Hello, Spring!

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I’m in absolute love the way my plants are coming back to life and blooming; especially the bougainvillea and lemon balm. And, this week, I went to art class without any sweater! It was such a great feeling to drive my two-wheeler without any jacket or muffler. Winters are almost gone. And I’m so happy the summer wave will hit us soon.

I have been listening to a lot of spiritual chanting tracks of late. Singing makes my heart weep, and I get really emotional when I sing these classic spiritual numbers, like the Ram Stuti written by Tulsidas, I believe. There is a nine-year-old girl called Sooryagayathri who sang a few lines from this Stuti and I downloaded it on YouTube to hear it again and again. Solace, I must say.

This year, I wanted to use more of pulses and lentils in my kitchen, and not stress only on vegetables. And this Monday, I happened to see this jar of coarsely pound split green mung dal. It then struck me that mum must have sent me this for Korme ki Roti. So I called her to know the recipe, and had it for breakfast. She always used to make Korme ki Roti for our travels and even for those hectic or slow holiday mornings.

Korma is nothing but slightly ground split green mung dal. Take a few cups of it in a jar, and grind it once or twice to get a coarse and slightly powdered texture. It’s made in Rajasthan, and is a common kitchen ingredient. You need to soak it for an hour before making this Roti. Also, I love the texture that coriander seeds in my Korme ki Roti. I’m used to eating the dry and slightly grainy Korme ki Roti since childhood, and it’s really filling.

So, if you’re looking for healthy breakfast recipes, you know what to try next. My mum used to make lots of Korme ki Roti and keep it wrapped in a muslin cloth in a Roti box for later. Perfect for those 4PM hunger pangs! I have to have something at 4PM; it’s dreadful for me when I find nothing to eat in the kitchen. So, a Roti box is a no else blessing.

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Let’s make the dough! Oh, where is Korma?

Recipe: Korme ki Roti

Ingredients

wheat flour – 2 cups
spices (coriander powder, turmeric powder, red chilli powder) – as your preference
coriander seeds – 2 to 3 tbsp (coarsely ground)
Korma – 3 to 4 fists (soak it clean water before an hour; strain the mung flakes and water and then add it to the flour)
salt to taste
oil – 1 tsp (optional; we use it to make a tight dough)
bajra flour – 1 tbsp (optional; this makes the Rotis softer)

Method

1. Make a dough with all ingredients. But, be extra careful when you add water. Somehow, it’s extremely easy to bind these ingredients together and this dough takes less water. So, you can add ¼ cup of water, or may be less, initially. And then add more water, if required. After about five to 10 minutes, knead it for 30 seconds with a hint of oil to make it easy for you to roll the balls.
2. Now, just as we make rotis, you need to make one with a small ball of this dough. Roast it with a hint of oil or ghee on the griddle.
3. Serve your Korme ki Roti with mango pickle or garlic chutney. I love it with plain curd. And make sure you make some extra rotis for later.

The humble pumpkin

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At home, back in Surat, we never had pumpkin in our household. As I have mentioned several times in my earlier posts as well, my parents grew up in the deserts of Jaiselmer (Rajasthan) and they never had loads of vegetables in their kitchens anyway. Those were barren lands then unlike the present times. My aunt (my masi/mum’s elder sister) actually once told me, how they almost always had Kadi (a spiced buttermilk dish) in the kitchen. Even green chillies (leeli mirchi in our language) were special back then, she added. “So, when it was leeli mirchi with kadi, it was special!” she said, with an innocent smile.

And, it continued almost in the similar way in Surat (Gujarat) as well. Things like paneer (cottage cheese), pumpkin and colocasia root (arbi) have never been part of my childhood. Slowly, we did start including local ingredients in our dishes, but it’s still not too much.

So, when I taste the different yet local vegetables here in Delhi NCR, it takes me some time to get used to it. But, there have been a couple of instances, when I tried something in the office, and it totally blew my mind. And one of the instances has been the combination of Pethe ki sabzi (pumpkin) and Pooris.

