Saturday, December 10, 2011

A recipe for success anybody?

Don't get carried away with the title that was just to grab your attention and actually I don't have one, but don't leave yet, I do have a recipe to share with you. I think this post was more triggered by requests from friends to have the recipe that I used for the Banana Walnut cake that I baked recently for little bunny's kindergarten.

Well, it is that time of the year when working mothers like me in Germany really need to do the juggling act with ultimate precision and care. Your calendar at work is brimming to the limit and your calendar after work is also brimming to the limit. The only light I see at the end of the tunnel is the two weeks break from work where I plan to focus on some deep breathing skills.Yeah it is the month of December and the kindergartens pretend that the month should be dedicated by all mothers to baking cookies, cakes, helping out at all events like Adventscafe, Bastelabend (creative work which can then be sold), Adventsbasar etc etc. All these activities which I completely love to do given normal circumstances. But at work you also see that everybody is running amok making sure that everything is completed before vacation starts and you need to ensure that vertically up, vertically down, horizontally left and right all folks are appeased with their different requests.

Anyway, what has that got to do with a cake recipe you must be wondering. Yeah I need to learn to focus on one thing at a time - practice the breathing techniques I learnt during my preparation for labor classes and everything will just fall into place just like the muscles make way for the baby moving down the birth canal.

Coming back to the cake, so it was late evening Wednesday and the entry on my calendar read 'Bake cake for A's kindergarten for Adventsbazar'. Dinner was in progress and for the last spoons of pasta that needed to go down their throats I used the well known skills that we parents have - 'Kiddies finish your pasta and we can bake a cake together'. You can imagine the shriek of happiness and delight in their lovely eyes. Last bits of pasta disappeared before you even realised. Trust me this Banana walnut cake is one of the easiest you can make - you just need about 25 minutes at hand. Of course you need to have really super ripe bananas sitting in your fruit bowl which normally gets dunked into your bin. You need some brown sugar, buttermilk and some walnuts. The rest are the usual baking ingredients that go into any cake like eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder and butter. Especially when you bake with your children around I strongly advise you not to move away from the scene, it could turn into a long winded affair of cleaning your kitchen tops and floor. So make sure you have everything ready before you start, its easy like I said only the 10 ingredients below and you are ready to rock and roll.

1) 2.5 cups of flour

2) 1 tablespoon of baking powder

3) 0.5 cup of melted butter

4) a pinch of salt

5) 1 cup of white sugar

6) 3/4 cup of brown sugar

7) 2 eggs

8) 4 super ripe bananas mashed or you can mash it directly in your cake mixer

9) half a cup of buttermilk

10) half a cup of chopped walnuts

1. Make sure your oven is preheated (200 degrees C). Ask your little one to grease a round baking pan, this time I used a bundt form to make it look pretty. Kids love greasing the pan and getting their hands into the butter. Keeps them busy for sometime.

2. In a bowl mix the flour, baking soda and salt. You can ask your helpers at home to mix it for you with the additional instruction to do it very carefully else the kitchen top will be covered in flour :-)

3. In your cake mixer you can cream the butter, white sugar and brown sugar - nice and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time - add the bananas - slowly mix in the flour mixture and the buttermilk and you get a creamy mixture. Stir in the chopped walnuts. (The trick is to have a extra walnuts placed in front of the kids and ask them to chop them and ask them explicitly not to consume them. A good trick to get them to consume some of the omega 3 rich nuts :-))

4. Ask the kids to taste the end result, you will see that they love it. Ask them to hold on - pour the batter carefully into the prepared form. Scrape out everything and the leftovers the kiddies can happily lick away.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes - 40 minutes - until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Yummy banana- walnut cake is ready.

