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Tomato Upma

A staple quick fix breakfast in every South Indian home, called by different names depending on the region in South India where it comes from , it is called Upma (short for Uppumavu), Uppitu, Uppindi, Kharabath etc. There are many variations in preparation of this simple breakfast dish, healthy and filling, it is made from  roasted Semolina or Cream of wheat as it is a called here in the United States.

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Food for me has always been about memories, hence I remember each one of them with fondness & take pleasure in recreating them in a land far away  from home where it originated.  A flashback :The cricket season is in full swing, it is almost a party everyday at home during cricket season, friends drop in stay for breakfast or lunch depending on if it is a day and night match or day time one. Endless cups of coffee & tea are made & served, for those fanatics who are superstitious about moving their chair positions and changing the luck of the game, nail biting tension as India moves to victory, yet the suspense looms large.The grown ups discuss the logistics of the game, while we kids along with our group of friends sit huddled together in the staircase, watching that one huge TV screen as the spinner spins his ball. Upma was flowing in surplus, healthy and hot to have as breakfast, a quick and ready fix for large crowds, was never a favorite of mine growing up, yet as years passed we talk about the health benefits it offers to our kids, don’t ask me when the change happened. my kid loves it and thinks it is one of the cool breakfast his mom makes for him, so far so good. Memories of friends laughter ,shared anticipation to win the game, celebrations after, all of these came flooding by as I stirred my Upma this morning….food like music connects people from a far off time, warming thoughts all over again.

Ingredients : 

Semolina/Cream of Wheat – 2 cups

Ghee- 1 tbsp

Onion- 1 ( finely sliced)

Tomatoes – 2-3

Green chillies – 4-5

Ginger – 1′

Mixed vegetables- 1 cup ( any of your choice)

Turmeric powder- 1 tsp

Salt- to taste

Water – 4 cups ( bring it to a boil)

Seasoning :

Channa & Urad dhal mix – 1 tsp

Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp

Jeera/Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp

Curry leaves or  curry leaf powder (3-4 leaves or 1/2 tsp if it is powdered)

Method :

1.In a thick bottomed vessel add the ghee when it is warm add the semolina to it & roast it fine. Set aside.

2. Now in the same vessel saute the onions, green chillies and ginger after seasoning with Urad  & Channa dhal, mustard & curry leaves. When the onions turn soft add the cubed tomatoes, cover with lid and allow it to turn mushy and soft.To this add the  mixed vegetables and stir fry them a little.

3.Now add the water, bring it to a boil. then add turmeric powder & salt to the boiling water.

4.Now slowly add the roasted semolina to the boiling water & keep stirring till attains a porridge like consistency and all the water is evaporated.

5. Serve hot with  spicy pickles or for little children it can be had with yogurt or bananas too. Enjoy!

Note : Makes a yummy breakfast  & can be made in a jiffy.

 

An Animal That Predicts the Weather?

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“Six more weeks of winter or an early spring? On February 2nd, we won’t rely on our local meteorologist for the forecast. Instead we’ll wait for the prediction from a groundhog.

The tradition of Groundhog Day began in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1887 but its origins date back to an early Christian tradition in Europe called Candlemas. That’s when leaders in the church would bless and distribute candles needed in homes for winter.

 

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It was thought that the number of candles distributed was an indication of how long and cold the winters would be. In Germany, a hedgehog was added to the mix. If the hedgehog cast a shadow on Candlemas Day, it would mean long weeks of cold and snow ahead.

Germans were among the first settlers in the Pennsylvania area.

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When German settlers arrived in the 1700s, they brought the celebration of Candlemas with them. German tradition holds that if the sun comes out on Candlemas, the hedgehog will see its shadow and six more weeks of winter will follow. If no shadow is seen, legend says spring will come early.

 

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They noted that there were many groundhogs in the region that resembled the hedgehogs in Europe, so they became the animal of choice to carry on the tradition.The German settles in Pennsylvania continued the tradition but used a groundhog rather than a hedgehog.

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A little more about groundhogs: Also called woodchucks, they hibernate beginning in late fall and continue to sleep throughout most of the winter. In February, male groundhogs come out of their burrows to look for a mate.

