Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Tulips of Netherlands- Keukenhof Garden and Lisse

Netherlands is a country where the impossible have been realized throughout its history and can be experienced in everyday life. About 70% of the country is supposed to be at or below the sea level which gives its name, which literally means 'low country'. Thus most of the area is man-made and literally lifted from the sea by dikes, dams (which resulted in the names of many Dutch cities ending in 'dam') and currently the marvel of modern engineering, the Zuiderzee and Delta Works. But this is not where the people of Netherlands cease to amaze. Netherlands is sometimes called the 'flower shop of the world' and can boast to be the proud owner of the world's largest flower garden, the Keukenhof and would you be impressed if I told you that it lies a meter below the sea level. If not then I must say that the tulips which is now almost synonymous to this country and vice versa was not meant to be here. Originally cultivated in the Ottoman Empire, tulips were imported into Netherlands by Carolus Clusius in 1594. Between 1634 and 1637, the enthusiasm for the new flowers triggered a speculative frenzy now known as the tulip mania and tulip bulbs became so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency. Currently Netherlands in the largest exporter of tulips and it is grown almost everywhere but more famously in the region between the towns of Haarlem and Sassenheim which are about 20 km apart. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Rigi, the queen of the mountains

The impetus for our Swiss trip came when Mitra's week long summer workshop in Saint Gallen in northern Switzerland, was confirmed. Accompanying him for a week, during which he would spend the majority of the day designing lenses was not a good idea but allowing him to romance alone with the Swiss highlands was also not an option. However Mitra never fails to enchant me and without wasting valuable moments he reserved our trip to Zurich for the week following the workshop. Switzerland is well known for the vacillating alps, the cheese rich fondue, the peaks of Titlis and Jungfrau and the crowded touristic cities like Zurich, Geneva and its capital Bern. Now that a trip there was booked we started looking for some quaint less crowded but exquisite location to romantically stroll on the highlands with the alps looking down upon us. It was not long into our research that we stumbled upon this particular location, which is called the Queen of the mountains and the name was justified only when we reached it and discovered the marvels it had to offer.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Honfleur: Un amour de Normandie

The Lieutenancy at Honfleur
- Claude Monet, 1864
During some random surfing on the net, we suddenly came across these master pieces of the celebrated French impressionist painter Claude Monet. The paintings were so impressive that we could not resist making a detailed search on their location, and thus we stumbled upon the quaint port of Honfleur. The first thing that pleased us was that it was not far from Paris and thus was ideal for a weekend trip.
 Honfleur is a port on the left bank of the estuary of the Seine. We had already visited the estuary of the Seine at Le Havre. Honfleur on the other hand is much smaller and picturesque than the busy modern port of Le Havre. Though 'fleur' in French means flower, the 'fleur' in Honfleur signifies the branching of the Seine into the sea. However Honfleur is no less than a graceful flower in the bouquet of beautiful towns dotting the Norman coast of France. Because of its strategic location on the mouth of the Seine, Honfleur has benefited through out history from maritime trade and more significantly from trading of wood in the 19th century. Though the trading tradition is now overshadowed by the more affluent Le Havre the maritime charm is still intact in Honfleur.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Indian Shahi dinner with Lachcha and Shahi Parathas

In the afternoon while taking a sip of darjeeling tea from my tintin mug I started to plan my dinner menu. Today I was in the mood to cook Indian cuisine however the regular stuff like always was off my lists. So I decided to cook two different types of paratha and a chicken side dish. Recently during my visit to Kolkata I tasted the perfect laccha paratha and shahi paratha at the Sonargaon restaurant of Taj Bengal. This thought came to my mind and it suddenly occurred to me that the only person who could help me with my en-devour is our friend Shamba  Mukherjee who happens to be a great chef. The easiest way to communicate with him is to write a message in Facebook. I wrote to Shamba and to my delight he replied back immediately. I must say he is also a very good teacher. The last line of his detailed message, explaining the secrets to perfect parathas was that I had to send him the photos of what I had cooked. I read the message twice to get the recipe into my head. All the necessary ingredients were there in my pantry and thus started my venture with the parathas.

The dough for the lachcha parathas
The Lachcha paratha
  • First I prepared the dough for the lacha paratha. I shifted the dough and the baking powder. 
  • In a bowl with 500 grams of flour, I added 5 grams of  baking powder. Then I took the necessary amount of water needed for kneading the dough. I used lukewarm water because the ghee(clarified butter) would dissolve better in it. I added salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar in it. 
  • Then I made a well in the middle of the kneading bowl and poured the water in it. The water must be at room temperature. The I started to knead the dough and then left it to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes.
  • Now it is time to divide the dough into fist size balls. The I greased it with ghee and flattened it with the help of a rolling pin. Again greased both the sides and then made pleats to make a fan. Then rolled this lengthwise into a ball and kept it in a cool place for 30 minutes. Then with the help of my palm I flattened it a bit and then used a rolling pin to flatten it again. 
  • Now it was time to grill the paratha. I first grilled it dry on a non stick pan and then add oil or ghee from the sides and grilled both the sides nicely. To remove the excess oil and keep it soft, I removed it from the heat and put it on top of a paper napkin and covered it with another paper napkin. 
  • I made 3 such parathas and then served them with Chicken Butter masala.

The Lachcha paratha ready on the pan

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Muffins à la rose de Provins

Enactment of Thibaud IV bringing back
the rose of Damas
Whenever I travel to any place I try to buy some locally produced products. These products always taste better than their commercial counterpart. Recently during our day trip to Provins I bought rose flavoured sugar, rose flavoured honey, rosey diffuser & two different types of rosey soaps. Ever since the Duke of Champagne, Thibaud IV brought back a rose from Damascus to Provins during the Crusades in 1240, the rose became one of the symbols of the town and is now part of its historical heritage.

Today was again a day of sudden appetite for innovative cooking and I thought of baking rose flavoured muffins by utilizing the rose flavoured sugar of Provins. Initially i was a bit skeptical & nervous about how it would turn up but then i thought it was worth giving a try.