Thought in Tuscany,Made in India!

It was a very bright, sunny day in Tuscany.I had just walked a street which had such pretty Italian houses with quaint entrances and gorgeous flowerbeds in the windows. Sara, (my new Italian friend) and me were sitting in an open air restaurant overlooking the vineyards in San Gimignano.

IMG_5147

The view was beyond perfect and Sara’s company was too endearing.

I ask Sara if its possible to get vegetarian meals. And under the Tuscan sun, I had the best local Italian meal ever.

They quickly dished out Fagioli Uccelleto (Beans in Tomato sauce), Pappa Pomodoro (Thick tomato soup), Verdure caponata (Eggplant stew), Rice and lots of fresh salad for me and my very hungry tummy.

Over food, we conversed about how Italian fare is a rage in India and so many italian restros have mushroomed to suit the Indian palate.

Her eyes widen in suprise and she is all excited to know how popular pastas and pizzas are in an Indian household. Sara quickly asks me if the pasta I had in Italy was any different from what I had had back home in India.

I don’t need to think hard. OF COURSE it is different! I was always asking for chilly flakes (Peperoncino) at every Pizzeria in Italy!

No matter how “authentic” we try to get,our tastebuds will always want a tad bit of Indian-ness in the cuisine.

(Not completely Indian-No No! Chole on Pizzas  by a pizza chain was a BAD BAD idea!) But most of us like our Pastas to be a little spicy, not under-cooked and definitely with a lot of veggies)

So Sara was quite amused with my idea of a fully loaded pasta with lots of veggies. We exchanged some unforgettable food stories and heres a recipe I concocted sitting in the quaint little restro by the vineyards, in a street full of elusive fragrances of a plethora of wildflowers.

It has all the authentic, traditional Italian ingredients cooked in an Indian way:) This ones for you Sara!

Hopefully when I meet you next,I will get to make this for you! 🙂

Tangy Farfalle in 4 Herbed Sauce( Fully loaded with veggies)

Farfalle with the wholesome goodness of fresh, colourful veggies, tossed in an aromatic four herbed tomato sauce.

Really easy to make and absolutely worth the attempt!

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves: 3

What you will need:

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset

  • 200 gms Delmonte Farfalle pasta
  • 6-7 sliced Black Olives
  • 6-7 sliced Cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup Bell peppers (A mix of yellow, red and green) cut in juliennes(Long strips)
  • 2 Spring onions chopped
  • 1 small sized  zucchini cut in juliennes.
  • 6-7 Mushrooms sliced

For the 4 herbed sauce:

  • 4 Ripe tomatoes (chopped in medium sized pieces)
  • 4 Garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil
  • A pinch of salt
  • Herbs: A cup full of mixed herbs finely chopped :Parsley ,basil leaves, thyme leaves, rosemary

IMG_9749

Note: The best thing would be to get fresh herbs from your local supermarket. If not, then you can opt for the dried herbs, readily available. The taste will definitely differ but it won’t drastically affect the recipe.

Seasonings:

  • Black pepper
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Chilly flakes
  • Oregano

For the Garnish:

  • Grated Cheese(Parmesan or Mozzarella)
  • Basil leaves

What you need to do?

  • Once you get all your ingredients in place the next step would be to cut them.

  • For getting The 4 herbed sauce ready,in a pan pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil and stir fry the chopped garlic till it is slightly brown
  • Now add the chopped tomatoes and stir fry till they turn soft.
  • Add the cup of finely chopped mix herbs and simmer for 5 minutes.

  • Let the mixture cool.
  • Once cooled, Using a hand blender or a mixer, grind the mixture into a paste. You can add a little water depending on the consistency.
  • In another pan add 2 tablespoons of Olive oil and sauté the chopped greens of the spring onion.
  • Add the zucchini and the mushrooms.Lastly add the peppers. Toss and cook till all the vegetables are soft.
  • Add the olives and the cherry tomatoes.
  • Mix the sauce with the veggies and cook for 5 mins.

delmonte pasta

  • Add the salt, pepper, oregano, Tabasco and chilly flakes ( SPICE IT UP!) 

The sauce with veggies is ready!

The aromas of the herbs will fill your kitchen, and only you know why!:P

  • In a large vessel add 3 litres of water and let it boil.Add salt and Add the Delmonte Farfalle pasta and cook for about 15 minutes.

