The King of Vegetables

Brinjal, baingan.. or begun is called the king of the vegetables.

When I was revealed this information, I was gob smacked. How can a vegetable called Begun – Be which for me means “NO” and Gun which means “QUALITIES”. So a vegetable with no qualities is called the king of vegetables? Just because it has a beautiful green crown! Well what can I say?

I never like brinjal as a child and I often wondered why my parents got so excited and fussed over the thought of having bharli vangi (stuffed brinjal) with bhakri (bread). And after having it, they would feel nostalgic and remember my maushi (moms sister) who would make it the best and call her up talk about the meal. I could never understand all the fuss over this vegetable until ……..

One day, we were traveling from Mumbai to Tuljapur. Our visit to our deity with little Yug was pending so the whole family decided to take the trip and we left by road in the evening heading to Pune where we were planning to break our journey and the next morning leave for Solapur. The journey was very long, but amazingly picturesque with the sugarcane fields, and one could see bullock carts filled with sugarcane lined up, with their produce traveling to the nearby sugar factories to sell it.  

On our way we passed through many villages, and one could only imagine how simple a life they would be leading. The women folk bundling up their little ones in their arms and balancing the basket of food on their head, heading to the farm to work, children, some shabbily dressed walking to school, made me crave for this simplicity they dwelled in. 

But one thing that caught my attention every time was some of the men wearing a simple cotton dhoti and bandi which looked quiet worn out and beige in colour which must have been super white at some point when it was bought. They had bright colored turbans on their head. The magenta pink ones caught my attention the most. A strong wooden stick in one of their hands which had a bunch of bells attached to it, maybe used to drive the cattle and sheep back home after grazing them and a bidi (Tobacco leaf cigarette) in the other. And the extra bidi simply tucked away behind the ear. What I observed was mostly the older men would do the job of grazing the animals, probably because they didn’t have anything else to do as farming is difficult at that age. Though we were traveling in air – conditioned cars I’m sure it must have been scorching hot outside. It was truly an amazing drive and I didn’t even realize it was lunch time. 

We stopped by a small khanaval (eatery), which said in Marathi home style, meals available here. The place looked rustic but clean. On seeing us the owner came forward introduced himself and guided us to a table in one of the coolest part of his eatery. 

He ordered the waiter to take away the shining steel water jugs and replace that with bottled water almost assuming that we city people cant digest well water. 

He didn’t have a printed menu for us to go through but in a superfast speed he muttered the five dishes he offered which were mostly with mutton and chicken. At the end of his speech my mom in law asked him if he served any vegetarian food as well. He looked quiet lost and blank at this question and scuttled off to the kitchen to see if there was anything vegetarian. 

He had gone off for more than 10 minutes and then came back with a smile saying he didn’t have anything veg to serve that day but his wife has cooked some bharli vangi (stuffed brinjal) at home and he was happy to serve that to us. Since his house was right behind the khanaval, in fact they shared a common wall, I’m sure it was easy for him to get that. On hearing vangi I was a bit disappointed but I didn’t have any choice. The rest of the family was eagerly waiting for their order of sukha mutton, rassa and bhakri. After waiting for almost 45 minutes, we were getting slightly impatient. And after asking why the food is taking so long, clean steel thalis and vatis were placed on the table, followed by trays of food, which was ordered. 

The mutton curries looked amazing and when the bharli vangi arrived it looked perfectly spicy and delicious too. But to be on the safer side not to waste food I took a small helping of it and half a bhakri. Just then one of the waiters came in with a plate of onions and took each one of them and smashed them with his fist and table sprinkled some chilli powder and drizzled lemon juice on it and served us a whole onion each. On asking why did he not slice the onions rather than smashing them the owner enlightened me by saying if you punch the onion it breaks up the internal membranes and releases a lot of oil in the onion, making the flavor more intense. Which is why most farmers who have a simple meal of bhakri and chutney punch a fresh onion from the field and make their meals flavorful. 

On that note I broke the bhakri and dunked it in the bharli vangi and ate it…. And oh my god.. it was divine. I ate my meal like a glutton that afternoon and the bhakri not being enough, I polished off a small portion of the local rice he had served which was naturally sweetish to taste. 

After feeling totally satiated with the meal I truly felt I was in a food coma…And since then I understand the nostalgic feeling and I too fuss about a bharli vangi and bhakri today. 

THE TIFFIN TALES

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The word tiffin always excited me as a child. What could have Mum packed for my lunch today? Would be an exciting thought. The fading of curiosity after opening each container of the tiffin and the smile it brought on my face when I would see my favorite food sent, cannot be expressed with mere words, and now, when my son comes back home and very warmly tells me “what an amazing lunch you packed today mom” makes me feel totally satisfied.

 

Talking of the time when I would take tiffin to school, I very vividly remember the first day of my school. My school A.F Petit a very old renowned school, had a huge campus with lots of greenery. The building structure was colonial, old but strong and solid. Since it was located on Pali Hill in Bandra the school was built on different levels. One could describe the school like Enid Blyton would have describe in his stories, just like a fairy tale world.

