Life updates over a plate of chestnuts

October 4, 2011

Roasted Chestnuts

I think we need to sit down and have a chat. Over some roasted chestnuts. Because that’s what I’m obsessed with these days.

Before one of you jumps up and asks me, “Oh! where do you get these in Bombay?” you’ll figure where soon enough. There have been a lot of things that have happened in the past few months – something that I’ve been quietly planning and was too shy to share until it actually happened. Honestly, I still can’t believe that it’s happening.

***
Earlier this year, I decided to apply for scholarships to fulfil my long standing dream of studying at Le Cordon Bleu. I looked up the scholarship options,  spent a few days to write the essays, filled out the applications and submitted them. And then I waited. Waited with much anticipation. The day the result for the Culinary Trust Scholarship was to be announced, I barely slept. I kept waking up to frantically refresh my inbox for emails from the Trust. Nothing. The next afternoon, I was too distracted to get any work done. Not wanting to wait any longer for an official verdict, I emailed my interviewer. In a few (excruciating) hours she replied. Her email read, “You DID receive the scholarship to Le Cordon Bleu London!!!!!” I shrieked and stood up on my chair, startling my mom who was busy with her Sudoku. I ran to the next room and broke the news to my dad. I felt a surge of energy, a feeling of contentment and gratitude. I won.

***

Remember orangefoodie? The guy who I’d refer to occasionally in my posts; the guy who wrote that post on Paris?

Umm…I just married that guy.

We wed in July after knowing each other for 7 years. We used to attend the same undergrad school and even worked at the same company until I decided I’d much rather bake. When he decided to move to France, there was hardly a chance that we’d live apart. We had to go together. We had to get married. And now that he’s no secret anymore, his name is Arjun. And I’m pretty crazy about him.

***

While we were on our honeymoon in Malaysia, I received a BBM from my friend Maha from Pakistan where she told me she won the James Beard scholarship to study at the French Culinary Institute in NYC. She asked me if I had heard from the trust. I hadn’t. Now, Maha and I’ve been friends for over a year. She had won the James Beard Foundation scholarship to study at Le Cordon Bleu London in 2009. Maha was more than helpful with my own application. She ended her first email with “If you need any help, I’m here.” Nobody says that in a first email. I felt taken care of. I had the best advisor I could have asked for. Thanks, Maha. (Readers from Pakistan: She makes cake, so you’re going to love her too. More on Fatso’s Catering.)

Anyway, I got back to Bombay wondering why I hadn’t won. I was disappointed, but with the chaos of packing, moving cities, and starting a new life in Paris, I didn’t mull over it too much. That night before we left for Paris, on my mom’s birthday, I received a one line email from The James Beard Scholarship that read, “Letters regarding application status were recently released.  Please see attached.” Why bother opening a rejection letter, I thought. I reluctantly downloaded the attachment and spotted the words “I am pleased to announce…” Umm, what? I began reading it again. I had won the scholarship to study Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Pinch me.

***

So, here I am sitting on my desk in France, with a view of lush chestnut trees from my window. I still can’t believe I won both the scholarships I applied for. I keep going back to the Culinary Trust website to see my name up there. I still can’t believe I’m married and living in the city I’ve always wanted to. I’ve been here for a month now – setting up our first home together, arranging my kitchen shelves, cooking more Indian food than I’ve ever cooked (the craving!) and shopping at G. Detou so I can start baking. The light in our house is absolutely fantastic for food photography, plus the slanted rays means I have more flexibility in terms of time of day to shoot. My uncle gifted me a professional KitchenAid stand mixer for the wedding and I need to go and pick that up from London later this month, along with a bagful of my cookbooks he brought back with him after the wedding. It’s all coming together now.

***

I thought I’d address this since I’ve been receiving a load of email enquiries for baking classes that range from the cute “I’d love to come to your class with my niece” to the demanding, “Where are you?? Need new baking lessons.”  I may not reply to all the mails I get for classes, but I tuck them safely into a folder meant just for these, for the time that I’m back in Bombay and ready to conduct classes. You will be the first to know.

