Thursday, October 13, 2016

Musings from the mountains!

So I have been walking uphill for  7 hours a day for the last week and a half..which is a terrible way of saying that I have been on a beautiful trek to the Annapurna Base camp in the Himalayas!

It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life; the mountains have always been my favourite part of nature and being so close to them everyday, having them stand there watching over me huff and puff and make my way up them gradually was such a fantastic quiet reassurance.

As I made the uphill climb all my mental and physical faculties were being used to actually put one foot in front of another and take one breath after another. But once we were coming down it got easier physically and hence my mind began to wander and I began to see the similarities between life and being on a high altitude trek in the mountains.

That is when I started thinking and came up with these 10 things that I had learnt on the trek that were equally true for life:

1) It is ultimately YOUR journey:

I undertook the trek with a soul sister and it was lovely to have her to celebrate the small victories with a ginger lemon and a cookie but for most of the day, it was me, my bag and the trail! I suspect it's the same in life; we have our partners our families and friends to share our triumphs and failures but in the end we have to walk the path we have chosen alone!

2) Appreciate the small things:

When you are on an epic journey with a grand destination it is easy to not see the butterflies, the wild flowers, the lady bugs, the bees who cross your path every day! But they make it better, easier and make you smile when it feels like you can't climb up that mammoth flight of stairs!

3) Choose carefully what loads you want to carry: 
Once it's on your back it is so much harder to drop the load during the journey. So choose really carefully what you absolutely need and try to be frugal in your need for comforts!

4) Enjoy the rest:

Sleep, rest, rejuvenation are key to giving you the sustenance to keep going on the long haul! Tuck into bed, shut out your brain and let your battery recharge. It's a life saver like no other!

5) It's alright to ask for help:

For someone like me asking for help, saying 'I can't do this' is hard, but it's alrght to do it! To say, I have an excruciating pain in my knee, and can't do this alone, could you please help me.
Asking for help is a sign of strength, of the fact that you are ready to go the distance.

6) Going up is an option but coming down is not: 

You can choose the heights you want to climb to but once you are there it's inevitable that you have to make your way down. Whether you do it gracefully while you still have the vigour or are forced to by your mind/body, come down you must!

7) Have a goal in mind but each day only think of the next step:

As clearly as you must know where you want to be in the long run, each day it is about taking that next step strongly, surely and with the conviction that it is alright to not see the big picture sometimes!

8) Learn from experience: 
As you walk those hard paths you will meet a few experienced souls. Chat with them awhile, imbibe what you can from their experience and learn to negotiate those ascents in a more calm and collected way!

9) Don't wish too hard for the hard things to end: Every trial, every test of your patience and perseverance is making you stronger. It's transforming you into the person you had hoped to become. Allow it to happen; live the hard days with the knowledge that they too are good for you!

10) Don't be too fixed on the reward for your efforts: Seven years ago I saw a video of the sunrise at the Annapurna Base camp and since then I have wanted to see that gorgeous sight and all along as I made the climb up to the base camp all I thought about was this stunning sunrise at the base camp! As luck would have it we had a thunderstorm the one morning I was there and I didn't get that view that I craved! As I descended, dejected I turned around and looked back and found a totally gorgeous snow covered mountain whose peak was hidden in the clouds but was jaw dropping nonetheless. So enjoy the journey and the rewards will automatically be yours, perhaps not exactly the way in which you imagined it!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Till we meet again my love!

Layla; my love, my guardian angel, my rock in the storm, the one thing in my life that was always awesome, someone who I can always count on..I don't even know how to cope with losing this someone. Every thought I have had for the last few days veers to a Layla memory. So I thought I must write her a tribute, share some memories of this beautiful creature we were lucky to share our life with!

1) Layla was the epitome of grace and agility!.. not really actually! She was the queen of running side ways, of trying to get on the bed and getting stuck with her ass hanging off, of stepping on sleeping people as she walked, she was a golden goofball for as long as I can remember.

