Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Merry Christmas 08

A Merry Christmas to All!

Although I might seem a little late with the cheer, the spirit of Christmas surely lingers around till New Year and hence it cannot be late.

As usual I did a quick tour down memory lane to see what I had been doing during all those Christmases in the past.

When we were growing up, Christmas meant 10 days of holidays at school, nothing more. We knew of only one Christian lady teacher in our local primary school whom we affectionately called “Christiani teacher”. To date, I don’t know her real name. I also do not know if she and her family celebrated Christmas and if so how. It was so until I went to college when there was a bang. Suddenly I was surrounded by Christians all around and that too, who in Malayalam are known as “Sathya Christianikal” (true Christians), for I went to a Jesuit college far far away from home (2 days and 2 nights by train) where all my close Malayali friends were Christians. My best friend was Sister Regis. It was there that I learnt about the true spirit of Christmas. All the girls in the hostel went to the college chapel everyday and knelt before the altar. I went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve along with my friends. We had plum cake and ginger wine after the mass. I don’t think I had tasted cakes before (cakes had eggs and moreover our village did not have a bakery then).

After marriage and arrival of the children, being in Bangalore, we got to see lot of happenings during Christmases. The most important ritual during those days for Christmas was a visit to the “cake exhibition” organized by Nilgiris. With children around, we started buying cakes for Christmas and New Year and their birthdays. Around this time, we were served home baked biscuits just out of oven during one of our visits to our cousin. I was surprised that some one could bake such crunchy biscuits at home. We immediately asked her from where she learnt the art and she told us about the course she attended in baking and confectionery. Without much ado, I joined the course also and the rest is history.
We started baking cakes on all occasions, Christmas, New year, Easter, Birthdays, Anniversaries, you name it.
So this year also, we baked a cake for Christmas, well in advance, as I was coming back to Hyderabad before Christmas. We have now standardized on the procedure . Only this time, we made a smaller cake. We used the following ingredients.

Maida : 80 gms
Eggs: 2 (large)
Sugar: 65 gms
Butter: 65 gms
Baking powder: ½ tsp.
Baking soda: ½ tsp.
Cinnamon powder: 1 tsp.
All spices powder: 1 tsp (I used home made garam masala)
Mixed nuts and fruits: 250gms (marinated in rum)
Caramelized sugar : 2 tsp

We used walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, cashewnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts, raisins, figs, cherries, dates and candied peels. My handsome and charming son enthusiastically poured in liberal amount of rum into the jar of nuts, I might have exercised a little more caution.

Merry Christmas to All Once again.

PS: Turns out that around the Blandings Media Empire, Just Landed is also trying to spread some Christmas cheer.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Our preordained destiny

Every day we are confronted with so much violence by way of terror strikes, ghastly accidents etc that there is a general feeling of insecurity all around. Suddenly nothing seems safe. One is not sure of returning home safe at the end of the day. If you thought air travel was unsafe, train travel is no better. Even waiting at the railway station is not safe anymore. Walking on the roads has never been safe. Just yesterday there was an incident of a vehicle mowing down innocent school children in Kerala. What is happening? Where is the end to all this? Who is responsible? Is there anyway any one can help? Nobody has an answer.

In times like these, our old timers used to get strength from their strong belief in preordained destiny. Whenever things went out of our control, we heard “everything will happen as preordained.” Perhaps that way, there was not much anguish in happenings over which we had no control at all. Let us do our best to keep things under control and then “Bhagavan vitta vazhi” (as God pleases). Does it mean that God is pleased when he allows some unpleasant things to happen? The answer then is that we have to bear the fruit of our Karma. Why is God taking away a child’s life so soon, what sin has he committed at such young age? The answer is, “he is given Moksha (salvation).” He just came into this world to fulfill his remaining karma and attained moksha once he achieved that. You cannot escape karma or destiny. We were told the story of Parikshit Maharaja to illustrate the point.

No story of Parkshit or other philosophies will wipe away the grief of someone who has lost a mother or father or wife or husband or sister or brother or son or daughter. It is very hard to accept the fact that a beloved son or father or mother or daughter is not going to come in through the doors any more. And then nothing is going to bring them back. Life has to move one. We need some anchor to draw strength from however small it might be. The whole world prays for that strength.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Heavens Smile On Us

As were taking a stroll after sunset yesterday, we were mesmerized by this extraordinary sight, a smiling moon. It was as though the heavens wanted to tell the terror battered Indians, “Cheer Up! There is still Hope!”

Come on Indians, We shall overcome!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kozhukattai Story

To follow up on my recipe for Kozhukattais, here is a story about kozhukattais on my Kathai Kathaiyam website.

Recipe: Upma Kozhukkattai

When I wrote the recipe for sweet kozhukkattais, I had promised that the recipe for other kozhukkattais would follow and somehow I have not been able to post all of them yet, though I did post ammini kozhukkattai sometime back. Among the varieties of kozhukkattias, Upma kozhukkattais are the ones made quite frequently as a breakfast item or an evening snack or as a substitute for dinner on the days when rice was not eaten. The snack gets its name Upma kozhukkattai as the kozhukkattais are made from an upma made of rice rava.
When we were children, there was no concept of a breakfast in many Iyer households, instead there was a brunch, followed by a tiffin in the afternoon. The midday, around 2.30 – 3.00pm, was the busiest time of the day, when the afternoon tiffin had to be prepared, followed by night dinner, children came back from school and the cows returned home. There are many stories describing the busy scene of this time. There are also many stories with Kozhukkattais as the theme. I have also written a story which depicts both the busy evening and the kozhukkattias.

During those days, Kozhukkattai was not a regular tiffin item at our house. We usually had idli, dosa or adai. My chithappa (paternal uncle) used to refer to kozhukkattai as Emden (M10) referring to the bomb used in the World War I.
My mother used to say that once when kozhukkattai was made, it turned out very hard and hence my chithappa named it as Emden. Those days, kozhukkattais were prepared by using ground boiled rice, which were very sticky and turned hard if it was not cooked in right quantity of water. These days, we use rava made of raw rice or the commercially available idli rava.

However, kozhukkattai was a favoured tiffin item in my husband’s house. My astute and blessed mother-in-law used to make the softest kozhukkattai and I have learnt the art from her. However I restrict myself in the quantity of tempering oil used. The secret of petal soft kozhukkattais lies in the quantity of oil and coconut used, my mother-in-law used to say. Her kozhukkattais and upma were very famous among my side of the family even. "Patti makes the best Upma," my brother used to say, referring to my mom-in-law.

The rava required for the recipe can be prepared at home or one can use the idli rava available commercially. To prepare the rava at home: Wash and drain raw rice and dry it by spreading on a clean cloth. Dry grind the rice coarsely in a mixer, to rava (sooji, semolina consistency). If one spoon of toor dal is added to every cup of raw rice while grinding, it adds to the taste. If you are making the kozhukkattai immediately, the rice need be spread on a towel only until the rice is just dry. However, if you plan to store the rava, dry it in sun, until the rice completely dry and crisp.

Here is the recipe:

Rice rava: 1 cup
Water: 2½ cups
Grated coconut: 2 tbsp.
Curry leaves: a few
Oil:1 tbsp.
Mustard:2 tsp
Urad dal: 2 tsp.
Chana dal: 2 tsp.
Red chillies: 2.
Hing powder: ½ tsp.
Coriander leaves: 1 tbsp (finely cut)
Salt to taste

The above are the usual ingredients for Upma kozhukkattai. For variety I always add either grated carrot or finely cut spinach while preparing the upma.


Use a thick bottomed pan. Heat the oil in the pan. When the oil is hot, add the hing powder, mustard, urad dal and chana dal. When the dals turn pink in color, add the broken red chillies and curry leaves and add the water and salt. When the water starts boiling add the grated coconut and finely cut coriander leaves (If you are using carrot or spinach, add these now). Add the rice rava and cook until all the water is absorbed. Remove from stove and keep closed for 10 minutes.

When the Upma is cool, mix it well and make small oblong kozhukkattais and steam them for 15-20 minutes. Absolutely delicious kozhukkattais are ready. Enjoy!

