Embracing Winter…

Glass Half Empty
There were days when my whiny cantankerousness welcomed winter. Admittedly, I was a brat then. Unappreciative of Mother Nature’s simplistic attire. I coveted sunshine, my ignorant mind misconstruing rays for happiness. Floral bounties and barefoot walks along the beach became the sole harbingers of joy. I succumbed to an intense yearning for warmth, failing to accept uncertainty & more so, change. A change that is entailed by the necessity for balance. I was blinded by my own stubborn resolve. I visioned winter to be a scorned witch on a broomstick, armed with unbridled blustery winds in one hand and frigidity in the other, constantly battle ready. I wasn’t one to surrender, I fought hard, cursed and complained. If seasons had sounds then summer was synonymous with Mozart’s harmonious symphonies while winter screamed of dissonance screeching like a  rockstar’s broken electric guitar.

No more.

Glass Half Full
The blinds have snapped off and the mind is finally eager to embrace nature’s vivid transformation. Winter’s mellifluous songs are naturally muted if I snobbishly turn a deaf ear. I realize the solution is by far, simple. My only task remains to let myself go. Perhaps if I attempt to embrace the cold, maybe I could avoid huddling in torture. Perhaps if I extend one hand, She will too. Once the answers unveiled themselves, in other words, once the attitude changed, the rest was easy. My mind’s eye was finally ready to feel the season, Glass Half Full.
Emboldened by the faux fur parka, the breeze fortified by frost has become less intimidating. The somber, gloomy mornings have never posed a problem since they have a way of romanticizing the day. The natural, obvious beauty around helps too and Niagara on the Lake, a little town exhibits it immensely : Leafless trees move fearlessly with the gales, their skinny branches bent & curved like they’re in the midst of an intense ballet recital. They mingle with each other, like socialites reveling at a soiree . Whispering gossip also possibly discussing when the heavens will lace their elegant arms with flurries.
Velvety earth culminating after a fresh flurry offers a gentle cushioning for weary feet but the aspect of impish fun comes into play when there’s a generous snowfall and there are mountains of snow to carefully roll and fling at the husband!
Window sills and picket fences lined with green fern and crimson berries and wreaths in silver and gold make up for the lackluster as do brightly lit trees and reindeer topiaries and iridescent ornaments hanging from branches.
There are a couple of pictures below that our thickly gloved hands captured on the phone. (They’re from Niagara on the Lake, a little town that appears to have taken a leap off of Gilmore Girls, a television series based in a similar town called Stars Hollow. I’ll reserve another post to walk you through this quaint piece of calm.)
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Additionally I’m sharing also, a recipe, one of the many festive bakes I indulged in this past month. Food tends to add a sense of ease especially if it involves excessive amounts of sugar.
These are bite sized Mini Chocolate Cupcakes spruced with Peppermint, a flavor that categorizes as a staple in my opinion, in the holiday season. A grand crown of rich White Chocolate Frosting is assiduously placed. The frosting is a rendezvous between a scarlet red and white, much like the striped peppermint candy.
The mint gently masks the sugar. The chocolate counteracts the bout of freshness. They go hand in hand, entwined in sweet romance and to me, their clandestine affair, just came to light.
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Recipe for Mini Chocolate-Peppermint Cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting ( Makes 12 Mini Cupcakes)
Ingredients for Eggless Cupcakes

1/2 cup All purpose flour
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp Baking Soda
1.5 tbsp cocoa powder
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp Canola Oil
1/3 tsp + 1/3 tbsp white vinegar
1-1.5 tsp Peppermint Extract.
1/3rd cup Milk
2 tbsp warm coffee decoction

Ingredients for White Chocolate Frosting (Adapted from Sally’s Bake Blog)
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter(Softened at Room temperature)
85 gms White Chocolate
1 cup Icing sugar
2 tbsp Heavy cream or milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt

How to make the Cupcakes:
1.  Line your mini cupcake pan with liners and preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients: Self Raising Flour, Baking Soda, Baking Powder and Cocoa Powder.
3. To this , add Brown Sugar and give it a good mix.
4. Next, in go the wet ingredients: Canola Oil, Peppermint Extract, 1/3tbsp white vinegar.
5. In a cup mix milk and 1/3 tsp white vinegar to make buttermilk. Add the buttermilk to the cake mix in the large bowl and mix well to ensure there are no lumps.
6. Mix in the coffee decoction and fill cupcake liners till they are 2/3rds full.
7. Bake for  12-15 minutes.
8. They are done when a toothpick comes out clean.

How to make the Frosting:
1. Whisk together butter, milk/heavy cream, vanilla essence together in a large bowl using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, until soft and creamy.
2. Add icing sugar in parts and keep whisking.
3. In a separate bowl, add chopped white chocolate and microwave for 20 sec. Remove, stir and repeat. Twice should do but if not melted after stirring, repeat once more.
4. Add the tempered chocolate to the buttercream as you whisk.
5. Whisk for 3-4 minutes until nice and creamy.
6. Pipe onto completely cooled cupcakes.
7. I added the icing into a bag with Wilton 6B tip in and lined with crimson colored food coloring.
Happy New Year everyone!

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 }

The Mountains Are Calling…Canadian Rockies-1

Here, the mountains reign, swathed in tones of grey & sepia, crowned by milky white caps of snow. Bedecked by a plethora of flamboyant conifers in the darkest of emerald, they stand tall & proud, as if softly singing a hearty welcome. They appear similar but that’s just the mind playing obvious tricks for they’re clearly not. Some are massive & humongous, emerging stern & strict although not in a bad way, more like a doting father, brave, defiant & protective. Some wrinkled, appearing ancient, ridden with a million secrets for they’ve silently endured the tests of time. Some may come off as dubious too, their pointed peaks peering suspiciously at onlookers. And then there are some that seem tiny….young & audacious, replete with greens, providing home to the wild & the tame. Perhaps these mountains speak a a different language to each but anyone who lays eyes on these towering beauties is promised of forever remaining besotted.
It’s yet another example too, of me blindly trusting the husband’s travel instincts. A year ago as we packed our hoardings to bid goodbye to Bangalore, I caught him smiling to himself whilst looking at scenic photographs. “This is Banff” , he said. “We have to go there!”.  Allow me to shamelessly confess, that I’m more of a city girl…. The dressing, the shoes, the dinners & wines enthrall me more than I like to admit. Not that I shy away from  staying active but four days of hiking shoes & windcheaters was hardly convincing. Having said that, this isn’t the first time he has implored me to see at the world through his eyes and as always it wound up being rewarding.
The place transpires as a photographer’s dream destination and the exhilaration apparent on the husband’s face was akin to a kid squealing in Disneyland. For the rest of us, the scenes fleet like pages & pages of watercolor paintings, with solely mental clicks to rely on because there’s nothing one doesn’t want to remember.

This series is going to be covered in two parts-  Part 1 – Banff
Part 2 – Icefields Parkway & Jasper

Come, travel with us! I promise you a brilliant journey!

BANFF

Lake Moraine
The first thought that crossed my mind as I laid eyes on the water was my Amma’s(mom) Mysore Silk sari. (for those of you who don’t know, Mysore Silk saris are a rage in Karnataka. Soft, silky light drapes in vibrant colors that confer the utmost comfort. My mom, among many is a proud owner of a couple of them and maintains them meticulously!). Like the sari, the waters seemingly appeared like a silky taffeta of blue-perhaps an amalgamation of turquoise, azure & sapphire, gleaming in the morning sun. Rings of soaring trees and the Valley of the Ten Peaks replaced the shimmering gold borders of the sari.
Most things in life comes with a price & that includes hiking up a little hill (Rock Pile) bestowing a view that mesmerizes.
I make sure I carry a book with me wherever I go. For the next hour or so, I immersed in the book, encapsulated by this burst of natural beauty, accompanied by silence, the only sounds being the wafts of a flawless breeze. On a lighter note, I think that also allowed for the husband to capture these pictures without a constant chant of, “Done?”, “Done?” in the background! 😉
Lake Moraine