2) Layla had an undying passion for all things edible, especially carrots. Everyone who knew her, knew her love for carrots and had at some point brought her some. Idlis were another of Laylas weaknesses, she would totally do anything for idli! But really Layla loved food, all food and one of my favourite memories of her is her coming tumbling down the stairs when we opened the cupboard in which her Pedigree used to be kept!

3) Layla had her army of minions she had trained very in us. She has never in her life had to bark more than once, someone would go running into the room she was in and give her whatever her highness wanted but was out of reach and moving that two feet was just too much work for her!

4) I cannot count the number of people who have gotten past their fear of dogs because of this angel. She had a gentle way of putting you at ease immediately and enveloping you in her love. I once left a friend of mine who was petrified of dogs with Layla for a few minutes and came back to find her sleeping on my friends lap being stroked by her.

5) Layla wanted to be everyone's friend. She would wag her tail, perk up her ears and eagerly approach all dogs that came her way. She has been growled at, ignored and even bitten during these escapades but nothing dimmed her enthusiasm. And let me tell you all the dogs she has ever approached have finally succumbed to her charms!

6) There is this water bowl we have placed outside our house for stray animals to drink water from. It sits under a neem tree so it often has twigs and leaves and the bowl is generally not the cleanest, but our queen cannot be kept away from it. She slurps ravenously like she has been deprived of water and getting her away from it is a tug of war I have never won.

7) Who says OCDs are for people alone. This dog would only get into the car from the left, get off only from the right, has to be the first one in and out of the lift, has to pee and poop on the same exact spot everyday, climb the bed from a certain side only. She made sure we knew all this and that she got her way always.

8) If I have learnt something from Layla it is to live life to the fullest, to never let anything stop you from having fun. She coped with some serious pain and discomfort for a large part of her life, and even her vets have been surprised by her zest for life and the surety with which she bounced back. Even when she lost mobility in her hind legs, my sister and I would be holding her rear up and she would run behind trees, into crevices that the two of us wouldnt fit in, but fit we had to our highness could smell that delicious smell under that little rock.

9) Layla had this uncanny way of knowing when you needed her, she would come close to you, lay her head on your leg and within minutes be snoring gently and that  was her assurance that everything will be alright. Her way of saying, you are not alone in this.

I could possibly write forever about our darling Layla, and how she brought our family closer together and changed our lives indelibly and forever. I know she is watching over me and I know we will meet again. Until then, I hope you will be running amuck in fields of daisies my darling, gorging on carrots and making all the friends you want!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Dark chocolate and raspberry brownies!

The rains are here and we are having beautiful overcast days with a cool breeze and gentle drizzles. The kind of weather that makes me want to sit at a window, watch the world become rain soaked, sip a coffee and devour a gooey, warm brownie!

As I dreamed about this brownie that I wanted to eat I was hit by the beautiful realisation that I had fresh raspberries in my fridge and I instantly wanted to combine the two into my dream dessert!!
So this is what I did waking up early this Saturday morning..

 What you need:
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 100g dark chocolate, chopped the darkest, dreamiest chocolate you can get your hands on, I used the 75% dark chocolate from Mason & Co.
  • 50g milk chocolate, chopped
  • 125g butter at room temperature
  • 3 eggs, whisked lightly with a fork
  • 70g flour and 25g cocoa powder sieved together
  • 100g raspberry or strawberry. I used a combination of both!
  • 20 ml kahlua
  • Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a 20 cm square baking tin.

  • Put the butter and sugar in a pan and melt into a beautiful buttery liquid, put in the chopped chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon. Careful to not let the chocolate burn. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly
  • Stir in the whisked eggs, slowly, into the melted chocolate mixture. Whisk in the Kalhua.
  • Tip in the sieved cocoa powder and flour mixture and stir into a smooth mixture. 
  • Gently stir in half the raspberries, pour into the tray, then top the brownies with the remaining brownies.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 30 mins. Skewer inserted will come out slightly gungy, no worries, it is the secret to brownies with have a sexy fudgy center.

These brownies are dangerously dark and perfect for rain watching, or as a stealthy mid night snack!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Year end vacationing and lemon cake baking!

