What mangoes meant in Ramgarh

My father grew up in Ramgarh, a desert village near the district of Jaisalmer. It’s near the border, hence you can always see army trucks on the main road that leads to the village. Unlike the districts, desert villages didn’t procure the harvest of fruits and vegetables because of many reasons like limited supply of water and land quality. So, my grandparents always had to do with whatever was made available to them. My grandfather, whose name was Gyan Chand ji, ran a Kiryane ki dukan (general store) with his brother. They basically had two families to be fed with what they earned and what was left from the stock. And this about the ’60s, so at the time in India, people had huge families. Whatever produce my grandfather or his brother got, it always got divided among the kids and this meant limited supply. The kids (my father and his siblings counted five) were always offered small-sized portions of food items and there was always this competition of who’s going to get what.

The desert life was all about using what you have. There were many cows that my grandfather had, so there was always milk and its products for the kids. But fruits and veggies were luxury items, and the king of all–needless to say–was mango. When the mango season came, the kids dreamt of nothing but juicy mangoes. Everything else was secondary. In Ramgarh, mangoes, unlike now in cities, didn’t come in endless varieties and volume.

“My father used to get some mangoes from Jaisalmer (as the main market was there), and we, in the end of all distribution, got around one KG mangoes for us all. Which didn’t mean much. The five of us kids had to make up with two mangoes per day,” papa once told me. Every mango was like a treasure for us, and the fights were real. “A mango was divided in three parts. The one that came along with the skin, the middle juicy part, and the best part was the gootli (the seed),” he fondly narrated to me. Whoever got to eat the gootli was the lucky fellow as that is the tastiest layer of the mango. Dreams are made of this. You always have to earn the gootli. It doesn’t come easy.

My grandmother made Aam Ras (mango pulp mixed with water and sugar) which was supposed to be had with rotis. When the mango season came, it was only Aam Ras and Roti for the kids. They were ready to kick everything out. After a hard day of play and school in the sands, a dream-like reward meant all. “Imagine. My mom used to make Aam Ras with only two Langda mangoes for us five. A lot of water was added to suffice our portions, and we still loved every sip of it, ” papa told me with a smile that of a child. When you break a piping hot tukda of roti and dip it in the cool and sweet Aam Ras, it sparks stars in your mind, let alone the taste buds. And that was all for them in summers. Aam Ras Roti. And, all they knew, was life was good.

Hello, 2020!

I have read my favourite astrologer’s forecast and I must say, for me, this year is all about keeping patience.

Motherhood can be an overwhelming feeling. You are at a place where you can feel uneasy sometimes. You always have to be on your toes. On an individual level, my self-esteem is on an immense low. “You should celebrate motherhood and be happy,” my mum says. When I see other women, however, I wonder how they come out all stress-free and smiling. And when I see other women stepping out for work or dressed up for a party, I can’t help but wonder how my life has changed. I don’t even have time to comb my hair.

Talking about my writing life, I’m on a miserable state since a few months. I can’t stop checking my mails (spam box included), but none of the editors seem to like my ideas. What are the current trends? Am I not aware of them? Why can’t any editor trust my eight-year writing experience? I have no clue. You might want me to chill, forget all and be happy with the baby, but the fact is, I loved it when my bylines came in magazines and newspapers, but the reality is beyond belief. My heart aches every time I open my inbox and it’s a terrible feeling to face every day.

Talking about recreational activities and hobbies, travel has become a pain. There is so much of packing and planning required with a one-year-old that we often just sit at home and let the weekend go by on its own. So that’s a cut down on some travel inspiration too.

Yesterday, I was in an auto, on the way to my dentist for the last session of my root canal therapy, and I thought, what do I have to look forward to? No stories in print. No money of my own. No nothing. But then I thought, what does God want me to sense now?

May be, there is someone out there who has never been blessed with a baby. May be, there is someone with a slipped disc and cannot step out to work. May be, there is someone on a hospital bed, fighting a random disease. How can these people find inspiration then?

I need to look beyond my superficial issues. I need to practice gratitude and be hopeful about my life (no matter what the newspapers say). May be, God wants me to knock another door when it comes to my writing. May be, I need to try poetry or fiction. So, yes, I need to stretch every day, so that I can face life with the best of me, come what may.

