Friday, 25 November 2016

This is how I imagine myself flying... 
the reality, however, is usually very different! 
HBC Barbie, available at HBC Trading Post at the EIA. 

This post is the second in my series for Edmonton International Airport (EIA). In my first post, last year, I talked about the forgotten magic of flying and about my experience with the eateries at the EIA. I was invited back this year to check out their shopping experience and as someone who is an avid shopaholic (and trust me, I make no apologies for that), I was pretty excited to see what the EIA had to offer.

I've been lucky enough to travel a lot, and in turn, experience airports all over the world. From the busy hustle and bustle of London Heathrow to the cramped discomfort of the tiny out-of-the-way Charleroi in Belgium, from the upmarket, almost intimidating Middle Eastern airports, to the recently renovated and colourful Sahar Airport in Mumbai, flying to me is synonymous with the start of vacations, or the excitement of seeing family and friends after a long time. I am an unashamed romantic when it comes to airports and railways stations, and the arrivals scenes from the movie 'Love Actually' always gets me emotional (please, ignore my love of corny British romcoms).

Me and airport shopping, however, haven't been the best of mates. It was easier when I was a solo traveller, for sure. I had the time to wander around, window shop, relax and eat and drink. Travelling with my daughter put an end to that.

It was one memorable trip from Manchester to Vancouver, that everything came to a head. Adz and I had an early start at Manchester, but at the end of a fairly comfortable trip, my then eighteen month old girl decided to have the most epic poop explosion. Er, on my lap! Now I was a pretty well prepared mama, with everything packed, including a well stocked diaper bag with a change of clothes for her. It was still a frantic dash to the loo, holding the stinky monster, disembarking passengers giving the both of us a wide berth, and I got her cleaned up and changed, while flight attendants knocked at the door, trying to get us off the plane so they could turn around. After that panic, we were then, thankfully, bussed to Terminal 3 at Heathrow, everyone around me still giving us lots of space. I was a bit puzzled by this, seeing as the kid was now clean... that is, until I looked down and got a whiff of myself. Let us just say that it was not a pretty sight or smell and guess what, I certainly hadn't packed clothes for me.

Cue the two of us rushing around Terminal 3, trying to find a clean set of clothes for me among all the designer and high-end stores. I ended up in a hundred pound pair of jeans that I could ill-afford and a 'I Love London' souvenir shirt from the tourist shop. Not my finest moment for sure, but I bet the passengers on the London-Vancouver flight were pretty relieved.

Ever since then, I've appreciated an airport that caters to every kind of traveller, not just the ones that can afford the designer stuff. And among all of them, I have a real soft spot for the EIA, my home airport.

All of us have experienced that same frantic, oh dear, I've forgotten something, rush that I know so well... or if you're my other half, the oh no, I haven't got the wife and kids anything from my conference trip, rush. This is where I really appreciated the EIA's no nonsense approach to shopping. There was something for everybody, and for every budget. Starting with the travel stores, where you can pick up everything from luggage to warm flight socks, to expensive wines and whiskies to make for that special host or hostess (or like for my husband, a collector's single malt) to those things that you usually forget.

I got the Macherie Moor for the husband! Available at A Flight of Wine and Spirits at the EIA.

In my case, headphones for the child! Have you spent an entire eight hour flight holding earphones to an itty bitty kid's ears? I have, and it's glorious... um, not. So a pair of reasonably priced headphones is almost always a search away, and thanks to the tech stores at EIA, can even be fun for the kids. Adz very much appreciated these ultra-adorable Star Wars BB8 headphones from Tech on the Go. I very much appreciated the fact that these headphones are restricted in how loud they can get, thus saving my kid's hearing (note: it does not, however, cure their very selective hearing... especially when it comes to you yelling at them about their chores... but still, with these headphones on, you know they can hear you, even when they are pretending not to).

How adorable are these headphones?

Shopping at EIA is remarkable stress free, especially when you are already stressed out with the thought of flying with kids... or just flying in general. Along with the ease of shopping, you can also take advantage of their Priority Valet service which considerably eases the pain of parking and dragging your luggage and kids along. I also took a peek into their Plaza Premium Lounge and I know I will be taking full advantage of it when I am flying out to India later in December this year... especially considering that I'll be flying with my nine year old and my brand new baby.

