Made with love…

It is said that the beeline to someone’s heart is through the stomach…an analogy to the lack of interest in cooking can make you unlucky in love. Well, even if you are not an exceptional cook, you can still win others by adding the most indispensable ingredient in your cooking and that is a pinch of love. I think this secret component has helped me evolve from comfort cooking to more indulgent cooking (so my family certifies).

In bygone times, mothers started training their daughters quite early in this art for the new house where she would go after marriage. The adage ,”seekh lo aage kaam aayega” ( better learn, it’ll help in future) still reverberates sometimes in my mind…but the times have changed… it’s not the girls only, it’s important to teach our boys too. Without a speck of doubt, the best chefs of the world are men who dominate the culinary world. Cooking in good old days was more culture based. As a little girl I used to enjoy cooking with my mom…though making a mess most of the time but in the bargain, learning traditional Indian dishes. It was simple, day to day food and not the fancy intercontinental cuisines. A super simple hing, jeera tadka (asafoetida, cumin tempering) on arhar dal (cooked lentil) always tasted heavenly.

So when I came to the “new house” my struggle with ladles, pots and pans started. Needless to mention, at this point of time, I was reasonably in good hold of the basics of cooking( thanks to my mom’s futuristic vision). In the first few days only in my maiden voyage, I made a quantum leap from a vegetarian family delights to a non-vegetarian household’s pleasures (my skills as a science student…handling dissections, probably helped me here). My first few trial-and-error attempts at cooking non-veg dishes turned out to be efficacious, which spiked my interest in experimenting new recipes from cuisines around the globe.

Unlike these days where you have a plethora of recipes in YouTube videos or Cooking channels…I remember I was very fond of collecting recipes from various magazines like Femina or Savvy and intrigued by their beautiful presentations, I always plucked these pages which added to my cooking repertoire in a file. I still have those, black and red colored diaries in which I used to often note down interesting and new methods of preparing some mouthwatering dishes. I can’t ascertain how many did I actually try out but till date they are my bible to cooking.

Like success is always directly proportional to the opinions of the critics…my, dear husband, played the role of a sharpshooter in my life. Being a foodie with epicurean taste buds, his sense of grading my efforts on a scale of 10 has often bemused me but in a way has helped me to enhance the taste of the food which I could never taste myself ever(being a vegetarian). My children aroused a drive in me to attempt global cuisines and desserts (for younger generation, normal is boring). This is how, I started indulging in global delicacies…their compliments were like music to my ears and their constant request for their favorite grub, kept the passion alive in me.

Not having undergone any formal training in cooking, my interest in reading books on cookery, observing and taking ideas from the fine dining restaurants, hotels and the expertise reflected by the presenters of various cooking sites have certainly helped me grow. I do not go by the book, I like to experiment with tastes and texture and formulate changes to create my own personal recipes as per our taste and mood. I think most important is to enjoy what you do. The very process of cooking can nourish your psychological well-being and make your soul happy.

Other than mere cooking, how it is to be served, the accompaniments, the cutlery, the ambience….all makes a lot of difference. The art of presenting food in an attractive way helps to pull all five senses together to create an unforgettable experience. A delicious and aesthetically presented dish could lighten up even the darkest of days in just a flick. Whenever we host a party in our house, I try to make it a simple and enduring combination of good food, great company and eclectic ambience…by decorating the dining table with fresh flowers, light-scented candles…sprucing up the sitting area with dim lamps and playing lilting music in the background. For me, it is very important to keep personal preferences of our guests in mind before drafting a menu.

Personally speaking, food is a repository of memories. In my childhood days, the country food was the only significant comestible cuisine in our lives and due to Indian heritage our taste buds were attuned to only spice packed flavors of pepper, cloves, cinnamon or saffron. Indian cuisine is diverse, with the never-ending range of foods, the ubiquitous tandoori dishes of the North or the steamed South Indian delicacies, the feisty and fiery Rajasthani dishes or the aromatic and rich Mughlai curries or biryanis, the vibrant Kashmiri waswan or multi-course Bengali dishes….are a hot favorite all over the world. Now-a-days people have developed love for exquisite food of different countries and want to see the world cuisines on their plate. Our palates love the flamboyant spicy chilies of Mexican food, Ratatouille to French soup to creme brûlée have enticed people of all ages, Italian cuisine an all time favorite…makes people drool over the burst of cheese in their mouth, fusion of perfect herbs and right balance of hot,sweet and sour taste of Thai cuisine is relished by everyone. With the rare and exotic ingredients easily available in the markets, cooking has become uncomplicated for those who have a penchant for cooking.

