish? I think so! For a delicious dessert, ditch the yogurt and replace it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

What a wonderful way to start (or end!) your day.