Exploring Culture of Bahrain – Pottery Demonstration at Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre

After visiting places of historic interest in and around Manama, it was time to delve into some cultural aspects.

Bahrain’s rich cultural heritage can be seen through various lenses. Though history and cuisine too fall under Culture in a broader sense, I chose to visit the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, which displays the country’s indigenous art forms and creations. It was established in 1990. The best artists of the country are brought under one institution, to display their skills and pass theirs to the next generation.

The centre’s website explains its focus and goals.

The center embraces many traditional handicrafts, in order to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Maintaining traditional crafts and industries from extinction, in light of the steady growth in the world of automated industries.
  2. Educating Bahraini youth, and giving them the opportunity to explore industries and crafts that were practiced by their ancestors.
  3. Highlighting the traditional industries and handicrafts as an interface of the country, where foreigners visitors can learn more about our great past.
  4. Encouraging the craftsman and artisans, urging them to continue working in this distinctive field which requires major effort, and precise skills, by providing  support  to ensure the development of this industry  while maintaining the original characteristics of the Bahraini products.

http://www.btea.bh/aljasra-handcrafts

To me, this is the need of the hour for any society, especially societies where modern life style has become synonymous to neglecting the traditional past.

Additionally, what I learn from their website is-

Each village or town in the island has become known for a particular crafts such as the textile industry in Bani Jamrah village, basket weaving in Karbabad village, pottery in Ali village and AlSaffah in  Jassrah village, while Manama and Muharraq cities are famous for vessel industry and related tools.  http://www.btea.bh/bah-handcrafts

Al Jasra Handicraft Centre has different rooms for different crafts. It is not only a display or an exhibition house, but also a place where workshops are conducted. Tourists and visitors are given patient explanations on the specific art work. When we went there, we could find young students learning the beautiful craft forms, from experts.

Here are a few hand made wonders by specialist artists of Bahrain…

Traditional Chests

The metal chests with intricate carvings were beautiful.

Basket weaving

Basket weaving is a traditional handcraft, with the abundantly available native palm leaves. Apart from baskets, there were more innovative pieces made too.

Ship Building

Ship building is like a life-line expertise, as far as Bahrain is concerned. Fishing and Pearl Fishery, being two of the foremost occupations, Ship building is an integral part of Bahrain’s traditional livelihood.

Textile Weaving

The textile village Bani-Jamrah in central Bahrain, is known for its traditional cloth weaving.

Gypsum Craft

This place was mesmerising. The artisan Mr. Ali Abdulhusain, a very patient personality, explained his art. Though, we didn’t follow each other’s language, art didn’t need communication through language. His craft revives Bahrain’s medieval heritage. Now, we know that, the patience that he exhibits, is transformed into such fascinating pieces.

Pieces of gypsum art pieces, ready to be given colour

the artist and his art

finished piece

transformation from paper to gypsum

tools …

and the piece of art

Pottery

The video below shows, how much hard work and muscle power goes into making the clay pliable for different articles.

Incredible Artistry in those hands – the making of a pot

Such delicate craftsmanship – Removing the pot from the place of making

The great respect and adoration that I always had, for those craftsmen and their craft, seems to have grown multi-fold in my heart. The ingenuity and expertise that dwell in their humble personalities, deserve a higher and bigger adulation in this world of worldly pleasures.

A trip to Bahrain – Dilmun Civilisation and the First Oil Well in the Gulf Region!

Everyone loves to travel. The choice of things to explore is enormous, but, it is the traveller who selects the best preferred way of exploration. When I travel, first, I like to explore historical places. Since I am amazed by the unique cultures of different countries, next, I hunt for places where the culture of the place of travel is displayed. Then, I like to know about the culinary specialities of that place.

So, these are the main aspects that I concentrate while I plan…

  • travel extensively
  • explore thoroughly
  • know the history of the place
  • understand their culture
  • learn about the cuisine

Well, I tried to squeeze my above mentioned priorities in the best possible pattern, in our recent trip to Bahrain.

While we were getting ready for the journey, I started exploring Bahrain through the eyes of google.

When we landed in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and came out of the airport towards our place of stay, it was past sunset time. The city seemed like a relaxed holiday spot. Why did it seem so? Manama was noticeably calm. No heavy traffic, there were no vehicles trying to breeze past each other on roads. The air was pleasant and cool, since it was November. There were high rise buildings, but with enough breathing space between the sky scrapers. This was the initial feeling, travelling to the Hotel. But, this didn’t change much, even after the busy scheduled stay. Bahrain is a relaxed city.

We set out to explore Bahrain’s ancient, medieval and modern history, within the short stay, through these places…

1. The first Oil Well of the Middle East

The first trace of oil in the Gulf region, was discovered in Bahrain. The area, below Jebel Dukhan, is about 40kms from the capital Manama. There is a well and a stone pillar, where the detail is carved. The carving says, Oil first spurted from the well on 16 October 1931, and started striking oil from June 1, 1932.The Oil museum, which is a building close to the well, was closed. So, had to give it a miss.