IMG_9780

  • Add a dash of olive oil. Strain the pasta and keep aside.
  • Spread the Boiled Farfalle and pour the sauce with the veggies on it.

IMG_9792

  • For the plating, sprinkle some chilly flakes and oregano on the sides of the plate.

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset

  • Garnish with basil leaves and shredded cheese.
  • Serve with mini bruschettas or garlic bread and a dash of love:)

Tips:

  1. Feel free to experiment with the veggies. Any subtractions/ additions can be made to suit your taste.
  2. Do not over cook or undercook the pasta.
  3. You can avoid cheese altogether for a healthier version.
  4. The cookware used is Wonderchef non-stick cookware. Any nonstick woks or aluminium kadais can be used.
  5. Do not forget to sprinkle some love before serving, because anything made with love is made well:)

This recipe is written for Del Monte’s #ItalianEscapades campaign.

10 AWESOME things to do in Pondicherry

French street names, Colonial buildings, bright colored windows, cobbled pathways, graffiti splashed on walls, old-world cycle rickshaws meandering in a white washed town.

Welcome to Puducherry or Pondy as it is colloquially called.

A quaint French-inspired Union territory with gorgeous views of the Bay of Bengal, tucked away in Southern India, yet having a distinct charm of its own.

Perfect as a quiet, peaceful weekend getaway with its serene beaches and dainty cafes, Pondicherry is just a 3 hour drive from Chennai.

The drive via the ECR (East coast road) is picturesque and enchanting with a surprise at each bend.(It won’t get you bored even a tad bit)

Here is my Must-do list if you happen to visit Pondy:

1. Walk.Cyle.Repeat:

The best way to explore the white town (French quarters) is to rent a cycle or simply walk through the perfectly angled lanes with pretty houses and their bougainvillea covered gates.

The entire French quarters is a convenient walkable area and the colonial buildings are a treat to capture, especially the windows with painted effusively with yellow.

The streets have French names and a translation in Tamil right underneath. So get hold of a map and walk away.This is definitely a walk to remember.

2. Cafe hopping:

Quite ironical to point No.1 but yes, Pondy has too many irresistible cafes to tantalize your taste buds.

Cafe Des Arts, Rue Suffren

Cafe Des Arts, Rue Suffren

From the quirky Cafes Des Arts at Rue Suffren to the plush La Maison Rose to the French Bakery at Bussy Street. A complete post on Pondy Cafes Coming soon!

3. Stroll on the promenade before the crowds rush in:

The promenade or the “Rocky” beach

The promenade is to Pondy what Marine drive is to the Mumbai wallahs. Watching the waves lash at the rocks in solitude is the best form of mediation and tranquility.

Extremely crowded in the evening, the best time to visit is early morning when you wouldn’t find a single soul on the street!

Whats’ better! You can even witness the gorgeous sunrise over the Bay of Bengal!

The panoramic view of the Bay of Bengal

4. Go boutique shopping!

Pondy has some arty boutiques for shopping. Tucked away in an old Tamil Mansion is Kasha Ki Asha.

IMG_8744 IMG_8749

Hop in for some beautiful apparel made by the local ladies,who will show you around with such alacrity,that it is sure to bring a huge smile on your face!

IMG_8752

The next is Ooh La la at the La Maison Rose, owned by Agathe Gerin Lazaro.The boutique sells dainty umbrellas and chic cotton apparel designed by the French lady herself. A little overpriced but the umbrellas are totally worth it!

IMG_8418

Right next to Ooh La la is a boutique called ‘Domus’,selling exquisite crockery and artefacts.

IMG_8757

Apart from these,Nehru street has a bustling market selling any to everything.

For those looking to buy specific Ashram products( fragrances,agarbattis, soaps and candles) head to Senteurs at Rue Saint Gilles.

5. Manakula vinayagar Temple for Laxmi’s blessings.

I was roaming about Nehru street when my GPS indicated the Manakula Vinayagar temple just a street away. When I walked in,my jaw dropped in awe.

IMG_8530 IMG_8531

The temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha is magnificently beautiful. Dazzling in gold and a dozen colors, photography is a strict no-no! (That left me sulking!)

IMG_8532

The attraction is the female elephant Laxmi who is brought out every evening at 4 to bless devotees. But alas blessings are not free after all! Give laxmi a bunch of Bananas and she stays put.

IMG_8640

Give her a coin and there goes her trunk lashing on your head as a blessing!