Food is and has remained the most essential part of our lives…around which revolves our everyday routine. What comforts me is the delight I see in the eyes of my family members with their taste buds satiated and their stomachs purring contentment. Trying out new recipes serves as a creative outlet that helps in stimulating my senses.

Cook with love, serve with joy!!!

The Doon Valley…a gem in the Shivalik.

Some memories are unforgettable,remaining ever vivid and heart warming-

The curves, the turns of the winding road dotted with steep hairpin bends and dense Sal forest on both sides of the track , wafting the freshness of the lush green vegetation with light showers hitting the windscreen, driving carefully soaking in the beauty of the landscape, one does not realise when the fringes of the town begin to take form. Suddenly, from the calm and peaceful drive of Mohand jungles you find yourself amidst the cacophony of the traffic and crowd…a complete contrast. Yes, we are in Dehradun…a beautiful valley town surrounded with Shivalik range of the lesser Himalayas. One of the oldest cities of India – a gateway to the prominent hill station, Mussoorie and devout religious places of Haridwar and Rishikesh. Doon valley has always dazzled people by its serenity, panoramic views, verdant forests (now left only on the outskirts) and nonchalant attitude of people. The old-style schooling with elite schools, most notable being the Doon School or Welhams ; the eclectic combination of Colonial and British styles of architecture in heritage buildings of I.M.A(Indian Military Academy) and F.R.I (Forest Research Institute) or the green hedges and coppices inhabiting the sprawling areas in this precinct, leave many pleasant memories for lifetime.

As one drives through the over populated old city, the blaring of horns, the motor bikes, auto-rickshaws, cars and two wheelers jostling their way is a common sight. The old timers however love to shop from this part of the town only- the main Paltan Bazar in the heart of the city being the nerve centre for buying cloth, spices, local rice, jewellery and everything possible- to be honest it is the right place to check your bargaining skills. This is also famous for the local dhabbas (restaurants), bakeries- the heavenly softy ice- cream of Gaylords, the crispy rusks of Sunrise, the aromatic Sambhar-dosa of Laxmi restaurant, the best Chaat Lane (for spicy and tangy food)or the indisputable pioneer Kumar sweets are inescapable.

The confluence of Paltan Bazar, Chakrata Road and the main artery- Rajpur Road, has the Big Ben of the Doon Valley- the hexagonal red structure-Clock Tower(aka Ghanta Ghar), a major landmark.

The prominent Chakrata Road, the lifeline of Dehradun, houses the age-old but still thriving Connaught Place, the timeworn famous movie halls Capri and Natraj, the famous Standard bakery for toffees and the Bindal bridge…connecting link between the bustling life of the city to the peaceful Cantonment with varied vegetation flora of oak, pine and fir trees.

Rajpur Road now the Champs Élysées of Dehradun was once a boulevard in the real sense but now it has the most posh stores, malls and hotels on both sides. Though you still come across the all time favourite Elloras (famous for its pastries and delectable caramel stick-jaws), the English book depot( a landmark place for book lovers)and the imposing Astley Hall (commercial centre and social hub) but now these have blended with modern showrooms along with sophisticated restaurants and glittering cafes. The luscious litchi orchards and the scenic tea gardens which once adorned this road on either side have now been replaced by buildings and shopping arcades.

For people like us who have seen Doon in its full splendour miss seeing those immaculate bungalows with litchi and mango tree in every backyard, the lushness of nature and the salubrious climate but for the new generation who have not witnessed it all, fall for the magnetic charm of the town. I feel though it is no longer a laid back town, the spirit of rustic town is still alive. Tourists get entranced by the small town spell and divine beauty of Robbers cave(a gorge between a limestone cave) or Tapkeshwar(Shiva temple in a cave) which bolster perennial tourist blitz.

The sight of mesmerising twinkling lights of Mussoorie from the terrace of our house in Doon, rustling of the leaves and the chirping of the crickets in the night; misty morning walks through the pine groves or the forest of the majestic F.R.I; strolls in the Rispana valley with catching of glimpse of beautiful mountain range or flock of migratory birds flying; breezy afternoon drives through Rajpur Road to Malsi or Shahastradhara (famous for sulphur water springs) to enjoy Chai-pakoras or Momos and soups; all add up to an ethereal experience. Indelible memories of climbing the trees in our orchard for plucking fresh fruits- mangoes,litchis,peaches, guavas, plums,pear and falling down in the mud and not giving up; enjoying the swings hanging from tree boughs, come alive whenever we visit our hometown.

