Haven’t penned anything in the last few months. Then suddenly while I was preparing dinner this evening, I suddenly felt like sharing something with my friends. I think I should give the credit for this sudden burst of creativity to the dish I was preparing and the sense of well being it spread into me.
I have eaten this dish, cooked beautifully, by a dear friend, Dee. She shared the recipe recently and I decided to try my hand at it on this cool December day. Mumbai winters are so brief and fleeting, that the moment the temperature dips below 20 degrees Celsius, we are all ready to say winter is here. Out come the stoles and scarves, which are all one can drape during a tropical winter. Most of us Mumbaikars don’t even have a winter wardrobe. But all said and done, the cool and dry weather is a pleasant welcome from our otherwise humid weather.
So, getting back to my inspiring recipe, I cooked a dish called Shabdegh.
Shabdegh is a winter dish originating from Kashmir. Succulent mutton pieces cooked along with winter vegetables like turnip, radish and cauliflower, seasoned with whole spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and pepper, make a wholesome and comforting meal. The word ‘Shabdegh’ originated from the word ‘shab’ meaning ‘night’, and ‘degh’ meaning ‘earthen pot’. Traditionally this dish was left to cook overnight over a low fire. The flavour of the meat being absorbed by the vegetables, and the moisture of the vegetables softening the meat, are both subtle, as well as distinct. Today we can take advantage of the pressure cooker and have it ready in a jiffy.
I guess it was all those delicious aromas and flavours of the tender meat and vegetables swirling around me, which woke me up from my slumber
Today I baked a carrot cake,inspired by all the variations of carrot cake I had eaten at various cafes during my last visit to Northern Ireland, three months back. I think,in a span of a fortnight, I ate carrot cake in four different cafes. Each had a distinct flavour, and yet all of them were carrot cakes. Add a dollop of fresh cream, and one is in food heaven.
I woke this morning to a dark, broody and rumbling sky. It was raining heavily. As I lazed in bed, it came to me that it was perfect weather for a carrot cake. The cinnamon which goes into it, makes for a perfect combination with a cuppa on a rainy day like this. Today I combined this cake and tea with some good old Hindi film songs, and my Sunday was made!
Chai Pe Charchaa…a small, sunny café tucked away in one of the many by lanes in my area. Though small, its quirky decor strikes a note and one is immediately tempted to sit in its cozy interior and chat. Two days ago they sent out a flyer announcing a ‘Bhajia’ (fritters) festival to mark the advent of monsoons in Mumbai. Monsoons in this city are synonymous with hot masala tea and fritters. Preferably,with an engrossing book or some raucous company of old friends.
Two of my friends and I made a breakfast date to go and sample the variety of fritters advertised in the flyer. The weather obliged us this morning by raining and making an ideal backdrop to our fritter binge. And binge we did. The array of bhajias made it difficult for us to make our final choice and finally we opted for the ever popular onion bhajia and a portion of spinach bhajia. We got a bit greedy and also ordered a portion aloo paratha (flat bread stuffed with seasoned and mashed potatoes) accompanied by fresh curds. A meal like this is best complemented with a cup of hot tea. We couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling meal as we feasted on a favourite snack, to the background music of raindrops on the awning.
It’s a lazy summer afternoon. School vacations have set in. My daughter is so immersed in her IPod that I have to go and tap at her shoulder to make my presence known to her. I am fortunate to have a well ventilated home, which even on the hottest day remains tolerable with a ceiling fan and the beautiful sea breeze flowing through it.
Such afternoons always take me back to my summer vacations when I was in school. With no cable TV and no other such electronic devices as available nowadays, outdoors was our only option. We did have a television at home, but as my father had very strict rules about what we watched, and when we watched, all of us three siblings preferred not to watch TV, as it involved a lot of red tape. We grew up in an apartment complex with eighteen apartments, and almost two dozen children. There was no dearth of company in my growing years. When I look around today and see the scores of ‘summer activity clubs’ that spring up, come the month of March, I realise how lucky our generation was to spend our summers the way we did. My Ma never stressed about what to do with three active children in the summer holidays. She knew we would be outdoors most of the time. Neither did she stress about what to feed us. We were more than happy to survive on mangoes! Baba brought home crates of mangoes throughout the summer, and the house used to be infused with the heady fragrance of beautiful Alphonsos.
We had vacations from mid April to mid June,and one of the first things we did the day our vacations began was to buy a can of white paint to freshen the borders of the badminton court within our society walls. Next was collecting funds for buying the net and shuttlecocks. That took care of the early mornings when we all were up and about by 6 am for a game of badminton. Those who waited patiently for their turn on the court, wiled away their time by cycling around the complex. The days had a very simple routine. Play badminton. Go home for breakfast. Again gather for some outdoor games. Go home for lunch. Spend the afternoon in some patch of the complex that did not have the sun beating down. Go home for a snack. Again out till sundown. We used to get so tired that by the end of the day all we wanted was a bath, dinner and bed. And we did this for two whole months.
