Mint and peas rice: Of labour pangs and the creative urge!

Mint and peas rice / pudina rice:

“Push, push, push…

Breathe easy. Take a short rest. C’mon now – you can do it!

Pull, pull very gently – it’ll tear!

Yes, I see it – just a little!

There, a bit is out – omg – it’s so beautiful!

The shoulder is out now…there she comes – what a beauty! Lime green with little polka dots and little roosters all over the other side”!!

WHAAAAA….? What DID you just say? The baby is green and has hens all over it???

Yes, that’s what I said. And that’s just what I delivered – says this proud mom – of her very first tote bag!

I’ve discovered this wonderful place close to my home where the most awesome lady called Tina teaches the exciting stuff I’ve always wanted to learn – quilting, making totes, weaving bags, EVERYTHING dear to the heart of a crafter!

The first time I visit her studio, having heard about it, as you do all the most important things in life – from a Facebook forum – I am blown completely away – she has EVERYTHING  a needler could ever dream about – from threads to threaders to machines galore, spools of thread and scissors and needles of every kind – including I am sure, one through the eye of which a camel could pass!

I sign up for classes – super excited to be in the company of other new found friends who are happy to talk about threads and needles and suchlike…

Slowly, very slowly – I did mention somewhere in these chronicles that I am a slow learner – I learn to make some things. Struggle over weaving a bag,  quilt some cushions – some all awry, some halfway decent – but I am uniformly proud of ALL my creations – the cross-eyed cushion cover is still my baby!

I start a tote – picking the fabrics carefully from Tina’s treasure trove. She, the patient, perfectionist teacher, gives me very clear instructions on cutting.

“Be very careful NOT to cut this backing fabric here” she points.

I nod vigorously – getting my exercise for the day with my head and neck muscles.

She turns around to answer a question from my fellow learner and i cut – exactly where she told me NOT to!

“Oops!”

She turns back and the cheerful soul that she is, laughs it off, tells me how to correct it. Reassures me that students have done worse, including cutting off bits of themselves! I love her already!

And so, she painstakingly leads me through the process of making a tote through a long gestation period where I leave a half-finished product in her studio for months!

Then in a fit of determination, fuelled by a friend’s visit to attend a class with Tina, my zeal is re-fired and I finally give birth – to my very first polka dot tote! The process of turning it inside out, however, is what reminds me of giving birth! I push, I puff, I pant and I blow – but it takes me a good half hour of labour before I can push the buckram-stiff cloth the right side out! Phew!

Am thrilled to bits – the same thrill that I still get after decades of cooking and setting dishes down in front of an appreciative audience…

Now for a recipe – I ask my “only younger daughter” which recipe I should put down with this story and without missing a beat, she says “pudina and peas rice”! So here we go:

PUDINA AND PEAS RICE / MINT AND GREEN PEAS RICE:

2 cups mint – washed

2 green chillies

1/2 inch ginger

2 cloves garlic (optional)

Peas – 1/2 cup

1 clove

1″ piece cinnamon

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Garam masala – 1/2 tsp

Basmati rice – 1 cup – washed and soaked in 1.5 cups water and  1 tsp lime juice

for half an hour.

Salt to taste

Ghee – 1 tbsp

Grind the first four ingredients to a rough paste.

Heat ghee in a pressure pan and add the dry spices. Fry for a few seconds.

Add the paste and fry for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the rice with the water and the salt. Bring it to the boil  and let it boil for about 3-4 minutes. Add the peas, cover and cook for one whistle. Lower the flame and simmer for 3 minutes.

Switch off, let the pressure come down and then open.

Eat straight out of the pan – this is a very student type dish! If there’s two of you, get two forks – rather than two plates – save on washing up – also save the planet!

 

 

 

 

 

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Leh and Ladakh – days 5 and 6 – to Hunder we go.. May 2017

Having had an antihistamine last night, I wake up late, at almost 7. We get ready, I skip a bath to favour my cold, which is not too troublesome except for a raw nose. Change and set out by 830. Nap on the way, much against my will, because the beauty of these mountains is something I will never get over…

 We stop at a couple of places to take photographs. At one place is a large sign in the middle of literally nowhere, proclaiming proudly a ” Mighty Bombers Dosa Stall”! Of course we have to stop! A bunch of soldiers from the south, from Tamilnadu, Hyderabad, Karnataka and Maharashtra are here, homesick for a taste of how mother made it.

 PS strikes up a conversation with them and they are happy to hear Tamil and Telugu so far from home…the Telugu from me as my dear husband, after over three decades of being married, still is completely lost!

