Roasted Phool Makhana (Roasted Lotus Seeds/Fox nuts)

Roasted phool makhana or fox nuts are my favorite evening snack. These are highly addictive and would definitely give popcorn a good run for its money. These yummy and crunchy puffed goodness slightly seasoned with spices is the healthiest version as compared to popcorn for your evening munching.

Phool Makhana is lotus flower’s seed and also go by the name Fox Nuts. These are grown in water and are largely found in India and also in Korea, Japan and Russia. These seeds are known to be highly nutritious and are used all across India in varied forms ranging from snacks, curries and desserts. The fox nuts are high in anti oxidants, high in magnesium, potassium and helps in controlling high blood pressure, it is high in fibre, contain very less amount of saturated fats, high in protein and are considered superior to dry fruits. All these health benefits definitely makes it a very good option as healthy snack for kids as well as adults.

This is a very easy and simple recipe that is ready in under 15mins. I still have to experiment using different spices and flavors. But feel free to add whatever you think might work for this recipe.

 

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups of puffed Phool Makhana/ Lotus Seeds/Fox Nuts (you can easily find packets of the puffed seeds in any Indian Grocery store)

1 tbsp of ghee or oil (try using ghee it imparts a really nice flavor)

1/2  tsp of turmeric powder

1 – 2 tsp of chili powder (add more or less as per desired)

Salt to taste

Method:

1) In a pan heat about 1 tsp of ghee or oil. Once hot add the puffed fox nuts and roast them on a low to medium flame for about 10-12mins until the nuts are nice and crunchy. Once done remove them from the the pan and place it on a bowl or dish.

2) In the same pan add some ghee or oil around 1 to 2 tsp or more if you want. Once hot lower the flame and add the spices and salt and give it a nice mix. Only for a min or so…so that the spices don’t burn.

3) Now add the roasted phool makhana to the spice mix and give it all a good mix for few mins until the nuts are coated with the spices. Switch of the flame and its done. Once cool, store them in an air tight container.

Enjoy these perfectly healthy and crispy phool makhanas with your cup of hot chai or coffee.

So until next time….Happy Cooking!!!! 🙂

Photoessay on Day Trip to Mohonk Mountain House

The season of apples, cozy sweaters, warm drinks, pumpkin spice and beautiful colors……Fall is here. My favorite of all the four seasons.

In the year 2014 we had driven all the way to New Hampshire to see the stunning fall colors. You can check the post here. This year however we decided to give the long drive a skip and instead planned for a short relaxing day trip last weekend at Mohonk Mountain House to catch a glimpse of fall colors. This place was recommended by my husband’s colleagues and I am so glad they did. After a quick research online, we decided to book a BBQ lunch which also included access to the resort and evening tea and snacks. We were initially planning for brunch but those were all fully booked. So early bookings are highly recommended. I won’t be discussing much in detail about the resort as their website gives you all the information that is needed. Instead I would love to share few pictures of our little day trip.

The resort is a huge property and they have several things to offer some of which includes their very popular spa services, various recreational activities, hiking trails and many more.

The historic Mohonk Mountain House is located in New Paltz, NY on the shore of Lake Mohonk. It was around an hour and half drive from our home. We had booked lunch at around noon time and while booking we were advised to reach a little early to avoid the weekend traffic. And so we started from home a bit early and reached the resort about an hour and half before our lunch time. So with a good amount of time to spare before lunch, we decided to explore the resort.

As you park your car and make way to the main entrance, the sight of a huge Victorian style castle welcomes you. The historic old monument coupled with the beautiful lake and lush greenery surrounding you, was very refreshing indeed. This place is easily accessible yet it felt like we were in a remote location away from the crowd and city. And to top it all we got lucky since the weather was perfect and this made the overall experience very enjoyable.

Front View of Mohonk Mountain House

Exploring the beautiful property. The color of the leaves were close to its peak

There is something very peaceful about walking in nature. The silence, the light rustle of the leaves, the sweet smell of trees, the call of the birds and the fresh air, the best way to relax and detox your mind. Even though we were here only for a day, I think this place was a really good choice to unwind from the mundane routine of every week.

Perfect timing

I simply loved the area (called the Granary) where the tables for BBQ lunch was set. It was my favorite since the place was completely covered with fallen leaves, surrounded by trees with different colored leaves and with the view of the lake. Just as we were clicking pictures and playing with the leaves (trying to take a slow mo video of me throwing the leaves in the air hahaha 😛 …..you can check it out here), a horse carriage passed by making for a perfect picture.

Tables all set for Lunch

Our lunch included some pasta salad, some greens, roasted potatoes and burger

Post lunch it was time for some paddle boating. Best way to unwind since it is not as tiring as rowing :P. The paddle boating was $15 for half an hour which was more than enough to go around the lake.

Clicked from the boat

They also have a designated area near the boating for fish feeding.
Here fishy fishy fishy!!!!

I would definitely recommend this place to anyone who is looking for a relaxing weekend getaway. Did you like the post and pictures? Let me know in the comments below. Have great week ahead everyone.

ROME – Europe Vacation Part 1

So finally our mini Euro trip happened. I said finally…. because…. it was on our mind since quite some time. Like every traveler’s bucket list, Europe was always on our list but it was not until the beginning of this year that we actually started planning. To tell you all the truth, initially the thought of planning a Euro trip was a bit intimidating. Europe is enormous, intriguing, beautiful and is filled with plethora of history, culture, architecture and good food. With so many beautiful countries to choose from, it was definitely not easy to decide. Anyhow… since it was our very first Euro trip, we caved in for the most popular destinations, Italy and France
 
And like I mentioned in my last post, we decided to go for the big three.. Rome, Florence and Venice in Italy and for France it had to be Paris.
Rome, Italy’s capital was by far our favorite of all the places that we saw in Europe. Roman empire, historical monuments such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Vatican city, Vatican museums and the beautiful architecture are some of the reasons why Rome is such a sought after tourist destination. 
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” is an adage you must have heard a lot. This proverb emphasizes on the fact that it takes a lot of time to create or build great things. It is only once you see Rome up close that you truly understand the meaning of this saying. It is brimming with ancient architecture that is so beautifully carved and intricate, that it makes you wonder whether such architectural marvels are even humanly possible to make. No… I am not exaggerating when I say this. I was simply blown away by the architecture surrounding me. This was a major topic of discussion during our entire trip.

