Agog with Colours

So, my Zinnias are here! Yay!

I love the sturdiness of the flower. It’s like a woman — one part mush, three parts strength! When you touch the petals, the papery feel of it leaves you wondering about the artist who envisaged such an innovation.

The shrub is of course, prone to pest attacks. The leaves are so green and plump, who wouldn’t like to munch on it! Either your soil has to have a good dose of pest repellent mixed into the mulch or you have to spray a mild amount of water-induced pest-repellent (3 1/2 parts water and 1/2 parts repellent) on them, when and if at all required. Sometimes the leaves wilt because of such intrusion, so avoid it as much possible. But if it still requires a spray and your leaves wilt, do not worry too much. Your flowers are going to bloom and new leaves are going to sprout anyway.

I grew the saplings from a bunch of seeds this time. And though some failed me, I did get quite a good collection of saplings to plant. Nipping them off halfway for a bushy growth called for patience really. I had to be away at the moment when they needed the pinch-off. By the time I did it, it was a bit late and so the growth didn’t turn out as fluffy as I wanted them to be.

But the colours are majestic. The ones blooming right now are totally astounding my humble garden!

Here, have a look:

I have a few more, lying in wait, to ambush me with their colourful explosion. They have been thickly planted because of the previously snubbing response. We put a few saplings of the blue pea flower behind them to grow up into the bamboo mesh I got rooted for them.

I’m also waiting for the mangoes to ripen. They’re small, the breed I have at home, but they’re yum! Hubby had a brilliant idea (according to him) to stave off over-eager birds from pecking at the mangoes. So he got a mesh-net covering the exposed parts of the tree. I don’t know if the birds will get discouraged by this attempt. But it does keep away from being obvious if birds have a juvenile attention span.

Next up, are the balsams I got planted in the pots. It’s my maternal grandpa’s favourite. And why not, they’re so luxuriant! So here’s a ‘hello’ to grandpa Up There, though I never got the chance to meet him.

As for the evergreens, or rather the ever-yellows-and-pinks, Portulacas, you reign!

 

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Eggless Alphonso Cake

Spring has been behaving rather bizarre these days. I think it mistook May to be July. Nights have been ending with a downpour and mornings beginning with the hangover of one. If not for my spring flowers, I’d be misled to think of the day as the sluggish reminder of the upcoming monsoons. So I baked a happy cake. A happy, eggless, Alphonso mango cake! I had baked a (mousambi) sweet-lime cake, on Mom’s birthday in April. Its popularity encouraged me to try this.

Alphonso mangoes are happy by default, both in colour, texture and softness of tang, unlike our desi aam! The rich yellow colour of its purée is so enlivening, I decided to offer my eyes some succour in the otherwise dull morning today.

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 flour (whatever suits you, although gluten-free ones usually require a little more baking powder/soda for upliftment)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda (Or more precisely, two pinches if you please. I have had disasters with a little too much of this petty little thing, so I’m extra cautious)

1/2 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup regular veg oil

1 cup of Alphonso mango puree (homemade or otherwise)

3 tbsp sweetened condensed milk (works for the sugar as well)

2 tbsp milk* (The recipe I used, didn’t call for it, but I used it to loosen the condensed milk)

A pinch of salt

Blend it all and bake it for 30 mins. Done-done-a-done!

For frosting, you can use puree with whipped cream (or low-fat cream) and honey. I had neither. So, Clumsy Kitchen blended the puree with condensed milk and 1/2 tsp salt and spread it over the cake. The taste was what Sheldon calls — bazinga!

 

 

 

 

Portulacas – my summer respite!

Summer time is not too kind to most flowers. I mean, our kind of summers — the scorching, Indian sun, burning the skins off Mother Nature’s bountiful sons and daughters! Trees would shade you from the sun alright, but they won’t be able to canopy the kind of dainty blooms you lusted after all winter. The robust zinnias that withstand the heat also linger for only a short period. In Assam, the water bodies do inspire ample rainfall. In fact, it already poured a week ago! But that means summers will bite. With winters getting over in a January fortnight and off-season monsoons drenching Bihu, I am intimidated about how many litres a day we’re going to sweat! Most days, coming out of the house without a pair of eyeshades (even if I’m in pyjamas) is simply impossible. And yet, my plan is to do don my shades to get a quick glance of my Portulacas.

