Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recipe: Lemon Rice

Lemon Rice is a South Indian dish which is a favorite of many and so easy to make. It is usually made for special occasions such a a festival or a birthday; and is often served at the temple. In our household, we love it and have it quite frequently! You can also make it easily if you have some rice leftover and you don't know what to do with it. Lemon Rice is eaten plain, or with tomato chutney.

Madh Mama's Lemon Rice

Serves 3 people (and a baby!)


- juice of 2 lemons
- 2 green chillies
- 2 inches fresh ginger (chopped small)
- 10 curry leaves
- 4 cups cooked rice
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp urad dal
- 1 tsp chana dal
- 1/4 cup nuts (cashews or peanuts)
- 1 dry red chili (broken up into pieces
- 4 dashes asefoetida
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp peanut oil (for a nutty flavor)

- large saute pan


Cut the chillies lengthwise into quarters, without taking the stem off.

Chop the ginger into small pieces.
Cut the lemons in half, juice them, and keep aside.

Heat up the oil in the pan and add mustard seeds.

When they start to crackle, add the asefoetida, dals, red chilli, and cashews.

Let it saute until the dals turn a golden brown color.

Then add the green chillies and curry leaves and let it sautee for a few minutes.

 Then add the turmeric and let it saute for a few minutes further.

*It is important to give each spice time for the flavor to develop*

Then add the fresh lemon juice and let it saute for a minute.

Add the cooked rice as a layer on top of the spices.

Push the rice aside in the pan to make room for the ginger, and saute for a minute.

Then, mix it all together thoroughly.

And voila!

You can serve it by itself....

Or with tomato chutney!


Monday, July 28, 2014

Destiny, Fate & the lunchbox

How much of life is destiny? 
How much of our lives are pre-written when we come into being?

The other day, I was at my parents' house and I found my lunchbox from when I was in grade school. On one side it had Krishna, and on the other side it has Goddess Lakshmi. The pattern in between had an "Om" symbol. I remember picking out this lunchbox, thinking it looked nice. My dad used to stuff it with samosas and pakoras for snacks which I devoured heartily.

I remember the Indian students being drawn to me because of this lunchbox, looking at me because "she's one of us". My best friend (who was a Hindu Punjabi) was drawn to me because of this lunchbox. She came to a new school and didn't know a soul. She saw me in the cafeteria with my lunchbox and followed me and struck up a conversation. We became instant friends. 

The white students used to ask me why I would keep doodling "3's" and why there were "3's" on my lunchbox. "Is that your lucky number or something?" they would say. I sighed, annoyed. "It's OM, you idiots....Don't you know anything?"

Twenty years later, finding this lunchbox - now, having an Indian husband, having given birth to an Indian daughter, and being married to the culture (for better or for worse) - I wonder, was it a sign of my destiny? When I picked it out, why was I innocently drawn to it? Why did I pick this one out of all the lunchbox choices that day?

Wise men often say that you're exactly where you're supposed to be, at any given moment. And when I see things like this, it is almost as if I can see my childhood self standing in front of me, saying "I told you so..." with a mysterious smile.

I much of our lives are pre-written? How much of the choices we make - whether it be a lunchbox or a spouse - is engineered by the greater pull of destiny?


Friday, July 25, 2014

Our "golden" 3rd wedding anniversary

During our big Venice trip, not only did we have Maya's 2nd birthday to celebrate, but also our 3rd wedding anniversary shortly after.

I love that both of these big celebratory events are within a week of each other. I remember when we found out we were expecting Maya, the original due date they gave us was on our wedding anniversary of June 11th. It was such a happy coincidence - life is funny like that sometimes. It was like the universe was telling us that our daughter was a celebration of our love - which she is...

(Our temple wedding: June 11th, 2011)

Our 3rd wedding anniversary celebrates the first of our three weddings - the simple religious Hindu ceremony that we had in the local temple. It is my favorite of all the wedding celebrations because it was so calm and quiet. I remember I was so relieved to finally be married and having it in the temple was such a spiritual experience. I loved the symbolism of it, and I loved walking around the fire with him.

