No New Year resolutions for me! Where’s the point? Didn’t I promise to turn over a new leaf just a little while back? I could use the weather as my excuse; you cannot turn over new leaves in the dead of winter. Let spring arrive…(This post has been in writing for
a couple of over three weeks, and I am afraid it almost is Spring!)
Let me wish all my friends here, in this virtual but not make-believe world, a very Happy New Year (while it is still January). I hope we continue to exchange and enjoy a healthy Madness here. If writing about food could be quick, I would post everyday! But it is not. These last two years it has been very busy at work. Blogging could not be the break I wished. At the end of the day it is hard to return to the computer for anything other than to read.
For all the work, and unusual for us, TH and I managed to squeeze out time for regular breaks. We had resolved to visit the son mid-semester each semester, irrespective of whether he could/would make the time or not. Our spring semester visit to Kochi, an overnight journey for him, coincided with his college festival. The following semester, in October, with plans to visit the temples of the Hoysalas, we landed in the middle of his exam week. We went ahead with the plans anyway and visited the ancient temples of Halebid and Belur. Once again, it was humbling to be in a shrine where our people have continued to pray for centuries, and I thought again of the little unspoiled temple by the backwaters of Aleppey where our houseboat had moored that night…
It is truly a vacation when you have uncharted days. We whiled our time just hanging out in Udupi and Manipal: visited the Krishna Temple early one morning, had breakfasts of idli-sambar everyday, took the local bus to nearby Malpe beach one afternoon, and hiked up End Point that offers panoramic views of this university town that has nothing in the name of conventional entertainment.
Earlier this summer we spent a fun week in Malaysia enjoying, amongst other things, a beautiful beach to ourselves while island-hopping in Lankawi one afternoon. It was the same gang as on the Valley of Flowers trip, but this time with the children along. On the outset what impresses is the cleanliness, and then the Indian in me marvels at the sense of road discipline. Ah, you want to know about the food. Well, there were hits and misses. Amongst the hits was Nasi goreng, our first meal. Fishy laksa, I will have to say, is an acquired taste; more so for people who live far from the coast and its seafood offerings. But the layered tea is amazing; so rich and thick and strong, yet not tannin-ny at all. I think it is the addition of condensed milk that transforms their tea and coffee!
The kachang, a medley of chopped fruit, vegetables (corn!), sorbet, ice cream, ‘noodles’ (like a colourful falooda), even beans, is an eclectic mix you cannot imagine; a dish that is a feast for the eye and a tease for the tongue. But, it is Malaysia’s natural beauty that really takes your breath away. For people from the land of heat and dust it is a green so saturated that it appears a new colour altogether!
Towards the end of the year I met with food blogger friends, some for the first time! I met Raaga and S (the first time was a couple of years ago, but too brief to count) when Sra came to visit! It was a fun afternoon with a lot of laughter; it is hard to keep a straight face for too long in Raaga’s company! We visited them once more just before the two moved to Singapore.
After knowing each others through our blogs, Miri and I finally met IRL! A few phone calls, and detailed home-directions later there we were at her place one afternoon and had ourselves a great impromptu tea party, complete with cake and pastry puffs! I requested Madras kapi though. The instant camaraderie surprised just a little. Miri’s detailed directions messaged over the phone were a sign; words spelled out and complete sentences with prepositions in their places instead of the incomprehensible short-message-mumbo-jumbo! Do I need say any more? We hit it off as if we had always known each other! She doesn’t drink tea but there was plenty of common ground besides just food.
The year ended on a big high with Manisha and her family’s visit! She was one of the first people to find my blog. To her goes the credit for much of the initial madness on this blog. It wasn’t love at first sight though. She left a comment asking me to join the FlowerFest. All I had to do was write a post about flowers and link to her blog. That was four years ago. I had just begun and was already being pestered by folk pushing their blogs! I was new to blogging, and didn’t know what a ‘link’ was and had to be shown how to insert one by none other than TLO herself! The lessons didn’t stop with that…I had a steep learning curve but, she lived to tell the tales. Somewhere along there I also figured out that Manisha of FlowerFest was the same as the one over at Indian Food Rocks! I can be really exasperating like that. But for all her secret eye-rolling and pulling of hair (sorry about all that, Manisha), she put up with me and we now have a friendship with scarcely any secrets! It grew as we found we shared so many interests other than our common passion for food. Above everything she is smart and witty and funny (even if I don’t get all her jokes, I know she is funny!). It is always good to surround yourself with smart people!
Before she would step foot in Delhi she displayed all the anxiety of the typical NRI (Non-Resident Indian, for the uninitiated). They are a tribe unto themselves providing great material for a caricature. As she rolled out her list of do’s and don’t for the NRI, I sitting here in India, just nodded my head, yeah, yeah. No uncooked food – naturally. That includes chutneys, ok? No salads. No coriander garnish. What? No dhaniya patta? TH cannot imagine food without! We were going to have to take portions out for her before sprinkling with the mandatory coriander leaves! 🙄 But, imagine the post I would get to write at the end of her visit! All those food-phobias!
With a heavy heart I inform all of you that she succumbed to the charms of the twisted jalebi on her very first outing and the less said about not eating uncooked food (including dhaniya, and fruits with thin skin) the better. Just wait and watch the space on her blog about all her forays into Indian street food.
We had fun walking the streets of Delhi and tried to cover some ground in the short three days that she and her family spent with us. We got a taste of both New and the Old Delhi. Naturally, there was much food that accompanied the fabulous time our families spent together. But, when it came time for her to pack I had a hard time figuring out what I might send with her that would be worth lugging across first to Mumbai and then across the Atlantic.
One morning for breakfast we ate paranthas, standard breakfast fare in our home just a few years go. We had two kinds – methi parantha and besan parantha, the latter is a recipe I have been meaning to share here for a very long time… With the paranthas I served the amla pickle, the newest pickle in my repertoire. They seemed to like it too and Manisha thought it would be good to make some herself.
I knew exactly what I could give her! She and her family left for Agra-Jaipur that afternoon. While they were away I made a fresh batch of amla pickle just for them! I have made a lot of pickles of all kinds of vegetables and believe me when I tell you that, in my opinion, this is the best pickle I have ever made!
And it was just happenstance that I made it at all. Last month, the father-in-law bought some amla to make into amla supari. As he sat down at the table to process them I cautioned him that the skies were overcast and the weather foggy. He wasn’t too convinced but agreed to risk just a few. We now had this pile of amla and I thought a pickle might be the answer. The fruit was washed, wiped, and sectioned. I decided to check some recipes online. Many recipes used whole fruit while I had sectioned mine, and all of them seemed to require amla to be stir-fried and browned, which is not what I had in mind. I was looking for a hint of Andhra (aren’t Andhra pickles the best?) but with a crunch. So, I decided to go ahead and make this in my usual Andhra-style manner – rai, methi, lots of red chillies, a little hing, and some garlic. What was different this time was that I also decided to add lime juice, the first time I have done so for a pickle. After it had cured a few days, I had a winner on my hands!
PS: More amla was procured later for the aforementioned amla supari. This time FIL has a beautiful batch of powder-pink amla supari shavings! The recipe, another time!