Winter Palace in the Summer Heat.

Despite having spent twelve years of my life here in Chennai, I don’t really know that much about the food scene here, like I do about Bangalore. That’s because I never really went out and explored -but now that I’m here during my holidays, with tons of free time, I got the chance to go to some places.

This afternoon, I went to a small, not very well-known cafe/restaurant called ‘Winter Palace’ with my best friend (whose mother recommended it to us). I found it rather funny that any restaurant dared to call themselves “Winter Palace” in such a blisteringly hot place like Chennai, that too when they had only outdoor seating!  But I found that on the whole, I quite liked the place a lot.

The cold and refreshing Sangria mocktail.

The cold and refreshing Sangria mocktail.

The Winter Palace is inside the Russian Cultural Centre, and therefore, obviously, it serves Russian food. This I found very exciting, because it is the first place I’ve ever heard of that serves Russian cuisine, which I have never tasted before. I’m not too sure how authentic it was (because here in India, everybody Indianises almost everything) but it seemed pretty authentic, and very yummy too!

Russian dumplings with mashed potato and mushroom filling, and sour cream.

Russian dumplings with mashed potato and mushroom filling, and sour cream.

The whole place was done up in a pleasant sky blue and white, with pretty white lace curtains. Although today was a hot day, sitting here was quite nice, because it was well shaded and there was lots of breeze (also, the staff made sure the fans were all adjusted right). The menu had a lot of unpronounceable dishes (for someone like me, who doesn’t know Russian), but with descriptions of the dish given below. Along with vegetarian options, they also served fish, chicken, lamb and beef.

Tomato soup and the dish of Russian dumplings.

Tomato soup and the dish of Russian dumplings.

We ordered a “Krasnodar” soup, which is a thick, refreshing, cold tomato soup (they have choices of hot and cold soups). It had an extremely strong raw tomato flavour, and since I’m not a fan of that, I let my friend finish it. But for those who like their food healthy, this would be a good option, although they came with two little bun-like breads which I loved. For main course, my friend ordered a “Varennikhy” which was a dish of Russian dumplings with a mashed potato filling, topped with sour cream. It was quite tasty, although just a little bit bland – but still yum. I ordered a Chicken “Plov”, which is flavoured rice with chunks of chicken accompanied by a tomato puree. I loved it – the rice had a different and very nice flavor that was new to me, and it had big chunks of chicken. I enjoyed my meal! To go with it, I ordered a Sangria from their range of Mocktails – and it was so refreshing and yummy. It had a mix of green tea with orange, and was perfect for an afternoon lunch outside.

They also offered special Russian “souses” or sauces, to go with our dishes. My friend chose the “Gorchica” which was an extremely strong version of mustard sauce – it was super acidic. I chose the “Chesnochny” sauce which is a mayonnaise based garlic sauce, it was quite nice, but had a bit of an egg-y taste.

Chicken "Plov"

Chicken “Plov”

For dessert , we tried another authentic Russian dish, the “Blini”. We were recommended to try the pumpkin cheesecake, but my friend is a staunch vegetarian (not even egg) and they had no egg-less version of it, so we (I) had to let that go. Blini is basically a Russian style pancake (which could be made egg-less too), and they served it for us with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Absolutely delicious, and very filling.

For all of this food, the bill was within a thousand rupees – so it’s a very reasonable place! The ambiance was lovely, the quantity was good, the flavours were new and exciting and the presentation of the dishes was spot on. All in all, quaint and comfy little place to go to, especially if you’re in the mood for something new, as the Russian food doesn’t disappoint!

Creme Brulee for beginners!

Disclaimer : I know that that doesn’t look like a real Creme Brulee, but we don’t have a blow torch. *sheepishgrin*

Having watched Masterchef Australia, I had the perception that the Creme Brulee was an extremely tough dish to get done. But it looked utterly delicious and since my sister had two beautiful ramekins that she hadn’t used yet, we thought we’d take the plunge and make it. And it’s actually super easy to make! (If you already knew this, ignore me. I don’t know much about cooking or food- except how to eat it.)

We went online, and checked out recipes for the perfect Creme Brulee, and we roughly followed this recipe – Creme Brulee Recipe by Laura Vitale.

What we made came out tasting absolutely creamy and dreamy and oh so yummy, so you all should definitely try making this!

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Here’s what we used:

Ingredients!

Ingredients!

