Thursday, July 16, 2015

Idli-Milagai Podi (aka Gun Powder) with Flax seeds and sesame seeds : A Step by Step Guide



Amma used to make three different kinds of chutneys and one sambar variety whenever she made idlis. Once a family friend of ours commented, "I am so impressed with the India flag color chutneys on the plate". No one gave a thought about it except him. There was coconut chutney (white), cilantro-mint chutney (green) and shallot chutney (orange in color). And in spite of having these three options, I was asking for idli-milagai podi. That is how much we all liked the spicy, catchy powder. Usually, the podi is mixed with sesame oil. It can be either spread over the idlis and dosas or it can be used as a dip.

Idli- milagai podi or Gun Powder is a common, handy side dish for idlis and dosas. Though the ingredients that go into it differ among kitchens, a few of them stay constant across kitchens. Homemade ones are fresh and healthy, and it takes just 30 minutes to prepare it, which goes for months! It is a time-saver in a majority of south-Indian households. I relied on it completely when I used to famish during those sleepless nights of pregnancy. 

I tried different recipes until I got this one. This one has evolved over time. Personally, I love the flavor of curry leaves, coconut, lentils and sesame seeds. I added flax seeds to this recipe to bring that healthy tag. Any dish is incomplete without coconut, in a south-Indian meal. I have settled with this recipe for some time now, which means this is the final one. Moreover, I have had many friends who absolutely loved the taste of it. This is the most convincing token that made me believe that it is up to the mark!

Ingredients:

1. Urad dal - 3/4 cup
2. Channa dal -10 tablespoons
3. Sesame seeds - 1/4 cup
4. Red chilies - 8
5. Flax seeds - 1/4 cup
6. Grated coconut - 3 tbsps
7. Garlic - 10 pods, crushed
8. Curry leaves - three, long sprigs or as much as you want to
9. Asafoetida - a pinch
10. Rock salt - as per taste


Method:

Dry roast all the ingredients.

1. Fry the chana dal for a few minutes before adding the urad dal. Adding both the lentils together would cause over-frying of urad dal. Fry them until they are slightly golden-brown.



2. Fry the red chilies until brittle.


3. Roast the sesame seeds and flax seeds together. Since the pan is already hot, they start to flutter as you just drop them in the pan. Reduce the flame and manage the fluttering. Then add the coconut, which dampens the heat a bit. Fry them all together until coconut loses its water content a bit.


 4. I pounded the garlic a bit to make the frying easy. I used more curry leaves, for I love the taste of it.


5. I just heated up the rock salt a bit to make sure the podi stays fresh.


6. Cool the ingredients for a while and grind them to a coarse consistency. Do not make it too coarse.


7. Spread the ground powder in a plate to release the moisture. It may take an hour.


8. Store it in an airtight container to preserve the flavor and freshness.

This goes on for a month for me. The picture below has a different color than the above one because in the one below I used 4 byadgi chilies and 5 regular red chilies. The byadgi chili gives that bright red color to the powder. You can manipulate the recipe as per your taste. Not only for idlis and dosas, this powder can be used to make podi rice, another common variety rice. For podi rice, cook a cup of rice and spread it in a wide bowl. Heat up some sesame oil and pour it on the rice. Sprinkle a few spoons of idli-milagai podi on the top and give it a toss or mix with a laddle gently. Add enough salt.



Hope you all will like this version of idli-milagai podi. Let me know how it turned out.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Idli - Dosa batter Recipe: A Step by Step Guide

Idlis!  One of the earliest solid foods that hit my tongue... Soft, healthy, easy-to-make (for a south-indian), highly reliable under any circumstance, doesn't belong to the 'no' list during any kind of illness, easily manipulatable, serves as an accompaniment to something or draws the accompaniment because of its highly social skills and TASTY!

I have seen this evolve in my home. Amma used to soak the ingredients on a Sunday morning, and by evening, they go into the stone grinders that were embedded in a spot at the back of the house. People come and go during that one hour period, and I have seen my amma or grandmother pull it, twist it, gently flip over with one hand, while the other hand was constantly put in circular motion. The batter went into huge vessels (brass ones) that were 3 times of the fresh batter. The next morning, mainly during summer days, I have woken up to see the lid about three inches pushed above the vessel. Fermentation! No yeast or no innoculum. They happened naturally with a perfect flavor.