The wilderness and nostalgia of this place has oft inspired revered writers in their anecdotes and vignettes. Great writer Ruskin Bond’s infatuation with Dehradun comes out vividly in all his writings. Even “Beatles” love for Doon can be seen in their beautiful track’Dehradun’ which they wrote during their visit to Doon valley in 1968. The beauty of Doon has also been caught on camera by many great directors who have shot few segments of their movies in the lush locales of the valley.

The metamorphosis of Doon from a small town to metropolis on becoming the capital of Uttarakhand state, has affected the biodiversity considerably but still the mention of this place inundates my sensibilities with pleasure and delight. Writing about my hometown…has been a journey through familiar and fond remembrances. My years at Cambrian Hall( my alma mater) and the famed RIMC( where my husband grew up during the same years) and so many things I have not mentioned…the roads I traversed, the trees I planted, the places I ardently frequented…which still hold ground…all so fresh in my heart.

Tête-à-Tête with Tea☕️

For my Chai lover friends

“Life is like a cup of tea…it’s all in how you make it.”

Tea plays a very significant role in our daily routine. Tea-time is anytime in the day for those who love tea- from early morning till late evening. It helps them to alleviate their boredom, work related stress or in other words is an elixir for all problems. It’s generally felt that, ‘a lot can happen over a cup of tea’ just like the newfangled phrase ‘chai pe charcha.’ Whether it is a candid chat between friends or when amidst some serious business… things do become easier with a cup of tea to sip intermittently between conversations . Typical Indian tea(aka Chai) is a flavoured tea beverage prepared by brewing black tea with some aromatic Indian spices like ginger and cardamoms being most commonly used along with milk and sugar. Popularly called as masala chai or cutting chai…has a very stimulating effect and helps in uplifting the spirits.

It’s a spectacle to watch tea being sold on platforms during train travels. A hawker or a tea vendor with his steel container, disposable paper glasses and some hot snacks walks around calling out in distinctive rhythm “Ch…Chai, garma garam chai,” managing everything with two hands manoeuvring his way through the crowd selling tea which is a hot commodity for the travellers.

A tea shack called tapri is a typical establishment adorning the Indian rural and urban landscapes. The satisfaction of people can be seen in their eyes who come here for the distinctive taste these tapris offer while they sip their tea gossiping with their partner,enjoying the old Hindi numbers playing in the background . All those who are frequent visitors to these tea shacks especially the office goers have irrevocable love for these chai wallas. Their day seems a waste if they don’t visit their favourite place for a chai-break.

This homogenous concocted mixture forms an intrinsic part of every household. Being easily accessible and quite economical it is the most favoured drink of all age groups. India offers a vast array of tea varieties. Though originally tea was discovered by Chinese almost 5000 years ago, the British formally introduced it in India on finding Indian soil suitable for its growth. India is one of the largest producer of tea in the world, second only to China. Though tea cultivation is done in many parts of the country but Assam and Darjeeling tea are well renowned all over the globe.

Never an admirer of tea myself till some years back… I always detested getting up early in the morning to prepare ‘bed tea’ for my husband without which his day would not start .The cardamom fragrance probably was quite invigorating for his senses to come alive but failed in wooing me. Our recent posting to a place close to Darjeeling changed my perspective totally. Initially it started with clicking of pictures amidst the vast expanse of lush green tea plantations on hill slopes and enjoying the breathtaking vistas from these gardens. The women wading through the waist-high tea bushes, armored in aprons and gloves with woven bamboo baskets on their backs for the freshly plucked leaves was a sight to behold.

Nestling in the foothills of the snow-covered Himalayan range, Darjeeling grows one of the world’s most exclusive teas at altitudes ranging from 600 to 2,000 meters. Darjeeling produces a limited amount of tea and each tea is different, owing to its climate, soil, slope, mountain mist, and rain. A cup of Darjeeling tea is golden or amber in colour and has a unique, delicate flavour. Tea connoisseurs like to savour it without adding any milk or sugar to it and literally cringe at the thought of adulteration.

Our frequent drives through the enchanting tea estates of this region spread over beautiful hills of Kurseong, Darjeeling, Mirik and Siliguri were exhilarating and a chance to try out different types of teas at ground zero gave me a closer understanding of tea. The beautiful and famous tea estates of Makaibari, Glenburn, Sourenee, Singtam, Goodricke are just a few to name where we have spent many cold afternoons sipping the wonder beverage enjoying its subtle taste and sauntering among the well manicured bushes with floating clouds kissing our cheeks.