2 egg yolks
1 cup of cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Fiori di Scilia (or you could use orange liquor or orange zest)
1/4th cup of sugar
pinch of salt
(this makes for two ramekins)

How it’s made:
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celscius (or 300 degrees Farenheit).

The egg yolk and sugar mixture

The egg yolk and sugar mixture

First we put the cream on the stove, on low heat. Keep an eye on it and take it off just before it begins to boil! Then we whisked together the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract. We also added some Fiori di Scilia (my aunt gave my sister this, to help with her baking – and we finally found a good occasion to use it!), which is “a combination of vanilla, citrus and alcohol” – it’s got an absolutely heavenly Christmas-y orange-y scent that just filled the house. Otherwise, you could also use orange zest, or orange liquor. Then we added a pinch of salt.

Once the cream is whisked in slowly, this is how it looks.

Once the cream is whisked in slowly, this is how it looks.

Once this was all whisked together, we brought the cream. We took it off the stove before it began to boil, but it was still quite hot. So I poured it into the mixture, little by little, while my sister whisked it in. You’ll have to pour it in very slowly, to make sure that the hot cream doesn’t scramble the eggs. Once all of the cream has been whisked in – you’re done!

All you need to do now is pour the mixture into the ramekins. Then we put the ramekins in a tray, and filled the tray with hot water till the ramekins were halfway immersed. We put the ramekins in the convection oven for forty minutes. Once we took it out, we let it cool for about twenty minutes (till the ramekin wasn’t hot anymore) before putting it in the refrigerator.

PicMonkey Collage

Since we made these late in the evening, we let them sit in the refrigerator overnight, and took them out this morning. Since we didn’t have a blowtorch, we caramelized the sugar by heating it on the stove and then pouring it over the Creme Brulee. But the problem with this is, the sugar layer is too thick – it’s impossible to get a thin layer. This makes it difficult to crack with a spoon, and also it’s quite hard to bite. But we had no other way, so we went with this!

After taking it out of the oven, we left it to cool for about 20 minutes

After taking it out of the oven, we left it to cool for about 20 minutes

Caramelized sugar drizzle

Caramelized sugar drizzle

The right way to do it is to put a layer of sugar on top, and use a blow torch to caramelize it. This gives you a thin, beautiful crunchy layer of caramel that cracks perfectly with a few taps from the spoon, to go with the soft, creamy custard below.

Nevertheless, our Creme Brulees turned out WONDERFUL, and everybody enjoyed them! So go ahead, and try the recipe. 😀

Independence is the Goal.

“I set my goal. And that goal was Independence.”

During one of her interviews that I watched years ago, Beyonce said this. And although I don’t remember which interview it was, and who was interviewing her, and what she was wearing and all of that, I will never forget those words. Not because they inspired me at that time- but quite frankly, they scared me. I thought to myself, did I have the courage to set a goal as… um, scary as independence? I didn’t.

Independence meant to be able to stand on your own two feet. It means being able to buy your own clothes, pay your own bills, cook your own food, do your own laundry, clean your own house. It also means being able to care for those who depend on you, to look out for your loved ones both financially and emotionally and physically. It means earning your right to have a say and have an opinion. It means work, work, work. Work – so that no one, no where can tell you what to do. No one, no where is the boss of you. You are the boss of you. And that’s the prize, that’s the amazing silver lining to being independent.

That’s what independence means.

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For most women in India, ‘independence” is not really an expected goal. Family and society expect their daughters to think more along the lines of – ‘You can study, and you can work, but if you don’t want to, it’s alright, we can find a nice boy for you, rich, well-settled, and we can get you married off.’ I personally have always wanted to study, I always saw myself working. But it didn’t hit me until I watched that interview – that somewhere, back in my mind, this kind of thought hung around like a safety net. Oh my God, was I ashamed of myself. Not to mention supremely embarrassed – for someone who went around touting women’s equality and all of that. These were the questions I asked myself:

If I was all alone – if I was just me, what was my worth? What could I do to survive?

Would I even be able to do that – to survive?

From that day it was a journey. I opened myself to the possibility of being all alone – and being completely self-sufficient. Setting your goal as independence needs a lot of strength and courage, it really does, because it literally means that you can’t depend on anyone else. It’s just you.

I have nothing against women or men who decide to marry and stay at home while their partner earns. That’s their choice, and I respect that. But it’s not like that for me.

I know now, for a fact that I want to be independent.

And I’m still learning how hard that is to achieve, especially when you are nineteen years old like I am, and still have to depend on your parents to put you through college and pay for you and everything. But I tell myself now that I will get to it one day, and I hope I do.

