Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love is one of those books I’d been wanting to read for a while but just hadn’t got around to. A few days back I saw it on a friend’s bookshelf and asked if I could borrow it. It’s been a great read. It’s a woman’s journey of self discovery: to find happiness, pleasure and love in her life. Or as the book’s subtitle reads: ‘One Woman’s Search for Everything’.

Liz Gilbert seemingly has everything anyone could ask for: she is a successful writer, is married, has a beautiful house and great family and friends. But at age 31, she finds herself broke- financially and emotionally.  After a long-winded divorce and simultaneous love affair that ends in disaster, she’s left horribly heartbroken and depressed. To pick up the pieces of her life she decides to just leave everything behind and travel for a year to the three ‘I’s: Italy, India and Indonesia and spend four months in each of the places.

She travels to Italy because she has always wanted to learn the Italian language, not for any other reason but that she finds it beautiful. Her journey in Italy was my favourite part of the book. It is dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, which in her case is in the form of lounging around in the sun near beautiful fountains and gardens, exploring the different cities in Italy at a leisurely pace (but mainly Rome where she is based), making friends, learning and practising Italian with new friends and strangers; and most importantly eating massive quantities of amazing food: fresh pasta and pizza, farm fresh vegetables, fish and meats and amazing gelato and pastries. She would just go to a restaurant based on recommendations and without even looking at the menu and ask the proprietor to bring her something great to eat and most of the time, she would be blown away by what was laid in front of her. Reading about her experience, I just wanted to visit Italy again and experience everything the way she did.

She had been introduced to a spiritual healer through her ex-boyfriend and had started meditation which brought her solace. So she decides to go to the Ashram of her guru in India and devote 4 months to spiritually cleanse her life. That part of the book was not an easy read and its not meant to be either I guess. She talks about her spiritual experiences, beliefs of the Yogic practice and her struggles with certain practices which were a reflection of her own ego or inner state. Having lately been struggling spiritually, I realize the importance of spirituality in one’s life to fill an internal void. I wish the book had inspired me enough to whip a prayer mat and start my own prayer/meditation, but unfortunately as I could hardly relate to some of her almost out-of-body experiences, this wasn’t the case. I agree that in such cases, having guidance and someone to talk to really helps.

Her last stop was in Bali, Indonesia where she had been a few years ago and had found the place the most beautiful she’d ever been to. She figures that after her indulgences in Italy and her abstinence in India, she will use her time in Bali to find balance in her life in beautiful surroundings. As the names alludes to, there she not only finds happiness but also love.

The book is a great read and thoroughly entertaining even if it is essentially one woman’s self- obsessed ruminations. But that’s where the writer is so gifted: she sustains your interest through her journey of self-discovery for nearly 350 pages. Parts of the book are witty, parts are heartbreaking but most of it is so beautifully written. Her honesty about her failings and her ability to analyze her own life and come out on the other side victorious is absolutely inspiring. She makes you want to throw caution to the wind, pack your bags and leave on your own journey to places where you’ve always wanted to go to and do the things you’ve been storing in the recesses of your mind.

ps. Next stop: I have to watch the film!

Deutschland and beyond…

We’ve come to Germany (Munich to be specific) for a month. Asim has a work project here and so Elhaan and I have tagged along. I was pretty excited as it gave us the chance to ‘live’ in another country as opposed to ‘visit’, but without making too much of a commitment.

We drove here from England through France. Although we were there only for a night, I was excited about the chance to ‘use’ some of my French. Even if it just amounted to ordering lunch at a creperie or asking for directions. The creperie, a cute little place called La Petite Hermine, was in a small town near the German border called Soufflenheim. The staff was super friendly, perhaps because I was making such an effort with my baby French. Buerre d’escargot on the menu sounded interesting but I couldn’t be sure what sort of butter this was. The waitress kindly drew a SNAIL on her notepad for me!

