Saturday, 29 August 2015

Rejoicing Life at The Retreat, Bhimtal

We all need that “break” from our everyday routine to breathe, to connect to our roots, to just be ourselves in the lap of nature. Such breaks not only explains to us what “freedom” means, but helps us be more humble in this human-made world of “I”’s and more “I”’s. 

Inspired by this quote, me and hubby make sure we travel at least once in 6 months to a place which makes us understand where we truly belong. So, in our 2 years of marriage journey, our first trip was to the beaches (Goa-which I haven’t blogged about), then it was the hills (Kasauli - Part 1Part 2 and Part 3) then the Riverside (Soulitude by the Riverside - Part 1 and Part 2) and this time it was the forests. Yes, I’m talking about THE RETREAT, BHIMTAL.

Going to this place was a cat-and-mouse run. We have been wanting to go here for over a year, but whichever dates we asked for, it was always full. There was so much we had read about the place already, that when we finally got the booking confirmation this time, our happiness knew no bounds. As I have mentioned in my previous posts too, we love travelling by train. There is a different enthusiasm to waking up early morning, taxi waiting down, seeing such a hustle bustle on the railway station when half of the world is still in their sugar sleep, and the train snacks they serve. When we were close to our destination, the cameras came out and the blogger within awakened. So here’s some from our train-journey:

Many people I have seen are not too keen travelling in the monsoons, but for us, the rains bring out a different beauty to the nature. The views of the mountains and valley from the 45 minute taxi drive from Kathgodam Railway Station to the Retreat are picturesque. When we arrived, a happy smiling woman greeted us, just as one of our family members would welcome us to their home. Yes, that is Paddy, and yes, The Retreat is the homestay she runs. 

The place had a very positive impact on us from the moment we stepped inside, as we knew we are standing in a 19th century colonial bunglow with the artifacts, furniture, photographs/paintings on the wall and other stuff maintained just so well up to date.

Our room was a simple, neat and fairly large room with attached bathroom and there are 2 more rooms similar to this in the bunglow that are for guests. 

The staff greeted us with a welcome drink Lemonade and we went for a quick stroll around the property. 

There is just so much to see around in Paddy’s garden and around that i am going to post a different photo-blog about it. (Wait for my next post). The flowers in full bloom, different types of plants, and huge trees of oak, pine and cedar around the estate which Paddy tells us was earlier a tea Estate. By the time our clicking-session was over, our lunch was ready. Paddy had already asked us about our meal preferences earlier, and we had already started drooling looking at the number of dishes she had set on the dining area outside. So, there we had our perfect delish Indian meal looking at the lush green garden around.

Mother nature has her own way of telling us how miniscule we are in front of her.

There was mutton curry (which hubby really licked his fingers for), Paneer dry sabzi (perfectly spiced), eggplant stir fry (a little salty for our taste), Chole (Ahh… just writing about them has got my mouth watering), rice, some warm chapattis and how can we forget – those tangy and spicy pickles! We really ate our heart out. And then came the dessert. Spice infused fresh pears served with a dollop of mint flavoured whipped cream. The flavours were literally dancing on our tongues. Having had such a yummy meal, we knew we are in the right place for food :)

The rest of the day just passed by lazying around, catching up on some sleep and reading. We woke up all refreshed followed by a cup of masala chai for hubby and filter coffee for me. It just seemed like a place to be, sitting in the patio watching the night dawning upon us making the same very beautiful place look like a scary dark area (Fear is all in our mind, it’s true). Since the weather was cloudy, the moon-God didn’t show us any favour.

It was time for dinner already. I will go all out here to say, this was one of the best dinners we have ever had. Since the dining table inside was already occupied by another family sharing the other two rooms, we loved the idea of dinner being served to us in the patio. There came the fresh vegetable salad dressed in citrus flavours, followed by baked chicken, followed by the perfect al-dente Pasta served along with some home-baked bread and the thin crust pizza. For whoever visits this place, we would highly recommend the pizza topped with some veggies, cheese, olives and herbs. This candle light dinner ended for us with a lip-smacking dessert too.

The next day, rain Gods were bursting heavily. We woke up to the fresh smell of mud, the music of the rain showers and feeling the smooth touch of cold breeze playing with our skin. After having some heavy breakfast comprising of scrambled eggs, cheese tomato omelette, toasts, various types of jams (must-have’s), cereals, fruits and our tea-coffee, we set out for a small trek to the Garud-Tal with the perfectly drawn map by Paddy. She packed us a picnic basket (some sandwiches and fruit salad) and was kind enough to provide us with umbrellas.