Here are some helpful tips that you may want to consider and keep in mind while planning your trip to Rome.

1) Taxis: First and foremost, the moment you step out of the airport lookout for white colored cabs that have a sign bearing “TAXI” on their roofs. They are the ones that are legit and equipped with meters. We made our very first and crucial mistake by taking a private black colored taxi (from the airport to the Airbnb) that charged us double the amount. Learned from our mistake and only took white cabs whenever we felt the need to. We were fortunate enough and had a good experience with the cab drivers during our entire trip. But always be alert and on a lookout for anything that is out of place. Most of them don’t speak English but they do understand if you tell them the name of your destination.
2) AirBnb: If you are booking an Airbnb check out the amenities list and reconfirm by asking the host about air conditioning and or ceiling fan/standing fan/table fan especially if you are traveling during summer season. Our Rome Airbnb had centralized air conditioning but unfortunately that was not the case with Florence, Venice and Amsterdam.
3) Elevators: Again, if you are considering an Airbnb always check which floor the apartment is located and whether the building has an elevator. Our building had an elevator but for some weird reason we were not allowed to use it (the building tenants have separate key to use the elevator) and was only to be used by the tenants. We packed light and hence thought a few flight of stairs wouldn’t be a problem. But trust me, climbing the stairs would be last thing on your mind after a long tiring day of sight seeing.

4) Commute: Take the bus whenever possible. When checking google maps initially you might be tempted walking it off to all of the nearby attractions. I know walking is the best way to explore Europe, but trust me… by that I mean “really really trust me” when I tell you, try not to walk all the time. Try to find a closest bus station and take the bus as much as you can.

5) Bookings: If you are going to do the tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Vatican Museum and other museums make sure to book  your entry tickets or guided tour tickets in advance. This way you can easily avoid huge lines and save time. These places attract the highest number of tourists hence booking your tickets in advance is a must.

6) Footwear: If you are planning on walking a lot then slip onto something comfortable like flats, or loafers or your favorite pair of sneakers. Since the roads there are all cobble stones be smart and avoid heels altogether.

7) Eat Local: I couldn’t emphasis on this enough. You might have to forget all the dieting and simply give in to the delicious food Italy has to offer. Pizza, pasta and tiramisu was our regular food while we here followed by truck loads of gelato for dessert.

Now that I have covered few of the important travel tips this is what our itinerary for Rome looked like:

We also made a rough plan on a website called visitacity.com which was quite helpful but at the same time made some last minute changes as and when required.

Day 1:

Check-in at Airbnb- Lunch – Castel Sant’Angelo – Victor Emmanuel Monument

Our flight was supposed to be a direct flight from JFK to Rome but there was some last minute changes and instead we had a stop over at Paris and from there we took another flight to Rome. So we reached 1-2 hours late as opposed to our earlier flight. Made the very first big mistake of hiring a private cab, once in the cab we got in touch with our Airbnb host and reached at the given address in around 40mins. Our Airbnb was located centrally and was at a walking distance from the Vatican city. Apart from the stairs, the Airbnb, our home for the next 4 days was very cozy and comfortable in every sense. Totally loved the retro vibes of the apartment.

Our Airbnb in Rome. Very cozy and comfortable and most importantly was equipped with centralized air conditioning.

Once settled in we freshened up, changed and left for lunch nearby with our camera and other essentials in hand.

Our very first Lunch at Rome – Uhhhhh not a fan
Gelatooooooo….Yes pleasseeeee
Gelatoooo time

Post lunch it was time to explore. The Castel Sant’Angelo was one of the nearest attraction located at a walking distance of 10 mins from our Airbnb. We didn’t go inside, instead only clicked few photos from outside while gaping at the beautiful bridge of the angels.

Castel Sant’Angelo
St. Peter’s Basilica
Across the bridge and a little walk further ahead and we were welcomed by the enormous sight of the gorgeous St. Peter’s Basilica. Since we had allotted a different day to explore St. Peter’s Basilica, without wasting any time we found our way to the nearest bus stop, purchased tickets from the ticket vending machine at the stop and boarded the bus that would take us to our next attraction for the day which was the gigantic Victor Emmanuel Monument.

Victor Emmanuel Monument is a monument built in the honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy. It is located between Piazza Venezia and Capitoline Hill. I won’t be discussing much of the history but would love to share some of the pictures that we clicked instead.

Victor Emmanuel Monument
View of Piazza Venezia from the monument
For dinner we opted for a little pizza place that was around 10 – 15mins walk from our Airbnb. Hubby ordered pizza while I settled for ravioli with pesto sauce and for dessert we ordered tiramisu. The food was absolutely delish. The ravioli was sooooooo good. And this was the place where we had the most amazing tiramisu ever.

Day 2:

Vatican Museums – The Sistine Chapel – St. Peter’s Square – Trastevere – Janiculum Hill

The highlight of our Rome trip was certainly the enormous and gorgeous Vatican Museum. We both are not great art enthusiasts but walking through all the beautiful Roman artifacts and paintings left us spellbound. We had booked the the entrance tickets to the Museum well in advance and hence were able to skip the very very long line. The ticket includes the Vatican Museum and entrance to the Sistine Chapel (where photography is not permitted). If you are an art enthusiast I would suggest booking a guided tour because the museum is enormous. I had downloaded free audio guide by Rick Steves and that was quite helpful for me. So if you are not interested in guided tours you could certainly download a free audio guide and walk through the museum. The only thing that dampened the whole experience was the crowd. The museum was very very crowded which made the whole experience a bit annoying. But after all its “The Vatican Museum” and everyone wants to see it.
The ceilings were unbelievably stunning
The popular Bramante staircase

So after the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, our next stop was Trastavere and the Janiculum Hill. We hired a cab to Trastevere where we had some lunch, which was some delicious pizza followed by some mandatory gelato. The walk to Janiculum hill turned out to be long one which we were certainly not expecting. Nevertheless, the view was really good from up there and you could practically see entire Rome. We also had some fun spotting all the attractions from top.

