January 16, 2022

@ Taste Corner : January 2022: New Year and Pongal Wishes, Germinating seeds, And a Cake Disaster

I want to wish everyone who is reading this post a very happy New Year and great health and happiness in the year ahead! My family celebrated the Pongal festival yesterday with lots of enthusiasm and excitement. For those reading that don't know what this festival is about, here is a brief intro.

'Pongal' is a  harvest festival celebrated across the globe by the Tamil community. It is usually celebrated over a period of 4 days and during one of these days, a sweet rice-based dish called Pongal is prepared. To prepare Pongal, milk must be set to boil. As the milk gains temperature, it will begin to bubble and rise out of the pot when we add the rice. As the dish begins to boil and overflow out of the vessel, it symbolizes a shared wish for greater fortune in the years ahead. It is interesting to note that the word Pongal is derived from the Tamil word 'Ponga' which literally means to boil over or overflow. When this happens everyone loudly calls Pongal - O - Pongal and silently prays for what they desire. 

Happy Pongal

But apart from the celebration of the Pongal festival at our home, we also celebrated my father-in-law's birthday, or at least we tried to by making a quick box mix cake. Little did we know that our old conventional oven would break on us! The "Bake" setting didn't seem to work, but the "Broil" setting seemed to still function. Skeptically, we tried letting the oven run on Broil for a few minutes to heat up and then used the leftover heat to bake the cakes. We repeated that a few times before pulling out our cakes. But our worries did not go unfounded as we found ourselves with a cake that was burnt on top and had an uncooked center! What a shame! I didn't want to leave my father-in-law without a cake, but then my eyes caught sight of our Instant Pot. Perhaps all was not lost! I quickly browsed through the recipe booklet that came with the IP and found a small mini Lava Cake recipe that would make do. I decided to give the IP a try and to my relief, it worked! We ended up with a lovely mini cake, which made up for its small size in great flavor.

A snapshot of the Recipe.

Lastly, it's also that time of the year when we start getting seeds prepared for our garden. To germinate them, we place them in a Ziploc bag on top of a water-soaked paper towel and set them somewhere dark. Once the seeds germinate, we grow them in our small plant nursery to be planted in April, once the last Spring frost is over. Our garden this year will have a wide variety of produce and veggies. We settled on growing some of our old garden favorites, including two varieties of tomatoes known as "Patio Tomatoes" and "Big Beef" tomatoes, as well as some varieties of okra. We also have a few chili peppers varieties like Thai chilies and Indian chilies. Besides our usual plants, we also have a new addition to our garden this year! Over the past few months, we've been collecting and drying Bitter Gourd seeds for the winter germination season. Hopefully, we will see some healthy Bitter Gourd plants growing in the summer!

Some of the germinating seeds.

November 12, 2021

@Taste Corner: November 2021 : Celebrations and Festivities, and What does November Mean?

November means many things for me. Whether it's the festive autumn colors or fragrant seasonal scents, I absolutely adore every bit in the 11th month of the year. But did you know that November wasn't always the 11th? Let's take a quick peek at the definition of November. As per the dictionary, November derives from the Latin root Novem, meaning 'nine'. In the Roman calendar, there were only 10 months in the year, and November was the ninth month. But according to the Julian and Gregorian calendar, November is the eleventh month of the year and one of the 4 months with 30 days. The other months that have 30 days are April, June, and September. During this month, apart from Thanksgiving and Diwali, other special occasions are my older son's fifteenth birthday, my twentieth wedding anniversary, and my siblings who are celebrating their milestone wedding anniversaries. I would say I have a lot to be thankful for this season.


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I am very pleased with myself this month for being able to make time and finish reading some thriller books. Written by A.R.Torre, the latest thriller I read and finished yesterday named 'Every Last Secret ' was a beautiful novel. The story begins with a wealthy woman named Cat Winthrope, happily married to her husband William Winthrope. Together the couple built their fortune, they have a gorgeous home, a stellar social standing, and everything they could dream of that money can obtain. The neighborhood received new company when a friendly couple moves into the estate next door. Cautious yet friendly, Cat welcomes the newcomers openly. Neena Ryder is a motivational life coach with off-the-rack dresses, personal issues, and a husband who hasn't delivered to her standards. She seems to be troubled in her own way and very anxious to move up in society. This beautiful new town seems to be a step in the right direction, yet as she spends time in this luxurious neighborhood, she soon becomes aware of what she doesn't have. From this new environment paired with her unsatisfactory husband, she began to grow an infatuation with her neighbor William. Her feelings for him grew into an obsession, and she is primed to eliminate the obstacles in her path to get who she desires. Neena's cordial friendship with Cat grows, but beneath it is a wealth of secrets, temptations, and pure toxic jealousy.

