yeppam

All things fine and feasty

Amy Jellicoe and I

I am watching this television series called, Enlightened, starring Laura Dern. I have to say, this show makes me really uncomfortable, and yet I can’t stay away from it. Laura Dern’s character, Amy Jellicoe, reminds me of myself from a previous decade. But see, I empathize there. What really makes me get goosebumps are her colleagues and her mother, or really their relationship issues. 

My colleagues, from a world I don’t associate with anymore, were just like hers, sweet to the face, and bitchy behind my back. I also had this tendency to be honest about things that didn’t seem right. I had these ideas about improving the workplace, and reporting people who didn’t seem right. I was no one’s wing man. And when the job was boring, or if I had finished the job I was meant to do, I asked if I could leave for the day. When things didn’t go my way, I would either move from one newsroom to the next or get kicked out. Story of my 20s. I also made the mistake of thinking that my colleagues were my friends. Whereas, the truth is, I had no social life because I was swamped in work. Slowly resulting in a breakdown, and alienating myself from friends, nay, colleagues, who wanted nothing more to do with me. I was Amy Jellicoe.

Since I no longer work in an office, and have realized I am not meant to lead a 11 am to 11 pm lifestyle, I now try and find things to do I enjoy. God knows, I try everyday, and as much as some people think I am doing nothing, I have been trying to re-invent myself. This process of re-inventing one’s life is not easy, for one, where do you start? Ok, let me start doing all the things I like. I can certainly do that, and try while I am at it, to not feel guilty that I am now dependent on my husband who has never whispered a word about me not earning. I can say I am lucky there. And then, while I am trying to regain my self-esteem and not be haunted by the ghosts of my past decade, how do I deal with the many friends and family who would like to know what I am doing now? That’s always a great opening line to a conversation. What are you doing now? As in, you are defined by your profession, so please explain so that we may classify you as an individual and bookmark the details of your life for later reference. Frankly, I also have realized these and many more are the people I really don’t need to explain to. Still, society can catch up and prick my ego. This is another similarity between me and Amy. The more you try to stand up as your new self, the more you find resistance from those who knew you before your inner transformation. 

And then, the parents issue. In this series, Amy is trying to deal with her mother whom she has just moved back in with. Her mother and her never seem to get along, and her dad died 20 years ago. Amy and her mother can’t seem to understand each other, they don’t speak the same language. Amy is divorced, but still hangs out with her husband, who is an alcohol addict and a substance abuser. In an episode climax, he lashes out at Amy’s mother saying that Amy has been fighting the void her entire life, the void of parental love, that he tried but he could never replace what she wanted the most – the love of her mother. 

I still face these issues with my mother, and I have tried a lot of things to get over this void. Therapy, meditation, self-help groups, drama therapy, the works. If you know something else that could help, let me know on this space. In the TV series, it is after her divorce and meltdown and almost getting fired from work that Amy discovers meditation. In that way, I am lucky. I went to see a therapist four, maybe five years ago. There was a lot of re-parenting that he had to do, to change my patterns of thinking. It was literally like learning to walk. And my therapist’s biggest gift to me – Vipassana. He didn’t call it that then, because somehow the term ‘meditation’ just put me off, but he taught me the technique anyway right under my nose! I have a lot of issues and am still working through them, but today at least, what I have are tools to help me in moments of distress, jealousy, anger, loneliness and deep, deep sorrow. 

And like Amy, who also flies into her neurotic, obsessive old self and then recovers in a snap to remember, that it is okay to let go, to breathe and forgive, I too have felt this. Watching this television series made me remember. Sometimes it teaches me, even though I practice meditation every day. In the second last episode of the first season, it’s all about Amy’s mother, who has her own ghosts to deal with – a husband who committed suicide, a son-in-law who blames her for undoing her daughter forever, a friend from many years ago who now shows her pictures of happy children and grandchildren, things around the house that remind her of a life from long ago, children’s chatter echoing from many years before. I felt bad for my own mother, and although in my head, I have forgiven her many times, I still fly into a rage when I remember what she did to me in my childhood. And then when I watch an episode like this, I remember that she got that way because of things that didn’t work out for her too – a tyrant mother, an absent father, a philandering husband, a condescending brother. 

There is nothing else I can do where my mother is concerned, except to forgive her. I have tried to distance myself from her, I have used harsh words, I have tried sarcasm and I have made her jealous (not deliberately) by sharing better times with my father, who should have been our mutual enemy. All I can do, after watching Amy is to remind myself that my parents have a past too.