Lessons learnt - My German friends - parents of other kids at Kindergarten are born with extreme baking skills and I am sure many of you know that. So the next day in the kindergarten they could not comprehend why I had used a bundt form for a banana cake. Banana cakes according to the baking rules of the country demand it to be in a square form or a round form!! So make sure to keep this rule in mind especially if you are in this part of the world  :-) Enjoy baking my dear friends and like I said less than 2 weeks to go for that much needed Holiday break.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tapas, Paella and Flamenco in Madrid

Was in Madrid for 2 nights and 3 days on work. The schedule @work was packed but I was determined to catch a little bit of the local scene when I was there. After all, it is not everyday you get to go to the Spanish capital. My company had booked me into a nice hotel but it was completely north of Madrid and I realized that the historic city center was in the South. So after a long day of work I took the metro from Plaza Castilla to Sol on metro number 1. The metro was packed with people and like metros around the world everybody on the metro seemed to have an own story of their own to tell.

Sol definitely seemed to be the center of Madrid. The place was swarming with activity, I walked to the Plaza Mayor which is one of the best known plazas in Madrid. This even seemed to be the place where a lot of bullfights had taken place. Obviously this time there was no time to find out where a bullfight could potentially be happening. With regards to food, Tapas seemed to be the way of life here, the lanes were lined with many of them. I jumped into one of the Tapas bar and tried out one of the tapas which was a soupy looking one which had thin slices of Spanish chorizo in it.

 Of course my expectations were quite high but it turned out to be just ok but the small platter of Arbequina olives in balsamico was really delicious. Also tried out the steamed mussels dressed with a flavorful vinaigrette and that was also yummy.

But the Paella that I had for dinner on the first evening at the restaurant Portobello was a true treat. Paella is a word that originates from the Latin word patella which means pan and especially because the dish is cooked in a large steel pan that explains the reason. The dish itself I found out is cooked with a special type of rice called Bomba rice which originates from the region of Valencia in Spain. This rice is cooked with saffron , different types of fish, broth and other Moorish spices – so as you can see a perfect blend of cultures and the influences from the past.

Looks like my journey turned into a complete foodie experience. The Iberian ham is something that I have to tell you about. I am not usually a ham person but all my colleagues told me that this is the best ham that I could possibly have. The book on Madrid in my hotel room had also pages of praise dedicated to the Iberian ham also known as Jamón ibérico in Spanish. It was really fascinating to see how they cut the meat into these super thin slices, and for those of you who love your meat out there you definitely need to try them. They were indeed a delicacy!

But the best part is yet to come. After a long day at work on the second day, I promised myself that I would have dinner at my hotel restaurant and get ready to catch my flight the next afternoon. But then I learnt that the Real Madrid stadium called Santiago_Bernabeu was right around the corner of my hotel. I had to walk up there and check it out, it was already past 19:30 pm and unfortunately it was past visiting hours. Anyway I walked around a bit and realised how exciting it must be to watch a football game in action and also see one of the best clubs in the world play.

My disappointed self decided not to sulk and decided to go into town and find a nice place to have some dinner. I found a nice little Tablao called Arco de Cuchilleros – Tablao is a theatre/restaurant where flamenco shows are performed daily on a wooden platform. I had to pay for the show and a drink was included and guess what to my surprise it cost me only 12 Euros!!! I chose a nice Sangria for the evening and was really excited to see an authentic Flamenco performance in Madrid. You can forget about having dinner but you can definitely go there for the show. The show lasts for one hour and the flamenco dancers with their special shoes used the wooden surface to produce unique sounds that resonate in my head even now.

The dancers had so much of energy and after every performance they cried out sounds of support like ‘Olé!’ Though I was quite tired when I walked into this place, l was brimming with energy when I left the place and thought about the last Flamenco performance I was lucky to see in Germany.

