Breaking Bread With Deepa Narayan

Reading Deepa Narayan’s book CHUP-Breaking The Slience About India’s Women started a fire in my belly. I travelled to my village while reading the book and I wanted to rip apart the orthodox customs there. Many women in my village still practice purdah or the custom of covering their heads and faces in front of men folk. My family doesn’t endorse this hypocritical tradition.

That doesn’t mean Indian towns and cities fare better. The descrimination is as bad here. I’ll never forget what my hotelier boss in a prestigious hotel told me when I made my point of view. He said it was his job to think, not mine. What a jerk!

CHUP is a bomb. It explodes in your face. It slams you in the centre of your forehead. It shows you a mirror and you won’t like what you see. However old or young you are the book has something for you. It voices every woman’s frustrations with the patriarchal system. You will recognize with hard facts, figures and examples how Indian women are trained to habitually blame and self flagellate themselves.

Deepa Narayan is a strong and forceful writer. I love the way she uses Hindi words in her sentences, and in the title of one of the chapters in the book, Body: Women Don’t Have Bodies, Besharam or in another chapter called Isolation: I Am Alone And Afraid, Keep Women Apart, Akeli Hoon, Darti Hoon. She shows us how women are isolated and trampled upon. How families and society plot and design to oppress women in the name of izzat, respect and morality.

It was not always like this. There’s an example in the book of her grandmother who would have laughed if she knew that today’s women must wear undergarments below their clothing. True. None of our grandmothers were bound by their dress. The figures of statues in ancient temples are beautiful, voluptuous and nudity was perfectly normal and natural. We still worship Goddesses but it’s a sham.

Look how society owns women’s bodies. You must sit properly with legs crossed. You mustn’t wear sleeveless dresses. You must look thin, fair and pretty at all times and afcourse you must shut up and silently put up with marauding relatives.

One of the books she recommends caught my eye. The Body Adorned: Dissolving Boundaries Between Sacred And Profane In Indian Art. This one I must read. Also, Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office.

Tasty and fragrant chocolate banana muffins

So I made voluptuous banana and chocolate muffins, the recipe of which comes from Nigella Lawson that cooking diva, and feminist in her own right.

Chocolate Banana Muffins

Bite into these moist, dark beauties, and thank Nigella and me!
Course Breakfast, Dessert
Keyword Eggetarian
Servings 12 muffins
Author Nigella Lawson

Ingredients

  • 3 very ripe or overripe bananas
  • 125 mililitres vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100 grams soft light brown sugar
  • 225 grams plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/ 400 degrees F/ gas mark 6. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper cases.
  • Mash the bananas with hand or a fork to a pulp. Continuing to mash the bananas add the oil, eggs and sugar and mix.
  • Mix the plain flour, cocoa powder and soda bicarbonate.
  • Now add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, beating gently and lightly.
  • Fill the mixture into the muffin cases upto 3/4 level and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the muffins are well risen and are a lovely brown colour.
  • Cool for a few minutes and remove from the muffin pan.

Breaking Bread With Shanta Gokhale

Shanta Gokhale’s autobiography

Shanta Gokhale’s writing is effortless, flowing like rich smooth cream and fresh as the scent of lemon. I don’t know why I didn’t discover her sooner. I’m making up for precious lost time. I read her book without a break. It was unputdownable.

She was born a few years before both my parents, in 1939, and lives in the grand old city of Bombay, where my parents grew up and went to school and college, before my dad left to join the Air Force and then married mom.

I love her simple writing style. She writes with finesse. A woman of the world.

One of the author’s favorite dishes, Bombay Bhelpuri.

She’s original. She’s written about her life through her body and she treats us to exquisite pirouettes (she’s learnt Indian dance, among her many talents) with her life. She’s courageous. She’s had more than her fair share of ups and downs with two unsuccessful marriages, illness, shortage of money and bringing up two children all on her own. Still she is honest, sensitive and witty. The lady is a tough cookie!

She’s lived life on her own terms, not hankering for fame or fortune. And she’s written this book at the age of 78 and remembers names and incidents from her childhood!

I didn’t know that TV personality Renuka Shahane was her daughter, before I read her autobiography.

I’m thirsting for more of Shanta Gokhale’s writing, what a massive contribution she has made to the performing arts with her voluminous writings in both Marathi and English and her translations from English to Marathi and vice versa.

In her book she writes about a trifle pudding she had many many times as a navy wife during her first marriage and when she was being courted. I think she has bittersweet memories of the pudding. Perhaps, I’m reading too much into her writing.

