The best month of the year is here…

After the long post last week, you deserve a short one. Further, given that these are the months to drink, eat and make merry, don’t spend it staring at a screen. Make some thumbprint cookies, mix the Christmas cake, dress up for the party in the evening, warm some spiced ale, or simply laze in the winter sunshine. We have a bright red lounger nestled among the garden greens, perfect to watch the sun travel the sky. So come on over, depending on the time of the day, we can read a book out where the hibiscus grows, or bake something with cinnamon and apples, or open the bottle which is nicely chilling, (or we could do all three). It is the season to celebrate, exchange gifts and wishes, and embrace the world in one giant hug.

Semolina Cashew Cakes

Semolina Cashew Cakes

Looking for something simple to make, a little sweet, and preferably ‘healthy’, to tide you over to the onslaught of the cookies? Here is something super from the Ovenderful kitchen. I was looking for something to bake for the dad-in-law’s birthday, he is off eggs, and none of my usual recipes would work. Hence, out came the semolina and the wheat to make this grand dessert. Simran recommends that you put them into cupcake liners and make them to be muffins. I went the cake way and regretted it. The shape does not hold up while de-tinning and I had to scrape it out, pile the crumbs into a glass dish and pretend that I wanted it that-a-away. It was hitting-it-out-of-the-park delish, so no one cared.

Ingredients: 1 cup wheat flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 1 cup white sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon baking powder, 1 cup curd/yoghurt, ½ cup water, 1 tsp instant coffee mixed in 1 tbsp hot water, 2/3 cup oil (Simran recommends rice bran, I used olive oil), some crushed roasted cashews for the batter and halves to decorate.

To make: In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugars, baking powder and soda. Mix the liquids in another bowl. Add the crushed cashews. Pour into cupcake liners and bake in a preheated 150 degrees oven for thirty odd minutes.

The door is open, the welcome mat is out, something warm is simmering on the stove, and I am dreaming desserts. Come on, troop in!

An Indian Summer in Ireland

I am running several stories behind. have not shared with you the fantastic recipe for the wheat-semolina cake made to celebrate a family birthday. You are blissfully unaware of the kitchen disaster called the apple doughnut muffins. I have not even begun extolling the virtues of my new air fryer (it is jealousy that killed the toaster).

Before all that (and how I have all the makings for a Tex-Mex party tonight), I need to talk about Ireland. The toaster’s demise sidetracked me horrendously. I am determined, though, to pen down my best food experiences from the vacation; else the tastes and memories shall fade into the Irish misty drizzle and be forgotten.

So here goes, without further ado – a list (ranked in ascending order) of my top ten food memories from an Indian summer in Ireland.

# 10: A Sub for breakfast from the local SPAR: What’s the big deal, I hear you ask. What’s so special about some lettuce, bell peppers and corn in fresh bread? The sub, ordinary as it was, that morning in Dublin, symbolized my victory over public transport in a strange country. If you ever feel that you know it all, do yourself a favor: travel to a new country, and take the tube or catch a bus to somewhere alone. It is both humbling and empowering.

The sub therefore, was the result of me figuring out that one needs change in coins to pay the fare in a bus in Dublin. Which, in turn, was the result of me figuring out all the buses to and fro my little B&B tucked away in the suburbs. It also marked the start of my day alone in Dublin, spent primarily being lost and for some unexplained reason, marching alongside tens of thousands of Irish protesting the water charges. That is a story for a different day, and for a different blog.

Alone, but not lonely, at the Norseman,  Temple Bar Area

Alone, but not lonely, at the Norseman, Temple Bar Area

#9: Noodles on a rainy evening: Sorry, I am crap at being a food reporter. I have completely forgotten the name of this little Asian eatery – one of those chain ones, complete with rickety tables and a laminated menu with supposedly tempting pictures of food. It was just off O’Connell in Dublin, our last evening in Ireland. Exhausted with all the driving and walking we had done that day, all my husband and I wanted was a warm meal. So a big bowl of noodles, with some spring rolls and spicy chilli sauce, had steaming hot on a drizzly evening, clutching wet umbrellas, while hordes of Dubliners and tourist swarmed past us, more than hit the spot.

