Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Something's Got to Give

For those of you who are pondering over the question of whether to return to student life for a year or two and take refuge from the "real world", I highly recommend that you do.

It has been just over a month since my classmates and I started our master's program. We've had an exhausting month of assignments, problem sets and more assignments and problem sets. Not to forget an unending list of readings. There's less time to party than most of us would like. Many of us have been running on a sleep deficit, and the schedule for the rest of the term leaves little room for hope that things will improve. Despite this sorry state of affairs, I'd say that the vibe in our classroom is overwhelmingly positive. I think it has something to do with the fact that nearly all of us are returning to the classroom after a few years out in the big, bad world.

Being a student in your late 20s or early 30s (and for the more adventurous, even later than that) is refreshingly different from being in an undergraduate program. Having worked and traveled and seen much more of the world than I had when I first went to college, I now know that education is at least as much about the friends you make, the professors you meet, the conversations that you have, and the ideas that you exchange as it is about classroom learning. I also know that whilst grades are important, they're not more important than genuine learning, which will, in the long run, carry you further than grades will.

I also find that if you look hard enough, you might even find philosophical lessons hidden deep in your class lectures. This might sound laughable; it certainly would have to 17-year-old-me. But here's an example (there are more, but there's only so much macroeconomics I want to write about on this blog). Today, in our macroeconomics class, we talked about the impossible trinity. At any given point in time, you can have no more than two of the following things: a fixed exchange rate, free capital movement and an independent monetary policy. You can't have all three. In the words of the professor, "something's got to give." I think that's a good lesson not just in macroeconomic theory, but also in life. Although most of us would like to "have it all", most often something's got to give. One public debate that comes to mind is whether women can have it all - career and family. I found Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent, and somewhat  controversial piece in The Atlantic interesting reading. Which side of the fence are you on?  

As for me, although blogging was one of the things that has had to give over the last few weeks, I have still been cooking. No matter how busy, we still need to eat! I put this pork curry together one evening as my room mate and I indulged in some groaning about all the problem sets that we had to complete over the weekend.

Pork curry
(My own recipe)

600 grams lean pork, cut into bite size pieces
3/4 can of coconut milk
a fistful of corainder leaves, finely chopped

1/2 onion finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste

2 tbsp saunf/fennel seeds

Dry ingredients
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp pepper powder
1 tbsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
3 tbsp coriander powder
2 level tbsp garam masala powder
Salt to taste

Add all the dry ingredients to the pork and set aside. Heat oil, and add the fennel seeds. Once they change colour, (careful not to burn them!), add the chopped onions and ginger garlic paste. Once the onions turn pink, add the pork, mixed in with the dry ingredients. Stir to make sure everything is evenly mixed. Cover and cook for around 10 minutes on a medium flame. Next, reduce the heat just a little and pressure cook for one whistle (i.e. until the pressure cooker lets out a loud whistle! You can't miss it). Turn off the heat and let the pressure release, which should be no longer than 10 minutes. Add coconut milk. You may find that the gravy is too thick for your liking, in which case, dilute with a little water, which is what I did. Next, adjust salt, and then you are then done. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve piping hot with rice (preferably with no problem sets on the side).  

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Baked Kale Chips

We live in an apartment block in a fairly quiet residential neighbourhood in Boston. Usually, you will find a car or two, each bearing a Massachusetts number plate, parked outside each home. Things are a little different these days. On the street outside our building, the Massachusetts number plates are now outnumbered by their cousins from elsewhere in the US, as first year students accompanied by their parents, settle into what will be their home for a few years to come. As I walked home this afternoon, I saw cars from Vermont, Virginia, and many other states jostling for parking space on the street. Fresh faced teenagers were milling around on either side of the street excitedly chatting with each other. The more considerate ones were helping their parents, as they huffed and puffed with the effort of  unloading their cars. 

I remember fondly a similarly warm summer day in Bangalore, many years ago, when my father helped me settle into college life in the city. We shopped for a mattress of course. And more mundane household items. Clothes hangers. Linen. A mirror. And a mosquito net. My father, being somewhat paranoid, inspired by some talk of how dangerous Bangalore's mosquitoes can be, insisted on one. Being a fairly compliant offspring, I persisted with it throughout my first year. It was only when we moved into a new room at the beginning of the new academic year that I finally did away with the whole thing. There is a happy ending to this story. I survived (obviously), having escaped Bangalore's deadlies.

This was the easier part of preparing to start life as a young college student in a new city. The tougher part was getting accustomed to navigating life oneself, away from home, and without significant parental involvement. There was the emotional element of course. I remember vividly one of my more restrained college mates wailing on a bench on campus grounds as she finally realised she had left behind at home everything and everyone familiar to her.

I remember being a little lost about what to do with all the money that had been assigned to me for "personal expenses". My brother and I were part of a (now diminishing) band of unfortunate children in India who did not receive pocket money on a regular basis from their guardians. My father did not receive pocket money from his parents and was unconvinced about the reasons we offered on why he should subscribe to this strange trend. So until I landed up in Bangalore as a college student, I had never really handled significant sums of money. Suddenly, there was a fairly substantial sum (it certainly seemed substantial from my limited perspective as a 17 year old) sitting pretty in my bank account. Burdened by this responsibility, I lived the life of a hermit in my first month as a college student. And then, happily for me, and unhappily for my parents, I got a little more comfortable with the idea of handling money. Many of Bangalore's restaurants have me, and my equally hungry college friends, to thank for their golden era of prosperity between 2003 to 2008.

By and large, though, other than a few bumps on the road, I think my friends and I managed fine. As will all the freshmen who will soon be our neighbours. I wonder how many of them realise that the next few years will shape them in ways they cannot now imagine, introduce them to people who will challenge and inspire them, maybe in some cases frustrate them, take them to places that are yet unknown and perhaps most importantly, plant in them ideas and dreams that they will carry further into adult life. As you can tell, I look back at college life as a magical time. How about you?

After all that reminiscing, let me finally come to the subject of this post: kale chips. I have been intrigued by the idea of kale chips for some time now. Everyone in the blogging world who has tried baking kale chips seems to have given them five star reviews. I had to try even though I have never tried cooking with kale before. So I did. Just a few tips. Go easy on the salt and seasoning. A little goes a long way because the kale will shrink tremendously in the oven. Don't leave them too long in the oven because they burn easily. Finally, bake the leaves in a single layer on your baking tray if you want them nice and crisp. The photograph, sadly, does not do justice to the finished product. These chips really were crunchy. Here's the recipe:

Baked Kale Chips
(recipe from here)

  • 1 head kale, washed and thoroughly dried
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling
  • Chilli flakes, for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Remove the ribs from the kale and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Toss with the olive oil and salt. Lay on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until crisp (around 15-20 minutes - you need to keep watching), turning the leaves halfway through.