Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!



Signing off for the holidays.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy 2012!!!

Catch you all in the new year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Eggless Cardamom & Almond Cookies

There are some afternoons when you are home alone and wondering how to pass the time. This is when my mind wanders to food- things like biscuits and cakes, and that steaming cup of tea that I have every afternoon at 4pm. I start thinking that some cookies would be wonderful with my hot cup of tea laced with the flavor of mint leaves. That’s when I pull out my cook books and scour the net for interesting recipes to try out.

I came across this recipe for almond & cardamom biscuits during one of these hunts, when my mind was looking forward to tea time and my stomach was begging for some tasty treats.

I must admit that I’m not a big fan of cardamom, but for some reason I love these biscuits! They go really well with a cup of chai! You won’t believe how incredibly quick and easy they are to make. And they are delicious. Each time I bake them they disappear within minutes. The fact that they are also eggless means that they are also great for vegetarians.

Here is my take on this recipe that I found at Edible Garden






Ingredients

3/4 cup of plain shifted flour (take out 1 tablespoon of flour from this and replace with a tablespoon of semolina)
1 tsp of green cardamom seed coarsely powdered
1/3 cup castor sugar (you can coarsely grind sugar if the granules are too large)
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1/3 cup unsalted butter (butter should be very soft, not hard and cold)
1 tbsp of milk, add only if required


Instructions

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Mix all your dry ingredients in a bowl. Add butter to the flour mixture and make dough. Add only a little of the milk if the dough is not forming. Take care not to add too much since the cookies will end up very hard.

Divide dough into 15 balls. Press down on each ball with your palm to make disks of a little less than half an inch. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Reduce temperature of oven to 150 degrees Celsius and bake for 15 to 20 minutes taking care to check the cookies after about 10 minutes. The cookies are ready when they appear golden brown.

I baked these cookies in an OTG and found that the bottoms of the cookies browned really quickly. A solution to this is to place a tray filled with a little water on a lower shelf in your OTG, below the cookie tray.



Monday, 19 December 2011

A Candlelit Christmas

Candles are a great way to bring a sense of warmth and merriment into the home over the Christmas holidays. Here are some ideas on how to use candles to decorate the home for the Christmas season.



This is a great way to use up all those old wine bottle corks, or a great
reason to start collecting them



 

A great way decorate plain vases, this would look great on a buffet or bar cabinet.
For step by step instructions on how to create this take a look at BHG.


Some more ideas...



This is a really easy way to create rustic looking candle holders.
For instructions on how to create this take a look at Shelterness.



Make hanging lanterns from empty old jars by
creating handles out of wire. They would look great in a balcony.
(From Pottery Barn)


This arrangement is perfect for a holiday mantel or for a table centerpiece.
You will find complete instructions on how to create this is on SAS interiors.






Sunday, 18 December 2011

Easy Apple Crumble


The warm, sweet, gooey softness of baked apples topped with the crunchy, crumbly, almost savory topping is perfectly paired with a steaming cup of tea. This is why I love baking apple crumbles. What better way is there to enjoy a cold, lazy Sunday afternoon than to have the smell of cinnamon and apples wafting out of the oven, enveloping your home in a warm, comforting feeling.

The great thing about crumbles are that they are easy to make and even easier to polish off. It is just what you need to cope with the thought that the weekend is coming to an end.

Here is an easy recipe for an apple crumble which I have taken from Nigella Lawson’s website and modified slightly.





Ingredients

5 apples
1 tsp cinnamon powder
4 oz plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ cup finely chopped almonds
5 tbsp castor sugar (If the granules are large then coarsely powder them in a food processor)
4 oz cold butter (chopped or cubed)
Tsp lemon juice
Tsp of flour (for apple mixture)



Instructions

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Peel and core apples. Roughly chop them up into chunks. Place them in a bowl and add a tsp of flour, 2 tbsp of sugar, half the quantity of cinnamon and the lemon juice and toss together so that the apples are evenly coated.

