Saturday, November 28, 2015

Happy TG

Had about ten families over for thanksgiving this year. Stressed a little but despite the sharp, cold weather, things went well. To hedge my bet on a single 20lbs turkey I also cooked a 6 lbs turkey breast roast in my 4.5 quartz slow cooker this year. Came out good too and this will be an easy go to dish for a quick TG dinner another time. Recipe to come later. Here are the before and after snaps of the main dish.

I brined the turkey for 24 hours. Following Alton Brown's turkey recipe, it only took a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes to cook the 20 pounder! I wasn't sure if I should take the turkey out when the thermometer alarmed at 161 because the time seemed so short. Took it out anyways since I didn't want the bird to dry out. It was cooked perfectly. Could be that organic brined turkeys may not need a long time to cook? I tented the turkey while resting out of the oven just to help the cooking along.

We had stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and mashed potatoes. I'll need a larger fat separator next time for the amount of liquid specified in AB's gravy recipe. Guests brought more yummy sides and a good time was had by all. With leftover turkey and mashed potatoes in the fridge, my son is in TG heaven. The only down side is molu and I are a little under the weather. Having 2 more days to recover is just great. Used cornbread for stuffing this year inspired by the TG lunch we had at work. It came out decent but not as good as the inspiration. Something to try and get right next time. There is something about thanksgiving that makes people happy regardless of how the food comes out. It must be the feeling of togetherness, savoring of warm food and the conversation with everyone in a holiday mood. Our homemade wine was well received with the authentic labeling and nostalgia inducing taste. Through all this I think I just miss my mom. Food is so indelibly connected to mom, that it is difficult not to...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Original Duck Curry - നാടൻ താറാവ് കറി

It's been a while since we had duck at home. H had mentioned this sad fact the other day and so when I spied some fresh duck at Costco it was just meant to be. I was relaxed and in a good  mood and so checked out a few good recipes. What I had in mind matched with what I saw at kothiyavanu and mishmash. Thanks to both these ladies the family had a little duck fest I'd say! Recipe mostly follows what is given at mishmash with some inputs taken from kothiyavanu and slight adaptations called for by what I had at hand.

In The Mix

duck - cut into medium sized pieces - 2 lbs.
turmeric - 1/4 tsp
salt - 1 tsp

potatoes - 3 medium sized, peeled and halved

coconut oil - 2 tbsp
big red onion - 1 big thinly sliced
shallots - 8 medium sized, thinly sliced
serano chilies - 3 slit sideways
ginger - 1 1/2 inch, peeled and sliced
garam masala - 2 tsp
coconut milk - 1/2 cup mixed with 1/4 cup water
water - 2 cup
curry leaves - 2 sprigs
salt to taste

pressure cooker

to marinate:
roasted coriander powder - 1/4 cup
chili powder - 3 tsp
turmeric powder - 1 tsp
black pepper powder - 1 tsp (freshly ground from pepper corns using a pestle & mortar)
garam masala - 1 tsp (from equal parts powder mix of cardamom, cinnamon & cloves)
ginger garlic mix - 3 tsp (freshly ground/chopped from equal parts ginger and garlic)
salt to taste

How To Do

Wash and drain the duck pieces. Mix 1/4 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp salt with enough water to soak the duck and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Rinse and drain the duck.

Add all the marinade ingredients to the duck, mix well and let sit covered for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Boil a pan with water and add the potatoes. Boil once and cover and cook for 20-25 minutes so the potatoes are soft but still holds together well. Drain, cool, slice and set aside. Alternately, dice the peeled potatoes, add a tbsp of water, cover in plastic wrap and microwave for 3-4 minutes.

Growing up in our farm where everything was cooked from scratch, I had not seen a pressure cooker used for cooking till much later. I was rather afraid of the terrible earth shattering sound it can make which was later identified as just a whistle! H's family on the other hand probably used pressure cooker for cooking all kinds of meat and so he had one with him which became ours after marriage. I just never liked using it though. Anyways, we got a brand new one from India sometime back and looking at this duck curry recipe I decided try out the beast, er.. cooker. So the short of the matter is we can marinate the meat in the cooker itself thus saving an extra pan.

Add 1 cup of water to the marinated meat after the 30 minutes, cover and pressure cook on medium high. Once the steam starts to come, put the weight on. About 5-6 whistles and the duck is ready! A total of 10-12 minutes went by for this. Remove the cooker from heat and let sit so it cools before you can open it.


