Monday 17 March 2014

It's Holi. Holi-day. Yay!

A celebration of springtime, this year it feels very apt, as after a cold, harsh February, the weather seems to have finally turned a corner here. The sun is warm on my face, the skies are a brilliant blue, the birds are singing and starting to fill the nesting boxes, it stays light later and later in the day and my life just feels brighter and happier. Kay planted his seeds for the garden last weekend, and I started getting excited about all the fresh harvests and bounty coming my way soon.

Holi is characterised by colour. People throw coloured powders up in the air, douse each other with coloured water and celebrate the arrival of flowers and fruit. Holi is also the festival of love and this bittersweet emotion is embodied in Hindu mythology. Legend has it that Lord Shiva, in his anger at being shot by Kaamadeva's arrow (the Indian God of love, similar to Cupid) reduced him to ashes. The arrow worked, however, and Shiva married Parvati. Rati, the wife of Kaamadeva, begged Shiva to revive her husband, and Shiva, understanding true love, granted her wish (and everyone lives happily ever after...)

When I got back after India, one of the things I missed so much about it was it's colours. I said to Kay that Edmonton felt cold, blue and grey after that vibrant chaos. And Holi is a festival that is, in itself, an embodiment of the fabulous riotousness and colours of India.

The picture above, for example, just makes me smile. Jemma and I were driving around in India, and we just came across these stalls full of coloured powder, ready for rangoli. Our driver stopped (right in the middle of the street in full on traffic, as it happens, just one of the awesome crazy things about India) and we were just snapping away. The colours were so beautiful and bright they almost hurt my eyes.

I miss celebrating Indian festivals. In Edmonton, for example, I'd be more likely to celebrate St. Patrick's Day today, rather than Holi (for what its worth, St Patrick is my guy, I am even named after him) I celebrate Indian festivals virtually, checking them out on my friends' Facebook walls and wishing I could be there to celebrate. But in the absence of Holi colours, I make up my own traditions. This thandai is one of them. Traditionally a Rajasthani drink made with dried fruit and nut pastes, it's a delicious spiced, chilled milk drink that is made for Holi. 

I love the fragrances in this drink. I adapted the method a little to make it more suitable for life here, but the flavours are the same, and the taste takes me straight back to my carefree university days of playing Holi, drinking way too much bhaang, flinging colours in the air, hunting down recalcitrant friends and rubbing colour on their cheeks, and best of all... smelling the sweet scents of springtime in the air.

Happy Holi, everyone!


Almond Paste

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon poppy seeds (optional) 


2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup, or to taste, sugar
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried rose petals
5 green cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon
A generous pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons warm milk
Small handful pistachio nuts, to garnish


Blend together the ground almonds, 1/2 cup milk and poppy seeds, if using, to a fine creamy, paste. Chill this mixture. 

Place the remaining 2 cups milk and sugar in a heavy based pot. Place the fennel seeds, rose petals, cardamom pods and black peppercorns in a mortar and pestle and crush. Add the crushed spices and cinnamon stick, and turn on the heat. 

Bring to boil, then turn the heat down to a low simmer and simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the spices infuse into the milk, at least an hour. 

Once the milk mixture is cool, strain it through a sieve. Discard spices. 

Whisk the saffron into the warm milk, and add this to the spiced milk. Stir in the almond paste, and refrigerate until chilled. Serve with chopped pistachio nuts sprinkled over. 

  • Dried rose petals are available in all Indian groceries. 
  • You can use cashew nut paste instead of almonds. 


  1. Loved it!!!! Was craving for thandai since end of January (I live in California, so it's sunny and bright most of the year:P).. Thanks for posting this Michelle!

  2. Absolutely stunning! :) It's one of my lifelong dreams to go to India during Holi :) Where I live, in Manchester UK, there's a huge Holi festival every year & I always try to go but tickets are so hard to come by. People flock from all over the UK to attend. One day, I'll get there! Your photos are stunning & that spiced milk sounds refreshing & festive!

  3. Yummy!!! This is interesting recipe to take in Holi as summer are on this days and drinking this chilled milk would surely chill our body too. Thanks for sharing recipe i will try.

  4. Beautiful pics, Mich. It is just such a flavorful drink! Well done!

  5. OMG.. Looks absolutely stunning and amazing.. Brilliant captures.. great job :)

  6. Indian recipes that incorporate dairy bring out such sophisticated flavors that its almost impossible to replicate with any other cuisine. Nice easy recipe!

  7. It has taken the shape more of a community sport where irrespective of caste or creed, religion or sect, people of all ages join in a group having the fun of smearing, throwing and splashing colors on each other.holi powder


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