◊ Again

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Dear mom,

I finished my first semester of graduate school. Again.

I came home to a family, food and mahjong marathon. Again.

I threw my stuff into bags and now I’m in a strange yoga pose on the floor of the airport waiting to board my flight while people look at me funny. Again.

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Education, luxury/gluttony and world travel… what a routine!

The first time I traveled internationally, I bought currency in advance. I had the money belt, several copies of my passport with emergency phone numbers scribbled on the back, iodine tablets for dirty water, a travel purse with two kinds of emergency antibiotics.

Now I carry clothes, sneakers, lotions and snacks. This whole process of unloading and loading has become so familiar that I didn’t even double-check my bags after I zipped them. I left my wallet at home. My wallet! What else am I forgetting? What other mistakes will I make?

Oy. There is so much more I could have done to prepare for this trip.

On one hand I feel calm. I know that Hanoch will be waiting for me at baggage claim and that Edna will prepare Israeli salad with eggs, cottage and tahini for breakfast. I know how to take the bus from their house to Jessica’s apartment and the colors I’ll hijack from her crazy nail polish collection (Parka Perfect, Nice is Nice). I know the stall owners at the shuk that will let me nosh from their bastas and the ones that will yell loudly if they see my hand reach into their bins of dates and dried figs. I know most of the beds I’ll be sleeping in and I know who to call if I get lost. I know because I’ve done it all before.

On the other hand I’m totally freaking out. I don’t know anything. I have a new mission that’s complicated and tricky. There are so many unknowns that I don’t even know what I don’t know. The stakes feel high. I’ve invested huge amounts of time into learning new skills that are supposed to prepare me for this, but I can’t keep track of what skills I’m supposed to be using. I left my wallet at home! This trip could be a complete fail.

I could have stayed home with you and dad, gorging on your latkes, apple cakes, etc, etc, etc and sleeping all break long. That would have been nice. Instead, I’m on my way to the known and the unknown. Again.

Xoxo,

Shaina

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In our family, we use the word struggle a lot. We struggle with discomfort and comfort and how to find a balance.

We struggle with finding appropriate dishes to serve to make all of our guests comfortable. Yep, I’m talking about parve desserts. The recipe below is a parve one that’s worthy of the dessert table. These truffles will please guests who are vegan and who keep kosher. They’re gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free and have no added sugar. And they’re green!

Matcha Truffles 

Serves: 12-20

prep time: 40 minutes

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  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 2 tablespoons agave (or honey if not vegan)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons matcha green tea powder
  • ½ cup toasted coconut for dusting

Add the nuts to the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients to the food processor, and process until a sticky paste forms. If more liquid is needed, add 1 tablespoon of lukewarm water or nut milk, like almond milk.

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With coconut oil on your hands, roll about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into a ball. Roll each truffle in toasted coconut before serving. Store in fridge and serve cold—they will begin to melt if you leave them out at warm temperatures for too long.

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◊ I’m Back

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Dear mom,

I don’t have much to say. Being back home is weird. I dither around preparations towards next steps, and my friends from high school are doctors and lawyers and married. I returned from a time warp – why do things progress without me? – and I am nothing.

My job-for-now is my saving grace (though it seems just opposite for you). I prepare meals for a friend braving chemotherapy. Her dietary shift omits dairy, processed foods, soy, various legumes, cruciferous vegetables, etc, and she only eats organic. I drift through my days assembling creative menus and exploring new ingredients that yield foods tasty and healthy. It’s indispensably meditative as I mull over how I’ll get to where I need to be next (on time) and what that means exactly.

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But I know my presence in your kitchen has totally rocked your boat: you take every opportunity to complain about me completely trashing your house and destroying your kitchen. I leave my sneakers and gym bag in the hallway; plates and jars are out of place; my clothes are on the bathroom floor; there is crusted yogurt on the fridge door-handle and drops of almond butter in hard to reach places; the salt is in the wrong cubby. There’s a reason that our site’s tagline ends with the word distance.

It’s usually my job to initiate distance, but you stole away on your West Coast adventure yesterday. How does it feel? I perceived some guilt (or fear?) as you left me to man the kitchen all by myself. But that’s your problem. For me, it’s a dream come true. Even though I’m weary about navigating your kitchen drawers without you (it took me 30 minutes to find the box grater this morning!), the space is welcomed. Please, conquer your retirement unsullied by guilt, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I won’t have to go to the basement while you’re away (still the scariest place I’ve ever been).

