A week with the rural ladies!

 

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to travel in the north of Gujarat,  with my husband who photographs rural countryside and its people. My sisters joined in, leaving my husband and the driver with no choice but to stay quiet and listen to our blabber while travelling in a four by four.

When we were not chatting, we were either eating and sharing our snacks, singing away, testing the patience of the men in the front seats! The only peace they may have had was when all or one of us were nodding off. Anyway, the route was a busy motorway with blaring horns from the trucks, leaving the madness after a stop to have some steamy hot tea and freshly made pakoras!. A much quieter but a bumpy ride started off our trail to the villages we were visiting.

The women and young girls from these villages were part of a scheme where they were being trained and mentored by volunteers but most importantly by the elderly women of the community. The scheme was to revive the embroidery skills which are lost or forgotten over the years. Women were forced to worked in the farms, as men went to towns to supplement their incomes, thus leaving their skills fading away.

As we entered the first village, and we parked ourselves at the village’s only entrance, lined with cowsheds and a well, and seeing a group of women and young girls standing there just made us feel so humble!

So the pictures shown above are what we saw, experienced and shared! A visit to the ‘cumin’ farm with the girls , and ofcourse our photoshoot. A never to forget demonstration of the making of the staple bread made from millet flour – ‘rotla’ by the elderly lady, and followed by the most delicious farmhouse menu we ever had. Sitting on the floor, with the rural ladies, we never felt as close to nature and humanity!

We left them in awe of their strength and their resilience, and their beaming faces.

Not looking forward to the moanings of the urban ladies at the slightest inconvenience!

Which one would you want to be??

 

 

 

 

 

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Tools of the trade

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 Tools of the trade

I would not call my cooking  a trade, but I do need tools and resources to make a happy home cooked Indian meal  -and that is  a 'Masala dabba'  as it is called, translated as a Spice box.

It isn't just a normal spice box, it is a box which has travelled across continents, gone through the ups and down of my cooking transitions - from a novice, to a phase when family meals were popular, to an experimental one and now an enjoyable phase of meditative cooking!

This Masala box is my emotional 'dowry' - given by my mum to me when I got married - an indirect message given to me  that this box could help win my husband's heart!!

Full of colourful and aromatic spices, it reminded me of my mum's kitchen and inspring me to cook the dishes she lovingly cooked for the family.

I gave one to my daughter when she got married.. would be interesting to know how she relates to her Masala box!

Contents of the Masala box: a must have for all Indian cooking:

Cumin Seeds - (Jeera)

Mustard Seeds (Rai)

Turmeric poweder (Haldi)

Chilli Poweder (Mirchi)

Cumin and Corriander Powder (Cumin and corriander powder)

Garam Masala

Markets, markets here I come…

I love markets. Whenever I travel, whichever country I am in, first thing I look for is their local market

I have my memories of going to our local market in suburban mumbai (then Bombay). One of my friends from our apartment block used to go the local market daily to buy fresh vegetables for the next day. She went because because her mum was elderly and it was her responsibility. I quite liked the idea of having a ‘responsibility’! Reason being I was the youngest among five of us, and my mum or my eldest sister (ten years older than me) got to do such things. So I persuaded my mum and went with her and brought home some vegetables which I had haggled! My mum was happy.

Years fast forward and domesticated life in big cities lead me to visit supermarkets and I literally started dreaming of markets full of greens, piled up vegetables, shouting vendors and yearned to haggle with them. I mean, literally dreaming!!

It is funny how our native instincts stay buried in us, and I find myself haggling with vendors in the local market when I visit our small town of Anand, and suddenly realising the cost of those vegetables are only 20 p a kilo if I convert it into our currency here! and I feel shameful and get on with it.

On my recent visits to rural Thailand, Cambodia and most recent Burma, I soaked myself in the ‘markety’ atmosphere, watching every vendor and their buyers’ reactions, the variety of different local produce and at one moment, secretly hoped I could start haggling!!  Here are some pictures of those markets…

Oman and the ‘karak chai’

_mg_7616Oman, was our short break destination this easter, a country not on a favourite on the list for many

We had a well planned itinerary covering some best parts of the country geographically –  beach, mountains, valleys and desert, but still not knowing what to expect!  Our driver was informed of my husband’s photographic needs throughout the trip, and was also told that we did not want booked lunches and dinners, mainly so we could explore the local canteens and cafes. Our driver was happy with both our requests.

Our first stop through the Muscat highway soon after being picked up from the airport was to have a good cup of tea –  didn’t turn out the cuppa we are accustomed to!  Our driver stopped in front of an empty looking kiosk and asked us ‘’ you like karak tea’’ don’t you??, puzzled initially, and assured soon after as he shouted to the local café owner, ‘’ two karak chai’’!

So, what is this ‘’Karak chai’’ – very interesting as the word ‘karak’ is derived from ‘kadak’ which is a hindi word, meaning ‘strong’ – With generations of Indian subcontinent migrants living in the Middle-east , the Kadak chai is now diluted into Omani household as ‘’Karak’’

Loose tea leaves brewed with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon individually or all as a mix and a good amount of condensed sweet milk makes this popular drink in Oman an everyman’s drink in all weathers.  This was our entry into Omani hospitality!

Accompanying the karak chai, was Omani bread, which didn’t look much of a bread but rather a pancake –  Fermented flour batter poured and converted into a pancake came to us filled with cream cheese. Was told by the driver that this was an ideal Omani breakfast and any time of the day snack – right he was as it satisfied us as we headed to our first destination of the day – ‘Wadi’ –

Cutting through heavily folded rock, with pretty streams and swaying palms nestled in their beds, the wadis of Oman are a major attraction, visited by toursits and locals alike. It is a unique environmental system characterised by wealth of natural attractions. Within this fertile environment, people have lived in the wadis (valleys) of Oman for thousands of years.

We started our walk through the valley – wading through clear, very warm and shallow streams, waters slowly turning deep. With full sun upon us, we were soaking into the beautiful nature. So were the local Omani families who were seen having their lunches and enjoying their day off. We passed one such family, we said hello, they acknowledged very enthusiastically, and in a few minutes, there we were, sitting and chatting with them! The lady spoke good English, and offered us Omani coffee, dates, water melon and their four children were all excited – we were even offered to stay for their lunch , fish which was being barbecued – this was so heartening, warm, friendly and open, just like the country , and also  made me think, would we offer our lunches, teas to tourists at Christchurch meadows??!!

First blog post

SAM_4278After much deliberation and day dreaming, I have finally decided to pen (not quite, it is keyboarding!) anything and everything about my cooking, whether it is homely dinner for two, or cooking for friends, my grand children or my cooking demonstrations and courses.

Each one of the above cooking session is different in terms of menus, quantity and variety, but one element remains the same – my passion at that moment, and my frame of mind, which is usually on a plane level – I go on to a meditative mode, and don’t know why!

Other experiences I would like to share here, of course about food,  is when I   travel.

Local cuisines, markets and what and how people around the world eat is on my agenda when we plan a holiday, be it Scotland, or Cambodia!

So let me start with my photo diary, please do go on to it, and see for yourselves . Some of them have  stories behind, and some pictures reveal it all!  The above picture is when I took over a “tea stall” when travelling in Gujarat, India and the stall owner offered me a job!! He made fresh samosas for us while we wet around the Narmada dam. You can’t get fresher food than that. I have numerous stories like these, are you interested?, then do follow me, leave comments, suggestions and requests below.

Thank you and enjoy!!