Travelogue – The fragrance of Williamsburg

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The Sketchbook Project

I stood before all the journals and sketchbooks lined up against the walls, deeply inhaling the fragrance of old books. An image of a young jewish boy came to my mind. I still remember, the subway stopped at a midtown station, mildly crowded for a workday evening. He slipped inside through the closing doors just in time and occupied an empty seat across mine. A little while later I noticed an olive green envelope perched on his lap. He removed the card and wrote carefully in small cursive motions. For a moment my mind wandered off. I wondered what his story might be when he leaves the train. Someone waiting to be loved, I was certain, for his dreamy eyes gleamed with love under the yellow lights. The train passed through tunnels with dirty walls of withered paint and grease. I looked out the window, permitting the scene of the boy and his envelope lodge in my mind. Two stations after I noticed him carefully retracing the words on the flap, to make it bolder I assumed. Many years later this would probably be someone else’s keepsake, a letter that contained a piece of his story.

I have always been fond of handwritten notes and love letters. They are a wonderful medium to connect with loved ones. On Saturday I decided to visit the sketchbook project at Williamsburg, a library of journals from people around the world. Nested between old-world cafes and art scenes, it is the world’s largest public art project with a collection of real narratives. Every handmade journal is a creative expression of a personal story. I spent the afternoon leisurely flipping through journals from Portland, Milan and Israel. The “coffee stains” sketchbook contained paintings with real tea and hot cocoa mix, the atlas of eating was a book of recipes and thoughts about food I liked as well. Each book I opened smelled different form the other, it contained fabric, beach sand, pressed flowers, ribbons, quilt. They all seemed to carry a fragrance from the place they came from. There are thousands of books, it is a good place to connect and an outlet to share something real.

Happily Muffined was born this day last year and I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate today.

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I found a forgotten summer top hidden in the wardrobe. A pale citrus yellow, it was a gift from Madeleine, my lovely landlord back in London. Two years later I wore it this Saturday.

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Sriram and I spent a lunch date at Williamsburg that weekend. He insisted we go on a Saturday so as to not miss Smorgasburg, the weekly food festival. Perched on the waterfront at East Riverstate park, the stalls overlooked Manhattan skyline serving everything from lemonade to spaghetti donuts. The afternoon air held a smoky blend of meat, potato fries and vanilla. It was a crowded but perfect setting for all kinds of food adventures. We walked around a mecca of choices with a lot of food ideas brewing in my head. It was a late lunch but first a local special to resist the summer heat – cream soda! Virgil’s orange cream soda was a better version of Fanta, delicious and refreshing with a strong vanilla flavor.

The neighborhood is known for high energy hipster streets, vintage boutiques and graffiti covered warehouses. There is a lot going on, it is beautiful to walk around and drink in the essence of Brooklyn or grab a snack by the riverside. The restaurants and cafe’ are a good mix of contemporary and old-style. From the outside they all look beautiful, like a perfect prescription for the soul.

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The quaint Italian coffee shops in Manhattan

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As slick as a whistle here we are, at the heart of summer. The sun is beaming in full force dissolving every memory of snow and rain we carried over from last year. Despite that, New York city is rich and lively. Gelato and rainbow milkshakes are hastily relished on the go before the scorching heat bleeds them out. New York is a bit of every part of the world, it has something to give for everyone. This summer commenced with a predominant Italian vibe. The one thing consistent in Italian food is the amount of passion instituted in cooking.  I would never have learnt the story of gianduja had I not explored the Italian pockets of the city.

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Max Caffe’ 

It’s a laid back Sunday morning. We rise up after much contemplation, pour some spiced Indian chai to the brim of our stout coffee mugs. We carelessly dip a social tea biscuit in the steaming hot tea and force our half open eyes to wake up to the nostalgic aroma of mornings in Madras. We then decide to do brunch outside today, instead of the wonted upma or oatmeal. It is a perfectly toasty afternoon. We slip into our summer clothes and head out to the cafe across the street, a couple of blocks uptown. We pick a favorite corner spot by the window, overlooking the streets on Amsterdam avenue. It is a lush Italian cafe with an airy homestyle flair. The comfy coaches with bold floral prints are a visual treat. We order a plate of nutella crepes for him and french toast for me. We savor the food and the intricate decor alike, take a moment to commend the first class maple syrup, then get back to admiring the wall mounted lanterns and other antiques. Hours pass by a cuppa and we are still smitten by the ambience, the sweet little corners calling out to us for tête-à-têtes with our loved ones. It feels good because for a very short while, as long as we are here sipping a latte, life is slow.. the way it should be.

