My Culinary Journey

The most prominent influence on my culinary journey is my grandmother (Ammama). Whenever I was at her place, I observed how she prepared food. Ammama talks a lot while cooking. She is either explaining the process or the ingredients and if nothing else, she shared an anecdote related to the recipe she was preparing. This attitude of hers might have influenced me to learn from her.

She would sometimes allow me to help her. That’s how I learnt how to clean seafood. Sometimes I used to grind a few spices for her using mortar and pestle or chop vegetables for her. She joked a lot and teased my clumsiness. This helped me remember what not to do. Her satire and mockery never offended me. I always took it the way it was meant to be taken, in a light-hearted manner.

While I learnt some complicated recipes from my Ammama, it was my mother who taught me how to cook simple, everyday meals. Mom always emphasized on speed and efficiency. Her recipes are always very healthy. Mom did not use any elaborate procedures or masalas (a powdered blend of spices), her cuisine was very simple. She retained the flavour of the vegetables by not overcooking or using too much of spices. Spices can dominate the delicate flavour of the vegetables so, the use of spices was very limited in mom’s recipes. I think her biggest secret was the fact that she prepared every meal fresh from scratch and served it hot.

Mom was always worried whenever I stepped into the kitchen to experiment. She insisted on her methods and deviating from them did not sit well with her. Since my childhood, I learnt a lot by observing my Mom and Ammama. I was raring to attempt some of my ideas. The occasional kitchen help gave me the confidence to execute my ideas. Not all my cooking adventures worked out, but every failure taught me a valuable lesson.

Soon after my marriage, I had to relocate to Jamaica. I was on my own to execute all the lessons learnt. I was thrilled. My husband loves food; he is never scared to explore new flavours and ingredients. This made it an even more enjoyable experience in the kitchen. Despite having a lot of ideas in my head, the initial few years weren’t easy. Not all recipes worked out the way they were supposed to. 

Three years after my marriage, I took my first trip back home. It was during this trip that I learnt a lot of cooking tips and tricks from my dear mother-in-law. She taught me a lot of recipes that are unique to the Rayalaseema region. Ammama hailed from Telangana and my Nanamma (father’s mother) was from Andhra. Furthermore, I have been living in Jamaica for a long time now. Thus, my cooking style is a blending of all these regions. 

That’s a bird’s eye view of my culinary journey. The numerous trials, lessons learnt, thrills, and drama of my experiments couldn’t fit in this blog post today. But, I promise you all that I will return with a sequel to tell you what transpired in the kitchen the first time I tried my hand cooking.

For now, I am sharing a few pictures of some of my food preparations. If you enjoy cooking as much as I do, please share your experiences with me. I would love to hear from you.

My Fascination For Sarees

When I was a child, all the women around me were dressed in sarees. As an Indian, it is not uncommon to see everyone in sarees. Aunts, grandmas, cousins were all draped in colourful and gorgeous sarees. A saree can be described as a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth material which is six to nine yards long and two to four feet wide. Typically, we drape a saree around us using a petticoat and couple it with a crop top. The way we drape the saree varies from region to region in India.  

 As I mentioned in an earlier post, I used to be filled with curiosity and admiration for my mom’s saree collection. I used to spend several hours feeling every material and admiring the colours and prints on the sarees. 

  “Zari” is a type of thread made of gold or silver. It is common to use zari threads to weave the saree, especially near the borders. The pattern that runs along the length of the saree is called the “border” and the elaborate designs at the end of the saree covering the entire width are called the “pallu”. Pallu is also the part of the saree that hangs over the shoulder.

Sarees have different names depending on the kind of material (thread) that is used to weave the fabric, the place from where the weaver’s hail and some times the technique that was used to weave the sarees. 

Some traditional saree varieties found in India are Pochampally, Kalamkari, Kanchipuram silk, Mysore silk, Kerala – Kasavu, Sambhalpuri, Ikat, Murshidabad, Batik, Tussar silk, Assam – Muga silk, Paithani, Kolhapuri, Bandhani, Patola, Garchola, Kota, Leheriya, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Bhagalpuri silk, Kuchai silk, Benarasi silk, Chikankari, Phulkari, Kashmiri Kadai etc. Apart from these traditional sarees, the popular ones today are chiffon, georgette, organza, linen etc.

The cost of a saree may depend on different factors: Silk sarees are more expensive compared to cotton. Some sarees have heavy embroidery that requires more material and labour. Sarees from a particular region might have a high demand making them pricier. Labour costs may vary according to the effort that is put. 

