As the festivals transport me…

Come August and September, there is a chain of festivals that get triggered and that sets off a series of memories that transport me to a different world and era indeed.

I really really miss the smell of new clothes on festivals, dabbing some turmeric to something new before wearing it while your parents check and double (and triple) check on whether you have done it or not, what a celebration new clothes were because they signified a special day or event. Oh that hustle in a market that smelt of fresh jasmine and marigolds and kanakambri, camphor, agarbattis and banana leaves that heralded a festival! Or when it inevitably rained on your day out but nothing mattered, not even the fact that you parked roads and roads away from the shopping street because you could look at all the new dresses on display, the happy smiles on people out for shopping, wondering what their shopping bags contained. And finally that moment when you found something you liked and your parents remarked it looks good on you, the pride with which you watch your parents pay for it and clutch it tight all the way home only to do a dress rehearsal again. 
I do feel happy when I buy something new, but these shopping trips that happened before festivals and birthdays, occasionally will always remind me of gentler lighter times, of unbearable happiness and rich pride. So when I do wear something ethnic especially on a festive day, it takes me to those times even if it is for a brief moment and I feel ridiculously happy to have those memories to relive until we recreate them again, someday soon. 

Because a Bombay sandwich may be just what you need.

I did not eat a Bombay sandwich when I was in Bombay years ago. Is it just called a sandwich there? (laughs at own “joke”). I am not surprised though – I have not eaten a lot of *obviously-you-should-have-tried-that-when-you-were-at-X* dishes. I took my time appreciating regional cuisines and food in general. Now, it is the top web search I run when we travel. Travel? Okay, I hear you laugh – it has been a while since we travelled, but you know what I mean.

Having eaten this first time last year, I have often asked myself “How could I have not made a Bombay sandwich before?” I think it is my general disdain towards potatoes on most days (except in fries, of course). Now I have a deep love for bread in all its variety and it forms part of at least one meal almost everyday. Use white or brown, wholemeal or seeded, but do make this. Add beets if you fancy, or don’t, but make this. Make it yours.

This is K’s recipe and my execution and even though I assume you don’t need another recipe for a sandwich, I will go ahead and tell you anyway because I really liked it. 

A cheese version

All you need to do:

  1. Take a slice of bread with the crust/ borders removed (keep them aside to make crumbs or fry them and use in soups)
  2. Make a chutney of corriander- mint – green chillies- tamarind – black salt
  3. Slather a nice layer of that coriander mint chutney on one side of each bread slice.
  4. Delicately layer some boiled and sliced potatoes, slices of tomato, onion + sprinkle a bit of black salt + a slice of cheese if you like and cover with another slice of bread with chutney on the inside.
  5. Now slather (there is a lot of slathering, I know) the top of the bread slice with butter and heat some butter on a pan and toast this to a nice golden with butter on both sides.
A no cheese version I made a couple of days ago

I can understand if you feel an uncontrollable urge to eat this right off the pan, hot, gooey and fragrant. In fact, I would highly recommend you to. Unbeknownst to you, it may be just what you need.

Normalcy

Just a saturday out at Hengistbury Head on a cold, drizzly day.

Normalcy or normality is anything but that. It is truly something that I most strongly enjoy, crave for and pray for. Perfectly normal, routine days made of exceptionally special mundane acts. It is what I miss most when something abrupt strikes. It is what I am most nostalgic about. Sure, that thrilling day trip on that vacation 4 years ago is a grand memory to revisit and maybe even long for once in a while. But most often what my heart truly wants is all those everyday acts I do and did, that I no longer can. In these moments, I have found my way of making life feel grand. It is a tricky circle of realization – being or the fear of being deprived of something or someone tells you exactly what you love most. And a seemingly ordinary today is the grand memory trip of a further tomorrow.

Just need to remember to never forget that 🙂

My first saree

Somewhere this weekend, I spent some time in this saree that I want write about here (I have to give full credit to K’s endurance and creativity in capturing some really lovely moments).


