Curry flavored (Masala) Red Lentil Pasta

I plan most meals for the week over the weekend, whether I stick to it or not. This is the basis for our grocery shopping. However, I have crazy cravings for not only one specific dish, but cuisines and specific tastes as well. For some reason, I wanted to have something western with a tandoori twist. For lack of a Dominos or Pizza Hut that sold Paneer Tikka pizza, I had to look up other options of quick meals to make at home to satisfy this weird (according to H) craving.

I was reminded of Indianized ready to eat or 2-min pasta packs we got in India at some point, and started digging out curry-flavored pasta recipes. There were a bunch, and I found a few quite disappointing, considering the base was a very typical Indian tomato onion gravy with cumin and coriander powder.

Then I found this gem of a sauce on Food Network recipes, and decided to throw in some veggies and make it a healthier option (for what it is worth!).

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Ingredients

Pasta

16oz Red lentil pasta

Sauce

16oz Vegetable broth

14oz coconut milk

3 tbsp Choice of masala/ curry powder (I used pre-packaged masala that had turmeric, cumin powder, coriander powder and cloves. Grinding these and adding them to the sauce should also work).

Half a stick of butter

Veggies

1 cup cauliflower and broccoli put together

1 red bell pepper

1/2 cup green peas

A small sprig of cilantro/coriander leaves

Salt to taste

Fresh ground pepper

Note: You could adjust the amount of masala according to your taste.

pasta in a pot

Method

  1. Cook your pasta according to the directions on the package.
  2. Start your sauce on the side. Add vegetable broth to a pan and bring it to a simmer.
  3. To this broth, add your butter and let it melt.
  4. Add the curry powder/ masala and mix to prevent lumps from forming. Taste and adjust the masala quantity to your liking.
  5. Add the coconut milk to your broth mixture and let it thicken.
  6. In the meantime, steam the cauliflower and broccoli.
  7. Add salt and pepper to the steamed veggies.
  8. Once the sauce has thickened a bit, add chopped red peppers and green peas and let them cook for a few minutes.
  9. Add salt to taste to the sauce.
  10. Finally assemble the dish. Add the steamed veggies to your pasta and give it one good mix. Pour in the sauce on top of the pasta. Garnish with coriander leaves (cilantro).
  11. Dig in!

My travel do’s and don’ts

Every SINGLE time we travel, I have the jitters. It starts about three hours before our flight, and lasts until we have landed and cleared immigration (if we have to). We need to catch the right bus, at the right time, get to the airport on time, or find parking for the car at an irrationally priced parking garage, check in luggage, and oh, what if the flight is delayed? Will we miss our connecting flight? And what about the multiple security checks? Don’t even get me started on those!

In recent times I feel like I have gotten better with my preparation, and my jitters (though H will probably vehemently deny this). Just so I have a structured flow to the myriad thoughts that come to my mind, let me classify the tasks involved, and my thoughts on those in chronological order.

Booking tickets

In recent times, H and I are subscribed to a number of travel mailing lists. We get excited every single time there is an airline sale or a Travel sale from one of the websites we follow. It is a given that the trips we book on a whim are the ones that turn out successful! I believe this is because we have somewhere to start once we have made the bookings!

Having said that, every travel experience comes with woes of lost luggage, adverse weather conditions, visa troubles, vacation times during peak office workloads and transit timings. My blood pressure peaks every single time our flight lands on the nick of time at our connecting airport, too close for my comfort. I hate running around the airport, between terminals, trying to make it to the next flight! I still haven’t figured a way out to get around the delayed flights and weather conditions, but here are a few suggestions for booking travel and to minimize damages:

  1. Invest in a good travel card. Credit companies have travel insurances that cover lost luggage, refunds for last minute cancellations (for valid reasons), and double charges by the airline people. All of these has happened to us, and we are wiser now with every mishap. You could even earn points with every travel purchase, car rental and restaurant.
  2. If you have multiple lay overs, make the bookings with the same travel company. Yes, their customer care numbers have long wait times, but it is well worth it to have a single ticket number. This helps with tracking luggage better, and through check-ins. We have booked it on separate websites before, and either travel company will not take responsibility for any delays to the flight, or delayed luggage that makes you miss your next flight. Sometimes you have to deal with the hassles of double check in and security!
  3. Always get duty free purchases on your last leg of travel, especially for international destinations that require double security checks. If that cannot be avoided try checking in the duty free bag during your last leg of travel. We had to throw away our duty-free Punta-Cana rum as we entered the US. The only way we could have avoided this is quickly put our duty free bags into our cabin bags and check them in. So sometimes, unforeseen things do happen!
  4. Be aware of travel rules in countries that you only have a lay over at! What is allowed in the USA may not be permitted in another country- including in checked in luggage. This includes pepper sprays for starters.
  5. If you don’t want to travel off-season when some great travel rates are available for some unpleasant weather conditions, try to get to your destination just before the peak season. In most cases, it is a win-win situation.

Itineraries

After the trip to Paris, I decided that international trips are not to be winged! Yes, you do chance upon some amazing things on your trip if you have an open mind and are open to changes. But I decided that “no plan at all” is simply not going to work; especially after all the effort put in to secure visas, making reservations, and making time for the vacation. So this time around, on our trip to Azores, I planned everything.

Digging into blogs by others, and doing some research before the trip felt like digging out treasure. Input from others to decide on places, pinning them on google maps, and working out timings, such that you are never rushed, and most importantly, having an open mind to be FLEXIBLE all make the trip more fun.

Packing Chronicles

I am notorious for leaving behind at least one essential on each trip. On our Puerto Rico trip, I decided to set that straight, and packed one bag for the short trip to Vieques and back, and another carry-on suitcase to be left in the trunk of the car (in the parking lot of the small airport) with clothes and necessities for the rest of the trip. Once it was done, and after an impressed nod from H, I pat myself on my back. Two days later when we were in Vieques, I realized that I had left H’s sandals in the other suitcase that was in the car’s trunk! So much for my effort!

