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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's time for new beginnings !!

Yeah we have reached that point of time where it is considered mandatory to make new resolutions. It is a different story that most of them do not even last beyond the first month of the new year. But still everyone makes them.

Funnily enough I have been working on my new year resolutions for more than six months now. Yeah, some things have been going on and on in my mind ever since the middle of the year 2014. Most of you would wonder why did I wait for so long to implement them. To be honest I am not the kind of person who would wait for the new year to start working on something new. But this time I wanted to do my homework well. Another reason has been that I have a young kid at home. And therefore I had to strike that precarious balance between my dreams and my immediate responsibilities as a wife and a mother.

Coming back to my resolution, it is a fairly simple one on the surface. Putting it in one single sentence, I would put it as "I want to become financially independent again". Sounds simple enough. I worked for more than seven years (starting from the final year of my college) before I assumed the responsibilities of a being a hands-on mother. It meant giving up my job which translated into becoming financially dependent on my husband and moving a notch down the social ladder. But sadly it meant giving up much more than I can write in a single blog post. However it is something which another person would find difficult to understand.

With my kid growing up, I am now fighting for that comeback. And I want make it on my own terms. Balancing life as a blogger and writer, I want to get back everything that I had put aside. And with a high performance tab like the Micromax Canvas P666, I can do everything from managing my sponsors,staying connected with my readers and reaching out to a greater audience. Yeah, this tab is a multi-tasker just like me.

Being a blogger, it is not just important to have great content on my blog . Taking it to the audience is equally important in this age of social networking. This tab has camera (both front and rear which can be used to share snaps directly from my kitchen  ), 1080p HD video recording (which can be used to make those short Youtube videos of my recipes) and 3G connectivity (for faster upload). In short everything to support me and my dreams.

This post is written for the Micromax Canvas Tab P666 . Check out their rocking video -

Monday, December 29, 2014

Patanjali Honey-Orange Face wash Review

I am loving the Patanjali 'Honey-Orange' Face wash this winter. Though I started using it sometime in the second week of November, I decided to hold the review atleast for a month so that I could be sure of its effects in the long run. Now that my first tube is almost over, I can still say that I love it.

Endowed with a refreshing Orangey scent, it contains ingredients like Honey, Neem, Tulsi, Haldi, Mulethi and ofcourse Orange. Moreover, it is a hundred percent soap free gel formulation.

My experience with the product - 

My skin is quite well behaved this winter and I do not get much dryness except on certain days. I guess that is due to some hormonal fluctuations that I have been experiencing of late. The Honey-Orange face wash gives a rather rich lather so I just need to use a single drop of it. Thankfully the lather also gets washed off quite easily (unlike the Soundarya Face wash). Have been using it twice a day and it leaves my skin squeaky clean. I do not feel the need to run for a moisturizer immediately after washing my face. Skin looks quite radiant and it has effectively taken care of the stray pimples ( I do get 2-3 eruptions at times) too.

Why would I recommend the Patanjali Honey-Orange Face Wash ?

Pros -

1. Suits normal to slightly dry skin (Most importantly does not dry out skin in the long run)
2. Leaves a glow on the skin
3. Priced economically at Rs 45/- for 60 ml
4. Love the citrus scent
5. Good lather that washes off easily
6. 100 percent soap-free
7. Can fit into any handbag easily.( Rest assured the cap is sturdy so it doesn't leak )

Cons -

1. Contains Parabens .

Verdict - This is fares better than the Patanjali Saundarya Face wash and I am definitely buying it again.

Rating - 4.5/5 .

Dilli-wala Gajar ka Halwa (North Indian treat)

My earliest memory of making 'Gajar ka Halwa' dates back to the 6th or the 7th standard when i used to help my Mom with grating the carrots and stirring the mixture at regular intervals. However it was only after I got married that I started to manage the entire process all by myself. And I took to experimenting with different methods and playing around the ingredients, sometimes with great results and at other times, not so good.

But sometime during my pregnancy, my husband asked one of his colleagues to get some special 'Dilli-wala' stuff on one of the latter's Gurgaon trips. And I was hooked. It was the best 'gajar-ka-halwa' I have ever had. True it was loaded with calories but still it awesome and I could not just stop at one. So, my husband had to request other folks flying to Delhi to get some for me everytime. It was one of the very few thing that I craved for during my pregnancy.

I badly wanted to replicate the taste in my kitchen and consulted various folks. But somehow the results disappointed me. And then I decided to go by what I had seen on one of the TV shows. It was a very long time back so I do not remember anything about the channel, anchor or show. Just that it was somewhere in Delhi and a 'halwai' was sharing some pearls of wisdom with the anchor who looked more eager to dig into the stuff rather than in picking up the finer nuances of making the dish.
The results were astonishing and I could not believe that I had just perfected this North India delicacy.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 150 mins

Ingredients -

  • 750 gms Delhi carrot (the red variety)
  • 1.5 liters milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened khoya
  • 3 tbsp ghee/clarified butter
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
  • 2/3 cup cashews

Preparation -

Wash & peel the carrots. Grate them using a medium/thick grater . (I used the inner side of the Tupperware Handy grater). If you make it too fine, it will almost turn into a paste and the texture of halwa will be spoiled.

Fry the cashews in ghee and keep aside.

