Kia ora from Auckland

I started drafting this post a day after I landed in Auckland and it has already been 3 weeks now and that includes a week away in Singapore for some exams – time flies when you are having fun but more so when you have a crazy life. Who knew I would say this about my life – a geeky teenager, a nerdy post teenager, mostly the kinds who attended every class and never wanted to get into any sort of trouble, someone whose every minute was taken care of by her parents, never having to dirty my hands with anything. How things change – I am proud of every minute of it, of how long I have come and yet how much of the old times still seem so beautiful. I feel like I can never pinpoint to one single episode that turned my life into the crazy plane ride it is. And the chain continues.

So back to Auckland. Well, the flights were booked in less than 12 hours and I brought my *long packed – waiting to travel* luggage with me. It was far from an unplanned trip and yet when it happened, it caught me by surprise and had me running all around the house. We had just celebrated Gokulashtami, our first one in the UK home and I had whipped up quite a fare (yes, am modest that way). And before I could feast on all those koDubaLes, nippaTs and barfis, I had to leave. Just like that. I had waited for 2 months and now when I had a plateful of good stuff, I had to travel to a place I had been wanting to.

Auckland has been a blur. I landed at a time when I most needed to be here for a deadline – just when that was done, I had to fly to Singapore for my pre-defence and just when I thought it was done, I had some unexpected work in Singapore and now am back in Auckland again. It is getting beautiful here with the winter transitioning into spring and cherry blossoms appearing on random corners and lining the streets making every walk a treat. I am happy.

This year has been a a year of 4 continents across both the hemispheres, all of 7 countries and counting, none of which were for leisure and yet turned out to have pockets of them. When you travel for long or travel a lot, you start learning to find time and make it a home, even if for a fortnight or 4 months. I have learnt a lot in this time, about myself and about how I have come to learn about myself through others. There are sides to me I dislike but have come to accept without being defensive. I have a long way to go but this year has been a start. I am not a very reflective person (most often just going with the flow and not being too serious about things that sometimes demand attention) sometimes so this side to me has been surprising, tiring and yet rewarding. When I made my first solo trip to Australia 4 years ago, I was thrilled – I loved it. I was super goofy, grinning ear-to-ear while stopping at cafes for a coffee and eating when hungry, sleeping when sleepy. And this year has been full of it – I do miss my family a lot but I have learnt to not let either of these emotions get in the way of the other. I have come to acknowledge and accept that things are where they are because I chose them to be so. And that sort of going back to why I brought myself here has helped me – to visualise the big picture, to give my best and never ever take anyone or anything for granted.

This year has seen me become a minimalist – NOT someone who possesses less stuff but one who holds on to those that mean a lot to her. There is no number on this – I let myself indulge in everything I think will make me happy and add value. Once it ceases to do so, I let it go – things, events, people. Memories, well, those are hard but then it works both ways. I have learnt to not harbour feelings that get me nowhere. I am learning to say no though I suck at it big time. I have come far. I have learnt to laugh at challenges and recollect all those instances when challenges seemed only big in my head.

Life has a funny way of giving you things you never thought you needed. 2018 is my most travelled year yet and not because of the number of places I visited but more because it has been a personal journey that spans far over the 4 continents across the 2 hemispheres and all of the 7 countries.

Haryana Dal Maharani – India through dal

Last year, I splurged on a new genre of books – books on food! Not just the ones that share a recipe but rather food memoirs. I absolutely adore stories of childhood that takes the reader through the food and memories around them, of mango trees climbed, that secret recipe for that kheer, that festive meal with loved ones, of favourites dishes at cousin’s place and bottled pickles that you hoarded back from a visit to grandma. I could go on. A dish means more when I know a story behind it, the person who made it or some memory associated with it. While food stories and food history has always been fascinating, I am now in a phase where I am really enjoying cooking and learning little tips and tricks from different people and creating my own memories and evoking a bit of my own childhood. This also helps me appreciate food outside and I feel inspired to come back and try to recreate a dish or add my own twist to it. And trust me, this is not who I was a few years ago. And I am loving this side to myself where I cook to evoke memories and to create some.