An earthen curd bowl rejuvenated into a flower pot (check pic above), is currently holding a batch of Portulacas in my row of would-bes. Since the seasonals are done with, I have replenished the empty flower baskets with Portulacas. Except that they shut eyes by 2 PM, Portulacas — also known as the 9 AM flowers —  are a delightful bunch to look at. My batch has bright pink and yellow. If you have an old batch, you can simply stick one to half an inch stems in the soil and with good watering, they’ll grow well. But, note that the extended growth of already planted stems usually leads to thin flowering. So when they grow inordinately, stem the branches off. They’ll grow denser and flower better.

While my zinnias are yet to grow stronger, the portulacas have been growing steadily, duly covering their habitat in the day and getting droopy by evening. I have a 3-storeyed wrought iron stand that holds about nine pots in threes. I’m planning to make my 9 AMs stand in rows and burn the sun back. We’ll see who wins!

Bohag flirts with me!

The crazy phagun winds and the unexpected downpour are gone and the air is definitely cleaner than it was. Thanks for the showers, my greens have gotten greener. I hope they can withstand the imminent, brutal summer. As for now, Bohag (Spring) has already started flirting a little.

With Easter, next Sunday, my Easter Lilies should have been ready to bloom. As it appears, they’re going to take time. Surprising, what a few, odd, garlic-like bulbs can grow into. I got them from Mum’s garden two years before and regretfully, missed them last year because I had to be away. This year, I shall not stray from a single bloom. So, seeing that they probably won’t make it by this weekend, I’m ready to wait. What is life if you cannot stand and stare at such lovelies?

Oh, my Davies! Did I tell you? While lilies are waiting, my garden is almost agog with orchids. I love those Foxtail orchids, woven like a garland with closely-knit blooms. We call it Kopou and often use them to adorn hair buns of Bihu dancers. They are endemic to Assam but I don’t have that in my garden! (choke)

Instead, I have dendrobiums, I think! Yellow ones, more than the mauve; though I have them too. Months ago, I had got my orchids packed with soil and manure, and tied to these trees. We just replenished the manure a few weeks back for the branches to flower.

Last weekend, I had to leave home for work, leaving my orchid buds looking at me with promise. When I got back, this was waiting for me. Seems like we’ve been rewarded!

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I don’t know what they are called (maybe, yellow dendrobium) but if you’re looking for drops of gold, here they are!

 

My Seasonal Update

So, chrysanthemums and marigolds and petunias and cineraria are over. Sniffle!

 

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Zinnias sprouting for spring

Come spring, I am expecting a bed of healthy and robust Zinnias smarting my eyes with their festive colours. We sprinkled a bed of 100 Zinnia seeds that have sprouted into lovely seedlings of at least 83 for now. The rains haven’t been helpful at all but I am still planning to plant these babies in the flower bed and put a shed over them if it rains. If I keep them waiting for too long, they’ll grow lanky and will not flower well.

 

I lost patience with my Impatiens in baskets. They haven’t flowered as brightly and sprightly as I had wanted them to. So I shifted them to the ground and flower pots. Let’s see how it works out.

 

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The ever reliable drumstick tree in the front yard

The soil in my current abode is too sandy, but I cannot help. The river bed is close by and the house, having been built next to it, is inadvertently earthed with sand mixed soil. Yet, I was able to have a delightful brigade of cauliflowers and cabbages last winter. I even parcelled them off to both sides of the family. I have a drumstick tree right in front of the house; so that’s taken care of. We often forget about it. It flowers when it flowers, strewing the whole pathway like paradise and is laden with drumsticks now, enough to make wonderfully warm curries with mustard paste. Yum!

 

The gourds are, well, still in waiting, though I see some growth in the bean bed. Once the non-seasonal downpours retire and they get some much-required sun, they’ll grow better.

For now, there are these little white brinjals which make an awesome snack for drinks, if you fry them in chick-pea flour batter; and the ongoing batch of Bhutanese and Indian potatoes. The former is a delectable item, I tell you! It is a little ruddy and awfully tasty. Mash it or shallow fry it, you will impress guests nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 reasons why salad lunches are a good choice

Indians and oil/grease-free cooking don’t go together typically. Yes, people do choose it over fried foods nowadays because of awareness, but their hearts keep longing for their exes. So I don’t know who’s going to buy it when I say that salad lunches, vegetarian for that matter, are awesome. Usually, foods like these go with the label of healthy cooking, which is the Indian Morse Code for bland. Haters gonna hate, call me a gastric-lost traveller in the world of food, but what the hell. I love low-slash-non-spiced food and I won’t deny it. I am a hardcore fishetarian too – whether baked, steamed or curried. Yet…I chose this darling over my already lightweight, non-spicy, gluten-free, traditionally Assamese must-have luncheons of fish curries and rice platters. So there must be a delectable reason for that.