Kozhukkattais can be served with sambar, chutney or Podi. My favourite though, is kozhukkattai with rasam. My friend Lalitha says, kozhukkattais taste wonderful with Vattalkozhambu. Pick your choice and Enjoy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Recipe: Shahi Mysorepak

I was in Bangalore for Diwali. We have not been celebrating Diwali in a big way since my father-in-law’s passing away on Diwali day 20 years ago. Instead we observe his Shradham on that day.
My brothers and their families come visiting with all the goodies towards evening and my mother-in-law used to say, “Appa passed away after a full and happy life in the midst of his family after celebrating Diwali, so we should bring in Diwali after the shradham.” With the kids moving away for studies and later on work, I never used to prepare many goodies. This time around, both our children were with us and with my brothers and their families, we had a nice time.
My creative and multi-faceted niece who is in her early teens had prepared a melt-in-the-mouth delicacy, which she had named Shahi Mysorepak. I want to share the recipe with my readers. Here is her recipe. She herself has posted it on her Facebook page.

1/3 cup mixed dry fruit powder
1/3 cup milk powder
1/3 cup Besan
1 ½ cups of Sugar
2 cups ghee
1 cup water

1. Mix the sugar and water and put on boil while stirring continuosly.
2. In a bowl mix the dry powders.
3. Take 1/3 cup ghee, melt it, and add it and mix so that no lumps are formed
4. Allow the sugar to melt so that when you take a drop of it between your two fingers it sticks in two strings
5. Add the mixture in at this stage and stir while adding so that no lumps are formed
6. While on boil, add the rest of the ghee, after melting, little by little and boil while continuosly stirring.
7. Continue to boil until it starts leaving the sides of the bowl. Take off the flame and cool in a large sided plate.
8. While it is cooling, cut it into squares and continue cooling. Can be had after 5-10 mins of cooling.

Makes around 60 pieces

Recipe: Balushahi

That was a long time off. Getting back to blogging after so long is like getting back to school or work after a long vacation. The mood just doesn’t set in. Many things happened during this period, mainly I was shuttling back and forth between Bangalore and Hyderabad.

For Diwali, I made Balushahi, the recipe for which I had blogged a long time ago when I was new to this. I had not published the pictures then. This time around, I managed some pictures, holding the camera with the right hand and managing the balushahi with my left.

Last time around, I had given the measurements in cups. For those who would be more comfortable with weights, I have the measurements in weights now. Here we go.
Maida : 500gms
Margarine or Vanaspati : 250 gms
Sugar : 500 gms
Thick curds: 2 tbsp.
Soda bi carbonate: a pinch
Rose essence : few drops(optional)
Oil for frying
Method is here.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Onam 2008 Recap

Well, we have bid farewell to Mahabali (Onam primer) for 2008 and all Keralites must be taking a breather after the month long feasts for eyes, ears and most of all the taste buds. It took me almost one week to emerge from the hangover. I am reminded of the verses learnt during school days, which goes to say that even during those days, people got exhausted after the visit of Mahabali. I don’t remember all the verses, it went something as follows:

Maveli ninte varavu moolam,
Paavangal kashtathilaayi nanagal
Varnapookaadukal kandu kandu
Kannile kazcha maranju poyi
Kannezhuthennu vannu
Vinnilalakkunna pooviliyaal
Annakku mannattayayi mari
Nendrapazhathodu malladichu
Konthranpallokke thakarnnu poyi
Upperi pappadam thinnu thinnittulla
Ruchiyum paraparnnu
Maaveli ninte varavu moolam
paavangal Kashtathilaayi nangal

Oh Mahabali, we poor people are put to a lot of hardship because of your arrival
Our vision has started blurring seeing the vast expanse of blooming gardens
We are unable to remove the kaajal applied to our eyes, despite rubbing with sand paper
Our vocal chords have gone hoarse after repeatedly hailing you
Our teeth are broken eating nendrapazhams
We have lost all our appetite after eating loads and loads of chips and papads

So went the verses. So I am justified in taking this week long off before concluding my series on Onam. Here then is my grand finale for Onam 2008.

We had a fantastic Onam, again with both our kids at home after a long time. We had Pazhapulissery, Kootukari, Pachadi, Puliinji, Varuthupperi, Sarkkara Upperi, Papadam, Pazha nurukku and a grand Ada Pradhaman. I shall post the recipes in due course. These days, I stagger making of the dishes across multiple days as no one is able to do justice if all the dishes are made on the same day. Hence the whole range of Sambar, Kalan, Olan, Aviyal, Erissery, Pachadi, Kichadi, Kari, Kootu, Thoran, Puliinji, etc., get spread over the season and not on Thiruvonam day. So also with Payasams. We had Semiya Payasam on Uthradam day, Ada Pradhaman on Thiruvonam and Paal Payasam on Avittam day.

Onam is celebrated differently in different parts of Kerala. Whereas in the Kerala Iyer community of Palghat, Onam is only feasting and making pookalams, the other communities make pyramid shapes with a flat top, with clay called Madevar and invoke Mahavishnu and Mahabali in them and offer poojas to Neyvedyam for Madevar is Elayadai or Valsan or Poovadai as it is called by different people. Many people offer Unniyappam also to Madevar.
My sister-in-law, hailing from South Kerala, tells me about the practice of pinning flower buds on to banana stems (a la Mr Sivamony in comments here) and decorating the pookalam. She says that in their village they make the pookalams the previous evening so that they are free on Thiruvonam morning. Also the practice of making an angular pookalam on Moolam day (moola means corner in Malayalam) is unheard of in our part.
Similarly the entertainments of Thiruvonam season also differ. Whereas the boat race is the main attraction in the backwater ridden southern districts, it is Pulikali (tiger dance) in the central and northern districts. In the interior rural villages like Puthucode, it is villupattu and Kaikottikali.

The main attraction everywhere though is the Onam feast and the camaraderie .

Happy times until the next Onam!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Recipe: Ammini Kozhukkattai

Ammini Kozhukkattai means small kozhukkattais. We make both sweet and salty ammini kozhukkattais. The salty ones are also known as Porichukottina Kozhukkattai as they are stir fried in hot oil tempered with mustard and other seasonings, a process known known as Porichukottal in Kerala Tamil and Porithukottal or Thalithu kottal in Pure Tamil. They are very tasty and are good for breakfast or evening snack. I had been wanting to make ammini kozhukkattai for a long time, but as usual it kept getting postponed. So when I was making the rice dough for sweet kozhukkattai for Ganesh Chaturthi, I made a little extra dough, so I could schedule amminis for the evening. Here is the recipe.


Rice flour : 1 cup
Water : 2 cups
Salt to taste
Coconut oil : 1 tbsp + 1 tsp
Mustard : 1 tsp
Split urad dal : 1tsp
Chana dal : 1tsp
Red chillies: 1or 2
Curry leaves : few
Hing : ¼ tsp
Coconut gratings: 1 tbsp.(optional)
Turmeric powder : 1tsp(optional)


Heat a thick bottomed pan and add 1 tsp of coconut oil to it. Add one cup of water and salt and allow to boil. Mix the rice flour with 1 cup of water and add to the boiling water and stir continuously. When the dough leaves the sides of the pan in a ball, remove from the stove. Keep covered for 10 minutes. When cool, smear a little oil in your palms and knead the dough well . Make small marble sized balls out of the dough and steam in a steamer or idli cooker for 20 minutes. Allow to cool.

Heat the remaining oil in a pan and when the oil starts smoking, add the hing, mustard, urad dal, chana dal and broken red chillies. When the dals starts turning pink add the curry leaves and turmeric powder. Add the steamed kozhukkattais and grated coconut and stir fry for 5 minutes. If the kozhukkattais are steamed properly, they will not break while stir frying. Remove from stove and enjoy yummy ammini kozhukkattais!

I had not been using turmeric powder, all these days while making ammini kozhukkattais. This time, however, hubby dear asked me add turmeric powder, as he had seen someone using turmeric powder for ammini kozhukkattai on one of the cookery shows on the TV. Hence the addition of turmeric powder (optional).

Ponnin Chingam

Kalla Karkitakam left long ago and Ponnin Chingam (Golden Chingam) arrived with a bang. Festival followed festival leaving me no time to sit and write. I wanted to write a welcoming blog post for Chingam, which started with Aavini Avittam. Before I knew it was Gokulashtami or Janmashtami. I thought let me catch up before Ganesh Chaturthi. I decided to write before Onam, atleast.

