Granola..As You Love It

Fruit and nut honey granola

The term “Granola” probably makes you conjure up a scene in 1970s Los Angeles, zooming into Sunset Boulevard, perhaps, where Hollywood stars ordered their power breakfasts brimming with high-protein ingredients like chia seeds, tossed with hand-pounded crunchy oats and grande coffees before taking on the day. Zoom out back to the reality of today, where even small towns around the world, not just America, are teeming with counterculture lifestyles, and you’ll see fruit-nut muesli and seed-studded granola varieties, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, listed conscientiously on menus.

In the wake of this new health-food revolution that is sweeping past us, it isn’t essentially a lofty task to make your own wholesome breakfast mix or snack fix. Our grandmothers and mothers have been at it for ages now, and if that isn’t inspiration enough, what is? Here’s a Do-It-Yourself granola recipe that works like a charm, whether you’re in La-la-land or just at home sweet home. You don’t need a dictionary to learn how to pronounce the ingredients, or a lavish list of exotic add-ons. You can mix and match your favorite dry fruits and nuts, seeds and even staples. Rolled millets or wheat, flax or hemp seeds, desiccated coconut slices, prunes, cranberries are just a few of the variables we can think of. The expanse of the baking sheet, as it were, is your only limit.

Fruit, Nut and Honey granola

DIY granola

(Makes 5 cups)

  • 2.25 cups (200g) rolled oats (preferably not the instant/quick-cooking variety)
  • 2 tablespoons seeds (sunflower or pumpkin)
  • 1/4 cup flaked or chopped nuts
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or sunflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons powdered cinnamon
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (raisins, dates, blueberries, cranberries, apricots, kiwi, or pineapple)
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F / 160°C.
  2. Line a large baking tray with parchment or foil. Set aside.
  3. Place the oats, seeds and nuts in a large mixing bowl and mix lightly.
  4. Pour the honey and oil in a saucepan. Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and heat the mixture until it just starts to simmer. Do not boil.
  5. Pour the hot liquids over the oat mixture and toss well with a spoon.
  6. Spread the oats evenly in the baking tray in a thin layer.
  7. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the oats get to a deep brown colour without getting burnt. Remove the tray from the oven after about 12 minutes of baking, toss the oats and spread them out again. Return to the oven to complete toasting.
  8. Place the tray on a rack and allow  the oats to cool completely. The granola will crunch up as the oats cool.
  9. Toss in the chopped dried fruit and chocolate chips with the granola once cooled completely.
  10. Store in an airtight container to retain freshness.

fruit nut and honey granola

Tadka Tip: This granola can be eaten by the spoonful as a snack, with milk as cereal and scooped on top of yogurt and fruit for a light breakfast. Its lightly sweet and spicy flavours and crunch work well when sprinkled on salads, or on top of wholesome muffins or snack cakes just before you pop them into the oven.

fruit nut honey granola

 

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Smokin’ Hot Fire-roasted Corn Dip

Fire roasted corn dip

If all our growing up years were to be condensed into a single nugget, what would it contain? There was so much play, and there was so much done on impulse. There was music that soothed the senses as it poured out of vintage gramophones, and books that were read cuddled up under the bed in a little pool of torch light. There was scope for carefree moments that involved dancing in the rain, and hopscotch being played until the bones creaked. There were games invented during power cuts, even as shadows on the wall teased us from an arm’s length. And then there was food. Food smothered in Mother’s love, food cooked by grandma on a wood-fired stove, and food devoured at the wayside shacks without a moment’s thought for anything else but the appetite, sometimes washed down with a pop of cola.

Corn-on-the-cob is probably at the top of that list. It brings back a rush of tender, warm memories..of rain, lips burning from the dust of fiery, hot chili powder, and the sweet aftertaste of the fleshy corn kernels lingering on until it was time for the next meal. This recipe, inspired by that childhood memory, is stellar on all counts. It has the zest of corn-on-the-cob, conveniently spruced up and mashed down. You can scoop it up, one spoon at a time, and eat it all on its own, or use it as a dip or a spread – whatever soothes your soul. This right here, is what we call – a true taste of nostalgia, in a bowl.

Fire-roasted Corn Dip

Fire-roasted Corn Dip 

  • 1 corn cob
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 4 pods garlic, minced and smashed
  • to taste Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  1. Shuck and then roast the corn cob on the flames or grill. Cut out the corn kernels while holding the corn upright on a plate. Grind the kernels to a paste in a grinder, adding the stock as needed to achieve a smooth paste. Set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small nonstick saucepan or kadai set on medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and sweat them for a few minutes, with a generous pinch of salt.
  3. Once the onions just begin to turn golden add the tomato and cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Now add all the spices (red chilli powder, paprika, white pepper and cumin powder) and toast them briefly.
  5. Transfer the corn paste to the pan. Stir well and cook, covered, on low heat for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Transfer the dip to a bowl and drizzle the remaining olive oil on top. Dust with a pinch of paprika, if desired.
  7. Serve the dip hot, warm or at room temperature.

Fire roasted corn dip

 

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Tadka Travels – Magical Mysore

Volumes have already been recorded about the magnificence of Mysore, the land of spices, silk and sandalwood, as the word goes, and should you want to plan a quick trip to this lovely little town just about 150 kms from Bangalore, the internet will indubitably offer an overdose of information. Yet, there is something so magical about the place that it warranted a log of sorts in our little nook here.