All in all, the author illustrates an invigorating story, though the characters are somewhat selfish and unrelatable. A very suspenseful tale that kept me engaged throughout the whole story, 'Every Last Secret' is a good read. 

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Finally, I want to share a quick recipe for a tasty traditional South Indian masala tea.
The ingredients you will need are:

Milk - 2 cups
Water- 1 cup
Tea powder - 3 tablespoons
Sugar - 5 spoons

Masala spices:
Cardamom (1 pod), Cloves (1), Cinnamon (a small piece), Ginger - tiny piece (optional)

First boil water, then add tea leaves and crushed spices. Boil for about a minute. Add milk and sugar. Boil until frothy and filter into cups. Serve hot.

May 31, 2021

@TasteCorner: Time to reflect and be grateful! Count your blessings!

"Count your blessings
    Name them one by one 
Count your blessings
          See what God has done"     

This is one of my favorite song verses that I learned from school and has stuck with me ever since. This song reminds me to be grateful, thoughtful, and respectful of nature and just about everything in life that we take for granted. With that thought in mind, I really want to focus on the positives and the goodness happening around me this month! 

Mother's Day was the most memorable day this month. My little one made this adorable and colorful beaded bracelet with a hanging glass dolphin charm. It was such a very thoughtful gift! And surprisingly my older one promised to bake me a cake but I think laziness kind of took over and he totally forgot about it ...but I have no complaints... I am just thankful that they have good thoughts and kind words to say on Mother's Day!! Another sweet treat that we had during the month of May was Mango Kulfi! The whole family enjoyed this treat! Personally, I hate mangoes even though I grew up in a South Indian town known for its extremely luscious mangoes!! The recipe for this mango kulfi is very straightforward and simple. A combination of some easy store-bought mango pulp, whole fat milk, and the right amount of sugar can make any mango lover fall for this simple yet tasty delicacy. Below is a 

Last but not least I just cannot say bye yet without sharing my book review on this true yet fictionalized historical story. This is a story set during the World War II period mainly between 1943 and 1945 and it  also embarks on the courageous journey  Pino Lella took during this time to defend the honor of Italy.
To begin with, Pino Lella is a normal Italian teenager who is obsessed with food, music, sports, and girls. He comes across Anna, a widow six years older than her. He instantly falls in love with her and asks her on a date for an evening movie show. But she does not show up and he is sadly stuck with his younger brother Mimo and they both watch the show without Anna. Suddenly during the midst of the  show hell breaks loose and soon he finds that the Allied Forces are dropping bombs from their aircrafts and it is just utter chaos and uproar everywhere. Luckily Pino Lella and Mimo escape death. Later Pino's parents send both their kids to a Catholic Boys School in Casa Alpina to wait out the bombing and also to be safe and secure. Pino under the leadership of Father Re trains to become an Alpine mountain guide and helps the Jew refugees escape Italy into Switzerland.
In June 1944 Pino Lella turns 18 and as a young Italian he is drafted by the state into the military.
He could either join Mussolini's Fascist army and fight in the Russian front or he could enlist with the German army. Well Pino chooses the latter option against his own wishes. During this timeframe as a young teenager, Pino lands himself a job with his abilities to speak French and driving a car.He lands a position as a personal driver and confidant to one of  Hitler's most powerful commander General namely Hans Leyer. This seems like a serendipitious opportunity to Pino's aunt and uncle. They understand the importance of this position because they were already helping the Allies and the Italian Resistance. So being General  Leyer's personal driver Pino observed as much as he could,collected  information and passed it on to the Allies through his shortwave radio. Thus he came to be known as the 'Observer' to the Allies.
Now as Pino is spying for the Allies and enduring the horrors of the war unfolding right in front of his eyes, he is also strengthened by the love of his life Anna whom he surprisingly stumbles upon at Leyer's mistress apartment working as a maid. 
Finally on April 24,1945 Pino gets orders from the Resistance to arrest Leyers and deliver him to the American Command,led by 5th US Army Major Frank Knebel. After the handover, Pino and Major Knebel witness some very hideous moments in Italian history : they witness the public desecration of Benito Mussolini's body. Hitler kills himself two days later. Pino accepts to fulfill one last American mission and  personally drive and escort an important , high ranking Nazi official from American custody  to the Austrian border to be safely interrogated for the intelligence he has about Hitler's Reich. On May3,1945 Pino drives General Leyer and delivers him as promised.  This final escort ends Pino's involvement with WWII.  
This story is definitely a story of courage,faith and heroism. I highly recommend this book to the readers of my blog!