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It was this emergence that most likely started the practice of weather prediction, even though the groundhogs return to hibernation until March.

Punxsutawney Phil, named for the area that originated Groundhog Day in the U.S., is the most famous groundhog.The name Punxsutawney, the town in Pennsylvania where the groundhog ceremony takes place every year, comes from the Indian name for the location “ponksad-uteney”, which means “the town of the sandflies”.Since 1887, he has seen his shadow 97 times and has not seen it 15 times (nine years were not recorded). According to professional meteorologists, this is only a 39 percent success rate.

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The first official Groundhog day was on February 2, 1887, at Gobbler’s Knob, about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, although its first reference can be found in 1841.

Today it is celebrated in the US and Canada, with the most popular ceremony in Punxsutawney, although there are several others across both countries. Crowds in Punxsutawney can be as large as 40,000, and have increased in popularity since the Bill Murray film.

The commercially and critically successful 1993 Murray film is about Phil Connors, an arrogant weather man sent to cover the Punxsutawney ceremony. He subsequently lives groundhog day repeatedly until he gets the day “right”. In 2006, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

But regardless of whether the groundhog’s predictions are accurate or not, the tradition gives us something to look forward to – Spring is just around the corner!”

 

 

 

 

Are you waiting for Spring to arrive ?

Am not sure about you, but me, I am so ready for Spring. Can’t complain much about Winter this year, at least so far it has been manageable, with a few snow days here & there…..yet my heart aches to hear the birds chirp and see the fresh bright blooms all over the place.IMG_3521.jpg

Can’t wait to get my hands in the soil again, get those herbs  and veggies growing in my  little containers….

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…… and let the flowers grow all over the place. They gladden every heart that walks past, sharing the joy seems  fun when you have vibrant happy colors around.

 

There is still  a lot of Winter left, yet I can’t stop dreaming of flowers, and the joy they bring, so here I go sharing some of mine, to lift your mood up on what seems to be a dreary cold winter day here for us.

Say it with flowers !

Purple Power…..

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She’s all dressed in frills, to go partying…img_5508

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The solitary reapers….img_5501

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Ravishing beauty !img_3316

The more the merrier….img_4300_2

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C’mon Spring, we have given every indication that we need you here soon, fly to us please…..

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Chicken soup for the soul ( and to beat the pesky cold)

Growing up in the foothills of the Western Ghats, in South India, I remember making sure my study table always faced the mountains and the deep blue sky, majestically spread above them,  each day  as I sat down to study….the strength and inspiration I drew from those hills was immense. To this day, mountains do that to me,  with their calming presence !

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The water  from the rivers that flowed down those mountains was crystal clear, I used to believe it even had its own music while it flowed over fertile lands quenching farm lands and people along the way. We did not have to plan vacations, every weekend was a retreat  in itself, an escape to these beautiful places surrounded by Nature’s best, rejuvenated the soul and the spirit, keeping the mind and air clean.

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When the water level was low we would run along the river bank as children, picking flat rocks for our little aquarium at home.Simple joys, that the world to us even then.

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When the water level raised we would hike up the mountain path….

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……to go  bathe in the water falls.

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Trekking back down the hill, we would be  mighty hungry, the state tourism department  had a tourism bungalow for visitors at the foothills, where we could place an order for food before hand so by the time we got down hill, hot food would be waiting for us to relish, the aroma would tease our senses, as we winded down the path to the bungalow. Life was simple or so it seemed then, coz we were children ,cherishing every bit of childhood joy there ever was.

There lived a permanent chef  in the tourist bungalow those days, who had paralyzed his right hand by falling from a coconut palm in childhood. He smiled very little talked even less. Why do I still remember him after all these years ? Yes, you guessed right, his amazing  dishes, in spite of his handicap was something you would remember for ages. My favorite among them was his chicken soup, ghee rice, mutton kurma and fish cutlets, yes in that order , exactly ! Some people and some memories you carry with you all your life, today “Venu” was in my kitchen in spirit guiding me along as I cooked my spicy chicken soup, Chettinad  style ( a region in South India, famous for its spicy dishes, with their classic signature in each one of them) .Have you ever wondered how difficult it is to think up the taste, the aroma, the flavor while cooking a dish, from memories past ?  Today I was determined ,come what may, it is going to be “Venu’s chicken soup “in my kitchen,  though I am continents away ! I craved it !!

