Of welcoming and bidding adieu to our first winter in UK

What excited me us most about moving to UK was winter. We love Europe and had always read and heard of the gorgeous English countryside but our hearts screamed for winter and just the thought of experiencing seasons. Singapore’s tropical weather and rainy-humid climate all through the year meant that we escaped to cold climates during winters. Such was our need for the cold. Naturally, we felt ecstatic. Also, while I love myself flowers and fall (oh, I love fall!), winter really is my aesthetic. I cannot get enough of feeling cold, being wrapped up in layers that leave me feeling perpetually in a state of “hug”, spending a good portion of the day brewing coffee and tea, forever having my kaDai out for that last minute bhajji/bajia, huddling in the warmest corner with a book, stepping out only to be met with a fiercely cold wind hitting and numbing the face leaving you feeling noseless.. I could go on.

So when people told us very politely about how we will now be facing “London weather”, we did not flinch a bit. We are somewhere amidst the last traces of winter now and I already miss it. None of the weather was remotely as “dreadful” as people made it out to be. On the contrary, the winter has been soothing and except for the short daylight, we loved every bit of it. I missed a good chunk of it as I was away in New Zealand for a good time enjoying spring and its blossoms but I was back for Christmas to hop on the winter bandwagon.

As I write this, it is getting to spring now. The super markets are full of petunias, tulips and a diaspora of blooms. The wild flowers in our yard have started to bloom from nowhere! I was not even aware that there were plants with such gorgeous flowers and to watch them appear miraculously on one fine morning, out of nowhere obvious, has been beautifully surprising. The root vegetables are replaced by berries and lots of fresh greens. Those big boots and huge cloaks are replaced by thin cardigans and denims and sandals. The entrances to the super markets are lined with the essentials for barbecue.

And all this has been utterly beautiful to witness. I really miss the winter but I love myself a spring and the joy it brings to so many people. There is nothing quite like watching people being happy for the weather. I cannot believe I am saying this, because a year ago, I used to wonder what it is that makes people talk of weather all the time. But I know and appreciate it better now. To be observant and perceptive of the changes around you is indeed appreciable. And in a way, that has made me very thankful for the weather and for all the privilege I have to experience the seasons comfortably.

A few days ago, we walked along the Ockham and Wisley Commons with gay abandon. After more than a week of warm sun, that day was quite chilly. We being us, headed out to enjoy that chill. We got our large coffees from the local bakery at the entrance and walked endlessly. Some days make you happy for no reason at all and this is definitely one of them.

An afternoon at Dorset’s Highcliffe Beach

We have for a while been raring to take Mili (our 4 month Cavalier pup) with us on a small getaway. Now that she has received her vaccinations and is free to travel, we jumped right to it. We were specifically looking for dog-friendly getaways (and there are quite a few of them, thank you UK).

One of our friends M recommended New forest and we decided to make a trip to New Forest and visit the Highcliffe beach, last weekend. After a day and night at New Forest (that I will share in another post), we spent a few hours on our way back at Highcliffe. Less than 10 miles away from New Forest, we totally recommend this experience.

It was such a chilly day with dark clouds looming over in spots as we started our drive but the sky opened up beautifully as we neared the coast. And then, it rained. So while we sat in the car waiting for the rain to soften a bit, we noticed how the sky over the beach was much clearer than over the parking lot. I can never get enough of these wonders seriously.

The rain mellowed down pretty fast so we literally jumped out of the car. Beaches are lovely (if not lovelier) in the rains, don’t ever doubt me on that. But I am a very cautious (new) mother and we had too many new things for Mili as it is, and getting her drenched was not something I was eager to do. But Mili? She was oh-so-excited to see so many cars, people and dogs! I think she’d be just as thrilled to be in the parking lot.

The beach line a la Jurassic coast is indeed very beautiful – very clean, lots of sand and gravel for Mili to walk and little rocks for her to climb and watch the sea in great contemplation. There are several promenades and paths to explore but we stuck to the beach. Despite it being so windy and chilly and being threatened to be blown away (not kidding), we loved walking it. There were quite a few fur friends and people around (have tried to keep that away in the pictures) despite the roller coaster weather. Mili absolutely loved saying hello to all of them, always reminding them if they didn’t.