I love Decembers, the weather is lovely, everyone seems to be in a festive mood and most importantly I get my annual leave of two weeks in this month. In 2015, husband and I wanted to experience a real winter so we took off  to the Himalayas. We spent an idyllic week in freezing cold Uttarakhand taking long walks, relaxing for hours in front of the fire and waking up to the sounds of nature and breathtaking views of the mountains.

On the way back from Almora we stopped at a local fresh fruit and vegetable market and I spotted this gorgeous stall with huge, bright yellow lemons. Now I am not a big fan of lemons or sourness in my desserts but something about these lemons called out to me and I hauled one, just one giant lemon all the way from the Himalayas to Hyderabad.

Now that this lemon had reached my kitchen I needed to find a recipe that made it the star of the dessert. I was saved by this beautiful recipe from The Kitchn and I made it almost exactly as it is except that I substituted the cake flour with regular all purpose flour.

What you need:
For the cake:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 225 grams butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • Zest from 4 small lemons (careful to not scrape of the white part of the lemon)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the glaze:
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice (no added sugar) 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C: Prepare two 8x4-inch loaf pans with parchment. You can make half the recipe with just one loaf pan which is the perfect size for me. 
  2. Whisk together the buttermilk and lemon juice in a measuring cup. 
  3. Beat the butter, sugar, and lemon zest: Start on low speed and gradually increase to medium-high once the butter and sugar are incorporated. I use my Kitchen aid which works wonderfully well, but a hand held mixer does the job just fine also. Continue beating until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. 
  4. Mixing on medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next one, and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. After adding all the eggs, add the vanilla. Scrape down the bowl. 
  5. Combine all the dry ingredients and add some of the mixture and beat on low speed until just barely incorporated. Add some of the buttermilk mixture and continue alternating between adding the flour and the buttermilk, beating slowly between each addition and ending with the last of the flour. 
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the loaf pans and smooth the tops. I topped mine with some white chocolate chips because I love how they taste when they are caramelised and toasty. 
  7. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, depending on your oven, start checking at 50 I would say. Rotate the pans once during baking. Bake until the cakes are deep golden on top, your whole house is smelling sweet from the baking and the cake has a crack on top running right down the middle. A tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
  8. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Lift the cakes from the pans using the parchment paper and transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely. 
  9. Glaze the loaves: About an hour before serving, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze — it should be thick but pourable. My lemon was not sour enough to add the punch that is required to this rather rich cake so I substituted it with orange juice. I must tell you that the glaze will not be super white because of the orange juice but it adds a lovely kick! Add a little more liquid or a little more sugar if needed to thin or thicken. Spoon the glaze over the cakes and allow to set.
This beauty keeps well for a week under refrigeration and is perfect accompanied with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The joy of learning

Very rarely do I write about my job, and quite honestly I think it is because I love it and hate it with equal intensity. I work with a small NGO in the field of Education and my primary job role is to raise money for the work we would like to do and ensure that we spend it for its intended purpose. It is a crazy job on most days but its hugely rewarding; working for a small organisation helps me see the direct impact of what I do on the kids at the back of the classroom. It also comes with the flexibility of being able to visit a project site to trial some of our new materials if I feel inclined to do so.

This is exactly what I did a few weeks back when I took a trip to Jharkhand; we are working on an English language programme here in 170 government primary schools where the teachers either don't exist or don't come to school. A group of para teachers have been hired and trained to ensure that the 7000 children enrolled in these schools receive at least a semblance of an education while they are there.

Our work is spread over three blocks of Khunti, Torpa and Murhu which are predominantly tribal and heavily affected by conflicts between Maoist groups. The only way to access the schools is on two wheelers (motor bikes or cycles) and in some cases you also have to carry the cycle across a river to finally reach the school. Most of the kids and teachers speak one of several tribal languages are not even comfortable with Hindi but the Jharkhand Government expects them to study and write exams on the same English text books used in high end English medium schools in Delhi! So we have the very challenging task of simplifying these texts and to contextualise them to Jharkhand.