And talking of said kids, I was also very happy to see a well stocked version of my beloved Chapters Indigo store, and was thrilled to see that they had the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar in stock. Adz was a very happy little girl when I  toted this back home. They also had a good selection of baby items which I know I'll be taking full advantage of.

You don't have to be a shopaholic to enjoy the advantages of shopping at the EIA, simply because they pretty much have everything that you could need. And you can take advantage of their rewards program too, to be entered into contests and draws and discounts.

And, like I mentioned in my previous EIA post, we need to bring back the magic of flying, and EIA is a good start there. I am certainly looking forward to travelling through there later this year, and I know that a stress free start to the journey will only mean a great experience for everyone involved. Bon voyage!

Disclosure: I was offered a paid-for shopping trip at the EIA. All opinions and stories are my own, as you would expect.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

I recently read an article, 50 of the World's Best Breakfasts, and was pretty pleased to find my all-time favourite, the Full English, at the top of the list. Let's face it, there is nothing like a greasy fry-up of eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, baked beans, black pudding, fried bread and a cup of strong, hot, sweet builders' tea to start the day. Except, of course, for the impending heart attack that will probably show up shortly after. But as a broke graduate student, it couldn't be beaten for value. 

Sadly, however much I wanted to, there was no way my grad student diet could continue without some serious health issues, so I had to reluctantly grow up, and make those changes that would led to a reasonably healthier lifestyle. One of these changes was cooking at home more often. Of course, this led to my current food writing career which has taken off a lot more than I could have hoped for, and it was that one small step that helped me along the way.

Breakfasts have always been an important tradition in Indian culture and families. Since I was little, as far back as I can remember, every morning has started with a hot breakfast. We started school at 9 AM, and my mom had to leave for work at 8 in the morning. So a lot of the breakfasts we had were either prepped late in the evening, or I would hear my mom up at 5 AM in the kitchen, making sure the family was going to be fed. A hot breakfast usually meant a pretty elaborate set up. Dosa batter was ground and fermented overnight, with chutneys and condiments already made. A hot potato bhaji curry would be made in the morning, simmering on the gas stove next to my mom who would be frying up hot, crispy dosas. Once we'd grumbled our way out of bed, we would get dressed in our school uniforms, make sure our backpacks were packed and then sit down for breakfast. The dosas, or rotis, or hot pressed sandwiches would come flying out at us, and we gobbled as much as we could before racing out of the door behind our mom to get to school on time.

The breakfast habit continued until just after college, but when I left home for university, time started getting more fluid, as classes and socialising cut into food time. I fell off the habit of eating a healthy breakfast, instead, relying on coffee and the odd breakfast sandwich to keep me going. And once I got to grad school, apart from those occasional full Englishes, breakfast completely fell off the radar.

This continued – until I had my first baby. My child is a morning child. A lark! What did I do to deserve this?

Breakfast was back on the menu, especially considering the fact that it became Adz's main meal. She is a hearty breakfast eater. At any given point, she can easily chow down Weetabix with berries or bananas, buttered and jammy toast, giant bowlfuls of porridge with more fruit and honey and raisins, and pretty much anything else that she has going on around. Adz and her dad have special breakfast days, where they make waffles, pancakes or the aforementioned full English breakfasts. I join them when I can drag myself out of bed, but brunches in the house are now pretty legendary too, give or take a couple mimosas.

Along with a healthy breakfast, Kay and I have also got into the habit of taking a quick multi-vitamin to keep our systems healthy. Vitamins and I have had a love-hate relationship for a while – have you ever had a spoonful of cod-liver oil shoved down your throat as a kid? – but when it comes to our busy family and work lives, a multivitamin can become a way to support our daily health goals. For example, according to a recent survey, did you know that almost one third (31%) of Canadians, find it hard to find time in the day for a workout or to cook healthy meals? Another finding from the same survey found that 43% of Canadians fall out of step with healthy habits during the holidays and 40% reckon that any healthy habits they inculcate fall by the wayside during vacations. This is particularly true during school vacations for my own family, as mealtimes turn erratic and the day is filled with snacks and not a regular meal.