Sometimes, I wonder if we see our parents as this asexual, inanimate utility. You know, like a refrigerator with a lifetime warranty. It can’t break down, it’s got that shape because it stores all this food that it’s supposed to keep ready for us, if it doesn’t have the food we thought we kept in it the night before, we slam the door in anger. It has no eyes, ears or mouth. And we children, we are the humans, we are the ones with a soul that can break. If our fridge conks out, we should be able to replace it for free. But nobody else will take this old, weary, outdated fridge. Everyone has one of their own they are trying to get rid off. We’re stuck with it, and when we finally throw it away, memories of good times come flooding in. 

It’s all I can do. Meditate, and remember that like Amy, I and many others have similar problems that we are all trying to resolve. That like the countless millions I will never meet, we all have our forgiving to do. 

Cherry Mac Blondies (say it like Woody Allen)

So, with the organic homemade butter that I had made, I was waiting to bake something new, something I hadn’t tried before. In Hyderabad, whatever the season, I haven’t been able to find fresh cherries. I gave up that hunt, because I couldn’t find them at Nature’s Basket, Hyper City, Ratnadeep or any of our other regular grocery haunts. Hunt-haunt. Hmm.

Anyhow, we were passing through Road no. 92 in Banjara Hills, when I happened to see a newly inaugurated store, Dry Fruitz (they don’t have a website, I think. Google-ing ‘Dry Fruitz’ only brought up some stores that had dry fruits. Psssh. Also, queries by the IndusLadies). We have bought dry fruits and nuts at other places like Nature’s Basket and Karachi Bakery. At these two, we’ve shopped for dates, almonds, pecans, pine nuts, peppered cashews and raisins. But these two stores aren’t a dedicated dry fruits and nuts store, so I was hoping for some variety at Dry Fruitz. Talk about anticipation. The first thing I saw were racks of Omani and Saudi Arabian dates. How excited was I! Since it IS a new store, all attention is on the few customers who walk in. We scrutinised the next section which had quite a variety of dry fruits. Also, lo and behold, dry cherries! And macadamia! Instantly, I had all the ingredients in my head, thanks to my months on Pinterest, culminating into a recipe for my Cherry Mac Blondies.

Also, MH loves his white chocolate, so that was the second reason going in favour of blondies. Such an attractive name, and the story that came along with the recipe by Strawberry Spice got the mood going. I made some slight modifications to the recipe, like substituting pistachios for macadamia, just because I wanted everything to be white! Also, the Ghirardelli white chocolate chip packet has a cookies recipe on the back that has macadamia in it. So, that’s got to work, right? Anyway, I’ve never had this nut before, so when I tasted one of them, it had this buttery smoothness to it, which went with my gustatory perception of what these blondies would end up being.

Blah, blah. Anyway. I followed this recipe to a T, and they tasted great. My only suggestion would be that, instead of baking them for 20-25 minutes as the recipe calls for, I would put them in for 30-45 minutes, since the middle seemed a little under cooked. This adjustment may also be because I am baking in a microwave convection oven. Also, slip in some extra cherries, no one’s going to complain!

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These Cherry Mac Blondies DO taste as good as they look. The cherries add a brilliant burst of fruity flavour!

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You can add in whatever nuts or dry fruits you like. The original recipe calls for pistachio, which I omitted this time. What can I colour and taste code pistachio with? Hmm.

So, I don’t like to crowd up this blog with (my) recipes/ baking exploits because you know, sometimes when I see a recipe on Pinterest I really like and the blogger goes, “Oh, the original called for pineapple chunks and coconut cream, but I made mine with vanilla and cow’s milk,” I just want to shake that person and say, hello! Why would you substitute that! Anyway, lol. Also, if I am not making a drastic change in the recipe, in terms of measurements especially, I think you can check out the original link, plus, bask in the glory that you read this long post about finding cherries in Hyderabad – they’re an important fruit! And you must have them whenever you find yourself in Hyderabad, because of the antioxidants and the sun protection!

Silly.

Anyway, I really loved the fact that I made these blondies, such a lovely name. Really, just a blonde sister of a brownie. Same mother, different father. I call them Cherry Mac Blondies. Ok, over and out.

