The pandemic has led us to inure in ways we might not have considered earlier. It was mum’s birthday on Monday. With the lockdown easing out around the world, people are still maintaining caution – venturing out only if absolutely required. Using the limited resources at our disposal, here’s what I made for her. A mishmash of available ingredients to create a Black Currant and Honey Sponge Cake, sprinkled with dark chocolate.
I used a cup of whole wheat flour, two eggs, a quarter cup of olive oil (we’re out of butter), a quarter cup of honey (in place of sugar), 2 tablespoons of chopped black currants, baking soda, and a little milk to get the right consistency for the batter. The baking tray was “lined” with oil. Once done, honey was poured over the upturned cake, immediately grating a slab of dark chocolate over it (so that the chocolate melts and sticks to the surface before the honey soaks into the cake).
Some members from my book club got together for a mid-week dinner, to discuss possible activities the club could take up for its readers in the upcoming weeks to end the year, and also initiatives to usher in the new year. We met at a restobar called True Tramm Trunk ( a homonym for Too Damn Drunk), described as “the best place to go for a mid-week party” (which I found out just now). Since we happened to show up on a Wednesday night, the music was just too loud – shifting from English classics of the eighties, to electronica, and Bollywood music. The musical mishmash made speaking over the noise a strain. The place is too chaotic, lighting is low, outdoor seating is claustrophobic rather than relaxing, and the indoor section is even noisier. Service, however, is prompt and the multi cuisine dishes were a treat to the taste buds. I started off with a Sweet Orange mocktail (which I don’t have a picture of) – made up of star anise, orange, passion fruit and lime. Here’s a glimpse of what we ate:
All in all, the food was a delight, even though the ambience was not. I would recommend this place for a night of dance and drinks; not really to catch up with friends or enjoy a peaceful meal.
A friend from across the globe had a rushed weekend visit scheduled to my city. With his return flight taking off from here in a few hours time, we had planned an early dinner last Friday. Olive Bar & Kitchen in the Western suburbs opens at 8 pm, but they were more than ready to accommodate us at 7:30 pm when we mentioned about our friend’s flight at 1:30 am. We opted for the outdoor seating section – with white sand spread on the ground, cane chairs, low tables, string lights and glass bottles filled with lights hanging from trees in the compound, the outdoor section has a more casual and friendly vibe. Here’s a glimpse of what we ate:
A pleasant evening spent discussing books, food, running, hiking, with engaging conversations accompanying the delectable meal in a wonderful ambience.
Another year, another edition. The fitness based concept by the Mumbai Road Runners (MRR) recently concluded its sixth edition of the Navratri challenge called “NavRun“. Navratri is a nine nights (and ten days) Hindu festival, celebrated differently in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. A color is fixed for each of the days, symbolizing the nine avatars of Goddess Durga. The running community celebrates all festivals as a means of bringing people together, irrespective of religious affiliations.
The goal of NavRun is to run nine kilometers or engage in any other workout for nine consecutive days, wearing the color of the day. Workout details need to be submitted to the organizers at the end of each day, along with a brief description of what the color of the day means to you. A leeway was allowed for submissions since people were participating from around the world, across different time zones. On certain days, the organizers threw surprise challenges which we had to undertake in addition to our planned workout of the day. Here’s a summary of what I accomplished this year:
Day 1 – Royal Blue
The challenge began with a flag off two weeks ago, on a Wednesday, which is a strength training day. I accommodated the run with a modest 4 kilometer run, and upper body weight training.
Chest – 4 exercises – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Shoulders – 3 exercises – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Triceps – 3 exercises – 2 sets, 15 reps each
True blue stands for loyalty, trust and faithfulness. Royal blue (or imperial blue) manifests at the convergence of violet and blue, and represents superiority. The perfect color to kickstart the NavRun challenge, with a workout mix of endurance and strength training.