It was a chapter that transported us back in time. A lazy brunch on Sundays is mandatory for the soul. Sometimes it’s all the therapy you will need to tackle monday blues. It is amusing to explore coffee shops unassumingly tucked away in street corners like these. I have an unparalleled weakness for everything vintage and this was a perfect setting to feed my liking. I will remember this day for the best french toast I have ever eaten in a very artsy and vibrant cafe. I will also remember this to be the day when, in New York city, I was finally served just the sufficient quantity of food a person can eat. On a side note, fresh sourdough breads are perfetto for french toasts.

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A day like an Italian

To eat every existing delicacy in this city, one lifetime isn’t enough. One of the most heartwarming attractions in lower Manhattan is a bustling Italian marketplace called Eataly. It stands alongside the Flatiron building across Madison Park. I have been sinfully stealing myself to Eataly at least twice a week the past month. There is a genuine piece of Italy life here, fondling an irresistible invitation to breathe in the fragrance of freshly baked pastries and sourdough breads. It has been an enlightening discovery, the choices of food and wine are endless. The doors at 5th avenue open to a crisp aroma of freshly ground coffee. The magic unfolds the instant we walk in, one wouldn’t expect so much of a truly authentic Italian world on this side of the block. The quiet mumblings over coffee tables and counters are thick and french accented, the air is distinctly scented with regional twists of flavored espresso. It accommodates rooftop beer gardens, restaurants and wine bar. It is a mecca of Italian jams and compote, hand pulled mozzarella, wine and breads. It is a high-end supermarket, the downside is that it is very expensive. Nevertheless it was an incredible experience touring the marketplace and eyeballing the jumbo cheese counters and absynth chocolates. There are occasional shout outs from the fishmonger, the spirits are high at the wine bar and all through the day, the bakery at the north west pocket oozes out delicious aroma of well risen, warm and crusty breads.My south Indian curiosity was promptly tingled, drawing me to create a little bucket-list (a summer fling list) of some offbeat favorites. The Italians here take food very seriously. They strongly believe people bond well when there is good food.

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The summer-fling list:

Violet jamViola/violet jam is made out of wild violet flowers and is popular in France. Some of these have a more perfumed taste.
Gobino’s gianduja spread – Predating Napoleon times, the continental system lead to declining supply of cocoa. To stretch the quantity the chocolate was mixed with hazelnut paste occasioning the invention of gianduja.
Italian coriander honey – Any monofloral honey will have it’s own unique taste of season. Manufactured when coriander flowers are in full bloom, this has an aroma of citrus and coriander spice.
Sambuco –  Sambuco is Italian for elderberry jam.
Sabadi’s Quality of life series : health – Cold processed organic chocolate with bee pollen, pomegranate extract and acerola.
Sabadi’s Quality of life series : beauty – Cold pressed organic chocolate with chia seeds, linseeds, hemp seeds, extracts of carrots and bilberries
Chestnut cream – A common ingredient in many Italian cuisines.
Redcurrant compote – Red currants are uncommon berries, when had as a whole they are believed to have a seeded caviar like texture. 
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– All the bite sized pastries look beautiful, but I found Alba to be particularly interesting. It is a passion fruit mousse & dark chocolate over buckwheat and almond flour sponge cake

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Seasonal memories – A photo album

34679133693_6a724c976e_oThree weekends ago, on a warm evening we marked the beginning of summer with a classical music concert at Central Park. It was a beautiful day for outdoor concerts. We accompanied a lovely couple, lounged on picnic blankets and snacked on some delicious chocolate cookies and pretzels. If I were to collect all my first time experiences from the past year in a big trunk, it would snap open and pour out. As I write this, I am sitting at home by the front room window glazed by a mild sun shower, reflecting on the experiences living in one of the biggest cities in the world. I remember my first day in our Morningside home, as I walked through the front door I instantly fell in love with the spring sunshine oozing through the windows. Nothing makes a home feel reassuring than the warmth of natural light. Our love affair with the little den has continued to multiply while we step into our second summer anniversary together. She has seen us through a good spread of emotions, food and songs (of course it’s a she!). In turn, what reflects on us is very beautiful and personal.