Are you one of those couples that always forgets a certain something? Well we are that kind, too! On every trip we make, we end up buying an SD card. Somehow we always seem to run out of space (also read ‘H doesn’t get all the previous pictures transferred on time’).

I am usually one to give up easy, but surprisingly, not when it came to packing! I put together several pins from the life-saving Pinterest app, and decided to implement them on my next trip. Implement, I did. I have some thoughts and a newly devised method to share, that seemed to work for me this time.

  1. The itinerary is a good place to start, and work backwards on. I start with my last day activities, and put the associated items in, then the last but one day, and so on, and finally the first day. That way the first things you need always come out first.
  2. I avoid unpacking on trips that are less than a week long, because I am notorious (once again), for leaving stuff behind if I put them away in cupboards.
  3. I have several pins on my Pinterest account, on minimalist capsule wardrobes, that help me decide what to wear and maximize outfits based on what I take.
  4. I maintain a note, where I add to the essentials I realize I need for every trip. So I can keep a tab on what I need to start packing, when I start packing. This list has been growing with every trip, so I am still not perfect, but I have gotten better!
  5. This time around on our trip to Azores, I printed all my itineraries, travel tickets, reservations, folded them, labelled them, and arranged them by dates in ascending order. This hardly took space in my hand bag, and helped me access information in a  foreign country before I got access to Wi-fi and a sim card. I even went to the length of printing out directions to the BnB from the airport, lest we had no internet/ GPS.

The travel and the trip!

Oh this is always the fun part, so my only comment on it is to “JUST HAVE FUN!”.  Only in recent times have I learned to not brood over something missed. There is always a next time, you can say to yourself! The itinerary you put together, is just to give you an idea of where to start. It is just an outline for when you are clueless about what’s next. If there is a nearby attraction that wasn’t part of the plan, go for it! Having too much fun trying new food? No worries, there is time! What you are doing is a part of the trip too.

Having said all this, let’s see how our next trip goes! I am sure I will have more tales to be told, and  SD cards to be bought! 🙂

Confessions of a Shopaholic

I’ve been getting a little antsy lately. The reason? I haven’t shopped in a looooong time. One of my resolutions this year, was to curb my shopping instincts, so that it is easy on the wallet, as also use all of the clothes I have accumulated.

“Would it help if you were to use the entire closet, and I moved my stuff to the other room’s closet?”, H asked me over the weekend.

“Hmmm… I would rather you did not. I like having my ethnic wear separated”, I replied.

Which starts a whole new topic by itself. In recent times, every time one of us goes home, we come back with loads of love showered on us in the form of sarees and kurtas. Of course, it goes without saying that the ratio of my clothes to H’s is 5:1.

Instagram does not help much. I haven’t had the heart to ‘unfollow’ some of the brands I follow. I have been ogling and drooling over some of the sarees and jewelry posted, that I have had a very hard time saying “NO!” to myself from contacting the curators. In a way, the website carts help. I get about 70% satisfaction in just zeroing in on stuff, and adding them to a cart. When it comes to  checkout, the effort to close the tab has been comparatively easier!

In my defense, I am not a waster. I don’t buy stuff, just to throw them away or give them away at a later date, with 0-3 uses. My personal style and comfort have always been the foremost decision making tools when I buy stuff (well, almost!). Though I may get something that is at a store because that’s the trend then, I wear them even long after it is out of style in my own way. I still have clothes from my university days. This is more or less like my mom and aunts dealing with their sarees. A saree never leaves your wardrobe till it is tattered or no longer comfortable, or you find someone to give it away to. My cousins and I are very much into this ‘maximization’ aspect of buying clothes. What cannot or would not be worn by us because we just grew tired of it, or grew a size bigger goes to the next person in line.

But it is truly hard to justify why we shop. And trust me, I have been asked this question several times (mostly by the males in the family, and usually the same person, more than at least fifty times). I would tell H, “We can get ten pairs of shoes in the money you spend for one of yours!”, but it is hard to be that vehement with arguments when the issue of space crops up.

Believe it or not, I had a similar ‘no-shop resolution’ situation when I was in school and was curbing my wild spending on clothes. I went shopping with friends who were looking for something specific, and shopping for/with them, really did help!

Now, back to the present. After months of getting tempted looking at new clothes, and a tough exam to prepare for, I open up my Instagram and in one shot get three lovely sarees and a few accessories that I have been drooling over for a while now. I justify my buy saying that online shopping for Indian clothes wasn’t part of the deal, and this is my venting (also read coping) mechanism.

An hour later, I find myself guilty.

I have given this some very serious thought, and wondered how I can stay excited while also going easy on my wallet. May, being the month of sustainable fashion, I make a new resolution, and I still pray hard that I stick to this. Now here is the idea.

I have given myself mini-projects to continuously stay enthusiastic about the resolution, while also helping deal with my rehabilitation. The coming year will be the year of new saree releases that I bought (nothing can be done now, about this part), as also a year of sustainable saree wearing.

  1. I have re-arranged my closet to move hangers to the end as I wear my clothes, so as to wear every single one of my clothes.
  2. I subscribed to Stitch Fix a few months back. While I found their clothes a little expensive, I loved how the stylist completely understood my style from my answers in the questionnaire, and my Pinterest board. My stylist even picked clothes that looked similar to my pins. The best part of my package, was the styling card. There were three different ways I could style the piece of clothing that she sent me. I would highly recommend this to people who do not like shopping, want a hassle-free experience, who don’t have time to shop, and who don’t mind spending a little extra for nicer clothes, that fit great. Pinterest is quite the savior too for styling clothes. So my next idea is to find new ways to style the hundred or so individual pieces of clothing, and accessories I have. This has already gotten me excited, and another post on styling will shortly follow.
  3. I read up recently about the KonMari method of de-cluttering. Several people have sworn that this method works. While I would love to get in touch with most of them to see if two years down the road, they missed any of the things they threw out even once, I do think they were brave enough to give it a shot. I choose the word brave because 90% of my clothes have memories associated with them. Be it something I picked out for a lot lesser than I expected to pay for it, to more significant first dates, and first gifts. Somehow looking at my clothes and thinking if it brings me joy,  and then to throw it away, is so not my character. I probably would swear that every single piece had me ecstatic. H had to threaten me a few times with public shunning, or refusal to walk with me before I threw away my comfortable cotton t-shirts that I wore around the house because of all the fading. Giving does give me a warm feeling. I spent an afternoon pulling out jeans that I grew out of but hoped to fit into one day, dresses I had bought while in school, gifts from room mates that I had worn a million times but were still wearable another hundred times, bags that I hardly used because I have only three go-to bags, and bundled them into packages to give away.
  4. I segregated my blacks and whites. I can never have enough of these. I am sure a lot of people can vouch for this. They are extremely versatile! Mental note to self here.
  5. During my next India trip, I will, no doubt, come back with a bunch of clothes. This time around though, I will be back with a bunch of sarees that belonged to the mothers and paatis. Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra.

