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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bedroom view

 
This week I went digging into my pictures for today's post and found this old one among the picture of our Bangalore flat. The one we stayed in for 5 years in Viveknagar and loved very much. This picture was taken shortly after we moved in, we had no furniture back then and our mattresses rested on the floor against the wall that had this window and view.
As you can see, it is a typical residential layout in Bangalore, with houses of 2-3 storeys and flat roofs. There were shops bordering the main roads and still enough trees.
Over the years we got a bed in there and our heads were almost level with the window, so we had the breeze and sun coming directly on us but still had a nice view. Then our neighbour decided to raise her house by one floor, and her roof top came at the level of our bedroom. Anybody could just peek in if they wanted to.
This close proximity between houses in old neighbourhood is one of the reason why windows still have bars (which we call grills in India). It prevents thieves from breaking in. The other reason they exist is to keep monkeys out. Monkeys which are nothing but a type of thief...
 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Brunsli

 
Brunsli means brownie in Swiss German, and is the name given to one of our traditional holiday cookie. Like most cookies, the ingredients are simple, and the technique fairly straight forward (non expert bakers can pull them off easily).
They are like most Christmas treats in my homeland made with ground almonds. What makes these a big favourite is their deep rich chocolate taste and chewy consistency. They are made with the darkest chocolate you can find and afford, and some cocoa powder is added to the mix. They also contain a splash of Kirch, which is a Swiss cherry spirit, but worry not, the alcohol content evaporated during the baking process, so they are completely kids friendly. If you can't find Kirch (not sure it is even possible in India) a splash of brandy or better yet rum will do it too. If you are really against the idea of using any spirits, you can add a splash of lemon juice or a bit of vanilla essence instead.
 
Also keep in mind that the dough has to be refrigerated for several hours, ideally overnight so that the flavour develops and soaks the almond powder properly, so plan accordingly.
 
So without any further blabbering, here is how to make said cookies :
 
 
Ingredients


500g ground almonds (almonds with skin)
300g sugar
4 egg whites
200g Dark chocolate (I use Cadbury Bourneville, but if you can find darker, do it, the darker the better)
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 pinch of clove powder
3-4 tsp of Kirch (or brandy or rum, if not using alcohol, 2tsp of lemon or a few drops of vanilla essence)
A little white flour if the dough gets too sticky to work.


1) Mix the sugar, salt, almonds, cinnamon and cocoa powder in a bowl, add 2-3 tbsp of white flour at this point too, you might need more latter, but the little amount of flour will absorb the excess moisture while mixing the ingredients.
 
2) add the 4 unbeaten egg whites to the dry ingredients and fold in to have a wet texture. The egg whites act as a binding glue that will harden and keep the cookie together while baking.
 
3) cut the chocolate in small pieces and put in a microwave oven proof bowl, microwave for a few seconds at a time and stir in between to melt evenly. Add a few tea spoon of hot water once melted to make it more liquid. You can also melt the chocolate in a double boiler by placing the bowl in a pan of boiling water, but it will take a bit more time.
 
4) Immediately pour your hot melted chocolate in the cookie dough mix and stir immediately adding the Kirch or liquor. Form a dough. This part gets a bit messy, the dough will be sticky, do not look at a non stick soft consistency. It is not supposed to be. But the dough should hold its own without leaving huge clumps on your fingers, so if this happens, add a little flour at a time until you can lift the dough ball of the counter without it breaking apart instantly.
 
5) once that consistency reached, wrap your dough in a piece of cling film and put it in the fridge for at least 4 hours, overnight being better. The dough needs to steep and develop its flavour. You can also at this point freeze that dough and keep it for months until ready to use.
 
6) when ready to bake cookies, preheat your oven at 250 degrees Celsius and line your baking trays with baking parchment...you absolutely NEED baking parchment, greasing the pan and dusting with flour won't work too well.
 
7) roll down the dough which you brough back at room temperature to about 8-10 mm thickness (yes they are thick cookies) and cut shapes out with a cookie cutter of your choice. Place on the baking tray and bake for about 4-5 minutes
 
You'll know they are ready when the edges will start browning slightly. They are still going to be soft at this point. You need to let them cool completely for them to be hard on the outside. After a few minutes out of the oven, remove them from the baking tray and let them cool on a cooling rack.
 
Once cool, transfer to a cookie tin or airtight container, enjoy whenever the fancy strikes.
 
 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The elusive Xmas Factor

 
It's not the same.
 
The very sentence on ever expatriates' lips when the topic of Christmas come on the table. It is not the same, and this is an irrefutable truth.
The problem, is that finding the exact thing that makes it "not the same" is a ghost, a shadow, an endlessly chased but not reached rainbow. Nobody has been able to pinpoint what it is that makes Christmas so different in India.
 
The Climate might seem like the obvious elephant in the room in this odd game of "spot the difference". But, it isn't so. I have friends who come from tropical areas, or even the Southern emisphere. Places were Christmas hardly means dark, gloomy, cold and possibly snowy time. Yet even for those who grew up in an equally warm climate and evergreen surrounding, it is not the same.
I have been in India for a little over a decade now, and I am just really starting to grasp it.
 