For the topping mixture, sift the flour and baking powder in a bowl. To this add the remaining cinnamon, almonds, remaining sugar and mix well. To this mixture add the chopped butter and mix with fork till the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Take special care that the butter is very cold. If the butter is warm the mixture will turn into dough.

Butter an oven proof bowl or container and lightly dust with flour. Place the apples in this bowl and add the topping mixture over this. Before baking, lower oven to 150 degrees Celsius and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes.

For a nice golden brown crumble, place the crumble under a grill for a few minutes. But be really careful to check after a minute or two as it will brown really quickly.

Serve warm with ice-cream or vanilla custard.



Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas & Light

Light is such an important part of Christmas. There is something very welcoming about tiny lights sparkling in the night. No home is ready for Christmas without lights strung up on a tree, as well as windows and railings. 

Here are some interesting ways in which you can use strings lights to usher in more holiday cheer.



Lights in a vase!


Fill a glass bowl, tall cylindrical vase or hurricane vase with a string of lights. This would be great as a table centerpiece or on a bar or buffet cabinet.



Cupcake fairy lights!



(I'm not sure about this one. Think its from BHG)

Use colorful cupcake liners to make little lampshades for string lights. Gold or silver colored cupcake liners would give a more sophisticated look. This is a great party decoration idea as well and can be used for different themes like Halloween, Valentine's day, New Years Eve.


Lights in a Bottle!




This was an amazing idea I came across that I can’t wait to try out.  They would look great on a mantel or a windowsill. For complete instructions on how to create the wine bottle lamp take a look at
Wit & Whistle.



More ideas for getting Christmas-ready soon.




Friday, 9 December 2011

Bringing in that Festive Feeling

My home has now in full Christmas mode. The carols are playing, the lights are up and so is the tree. I’ve also been looking for other small ways in which to really bring in the festive spirit. Small touches that make all the difference. In my search, I happened to come across a few really nice ideas on the internet and thought I’d share them.



Make use of old silver or wooden trays
(Image courtesy Pottery Barn)



This would look fabulous on a console, buffet or bar cabinet



These centerpieces can be very easily replicated. All you need is a nice glass vase or tray and some good quality candles. Try replacing the chestnuts with the following

- Cinnamon sticks which would also fill your home with the aroma
  of cinnamon.
 
- Some wonderful vanilla scented potpourri will really usher in
     the festive mood.
- Walnuts that are still in the shell
- Dried twigs

If you want that bling factor, consider spraying the nuts or twigs gold or silver.


Some more ideas…



Some freshly cut red or white Poinsettia stems in a glass vase would make a great table centerpiece (From www.freshhomeideas.com )



Fill glass vases or bowls with candies of different colors


Over the next 2 weeks I will be posting several easy to do decoration ideas that I have come across and that I find interesting. I hope they will help you to get into the festive spirit. More ideas coming soon.
 

Cambodia Part IV- Sihanoukville


On the final leg of our journey, we traveled by road to Sihanoukville, a port town as well as a beach resort on the coast of Southern Cambodia. Named after King Norodom Sihanouk, Sihanoukville is known for its quieter, more laid-back beaches which have still not been taken over by hordes of tourists.  This seemed the perfect way to bring our holiday to a close since we wanted to spend some time relaxing and unwinding after all the hectic travelling.

We stayed at the Independence Hotel, a nice hotel attached to Independence beach. It isn’t the prettiest of beaches, but not too bad either. The hotel has its own shuttle service that takes you into town during the day and collects you from specified pick up points in town. The first evening we went into town and had our meal at a small bar (I forgot he name) that had some great pizza.

The next day, we went into town and took a tuk tuk to Otres beach, one of the better beaches of Sihanoukville. Otres beach is not very crowded, nor is it too commercialized and the waters are calm and incredibly blue. We planted ourselves on some beach chairs at a beach-side shack by the name of Chez Paou. We spent a great day on the beach, swimming and then cooling down with some nice cold beer and some good food. We stayed to watch the sun set and then made our way back into town in search of dinner.


