Growing up, whenever my mother made her dandelion-hued chickpea curry with puris, there was a ceremony of thorough hand washing after. My parents kept a nail brush in the upstairs bathroom drawer and, while I may be remembering my grandfather’s, I remember it as the style with an open, flattened oval as its handle.  I could shape my fist around it for a firmer grip. Its short, stubby white bristles pricked the pads of my fingers sharply but made gratifying progress of scrubbing away the turmeric stains from beneath my nails.

Frothy Turmeric Tea | Tara O'Brady

Nowadays, the turmeric in my pantry has a note tucked in its jar. It's from my dad, who has particularly distinctive handwriting that's narrow and tall. He used to write against a ruler to keep his lines neat as he filled out the collection of forms required of a ship's captain at each port. Even still, his penmanship looks as though it's curved against a straight edge.

The note simply says "turmeric from your grandfather's house." In the nearish future, Grandpa's house will no longer be ours, so my stash feels particularly precious. I've been metering it in meticulous portions, trying to make it last as long as possible. 

Week before last, Tejal Rao wrote about her grandmother and the position of turmeric in her household. Then last week, somewhat of an offshoot from the conversation she started and in response to the recent treatment of turmeric as innovation, I had a piece in The Globe and Mail about traditions becoming trend, and the uncomfortable realties that can arise in the process.

On Instagram I mentioned the turmeric tea I've been making—its milk and water base is sweet but not candied. It is buzzy with ginger, warmed by cinnamon and a miserly dispensation of pepper, and rounded out with soothing cardamom. Turmeric dyes everything day-glo golden, and adds an earthy astringency. Black tea provides fragrance and structure. As some of you expressed an interest in it, here it is.

Since Sean prefers coffee in the morning and I want wring the most possible flavour out of the whole spices, I make a provocatively strong concentrate in a biggish batch, then reheat servings as needed. I froth some milk for its cap, but whisked or blended milk would work just as well. Or, just pour in plain hot milk, without the addition of bubbles.

I like the tea best with condensed milk, a fondness I'm sure I picked up from my grandmother, who at boarding school would sip on cans of the stuff in secret. It gives weight to the tea that I find especially soothing. I have mine at the hottest temperature I can stand, taking breaths around each sip. Somehow the practice seems vaguely ceremonial in a way that makes me feel as though I'm taking good care. 

 

FROTHY TURMERIC TEA

Adapted from a recipe from Tejal Rao in the New York Times, with my grandmother's influence.

Serves 4

FOR THE CONCENTRATE

  • 1 cup | 240 ml water
  • 1/4 cup | 60 ml sweetened condensed milk
  • A 2-inch piece of ginger, see note
  • 6 to 8 green cardamom pods, split
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric, or a 1 1/2-inch piece fresh, peeled and grated
  • 2 cups | 480 ml milk of choice
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ghee or coconut oil, optional
  • 0.5 oz | 15 g black tea or 4 black tea bags

FOR EACH DRINK

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup | 80 to 120 ml milk of choice, steamed and frothed
  • Ground pistachios for dusting

METHOD

In a heavy saucepan, stir together the water, condensed milk, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, an turmeric. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the milk into the syrup, and spoon in the ghee. Bring to a boil again, and then knock back the heat to a simmer for another 3 minutes. Pop in the tea, and let bubble for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. Strain the concentrate through a fine meshed sieve—I find it neatest to do so into a wide jug or large liquid measuring cup with a pouring spout—and press on the solids in the basket to extract as much liquid as possible. If using the concentrate later, decant it to a jar for storage. Refrigerate until needed.

For each drink, pour one quarter hot concentrate into each cup. Top with the steaming, frothed milk, and the ground pistachios. Serve immediately. 

NOTES:

  • I use almond milk for the concentrate, and then cow's milk for finishing as I'm terribly bad at establishing a foam on the former (though I've not yet those blends aimed at stretching). I realize that makes three milks in one recipe, so use what you like. If you want to omit the condensed milk, use 1/4 cup cane sugar in its place, adding the sugar with the water to start, or honey or maple syrup instead. 
  • If making the concentrate in advance, skip the ghee as it will separate from the brew when chilled. Stir it into the reheated concentrate right before serving.
  • Grating the ginger will produce a much more assertive cuppa. To tone it down, slice or chop the root instead.
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Before we get into things, I should explain that button way up there on the left. I'm honoured to say that this site has been nominated in two (!) categories in Saveur's 2011 Best Food Blog Awards, namely Best Food Photography and Best Original Baking and Desserts Recipe (for this Frozen Raspberry Eton Mess). If you'd like to vote, you can head to Saveur.com because the polls close soon -  if you live outside the US and Canada, pretend we're neighbours and pick either country. Your ballot will be counted without trouble.