Lake Louise
In the inner recesses of the Banff National Park, there lies surreptitiously a hamlet called Lake Louise, a treasure trove of pristine blue nonchalant waters encircled by peaks & their conifers. The glacial fed waters are imaginably freezing. As the meltwaters make their way down they bring with them rockflour from the mountains, making the water silty. Late spring, most of the rock flour settles to the bottom of the lake over the winter ensuring only a few being suspended thereby creating an intense blue.Come summer, milky streams gush down with more rock flour and the lake mellows to a lighter green.
Lake Louise

Banff Town
Imagine a walk in the early hours of the morning….when calm & tranquil prevail, birds softly chirp away, a crisp gentle wind rustles the leaves, roads lay desolate with only a handful of people, their hands tightly wrapped around a warm cup of coffee and a view of the soaring mountains enwrapped in a white mist as they lovingly overlook every nook & corner of this little town. The main street is home to shops & lodges, the buildings displaying rustic architecture in ochre, green& brown. The prized treasure being the jaw dropping vision of the glorious mountains that appear tangible and yet so far.

The 200 Block of Bear Street deserves special mention….It’s a Woonerff! In other words, a shared street where cars, cyclists & pedestrians share the road. Festooned with benches in browns & pots exploding clusters of flowers, the place screams of spring, summer & all things happy. Clearly, pedestrians have the right of way and cars drive at a very minimum speed.The concept is not unheard of and is popular in Europe albeit slowly gaining popularity in North America. Technically spelt Woonerf but it comes as no surprise that in Banff ,they have a thing for two f’s!

Say hello to Deepak everyone!

Woonerff

Sulphur Mountain & the Banff Gondola
The Sulphur Mountain gets its name from the strong odor of sulphur emanating from hot springs at the lower base of the mountain. The Gondola (cable cars) begins at the shoulder of the Sulphur Mountain, mostly steady, except when the Wind Gods decide to  pay a visit. Temporary moments of frantic cradling and sounds of heaving whooshes can make one shudder at those heights! But, as one travels along the length of the mountain, to the summit at an elevation of 2,281 m(7486 ft), flanked by  towering conifers that lie so close to each other, almost like a tightly woven blanket, the perils of uncertainly hardly matter in those moments. At the summit, the end of a 2300m boardwalk offers a breathtaking, 360 degree view of ice capped mountains, that jut high from the earth, soaring into the sky, as if to kiss the heaven above. The clouds do a little dance over the peaks, creating a veil of mist.
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Johnston Canyon
Where the mountains lie, you hike, the Johnston Canyon being one such place. Admittedly, we’re not big hikers but spirited nonetheless and this 12km hike sure assuaged all our hiking needs for the trip. Home to the Upper Falls, Lower Falls & the Inkpots, the canyon offers a bout of freshness amid the gushing waters and tall shady trees…a relief much needed to douse the summer heat.
Spring water percolates through the sand and river gravel to form five blue green pools, rightly named the Inkpots ( Top Right Picture). Characterized by swirling circles in the sandy pool bottoms, these puddles are worth the long hike. The pebbled ground offers much respite for aching legs as do the vibrant waters, greens & surrounding mountains. But, our gnawing hunger got the better of us and mirages of warm food sent us back down faster than we expected to.
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That completes Part -1 of the series and I apologize for the lengthy narration. I assure you the next one will be shorter and I do hope you liked our experiences with the glorious Canadian Rockies! Stay tuned for Part-2 and before you sign off, do take a look see at a few travel tips…..

My “additional” two cents
– A four hour flight from Toronto took us to Calgary. Banff National Park is about an hour’s drive from there. DO NOT rent cars at the airport since they can be highly expensive. A cheaper alternative is to taxi up to the nearest Car Rental (Enterprise in our case) and rent a car of your choice for almost one third the price!

