When life gives you lemons..

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The summer has started & the sunny California is even sunnier. I am probably the only person here who does not like summer.  Everybody else seems pretty excited. You see, conceptually, I love everything about summers, the light clothing, barbeques, funky drinks with umbrellas, the days at the beach … everything. In reality, however, it is hardly that glamorous with the constant sweating & the larger-than-life hair. I just cannot handle it.

Weather preference aside, I think everyone deserves a cool drink. So, I thought I should share my recipe for Saffron Cardamom Lemonade, one of my favorites. it is so easy to make that there has to be a new word for ‘easy’.

I have always relied on the natural thirst quenchers over the carbonated drinks or processed juices. Agreed, they too have sugars, but at least you know what you are consuming. I rarely substitute the real sugar with artificial sweeteners. As they say, ” A known devil is always better than an unknown one”.

Saffron Cardamom Lemonade

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Ingredients:

Lime juice: 1 cup (Freshly squeezed)

Sugar: 3/4th cup

Saffron 1/4th tsp

Cardamom: 4, 5 nos. (Whole)

Salt: 1/4th tsp

Lime slices: 1 nos. (Optional)

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Method:

You will need a mason jar or any kind of glass jar.  Make sure that it is wiped clean and dry from inside.

Add sugar to the jar.

Take the cardamom and saffron, warm it up a little. It should feel warm to touch.

Add it to the sugar, when warm. I feel that the flavors are absorbed better this way.

Add the lime juice, salt and the lime slices. I add the lime slices, as they give a nice flavor of lime zest, tastes just fine even without those. Stir the contents & close the lid on the Mason jar and now the fun part…

IMG_1020-003Find a spot in your house that gets direct sunlight and place this container there. In a few hours, the sugars will dissolve and the concentrate is ready. Strain the liquid and refrigerate in airtight container. It stays good for up to two weeks in fridge.

When needed just add chilled water & adjust the sugar quantity to your liking and enjoy!!

On the weight loss front, here comes the week 6 of the regimen..!! ​​I have lost a little over 5 lbs and a few inches so far. Never actually got to the measuring tape, but you can ask my favorite pair of skinny jeans,​she’ll back me up. ​The summer has got to me, literally and figuratively dampening the spirits and lowering the energy levels. Drastically impacting my workout regimen for the last two weeks. I am not going to sweat too much about the no weight loss, at least not more than I already am 🙂

The lesson learned this week – listen to your body!​

The Bitter, The Better ..

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There are a few foods that require an acquired taste or a mature palate. Bitter gourd, also known as bitter melon or balsam-pear, is one such vegetable.

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I remember that, as a child, I absolutely detested it; in fact I barely remember eating it. I managed to live without it for as long as I could. It just changed after I got married. Bearing the principles of “Opposites attract” in my mind, I married a man who absolutely loves bitter gourd. Soon I was face to face with a vegetable that was not only my least favourite, but also way out of my skill set. After going through a few recipes, I tried out a simple one, which turned out fine. Reluctantly, I tasted my preparation and was pleasantly surprised. It was not half as bad as I remembered it to be.

Has it ever happened to anyone of you? The foods that we have shunned out in the past, are not really as bad when you revisit those. It amuses me; I am more open to trying out new stuff.

So, after that stint I started to cook bitter gourd more often, experimenting with different recipes and spices. This miracle vegetable, presents not only a unique taste, it also has several nutritional benefits. Bitter gourd is a great source of folate, vitamins B and C and has a miracle component which helps in reducing the blood sugar levels. What’s not to like about it? Except the bitterness of course. But, believe me, with the right spices and some experimenting, you can get past the bitterness. Which is exactly what I did…

After many attempts, I have come up with a bitter gourd recipe that both my husband and I have liked. It’s delicious, low calorie and time effective! Where’s the recipe, you ask!