Darjeeling tea is processed as black(fully fermented), green( not fermented), oolong(or wulong is semi- fermented) and white tea. Exclusive Whole Leaf White Tea reveals elegance and sophistication. Darjeeling’s white tea is considered one of the most expensive variety of the world approx 2k-3k USD per kg.

All these places which are home to tea plantations are also bedecked by tea lounges or tea bars in exclusive locations within the city. Stepping into these lounges with their aesthetic settings, vintage furniture and wide variety of tea can be quite an awe-inspiring experience. The entire course of preparing tea with the spread out paraphernalia is quite enriching and gives you an insight into basic tea terminology and deciphering the difference between the various types of tea. Here I learnt that the period when the tea plants start growing new leaves to be harvested is called a flush. Darjeeling tea has three major flushes. The first flush is from mid-March to May, the second flush from June to mid-August, and the third flush (also known as autumn flush) occurs October to November. Each flush has a distinct difference in colour, aroma and taste. The first flush tea is light, clear and with flowery scent, making it more expensive than the others.The colour deepens with each flush and are stronger in flavour.

With the changing preference of people over the years, organic tea or green tea has gained popularity. They like to try different flavours with changing moods and time of the day. If I speak for myself, I have definitely developed a taste for tea and love to stock my kitchen cabinets with varied kinds of tea for my tea- lover friends.

If you are a tea lover too…do share your experiences.

Would love to hear from you!!!

Dawn of a new phase….our first journey together

It was the year 1995, when I found my life partner…a person as mysterious as a stranger. This I say because in those days, in an arranged marriage, there was no mode of knowing your partner well before the D day. Though, we had eight months of courtship period but due to the nature of his duty, we hardly met and interacted through letters- the only lifeline back then.

To prune a long story short, we were pleasantly unknown to each other but had developed a good affinity over the months. Being caught up in the various customs and traditions during the nuptial formalities we had still not struck a chord and were looking forward to the day when we would finally leave, for my husband’s place of posting.

As the days were drawing closer our excitement knew no bounds and only packing was paramount on our minds…little did I know that henceforth packing and only packing will override everything else in every two years or maybe less…an offering which comes along with the man in olive green. I’ll be unfair if I don’t mention that we’ve shifted seventeen times in the last twenty five years, quite akin to a nomadic way of life, but honestly we have relished every bit of it. By virtue of this we’ve had an opportunity to stay in some extraordinary places with alluring beauty….which until then, I was not aware that they existed on the map of India also.

Finally, the moment arrived and as the origin of our train was from Delhi; still being regarded as naive and immature, representatives from both families travelled with us from Dehradun to Delhi to wish us Bon voyage. Eventually on a warm summer evening in May 1995, we embarked on an odyssey to unfold the beautiful life that lay ahead of us…but foremost we had to first secure the horde of luggage, including two black boxes(very characteristic of army men), before we could settle down peacefully. By the way, proudly I want to declare here that these two black boxes have gradually increased to nothing less than seventy boxes in the last so many years…our kitchens,bedrooms and even our finest crockery move with us wrapped up in these boxes.

Our journey from Delhi to Pune was of two days and I felt we had ample time to compensate and make a headway. I had so many things to talk about, but to my surprise I realised even my husband, who so far I thought of as a very composed person had so many topics to discuss. Understanding my tangled feelings of anxiety and eagerness about my prospective life ahead, he took on the task of my orientation… enlightening me on the army way of life. Truly speaking, initially I found them quite peculiar and a few things absurd…like I acquire ‘Auntyhood’ to even the college-goers or addressing all ladies and officers with their names by prefixing appropriate title/ rank, no matter how senior they were. Certain etiquettes which seemed more of rudeness to me, like, to remain seated if an officer came to interact, left me aghast but certain chivalrous customs, like ‘ladies first’, fascinated me. The valuable insight into the customs,traditions and protocols which are the bedrock of the organisation helped me later to adapt to the new environment comfortably. Our destination was nearing…feeling like a debutante out of a finishing school, my mixed feelings were overtaken by hope and optimism.

We were welcomed with open arms and escorted by a cavalcade….and subsequently, followed their unique ways of playing pranks, series of ritualistic dinners and walking in at odd hours…all summing up into an overwhelming and priceless experience. As we moved on with our lives, such memories faded like echoes, making the present more pronounced. The ethos and values which percolate to the ladies and children play a significant role in keeping everyone integrated and foster camaraderie of the highest order which helps to build a big happy family.