It really was a beautiful morning watching people enjoy the beach with families irrespective of the weather (and the popular notion against it). We met absolutely delightful couples who took time to cuddle Mili and fuss over her as she happily lapped it all up. That’s thing about UK – how inclusive so many facilities are for pets, the acceptance and the love that people have for them. As first time pup-parents, it has been pretty breezy bringing her out thanks to this. We cannot wait to explore more of such delightful nooks soon.

It was only when it started raining we realised how far we had walked. We may go back to the beach and the Highcliffecastle (that we could not explore that day) in the summer!

That Jurassic coastline and this little girl.

Some tips: For those planning a trip I really urge you to go, no matter what the weather. This link has some good details to plan your trip. A word on the car parks – the two easiest ones are the cliff top car park (the drive to this is not steep, just that it is a cliff overlooking the sea but not all that elevated at all) and the Steamer Point Car park where we parked. There is a cafe on the cliff near the cliff top car park but we did not go there since we were not parked there and most importantly, we already had our coffees with us.

The dry-fruits box ritual

I wrote this on Medium sometime last year. But something in me stirred and I wanted to share it again. That is the thing with memories – they are so random. Randomly beautiful. Beautifully random.

For some reason today, I am again reminded of the little ritual of filling the boxes with dry fruits. Every month, Pa used to bring home 200 grams of anjeer, raisins, cashews, almonds, dates and pistachios from a local store at the fresh market. He’d announce his arrival with a “Tan-ta-daaa, look what I have got!” and we always knew. We always knew that this meant only one thing — filling up the boxes with dry fruits. After getting refreshed, we would all go to the kitchen, get the almost empty boxes of dry fruits and then carefully set them on the dining table. We’d huddle together around Pa. Meticulously he’d open the packet of anjeer, they always went in first, those rings stacked around a fibrous cord. This was followed by the raisins and every time he would take extra care while opening the packet of raisins always tsk-ing away at why they staple these packets and how one has to be very careful lest the pins get mixed with the raisins. And we’d chorus, “We will eat them one by one and not stuff them in our mouth at once,” because that was what we were always told and we knew when we had to give him that reassurance. It was a joy watching him struggle with pins because he had such short nails that it was impossible to say if he had ever had them any other way. Finally, he’d manage to get the pin out (always stubborn to use his fingers). The dates, almonds and cashews followed. What always excited us were the pistachios. Somehow they were the most enticing of nuts, the one that gaped through the gaps waiting for the shell to be broken. The pistachios were always eaten 6 at a time. We did not want to finish them soon. It did not really matter a lot if we did, but somehow that was how we wanted to pace ourselves always. Once the boxes were all filled, we helped Pa carry them to the kitchen and place them on the rack — the second row from the top, just about the right height for us to reach for it if I tip-toed or stood on one of the chairs at the dining table.

For some reason, I thought of this and it made me smile and also sad at the same time. I miss the predictability that still always had an element of undiluted happiness year after year. I visualize Pa’s smile as he filled each jar with a small announcement and it was and is easily one of the happiest moments we have had together.

Grand 2019

Let’s face it – everyone seems really kicked about 2019. At least that is the impression I get from all the inspiration and happiness that seems to emanate from social media. And I mean this in a very very positive upbeat way – I love New Year. Who am I kidding – I love all the New Years and we have a fair share of them as Indians. So yes, I love festivity, new beginnings, the fervour that accompanies these beginnings and how it seems to make everyone look forward to a brighter time. I am a sucker of sweetness and mush.

With that out of the way and acknowledging that some why‘s can never be answered, let me tell you what I am most excited about 2019. I am excited because I want to make it grand. I want it to be fabulous and I will go out of my way to make that happen. Infact, we already made a beginning – because, as I sit here writing this, I see the most fiercely loving pair of eyes look at me beseechingly to get her off the sofa and onto my lap. While I have spent my fair share of nights we have spent our fair share of nights wondering if and why we deserve this unconditional love, I am not going to that territory again. I rather focus my energy on giving all of my love, even if it means falling short of what we are receiving, Because let us be honest, we are basking in the love and glory that Mili has brought with her and showers us with so generously. I cannot believe I denied myself of this happiness for this long and K had to talk me into just taking the plunge.

And that exactly, that is my plan for making it grand – taking the plunge. Not over-thinking it. Not do a pros-cons analysis. Because that is how it works – you make a decision and then everything works around it. Of course, this shifts things, moves your other ‘plans’ and all that, but it will still come together beautifully inspite of some challenges along the way.

So yes, that is my plan for 2019 – to make it grand. And that, sweet reader, is my wish for you.

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.