We are in-charge of our own happiness and miseries. Certainly, it’s not my year to shine as an artist, but that doesn’t mean I need to lose hope. I have got an amazing story to share in my next post. Till then, I’d want you try a simple recipe in the kitchen. Be grateful of whatever simple things we have in life. Because, every day is not a party, and all stones are not diamonds.

Love always.

Garlic chutney for the soul

Amidst all the newfound food pictures and futuristic ways of serving ‘superfoods’ I see on Instagram these days, there is a room of my own that I want to constantly visit, and that’s my kind of food. Some place where my mum or a sweet neighbour in my native place gets me a warm plate of pear millet roti laden with ghee, radish sabzi, and a wee bit of red garlic chutney. You see, all the new styles of serving and eating food sometimes bewilder me as I find myself stuck to what I ate as a child.

Now, how do we actually create those childhood flavours from your mum’s kitchen alive again? You can’t. But I want to die trying. On hectic days that is most of my days, I’m too tired to cook for myself. When my cravings go unheard, I decide to shut all business and cook my heart out.

This chutney takes me back to my mother, who lives in a different state than mine. My mother did it all for us, but she certainly didn’t make us strong enough to live without her food; it’s our biggest weakness. But unlike my brothers, I don’t get to enjoy it whenever I want, so making her recipes in my kitchen does make me feel better. This is one such recipes that does that to me.

Recipe: Lasan ki chutney/Garlic chutney {Jaisalmer style}

Method: Grind garlic cloves and green chillies (more garlic of course). You can hand-pound it too. And, you can add a piece or two of dried red chilly to this as well (I usually skip it). Now, heat a pan. Add some ghee. Once hot, add in some asafoetida, turmeric powder, cumin seeds, red chilli powder (at least one tsp as you want your chutney to be hot), and coriander powder. Give it a quick mix and add in the ground paste of garlic and green chillies. Now, add in some salt, two tbsp of water (to cook the garlic), kachri powder (a regional ingredient found in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan; but you can skip it if you don’t have it), and a hint of mango powder. Now stir it every few seconds and once the water is all absorbed, switch off the flame. It’s best to be had with Bajri ki roti (pearl millet). Also, this will not go stale so soon; store it in the fridge and reheat it till the ghee melts well.

Next week, I shall be with her, and it’s going to be the best winter week, you guys. Family bliss, winter food and loads of cuddles are on my way. See you soon, Ma.

Sayonara!

A herbal tonic for your baby

For the past one year, I have been giving a herbal tonic to my baby, which we Indians like to call as Ghasa/Gutki (different in all regions). Every morning, when my baby’s oil massage is done, I make him have this. Ideally, you should be giving him this tonic in the morning time. Now if you ask any doctor here or anywhere, he will not encourage this. But to many the traditional Indian mothers and grandmothers, it is a usual thing.

So, basically, you have to give a wee bit of almond, turmeric, nutmeg and terminalia chebula to the baby. These are given to the baby right after a few days of when he or she is as it is said to be good for the baby, and at least I didn’t see any side-effect of it on my baby. Which is the reason, I would like to share it with you guys too.

For this tonic, we start rubbing each ingredient on a small stone-like plate mixed with a tbsp of water or mother’s milk (for an infant). Gradually, we increase the amount of the mixture. When my baby was a few days old, we only rubbed a small bit of almond for this tonic, but now that he is an year old, I use two almonds for this. In totality, the tonic was about 1/4 tsp only when he was a few days old, but now, it is 3-4 tsps (there’s a good quantity of water in it now). So, basically, increase the quantity gradually and stop when you like. I’m still planning to give him this homemade tonic for the next few months, and then stop it. One can also give it only when the baby has cold or constipation. But, first, you need to understand the role of each ingredient.

Almond: This is great for baby’s development, and especially for his brain. But you need to avoid going overboard with this as it can cause constipation. When your baby is one-week old, you should start with the smallest amount of each ingredient, so take a single almond, rub it a bit, clean it and store it. This almond can go on till many days. When the baby is three months old, start with 1/4 of an almond, and gradually increase it. When the baby is seven months old or so, start rubbing an entire almond and for that, you can soak it too, as it will be used entirely anyway. In the above video, I’m rubbing a soaked almond without skin. Yes, you will need this stone plate as it’s easy to make this tonic then. I’m using two Mamra almonds for my baby as he’s one year old now, but if your baby is younger, decrease the quantity. We want to give this tonic almost everyday till the baby is one or 1.5 years. Also, almonds add a milky texture to the mixture and it tastes better with this.