For our anniversary, we were in Venice, and although we didn't get any alone time, we had a lovely day together. It was also my inlaws' last day in Venice, so we wanted to do a little bit of last minute sightseeing with them.

We didn't get each other any gifts, but husband-ji was thoughtful enough to surprise me with a little rose. That too, in front of his parents - it made me blush!

That day, we went to visit San Giorgio Maggiore church, where I said a little prayer for many more years of a happy marriage under the Virgin Mary. We were there during the Biennale, so outside of the church was this amazing sculpture of large blocks made of 24k gold!

Then, we toured the Doge's Palace - which was so fantastic. Seeing the carved ceilings of gold and the paintings was like an artists' paradise. 

It was definitely a "golden" anniversary!

It is so fun to look back on our anniversaries and how we celebrated it every year. Our first anniversary, we spent at home, having just returned back from the hospital with newborn Maya. Husband-ji surprised me that day with a beautiful antique chest from India. Our second anniversary, we did a really fun vegetarian couples' cooking class.

I can't wait to see what the next few years bring!


Dear readers, what are your most memorable anniversaries? How do you like to celebrate them?


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Recipe: Rasam

Rasam is a staple in every South Indian home and is made nearly every day. It is made as an accompaniment to the main vegetable dishes, oftentimes eaten pre or post meal. This dish can also be eaten as a soup and the mixture of spices is very soothing on the throat, not to mention - great for digestion. The ingredients are so simple that you can make it with the items that are already staples in the Indian kitchen.

*Optional: You can add 1 scoop of Toor dal or leave it without. I often like to add the cooked dal because it adds protein to this dish, which is especially important for vegetarians.

Madh Mama's Rasam

Serves 3 people (and a baby!)


- 3 Roma tomatoes
- 1 tbsp oil (either vegetable, sunflower or peanut oil works well)
- 1 cup cooked Toor dal (optional)
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/8 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp tamarind (pulp)
- 1 tsp Rasam powder (can be found at the Indian grocer)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 spring fresh coriander leaf

Ingredients for tempering:
- 1 tbsp oil (either vegetable, sunflower or peanut oil works well)
- 8 fresh curry leaves
- 2 dashes asefoetida
- 1/2 tsp cumin

- small/medium saute pan
- extra small omelette pan (for tempering)


Cut the end of the tomatoes off and chop it into quarters. Set aside.

Heat up the oil in the pan, on medium heat.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, toss, and cover with the lid for 5 minutes.

Toss the tomatoes again and add the salt. Cover for an additional 5 minutes.

While the tomatoes are cooking, soak the tamarind in 1/2 cup lukewarm water.

Then use your fingers to squeeze the tamarind juice out of the pulp, until only the pulp is left and the water is a nice brown. 

Take the lid off the Rasam - the tomatoes should be very soft, in a thick soup-like texture.

Add 1 scoop of cooked Toor dal (optional), tamarind water, 1 cup of water, Rasam powder, and turmeric.

Bring to a boil for 10-15 minutes, without the lid.

Check the consistency of the Rasam - you can add more water if you'd like. If you do, remember to bring it to a boil before the next step.

For the tempering, heat up the oil on the omelette pan while the Rasam is cooking.

Add the mustard seeds first.

As they begin to crackle, add the curry leaves, asefotida, and cumin. Stir for 15-20 seconds, until the cumin becomes a tad darker.

Then, pour the tempering into the Rasam and mix together.

Boil for an additional 5 minutes.

Turn it off, and add fresh coriander on top.

And Voila!!!


Monday, July 21, 2014

What to give as a gift for an Indian (Hindu) wedding

(Our Indian wedding)

A lot of foreigners venture to India for the first time to attend the weddings of their friends and/or family members. Besides tourism of a country that is so rich in it's heritage, the second biggest attraction to make the trek to India is to witness an Indian wedding (we are also going for one this Winter).

But the foreign dilemma comes into play when many are unsure what to purchase as a wedding gift for the newlywed couple. Many are unsure of the customs and of what is an appropriate item to gift.

