Category Archives: Misc

Announcing Retirement

I have a big announcement, and a huge request to make of you. You see, the Pootler Chef has expanded her horizons and decided to explore new vistas. I am discontinuing this blog and retiring her for good. Thanks a mill for reading my posts and encouraging me to cook, bake and write. I have had the time of my life!

Now for the favour, do come get acquainted with my new avatar, over at The Pootle List. This bucket list blog chronicles my life pootles through all things which I am passionate about – books, travel, crafts amongst others. The themes of cooking and baking, of course, find their due place and making the perfect vanilla souffle continues to be one of the top items in my bucket list.

So thanks again and hope to see you again.

Signing off one last time as the Pootler chef

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My constant companions: books, cats, and a tummy ache

I have had another week of being a cereal-killer. This time courtesy a band of bacteria brothers who are partying their way through my digestive system. Everyone I know seems to be laid up with a tummy infection. Since I ignored mine for a couple of weeks, and compounded it with hypochondria and a low threshold of pain, I was reduced to silently mouthing my favorite childhood song

“Got a stomach ache, got a stomach ache,
Got a stomach just now,
Called the doctor, called the doctor,
Called the doctor just now,
Operation, operation,
Operation just now,
Just now an operation,
An operation just now.”

(Aside: You should pity my family. I was given to belting this out, loud and raucous, each time there was even a hint of childhood tummy ache.)

I did not have the energy to do anything but make guttural pain induced noises, while sipping on water and occasionally eating a bowl of cereal or yogurt. Tough and merciless times.

If it was music and being fit that helped me through the last week, it was books and cats to the rescue this week. I would have spent 6,392 minutes this week looking at cat pictures and videos (everything from cat shows, to small cats, large cats, confused cats, cats taking a bath, eejit cats). Once the universe cottoned on to my cat obsession, I was inundated with cat links. Friends sent me links and pictures, and Facebook’s algorithms spewed cats on my newsfeed. One of my favorites is from Brain Pickings.

Vegetarian cat regarding a plate of fried eggs
Vegetarian cat regarding a plate of fried eggs

The other savior were books. I discovered – fell in love – with two authors this week, Kate Atkinson and Maeve Binchy. Kate writes as if she swallowed a couple of limes for breakfast and then laconically abetted a few murders before lunch. Her characters, in even very minor roles, jump out of the pages and sit by your side while you read – that’s how powerful her writing is. Maeve, on the other hand, writes frothy light stuff, like a long gentle bath with scented bubbles. Her books are set in Ireland, and given my obsession with the country, they make for delightful reading. The one I read, Quentins, was about a restaurant and Dublin, and there is something delicious about relating to ‘getting a coffee by the Liffey’. So tummy ache keeping you awake till wee hours of the morning ceases to become a problem and instead becomes an opportunity for a reading marathon. I get thrilled when I experiment with reading, discover an author I like, and realize that he or she has written tons of books already. The start of a beautiful friendship, when you know that there are many long and joyous days awaiting the both of you!

Pita bread and its friends for dinner
Pita bread and its friends for dinner

There were occasional period of lucidity – remember how we had folks over for dinner last week? As a nod to my days working in the middle east, I dished up babaghanoush, hummus and tzatziki, all David Lebovitz recipes. Served with lightly toasted pita bread. There was also a creamy corn in bread muffin cups, which you don’t see here. Will put up a pic and recipe for that when I make it next. Meanwhile, let me know if you need help sourcing Tahini. The friends brought the main meal and dessert to our place. The cinnamon swirl cake was the most delicious ever, and on enquiring, they told us it was baked from a box. Determined to figure out how to make it from scratch sans a pre-mix. This sounds close.

Anyhow, I should experiment this week. SG is packing his bags for the work week, and I am looking forward to some more cereal, cats, and reading.

“I talked to a calzone for fifteen minutes last night…

…before I realized it was just an introverted pizza” – Jarod Kintz

This week was that sort of a week. The family is away, and SG packed his bags and left Monday morning for several days on the road. Determined to eat healthy, I stocked up all manners of fruits and vegetables, and bookmarked several tasty recipes which were easy to do for one person. I planned this delicious soup involving basil leaves, celery and spaghetti and a proteinilicious broth with red lentils and barley. I bought all the makings of pad thai noodles, and lovingly picked out sprouts for all the salads I was going to throw together. You get the picture, all aglow with health and happiness and home-made nutritious meals.