IMG_8631

6. Meditate at the Aurobindo Ashram

A place where silence has a language of its own.Nestled amidst beautiful flowers,the place is has a certain melody attached to it. Cellphones need to be switched off and cameras are strictly prohibited.

The place, in its silence makes you aware of your surroundings which go largely unnoticed due to the constant intrusion of cellphones.

7.Spend an evening by Serenity Beach

True to its name, the beach (10 mins away from Pondy) is tranquil and serene.

The waves lashing onto the shore

DSC_0163

Not crowded on weekdays and almost secluded after 6 pm,the beach is extremely clean and there is nothing more peaceful and therapeutic  than dipping your feet in the sand and let the waves curl onto your feet.

The panoramic view of the Serenity Beach

Infinity

8. Visit the quaint Churches.

The French architecture of the Eglise de notre Dame des Anges church is captivating.The colorful, tinted windows and the gorgeous ceilings are a treat for every photographer’s lens.

IMG_8469

IMG_8470 IMG_8474 IMG_8480

Another church nestled between the Tamil and French Quarters is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral with Roman Architecture.

DSC_0069

9. Escape to Auroville:

IMG_8559

Auroville is synonymous with peace.A one-day visit to this place is absolutely unjustified.

DSC_0125

Lush green pathways,a placid calm in the air and the gigantic Matri Mandir nestled right in the centre.

The Panoramic view of Matri Mandir

The gigantic Banyan Tree in the Auroville Campus

Take some time off. Disconnect. Book your mediation sessions prior to your visit and totally unwind in the lap of nature.If you have extra days you can volunteer too!

10.Explore the Tamil quarters :

While a lot of people think Pondy is only about the Ville De Blanc,the Tamil quarters are often ignored.

Explore the Tamil quarters, with houses that bring alive the magic of RK Laxman’s novels.

IMG_8753

With spacious verandas and rustic windows and doors, the striking contrast between Ville De Noir and Ville de Blanc is clearly visible.

IMG_8528

What has been your favourite memory of Pondy?

For me it has been curling my feet at Serenity beach and chasing the waves, gorging on the Opera pastry at Baker’s Street and of course losing my way a trillion times in the streets while walking with my green umbrella!

Weekly photo challenge :Door

I am a certified door -lover. My fascination for capturing doors is very visible to those who follow my Instagram feed. Doors have always enthralled me. I find them mystical and each one of them tells a story.

I have documented some of the doors in my Doors of India Post.

For this weeks Door challenge, sharing a few more doors clicked during my exploration of Northern India.

Rustic ruins

Idyllic

The Door in a door frame captured in Vrindavan

Of arches and doors: Rajasthan

Blue!

So which is your favourite door ?

The Ranthambore Diaries

The Ranthambore Tiger reserve in Rajasthan,is one of the most popular reserves in India,famous for tiger spotting. The following is a travelogue written describing my first ever Ranthambore experience. 

DSC_0096

Part 1:

The engine roars as we enter Zone 3 of the Ranthambore Tiger National Reserve. Excited, everyone gazes into the foliage, armed with cameras and binoculars. Devraj Singh, our guide seems more enthusiastic  than we are. Thrilled, he points out to the paw marks of a tiger stating there has been recent movement.

Animatedly he gestures at the guide of the gypsy behind us, sharing this piece of news with him.

The driver speeds up and we reach a spot where jeeps and canters are lined up for a view of the tiger.

Alas! The cub seems in no mood to give a good view. I tilt left and right. All I see is a pair of yellow ears sticking out of the bushes.

What was I thinking!” “How could I sight a tiger in my first safari?” I think aloud.

My enthusiasm dies down a tad bit. But not Devraj’s. He is all pumped up and decides to stop and point at every bird and deer he finds. Full post on “Birds of Ranthambore” coming soon. 

Spotted deer!

A little less than five minutes he tells us to hold on tight. The canter is now in full speed.

Devraj has spotted Krishna, the tigress basking in full glory by the Raj Bagh lake. My heart races as we reach the lake where close to ten jeeps are lined up.

Krishna,a fully grown tigress is sprawled on the banks after her recent meal of a wild boar.

DSC_0071

I pray silently. “Please get up! wake up! For God’s sake stop being so lazy!”

She doesn’t stir.

“Patience!” Devraj tells me. We wait. The engine of the nearby jeep roars as they decide to leave. I do not lower my lens.