Back to the kitchen! I’ll try to minimize the havoc as much as possible.

xo,
Shaina
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Roasted Cherry Almond Millet Mini Muffins (gluten and dairy free!)
Prep time: 45 minutes
Serves 10 – 15

  • 1  cup almond mealIMG_8751_Fotor
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (i like to use blue cornmeal)
  • 1/2 c flax meal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp (sea) salt
  • 1/3 c molasses
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 c almond milk
  • 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup millet, lightly toasted*
  • 1 cup roasted cherries*

Last time I wrecked the kitchen, these crunchy, gluten-free Roasted Cherry Almond Millet Muffins were born –slightly sweet and perfect for a filling breakfast or a satisfying midday snack, they were inspired by a search for a healthy treat that I could make for my new “client.”  Now I’m hooked on millet! A crunchy muffin is like ice cream with sprinkles.. eating it is just more fun! Top these gems with almond butter or yogurt in the morning for a healthy, fiber-full, protein-packed start to the day.

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Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the almond meal, cornmeal, flax meal, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, molasses, olive oil, almond milk, honey, almond and vanilla extracts together.  Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until loose batter is formed. Gently fold in the millet and cherries until combined. Fill the muffin liners and bake on middle rack for 15 – 20 minutes. Let cool before serving.

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*Roasted Cherries: Toss 2 cups of halved and pitted cherries with a pinch of salt, 2 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp honey and splash of lemon. Spread them evenly on parchment paper and roast for 20 – 25 minutes on 350 degrees. For the purpose of this recipe, feel free to substitute strawberries, peaches or other summer fruits for cherries.
*Toasted millet: Spread millet evenly on baking sheet and stick in oven or toaster oven at 350 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes. To make sure your millet muffins are perfectly crunchy, toast it half an hour (at least) before using it for baking so that it can cool… It becomes more firm once it’s cool.

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Blueberry Almond Galette
Serves 6
Prep time: 40 min
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen’s Cherry Almond Galette

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Ingredients for Dough:

  • 3/4 cup red hard wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 oz. / 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in cubes
  • 2 tsp. lemon juicephoto 2(6)
  • 2 Tbsp. yogurt
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 3 Tbsp. ice water

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 3 cups blueberries
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. corn starch, almond flour or wheat flour
  • dash fresh grated nutmeg
  • dash cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup raw sugar
  • 1 egg
  • splash of water
  • turbinado sugar, optional

Our blueberry picking venture was pathetic… My memories of bushes generously bearing cloyingly sweet, plump blueberries were tainted by this season’s scarce branches. I blame this season’s monsoon-like weather for our meager bucket of water-logged, almost rotting berries. Usually, I’d season freshly picked berries with lemon juice and spices and bake them under a simple oat crumble.

But this summer’s berry batch needed hardcore TLC. I was drawn to a galette recipe on Sprouted Kitchen because of the almond extract in the dough recipe. So I substituted rye and hard red wheat flour for their spelt and white flour combo, and, duh, blueberries + appropriate spices instead of cherries.
The dough turned out delish and, served with ice cream, the galette eased my distress over this summer’s wretched crop. But I still prefer my berries sweetened by the earth and sun – simple, ample, untouched and undoctored. Oh well.. there’s always next summer.

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First, mix all dry ingredients. Second, quickly work the cold butter into the flour mixture. One tip that my mom taught me is to shred the frozen butter into the flour with a cheese grater. It makes it easier to combine in with the flour. Smush the butter into the flour with your fingers, making small pea-sized clumps. In a separate dish, mix lemon juice, yogurt, almond extract and water, and add it to the dough mixture until combined. Do not over-mix! Form a ball and wrap it up – chill in the fridge for at least an hour or a day or two in advance.
Heat the oven to 400′ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash blueberries and mix with spices, salt, lemon juice, flour and sugar.

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On a floured surface, roll out the tough to a a 12 inch circle (doesn’t have to be perfect… clearly). Put the dough on a baking sheet and pile the blueberries in the center (leave roughly 2-3 inches of the outer dough empty). Fold the dough towards the center, pinching it together to make it stick. Pull it tight and thin.
Mix egg and brush it on the outside of the dough. Then sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake on the middle rack for 40 – 45 minutes until browned. Serve with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of almond butter.

