Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

We were hit by a blizzard last week which dumped 2 feet of snow on us. We dug many cars out of the street and helped them home, safe onto their driveways. We don't have much of a driveway but we seemed to be shovelling forever! Only the main arterial roads are plowed in our city, making it very difficult to get out of our neighborhood. And the steep slopes don't help much! A defunct chimney on the roof decided to spring a leak, so that was another worry. Because of this, we didn't get a live tree as planned. Instead, the picture above is of my blue spruce, lit up while being buried under a ton of snow!

But we did make the most of it: whenever we got a chance, we went sledding on a slope close-by.

My pre-lit fibre optic tree came up as did Medha's little pink Princess tree. I wonder how may more years she will put up with its pink-ness!

I hope I am finally able to bake Archana's fabulous fruitcake today. It needs to be ready, along with a bunch of other things, before my sister and her family get here on Tuesday. It's been a long time since we celebrated Christmas with family and nothing could be better than a wonderful holiday week in Colorado!

I'll leave you with my favorite picture of this season: a bare tree up on the sledding slope, with Longs Peak in the distance. Longs Peak is Rocky Mountain National Park's only fourteener.

Have a wonderful season! And I hope the New Year brings new joys to you all!

'Tis the Season...for Comfort Food

Christmas carols would fill the corners of my home all year long if I would allow it, and if Medha's piano teacher would allow it. I hide the Christmas CDs as soon as possible. It's bad enough that some stores like The Great Ignore were dressed for 'The Holidays' in September itself and that the only station we are allowed to tune into is Denver's KOSI 101.1 FM, which plays Christmas music all day long. The same songs over and over and over again. But no matter how much I complain, I love Christmas carols and it brings back memories of school and singing in our school's beautiful chapel.

And yes, we are not Christians but we call it Christmas. And, we have a Christmas tree. And, we put up Christmas lights and Christmas decorations.

Every year as the houses start lighting up in early December, Secret Santa comes into town. One of the Moms in the neighborhood takes the responsibility of assigning each child the task of being the Secret Santa for another child in the neighborhood. Two homemade items must be delivered secretly anytime during the week, followed by a party on the day school ends. A final gift, worth not more than $10, is given in person at the party, revealing just who the Secret Santa was! The kids have a blast trying to figure out who is who's Secret Santa. There are sure-fire giveaways: same wrapping paper or the same craft is delivered by siblings. Some kids even hang around by the door, hoping to catch their Secret Santa!

Last year Medha made penguin ornaments. I helped her draw the various parts on sticky foam; she then cut them and pasted it all together. She painted some parts and used glitter glue on others. She then slipped over to the neighbors with a black Hallowe'en mask covering her face and an extra large sweatshirt, rang their doorbell, left the gift at their door and ran in the direction opposite to that of our house. My husband was waiting for her around the corner in the car and they sped off in the wrong direction, made a full circle around the block before returning home. The car was too far away and gone by the time it could be seen! Medha stumbled back into the house, rolling with laughter at her escapade.

It's Secret Santa time again. We started making the first gift this evening, a nameplate wall hanging made of clay. No, neither she nor I are that creative to come up with it on our own. We did refer to Craft Fun (Art & Activities for Kids), an amazing book with over 90 projects for kids from ages 6 to 11. Medha designed the nameplate and so far, this is what we have:

It has since been taken apart carefully and each piece is now drying. Tomorrow we will paint each piece first as it is easier to paint each piece separately than to paint it as a whole. Then we will slip and score an area of each piece and pray to the Santa in the North Pole to make it stick to the plate. If they don't stick, I guess we will have to call on Super-Glue for help.

I thank God for the wonderful neighborhood we moved into a year ago. Most of the families go back at least a couple of decades. They have shared the joy of new births as well as grave illnesses where children from the affected home were taken in by several families, while others kept vigil at the hospital. It can be quite daunting to move into an extended family such as this, but they have only welcomed us with open arms. They keep the warmth alive by the things they do for one another. Especially when Old Man Winter decides to blow. But when he blows like he did last week, there is one more thing that I long for. Comfort food. From that place within me that I cannot define. My roots, perhaps.