When it came down to it, I subsisted on cornflakes.

You know you are depressed when you find yourself having cereal for dinner, clutching the TV shawl and remote for company. (If you don’t have a TV shawl, or a TV throw, or a TV something warm, may I suggest a semi-lie-down on my couch?). On a typical day, I put in some thought into my cereal bowl – perhaps some chopped nuts or almond flakes, with dates or a sliced banana, drizzle over some honey, chill the milk to the right temperature. But no fancy-schmancy, this week. Dump cereal into bowl, pour milk, grab spoon.

You know you are quite depressed when it is it is 7 PM in the evening, and you are having cereal straight from the box.

You know you are very depressed when it is 7 PM in the evening, and you don’t even have the energy to have cereal.

I stopped short of cereal from the box stage, thanks to the lovely pick-me-up supplied by Nutella straight from the jar. May Fererro rest in peace knowing he has made the world a much happier place.

A couple of other factors which broke my headlong fall into slovenly and lonely despair – exercise endorphins and music. The daily act of finding a clean pair of socks, doing up the laces, and finding the right tunes to accompany me on my 5K steps plucked me off the couch and into the fresh air. As for the music, I listened to everything from hard rock, teenage pop, some really good old Bollywood, Coke Studio, barely tolerable Bollywood, old favorites and new discoveries. Keep it reasonably peppy and the feet and spirit soon follow suit.

One evening, tired of hearing the basil quietly wilt their last, and the baby-corn yellowing to a sad death, I put together this Tarla Dalal’s paneer (cottage cheese) baby-corn jalfrazie, a simple recipe and quite doable for one person: Heat a teaspoon of oil in a pan and add some cumin seeds, wait for them to crackle. Add chopped spring onion whites and capsicum along with some ginger. Saute for two minutes. Add sliced babycorn, turmeric powder, chilli powder, tomato puree and some salt. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally till the babycorn is cooked (about five minutes). Add the cubed paneer and spring onions greens towards the end.
I ran out of energy for the fresh coriander garnish. I trust you to do better.

Paneer and Baby Corn Jalfrazie
Paneer and Baby Corn Jalfrazie

Anyhoo, am back on track now. SG returned and am merrily planning the menu cooking for a whole bunch of friends expected for dinner. Yay!

We’ll just have to re-stock the ice-cream and keep quiet as to how several tubs seem to have disappeared during the week.

Good times are made of food and laughter

Nibbling a bar of chocolate, over a delightfully fat book, tucked into the window seat by the frangipani and bougainvillea. Heralding the various seasons of childhood – lightly salted and deliciously sour jamuns, biting into the year’s first mango or green apple, shelling water chestnut by the dozen. Standing by the ice-cream truck, making the all-important decision of which flavor to choose. The meal cooked by my grandma especially for me. Street food and ice lollies with friends, graduating to midnight feasts and food experiments gone wonderfully off-track. A hot cup of tea after being drenched in a sudden monsoon shower. The perfect afternoon, a languid picnic or a late lunch, with the setting sun lingering on to share the laughter. My best memories invariably involve some form of food, the clink of glasses, good conversation, broad smiles, and being perfectly content in the moment. As I am sure do yours. Do share,  in the comments, would love to listen to your favorite food memories.

This weekend was spent adding to list of good moments over home-made meals. The family got together over drinks and dinner, followed by a sleep-in breakfast and some lazy splashing in the first swim of the summers. While the brother-in-law put together the Bloody Marys, I made grilled zucchini nachos topped with roasted tomato salsa, refried beans and a cheesy yoghurt dip. The salsa and the dip have sort of become my signature potluck dishes and this weekend also marked a first in which a neighbor friend asked for my recipe. For the record, I wrote them out on pretty paper, and successfully resisted the strong temptation to stick on cut-outs of golden stars and hearts. It is not every day that I get asked for my recipes.

Grilled Zucchini Nachos with Salsa and Refried Beans
Grilled Zucchini Nachos with Salsa and Refried Beans

Roasted tomato salsa. Adapted from here.
Roast over an open flame, three large tomatoes, till charred. Peel and chop. Heat some oil in a pan and cook till soft, one chopped onion and some green chilies. Add the tomatoes along with some vinegar, salt, pepper, tomato puree, and chopped coriander. Cook for two minutes. Chill till serving.