#8 Temple Bar Area: I might as well finish with Dublin. Now shut your eyes and imagine. (Okay, you have to open your eyes to read this. First read this, and then shut your eyes and imagine.) You are floating in space, only to plummet to earth, hover over Ireland, zero onto Dublin, dive into the center of the city, zoom along narrow cobble stone streets, thrumming with people and dotted with crooning buskers, pass the various eateries and pubs, wait as a door swings open and the music – perhaps Irish, some American – dances out, pass by couple of bachelor parties in full costume and full swing, listen in on strange accents meeting and mingling with the Irish lilt, and feel the gradual crescendo of energy and excitement on a Friday night in the pulsing heart of a city at the center of the world.

On our common birthday, with Oscar Wilde

On our common birthday, with Oscar Wilde

The Temple Bar Area is supposed to be over-hyped, but I had a thoroughly good time, both on the Friday evening spent with the girls from work, after a long week of toil, and my time there the next day. While Friday was about learning the local custom of standing at the bar, squeezed against several strangers, sipping on a pint (of Bulmers Cider), and swaying to the music, the day after was about gratefully sinking into the window seat at the Norseman and watching the world go by. When in Dublin, a pint in one of the bars here is a must do, firmly recommended.

#7: Hyland’s Burren Restaurant: Leave the noisy pubs of Dublin for this quiet and charming place in the little village of Ballyvaughan. The husband and I spent a perfectly pleasant evening, over pale ale and a perfectly grilled vegetarian platter. In Ireland, the lonelier, colder and darker the night, the more welcoming and warm are the local bars and restaurants. Hyland’s is no exception, and the staff know exactly when you need something and leave you alone the rest of the time. A wonderful end to a long drive and imagining Daniel Radcliff suddenly apparating at the Cliffs of Moher.

Falafel and a little education at Oslo Microbrewery, Galway

Falafel and a little education at Oslo Microbrewery, Galway

I am getting hungry for lunch so subsequent descriptions are about to get a lot of shorter, so hang on for the remaining 6.

# 6: McGann’ Pub in Doolin: First off, how great a name is Doolin? Doolin is a little village, on the Wild Atlantic Way, in County Clare, made famous on the tourist circuit by being a pit-stop for those visiting the Cliffs of Moher. It is next to a town called Lisdoonvarna. You don’t know need to know that, except for how great a name is Lisdoonvarna? Anyhow, we ate at McGann’s at Doolin on a sunny afternoon on the way to the Cliffs. Despite arriving at the same time as a bus load of tourists, we were served in a jiffy. S had the day’s special, a big bowl of hot mushroom soup while I ate pasta. There wasn’t a single place in Ireland, where the wait staff was not extremely good at coming up with vegetarian food options or modifying their dishes to suit us. The pasta was done exactly to my liking and the soup was delicious.

The reason why McGann’s is on the list is because this is where I met Smythwick’s pale ale. The friendly bartender helped me with a few samples, and lo and behold, I found my best friend for the trip (the beer, the not the bartender.) People will go on and on about Guinness, but my recommendation is to sample other brew as well. Stay clear of the obnoxious Coor’s and try the local beer in the towns that you visit.

#5: Oslo Bar, Galway: Which brings me nicely to #5. 5 things that put Oslo so high on the list – they craft their own beer and stock plenty from around the world, they are right by the gorgeous Galway Bay, they have great falafel, the décor is quirky and welcoming, and in the ladies’ loo they have the most gorgeous hand painted poster. Need I say more?

Gorgeousness at Oslo, Galway

Gorgeousness at Oslo, Galway

#4: Pablo Picante in Dublin: Oh, I forgot, we need to go back to Dublin for Pablo Picante. In fact go to Dublin for Pablo Picante. Why? Because they put the picante in Mexican! Trust me on the picante, what’s salsa if it does not cause smoke to stream out of the ears. I ordered the Victorian Verde, both times I visited. (Yes, I liked it so much that I went back the next day!). The girls got some chips with guacamole which was also delish. Far from being doughy or dry, my burrito packed quite a punch and had the perfect ratio of flour, fillings, rice, and sauce.