You see, it was the first saree that ma and I purchased for me. Up until then, I was always whisking ma’s sarees for weddings, college events, everything. I used to stitch a blouse for myself because the kinds I would wear were never ma’s style but the sarees were all hers. 
When one of my favourite cousin’s wedding was fixed, I decided to buy a saree for the muhurtam and ma and I found this in the first shop we went to. I got an extremely elaborate blouse stictched for this with beads and ties and everything and I may have been as excited as the bride herself for this wedding day. I have a thing for white and cream sarees that have silver and gold in them. They are so regal and I love how they look on everyone I have seen them on.
I have such grand memories of the few of us singing “Sita kalyanam” and “Malai maathinal” and “Unjal aaDinaal” in all our jasmine, gold and saree clad glory amidst that sound that new sarees make if you listen. I remember so many moments from that wedding in such vividity and the saree is always such a big part of it. I even wore this as part of one of the smaller events in my wedding. 
I know not much about weaves and the saree continues to be a small part of my life even if it means just wearing it for myself on a random day for a few hours. It is perhaps the way it makes me feel, or takes me back or maybe just part of who I am. It is not one to dissect for today but I love this love and someday maybe I will have a slightly more academic interest in it or maybe not. But I know that when I drape a saree and sip a coffee, I will be comforted in a strange way that only makes sense to me.

On saying bye to our tomato plants …

When we started growing our own, we started with an expectation (and mostly hope) it would account for a small portion of weekly veg intake. We have been blown away by how misplaced we were. And that is saying something because home gardening is not so much about meeting your produce demands as much as as it is about nurturing and experiencing the joy of growing and eventually savouring. Ofcourse, the last step of the journey is important and especially more so when you are a beginner. We are. Because, if we ran too much before we could walk, it could in many ways influence how we saw this whole exercise. Trust me, I started with a fair few losses and this has been nothing but overwhelmingly encouraging. The key is to not let an attempt define your next. It is hard but it is true. 


Five days back we started seeing blight on some our tomato plants. Ofcourse I had not used any resistant variety (determined to not use anything that was modified or made of chemicals) and the only feed I used was compost and some manure. While I am not surprised about blight hitting my tomatoes, I am taken by how quickly they consumed my babies. The plants in modest pots and bags gave us a lot, a lot. But regardless of the yield, I had developed a strong love for them and to see them go I front of our eyes has been devastating. 4 empty pots stand bare on our portico. The place where I would start my mornings looking for new babies. I distinctly remember seeing the first babies form on the first of our tomato plants. I distinctly remember feeling impatient at how slow they were to grow, a vague fear engulf me as I wondered if they would fall off in the rains and strong winds we went through.

My fears, I can happily look back now, have been allayed over and over again. We have plucked a lot of tomatoes from the beautiful plants.

And a couple of days back, we plucked our last.

Time and again I realize how much I signed up for when I sowed the seeds. And it was never just about the tomatoes. But I will do it all over again. And take better care.

Of simple meals and a simple recipe

For a long time now, I have tried to grasp the meaning of simple food. You see this plate here ? Rice, tomato rasam, a roast pappad, some palya which by the way is what I made of some of those gorgeous runner beans that our neighbours gave us – this meal is my meal, it is the kind of meal I grew up eating and it was a full meal. I don’t ever remember thinking of this as a simple meal as much as I thought of it as a staple. On the other hand, simple has a sort of a happy connotation to it too bringing up associations with what we now deem to be simpler times. Is today a simpler time of tomorrow? Which kind of leaves me in a dilemna – all the subjectivity around simple apart, what is a simple meal to me, today? Is it my everyday meal? Or a meal that comes together simply? Perhaps a meal with few easily available ingredients? Or is it a meal one can make sustainably, consistently? 