The pre primary section was located in a cozy corner with a beautiful play ground with slides, swings and sea saws and how could I not mention the jungle gym! I’m going to stop right here, as I could go on.

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I was in Sr KG and it was my first day at school. Mum had come to drop me off and while leaving she promised me a surprise for lunch. As the day began, I mingled with most of the kids, some who were crying aloud inconsolably, some looking in wonder and some who couldn’t care less of what was going around. The two girls that grabbed my attention were Suruchi and Soumya and in no time we were playing together till the bell rang, announcing lunch break. I ran to the window of the class – room, to see Meera our house help waiting with a cane basket. Once my class teacher Ms Fernandes handed me over to her she gave me a warm hug and took me in the garden to feed me my lunch.

 

I was so impatient and curious to see what mum sent in the tiffin. I was not even allowing Meera to place the mat in the garden for me to sit comfortably and eat. But she was quiet a disciplinarian and after doing the needful she brought out a shinny steel tiffin which had 4 containers, a plate, spoon and a napkin. She arranged everything in front of me and opened the containers. While she was opening the containers I was very curiously looking into others tiffin’s as well.

 

Well in my tiffin there was steamed rice, dal, crisp fried mildly spiced potatoes, salad with just carrots and cucumbers and a small paper box with Monginis written on it. As I leaped to check the contents, Meera very authoritatively said that, I could have what’s in it only once lunch was done.

 

Hurriedly I finished my lunch to Meera’s satisfaction and out came the pineapple pastry from the box like the Jin from Aladdin’s lamp. I called out to Suruchi and Soumya who were sitting with their respective parents and we gorged on that pastry and since then became best friends forever. A delicious, tiffin helps in making good friends for the rest of your life too.

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As days passed by our lunch breaks were getting memorable and full of fun. Many TIFFIN TALES to share with you, but slowly and steadily, one by one. I’m sure you all must be having similar memories of your tiffin’s as well that bring a big smile on your face. It would be lovely if you could share them with me too.

 

Back to the roots

We all have fond memories of food cooked by our mum, grandmas or aunts. My grandma (Amma) was a fabulous cook. My grandma also had the most beautiful rustic kitchen in our ancestral home in Aversa, Karnataka. It was a longish kitchen with a mud stove, where food would be cooked on wood fire. Just above the stove there was a small window that worked like a chimney.

The beautiful sparkling brass, copper and steel utensils would be standing proudly on the wooden shelves near the stove. Small brass containers filled with ingredients required for daily use like coffee, tea, sugar closer to the stove. Masalas and batters would be ground on a ragda (stone grinder) and spices would be pound on a khal batta (motar and pestle). Her food would always taste divine.

The smell of the wood fire would bring a beautiful smoky aroma to the dish. Today when I travel to quaint villages in India and I smell food cooked on wood fire, its nostalgic. I always wondered, why the smoke from the wood fire remind me of Amma’s food? The answer to this I found which I must share with you was that, the burning of wood breaks its cellulose, which releases two chemical compounds that excite our sensation to smell to detect unique taste and smell. The experience of something being flavorful is a combination of taste and smell.

When Amma would visit us in the city she would bring a lot of goodies along with her, some raw ingredients as well. Mum a great cook herself would cook them just they way Amma would make it but there was always a difference in the flavors and Amma would always attribute it to the latest gadgets that would make cooking fast and easy, or the newer variety of utensils one was using. Though mum always stuck to cast iron, brass and clay utensils. I guess the water in the city would also alter the change in the taste, but Amma always had her fixed thoughts and it was difficult to convince her otherwise. She would always insist on using the age old methods of cooking, giving her reasons, which I totally agree with today.

A few years back, I shifted to new home with modern interiors with a beautiful modular kitchen. The utensils I bought were also the kind that would suit the kitchen, mostly the pretty looking, colorful, non – stick cookware. The food would get cooked easily with less oil and also initially I thought it was easy to maintain. I changed my mind quiet soon about that, as sometimes by mistake the cook would use a metal spoon to stir and then oops a scratch would be seen and then it has to be simply thrown away.

We at home love hot, crisp dosas and can have them for any meal. On the weekend the menu is usually a spicy masala dosa with sambar and chutney. I got out my non stick dosa pan very happily and excited to spread the dosa batter and looked forward to some crips, golden dosas. But the outcome  was not exactly what I had expected. The dosa was white as if white washed even after keeping on the tava for a little longer than usual smearing it with oil and crinkled on the edges and it looked so unappealing. The excitement was over in no time.

Disheartened I called my mum and she tried talking to me about switching over to the old traditional utensils. Honestly I was not very receptive to that initially as seasoning, brass, copper and cast iron utensils seemed like a task and then the thought of maintaining by regularly seasoning them just scared me as most of us don’t have the time and energy for all this with all that we do to survive in the city.