In other news we just passed the six year anniversary of me writing here. Once again, I can't thank you enough for reading.

Edited, May 13 - the voting's now closed for the Saveur awards, so I've removed the button to save any confusion. I'm grateful for all the support.

*******

My Mum used to make a drink she called cappuccino, and I remember one of my cousins was particularly fond of it. I took it for granted that the funny preparation of coffee was a peculiarity of our kitchen alone because it was unlike any other cappuccino I'd ever seen. I didn't think much of it. In fact, I don't think I've thought anything of it, let alone made it, for at least a decade.

I pity all those wasted years.

Never fear, I'm making up for lost time. Mum's concoction has been my recent addiction and the undisputed star of this morning's late-morning breakfast.

A few weeks back, Prerna mentioned "Indian espresso coffee" elsewhere and it piqued my interest. When I was a child and we were in India, and when home here, my parents made their coffee in stovetop percolator or Moka pot. They later moved to a French press and there may be a small electric maker tucked away somewhere, but I can't be sure of that. We were, as you might imagine, more of a tea-drinking household; the times that a pot of coffee made an appearance were few and far between. 

That said, those rare occasions weren't the only times there was coffee in our kitchen.

My earliest recollection of Mum's "cappuccino" places me at about 10 years old, furiously mixing a blend of sugar and instant coffee powder in the bottom of a cup. In went hot water and milk, and the combination would magically blend then divide, with a layer of thick foam above a rich, milky coffee below. 

In the memory I'm too young to drink the final preparation, but I remember being fascinated by the process. The phenomenon is not unlike the settling of a pint of Guinness, actually - subtract the alcohol and add a (major) hit of caffeine, and you've got a picture of what it looks like.

What Prerna was referring to was exactly that same drink; in a moment, Mum's brew that had been ours alone was all of a sudden shared in millions of Indian memories, and what I took for granted was in fact an (inter)national treasure. 

I feel a tad flushed-in-the-cheeks to be extolling a beverage made with such an enthusiastic amount of sugar and instant coffee, a substance usually banished to the shadows of the baking cupboard. I'll get over it, no worry there, as while this may not be an everyday kind of drink I'll encourage its once-in-awhile presence at the table. If you're a fan of Vietnamese coffee, then you're already halfway convinced. This coffee has the same uncompromising intensity, the same weighty, toasted, caramel flavours that makes Vietnamese so provocatively good. 

on the bench

To dispel my childhood ignorance, I asked my father about Indian espresso one night after dinner. With a small smile and taking up the spoon I was using to whip up a batch, he told me it was a drink he and his friends used to make to impress girls. Girls before he'd met my mother, even. Scandalous.

According to Dad, an offer to "beat the coffee" was up there with volunteering to do the dishes after a meal. I like that idea, and am tossing my name in for the job, even though my father hasn't lost his touch and still makes it far better than I ever will.

You might consider to do the same, as the effort expended is far outmatched by the accolades that follow. The "beating" is a method as straightforward as you could hope for - while some milk and water heat in a pot, take a cup and stir together instant coffee granules with some sugar, barely dampened with water.

Now's when everything gets interesting; you start to stir and stir with all your might and as quickly as you can muster. As air is incorporated into the mix, it goes first frothy, than fluffy - if ever you've made hollandaise or zabaglione, the coffee behaves much like the egg yolks there. It doubles in size, transforming into an ethereal mass of bubbles - rewardingly smooth, the coffee looks a pale caramel, the same colour as the crema that floats the top of a shot of properly-pulled espresso.

That's the bulk of the work done and dusted, and it only takes a minute or two. After that it's pour and stir to finish the business. 

Mum's away at present. Her return was already anticipated but is now even moreso since we'll be catching up over a cup of her not-so-secret recipe. I've got the date marked on the calendar, and I won't forget the coffee.

frothy indian coffee

FROTHY INDIAN COFFEE

My family's way, with thanks to Prerna for the reminder and Soma for such a lovely story (and super-helpful step-by-step photos for anyone who needs them). An espresso-style instant coffee is best here. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water, plus around 1/2 teaspoon more
  • 4 teaspoons sugar, or to taste, I like Turbinado
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

METHOD

In a small saucepan over medium heat bring the milk and water to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a cup or measuring jug, stir together the sugar with the instant coffee powder. Add a few drops of water and stir again. The mixture should look moist and sandy but not soaked.