Cooking - Boil the milk in a big non-stick vessel. Add the grated carrots and boil on a low flame. Keep stirring at times. Once the carrots seem to be softened (takes about 60-75 mins), turn up the flame to a medium to quicken the process. Or you can continue doing this on a low flame but it will take longer.

Once the milk has almost evaporated, add the sugar. This will again make the mixture more liquid. Continue to cook till the liquid evaporates (20-25 mins) and the mixture reddens in color.

Then add the ghee, crumbled khoya, fried cashews and cardamom powder. Cook for 5-6 minutes before removing from the flame. (Remember to take it off the flame while it is a little liquid as compared to the desired consistency as it will solidify on cooling.)

Serve warm/cold.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

When unspoken words weighed heavy

Some years back when I had just started working, I got my first posting in Mangalore. A beautiful place close to the sea and the newly found freedom made for a magical concoction. It was the first time I was staying away from my parents and the protected life that I had always led. The 'no deadlines', 'no parties', 'no boyfriends' rule had been relaxed and I wanted to make the most out of it as did the others in our group.

Beaches, ports, a nearby fort, city malls, we visited everything worth seeing. But Mangalore being a small place, we felt that we had seen everything within a span of two months and were hungry to explore more. Hence on an extended weekend, we planned a trip to Goa. Even though the hotel and bus reservations had been made, I was scared to mention anything about the trip to my parents. I was scared that they might stop me.

I called them around an hour before boarding the overnight bus and made some excuse about having a late night call. I told them that I might not be able to call them after getting back from office as it might get too late. We boarded the bus and some of my friends fell asleep almost immediately. But sleep kept eluding me all night as I thought about my parents and the lie that I had told them. It being a full moon night, there was much scenic beauty to be enjoyed. The bus took us through a hilly area and then along a road that was almost parallel to the sea. The rising waves looked ethereal in the moonlight but I could not enjoy the sights.

It was a glorious morning when our bus finally reached Goa. A short trip to the hotel was followed by a quick shower and breakfast. We set out immediately to enjoy the famed beaches of Goa. For some time atleast, I forgot about my guilt. After splashing around the water for a few hours, all of us were hungry. We made it to a beach-side restaurant near Baga beach for a sumptuous Goan meal when one of the waiters inquired if we had tried out any water sports. The owner of the place owned some speed boats, banana boats and some parasailing stuff, and offered us a good bargain. But since we had just had lunch, he told us to roam around on the beach for 1-2 hours and do some shopping to burn it off before trying anything adventurous.

After all of us had done a few rounds on the speed boats, we decided to go for a group activity. Zeroing on to a banana boat, we were feeling a bit skeptical but decided to go ahead anyways. Though it was tough to balance the boat at first, all of us got a hang of it and had ventured quite deep into the sea. It was a magical ride with clear blue water, cloud dotted skies and the fish jumping all around us. That is till we encountered an unusually big wave which overturned the boat. As I fell into the water, my first thought was that my parents were in the dark about this trip. Though I had a life jacket on, morbid thoughts filled my mind as I realized that they would be shocked to no end if anything unfortunate happened to me in Goa. It stung more than the salt water which had gotten into my eyes. I made a silent resolve that I would call my parents immediately after reaching the shore.

With the help of the men in our guide boat and the nearby boats, all of us made it to the beach. I had ingested some salt water as I did not know how to swim. But once I had thrown up that stuff and had some fresh water, it felt good. I immediately called my parents and told them about the trip. At first they were upset but when I broke down while narrating the banana boat incident, they chided me for behaving like a naughty child. Their scoldings made it clear that they had forgiven me. A heavy load had been lifted off my chest and I enjoyed the rest of the trip with a clear conscience.

Do check out this touching video which talks about the power of 'Sacchai' -

Chilled Rasam & Sattu Drink: Latest variants from Paper Boat

Paper boat is back with more variants !!! This time it is rasam (???) and sattu (???). While folks from the North would balk at the mention of rasam, folks down south would do the same when it comes to sattu. Hence the strikingly differnt flavours to please all folks :)

Before we discuss the drinks further, let us get a lowdown of the benefits of each -

Benefits of Rasam -

1. Aids digestion.
2. Helpful in cases of flatulence.
3. Helps when one is down with cold/mild fever (thanks to pepper)
4. It is touted to have cholesterol lowering properties too (thanks to tamarind)
5. It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and blood purifying too (thanks to garlic)

Benefits of Sattu -

1. Nutritious and also easily digestible.
2. High fiber content
3. Provides instant stamina
4. Great for diabetics and those suffering from high blood pressure.
5. Greatly refreshing, hence served as a cooling drink during the summers to prevent heatstroke.
6. A natural health drink that helps in maintaining weight.

How I find the stuff ?

Chilled Rasam is a dark brown liquid which is thicker than the regular 'hot rasam' and it lacks a bit of sweetness. Tastes good when chilled though and I think that I might even warm it a bit, add some tempering and have it with my rice.

The Sattu variant is quite thick just like the original stuff. But i would have liked it to be a tad bit sweeter and less sour (though some people do add a little lemon juice to it). I found it to more refreshing than the other variants (with the exception of Aam Panna).

Why would I recommend Paper Boat drinks ??

Yaay's -

1. Low on sugar ( just 1.65 g/100ml for Sattu Drink & zero for Chilled Rasam)
2. Traditional Indian flavours
3. Low on calories ( 31.5 Kcal/100 ml for Sattu Drink and 14 Kcal/100ml for Chilled Rasam )
4. No preservatives
5. No added colors
6. All natural ingredients
7. Nice taste (when slightly chilled)
8. Priced at Rupees 30/250 ml.
9. Gluten free
10. Low GI & low calorie.