Pause for a breather.

The reason I chose vegetarian salad lunches on the menu is because salads are:

Delicious

The humble texture of parboiled veggies sprinkled with a dash of olive oil, salt/pepper, lime and nuts – is equally, if not profanely, sublime.

Last minute friendly

They usually don’t need too much attention or sticking to a recipe. You can go wild and yet come up with a wonder of a salad. I like a gluten-free salad, occasionally with lightly toasted cottage cheese and mostly without meat.But you may have your way and sprinkle hard/soft cheese shavings or boiled/baked/grilled meats over yours.

Safe for the tummy

They are also, for lack of a better word, healthy. They are pleasing, comforting and reassuring for the delicate lining of the tummy.

A good, post-hangover meal

Salads are wonderful accompaniments for a wine-and-dine. But they are also gut saviours when you don’t want to have anything heavy and yet want to keep off being hungry. A bowl or plate of veg salad post-4am-parties and a tepid slumber is respectful towards your digestion and lets your gut rest.

I love my food to be light and hearty. How do you like yours?

Bougainvilleas in a flower pot: A simple way to tame its overarching 

I love bougainvillaeas. They have a brilliant colour. They look most gorgeous when perched on wrought-iron arches or are growing across a roof or atop a gate. Sadly, I have neither of the arrangements. Mum gave me one of her old planted bougainvillaeas when dad retired from the tea gardens and I planted cuttings of it after I moved to a different place. So right now, I have the parent branch planted in the soil, and two children growing in flower pots.

FullSizeRenderThe trouble with bougainvillaea is that the branches stretch over and have no sense of direction. They can grow into any side they choose and go a long way. But I remembered something I saw in a nursery and used that idea to manoeuvre the plant into something more manageable. Usually, the bougainvillaea stem is quite malleable though it might not appear so. Better if you catch it young. So before this baby (see right) could flower, I wound the stem round and round, tying it to four posts that I planted firmly into the soil around the flower pot. So now, the flowers have started blooming in that fashion and it looks beautiful.

I am also planning to pay more attention to its parent plant, now that the children are taken care of. The It is growing mighty slow, maybe because of its slightly shady spot, but that is the ideal place for it to grow bigger and arch wider. I am willing to make the best efforts to make it suitable for it grow up into a tall shed of pink and white. I have recently put a bamboo canopy over it and tied the over-arching branches to the criss-cross so it can grow accordingly.

 
How do you plan your garden design? Do you have any tips for me? Please feel free to share. I’m a new gardener and very curious to learn the trade.

Gluten-free + egg-free: Chocolate cake in a bowl

I swear I began the recipe for a mug. I had seen enough of those pretty cake-in-a-mug pictures of my friends to finally park my procrastination and try it out.

But you must remember, I am a clumsy cook. So the measure went a little overboard. The first trial – cake in a mug – was a dry one. I over-microwaved it and I won’t show you that picture. But I’m a cake glutton. So I punched holes into it and poured a sweetened orange-butter syrup and washed it all down.

Now, coming to the cake in the bowl. The timer was set for a minute at first (once bitten, twice shy). Then, peeking at the rise through the microwave window, I increased the time a couple of times, 10-20 seconds at a time. So, I can say it took me about 2-2 & 1/2 minutes for the cake in a bowl.

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Gluten-free flour: 3 tbsp

Sugar: 3 tbsp

Curd: 1 tbsp

Veg oil: 1-1 1/2 tbsp

Pinch of salt

Cocoa powder: 2-3 tbsp

Baking powder: 1/4 tsp

Pinch of baking soda, optional*

I whisked it all together in the same microwaveable bowl I’d bake it in. No preheating required really. You can simply put it in, choose microwave mode (not convection) and set the timer. Ka-Ching! Cake is done. Dig in with a spoon.

Do you have any quick and easy baking ideas? Please share. I’m all ears.

Chocolate Walnut Cake

The husband doesn’t like eggs in his cake. Yes, he can be absurd like that. But who am I kidding? I am not an easy-eater myself. So yesterday I tried a Yolanda Gampp in my clumsy kitchen and whipped up a walnut cake. Actually, two walnut cakes frosted into one. Mind you, it isn’t gluten-free. It was a special one for the husband and he isn’t gluten allergic. Hence…

So anyway, here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Walnut Cake

Flour – 4 cups

Curd – 2 cups (you can reduce if you want)

Baking powder – 2 tsp

Baking soda – 1+1/2 tsp

Vanilla essence – 1 tsp

Sugar – 3 cups

Butter – 1 cup

Veg oil – 2+1/2 cups

Walnuts (chopped roughly) – 2 cups (for batter) + 1 to 1+1/2 cup for frosting

Dark chocolate – 300gms

I baked two separate cakes so I could frost the mid layer easily. You may bake one big cake and slice it half. Your take. I made the batter together however.