2. Ancient Burial Mounds

The Dilmun Burial Mounds, were built between 2200 and 1750 BCE. The burial mounds are evidence of the Early Dilmun civilization, around the 2nd millennium BCE, during which Bahrain became a trade hub whose prosperity enabled the inhabitants to develop an elaborate burial tradition applicable to the entire population. These tombs illustrate globally unique characteristics, not only in terms of their number, density and scale, but also in terms of details such as burial chambers equipped with alcoves. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1542/

3. Barbar Temple

4. Bahrain National Museum

National Museum of Bahrain in capital Manama, is a store house that exhibits the country’s ancient, medieval and modern history. A normal tourist would be awe struck by the exhibits that open doors to the very ancient Dilmun Civilisation. Dilmun Civilisation dates back to 3rd millennium BC.

Here are a pictures of a few exhibits, from the national museum, Bahrain…

Dilmun Seals

5. Al Khamis Mosque

6. Bahrain Fort/Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300 × 600 m tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated, revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site, a trading port, over the centuries. On the top of the 12 m mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal’a (fort). The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1192/

These were the few places that we visited, among the numerous venues of historic interest in Bahrain. Our next journey would be a cultural trip to the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, with a varied display of rich artistic heritage. I can’t wait to share the Pottery Demonstration!

Thiruvathirai – the festival of Adavallan/Nataraja – the Dancing Shiva

Thiruvathirai, is an auspicious day for Hindus, especially Shaivites. January 10, 2020 was the Day of Thiruvathirai. It is the day to celebrate Lord Shiva, in the form of Adavallan – the Cosmic Dancer. It is celebrated on the full moon night of the Tamil month of Margazhi, which falls between mid December and mid January of the Gregorian Calendar. What I know, is Tiruvathirai is celebrated in Tamilnadu and Kerala, the southern states of India.

Society has always found new philosophies and concepts to make Religion, an indispensable part of an individual’s life. Stories and Narratives of different eras, that are documented in various forms of literature and also those which are not documented, yet transferred through word of mouth, may form the basis of value based religious education.

To me, language and culture are synonymous to one’s roots, but religion is not. Not getting too much into this, I stay put here, as a Food Blogger alone.

That is why, we will not discuss about the religious aspects of Thiruvathirai, but the literary and culinary aspects of the special day.

Tamil Bhakti Literature consists of thousands of hymns, composed by several Saiva Saints, in praise of Lord Shiva, between 6th century ACE and 12th century ACE. Thirunavukkarasar, the Saint who lived in the 6th and 7th centuries ACE and Thirugnanasambandar, who lived in the 7th century ACE, have sung about the auspicious day of Thiruvathirai.

“ஊர்திரை வேலை யுலாவும் உயர்மலைக் 
கூர்தரு வேல்வல்லார் கோற்றங் கோள் சேரிதனில் 
கார்தரு சோலைக் கபாலீச்சரம் அமர்ந்தான் 
ஆதிரைநாள் காணாதே போதியார் பூம்பாவாய்”

‘Athirai naal kaanathe….’ says the last verse by Sambandar.

“முத்து விதான மணிப்பொற் கவரி முறையாலே 
பக்தர்க ளோடு பாவையர் சூழப் பலிப்பின்னே 
வித்தகக் கோல வெண்டலை மாலை விரதிகள் 
அத்தனாரூ ராதிரை நாளா லதுவண்ணம்”

‘Athan Aarur Athirai naal…’ says the last verse above, by Thirunavukkarasar

These are literary evidences, that mention about the special day of Thiruvathirai, in praise of Lord Shiva, that go back almost 1500 years from today.

As a food blogger, who wishes to transfer the culinary legacies to the next generation, what is important to me, is the Gastronomy involved in the celebration of festivals. Celebrating cultural legacies and honouring heritage through these legacies, are key aspects in passing on the essence of one’s roots to our offsprings.

The festival of Thiruvathirai, is celebrated with Thiruvathirai Kali– a delicacy made with rice, split green gram and jaggery- that is cooked to a Pudding/Halwa like consistency. Kali might be Tamil word for Halwa… (I have already posted another Kali – Ulundhankali – which is made with black gram and palm jaggery).

This is how I made it, the day before yesterday.

Thiruvathirai Kali

Ingredients

  • pacharisi/raw rice – 1 cup
  • paasi paruppu/skinned, split green gram – 1/4 cup
  • vellam/jaggery – 1 1/4 cup (can use 1 cup if less sweet preferred)
  • water (to cook the kali) – 2 cups
  • elakkai podi/cardamom powder – 1 tsp
  • chukku podi/dry ginger powder – 1 tsp
  • nei/clarified butter – 2 tbsp
  • cashew nuts – 10 no.s, halved
  • grated coconut – 1/2 cup (optional- I didn’t add this)

Method of Preparation

  1. Dry roast rice and lentils separately, till they turn golden

2. Grate 1 1/4 cups of jaggery and add 2 cups water and let the jaggery dissolve

3. Once dissolved, strain for impurities and place in a hard bottomed vessel. This is the pan, in which kali would be stirred.

