The Himalayan Foothills. Oft spoke about as a sort of spiritual mecca, as if this land, this place, this range of magnificent rock formation emanates a certain vibration. Perhaps it does. I am not to dispel such theories if they exist. Only that, one’s soul is omnipresent and that vastness of space is with us wherever we may go. Including this journey to the Himalayas, a journey that took me over 2,000 kilometres, across six states and via seven modes of transport. Took us, I should say; for my co-author and I both decided to leave the distracting circumstances of the world aside for five days and focus. The book, the novel, is always our point of focus but here in Himachal, we wanted to soak ourselves in its mystery, its magic and let the story of it unfold. And so it did.
New Year. New you? New resolutions? New beginnings? What is it that makes us so fond of newness? Newness is inherent. It is our very nature. Must we wait ‘til some arbitrary moment on a calendar to feel the newness of ourselves? Why no, for we are new in every moment. Each one now is not the same as the one just passed and you need not await the timing set by another to embrace alternative perspectives, take on dream-worthy challenges, experience life differently.
Life, as nature, has a rhythm. Allow yourself to feel your own rhythm and when you are ready to grow to move to fly, it might not be the new-year, it might not even be Spring. It may be the coldest depths of winter when that creative urge begins to stir within you. Heed that call. Dance to the tune of your inner calendar. It’s the only one that will guide you home. It’s the only one that will tell you just how old you are; whether it’s time to settle down or power forth with that creative vision you’ve submerged for so long.
For too long we have danced to the tune of common causes. Be it new year festivities or valentines day roses; be it the arduous mill of the corporate grind or the greasy rung of the mortgage ladder, be it legalizing love into the defined parameters of what society calls marriage or acquiring false security through such unreal notions as money.
Go eat that sugar filled jam doughnut if you want to, even if it is the 2nd of January. Go hug a colleague even if every fibre in your fearful body tells you that it is entirely socially unacceptable. Go destroy a project you’ve been trying to complete with all guts and no heart. Whatever your tune is, sing it.
It is not a ‘new year’ for newness is all there is. Enjoy celebrating this year, this day, this moment. Now.
I’ll leave you with this recipe for spelt gingerbread cookies. I’ve never cooked with spelt before
Spelt Gingerbread Cookies (adapted from www.mynewroots.org)
Ingredients: (makes 15 cookies)
350g whole spelt flour
¼ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
5 tbsp. coconut oil
70g dark brown muscavado sugar
½ cup date syrup
3 tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Sift the dry ingredients together.
Melt the coconut oil and mix in the date syrup, applesauce, and vanilla.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, and fold until it just comes together into a dough. Roll into a ball and wrap it into a plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Remove dough from the fridge, unwrap and place the dough between two pieces of baking paper and roll out to about 2mm thick. (I needed to lean into this quite hard). Remove top half of the paper and cut out desired shapes. Gently place on a lined baking sheet.
Place cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes (depending on how chewy you like your cookies). Remove from oven and let cool… if you can resist!
Five months. The gap between the last blog post and the one before that. That gap represents a lifetime of love, lessons and all the stardust in between. Stardust that is still settling… still taking shape… I realised however that perhaps this is how it will always be… life cascading in waves around us as we watch with wonder at its unfolding. There have been moments of inspired flight, of howling pain, of unbelievable magic, and of deep disappointment. There have been moments as far reaching as the dunes of a sandy desert and as illusory as a mirage within it, moments where doubt held as much weight as the certainty of daylight, and moments where time simply stood still. The full range of human emotion has visited my house, stayed for supper and left just as swiftly. And all the while I’ve been watching the stardust.
Here’s the thing. I’m writing a novel. I am writing a novel with my co-author and we’re about half way through. It’s a bigger deal than I ever anticipated it would be. My co-author is currently on a different continent, which makes things even more of a bigger deal. I have never before co-authored a book, collaborated on a creative project or indeed allowed someone to share that sacred space of one’s own creative spirit.
This time though, I took the leap. I jumped into that void we call the unknown and plunged myself into the book. In reality everything is unknown, and when we let go of trying to exert control and knowing, life runs more smoothly, words spill effortlessly from the ink pot through the pen, smokescreens of confusion suddenly lift and we cease troubling ourselves with trying to work it all out.
So, here’s a call to “mind the gap”. Gaps are okay, pauses are necessary and we need not always fill the hole, break the silence or avoid the gap. Just be mindful of its existence and allow yourself to expand into it.
You’ll remember this post, Oh The Places You’ll Go, from last summer. That carefree July of 2013 I decided to visit Hungary and Italy. Two long summer weekends, scorching hot yet laced with the winds of change that were to reveal themselves through the months that were to come.
And so this year, when life found me visiting those same two countries again, amidst a mild European winter, I reflect on just how much has happened since my last trips. My inner journey has taken me farther than any passport ever will and for that I am grateful.