So last week, when one of my readers left me a comment with a recipe for one such food that fits the bill perfectly - for a cold and wet evening - I decided to give in to the urge and it was by the far the quickest and the simplest dinner we have had in a long time, and also the most fulfilling.

Pithla Bhath

  • 1/2 cup besan (chickpea flour or gram flour)
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • a pinch of hing
  • 1 dried red chilli (use more if you like it hot!)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced
  • frozen drumsticks (not the chicken kind! But the veggie saragawa kind), about 9-10 pieces
  • salt to taste
  • chopped cilantro for garnish
  1. Put the drumsticks in a pot with enough water so that they are covered completely. Add some salt to the water and cook on medium-high until the tender. Usually about 10-15 minutes, depending on the quality of the drumsticks. Drain when cooked.
  2. Mix besan with buttermilk to make a paste that is the consistency of pancake batter. Use your hands to mix it as that is the best way to ensure that there are no lumps.
  3. Add turmeric powder to this paste
  4. Heat the oil in a saucepan
  5. Add mustard seeds and when they start popping, add hing
  6. Break the red chilli into two pieces, shake out as many seeds as you can and discard them, and then add the red chilli pieces to the oil, taking care that neither the mustard seeds nor the red chilli burns. If the oil gets too hot, simply turn off the flame and move the pan off the stove.
  7. Add chopped onions to the oil and sautée until they are pink in color. About 5 minutes, if you have done a good job chopping it fine!
  8. Turn the heat down and slowly add the besan-buttermilk paste to the pan. It tends to splatter at this point so be careful.
  9. Add the cooked drumsticks and salt to taste
  10. Cook on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring every so often, until the mixture thickens into a yummilicious pithla. The consistency is very similar to that of thick slip that you would use to glue clay together. (Perhaps I am not helping much with that analogy but the common thread here is clay!)
  11. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve over hot steamed rice (bhath) and enjoy to your heart's content.

There are several variations of Pithla. Many of which are mentioned in the comment that led to this meal.

Nupur of One Hot Stove has her own take on pithla. And, there are more recipes on Mumbai-Masala's Maharashtrian food.

And then there is the drier version of pithla: zunka, which Ashwini made me drool over recently.

Pithla is just so quintessentially Maharashtrian and earthy that it brings to mind the smell that goes with cooking on a coal stove in the ground.

Some tips:
  1. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, whip some yogurt and add water to make a buttermilk substitute
  2. Save the water that the drumsticks cooked in. If your pithla thickens too much, you can add this water slowly to the pan, stirring it in as you add it
  3. An important point to note is that a little bit of besan goes a long way in this dish. I used 1/2 cup of besan and made enough to feed the three of us. We could have fed a couple more but since everyone was over-eating that night, there were no leftovers. So don't go overboard with the quantity of besan. You might be eating it for days!

Wish us luck with the nameplate. I'll post an update with a picture of what it looks like once we are done with it. And, Shhh! Don't tell Jessie!

Update: We finished and delivered the nameplate late Tuesday evening. separating all the individual elements seemed like a good idea at the time, it really was not because they warped as they dried. So we had to remake most of them and speed-dry them with a hair-dryer. It was easier for Medha to paint them though. Putting it back together and then touching it up was not easy! But we did a rather decent job, I think!

Here's another picture just before it was wrapped in bubble-wrap and delivered in heavy disguise.

Medha got her first delivery, too. The door almost came down in her effort to catch her Secret Santa in the act but she failed. She got some really delicious Puppy Chow that I can't stop reaching out for!

Medha made the bowl it's in!

Have a wonderful Holiday season! And if you have kids in the neighborhood, it's still not too late to start playing Secret Santa!


My Technorati links for Indian Food Rocks showed a new link:

Hmm! That copyright statement looks very familiar but where is the link?

I clicked through to this sad blog:

When she copied my copyright statement, she edited the text but did not edit the underlying HTML. Go on, visit her site, hover over the URL or better still click on it and come right back to my blog!

