Friday, 21 November 2014

Are you ready for an Ashram????

The answer is are you really ever ready to do anything? Or do you only think you are ready but never know until you do whatever it is that you are contemplating doing? Like becoming a parent or jumping out of a plane or making that drastic chop at the hairdresser….. You can try and prepare in your mind all you want but we never really know what is coming in the next moment. Even if you do something you have done a thousand times before, each experience will be different to the one before right? Because you have never been in this exact moment until now!

But this was debut experience for me. Feeling almost like I had exited the real world to be placed into a cocoon that at first felt like a prison….until I realised it’s beauty. Today I have left what I called home for the last 2 weeks, the Ayur Yoga Eco ashram.  Which was really half way between a yoga retreat and an ashram. It definitely wasn’t like some ashrams that have you getting up at 4am, where you must hand over all electronics, no hot water and you only eat rice and lentils for all meals,  sleep on concrete, scrub floors and chant until the deities embody you! Years ago I had spoken with a colleague about visiting an ashram and it has always been on my to do list. Why? To challenge myself.  To see what I am all about. Maybe it is the feeling of being lost and unsettled at times .Maybe being single without a family of my own permits time for such crazy thoughts about who I am and what’s inside this sack of skin. But the interest to learn about ourselves should be high on our priority list no? We are so eager to learn or study about history or religion or what happen on last weeks episode of  Keeping up with the Kardashians, that we don’t REALLY know about us. But it’s hard to try to do this when we are stuck living day in day out the same shitty way. Being overly stimulated with technology, people, appointments, schedules, to do lists, and always being on the rest of the worlds time and not your own. Self discipline seems to give way to a constant search for gratification which means a lot of the times we fail to realise what we have. But removing as many of those external road blocks is the perfect way to get out of your own way and tune into your thoughts, feelings and even more primitively….your senses.

My story is hilarious now I look at it! Arriving late at night after being driven for hours alone and into the middle of no where was daunting. The nearest city was over an hour away and the local village only a small dirt path dotted with a few shack houses where washing your clothes in the local stream in the main street and communal living is the norm. And greeted with no information other than “yoga at 7!” from the dude that lead me to my cabin in a paddock of darkness. Scaaaary!!! But that is India. Too much information is considered unnecessary, don’t concern yourself with  anything in the future, just focus on what is happening right now.  Hard to get your head around at first but they are really onto something I think. The first couple of days was a cross between being irritated, calm and uncertain. Set on the banks of the river, a large open space dotted with a few cabins, surrounded by palm trees and rice fields as far as the eye could see was what kept us occupied. Along with a schedule of early morning meditation, 2 hours of yoga morning and afternoon a daily yoga philosophy class and of course set meal times. We had simple wooden cabins with a bed, a toilet and shower, desk and wardrobe walking through knee high grass in the mud and dodging a wildlife sanctuary of frogs, geckos, bugs to get there.

A simple life. But we didn’t realise that the simple life was so far removed from what we are used to that you feel like you are jumping out of your skin to get to the next moment. It was so hard to just ‘be’ and not be planning for the day or week ahead. We crave to not have to do this  at home!! Most of my thoughts for the first couple of days were ‘what the F have I done?’ and 'how they hell am I going to be able to do this everyday for 2 weeks, I will go crazy!!' And we all felt like this. Others were even thinking of leaving. But why? Why are we so annoyed with NOT being time poor for once? Not being stressed with work or family or what ever else we manage to let stress us out. A small theory of mine was that I felt purposeless. Like I had far less responsibilities than what I was used to. It really made me start considering the families I saw in the local village and how having less really makes them satisfied. Their daily purpose is to work and provide for their family, to cook and clean or attend school and social interaction. And it is funny how I complain about not having time when I am at home to read my books, or to write these blogs, to play with my photography or to make sense of the junk I have saved on this computer. But a barely did any of this, I kept putting it off. And guess what I chose to do instead? I chose to just ‘be.’

Because after a week of getting used to this lifestyle we were let out of the cage and took a trip into Mysore. And that was the day that I appreciated this adventure. Because an over abundance of traffic, people, pollution, money, commercialism and unnatural noises was an attack on the senses. It made arriving back to our place of peaceful tranquillity, fresh air and constant routine a feel like a relaxing day spa. We didn’t even have to worry about feeding ourselves. We just show up. Our biggest concerns in life were which direction we should take our daily walk! Sounds like life of a princess right?? But I challenge you to spend so much time with yourself, with constant thoughts that have limited distractions, that have you question things about life, yourself, the people in it, what you are even doing with yourself, what is and isn’t important and a fear of the realisation that this is it. This is you.

 Right now you are living every second of this small amount of time that you have been given on this earth to be you. It will never happen again. Time is passing and this is the one chance that you have got at living this particular life. The other challenge is 4 hours of yoga with our teacher Sujith telling us ‘don’t break yourself’ as we try and do the scorpion pose!! Good times!!!

This I will miss about the ashram:

·      Navigating dirt paths after monsoon rains…….in the dark!

·      Being so excited that after 1 week getting my room clean and my sheets got changed from white to    bright colours

·      Mid morning peak hour dragonfly and butterfly traffic.