Our small trek full of adventures, watching the local flora and fauna, enjoying the gorgeous views on the way, and of course giving feed to the blogger inside us to click pictures. 

On the way, we passed a beautiful St. John’s Church built in 1912 by Mr. A.C.Evans in memory of his beloved mother. 

The Garud Taal is one of the “Saat-taal” and had a lake-side Chapel with the seating area flooded with water from the taal. We enjoyed our sandwiches and fruit salad there and walked back to the homestay meeting some fur-riends on the way. 

Then we went for a small trek to Bhimtal (there is nothing much to see there and is more commercialised and crowded).

Back home, and our feet had started showing signs of tiredness. So we spent the evening sitting in the patio listening to some wonderful colonial era stories by Paddy. Oh, she is wonderful at this. So if you guys are interested in knowing about the history, culture or traditions of that time, don’t forget to ask her. Paddy would happily narrate some to you. Paddy’s son took it to serve English dinner for us that night and we were served pumpkin soup, mashed potatoes, pasta in white sauce, some bread, paneer and cheese cutlets, and traditional pot roast chicken, followed by some traditional suji pudding topped with caramalised sugar and nuts. 

Oh, each of it was just perfect. No wonder, we had heard some rave reviews about the food. It has a whole feel of homecooked yet different and lipsmacking. I would say, Paddy and her son have magic in their hands when it comes to food. Paddy also takes jam-making or cooking sessions which I was keen to do, but this time it was all about holidaying and rejuvenating. So, the next time, I am going to enter that kitchen and watch and learn some tricks and tips for sure.

And oh, did I mention? They have their 3 paw-mates too. Tessy, Terry and Seeker (we loved that name). Terry came to us with all the wags from the moment she saw us and let us click some beautiful pictures with her too. They are the perfect trek-guides when you go for your adventures. 

The place also brought out the child inside us. We played some Scrabble and Jenga and some cards too. The next morning went by soaking up the warmth of the sun falling on our face after a rainy day. We seeked pleasure listening to the sounds of birds chirping, walking on the grass and connecting to our real selves taking as much as we could from the Nature.

Post breakfast, we spent some time reading, playing and petting the fur-riends and photographing around. And then came the time to leave! Yes, it’s always a moment of sadness when you leave such a beautiful place but we were happy that we are coming home with loads of positive energy and having made a beautiful friend named Paddy.

For all you explorers and wanderers, The Retreat, Bhimtal is a perfect weekend gateway from New Delhi. You can check the details on their website here.  So, pack your bags, and go go go !!! :)

Do check our next photo-blog post.

Happy Travelling!!!


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

How to make Poori or Puri

Puris are Indian deep-fried bread made with wheat flour or maida (all-purpose flour). I have grown up helping my mom in the kitchen to fry the puris and i remember, i would get so excited if my puri would puff up in a perfect round. Yes, i could hardly get 1-2 to the perfection, while my mom would just know the right trick to get each of them puffed up. So, there are a few tricks that i have learnt which i would like to share with you all to get a perfect round puffed puri :

1. Make sure the dough is not too soft, not too hard to roll. Hence while making the dough, add water little by little so you know the dough consistency while you knead. If at all your dough gets a little sticky, add more flour but if your dough gets too hard, even kneading it with oil afterwards won't help that much. So knead a stiff but not hard dough.

2. While rolling the puris, try not to use flour but brush the dough-balls with oil instead, so it is rolled well.

3. The puri should be rolled into an even round shape. Many a times the middle portion remains thin and the outer portions are thicker. So make sure, you roll an even puri.

4. The oil for frying the puris should not be too hot or else the puris will brown immediately and will remain uncooked from inside. So, heat the oil well and then put the flame on sim while frying the puris.

5. This is the perfect tip to puff up the puris : While frying the puris, just press a little on the side of the puri gently. I don't know whats the logic behind this, but i have seen my mother doing it and it has worked with me too.