I would highly recommend La Boccaccia, a little pizza place in Trastavere. You can order the length of the pizza of your liking and they will cut it and weigh it before cooking. This was by far the most delicious and good value for money pizza. We also packed some extra to devour later.
Beautiful bylanes of Trastavere
A cute little Gelateria in Trastevere
Janniculum Hill – View from the top
Can you spot the Colosseum?

Day 3:


Colosseum – Palatine Hill – Roman Forum – Piazza Novona – The Pantheon – Trevi Fountain

The magnificent Colosseum was truly a memorable experience. An altogether different feeling looking at it up close as compared to the endless pictures of this beautiful structure on all forms of social media. The beauty, craftsmanship and its sheer size can only be deduced when you come face to face with it. In my opinion it is best to opt for a guided tour of the Colosseum. You will get to learn so much. We booked a guided tour for the upper tier and the lower tier which are not accessible to the general public and can only be seen through a guided tour. The tickets also included guided tour of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.


View from the upper most tier was truly spectacular
The Lower Tier
The Roman Forum
It is basically a rectangular plaza consisting several ruins. They are basically ancient ruins that comprises of important ancient government buildings while the Palatine Hill, the most famous amongst Rome’s seven hills, was home to aristocrats and emperors. You will certainly need a guide while walking the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hills since there are no signs or boards explaining what the ruins are.
Palatine Hill
The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica can be seen from the Palatine Hill.

Piazza Navona

We winded up our third day by strolling at Piazza Novona, quick tour of the Pantheon and checking out the most famed Trevi Fountain. For dinner we decided to try out a small restaurant right below our Airbnb.

Piazza Navona is a beautiful and colorful plaza with some very ornate fountains. You will also find many hawkers, street artists and restaurants. A good place to hangout after a tiring day of sight seeing.
The Pantheon
The Pantheon was a former Roman temple and now a church. It is also the most imitated piece of architecture. And why wouldn’t it be…this ancient building is a fantastic piece of architecture. Even though it was bit crowded when we visited, the line moved quickly and we we were in and out without any hassle. It is supposedly a very old building and the best preserved ancient Roman monument. This one is a must see indeed.
While on our way to the Pantheon, we came across this beautiful church the name of which I cannot recollect now. I will update it if I am able to find the name online.

Trevi FountainOne of the most popular and stunning fountains in the world, Fontana de Trevi. Be prepared to also be amazed to see thousands of tourists around this fountain if you are planning to visit in Summer. The Trevi fountain draws the most tourist of all. You guys might feel that I am only cribbing about the crowds but it was so crowded that we hardly got any chance to click a decent picture let alone sit on the steps and gaze at this beauty. But crowds aside this fountain is simply a marvel and should be on your must see list when in Rome.

The Crowd

Day 4:

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica and climbing St. Peter’s cupola – Galleria Borghese – Spanish Steps – Piazza di Spagna – Mercato Centrale 

Last started off pretty early for us as we wanted to see St. Peter’s Basilica minus all the crowd. That was only possible if we went there as soon as the basilica was open to the public. As we reached the St. Peter’s square at around 7am, to our delight we saw only a handful of tourists waiting in the security line. Again I had downloaded a free audio guide and was listening to it on my earphones as we headed to the entrance.
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest church in the world and is considered the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture. It is regarded as one of the holiest and greatest of all the churches in Christendom. A beautiful basilica from inside and outside, you will be amazed by the huge pillars, architecture and beautiful intricate sculptures. Make sure to also visit the dome when you are here. You have to pay a small fee to visit the dome but the climb is totally worth it and the view from top is really good. Note that the entrance to the “cupola” or the dome is on the far right. There are signs put up and you will be able to spot it easily. You can take an elevator up to the roof level and from there it is a climb of around 551 steps in total to the dome.
Inside the Basilica
View from top of the Dome
The Dome

Next stop – Galleria Borghese is again for the art enthusiasts. To tell you the truth we didn’t spend much time here and headed towards our next stop for the day. Ohhhh….fun story…as we were waiting for the bus we noticed that sidewalks on both sides of road were planted with orange trees and we could see big and huge oranges hanging all around and as always my inquisitive hubby was trying to figure out a way to pluck some. Hahahaha.

Our last attraction for the day was a huge disappointment. The Spanish steps and Piazza di Spagna was buzzing with tourists. Also the buildings next to the steps were under construction which didn’t make for a good picture. It was a very hot and humid day and to top it all the crowd made the experience less exciting for us.
The Spanish Steps
 
Our last and final stop for the day Mercato Centrale located in Rome’s termini station was a pleasant experience. Here you will find almost all artisan vendors under one roof. We tried pizza, some chicken and tiramisu. They were all good although I simply loved the food that we had in the local restaurants. 

So this was our 4 day itinerary for Rome. We thoroughly enjoyed our very city in Europe even though the climate was way hotter than we expected but we compensated by eating loads of gelato. And the food here was simply amazing. We had some of the most delicious pizzas, pastas made from the freshest ingredients and also got the opportunity to taste some of their regional delicacies as well.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post and pictures. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment and if you liked this post do share it with your friends.

Photo Credits: My Husband 🙂 If you want to check more photos by him do check out his Instagram account here 

Signing off with some night photos of Rome.