With a spoon, start beating the mixture vigorously; use the back of the spoon to press the granules against the side of the vessel to help break them down. As you stir, the mixture should lighten from dark brown to clay in colour and begin to thicken. Add a few more drops of water only if needed. 

Once the mixture is past clay and truly pale, smooth and quite viscous (it should behave like softly-whipped cream and ribbon back upon itself when dripped from a spoon), pour in some of the hot milk and stir to dissolve, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the vessel so that no sediment is left behind. Divide the mixture between two small cups, and then divide the remaining hot milk between the two, giving each a quick stir if necessary.

Enjoy hot, or cold over ice. Serves 2. 

Notes:

  • A word of caution, beating the coffee mixture can etch the sides of ceramic cups. Keep this in mind, or do as I do and use a Pyrex measuring cup to measure the liquids, then use that again to beat the coffee. 
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snow day afternoon

Heretical as it is, I will make the bold statement that, at times, I find hot chocolates and cocoas to be unthrillingly blah.

Blah, of course, being a highly-technical term denoting boring, dull, unexciting, humdrum. In my head I hear that despondent wah-waaaaah slide of a trombone that's used in cartoons when the last balloon is popped right before the party, or the scoop of ice cream falls off the cone with a splat on the pavement, and the hero looks at the camera, crestfallen.

That's what hot chocolate can be like sometimes.

On one end of the spectrum they sip heavily, and dare I say it cloyingly, as if simply a chocolate bar melted down. Which is not really an insult per se, because that can be a glorious thing, but mine is only a once in a while desire to experience that full hit.

On the far end from that, there's hot cocoa. I associate it with single-serve packets (with nubs of dehydrated marshmallows included), stirred unceremoniously with hot water, thin and wan - without much going for it beyond a colour suggestive of beige and brown and brick mixed together.

Before a step further, there should be an admission that I've a deep-rooted fidelity to that stuff. It is, to me, the flavour of winter class trips in elementary school - of the ice rink, and even more so, the provincial park we'd often visit. I am without notion of what we'd do there in the cold months, without recollection of much save for the big white room with grand, mullioned windows, where, after we'd do whatever it was we'd been doing, the gaggle of us would trundle in with snow pants and hats and sodden scarves, set our damp mitts to dry on the radiators, then each crisscross our chilled fingers around a styrofoam cup of hot cocoa. We slurped it up greedily and I wouldn't change a thing about the memory.

That said, that's not the hot chocolate we're drinking these days. For us, we turn to this recipe. It's become our usual brew; the hot chocolate of our thermos this winter, the one that steamed from mugs on the first Snow Day of Benjamin's school career (a red-letter day, by all accounts), the one upon which we float our marshmallows. It's safe to say that we're set on it as our own. 

Its complexity sneaks past you, I can't say imperceptibly because it is noticeable or I couldn't be talking about it, but it is in a manner that you might not register at first - it tastes of chocolate and more. There's the bitter of coffee that calls attention to the darkness in chocolate, the accent of cinnamon that sets them both off, all smoothed out by the subtlety of cocoa.

Though this may look a fussy production, rest assured that while the upmarket neighbour to a mix, it only requires the slightest bit more by way of effort. There is a sole idiosyncrasy to the method, one I came upon accidentally when I walked away from the stove for longer than I should have, and it's a ritual I've since adopted as rule. It is most likely in direct violation of cookery rules and I'll make no apology for that.

You're going to boil the chocolate.

Well, the chocolate and cream and all the rest of it. Just for a minute or two, the bubbles shouldn't be furious. And stir conscientiously as it's happening please. In boiling, you give the mixture the opportunity to concentrate and thicken, so that the final texture is in between that of hot cocoa and drinkable chocolate. It coats the throat thinly, silkily. I'll wager seductively, if we want to go that far.

No trombones about it.

OUR HOT CHOCOLATE

As you'll see from the list of ingredients there are opportunities to fidget this recipe to meet your tastes. I'm happy with the lesser amount of sugar and a bittersweet chocolate, but others might want a gentler, rounder drink. Go with what works for you.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons best-quality cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup 12% cream (single, pouring, half and half)
  • 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

METHOD

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, espresso powder and cinnamon. Pour in a little of the milk and whisk until smooth. Pour in the rest of the milk, then the cream, stirring until combined. Add the chopped chocolate and heat until the mixture comes just under a simmer. 

Stirring constantly as to not scorch, maintain the heat at a simmer and cook until the chocolate thickens slightly, around 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, stirring now and again as it will continue to thicken as it stands, and cool to your desired temperature.