The aroma which emanates from my kitchen of undeniably authentic sambhar or filter coffee, the flavour of Lal maans or gatta curry…delicious litti chokha on a cold wintery afternoon or the delectable shrikhand…is a gift of friends from different parts of the country.

Not all is roses always…an army spouse from the time she ties the knot oft-times faces challenges of life single handedly and has to juggle between multiple roles with aplomb. The reminiscences of happy and memorable times gives her enough energy and sustenance to survive even in difficult times.

Staying in one of the most remote places alone with my little twins, when my husband was away on a field posting helped me to build some enduring bonds with others who were sailing in the same boat. This was the time when I actually learned to be more independent and self-reliant. This is also the time which probably is the most memorable period of my lifetime…long walks, celebrating occasions in our own limited means, pursuing hobbies,lunch get-togethers on Sundays,all made up for the deprivation. Honestly in this stretch of time, husbands were like infrequent guests and would muddle the routine by their appearance.

All these memories…some sweet,some bitter; have left an indelible mark and helped me evolve as a more mature, passionate and confident person. Everyday is a new experience, teaching us something new. The journey, which started a quarter-century ago, still continues…a journey well begun!

The Quintessential Possession-my saree box

A must have in every Indian woman’s wardrobe…saree.It not only symbolises femininity but also the great Indian traditions. The versatility stored in its weave and draping reflects the region from where it belongs. Though over the years it is losing its significance to the hassle free western dresses but still it occupies an indisputable place in each household. Every woman likes to boast of her heterogeneous collection from different parts of the country- Baluchari, Taant, Painthni,Chanderi, Kanjeevaram and the list is endless. An army wife for sure feels highly jubilant when she flaunts her collection by virtue of having been posted to such places where she gets an opportunity to pick an exclusive piece from the maiden source. Over the years, it definitely adds to her self glorification…but other than just being reflective of one’s indulgence there are innumerable stories associated with each and every saree in the box.

The mention of saree takes me down the memory lane to the time when I was a small girl so much besotted with the colourful sarees my mother wore. I vividly remember, when the whole household was busy enjoying their siesta, I would quietly sneak out of the house and enjoy the moments of freedom walking the terrace in my graceful avatar in the most exquisite and self-possessed gait, synchronising kicking of saree pleats with my foot in harmony with the swaying of my saree Pallu with one hand.

How can I forget my beautiful lemon yellow six yard of grace draped with perfection for the occasion…our school’s adieu party and the number of compliments I fetched still makes me go gaga.

Over the years the innate love for sarees grew even more and along with it followed the love for related accessories- bindi, bangles,danglers and different coloured strings-to make a complete ensemble.

My brightly coloured trousseau had sarees of varied kinds, collected over the years with love by my parents- jamdanis, banarasis, patolas, tanchuis which I’m sure would have costed a fortune but at the time of marriage all seems fine and is a matter of pride. To be very honest such sarees only add opulence to the entire affair and lie hibernating in boxes seeking selective occasions to be aired and worn.

Irrespective of the number of sarees, the urge and craving for more is never satiated. Every occasion, every trip entices us to take a plunge…as we inherently do not like to repeat often.

As the years pass by personal choice of fabric,colour,texture also take a transformation. From blazing and stark colours to more pastel and earthy hues start suiting our palette. Sarees have a wide spectrum, satisfying the appetite of all age groups. From endearing handlooms to stylish georgette or chiffon, sarees never go out of style, though their way of draping have metamorphosed time and again. Today’s generation like to go for fusion style and have blended sarees with shirts, tank tops to give a more contemporary and western look. The way of draping reflects a lot about our style and personality. Sarees will remain inimitable, no matter how much we change. It is no longer just a traditional wear, it is our style statement and we have ‘n’ number of possibilities to keep experimenting and trying out different ways to make it look the most sensual and elegant adornment.

To me my box full of sarees is a reverie which takes me through the years gone by and make endless memories descend…making it my most prized treasure.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

So it takes just a nudge to embark on a new journey…and believe in the magic of new beginnings.

With a yearning to keep abreast with the changing technology and deep seated desire to write my thoughts and reflections from the past…my kids introduce me to this world of opportunities and make it happen for me.

Like a kaleidoscope which has fragments of coloured glass to produce vibrant patterns to charm, my endeavour is to beguile my readers by taking them through my life experiences, learning’s and interests.

Here’s to the new beginnings!