Turmeric: This is a known anti-bacterial ingredient that is great for our bodies. I might skip Harad or Nutmeg depending on his health but turmeric is something I don’t skip. When my baby has cold, I rub it a bit more so that this protects him for infections. In the video, I have taken a dried piece of turmeric. This is also called Amba Haldi in Hindi. My mom says any dried version of Haldi is fine that is available at Indian stores (sometimes, we also try those Pooja stores (places where you get supplies relating to religious ceremonies and prayers).

Harad: This herb is known to cure constipation. It’s commonly used in Indian homes. Now, babies have constipation too, so with a wee bit of Harad, I can stay assured that his stools are cleared everyday. For an infant, it’s important that you rub it slightly only. Too much of this ingredient can cause heat in your baby’s body. When your baby is eight months old or more, you can rub the piece of Harad a bit more. But overall, the quantity of this ingredient shouldn’t be changed. Not too much, not to less.

Nutmeg: This ingredient keeps the baby away from cold; well, at least old aunts at home say this. So I go by them. When my baby is under the weather and has a stubborn cold, I make sure I don’t skip this one. Jaiphal, as we commonly call it, doesn’t need to be rubbed too much. This can cause side-effects like the baby might not pass his stools in a day. So, rub a slight bit only when the baby is small, and when he is one, you can slight increase the quantity, but overall, just like Harad, you need to maintain the quantity. May be rub it an extra time if he or she has cold. In the video, I have shown how do to go about it.

Lastly, it’s important that you clean the stone plate everyday and keep the box of these ingredients at an hygienic place. Also, clean each ingredient with water, keep them in sun/open air to make them dry and then store them. You can also store them in the fridge to avoid fungus build up. But always see what colour they are, because sometimes, if done negligently this can overlooked.

Remember, breast milk is the best thing you can give to your baby. Being a newbie mother, you cannot make this tonic everyday and do other things too. Do it if you have someone to help you. And you may skip it entirely too. Your baby will be fine without it as well. I do it because I belong to a traditional Indian family, and my aunts suggested so. And I didn’t find any harm in it. I will stop it though, when my baby is 15-18 months; will check with my mother for guidance, of course.

11 food commandments for the mindful you

I started cooking after marriage, and it has been almost nine years in the making. Every year, I try to cook healthier food, however, there’s a big scope of improvement here. In the coming year, that is, 2020, I want to eat healthy, not just cook healthy. That is my most-needed food commandment. Feeding the family has been a priority, but I need to take care of my diet first, as only then can I do the rest of my tasks well.

Coming to the topic, I really want to inspire you to think wisely before taking in any food trends. We are what we eat; let’s not go overboard with that ice-cream tub or those tid-bit packets. Here are some food ideas you can ponder on.

1. Drink well

Be it water, cinnamon water, apple cider vinegar water or just a shot glass of lemon water, our main source of oxygen comes from water. And I’m taking about water stored in earthen or steel tumblers, not the plastic bottles stored in the fridge. Also, you want to sit and sip your water.

2. Include raw food

Whether it is your breakfast or lunch, make sure you have some raw food in form of salad, vegetable juice, sprouts, etc, in your day diet. This will round up your overall diet with oxidants, nutrients, and fibre—all must-have to deal with your gut health.

3. Soak/Ferment before you sleep

It’s always a better idea to soak your legumes/pulses in the night to have them cook in the morning. This will act like an add-on to the goodness of your food. Furthermore, my mother always suggests me to soak nuts and dried fruits. Be it almonds, walnuts, raisins—soak ahead in time. A handful of nuts are enough for your health. Whenever I tend to have a lack of iron on some days, I have half a cup of strained jaggery water and feel more strength in my overall emotional and physical health. Before going to bed, you can set your curd too. Homemade curd, especially set in glass containers, is better for you, instead of those plastic tubs of store-made ones.

4. Mind the condiments

Herbs like mint and coriander leaves, spices like black pepper and cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, lemon and tamarind—all these things add more flavours to your food and make it healthier too. Don’t just treat them as something to garnish with. These will keep vitamin C and other nutrients in check that will help you fight infections.