That’s for French but learning German is another matter altogether. The language seems really intimidating at first impression. Asim bought a phrasebook and it almost gave me chestpain skimming through it. The words seemed so bulky and so harsh sounding (almost like Pashto!). But just by looking at signs and labels (EVERYTHING is in German), you do begin to pick up a few things. The thing I’ve noticed about German is that while written down, it seems very different from English, when you actually say the word its a lot closer to its English counterpart. As opposed to French where the written word is sometimes almost the same as it’s English counterpart, but it’s pronounced very differently. So for example, “Das Wetter ist gut” is “The weather is good” which when said out loud is even closer to English than it is when written.

I still haven’t come to my impressions of Munich because to be honest, I don’t know what to make of the city yet. It’s interesting and beautiful, relaxed and rushed. But I feel like I don’t have my finger on it. You can’t really give a review in the middle of a movie, can you?


Glockenspiel at the Marienplatz

So I’ll share a few very random observations. I love the city centre (the area near Marienplatz) where I can spend hours just randomly walking through the streets and outdoor market and the many cafes.  I love the cafe culture here. Unlike England, where it’s very difficult to find a cafe open after 6pm, here the cafes are open almost as late as restaurants and bars. Oh and also the gelaterias serving the italian gelato. There seems to be a lot of Italian influence on the food culture here.

Sometimes it seems there are more dogs than kids on the streets. Every second person on the street has a dog with them. To the extent that you’ll even see them in restaurants or cafes which we’re not used to at all coming from England. I will not say Pakistan, because there dogs are a totally different matter. Considered unhygeinic and ‘polluting’, people would have a mini heartattack seeing one at a restaurant.

Having the lowest birthrate in all of Europe, German people seem to have an extreme reaction to babies. Mostly they’ll dote and fawn over them and random strangers will smile at you if you’re accompanied by a baby. I thought people were very smiley, but our friends who lived here pointed out that it’s just because of Elhaan. Normally strangers won’t make so much eye contact or smile at you. Some have even stopped to comfort Elhaan on the bus or even on the street if he’s crying a lot. But then there are others who find it annoying when a baby is crying on the bus. We dragged Elhaan to a cafe past his bedtime one night and he was super cranky and loud. One old guy literally shoved his fingers in his ears and kept on grumbling in German glaring at us until we actually rushed out of the cafe! But I would like to believe that’s the exception rather than the rule.

On the topic of babies and dogs, they almost seem interchangeable though. I was pointing out someone’s dog to Elhaan (hoping to instil a love of animals in him), when the person stopped and said ‘Oh this is great. I wanted to look at your baby. So now you can look at my dog and I can look at your baby!’. I burst out laughing thinking how someone in Pakistan would respond if their baby was just equated with a dog.

A word on travelling with a baby. It is NOT easy. At least this baby of mine will protest and scream and get his annoyance conveyed to you in the loudest possible manner if his naptimes are sacrificed for sightseenig or if he’s pushed way past his bedtime. Also it was a big mistake to leave his comfy pushchair behind with the sunshade and footmuff and instead bring the lighter ‘travel-friendly’ stroller. It is impossible for him to fall asleep in it and when it’s cold, he is miserable and crying to get out of the stroller.

This is not what Salzburg looked like on the day we visited. Make it grey and snowy and you have a more accurate picture.

We went to Salzburg and Vienna over the weekend, and the whole time Elhaan was miserable with a runny nose. Just our luck it had snowed that very day and it was frrrreeezing. The only time he was happy was when we let him push his own pushchair and walked at a snail’s pace through Vienna’s city centre or at the Belvedere Palace. The Palace is beutiful and majestic without being imposing or intimidating. Asim put his finger on it when he said the architecture and the landscaping has a calming effect on you rather than leaving you awestruck. This is where a lot of Klimt’s paintings are hosted, but we didn’t have the time to actually go inside or visit any museums. My homage to Klimt is in the form of a beautiful umbrella I bought from Salzburg with his artwork on it.

