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So I went to India…. Again.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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That said, there are some special occasions that are worthy of mention:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?’.

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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.

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3 ways with apples

Lets continue with the three-ways theme shall we?

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This week I have been harvesting (and by harvesting I mean picking up the fallen apples from the tree as I come home from work) all the apples from the tree in my garden (yes I’m lucky enough to have a garden, for now). So many apples and only so many apple pies one can eat (ahem).

Since Christmas is just around the corner (don’t worry you too can bury your sweet ostrich head back in the sand as soon as you’ve read this post), I figured some apple chutney stored in jars and ready to give away as gifts wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Next I made a paleo vegan gluten free sugar free apple pie, and then some sugary buttery apple cookies. My diet, as my life, may be full of apparent conflicts and contradictions but in the end it always boils down to the maximisation of pleasure…

Roasted garlic and apple chutney

(recipe adaptation from Abel and Cole)

1.5kg apples, peeled cored and roughly chopped
1 whole bulb garlic
3 large onions, peeled, chopped into chunks
2 handfuls raisins
1 mug organic apple cider vinegar
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp salt
1/2 mug brown sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 190C.  Slice the top off the garlic bulb so that you can just see the flesh of the garlic cloves through the skin. Put into the oven and leave to roast for 40mins.

In the meantime put all of the remaining ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir and bring down to a simmer.

Once the garlic is roasted, squeeze the bulbs out of the skin and into the saucepan.  Continue to let the chutney simmer for about 1.5 hours until it reaches a thick porridge-like consistency.

Cool and spoon into sterilised jars, saving for Christmas!

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Apple pie (paleo-vegan)

For the crust:
300g raw cashews
200g pitted dates
140g brown rice flour
40g gluten free oats
2-8 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of malden salt

For the filling
4 apples
200g pitted dates
juice from ½ lemon
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cloves
Pre-heat oven to 200C.

Make crust: place all the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you have a fine flour. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Place the dates, vanilla nd 2 tbsp of water in the processor and run until you have a complete smooth a creamy mixture. Scrape down the sides and add more water if necessary. Scoop this into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mx together using your hands. The dough should eventually be firm enough to form into a ball.

Split the dough ball into two. Roll one half out and press it down into a pie pan lined with parchment paper. Prick the crust and place in the oven to pre-bake for ten minutes.

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Make filling: slice apples into wedges. Blend dates, lemon, vanilla and spices in the processor. Mix in with the apples. Press the mixture into the pre-baked crust.

Roll out the other half of the dough and place over the pie dish. Press the edges down and cut four slits in the centre of the pie.

Bake for 30-40mins until the crust has browned a deep golden.

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Apple Cookies

40g softened butter
130g light brown sugar
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
125g wholewheat organic flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
handful of nuts (walnuts or pecans)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Yields 10 cookies, if you don’t eat the mixture.

Set the oven to 350F.

Cream the sugar and butter. Next mix in the egg and then the grated apple and the vanilla. Don’t eat the raw mixture.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, cinnamon, salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and mix together. Fold in the nuts. Don’t eat the raw mixture.

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Dollop about a tablespoon of cookie batter onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper leaving at least an inch of space in between the cookies. Cook for 15-20 mins until the cookies are golden across the top.

As soon as they emerge from the oven, sprinkle some more brown sugar and cinnamon mix across the top.

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Greens. You know you want to.

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…. Just in case you were thinking that all I’m eating these days is wedding cake cast offs and copious amounts of raw cake mix (ahem)…. I thought I would allay those concerns with this so-good-I-almost-cried plate of greens.

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Truth be told, I have been having a lot of greens lately: most mornings start with a raw green juice of broccoli, kale, spinach, celery, apple, cucumber, spirulina and wheatgrass (try that for a 5am wake-up call (well actually my current juicer is so loud I’m pretty sure that it is a wake-up call for my too-kind neighbours but that is another story)).

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The sound of this story, is a blissfully silent one of sheer appreciation. This dish is so good in its wholesome simplicity, so beautific in its glorious greenery and so comforting in the warmth of its goodness that it deserves an applause. As does Sarah B of ‘mynewroots’. Superstar.

The sweet tang of the dressing perfectly counter balances the gentle crunch of raw greens and the delightful squelch of soft soba. It’s just… too good. If you are still reading this post, be gone. Go make the dish. Now.

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Greens n Noodles (recipe adapted from Sarah B at mynewroots).