We see certain processes being followed about a thousand times, but when it actually comes to doing it ourselves, we stumble. I found it extremely difficult to get it to the correct flavor. I used all types of rice but finally settled down with idli rice. That works the best for me. Another indispensable member of the idli family is stone-grinder. You tell me 100 good things about blenders, nothing replaces a stone grinder's quality. There is no 'the right way' for making idlis and dosas. You decide what is the right thing.

Ingredients:

Idli rice - 3 cups
Ulutham paruppu (Urad dal) - 11/4 cups
Vendhayam (methi seeds) - 1 tsp




Soak the rice and lentil separately. Grind them one after the other. Some may prefer to grind them all together. I usually grind the lentil with vendhayam first. Add water intermittently so that the batter fluffs up very well.  It takes about 45 minutes. The more you grind it, the fluffier and softer the idli turns out. Many may grind it in mixie too, but I noticed a big difference in the softness after they go cold or left in hot box or refrigerated for a few days. Even the refrigerated idlis turn out super soft after warming them up in microwave for 30 seconds.

I keep the rice batter thick during initial grinding. Later, once all finely ground, I add water to make it thinner. Grind it for a minute and then scoop it off. Then I mix them all together. No adding water at all after grinding!

See the consistency of the batter below, before fermentation.
video

After 10 hours of sitting in the oven, undisturbed, the batter rises up as seen below.



This is the consistency of batter after fermentation. It is frothy and falls down stiffly. You can add water to this to bring it to desired consistency. I usually do not add water to this for making idlis, but I do add water to make papery dosas. Trust me, idlis and dosas just come out perfect! Again, this is not the only way to make perfect dosas and idlis. We all find out own ways.
video
Grease the idli plates with oil. I used sesame oil. Pour in the batter, just the minimum amount. Give some space for them to fluff up.
I made mini idlis. I left the stack of plates in pressure cooker without gasket for 12 minutes. You see the idlis slighly crack up. That is when it is done. Spread the plates on the counter top, turn the plate, one by one, upside down and keep it under cold running water for a few seconds. Leave them back on the counter top. Wait for a few minutes and scoop them out with a sharp-edged spoon. Dip the spoon in water if you find it sticky while removing the idlis. Back home, amma and paatti used veshti (cotton dhotis). The plate of idlis were turned upside down in a plate and the white cloth peeled off easily! No scoop out business!
I added this home made idli podi (gun powder). I sprinkled enough powder in this bowl and dripped sesame oil over. Mixed it well.
Yummy idlis are ready to be gulped in. I have used this as an appetizer and also as a main course. It goes well with everything. That is why I call this a friendly accompaniment!
Try this out and let me know how it turned out. And, surely, write back to me if you stumble at any of the above stages! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kambu Ukkaalai: A Very Old and Tasty Recipe

This post is an entry for a contest hosted by Shobs Kitchen. I have been following the Facebook page My Chennai for a while now. My Chennai is well-known for their prompt and interesting photographic updates about fun, food, places, beach, festivals, weather etc. in Chennai. I noticed the wonderful and appetizing Briyani at their cover page that led me to Shobs Kitchen. Shobs Kitchen is a blogging venture by Shobana Arunkumar, and I was excited to see the announcement for annual give away event commemorating the big event of reaching 500 likes on Facebook. Great going, Shobana!  Hearty congratulations! Here is the event logo and announcement page for the contest:

http://shobskitchen.blogspot.com/2014/12/event-giveaway-announcement-2015.html

As a contestant, I find this opportunity to get introduced to many more food bloggers and to promote my blog among avid readers and food lovers!


