Autumnal Musings…

Distraction seems to have got a hold of me & I’m compelled to blame the changing season this time. However, autumn and the glory of colors that entail aren’t just mere distractions. Soothing greens change to glimmering golds and although it doesn’t technically conform to the science of alchemy, they bear with them a promise of euphoria. 

Summer is long gone and with it the burst of sunshine pouring through our diaphanous curtains. I awoke to a grey, gloomy sky and though for some it qualifies a few extra sleep hours, the silvery silky sky and the the soft rain behoove me to indulge in a walk. I don my long gray coat over a thick grey sweater only to realize my sartorial preferences are blending perfectly with my surroundings. Save for the fall foliage, the sky, the facades of historic buildings & the modern skyscrapers with glistening window panes are swathed in shades of grey. Drizzles of rain nonchalantly knock against my umbrella as I circle & navigate around the pathways of Toronto. A crisp breeze and ripples of chills accompany me. Neighboring pedestrians carry sprouted umbrellas and walk briskly while I amble tardily, permitting the rain to soak me. For the moment, Audrey Hepburn croons to Henry Mancini’s ‘Moon River’ on my phone.

A dimly lit cafe beckons me to enter. Luckily I never leave home without a book. I’m soon sipping sweet, honeyed black tea, seated on a high chair, facing a massive glass window on which the rainy water drops have created bizarre patterns. Erin Morgenstern’s, ‘The Night Circus’ absorbs me, only for a bit though. Soon, I’m engrossed in the picture painted outside. Streams of cars buzz across the street. People are wordlessly rushing while a poor, homeless man displays a sign for want of spare change. His furry labrador is snuggled close silently watching the scene in black & white. A man in a turquoise jacket waits under the cafe awning hoping for the rain to stop pitter pattering. A bicycle is parked right out front and it’s saddle, a wet mess. The ground I imagine is gladly welcoming the rain after a parched three summer months. I click many mental pictures before exiting.

The hues of leaves appear darker in the rain, more vibrant, more pronounced. Most make their home on the tree as they gently sway in muffled whispers. The rest are drenched thoroughly but ornately studded over the concrete of the footpath….a beautiful disarray. I make a mental note to capture this in a water colour painting. These are after all, fleeting moments. Evanescent. Soon, barren tree branches will be laced by flurries of snow and the ground, a pristine white spectacle. The crimsons & golds will vanish in the blink of an eye because Mother Nature never falters. Autumn will valiantly bid goodbye and leave us wistfully waiting….

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I will be back soon with Italian adventures. Until then, Ciao!

 

Masala Chai Cupcakes, served with a bout of nostalgia…

Let’s take a break from the Italian adventures. I promise not for long. Today, I invite you on a different kind of journey, a trip down memory lane, as I dive deep into the depths of many memories back home. Come, travel with me as I make short stops and immerse in chunks of my past…

♦While the smoldering sun seeped through iron-grilled window panes, the kitchen is ridden with the rattle of pots & pans and infused & bursting with the scent of aromatic spices. It’s 4 pm & amma needs her usual cup of Chai. Dried tea leaves are brewed in hot water & enriched with Ginger, Cardamom, Tulasi, Star Anise & Cloves. The heat leaches out all the goodness in these spices & although subtle they wind up revamping it into royalty.Then comes the milk that our milk-man has delivered fresh in the morning. Boiled again for good measure, strained and served. But for her, Masala Chai is more than just tea-time. It’s a time to immerse in herself, albeit for a few minutes. A time to wash away monotonous responsibilities( although I highly doubt a mother’s heart lends her permission to do that), a time to submerge in calm & forget the challenges of life or at the least keep them aside for a short while. I like to think it’s a rudimentary nectar she takes assistance from to keep herself sane from the obligations & madness that perpetually surround her.

♦Maybe I should share with you my earliest memory of drinking Chai. It was the time when I metamorphosised into a night owl owing to the pressures of student life. Yes, dentistry changed me plenty and that can occupy a whole new blogpost in itself but gulping cups of warm milk-tea was a routine confined only to certain nightmares called internals. I say “drinking” because it was certainly not something I relished. Never an indulgence, just an infaliable drug that I yielded to in order to pull an all nighter.