Even when she copies she can't do it right! Go take a look before she edits it to make it look like her own. Like she did with my Aloo Gobi recipe from 1999 that she copied off!

And while you're on that other sad blog, scroll down to see the copyright statement on that blog, too, and hover over the link. And her third blog, too. What a freaking joke. Some people just don't get it!

Why the fuss over a copied copyright statement? Because this takes the cake for being simply ridiculous. Run the recipes on any of her three blogs through Copyscape, you'll know what I am talking about.

Giving Thanks, with friends old and new

Thanksgiving this year was full of wonderful surprises and a nostalgic reunion. I met my friend after at least 11 years, if not more. It was the first time I met her husband, her 9 year old and her almost 3 year old. Medha bonded immediately with the older child and the girls were soon inseparable. For Thanksgiving, they decided to surprise us with an all-edible Pilgrim's Boat Dip.

They used zucchini as boats and toasted white bread as sails instead of construction paper. They scooped out some of the zucchini and filled it a cream cheese dip with garlic and dill. They were so into their no-waste and all-edible boat dip, that the leftover scraps of toasted bread were also placed on the platter to dip with.

My friend remembered my love for All Things James Herriot and came bearing audio CDs for James Herriot's All Things Bright & Beautiful, read by Christopher Timothy. We shared our experiences with raising our daughters, cried together and laughed and hugged each other. Periodically, my husband would remind us that she was his boss first, then his friend, and much much later, my friend!

I also got a chance to meet new friends for the very first time. She is a prolific food blogger and while we've talked on the phone, we have never met. She and her husband were getting away from the daily grind and chose Colorado Springs as their vacation spot. They came for Thanksgiving dinner bearing these delicious gifts.

My favorite chivda, date cake and nankhatai. All home-made. And chocolates! Yummy!

Thanksgiving dinner was as much fun-filled as it was disaster-filled. My orange burfi refused to set. So while it tasted good, it was a gooey mess. I also made Saffron Hut's Coconut Burfi and that did not set either. I used 2/3 cup sugar instead of 1 cup but simmered it for much longer but it wouldn't thicken beyond a point. I dusted it with cardamom powder and sprinkled slivered almonds. It tasted like a heavenly and more delicious version of the inside of Almond Joy. I also made
  • my spring salad, but with mixed greens instead of the spring mix. I added dried blueberries to it this time
  • beans with peanuts, my own recipe that I hope to post soon
  • til aloo, a recipe from The Cook's Cottage
  • lamb curry, since no-one but me relished turkey
  • and store-bought Malaysian parathas
Besides the two burfis that flopped, my pumpkin curry was the other major disaster. It was so major that I did not serve it. I am not sure what went wrong or if I used the wrong kind of pie pumpkin. The last time I made it, the pie pumpkin had been sitting on my counter for a couple of weeks. This disastrous pumpkin curry has a distinctive flavor of an unripe fruit even though the pie pumpkin did not look or feel unripe. I have no clue what I did wrong! Wine and sparkling cider flowed liberally through the evening and after a quick cup of chai, my new friends made their way to Colorado Springs.

Things are never dull around here and the week was full of excitement, too. We made a quick trip into Rocky Mountain National Park and walked along the frozen Sprague Lake, looking up at the mountains on the Continental Divide, or the Great Divide, if you're finicky about names.

From left to right, Thatchtop Mountain (12,668 ft), Taylor Peak (13,158 ft), Otis Peak (12,486 ft), Halletts Peak (12,713 ft), Flattop Mountain (12,324 ft)and Notchtop Mountain (12,129 ft).

The highlight of my friend's visit was a mountain lion sighting, which I missed out on. The weather was gorgeous so I sent everyone out of the house for a short hike along the trails in the Open Space behind our home. They reached the "Red Park" near the Louisville Reservoir and soon I got a call saying "I think I am looking at a mountain lion! It's too big to be a dog and it walks like a large cat." It was far enough from the park for it not to be a danger to the children. Also, the park has a fence along the Open Space which the cougar would have had to leap over. We reported it to the local Police who said they would send someone out to the area as soon as possible. Mountain lions have been sighted here before in the past year and it looks like they haven't left!