So inspired am I with the Pablo Picante memories, that I am dishing up Tex-Mex for dinner. Home-made guacamole, refried beans, tomato salsa with grilled vegetables, marinated in my special secret recipe (which I shall reveal only at gun point, or if you ask real nice.)

#3 Arches at Adare: On a long cross country drive from Dingle to Kilkenny, we stopped at Arches to have lunch, proving that sometimes the most random choices are the best ones. While the food is good enough, the service is what it makes it super. The owner personally ensured that we were comfortable, customizing because I wanted my sandwiches grilled; the service staff had an awesome sense of humor and truly cared for our and other diners’ comfort. Tip: The apple pie was as light and flaky as a cinnamon-vanilla cloud. You just have to order dessert.

Apple Pie at Arches, Adare

Apple Pie at Arches, Adare

#2: Stoney Kebabish: We stayed near Kilkenny, at this dear farmhouse called Lawcus. The owner (Ann- Marie) recommended that we check out the nearby eatery at Stoneyford. And thus it comes to pass, that my second most favorite food memory from Ireland is actually that of an Indian place run by a Pakistani gentleman! I do believe that it is pointless to go seeking familiar home-food when you can sample all the local delights in a ‘foreign’ country, but chips with curry sauce washed down with Smythwick’s, is just impossible to pass up. The owner is such a dear and I hope he continues to do roaring trade.

#1 Breakfast at Lawcus Farmhouse: Ann Marie had also thoughtfully given us a hand drawn map of the local area, and we woke up early next morning and for a stroll around the nearby ruins of a twelfth century priory (in Kells). As we wandered through the stone tower houses, I imagined a bustling priory straight from Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. The presence of several sheep with their woolly gazes was a bit out of place, though. After the priory, we walked by an old water wheel and made our way along the meandering King’s river, with birds and swans for company. While leprechauns were scarce, or in hiding, they did serve up a rainbow to tie the morning up (my birthday gift, as the husband put it!)

Breakfast at Lawcus Farmhouse

Breakfast at Lawcus Farmhouse

The walk gave us just the right appetite for Ann Marie’s breakfast, pictured here. We left the menu to her and she dished up the perfect omelet with cheese and spinach, in her open kitchen. And the lovely birthday breakfast is, rightfully, the #1 food memory.

As you can imagine, I left Ireland with lasting visions of shamrock and potatoes, mixed up with picante and curry sauce. What makes the food scene in Ireland the best, is undoubtedly the caring and warm hospitality of the hosts, owners, bar tenders and service staff. My best advice to you, that when in Ireland, ask for recommendations, the day’s specials, sit at the bar first, and strike up a conversation. Time flows different in the country, a lot more relaxed, perhaps stopping for beer and some spuds. The only way to understand the pulse of this nation is to join in, sit back with a drink, and drift along.

For the want of a toaster…

My horoscope for the last few months might have read “The period will be marked by bursts of frenetic activity, with socializing and spending time with family and loved ones. Travel, for social and professional reasons is indicated, in which you shall explore exciting places and meet new people. Those with an interest in art shall enjoy literary indulgences. You shall celebrate your birthday in an unexpected manner.”

:D

Birthday Dessert - Apple Pie and Cream

Birthday Dessert – Apple Pie and Cream

Numerous, and mostly good, things happened over the last two months, on my frenetic-activities-enforced blogging break. I travelled to Ireland and met lifelike replicas of Oscar Wilde (on our common birthday, no less) and Pierce Brosnan. Then there was a quick vacation to Pondicherry where many bottles of jam and one packet of flower seeds were purchased. A couple of work trips took place, which took me from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea; festivals were celebrated, much fuss made over birthdays, family came a-visiting, huge meals were cooked and/or eaten, and about a trillion liters of beer were consumed.

Then my toaster died.

Honestly, this post started off as a tribute to Ireland’s food and drinks scene. Cue: the rather upbeat tone of the preceding paragraphs. But, this Tuesday morning, my world came to a juddering halt when while I was popping the bread into it, my toaster gave a couple of bleak sparks, and well, popped it.

Bad times never seemed so bad.