Ingredients:

125g brown rice noodles /buckwheat / wholewheat soba
Handfuls of mixed greens (swiss chard, kale, spinach, spring greens etc)

Dressing:
1 tbsp. tamari (soy sauce works too)
2 tbsp. cold-pressed sesame oil
2 tsp. raw honey (or maple syrup)
2 tsp. brown rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
Juice of ½ a lime
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tbsp. fresh ginger root, minced
2 spring onions, sliced
½ red chili, minced

Toppings:
¼ cup mixed black and white sesame seeds
¼ cup cashews
½ cup coriander, chopped
½ cup mint, chopped

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1. In a small dish whisk dressing ingredients together, season to taste. Set aside.

2. Boil a pot of salted water and cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and pour a little of the dressing over and toss well to coat.

3. In a dry pan over medium heat, toast sesame seeds until fragrant. Do the same with the cashews.

4. Wash and greens and spin them dry. Remove any tough stalks, stack leaves, roll up and slice into thin ribbons. Add to a large bowl pour remaining dressing over, throw in some mint and coriander and toss well to coat.

5. Add dressed greens to dressed noodles and dish up .To serve, you can add additional herbs, nuts, seeds, etc. It’s a bowlful of health this recipe.

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Shortlisted!

This calls for cake.

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Some weeks ago a friend of mine drew my attention to the Taste Master job and said “this has your name all over it”. The widely advertised ‘Best Jobs in the World’ promotion by Tourism Australia was certainly creating some buzz.

When I finally got around to putting my always opining, often unhelpful, rational mind to one side, my heart had a chance to be heard; and, to agree with my friend. And so, I submitted an entry.

Late last night, just before my head hit the pillow, I checked my iPhone for new email messages. To receive the ‘ping’ of e-communication highlighting that 600,000 applicants had submitted entries for the World’s Best Job and that I had made the top 25 shortlist was surreal to say the least. It still is… my heart is peering smugly up at my disbelieving head. It is however, true. I’m on the shortlist. Woop!

Oh, yes. Cake. I wouldn’t leave you without something scrumptious to eat… let there be cake!

Carrot Cake

Ingredients

250g soft brown sugar
120ml vegetable oil
250g ground almonds
250g grated carrots
3 eggs

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.

2. Mix together the sugar and oil, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing to combine. Stir in the almond flour and the carrots.

3. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 50mins to 1hour until the top has turned golden brown and is firm to touch.

 And let’s not pretend I didn’t eat it straight from the oven tray. I totally did.

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Chinese Leaf Parcels

Here’s what I’ve been up to this weekend: using up the large chinese leaf cabbage that landed in my veg box delivery this week, which, as Keith Able says, “looks like the love child of a savoy cabbage and an iceberg lettuce”. Now who wouldn’t want to start cooking with that?! Seeing Smitten Kitchen‘s recent post for ‘italian stuffed cabbage’ lit an inner lighbulb; ‘oooh I know what I’ll do’. Turns out, it wasn’t so illuminating a light bulb moment as one might have hoped. It turned out okay, just that, the texture of the chinese leaf lends itself to frying far better than boiling or steaming. The taste was all there but the texture was somewhat chewy. Which is really not the effect I was after. Experiment trialled. Lesson learned. If you ever make that recipe, go with Savoy cabbage, as Deb Perelman suggests. I had enough chinese leaf left to also try out the following recipe:

Chinese Leaf Parcels (recipe adapted from Abel&Cole)

Ingredients
1 head chinese leaf
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
sea salt
200g mushrooms, sliced
1 onion (or 1 leek), thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
3cm piece ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 red chilli, finely chopped
dash of soy sauce
1/2 lime, juiced
handful fresh coriander

Method

Carefully pull off 8 large outer leaves of the chinese leaf cabbage and finely shred the remainder.

Put a lidded pan over a medium head and toast the rice for a few moments, add salt and olive oil, then the water. Cook for 30-40mins, adding more water if necessary (note I cooked my rice in veg stock for extra flavour).

In the meantime, fry the onions. When softened, add the mushrooms and the shredded chinese leaf, garlic, ginger and chilli. Stir and cook til soft. Season with a dash of soy sauce and lime juice. Taste and adjust accordingly; adding herbs if desired.

When both are cooked, stir the rice and veg together.

Now time to make the parcels. Add some salt to a pan of boiling water, gently place the leaves into the pan, and allow to cook for 2-3mins, remove when softened and place on a dry teatowel to drain. Take each one onto a work surface and spoon a heap of the rice mix onto the base (the firm white stalk) of the leaves. Roll up/ tuck in the sides and your chinese leaf parcel is ready.