I was really happy that I made it to a real flamenco performance when I was there. At the same time I was really happy to note that the next day I would be on that flight back home all set to narrate my adventures from Madrid to my loved ones at home. Madrid again is a place chalked out, for a much more relaxed get away.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Navratri dolls

It was the month of Navratri or Dusshera and this time around I thought that I would make it to the Navratri Raas Garba Program in Frankfurt. Garba is an Indian form of dance that originated from the Gujarat region in India.
But as always work got the better of me and the closest I came to the event was seeing the pics of the traditional dance by friends who obviously planned better and got to be there. But I was really happy when my friend U who lived in the neighbouring town of Walldorf, uploaded a pic on Facebook showing how she had beautifully decorated dolls and figurines at her home also called Kolu or Golu on the occasion of Navaratri. These dolls and figurines depicting the gods and goddesses are very customary during this festival in the South of India. I was even more happy when U told me that I could come over and see the beautiful array of dolls. So along with little bunny, hubby's Mom and my friend P we had the chance to see the beautiful dolls and also got a glimpse into the significance of some of the dolls on display.

Navratri which translates into 'Nav Ratri', '9 nights' during which nine forms of the Goddess are worshipped and Dasara is the festival that is celebrated on the tenth day. Dasara translates into the victory of Good over Evil. It is during this time of the year that U had done such an amazing job in arranging the dolls. Key learnings for me were:

1. The dolls are displayed on steps - but the steps have to always be odd numbered and can go up to a maximum of 9

2. The dolls are passed on from mother to daughter especially it can be a very treasured wedding gift

3. The dolls can be organized according to your imagination and creativity - U even had a  corner with a cricket team :-)

4. The Marapachi dolls made of wood have a special place in the whole arrangement. The Marapachi dolls always come in pairs. I only learnt later on that these dolls are carved out of a reddish wood called 'Marapachi' and hence the name. And they always come dressed as a couple in their wedding attire.

5. The Chettiar dolls also has a very important place - signifying the importance of business and finance.So as you can see the dolls somehow bring out the different aspects of social life.

6. On the 10th night after the cermonies the dolls are actually put to sleep. After that the dolls are carefully packed in cloth or paper and well preserved for the next year.

You can also find a pic that U uploaded on wikipedia talking about the festival @,_Walldorf.jpg
What an unique festival, dont you think? So colorful, so much of meaning behind every doll and every doll having a beautiful story to say! So as you can imagine I have started looking out for dolls for next year :-)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chalo Bangalore!

Excited to be on the flight to Bangalore. 4 work days which will be packed from morning to night and really excited to meet my work colleagues whom I normally talk to on the phone or see sometimes on telepresence. At the same time missing my little darlings back home who wished me good luck with their energy packed kisses when I started from home today morning.Waiting to see the delight on their faces when I am back home and the warm welcome that awaits me.

On another note I Was reading the Sunday Times on the flight and was horrified to read an article about 'Unwanted children' mainly girls born to parents in Maharashtra who were named 'Nakusa'. Yes that's what the name literally means 'Unwanted'. These children were born when parents were repeatedly trying to have sons but then they would have a girl and since she was not in their grand plan they would be named Nakusa. Apparently the Indian government has a plan to rename these childen with the name Nakusa so that they do not have to bear futher social stigma while growing up!!!

The Indian food served on flights these days definitely seems to have improved. Or maybe I was just too hungry, but the dal makhni I should admit tasted the way it should be tasting. Post meal distress started when I was trying to figure out a polite way of handing over a mouth freshner to passenger sitting in the neighbouring seat, but deciced that a mouth freshner alone would not do the trick and hence decided that the whole action plan was futile and curled into the right most corner of my seat!!!

After working on some 32 + email responses, I decided to check out the inflight entertainment. They were playing the movie 'Chalo Dilli' which translates into 'Let's go Delhi' - seemed like a fun movie. A strange combination of characters - sophisticated no-nonsense business woman meeting her complete opposite on a missed flight. The moral of the story was live life happily don't complain about the little complexities that life throws your way once in a way but either accept them or work on changing your situation but dont complain! Though I saw only the last quarter enjoyed it completely and will definitely check out the whole movie with hubby dear back home.

