Mar 29, 2012

For the Love of Paranthas

(image courtesy :google)

I am a Punjabi and like every self respecting Punjabi I love my paranthas like I love no other item of food. Take the bread away from a Punjabi; take away the fancy Thai and Chinese food, but take away his paranthas and you will have him floundering like a fish out of water.

And mind you, we Punjabis take our Paranthas very seriously. For us, cooking Paranthas is an art, never to be taken lightly. The dough has to be kneaded to the right consistency, spices and stuffing mixed with care to get that perfect flavor, the tawa heated to the right temperature and the paranthas to be flipped over at just the right time while cooking. And if making paranthas is an art, eating them is the task of a connoisseur. In my humble opinion, paranthas should never ever be eaten by that breed of people who eat food simply for the sake of eating. Each morsel must be chewed slowly and reverently. You must feel the crispy layers melt in your mouth, taste the stuffing inside - spicy, tangy,a million tantalizing flavours exploding in your mouth... 

That brings us to the stuffing ….. ohh the stuffing …. grated cauliflower or radish with ginger and fresh green chilies, potatoes, onion, methi, paneer, boiled peas, even left over dal; all this and more is put into paranthas and the end result is absolutely scrumptious! The type of Paranthas one can eat is mind boggling. Stuffed paranthas, soft and fluffy, served piping hot with dollops of homemade butter melting on them like white rivulets, layered paranthas with sprinklings of mint or ajwain, crisp and crunchy as autumn leaves, to be eaten with homemade tomato chutney or curd; or just plain paranthas fried in ghee till crisp, to be dipped in honey …. Ah Bliss!

Most of us living outside Punjab have moved on to other forms of breakfast like cereal, bread or even idlis or poha, but in Punjab, Breakfast equals paranthas and if you try telling people otherwise they will look at you sympathetically and proclaim you quite mad. My aunt, a rotund lady who firmly believes in the goodness of Paranthas was advised by her doctor to give them up if she wanted to lose weight. Needless to say she was shocked as if the doctor had sounded her death knell. She gave the poor man a dressing down he will never forget and marched out.

Paranthas have always been blamed as being high in calories and I suppose they are – if they are fried in Ghee or are eaten dripping Butter. But that is when they taste the best and what to do, we Punjabis love our Butter! Nowadays, we usually have the fat free version - paranthas stuffed with vegetables but not fried, they make a healthy wholesome meal. Homemade paranthas are the best, followed by the paranthas that one gets at the numerous Dhabas that line the Delhi – Chandigarh highway. Fancy shops in cities are really not able to capture the taste as well as these small dhabas. Paranthe waali gali in Chandani Chowk is much touted as serving the best paranthas but frankly I have come back disappointed from there!

I hate cooking as a rule but paranthas is the only food item I can cook and I dare say, cook with some panache.

I can do without a lot of things in my life but I don’t think I can ever do without paranthas. Paranthas are my comfort food, my brunch on lazy fog filled winter mornings, my wrap and carry with you travel food. If you want to please me, feed me paranthas and I will be yours for life!

Now since this post has me drooling all over the keyboard, please excuse me while I go make myself some paranthas.

Want Some ? :)

Mar 22, 2012

A Garden of Memories …

I spent my childhood in a lazy government colony. The house had huge airy rooms with high ceilings that kept us cool in summer. There was a garden at the back of the house with a thick hedgerow running around it. The hedgerow was home to a variety of insects, especially ladybirds. As children, we loved to capture the ladybirds and hold them cupped in our hands. We giggled at the ticklish feeling as they crawled across our palms, their black and red bodies glistening in the sun. 

The garden also had a huge banyan, a Gulmohar and a Peepal tree. A pink and purple bougainvillea trailed down the side of the house. The Gulmohar turned a flamboyant red every summer and together with the bougainvillea, added a burst of color to the otherwise summer parched garden. We used to collect the fallen gulmohar flowers, stick them behind our ears and behave like a group of Hawaiian dancers or use the petals as spooky nail extensions.

We kids believed that the Peepal tree had a ghost living in it and never ventured near it after dark. The ancient Banyan however, was a favorite spot for all of us. The branches were thick enough to keep out the hot summer sun and the earth under it always felt cool to the touch. My grandmother and I would spread a rug under the tree and I would sit reading while she pottered about gardening and when it got too hot, sitting in the shade and fretting over what the hot summer sun was doing to her plants. Nestled comfortably within the massive roots of the Banyan, with my back against its trunk, I would stare up at the thick leaves and daydream, or watch the antics of the squirrels running up and down the branches. Slowly with the aid of some food, I befriended the squirrels, and some even grew bold enough to eat from my hand.