Exactly a week later, mum came over home to see how settled we were and she bought a cast iron tava along with her as a small gift from her end. That was the best gift I could have received. She had called for it from the village and had seasoned it by washing it with a mild soap, wiped it dry and simply coated it with a thin layer of oil and left it in the sun for 24 hours. Repeated the process for three days and voila! The pan was ready to be used. The next time dosas turned out just like the way I love, crisp, golden and thin as paper.

This experience made me think of changing my non stick cookware to the age old traditional ones. I didn’t do it over night by slowly and steadily over six months I managed to replace most of the non stick utensils.

So, at first I bought a cast iron kadhai, seasoned it the same as mum had and the first recipe I cooked in that was a chicken sauted in a masala with onions and spices. The outcome was amazing to look at and tasted delicio.

Cooking in the cast iron kadai was great, the masala would get bhunoed (sauted) evenly as cast iron heats evenly and the masala would get the perfect brown color and the food would cook evenly and quiet quickly. By now I was throughly enjoying cooking with this new introduced piece of equipment and soon I realized it was time to move on further.

I went one day to matunga market and bought a clay utensil to cook our traditional stew and curries. After googling on the internet and getting confused with all the different ways, as usual, mum came to the rescue.She told me to collect all the starch water from the cooked rice which I would usually drain off and soak the clay pots in that for three days. On the third day she told me to wash it with mild detergent, dry it in the sun for a few hours and then coat it with oil and place it on the stove and heat it on a low flame for an hour and then fill it with oil and fry bhajiyas and lo! The clay pot was good to be used. The prawn curry that I cooked in that got me many compliments from my foodie family. After the successful attempt cooking in a cast iron kadhai and a clay pot, there was no looking back. The adventures in the kitchen were getting very interesting and exciting.

I frequently travel to Pune a city 150 km away from Mumbai and I love visiting Tulshi baugh, a market place which has quaint small stores that sells a variety of unique as well as traditional cooking equipment’s and many other things. My cook at home would always tell me amazing stories of food which always had the mention of grinding the masala on the stone.I went there with an intension to buy a pata varvanta (stone grinder) and grind masala’s on that. The old gentleman who I bought it from was quiet a unique character suiting the place. He was quiet surprised to see me enquiring about the various sized stone grinders that he was exhibiting, as my appearance didn’t make him believe that I would use one, let alone use it but he also seemed to have a doubt if I even knew how to use one. He assumed  I was going to keep it as a prop and so was trying to sell me a not so good one till I sternly explained to him I needed to use it.

He figured I was serious and slowly started telling me how to cure it before I used it. He told me to wash it, soak it in water for 5 days. Wash clothes on it after that! I was like who the hell washes clothes on a pata varvanta!! He calmly told me one needs to do that to get rid of the impurities and the tiny grains of stone that are loose on the flat platform and after grinding some soaked rice he said I could use it freely. Well I did exactly what he told me and when the pata varvanta was good to be used I ground a coconut based masala for a okra curry. It was not just fun grinding on it but the flavor of the curry was different and way better. This was because when you grind in an electric grinder the heat that is produced alters the flavor of the ingredients. I remembered my grandma telling mum that garlic ground to a paste in an electric grinder is probably making the garlic taste a bit bitter vs pounding it to a paste on the stone or motar and pestle. Well she was right.

Recently I made a dhaba chicken curry using techniques like pounding the spices and the aroma of the curry was all over the home, which was mouth watering. Basically the pounding of the spices had broken each cell of the spice releasing its aroma and the oil secreted enhanced its flavor and so the curry was truly a great hit at my home.

I never had thought a slight change in the methods and equipment for cooking would bring out such fabulous results. Cooking has always made me happy and feeding my loved ones satisfying, but the use of traditional cookware has enhanced my cooking even further and that pleasure cannot be described! So when are you all planning on taking the plunge

Here is a recipe of a crab curry cooked in a brass utensil (you can use chicken or mutton as an option)

INGREDIENTS

10 crabs cleaned / 1 kg mutton or chicken

3 onions sliced

1 large onion finely chopped

1 1/2  cups of grated fresh coconut

1 1/2 cup of grated dry coconut

2 tbsp of malvani garam masala powder (available in any grocery store, if not a regular garam masala is an option)

4 tbsp oil

1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste each

Salt to taste

METHOD:

1- Heat a cast iron pan and sauté the sliced onions till golden and then add the fresh coconut and fry till slightly brown and finally add the dry coconut and roast till the mixture turns a nice brown. Cool and grind to a fine paste.

2- Heat the oil in a brass vessel and add the oil. Once the oil is hot add the chopped onions and sauté till the onions are soft yet pink and then add the ginger, garlic paste and sauté till the raw smell has gone.

3- Add the malvani masala and the crabs / mutton / chicken and sear it on a high flame for 3-4 minutes

4- Add the ground onion coconut paste and mix well. add 2 liters of water and salt and cover and cook (crabs for 15 minutes and the meats till done).