The Big, Bad World of Sexual Harassment

I am a little mad right now, as it always happens when I read the news early morning. Sexual harassment at the workplace. Two articles have been getting front page spotlight, the latest being allegations by a journalist at Tehelka magazine against the founder and editor-in-chief, Tarun Tejpal. I am not sure I can pass an opinion on what happened between the two till Mr Tejpal has stated his version. And the other one is about a law intern against a retired Supreme Court judge. The common detail in both cases? That the accused are both men in power, that in upholding justice and equality, they have forgotten which side of the law they’re standing on.

I am not new to this kind of behaviour, and I was a journalist as well, having worked in a number of leading newspapers in south India. I can tell you one incident which was one of the scariest in my life. An editor-in-chief was organising a farewell party, and basically jumping ship to a more lucrative offer up north. I never did like this guy because on the day I joined work at this particular newspaper, he came up to me from behind and poked me on my arm. To this day I wonder, ‘Did he lose his voice that day or maybe he forgot my name?’ Anyway, even when I turned around to face him, he kept poking me in my arm. Not, may I point out, in an innocuous and careless way, it was a purposeful jab, with the intention of letting know who the boss was. Had I not been shocked by this physical contact, I might have slapped him for assuming he could touch me. And fast forward a little bit, I was a little wary as were some of the other female journalists in the room, as we all had witnessed previously how drunk male journalists could get at one of these jigs, not to mention the inevitable drama that would follow. Anyway, the editor-in-chief for some reason, after the party had started, perhaps because he felt he did not have to hold back anymore, was going around the room jumping all the female journalists in the room. By ‘jumping’ I mean, bear-hugging from whichever angle and NOT letting go for a few minutes at least! And you should have seen the expression on these women, painfully smiling through it all.

I, meanwhile, had worn a top which had gotten the attention of all the men in the room, which by the way showed no cleavage or chest, and my legs were fully covered. All that was showing was a little bit of back. Or so I think. It’s always what we wear, right? I mean, that’s why we are at fault, right? Anyway, the editor started moving towards me. And I put my hand up, like a ‘Stop’ sign and shook my head, to mean, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ He made a few jokes about it, approached, backed off, and repeated the process. Suddenly, he decided to throw caution to the wind and come for me after all. And I started running, out of pure panic and hope that a fellow journalist would tap him on the shoulder and order him to cut out the nonsense. He chased me around a table for eight, for what seemed like eternity for me, and all I could feel was silence and a hundred eyes on this pathetic scene. All I knew was that I did not want to be touched by this man, as disgust was building up inside me. Through this all, an illustrator was taking pictures of my back on his mobile phone!

Suddenly, my editor, the one I report to, came to rescue me and said, ‘Alright, alright, game’s over. Enough!’ I was shaking, and I don’t know what the orders were, but my colleagues surrounded me on all sides for the rest of the evening, making sure I wasn’t left alone. The party went on and it was time for a farewell speech from the editor-in-chief, during which he mentioned my name and said, “The one person I am going to miss when I leave you all is her, and I have that regret that I could not hug her.” Everyone started laughing. And in response I said, “Yeah, fat chance!” And immediately the crowd started looking at me with slit eyes and disapproval. In fact one of the female journalists there turned around and told me, “C’mon, take it in the right spirit, don’t be so serious, yaar!” This is from the same woman, whom I heard later on was crying because the same editor-in-chief had pinched or slapped her bottom, when the party had become more boisterous. I left immediately after the speech.

There are several other instances with other organizations too, where a reporter on the High Court beat, looked me up and down and asked me when he could pick me up after work. This on the day he brought his 8-year-old daughter to work. I worked in this testosterone-driven radio station, where female RJs were hired on the basis of their looks, and incentives were paid out to male employees by sending them on a ‘massage’ vacation to Singapore. I was once the editor of a coffee table magazine, where I worked out of the publisher’s home. One day as I came in, the marketing consultant was just leaving his room. There are so many more instances, but writing this has made me remember and I want to stop stating instances to make a point.

Now, in all of these instances, I know from experience, the response would be likely -

  1.  “Well, these don’t sound ALL that serious.”
  2. “Okay, they’re sexual advances, but harmless essentially.”
  3. “It didn’t happen to YOU! So why do YOU care?”
  4. “I mean, they didn’t do anything, did they? DID they?!”
  5. “C’mon, yaar, don’t be soooo sensitive!”