When I moved to this city, I was certain that it was going to be overwhelming in more ways than one. The very first attributes I admired about it was the unfathomable diversity of cuisines to choose from. They say New York is the city that dreams are made of. So in a way, I have come to realize that this qualifies as a snippet of my dream as well. Many levain cookies, bubble teas and Hungarian pastries later, today like the rest of America, I am nibbling onto my new found favorite – hard pretzels. I have forgiven the overplay of coarse salt sprinkles on them, faithfully picking out the granules on every pretzel before consumption. Meanwhile, I am on an inconclusive debate with myself about (fluffy) soft vs.(crispy) hard pretzels. Oh, and what a world of difference a creamy mustard dip can make.

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The past season has been a lot about photography. Photo walks have never failed to replenish my mind and the city is a paradise for that between late spring and early summer. The neighborhoods are bright and full of life. Streets are lined with plump flower pots, colorful tulips and other wobbling surprises. I often steal myself to the Riverside park when the sky opens up for a surprise summer shower. Over the years, I have been on a relentless pursuit to discover beauty in its most pristine forms. I am hopelessly drawn towards nature, my humble abode, to attain inspiration and happiness. From tall, green and mossy cobblestone walls with curtains of dense creepers adorning a medieval staircase to the shy posy of snowdrops blooming beneath the lavender blue sky. On the course of the journey, I am learning to capture what I see.

Along the way, we decide the memories we want to keep, the moments we want to forget, a few that we try very hard to remember. We meet a lot of interesting people almost everyday and a few tend to stay in our memories for a lifetime. I remember the story of a taxi driver dropping us home one day. We noticed the colorful prayer flags hanging diagonally in the boot of his car and that led to some very interesting conversations. His ancestral family moved to southern India from Nepal years ago as refugees and started a new life in Mysore long before he was born. He yearned to visit Nepal someday. “I want to visit my homeland, and touch the sand in my hands.”. His words were filled with passion. He spoke at length about Nepal, his visits to the beautiful Mysore Palace, Manali and Kashmir and almost made an itinerary for our next trip to north India. It’s fascinating how passionate we grow of our roots. His struggle to set foot in his homeland might someday become an inspiring story for generations to come.

It was a short ride home.

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Old fashioned delights

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Tales from the city 

On a cloudy afternoon in late April I had just finished a job interview in the quiet neighborhoods of Blossom street in Hoboken. Strangely the weather seemed confused and quite cold for a spring day. I was beginning to think we might get by stretching out spring for longer this time. The cherry blossoms were all springing to life. Perched on the Hudson waterfront, the city is a good blend of everything beautiful – cobbled streets, brick walls, vintage lamp posts and pretty corner shops with pastel windows. It brought back fantasies of stepping into a countryside village. Snuggled up in an old fashioned corner cafe, the afternoon began by devouring a freshly baked croissant and a piping hot earl grey tea. Funnily enough earl grey tea is not my kind, rather a favorite for Sriram. I guess I drink it to substitute his absence and enjoy it only in such times; it’s just how it is. What I really love about coffee shops is its ambient sounds – the involuntary clinks and murmurs comfort me. It was a perfect stage to lose myself in a good book. Later that afternoon I was out exploring the neighborhood.

One of my favorite memories from that afternoon are walks amidst the vibrant Kanzan cherry trees and magnolias, gracefully swaying at the corners of every street. For someone who has lived in south Asia for the greater part of her life, cherry trees are a rarity, so memories like these are a feast to take home. I stopped by at Coldstone later that evening for our favorite banana caramel crunch before heading back home. A small guilty pleasure for dessert that night. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city across the Hudson, the afternoon was a welcoming change.