4. Dry grind the roasted rice and lentil. Keep on a plate or bowl.

5. Place the hard bottomed pan with Jaggery water on stove. Add cardamom and dry ginger powder. Bring to boil.

6. Once the jaggery water starts to boil, add the rice-lentil powder slowly. Keep stirring before lumps form.

7. Very quickly, the flour will start to thicken – almost like Upma.

8. Since the rice is roast and ground, it will thicken fast; An additional informative tip from Amma, unroasted raw rice powder will be sticky, but this roasted flour will have a coarse and dry consistency.. and is easier and quicker to get cooked.

9. Now, the Kali is almost done; keep stove in sim or if you fear it might burn a bit, switch off stove.

10. In another pan, deep fry cashew nuts in clarified butter till golden.

11. Add the clarified butter and cashew nuts into the Kali and mix well.

12. Switch on stove. Let the flame be in sim position, and keep stirring with the ladle. When the Kali doesn’t stick to the pan, remove and serve.

13. Feel free to add more nei/clarified butter. it only enhances the flavour.

14. If using freshly grated coconut, add before switching off the stove. Mix well and serve hot.

Easy Home made Grape Jam

When a big bunch of store bought black grapes, was getting softer…. sooner than we could finish, my immediate thought was to make Jam. An easy home made jam again, with minimal ingredients – the fruit and unrefined sugar. The tangy grapes didn’t need lemon, either to balance the sweetness, or as a preservative. We swore to finish the bottle at the earliest. Since no preservative is added in the recipe, as usual, we stored it in the refrigerator.

Easy Grape Jam

Ingredients

  • Black grapes
  • Unrefined cane sugar

Since my aim was to utilise the grapes, before they were wasted…no measurements/quantities here. But, go by ratio – 1 cup sugar to 4 cups of juice (no water added while blending)

Getting ready

Part I

  • Cautiously remove grapes that are spoiled or with grey fungus
  • Thoroughly clean and wash the good ones
  • To disinfect the grapes, immerse in turmeric powder for 1/2 an hour
  • Wash well in running water
  • The fruit is ready to get a make over.

Part II

Place a plate in the freezer and a few spoons- we need to check for consistency later by placing the jam in the chilled plate.

Part III

Sterilize bottles with lid

  1. Wash the bottles and lids to store jam very well with no food particles sticking to it.
  2. Take a big bowl and place the washed bottles and lids on sides.
  3. Fill water in the bowl immersing the bottles.
  4. Let the water come to a full boil.
  5. Close with lid and let it stay till the jam is done.

Method of Preparation

  1. Blend the grapes into fresh puree without water, and strain. No need to cook grapes before blending.
  2. Take a heavy bottomed pan on stove; measure and pour the puree
  3. Add 1 cup of sugar for every 4 cups of puree
  4. Let the puree and sugar cook in full flame initially
  5. You can find a foamy layer settle on top of the boiling liquid. Gently remove foam and let it simmer.
  6. Adjust burner of stove to medium and back to sim position till the liquid starts thickening
  7. At this stage, check with the plate in the freezer- swipe a spoon of jam on the plate and cut into two halves. If it sets well and isn’t flowing on the plate when tilted, jam is done. Else, cook for some more time.
  8. Pour into sterilized hot bottles directly from stove and close lid tightly.
  9. Once cooled, enjoy the goodness of grape jam, sans preservatives. Don’t forget to place in the refrigerator.

Vegan Chocolate Fudge

Chocolate Fudge can be a quick and easy dessert, when you know what to combine with the melted chocolate – and in what proportion. The main ingredient in a Chocolate Fudge being chocolate- one that accepts countless innovative combinations, makes the dessert a flexible delicacy. The ultimate success is visible only after the Fudge sets in the refrigerator, and one cuts it to cubes.

I can gladly say now, after a few years of attempting to make different combinations of Fudges, it has been one of my most satisfying cooking projects. Digestive cookie Fudge, Oreo Fudge, Coconut Fudge, Two-layered dark and white chocolate fudge, are a few that I have been trying out. I didn’t think I should be posting them, as many of my blogger friends are experts in the above mentioned varieties. I didn’t want to replicate those recipes, though my combinations would be a bit different. If I am satisfied that my Fudge is absolutely exclusive, I shall post them in future.

The latest Fudge, that I’ve been making, is this simple VEGAN FUDGE. It seems to be a hassle free recipe, quick to accomplish and above all, it is tasty too. Especially, when there are more desserts on the table with high sugar content, this dark chocolate fudge, which is a bit bitter, gives a balance to the over sweetened taste buds.

Now, straight to the recipe.