Again, this is an idea put on paper, that has its foundations laid, and scratch work going on to it. I truly hope to stick to my plans, and check back with you all in a year’s time.

hanger

Now chant with me, “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle“.

 

 

 

 

PuerrrrttoRrrico… Rolling it like the locals!

H jokingly calls me a hippopotamus for how much I love staying in the water. Puerto Rico, for that, and many other reasons was one awesome vacation spot! There was a little bit for adventurers, history buffs, beach lovers, foodies and lazy vacationers, alike.

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An island vacation brings to me images of a hotel by the beach, a book in hand, a huge hat and big sun goggles, a generous amount of sun screen, beach towels and umbrellas, lazing in the sun and not doing squat, the warm evenings of long walks, or early morning walks by the beach, with mimosas for breakfast and Mojitos for dinner. Or it did! Our first beach vacation together in the Dominican Republic was all about these things. A trip to Puerto Rico, can be that lazy trip, or it can be a healthy mix of laziness and activities alike.

A hectic month at work for me, an ongoing strenuous project for H at his work place, and a last minute almost-canceled trip kept us sober when it came to travelling for our anniversary weekend. We were surprised and delighted at our experiences there over and over again, that it was as if Puerto Rico was trying to do its best to keep our moods elevated!

I am still not sure if I can do justice to the ‘just WOW’ moments from the trip with my descriptions, as my brain right now, is swimming with images from the trip. It seems to work faster than my hands that are definitely trying hard to keep up! So it might just be easier to break it down by my top picks from the trip.

The flight between the main island and Vieques

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Thanks to a friend’s input from her trip to PR, we booked a Bio-luminescent bay tour at Vieques. We decided to just do a night, and fly right back the next day. This was not without my usual research and much contemplation about the ferry services there, a proper mix of activities and leisure and the reviews. Our Jetblue flight reached there at 5am, and we decided to do the tour that very night. A rental car in hand, helped with us driving down to Ceiba, right across the sea from Vieques. The small 8-seater flight was quite the experience on its own. The gorgeous views of the islands in the Caribbean sea, the way we boarded the flight, rode right next to the pilot, all made it to my favorites’ list. This may be a good time to declare that we were extremely glad we invested in a Go-Pro!

The island, Vieques

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You could get from one end of the island to another in about twenty minutes. That makes for awesome sun rises and sun sets. This time around, we did not get to spend more than a night here. That gave us an evening of lazing in a cafe by the beach, and strolling in the sand for the evening sunset. Not to miss out the exciting little flight to get here (I hear the ferries can be unpredictable and getting tickets is tedious). We could just get a taxi to take us everywhere, with some pre-planning. Our hotel hosts were great, and helped us with the planning and making reservations. So friendly people is another thing that makes it to my list. Riding around in the cab and the traffic here, reminded me of driving in India; what with people parking on the roads, and honking at turns.

The bio-luminescent bay

I highly recommend doing this if you come all the way to Puerto Rico, and more so, if you are visiting Vieques. There is another tour, apparently, from Ponce. I was told it wasn’t as good as the one at Vieques, but I am saying that based on other people’s feedback. Try to do the kayak tour, and not the ferry tour. Our kayak tour turned out to be quite the adventure. Just as we got off the huge van that took us to the ‘Mosquito Bay’, it started pouring. It continued to rain as we embarked on our kayaks in pairs. “Will we be able to see the sparkling, and will the tour still carry on?”, I asked my guide. “Do you want to go and see it?”, he asked. It got hard to even keep a track of the orange blinker he wore on his life jacket, to follow him. “That’s the small pass that keeps us away from the Caribbean sea”, he yelled over the thundering rain. The rain stopped in a few minutes, and we kayaked once again to where he said he usually sees activity. No luck there. Just as we started paddling to get back, the water shone with the activity of our paddles. The guide asked us to let the water run through our fingers. No go-pro, no camera, can do justice to that moment, you see the jeweled spots run on your arm. I continued playing with the water as he shared tales of the tribal people of the island, the first Spanish that came and discovered the Bay and thought it was a demon, and later, about the chemical content in the micro-organisms causing the light. It turned out to be a private tour for H and I, and another couple from Boston, as the others returned to the shore, due the heavy rain.

El Yuncue Rain Forest

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If you have done your research as well, you probably already know that this is the only tropical rain forest in the country. What makes this rain forest unique? They don’t have any big mammals.This rain forest is also an excellent place to spot a multitude of birds, and the different plants and their leaves.  We drove about the road with stops marked out on the map provided at the visitor’s center. It was a Saturday when we did this, and the place was pretty crowded, with tourists and locals. Make sure to slather your arms and legs with bug sprays. The little bit that I had on, did not help much. I felt the after-effects only after a day or two, and I was going at my legs for hours together for 6 days after our return. As the name suggests, it rains often. The hike to the falls is definitely worth the 40 minutes’ effort, as you can see from the picture. Oh, the greens!