When I decided to write this post, it was hard for me to find a name for this uncommon, yet traditional recipe. I am still not sure of the exact region and group it originated from, whether from Tamilnadu or from Karnataka! Or, it could be a result of the beautiful amalgamation of two non-distant cultures! A border effect, may be.... Tannada... Based on how the preparation goes, it can be named as "puttu" - a common recipe from Kerala and Tamilnadu, or it can also be called as "Ukkaalai" - according to the food dictionary of Tannadigas (People with Kannada genes living in Tamil environment since a long time). I have more reasons to believe that it is a Tamil-based recipe, as I have been constantly hearing my Mom and Grand-mom say that it is prepared the day after Pongal! When it comes to food, taste matters, and when it does, a few avid food lovers would like to dissect its origin. So did I.

Coming to the recipe, the main ingredient is kambu or bajri or pearl millet. The other side-ingredients that go in it are the unusual ones - Crushed garlic pod with peel, a few crushed curry leaves, carom seeds (omam in Tamil and ajjwain in Hindi), coconut and sugar or jaggery. Stunned? You will be stunned at the taste too! I rummaged through the cook books and several popular blogs to get anything close to this one. Luckily, I didn't find any. I did not reinvent the wheel here, but someone did, many decades ago. It is as aspiring to present it here as it is to have created this healthy, tasty and traditional recipe!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, harvest festival was lot of work those days. Men, women, kids and animals were equally involved in every task spooled around this herculean task. After the tiring three-day festival, everyone needed rest. I was told that, after Pongal celebrations, very light food was made the following day. No iron skillets or pans were used for two days after the Pongal day. They used brass pots to steam "Ukkalai", and that was it for the day! How convenient? Poor pithrus... They didn't know about noodles, pizza and Briyani Pointe!!! Thanks to them. I wouldn't be writing this if they had the option of the aforementioned trio!

Ingredients:

Pearl millet - 1 cup
Coconut - 4 tablespoons
Sugar or crushed jaggery - as per taste
Garlic - 1 pod, crushed with the peel
Curry leaves - 4 leaves, slightly crushed with mortar and pestle
Carom seeds - quarter teaspoon, slightly crushed with mortar and pestle

Method:

1. Wash the millet, drain water and spread it on a clean towel to get rid of moisture.

2. Dry roast the grains at medium flame for about 7-8 minutes.

3. Pulse the dry grains in a blender, very gently. It should be coarse.

4. Boil a cup of water, and sprinkle on the coarsely ground grains. Mix with hand to avoid lumps. This is to bring in slight moisture in the coarse powder. It helps in efficient steaming. The coarse powder should be moist but not wet.



4. Now add the crushed garlic, carom seeds and curry leaves. Take a clean, white, cotton cloth, and transfer the contents in bowl. Bundle it up gently, and place it in the idli steamer. Let it steam for 15 to 20 minutes.



5. The best way to know that it is cooked is to taste it. Trust me, it is the most efficient way for which I have always got admonishments from the kitchen queens in the family! Who cares now? I am the uncrowned queen here....

6. Transfer the contents of the cloth into a bowl. Add sugar when it is hot, and flatten it tight. Once it is cool or warm, add grated coconut, mix well, and ENJOY THE TASTE!




I used freshly grated coconut. I don't use store-bought frozen coconut. I usually buy coconut, break it, grate it and store it in freezer.

Hope you all enjoyed reading the recipe and the philosophy that went into it. I have to chatter a bit before I get to this recipe. Hope you enjoyed that as well!



In recent days, I have come with an extra effort of clicking pictures at every step of the recipe while it is being made, mainly to explain it better and to make it more appetizing. I have to improve my camera skills a bit, but as always, it may take sometime as I am already pre-occupied with exhibiting many avatars for a better survival! Bear with me, friends. 

Thank you all for your continuing encouragements, love, support, likes and comments. You have no idea how happy I become counting those likes....

Please do let me know if you are familiar with this recipe or any of its kind. I am curious to know the story behind it!

Try out this recipe, and do let me know how it turned out. Happy Pongal, Maattu Pongal  and Thiruvalluvar dina vaazhthukkal! Happy cooking and happy eating!