Day 2 – Yellow
Sunshine yellow on Leg Day! Hence no running here. Being a classical dancer and runner, lower body strength, balance, flexibility are very crucial for me. Here’s what I did with my yellow tee. (Incidentally the official tee of a hill half marathon💪)
Quadriceps – 4 exercises – 2 sets, 20 reps each
Hamstrings – 2 exercises – 4 sets, 20 reps
Calves – 3 exercises – 2 sets, 20 reps each
Single-leg variations for all the above exercises – 2 sets, 10 reps each
Abductors – 2 exercises – 2 sets, 20 reps each
Adductors – 2 exercises – 2 sets, 20 reps each
Yellow is the color of positivity, optimism, clarity, energy, warmth and friendliness. The brightest color on the visible spectrum signifies creativity and cheerfulness. The perfect color for a day of lower body strength training – high energy workouts comprising some of the largest muscle groups of the body.
Day 3 – Green
Celebrating the color of life, renewal, harmony, freshness. How better to workout with green than in the lap of nature. A short run in a park with pretty little bonsais dotting the landscape. Cardio and Core in verdant surroundings.
Skipping – 5 variations – 3 sets, 200 skips each
Hanging abs – 2 variations – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Planks – 6 variations – 3 sets, 1 minute each
Pushups – 1 set, 15 reps (as requested; I had already completed my chest workout for the week).
The color associated with eternal life is soothing and refreshing, and evokes a feeling of abundance. A simple routine for cardiovascular endurance and core strength, which provides tremendous fitness returns. Cardiovascular fitness enhances the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, and improves the muscle’s ability to use this oxygen for movement. The transverse abdominis, erector spinae, obliques, pelvic floor muscles, glutes work as stabilizers for the entire body and play an important role in everything the body does. It’s the simple things in life that yield the maximum joy/benefits, as proven by the color and workout of the day. 🐢
Day 4 – Grey
Rest Day. It’s a grey and gloomy day when one has absolutely nothing to do. But rest and recuperation are imperative to growing stronger for the days ahead. 🐱
The following day was going to be a busy one – a run followed by a dance show. Accommodated an hour of structural training here, to keep the joints well lubricated. Even the fittest of bodies display some kind of imbalances or structural kinks, as a result of regular wear and tear. The basic framework of the human body consists of bone, cartilage, ligament, tendon and muscle. The vital feature of the body’s structure is its joints, and their integrity determines structural fitness. There was no fixed exercise routine, but a variety of movements covering the major and minor joints of the body.
Grey is a neutral and balanced color, emotionless and conservative. It can be viewed as drab and depressing, or elegant and formal. It does not have a personality of its own, and is associated with conformism. Structural fitness is essential fitness on which all other fitness depends, making us more structurally and bio-mechanically aware. Like the color grey, a structural routine might not look or sound impressive, but goes a long way in prepping up the body and keeping it sound for other forms of activities. 🐩
Day 5 – Orange
My church feast, plus the 19th anniversary of my Odissi dance institute. (More dance details in another blog-post.) While one event was the celebration of Mother Mary as Our Lady of Fatima, the other was an invocation of myriad gods and goddesses through classical dance. That’s what I love about the NavRun challenge too – it goes beyond religion and brings people together. And the color of the day was perfect – orange being associated with kinship.
A run couldn’t be accommodated in the morning, and I settled for a modest 5 kilometer night run. Nocturnal running takes you into another world, physically and mentally. It goes against the human circadian rhythm, and the absence of ambient light amplifies the challenges faced during a day run. But it also brings perspective – a whole new world of nocturnal creatures all prepped up as darkness dawns. It makes us think beyond ourselves, about those different from us. 🐹
Orange is associated with sunshine, light, brightness. But it is also said, “Be the light you want to see in the world”. I could not manage a morning run, so donned flaming tangerine and ran around like a ball of sunshine in the dark. Orange is known to be extroverted and uninhibited, after all. It also corresponds to a thirst for action, proven by the additional squats post a highly active day.