VEGAN CHOCOLATE FUDGE

Ingredients

  • combination of 70% and 85% Dark Chocolate – 200 gms each (I used Lindt)
  • almond flour – 2 cups – 1 cup equivalent to 50 gms; so, 100 gms of almond flour
  • almond and coconut milk blend – 2 cups – each cup was 130 ml; so, 260 ml of milk
  • almond flakes – approximately 3/4 to 1 cup
  • chopped pistachios – approximately 3/4 to 1 cup
  • unrefined cane sugar – 4 tbsp
  • additional pistachios or any other nuts of preference – for garnish

Method of Preparation

  1. Melt both chocolates (70% and 85% bars) in a double boiler

2. Mix two cups of almond flour to two cups of almond/coconut milk blend in a separate bowl

3. Place baking sheet inside a rectangular serving dish and grease it with very little extra virgin coconut oil. Keep this ready. Once the ingredients for Fudge are combined together, the mixture needs to be poured immediately into this sheeted serving dish

4. When the chocolate is melted smooth, remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the double boiler

5. Add unrefined sugar to the melted chocolate

6. Mix the almond flour-milk to the melted chocolate

7. The consistency of the liquid chocolate would be paste like now

8. Fold in, almond flakes and chopped pistachios

9. Without wasting much time, pour the mixture inside the already greased sheet and spread evenly

10. Place the dish in refrigerator.Let it set overnight or place in freezer for about three hours

11. Once completely set, cut into squares using a sharp knife.

12. Garnish with preferred nuts or anything of your choice.

13. Feel free to alter sugar – more or less

14. Also, one can try different chocolate combinations.

Are all my Ingredients VEGAN?

While I believed my recipe was 100% VEGAN, I thought it was my responsibility to check, whether each and every ingredient that went into making the Fudge, fell into the Vegan category.

  1. Lindt 70% and 85% dark chocolate

Are Lindt chocolate products suitable for vegans? 
Some of our products are made without any animal products, such as our Lindt EXCELLENCE range with 70%, 85%, 90% and 99% Cocoa dark chocolate bars. Please always refer to the packaging for a definitive ingredient listing. 

https://www.lindt.co.uk/help/lindt-frequently-asked-questions/

…As available in their website.

2. Alpro Coconut Almond Milk

BENEFITS

100% plant-based

Refreshing anytime & anywhere

A source of calcium and vitamins B2, B12, D and E.

Naturally low in fat

Free from colours and preservatives

https://www.alpro.com/aren/products/drinks/blends/coconut-almond

…As available in their website.

3. Almond Flour/Almond Flakes/ Pistachios – Nuts are Vegan

4. Unrefined Cane Sugar

Now, this is ambiguous. Not all unrefined sugars can be Vegan. So, check out.

The process used to filter cane sugar may use bone char. So, it is not that sugar itself has animal products in it, but that some sugar from sugar cane is not vegan because it uses bone char in its processing.

Just because sugar is brown does not mean it did not use bone char either. Brown sugar is produced by refining sugar and then adding molasses back into it, so unless it is labeled, it is unclear if the sugar is vegan or not. However, sugar that is brown because it is unrefined or raw is vegan, even if it is from sugar cane. There are a couple key words to look for if you want to know if sugar is vegan. BeetUnrefinedUSDA Organic and Raw are all phrases that let you know bone char was not used in your sugar.  The labels cane, brown, granulated, or just plain sugar don’t clarify, and so you can not know without contacting the company.

https://www.vivalavegan.net/articles/293-the-sour-side-of-sugar.html

Here, I have used unrefined cane sugar.

This is yet again an eye opener, on how today’s commercial market dictates our culinary routine.

Vegan or not, I found this combination of ingredients – very light and devoid of the usual milky/creamy texture; less sugary; less troublesome to make and yet tasty.

‘SIGNATURE’ by Sanjeev Kapoor – The Biriyani Workshop

Recently, I had this wonderful opportunity, to visit the Kitchen of the fine dining restaurant – ‘Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor’ in Abu Dhabi. A very big Thanks to friends, who made this happen.

The restaurant stands in a prime location, in Nation Towers, overlooking the Corniche. The restaurant prominently showcases modern and contemporary interiors. Yet, the elegance of Indian cultural elements are not to be missed. The menu here, boasts of traditional dishes served with a twist.

Disclaimer: This post is not a review on the restaurant. I was not invited to write about the cuisine or the restaurant.

It is my own personal interest, to learn new things, from speciality chefs that has led to this post. It is hard to find restauranteurs, who are open-minded to share their recipes and kitchen. Especially, allowing a blogger like me, who doesn’t even have an account in any social networking arena, certainly isn’t a normal trend in either today’s restaurant business or blogging field . That is why, I need to extend my warmest gratitude to the owners of the restaurant, to have given me the opportunity to learn the dishes and also share them with my readers.

Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor, is a well known chain of restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. The restaurant serves signature dishes of Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor, well acclaimed Celebrity Chef of the Indian Subcontinent. He can easily be hailed as, one of the first very few Chefs in India, to have popularised the Job of a Culinary Artist, if I can say so, to the most respectful status it enjoys today. Due to such devoted as well as media friendly/articulate Chefs like Mr. Kapoor, the profession has acquired a Cult Status today. This in turn, has motivated a big chunk of the younger generation, to join the crew of Chefs, in a dream to become Sanjeev Kapoors of their Restaurants. And millions of home cooks like me, also feel the aura of a Chef’s Cap, when a dish is cooked to perfection.

All said and done, the struggle of a chef to reach the desired heights is enormous. Especially, to reach the Pinnacle of one’s career, is not a mean feat. And Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor, continues to be the Super Speciality Chef, even after years of attaining the Apex status of the most popular Chef of Modern India.