Baingan Bharta (with green onions)

How many of you all like Eggplant/ Aubergine or Brinjal – as it is popularly known in India? I am sure there are many of you who have a love-hate relationship with this vegetable (errrr…I think its a fruit technically…..but that is an another topic for discussion). Same is the case with my husband. On days when I make some simple sabji using baby eggplants and potato, he will compensate it by having lots of pickle or papad or salad on the side with roti……hahahaha. But fortunately Baingan Bharta (oh by the way…baingan means eggplant in Hindi) or roasted eggplant stir fry is an exception. In fact he even enjoys Baba ghanoush a lot (its a Mediterranean dip made with broiled/roasted eggplant and tahini) which is some what similar to Baingan Bharta. I think its the smoky flavor of the roasted eggplant that gives both these dishes a unique flavor. So even in baingan bharta the eggplant is roasted until its tender and charred to perfection. The smoky flavor is what makes Baingan Bharta so irresistibly yummy. I love eggplants especially Baingan Bharta, its my absolute favorite.

 
Baingan bharta originated in the state of Punjab, India. However it is very popular all across India and there are many different versions of it. In this post I will be sharing my version which happens to be my mothers version and that involves the use of green onions or spring onions. I am sure this version is also very common but this is how we make it at home most of the time. If you don’t have green onions or simply want to make it without green onions, skip it and simply follow the rest of the recipe.    

After living in US for over 4 years now, I have noticed that the type of eggplant that you buy makes a lot of difference. I have tried the large American eggplants previously for this recipe but trust me it doesn’t work. The large eggplants in my opinion are less flavorful, thick skinned and take a lot of time to cook. Moreover it cooks very unevenly and the skin doesn’t come of easily after roasting. I usually look for smaller eggplants, here they are labeled as Italian eggplants and these are the best kinds for preparing Baingan Bharta. They are far more tastier than the larger eggplants, thin skinned and takes a lot less time to cook. So next time whenever you are planning to make this dish lookout for eggplants that are smaller in size, has smooth shiny skin and the stem is nice green in color and not brown. On that note, lets checkout the recipe.

Ingredients:

Serves 2 people

2 medium sized eggplants
1 medium sized onion – chopped
1 small to medium sized tomato -chopped
2 – 3 stalks of spring onion or green onions – chopped (greens and whites separated)
1 tsp of garlic grated/paste
1 tsp of ginger grated/paste
1/4 tsp of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp of red chili powder/kashmiri chili powder
1 tsp of coriander powder
1/2 tsp of cumin seeds
1/4 tsp of garam masala (optional)
1 – 2 tbsp of oil
Salt to taste
Cilantro/Coriander leaves for garnishing
Feel free to adjust the spice level as per your liking. 

Method:

1) Wash and wipe the eggplants. Apply little oil all over the eggplant and place it on the gas stove for roasting. You can do this by directly placing it on the open flame or placing it on a wire rack like the one I have in the pic. Keep turning the eggplant after every 1 to 2 mins. It will not take more than 15 mins to roast the eggplants completely. Check if they are cooked completely by inserting a knife. If the knife goes in very easily then they are done. Remove from the wire rack and place them in a bowl and close it with a lid. I feel that this additional step helps in retaining the smoky flavor.
Note: You can also bake or broil the eggplants in the oven. I have tried baking, it doesn’t give the same smoky flavor. But you can give broiling a try. 
2) Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, start peeling of the skin and cut of the stem. All that you will be left with will be the soft inner flesh. Roughly chop with a knife or simply use a fork to mash them (see pic) and keep it aside.
3) Heat oil in a non stick pan, once hot add cumin seeds and let them splutter. Add chopped onions and white part of green onions. Cook the onions on a medium flame till they are translucent and cooked through. Then add the grated ginger and garlic and sauté for few seconds till the raw smell goes away. Add the chopped tomatoes sauté for few mins followed by adding all the spices which is turmeric powder, chili powder, coriander powder and salt to taste. Cook this masala until the masalas are fragrant and tomatoes are mashed.
4) Now add the mashed eggplant to the masala and mix nicely. Cover the pan with a lid and cook on a low – medium flame for around 5- 8 mins. Open the lid and add the final ingredient that is the chopped greens of the green onions. Mix and let it cook for another 2 – 3 mins. Check and adjust salt and finish of with very little garam masala powder (optional) and switch off the flame. And finally garnish with chopped cilantro/coriander leaves.

Serve hot with phulkas or rotis/chapatis.

So until next time…..Happy Cooking 😊

Snippets from Our Mini Euro Trip!!!

I know…. I know….It’s been a while since I wrote my last blogpost!😖

If you are following me on Instagram (if not, I think you should 😛 ) you must be aware that we are back from our 2 week long vacation to Europe. So let me update you guys real quick.

Last few months was quite crazy with us planning our mini Euro trip, listing all the possible places to visit, places to eat and communicating with the host’s of Airbnb at each location. We had a packed schedule for every single day. Since this was our first major Europe vacation, we wanted to cover as much as we could without missing out on any must see attractions. But I think maybe we should have taken it a little easy. Although our trip turned out to be amazing, we were super tired and exhausted by the end of it.

So before I write a detail account of each of the places we visited and skim through thousands of pics that we clicked, select and edit all of it, I thought why not start with a little snippet of our trip instead for my readers. Sounds good?
Our original plan was Italy and France. For Italy we selected the famous big three, Rome, Florence and Venice and without doubt for France we selected Paris. Paris was our last stop and we had designated 6 days for Paris. But as we started off we were almost done checking out all of the major tourist attractions and still had 3 more days. This lead to an unplanned and impromptu trip to Amsterdam which is a 3 hour train ride from Paris. We ended up spending one night in Amsterdam.

Anyhow…….here is a sneak peak of our trip . 😀

Photo Credit: Hubby dearest

ROME:

This pic was clicked from the top of Victor Emmanuel Monument, Rome. Do you see the Colosseum?
The mandatory touristy pose near the mighty Colosseum 😛
Pantheon
St. Peter’s Basilica

FLORENCE:

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – Florence Cathedral
This one was clicked from Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence

VENICE:

AMSTERDAM:

PARIS:
Stay tuned for more pics and stories from all of the places we visited in Europe.