Sunday, January 4, 2015

Harvest Special: Cowpeas and Brinjal (eggplant) Masala Kuzhambu

The harvest festival celebrated in all four quarters of India is commonly called as Makara Shankranti. Regionally, they are called by different names: Pongal in Tamilnadu, Sankranthi in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Khichdi in UP and Bihar and Uttarayan in Gujarat. As always, the commonality lies in the purpose of celebration - Harvest! What else could be as big as this exciting event? The Tamil month of aadi (July 17th - August 16th) is a significant month for sowing and investing in land, followed by two months of calm weather that would help in germination and first-quartile growth of the crop. Then comes the voracious North-east monsoon that helps in the most expected growth spurt of the crops. It calms down by the end of November with gentle drizzles. The next month goes on without much excitement, and by the end of December, the busy preparations for harvest starts, and hence festivals, offerings and excitements begin! 

The month of Maargazhi (December 16th - Jan 14th) is marked by bhajanais (carols for God) and kutcheris (song renditions) in the temples. The stupendous Kolam (rangoli) with a supposedly-auspicious small mass of cow dung adorned with a fresh pumpkin flower gives that complete look of Maargazhi! I was fascinated by those huge rangolis my cousin used to draw at the doorstep. It was much fun to watch her prepare for it the previous night. She had a one quire book filled with different Kolams, and I and my sister used to suggest her which one will take shape the next day. Sun rose only after she completed the Kolam

Sankranthi day is also called bogi day in Tamilnadu. On this day, old and worn-out things are thrown in fire, and people get ready for a new beginning. Small bunches of leaves with aavarampoo, kaappu and neem leaves are hung all around the house. Each of those leaves and flowers have antiseptic properties, and it is believed that they protect the home from evils. 

My favorite part is the food that is made on this special day. It is a simple dish that is made out of seasonal vegetables and lentils from the farm. Avarai (flat valor) and thattai payaru (also called kaaramani in Tamil or lobia in Hindi or cowpeas in English) are the most common crops that bear fresh and thick pods during the season. The taste of the dish varies from region to region and from family to family. Since I am from an agriculture-based family, this dish tops everything that is made on this special day. The whole point is to bring out the best from those fresh harvests. No sweets or special items are made. All the dishes are offered in banana leaf, followed by a short sankalpam and aarathi.



Here, I don't have fresh flat valor, cowpeas and pumpkins. So, I decided to make a simple dish with dried cowpeas that I bought from India the last time I visited. I soaked it before I cooked and added brinjals to it. It is such a simple dish, but a matchless one. The joy of eating fresh produce and the original flavor of vegetables themselves make it more special.

Ingredients:

1. Cowpeas - 1 cup
2. Brinjals - 4- quartered
3. Shallots - handful - chopped finely
4. Green chilies - 3
5. Curry leaves - 1 sprig
6. Tomatoes - two small sized or 1 large - chop them into small pieces
7. Salt to taste
8. Mustard seeds - 1 teaspoon
9. Sesame oil - One and a half tablespoon
10. Sambar powder or all-purpose milagai podi - This is a readily available stuff in every Tamil household. I shall come out with an exclusive recipe for this soon. You can also use a teaspoon of store-bought sambar powder instead.

Method:

1. Soak cowpeas in lukewarm water for about 5 hours. Pressure cook them with three cups of water and a little salt for 7 whistles.



2. Heat oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Add mustard seeds, and once they start spluttering, add green chilies, curry leaves and shallots. Fry them until the shallots turned translucent. Add chopped tomatoes, and fry them for few more minutes.

3. Add the brinjals, and fry them well for a minute. Then add salt as per taste. Add two teaspoons of the all-purpose milagai podi or a teaspoon of sambar powder. Mix well, and add some water to cook the brinjals.



4. Once the brinjals are soft enough, which may take up to 12 minutes on medium flame, transfer the contents of pressure cooker into the pan, and keep cooking. Adjust salt.



5. Let the contents boil for 10 minutes on medium flame. The preparation should be watery.  The taste of cowpeas and brinjal is the highlight! Love it....



This should be eaten with hot rice or saamai arisi (saamak-ki-chaawal in Hindi or little millet in English). I could only share a few of the rituals and traditions associated with Sankaranthi. I look forward to sharing many in the coming years. Childhood memories, rituals, traditions, dreams, principles, realities  and FOOD - that is what life is all about!

Hope you all have a wonderful year ahead, and may your dreams come true.... See you all shortly with a Pongal-special dish.




Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Jangri Recipe: New Year Special!