Naay's -

1. None. (though i would not mind if both are a tad sweeter)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wishing all my readers a Very Merry Christmas !!!

Christmas always holds special memories in my heart as I grew up in a place which has a sizable Christian population. The carol singing, the decor coming up in people's homes and the treats at a friend's house gave an almost magical quality to the holiday season !!

Do you have any special memories of this festival ??

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ghadaghadiya Tarkari ( An authentic Odia Recipe for Samba Dashami )

'Samba Dashami' evokes images of women getting up early to take a bath before at the crack of dawn. The kitchens come alive with the clanging of utensils and the heavenly aromas drifting out of them. The rising sun rise is greeted with a cacophony of sounds like the blowing of the conch shells (sankha), the 'hulu-huli' ( a kind of sound uttered by mouth) and the ringing of bells. This ritual is observed for the good health and long life of the children and the mother usually offers a particular dish (year after year) to the Sun God for each one of brood. Usually various kinds of Pitha or sweets are offered along with the Ghadaghadiya tarkari. Another variety of prasad is offered to the Sun God during the noon. The final prasad is offered to Lord Yama in a ritual known as the 'Mahakala Puja'. This pooja is done at night and 'Budha Chakuli' is offered to the God.

The story of Samba Dashami is attributed to Samba, the son of Lord Krishna. It is said that Samba who was  afflicted with leprosy had prayed to the Sun God for 12 long years and finally he was cured. The temple dedicated to the Sun God still stands on the Chandrabhaga beach (near Konark temple). Devotees throng this place on the day of Samba Dashami.

Since it is offered to the God, 'Ghadaghadiya Tarkari' does not contain any onion or garlic. The vegetables which go into it are supposed to benefit those suffering from cold and cough, both of which are common ailments during the winter months. Samba Dashami is celebrated on the 10th day of the Shukla Pakhya (waxing moon) during the Odia month of Pausa. This year it falls on 31st December.

Read on  -

Preparation Time - 20 mins (plus extra time required to chop all the vegetables)

Ingredients -

  • 1 cup mati alu /yam (cubed)
  • 1 cup kakharu/pumpkin (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup amrutabhanda/raw papaya (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup shakarkand/sweet potato (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup saru/taro (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup alu/potato (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup mula/radish (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup baigana/eggplant (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup kancha kadali/raw banana (cubed)
  • 1 cup simba/broad beans (inch long pieces)
  • 1 cup jhudunga/yard long beans (inch long pieces)
  • 2-3 medium sized tomatoes (halved)
  • 1/2 cup gajar/carrot (cubed) (optional)
  • 1/2 cup potola/pointed gourd (cubed) (optional)
  • 1/2 cup janhi/ridge gourd(cubed) (optional)
  • 1 cup boiled lentils ( mix of bengal gram, kabuli chana, whole green moong, yellow peas) (optional)
  • 1/2 cup green peas (optional)
  • 1 cup fried badi
  • 2-3 dry red chilis
  • 1-2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin-chili powder
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • 1/3 tsp kala luna/black salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • fistful of coriander leaves

Preparation - Wash and clean all the vegetables. Some of them like raw banana, eggplant have a tendency to blacken if left in the open for too long. So, immerse them in a bowl of water to which a little turmeric has been added.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a large wok/degchi. Add the broken red chilis and cumin seeds to it. Once it gets spluttering, add vegetables like yam, potato, sweet potato, raw banana, pumpkin, carrot and papaya. Saute for a few minutes before adding 2 cup boiling water, salt and turmeric. Cover with a heavy lid and allow to boil for 3-4 mins

Add the remaining vegetables along with the lentils and let it boil for another 5-6 mins or till the veggies are cooked.

Finally add the roasted cumin-chili powder and coriander leaves just before removing from the flame.

Add the black salt and badi when serving.

This curry is usually served piping hot and tastes good with parathas.

Note - If making this curry on a regular day, one can add some fried onions, GG paste and freshly grated coconut to it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Vegetarian Keema Matar (Soya Matar)

Most of the time when I am indulging in a non-veg recipe, I have the tendency to think if it can be replicated/substituted with some vegetarian/vegan ingredients. So, when I cooked Keema matar last week, I felt a strong urge to try it with my favorite vegetarian meat aka soya nuggets. And I was pleased as a punch with the terrific results. The aromas of the spices, the richness of yogurt and the unmatched taste of the fresh green peas ( no frozen ones plz ) make this dish quite unforgettable.

I would love to make this dish for lunch (atleast twice or thrice a week till the fresh peas are in season) and pair it with rotis and some sweetened yogurt. While you can use soya granules if you have them, I made this by soaking the soya chunks in hot water, squeezing them dry and grinding them into a coarse paste. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 15-20 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 cup soya keema/granules
  • 1 cup shelled green peas (fresh ones only)
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • 1 green chili (finely chopped)
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
  • 1/3 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/5 tsp Garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 2 inch long cinnamon stick
  • 1-2 green cardamom
  • 1-2 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tbsp thick curd
  • 3 tsp oil
  • salt to taste
  • fresh coriander leaves for garnishing

Preparation - Soak the soya granules in hot water for 5-10 mins. Wash and squeeze out the water. Repeat twice with warm water.