Summer is a special time for us in the house, as my mom comes over to visit us in Canada. Mom, despite being retired, is a force of nature when it comes to getting us all ship-shape and organised. Before I know it, my laundry has been folded, my house is top visiting shape, and all meals are planned with my vegetarian husband and daughter in mind. Mom, like I mentioned above, is a big believer in healthy eating and big breakfasts, with the occasional cheat treat in between. Being used to a fixed sunrise, she gets a bit confused, as we joke, and wakes up every morning to make us a hot, Indian-style breakfast. Whether it is upma or savoury vermicelli, or her famous potato bhaji with either rotis, dosas, or even stuffed into bread rolls like vada pav, we enjoy her visits and the mama-style breakfasts she makes for us every morning.

As a food writer, especially when mama isn't around, my eating schedule can be pretty erratic. Sometimes I have breakfast for dinner, because I am trying to catch the last of the evening light to take pictures, or if I am testing recipes, I pretty much eat the same dish a few times in a row.

While I definitely try and make sure the family has a balanced meal, my diet doesn't always align their way. Taking multivitamins has thus become a bit of a necessity to keep me going and healthy and in good condition to keep writing about food now and in the future. It's the small steps that keep us going, after all.

Mom's Famous Potato Bhaji  
This bhaji is an all-time favourite in the house. A spicy concoction of potatoes, onions, tomatoes and gentle spices. It can be eaten not just with a dosa, but also with chapatis/ rotis, puris, stuffed into bread or with plain rice and yogurt.It can very easily be made in advance, and reheated in the morning, making for a quick and easy breakfast to go.

(Printable Recipe)

2 tablespoons oil
1 sprig of curry leaves, about 4 - 5 leaves
1/2 teaspoon of black or brown mustard seeds
1 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 green bird's eye chili pepper, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 large potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced
Hot water, just enough to cover the potatoes
Salt to taste

In a deep pan, heat the oil, then toss in the mustard seeds and curry leaves until the seeds splutter (about 10 - 20 seconds).

Add the onion, and sauté for 4 minutes or until it softens, then the ginger and chilly, and fry for another minute.

Add the tomato and the turmeric, and cook until the tomato is soft, about 5 -6 minutes.

Stir in the potatoes, and toss them in the pan to coat them with the masala.

Add enough water to the pan to just cover the potatoes, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Season with the salt.

Roughly mash the potatoes, leaving chunks intact. Stir together and check seasoning, adjusting if necessary.

Serve with dosas, chutney, rice, chapathi, or just as a side dish.

Disclosure: I was compensated by Centrum Multivitamins for this post. As usual, all opinions, writing and the recipe are my own. For more information on why multivitamins matter, please check out 'Why Multivitamins Matter'.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Photo used with thanks to Sean Neild

Chef Vikram Vij, patron of Vancouver's famous Vij's Restaurant, Rangoli and Railway Express, and I share a fascination with Indian railways and their ubiquitous blue and red trains. Mine was honed through years of travelling around India with my family, and my own adventures on the trains from Delhi to South India. Vikram's, on the other hand, was all about the food.

"Were the pedhas worth it?" I asked him, after he recounts a particularly hilarious train story. "Yeah" he says, laughing, "but if I had missed that train, I would have lost everything, so maybe I need to rethink that answer". Vikram was travelling from Mathura to Bombay, and decided, underestimating the stop times on the train, to head to a nearby pedha shop. Pedhas, for the uninitiated, are deliciously milky, soft, fudgey Indian sweets that melt in your mouth. He got his pedhas, but as he approached the train station, realised that his train was pulling away from the station. As he recounts, "I ran, so hard, yelling, and finally managed to jump on to the last carriage of the train, where I waited till we got to the nest stop, so I could get to my seat". This story is familiar to a lot of us Indians, who love our railway food and drinks. From banana podis when approaching the Konkan coast, to vada pav in Mumbai, hot chai and lassis everywhere, everyone has a story about a near missed train incident. But in the end, the pedhas or the bhajiyas or the vadas are always worth it.

