Harissa

Roses are red.
Fragrant, too.
Roses can touch your heart.
They convey deep feelings.
Sometimes even make you cry.
So is Harissa (həˈrēsə).

The words Harissa dances and flows in the mouth quite effortlessly.
It brings many cherished images to the mind.

But what is Harissa?
Harissa is a fiery hot condiment and seasoning from North Africa and the Middle East. It is a paste of dried red chilis, garlic, and olive oil, with other spices such as ground red pepper, caraway, cumin, caraway, coriander, fennel and mint. It is most closely associated with Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Makes Tabasco and Sriracha take a distant second and third places when it comes to a chili sauce contest.

[Recipe for Harissa cannot be more simpler than this…

About 50gm dried red chilies
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
Salt
Olive oil

Mix all together].

But the fiery red sauce is not for the faint-hearted.
Not even for the moderately-brave.
It takes a real courageously-daring one to even attempt to even think about making Harissa paste at home.

Therefore
I decided to make the recipe at home amidst all the usual naysayers.
“Can’t be done”.
“Not for Indian cuisine”.
“You need special ingredients… secret ones… how will you find them”.
“Why bother yourself when you can just add chili powder?”.
“We got SriRacha in the fridge”.
“Since when did you started experimenting with North African cuisine”.
So on.

First things first.
How many types of chilis are there in the market?
A few.
Wrong.
Many many.
Wanted to learn all about them before deciding which one to buy.
World of chili was so exciting that the first learning was that it might take longer than a weekend to learn.

So decided to choose
a dark, long one,
a reddish-brownish medium one and
a cute, round one.
(The intended ones were Pasilla, Guajillo & Cascabel. Must learn which is which).
Also used four different types of chili powders: Cayenne, Paprika, Red chili and Kashmiri chili.

Soaking the chilis in hot water was easy.
But the deseeding and destemming part took a toll as a not-so-easy burning sensation on the face.
Food-grade gloves and medical-grade face mask were used.
Not to mention industrial-grade eye-glasses.

While the chilis were soaking, garlic was de-skinned and crushed.
Coriander, cumin, fennel, caraway seeds were ground using pestle and mortar.
The four-chili paste was prepared.
Dried mint leaves kept aside.

From now on, it must be a breeze. So I thought.
Soaked chilies, drained well, went to the food processor.

Warning: The first buzz will fill the kitchen with the volatile component of the chili oleoresin that one must expect and take precautions.
From mildly uncomfortable runny nose and eyes to uncontrollable sneezing could occur.
So please be forewarned.
(Note: Harissa preparation will make onion slicing chore feel like a seventh heaven).

Having survived that grinding to paste stage, spices and mint were added and mixed.
Some balsamic vinegar was added to the paste. Lemon juice, if you so prefer.
Finally, the food processor was run at very slow speed while a stream of Olive oil was mixed in the emulsification process. The processor was stopped once the mixture achieved the desired consistency.

Due to the watery-eyed environment, many photo opportunities were missed.
But the few that were taken can be found here.

In short, the home-made sauce was a real unforgettable experience in the kitchen.
But if you ask em if I would repeat the experience, I would not reply without a bit of hesitancy.

While the runny-nose tells me no, the beyond-the-words taste of Harissa in fish and chicken urges me “you must”.

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Blue Crabs

Anticipation grows in the shores of Hidd fishing port, north-east of Bahrain.
But the air is kept light with smiles and laughs.
Amazing to see how the human spirits could soar so high on a long, hot summer day.
Weather-beaten faces perfectly blending with the day’s hard work.

And then someone sees the boat approaching from the seas.
Somehow they know it was a good catch indeed.
Blue Swimming Crabs are wild caught from seas around Bahrain by using traps.

A boat carries 6 to 8 crates of freshly netted Blue Crabs.
After a quick rinse, the crates are brought ashore.
Experienced eyes picks few bad ones and promptly removes them.
Dilip and his team effortlessly moves in sync as a well-rehearsed drill.

Rest are chilled with crushed iced, ready to be transported to the factory in refrigerated trucks.
The cluster portion of the crab with claw and legs untrimmed is the final product that carries a shelf-life of up to 2 years.

Extremely Useful Emptinesses

“We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.”
– Lao Tzu

The Potter, a man in his forties,
sat there on the wooden, tall stool
by a table
with a shapeless lump of clay.
Smiling.

He had a few kids and their parents as his audience.
Wide-eyed kids.
I’ve-seen-it-all-eyed parents.
Deep inside,
the parents wanted to mould the clay as much as their kids.

But
being elder to the kids, they appeared to show more restraint
and even scolded the kids for their impatience.
Potter smiled.

While his fingers and palm
moved around the wet clay,
and the people thought of how relaxed the man was,
his legs were tirelessly working.

