Category Archives: India

Leaving India

Fresh from the garden awaiting the guests

With henna still on our hands, we are saying Namaste to India.  What a wonderful week we had!  One of the main things I will take from this week is how India is a country full of color, from the foods they eat to the clothes they wear and the art used to decorate their homes.  Neeti even described to us the traditional “festival of color” that they do throughout India in early spring.  Apparently “everyone” in India dresses in all white and they spend the entire day throwing powdered colors at each other.  At the end of the day the people are just covered in colors, according to Neeti, and it doesn’t come off for a few days.  This seems like such a fun tradition, I’m thinking we need to start our own American festival of colors.  If a country with over a billion people is participating, why can’t we?…..maybe we can start next year!   

For our final Indian night, we celebrated with some good friends and I spent a few hours preparing some amazing Indian food.  Using my sweet friend Maria’s Mangoes and Curry Leaves cookbook once again, I found several recipes that I just have to make again.  In fact, I decided I just need to go for it and buy this cookbook as it has proven so fabulous!  

As our guests arrived, we offered a sweet drink of refreshing Hunza Apricot Nectar mixed with a bit of water.  This was made using dried apricots, water and sugar and the kids really enjoyed it, probably because we don’t give them much juice.  

Next, we dove into the meal.  

India Menu 

Hunza Apricot Nectar

 

  

Cucumber Raita

 

The Cucumber Raita was a light accompaniment made of chopped hothouse cucumbers, yogurt and salt.  It was really that simple and tasted great with the chapatis.  

Chapatis  

Rolling out the Chapatis

 

Pushing down the bubbles in the Chapatis

  

Finished Chapatis

 While I wanted to try to make Na’an, it was a bit too complicated for our evening and the chapatis, a very traditional Indian bread, were much more simple and served the same purpose. These are a very basic flour, water, salt dough that is left to sit a few hours before rolling out and grilling on a cast-iron grill. 

Swiss Chard with Chili and Spices     

Chicken Biryani, Dum Style 

Chicken Biryani in dough-sealed pot

 

Chicken Biryani

The Chicken Biryani was perhaps one of the most amazing chicken dinners I’ve ever had!  First, a pound of chicken was cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated in yogurt and several Indian spices, including turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, salt, cayenne, pepper and garlic for about 3 hours.  Next, about 3 cups of onions were sautéed in  a bunch of oil for about 20 minutes.  Then, the onions were removed and the rice was “blanched” for about 5 minutes.  While performing these steps, the oven was heated to 375* and an easy flour/water dough was made to line the pot.  Once the onions and rice were ready 1/2 the chicken pieces were placed on the bottom of the pan to cover it, then 1/2 the rice was placed on top, then 1/2 the onions and then the layers were repeated topped at the end with a couple tablespoons water and oil. Lastly, the dough was rolled into two ropes used to cover the rim of the pan, the lid was placed on top and the pan was placed into the oven to cook for about an hour.  Amazingness, if that’s even a word! Honestly delicious, there wasn’t one drop left!   

Home-Style Jalebis with Ice Cream 

Jalebis and Vanilla Ice Cream

  The Jalebis were another type of dough, deep-fried in Ghee and dipped in a simple sugar syrup.  We added some vanilla ice cream as it’s a bit of a staple in our family. 

My friend, Karen, painting her Mehndi hand

I had some extra dough from our party the other day and let our dinner guests paint their own cookies, which they had some fun with.

  

Wow, another wonderful week, a country I will miss as I feel like I could have stayed here awhile and, with the reminder of our fun still left on our hands, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to leave.  But, this was our longest week so far and I guess we have to move on. 

Thank you, India!  We have really, really enjoyed learning about your great country and look forward to more delicious meals to come to remind us of the wonderful time we spent here. 

  

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Mehndi Madness

You know those days that you anticipate excitedly and just hope they meet your expectations because you know you might have been too excited and then, in the end, the day goes nothing like you had expected? (Hope that makes sense.)  Well, this was one of those days that exceeded all my expectations and I owe that, largely in part to my amazing friend Neeti.  Neeti is originally from India and she volunteered to help us with our fun Mehndi-inspired day.  Not only did she help with the Mehndi, but she even made us a traditional Indian dish for lunch….and that was a HUGE undertaking considering there were 4 adults and 8 children to feed, plus three young infants.  Some people might have considered this absolute madness and not at all enjoyed the outcome of the day, but I have to say the “process” today was exceptionally fun and the “product” simply wonderful.  