In my last workplace, it was in that congested room where we all colleagues used to sit down and eat our lunch, happily. A workmate, who originally belonged to Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh), asked me to taste his lunch. As usual, it was overloaded with stuff; his mother always gave him extra portions for us all. And I asked him what it was, but he asked me to taste it anyway. It was the first time I tasted pumpkin. And it blew my mind!

The sweetness of the whole-wheat Pooris with the sweet and tangy pumpkin sabzi was a mouth-watering combination. It just melted in my mouth, and I couldn’t believe the heavenly taste of it. I could recognize the taste of fenugreek in it, with a bit of mango powder and sugar. Every element of the dish, in fact, stood out. I couldn’t help but wonder, how can such a simple combination as this one be so delicious. After a few bites, we exchanged our lunch boxes. I had to.

You know, it takes time for someone in her 30s to appreciate something she hasn’t tasted before. At least when it comes to the veggies. And I truly loved the pumpkin curry that my workmate’s aunt made for him. I could sense his background, and suddenly, I was also curious to explore the food of Uttar Pradesh. I’ve certainly missed out, I thought to myself.

So, dear reader, go ahead and try this combination at home. That is, if you’re like me, someone who’s obsessed with simple, regional food. Don’t be ashamed of something you haven’t had till now. Most pumpkins available in the market are too big, but I always end up finding a small one with which I can make this sabzi at least twice a month. And, guess what, I made this for my husband’s lunch box this Valentine’s Day. Not a fancy dish, eh? Too rustic? Well, wish I cared.

Recipe: Pethe ki khatti meethi sabzi (pumpkin/yellow squash)

I would like to thank one of my favourite YouTubers, Nisha Madhulika for this recipe. It’s always a delight to watch her videos. This dish turned out to be just what I tasted in my office cubical. Words fall short when one has to describe Nisha ji’s cooking skills.

Ingredients

Yellow pumpkin – 1½ cup (chopped; also, remove the seeds and soft pulp)
oil – 1 tbsp
turmeric powder – 1 tsp
coriander powder – 2 tsp
red chilli powder – ½ tsp
ginger paste – ½ tsp
green chilli – 1 (chopped)
salt to taste
juice of half a lemon (you could use mango powder if you want)
fenugreek seeds – 2 pinches
sugar – 1 tbsp
coriander leaves (chopped)
garam masala – ½ tsp
cumin seeds – ½ tsp
asafoetida – 1 pinch

Method

Pumpkin is almost like potato, but I believe it takes a little less time to cook. If not paid attention, it can go utterly soft.

1. Peel and chop the pumpkin. Make sure you remove the seeds and the soft part that’s there in the middle.
2. Take a kadai or wok, heat some oil in it. Once hot, add the asafoetida, cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds. After a few seconds, add the ginger and the green chilli, followed by the turmeric powder and red chilli powder.
3. Next, add in the coriander powder and salt. Now is the time to soften the pumpkin. So, add in about a cup of water, and close the vessel with a lid.
4. Keep checking, and once the veggie has turned soft, add garam masala, sugar and the lemon juice. Finish it with a good sprinkle of chopped coriander leaves.

I always serve it with fried whole-wheat pooris, exactly what I tasted for the first time. I really don’t want to change my memory of it.

In the lap of Himalayas

IMG_1856For me, going to the hills for even two days is enough. I’m always up to leave the home affairs and hit the train station and hop off someplace where we can recharge ourselves. It doesn’t have to be a luxurious hotel or a faraway land or an 18-hour flight. A five-hour train ride is enough. A secluded place, with a lovely place to stay at, and that’s enough for me.

Slow travelling. Talk to us about it. I and my husband like to completely unwind, chat with strangers staying around us, and soak in the local life as much as we can. Some people even call us lazy. But that’s our idea of a holiday. As for me, I’m an extremely chatty person. Love to listen to people, sometimes cut talks and share my stories. And if I do end up making a friend, it’s a bonus.

So, the day came. I had rolled our sweatshirts and thermals into a small trolley bag, packed a backpack with his kindle, my medicine kit and a small toiletry set. Not forgetting the berry mix, mufflers, and hand gloves.