But here is what I chose to do as this plate stared at me – dive into my rasam rice with gusto. It did not answer my question. But when the smell of the ghee tempering invades your kitchen, it is best to keep matters simple and enjoy the meal. Simply put, it is as simple as that.
But I’d love to know – what is a simple meal to you? Can you define it?

If you are curious, here is how I made this meal.

Runner beans Palya

Our lovely neighbours Da and Ce gave us some of the best runner beans we have had – tender, crisp and absolutely delicious with all the added happiness of having been grown with tonnes of love. Have you even seen the smile that lights up Da’s face as he talks about his love for runner beans?

You need:
Runner beans – about 300-400 gm
Fresh/ desiccate coconut (fresh is amazing, I used desiccate as that is what I had) – 2 table spoons (or to your liking)
Tempering ingredients: 1 tablespoon oil (sunflower or coconut), 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 tsp cumin, a pinch of asafoetida, a couple of dried red chillies torn into rough bits, half a tsp of methi/ fenugreek seeds, 1 tsp urad dal/ channa dal or a mix of both, curry leaves.
Turmeric – a pinch.
Salt to taste

Method:
1. Chop the runner beans small.
2. Take a wok/ kaDai and bring to heat. Meanwhile keep the tempering ingredients ready.
3. Once hot, add a tablespoon of oil (I used sunflower but coconut oil works great too!) add the mustard, cumin, fenugreek and let them splutter, add the chillies, asafoetida and the curry leaves and sauce for 5-10 seconds. You don’t want to burn them 🙂
4. Add the chopped runner beans, turmeric and give it a good toss, add a bit of salt (to hasten cooking and for the beans to get some of it in) and sprinkle some water, give it a mix and cook on medium heat. You can cook this covered too but just keep checking in between.
5. Once the beans has cooked to a bite (we definitely don’t need them to become mushy!), adjust salt to taste, add the coconut and mix well. Turn off the heat. Your palya is ready!


Quick Tomato Rasam

This has to be one of the easiest ways to make a quick rasam. Ofcourse, this calls for having rasam powder or sambhar powder at hand but it comes together so quickly, so I highly urge you to have some in your pantry. I use the one that ma makes and gives me every time I visit her but you can always use good quality commercially available ones from MTR or GRB or a brand you like. Ofcourse one can go on about the joy of using a powder that is handmade but some of the commercial mixes are not that bad and while it may make a difference in the taste, I still believe that a rasam made with a good quality store-bought rasam mix can still be comforting 🙂 I will never forget the copious amounts of rasam we had during the brief but heavy snowfall that 2020 brought with it here in Surrey. See for yourself.

You need:
Tomatoes (preferably sour): 300-400 gms chopped into small chunks
Tamarind paste or tamarind water from pulp (skip if your tomatoes are super sour, mine were not so I used tamarind for tanginess): to your preference. I used 2-3 tsp of paste, we do like it quite tangy.
Tempering ingredients: 2 tablespoons ghee, 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 tsp cumin, a pinch of asafoetida, a couple of dried red chillies torn into rough bits, curry leaves torn.
Corriander leaves torn to small bits – to your preference but highly recommend keeping the stalks.
Rasam powder/ molaga poDi/ sambhar poDi – 2 tablespoons (this depends on how spicy you want it to be and the powder you are using ofcourse, use your discretion :))
Salt to taste
Water – 2 cups

Method:
1. Heat a deep bottomed vessel.
2. We start with the tempering so add ghee, let it melt and heat up. Then, add mustard, cumin and once they have spluttered, add the torn red chillies, asafoetida and curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds.
3. Now add the tomatoes and sauce for 3-4 minutes. Let us become slightly soft but not too mushy.
4. Now, add water, tamarind paste and mix well. Bring this to a rolling boil. Once the tomatoes get cooked and the raw smell of the tamarind paste is no longer present, then add the rasam powder/ molaga poDi/ sambhar poDi and keep on boil for 3-4 minutes.
5. Now, add salt to taste and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
6. Finally, add the torn coriander leaves and stalk, mix well and bring off heat. Your rasam is ready!