Thank you for stopping by. Have a great weekend and Happy 4th of July!!!!

Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley

This post is going to be a photoessay on our impromptu trip to Arizona and Las Vegas 😄. Impromptu trips almost always turns out to be the best ones, don’t you think? In this post I will be sharing only the pics from our trip to Arizona and not Vegas, as I have already shared pics of Vegas on my blog from our previous trip few years back.

In the month of February there was a long weekend, hubby had 4 days off and the same weekend was also my birthday. I had no special plans for my birthday or for the long weekend. All I had in my head was spending some quality time with hubs or maybe go out for dinner some place decent and maybe catch up with friends. To my surprise out of nowhere he suggested that we go somewhere instead of staying home. It had been a long time since we did a short trip. Our last vacation was in June 2016 to Alaska with friends (you can read all about it here) and since then we had not been to any place. Both of us were really missing all the fun of traveling and exploring. So this was the right time and opportunity to plan one and hence we didn’t think twice. That is how the same night we found ourselves sitting on the sofa with our laptops planning our 4 day trip to Arizona and Las Vegas. Since all this was last moment, the flight tickets turned out to be the expensive part of the trip. The other drawback of impromptu vacation planning, the WEATHER. Although Arizona was not that cold as compared to what we have here in the East Coast, we were certainly not expecting any rains. Unfortunately the weather for the entire weekend predicted rain showers and clouds. Now this was something that we had no control on. With flight tickets and accommodations all booked, we could only pray that the weather would change its course.

Anyhow in the end this trip turned out to be all that we hoped for. The weather gods were kind enough to us.

We landed on a Thursday night at Phoenix, Arizona, stayed the night at a hotel near the airport and headed to Page, Arizona the next morning. Next morning we went to the airport to pickup the rental car that we had booked and from there it was a 4 hr drive to Page, Arizona. We both decided that each of us will drive for 2 hrs. As we were nearing Page it started raining. Our excitement slowly turned into disappointment because of the weather.
On our way to Page

As soon as we reached Page it was lunch time. Grabbed a quick lunch at John’s Texas BBQ (a must try at Page, loved every bit of it) and then we headed to our hotel, La Quinta to freshen up. By this time to our delight the rain had started to dwindle and stopped completely after a while.

My Birthday Lunch 😛

Finally the rain stopped and it was time to explore. The horseshoe bend was only around 2 – 2.5 miles drive from the hotel and we decided to spend the evening there. It was a very cloudy day hence no chance of witnessing the sunset. Nevertheless we didn’t let the weather spoil our mood. The horseshoe bend overlook was about a mile (roundtrip) from the parking spot. The walk or hike if you may say so is fairly easy, however we would suggest you wear good hiking or sports shoes. Parents who are visiting with kids please be very very careful because the overlook doesn’t have any form of rails to hold onto.

On our way to the overlook

Although we went on an off season, we were pretty surprised to see many tourists. So if you are planning to visit this place in the summer be prepared to come across hoards of tourists. Nevertheless the sight was certainly beautiful and one of a kind, just like the pictures you come across on Instagram. We spent a good 1 – 1 1/2 hr at this spot. Later we headed for dinner, went back to the hotel booked tours for Upper and Lower Antelope canyons for the next morning and called it a day.

The Horseshoe Bend

Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons:

The next morning after having light breakfast, we drove to the office of the tour company from where we had to take the bus for Upper Antelope Canyon. Once we reached there, we collected our tickets and waited for the bus. Just so that you know, there are no restrooms near the canyons so use the ones available at the tour office before you hop onto to the bus.

For the Upper Antelope Canyon there are basically two tours to choose from one is the regular scenic tour and the other is a photography tour. We are no professional photographers, so we did the regular scenic tour. You cannot go in alone to visit the canyons. The canyons can be visited exclusively through guided tours only as the canyons can flood very easily during monsoon season and this can be very dangerous. The tour operators that we chose for Upper Antelope Canyon was Navajo Tours.

It was a cloudy day and the sun was nowhere to be seen. Although the Upper Antelope Canyon was beautiful, it was very very dark the whole time and hence we hardly got any good pictures. Sunshine or not, the whole experience was totally worth it. On the other hand the lighting at the Lower Antelope Canyon was much more better and as per our opinion the Lower Antelope was even more beautiful that the Upper. Its simply hard to believe that these beautiful structures and its mesmerizing grooves were formed primarily by erosion of the sandstone as a result of flash flooding. These canyons are simply nature at its best. Take a look at some of the pictures and you can decide for yourselves.

Tip: Cover you cameras with your scarves or bandanas to avoid the crevices of the lenses to be filled with sand at the end of the day. 

Some pics of the Upper Antelope Canyon:

Lower Antelope Canyon:

Even for a very cloudy day, the Lower Antelope Canyon was much more brighter and clearer as compared to the Upper. It is a little longer and narrower in some spots. Unlike Upper Antelope Canyon, this one requires climbing up and down a few flight of stairs. I think overall its fairly easy but it may be a tad bit difficult for people with knee problems or who find climbing a few flight of stairs daunting. The guide we had was very nice. She gave us a lot of info and once inside the guides will also tell you how to adjust the settings of your camera as well as your phone camera. In addition to that they will also help you click pictures of yourselves. The tour operators that we chose for this tour was Dixie Ellis’.


Exiting the Lower Antelope Canyon. Awesome experience.

Monument Valley, Utah:

We finished the Lower Antelope Canyon tour by afternoon and since we had some more time left for the day we decided to check out Monument Valley in Utah which was about 2 hrs from Paige, Arizona. Once we reached Monument Valley we did the Monument Valley Loop Drive which consists of 11 stops/overlooks. The loop drive is pretty much straight forward and all the stops/overlooks are numbered. It is the best and the quickest way to explore this spectacular place. The drive along the loop can get a bit rough in some areas but nothing that a regular car cannot withstand. Although a 4×4 would be much more easy I would say.