What is not the same, is the very core of it, it's vital essence and spirit. But what makes that so hard to pinpoint is that said core and spirit is as unique as one's DNA. Just like there are no two snowflakes that are alike, there are no two Christmasses that are the same. Each person has their own, and their own meaning for it. Christmas is a live spirit one that probably live in each celebrating soul.
 
Christmas is like this old friend you get to see once a year, it is familiar, warm, comforting, and honest. For some, it cannot be without eggnog, for others it is incomplete without a chill in the air or a an 8 feet tall real tree. Some swear by twinkle lights, other prefer candles. it frequently means sharing, and being in a crowd of sorts. Yet some feel more comfortable in solitude.
In truth it doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it makes sense to one, and one alone. My Christmas means Swiss cookies, casual gathering of people and simple yet hearty continental food, and red green and gold decorations. To each their own.
 
When you are an expat, Christmas, that old friend, suddenly reminds you that your entire world has changed in a very drastic way and over a really short period of time. Christmas cease to be that comforting, rarely ever changing buddy. It instead hand you the mirror that let you see how much you and your life has changed, just like that. As I said, Christmas is an honest spirit, and brutally so at time.
This is what makes the holiday so hard on my lot, this is what takes time to cope. I found out that of all the festivals,many traditions I grew up with, Christmas is the one that forced me to introspect the most. Asking me to ask myself very difficult questions :
 
Who are you? What's your baggage? What do you want to keep? Throw? What are your priorities? What do you want to become? What's your future like?
 
These are frightening questions. Questions that most will try to avoid being confronted with. They are very personal, and intimidating questions. Questions that do not have a right or wrong answer, or a quick one for that matter. They are the kind of questions you could ponder over a lifetime, or more.
Having to answer them, or rather attempt to do so, force one to constantly reassess their lives, reinvent things, and create new normals. When you move accross the globe, you change, often not really realising it.
 
And change is scary.
 
Over the years, I went from dreading Christmas, hating it for being different and not "right", to finally learn to make peace with it.
One simply cannot stay mad at an old friend for simply mirroring their own shortcomings. That, after all, would not be fair at all.
 
I did introspect, reflected, and reinvented things. I picked up elements of my culture I could not do without, incorporated new ones I was willing to adopt and created a new version of Christmas I can call my own again. I came to be very grateful for that lesson the holiday gave me over the years.
And, sure, it isn't the same anymore. But enough time has passed that I am not even sure I really truly remember what it once was.
You see, old memories tend to fade away when new more vivid ones take their place.
 
So, yes, it is NOT the same. But I no longer see it as something bad. It just take time to get to that point to get to appreciate it; and a few coping strategies I will perhaps share one of these days.
 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Felt ornament

The month of December is always rich in events, meetings, parties, gatherings and cooking sprees that I often find myself with a lot of blog posts ideas and too little time to really post it all before the season passed.
I spent all of last week preparing for and throwing a party at my place. And then, recovering from it over the weekend. So much so, I ended up forgetting about an ornament I made for an ornament exchange for an earlier party this year.
 
 
 
I had plan to share this easy little project earlier, forgive me for the delay. The good new is that it is so simple you could still make one, or a few for this Christmas.
All you need is some felt, some fabric glue, and...you guessed it 3D liner paint, aka glitter paint (yes I know, I use it a lot...that's my thing). If you feel crafty enough, and I did, you can even use some glass bead on a threat to finish it, but trust me, the ornament looked totally fine without too.
 
Oh and yeah you will need a little cotton, I used the make up removal pads, but you can use the surgical cotton available at your chemist too.
 
 
 
Cut two identical shapes in your piece of felt first, I used circle for that one, but I have made a star in the past too.
Then, place the cotton in the middle of the first piece, and apply fabric glue all around. In generous amount might I add, the felt will soak it up and you want to have enough glue to hold the two pieces together. Place the second piece of felt on top of the first one, and use clips to keep them together while the glue dries. Like this :
 
 
 
Once the glue is dry (give it an hour or so), remove the clips, and use 3D liner paint to draw your design. I did a snowflake, but really if you don't like them, feel free to draw just about anything. I did draw on both sides, so I had to let it dry before flipping it over and repeat.
Then if you have some patience, you can threat a string of tiny glass beads and use a quick drying glue like "All Fix" from Pidilite (the transparent solvent based type) to glue it around the edge of said ornaments.
 
Last but not least, use a piece of wire, string or ribbon ( all work well) to make a hoop to be able to hang it to your tree.
 
All in all you will spend about one hour of being actively working on said project if you are into details.
 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A morning walk

 
The Winter days are slowly settling in Mumbai, it is drier, and mornings are pleasantly cool. Last weekend, it was the perfect time to go for a morning walk by the sea front.
This is a picture taken in Bandra, on the Bandstand promenade. Like all seafront promenade in Mumbai, it sees a lot of activity in the morning, with people going for a job, a walk, a stroll or doing some yoga.
In December and January, people really just go to just catch the chilly sea breeze, be it at sunrise, or sunset.
 
To conclude this busy week I had, this is my picture of India for this Sunday. A reminder we all need to slow down and enjoy life from time to time.
 

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