And that is why, I think it is time, time to start the dal series. I have been sharing a couple on my instagram already but I do want to document them here, ofcourse.  First on the list is this adaptation of Haryana Dal Maharani by Krishna Dutta. This is one of the books from my stash which is not really a food memoir but an account where the author talks of dal from different parts of India. This book has also been a big inspiration behind my series. There are definitely some overlaps between the regions but it is super interesting to see how dal as a dish has undergone so much influence and personalisation over the years and across India so much that, we are unaware of how many varieties of the humble toor or masoor dal are made everyday. This book may have just scratched the surface and I do plan to write about it in detail once I have tried a fair share of recipes so I will keep this short for now.

When I came across this recipe, I was quite tickled because I have not found any recipe on the internet that shares a recipe similar to this as a Haryanvi recipe. I decided to give it a go on one of the weekends. I did make a make a couple of minor twists to the original recipe. Even though the recipe uses exact proportions, I’d like to believe that cooking is  intuitive and one that really reflects what the cook fancies in that instant so I will keep the ingredient portions pretty open but rather just share the technique/ procedure.Feel free to tweak and play with it as your heart desires. After all, what is cooking if not impulsive?

Dal/ lentil type:  Toor dal, masoor dal (whole).

I used:

Toor dal + masoor dal (about 2 cups); ginger and garlic finely minced or pound (you can use a paste), tomatoes, onions, asafoetida/hing, chilli powder, turmeric powder, about 2 tbsp yoghurt mixed with a pinch of brown sugar/ jaggery (you can skip it if sweetness isn’t your thing), slit green and/or whole dried red chillies, cumin, butter/ghee and salt to taste.

I did:

  • Cooked the dal in a deep saucepan, removed the froth/ scum that rose to the surface.
  • Reduced the heat, covered and simmered until it cooked.
  • Meanwhile I melted some butter/ghee, spluttered cumin, sautéed half of minced ginger-garlic, a couple of slit green chillies, added onions and fried until light brown. I then added asafoetida and gave it a mix.
  • Added the rest of ginger-garlic mince and mixed for a minute.
  • Added tomatoes, chilli powder, turmeric powder and fried until aromatic.
  • Tipped the cooked lentils into this, mixed well and simmered for 8-10 minutes. Turned the stove off, added yoghurt blended with sugar/ just yoghurt and gave it a good whisk (I really just added a teeny pinch as we are not fond of sweetness in our otherwise savoury dishes). Garnish with sauteed chopped green chillies and a bit of garlic.

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We enjoyed this dal with  rice and some tortilla wraps and it paired well with both. I felt like the addition of the yoghurt with some sugar was something unique to this recipe and one that I had not done before. Also, I usually pressure cook the dal and to cook this in a saucepan and removing the froth was a first timer for me. I see so many explanations for this on the internet some of which look pretty dubious to me so I will refrain from adding my own explanation until I get some clear answer (please do share your thoughts if you know more about this). But it looks like it does not affect the taste much so pressure-cooking should be fine too.

Have you tried this version yet? Is there a different way of making a Haryanvi dal? I’d love to know. Isn’t it wonderful how your kitchen can take you places and bring to you some of those joys that you seek on your travels?

Humbled by dal – India through dal from my kitchen

Comfort food has always been a source of fascination to me. How do people associate food with comfort? Is it something that evokes a pleasant memory from childhood or later years? Is it something that soothes the tummy? Is it food made by a loved one? Is it something that smells and feels like home? Is it a cure for homesickness?  Is it something you can whip up in a minute and feel happy as you dive into it? Does it stay constant or or, is it just something that changes with time? Is it a family heirloom?

