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.

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.