Monument Valley is one of the most popular and a must see place in the west coast of USA. Many Hollywood movie scenes were shot at this stunning place. The sand dunes and buttes are super huge and you will only realize its sheer size once you see this place for yourself. It was a very surreal experience. I would highly recommend this place. A must see indeed.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any questions or just want to say hi, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Collecting memories and experiences (not things) – My Bucket List for 2017

Hello Everyone!!!!! It’s March already can you believe that??? But wait… where is Spring? 😑 Just when I thought it was here we were hit by snow showers last week and a big snow storm 2 days back. The temperature has dropped drastically and all I can think about is Summer!! But I am sure it will be here before we know it.
So before summer greets us into its warm embrace, I am all ready with my bucket list of activities and events that I wish to experience this summer. Now when I think about it, this is actually a very good way to sit back, contemplate and think about all the experiences that you wish to have rather than impulse buying for a change. Give that expensive bag or a shoe or any “thing” that you may see on an Instagram feed or Pinterest or any social media for that matter a pass this time around. Simply think about what truly makes you happy. For me its the small, simple moments of life. One of my blogger friends (Sonal) had asked me to list 10 things that make me happy on Instagram some time back. Without thinking twice I listed 10 things that make me happy only to realize later that I had listed my “memories and experiences” and not “things”. Some may find my happy list very simple and mundane but when you think about it, it is the little moments of life, the times that you spend with your loved ones, family and friends that you will remember and cherish forever.
Someone very aptly said that –
“Fill your life with experiences and not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show”

We have already kick started this year by attending a Bollywood dance workshop, an impromptu trip to Arizona and Vegas and played very fun point scoring game of golf with friends for the very first time 😀.

So this is my bucket list for Summer 2017:

1) Travel to a new country – By now you all know how much I and my husband love traveling. We have been planning to visit Europe (at least one or two countries) for a while now. We feel a bit lost and incomplete if we are not traveling. Traveling is something that we are very passionate about. Hoping that this time around everything will fall into place (fingers crossed) and we will soon be on our way to a new place, learning about a new culture, tasting new food and most of all collecting new memories.

2) Celebrate Holi, Festival of Colors – Holi was celebrated few days back in India. Holi, the Hindu festival of colors is celebrated to signify the victory of good over evil, arrival of spring and end of winter. I simply cannot remember the last time that I celebrated Holi. Goshhhh that was a long time back. I do miss all the fun of playing with colors, water and not to mention the delicacies that comes along with it. Spring is yet to arrive in my part of the world so it was kind of impossible to celebrate Holi at this time of the year. However, there are some upcoming Holi events in the month of April and May in NYC. Definitely planning to attend one with our friends this time around.
3) Go biking at Central Park – We enjoy biking and did it on a regular basis when we lived in Austin. However after moving back to New Jersey we haven’t gone biking even once. Sighhh… I do miss biking a lot. Can’t believe that it’s been a little more than 2 years already. This is something we think about doing every summer but somehow never gets materialized and we end up canceling it or simply plan other things. This summer though I have decided not to give this one a pass. It is happening for sure.

4) Go Cherry or Berry Picking – This is definitely a fun activity which can be done with your partner, friends, family and kids. Something surprisingly we still haven’t done.

5) Go Hiking – We are not regular hikers but we both thoroughly enjoy it. Hiking almost always finds its way on our travel plan. This is best way to get close to nature and most of the time to catch a glimpse of some of the most beautiful sceneries. We hiked in Peru, Kauai and Alaska as well. Although we still have to decide on a spot but I am sure this one will also be definitely checked off from our list this year.

6) Go to a Chocolate festival – Yes. This one is a must do on my list. Being a foodie and a chocolate lover this one should have been off my list a long time ago. But it’s never too late.

7) Go to a Street Fair – We have been to some of the street fairs before and we certainly don’t mind going again. Being big time foodies how can we possibly miss this. I am already day dreaming about all the yummy wonderful food that we will be having.

8) Play an “Escape the Room” game with friends – So here’s the thing. I am pretty sure that you must have played an Escape the Room game on your smart phone some time or the other. I totally love this game, finding hidden clues, solving mystery puzzles and then finally finding the key to escape. Now what fun it would be if you actually get to do all of it. Ohhhhh soooo exciting!!! Isn’t it? The moment I came to know that there are places in NYC and NJ were you can go with your friends and play this interactive game, I knew I had to do this no matter what.
9) Go on a picnic – Sounds mehhh right. But with all the travel, biking, hiking, cherry picking I think by the end of it a small picnic would be really nice 😀. But no, I really do want to go on a picnic. I love everything about it. Be it preparing and packing lunch, to sitting and relaxing under the shade of a tree some place near a lake, followed by few games of badminton or frisbee etc etc. You get the scene right?
These are some of the activities that we want to do this summer. There are ofcourse more options, so many more activities, events and we might end up doing some other things as well. But I think we are good for now.
So what is on your Summer Bucket List of 2017? Need ideas? Then simply head over to Eventbrite to see if there is anything of your interest, which I am sure there will be. Eventbrite is a free resource that has all of the tools that you will need to plan amazing experiences for your family, friends and even your community. Want to run a marathon? Want to join a cooking class? Or want to go to a dance workshop? EventBrite has got you covered. Search for various events be it music festivals, food, fundraisers, games, workshops etc. You can even plan and upload your very own events and even search numerous other events that are happening around you! So what are you waiting for?? On your mark, Get Set……..EXPERIENCE!!!!

Thank you so much Eventbrite for suggesting such a wonderful blog post idea. This idea was something that I could relate to so much and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it!!! 

