Postcards from Pocono Mountains

DSC_1342Bushkill Falls : Along a little creek 

In the last weeks of May the remnant days of a very short lived spring vanished into summer. I gathered all the packed boxes and neatly lined them up against the wall behind the front room. Sriram and I have been slowly packing away our life in the little Manhattan apartment. We felt like a gypsy by the end of last week, we really were ready to leave any day if need be. I stared at my bare feet, the faded nail paint barely visible against the dusty wooden floor and took another sip of the ginger tea. This whole act of packing was playing games with my reminiscence, recalling all the memorable times we spent together this year. In the last weekend of Spring we joined our cousins and family, a little group of 12 packed in a van and headed off to the quiet sounds of a waterfall in the distant canopy of woods. The two hour drive to the eastern boundary of Pennsylvania comprised of a collective pretzel craving, our favorite cousin was entrusted to execute a solution for it. Long drives are meant to justify food cravings. Besides, it is the land of pretzels after all. The drive lasted till we reached Blakeslee, to a beautiful Airbnb house tucked away amidst a lush thicket of pine trees. After a good comforting lunch of Athai’s homemade puliyodharai sadam and curd rice our enthusiastic appetites were fed and  we were all set for a remarkable afternoon. For the brief drive post lunch, we were dazed by the peaceful surroundings and the thought of waterfalls.

DSC_1364Everything is magical around a waterfall. Bushkill falls was fascinating in so many levels, it was hard to shake off the wonderment. We followed a little creek along bamboo bridges and rocky trails. The red-trail, a small uphill trek around the falls was as leafy and green as one could possibly imagine. It is a beautiful world to escape into. Bound by the mist softly descending on my face and delicate sounds of the milky waterfall oozing through wet mossy stones.

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Camelback mountain adventures

The spring getaway this year was the time when Sriram and I were at the intersection of two exciting future choices. It was going to be a huge leap. A dream of castles, red buses and tea or the land of museums and national parks. So to echo the nervousness and excitement in our hearts, this trip we both (equally petrified) stood on the edge of the hill at camelback mountains ready to jump off the cliff. We were zip-lining for the first time and the leap was worth it. It was a rip-roaring experience to glide over tall trees. A newly found reassurance that no matter how terrifying life might get, it is a wonderful feeling to have crossed it. Two favorites from the mountain adventures this year –

4000 feet zip-line – This is apparently North America’s longest zip-liner. CBK mountain adventures offers two types of zip-lines, 1000 feet and 4000 feet. With much encouragement from the lovely cousins we braved the 4000 ft twin zip-line that gives a beautiful all-embracing view of the mountains. For someone terrified of heights and speed, this is a good first step.

Appalachian express coaster ride – A ride down the slopes of the hills is yet another source of a beautiful view of camelback mountains. It is a slightly rocky yet magnificent ride with twists and turns, they even let us control the speed (a well tamed rollercoaster so to speak). There is often a long queue for this much anticipated ride but the scene at the top is worth the wait.

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Tales from a journey – Fortune in a cup

Beyond the ancient trees and wild deers at Richmond park, a pack of pastel houses lined a thin and twisted uphill road. One of them, the faded venetian pink corner house belonged to Madeleine’s neighbor and dear friend Simi. I have vivid memories of that home, particularly the striking life size portrait painting of a much younger Simi.

One afternoon after work I reached home to find her sitting by the kitchen window while Madeleine put a kettle on the stove. A small tea party, I gathered. They were both over eighty with a charming sense of humor. A relaxed afternoon tea at Madeleine’s was a regular if Simi and Sarah were home. We all took our places around the big old teapot, the tea leaves infusing a bold shade of chestnut brown. I took a sip and a bite of the smooth Belgium chocolate. Having a cup of tea with some fine women who loved living life and spoke more Farsi than english seemed a perfect way to spend that afternoon. My association with Madeleine progressed from more than just a landlord. For some reason, it was an emotional afternoon for me. I sat there realizing this to be a true blessing. For the next three months I was going to be a part of this little family. Simi spoke at length, there were times when I couldn’t make much sense of it. I could sense a thousand emotions hidden behind those sharp brown eyes. In spite of that they still looked young and beautiful. In the thick of all the drinking and talking, the tea party turned into a Turkish coffee reading scene that evening. “Drink it all, my dear”, Madeleine gestured. “Lets read your fortune”. I quietly drained the last bit into my mouth, then placed the saucer over the rim of the cup and quickly turned it upside down. Another Parsi thing, I assumed.

More conversations. Sarah discussed her university projects, Madeleine asked her to stop wearing black all the time.  More chocolates, while we waited for the remains of the beverage seep onto the saucer. A little while later Madeleine read our fortune from the patterns in the cup. I met Sriram a month after, I am indeed married to a ‘very handsome’ young man.

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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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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