5- Serve hot with chapatti or bhakri or any bread of your choice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking …a therapy

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A person who was bubbling with energy and having the zest for life suddenly one morning felt her heart beat fast, fatigued, low, dull and she felt something was amiss. She could not put a finger on what was really wrong but she just didn’t feel energetic like always. She assumed it was nothing but fatigue, stress due to work pressure that was making her feel that way.

As day’s passed by she became irritable and restless. Managing a daily routine became a chore for her. She would snap at people at a drop of a hat and behave unreasonable with her colleagues and then, she would feel miserable about her behavior and weep.

Things were not getting better and soon she found it difficult to go to work and meeting up with her friends, who she was always happy to be with. Getting up in the morning and getting ready for the day was feeling like a big chore to do. She would lay down in bed longer than her usual time not realizing how wet the pillow would get with her tears. She just couldn’t figure out what was going on within her. Her parents tried to talking to her, but she, would just be quiet and cry.

She thought a break from office, and pursuing a hobby would do her good. She loved cooking, painting and listening to music. She enrolled for a cooking class and went for it, but she felt so restless that she left mid way and came home. Her parents were getting worried with this sudden turn that had happened in their daughters life. They spoke to her friends to figure out if something had gone wrong at work or with her friends, or was she on any drugs, but most of them were themselves clueless of her behavior as she had become very quiet and would prefer to be by herself.

She was very fond of cooking and that was one of the things that gave her immense happiness, but in no time she lost her confidence to enter the kitchen and even boil a cup of water. She soon confined herself to her room and would refuse to even come out for meals, she just didn’t feel like eating and lost oodles of weight. She was finding it difficult to sleep as she would be sitting in bed and trembling all night with anxiety. She had become frail and pale. She refused to meet her friends who would visit her. That’s the time her parents realized it was not a very simple issue she was going through.

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Her parents took her to their physician, who recommended counseling and told them she needs to visit a psychiatrist for it. Her parents were wondering why would their daughter need counseling, and probably it was just a phase and they were sure she would get out of it. They thought so probably because they were not ready to accept that their daughter was having a psychiatric issue and also people are still averse to visiting one due to social pressures. But her situation got worse, and finally they were left with no choice. They decided to seek help from a psychiatrist.

The doctor heard all that she was feeling and going through. Many tests were conducted, some medical and some written and finally after the diagnosis was done the treatment started. The doctor had figured out the issues that were troubling her.

Slowly but steadily the counseling started and the  journey of up’s and down’s, working on stability, consistency, confidence and patience started. Certain medication was given which brought down her restlessness and she could sleep well.

The doctor gave her ideas to help her deal with her situation and to get her confidence back and would reinforce the thought that she needed to start her life afresh, which she struggled at first but religiously followed his advice. The medication also helped her sleep better, but yet she was not feeling confident enough to resume work or getting out of home.

Inspite of all that she was trying to do, it was taking sometime to get on track which was frustrating her at times, bringing back negative thoughts, anger and irritation, and at such times the doctor would tell her to hold on and not give up and also reminded her that Rome was not built in a day. He helped her to build her patience and to stay focused and be consistent and the results would be slowly seen.

During the course of treatment the doctor realized her love for cooking and how the thought of food bought an amazing twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her face. She would share some amazing stories with him related to food and travel during her childhood. How she would like to try new recipes and once she would perfect the recipe she would write it down in a book.

He asked her to start cooking again and may be that would make her happy. She  told him she found it difficult to enter the kitchen leave alone cook. So now it was time to deal with her fears he realized. At the end of the session the doctor asked her who was a foodie himself to cook something for him and get at the next session.

When she reached home, a little late in the evening after the session, she smelt her favorite dal being cooked, she stepped into the kitchen and simply sat on the kitchen platform and observed her mother boiling the dal. Her mum was very surprised and happy. Her next few days went in observing what was cooking in the kitchen and seldomly telling how the recipe could be made in another way.

One evening, the father returned home from work a little earlier than usual, not aware his wife was out shopping grocery. He needed a cup of hot tea to beat the fatigue, he asked his daughter with hope in his eyes, if she could oblige him with a cup of hot tea. That evening, she somehow, didn’t have the heart to refuse her father as she saw how tired he looked and slowly she walked up to the hob and after a bit of a struggle she managed made a cup of tea for him. I think Daddy’s girl just wanted to see her Daddy smile. That cup of tea she made, brought a sense of achievement in her and a big smile on her Dad’s face, not just because the tea was nice but it was all about the fact that she had managed to make it. It became a routine for a few days after that, where she would make tea for her father

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Her friend after a long time, came over home to see her after work and was quite famished with hunger and demand something to eat. She made a simple bread, butter and jam sandwich, which progressed to sometimes making corn on toast, or a chutney sandwich later. Some of her friends started frequenting her home again and they were really happy to see her getting a grip on herself and her life.

New year was around the corner and most of the friends were keen on her coming over to  a friends farm house and bring in the new year. She refused the invitation as she was  just was not ready to leave her comfort zone. The thought of doing something different was building in anxiety. Her friends tried talking to her but it didn’t help. Her parents convinced her that it would be all good and a change away from home would help. The doctor too said the same.