I looked everywhere for a tasty Indian Navy trifle pudding recipe but I couldn’t find one so I asked one of my good friends who is married into the navy if they still make trifle puddings like they made all those years back. She reasoned that the English influence has been overruled and the current crop of Taj and Oberoi trained cooks and chefs do make a favorite trifle called Trunk of Tree.

Here is a delicious trifle pudding recipe that I’ve adapted from Kikky Sihota’s book The Ultimate Army Cookbook: A Memsahib Cooks. She calls it Boozy Trifle because it contains delicious amounts of rum in it, but her trifle contains no fruit, like the usual trifle pudding. I changed some of the ingredient quantities and added dry fruits to it. I used less cake and less cream. Turned out yum.

Trifle pudding adapted from Kikky Sihota’s Boozy Trifle.

Here’s the recipe.

Boozy Trifle

This recipe turns out yum. Go ahead and add more cream or whipped cream to the recipe and more sugar too, if you will.
Course Dessert
Cuisine British
Keyword Vegetarian
Servings 6 servings
Author Kikky Sihota

Ingredients

  • 450 gms sponge cake
  • 5 tbsp jam
  • 4 tbsp rum
  • 3 heaped tbsp custard powder
  • 3-4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2-3 heaped tbsp cocoa
  • 2 tbsp rum
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 200 ml fresh cream
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup mixed nuts and raisins

Instructions

  • Cut the cake into 1/2 inch cubes.
  • Mix the jam and 4 tbsp rum and heat till it melts.
  • Now lightly mix the cake pieces with the rum jam mixture.
  • Mix the custard powder, sugar, and milk and cook till thick. Remove from heat.
  • Add the cocoa powder, 2 tbsp rum and butter and mix well.
  • Gently mix the chocolate custard with the cake and jam without breaking or mashing the cake pieces. Fill this into a mold and freeze it for 4 hours.
  • Remove and put in a serving dish.
  • Cover the trifle completely with the cream.
  • Now sprinkle nuts on the layer of cream and cake.
  • Chill and serve.

Breaking Bread With Jerry Pinto

Jerry Pinto’s autobiographical novel.

Living life with a mentally ill person is difficult, especially if she’s so close, esepcially if she’s your mom. Jerry Pinto’s autobiographical novel, Em and the big Hoom is about suffering, it is endearing and touching and funny too.

It sure takes courage to write about it. People talk, they say all sorts of things. How could you write about a loved one for the money? How could you write about ‘shame’? But perhaps it’s a kind of catharsis, this writing. It saves you and heals others.

Not in the whole wide world is it easy to imagine the trauma that a mentally ill person and their family members go through. The mentally ill are stigmatized and society disclaims them as mad or retarded. If only we’d realize that this is an illness like any other, like diabetes or osteoporosis. It’s nobody’s fault, especially not the one who suffers. Anyone, you, me or somebody else could fall prey.

This book of stories edited by Jerry Pinto about a loved one with a mental illness.

Your serotonin and dopamine levels play havoc and no one, least of all you know what to do about them. Sometimes family and friends think you’re ok and all is well, but then disaster strikes.

But I can also tell you that sometimes, love wins the day. It is difficult, but love and care and support do win the day.

Does the illness creep in through your genes or is the devastation caused by environmental factors, or both? Depression, bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, doctors say they’re genetic but.. a hundred questions, science still doesn’t have answers.

In the book Em and her family drink tea by the gallons. Em, the mom has a sweet tooth. She loves to douse her tea with spoonfuls of sugar and eat chocolates and mithai.

These very chocolatey muffins are made in memory of Em. She would have delighted in the loads of chocolate in them.

The recipe is adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking, From My Home To Yours.

Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Muffins

You can call them muffins or cupcakes, whatever you like, and anytime is a good time to eat these full of chocolate muffins, at breakfast, tea, or maybe even as a sweetdish.
Course Breakfast
Cuisine American
Keyword Eggetarian
Servings 12 muffins
Author Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients

  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 150 gms bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups all purpose or plain flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbspn baking powder
  • 1/2 tspn baking soda or soda bicarb
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the muffin molds in the muffin pan or fit them with paper muffin cups.
  • Mix the butter and half the chocolate in a thick bottomed pan and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. Or, melt in a microwave.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • In a medium sized bowl whisk the egg, buttermilk and vanilla extract until well combined.
  • Pour the liquid ingredients and the melted chocolate and butter onto the dry ingredients and mix lightly and quickly. Don’t worry if there are some lumps in the batter. But don’t overmix the batter.
  • Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate. And divide the batter equally between the 12 muffin cups.
  • Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean. Remove the muffin pan from the oven, transfer to a rack, cool for 5 minutes and then remove the muffins from their molds.