Mysore is a small town that is a perfect mix of old world charm and green-thumbed innovation, an ideal weekend getaway when the city life gets too much with you. If you’re driving, make sure you’ve stocked up on a variety of pickings and plenty of water for the road, and also be prepared for heavy traffic up until Bidadi if you leave home after 8 am and especially if it’s a long weekend, which could feel cumbersome as you worm your way out at a snail’s pace. The standard eating pit-stops are Kamat Lokaruchi a little past Ramanagara, MTR after Channapatna and Adiga’s near Maddur. Maddur vada is a hot favourite that will manifest in almost all the eateries.

Tadka Tip:
If, however, you prefer to sit back and bury yourself into the folds of gripping page-turners or lose yourself in day dreams, then the train – the Shatabdi in particular – is your life line. Just hop on board and thumb through your books or take a little nap, and you’ll be in Mysore before you know it. The Shatabdi gets you there in just two hours!

Where to stay:
There are numerous stay options in Mysore, and while the plush interiors of star hotels might seem alluring to some, some others would prefer low-key homestays, known for their simplicity and unpretentious bearing. We, on the other hand, chose a heritage hotel, an erstwhile palace – Chittaranjan palace (can’t beat that when in Mysore, can you?) called The Green Hotel, which was worth every penny in the wallet, especially given that all profits go to charities and environmental initiatives. A charming, quaint hotel with Victorian undertones in every pillar and post, it is dotted with antique furniture, well-tended green alcoves both inside and outside to take refuge in, and houses a well-appointed library at the back, too. The sprawling garden with white furniture and exquisite, paisley-printed table linen is the perfect spot to sit and enjoy your morning coffee and breakfast spread, which is a lovely combination of South Indian fare and Continental bites, or evening cup of tea, with a comely line of fresh-off-the-oven nibbles from the bakery tucked into the back of the hotel, which is also the face of the delightful Malgudi Cafe.

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What to see:

The sights of Mysore are many, and they’re bound to enthrall you from the word go. If you intend to squeeze as many of them in during your visit, your itinerary would probably be a round up of all the standard places of interest spelled out in the books. If you’d rather have a leisurely visit and soak in the culture of the city, here’s a list that could be useful:

Jaganmohan Palace & Art Gallery

Highlight:
A big collection of musical instruments used by Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV.

(Photography is prohibited inside the gallery)

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The Mysore Palace

Highlight:
A golf cart tour of the palace grounds and the spectacular sound and light show in the evening, recounting the stories that broke and made the kingdom, complemented by the dazzle of a thousand lights.

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Chamundi Hills

Highlight:

A panoramic view of the city.

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St. Philomena’s Cathedral

Highlight:
The Gothic architectural magnificence of the cathedral is a highlight all on its own, not to mention the tall twin spires that scrape against the sky.

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Zoo

Highlight:
We definitely squealed over the lions and cheetahs, the too-tall giraffe and the peculiar sleep-standing birds, like the Sarus Crane, for one.

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Karanji Lake

Highlight:
Winged friends, especially the peacocks, in the walk-through aviary.

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R.K. Narayan’s House

Highlight:
Everything about R.K. Narayan’s house is a significant part of the overall experience, right from the photographs to the accoutrements on display..which tell many stories about the greatness of the writer and the humility of the human being that was R.K. Narayan. It was a surreal experience to get a glimpse into his life and to go down memory lane with snippets of Malgudi Days adorning the walls that once housed its creator. A wonderful initiative by the City Corporation..and it gets a big thumbs up from us!

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Grub Hubs

Mysore offers an eclectic mix of traditional food halls and fancy hole-in-the-wall cafés. Here’s the Tadka hot list of eats and eateries you must try when in Mysore:

Hotel Original Vinayaka Mylari:
Benne Masala Dosa and filter coffee – no second thoughts about this one!

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Depth ‘n Green:
Choose from a range of pastas, smoothies and vegan desserts, or just opt for the homely vegetarian thali that comes with a delicious Indian sweet – we had gasa-gase payasa or poppy seed/ khus khus kheer in coconut cream, which was lapped up to the last drop.

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Café Cornucopia:
Sandwiches are a surefire hit here, if you ask us, and so is the caramel custard, which is curiously unique.

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The Old House:
With delectable wood-fired pizzas and desserts, this is a favourite that scores big for both ambience and service.

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The Green Hotel/ Malgudi Cafe:
The Green Hotel serves a kingly breakfast on the house, and the a la carte menu for lunch and dinner is rather comprehensive, too. A special recommendation would be the pastries and breads from Malgudi Cafe, particularly the carrot cake.

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It’s hard to say good bye to this beautiful little town, which bears the seductive seal of romanticism in its laid-back appeal, offering a rich tapestry of sights, sounds and smells, to the weary-eyed city slicker. As the refrain goes..”Nammooru Mysuru,” everyone feels at home in Mysore and no one can just visit once.