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On 31st December morning, she along with her friends left for Karjat. Unsure, slightly uncomfortable as she was out with her friends after a long time. It was very sensitive of her friends to not give her unnecessary attention and make her feel different. In fact they were all having fun and she also became a bit comfortable in sometime. That evening was fun, they sat by the poolside and bar – be – qued and chatting and generally having a great time. She was feeling low at certain moments as she missed home but being with so many friends helped her over come that feeling.

It had become a routine for her to go straight to her room when she would be back from the doctor’s, but this time when she came back home from the trip, she sat with her parents who were keenly waiting for her and to hear all she had to say. While she was narrating all that happened, she realized that it was not so bad after all, in fact she enjoyed it.

Soon enough she felt she needed to snap out of what she was emotionally going through and that, this was no way of leading a life and that she was not a looser. She slowly but steadily started to lead a life like the way she did before. Would wake up and get ready and tried to dress up well. She made it a point to sit in the living room more often and read, go to the market with her mom. Though there were some up’s and down’s in her moods, but along with her psychiatrist and parents she was managing to get a hold on herself.

On one of the appointments with the psychiatrist she surprised him. She gave him a small box of a carrot cake that she would bake well. The doctor was not just surprised but most happy to see the change in his patient, that feeling was more sweeter than the cake itself. The praise she received after he had the first bite, made her think even more strongly that the road ahead was beautiful !

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NOTE: Picture source GOOGLE

 

THE TREE OF LIFE

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A coconut tree is once such tree where each and every part of the tree is useful.

The roots were used to make dyes, tooth brush, mouthwash and it also has medicinal values.

The leaves are used to make thatched roofs. Also used in making containers for storage. We store rice

The coconut water, we all love to drink. The thick, crisp, inner flesh of the mature seed is a regular ingredient in a diet for people in the tropics and subtropics.And from the same flesh of the mature seed oil is extracted, which is used for cooking and frying. Coconut milk is also made from the same, which is used to flavor different curries.

The coir from the fibrous husk is used in making a variety of furnishing products.

The coconut also has a religious and cultural significance in certain societies particularly in India

On this note I want to share some memories of a trip that I took to my village.

The part of India that I hail from Karawar in Karnataka is rich and luscious with coconut trees. Whenever I visit my maternal ancestral home the first thing that is served is fresh coconut water.

I went to Aversa a village  few kilometers away from Karwar where my ancestral home is in the rains. It was a trip that was planned on the spur of the moment. At 8:00 am in the morning I got a call from my uncle Balu kaka, saying I should attend the Nopi festival, which was a day away. So by 9:00 am I packed my bag and headed to the airport. Surprisingly I managed to get a ticket for the next flight and landed in Goa at 1:30 pm.

Found a local taxi that would take me straight to Aversa. It was a beautiful mesmerizing two, hour drive. Driving through the small winding roads and passing through quaint villages was so nostalgic. Finally reached Aversa and on seeing my entire family the fatigued of the travel just vanished.

As always Balu Kaka (uncle) went and plucked a coconut and served me fresh coconut water while the rest of the family was surprised to see me. Balu kaka and I decided to make it a surprise after her had convinced me to come. My parent, cousins, aunts and uncles were really happy that I came.

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The evening was spent well with family, we went for a long walk to our fields nearby and then returned home to see a sumptuous spread that my aunts and mum had made of fried fish, batatya talasni (sauté potatoes), dalitoi (dal made with ginger and chilles and laced with coconut oil) and rice. Nothing to beat a simple home cooked meal.

The next morning was even more fun. We all cousins had left for a town called Ankola at 6:00 am to buy the vegetables, coconuts, fruits and the rest of the ingredients that were going to be needed for the pooja the next day, where after the pooja the entire village is given a feast and so we had to go to the town to procure all the goods. All the ingredients and us cousins were loaded on a small truck back to Aversa, where the truck driver dropped us off to the village temple. The bumpy ride back home was fun but our bones were creaking too at some point.

My uncle who was the chef and in charge sorted the vegetables, fruits, flowers and over 100 coconuts and kept in their respective places. He was going through his lists and checking the stock and scribbling on small chits of papers assigning jobs for the prep.

After a while it was announced that I will be chopping vegetables along with other ladies of the village and then if time permits and my job done, I was also instructed that I would have to assist in making the garlands for the gods. These are anyways a few of my favorite jobs to do.

The menu for the next days lunch was a very elaborate and a traditional one of gajbajya randoi (a vegetable curry using gourds), muga molya randoi (sprouted mung curry), bhendi ghosalya upkari (okra and ridge gourd vegetable), dalitoi, rice, ambaya nonche (hog plum pickle), payasam (Kheera), kesar bhaat (saffron and sugar rice). The number of people eating would be 600, so one can imagine the kilos of vegetables to be chopped and the number of coconuts to be scraped, sounds tough but I was sure it would be fun.