Meanwhile, my handsome, charming and apparently enterprising son posted the pictures of my simple Pookalams on a day to day basis (this is an additional chore now). “The same flowers, the same combinations,” I commented. “Still, they are different,” he says. So there they are. Hope you all are enjoying.

Aavini Avittam has always been a big festival in our house, done in the proper prescribed norms, followed by Gayathri japam the next day. This aavini avittam was special as this is the first time both our sons are with us celebrating Aavini avittam, after twelve years. Our younger son had never been home for Aavini avittam after he left for the US in 1996 on an aavini avittam day. Our elder son of course, used to come home occasionally for the festival. We had a grand lunch with Rasakalan, vendakkai pachadi (lady’sfinger), beans thoran, Vella payar and Kadalaparippu Pradhaman.

For Gokulashtami, we had sweet and salty cheedais, Vella Avil and Payasam.

We offered Sweet Kozhukattai, Chundal and Payasam to Ganesha on Ganesh Chaturthi. In the evening I made Ammini Kozhukkattai, the recipe for which will follow.My son was asking me why I did not make Ulundu Kozhukattai. Well I did not have time and also I thought it would be too many things on a single day. I shall be making them soon.

We are already on the threshold of Onam. Happy Onam to all my friends!

Sixth Day of Onam

UPDATE: A couple hours and a mild drizzle later:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Monsoon Memories

When I had written so much about monsoon rains and Karkitakam and my longing to enjoy the rain, I think Lord Varuna decided to grant me my wishes. Starting from 6.30pm on Friday till 4 am on Sunday, we had incessant rains in Hyderabad. It just poured and poured, throwing life out of gear for working people.

When it started on Friday evening, I remembered the old Malayalam saying, “Andhikku vanna mazhayaum, Sandhyakku vanna virunnum vittu pokilla,” which means that the rain that starts at the nightfall and the guest who comes around the same time are sure to stay. I say old Malayalam saying because the latter part of the saying may not be relevant today. This was truer some 50 years ago or before when the places were not connected well and the transportation facilities were minimal. So a guest who dropped in after 4 in the evening was expected to stay for dinner. The first part of the saying holds good even today for nature has clearly not changed. The rain that started light soon became heavy and by the time we turned in, it had worked up to a nice rhythm. The power went off soon enough to return only after some 18hrs.

On Saturday morning, when we woke up, there was no power (which meant no hot water for our bath), no water (in the taps I mean, there was plenty of water around the house), the maid did not turn up (I had to do the dishes) and there was no sign of the rain stopping. Instead of cribbing (to myself, who else?), I decided to enjoy the situation by planning a simple, typical Karkitakam menu of Nazhukari and vegetable kootu (nazhukari recipe later) and pulled a chair near the window with my embroidery, so that I could see the rain in all its glory. (No electricity and so no mixie for grinding masalas and coconut and no grinding stone of olden times for manual grinding either; so what else to cook?) Though we have had continuous rains for days together in Bangalore, I could never sit and enjoy the rain as it were. Those days, I was busy with a full time job and a family with two growing kids and aging parents-in-law, so the moment it started raining, my thoughts were always tactical, how I would reach the office or home as the case may have been or how the children would reach home from school, or how my moped would go through all the water logged areas, etc. Not much time to enjoy the rain. These days, although I am comparatively free, we don’t have those type of rains. So now I did not want to miss my God given opportunity. It was like the typical Karkitakam rains of Kerala, where it would work up to a crescendo and start weakening down and again go up and again come down. As in Kerala, we are living in a house with tiled (the famous mangalore tiles, of course) roof and the patter of water falling from the awnings on to the paved porch was like music to my ears. Sitting there doing my embroidery and watching the rain took me back to my Puthucode days.

All the houses with tiled roof had a metallic gutter on the roof where the roof sloped and the rain water would be collected in this gutter and would be routed either to a large sink called nadumittam or to the open outside the house. When there were heavy rains, water would pour through this opening and for children like us who had not seen anything beyond our village, it was like watching the Niagara. We would go and stand in the water (and get spanked for inviting cold and fever in the rainy season) and splash the water on each other and all around (Veshu, our maid, would admonish us saying, “I just swabbed the place and you have splashed water again, get inside children.” Yes those days, maids could admonish us; they were a part of the family in villages).
The toilets were far away in the backyard and we had to wait for the rain to stop and we had to go up and down a few steps and walk a few meters of a slippery stretch to reach the toilets. Those days, most of the houses did not have a roof on the toilet. Just outside our toilet there was a huge tamarind tree. When the rain stopped and we got inside the toilet, all the water trapped on the leaves and branches would start dripping on us in a simulated rain. Once again our mother would scold us, you got wet again? I was lost in all those sweet memories, when I was woken by the “drip, drip” on my head. I just looked up to see, water leaking from the tiled roof. This completes the picture, I thought. I moved from where I was and went around the house to see more drips in all the rooms. I kept small cups and buckets wherever possible to collect the dripping water. As the drip got worse I started worrying about moving books, electronics etc away from the drips. Thankfully it didn’t get to that.
In Puthucode, we used to keep big Arikkanchattis and Chembus, wherever there were big leaks. Once we had kept a big Chembu (this is a huge round pot about 4 to 5ft in diameter used to boil paddy, made of copper, hence the name Chembu) in our kitchen to catch the dripping water. The sides of the chembu were cracked and had jagged ends. It was about 7.30pm and there was no electricity. My brother and our cousin, the same duo who were mentioned in my earlier post, were running around the house, playing. Suddenly there was a loud noise followed by the crying of the two. We all rushed towards the source of the noise. What did we find? The two had fallen down, my brother inside and the other outside the chembu. The child outside the chembu escaped without much injury. The jagged ends of the chembu had pierced the cheeks of the other one who had fallen inside the chembu and there were three holes into his mouth cavity. After the preliminary awws and ohs and blaming the mothers for not minding the children and scolding the unscathed child for making the other fall, etc., when some calm was restored, our Kalathappa ordered for the doctor to be called. And what did the injured child say? I can still remember his saying, “Amma give me food before the doctor comes, otherwise he will say, don’t give him any thing to eat till tomorrow.” We all burst out laughing inspite of ourselves. And to see the trouble my brother’s son gives his mother at each meal time now, takes me back to those days when children actually looked forward to eat.

That the doctor came and prescribed some pills and the wounds healed without any antibiotics and sutures would be hard to believe these days.

The rain is likely to continue for another 36 hrs says the met dept.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Karkitakam (Aadi) Thoughts

With all the rains and people not able to get out of their houses, Karkitakam (or Aadi) ends up being a month full of many religious activities. As I said earlier, there are regular Ramayanam recitals and also Pujas for the Bhagavathi . Apart from this, most Kerala Iyer families perform Bhagavati Seva during Karkitakam, which is believed to be the highest form of worshipping Devi. The other festivals during Karkitakam are Aadi Amavasya (new moon day of the month of Karkitakam), Aadi Krithikai and Aadi Pooram, and Pathinettam Perukku.

Although pithru tharpanam is performed for our deceased ancestors on all new moon days, Aadi Amavasya is specially observed as the day for paying obeisance to the ancestors and taking their blessings. In Kerala especially, Vavu Bali or Vavubali Tharpanam is an important ritual in the month of Karkitakam. Though in the Kerala Iyer community only men perform the tharpanam, among the native Kerala Hindus both men and women participate in offering bali or tharpanam to the ancestors. Usually, it is performed at river banks or beaches or wherever there is a water body. Many people make a special visit to the important religious places like Thirunelli, Thirunavaya, Aluva, etc., to offer bali on Karkitaka Amavasya.

In Karnataka, Aashada Amavasya is observed as Bhimana Amavasya. On this day, married women worship for the well being of their husbands. I am told they even do Padapuja to their husbands. Aadi Krithikai is an important festival in the Lord Subramanya temples, which is celebrated on the day of the Krithika star in the month of Karkitakam. Aadi Pooram is celebrated in all the Devi temples and is believed to be the birthday of Devi. Pathinettam Perukku is the 18th day in the month of Aadi or Karkitakam and is a big festival day in Tamil Nadu, especially in the Cauvery Delta region. By the 18th of the month, there would have been heavy rains and the rivers would be overflowing the banks. People go out on picnic to the river banks and offer Pooja to Cauvery and enjoy the day with friends and relatives. In Kerala though, Iyers never took a picnic out, but had an elaborate lunch at home. As children, we used to write the Malayalam Aksharamala (alphabet) and sailed it in the overflowing water on this day. I don’t remember the significance of this. However, this is not celebrated in Karnataka, where the Cauvery originates.