Heat oil in a pan, saute the sliced onions. Once onions are soft, add ginger and green chili. Saute for 2-3 minutes and add 1 tsp of garam masala. Keep on low to medium heat and saute till the roasted aroma rises. Then add the pressure cooked duck and let sit for a minute or two. Add coconut milk and 1 cup of water after using it to clean out any remaining pressure cooker masala. Check salt and add as needed, let boil once on medium heat. Gently add the potatoes and mix all well together.

Now add the curry leaves along with the remaining 1 tsp of garam masala and simmer on stove for about 20 minutes. Rotate the pan once or twice to keep things moving. Keep simmering as needed till the right consistency is achieved for the by-now glorious gravy.

Enjoy with freshly baked bread from the nearby bakery like we did or with appam or rice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Home Made Wine From Concord Grapes

This was bound to happen anyways. What else can we do with all that harvest? All eleven pounds of it that is. A household can only eat so much! So we decided to venture into wine making. In such times one turns to the Great Wizard Of Google for advise and insight. Search results poured out in all forms. From wine making kits to home made equipments all riddled with hitherto unfamiliar terms. Then I hit upon a wine making supply shop not too far from us and also fixed on a few great recipes/sites that seem to match where we live, the kind of grapes we have and the amount of complexity I wanted to engage in.

Turns out, the seeded california concord grapes we grew are not popular for winemaking here and so the helpful person at the store was at a loss on how to guide us. A little more research showed that I can make dessert wine a.k.a sweet wine with these grapes like it is done in Kerala. How I wish my grandfather was alive so I can ask for his recipe. Nostalgia is an ingredient that adds taste exponentially.

I vividly remember sizzling caramelized sugar being transported in the piping hot  cheenachatti from the kitchen to the wine preparation area at lighting speed. The asan or guru who taught us the malayalam alphabet at home was also grandpa's assistant in wine making. Both would get together once all the items including the grapes were purchased. I remember oranges among the ingredients but have so far not found a recipe that includes them. I know he used rice kernels instead of the more common wheat kernels. I am not sure what was done once the prepared mixture was poured into the wine barrel covered by a wooden lid tightened again with clothes and kept in a cool dark place. As a kid I was not allowed to be near the concoction for fear of mixing things up. I do remember all members of the extended family being given a bottle or two of the wine as gifts. Grandpa used to take the same exact amount of this sweet red home made wine every single day after dinner. Not a drop more and not a drop less! This still amazes me when I think about it. In those days sweet wine was served during special occasions at Christian homes in wine shot glasses. A piece of soft fruit cake wrapped in parchment paper was often served along with the wine.

Since the store guys were a bit unfamiliar with our grapes for wine making, it was good that we visited the supply store with a plausible list. It was actually not that far from a normal list of required stuff for wine making. The process of wine making involves two stages really. A first stage for fermentation when the container can be either kept loosely closed or air-tight and a second stage in air-tight containers for the sediments to settle at the bottom to bring clarity to the wine. Each stage needs its own container obviously. The second stage can be repeated  if you want more sediment separation leading to more clarity. This activity of clearing the liquid more and more is apparently called racking by the professionals.

List of Necessary Things

6 gal. food-grade plastic bucket with loose lid - 1
nylon bag - 1 (cheese cloth will work as well)
siphon & tube - 1 set
1.5 gal. glass jar with lid for racking - 1 (2 if doing more than one racking step)
wooden spoon - unused, washed -1
hydrometer - 1
food-grade plastic wrap

In The Mix

fresh concord grapes - 10 lb. (any fresh grapes seeded or seedless can be used)
potassium metabisulfite - 1 1/4 tsp (1tsp for sanitizing needs and 1/4 tsp as a preservative)
sugar - 2kg or 4.4 lb. (I used 1 lb. of corn sugar and the rest organic cane sugar, any sugar is ok)
water - 3 1/2 liters
pectic enzyme - 1 tsp (optional, good for concord grapes to bring out the full color)
yeast nutrient - 1/2 tsp
wine yeast - 1/2 pkg. (2.5grams) ( I used Pasteur Red active dry yeast)

for sweetening
sugar  - 1/2 lbs. (optional, add for more sweetness. add after caramelizing for more color )
water - 2 cups

How To Do

Make a sanitizing solution by mixing 1 tsp of potassium metabislufite (hence forth to be known as PMB) in half a gallon of water.  Clean all the jars/bucket and utensils needed first with warm water and then with this solution. Don't rinse again with water. Just sterilizing all the stuff and drying well will also do if you don't have PMB available. This helps to avoid fungal growth or similar issues while the wine sits to ferment.

