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)


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.


  1. OMGoodness!
    What a wonderful recipe - thank you Michelle!
    I think I gained 5 lbs just reading about it - Happy Diwali
    su :)

  2. This brulee sounds just as delicious as the brulee you made with K and her friends! K said her friends are still talking about it :)

  3. Crème Brûlée has been my favourite desert growing up. Maybe becasue my mother didn't really know any other sweets recipes :D. So i learned to do it myself but never tried it with cardamon and saffron. Gonna definetly give it a go!


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