Pushing the heavy flywheel
under the table
that held the platform
that rotated
the clay…

I wondered
how many kids must have seen the hard work
of the legs
that is needed for a clay pot?

Potter continued to smile.
Perhaps he could listen to everyone’s thoughts…

Casual Skewers

Grilling must be the most healthiest way to cook meat.

Most fun comes from the charcoal grill outdoors.
Once in a while, it can be emulated indoors.
Family love it. Friends love it.
Above all, the chef loves it.

It all begins with pre-soaking the bamboo skewers in water.
And the grill pan scrubbed and washed with no soap.
Then comes the marinade.
Finally, the preparation of meats.

Tandoor-prawns.
Tandoori Masala could be brought from the store.
But only a few would dare to make their own Tandoori mix from scratch.
And that’s what happened.

Chicken thighs were chosen over breast.
A sharpest boning knife made the job of separating the meat from the bone enjoyable.
In grilling, the marinade is most crucial for the taste.
In this case, both the prawns and the chicken were marinated for between 4-5 hours in the refrigerator.

Mildly flavoured meat (could be sea-food) threaded in soaked bamboo skewers.
Seasoned cast-iron grill pan heated to over 420 deg F on a stove-top.
Quote If it does not sizzle, then you are not grilling unquote.
Thrill of the sizzle awaits.

Time spent on seasoning the grill pan paid off well.
No sticking.
No panic.
Grilling was never been so easy.

There is a secret
to grilling: oil.
Sparingly use oil to smear the grilling pan surface,
occasionally.

Another secret…
is to let the meat char a little.
This must be done extra-carefully
as the chances of meat getting dry is high.

Prawns were the most tricky.
So much easier to turn them into rubber-washers (from the chef’s own experience)
than to get them just-succulent-right.
But for someone who got an innate ability to cook, all comes naturally.

Skewers were all arranged in the plate.
The sight was indeed impressive.
In our house, the food does not last till plating process.
Skewers were all emptied in a blink.

Grilling indoors is tiring.
But when you see the food vanish at the speed of lightning,
that magic itself is enough to make you go through the hardships again,
and again.

Cooking is rewarding.

Reason for Everything

Visited local stores for the best ingredients.
Shortage of mixed peel was unusual this year.
Not a single store carried them.
So
went and bought fresh Navel oranges; scoured and peeled and sliced the peels 1/4″.
Boiled them peels, rinsed and repeated thrice.

Candy thermometer. Sugar solution.
Latter tricky without the former.
Orange peels, again.
Got them candied, got them dried.
End result: better than store-brought ones.

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More photos follow…

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the kitchen.
A clean glass bowl.
Sultanas, Raisins, Black Currants, Glacé Cherries (washed, dried and halved) in St. Remy brandy.
Set aside after securing with cling film.
Mixed every other day and added more Remy if needed.

Mise en place seems to be the word, to begin with, from this point.
Everything in place before starting.
Preparing the baking tin to preheating the oven.
Glass bowl of dried fruits made succulent by the St. Remy for weeks.

Unsalted butter with lesser water content at room temperature.
One would do well if the stand mixer with balloon whisk attached is avoided for this preparation.
Hand mixer with whisker attachment is more suited.

All-purpose flour.
Mixed spice. Cinnamon.
Whole Nutmeg. Grater.
Pinch of ground, coarse, sea-salt.

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Zest of Oranges and Lemon.
Freshly squeezed juice of one orange.
Dark brown sugar. (Tried Muscovado?)
Treacle.
Five fresh, brown, medium-large eggs.

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Bowl #2 readied.
Measuring cups, spoons.
Wooden spoon. Wooden spatula.
Silicon spatula.
Parchment paper.
Walnuts Brazil nuts Almonds
Most chopped and some slivered.

1. Cream butter.
Kids will be around for a bit of taste.
Dark Brown Sugar and Black Treacle are also in great demand.
2. Whisk in eggs kept at room temparature, one at a time.
3. Spoon in flour, a spoon at a time.
4. Maintain 150˚C in the oven.

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Mixture looks curdled.
Keep paddling…
Gentle on the mixture, please.
Gluten, unwelcome.

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5. Scoop the cake mixture into the prepared bake-tin.
6. In goes the tin to the pre-heated oven for 3-4 hours.
7. At 2 1/2 hours, kids will start to visit the kitchen as the aroma arises and begins to fill the home.
8. First time the heated oven is open once the batter is in is after 2 1/2 hours.
9. Skewer comes out clean or not?

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Anticipation builds from the day the dry fruits are soaked in brandy.
(Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?)
That day would be almost a month before Christmas.
Day the cake is baked, hopes are high.
Who will eat what and how much and who gets to keep the decor-berry and ivy for the new year.
Thankful that the cake did not carry fancy, pastel pink roses and cloud-white, Royal icing.
(Editor: The kids’ Mama baked one with all the above accessories almost bringing the house down).