***

So back to the roasted chestnuts. My adorable Korean neighbour and biggest Aamir Khan fan, Sky and I go chestnut picking downstairs with large plastic bags in hand. We make sure we wear sports shoes so we don’t get pricked by the horrible spiky, cactus-like shell and then come back upstairs to roast them in the oven and eat them while they’re still warm, and almost too warm to peel.

Beware though, a few days ago we thought we hit the jackpot when we discovered a tree that bore even larger chestnuts. We stuffed them in our bags, prepped them and roasted them, but when it was time to eat them, they were spat right out. These big chestnuts were awfully bitter. A little reading proved that they were in fact Horse chestnuts. They’re meant for animals and are slightly toxic for humans. Yikes. Into the trash can they went.

After picking and roasting chestnuts over the weeks, I figured out a few things about them:

* A long incision needs to made on the chestnut. Either across the centre of it, or a cross on the top. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it will let the steam escape, so peeling the roasted chestnuts is a cinch. If you don’t, you won’t manage to get a whole piece of chestnut – I ended up rabbit-teething (using the maxillary central incisors to scoop out the chestnut fresh from the shell). Also, scoring the shell of the chestnut will prevent chestnut bombs going off in your oven (steam can’t escape, the pressure builds up, you get the point), or worse, on your couch when you’ve pulled them out before letting them cool. True story.

* When you’re picking (or buying) chestnuts, choose the ones with nice, shiny shells.

* If a chestnut has a black spot when peeled, discard it. It’s spoilt, or it’s likely that you’ll find a baked creepy-crawly in it (eww).

* It’s a good idea to let the chestnuts sit for a few days before you roast them. The starch will convert to sugar and you’ll have sweeter chestnuts.

* The toughest part really is making incisions with a knife. The smooth chestnut is bound to slip that leads to a cut. My friend tells me that they have a special tool in Korea just for this (these guys have a tool for everything!)

For Bombay folks, you can enjoy the taste of chestnuts in a jar of Bonne Maman Marron confiture. It’s terrific.

Roasted Chestnuts

Ingredient:
1 kg chestnuts (or as many can fill on your baking tray in a single layer)

Method:
Heat the oven to 180C.
Using a small, sharp knife, make incisions in the shell of the chestnut.
Place them on a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes, until you see the shell opening up and curling slightly.
Turn off the oven, and let it continue to sit inside (Just for safety, in case some incisions weren’t big enough.)
Transfer to a large bowl. Peel and eat up while it’s still warm.

Once I manage to save some without eating them all, I’ll try and cook something up with them. Do point me to your favourite chestnut recipes.

{ 103 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Danielle October 6, 2011 at 3:34 AM

Shaheen!!! OMG I am so happy for you, for daring to dream, to leap and for maintaining your composure through it all! What a year 2011 has been for you, I cannot wait to hear all about life in Paris and culinary school. hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet in person now that you’re living in France. Good luck with everything and continue kicking a** ;)

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2 Shweta October 6, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Hi Shaheen, I am very lazy to leave comments but this post has left me with no option…Many Many Congratulations and Good luck with everything!!!

Have a good one!!!

- Shweta

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3 zareen October 7, 2011 at 12:05 AM

hey shaheen congrats!! for LCB as well as for ur wedding!!
happy to knw about it… hows LCB going??

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4 C.C.No.3 October 7, 2011 at 4:04 AM

Hey!
Shaheen!
Congratulations on your scholarship, wedding and everything!
I love your blog and it really helps me a lot on life and cooking!

By the way,
the your friend SKY mentioned on this paper,
she seems very nice person…isn’t she lovely? (feat: Steven Wonder~)
collecting chestnuts with her…
makes me jealous little bit…!

wish you all the best! and please update blog!
I love your blog and can’t wait to read your posts!
Good luck with everything in Paris!!!!!