Italy. A place so passionate about food will never fail to lure me to its land over and over. This time I went to Bologna, armed with a couple of foodie friends and carefully drawn out maps marking the best eateries in the city. I also managed to bag myself some beautiful leather riding boots and a bust nose. I’ll spare the story.
Hungary. Budapest is of the most striking cities in Europe, its charm so overstated that even on my second visit to this stunning city I walked around agape at its architectural beauty. The views from every angle of this city are breathtaking, and the experience of plunging oneself into a hot outdoor pool beneath a full moon and a crisp clear night was akin to all of the sharp contrasts this year has been.
11pm two nights before the wedding and we had undershot our 9pm target finish time by a mere two hours. Disposing of several kilos of fondant and wearing our ‘we hate fondant’ faces, tired and weary and slightly hysterical we battled with covering four cakes. This was day four in the week-long run up to the wedding. The preceding day Emma had made vast amounts of buttercream and the following and final day we were dowelling and decorating long after our willingness had gone to bed. Trials and tribulations of the past few weeks are too much a blur to recall here in detail but suffice it to say that more expletives uttered, hysterical laughter erupted and icing sugar coated moments were experienced in Emma’s apartment recently than ever before. After a rather seat-gripping nerve-wracking drive from London to Marlow with a four tier cake balanced in the back, the infamously muttered lines of ‘never again’ were repeated but I am sure like all declarations of good intent, we had said that the previous time. We really had been ambitious with this one. Each tier with distinct flavourings of chocolate, and white chocolate buttercream, lemon curd, and apricot jam (not to mention the finger-flavoured slice some poor guest must have eaten since somebody had poked a finger into the top tier. Grrr). In the end, it all ended well and the wedding was beautiful. Congratulations to you Renzo and Elsa and thank you so much for trusting us with the first cake slice of your wedded life.
I agreed to make another wedding cake. ‘Agree’ is putting it mildly. The agreement was infused with enthusiasm and love and excitement and the conversation culminated in me saying that I would be honoured to make Renzo and Elsa’s wedding cake.
And then I realised that the wedding was a day before Emma’s birthday (Emma without whom I could not have pulled off my previous cake effort). So I proposed the following: “Emma, why don’t we just cancel your birthday dinner, you instead spend your birthday helping me make this cake and then we’ll somehow transport it to Berkshire”. Obviously she agreed. LOVE HER.
Since then we’ve been sketching ideas and buying tins n cutters n cute things and we went to a decorating course – where we made this.
No recipe attached as we didn’t actually bake, we spent the day at RockBakehouse learning new decorating techniques .
It was fun and tiring and so so rewarding to be creatively engaged.
Carrying the cake home on commuter trains was, um, interesting. And then I decided it would be an awesome idea to carry the cake all the way up to Leicester.
Time to get baking!
Blueberry and Spinach Smoothie
In approximate quantities, throw the following into your blender:
1 frozen banana
a handful of fresh baby spinach
a handful of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp of almond butter
1 tsp of bee pollen
1 tsp of hemp seeds
1 tsp of chia seeds
1 cup milk of choice (I like rice milk)
Blend. Drink. Own your contradictions.
I feel like I’m in this race. And I always lose. In fact, the harder I try, the more I feel like I’m failing. And my opponent, it taunts me… like some sneering element watching me struggle.
My so-called race against the clock is incessant and exhausting.
I am demanding of myself, yes. And come what may, there are certain things that find space in my schedule: fitness, and food. There are other things that ought to have priority in my schedule and don’t. I work hard and don’t play hard enough
I hereby declare that I am not playing that futile game of racing against time any more. I am officially slowing down and breathing space into my schedule, my priorities and my life.
Here is a recipe for braised cabbage, which, takes a lovely while to cook
Cream Braised Green Cabbage
(recipe very slightly adapted from Orangette)
1 small green cabbage
3 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
160ml double cream
Wash and prepare your cabbage by pulling away and bruised leaves and trim off the end. Cut into quarters, and again (so you have wedges).
In a large pan, melt the butter over a medium heat and layer the cabbage wedges down so that they each have contact with the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the bottom layer is nicely browned and starting to caramelize.
Turn each wedge over carefully. When the second side has browned, sprinkle the salt and add the cream. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and simmer gently for around 20 minutes.
Remove the lid, flip the wedges once more and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the cabbage is very tender. Shake the pan and simmer uncovered for a final 5minutes to thicken the cream to a glaze.
Keep the clock away. Serve immediately with salt to taste.
No. I did not miss that annual food fest called Christmas. Believe me, I indulged in that fully. Everything from homemade cranberry sauce eaten straight from the warm pan to my aunt’s absolutely divine lamb curry; which feels a bit like the food is having a party in my mouth. I might even argue that the party hasn’t yet stopped; if I look at the chocolate boxes and mince pies strewn around my apartment as I sip the hot cocoa I’ve just made.
Where was I? Oh yes, I had wanted to blog about all the wonderful things I made, and ate. I had wanted to post festive seasonal recipes and I had wanted to write about all the ongoings in my life post-India trip. The one thing I will successfully share with you is this sweet potato, spinach and bacon brunch with you: (there are far fewer things in life more important than food anyhow)….
