Month: June 2020

My Kitchen Garden with the help of those tiny hands by Titas Mazumdar

Working Mom – isn’t it always a big challenge? The guilt of not able to give enough time to your little ones, and the fear of not creating enough childhood memories. I am no different and not free from those guilts. I keep on brainstorming and engaging my little time after work and weekend with my daughter with a lot of creative stuff like DIY projects, best out of waste, bottle painting, soap making and the list goes on and on. The best one which is also a stress buster for me is gardening with the help of those tiny hands.

I always dreamt of having my own vegetable garden but never had the luck of staying on the ground floor to grow my own, but as the saying goes, where there is a will there is a way. Luckily, I am blessed with 4 big terraces that prompted me to take up terrace farming. I realized that’s the best way to keep my little one engaged and create some childhood memories for her.

YouTube is my best teacher; yes there ought to be couple of hits and misses but I never lose hope and faith, and always remember there are no gardening mistakes but only experiments. These video and tips help me a lot in my journey of building my terrace garden. I never buy seeds from market, I use vegetable seeds, shoots, cuttings to grow my veggies. Pumpkin, bitter gourd and watermelon are the easiest to grow, they have never failed me. I let my daughter pick the fat healthy seeds from these fruits and allow her to sprinkle them all around. The excitement in those tiny eyes to see the seeds sprouting is unfathomable. Within few weeks tender leaves comes out and within a month, if the soil is healthy enough, the plants start flowering. 

There is also another very interesting aspect when you are farming at home with your kids. I introduced her to the concept of photosynthesis, pollination, male and female flowers and fertilization. It’s very easy to identify male and female flowers in these melon category plants. Many a times male and female flowers are out of proportion in numbers and hence I use hand pollination (Remember those 80s Hindi movies 🙂 and hand pollination does help too, got quite a good result from it. Trust me growing a kitchen garden with my daughter has been so much fun!

Freshly grown tomatoes

After successful fertilization, the wait time is a little longer as the fruits grow slowly at their own pace. Bitter gourd can be harvested quickly within a couple of weeks but pumpkin and watermelon take more than three months to grow to full size. It’s a different kind of pleasure growing your own fruits and vegetables, though in a small quantity, the satisfaction is immense. Someone rightly said growing your own food is like printing your own Money 🙂

We bongs cook almost every part of the plant, say for example the leaves of bitter gourd are used with lentil paste for fritters, we eat flowers of Pumpkin plant dipped into gram flour paste and deep fried, the leaves and vegetables go with mixed vegetable curry in mustard and poppy seed paste.  I even wrap mustard coated fish in pumpkin leaves and steam it. It’s one of my family delicacies. Serving something on table from your kitchen garden is indeed tastier and healthier.

The most exciting part is when you use your vegetable waste/throw away to grow your garden. This year late winter I planted the throw away stem of a market bought cabbage, and guess what – I was gifted by nature with three medium size cabbages. One point I have noted in my last 2 years of terrace farming, you cannot expect market size from you own kitchen garden. I think one reason might be I grow in pot, ground produces a better size and secondly, I don’t use market fertilizers, it’s completely organic. I use my own fertilizers. I use fish water, egg shell, used tea leaves and coffee powder. I have two compost makers; all my kitchen waste goes there and after couple of months I get home made organic fertilizer. If you have plants you are sure to invite few pest guests too. Easy solution to keep unwanted guests out from your garden is spray diluted Neem oil with water and a spoon of Shampoo.

Pickle with home grown chillies

Garden has a tremendous healing power on a stressful and tiring day, it soothes me and relaxes my nerves. Last year I planted a Mango, Avocado, Guava tree. This year Guava plant blossomed with 25 beautiful hairy white flowers, almost 15 flowers turned into fruits but heavy wind and birds didn’t allow to grow into full size. I am just left with a few now. Lesson learnt for next year, I have to create some shade for my guava plant. I have a 6-year-old a different breed of a lemon plant (We call it Gandhoraj Lemon- King of fragrance in Bengal). This plant is yet to bear fruit but so what, I use its flavorful leaves in my Thai & Malaysian Curries and Bengali daal. It tastes heavenly.

Pasta is my daughter’s favorite and what can be tastier than making your pasta from hand-picked basils from your garden. Two varieties of basil Sweet Basil and Thai basil grows in my pot round the year for all my Southeast Asian and Italian dishes. 

Ajwain plant is another low maintenance herb and easy to grow from stems and has immense health benefit. I use thick green succulent Ajwain leaves for making Chai, Pakora, Paratha and Daal. Tomatoes and chilies will never upset you; these gorgeous sexy reds enhance the beauty of my kitchen garden.