2 sets of squats, 30 reps each (as requested in the challenge of the day)
Margaret Thatcher’s words rang true as I sipped on some golden-orange colored chamomile tea. “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing: it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.” 🧡
Day 6 – White
Kickstarted the week with a Back workout. The back plays a huge role in how the entire body functions, since it attaches to the neck, shoulders, chest, abdominals, and hips. A strong back keeps posture aligned, helps performance and prevents injury, thereby being critical to fitness. The day’s workout comprised a mix of Weight training, Pilates and Yoga – rotational movements and flexibility being as important as building muscle and strength. 🐼
Dumbbells – 3 exercises – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Resistance bands – 3 exercises – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Pilates – Prone series, 4 exercises
Yoga – Backbend series – 4 asanas
Concluded the routine with a few roll downs to neutralize the spine, and a forward bend as a counterpose.
A strong and flexible back is invigorating to the entire spine. It releases tension along the front of the body, leaving you uplifted and energized. White is considered to be the color of perfection, and a strong spine keeps the body perfectly aligned.The color of light, goodness, purity, brilliance and illumination was a perfect start to the week. White is everything and nothing. The day’s workout could be seen as everything (strength, flexibility, mobility) or nothing (just one muscle group – the Back). But it leaves one feeling fresh and serene, like snow or white kittens or fluffy clouds.💭💭💭
Day 7 – Red
Red Day following White is a pleasant sequence. As an Odissi dancer, red and white are important colors for our saree costume; red also finding its place in the red bindi and red alta. 👣
Started the day with 10 Surya Namaskars, as requested in the challenge of the day. My workout was originally planned for the evening. The nocturnal regime included an hour of cycling on the stationary bike, followed by ab exercises to counteract yesterday’s back routine.
Planks – 6 variations – 1 set, 90 seconds each
Pilates – 4 exercises
Concluded the session with 4 rounds of Chandra Namaskar.
Red is associated with energy, power, determination. It is an emotionally intense color, raises metabolism, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. Surya Namaskars in red offered a stimulant to kickstart the day. I, subsequently, toned down the evening workout to balance energy levels closer to bedtime. Sipped on some rose tisane to unwind after a long day.
Day 8 – Sky Blue
Cardio Circuit in true blue attire, with matching skipping rope and hula hoop.
~Skipping – 3 variations – 3 sets, 60 seconds each
~Hula hooping – 3 times clockwise and anti-clockwise, 100 rotations each set
~Agility ladder drills – 9 variations, 2 rounds each
~Shadow boxing – 3 rounds, 3 minutes each round
~Capoeira – 3 movements – 30 counts each
Sky blue or azure is the hue halfway between blue and cyan. It signifies contentment, inspiration, determination, freedom and intuition. Like a clear, cloudless sky, the color encourages you to be free and fearless. The day’s workout was set around agility and proprioception – bringing together balance, speed, strength and control; sense movement and be aware of how the body is moving as a co-ordinated unit. Like the color of the day, there is no limit to how much we can do, if only we challenge ourselves each day. 🏊♀️
Day 9 – Pink🐷
Culmination of the nine-day running/fitness challenge. Leg day! I usually don’t run on leg days, but needed to collect the official Pinkathon tee for their event on Sunday (more on this in another blog-post) and decided to run at the venue. The day’s workout was therefore split – Running in the morning, Strength training in the evening. 🌸
~Lower body strength, balance and flexibility training:
My favorite color, pink, is associated with playfulness, charm, innocence and laughter; the color of universal love for oneself and others. The delicate color was completely in contrast with the workout of the day, but that itself was the perfect combination – donning a color symbolic of tenderness, while working out some of the largest and strongest muscle groups of the body. Reinstating the belief that one can be fierce and feminine, delicate and dynamic. Pink is a color of compassion and is associated with giving and receiving care. And how better than to blend it into a workout – we take care of our health and our bodies support us in return. 🎁
Day 10 – Camouflage
Navratri is celebrated for nine nights and ten days. A bonus day was allotted with a special color, as a tribute to the armed forces – the people who strive tirelessly to keep our country safe.