Refried beans. Adapted from here.
Soak overnight 1 cup of red-kidney beans. Pressure cook, for five whistles, the beans along with one tomato (chopped), half an onion (chopped), some green chillies and salt. Drain and reserve the water. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the remaining half of onion (chopped). Add some chili powder, cumin seed powder, a dash of butter, and the cooked beans. I blended the hot mix into a puree, adding the reserved water, for a smooth consistency. You may choose to mash it by hand. Leave some beans whole to add to the texture.

Grilled zucchini nachos from here.
The simplest recipe ever. Slice into ¼ inch thick rounds, some zucchini. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for a couple of minutes each side, in a hot pan.

To assemble, layer the nachos and top with the salsa, refried beans, some yoghurt dip. Grate over some cheese, if feeling indulgent.

I wanted to experiment with grilled potato nachos as well. Something for next time, I guess. Will tell you how it goes.

Meanwhile, write in with your favorite food memories.

An Attempt at Cloths of Heaven

Two seemingly disparate events, in the last week, have conspired to result in this post. In one, I promised a friend that I shall be more open to poetry. A big fan of poetry, music and cricket, she and I have only chocolate in common, which is a lot to build a friendship on, if you ask me. Regardless, after a particularly rude and dense moment in which I refused to understand something finer she was trying to explain, I resolved to make more of an effort to understand poetry. Alas, this art is such that if you need an explanation, you will never get it. It also has it fair share of pretension masquerading as deep emotion and pain, which plain annoys me. But, as I said, am determined to keep my mind open and sincerely try to be less “prosaic.”

The other event was being visiting my sister for a day on a work trip. I bunked at her place – one that she shares with a flat-mate. Both are terribly young and keeping home for the first time. Blessed with the boundless energy of youth, which mysteriously appears only after noon or thereabout, they move happily from domestic mishaps, to midnight girl gossip sessions and alarm clocks which ‘fail’ to ring. What was impressive about the girls, is their resolution to do something new every day. Last seen, after a long day at work, they were learning the Chinese and Greek alphabets respectively. With chalk and little slates, no less. Inspiring, right?

My something new for today was reading Yeats – specifically this poem.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I chose this primarily because I ‘get’ it courtesy a long ago two-hour conversation about this during my university days. Quite a few of my friends have been determined to educate me, you see. The other reason is that Yeats reminds me of Ireland, always a welcome memory. And last, because it brought to my mind this photograph snapped on my evening walk – sprigs of pink against the blue permanence – my version of cloths of heaven.

Sprigs of Pink
Sprigs of Pink

On the food front, sharing today’s lunch with you – heavenly because of the taste and the ease – the potato omelette. Heat some butter in a pan, and add a sliced onion and a thinly sliced potato (peeled). Add some chili powder (or cayenne, if you will) and cover and cook till the potatoes are done. Meanwhile, whisk two eggs with 2 tbsp of milk and some salt and pepper. Spread some finely chopped coriander over the potatoes and pour in the egg. Cover and cook for a few minutes more. Voila! Erm, poetry on a plate. Or rather, a quick rhyme.

Potato Omelette
Potato Omelette

Shall keep you posted on my ‘news’. For the record, am drawing the line at appreciating cricket. Just.not.happening.

 

Chasing clouds from the sky

I wanted to bake today. Truly. A dear friend is in town and I wanted to bake a treat for her. So I read a few recipes, watched a few cat videos, read completely unrelated articles, did some on-line window shopping and hankered after kitchen gadgets that I neither need, nor do I have any place to store. I don’t even know how to use this 2 in 1 Pop Up Vegetables & Fruits Peeler, but now my life is incomplete without one. Truly.

In other words, I have nothing to show for the past hour except the new-found knowledge that tomatoes need peeling, and there exists in this world, is a special device which can do such a task. How have I reached middle age without peeled tomatoes?! Truly blasphemous.

Or these Green Groovy Ice Pop Candy Lolly Molds, Set of 6?! An incomplete life! Summer is just around the corner, and I NEED to learn how to make ‘em watermelon ice lollies!

So there, no baking. If I had baked, for the record, it would have been this dulce de leche cheesecake. Perhaps tomorrow, if the internet does not ruin my evening by broadening my horizons.

Between my dreams of baking and of this mini-cat blackboard, I have left myself 15 minutes to put dinner together. So what’s it going to be? Super-fast creamy spinach toast, I say. Chop some onions and fry with some green chillies in butter. Add some chopped spinach with a pinch of soda bi-carb. Dissolve a tablespoon of cornflour in about a cup of milk and add with some salt. Turn the heat up to medium and stir till the mix thickens. Spread on some toasted whole-wheat bread and grate on some cheese. Bake for a few minutes. Or just serve with some toast on the side.