Dig in 🙂

On the journey to growing my own.

Yesterday we finally picked the first of our zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes and these finger chillies. We have been harvesting a variety of veggies and fruits for a while now but the excitement and tingling that I feel every time I pick something off a plant is very much the same : surreal.

There is such a thrill and joy to this whole process of plucking fresh produce off a plant in your garden. But there is so much more to this whole journey that often culminates in your kitchen, palate and ultimately tummy or your neighbours’!

Last year, I started noticing a lot of interest in gardening in general. People I randomly stumbled upon online and our own neighbours had something going for them in their backyards and in their frontage. It was also when I started watching Monty Don on BBC, the nation’s gardener as he is sometimes fondly called. Little did I know then that becoming engaged with gardening meant an unavoidable rendezvous with Monty. As he weeds and crafts and creates his magical garden in Herefordshire, that seems to stretch endlessly, I saw myself mindlessly scrolling for more and more of other people’s journeys in their gardens. We had started thinking of moving homes but every house we viewed was viewed with a renewed interest and vigour and the promise it held for having a little patch someday. I wanted that joyous ride. That moment when I would wake up to sun-kissed tomatoes. That high from keeping the bees busy. The desire was always simmering but it threatened to no longer wait. So, while we waited to find our home, I sowed some potatoes out of desperation in a pot in our little backyard. Instead of appeasing me, it only fuelled me to do more and left me feeling a longing more than ever. 

As if on cue, everything in the universe conspired to give us the energy and space to pursue this desire that now had assumed dangerous levels of fantasy. And trust me, it has been every bit the joy ride that I had conjured in my mind. While I admit, I was initially more into this “grow your own” having watched those tempting videos of people picking a bunch of zucchinis, a basket of tomatoes and making cucumber salad with cucumbers from their greenhouse, this whole journey has taught me more. Much more than I imagined.

For starters, it has made me physically, mentally and emotionally more agile. As I started sowing seeds, my days would start with me rushing to the storage shed, radiators and possible warm spots in the house to look for any signs of germination. I caught myself walking in and around the garden mentally calculating the space, number of containers I needed, possible beds to create/ clear, reading and researching catch-crops and about rotation and soil pH, ways to get the pollinators, what crops paired well and what I should avoid and the like. What started off as a very calculated, prepared, conscious series of steps from textbook and videos evolved into being more attuned to what the seedlings and plants were telling me. The nervousness and trepidation started getting replaced by a sense of faith in my own ability to listen to our plant babies and confidence to address whatever it was that ailed them and to do all with a sense of surety that I felt the plants would feel reassured by. They were in the safe hands of parents who loved and learnt more about them. Ofcourse, I have had heartaches and trust me I had them early and felt them so much more back then as I watched a series of seedlings rise up and give up on me just when I started to feel happy. It is such an obvious truth that you will lose some seedlings along the way and yet going through this has been such a fundamental lesson in learning to let go or learning from them and moving on.

At a time when a lot of the world was worried about being cooped up at home, gardening and growing their own has offered a lot of respite and excitement and it has been refreshing watching people become attuned to nature and life around. There is a lot to be said about the joy of creating, nurturing and being on that parenting journey and my moments and experiences with my plants have reinforced all of it and somehow managed to make me marvel at the obvious. It is a wonder I hope to forever cherish, many zucchinis, tomatoes and cucumbers later.

On ma’s puliyogre gojju.

