Tales from a journey – Custard apple diaries

IMG_3564

Snippets from a hometown

The roads looked alive with hustling cars, auto rickshaws, bikes and ramshackle lorries. The sidewalk, seemingly dirty with a thick film of grease and smut, glimmered under the irrepressible afternoon sun. She sits on this sidewalk every day enveloped in the busy noises of the street markets, under the shades of a giant aging tree. This is her spot. Her little shop of custard apples is what sits in a tattered woven basket. Mornings start with the unfailing ritual to set it all up (ripe, tender ones upgraded atop the pyramid arrangement) on a flap of cardboard against the blue walls of the samosa shop, before the bazaar is enthusiastic and alive. It’s a pleasing sight to walk by, a reassurance of familiarity.

****

I woke up craving for a custard apple kind of morning.

Advertisements

Strangers on Valentine’s day

DSC_1342

To be or not to be, that is the question – Shakespeare

Winter post December, I feel, is often bittersweet, slow and quiet. The dreamy christmas windows, mulled wine, pop up eateries all fade away. We timidly wake up from the picture-perfect postcard life with a fresh serving of new resolutions and a blob of good old procrastination on the side. Busy weeks pass by like a fast-forwarded dream and then we stop a little; it’s February 14th – a day to celebrate love. 

I stand in a queue with a bottle of roasted peanuts in hand and a dismal five dollar bill. “Next customer please”. I walk up to the cash counter, to a tall brunette. “How are you today? Happy Valentine’s day, if you are celebrating.”

To you as well, I said. She had a thick layer of sparkles on her eyelids, glittering in silver and blue.

“I’m not celebrating.” I could tell. Beneath the dramatic makeup, it was an easy give away. She handed the receipt. “I love what you have done to your eyes.”, I said. She lit up a bit. “It’s NYC, if you would like to try”.

Waiting at the train station earlier that morning, I caught a whiff of romance and passion in the air. After-all, tonight is the night. Crisp red roses, fancy hairdo’s to go with crimson red gowns, last minute scurry for pretty gift wrappers, lots of scented candles – lavender, cinnamon or just anything labelled love with a cupid and a heart and surprise dinner reservations. Oh yes. The evenings are beautiful. The tables are decked with special candles tonight and a complimentary tall vase with roses, carefully placed in the centre.

“Well, it was nice, different from the usual bottle of wine and red roses, you know..” There was a trace of doubt in her voice. She walked past me, phone on one ear, her slender form enhanced in her pencil skirt and suede pumps. Here is a day reminding us about love (or the lack of one). I look at happy faces inside cars at a traffic point. With blow dried hair and red lipstick, she buries her nose into a velvety bundle of red roses. It’s a day of plentiful reflections; reflections of love, happiness, life.

It’s that time of the year again when most of us are in romantic harmony. We dress. We groom. Dine. Drink. Walk under moonlight. Exchange expensive gifts. Get surprised. Act surprised. Kiss each other goodnight and snuggle up in love. It’s a beautiful life. If only we could stop for a while and think – maybe love needn’t be just a one day celebration. It’s sunrise again. Until next year, it’s time to instagram #aboutlastnight and get back to work.

A little note to my readers

Thank youWhen I started writing Happily Muffined last year, I imagined this space on the internet to be a little cozy corner, an imaginary warm and quiet nook to cuddle up into in a room full of tall shelves of old books, a cup of lady grey with a spot of cold milk, a french window overlooking the hills through the seasons and indoor creepers growing wild and happy. I am overjoyed that today people want to connect to this space and read about it. I want to thank you all for helping HM grow and for being a part of it all. While the tea brews, welcome to this little abode. In the days to come, I am working towards bringing together collections of photographic stories from off beaten parts of the world, while continuing to learn and grow in the process.

I am now back from a little vacation with many adventures and stories to write about. New post coming soon :  Edinburgh series.

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.

DSC_1319IMG_0611bf.jpg

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.

IMG_0405

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.

Old fashioned delights

hoboken

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.

HB 3

Hb 2

Hb 1

HB 4

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.

oats

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.

DSC_1207