Creamy SpinachToast
Creamy SpinachToast

Ciao for now. I need to go look at cookware sets for a bit and hum a Kenny Loggins favorite

“So help me if you can, I’ve got to get
Back to the house at Pooh Corner by one

You’d be surprised, there’s so much to be done
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky

Resonance and Comfort Food

I thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments – Douglas Coupland

Last weekend, I awoke, the first in the house to stir, after a late night spent catching up with SG’s brother and his wife, over drinks and food at their place. I spent an hour or so, in the winter sun, reading the newspaper and listening to the flowers dancing in the breeze. My six-year niece woke up next, in a whirlwind of instant energy and with the absolute determination to make the most of every moment that only children possess. We chatted, by her pet goldfish, as she explained their feeding and cleaning routine. Just a few moments of nothing spectacular, no grand thoughts or epiphanies. Just a few moments of sipping the early morning sunshine and being content in the resonance.

Bread Pulav
Bread Pulav

Such simplicity requires comfort food, which by definition is no-fuss and easy to throw together. That weekend morning, the BIL took care of breakfast and dished up grilled sandwiches while I sat with my feet up a little longer. Yesterday, for my second breakfast (there are indulgent days when you require two), I put this bread dish together in exactly ten minutes. The other definition of comfort food is that it should bring back childhood memories and this was practically a staple while growing up. I think my mom made it differently, this has kind of devolved in my kitchen, becoming simpler and super-easy to do. Chop some green chillies, onions and tomatoes. In some ghee/oil, heat some cumin seeds, chuck in the onion and chillies, and sauté for a bit. Add the tomatoes, some red chili powder and turmeric, salt, and chopped ginger if you have any handy. Roughly chop up some sliced bread (I had some which were floating at their best by eat) and mix in. Saute some more and garnish with coriander. You can add diced bell peppers or spring onion (greens and all) or even grate in some carrot. Comfort food is also very forgiving and difficult to screw up.

Here’s wishing you some comfort food, resonance and perfect moments. XO.

The Ahmedabad Chronicles or An Unlikely Christmas

Last week, the world celebrated Christmas and ate plum cake along with ginger bread and wine. Those who bake dished out chocolate crinkles and thumbprint cookies. People sat around Christmas trees and kids left out milk for Santa Claus.

Not me.

Of Vibrant Colours
Of Vibrant Colours

I was vacationing in Ahmedabad, where my baby sister has recently set up home. The trip was expressly made with the purpose of imparting basic cooking skills to her. Instead, it somehow became one long binge of eating out. I ended up chronicling the food scene in the city, which I insist on sharing with you, through some interesting quantitative data, facts and figures.

I have the best sister in the whole world
I have the best sister in the whole world

#Eateries in every square meter: 3
Every foot or so, you shall encounter a joint where you can get some buttermilk and a bite to eat. Folks in the state are mostly vegetarian, and Jain to boot, which means no garlic, no onions, certainly no meat or eggs. Curiously, every restaurant, no matter what size, scale or location has vegetarian food from all over India (read North Indian, and Dosas). Strangely enough, many will also have Chinese, Italian, Thai and Mexican. You would think with so many eateries, places will be mostly empty, and you will be quickly seated. On the contrary, not one single time that we ate out, did we not wait in queue. We had occasion to stroll through Khao Gali (literally Eat Street) which is miles and miles of street food complete with endless rows of plastic chairs, and hawkers selling everything from plastic toys, balloons to giant blow ups of angry birds and soap bubbles. On an average evening, or so my sister tells me, there isn’t an inch to move for the thronging crowds. We reached just when the sun was dipping over the horizon, and the river of people had barely started trickling in. You could see vendors all over doing their mis en place in preparation of the deluge. The mind boggles, takes a vacation, while the stomach takes over and happily goes to town.

Parathas & Butter at Jassi de Parathe
Parathas & Butter at Jassi de Parathe

# Pounds of butter consumed: 300 KG.
When in Ahmedabad, you have to eat at gastronomical heaven aka Jassi De Parathe. A genuine and buttery piece of the North in the very heart of Gujrat, this restaurant easily serves the best parathas I have had outside of homes of Punjabi grandmothers. A distinguishing trademark of Jassi is fresh white butter, garlic chutney and green chilli pickle; accoutrements which take the parathas from good to great. The jewel in the crown is, without a smidgen of doubt, the butter. Not having ever made fresh butter the old fashioned way, it is not like I am transported to childhood memories of sitting by the charpoi, winter sunshine warming the face, churning pats of the good stuff from milk of cows grazing yonder. Instead, I go straight to silky buttery heaven and repeatedly thank god for mercies bestowed.

