Flowers and Focaccia
The Focaccia recipe I am using: Food Network
On a chilly yet bright Sunday morning in NYC, I headed over to the Grand Bazaar for sampling some stuff for artbyvivarmaa and foodbyvivarmaa.
At the farmer's market, I found some edible flowers being sold. I needed some to sample for one of my upcoming dinner parties but I was also eager to try them in a different way.
Focaccia, in my opinion, is one of the easier breads to make. It's straightforward and tasty no matter what combination of spices you decide to mix it with. For me, I just chose rosemary and salt & although simple, it was delicious. I also use my breadmaker to mix the dough so it takes a lot more time off of my hands and keeps the batter very consistent.
Once done with the dough, it's a lot of olive oil! Make sure when you're transferring the dough here and there, use olive oil on your hands so that the dough doesn't stick.
The next few steps were pretty straightforward and easy. This also was the most fun part - poking the dough to give it texture for any toppings. My work here was easy as I only was putting rosemary, flaky salt, and olive oil. If you're doing focaccia art, this would be the time to put pepper, onions, tomatoes, etc. whatever you need. However, because I was using edible flowers, I could not put them on when the bread went into the oven.
There is something completely heavenly about freshly baked bread right from the oven...I enjoyed a huge piece of the focaccia along with my friend's recipe for oil dip. The purple flowers tasted minty and the yellow one...did not taste like much. Unfortunately, because the market was so busy, I did not get the name of the flowers, so we will have to do with colors! The white ones did not taste like anything either but the orange flowers tasted sweet. It was such an interesting addition to a simple bread recipe.
Although it's been some years since I have visited Paris, these dining spots in NYC, rapelle moi de Paris and are some great spots to get French food.
DISCLAIMER: I am not French or Parisienne, this is from the perspective of a tourist who loves to travel & eat!
They are known for their amazing hot chocolate and pastries but I have found out not a lot of people know of the restaurant in the back of the cafe. The interiors not only shout French decor but so does their seasonal menu. Although one could argue that some brunch items are more American than French, the delicate and sophisticated presentation couldn't be more French. I celebrated both mine and my mom's birthday here last year and it was such a treat.
Their menu does change quite a bit (it's always super creative) but these were my top picks:
We walked into Loulou on a gloomy, rainy Saturday afternoon and the cozy atmosphere here lived up to its name. Although we all somehow ended up ordering the tomato soup and the grilled cheese, it was super delicious! My friends who have been here during Happy Hour hours were raving about their drinks. Overall, this was a very good meal. I hope to return here again when the weather is better.
Have you ever eaten real gold? Growing up in Abu Dhabi, Emirates Palace was the place where all the big events happened. Graduation, weddings, the must-see tourist spot, water sport competitions, art exhibitions, etc. One of the many unique aspects of Emirates Palace was their incorporation of gold in the experiences within the 5-star hotel.
The Christmas tree ornaments of real jewels and gold. The solid gold vending machine that vended, well, gold. The private beaches. The symmetry in architecture - Emirates Palace, the 5-star luxury hotel, was and is not only a symbol of opulence in Abu Dhabi but also a curation of art and cultural hub within itself, in my opinion.
And the food here...is no less. Although I have only dined at the Emirates Palace without an occasion once, the cafe was something I have gone to almost every visit there. Whether for a quick photoshoot, taking a friend or relative for a tour, art exhibition, music recital, you name it - the cafe was a must go because their 23K gold encrusted food items. Yes, gold in your digestive system, was the Abu Dhabi way to do it.
Gold flake encrusted beverages and or food items was an Emirates Palace staple. Because I am not a coffee drinker, the camel milk ice cream was something I enjoyed and it too had gold flakes on it!
Back when they started serving 23K gold, I had not yet heard of it being used anywhere else in dining experiences in such an accessible way - the ice cream was only AED 40*! This is a unique dining experience and I would 100% recommend if you are ever in Abu Dhabi.
I haven't actively lived in Abu Dhabi since I left for college, it seems that the gold topped beverages and desserts have evolved and the location has changed to be outside instead of being in the inside pavilion. Although I am yet to take a trip back to Abu Dhabi in a post COVID world, here is the updated menu for now: Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental
During the month I was in India, there were several harvest festivals being celebrated. India has a huge agriculture production industry and according to this article, it has the second highest agricultural output.