You see, in North America, things are more anal organized. Many couples have already set up a wedding registry at various stores (like major department stores or homeware stores) and list the registry information at the bottom of the wedding invitation. When you go to these stores, you can look up the couple by name and it will give the registry with how many items that have already been purchased. Couples set up a registry in order to prevent receiving items that they do not want or need. It is certainly functional, but a little controlled. 

In India, people are way too busy planning a wedding for hundreds of people to be concerned about a gift registry. There are so many moving parts to deal with with all the family dynamics, the finicky astrologers and priests, not to mention the complicated multi-layered family dramas. Generally, the couple likes to be surprised by the gifts they are given. 

So many foreigners (in typical Indian fashion) find this incredibly confusing. Many wrack their brain for months trying to figure out what kind of gift they should give the couple. In the past couple of weeks, I have been asked by a handful of foreigners about what to purchase for a wedding gift.

The first point that you should know is that Indians tend to give gifts both as individuals or as groups. If there is a group of foreigners traveling together, then you can all work together to contribute to a larger gift. This is common. Many times Indian family members (such as a group of aunts, or office co-workers) do this as a combined gift. If you don't know anyone attending the wedding, then you of course can give a gift individually.

You could bring a gift from your home country - but ONLY if it is really special - because you'd have to get it past customs. Some examples of things you could bring from your home country would be specialty items which are easy to pack (like European olive oil, fine perfumes or bath products, printed pillow cushions)

Indians view a wedding gift as something that both the groom or the bride can use starting their new life together. The two most common types of gifts could be monetary or something for the home.

(Img via)

A monetary gift is a safe bet for a gift, and it is very common. Money is presented in an envelope and it is a great gift that the young couple can use in so many ways (honeymoon, savings, expenses, wedding debts). I would also suggest that foreigners give the money in rupees. That way the couple do not have to go to the trouble of going to the bank and converting it - they can use it right away, if need be. However, one should also know that the monetary amount needs to be auspicious. For example, the amount should end in an odd number (preferably ending in 1). You will see people giving monetary gifts like 101, 1001, 5001 rupees, for example. Or the ultimate lucky number - 1116 rupees (or half of that is also lucky - 558 rupees). The reason this is auspicious is that the number 16 is symbolic in Hinduism for the 16 Sanskaras

For someone who is traveling from abroad, an appropriate monetary amount would be anywhere from 3000-12000 rupees (which is roughly 50-200 USD). A safe, generous amount would be $100 USD (roughly 6000 Rs). If you are on a budget, you can even give half of that and it would be totally fine.

(Bed sheets - img via)

Another great gift to get is something for the home. In India, it is taboo for a couple to live together before marriage, so post-marriage would be the first time they would be living together openly. You can purchase these things in India as it would be more convenient.

For example:
- a cutlery set
- kitchen utensils or tools
- kitchen electronics (microwave, blender, coffee maker)
- household electronics (music player, cordless phone, camera)
- fine bed sheets or linens
- pillow cushions 
- photo frame set
- basket of fine bath products/scented candles
- silver items (diyas, candlesticks, serving plates)
- paintings or art pieces 
- jewelry box
- lamps/lanterns (Hindus are big on light)
- furniture (usually only given by immediate family due to the price)

You can also give the gift of clothing for the newlywed couple. If you are traveling to India and plan on wearing Indian attire for the wedding festivities, you can easily purchase a saree for the bride and a shirt for the groom.

(Pooja thaali - img via)

If the couple is more devout and conservative, then you can give them a religious item, like an idol or something to assist performing poojas with. A very devout couple would be performing poojas on a daily basis, so it would definitely be of use (a pooja thaali, fancy incense holders, aarti stands). An example of good idols to give would be Ganesh (new beginnings), Lakshmi (prosperity) or Radha/Krishna (divine lovers). You can also give them a religious painting.

(Radha/Krishna painting - img via)

An expensive wedding gift, which can be contributed by a bunch of people would be either gold, or a vacation. Gold is only usually given by immediate family members. Gold prices are extremely high right now, but it is always valued in Indian culture (a gold pendant is a nice gift). The other thing would be a vacation package to a resort or a cruise (hello romance and alone time!)