Here you go…

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Crispy Bitter gourd Chips

Ingredients:

Ripe Bitter gourds/ Karela – 3 , 4 medium size

Marinade:

Tamarind extract: 1 tsp

Red chilly powder: 1 tsp or more

Turmeric : 1 tsp

Asafoetida: ½ tsp

Amchur powder (dried raw mango powder): 1 tsp

Cumin Powder: 1 tsp

Salt: ½ tsp

Tempering:

Oil: 1 to 2 tbsp

Mustard seeds: ½ tsp

For Garnish: (Optional)

Red chilly powder: a pinch

Amchur powder: a pinch

Method:

Wash and deseed the gourds. Cut them into thin chips.

In a bowl mix tamarind paste, Red chilly powder, Turmeric, Asafoetida, Amchur powder (dried raw mango powder, Cumin Powder, Salt.

Add the bitter gourd slices to the marinade. Now it gets messy… yes! Use your hands to rub the mixture on the chips, taking care not to break. Evenly coat all the chips.

Put a plastic wrap on the bowl and immediately keep the bowl in refrigerator. Don’t keep it outside, as the mixture will start getting soggy.

Marinate for fifteen minutes or longer.

Heat up a frying pan and add oil. If it’s a non-stick pan, you can reduce the quantity of oil.

Add mustard seeds, once they begin to crackle, add Asafoetida.  Then add the Bitter gourd chips to the pan.

Stir and spread evenly, in a single layer. Reduce the flame and cover for three to four minutes. Take off the lid and continue cooking for another fifteen to twenty minutes, occasionally stirring. The chips need to get crispy, so the best way to cook is on a low-flame and with lots of patience.

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It takes some time to get the right crispiness, but it’s worth the wait.

Serve the Crispy Bitter gourd chips with your choice of Rice or bread, or can be served as a finger food!

Information source:
http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/bitter-gourd.html

Hop ..Skip.. we jump to another week…!!

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End of Week 2…!! I lost another 1.5 lbs this week. The change is not that noticeable, but the clothes fit better and I feel better. Feels good!

I have had so many diets and weight loss regimens, but never once have I felt this motivated. It somehow does not feel like I am doing anything different. Well! I am really not doing anything different. The difference however is that, I am happy doing this. I enjoy the food that I am eating and am really having a lot of fun experimenting in the kitchen.

I am mostly sticking to Indian meals as they have a very little usage of refined flours and it’s easy to get your fill of vegetables. A vegetarian, by choice, I have to consciously include protein in my diet, since most of the Indian meals tend to be carbohydrate based. I prefer to get protein from lentils, pulses, paneer, cheese, Greek yogurt etc. I have started to load up my plate with protein and fiber. Another thing I tried out this week was to start maintaining a food log, just writing down has helped me curb a few unnecessary calorie intake. Do I really need another cup of tea? Did not realize that I had popped that Ferrero rocher today.. ! It is so easy to lose count on those little devils.

Getting through the last week was quite an uphill battle. First of all, almost every day was a mad rush against time. Drive to work. Work. Drive back. Cook. Clean. REPEAT….. was all that I did. I did try to get out of the house for a walk a couple days, but could only manage it twice a week. Then there was the attack of virus, which further slowed down things on the workout front. Although, the things did heat up in the kitchen, soups… I mean soups J. I will post some of the recipes soon.

On Saturday, I had to attend a social gathering. This was a baby shower for a very dear friend. The mommy-to-be was glowing and was pleasantly surprised. It was a fun evening, full of laughter and chit chat. The party was very well organized, fun games and great food.

Almost, all of my friends who are trying to eat right will agree that attending parties when you are on a regimen can be a very difficult situation, food wise. You cannot say no to food, you cannot say yes! I found something that helped. I went by the weight loss book this time, had an apple and some almonds right before the party so I wasn’t especially hungry when it was time to eat. I ate everything that was offered, in small portions and did not touch the sweets. Last day of week 2 it was..!

Week 3 started on Sunday. This week I am making a little change to the workout regimen. Although, I am still going to stick to walking, am now going to add half an hour of Yoga to it. As always a big shout out to my workout buddies M & R who keep me motivated.

