Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy holidays

Just popping in to wish you and your family the best this holiday season. I'm working on last minute presents,

Last minute christmas presents
Using scraps to make a few zippered pouches.

and hoping that the cake I'm making for Christmas this year turns out well; it's the first time I'm making it.

Christmas cake

More than pies and candy, cakes are popular with those that celebrate Christmas in India. The fruit-y bits (including petha, candied gourd/pumpkin) have been soaking in rum for the last 3 days. Should have been more like 30 days. Ah, well.

We are going to the cinema this evening and then to dinner, before which I must sew, sew, sew. So I'll sign off now. Stay warm, have fun and happy holidays.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh, dear!

I didn't realise that we are exchanging gifts this Christmas till 6:45 a.m today. I knew that my mum was hosting the meal this year and that I had volunteered to cook the bulk of it, but Christmas presents hadn't entered my thinking. It's partly because even though we always celebrated Christmas growing up in India, we didn't always exchange gifts. And because no one said anything.

Oops. I suppose some last-minute gifts are in order. I'll have to buy some but I'll also be trolling the internet for some ideas (feel free to share any that you might have) in the next few hours, so I must be off. I'll leave you with some of my favourite photos from the last few weeks.

Kids getting ready for their first Communion at Church, Vasai.

All smiles
At a rural school for tribal children in northern Maharashtra. All smiles.

I spy
I spy.

Juna Bazar
Juna Bazar. A bi-weekly street market where you can find all manner of cool things.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

From our rasoi*

I've been busy in the kitchen these last few weeks but I haven't been good about documenting our eats, so here goes -

Poha (flattened rice) for breakfast; typical Maharashtrian fare. Tastes like lunch to the uninitiated!

Gorging on sitaphal (custard apple). Sweet, grainy, a little tedious to eat, but absolutely delicious. A new favourite for my husband.

Salad with basil pesto vinaigrette
Salad with basil pesto vinaigrette.

Curried pumpkin soup with crushed peanuts, masala (onions, green chillies, fresh cilantro) grilled cheese sandwich, salad with honey mustard vinaigrette.

Bhendi fry
Bhendi (okra) fry with freshly ground spices, garlic and onions.

Roasting spices
Roasting spices for the fish curry.

Fish curry and neer dosas
Fish curry and neer dosas for dinner.

* kitchen in Hindi.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Own two hands

A couple of inspiring things:

1. My husband is painting a mural on our bedroom wall. He has wanted to paint one for several years now but I guess the timing was never quite right. Several weeks ago, it started off looking like this -


Now it looks more like this -


I really love it. It's beautiful. It's a work in progress and he says he has several hours of painting ahead of him to complete it.

2. I recently discovered that my cousin likes to hand embroider. Here are some of the things she made -



Pretty, no? Maybe I'll ask her to teach me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Built by me

Built by me

I picked up this popular Built by Wendy (Simplicity 3964) pattern on my trip to the US couple of months ago. I used a light-weight cotton to make a wearable muslin. I wanted it to be long enough to wear with tights in India but I ran out of fabric for the sleeves. I don't care too much for the sleeves in the pattern anyway! I cut out the smallest size (size 4) but I should have made the armhole cuts a little deeper. I can't comfortably wear this top over a t-shirt on cooler days.

Built by me

The hardest part for me was sewing in the inset. I find it difficult to make gathers on this sewing machine. It's easy to change the stitch length but I can't adjust the tension, which makes it a little tricky to pull up the gathers without breaking the thread. So the gathers are not spread out evenly but I don't mind too much.

Built by me

The ties at the back are a fetching detail but you'll have to excuse the wrinkles - I had been wearing this top all day before the photographs. I used french seams and took in about an inch on either side to make it a little more form fitting. I'm very happy with how neat it is on the inside. All in all, it's a cute top with much potential. It's not quite cold enough here but it would make a great jumper in a heavier fabric.

Thanks to my husband for indulging me and taking the photographs!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Being thankful

  1. for my health and safety, and the health and safety of my family.
  2. for the food and comforts I enjoy each day.
  3. for the chance to pursue things that make me happy.
  4. for the beauty of nature.
  5. for a great sense of direction!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cabbage kofta curry

Cabbage kofta curry

I like my cabbage sabzi crunchy but the usual recipe seemed tiresome last night so I thought I'd try something different. This preparation was slightly more time consuming than my standard recipe but resulted in a creamy curry with melt-in-your-mouth koftas. I looked at a few different recipes online but mainly took inspiration from this one. I tweaked it some (and didn't measure any of the ingredients) so I thought I'd jot it down before I forget what I did.