In the afternoon after we returned home, the rest at home were relaxing in the courtyard sipping wine and vodkas and relishing freshly fried crisp mackerel that Balu kaka was frying and having a gala time. We joined in as well and had a wonderful afternoon where lunch went on till 4 pm till we finally one by one crashed in our beds for an afternoon siesta.

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After a cup of hot tea in the evening at around 7:00 pm we all assembled in the temple courtyard where the vegetables were washed and kept. We were 8 women who were on the job of chopping vegetables. As we were about to start one of them started singing hymns and the rest followed. I don’t know how to speak kanada very well so I was a silent observer enjoying it completely. By about 10:00 pm all the veggies were chopped and the coconuts were scraped and everything was neatly kept in a small room and locked.

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The next morning my uncle Gundu who was the chef woke up at 4:00 am and after a cold water bath at the well and headed to the temple kitchen with his team. So for this festival the cooking is done only by the males of the family, while the women get dressed in their fineries and head to the temple for the pooja.

So I along with the rest of the ladies at home, got ready in my fineries and went off to the temple and sat down to make the garlands.

The next few hours were just totally divine and mesmerizing. The melodious sounds of the mantras, the fragrance of the flowers, camphor and the incense sticks and the rain had simply put me in trance.

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By the time the pooja was over it was 1:30 pm and all the villager were queued up with their little offering of flowers, bananas and coconuts. After which they all moved to a hall where the food was going to be served. I too went along with my family, but to serve the lunch that was cooked by my uncle.

It was a long hall with a smooth slurry flooring where the banana leaves were placed in rows. One by one all the villagers sat down and washed their banana leaves with the water that was served for drinking. After that we all started to serve. First the pickles and salt was served followed by the dry vegetables and then the curries. Finally the rice and dal was served. After the priest finished saying some mantras aloud the people started eating. The system of serving was so well organized that I just didn’t imagine we had serve more than 600 people that afternoon. At the end my family and I sat and relished the meal to our hearts content.

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I returned home really tired but totally satisfied. This was indeed one of the best trips ever for me.

Being in the moment

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We hear a lot about mental stress, depression, anxiety, suicide now a days and many of us also keep promoting blogs, videos, small write ups for a better mental health.

I happen to meet a friend a few days back. She suffers from anxiety for many years and I have seen her struggle through it and come out of it gloriously. I have seen how she copes with it and I am totally, impressed by her.

I happen to meet her a few day back as we make it a point to meet up once a week and she seemed really low and a bit unhappy. I usually avoid talking about anything unhappy with her as it can reinforce negative thoughts in a person who is emotionally low.

So as usual I tired talking about different fun things to change her state of mind and she just didn’t seem to be involved in my talks. I realized the graveness of her situation and finally with a heavy heart asked her why was going on with her?

The question just got her eyes moist and I saw she was gathering courage to hold her tears back and speak her heart and mind to me. The first sentence she said was “even if I want to move on in life, my family keeps reminding me of how I was unwell and incapable of looking after them.” And this got me angry but I had to get a grip on my emotions.

Her husband, a busy man was traveling a lot for work and was mostly out of the country. Her children were at an age where they just would not listen to her if she tried correcting them. Even though now she is better and capable of not just taking care of herself but also her home, her children just would say “you haven’t been around when we needed you and now we can manage on our own!” even if it was true the way it was said would hurt her.

If for some reason she shouted at the kids the in- laws would wonder if she is was anxious and depressed again. She was having a tough time at home to make her family understand that she is fine and can deal with every situation.

She was sounding very tired when she said, it was not easy to over come anxiety and depression and when she finally has managed to do that, she has a new battle to fight with her family to make them understand that she is better. And I felt that do we ever stop handling situations and issues ever in our life. All we need is to take each day as it comes and be in the moment.

I held her had and told her that she need not be anxious about it but rather she needs to be patient and let everybody see the change. At the same time I also understand her feeling of coping up with all the time she has lost in looking after her children and her marriage. But all I could tell her was its never too late to set things right. We can’t turn back the clock but we can certainly make a better future.

 

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THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS… MEMORIES

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As a child, till I was a young adult, dad would take me to Sasson docks at Colaba every Sunday morning and mind you for me it was a very unearthly hour then 5:30 am: I would literally drag my feet and with a frown sit in the car and leave. Somehow I have never managed to sleep in a car, have never figured out the reason till today.

Well, with the windows down, the cool early morning breeze would be refreshing. All the way from Bandra to Colaba early in the morning, the drive would be peaceful. Back then the traffic was not that bad as its today. As we would be close to the dock the stench of the fish would just get into my head. We had a Fiat car and in the back seat of the car there would be two huge ice boxes kept.

The smell of the fish came in stronger as we went closer and I would gear myself for the mehem. Dad had a usual spot to park his car and then we would walk into the docks by 6:45 am and it would a crazy scene there. Loads and unimaginable loads of fish with the fishermen yelling on top of their voices while the auction was going on at every 10 feet was a crazy sight.