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5 The Purple Foodie October 9, 2011 at 1:33 AM

Dear CC No. 3. My friend Sky is awesome. Too bad you can’t hang out with her as much as I do. ;)

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6 a spoonful of yumm October 7, 2011 at 2:45 PM

congrats for both !! have a blast :))

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7 Mufaddal Husein October 7, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Oh i had something else to add which i forgot in my first comment.

We used to have chestnuts as kids in the winter in dubai (not local obvs) but we would roast them in the oven or toss them into the BBQ after everything else was done and the coals were still hot. If you don’t want to use a knife, we used to just crack open the shell with a rock or the pestle – safer than using the knife on the hard smooth shell..

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8 Kristin October 7, 2011 at 9:13 PM

Congratulations!!!!!

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9 Vidhi October 7, 2011 at 9:39 PM

Awww, felicitations, vous deux! Je suis tres heureuse pour vous. :) Et aussi, felicitations pour la bourse! C’est mieux a Paris qu’a Londres, bien-sur! ;)

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10 Sasha October 7, 2011 at 10:34 PM

Wow, what a good news post! Enjoy living your dreams!

I have just come to Bombay to spend a few months here and I wanted to thank you for your guide to Crawford Market and to finding ingredients in the city. I am certain that I will make the most out of it the next little while. Merci!

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11 Charis October 10, 2011 at 11:25 AM

Congratulations!! This is so amazing for you!
You’re so lucky and blessed :)
Looking forward to many, many more posts!
Much love.

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12 asma October 10, 2011 at 8:05 PM

many many congratulations on the wedding and the scholarship and your new life!!!!
this is my second comment to you (my first is on the amazing crawford map; obviously) and i couldnt help myself!!
we’r all sooooooo happy for u! uve been quite an inspiration to me in the kitchen and i got myself more involved with my then once in a while baking because U proved that u MUST pursue what u love doing and u WILL excel in that and that only!
thanks for the above!
plz do keep blogging!

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13 Pitsy October 10, 2011 at 11:37 PM

Shaheen!
This is absolutely wonderful news! Congratulations on the wedding and the scholarships! I dont know you personally, but m just so very happy for you…i cant help myself from smiling foolishly at the screen. :D
Hope you dont stop blogging.

Lots of luck,
Pitsy.

P.S. I know m gonna give up law and follow in your footsteps some day :)

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14 Debipriya October 10, 2011 at 11:37 PM

hey Shaheen,

when i asked u were to shop for choco in Paris? i could almost feel ur exuberance from my window screen screaming out G. Detou… and I went through the site and did a wide research of the shop and drilled my friend how he needs to shop chocos only and only from this shop.
And now I again, feel ur ‘I can’t beelive-PINCH ME’ syndrome when I read u are about of come together with your KA and props from DG!! I can feel ur dream. And I wish u that this happiness stays with you and Arjun as long as you both live!!

Ohh I got married on july too. Congratulation on sweet married life pouching and baking!!

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15 Akkta October 11, 2011 at 4:08 PM

Now now… have been wondering why you haven’t been posting lately. Your blog is such a treasure that I keep coming back not just for the recipes, but where-to’s and how-to’s.

Since you have spilled the beans… here’s wishing you luck and success in all your endeavors! And I’m hoping you are back soon with more workshops and interesting details! :)

P.S.: Orange & Purple do make an interesting and vibrant combo ;)

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16 The Purple Foodie October 11, 2011 at 4:14 PM

Thank you all, so much. I love coming back to read all your comments. : )

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17 Tori (@eat-tori) October 11, 2011 at 10:03 PM

Congratulations! On the marriage, the scholarships and the move. Can’t wait to hear more about your new adventures. We had a beautiful roasted chestnut and chestnut mushroom soup as a starter for Christmas lunch last year, with a frizzle of pancetta and sage over the top. It was lovely….