Chop the onion into medium sized pieces. The tomato can either be finely chopped or grind into a paste.

Beat the curd lightly with a spoon to break any lumps.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a pressure cooker. Throw in the whole garam masala. Add the onions and fry for 1-2 minutes before adding the ginger paste, garlic paste and green chili. Fry for 3-4 minutes till the raw smell goes off.

Add the soaked soya kheema at this point along with the coriander powder, turmeric powder, red chili powder and half of the garam masala. Fry for 4-5 minutes.

Add the tomato pieces and fry for 2-3 mins. Add the beaten curd and cook for another 2-3 mins.

Finally add the green peas, salt and remaining garam masala.

Serve hot with rotis.

Note - Add some meat masala to add that extra zing to this dish !!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Thousand Splendid Suns (By Khaled Hosseini): Book Review

Buy it online on Flipkart.

A moving story about two women who share a relationship which can be described as mother-daughter, best friends, love-rivals (being married to the same man) and more. Mariam and Laila are heroines in the true sense of the word despite the abuse they put up with. Set in the backdrop of the socio-political changes that have completely altered Afghanistan, this one is another gem from the author of the best seller 'The Kite Runner'. It describes in striking details how war or social unrest affects the plight of women and children.

It starts on a relatively calm note. An illegitimate child or a 'harami' who lives on the outskirts of society looks forward to the monthly visits of her father whom she idolizes. In a strange turn of events, her father's spinelessness is revealed when her mother commits suicide and she is forced to marry a much older guy Rashid.

This guy too has a past of his own and one almost feels sorry for him until he starts to reveal his chauvinistic side. "A woman's face is her husband's business". Things get worse when she suffers the first miscarriage and then disintegrate further as there follows a series of those. Domestic violence rears it ugly head but the stoic Marian takes everything in her stride and shoulders on.

Laila on the other hand, has a more privileged and protected childhood. Her father is a teacher and an intellectual and she grows up in a rather liberal atmosphere. Her life is shattered by the sudden death of her brothers and a rocket attack that kills both her parents. Deeply in love with a neighborhood boy (and pregnant with his child), she is then forced to join Mariam's household. Another negative characteristic of Rashid is revealed at this point as he manipulates the fifteen year old into marrying him. A lot of intriguing events take place before the climax (which is a happy ending for those who really want to know). Most noteworthy however is initial skirmish between the two woman (which remind one of the MIL & DIL clash in the Indian telly soaps) and the failed escape bid of the two women and the repercussions that follow. I am not going to reveal more and spoil what can be the perfect read during the Christmas and New Year vacations (if you are the type who prefers to chill out with a book rather then party all night).

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' outraged my sensibilities, made me cry and yet having read the last page, it lit something akin to the glimmer of hope in my heart. Sorry, but you cannot just close this book and get it out of your mind for it continues to haunt you for days to come.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Patanjali Body Lotion Review

Since it is winter, I thought of reviewing all the skin care products that I have been using to keep my skin from getting dry and itchy. While most people would be into body butters during this time of the year, I have decided to stick to the Patanjali Body Lotion instead. Actually apart from my sunscreen, night cream and lip balm, all skin care products are Patanjali ones . Read on for more -

A decent product at a reasonable price. What more does one need ? While I am ok with splurging on face creams and lipsticks, body lotions have to adhere to a stringent budget (Though I did spurge on TBS products during my pregnancy and a year after my baby was born...my skin was very dry at that time). This one does its job fairly well and I love the subtle floral fragrance that lingers on my skin for a few hours after application. Moreover, it is free from any parabens/silicones or other chemicals (going by the list of ingredients).  Priced at Rs 60/- for 100 ml.

I apply it twice a day. Once on towel dried (read damp) skin immediately after a shower and once before I go to bed (and m not feeling too lazy).It gets absorbed immediately and my skin stays well moisturized. It does not stain my clothes nor leave behind any smell in them(have had this problem while I used body butters and some rather heavy lotions)

My experience with Patanjali Body Lotion 

Pros - 

1. Reasonably priced
2. Effective moisturization
3. Best option for folks who like herbal/natural products
4. Gets absorbed quickly
5. Small and sturdy bottle which can fit easily into a handbag.
6. Personally I love the flowery smell.

Cons -

1. May not work for people with very dry skin. 
2. Availability is an issue as with other Patanjali products.

Rating - 4.75/5. I would definitely repurchase this one.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Oats and Sweet Potato Cutlets

I do not believe in waiting for the New Year to implement any resolutions. So, after returning back from my Odisha trip I have been monitoring my diet quite strictly. This year it is not just about losing a few extra pounds but also getting back to a leaner and fitter self. And that requires a lot of mental discipline as well.

I have switched to cooking with very little oil and have bought a non-stick appam pan in which i toast the dishes which traditionally require deep frying. Vadas, cutlets, koftas are some of the examples. I am yet to perfect the oil-free/ low-oil gravy for my dishes but I keep experimenting with that as well. Have been thinking of investing in an air-fryer. Please leave behind a comment/suggestion below the post if you have had a good experience with it.

This recipe combines the goodness of Shakarkandi/sweet potato with oats. While I usually boil/roast sweet potato and have it with black salt, pepper, chili powder and optionally a dash of lemon juice, this one can also be served as snacks. And all those health-conscious guests out there are going to fall head over heels in love with it. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 20-25 mins ( including 15 mins of standby time)

Ingredients -

  • 2 medium sized sweet potatoes 
  • 3-4 tbsp masala oats (I used Saffola oats in Curry & Pepper flavour)
  • 1/4 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/3 tsp pepper powder ( skip if using Pepper flavored oats )
  • 2 pinch black salt
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp oil

Preparation - Wash and cook the sweet potato in a pressure cooker for 3-4 whistles.

