Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More Puthucode Memories

There was far more excitement this time as I was going to meet many of my cousins whom I hadn’t met in a long time and also because I was going to look at everything from a different perspective; I was going to collect material for my blog.

As soon as the train leaves Coimbatore Junction, I get myself glued to the window savoring each picture postcard scenario as it unfolds. I feel as if I have put all those flowers there and I know all the people living in the hutments lining the railway line. Each time I pass, I can see some new bungalows standing in the middle of nowhere, with 2 or more cars and I start thinking about the people living there and where were they all these days and before I knew it, we would be at Palghat Junction. And I love the bus ride from Palghat to Puthucode, where I can once again see all the familiar houses and landmarks and trees and flowers and streams. I see the school children getting into the bus and getting out. Where I used to see girls and boys barefooted but definitely with an umbrella, I can now see all of them wearing shoes or slippers. Boys in those days had half trousers, or knickers as they were called, or mundus (dhotis) and today, they are all dressed in full pants. Girls with open hair, wet after the morning bath, with an umbrella in one hand and their lunch boxes and books in the other hand used to be in long skirts and blouses and older girls in half sarees. Now there is a uniform dress code, in smaller places in India, the Salwar Kameez or Dress as they call it.

Almost in no time, the bus has taken the turn near the mosque and we are at the thottupalam (bridge). These days we have autorickshaws to take us from this point to our house, which is hardly 500mts. I prefer to walk, so that I can meet people on the road and exchange pleasantries.

Our house was already overflowing with guests who had already arrived, all extended family members and eagerly awaiting the ones who were to arrive later in the day.

I reached one day prior to the commencement of the functions. By evening all the guests had arrived, well most of them. Others were coming the next day and the day after.

So here we were, the cousins, our Echiyammas’s elder granddaughters coming together after a very looooong time. The younger ones were not there yet.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Puthucode Memories

As promised, I am (finally!) ready to write about my trip to Kerala to participate in the Upanayanam and Choulam of my nephews.

I would like to warn at the very outset that this is not intended to be an elaborate commentary on Upanayanam and Choulam, as I could not keep questioning the priest at each ritual. Even otherwise, whenever I asked him to explain the meaning of some ritual, he would say, “here she comes with a paper and pen.” However, the meanings of some of the rituals could be seen here and there.

As I have already said, we had just done the grihapravesham (i, ii) of our flat and were planning to shift to the new place before we left for Kerala. Only later did we realise that the builder had some more work to finish, like the final coat of painting and the final polishing of the floor. Hence we decided to postpone shifting to a later date. However we had started the packing and were loading one room with the packed cartons.

This is how one of our rooms looked then (and now also).

Going to Kerala has always been exciting for me. I get lost in nostalgia. Though I have spent only ¼ of my life in Kerala, to this day that remains the most memorable time to me. We didn’t have any coffee joints or any cinema houses where we friends could get together. Nor did we have any shopping sprees where daddy’s hard earned money could be spent. We were confined to our agraharam and we did not even go to the other agraharams, unless there was a purpose. Then we had our thodu, (the stream) where we friends would meet every day and exchange stories (what happened between 6.30pm the previous day and 8.00am on that day) and had a lovely time splashing about in the water. Some of us also took along our younger siblings and taught them swimming. Our washing would also get over along with the bath. When we did not return in some reasonable time, our elders would stand outside our houses and would send word with others coming to the thodu, to ask us to come home soon “or else.” After school, we would again get together on the street, gramam or agraharam as it is known and play games of dice or I-spy, or simply run around and make a lot of noise. Nobody would check us. Then we would all go to the temple and meet others from the other gramams and by 6.30pm, we had to be inside our respective houses. No staying out after 6.30pm. There were so many events and happenings and stories to relate to our echiyamma (grandmother) and others when we came home. This was the only communication line they had. No phones; no getting together for the older women. Even we young girls had the privilege only till we attained puberty. After that it was only going to the thodu and temple. No loitering around in the gramam. Luckily for me, I left my gramam at that age, so I did not have any restrictions until I left. All these memories rush to my mind each time I plan a visit to Puthucode.