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A Map of the world

The closer I am placed to a book, the more content I am. Every other fortnight I visit the library in the city and bring home books that will last for a month. This has been happening for almost a year now. I came to realize recently that there is a lot I have to catch up on, it was as if I didn’t live the beginning of my adult life the way I should have. So many classics to cover, so little time. There is a world of books to read out there and next to travel, that would be my preferred way to celebrate life. I am reminded of  a new favorite I recently read called Map of the world by Jane Hamilton. The story is narrated from the perspective of a husband and a wife when life takes a turn with the death of a neighbor’s child, charges of child molestation, marital differences and isolation from society. This isn’t a light read but what makes it laudable is how expressive and real the sentiments are. In addition, this time I also brought home a couple of classics by RK Narayan and W M Thackeray. Books like these are a motivation to read more. It felt wonderful to get back to the habit of reading, something my dear mother inspired me into at an early age. I remember my younger days when I was first introduced to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, it was an old book that belonged to Amma when she was 9 or 10. My affair with reading and musty vintage books started then. It feels good because it is one of the attributes I most associate with my childhood and family.

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No cook oats with blueberries and banana

I just finished eating my favorite breakfast this morning after seeing Sriram off to work. When I started this blog I wanted it to be a bit of everything. I realized recently that an easy way to make your day work is to kick-start it with something you love. Be it reading or making art, it feels great to create a day you want to wake up to. Food makes me happy. So sometimes for me the easiest answer to that is a healthy and tasty breakfast. Something I could relish and yet not worry about gaining pounds from it. We have been eating oatmeal almost every morning and were looking for ways to make it more interesting than just the garnish of raisins and almonds. This is Sriram’s take on a healthy no cook overnight oats recipe. I have a deep relationship with this new discovery because it is a very comforting start for a workday. The chewy texture of the oats with a tangy sweetness from the yogurt and fresh fruits make it a longing relish. This recipe serves 3.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked oats
  • 1 cup home-made yogurt (or greek yogurt)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 large banana
  • 1/4 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup roasted almonds (optional)

For the roasted almonds, mildly crush the almonds using a mortar and pestle. Heat a pan and dry roast it for 3 minutes. Remove from heat when the edges turn golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and set it aside to cool.

In a mason jar or any airtight container, bring together the oats and milk. Mix well. To this pour in a cup of thick yogurt and combine. (Alternatively replace with greek yogurt if you prefer thicker consistency) Add 1 sliced banana, blueberries, cinnamon and honey. Slowly mix everything until well combined. If using frozen blueberries, let it thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes before mixing. Leave it to rest in the fridge overnight. Garnish with roasted almonds before serving.

If you prefer to reduce the quantity of milk, replace 1/2 cup of milk with equal amount of water. Also, you can go upto 5 tablespoons of honey if you have a serious sweet craving to satisfy.

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Celebrating love – A balmy spring weekend in Washington D.C

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The Fourth of April

Creating stories with my favorite people is a continuous desire for me. Be it surprises, love letters, food, pillow fights, travel or laughter – I capture candid moments as much as I can so that at best they visually continue to exist. It is important for me to have a multitude of such stories that will make up a good narrative when we age and  I believe this is what makes life so exciting. We have this time on earth to create something unique and quite certainly, no matter what choices we make this will be a story no one else has ever heard of. I wrote to Sriram one day, ” I realized the reason you fall in love with someone is not based on how much you like the same things, but how much positivity you can bring to the other person and influence him/her”. I believe that strongly now than ever before. So here we are, one year through our wedlock, celebrating the reasons we fell in love for.

Sarabeth’s and other jubilees

Beside the reasons of marriage and love, it was the month when we first moved in together and marked it with a contemporary american breakfast at Sarabeth’s. I have a candid shot of Sriram from last April, waiting for our order at our table. Funnily enough, on our first anniversary we impulsively decided that our visit to Sarabeth will become an anniversary tradition . Sriram coordinated our time (and his sweater) to be the same as last year so we could have an identical picture taken. All so surprising because it’s not often when the hubby says let’s take a photo. On the contrary, it’s not surprising how many ways we try to re-live what we cherish. This year we ordered home fries for starters, and french toast – apple-cinnamon french toast topped with bananas for him and almond-crusted french toast with a drizzle of cranberry-cherry syrup for me. The verdict : his choice was easily my favorite simply because it was tastier and the portion was just sufficient. A thin french crust of thinner almond shaves would have made mine a better breakfast.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we spent the rest of the morning leisurely walking across central park, then sat by the pond with a beautiful view of Spring colors and reflections of a pastel blue sky.

