Showing posts with label holiday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holiday. Show all posts

Dec 24, 2018

Baby it's Cold Outside!

A very Merry Christmas to all my readers, friends, acquaintances, and family who celebrate it! May your hearts and homes be filled with all of the joys the festive season brings.

Yep, there's snow up way in the Himalayas. The snowline in the Himalayas is rather high (6,000m/19,685ft) due to their southern latitude. In comparison, the European Alps have a snowline of 2,700m/8,858ft, and the American Rockies 3,000m/9,842ft.

And here's a photo of the Pokhara valley where we live. As you can see it is a sheltered, subtropical widening of the Seti Gandaki river valley. A lot of people mistakenly think Nepal is all snowy peaks and icy glaciers - no, most Nepalis live in little temperate protected valleys like this. The altitude of our valley varies from 827m/2,713 ft in the south to 1,740m /5,710ft in the north. This photo was taken at Sarangkot at about 1.524m/5,000ft at the southern end of the valley. The mountains in the background are the Annapurna range which has three of the ten highest mountains in the world — Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu. That lofty peak in the center of the photo is Mt. Macchapuchre which is an elevation of 6,993/22,943ft and is the closest mountain to our city.

These festively dressed ladies are our neighbors whom have a water buffalo. All that greenery they are carrying on their backs is fodder they have collected for their buffalo to eat. They are dressed in scarlet, bedecked, and bejeweled like this every day. I save all our leftover rice and veg scraps to give to them for the buffalo.

And off they go carrying their loads. You see this all over Nepal, the animals they are feeding are tethered in a barn and used for milk or meat. When people get killed by a tiger or cheetah here it is usually when they venture into the forest or a ravine to collect food for livestock like this. (Yes, people do get killed by tigers  and cheetahs here.)

It is clear, bright, sunny, dry, crisp, and mild with temperatures around 65F/18C during the day and 44F/7C at night here in the Winter. The moonflowers on our fence are still blooming their hearts out nonstop- it is really weird to see moonflowers in December even for a California gal like myself.

I bought these marigolds and planted them in September and wowzers did they bloom their hearts out! Those bright yellow and orange blooms were a good 4 inches across and kept coming until last week. I'm not sure what variety as the seeds were from Thailand and the writing was all in Thai. I just ripped them out last weekend and planted petunias, snapdragons, and salvia in their place.

Just in case I can't find those marigold seeds to buy again I collected and dried a few of the seedheads. Our gardener says they are hybrid and the flowers from the seeds will not look like their parents. He's probably right but I want MOAR flowers.

This weirdness is the purple yam, winged yam, ube, or Dioscorea alata. It started out as a vigorous vine with beautiful heart-shaped leaves. It is native to southeast Asia and has been cultivated since ancient times. The purple yam has become naturalized throughout tropical South America, Africa, Australia, the southeastern U.S. It has tubers below ground as well as these fruits you see above. My gardener says Nepalis eat these boiled but I have never seen them served. They are fried into chips in Maharashtra and is part of a vegetable stew called undhiyu in Gujarat. The color of the purple yam is due to various anthocyanin pigments.

I harvested the first turnips from our garden last week. This is cause for great excitement in my Kashmiri family. I've never seen anyone else get so excited turnips. Just so you know: Kashmiris do not eat turnip greens. Don't do like Bibi did and figure that since Punjabis eat turnip greens Kashmiris do too. I think turnip greens are the only greens Kashmiris won't eat.

This came strolling down our driveway one afternoon. "What on earth is that?" thought Bibi. It grabbed a tiny mouse I had not seen in the turnip patch, casually snapped its neck, and carried it off into the undergrowth. This is a Javan mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) and is about 24 inches in length. Mongooses mostly eat insects but are opportunistic feeders and will eat crabs, frogs, spiders, scorpions, snakes, small mammals, birds, and eggs. I had never seen one in the wild before this. They breed prolifically with males becoming sexually mature at 4 months and females producing litters of 2–5 pups a year. Worldwide they have become an invasive pest and carry rabies, leptospirosis, and antimicrobial-resistant strains of E. coli.