I have a brief reprieve before my next guest arrives from Australia tomorrow. I thought I would quickly update my blog with tales of our recent adventures. I have more pictures of Sprague Lake, which I hope to upload to my photoblog, Inner Lens.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Our Thanksgiving was extra special because of friends, old and new.

Hallowe'en Cupcakes

As come the pictures of the cupcakes

Monster Muncher, with Pillsbury's funfetti frosting, licorice buttons as eyes, cherry jelly bean as the nose and peel-off Twizzlers as the antennae.

Icing ghosts stand in an unkempt patch of grass (yes, that's grass not green worms!)

The tray of monsters and ghosts

The party table at school! Everyone loved the mice and the cupcakes!

I made some more green patches of grass with red twizzlers for the get-together in the evening.

This is the first time I have ever held a frosting bag in my hands. It was a ton of fun! None of this would have been possible without Archana's thoughtful and careful guidance! Archana, the kids at school and all of us thank you a whole bunch!

Mice! Crawling out of my oven...

It's late. Past midnight.
And there are mice crawling everywhere...
I ate a few and was finally at peace.

Chocolate Cookie Mice

Happy Hallowe'en!

Cupcakes are cooling. God help me with the frosting.

Just a quick end-of-the-day update before I pass out from sheer exhaustion: The cupcakes went off much better than I expected. I couldn't have done it without Archana's help. I will post pictures as soon as I can and reply to all your comments. All the positive vibes kept me going! Thank you!

Screaming Cups and Orange Burfi

On Thursday, I awoke to a low moaning sound in the house. It became louder as it came closer and sounded like someone was being strangled, a kind of strange screaming.

If I hadn't been lying awake, waiting for the alarm to ring; so that I could snooze it and finally go to sleep...
If I hadn't heard the patter of little feet...
If I hadn't heard the water run...
If I hadn't attended Science Night at her school the previous night, I would have been frightened out of my wits.

But not me! I knew exactly what it was. It was a Screaming Cup, being used insidiously by an 8 year old, who doesn't quite get "die of a heart attack!"

With Hallowe'en coming up on October 31, the Screaming Cup experiment was the most popular at Science Night, and tied closely with Stab the potato with a straw without breaking or bending it, the straw that is.

Definitely try this one at home. It's a hit with the little ones as well as the older balding ones. All you need is

  • a 16 or 24 oz plastic cup - the ubiquitous red kind do really well
  • a piece of string, about 18-24 inches in length
  • water, or if you have a budding violinist at home, violin rosin

  1. Make a hole in the bottom of the red cup and thread the string through it.
  2. Knot the string well on the side that is inside the cup (my husband doesn't agree but this was the only way it worked for me. He insists it works better when you knot it on the outside and pull the string through the cup. These engineers...who cares? As long as it screams!)
  3. Wet the string or rub it well with violin rosin
  4. Hold the string tightly between your thumb and index finger near the bottom of the cup and start sliding it away from the cup. Squeeze the string really hard and as your fingers slip and slide along the string, you will hear the wistful moaning that filled my home at dawn that morning.
Why does this happen, the young inquiring mind might ask. Er...the older one, too. As your fingers slip and slide on the string, there are vibrations in the string. These vibrations make the cup vibrate, which bounce off the insides of the cup and end up creating an amplified sound wave. Or more like a scream that is perfect for Hallowe'en!

What does this have to do with food? Not much. Actually, nothing. I could lie and say that this experiment did not work till I came home and got a bite of my delectable Orange Burfi. But I would classify that act only as one to be abhorred.

I found this little gem in my mother's blue diary. I am not a fan of the Indian halwas and burfis, except for gajjar halwa but I changed my tune when I made this orange burfi. It's very different from any burfi I have ever had till date! I made it for Diwali; Bhau Bheej, really. To raise a toast to all those wonderful male cousins who get away year after year by not giving me that envelope stuffed with money that is rightfully mine!