Khichdi or Makar Sakranti is celebrated in my parents' states (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar). It marks the beginning of harvest season and the celebration is to show the sun gratitude for healthy crops. In different parts of the world, Khichdi has different names & rituals. In Gujarat it is Uttarayan (people fly kites), Sakrat in Haryana, and so on. Makar Sakranti, the holiday's common name means the change of astrological positioning of the sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn (which will mark the end of winter). This ties back to the worship and showing gratitude to the sun for its good crops, bringing its Vitamin D after winter, and bringing light & longer days. In my last post, I spoke about the relation between mindful eating and community, this post hopes to capture the essence of that through the celebration of Khichdi and the process of making Urad Daal puri that I saw my naani (grandma) make.
According to my mom, for Khichdi, people went to bathe in Ganges river at sunrise and prayed to the sun. Additionally, they donated rice, turmeric, sesame, jagger, urad daal, and all the key ingredients used to make Khichdi, a common yet sacred dish in many parts of India. Being from an old farmer community, this day is more special for my mom's side of the family. However, me having lived in a major city, did not see or know much of these traditions. Luckily, with time spent with my grandparents, I got to get the gist of them.
Khichdi is not just the holiday's name but also a popular staple Indian dish in India. I cannot lie - Khichdi is not one of my favorite Indian foods. Although many people in India (my relatives and ancestors included), have lived long and happy healthy lives on a wholesome diet from Khichdi, I don't think I am one of those people. Although it is something I have eaten during my times when I have been sick, it's not a staple in my diet (and I think I can speak for many other picky eaters when I say this). Maybe someday I will learn the discipline where I regularly eat Khichdi but I am not sure it will be soon, no matter how great the health benefits and how simple it is to make.
And so because of my no great like for the Khichdi dish, my grandma made Urad Daal (lentil) Puri for me. Although a complicated recipe that I have note made before, my grandma is an expert. After soaking the lentils overnight, she mixed it with atta (a type of wheat commonly used in India), to make the dough.
The dough is then rolled the same way a roti or naan is. But instead of being toasted on a pan, it is put into a traditional Indian dish, called khadai, and deep fried in oil.
For anyone interested in the actual recipe, this is one of the best and few accurate recipes for Urad Daal puri. Tarla Dalal, whose recipe is linked, is equivalent in India to Martha Stewart in the US.
Not only is Urad Daal puri full of protein and very tasty, it is a personalized part of our meal for an important harvest festival.
We take a little bit of food at the beginning of our meal and keep it away to show gratitude to God, universe, and whatever higher power you believe in (a tradition I talked about in my last post). The first, untouched food from everyone's plates is kept away to be fed to stray animals (originally it was farm animals but we live in Gurgaon, a big city, so we don't have a farm or any farm animals).
So, over some hot Urad Daal puri and Khichdi, I sat with my grandparents, mom, and uncle for a great meal over a celebration my ancestors would have celebrated many years ago too. This is something I was very grateful for since I know I cannot have a lot of meals having lived abroad most of my life. What a great way to cherish this moment my family while collectively following and ancient ritual of gratitude for our food, surroundings, and beyond!
This post is going to be very different than rest of my posts - a lot more personal. Through the past few years, I have learnt the importance of connection between mental diet and physical diet. My food blog wouldn't be my food blog if I wasn't talking about Mindful Eating. Although I consider myself very privileged and I am grateful for all the food and dining experiences I have had, my relationship with food became rocky during the pandemic. Like many others during the pandemic, I struggled with my diet. And that struggle is what brought me to Mindful Eating and helping me improve my relationship with food to a level that I would not have thought about reaching if I hadn't struggled. For more context, here is a little bit about what was happening. I have always been lucky to be surrounded by good people wherever I am & I have never thought much about what I am eating or not eating even though I have always been a healthy eater and have worked out/played sports my entire life. But it was during the pandemic I learnt the mind games of eating.
I was 21 years old and staying back in my college town after the pandemic hit. My first semester of senior year was full of a lot of anxiety. Questions related to graduating college, adjusting to the pandemic lifestyle, my future, stress of classes during the pandemic, my on-campus job, and not having been home in almost a year started taking a toll on me. I lost interest in cooking and the only times I consistently ate was when I had plans to eat with my friends. To top it, 12 days before I was supposed to travel back to the UAE in November 2020, I had to go into quarantine for exposure to COVID-19 (I did not have COVID, several of my friends did though). Those 12 days were some of the most stressful days & it directly affected my appetite. I would often get sick because of the stress and had honestly lost a lot of my appetite. Sometimes I couldn't eat and wouldn't be able to make it to my classes even though I could only attend them online because of being in quarantine.