Katha with cabbage 🙂

I also try my hands in microgreens, they are full of nutrition and gives results in just 3 to 4 days. Salad lovers will love microgreens of Moong, Methi (Fenugreek), Mustard and many more. That’s again another kind of gardening, can be very easily grown even in dark corners of your kitchen engaging your little ones. And the best part is, the kids cannot say “No” to what they have grown, even the pickiest eaters fall into the prey of their own kitchen garden and start eating veggies. Isn’t it a win-win situation for the mommies?

Titas is a banker, a mom, passionate about gardening and cooking. Look out for her next post on the many delicacies that she dishes with the yields from her kitchen garden.

Savouring Vintage Wine

The price that we are willing to pay for a bottle of old wine! Connoisseurs and collectors outbid each other in Sotheby’s or Christie’s to possess a bottle of fine vintage wine. They are preserved and stored with the utmost care and savoured only on Very special occasions. For a wine that has reached its plateau of maturity can be magical — offering nuances and textures unimaginable in a young wine.

Image courtesy winecottage.co.uk

Apparently, in 2015, Russian President, Vladamir Putin, and former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi drank from a bottle of Jeres de la Frontera worth $90,000. Chateau Margaux 1787 is valued at $500,000 as it may have once belonged to the declaration of Independence writer, Thomas Jefferson. A bottle of the Massandra Sherry de la Frontera 1775 was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $43,500 in London in 2001, making it the most expensive bottle of Sherry in the world.

While the above wines are beyond ordinary mortals like us, we do occasionally enjoy a mature wine – 20-year-old Port or Madeira maybe. Those occasions are special. The bottle is uncorked and wine poured with much ado. We slowly sip in the valuable liquid, role it in our tongue before taking it in. Savouring the mature flavours of old wine! 

Image courtesy Royist

However, many don’t know that not all wines age well. Only fine wines with a high level of flavour compounds, such as phenolics (most notably tannins), are likely to age well. White wines with the longest ageing potential are those with a high amount of extract and acidity. The acidity in white wines acts as a preservative like tannins in red wines. So only the likes of Pinot Noir, Port, Madeira, Claret, Bordeaux and Sherries are likely to become more valuable and flavourful with age.

Then again, it is not easy to age wine or handle vintage wine. A lot depends on the bottle, the cork and the storage. Most wood-aged ports and sherries are bottled after they have aged sufficiently in the winery, sometimes for decades. For the wine to age perfectly it needs to be stored in a cool, dark place, till all its flavours and nuances are released, and then, it can be enjoyed by someone who truly enjoys wine. Even after a bottle of vintage wine is delivered to a customer it needs to be handled with patience. Some wines need to sediment, while some need to breathe. Even decanting wine is an art to be perfected with experience. And a wine lover will always have a cool cellar for storing wines. For fine wines need to be stored in right temperature, even the angle must be right – 45 degrees.

We can fuss endlessly over old wines, and yet we go to ridiculous extent to look younger, even deny our age. Wouldn’t it be more fun to age like fine wine, becoming wiser, mature, and more enigmatic with age!  For with passing years and experience we do acquire those magical nuances to be savoured like vintage wine.

Love and its old world charm

Love! We can talk endlessly about love. So much has been written about love. We have dedicated poems and songs to love. We are never tired of making movies on love and romance. From Pakeezah to Dilwale Duhlania Le Jayenge to Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Pretty Woman to Titanic to Brokeback Mountain, a good love story has always won our heart.

Of course, love has changed with time. Expressions have changed, mediums have changed. Sometimes I feel love has become more complicated, or we have complicated it by incessantly swiping right and left. The digital platforms and the mobile apps that that have brought young people from across the world closer, may have also added to the confusion. The restlessness, the uncertainty, the indecisiveness, sometimes reluctance to commit. Though these emotions have always existed alongside love, the more articulate younger generation may have only brought them to the surface. They may have also given love a bold new expression.

Many of us though still miss the older times, we nostalgically look back to our simple college love stories. Anupriya Agarwal beautifully pens down the old world charm of love that she so misses.

Anupriya with Vibhor: when they just met

The charm of older times – falling in awe of someone over a cup of tea, or a glass of water is all gone. I remember in college, during college fests – admiring someone for his pink shirt – sheepishly discussing his smile with friends and then making a big deal if he came and said Hi, we will be in touch!