Aadi Velli or the Fridays in the month of Karkitakam are especially dedicated to propitiate Devi Bhagavati. Special poojas are performed at home by the women folk. We used to have a Maa Vilakku or Pachai pooja on the Friday of the Karkitakam. Different families conducted this pooja on different Fridays. As it was not performed by my mother-in-law, I am not very sure of the rituals. I only remember that we used to decorate the pooja room with rangoli and neem leaves and red hibiscus flowers. Rice was pounded to fine powder and again pounded with jaggery to make sticky dough. Little lamps were made out of this dough into which ghee was added, the wick inserted and the lamps were lit. My echiyamma said some special prayers and offered the maavu (sweet dough) to Devi. Later this maavu was distributed among all the other ladies of the neighbor hood. This dough was very tasty, especially the portion in which the wick was lit (to us children who were unspoilt by candy, icecream and other junk food)

I remember an interesting anecdote about this Maa vilakku Pooja. This happened when I was perhaps 7 or 8 years of age. There was this Maa vilakku pooja in one of the neighbouring houses and they had sent the maavu home. My aunt was distributing the maavu to all children. My younger brother, who was 4 and my cousin who was 3 were not happy with the portion they got. They asked for more. My aunt said that it was all over. When these two kids insisted for having more, my aunt said, “You have to go to Sethuppa’s house, if you want more.” That was the house which was performing that pooja on that day. After sometime when we could not see the kids around, we started looking for them in the neighbourhood. Where should they be, but at Sethuppa’s house. Both were coming out with beaming faces and full of maavu in their hands. Sethumma (Sethuppa’s wife) said, “When I came out, I saw these two kids standing on our front steps. I asked them to come inside and enquired what they wanted. They said, ‘We wanted more maavu and amma said if we wanted more maavu we have to go to Sethuppa’s house. That’s why we are here.’” Sethumma was so overcome with joy that two kids should come to their house asking for maavu, she filled their hands with maavu and sent them home. Seeing the kids’ happy faces we all burst out laughing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Aaniyum Aadiyum story

To celebrate the onset of Aani and Aadi, I have posted a story that my mother in law used to tell my children on the stories website, Kathai Kathaiyam Karanamam.

My handsome and charming son has also added a section on the sidebar to the right that keeps up to date with the latest posts on our other blogs. Justlanded in particular seems to see a lot of activity.

Recipe: Kovil Payasam

Having said so much about the invocation and installation of Bhagavathy to ward off all evils and bring in prosperity, the next question naturally is, "what is the special food prepared and offered to Bhagavathy on Karkitaka Sankranthi day?" There is no elaborate sadhya prepared and yet, being Sankranthi, something special needs to be prepared. The rice is cooked in a special way known as Pongal sadham, which is different from the usual pongals. Actually in Kerala Iyer households in the olden days, Pongal meant this Pongal sadham; we were not introduced to Venpongal or Sarkkarai Pongal then. There is a sambar to go with the Pongal and a simple vegetable curry, vadams and a simple payasam.

This Sankranthi, I prepared what in our house is known as Kovil Payasam, since this is the payasam usually prepared in the temples for neivedyams. This is a very simple payasam to make. In those days, whenever we wanted to offer payasam to the temple deity, we would carry the rice, jaggery, coconut, the uruli in which to prepare the payasam and of course one or two pieces of firewood to cook the payasam, to the temple. The Poojari then would prepare the payasam, offer as neivedyam and give the prasadam back to us. We would carry the uruli and payasam back home.

Now for the recipe

Rice: 1cup
Jaggery: 2 cups
Grated coconut: ½ cup
Ghee: 2 tbsp.
Cardamom powder: 1 tsp.


Wash the rice and cook in a pressure cooker using 3 cups of water. Dissolve the jaggery in one cup of water. Strain the jaggery and pour the strained syrup in a thick-bottomed pan. Add the cooked rice and keep stirring until all the liquid is evaporated. Add the grated coconut, ghee and cardamom powder. Offer this payasam as neivedyam to Sree Bhagavathy and partake the prasadam.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mithunam and Karkitakam (Aaniyum Aadium)

In Kerala the monsoon stretches on and on. It starts with the south-west monsoon during Edavapathi and moves on to become Thulavarsham during the north-east monsoon. The old timers say there is a difference in the way it rains during the two monsoons. The Edavapathi moves on to the months of Mithunam and Karkitakam (Aani and Aadi) which are wetter. And Karkitakam is the month when the rain never seems to stop. The skies are always a sinister dark and there could be a cloud burst at any moment. Karkitakam is a very difficult month in Kerala, especially for the daily wage earners as there would be no work for them due to incessant rains. There won’t be much to eat either as the reserve food would have been consumed by the start of Karkitakam. Hence the month is aptly called Kalla Karkitakam or the evil month.

Though it is called Kalla Karkitakam, a lot of preparation goes into welcoming Karkitakam. People start preparing for the month well in advance. In the summer, we would hang gourds like pumpkin, ashgourd, vellari (it is called calabash, I think) from hooks from the ceiling for use in Karkitakam, since there would be no vegetables available during the month of Karkitakam itself thanks to the non-stop rains. This was especially so in the olden days when people had to make do with local produce. The mud roads would get cut off very often due to heavy rains making it impossible to bring anything from nearby villages also. The womenfolk would have made sun dried wafers and vegetables in the summer for use in Karkitakam. And there were of course some mangoes and jackfruits still coming in. And the jackfruit seeds! The children loved it, For some reason, the elders were not very fond of them.

The whole house was given a good cleaning and no nook or corner was spared. Even the ceilings were cleaned to make sure that there were no insects or reptiles that would have made the cool interiors their home during the hot summer. The insides of the houses would always be dark during these months making it difficult to spot such creatures. Hence the thorough cleaning. Most houses had a tiled roof and there were always some dried leaves and other junk accumulated on them during the summer months, which if not cleared would hold the rain water which would start seeping into the house.
The day before the Karkitaka Sankranthi (1st of Karkitakam, around 15th July, 16th July in 2008) there is a ritual of driving out the evil spirit of Jyeshta and welcoming in the benign Sreebhagavathy (The Godess of Prosperity). The house is cleaned with a broom and a muram (a dustpan made of bamboo) and the trash is thrown out with chants of “Chetta purathu, Sreedevi Akathu,” which meant, let us drive out Jyeshta (the evil spirits) and welcome Sreedevi.

Girls and women wear marudhani (mehndi) in their hands and feet. It was not only a beautification, marudhani protected the feet from worm infections that were common during the monsoon, we all walked barefoot back then.

The first day of Karkitakam also happens to be the beginning of Dakshinayanam, the day when the sun starts its southward movement. On this day, Sankaramana Tharpanam is offered to the pitrus, seeking their blessings. Thereafter Sreebhagavathy is invocated and installed in the puja room on a decorated plank or low stool, by lighting a lamp. A religious book like the Bhagavatham or Ramayanam is kept on the plank along with a valkannadi(mirror), betel leaves and nuts, turmeric and kumkum, flowers and a glass of water. The betel leaves and nuts and flowers and water are changed everyday throughout the month. Puja is offered everyday seeking protection from the ill effects of continuous rains and praying for prosperity in the following months.

A lot of religious activities go on during the month of Karkitakam seeking the blessings of Gods. In Kerala, the month is also known as Ramayana Masam as people read the Ramayana in this month. Usually it is a community activity with the neighbours congregating at one house in the evenings and reading the holy book after lighting the lamp. .Nowadays, the Ramayanam reading is arranged in the temples where people congregate.

Happy Ramayana Maasam to all readers.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monsoon Magic

June is the month when school reopens after the summer holidays in many parts of the country. It is on June 1st that schools reopen in Kerala and it is also the day when the south west monsoon breaks out in Kerala, which in Kerala is known as Edavapathi as it starts by the 15th of the Malayalam month of Edavam. The Kerala monsoon is to be experienced to be believed. No words can describe the sheer magic of the rains. It just pours and pours with thunder and lightning. There are sheets of water pouring from the skies. The volume of water that pours down in a shower is so much that within minutes you will find a small stream of knee deep water, but it also subsides minutes after the rain stops.