Puri-sabzi or Puri-bhaji is the best combination to have for breakfast. The bhaji is usually a dry or curried potato sabzi. Puri-bhaji is even served as a "prasad" ( offering ) to God at temples or at any auspicious occassion. A typical Maharashtrian meal at any pooja is Puri-bhaji-shrikhand. On festivals or ceremonies, puris are also eaten with Basundi or kheer. In North India, Puri-sabzi-halwa is eaten as breakfast. Puris are made in different versions - some add spices to it, some even add rava (suji ) to make them crispy, or some add flavouring or purees and sauce for colour, texture and flavour. Like masala puris or spinach puris or beetroot puris are quite common. There is also the Tiranga puris which are tri-coloured made with the use of spinach and beetroot. 

Last weekend was hubby dearest's birthday and our lunch menu was his favourite: Shrikhand-puri :)) I have already shared the recipe of Shrikhand before. Here's a pic from this time making homemade "chakka" from curd :

Let's get to the puri recipe -

Preparation time : 5 minutes
Cooking time : 30 minutes
Serves : 2-3 people
Makes : 15-20 puris
Recipe type : Breads


Whole wheat flour - 2 cups
Salt - to taste
Ghee/oil - 1-2 tsp
Water - to knead the dough
Oil - for frying the puris

You can add any spice like turmeric powder, red chilli powder, ajwaiin or any of your choice.


Mix together the flour and salt. Add oil or ghee. You can even heat the oil or ghee and then mix it ( known as "Mohan" in Marathi language). This helps to make the puris soft.

Add water little by little to knead a tight dough. 

Set the dough aside for about 10 mins covered.

Apply little oil on hand and now divide the dough into equal sized balls ( about 15-20 )

Roll each of the ball into small puris. Remember to roll it even. Dust flour if needed, but best is to apply little oil on the ball instead of flour.

Heat oil in a kadhai for frying the puris. When hot, lower the flame and fry puris one by one.

Press the puri gently and it will puff up, now turn it and fry the other side till golden brown.

Remove the puris on a tissue paper to drain excess oil.

Your puffed puris are ready :))

Happy Cooking :))

Friday, 14 August 2015

Karwandacha Moramba (Natal plum jam)

One of the many reasons i love stocking up on chutneys, jams, pickles is my laziness at times :) Yes, there are times when i hardly feel like cooking an elaborate meal standing in the kitchen for long hours. At such times, pickles or morambas come in handy. All i would do is roll a paratha or stuffed roti or a simple plain chapati and spread some jam or chutney, roll it and give it in tiffin to hubby. That saves me from cooking a daal and a sabzi, yet having the satisfaction of given a meal that would fill his tummy :)

Karwand, also known as Karonda or Natal Plum is not grown so commercially in India, yet it thrives well in subtropical regions of India. The fruit is native to South Africa, and some tribes there even consider it as a staple food. This sour-sweet fruit is available in green colour when unripe which is commonly used to make pickles, a little whitish coat when they are just ripening and then dark pink when they are fully ripe. This juicy fruit lasts only for about a week when uncooked and are great for jams, pickles and chutneys. 

Natal plum contains a great amount of Vitamin C, hence good for skin, teeth and gums. In traditional medicine, this fruit was used to boost immune system because of it's high content of iron and hence drive away cold, flu's, fatigue and dizziness. Usually this fruit can be eaten with seeds, but i removed them since i decided to make my mother-in-law's recipe of moramba.

Moramba or Murabba is basically a sweet fruit preserve made with fruits, sugar and spices. When we went to the Wednesday Farmer's bazaar near our home, we saw these plums and my hubby made me buy them instantly. Back home, one phone call to Saasu-maa (mother-in-law)  and this quick jam was ready within half an hour. There is no need to peel the plums, use the skin too. 

Made with just 4 ingredients, this jam tastes absolutely delicious with plain or masala parathas, or just spread over a slice of bread. The taste is sweet and sour both with a lovely aroma of cardamom.

Preparation time : 15 minutes
Cooking time : 10 minutes
Recipe type: Jams and preserves
Serves : 4-6 people


Karwand (Natal Plum) - 1/4 kg
Sugar - 1 cup
Water - 1/4 cup
Cardamom seeds - 5-6


Wash the natal plums and pat them dry.

Powder the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle.

Cut each of them into half and remove the seeds. 

Bring to boil 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan.

When the sugar consistency becomes one-thread, put the chopped plums into it.

The plums cook quickly, so keep stirring and keep and eye till they become soft.

Add the cardamom powder and switch off the stove.

Let it cool before pouring it in a glass container.

Refrigerate and store till about a week.

Doesn't it look tempting? Karwandacha moramba is ready :)

Happy Cooking!!! :)