Your post, ‘Love me, love me not’ reminds me of good old times – the boy who only called out the colours that I was wearing during a tip tipi top game in school, or another one that I liked to go to the water cooler with for period breaks in school.

Image courtesy food.ndtv.com

This charm of falling in love over a little smile, a small conversation, a discussion with friends is forgotten these days! All we do is digitally bombard our thoughts, likes and dislikes. Love, in those days, wasn’t even anything to do with having relationships, but to just enjoy that moment of appreciation, when someone came said I love you and ran away never to meet again. It was a glass of water and a capsule that made two friends meet, a cup of chai was all that it took for two people to get married and rest well is history!

Thank you for taking me back to these lovely memories. Words will always swipe my heart away.

Culinary magic of Lovina Gujral

Recently I have come across numerous articles on food that can beat lockdown blues, how food can keep depression at bay and many more. Research claims that food immensely benefits our mind, helps lift our mood and cheer us up.  So, eating well and eating right is important not just for our health but happiness as well. But we knew that already!

No wonder, the lockdown has seen emergence of so many home chefs. My Facebook, Insta pages and WhatsApp groups are flooded with images of delicacies that people are making at home. From innovatively made Maggi or sandwiches to Indian delicacies to continental dishes, you can find them all.

One such home chef who has been tempting me with mouth-watering images is my friend and colleague, Lovina Gujral. While I struggle with household chores and work from home, Lovina makes time to treat her family with delectable dishes almost every evening. It could be anything from roast duck leg with veggies to pork belly to burgers or pizzas. And it’s not just the food, it’s the presentation too. Lovina could give any speciality chef run for his/her money!

“We are foodies,” says Lovina. “We would eat out quite often before the lockdown. Since it’s not possible now, I make something special almost every day for dinner.”

“I just love watching people enjoy the food, the happiness and the satisfaction in their faces, and that’s enough for me,” adds Lovina.

Stir fried bok choi with garlic & dried red chilli

Surprisingly, Lovina was not much into cooking in her younger days. “I was a tomboy. I would happily do outdoor work like standing in the queue for a gas connection, paying the bills etc., but never enter the kitchen. My sister, Nagina, was the experimental cook in our family. Even after I got married, we would mostly order in or eat out.”

Lovina developed an interest in cooking after moving to Bangkok. “We became friends with a lovely couple, Gavin and Neetinder, who would organize dinner parties quite often. Those were elaborate dinners starting with a palate cleanser and appetiser and ending with desserts. All kinds of dishes from continental, Italian to Asian to Thai were served in those dinners. That’s when I became curious about cooking and started experimenting.”

Her kitchen in Bangkok had all kinds of gadgets, ingredients were easily available there. Lovina would call up her friend for the recipe or try something innovative. “Even now I don’t follow a particular recipe. I google and read 3 to 4 different recipes of the same dish, even the likes of Jamie Oliver. I mull over them for a few days and then when I enter the kitchen, I just know what to do.”

When asked to share a few of her favourite recipes, Lovina pauses for a while and then smiles. “The problem is I never repeat the same recipe twice. I would never use the same sauces and condiments for roasting a duck leg or lamb or pork ribs. I sometimes don’t even remember what I do. I once made a vegetable casserole by emptying a few almost finished bottles of sauces in the veggies. My non-veg family polished the vegetables in no time. My daughter has been asking me to make the same casserole again since, but I can’t. I don’t remember the sauces that I used.”

“One reason why I try making so many varied dishes at home is my daughter Rhea. She has been exposed to a variety of cuisines since she was a little girl. Three-year-old Rhea would enjoy sushi when most Indian parents wouldn’t serve such food to their kids. Somehow Rhea never developed a taste for Indian food, so I keep making continental and oriental dishes at home.”

Noodle & dimsum soup

“Frankly, even I am not very enthused about Indian cooking. Sometimes I instruct the cook at home.  I tweak the recipe a little when I do that. Instead of onion tomato gravy, I encourage the cook to use curd or mustard. Maybe it’s because of east Indian friends like you who forever mock Punjabi’s for using onion tomato base in every recipe,” laughs Lovina.

“One thing I never felt like making is anything sweet, be it Indian desserts or cakes or puddings. I have never made anything sweet in my entire life. My daughter Rhea enjoys baking cakes and muffins though.”

But cooking every day, after a fairly busy work schedule. “I enjoy it,” says Lovina. “I get into the kitchen every evening around 7 without any plan. I check out the ingredients available and then decide what to make.”

As Lovina gets into the kitchen to surprise her family with another delightful dinner, I am waiting for the lockdown to end so that I can join her dinner table!