One of the few first cookery books, I bought to keep on the coffee table at home, were three books of Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor. While we live away from our homeland, I feel authentic culinary experts like Mr. Kapoor are the Best Brand Ambassadors, who represent Indian Cuisine abroad.

I thoroughly made use of the opportunity, to learn two of everyone’s favourite dishes, Biriyani and Kabab. The recipe of these two, among many more, makes me feel truly inquisitive about the several processes of preparation.

Among the Biriyanis, the Chef demonstrated –

  1. Chicken Biriyani
  2. Easy Mutton Biriyani, with left over Mutton curry

The Executive Chef at ‘Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor’, was very patient, to explain the step by step processes of the making of Biriyani . After his demonstration, the recipe now looks very simple. A very big Thanks to him.

First to grab on, is the Chicken Biriyani.

Now, to the recipe-

Chicken Biriyani (serves 3-4)

Since it was a demonstration, the right quantities of chicken and rice are only given. Other quantities are approximate values. As told by Chef, It is a usual norm to use 1/2 kg chicken for 1/2 kg of rice.

Marinating the Chicken

  1. Half a kilo of cleaned chicken pieces

2. Add 4 slit green chillies and 3 tsp ginger garlic paste

3. Add turmeric, chilli, cardamom, pepper powders and salt to the chicken

powders

4. Add ginger juliennes, ghee, crispy fried (browned) onions and coriander leaves

5. Add yoghurt and mix well

6. Let this chicken and added ingredients marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Making Biriyani

  1. Wash and soak rice in water, atleast half an hour prior to boiling water.

2. Boil water in a wide pot or pan, that is big enough to cook rice and throw away excess water. Add dry spices and other ingredients listed below. Let the water boil with the spices for about 8-10 minutes.

  1. cardamom
  2. cinnamon
  3. bay leaves
  4. cloves
  5. black pepper
  6. fennel seeds
  7. ginger julienne
  8. mint leaves
  9. coriander leaves
  10. green chillies
  11. oil
  12. salt

3. Remove the spices from water.

4. Drop the soaked rice in the boiling water and let it cook.

5. Choose a good hard bottomed pan. The quality of the pan would facilitate in making a successful final product, which doesn’t stick to the bottom of the vessel.

6. Add the marinated chicken to the pan.

7. Two pans, one with rice and the other with marinated chicken, are kept alongside each other, both getting cooked simultaneously .

8. After a while, they look like this…

9. The chicken now, is half cooked. And the rice is also half cooked. It is time to give the first layer to the chicken curry. The stove is always kept in medium to sim position. Once we start keeping the layers, the flame should be in sim position only.

10. With half cooked chicken at the bottom, first layer of rice on top- add crispy fried golden brown onions.

11. Now, the second layer of rice; then golden brown onions and coriander leaves.

12. Add saffron water and khewra water (extract from distilled pandanus flowers)

13. Moving on to the third and the last layer…rice, golden brown onions, coriander leaves, saffron water and khewra water. This time, add ginger juliennes and garam masala on top

14. Remember, all this while, the stove is kept in sim position.

15. The next step, is to seal the vessel and allow the chicken and rice to blend well with the spices added. Take kneaded wheat flour and press it on the edges of the pan.

16. Close tightly with a lid, and let the combination of multiple ingredients bring out the best of each other. This might take approximately 20 minutes. Keep the flame in full for the first 2-3 minutes and then simmer and cook for another 18 minutes.

in full flame for the first 2-3 minutes

17. A better way to cook 100% unburnt Dum Biriyani, is to place the pan on a hot cast iron pan, which is kept on medium flame. This way, direct heat doesn’t affect the bottom layer of the biriyani, that is the chicken.

18. We are almost done. Hold your breath tight and open the pan to see the beautifully cooked delicacy. Enjoy the wonderful aroma of the slow cooked Dum Biriyani.

A truly inspiring and delightful experience over all.

National Day Celebrations – December 2019

This is a subsequent post to the previous one on the UAE National Day. This year too, the roads were lit and are still lit, for the arrival of Christmas and New Year. The air show conducted afternoon, showcased the skills of specialists on air maneuvering, and spread the colours of UAE, indeed a joyful event to watch. In the night, the fire works glittered and all roads seemed to have led to Corniche.

By evening, all roads led to Corniche...

And when the sun started his setting journey, more and more cars..

Zoom for a close up view of the traffic..

One of the highlights of this year’s decorative lights on the roads we noticed, was the inclusion of UAE’s first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, who returned back after 8 days in space. It is a proud moment for the country and it is truly a great gesture of honour, the Government has showered upon the pioneer astronaut. He is certainly a symbol of Inspiration. It would be every parent’s wish that their child dreams big, aims big in life and achieves it too.

The Astronauts

These pictures show the immense pride that comes from the transformation of a country from a Desert Landscape to a Land of Greenery and Tall Raised Buildings… a perfect portrayal of Concrete Development with an Eco friendly Environment. Modernisation with a sense of History, Civilisation and above all Tolerance is what the world needs today. And that’s what the UAE proudly stands for.

