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Friday, 13 October 2017




My birthday is at the end of September. Growing up, I hated the timing, as it pretty much always fell bang in the middle of mid-term exams in the school year. Mid-terms were really important exams, and the whole middle school would be crammed into the gigantic assembly room to write them. I did get to hand out chocolates to the kids, but my poor folks had to spend way more, as I usually had to give them to the whole of the middle school (some five hundred kids) as opposed to just my class.

Thankfully, October was round the corner, and we had the entire month off, to celebrate Navarathri, Dusshera and Diwali. We take our festivals seriously in India, and different states have differing festival schedules, although, Diwali tends to be universally celebrated. Calcutta, and West Bengal (in the East of India), for example, celebrated Durga Puja, Maharashtra in the West had Ganesh Chathurthi, Assam has Bihu, and Kerala has Onam. Karnataka, my state, celebrated Dusshera all October.

Being kids, however, the story of the festivals mattered a lot less to us, and the whole joie de vivre of the month was more our jam. We spent the month eagerly planning decorations, little diyas (clay oil lamps), stringing lights, enviously checking out our neighbours' fancy clothes and sampling sweets, finding the best fireworks in the 'hood and waiting for the huli vesha to come to our yards. It was a magical time of the year and we loved every second of it.



After I moved to England, though, Diwali was one of the few festivals I celebrated at university (mostly, because we lived so close to Wembley and Southall). The expat Indian community in London is huge, and always had a bright, light and colour filled celebration, with so much food that we'd roll back to residences so full that we could barely move. 

Canada was a little different, mainly because I didn't really have many East Indian friends that I could celebrate with. Canadian Indian communities tend to either be first or second generation immigrants, or students, and me having moved from England, and being in a mixed-race marriage, meant fewer opportunities to connect with the community as a whole. However, I still make a big effort for a festival like Diwali, mainly because I want my mixed race children to grow up with knowledge of their heritage and my own culture. 



Every Diwali, I like to make a special treat for my family. While I tend to stay traditional with my main courses, with dishes like butter paneer, navratan korma, dal bukhara, biriyani and naan, I like to play around with my desserts. Now, as an Indian with a very sweet tooth, I love my desserts creamy, filled with dairy, sweet and very, very indulgent - which is why my secret pleasure is always the Nanak Rasmalai. 

But I also like to add an Indian twist to some of my favourite desserts, and crème brûlée has always been one of the desserts I love. I mean... as an Indian, how can I even resist the creamy, sugary, goodness? Plus, add to it the flashy showiness of burning the sugar with my fancy blowtorch (thanks to my friends K and L for this awesome present). So this year, for Diwali, I infused a classic French brûlée recipe with cardamom and saffron for a truly indulgent dessert that hits all the right notes for a celebration. 

If I am feeling fancier, I sprinkle freshly toasted pistachio nuts on top, for a very Indian touch. The sweet fragrance of the cardamom and bitter-sweet notes of saffron combine perfectly with the crisp burnt sugar topping with the textures blending together for the perfect French-Indian fusion. The best part is, I can find all the ingredients needed to make my crème brûlée and the traditional meals mentioned above, at the Real Canadian Superstore for low prices.





Back to Diwali, though, and here are a few tips from me, in partnership with the Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills, to make your Diwali a fun-filled celebration of food, lights and fun. 

Celebrating Diwali in Canada with the Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills

One of the most amazing things about being in Canada is the diversity of people and the wonderful sense of togetherness and celebrating multi-culturalism, while also being Canadian. In many ways, I think that one of my favourite Indian slogans, growing up, puts it best, "Unity in Diversity". When I think of Canada, I feel comfortable in the fact that my mixed race, mixed culture kids will grow up with the best of both worlds, both of them uniquely Canadian, tolerant and accepting, yet without losing their East Indian heritage. So why not join me in celebrating Diwali on October 19th? 

Diwali is the festival of lights and we pray for peace and prosperity during this festival. Start with decorating your homes with lights. The more lights, the merrier. Bonus - you can keep them on all the way until Christmas. Even better - keep them all winter to glow up our Edmonton brrrrr times. They look magical in the snow. Put out tea-lights and diyas on your porches for some extra light. 