Recreating my favorite Sweetgreen salad, thinking eating light and healthy food will make me feel better
Luckily, the brahman played in my favor and I tested negative to take my flight back to the UAE. Upon my arrival, I was supposed to quarantine for a few days before I could actually go back to Abu Dhabi (because of COVID restrictions) and see my brother and my mom. Fortunately, my dad was working in Dubai so he stayed with me. I would say being back, I was already in a much better mental state being with him and being in the UAE warmth (as compared to grey Syracuse skies). But, my desire to eat was still the same - exhausted and only eating to fuel my body. I was getting the best, most creative, most delicious food, yet I struggled to actually get myself to eat. Overall, I had lost interest in food & eating. But, because my dad had long work hours, I spent a lot of time with myself. It gave me a chance to explore some of the Dubai food scene myself - all that glitter is actually gold in Dubai and it made me curious. Because I was "quarantining" in a hotel, I was ordering food a lot. One time, I ordered Chubby Cookies while sitting at the pool deck, my laptop died. I hadn't changed to my UAE number & my US number had no network. Although I was disappointed, I was pretty hungry and all my patience goes away when it comes to Chubby Cookies. So now, with no means to watch Netflix or obsessively check my grades, I was sitting at the pool deck eating Chubby Cookies. I remember how warm and gooey the texture was. The chocolate in the cookies was Kinder chocolate (a specialty of theirs). It reminded me of when my mom would come and pick me and my brother up from school in India, sometimes she would bring Kinder eggs. It was such a reward at the end of a long school day. I remember looking up at the Dubai skyline as I continued eating and the sky was so blue! I don't know if it was because it was so grey in Syracuse or the fact that I couldn't leave my apartment much because of quarantine, but I had not seen the sky so blue!
I stayed up until evening, watching the sky, eating the cookies at my own pace (I am a slow eater in general). It was time for my dad to come home. It reminded me of how, in Abu Dhabi, I'd watch the sky turn a million different colors till my dad came home & we all sat together to drink tea. That night, I sat without my phone when I went to eat out with my dad. And we talked about his parents, work, family, and so much more. I was almost in tears because to be honest, in a more usual time, I would have been either on Tik Tok or watching TV instead of having a conversation with him. But this was the first time I could say I was truly present with my food & my company.
Alas, I wish I could say that that was when all my problems ended but it wasn't the case. A few days later, moments before I was supposed to leave for Abu Dhabi with my dad, I fainted in the shower. I never fully lost consciousness but I knew it was because I spent 30 minutes trying to distract myself and find something to watch on TV because I did not feel like I had an appetite. Then I gave up and went to take a shower. And the rest is history.
The same day, I came back to Abu Dhabi. My mom's first comment was about how much weight I had lost. I thought her concern was a mother's concern, nothing alarming. Then, people like our driver (and yes it's not uncommon to have help like this where I grew up), who usually wouldn't comment on my looks commented saying how much weight I had lost. It prompted me to go for a health check up. Everything was fine physically and my doctor basically kicked me out saying, "Yallah, go out and enjoy life now", yeah, as much as you can in the peak of the pandemic, I thought. However, I was putting the puzzle pieces together.
In doing so, I started recognizing how much my mental health affected my eating habits. I was born and raised in a Hindu household and I am a practicing Hindu myself, so mindful eating was not a foreign idea to me. I had been meditating regularly for almost two years at that point so that is where I looked for clarity. I started a course on Headspace for "Mindful Eating". What the course was teaching was also something that is practiced by my parents, grandparents, and the generations before them - being present with the food you're eating and who you're eating with. For example, my mom's baba (dad's dad) would keep a small portion of food aside on his plate as a sign of gratitude to God for a plate full of food for him and his family (the food set aside was fed to farm animals, most likely the cow). And then as he would consume the meal, my mom and my uncle sat with him and he'd feed them as well. Another rule when we were younger was no TV/phone while eating and at least one meal at the dining table with the entire family.