For koftas:
1/2 head cabbage (it was medium-large in size) shredded
1/4 cup channa dal (also called Bengal gram dal) boiled; about 80% cooked
1/2 tsp chilli powder (or to taste) (Indian chilli powder is more like cayenne pepper powder)
2 tsp+ 4tsp besan flour (chickpea flour)
oil for frying

For curry:
1 medium-sized onion finely chopped
1/2" fresh ginger minced ( I smashed it with the garlic with my motar & pestle after mincing)
2-3 cloves of garlic minced ( I smashed it with the ginger with my motar & pestle after mincing)
1/2 tsp cornflour (optional) as a thickener. You could used ground cashew nuts, but I didn't have any at hand.
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 1/2 tsp corriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 to 3/4 cup yogurt beaten well
1/2 tsp garam masala (I made my own)
1 tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
fresh corriander leaves (cilantro) (I didn't have any at hand, but will add some the next time)
oil for cooking

To make koftas:
  • Mix cabbage and channa dal and cook well together. I used my trusty pressure cooker.
  • Drain the water well (reserving liquid) using muslin.
  • Mash the mixture; add chilli powder, 2 tsp besan flour and salt. It might release more liquid at this point because of the salt, so squeeze the liquid out again, if need be.
  • Make small balls; roll in remaining besan flour; fry till golden brown; drain and keep aside. I didn't roll the initial batch in additional flour and they fell apart while frying. You could use egg, I suppose. But rolling the balls in extra besan flour before frying worked remarkably well.
To make curry:
  • Heat oil in pan; add cumin seeds; wait 30 seconds.
  • Add onions and fry till golden.
  • Add ginger+garlic and fry till raw smell disappears.
  • Add turmeric, chilli powder, corriander powder, cumin powder and fry till raw spice smell disappears. Be careful not to burn the masala. Add a little bit of reserved liquid to keep from burning. I added a bit of cornflour at this point to thicken it a bit but I may leave it out the next time.
  • Add yogurt; cook for a minute; add reserved liquid; bring to a boil.
  • Turn flame to low; add garam masala; simmer for a few minutes.
  • Crush kasuri methi by rubbing it between your palms and add to curry.
  • Once the consistency of the curry is to your liking, gently add the koftas, garnish with chopped corriander leaves.
  • Serve hot with naan, rice, roti.
Like I said before, I didn't measure any of the ingredients while making it so these are just approximations of what I think I added! The ingredients list is long but the recipe isn't necessarily complicated. I promise.

If you try making it, let me know how it turns out. Also, if you have questions, feel free to email me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009



Mahabaleshwar is a hill station in the Western Ghats at an elevation of about 4,500 ft. It was the summer capital of the Bombay presidency during the British Raj and its enjoyable climate continues to attract flocks of tourists in the warmer months.

"The woods are lovely dark and deep..."

My main goal for the trip was to walk; I miss unobstructed walking in India. We tried to buy a map in town, but could only find a cartoonish one that didn't serve our purposes. So when we found Tiger path by accident, we were all too happy to spend the rest of the afternoon sauntering down it. The lack of signs along the trail probably keeps most non-local 'walkers' at bay and we didn't rub shoulders with more than a handful of people.

Mahabaleshwar is not known for its restaurants but we managed to get a respectable masala dosa and a steaming cup of chai for lunch/dinner on getting back to town. We then walked down the main market taking in all the sights:

He was about to cut into the fabric. That's not much space to work in!

Lots of sandals, some made here, some carted all the way from Pune.

Prettily stacked up - it was still a little early for strawberries.

Some of the power lines running through town had to be repaired after the storm, and we didn't have electricity through the duration of our stay. I enjoyed the candlelight and didn't mind so much.

No sandals, no harness, no safety gear.

After a good night's rest, we walked up to Wilson's Point to take in the sunrise but since the sun was hiding behind a thick layer of clouds we had some masala chai instead.

Chai at Wilson's Point.

After brunch, we walked to Babington Point (not a remarkable viewpoint) and then drove out to Arthur's Seat for sunset views.

No sun, this is all we saw. Pretty, nonetheless.

In the evening, we were witness to scores of tourists descending upon Mahabaleshwar (it happened to be a Saturday). Luckily we didn't have to fight for elbow room at the dining table; we had arranged for a special Parsi dinner at Hotel Mayfair the day before. I wasn't sure what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. It was quite the spread: sweet corn soup (nothing specifically Parsi about it), dhansak and spiced rice, an omlette-quiche-like egg dish (no Parsi meal is complete without eggs!), a spicy tomato veggie dish, bottle gourd Parsi style (??), and meat and vegetable kababs. My least favourite was the bread and butter pudding, but I was so full of food by then, I didn't care. It was a memorable way to spend our last evening in town.

