◊ Collecting

IMG_1311

Dear mom,

Word. While you’re feeling stuck by all the mess and stuff you’ve accumulated in your life, I’m bouncing back and forth India like a ping pong ball, gathering more and more of it. A handwoven scarf (or 7) here, a bunch of recipes there, one more train ticket on my credit card, new opportunities around every bend…

Natural dye textile studio in Munnar

Natural dye studio in Munnar

We’re both collectors. I hoard time and experiences and handmade textiles. I worry that so much of my energy goes towards stuffing my bags that I forget to be.

But this is just how we be. And I’m thinking that it’s ok.

Filling jars and emptying jars…

I got really good at filling and emptying jars in DC and thought (hoped?) that things might change once I fled my routine. But I have so many new jars here and I just love to fill and empty. There’s no escaping life.

Over skype the other day, you told me that the only thing that matters is that we get out of bed in the morning and do something. It doesn’t matter what is is… just something. Excitement, productivity, meaning, beauty are only perks.

photo(3)I’m grateful that lately I’ve been packing my jars tight with those perks. The first “work” (ha) chapter of my time in India is over, and now I’m indulging. I’m writing from a cloud. Literally. I’m sipping on hot tea in the mountains of Darjeeling and all I can see around me is cloud and prayer flags. I came here from Bangalore, where I stuffed myself with dosa (recipe below) and partied hard at Priyanka’s wedding. And before that, I lazed around Kerala’s beaches with Teresa, who came from Germany for the wedding. Tomorrow I embark on my trek through the foothills of the Himalayas.

IMG_1197

IMG_1276 2

Wedding decorations

Meanwhile, I’ll hand-wash a bucket of dirty clothes, hang the pieces to dry, and stuff my bag to its brim feeling fulfilled as ever. I always straddle my bag to tackle it closed. Some call hoarding a problem, I call it enthusiasm. I’m not sure what to call your closet.

All I know is that I’m lucky you’re coming to nyc full of practice. We’ll unpack and repack my mess in preparation for the next journey, and hopefully we’ll collect some stuff together along the way… my priority is bagels.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!!!!!! 

Love,

Shaina

Dosa:

I’ve already briefed you about my dosa overdose in South India… My average was 3 a day for 14 days. Sorry I’m not sorry.

IMG_1312

People in the south eat dosa dipped in sambar (lentil stew) and coconut chutney for breakfast and I just can’t get enough. I eat dosai (plural for dosa) exactly like I used to eat Bubbe’s blintzes… over and over and over again without getting bored or too full for just one more.

IMG_1238

Dosa is made from a combination of rice and lentil flour, which is fermented into a sweet smelling batter.  The most common filled dosa is masala dosa, whose crispy shell is stuffed with spiced potatoes and onions. But I like my dosai plain, just like you enjoyed Bubbe’s blintz shells without the cheesy filling. There’s something perfect about how the crispness of the oily edges turns into gooey, fermented dough towards the middle.

IMG_1337 (1)

And it’s somewhat healthy… and gluten-free and vegan. The coconut chutney and sambar add protein, hardy fiber, healthy fats and a kick of spice.

My friends here joke that I have two stomachs (like a cow), and that one is for dosa only. I try to explain the special training I received as child at Bubbe’s kitchen table, where I worked on tall stacks of buttery blintzes that magically never grew shorter.  Blintz after blintz after blintz… just like dosai… losing count is too easy.

IMG_1299

Recipe serves 5 – 9 people:

  • 1 Cup medium grain rice
  • ½ Cup whole urad lentils (skinned black lentils)
  • 1Tbs Fenugreek seeds
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs Vegetable oil

You will need a heavy duty food processor to make dosa batter from scratch. A Cuisinart or Vitamix works best, but you can by with a blender.

First, wash, rinse the rice and the lentils in separate bowls. Cover rice and lentils with water (leave about two inches of water on top) in separate bowls and soak overnight (or 6-8 hours) with the fenugreek seeds.

Once soaked, add 3-4 tablespoons of lentil water to the food processor and turn it on. Then, slowly add the lentils while allowing the extra water to drain off. If needed, add water one tablespoon at a time. Grind lentils for about 15 minutes or until the batter is smooth and fluffy.

Remove lentil batter and place into bowl. In the same food processor (don’t worry about washing it), pour one cup of soaking water from the rice. Turn the food processor on and slowly add the rice to the grinder. Grind for about 20 minutes until liquid batter is formed. It’s ok if the batter is slightly gritty.

IMG_1296Remove from food processor and mix rice and lentil batter together with salt in a 3 quart bowl. Cover the bowl, but do not seal it (I recommend covering with a light towel)- this is where the magic happens!