♦Like my father, I have failed to fantasize tea in this form, unable to dwell in it’s glories & rhapsodize it’s greatness. However, I still label myself a teophile because I happen to admire it in it’s simplest attire. Black or green with a squeeze of lemon or orange. Maybe some mint, seldom a shred of chocolate or ginger! The husband unlike me is enraptured by the kick, power & sweetness of Masala Chai. He is beyond devoted. Those rare days when my parents visited us, mother & son-in-law were able to toss out awkward formalities, all over a warm cup of Masala Chai.

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My tea collection at home

♦I realise I still haven’t made a mention of the 6 foot, 22 year old baby we had with us over weekends while in Bangalore, my youngest brother. He like my mother considers this drink an essential, a staple. I remember nudging him to get to his books whilst tempting with a cup of Chocolate Chai. Worked like a charm, every time.
His passion extends beyond the seclusion of home. Like when he excitedly told us about bustling mornings in Old Hyderabad where he woke up to Chai, Bun & Osmania biscuits. Or when he suggested I try an Iced Chai Spice Latte with condensed milk & whole spices after religiously learning it from a You Tube video.

While I sing songs of nostalgia, I hate to admit that I’m still learning & compelling my tastebuds to render itself to it’s grandeur. Let me clarify, that doesn’t mean I lack appreciation. I do and a special one at that when the Rain Gods pay a visit! Despite the little detests, I am thankful & Masala Chai has invariably become a big part of my life. This recipe is an homage to this warm beverage, an attempt to fall in love with the magic it exudes. Because we all know, if there’s one drink that stands in equal might with Filter Kaapi, it’s this!

My Masala Chai Cupcakes are dedicated to people like me who prefer desserts to pretty much anything else. To people like me who don’t particularly love Chai but are open to similar flavour profiles.
To the ones who’ve already proclaimed their love for Masala Chai because every bite of this rich cupcake is synonymous with a sweet, fragrant sip of warmth. 
And lastly to the brave ones who are willing to experiment & surrender to something new.
Whoever you are and whatever category you find yourself in, I urge you to try these cupcakes, you will not be disappointed.
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As always these cupcakes are egg free, and suffused with freshly ground lavanga (cloves), elaichi (cardamom), Chakra Moggu (Star anise) & freshly grated ginger. They remain the true stars of this show. As the mortar & pestle did their bit, it was almost calming to drink in whiffs of these magical spices and not to forget, redolent of many special times.Tea decoction is added in good measure as well and topped with a generous amount of Chai infused buttercream.
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RECIPE FOR EGGLESS MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES (Makes 6)

INGREDIENTS
MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES:
3/4th  cup All Purpose Flour + 1 tbsp

1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1/2  tsp Baking Soda
3 tbsp oil
1/2 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 cup milk + 1 tsp white vinegar to make buttermilk
2-3 tbsp of Tea Decoction ( I used Tetley tea bags.)
1.5 tsp of Chai Spice- 

2 cloves
4-5 Elaichi/Green Cardamom pods
2-3 small pods of Star Anise

1- tsp of Fresh grated Ginger
1/4 tsp of powdered Ginger

CHAI SPICE BUTTERCREAM:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/2 cup of Icing sugar
4 tsp of heavy cream/milk
A pinch of salt
1- 1.5 tsp of Chai Spice

Others:
Crumbled cookies or biscuits

METHOD:
MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES
◊ Make the Chai Spice by grinding Cardamom, Cloves, Star Anise. Add powdered ginger as well.
◊ Preheat oven to 350 F and place cupcake liners in the tray.
◊Make Tea Decoction by boiling 1/4 cup of water and immersing 2 tea bags. Allow it to brew.
I used Tetley bags but tea leaves can be used too. The Cardamom peel can be added to this decoction as it brews.

◊Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl .(All purpose flour, Granulated Sugar, Baking Soda, Chai Spice)
◊Incorporate the wet ingredients-Oil, White vinegar & Grated ginger
◊Make buttermilk by incorporating 1 tsp white vinegar into 1/2 cup milk. Add this to the remaining ingredients. Whisk well to ensure there are no lumps.
◊ Add 2 tbsp of tea decoction and stir it into the batter.
◊ Next, taste! And I consider this the most important step because if the batter needs any extra spice or tea, then it’s important to add it at this point. The batter should taste like Masala chai

◊ Bake for 17-22 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
◊ Cool completely.

