Spiced Crispies (Chivda, or Indian Snack Mix)

I’m not a psychologist or anything, but I feel uniquely qualified after a recent shopping trip to characterize the following 5 stages of grief involved in holiday grocery shopping.

I was all set to make this chivda (which, by the way, is a fantastic Indian snack mix that you need a huge bowl of right now) after two trips to the Indian grocery store. The only ingredient I still needed was a box of golden raisins. ONE STUPID BOX OF GOLDEN RAISINS. Little did I know the wide range of emotions I was about to experience.

STAGE ONE: Denial.

Mike and I arrived at a Walmart that almost certainly exceeded its maximum occupancy. A sea of cars greeted us in the parking lot, followed by a sea of frustrated faces perched paradoxically above jingly Christmas sweaters inside the store.

We combed the aisles for raisins before finally locating them in the baking aisle and finding that the shelf had been — there’s really no other way to describe it — ransacked. Like, tiny ninja elves had climbed all over it and kicked packages around in a game of tiny ninja elf football. I glanced over the mess. No golden raisins in sight. Mike shrugged and, just like a man, offered, “Guess they don’t have any.”

I was obviously the more sane of the two of us. “THEY HAVE TO HAVE THEM,” I replied, shuffling through every single box. No golden raisins.

I argued with the reality staring me in the face: “ALL GROCERY STORES HAVE THEM.” I shuffled through every single box a second time.

As if perhaps this information would help, or as if Mike were, like me, continuing a deluded search through the shelves, I added, “THEY’RE LIKE RAISINS, BUT THEY’RE GOLDEN.” He stood behind me, hands in his pockets, letting the scene play out. I must have gone through the shelves five times in all, positive that at any moment, I was going to see that little yellow box peeking out at me from behind the dried cranberries. Mike backed a little farther away when I started talking to myself.

STAGE TWO: Anger / Delirium.


Finally, he tried, “Why don’t we go to a different store?” which only produced another round of angry grunting.

STAGE THREE: Bargaining.

As I combed through other aisles, thinking perhaps that the golden raisins were shelved with the canned fruit, or with the snacks, or with the holiday display, or with the toilet paper (I don’t know!), Mike tried another line of reasoning. “You know, with the time we’re spending here looking for them, we could already be at another store.”

“It’s not the time, it’s the inconvenience. I’d rather sit here for 2 more hours looking for these flippin’ raisins than check out, walk all the way back to the car, drive to another store, and repeat this whole process. I seriously will walk around until I find them. If I just walk around long enough, I have to find a box.”

STAGE FOUR: Depression.

After walking down all of the possible aisles three separate times, I stood morosely by the freezer section, watching Mike select turkey burgers. He debated over two brands while I moped. Who even cared which brand of turkey burgers? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.


Normally this stage of grief is where you can finally accept your loss. There are no golden raisins, you’re still alive, the world will go on.

If you’re like me, though, this is not acceptable. There will be no acceptance! Not a bit of it!

I looked around and noticed the pallets being unloaded around the store. It was that unique time of night when the Walmart folks start stocking the shelves for the next day. Suddenly, I knew what I must do. “The pallets!” I shouted, taking off and leaving a confused Mike standing with a box of turkey burgers still in each hand.

Sure enough, a huge pallet of boxes stacked twice as tall as me sat by the baking aisle. I ran around it like a toddler around a Christmas tree until — GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH! — I saw the little Sun-Maid raisin box near the bottom. “Come help!” I yelled to Mike, who was walking up and only just now realizing how crazy I really was. He reluctantly started shifting boxes.

A Walmart stocker, who probably hated people like me with every ounce of her being, asked, “Do you need any help?”

“Oh, no, I’m sorry. I just need a box of golden raisins. Is this okay?” I asked, still frantically shoving boxes around to get to the Sun-Maid box. I pulled off the top and pulled out the prize — that beautiful yellow box! The stocker nodded and walked off, clearly avoiding saying any of the things she probably wanted to say to me. Mike and I neatly stacked the boxes back as penance.

I looked up after our wonderful adventure to find Mike shaking his head incredulously. “I told you I was going to get them,” I said, grinning. “And you do realize that this is the worst kind of reinforcement for me.” Glowing with triumph, I walked out of Walmart (after paying, duh), feeling like the hero of my new reality.