Confessions:

  1. I did not carry a snack with me, came home starving and scavenged the pantry for hidden goodies atleast twice in the week. Don’t want to say anything more.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Ask someone else to hide the goodies that you think you are not supposed to eat 🙂
  2. Plan the menu for the week, to save time. You also cut your power bill, as you won’t endlessly stare at an open refrigerator thinking what I should do.
  3. Please do not stand on the weighing scale everyday.

Its always going to be a work in progress… 🙂

Image Source:
http://www.henryflurry.com

Shh… I’ve got a secret..

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It happened yesterday.. AGAIN! It was already the second time this week. I cannot begin expressing the guilt that I feel. What is wrong with me? Time to confess the deed…

I was completely driven by that very thought since the morning. I envisioned the thrill I was to experience in a few hours; after all it wasn’t my first time. I managed to review the work stuff and finished the scheduled meetings. I glanced at my calendar – “Looks like there is nothing more!” I mumbled to myself. Relieved by the unexpected freedom, I quickly grabbed my things and decided to step out.

The drive was not that long, just a few miles and I was there. I looked for a decent parking spot and luckily found one under a large shady tree. I stepped out of the car scanning the area, as I adjusted my sunglasses. The parking lot was not too busy at this hour; in sometime it will be busy again. I tightened the knot on my scarf, trying to ignore the lump rising in my throat.

I pushed the door to entrance and went inside, guilt creeping up my spine. I ignored it. It was altogether a different world inside. I tried to guess the song that was playing in the background, but could not. There were a few customers in there, mostly seated at their tables and engrossed, we exchanged awkward smiles as I passed their tables.

I quietly stood looking around while waiting for my turn, observing the parade of men and women busy at their stations ‘rolling’ and ‘spooning’. I squirmed a little, nervously, but now there was no going back. At last, after a long wait, it was my turn.. And then there he was..!! My face must have shown the recognition, as he too smiled back. I suddenly felt relieved of my tension. I walked towards him, there was no need for spoken words; he knew exactly what I wanted.

We moved together, inches apart, as I went through my choices. We walked for a few more seconds. A woman was standing at the end of the aisle. He whispered something to her, nodded at me and stepped aside. The woman glared at me as I dug into my bag looking for my wallet… oh yes, totally forgot about that. I cursed myself for not carrying cash. At the risk of exposing my secret; I paid for the transaction with a credit card, eagerly waiting for my prize. Finally…!! She handed it over to me ..!! My delectable delight…. My very special Chipotle burrito bowl!

I hereby confess, it is my one true addiction, which I have failed to overcome so far. In past, during many of my so called dieting regimens, I have often fallen off the wagon craving for this scrumptious piece of heaven. Of course, I did not think I had fallen off because I considered it to be a salad. In my defense, I don’t add rice to it, so it’s basically just that, a salad.

My love for Chipotle has been a recurring joke for my husband, who reacts hysterically to all the theories that I come up with to prove how Chipotle burrito bowl fits into my diet. Admittedly, it’s not the healthiest food choice, but I have convinced myself by saying that it’s slightly better than the other fast food options available. In short, I am not ready to give it up.

So, in conclusion, for as long as there is Chipotle near my office, this secret rendezvous will continue to happen. I will just make sure that I won’t indulge frequently and keep in mind that moderation is the key.. so maybe once a month, or twice… or four times at the max.. 🙂

* Chipotle burrito bowl: is an assortment of rice, beans, veggies roasted on a high flame, different kind of salsa & various condiments. All of which is served in a bowl. For more information check : http://www.chipotle.com

*Disclaimer – The excerpt above is solely for the purpose of entertainment and is a fruit of my imagination. It makes no representations to the accuracy or completeness of the information.

Image source:
http://www.newperspectives.com.au

Taakatla Palak; Spinach cooked in tangy yogurt gravy

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We all have food memories. Some good, some bad… some worth revisiting. I have been away from my home for close to a decade now, but simplest of things takes me back home.