Go to Mysore to experience the magical world of Maharajas. A world that comes alive every step of the way, in the streets and walls that house big monuments. And in the way you get treated by the locals, if you were to stop and ask a question, or just listen as they tell you stories of a glorious past, and hum a notable tune or two, set to the rhythm of regal, Godly yesterdays.

Tadka Tip:
If you want to experience Mysore Dasara in all its chaotic liveliness, you should probably plan at least a month ahead. But there’s nothing quite like clocking into this fascinating little town before the frenzy takes over (or perhaps after it has died down), when you can have all the serenity and space that you possibly can, with visitors that are few and far between.

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Tadka Travels: Teatime at Valparai

When one is weary of the bustle and smog of the city, the idea of heading out for a mini vacation is pretty appealing, at least until you find yourself marooned at a crowded spot, along with a million other souls who have had exactly the same notion. This scenario is highly unlikely though, if you happen to wander into the tranquil green hills of Valparai in Tamil Nadu, India.
Located in the Anamalai region of the Western Ghats, Valparai is a short and pleasant drive of about 100 kms from Coimbatore city, with about 40 hairpin bends thrown in to appease the adventure seeker. There’s so much to look at all around, as the sweeping views of the plains are replaced with softly rolling hills, and then the lush expanses of tea plantations.
Much of what Valparai is today was shaped by the British. They planted miles of tea bushes in the rich soil of the hills, and setup factories to process the harvest. Sprawling estates, bungalows nestled in picturesque spots, tiny hamlets with neat rows of huts, and colourful temples is what meets the eyes all around. Every inch of the landscape is carpeted in the verdant green of tea bushes in bloom, with evergreen forests nestled at the fringes. There’s plenty of water to be found, at least in the rainy season, and you would encounter tiny ponds, rivulets and quite a few sparkling waterfalls as you drive through the area.
Many of the British-era bungalows have been re-engineered into hotels, and staying at one of these is highly recommended for that ultimate tea estate experience. We just couldn’t get enough of the Sirukundra Bungalow (managed by Briar Tree Bungalows) where we spent the night. Set in manicured gardens blooming with lilies and roses, complete with a porch at the entrance and verandahs running through the front and sides, this immaculate property makes you smile even as you drive in.
The Sirukundra Bungalow was constructed in 1917, and is beautifully maintained and elegantly furnished with period furniture and antique objects d’art. There is a spacious living room with lots of comfortable seating that opens up to the front of the house, and a bright and airy dining room, with an old-fashioned pantry area and powder room attached to it.
The three generously-sized bedrooms, furnished in pretty blues and greens, each have a large attached bath, and a inviting sit-out area with comfortable chairs.
Wooden and tiled floors, working fireplaces and botanical prints on the walls..all bring that old world charm alive. There are so many little touches that make the decor special.. coffee table books, antique knickknacks, a set of flowered plates on the sideboard and warm rugs placed underfoot.
Other options for stay here at Sirukundra include wooden chalets and well-equipped tents. They’ve even put in a swimming pool on the property!
If you’re wondering what there is to do in Valparai, the best answer would be to just let the peace, fresh air and greenery soak restfully into your mind and body. You can do this from the depths of a recliner on the front porch, while sipping on ginger tea and munching on crunchy onion pakoras. Or, you could take a long rambling walk around the plantation, through the paths worn into the dirt by decades of tea pickers, stepping over muddy streams and knotted roots, perhaps stopping every few minutes to admire the endless emerald vistas of the rolling hills. Do remember to get back to the gates before dark, since the area is prone to visits by wildlife, including leopards and herds of elephants.
And yes, we’re happy to report that the kitchens at the Sirukundra bungalow turn out some pretty delicious and elaborate meals. The cooking is home-style and the taste finger-licking good. A special word for the lovely desserts which are too often overlooked – a rich, caramel-tinged butterscotch pudding at lunch and creamy, not-too-sweet tender-coconut souffle at dinner.  Yum!

Visiting Valparai is like stepping back into another era, and you may never want to head back to modernity. The quiet calm of the hills cleanses the spirits, and whether you like to laze around or trek energetically, take photographs or paint pictures, tour factories or explore local markets, spot wildlife or go bird watching, this is one of those perfect nooks of the world where there’s really something for everyone to love.

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Piping Hot, Sticky Sweet

p1080065The Indian palate is well-accustomed to the stipulated mixing in of flavours – be it hot and sweet, or sour and spicy. Still, those fall on the ends of a broad spectrum of tastes, with the fine, nameless nuances of some others waltzing along the scale. (Some words in the vernacular cannot effectively be translated into English, and chatpata is just one of them).

Honey-chilli potatoes with corn kernels is one dish that reflects all of the above, and it’s a hit from the word go in our households. This recipe resulted from an experiment to re-create a restaurant-style appetizer, sans the deep frying and cornflour-aided thickening, both of which tend to leave a slurry-like after taste in the mouth. It’s really a breeze to put together and works great as a side dish with fried rice, noodles, or just as an evening snack, all on its own.
p1080071Honey-chilli Potatoes ‘n Corn
(Serves 2-3)

For the sauce

  • 2 tablespoons honey  
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar  
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce  
  • 3-4 tablespoons water, stock or orange juice

Mix the listed ingredients well, set aside.