These pretty little things have been nesting in the huge bougainvillea over the carport. The spotted dove or pearl-necked dove (Spilopelia chinensis) is a small and somewhat long-tailed pigeon that is a common resident breeding bird across its native range on the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. This species was formerly included in the genus Streptopelia, but a 2001 study based on molecular sequence as well as vocalization indicated that it and the laughing dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) stood out from the other taxa then included in Streptopelia. The pleasant vocalizations of the spotted dove include cooing softly with a Krookruk-krukroo... kroo kroo kroo. They are stupid like all pigeons and build poorly constructed nests that the eggs tend to fall out of. Actually, the babies fall out quite often too. The species has been introduced into many parts of the world and feral populations have become established in Hawaii, southern California, Mauritius, Australia, and New Zealand.

Meet the newest member of our family! This is Snowy or the Snowman as I like to call him. Snowy is another rescue cat from Catmandu Lovers in Kathmandu. Snowy is an unknown breed that was found on the street with a horrible ear mite infestation and brought to the rescue center. He looks to be an exotic breed (American Curl?) as cats like him are rarely seen in Nepal. Apparently, there is a pet farm in Kathmandu that raises fancy breeds. Snowy seems unusually comfortable in his crate and does not seem to have been socialized with other cats or humans. He is also completely deaf so he must stay inside. I wonder if he was kept in a cage at a pet farm? Anyway, when we first got him he was always trying to bite us, now he has calmed and allows us to pet and hold him. We love him!

And our little Tux is growing! Here he is watching his bird video on YouTube on my desk. He usually sits fascinated in front of the screen occasionally batting at the birds. Sometimes he looks behind the monitor to see if the birds are there.

Love, Peace and Joy!


Dec 17, 2018

Date and Ginger Gems

Chewy dates, spicy ginger, and sparkling sugar give these cookies a festive flair. Their natural sweetness and moist texture make them the perfect anytime treat or holiday gift!

I've been looking for the perfect recipe to showcase these Khalas dates from the UAE and this is it! Khalas are one of over 250 varieties of dates grown throughout the Middle East. They are one of the most popular dates due to their high sugar content, rich caramel-like flavor, and tender flesh. Amazingly enough, they are less than $5USD a pound here in Nepal and come beautifully hand-packed in a resealable tub. (No, this not an advertisement nor sponsored post for Date Crown- these are really a fabulous product!)
I also wanted to utilize this "new to me" product in a recipe, date syrup. Date syrup is made from cooked down dates and is commonly used in the Middle East in everything from chicken dishes to desserts. Molasses is a rarity in South Asia and I was curious to see if date syrup would work in baked goods in its place. It does! The flavor is a bit lighter than burnt sugar taste of molasses, but not as caramel-like as golden syrup. It perfectly compliments the chopped dates, brown sugar, and the double dose of fiery ginger (both fresh and dried) in this cookie recipe. If you can't find date syrup where you are at in the world you can try making your own or just use molasses instead. I was going to take more photos of these cookies but my family ate them before I had a chance. Guess that's a testament to how truly yummy these are! I'll be sure to make these Date and Ginger Gems for Eid as well as Christmas from now on! Off to the recipe:

2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 TBS ground ginger
1/2 C butter
1/2 C date syrup (or molasses)
1/2 tsp salt
2 TBS fresh ginger, grated or minced
1/2 C brown sugar, packed
1 C chopped dates
1 egg, beaten
1/2 C coarse or sanding sugar for rolling

Here's what to do:
1) In a medium saucepan, melt together butter, date syrup or molasses, 1/2 teaspoon salt, brown sugar, and fresh ginger. Stir in the dates. Remove from burner and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

2) While the above mixture is cooling, in a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and ground ginger.

3) Add cooled butter mixture to flour mixture, stirring just enough to combine. Add beaten egg to dough and stir in just enough to combine. Refrigerate dough covered for at least 30 minutes.

4) When ready to bake, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

5) Put the coarse or sanding sugar in a small bowl. Scoop tablespoonfuls of the dough and roll into 1-inch balls. Coat each ball in coarse or sanding sugar and place on prepared baking sheet.

6) Bake each batch for 7-9 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack. Keep in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks. Makes 3 dozen.

