Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fruits of the Season

If someone asks me which is the best part of my vacation it is easily the time I spent in my grandma's village. But it is all perspective.

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Custard Apple


DH's cousin's daughter who lives in a village put it this way "If you live here all the time it is not that very interesting with barely anything to do but if you visit for a short time you will definitely find it peaceful and nice".


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The Mango Tree!


May is the best time of the year to visit India to enjoy the myraid of fruits that are available in abundance. Some of the fruits are available even now even though it is the fag end of the season. We are enjoying mangoes, jackfruit, jamuns, sapottas,custard apple and not to forget the wide variety of bananas.


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Mangoes


Most of the mango trees had finished bearing fruits for the season. The lone tree in my grandma's backyard still held fruit which we were able to shake loose and enjoy with some chili powder and salt. Some of them became mango thokku.


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We still have not finished visiting everybody which is the case if we visit for two weeks or two months and over the years we have learned to live with it.


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Organic farming is catching on here ever so slowly. Articles in the newspapers and magazines about the advantages of organic farming appears regularly. The most alarming thing is the rate at which farmland is getting converted to plots for sale.


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Organic Cow Peas (thatta payar)


Besides the rivers, farms, fruit trees, canals and wells the other interesting thing for kids in a village are the farm animals.


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Monday, July 13, 2009

Athai's Special - Cauliflower Fry


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What is it about villages that is so intoxicating? DD remembered that she had a great time there the last time, DD2 was all enthusiastic though I doubt she had any recollection of the previous visit. I was looking forward to spending time with grandma and reliving some fond memories and watching delicacies being created in the kitchen.

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Cauvery river

Like I have mentioned many times before my forefathers till recently (just before my parent's generation) were all farmers. I am not really sure if am happy that my parents chose to get themselves educated and leave the village but whom am I to say that! DD and DD2 found several things to do, the swaying coconut trees, the green banana plants, the water filled canals called big canal and small canal - benefiting from water that has just been released in the Kalingarayan canal which is the lifeblood of farmers in the region.

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parisal - not sure of the English name

The monsoon this year has not arrived yet and everything looks so parched. The once mighty Cauvery river looks forlorn. But the small boats (parisal) that ply that ferry passengers from one shore to another is still in service. The kids had fun taking a private ride and looking for shells.

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a very old railroad crossing sign


Just walking around the fields, taking a walk to the river, plucking the last few mangoes from the lone mango tree that still held fruit are just some of the activities that kept them busy. But time flies and there is so much to do with the freedom that is not available while living in a city.

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mixed with spices

Even in this seemingly idyllic place there are tensions that simmer just under the surface. Like in any village everybody knows everybody else but that does not mean there is no conflicts and jealousies. I will reserve the story for a later date -would make a great situation for a village themed Bharathiraja movie.

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being fried

In the kitchen delicacies were made for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most days we are too full to even attempt dinner. Whenever there are guests my ammayee never fails to make paal kari kuzhambu and ghee roast to go with it. After a hearty breakfast like this one it is hard to keep your eyes open leave aside working up a healthy appetite for lunch but come lunch time it usually is not hard to be ready, my athai (mom's brother's wife) insisted on making some cauliflower fry which DD2 relished on a trip to eat a restaurant once and probably still is famous in and around Coimbatore for quick everyday food - Annapoorana anyone?. When we were in college this was one of the handful of restaurants found around the city and two of us could comfortably eat within Rs.10 but these days Rs.10 won't take you far. Well now, the scene is far more crowded along with a choice of cuisines to pick.

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Ready to eat



Cauliflower fry
Ingredients
1. 1 head of cauliflower (about 3 cups of florets) cut into florets with the stem about 1 1/2 inches
2. 1 tbsp chili powder
3. juice from half a lemon
4. 1/2 tbsp corn flower
5. 1 tbsp ginger, garlic paste
6. 1/2 tsp red food coloring (optional)
7. salt to taste
8. Oil for deep frying

Method
1. Heat a sauce pan of water (enough to soak the cauliflower florets) till boiling, remove from heat and let the cauliflower sit in the water for about 10 minutes. Important that the cauliflower be not more than half cooked for the fry to be crispy.
2. Completely drain the water and mix in the ingredients 2-7 and toss till all the flowers are well coated.
3. In a sauce pan or kadai heat oil and fry the cauliflower in batches.
4. Drain and eat immediately (it is hard to resist anyway)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mom's special - Fish Fry

DD got a little apprehensive when I suggested train journey for travel to some of the places that we still want to visit. The most recent train journey she remembered was of the Amtrak trip we had taken to Chicago and expected the Indian train travel to be the same. Partially my fault for suggesting a non-AC day coach for a truly Indian train experience. The heat, lack of sleep and the added delay all contributed to a less than memorable experience. We packed lunch from the Saravan Bhavan in the train station and eating that on the way was one of the tiny pleasures of a train travel were the train seemed to idle far more than move. The juicy mangoes sold on board, people idling outside for the train to (re)start are all uniquely Indian experiences. When the train stopped for 2 hours in the middle of nowhere and water was getting scarce people with bottles in their hands ran into the fields to fill them from the motor pumping water to irrigate the fields.


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Ingredients


Few days after landing here the news from here that kept repeatedly looping through all the TV channels was of a Congress MP who slapped a bank manager. The next was of another politician who threatened a high court judge to give judgement in favor of his relative. Just to confirm that politicians have not changed their colors from when I visited the last time which was not that long ago. But one hopes!