For the potatoes ‘n corn

  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil  
  • 4-5 pods garlic, minced or crushed  
  • 4 medium-sized potatoes, cubed  
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, thawed  
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of red chilli powder  
  • Finely chopped coriander leaves for garnishing
  1. Heat the oil in a pan, and add the crushed garlic, fry for a minute.
  2. Add the potatoes and fry on medium flame until light brown, then tip in the corn, toss well.
  3. Add salt, cook covered, for about 8 minutes, on a low flame. Add the chilli powder, mix well.
  4. Add the prepared sauce and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes on a high flame, turn off heat.
  5. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot.

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Tadka Travels: Spiti Valley Road Trip

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Starkly, dramatically beautiful, relatively unknown and much off the tourist tracks, Spiti valley in Himachal is neither a breezy weekend getaway, nor is it in any way like that restful trip you last took to a sheltered hill resort. Most of the trip is spent bumping along the Hindustan-Tibet Highway, and this mad, crazy drive is as much a part of the experience as are the breathtaking landscapes that will have you scrambling for your camera at every turn.

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Geographically, Spiti has cold, desert-like conditions where rain is a rarity and snow rules. The terrain is bleak and inhospitable, but you will find spotless blue skies dotted with cottony clouds that perfectly set off the snow-streaked, matte brown ranges of some of the craggiest mountains that you might have ever set eyes upon.

 

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You will seldom venture far from the Sutlej or Spiti river, or one of their tributaries, since most of the roads run along the valleys that the force of these rivers have carved out over centuries. And if you’re pining for blue rivers, you won’t find them here, at least in the month of May. The waters are a muddy brown and only much later in the year do they turn a clear blue.

 

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Our road-trip began in Chandigarh, where we rented a Ford Ecosport  for the 17-day trip. Driving in Spiti is extremely challenging and it is best to have a driver who is experienced with mountain roads. Especially in May, when the season starts, most of the roads are in a rather terrible state; they aren’t much more than dirt tracks strewn with stones, not to forget the billowing clouds of dust that add to the traveller’s discomfort.

 

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If you aren’t already unnerved by your jolting ride while manoeuvring your way around rocky precipices, there are signboards on the side of the highway informing you in no uncertain terms that you are travelling on one of the most treacherous roads in the world. Gulp! The rugged terrain, significant winter snow accumulation, constant landslides and sparse vegetation all are responsible for these conditions, as are the road repair, widening and massive power-generation and construction projects on the Sutlej river.

 

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Stop 1: Narkanda

After a stop in Solan to attend a family wedding we set out for Narkanda, which lies beyond Shimla, at a higher elevation. The drive was smooth and the only thing we stopped en route for was a late tea-time treat of freshly fried pakodas and sandwiches.

 

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The drive up from Narkanda to the Agyaat Vaas adventure camp where we were staying, was our first taste of the rough roads. We had a really tough time getting the car up the narrow, crumbling roads and finally had to call the camp for help since it was getting dark.

The camp is located near Hatu temple, which is constructed in a neo Indo-Tibetian style, and a must-see if you are in these parts. There are some lovely viewpoints around the temple, rocks to climb and plenty of monkeys to pit your climbing skills against. From the benches around the Hatu temple, you can enjoy sweeping views of the apple belts of Kotgarh and Thanedar, and this was where we caught the first glimpse of the snow-covered peaks that we were to encounter often during the rest of the trip.

A drive to the small and pristine Tani-Jubber lake, and stops at cherry and apple orchards occupied the rest of our time. This area is where Samuel Stokes, an American, planted the first apple saplings in India, and from here started the cultivation of the famous Himachal apples.

Stay options: 
  • Agyaat Vaas – This camp is located at a secluded, beautiful spot, close to Hatu temple. Though the rooms are large but they are very sparsely furnished and not really comfortable, therefore we wouldn’t recommended for families. The camp often hosts school kids on adventure trips and be warned that though you might anticipate a peaceful time you could well be sharing your stay with a bunch of kids doing what kids do best!
  • Hatu Hotel – Run by HPTDC, this hotel has clean and comfortable rooms, a good restaurant with limited outdoor seating options. It is close to the town market, yet peaceful and well-run.

 

Tadka Tip: Take along a stock of non-perishable foods with you, like khakhras, nuts, dried fruit, energy bars, chocolate and namkeens. These can be life savers when you are stuck on the road. We also drank the local water everywhere, filling up our stainless steel bottles from the hotels where we stayed, and were chuffed that we didn’t buy a single plastic bottle during the trip.

Stop 2: Sarahan

Of all the places we visited on this road-trip, Sarahan was a dream, that perfect mountain retreat that has all that you may want, and more. Lush green and tranquil, with a gushing stream or waterfall around every corner, this is the spot to go on long walks and take in spectacular sunsets.

The Bhimkali temple complex in the centre of town is gorgeous, and the lanes around it have a number of eateries, and shops bursting with trinkets.

If you are an avid bird-watcher, there is also a bird sanctuary here but unfortunately it is closed to visitors during the breeding season – April to September. We did spend a good couple of hours in the lane that runs alongside the sanctuary though, spotting a variety of hill birds.

