To Universe, with Love

Set an intention: Learn to cook

Posted on September 26, 2014

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The case of Chefs Vs Food Bloggers with pretty pictures:

Bloggers have a lot of influence on me. Maybe its the relatability. They are not chefs and they seem to be able to make good looking food with everyday ingredients. But after years of reading food blogs, all i have learnt is about new ‘in’ ingredients, food trends and recipes. I am discontent. Another gripe of mine: bloggers with beautiful food photographs are more popular than the ones who don’t photograph well, inspite of not so good recipes. The ones discussing techniques and food combinations are practically non existent (I found two so far: TheKitchn, MyGoumetConnection’s How-To series. Any recommendations? )

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Techniques Vs Recipes:

I dont want recipes. I want techniques that chefs know. If i am reading something to help me with cooking, i want it to discuss things like why a recipe works, how various methods to cook may effect the end result, the balance in the ingredients like the ratio of acid to oil, etc. These are things great chefs seem to know and when they create new recipes, they use the classics as a base and play with the ingredients. Maybe take an acid out, and use a new acid. Add peppers that have a lasting taste, modify the texture, etc. This is what i want to learn. The science behind cooking. Cooking and not recipes. I think spending more time with the classic cookbooks, farmers, mom and chefs will help me find what i am looking for.

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Elaborate Vs Easy:

Simple 10 minute recipes. Thats the punch line i see all over. Thought #slowliving is having a moment lately. Instead of going the route of simplifying it, i want to learn to streamline my cooking process. And i think if i make it enough times, its will become easy. This requires some effort in the beginning, which is an over head. But eventually, it is worth it, for what i want to learn. That is how all the women in the family cook effortlessly. After years of toil. Ofcourse, i am not a housewife or a chef. I do draw a line at what’s achievable in the time i want to allocate and what will drive me crazy chasing perfection.

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Learn the kitchen dance:

” Max and Eli communicate and navigate the kitchen with synchronicity. One lights the fire under a pot on the stove. A few minutes later the other turns and stirs what is simmering within. Soon after that the other approaches and lowers the heat. ……”    – Page 008, Kinfolk Table.

This is what i call the kitchen dance. It requires a true partner. Harsha and me are pretty efficient in working together. We get each other and pick parts after each other. But one day, i want us to perfect the kitchen dance. Its no fun without him. My own quote: “Never cook or travel with people you don’t love.”

Wabi-Sabi: There is no definition for this word. It vaguely describes the beauty of imperfection, of things made using intuition, appreciating the old and rustic for their familiarity,acceptance of transience. Not an exact recipe but by using the soul. While ratios and proportions work, going with the heart and mixing also works after enough basic knowledge. There is a romance in making food. I intend to not chase perfection and kill it.

I want to start from scratch. Learn how to boil an egg. Make the perfect stovetop fluffy rice, … learn things like how grain size and heat effects the end result. Why certain combinations of ingredients work and why they don’t. I am employing my mom, a few books written for Chef schools and lots of experimentation for this purpose. I know lot of these will be learnt as you cook over and over again and observe the variations. Maybe doing both will help me get there faster.

TO- DO:

1. Read.

2. Cook more. Observe more.

3. Write some food essays here with my observations.

Wachau valley, Austria

Posted on September 15, 2014

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Wachau valley is located on the banks of the Danube river. It is the home of ancient towns, vineyards, cobbled stone streets, orchid farms, bike trails, …. I saved this post for the last because it is my favourite. This is one place where we pushed ourselves a lot to experience the place. This region lies between the town of Krems and Melk. It became popular in the 19th century, attracting artists from all over the region. It also became popular for filming and region serves as a backdrop for more than a dozen films. Apparently, the lighting condition and feel of the villages worked as a charm for all these artists. I totally see the appeal.

