Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving Thanks in Southern India

Pongal Festival

Probably one of the oldest "thanksgiving " festivals is the ancient festival of Pongal.  This festival has been traced back to 200 BC and is celebrated on the 14th of January. That date is chosen because it marks the beginning of the sun's movement North, called Uttarayana, in India.  The festival also marks the end of the farming season and a period of rest for those hard worked farmers!  Bells, drums, and cymbals all make their noise to announce the beginning of the 4 day festival.  The first day, Bhogi, is the day where old clothes are thrown out and new clothes put on to symbolize beginning a new life.  The second day is called Pongal, the word "pongal" means "to boil over" and that is part of the tradition.  To symbolize the abundance of the harvest, people make a porridge with freshly harvested rice and milk in a new clay pot and they let the porridge boil over the edges of the pot.  The porridge, also called pongal, is then eaten by everyone- including the animals!  There are rituals performed over rice in the temples and offerings of sugarcane, vegetables and spices are given to the gods.  Once the food has been offered, the people then eat it in the belief that their sins will then be forgiven.  The third day is a fun one, it is called Mattu Pongal, and that day is to give thanks and celebrate the animals that are so helpful to the farmers. 
The cows and buffaloes that help to plow the fields are given a spa day!  After a bath, their horns are polished and painted pretty colors and they are decorated with necklaces of flowers. Their living areas are cleaned and they are given special treats to eat.  On Mattu Pongal it's good to be a cow :)  That leaves the fourth day, Kanum Pongal, where families go out and spend the day together picnicking or visiting others.  They snack on sugarcane, another symbol of a plentiful harvest.  There are songs and dances traditionally performed during this time and if you are interested in learning some please check out this Pongal Festival website.

I borrowed a poem from the website- a kind of prayer .

Pot rice to Sun God
Sugarcane to cow and ox
Sweet rise to you and me
Good milk to friends and family
-M. Narayanan
I wish you all good milk :)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Farewell to India Feast

A Farewell to India Feast

India has been a fascinating country- so many exotic animals and birds, interesting foods to try, and some very interesting folktales and myths that I haven't even shared with you.  In fact, there is so much more to talk about I could probably do another week on India!  We haven't even talked about the Taj Mahal, which is one of the Most beautiful things man has ever built.  Let me tell you a little about it before we talk about our feast because it truly is a love story.

Built in the 17th century by
Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for
his "favorite" wife(I'm assuming
she was one of a few) when she
died during the birth of their
14th (!!) child.  It is built out of
pure white marble from all around India and decorated with
28 different kinds of precious
gems!! It is a masterpiece of
architecture, especially for the times, all 4 sides have the same proportions and at different times the shadows and lights can make it look different colors! It took 20,000 workers over 20 years to complete - I'd say she was his favorite wife!  I wonder how the other ones felt about that :)

Now onto our feast!  The kids were having a rough afternoon and I really didn't feel like going to a restaurant with them so we ordered our feast to go. 

 I kinda knew the kids weren't going to eat too much spice so I ordered Chicken Biryani for them.  They use Basmati rice in India and the dish was really good but had a little kick after a few seconds.  They ate it but the water was nearby :) They also really like the naan, a flat bread cooked in a tandoor (clay) oven - they are chewy and delicious and really good to sop up the sauces.  My daughter wouldn't try it but my son also liked the Sheekh Kabob, lamb and herbs minced and formed into long meatballs and cooked on skewers in the tandoor also -YUM! For the veggies we had Aloo Mattar which is potatoes and peas in a spicy gravy- might I say a nice way to eat your vegetables :)  Lastly for our feast, Chicken Vindaloo (medium spicy), chicken pieces and potatoes cooked in a hot and spicy sauce that is soooo delicious.  Actually all the sauces I've tried at Indian restaurants have been delicious!  I strongly urge you to try an Indian restaurant if you have not.  I know a lot of people who "think" they don't like curry so they never have tried it but how can 1.2 billion people be wrong??