As if there are not enough reminders of how long it has been since my last meal in Mysore home, ma’s puLiyogre gojju/puLikaachal is now teetering between dangerously low and tearful levels. I am very good at making things last until my next trip back home usually but who am I kidding? The pandemic has thrown any semblance of such pride in the air. And am not over reacting. I can learn to make this myself and try to recreate ma’s presence like I do with a lot of my cooking but I refuse to. Not this time. Those dabbas of poDi and uppinkai and thokku and gojjus that I carry from home after my father carefully double and triple packs them and meticulously weighs them so I never have to suffer at the airport are my way of having ma in the kitchen, in those jars with their lids tightly shut only to be embraced every now and then, preciously, deliberately and very very conscientiously. There is a lot of love that goes into them, there is a lot of excitement in making them and a lot of satisfaction in them being being used to make a meal. Objectively speaking, making a great gojju or pickle is not something only mothers can do and yet to me, they are unparalleled. Colour me sentimental and overcome by an extreme longing for home, but what is my food without it? 

Brown butter banana bread

Happy Banana Bread Day!

Brown butter banana bread – has quite the zing to it, does it not?

I totally think banana bread deserves a day to be celebrated – in a pandemic, it brought together a nation and people from different corners and there was a camaraderie as people baked and shared and liked each others’ banana bread on the gram and perhaps elsewhere. There are very very few people I know who dislike or don’t care much for it but there is otherwise an ubiquitous love for this extremely endearing bread that doubles as cake and is inviting as a breakfast (when toasted) or as a dessert (perhaps with ice cream?). It is also the most hospitable bread – welcoming chocolate chips with as much gusto as walnuts and dates and well, your pantry is your limit, really! This time, I went for a decadent brown butter banana bread. Having baked a batch of brown butter cookies, I had this sudden brainwave to make banana bread with browned butter and sour cream. If you are looking to make this, here is what you need:

Ingredients:

All purpose flour – 170 gm
Baking soda – 1 tsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Sour cream – 150 ml
Browned butter – 100 gm
Caster sugar – 60 gm
Ripe medium bananas – 4 (reduce a banana if you add 2 eggs)
Honey – 30 gm (replace with maple syrup if you want to skip/ don’t have honey)
Maple syrup – 30 gm (replace with honey if you don’t have maple syrup)

A word on sweetness – adjust this to taste. We like it just sweet and nothing too cloying. Also, the bananas were quite sweet themselves, so play with sweetness according to your preference.

Method:

1. Mix 170gm flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt in one bowl.
2. In another bowl, mix 150 ml sour cream, 100 gm browned butter, 60 gm of caster sugar, 4 mashed ripe medium bananas (reduce by 1 if you add 2 eggs), 30 gm honey, 30 ml maple syrup. Taste the sweetness as you add the sweeteners (t must be pretty sweet at this point as you will add this to the flour).
3. Now fold the dry flour mix into this without over mixing it. Bake until the insides are cooked and a toothpick comes out clean.
4.Let it cool while walk around frantically waiting to dig in and then waste absolutely no time ! 

Do not worry if it appears a bit dense the next day, just toast it or warm it for 20 seconds in the microwave and it will be delish. Add anything you fancy but just bear in mind the sweetness and it is simple because in the eggless version, you can taste the batter as you go. I would love to try it with jaggery and coconut and make it a rasayana-bread.

You know how they bake cookies during house shows to make it smell warm and inviting? I would totally bake a banana bread 🙂

Fall-ing in love

I have gushed about it a fair bit on the gram now. I cannot be happier about living in fall in pretty pretty Surrey. It is an era by itself, you see. Those luscious green trees from summer..

..morphing into several pops of colours,

to adorn homes,

and lay out a carpet of the most magical wonders,

for you and me to stop and look closer and unravel one of them,

and feel celebratory,

for here you can find, on your most casual walks, all those magical things you read about in your childhood, come alive from books.

You don’t have to do much to enjoy all of this. You only need to step out..

..and it is all there, waiting for you. Right at your doorstep.


You’d think it cannot get better than that but mostly it does once you turn on your oven or stove and bring out your tubers and roots.

“What is it you love about fall?” they asked.

“Let’s go for a walk and I will show you,” I smiled.