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The cherry blossom festival

The last time we travelled to D.C, it was with a larger group of lovely cousins and relatives on a long summer weekend. The capital is rich in archives. For someone vehement about history and politics, this place is a feast. This year however since it is the season of cherry blossoms, we couldn’t find a better way to celebrate ‘us’ than travel to the beautiful annual spring festival. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom during the first week of April, rightly timed for our anniversary. We did not have an itinerary planned for our travel. Considering this was only a weekend’s getaway we wanted to dedicate all of it to soak in the beauty of the blooms. We walked around the tidal basin, also exploring the monuments along the banks. D.C is brimming with beautiful architecture and elegance. To consume every compelling detail of american/world history it is important to not rush through the tour and we were quite keen on that. It is at least one week’s worth of commitment for inspiration. From this trip, a few favorites at the Tidal basin –

Martin Luther king’s monument –  Amongst the many monuments and memorials near the basin, for me this was the most stirring and overwhelming sight. The theme of the monument is based on a statement from his famous I have a dream speech “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” He stands 30 feet tall, emerging out of the ‘mountain of despair’ granite wall behind him.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial – Roosevelt’s memorial is admirably designed to narrate his story during the unusual 4 term presidency. There are waterfalls that represent it, one for every term, each getting bigger and complex in relevance to the term. With the prominence of stone, water and sculpture this outdoor narrative amidst the thick pink blossoms is an educative time lapse.  Roosevelt is seated on a chair here with Fala, his Scottish terrier by his side.

Paddle boating – The best time to do this is before lunchtime. We did a prior booking online a couple of hours beforehand as a precaution because we found a long queue for tickets the previous day. Sunday morning turned out to be more serene and magical than we had imagined it to be. Paddle boating was a first for me which added to the excitement. The timelines weren’t strict, when asked what time we had to return back, they said “whenever you please. Enjoy!” So we spent a good 150 minutes on the boat soaking in the beauty of the coral trees. What more could we ask for?

In a nutshell, it was a lovely start to one of my favorite months of the year. We wrapped up our anniversary watching an old classic – Rear Window

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Preserving the Good Times

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Looking back at the year behind us, there is a galore of moments preserved in our memory. Though not necessarily eventful, we realized that it’s the most simplest of happenings we tend to retain lifelong. There is a lot to feel happy about and a lot to look forward to. We are nearing our first anniversary and the end of winter, the weather has been surprisingly marvelous. Sriram and I started walking the 3 mile stretch from his lab every evening, like we used to during the summer and fall.  I never got around to writing as much as I planned to last year, but recollecting the best of all the love and laughter we shared is amusing.

The lake is my happy place

In the last week of October we were half way into the fall season gathering our boots and bags for a road-trip to Craryville. We were driving on a misty Friday afternoon, anticipating the clouds to pop in a little while. The drive felt like a beginning of a classic melody with the enchanting backdrop of sugar maple trees and fogginess lingering over the hilltops and slender roads. Sometime after dark we reached the semblance of a magical, mysterious manor. A deep breath of fresh air almost had a rural flavor to it and the two cheerful mule deers by the doorstep reassured that characteristic, visiting politely from the woods to greet us. The house was a vintage classic in its own way, and everything in its rightful place looked odd, beautiful, unique and old all at once. They must have survived through some historic years, unwritten tales and superstitions.

The weekend was all about unwinding in the comfort of a vintage home by the lake, cooking some delicious meals and soaking in the beauty of the fall colors. Nothing seemed more satisfying than sharing these moments with a group of close friends. There was a predicted downpour on Saturday as well, we gathered together for a relaxed breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup, buttered toast and coffee. The showers added a zest of organic character to the experience overall. A slow weekend is great, a rustic den with bursts of floral patterns is a perk(for me at-least) but the cherry on the cake was the discovery of an unusual book barn hidden amidst the groves of burgundy and butterscotch, a few miles away. It was treasure in the midst of wilderness, a good savor of what my dreams were made of ( the likes of living in the outskirts of the city with a swelling book barn in the neighborhood). All it took was looking in the right nooks, we found an interesting lot of old prints and collectables. I brought home a big leather bound book full of vintage postcards and an old Frank Leslies’s illustrated newspaper.