My comfort food, I have come to realise, is a mix of all of the above. Perhaps, that is also why I cannot think of other reasons though am sure there must be (please do share). I cannot tell you how unbearably happy these comfort meals make me. I get pangs of homesickness (yes, even after 6 years of being away from home with yearly or bi-yearly visits) and just the process of making this and the smells that wrap my kitchen and home and ultimately my senses – is so beautiful. I sometimes mostly make a dish to evoke a memory, to feel someone’s presence. There are so many dishes and so many memories I have but my ultimate comfort food is and will always be khichDi (in all its zillion varieties but mostly the one my ma makes), upma and curd rice (with lime or maavDu – story for another day).

But, I cannot neglect a close contender – the dal. I like dal in a lot of forms – sambhar, the dal fry that K makes with some magic powder (I now know that it is the pav bhaji masala sprinkled towards the end) and the very humble paruppu that is made on most festivals and served on piping hot rice and ghee. But this dal is a ubiquitous favourite. I say that because, it seems to be a comfort food for so many of my friends – ask anyone and phat comes the reply, “dal chaawal”, “paruppu saadam”, “dal, rice and potato roast” and it is amazing how dal has pervaded our homes and tummies. So much that, it is an ingredient and a dish! And yet, when I probe, everyone has their own way of making it and savouring it.  Much like chai/tea. Now, imagine the length and breadth of India, the varieties of dal and try to estimate the hundreds of ways dal must be made! So, I decided to embark on a journey. To read and discover India through dal.

Now, what does dal mean? To me and for the purpose of this series – I want to cover the different types of lentils in India and the methods of preparation. Dal/lentil is a broad term and refers to all legumes (lentils, peas, and beans) that are cooked and perfected in several ways. And that is exactly how the series will define dal thereby including it in all its variety. Whole, split, soaked, dried – every lentil will included. Initially, I wanted to make this all about dal as a gravy. But that may make this way too focussed – so I am going to open this up to dal in all forms, as an accompaniment to rice/rotis/chappatis/ flatbreads (if you do not know what rotis and chapatis are)/ paranthas (stuffed flatbread), a gravy, soup, powder, snacks, everything I can lay my hands on and feast on, eventually. You get the gist. I may have changed my mind because I want to definitely include the amboDe/ paruppu vaDa because I cannot imagine life without it. I want to visit every state and understand how they make dal – this means, I will watch as many varieties of food documentaries, read books, ask friends, talk to family and you. I will then recreate them in my kitchen and bring them to you. I am no food blogger so I will not have beautifully laid out photos but what I bring to you is a reflection of my journey, a favourite episode from a show, a memory that I created, a relationship forged, a little hack and a meal that lasted and took me across my most favourite place in this universe – India. I want to do this weekly but I know there will be times I may fall back – but I will persist and endeavour to give this a part of my time every week.

All I ask of you is this – stories and recipes of dal that you love, moments that you cherish and your own love for dal. I want to listen to you and read all of your stories. I don’t know where this will take me but it is a journey I wish to make. And one that I want to take you along.

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch and a story at The Eagle, Cambridge

A week ago, we drove to Cambridge with a friend who was visiting us from Singapore. It was such a wonderful trip (more pictures and snippets on that soon). I want to quickly share a little accidental discovery that we realised later and the irony of it.

It was one of the hottest days in UK and after being toasted and roasted and crinkled from the sun (it is a thing here too, people), we decided to walk into a restaurant that catches our fancy; after all, our intuitions with food have been good in general. As we walked along Benet street, we came across “The Eagle” and we absolutely loved how dated it was and how much of a character it had. It is a traditional 16th century English pub with wooden flooring and just a very lovely rustic feel to it that I love.

They only have a couple of vegetarian options and I chose the mushroom ragout with pasta and a fantastic garlic bread to boot and some lentils. The meal was very good with the only shortcoming being the low spice and flavour in the lentils.

