In the French city of India

On the way towards Pondicherry, I saw salt 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. 

 

Hello again, Bruschetta

It was in Julie & Julia movie that I saw Amy Adams make it. She roasts the bread slices really well with loads of olive oil on the pan, turned them with a fork, and seasoned her tomato and yellow pepper. There was a clear sound of the crunch at the dining table when her husband started to eat it, and I almost could smell the basil leaves and taste the tomatoes. It was love at first sight. That’s how Julia Child must have made it too, I wondered.

Now, I have had many versions of Bruschetta but somehow, this authentic version is stuck in my head. So, when I saw a huge piece of Baguette at a nearby food store, I knew what my mind wanted to make with it. I had announced it right then at the store before my husband, and luckily, used it on time at home.

I didn’t have fresh basil leaves in the fridge. Actually I did have some, but they’d gone black. But, nevertheless, I went ahead and made Bruschetta with whatever was in hand. And we loved it as usual; and, it had a nice crunch too.

Delicious food doesn’t have to have loads of cheese in it. Nor does simple food have to have a long procedure to be followed. You know, my favourite Greek dip, Tzatziki, or, say, the Middle-Eastern sauce, Tahini, are recipes that are extremely simple. But, we often overlook such dishes in the kitchen, and that feeling of triumph is non-existent when we make them.

I have always believed that in my kitchen, homemade shall be treasured forever, and whether it is simple recipes of peanut butter or just Bruschetta, these would never be undervalued.

This is just me trying some authentic food. Here we go.

Recipe: Bruschetta

Ingredients:

Tomato – roughly chopped (I took two medium-sized tomatoes for 5-6 slices of my French bread).

Basil leaves – fresh ones (but, I used a super crispy and dried batch)

salt and pepper as per taste

a clove of garlic

olive oil

a small amount of butter

half a tsp of balsamic vinegar (optional; I didn’t have it)

onion or bell pepper of your choice (I almost always use none of these, but you can)

Method:

Chop the tomatoes, and season it with salt and pepper. Add in the basil leaves with a dash of olive oil.

Slice the bread and place each one on the griddle after drizzling some olive oil on it. Roast them golden brown. I do add a bit of butter here for that extra crisp.

With the help of a fork keep turning the slices. Once done, peel a clove of garlic and rub it on each slice. This is the best thing to do, as adding them with the tomatoes add too much of a pungent smell. When you rub the clove of garlic on the bread slice, it leaves a hint of aroma and is just perfect for your Bruschetta.

Garnish the seasoned tomatoes on the slices. Add a basil leaf or two for that picture-perfect look. When serving on the plate, you can drizzle that last bit of olive oil on it. It won’t harm.

Happy eating!

Simply turmeric

So, these days, I’ve gone back to cooking. It’s been a month, and I had to revisit my memory though; refer notes, call my mum, and so on, for even the basic recipes. There’s a new cook to help me in the kitchen, who comes to make dinner for us every day. I had gotten some veggies the other day, early in the morning. Turmeric was one of them, although I hardly knew what to make with it. Had known a few recipes but nothing that I could make properly. That’s why it was a big relief when the cook suggested a side-dish that could be made with turmeric. 

Known as Pachak, it can be eaten like a pickle alongside your usual thali and aids in digestion. We had it with a sabzi, and at least I liked its fresh taste. The husband found it okay. See, we all know that with new dishes, one needs time to develop a liking for a particular taste. But with regularity, this can be achievable. I’m certainly going to make Pachak more because one, this is simple to make, and second, it is amazing for your gut. What say? 

Recipe: Pachak

Fresh turmeric – I took four pieces 
one piece of ginger
 
a pinch of mustard seeds
 
juice of half a lemon
 
salt to taste
 
coriander and curry leaves for garnish – optional
 
one teaspoon oil of your choice
a pinch of asafoetida  

Method 

Peel the ginger and turmeric; then grate them. In a small wok, heat up some oil. Add the mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves, and stir for a few seconds. Switch off the flame. Add this to the grated turmeric and ginger mix. Now to this, add some salt and lemon juice. Give it a mix. 

PS. Don’t mind your yellow hands; the turmeric might leave a stain or two, so keep your favourite kitchen linen away. I do so! 
 

Reflections in my mother’s kitchen

I had entered the kitchen to make myself some tea, and that was a rare case at the time. Well, not so long ago, I was at my mum’s place for almost a year, and this was after almost seven years of marriage. Being home with her after so long, for so many months together did feel special. But, at the same time, it was weird. I had become this different person, having spent more than half a decade on my own, running a home at my pace. So, being around just felt a bit different. Not that I did much of work that I was afraid to be judged. Let me explain.

So, one fine day, I was making myself some tea. With my baby bump, I didn’t feel so comfortable bending down to pick up the saucepan from a shelf below the stove. For me, being pregnant for the third time did have its own effects. The severe complications that I had before didn’t allow me to do any kind of work, hence I decided to just rest at mum’s place for as much as I could. And cooking was out of question. But that day, everybody was a bit tied up, and I didn’t resist much.

It felt like I had come alone in her kitchen after so long. There was nobody to ask me, what do I need? I thought, I have been in this space before, where I have never had any great cooking memories. Yes, I did help mumma stir her curries or nuts/grains/flours that she prepped for sweet dishes. But, nevertheless, there were so many images popping up in my mind.