Orange Burfi

  • 1 cup maida
  • 1/2 cup ghee
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3-4 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
  • peel of two oranges
  1. Heat the ghee in a kadhai
  2. Add the maida and cook on medium-low, stirring frequently, till the maida is golden in color
  3. Take this out in another bowl and add the milk, sugar, orange juice and orange peels to the same kadhai in which you were cooking the maida in ghee.

  4. Cook on medium-high till you have a syrupy mixture. It took about 12 minutes or so for me.
  5. Add the food coloring and stir. Food coloring is another thing that I am not crazy about but I added about 3 drops nevertheless.
  6. Add the maida and ghee mixture and cook on medium low till the ghee starts to leave the sides...just kidding! till the ghee starts separating from the mixture.
  7. Put the mixture in a greased pan or casserole and spread. I used a small 6 inch by 6 inch casserole. If you use a larger one, the burfi will be flatter. I like mine thick!
  8. Allow the mixture to cool and regardless of what the engineers may say, let it cool completely before attempting to cut it into cubes or diamonds. I let the engineer have his say - he had helped stir, you know! - so the edges of my orange burfi are not as smooth as they could be.
    Some burfi went AWOL when I was not looking!

    There it is! Orange Burfi!

The original recipe in my mother's blue diary calls for 2 cups of sugar. I thought that would be too sweet and used only 1 cup. The consistency of the sugar syrup therefore plays an important role in how firm this burfi will be. If you like it really sweet, go ahead and use 2 cups of sugar. I also think that since the weather is cool enough for to ghee solidify at room temperature in my home, using less sugar worked for me.

This Orange Burfi was given a rating of Yumilicious by both my family and my neighbors. The taste of the orange peel, followed by the orange juice dominate this burfi. The ghee makes it rich. Try it!

On a lark, I am going to send this to VKN's VCC Q3 2006, where the theme this quarter is Festival Foods from the world over.

Orange Burfi? Very festive. Very different.

Update: Even though she didn't taste them, this orange burfi has been to London to see the Queen! All kudos go to Shahpar Selim, of course!


I studied this recipe from CuisineCuisine and this recipe from India Curry. I largely followed the latter for the batter but followed the former for the sugar syrup - I love saffron and rose water! My batter probably did not ferment as it looked no different from what it did the previous night nor did it smell any different.

I had to adjust the consistency of the batter a couple of times so that it flowed well through my marinade injector. Yes, that's what I used! It has a lid with a small hole in it, which was far too large. The diameter of the thick needle was too small. Something in between would have been perfect!

It took a while before I got even close to swirling anything that looked anything like a jalebi. Persistence paid off and soon I was making jalebi look-alikes.

Soaking the jalebi in the syrup for 2 minutes didn't work for me. The jalebis lost their crispiness and started dissolving in the syrup. Dropping them into the sugar syrup, ensuring that the jalebi got a good coating and also absorbed the sugar syrup worked very well instead. The jalebi was in the sugar syrup for less than 30 seconds.

It took me 2 hours. I have half a large dinner plate worth of jalebis and a whole bunch of moosh and over-fried things. I'm done with jalebis. I wanted to make them. I did. Dokya varche bhooth uttarle! I'm no longer obsessed about making those swirly sugary things.

What do they taste like? Delicious, of course.

My recommendation: Let someone else make the jalebis. Restrain yourself to enjoying them!

Paging Inji Pennu...

Inji Pennu of Ginger and Mango and The Green Blog Project can't be found. Emails to her are bouncing back. I'm hoping this is a technical glitch.

Hey Inji, if you're going to come back in another avatar, that's great! I just hope you haven't disappeared on us. :-(

I wanted to wish you a Happy Diwali, that's all! I hope all is well with you and yours!

Update 10/25: Inji's blog is back up! Yay! Welcome back, Inji!!

Paparia for Diwali

Anita of A Mad Tea Party made a delectable snack called paparia for Diwali. It looked simple and sounded really delicious. It seemed to be the perfect way to start making faraal for Diwali.

I halved Anita's recipe and adjusted the spices for our tastes. It took me about 45 minutes from start to finish and I had 24 crispy paparias. I did enlist my husband for help with frying the paparias towards the end.