Well its another hour to go and the flight will land in Bangalore, guess I will post this once I am in the hotel which will be way past midnight and if the internet connection works as I hope. Hopefully I get some time during the next days to post some glimpses of my Bangalore experience.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Miss you!!

This post is dedicated to my father-in-law. A man, I can't actually believe is no more!! A man whose strong value system, I see reflected in his son the man whom I married and deeply love. Yes I had or still have a special kind of love, a combination of respect and deep admiration for hubby's father. I loved him for his sincerity, admired the fact that he always allowed people around him to have their sense of freedom and space, his very strong but not suffocating love for his children.

A completely self made man who I believe was much ahead of his times in his thinking, he educated his siblings, convinced his young wife (my mother-in-law) back in those days to do a double graduation and pursue a career, gave the best education to his kids and never stopped them from pursuing their dreams even if it meant them going far away from him. He always had a sense of satisfaction about him when we were around him and especially doted on his grandchildren.I think he was in his true element only when he was in his own home in Udupi, in the world that he felt the most comfortable in.

I really wish that I was together with hubby dear back in Udupi now, being part of the whole process of telling his father goodbye but I think staying back and having the time to think about him and reflect back on some very fond memories is also very special. Today, as I went through some of the pictures of their paternal grandfather with the girls, little bunny told me that her Nana is now in the sky and that he was smiling at us. I am sure he is but we miss you dearly dearest Daddy!!!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Alsatian pottery anybody?

Looking to buy some beautiful cooking pottery that can also decorate your kitchen walls? Then Soufflenheim in the Alsace is definitely a place you want to head towards and this is exactly what we did on the 24 of June a lovely summers day. The attraction of this place is clearly beautiful and colorful pottery and my personal opinion some of the most beautiful colorful houses and window frames.

Some of the molds of the pottery found in Soufflenheim dates all the way back to 400 B.C. The origin of the name Soufflenhiem is believed to come from the Celtic root 'Sawell' which means furnace. Since the village is close to the forest of Haguenau the clay used for making the beautiful pottery is also got from the forest. We went directly to the tourist office there and asked where we could see the actual process of making the lovely pottery. The lady there was very friendly and gave us some recommendations. We first went to the Pottery Hausser where they had some of the most awesome looking traditional Alsatian pottery that you could imagine. But unfortunately you could not see the actual workers in action there. After that we checked out Poterie Richard Hausswirth and there we could see the artisans at work.

How much control the women had over their hands as they very effortlessly painted the beautiful pots with the very traditional designs. Little bunny was thrilled to see the whole process in action.

I was looking for the traditional Baeckeoffe but the huge number of choices that were available made it very tough for me to come to a decision. Yes  the array of colorful designs in multitude of shades like blue, green, red, yellow and all painted with the motifs of traditional flowers, birds and costumes.

You can walk through the main street and you have numerous pottery workshops you can visit.

If you are looking for a really nice place to have your afternoon meal then I can definitely recommend restaurant Au Boeuf. Next time around we plan to visit the twin pottery town of Betschdorf and maybe also go and check out the pottery festival coming up on the 4 September 2011.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Magnificient Milan!

Everybody recommended that we do not drive into Milan. Of course it is not as crazy as driving in Rome but still trying to drive around in two separate cars with the family in a busy city like Milan probably may not have been a fun experience. So, we boarded the train to Milan from Portichetto a little village in the towm of Luisago. We loved the train journey especially reading out the names of the little Lombardian towns along the way. In about 45 minutes you are already in the Milano Cardona train station and we were all set to take in the sights of the city. Don't miss the statue of the needle, thread and knot outside the station, it took a while for me to figure out what it was.

Anyway, after about a ten minute walk we found ourselves standing in the grand Piazza Duomo which is one of the biggest squares in Milan. I had to hold on tight to little rabbit before she could run away and become part of the Italian crowds :-) Standing in the middle of the Piazza it was impressive to see the Duomo Cathedral, the Royal Palace and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II .