CHAI SPICE BUTTERCREAM
◊ Beat softened butter and heavy cream for a minute until creamy.
◊ Add the icing sugar in parts and beat well.
◊ Incorporate the Chai Spice according to taste. I added a teaspoon.

TO ASSEMBLE-
Frost the completely cooled cupcakes with the Chai Spice Buttercream and top with a dollop (or more!).
Crumble Almond Biscotti or any cookie/rusk on top.
NOTE:
1) Don’t restrict yourself to just these ingredients. Cinnamon, Tulasi etc can be added too. Experiment with individual proportions as well.

2)The quantity of chai spice in the cupcakes & the buttercream can be varied depending on your taste buds.
3) If you’re curious about the flower deco – It’s a buttercream blossom made using Wilton tip #104
4) I apologize for this very , very long post!

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Diaries from an Italian Summer – When in Rome…

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 11th, 2016
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
– Giuseppe Verdi
Despite worn down by jet lag, I am buoyed by the spirits of travel & pull out my journal to begin this much sought after Italian love affair. Time waits for none, nor does an exhilarated mind. Let me clarify, while the art & history mighty impresses us, it’s the devotion for authentic Italian food that is consigning our brain on an overdrive. We’re determined and on a mission…..to feast on pizzas laden with bubbling, greasy mozzarella that stretches itself longer than a foot, to gorge on plates of gnocchi smeared with pesto sitting on a pool of olive oil, to dive into luscious tomatoes & creamy burrata drizzled with balsamic vinegar, to devour the plethora of flavours of sugary, sloppy gelato without the perils of petty shackles also known as calorie count and to sip on white wine as the blazing sun goes down.
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We saunter along narrow winding lanes & choked alleys studded with flagstones & Vespas, past the stupendous Piazza Venezia , amid trees crowned with cloud like bushes and make our way to Piazza Navona. Like we were aptly informed, the Piazza is scrambling with tourists and their selfie sticks. The husband encourages me to experiment with the camera. I give in and discuss angles & frames fearing I may not follow through. No I’m not a quitter, nor am I devoid of passion but my heart fails to stay in two places. I may fail to breathe in the sweet summer breeze, I may fail to silently people-watch , I may just fail to close my eyes and soak it all in. That said, it’s probably not the worst dilemma to be caught in….
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Afar, Bernini’s Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of Four Rivers(1648-1651) is standing undauntedly amid St. Agnes Church & Fountain of the Moor(also by Bernini). While an Egyptian Obelisk soars high from the center, Bernini’s intricately sculpted & bearded statues around represent the four major rivers from the four continents, Ganges from Asia, Nile from Africa, Danube from Europe & Rio De La Plata from the Americas. The fountain came to be in spite of protestations from the public. After all, the public paid for it in the midst of an ongoing famine!
I’m well aware that my knowledge of European history is but a tiny speck however landing here has piqued my curiosity beyond limits and my heart yearns to be be transported to a time when Bernini & his army hand sculpted this marble marvel of Baroque architecture. Yet another epiphany, yet another realization that learning how to extract teeth during day & memorizing anatomy during night was the biggest mistake of my life….
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The only intact Roman Temple in Roma, The Pantheon.The elephant grey concrete outside  is beguiling and one can be unprepared for the massive, startling interiors. Colossal, fit for the Gods, humming with silence despite swarming people & sealed by a tenacious dome that apart from being a perfect hemisphere, is also mammoth & perfectly in tandem with the lower structure. The haze of sunlight streaming through the central oculus lights up the air and everything in it, somewhat in an attempt to bringing the place back to life. The Pantheon is also a tomb.
Among many colonnades & sarcophagi rests Raphael, the renaissance artist whose frescoes have bathed the Vatican Palaces with colour, splendor & history.
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Rome’s romance with fountains ushers us to the Trevi Fountain. If truth be told, a horde of people lead us to it so much so, I bravely switch off the GPS on my phone. We arrive close by to hear the sounds of gushing waters and rush to see Nicola Salvi’s alluring masterpiece in Baroque art. The fountain is an homage to the God of Sea. On either side are two horses that depict the two natures of the ocean – calmness & agitation. In the center, rises the God of Ocean himself, overlooking the waters. On the right is an enormous vase aka Ace of Cups. Legend says that a barber managed to irritate & criticize Salvi to such a great extent  that he sculptured this vase to as a means to protect & hide his work. The entire creation is a dance, a dance of imaginary creatures & nature, all harmoniously blending with the blue waters.
The husband, with enormous difficulty scours for a spot for himself and his tripod while I fend for an inch of space on the encircled, severely crowded metal seats to rest my weary legs. Surges of people arrive by the second but no amount of chaos & frenzy is strong enough to drift my mind away from the calm of this enchanting fountain. I sit for hours while the husband gets his heart fill of pictures and not a second am I weighed down by manacles of boredom.
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For all my life, I’ve wanted to live a Parisian life. Accepting that it’s too far fetched, I resorted to being a tourist someday. But, when the husband casually popped the question, “Where in Europe?”, I caught myself blurting, “Italy”. I realized Dan Brown & Robert Langdon had gotten in my head way more that I can imagine.I now speak of Bernini & Michelangelo like they’re old friends. Speaking of books, I owe a ton of gratitude to my father. Daddy as I call him, introduced me to the world of books, case in point, Asterix & Obelix. As Goscinny & Underzo  painted pictures of an old Rome, I reveled in adventure after adventure whilst taking in comical drawings of the Pantheon, the bush like trees & Emperor Caesar, with no clue that many years later I would reminisce these days as I walk the Roman flagstones.
To be continued….

