After a long period of careful planning tickets had finally been booked for an extended visit to the US of A. Many changes later, on June 5th, we were on the plane to Denver looking forward to our holiday. Yes, we were going to visit Manisha at home and check out her mountains! I was also hoping to catch up with three very close friends from grad school. We had all moved to Colorado after graduating from KSU. It would be fun to walk the streets with V and show him bits and pieces of what made up my daily life for that one year that I was in Denver. Ten days in CO seemed like a good way to start the vacation.
We were flying British Airways (they have fabulous baggage allowance, by the way, 3 x 23 kg per person!) but not looking forward to the eight-hour layover in London. Heathrow is quite the maze and it took us a couple of trips up and down the airport train, to figure out our holding area for the day. Clearing the security check at Heathrow took awfully long with a few anxious moments when it seemed like I was going to have to trash some of the expensive Forest Essentials lotions and potions I was carrying as gifts. A mad dash across the security zone to locate V (he and I had been separated half an hour before), a good throw that sent a tube of hand cream sailing above the crowd of people between us (is he a good catch or what!), and I was able to zip my sanctioned clear-plastic bag. Pretty exciting stuff, enough to break a sweat.
I did a mandatory round of the Duty-Free shops but it was too early in the trip to not note that everything was frightfully expensive after the currency-change multiplier. Thankfully, Heathrow has 4-hour free Wi-fi and a few charging stations. We got our coffees, found a spot near a charging station, and settled down for some smartphone-time. FB updates were in order. I have to be the worst selfie-taker in the world. I must have taken around 20 when V, for both our sakes, took my phone in his hands, and I got my appropriately updated vacation-profile-picture.
The Boeing 747 from Heathrow had outdated equipment: poor video screens and no charging sockets. I mostly slept through the flight. We landed on time, at 6:30 in the evening, to blue skies in Denver, 17 years after I had left. The immigration lines moved slow and it took a while to get through customs. And there she was waiting for us! No, she did not keep us waiting! :)
It was Friday night and we were going camping the next morning! That I took them all to Dilli Haat while still jet lagged might have something to do with it you think? But, tonight, she had a feast for us. Apple pie filling served with vanilla ice cream and finished with a drop of exotic orange blossom extract – just divine. I had to have seconds. Then we drank some port.
Next morning I was enjoying my morning cuppa at her glass table, watching her trees as she flitted about the kitchen. Every few minutes she would refer to a list on her note pad or jot something on it. There are people who make lists and then there is Manisha. She isn’t joking when she says she is putting something on THE LIST! Only, there was not one but several lists! There was a rather long one for the camping trip to The Great Sand Dunes National Park that had everything on it – from layers and layers of bedding to flashlights, to fresh ginger and milk for tea! This was going to be our first time camping – we are talking pitching tents, building camp fires, and making s’mores! I have to admit, though, with them lists, the food was five-star luxury with no hunting involved!
We reached the campsite by evening and there was barely enough time to pitch the two tents before darkness fell. Once it is dark you must rely on flashlights and starlight to find your way about. We lost Vijay for a bit and were about to send out a search party when he returned. Manisha’s friends from the ‘hood had arrived earlier and were sitting around the fire roasting marshmallows. There was a delicious bean salad that Lisa had brought but I have already forgotten what we ate that night! Was it sandwiches? I might have had a round of s’mores by the fire. Or not. But I clearly remember that there was a casket of wine. After some star-gazing (we looked at Saturn, rings and all!) I decided to crash and promptly fell asleep under all the layers Manisha had carried, only to wake up a little later to see that Vijay was still not in the tent. I hoped it was him I could faintly hear talking outside and that he hadn’t wandered away and lost his way again. But, I was to jet lagged to go looking for him. He finally snuggled into his sleeping bag at four in the morning.
It was a food camp!😉
Like I said before, this was a camping trip with gourmet food. The trunk of the car was filled to its guts with food. Out came eggs, milk, 10-grain flour for pancakes, with toppings of choice – maple syrup, homemade orange marmalade, sliced bananas, even whipped cream. There is nothing that was missing from that incredible list. Medha went ahead and demonstrated the great American tradition of depositing whipped cream straight into the mouth. It’s not just for the movies it seems.
At The Great Sand Dunes National Park
The sun shone warm and bright as we made our way to the Great Sand Dunes. There were flecks of people way ahead on the far peaks. We climbed the first one with some effort and called it our summit. It was windy and our exposed legs were getting sand-blasted. Between us, in that short hike, we managed to almost-lose a couple of caps and a slipper in the sink that is actually a dune. We waded back through the cold waters of the stream to the parking lot where we had ourselves a tailgate party of bagels and cream-cheese. Back at the camp, there was time enough for more partying. Neighbor and scout-boy got the fire going with no help from any starter-liquids. Dinner was made delicious by roasting spicy sausages on the fire till they dripped fat. I tried my hand at s’mores and decided they were a tad too sweet for me now. More star-gazing was in order – Jupiter, with its moons lined up, and Saturn, of course!
The following morning the cooler was raided for frozen idlies which were quartered and tossed in molagapodi (mine!) and ghee (yes, we were carrying a bottle of homemade ghee as well!) and served with chai. Ginger, alas, was nowhere to be found.
We took the scenic way back (as if there is any other kind in this country) to reach Colorado Springs by early afternoon where I was going to meet up with Jim, my grad school buddy. We found a quaint store downtown selling local wines, tasted a few and selected one. Jim and I had made the move to CO together in 1997 in a U-Haul truck. I remember it breaking down as we neared our destination, and an ice cream truck coming by while we waited for repairs. Today Jim is the sole-owner of the firm he started out at!
We met at his office and took a tour of a couple of projects he’s working on before shopping for dinner. While picking up cupcakes he mentioned it was his wife Andrea’s birthday. What a coincidence – it was also our son’s birthday but there were still a few days before he would join us. There were cupcakes, there was wine, and Jim was going to grill! We were going to have a swell birthday party, the first of many still to come on this trip.
I prepped the veggies. To grill them Jim used salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil! We had 5 kinds of cup cakes to chose from – carrot, chocolate, red velvet, vanilla, and…?
Before I tell you about the next shindig, let me share the recipe for the fiery hot molagapodi, aka gunpowder, I carried for Manisha. It is based on Chandra Padmanabhan’s recipe from Dakshin and has been tried and tested many times over now (my notes in brackets).
1/2 C chana dal
1/2 C urad dal
1/4 C sesame seeds
1 1/2 C dried whole red chillies (the original recipe uses 1 1/4 C; I use a mix of lavangi from Maharashtra, Guntur chilles from Andhra, Byadgi chillies from Karnataka, and some from Rajasthan for a truly fiery mix!)
curry leaves, 2 springs (my addition)
half a lime-sized ball of tamarind
a pinch of hing
a little oil to fry the curry leaves and chillies
2T jaggery (I skip this)
salt to taste
In a heavy pan or karahi dry roast the lentils and sesame seeds, each one separately. Fry the red chillies in a teaspoon of oil till crisp. Fry the curry leaves in a teaspoon of oil till crisp. Turn the heat off and add the pinch of hing and the tamarind to the hot pan and let it sit there till the pan cools. Combine all ingredients, add salt and grind to not too fine a powder.
To use with idli, mix in generous amount of gingelly oil (sesame seed oil from seeds that have not been roasted) or melted ghee, or a mix of both, and dunk idlies into this mix. The podi-ghee mix is a must for us with dosai and uttapam too.