Mittens… where are the mittens?
(So much for the mise en place).
Cake out of oven on to a cooling rack.
Not so lovely as once thought.
Wait, kids, tomorrow we decorate the cake.
Excitement builds up again.

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Dusted confectioner’s sugar hoping to get a it-just-snowed effect.
Berry-ivy-leaf decor, one. Picked that from the local M & S.
Is that all? Kids asketh in chorus.
Yes, that’s all. Pâtissier replieth, solo.

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Tiny plates.
Knife, the sharpest.
Shouldn’t it cut through the nuts and dry fruits?
Serving time…

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Note: The orange peels, lemon zest and treacle make the cake a bit bitter. And the dark brown sugar and the mildly sweet sultanas and raisins brings in some sweetness. Nutmeg and cinnamon tries their best to add in the spiciness. A bitter-sweet-spicy cake? Yes, I would say. But you know it’s much more complex-er than that.

Now comes the best part…
Sharing the cake with others.
The cake is carefully sliced, wrapped carefully in parchment paper, tied carefully with strings and now ready to be shared.

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Spiritual part
The spirit of Christmas in the air filled with hope, felt by everyone around is perhaps the greatest gift of the season. Sharing the bounty of blessings showered on each one of us by the Almighty is the next best. Bondage between simple human mortals based on unconditional love comes a close third.

Change the order – hope share bond love
if you may,
but that is what
Christmas is all about.

Rest everything is just a reason.

Let us carry the remnants of Christmas spirit all through the New Year.

Wishing you a Bright & Happy New Year!

Someday

Cars always had thrilled people; young and old alike.
Muscle cars, more so.
From a gurgling Camaro to a roaring Mustang,
cars symbolises many things to many people.
Motor Shows displaying powerful and vintage cars often draw a good crowd.
Few could afford not to dream of owning one someday.

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Entertainer

The Cello player at the street corner
turned many a heads
and sharpened
many a ears…

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As the bow rode
over the taut strings of the Cello
Many ‘brows became bow-like,
sheer annoyance.

A few paused,
confirmed all is fine
before continuing on their way
to their own felicity.

Few others
stalled their stroll
consigned to oblivion for a moment
got lured to the four strings.

To that single bow,
the moving hands,
the quivering fingers,
on a gold-lit night.

That made music
so heavenly and deep
mildly squeaking but mostly stringy
with random pitch et al.

Rising now, falling then
Nuances of the notes…
An enflé here, a coulé du doigt there
Plainte, a-plenty.

All in a train
moving along merrily
reflecting on the face
of the Entertainer.

White Sail

On that summer day, the temperature at the little town of Vernon touched 28 degrees centigrade. While for Europe this might have been a warm, hot day, to the normal standards of the gulf region, it was indeed cool. At the time of departure, Bahrain was basking in a mild 38 degree centigrade with a promise of touching 40s.

Looking to the right while walking away from Vernon over the Clemenceau bridge on Sienne, the tiny yacht with a solo sailor donning pure white sails caught itself on the camera. The circular polarising filter cut most of the light reflecting from a silver Sienne.

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Al Fursan

What word could better define the energetic and enthusiastic aerobatic display team of the United Arab Emirates Air Force than “Al Fursan”? (The Knights).

The team flies seven Aermacchi MB-339A jet trainer aircraft including one solo. The “Al Fursan” planes are painted in black, gold, white, red and green colors and are equipped with smoke generators producing red, green, white and black smoke (i.e. National flag colors of the UAE); black and gold representing the desert’s golden sands and the black oil that lies beneath it.

The team was formed at the beginning of 2010 and the team’s first public appearance was on January 20, 2010 with a simple fly-by at the graduation ceremony for pilots and air-traffic control students at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College.

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Seller of Beads

The fair came to the village.
Again.
After a long year of anticipation.
There was excitement in the air
as the day of his return neared.
For he would bring the magic of beads
In all beautiful colours
And shapes.
He would show off each of his treasure
by wearing some;
by holding out some others;
by leaving more on the walls.
The girls laughed to see the display,
A man wearing beads? they would ask.
The fathers were content to see the laughter of their daughters
that enriched those jingles of the wears.
So was the heart of the wise, gentle soul..
the Seller of Beads.

beads

F1 Marshals

In motorsports, such as auto racing, motorcycle racing, and rallying, the track marshals wave the racing flags and assist crashed or broken-down vehicles and their drivers, while pit marshals watch over the procedures in the pits, and fire marshals assist in the event of a fire on the track or in the pit. Seen below are three of the Marshals from the Bahrain Grand Prix…

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