As I spent the last few days, recovering from a bout of cold, I got nostalgic about my Mom’s home cooking. I revisited some of my favorite foods made by my Mom. Of course, I have made some tweaks and changes to suit to my diet. At least that’s my excuse, because no matter how rigidly I follow the recipes, they just don’t taste like my Mom’s food 🙂

In the last couple of days, while feeling completely under the weather, I tried one of my Mom’s recipes Taakatla Palak – Spinach cooked in tangy yogurt gravy; you can call it a gravy and eat it with rice or roti or you can pour it in a bowl and slurp it as a soup, which is what I do. In Marathi taak means buttermilk, which is made by whipping yogurt and Palak is spinach.

This is a low calorie recipe, cooked in all but 2 tbsp of oil and packed with nutrition from Spinach, peanuts, yogurt etc.

Taakatla Palak – Spinach cooked in tangy yogurt gravy.

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Ingredients:

Spinach leaves – 4 to 5 cups

Besan (chickpea flour) – 1/2 cup

Yogurt – 1 cup

Garlic- 4, 5 large cloves roughly chopped

Peanuts – handful ( optional)

Chana dal (split chickpeas) – 3 tbsp.

Red chili powder- to taste

Salt – to taste

Tempering:

Oil – 2 tbsp

Mustard seeds – ½ tsp

Asafoetida – ½ tsp

Dry red chillies – 3, 4 no.

Note: You can make this gravy without using garlic. Substitute Garlic with 1 tbsp of Garam Masala.

Method:

Wash and finely chop spinach, transfer the leaves to a pressure cooker safe utensil.

Add peanuts, chana dal (split chickpeas) 1 or 2 red chillies, ½ tsp of salt and 2 cups of water to the spinach leaves.

Pressure cook it for 2 whistles.

Take out the mixture and let it cool for a bit.

In the meantime, mix yogurt and chickpea flour. Remove all the lumps and make it into a smooth paste.

After the spinach has cooled down a bit, add the yogurt paste to it and mix it, gently mashing the spinach with the ladle.

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a heavy bottom pan.

Add the mustard seeds, when they start to crackle add asafoetida, chopped garlic and remaining red chillies. Saute until the garlic turns slightly golden.

Add the spinach mixture to the pan and stir well. Be careful, as the mixture might start to splutter. Turn the flame on low and stir the mixture. Add salt, chili powder. If you are not using garlic, add the garam masala. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes.

This doesn’t take a long time to cook. Adjust the consistency according to your liking, by adding more water if necessary.

Serve hot.

T.G.I.W…. Thank God its weekend.

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I am posting a write up on the blog after a gap of few days.  I credit the absence from the digital world to a long week at work. With all the crazy deadlines, meetings and long off shore calls, I am mentally exhausted. Needless to say, after staring at the laptop for more than eight hours a day, I could not take any more of it after office hours.

Before I begin writing any further, I want to thank all the readers and friends who have sent in the comments & feedback. Special thanks to thehourglassmommy, a fantastic fellow blogger, whom I recently got introduced to and instantly got along with. Everybody, I appreciate it, please keep on sharing your thoughts 🙂

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Today, I completed Week 1 of my fitness regimen. Inspite of crazy schedule my  fitness regimen has been going well, by God’s grace. My goal was to lose 2 lbs, which I have! Beginner’s luck…? Maybe, but also some changes to my lifestyle and some learnt lessons.

To begin with, my workout routine has been limited to Power walking for at least the next couple weeks. Simply because I love to walk, it does not need any planning and I do not need to drive anywhere for workout. All of these were my roadblocks for being inconsistent with any regimen before. As of now, this is working out (pun intended!) for me. Once I start getting comfortable, I will try to make it more challenging.

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So, the plan was to have a 3 mile walk in the evening at least twice a week, a hike on the weekend and a brisk walk after lunch. All three accomplished!

The evening walks and hikes were never an issue as I have a darling hubby who steps in every time.  The problem was to get the lunchtime walk, as for me even the actual lunchtime is not fixed. Also, with the packed schedule, I usually get my reading done during the lunchtime. In short, I do not have enough motivation to get out of that chair. But, looks like the Heavenly Gods are on my case! Believe it or not, the push for this really came from above. All thanks to the fixed thermostat in the office, which ridiculously enough is set at a specific temperature and cannot be changed, we now enjoy freezing cold temperature. Call it coercion or determination; now I am compelled to step out of office not just for the walk, but also to catch some sun.. On a serious note, I did manage to go for a walk thrice this week.