I think the next worst thing a woman, who feels her boundaries have been breached, can hear from another woman (or man) are these words, and worse intimidation to shut the hell up or else. Which, judging from the resignation letter of the victim/ journalist at Tehelka to the managing editor Shoma Chaudhury, is exactly what the latter is guilty of doing – turning the tables around on the victim. This is what the law intern also said about the panel that had been appointed to investigate her allegations against the retired Supreme Court judge. Her statement in today’s newspaper was, “When I appear before the panel, I feel I’m being looked at with suspicious eyes. I have to constantly justify that I am not lying, I’m not making up this story.”

I would like to bring attention to the admirable work that an NGO in Pune, Maharashtra, is doing. Equal Community Foundation (ECF) aims to end violence against women through men. I used to volunteer as an online campaigner for this organisation, and then I had other personal matters to attend to, so I couldn’t commit to them as much I wanted to. But I still believe in their work and their focus. Maybe in a few years I will return. However, this doesn’t change the amazing work that ECF is doing, and more NGOs that are focusing on gender issues should wonder why men are not part of the dialogue. Please check out their website to see how they train young men to challenge community-based gender issues, and become leaders of social change within the world they exist in. And it is in this way one CAN make a change, isn’t it? By operating in the microcosms we exist in.

At the end of it, I wonder why I am always annoyed when I read news of this kind. It is this: women constantly have to justify their existence, their opinions, their needs, their choices. Every news article, like the one about Tania Sachdev as one of the four commentators at the World Chess Championship and the fact that this Grandmaster could also be sexy is something the media cannot get over. How can this anomaly exist? She must be one or the other – beauty or a bespectacled nerd! Every time a woman grabs the headline, the first paragraph is about her makeup and the clothes she wore. With any luck, she’ll stay in the headlines for the next few days depending on the right or wrong man she hugged publicly and what kind of a hug it was – did it reveal a secret relationship ensuing et cetera. These days I cannot make out where a tabloid begins and where the broadsheet ends.

So today, as I read the news and am getting flashes of my own experiences, how do I feel? I am a little wary of working with men again. That is a little extreme, lol, I am married to a great guy after all! So, I would change that too – I am wary of being pushed into/ working alongside male (or female too, gender doesn’t matter when it comes to viewpoints on sexual harassment, I have realised) company I can’t help. I left for other reasons too and am not a journalist anymore, and that has to do with other matters too such as the thankless monetary rewards for the many hours and crazy timings that a journalist has to put in (overtime pay? hah!), the zero concern for safety, all this for something they teach you in journalism school about it being a fourth estate, reporting the truth objectively, a noble profession and some watchdog or something. I get confused. It’s easy to forget. The only reason I lasted as long as I did was because of an egotistic need to see my byline.

And let me just say, not all male journalists or editors are all that bad, and I was lucky to meet some really nice men there as well, who reminded me that I should not have such a bleak view of the world. But then again, one bad stitch can ruin a garment. No?

I did it, I made butter at home!

Oh my god, what a break from blogging! But I have been experimenting like mad in the kitchen. Recently, a friend and I were catching up – ‘chatting’ online – and she ordered me to get back on Facebook. I said it’d made me ill, stalking people that is, and that’s why I left. The condensed version, Pinterest, I can live with. I actually do something useful there, especially where recipes are concerned. What I also like is the ability to go to any website and just ‘pin’ the information, to bookmark and save for later. A very useful feature. Meanwhile, in my quest to go natural, I found a recipe for making unsalted butter, right here at home. I really had a vision of churning butter in a wooden barrel, but the process hardly takes 20 minutes, minus the time it takes to thaw frozen cream. I just left mine out overnight. It’s cool here in Hyderabad, so check the weather before you do that.

Also, did I mention that this is organic, homemade butter? Yep, yep, so double whoop for that. We’ve been getting our milk packets from the same milk farm for a year now, and it’s called Sid’s Farm. I would highly recommend this milk, especially since you know it doesn’t contain hormones and anything harmful. Plus, we haven’t done this, but they encourage you to visit the farm and see the cows for yourself!

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All you need to do is 1) boil full cream milk 2) skim the layer of cream that builds up when you leave the boiled milk out to cool down 3) store that cream in a container to go in the freezer 4) repeat that process for 15 days to a month 5) when you have enough, defrost to make butter and bring to room temperature 6) pop the cream into the blender along with half cup of water to one cup of cream 7) start blending 8) you will see butter separating from the butter milk 9) drain out the buttermilk (but save that too for baking!) as much as you can aaaaaaand 10) your butter is ready!