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18 baa October 12, 2011 at 4:11 AM

How did I forget to congratulate you ?? Congratulations my dear !! All the best with your marriage and new endeavors !!

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19 Gagan October 12, 2011 at 8:22 AM

Happily ever after indeed! Congratulations!!! Orange and purple…..hmmm! :)

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20 Fatima October 12, 2011 at 5:22 PM

Congratulations!! Im so happy for you!

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21 Ami Bhatia October 12, 2011 at 10:39 PM

Hi Shaheen ! Congratulations and the best to you always :)

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22 Lalita Rao October 12, 2011 at 11:29 PM

Hi Shaheen,

Many, many congratulations on the scholarships, the wedding, and the move to beautiful Paris. May this new phase in life be as sweet as the goodies you entice us with!!

Lalita

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23 Bhavna October 15, 2011 at 10:29 PM

Many congratulations on the wedding and even many-er congratulations on moving to paris!!! am hoping you gnna simplify the french recipes for us!!! Good luck with the new life (and the old blog, which we wont stop reading anyway!!) :)

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24 a spoonful of yumm October 16, 2011 at 12:58 PM

congrats & good luck shaheen !! wishing you a yummy life ahead ;-)

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25 Manjiri October 16, 2011 at 1:16 PM

Hey!

I love your blog and it’s one of the few that I keep coming back to! Kinda feel guilty for not commenting before. But hope this one makes up for it. :)

Like someone else mentioned before, I don’t know you either, but the cordon bleu victory brought a huge grin on my face. So, I can only imagine your euphoria!! Congratulations!! Really. :D

You are practically living my dream… living in Paris with a husband and an LCB scholarship. wow! I hope i reach there soon, as well. People like you inspire me to pursue my dream and not give up on it, no matter what the odds are. Thank you.

Good luck and Happy baking! :)

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26 The Purple Foodie October 16, 2011 at 7:19 PM

Hey Manjari, You felt ‘guilty for not commenting’?! You’re too sweet. Thank you for your wishes. I’m lucky to have awesome readers like you. Do what you like doing the most. :)

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27 The Purple Foodie October 16, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Thank you so much, everyone. Whenever I read your notes, I can’t stop smiling. : )

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28 Swati October 20, 2011 at 12:18 AM

So so happy for you :) marriage and scholarship and paris…it is *the* life!

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29 Shweta October 20, 2011 at 6:19 PM

Congratulations Shaheen, for your marriage and the scholarship!
Learn, savour and have a blast.

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30 Rehab October 28, 2011 at 7:39 PM

I am so happy and inspired!

I have gushed at your photos, made friends over your blog,tried and failed at recipes and made my first cheese bread day before yesterday!

Heartiest Congratulations and hugs to you :)

Can’t wait for your TV Show :)

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31 The Purple Foodie November 2, 2011 at 1:00 AM

You flatter me. Thank you. xx

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32 Chez Us October 29, 2011 at 9:04 PM

Congrats! I love that your dreams are coming true, and in such a special city. Paris is truly magically, and I believe anything can happen there. Someday, we keep saying, we will have a home there. Cannot wait.

Chestnuts hold a dear to my heart memory in Paris. I love autumn days there, spent walking through the parks, and the old men are roasting chestnuts. Love getting a little bundle, still warm, and wrapped in newspaper. They are so good.

Enjoy!

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33 The Purple Foodie November 2, 2011 at 1:02 AM

Hey Denise! It sucks that we lost touch. I’ve still put your email in the “to-reply” folder. Had so much going on when you emailed, and now, living in Paris is quite distracting. Not complaining though. ;) Thank you for all the good wishes. Hope you make a trip here soon and we can finally meet up.

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34 Judy October 30, 2011 at 2:46 PM

You’ve been holding back! wow I felt such a wonderful feeling just reading your update, and this chat over chestnuts ;)

congratulations to your whirlwind of beautiful happenings! Couldn’t be more glad for a stranger, half a world away, reading about you getting married and going to culinary school and living in the most romantic city on earth. Make it a beautiful place, Paris is lucky to have you!