Stay option: 

  • The Shrikhand – This is a charming hotel run by HPTDC, with the option of staying in vintage style cottage rooms (recommended). The architecture of the main building is inspired by the Bhimkali temple nearby and it is flanked by rows of beautiful flowers.

A sprawling, open terrace with swings and white wrought-iron chairs is a picture-perfect setting to enjoy the glorious views. The restaurant offers some excellent local food, do try the Himachali dishes in the menu here.

Tadka Tip: Stop at the nearest HPTDC hotel or office and pick up maps and travel brochures for all the places that you are visiting. These are very informative and come in handy when there is no internet service, which happens pretty often.

Stop 3: Rakcham

Around Wangtu is where the roads start deteriorating into rough tracks but don’t let that deter you from taking the detour to Rakcham. A tiny, laid-back village where finding even a tea stall can be a challenge, Rakcham’s setting is a revelation.

Perched on the pebbled banks of the Baspa river, this valley is tucked away in the depths of the mountains and is one of the most beautiful nooks on this route.

There are plenty of rambling paths to enjoy scenic walks around the river, cows and frisky goat herds to keep you company, huge boulders to climb on just for fun, proverbial bubbling brooks with makeshift wooden bridges, grassy meadows and quiet marshes.

The mountains fringing the valley are tall and rugged, and there’s a good chance you’ll find patches of snow or ice even in May. There are no marked trails here, but don’t hesitate to wander around, and you can spend your days peacefully soaking in the peace and loveliness around.

 

A day trip to the village of Chhitkul is the thing to do here and this is the last inhabited village before the army-manned Indo-Tibet border. A walk around the village with its traditional houses and temples,  a walk down to the Baspa river to build a snowman, and a plate of Maggi with masala chai at a small eatery rounded off our day at Chitkul.

Stay option:

Look no further than the Rupin River View Hotel. Located right on the edge of the Baspa river, with amazing views, this hotel has spacious rooms with tiny balconies. Enjoy the sound of the gurgling river, fresh, wholesome food in the restaurant, and the excellent hospitality.

Tadka Tip: Phone and internet connectivity in the area are pretty good except for remote stretches on the road. Once you cross Recong Peo only BSNL is available, so it is good to have a phone with BSNL service.

Stop 4: Nako

Back on the road, once you cross Pooh, you leave the banks of the Sutlej and travel up the valley of the Spiti river. This road runs high for a while, through the tiny, picturesque village of Nako, at an altitude of 3600m.

The Nako lake is a well-known feature here, and warrants a visit in the early morning hours to catch the reflections of the bordering mountains and trees in its still waters. A visit to the Nako monastery, walks around the quiet village lanes and up some rocky mountain tracks is all you’d want to do here.

Stay option:

* There aren’t too many hotels in Nako but Kinner Camps has a line of well-equipped tents (with attached baths) and a restaurant with basic and tasty food. The campfire at night and star gazing after dinner are magical. The tents can get pretty cold at night, so don’t say no to the hot water bottles that they offer!

Stop 5: Kaza

For us, Kaza was pretty much as far as we could go up into Spiti valley, since it was May, and the road that connects to Manali via Rohtang Pass was still snow-laden and closed.

Kaza is the regional headquarters of the Spiti district and as large a town as you will encounter in these parts. There’s a petrol bunk, well-equipped bazaars, restaurants, There are several day trips that one can take while based in Kaza, and many options for camping around here too.

About 15km from Kaza town is the Key Gompa or Monastery, a truly spectacular sight, built high above the Spiti river, on a rocky hill. The ancient 11th century monastery is a joy to visit, and the monks are friendly and chatty. One can visit the holy rooms and prayer halls that are lined with precious paintings and sacred artefacts. A short walk away is a small shrine with three huge, golden stupas, and you can catch some amazing views from here too.

The quaint village of Kibber is another attraction that can be reached through steep, winding roads further after the Key monastery. The traditional architecture of these houses is very interesting, with interlocking wooden beams and roofs tiled with beautiful sheets of grey slate. The edges where the roof meets the walls is stuffed with piles of hay, and this prevents the mud walls from getting water-logged.

If you have the time, there are more villages to explore, among them Hikkim, Langza and Kaumik. The drive to these villages takes you deep into the mountains. The views of the barley and peas farms spread out in the sunshine, and the charming countryside make these drives truly memorable. Remember to pack a picnic to enjoy in a sunny spot since there may not be too many eateries in these tiny hamlets.

A trip to Pin Valley is also a must-do while you are here. This is a national park that is known for its wildlife, including the ibex and the snow leopard. Much of this area is only accessible through overnight treks, and even though we could only spend the day, some of the most arresting and dramatic scenery that we saw was here.

Another must-see is the village of Dhankar, which is situated high above the confluence of the Spiti and Pin rivers. There is an ancient monastery here at one end of the village and above that, the ruins of a fort on a craggy cliff. We had plans to stay at the guest house in the monastery but ultimately decided to stay an extra night in Kaza and visit Dhankar en route to Tabo.

The views as you approach the area are just phenomenal, and the rugged, scraggy landscape is eerily lunar-like.

The village itself is spread out all over a shallow valley unlike the more compactly spaced dwellings that we encountered earlier.