 Different sarees feel different on the skin. Natural fabrics like cotton, kadhi, sheer sarees allow easy passage of air and thus comfortable for hot summers. Velvet and silk sarees are slightly warmer making them favourable for winter. Chiffons and georgettes are light and dry quickly so they are suitable for the monsoon.

 Saree colours range from light and delicate shades to bright and vibrant colours. Casual and office wear sarees are either totally devoid of special embellishments like beads, mirrors, embroidery, flashy borders etc. They are either plain coloured or simple printed sarees. The party-wear and wedding sarees are the ones that have a lot of heavy embroideries, zari work, beadwork etc.

I could spend days talking about sarees but I would like to stop here. I want to hear from you. What do you think of sarees? What is your favourite style of clothing? Please comment below and share your opinions. Have a blessed day! 

What I Want And What I Get

I want recognition for my hard work
I want applause for a job well done
I want the admiration of my friends
Then why do I get uncomfortable in the spotlight

I want to look good in my dress & makeup
I want to be the best-looking person around
I want to have the best skin and figure
Then why do I feel uncomfortable in my skin

I want the best projects at the office
I want the corner office in the company
I want to be a success story
Then why do I feel like I’m being set up for failure

I want all my parent’s attention
I want all my sibling’s affections
I want everything a girl dreams about
Then why do I feel it is a burden that is weighing me down

I want to discover new worlds
I want to go where no one has gone before
I want to run free
Then why do I feel xenophobic around strangers

I want to speak my mind
I want honesty from everyone
I want to know what’s in your mind
Then why do I become intolerant towards people with different opinions

Use Writing As Therapy

Writing is often considered a good habit to cultivate, many use it as an avocation. Some might even turn it into blogging as I have. But, I feel that penning down your thoughts is the best form of therapy. This is not an original thought; many psychologists have recommended that we maintain a journal of all the events that affect us. I never quite understood the benefits of this exercise until I tried it myself.

It all started with an interview of a famous celebrity, I will not name him as he is a controversial figure with many people glorifying him and just as many reviling him. In this interview, he was asked to advise students who study away from home and fall into depression.

He gave the following simple exercise for all students who feel alone or agitated on any event or issue. ‘Every time you face an issue that disturbs you, write it down’. Find a peaceful place to sit and record the complete incident from your memory in that book. After writing it once, if you do not feel calm, write the same incident again. Try not to revisit what you wrote the first time, but write the whole incident freshly as you remember it at that moment. Repeat this process of writing until your mind cools down. He said it is a way of removing the incident from your mind and getting rid of it.

I tried to follow what he advised and found some interesting things about myself. I realised the first time, I described an incident that hurt me in great detail. I wrote an essay that was 20 pages long describing my emotions, my pain and all hurtful words. The next time I wrote it, the number of pages came down considerably, so did the description of all the emotions. By the end, I wrote about the event 5 times and my fifth attempt was only half a page.

I read back at all the 5 essays that I wrote and I was startled to see the change in tone with each attempt. At first, it was all centred around me and my feelings. The next attempt was slightly less about me and more factual. The third time I became a bit critical of my self. By the last time, I narrated the incident from a 3rd person pov.

I found this technique very helpful and therapeutic. It was also a kind of analysis into my way of thinking too. I want everyone to try this method of self-therapy before we pass judgement on it. Tell me how it works.

Rangoli – Art Work On Floor

Recently we celebrated Sankranthi in India. It is a farmers festival that indicates the start of the farming season. It is a very grand celebration in villages with festivities spread over 3 days. I will not get into the details of how and why we celebrate Sankranthi, but I would like to speak about one key aspect of Sankranthi. That is the Rangoli or the Kollam that we draw to decorate our houses.

Rangoli or Kollam as it is called in South India is an art form, where we draw intricate and colourful patterns, flowers, or images on the floor with rice flour or chalk powder.

These rangolis can also be made with plain chalk powder, by drawing chain links around a series of dots to form patterns. here are a few examples of this style.

Drawing Rangoli has always been a hobby of mine that I get to indulge in during the festival of Sankranthi. I have tried quite a few patterns over the past few years. Take a look at some of them.

The festival of Sankranthi has many more aspects to it than just rangoli. You pray to the sun god Surya, fly kites, make special sweet with jaggery and sesame seeds, or peanuts etc. The festival basically indicates the start of the new farming season, so we also burn or get rid of the old articles in our house. If you are interested to know about the festival, I will do another post on that. This post has been about my love for Rangolis and their beauty.