A Chest and Shoulder strength workout:
~Yoga – Arm balancers
~Pilates – Mobility and strength for the Chest, Pectorals, Rotator Cuff, Deltoids
The camouflage color was selected as an ode to the armed forces. Nothing compares to their physical, mental and emotional strength – where the nation is considered more important than self or family. ☘️
All in all, a holistic conclusion to the festive based fitness challenge. From cardiovascular and muscular strength and endurance, to flexibility, mobility, balance and proprioception, various elements of fitness were catered to. Health and fitness are, after all, lifelong endeavors. We haven’t received our medals yet. I will share a picture of that too when I receive mine. 🙂
When friends visit from out of town, it’s a wonderful time for catching up. And food can never be far from the occasion. The day was spent meeting an old friend over lunch. (I had to create a ragtag prompt in advance yesterday, since I was scheduled to be out the entire time today.) The restaurant chosen to feast at was a place called Sassy Spoon, which serves mixed cuisines – Mediterranean, European, Asian. I had heard good reviews of the place that is known for its decor, food presentation, and courteous staff. Sharing a few pictures to feast your eyes on.
We started off with the beverages – a Fizzy Meloni – muddled fresh watermelon, with basil, lime and fizz, and Very Berry Khata comprising mulberries, orange, pomegranate and grape with kala khatta (jamun/jambolan syrup).
Starters comprised garlic bread with cheese.
From here we proceeded to the main course – grilled chicken in their house soaked BBQ sauce, grilled veggies and mashed potatoes.
This was followed by dessert – a signature dessert titled “Seven textured hazelnut and chocolate”, comprising numerous layers of brownies, chocolate chips, mousse, and both solidified and dripping chocolate.
All in all, a very enjoyable meal in one of the sassiest places around. The decor and ambiance are fabulous, with the rustic lighting adding a homely touch. Having visited during lunch hours, the place was packed, but never noisy.
“Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love” , goes a Turkish proverb. Coffee is one of my favorite beverages, consumed in different forms on the basis of where I am, what I’m doing, my mood at that particular time, if I’m eating anything along with it, or consuming it by itself. My friends and family know this too and frequently pick up coffee for me from their travels. Presently, I alternate between three types of coffee that were gifted to me at different times, from different places. Being the only coffee drinker at home, my stash is never-ending, for the time being at least.
The first variety is a Lebanese coffee a friend travelling from Lebanon had presented some months ago. (Those following this site since a while might remember the blog-post I had put up at the time.) Lebanese coffee, known as kahweh, is black, strong, and takes a while getting used to. The Arabic word for coffee, qahwa, is a shortened version of the phrase “qahwat al-bun” which means “wine of the bean” . It is also referred to as Turkish coffee, and is identical to the coffee available in the neighboring countries of the Middle East. It is derived from the Arabica bean, known as the Brazilian bean. Lebanon does not grow coffee beans; its coffee is imported from Nicaragua, Brazil and Sumatra. Coffee is served in Lebanon throughout the day, and is a sign of welcome when guests visit home. Lebanese coffee is usually prepared with a teaspoon of ground coffee, half a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of cardamom with a cup of water. The particular coffee grinds my friend had picked up were a blend of coffee and cardamom.
The second type of coffee I have here is Dormans Coffee, brought by a friend visiting from Nairobi. Dormans is a premiere coffee trading company based in Kenya. The coffee is grown organically, processed, and blended, and is derived from pure Kenya Arabica beans – harvested from cooperative farms across east Africa. I didn’t take a picture of the pack, but it came as a box comprising individual sachets of 2 grams each. (Something like the image below.) Again, a very strong coffee – I had to use one sachet for a large mug to dilute it.