She finally stirs.

DSC_0089

DSC_0106

My heart does a happy dance as I capture her while she struts past the line of jeeps.

DSC_0136 DSC_0143

I am in awe. Her gait and her biceps!

“I have seen the first tiger of my life in the wild” I gush to Rajani aunty. She smiles sayingI see me in you,The me that saw the first tiger of my life!”

We then head out to see the flora and fauna of the majestic park.

Sambhar Deer

DSC_0213

We move to watch the sunset at Lake Malik.

DSC_0234

The sky is now outcast and birds are swarming all across the lake creating a picturesque scene.

DSC_0246

Within a few minutes, the rains arrive in full splendor.

DSC_0290

I duck over my equipment to protect it from the downpour. The camera,my cell,my valuables are at stake. But here I am, a rain-detester,enjoying the forest rain. The rain drops fall like pellets on my face and for once I am in love with the rain.

Part 2:

We see the sun peeping out of the clouds,a magical golden lining,marking a new morning. Mukesh,our guide for today announces we have been allotted Zone 2 today.

DSC_0392-001

The forest air is thick, cold, yet comforting. Our first encounter is with a dancing peacock, who doesn’t disappoint our lenses.

 DSC_0575

A little ahead we are now intruding upon a forest fight. A pair of spotted deer are locked in a fight, unaware of 20 people quietly witnessing the spectacle.

DSC_0414

As we traverse pass the rocky terrain, across the deciduous dhonk trees, the birds sing their own wild song.

DSC_0370

The forest welcomes us just for a while, because after all we are intruders!

The next fifteen minutes are spent by the lakeside watching the Ghariyal crocodiles slither in the waters to catch their prey.

DSC_0442 DSC_0515

The tiger is nowhere in sight. But we do spot a rat snake coiling on the tree, a mongoose and some beautiful birds.

DSC_0380 DSC_0564 DSC_0577

Suddenly Mukesh receives a message:Two tigers spotted at the gate. We are now shuttling towards the main gate at a neck breaking speed.Only to realize that the tigers had departed minutes before we arrived.

“Theres always the next safari” I tell myself as I reach the resort. I am now dreaming of clicking a tiger’s front profile. I wonder if that will ever happen as I drift back to sleep.

Part 3:

Cocooned within the mighty Aravallis, lies this beautiful section of the park called Naalghati.

DSC_0660 DSC_0674

The road is precarious but the views are totally worth the bumpy ride.

DSC_0566

We spot a mongoose again scurrying away. Jagdish,our guide tells us how lucky it is to spot a mongoose. (I roll my eyes! Well we did spot two today, but where is the tiger?”

DSC_0689

Of course the jungle ride is exhilarating with all the deer, dancing peacocks and the magnificent flora,but Jagdish is optimistic. “Nothing can be said until we reach the exit.” he quips.

The Monitor Lizard

The wounded Sambhar Deer

DSC_0676

We are now ten minutes away from the exit gate. And we see close to ten jeeps lined ahead of us. My heart skips a beat. This traffic has to be for a tiger. There is a lot of chaos. Jeeps being reversed . The din of the engines is unbearable. Suddenly Jagdish signals me to get my cam ready. I spot a blurry figure in the bushes.

Cedric asks me to join him right in the front of the canter. My heartbeat stops for a second. The tiger is now clearly visible.

DSC_0722

I thank my stars there isn’t any space on our right for any jeep to slide through and obstruct my view. 30 feet…25 feet… 20 feet… 15 feet.

DSC_0715

” Look at me! ” I plead. “Look up please. Look straight up to me!” and there! It looks up. Straight into my eye. A piercing glare.

DSC_0723

My fingers keep clicking in a frenzy. It now bends down and scourges through a pile of trash ( gifts of tourists to the forests).

My heart aches as it pulls a plastic shoe into its mouth.

The jeeps behind us and ahead of us are in a frenzy.I feel I am in a zoo. No, a circus! The ruckus is beyond imagination. The tiger wants to cross the road, but whenever it does attempt, the paparazzi is in no mood to let it. People are shouting, using flashes straight into its eye and breaking all the rules of the Jungle. Welcome to the world of educated Idiots. At last the poor tiger couldn’t cross the road and found its way back to where it had appeared from.