The Way To Meditate

Meditation is a form of relaxation and relieving our body of all the stress and tension. It is also a way to reconnect with our inner-self, to become aware of all those suppressed emotions that we keep bottled up, without any outlet. We can talk about the benefits of meditation and how it is helpful to destress us but, how does one meditate. When I researched what meditation was, they said, “it is a state of clear and open mind that is free of all thoughts.” Initially, I found it hard to actually sit and meditate. I was not able to clear my mind of all my thoughts. In fact, the more I tried to clear my thoughts, the more they kept overwhelming me. I decided that it was time to make a serious effort to learn some way to meditate.

As always, I tried the traditional approach of going to a teacher to learn. I told her about my trouble with clearing my mind and how I did not understand how to do it. She took me in and taught me a technique to start off with and slowly get into a meditative state. As per her procedure, she would guide me to relax my body in a progressive way starting from my feet, up to my head. Once my body is relaxed, I should concentrate on my breathing. She said once I achieved it, that was when I learnt meditation. I liked this technique and I practised it daily with her. It felt relatively easy to relax my body and stay breathing. The problem was, what do I do after that? I noticed that while I was following my teacher’s instructions to relax my body and only feel my breath going in and out of my lungs, I had something to anchor my concentration. Once she stops giving instructions, my mind didn’t know what to do next. I felt like a dog that follows its master enthusiastically on a walk. Once they reach the park, the master sits down to feed the birds or ducks and the poor dog is clueless, so he runs around disturbing the birds and ducks.

After reaching this far in my quest to learn meditation, I was more than determined to see the end of it. I now turned to read books to learn what to do next. This is where I heard about ‘Mindfulness Meditation’. It says that rather than dwelling on one thought of past or future, focus on the present. One should take in the sounds, smells, sights of their surrounding without judgement or analysis. Just see, feel and hear. I liked this style as it focused my thoughts that were scattered in different directions and anchored it to the present. I could practise this type of meditation during my commute to the office, sitting at my desk or during walks. I decided to stick to this style of meditation until I felt the need for more.

There is another form of meditation that I liked and learnt when I was researching. In this form, one can concentrate on one happy or peaceful thought and keep repeating it in your mind like a mantra. This particularly helps when one is agitated or disturbed about an event or a person. This way, I can send the person good wishes, good health, or positive results etc.

I started out looking for the best and easy way to meditate and ended up learning more about myself and the way my mind works. There are many more forms of meditation and relaxation. I have listed just a few here, but I hope it motivates everyone to try them and find peace.

Gardening Part 2: Tips to Help

In my earlier post, I wrote about gardening as a hobby and how relaxing it is. I have since received a few suggestions and requests to write another post on helpful tips. I have gathered a few tricks from my readers, friends and family. These will help you get better results and grow healthier plants.

The first thing to remember with gardening and care for plants is that they are just like every other living being. Plants need nutrition, healthy soil, sufficient air and sunlight. If any of these are missing or in deficiency, the plants will not flourish. Now that we have established the basics, here are a few tricks to help you grow plants better.

  • Specific plants have specific routines for care. Cacti should not be watered daily. Succulents grow fatter with water but can survive without daily watering. Flowering plants like roses, jasmine, lilies need daily watering. Hibiscus requires lesser water than other flowering plants. Get complete information about watering routines before planting them.
  • Plants need nutrients like calcium, potassium, nitrogen, and other minerals and vitamins too. Once a fortnight or week, make sure to give them nutrition. I use this trick because I am lazy, but hope it helps you too. I crush a multivitamin and multi-mineral capsule into a bottle full of water and spray it into the soil generously every week.
  • Vegetable and fruit peel, eggshells etc. are a natural source of nutrition. Take dried up skin and peels and cut them up into tiny pieces. Sprinkle them in the soil before watering the plants. This will ensure that the plant flowers regularly and stays fresh and green.
  • I use natural pesticides as often as possible. Neem oil, turmeric decoction, green tea powder, soap nuts water etc. help to keep out many of the common pests that affect the plants.
  • Protect your plants from slugs and snails. They eat up the leaves and destroy all your hard work. Slugs and snails prefer moist places and gardens are an ideal environment for them. Conduct regular checks around your pots, planters and underneath wood planks. Discard them if you see any slugs or snails. You have traps lure them and kill; you can try it if you don’t mind killing them.
  • Once in a while, loosen the soil to aerate it. This is important for the healthy growth of plants.
  • Regularly remove unwanted grass and weeds from your garden. Weeds take up all the water and nutrition and leave very little for your plants.
  • Dead insects and birds can be buried in the garden; they disintegrate into the soil and make it richer.
  • Collect all dried leaves and dead plants in your garden in a container and cover it with soil. It enriches the soil over time.