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And we were going to bike it all. Town hop from Krems to Melk. 50 kms. Harsha wanted to bike both ways and was really excited to do it. The realization that i am married to a younger guy with a lot of energy hit me hard. And i was holding him back.  We were reaching the end of our journey and the fatigue had set in. I negotiated a one way bike ride and he agreed. We found a boat that would let us carry our bikes for 3 euros each. It was a beautiful day to sit back and watch all these castles pass by on either sides. We saw the bike paths along the river, the bikers and couldn’t wait to be on our bikes again.

2014-09-15_0005 What makes an awsome bike ride? Enthusiastic happy people. Pretty bike basket to rest the camera. Free food magazines that decorate the basket. Fruit that you find along the way. And cold lemon beer, that you save to celebrate half way. And a bike path with a view. We had it all. There he was, zooming ahead. And me struggling to keep up.

2014-09-15_0004 Above: The topography of the bike ride: Vineyards. Old towns with cobblestone paths. Elevated valley paths with a view. Orchards with a variety of fruit. Fellow bikers from all over the world.

2014-09-15_0006 What dampens a beautiful bike ride? Someone with a camera who wants to stop and click pictures by the mile. Thats me. But Harsha managed to contain the photobug by making me keep up with his pace. He did catch me sulking from time to time and I was given photo-stop coupons that i was asked to use wisely. And i did….. when we spotted …… the horses chilling out by the bike trail. The sunflower farms. And the fruit farms that are famous for making Snapps. But my favourite view is the beautiful path with this guy ahead of me, setting the pace and challenging me to ride hard. We both were really exhausted by the end of it, but it was all worth it.

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This is one of the last Europe travel posts. I realized i do not want to over share and make a post for every place we have been to. These are a select few. I want to make one more post talking about the tools that helped us plan the trip and helped along the way. And about some travel wisdom acquired. “Are you a changed person?”, i keep getting asked. The answer is yes. Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as i loved making these photographs and writing about my/our experiences. 

Hallstatt, Austria

Posted on September 15, 2014

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One day, Harsha and me climbed into a time machine and decided to check out medieval  Central Europe. And ended up in the town of Hallstatt, an ancient salt mining village. Or that is how we felt. This town looks like it is physically untouched by modernization since the 12th century. It is so unbelievably cute that the Chinese built a replica of it ! It is actually not hard to believe after visiting the place. I would love a replica close to where i live too ! This town was reachable only via the water or through narrow passage like roads. And the village exhausted all the viable real estate that there was no where to grow. And it remained that way for centuries. Now, it looks like a toy village and made us wonder if any real people lived out here or it exists solely for the tourists. We were here to find out. I needed an apothecary and was told tourists dont have such needs and hence they dont have one. The streets are lined by stores selling souvenirs. Most of the houses seen are vacation homes or hotels or restaurants. Fast food here is Kebabs. And the rest of the space is occupied by antique buildings like churches, town hall, etc.

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Questions we asked each other: “Its all made of wood. How does it not rot? will it all crumble?”. “How on earth does this place exist ! its like a toy town”. “Is every local we see here an actor to please the tourists?”. “There is some mediterranean influence, how?”. “Go Kebab is fast food here? I wonder what they would say if they saw the fast food in America”.

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I romanticize the past a lot. I wonder what it would be like to have lived a few hundred years ago. I can even name a few periods and respective countries i wish i lived in. But seeing an ancient relic makes me happy to be alive now. With so many choices in front of me. And all the travelling i can do to experience anything i want, if i put my heart into it.

Dachstein Mountains and J.R.R Tolkien

Posted on September 15, 2014

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“The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


“At the heart of the Salzkammergut region, in the centre of Austria, lies the captivating World Heritage region of Dachstein Salzkammergut. The unique combination of the culture and settlement with breath-taking natural views won the region the UNESCO title of ‘historic cultural landscape of Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut’ as a World Natural Heritage and Wold Cultural Heritage site.” Here in the Inner Salzkammergut region, the diverse landscapes of the Alps are reflected within a small area and the cultural significance of Hallstatt and its salt-based economy date back into pre-history. Even in the Bronze Age, this ‘white gold’ was mined and traded in the upper valley of Hallstatt. Exquisite finds from the so-called ‘graveyard’ confirm this and led researchers to name the entire culture of the time the ‘Hallstatt culture’. Later, salt became an important trade item for the Habsburg Monarchy – causing Salzkammergut to achieve special status within the Kingdom. A rich architectural and cultural heritage is derived from this long-standing tradition of salt mining and trade – all of which contributed to the region being named a World Cultural Heritage Site.