To add salt to injury, my dear friends would not stop ribbing about my relationship with my toaster. You see, I don’t see the point of sliced bread, or indeed the world, without a toaster. What good are eggs, however fluffy, without toast? What good is butter, rich and golden, without toast? What good is breakfast without toast? Oh my God! What is the point of waking up if not for breakfast, if not for toast, if not for the toaster?! The battle was not lost for the want of a nail, indeed, the world was lost for the want of a toaster!

My so-called friends, though, punned galore about my toaster being toast, getting fried, and of course, burning out.

It hurt.

Enter my brother in law (all my blogs feature sisters and sisters in law, time for some diversity, I say). This dear BIL writes software code by day and plays in a metal band at night. To add to his very marriageable charms, he makes the best udon and pizza (from scratch) that I have ever eaten. He is also a really cool DIY person and can fix everything from decrepit furniture to a broken fridge. His most sterling quality, though, is his deep empathy for my toaster-less existence. When I moaned that only an ode can adequately express my toaster feelings, this is what he sent me.

An ode to a broken and lifeless toaster
(Well… more like a metal song)

Verse
Why do we live in a world where we suffer?
All I wanted to do was melt down some butter.
On a slice of fresh bread, made warm inside.
Woke up one day, and found that you’d died.

Bridge

Oh, the pain.
I’ll never know
True love again.

Chorus

One day you may find
It comes to an end.
The good things in life
The reason to strive
For toasted, fresh bread.

Verse

I stand here this morning
My stomach gives warning
Of something very wrong on this Earth.
God who’s all knowing
Never gave warning
Or sent me so much as a sign
Of this curse.

Bridge

Not again.
I’m left all alone.
No one but you
Can fill this void inside.

Chorus

One day you may find
It comes to an end.
The good things in life
The reason to strive
For toasted, fresh bread.

Verse

The pangs of hunger
You’re torn asunder
That’s it. You’ve had your last, good fry.
He’s had his vengeance
And now you’re all spent
And now I say goodbye.

Outro

I’ll live on….
Must go on…

(Insert wicked guitar solo here)

Is he not the best ever? 

The BIL has a really sweet tooth, as evinced by his dessert desires after every meal. He was in India this last month, to celebrate Diwali with the family. I had a long list of desserts planned for him and his wife, but got around to making only hot chocolate pudding, literally hours before their flight back. I scaled down David Lebovitz’s hot chocolate pudding recipe and dished this up in 40 minutes, start to finish. Quickly break 55 gm of good chocolate into a bowl, and add 30 gm of butter. Heat gently over a low flame till melted. Whisk together (for 5 minutes) a large egg, 2 tbsp sugar and a pinch of salt, till the mix forms soft peaks. Bit by bit, gently fold together the eggs and chocolate. I divided the mix into 3 ramekins/oven proof ceramic dishes and baked for 15 minutes in a 190c oven.

Hot Chocolate Pudding

Hot Chocolate Pudding

To make the pudding less cake-like and more gooey, dial up the butter to about 40 gm.

That’s it, bye for now. You go make this pudding, I gotta run buy a new toaster.

Airports, Adventures and Apple Cake

Those who know me in real life, or rather are Facebook friends with me (which is really not the same, but in this case suffices) will know about my passion for airport adventures. Think of the Frodos and Rincewinds of the world, the reluctant albeit great heroes, battling the minions of Sauron and strange magical creature hell bent on violent dismemberment. Now imagine me, the reluctant traveler. Only instead of Mordor, it is the airport. At any given time of the work week, and many weekends, I am either undertaking the dangerous journey to an airport, or away from one, or I can be found at one waiting for yet another delayed flight, or am on the plane staring listlessly at the flight menu and thinking of the distant pleasures of the shire and home.