Vegetable oil for cooking
Handful of cumin seeds
Pinch of salt
6 rashers of bacon, chopped into chunks
Handful of fresh spinach or kale
1 sweet potato, chopped and baked
As with other indulgent, delicious thrown-together brunch recipes, the quantities are really up to you. Just use the above as a rough guide to make enough to serve two.
Lightly fry the cumin seeds in oil. Add the chopped bacon until cooked. Add in the chopped, cooked sweet potato, and finally the spinach/kale until wilted. Serve the whole lot onto a plate, and use the same pan to fry the eggs. Perch the eggs on top and sprinkle with salt. Delicious.
So I went to India. Again. I didn’t mean to. It just kind of, happened. Quite spontaneously a friend of mine mentioned that he was going home to Pune, for Diwali festivities and asked whether I would like to join (I assumed it was a rhetorical question and my flight was booked a few days later).
Whilst this may not have been my first trip to the ‘motherland’ in many ways it was my first. It was the first time that I loved it instantly and ongoingly and let myself be taken by its breathtaking beauty, it’s the first time I stayed with an Indian family and travelled with a local, it’s the first time I allowed myself to indulge in guilt free feasting all fortnight, it’s the first time I engaged my linguistic capabilities to learn the national language and really it’s the first time I let go. For that is what there is to do in India; is to “leave life alone”, as a wise friend had put it. I didn’t interfere with the quiet chaos of the roads, or the deafening silence of the trees, or the sweet stinging of mosquito bites, or the intoxicating air of the mountains or the eye watering burn of spices, or the smell of the vast contrast between rich and poor, or the tangible romance embedded in the Indian air. I let it all be, and the result was astounding. My entire being was saturated with the Indian experience of myself. Having an Indian heritage and experiencing the full weight of that heritage are two very different things, I discovered on this trip. Perhaps during my previous visits I was not mature enough to see that or experience it, or perhaps I became ready to see what life had to show me. Either way, I am infinitely grateful.
It’s difficult to pinpoint experiences and I wish I could describe them in chronological journal style as I have done before but it’s difficult to encompass the entirety of the experience with a day to day breakdown since each day was drenched in substances like fresh sugar cane juice, or hot Indian wind sweeping through my hair whilst riding on a bike, or the taste of poetic Hindi dropping like honey into my ears, or love, curiosity and carefreeness in the eyes of strangers.
That said, there are some special occasions that are worthy of mention:
My 31st birthday: which did not go amiss, with a cake, some candles and a small party of people to share the wishes that I blew into the candles.
Diwali: the Hindu festival of light. It has been a longstanding dream to experience the full technicolour vivacity of that celebration in India and this year I got my chance; the divas lit outside and around the home made the place truly magical. The evening ended with standing on the rooftop terrace being showered with fireworks, all of them cascading light in a cadenza of colour and noise, it was an experience that mere words cannot do justice to.
Sinhagad: to say that the mountains at Sinhagad were majestic is an understatement of mammoth proportions. I recall one moment of solitude when I stood atop the mountain, drinking in it’s majesty, it’s energy and thrill of beauty. To expand into such a wide open space whilst measuring one’s infinitesimal position against the backdrop is a glorious feeling. The road trip itself was fun too, singing to old Bollywood songs.
Alandi: There was nothing special about Alandi; which is why I loved it. A village, with the slow paced intricacies of village life. The gentle swaying of trees in the hot breeze or the dust swept up by a passing truck, or the soft laughter of children outside a home. These are the simplicities that make Alundi, and all other villages special. We sat, under the cool shade of an empty temple for some time, talking, lazing, sharing that special moment. For all the fast paced materialism of my London lifestyle – that moment was priceless.
Family: If I said that I stayed with one of the most loving and welcoming families in all India, I would say it with conviction. My friend’s parents stretched out their arms, their hearts and their home so far that I practically fell with a hard thud of love upside my stressed out head. It took me no more than a nanosecond to surrender to that love. Speaking of which, in true customary fashion, I was overfed. A lot. I was called a ‘sparrow’ for my Western dietary tendency of eating small amounts of food (nuts and grains as preference). Well that soon changed. My friend’s mother ensured a consistent supply of amazing food, not least sweet delicacies to satisfy my inner sugar monster. I am surprised that my teeth did not dissolve in sugar to be honest. My dentist would be horrified. My post vacation tummy is furious. Just this morning it was screaming ‘what? Where is my hot chapatti with fresh homemade butter and sugar? What do you mean we are having a banana today?’.
Food family and friends. That composition is enough to make a magical life anywhere but India really is something special. Experiences to highlight, remember and replicate: The food market at Pimpry, the mountains at Sinhagad, Things I would not recommend: walking around in the evening dusk without mosquito repellent, continuing to eat on an upset stomach, or losing a visa; I would most definitely not recommend that.