This beautiful song then, True Colours, for God’s specially loved ones.

Breaking Bread With R.K. Narayan

R.K Narayan’s book of short stories.

R.K. Narayan’s books are a delight to read. There is an endearing simplicity and innocence about his writing. A sweetness and an earthiness. He managed to be innocent and yet an astute observer of people at the same time. The beauty of Natayan’s writing was that his humor was gentle and he rarely ever came across as nasty or mean, just like his younger brother R.K. Laxman, the eminent cartoonist. He also chose to write on many subjects other than the man woman relationship.

I’ve been reading Narayan’s autobiography, My Days. He was born in 1906. At the age of three or four he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Madras because his mother was too delicate to look after the entire brood. Here in his grandmother’s house he had a pet monkey and peacock. With such great flair does he begin his autobiography, writing about the antics of his two pets, that whatever your age may be you’ll be enchanted.

R.K. Narayan’s autobiography

As a child Narayan didn’t like going to school and hated drill and examinations. Poor Narayan, at one stage, after he had finished his studies, and with no luck on the job front, he was made to take up a teacher’s job….and teach drill and mathematics! and how he hated both. He walked away from the teaching assignment never to return. Thank God, for what a loss it would have been for readers all over the world had he not become a writer. He also went against the grain about the education system all his life. He said he learnt more from books outside than the ones he was forced to read in school and in college.

In his early days most people poked fun at him for wanting to be a writer and thought he was being irresponsible by not taking up a job and supporting his large family when his father had just retired.

But he did become a writer, and how stylish, magnificent and priceless is his writing. He won many accolades for his brilliance, among them The Sahitya Academy award for his book The Guide, and the A.C Benson Medal by the Royal Society Of Literature in 1980. He was made an Honorary Member of the American Academy And Institute Of Arts And Letters In 1982. He was honored with the Padma Bhushan in 1964 and the Padma Vibhushan In 2000. He died in May 2001 at the age of 94.

In her book Tiffin, which I loved reading, Rukmini Srinivas reveals that Narayan was vegetarian. He liked eating curd rice, ulundu vadai or deep fried, spicy, split black bean batter vadais which she often made for him. He also loved his filter coffee. And his packet of scented betel nut which he kept with him at all times.

One of Narayan’s favorite dishes on his visit to America, curd rice.
Spicy and tangy onion coconut chutney
Ulundu Vadai with onion and coconut chutney. An R.K. Narayan favorite.

Here is the recipe of ulundu vadai or deep fried, spicy, split black bean batter vadais, as I have adapted it from Rukmini Srinivas’s book.

Ulundu Vadai

These delicious deep fried vadais were among Narayan’s favorite food when he met Rukmini Srinivas and her husband in America.
Course Snack
Cuisine Indian
Keyword Vegetarian
Author Rukmini Srinivas

Ingredients

  • 2 cups urad dal or split black beans, soaked for two hours and drained
  • 1 tspn salt, or to taste
  • 2 finely chopped green chillies
  • 6 coursely ground black peppercorns
  • 8 curry leaves, torn in pieces
  • 1/4 tspn asafoetida powder
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh coconut
  • 1 tspn grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups oil for frying

Instructions

  • Grind the split black beans in the food processor to a thick, creamy batter, adding approximately 1/4 cup water while grinding. Remove in a vessel and keep aside.
  • Add the salt, green chillies, black peppercorns, curry leaves, asafoetida, coconut and ginger. Mix well.
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan to medium heat, not smoking hot. With wet hands make balls out of the batter, flatten each slightly, then make a hole in the centre and drop them one at a time into the hot oil. You can fry approximately 5 or 6 vadais in one batch depending on the size of your pan.
  • Initially the vadais will sink to the bottom and as they fry they will rise to the surface. Gently separate them if they stick to each other. Fry them on all sides to a golden brown color.
  • Once done, remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. A well done vadai will be crisp on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside.
  • Serve hot with onion coconut chutney.

And finally this wonderful music from the title track of Malgudi Days which enthralled us when it appeared on television many years ago.

Breaking Bread With Rahul Pandita

The pain and loss are heartrending. An entire community exiled in its own country. The anguish and the hurt, but no mention of this chapter of our recent history. Of brutality and savageness inflicted on Kashmiri Pandits whose only fault was, there was nothing to fault in them. Of human and political callousness at its worst. Targeted and hounded as infidels. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is shocking. It is the true story of Rahul Pandita, now a renowned journalist, the Kashmiri Pandit community, his parents, extended family and his cousin Ravi, his hero.