Apple Cream Cheese Cake

Apple Cream Cheese Cake

When I say airport adventures, do not imagine the run of the mill delayed flights, bawling babies and lost baggage. I am talking heavy duty stuff here – changing three trains and catching a tuk tuk in pouring rain to catch a flight once late in the night, or being caught in subterranean flooding at 4 AM while trying to make an international-domestic transfer, and medical emergencies galore – this woman who fainted ON me once, or the international flight which refused to take off because the passenger next to me seemed to have died – flirty co-passengers, schizo co-passengers (I once politely told a memorable flirty-schizo to not disturb me as I wanted to nap and he proceeded to hunt down every air host and hostess aboard to personally and proactively deliver the message to them as well). I have had other passengers take my belongings off the security belt, check-in people give me the wrong boarding pass, and of course, I have tried checking into the wrong airline and once long time back, boarded the wrong flight.

You get the picture right? I have airport karma.

Today, as I drove to the airport yet again, thankfully to not board a flight but, to pick up my dad and mum in law who returned after a long trip away, a list started forming in the brain. A list of lessons learnt or my own version of Murphy-inflight-laws. So here are a few which appeared fully formed from deep subconscious. Please feel free to add any based on your experience:

  • The chances of decent food options are inversely proportional to the wait time at the airport
  • You pick one item from the flight menu, and it is the only item you want, and it will be the one item that she runs out of just before she gets to you
  • The more desolate the airport arrival, and more strange the city, and the later it is at night, the less likely that the cab you booked will show up
  • The length of the flight is directly tied to the number of colic-y babies around your seat
  • The length of the flight is inversely proportional to the quality of the inflight entertainment
  • The less chatty you are feeling, the more the co-passenger will want to talk/be a nervous flyer/be a person you want to avoid
  • The lesser the time you have at hand, the longer it will take to get to the airport, the worse the traffic will be and all the lights will be red
  • The more tired you are, the longer the journey you are returning from, the more delayed the flight will be
  • The chances of the flight being delayed are directly proportional to the importance of the meeting you need to attend
  • The greater the distance to the airport, the greater the pressure on your bladder

Coming to the point of this blog, I carried a cake all the way to the airport and then onwards for family lunch. It was my mum in law’s birthday when she was away (remember cashew nuts from last year!) and we celebrated it today.
The apple cream cheese cake was essentially a mass of crumbly brown buttery deliciousness. I do recommend you bake it – but with three health warnings:

  • You shall put you a couple of pounds with every single bite
  • You shall need several glasses of water to chase down all that sugar and fat
  • The batter of caramelized butter, vanilla and cream cheese is out of the world heavenly. You shall be tempted to bathe in it.
Would you like some tea with it?

Would you like some tea with it?

The husband (with great foresight) insisted I bake the night before, so as not to be rushed for today’s pick up. So we left bang on time only to have the flight come in much before its scheduled arrival.

I will never win this battle.

The start to soup, salad, and starters

My mid-afternoon epiphany: You know you have been badly bitten by the cooking bug when you go to a lending library and end up issuing recipe books. I spent a pleasant afternoon at the neighborhood library today browsing through their shelf of cookbooks. I could pick one to issue and I did want yet another Nora Roberts on my remaining card.

Aside: I have come to know Nora Roberts rather late in life, but do not fear, am speeding through her books like an F1 driver. Any day now, they will award a doctorate to me.

The hasty makings of the bruschetta

The hasty makings of the bruschetta

After some agonized dithering, I chose a book on soups, salads and starters. It was the borscht recipe that sealed the deal. I cannot resist beetroot. Note to self: have to experiment with beetroot. Oh dear, this blog post is full of distractions. The fact that I am watching a teleshopping show while I write it must be the sole reason.

Aside 2: Watching teleshopping is fascinating and hugely entertaining. The anchors who have been trained to speak as if they are reporting live from the site of a volcano eruption, or mimic the high pitched reporting gregariousness last heard at Kate and William’s wedding. The touching before and after stories in which everything from abdomen fat to toilet stains and kitchen grout simply melts away to result in a glowing and successful ever after!!! It is a lesson in marketing – identifying those exact situations in which you are compelled to teleshop – do you have guests over, or are travelling, or are pregnant, or are a college student who nobody likes, or have you completely lost your self-confidence? ?!! All immediate needs can be met by one magic one phone call!!! And guess the best bit!! Notice the wonderful offers?!! You shall actually save money while spending it!!!