How come there isn’t as much to remember from the later years as there is from the first 14 years of my life? As usual, I always put this question to my best friend and philosopher, my dear husband. Depending on the mood of the day, he will give me a different but acceptable answer each time.

I had been going back almost every year in the beginning; actually every vacation when I was in college and also as long as our children were in primary school. It was only after I took up a full time job and my in-laws became old and I could not leave them alone that my visits became rare, just popping in for some important functions and returning the same evening.

As always, having started writing about my Upanayanam trip, I have drifted to my childhood days and Puthucode. This is, perhaps, what makes it so memorable. I don’t know if today’s children have so much to remember about the place they grow up in. Even today, when I start talking to my mother over phone, we will drift from one topic to another and finally wouldn’t discuss the topic on hand at all. Alas, that trend is fast disappearing. Today people have nothing to talk about after the cursory, “Hello, how do you do”. I sometimes feel, they are afraid they would disclose something about themselves or their family, if they talked more. It was not so then. Two people had to just meet and they would exchange everything they knew about everybody. They were not hesitant to discuss their children or family with others. Everyone accepted that every family had problems and by discussing with others they would invariably get a solution from the experience of someone or by drawing parallels. At the very least one got the tension out. I do not remember hearing of anyone having to go to a cousellor or a psychiatrist in those days. There were always friends, philosophers and guides in the gramam. It was one large family after all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Recipe: Palpayasam

Let us have a sweet ending to our 100th episode (and start the next 100!) with a special recipe for Palpayasam. Palpayasam is known as the king of payasams. The palpayasam of Ambalapuzha is world famous, though I have never had an opportunity to taste the delicacy. The Kerala palpayasam is any day more delicious than palpayasams of any other region.

There is an interesting story about the palpayasam, which my husband relates to our guests whenever we serve the delicacy. The story is about an elaborate Sadhya (feast) where many distinguished guests were gathered. Kunjan Nambiar, Kerala’s renowned poet, who was famous for his ready wit, was among the guests. After having his fill of all the special dishes served, Nambiar announced, “I am full, I cannot have anything more.” The king, who wanted to have a dig at Nambiar, ordered for palpayasam. In came palpayasam and, unable to refuse the king, Nambiar had a go at it. The King asked, “Nambiar, you said you were full and can have no more of any thing. How is it that you had so much of palpayasam?” Quick came Nambiar’s reply, “Your Majesty, imagine a huge gathering of people with not an inch to spare. Don’t they make way if the Maharaja is announced? Similarly, when palpayasam goes in, the other items in the stomach move aside to accommodate it.” Needless to mention, palpayasam is the “Maharaja” of payasams.

The Kerala palpayasam gets its special taste from the thickening of the milk, sugar and rice in vast urulis.

It is also special in the sense that there are no added flavours like cardamom or saffron and garnishing like dry fruits, etc. In its simplicity lies its deliciousness!

The payasam is made in large urulis or charakkus and is stirred with long handled ladles known as chattukam which measure many metres in length. As I promised in my post on Idichu Pizhinja Payasam, I got pictures of these when I was in my village last month.

The first picture here is an uruli, currently lying unused in our ancestral home. The second is one of people actually making the payasam at my nephew's upanayanam there last month.

Though the original version called for preparation in small urulis, I have an easy recipe to prepare the payasam in a pressure cooker without the hassles of constant stirring and the extra care to not burn the milk at the bottom or boil it over.

Special thanks for teaching me this easy method goes to my aunt, Vasantha Chithi, who painstakingly explained to me the minute details of this method of preparing this payasam, which has never gone wrong. Thanks once again, chithi.

Here is the recipe for the palpayasam.

Since I always try to simplify my recipes to suit the requirements of our younger (handsome and charming, natch) son, who lives alone and loves to cook, I am giving below the recipe for just two servings. The quantity may be increased by multiplying the ingredients to suit individual requirements. Only take care to use larger pressure cookers when increasing the quantities of ingredients.

