Friday, March 25, 2016

Book review: Wuthering Heights

It's been close to two years since my last book review. TWO (ALMOST) FULL YEARS! The last review was when I was pregnant, basking in blissful tranquility until two pint-sized dynamites entered my world with a bang (no pun intended!). Actually I'm just being a little melodramatic here. I didn't think I would be reading (let alone reviewing) any kind of print material for another ten years or so! I'm so glad my bleak prophecy proved false  

Wuthering Heights by Emile Brontë is another English classic that escaped my attention for a long time. There it sat on my bookshelf, gathering dust, acquiring that nostalgic aroma of an old book and imploring any passerby to allow fresh air to breathe into its yellowing pages. Last week, I finally awakened from my literary stupor and chose this particular novel to revive my book-loving heart. 

Before I delve into the review, let's look at some interesting facts about the author - Emily Brontë led, in many ways, a constrained life and is reported to have been solitary and reclusive by nature. Rarely leaving Haworth, the small Yorkshire village of which her father was curate, she was one of six children (five girls and a boy), all of whom had an influential role in her life. The two oldest girls Maria and Elizabeth died of illness during childhood. Emily was the third eldest of the four surviving Brontë siblings, between the youngest Anne and her brother Branwell. She wrote under the pen name Ellis Bell. Her surviving sisters also became writers – Charlotte, best known for Jane Eyre and Anne for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Branwell, the favoured brother, succumbed to drink and drugs, but aspects of his life and personality can be identified in all the novels. Wuthering Heights was Emile Brontë's only published novel. She died from tuberculosis at the age of 30.
The story unfolds in the beautiful county of Yorkshire, Northern England and chronicles the lives of the convoluted families of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange across two generations. The events are narrated chiefly by the loquacious and somewhat voyeuristic Ellen Dean, the housekeeper at the Grange (and a former one at the Heights) and in parts by Mr Lockwood, the current tenant at the Grange. 

When a street urchin of unknown parentage, is given a new lease of life by his benefactor Mr Earnshaw (on the latter's trip to Liverpool), he becomes an unwelcome inhabitant of Wuthering Heights. He is bestowed the name Heathcliff. Mr Earnshaw's biological children, Hindley and Catherine do not know what to make of the dark-skinned 'gypsy' at first. As time progresses, Hindley comes to regard Heathcliff as a usurper of his father's affections and despises him whereas Catherine, sharing Heathcliff's fiercely passionate nature, makes him her inseparable companion. Catherine and Heathcliff are aware that they are kindred spirits and often run off to the moors together willy-nilly, shutting the doors on the outside world.

After Mr Earnshaw's death, Hindley wastes no time in tormenting Heathcliff. Meanwhile, Catherine develops a close friendship with siblings Edgar and Isabella Linton who live in Thrushcross Grange a few miles away. When Catherine chooses Edgar Linton as a worthy mate, thereby shunning the affections of her childhood companion, it forces a heartbroken Heathcliff to leave, only to return three years later, mysteriously rich and with a vindictive agenda. He goes back to the Heights where he lives under the same roof with the odious manservant Joseph and his arch nemesis Hindley (who has now become a worthless drunk after his wife's death). Hindley's young son Hareton is left to fend for himself and with no one to tutor or groom him, is raised wild and uncivilized.

Heathcliff makes habitual visits to the Grange residence much to the delight of Catherine and chagrin of Edgar. But Catherine's elation doesn't last long. Heathcliff confronts her about her decision to be with Edgar and Catherine, caught in a maelstrom of emotions, eventually dies in the process of giving birth to Edgar's child (who is later named Cathy).

When Heathcliff gets wind of the fact that he has become the object of Isabella's affections, he exploits the impressionable young girl into marrying him. He makes Isabella's life a living hell compelling her to flee from the Heights. Thereafter she raises their son, Linton, single handedly until her death twelve years later. Heathcliff isn't satisfied by the mayhem he has caused and tears young Linton away from the assured protection of his uncle Edgar at the Grange to live a life of misery at the Heights. He then orchestrates a friendship to blossom between the cousins Linton and Cathy and subsequently forces a union between the two. Her father Edgar is unaware of the conspiracy and dies blissfully. After the marriage, Linton's failing health lead him to the grave and consequently widow Cathy. She becomes a prisoner at the Heights forced to live a life of degrading oppression. An unlikely friendship with her other cousin Hareton is the only ray of sunshine in her woeful existence.