The lazing around part of the trip, Isle Verde beach

The last two and a half days of our trip was divided between eating, sleeping, and strolling by the beach. The downside of our stay at the TRYP hotel by Wyndham, was all the traffic noise. The hotel is right off the highway, and that could be something to keep in mind. There is no question about the ease of getting to the beach, as all you had to do was cross the road to get to the entrance.

Back home, I remember the days when I went to the Chennai beaches in salwar kameez with friends.We would get our pants wet up to our undies and leave a trail of sand as we walked into the restaurants  for breakfast or dinner. I was reminded of those moments, as I walked with my wet, dripping dress and my sand-covered legs back to the nice and clean hotel room.

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Old San Juan was another place we walked around in. The colors in the place were pretty, the fort was impressive, and the food, lip-smacking good.We missed checking out the night-life here. That is for another time, I guess!

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A general concern that most of the people expressed when I asked them for suggestions,and feedback, was the food available for vegetarians. Thankfully, my experience wasn’t bad at all. I enjoyed every one of my lunches and dinners (it could be the rum too :p). Mofolongo (mashed plantains) is always an option in places with Puerto Rican cuisine. You could also ask for fajitas.It is true that there aren’t as many options, but there are a few if you look for them, or modify something on their menu.

All in all, I would love to go to Puerto Rico and do everything all over again!

P.S. I do think the pictures from H’s camera were well worth the time taken to publish the post!  🙂 Thanks H!

Mexican Quinoa Bowl

H and I are massively into having  rotis these days, that my taste buds were killing me this week. I decided that it would be the week for my week night favorite Thai-curry, and something Mexican. The dish being a super duper hit at home the last time I made it, I decided to do the veggie quinoa burrito bowl. I took inspiration from a few independent recipes I found on Pinterest, and my all time favorite Chipotle chain. I know! I know! They’ve been in the news for the wrong reasons in recent times, and this only adds to the reasons why I had to make this dish at home.

I am not much of  food blogger, except that I wanted to share my recipe, so excuse me for the pictures and the clumsy presentations!

This bowl may seem like an onerous task while starting out because of the amount of multitasking required. But it is one of the easiest, yet fancy things to put together. It took me about an hour and a half, including the vegetable chopping.

The following are the components for the bowl:

  1. Bottom layer of quinoa (instead of the rice that usually goes with Mexican bowls).
  2. Black beans (probably the easiest part of the dish)
  3. Vegetable component: Fajitas/  sweet potato
  4. Salsa
  5. Corn salad
  6. Chipotle yogurt dressing
  7. Guacamole
  8. Lettuce (I ran out of these, this time)

I had the quinoa going in my Instapot, while I made the guacamole and corn salad.

After this you would rinsing the beans, and cook it to add some flavors, cook the veggies, make the dressing and salsa, and assemble the dish.

Ingredients (for 4 very generous servings)

  • Quinoa – 1 cup
  • Sweet potatoes – 2 medium
  • (or) green pepper-1, red pepper -1 for fajitas
  • Cilantro – a bunch
  • Black beans – 1 can
  • cumin powder – 2 tsp
  • chilli powder – 1 tsp
  • cayenne pepper – 1 tsp
  • Chipotle pepper seasoning – 2 tsp
  • garlic powder – 1 tsp
  • jalapenos – 6 spoonfuls (from the pickled jar)
  • onion – 1 medium
  • tomato – 1 small
  • corn – 1 cup
  • greek yogurt – 1 cup
  • avocados -2
  • required water, salt, pepper, lime juice and olive oil
  • Mexican cheese (optional)
  • Shredded lettuce (optional)unnamed

Quinoa

Cook the quinoa, just as you would the rice. 1 cup quinoa would need 2 cups water in the Instapot or in a rice cooker.

You could use the same ratio if you want to cook in a pan on stove top.

Black beans

Drain and rinse the black beans.

Add some oil to a pan, and to this add one or two bay leaves. You could add onions (about halfan onion chopped) here and cook until they are translucent. Add cumin powder and chilli powder (1 tsp each). Now add the black beans, adjust salt to taste, add very little water, and let it boil for a few minutes.

Fajitas/ Sweet potatoes

This is the veggie portion of the dish that differentiates it from its meat variants.

Fajitas

Add some olive oil to a pan, add chopped onions and let it cook for a bit. Then add the peppers and stir fry this mixture with salt, pepper and cumin powder. You could also use chili powder here, instead of the pepper.

Sweet potato mixture

This is a recent addition to my Mexican cooking. I love making stuffed peppers/ tacos with sweet potatoes. Preheat the oven to 425F. In the mean time, cube the two sweet potatoes. Spread it on a baking sheet over aluminum foil. Sprinkle some olive oil, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and salt. Bake for about 40 minutes, turning it half way, or till they start getting a little brown and crisp.

Baked sweet potatoes

Salsa

To make things easier, you could use the store bought salsa that you like the best. If you don’t mind some sweet and hot flavors for a kick, I would recommend Costco’s Habanero and mango salsa. I used store bought salsa this time, but what’s the charm in an otherwise fully assembled dish if you don’t make your own! I made the salsa from scratch last time using the following recipe.

Blend together 1 tomato, a handful of cilantro, half an onion, 4 spoonfuls of jalapenos, lime, salt and pepper to a course mixture. You could try grinding it in a mortar too, and add black beans/ corn/ serrano chillis according to your taste.

Corn Salad

Cook the fresh corn/ frozen packet according to directions on the packet. Add in lime juice, salt and  little bit of paprika. Chop some cilantro leaves well, add to the corn. I added very finely chopped onions too. Then chill until it needs to be assembled.

Guacamole

I improvise a little every time I make the guacamole. Pit and scoop the avocado from its shell.Mash it up well, and immediately add lime juice to the mixture, to prevent it from browning. This time, I added salt, pepper, half a tomato, a little bit onions and jalapeno peppers (can be substituted with serrano peppers depending on your spice levels). Adjust according to your levels of zing, tangy-ness and the amount of pepper you like. I add corn to it sometimes, but H hates corn.