Wash the grapes well and remove the stems. Molu helped H with her quick little hands in this fun activity.

Drape the nylon bag over the plastic bucket and add the cleaned grapes to it. Wash your hands and crush the grapes while making sure the skin peels off from all the grapes. Better crushed grapes make for faster fermentation. You can also use a potato masher.

Boil 2 1/2 liters of water and dissolve the sugar into it. Once all the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and set to cool. Once cooled, open the lid and add it to the grapes. Add 1 tsp of pectic enzyme and 1/2 tsp of yeast nutrient at this time. Gently stir together with a wooden spoon. The mix is now called a 'must'. The solid portion of the must is called a 'pomace'.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 tsp of PMB on top of the grapes and do not stir again. The sugar level should be read at this time ideally but I forgot and did it the next day.

Take some clear juice from the bucket and check the sugar level (specific gravity) with the hydrometer. Less than 1.08 is a reasonable place to start. More of this reading means your alcohol content will also be more since that much sugar will be converted to alcohol by the yeast.
I got 1.16 because I had added all the sugar in one step without accounting for the natural sweetness of the grapes. Best way is to add the sugar solution in steps if you are not sure of the sugar content of your fruit. I added 1 liter of boiled cooled water to bring the reading down to 1.13. Alcohol is a preservative and so it is to be noted that the wine has more shelf life with more alcohol content.

Cover snugly with the lid and set aside for 24 hours. Sitting for 24 hours is for the PMB to remove any wild bacteria and unwanted yeast from the mix. After 24 hours, add the wine yeast by sprinkling on top. Stir gently and note down the date. Close the lid and set aside in an accessible corner.

Wine must fermenting away in the bucket

The yeast will now be busy converting the sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol. This fermentation can be observed by the gas bubbling at the top of the mixture. The bubbling layer on top will keep the mix from spoiling. Stir gently every day at the same time using the wooden spoon. Close the loose lid back after stirring each time.  When the bubbling stops, the process of fermentation would also have come to an end. Took about 3 weeks.

If you check the sugar content now, the reading should be less than or equal to1.000 indicating the conversion of all the sugar into alcohol. I got 1.03 on the 10th day from when I added the yeast. Got to 1.000 after about 3 weeks.  So 21 days is a good indication of the end of fermentation which was confirmed by the hydrometer reading. The delta of the pre and post sugar content measurements multiplied by 0.125 will give the alcohol percentage of your wine. ~12-14% is reasonable. Wine with more alcohol content may need more aging to taste better.

The next step is removing the solid portion pomace from the must by squeezing out the contents of the nylon bag. Do this using gloves. Lift the nylon bag at the edges and gather together to gently squeeze any remaining juice back into the bucket.

Once this is done, pour the juice into an airtight glass container. The 1.5 gallon glass container that I got was perfectly filled to the top! The mix was at the 2.5 gallons mark in the bucket. I assumed I will loose one gallon when the solids in the nylon bag got removed and bought the jars with this in mind. It was good to be proved right. See the color? That is what concord skins will do for your wine. I would like a nail polish in this exact color please!

Cover the top with plastic wrap and put the lid on in case the lid is not food grade or not fully air-tight. Then cover again with the plastic wrap. At this stage we need to prevent oxygenation of the liquid now that all the fermentation has stopped.

Any air present in the glass container can be cause for concern as you might end up getting vinegar instead of wine. Remaining air space can be filled with cooled boiled water but it might dilute the wine or change its flavor slightly. I didn't need do it.

Keep the jar in a quiet cool place that can be easily accessed so the sediments accumulating at the bottom won't be disturbed when it is time for racking. I just put it in a cardboard box covered in a paper bag and kept it in a quite corner of the dining room so I can have good access.

Wait for the liquid to clear. Another 21 days or so will do it. If you want your wine to be sweeter you can add sugar after the first racking. This can be added as sugar dissolved in boiled cooled water or in caramelized form. Since I had enough color I just added as a sugar solution. Dissolve the 1/2 lbs. sugar in 2 cups of water, boil and cool.

