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Tuesday tidbits

§ June 26th, 2007 § Filed under Travel § 16 Comments

A little bit of this and a little bit of that in this post. First of all,Knitty Kat made my Cloverleaf Zigzag Socks! (Free .pdf pattern here.)

Don’t they look lovely? I like them even better in that blue-purple Koigu colourway than in the pink one I used to make the originals, and now I think I will make another pair in the fall. If anyone else makes these (or any of the other patterns) please let me know!

Last week there was a minor commotion in the small garden patch outside my parents’ living room window around 11 pm. So we looked out and these were in bloom:

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They’re "Brahma Kamal" (Brahma’s Lotus), which bloom rarely, and only at night for one night. I think they’re actually part of the sunflower family, even though they bloom for the moon, as it were. We all stood around them and oohed and aahed and clicked away. Then all my neighbours came in to see them again on my computer and we oohed some more.

They all preened for us, except for one which was camera-shy, and bloomed quietly the next night. The last time I’d seen a Brahmakamal bloom was nearly two decades ago, so I was quite kicked to see them this time.

Rhapsody for Kiri

§ June 21st, 2007 § Filed under Lace work, Shawls § 9 Comments

I just couldn’t help thinking of a boomerang as I photographed what I’ve been knitting the past few days:

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It’s the Kiri shawl from Polly at All Tangled Up, one of the earliest blogs I began reading, and which still remains one of my favourites. Doesn’t it look like it’s about to take off?

This post is a rhapsody for Kiri. Why haven’t I knit this shawl before? Why hasn’t everybody who loves lace work? It has everything a good lace shawl pattern should. It is easily memorised, it has that beautiful rhythm that you settle into after finishing the first repeat and figuring out how the k2togs balance the SSKs, and it produces an elegant, gorgeous fabric that looks way more complicated than it actually is:

kirispine

So all the non-knitters around you ooh and aah over what requires very little effort on your part. (The designer, in other words, has done all the hard work for you, all you do is ease gently into the pattern!) It has a fern leaf motif that grows surprisingly quickly: all that you see above was knitted in the last four days. Instinctively figuring out the pattern was key; although similar to the Leaf Lace and other Fiber Trends patterns, this one is turning out to be much more fun. I have been watching some dreadful old Hindi films on cable as I knit it. Although that means altogether too much mindless activity, the results are very pleasing overall! So thank you, Polly, for a lovely pattern. I know lots and lots of people have knit this and all of you probably know this, but just in case you don’t, I should mention that it’s free! (.pdf link)

The yarn is Brown Sheep Fingering Naturespun, workhorse wool in a maple-something-or-other shade. Wears like iron, I’m told (the yarn, not the shade). I brought it to make the Gracie Faroese Shawl, but like an idiot I left the book in Delhi. I found myself itching to knit lace when I got here, and voila, happened upon Kiri. Which was just as well.

Incidentally, the colour of my tongue totally matches this yarn right now, as I munch on Jambhul (Jamun in Hindi). They’re fat and engorged, and the blackish skin yields purple fleshy goodness within.

So many ways to eat a mango

§ June 14th, 2007 § Filed under Food and Drink § 13 Comments

One of the reasons I’ve taken so long to post is that I’ve been very busy – meeting friends in Delhi and Pune, learning Modi, stuffing my face.. all the things that have to be done slowly, carefully without distractions. Also, after the 115-degree oven that was Delhi, the 90 degree humidity of Pune is making it feel like a brisk fall day in comparison, so long walks in the city in the late afternoon after my class, when the sky looks heavily pregnant and occasionally delivers, have been fun. I do wish the monsoon would stop being coy and explode, though.
<watch this space for some venting about being waterlogged and washed out, er, a couple of weeks from now..>

Anyway, another reason this post is late is that I’ve been taking photos over the last week of the many ways a mango is eaten in our household (and in western India in general) every year. In late March and April, the kairi or raw mango starts appearing in trees and markets. (btw, all italicized names are in Marathi)

It is one of those tragedies of life that the time to clamber up a mango tree’s branches to pluck kairis is also the time of final exams, and all parents and teachers can think of is that kids will fall down and break their arms and not be able to take their final exams. This happened often on the campus where I grew up and my folks regularly plucked kids from trees along with kairis.

The simplest way to eat a fresh, white hard kairi is to chop it up, rub some salt and red chilli powder on it (tikhat-mithaachi-kairi), and wash down the incredibly spicy-salty-sour thing with some cold water as all your senses tingle. I didn’t have gin & tonic with me as  I munched on these a couple of days ago but they were just as delicious:

tikhatmithachikairi.jpg

There’s a cool drink that is often made as a concentrate, called the kairiche panha (the recipe at this link is very good). It tastes good just with some ice and water, but in Delhi this time I discovered that it makes a good gin cocktail too. Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph it.

April, May and June are mango pickle, chutney and preservative season. My mum made five of these over the last week:

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At two o’clock is a simple sweet-sour mango pickle. Very oily, not my favourite, but still quite delicious. I much prefer the chutneys at 10 and 12 o’clock. Very simple to make: for every cup of finely grated kairi, take a cup of dry gul (molasses, use brown sugar if you absolutely must), a tsp each of roasted and ground methi (fenugreek) and mohri (mustard) seeds, half a cup of dry coconut powder. For the red one, take a couple tsps of red chilli powder. For the green, take a few green chillis and half a cup of coriander leaves instead. Blend everything together (the texture is best on a hand stone grinder, electric blenders tend to make it too smooth). Heat a tsp of oil in a pan, put a tsp of mustard seeds in it with some hing (asafetida) and when the seeds crackle (wait for these to crackle, otherwise they taste raw and bitter), pour over the chutney. You can avoid this last step, it’s not absolutely necessary. Also, if using Mexican kairis, go easy on the molasses, as these are much less sour than the ones you get here in India.