Both the cities are amazing though. Salzburg, Mozart’s hometown, has a beautiful mix of architectural traditions and I’m sure it’s gardens and streets would be breathtaking on a less snowy and grey day than the one on which we visited.

Belvedere Palace in Vienna

Vienna is just grand and beautiful and has so much character. I wish next time we get a chance to relax and enjoy it rather than just rushing and stressing with a cranky baby. Vienna is world famous for it’s coffeehouses. But for us trying out the coffee and sacher torte seemed more of a tick on a to-do list than a pleasurable activity.

Some day we’ll go again and laugh about how bad our last trip had been to this beautiful city.


Last night we had Falooda at Gifto’s in Southall and it was yummy. I think it is a bit of an acquired taste- it’s interesting how the things we love have some sort of pleasant childhood memory associated with them.

I remember having falooda the first time as a child when I was 9 I think. More than the taste, I loved that it was so colourful and served in a tall glass with a spoon. And I’m not talking about the boring kulfi falooda which consists of just the vermicelli noodles and kulfi (a rich Pakistani ice cream) mostly sold in Islamabad- I mean the full deal with the kulfi, vermicelli, tukhmalanga, milk, red syrup and chopped nuts on top. I think the first one I ever had also had jelly in it. I don’t think a lot of places in Pindi and Islamabad do it. I was asking my mom today where it was that I’d first had it and she said it was probably in Karachi or Sargodha.

This is a perfect summer drink as it is served chilled either with kulfi or vanilla ice cream and with tukhmalanga aka tukmari (google tells me they are sweet basil seeds!) which are known for their cooling properties. They are very similar to tapioca seeds: you soak them in water and they become soft and jelly-like.

Here’s an easy recipe I found online- will be trying it out soon.


Ingredients: serves 2

Milk: 2 cups
Falooda vermicelli: handful
Rose syrup or Rooh Afza : 2-3 tbsp
Tukhmalanga seeds: 1 tbsp
Vanilla ice cream: 2 scoops

Boil the vermicelli in water for about 20 min, drain the excess water and let it cool. Soak the tukhmalanga seeds, they will puff up and double in size in about 15 min.

In a glass add cooked vermicelli (cool), and soaked tukhmalanga and rose syrup, pour in cold milk and top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy! :)




Beetroot gives you wings!

Beetroot - Bolthardy.  Image copyright news for Red bull addicts! There is a natural alternative. I came across an article in the Metro this morning about the properties of Beetroot.  Apparently, beetroot is the nature’s answer to the high caffeine, sugar loaded, energy drinks many of us are addicted to.

Beetroot’s high iron content gives instant boost to energy levels in our body and in addition it also cleanses our blood. Scientists believe that high consumption of beetroot juice increases nitrate levels in our blood and reduces the oxygen consumption by our muscles, consequently boosting muscle endurence.

Some people don’t like the taste but I think it’s definitely refreshing.

Utterly Butterly

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but lately all I’ve watched are cooking shows. I come home from work and if I don’t feel like doing anything, I put on the Food Network and drool.

Butter anyone?

So has all that amazing cooking inspired me to whip up great recipes of my own or at least to cook a decent meal every once in a while? Of course not.

I’ve picked up just one thing from watching these shows: the use of butter…lots and lots of butter.  I never used butter before in cooking. In fact I would never even buy butter (I only ever bought margarine) and now I’ve started adding healthy dollops to everything: from sauces to boiled rice. Asim was horrified the other day watching me put one tablespoon in the boiled rice and then adding another to the tarka for my daal.

That’s when I realized that watching all these shows had totally changed my perception of what is an acceptable level of fat in cooking. All the chefs, whether it’s Nigella Lawson or Ina Garten or Jamie Oliver or Tyler, use lots of butter… and cream and oil and sugar and chocolate. In amounts that are frankly horrifying. But watching them day in and day out has sort of desensitized me to this onslaught of fattening food. Lurpak’s amazing advertising campaign stating “Good food deserves Lurpak” doesn’t help much either.