Throw multi-coloured jewelled scarves over couches to add a festive atmosphere to homes. Place candles and tealights in arrangements all over the house. Add sparkle by placing them in brightly coloured glass holders. If you have mischief making kids, like my little guy, try LED tea-lights instead of flames. 

Wear sparkling Indian clothes. We East Indians love to dress up our friends of all colours and races in beautiful Indian clothes. Go crazy with bangles, and jewellery, and pretty silk shawls. 

Cook a hearty Indian meal, and invite family and friends to partake. You can check out some of the recipes here on The Tiffin Box for ideas. A lot of my recipes have been adapted for the North American audience, and my philosophy is to keep my ingredients as authentic possible. A lot of people ask me where I source my Indian groceries here in Edmonton. What’s great is that, grocery stores like the Real Canadian Superstore (I shop at the one on Calgary Trail) carry a variety of authentic South Asian brands and ingredients, all at low prices. People always raise their eyebrows at me when I say so, but it's true. I am always grateful that a mainstream supermarket carries most of the ingredients and spices I need, particularly as a transit rider and a stroller mom, I don't have the time and the energy to go to several different stores all the time in search of elusive ingredients. My more frugal mom prefers the No Frills a couple blocks from our home, and she is always raving about the quality of produce and the fact that you can pretty much pick up anything that she needs to make us our everyday Indian meals. My even thriftier dad checks both supermarkets, and then picks the one with the better deals – he is truly a shopping ninja, that man! 

As kids, we loved fireworks. While India is easing back on fireworks for environmental reasons, I always think that Diwali is never complete without a sparkler or two, and you don't have to go overboard. Hit up your local fireworks store and grab a sparkler, and light up your kids' faces! 

And finally, embrace the season of festivals. As kids, this was one of the best times of our lives. Everybody was happy, we embraced our neighbours whatever religion they might be, and the joy of the season spilled over into the rest of the month and all the way into New Years. 

Happy Diwali!



Recipe: Saffron and Cardamom Crème Brûlée
(Printable Recipe)

1 cup half and half (10%)
1 cup whipping cream (35%)
Pinch of salt
6 green cardamom pods, crushed lightly
Small pinch of high quality saffron threads
5 egg yolks
1/2 - 3/4 cup of sugar (to taste, I go on the higher side) + 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar (for the brûlée)
Toasted, unsalted pistachios, to garnish (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 F. 

Place the half and half and the whipping cream in a heavy based pot, and add the salt, and the crushed cardamom pods. Heat gently, until the cream is scalding, take off the heat and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes.

Strain the cardamom pods out of the cream, and gently reheat it. Add the saffron threads.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the 1/2 - 3/4 cup of sugar until creamy. Gently pour the hot cream into the egg yolk and sugar mixture, whisking all the time, until the cream is all incorporated.

Pour the custard into four oven and grill safe ramekins and place the ramekins in a roasting tin with high sides. Gently pour in water into the roasting tin, until it comes up to about three quarters the side of the ramekins (we're basically using a bain marie here).

Place in the oven and bake for 45 - 50 minutes, until the custard is just set, and slight wobbly in the middle. Take out of the oven, and carefully transfer the ramekins out of the roasting tin.

Cool, then chill in the fridge for at least 4 - 6 hours, ideally overnight.

When ready to serve, sprinkle half a tablespoon of  granulated sugar on top of the creme. Use a domestic blowtorch and caramelize the sugar on top, until golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately.

If you don't have a blowtorch, heat your grill up until hot. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the creme and place the ramekins on flat oven tray (I like using my rimmed cookie sheet) Place under the grill and remove as soon as the sugar is golden.


Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills. Like any one of my sponsored posts, any opinions, the recipes and stories are all my own.


Monday, 24 July 2017



What came first, the biriyani or the chickens?
I have never been squeamish about knowing where my meat comes from. My grandfather and uncles made sure of that, and I have killed chickens and watched pigs being slaughtered and methodically broken down to be distributed among family and friends. In childhood, it was rare for us to have any meat that didn't come from a known and trusted source, be it from my aunt's farm or a local neighbour.