Others in the family like sweet kairi concoctions more than I do. The lighter one, at 7 o’clock, is saakharamba (sugar-mango), made by steaming the kairi slices and then boiling them in an equivalent amount of sugar, then adding a pinch each of powdered cardamom and maybe saffron. The darker one to its right is gulaamba (molasses-mango) and is made the same way, but with dry gul instead. They’re like desi jams, and having some wrapped in a chapati was a common evening snack in childhood.

Lest you think that nobody allows the kairi to ripen in these parts into the amba (generic for ripe mango) here is the haapus, one of my favourite mangoes, and about which there has been much hoopla this year in the States (its called the Alphonso in English). I fear that it’s going to be a disappointment though, because all the preservatives and high prices and hype are going to ruin its enjoyment. In mid-May, though, it reigns supreme over all others here and I was lucky to catch a good late batch in early June:

hapus.jpg

A good fresh haapus from Devgad is almost completely fibre-free with very firm, thick and sweet orange flesh and has a lovely fragrance.  It is to be eaten sliced, not sucked, but I also like eating the skin. Sometimes the flesh is made into a pulp called ambrosia of the gods aamras:

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This is one of my serious summer weaknesses, something that instantly puts me in a good mood. It is eaten with chapatis, puris, or simply with a dollop of cream or ghee on top, sometimes with cardamom sprinkled. My mum likes to add just a pinch of salt as a counterpoint. I like it neat.

Well, there you are, some mango moods. There are many many other incredible mango delights from different parts of the subcontinent and around the world, which some food bloggers, many of them desis, put together recently. This fruit totally makes the summer worth it. My mum is most tickled that her concoctions are being photographed and posted online. 

Incidentally, this post is meant especially for NSG and A, both of whom I remembered with every bite and click this past week.

Weekend on the Ganga

§ June 3rd, 2007 § Filed under Travel § 10 Comments

On Thursday night, sudden plans were made to travel to Rishikesh for the weekend to visit some family living there. Rishikesh is a town on the Ganga river a few hours north/northeast of Delhi, in the recently carved out state of Uttaranchal in the Himalayan foothills. Along with the more bustling and crowded Haridwar a few kilometres downstream, it is a holy site for river dips and such like for Hindus, and the first site where the Ganga stops gurgling and skipping down the hills and starts showing signs of the expansive, sedate body it goes on to become further south and east. It is the gateway for the "char-dham" (Four Holy Sites?) pilgrimage in the Himalayas, but in recent decades, especially the last one, has also become what a cousin who lives there described to me as "the yoga capital of India" or some such, and it has also been a popular destination for white-water rafters. I last went to Rishikesh with my parents over a decade ago in January, and I remember a quiet morning visit to a temple on the river, a quick dip in the water and a good alu-paratha breakfast later on at a small roadside joint. The memory of the foothills had also lulled me into the idea that this was going to be a cool hill-town, as suggested by this picture.

I was wrong. It was HOT! Very hot, way more than any place with a Himalayan foothill in view ought to be. It was also severely overrun by tourists and large Volvo buses jostling and honking for space in the small lanes – those from all over India rushing off to the Char Dham, as well as  Delhi-walas in their cars  looking for a ‘retreat’ from the plains. ‘Getaway’ tourism, resorts/spas and yoga-themed retreats are apparently in high fashion in Rishikesh, with a construction boom and, naturally, a land mafia making the most of it. Many restaurants advertising different cuisines (Italian and Israeli were most common, in addition to the by-now regulation north Indian, south Indian, Chinese and Continental). A restaurant offering only one cuisine, you say? Ptchah, couldn’t possibly be any good, when there are so many that offer a variety. Some of my foodie friends shudder at the thought of pasta on the same plate as a pulao (many of these places are buffets), but those with large families say it prevents bickering about where to eat, since the menu has everything anyway. ‘Multi-cuisine’, therefore, is a tourist buzzword alongside ‘getaway’ these days.

We went to one such getaway place for lunch, which I was persuaded into going to after hearing about its fabulous mangrove and leechee trees right on the Ganga upstream from Rishikesh. I had an overpriced ordinary meal, but the river view and the garden, practically overflowing with fruit and an amazing variety of Himalayan birds, totally made up for it. I walked down to the river bank and watched some intrepid rafters go by in the 40 C plus heat. A few degrees cooler, later in the evening, a gin-and-tonic, maybe some raw mango slices rubbed with salt and chilli powder, and this position would have been bliss:

planterschair

Later in the day, we visited Rajaji National Park nearby, which is a large forest, home to several species of mammals and birds. We took a short elephant safari through the forest on the graceful Arundhati, a 70 year old female elephant with a mildly disobedient manner (she kept going off the track to snack on some branches).

arundhati.jpg

Our guide, Mohammed Shafi, had a very keen eye, and helped us spot not only lots of different birds (am still trying to identify them) and sambar and chital deer, but also the rare and beautiful striped hyena. I had my heart set on seeing a leopard, which along with wild elephant and boar, is quite a common sight in this forest, but was disappointed. It was a lovely ride, though, and the forest is beautiful.

What about the knitting, you ask? Firstly, the heat that I was dreading is here (115 degrees high all week this week) and so it’s on hold. Secondly, a very friendly and nosy dog decided he wasn’t having any of my knitting attempts when it was so hot, and you can see him registering his protest against the Cascade Fixation skein:

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It was quite an effort to get it out of his mouth. So I put the needles away, before he chewed them up.