Our train was at 6AM, and it was supposed to reach Kathgodam at 11AM. We had to literally run to catch it as we were running late. Once inside the train, we just sat back and enjoyed the Shatabdi food that was served us. There was a lot of fog, as the forecast went on the prior day. As for the view, I absolutely loved the trees in the fields, all lined up perfectly.

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We were received by a car driver, who took us to Somerset Lodge, the place we had booked for our trip. It was a two-hour drive to this beautiful place, and though it was a bit cloudy, I liked the feel of the quiet place. Mukteshwar isn’t a commercial destination like Nainital or Bhimtal. People usually come here to see the Himalaya peaks, and get back to their hotels. Staying at the lodge and enjoying the nature was our only plan at the time.

I could clearly see the passion of Rajender Singh Mehra, who takes care of Somerset Lodge, for nature. There were beautiful creeper plants all about the place, and such beautiful succulents and flowers. And the people here credited him for this. It was January, and I wondered what the place would look like in spring.

So, there we were, relaxing in the garden area after having a scrumptious, homely meal. Took a nap in our room, which seemed like a family suite (there were three rooms attached in here with a bathroom). We paid for a basic room, by the way. In the evening, we went for a walk, and I loved the silence of the place. During dinnertime, the husband had a word with Vijay, who works for the lodge as well. He asked us to go to Bhalu Gaad Waterfalls during the first half of our next day.

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Next morning, we had a delicious breakfast (people here can feed you like a mother; seriously!) and headed to the waterfalls with Goodwin, the driver. Giving us company was a very talented and interesting guy, Shashank Joshi. Shashank is a professional photographer and has been staying at Somerset for the last couple of months to capture nature and the mighty Himalayas. So, all four of us went to see the waterfall. There would be a bit of trekking required, informed Goodwin.

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Shashank with the local dog, Roger

It was a 20-minute drive, and we reached the place. And just when we started walking inside the woods, I could feel a gush of wind welcoming us. I just turned my head up, and the sound of the wind took me by a surprise. Within a few minutes, I could hear birds chirping around us, and green fern leaves adorning our pathway. It was such a break from the city life.

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The path to the waterfalls

Don’t go by the pictures of the waterfall that are available on the Internet. It’s all about the nature walk that you take to reach the waterfall. And I promise, it’s worth your time, and will leave you inspired. Take your parent or kid along; I saw old parents and little kids during the trek; cautiously walking on the pebbled path and crossing the beautiful little streams (we crossed two). I touched the clean water of one of the streams, and the cold water made me smile. My trip was already made, I happily told the husband.

The sight of Bhalu Gaad Waterfalls was beautiful. My husband regretted not getting a towel. “I would have loved taking a dip in the cold water,” he confessed. All four of us, took a place to sit around this waterfall, like many people around us. I just tried to soak in the feel of nature. Gosh, I cannot forget the experience, and I can still smell the fresh air of the forest even while writing this.

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Later, we headed for Mukteshwar (our lodge was on its outskirts) for the Him Darshan. Again, the walk in the snow-laden road was amazing; it snowed before we came here. Now, I could feel the chilly air. The view of the snow peaks of the splendid Himalayas was beautiful. The peaks, however, were covered with tiny clouds, and we couldn’t get the full-fledge, clear view. Nevertheless, had it been snowing, even this sight wouldn’t be possible, I thought to myself.

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While walking back, we went to the Mukti Dham temple. It was surreal to just visit this temple. Soon, we headed to the lodge for our lunch. It was 4PM, and we were starving! Our meal was simple yet delicious. Later in the evening, we went to the nearby shops and bought a few local goodies like apricot jam and plum chutney.

It gets really cold in Mukteshwar once the sun sets down. By 8PM the temperature had dipped into the negative and we were wondering what to do next. Luckily, we met a very interesting couple at the lodge, who have been coming regularly to the hills and now plan to settle permanently near Mukteshwar. We discussed a whole range of topics (food, marriage, Indian traditions, Shoojit Sircar) and didn’t even realize that it was already midnight!