High above the village lies the Dhankar Lake and this is a long, strenuous trek over a steep, wind-swept mud path. The lake itself is in a harsh, desolate setting, surrounded by snow-covered peaks, and we found its blue-green waters still partially frozen when we finally huffed and puffed our way up there.

Stay option:

There are several hotels and homestays in Kaza to suit every style and budget.

 

We totally loved the Deyzor Hotel where we spent three very comfortable nights. This hotel is charmingly done-up and the perfect place to soak in the serene Spiti atmosphere.

Most importantly, they have the best coffee (French press) which is like Nirvana after the milky, weak brews available in most of Himachal. A garden seating option for breakfast, amazingly delicious international cuisine, the friendly, hands-on, knowledgeable and efficient owner, free wifi and super efficient laundry service, all make your stay here pretty wonderful after those long hours spent on the road.

Tadka Tip: It makes sense to stick to the local cuisine here since that is what is freshly cooked and super delicious. We stayed on a steady diet of rajma-chawal, dal-chawal, kadhi-chawal, roti-subzi, stuffed parathas, pakoras, sandwiches and omelettes, interspersed with the occasional plate of momos, chowmein and thupka.

Stop 6: Tabo

Finding your way back from the heights of Spiti can be a let-down, but when there’s no way around it, a stop at Tabo can be so uplifting.

The Tabo Monastry is a must-visit here, and is the nerve-centre of the town. It feels so good to soak in the fervour of the devotees, and the tidiness and peace all around the monastery campus.
Scattered around Tabo are lovely farms and apple orchards. In May, the trees were just loaded with apple blooms and it was a magnificent sight. One can take a relaxing walk around the town and its adjoining farms, or even down to the Spiti river.

Stay option:

The Tabo monastry does take visitors for stay, and there are a few small hotels located around the town. We spent a comfortable night at the Tashi Khangsar, a small establishment with basic facilities. This is located in the midst of apple orchards and is walking distance from the monastery. The home-style meal of dal, mixed vegetables, salad, rice and rotis that they put out was much appreciated by our travel-weary tummies, and they were sweet enough to give us a wholesome breakfast of porridge, eggs, fruit and toast the following morning before we left.

Tadka Tip: The monasteries have prayer time in the mornings and evenings where visitors can join in. Listening to the monks chanting can be an enriching and moving experience, so do try and make time for this.

Stop 7: Kalpa

You could make a quick stop at Kalpa on the way to Spiti Valley but we chose to stay a couple of nights here on our way back. Kalpa is a peaceful suburb close to Reckong Peo, and is utterly ravishing. The elevation here makes for fantastic views of the Kinner Kailash range, and brings you close to the majesty and grandeur of these mountains.

We chose not to visit any of the local sights, and instead opted to explore the countryside and hills near the hotel. A narrow rocky path that ran next to a bubbling little brook fed by snow-melt led us to some rustic cottages, groves of pines, apple orchards and lush patches of green. This was heaven, indeed, and just what we needed after the long, cramped hours spent driving.

Stay option:

There are many great hotels in Kalpa and we were pretty happy at the newly refurbished The Grand Shamba La (Earlier called Shangri La). Our room on the 5th floor (no lifts) had French windows and a balcony looking straight out to the mountains.

One can’t really ask for a better view, and we reveled in it right from the comfort of the hotel bed. The next morning, the dramatic sunrise view from a favourable spot on balcony was sublime. The food was the regular paratha-dal-subzi-roti that we had been enjoying, with the option of room service.

Tadka Tip: Taking on hitchhikers in your car can be a great way to interact with people. We learnt so much..from the woman looking to get home from a hard day’s work in the orchards, the Frenchman who had been travelling in India for 4 months, the sisters on their way to a funeral who shared with us a handful of home-grown pine nuts that they had tossed in their pockets to snack on, and the Russian couple who could barely speak English but were gamely taking on the remote corners of Himachal.

Our Spiti adventure ended here as we took to the highways to make our way back to Shimla and Chandigarh. The crowds, pollution and traffic served as a rude jolt back to reality, but we definitely appreciated the smooth asphalt of the roads.

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Restaurant Review: Fabelle Chocolates

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“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Growing up, there were few things more exciting than receiving a box of filled chocolates, poring over the little descriptions printed on the crinkly paper inside, tasting, sharing and arguing over which had the best centre. A visit to the spanking new Fabelle Chocolates boutique recently brought back this childhood memory with a vengeance! The Fabelle Chocolate Boutique is an ITC Hotels initiative, and as one would expect, they have poured a whole lot of love, thought, attention and style into every detail. The brand has been in the making for almost a decade, and has just been launched in a gorgeous space in the ITC Gardenia hotel in Bengaluru. The chic boutique is impeccably appointed in shades of brown and gold, and is equipped with an open kitchen where one can watch the competent and artistic chocolatiers doing what they do best. Gleaming display cases carry a spectacular selection of chocolates and desserts, and there is also a seating area with service. Billed as the finest luxury chocolate in India, the chocolate itself is top quality and single-origin, sourced from cocoa-rich countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, Venezuela and Saint-Dominigue. The dedication and commitment of the chefs and chocolatiers behind the brand is evident when you hear them speak about the ingredients they use and the beautiful ways in which they’ve brought them together in these fine creations.