History forgotten is bound to be repeated, and Rahul Pandita is brave in his writing. His father is my hero. In the toughest of situations in his childhood he guided the author to stay on the right path. His mother is brave, struggling on a daily basis to keep the family going, when they are driven out of their huge home that her husband built with every penny of his savings, and have to live as refugees, shunted from room to room. Her health deteriorates. There is so much trauma. In happier times she used to hum a lovely song from the film Awaara where Nargis wishes that the moon would turn its face away so that she could love Raj Kapoor.

I’m posting a recipe of Chana ki dal from Krishna Prasad Dar’s book Kashmiri Cooking. He is the father of cartoonist Sudhir Dar. They are Kashmiri Pandits too.

Krishna Prasad Dar writes, Kashmiri Pandits prefer to use asafoetida and curd in their cooking as opposed to onions and garlic. But with outside influences, people today do use onion and garlic too. In this recipe he keeps the onion optional, but I did add an onion to my dal and it tasted very good. Have this dal with a vegetable dish, Indian breads, a curd dish and a sweetmeat to make a full meal. The Kashmiri Pandits, although they are Brahmins are great meat eaters.

Before I go on to the recipe, I’d like to let my readers know that this post is inspired by Valerie Stivers’s blog from the Paris Review. I found it stimulating.

Here is the recipe for Yellow Split Lentils or Bengal Gram or Chana ki Dal

Chana ki Dal or Bengal Gram Dal

This recipe is adapted from Krishna Prasad Dar’s recipe in Kashmiri Cooking.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Keyword Vegetarian
Servings 3 persons
Author Krishna Prasad Dar

Ingredients

  • 150 gms bengal gram or chana dal
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp ginger powder
  • 10-15 gms ghee or clarified butter
  • 1 onion finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 tspn sauf or fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • A pinch of asafoetida
  • Some fresh or dried mint leaves, finely chopped if fresh
  • A little jaggery
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  • Soak the bengal gram dal in water for an hour or two.
  • Drain the water from the dal and put it in a pressure cooker. Add salt to taste and pressure cook for two to three whistles. When you open the cooker the dal should still have grains but they should be soft. Most of the water should have evaporated.
  • Add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water to the dal. Add the turmeric powder, crushed fresh ginger and ginger powder and slow cook for a few minutes.
  • In a frying pan, heat the ghee. Add the chopped onions and fry till golden brown. Add the cloves, asafoetida and fennel seeds. Fry for a few seconds.
  • Overturn the fried onions with the ghee and spice tadka onto the dal. Sprinkle the mint leaves and add a little jaggery. Stir the dal. Serve hot.

There are many versions of the song Imagine but this particular version by Eva Cassidy strikes a heart touching chord.

Eating My Cake And Having It Too

close up of apple on top of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You all must wonder why I write so much, I write posts for my blog, I write posts on Facebook, I write all the time. I virtually drown myself…..and you in my writing. To tell you the truth I love writing, in fact before I started blogging about food, I used to be a content writer, writing articles for the net and writing content for websites.

Until of course I realized that I wanted to start my own food blog. So now I can eat my cake and have it too, pursuing my twin passions-writing and cooking.

I’m as passionate about adding delicious spices to my cooking as I am about punctuating my writing, after all, spices make cooking special and punctuation is the jewel in a written piece. In fact I’m currently rereading a funny, rib tickling book on punctuation called Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Oh, by the way, that is  my third pleasure-reading. I absolutely must read a large chunk of pages from my current favorite of the day. I’m not crazy about books with pictures, I want good writing, although cookbooks with lovely photographs are welcome. But I do so love to read cookbooks that are interestingly written too. I love reading food memoirs.

If you visit Ahmedabad you’re welcome to come over to my place and share some of the food I cook. You must also check out my library. It’s got books on every subject and I also have a wonderful collection of cookbooks.

Those of you who read my Facebook page will know that my friend from school Manisha, who I haven’t met for 35 years now and who I got in touch with via Facebook, thank you Facebook, recently gifted me some lovely cookbooks to add to my collection.

So now, I’m ravenous and am going to raid the fridge. And munch on something tasty with what else but a book to read, while I watch the view from my window.

Savvy Indian Cooking Tools

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When I googled ‘Indian Kitchens’ while writing this article, the page that popped up had articles on modern Indian kitchens and urban Indian kitchen design. Nowhere the old fashioned kitchens that we had in our parent’s times. However, kitchen tools haven’t changed much, except for a Teflon coating here and a plastic handle there, and the Indian housewife plays savvy magician with all these at her disposal.

There are so many cooking tools that I can’t explain all of them here but I’ll write about some of them.