The children love it. When I was growing up monsoon was the season we all liked best. The stream near our house (thodu) would over flow with brown muddy water. We enjoyed swimming in the overflowing thodu in rain much to the anxiety of our elders, who would caution us not to swim in the swirling waters. It was bliss floating in the water with rain water pouring on you from the skies. How I miss all those little pleasures in life.

We made paper boats and sailed it in the flowing drain water in front of our houses. We had competition as to whose boat would sail farther. We looked forward for our evening visits to the temple. There would be knee deep water in the granite paved compound of the temple and we loved running and splashing the water on each other much to the displeasure of the elders who would get drenched. “Wait until I tell your mother,” they would threaten us. There would be a ban on our going to the temple next day unless we promised to behave. On the way to school we would play in the puddles. We were also mesmerized looking at the little whirls created by the raindrops in the puddles.

In the villages there would be flash floods in small canals and we loved wading through them. The wells would get filled to the brim which made our chore of drawing water from the wells an easy task. There was one house in our village where they had to manually pour out the water from their well because it used to overflow. We had firewood stoves those days and the smoke blowing out of the chimneys on rainy days was a sight I loved and I can still smell the fragrance of the bubbling oil at the end of the burning firewood.
Flickr photo by freebird used under Creative Commons License

We were lucky enough to have a school within 5 minutes walking distance from home. But for many other children, some of whom had to walk upto 5 - 8 miles, it must have been the dreadful season balancing their books, lunch boxes and an umbrella, mostly through paddy fields with knee deep water. By the time they reached school, they would be wet to their skins and they had to spend the whole day with their wet clothes on. They had only an ottayadi patha or a narrow trail dividing two fields, made of mud to walk between the paddy fields. Many times if there was a breach in the mud trail and it was flooded with water, you just slipped and fell in it. Books got washed away, lunch boxes got washed away and still they would reach school with umbrellas in hand. It is quite a sight to behold little children leaving for school with their best dresses and umbrellas in hand. When we were children we had umbrellas made of palm leaves with a long bamboo handle which was known as olakuda or pattakuda. There were big ones and small ones and they were not foldable. This meant we needed lot of space to keep them when we reached school. Mothers wrote their childrens’ names inside the umbrellas so that they wouldn’t get mixed up. The olakuda had a large span and it fully protected us from the rains. The farm laborers used a modified version of this olakuda, which was much larger and conical in shape and had a cap like ring inside the umbrella which would sit on their head, thus holding the umbrella as they worked with both their hands.

After coming to Bangalore, we still had rains in the earlier years, but the charm was not there. You could not get wet in the Bangalore rains as the moment the rain falls it would become chill. We had rains throughout the year. Now Bangalore does not get much rains and I yearn for the Monsoon Magic of God’s own Kerala.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ayilyam and Moolam (redux)

There have been many desperate questions asked here regarding the ill effects of Moolam and Ayilyam. At the very outset, let me clarify that my inspriation for writing that blog post was only a phone call from a distressed father whose daughter’s birthstar was Moolam. It reminded me of the various sayings about various birth stars. They are all based on the customs being followed by the society at large. Other than that, I have not done any astrological or vedic research to find the truth behind these sayings.

As such, as I have written many people simply follow the custom, thinking that if so many people follow it, there must be something in it. At the same time, I have also heard from people who run to the astrologer for every small disturbance in their life that they don’t believe in the saying that girls born with Moolam and Ayilyam stars bring ill luck to the husband’s parents. I have also come across situations where the marriage of the boy has been delayed for long period because his birthstar is moolam or ayilyam, though the saying goes, “Aan moolam arasalum” (the man with bithstar moolam will rule the country).

All these beliefs came into existence when the marriages were fixed solely by the elders of the family and the groom and bride just tied the knots as per the elders’ wishes. They had no say whatsoever in the selection of their partners. The elders made sure that they selected the groom or bride as per their beliefs. There was no question of selecting a bride or groom if they thought the birthstars or horoscopes did not match. Many a time, the father or mother of the groom (when the other parent was not alive) came forward voluntarily to accept a girl with moolam or ayilyam, to the relief of the girl’s parents.

In today’s world, when most of the girls and boys select their partners, it is not possible to observe such customs. No girl or boy is going to find out about the other’s birth star when they start seeing each other. It would perhaps be prudent for the girls and boys to give enough importance to such matters, if they know about their parents’ views on these. It may save them from a lot of disappointment and distress, if they still want to get married with the blessings of their parents. Or else they should be brave enough to shoulder the responsibility of their decision. After all, as I have said, Moolam and Ayilyam are not considered to bring bad luck among many other communities in our society.

In the olden days, the horoscopes were matched by learned astrologers alone, whereas today we see that everyone has something to say about horoscope matching and hence so many right or wrong dos and donts. No one wants to ignore any astrological advice, whether coming from an astrologer or a common man. They are so confused and do not want to take any chances. I have even heard people saying that only 3 or 4 stars will match with some particular star and so on. All these things have made selection of a good alliance even more difficult.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Elsewhere In The Empire

The Blandings Media Empire never sleeps. While I'm taking a break from blogging here, I've put up a new post on my stories blog. The story of two cats and a monkey and sharing everything alike is up on Kathai Kathaiyam Karanamam. Meanwhile, my handsome and charming son continues to chronicle his discoveries in India: Interesting advertisements on TV, the new Bangalore airport (messes and all), and much much more. He seems to be much more prolific than I.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Recipe: Aavakkaya

Aavakkaya is the pickle synonymous with Andhra Pradesh. The utterance of the word “Aavakkai” tickles the taste buds. And when you make it, you cannot but help your mouth watering. The aroma of the newly made pickle is so intoxicating. Aavakkaya literally means pickled with mustard powder (aavalu in Telugu means mustard) and rightly so, mustard powder is the main preservative here along with gingelly oil.

When one of my son’s assistants brought home a basket full of mangoes, I was at a loss not knowing what to do with so many raw mangoes. I asked him why he brought so many mangoes when I would have been happy with 2 or 3. “Pickle them, Mummyji,” he said. That’s when I thought of making Aavakkaya. As I had not made this pickle in recent times, I called my friend Sujatha, to ask for the method. She promptly said, “I will come tomorrow and help you. Keep chilli powder, salt, mustard powder and oil and other things ready.” I was only too happy to get the things ready, as I did not have to worry about the final product. I have been getting to taste Sujatha’s mother’s Aavakkaya every year. And they are superb.

She specifically told me not to buy the mustard powder, but to buy mustard, sun dry and grind them fresh. "Or else," she said, "the pickle will taste bitter." So I went and bought all the ingredients and sun dried them . I also washed all the mangoes thoroughly and dried them in shade, by spreading them in a clean towel, to remove all moisture.

Sujatha came promptly at 11 am next morning and we started the preparation.We cut the mangoes into large pieces and measured them. Accordingly we measured the other ingredients. Here is the ratio:


Raw mango pieces: 5 measures ( approximately 3.5 Kg)

Red chilli powder : 1measure (I used 300gms. One may add upto 500gms., depending on individual preference)
Freshly ground mustard powder: 1 measure ( here again those who like the taste of mustard oil can use upto 500 gms )
Salt: 1 ¼ measure(8oogms)

Whole fenugreek seeds: 50 gms

Turmeric powder: 2 tbsp.

Good quality gingelly oil: 1 ltr


The mangoes should have firm stone inside.(the stone should be attached to the flesh of the mango and when cut through, the stone should still be attached to the mango pieces.) Wash and dry the mangoes in a clean towel in shade. Cut them into large pieces.Discard the soft seed portion .
Keep the other ingredients ready(in the proportion given above).

Keep a large glass jar or earthenware jar washed and sun-dried, ready. (As I was in Hyderabad, where I function with minimum kitchen gadgets, I did not have a glass jar or earthenware jar. Hence I used a large pet jar).

Now comes the most difficult part. Mixing the ingredients. Sujatha insisted on mixing them with hands. I would have preferred mixing them with a large spatula, as my skin is very sensitive to chilli powder.

