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.
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.
My social media footprints (twitter and instagram and travelblog) will reveal that I went to Italy and to Hungary in July and although it’s now August, it still feels like July so that excuses my tardiness. Doesn’t it?
Those two short weekend trips in the space of a month were more than just much needed respite from a hectic schedule, and much more than the sum of their parts; four days away to indulge in my own company and that of good friends; time to let the sun soak into my skin and thaw the tension of everyday life; space to wander think and be; food to fuel my appetite and culinary imagination…. Those four days were freeing in a way that only travel can be. I had forgotten that.
Let’s backtrack a little. Some years ago, weary of working life and feeling directionless in my early adulthood I packed a bag and travelled around the world on my own. Seven months later I returned to the UK craving companionship and tired of travelling. I hadn’t since granted myself the gift of solo travel and time… until now. Reconnecting with oneself is such a vital component of an expressive and fulfilling journey through life.
Of course the journey was as much an epicurean one as a personal one. I will unashamedly share in this space that I visited the beautiful city of Florence and saw not a single museum, learned not any historical fact, marvelled at none of the great buildings, nor admired any of the art galleries. Even Michaelangelo’s David went amiss. Instead, Emma and I went on a culinary pilgrimage to find the city’s finest gelato (we happened to stumble upon the Duomo en route) (oh, and it’s toasted black sesame at Vivoli’s in case you’re wondering), to indulge in the most mouth watering pizza, to practically pray to the food gods for the divine taste of fresh porcini, to taste tiramisu and sweet creamy pastries, to frequent the food markets and to carry as much balsamic vinegar and olive oil home as is possible in economy class hand luggage. Oh my gosh did I mention I had a “DinnerSheWrote” apron made?! (see picture below). This for me is Italy, this is the beauty of being passionate, this is art of falling in love. For in Italy, food and love are synonymous.
Following the Italian food excursion, I flew to Budapest, Hungary. This time to meet another friend, to explore a new city and to fill the pages of my journal. Needless to say food featured highly in this trip too; I ate the most divine salad with Hungarian mangalian ham I have ever tasted, I ate chicken pancake (which I’m sure sounds way more exotic and menu worthy in Hungarian) and drank my fill of sweet sweet tokaji wine. The breathtaking views of the Danube down at river level or up on the hilltop perhaps stamp Budapest as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
I am ever grateful for the experiences of travel, for the friends that find me, and for the exciting culinary journey my life is.
No recipes today, just fuel for your imagination.