Sunday, February 3, 2013

Wedding Anniversary Gift Idea: Custom Bobbleheads

 The first anniversary is the Bobblehead Anniversary, right?

I've always been a plan-ahead kind of girl. I keep lists on my Google drive of potential gifts for all of my closest friends, so that when a birthday or holiday comes up, I am never caught without the perfect present.

When we were planning our wedding, Nick forwarded me a website he found that did custom bobblehead cake-toppers. Now because it's nearly impossible to find an Indian-styled wedding cake topper (a bride in a white wedding dress was not exactly appropriate on top of our cake!), it was a tempting proposition to get a custom one of a bride in a red sari. However, I was already overwhelmed by all of the many little details that had to be taken into account, and I didn't want to spend an extra $300 on a cake-topper, especially one that might well disappear in the bustle of a crowded wedding reception and a quick cleaning crew. So I opted for some chocolate-covered strawberries to top off the cake, and I filed away the bobblehead idea for later.

About a month and a half before our first anniversary, I pulled up my file of potential presents for Nick and there it was: the custom bobblehead. Even though it wasn't the traditional "paper" gift, I knew it would be perfect.

I ordered it from www.custombobbleheads.com. There's a lot of options for bobbleheads online, but I went with this site because it let me customize the entire bobblehead -- head to toe. Other sites I saw only let you customize the face, but that didn't address my desire to have a bobblehead in full-on Indian wedding garb. (Yes, I paid $10 extra each for the hats!)


The proof-and-tweak process was a bit time-consuming, but for a creative type like me, it was also fun. To start, I had to upload photos of the two of us from many different angles, including front, back, side, and three-quarters face. Plus, I had to upload a photo of the pose and of the clothes. Then the sculptors do their first draft of the heads. The likeness between Nick and his bobblehead is impressive!


Each step of the way -- heads, bodies, and coloring -- the sculptors e-mailed me proofs. I'd mark them up -- as you can see, I decided my eyes needed to be bigger in this version -- then give them the OK to move on to the next step. The entire process took a little over a month from order to receipt (I'd give yourself two months to be safe) and cost just under $300.

It was so worth it. Nick's a huge Los Angeles Dodgers fan, so we have several Dodgers bobbleheads on our fireplace mantle. Now, Bobblehead Nick and Bobblehead Sree are hanging out with the likes of Bobblehead Matt Kemp and Bobblehead Manny Ramirez. And I have to say, this is the only time Nick and I will ever get more attention than the Dodgers -- guests always stop and exclaim when they see our likenesses on the fireplace.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Kale Chips (Curry Spice) Recipe

Four simple ingredients (3 of which you probably already have on hand) are the basis for this quick and healthful snack.

Ingredients:
kale bunch
curry powder, to taste (I used about 1 tsp. of McCormick brand)
cayenne pepper powder, to taste (I used about 0.5 tsp. of Penzeys Spices brand -- love this brand!)
~ 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

You'll Also Need:
kitchen scissors, a roasting pan with a rack

1. Preheat the oven to 275°F. Rinse and dry the kale. Use kitchen scissors (or your fingers) to separate the kale from the thick stem and cut it into chip-size pieces.

2. Drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with the curry powder and cayenne.

3. Toss to coat. Spread on the rack of a roasting pan in a single layer, so the heat goes all around (bake in multiple batches if necessary). Bake for 20 minutes. (If you don't have a roasting pan with a rack, then flip the chips after 10 minutes.)

Servings: Depends on how much kale you use. I ate this entire batch myself, soo....1?

The AHH Factor: Growing up, I was a sickly child. I don't know that there was a single day that I wasn't trying to distract myself from an aching, sore throat, an upset stomach, or some other commonplace yet incredibly inconvenient ailment. My pediatrician even once joked that his prescription for me was that I move to Arizona, so I would no longer be surrounded by any plants that might be causing a sinus-inflaming reaction.

As an adult, I didn't move quite to Arizona, but I did move to California, which was far enough away from whatever plants in Georgia may have been bothering me, plus I greatly lessened my consumption of cow's milk, which I suspect may have been a contributing factor to many of my stomach problems.