At this point, the flames of revenge burning in Heathcliff's malevolent heart have abated and all he wants now is to be reunited with his one and only love Catherine, in death.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Baker's Corner: Blueberry Banana Bread

Most home bakers have a tried and tested recipe for banana bread either passed to them from family or friends or else a self-discovered favourite recipe from the sea of recipes out there. Everyone claims their version to be the numero uno and I'm no different! But I'm not making a sweeping statement here. I have made banana bread in the past consulting different recipes but those attempts aren't a patch on this one. This one turned out moist, flavourful, not-too-sweet and moreish. Exactly what I hoped for and perfect for breakfast with a cup of coffee. My quest for the perfect banana bread recipe has finally come to an end 

I must thank my 16-month old toddlers for this successful kitchen experiment. Previously, bananas hardly had a place in our fruit bowl. Me and my husband like them but we'd end up having to buy an insanely huge bunch and after the first few would get eaten, the rest would sit there turning blacker each day until I'd just get fed up and throw them away. And by then that characteristic overripe banana smell would stink up the house....ugh! Back then, I didn't have the time or feel the need to put overripe bananas to use. But fast forward to today, bananas are a staple in my household. My twins go bananas over bananas (one slightly more than the other). I swear my younger twin is a monkey in the guise of a human baby. She likes them so much, she can eat them at every meal and even up to the point of gagging (until I intervene and decide that she has had enough!). Before this addiction started, as mealtime approached, right on cue she would come running towards me saying - "mum mum" (her word for food). Nowadays she comes running to me saying - "nanana" (her word for banana!). A few weeks ago, she caught sight of her favourite food on a cartoon and went ballistic signalling to the telly & shrieking "nanana" "nanana" and then proceeded to tug on my sleeve to make sure I beheld the glorious sight.

Toddlers I tell you!

Even though bananas are high in-demand in my world right now, it always turns out that the last two remaining turn rogue by the time they are to be consumed. So I was on the look-out for the perfect banana bread recipe to make use of them and avoid wastage. A fuss-free recipe that could be made in a short time and which would yield a moist banana flavour-packed loaf was the expectation. I went through a bunch of recipes, picked out what I liked from a few remarkable ones, put them all together and made my own version. I decided to skip commonly added ingredients like chocolate chips and nuts since I wanted my kids to sample it. They love blueberries and I happened to have fresh blueberries at the time so in they went. I was initially unsure whether to add in spices or not but the allure of vanilla, cinnamon & nutmeg was too powerful to ignore.

Since this recipe worked its charm on me, I have plans to tweak it to make it a bit healthier for my girls. Whole wheat flour instead of plain flour and pure maple syrup instead of sugar should do the trick. And also since they love anything to do with pumpkin, I was considering making a pumpkin-banana bread variation too.

Anyway, coming back to this recipe, you don't need a stand mixer to whip the wet ingredients (doing it manually with a whisk or a hand-held electric whisk will get the job done) but I used it anyway. The preparation took hardly 10 mins. After that I just let the oven do its job and at the end of 55 mins I had a gorgeous looking loaf and a kitchen that smelled like heaven! Yay triumph!

Check out the recipe and remember to scroll down to the notes section where I have suggested all the possible substitutions and variations. Now go grab a couple of mixing bowls and get baking!


Friday, March 11, 2016

Restaurant review: GreenDot, Singapore

"Eat Green, Feel Good"

That's the catchy motto behind GreenDot, a chain of vegetarian restaurants in Singapore that offers affordable vegetarian fare. GreenDot was born out of the desire to change the world one green meal at a time. Believing that eating has a greater purpose, GreenDot aims to improve personal health, family well-being and to promote care for the environment.

The vegetarian dining scene in Singapore has a strong enough presence to dispel the myth that vegetarian food is lacklustre. I have been to most of the Indian vegetarian restaurants in Singapore but outside of Indian cuisine, I am not privy to the restaurants that embrace a plant-based diet with open arms. Original Sin and Whole Earth are two good ones that I've been to that offer Mediterranean and Thai-Peranakan cuisine respectively. There are many others that I have been meaning to check out for the longest time so if veggie food is your thing, watch this space!

I have several vegetarian pals in Singapore but I don't always get to share a meal tête-à-tête with them. I do however meet one of them more often not only because we used to work in the same University but also because she lives quite close to me and we have similar preferences in food. We have mutually decided to probe the vegetarian dining scene in Singapore so whenever we meet up, we try to frequent exclusively vegetarian establishments. 

This time, we decided to catch up at GreenDot located at Westgate. It was a Thursday evening and when we reached the location, we were a bit surprised by the serpentine queue leading up to the restaurant. On the bright side, time flies when you are in good company so as we were engrossed in deep meaningful conversation about life (NOT!), the line got shorter and shorter and we were shown to our table within 25 minutes. 

The restaurant is really small but the interiors are fresh, bright and inviting. The ambience is casual and it is perfect to grab a quick lunch or dinner. The process of ordering and payment is by self-service, although staff do bring your orders to the table.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Recipe of the month: Baby Corn and Capsicum Pulao

There is absolutely no history to this dish so I'm not going to launch into elaborate storytelling. I made it, we liked it and BAM! It's on the blog!

Actually, wait....there is a little more. I have been wanting to feature another rice recipe because there aren't too many of them on the blog. The South-Indian in me feels guilty about this fact (I feel I owe some kind of allegiance to rice) and so attempts are made in that direction every now and then.

Well, for the record, this isn't a South-Indian style of rice preparation (note to self: need to feature more of those). I had some baby corn languishing in the fridge for almost a week and thought I'd put them to use in a rice dish. I usually pair baby corn with capsicum/bell peppers in Indian-style curries so I thought why not do the same in a pulao. This is a one-pot meal that comes together easily in under an hour with commonly available ingredients. It is hearty, delicious and worth your time. It can be a colorful addition to your child's lunch box too. 

That's it from me today. Check out the recipe here,