Keep aside till steam escapes. Drain excess water, remove and peel the sweet potato .Transfer it to a mixing bowl.

Add all the remaining ingredients except for oil. Mash together. Divide into 10-12 equal portions and give desired shape (disc, oblong, heart or diamond). (Roll the cutlets over some oats spread out on a flat plate for a better presentation)

Cooking - Heat a non-stick frying pan. Grease with 1/2 tsp oil.

Place the cutlets and fry them on a low flame till small brown spots appear. Flip over and repet for the other side as well.

Remove from pan and serve hot with lemon wedges and sauce/chutney.

Note - Do remember to leave any suggestions regarding an air fryer if you have used one .

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kiddie Vacations Made Special

As parents, we look forward to taking our little one on that first vacation. As kids grow really fast and move away, it is these cherished moments that one would always remember having spent together as a family. And therefore it has to be extra special.

A lot of planning is required when taking the kids on a trip. First comes the destination. It has to be a place which engages their curious minds. A jungle safari or a gushing waterfall for example would captivate most of them. Visit to heritage destinations is also a good option once they are old enough to understand the importance of appreciating and preserving culture. Second comes the accommodation. It has to be safe and comfortable. Since most of them are fussy eaters, cottages with a small kitchenette that allow one to rustle up something healthy in no time are always welcome. Alternatively great room service that is available 24 X 7 would also do. Availability of an in-house doctor or someone on call is also something that I keep in mind while taking my kid for a vacation.

Since it is difficult to pack in too much in a day's span if you are tagging kids along, it is best to cover one or two places in a day. The rest of the day can be spent at the hotel or resort unwinding with the kids. Though most of them are powerhouses of energy, they tend get irritated if made to do too many things at the same time. So, it is best to take things at a relaxed pace.

Pools are always a great option for kids as they love to splash about in the water. Most resorts also have a play area with some swings/slides/etc and toys which is why many parents prefer them to regular hotels. While some resorts also host cultural activities during the evening hours, look for ones that have facilities for indoor games so that the kids have an alternative if they get bored. Pack a few books and board games or even an inflatable toy or two so that the kids stay entertained even if they have to be holed up in the room.

Even with the best of destinations and accommodation, some kids tend to feel homesick or insecure when removed from their comfort zone. As parents we can help alleviate such feelings by packing some of their regularly used items like a blanket or a stuffed toy, favorite chips/cookies/packaged juices and talking to them about the wonderful things they would see and learn. Buying small souvenirs so that they can gift it to a loved one or preserve it as a memory of the trip is also a good idea. With some planning and care, we can make the trip a memorable and enjoyable one for the kids.

This entry is written for Club Mahindra

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lakme Lip Love Lip Care Cherry Review

I love winters as it allows me to indulge in loads and loads of lip balms. But since I have pigmented lips just like the majority of Indian women, I prefer those with a hint of color. And the Nivea Lip balm in the shade 'Pomegranate' is by far the best thing that I have tried. However when Lakme launched these 'Lip Love Lip Care' beauties, I could not resist from trying them out. Got them from Amazon during the GOSF. But did they live up to the hype. Read on to find out more -

Lakme Lip Love Lip Care in the shade Cherry

The product promises -

  • Luxurious creamy core that moisturizes your lips
  • Swirl of color for a hint of tint
  • SPF 15* helps protect from sun damage
It comes in 4 flavours - Cherry, Peach, Strawberry and Vanilla. Priced at Rs 200 for 3.8 gms.

My take on the product - 

I picked up the most pigmented variant which is the shade Cherry. The balm leaves behind a light red stain on the lips which will not really show up on very pigmented lips. The moisturization part is ok though not the best. If looks unflattering if you apply it directly on chapped lips. Apply it after a bit of exfoliation for best results. I personally wear it layered under and over the Lotus Pure Color lipsticks which are quite hydrating during the winters. And I do need to reapply it every 3 hours.

Though it looks different in the swatches, I find it to be similar to the Maybelline Baby Lips Lip Balm "Cherry Kiss" when worn on the lips. 

Bottom one - Cherry(Lakme) : Top - Cherry Kiss(Maybelline)

Bottom one - Cherry : Top one - Cherry Kiss 

Pro's of the product -

1. Has SPF 15
2. Looks quite attractive
3. Nice bubblegum flavor
4. Quite moisturizing if one does not mind frequent re-application
5. Tube packaging makes it hygienic.

Con's of the product -

1. Does not really show up on very pigmented lips. 
2. Pricier than the Maybelline Baby Lips Color Balms which delivers similar results.

Rating - 3/5. If you are specifically looking for tinted lip balms during the winter months, buy Nivea or Maybelline Baby Lips. They are not only better but also lighter on the pocket.

Bathua Saag-Dal curry

Bathua Saag or lamb's quarter is a leafy green vegetable that is found during winters. It is quite easy to prepare as both the leaves and stem are edible. It is best to choose stems that are firm. Rich in iron and calcium, they also serve as a good source of vitamins and fiber.