 We are not hungry but he orders dosas and vadai anyway…we take photographs with the soldiers. When we ask for the bill, they absolutely refuse, insisting they we are their guests. We are deeply touched and go away with a heart even more full of admiration for these hardy soldiers who guard our borders in the most unimaginably harsh conditions, staying not just true to their colours but also managing to stay cheerful and hospitable through it. Jai Hind!

 We reach and I promptly go to bed to nurse my cold. PS sets off to see the sand dunes and the Bactrian double humped camels.

 Early dinner and bed again- we are faithfully following our Madras regimen here too! Tonight there is an interruption however. Wake up at about 11 with a tummy ache. The next few hours are best not remembered….my stomach heaves up EVERYTHING, it feels like, including itself! Luckily am carrying pills for this so with medication, drop off to sleep for a couple of hours from 4 in the morning. Wake up feeling pretty sick still but Hunder, where we are staying, in the middle of the great Himalayan desert is so cold, my brains feel like congealed eggs!

 We decide to move on…am a little apprehensive as we need to cross the Khardungla pass on our way back to Leh. Our driver and factotum, Ali is very concerned about my health and does everything he can to make me comfortable, including tying up my shoelaces, which have come undone….am very embarrassed but also too dehydrated to care any more! We reach North Pullu, where the traffic up and down is regulated on this narrow and highly dangerous road. We are told that we might have to wait for two hours! But PS does his magic talking up bit and a couple of the police guys, one incidentally from Vellore in Tamilnadu and very happy to talk in Tamil and his boss come up to check on me. They decide to give me a pass on medical grounds and accompanied by another army guy, we set off. We reach the pass finally and the medical centre chaps attend to me immediately and with great skill. Some dehydration and low oxygen. Matters are soon set right. But as I sit in their little tin shack, breathing in oxygen, am quite horrified by the primitivity of the conditions they live in. Erratic power, a diesel set spewing out sickening fumes and the guys are expected to cook their own meals on the most basic of equipment! My respect for the brave men and women of our armed forces goes up a million fold. They live and work in the harshest of weather conditions in the world, with the most basic of amenities and are still cheerfully prepared to lay down their lives for the nation! PS is deeply moved and thanks every army guy we meet, for their dedication…

 We finally reach Leh at about half past two and I am happy to collapse on my bed in front of a heater! Before that though, I do notice the paintings in the lobby…all over and about as brilliantly coloured as possible…hmmm…but the room is comfortable..and that’s all I care about. Manage a couple of spoons of rice, dal and curd, my first food in 24 hours and crash for a couple of hours…

Food… to follow! 

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Fig and jaggery tarte tatin : Of a walk through a village and the shadow of war..

I think I could get used to living in a tent, this kind of rather cute, modcon laid on tents! We are reminded again and again of how tough life is here – hot water only from 6 to 8 in the morning..there is no electricity…yes, simply no power supply!

So with diesel generators, wood fired heaters …life has to be managed, cooking, heating bathwater, homes, water for washing anything and everything…you do not want just melted ice from a Himalayan stream to wash after business, let me assure you, no matter how romantic it sounds!

But…I talk to people along the way, always willing to wish you a namaste or a salaam aleikum and a smile….they are happy. I ask one of the guides, Ibrahim, who takes us for a walk in the village…people are happy and do not want to leave these villages to go work in the big city. The schools are good, he says and the kids get a good education…they grow up and want to stay…well, that is quite unlike a lot of villages we have seen elsewhere in India.

A very friendly couple of young women from Mumbai, holidaying with their three teenage daughters and quite happy to leave husbands behind in the sweltering city chat with us. They are ebullient, full of sheer animal joy, wanting to share their energy with the world…lovely families, different stage in life.

Lunch and then we go for a walk up to the village…through some of the most amazing convoluted, covered tiny streets with the doorways set a foot or more below the street level! Most of the doors are locked. The inhabitants are building better, more modern houses and using these old ones for storing winter feed and livestock. Plenty of new construction, a few being built as new hotels, most are homes. In the midst of all this prosperity, signs of war will not allow you to forget that this region has seen more war than almost any other in the history of mankind…there are bunkers built into the hillside everywhere…

We pass a bunch of tiny kids playing in the fields, absolutely glorying in the sun and the grass, faces smeared with mud as they fall face down in the furrows…laughter echoing from the mountains surrounding us. We kid back and forth. I ask one particularly naughty little face what his name is and he yells back, Shahrukh Khan! Then he informs me I am Shahrukh Khan’s daughter and the whole bunch literally fall over themselves with laughter. It’s obviously the best joke they’ve heard all week!