The Duomo or the Cathedral is fantastically grandiose, all the streets seem to be radiating from the Duomo or circling it, basically everything around the city seems to be happening around the Cathedral. I personally think that the cathedral from outside was more impressive than from the inside. What definitely will catch your eye is the statue of St. Bartholomew the apostle by Marco d'Agrate, a truly magnificient sculpture. Don't forget to walk behind the statue to really see the ghastly effect of this masterpiece. It made me read about the miracles of St. Bartholomew later on to find out the significance of this sculpture.

Over multiple espressos it was fun to check out all the fashionistas walking around the streets strutting their stuff. After all being one of the fashion capitals of the world with the major Italian fashion brands like Versace, Armani, Prada and the rest that I cant remember right now all have their headquarters here.

It was really cute to see Dad and Mom walk hand in hand making sure that they dont get lost in this bustling city brimming with life.

I am sure that if we had more days to spend in this city we could have explored a lot more interesting monuments like the Castello Sforzesco but that would have to wait until the next time around when we are here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beautiful Bergamo!!

A visit to Bergamo a city in Nothern Italy transforms you into a completely different world. The city has an old part called 'Ciity alta' or upper city which can only be reached by taking the funicular all the way up from the newer part of the city. Once you are there you feel like you are in a totally different world, a hilltop medevial town filled with cobbled stones, churches, squares and bars and classy cafe terraces.

The whole place gives you the feeling of having travelled back in time.  I learnt that some of the most expensives homes in Italy are in the old part of town in Bergamo as space is extremely limited here. Some parts of Bergamo reminded me of walking through the streets of Cochem a town in Germany along the Mosel valley. I really enjoyed the time we spent in the Piazza Vecchia the old square that dates back to 1453 in the heart of the old town.

The girls had so much fun playing at the fountain in the center of the square. Make sure that you sample some of the most amazing gelatos in the world as you take time to explore the town.

So next time you are in the area of Lombardy in Italy make sure you have a day chalked out for a visit to beautiful Bergamo.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lago di Como (Lake Como)

A beautiful five and half hour drive from home including an awesome 17 km sheer tunnel stretch through the St. Gotthard bringing you from Switzerland into Italy. The whole stretch was mainly on autobahn A5 and A2 and a beautiful stretch at that on the A2 and you are already in the beautiful Italian region of Lombardy. I am loving Villa Guardia a little town close to Como and also loving the lovely ancient stone villa run by Francesca and her husband Georgio. Well, the wireless internet connection only works from the east facing bedroom but then who cares about these minor details when you are on vacation ;-) Georgio promised to give hubby dear the keys to their own private chapel if we wanted to take a look, of course we want to!!!!

The drive from Villa Guardia to Como was very adventorous. The Italians had no clue that I was following hubby's car very closely, everybody tried to jump right in between with their swanky cars and I was determined to stay put and not let them just squeeze their way in. As long as you don't understand the language the swear words also sound like music :-) Little bunny and little rabbit were quite amused that everybody honked away to glory.
Como is such a lovely town and the lake Como is the deepest lake in Europe and the bottom of the lake is more than 200 meters below sea level.

The streetside markets definitely beckoned but I was reminded harshly that we were here for checking out the place and not to shop!!! Well, well, well...after a yummy seafood risotto and a nice dry Gewürztraminer to go with it and I was happy again. Ordering a caffè automatically gets you an espresso and a super strong one that helps you carry around the little ones without a care in the world. My parents decided that Cappuccino was more their preferred option than the stealthy dark espressos. You can get lost walking through the beautiful narrow alleys in old town Como, every little alley alluring and inviting you to explore its hidden treasures.

Yippee, we still have Mennagio, Varrenna, Bellagio, Bergamo and Cadenabbia on the weeks itinerary!!!