Sunday, December 23, 2012

Puttu and Kadala curry - YUM!!!

Puttu (steamed rice cake) and kadala (black gram) curry, a favourite Malayali breakfast, so warm and filling on a wintery morning. Add a malayali chaaya (tea) to this to round off the meal!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gwalior visit - Day 1

Our Gwalior trip was a business cum pleasure trip - work for my husband and solely pleasure for me!
We decided to travel by a morning train which would give us the rest of the day there. The only tickets available were on the Taj Express in the 2nd seater class and although reluctant I had to take it.

We boarded the train at the Hazrat Nizamuddin station about quarter to 7am. The seats in this class are really narrow and only an anorexic person would be comfortable in it. So unless there is no other option do not book in this class. And then there are people, so many of them, with and without ticket who get in and out during the whole journey. Unfortunately for us, the tracks developed a fracture and the train was delayed by 2.5 hours. It was 2.30pm when we got there and Gwalior was hot! really hot!!! We had booked rooms in the Royal Inn hotel and they had organized a car to meet us at the station. A quick call from the train to the hotel receptionist and the car was sent to meet us.

At first sight, the hotel seems to be in a shopping complex, as in there are shops in the ground floor with no sign of a reception. One has to go down a flight of stairs to the reception. Our rooms were on the first floor and immediately after checking in we went up to the restaurant. The hotel prefers that guests use room service rather than the restaurant.
Now about the restaurant, since only the guests use it, the place was deserted and we had to call Reception for a waiter to take orders. But once there, he went about taking our order and placing the cutlery quickly. We ordered rotis, rice, dal, salad, a vegetable and a chicken dish. The food was good and we did not have any complaints. After that we had a good nap, guess it was the heat and the food that did us in.

In the evening we walked around the railway station and went to the Indian Coffee House for dinner. The ICH is very close to the railway station and is one of the best restaurants in the city. ICH is an organization owned and run by its employees as a society. The waiters are clad in starched white uniforms with a fanned turban and provide quick service. They have 1 restaurant on the ground floor and 2 dining halls on the 1st floor. During lunch time all of these get full and there are people waiting to be seated.
We went there a few times during our whole stay and returned happily satisfied each time. The prices are very reasonable and the food is good, quite like the Udipis found in Bombay. We had their thali, coffee, masala dosa, vada sambhar, chicken and mutton biryani, uttapam, cutlets and each one of them was excellent.

After dinner we went straight back to the hotel and that was the end of our first day at Gwalior.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Chicken Biryani with Shan Biryani Masala

After ages, I made biryani at home. Actually, its long since I cooked, after all mom's there to take care of everything. Biryani has always been my weakness. It can be biryani time anytime for me. I am partial to chicken biryani and go if for it if the restaurant is remotely known for its biryani. In Bombay, I enjoy biryani from - Lucky, Blossoms-Hotel Sun City & Jaffer Bhai Delhi Darbar to name a few.  And for the days I can't get my fix I make it at home and this is one such recipe:
For preparing meat:
Chicken 500gms, cut in medium sized pieces
Onion 4, medium to large sized, chopped/sliced
Garlic 10 cloves, medium sized, juliennes
Ginger 4 inch piece, juliennes
Shan Memoni Mutton Biryani Masala powder
Yogurt (dahi) 2 tbsp
Green chillies 2, big sized, slit
Tomato 1, medium sized, chopped
Potato 4, small sized, peeled to be used whole
Butter/ Ghee 3 tbsp
Little salt
For preparing the rice:
Basmati Rice 2 cups, soaked in water for 15 minutes
Cloves (lavang) 2
Cinnamon (dalchini) 1 inch piece
Green Cardamom (elaichi) 2
Black Cardamom (kaali elaichi) 1
Little salt
For assembling:
Coriander Leaves 1 cup, rough chopped
Mint Leaves, about 15 to 20 leaves, rough chopped
Onions sliced, fried in ghee or oil 1/2 cup
Butter/ Ghee 2 tbsp

Take 4 cups water in a saucepan add the whole spices (khada masala) cloves, cinnamon, cardamoms and salt put it to boil. When the water boils lower the heat and add the soaked rice, cook for 5 minutes stirring in between. Check the rice, it should have a bite, about three-fourth cooked. Take it off the heat and drain off the excess water using a colander. At this time, you can remove the whole spices. In case you want to avoid removing it individually, you can make a bouquet garni and drop into the water when boiling.