The Marina Eye Observation Wheel

48th National Day of the UAE – 02/12/2019

I am still in awe, absorbing the fast pace of growth of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. More closely of Abu Dhabi, because this is where I live. I watch Abu Dhabi’s coastal beauty and desert sands alongside the high raised buildings and their manicured landscape. Who said desert is short of greens? – Abu Dhabi has more than enough green for one’s eyes with neem and banyan trees to name a few, grass patches and many more plants and trees, alongside the tree of the soil – Date Palms. The credit of turning Al Ain and Abu Dhabi turning green undoubtedly goes to the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Malls and Shopping seems to be the foremost attraction. But, the land has so much more to offer…. Malls are just one huge part of tourism and weekend retail therapy. The brainwork that has gone into engaging tourists in vivid activities in the region is mind blowing.  Exploring into those attractions would follow in future posts in this section.

On December 2nd (which is almost today in the UAE), the UAE celebrates its 48th National Day. The day marks the formation of the UAE – which is a Federation of the seven Emirates – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm al Quwain.

The facts that I learnt from various articles and visits to important historic places in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are listed here –

  1. The collection of independent Sheikdoms in the Gulf were called the Trucial States, after signing a Treaty with the British in the year 1892.
  2. The first oil well was discovered in 1958, off the coast of Abu Dhabi
  3. The leaders – Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai, visualised a great future for their respective Emirates, and focussed on the development of the Gulf Region at large.
  4. The British announced their withdrawal on 16th January 1968. Very quick to react, Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Rashid of Dubai, established a Federation between the two Emirates on 18th February 1968.
  5. Sheikh Zayed, the Visionary, always sought a Federation of the seven Trucial States, along with Qatar and Bahrain to become 9. His relentless efforts were the key to the formation of UAE, which stands as a well developed Federation of Seven Emirates.
  6. The British protectorate treaty expired on December 1st 1971. The very next day, on December 2nd, the Union of Six Emirates – the UAE – was formally established. Ras Al Khaimah joined the federation on 10th February 1972.

(https://www.government.ae/en/about-the-uae/founders-of-the-union

https://gulfnews.com/lifestyle/community/how-the-uae-was-born-1.1610731)

National Day Celebrations 2018

We are all set to watch the air show in the afternoon, dancing fireworks show and the laser and light show at night tomorrow today. But I couldn’t resist posting the pictures I enthusiastically clicked last year, while we witnessed our first national day celebrations in the UAE.

The well lit streets were glittering. These are pictures from Al Ain, a garden city and oasis town, which is an hour and a half’s drive from Abu Dhabi. 

Abu Dhabi Corniche was a glorious sight to walk and click. Here are a few pictures-

Falcon – the national bird of UAE

The Fairmont Marina, Abu Dhabi displays 47the National Day

The emirate of Abu Dhabi got to see some of the finest performances on air. We were among the luckiest to have captured the air show from the Balcony of our tall raised residence.

Here is a glimpse of the colour filled Air show before the Sun set and the Fire works in the night,  that lightened the skies of Corniche  – the beautiful Beach of Abu Dhabi.  We truly enjoyed our first National Day in Abu Dhabi.

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Beach with spectators and rowing boats

Air Show in the Evening

After showering colours the planes on their way back…

The beauty of Corniche, Abu Dhabi and the light and laser show at night…

This is sheer display of Pride for the Nation, its Visionary Leaders and the Focussed Development that the country portrays to the rest of the world.

I am waiting for the splendid show today, this year’s National Day Celebrations. Shall update soon.

Deepawali 2019 – The Laddu Saga

Laddu might be a favourite sweet for many. Any type of Laddu, called ‘Urundai’ in Tamil, denotes, sweet balls made with different ingredients… like neiurundai/split green gram laddu, kadalai maavu urundai/bengal gram laddu or the unavoidable thengai urundai/coconut laddu.

These traditional urundais are healthy with the roasted lentils, in comparison to the white flour based creamy sweets. With new age food therapies from bloggers like me, there are other healthier versions – flax seed urundai, ragi urundai, and other millet based sweet balls.

But, no one can beat the Boondi Laddu. The King/Queen of Laddus in the south is the boondi laddu and, in the north of India, it is the ‘Moti choor Laddu’. The Moti choor of north India, is named due to its miniature pearls. The boondi, must have been named after the Hindi word- ‘Boond’ which means ‘droplet’.

One version of the South Indian Laddu, is the most popular Laddu of the Temple of Thiruppathi. The Thiruppathi laddu must be the most sort after, next to the presiding deity in the temple. The Boondi Laddu of the south, is made with slightly bigger pearls, than its northern counterpart. In colour too, the north prefers orange and the south prefers yellow. The Thiruppathi laddu though is brownish, as the pearls are deep fried and, taken out after they reach a darker colour. This might be for longer shelf life.

So, Laddu has been on my bucket list for many years. Before starting to make the Laddu, I wanted to do my homework well. I had my cousin in Chennai, who was and is still an expert in making Laddus. I approached her during one of my holidays, and that was my ‘Laddu Workshop’, in its best and simplified form. After that fruitful lesson, I thought Laddu was not as hard as I used to believe.

The hands that gave me a live demo and a true workshop on Laddu..

