Wednesday 19 February 2014

 I should have really titled this post 'Ottolenghi Battles the Blue Demons' :) It will become clear soon.

If you've been hanging out with me in recent times, both online and offline, you'll know that I have been struggling a little bit. I realised a few things in the last week or so. First, I completely forgot that it was my blog's sixth birthday last month. Things were so hectic, that it really just slipped my mind. So I decided to go back and look at some of my older posts, and to be honest, I was quite surprised at how far I've come along and how much I've grown as a blogger. For a small, personal blog, I am not doing badly at all. A lot of people visit this website every day, and they come from all over the world. A lot of people like The Tiffin Box on Facebook, and I love getting messages from them, everything from how to make a particular dish, to troubleshooting, to asking for new recipes or offering suggestions, to complimenting me on my work.

Ah, yes. The compliments. To be honest, I do not know how to deal with praise. I have my faults, and one of them is that I just can't take compliments gracefully. I'll always be self effacing and go... 'Oh, thanks, but its not me, its my camera, lens, blogger, cookbook, recipe source, mom, aunty', and so on. I feel like I don't deserve any praise because what I do here is ordinary, and there always better bloggers, photographers, writers, cooks, chefs and I am just a poor imitation of them. This inability to take any kind of credit for my own work has meant that I am almost always really hard on myself, and I have felt that I am not really accomplishing anything. My complete lack on confidence in myself is probably what led to my breakdown in the last few weeks, and I am not ashamed to say that I was not in a good place mentally or physically. And that reflected in my inability to focus, or write or photograph, or just be creative in the many ways I know I can.

Even as The Tiffin Box turns six years old, I have never stepped back, taken a good look at it and actually said, 'Hey, hang on, this is actually me doing all this work, this is me cooking good food, taking great pictures, writing, proofing, testing, learning, teaching... look at that, almost three hundred good recipes, that's not bad at all

I've just never done that. And maybe its time I did. Maybe its time I learned how to take those well meaning compliments with a smile and a 'thank you, I am happy you enjoyed that' instead of adding my usual 'it's not me' qualifier to the end. 

Then I (metaphorically, of course) kicked myself in the butt. I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, and just take a moment to feel proud of everything I've accomplished here. I am going to feel proud of the fact that I am a good cook with good training and discipline, that I am a good photographer with an eye for styling and details, and I am also a good writer, with decent grammar and spelling. 

I am also a good wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend. I have great relationships with my family and friends, and they know and love me, and are proud of all that I have accomplished in my life. Instead of being my usual reticent self, I am going to be proud and say, I have come a long way. And I am going to take my passion for cooking, photographing and writing and develop it in different ways and I am going to have fun doing that.

And yes, this is where Ottolenghi comes in.

I have never made any secret of the fact that I am totally and utterly obsessed/ madly in love with ahem... a fan of Ottolenghi and Tamimi. Ever since I got my copy of Plenty (thanks to getting stuck in a vegetarian rut and needing support), I have been consistently inspired by their books, especially the wonderfully evocative Jerusalem, and the recently re-released eponymous Ottolenghi. I know this sounds weird, but, Jerusalem, in particular, has even been known to come into bed with me.

One of the things I love about these books is their accessibility. I can look at a recipe and not feel intimidated by it. And I love the photography. They are the kind of images that want to make you dive right into the food and I love their vibrancy and colour.

Now while I have been moping around the house in the past few weeks, this doesn't mean that I haven't been cooking. I took FBC's advice and grabbed some of my neglected books off the shelves and dug right into them. I looked at pictures, read through stories, admired the pictures and I cooked. All the time. I cooked recipes I had never made before, and I recreated my signature recipes that are much loved in the house. I spent an entire day cooking for a dinner party. I had people over and I cooked for them. I needed to rediscover my joy in life, and I started with the cornerstone of why I write this blog, and that is for the food. So I cooked and ate and didn't photograph.

And then... yesterday, I made this soup, inspired by Ottolenghi. And when I saw the colour of those roasted peppers, something clicked in my head. I took a picture of them. And then I blitzed the soup and I ate some and I loved it. Then I picked up my camera again, found my everyday bowls and spoons and filled them with this fragrant, vibrant, elegant soup. And I photographed those steaming bowls of soup (then I ate more soup for lunch, and oh my, that soup sure was a soul soother).

Today, I was supervising Aditi in the bathtub and I was bored. So I grabbed my computer and started writing. And the words just kept coming. Because my heart had lightened. I am no longer a failure. I am a food writer. And a mighty good one at that, wouldn't you say?

Thank you for being there for me, everyone. I don't think I could have found myself without you.


(Printable Recipe)
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main meal

4 red peppers
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 - 6 sage leaves, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small red chile, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 cups (625 ml) hot vegetable stock
1 tablespoon (or to taste) red wine vinegar
Salt, sugar and fresh ground black pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the peppers on a roasting tray, and roast for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice, until blackened and soft.

While the peppers are roasting, heat the oil, and add the onion and sage. Saute on a low heat, 5 - 7 minutes, until the onion is softened. Add the garlic, chile and bay leaf and saute for a minute. Add the hot stock and let the soup base simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the heat and let cool.

Remove the roasted peppers from the oven, and while still hot, place and seal in a ziplock bag. After about 10 minutes, take them out of the bag, one by one, and skin them, discarding the skin, pith and seeds. Add to the soup base.

Blend the soup until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with the red wine vinegar, salt, sugar and black pepper. Serve warm or chilled. If serving chilled, taste and readjust seasoning once you take the soup out of the refrigerator.


  1. ah Michelle, you have come SUCH a long way - you should be very proud. But I know how you feel - it's very hard to have perspective when you're in the thick of it all the time, so it really is important to take that time to step back and take a look around. My problem is, upon looking back, I feel like my quality has gone downhill instead of uphill. so that's a whole other thing...

  2. The soup sounds fantastic! Just so you know... there are a lot of people who use your blog without commenting. A few of my brother and sister in law's favourite recipes are from your blog and printed out for them to recreate (the Daal Bukhara that my brother made from your blog was a super hit that he tries to recreate whenever he gets the chance). Another friend, Piyush, has bookmarked your blog and loves your recipes. Yours is a thesis on Indian food. You have covered so many unique and different recipes from all over India... and it's always great to see you post something all together new.

    I don't think a blog is meant to be taken to the letter such that every single recipe is tested by every single reader. It's mostly an inspiration for others. Of course, at the end of the day people are using your recipes... however, the most crucial aspect of your blog is the fact that you are inspiring people.... challenging them to try something that may be a tad laborious, or maybe foreign to their palate. Or mostly just exposing the world to the complexities of spices that define Indian cuisine.

    You are an inspiration for many, of course including me, because what you have done is something I will never be able to do. Whenever I am craving Indian food, I come to your blog and browse through recipes... I always end up finding something that's different, challenging, exciting, and rewarding.

  3. Congratulations on your blog's 6th anniversary! Your soup looks wonderful! I'm tempted to hunt down some red bell peppers the next time I'm at the market. :)

  4. I think I have been reading your blog pretty much since the beginning - certainly the favourites entry says "Food, football and a baby". The baby is no longer a baby. :-) You were the inspiration for my Indian phase that I have been going through over the last year or so; I think it is because you make the food so interesting and yet accessible.
    But the cold, dark days are always hard. It must be doubly, triply so when you have returned from the excitement and sunshine of India, being spoilt and enjoying the holiday. The bump down to the icy blackness of Canada and the ordinary - we understand. But spring is on its way, your mojo is creeping back and the days are getting longer.
    Keep up the really great work!

  5. The soup looks delicious! I definitely have to try this out soon.


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