What NOT to gift: leather items (cows are sacred), lingerie, alcohol/liquor.

Before purchasing a gift, you would need to take into account as to whether the couple are living in India or abroad. Many Indians return to India for their marriage, so if they are living abroad, it is not useful to purchase any decorative items for the home. But really, money is the easiest gift and more useful!


Dear readers, have you been to an Indian wedding? If so, what is a good gift to give the newlyweds, in your region?


Friday, July 18, 2014

My Indian Mother-in-law gets her first sunburn

During our trip to Venice last month, the whole of Northern Italy was hit with a BIG heatwave. My inlaws only came for a short time to see us and also "finish off" some sightseeing - so we were out and about - A LOT...

Don't get me wrong - it was really hot. Not only hot - but humid too. During our days sightseeing, my MIL, otherwise known as "Grumpy Cat" (affectionately, of course...!) was complaining that she simply could not tolerate the heat. 

"What the heck, Sandhya!" I said. Aren't you from India?? HELLOOO!!

In Hyderabad, it was 10 degrees warmer than it was in Venice, but my MIL still had a difficult time with the heat in Italy. I think this was because we were doing so much walking outdoors, with no cover from the sun. Whereas in India, you are going from one air-conditioned space to another and not walking outside for long distances. In Europe, because they have seasonal temperatures, there is no A/C even in many of the retail stores. 

On the second day of their visit, my MIL came down with this awful rash on her chest. Knowing how sensitive her skin is, we thought she was having some kind of allergic reaction. Maybe it was fabric or maybe it was the food, we thought.

"My skin is bright red and hot and itchy!" She cried. "I can't stand it! It hurts!"

We went to the neighborhood Pharmacia and got some antihistamine tablets and cream. Needless to say, it didn't work.

She dragged me into her room the next day. "Look Alexandra!" She said. "There is no improvement and it is burning hot! The cream isn't working!" She showed me her chest, where the skin was bright red and flaming hot. I inspected it closer, by moving her bra strap to see her normal brown skin underneath, which was unaffected by the redness. I could clearly see the tan lines.

"Oh my gosh, " I laughed. "Don't worry, Sandhya! It's just a sunburn! Haven't you ever had one before?"

"Never!" she said.

In all her 50+ years from living in South India - one of the hottest places on Earth - she ended up getting her first sunburn in Italy, of all places!

Of course, these are the types of situations where having a Western DIL comes in handy....I am all too familiar with treating sunburns, since I practically get them several times during the Summer months. My skin turns beet red, is hot and itchy, and then a few days later, the burn turns into darker skin. Having had so many sunburns over the course of my life, I'm used to the hot, itchy pain.

I was quite relieved for her that it was just a sunburn and that it wasn't something worse. My MIL (of course) was totally miffed about having it turn into darker skin, being a little sensitive about her "already dark" skin.

Many times people with darker skin tones think that they cannot get a sunburn and are ill-equipped in the knowledge of preventative treatments. People with darker skin tones (shades of olive, brown and black) have naturally higher levels of melanin which acts as a protection from the sun. So that means that people with darker skin tones are less likely to get sunburns, but it CAN still happen (which explains why husband-ji and FIL did not get one). Not to mention, the higher melanin levels does NOT protect against skin cancer. 

Maya - being a mixture of us both - has an olive/light brown skin tone. She absorbs the sun very easily, but she did get her first sunburn on her 2nd birthday, during the Italian heatwave. Since skin cancer runs in my family and I tend to burn easily, sunscreen has always been a staple in my house and in my purse during outings. If it is hot and I know that I'll be in the sun for more than 20 minutes, I always bring along my sunscreen, just in case. Nowadays they have great sunscreens which you can just spray on the go. I usually use SPF 30-50 depending on the heat. In the days post-sunburn, I made sure to slather her with my La Roche Posay sunscreen before leaving the house.

I am definitely a bad influence in many ways.... such as tattoos, my love of horror films and reality shows, rap music, and feminism (GASP!) But at least I can be a good influence in teaching my Indian family about sunscreen and treating sunburns!


Dear readers, have your Indian family members ever experienced sunburns?

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