So all through my 20s, I was the picture of perfect health. Whenever I had the odd ailment, I generally strived to fix it on my own, sometimes with the encouragement of my doctor, who, thankfully, is not too quick with the prescription pad. When I noticed my bad cholesterol creeping up, I started eating oatmeal every morning, and my bad cholesterol has been stable (and not in the red-flag zone) ever since. Still frustrated that my good cholesterol wasn't as high as it should be, I started exercising (generally on the treadmill or the elliptical) every morning for 20 minutes, and just a few months ago, I finally got to the minimum recommended level. And when I had a bizarre inflammation problem that a series of several doctors weren't able to pinpoint, I added turmeric to my morning oatmeal, and, like magic, the problem went away. (My primary care physician was so blown away by this that she said she was going to start recommending turmeric to her other patients.)

But just about a month ago, I was blindsided by a disease that had been lurking in my genes all of these years and that there isn't any known cure for: glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a disease in which the eye's optic nerve deteriorates slowly over time, causing sufferers to lose peripheral vision and eventually, if left untreated, all vision, leading to irreparable blindness. It's usually in conjunction with high eye pressure (that thing they check for at the optometrist's office by giving your eye a pop of air), though in my case I have normal-tension glaucoma -- which is apparently a thing, as a quick Google search told me -- which means science has no idea why my optic nerve is deteriorating even with normal eye-pressure, but research suggests that the same eye-pressure-lowering-drops used to treat standard (high-pressure) glaucoma also protect the optic nerve of people with normal-tension glaucoma.

Glaucoma usually affects older people (I always feel like the oddball at the ophthalmologist's office; it's always me waiting with a bunch of patients in their 70s and 80s) , but unfortunately it can affect people of all ages. Actually, when I first found out, I jokingly said maybe I could at least claim for myself the dubious distinction of being the youngest person ever diagnosed with glaucoma, but a few of my friends set me straight, telling me tales of people in their 20s who were diagnosed.

The worst part for me is that, at least until there is better treatment or a cure, I have to put eye drops into my eyes. Every.Single.Night....For.The.Rest.Of.My.Life. I realize that in the grand scheme of medical problems perhaps something that can be managed with eye drops isn't that big of a deal. Except that it is a big deal to me. I've been on the drops for about a month now, and I always seem to preface them with the word "stupid." 

As in, "I have to store my (stupid) eye drops in the fridge. Please don't eat them." "Did you see the cooler my (stupid) eye drops came in? It looks like someone had a kidney delivered." "I think my (stupid) eye drops spilled in my purse. Oh wait, no, that's just my SmartWater. But the water spilled all over the packaging for my (stupid) eye drops."

But then I remembered reading many years ago about a study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology that suggested that women who ate at least one serving per month of green collards and kale decreased their chances of a glaucoma diagnosis by 69% versus women who ate less than one monthly serving. (The study, published in the June 2008 issue, also found that two servings a week of carrots lowered the risk by 64% and one weekly serving of canned or dried peaches lowered it by 47%.) And it said, while not a definitive cause-and-effect, that it's enough for doctors to encourage glaucoma patients to eat generous helpings of green collards and kale to help stave off the disease's effects.

That's all I really needed to hear. Eating kale, which is considered by many to be a "superfood" anyway, couldn't hurt, right? And it makes me feel that I am not totally helpless in the face of my poor draw in the genetic lottery. That I can do something naturally at home to help maintain my eyesight gives me some much-needed optimism.

Of course, I'm not so totally overboard with the idea of natural healing that I'm going to only eat kale and quit the eye drops. For now -- as I'm still hoping there will be a cure in my lifetime -- I'll continue taking my (stupid) drops, sitting in the waiting room with people three times my age, and donating to glaucoma research. But the only thing that is actually going to make me feel better is eating more kale.
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dosa Truck, Los Angeles, Restaurant Review

Indian food roams the LA streets via several different food trucks, and in the case of the Dosa Truck, the best dishes are the Indian-Mexican fusion ones.