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So here is the juicy part – apparently, this was the place where Watson and Crick announced that they had discovered the “secret of life”. I was just reading more about this pub while posting it on my instagram and then saw that it has such a juicy piece of history. I do not know for sure how true this is, but isn’t it fantastic when something like this happens to you? To have been in the place where the discovery of DNA was talked about – the secret of life, indeed! To imagine the kind of curiosity, condescension, wonder and hesitation that may have greeted such news!

We all strive to become someone, to do something significant with our lives, to make a discovery, a change that touches one life or a few, that leaves us immortal, makes us proud and gives our short time here some greater meaning – and to have shared one such space for a brief moment albeit years later, is a happy reminder to prod on.

The Bun-Man

Beeeeeeeeeeep. Trrrrrrrrrrr.

The sound jolted her out of her sleep. She knew the sound too well. For the past few days, she had been looking forward to it. Infact, 5 P.M. became associated with the sound and the familiar sight that had now become perfunctory. It was a sight that one could watch on forever. It exuded love, warmth and oodles of unbinding and yet the most loyal affection and belonging. So much so that everyone stopped their evening walk and stood transfixed to watch the scene as though mesmerized at the very sight of it. It happened daily but nobody seemed to mind.

From her window, she could see the luna stop right infront of their red gates. An elderly man in the same grey tee and blue tracks got off it. Oblivious of the now gathered mini-crowd around his, he carefully untied the huge plastic sack that he had had meticulously tied to his handle and held between the legs as he rode the luna. A big big sack.

She could see that now the windows of every first floor and second floor were open and many pairs of awestruck eyes peered through the multi-coloured grills. Little kids stuck out their podgy little fingers through them and tried to get as much of their head out as possible. Some ran out to the balcony but not making a sound because nobody wanted to disturb such a beautiful sight. Nope. Not a sound.

She saw that the road was now getting more crowded. Not by people so much. But those who waited for his arrival loyally everyday started to come out from every nook of the locality. She wondered why she hadn’t seen even half of them during the day.

They came to him from all directions. Those new ones with beseeching eyes, the ones with charming eyes, the ones with brown coats, the ones that had just recovered from marismus (she didn’t know what they called it though), the ones that look plump but never seemed to have had enough anyways, the ones with the snow white coats, the black coated round-eyed ones, the little ones that wagged their tail so much that the tails seemed to fall off, the pregnant mothers – everyone was here.

He lovingly opened the packet and with a firm and yet tender voice, he said “hirrup boys! Come get them” and pulled out the buns one by one, divided them into 4 pieces and played a catch game with each member around him. How he managed to have so many buns to feed the increasing mouths without disappointing a single one baffled her. How could he know how many extras he needed?

And how he divided the bun into pieces ! It looked as though he could perfectly divide them so that every chap there got the right piece and none was made to feel less loved.

She loved the way his hands, firm and gentle all at once played with them. She loved the way how this one small sight that lasted about 20 minutes united the otherwise busy neighbourhood. She loved how every mother promised to show this piece of heaven to their child every morning to entice them into going to school.

She prayed to God that the greying man should never die and continue to captivate everyone through this small act.

The dogs loved him. They reciprocated their love for him through hidden smiles, love-struck eyes and the gentlest nudges. They smiled and nodded in approval. It was their time of the day.

The bun-man had come.

P.S. This is one my most treasured memories from my childhood. To this day, he is easily one of my most favourite human beings in the whole universe.