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Isn’t she utterly-butterly delicious? Sorry, Amul, for stealing your tagline!

This is so silky when you are done with it. But because it has no preservative and still contained a little bit of buttermilk, no matter how well I thought I strained it, I guess you should use it as soon as you can. I guess.

Butter with toast, butter in cake, use it any way you like =)

Out in Ooty

A few weeks ago, MH and I headed to Ooty to be away from the noise and pollution of a metro. In case you were under that illusion, let me tell you straight away that Ooty is a popular hill station, an easy weekend getaway from all of the four southern states of India. Like MH’s brother-in-law said, “They should rename Ooty. Call it Dirty.”

So, that’s a heads up. However, what most tourists don’t explore are the pristine hills that lie beyond the congested city, that belonged, still belong, to the tribes of the land. This land is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life. I will come to that in a bit, so let me start at us arriving in Ooty and checking into our B&B.

The decision to go to Ooty itself was a last-minute one, and we were pretty sure we wanted a hotel that’s quiet and quaint and had some character, something with a bit of soul, and that’s how I somehow found Life is Outside, a really user-friendly site that provides information on outdoorsy, rustic accommodation anywhere in India. You get to specify budget, the distance you’re willing to travel, whether it’s an adventure vacation you’re looking for or something for the whole family. So, after checking (and getting confused), we called up the number on the site late afternoon, spoke to a holiday consultant who got back to us with holiday options as quickly as the next morning. So, if you’re someone who likes the wild, like MH and me, if you like trekking, or waking up to the sound of the sea, this is the site for you. Most importantly, if you’re looking for something off the touristy path, these guys sure can come up with the best options. Also, another step we took was to check for reviews of suggested accommodations at TripAdvisor.

And the ‘hotel’ if you want to call it that, is Lymond House. This is mid-September, so that’s an off-peak season for them, which means that we had the entire place to ourselves, sprawling lawns, gazebos and all. So, Lymond House is essentially a Colonial-era cottage and comes with as they put it, ‘creaking floorboards,’ low amber lighting, narrow corridors and Victorian host chairs welcoming us around corners.

Vines, beams and clay roof tiles provide a romantic setting

Vines, beams and clay roof tiles provide a romantic setting

One of the most relaxing places to be was the dining area, with a grandfather clock and several vintage heirlooms on display, one of my favourites was a shelf of antique kettles and pots.

Love that blue onion butter dish on the top shelf. Also, the beautiful velvet peacock tea kettle

Love that blue onion butter dish on the top shelf. Also, the beautiful velvet peacock tea kettle

Not too clear, but here's a closer look at the peacock tea kettle. Isn't he pretty?

Not too clear, but here’s a closer look at the peacock tea kettle. Isn’t he pretty?

So, MH and I usually have a problem when it comes to taking longer vacations – food. We HATE hotel food. I don’t know why anyone would voluntarily eat at a hotel, when all they do is take stuff out of deep freeze and fry the hell out of it. If you have a sensitive tummy like us, then you’re constantly looking for home-cooked food while on the move. This is what the kitchen of Lymond House offers. The advice on TripAdvisor was to order any meal at least an hour ahead because they chop-it-cook-it  just then. And it shows. Every night, all we had was daal (lentil curry) and roti (Indian flat bread), nothing gourmet, and finished it off with a cup of hot chocolate by the fireside, which by the way, had real fire, real wood (pine and coffee) and vintage wrought iron tools including shovel, tongs and even a vintage bellow!

Through most of our stay, what we expected to do was to take it easy, catch up on some sleep, probably take a stroll here and there, we are really lucky that Lymond House recommended a tour by a guide named Thordey Gooden, who belongs to the Toda tribe. Funny, informed and sharp, this guy has an arsenal of stories, a bottomless love for the land he grew up on and a chummy (but not intrusive) nature that anyone would warm up to, in fact, he knows just about everyone up in the hills. We were up for some trekking and got to a pretty touristy spot on the Ooty-Gudalur road by bus. Apparently this is called Shooting Point since many Indian films have been shot here. But we went past the gate, where a Toda girl was standing guard and this was only possible because Thordey knew her and also he can roam freely about the lands because he belongs to the tribe.

A view to remember. This was how it was through the entire four hours we trekked, and we weren't even tired!

A view to remember. This was how it was through the entire four hours we trekked, and we weren’t even tired!