Before I get to the recipe, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to each and every one who visited my space, read and tried the recipes. I wanted to express my gratitude and love to those who left comments on my writing and also to those who strolled by my blog to see "What did she write today?" January 1st 2014, it was then I decided to post my first piece of writing at this space. Though I wrote, I did not have the courage to post it to public media, because I thought my writing was not up to the mark. However, I rolled up my sleeves and posted it to your sight. One post after the other, I slowly started gaining confidence. I have never written anything for myself. I wrote for my profession but with lot of help. When I started writing, back in early 2000, a pro in the field commented, "Your writing is awful. It is not articulated, no sense of grammar and it is a torture to read what you write".  A timid and naive Sharmila, then, started weeping. I did not take immediate step to correct my writing. I let it loose. Years later, I felt communication, both speaking and writing, is absolutely important to convey and achieve things. I may not be a pro now, but I believe that it has improved a lot, and I got appreciation from people whom I consider great writers! Thanks to the grueling GMAT verbal sessions. They drilled me thoroughly!! They drove me crazy for almost 2 years, at the end of which my grammar improved tremendously. I am still learning, but I don't make much mistakes grammatically. I always wanted to write, express and be clear in my thoughts. I see the same loop revisiting: "You will achieve what you want to, if not today, some day". It is all because of your encouragement, likes and comments that I have a blog alive. Thank you very much!

The past year has been a happening year for me. A change of place, a new and satisfying job for my partner, new people and mainly many expeditions, debacles and achievements that made me stronger and hardier! "Hope" is a panacea for every negative thing we experience in life. It is "Hope" that makes us resilient and energetic every time. With lots of hope and good wishes in this New Year, I bring you this sweet recipe. 

Called as "Jangri" or "Imarti" by the whole of India, I was introduced to this colorful sweet as "Jilepi". My first and oldest memory for this sweet dates back to my chithi's (mother's sister) wedding in 1983 (I was 3 and a half). Clad in a beautiful honey colored silk frock with a maroon peter pan collar, I thoroughly enjoyed the wedding. The two most impressive things about the wedding for a three and a half year old were: the orange colored glossy sweet and the velvety red slippers my aunt was wearing.  I signed a pact with my appachi (mother's father, not TVS apachi!!!!) that he will get me those slippers as soon as possible. He bought me a pair the same evening. Love him!

I had a sweet tooth as a child. I gulped kilos and kilos of sweet without hesitation. I ate "Jilepi" limitlessly in my chithi's wedding. Till date, my love to this shiny sweet did not fade a bit. I love it! When I tried it 6 years ago in my cute, little "pigeon hole" apartment in West Philly, it was a super flop! Ha.... I was not intimidated. I tried it again, and it came out fine. Every time, shape was the issue. Taste was absolutely brilliant! Yesterday, I wanted to prepare it after the kids went to sleep. As usual, the latter did not happen, and so I went ahead to set the journey amidst all chaos. 

Here is what you need:

1. Urad dal - 1 and a half cups
2. Sugar - three cups
3. Rose Essence - Flavor it as per your tolerance level
4. Orange food color - A pinch. I used the Wilton orange food dye that is commonly used to make cake fondants and butter cream icing. Michaels has tons of it.
5. Cardamom Powder - Flavor it accordingly
6. Icing bag and No. 10 round, icing tip.
7. Corn Flour - This is to give that crispness to the sweet. You can use rice flour as well. One of the two!
8. Oil to fry

Method:

1. Soak urad dal for four to five hours and grind it in a stone grinder with very little water. Just keep sprinkling enough water for smooth grinding. The batter shouldn't be too loose or too tight either. 

2. Add the corn flour and food color to the batter and mix well with your hand.



3. Make a sticky (not the string consistency) sugar syrup by adding three cups of sugar and 3/4th cup of water. When it comes to rolling boil, reduce the flame, add cardamom and rose essence. Keep it a bit warm to avoid crystallizing. You can squeeze in a quarter lemon to avoid crystallizing, but I felt it could add sourness, and hence did not go for it.