Dad would make me stand in one corner and then he would set out to buy the fish. After every ten to fifteen minutes he would be back with 10 huge pomfrets, 10 kgs of prawns, 6-7 surmai, mackerel and on the days he got lucky crabs, clams.

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So I was taken for these adventure trips every Sunday just to guard all the fish he would buy and then help him to arrange them in the ice box and in the boot which was well covered with plastic incase the water leaked!

After all this we would head back home and mum would be all ready with the breakfast of idli, sambar and chutney laid on the table. Every Sunday breakfast was the same. Those days microwave was a luxury so since we didn’t want to trouble her reheating the food again and again we all made it a point to eat our Sunday breakfast together and hear dad bragging about how cheap he got the fish and by the all these talks would on the phone with his younger brother who would lived in Goa and the next few minutes would go in who bought how much and for how much!! They still have the same conversation even today.

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After relishing the soft idlis and the robust sambar I would head for a shower and then off to play. While mum along with her house help Meera would clean all the fish and store it in a big deep freezer we had.

And the afternoon lunch would be a feast. Can you imagine the fish would last only for the week as my parents had a large social circle and their friends would come over very often and my mum was a superb host.

Today I went to the Malad wholesale market and saw the same craziness and chaos that I would experience as a child and missed my parents.Well I bought some clams, surmai and prawns and came home happy and proud of myself with the money I paid and called my dad and told him all what all I bought and for how much? On the other end of the phone I could sense my dad feeling happy

 

And so on this happy note, here is a recipe of the fish that I have fried for my son today.

5-6 slices surmai (you could use pomfret, ravas even prawns)

2 cups of fresh coriander chopped

5 kokums

6 cloves of garlic

1 ½ tbsp chilli powder

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp turmeric powder

Grind all the above to a fine paste using very little water.

Coat both sides with a thin layer of this above masala and marinate the fish for 15-20 minutes

Coat the fish with rava or semolina

Heat a pan with oil for shallow frying and once the oil is hot place the coated fish and fry till evenly crisp on both sides for 3 minutes each on a medium to a high flame and serve it hot.

Yug loves to have fried fish with sol kadi and steamed rice

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What is cooking today?

Amti

In Marathi amti means a curry and there are a variety of amti’s that we cook. Mashyachi amti (fish curry), channyachi amti (chick pea curry), dalichi amti (flavored and tempered toor dal), and sometimes amti’s are made using vegetables as well.

Usually the amti made with the toor dals is sweet, sour and spicy to taste. While amti’s made with lentil, fish or vegetables, is mildly spiced with a base of coconut gravy and is flavorful.

It is said that the sambar was invented in the quest to make an amti.

So in the year 1673 a fierce battle was imminent in Tanjore as the ruler od Madhurai had decided to capture Tanjore.The courtiers of Tanjore decided to seek help from the Marathas and sent a secret message to Shivaji’s brother Venkoji who decided to be a part of the war himself and marched to Tanjore with his army.

The Maratha army bought their food and taste along with them and after the war Venkoji was so much in love with Tanjore that he decided to settle there.

There are a few stories as to how the Sambar originated. So the sambar that’s an integral part of the South Indian cuisine was created by the Maratha’s.

Sambhaji the son of Shivaji came to Tanjore to visit his uncle and since Sambhaji loved amti, a dish similar to it was prepared and was named Sambar in his honour.

According to another story, Sambhaji was a food lover and he loved to cook as well. he once wanted to make the amti and while preparing it he realized there was no kokum which is a very typical Maharashtrian ingredient used in making amtis and on an advice of a cook he used tamarind which enhanced the flavor of the amti and hence it was called sambar.

Today for dinner I have made 2 varied amti’s one with toor dal and the other with bhindi.

Both the recipes are rather simple and yet very unique and delicious.

Dalichi amti

1 cup toor dal washed and kept aside

1 medium onion finely chopped

½  a raw mango chopped into 1” pieces

1” ginger finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic crushed

4 green chillies slit

2 tsp sugar

¼ cup fresh coconut grated

3 tbsp of finely chopped coriander

½ tsp turmeric

A pinch of asafetida

½ tsp mustard seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

Few curry leaves

1 tbsp ghee

1 tbsp oil

Salt to taste

Method:

Pressure cook the dal along with the onion for 3-4 whistles or till done

Once the dal is cooked add the chillies, sugar, ginger, raw mango, turmeric and salt and boil for 5 minutes on a medium flame.

Add the coconut and coriander and boil for 2 minutes and shut the flame.

Heat the ghee and oil and splutter the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Then add the curry leaves and the crushed garlic and let the garlic turn golden and then add this to the dal and your amti is ready.

Steamed rice goes amazingly well with this.

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Bhendichi amti

½ kg okra chopped 1” in length

2 cups of fresh coconut grated

6 dry red chillies

6 cloves of garlic

1 tbsp coriander seeds

½ tsp turmeric

Tamarind to the size of ½ a lemon

3 tbsp oil coconut oil

Salt to taste

Method:

Grind the coconut, tamarind, red chillies, 4 cloves of garlic, coriander seeds and turmeric to a fine paste.