Thanks Sweety for that excellent demonstration!! These are the beautiful laddus we made.

So, inspired by the skillful workshop on Laddus by Sweety, I was confident, my laddus were going to be perfect.

Last Deepawali, I decided to make Boondi Laddu, along with Flax seed/black sesame Laddu – (https://dosaikal.com/2018/11/24/the-good-fat-black-ball/). But, I messed up with the Paagu or the sugar syrup. The sugar syrup got a bit thicker and couldn’t bind the laddus together. instead, we had them as dry sweet boondi. It was not a waste, that had to be thrown away, or altered to settle down in other variations, like the athirasam. But my mission remained unaccomplished.

I felt like the same maths student in my previous article (https://dosaikal.com/2019/11/07/deepawali-the-victory-story/), whose procedures were right, yet answer went wrong.

I researched into the shots, that I had taken at my cousin’s. Then I went through this youtube -demonstration- Laddoo by Revathy Shanmugam

After setting myself into a Yogic meditator’s mode, I went into the kitchen, at 9 in the night. I told the chatting and helping enthusiasts at home, husband and daughter, not to come near the kitchen, till further instructions.

Two alterations I did to the original recipe –

  1. No food colour or turmeric powder was used.
  2. Since I didn’t want to use white sugar, I used unrefined cane sugar.
  3. Also, Mrs. Revathy Shanmugam’s recipe suggested 1 1/2 cups sugar for 1 cup of bengal gram flour. I took equal quantity of both, as my family needs less sugar.

Even then, we found the Laddus to be too sweet for us.

Hence, with no food colour and brown sugar, the colour of Laddu was not as yellowish as it is available normally, still the taste was unaltered.

Ingredients (makes approximately 25 laddus)

  • Kadalai Maavu/bengal gram flour (store bought) – 1 1/2 cups
  • baking soda – a pinch
  • water – to make batter
  • unrefined cane sugar – 1 1/2 cups
  • cashew nuts – 10-15 halved
  • raisins – 10-15
  • cardamom powder – 1 tsp

Method of Preparation

Before we start making boondi for laddu, it is advicable to make the sugar syrup. As Mrs. Revathy Shanmugam mentions, mixing boondi in hot syrup doesn’t yield the best of laddus. Let the syrup cool a bit, then the boondi or bengalgram pearls can be mixed.

First – Soft Ball/Single String consistency – How to make the quintessential syrup?

the syrup – a bit brownish because of the cane sugar
  • In a wide pan, take 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/2 cup water
  • Bring it to boil and then keep the stove in sim position
  • Check for Soft ball consistency.When the sugar syrup is boiling well in the vessel – keep a bowl of water and add a few drops of the syrup. The drops should settle in water and one should be able to make a soft ball out of the droplets. 
  • Soft ball consistency is same as single string. Take very little syrup in between thumb and index finger (be cautious… the syrup is too hot), now, single string should be formed. This is the right consistency of syrup.

Now that the syrup is ready, leave it aside to cool.

Start making Boondi.

the first batch came out really perfect
  1. Sieve kadalai maavu; Add baking soda
  2. Add water little by little and mix into a batter, almost suitable for dosa or pancake
  3. Heat oil in a pan. The oil shouldn’t be too hot – then the boondi would turn brown immediately, without being properly cooked. The same way, oil shouldn’t be low in heat too. Boondi would turn out soggy.
  4. Like the porridge of the baby bear, in Goldilocks Story, the oil should be – ‘not too hot not too cold’- just right.
  5. Keep the boondi ladle over the oil and pour enough batter
  6. Tap the ladle so that beautiful pearls drop in harmony
  7. Do not make too many pearls in one ladle, as they would reduce the heat of oil, in turn, the boondis would become soggy
  8. When they are done, that is, when they reach a beautiful yellow colour, take them out on kitchen tissue
  9. Finish the whole batter
  10. When the batter is done, in the same oil, fry the cashewnuts and raisins and mix with the boondi.
  11. Add powdered cardamom powder too.

Making Laddu

  1. By now, the syrup must have cooled.
  2. Mix the boondi to the syrup and stir well. Leave it aside for at least a couple of hours or even overnight. This helps the boondis to soak in the sugar syrup well.
  3. I couldn’t wait beyond a couple of hours… so, I started making Laddus by middle of the night.
  4. The well soaked and cooled boondi in syrup, binded beautifully to make perfect Laddus.

Truly, a happy ending to a fruitful Saga!

Deepawali – The Victory Story

Deepawali in the south of India or Diwali in the north, the festival signifies victory of good over evil. In the north, it is Lord Rama’s homecoming, after his victory over Ravana; In the south, it is the day of Lord Krishna’s victory over demon Narakasura.

Now, my victory story, doesn’t involve any such philosophy. It is the victory of perseverance, victory of persistence, diligence, commitment and the list is endless. Why have I suddenly drenched myself in a sea of boastfulness? Let me elaborate. Exactly on the victorious day of Deepawali – I was a changed person. I suddenly felt my soul reached an unexplainable ecstatic state – with my victory over two things.

One – victory over the tricky Athirasam and Two – victory over the complicated Boondi Laddu! Doesn’t that sound awesome??