4. Fit in the icing tip to the plastic bag and start making whirls in the oil. Practice it on a plate if you are not comfortable. If you are good at icing and piping, it is a piece of cake. Thanks to those Wilton classes at Michaels!

Don't worry about the shapes. It will not come easily. The first time I did it, I made the tamil letter "இ". Doesn't it look like "Jangri"? I started with this and later tried the professional one. I have still not mastered it. It will take time. Lots of practice is the secret of life and secret of good "Jilepi"!

video



5. When you pipe the batter in the oil, keep the flame low. Fry it until it is slightly brittle. 

6. Transfer the jilepis to the sugar syrup. Coat it on all sides, nooks and corners. Leave it on a plate.

7. I didn't even wait to get cold. As usual, I hogged immediately!



There is no "the way" to make anything in the world. There is only "your way". It goes well for recipes and for life. Play around a bit. You will come out successfully. All food blogs provide only guidelines. You are the master. This is my experience!

Hope you enjoyed reading my "Jilepi" journey and my recipe. Wishing you all good health, happiness and prosperity in this New Year! Thank you all once again for your continuing support and encouragement!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tha ki ta - tha ka dhi mi: My Dance Journey

Every child has an inclination toward his or her own interests that is quite visible at an early age. I am sure my parents saw that inclination in me, and that pretty much ended up in making me participate in every cultural event that came up in my little school. The school authorities and a few other parents tried their best to bring in classical dance teachers. Partly successful, they tried to retain the teachers for a long time, but somehow, for the teachers' own personal reasons, they left within a few months of teaching. I still remember a dance teacher by name Latha, a brahmin lady, with bright patches of marudhaani (mehendi) in hands and feet. Though I was in an age that would not give me a complete glimpse of how proficient a professional dancer should be,  I was impressed with her dance movements. When I was 13 years old, a classmate of mine, by name Latha (Lathas have had quite an impact on my life!!!!), performed classical Bharatanatyam for the song "Ninnaye rathiyendru", a Bharathiar song. That performance made me realize that I did not pursue my dance fervor diligently, but I had to bury that desire deep in my heart for many reasons, the main one being board exams and big numbers! I recently happened to read a quote somewhere, "Whatever you ask for comes to you, it may come today, maybe tomorrow or even a few years later. Every detour and derailment you experience in the journey brings you back as a much stronger, knowledgeable and wise person, and you will be what you wanted to be, one day". Believe me, the day came in my life too!!

Much later, at an age in which many dancers might have actually completed a formal training in classical dance, I gave a pleasant surprise to the dancer in me! I went to Bangalore to earn a PhD. On a balmy evening, I was driving with a friend of mine in a suburb of Bangalore, looking for some chatpata snack. Suddenly, a sweet vibration struck our ears, and we had to stop. We walked into the house, introduced ourselves, and said we wanted to learn dance. The elegant teacher with a radiant smile accepted us as her students, and we soon started dancing along with kids half our sizes. We two were happy, and we soon crossed many steps and levels as we could comprehend and implement the gestures efficiently. Soon we both became the favorites of our teacher.

Guru Smt. Anuradha Vikranth


Guru Smt. Anuradha Vikranth, a perfect and elegant dancer, is my dance teacher who gave a life to the dancer in me. She believed in me, gave me difficult steps, made me perform tough talas (rhythms), and brought out that sleeping talent in me to my own surprise. I really did not know that I was capable of striking tough poses. She believed in me more than I did. Her skill and grace mesmerized me a lot. I used to gaze at her abhinayas (facial expressions and body language), the swirly movements, the imaginary geometrical lines that she drew in air, and mainly her focus and stamina! I am blessed to have been a student of such a wonderful dancer and a meticulous mentor. She took rights on me to teach me, perfect me, make me more gracious and elegant. I completely surrendered myself to her during the classes. It was a wonderful experience, and I have never had such a mentor in my life. She took me along to places where she performed, and I was lucky enough to share the stage with her. Believe me, no teacher would allow that in such a short period of time. She positively believed in each of her students and completely trusted their talents. Her warmth and smile is infectious.

She got me lots of opportunities, and I performed with my dance group in many professional organizations and temples. The best moment was when we won first place in a dance competition held in ISKCON, Bangalore. The judge came to us and asked about our teacher. When she heard our Guru's name, she said "That explains"!