Now, for the portion I consider important for the dish, the yogurt dressing.

Chipotle yogurt dressing

I have my own variation for it, but again, this is something you can work on to suit your taste. This is a healthy substitute for sour cream.

Blend together 1 cup Greek yogurt, a handful (or more) of cilantro, lots of Chipotle pepper spice (or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for a more authentic taste), salt and lime juice.The chipotle pepper spice is used is from Penzey’s spice in Philly. A small jar of it has  lasted me pretty long (about to 2 years) .I use it for my black bean chilis, soups and other Mexican cooking.

Some recipes I found online for this include Mayo and Dijon mustard. I am yet to try that variation. Let me know how you like that if you try it.

Assemble all of these in layers in the order specified in the recipe.

Once assembled

If you are up for it, add Mexican cheese on top.

I usually add some lettuce while serving.

From last time I made it with Fajitas.

Buen provecho!

Traveler| Foodie| Fashion Blogger

This is a role that people often assume, when creating their social media posts, accounts and blogs. I have seen the same tagline in a bunch of Instagram accounts. “Hypocrisy?”, I asked myself? Then when I thought about how I felt about them, I wasn’t too far away. The reason? “I love bitter guard, like you do chocolate”, said NO ONE EVER!

Traveling

There is a calm that descends over you when you have your life in your hands. Everyday life is always affected by those around you, but when on a vacation, you know you are doing things you like and want to do! While growing up, my travels were restricted to the few places with temples in Tamil Nadu. I was more than happy with just that small outing with family. It wasn’t till I had the first taste of having itineraries, and travel without family, that I looked at it as something more than just visiting people, being touristy and settling down in my comfort zone. I continue to make family trips, but their nature has changed. The same trip to my native town in Kerala had me look at the different things. What used to be just randomly gazing out, and taking things for granted, was all about small things like the kasavu that 60% women wore to the temple, the Kalimark panneer soda that we packed on our way out of Coimbatore, the coconut and palm trees, the same beautiful and cute little tiled roof temples, the bumpy roads, and the buttering up of people to get some extra neipayasam, at the temple stall. They all had a new charm to them! So this new revelation that travel means different things at different times, to different people, and is greatly affected by the company, purpose and experiences, gets you addicted to it.

Food

If we didn’t have as many foodies, we would all be stunning-looking people, there won’t be so many diet fads going around, and there will not be as many restaurants. I still wonder why the tastiest of things is so unhealthy and say, the bitter guard is packed with goodness. Being from South India, an early fascination for ‘North Indian’ food develops. I used to order bhel puris and chole bhatura, every single time we went out to eat. Being a picky eater, I was never one to venture out of my comfort zone. So I was 16 when I tried my first pizza, and my first piece of panneer. Looking at me now, you can very well infer that there was no looking back after that. Things in India picked up, and it was time for the global scene! Enter Subway Sandwiches, pastas, bubble teas, Chinese food, and in recent times, even Mexican and Thai food! With so many options in hand, who wouldn’t have a favorite!?

Fashion

This part, I believe is an inherent style that each person has. Fashion, I believe is all about perception. Truth be told, I have always wondered why models on the ramp are given weird hairstyles sticking out, weirder eye make-up, and the weirdest lip colors. Maybe there is a reason. We don’t see people in everyday life wear green lipstick, purple eye make-up and so much gel in their hair, so I wonder what the audience of these fashion shows are looking for.

Now I am sure there is a reason.

The clothes, again, what one person wears on the red carpet, may not be what you gave a thumbs-up for! Who doesn’t feel good when they are complimented about a new haircut, a new style they tried while mixing and matching clothes, and a new accessory they picked up, while trying to be bold, and different!

Lifestyle

I believe that every single choice you make and habit you develop is a lifestyle choice. Having an organized home, putting away money for travel, eating out only over weekends, eating healthy, your profession,every single one, a lifestyle you choose for yourself.

So my blog falls into the same pile of every other blog and social media account out there. If you are an oddball, and you start your own blog about lifestyle choices, guess what, it is bound to fall in these categories. Welcome to the rut!

My wedding trousseau 👰

I stood by my closet looking at all the sarees I had accumulated over just two trips to India. This time, I was trying to think of which new saree to “release” for the wedding day. This year looks like a year of purples, mix and match saree and blouse combos, and ready-made blouses!

Not long ago, I splurged a little on a few hand-loom sarees after much ogling and drooling over some Instagram pictures. My argument for doing so – “I am finally picking out my own sarees!” Well, this is true to an extent. Right from the moment it was decided that I was going to wear my first ever saree for my high school farewell event, I was all about raiding closets – my mom’s, paati‘s, athai‘s and chithi‘s.

Then once family deemed me fit to wear sarees, they started gifting them to me. Once I was in the USA, there was calm and quiet and no saree shopping for three whole years. Then appa gifted me a few after my whining about not having my own saree collection. It was not until my wedding that I picked my own saree.

H and family kept me as involved as they could with the decision making process. They would send me pictures on WhatsApp, describe the material as best as they could and ask me for suggestions on which shop to go to. This was a lot, but it was still not the same as looking at a pile of sarees, and seeing that one saree for you stand out, putting your hands on the material, feeling it, fake-draping it on yourself, thinking about what blouse patterns you would get stitched, when you would inaugurate it, and….you get the idea?!

I made life tough for everyone involved in my wedding shopping. I know it, even when they don’t spell it out. I mean, the bride doesn’t want silk?! That’s totally unheard of, in a tambrahm wedding! To top it, I wanted to wait to meet the tailor in person to get my blouses stitched and patterns, chosen. The saree picked out had to fit the grandeur of the ceremonies, should catch everyone’s eyes, and come on, the bride has to look like the bride!

When H’s family asked me for my favorite color to get me an engagement day saree, “Black!” I responded. I knew then that black was completely off the table for all wedding related activities. So cool were H’s parents, that they picked out the very first wedding saree in black (chosen by husband dearest), and only requested that I don’t wear it for any of the wedding events. I was free to wear it for any other thala (first year) functions though. Thus, it became my thala-pongal release!