* * *

Annnnd then, lucky for Mike, I got home and burned the entire first batch of chivda — and all my beautiful golden raisins with it. I have learned two lessons: one, Mike is a saint. Two, reality bites.

One year ago: Brown Butter Cookie Dough Pretzel Bars
Two years ago: Magic Bars
Three years ago: Taco Stuffed Crescent Rolls

Spiced Crispies (Chivda, or Indian snack mix)

Recipe by: adapted from kimberlite8, inspired by Poppy
Yield: about 3 1/2 cups of snack mix

Chivda is a common Indian snack mix (think of it as Indian Chex Mix!) also called Bombay Mix in the U.K. This version salty-sweet mix is a flavor explosion, to say the least: it combines sultry curry leaves and toasted spices with toasted nuts and golden raisins. You’ll be addicted in no time. I provided substitutes for the few Indian ingredients you need, but it’s really worth it to pop over to an Indian grocery if you have one — especially for curry leaves and sev. The whole recipe is super quick — about 20 minutes, flat — so prepare your mise-en-place ahead of time (have everything set out.)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
3/4 teaspoons poppy seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons corn syrup
3/4 teaspoons dry mango powder*
1/2 scant teaspoon kosher salt

heaping 1/4 cup roasted, salted cashews
heaping 1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup roasted, salted pumpkin or sunflower seeds
2 cups puffed rice cereal (like Rice Krispies)
1/2 cup sev**
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/8 cup golden raisins
about 2-3 fresh curry leaves, chopped finely***

* Dry mango powder can be found at an Indian grocery. You should be able to substitute using a tablespoon or so of lemon juice, but I haven’t tried that.
** Sev are crunchy “noodles” made from chickpea flour and can be found at an Indian grocery. You could also substitute chow mein noodles or small pretzels, but sev is seriously so good.
*** Curry leaves are also found in an Indian grocery and add such a great flavor, texture, and color to the finished product. If you can’t find them, I think you could add about 1/8 teaspoon of curry powder in with the red pepper and turmeric, though I haven’t tried this.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, place cashews, pecans, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, puffed rice cereal, and sev. Next to this bowl, set two big spoons sprayed with cooking spray.

This is a recipe where you want to have a great mise-en-place before you begin, because cooking goes quickly! Prepare three prep bowls: prep bowl #1 with mustard seed, fennel seed, poppy seed, and cumin seed; prep bowl #2 with ground red pepper and turmeric; and prep bowl #3 with corn syrup, dry mango powder, and salt. In a large saucepan, heat vegetable oil over medium heat until it shimmers (test with a cumin seed — it should bubble very slightly when dropped in). When oil is ready, add all the seeds from prep bowl #1 and let them begin to sizzle for about 30 seconds, stirring occasionally. Add in the red pepper and turmeric in prep bowl #2 and let the mixture continue to sizzle for another 30 seconds or so, stirring occasionally, until spices are lightly toasted and fragrant. Add mango powder, salt, and corn syrup from prep bowl #3 and let cook until corn syrup is bubbly, about 30 more seconds. Pour this mixture all over the puffed rice cereal mixture in the large bowl and use your sprayed spoons to toss and mix it gently until well-coated.

Spread the mixture on the prepared baking sheet, breaking up any large clumps gently, and bake for 12-15 minutes, tossing every few minutes and sprinkling the 1/2 teaspoon sugar on halfway through, until nuts are toasted. Once removed from the oven, pour the mixture back into the large bowl and toss with golden raisins and chopped curry leaves. Serve hot or room temperature. Store, fully cooled, in an airtight container.

Barefoot Contessa’s Carrot Pineapple Cake

Yesterday was my church’s annual Fall Festival, complete with rides, games, costumes, boatloads of candy, and funnel cakes. I didn’t actually attend (I know, I know. I can’t believe I passed up a funnel cake, either), but agreed to bake a cake for the cake walk.

Fall falling outside my window.

You remember cake walks, right? There are numbers painted or chalked onto the ground, and you walk on them as music plays. When the music stops a number is called, and the lucky person standing on that number takes home a homemade (one hopes) cake. It’s the simplest game — no skill required! — with the best prize. There is a tad bit of strategy involved, though: you want the Good Cake. You know the one. You see it sitting on the side table waiting for it’s turn to be auctioned off. While other cakes might look small, slouchy, dry, or plain, the Good Cake is gigantic — maybe a sheet or layer cake — with fluffy frosting piled high. The baker’s loving effort is showcased with careful decorations and neat packaging. You time your turn to walk based on when the Good Cake is finally up to be won.

