0

Baking Cherry Tomato Topped Focaccia

IMG_20150319_094153322

Whoever said baking is therapeutic was spot on in his/her assessment. There is nothing quite like the beautiful fragrance of a hot oven containing a cake or a bread or the satisfaction of watching the “rise” of yeast-infused flour. Technique is however, crucial to any baking endeavor. I have got the hang of cakes but cupcakes seem to elude me completely. Breads and buns are sometimes a hit and sometimes an almost miss.

Fabulous-Baker-Brothers-Channel-4

While looking for bread recipes, I stumbled across the Fabulous Baker Brothers show on TLC. Now I have seen, and still see, many cookery shows over the years on TLC like Nigella Feasts, Jamie Oliver, Donna Hay and Anthony Bourdain, but the Baker Brothers was the first one that seemed to produce three or four recipes in a row that I felt I could make for my Indian family. The American shows always use too much beef or always add chicken broth or ingredients which are just not available in Indian markets easily and hardly ever make any vegetarian food. Nigella and Jamie Oliver seem almost too haphazard in their bid to look ‘authentic’ and ‘close to nature’. As for the Baker Brothers, Tom is the baker while Henry is a butcher and chef. I thought Tom Herbert‘s recipes are all the kind that one can make in a home kitchen and the tips that he shares are really helpful. Somehow he is very reminiscent of Mrs. Patmore from Downton Abbey with his expansive, cherry and happy demeanor. Just what a baker should be.

PicMonkey Collage

I found this recipe on their website Hobbs House Bakery and it worked out perfectly for me. It was easy to follow and even without any step-by-step pictures I understood every instruction clearly enough. The trick is the 15 minute kneading that he advises I think, making the bread really soft and delicious. The toppings can be varied according to your choice. Mine turned out a little too fat for a Focaccia and I didn’t have a proper baking tray, but it was absolutely yummy. Great for tea-time and even breakfast with butter and a mug of tea.

Also, he has a smashing recipe for burgers and sliders that would do any vegetarian household in India proud. I tried that too and everyone absolutely loved it.

So, bake a bread! It takes time but its so worth it.

10

Judging a Book by its Cover (No. 1) – Watercolor Series

I have long wanted to experiment with my love for books and the recent serious dive into watercolor painting by combining the two. As some of you might have deduced a while ago, I love beautiful book covers, always have. As I am not imaginative/passionate/artistic enough to make my own, I decided to choose book covers that I have loved since I was a child and consequently the books that go with them to paint a watercolor series of the best book covers of my favourite books.

The list was long and really pretty book covers became fewer and far between as I moved towards the title for grown ups. Nobody seems to care that adults may also like a book with a really nice cover.

Here is the first in the series that I hope to complete in the near future.

IMG_20150318_064401511

Enid Blyton was a childhood favourite for many many years and I must confess that I read her name as ‘Gnid Blyton’ for a few of them. Those books were expensive for those times and convincing mom to let me buy one was always an uphill task. Why I didn’t just ask Dad? Well, because that wouldn’t have been cricket then. I did ask him at times when I was feeling really desperate and always chose those 3-in-1’s in the hopes of making them last longer. Also, I made him write on the flyleaf that he had gifted the book to me or else Mum would have the brilliant idea to gift it to someone else on their birthdays!!

IMG_20150318_064408416

Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm and its sequel were two of my favourite Enid Blyton books, both for the storylines and the beautiful covers from Armada Paperbacks , which were an offshoot of William Collins, Sons, now known as Harper Collins, of both the books that I managed to get. Would you believe that the book covers are unaccredited, meaning we don’t know whose work they were!

PicMonkey Collage

These covers were a one time fluke (published in 1987) and finding them again is an impossible task. One of my books is torn and lost for all practical purposes, while the other one is safe in my brother’s keeping or so he informed me during one of his cryptic phone calls a few weeks ago.

PicMonkey Collage

My lovable brother has taken over my collection of childhood books and refuses to part with them. I can’t really blame him, I didn’t share my books either and it is nice to see he gets something from me. We both read all the time, and especially when we are eating food which manages to annoy everybody around us. You can’t imagine how difficult it is for me to sit at the table and make small conversation just to be polite when guests come over. My brother doesn’t even try.

IMG_20150318_064702394

Almost every book that I possess has a story attached to it, apart from the one between the covers. They may not be bestsellers (my stories that is) but I remember them every time I pick up a particular book and smile at the memory. I truly thank everyone who has ever indulged my love of books, from my mother who told me my first story, to Dad who smiled whenever he bought me a book, to my special friends who understood that books were my first love and to a husband who likes to crib about my reading but has managed to buy me a few hundred books since we got married. Thank you all.

