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

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!


Dec 5, 2016

Red Velvet Snowballs

red velvet cookies recipe vegan vegetarian eggless egg free nut free chocolate

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!

This stuff's the bomb-diggety!!!

Most "red velvet" recipes for cakes or cookies have some vague chocolate flavor with a slight tartness that makes them rather "meh" in my opinion. But these Red Velvet Snowball cookies have a rich, deep chocolate flavor with a tender crispness that is amazing! A bit like Oreos in flavor but made insanely better with butter. The inspiration for this cookie comes from this recipe on I tried Delish's recipe but didn't like it as the dough was so crumbly it was almost unworkable and the cookies didn't have much flavor. So, I changed the recipe by increasing the butter to one cup, increasing the cocoa powder to 1/3 cup, decreasing the cookie size to one tablespoonful of dough, and decreasing the baking temperature to 325F/175C. I also used Penzey's Natural High Fat Cocoa to give the cookies that strong, dark chocolate flavor I was looking for. The result was perfection! The dough was easy to work with, the cookies puffed up nice and pretty, and they had all the rich chocolate flavor I was looking for. Penzey's Natural High Fat Cocoa powder is their premium cocoa powder especially recommended for baking. I have to say it really makes a difference flavor-wise. You can certainly make these cookies with any cocoa powder you wish but Penzey's makes them really spectacular.

1 C butter or margarine, at room temperature
1/3 C cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1&1/2 C powdered sugar
1 TBS red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar
2&1/2 C  flour
1 C powdered sugar for rolling

Here's what to do:
1) In a large mixing bowl combine, butter, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, powdered sugar, red food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar. Beat until thoroughly mixed.

2) Add flour to butter mixture 1/2C at a time and continue beating at low speed. The dough will look a bit crumbly at first but will come together after a few minutes of mixing. The dough is properly mixed when it pulls away from the bowl and the beater(s). If your dough is still crumbly after 5 minutes of mixing please see "Helpful Hints" below for a tip on how to fix it. I'd advise chilling the dough covered with cling wrap or in a sealable plastic bag in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight. Chilling the dough not only makes for prettier cookies and a dough that's easier to handle but makes for better flavor also. This dough will also keep well in a sealed plastic bag or container in the freezer for up to a month.

3) When ready to bake preheat oven to 325F/175C. Scoop tablespoonfuls of dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone mats. (You could also roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and press them down lightly on the lined baking sheet if you don't have a scoop.) Place the balls of dough about 2 inches apart as they do puff up a bit.

4) Bake cookies for 20 to 22 minutes or until evenly browned on the bottom. Remove cookies from baking sheet with spatula and place on wire rack to cool. If you like, roll cookies in powdered sugar while still warm. Store tightly in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. This recipe makes approximately 24 cookies.

5) If you like, roll cookies in powdered sugar while still warm. Store tightly in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. This recipe makes approximately 24 cookies.

Helpful Hints:
If in step 2 the dough still remains crumbly add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil. This usually fixes the problem. Unfortunately due to variations in humidity, varying water content in butters, and moisture content of different flours sometimes you have to adjust the amount of fats/oils to get the correct consistency of dough.

Sep 9, 2016

Baed Eid

Next week starts the most holy celebration of the Islamic year called Eid ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) in Arabic or Baed Eid (Big Eid) in Kashmiri. The festival begins at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj.  During the Hajj, Muslims remember and honor the trials and triumphs of great patriarch and Prophet Abraham. This holiday honors the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to follow Allah's (God's) command to sacrifice his son. Just when the Prophet Abraham was prepared to perform the sacrifice, the angel Jibra'il (Gabriel) intervened telling him that his sacrifice had already been fulfilled.

The Sacrifice of Isaac  by Caravaggio 
With this act of obedience the Prophet Abraham had shown that his love for Allah was above all others, and that he would willingly lay down the lives of those dearest to him in submission to Allah. Muslims commemorate this trial of the Prophet Abraham by the halal slaughtering of an animal such as a sheep, camel, cow, or goat. Allah has given us dominance over animals and allowed us to eat meat, but only if we pronounce His name at the solemn act of taking life. 

Kashmiri women at Eid prayers
On the first morning of Eid ul-Adha, Muslims worldwide attend morning prayers. Men, women, and children are expected to dress in their finest clothing to perform Eid prayers. Prayers are followed by visits with family and friends, the exchange of greetings (Eid Mubarak), and give gifts called Eidi.

Kashmiri men at Eid prayers
At some point during the festival Muslims who can afford it sacrifice a halal domestic animal such as a goat, sheep, camel, yak, or cow in commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. The sacrificed animals are called qurbani and must be of a certain age and standards of perfection or the animal is considered unacceptable. (In Kashmir a sheep fattened up on cashews and other goodies is preferred. Every once in a while some affluent Kashmiri buys a camel or yak to show off I suppose. Camel and yak really don't taste that great.)

Sheep being sold for Baed Eid in Kashmir
The animal (qurbani) is slaughtered in the halal manner and the meat is traditionally divided into three portions. One-third is eaten by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends and neighbors, and one-third is donated to the poor. This act symbolizes our willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us in order to follow Allah's commands, to strengthen ties within the community, and to help those who are in need. 

Traditional Kashmiri mutton-a-palooza!
(Every part of the sheep is used in a specific dish)
In addition to distributing qurbani to the poor the meat is prepared and often served at mosques so that those less fortunate do not miss this sacrificial meal. Many Muslims also take this opportunity to invite their non-Muslim friends, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates to their Eid festivities to better acquaint them with Islam and Muslim culture. (This means Bibi's going to be cooking a lot- not just meat but treats too!)

Eidi or the gifts given over Eid traditionally take the form of money, presents such as smartphones and perfume, or even flowers. Usually it is children who receive eidi from uncles and their parents.

From our family to yours:
May the blessings of Allah bring you hope, faith, and joy!  Happy Eid ul-Adha 2016!
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