While receiving recognition from the ISKCON group

The link for the dance on the day of felicitation is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diiF2mYr1ZM&feature=youtu.be

It's a five minutes video, and it gives me extreme pleasure to watch it over and over. Hope you will enjoy it too!


Kavitha, Anu Madam and me

Anu madam is highly regarded and revered among the dance fraternities throughout India. The Drishti dance festival that is held once every year in Bangalore and the Drishti art magazine that she publishes quarterly explain her commitment and dedication to art.

Drishti Dance Festival Flyer - 2014

I literally had the opportunity to see the dance school grow. I joined the school when it was a sapling, and now it is a huge tree, firmly rooted, spreading its elegant branches to identify and accompany talents. I still reside in one of its branches as a student who witnesses the various performances and the steady growth of Drishti!

Arangetram, a formal stage performance of a dancer, a day that can be held equivalent to a graduation, is one of the first accomplishments for a dancer to continue his or her journey alone. I too dreamt of it. I began the training for Arangetram, brought my parents from Coimbatore to have a talk with my Guru about the show , decided on the costumes and invitations for the D-day. Every time I consider myself lucky, something has to happen to prove that I am not lucky enough! Not that I had to pay a heavy cost for it, it has always been between choosing one of the two equally important things. Such a day came to me too. I was finishing my PhD successfully, and I had to defend. It was also time for me to begin my marital life, horoscopically! Most of you might have read my earlier post on our wedding journey. According to me, it is one of the greatest accomplishments of mine that paved way for many blissful occasions. I was confronted with an Arangetram, a thesis defense and a dream wedding! Clearly, I was in one of those crossroads of my life. Moreover, I started developing ulcer and anemia, and was not advised to perform any strenuous task.

I had to take the decision of giving up my dance journey... The most painful and regretful decision of my life!!

Thereafter, I have involved myself in different kinds of cultural performances, mainly dance to keep me motivated for dance and music. I was not able to keep up my perfection, and slowly, the grace and minute details of my dance started to fade. Now I am in a stage where I can mentally perform any step in dance, but when it comes to implementing it, I take some time to get the step and bring perfection in it! Anu madam was very particular about the costumes, make-up and hair dressing. Every time she applies make-up for me, she would stare at my dense, non-professional eyebrows! As usual, I would promise her "Next time, ma'am".

For people who have seen me strict about practice, smile and perfection while dancing - I have been trained professionally to bring out the best. I was taught to consider every stage performance an offering to God, respect to Guru and gratitude to my parents and audience. I cannot take any performance easily. I was taught to be what I am today, as a performer, by my Guru Smt. Anuradha Vikranth. It's hard for me to express my gratitude to her in words. She has taught me a deal of things, and she is the only person who recognized my talent, trusted my capabilities and gave opportunities to revive the dancer in me. I wish her the best in life!

How can any post in my blog end without thanking my better half? The other person who traveled along with me, rather guided me protectively and carefully through my dance journey is him. He would drop me in the dance school every day, and he would be there waiting for me along with little children's parents outside the school. He was there for every performance of mine and would click away pictures as if I were a celebrity! He relentlessly drove me through the narrow streets of the busy city, looking for a perfect costume. Once, I had to leave for a friend's wedding after a performance in Raveendra Kalakshetra. We were engaged by then and were traveling together to Salem. The show ended late, and we had to rush to Majestic train station. I was on the bike with my dance costume, a brightly colored face and reebok shoes (!!!). The moment we reached the platform, I started pulling off the jewelry, and he was carefully putting them in my kit pack, helped me clean my make-up, got me settled and got something to eat. An elderly couple boarding the same train had a smile on their face!