My grandmother loved gardening and grew vegetables on one side of the garden and flowers on the other. In the evenings she would get the big water hose out and after watering the plants, would sprinkle the whole garden with water. The wet earth would make the whole area pleasantly cool. The smell of the wet earth combined with the scent of the Raat Ki Rani which bloomed every summer night, was simply heavenly. We would all drag our chairs out and sit talking under the stars, till the mosquitoes eventually drove us indoors.

Grandma’s favorite activity besides gardening was feeding the birds. A large variety of birds lived in the trees and their song would fill the air as soon as the sun rose. Birds’ chirping was the first sound I heard every morning. I would lie in bed hearing them sing, while my grandmother stirred next to me and got up murmuring her prayers. My grandmother never used a clock, for her the time to get up each morning was when the birds started to sing, and then dusk, when the birds returned to their nests, would be the time to light the evening Deeya.

I liked to help my grandmother feed the birds. We would venture out in the early morning sunlight, I carefully holding the bowl containing the bird seeds in both my small hands. We would scatter the seeds about and then fill a small earthen pot with water for the birds to drink from.

A wide variety of birds came down to feed; parrots, mynahs, pigeons and even the exotic bulbul, but my favorites were the sparrows. Somehow I liked this humble black and grey bird even more than the parrots or bulbuls. Most of them had their nest in the Peepal tree. They didn’t seem to be scared of the ghost!  The birds were also used to my grandmother and I liked to think that they waited for her each morning.

Sometimes my grandmother would take a little longer than usual over her prayers and we would be a little late in feeding the birds. The birds would get restless and the cacophony they created had to be heard to be believed. In summer the sparrows would use the earthen pot for not only drinking water but also for cooling off. I would never tire of seeing them duck themselves in their bird bath and then ruffle their feathers to shake off the excess water.
The Sparrows also seemed to love the old brick structure of our home. There were some loose bricks near the roof and they always built their nest there. My grandmother would never let anyone remove the nest and would try her best to guard it against the grey tabby that spent all its time prowling under it.

One day I found a little sparrow – hardly a fledgling lying under the neem tree, hurt and gasping for breath. I picked it up and took it in to my grandmother. She made a nest for it by putting some cotton wool in an old shoe box and nursed it back to health. I wanted to keep it as a pet but my grandfather convinced me about how unhappy the sparrow would be in a cage. I let the sparrow go, and later wrote my very first short story in Hindi about a sad little bird in a cage. Some years back, I rewrote it in English for my niece. It can be read here.

Years passed, my father gave up his government job and we moved to a flat in a more urban part of the city. We no longer had a garden but my parents made do by filling the front verandah with a variety of plants. My grandma however, returned to Chandigarh where she continued to lord regally over her immense garden. Even with her gone, we still continued the tradition of feeding the birds. I would put some bird seed and water out in the verandah and a few birds would come flapping down from the surrounding trees. Instead of having our tea in a garden we now had it in our living room but we kept the door open so that we could see the antics of the birds each morning. For the first few years the birds still came, specially the sparrows; but as more and more people shifted in and more and more trees were cut to make space for flats, slowly their numbers dwindled and finally they stopped altogether.

I am now woken up by a different set of sounds, that of cars honking, taps running and a door banging loudly somewhere. But in this medley of sounds, there is one sound that I so badly want to hear, and can hear no longer – the chirping of birds.

The seeds remain un-eaten and the bird bath lies forlorn and empty.

I suppose this is the price we pay for urbanization …..

Mar 15, 2012

Thursday Challenge: Food at Fortnum and Mason !

Today's Thursday Challenge is FOOD (Food Markets, Ingredients, Cooking, Baking, Pots, Pans,...)
For a foodie like me a visit to Fortnum and Mason was a must during my stay in London. Situated in an imposing building on London’s Piccadilly street, the store is magnificent with gilded furnishings, marble flooring and a beautiful atrium. It is also quintessentially English, with its staff still wearing top hats and frock coats.

It has a dazzling array of foods stuff and delicacies and is known for its very high quality and exquisitely wrapped goods.

It also has a very delectable Bread and Cheese section. 

But my favorite food stalls were obviously in the Confectionery area !

I loved the sweet crystallized veggies and fruits !