Neeti came over and made herself right at home in my kitchen, something I welcomed with gratefulness.  While she cooked and our house filled with the scent of Indian spices and onions, I worked on our Mehndi-inspired cookies.  I got this idea from Sprinklebakes.com and once I saw it, I knew we absolutely had to make these delicious and artistic treats.  So, I made the dough beforehand and let it chill, although I didn’t use the spice-cookie recipe from Sprinklebakes, but a holiday sugar cookie recipe instead (based on what I had on hand).  Next, I helped each child trace their hand onto cardboard and cut it out to make a cookie design of their hand.  

Neeti, cooking in my kitchen

 

  

Our family's hands

 

While the cookies were baking and Neeti’s stew was simmering the kids played and listened to some Indian music.  At one point, I noticed a sweet bracelet on Neeti’s daughter Anyssa’s wrist and she explained to me that they often wear a bracelet called a Karra to symbolize having an “iron” or steel will and to help remind them to have will power.  Neeti has worn hers since she was very young.  Maybe that’s what I need to help resist those dessert temptations.
 
Next we had a big delicious crazy lunch with all the kids seated everywhere eating the delicious chicken dish with onions and spices-cumin, coriander, cinnamon sticks, tandoori and saffron. Neeti explained that you begin with the onions and olive oil and let the onions cook about 20 minutes until the oil surfaces. Next, you add the spices and chicken and let it simmer for about 40 minutes or so.  Along with the chicken dish, we made some basmati rice and a lassi drink.  The lassi drink, which was a recipe I had, but Neeti whipped it up quickly as she makes it often, was an easy mix of yogurt, water and sugar, with a 1:1 ratio of yogurt and water.  All you do is whisk all the ingredients together until you have a sweet, refreshing drink.  The kids really liked the lassi and, as it’s quite easy to make, I’m going to keep this in my repertoire for a light summer drink.

Neeti's special spices

 

  

I wish I remember the exact name of this delicious meal!

 

Lunch

 

Lassi

 

The lunch gang

 

   

After we filled our bellies, the kids took turns decorating their cookies using a small-tipped paintbrush and some black Milton’s food coloring gel.  

  

Here are a couple of cookies I decorated, inspired by the Sprinklebakes designs.  

  

For our grand finale, the kids washed up and Neeti painted everyone’s hands with Mehndi (henna).  (She even purchased the legit henna from India, not the kind you mix from the craft store.)  This was a HUGE highlight for the kids and even though it was tough for them to sit still and let them dry, Neeti did an AMAZING job and had such patience as the kids gathered for their turn.   

  

  

   

  

I had to have some Mehndi too!

 

  

dry hands

 

  

All in all a FANTASTIC day!   We so enjoyed participating in this
Indian tradition but maybe mostly enjoyed celebrating it with friends…lots and lots of friends.THANK YOU NEETI!!!!!  We loved every minute of the chaos.

Bollywood

Confession, I have wasted ridiculous amounts of time watching So You Think You Can Dance and while I would love to say it has motivated me to take up dancing and get into super-amazing shape, it really has just been pure entertainment.  But, because of my interest in the show, I got to watch an amazing bollywood dance a few years ago and decided today would be our India “Bollywood” day.

The kids and I parked it in front of the computer for a bit and watched my favorite SYTYCD bollywood performance and then a few other bollywood videos from India. 

Then, we had our own little bollywood fun.  Rummaging through all of our costume boxes we came up with the closest “Indian-type” costumes we could find.  For Tallinn, this meant a NASA jumpsuit, for Car, just a fun scarf and for Addie, well we kind of tied her up in a few things. I had such a great time watching the kids dance their own interpretation of this amazing Indian style of dance.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Namaste! Tomorrow we’ll have lots of surprises in store.

Letters to Varsha

Several years ago I was attending a Sara Groves concert at a local church.  (If you haven’t heard of Sara Groves, she is an amazing artist with powerful lyrics and a heart that longs to please God.)  During her concert she talked about World Vision and had a table in back set up with various children’s pictures who needed sponsorship.  I quickly fell in love with a sweet boy from South Africa, a country I’ve had a heart for since high school (I blame it on the movie, The Power of One).