7 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

I should be in charge of naming things. Sure, I write plenty of headlines that I think are pretty clever for articles at my magazine job, I once nicknamed a high school classmate "cowboy" (because he was from Kentucky and for some reason that is the only association I had with the state) and it actually spread and stuck for years (Sorry, Heath!), and I briefly tried to get Nick to call the 5-Freeway the "Panch" (the Bengali word for "five") because I thought it would be cute (he didn't). But I mean it would be great if people would hire me to solely to name random things: movies, inventions, books, etc. I would be so great at it.

And if I got to name the Dosa Truck, I would name it something having to do with amazing Indian fusion food truck cuisine. Because that is where it excels. The Mexican-Indian fusion dishes are amazing. But the dosas aren't very good (Sorry, Dosa Truck!), plus I don't think most folks here, even those familiar with Indian cuisine, actually know what a dosa is. (It's a savory South Indian lentil-rice crepe, generally stuffed with potatoes, in case you were wondering.) And the Dosa Truck doesn't include Sambar, the typical soup/dipping sauce served with dosas. Which is like serving a hot dog without ketchup.

THE SETTING

The Dosa Truck roams the streets of LA. The first time I caught it was at an Indian event (the annual Indian Film Festival, if I remember correctly). More recently, it happened to be outside a wine bar in Pasadena, where a dear friend (blogger Rhonda at Shine Beauty Beacon) was throwing a girls' night out party to celebrate her birthday.

THE FOOD

Rhonda was so thrilled because she can't eat gluten, and this was the first food truck the bar had partnered with in weeks that wasn't a gluten-fest (i.e., one of the grilled cheese trucks had been there earlier that month), and she had a lot of options. If you want vegan options, the truck has those too. (It doesn't use ghee so there's no dairy there, and it was very willing to take custom orders.)

So...I don't know if the food truck purposely has a "secret menu" (a la In-N-Out Burger) or if the employees simply forgot to post one or more of the menu boards this particular night, but I found that the best dishes were the ones that were not on the posted menu. But here's what I would order, in order (Did I mention Rhonda's friends were amazing and let me sample all of their food? This is why I love girls' night out. Wine and so much food):

One of the girls asked the employee taking food orders what her favorite dish was, and she responded that it's the Chicken Tostada. I definitely agree. It's fried roti topped with an assortment of sauteed veggies and chicken in Indian seasonings.  

Masala Fries were on the menu, but AHH for Sweet Potato Masala Fries. WHICH NO ONE SHOULD KEEP FROM ME! One of the girls somehow found out that sweet potatoes were on the truck and got these amazing bites of deliciousness.

Here are the standard Masala Fries. Despite the fact that I don't generally like non-sweet potatoes, I have to hand it to the Dosa Truck that the chunky tomato sauce was really delicious, and the fries' spice level was perfect.

I believe this was the "Tandoori Chicken Tacos" order, although it clearly looks like a quesadilla. But regardless, it was great and all of the Mex-Indian fusion dishes are great options.

The one traditional Indian item that I thought was perfect was the Mango Lassi. It was $4, so not cheap, but it's the most delicious lassi I've had to date. It tasted like it incorporated the flavors of rose, cardamom, and pistachio in with the mango and the yogurt.

These were the Samosas. They were crispy and well-flavored. I appreciated that they were served with two chutneys.

This was my actual order. The Goa Goodness, AKA spinach-mushroom-cheese dosa. It had a good mix of flavors but the dosa itself was soggy. And I couldn't blame that on the sambar since there wasn't any. In the Dosa Truck's defense, one of the girls got this dosa as a custom order without cheese (substituting caramelized onions instead) and hers wasn't soggy.

And here's the most traditional dosa, what the Dosa Truck has dubbed its Mumbai Madness. It's stuffed with curried potatoes. It's OK, but if you really want a good dosa, I'd recommend Annapurna Cuisine in Culver City.

I hope to catch this truck again in my excursions around LA. And next time, I'll know to order.

Dosa Truck, Los Angeles (location varies), dosatruck[at]gmail.com

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mini Indian-Seasoned Eggplant Pizzas with Mushrooms

You won't have to cut the crusts off this pizza, as the eggplant base makes it dough-free and fabulous.