To read the previous part of this journal entry, please visit HERE
Ciao!

Diaries from an Italian Summer- Touchdown, Rome

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 10th, 5pm
The afternoon sun blazes in all his might with no respite for weary pedestrians. The deluge of light is blinding. We don’t have the luxury of complaining though, come December we look high and low for the slightest hints of warmth.
We trudgingly haul our suitcases to spot the usual “sea of blue”that engulfs Bremner on summer afternoons. Torontonians donning Blue Jays jerseys and basking in the glory of the baseball team is akin to India worshiping Sachin. Cautiously, we snake the wheels of our luggage amid many sneaker laded feet and hasten to get away. Familiar wafts of grilled hot dogs fill the air and although I’m a vegetarian, it dawns upon me that I might miss this present home in the coming few days.
We’re rushing to embark Toronto’s glossiest train ride to the airport, the UP Express. We’re headed to Rome.
The husband’s roaring snores & Mindy Kaling’s ‘Who’s Hanging Out With Me & Other Concerns’ keeps me company as the aircraft jets across skies for eight long hours.The thud of landing is accompanied by a boisterous applause & an even louder cheering…For a tourist, this gesture says much about the country that one is about to enter, the people that one is about to meet. The heart begins to relax as all anticipations vanish and we happily disembark…

The Air Bnb apartment that we opted for, instead of a regular hotel room requires me to walk up seven flights of stairs. While I don’t mind the walk, the husband doesn’t mind the ridiculously claustrophobic elevator with it’s walls lightly but eerily grazing his arms. We meet at the doors of apartment knowing fully well that this will be tradition for the next three days in Rome. I am never getting into that elevator!

Marissa & Maurizio, the owners, have done beyond a splendid job with the apartment space. The roof is slant and at times may require a “bend and walk” routine but I’m not complaining because it effortlessly lends a fairytale like aura to the space. Vibrant morroccan cushions and table cloths are strewn about in the neatest fashion and dainty flowers in little white vases have made a home on the coffee table. Maurizio, while giving us the tour saves the best for last. The apartment occupies a tiny space on the terrace, the rest of the space embedded with green lawn grass, white patio chairs and pots bursting with pink & lavender flowers. The magic however is the view.(More about that later.)