The hasty bruschetta fresh from the oven

The hasty bruschetta fresh from the oven

Now the reason I picked the soup and salad book is because those are my latest obsessions. Armed with balsamic vinegar, my immersion blender, and thyme, am determined to learn how to freeze vegetable stock and rock the lettuce and ricotta world forever. You see, my mid-evening epiphany, yesterday which was more startling than today’s literary one, was that I have turned the corner. The time was when a bored week day evening meant dropping in at a friend’s, going out for a drink, or cramming popcorn hypnotically while watching a movie. Instead, I pootled around the internet, home and kitchen and pureed cauliflower. To make this hearty creamy curried cauliflower soup with some hastily thrown together bruschetta. Lip smacking deliciousness. I spent a fair bit of time fussing over the soup but the poor bread was left till the last minute. Did someone mention teleshopping?!!!

Creamy curried cauliflower soup (dinner for two hungry adults) From the Kitchn
Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large pan. Slice and saute an onion (with a bit of salt) till translucent. Mince and add two cloves of garlic, and cook for a couple of minutes more. Meanwhile cut into florets half a head of cauliflower. Add to the pan, along with a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander powder. Put in some turmeric and add a little over two cups of water. Note: please use stock instead. I do believe it will work much better. Add more salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for a further 15-20 minutes. Puree the soup using an immersion blender (or your food processor) and mix in half a cup of coconut milk. At this point, taste and add more seasoning to taste. I found it fairly bland and so livened it up with more cumin, pepper and salt. To serve, sprinkle some roasted cashews, parsley (I had only dried herbs on hand) and a dash of pepper and cayenne.

Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup

Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup

Hasty bruschetta (for when you are low on ingredients and time) Adapted from allrecipes
Cut four slices of whole wheat bread into half. Brush some olive oil onto them and toast in the oven for a few minutes. In a bowl, mix in some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic and chopped basil (preferably fresh) and some salt. Chop one tomato, one small onion, half a capsicum, and steam some sliced baby corn. Add to the dressing and let it rest a while. Dollop on the toast and sprinkle some grated cheese. Grill for five to ten minutes.

 

Cake sprinkles and birthday mirth

I write this blog post amidst the greenery of a university campus, one which is my husband’s alma mater and where my sister works. Visiting her on a mini vacation and being overwhelmed with the desire to be a student again. There is something undoubtedly alluring about the peace induced by the leafy avenues; time somehow floats gentler, carrying with it echoes of aspirations and laughter of several generations of students. The library holds the same awe as a church or any quiet place of worship and while one can quibble that “solid and ageless” can mean “stodgy and rigid”, I prefer the former.

Now contrast this sense of quiet and venerability with where I was last Sunday – the birthday party of a six year old – several cities and a world apart. The prep was marginally more hectic than the actual party as the SIL and I put it together literally overnight. While I am famed to letting things come down to the wire, cooking a couple of dishes for ten people, baking a cake and multiple batches of cookies (the rolling and cutting out of which required a zillion trips to the fridge), finding enough tins and bowls to carry all the food to the party venue, changing my mind twice about which luggage to carry, and catching a flight straight out of the party was a bit much even for me. All’s well, though, if it ends in cake sprinkles and the sunny smiles of a six year old.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

The cake was to David Lebovitz upside down cake recipe. Note to self, must try with these other fruits – think pear or peaches. Note 2 to self. Buy a large cake pan or else prepare to wash of hardened caramelized sugar from all those spring form crevices, the baking tray etc. No amount of aluminum foil keeps the sugar in.

The cookies were rather last minute and out of Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen cookbook, shall share the recipe with you next week. They were called chocolate sugar cookies if I recall correctly, am calling them chocolate heart cookies.

With chocolate heart cookies

With chocolate heart cookies

The cake was a hit as was the birthday party. Ah, that reminds me, I watched a 100 foot journey yesterday. A decent enough movie, and while it is a bit of cliché, food does create memories. We created some great memories last Sunday using cake sprinkles and Nutella. Here is wishing my niece a very happy birthday and many more visits from her fairy godmother.

My husband kept saying “scary godmother”. Well then.

Remembering Tomorrow and Putting up Tibetan Prayer Flags

‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.’
‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.
‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’
‘I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’
‘That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first —’
‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’
‘— but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’
‘I’m sure MINE only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’
‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.