Meanwhile, I opened the shelf below the stove, and noticed almost everything was the same. She hasn’t cared to buy so much of stuff or changed old utensils for that matter. But, she has saved them all like an expert! There were definitely a few items that she needed to trash, but it seemed it didn’t bother her at all. After living at one place for more than two decades, you hardly feel like changing anything. It’s amazing that mum never felt like changing things, unlike me, who gets a new thing every month. Yes, for guests, she had stored a few sets of immaculate steel dinnerware separately. And that’s about it.

I held an old pan, and wondered, why haven’t you trashed this, mom? Her stove is as old as the house. She’s never cared to bring in the bigger stove panels where you can cook four dishes at one go. In spite of her large number of guest visits, and frequent cooking sessions, she seems to be efficiently managing this two-gas stove unit. There’s no chimney either. While I start pounding my ginger, I realise even the sugar and tea jars are the same as well. I then realised that cooking was one of the only things that made me a happy, content person, and that I have to refrain from it now. So this tea better me good!

People usually feel apologetic when using their loud, old grinding machine, but my mother loves it when hers make noise. “It still gets my work done, so why should I throw it?” she’d say. Sumeet was a brand I didn’t see at all in the market recently. Didn’t she ever cared for reviews? She should get more dinner plates, spoons and whisks, I thought. Doesn’t she feel the pressure to impress others with new kitchen equipment?

As a kid, I could hardly reach this counter, and look at me now, in my 30s, desperately waiting to deliver a healthy baby. Did I ever imagine this day as a kid?

When it was my turn to get my Doodh Chai to room temperature, I looked back at the floor, where mumma served us three kids hot dalia (boiled broken wheat) that she mixed with ghee and sugar. How we siblings cracked each other after our tuition classes and happily mocked each other. Those happy meal sessions are hardly there now.

To my right was the kitchen window, from where the sparrows came and ate the roti dough that she made in the mornings. Mum never really minded those beak marks on the dough. And whenever fire broke in the kitchen, she handled it really well, protecting us three like a saviour. We’ve seen so much in this kitchen!

When hungry in the evenings, the kid that I was used to enter the kitchen and relish the leftover Kadi and Bajri ki Roti (made with a type of millet) that mother made in the afternoons. And peeping inside the little pantry (which has expanded now) for biscuits, tamarind jars, pickles, and more, was like an endless activity.

My tea or Doodh Chai (a mix of tea and milk) was now ready. It was time for me to step out of the kitchen. This is not my space anymore, I thought. But I really like how my mother has maintained her cooking space. Yes, there was a new fridge, microwave, and a brand new pantry, but majorly, she’s maintained the years-old things really well. You only need so much. And with a constant fear of forgetting the art of cooking, I stepped out and went back to my relax mode.

 

Mal maas

Here’s some religious gyan. Once a year comes Mal maas (the month of Mal) according to Hindu calendar. This time it fell from December 14th to Jan 13th. And one of the charitable deeds that one can do is to distribute pakoras (the importance of frying oil basically). You just need to do it on any Saturday of this timeline.

These pakoras (gram flour batter made by mom and fried by dad) will go to the underprivileged people and animals. You can also distribute it to your neighbours. There were sweet pakoras (made with jaggery) and spicy ones (with onion and potato filling). May be our ancestors thought that these will keep you warm in the cold climate. Who can tell.

Raw beauty

Nothing beats the warmth of a flavourful chutney on a chilly winter morning. This one was an eye-opener for me for I skipped the baby fenugreek leaves from adding to my list. I always find it admirable when you can create something in the kitchen in minutes; especially when there is a use of the healthy ingredients. And hence this chutney scores high for me. A handful of items, a bit of hand-pounding (oh, I love using the mortar and pestle) and a great aroma to go with it too. Try it and you won’t get enough of it! Here’s its quick recipe: clean and wash the baby fenugreek leaves, dip them in hot water once to remove its bitter taste, pound it with cumin seeds, green chillies, salt and garlic and there you have a fresh and earthy chutney to relish with rotis!

PS. I’m sorry I haven’t been so active on this space lately. I was on bed rest for long and this November, I was blessed with a healthy baby boy. But I promise to be back with more writing soon. Anyhow. Have a blessed and thrilling holiday time, you guys!

Ivy Gourd, anyone?

I could never get creative with this veggie that is Tindora (Ivy Gourd). But this quick recipe is just what I needed. Just like that quick cabbage Gujarati dish, Sambharo, this version of ivy gourd offers a fresh flavour and a crunchy texture to your Indian thali.

Also, there is something else I would like to mention here. You know the issue with the trending smoothie bowls that are made with nut pastes and nut milk, garnished with seeds, etc is that they just don’t look appealing to my tummy. I need these local recipes and follow the traditional way of cooking. That’s what I call food, and which is why you will never find those on my blog.

So, anyway, here’s how you can make this:

Wash and cut some tindora (I really don’t know what to call this as I haven’t had it in my kitchen before) length-wise. In a skillet, add some oil, a pinch of asafoetida and turmeric powder, slit green chillies, curry leaves abs of course, cumin and mustard seeds. Stir this for five seconds then add the ivy gourd to it. Now add some salt and cook this for 30 to 45 seconds, and remove from flame. Lastly, add some lemon juice and chopped coriander leaves and you’re good to go!

I like to have this salad (yes, it’s a bit cooked, but it’s salad for anyway) with my usual fare of roti and sabzi.

Let me know how you like this.