Mix the chicken and the ginger and garlic in a bowl and keep aside. In a heavy bottomed deep vessel (I use my big pressure cooker), add the ghee, once hot, add the chopped onions and saute it. When the onions are nearly brown add the meat mixed with the ginger and garlic. Saute it for a few minutes then add the yogurt and the Shan biryani masala powder. Saute for a few minutes and add potatoes, mix well and cover and let cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Check for salt, you may need to add very little salt since the masala powder has salt in it. Add the tomatoes and green chillies and cover and cook it done.

Now for the assembling for dum, you can do this on the stove or in the oven. I did it on the stove and to lessen the work used the cooker again. In case you are using the oven butter the insides of a deep glass baking dish and follow the steps below.

I took the chicken preparation out into a bowl. Add 1 tbsp spoon ghee in the empty cooker and let it spread the bottom of the vessel. Now to layer the chicken mix and rice.
Add half the prepared chicken mix to cover the bottom of the vessel. Layer half the rice on top of the chicken. Now top the rice with half of - the coriander leaves, mint leaves and fried onions. Repeat the layers - Layer the balance of the chicken and top it with the balance of the rice layer, Top these layers with the rest of the coriander and mint leaves and the fried onions. Sprinkle them to cover the rice. Sprinkle the remaining ghee on the top and the sides. Now cover and keep on very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. If using the oven, cover the dish with foil, pierce the foil with fork a couple of times and put into a warm oven. When serving try to scoop out with the layers intact, its yummy with all the different tastes.

You can use oil instead of butter or ghee. Personally I love ghee and salivate when the aroma wafts through the entire home.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Shoddy work by BMC and a twisted ankle

Two days prior to Christmas I decided to go to Bandra to soak in the Christmassy feel and to pick some cake and sweets from the American Express Bakery and Hershes. I took a fast train to Bandra and got a shared auto right outside the station. In a few minutes, I was standing in front of Globus on Hill Road.

It was quite crowded since it was a Friday and it was only 2 days to Christmas! The shops were lit up, the window displays were done in Christmas colors and the whole place was brimming with people. People were haggling with vendors for clothes, accessories and shoes and the food carts had people milling around them to get the vendors attention. I was busy lapping up all the sights and clearly forgot to watch where I went and twisted my ankle in a pothole. I immediately reached out to hold on to people around me and avoided falling down. A girl who was to my side quickly helped me to a stool from a vendor. I took off my shoe and rolled up my jeans and saw that my ankle had swelled to enormous proportions. Few ladies gathered around me and suggested visiting a nearby hospital immediately to get it looked at. Since I started feeling giddy with the pain they helped me sit in an auto and got me water to revive me. Some of them were willing to come to the hospital with me. They waited with me till I was a little better insisting that I call home and also took my number to check on me later. After ensuring that my family would meet me at the hospital they let me leave in the auto.

I don't know what I would have done had these ladies not been around. What if I had fainted on the street and no one helped me? I was touched by the concern shown by complete strangers on that day and I thank God that people extend a kind hand when needed. One of the ladies even called me a little later to check if the dizziness had passed and asked me to message her once I reached the hospital.
This post is to thank all those who helped me that day. And maybe someday I will have opportunity to help someone in need and will thus keep the good deed going.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


A few days ago, I went to the SEWA Lucknow chikan exhibition. It was the first day and I reached there about 11.30am and there was a sizeable crowd already going through the stuff. I guess that speaks for the demand for their products.
I saw some lovely sarees, stoles, dupattas, suit sets, kurtis, etc. I decided to go around the hall first just for the pleasure of it, afterall 'nayan trupti' comes first. Then realized that if I liked something and did not pick it immediately somebody else would. So I started collecting the ones I liked. After trying on some kurties in a storeroom cum makeshift changing room, I decided on buying 2 suit pieces and a sari. I saw pieces in white, off-white and ivory colors which looked beautiful but decided to get colors this time. I now have to get these beautiful art pieces stitched to perfection. I have added the pictures of the suit pieces I bought.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Natural Fish Pedicure