 

2014-09-14_0009 We ended up at the base of this mountain to explore. After doing most of the ascent in a cable car the previous climb in St. Gilgen, we badly wanted to do a long hike. Climb a mountain in the Alps, was a total bucketlist item for me. There were quite a few people at the base of the mountain and all of whom were taking the car up. Everyone we met discouraged us from climbing because they thought we were not equipped for it, didnt look the part and the area was slippery from the rain from the previous day. I started sulking and Harsha obliged. He was especially mad at me for my choice of shoes. In the name of minimalistic packing, i left my vibrams at home. And i paid the price for it along the hike. Everyone who advised us against it was right. We were under equipped, it was a hard climb and very slippery all along. But we had to do it.

“Adventures are not all pony-rides in May-sunshine.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

2014-09-14_0010“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien.

2014-09-14_0011“Little by little, one travels far” ― J.R.R. Tolkien.

2014-09-14_0014 “Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten gold.” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien.

2014-09-14_0013“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”  

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

2014-09-14_0012“In western lands beneath the Sun
The flowers may rise in Spring,
The trees may bud, the waters run,
The merry finches sing.
Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night,
And swaying branches bear
The Elven-stars as jewels white
Amid their branching hair.”

2014-09-14_0015“And then her heart changed, or at least she understood it; and the winter passed, and the sun shone upon her.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King.

IMG_7146“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

IMG_1819“For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

IMG_1830“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on on the story.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

St. Gigen, Austria

Posted on September 15, 2014

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“Harsha, did we die and somehow end up in heaven? But i am really bad”.  

Its not about going places. Or being in places. But the people. Not just the ones we meet. But about us. Travel tests courtship. I really believe that. I also believe you should never travel with anyone whom you dont love. We headed out to Austria in the inter country train from Munchen. We were a few stops away from Salzburg ( of Sound of Music fame ). And our train breaks down. They announce something in German and all the locals get down. There we were, lost. And no body spoke english. Standing outside this tiny station with no facilities. Not knowing what to do. And i fell apart, not knowing what to do and was prancing all over the place. Harsha stayed calm and composed. And it all sorted out by itself. I learn a little about Harsha. And he about me ……. We made it Salzburg. The train ride was very picturesque. We couldnt stop staring outside the window. And no pictures i took did justice to what my eyes experienced. I am beginning to think i am a country side person with an occasional need for the urban living. We drove down to St. Gilgen which was another awsome drive. Harsha started with the trail hunt for us the minute we got here. We acquired all the maps we could and i was presented with the following choices: 1. Hike all the way up for 7-8 hours and come down in the cable car. 2. Take a cable car up and do some trails that loop around the top of the alps. I picked the second option. I regretted it the minute i got into the cable car. We could see the ones who are toiling the alps over sitting in a car and i hated the feeling.

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 Once we got to the top, we saw tourists sitting outdoors enjoying some Russn. It was extremely tempting but we set out to do a loop trail on the top. We wanted to earn our beer. We had to. The realization that we were up on the Alps beat everything else …

2014-09-14_0005 The hills are alive,
With the sound of music
With songs they have sung
For a thousand years
– Sound of Music.

One has to be up on the Alps to really feel every word in this song. The sound of music on the mountains? The cow bells. Its constant. Its everywhere. And its totally melodious. I envy these cows for what they have. The view. The abundance of food. The ranchers who seem very kind. The slow living they seem to experience. The baby cow in the picture above, he stopped what ever he was doing and followed me. I was a tad scared but extremely flattered. I wanted to be Heidi. I felt like a Heidi.