As always, in the spirit of honesty, I am not very good with angles of the head and am atrocious with hands and those are pretty evident from the work. Maybe a little touching up is required, but I am still proud of the this one, flawed as it is.

7

Power Play – Danielle Steele

81YwRjlBOxL._SL1500_This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House India in exchange of a honest review

Whenever I pick up a Danielle Steel I feel I have successfully transitioned to the ‘Auntie’ phase of my life. Growing up in the army, all aunties were forever reading her and Barbara Cartland and these two authors are always associated in my mind with smartly dressed, very articulate army wives or ‘Aunties’ as they were to us. I received this book a little later than the rest and was not expecting it at all. I picked it up to ‘flip’ through it and ended up finishing it the same day.

According to the Goodreads blurb

Fiona Carson has proven herself as CEO of a multibillion-dollar high-tech company – a successful woman in a man’s world. Devoted single mother, world-class strategist, and tough negotiator, Fiona has to keep a delicate balance every day.

Meanwhile, Marshall Weston basks in the fruits of his achievements. At his side is his wife Liz who has gladly sacrificed her own career to raise their three children. Smooth, shrewd and irreproachable, Marshall’s power only enhances his charisma – but he harbors secrets that could destroy his life at any moment.

Both must face their own demons, and the lives they lead come at a high price. But just how high a price are they willing to pay?

When I read the blurb, I naturally assumed that these two people will meet each other one day and find true love or something. As it turns out, I was wrong. The theme that the author explores in this book is how differently men and women react or cope with power and prestige in their lives, which I thought was a brilliant idea. After all, we see important men caught time and time again with their pants down while there are hardly any powerful women who can be accused of similar transgressions.

So, we follow Fiona Carson working hard on her high-powered job and managing her life and grown up kids as well, while fending off the sexist attitudes of her male co-workers. She seems happy and almost contended in her now single life, until she meets a man who refuses to be ignored.

Marshall Weston seems just as happy in his life with a wife who has chosen to put his career and their children before her own professional life, until we are introduced to the sordid secrets of his life. He feels a sense of entitlement to a lot of things in life and seems to be bewildered when he is caught out in his transgressions. His reactions at times like this are hilarious and like those of a righteous man who can’t believe why the universe is bent on punishing him. It is astonishing the heights of his selfishness and delusions about his importance in life.

Surprisingly enough, I thought the book made for good time pass, if you like contemporary fiction that is (and aren’t more partial towards crinolines and butlers in your stories like me). Both the characters are absolutely believable and finely etched in the book. Ashley seems much too docile for an artist but it is easy to judge people and situations from a safe distance. People may also feel Fiona is a bit colourless, but I think she is just right. It is possible to be successful and have principles and not be a bitch or even utterly glamorous. Marshall has absolutely no redeeming factors, but then that can be forgiven since he is after all a man. What was sickening was his ability to completely wipe out anything that made him uncomfortable from his conscience and move on or even his ability to continuously delude himself or even his sense of injury when anyone called him out for his behaviour. And yet, he has women falling for him all the time! It is true when they say that even for the most disgusting of men, there is a woman somewhere who loves him.

 

5

The Puppeteers of Palem – Sharath Komarraju

the-puppeteers-of-palem-original-imaefa46a7jgjcvk

This book was sent to me by the folks over at Westland Books in exchange of an honest review

I scare easily. Ever since I read my first Stephen King, Dreamcatchers (SHUDDER), I have been wary of reading any books that are even remotely related to ghosts. That’s not to say I have not read any. There are times in my life when I choose to scare myself silly just for the heck of it.

When I received The Puppeteers of Palem courtesy of Westland Books, I wasn’t really worried. I mean, of course, the cover is creepy and very reminiscent of a Hindi movie I saw as a kid which was full of voodoo and stuff, but that was years ago and I am a grown up now. The cover, I must say after reading the story, does complete justice to the book although the photoshopped parts are just a bit too obvious to me.

According to the Goodreads blurb

The village of Rudrakshapalem awakens and tells her tale.

Five friends return to the village of their childhood to find that nothing seems to have changed and at the same time everything has. Whose voice is it that called them back and whose hand is it that now hunts them down, one by one?