Since I made this vegetable for the first time and was not so sure about the recipe, I decided to cook it along with dal, a hint of tomato and lots of onions. With just one teaspoon of oil going into it, this turned out to be one of the tastiest low calorie dishes that can be paired with rotis. Read on for the easy recipe -

Preparation Time - 15-20 mins

Ingredients -

  • 2 1/2 cups bathua saag (chopped & tightly packed)
  • 1/4 cup toor dal
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 small tomato
  • 2-3 garlic flakes
  • 1/2 tsp pancha phutana (alt - use a mix of mustard-cumin seeds)
  • 1-2 dry red chili
  • 2 pinch turmeric
  • 1 tsp rice bran oil
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Wash the bathua greens in plenty of water. Drain excess water and chop into small pieces.

Chop the onion and tomatoes into small pieces.

Cooking - Transfer the chopped greens into a pressure cooker. Wash the toor dal and add to the cooker. Also add half of the onions and the tomato along with turmeric, salt and 1/4 cup water.

Close the lid and cook for 2-3 whistles. Allow steam to escape before opening lid.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the pancha-phutana and broken red chili. Once it gets spluttering, add the remaining onions and crushed garlic. Fry for a minute before pouring the contents of the pressure cooker into the same pan. Allow to simmer for 2-3 mins before removing from the flame.

Serve hot with rotis.

Note - One can also add one palak / amaranthus to the bathua greens to make it more nutritious. Usually people in Odisha use moong dal instead of toor dal for this recipe.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Chilika Travel Diaries

Last week I realized my long cherished dream of visiting the Chilika lake. Had caught some glimpses of the vast expanse of this lake (the geographically correct term would be 'lagoon' or a area of sea water separated from the ocean by a reef/sandbar) during my train journeys on the Hyd-Bbsr route and had been mesmerized ever since. Though it is merely a two hour jouney from BBSR (which is my in-laws place), something or the other kept coming up during our Odisha trips and we could never make that trip. That is until last week when destiny finally smiled on me ( my husband has been there a number of times during his school days ). For the uninitiated folks, the beautiful Chilika Lake is the largest brackish water lagoon of India. Spread out over an area of 1100 square kms , it covers the Puri, Khorda and Ganjam districts of Odisha. It host a large number of migratory birds in the winter months and offers a whole plethora of scenic spots within the periphery of the water body.

We started off quite late from BBSR as we were in a big group and everyone took time to get ready and reach the starting point. It was almost 11:30 am by the time everyone got into the car . Though we had booked an Innova for the trip, it felt a bit cramped as there were 10 of us including the driver and two kids. Except for a 5 min halt to sip some sugarcane juice and sample dahi bara-ghuguni-alu dum, we travelled without any halts and reached Balugan by 1:20 pm. The trip was planned for a Wednesday as it is one of those days (the other being Friday) where everyone can indulge in non-veg food without offending any God or Goddess (strictly in accordance with Odia culture, others please excuse).

On reaching Balugan, we headed straight to the Chilika Dhaba, which is touted as the sea-food Paradise of Odisha. Though it looked quite nondescript, the sheer number of people who were having their meals here baffled us. There were different sitting areas designated for different sections of travellers or more importantly different budgets. The waiter guided us to a dining hall which was exclusively meant for families/couples. We ordered for crab, prawns, chicken and fish ("pohola", a local delicacy) along with rice, dal, papad and mineral water. The food was served in about 15 mins. Everything turned out to be delicious though the prawns were a bit overdone. To finish it off, we ordered for some masala cold drink. At the end of it, we were handed over a bill of Rs 1600 which sounded too good to be true.

Getting back to the car, it took us another 5-10 mins to reach PanthaNivas/OTDC, Balugan.  Walking towards the lake, I started to lose my nerves and was literally shaking by the time we got into the boat. Though there are quite a few kinds of boats to choose from, the elders decided to go for a old fashioned motor boat. It had no lights, no life jackets and some rod kind of thing which the old boatman used for steering the boat. Though I thought that it made more sense to go for one of the hi-tech boats, I was too scared to mouth any kind of disapproval at that moment. My fears kept rising as the boat moved away from the horizon and the likeness of any civilization grew increasingly smaller. After around thirty minutes we reached a point where we were completely surrounded by water and there was no sight of any shore. This was the point where I was so taken by the glorious beauty of nature that I completely shed any lingering fear and started to truly enjoy the sights. We saw quite a few varieties of birds like the sea fowl which was serenely sailing along the waters, some were swooping down to catch fish, a kind of crane/ergot standing on one leg on a protruding piece of rock and flocks of white,black and yellow birds (sorry but I am no good with those names) flying very low over the waters. We also caught a lone fish jumping out of the waters. The golden rays of the setting sun had colored the lake in beautiful hues of green, blue and red. No wonder that the beauty of this place during the dusk has inspired a beautiful Odia poem 'Kalijai re sandhya'.

We were headed to famed temple of Maa Kalee Jaee/Kalijai, the reigning deity of the lake. Legend attributes the birth of the Goddess to the appearance of the spirit of a young woman who drowned while traversing the lake to reach her husband's home situated on the other side of the lake ( a village by the name of Parikuda which still exists ). While her own life was tragically cut short by the cruel waters of the lake during a storm which suddenly engulfed the boat, she decided to save others from a similar fate. To this very day, people offer their prayers to the Goddess while boarding a boat on this very lake. Folklore depicts her as a 'pratekshya devi' or an omnipresent force who appears whenever her devotees are in distress and some people say that her cries are still heard on the island during the dark stormy nights.