Games were interspersed with a dedicated and serious rehearsal for a show, which we put up at the end of each summer. This show was generally a series of recycled song and drama sequences, where only the actors and names of the characters changed. But I don’t recall anyone ever complaining. Our audience was our parents and we always managed to extract an enthusiastic applause from them. Everything, from the props, stage backdrops to the snacks that followed were hand and home made. I don’t think it ever struck us that there was any other alternative.
Visiting cousins were adopted and integrated into the regular brood without much ado. We made friends,whom we saw only every summer when they visited their relatives who resided in our building. When I look back, I think all we knew about these summer visitors were their names and age, and which apartment they were visiting. Nothing else was asked. Life was simple to say the least. And yet those days left behind the most lasting memories. While I marvel at the technology my children have at their fingertips, I don’t really envy them. I wouldn’t trade my childhood summers for anything in the world.
Few glimpses from my Phuket trip…
Its that time of the year again! When all of us consciously or unconsciously take stock of our life. I peeped into my blog list to a year back, just to see how my thoughts had grown in the last one year.
Hurrah! The sense of alignment and containment that I had begun to experience in 2015 has accompanied me through 2016. Am glad to realise that. In addition to pursuing activities which brought me happiness and a sense of peace, I added meeting up and reaching out to people who had left a mark on my life. Some ask me what do I get out of tracking down friends and relatives who I have lost touch with for years. It’s not something tangible. Its much more than that.
There are few maxims which I have consciously struck out from my mind’s notebook. This is a very personal view.
One such is ‘forgive and forget’. I have admitted to myself that this particular pearl of wisdom is best confined to books. I have tried and not succeeded. Yes, but what I have succeeded to do is to move on. I have tried to forgive and then to forget but realised that it is not humanly possible to do so. It takes a minute trigger to open the numerous Pandora’s boxes that line the human mind.
And when it does, all forgiveness just fly out of the window. What I have been able to definitely do is move on from that spot. What I have also learnt is that it is so important to let my mind go through the various emotions that it experiences, and also to allow it to savour each. It need not always be a positive emotion, but applies equally so to my negative emotions. So when I feel angry about something, I allow myself to be so. If its sadness then I allow myself to feel sad. Not to say I rave and rant on about it, but its also about being aware of my emotions and not pretending they don’t exist.
Another thing which I have questioned is about Time being a healer. A healer it is, but not one of the cosmetology category. Time heals, but also leaves behind its scars and scabs. Scars and scabs one must learn to embrace and love. One must take care not to strain the scars and scratch the scabs, else they hurt. Learn from your experiences and protect yourself.
I was always taught to keep other’s convenience and comfort ahead of my own needs. I think most of my generation was. No one ever, particularly told us how important it was to love ourselves also. This is something I have underlined in my mind. To love myself first. Not at the cost of others, but as a duty to myself. Else at the end of it all, I will end up feeling resentful about everything I do for anyone else.
I take these above lessons to myself as a realistic approach, and not a pessimistic one. I realise that its but a fine line which separates an optimistic view from an idealistic one.
As we approach another new year, here is wishing my friends and extended family a happy new year, filled with laughter and good health. Create beautiful memories.
We have a family holiday coming up. I love going on a holiday, whether it’s for a weekend, or a week or a fortnight. For me the trip begins on the day I wake up and think, it’s time for one. The whole process of deciding where to go, when to go, how to go, and what to pack is part and parcel of the whole experience. I had a conversation with a friend who is also going away for the Christmas week, and all she had to say all the time we were together, was about how much of a headache it was to plan the trip. While I gave her all the sympathetic response she expected, the voice in my head said, “ Poor thing, you are missing so much of the fun.”
Fortunately all four of us, my spouse, children and I enjoy travelling. If it’s a long exploratory get away, spanning about a fortnight, then the thinking and planning begins almost four months in advance. The choosing of the destination done, then starts the planning of the itinerary. This is mostly a weekend task as all of us are busy through the week. The amount of arm chair travelling that we have done over the planning period can fill pages. Right from fantasising over staying in exotic palaces to hitch-hiking in trucks, we have it all. The best part is to see the children enjoy this virtual journey as much as the actual trip. Reading about the places one is going to visit,and making a list of must-have local cuisine is also one mandatory ritual. One can feel the mood building up at home as the date of departure comes closer. Bringing down the suitcases and sorting out clothes gives it all a perfect outline. And then we proceed to fill in the picture with the colour of the memories created during the trip.
When I look back on any of the numerous trips we have taken together, I see this entire journey in my mind, and not only the ten or fifteen days I was at some destination. We read so much about how its not only the destination, but also the journey which is important. If each of us could manage to experience this theory even in a small fraction, figuratively and literally, then we would be blessed.