Anyone else doing any holiday baking?
What are you baking? 
I want to know it all!
(Especially any date related recipes!)
Let me know in the comments....
Calmly currying on,

Dec 18, 2017

2017 Holiday Recipe Roundup!

Treat your family and friends to something sweet this holiday season. I've got vegan, gluten-free and no-bake recipes, as well as flavors that range from chocolate to cherry and coconut to cardamom. Whether you're looking for something new or you just want to add options to your holiday party repertoire, check out some of my most popular recipes from the last few years. Enjoy!

There are vegan, gluten-free and no-bake options, as well as flavors that range from chocolate to citrus and basil to bourbon.

Kashmiri Cardamom Cookies-Buttery and tender, this simple to prepare eggless cookie features Kashmiri walnuts and the warm flavor of cardamom. Can easily be made vegan too. A perfect cookie to make for any holiday

There are vegan, gluten-free and no-bake options, as well as flavors that range from chocolate to citrus and basil to bourbon.

Bollywood Banana Bread- An American classic done Desi! Good old banana bread gets a Bollywood makeover. This recipe makes a tasty, dense, moist loaf that tastes even better the next day! It freezes well, can be made eggless or "veg," and makes a great holiday gift.

There are vegan, gluten-free and no-bake options, as well as flavors that range from chocolate to citrus and basil to bourbon.

Chinese Chews- These old fashioned chewy date cookies are baked in a pan, cut like bars, and then rolled in granulated sugar to give them a unique knobby shape. A nostalgic recipe that's easy to make and perfect for holiday platters, snacks, or packed lunches.

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Cherry Cardamom Snowballs- A touch of warm cardamom spices up chewy cherries in this tender and buttery cookie. So easy to make and so pretty too!

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Mexican Chocolate Snowballs- A spicy twist on an old favorite with almonds, chocolate, cinnamon, and a pinch of chili powder. Buttery, delicately spiced, and rich with chocolate flavor this egg free recipe can easily be made vegan too. A simple to make treat to serve any holiday!

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Date and Crispy Rice Laddoos- Easy, eggless, gluten-free and no bake these laddoos are a quick and delicious treat to make! Dates are simmered into a rich caramel then combined with crunchy puffed rice for a delicately crisp and divinely sweet indulgence. Perfect for any other holiday featuring lots of decadent goodies.

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Pistachio, Rose, and Cardamom Snowballs- A classic American Christmas cookie gets a flavor makeover with rich pistachios, delicate rose, and spicy cardamom! Buttery, tender, and eggless these snowball cookies are always a hit no matter what the occasion. These beautiful treats can easily be made vegan and would be a delicious addition to any holiday platter.

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Classic American Oatmeal Cookies- Buttery, sweet, with a hint of spice and a texture that's a delectable combination of crispy edges with delightfully chewy centers. Embellish them with raisins, walnuts, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, dried cherries, or chopped dates as you choose. This tasty recipe can easily be made vegan too. Great as a snack or gracing any holiday platter!

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Hawaiian Coconut Cookies- From the beautiful island state of Hawaii comes this eggless sweet treat. Tenderly crisp, buttery, and rich with the flavor of coconut these cookies are sure to please anyone's palate. Such an easy recipe to make and perfect for any holiday platter.

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Red Velvet Snowball- Get festive with this recipe for buttery, chocolatey, and meltingly tender Red Velvet Snowball Cookies! An easy to make, eggless, and nut free treat that be made vegan too. The perfect addition to any holiday platter!

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Persimmon Cookies- Spicy, moist, and tenderly soft these persimmon cookies are truly a Winter treat! Lavishly laced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, raisins, and walnuts this recipe is full of the flavors of the season. So simple to make and the easiest answer to the question, "What do you do with persimmons?"

Happy baking and sharing!

Aug 21, 2017

Ladies in red: Time for Teej!

Last Friday the Hindu festival of Teej began in Nepal! Teej is dedicated to the Goddess Parvati and commemorates her marriage to Lord Shiva. The three day long festival is primarily celebrated by women and involves feasting, fasting, dancing, singing, worship, prayers, and ritual bathing.

Lord Shiva and his wife the Goddess Parvati are deities in Hinduism. Lord Shiva is often pictured with a serpent around his neck, adorned with a crescent moon, the holy river Ganga flowing from his hair, and a third eye on his forehead. The Goddess Parvati is often pictured as beautiful, benevolent, and wearing a red sari. She is the Hindu deity of love, devotion, and fertility. Parvati is also the daughter of King Himavan, lord of the Himalayas, and thus has special importance in Nepal. 

