Earth Magic Kanha – When the soul needed feeding

It’s been a while since I travelled to Kanha. But then, some stories take longer to get out of your head and take the shape of words on paper…my laptop screen in this case.

As the banner of this blog proclaims, I travel for food; food for the body. But then, there are times when the soul needs feeding. It needs to release every pain it has been taking up. The heart needs to let go. And these are the times when I pack my bags and find solace in places that feel far removed from everything that’s familiar to me…a waterfall in the remote village of Meghalaya; a sunrise somewhere in Kutch; and a forest where I can disconnect with everything to connect with myself.

Kanha, where I was two months ago was one such place for me. I travelled there with two beautiful souls – Chetna Chakravarthy (Circle Of Positivity) and Natasha Mahindra (Anam Cara Yoga Retreats) for a retreat that the two were hosting; four days of yoga, chakra healing clubbed with the forest safari. Away from everything that would connect me to the rest of the world – in that beautiful lodge by the river bed – I was tuning in to a different frequency. Rooting myself to mother earth, flowing like water and letting fire ignite the dreams and passion in me.

I turned into a bougainvillea tree during meditation; broke down after dancing uninhibitedly and gave away my secrets and pain to the forest. Have you ever spoken to the forest? To its large tree trunks with thick roots, branches and winding roads? The forest listens if you talk to it and it takes everything that you’re hiding inside you and buries it in its vastness; no questions asked, no judgments. That place, those little spots in the majestic Kanha National Park were accepting and healing. And it might sound something out of a Hollywood movie…Eat Pray Love-esque. But it’s true. Nature is healing; it has the power to take away the heaviness and pain, and fill one with a sense of awareness.

That’s what Chetna and Natasha are doing with their Earth Magic Retreat series. Creating magic by helping you connect more with the nature; holding space for you as you come to terms with your true self; creating a safe space to share your deepest fears as well as your biggest triumphs, your dreams…however irrational they feel to you. Call it a place to overhaul, cleanse or just a space where you can be happy cause that’s what I felt in that forest for four days…happy!

What better way to close this post than a quote by Sylvia Plath:

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air,mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy”

I don’t know if this post made sense to you. But if it did touch a chord, do leave me a comment. Also, Chetna and Natasha are planning their next retreat in Croatia. You can find out more about it here.

Paat Pani – Memories from Marathwada

Preeti Deo’s cooking journey looks like something straight out of a Hollywood movie or an international bestseller. Well, it does bear some similarity with Julie and Julia. Like Julie Powell in the movie, Deo too cooked her way through a famous cookbook. Only, in her case the book was a collection of Maharashtrian recipes authored by Late Kamalabai Ogale. Ruchira is an iconic cookbook, almost a Bible to the Maharashtrian cooking and can be found in almost every Marathi household. Deo cooked 300 recipes from the book which took her three years. A feat achieved while she was staying in London where most Indian ingredients are not so easily available. “At times I would drive in snow to get to the distant markets to buy the ingredients,” she tells me over a phone interview.

Deo was recently in India to launch her own book which focuses on the recipes from the Marathwada region which consists of Aurangabad, Beed, Jalna, Latur, Osmanabad and other districts. Deo’s book Paat Pani is a collection of recipes from her maternal and paternal households as well as her mother in law’s kitchen; each section peppered with memories of family rituals based around food.

Paat Pani in Marathi means setting the meal. In a traditional Maharashtrian household, meal is served on banana leaf or a large metal plate called taat. An aasan (rectangular fabric) or a short legged stool called paat is placed to sit on and eat the meal. The plate is placed on a higher wooden stool called chaurang. Apart from the placement of meal, the serving of dishes too has a certain pattern. Salt is served first followed by lemon and condiments – pickles, chutneys, koshimbir (a condiment usually made with yogurt and cucumber) – all served on the left side of the plate. Sides or vegetable preparations and aamti (lentil preparation) or kadhi are placed on the right side. The centre stage is occupied by rice, flatbreads, fried accompaniments like papad etc. and dessert. The recipes in the book cover every element served in the meal.