The way down to Otres Beach.




Otres Beach.


The shack where we spent the day.


Sunset at the beach.




We settled for the Cool Banana, on Serendipity road, because the nearby Monkey Island bar was too crowded. I think the Cool Banana distinguishes itself from the highly acclaimed Monkey Island because of its more laid-back atmosphere. They show films during the evenings which I found much nicer than the loud music at Monkey Island because it allowed us to have a conversation without having to yell over the music. Aside from this, the food we had was delicious (I had a burger, which I think was one of the best I’ve ever had) and the staff were both helpful and courteous.

The next day we made our way back to Phnom Penh by road.  From there we caught a flight to Kuala Lumpur and then onwards to Delhi. I would have liked to spend an additional day at Sihanoukville, because I would have loved to visit Ream National Park, but sadly we just couldn’t fit in an extra day.


[All Images- Shalini Pereira]



Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Cambodia Part III- Phnom Penh

After spending 3 days in Siem Reap, we left for the capital, Phnom Penh. The journey by road took about five hours with stops along the way. As soon as we entered the city, we were struck by how much more traffic there was on the streets, although the practice of driving slowly, something we noticed in Siem Reap, seemed to be a trend here also. Phnom Penh, with its bustling streets is a stark contrast to Siem Reap. Like any big city, it is a little grimier and a little edgier. Despite this, the city is quite charming and its French Colonial past is visible in the architecture of many of its buildings as well as the names of its streets and boulevards.


Independence monument celebrates Cambodia’s independence from foreign rule.


Our first stop in Phnom Penh was the Royal Palace. The lush and immaculately maintained gardens of the Palace grounds offer a calm oasis far removed from the noisy streets beyond the palace walls. The Royal Palace is a good example of Khmer architecture, and is a striking feature in the cityscape of Phnom Penh.

Entry to the Palace.

The Royal Throne Room.


The highlight of the Palace visit was the Silver Pagoda, so named for its silver tiled floor.


One of the buildings in the Palace complex that stands out because of its colonial style architecture.

Monks looking around the Palace grounds. 

In the evening, after an early dinner, we took a walk along the riverfront down Sisiwath Quay. This picturesque, park-lined street overlooks the confluence of the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers and houses numerous pubs and restaurants offering a wide variety of food and drink. It has a great atmosphere, especially in the evenings and we stopped off at one of the bars, a place called ‘Paddy Rice Irish Pub’ for a late night drink and some great apple pie.

 Steps leading up to Wat Phnom.

 Inside Wat Phnom.

On our second day in the capital, we visited Wat Phnom, a small hill crowned by a pagoda. This place marks the legendary founding place of Phnom Penh. From here we made our way to the Russian Market. The market is a great place to pick up some curios, silks and carvings. It also sells jewellery as well as VCDs, DVDs and CDs at great prices.

 The Gallows at Tuol Sleng.



 The exterior of the classrooms.



A monk in quiet contemplation at Tuol Sleng.



After a quick lunch we visited the Tuol Sleng genocide museum. Originally a high school, it was converted into the S-21 prison and interrogation centre under the Khmer Rouge regime. The buildings, which were originally classrooms, are housed behind high walls reinforced with barbed wire. As soon as you enter the place you get an eerie sense of the terror that must have gripped the men, women and children who were held here. It is difficult not to be deeply horrified as you go around the museum looking at wall upon wall of black and white photographs of the prisoners that were detained here during that time. You can also see the cells where the prisoners were housed. During this 4 year reign of terror it is estimated that 1.5 to 2 million people died. I have to warn you that a visit to this place is quite disturbing, but you simply must visit this place to understand and get a sense of what this country has been through and appreciate how they are slowly recovering.
The next day we rose early and made our way to Sihanoukville, for what would be the most relaxing part of our trip. More about this leg of our journey coming soon.
A small addition-
While waiting to fly out of Phnom Penh Airport, I came across a book by the name of ‘First They Killed My Father- a daughter of Cambodia remembers’, which I later got an opportunity to read. The book is basically a memoir of a young girl, Loung Ung, who endured life under the Khmer Rouge regime. Loung is now settled in the U.S and is a national spokesperson for the campaign for a Landmine Free World. This is an amazing book, where the story is told from the perspective of a child and I would recommend it for to anyone who wants to know more about Cambodia’s turbulent past.