Teej is said to be held upon the date of the marriage of Lord Shiva to the Goddess Parvati and is symbolic of the perfect union of male and female. Thus Parvati is the primary deity of Teej which celebrates married life and family ties. Above is a photo of a Shiva-Parvati temple in Nepal. See the images of the divine couple looking out the window of their temple in the above photo.

The red velvet mite (Trombidium) is called teej or rain bugs. This insect only appears during the monsoon season. It is thought that the mite is named after the festival, or possibly vice versa. Red, green, and gold are the auspicious colors of this festival.

Unfortunately I arrived at this Teej banquet a bit late, the ladies were already feasting so I didn't get a pic of the beautiful food.
The first day of Teej is called Dar Khane Din. It is a day of feasting. In Nepali, daro khana (दर्हो खाना) means heavy or rich food and din means day. Women work hard throughout the year but not have to do anything on this day. The feast is hosted by the menfolk. The women spend the day indulging themselves in sorha singaar - dressing up in their best clothing, adorning themselves with jewelry, eating delicious food, dancing, and singing. This is the only day of the year that allows women full freedom of expression here in Nepal. Consequently, women have traditionally used this occasion to commiserate and complain in the songs they sing while dancing. The celebration sometimes goes on till midnight, after which the 24-hour fast starts.

Often women are invited to multiple feasts. They try to dance off the rich and abundant food so they can eat more. This holiday is a very rare opportunity for married women from rural villages to go to their mother’s home. Parents will send an invitation or someone to bring their daughters to their home a day or two before the festival. The daughters help to prepare of the delicacies for the feast beforehand.

The second day of Teej is the fasting day. Some women fast completely not even taking a drop of water. Some women limit themselves to fruits and liquids. The fasting is to gain divine favor. The day is also devoted to poojas and prayers. Married women dress in their very finest outfits and jewelry to pray for the longevity, peace, and prosperity of their husband and family. Unmarried women dress in their finest and pray to be blessed with a good spouse. Men are not allowed to enter the most of Shiva Temples on this day.

Many women go to the nearest Shiva temple on the second day of Teej too. The holy Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu is thronged by women in red to offer prayers to Lord Shiva. Above is a photo of ladies cueing to enter Pashupatinath temple during Teej. Don't be surprised if these ladies bust out in song and dance while waiting!

Women gather in the temple and circumambulate the lingam (pillar-like symbol of Lord Shiva) propitiating it with flowers, sweets, milk, and coins. The saucer-like dish around the base of the lingam represents the Goddess Parvati.

If a temple is not nearby beautifully decorated idols of Shiva and Parvati are offered fruits, flowers, and poojas at home. Above you see a pooja or ritual prayer ceremony by women during Teej. 

The ritual prayers beseeching favor from Shiva and Parvati can also be solitary, simple, and heartfelt as shown in the above photo. The most important part of the pooja is the oil lamp. The lamp should remain burning throughout the night. An oil lamp which burns all night is believed to bring peace and prosperity to husband and family.

Last day of Teej, ladies bathing in the sacred Bagmati river with datiwan leaves
The third and final day of the festival is called Rishi Panchami. After the completion of the previous day's pooja, women pay homage to seven saints or sages or sapta rishi and offer further prayers to deities. A special bath is taken with the leaves and red mud found on the roots of the sacred datiwan bush. This act of purification is the final ritual of Teej. After this cleansing the women are considered absolved from all their misdeeds and transgressions for the year.

Teej celebrates a wife's love and devotion towards her husband as symbolized by the union of Shiva and Parvati. Teej ushers in the advent of the rainy Monsoon season too. Everyone takes a break from the sweltering heat of the Summer to enjoy the festivities and cooling rains. The backbreaking and muddy chore of weeding the rice paddies is done. It's also a rare occasion for married women to visit their parents and return with gifts for their in-laws and spouse. As with most festivals, Teej provides an opportunity to renew family bonds.

Hope all is well wherever you're at in the world! 
Any festivities going on where you're at? Do tell!

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