If it’s summertime, leave the batter outdoors (out of animals’ reach) for about 8 hours to ferment. The batter ferments best in a climate that is at least 90 degrees F. If it’s cold outside, put the batter on the lowest rack of you oven and turn the pilot light on. Leave the batter in for about 10 hours. Depending on the climate, the batter may take longer or shorter to ferment. But trust me, you will know when it happens! When the batter is fermented it will smell sweet and acidic, almost like beer. It will also be frothy and twice the volume you started with.

After fermentation, the batter should be liquidy, like pancake batter. If it’s too thick to pour, add water.

IMG_1338 (1)

Heat a skillet on very high heat and brush with a drop of oil. Pour 1/4 of a cup of batter onto the skillet.  With little pressure, spread into a thin circle with the back of a rubber spatula or spoon. Cook on high heat until the bottom side of the dosa is brown. Flip the dosa to brown the other side. The dosa should be crispy on all edges. Serve with sambar and coconut chutney and enjoy!

Coconut Chutney:

IMG_5326

  • 1/2 Tbs Oil (I like to use coconut oil, but anything works)
  • 1/4 Tsp Mustard seeds
  • 4-7 Curry leaves
  • 1 Tbs Grated ginger
  • 1 Green chili or red chili powder (to taste)
  • 1 Cup Grated fresh coconut or 1/2 c grated dry unsweetened coconut
  • 1 Cup Water if using dry coconut, 1/2 c if using fresh coconut
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • 1/4 Cup Chick peas
  • Cilantro for garnish

Heat coconut oil and spices in pan over low heat until fragrant. Allow to cool and combine with remaining ingredients in food processor until smooth chutney is formed. Garnish with cilantro.

You can use coconut chutney in many different dishes – over fish, rice or veggies! Or for a vegan veg/cracker dip…

See my recent collection:

IMG_1027
The bus ride from Ernakulam to Munnar was stunning.

munnar bus ride
I went hiking in the clouds and sprained my foot. It was worth it.

aranya bw
I visited a natural dye workshop called Aranya Naturals on one of Munnar’s tea plantations. All of the workers are differently-abled. They create the most beautiful naturally dyed textiles with sophisticated shibori techniques.

IMG_1214 2
Saw Elephants in Cochin

IMG_1011

IMG_1164 2

The food in Kerala… omg.. banana chips in coconut oil and appam.

  IMG_1200
I’m in love with Kerala. After Munnar, I met Teresa in Cochin and we took day trips to beaches via ferries.. the best public transport this world offers.

IMG_4223

The Bhuj crew reunited for Priyanka’s wedding in Bangalore! The gang back together again.. a bit more classy this time around. Or not.

IMG_1305

IMG_1284

mehndi

The wedding was as stunning.

IMG_1301 2
I borrowed saris from the master of sari beauty and elegance, Shruthi. The one above was printed by Ismael Khatri’s operation in Ajrakpur. Also, Shruthi has an amazing blog about Kutch.

saree
Aditi, masterji, wrapped us up. Never imagined I’d dance so hard in a sari and stay clothed. Somehow it worked. Thanks, Adu!

auto

I’m obsessed with auto decorations.

IMG_1326 (1)

Bagels in Bangalore. What.

tibetan food

Tibetan food in Darjeeling. Tsampa (roasted barley flour porridge) with cheese and milk for breakfast and Thupka (noodle soup) for dinner.

◊ What Doing?

Untitled

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.

aj

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.

IMG_4112

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.

ajrak

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.

IMG_3518

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

IMG_4638

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

IMG_3550

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

IMG_4549

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!

IMG_4477

IMG_3527

IMG_4615

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:

IMG_3586

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

IMG_4376

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!

IMG_4657

Milking a goat for afternoon chai.

IMG_4753

Making Chai.

IMG_3609

I know.

photo jaipur

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?

IMG_3419

Never knew sugar could come in so many shapes!

IMG_3407

Rajasthani sweet shop – LADOOOOO!

IMG_3422

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.

♦ Attachment…Not Such a Bad Thing

Dear Shaina,

Although I admire your efforts to waste nothing (you got that from Bubbe and me), I must admit I was a little overwhelmed (horrified) by the remnants of all those little bits and pieces strewn about in the most unlikely places throughout your house (maybe a few traits from your father’s side, too). Packing up a life, even under the best conditions, is a messy dirty process and yours ranked right up there. As far as getting everything into the car…was there a choice?!

You thought you could put all your stuff in a few bags, plus your backpack and carry-on luggage for India, and hop on the bus to New York and somehow get to New Jersey to store your stuff and then take off for India…all by yourself.  No wonder you felt calm…you were delusional!!  I could say, you owe me, but in truth, we will be leaving you with enough stuff (we are all so attached to our STUFF) to make up for all the packing I could possibly do for you.  Know that you have my full permission to dispose of all of our junk, when the time comes, in whatever way you want!  In the meantime, I am inspired to do some cleaning out…for your sake.