April 25, 2021

@Taste Corner : Anything special about April 2021?

Is there anything special about April? Oh yeah the bees buzzing, flowers blooming, the first rays of sunlight shining down on breeze-cooled grass, all traits of a beautiful April morning. On the right is a snapshot of our apple tree. This is about 5 years old and just this year we have seen a lot of flowering on this tree, but due to the high winds, I saw that all these beautiful white flowers have dropped off.  I have read that apple trees do a lot of flowering before they start to fruit. So maybe next year I am hoping I can see some fruit ...☺ or maybe just if the bees have pollinated we can be lucky and probably even get some apples this year. 😉

Apple Tree

With this magic in the air, I am sharing few pictures of my garden patch. I have tomato plants transplanted here that we started as seeds back in Feb of this year. Once they were about an inch tall, we transferred them from plastic pots. Below is a mediocre snapshot. The taller plants in the center row are the tomato plants and the ones that are lined up at either side of the tomato plants are the kohlrabis. The last empty square patch is for our beans and peas. We have placed a wireframe beside the square patch that lines up nicely with the white fence board. This will be a good supporting framework for these plants.

Tomato and Kohlrabi

Below is a picture of our pomegranate trees. They are like maybe 4 or 5 years old but haven't started bearing fruit yet. What a bummer :-(.  At this point, I see them diligently shedding leaves in winter and coming back to life in Spring. I am wishing that one day they will bear fruits.


I have some final updates on my composting project. They seem to be doing fairly well in decomposing.
Right now, I am taking care not to overwater them. Too much water will lead to wet, sticky, and smelly compost and the breakdown will not be as expected. And I am hoping that my compost should be ready to be used hopefully by end of next month.  Below are some of the snapshots of the different composting projects in our backyard. The first one is my small contribution. The tumbler and the raised bed are maintained by my husband and father-in-law. 
Composting - terracotta pots

Composting- Raised beds

Composting - tumblers

Finally, I can't end my April 2021 blog post without my book review. So here it goes!  The book that I chose for this month's read was "Where The Forest Meets The Stars". This is a debut novel by Glendy Vanderah, which is set in the forests of rural Illinois. Joanne Tealle is a returning research graduate. Jo's research is based on nesting birds and she returns to her research after fighting her own battles with breast cancer and the loss of her mother. She leads a solitary life in these forests and throws herself into her work from day until night until her secluded routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious little girl. She calls herself Ursa and claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. The little girl seems to be covered in bruises which concerns Jo about the girl's actual situation. With some hesitation and reluctance, Jo lets the girl stay with her until she figures out a way to help. She gets help from her reclusive neighbor Gabriel Nash to figure out this mystery. The more they spend time together with Ursa, they find Ursa to be sagacious, and have a sense of keen discernment.

Finally, when summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, Ursa's dangerous past closes in. Not only does Ursa's past close in but also some of the painful secrets of the others are revealed.

March 14, 2021

@Taste Corner: Black Gold, A Devoted Dog and Welcoming Spring!