 [All images courtesy Shalini Pereira]
 


Monday, 5 December 2011

Cambodia, Siem Reap- Part II

After the architecture and history of Angkor Wat, which we had seen the previous day, we made our way to Tonle Sap Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. Situated on the edge of this lake, and a short drive from Siem Reap, is the floating village of Chong Kneas. It is home to many ethnic Vietnamese and Cham communities.
These villages don’t stay in a fixed place, they move with the onset of the wet and dry seasons. People live in boat houses of varying sizes. Some of the houses have electricity, although most people use car batteries as a power source. Several houses had a floating pig pen or a floating garden attached to it. We came across a few floating schools, as well as a few floating churches. We learned from our guide that children on the lake must learn to swim before they can attend school. As part of the trip, we were taken to a crocodile farm and a fish farm.


Tonle Sap Lake.



A cluster of floating houses on Tonle Sap lake.



A young girl paddling in an aluminum basin.


While I found the crocodile farm and fish farm a bit too contrived and touristy, I did enjoy the overall experience of the lake excursion. I loved seeing this side of Cambodia, and the interesting ways in which people have adapted to this way of life. I saw kids below the age of 5 happily paddling their way about in aluminum basins. As we sat in our boats, children hopped from their boats onto ours with practiced ease in an attempt to sell us soft drinks. I would not say that a visit to Tonle Sap is a must, especially if you’re on a short trip. However if you have some time, it is an interesting experience, especially if you are someone who likes observing people as they go about their lives. Chong Kneas is only a short ride from Siem Reap, and is a nice half day trip if you need a break from the temples of Angkor.

After our boat ride on the lake, we made our way to Artisans d'Angkor. This crafts village was founded in 1998 and sponsored by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, the French Foreign Office and the EU with an objective of supporting and promoting Khmer art and culture. Selected youth from Cambodian villages attend this school for 7-8 months to learn about traditional art and crafts ranging from woodcarving, sandstone carving, screen printing, gilding, lacquering, and silk weaving. The village also has a small boutique which is an excellent place for souvenirs. The quality of the carvings I saw here was far superior to what I saw being sold in the Central Market in Phnom Penh. 



A student practicing wood carving.



One of the craftsmen at Artisans d'Angkor carving a statue.


The next day we left for the capital, Phnom Penh, by road. More about our time in Phnom Penh coming soon.

(All images courtesy Shalini Pereira)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Quick and Easy Apple Cake

Apples are one of my favourite fruits, and this time of the year they are great in pies, crumbles and cakes. Today I experimented with an apple cake recipe that I came up with and I’m really excited because it turned out quite well. This is a really easy and quick recipe, perfect to warm you up on a cold winter night. And the best part is you don’t even need an oven!

Here’s the recipe.






Ingredients

4 tbsp flour
½ tsp baking powder
3 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tbsp ground almonds
½ tsp cinnamon
1 egg
3 tbsp milk
4 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 apple sliced finely (3mm thk)

For Topping

1 tsp ground almonds
1 heaped tsp sugar
½ tsp cinnamon powder


Preparation

For the topping grind almonds and sugar till fine and then mix in the cinnamon powder. Set aside.

For the cake, melt butter and milk in sauce pan over a low flame. Add juice of half a lemon and rind of full lemon (small) to this. Whisk and set aside to cool.  When mixture has cooled, add egg and vanilla and whisk. Shift flour and baking powder and combine with remaining dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the liquid mixture of butter, milk and egg to the dry ingredients and whisk until it becomes a smooth batter.  Pour batter into a microwave proof dish (the bowl should be about 7” to 9” in diameter and approximately 5” to 6” deep). Layer the apple slices over the batter such that one slice overlaps the other. Sprinkle topping evenly over the apples and cook in microwave, high heat, for 3 minutes. Poke cake with a knife and if it comes out clean, it is ready.  If knife comes out sticky, heat for an additional 30 seconds to a minute.

Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice-cream or warm custard.


(Image courtesy Shalini Pereira)

Friday, 2 December 2011

Cambodia, Siem Reap- Part I


As lame as it sounds, I had wanted to visit Cambodia ever since I had watched the first Tomb Raider movie. After reading up on the country, its turbulent past and its rich architectural history, I simply had to see it. Years later I finally got the chance to go there. We took a flight out of Delhi international and arrived at Siem Reap via Kuala Lumpur.

As we touched down at Siem Reap airport and made our way inside the terminal, I was pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful and very sensitively designed building, surrounded by luscious greenery and very much in keeping with the country’s heritage. The interior of the terminal building did not disappoint either. It was modern, but it celebrated Cambodian culture through its use of natural materials and its display of art and sculpture.


Angkor Thom

The next morning, we made our way to the Bayon Temple in the centre of the Angkor Thom complex. The temple was built by Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century as his state temple. While it is a Buddhist temple, the influence of Hinduism can also be seen. The real highlight of this temple was the giant faces, each over 2m, carved into the towers of the temple. It is still debated as to whether these faces depict the Buddha or are carved in the likeness of Jayavarman himself.




Images of the Bayon Temple


Within the Angkor Thom complex




Ta Prohm

We next made our way to Ta Prohm, which was also built by King Jayavarman VII. It originally served as a Buddhist monastery. Shrouded by dense jungle, this complex has an almost mystical feel, although I have to admit that it looked a lot smaller than I had imagined. However, this did not take away from its magnificence. I was in awe of the way giant roots of fig and silk-cotton trees snaked their way through the stones of the structures seeming almost one with them. Sunlight filtering through the heavy foliage gave the place an almost ethereal quality. I only wished I could have come here earlier in the day, before it was so cramped with tourists angling to get the best shot. With fewer tourists bustling around, this would be a wonderful place for quiet contemplation.








Angkor Wat

After a quick lunch we headed for Angkor Wat. Our guide insisted the best time to go was around 3pm, when the light was at its best. (I know a lot of travellers insist that the best time to see the temple is at sunrise, but for that we would have had to be at the temple by 5am, and in our defence, we were on our honeymoon!)

The Angkor Wat temple complex, listed as a world heritage site by USESCO, was built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. It functioned first as a Hindu temple, dedicated to Vishnu, and then later, as a Buddhist temple. It is considered the world’s largest religious building.



The 190m wide moat encircling the complex




The grandeur of the temple and its sheer scale is breath-taking. This first hits you as you cross the huge moat (190m wide) to enter the temple complex. Within the grounds, you are struck by how perfectly the main temple building is reflected in the lake in front of it. Inside the temple, you pass through narrow passages having bas-reliefs on their walls which depict scenes from the Ramayana. You are struck by the skill, craftsmanship and technical skill that must have been required to build this temple complex almost 1000 years ago.








Phnom Bakheng

Finally, as we made our way away from Angkor Wat, I bid farewell to this magnificent example of Khmer architecture at its zenith. From here we made our way to Ba Kheng Hill. The temple Phnom Bakheng, built in the 9th century is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. The temple itself sits atop a hill. It’s a 15 minute walk from the base of the hill to the base of the temple. You also have the option of going through the forest atop an elephant! Once at the temple base, we reach the top via steps so steep that you have to climb/crawl sideways. This is quite a hair-raising experience and is not for the faint hearted, especially on the way down! But once up, the climb is worth it because the view is simply magnificent. Sadly we arrived an hour too early for the sunset and had to miss it. Tired, but happy, we looked forward to the next day, where we would be getting a glimpse into the country’s culture.


[All images by Shalini Pereira except where mentioned]



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