My dear friends who attended one of my performances in Bangalore

I am glad to register my thoughts here for your read. Now, those memories have been given a form and will remain here forever.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

BADUSHA: A Diwali Delight

Badusha - Even the thought of it makes me drool! This was the first sweet I tried all by myself when I came to this country, and I treated myself with this scrumptious sweet for the kitchen queen in me. I definitely deserved it as I was an amateur cook then, and I treated myself quite often, sometimes with flaw and sometimes perfect! Badushas were hard to avail in my little town, back in the 90s. These days, there are numerous sweet stalls that sprawl around every corner of the street. Mommy was very particular about hygiene, which literally did not allow us to eat sweet from anywhere outside. Also, those days, sweets were meant to be festive treats. That too, a badusha was certainly an once-a-year treat. A week before Diwali, mommies would convene at their favorite spot to discuss about sweet and savory items for Diwali. After it was all decided, a day was chosen, materials were bought, children were put asleep, and the embers were set. A few curious kids would linger around to have a taste of the freshly made sweets. Usually, a spot in the back yard was chosen to lit the embers. Melodies from Coimbatore radio station and Ceylon radio station, a few cups of filter coffee, chit-chats and gossips kept them all awake till late night.  Ahhh... Those were days!

I always wanted to cook, both as a child and as an adult. I proudly say this, as it gives me extreme pleasure to create, experiment and present. I love to cook, except when I have had enough! I almost screamed when a dear cousin of mine from Cary, North Carolina told me that it is easy to make badusha. We visited her family in November 2007 for Thanksgiving, and I finished almost all of her home made badushas single-handedly ( proud me!!!!). I had to ask for recipe, and she happily opened the doors of her cookbook. Aha.. That's how my badusha journey began. I tried it once, re-tried, three-tried to get it perfectly. Perfection achieved, I made it every time there was a party. A friend of mine asked for recipe, and I stuck to the golden rule of spreading and inspiring others to cook. I still have the MS Word-written recipe with me. Now that I have a blog and you all to read and appreciate, I have to share the recipe here.

Happy Diwali!


Ingredients:

All purpose flour - 3 cups. I used King Arthur, organic, unbleached all purpose flour.

Butter - 1/2 cup or 1 stick or 113 grams

Oil - 3 tbsps

Yogurt - 4 tbsp

Baking soda - 1 tsp

Sugar - 3 tsp

Sugar syrup:

Sugar - 1 cup

Water - 11/2 cups

Cardamom Powder - a generous pinch

Saffron - a few strands.

Method:

Sugar Syrup:

Add sugar and water in a heavy bottomed pan, and heat it until it comes to a rolling boil. Now add the cardamom and saffron. Then reduce the flame to medium, and keep boiling until it comes to a single string consistency. It means, when you place the syrup between your thumb and index finger and gently pull the fingers apart, it should form a single string. Keep it in very low flame just to contain the heat in syrup, else it may crystallize.


Dough:

Melt the butter to liquid, add all the ingredients together except the flour, in a wide pan. Whisk them all well, and now add the flour. Use both your hands to rub the flour against your palms. This is very important as properly mixed and rubbed flour will give rise to flaky badushas at the end. Now that all clumps are gone and the flour rubbed well, add very little water to knead it into a dough. Make it into a soft, pliable dough, cover it with a moist cloth, and leave it for 10 minutes. Then knead again, beat the dough against a hard surface. After all these harsh treatments, the dough looks really ready-to-go!

Ready to go


Pinch out little portions from the dough and roll it with your palm to make smooth balls. Now comes the decoration part. You can either make swirls or can make it into patties with a small dent in the middle.



The Glazy Badushas

Heat the oil, and to know whether it is ready for frying, throw a crumb of dough into the oil. The crumb has to immediately raise to the surface without settling to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the flame to medium, and slowly place the patties in the oil. I got a useful tip from a food site called sharmis passion. As you drop the patties, turn off the stove. Wait for the oil bubbles and hiss sound to completely vanish. Once it is gone, turn on the stove to a medium heat. Fry until golden brown. Place the patties onto a tissue to drain oil. Then place them in sugar syrup for 2-3 minutes. Flip them to coat with syrup.  Place them on a plate, and wait until the sugar crystallizes on the surface. Store them in air tight containers, and leave them outside. It is winter. They will stay fresh for long.

I carry lots of fond memories of badusha. What is your favorite sweet? Badusha, would be my answer, always! I am sure you too will have the same answer, especially after reading this post. Expectations!!!! Sigh....

A very happy Diwali to all of you. Let the lights illuminate your lives forever!