Today has been such an exciting and wonderful day. 🌞 We had lovely warm weather and it was just the perfect day to be outside. So perfect that I had to walk on the grass barefoot 💖. I was in a state of peace while walking on the cool grass. I spent my whole morning cooking in the garden. Cooking, you might wonder? Well yes, I was cooking up absolutely scrumptious compost, a.k.a Black Gold! Compost isn't rich in N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium) which one may encounter on a fertilizer label. It acts as more of an enricher/soil conditioner, making nutrients more accessible to the soil. My plan was to layer the ingredients in a terracotta pot just like lasagna layers and await for the compost to be ready in 3-4 months. Smell is an excellent indicator of when the compost is ready. If it has a rich earthy smell, the compost is ready; if it gives off an unpleasant odor that means it needs more time to mature. This is my second year pitching in to our family composting project. I gathered up all the ingredients that I needed to make my compost from various organic materials scattered around our backyard. I used one tall tub of food scraps, two tubs of homemade compost (leftover from the previous year), two tubs of green leaves, two tubs of dead plant material, one small tub of earthworms, one big box of regular garden soil, and finally some water.

Ingredients Needed

Step 1 - Getting our terracotta pots ready

Step 2 - Adding soil as the first layer

Step 3 - Adding food scraps for nitrogen

Step 4: Adding green leaves for nitrogen

Step 5 - Adding dead plant material for carbon
(dead leaves, twigs, branches, coco peat)

Step 6 - Last but not least, don't forget to add soil and earthworms. When adding earthworms, make sure to give them enough water, as hot temperatures can kill them. By adding earthworms to the compost, the composting process speeds up tremendously.

Note: Repeat the layering  process until the compost bin is completely filled up, finally finishing off with the dead plant material.

This project is the best way I can think of Welcoming Spring! Spring reminds me of my Iranian colleague who would bring our co-workers a variety of desserts around this time, in celebration of Nowruz (the Iranian New Year, and the start of spring). 

I had so much fun taking pictures and sharing my composting thoughts, but please do share your composting tips and tricks in the comments section. I would love to hear your thoughts.

February 15, 2021

@Taste Corner: February 2021: Book Review, Broccoli Cheddar Soup Recipe and Beginning of 2021 Garden Project

I made a resolution this year to make a blog post once every month. This is my second post for the month of February and I’ve kept pace so far! (though two months isn't much of an accomplishment). I'll be glad if I can keep the streak going until the end of the year. This month I have lined up a few things for the blog.

Book Review : The Einstein Prophecy

The book  'The Einstein Prophecy' is a supernatural thriller/mystery book, set in the year 1944. I picked this book from the many free titles offered by the Kindle Unlimited store, the title being catchy enough to grasp my attention. With vaguely predictable events, the story didn't keep me on edge. Despite that, the book kept me engaged and interested with its characters and the way the story was written. In the story, Europe and the United States are engulfed in World War II. Lucas Athan, an American army lieutenant, was assigned with another fellow soldier to recover a sarcophagus from an Egyptian tomb, located in an iron mine outside Strasbourg, Germany. The sarcophagus was shipped to Princeton University for further study, which unlocked various strange mysteries about the box. The presence of the ossuary would produce terrible occurrences from thin air, as the researchers would soon find out.

        The study was conducted by Lucas and his aide, Simone Rashid. Simone was an Egyptian professor turned brilliant archaeologist who originally discovered the ossuary, with the help of her father. During these events, Lucas gets acquainted with Professor Albert Einstein, his next door neighbor and a professor in the Princeton campus. Einstein is secretly helping the US military to develop the atom bomb before German scientists. Einstein knew of the chilling horrors that this super weapon  was capable of creating. Later, it is found that Einstein's work is not only of interest to the war powers, but also to the ancient power that is hidden in the sarcophagus. This power seemingly has a role in the development of the bomb, making Einstein its main target.