The third variation of coffee available at home is Coorgi Coffee, picked up by a friend visiting the rural district of Coorg or Kodagu in the state of Karnataka in South India. The coffee is grown in high altitudes, having originated among the Chandagiri hills of Chikmagalur district. Coorgi coffee is said to be one of the best “mild coffees” in the world, on account of being grown in the shade – resulting in a coffee with a low acidic content, and carrying with it a tropical full-bodied taste and aroma. The mountainous region of Coorg blends both Arabica and Robusta beans, grown in the shades of the Rose Wood, Wild Fig and Jackfruit trees. The person who brought me this, sourced it from one of the coffee grinding mills itself. So, they packed and sealed freshly ground roasted coffee. Again, I didn’t click a picture – there was not much to document; having been procured from the source, the pack did not have any branding yet. It looked something like the image here.
I usually drink my coffee black. The Dormans variety is an instant mix, so if I’m in a rush I make it with milk occasionally. The Coorgi coffee is relatively mild and tastes good when prepared with milk and chilled. But the grind needs time to brew. The Lebanese variant takes the longest time to prepare, since traditionally brewed coffee in Lebanon is made by boiling the coffee with water three times – till the sediment settles at the bottom of the pot, and brown froth is visible on the top. I drink this one hot and black due to the coffee-cardamom blend.
Any more coffee lovers here? The weekend is near. Time to prepare a brew and settle down with a good book. 🙂
This blog-site completes a year today. Woohoo!! Those of you who have been following this site for a while, would be aware that Curious Cat was the outcome of an accident I had last year. For the uninitiated, I suffered from nerve damage and was bedridden for a couple of months – the entire right leg being paralyzed from hip to foot. Being a marathoner and dancer, staying put was more difficult than the actual injury. Books, movies, art and craft, online courses came to the rescue. I did a couple of random courses on Coursera, and began learning Russian on Duolingo. Along with painting, paper quilling and various other home-made crafts, I was aching to create something more. There was too much information input and not as much energy output. I decided to start a blog to write about things I was doing – thoughts on books I read, experiences on races I had run and dance shows I had performed at; just idle ramblings on whatever came to mind.
Curious Cat was named after my pet cats, who are always interested in what’s going on. And having spent much time with all my pets during the recovery period, I noticed how snoopy cats can be – in contrast to the indifference they are usually known for. This blog was not intended to be read by anyone; just a means of putting my thoughts into words. The settings were initially set to private because I didn’t think anyone would want to read any of it. Unlike a travel blog which would interest travellers, or a fitness site that would bring in exercise enthusiasts, or cookery or book blogs which cater to specific reader groups, I have varied interests. I love all of those things and write about all of them, and much more, and that was where the dilemma lay – in finding like-minded people who also share varied interests. About two months after I started Curious Cat, two friends found out about it from a casual conversation and wanted to read. So I had to change the private settings to public. Within a few days, a large number of “followers” cropped up. I had no idea what they were “following” because my “about” section clearly mentions my ramblings, without offering anything specific to follow.
The initial write-ups centered around book reviews and art work since I was reading a lot and crafting some thing or the other at the time. I’m not from a writing background professionally and didn’t know what to write on, besides the topics that randomly came to mind. When I turned the settings public, I also chanced upon The Daily Post and the word-of-the-day they offered bloggers to write on. November and December were spent diligently writing to every word – I didn’t miss a day! I learnt new words, and expanded and expressed on the ones I knew. It was a great initiative for newbie writers, offering them a base from where to grow. Sadly, The Daily Post discontinued this endeavor within a few months of me finding out about them. But I did connect with some like-minded people through the daily prompts, and realized there were many like me who benefited tremendously as non-writers turned somewhat writers, who wanted to continue writing daily. Stephanie from Curious Steph was instrumental in bringing us all together, and in June this year we formed the Ragtag Community – seven of us from around the globe, working in different time zones to fix a word each day for bloggers to write on. The team presently comprises Sgeoil, Margaret from Pyrenees to Pennines, Tracy from Reflections of an Untidy Mind, Mary from Cactus Haiku, Gizzylaw from Talkin’ to Myself, and of course, Steph and me. The ragtaggers recently completed three months and are growing by leaps and bounds with fellow bloggers dropping in daily to share stories, poems, photographs, or just about anything related to their interpretation of the daily prompts. Each of us has our day to fix the prompt, and Margaret has given us today’s word – energy. (For those who would like to participate.)