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The Hungarian Pastry Shop

Is it possible to love something before you were even acquainted with it? In December last year, during the last few weeks before Christmas I frequented the Hungarian Pastry shop excessively. The place was amply packed because of the holiday season, but I continued to find the subtle cafe sounds quite charming . It is a rare finding, located across the street from the Cathedral of Saint John. The small shop is filled with closely arranged furniture, walls embellished with the original works of a greek artist and delicious servings of authentic Hungarian and greek pastries. There is also a writer’s wall with annotations from authors/poets who found solace in the cafe or penned their first books for publication there. I remember the first time I stepped into the coffee shop, it wasn’t contemporary or commercial, nevertheless the ambience held something special. It was great to sit among artists and writers for as long as I pleased. It was ideal for the creative minds. The perfect theme for a novel. I even got around to bonding with the baristas and learnt to make a traditional Hungarian coffee and cappuccino.

December was a month of indulgence. If our kitchen was a fruit market then it had way too many pears in it. I decided to bake a Pear Flaugnarde from one of my favorite french cookbooks and it was indeed an indulgence. It was quite delicious, the caramelized pears were marvelous and I also felt convinced that it was healthier than most of my other bakes. A lot of my fond memories have been associated with baking, the most recent was a chocolate birthday cake topped with a generous spread of cocoa butter frosting and fresh berries for the lovely husband. While on the subject of desserts, Sriram and I had discovered another favorite bakery last summer and we went out of control by Christmas, finding an excuse to celebrate every other weekend with our favorite Chocolate & Walnut Levain cookies. I have surrendered to a guilt-free privilege for anything sweet. As I tell Sriram, relish it while you can.

 

Potting plants and a Recipe

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When I was a little girl, I used to spend huge parts of my summer vacation with my grandparents. It used to be a visual treat being home. Conveniently anchored a few feet away from our favorite temple, we were eternally embraced with lots of love and an outpouring melange of greenery. Days were slower and quieter back then. Most of the days we feasted on a sumptuous potpourri of the family’s favorites including sweets, pickles, curries and salads, for lunch. My grandmother was a passionate cook with an equally brimming appetite to grow her own vegetables and herbs. I still remember how every afternoon, after a post-lunch nap, she steps into her garden contemplating the ripeness of the jackfruit cluster or inspecting jasmine shrubs under the pepper tree, while I tagged along for a stroll.Years have passed, and her garden has now grown into an unruly thicket.

My family has had a green thumb for as long as I can remember, and it has lingered on for generations. Back in Madras, the first flush of mornings are always spent in the garden, the fresh scent of moist soil coiling around us while we water the vines and ferns. Until recently I always wondered if I would ever be able to continue the tradition; if I have inherited the “green thumb”. I am in a phase of my life where I am venturing deep into that uncertainty. The last few months have been dominated by indoor gardening. A couple of weeks back, on the morning of our 6 month anniversary Sriram and I were still nestled in our bed, talking about ideas to embellish our special day. By the end of the evening, we were sitting with a bag of dirt, earthen pots and baby plants to repot.

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HOMEMADE VEGAN BANANA SMOOTHIE

I was never a fan of smoothies or milkshakes till I discovered almond milk. This recipe takes about 5 minutes and yields for two.

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METHOD:

Cut the bananas into pieces of about an inch thick, and freeze them overnight. Soak the almonds for 5 hours in water. Remove the skin.

Blend the frozen bananas, almonds and cold almond milk till smooth.

Escapade – The West coast

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I stepped out of India for the first time when I was 13. My parents and I travelled twice to Europe that year – stayed in a beautiful studio apartment in Germany on both occasions and set out across the neighboring states to do all the sight seeing we could, during our brief time there. I used to wonder, if it is possible to fall in love with a place so much. Years later, I met Sriram in London for the first time last summer. It was a perfect stage packed with character, cobbled streets, erratic weather and love in the air. I felt it was romantic that we both shared an enduring dream of living in London.

This summer, though we both wanted another serving of our London experience (almost all our travel plans point to Europe these days), we had to opt for a Plan B, after much thought, California. I did not know what to expect of the west coast – Sriram promised me it is an amazing place – “You will love it. I am sure!”, he said. So I decided to let it surprise me, resisted researching about it just so I could go with an open mind; I will see it when I reach it, I thought. And thus began our trip, on an evening flight; we landed a little after 9. A fine retired couple and a chirpy cabdriver contributed to an interesting taxi drive from the airport. We talked about San Francisco, Indian matrimony, palo alto and suggestions to visit muir woods. They were thrilled to hear we were recently married, curious to know if we had elephants at our wedding. It was a perfect start to our weekend getaway. Minutes later, we dropped them home, a beautiful mansion by the way, exchanged contacts and drove to our hotel.