Palem’s grand old man, a Brahmin landlord, their childhood storyteller, makes one last ditch attempt to save his village from ruin at her hands. Will he succeed or will his past catch up with him and demand fair price?

Two boys, one blind and the other lame, skirt the village borders at the old Shivalayam, listening, staring. On their faces they wear smiles of contentment. They sleep well. They see happy dreams.

A TV reporter arrives to study the village, only to sink deeper into the mystery with each passing day. And hovering above all of these is the shadow of Lachi, who is believed to haunt the old Shivalayam on full moon nights. Some say she’s consumed by lust, others call it madness, but all catch the red glint in her eye and the icy calm in her voice as she croons a sad, lonely song. The one thing she hungers for, that will satisfy her soul, is the fire that will burn Palem down to ashes.

The village of Rudrakshapalem awakens and tells her tale. Listen closely. It will chill you to the bone.

Doesn’t sound creepy in the least does it? Hah! Well, what do you know!

The story moves back and forth over timelines across chapters adding to the feeling of uneasiness and disorientation that the author wants to weave around us. This is a ghost story set in a small village in South India and is as good and as chilling as any you heard when you were kids. The local setting ups the fear factor a few notches for the reader as one is bound to associate the iconography in the story to things they have seen growing up in small towns and villages all over the country. The only chapters that feel suitably sane are the ones that deal with the newspaper reports about the incidents occurring in the village. The assessments of village life and politics by the author are spot on as are his very astute observations of human nature. I completely believe the character of Avdhani can be found all over the world in some form or another.

The five friends who come back to the village grew up listening to stories at the knee of the Brahmin Avadhani, who was also the overlord of the village and a very respected elder. He had been telling stories to the village children for decades, including to the parents of the five protagonists before them. When the five receive summons from a now aged Avadhani to come back to the village, they all comply out of a sense of duty and respect towards the old man. Almost each character has some unresolved childhood issues and grievances that they have buried deep in their psyches. As the tension in the village escalates, so does the hidden malaise in the minds of the five friends.

Each of the five characters is described both as a child and then as an adult in the shifting timelines. While one or two of them are likable, some are not as is the case in any group. They are bound together by an adventure that they went on as children and the consequences of that action. There are a lot of mind games happening in the story (hence the puppeteers) and it takes the reader a long time to figure out who is doing the controlling and for what purpose, apart from the obvious one of course.

The prominent leitmotif of the story are the murder (flock) of crows that seem to inhabit the village in the present day. The crows do some very gory things right at the beginning of the book and I was suitably appalled and quite sure that the author was trying too hard to make them scary. That is, until I reached our holiday destination the next week and was greeted by a crow sitting on a chair right outside my room, eyeing me with it beady eyes and refusing to be at all intimidated by a human’s approach. It never got up or flew away even as I edged my way around the chair with my heart in my throat. Once inside my room, I convinced myself this was normal crow behaviour and I was still suffering from the after-effects of reading ‘The puppeteers of Palem’ and that it would serve no purpose to share my views with my family. Turns out I didn’t have to since my absolutely unimaginative mother managed to observe out loud the next day that the ‘crows here were so weird’. I couldn’t wait to be gone from that place after that.

 At times the story seems to meander and you are sure that the author has lost the thread, but he manages to pull it back to form an intricate pattern every time. Some may levy the charge of it being unnecessarily intricate causing the story to seem like a jumbled mess at times but I was alright with that. Mind you, not everyone would be. Maybe it was because I read a horror story after so many years that I loved it so much, but I doubt that. It is definitely a good book with crisp writing and editing and is suitably horrific to be read on moonless nights, when you are home alone.

2

Musing Mondays (March 9)

No, I haven’t completely lost track of time. Since I have been travelling continuously for the past few weeks, I haven’t been able to make updates to the blog and now I am scrambling to catch up.

So this is another edition of Musing Mondays over at A Daily Rhythm , a meme dedicated to rehashing new additions to your bookshelves among other things.

PicMonkey Collage

I received Power Play by Danielle Steele from Penguin Random House India as part of the February book review list, although a bit later than the other two books, while The Puppeteers of Palem by Sharath Komarraju was an offering from Westland Books. By the way, I have read both these books, the very day each of them arrived. Reviews coming up ASAP.

PicMonkey Collage

 I received these two books from the wonderful folks over at Net Galley. Rose Water and Orange Blossoms is a Lebanese cookbook with stories woven into every recipe. Already read the first few chapters and loved it. Resorting to Murder is a collection of cozy mysteries that I have an inkling I am going to love from Poisoned Pen Publications.