To make the payasam with 1 litre of milk, you should use at least a 5 litre pressure cooker.


Milk (Preferably full cream): ½ litre (500ml)
Sugar: ½ cup
Rice: 2 tbsp

Sterilize the cooker by boiling 2 cups of water in it and rinse the lid and the weight with the boiled water, so that the milk won’t curdle. I do this exercise whenever I prepare milk based sweets.

Boil the milk and sugar in the pressure cooker. Wash the rice. When the milk starts boiling, reduce the heat to the lowest gas mark and add the rice. This payasam is best prepared on a gas stove, though I have prepared this payasam on an electric stove also. One needs to be very careful to control the temperature. Place a small spoon or a small shallow plate inside the cooker so that it will do the stirring action when the cooker is shut. Stir the contents well and close the cooker. Place the weight on the valve when steam escapes and allow the payasam to cook on a low heat. Switch off the stove after 20 minutes (If using an electric stove, switch off after 10 minutes). Open the cooker 30 minutes after switching off. Your delicious, creamy, Maharaja of payasam is ready.


A few points to be given special attention:

Use a cooker large enough to hold all ingredients.
Reduce the heat to the minimum after placing the weight on the valve.
Switch off only after 20 mnts.
Open the cooker 30 mnts after switching off.

First century!

This, my 100th post, has been a long time in coming owing to various reasons, one of them being my moving to Hyderabad to spend time with our elder son. Having started to blog in 2005 while visiting with our younger son, the two years of my blogging have gotten me a lot many friends from all over the world, and it feels nice when total strangers compliment me on my blog. Two years is definitely a very long time for 100 posts and I sort of try to feel justified in my irregular blogging whenever people ask me how I find time to blog.

Our son lives in a huge house with a vast garden; we need an intercom to communicate with each other and a bicycle to go around the house. I have my own exclusive enclosed cobbled courtyard to gaze at the sun and the stars; only the mosquitoes will not allow me to have the pleasure for long. It took a while settling down in the new house, as my son himself has recently shifted here and had not unpacked the boxes containing the kitchenware. He had done an excellent job of the packing though; the contents of all the boxes neatly tabulated down to the spoon and fork and carefully packed. Though they had been cleaned before packing, I am so fussy about the cleanliness of kitchenware that I had to clean and sun-dry them all over again. After 2 weeks, I am almost through with the job. As always with company allocated accommodation, there are lots of small jobs to be done, a switch here, a tap there and so on which gets done at its own slow pace.

The weather in Hyderabad is very pleasant at this time. It is cool and breezy (we are surrounded by tall neem trees and other trees like sithaphal, moringa, etc) with intermittent showers.

Now that I have started blogging again, I hope to be more regular. Wish me Good Luck!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Recipe: Brinjal Masala curry

I have been preparing this curry for a long time. I don’t think I learnt it from any recipe book or from anyone. I just started making my own recipes and this one turned out to be superb. I learnt how delicious it was only when my sister-in-law asked me once, “I understand you prepare a new variety or brinjal curry that is just superb, how do you make it?”

Here is the recipe.

I use the round violet brinjals for this.


Dhania : 1 tbsp,
Chana dal: 1 tbsp+1tsp
Urad dal: 1 tbsp.+1tsp.
Hing : size of a pea
Red chillies : 2 or 3
Curry leaves : few
Brinjal: 250 grams
Onion: 1 big (100gms)
Tomatoes: 200 gms
Turmeric powder: 1tsp.
Mustard seeds : 1 tsp.
Salt to taste
Oil : 2 tbsp.

Coriander leaves for garnishing


Wash and cut the brinjals into 2” long pieces. Cut onions into small pieces. Cut the the tomatoes into small pieces.

Roast the hing, dhania, 1 tbsp. chana dal, 1 tbsp. urad dal, red chillies, and few curry leaves to a light pink color. Cool and coarsely powder.