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Coming back to the E-day saree, I was the simple bride dressed in a kora-cotton magenta saree. I love how the zari in the saree was all a non-shimmering thread work, and no one can go wrong with this color for any event! Some Indians think that showing a colorful India is stereotyping, but I am proud of the fact that our weddings are so colorful, we wear bold magentas, mango-yellows and peacock-blues with panache! The saree I was originally supposed to wear was a vibrant blue, that appa forgot to pack! ROFL! Way to start off with sambandis!

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I used this opportunity to wear that silk cotton saree (in most cases cotton mixed with a little silk) for my vratham (the first prayers before the wedding ceremonies begin).I loved how H’s maami and paati chose this minimal zari saree cotton-silk, just for its color. I think this may be a good place to explain why I don’t prefer silk.

I knew all along where silk came from, I still wear silk if it belonged to my paati/ amma for the memories that the saree holds for me. I still sense their smell and picture them in my memory of them wearing it. When it came to getting sarees for myself though, it felt like an unnecessary killing of thousands of fetuses to drape this beautiful, and vibrantly dyed garment around myself. The more I started giving this thought, and researched alternatives, I did see loop holes to wear something close to a grand wedding saree. I could always compensate with the elegance, or the jatang-color.

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The electric blue!!

My wedding trousseau still involved two heavy silk sarees, from H’s family. I am still touched by how best they tried to find other options for me, and made my ahimsa-silk nine yard wonder!  After showing me several ahimsa silk sarees, and not being convinced themselves, with how it looked and with the color palettes (sad how few options there are), we settled for two silk sarees (one chosen by amma and one by H).

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One of my silks, with a heavily embroidered blouse.

I got to pick two sarees for the wedding, all on my own! Oh how I enjoyed this sweet ordeal! In general, I decide on a whim- I just know it! You must have heard a lot girls talking about how the dress/ saree called out to them? They are not joking!  And I knew it too, the moment I laid my eyes on the ahimsa-silk soft apple green /beige saree from Nalli. This saree needs a separate blog post on its own! The other saree was a silk cotton chosen for the oonjal/ kasi yatra. I had to battle for that one. I chose a kanakambara color (mild orange) and pista green saree, while everyone else loved a kili-pachchai (parrot green) with a brinjal colored border. The two sarees had similar patterns. Finally the father of the bride weighed in on the decision, and the orange one it was, after much speculations with both sarees held out to daylight out in the open, draped and compared on different mirrors and a few pallu inspections later!

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Maybe not a pista green, more golden than anything else? The Border a beautiful coral. Paired with the morning’s traditional temple jewellery with kemp stones.

The wedding trousseau is always close to a girl’s heart! I dream of days when my daughters, nieces and even my sisters will raid my very own saree collection, form memories with them, talk about how their mom/ aunt/ sister picked it out for her wedding, and maybe just maybe take a saree-fie with me? B-)

 

 

We get closer to turning 2…

I meant to post this on March 1, before we turned 2, but oh well!

As written on March 1….

My dad reminded me this morning that exactly two years back, H landed in Chennai for our wedding. The scene is still pretty vivid in my head- the entire bride’s entourage; appa, athai, cousin, ET all, along with the groom’s family, waited for a glimpse of his head bobbing over everybody else’s (he is pretty tall, you see!). Appa wanted to garland him as he came out, and knowing how embarrassed H would be , I was all set with my phone camera in hand, to capture that moment!

Two years later, looking at that picture, triggered an entire afternoon of memories from where it all started, leading up to the wedding.

H is not even remotely cheesy, and I think I am almost there with him, so I will skip all the details and get on with where the wedding preparations started.

I always thought that when it came to my wedding, I would be extremely excited, be a part of every decision made, every single thing bought, and being bride-zilla meant I could have my way in everything I had dreamed of! This is not even close to any part of an Indian wedding! The funny part was, I wasn’t even complaining. When it came down to the specifics of how many people would be invited, how many people I was going to call, the caterers, the invitation designs, the photographers, the venue, and so many other things, I was extremely overwhelmed, that I was more than happy letting others make that decision for me.

I would do a few things differently if I had to do it again now (H has already given me the glare for even talking about ‘do it again’,so it will not be happening)!! I met random maamis, maamas, friends of my dad’s and distant cousins. However, so overwhelmed was I, that I was cut off from everyone and missed inviting some important people that I would have liked to have with me on the day. I could have made a few decisions to make my dad’s life easier (after all, he was going through the same amount of work, and decisions to make!).

I was looking forward to all the shopping, but when it came down to just having two weeks after I was in Chennai to get blouses stitched, and lehengas made, I had to resort to letting others choose a few things for me. I wanted to stay away from silk, and this made life hard for H’s family! They had to make my nine yards specially made with ahimsa-silk, and go to a thari to look at zari saris that were made of ahimsa silk (a post is long due on this one). Every time someone asked me if I was stressed about the wedding, I would so, “Why stressed?It’s fun!”. In my defense, I did think that it was, until the wedding was done. I had been stressed subconsciously! It came out in short bursts, as I looked for some space to breathe with loving aunts around me while changing sarees or getting my makeup/ hair done. What should have been a fun affair, and some stolen moments between rituals of them making fun of me, pouring in a thousand suggestions, and feeling like an active part of the bridal brigade, turned out with me estranging myself from the fambam.

But our wedding wasn’t without its funny moments!

When I landed in Chennai, so naive was I, that I thought only my dad and athai would be at the airport! I had the husband’s extended family waving to me too, as this was the first time they were meeting me, after all! Here I was with 2 big alcohol bottles from the Dubai duty-free store,while meeting my in-laws for the first time!