The kitchen is equally thrilling. An espresso maker, that I fathom will come of use owing to the jet lag,  a checkered tablecloth and a basket of fruits & pastries steal my attention while Maurizio introduces us to it’s ultra modern fittings. I catch a quick glimpse of the Ikea colander and pasta pots huddled together and feel an idea bubbling in my excited mind.
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The idea of cooking pasta in Italy, using local ingredients is invigorating to me and after a spot of sightseeing, we make a pit stop at the grocery to forage for the freshest tomato & basil. The glorious wall of pasta there makes me want to squeal like a child in Disneyland. At the apartment, while my sweet sous chef assists me, I crush canned tomatoes and gently pluck gorgeous cherry tomatoes from their vine. As they bubble up, I drink in the aroma of basil and toss them into the sauce. Sprinkles of fresh ground pepper & sea salt make their way. Half a pound of cooked spaghetti is then dunked in. The process and the result are divine however, I take no credit. The juiciest, incredibly luscious tomatoes and the heavenly aroma of basil are the real superstars here.IMG_7217

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The terrace beckons us to move our dinner outdoors.The marble dome of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore rises high into the sunset sky painted in rich tones of orange.The church bells ring and the aroma of basil lingers in the air. A silent breeze brushes against us as we smile, we are savouring more than just spaghetti. We’re in Italy….

More cobblestone walks, ambrosial food & enormous history coming very soon….

When life gave me Paper…

In the monsoon laden June of 2010, the husband is asked to take on a short term project in Mumbai and we decide that I would be tagging along. We are happily sent off by the family with exploding packets of VaggaraNe Avalakki (flattened rice) & Besan Ladoos (sweets made with gramflour and tons of ghee) stacked in an otherwise empty suitcase. After being bombarded with a list of “Don’t do this” & “Don’t do that” by paranoid relatives,  we taxi up to the airport with the silent thrill of uncertainty hovering in our minds.What transpired over the next three months is a journey even my day dreams failed to conjure up.
We drench in the sultry monsoon rains of Mumbai, savour piping hot Vada Pavs with a side of fried green chillies everyday at 8:30am and cross paths with the warmest of people ( some of whom I continue to stay in touch with). I fall in love with a city that isn’t Bangalore…
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The company offered to put us up in a nano-sized hotel room, owned by a nice Sardar couple. The A/C blared louder than the television. I clearly wasn’t prepared for the city’s soaring temperatures. A marsala maroon bedspread over a vibrant, printed Rajasthani bed sheet was my make do sofa. I had the added comfort of tucking in my feet in a cosy blanket. Midday wafts of Dal Tadka flooded the room coupled with sounds of mustard seeds sputtering in hot oil. A grey-black granite slab jutting out from the wall became a prayer corner.  While the husband was at work, I was cooped up in this tiny space and while the first few hours were spent organizing & devotedly basking in laziness, the rest of the day felt like eternity. The kind owner lady assured me that she would scour for hobby classes through her evening walk. The next morning  I enrolled in Paper Quilling classes. I knew I had found something to kill time.
What I didn’t know was this: Being cramped up in a hotel room, many miles away from home would wind up extracting oodles of creativity from me. I didn’t know was that the little granite slab would become a workspace strewn away with strips of pastels, flaming reds & ombres. I also didn’t know I would indulge in a whirlwind romance with paper & glue.
I quilled my heart away for the next three months oblivious of the rains that pitter pattered out our window….rolling, gluing and putting together flowers, leaves & abstracts. The devils workshop of an idle mind vanished deep into the recesses of my brain with every idea that sprung on sleepless nights. Reveries transformed from shoe shopping at Linking Road to gleefully idling away at the craft store in Nadco Complex.
This is where it all began….
(Mumbai holds a special place in our hearts and I hope to write & share sometime,more of the happy things we experienced in that very loving city)
A couple of months later we found ourselves in Jersey City and in the two years that followed, I quilled almost everyday (sans the days we vacationed), conducted classes and sold some creations online & at bustling art markets. Then it was Hello Bangalore! once again. Bangalore was kind & welcoming because I found myself hustling between classes at home, several happy students going in and out. I like to think that I learnt more than I taught.I also think I have a long journey of learning ahead.
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Quilling is the art of rolling paper strips into a design…simple, complicated, miniature, massive. When students perplexedly remark that it appears more byzantine than they would like, I always assure them this : It’s not as hard as it looks. Additionally, the scope it offers is  as versatile as that offered by brush and a palette of paints. This is a tangled labyrinth they won’t regret being lost in.
Quilling has taught me that Amma’s (mom) patience lending genes have indeed taken precedence over my father’s contrasting ones and have made their way through to me since every composition takes a certain amount of time to achieve. It was in that little room in magical Mumbai that I learnt the meaning of being passionate about something.
Romantic gloomy days coupled with a warm cup of tea & a plethora of coloured strips continue to be my panacea. I’m currently in the midst of getting an online Etsy store ready and rather chuffed about it. Lest I forget, I’m thankful to the teacher in Mumbai who introduced me to this world that has caught me by addiction albeit in only positive ways…