And I loved to watch  the figures of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason make their appearance every hour :)

Mar 12, 2012

London Diaries 10:Stonehenge and Bath

After our scenic drive through the countryside, we reached Bath late in the afternoon. Our first task was to find ourselves a place to stay, and after a few misses we did find a quaint little B&B nestled in a small village near Bath. 

Once we had settled in we decided to explore the City of Bath. Bath lies on the banks of the river Avon, and as the name suggests, has a magnificent temple and Bath built by the Romans. It has now been designated as a UNESCO heritage site. The Roman Baths themselves are below the modern street level. They have four main features, the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and the Museum.

The actual Bath is magnificent. It is still fed with hot spring water from the source.

  It’s surrounded by pillars with statues of Roman kings including Julius Caesar.

Everything is extremely well preserved and we walked amongst the ruins we felt we were back in the Roman Era. Infact we saw a few romans too :)

 After we had walked amongst the ruins on the Roman Baths we emerged into the late evening sunshine and did what we like doing best – simply walking. Bath is quintessentially Roman, it’s reflected in its cobbled streets and its fantastic old world architecture.

 Late in the evening we went to a little Pub for dinner. I had wanted to see a traditional British pub for a very long time, with its oak furniture, draught beer and perhaps a game of dominoes being played in a corner.
The Pub looked inviting enough from outside but its interiors were all plush and modern from inside and did not have any of the old world charm I wanted to see. I however did manage to have this great British Delicacy there :)

Fish and Chips !

After Breakfast the next day, we decided to drive to Stonehenge. Now Stonehenge is another UNESCO Heritage site and is truly a site to behold. It has huge stones set in a circular pattern and is one of the first Neolithic and bronze age monuments in Britain.
 Stonehenge’s history is not very clear, some believe that it was constructed as a temple for sun worship, some take it as a burial ground and some consider it as a healing center. It’s a mystery how so many huge stones were carried so far away and how such a magnificent structure was built using the most primitive of tools. Standing remote and aloof on a great hillock, Stonehenge is an awe inspiring site.

Stonehenge is still considered a healing place by many. We caught a healing on camera ...

Mar 8, 2012

London DIaries (9) :A walk through the English Countryside

I have grown up reading James Herriot’s books. Infact I am still hooked to them. More than his animal stories what I loved most about his books was his vivid descriptions of the beautiful English countryside. The sweeping fells, the rolling hills with the sheep placidly grazing among them and the snow peaks in the distance .. it all seemed so very beautiful. So of course I decided that my visit to the United Kingdom could not be deemed complete without a visit to that part of Yorkshire which is now known as “Herriot County”.
Unfortunately due to lack of time and the fact that I couldn’t tear myself away from the sights and sounds of London, I couldn’t squeeze in a trip to Yorkshire. But what I did manage to do was go on a weekend trip to the country.
After my cousin had heard me lament and moan long enough about how awful it would be to go back without a single trip into the famed English Countryside, she finally gave in and decided to take me on a road trip through the countryside. We decided upon Stonehenge and Bath as our destinations.
We left bright and early on a cool Saturday morning. The start was marred slightly by the fact we couldn’t find a single B&B (Bed and Breakfast) to stay in. But being the intrepid travelers that we are, we threw caution to wind and decided to take things as they come.
The day promised to be sunny. A pale daffodil yellow sun was peeking through the clouds and the wind felt almost warm. As we drove towards the country, leaving the maniac pace of the city behind, my wish got fulfilled. The clusters of houses and buildings were replaced by vast green fields and the heavy London traffic by just an occasional farmer’s car on the road.

We drove past villages with quaint little cottages that had hedgerows and neat pocket sized gardens in front. The gardens were ablaze with flowers and I loved looking at the windows with their lace curtains and window boxes with flowers in a multitude of colors.

It was the strawberry season and since both of us can’t resist strawberries we stopped frequently at the roadside stalls selling strawberries and raspberries. The terrain grew more and more hilly as we drove on and I had my fill of the rolling green hills, emerald as far as the eyes could see, with a few buttercups thrown in like a splash of yellow or white. Streams trickled through like silver threads. It was all extremely picturesque.

Since I couldn’t have enough of the countryside from inside a moving car, we decided to park the car and just walk. This is exactly the kind of travel I like - to be able go at your own pace and stop wherever you want, whenever you want. We walked on through the woods, through pastures and uneven paths, lost in our own thoughts, enjoying the peace and the rare sunny day. 

coming up next Bath and Stonehenge .....

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