So farewell to India!  What an amazing place to learn about with a rich and peaceful culture and philosophy.  A place that I would love to visit one day! 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Rangoli and a Field Trip

Rangoli and a Field Trip 

Project 4:  Rangoli designs with chalk

Rangoli are colorful designs that are drawn on the floor near the entrance to the home.  They are used to welcome guests and during the Divali holiday they are used to welcome the Goddess Lakshmi into their homes.  They can be symmetrical designs or pictures of nature such as animals, birds or flowers.  We made ours on the driveway with chalk since we almost never use the front door and it was such a nice big area :)  For the project you will need:
  • colored chalk
  • flat, relatively clean surface
  • your imagination!
She came up with her own design  :)
Hard to see but he is adding circles to the ends of the peacock feathers,

We all had a lot of fun doing this.  At first you think what will I possibly draw, but just start small and keep adding little bits here and there and before you know it your driveway is a beautiful piece of art!!  It kept the kids busy for about 45 mins too :)

Week 3 Field Trip!

For our field trip this week we went to an Indian market and dress shop in a neighboring town.  I used to live near this shop and had walked by and smelled the exotic spices and heard the music but never stopped in and checked it out.  The first thing we noticed (my daughter especially) was the smell.  Not a bad smell at all, but very spicy and incensey (?).  My daughter was being rather rude at first and holding her nose but after a minute it wasn't so strong and by the time we were done I didn't even notice it anymore.  We were a little overwhelmed by the aisles of unusual pastries and bags of things with unusual names so we enlisted some help.  The young man who worked there helped us pick out a few different snacks to try. They all looked pretty good, I could have easily spent A LOT of money, but I refrained and only bought a few things.

We bought:
  •  Moong Dal (left) which are little fried split green gram (chickpeas) and are really addictive
  •  Motichoor Laddoo (top), which are little cake balls made from Chana flour (garbanzo beans/chickpeas again!) sugar and butter that my son especially loved!
  • Kurmura Ladoo (right) which are sweetened puffed rice balls that were ok - nothing great.
  • Not pictured, but we also bought some paneer to see if it was any different from what we made -  ours was better!!! 

The kids really enjoyed looking at all the exotic foods and drinks and cooking utensils.  My son would have filled the cart with interesting things - he is definitely more adventurous than my daughter!!  Next door (actually the next room) was a dress and sari shop.  I was excited to have my daughter try on a sari and get a lesson on how to wrap it, but unfortunately, the only person working was the young man and he didn't know how :)  So we explored on our own and looked at all the statues of the different gods and goddesses of the Hindu religion.  They especially loved Ganesh, who has the head of an elephant! 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A trip to the zoo

A trip to the Zoo and a project to do!

The kids and I joined some friends this week for a day at the San Francisco Zoo.  I prepped them with our plan for the day - a photo safari of animals from India!  Well, that was harder than it sounded. 

I knew we wouldn't find elephants because the zoo used to have 2 but one died (old age I think) and they sold the other so it wouldn't be lonely.  Not sure if they were Asian elephants anyway - do you know the difference?  Asian elephants are smaller, their ears are smaller, and they have 2 bumps on their forehead.  They have been domesticated in India and Asia for many years and used as transport and in the timber industry.  They have the largest cerebral cortex (cognitive thought part) of any land animal are are as smart as the great apes. Oh, and they can live over 80 years!

We did see peacocks!  The SF zoo has peacocks running around freely and they are beautiful!  The male peacock is the one with the beautiful tail feathers that he lifts up and displays when he wants to impress a female (or show off), the female is brownish and has much shorter tail feathers.  She is actually called a peahen, and they are both member of the peafowl family.  The peacock is the national bird of India and has special religious significance in the Hindu religion.  None of the peacock (or peahens) were really posing for pictures so here's one from the internet...

Another animal I thought we would see for sure was the Bengal tiger.  NOPE.  Seems the SF zoo has Siberian tigers, Sumatran tigers, but no Bengal tigers! Anyway, the kids learned the different types of tigers right?  The Bengal tiger is the nation animal of India and is the largest of the big cat family.  They are one of only 2 big cats that can swim and they spend alot of time cooling off in the many rivers and lakes in India.  There are less then 2500 of them living in the wild and have been on the endangered species list since 2010.  India is doing a lot of work to save them and designating vast areas as sanctuaries in hopes that these beautiful animals and, in fact, all the animals of India can flourish and live.  