Remembering my own childhood cake walks, I knew I wanted whatever cake I baked to be the Good Cake. I wanted people to all jump in line for the cake walk when it was up on the podium, to shout with glee when they won, or perhaps to brawl a little for it as though it were the last musical chair. Okay, okay, I guess brawling at the church festival is out. Maybe they can just feel a little scrappy. With my Good Cake aspirations in mind, I set out searching for a cake that met these criteria: a moist layer cake that didn’t require refrigeration and had fluffy frosting, decorating potential, and a widely popular flavor. I settled on Ina Garten’s Carrot Pineapple Cake.

Carrot cake is Mike’s absolute favorite, and that’s part of what drew me to this gorgeous cake. On the first birthday I ever baked for him wayyyy back in high school, my mom helped me fashion a little round carrot cake that he adored. For the last decade, though, I haven’t made him another — instead, we only get it when we eat out. Of course I needed to rectify that! I decided I’d make one for us with Ina’s decadent, thick cream cheese frosting while making one for the festival with a sturdier buttercream.

Two cakes and lovely fall foliage.

The cake turned out exceedingly moist, chunky, and dense. It’s an adventure of walnuts, carrots, raisins, cream cheese, and spice cake in every mouthful. The pineapples don’t really come through as a separate flavor, but serve more to moisten the cake. Each slice is a homey, thick, creamy, wonderful experience. Carrot cake isn’t typically my favorite flavor, but if anything could change my mind, it’d be a thick hunk o’ this baby. I’m going for full disclosure here: I definitely just ate piece #3. While I loved the cake, Mike was over the proverbial moon (and maybe even wound around it a few times). I hope the lucky cake walker was as well!

Decorating these cakes was my favorite part; how often do you get to try two presentations at once? For our version, I went with simple elegance: a cream cheese swoosh and some walnuts. For the cake walkers’ version, I wanted to do something a little fancy. I’d seen this incredibly cute autumn tree decoration on a Taste of Home recipe:

Photo by Taste of Home

They created this with melted chocolate, raisins, golden raisins, and dried cranberries. Isn’t it adorable?! But chocolate on a carrot pineapple cake didn’t sound appealing, so I had to be resourceful. I decided to use cinnamon sprinkled over a tree stencil to create my “spice tree.” I broke out my exacto knife and some poster board to cut out a tree stencil. This in itself was quite the feat: on my first try I painstakingly drew and cut out a tree only to realize it was too big for the cake! I had to sit down and start over. Anyone need a large tree stencil?

Attempt #1 at a tree stencil, with my inspiration on the left.

Attempts #1 and #2 for comparison.

I’m glad I took the time to fiddle with the poster board, because the cake decoration certainly turned out sweet. I can’t wait to use this idea again with melted chocolate. I have a feeling it’ll be a bit easier!

I hope you’ll take some time to make a Good Cake sometime soon. This one’s a great candidate — two luxurious layers of fall flavors.

Carrot Pineapple Cake

Recipe by: Barefoot Contessa (adapted by me)
Yields: one two-layer, 8- or 9-inch cake

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 pound carrots, grated
1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
3/4 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Buttercream Frosting (if you prefer):
2/3 cup white shortening
2/3 cup butter
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon imitation butter flavoring

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. NOTE: You can also use 9-inch pans, but need to adjust the baking time.

For the cake: Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light yellow. Add the vanilla. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, the cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Toss the raisins and walnuts with 1 tablespoon flour. Fold in the carrots and pineapple. Add to the batter and mix well.

Divide the batter equally between the 2 pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. NOTE: For 9-inch pans, I baked around 40-45 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set over a wire rack.

For the frosting: Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth. If you prefer buttercream, simply mix those ingredients together until they reach frosting consistency. NOTE: I’d use cream cheese frosting unless, like me, you needed a cake that did not require refrigeration.

Place 1 layer, flat-side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with diced pineapple, chopped walnuts, or other technique.

Mixing up two cakes.

My cookin’ buddy prepared for (in)action, and then more alert when she sees two cooling cakes!

All frosted and decorated!

Oh, have you seen Byrd’s Halloween costume on the About Willow Bird Baking page? Disregard her pained expression, and please do not call Canine Protective Services! She wore the costume for a total of 10 seconds — just long enough to endure a few photos!

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