-You will need a pass to enter the Banff National Park which can be purchased at a toll booth. The cost is around 15 CAD per day and it’s valid in Jasper too.

– I wasn’t kidding about the hiking shoes & windcheaters. 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.

-Lake Moraine:  Climbing up the ROCKPILE offers beautiful views of the lake but if you’re not in the mood to be adventurous, the steps at the back make the hike slightly easier.

-If you’re planning on hiking up to the Inkpots which is about a 6km hike(one way), make sure you have enough water & food stocked in your backpack. The entrance to the canyon has one snack shop but none inside.

-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 3 hour drive to Jasper
Day4: Exploring Jasper
Day 5: Return to Calgary and back to Toronto

-If camping is not on your agenda, Banff Town is home to plenty of hotels & lodges. We sojourned at the Banff Caribou Lodge for two nights,  a rustic lodge with a ranch like ambience before heading off to Jasper.

( Check out more Pictures here: Deepak Mohan Photography)

The Niagara – A song of ice & fire

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”, said John Keats. I’m no expert in the literary arts but I can safely proclaim that the most cliched line from this famous poem, perfectly extols the Niagara Falls. One glimpse and it’s a revelation that something so mammoth & magnanimous is capable of exuding grace in equal measure. Having experienced the phenomenon from New York & Ontario, I can safely say that despite mesmerizing views from both countries, the experience remains constant, in other words,  extraordinary.USA or Canada, I didn’t flinch before thanking the creator for no beauty stands before nature. When Dan Brown describes the Hagia Sophia in Inferno, he says, “a physical space so imposing that that those who entered felt dwarfed, their ego erased, their physical being and cosmic importance shrinking to the size of a mere speck in the face of God….an atom in the hands of the Creator.” The cascading waters of the Niagara can put into effect a similar starking reality.  Continue reading “The Niagara – A song of ice & fire”

Thousand Islands, Gananoque

“Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over & over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”
– Pat Conroy

June ’15. We had just moved into another continent , 9000 miles away from India,  hauling hefty suitcases & heaps of memories. Admittedly, we’ve done this a multitude of times : move to a new place, set up, stay, move. But the truth is, what is repetition in the face of new beginnings in new cities. And we’ve been able to gather snippets of culture & tradition from all the places we’ve called home. Continue reading “Thousand Islands, Gananoque”

Luray Caverns, Virginia

“The poetry of earth is never dead.”
-John Keats
The summer of 2011. Long awaited.After months of huddling within jackets & scarves, sunshine & warmth finally came to pull us out of dismay.( Let me clarify before I go ahead, I happen to love winter nowadays. The cynical thoughts of a chilly past have been superseded by something simply called, “an attitude change”.) It is in July that the east coast of North America experiences the peak & pleasure of soaring temperatures & sun tans. We decided to make the most of it by renting a convertible Mustang & driving to Washington DC & Virginia….DC for the fireworks of course and Virginia for a number of places (details in the coming posts) but this post is dedicated to the Luray Caverns. Continue reading “Luray Caverns, Virginia”

National Aquarium, Baltimore

Back in July 2011, the husband had a 3 month work-from-home pact, courtesy of an ankle fracture + surgery after a notorious jump & land at a volleyball game. Our studio apartment in Jersey offered a dreamy view of the Manhattan skyline, right by the bedside where he, his cast doodled with an outpour of greetings and me, would spend long hours of the day, vicariously living the east coast summer. Come October, his ankle was as good as new, fall slowly settled in with the trees rustling more than they usually do, the ground drenched in leaves brushed in ochre and crimson and temperatures dropping, as if nature was gently easing us into winter. But none of that mattered because it had been a long ordeal & all he wanted was to get out, drive & feel the blast of air that storms one’s face as the car cruises the roads. Freedom. Continue reading “National Aquarium, Baltimore”