Stay with me and this quote from Alice in Wonderland for a moment. Get your memory to work backwards. Remember how I have a steak, paneer and apple pie aficionado friend? Remember how he came for lunch one day and I made an apple ricotta cake for him? And how one thing led to another and resulted in this blog. Fast forward a few months. This friend gifts a set of prayer flags to me.

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Now remember tomorrow…

No, wait, hit the pause button. Like Alice, I find it horrendously confusing when time shuffles around in strange ways and the day after comes before the day before. What I do get, however, is Jung’s concept of synchronicity. For me, Jung is a rock star psychiatrist (second only to my personal shrink, Terry Pratchett). To simplify the jargon, synchronicity is a ‘meaningful coincidence’, in yet other words, the universe is sending you a message by making two apparently co-incidental but meaningfully connected events happen.

I like to believe that it was synchronous that I came across the prayer flags again on a particularly difficult day this last week. It was a sunny and windy morning, when I strung them up. And now we have much needed messages of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom blowing in the wind.

Now coming to tomorrow, yet again.

It is my ‘helpful’ niece’s birthday. She turns six and believes that ‘pink and bling’ is the only complete fashion statement. Through some deep discussions, we have established that carrot is her favorite vegetable and pineapple her favorite fruit, and she must have both in her cake. She has agreed to this with the single condition that the cake must have every color imaginable to mankind on it. A tall, albeit colorful, order. To keep my littlest customer happy, better get down to it soon. While I am at it, wonder if I should throw in some jam and, in keeping with the Queen’s rules, make it jam tomorrow.

On coming home

I have a big confession to make. Promise not to judge me. For all my dreams and love for traveling, I get homesick a week into the nicest vacation. I could be on top of some hill gazing onto a field of loveliness and be filled with wistfulness for my couch and the view of the television. The feel of the bathroom slippers, the pleasures of warming a glass of milk, the glad nodding of the garden flowers, the tinkle of the wind chimes, a few of the things I miss dreadfully when I am away.

A glimpse of our garden

A glimpse of our garden

The best bit about going away, though, is the coming back. I can write poems to describe the joy I felt last evening landing back in town after a work week away. Or rather, I would have written poems if knew how. Suffice to say, it’s a warm vanilla dessert feeling.

To celebrate the homecoming, I put together one of my favorite comfort food, a banana smoothie, this morning. You can pretty much blitz any ingredients you have on hand to go with the bananas – cacao powder, caster sugar, some chocolate chips – whatever gets you going. Today, I used 2 baby bananas, about 300 ml cold full-milk, a few dates and almonds. Blitz for a minute. You can use the hand held blender or the blender attachment of the mixer. Add ice cubes while blitzing for a much colder and creamier finish.

Banana Smoothie

Banana Smoothie

Adieu for now, I need to go hug the couch, gaze at the garden and pick a book to read.

In which we make Mocha Bundt Cake and some good memories

I was reading the other day (I forget where) the differences in making a ‘living’ and making a ‘life’. It resonated with me and hence stayed, and set me wondering about what makes a ‘life’. Central to a life well lived would be the little actions and gestures which impact the people around us for better. Making them laugh a little, feel a little special and letting them know that they are loved. Taking the thought further, a good life will be peppered with golden moments that leave behind their glow in the form of cozy memories. Such days may or may not be the big ones – birthdays, weddings – they easily can be the ones that are serendipitous. A lunch with a good friend, a walk hand in hand with someone special while the sun sets on a quiet day or a bottle of wine with a great salad enjoyed under warm sunshine. I had a couple of such great times with the sister in law recently. The fact that she has been recently very ill (and is still recovering) makes time together all the more precious and somehow, more appreciated.

We met one Sunday and baked together after a long time, this Mocha Bundt Cake. Or rather, she baked while I helped. Or rather, she tried to bake while I kept her little one out of her hair. I had promised to take my niece for a swim, who assumed that sticking her head into the mixing bowl at every opportune moment was the easiest way to expedite the cake and advance the swimming lesson. Anyone who has tried baking with an energetic six year old who insists on ‘helping’, knows that while it is infinitely more fun, it takes that much longer and requires more cleaning up. So we sped through the cake the best we could and stuffed it into the oven and went for a swim. Coming back to a slice of this – sticky and cool with its coffee liqueur icing – was perfect. We iced only three quarters of it to make the remaining child friendly. Swimming is hungry work, you know.