He took us through various terrains, sometimes going slow because I kept stopping to take pictures. He took us through various inclines, and pointed to a hill that looked like it was located close to heaven and said, “That’s where we need to go.”

Eucalyptus trees. So this is where the aromatic oil comes from! That's Thordey in the corner.

Eucalyptus trees. So this is where the aromatic oil comes from! That’s Thordey in the corner.

So, every tribe has a livelihood. Besides the Toda, there are other tribes such as the Badaga, Kota, Kurumba and many others. In fact, one of the managers at Lymond House, Samraish, belongs to the Badaga tribe. “We are vegetarians,” Thordey tells us, explaining their livelihood, which is rearing buffaloes, a particular breed with horns like earring hooks (couldn’t think of a better metaphor!). “Without buffaloes, there is no Toda, they mean everything to us, we worship them, we allow them to graze free on these lands, they are not like cows, they cannot be domesticated.”

Mmmyes, can I help you?

Mmmyes, can I help you?

After death, the skulls are stacked like this, to pay respects to the creatures who provide the Toda people with their livelihood.

After death, the skulls are stacked like this, to pay respects to the creatures who provide the Toda people with their livelihood.

When we did go past these creatures, which were sometimes grazing in a herd of 10, we had to tread as noiselessly as possible, because a stampede is unavoidable. Even if we jumped up that tree? “Buffaloes can jump five feet into the air!” Beat that. Anyway, we kept climbing that hill, while Thordey, who runs cross-country marathons waited for us to catch up, and I have to say we consider our fitness level better than average. When we finally reached the top of the hill, we paused to take in the air, so clean, so unpolluted. We stopped by a house there, and Thordey spoke Toda language, which is unlike anything I have ever heard before. It sounded almost Persian.

A Toda temple, located right next to the house. See the design? It has the horns of the buffalo, signifying their livelihood.

A Toda temple, located right next to the house. See the design? It has the horns of the buffalo, signifying their livelihood.

The family that lived in the house were relatives of Thordey. We thought it rude to ask if they could be photographed like some animals in the zoo. However, I really liked a piece of cloth on which one of the ladies seated outside the house was embroidering. So, she got up to show me a shawl she had stitched and I loved it so much that I asked her if I could buy it from her. They were shy and did not understand my gratitude when she said yes. “The word ‘thank you’ does not exist in our language. Toda people do not expect it, and they consider it too formal. Instead, they would like to offer you some tea,” he said.

Tea made with buffalo milk

Tea made with buffalo milk

This, for me, was one of the highlights of the trip. I couldn’t have asked for anything more, experiencing a place for what it is, beyond the bricks and mortar, the way things were way before any of us were around, this was as untouched as it could get, right here in the midst of civilization. Energized by this, we were on our way back, but through a roundabout route. We stopped and drank from a waterfall, city-bred folk like us lapping up water either because it was fresh and clean or because we had only seen films of children raised on land like this. Or both, and Thordey’s intention was to take us to a tea plantation, which Ooty was famous for, so he was watching the clock. On the way though, a few kilometres below, there was a lake with the clearest water I had ever seen in a long time.

We sat here for a long time, abandoning plans to visit a tea plantation.

We sat here for a long time, abandoning plans to visit a tea plantation.

The presence of the lake was mesmerizing. That combined with the conversation the three of us shared.

The presence of the lake was mesmerizing. That combined with the conversation the three of us shared.

We finally got ready to return to the gate, towards Shooting Point. And as we waited for the bus back to town, we watched Thordey as he interacted with the cart owners outside the gate, who were selling roasted corn, boiled peanuts, woolen wear, tea and more. All of the Toda people speak fluent Tamil although it is not their mother tongue. Thordey bought us some tea and when we offered to pay, he said, “No, no, please, she is my aunty. She will not accept money.”

Our jeans and shoes were caked with dry mud, all from walking across the grounds with Thordey. When we returned to the hotel, we were happy-tired, the kind that felt like we had learnt something new, or done something useful. After a long, hot shower and as we sipped on our hot chocolate, we were talking to Samraish, who would occasionally drop in to see if the fire was still burning bright. He suggested we visit Coonoor the next day. There isn’t much to do there, he said, but the botanical garden there was much better than the one in Ooty. Plus, the best way to get there would be to take the toy train, a tourist attraction in itself. Many films have been shot on this train, not to forget this Bollywood classic from the 90s.