The Kullam / Pond
A fish starting to nibble on my foot
A pond or kullam as it is called in Malayalam was an integral part of most old houses in Kerala. These were private ponds within the grounds and was used by residents of the house for bathing. This was much before bathrooms became common in Kerala.
During our annual school holidays in summer, we would love to bathe in the pond instead of the bathroom. Accompanied by a whole horde of cousins, it was more of a time to splash and play than bathe. We were often scolded by the elders for muddying the water and asked to get out. We would take along our towels (called thorthu mundu in Malayalam) to use as mini-nets to catch fish. Most of the times we hardly caught any fish because all our splashing had long scared the fish off. And if we did catch any, they were released into the water since these fish were neither good for eating nor displaying in fish bowls. I once took home a fish I had caught and put it in a pot in the verandah. I forgot all about it till after lunch and when I checked, it had just vanished. My grandmother guessed that a crow would have most likely made a meal of it. That was the last time I ever brought a fish home from the pond.
Many years later, my husband and I were discussing the lovely times spent in the pond with cousins and we were reminded of the fish again. He told me of times when he and his cousin would sit on the stones with their feet immersed in water and the fish would come to nibble at them. Like I wrote earlier, I never sat still long enough for any fish to come near me and had never experienced this. We decided we would try this out on our next trip to Kerala.

Last year we visited Kerala and were staying over at my husband's ancestral home. We were up very early one morning and were walking the grounds when we decided to get into the pond. It was before 6 in the morning, the sun was just rising and the only sounds were from the insects around and the birds chirping in the trees. It was a beautiful moment sitting on the stones at the pond-side with our feet dipping in the water. It wasn't long before the tiny fish came to investigate our feet. I could not take the tickling and pricking sensation of the nibbling fish and kept taking my feet out of the water. And on my husband's insistence would put it back in. But not too many fish came near my feet, I guess because my moving feet did not assure them of a meal. Whereas, my husband's feet was a feast fit for kings, albeit fish kings.
It was a very different, fun experience. The best thing was, it was in an all natural setting with no worries about hygienic conditions associated with fish pedicures nowadays.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hot apple cider and other memories

On one of my parents visits to United States we took them around New York city. We decided to book ourselves into the open deck hop on and hop off bus for a quick tour. My mom and I were at our giggling best that day, like two teens out for the day. We got on the bus at Times Square and quickly went to the upper level. In some time we were all cold and pulled our coat collars up and tightened the scarves around our necks. Of course none of the cold could keep us from seeing the sights. Just a little after the Wall Street stop as we rounded a corner, I spied a few stalls under umbrellas. We jumped off the bus hoping to get some hot coffee. There were 4 to 5 stalls selling hot dogs, muffins, cakes, breads, jams, apple cider and a few other things. We quickly got some blueberry muffins and apple cider and dug into it straightaway not bothering to find a place to sit. That was my first taste of apple cider and I cannot forget to this day how delicious it tasted on that wintery cold day.


Kuthampully is a small quaint weavers village in Thrissur district of Kerala. It is famous for hand and power loom weaving and specializes in the typical Kerala style kasavu (zari) and karaa mundu, set mundu, set saree and salwar kameez sets in cream and gold combination.
Till about 15 years ago, the sarees from Kuthampully were found only in nearby cities and towns and was coveted by many who lived in the central and south Kerala. There was a difference in the saree borders woven in Kuthampully making it really attractive. One may wonder how much variation can the set mundu/ saree design have but the subtle variation made a lot of difference. Difference enough to warrant people travelling to Kuthampully to buy sets and sarees in bulk prior to a wedding. Or one could wait for the exhibitions held across the state prior to Onam and there was atleast one stall selling the Kuthampully set mundu.

The first time I heard about this place was from my husband, Kuthampully is near my husband's place in Kerala and I was excited to go there the minute he mentioned it. I wanted to see and feel the place and getting sarees straight from the maker added to my pleasure.

We first visited Kuthampully about 10 years ago, there were a lot of small shops with stacks of set mundus and sarees packed in cellophane arranged in metal shelves. These shops seemed to be set up to cater to bulk buyers without display tables or window displays, etc. On entering the store we most often saw a few employees packing cartons of sets or sarees for despatch. Of course they welcomed the individual customers like us and giving a 10% discount to all customers seemed to be the norm at all shops. There were small one and two room houses behind these stores where we saw the residents weaving. Unfortunately I had forgotten my camera and could not take any pictures. The shops were more like co-op societies and giving employment to the residents of the weaving village.