Ingredients:
2 ~1/4-in. round eggplant slices
~1 Tbs. tomato paste
2 slices provolone cheese
~1 tsp. garlic powder
~1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
2 whole mushrooms

You'll Also Need:
a toaster oven

Step-by-Step:

1. Take each eggplant round and cross-hatch it. Rub in about 1/2 tsp. garlic powder into each round.
2. Place the seasoned eggplant on the toaster oven tray, preferably on top of a wire rack so the heat can get all around. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes.
3. Spread about 1/2 Tbs. tomato paste over each baked eggplant round.
4. Sprinkle the cumin seeds on top.
5. Top with a slice of provolone each.
6. Tear up the mushrooms and place the pieces on top of the cheese. Bake for about 7 more minutes.

Makes 2 mini-eggplant pizzas.

The AHH Factor: I have my share of vices when it comes to eating healthy. Fried chicken from KFC, even though I usually feel sick to my stomach after I eat it. Custard-y desserts, especially if they are lying around the house. Cheese is my Achilles' heel.

But I do have a lot of things going for me that help me maintain a healthy weight. I love almost all vegetables (eggplant is one of my all-time favorites). I go from ravenous to full in about five bites. And I hate almost all carbs.

Bread? Only if covered with the aforementioned cheese (even then I will probably find a way to separate the cheese from the bread). Potatoes? Only if they are sweet potatoes, thank you very much. Rice? I'm burnt out after eating in every day as a kid. I don't even really like pie crust. I'd much rather just have the filling.

So, like most people, I love a good pizza (or even a bad pizza), but I like everything about it except for the crust. So with this recipe, I've found a way to eliminate it entirely. Try it with all of your favorite pizza toppings. If you love eggplant like I do, you will find this the easiest and tastiest pizza "dough" around.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chakra Indian Cuisine, Beverly HIlls, Restaurant Review

With superb cuisine, customer service, and atmosphere, Chakra Indian Cuisine is an amazing Indian food option in Beverly Hills.

10 out of 10 Peppers = Extra Spicy

The first time I ate at Chakra Indian Cuisine, the restaurant seemed as sparkly as the engagement ring that had been slipped onto my ring finger only a few hours before. After a private proposal, Nick sought a festive Indian restaurant to tell his family (who had flown in from Alaska for the occasion, his mom being privy to his plans) and decided on this reputed spot in Beverly Hills. It truly was the perfect venue. At the end of our meal, our server even emerged with a complimentary strawberry-festooned miniature cake with chocolate cursive lettering spelling "congratulations" on the white plate. Customer service is alive, well, and chocolate-coated (at least when you dine in Beverly Hills).

That was more than two and a half years ago, and Nick and I hadn't walked in the restaurant's red-carpeted entrance since. While the restaurant is lovely, delicious, and friendly, it is also out of our usual price range. However, we are plotting for a future in which our dining-out price range increases, and when Nick took a step toward that plan (and more importantly, toward being a better teacher) by passing his National Board Certification, we agreed, together as a married couple this time, that Chakra would be the perfect place to celebrate.

THE SETTING

Tied-back curtains decorate the space from the entry to the VIP room and to my personal favorite, the semi-private cabanas for two. The cabanas feature roomy curved velvet sofas, a table just large enough for an assortment of family-style entrees, and a romantic feel. I also love the water feature that separates the host stand from the dining area. Valet parking is free. It's been said that the space is fit for a king, well the King of Pop at least, as Michael Jackson frequented it. (That alone is probably reason enough for Nick to love any restaurant.)

THE FOOD

The food is primarily traditional North Indian cuisine, done superbly. There are a few adventurous dishes here and there, but the most adventurous aspect is the cocktail menu.

I ordered a Peacock Martini, which tasted like raspberries. The restaurant also has cocktails named after the seven chakras. Will a blend of Captain Morgan, passion fruit rum, and mango unblock your second chakra? I'm not sure, but I'd be willing to find out.

Since we were going all out, we opted for the Chef's Special Menu, a seven-course dinner for two for $75. This is a great way to impress a date, and a starving date at that. (We wound up with take-home bags.)

 The Papadum came with an assortment of chutneys in a lovely display.

The mushroom samosa in the Samosa Trio was brilliant. Not being a potato fan (the typical samosa filling), I am eager to make these at home.