Then there is that popular story of H walking out on me at the reception. This story comes up in every party, friends get together, or my go-to funny story (my contribution to any place I want to make conversation!). H found our photographer very annoying because he kept re-clicking pictures when people closed their eyes. Our reception, as a result of the slow photographer, and the crowd, went on for about 5 – 6 hours. It was a while before we got to the family and close friends’ portraits, and we were allowed to sit in that fancy sofa provided to us. The clock struck 11.30, and H got up and left in a huff. Here I was, the poor bride, thinking that the husband-to-be would come back after a drink of water. Comeback, he did, but this stime he came out wearing his “potatoooo” minion t-shirt! I los it. i think that gives the end of the story? :p

Then there was the other time when the aforementioned wonderful photographer would ask H to “wet his lips” because he found it very dry in the pictures.

So brides-to-be, bridezillas and the saner brides, please note. Your wedding will be what it will be. It’s not just about you, but the people around you and the memories you make of it. Enjoy every single moment, and yes, that includes the moments that don’t go your way too. There is no such thing called a stress-free wedding. Soon after your wedding, you will think back to the funny times when you did something totally out of character,the times you made your aunts and uncles and parents happy, and the times you were sane during your wedding! Do not be afraid to delegate! A bad saree can make for a story, but an angry bride will make for sour moments. So chill…

These memories and lessons- learned, along with a few embarrassing moments, flooded to my memory. I (we) still haven’t gotten around to seeing our wedding pictures and videos. Maybe completing two years should be reason enough to get to it?

Passport to Paris

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The quintessential Paris picture! Through H’s lens!

In the past weeks, after new years’, life happened! I have been swept up by work, and the umpteen number of resolutions I made for the year. This blog post again, is a result of one of them: sticking to something I pick up, until it becomes a habit!

This blog post is due for a while, and without further adieu and while it’s still fresh in my mind, let me drone on about Paris this, Paris that,…!

First things first – making plans, and making them work.

H and I have never been people who plan huge itineraries, or even if we did, we have never stuck to them . Paris was no different. An advertisement on one of the travel deals website that we religiously follow, showed us ridiculously (or so we thought) low airfares on the new WOW air. I will review our experience with the airline in a minute, but the deal was definitely lower than any other airline fare for the dates we looked at – and we picked a peak Christmas season to travel!

After booking the tickets on a whim, we reluctantly set out to research the visa process, consular interviews, accommodation for our stay and everything else, but the big B word (psst… it’s Budget!). We decided we would do Paris, and if H’s stamping process allowed it, another quick trip to a neighboring Schengen country. The Schengen visa required us to show proof of accommodation, and a bunch of other usual formalities. Come AirBNB to the rescue! We found a great deal to stay at a studio apartment, close enough to the city and the attractions, and all the lifeline that was the Metro and RER transport systems. The French Consulate at Boston was a pleasure to work with! We had a quick interview (or rather, gathering of all our documentation), and were asked to come in 5 working days’ time to pick our passports up. It took me a minute to register that that meant our visa was granted! LOL.

Being our first time in Paris, we weren’t quite sure about where we wanted to go, in spite of the umpteen number of sites and blogs we lapped up. Rick Steves’ book on Paris helped quite a bit on what was where, but I was still not very efficient at planning our day to day itineraries! We decided to get the Paris Pass then, for 6 days, so that we could get the most out of whatever we could see.

As a mini spin off to this update, here is what I think about whether getting a Paris pass is worth it. I have broken this down further, as you read on.

The pass itself for six days cost €230 each. This includes a Paris Museum Pass, Paris attraction pass and a travel pass (three separate cards), and a guide to what all the passes entitle you to.

Each card is activated the first time you use it. So if you use the museum pass first, it will be valid for 6 days, and you can activate the attraction pass another day to get the most out of your passes, provided you have the time. Of course, come to think of it, a three day/ four day pass makes more sense to me, than getting a six day pass like we did!

The travel card allows you to travel in zones 1 to 3 for six days, from the time you activate it. Another option I could think of, is getting yourself a 10 day pass/ this can be altered to 3 or 5 day passes. The 10 day pass would cost you €37.50.

The most important pass out of the lot, is the Museum pass. It does grant you fast track entrance to the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay and Invalides. Then again, I am talking about the major tourist attractions while spending a short amount of time (close to a week) in Paris. You could keep looking at the displays at Louvre throughout your trip, and you’d still have so much more to see! This Fast track entry, however, doesn’t hold good for Notre Dame. You may want to go a little early on and get in the line there, or this could take you close to three- four hours to get done (like it did for us). In my opinion, this museum pass will be the one that’s your entryway to the major attractions you’d need to sight-see in Paris.

We used the attraction pass to do the Seine river cruise, the Petit train at Montmartre, Montparnasse tower, and the Hop-on-hop-off Big Bus tour. This pass also includes a guided tour of the Opera Garnier that we were never on time to catch. We did go to the Opera house though! It is a beauty! The Big Bus tour is definitely worth taking early on in your trip, to get an idea of what you’d be interested in getting off and seeing. You can ride it all day long, get off at any attraction, and pick up where you left off.

We didn’t enjoy the Petit train too much. The wagon takes you all the way through the pretty cobbled roads of Montmartre, all the way up the hill to Sacre Coeur. The Basilica by itself was breathtaking, and offered a different vantage to seeing the Paris skyline. The charm of the cobbled streets is lost on you, by the droning sound of the put-put wagon that takes you uphill, with some commentary in English that you can’t even hear over the noise of the vehicle!

H and I decided to do the river cruise and the Montparnasse tower in the night, to catch the beauty of these massive structures lit up in the night. It was a cold December night, but for that, we loved the river cruise. We had had enough commentaries by the time we took to the vessel and we decided to go to the open top and just take the views in! At the tower and while getting on the cruise, we had to stand in line, to exchange passes back to their tickets, so the Attraction pass made no difference to our wait times, it just acted as a prepaid card!

I am not completely ruling out the usefulness of the pass, I just think that it needs to be given some thought! One major lesson you’d want to learn from us is that as a first time Paris visitor, you would want to plan your trip better! A 3 or 4 day pass will go a long way (at least a week!).