Mix all the dry ingredients(chilli powder, mustard powder, salt,turmeric powder and fenugreek seeds) thoroughly. Take another large shallow pan for the final mixing. Into this pan, transfer a portion of the cut mango pieces. Add a portion of the pickle masala to the mangoes. Pour 1 or 2 spoonfuls of gingelly oil and mix the contents thoroughly with hand or a spatula. Transfer them to the jar. Repeat this process, until all the mango pieces and pickle masala are used up. Top the jar with the remaining oil and pickle masala, if any. Keep the jar in a cool dry place. Within an hour, you can see the gravy oozing out of the mango pieces and within 2 to 3 hours, there would be a 1”top layer of oil and gravy above the mango pieces(called “Oota” in telugu). This is the sign of right quantity of ingredients, said, Sujatha’s mother, when I called her to report the event. Stir it thoroughly with a dry spoon every day for 5 days, she said. I followed her instructions and the results were just superb.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Recipe: Ambode

Immediately after the obattu post, I was ready with this post for Ambode, another Ugadi speciality. What with the burning hot summer and a tooth problem that required a root canal treatment, I just got too busy. The truth is I try to keep myself busy to the brim always. Be it summer, winter or rains. It’s good, say my friends. It’s bad, feel I. Anyway, the fact is I am busy.
How does one keep oneself busy during summer? I for one, start making all sorts of sun-dried wafers (vadams, karuvadams and vattals) to keep for the whole year. And then comes pickling. Summer is the season we get plenty of mangoes and is the right season for mango pickles. This year I made “Aavakkai” after a long interval. The aavakkai that I made this year is so special because, I made them with Andhra mangoes and under the guidance of a true Andhra friend and it turned out just yummy and truly fiery. More about vadams and aavakkai later (immediately, I promise), we will go on with Ambode.
Ambode (Kannada) or Aamavadai (Tamil)or Parippuvada (Malayalam) are all very close siblings, with as much difference as one can notice among siblings. Ambode takes the prize, I should say. I have learnt the secret of crispy, mouth watering ambode from Mrs.Shakunthala, whose ambodes are a treat any day. She is the official ambode maker, whenever our “Soundrya Lahiri” teacher arranges a Pooja and each time the ambodes turn out just as yummy. Let us get on with the recipe, without much ado.

Chana dal: 2cups.
Green chillies: 3or 4 according to taste
Dry red chillies: 1 or 2
Pepper corns: 1 tsp.
Jeera: 1tsp
Hing: 2 tsp or size of a pea
Curry leaves: few
Coriander leaves: 2 tbsp.
Grated fresh coconut: 2 tbsp.
Cinnamon: 1/2 “ piece
Cloves: 4 nos.
Ginger: 2” piece
Salt to taste
Ghee: 1 tbsp.
Raw rice flour: 1 tbsp.

Oil for frying

Finely cut onions: 2 tbsp
Crushed garlic: 1 tsp
(When making ambode for offering as Neyvedyam, I usually do not add onions and garlic, however they definitely add to the taste, no doubt)


Wash and soak the chanadal with hing, peppercorns, jeera, green chilies and red chilies for 1 hr. Crush the cinnamon and cloves separately (this will not get crushed with the other ingredients, if ground together in the mixer). Drain the soaked chanadal with other ingredients to remove all water and grind coarsely with curry leaves ,giner,crushed cinnamon and cloves and salt. Transfer to a bowl and mix the grated coconut, rice flour, finely cut coriander leaves and ghee. If using onion and garlic, add the finely cut onions and crushed garlic also. Mix well.
Make small balls of the ground mixture. Heat oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, reduce the heat, but retain the temperature of the oil. Take the prepared balls in your palm and pat lightly with the fingers and slide into the hot oil, one by one. Turn the ambodes once inside the oil, so that both sides get cooked evenly. Remove from oil, when both sides are cooked, drain and serve the crispy ambodes with pudina chutney or tomato sauce.
The less experienced can pat the ambodes on a plastic sheet and gently slide them into oils, taking care not to splash the oil.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Recipe: Obattu

Happy Ugadi to all. It is new year’s day for many people on Ugadi or Yugadi. The new year that has dawned is known as Sarvadhari . The Sarvadhari varsha for people in Tamil Nadu and Kerala who observe Suryamana Ugadi starts on the 14th April.
As always festivals mean good food and also food made of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The season is also the start of spring or Vasantha rithu in India and trees and plants are blooming after the gloomy winter months. The neem trees are full of fragrant blooms. Hence the use of neem flowers in cooking on this new years day. Neem flowers have anti fungal, antibacterial and anti diabetic properties. In Karnataka, the ritual is called eating bevu bella or neem and jaggery, bitter and sweet to symbolize that life is full of sweet and bitter turns.
In Andhra, the ritual is to make a chutney known as Ugadi pachadi using neem flowers, mango, jaggery, chili powder and salt. These raw ingredients are mixed and served as pachadi. This is supposed to cleanse the system.
Besides Ugadi Pachadi the special dishes prepared for Ugadi are Obattu and Ambode in Karnataka. I understand Andhra people also make obattu(known as bobbatlu in telugu) and Pulihore and payasam and vadas.
It is my long-standing promise to post the recipe for Obattu and Ambode. The time has at last arrived, with my making obattu and photographing them.
Obattu or Holige(Kannada), Poli(Tamil), Upputu(Kerala iyer), Bobbatlu(telugu), Puran Poli(Marathi) all refers to stuffed sweet parathas made of Maida. The sweet stuffing can be made from a variety of ingredients, most popularly using chana dal, jaggery and coconut. Kannadigas use equal quantity of chana dal and toor dal and coconut. This filling can be prepared using only coconut and jaggery or green gram dal and coconut and jaggery (Kerala Iyers make uppitu with this stuffing) and in the new age, the sweet stuffing can be made with carrot, coconut and jaggery to give a vegetable touch to it (healthy and nutritious as the presenters of tv cookery shows like to say). And again the rolling is done like parathas or on banana leaves.
Given below is the recipe for Karnataka obattu, as prepared by my authentic Kannadiga friend, Veena.
Chana dal: 250 gms.
Fresh grated coconut: 1½ cups
Grated jaggery: 2½ cups
Dry ginger power: 2 tsps.
Cardamom powder: 2 tsps.

For the outer covering:
Maida: 250 gms
Salt : a pinch
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp.
Gingelly oil: ¼ cup
Water to knead the dough
Ghee for brushing on the obattu
First make the dough by kneading the maida with salt and turmeric powder and water to a soft and elastic consistency in a large bowl or plate. Add 2 tbsps.of gingelly oil and knead again. Make a well in the centre of the dough and add the remaining oil and keep it aside for 10 minutes. Knead again incorporating the oil well into the dough to make the dough more elastic and pliable. Keep the dough covered with a moist cloth. The quantity of oil could be increased to get more pliable dough or if you are calorie conscious, decrease the quantity of the oil (honestly speaking let go when making obattus, if the quantity of oil is decreased the obattu do not come out as flaky and tasty).
To prepare the filling, cook the chana dal with just enough water to cover the dal in a pressure cooker until just done (Do not over cook). Strain to remove the water. (Kannadigas use this water to make a special rasam ). At this stage I deviate a little from Veena’s method.
Veena continues thus: She heats the strained dal, coconut and jaggery in a kadhai until all the moisture evaporates then cools and grinds the mixture and adds cardamom powder and dry ginger powder to get the stuffing.
As I have always said, I like to strain the jaggery to remove the dirt and sand, hence the following method. Grind the strained dal and grated coconut .Boil the jaggery in ½ cup of water until the jaggery dissolves. Strain to remove the sand and other dirt particles. Pour into a heavy bottomed kadhai and boil until the syrup starts thickening. Add the ground dal and coconut mixture and continue stirring until the mixture starts leaving the sides of the pan. Remove from the stove, add cardamom and dry ginger powders. Mix well and cool. Make lemon sized balls of this mixture and keep aside.
Knead the dough once again. (People with weak shoulders like me may use a electric kneader for this to get excellent result or else seek the help of your better half like I do). Take small quantity of the dough and pat into a small circle with the palm of your hand on a banana leaf or plastic sheet. Place one ball of the filling in the centre and close from all sides. Pat the ball into a thin paratha with the palm of your hand. Heat a tava. Gently remove the obattu from the plastic sheet and roast on the heated tava on both sides until brown spots appear. Remove from the tava and drizzle ghee on it. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Serve the “Melt in the mouth hot obattu“ drizzled with ghee and enjoy your holiday with your family.
To add to the sweet taste,Kannadigas serve this obattu with a payasam made of khuskhus, coconut milk and jaggery . We love it with ghee.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Karadayan Nonbu 2008

I am sure all of you would have celebrated Karadayan nonbu in the traditional manner. I celebrated it as usual with sweet and salty adais. As the time for the nonbu this year was a convenient breakfast time there was no hassle of preparing a separate breakfast. That helped a lot in getting ready for the Puja. This time round, I am in Hyderabad and we have an Arali tree right in the front yard. So Arali flowers were no problem. The adais came out perfect also. On the whole, a very satisfying nonbu.