5. Make junk food at home

One of the food rules I follow is to make my favourite junk food at home. Whether it is Pani Puri, noodles, pizzas, or masala Dosa, at home, I can assure the ingredients are properly washed and safe to eat. The sodium, grains, etc. can be checked at home unlike the street stalls.

6. Invest on good quality food

Be it your chocolate, dates, noodles, artisanal bread, sauces, seeds or basic, organic food—never compromise with the quality. Buy something that has no preservatives or chemicals, and that will again benefit your health when compared to commercially available food items.

7. Share your food

When you feed your helper at home and your neighbours, you are seldom left with leftovers in the fridge. And this will encourage you to eat fresh. Don’t wait for the food to go stale to distribute it. I see that some people to respect the food that they make, store every bit of it in the fridge and have it till it changes colour. And when it is not at all edible, they plan to throw it or give it to the poor. My mom highly discourages it. When you’re done eating, try to distribute the food within two-three hours, so that your next meal is freshly made.

8. Less oil, sodium, sugar!

Some people like to sprinkle black salt or normal table salt on their salads, curd dishes, and whatnot. Instead, add salt while you cook the food. Try substitutes like lemon juice or natural vinegars. Same rule goes for oil and sugar. Cook with less oil; you can add a few teaspoons of water to cook faster. Lastly, go easy on sugar. This will keep you alert and make you a mindful eater.

9. Switch grains

Relying on only wheat flour the entire week is a dull idea for sure. Explore more grains. Bring in jowar, bajra, rice varieties and more. Your piping hot and soft wheat phulkas are full of gluten, so why not go gluten-free for a day? Plus, if you eat these, your kids will start appreciating these too. For example, Bajra roti is not easy to chew, but with time, you start enjoying these hard rotis. And when your kid sees this, he or she will learn to appreciate it too.

10. Check on the pantry and fridge

My mother always says there’s no point in eating spoiled. Keep a tab on what might go bad in the next few days and consume it at the earliest, be it your veggies or flours. You can’t be keeping it for days altogether. Everything in the kitchen has an expiry date.

11. Shop local

When I visit the grocery bus in my condominium, I always end up picking more seasonal fruits and vegetables. I get ideas right there (plus some old and new recipes) and I might also feel like experimenting. Your mobile screens won’t offer you that. Finally, when I shop for my grocery, I almost always end up picking the fresh produce. When shopping online, you have no choice but to eat what gets delivered to your doorstep.

There’s more to cabbage

I always used to end up thinking a dish to two that I could do with cabbage. But, not anymore. Thanks to my neighbour aunt in Surat, Vinod aunty, who is an ardent lover of street food. She introduced me to this amazing grill recipe and I must say, it’s the best thing she could tell me. She is elder than my mom, and we still connect so well. All because of our love for food.

I also end up doing the same bread recipes, and finishing that packet of bread can become a task for sure. But when my fridge has cabbage, I know I’m good. Over to this Surati style cabbage grill recipe that calls for a handful of ingredients only, and tastes delicious. Keep those letters in capital though.

Recipe: Cabbage grill (perfect for that 4PM hunger strike at home)

Method:

Finely chop some cabbage. The quantity depends on how many grill sandwiches you want to make; I take half a cabbage for three people). Finely chop a green chilli. You can take one more if you want to keep the heat meter high. Chop half a capsicum. Now, take a wok, add in a tbsp of oil. Dump the chopped veggies into it. Add salt and a good pinch of black pepper (I like to go overboard with this ingredient though). Let the mixture soak the water. We need to half cook the cabbage here. Once done, take it off.

Now, take two slices of bread. Apply some coriander chutney (coriander leaves, ginger, salt, juice of half a lemon, green chillies and cumin seeds) on both the sides. Add in the filling that we just made. Add some cheese if you want to. Now grill this sandwich and serve it with some tomato sauce.

I would love to hear from you, so let me know how you like the taste of this recipe! Ciao!

PS. This dish always reminds me of Surat, and how a good bread toast with green chutney can make for an excellent snack. My nostalgia with the city I grew up in never ends, no? Anyway. Make this at home and you will taste a slice of Surat’s food scene, too. All right, enough.

In the French city of India

On the way towards Pondicherry, I saw salt being extracted from huge field grounds. Little further, individual houses were seen on the coastal line and I wondered what it’d be for the dwellers to listen to the waves all night. And as we drove closer, I was overwhelmed to see the White Town of the city and the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the majestic Promenade area. When I look back, I see myself staying right there with my husband while we explore the cafes and streets of this high-street area; living the French style. 