A session with Bioré charcoal self-heating mask

I absolutely love face-masks. It is my go-to skin pampering routine. It does not matter if am wearing a face mask and working on my research as long as am indulging in the act of self-care. I do not by any stretch of imagination mean to say that self-care is limited to skin care, pedicure or a massage. To me self-care is anything you do to set aside time for yourself and make yourself your priority. The most important thing is that it has to be self-initiated. It requires breaking away from everything else to focus on one thing – you and your wellness. Much of what we do may help us function but what we need is that which helps us flourish. Self-care is also not a one-time thing. It is a habit, a constant loop of little things that together make you feel a sense of calm and bring out the best in you – emotionally, physically and mentally. And as long as you are taking steps to ensure that, you are fine as there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

One of these little habits for me is applying a face-mask. I love trying new face masks. I have a combination (dry on cheeks and ok on T-zone) kind of sensitive skin that is prone to break outs when I use certain very strongly scented products. I am yet to figure that out but I have been kind of lucky with face masks. When I was in the US for a few months earlier this year, I ordered the Bioré charcoal self-heating one minute mask off Amazon. I had forgotten to take my usual Himalayan charcoal face mask by Bodyshop (one of my favourites for exfoliation and cleansing) and when I saw this on Amazon, I thought of giving it a shot. I loved it enough to buy a back-up pack before I returned. I have tried the single use packs that come in a small package.

There are 4 sachets in one pack. The instructions are to apply the mask on a wet face (as it is activated by water). You apply the mask (you can add some water to it, it is quite a thick paste) with dry fingers (you can use a brush if you want to). You then massage for a minute and wash it off completely with water. My favourite part is as I massage, the mask heats up and it leaves a fantastic sensation on the face as you work your fingers on it. I do not feel any tingling sensation. On washing however, I feel like my skin feels super fresh and weirdly, very minty and cool. I also love how smooth and clean it feels. This mask does not brighten my skin (it does not claim to either) but I love its effect on the texture and the way my skin feels nourished and clean. I do not have a lot of visible pores but everyone has them and I feel this helps clear them all up. I then pat dry and follow-up with my moisturiser. The product does say it is hypoallergenic, so that is good for sensitive skin types like mine. I wish I had bought more of these.

Have you tried this mask? Would love to hear any similar recommendations. I have not seen these in the UK but if I do, I will definitely repurchase them.

P.S. The post is not sponsored and all opinions are my own after having tried 5 sachets of this product.

 

Little touches.

A week or two back, as I chopped some cabbage to make some palya (Kannada for a dry vegetable stir fry dish – there are a zillion varieties), I realised yet again how much of my mother resides in me. In the past month or so, I am increasingly beginning to take notice of this. Of how far I have come and yet how much of home lives in me.

Ma used to never hurry or half-heartedly make anything. We may not have had elaborate and extravagant meals that seem to flood social media these days where a regular meal has half a dozen fantastic looking (and tasting) dishes. What we did have was one fantastic regular meal that was cooked with panache. I say this because ma always had some idea of up-ing a dish – maybe a different oggaraNe*(Kannada for seasoning) or some ground paste or a not commonly thought of vegetable combination. We were not big foodies (I am a foodie now thanks to K) but we appreciated good food. But it was not just about good food with ma. It was about giving yourself and giving it all when you take up something. Cooking, cleaning, making flower garlands, saying a prayer, meticulously looking at bank statements – everything was done to completion and to the best of her abilities. It did not matter as much to her how perfect the outcome was so long as she had given her best. And not a thing has changed. The lesson stays on.

So, as I chopped the cabbage and then pictured a possible paste that would amp up this palya, I thought to myself, “I will make it the way ma makes it, that would go better with…”, and then caught myself smiling. It is strange how these things rub off on you unwittingly. Which is why I do not feel as disappointed when something does not work out inspire f giving my all. But if I feel disappointed for something I haven’t worked for, I catch myself and remind myself of how it was more about me and not the circumstance. This mentality has helped me a lot and I am so grateful for it.

Small little actions that we did not notice as much back then but they have now become part of us, my brother and I. It warms my heart every single time I realise how close my parents are to me inspite of being thousands of miles away. And I cannot emphasise how beautiful that feeling is.

P.S. The featured image is the palya and it was great, incase you were wondering.