My jar was sitting on a step and so all I had to do was to place the second clean jar at the bottom level and siphon the wine into it. The mini-siphon from Amazon was perfect for the 1.5 gallon of liquid.  Keep the siphon at an angle to the jar so the end of it is not disturbing the sediments at the bottom. Look at the sediments that got removed by waiting all that time!

The second jar now contains clean clear wine. Taste and add the cooled sugar solution in steps, tasting each time. I added all except the last 1/2 cup of the prepared syrup since we decided it tasted pretty good by then. The hydrometer measured 1.01 which put my wine at the cusp of medium-dry to medium-sweet.

Keep for a week to get more clarity and for things to settle in general. I didn't add stabilizers to stop any secondary fermentation before adding the sweetening sugar. Trying to use the least amount of additives here. Luckily the sugar didn't meet with enough leftover yeast sediments to re-start the fermentation. Still got a small layer of sediments at the bottom for the second racking which I did only because I had time. Wine looked pretty clear with the first racking and the second racking got it a bit more clear.

You are ready now to bottle the wine for gifts or take out at parties. Siphon the wine into dark wine bottles and close with cork or other airtight stoppers. I found the zork stoppers pretty good for our little wine operation. Dark bottles help to keep the color of the wine better than clear bottles over time. Store them on their side in a cool dark place until you are ready to drink/serve.

The wait time now is anywhere from a minimum of 2 weeks to years. Up to 9 months is a good enough wait time according to some sites. I will be taking some out to serve this at the thanksgiving party which will make it to about 4 weeks of aging. Tasted plain awesome after adding the sugar. Can't wait to have more at thanksgiving! H was amazed at the professional quality of the wine. I hope to have at least one bottle set aside for real aging. Maybe to take out for a milestone wedding anniversary. Sounds like fun. Eh?

While looking around at the World Market I found some cute vintage wine bottles made in Italy. Printed out custom wine labels on sticker paper with image of the grapes from our own backyard and our name and the year it was bottled. I think it looks neat. It was all fun and the end result is a real cool product that turns out to be a nice handmade gift for friends and family at Christmas!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Caesar Salad

This awesome caesar salad is my son's creation. He had loved caesar salad ever since he first came across it. It is a pleasure to see his happiness when this salad is on the menu when we go out. It got to a point where he simply had to have it whether we go out or stay in to eat. I tried to make it as a chicken caesar salad but the chicken never came out just how he liked it. Later on he started to prefer the salad without the chicken at all. So when he gets a craving for this he will make a special request that we go grocery shopping. He himself will pick the romaine lettuce and the specific brand of croutons and the all important caesar salad dressing. Once home he can't wait to get the cutting board out and get things going. Of course the classic caesar salad differs quite a bit but do we care? No worcestershire sauce here either. When some things are tasty the way they are, there is no need to change. eh? Here is how kannan goes about it.

In The Mix

romaine lettuce bunch - 1 
shaved parmesan cheese - to taste
caesar salad dressing - as needed
croutons - as needed

How To Do

Once the above items are gathered, separate the lettuce leaves, wash and drain well.  Remove unwanted parts if any and slice into salad sized pieces. Place them into a bowl. Add salad dressing by gently pouring over the lettuce. Sprinkle the croutons and the shaved cheese over it. Voila! That was quick. Bring out a fork and go for it!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Bumper Crop!

Finally got time to harvest our grapes. And what a harvest! The picture speaks for itself. This is only half of what we got. Only caveat is that these are the seeded variety. But still sweet and flavorful.

Varutharacha Thenga Chammanthi a.k.a Roasted Coconut Chutney

During my undergrad hostel years, it was always a treat when a day scholar would invite us to her house for lunch or dinner. Since I never had dosa at home growing up and could eat this only at restaurants it was a delicacy for me. I surprised myself the other day when I said 'masala dosa' without even blinking in answer to my daughter's query on my favorite food! Idli is what my grandpa liked and his wishes were command since my dad never bothered to use his veto power.  The homemade red chutney that came with the dosa at the homes of these friends had a certain tanginess and color that I could never reproduce. Yogurt and lemon juice only went so far. When I went to H's house during the first trip to India this year, the lady that came to help Hmom made this dry chutney that I thought was awesome. She said she had added ginger and raw mango though I suspect the fresh grated coconut and the flat stone manual grinder (ammikallu) that my Hmom still keeps added much to the taste. I had it in the back of my mind to give it a try when I got back. Things happened and I forgot all about it. That was until I started searching for Onam recipes and came across this chutney at Marias's Menu by chance. Decided to make it right away and although it called for tamarind instead of mango and I swapped my Krup's Coffee Grinder for the ammikallu, it came out pretty close to what I had been searching for! Thanks to Maria and the lady at Hmom's house this will now be a keeper. I intend to try again with mango instead of tamarind to see how the taste changes.