The fields are beautiful, emerald green with wheat and jowar. I do a double take when Ibrahim reminds me that we are at over 9000 feet height! Ibrahim, unlike our pal Ali who wants to please, does know more about flora and fauna and teaches me to identify peach, apple and apricot trees, all in full bloom….magpies zip about everywhere. I am surprised at how large they are, somehow had been under the impression that they were little, sparrow sized birds! Ah, sparrows – they are much in evidence…am happy to connect with the friends of my childhood. I have a vivid memory of self at about three years of age being very offended because I thought a sparrow had stuck its tongue out at me and complaining to my mother about it!

The houses are all made of rock plastered roughly together. Rocks are everywhere and people pretty much just pick them up…almost everything here has to be done by sheer physical power…with no power and barely any roads up in these remote villages, no machines can be operated…diesel too for the generators also to be hauled up thousands of feet over incredibly rough terrain..

 We walk on and reach what Ibrahim tells me is a polo ground…a historical one at that, dating back to the British era! A long, narrow strip of land, completely inaccessible by road! You have to park your car, cross a rope bridge on foot, holding on for dear life as it sways gently, climb through fields, uneven rock cut steps, muddy paths, jump across tiny mountain streams and then…a polo ground! Three little girls in brightly coloured, spangled salwar kameezes, heads covered with hijabs,  are kicking a deflated football around. A bunch of little boys plays cricket a little further down.

As we ramble, we catch tantalising glimpses of K2 – the second highest peak in the world…between two other towering peaks, dwarfed by the giant behind them. As the golden sun filters through the leaves, Ibrahim points out two little black spots on top of two faraway peaks. These are the outposts of the Indian and Pakistani armies respectively, keeping guard over the most coveted piece of land on earth!

We walk back as the sun slopes down..it will take a couple of hours more before darkness falls but the hours between are lovely and golden. Twilight has never been my favourite part of the day with the spirits sinking a bit as the sun sets but here, high in the mountains, twilight is rather heart warming.

I come back rather tired with a bit of a cold and go straight to bed after dinner…food here is simple, usually phulkas straight off the fire, some aloo curry, a dal and rice with maybe a kheer or a custard to follow. You don’t crave anything more either. Or maybe you do….this…

 FIG AND JAGGERY TARTE TATIN

 For pastry base:

1.5 cups plain flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
100 gm butter
2 tbsp sour cream or yogurt
1 egg1 or 2 tbsp ice water

Whizz everything together except the last two items. Take out, gently mix these in – water as needed  be careful – you don’t need it too soft. Wrap tight or if you are trying to go the no-plastic way (as you should!!), just place in an airtight tin. Refrigerate half an hour at least.

For filling:

12 to 16 fresh figs – halved
Salted butter – 2 tbsp
Jaggery or honey – 3-4 tbsp

Heat the butter in a baking pan – i used a cast iron pan. Place the figs face up (cut side up, that is) and drizzle the honey or sprinkle the jaggery over. Bake in a preheated oven – 180 C – for ten minutes till figs are soft.

Roll out chilled pastry base into a circle larger than the pan. Cover pan with it. Press down. Trim off excess and make designs on top 🙂 Bake at 180 for 35 to 40 mins till golden brown.

Serve with fresh cream.

For a more interesting tart, add dollops of goats cheese over the figs before you cover with the pastry base!

Forgot to take pics of the finished product – have only the halfway stage – sorry!

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Day 3 – Leh to Hunder

Our man Mohammed Ali has requested us politely but firmly, to be ready to leave by 7 in the morning for Hunder. This is the one where we go via Khardungla, the highest motorable road in the world! Sridhar is out of his wits with excitement, me with apprehension!

Early starts are never a problem for the two of us, we are up, bathed and breakfasted, me carefully sticking to toast and tea and of course, the apricot jam, whose glories I sang paeans to earlier! Carefully to take care of a travel-sick tummy. We take some pics, say goodbye to a family from Coimbatore who insists on calling us aunty and uncle! This, as we shall see, is going to become the dominant note of this trip, with everyone from Ali, the driver to the very polite staff at all the places we stay in, adopting us avuncularly and….auntistically?!

Long drive to Hunder, with some interesting adventures on the way. Really bad roads for several kilometres out of Leh, barely any road in fact! I congratulate myself on my foresight in desisting from anything other than toast!