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup

Ever since I tried the roasted bell pepper soup from Trader Joe’s (a grocery store here is US) few years back, I had instantly fallen in love with the flavor and the simplicity of the soup. Believe it or not my first experience of this soup was right out of a tetra pak carton 😛. Its quite amazing how just the roasting procedure gives such a boost of flavor to the the peppers and the soup.
So today I will be sharing my version of roasted red bell pepper soup. The first time I made this soup I had included tomatoes as well but somehow I didn’t like the addition of tomatoes or I think I may have added a little too much tomatoes as compared to red bell peppers.  So this time around I made the soup only with red bell peppers and skipped the tomatoes and kept it very simple using very few ingredients. I also have not added any kind of cream in this soup. The end product in itself is so creamy that you will not need cream at all. This soup is perfect for this weather with the warm smoky taste of the red bell peppers and its beautiful creamy texture. Top it off with any of your favorite soup toppings or with some garlic croutons.

This is a small recipe and serves 2 -3 people.

Ingredients:

3 large red bell peppers
1 medium onion chopped
1/3 cup of chopped carrots
3 – 4 cloves of garlic minced
3 cups of low sodium chicken stock/vegetable stock
1/4 tsp of smoked paprika (optional)
1/4 tsp of chili powder
2 tbsp of chopped cilantro/coriander leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 – 3 tsp of oil
Croutons and cilantro leaves for garnishing

For variation in flavor you can also use fresh thyme, bay leaf and or basil.

1) First step is roasting the bell peppers. This is the only time consuming part of this recipe. There are 3 ways in which you can roast the bell peppers.
Stove top: You can roast the bell peppers on the stove top by placing it directly on the gas burner (just like the way we roast eggplants for baingan bharta). Roast and the keep on rotating till the all the sides of the bell pepper has blisters all over and is charred.
In the oven: Pre heat the oven to 500F (260C). Simply wash the bell peppers cut them in half deseed and remove the core. Toss and coat them in little oil and place them cut side down on to a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 25 to 30 mins until they form blisters. Another way is you can place the whole bell pepper on to the baking sheet and put it the oven for 30 – 35 mins.
You can also roast the peppers on a grill if you have one.
So far I have tried the first two methods, stove top and in the oven. Personally I think it is much more easy and less time consuming when they are roasted in the oven.

1) Pre heat the oven to 500F (260C). Wash and wipe the bell peppers. Coat them with little oil and put them on a baking sheet (I did not cut them) and place the baking sheet on second from the top rack of the oven. Set the timer to 30-35 mins and remember to keep turning the bell peppers every 10mins with the help of tongs so that they are roasted evenly.

2) Once they are nicely roasted remove them from the baking sheet and place them in bowl and cover the bowl with a cling wrap or lid and let it rest for 10 – 15mins or until they are warm enough to handle. This process will help to peel of the skin of the peppers very easily.
3) After 15mins or so remove the peppers from the bowl. Cut them in half deseed and remove the core. And then start to peel off the skin. Repeat this procedure with the remaining two peppers.
4) Once all the peppers are cut, deseeded, cored and peeled, roughly chop them and keep them aside. Also do not throw away the liquid that oozes out during this process.
5) In a stock pot or a heavy bottomed pot heat up oil. I used my everyday cooking oil but you can also use olive oil or even butter. Once hot add the minced garlic and cook it on a low to medium flame for few seconds. Now add the onions and saute them for a min. Now add the chopped carrots. Cook until the onions are translucent.
6) Add the smoked paprika and chili powder and saute for few mins. Now add the chopped cilantro and saute. Finally add the roasted red bell peppers with its juice and saute for a min or two. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7) Finally add the chicken stock or vegetable stock. Let it simmer on a low to medium flame for about 15 mins. Check for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if required. Switch off the flame and remove the pot from the stove.
8) Now if you have an immersion blender or hand blender you can blend the soup right inside the pot. If you don’t have an immersion blender then blend the soup in batches in your normal countertop blender. Before you start blending the soup keep it aside for a while to cool down a bit. Do not try to blend the mixture when its too hot.

You have to be very careful while blending. DO NOT fill the blender more than half else your soup will be over the kitchen. Use a kitchen towel to hold the blender and the lid to save your hands from the steam. Also here is a tip, initially give it a few pulses then open the lid and let the steam out. This way there will be less vacuum created because of the steam. Do this a couple of times and then go ahead  and blend the soup until it looks smooth and creamy. Remember to blend the soup in small batches.

9) Transfer the soup again to the pot and reheat as required. Check again for seasoning.
Serve hot with you favorite soup toppings or simply with some croutons. I quickly made some homemade croutons with some left over multigrain bread by using some butter, minced garlic and grated parmesan.

Kothimbir Vadi (Cilantro/Coriander Fritters)

Hello all!!!!! Today I will be sharing the recipe of an Indian snack which brings back fond memories of Mumbai.  😃
Being born and raised in Mumbai and surrounded by Maharashtrian friends had its perks cause I got to eat some delicious food. I love love Maharashtrian food, be it vada pav, misal pav, komdi vade, puran poli, sabudana vada, kande pohe or just the plain old amti bhaat. And Kothimbir Vadi is one such favorite Maharashtrian snack item of mine. Kothimbir Vadi or Cilantro/Coriander Fritters is a popular Maharashtrian snack and I absolutely love munching this with a cup of hot ginger chai. There is an old bakery near my home in India which makes delicious Kothimbir vadis and this used to be one of the regular evening snack at my house and I made sure I grabbed some hot hot vadis on my way back home from college.
Kothimbir Vadis are made using lots of cilantro/coriander leaves, gram flour and spices which is then steam cooked, cut and then shallow fried or deep fried. Kothimbir is the Marathi word for cilantro or coriander leaves. These crispy crunchy fritters are gluten free and can be a healthy snack if it is just pan fried rather than deep fried. My mother in law taught me how to prepare these yummy vadis. This recipe has the perfect amount of cilantro and gram flour. There are other ways of making these vadis which calls for more gram flour in comparison to the cilantro leaves and a batter is made rather than a dough which is then steamed. But I like it this way since the flavor of cilantro/coriander stands out and also has the perfect balance of gram flour (besan). Did you know that cilantro is an amazing herb with a number of health benefits? If you want to know more about this wonderful herb do checkout this very informative article by Oiling Point.