In The Mix

medium sized shallot cloves - 2-3 sliced
ginger - 1/2 tsp chopped
crushed dry red chili - 1 1/2 tsp
grated coconut - 1 cup
tamarind concentrate - 1 tsp
coconut oil - 3 tsp
curry leaves - 1 sprig

How To Do

Heat oil and add the curry leaves, onions, ginger and crushed chili. Saute till the roasted aroma rises. Takes 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut and mix well. Roast gently for a minute or two without browning. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Add the tamarind concentrate and mix together with a small fork. Add salt to taste at this time. The first picture shows how the chutney looks at this time. The tamarind concentrate made a bit darker than I thought but who cares when busily drooling away;-)

I found that the Coffee Grinder is a good tool to grind without adding any water. Just had to do it in two batches because the cup is so small. But it was well worth it.

As I bit into a dosa wrapped morsel with this coconut goodness, a childhood memory of alippazhams (hailstones) melting away on my tongue flashed through. Because my friends, that is how it felt! It was over so quick that I had to have another piece, and another and another just to make sure it was not all a dream. Coconut chutney in any form is a joy but this is pure heaven I tell ya!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Bunch Of Grapes A Day..

If a bunch of grapes a day can keep the doctor away, then we are all set for a long and healthy life. Now that the grapes are ripe I regularly visit our almost barren backyard (read drought) to go to the little oasis at the far end hugging the backside fence. There I sit down and look up to a sea of grapes hanging down so enticingly. I carefully pluck one ready-to-eat bunch and proceed to finish it happily after removing the seeds and throwing them any which way. Come next spring I wouldn't be surprised if our backyard turns into a proper vineyard with all the seeds that are going in there now! H and I are very pleased about this sweet outcome of all his hard work. We wish they were seedless but apparently the ones with seeds are more organic than the seedless variety. Very yummy too!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Happy Belated Onam - The Festival Of Vegetables And Payasams!

Onam which really is a festival of flowers, normally passes us by without much ado. I have made sure that the kids know about this traditional festival and the story that gives it enduring life. That of the benevolent king 'Mahabali' who was so unfairly banned to the netherworlds only to come back once a year to see his beloved subjects. Lately however some friends of ours have graciously offered to have Onam celebrated at their place. My son calls it 'the festival of vegetables' once he realized that he will not be seeing an ounce of meat at this so called 'party'. Although that was coined out of a little no-non-veg frustration, I really like it.. We all bring a dish or two depending on what is needed. I opted to make a payasam and was going to fly by with the everyone's go-to-in-a-rush semiya payasam. But then I happened to visit the recently revamped local Kerala grocery store and noticed a palada (thick flattened rice flakes)  box on the shelves. That is how the idea of making something other than semiya came about. The recipe instructions seemed easy enough.

On the day of the deed I woke up a little early and started on the payasam. Half way through, I realized that I have really just started. The milk has to reduce for the payasam to have the right consistency and this meant constantly stirring it on low heat for a good chunk of your life. er.. I mean of an hour:-) Guess what? My poor unsuspecting high school sophomore (10th grade) woke up unexpectedly early that day and was quickly roped in to do some slow stirring before he had much time to think. He in his usual responsible manner finished out the assigned time with aplomb despite feeling a little exploited for waking up early! From then on it was easy to assign the stirring duty to my newly minted middle schooler (6th grade) to continue on and finally the Dad, both of whom also obliged without a word. I was able to prepare the beans thoran I had also promised, while all of this was going on.  We got to the end of it much easier and at this stage the stirring was not so constantly needed either! Here is the recipe from the box top that I pretty much followed to the letter. Makes enough for 10 couples and their offspring who may or may not eat the payasam.