Project 3: Bengal Tigers
Since we didn't get to see any Bengal tigers on our trip to the zoo we decided we would make our own - maybe we will drop them off at the zoo next time we go :) For the project you will need:

  • 1 toilet paper roll for each tiger
  • some flat thin cardboard or heavy paper
  • orange and black paint and brushes
  • stapler and/or tape
1. Cut a head, two legs. a neck, and a tail from the cardboard.  Legs are folded so flat side can be attached to tube (hard to see)

2. Attach them using tape or stapler (or both) to the cardboard tube.  This was a little hard for young kids to do.

3. Paint tiger orange (white belly / feet to be really true) and let dry

4.  When dry, paint on some stripes and a face with a thin brush (or glue on googly eyes)

Cute little Bengal Tigers!!


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

One language for many

One language for many people...

In a country with at least 15 major languages, and hundreds of different dialects, you would think that learning to speak the language would be impossible, well, we're in luck because the Indian government decided in 1965 that Hindi would be the official language. So that makes it ALOT easier to learn a few words, not to mention alot easier for the 1.2 billion people living there to understand each other.  Here are a few...

hello = namaste or namaskar        thank you = dhanayavaad 
  I love you = mein tumse pyar karta hun    bye = alvida

If you'd like to learn the numbers 1-10 AND teach alot about different countries at the same time there is a great series of books from the library (or online) called Count Your Way books.  Not sure if they are all by the same author but the India title is by Jim Haskins.  I was tempted to just paraphrase the whole book but that would make ne look much smarter than I really am :)  Check them out at .  I will however steal their pronunciations-

1- ache or ek     2- dough     3- teen      4- charr       5- paunch
6- chay     7- sot     8- art     9- now   10- duss 

Animals and nature are a big part of the culture in India.  Many of their gods take animal forms or have animal features.  The walls of palaces are carved with ornate flowers, animals, and birds.  Animals also have a major role in many of the stories told to children.  I got a kick out of reading this list of animal names - if you're a fan of the movie Jungle Book you might recognize a few!

bear = bhaloo    tiger = sher    elephant = haathi  (see? Jungle Book)
cow = gai      cat = billi      dog= kutta     monkey= bandar 

Ok, that's all the Hindi lessons I'm gonna give you.  I realize it wasn't the most fun blog post but life isn't all fun and games.  Speaking of games, I'm off to play a game of parcheesi (according to the box it's the "game of India"!!) 

Say Paneer! A lesson about cheese

Say Paneer! 

Probably not what photographers in India say to get kids to smile, but it does make MY kids smile - they love cheese!! I love cheese too but it has NEVER occurred to me to make my own cheese, never.  But you know what? It was super easy and kinda tasty.  The type of cheese we made is called Paneer and is native to India.  If you read the last post you might remember that India has about 200 million cows (!) and many of the people are vegetarians so I would have to believe that they probably get some of their protein from milk and cheese.  Paneer is a fresh cheese, like a Farmer's Cheese, not ripened or aged.  We made it that day, we ate it that day. I'll tell you the recipe so you can try for yourself (then I have a little science lesson for you)

For the recipe you will need:

  • 1 Liter milk. Whole and non-homogenized is best but I used regular whole milk.
  • 1 t lemon juice or citric acid or (and?) 1 1/2 t white vinegar (not pictured- I will explain below)
  • saucepan
  • strainer lined with thin cloth (I used sterile gauze and it worked)
  • salt and/or whatever spices you would like (I used lemon pepper)
1.Boil the milk in the pan - stir to keep it from burning on bottom
2. Add acid to boiling milk.
3. When milk curdles turn off heat and set aside for 5 mins.  This was where I had trouble.  I used lemon juice and the curds never formed. So I heated it back up, tried vinegar and INSTANT curds. Maybe my lemon was too sweet and I needed more? Who knows?
4. After 5 mins pour mixture into lined strainer and let gravity strain the whey from the curds.
5. When it seems like no more liquid is coming out (and it cools down a little) take it (and the cloth) and squeeze and shape it into whatever form you want.  You might also want to add some salt and spices or herbs at this point. 