IMG_0826

So here I sit…left with a super-high-end, not so clean blender, some exotic teas and a plastic container full of pungent spices, about all of which I am clueless.  I will touch them, smell them, gaze upon them and maybe even use them…just to feel your presence as you move further away on this leg of your life’s journey. I will watch anxiously for your infrequently meted out emails designed to assure me of your existence as opposed to inform me of the intricacies of your very foreign life. You are ever-present and notably absent from my days.

IMG_0825My world does revolve around you (parents of only children also process things differently). I am attached!  And despite my attachment, I am proud of you and honored to be the packer, schlepper and guardian of your material attachments.They are the promise that I will be reconnecting with you before I even get a chance to clean out my own closet.

Dad just returned from his week-long ski trip. We have been traveling in different directions for the past month. I’m not quite the same without him…a little lost, less motivated and a bit restless… even slightly disoriented. It wasn’t that I stopped living…I exercised and played mahjong and watered the plants and went out with friends and did the laundry…all the while enduring a sort of fuzziness around the edges of my being.

IMG_0798

Home Again!

We’re both finally back at home, together.  I went to yoga, he watered the plants, I made breakfast, he went through the mail, I did the laundry, he built a fire…and we sit together in the living room, taking in the misty fog outside, as he reads and I write.  My fuzziness has faded. It seems a bit retro to admit that the fullness and clarity in my life is so dependent on the daily presence of the man I live with. It’s a little scary, too. I am clearly attached. And, it’s really not such a bad thing…

Where are you anyway?  We want to hear from you. We miss you!  After all, we are very attached!

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxooxoxoxoxoxoox

P.S. I haven’t done much cooking lately, but I did prepare a few comfort foods to get us through these rainy dreary days. All recipes are vegetarian and gluten free to accommodate the needs of friends, but everyone seems to like them anyway.

Mock Chopped Liver:


This makes a great vegetarian, gluten free appetizer served with crackers, chips, carrots, sugar snap peas or any veggie you like.
Very easy to prepare in a food processor.  Makes about 4 cups.

IMG_0818

  • 1 small raw onion
  • 1 ½ cups walnuts
  • 3  14.5 ounce cans of cut green beans well drained
  • 3 hard boiled eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients, in the order listed, into the large chopping bowl of a food processor using the chopping blade.

Pulse until all the ingredients are chopped and blended together.

Continue processing for another 30 seconds or more until the mixture is a smooth but still slightly grainy in consistency.

Add plenty of salt and pepper to taste.

May be garnished with chopped hard boiled egg, olives or parsley.

IMG_0822

 

Easy Split Pea Soup:
This hearty and healthy soup is great on cold winter nights, even in Birmingham, Alabama.

IMG_0807

  • 2 – 3 cups dried green or yellow split peas
  • 6 -8 cups Vegetarian broth or water mixed with soup powder or  bouillon
  • 1 large onion
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 3-4 stalks of celery with leaves
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tblsp fresh basil or 2 tsp dried
  • 1 apple peeled and cut in small pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp (or more) cumin (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse split peas and put in a large pot with 6 cups of broth or water with bouillon, soup mix or any other soup flavoring.

Bring to a boil and simmer peas while preparing vegetables. Stir occasionally.

Put onions, carrots, celery and garlic in a food processor and chop into small pieces.  They don’t need to be pulverized.

Throw chopped vegetables into the partially cooked peas and continue to cook on a low flame stirring occasionally.

Add chopped apple and continue cooking on a low flame until all ingredients are tender (about 30-40 minutes).

Add spices, salt and pepper to taste.

When vegetables cooked through, blend in the pot with a stick immersion blender.

Add water and adjust spices if soup is too thick.

Options:
3-4 Tblsp of white wine or red wine wine vinegar can be added if you like.
To vary the flavor, try adding Indian spices to the mix.
Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, parsley, or dill.

The kind of day to stay home and make soup...

The kind of day to stay home and make soup and cookies…

 

Gluten Free Oatmeal Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Raisin Cookies:

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Makes 4-5 dozen cookies.

IMG_0812

  • ¼  cup butter
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ cup regular sugar and 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tblsp vanilla
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • ¾ cup Chocolate chips
  • ½ cup peanut butter chips
  • ½ cup raisins or currants

Mix sugar, brown sugar and butter together.

Add eggs, vanilla and baking soda and mix well.

Mix in peanut butter & oats.

Add chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and raisins.

Mix everything together.

Place 1 inch flattened balls of dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper) about 2 inches apart

Bake for 12 minutes

Enjoy!

IMG_0814