How does India play into all of this, you might ask?  Well, not long ago World Vision sent out a letter explaining the dire need for sponsors for girls as they are often the last to receive an education/food/etc.   I also had heard about sponsoring a child who was the same age/had the same birthday as one of your children to make it really meaningful.  So, I typed in Addie’s birthday and Varsha’s picture popped up. 

Varsha is a four-year-old little girl who lives in India with her parents where she assists in getting water for her family, among other chores.  She is cute as can be and I love looking at her picture as she is exactly the same age as Addie and even appears to be the same size.  I love, love, love that World Vision often sends updates and pictures and, yes, I know that means some sponsorship money is going to those letters, but I really think that helps you connect so much more to the child you’re investing in.

So, today, we wrote letters to Varsha, something, admittedly, I wish we did more often.  We included some stickers and postcards and Tallinn and Addie both “wrote” little notes.

We also read from our two Atlas books on the culture in India and another book called Finders Keepers? that I had purchased on Amazon awhile back that shares a bunch about the Indian culture-mostly Hinduism.  It’s definitely an interesting book, but I think I’ll look for others that capture other aspects of India, not just religion.

Namaste

Our new Rangoli to welcome guests into our home!  Tallinn helped me with this one as it was a bit challenging and even he almost pooped out in the middle.  Typically, a rangoli is made using flour and food coloring and chalk.  Chalk is used to outline the design and the flour and food coloring and water is used to form a paste that is used to fill in the design.  As I was warned that the food coloring can stain and Brian wasn’t sure he wanted that near our front door, we used tempura instead.

Also, namaste is really used when speaking but we thought it would be fun here as it’s a common Hindu word  for greeting people that our culture recognizes.

 I love our beautiful rangoli and secretly hope it makes a more “permanent” mark in our entryway.

Rangoli for Diwali

Every fall in India, around October/November, they celebrate the festival of lights, that is-Diwali.  While it’s not fall, we decided to begin the celebration ourselves.  We’ve also decided, due to some schedule issues with our Indian friends, to extend our India week until next Friday. This should give us ample time to get more acquainted with this wonder-filled nation.

Today, we practiced a few rangolis.  A rangoli is a piece of art that is drawn and painted on the ground before your front door to welcome guests.   It is typically made using chalk, flour and food coloring and today we practiced different Rangoli chalk designs in hopes of coming up with something we can use for our entryway later.  With a few extra visitors today we were able to make a bunch of beautiful chalk designs and had lots of fun in the process.

Activityvillage.co.uk has TONS of information on Diwali and various crafts that can be made and on http://www.diwalifestival.org/diwali-rangoli.html there are many examples of various rangolis and they are quite amazing actually.  Of course I have high hopes again of the masterpiece that will present itself near our front door, but let’s be real and remember that these are children and I should just relax and enjoy the process.  Not to mention that my lack of patience will make it difficult to actually draw the grid-like patterns needed for the beautiful symmetry involved in the traditional rangoli.

Nonetheless, we will have our version of a rangoli to be posted soon.   Until then, enjoy these fun practice versions that took up a good portion of our afternoon.

Spice Flags

After our ten day “breather” we are back and traveling again….this time to a land filled with spices, saris, peacocks, elephants, and many, many people. We are back in South Asia and much more comfortable this time as we are quite close to Bangladesh, which we visited early on in our journey.

Welcome to India!  We have stepped foot on this vast country rich with diversity and culture.  One that, once again, would really take months and months to uncover and saturate yourself with.  So in this short week, we will just be skimming the surface, but we definitely have some fun things planned.

Today we learned about India’s location, just east of Bangladesh, and we placed stars on Bihar, in the north, where our dear friends will be moving next January.

Because India is known for its spices, particularly curry, and, as the flag is a bit of a mustard-yellowy-orange and green, we opted for a “Spice Flag” craft.

Spices in Shakers

 

Using curry for the orange color stripe at the top, the kids applied glue and then sprinkled on the curry powder, shaking off the excess.  Next, I ground up some dried parsley and we sprinkled that for the lower green stripe of the flag. These turned out so nicely, we decided to mount them on black paper before we hung them on our traditional art line.

Smelling the spices

Finished Flags

Maps and Flags

Addie liked the smell of the curry so much, she decided she wanted to try some.  Here are a couple of  funny clips of her “enjoying” a spoonful.

This Week’s Verse

Those living far away fear your

wonders;

where morning dawns and evening

fades

you call forth songs of joy.

Psalm 65:8