So, next morning, we went back to the step farming area near the garden area. After a long breakfast (we sat on the stone stairs and lucky for us, our breakfast followed there), we had a chat with a few people around the place. Soaked in the sun, collected a few pebbles and dried leaves. Enjoyed the view of the green hills and the snow peaked mountains from the garden area. And I wished how all Sundays were like this.

All in all, it was a lovely weekend in Mukteshwar, and it was time for us to check out. And, as it goes without saying, we will knock the doors of Somerset Lodge in the future. But, it will definitely be spring.

Back to my plough

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Home.
Where we celebrate small victories
Laugh at mistakes
Love each other’s imperfections
Where bonds grow stronger

Home, a lovely feeling
Can be a chaos, a mess actually
Aspirations dwindle, yet, become strong
Heavy conversations take place on the kitchen counter with a sibling
Oh, the feeling of home…

When I think of home, I think of a few people who always make me feeling special, and accept me just the way I am. There’s no need to hustle and clarify. No one is judging with a telescope, pointing your flaws.

And the list includes Pooja, a neighbour of mine, who’s indeed a soul mate. I might meet her after months, but it always feels like we were never away. It’s such a bliss to catch up with her, and you almost feel like you’re home. And everything is great, again. Everything will be all right.

Last time I was in Surat, she called me to celebrate her Anniversary. Pooja brought a freshly baked cake from the kitchen, and you could see its hot air coming out. I enjoyed our quick meet, and the taste of the cake was in my mind for long! After a day or two, I had to ask the recipe of her cake. I was shy, but I still texted her. I didn’t want to miss out on this one.

And within minutes, she texted back the recipe. It was extremely simple, and I couldn’t believe the tiny list. When I came back to Gurugram, I tried it one busy morning, when we were planning to meet up a bunch of friends. There were so many lumps in my cake batter. I don’t have an electronic cake beater; so it didn’t help either. But, surprisingly, it turned out yum. Just like how Pooja bhabhi makes hers.

You know, as I’m turning older, I feel more attached to simple things. No frills, please. I like it plain, and that’s it. You can have 4 to 5 pieces of this cake, without feeling full. I can never do that with the fancy cakes. That’s the magic of this simple, homemade cake.

Make it this Sunday, and celebrate the little victory your family member or friend had this week. As that’s what matters.

Happy baking and happy bonding!

Recipe: Simple Whole-wheat Cake

Ingredients

2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup Malai (the layer of cream you see over boiled full-cream milk) – preferably room temperature, if you want to avoid lumps
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk powder
Milk, for consistency
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda

Method:

Mix the dry ingredients first, and then add the wet ones. Add milk slowly, to avoid a runny batter. Bake your cake for about 45 minutes at 180 degrees. If a toothpick comes out clean (when dipped in the middle of the cake), consider it ready. And, don’t forget to pre-heat your oven.

Note: The second time I made it, I added double the baking soda, and the cake was really fluffy. So, don’t go overboard with it, if you like a decent spongy cake. Also, you can taste the batter, if you want to adjust the sugar accordingly.

Wrote this post while listening to Sara Bareilles, hence this title (from the lyrics of her song, Good Yellow Brick Road).

Words

“If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

– Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre (also quoted in the Netflix series, Anne with an E).

The Glass Powder

They say time heals everything. Every wound. Every cut. Every scar. But, I somehow, don’t think anything can ever heal the minute broken pieces of the glass powder. When pressed against the skin, it can hurt the most. And when there are a million pieces of glass broken into a powder, the jar can never be kept close. Never. It has to be abandoned. Immediately. And forgotten. Wish, we could abandon our dreams too. Forever.

Words

“Our lives are not in the lap of the gods but in the hands of our cooks. Hence befriend your cook because so much of the enjoyment of life lies within his power to give or take away as he sees fit. It is the invariable test of a wise man whether he has good food at home or not.”

– Confucian (Chinese teacher) view of food (as read in the book, The Essential Andhra Cookbook)