·      Having my senses finely tuned because I had the time to notice a snail growing it’s shell, that palm tree leaves can be deafening, I could smell in the morning that it would raining the evening, seeing all the colours of the rainbow on dragonflies and that salt sugar and that beetroot mixed with a little salt and fresh ginger can taste like the most flavoursome dish you have ever had!

·      Getting over the fact that almost every time you go to pee that there most likely going to be some kind of bug…..and that is after you have successfully sidestepped frogs and geckos to get there.
Feeling blessed at being in the right place at the right time while out walking one day to lend a helping hand to an old man that was carrying two large heavy canisters in the direction of the ashram. What I didn’t know was that he and his wife had been making us a food that we could enjoy for afternoon tea. The big smile on his toothy grin was priceless as he was so proud to bring it to us from his village as a treat. It is so selfish but I am so happy that I interfered in his day to walk back with him

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Cooking class Jaipur India - Korma korma korma

Prepare yourself. Actually I should have prepared myself! The first time that I really had time for an India cooking class here in India was in Jaipur. And Jaipur cooking classes happened to be the first one that came up in the Google search and boy was it raved about on Tripadvisor. And Tripadvisor is is always my religion when I travel. Wow is all I can say. Cooking classes can vary in quality and therefore price everywhere you go and I have paid as little as $5 to $40-50. But an experience that cannot be matched in attention to detail, knowledge, professionalism and plus it is Indian cuisine. The most complicated and detailed of them all.  This was with a little more northern influence and I will do another when I am down south. 

They picked us up, dropped us off, had specially prepared menus for us so we didn’t need to write and it was even dated with our names! Special!!! And we did learn just one dish, we learned seven!! SEVEN!!!! Class was 3 hours then we sat with Lukesh and his gorgeous wife Geetika for another couple of hours as we ate the crazy amount of food that we could not finish and chatted as if we were all friends. Each recipe came with not only the met hind to make the dish, but methods for making the spices, or sauces or the pastes that go into making the dish. Aaaaaaaaah it is soooooo much! But it is awesome that it takes a long time. Why? Because it is all fresh. All from scratch! Not store bought butter chicken sauce in a jar or packet of masala spices. It is all made from scratch but the key is you make the key ingredients in advance,  so when you want to make it is not a marathon in the kitchen. But that is like most cooking right? You gotta have your brains about you and prep! So here is the list and some pics of what we made and I chose a recipe from the list to give to you!

  • Chicken Kadhai (chicen dish with whole red chilli, garlic and tomato gravy)

  • Paneer Korma (homemade Indian cottage cheese with a mildly spiced onion and cashew nut gravy)

  • Channa Masala (chick peas cooked in onion, tomato and spices)

  • Vegetable Makhani (vegetables cooked in a butter tomato sauce)

  • Chicken Biryani (layers of curried chicken and basmati rice then cooked in the oven

  • Naan (Indian bread traditionally cooked in a Tandoor oven, picture a vertical woodfire oven and the bread slapped onto the inside walls)

  • Saffron Kheer (sweet rice pudding with nuts and saffron)

Korma (paneer, chicken, vegetable)

Seeing our teacher making paneer (indian cottage cheese) from scratch was incredible and soooooo easy. But Korma is just the particular sauce and you can substitute anything from chicken or vegetables….I would even try using  a nice white fish!


I tsp oil
1 cup of  chopped ingredient of choice (vegetables, chicken/meat, paneer)
1 tsp each of green cardamon seeds, brown cardamom seeds, cloves and black peppercorn
1 tsbs of ginger garlic paste (see below)
3 tbs onion cashew nut paste (see below)
50 ml natural yogurt *
50ml cream *
1 medium onion roughly chopped
1 tsp dried fenugreek
1 teaspoon Garam Masala ( see below)

* Because my belly is not really friends with dairy I’m going to be honest here…… I am probably going to try substituting with a non dairy option of coconut cream/yogurt! Could be interesting!

11.    Heat oil over medium heat (I always prefer coconut or olive/nut based oils) and add green and brown cardamon seeds, peppercorns and your garlic ginger paste cooking for 2 minutes.
  2. Add yoghurt and cream and gradually add your onion, seed and cashew nut paste.
33.  Add your choice of main ingredient and add fenugreek, Garam Masala and season with salt to your liking. After 5 minutes reduce heat and let simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Ginger garlic paste

Simply combine 100 grams of peeled garlics and 50 grams of ginger (or always ½ the amount of ginger to garlic) to a blender with a little water and blend until you have a paste. Store in a glass jar in the fridge ready for next time!

Cashew nut, fried onion and melon seed paste

Equal parts:
·        -cashew nuts
·       -melon seeds (the tiny black ones, I am  going to try whole pumpkin seeds)
·       -fried onion (these are just fried shallots that you can buy however to make from scratch you just fry finely diced onion then place in the oven to bake until dried.

      Soak seeds and nuts in water for half an hour and rinse. Combine nuts, seeds and  fried onion in a blender and blend adding water as needed until you have a thick creamy paste.

Homemade Paneer cheese

Chicken Kadhai

Me makin naaaaaaan!

Our dinner table
The fruits of our labour!