In the Mix
readymade ada - 200g
milk - 3 litres (i used 2% milk)
sugar - 800 gram
cardamom - 5 (crush, remove skin and powder using pestle and mortar)
ghee - 3 tsp
raisins - 3 tbsp
cashew halves - 1 tbsp (diced to smaller pieces)
water - 2 litres

How To Do
Boil 1 1/2 litres of the water in a pan. Wash and drain the ada like you would do for rice. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, remove from heat and add the ada. Cover and soak for 20  minutes.
Drain and wash with cold water like you would do for pasta so the ada won't stick. You can melt 1 tsp. of the ghee and toss it with the ada at this time.

Heat 1 litre of the milk and the remaining half litre of the water together in a thick bottomed pan. Add the ada. Cook till the ada is soft, taking care for the milk not to boil over. Keeping the pan on low flame is the safest choice. That and stirring slowly and constantly will do the trick. Now add the sugar, stir well and add the remaining milk. I wasn't sure if the pan I chose will hold all the milk. So I added in steps of half litres. Luckily the pan could hold all of it.

Now that all the stuff is together on the stove, look around for good volunteers sauntering in and out of the kitchen. Grab them and assign divided chunks of the total stirring time. About 1 hour total for this case. Maybe it would have been shorter if I had used full milk, not sure. I think 2% makes it stay at the same consistency even after cooling down so you don't have to add anything later. I also didn't see the pink color at any time. It stayed a nice beige color. Some say the pink is seen when an aluminum pan is used. I used a steel pan.

Keep stirring till you get a nice payasam like consistency. I don't really like it to be that thick. Remove from heat, add cardamom powder and 1tsp of ghee and stir together. Saute cashews and raisins in the remaining ghee, drain on paper and add to the payasam if your folks would like that. I like how the payasam looks after adding raisins and cashews. H and molu tasted the payasam and liked it. 'Nough said.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Homemade Grapes!

This year one of the three grape vines that H had planted produced a lot of grapes. We are totally excited with the bumper crop and can't wait for it to fully mature.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Special Visitor

This is the visitor mentioned in yesterday's post. Last Monday on May 4th I was sitting on the sofa looking out into the backyard when I saw a movement. Lo and behold, a grey heron has visited us! How did it even know of the 4 little goldfish living peacefully in our pond? Maybe it didn't come fishing at all.. I am not sure. It was one beautiful bird! The photos don't do justice. It had a little tassel hanging on the back as seen here. I had to quickly snap some pics through the patio glass so it could only be so clear. Here are two minutes worth of pictures captured in my camera through the glass.

Just Landed

Checking out the fish
Looks like a good catch!

Wait! Maybe not.

Someone is looking at me

Hello, I have come in peace.

Hi there

I am going to take leave now.

I just had to call my son to show this to him The sound and the movement probably alerted the bird and it flew away. It was just great to see this beautiful bird right in our backyard by the pond. My daughter missed it since she was sleeping but she and H were happy to see the pics. Thanks for the visit beautiful bird. I shall go on thinking this indeed was a very special visit since such a bird hasn't come this way before or since.

Monday, May 11, 2015

This Mother's Day

This is the beautiful poster that awaited me at the airport on this saddest of all mother's days. My molu made it for me. I love it. I can't describe it but the colors are very vibrant and I love how she arranged the whole design! She was holding it up for me to see as I was coming down the escalator. The three of them were waiting for me. I was coming back after a quick and upsetting four day trip to India to attend my mother's funeral. My sweet mom who loved plants and flowers and animals alike and whose kitchen always had food for the hungry regardless of where they came from... If she didn't go to heaven I am not sure who will in this day and age. My sister said she had a dream of my mom's soul traveling with the light towards heaven. It may sound like blabber but it gives me infinite peace to hear this from her. I believe the visitor I had the other day in our backyard was my mom coming to say goodbye to me. Never had I seen such a majestic bird (grey heron) anywhere here before. Will post pictures from that visit in the next post.