Like everything else, the presentation of the Malai Chicken was terrific. Don't they say you eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth? Your eyes will be very happy.

Some of the menu was set and some of it we got to pick, and I was impressed when our attentive server mentioned that we might want to switch our order from both the chicken tikka masala and the paneer masala because both came in the same flavored curry. (We switched the chicken to Tandoori Chicken. The other option would have been to switch the paneer to the daal of the day.)

When I initially looked at the Chef's Special, I thought pick one of the four entree categories (seafood, meat, poultry, and vegetarian), but on closer inspection, I realized we got to sample them all. How indulgent. We opted for the Shrimp Korma (over the fish curry) from the seafood choices.

The Lamb Ragan Ghosh was a perfectly cooked New Zealand lamb cooked in "passionate" Kashmir spices.

The Paneer Butter Masala had a delicious curry sauce. If you like chicken tikka masala, then give this dish a whirl. Paneer is a delicate quick Indian cheese.

It was served with aromatic saffron rice.
For bread, we had a choice of Naan (shown, available in garlic, butter, or plain), Paratha, or Roti.


And, unlike lots of dinners for two, we didn't have to split one dessert, we got to split two! The tri-colored Kulfi was my favorite, boasting the colors of the Indian flag with its mango and pistachio layers. We also enjoyed a Mango and Kashmir Apple Tart, served with vanilla ice cream.

The Chef's Special Menu was an amazing way to try a variety of the dishes available at Chakra. But I don't think you can  go wrong, whatever you order. Whether you have a special occasion with a lover, are trying to turn a first date into a lover, or want to impress your parents or in-laws, Chakra is an amazing place to make some memories.

Chakra Indian Cuisine, 151 South Doheny Drive  Beverly Hills, CA 90211. (310) 246-3999.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My "Kiss My 20s Goodbye" Birthday Party

I love an extended metaphor. Well, all literary techniques really -- metaphor, simile, analogy, symbolism, hyperbole, alliteration, you name it, I love it and, for fun, I'll even analyze novels for them. In my creative writing heyday, I could write an extended metaphor that would go on for an entire 12-page essay. I love all of the different ways of explaining an idea and how a metaphor or a simile can bring in all of the other senses, depending on what you're making a comparison to.

Alas, I don't have much time or inspiration for creative writing these days. Journalism school constantly edited out my metaphors in the name of being "straightforward" or for a made-up rule about how long a lede could be or how many syllables were allowed when writing for the "everyman." And since I've never found creative writing to pay and inspiration in the form of classes takes away time that I feel like I don't have, as a "responsible" adult, I rarely devote to any time poetry and the like.

However, one creative outlet that I've found as a new homeowner is the THEME PARTY. Yes, it's like we're 12-years-old and it's a "princess party" where everyone dresses in pink and we have tea or whatever other activity we imagine royalty would do with their friends in the afternoon. It's silly but in a way it lets an extended metaphor come to life, 3-D style.

So as I turned 30 this year, I decided on the theme....Kiss My 20s Goodbye. That lends itself to some sweet food and drink suggestions, no? Here's what I came up with:

 Open (Kissy) Faced S'mores
I made these in the microwave cause I had to do so many batches for guests arriving at different times.
 Finger Lip Foods
I bought a lip-shaped cookie cutter from Amazon.com, then used it to make an assortment of sandwiches. These were vegan ones with hummus and cucumber on sourdough.

 Hershey Kisses
I set out bowls of Hershey Kisses. That was easy.

 Lip on a Stick
I probably spent too much time making these, but we used them as props in all of the photos. I traced a lip drawing I found online cause drawing is not my forte.

 Goodbye Kiss Cocktail
Remember "pucker" from your college days? This watermelon pucker tasted like a Jolly Rancher, and I don't mean that as a good thing. It's so funny to me though that every time I've come up with a signature drink for one of our parties, it's always been the first thing to go. People really get into following the recipe and shaking up the martini shaker, then taking that first sip of the drink they mixed themselves (followed immediately by commiserating with others about why it tastes like bizarre fruit candy). This recipe was 1 part vodka, 1 part watermelon pucker, and 1 part cranberry juice -- shake that together with ice in a martini shaker. Strain into a glass, top with Sprite, and enjoy.
Ass Kisser
And I love my old college roomie Trish (she moved out here from Georgia also, a few years before I did) for being the "ass kisser" that she is and fitting the theme with this amazing beer that she brought.