Heat the oil, add mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the urad dal and chana dal. When they turn light pink in color, add the curry leaves and onion and saute until onions turn light pink in color. Add the tomatoes and saute until they are mushy. Add the brinjal and turmeric powder and salt and saute in medium heat until brinjal is cooked. Add the ground powder and remove from heat. Garnish with finely cut coriander leaves.

Serve with rice or chapatis.


Update: Needless to say, this post along with my recipe for Vangi bath and my first post on brinjals are my entries for JFI July.

Recipe: Vangi Bath

Vangi bath is a Karnataka specialty and is a full meal in itself. It is prepared with the long green variety of brinjals.


Brinjal : 200 gms
Dhania : 1 tbsp.
Chana dal : 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp.
Urad dal : 1 tbsp. + 1tsp.
Khus khus : ½ tsp
Hing : size of a pea
Sesame seeds: 1 tsp.
Cloves: : 2 nos.
Cinnamon : ½" stick
Marathi moggu: 1 piece (this spice looks like a big clove, I do not know the Hindi or English names of this spice. It is called Marathi Moggu in Karnataka)
Red chillies : 2 or 3
Curry leaves : few
Copra or dry coconut : 2 tbsp. (grated)
Gingelly (sesame) oil : 2 tbsp
Mustard seeds: 1 tsp.
Ground nuts : 1 tbsp.
Turmeric powder : 1 tsp.
Salt to taste.
Coriander leaves 1 tbsp.
Rice : 1 cup


Any cooking oil can be used according to individual taste. I prefer gingelly (also known as sesame or till) oil for this preparation for the flavour it adds to the dish.

Wash and cook the rice adding 1 tsp of gingelly oil to keep the rice grains separate (it should not be very soft). Spread in a plate to cool.

Heat ½ tsp oil and add the hing, dhania, 1 tbsp chana dal, 1 tbsp urad dal, khus khus, cloves, cinnamon, marathi moggu, red chillies and curry leaves and roast till the dals turn light pink in color and give off a nice aroma. Cool and powder coarsely.

Wash and cut the brinjals into 1” square pieces.

Heat the remaining oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the remaining urad dal, chana dal, ground nuts and curry leaves. When the dals turn light pink in color add the cut brinjals and saute them on low heat, adding turmeric powder and salt. When the brinjals are almost done add the ground powder and saute for another 5 minutes until they are thorughly mixed. Add the cooled rice and mix well. Garnish with finely cut coriander leaves and your vangi bath is ready.


Optionally 1 tbsp. of lemon juice can be mixed to the vangi bath.

Suggested accompaniments: Vangi bath is just delicious as such, or can be served with roasted papads, or raita, or keerai masiyal ( more about it later).

Update: Needless to say, this post along with my recipe for Vangi bath and my original post on brinjals are my entries for JFI July.

Brinjals all around

Brinjals (also known as eggplant in the U.S.) are available in different varieties. Though there are many varieties of brinjals available in market today, my early memories are only of the long variety in both green and violet colors. The round ones were seen less often. As I have said earlier, when we were growing up most of the vegetables we used were home grown and during the monsoon months we had only the lady’s fingers and brinjals grown in our back yards and the summer gourds hung from the ceilings.

There weren’t many different ways in which brinjals were cooked those days, the most popular ones beings the Mezhukkupuratti (either brinjals alone or in the combination of raw plantain and yam ), arachukalakki and the nezhukari. Brinjals were used in Sambar and molakoottal also.

Since our family had great Andhra connections (long story for another time), we also prepared the stuffed brinjals or Guthi Vangaya koora. My father also used to relish the simple Vangaya Veppudu, a cousin of our Mezhukkupuratti.

Brinjal has remained a favourite with our handsome and charming children also. I prepare many varieties of brinjal curries and I could write for a long time on brinjal recipes alone. Here then are the two recipes that I prepare quite often. The first is Vangi bath, the other is my own invention, I don't really have a name for it, I'm just calling it Brinjal Masala. Along with this post, those two comprise my entries for JFI July.