Stanford and Palo Alto

Palo Alto is an elegant city and has a subtle vibe of tranquil in all its visual goodness. We had a pleasant first morning, walking along the  cobblestone sidewalks with antiquated street lamps and flourishing greenery . It does not exhibit the pace or lifestyle of a traditional city life, reminding me of the little town where I spent my early childhood. We breakfasted at Crepevine, a  handsome brightly lit place with colorful wall menu and beautiful spots by the window, overlooking downtown. After relishing some delicious food (a Santorini crepe topped with walnuts, pistachios and mascarpone filling, served with vanilla ice-cream on the side for him and a Swedish oatmeal pancake with strawberry sauce and maple syrup for me), we headed towards Stanford University, just a mile and a half away from the city. We spent the afternoon wandering around the main quad, the Hoover Tower and memorial church. It was exciting to catch a glimpse of the carillon and the beckoning far away view of San Francisco from the tower. Spreading across acres of land, we enjoyed walking in the open passages of the university, the off white walls with intricate frieze work columns, were a classic.

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The bridge, The island and the Woods

I woke up to a beautiful morning, with a huge smile on my face. Everything seemed right and romantic about the city. A little after brunch, we headed to the station and in about a couple of hours, we arrived to the city – The Paris of the West, and checked in the hotel before heading towards the bay. San Francisco is known for it’s inconsistent weather, but we decided to walk anyway, a long evening walk to Fisherman’s wharf and then across the Golden Gate bridge. By the time we reached Pier39, I already had a dreamy feeling about this. It was like a scene out of a vintage novel – The noisy dynamic streets with seafood markets, the colorful trams bustling up the hill and the pastel houses stacked along the hilly roads. We walked across the orange bridge, the horizon outlining SF bay and the Pacific and thick clouds of fog crowning the bridge. Over a couple of hours later, after an uphill climb to Battery Spencer, we made it. The fog had cleared just in time for us to drink in the breathtaking view of the bridge, and SF city beyond it. So mesmerizing, that Sriram agreed to let me take pictures of him, for the first time, without reluctance. After about 12 miles of walk and a long wait for reservations, we dined in Gracias Madre. The city boasts a myriad of options for herbivores like us. It turned out to be a wonderful place; a very delicious vegan Mexican dinner was served for the night.

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We spent the next two days trekking in Muir woods and Angel island. My first real experience that qualified as a trek was in the woods – underneath the canopy of the redwood trees rooted since a hundred civilizations before and bounding silent whispers of fresh water springs. The next day followed with more trekking, this time all the way up the Angel Island.  Every-time I wondered aloud if a snake might pop out of a bush, Sriram, with an air of confidence said, “They don’t loiter around here. Not at this altitude.” We saw so many beautiful views of SF and the bridge from the island. But the reward waited atop the hill. When we reached at the top, we were standing above the city and the ocean. And we could see it all. It was hard to resist camping on the island. We almost started making our next getaway plans on our way down the hill, when we met a 3 foot yellow crawling visitor. I forgave Sriram’s enthusiastic confidence about snakes. California is now my second happy place to vacation.

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Living in a borough

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It was my first time in New York this April ; the wind swelled with left over goodness of spring. I knew gathering a likeness for this city is an acquired feeling. It wasn’t one of those places that swept me off my feet at first sight. On our way home from the airport, my husband (who has bathed himself with this acquired feeling) and I took a mini tour through a few landmarks and along the Hudson, in our yellow taxi cab. My jet-lagged mind registered the essence of the city. I felt like my cats back home – distracted with every tall shiny building with fancy names. It was a pleasant morning drive, heading towards a whole new life ahead.

In the midst of the excitement of moving in and setting up our cozy apartment, we created a lot of memories, ate some never-tasted-before food, watched a Spanish drama series for the first time and travelled to a few neighboring cities. Each tour would last one weekend and that meant we wouldn’t have time for everything there is to see; we have let it trick ourselves into trusting the comfortable possibility of going back again.

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It is always exciting to know there is something out there you never knew about. That is what makes travel such an overwhelming experience. It is often a choice between feelings of open mindedness and uncertainty. The impact is intense if it is the former.

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