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slathered in paste


The one true pleasure is the everyday shopping of vegetables in shops found in every street corner after being starved for fresh vegetables. The fresh vegetables are truly a treat for the eye and stomach. Another food find atleast for was the Indianized pizza. With a super soft bread base and a non oily cheese and spicy toppings be it just vegetables or chicken they are a great snack. Everyday food is what we are enjoying most. The simplest of chutneys, sambhar, rasams, poriyals (stir fries) and an occasional spicy chicken or fish thrown in. I am not sure if it is the hand or the ingredients the food seems to taste so much better than when I cook them - I am positive it is not the hand but the ingredients that I get ;)

The Hindu supplement - Literary Review carried an article about a Tamil poet and novelist Salma. With little over a middle school education she writes of subjugation and sexuality of women in the Muslim community. She is a bit sad that girls from her community rarely read her books. The English translation of her work is "The Hours Past Midnight". I am hoping to buy a copy of the book soon, hence I don't have a first hand knowledge of the book itself. Her observation about Indian writers I thought was spot on- "Most English writers are removed from the margins of our society. They do not have an ear to the ground as many of them are from the upper crust". The article was inspiring in a way and thought I'd share.


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on the gridle


Today is a special day and the special on the menu is my mom's style fish fry. My mom uses (gasp) Olive Oil to fry the fish in a flat pan on a magnetic hot plate. Grandma was so very proud when the kids exclaimed it was the best fish fry ever. I took pictures while my mom's helper was frying the fish, I am sure found it strange to see food being photographed and I did not exactly look at her face. The fishmonger gave the name of the fish as "paala". A subtle tasting light fish, slightly firm and does not fall apart while being fried or in a curry.


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fried fish



Fish Fry
Ingredients (15 pieces of fish)
1. 8-10 cloves of garlic (3 American kind)
2. an inch size piece of ginger grated
3. juice from one lemon (lime size)
4. 1 tbsp curd
5. 1 tbsp sambhar powder
6. 1/4 inch piece of cinnamon
7. salt

Blend the above except the curd to a smooth paste. Do not add extra water. Mix the curd to the paste.

For Frying
1. 1-2 tbsp of Olive Oil

Method
1. Clean the fish and apply the paste evenly on the fish pieces and let it dry out in the sun.
2. Heat the flat griddle (dosai pan) and apply a coat of oil. Now place 3 fish pieces on the pan and let them cook on one side, flip and cook evenly on the other side.

Serve with rice

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mudumalai

I dream in technicolor every time we plan for a visit back home but the reality is more black and white.


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Geniuses aren't they?


After the mandatory 3 hours in the airport which is true for any international flight, with two excited kids who could not wait to meet their grandparents and extended family we finally took off, only to be back were we started due to some drama in the air. An hour into the flight we were informed that the plane had developed some mechanical problems, one of the generators had failed and had to get back to the closest airport - none other than the one we started at a couple of hours ago.


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See the little one?


The pilot asked us not to be alarmed at the fuel that had to be dumped through the rear tail and make it possible for the plane to land. With anxiety about the connecting flight, if to stay back and start the next day we descended into the airport once again wondering what would happen to the fuel that is dumped mid air? does it evaporate? It might not be pleasant to have anybody's house being drenched with jet fuel we thought!. It took about 5 hours to get another plane ready by which time we were tired, hungry and certain we would miss the connecting flight from Frankfurt.


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Though the airline took care of most formalities the rush to inform people on both sides about the happenings had us literally on our toes the whole time with aching limbs and no mood to shop. We eventually reached home about 10 hours late via Dubai. By then we had spent a little over 24 hours in planes and airports and still had a while to go before we reached home.


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It would have been anti climatic if the train we took had arrived on time. The jinx continued and the train was 3 1/2 hours late reaching our hometown and we were one exhausted bunch. The flight from Frankfurt to Dubai was Emirates Air and they have one of the best services. On board entertainment being top notch. Sadly we do not have Emirates Air flying from our neck of the woods to Chennai. We have to go New York to board one which is never a problem while leaving but always a bit too much when flying back in.


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We went on a planned trip to Mudumalai forest. We saw a whole lot of elephants and they are majestic creatures indeed. We stayed in the government accommodations which was more practical than luxury, but the food was another matter altogether. In the ramshackle kitchen the cook whipped up some delicacies that were truly mouth watering. I was too busy eating and forgot to take pictures. The thing is whenever we visit most anything we eat tastes delicious but the consensus among family members who have a superior sense of taste was that the food was outstanding. So everybody was eager to get the recipes which the cook gave out without any hesitation. No exotic ingredients just regular every day stuff. I am eager to recreate them when I get back. The broken wheat payasam (pudding) with coconut milk was the best of them all.


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Pykara Falls


Keeping up with the forest theme we did not have power through the night and were glad when it was daylight again. We saw a quite a lot of elephants in their habitat but the more exotic creatures chose not to reveal themselves.


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In and ...


There are pythons and other snakes that live there, though common sense that these creatures live in the forest luckily we had not heard stories of them till the morning or the midnight tryst to the bathroom in the fading cell phone light would have been too scary.


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... around Ooty



Have a great Fourth of July everyone.

Picture Courtesy: DD and DH's brother