Diet wise, because of lack of time, I continued eating regular meals, even enjoyed a take out from our favourite Indian restaurant. I ate everything in moderation. For the next week I am going to plan in advance and maintain a food log. Also, I will be sharing some of the low calorie recipes that I have tried and tasted.

All though everything went hunky dory and I did end up achieving my goal, there are some confessions and some lessons learnt on the way.

Confessions:

  1. Cardinal Sin; missing the breakfast. Almost all the weight loss manuals scream at the top of their voices to not do this and yet, in all sanity I did it. I will try to not skip breakfast this week.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Walking in heels is a terrible idea. Even if the workout shoes do not go with your professional outfit.
  2. Always carry a snack with you. And not just almonds, eating just those when you are extremely hungry will make you jittery and will make you want to stop at every Starbucks you pass. Even though technically you don’t like Starbucks.

Time to learn from the mistakes. I will definitely try to amend my ways this week. Week 2 starts tomorrow…!!

Image Sources
Livestrong.com
http://www.blendspace.com
http://www.fyiliving.com

Celebrating men and the marital bond..

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Today, we celebrate the festival of Vatapournima. The words literally mean Vata or Vatavrikshabanyan tree & pournima – full moon. There is no right way to translate this but let me try to give a gist. This festival is celebrated in the western regions of India, including Maharashtra, my native state. It’s the day married women fast for a day, worship the banyan tree while praying for their Saubhagya, the good fortune. The good fortune in literal sense being “the husband”. As a part of our culture, there has always been a special importance attached to married women, Saubhagyavati – the fortunate one.

I have never been the one to follow any religious beliefs or rituals unless they have some convincing explanation or scientific reasoning.

So, my interpretation is that this tradition goes back to the days when man of the house was a sole bread winner and as long as he was strong & healthy the house flourished. He fathered healthy children, protected them and sustained the following generation. Quite similarly, Vatavriksha spreads its seeds, supports the offspring on its branches. As these offspring grow, they float to the ground and plant themselves, eventually developing into strong trees and the process of regeneration continues. I admire our ancestral wisdom in choosing to channelize their prayers by worshipping the unique element of the eco-system, which exemplifies eternal life !!

Today, let us take time to celebrate our men; our support systems & partners in crime.

One aspect of this celebration that I have never really understood is the concept of fasting. Why hurt your body? Does a cumulative noise, of churning intestines of thousands of women, move something in the universe? People – please note a Disclaimer*. I have read a lot of advantages and disadvantages of fasting, both sides being so compelling that I am yet to make up my mind. Especially in an Indian culture where most celebrations are marked with array of foods, why on this particular day is fasting so important? More research to be done.

By now, you must have guessed, I am not fasting. I plan to celebrate the day with the man in my life, by cooking his favorite meal. Zunka, – a spicy preparation made of chickpea flour, served with Bhakar -a jowar/sorghum flour bread! Its a traditional Maharashtrian meal, which can be prepared on a minute’s notice, provided you have the flours stocked in the pantry. In my home, its a staple food and the containers are almost never empty. What’s better, with its nutritional benefits, it fits into my diet plan.

Zunka, made out of Chickpea flour is high in protein and fibre while its usual accompaniment the Bhakar or the jowar flour is a gluten-free, high in protein and loaded with iron and phosphorus. These savouries are often served, piping hot, with a dollop of ghee and all the trimmings sliced onion, lemon wedges, slitted green chillies etc.

Although not considered the most auspicious of meals it is better than not eating anything, Hubs loves it and.. most importantly we have no time to shop for fresh produce. Works for all of us, doesn’t it..!!

*Disclaimer: Above written excerpt is my theory and interpretation of the traditions that we follow and is based on my understanding. It is not meant to undermine anybody’s sentiments or beliefs.

Information Sources:
sfgate.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banyan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vat_Purnima
Image Source: newbuddhist.com