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Rolling pin- Also known as the belan in Hindi, it is made of wood or plastic and used to roll chapatis, parathas and puris (Indian flatbreads eaten with meals). It’s better half is known as the chakla and is the base (made of marble, steel or aluminium) on which the flatbread is laid out and rolled.

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Tongs- Tongs or Chimta or Chimti, as they are called in Hindi, are used to lift hot vessels that don’t have heat resistant handles on them. Another lighter variation of tongs are also used to delicately flip chapatis on the gas stove and cook them. This flipping of chapatis is quite an art in itself.

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Slotted spoon- This kitchen tool is usually used to drain out fried puris or pakoras from hot oil, and it an important Indian kitchen essential.

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Tadka pan- This is a beautiful invention, a small pan with a long heat resistant handle attached to it which allows one to make tadka, or sauté spices to add to curries , dals and vegetables.

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Frying pan, wok, or kadhai– This is a deep bottomed pan, used to cook different dishes such as vegetables or biryani or even fry stuff.

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Thalis– Now a days most Indians eat out of plates made of glass, ceramic or melamine but on festivals they bring out their beautiful steel, silver or mixed metal thalis(plates) to eat meals from. These also have katoris which are about the size of 1/2 a cup each, to fill with dal and curries and sweet dishes.

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Spice box- The masala box is every housewife’s favourite companion in the kitchen. It has small katoris within it to store different everyday spices in it. It has a tightly fitted cover to keep the spices fresh.

There are many more kitchen essentials that play a part in the Indian housewife’s kitchen. Her kitchen is versatile, imaginative and a paradise to make magic while cooking for family and friends.

 

 

 

Cookbooks That Bring To You The Wonders Of Gujarati Cuisine

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Did you know that Madhur Jaffrey the queen of Indian cookery once proclaimed that Gujarati cuisine is the haute cuisine of vegetarianism? Yes she did! Gujarati cuisine is suave, elegant, and tasteful. The different regions of Gujarat, Kathiawar in western Gujarat, South and Central Gujarat, have each of them, different tasting foods. Surat’s   Undhiya is a delicacy you must have. The Gujarati thali with its full lunch or dinner meal is famous. And what about the  farsan or snacks that we have at tea time? They’re fantastic, including Khaman dhokla, Handvo, Paatra and Muthia, not to mention the delicious Khandvi.

Many of the recipes I’ve posted on the blog are Gujarati ones, handed down to me by my mom and in turn, her mom. These are mostly undocumented and so they come down from generation to generation, changing a bit along the way, with that special Indian way of andaaz or approximation, making them taste even better.

I am giving you the names of some books here that have delved into the wonders of Gujarati cuisine.

Gujarati cuisine is mostly vegetarian but you will find non vegetarian recipes too in Bhanu Hajratwala’s Gujarati Kitchen- Family Recipes For The Global Palette.

Tarla Dalal’s The Complete Gujarati Cookbook is the Indian diva’s take on Gujarati cooking. And the book has all the classic Gujarati dishes. It’s fantastic for a lover of Gujarati food.

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Bhojan no Anand-Your Friendly Guide to the Gujarati Thali- Compiled by Anjali Mangaldas, are all the absolutely delicious recipes of the food served at The House of MG, her son’s hotel in Ahmedabad. This series of books is a must have.

Master Chef’s of India- Gujarati Kitchen is from the Master Chef series of cookbooks and it won’t let you down. The book is a small pack of dynamite.

So those are some of the books that will give you a taste of the richness of Gujarati cuisine. I promise you can make many of these recipes at home, because Gujaratis have a knack of making delicacies out of the simplest of ingredients!

 

The joys and pleasures of a food lover

Thank you for joining me as I embark on a journey to write my food blog. There is so much that I wish to share with you. I’m excited. It’s a great time to start a food blog, I feel, because winter is the time when fruits and vegetables are at their freshest and available in abundance too.  Other times we must bear with cold storage foods.

This blog as it says in the subtitle is, From India With Love. I’m excited about sharing the family recipes, my mom’s and my masi’s (mom’s sister) with all of you. My masi who is no more was a great inspiration.  I got bitten by the baking bug because of her. My mom is my biggest critic. I adore her cooking. Dad is always willing to be my in-house food taster.

There is a great pleasure in cooking, especially new dishes, and especially still for family and friends. Food shared, with a loved one, a cake when an elder is sick, or when it’s a little boy or girl’s birthday, or with a neighbour, is extremely gratifying.

From time to time I will also share recipes by well known chefs from around the world. I will share tips on cooking, stories about food, fun and friendships, and I hope you will enjoy this journey as much as I am sure I will too.