The higher we climb, the thicker the banks of snow either side of us…never having seen snow earlier, am completely unprepared for its blinding whiteness! The snow is beautiful and as we look upwards at the mountains, I begin to get some sense of why religion was invented ….how could man, mere mortal, knowing his capacity, conceive of how such stupendous glory as these Himalayas could have been created….he had to, perforce, create some distance between his own puny self and such beauty. That distance was whatever god figure he came up with…it is unfortunate that today, we have come to where we have with regard to religion…

A while later, the roads become better and we start to climb, quickly. Due to an unusually heavy snowfall, the roads are slippery and we have some “moments” of ahem, apprehension, shall we say, as the car slithers around! Ali senses it and is quick to reassure me, “aap phikar mat keejiye”, leaving me to wonder what level of slithering he would consider phikarworthy!

There are about half a dozen cars, all in a similar predicament, ahead and behind us. Everyone gets out to help one other put snow chains on the wheels. Setbacks do not seem to trouble anyone too much. I climb out for a few seconds to take some photographs and clamber back in gratefully to a warmer car! The guys working on the wheels, on the other hand, do not even have gloves and are clad in t-shirts and a sweater or a light jacket at the most! About an hour and everybody revs up and takes off, cheerfully waving to each other. We skid a couple of times more but nothing to phikar, as Ali insists!

Higher and higher we climb, the metres (altitude!) just seeming to get swallowed up, fifteen thousand, sixteen…and finally, suddenly a few tin huts and a nondescript sign saying Khardungla, 18380 metres, the highest motorable pass in the world! Sridhar gets down, squealing in excitement and wearing nothing more than a shirt and a denim jacket! He runs up to the top, under the sign….I am rather excited for him but…struggling to breathe a bit and mildly sick from the altitude and I have to go!

I am directed to a loo, perched a few above the road. After many hours of sitting and being jolted, I get down and attempt to climb. Inevitably I am sick, heaving great gasps of breath, snatched away by the wind and the cold! The loo is three walls and a door, the door covered with barbed wire! I know that this is all army protected area and so on, but a tiny loo?…to protect it with barbed wire seems to be rather overdoing it a bit! I am directed to another place, three loos in a row…make my way there…the loo doors are wide open..because they are frozen up to their mid sections in ice!

Giving it up as a bad job, I oblige PS with a few selfies, in all of which I look blue with cold and then clamber thankfully back into the car. My regard for my husband goes up several notches…for someone brought up in the heat and humidity of Madras, to be able to run up and down icy roads and promontories with impunity, clad in what I consider barely enough for maybe Bangalore weather…quite amazing!

A few miles further on, we have climbed down to16000 feet and find another loo….dirty …better to find an open place! Waves of nausea and breathlessness overcome me this time and I lean on someone’s vehicle for support. Someone gets me a cup of hot, sweet tea and life begins to look up.

We drive further down and get stuck behind a rockfall. Now we are seasoned veterans at this…no phikar and anyway with the mountains to glory in and an empty bladder, life is very, very good! It is cleared in about an hour…the guy operating the excavator gains my respect. Loads of rock to be removed to the edge of the road and tipped over, even operating the thingummy looks like hard labour. Added to that, he has to know exactly where to stop so that the wheels….the thing that looks like tank wheels….stops just short of the edge of the road so that he doesn’t go over with the rocks! We move…one more rockfall but not so long this time…and finally drive to Hunder.

Beautiful camp with shiny white tents pitched around a little clearing with a babbling brook running through the centre…we take a little stroll outside, surrounded by towering poplars ( earlier, I had asked Ali for the names various trees around us…his stock answer to anything I point to is ” yeh, madam, poplar hai”!!! Till I figure out what a poplar actually is!), pebbled mountain streams, winding paths and nothing much else…we go to bed with the sound of the water chuckling away to itself outside our tent.

There is no power so we are provided very welcome hot water bottles. The night gets bitterly cold and I wake up at two to the sound of dogs barking and a cow in distress….lie awake for a while wondering a snow leopard has come to attack a cow…get up once and peek out of the tent window to a landscape which is nothing short of a bleached white moonscape! The moon is a very satisfying silver, not the baleful yellow that I see in Madras…I have always maintained that silver is the correct colour for the moon to be and am pleased to be vindicated!

Early start again to Turtuk…

Recipe to be posted soon – watch this space…

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Ting-mo: Of bonhomous drivers and monasteries and the Dalai Lama…

Having slept some 14 hours yesterday and skipped dinner, I wake up raring to face the world of mountains!