I’ll admit I’ve barred & hidden all the initially made kitschy pieces but here’s a minuscule display of my work….I do hope you like it…
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Lessons I’m Learning from my Mother….Sihi Kootu & More

“My mother is my best friend”….the old chestnut holds true with me as well…
Admittedly, I can go on for ages about how her children received immense priority ultimately leading up to her sacrificing her best career years in order to render us all a warm home. With a husband whose job entails touring the country half the month & three children, two of whom are really hooligans disguised as chubby little boys, the cacophony & chaos can prove challenging and not just in terms of time. I can write about how her face beams with a blend of pride and satisfaction when people notice me as her mirror image and how the same face cringes when some mistakenly mention otherwise! I can write about how she thoughtfully scribes the sweetest( and longest!) messages that prompt me to effortlessly tear up 10,000 miles away and how she indefatigably listens to me blather for hours about the most inane topics. I can write about how she instilled the love of God in our hearts at a tender age thereby guiding us to live a life saturated with faith. I can also write about how she perpetually corrects our lapses and how she relentlessly eludes us from the poisons of revenge.
However,  I won’t.
Today I want to share with you the lessons I am LEARNING from her….
To say she is the epitome of patience is practically an understatement and this can be vouched for by any soul that’s crossed paths with her. The worst of agitations don’t trigger her to bring the roof down. She is the icy water that douses fiery hot heads! As a teen, I learnt the rewards patience can bestow upon one….the learning continues…

Her calm demeanor culminates as her biggest strength. Recalling the pandemonium that joint families can be subjected to, it dawns on me that her serene silence and smile nonchalantly answered most circumstances. My learning continues….

Trying times bizarrely are directly proportional with her degrees of optimism. Needless to say, much needed. Hope is never a dearth at home and that’s saying something.
When life hands lemons, she musters up courage and emerges a winner. She protectively continues to stand up for us in our toughest times and is indubitably my pillar of strength. I continue to learn and if only I can soak in one drop in that ocean of optimism…..

Among the many feathers in a mother’s cap, she also transpires as a long distance constant cooking coach, guiding me gently and indulgently through the complications of it all, awaiting reviews from a hungry son in law. Although I picked up the the basics of Madhwa Cuisine under my mother in law’s unremitting tutelage, there are some recipes that I continue to learn from my mother….Sihi Kootu is one such. How can I possibly forget devouring bowl after bowl of Sihi Kootu with warm rice as I rushed back home from school? Or when I visited the same home with a husband by my side,  15 years later?

We now arrive at the kitchen of my mother’s home, wafting with  aromas of a simmering Sihi Kootu!

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The recipe has flawlessly been passed down the many generations: what my mom learnt from my great grandmother, I learn from my mom. While my great grandmother laboriously and painstakingly ground the spices and coconut in a mammoth stone mortar & pestle, we get away with a turn of a knob! “It doesn’t taste the same”, my mom says.
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Sihi means sweet in Kannada & Kootu basically belongs to the sambar/stew family which means it is rich in dal, coconut & vegetables. I feel the need to clarify that it’s not necessarily sweet but mainly called so to ensure that it’s not confused with another Kootu, the ‘Kharaddu’ meaning Spicy.
The addition of pepper & dry chillies impart a subtle heat to the dish. Byadgi (mildly spicy but adds colour) & Guntoor (very spicy but doesn’t add much colour) are the two types of dry chillies used and together they create a balanced combination. There’s jaggery, which is a mandatory in Madhwa cuisine that lends a sweet note to the dish that when mixed with ghee(clarified butter) and rice can easily become a feast for the Gods! Dal i.e. Toor Dal is added in a slightly generous quantity than regular sambars to give a thicker, creamier consistency. With a whole lot of Dal(lentils), Veggies, & a medley of spices, this authentic South Indian Vegan dish is a bowl of warmth & comfort.