Nigella Lawson

Honestly, I wish Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson would stop ooh-ing and aah-ing over their fattening desserts. In one recent show, I watched Nigella eating a big tablespoon of leftover toffee sauce for a cake she made (with tons of butter, cream and sugar) and saying something to the effect that it was the perfect heavenly midnight treat. Ughh. For us hapless souls, that really does give out wrong messages about comfort food and healthy eating.

Nigella is curvaceous but not fat, so in some ways it’s believable that she does eat all the food she makes. And perhaps even gives out positive messages about body image and weight. But I honestly believe if we were to start eating everything she cooks, we would be ten times her size.

Ina Garten poor woman is actually really fat herself so while she’s dousing her food in olive oil or putting in two sticks of butter for a dessert, I’m thinking “If I cook like her, I’ll start looking like her too”. But to be really honest, these aren’t the most annoying chefs. The ones who really piss me off are those who are stick thin and still cooking amazingly rich dishes. Then you know they don’t themselves eat anything they cook.

Ina Garten

I was also thinking, while butter in such excess amounts is not good, have we all gone to the other extreme of becoming too prissy about butter? One of my flatmates at Oxford used butter for cooking and was one of the fittest and healthiest people I knew. She did regular sports and ate healthy. Seeing my horror at her use of butter, she pointed out that there is nothing wrong with butter as long as we don’t overdo it. An article in the Independent also noted that in recent years saturated fats have become the villain that we’re all cutting out from our diets, but actually a diet that’s low in saturated fats but high in carbohydrates is worse for things like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Now this does not mean that I’m telling everyone to start having loads of saturated fats or saying that sugar and cream etc are good. Moderation is the name of the game. A dollop of butter every once in a while is fine.

I just have to remind myself that I’m not a TV chef.

Lazy Foods

“Sales of lazy foods such as peeled potatoes, chopped carrots and diced onions are on the rise. But is there anything wrong with us taking a culinary shortcut?”

I read this article just as I came back from the supermarket with my ‘quick’ grocery list– refills in between bigger grocery trips. Below is my shopping list. Overall it wasn’t too high on lazy foods, but there were a few I could’ve done without (the ones in orange):

  • Ready-made pasta sauces
  • Uncle Ben’s ‘Express’ cooked rice
  • Salt and chives
  • Coffee
  • Oranges and raspberries
  • Cereal

“In the UK, there are people who really can’t be bothered with the most basic of culinary chores. Figures out this week from the price comparison website suggest there has been an increase over the past two years in the amount of money spent on a basket of “lazy food” products like grated cheese, sliced fruit and ready chopped vegetables.”

I feel a bit guilty, as I do fall into the category of people who go for these ‘lazy’ options. I will mostly opt for grated cheese, ginger and garlic paste (as opposed to fresh ginger or garlic), canned tomatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, cooking sauces etc. But in my defense I would say that I buy these convenience foods to avoid unnecessary take-aways or order-ins. When I’m feeling incredibly lazy or if someone visits unexpectedly, it’s economically better to use a readymade cooking sauce or lazy food than going out or ordering in. In the bigger picture it helps you to save money and as the article points out, it is still healthier than a pre-cooked meal or a restaurant meal. On the flip side, I get so used to the convenience it doesn’t remain just a convenience thing for when time is short, it becomes a habit and I never bother buying the fresher healthier options.

Also I hadn’t thought about other aspects of this that the article raises: such as having a distorted perception of food (children not knowing where milk comes from!) ; the environmental costs (more packaging, production, shipping etc) and the loss of nutrients or vitamins that takes place when fruits and veggies are sliced and packaged. For these reasons at least, I will try my best to opt for fresher ingredients. But I will still stock a few lazy foods for those times when I just can’t be bothered to cook from scratch. If overall that helps me to cook more at home and eat less ‘outside’ food (read: unhealthy junk) and save money at the same time, then I’m opting to be lazy.

Courtesy: BBC