Snippet of New Year's family lunch. First meal of the year together (my appetite had improved almost back to normal by then)
I had lost a lot of these traditions that built mindful eating habits. I wish I could blame college lifestyle and the pandemic for this but I think a lot of this really comes with age and understanding the importance of culture and tradition with time. Being with my parents and brother was a lot more helpful. The sense of security being in a community provided was unmatched. Sitting with them eating or sometimes my mom even feeding me, gave me security. I was able to finish off meals & was no longer fainting in showers or getting extremely sick that I couldn't go to class.
As I completed my course on Headspace with Mindful Eating & spent more time with my family and friends in Abu Dhabi, here were my key takeaways:
- Try and eat at least one meal without distractions. Being present without work emails and Netflix helps eating not feel like a necessary task & actually allows you to enjoy the food
- What is in your mind affects everything, including your diet. Watch your thoughts *without judgement* regarding eating, cooking, etc.
- Eating with community: If you're eating with family/friends, learn how to share tastes and make it a meaningful bonding activity.
- Eating at least one meal by myself and making it a sacred ritual, just sitting with myself & experiencing the food with all my senses
- Consuming less content, in general, but especially food content. When I started my food, page I would spend so much time scrolling through food blogs that it made my mind numb to it. There is a fine line between getting inspiration vs. mindlessly scrolling (which in today's day and age can get hard to differentiate between).
- Lastly but most importantly, showing the food gratitude. Gratitude that you have the food. Gratitude to your body for consuming the food you like. Gratitude to the food itself for fueling your body.
Although I have come a long way since then in terms of my journey of Mindful Eating (practicing Ayurveda, yoga, etc.), this is my foundation. And from time to time, I do have to go back to it. So, writing this is a form of me going back to it. In the future, I will be talking about my other practices but this is definitely not the last post about Mindful Eating because my blog would not be authentic without talking about this topic.
An Evening in Dilli Haat
Handicrafts, entertainment, and some great food. And that too all under $30 (for 3 people)*. This is what is so great about places like Dilli Haat (and others like it in India). They are these cultural hubs that are super accessible for all and great way to promote culture and small businesses. Many times when people associate culture to an event, place, or object, it very often comes with a high price tag (I am not saying that art and culture aren't valuable but sometimes it becomes inaccessible and less appreciated since it is only open to such a small audience).
*price depends on what you shop and eat for, this is what we generally spend there. Also, non-Indians may have to pay more.
My mom, brother, and I headed to Dilli Haat for a lit bit of shopping of authentic handicrafts but also to have some of the best food. Every state in India has it's own unique cultural identity and you can really explore that in one place at Dilli Haat. We did this through our meals there.
If you go to Delhi and don't eat Aloo Tikki, I am not sure what you're doing. My mom ordered this aloo tikki and often, it can be too spicy. But this was perfect. It was flavorful but not too spicy and a pretty good portion size.
Chai in Kullad cup is a classic (from Jharkhand stall). The earthy smell of the pot enhances the aroma of the chai. Here is my home version recipe of Chai in Kullad cup.
Rabdi & Jalebi from Rajasthan stall. I am putting this last as I have never quite had jalebi as good as these ones. As I am writing this, I want to take a trip back to Dilli Haat just for these warm jalebis. Watch here its live preparation.
Although not pictured, my brother also ordered chicken tikka & mutton gaulati kebabs from the Uttar Pradesh/Jharkhand stall. Not only did he start eating them before I could take a photo, I could also not attest to their taste as I do not eat mutton and did not eat the chicken. But, if you do enjoy eating meat, those two are good options to choose from.
Oh and once your tummy is full, do check out the live performances as well as several Indian handicrafts stores. #supportsmall
24 Hours in Mumbai
Although I have a lot of food content I wanted to start posting on my blog, there is no better option than to start my food blog in Mumbai. Because this is where it all started for me. Quite literally because this is where I was born. Mumbai is India's largest city and is bustling unlike any other city in the world. It is said that on Mumbai's local train, the equivalent of Australia's population travels (don't know how true that is but I wouldn't be surprised if it is). So, by no means you can fully explore it in 24 hours. But...there are essentials you can cover. I have listed a few here.
After a tiring 28 hours of travel, I finally reached Mumbai. Although I only had 24 hours, my jetlagged body made sure I was hungry enough to eat as much as I can. We stayed with our family friends and so we got to have a lot of home cooked food.