Makes just over 2 cups, serving four daintily, if you can show such restraint. 

Notes:

  • If cinnamon is not your thing, scrape in the seeds from an inch of fresh vanilla bean, or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. A pinch of a nice sea salt can also do wonders. The same can be said for cayenne.
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humid

Unless I'm forgetting a pivotal rhubarb-related incident from the wilds of my childhood, I do not hold any nostalgia-based predilection for it. Not an ounce, not an iota.

I can't recall my first taste of rhubarb. I can't even tell you, in a tone with longing evident, of the time I had a certain dish that changed my life forever because of its rhubarbed glory.

I learned to cook rhubarb because those I love the most like it very much. A boringly straightforward reason, I know.

It is not for lack of want, because I do believe that everyone should have a rhubarb story. And if I'm being my most upfront self, I should admit it was partly this shortcoming of my storytelling that had me quiet the last few days. You see, I wanted to talk about rhubarb, and the rhubarb syrup that is essential to my new favourite drink, but couldn't decide upon where to begin.

But now I do. The other day I was someone's backyard to celebrate a family birthday. There were ladies in broad sun hats and floral-print dresses. Children, including my own, ran barefoot in determined pursuit of butterflies. There were stories scored by that that specific laughter synonymous with family; familiar, teasing and affectionate.

We walked among flowers in bloom and those just beginning. I walked with Benjamin across soft grass, knelt down to pull back a parasol of leaves to reveal slender stalks of green turned blush. "It's Strawberry Rhubarb," I was told by his Great Grandfather. "That plant has been in our family forever."

You can't beat that.

I hardly would believe this peaceful place smack in middle of a city, at the height of the heat of a hot, hot June day, could exist so perfectly sweetly had I not been there myself. An afternoon when ticks of the clock matched the imagined click of a shutter, each moment a worthy capture and keeping.

That, right there, was my rhubarb moment. It's the story that I'll stick with.

drinking summer

This syrup made its way on the scene earlier than all of that. I made it over a week prior, and have been sipping it steadily in drinks. So steadily, that I've become mildly addicted to it. Muddled with mint, then lightened with sparkling water, it is suggestive of cream soda with a heady, rounded vanilla sweetness, but herbal and sour at the same time.

We're almost out, I'm sorry to say. In happy news, I've just had word that some more rhubarb, from that very garden I mentioned, has been picked and is on its waiting for us. My heart, feet and greedy appetite skipped at that.

If you try this, I think yours might too. Happy summer, friends.

RHUBARB SYRUP

A tweaked version of a Nigella Lawson method. I like my finished syrup to have the approximate consistency of maple syrup. Depending on the rhubarb used and your own tastes, it might be necessary to further reduce the liquid in a saucepan on the stove (after the fruit has been sieved out).

INGREDIENTS

  • A generous 2 pounds (1 kilogram) rhubarb, cleaned and trimmed
  • 3/4 to 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean, split
  • Juice from half a lime, optional

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190 °C).

Cut the rhubarb into chunks, mine were about 2-inches in length. Skinny stalks can be a bit longer, fat ones can be more stout - you want everything to cook in reasonably similar time.

Pour the 3/4 cup of the sugar into a large roasting pan or ovenproof casserole. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean with the dull side of a knife and drop them into the sugar. Add the bean too. Using your hands, rub the vanilla seeds and pod into the sugar, breaking up clumps of seeds as you go. Once thoroughly mixed, add the rhubarb and toss to coat.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and roast for 35-45 minutes until the rhubarb is soft when pierced with the tip of a knife, but not falling to mush. Remove the foil and roast for another 5-10 minutes, to further reduce the collected liquid (keep in mind, the syrup will continue to thicken as it cools).

Using a fine-meshed sieve, strain the juices from the rhubarb. Stir the fruit to extract as much liquid as possible, but be careful not to push any solids through that might mar the clarity of the syrup. Remove the vanilla pod from the fruit in the sieve.

At this point the fruit can be reserved for another use.

While the syrup is warm but not hot, check for sweetness. Depending on your taste and the specific qualities of your rhubarb, you might want to add a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lime. Once to your liking, chill thoroughly.

The syrup can be used as you would a simple syrup in cocktails and lemonade, or simply over ice with sparkling water and mint. It's particularly nice over scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Keep both the fruit and syrup refrigerated until needed.

Makes around 2 cups, depending on the fruit and the thickness of the reduction.

Notes:

  • I like to fork the fruit into a chunky compote, then eat it with Greek yogurt, and an extra pour of syrup to finish.
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