Finally, WOW air. This is a budget-airline on an international scale. They are relatively new, and don’t have a big fleet of air crafts. I am assuming that this is why they have a lot of delays. All our flights (from and to the US to Reykjavik to Paris) were delayed. As a result of our first flight getting delayed, they delayed all connecting flights in Iceland. I think that must have set off a cascading effect at some point, because the same thing happened on our way back. The service was great. You pay for extra space, water, food, luggage, bigger carry-ons, to name a few, but I liked the flight. H and I paid for extra space tickets, and the seats turned out to be normal. H did find out that there were other seats that were more cramped, so it was good we paid for what we did. We each took a small carry on, and shared one big 20kg luggage between us.  All landings, were stellar landings! No stomach churning, hand squeezing moments there! I have to say!

The best thing about our planning for the trip was the BnB. AirBnB did not fail me (once again!), and having a laundry unit in the house helped! The studio was good enough for the two of us. It did have a few things we found weird, but you are, after all living in someone else’s studio, and you are bound to find things that are strange to you, that they are accustomed to!

All in all, the passport to Paris was quite smooth and we came back with quite a lot of experiences and memories to share, and lessons learned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left overs; a blessing in disguise!

It is that time of the year when gyms are overflowing, waist lines have popped after the sweets-eating season and resolutions are made (hopefully not to be broken!). If there is one resolution I make every year, and try hard to stick to, it is minimizing food waste. It is not as easy as it sounds, especially on working days! I make huge quantities of a dish that gets put in the fridge. After two meals, H and I get tired of it and go searching for a Subway or Chipotle!

'So, this Humpty Dumpty guy falls off the wall and I think, dang, what a waste!'

I envy people who go to the grocery store with a purpose. H an I are pretty good at sticking to our weekly grocery list. It gets harder though, when we go to specialty stores, that aren’t easily accessible in our neighborhood. We end up binge-buying a whole load of things. One final day, we remember to make something out of the ingredient we had considered extremely important on our trip to the Indian store/ Asian market. By that time, the product has expired! How many of you have had the same issues?

There are days when you have a craving for a certain thing, and that is gone by the time you shop for the ingredients; you packed lunch, and ended up eating out at an office get together; the ingredients are never right in front of your eyes to remind you that they are there; or my favorite, you are plain lazy, to make an elaborate dish out of something you bought it for. The process of using up left overs is one that involves some thinking, but trust me, they are the easiest things to use and dish something edible out of!

H is quite the health nut and we periodically have issues using up extra veggies, fruits, different types of rice or just plain Indian cooking spices. I am quite the junk-eating person, who can live on maggi and popcorn/ sweet corn, given a choice!

When I think back to my childhood, it is only now that I realize how important the use of optimizing food has been to my family as well. I am so proud of that! Paati and amma were always saving up orange peels to be pickled, or make into a face-pack, paati saved up the almost completely squeezed lemon half to put into her pressure cooker to prevent the pan from burning at the bottom, and rasatthadi (the bottom left overs of rasam) from dinner always became a side for idlis and dosas and even curd rice!

Honestly, there have been several days when I have emptied the bottom shelf of my fridge or the top shelf of the pantry into the trash, with a heavy heart while looking at how the veggies/ condiments could have benefited at least one family that was going hungry that day! Truth be told, subscribing to WFP and watching John Oliver’s video on Food wastage didn’t help with the guilt, but it helped make some drastic changes to our lifestyle. I am still working on my commitment to avoid food wastage and to make the process a sustainable one! I have been improving every year, devising new plans to try and not overfeed ourselves, at the same time, minimize our waste.

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There are some general rules H and I have set for ourselves, that also helps with sticking to budgets:

  1. We draft a cooking plan for the week just before our weekly grocery shopping. This includes rummaging through our pantry and fridge to see what needs immediate consumption. Of course, we stick to the list we make of things to buy for the week.
  2. I have started concentrating on making everything I put in the fridge visible. The fruits that go in the tray have now come up to the top rack. We have transparent boxes to put away left overs to make sure we can see everything.
  3. We make enough just for 4 meals. This is because after this point, we grow tired of the dish and it sits there in the fridge ready to be thrown out. Here again, I am reminded of how athai and periamma always made the perfect quantities of food, so that they never had to throw anything out.
  4.  We are not really picky about when home cooked food is prepared, as long as it tastes good, and nothing is spoilt. More than a matter of preference, it is a necessity.
  5.  As long as there are other things at home to eat, a trip to the Indian store/ Asian market can be put off for as long as it is absolutely necessary! This last point is something we are still working on.

The moment someone says “left-overs” , your mind tells you it is probably something unwanted. However, “left-overs” are the most versatile things ever!  These days all I do when I find a cup of lentils that I want to use up, is google recipes using lentils, and find other ingredients that I already have, to make my dish! Pinterest comes in handy as well.

Vegetables can be used up to make some Pasta Primavera, Bisibelabath, a Thai curry or simply stir-fried!  H’s mom always asks me to prep my veggies for the next day. In my case, when I cook an extensive dish, I am almost always left with a huge amount of food waste. The peels and ends can go into making a vegetable broth. Left over bread, can be used to make a quick bread-upma, a sandwich or even a PB&J for a snack. Other possibilities would be to use it up to make croutons/ bread crumbs for use later in a salad. Whenever I have yogurt that needs to be used, I end up making a Gujarati khadi, or south Indian mor kozhambu, or a recent favorite, Khatta moong dal! Like I said, all it takes is a simple google search!

There was a time when I even subscribed to recipe boxes/ meal kits to avoid having to put away anything back in the fridge. That could be an option too, if you are up for the flexibility in cuisines, and the cost associated. There a number of providers these days, including Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, the popular ones.

If you are as guilty as I was about wasting a lot of food, it is never too late. Here is also a way of redemption! Donate to WFP.

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Spread the word!

Of course, don’t make it a one time thing, or always look only for redemption. Minimizing food wastage should be a sustainable effort!

None of the above images are my own. They are off of the internet and from the WFP official site.