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♦ From Down the Hall

Dear Shaina,

It is really odd to be writing a letter to you when you are just down the hall and we are crossing paths in the kitchen, preparing lists for almost daily grocery store excursions, merging dirty clothes in the washing machine and…exchanging words (not always so nicely) face to face.

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So here I sit struggling to do my assignment, “mom, do ur blog” instructions in a text from you, following a text that said, “having din w friends, will b home later.”

Parenting is not an easy business at any age…of any aged child. It is perplexing and daunting and evokes anxieties and insecurities from the depths of your core. Shaina, lest you think this is about you, believe me, it is not! You are, and have been, a relatively easy child. I do know how fortunate I am to have the privilege of being your parent.

I am immensely proud of your accomplishments, your bravery and self-awareness, your independence and your many ever-emerging talents.  Not to mention the bonuses of having a child who travels to exotic places, always has another exciting option up her sleeve and provides us with never-ending tales to share with family and friends.

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The challenges of parenting are not about you, or any kid, I suspect.  It’s about what and who we bring to the game. You think you’ve escaped the ghosts you tried so hard to release in your own life…and all of a sudden, you have become your mother…and those shreds of familiarity are chilling.

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There were so many things that Bubbe and Zayde did intuitively, as parents, that were right. They had no expectations of who we should become.  They only wanted us to be healthy and happy and able to take care of ourselves.  They insisted on the absolute importance of love and family.  I think that was it…and all that flowed from that. Any screaming and arguing was just another tactic to ensure those principles.

I think it worked, but with it came the whole package…the sense of obligation, the persistent quest for happiness, the need to leave home and find my place in the world.  I did that in my own way.

I know some parents who think their job is to control their children in an attempt to produce the desired product.

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My understanding of parenting is more about powerlessness and staying out of the way of the inevitable. Neither approach is easy or foolproof…and I have made errors on both ends of the spectrum.

Having you home brings all the players out of the closet…yours and mine.  All in all, I think we are okay. You are a child any mother would be proud to claim…as I am.  We are just both doing what we both need to do…hanging on and getting away!

Thank God for food…the grains that bind us!  I have learned so much from you, although I am not sure I will ever be able to replicate your style. You prepared an amazing Indian feast for Shabbat dinner…dishes that even our Indian guests loved!

Watching you create recipes for a friend who is undergoing chemo has made me appreciate what a unique gift you have.

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Your food is creative and delicious, elaborate and healing…and remarkably beautiful and awe-inspiring.

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I am also impressed at how much your kitchen maintenance has improved! Thank you!

I don’t know how long you’ll be here, but I am glad to be in these moments with you. My wishes for you are simple…to be healthy and happy…to remember the importance of family…to find your place in the world and…to be safe.

Love,

Mom

xoxoxoxoxoxo

Browned Butter Halibut
Although I am intimidated by your creations. I still have to cook dinner occasionally,at least when I am not throwing together all your tasty leftover morsels into a humongous salad. This is a very simple fish recipe that Dad really enjoyed.

Add a simple green summer salad and baked sweet potatoes, plus the dessert below,  and you have a satisfying quick and easy dinner.

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Yield: 4 servings

  •  1 – 1½ pounds of fresh wild caught halibut (4-6 ounces per person)
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, garlic to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and zest from one lemon (or lime juice and zest)
  • Garnish with fresh chopped dill, parsley or tarragon and lemon wedges if desired

Salt and pepper fish generously on both sides. Add fresh finely chopped or thinly sliced garlic.

Lime Juice and zest...a great substitute for lemon.

Lime Juice and zest…a great substitute for lemon.

Marinate in lemon juice with zest plus 1 teaspoon olive oil for a half hour.

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Heat a sauté pan large enough to hold all the fish over medium heat.

Put oil and butter in the pan and heat until lightly browned.   Add fish immediately to browned butter and cook 3 – 5 minutes (depending on thickness of fish) on each side.  Fish is done when it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Serve with lemon wedges. Add salt, pepper and fresh herbs to taste.  Serve immediately.

 

Blueberry Oatmeal-Buckwheat Crumble

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This lightly sweetened blueberry crumble recipe is inspired by your healthy crunchy-grainy approach to food…and all those gallons of late summer blueberries we picked.