Although people often think of Indian food as super rich (because that is what Indian restaurants serve), at home our food is nutrient rich, vegetarian/vegan, and equally tasty (if not tastier). Here is methi ka paratha (bread made with gram flour, methi, curd). Three different curries - left to right - aloo mutter curry (potato and peas), daal (lentils), and bhindi ki sabzi (okra).
Ganne ka juice - sugarcane juice. My dad and I stopped by at the Jio World mall in Bandra Kurla Complex (newly opened). They made fresh sugarcane juice and packed it in this cute little bottle. It tasted the same as the ones on the street (but obviously costed more).
Now, I love making my own chocolate but Cadbury's chocolates have the nostalgia of childhood and an entire shrine dedicated to just various of their products. In India, Cadbury's sweets are a staple and often used on auspicious occasions ("muh meetha karne key liye"). My personal/childhood favorites have been Nutties (blended cashew nut and chocolate balls), the red boxes at the bottom.
Stopping outside the temple to buy the best chips - Lay's India Magic Masala
Although my trip was short so we did not get to have a lot of street food, I did have some warm jalebis made on the streetside.
My last meal in Mumbai was quick because we had to leave to catch our flight. I met up with a good friend from NYC and we went to the posh Yauatcha in BKC again. Their dumplings were simply spectacular and presented spectacularly too! I have got to say, I have traveled a lot and lived all over but (maybe I am biased), you cannot have bland food in India. Every bite in this country is tasteful.
In conclusion - if you are on a time crunch here are the things to do in Mumbai:
1. Explore Bandra Kurla Complex for a more posh experience and world-class restaurants
2. Try some home cooked food. If you're a tourist and don't know any locals, there are plenty of shops that have home-style food/tiffin service
3. Have some street style sweets (they are available all over)
4. Have some Indian snacks like Dairy Milk Chocolate, India's Lays Magic Masala
Perfect Avocado Toast Doesn't Exi-
Inspired by my favorite restaurant in Syracuse. Eating avocado toast during the fiesty, homesick, winter months of Syracuse is what kept me going throughout college. I used to order avocado toast everyday (and have not yet become sick of it), put Frasier on Netflix and eat it before I started on my homework. It was one of the cheaper options on the menu and also nutrition packed. As I moved away from Syracuse, taking the original toast as my foundation, I built my avocado toast. It has all the essentials from the original - spicy and full of flavors yet avocado overpowering and added my own spin with olive bread, NO tomatoes, and my secret ingredient.
Although there is a lot going on on this flavor packed toast, the best way to keep track of it is by separating it out into 3 sections. First, the avocado itself. Second, the dry ingredients. Third is what it sets it apart - the sauce. For the olive bread, I either use my breadmaker or buy it from the local bakery.
Starting off with avocado itself:
2. Half a lemon's juice
3. 1/2 teaspoon pink salt
Use a fork to mix the salt and lemon juice into the avocado. I personally do not like guac style texture so I do not smash my avocados all the way.
Then comes the secret ingredient or the sauce:
1. Half a boiled potato
2. 1/2 cup Carrot juice
3. 2 teaspoons cumin
4. 2 teaspoons olive oil
5. 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
Blend all the ingredients together until it has a consistent puree like texture.
Now is all a game of layers. Apply avocado on the bread and then top with the sauce. Garnish with some spring onions and crushed red pepper and voila...the most flavorful avocado toast is ready.
Hi! My name is Vaishnavi and this is a curation of all things food. I travel a lot and since an early age, much like both my grandmothers, I have enjoyed cooking, baking, exploring dining options, and experimenting with food. In college, I started @foodbyvivarmaa as a creative outlet for all things food related. And since then, friends and family have asked me for recommendations and recipes and I thought why not make a traditional blog? Growing up in India and UAE and now living in NYC I have been privileged to be exposed to a very diverse set of dining experiences. My parents gave us the opportunity to travel all over, which has only further expanded my curiosity to explore more. Although I don't put a label on it, 90% of my diet is vegetarian. In India, cooking and eating food is a community ritual. Most of my favorite memories revolve around having a good meal with those who I love. To continue that tradition, I hope to curate my own community as I travel and continue building my life in different parts of the world & hopefully inspire and give others the same feeling of community brought together by food.