Overall this book is an impressive read. The first half was captivating, and the work of different scientists and mathematicians like Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel kept me very intrigued. I felt transported into a different world, the book being a good assembly of reality, fiction, and fantasy, all at the same time. Despite appreciating the blend of genres encapsulated into the novel, I tend to read books that are purely their genre.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup:


Broccoli - 4 cups, chopped 

Carrots - 2, medium sized

Large onion - half

Garlic - 7 cloves

Heavy whipping cream - 2 cups (whole milk, heavy or light cream, or half and half can be used as well)

Mild cheddar - 2 cups finely grated (most recipes call for sharp cheddar)

Cayenne - 1 tsp

Salt - add to taste

All purpose flour - 2 tbsp

Mustard - 2 tsp

Water - 4 cups


1. Chop up the broccoli into small florets. Cut the carrots into paper thin slices.

2. Finely dice the onion and garlic.

3. In a heavy bottom pan, add 2 tbsp of butter. Once the butter melts, add chopped onion and carrots then saute for around 5 minutes. Once the onions and carrots are a slightly translucent, add the garlic and sauté till fragrant. Then add half a tsp of salt.

4. Add in the all purpose flour and saute for a couple of minutes.

5. Add in the water and heavy whipping cream. Once it starts simmering, add the broccoli. Cover the dutch oven or the heavy bottom pan with a lid and cook for 15 minutes. (The broccoli needs to be soft and not overcooked. Open the lid after ten minutes and check for softness. If the broccoli isn't soft enough, cook for another 5 minutes.)

6. Add the mustard and cayenne pepper.

7. Turn off the heat and add the cheddar. The cheddar will dissolve into the soup.

8. The soup can be served with croutons. Serve, and enjoy!

2021 Garden Project: The Beginnings

This year we jump-started our garden project early, with a batch of tomato seeds.

Step 1 - First we removed the tomato seeds from the packets, and lining them up in a napkin. We then sprinkled each napkin with water. (Jan. 18, 2021)

Step 2 - Once the seeds were sprayed with water, we slid them in Ziploc bags. (Jan. 18, 2021) We stowed them away in a dark place and kept them covered with a cloth so sunlight wouldn't pass through.

Step 3 - After a week in (About 01/24), our seeds had started to germinate, and we could see some growth in the seeds.

Step 4 - We then started removing seedlings from the Ziploc bags.

Step 5 - Next we transferred the seedlings to plastic pots with good soil.

Step 6 - Next we placed the seedlings under grow light. 

Step 7 - Here is what the seeds look like, 3 weeks after we placed them under grow lights. (Feb. 15, 2021)

January 18, 2021

@ Taste Corner : January Musings ,New Year Resolutions and So Much More!!

 Today is Jan 18,2021. It is a federal holiday here in the United States marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King was born on January 15,1929.He is known for his civil rights movement and peace movement. He believed in non-violence and was also inspired by non violent activism of Mahatma Gandhi. And he delivered the very powerful and iconic "I have a dream" speech on the steps of Lincoln memorial on August 28,1963. The message conveyed through this speech is so beautiful and powerful. I have provided the audio link below for bloggers and non-bloggers interested to hear this speech. 


We are already in the third monday of January and a myriad of events are happening around me. The riots at the Capitol, the ever increasing human death toll due to the Covid crisis , upcoming president-elect Joe Biden's  inauguration, a promising vaccine, and the list goes on endlessly. Anyway whatever goes on in that outside  world, the only thing that keeps me going is my desire to blog , bake and brew my cup of chai :-). And well that brings me exactly to my banana chocolate bread  recipe and my almost forgotten new Year Resolutions...haha. Thankfully and thoughtfully this year my resolutions are very straight forward. I am hoping to have a blog post every single month and also to be more proactive.

Below is my January recipe share- Banana Chocolate bread

Wet ingredients

ripe bananas - 3

sour cream -1/4 cup

butter -1 stick melted

eggs - 2 eggs

sugar - 1 cup

vanilla essence 1 tsp

Dry ingredients

all purpose flour -2 cups

baking soda - 1 tsp

salt - 1/2 tsp

Optional Ingredients

semi sweet chocolate chips - 1/2 cup 

walnuts - 1/2 cup fine chopped


Mix both the dry and wet ingredients . Incorporate until well mixed. Make sure there is no dry flour left in the bowl. Add in optional ingredients and stir. Bake at 350C in a loaf pan for 1 hr. Cool for 15 min before cutting into slices.

Below is my 1000 piece puzzle that we started after Christmas and finished it on MLK day!!! Thanks to my sis who inspired me to start this puzzling activity. To be honest it is quite addictive and I am extremely happy it is complete today. I am so ready to commence my next project ..."Growing Tomatoes from Seeds".