And now here’s a Beyonce gif to thank you for reading through my philosophical rant. I’m done.

Why I hate cats.

I used to have a cat called Timmy, years and years ago. Obviously, Timmy is not around anymore. But I am convinced that Timmy was actually a dog, or at least a dog’s soul trapped in a cat’s body. Because every other cat I’ve met is unlike him, and also super annoying. They run away whenever I want to pet them, they hiss and  spit when I try to cuddle, they’re pretty selfish because they give me attention only when I have food with me, and basically – I have been spurned by one too many cats, and yes, I am bitter about this so I hate them all, because that’s how mature I am.

Also, because of this video (and millions of other like it): Scaredy dogs afraid of walking past cats

Look at these dogs – some of them are three times the size of those cats, and still they’re so terrified of them! That’s obviously because of how the cats treat them. It’s all supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it funny at all. The cats were being just plain mean.

Right now, I’m in Kerala for my vacation – at my father’s parents’ home. They have a big garden, with lots of plants and trees. I was sitting in the porch in the afternoon, reading a book. And I see this cat. It’s a white and sandy brown coloured cat (mostly white) and he’s sunbathing in the garden. He’s been running around here past few days, and he’s seen me a couple of times before. So I figured, you know, I should extend my friendship and we could become good pals even though he was a cat. (I am needy and I look for love from every animal I meet.)

the cat in my grandparents' garden.  p.s.: sorry for the terrible picture quality

the cat in my grandparents’ garden.
p.s.: sorry for the terrible picture quality

But noooooo.

No matter how many friendly noises I emitted, or how many times I fake meow-ed to attract his attention – the cat just did not care. knew that the cat knew that I was trying to catch his attention. I just knew it. But there he sat, sunbathing, licking his paw ever-so-casually, paying no heed to my antics. I was trying to ignore the enormous beating my ego was getting, and I refused to accept defeat. Finally, after many long minutes of gesturing and acrobatics, I managed to get the cat’s attention. He looked at me with his green eyes, without blinking.

Great, I thought. I had now established eye contact. My next step was to approach him slowly, to let him know that my intentions were all good because they involved ear scratching and belly rubs for him. So I put my book down slowly, and got up. He put down his paw and I saw his body tense up. Please don’t run please don’t  run I’m thinking. The moment I put my foot outside the porch – that stupid cat scoots. I straighten up, and sigh exasperatedly.

“It’s your loss, cat!” I call out. “You lost out on all those belly rubs you could’ve got!”

I went back to my book, sulking. After a few minutes, I look up, and see the cat is back in his spot. But this time I don’t try to befriend him. Because I’m so done -I’m beyond done.

(and I comforted myself by thinking  that I at least avoided getting my eyes scratched out)

Maybe cats are nice – and I’m sorry if I’ve hurt the sentiments of the cat-lovers who are reading this post. But this is how I feel about them. Now you can go ahead and judge me for being part of that 0.000001% of the internet population who hates cats.

The Magic of The Movies.

I LOVE the movies.

I love the whole experience. You know, there are different kinds of people. There are people who think a movie theater is the perfect place to have a long, drawn out conversation, or to make out, or to check texts, and just generally not watch the movie. There is another tribe of people who don’t even go to the movies, because they prefer to watch it at home, illegally online, or on DVD – or worse, wait till it premieres on television. And let’s not even talk about the last kind of people – the ones who don’t even like watching movies. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

Me? I’m in for the whole haul. My best friend and I enter the theater with a whole game plan in mind. This is how it goes:

Are we hungry? Have we just eaten?
If we have not eaten, and we are hungry – then we buy the food right before the movie, not during the interval. A big tub of popcorn, with exactly the right amount of butter (read:LOTS, because we like to keep it healthy), additionally, a sandwich for her and a brownie for me if we’re really hungry, and two mandatory cold coffees. My friend then carefully chooses the toppings we want for our butter popcorn – usually we put barbecue or cheese – and then mixes it in artfully so as to coat every little piece of popcorn with this flavour.
Then we somehow manage to hold all of this loot between the two of us and trudge into the movie hall.
But- if we have eaten before, and we’re not hungry yet, we skip this step and head right in.

Next come our basic rules to be followed while watching a movie.
Keep our phones on SILENT. Not vibrate, SILENT. I don’t want anything pulling me out of the movie I paid good money to watch.
The next basic rule – more like common sense – is not to keep asking stupid questions about the movie.