Khunti, about 50 kilometres from Ranchi is where we have our project office and it was where I would stay for a week; in a guest room two floors up with strict instructions not to come out after 6 pm. On my first day there as I rode on a bike away from the project office and into the countryside with fields on either side of a dirt path and forests as far as the eye can see, I could not help but be awed by the success of India's Sarva Shikha Abhiyan programme.  Even where there were no roads and no electricity we have managed to build schools. And these schools are organically part of the villages and the community is deeply with them. In one village, every home contributed one log of bamboo so that the school could build a boundary wall. Often you would not be able to tell where the school ends and someone's house starts, head teachers go to the homes of the students to ensure they come to school, kids bring their younger siblings to class with them and dogs, cats, goats, ducks are all welcome. 
The best part in any school of course is the kids, and these kids were beyond amazing; full of energy and eager to learn.

On my first day in the school in Anigarha, we learnt to describe our feelings in English, essentially I was trying to understand students of Class V could read and recognise words like happy, sad, angry, shy, hungry etc. While their level was far below the age level expectation, their enthusiasm was way beyond. They would try fearlessly to read and not be put off by failure. One little boy cam running outside the class behind me to confirm that he remembered the word hungry correctly.

Day 2 was at Hassa Harijan Toli and Ganaloya; these schools are further away from Ranchi, absolutely no power and no mobile network. We did a small activity with the tiny tots here where they had to trace the outline of their palm and write their name inside it. The kids absolutely loved the activity and were so eager to show their work to me. It was here that I was moved to tears by two little girls who recited the alphabet, their arms entwined with each other, smiling from ear to ear! The school had also introduced a system of giving the students blue ribbons to pin to their uniforms for coming to school everyday and the little kids were so proud of their blue ribbons!

Day 3 was a celebration of Teachers day and I have never seen it being celebrated like this. The entire village was invited to the school; all the programmes were planned, organised and paid for by the students. The teachers were felicitated in a warm friendly manner and all the people who had gathered for the event were given refreshments, including the black doggie who spent all morning under my chair!

This visit was so enriching for me in terms of seeing the kids in action, understanding their needs, knowing the real level at which they are in comparison to what is expected of their age, to see schools being an integral part of the community and teachers and head teachers receiving the respect for shaping the lives of the children. I cannot wait to go back to Jharkhand to meet these lovely children again and share the joy of learning with them!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Breath taking Bali!

As we thought about how we wanted to spend our anniversary we had three checkpoints on our list
1) Scuba Diving
2) Cheap (we are still recovering from our trip to UK last year)
3) On arrival visa
and the answer was clear; Bali! And what a memorable vacation it turned out to be; as soon as we landed in Denpasar airport we were relaxed; the combination of the warm sun in the gentle cool breeze was just what I needed coming from rain soaked Pune.

While I loved every day of my stay in Bali, these are some of the highlights of our trip
Liberty Dive Resort

1) Tulamben: It is a scuba divers dream; our resort was literally 100 meters from the ocean and the spectacular USAT Liberty Shipwreck, an American cargo ship which crashed in Bali and was forced underwater by a volcanic explosion in the sixties. It was a surreal experience to dive in a ship wreck for the first time and see the host of plants and sea creatures who had made it their home. This was also the dive on which I saw my first turtle up close. And it was on our last dive in Bali that I also spotted a shark and let some shrimp give me a manicure at 20 meters under water! I am always so awestruck my this enchanting hidden world thriving under us.

 2) The Balinese people: I find myself saying this in many of my travel posts, but it is really the people who make or break the trip for me; and in Bali the people were the stars of my experience. From the cab drivers, to the hotel staff, to the masseurs, to our dive instructor every one of them I wanted to hug. Such simple, lovely warm folks who go the extra mile to ensure you see their beautiful country in all its glory.

Happy me at Nusa Dua beach!
3) Handicrafts: The Balinese are some of the most talented craftsmen and women I have come across so far. I quite literally wanted to lug wooden cupboards back home, thats how lovely everything was. They have magic in their fingers and they use it on wood, cloth, bones, glass, sea shells and even coconut shells to produce masterpieces. And the silver, such beautiful unique pieces,must must buy silver! If you are planning a trip to Bali then dont be a fool like me and go equipped with an extra bag to haul all your shopping.