“Because I would rather be with my grandfather on Alp than anywhere on earth.” ― Johanna Spyri, Heidi

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“Harsha, beetle !!”. “Oh my god, we will never finish our trail. Can i hold the camera?”

“I need a portrait of that beautiful cow.” “Okay, you tackle from that side and i will from this side. Lets go ! “

I only want to travel with Harsha. Its such an intimate experience and i get to do all these things because of him. #loveletter

IMG_1623 Totally badass things to do other than hiking. Para-gliding. We sat our tired legs down on these slopes and watched them. They would come with their big backpacks. Skillfully spread them out. Wait for the wind. Run off the slopes and fly. Watching them was an adrenaline rush. Cant imagine what it must really be like for the ones living it. I helped one of them set up his sail. Something for me to take home: I helped !

2014-09-14_0004 “A man on foot, horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than a motorized tourist can in a hundred miles” – Edward Abbey.

2014-09-14_0006 St. Giglen had this spell over Harsha. I have seen him blown away by the beauty of landscapes and places before. His eyes when we were driving the Pacific Coast Highway were like that of a childs. Too happy. And he was much more enamored by this place than i have ever seen him. He would refer to this town as ‘our place’ for the rest of the trip and compare everything to here. Just when we thought its beauty had peaked, it rained. We bought an umbrella and got to the lake. We found a tiny shack outside by the street. They had a chalkboard with list of 4 kinds of local seasonal fish. He had a tiny grill on which he made the fish. And served it with Russn and deep fried garlic naan like bread. It was an epic meal and i will remember it for a long long time.

2014-09-14_0002 Above left : At sunset. The lake by which we stayed. Harsha kept running outdoors to stare at it.  Above right: We were going on a evening walk. There was a barricade which said ‘no entry’. Harsha stopped me from going in. And this elderly couple crossed it and kept going. Hand in hand. #lifeLessons.

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I picked up some local honey. What makes honey awsome? The bees travel, a lot. And collect the valuable ingredients to make it. Holistic health experts say eating local honey will help with allergies? why? because you get exposed to a variety of elemental ingredients from the location. I wanted something that encompasses the elements of the Alps. The foodie in me picked up some honey before we left. I wanted something that was created using all the amazing-ness of the mountains. Dear Universe, thank you for everything.

Krems an der Donau

Posted on September 14, 2014

IMG_2065 Harsha found us this place. Krems is a tiny village in Austria, with a population of 20 thousand people. Most of them older. Walking around the train station got us many many glances. We had teenage girls ask us “how do you say i love you in Indian?” and talk about Bollywood once we told them we are from India. I dont think this place gets a lot of tourists and lots of local were surprised we ended up here. But Harsha finds us the most awsome places and this place didn’t escape his radar. Krems is one of the villages along the Donau river and is a wine pocket. We stayed on a vineyard called Wein-Gut Hutter.

2014-09-13_0001 The vineyard is one the oldest family owned vineyards in this area. It is managed by the sweetest amazing hostess Edeltraud Thaler shown in the picture above and by Chef Patrick Friedrich. We celebrated our anniversary out here by dining chef’s curation of local food and sampling the house wines. This was also a much needed break from hostels, overnight train journeys and backpacking. I have been to Napa, which is absolutely beautiful but being in a rural country side made this experience different from the one in California. Both beautiful.

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The sunrises out here are spectacular. Who would have imagined ! I am an instagram addict. I see sun rise over the mountains, the lakes, the ice, over the pines,…. but seeing beams of warm sunlight through the grapes was something else.

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We rented bikes, picked up maps and set out to see the city. We used Nex Bikes for our rental. It is one amazing service which has a few bikes stationed outside each train station almost every city. You can pick up a bike any where and drop it off else where near a bike stand. They have an app that you can use to pay and obtain the lock code for the bike lock. I love how Europe is doing its bit in encouraging this citizens to bike. We had to support this business and were really impressed with it. These weren’t the bikes that we would have picked for long distance biking, given a choice. We both own cyclotron bikes in America and are rather spoilt by them. But they were really convenient and did the job for us.