Vikram Vij is definitely a big personality - "look at me, is there anything low-fat about this?". I met him for the first time at the Taste Canada awards in September last year, where he hosted the show. We had quite a bit in common, both immigrants and both determined to raise the profile of Indian food, beyond butter chicken, in Canada. On the surface, he is a humble, self-effacing person, but dig deeper and you'll find a determined, extremely confident man with a strong sense of family, self and identity. We met again when he was NAIT's Hokanson Chef in Residence and unlike most of the chefs before him, he was out in the dining room, meeting and welcoming people, his loud booming laugh very much in evidence, as he greeted everyone with his trademark, 'namaste'. 

Ernest's dining room at NAIT was dressed up like the set of a Bollywood movie, all sparkles, bright reds and oranges with ethnic Indian-style menus to match.

We sat down to a Indian lunch, starting with poppdums, raita and the incredible mango lassi, as Vikram took to the podium, talking about the food that we were going to eat and his experience starting out in Canada. Over the course of three family-style courses, we were treated to an incredible combination of traditional Indian flavours, cooked to perfection. The Goan coconut prawns were lightly spiced – a point Vikram made, and one that I agreed with whole heartedly, about spicing so that we can taste the layers of flavour in food, and not be running around with our tongues on fire – and the eggplant was lovely and crunchy, with tomatoes and onions adding the fresh, zingy flavour.

We moved on to his family's signature chicken curry (which, when I mentioned the recipe to my mom, she said that it was very similar to our own, but without the coconut milk), with cumin rice, a Kerala style vegetable avial with cumin scented basmati rice.

We then feasted on one of my favourite dishes of the afternoon, a cinnamon scented lamb curry, the spicing so delicate and perfect, the chunks of lamb impossibly and beautifully tender.

Vikram decided that the gathered community needs to eat with their hands – "do you make love with your knife and fork?" – and our table hilariously tried to follow his advice, with me showing my friends my technique for perfect, mess-free hand eating. Vikram circled the tables as we ate, loading up plates with more food, Indian-auntyjee style. He and my mom would bond over this, for sure.

Photo used thanks to Cindy Nguyen

For dessert, we had a twist on a classic Indian dish, a bruleed rice pudding – kheer – heady with rosewater and cardamom, with a light bitter edge from the caramelized brown sugar and the delicate crunch of pistachios.

After lunch, which left us all stuffed to the gills and pleasantly sleepy, I sat down with Vikram for a chat. I wanted to know more about his unofficial Indian-food-ambassador to Canada status, as well as the way in which he built this incredible culinary and showbiz empire. Our conversation flowed easily, with our common knowledge of India meaning that we slipped from talking in English, to Hindi, back to English in the easy way expats do.

"I originally wanted to be a Bollywood actor", he confesses, and as I laughed, he looked at me and said, "... but you know exactly why I didn't  – my father put his foot right down and said NO, straightaway. So I ended up becoming a chef, and moving to Canada". Vikram's story is well known, from his start in Banff to his popular Vancouver eatery Vij's.

"Did you know why I called it Vij's?" he asks me. "When I was growing up, I had this uncle who loved his alcohol. 'Vikram', he would say to me – 'when you grow up you will have a restaurant of you own and I will be the bartender' The reason he wanted me to have my own restaurant is because he knew, that as a relative, I couldn't charge him for the alcohol. Crafty fellow (in Hindi)! But because of him, my restaurant is called Vij's. Not because of my surname."

As a writer who focuses on food and memories of growing up with it, I was curious to know if he had a childhood memory that he associated with food. He recalled fondly his memories of travelling from Delhi to Amritsar to his grandparents' home there. "I loved those Amritsari chhole bhature" he tells me. Ever since he was a child, the first thing he would do on getting to Amritsar was to gorge himself sick on chhole bhature and then be unable to move for hours after.