Chocolate Mocha Bundt Cake

Chocolate Mocha Bundt Cake

The other golden moment was helping the SIL prep for a birthday party. Remember, how last year this time, I folded those kusudama flowers for an origami themed party? This time around, the theme was jungle animals and we had a pleasant Saturday morning cutting some adorable elephants out. (We also did this strange cut out of a confused cross between a duck and a chick, complete with feathers for wings. Since I don’t want to scar you with mutated animals, those are not pictured here.) Of course, the niece ‘helped’ – she was in charge of gluing all the ears onto the elephants and she kept urging us to keep the assembly line going. Slave driver, I say.

Brithday elephantsComing back to the cake – the icing does get too thin with the quantities of coffee liqueur mentioned, so go light on it and mix some bits of it at a time till you get the desired consistency. The cake itself was a bit dry (perhaps we over-baked it, what with the intervening swimming lesson) and the coffee could have shouted louder. Brew a strong decoction, I suggest.

Be it elephant cut outs, other mutant beings, or a cake which is neither coffee nor chocolate, go get the craft scissors or the baking pans out. There is a life to be made, and memories waiting to be created.

Aside: I wonder what kind of noise a mutant-duck-chick would make? Chuak or Queep?

Dreams of the Last Homely House in Kerala

Oh dear! This is a post with yet another list. A pretty straightforward one at that. What I love about Kerala, or why I believe Kerala will be where I retire to my own organic garden (microbrewery attached), a gigantic flat screen and a little place called the Last Homely House which shall be open to all friends who want to share laughter and break bread together, or anybody who needs a quiet place to listen to the stream and watch the monsoons drench the hibiscus flowers.

Arabian Sea at Bekal

Arabian Sea at Bekal

The list

  • The green, oh the green. Any season, any time of the year, the green drapes itself over every surface and sends little tendrils of peace into the heart
  • The green is because the water is – the heavenly sheets of rain which turns mud roads into flowing rivers of silt, the backwaters where time flows to a different music, the sudden waterfalls, the vast lakes and of course, the Arabian Sea being the perfect backdrop for all those palm trees. Kerala is where I first saw the ocean as a ten year old (who had just learnt to swim). I still have the tan from that day!
  • Perfect for reading. Those who like reading, know how the right ambience, the quiet surroundings, though not critical to the pleasure of reading, just completely dial it up. Here’s something from the Lake of Dreams, which was my company by the river which flowed behind our cottage in Vythri “Rows and rows of books lined the shelves and I let my eyes linger on the sturdy spines, thinking how human books were, so full of ideas and images, worlds imagined, worlds perceived; full of fingerprints and sudden laughter and the sighs of readers, too.”
  • Where else can you go from a long lazy swim into a world class spa and pamper yourself silly with a sensual Ayurvedic treatment. Ten minutes into the shirodhara or better still, snehadhara – I promise – you will discover the peace attained after hours of meditation
  • The food, my god, the food! Iddiyapam, appams, kerala parathas, the kadala (chickpeas) curry, fried plantains, the avial, the thorans, the… some of my best food memories are from the numerous Kerala vacations – the parathas made by the lone caretaker of the lopsided guesthouse perched atop the most gorgeous valley, the freshly cooked lunch on the houseboat in the Vembanad lake while the monsoons provided background music, or the kadala curry which the hotel-owner-main-chef insisted on personally dishing up for us for breakfast. Am telling you, if you could choose one state to eat food from for the rest of your life – Kerala won’t be a bad choice
Dialing up the Reading Pleasure (Bekal, 2014)

Dialing up the Reading Pleasure (Bekal, 2014)

So yes, it was a perfect weekend at Bekal a couple of weeks back, where the back waters meet the ocean, the hibiscus reach out to the palm trees and where god chooses to bestow his touch on earth.