Breakfast is poori, of which I have promised myself not to partake, and end up having three! Chana, baked beans (boring!), toast with butter which has been melted into a puddle of yellow liquid on the side, and some fantastic apricot jam, which they hide carefully under the counter and bring out only when the cognoscenti, such as us, having spent many Himalayan holidays (feel so posh saying that!) ask for! Well, I noticed the apricots in full bloom yesterday even through my sick state and had to ask!

Easy start at shortly after nine to go on the road. Our driver, Mohammed Ali, is very concerned about my health today…and decides to adopt me..as his mother..he lost his some time ago and and wants to take care of me since he can’t do anything for her! I am nothing loth and secretly pleased…he keeps an eye out and ties up my shoelaces when they come off and I don’t notice…much to my embarrassment!

As we drive, What strikes you is the colour…everything is a neutral dun or khaki colour…the wattle and daub ( I have finally found a place I can legitimately use the term and I AM going to use it!) is like wet khaki clay, miles of wall likewise, the mountains we pass through today, heading eastward, for, part of the great Himalayan desert…again a neutral khaki! But, you raise your eyes and the glorious snow topped peaks make up for the browns…

We stop at Shey palace and climb slowly, very slowly….catching my breath every third step. PS is in far better shape and keeps going ahead and back. Need to catch my breath at his energy too!

Beautiful palace and monastery…many honeymooners pass us…very few older people…

We climb down, again steep steps and drive on on Thiksey monastery, obviously of greater importance…it is very grand and beautiful. The desert is getting to me a bit so am happy to see the oasis that Thiksey is…there are even ducks swimming in a pond! On the drive to Thiksey, we pass several smaller Buddhist temples and one which Mohammed Ali informs us is where the Dalai Lama stays when he comes…his tone indicates he doesn’t think much of the great man! But then, Ali comes from Kargil, where the populace is largely Muslim and he doesn’t think much of anyone else, I think! Informs me there are a few Christians here and loads of Buddhists but almost no Hindus!

Interesting guy this..he doesn’t look at all like the rest of the Ladakhis we have met, all apple cheeked and grinning away, looks more like the pictures you see of a rugged mn of the mountains. What strikes me about him is the number of friends the guy has – everywhere! We are driving along a highway – NH1, no less – nary a car in sight….one trundles along…both slow down…windows are rolled down and there is much slapping of hands and bonhomie …this happens again and again through our twelve day sojourn!

Tough climb again to the top of Thiksey to see the prayer halls (no wonder these guys are so fit!) …worth it though, the golden Buddha is immense and equally awe inspiring…a monastery established some 400 years ago! Apparently the king and his family shifted here in the 1800s…did the royals really climb or did their palanquin bearers carry them up? All the wattle and daub buildings are supported by the most beautifully carved and painted wooden rafters inside and out…

Down again, clutching knees and sundry parts to support them! Lunch at a really nice veggie restaurant full of Chinese pilgrims…hmmmm….no meat? The saag is so fresh it’s almost the plant! Old fashioned warm custard with raisins and nuts for pud….haven’t eaten this one in a while!

Quiet rest of the day…

Ladakhi cuisine is simple and flavoursome…but with the valley being closed off for a good six months in the year with snows shutting off all the passes and temperatures plummeting to 25 below zero and in cases, well below that too, the growing season is short and the cuisine depends almost completely on locally grown produce – till the Srinagar – Leh road opens up for traffic by mid- May! Food is necessarily simple!

With my passion for baking bread growing by the day, was happy to discover this little gem of a steamed bread with a name as cute as it is – Ting-mo! (Pronounced teemo, but i prefer to pronounce it the way it’s written!)

Here goes:

 

Ting-mo

 

Whole wheat flour – 2 cups
Plain flour – 2 cups
Yeast – 1.5 sachets
Sugar – 1 tbsp
Salt – 1 tsp plus a large pinch
Warm water

 

Mix everything together. Add water a little at a time and knead well till elastic. Takes about ten to twelve minutes. Cover and set aside till doubled in volume.

Pinch a large ball of dough and roll out into a large chapati about a quarter inch thick. Grease with a little oil. Roll tightly up. Cut into chunks, about 1.5 inches wide.

Stretch out the chunk till long and thin – about 8 ” by 2″. Fold longitudinally. Fold again vertically – cutting the length in half.holding the folded edge in, carefully fold over your forefinger into a little turbanshowing many open folds! Make many!

Steam for 15 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Or an idli stand!

Serve with a steamy hot soup…

 

Will post pics when I make them, guys – it’s 41 C in Madras and I am longing for the Himalayan breezes…

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