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The first item that we tasted was the Ganache range, available in milk or dark chocolate. This is like a chocolate truffle that’s been shaped in rectangles, and lightly dusted with cocoa. The chocolate is silky-smooth, luscious and at the perfect temperature and consistency to melt on the tongue. If you are a purist, and like nothing to come between you and your chocolate, just pick up a few boxes of the dark ganache and hurry home!

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The pralines range has 5 filled chocolates that are inspired by the elements of nature. Each element is represented in the filling inside the chocolate shell, and each piece is designed with the element in mind. The wood inspired praline was a personal favourite, with a strong coffee hit, and cinnamon notes in the background. These come pre-packaged in a box of 5 or 10 pieces.

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The ‘As you like it’ range is a fun concept, and gives the epicure umpteen options to play with flavour combos. One can choose the type of shell, the fillings inside and topping too, and the process is made quite interesting and easy by using an application on a tablet. There is also the choice of picking up some customised chocolates that have been filled with combinations recommended by the chefs at Fabelle. Whichever route you choose to take, this personalised and interactive experience is a sure winner, and puts you firmly in control of what goes into your chocolate.

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We also tried and loved the signature dessert range at Fabelle. Whatever be your sweet fantasy, they have a dessert that matches up. There are some lovely flavour combinations in classic and avante garde combinations, and the quality of ingredients and preparation is superlative. Each dessert has a different outer look, and when you cut it open, there are several layers of jelly, crème, biscuit, mousse or streusel inside, each bringing a complementary flavour and/or texture, in the French Entremet style.

The Chocolate Flower dessert (Top and Bottom Left above) has all the theatrics one could wish for..the chocolate petals sit around a gleaming mousse centre enlivened with raspberry confit and pistachio cream. Hot white chocolate ganache is poured around the dessert, resulting in the petals unfolding dramatically right in front of you.

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Another creation that we sampled was Coffee two ways (Top in pic above) – this is inspired by the now ubiquitous Tiramisu, and is a fantastic modern interpretation. The thing to love about this dessert is that it is not shy with the wallop of coffee, but mellows things out nicely with creamy mascarpone and savoiardi biscuits.

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The Black Forest Revisited (Top above) is an elegant interpretation of the Bavarian classic cake, with the volume turned up. The sour cherry confit is piquantly delicious, and pairs well with 64% dark chocolate and the Madagascar vanilla in the velvety-smooth cream insert.

The White Chocolate Cheesecake jar (Below right in pic above) is lush and ambrosial, and a good choice for folks who would like to opt for a no-chocolate dessert.

The Almond and Coriander Praline Tartine (Below left in pic above) had the surprising inclusion of coriander, which was actually pretty refreshing with the milk chocolate. What didn’t quite match up was the flavour of the Mandarin orange cremeaux which tasted a little like orange sherbet.

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If you must eat an eclair, then this is the one to go for – Eclair Venezuela (Top in pic above), made with 72% Venezualan chocolate, balanced with smooth, rich, caramel-toned cream and lots of texture from the shell and the morsels of buttery crumb on top. And for the true chocolate connoisseur, the 84% Signature dark chocolate petit cake with fleur de sel is the real deal. For us, this ultimate chocolate dessert perfectly rounded off a really fabulous evening that we spent tasting the exquisite chocolates at Fabelle. We’re going to be back soon for the hot chocolate that they serve, for boxes of the dark chocolate ganache – the perfect afternoon pick-me-up, and to indulge in a few more of the sinful desserts, and we recommend that you do too!

Note: This review was at the invitation of Fabelle Chocolates but the views expressed are our own.

Fabelle Chocolate Boutique ITC Gardenia Hotel No. 1
Residency Road, Bangalore, India 560025
Timings: 11am to midnight
Pricing: On request
Phone: 080668 25270

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Picnic-friendly Pizza Muffins

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When you love pizza you are wont to find more than one way to savour those salty, savory flavours, that cheese oozing smoothly into puddles, stretched lazily in cream and toasty brown tones over tart tomatoes, the oregano asserting its grassy intensity on your tongue. For us, pizza for dinner can be an engaging afternoon-long affair, the kneading and rising of dough along with the slow simmer of the sauce on the stove, and the sizzle of vegetables, on the grill or roasting companionably in the oven. But, as we just said, there’s more than one way to get a pizza fix, and these Tomato and Cheese Pizza Muffins do very nicely when we’re in a rush. Bursting with plump shreds of two kinds of cheese, tomatoes and the signature pizza herbs, they work for breakfasts, parties, snack boxes and picnics as well. Top them with some torn fresh basil leaves off that pot on your windowsill or a a shake of the herb dispenser..as you please.

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Tomato and Cheese Pizza Muffins

(Makes 15 muffins)

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 100g Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 100g Mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 60g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 tomatoes cut into slices
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
  2. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tray or grease the cups well with oil.
  3. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices.
  4. Stir in the Cheddar cheese and half the Mozzarella.
  5. In another smaller bowl beat the egg. Pour in the melted butter, milk and tomato paste, and stir well.
  6. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl containing the dry mixture. Whisk gently until just blended.
  7. Use an ice cream scoop or a ladle to transfer the batter to the prepared muffin tin.
  8. Top each muffin with a slice of tomato and some of the remaining grated mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle a pinch of chilli flakes and oregano to finish, if desired.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into one of the muffins comes out clean.
  10. Transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool slightly and serve warm. Or cool completely before packing away for that picnic or lunchbox.
  11. Freeze the muffins in a ziplock bag or airtight box. Defrost on the counter or in the microwave.