About two months ago, some reader friends mentioned they found it difficult to navigate Curious Cat for book reviews and literature related articles. So I started Tomes and Tales – a purely literary venture for fellow bookworms. I love reading and there’s always lots to say and share about books and authors. So at the moment, I manage three blog-sites.
At current count, Curious Cat has 211 followers. I still don’t know what everyone’s following since this was never intended to be a technical blog. But I’m glad to have you all here. The stats show I published 389 articles in the last one year, and the blogging community has played a huge role in inspiring me to write more and connect with fellow readers, athletes, musicians and a plethora of individuals with varying interests. It is rightly said, good things can come out of the bad too. The accident and its aftermath was a horrible time for someone accustomed to moving about, but if not for that forced sedentary lifestyle I might never have ventured into the blogging sphere and met so many lovely people out here. Even a year later with all my energy returned, and easing into races and dance shows step by step, I still try keep up with writing almost every day. It has been great connecting with you all. Keep reading and sharing. 🙂
The weekend was busy, and a few spare moments of wanting to create something led to some sequacious cooking from readily available ingredients. Rasmalai is a dessert which finds it’s origins in the Indian subcontinent. Also known as “rossomolai” due to it’s genesis in the state of West Bengal in India, derived from the words “rosh” meaning “juice” and “molai” meaning “cream”. It can be described as a rich cheesecake without crust. It was invented by Krishna Chandra Das – a confectioner, entrepreneur, businessman, and cultural icon in the early 20th century Bengal.
The preparation consists of a mixture of curd and cream, kneaded with milk and butter, and shaped into small dough balls which are then flattened into discs. I made bite-sized discs; you can make them as small or large as you want. These discs are subsequently immersed into boiling water, the utensil is partially covered, and the discs continue to boil along with the water, for about ten minutes on medium heat. A point to be noted here is that the discs swell in water, so place them at a fair distance from each other. I had dipped them too close, and an attempt to shift them while they were inside resulted in some of them cracking and crumbling.
A sugar syrup is prepared simultaneously as the water boils. I used 200 grams of sugar with 200 ml of water, suitable for about 200 grams of the dough I had started with in the beginning. Once the sugar dissolves, the discs are transferred from the water into the sugar syrup, and left to soak for about five minutes. Make sure the syrup isn’t too thick, or the discs won’t soak in the milk from the steps that follow. Transfer them gently with a huge spoon, as they are quite delicate and can crumble easily. There is an alternate method of boiling the discs directly in sugar syrup, but I didn’t want them overly sweetened with all the extra syrup soaked in, so I preferred the method of cooking in boiling water and then soaking in the syrup for a little while.
In addition to the water and sugar syrup, about half a liter of milk is boiled simultaneously as well, with sugar, finely chopped almonds and pistachios, and ground cardamon and a few strands of saffron. Stir constantly till the milk thickens, the sugar dissolves and all the ingredients are mixed properly. The discs that are removed from the sugar syrup are placed in a bowl (or two, depending on how many you have), and the milk mix (called the “ras“) is poured on top of the discs (the “malai“). This can be served warm or chilled.
A yummy Sunday treat that is almost melt-in-the-mouth. You can regulate the sugar content in the syrup and the milk mixture, to avoid making it too sweet. I preferred adding more nuts and seasoning for stronger flavors.