Sieve (it makes the batter smoother if you don’t have a blender) and then blend the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the curd, vanilla essence, oil and butter and whisk it with your hand or machine as applicable to you. I did it manually with a whisk.

Add the walnuts and check how thick the batter is. Usually I like my batter a wee bit runny but on this eggless occasion, I decided to have it a little sticky. Now, halve the batter and bake it separately or wait till the first one is done (like I did; now isn’t my kitchen clumsy?!).

For the frosting: Use a double boiler to melt the chocolate. I put a little milk in my saucepan and added the chocolate to melt it.

After the cakes are done, let them cool. Put the crusty side (usually the top) on the cake plate or in my case, just a dinner plate. Frost the top of one cake with just a big dollop of the chocolate. Place your other cake on top. If the edges protrude, slice the extra off and then pour the rest of the melted chocolate on top. Let it pour down the sides and level the top and sides with a dinner knife. Now sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top and the sides. My chocolate ran down to the plate a little, so I sprinkled walnuts there too. I wish I had taken a picture when the cake was whole. Clumsy me! But I saved a piece for the click before the guests could wipe the plate clean.

So go ahead and make your unassuming chocolate walnut (truffle sorta) cake. And let me know how it works. Share your ideas too. I’m sure you’d have smarter ways to make this than I did.

My post-lunch, crunch cravings!

I have been addicted to fennel seeds for as long as I can remember. I quit it only a year or two ago. Chewing fennel seeds emits a flavour that somehow instantly lifts up my mood. So whether I was bored, busy, panicky or plain sad, I’d chew fennel seeds. And roasted ones, to be precise. It started because I shared the same love for fennel seeds with a dorm-mate during my sophomore year. Innocent fun went into severe addiction and before I knew, I was blaming it for my gallstones.

fennel-seedsFennel seeds are not criminal in nature. Fennel seeds are actually digestive in nature. A pinch of it after food is known to help alleviate gaseous buildup and promote better digestion. A teaspoon of roasted and powdered fennel seeds can add an amazing taste to your mutton curry. It works much like garam-masala. It’s only when you’re addicted to it, it can work otherwise. I quit it while I could or I’d be worse.

But quitting anything can have withdrawal symptoms, even if it is as naive as fennel seeds. I went through mine. I switched to meditating upon what it can do to my poor gall-bladderless abdomen and my dry cough, and that saved me from consuming it outside its role as a necessary food condiment. For a long period ever since my gall bladder removal, I totally abstained from anything that wasn’t going to suit my delicate stomach. Even regular meals were boiled and baked more than fried or toasted. But as soon as the regular discomfort of abdominal pain subsided, I started craving again. I switched to a dark chocolate piece after each meal, every day for a few days. Amul Dark Chocolate is quite agreeable – not too dark, not too sweet. But, it’s chocolate. How long can chocolate survive? You eat it before you even know it. I realised that switching to chocolate is going to do me no good. It’ll only increase weight and blood sugar. So I quit chocolates too.

These days, cardamoms are my current favourite. They aren’t criminal either. They also help against high blood pressure, constipation, bloating, etc., and can be remarkable if taken in moderate doses. But this time, I am being a little wary. My doctor insisted that one can have gall stones even without a gall bladder. I don’t know how but I assume the route remains the same though without the biological junction. It can still affect my stomach lining and kidney if I don’t take care.

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I need something to chew on after food, esp. if it has been a meaty meal. Choosing a vegetarian meal over meat helps overcome this desire but still gnaws at my cravings. So I figured this out. I keep a bottle of cardamoms to pop into my mouth when I feel like one. And I have told myself, it’d only be one. One is indeed enough to explode into a beautiful and fresh sensation inside your mouth. Now, as I look at it sitting on my desk, available for me, I don’t feel the desire that much. It is for display purpose only. I tell myself – if you want one, read or write or work whatever you’re working on an hour more, and then you can have one. That seems to be automatically snoozing the craving clock. The busier I am in doing what I love doing, the less I crave.

I confess I had the last one only after breakfast this morning. If I can skip lunch, I’ll have to pat myself on the back. And I’m planning just that. So, its beetroot and mixed veggie salad for lunch today. The crunch craving has been sorted for now!