Image courtesy - Wikipedia

We reached the island just as the evening prayer (or 'aarti') was about to begin. Though small, the temple has a unique charm of its own. There were loads of 'lali sankha' (or the red bangle that married women in Odisha wear) tied almost everywhere by the women folk who pray to the Goddess to keep their marriage intact. We also caught some friendly goats and chicken running around on the island. An elderly member in our group informed me that those animals had been gifted to the Goddess by the devotees whose wishes had been fulfilled. The most important festival here is the Makar Sankranti during which a fair called the 'Makarmela' is organised on the island.

I made the return journey in a great state of mind as a long cherished dream had been fulfilled. The Goddess had finally answered my prayers.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Happy Dhanu Sankaranti To All my Odia readers !!

Drive Smart Stay Safe

Did you know that the fatal car crash that killed the much loved Princess Diana and her then partner Dodi al Fayed might have had a different ending if those two had their seat belts on ? This one was the first such accident that instilled the importance of wearing a seat-belt in my mind .

Then there were two more such accidents, this time much closer to home. Couple of years back a family friend was killed while driving back from his elder brother's wedding. The strain from the journey and the lack of sleep proved fatal as he ended up dozing at the wheel. His father was also deeply injured and stayed in a coma for years. This incident radically transformed the financial condition of a well to do family and somehow things could never be the same again.

Another one was quite recent. A much adored cousin was returning home after dropping a newly married couple (who happened to be his wife's close relatives) at the groom's house. In both the incidents, the person driving the car was in a state of sleep disorientation after a night of wedding festivities and most importantly, not wearing a seat belt. Various studies and research has always thrown up figures which claim that wearing seat belts can reduce the rate of car crash fatalities by more than fifty percent and cut down on moderate to critical injuries by an equal number. A simple habit that can save many lives. That is what road safety is all about.

These are some general guidelines which I feel that people should adhere to in order to make the roads a lot more safe than they are  -

1. Do not drive if you are in a sleep deprived state. The same holds true if you have consumed alcohol. It does not matter if you think that things are under control. Both slow down your reflexes.

2. Do not talk on the phone while driving. Instead use a hands free if the call is critical. Though most of us like to believe that we are great at multi-tasking, it is better not to put lives at risk just to make a point.

3. Do not brake suddenly if a stray dog/cat comes in your way and your vehicle is going beyond 70/kmph. Though animal lovers would cry foul, it is the practical thing to be done as the vehicle travelling behind you will not be able to anticipate your move. Still worse, your own vehicle may skid/spin out of control.

4. Avoid driving in fog or during heavy rains. The reduced visibility sharply cuts down the response time available to one under normal circumstances.

5. Do not jump a red light even if the roads are deserted. There might be another idiot out there doing the same thing.

6. Do not use a high-beam while driving on the city roads. It temporarily the driver of the vehicle travelling in the opposite direction. High-beams are exclusively meant for poorly lit roads on the countryside and the highways.

7. Most importantly, use the seat belt. Even the passengers in the rear seats should abide by it.

With some common sense and discipline, we can make the roads a safer place for all.

This post is written for Nissan Safety Driving Forum which is committed to safety on the road. It endeavors to bring about a much needed change in the mindset of the people so that they realize their responsibilities while driving on the roads. NSDF is an annual activity that started in 2012 and has been conducted in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Beauty Lies beyond Fear

Whether it is the fear of addressing a large crowd or the fear of looking down/jumping from heights or even something as common as the feeling of being stuck forever within a small space (also known as claustrophobia), each one of us has a personal Goliath that we would like to conquer. It keeps us from reaching greater heights and often doing things that we would love to do. Dragging us down into a vortex of self-doubt and ignominy, it makes life miserable till we decide to overcome it with sheer grit or will-power.

One of my personal fears was getting into water. Obviously not the crystal-clear aqua blue sort of waters that one finds along the beaches of Thailand or Maldives but the dark murky waters that make one fathom what lies beneath those. To my virile imagination they seem to hold a great many secrets in those churning waves and I only keep wondering about how many lives/boats they would have swallowed. That fear kept me from exploring places that I would have given a hand and a leg to visit.

It had to be overcome if I had to realize a long standing dream of exploring the beautiful Chilika Lake, the largest brackish water lagoon of India. Spread out over an area of 1100 square kms , it covers the Puri, Khorda and Ganjam districts of Odisha. It host a large number of migratory birds in the winter months and offers a whole plethora of scenic spots within the body of the lagoon. One such spot is the famed temple of Maa Kalee Jaee, the reigning deity of the lake. Legend attributes the birth of the Goddess to the appearance of the spirit of a young woman who drowned while traversing the lake to reach her husband's home situated on the other side of the lake. While her life was tragically cut short by the cruel waters of the lake during a storm which suddenly engulfed the boat, she decided to save others from a similar fate. To this very day, people offer their prayers to the Goddess while boarding a boat on this very lake.

This time however I decided to put my fears to rest and take that boat ride to visit the Goddess and enjoy the beauty of that lone island during the sunset hours. Most of the boats that ferry people to that island are old fashioned ones which lack even basic amenities like life jackets and a light. And my resolve almost gave away the moment I stepped into the boat and it started to sway wildly. But I held on amidst the growing nervousness as the boat moved away from the shore and the likeness of any civilization grew increasingly smaller. After around thirty minutes we reached a point where we were completely surrounded by water and there was no sight of any shore. This was the point where I was so taken by the glorious beauty of nature that I completely shed any lingering fear and started to truly enjoy the sights.