4) Beaches: Of course the beaches are fabulous; a gorgeous green blue ocean and white sand; isnt that the image that comes to mind when you think Bali! It comes to life when you go there and Nusa Dua shows you the five star beach experience. Its almost exclusively a five star resort island with many of them owning parts of the beach. You can luxuriate under the sun, take a dip in the warm waters while enjoying Shrimp Quesadillas and a cold Bintang! Such bliss!!

Uluwatu Temple
5) Temples: Now I am not the biggest fan of temples and had not really included it in our agenda but our driver Gusti insisted we visit them and gave us the grand tour when he took us. The Uluwatu temple, the Tanah Lot temple and the Tirta Empul ; all three of them are spectacular and give you an almost instant sense of calm when you get there. My favourite was the Tanah lot located on the sea with the waves crashing into the rocks that bear the temple. It is exceptionally lovely at sunset, however also exceptionally crowded.  The kecak dancers performing the Ramayana at sunset at the Uluwatu temple is also a memorable experience.

6) Landscapes: A small as Bali is it gives you a range of landscapes to enjoy; from the pristine beaches, to the volcanic mountains to the lush rainforests to the gorgeous green rice fields. And you can possibly see all of this on a two hour drive through the island.

Tegalalang Rice fields

7) Traffic: This is not something I worry about on holiday but there is something so peaceful about the traffic in Bali. The long winding single lane hill roads tend to get jammed, but there is no honking, no random overtaking, no abusing of any kind. People wait patiently for the road ahead to clear and keep everything very cordial. Coming from India I was pleasantly surprised.

The Balinese Thali!
8) Ease of access: Bali is a one stop flight from India, if you go via Singapore then no prior visa required and the exchange rate is in our favour. 1 INR - about 200 IDR which is so much fun! This means you can make a spontaneous trip to Bali and it will also not burn a hole in your pocket.

Breakfast served in our private balcony
While I didn't really enjoy Balinese cuisine, I loved the care that was taken to present the food to us and I discovered two things in Bali that I fell in love with; Sambal (I literally ate everything with it) and the Chocolate and Caramel Magnum.

I would recommend Bali to anyone who wants an easy chilled out vacation; it is the ideal spot for some sun, sand and pampering!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A trio of Panna cottas!

So I spent a whole Saturday catching up on Master chef Australia and after seeing hour after hour of Pannacottas and Semifreddos, I decided to make my own.
When I want to try something the first time, I am automatically drawn to Novella Lawson because her recipes are so well written. While I did tweak the recipe her description of the perfect Pannacotta was my bench mark for this dessert. She says 'A Pannacotta must have a voluptuous and quivering softness, as if trembling between solid and liquid.' I can hear this in my head every time I unmould one on to a plate!
So here is the basic Pannacotta recipe
What you need:
1)8 gm teaspoons gelatin
2) 500 ml cream
3) 125 gm castor sugar
4) 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1)Put a quarter cup of water in a shallow bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside.
2) Heat the cream and sugar in a pan on low heat, stirring often. Once the cream starts to bubble on the edges, take it off the heat.
3) Here is where it becomes fun, you can now add into this 120 ml of any liquid flavouring you want. I added filter coffee decoction(Coffee Pannacotta) , strong tea brewed with crushed cardamom and ginger (Irani Chai Pannacotta), and Cointreau (Vanilla Pannacotta).
4) Microwave the gelatin briefly to melt it. Pour the gelatin into the hot cream and stir well. Mix in the vanilla extract. For the coffee one I replaced the Vanilla extract with Kahlua and with Old Monk in the Irani Chai one! I strongly recommend adding the alcohol as the smoothness of the set Pannacotta somehow is enhanced by this!
5) Filter the cream mixture through a sieve into a jug. Pour into lightly greased cups or a big serving bowl, as desired. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for about 4 hours or overnight.
I took mine out about 5 minutes before eating them to make them deliciously soft set!!
Irani Chai Pannacotta

Vanilla Pannacotta with red wine poached pears

Filter coffee pannacotta with a biscuit crumb and dark chocolate bites