Our next theme party will likely be a "Holiday Pi(e) Party" to celebrate both the holidays and Nick earning his National Board Certification as a math teacher (hell yeah!). I figure "pi(e)" is pretty easy food-wise -- pizza pie, pumpkin pie, maybe I'll try a savory meat pie or chicken pot pie -- but I need to get my creative juices flowing for the decorations. Maybe a funny pie chart? Hmmmm...especially if I can fit an extended metaphor onto it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pumpkin and Red Kuri Squash Indian Chicken Curry

Canned pumpkin, a whole baked squash, and an easy sweet curry powder, make this recipe a healthy crowd-pleaser.

Ingredients:
1 whole red kuri squash
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground mace
1 tsp.  whole cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1/2 tsp. whole anise seeds
vegetable oil to coat the pan
2 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
1 yellow onion
2 lbs. chicken thighs, cut into bite-size chunks
1 cup coconut milk
15 oz. (1 can) 100% pure pumpkin (like Libby's)

You'll Also Need:
a spice grinder

Step-by-Step:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Poke the squash in several places with a fork. Bake for about 50 minutes. Let cool enough to handle. Remove the peel and seeds. Dice into chunks.

2. Place all of the spices (cumin, salt, cinnamon, mace, cardamom, cloves, and anise) into a spice grinder and pulse until powdered.

3. Dice up the onion. Coat a deep skillet in oil and heat over medium heat. Add onion and ginger-garlic paste to the skillet. Saute for about 3 minutes or until onion is lightly browned.

 4. Stir in the spice mixture. Continue stirring for 2 minutes.

5. Add the chicken thighs, coconut milk, canned pumpkin, and squash. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve over Basmati Rice that's been cooked in stock and saffron for extra flavor.

Serves 4-6.

The AHH Factor: I subscribe to Farm Fresh to You produce delivery service for several reasons. I like to support local farmers, eating organic has always sounded like a good idea, and I just hate searching for items at the grocery store. (Just this morning, it took me 20 minutes to find the pancake mix. Why isn't it with the cake mixes? In my mind, it's a dessert, not a true breakfast item. It shouldn't be next to the oatmeal.)

But the most exciting reason I subscribe to the service is something that I hadn't thought about until a few boxes in: Farm Fresh sends me produce that I've never heard of before...and I love that! When I shop at the farmers' market, I get all of the other benefits -- but I always play it safe and buy produce that I recognize. (Well, except for the time when I thought I was buying apples, and, as it turned out, they were yellow plums. Now that was an interesting first bite.)

It's like my own personal Iron Chef. "Sree, you have one weekend to use all of the items in this box. If you succeed, you enjoy organic deliciousness. If you fail, you will feel really bad throwing food away." Would you believe I'd never cooked with leeks or fennel until they showed up in my produce box? That shit looks intimidating in the grocery store!
So,  when this adorable red kuri squash showed up recently, I challenged myself to figure out a way to use it. I'd been wanting to create a pumpkin curry ever since I tried one at Mahan Indian Restaurant in Alhambra, and I reasoned a squash would fit in perfectly as an additional vegetable. If you are braver than I am and aren't afraid of chunking up a raw squash, then you can probably save yourself the first 50 minutes of this recipe and just add the raw chunks into the curry when you add the chicken. It should soften up enough in an hour or two during the simmering. (If you bake it first like I did, it does get mushy by the end, but it tastes great blended in with the pumpkin and I still had a few chunks for texture.)

And if you don't have access to kuri squash, then of course add whatever vegetable you like or leave it out entirely. Luckily, since the sauce base is pumpkin, it's a healthy spin on curry regardless. I'd definitely try the spice blend with the pumpkin and the coconut milk, whatever protein or veggie you choose. I started to get nervous during the simmer-time about whether all of this work was for naught as I threw together the spice blend on the fly, but it was one of the favorite Indian meals that I've made so far. Challenge completed!

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