The highlight of our trip however, was sighting the Giant Malabar Tree squirrel. Three times. I don't have a lens appropriate for wildlife photography, but I did my best. Both these pictures are of the same squirrel.

Giant Malabar Tree Squirrel

Giant Malabar Tree Squirrel

A lot of effort is being made by residents and civil society to protect Mahabaleshwar's natural heritage but it is an uphill battle. Over the years several unsightly hotels have sprung up all over town, many of them built illegally. I really enjoyed Mahabaleshwar for its views, walks, and quiet but I would definitely avoid visiting during the summer or over the weekend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Spring Ruffle top

Spring ruffle top

Still reporting grey skies, but here is a top I made a while ago when the weather was more spring-like. I used this tutorial by Rae from Made by Rae blog. Simple, cute and quick, the pattern can be customised to fit any size.

Up next, a post about our trip to Mahabaleshwar.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rain and grey skies

The skies have been grey for the last three days because of cyclone Phyan. It's uncommon for a cyclone to hit the Konkan coast in November, and it has rained relentlessly for almost 30 hours. It's interesting to listen to the talk this has drummed up on the news channels (and read print media), especially because the Copenhagen conference is around the corner. I'm keen to see how things unfold and what stand India takes, since there has been much back and forth on the subject by the environment minister.

Socks in progress

Anyway, we managed to stay dry; I even dug out my knitting needles. My knitting mojo has been very sporadic in India in large part because of the weather. But the cool breezes (more like winds) of the last few days were enough to give me some inspiration. These are for my mum - a basic 3x1 rib ankle length sock on US 1 needles. I picked up this yarn on our trip to Himachal. I'm not entirely sure what it is (definitely a blend of wool and nylon), but its what the locals use to hand knit socks. The yarn is a little bit stiff and hard on the wrist but the knitted fabric is very warm.

Bangda (Mackerel)
Marinated bangda waiting to be fried.

I also cooked. On grey, rainy days I always feel like a cup of steaming chai with something fried and spicy, usually samosas or kanda bhajias (onions coated in a spiced chickpea flour batter and fried). We had some bangda (mackerel) on hand, so bangda fry it was.

Bangda (Mackerel)

It was a simple lunch of aloo rassa (potato curry with lots of tomatoes), rice and bandga fry. I know, potatoes on rice seem redundant, but it is a fairly popular combination in India, and we quite enjoyed the meal.

I see some blue skies out the window as I type. Just in time for our weekend trip to Mahabaleshwar. We leave tomorrow for a wee vacation. I know it's a little early but here's wishing you all a wonderful weekend!

Monday, November 9, 2009

A hop down memory lane

Hop down memory lane

I found her in the process of trying to organise my mum's storage space. She wasn't sitting in the plants but after years of being stuck in storage, I thought she might enjoy some green! I had lovingly made her in my 6th grade arts & crafts class at school. She's one meticulously made bunny rabbit.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Coffee Date dress

Coffee Date Dress

I finished sewing this dress several weeks ago but never got around to blogging about it. It is a free pattern available at Burdastyle. Let's see if I can remember all the details.

I made a muslin (using one of my mum's old saris) to see if the 32 petite would fit. I didn't like the way the bust darts looked; they seemed pointy and a bit high. Apart from that, the fit was perfect. So I sought help (thanks Christina!). With the tips that she gave me, I lowered the bust darts by 3/4" on my muslin, but it still didn't look quite right. I decided that it was the sari fabric that I was using for the muslin rather than the placement of the darts that was making it look strange, so in the end I went ahead and sewed the bust darts as they were originally. I did curve the legs towards the ends to make them look more rounded and less pointy.

The only changes that I made were to: lengthen the skirt hem by 1.5", line the dress (by basically making a second dress using the lining fabric), and skip the ruffle (my print was busy enough to begin with).

Coffee Date dress

Like the pattern suggested, I used the all-in-one facing technique to attach the lining to the dress. It took me a little while to figure it out, but it looks very neat and I'm with happy with the finish.

Coffee Date dress

The pattern is straight forward and fairly simple and results in a basic dress with a well fitted bodice and flowing skirt. I would definitely make this dress again.

Coffee Date Dress

I'm very happy with it; I think you can tell! Thanks to my husband for taking the photos.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A little more about Kerala

Kerala Bus

Soon after my husband wrapped up work, we got a ride to the Central Bus Stand in Ernakulam and found seats on the 2 PM bus to Munnar.