Heat 2 tbsp of the coconut oil and sauté this paste till the color darkens slightly and the moisture is reduced.

Then add the chopped okra and sauté further for 2 minutes and then add 3 cups of water and make a nice gravy. Add salt and boil till the okra is done.

Heat the remaining oil and crush the remaining garlic and add to the oil and fry till its nice and golden and add it to the curry.

The Bhendichi amti is ready and can be had with chapatti or steamed rice

Bon Apetite!

 

What’s cooking today?

Varan.jpgThe weather has been really hot these days and with the temperature rising by the hour all I can think is of simple food and lots of cold water to drink.

As usual Sarita my cook came and asked me in the morning what would I like to eat for lunch and I thought what could be better than the humble Varan Bhaat (dal and rice) for lunch today.

So basically Varan is a dal made by simply boiling Toor dal (pigeon peas) along with some turmeric powder and asafetida, the cooked dal is mashed, some cumin seed powder, jaggery and salt is added and then the dal is further boiled till it’s nice and thick. This humble varan tastes best when eaten along with hot steamed ambe mohar rice (a variety of rice that grows in Maharashtra which literally means mango blossom as it has a strong aroma reminiscent of mango blossoms) and a dollop of home made tup (ghee)

So the varan is a vegan preparation which is a typically from the Maharashtrian or Goan cuisine which is served on all occasions.

In most Maharashtrian homes varan, bhaat is served as the first course followed by chapatti and vegetables.

A varan, bhaat, tup and limbu (lemon) is a complete meal by itself. Proteins from the dal, the carbs from the rice, fat from ghee and vitamin C from the lemon makes it a complete meal.

Most Maharashtrians even today have this at breakfast. I would always find it very unusual till I realized we also have Idli, sambar and chutney for breakfast using the same ingredients.

Long ago I had heard a story of a women who on her death bed told her sister in law that after she dies her son should be fed nothing more than varan, bhaat twice in a day as she was aware of the sister in law ill treating the son after her death. The mean aunt was more than happy to fed the mother less soul remains of varan, bhaat along with some ghee and lemon wedge. The boy in turn grew up to be healthy and strong, as his aunt was not aware of the goodness of this simple meal, unlike the mother.

So today its Varan, bhaat, tup and limbu for me!

 

 

Grief, sorrow, misery, pain………

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What is grief?

The definition of grief that I found in the dictionary was

“Intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death”

We all go through grief in our lives at some point or the other and many of us on different occasions as well.

I was talking to a very dear friend who is going through grief for sometime caused due to the loss of someone who was very dear to her. While we were chatting about what she was going through a question just came into my mind.

Why is grief only caused by someone’s death?

What do you say about the feelings and the pain you go through when a close friendship or relationship dies? The pain and the suffering one goes through, can that also be called grief? Cause ultimately it is death of something that has been dear to you.

These days most of us seem to have got really busy with building our career or endlessly providing a comfortable life for our loved ones.

I remember, as a child life was so simple not just for me but also for my parents.

Dad worked on a very good post in a reputed company. His timings were 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Even though he had to travel really far he was always home by 7:00pm. Fun weekends were planned either short trips to nearby places, a movie or a simple dinner at a restaurant. We would go to the beach for a swim or just simply make sand castles and feel super proud with the bigness created.

If any of the meals would be boring at home or I didn’t like, I would simple walk into my neighbors home and see what exciting was cooked and ate to my hearts content and come home all satisfied.

Our way of communicating with the rest of the friends would not be on what’s app or on the phone but one would simply stand in the window and make a typical sound from the mouth and in a few seconds all the friends would be peeping out of the window and making plans to meet up in the evening using sign language.

Today technology has become very advanced and we have a mobile phone which we all our using to communicate. If I need to talk to a friend I don’t have to visit her and spend time with her, I simply dial some buttons on my phone and I can hear her. That’s amazing! but somewhere the whole thing of just simply going to your friend’s home and spending fun moments has reduced. Missing a person and taking that effort to meet up has reduced a lot.

Our world, which is so large and amazing has suddenly become very small. It now, just fits into our computers and mobile phones. Most of us are so lost in it that we have forgotten to see things going on around us. For example, while we are traveling we miss seeing so many things that create an impact on our minds and the memory of that is etched forever in our hearts.

A few days back I was driving to the gym and just on the corner of the street that I live I saw a tree that was blossomed with tiny pink flowers and can you imagine I had never seen that before coz probably I was busy messaging on the mobile phone. This thought really made me feel sad as how many of us realize how technology has taken over our lives. Isn’t it some kind of a death with reality of life.

I had many friends who I would make it a point to meet up and have a good time. But today the convenience of just picking up a phone and talking has killed wonderful friendships as we don’t meet up often. This is making most of us lonely in spite of living in a city that is buzzing all the time. Shouldn’t we grief over the death of simpler times.

I am not here to advocate against the usage of technology. But I was simply trying to compare that what kind of a life we are leading of grief without even realizing it