  • 1 cup besan (gram flour)
  • 1/2 cup maida
  • 1/2 tsp nigella seeds
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/4 cup oil, heated
  • 3/4 tsp salt (less, if you prefer to use less salt)
  • Oil, for deep frying
  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together.

  2. Add the hot oil to the mixture. Do not put your fingers into this as it will be very hot. Use a spoon or fork to mix the oil with the flour.

  3. When it has cooled enough for you to handle, use only as much water as needed to knead it into a soft, pliable dough. I used less than 1/4 cup water. Allow this to rest for 10-15 minutes. I covered the dough with a damp paper towel as it is very dry here and dough generally tends to get crusty on the outside as it dries. Get your polpat-latna ready, along with maida to dust with as you roll. Put oil in a kadhai and heat on a medium flame.

  4. Make dough balls the size of a dollar coin.

  5. Dust with maida and roll out to a diameter of about 4 inches.

  6. The paparia must be rolled out as thin as possible. I found that it helps to dust with maida every so often and to turn and flip the paparia as I rolled. Dusting with too much maida is not a good idea as the flour slips off into the oil, making it very murky.

  7. Anita recommends that the entire batch be rolled out before you start frying, starting with the one that was rolled out first. I didn't read the instructions well enough and so I worked in batches of 6, a hangover I attribute to the time that I made chavde.

  8. Lay the paparia in the oil slowly ensuring that it does not fold. If it does, flip it over with a pair of tongs and hold it down in the oil on the part that was folded. If that does not work, don't worry. It will still taste just as good!

  9. Fry them till they are pink and then drain on paper towels in a vertical position. Do not drain them by piling them one on top of another, for obvious reasons!

You might notice that my paparia are not pink in color. Another part of the instructions I did not pay close attention to. Oops! My excuse? It's been a long day. We scrambled to aerate our yards before the next snow storm, which is in progress as I write this.

Just as we scrambled to drain the sprinkler system when a snow storm dropped 8 inches of snow on us earlier this week on Tuesday. What's wonderful about Colorado weather is that the day after a snow-storm, the sun comes out and melts away all the white stuff. It was 38F on Wednesday and we didn't need jackets. A warm sweater or a turtle neck sufficed.

Diwali 2006 is extra-special. It's exactly one year since we closed on our house. It's also our first 'white' Diwali!

I'm looking forward to seeing Medha's face when she sees the snow and tastes these yummy paparia for breakfast, with pohe, of course!

Thank you, Anita, for a wonderful new recipe on such a special occasion for us!

Happy Diwali

Deepavali chya Shubechha!

A Very Happy Diwali to everyone!


Five Must-Eats Before You Die

Taking inspiration from BBC's 50 things to eat before you die, Melissa of Traveller's Lunchbox came up with Bloggers' Picks of Five Foods to Eat Before You Die. I don't blame her for being taken aback by BBC's list and wanting to come up with foods that are more specific, for BBC's list includes sandwiches and burgers! How generic is that?!

Faith tagged me for this meme a few weeks ago. I was very excited and thought I'd do an initial survey with the family. Medha came up with: rice, tomato, and peaches. At this point, I wondered if she had some British genes. Where were her favorite foods in that? So she added idli and lime pickle to it. As for my husband, all he wants to eat before he dies is Mensaf stew from Diana Abu Jaber's The Language of Baklava, made with goat meat. Our Bosnian neighbor has goats hanging in his garage from time to time. I am very tempted to ask him for 2lbs of that meat. I borrowed his Hollyhocks for the Flower Fest, some tender mutton would be good, too! I'd pay for it, of course!

My list does intersect with BBC's list. Curry. Yup! That's me, too! Mango. That's me! Maybe I am responsible for Medha's choices, not the British! But I will get into specifics, just like Melissa wanted us to. So here goes...