From the Menu at Jassi de Parathe
From the Menu at Jassi de Parathe

# Pounds of cheese: 500 KG.
The only reason they are not picking bits of exploded fat me (300 KG butter and 500 KG cheese!) off the highway is that I put in my 10000 steps daily. You see, Christmas Eve was spent at Tomato’s gorging on their chilli con queso, which is nothing but oodles and oodles of melted cheese, kept bubbling at the table, along with tortilla chips, nachos, bread sticks, carrot and cucumber slices. Even if you are beyond sick and ready to forswear food for 3 days, you shall continue gorging on the cheese. Gluttony is one of the seven for good reason. Tip: when eating at Tomato’s, be wary of the large portions and do not over-order, else the doggie bag will be breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. You would think that after the cheese overdose, I would stay clear of all milk products for a month. Do not estimate the power of whey. Boxing Day saw us at Toritos, another charming restaurant, where the queues snake around the block. The 30 minutes of waiting was quite forgiven, with the arrival of the fusion nachos. I believe that fusion should never be attempted or ordered. Happily, these were outstandingly good, wafer thin potato slice, deep fried, and smothered in cheese, beans and salsa. A definite must try both at the restaurant and to re-create at home.

Fusion Nachos at Toritos
Fusion Nachos at Toritos

# unlikely Christmas celebrations: 1
The city is not big on Christmas, and apart from token decorations and a few festive stars, the festival goes largely unnoticed. Of course, it did mean abnormally crowded restaurants, though not a pre-soaked raisin was in sight. Christmas being sandwiched between our cheese binges, we traipsed on a street food exploration of the new city. Beginning with vada pav and dabeli drenched in butter, at Jay Bhavani, we wound our way to the vendor selling sev puri in-front of the nearby mall.

Sevpuri on the Street
Sevpuri by the Roadside

Then came the walk to Khao gali, an encounter with an unlikely Christmas tree, wolfing down pani puri and winding the day up with some wonderful sapota or chikoo kulfi. The next time I am in town, I am determined to try the roadside maggi and wood-fired pizza from this tiny van across the road from sis’s college campus. And the rice pulav, and the special dosas, oily Chinese (though sis did try delicately telling me that I am too old for so much grease) and the ubiquitous sandwiches. I wish there was a way to super-size the appetite.

An Unlikely Christmas
An Unlikely Christmas

Alcohol units consumed: 0
Let’s just say that Bridget Jones would have had very different diary entries, if she had happened to live in Gujrat, a dry state. Though she could have legally obtained a liquor permit as a foreign tourist residing there. Turns out even those visiting from other Indian states can also obtain alcohol legally by producing proof of domicile. I found this pretty late into the trip, thankfully, else the cheese and butter would have had beer for company, and you would HAVE TO pick bits of exploded me off the highway.

Tea at Rambhai's
Tea at Rambhai’s

# popcorn binges: 4
We caught two movies and with an average of two binges per movie, I was drowning in butter and caramel popcorn my third day into the stay. When your eyes are hypnotically trained on the big screen and the poor brain is frantically signaling you to stop eating, the dratted stomach forces you to keep going like the goblin driving the hobbits deep into the caves, with the help of whips and other deadly weapons. As you can guess, we watched Hobbit 3. While Azog the Defiler (killed by Dain in the battle of Battle of Azanulbizar, but given a new cinematic lease of life by Peter Jackson) struck terror on screen, the butter popcorn coated my alimentary canal and wound its wicked way into my arteries. Why don’t movie theaters serve carrot and celery sticks?!

And Gain 300 Kgs
And Gain 300 Kgs

My last meal in the city ended with a big bowl of cake smothered in warm chocolate sauce. At this point, my stomach grudgingly accepted defeat and hopefully, retired for the rest of the year. The brain, with considerably weaker and greasier synapses took charge again. I went back to the original (and healthier) Hobbit that I was reading. To end, I quote:

The Tookish part was getting very tired and, and the Baggins was daily getting stronger. “I wish now only to be in my own arm-chair”

And so I returned to Bangalore.

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.

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.