The sea fowl serenely sailing along the waters, a few birds swooping down to catch fish, some kind of crane/ergot standing on one leg on a protruding piece of rock and flocks of birds flying very low over the waters and the golden rays of the setting sun which had colored the lake in beautiful hues of green, blue and red were some of the rewards that I received in lieu of conquering my fears and making the journey. We reached the island just as the evening prayers (or 'aarti') was about to begin. My mind was at peace as the Goddess had already answered my prayers and freed my mind of fear. I made the return journey in a great state of mind and survived to share this wonderful experience with my readers.

This post is written for Mountain Dew . Check out their awesome video -

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Coconut-coriander Chutney

Most of the chutneys are meant as accompaniments with snacks or finger foods. Maybe except for some vegetable chutneys like the ridge gourd chutney or the tomato chutney from Andhra, they taste quite insipid with rice. However, this one is an exception. Made this on the day after the Chilika trip when we were feeling quite exhausted and wanted a very simple lunch which included loads of salad and yogurt.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 5 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 1/2 cup freshly grated coconut
  • 1 cup coriander leaves (lightly packed)
  • 1-2 green chili
  • 2 pinch cumin seeds
  • 1-2 pieces dry mango(ambula)
  • 2-3 tbsp yogurt (optional)
  • salt to taste 

Preparation - Grind all the ingredients (except for the yogurt and salt) together into a paste.

Mix in the yogurt (if at all used) and salt just before serving.

Can be had either with snacks or rice.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Who decides what is right or wrong ??

The very mention of pre-Marital sex is like one of those minefields that I personally fear to tread. Considered taboo in India, I find that almost everyone has a strong opinion on the topic. And most of the time, they are dead against it (or at least they proclaim to be). Surprisingly, many of those people would easily brush aside matters like dowry, sexual harassment and even child sex abuse even without offering an opinion. Often it is looked upon as one of those alien imports that happens to be the unfortunate side effect of modernization/globalization. As if our ever burgeoning population does not provide sufficient testimony to the healthy sex drive of the Indians.

There are two ways of looking at the issue of pre-marital sex. The inside out approach and the outside in. While the first one deals with how it affects the individual, his/her perceptions about the act and his/her overall relationship with the current or future partner/soul-mate. The latter deals with how the immediate family and society perceives an individual who indulges in the act.

Focusing on the inside out approach, the degree of commitment in a relationship and awareness are the vital parameters that the individual should consider before getting into the act. While some folks may find the one-night stand approach quite cool, I feel that it has its repercussions in the long run. It lends a degree of casualness to sex and dilutes the emotional aspect of the act. Somehow all those images that we are regularly bombarded with, thanks to the omnipresent nature of today's media, the entire focus seems to be on the act itself and not on the relationship to which it should have been the natural extension. And the easy availability of contraceptives like the 'morning-after' pill seems to have exacerbated such behavior.

While pre-marital sex itself is not bad, studies have shown that it might lead to emotional problems and substance abuse at a later stage. And when the individuals involved are minors, the problem becomes much more pronounced. Teenagers are more prone to peer pressure and get influenced into doing 'it' for all the wrong reasons.

When individuals have found true happiness in each other's company and share every aspect of their life, physical intimacy is only a matter of time. It may or may not wait for the marriage decree which is merely a social sanction. Some may even choose to live-in for a short period before getting married so that they can judge the compatibility level of their relationship. However, they should be ready to deal with heartbreak if such relationships fail.

But looking at the matter from the larger perspective of the society (especially in India), women have always been treated as the sole property of men. Before marriage she is belongs to her father/brother and after her marriage she is transferred to her husband's family. Her virginity/chastity is treated as being synonymous to her family's honor and any deviation from the deeply entrenched social norms is met with harrowing consequences like honor killings. Guys are however exempt from such bindings and many of them choose to lose theirs to an older female relative or cousin or even a prostitute.   However things are changing slowly with youngsters moving to larger cities for pursuing better education/career prospects. A complete turn around maybe a long time away, but the future certainly looks brighter.

I do stand for pre-marital sex when it comes with a relationship but at the same time I would say that youngsters should have enough maturity to deal with the baggage that come with it. After all, nothing can come between consenting adults...maybe except a condom.

This entry is written for Poonaam Uppal's latest offering, A Passionate Gospel of True Love .Buy it online on Flipkart( click here ).

Sajana Phula Patua (Drumstick Flower in Mustard Paste)

This was the last dish that I made with drumstick flowers before leaving my native. A simple and authentic preparation usually made in my mother's family, it is delicious yet very healthy. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 15 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 1/2 cup drumstick flowers
  • 1 medium sized potato
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 green chili
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 3 tsp mustard oil
  • 2 pinch turmeric
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Wash and clean the drumstick flowers. Cut the potato into thin pieces.

Grind the mustard seeds, chili and garlic into a smooth paste.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a wok. Add the potato pieces. Fry for 2-3 mins.

Add the mustard paste along with 5-6 tbsp water. Throw in the drumstick flowers. Sprinkle turmeric and salt. Cover with a lid and cook on low flame for 3-4 mins.

Remove from flame and serve hot with rice/rotis.

Check out more drumstick flower recipes on my blog !!!

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