This day comes to an end with mixed feelings. On one hand a deep stinging ache that some of us have intruded the sanctity of the wild beyond limits and without any guilt. On the other hand, an inexplicable joy of an afternoon dream coming true!

Part 4:

It is the last safari before I leave this absolutely scenic place.We have been allotted Zone 3 again, a few zones are now closed on account of being marshy.

The forest is at its prettiest best in the wee hours of the morning.

DSC_0808

I spot a group of deer by the lake and the scene looks akin to Bambi.

We then spot a beautiful pair of woodpeckers as we head towards the lake.

The sky is dramatic today, almost surreal. We wait by the lakeside in silence.

DSC_0927

The scene is nothing short of a poem. A beautifully penned, well crafted nature’s poem. Suddenly I don’t want to go back at all. The forest has its own secrets. And the trees seem witness to them all. I look at them, immobile and incapable to let out the secrets. Swaying slightly in the breeze as if mocking at us. “You have been here just for a while, you sure don’t know what happened a while ago”

DSC_0897

Satish is absolutely unhopeful of finding a tiger today.

“The tiger is on a holiday today!” he says.

There hasn’t been any movement at all. As we take the winding roads back towards the gate, we stop suddenly. Krishna’s cub is right in front of us. Crossing the road.

DSC_0998

Suparna excitedly stands up on my seat for a view. “My iPhone! My iPhone!” I gasp. My eyes flitting from the iPhone to the tiger.

DSC_1001 DSC_1011

And suddenly my jaw drops. Another 14 month old cub follows suit. There are just three jeeps and complete silence.

DSC_1000

The cub walks straight past us, appears as if it is sniffing something on the bark of the tree and then crosses the road and settles lazily on the other side.

DSC_0006 DSC_0017 DSC_0031 DSC_0038

DSC_1028

I can’t get enough of them, clicking insanely. And as if this wasn’t enough, the third cub made its way out.

DSC_0045 DSC_0047 DSC_0051 DSC_0091 DSC_0169

The rendezvous lasted for twenty minutes. More than the photographs, the proximity to these wild cats was a beyond-words experience. The best part was a cute cub fight we witnessed.

DSC_0213 DSC_0215

Yesterday I was so happy that I could articulate it in words. Today I am so happy that I have great difficulty in articulating it. I am just flashing this 1000 watt grin to whomever I am meeting. Looks like they all know I have spotted three tigers today!

A big thank you to :

1. Doreen: For this awesome trip!

2. Vanaja aunty and Vasu uncle: Much much love for introducing me to Doreen!

3. The entire gang for making each moment worth it.

4. Dharmendra Khandal, Tiger watch for a great conversation about the park.

5. Padmini Singh Rathore, for all the stories and of course the Badas and the mithai!

6. All the staff at Hammir resorts, our wonderful guides and drivers!

How to reach:

Travel information and distances can be found on the Ranthambore Website. http://www.ranthamborenationalpark.com/travel-information.html

Best season for Tiger spotting: Summer months of April to Early June

Postcards from Dhobi Ghat

Walk into a tiny lane off a crowded market in Mumbai and you will witness a spectacle unseen or unimagined. Hundreds of laundrymen and women washing , drying, dyeing and ironing clothes brought in from various hotels and hospitals from all over Mumbai.

DSC_0422

Patterns

Welcome to Dhobi Ghat: Mumbai’s Open Air Laundromat, largest in the world.

DSC_0408

It is a labyrinth. As you walk by the tiny cemented cubicles and see the ‘dhobis’ ( laundrymen) live in action, you can’t help but awe at their structured, no-nonsense approach.

Multi-tasker!

Multi-tasker!

DSC_0510

Kids scurry away into their homes seeing a group of photographers approach them, the not so shy ones pose happily , lazying in one of the tubs filled with water.

You cannot stand in the middle of their way. There is too much activity, saris been thrown, water droplets flying all around, the sound of huge washing machines , the thunderous noise of the driers and you never know when the pipe next to you is let open! They don’t have time to stand and stare at passerby’s  (like us).

DSC_0459

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset

One can see the toil and the set routine they adhere to.

Of course Mumbai is about the adjoining racecourse with all its flair, of skyscrapers overlooking the shanties of these laundrymen. But there is definitely more Mumbai in these tiny, watery cubicles and the drops of not only the soapy water but also their hardwork.

DSC_0476

Some more postcards from the place.

DSC_0501 DSC_0390

DSC_0393