Athirasam

Athirasam has always been a tricky affair, since my first article on Athirasam in November 2011. It seems to have been a long journey, but this time, I am a contended soul.

I prayed very hard to all Gods, not for me, not for Athirasam, and also not for the Gods to whom I devoutly offered…. but extensively for my family. They are super appreciative of my efforts in the kitchen. A few times, I succeeded making replica of flattened pumice stone with the athirasam batter. Though it was capable of breaking any tooth, as strong as diamond, they appreciated the polished texture of the thing I made.

A few other times, the batter disintegrated in oil, they sweetly commented, it looked like blooming flowers in a lake. I was smart enough to stop with the first batch. I converted the batter into Appam with Banana or sweet Paniyaram. I even got hugs and kisses for being so very innovative.

Though, my heart brims with pride, having made them proud, on such countless occasions, I could somehow feel they were worried souls, on the eve of Diwali. They were in fact getting panic attacks, when I was preparing the Athirasam batter. With a true feeling of helping them out of this stressful situation, this time I prayed to all Gods, with utmost Devotion.

Thankfully, the Gods didn’t drop – good looking, perfect athirasams from Heaven. That’s when, I started to think, and hence, got so much stories to share with you guys.

So what made the difference? There were a few things I thought I should re-analyse. All numeric ratios were checked and they seemed just right. The measurements were perfect; the ingredients were exact; the procedure was flawless. I felt like a school going kid, with my math problem gone wrong. All formulas right, done in the exact step by step procedure, rechecked several times….. but the answer went wrong. All my teachers stood in front of me, and seemed to be telling me – Maths is all about Practice. Not only Mathematics, anything in life comes with a price – and the most important of all might be…. Time – Devoted Time to practice and practice again.

I realised, making Athirasam was more than a tough mathematical calculation. Practice was not enough. But, learning new nuances from continuous practice helped. What I learnt from continuous Practice is listed below-

  1. Rice flour used for Athirasam needs to be moist and not too dry. That’s why, raw rice is soaked, dried at home for an hour or so, and powdered in the mixer while slightly wet.
  2. Jaggery used should be the darker variety and also one which is right for syrups – we call it the ‘Paagu Vellam’ in Tamil.
  3. Though the ratio is provided, always keep additional rice flour. Because, some varieties of jaggery might take in more flour. If there isn’t enough flour, the mixture would be watery, a consistency not suitable to make athirasam.
  4. Also, always mix rice flour to syrup and, do not pour the syrup into rice flour. This helps in binding the mixture well, and gives room to add more rice flour if needed. But, while pouring syrup into the flour- one might end up having a very thick batter. And, if there isn’t more syrup in hand, it would be difficult to alter the consistency of batter.
  5. The most important of all – THE SYRUP…. that makes the difference. What we need, is a single-string consistency or soft ball consistency syrup.

Soft Ball consistency – How to make the quintessential syrup?

  • Heat jaggery with 1/4 cup water in a vessel to dissolve
  • Filter when jaggery is dissolved and make a syrup.
  • Check for Soft ball consistency? When the jaggery is boiling well in the vessel – keep a bowl of water and add a few drops of the syrup. The drops should settle in water and one should be able to make a soft ball out of the droplets.
  • Soft ball consistency is same as single string. Take very little syrup in between thumb and index finger (be cautious… the syrup is too hot), now, single string should be formed. This is the right consistency of syrup.

Now, after getting the consistency of syrup right, add the rice flour to the syrup and let the batter ferment overnight.

For recipe and ingredients of Athirasam, and my initial stories on how I learnt athirasam from our family kitchen, visit – https://dosaikal.com/2011/10/25/the-tricky-athirasam/

RICE FLOUR

The next important aspect of this year’s Athirasam making was the rice flour. I had store-bought rice flour, that was Idiyappam maavu. While I was wondering, how to use this flour, as an easy option .. this website came to my rescue. https://www.sailajakitchen.org/2018/10/adhirasam-recipe-using-ready-made-rice.html

It had an answer to keep the store bought dry rice powder in moist condition. The author asked to sprinkle water little by little on the rice flour, and after mixing, powder the bread-crumb-like flour with dry ginger and cardamom in a mixer. The moist rice powder for Athirasam is ready.

Isn’t this super smart! I adapted this method, with a slight correction in the syrup consistency- accurately soft ball.

Thank You Sailaja! you made my Day!!

After allowing the batter to ferment overnight, I made athirasam on the day of Deepawali. Gods had answered the prayers of my family. My Athirasams were just perfect.

I had mixed feelings… Had I scored full marks in mathematics? Or was I an athlete, who has just reached the finish line, faster than ever? I touched my head…. do I feel a chef’s cap? I suddenly realised, my feet didn’t touch the ground, then, I pressed myself down.

It might sound like an exaggerated triumph, but, this is no mean feat either. My mother agrees with me. Since Deepawali until today, she has been the lone soul, to have listened each word of my triumphant story of Athirasam, in complete silence on the other side of the telephone. And just said, ‘I’m proud of you’ with tears in her eyes, that I could visualise through my BOTIM call.