So there are the run-of the mill things to do in Ooty. One of them is the Botanical Garden, then another is to go boating. And of course, buying Ooty’s homemade chocolates. We aren’t sure what’s great about these chocolates and if they taste better than Snickers. But the better route to do in a place this commercial and on it’s way to gentrification, maybe it’s just me, is to explore the place for something more, some soul. That guided tour by Thordey Gooden is my suggestion for ‘seeing’ Ooty. Still, some touristy things work out, like the train trip.

The toy train arrives at Ooty station

The toy train arrives at Ooty station

Before the British came along and called it Ootacamund and finally, Ooty.

Before the British came along and called it Ootacamund and finally, Ooty.

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Going through a tunnel. Everyone was screaming in excitement! There are no bars on the window here, unlike regular trains.

After getting off, we went to Sim’s Park, the botanical garden of Coonoor. This is definitely a more impressive place, but it’s still a garden. And well, meh. After the trek through the hills the previous day, how can we go ga-ga-goo-goo over artificial landscaping? However, besides the enormous trees here, there were other things to do.

Like feeding the Island Fish who will eat ANYTHING. Well, you can't throw gun because that would be plain mean. But, cookies and chips? They love it!

Like feeding the Island Fish who will eat ANYTHING. Well, you can’t throw gum because that would be plain mean. But, cookies and chips? They love it!

After that we headed to 180º McIver for lunch. This place is owned by the Lymond House people as well, and was recommended to us by the staff at the latter. They HAVE to, I suppose. We thought it would have the same standards in terms of food and hospitality.The food was terrible and overpriced! I would say it doesn’t match up at all, except for the, the name says it, the view. We didn’t even bother to check out the rooms.

So, the next highlight of the trip is something I kept my stomach empty for. We love experimenting with cuisines. And again, I believe it is home-cooked food of the region that will truly be the best experience for a tourist. For example, to this date, I have not tasted Gongura (a kind of spinach) pickle that is better than what a friend’s aunt packed for me. It was so different from what we buy at the store! And that is a local delicacy you eat with boiled white rice and some podi, which is a kind of chilli powder.  That’s it, that’s all you need.

Anyhow, my point is, we decided to go for the menu’s highlight at Lymond House, and that is a typical Badaga lunch, which had quite a lot of meat in the non-veg option, and a spicy vegetable side dish in the vegetarian one. All in all, a great sumptuous meal. Although, I would advise eating something lighter before that downward meandering route out of Ooty!

Indian bread, some salad,  rice, black-eye beans curry were on the Badaga lunch menu. Also yummy was the batter-fried dessert, which is lightly coated in sugar syrup.

Indian bread, some salad, rice, black-eye beans curry were on the Badaga lunch menu. Also yummy was the batter-fried dessert, which is lightly coated in sugar syrup.

I have to say, one of the things I now feel I NEED to do whenever we take a vacation is that I need to see something real. And this trip stamped out a definition of ‘real’ for me, for us.

Cookie monster!

Oh my god, I just tried this recipe for chocolate chip cookie in a cup by Melissa from Number 2 Pencil, and it’s awesome! Next time, we’re having it with a scoop of ice cream on top! And it is so easy. We modified the recipe a little bit, because we weren’t sure if we read the ‘microwave for 45 seconds’ bit right! So, just to be comfortable and to make sure everything got cooked, we put the ramekin mix in for 10 minutes and let it cool for another 10 minutes, and it was just as gooey and soft! Oh my god, do I love the caramelized, crunchy sides! Ok, overload on the exclamation marks! But, trust me, if you have a craving all of a sudden and you want an immediate fix, this recipe is just the thing for you!

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The best recipe in the world to keep a kid happy or when unexpected guests arrive! Another exclamation mark, sorry!

How to wear a sari

So, I shamefully reveal this fact: despite being an Indian, I did not know how to tie a sari, and had to look it up on the Internet to find a tutorial video! Gah, anyway, there are a lot of weddings coming up, and I can’t keep running to the neighbourhood parlour or depend on a kind soul to drape the thing for me. So, I finally did it, and all thanks to this video. And MH, of course, whose pleating precision and sense of direction had all to do with a great result. Incidentally, I had this conversation with a friend and a cousin, who were both pretty quick to shout me down when I said that saris don’t suit me. Apparently, it’s like saying, “Hair doesn’t suit me, I look better bald.”

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