So now lets check out the recipe. 💁

Ingredients:

3 – 4 bunch of cilantro leaves/coriander leaves washed (roughly 4 cups)
2 cups of gram flour (besan)
1 tsp of green chili crushed
1 – 2 tsp of grated ginger
1-1/2 tsp of cumin seeds
1 tsp of chili powder
1 tsp of coriander powder
1/2 tsp of turmeric powder
2 tbsp of roasted peanut powder (optional)
2 tsp of sesame seeds
Salt to taste
2 – 3 tbsp of water or as required
Oil for pan frying or shallow frying

Method:

1) Separate the cilantro leaves from its stem. Wash thoroughly and squeeze out all the excess water. Spread them onto and paper towel. Pat dry and let it air dry for sometime.
2) Roughly chop the cilantro leaves and add it to a big bowl. To the chopped cilantro leaves add crushed green chili, grated ginger, cumin seeds, chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, roasted peanut powder (if you are allergic or do not like peanut this is optional) and salt to taste. Mix everything nicely and keep it side for 5 mins.
3) Now start adding the gram flour to the chopped cilantro mixture little at a time (approx half a cup at a time) and start kneading with your hands. If you feel the mixture is dry and needs water add very little at a time around 1 tsp or so and keep kneading until you use up 2 cups of gram flour (besan) and the mixture forms a soft dough. (As shown in the pic below)
4) Apply oil to your hands and carefully divide the dough into 2 or 3 equal balls. Make logs out of the balls (As shown in the picture below). I made 3 logs since my steamer is small in size and can only fit 2 at time. Also keep in mind that the logs will expand a little when steaming.
5) Get you steamer ready with water. I used Idli steamer for this. Once the water is boiling place the cilantro logs into the steamer plate and stem cook them for 15 – 20 minutes or till they are completely cooked.
6) Remove the cilantro logs from the steamer and let them cool completely.
7) Once cooled cut them into small discs.
8) And then pan fry, shallow fry or deep fry these discs as desired. I pan fried them with 2 – 3 tbsp of oil.
Serve hot with ketchup or green chutney and enjoy these crispy yummy fritters with your evening cup of hot chai or coffee.

Swiss Chard Stir Fry (Swiss Chard Paruppu Thoran)

Happy New year everyone 😃
I am going to keep my first post of 2017 simple and healthy by sharing an easy everyday side dish recipe. This is a very simple recipe and works best on days when you just want something with less oil and masala. 
After moving to US I really miss the fresh green leafy vegetables that we get in India. It is really difficult to find really good and fresh leafy vegetables in Indian stores here and the varieties sometimes are limited to spinach and methi. It is only recently that I stumbled upon some good drumstick leaves. Anyhow all of this prompted me to try the local leafy vegetables available here in US. So far I have tried Collard greens, Kale (curly ones and plain ones) and Swiss chard. And I must tell you that amongst these Swiss chard is by far my favorite. Swiss chard is not only delicious but is also rich in vitamin A, K and C. It also has significant content of vitamin E, magnesium, manganese, potassium and iron. 
I always have a bunch of swiss chard in my weekly grocery list. I just love the flavor of swiss chard compared to the other greens. Also it goes without saying that it makes very delicious thoran. You can easily replace the swiss chard in this recipe with collard greens, kale, cabbage, cauliflower or longs beans. I have already shared long beans thoran earlier on my blog (you can find the recipe here) the only difference in this recipe is that I have included split bengal gram (chana dal) and ginger in this recipe. So lets get cooking shall we?

Ingredients:

2 medium bunch of Swiss Chard or 1 big bunch (I used rainbow chard for this recipe you can use any like red, rainbow or green)
1/2 cup of par boiled split bengal gram/chana dal (cooked till al dente, do not overcook)
1 medium sized onion finely chopped
4 – 5 curry leaves
1/2 tsp of mustard seeds
1 – 2 tsp of oil
Salt to taste

For the coconut masala
1/3 cup freshly grated coconut
1/2 tsp of cumin seeds
1 -2 cloves of garlic
1 inch of ginger
1 – 2 green chilies
1/4 tsp of turmeric powder

Method:

1) First prep the swiss chard leaves. Wash the leaves thoroughly. Tear or cut the leaves and separate it from the stalks. Chop the stalks into small pieces and keep this aside. 
For easy chopping of the leaves, stack one leaf over other, do this with as many leaves as you can and then roll it and then chop it as finely as possible. No hard and fast rule on chopping it finely. Keep it as big or small as you want. Keep the chopped leaves and stalks separately. Also chop the onion and keep it aside.

2) Now in a mixer/blender bowl add the grated coconut, garlic, ginger, green chilies, cumin seeds and turmeric powder. Give it a few pulse until all the ingredients are nicely combined. You just need to give it 2 – 3 pulse else it will form a paste and we don’t want that.

3) In a wide pan or kadai heat oil. Once hot add the mustard seeds and let it splutter. Now add the curry leaves and chopped onions. Saute for few mins till the onions turn translucent.

4) Now add the stalks, saute and cook it for a min or two. The stalks should be added before adding the leaves as it takes a bit more time to cook as compared to the leaves.

5) Now add the prepared coconut masala and the cooked split bengal gram/chana dal.  Saute for a minute till the raw smell of ginger and garlic goes away.

6) Finally add the chopped leaves and salt to taste and mix everything thoroughly. Cook on a low to medium for 10- 12 mins until the leaves are nicely cooked and looks a little dry.

That’s it. Serve hot as a side dish with chapatis, rotis or with rice and any curry.