So, recently, we sisters decided to explore a new city (without our husbands). And we did not bad, especially with three kids in the group. When we reached Pondicherry, two of us knew it strongly that the driver had to be changed with a local one; that way, we won’t have to sit on Google Maps. 

The first night, we girls had an amazing dinner at La Villa. The cucumber punch and hibiscus mojito stood out for me. That unnerving feeling of how the next two days would be was palpable; needless to say, we were all a bit of anxious already.

Travel has become such a tedious task with one always hunting down reviews to make the perfect decisions. Every place should stand out. Every dish should stand out. Every hour should be well spent. It really can give you a headache. To be together on this trip, we had to trust each other, and keep those nervous veins calm. And I’m glad we managed to smile all along.

By the way, I wish I had picked up some jewellery pieces at the Meraki next door to La Villa restaurant. You leave some things for next time, and this surely was one of them. At the store, I spoke to the owner, a sweet lady who didn’t find it odd to speak in Hindi and suggested a few names that I could find out on my trip.

Our stay was booked at Le Pondy, and I must say, the king sized beds impressed me. With an infant, you keep looking out for more space. During the entire trip though, we couldn’t catch up on some pool time, so that was it for me. Also, the hotel’s kitchen staff was kind enough to pack baby food for us. Which kept our rhythm going.

I got to know the French side of the city at Auroville. It’s a forest kind of an area that runs on solar power, and is filled with many creative people who spend their time doing meaningful things be it meditation, baking, teaching, etc. There were many cafes here, but there was this one place where a poor man was being thrashed very badly. And that gave me an impression of two things. These old beggars just won’t move away from your car (we had experienced several times in the city too), and second, this foreign style cafe just couldn’t afford to spoil their image with this man sitting on their entrance. And I wondered what to make of it. And I still can’t decide on it. 

Coming back to Auroville, you will have an amazing time here. Make sure you find a nice place to stay here so that you can explore it well. We went to Maitrimandir, and loved it (unlike the average rated reviews). Just don’t forget your baby’s stroller, as there’s a bit of walking required. The more you read about this place, the more curious you’d be about this place.

Delicious ice-cream, dream catchers, crochet key chains, cotton clothing items, handmade soaps, solar panels, well-trimmed gardens, a 100-years-old Banyan tree, lots of good food and more, Auroville for me was a beautiful spot to slow down and unlike many commercial locations around the country. If you’re not with your tiny tots, you can cycle around and interact more with the people here.

Coming to White Town and beyond. While I couldn’t go inside Sri Aurobindo Ashram with my seven-month-old baby, I did explore a few bakeries in the nearby area. Zuka on MG Road blew my mind with its neat cakes. A must visit if you’ve a sweet tooth. Arulmigu ManakulaVinayagar temple nearby the ashram was great too. 

I wanted to skip buying plastic bottles, and was happy to see a big water cooler inside the temple. I didn’t have a steel bottle with me, but I drank water from its tap with my hands anyway. Also, there were water taps near Maitrimandir as well.

I loved shopping at Auroshikha. Got pure sandalwood powder from here and I can’t wait to try it soon. The candles here were nice too, apart from the usual incense sticks, cones, aroma oils, and all. 

There are some pretty corners in White Town, plus the architecture is a treat for the eyes. The mustard yellow walls, yellow and red-coloured Vespas being driven on the lanes, bougainvillea plants adding more charm to the area, and of course the many food joints and boutique-style shops you’d like to see. 

If I had time, I would have liked strolling at the Promenade, exploring quaint cafes and stores like Ma Pondy Cherie. I would highly recommend you staying one day at a resort to enjoy some pool and beach time, and one day in White Town to take up interesting tours and witness how the French influences the city.

Lastly, always watch for small communities that might ask for your time and helping hands. There are many NGOs here that undertake thoughtful ways of helping the underprivileged. For instance, there was this cart that sold bags made by differently-abled people. If I’m not wrong, it belonged to Snehan, a local NGO. So go ahead, and be kind.

Everybody has a way of working in Pondicherry. Local people (including the people who have flown from different countries from the world) have their own way of working creatively here, and that amazed me.