The learning continues….

I hope you try this recipe and I would love me a feedback:) Also, I’m trying my hand at food photography and styling these days….I do hope you like these pictures!

RECIPE FOR SIHI KOOTU

INGREDIENTS
3/4th cup Toor Dal
Roughly 3 cups of chopped vegetables like Beans, Carrots, Chayote, Potatoes & legumes like pigeon peas & Padpi lilva
1.5 tbsp jaggery
10 curry leaves
Salt to taste
For the masala paste –
1.5 tbsp urad dal
3 Guntoor dry red chilles(very spicy)
5 Byadgi Dry Red chillies( a little less spicy)
3/4 tsp peppercorns
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
For tempering –
1 tsp of oil
1 tsp of mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
A good pinch of Hing/AsafoetidaMETHOD
1. Pressure cook toor dal with 2.5-3 times the water
2. Cook the veggies in boiling water & a little bit of salt. Alternatively, it can be pressure cooked along with the dal itself but there is a chance they may become a little mushy.
3. In the meanwhile, make the masala paste.In a kadai, take a teaspoon of oil and fry Urad dal, chillies, peppercorn in medium heat until the dal is golden brown in colour. Allow them to cool.
4. Once it’s cooled, grind it with fresh grated coconut and some water to get a paste of medium coarse consistency.
5. Add this to the cooked dal & veggies along with jaggery,curry leaves & salt. Let it come to a boil.
6. To temper, in a smaller kadai/tadka pan, add oil and once it heats up,  add urad dal & mustard seeds. Let the mustard crackle and then add Hing.
7. Add this to the Kootu. Serve hot with rice & ghee

The Mountains Are Calling…Canadian Rockies – 2

It’s time once again to dive into the world of the “Rockies”….the lofty mountains, their million mysteries, the stories they unravel and the lessons they teach.  Part -1 was a gateway into this world and I assure you, you’ll soon witness their beauty multiplying by a manifold.
A chance encounter was meeting an adventure enthusiast, Vince, on the flight to Calgary. Fully equipped with a heavy backpack & hiking necessities, he generously informed us about the spectacular journey we were about to embark upon, replete with worthwhile tips. As he patiently led us through his Instagram page, I quickly related to his avidity. The long & short of it: in a few moments, enriched with information, spellbound & raring to explore, a short four hour flight seemed like fourteen!
Magic unfurled before us & I hope to share some of that magic with you….Welcome!
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 ICEFIELDS PARKWAY & JASPER