We went to Kuthampully again last year just to look around and discovered that it looked different, with a lot of shop fronts set up the same way like before but with no weavers around. We found mundus and sarees with silver kasavu karaa, set sarees woven with tissue threads giving it a gold sheen and bright colored karaas, I guess these are the latest trends. I bought  a couple of sarees, sets, mundus and salwar kameez sets to add to my collection before returning home happy.  Above are pictures of my tissue set saree, salwar suits and mundus I bought from Kuthampully.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A conversation overheard...

The other day when I went to the tailor to get my blouse stitched, there was a lady who was discussing blouse patterns with him. The conversation was hilarious because the lady was trying to fit in as much as possible onto the blouse and the tailor was trying hard to politely dissuade her. They seemed to have worked with each other for years and their conversation showed it. The conversation went something like this:
L: Kya design kar sakte ho yeh kapde ke liye? Dekho maine Alka se thoda sa embroidery karvaaya sleeve pe.
T: Haanh dekha, paan-galaa banaa doonga.
L: Aur kya ho sakta hain?
T: Aur kuch nahi, galaa ka design karoonga, bas!
Another lady came in at that time with some lace to be put onto the blouse she had already given.
L2: Aap woh pink blouse pe yeh lace lagaa denge na? Aur woh blouse princess cut rahega.
T: Theek hai, kar doonga.
And the second lady left after this exchange.
L: Yeh princess cut kya hai? Mere blouse pe kar do na.
T: Woh pattern thode young ladies ke liye hai; 30-35 tak ladies ke liye.
L: Woh lady toh 35 ki nahi thi.
T: Yeh blouse unke liye nahi hai, unke bhaanji ke liye hai.
L: Main bhi sochu aap unke liye alag cut kar rahe hain, mere liye nahi. Woh meri friend hain aur main uski umar jaanti hoon!
I think at this point the tailor gave up trying to advise her on keeping the pattern simple and ....
T: Aap kal dopaher ko aayiye aur pattern book dekh lijiye.
L: Kab aaoon? Dopaher doh baje (2pm)?
T: Haanh, doh baje.
And with that he turned to me and said, "Boliye, aap ko kya karwanaa hain?". His tone suggesting, he was ready to tackle another unrealistic female :)
I felt like asking him how many such ladies does he get in a day but let it rest, maybe some other day.

Friday, January 13, 2012

In search of a tailor, blouse patterns et al

After our return from the US, a lot of things kept us busy what with the shipping of our stuff, getting our phone and internet connections, opening bank accounts, organizing our stuff and some more. During this time, I had not given much thought to my saris and Indian wear, but the announcement of my cousin's wedding got me all geared. Being in the US we had missed a few marriages of our cousins and we were so looking forward to joining in the celebrations.

Now I had the opportunity to wear that silk saree that I had bought just for its color. I had not even cut the blouse piece off it. So that's the first thing I got done with mom's help and then started our discussion for a tailor. Our old tailor who did all our clothes and uniforms from the time my older sister was in kindergarten, was long gone. Which meant I would have to get a blouse stitched with a new tailor as trial and if it fit well then this piece could be given.

There were a few tailors in the area but not all of them could do a good job with a blouse. The tailor I relied on to do my salwar suits did not do blouses and suggested I check around before giving it to any tailor. On speaking with a few neighbors the search narrowed down to 2 tailors who specialized in blouses. Both of them stitched well but one of them was better but could not be relied on giving the blouse on time. So I decided on the first one, tailor A, who would stitch and have the blouse ready on time. I gave him a piece first which I would not regret if it did not fit well. He stitched it well and off went the prized piece to him to get done. The blouse was to be stitched in a simple cut with a deep u-neck and short sleeves in keeping with the current fashion.

At the same time I also needed to do a blouse for a georgette sari I had bought for the evening reception. And everywhere I went, I now started noticing the blouse patterns that the ladies were wearing. The necklines were varied: high, deep, with ties, with tassels, with contrast cloth inserts, differently shaped necklines, off shoulder, halter necks and many more. I also checked the internet for pictures and found some more! And further learnt that there was something called princess cut as well. Whew! Thoroughly confused now I went to the tailor and hoped he would tell me what to get done. I had a couple of other blouses also which I took to him. He looked at them and suggested that for 2 of them, he could do different necklines and put zari trims on the sleeves and back. For the third one, he suggested I keep it simple so attention is drawn to the hand work done on it. This time I had taken these blouses to tailor B and true to his reputation he delivered it to me 5 days late!