Hapoos Amba or Alphonso Mango

I know what you're thinking. How predictable! But really...everyone must get a bite of this luscious fruit at least once in their lifetime. The Ratnagiri Hapoos is the more coveted of the two famous varieties grown in my home state of Maharashtra. The other being Devgad Hapoos. If the mango is often called the King of all fruits, the Hapoos is the Emperor! The best hapoos are available during the month of May. I haven't eaten these for over 8 years now and I often wonder whether I should brave the summer heat and make a visit to India in May just for hapoos!
Photo credit: Gauri V was very gracious about letting me use her fantastic picture of the Alphonso Mango on Indian Food Rocks. Gauri's photostream has some simply amazing pictures of nature and a whole other bunch that make me plain nostalgic!

Idli Any-which-way

In the southern regions of India, idli is a popular breakfast food. For me, it's an anytime food. Idli-sambar. Idli-chutney. Idli-sambar-chutney.

Dahi idli. Fried idli. I'll take idli any which way.

And at any time of the day or night. In my home or out camping in the bitter cold. In fact I had the ultimate idli experience last weekend when we camped in the Moraine Campground in Rock Mountain National Park. It was 35F, windy and raining hard. I had carried frozen idlis that I had made a few weeks earlier and lots of sambar. We huddled around our little camping stove sipping on tea that went cold almost as soon as it was poured out. Luckily we had winter-wear: jackets, hats, gloves, the works. I heated the sambar and as soon as the sambar started boiling, I set the idlis loose in the sambar and after about 5 minutes, turned the heat off. We sipped on ice cold tea in great anticipation. The piping hot idli-sambar was the best I have ever had in my life. It warmed us up so completely and filled us with awe at what lay around us: wet ground, biting wind, raw nature and elk poop. The rain turned into snow as we heated more sambar and more idlis. The snow fell and melted into the sambar bringing us even closer to nature cos now, along with feeling it, we were eating it, too! I was just too busy heating and eating to take pictures. Once we were done, I tried to take pictures and this was the best I could come up with. It's very lame and not quite representative of the experience but I thought I'd share it anyway...

Garma garam roti or Hot off the Flame Roti

There's nothing as satisfying as a 100% roti. A perfectly round roti that puffed up to all its goodness, served right off the flame of the burner to your plate. With a dollop of ghee, if you like.

Dinner at Charlie Trotter's, Chicago

Housed in two gorgeous Chicago walk-ups, Charlie Trotter's is a dining experience that must be had at least once in a lifetime. In many ways it's better than a Broadway show! The food is simply divine, right from the amuse guele to the seven course meal. It's a medley of flavors, one even more delightful than the other, balanced by the right wines chosen by the resident sommelier. Mmmmmmm!

And, after the meal, you can tour the kitchen and even see the wine cellar which has over 1800 wines from the world over.

You can choose to dine in the kitchen itself. A 15 course meal is served when you do. You have to make reservations at least 4 months in advance. This makes sense if you need to see how the food is cooked and plated but it was far too noisy for me. I get to hear clanging pots in my own kitchen for free, I'd preferred the meal away from the intensity of the kitchen.

Avlyachi Supari or Amla Supari

Avla or amla is the Indian gooseberry. According to Aurveda, it is a balancing food because it has 5 of the 6 tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent tastes. The only missing flavor is saltiness. Well, according to me, avlyachi supari makes it complete! Avlyachi supari is made from Indian gooseberries that have been sun-dried and coated in salt. It's a taste that has to be experienced to be fully comprehended. As the salt layer wears off, the other flavors kick in. The lingering flavor is one that can best be described as: if you drink water, it will taste sweet!

If you've reached the end of this post and you've experienced what I have, I think we're both ready to die!

I know I am supposed to tag 5 more bloggers for this meme but since I still seem function on IST, everyone I know and read has been tagged. In fact, I am so late with this meme that two other bloggers did me the honor of a tag: Shilpa of Aayi's Recipes and Meena of Cooking Pleasures. If I missed you and you'd like to do this meme, you're tagged!

I am going to be on a brief hiatus from food blogging. I need to recoup my strength after a very cold but exciting camping trip, a bad back aggravated by a terrible slip last night, and a huge overload at work that must be plowed through with an earthmover. I'll be back in a couple-two-three-four weeks!