Marathwada is a dry region and gets 30 per cent less rainfall than the rest of the country and hence doesn’t have access to fresh vegetables and greens during most part of the year especially summers. “People don’t know much about the cuisine of this part. While there isn’t enough fresh produce we do use a lot of valvaan (sundried products) in our cooking,” says Deo. During winter when green leafy vegetables and gourds are available, people sun-dry and store them to use in the latter part of the year. Vegetables like okra, chillies and cluster beans are coated with butter milk, seasoned with cumin powder and sun-dried. These, when fried, make for delicious accompaniments to the meal.

Deo, who belongs to Jalna, retraced her steps back to her hometown, called her ajji (maternal grandmother) and other family members to get the traditional recipes. Most of her memories – and the fondest ones – are associated with her tai (paternal grandmother) and her house in Aurangabad. “Tai used to wear a green shawl almost all the time, while sitting by stove making puran poli or drying mangoes in sun to make pickle. The shawl had faint aromas of caramelised jaggery, agarbatti, haldi kumkum; it was like a testimony to her life,” she says.

The book also touches upon some of the key ingredients or masalas. What garam masala is to north Indian cooking, kala masala is to Marathwada cooking. The dry roasted mix of various spices forms the base of most dishes. Metkut – a mix of lentils, wheat, rice and spices which are dry roasted and ground – is used in various ways; sprinkle it over hot rice, pohe or mix in yogurt to make quick dip.

The most interesting, and my favourite, part of the book is the section about hand-rolled pastas or valvat. These pastas, categorised into dry and fresh kinds, are made with sorghum flour, whole wheat flour and semolina, and eaten as savoury snacks or dessert. Shaping these pastas to make them resemble grains of rice, tiny shells or even little pearls is nothing less than a work of art.

ukad shengule (with spinach puree)

Paat Pani is available on Amazon.

The best meals of 2018 – Where and what I ate

It’s becoming a sort of ritual now…to round up the year with the best meals I have eaten and 2018 has been especially kind. It’s the year I really traveled for food and created itineraries for those who love to travel for food (I consult with Cox and Kings and created itineraries for their product Tour To Feast). 2018 was the year of learning about food of different communities and going absolutely hyper local.

So here they are…my most memorable meals of 2018.

deena kaka’s hing ki kachori, varanasi

Varanasi’s very own Soup Nazi, Deena Kaka runs this small kachori shop near Chowk area. The shop is literally on a footpath where people patiently wait while he fries the kachori. You can’t ask him to hurry up, you have to wait patiently and wait in the line or else you don’t get any kachori. . . Deena Kaka opens the shop for just 3 hours in the evening, fries 3 batches of kachoris and goes home. The price of one kachori is Rs 5 which hasn’t been increased in years. He doesn’t do it for money anymore, it’s purely for the love of food. And the love shows in his kachoris which are stuffed with aloo and fried in desi ghee. The air around the shop is thick with the aromas of hing which makes his kachoris stand out. He serves them with black gram and chutney. This plate of kachoris is the best food I have eaten in Varanasi.

Also Read: Varanasi – The city that runs on high vibration

Deena Kaka ki hing ki kachauri, Varanasi

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Fun things to do in Copenhagen

Nyavhn, Copenhagen

My Copenhagen trip was planned in a month, between hectic work travel and planning a pop-up dinner. And so, there was barely any time for me to research about the place and things to do there. However, there were quite a few things I was looking forward to…food, of course (yes, I tried to make a booking at Noma but I don’t think I am ready to part with 20k for a meal, not yet); cycling and late sunsets. Oh yes! It’s quite fascinating to have your dinner while the sun is still out. I traveled to Denmark in July, peak summer; something the whole country looks forward to after long, cold and dark winters. Continue reading