Kerala Bus 2

The buses in Kerala are small and pretty basic. We got, what we thought were, the best seats on the bus - plenty of leg room for my husband, and enough space for a couple of bags. The glass-less windows made it easy to take in the beautiful sights. It was a 130 kilometer ride (about 80 miles) but it took us approximately six hours to cover the distance. There were a lot of stops along the way to pick up more passengers and the road was narrow and winding, but still. Six hours!

Munnar is a hill-station at an elevation of about 1600 m (~5,250 ft); high enough to warrant cool mornings and crisp evenings. We woke up the next morning to mist covered mountains and 360 degree views of tea plantations. We didn't have much time at hand, so we hired a rickshaw for the day (yes, we know how to travel in style!) visited the tea museum, sampled some tea, and bought a bunch as well.


We headed towards Top Station, famous for the rare Neelakurunji that blooms just once every 12 years. We bought honey from this chap sitting just off the road. He let us try a bit, pouring some out of the bucket, through a sieve, into our cupped hands. It was definitely the purest honey I've had!


We took another state-run bus to Thekkady in the afternoon, arriving well after sunset. It was the most scenic bus journey either of us has ever taken (and we've been on a lot of buses!). As we headed over the Cardamon Hills, we could see tea plantations for miles (looked like a well manicured lawn). We also passed several spice plantations (pepper, cardamom, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon).

The first morning we walked to the boat jetty in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. We weren't allowed to do anything once inside the Sanctuary, as it was closed to tourists in the wake of a boat accident. It was a very sad and disturbing accident, and easily avoidable (in my opinion). As people grieved, officials played the blame game. So no walking in the woods, seeing wild elephants, or trying to avoid blood sucking fat leeches for us.

Since it is much visited by foreign tourists, the town has several shops selling Kashmiri and Rajasthani shawls and trinkets. While Indian alright, nothing local about it. It was also hard to find authentic Kerala food. Restaurant menus were full of Tandoori and Chinese (Indian-Chinese) options. I guess when south Indians go out to eat, they don't want to eat south Indian food! We looked hard and found a 'mess' that seemed popular.


Served on a banana leaf (the gave us a banana leaf look alike), we had beetroot veggie, a coconut chutney, avial, gooseberry pickle, green beans with coconut, cabbage veggie, papads, rice, dal, sambar, rasam, and buttermilk (last three not in photo). It was a no-frills place, with not a tourist in sight, and delicious food. We couldn't have asked for more.

The plan was to visit a spice plantation after lunch but we had to cancel because of sudden and heavy rain. It was a bit deflating, but our hotel room was nice and had a balcony, so we didn't mind sitting out and enjoying the rain.


The next day, before we got on the bus to Fort Cochin (via Kottayam), we went back to the 'mess' for breakfast. We were served appams with a runny potato curry. Spicy and flavourful.

Fort Cochin

The bus ride was uneventful and crowded, and we were glad to get to our home stay by sunset. We walked around town, and then went to the restaurant attached to the Old Harbour Hotel for dinner. It is a beautifully renovated 300 year-old building, which is now a boutique hotel. We sat outside and sipped on wine while waiting for our fish curry and talking about everything we had experienced in the past week. Dinner was a treat, especially since the rest of our trip had been pretty low budget.

Kerala is a friendly, relaxing, beautiful place to visit in the cooler months of the year. There is plenty to do and see, and it is gastronomically delightful. My only lament is the slow erosion of local flavour, if you will, in some of the more touristy towns, the loss of the very 'thing' that brought tourists there in the first place.

But enough about Kerala. Up next, some sewing news. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 30, 2009

God's Own Country


Our second visit to Kerala this year was a work trip for my husband. We were put up at a hotel in Cochin close to the airport (read: far away from anywhere else!).

Jew Town

While my husband was working, I caught up on sleep, took a dip in the pool, and wandered the streets of Fort Cochin. The hotel runs a complimentary shuttle from Cochin to Fort Cochin, and I took advantage.

Fort Cochin-Jew Town

I then walked from Fort Kochi to Jew Town and stopped at some of the several shops that dot the road along the way. Most of them are traders that sell rice, spices and tea in bulk, but there are several shops that cater to the tourist crowd.


I managed to get a few shots, but my camera battery died just as the light started to get nice. It was the first time since I've owned my camera that I thought it would be handy to have a spare.

Jew Town

I remembered this lady and her shop in Jew Town from my last visit there. She sews and hand embroiders kippahs, little baby dresses, and a lot of other stuff. She didn't look nearly that concerned the entire time I was chatting with her!

The older buildings on the island reflect Portuguese and Dutch architectural influences (including a synagogue and a Dutch Palace), but sadly, I don't have any photos to share. I walked back to Fort Cochin giving myself enough time to get out of the heat, sip on a fresh ginger-lime soda and read my book.