I have gathered all these tips from other readers and followers. If you have any other useful ideas, please feel free to share. This list is not a comprehensive list of all ideas, it is just a list of ideas that I have used and found to be helpful.

My Tryst With Cooking

Let me start by stating that I am not a bad cook. My cooking skills are not bad, but they are not great either. When I cook dinner, it is edible, but not exceptional. I am just glad that it is not unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

Having made that fact clear, I have to admit that my skills at cooking are not stellar. They are not anything to feel proud of. I have tried to follow the cookbook, but it was not helpful. I also tried to practice my skill with my mom and sister as they are good cooks. I followed their instructions to the tee, but no avail. I can cook any dish and it may taste good, but something is always amiss. Sometimes, the vegetables turn mushy or the cake is crumbly or the skin of the chicken is burnt. If everything else turns out right, the dish just does not look appetizing. The complaints are accompanied by jokes more often than not. There was a time when I was tasked with cooking daily as a way to practice. However, I believe that was just an excuse to assign the chore to me.

Despite my lack of natural talent at cooking, I decided not to give up. I decided to observe and learn any nuances that are not shared. I watched cooking shows, sat through boring discussions and gossip with my aunts to pick up some tricks, attended classes etc. I was successful in making a few observations that proved useful. Here are some findings:
● My cakes were crumbly because I didn’t use enough butter. The point is, use the correct ingredients and get the measurements right. Replacing cream with butter, or butter with oil or lettuce with cabbage etc. is not always advisable. Each component has its flavour. The taste is bound to change when you replace it.
● Be mindful about the quality of the ingredients. A bad batch of potatoes can ruin your potato salad or mashed potatoes. Stale meat or vegetables can ruin the best of dishes.
● Cooking requires patience. Wait till the vegetable or meat is tender or cooked thoroughly before you proceed to the next step. In a curry, adding water before the vegetable or meat has lost its natural moisture will spoil the dish. The vegetable or meat will not absorb the flavour of the spices.
● Do not rush the dish. Give it time to cook sufficiently. Setting the stove on high won’t make the dish cook faster. It will just burn and ruin everything. Cooking at the correct heat setting is critical to the outcome.
● Pay attention to the terminology used in cookbooks. Sauteing, boiling, frying, shallow frying, simmering, grilling, roasting, double boiling etc. are all different processes and they all have different effects on the dish. Interchanging the processes could spell disaster to the dish. Just because you do not have an oven, you can’t replace baking with grilling.
● The ingredients and the procedure are crucial to the outcome but it is equally important to understand the flavours. Not all spices or flavours work well together. Some spices do not suit certain cooking styles. For example, using ingredients like oregano or olives or avocados in Indian dishes does not generally taste as good. Using dry spices while grilling might not have the same result as the spice will just end up charring the dish and the flavour will not be absorbed.

I have listed a few basic procedural pointers to be wary of. Each style of cooking has its own set of tips and tricks. I have only just scratched the surface of the vast world of cooking. I hope to master it someday and share many more tips too.

Walking Is The Best Meditation

I consider walking as the best ways of meditation that we all can follow. It is not just a means to get to a destination. It is not just a workout for the body, but it is an exercise for the soul as well. We have all heard of people, who do their best thinking when they go out on walks. We have also heard of taking a walk to cool one’s mind. Some people practise walking as a hobby. However, to me walking is nothing but meditation.

When my mind is in turmoil, or when I am unable to hold a single thought for long, I take a walk to clear up my mind. There is something therapeutic about walking along a path all by yourself, preferably in nature. With no noise or other opinions clouding my mind, I find it easier to breathe and sort through the jumble in my mind easily.

In today’s world, concrete jungles are everywhere and finding a shady tree to sit under is a rarity. Walking among buildings doesn’t have the same impact as nature, but I will have to adjust until I can find a good park or walking trail near my home. I just pick a quiet lane that is lined with tree and pretend that I am walking in a park.

Some of the best places for a relaxing walk are the beach or along the river. There is a very relaxing effect that is generated by the sound of flowing water. The sound of gushing washing, tinkling sounds of a waterfall, the sound of waves, etc always sets the mind at ease. At times when I am particularly troubled, I play the sounds of water on Youtube. I am instantly taken back to that peaceful memories.

Take up drawing as a hobby

When we talk about drawing or sketching, we think about life like imagery that one replicates with pencil or charcoal. We rethink about the complex shades that bring out light and shadow to create depth. Drawing always brings to mind images of portraits, realism, charcoal sketches, architectural drawings etc. It always sounds like a complex art that seems beyond my reach. I always felt jealous of my cousins, as they are artistically gifted.