So, that was my haul.

I have a nagging feeling I am forgetting something, but I guess it will come back to me later.

4

A Mirrored Life – The Rumi Novel by Rabisankar Bal

I am back from my serial vacations and must now dig down to writing all the reviews I have accumulated over the last few weeks.

24538577

The first I heard of Ibn Battuta was from a popular Bollywood song – who says our movies aren’t educational. When I looked him up, I was amazed at the extent of his travels at a time when  travelling even short distances must have been a nightmare. Try and imagine a man so driven by the need to explore that no ties, either family or money or women, were able to bind him down; although it is said that he was nudged along this destiny by the words of an Imam in Alexandria who prophesied his journey to Hindustan, Sindh and China. Whether this was the impetus that a wanderer’s soul needed to justify leaving behind all that was familiar will forever more remain a mystery, but it makes for a great story nonetheless.

Here, we meet Ibn Battuta in the Turkish city of Konya, where he is treated to anecdotes about Maulana Rumi, the great Sufi saint and scholar, and is then entrusted with a book on his exploits to read from to the people he meets on his travels. Rumi was a scholar and teacher, until he met the mystical dervishes who changed his life completely and transformed him into a preacher. This book is a series of qissas or anecdotes about the Maulana Rumi and about the philosophy of life narrated by the various people that Ibn Battuta meets in Konya as well as those chronicled in the kitab he carries. Sufism presents a view of Islam that seems contrary to all that we believe and see of it today. Sufi saints preached love and were revered by all religions.

The qissas are lovely and beautiful and have great points to ponder, however, much of the beauty of the prose seems to be lost in translation. Do I mean its a bad translation? Not by a long shot! Let me give you an example – Remember the song ‘Ajeeb dastan hey ye….’? Its beautiful, soulful and incredibly sad. Now translate it into English and it changes into something as mundane as ‘Its a strange tale…….’. Urdu and Persian were the languages of the poets. As I read this book, I could almost glimpse the poetry that the author has tried to bring into the prose again and again as he tries to remain true to the style of the protagonist and his times. It is hardly his fault that he is hindered by a language that contains no hidden depths.

So, would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Although, I would suggest you brush up on your knowledge about the Maulana Rumi and Ibn Battuta from Wikipedia to better understand the beliefs and the times of which these tales bear testimony.

16

DIY Project – Painting a wall

Painting a house is always a huge undertaking in India. First, there is the budget, then choosing the colors and then, the most important, the search for a team of painters who come recommended by at least three different people and who actually have the time to do the work. Finding skilled labour is becoming a difficult job nowadays.

When we decided to paint one wall of our drawing room, finding a painter who would be willing to come for such a small job became a headache. They were charging too much and were wont to cancel at the last minute. So, we decided to take the bull by the horns and paint the wall ourselves.

I am sure my American friends can’t believe we would think so much about such a small job, but we never grew up doing stuff like this you know. So, we don’t have the tools at home for stuff like that. For wood work, we hire a carpenter; for painting a wall, we hire professional painters; for stitching clothes , we visit our friendly neighbourhood tailor and so on. Hell, even for putting a simple nail into the wall, we usually call a carpenter with a drill – unless you have wooden pegs and a hammer at home.

Thankfully, the wall did not need any scrapping or putty work, which would have definitely dampened the spirits at our first attempt at DIY.

PicMonkey Collage3

We got all our supplies easily from the guy at the hardware shop, who was very happy to sell us rollers with a smirk on his face – at the over-confidence of the new generation no doubt. The telescopic pole helps you to reach high and the paper tape was to line the corners to protect the wall that we did not want to paint. With these few things it is possible to paint a wall (one that is not damp and requiring scarping and putty and primer work) all on your own.

PicMonkey Collage

After taping the corners and spreading some newspapers on the floor, adding some water to the thick paint I finally began. I chose the Sunny Yellow from Royale Asian Paints. Now I realize that I wanted a bit of orange in it –  a little Mango perhaps, but sunny yellow is nice as well.

PicMonkey Collage

First coat, followed by a second one two hours later and we were done.

  PicMonkey Collage   Not a shabby job, even if I say so myself. The hardest part was taping the molding on the ceiling and not going overboard with the roller in enthusiasm. It can be done and my paintings do pop out more on the wall now.

1234

The Nook

Next project will be to tackle a wall that needs scraping, putty and primer. Now, that would test my mettle.