Entering Navratri with one of my absolute favourite colours – yellow! 🙂
I decided I would wear a saree only if I don’t feel too hassled with all the work meetings today and am so glad I did, because if anything, it brought me out of a state of daze (slipping in and out of online meetings does that to you on some days) and took me to the time I stole this saree from ma the minute her cousin gave it to her. I don’t think ma has ever worn this saree as I have preciously carried it with me everywhere I went. It is so light that it threatens to fall off me and the silver thread work that is barely there and yet so pretty always makes captivates me. This saree has seen through an invocation, a compering, a dance at a wedding and every time I realise how what we may call as material objects are so much more than that. I have so much to say but I have such an endless day ahead of me but I will say this again – I am so glad I did this today even if it means sitting at a desk and attacking tasks. I am fairly certain, it will be with renewed vigour.
There is something about fall that makes me do these captures almost every year now. As someone with intense olfaction and an undiagnosed synaesthesia, my senses are heightened when I see the leaves that seem to spread a golden carpet in our garden everywhere. The aromatic apparitions are coupled by strong emotions of course but that has not been seasonal. I try to keep track of what triggers what and where the cycle begins (?) but it is a complex web. Some of these are pure associations of a yesterday and I can discern those in a sniff. Like the pumpkin body butter that takes me to the streets of Auckland, the hand cream that takes me on a trip to Shropshire and a particularly green road that housed a teeny Dominos. There was a time I would buy a small perfume for every trip I made but eventually stopped. I realised the place brings with it, its own sensorial mirage and it is more lasting than anything money can buy. But this Kama Ayurveda oil surprised me – it takes me to the wire basket that my grandfather would carry, with several many paraphernalia all neatly arranged. He was an Ayurvedic doctor but the bag smelt of a mix of incense, old papers, freshly laundered garment and perhaps an uncture? But when I think of the bag, this is the smell I smell. And it oddly is also the smell I associate when I think of an afternoon when we made kohl at home with hibiscus. It smelt nothing of bringadi but that is also perhaps why it is a mirage. They bring me an overwhelming sense of comfort, despite what may seem like a sensorial overload. Something I have been going back to and will write about is also this beautiful book by Charlie Mackesy that I first saw on @namrathakumar29 feed. It is filled with the comfort and warmth that I can only describe through some of the above smells. I rarely write about this because it is hard to describe abstraction. So I dig into my Lara bar (stories I will tell you another time!) and watch the fleeting shower of leaves from my window.
There is this lovely, almost hole-in-the-wall Goan restaurant in Hounslow called Casa de Goa that has been an absolute gem of a find. They have few vegetarian dishes but boy do they make them well! We sometimes pick up a side dish or two but I had been wanting to have breakfast there for so many months now and it finally happened. And I chose to make a beginning with the Goan style puri bhaji. It seemed the most exciting of vegetarian options offered to me and though I knew you cannot go wrong with a puri bhaji, I was a little skeptical of how different a Goan puri bhaji can be. Trust life to remind you to not judge and walk in with preconceived notions. This bhaji was different and splendid – it was a mix of Patal Bhaji made with dried peas soaked overnight in a paste of coconut and spices (I could smell and taste coriander and cumin and red chillies) and atop it was the Potato bhaji which also had a gravy consistency. I absolutely loved it. I am definitely going to try making this myself because God knows I can eat a couple of plates of this on a weekend. K ordered the ros omelette which is an omelette in a chicken xacuti curry served with pav and as tempting as it looked, I could not taste it but he loved his breakfast as well! The pav was just okay and not the kind of pav you would eat if in India.
The chai – what songs do I sing for the chai served in my favourite kind of glass? It was sweet and hot, just the kind of sip you want as you dip your poori in that hot gravy. It is so affordably priced and so easy to miss, it truly feels like a find. And you know what? It is, the kinds to keep.
Getting to the restaurant:
They don’t have the most updated website and calling them is your best bet. Website: https://casa-de-goa.business.site/?hl=en-GB Address: 113 High St, Hounslow TW3 1QT (they are located near Shri Krishna Vada Pav and opposite to Madras Flavours) Phone: 07808 197021 They do deliver through Ubereats, Just Eat and Deliveroo based on your location.
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.
Being exposed to Odia cuisine through K opened up a new world of ingredients and methods to me. There were vegetables I didn’t know of, spices and pastes I had never tried, methods especially the diaspora of steamed dishes I took to really happily. It was also the first time I tasted and slowly developed an appreciation for mustard oil in cooking.