However, now I discovered that drawing is not limited to just lifelike imagery only. There are many more styles and facets to drawing apart from realism, that requires a different set of skills like imagination, dramatic flair etc. I am talking doodling, caricatures, anime, cartoons etc. These streams of drawing are very different from traditional styles but are just as impressive and beautiful.

If you are anything like me, then, you cannot draw a straight line without a scale. Do not despair, there are many styles through which you can express yourself. Step away from the traditional classroom style and discover yourself through another style. Tell me how successful you have been and we can exchange stories of discovery.

All drawings in this blog are contributed by Sharda and Sharath

Rain Makes Everything Brighter

Hello everybody. How are all of you doing? It has been raining a lot all week here in Montego Bay. I love the rain because it cools down the temperature and nature looks bright and beautiful after the rain. This morning, I took a walk in the yard with my phone and started clicking. Can you see the blades of grass still holding on to the tiny droplets of rain?

after rain 13

My curry leaf plant is in full bloom and there are so many bees buzzing all over it.after rain 12

These are some other plants I have at home.after rain 11after rain 10after rain 9after rain 8after rain 7

I love these pink bougainvillea. The only problem with it is the thorns. A bougainvillea thorn prick is very painful. It takes a long time to heal. I found out that these thorns are toxic. They cause itching, rash, and pain.after rain 6

This red hibiscus attracts a lot of hummingbirds. Unfortunately, I did not get one in this picture. Hummingbirds like red coloured flowers. Maybe one day, I will be able to get a picture of a hummingbird and I will definitely share with all of you.after rain 4after rain 5

The firecracker flower is a new plant in my garden. Since my childhood, I always liked these flowers. My grandmother used to make beautiful garlands with a combination of jasmine and orange firecracker flowers. These flowers bring back all those memories and I smile every time I look at them. One day, I saw this plant growing wild on the pavement and a paid worker was chopping all the wild growth. I understood that he would chop the plant anyway so I requested him to dig out the plant and give it to me. And that’s how I have it in my garden today.after rain 3

I love wildflowers. No one waters them; they grow on their own and provide the bees with nectar. They make my yard look beautiful. Sometimes the entire yard is filled with these beautiful, white, wild daisies. They attract a lot of butterflies and dragonflies. Sitting for even ten minutes in my yard and watching the bees, butterflies, and dragonflies refreshes my mind as it would if I did half an hour of meditation. That’s the power of nature.after rain 2after rain 1

Have a nice day.

Summer vacations- The fondest memories

It is summer time in India and it is the time for mangoes and summer vacations. These are the two best things from every Indian’s childhood. Though, I am sure that our parents have a different perspective on summer holidays.

Every summer, we hear parents discuss different ways to keep their kids occupied and away from mischief. Some plan to enrol their kids for coaching classes so that they are ahead in the syllabus when the schools reopen. Some others plan to take their kids out of town to have fun. Some also plan a roster for spending time with all our cousins and relatives. My mother dealt with summer differently. She enrolled us in a hobby class every summer. She said that this way we can cultivate a new hobby and find out what we are good at.

This plan of hers worked for both her and us kids. My sisters and I were busy learning and practising our hobby, while my mother got the much-needed peace and quiet. It, however, made many interesting memories as well. One summer, my sisters and I enrolled in drawing and painting classes, another summer we went for needlework and crochet classes. I also learned singing one year and craft work with clay another year. The most memorable years were when I learnt swimming and cookery.

One might think that swimming was the most natural activity for summer, right?? Well, not for me. I have aquaphobia, so I was not keen on swimming at all. However, my mom felt that I needed to overcome this fear at a young age, so she enrolled me for swimming classes. As you can guess, I did not have any fun in the pool. My swim coach did not help my case in any way. She felt that dunking me under water would bring out the natural survival instincts and teach me to paddle my hands and legs. It only made will cling onto my coach’s back more tightly. It was one embarrassing year for me. However, I did learn something. I learnt that I wasn’t scared of water as long as my feet were in solid surface. I only had a fear of drowning.

Cookery classes were a different experience altogether. I found my love for baking that year. While my sisters learnt to cook new cuisines, I had a knack for baking. I was finally able to bake a cake and eat it too. That summer, I had the most fun ever. We also learnt the combinations of flavours that didn’t go well together, by trial and error of course. I can still remember the horrible taste of the lime and banana cake.

All things notwithstanding, summer holidays were a time of self-discovery and adventure. I learnt that I like morning walks better than evening walks. I discovered I love classic rock music more than heavy metal music. I also learnt that the sun was the best compass to find your way back home. There are many more memorable and unforgettable lessons from each summer. I hope to hear some of your stories in the comments section below.