6. Put cheese (wrapped in cloth) under something heavy for a little while to get all the moisture out.
Enjoy!!  You just made cheese, um, pardon me, PANEER !!

Ok, this was totally science in action so I looked (on the internet of course) and found out the science behind the magic :)  This type of cheese, as well as, Italian ricotta and Mexican queso blanco, is made using a Heat/Acid coagulation technique, as opposed to adding an enzyme like some others.  Here's how it works.
The heat changes the natural shape (or denatures) the whey proteins in the milk.  These denatured proteins can now "interact" with another protein found in the milk called casein.  When you add the acid the caseins and whey proteins "precipitate" or become a solid curd floating in the liquid whey.  Take away the liquid and you have cheese !!

 WARNING:  if you are disgusted by the sight of curdled milk this is not a good recipe for you. It smelled good but looked like that old sippy cup behind the couch - you know, the one you just throw away instead of wash :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Week 3: India, the Spice of Life

Welcome to the Republic of India!

If you're like me you don't know much about India, maybe you've seen Slumdog Millionaire or had some Tikki Masala, but did you know that it was the birthplace of 4 major religions? Or that it has the 2nd largest population of any other country? Well neither did I, so lets learn something about India because it's a fascinating country!

Located at 21.7 N/ 78.8 E on your world latitude/longitude grid, India (or Bharat as they call themselves) is in South Asia.  Look for the large triangle shaped country jutting into the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea on the left, the Bay of Bengal to the right and the Himalayan Mountains on top.  It has been home to some of the earliest civilizations, with people having lived there since roughly 30,000 BC.  It is a country steeped in religious significance and was the birthplace of 4 major religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.  Christianity and Islam arrived soon after.  These religions all live peacefully together in a country known for it's peaceful nature.  In over 100,000 years, India has never invaded another country!  Perhaps this peaceful nature has been the reason why some great ideas have come from this region.  Chess was invented sometime around the 6th century AD.  Yoga has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years and, for you math lovers, the value of "pi" (3.14? why do I remember that) was invented by the great mathematician Budhayana!  Whip that tidbit out at your next trivia party :)

India is also known for it's animals - Bengal tigers, peacocks, Asian Elephants, Rhinos, and cows, lots and lots of cows.  The Hindu religion considers cows sacred animals that are to be revered and respected.  They are allowed free reign. In fact, India is home to more than 200,000,000 cows. Got milk? 

 One thing I've known about India for quite a few years now is that I LOVE THEIR FOOD!!  Most people think of Indian food and they think "curry", that spice your mom used to sprinkle on chicken salad or devilled eggs when she wanted to be exotic.  In India, curry is more of a way of cooking than just a single spice.  Many, many spices go into a single dish and meats,seafood, and vegetables are simmered for hours in fragrant sauces that can range from mild to "burn your eyelids off" hot!  Because the dishes are so complex and labor intensive, the kids and I are going to be making some very simple forays into Indian cuisine at home this week, but will probably be hitting a local Indian restaurant on Friday :)

Project 1: Mango Lassie

Every Indian restaurant I've ever been to has this drink on it's menu.  It comes in salty or sweet but I've never tried a salty one.  I imagine that in a country where temps are often well over 100' they drink salty drinks to help their water retention and electrolytes from sweating so much.  Me? I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where temps rarely are over 80' and the fog rolls over the mountain almost every afternoon, so I'll stick with the sweet version :)  The recipe is basically a smoothie but the addition of cardmom gives it a different taste and it really takes the sting out of a spicy vindaloo!

You will need:
  • 1 cup curd (plain non-fat yogurt)
  • 1 cup peeled and chopped ripe mango
  • 2 T sugar (or substitute)
  • 1/4 t ground cardamom - it was readily available at the grocery store but quite expensive - kinda has a spicy-sweet flavor so maybe ginger could be a good substitute? or just leave it out!
  • few ice cubes
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Pour into a tall glass, order takeout from the local Indian food joint and enjoy the taste of paradise...