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Blueberry Filling

  • 5-6 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon potato starch or corn starch
  • Zest and lemon juice from small lemon
  • ¾ cup chopped dried fruit (apricots, dates, figs, raisins or any dried fruit)
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar or to taste (agave or honey can be substituted)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Wash blueberries and place them in a pot with the next four ingredients for the blueberry filling.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally throughout the cooking process.  Turn the heat down and simmer for about forty-five more minutes or until blueberry mixture is slightly thickened and reduced by half, but still liquidy.  Add the almond extract and stir.  Cool slightly.

Oatmeal-Buckwheat Crust and Topping

  • 1¼ cup uncooked rolled oats
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup buckwheat flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup butter, melted (margarine or coconut oil can be substituted)
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 T raw sugar or agave

IMG_1319While berries are cooking, prepare crust by whisking together the oats, flour and salt in a bowl. Add the melted butter or margarine to the oat mixture and stir until crumbly. Reserve ¾ cup of this mixture in a separate bowl for the topping.

Preheat oven to 350°

Grease an 8” x 10” baking dish and pat the remaining oat crumb crust mixture onto the bottom of the baking dish.

Prepare the topping by adding ¾ cup of chopped nuts and 1 tablespoon of raw sugar to the reserved oat mixture.  More sugar can be added if you like a sweeter topping.  Mix thoroughly.

Bake at 350° for 35 – 45 minutes or until oats and nuts are lightly browned and blueberries are bubbling.Pour the slightly cooled blueberry filling over the crust in the baking dish.  Sprinkle the oat-nut topping mixture evenly over the berries.

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Eat warm with ice cream or serve cold as a fruit snack or breakfast treat.

◊ What Doing?

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Dear mom,

You’re probably the busiest jobless person I know.  Mah Jong, volunteering, attending dinners, blogging (!), entertaining…

Thank you too for the glimpse into your life. It’s comforting to know that the intensity with which you approached your career is consistent in your daily tasks, and I loved the pics! Cups of coffee in the living room with you and dad… so tempting!

But… like…  what are you doing?

It’s not a nice question, sorry. It’s just that right now I too am running, running and at the end of a breathless day, I wonder what it was about.

Last time I was in Bhuj, living in a local fishbowl, I’d wake up to early morning pounding and find Heeran, my 12 year old neighbor, standing at my window. He’d sing, “Hi Simmy… What doing?”

“Heeran, get lost,” I’d sing back.

Now that I’m back in the Bhuj, the song is on repeat, heightening my anxiety with each play:  Simmy… what doing?

And then I read your letter. Oy vey. While you’re taking pride in my “accomplishments” (ha!), I’m trying to make sense of it all. Don’t be fooled: I’m just as scared as you are.

Simmy… What doing?  

I’m scared, scared, scared that I don’t have an answer.

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I tell myself:

I’m curious about craft production as a catalyst of social and economic empowerment of women worldwide. India is the world’s hub for handcraft, and I’m here to explore the craft sector.

Sometimes I admit that I’m here just because I missed it when I was in DC. But when people ask me what I missed, I panic. I rattle lame answers: the people… you’re so kind; the food… pani puri!; the colors are brighter in your country…?

Those aren’t answers either.

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The past few days, I’ve been visiting Ismail Khatri – India’s Ajrak guru and Kutch’s natural dye expert – and playing with his family’s carved wooden blocks in Ajrakpur, a blockprinting village about 40 km away.

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Sometimes it takes me 45 minutes to get there – sometimes it takes over 2 sweaty, bumpy, angry hours.

Yesterday, I went to Ajrakpur and cooked Gajar (Carrot) Halwa with Ismail’s daughter in law, Hameeda. We shaved carrots until my triceps shook, and I thought about my food processor at home. Ismail brought wheat stalks from his family’s farm to his wife who shucked their grains to be pulverized in a stone grinder. One of the sisters skimmed cream from fresh curd to make ghee.

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IMG_4771When we were finished, Sufiyan, Ismail’s son, asked if I wanted chai.

Yes.

Goat milk or buffalo milk?

Goat..?

Do you want to milk the goat?

Yes.

It was a whole day.

What doing?

Um…

I’m playing.

Playing frisbee in the white desert

Playing frisbee in the white desert

Why India?

I’m here because I like me here.

At home, I try hard to connect to processes, but catch myself hoarding joy only in final outcomes. Here, processes consume my life, so I’m forced to pay attention to how they make me feel. If I were to count on final products to fulfill me, I’d rip my hair out.