Icefields Parkway
Reverie occupied me for the most as we drove the 233 km stretch from Banff to Jasper aka the Icefields Parkway. Nature undeniably, has a way of inducing positive thoughts & casting aside daunting fears (or is it just me?). Petty anxieties effortlessly took a back seat as I completely surrendered to the beauty unveiling itself and a contrasting plethora of emotions overcame me….joy, awe & immense gratitude.
On either side of the road, mountains rose high, their pinnacles touching the sky, encapsulated by swirling, silvery mist & snow caps. Clad in the greenest of conifers, they signify endurance to me. Raindrops pelted at times but that only meant greener greens and more beauty to soak in. Spring ensued a burst of yellow flowers bordering these peaks while rivers gurgled and splayed below. Although hiking paths and camping sites are in plenty here, we were happy to drink in the treasure from afar. Since  every corner screams of nature’s wonder, the eyes caught themselves in a frenzy of confusion owing to not knowing where to look. Every glimpse is a beatific scenery, a flawless painting, a picture you want to keep for eternity.
A fair warning though….like the many things in life, there is a high chance you can take these impassible mammoths for granted. Hours of looking at them familiarized me far too much, only to realize three days later that it may be eons before I see them again….will feel like it at least!
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(Picture on the Right: The Icefields Parkway seen from Big Bend)
Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier, adorning proudly a portion of the Icefields Parkway,  is part of the Columbia Icefields, the largest Ice Field in the Rocky Mountains of North America. Posing as a challenge and a paradise for mountaineers & skiers, the Columbia Icefields have a deep history.
Athabasca forms one of the major glaciers fed by the Icefields and the husband & me decided to hike up a short distance. The last time I witnessed a massive expanse of snow was back in 2010 in Jersey while we thwarted a blizzard to say hello to Lady Liberty. Gusts of wind, a -2 degree temperature and not being adequately warmed by coats ensured I ignore the velvety fresh snow that blanketed the ground. What I remember vividly is the sprawling white that overtook the grey of the concrete & the green of the grass. The Athabasca Glacier provided a slightly similar experience…..although devoid of fresh snow, the expanse of pristine white ice and blustery winds brought back a surge of memories.
(More about activities offered here in my Travel Tips below)
Alarmingly, climate change is cause for the glacier to currently recede at the rate of 5 mts per year(16ft) and if this continues, there will be very little left in 100 years. A new forest will begin to flourish and a lake may begin to form too. Since 1885 the Athabasca has lost more than 60% of its volume. That’s over 350 million cubic mts of ice.  Within the next three generations, the Athabasca Glacier and the water it provides to communities across Western North America may almost disappear and this undoubtedly is cause for worry.
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Sunwapta Falls & Lodge
The Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge materialized as a home for the next two days. Encircled by mountains & spotted with adorable rustic wooden cottages, this place is highly recommended if you ever plan a vacation to this side of Canada. It doesn’t hurt that the food is fabulous and the thunderous Sunwapta Falls is a stone’s throw way!
It comes as no surprise that early mornings bring out the best in mountains and lounging in the patio whilst sipping tea and a book in hand, I remember being ambushed by a surge of melancholy. Why you ask? A picture perfect scenario such as this only deserves glee and laughter. Well, my mind was apparently bent upon racing ahead and dreading the rapidly arriving goodbyes….


A 5 minute walk from the lodge (yes 5 minutes!) leads up to the falls and while the husband had a field day capturing this sparkling majesty, I basked in the glistening waters & morning sunshine. Hiking trails are plenty in the area and we succumbed to one. Not long though, just enough to burn off the hash browns we ravenously devoured for breakfast!
(By the way, this photograph was captured just before sunset)
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This concludes our journey to the magnificent Canadian Rockies. I’m going to skip the next part because it ain’t pretty….Bidding goodbye is unpleasant and while we have loads of pictures & memories to hold onto, my selfish heart yearns for more….

Thank you for reading and do take a peek at my Travel Tips:)

My “additional” two cents
-The drive along Icefields Parkway is about 3 hours (with no stops) and there are no food or snack shops. It’s advisable to squirrel away some light food which can either be purchased from Banff or Jasper Town depending on where you are.

-Athabasca Glacier activities – 1) A ride on the glassy surface of the glacier itself called the                                                                  Ice Explorer.
2) A walk along the cliff edged Glacier Skywalk
We didn’t choose to participate. However, they can be done if you have time to spare.

-Jasper Town is about an hour’s drive from the Sunwapta Rocky Mountain Lodge. You can choose to stay there too. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants and it’s a quaint, pretty little town to hang out, eat & walk around. Similar to Banff Town, every tiny street opens to mountains and is beyond beautiful.

– The weather here is unreliable owing to the high altitudes and it’s better to carry a warm jacket at all times. The rough terrain undoubtedly demands a good pair of hiking shoes.

-Ours was a 5 day trip. Here’s the itenary,
Day 1: Lake Moraine & Lake Loiuse
Day 2: Johnston Canyon & exploring Banff Town
Day 3: Breakfast & a short trip to Lake Moraine followed by a 4-5 hour drive (owing to tons of photo stops) to Sunwapta Falls
Day4: Exploring Jasper
Day 5: Return to Calgary and back to Toronto

{If you haven’t already, please do read Part-1 of our journey HERE .
Do check out more pictures by the husband at : Deepak Mohan Photography
And, for more information, tips & photographs, do stop by our friend Vince’s website : Adventure By Nature }