2014-09-13_0004 Biking around town == biking along small mud paths along vineyards. And the old town was this cobble stoned streets with cute buildings from the past. We soon ended up at the ruins of Burgruine Dürnstein. The castle is known for being one of the places where Richard I of England was imprisoned after being captured near Vienna by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, in 1192. Its now a skeleton of stones and steps. “All our pictures from this trip are us climbing up the stairs”, Harsha exclaimed. We ended up here after having spent some time in St. Gilgen and hiking up the alps. More stairs was something we dreaded but the views of the village from the top made it all worth it. And this was a day when i realize i married a younger guy with a lot of energy and i was struggling to keep up. Things you do for love !

krems ruins castle Above Left: Climbing. Never ends. And we readily seem to do more everywhere. Above Right: The ruins. Beautiful stone. Above Center: He is smiling in this picture for a photograph that he set up. Voluntarily. Thats extremely rare. There is me, tired and exhausted. And anxious about camera sitting on this rock by itself. Below: View from the top.

IMG_2199If i could go back to a place i have already been to, i would pick Krems. “We will always have Krems”.

Praha

Posted on September 11, 2014

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Prague is the city that surprised me the most. We planned to travel the urban Germany, country side and mountains in Austria and the historical ancient cities in Czech Republic. We landed in the wee hours in Prague when the whole city was sleeping. First impressions: city with old buildings and monuments. Four in the morning equals very empty streets. This was also one of the last days in Europe. We sat by the Prague Castle and waited for the sun to rise. We met a fellow traveller Jin from London, whom we met in the train station, who joined us. It was one of those days where we were tired and the sun refused to do its job. So the waiting began.

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Things you notice when you are bored and sitting in front of a closed castle after an overnight train: Above: The fathers and nuns. They seem to be the first people to wake up. This nice priest even posed for a picture with a big smile for me. Below: The architecture. Particularly the doors. They were so many of them and all ornate and beautiful.

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Next round of boredom. You start noticing the figurines that stand on the castle. And Harsha starts to make up stories on what each gruesome figure might mean culturally. “I bet they bought their enemies here through the entrance and beat them with that bat. And then stabbed them like that ….. I need coffee. ” “I bet that is why those guards don’t move. They will meet with the same fate if they do.” ….. ” I need coffee.”

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But Charles Bridge at sunrise was a whole other experience. It was one rare time of the day when its not swarmed with tourists. We later realized, as to how stressful crossing this bridge can be since it had a few hundred tourists at all times, most of whom seemed like taking selfies at random instances on the bridge. But 6 am was one time of day when you have it all to yourself. And you are at peace to observe the beautiful nuances of architecture on the bridge.

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Afternoons in Prague were rather hot and boring. We did a few touristy things like visit town square, churches and a few other monuments. I was a little disappointed with it all. But then, street music made up for it all. It was every where. Wherever we went, we could always hear classical music or instrumental covers of the 80s rock.

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Lennon Wall: Another monument that i loved. Apparently, Lennon did some graffiti here during his time. And this wall served as a vent for students to voice their anger during the communist regime. It has been painted upon a lot and his original work is long gone. But the spirit lives. “I am a dreamer too.”

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The best of Prague is the nights out there. Its a Frat boy haven by the night. The city visibly relaxes. Charles bridge gets twice as musical. Its shocking to see the number of tourists on this tiny bridge.  A few hundred maybe? The city is on steroids. The tourists are all walking around, taking photographs of the buildings, collecting souvenirs, sampling Czech delicacies and downing Pilsner. I would have never thought of Prague transforming into a Vegas. We began to realize the presence of night clubs in ancient buildings that look like churches. A five story night club, right by the bridge. Who would have thought. And the streets are full of dressed up people trying to find a place to go dancing. Reminds me of the strip on Las Vegas. This has to be one of my fav summer nights. We sat on the bridge and listened to the music all night.

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