It gives me great joy to see that a great many people have visited my blog on the eve of Karadayan nonbu. This invariably means that even in the midst of a very busy life, people want to keep up with our traditions and observe the important rituals for the well being of one and all. Festivals like these inculcate our rich culture in the growing children of today, especially since most people live far away from their native places and people have to be extra vigilant to remember these festivals that are popular only among a select set.

As always, on such festival days, I go back down the memory lane and try to remember how I celebrated nonbu in the previous years. In my Puthucode days, the nonbu was a big festival as everyone around was celebrating it. The whole village was filled with fragrance of roasted rice flour and Arali flowers. In Bangalore some years later, we were the only people celebrating in the whole street. Of course my sister-in-law would come visiting bringing her adais. This time around perhaps I am the only one celebrating the festival in the whole colony. Each nonbu has been different from the other, in one way or the other.

All said and done, my Puthucode nonbu always tops my sweet memories. It was totally relaxed for everyone. There was no last minute shopping to do and most importantly the whole run-up to the nonbu was delegated efficiently and each person got a job that she was capable of; a little girl of 5 would be asked to keep the flowers in the neyvedyam leaves and an older girl would have to get the flowers from the garden and string them. The preparations started well in advance with the maid pounding the rice. She knew exactly how much rice was to be pounded, though she would ask my echiyamma, “Shall I bring 1 kg of rice from the pathayam (a wooden box in which rice was stored).” My echiyamma would say, “I think it should be sufficient, or else take 1-1/2 kg”. Having got the rice pounded well in advance, there was enough time to roast the flour. Even if by chance my mother didn’t get the time to do it immediately, there would always be some neighbours dropping by just to say hi to my Echiyamma. During the conversation, either they would ask or my echiyamma would enquire of them “Singari (or Lakshmi or Ammu or Chellam as the case may be) have you roasted the rice flour for nonbu?” to which she would reply, “Yes echiyamma, I had some free time last evening”. Then my echiyamma would say, “Sita has not found time to roast the flour”. Dear Singari mami would immediately come to the kitchen and tell my mother, “Sita, where is the rice flour? While I am here, I might as well roast it for you”. In 5 minutes the rice flour was roasted, in between exchanging some juicy gossip from the village. Nobody considered it a burden to lend a helping hand to anyone, even if they had spent the whole day working in their own kitchen. Singari mami would be properly rewarded when the next lot of mangoes or jackfruits or other such things came from our farmhouse. And we all thought we were one family. There was never a feeling of haves and have nots among the whole village. My mother would think nothing of leaving a crying baby with Singari mami to be taken care of while she was very busy. Singari mami was only too happy to take care of a wailing baby, though she had her own house filled with growing grandchildren. I can just indulge in this reminiscing game forever and forget all about my surroundings. So sweet were those days and the nonbu adais!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Recipe: Maasi Pournami Payasam

The payasam made on Maasi Pournami day invariably was made with milk, jaggery and rice. It had a special taste, as it was made with milk from the home reared cow which grazed on natural organic grass. The method is very simple and it tasted delicious.


Rice: 4 tbsp.
Full cream milk: ½ litre
Powdered jaggery: 1 cup

Boil the powdered jaggery with 1 cup of water. When the jaggery dissolves, strain to remove the impurities and sand particles. Keep aside.

Wash and drain the rice. In a pressure cooker add the milk and 2 cups of water and bring to boil. Add the rice and lower the heat. Place the weight on the weight valve, when there is a steady steam coming out. Cook for 20 minutes and switch off the stove. When the pressure cooker cools down, open the lid and add the strained jaggery mixture and boil until the payasam thickens.

Offer to the Gods and enjoy with your family and kids from the neighbourhood.

May your kids have a long and healthy life!

Maasi Pournami

Sometime back I had promised to write about maasi pournami. Pournami is the full moon day and Maasi Pournami is the full moon day in the tamil month of Maasi(February-March). Almost all full moondays are celebrated in a special manner with some festival attached to the day. These full moondays are also known by the star with which the Pournami concides. Like in the month of Maasi the Pournami falls on the star Makam and hence is also known as Maasi Makam. In the following month , Pankuni(March-April) it falls on the star Uthiram and hence the day is celebrated as Pankuni Uthiram and so on.

The Maasi makam festival is celebrated in many Devi temples and Siva temples in Kerala and Tamilnadu.

Maasi Pournami for us during our childhood was a day of literally getting drunk with payasam. On this day, all the households made payasam in the evening and offered it to the Moon God, praying for the long life and good health of the children. The payasam was then distributed to all the children in the neighbourhood. When the children are happy they in turn wish the family and making children happy meant making the Gods happy. We children invited all the other children in the neighbourhood to have payasam at our home and in turn got invited to all the other houses.

Children were made to sit in the open in the backyard,(which in most of the houses was paved) and payasam was served in banana leaves with a piece of coconut and jaggery and a plantain.. We were also given 5 paise or 10 paise coins at the end of the feast. 5 paise or 10 paise meant a lot those days. We could, for example, buy an ice stick (just frozen sweetened water, which we thought was the ultimate goody) or a toffee or take a raffle from the neighbourhood shop, which promised things like sunglasses and cameras and all of us ultimately got a comb or a whistle or just a toffee.

We had to go to all the houses for tasting the payasam and by the time the evening closed, we all would be so full that we just could not think of food for many more days to come. And so we thought, and we would slowly amble towards our houses and whom should we meet on our way. The lady of the house which we had missed tasting the payasam and she would not let us go without having her payasam. We all would then share the story of Lord Ganesha who was mocked by the Moon God, and was in turn cursed by the Lord. By the end of the evening when we reached home, we did not have strength even to stand. Those were fabulous times.

There was another ritual also on Maasi Pournami day, which was known as “Aimparai”. A necklace was made by threading 5 coins made of copper, iron, silver, brass and an alloy of iron, silver and copper which was then given to of children below the age of 5 years. This was supposed to protect them from evil eyes and all childhood related health problems.

Even today, I celebrate Maasi Pournami by offering Payasam to the Moon God. Until a few years ago, when my brothers and families lived only 2 kms away, they came around to have payasam in our house. Now that they have moved a little farther away and the children have grown up, I don’t have any little kids to offer the payasam, unless some family visited us with their kids per chance. I continue to make payasam.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Recipe: Semiya Payasam

We will start with a delicious sweet once again. Though most of us are familiar with semiya payasam, I have found that the payasam just doesn’t taste as good. My beautiful and talented niece says, “Athai’s payasam tastes just like ice cream.” Our sons say, “ammas special payasam, nobody else makes it as delicious and lip smacking.” Enough about self glorification. Let’s go straight to the recipe.


Semiya (Vermicelli) : ¾ cup
Full cream Milk: 1 litre
Sugar: ¾ cup
Ghee: 2 tbsp.
Cashew nuts: 8 nos.
Raisins: 1 tbsp.
Cardamom powder: 1 tsp.