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Posted in Appetizer Alley, Bakes And Cakes, Bread Binder, Breakfast Basket, Funnibles, Globe Food-Trottin', Party Planner, Picnic Basket, Snack Attack | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warm & Delightful Tropical Bread

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The sun has been particularly ruthless lately here in Bangalore. While we get through our days with tall pitchers of iced tea and melt into a sweet puddle of delight at the very mention of ice cream, there’s also the cooking and baking routine that curiously alleviates some of the strain caused by soaring temperatures. Is that even a thing, you ask?

Well, we make sure we are guzzling down lots of water, and listening to the new-age music that blares from the kids’ rooms (without wincing). We throw open the windows and doors to let the breeze in as we work in the kitchen, and we love to attune our recipes to the notes of seasonal produce. Tons of fresh cucumbers and gourds glide into our salads and side dishes, with the lots of greens turning flaccid and droopy, rendering them unfit for crisp meals. Sweet and juicy fruits like melons and mangoes, papaya and pineapple, waltz through our dessert bowls and bake pans with a poise reserved for those blessed with immaculate footwork.

With April taking the cake as the busiest month of the year on our calendars, as we ring in our girls’ birthdays, there’s never a dearth for recipes that employ the aforesaid. Here’s one such – a bread brimming with the essence of the tropics, hearty from the inside out, built as it is with a host of healthy ingredients. Whether you’re hosting a Luau party, swinging the hula hoop, or just unwinding after a long day..this bread that smacks of sunny island flavors, is great to enjoy with your afternoon tea, under the whirring of a trusty ceiling fan (if air-conditioning isn’t your thing).

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Pineapple, Dates & Coconut Bread
(Makes one 9″x5″ loaf)

  • 2 cups organic whole wheat flour*
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup jaggery powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped or coarsely ground dates
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed pineapple
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon desiccated coconut (for topping)
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds, for topping
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 9 x 5 inches loaf pan and line base with parchment paper.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder and set aside.
  3. Mix the jaggery into the warm, melted butter and whisk until it turns slightly creamy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well.
  5. Mix in the dates, pineapple & 1/2 cup coconut, and fold everything together gently.
  6. Add the flour in two measures, mixing gently with each addition.
  7. Pour into prepared loaf pan, top with pumpkin seeds and scatter the reserved 1 tablespoon coconut all over the top.
  8. Bake for 50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pan for a while, then transfer to a cooling rack. Slice when completely cool.
     

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    *We like to use Navadarshanam organic whole wheat flour, especially in our breads, as it lends a nice grainy texture. Besides, we think it’s cool to support local farms that practice organic farming.

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Toasty Roasted Baby Potatoes

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It doesn’t take too long for us to munch our way through a kilogram or more of potatoes as a family. Somehow this pantry staple manages to sneak into our meals, bulking up vegetable curries, binding cutlets and paratha fillings, or handily slipped into toasted sandwiches. In many Indian households, it is de rigueur for large chunks of potatoes to be added to the everyday subzi, be it aloo-methi, aloo-palak, aloo-paneer or the pretty much inescapable, aloo-gobhi. We’ve tried consciously to shift out of this cooking paradigm, and occasionally we do like to cook potatoes on their own, to savour and celebrate their many irresistible qualities.

These Basil Roasted Baby Potatoes were made for a party recently, and they disappeared so quickly that another batch had to be tossed and slipped into the oven. Roasting the potatoes in their skins is a great way to add texture and crispiness, and these tiny taters are much too hard to peel anyway. Any herbs can be used in place of the basil, fresh thyme and rosemary are particularly good, but basil is what was in the fridge that day, so that’s what went in. The dried and fresh herbs provide double the flavour hit, you get the deeper, savoury flavour of the dried basil and the anise tones of the green leaves too.

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A shower of salty Parmesan or Emmental cheese right when you bring the tray out of the oven would not be out of place. Or you could stir in a dollop of fresh pesto to add even more flavor. We served these with Pasta Primavera, mixed greens and homemade focaccia, but if you stick in a few toothpicks and put them on the coffee table as an appetizer, you’d surely be making a lot of folks very happy.

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Basil Roasted Baby Potatoes

(Serves 8)

  • 1 kg baby potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • Salt to taste
  • A handful of fresh basil
  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC / 400ºF.
  2. Soak the potatoes in warm water for a few minutes and then scrub well to remove any dirt. Dry them in a clean kitchen towel. Cut any of the larger potatoes into halves. Set aside.
  3. Line a large baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. Pour the oil in a large mixing bowl and add the red chilli, salt ad dried basil.
  5. Tip in the potatoes and toss well.
  6. Transfer the potatoes to the prepared baking sheet and arrange them in a single layer, cut side down.
  7. Roast for about 25-30 minutes, tossing once, or until the potatoes are tender.
  8. Tear up and toss in the fresh basil, and serve hot.

 

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