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35 The Purple Foodie November 2, 2011 at 1:03 AM

Hey Judy!! Thanks so much. Sometimes it hits me “Heck, I’m in Paris!” and I can’t believe how things just fell in place. xx

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36 viral December 1, 2011 at 12:47 PM

congratulations Shaheen!

i’ve been a lurker on your sight for a long time. love the way you write and photograph your food. your passion obviously oozes through these posts!

I’m compelled to write here because i am looking at making a switch from what I am doing to something i am really passionate about! infact i’ve only just submitted my application for that as well!

wish you luck and do keep blogging when you can! in case you didnt know you make a lot of people very happy with your posts ( food or otherwise)

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37 The Purple Foodie December 1, 2011 at 5:52 PM

That’s awfully sweet of you, Viral. Thanks!

And all the best for whatever you want to do. :)

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38 marla December 17, 2011 at 3:22 AM

I am about to roast some chestnuts for the first time and I am crazy excited about it!

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39 Mythili Chari February 1, 2012 at 1:05 PM

I have been wanting to try chestnuts out ever since I read about them in some book whose name I have now forgotten! But I could never find them anywhere in Bombay. Finally remembered today that I could run a search on Google and maybe find something. Came across your site then, and I just wanted to say this:

Firstly, congratulations for living your dream!

Secondly, after reading this post, I now crave chestnuts unlike ever before and I don’t even know what they taste like!

Thirdly, (and maybe a little more selfishly, sorry!) I don’t know where I can find Bonne Maman Marron here – well, I’ve only tried looking for it online so far, and it doesn’t look like there’s any site which ships to India! Will I find some at Crawford Market? Oh, please put me out of my misery soon!

Thanks a lot, and Good Luck to you sweetie! :)

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40 The Purple Foodie February 1, 2012 at 5:29 PM

Hey Maithili,

Thanks so much for your lovely comment! You can find Bonne Maman jams at Nature’s Basket. I’ve also spotted it at Sante in Bandra. I hope you find it! =)

Shaheen

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41 nags March 30, 2012 at 3:15 AM

i can’t believe i am seeing this post only now. i love how things all came together perfectly for you, arjun’s moving to Paris, to begin with. totally excited reading your first day at school post :) keep writing!

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42 Parita April 13, 2012 at 5:49 PM

OMG How d hell did I miss this!!! First of congratulations on your wedding and double congratulations on getting scholarship to world’s best culinary schools! You’ve written this post so amazingly well! I could literally feel every emotion in there! Truly touched my heart and to be bluntly honest felt a tiny tear too in the corner of my eyes! I can understand your happiness coz I too share the same interest..infact exactly a year back in 2011 summers I was surfing web for good culinary institutes in EU and of course Leu Cordon Bleu was on top of my list! Due to personal reasons I could not pursue my dream further but m really happy that you’re dream has fulfilled! I know I dont often comment but I do visit your blog pretty much regularly! Wish you all the very best for an amazing future! TC!

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43 The Purple Foodie June 10, 2012 at 5:06 PM

Hey Parita! Thank you so much. So sweet of you (sorry I’m catching up on my comments after SO long). Hope you can realise your dream some day too. It feels amazing to actually live something you’ve wanted for so long. xx

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44 Onil Gandhi June 18, 2012 at 5:01 PM

like many followers above … i too feel “How d hell did I miss this!!!”… hi i need your guidance… I am headed for CIA.. but….Culinary Institute of America, prior to the admission for their 21 month associate degree programme, require a 6-months kitchen experience.

I am willing to work anywhere, but being 43 yrs old, an entrepreneur, presently a government employee, I am finding it hard to get a suitable apprenticeship….

I would also like to know your opinion about CIA vis-a-via LCB

can you please guide wrt culinary schools and apprenticeship
regards

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