Then comes the interval. If we haven’t got our food yet, my friend and I are out of our seats the minute the screen reads ‘Intermission’. We waste no time. We’re like ninjas. Because nobody wants to wait at the end of a really long queue and then miss a bit of the second half of the movie. No. And so we make sure at least one of us is at the counter ASAP. And then we proceed to place our order, collect our food, flavour the popcorn, etc.

  

Now if you’re watching a movie in Chennai – you might experience different sorts of crowds depending on the movie you’re watching. If it’s a Rajnikanth movie, or a movie of some such big star, expect lots of screaming, cat calling, clapping, hooting, whistling, and jumping from a very large section of the audience. If you aren’t the fussy kind, this will grow on you, and like me, you’ll tend to enjoy this as part and parcel of watching a regional, masala blockbuster movie. (Or even something like Avengers).

  

I’m very particular about the theaters I go to. Most theaters in Bangalore, at least the ones I’ve been to, weren’t quite satisfactory (except for PVR maybe) – especially considering the exorbitant prices they charge. Chennai however has some great movie theaters – even the old ones are good.

The whole experience – the lights, the amazing surround sound that I can feel right in my heart, the atmosphere that’s pregnant with expectation and suspense, the thrill of a huge 70 MM screen flickering to life- I just love it all. I soak it all in. And my favourite, favourite part is right at the beginning, when the production houses play their clips. Like the Universal Studios globe. Or Twentieth Century Fox’s simple yet unforgettable tune. Or the magical Disney castle. Or even the boy on the crescent moon for DreamWorks. And closer to home, call me cheesy, but the background music for the Yash Raj Films introduction clip gives me goosebumps.

There’s something really amazing about the movies – it brings people together. It makes us forget about our troubles just for awhile, and allows us to dream, and watch other people dream. It tells us a story, and it shows us the world and beyond. It inspires. And according to me, anything that has the power to inspire another human being, is a truly great and powerful thing indeed.

Saturday Afternoon Baking Shenanigans.

My thirteen year old sister is a baker (as I have mentioned in my very first post : https://theprotego.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/balancing-dessert-cravings-and-a-flat-tummy-desires/), she makes the most amazing cakes and tarts and cupcakes – I’m sometimes glad I don’t live in the same house as her, or else I’d be looking like  a sumo wrestler by now! But whenever I’m home for the summer, she makes all of my favourite treats for me. 😀

Today I begged her to make her famous Lemon Bars (which also I have mentioned in my first post), and she agreed. She’s been making this since she found the recipe on allrecipes.com, and kind of changed up the measurements and tweaked it her own way.They taste simply AMAZING, and so I thought I’d share the recipe here today.

Here’s what we used:

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  • 1/2 cup of butter (softened to room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar for the base and 1 cup of sugar for the filling
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 lemons (you’ve got to squeeze all the juice out)
  • 1 cup of flour for the base and 1/4 cup for the filling

And this is how we made it:

bread crumbly

bread crumbly base

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making the mixture for the filling

First, we preheated the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (that’s 350 degree Fahrenheit). We greased a baking tin with olive oil and kept it aside. While that was happening, we blended the butter, flour and sugar (for the base) until they reach a bread-crumb like consistency. This doesn’t really take a long time. Then we pressed this crumbly mixture onto the bottom of the baking tin and eased it up a bit around the sides (so that it fully coverd the base). Then we put it into the oven (after it was done pre-heating) for fifteen minutes.

Then we started work on the filling – which is super easy to make. First we whisked together the sugar and the flour. Once that was combined, we added the eggs, whisked that up, then added the lemons’ juice, and whisked again. My sister also added a pinch of lovely fragrant cinnamon and 1/4th of a tea spoon of some beautiful vanilla extract. Then we whisked it all up (it’ll be a liquid-y kind of consistency).

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pouring the filling into the base

We took out the base once it was done baking in the oven – it should look golden brown. Then we pored our the filling over it, making sure it covered the entire base, and popped it back in the oven. It should sit there for about twenty minutes (at 180 degrees celsius, like before). After the time’s up, we took it out and DUG IN. 😀

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You can cut them into squares or bars after it has cooled a bit – and don’t worry if they have a slight wobble to them, they’ll get firm as they cool further.

The base is like a yummy crumbly butter biscuit, and the filling is equally delicious and the lemon flavour is just SO good! If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you have got to try this one! 😀