One ingredient that fascinated me most and still does is the use of pumpkin flowers/ blossoms. I now know that squash flowers are used in different cuisines but somehow the prospect of making a savoury snack with a flower and such a wonderful simple dish at that quite blew me away. I eat these fritters made with pumpkin blossoms called khakharu phula bhaja, every time I visit K’s place in Bhubaneswar. But this time, looking at all the zucchini blossoms I wanted to have a go at making it. We have a lot of squash blossoms coming up too and I must tell you that the success and ease of making them will only see us trying more.
On seeing the burgeoning blossoms on our row of zucchini plants, one of our friends who was visiting us commented how Italians make fritters from them. Off-late, I have also seen it being used in salads and pastas. It is amazing how flowers have found their way to our dining tables and feature in such an array of dishes and share similarities across continents.
One of my key hesitations with picking these flowers was if they would be interfering with the pollination and affect the plant’s productivity itself. After all, I was looking forward to pulling the zucchinis off with gay abandon. And then I did some reading and realised that the male flowers are produced in much higher numbers than needed so plucking a few should be okay. This was really all I needed and you know the rest of the story. I am so glad I made these because I love them – the batter coating that turns so crispy and the subtle flower encased in it as you blow your way through eating it hot off the pan. The joy of fried food is never lost on me, I really enjoy it – especially when I am frying them at home, when there is the goodness of all that fat without it being excessively drippy to the point of churning your stomach. I eat them to my heart’s and stomach’s content but I am quite particular that it is fried in good oil, and not re-fried if I can avoid it.
Here is how I made it (I have some videos of the process of this up on my Instagram):
Zucchini blossoms – say 6. Rice flour – About 3 table spoons (depends if you want to have a thick batter coating, I like mine just coated and not too much. If you like a dense coating, increase the flour keeping a 3:1 ratio of rice to chickpea flour) Chickpea flour – About 1 tablespoon Red chilli powder – 1 tsp/ to preference Cumin powder – 1 tsp Turmeric – a pinch Salt – to taste Neutral oil like sunflower to shallow fry – I use a spoon of oil for each blossom.
1. Clean the blossoms in water. Gently pat them dry with a paper towel. 2. Make a slurry of rice flour, chickpea flour, chilli powder, cumin powder, turmeric and salt. This should not be too thick or too runny. You want a consistency that you can immerse the flower in and when you take it out to fry, it should hold the batter. If you want a thick batter coating, make the slurry thicker so it hangs on to the blossom. 3. Take a small pan, bring to heat and add a table spoon of oil and bring to heat 4. Dip the zucchini blossom in the slurry (from 2) and fry it in the pan, flipping it and making sure it is done all through. I added some slurry as mine was thin. The extra slurry I added took the shape of the pan and cooked to a nice golden crisp around the edges. 5. That’s it really.
We enjoyed ours with some zucchini pasta 🙂
Some other ideas to try: You can add garlic paste to the slurry. I don’t do it. You can add finely chopped green chillies or make a paste of green chillies and garlic and add it to the slurry too. That would taste really nice and as I type this, I am tempted to try it myself. You could make this with blossoms of pumpkins, zucchinis and quite a few squashes. I have only had pumpkin and zucchini ones.
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.
All you need to do:
Take a slice of bread with the crust/ borders removed (keep them aside to make crumbs or fry them and use in soups)
Make a chutney of corriander- mint – green chillies- tamarind – black salt
Slather a nice layer of that coriander mint chutney on one side of each bread slice.
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.
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.
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 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.
A couple more close ups from last week because I finally wore this Lakshmi Kemp set from @aarvee.chennai that I bought three years ago. I have missed so many weddings, family events and just being with loved ones and the bustle of dressing up for an event, helping my ma and chitthis and perimas with their saree pleats, changing the accessories half a dozen times, kindly rejecting a suggestion, carefully drinking a hot coffee, sitting down with care for breakfast so the sarees pleats don’t get creased even before the event and photos, opening up the bindi store, convincing someone they look really good in something new, getting heady amidst half a dozen perfumes that circulate in the room amidst the flowers, waiting for everyone to be done/others waiting for you to be done and the million dollar feeling of walking into the venue and endless chatter. I miss all these little moments so much. Somedays I cannot wait to reach a stage when I can take a flight and go do all this and come back.
Hope is the hat rack I hang my dreams upon, indeed.
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.
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.