My mom is old enough for people to think, yes it is her time to go, she has lived a full life with all her ten children living fulfilling lives themselves. But then you don't know my mom. She is ageless. Although we had celebrated her 80th birthday nine years ago the implications of her being that old never struck me. I still went ahead and brought her over to stay with us for three months in the summer of 2009. She made that journey at 83 all by herself, of course with assistance from the airlines. It is also the year my girl started kindergarten with her blessings. Spending that one-on-one time endeared her all the more to my babies who were crying uncontrollably when they heard the news. That time we had her, they were competing to be her favorite. My kannan always ready to help her move around, my molu always remembering her medicines and making sure she takes it on time. Mom always appreciated that time with them afterwards. She was happy to give them the forbidden tea when I was not around :-) She was with us for a year after my firstborn arrived in 2000. He was already born and I had returned home from the hospital. My tummy was still big and I remember her kissing my tummy thinking he was in there and exclaiming in delight and surprise when she saw a baby on the bed! I remember her watching the presidential elections with avid interest that year. The same interest that got me the national merit scholarship and help me get to the top in general knowledge quiz competitions at school level. She is the one who taught me basic lessons of English even though she had not gone past the old 7th form. She is the one who made math my favorite subject. She had the best handwriting in the world. I loved looking at the neatly written math problems that she would set for me to do as extra work. My dad was the school headmaster but it was she who made sure all her children were educated and was not stuck anywhere in their lives. When I found Social Studies a little tough she got my older sister to help me through it and it became a favorite subject too. I remember this now as I help my girl who is finding Social Studies not so social just like I did. I know she will get over it just as I did too. The sweetest time for my mom was perhaps the six months she and I spent together here when I was single and brought her over (again by herself) just for the fun of having her with me. I know she enjoyed that time which was only a few years from when we lost our dad. She loved wearing the colorful saris that we insisted she wear for this trip and pioneered the art of cooking puttu in a steamer! We spent a lot of time singing her favorite songs and doing shopping. When I came home from work, it was great to see her sweet face waiting eagerly for me with news of the birds she saw from the window that day. She was the one who started the chain of events that led me to meet my husband. She had wanted her last child to be happily married too, no matter how happy I was to be working and independent. My mom was not only smart but also brave. She was down to earth and shy and humble and loving and sweet but utterly fearless. None of us children are as brave as her whether it is in talking to people or facing snakes. Yes, even snakes never fazed her. Living in eco-friendly Kerala that still has an abundance of snake population, it is difficult not to have encountered at least one especially in those days. The ten acres around our charming childhood home built by our maternal grandfather following ancient carpentry rules on the side of a hill is filled with my mom's presence. She has roamed that land endlessly. Every tree and plant was touched and cared for personally by those hands. The peppercorn vines that climb so coyly around the tree produced ample crop for her.  When she decided to try her hand in producing bananas in a little plot on the land, she excelled in it. Anything she put a mind to it flourished. When she saw that the vanilla bean creepers she had planted will not pollinate on their own, she found out how to do it and got people to hand pollinate it for her and got them to produce. The little plot of untouched forest that rose out of the various plants and trees and crops she planted in spare time, down the side of the well that draws the sweetest water, is filled with all kinds of birds and butterflies. I am glad my brother loves this stretch of land and is striving to keep it pristine as much as he can. I saw two species of butterflies as big as the monarchs there the other day.

My oldest brother told us a story of that well. The dowser who was called to find a spot to dig the well asked my mom to touch a spot on his body with her finger. This was 60-65 years ago. My naturally shy mom did not really want to touch the person anywhere but since he asked she touched his forehead with her finger. The man right away said that the water will be found only after drilling through rock formations because she touched the toughest part of the body. And it came to be true. The well had to be dug deep enough and through rocks until water was found! But because it comes filtered through all the rocks, this water is ultra pure and water is still drawn from it to drink. My brother realizes the purity of this water and has decided not to add a pumping system to it since the oils from the mechanical system will certainly corrupt the water. To this day we always have enough drinking water and more from the well. During the rainy season water will come all the way up to the top which is an awesome sight.  I thank God everyday for letting me be born in this charming place as the child of my parents and also the grandchild of my maternal grandfather who is the most awesome person that I have met to this date. It was the most enchanting childhood that anyone could ask for. I thank God especially for having given me the most loving, brave and sweet mother in the world. Like Samson's hair that gave him strength, it is the knowledge of my mom's constant prayers for all of us that kept me up in the trials and tribulations of this world. I know she will continue to watch over us in heaven. The rain that poured down suddenly with thunder and lightning while the three of us sisters left our motherless home for the first time is proof enough for me. The last few years of her life was colored by the dementia she had. Yet she was struck with it only towards the last 3-4 months of her life. Her sheer love of life let her live it fully despite the illness. It is in a way luck that we were not aware of the extent to which this debilitated her since that allowed her and us to lead a normal life almost to the end. She went as she wished just like how her dad - our grandfather - died. She was especially lively and walked all the way to the front of the house on her own and ate well that last day. My sisters had visited her in the days leading to her last day. My brother said she woke up in the morning (evening of May 5 for us here) and slowly shuffled to the bed next to hers. Then since she started sleeping again sitting down, they lead her back to her own bed. Here she slept when the home-nurse heard a slight hiccup and by the time she called my brother it was all over. No fuss just like how she wanted it to be. I hope I will have the same blessing when it is my time. Now she is finally in heaven with my grandparents and my dad in peace.