Where did the inspiration come from ? Well, last evening, my kid came back from school with a stuffy nose and flu like symptoms.Nothing like chicken soup to chase the cold away, so off I went to get my pot brewing.Easy and delicious, with ingredients you are likely to have in your kitchen, made in a jiffy, the best and healthy comfort soup you can ever wish for in this cold winter. Make a whole pot of it & refrigerate it, I promise you, you won’t be sorry when you beat the cold winter and the crazy traffic on your way back home to have this yummy soup waiting for you, in your refrigerator. All you have to do is warm it up  before you have a bowlful of it !

So here  goes the recipe……

Ingredients :

For seasoning :

Cloves- 2-3

Cinnamon- 1′

Bayleaf- 1

To cook :

Chicken thighs with bone – 6-7 pieces

Onions- 1 large or shallots (10-12) if available

Tomatoes- 2

Garlic- 6-7 cloves

Coconut Oil – 2 tbsp

Vegetables- like carrots, green peas, cauliflower florets, potatoes etc -1 cup

Turmeric powder – 1 tsp

Salt- to taste

Water – 4-5 cups ( adjust , according to desired consistency)

To grind into a fine powder after dry roasting them :

Coriander seeds – 1 tbsp

Cumin seeds- 1tbsp

Cardamom- 1-2

Fennel seeds- 1/2 tbsp

Dried Red chillies – 3-4 ( you can substitute it with cayenne pepper powder too, adjust the spice level according to taste )

Whole black peppercorns – 2 tbsp

For Garnishing :

Cilantro/ Coriander leaves – a few

Method :

1.In a seasoning pan, dry roast all the spices .Then  blend them into a fine powder, once the spices cool down. Set aside.

2. Clean & cut chicken into bite size pieces, the bone pieces  with the meat on them, can be left as such, coz when you  cook they add to the flavor .

3. Now in a thick bottomed pressure cooker, add the coconut oil , when it turns  warm, add the cloves, cinnamon, bayleaf and cardamom.  Next add the  crushed or sliced garlic, wait till the raw smell disappears.To this add the finely sliced onion and saute them, till they turn transparent. Add the turmeric powder & mix well.

4. Next add the cubed tomatoes and wait till they soften into a mushy mass. Then add the mixed vegetables and allow them to soften in the steam.

5. Now add the chicken pieces and allow it to cook in it’s own steam , after adding the finely blended, dry roasted spice powder to it. Make sure both the chicken pieces and the vegetables are well coated with the spice powder.

6. Add the water, cover with lid and wait for the pressure cooker whistle to blow. After 3-4 whistles the chicken will be well cooked & tender, the bone pieces would let the juices flow into the soup enriching it further.

7. Remove from stove, garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

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Note : Since flu makes one dehydrated and the need to eat any solid food  becomes even scanty when one is sick, this is a good way to keep oneself hydrated,  healthy  while maintaining energy levels. Research says ,that as long as one consumes the chicken soup in regular intervals while sick, the compound present in the chicken soup, carnosine helps prevent the congestion  and minimizes inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. Eating chicken soup when you have a cold also helps coz’ you’re breathing steam, which also loosens up  the congestion.Other key ingredients in a chicken soup include onions, garlic and additional vegetables that add flavor and a healthy dose of phytonutrients – vital for a well-functioning immune system. They can also help to reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn may help to ease the symptoms of a pesky cold.

 

Stop and smell the roses, won’t you ?

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However, busy the day gets always stop to smell the roses ! Oh, I love this quick lunch hour breaks when you are running errands, yet the beauty of these roses stops you dead in your tracks, making you wistfully think…..Oh, life goes on irrespective, but always, always stop for those that speak directly to your soul ! Returned back with an extra spring in my step…..A rose IS A rose is a ROSE !!!