Photo used with thanks to Sean Neild

Like most Indian expats, Vikram Vij has a fractious relationship with the country of his birth. I, for one, have talked about it in several posts, and it is definitely hard to grow up as a woman in India. Falling back in love with the country is a slow process, but Vikram likens it to a relationship. "It's chaos, complete chaos", he tells me. He tells me that he knows that the country is his, but every time he goes back, he is struck anew at how crazy it is, yet as he puts it "I can't stop going back to it". In many ways, Vikram Vij is the embodiment of the Indo-Canadian dream. He has built up an empire of restaurants, and was the first Indo-Canadian Dragon on Dragon's Den. Yet, he shuns his celebrity and credits his family and friends for keeping him humble. He says that he draws inspiration from every person that he meets and, despite the fact that he is seen as a role model for immigrants in the country, he talks about how, as a result, he has had to work harder to keep up the image and his role in it. Being an immigrant was not easy for him, as he puts it, there were expectations, but in the end he credits his work ethic and his 'always on' personality for his success. Seeing his intense focus as both a chef and a celebrity businessman, and having experienced his larger than life personality, it is not a surprise that this personable man is the success that he is.

The only thing left for him to do is convince the Canadian public that butter chicken is not the extent of Indian food (but then again, if you're here on The Tiffin Box, you know that already, yes?)

(Printable Recipe)

Adapted from From Vij's Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij & Meeru Dhalwala

This is the recipe for Vikram's family chicken curry that we had at the NAIT Chef in residence lunch. I have, however, tinkered with it a bit to make it more home-cook and health friendly. I mean, both Vikram and I are from India, he should completely understand my Indian genetic need to tinker with everything, right?

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon ghee
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 stick of cinnamon or cassia bark
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 tablespoon garam masala 
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
6 - 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2 pieces each
1/2 cup sour cream
Water, as required
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
A large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped, to garnish


Heat the oil and ghee in a heavy based pot, and add the onion and cinnamon stick. Fry on a medium heat, until the onion starts to go golden around the edges, about 5 - 7 minutes.

Add the garlic and the ginger, and saute for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, turmeric, ground cumin, coriander, garam masala and chili powder. Season with a little salt (I used about 1 - 2 teaspoons)

Cook this mixture for about 5 - 10 minutes, until you begin to see the oil shimmer from the edges.

Add the chicken thighs to this mixture, and stir to coat the meat with the masala. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is beginning to cook through.

Add the sour cream, and a splash of water and continue to simmer for an additional 10 - 15 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked. Add a splash more water if the sauce is too thick.

Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the cilantro to garnish and serve with rice or naan.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Roti/ Chapathi/ Phulka - How To Make Soft Rotis

In India we have a saying that all one needs for a comfortable life is roti, kapda aur makhan (food, clothes and home.) It is one of the truths of life that you can be pretty comfortable with very little and with the basic necessities of life, and there are a lot of people in India and in the world who live with just that.

I was chatting with my mum about money. As she put it, she worked all her life, and while she made enough money, she also spent it all on us and our education and to give us a comfortable life that lacked for nothing. Now that she is retired, she made a conscious decision to travel and stay with us, and to spend any money she had on experiences and family. It made me think about my own life and the role of money in it. I am a lucky woman. I have a husband who makes enough money to provide me and my family with a wonderful living, and I also have a job that enables me to have luxuries like being able to attend conferences, spending money on props and eating out, and generally having a very comfortable life. I also understood that I take this very much for granted, and talking to my mother about this made me understand how privileged my life really is.

It also made me realise how important it is to be grateful to the people who make our lives comfortable, happy and fulfilled.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Pear Tarte Tatin With Cardamom, Saffron and Rosewater for Diwali

About a year ago, I was at Adz's school, talking about Diwali to the Grade One class. I talked a bit about India, and how we celebrated many festivals among all the faiths that make up this incredibly diverse and secular country. When I was talking about Diwali, the celebration of light in honour of the Lord Rama's return to his home town, one little voice piped up - "India sounds awesome, Adz's mom. Can you please take me there?"

India has a tradition of celebrating festivals with the kind of joie de vivre that is almost over the top. When Adz and I visited about a year and half ago, Christmas was being celebrated. Adz, who was used to the classy, restrained lights of Canada, was overwhelmed at the colours, music and lights that Indians celebrated festivals with, and to me, it reminded me of India at it's very best.

Diwali, in particular, has a special significance in India, and is one of the biggest festivals in the country. When I was talking about Diwali to the kids, I found this really cute video online, that they loved.