Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rain, Apples and Cinnamon

Just a few days after the cyclone, the north-eastern monsoons have stepped in, or rather gusted in, bringing thick clouds and rain at all hours.  We barely got a fortnight of sunshine squeezed in between two heavy monsoons.

I am grateful for the apple season - there's a bumper harvest this year and apple growers in the north are concerned about crashing prices.  No trace of this is evident down south, in Bangalore, where we are still subsisting on pomegranates and oranges.  These fruits are refreshing, but there's not much in terms of wholesome baking that can be done with them.

And these days, steeped in misty mornings and wet evenings, hot apple with a scent of spice is what I long for.  Fortunately, several visitors from Delhi have brought an unending supply of fresh apples for me - tangy golden ones and sweet red ones from the hills of Himachal and Kashmir.

I have spent the last few weeks trying out a range of apple recipes with the bruised, left overs (the best way to eat them of course is as they are) and here are some of my observations:

For sheer elegance, nothing can beat a classic French apple tart - a layer of crisp pastry topped with soft apple filling and covered with thin, lightly caramelized apple slices and perhaps a bit of glaze.  A variety of taste and texture in every mouthful.

One of the tastiest apple desserts, in my view, is Tarte Tartin - the French recipe where apples are bathed in caramel and topped with a crisp, buttery pastry.  I don't throw the tart on the floor (as the legendary Tartin sisters supposedly did) or even turn it over on a plate (the more conventional way) because I feel the pastry stays crisper when it remains on top.  No tartin pans or special skillets are required to make this here, for we have our own stainless steel dabbas, which make very good containers.

However, this comes more in the 'indulgence' category of desserts and it inevitably requires a side serving of cream, which adds to the calories.  I like crumbles too, but I face the same problem - if they're hot and crisp, they beg for a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of cream on the side.  So, instead, for everyday wholesome snacking, I make a plain spiced apple pie.  This uses a very basic crust and a delicious filling of a little bit (but not too much) of all the things that go well with apples - lemon, orange, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon.  Nutmeg and cloves are good too but apple and cinnamon have always been a classic pair.

When the stomach refuses fresh apples, apple stew is a marvel.  Apples, sliced and stewed with just a little sugar, clove and cinnamon are light and satisfying.

And if you like apple in your salad, apples, avocados and walnuts make for a nice combination.  But when they are fresh, I just like to eat them plain!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Vastrabharana - the Annual Saree Exhibition

Come October and Bangalore saree shoppers are on the look out for signs of Vastrabharana.  This is an annual saree exhibition and sale organized by the Crafts Council of Karnataka; weavers and saree sellers from around the country (typically one from each region) are invited to participate.  Unlike many other cloth exhibitions, the emphasis here is on sarees, generally those obtained directly from craftsmen.  This year however, I found that about one third of the sellers were designers or individuals running their own shops.  Not that I have anything against this, but it leaves less room for weavers from smaller places (whose sarees I inevitably end up buying).

However, it's always nice to visit the stalls, to see sarees everywhere - on walls, on shelves, draped alongside mirrors and held in the hands of prospective buyers or sellers.  Yards of beautifully woven material - silk, cotton or a mix of the two as many modern weavers are now using.

This year I bought two sarees, both from traditional weavers - a soft pale green Maheshwari with colours of spring and autumn mixed together in a beautiful way.

The weaver, of course, came from Maheshwar (Madhya Pradesh) and had brought with him a range of these typically light sarees in silk or cotton, woven generally in one main colour with a similar or contrasting pallu (part that is draped over the shoulder).  These are easy to wear for most of the year.

The second saree I selected was quite different - a rich green-gold shot silk with a yellow-orange border and a pallu that was vividly woven with peacocks in orange, blue, green and purple.

Yes!  A typical Paithani saree from Maharashtra.  Colours are bright and thrown together in unimaginable combinations but they look splendid when worn on special occasions.  And with the festival season round the corner, there's no dearth of special occasions!

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