Indigo obsession

Indigo obsession

In India, I can’t shove veggies into a Vitamix or get into a taxi with confidence about where I’ll end up or know that my stomach will absorb my lunch or recognize whether my words/hand motions will translate into their intended purposes.

So… paying attention to my feelings… while I’m playing…  is what I’m doing?

I scream at rickshaw walas. I bounce strangers’ babies on my lap. I get too excited about vegetable colors in markets and in vats  ready to swallow printed fabric. I get really, really bored.  I sweat. I smell, I touch, I taste. I feel.

The good news for you is that I can do these things anywhere. I just have to learn. And I’m here to learn.

Love you and I miss you too.
xo,
Shaina

Gajar (Carrot) Halwa

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It’s so so easy… I’m imagining only 5 minutes with a food processor.

In India, it’s tradition to serve Halwa to guests. Each region has its own ingredients and variations, but Gajar (Carrot) Halwa is my fav. It’s auspicious to serve this indulgent, nutritious and special gift to guests upon their arrival. It could also be perfect on your Passover dessert table or as a dressing for Matzoh Brei with cottage cheese. I have a feeling dad will love it over ice cream.

Ingredients:

  • halwa6 cups peeled and finely grated carrot
  • 3 cups full fat milk
  • 1/4 cup cream or half and half
  • 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped cashews or pistachios
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tbs grated unsweetened coconut
  • 5 fresh cardamom pods, peeled and crushed

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Serves 12 – 20 guests, depending on how many other sweets are on the table.

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Wash and finely grate the carrots.

Heat ghee or butter in a heavy pan over a low flame. Add the carrots to the ghee and stir continuously for 5 minutes. Add milk and cream and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the carrots and milk thicken – stir occasionally for about 15 minutes. After mixture has thickened, add sugar, nuts and raisins, and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add cardamom and stir. Serve warm over ice cream or on its own. It’s also tasty cold!

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For the sake of our readers, I’ve adjusted this recipe to be a bit more healthy than what is typically served here. In India, many people use Mawa in place of milk (Mawa is milk and sugar cooked down to a crumbly solid) and add much more ghee than I’ve suggested. Many Indians living in the US substitute ricotta cheese for Mawa for a Halwa that’s more familiar. You can also substitute a 1/3 c condensed milk for 1/3 regular milk for a sweeter, creamier version. Semolina, sweet potato, chick pea flour or mung bean flour can easily replace carrots for a heartier version of this recipe. The semolina version is a great breakfast, but you’ll have to wait til after Passover!

gallons of gajar and roasted semolina Halwa being cooked on the street

gallons of gajar and roasted semolina Halwa cooked, served and eaten on the street

Last week, I stayed at a friend’s family’s house in Udaipur. They served me Halwa upon arrival and stuffed me with Rajasthani dishes. Here in Bhuj, I’ve eaten Halwa made from mung beans, chick pea flour, “white carrot” (white sweet potato) and semolina. My stomach is expanding with each home visit, but to deny gooey, sweet Halwa would be like rejecting potato knishes from Bubbe – an offense that I can’t even imagine!

PS. See more of what I’ve been doing:

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Frisbee in the Rann. It’s salt, not snow.

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The Khatris have generously allowed me to print some of my own items… dangerous. I did socks, a tank and a long sleeve shirt. You know how I struggle when you take me to get my nails done, selecting at least 10 colors, narrowing it down to five and ending with each nail a different color? By the time I sit down for my manicure, everyone else is already under the dryer. It’s how block printing went too. I selected over 25 blocks, laid them out, changed my mind again and again at the last minute ended up combining a bunch of miss-matched “border” pieces. The process of elimination doesn’t work when I select a new block each time I put one back.  And then came the agony of deciding which dyes I wanted to use. All of them!

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Milking a goat for afternoon chai.

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Making Chai.

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I know.

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Got my portrait taken on the street with a camera from the 1860s. The whole thing was done right there on the street – magic. I found the photographer, Tikam, in Jaipur after reading Heidi’s Pumpkin and Rice Soup Recipe. When can I get my own mini dark room?

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Never knew sugar could come in so many shapes!

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Rajasthani sweet shop – LADOOOOO!

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Pickle wala. Omg. Need to find a good recipe for Gujarati mango pickle. My dinner for the past week has been mango pickle + curd + veggies + sprouted dals. Perfect.