Heat 1 tbsp. of gheee in a wide mouthed, thick bottomed pan. Break the cashew nuts into small pieces and fry them in the ghee to a golden color, remove. Add the raisins fry them until they are fluffy, remove. Add the remaining ghee and fry the vermicelli to a golden brown. Add ½ litre of milk and boil, stir occasionally so that the milk doesn’t get burnt nor boil over. When the vermicelli has absorbed all the milk, add some more milk and allow the vermicelli to cook well. It will take approximately 20 minutes. When the vermicelli is cooked (it should be mushy in consistency), add the sugar and remaining milk. Boil for some more time until the payasam is thickened. Remove from the stove and add the cardamom powder. Garnish with fried cashew nuts and raisins.Yummy and delicious semiya payasam is ready. The whole process of preparing takes about 30 minutes. When you have unexpected guests and you want to serve them a delicacy, this IS THE DISH.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Welcome to The Empire

Once again a long period of inactivity (only in blogging). I was fully occupied otherwise, which was the cause of my not spending enough time on this blog. Among the very important assignments, one of which was searching for a perfect match for my younger son of course, we were also busy with creating 2 other blogs.

Kathai Kathayam Karanamam is a blog that has been in gestation for a very long time. This is an attempt to share the stories we had heard as children and also what I had read to my children when they were little. The first story is already up, Matha Pitha Guru Deivam. We will be adding many more, please visit often and give me suggestions as always.

Our younger son who returned to India after spending more than a decade in the US has started blogging his experiences in India of today, from an outsider’s point of view. He is writing Just Landed.

Now that we have 3 blogs going, we are now officially a media empire. We are all part of the ever-expanding Blandings Media Empire.

Hope you enjoy reading both the blogs.

Happy Reading.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Thai Pirandal

Thai Pirandal Vazhi Pirakkum is an adage in Tamil, which translates into “when the month of Thai (Jan 14th) starts, all roads open up”. This is especially said in connection with marriages. Marriage season starts with Thai in the south because Uttarayanam is considered to be the best season for conducting functions like marriage, upanayanam etc. Moreover, in the olden days, by the time of Thai people were a little free after the harvesting and had time to attend to the time consuming job of searching for and conducting the marriages of their children.

I am continuing this blog post at this blog

Sankranthi 2008

Sankranthi is over and the sun has started its journey towards the northern hemisphere (uttarayanam). The days have started becoming a little longer and warmer and the birds are back chirping.

This time around I was in Hyderabad during Sankranthi. Though I did not get to see much of the Sankranthi celebrations of the people of Andhra Pradesh, I was invited to an interesting ritual and since it involved little children, I enjoyed it all the more.
We were invited for an Annaprasanam ceremony of our son’s friend’s baby on the 14th morning. Since we could not make it to the morning function, we visited them in the evening. “We have a function in the evening also,” they said. I thought there would be a function in connection with the annaprasanam of the little one.

This ritual is called Bhogi Pandulu. A mixture of regi pandulu (a type of berry that flooded the markets the previous day and I was wondering what these would be used for), flower petals, colored rice (Akshatha), coins, and sugar cane pieces were kept ready on a decorated stool. There was another decorated seat to seat little children below the age of 5. The house we visited had a 6 month old baby and another little girl, both dressed in their best and looking stunningly beautiful. All the ladies from the neighbourhood and older relatives of the family were assembled.

Around 5 pm, all the members present showered the mixture of flowers and colored rice (they said they did not include sugar cane pieces and coins as it might hurt the little baby) on the children, one by one. Even the male members of the family showered the petals. After this, Arathi was done to the children. The invitees were given thamboola with fruits, betel leaves, kumkum and soaked chickpeas.

This function symbolizes the seeking of blessings from the elders for a healthy and long life for the little ones and also to ward off all evil. I was reminded of a similar ritual called Aimpara, conducted in our tradition during the full moon day of the tamil month of Masi (between Feb 14th –March 14th). More about that later.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Recipe: Bisi Bele Bhath

I have spent more time now in Karnataka than in my native Kerala that it would be unpardonable not to write about authentic Karanataka cuisine. What other recipe can be more authentic and originally Karnataka than the now world famous Bisi Bele Bhath? Bisi Bele Bhath in Kannada means hot dal and rice. It is simply that. Perhaps originally it was only hot rice and dal. Now it has progressed to a complete filling meal with dal, rice and all sorts of vegetables.
In our earlier years in Bangalore, we lived in a largely tambram area and hence did not have much contact with the native Kannadigas. The only bisi bele bhath we tasted were at the wedding receptions, which on those days were mostly conducted in dim choultries and food served on greasy plates. The bisi bele bhath served was too spicy for us and hence I never attempted to learn the recipe. Moreover our handsome and charming younger son never liked the food served on such occasions, so much so, even before we set out, he would ask us, “are they serving food in banana leaf or kozhakozha plate(greasy plate)”. So most of the time if it were kozhakozha plate, we just came away for our curds rice at home. It was only after I knew my best friend Veena, who is an authentic Kannadiga to the core, that I got to taste the delicious homemade bisi bele bhath and ever since it has become a favorite of not only of all at home but of all our guests also. They often say,”The bisi bele bhath served at the hotels is so spicy, your bisi bele bhath is very tasty”.
Here then is the recipe for the bisi bele bhath masala powder. It may be made in advance and kept in air tight jars so that bisi bele bhath can be prepared in a jiffy any time.
Ingredients for the masala:
Dhania: 100gms
Red chillies : 100gms
Chana dal(Bengal gram dhal): 100gms
Urad dhal: 100gms
Dry copra: 100gms
Cinnamon : 10 gms
Marathi moggu: 5 pieces
Cloves: 1 tsp.


Dry roast all the ingredients except copra separately (as each one will turn pinkish at different temperatures) to a pink color or until a nice aroma emanates from them. Grate the copra and add to the fried ingredients. Grind to a fine powder and store in air-tight jars.
The quantity of red chillies may be increased or decreased according to personal taste.
Making of Bisi Bele Bhath
Bisi Bele Bhath is a very versatile dish and any vegetable can go into it. Though many people don’t use ladies fingers and brinjals (which would turn mushy when cooked) I would say any vegetable would add that extra taste to it. So use any vegetable you like.

The following quantity will suffice for 6 servings.
Carrot: 50 gms
French beans: 50 gms
Green peas: 50gms
Knol khol: 1 small
Cauliflower: few florets
Potato: 1 medium
Double beans: 50gms
Cabbage: 50 gms
Chayote : 50gms
Tomato: 150 gms
Curry leaves : few sprig
Coriander leaves: few
Fresh coconut: 2 tbsp.
Tamarind : marble size or
Tamarind paste: 1 tsp.
Fresh ground nuts: 2 tbsp.

Rice : 1cup
Toor dal: 1 cup
Bisis bele bath powder: 2 tbsp.
Turmeric powd: 1 tsp.
Jaggery : 20gms.
Salt to taste
For garnish
Ghee: 1 tbsp.
Mustard seeds: 2 tsp.
Red chillies: 2 nos.
Cashew nuts (optional) : few
Hing : 1 tsp.
The whole meal can be prepared in a pressure cooker in one go. That’s how I do it.
Soak the ground nuts in water for 2 – 3 hours. Wash and Chop all vegetables to 1” squares. Shell peas and double beans. Wash and drain the rice and dal.
Soak the tamarind in ½ cup of warm water.
Unlike the other “mixed rice preparations” the bisi bele bath should be well cooked and should be in a semi solid consistency.(kozhayae in tamil).Accordingly add 3 cups of water for each cup of rice, 2 cups of water for each cup of dal and one cup of water for each cup of vegetables.
Boil water according to the above proportion in a pressure cooker and add all the vegetables, soaked ground nuts, rice, dal and turmeric powder and close the pressure cooker. Put the weight on when steady steam comes out of the weight valve and cook for 3 whistles. (I usually reduce the heat at the first whistle and allow another whistle in reduced heat and switch off the stove).
Allow the pressure cooker to cool. Open the lid and check if the rice is cooked well and there is enough water content. If not add one more cup of water and boil, adding the jaggery, bisibele bath powder and salt. Extract the juice out of soaked tamarind and add to the boiling rice. Add half the ghee also to the mixture. Boil for 5- 10 mnts stirring well taking care not to burn the contents (this happens because the contents are very sticky). Add the fresh coconut gratings. Switch off the stove and add a few springs of curry leaves.
For garnishing:
Heat the remaining ghee in a pan. When the ghee is hot, add the hing powder, mustard, cashew nuts, broken red chillies and few curry leaves. When the mustard stops spluttering and the cashew nuts turn to a pink color, add the contents to the prepared rice. Garnish with finely cut coriander leaves .
Serve with chips, papad or vadam

Enjoy Pongal with Bisi Bele bhath.