Only four months ago you will not believe she could get this sick so fast. She was always energetic and so full of life that I could not believe it when I saw her in April when the four of us went to visit her. I booked the tickets on a whim, not really because I thought she was ill but because I thought I just wanted to see her with all four of us. But after I booked the tickets things got serious and it is a blessing that we made that trip while she was still alive. Another brother also came at the same time so we could all spend time together with our Ammachy. The sweet smile that welcomed us even from inside memories that were clouded will stay on as the cooling touch on our burning hearts. Only now I realize that 89 is really a long life for anyone. Being the youngest of ten children she was always young enough for me. I know each of her children will have their own memories based on their own time with her. She stayed 60 till the last four months which is also why it is difficult to believe that she left so fast.. The number of people who came to pay respects for her in death were many. Even more heartening to hear was how so many were touched by her energy and liveliness at that age. She always made it a point to help people who needed it almost to a fault. This was an overwhelmingly huge need of hers to always do something to help others. Nothing swayed her once she determined a person needed help and how he or she should be helped. In her time her kitchen always had food for the hungry and her home always had clothing for the needy. May her shining example live with us and propel us to do as well.

My mom did the embroidery in the picture below. Her was voice was always sweet when singing.  I secretly hold dear the memory of when she called me 'my ammini' when I was growing up. In the evenings when I sense that she is not in the house I will go searching for her. This was her own time spent feeding the cows with special treats herself or going off to the land and walking around endlessly. I will call her in the longest voice and I could hear the response from far below and she will always come up. We will sit and talk and soon the normal needs of the household will catch up. She loved that I loved to read. She loved that we all liked to study. She and I used to sing omanathinkal kidave together when she was here. Mom and memories are one and the same. So long as I have memories she will live there. Only a tiny portion can be put down anywhere. May was a favorite month of hers. It is the month of Mother Mary, Queen of May. My mom passed away in such a spot of time this month that was the most convenient for me to make the quick trip to bid her the final farewell. It also made it possible for my oldest brother who is here to make that trip in a similar fashion. All ten of her children could be with her at this time which has happened only once before at her 80th birthday celebrations. I hope to live as you taught us through your example. To be resilient and to never give up, to be kind, patient and forgiving and most importantly to be giving. My mom, I love you now and forever.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Aramasobha - Glory of The Garden

There's this amarchitrakatha comic named 'The Magic Grove' about a girl called Vidyutprabha who married the king because she was so pretty and also had this blessing where a whole garden/grove moved with her. This garden provided her and the animals and birds she loved with water, shade, plenty of food and protection. The king loved her and named her 'Aramasobha'. 'Aramam' for grove and 'sobha' for glory. It is a beautiful story and difficult not to like. I am no Aramasobha but I do have a small garden that stays in the same place I stay! I can always come back to it and with a husband who is back to tending flowers, it is pure pleasure in spring time to be out and about in the backyard. We missed the boat on veggie planting this year but the flowers are making up for it. They shine like little queens in the sunshine and I wanted them to be appreciated in a picture post that tells more stories than words.

A New Selection - Clematis, creeper

Good Old Hibiscus
Dipladenia : Another creeper
Lantana: Konginipoo  in Malayalam- constant 
companion on my walks to the elementary school.
Don't they add charm anywhere?
My girl's cactus plant
Aptly named Black Beauty
Black Beauties!
Even if they are not so black they are still beauties

New addition. So pretty!
My marigolds
More of  'em

From a tree in the  front that was there when
we bought the house. Don't know the name

The marigolds are a dream come true just like for SS from soulsearchingdays. Marigolds were so omnipresent during my childhood that the first bloom took me back some right away! They didn't bloom thick and dense as I had hoped but there is always a next time.