There was a practicality to the killing of animals for meat, though. Animal welfare was not at the heart of it, and it was rare that humane killing was even a consideration. Animals were food, not friends. And while they were taken care of in the farms, they were never considered anything more than food sources, and this informed the whole philosophy of animal husbandry. It was a philosophy that trickled down to my generation. There was no sentimentality associated with eating meat from animals we'd raised or seen being raised. And while a huge portion of the country was vegetarian, it was down to religious beliefs and not necessarily animal welfare. It seems like a heartless way to look at meat-eating, but when you have a country of billions, it is a practical way of living.
As a child, I didn't think much of it. Eating meat was a way of life in my Catholic family, and every Sunday, we religiously ate our chicken, pork and mutton curries. A quick look at this website will give you an indication of our love for meat. Every recipe had memories associated with it, be it our traditional pork curry or the more 'exotic' chili chicken, or North Indian taar korma.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017




There is so much advice out there on weaning babies, and every generation has its own rules and regulations. These rules might be always changing (the advice on feeding babies peanuts, for example), but when it comes to babies, I've always held by my mother-in-law's advice that mommy knows best. Yes, mommy might need a bit of help from Dear Mother Google, but by and large, we are always aware of our babies' needs and the best way to fulfil them.

When it comes to food, babies are such a blank slate, but at the same time, pretty strong minded. Adz, for example, never ate potatoes as a baby. I remember feeding her a pilau once that had the tiniest bits of potatoes, and when I looked over, that child had picked out every since scrap of potatoes (from rice!) and put them aside. Baby Sky, on the other hand, is a little food monster and will gobble up everything you feed him, and then whine for more. Adz and I thought we would have a little bit of fun with him, and gave him a slice of lime one day. That little creature sucked the entire lime, and then looked at us with a big smile and went, mmm!

So, considering that he seemed pretty happy with experimenting with food, I decided to start spice early on. I am Indian, after all, and spice is a huge part of my life and cooking. I came up with quite a few combinations to include spices in his everyday food, and the ten recipes below are an unusual, yet, perfect spice primer for your little gourmet.

If you need more information on any of the spices I use, I write The Spice Box column on FBC, which has  information on every spice and herb you need.

Monday, 20 March 2017



You stop for the exhibitionists.

Ah, the joys of driving in India. Once upon a time, I had no compunction jumping in and out of buses, sometimes even when they were moving. In fact, I spent half my life on the City Bus Number 5, first going to school, then pre-university, then college. Bus stops are for wimps and hanging out of dangerously swerving buses is the life.

Man, how things have changed. The last few times I've been to India, all I've been doing is stomping my foot on an imaginary brake. And wearing seat belts. How the mighty have fallen! And I told the conductor on City Bus Number 5 to stop, hold it, come to a FULL STOP dammit, then gingerly wiggled my way down. At a BUS STOP. Shame on me.

This time around, I took a road trip with my family. Oh the joys of a road trip with an Indian family. Everything from packed tiffins to constant arguments to toilet stops in random places. Yup, I missed that. The experience was so profound that I was moved to write these tips for driving in India. You know, as you would.


Please to stop for the cows and related bovines.

Monday, 13 March 2017


 
Adz and I (2014) Photo: Pritham D'Souza (Photosynthe)

"Are you the nanny?" 

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question when I was out with Adz, well... I'd be about twelve dollars richer (yes, I keep count.) I understand, I really do, that it can be a bit jarring to see a white child with a brown person, though in this day and age it shouldn't be surprising. At the same time, however, should the automatic assumption be that I am the nanny, rather than the mother? It is a question I've asked myself several times, usually after one of said encounters.

Being part of a mixed race, mixed culture relationship is not easy. As an Indian woman, born and brought up in India, I was indoctrinated into my own culture and it was an abrupt transition when I first moved to England for graduate school. I met and fell in love with my partner within the first few months of school. I didn't plan on falling in love with a white Canadian man. I kept it to myself for the first couple years. It was only when I realised that this relationship was serious that I opened up to my mom. I told her I was seeing someone. When she asked, I might have lied stretched the truth and told her I was dating an Indian boy. Exactly how I was going to pass off my very white, redheaded, blue eyed boy as Indian was something I hadn't even thought about. It was after we'd decided to move in together that I confessed to mom. Surprisingly, she took it quite well, though I did have to go through some snarky comments about white Indian men from her. The rest of my family also took it reasonably well, though with some mild racist attitudes.