Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tastes like Home

Shortly after I graduated college my mom compiled a binder filled with recipes that were the sort of things you would always love to eat at a mom's house and should always know how to make; apple pie, quiche, perfect salad dressing, cakes for holidays, and banana bread.

Banana bread feels like home.  It is warm, it's comforting, it's not so bad for you that you can't eat it all day long - which I ultimately did.   After a whirlwind week of doctors appointments and hospital stays, more on that at another time, I just wanted to be back in our home.  All I could think to do was clean, do laundry and bake.  I'll spare you the pictures of me sweeping and folding towels.

I took my  mom's already really terrific banana bread recipe and upped the ante in the "good for you" category, without losing points in the "good tasting" category.

Healthy and Fluffy Banana Bread
1 2/3 cup of whole wheat flour
1 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of turbinado sugar, or regular white sugar
1 apple sauce snack cup (4 oz.)
2 eggs
1 tsp of vanilla
4 mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 cup of fat free Greek Yogurt
Bake at 350 for 1 hour

As a tip the banana shown above are not the ones I used. For a really good banana bread you want the bananas that look really bad: covered in spots, mushy and overly ripe.  If you want to fastforward the ripening process you can keep the bananas in the freezer, and then take them out about an hour before baking time to defrost, like so.

First melt the butter and let it cool and then add the sugar, eggs, vanilla and apple sauce. When you mix it up it will look like nothing very exciting.  Don't lose hope.

Then add in those super ripe, but full of flavor bananas and the yogurt.  I know, now it just looks like banana baby food.  Believe in the banana bread!  I promise!

Time to add the dry ingredients.  A bunch of scoopfuls.

Here's a secret, whenever I make a bread or cake I pour a little extra batter in some muffin tins also.  Maybe this is to taste test to make sure the recipe worked, but maybe it's also to have a great treat in less time then in takes to bake a whole cake, you be the judge.

After an hour in the oven, always test with a toothpick, your banana bread should be done.  Let it cool, if you can, before removing it from the pan.  If the temptation is too great, that's what those little muffins were for!   I loved this banana bread, it would be great with nuts or chocolate chips added in or smeared with some peanut butter or cream cheese.  But in this case, it tasted like home and that is all I was craving.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sign on the Dotted Line

When planning our wedding there were a few things I really wanted for the ceremony: a chuppah, a broken glass and a ketubah (the Jewish wedding contract).  I am Jewish and Mark is atheist and raised Catholic, and so planning a ceremony that reflected our individual backgrounds, and shared future was important.

The ketubah became a pet project for both of us.  If you google search "ketubah" you'll see endless varieties; Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Interfaith, Second Marriages, GLBT marriages.  And yet, none of these really clicked. Our wedding officiant, Cantor Debbi Ballard was very supportive of us creating our own ceremony that was unique and personal to us, and she encouraged us to apply that same consideration to our ketubah.  So, just like our invitations, the ketubah was written by us and designed by me.

We treated the text of our ketubah like our own vows, and agreed that the it's text would be the guide for our future.  I am really proud of what we wrote, promised and agreed to.

On Saturday, the twenty third day of January,
Two Thousand and Ten,
joined each other before family and friends
to enter into a mutual covenant of marriage,
and with love and compassion
each vowed the following commitments:

To Ourselves-
To continuously improve our minds, bodies and souls
To push ourselves to achieve goals
To do good in the world
To love life, arts, sciences
And above all to have a sense of humor.

To each other-
To be friends, Partners and Lovers
To be honest and build a relationship on trust
To be kind, to communicate
To be a source of strength and balance for one another
To grow together.

To Our Family-
To create a nourishing home for happy and Healthy children
And an open home to all.
Our commitment to the above seals this document

Our ketubah was written with a focus on each of us and us.  It was important to us for the document to guide our marriage and focus on the growth we would want to experience and embrace so that we could continue to grow together over the journey of our lives and our marriage.

We signed our ketubah, and had our best man and maid of honor (Mark's brother and my sister) serve as our witnesses.  In the Jewish faith the signing of the ketubah meant we were as good as married, so we sealed it with a kiss.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Pop of Color From Home

A favorite place to visit growing up was Lincoln Road on South Beach.  My Great Aunt had an art studio there, so my mom and sister and I would often go down to visit on school days off to be "ladies who lunch."  We'd pop into stores and galleries and treat ourselves to a great day while people watching.  A favorite gallery of mine was always Romero Britto's.  The Brazilian artist's trademark is the bold colors, pop designs, and joyful characters in his art.

Growing up in South Florida, and as avid Heat fans, we had this poster:
Miami Heat Commemorative Poster by Romero Britto

If you are a fan of Bethenny Getting Married on Bravo you'll recognize the gift Bethenny gave to her husband Jason: 
Follow Me by Romero Britto at Greg Lane Arts
I have always enjoyed the art for the wall, the signature Absolut bottles that Britto designed, and even a series of watches a few years ago.  And then I saw this:
New Day Luggage Collection by Romero Britto
Who else is ready to jet set, now?  I know this is completely over the top, but that is the Florida in me.  I love the color, I love the hearts (I love hearts), and I love joyful, happy attitude.  Besides what else do you need when traveling besides some clothes and a happy heart?

Monday, September 27, 2010

New York Fashion Week: Spring 2011 is Looking Lovely

I have finally finished reviewing the many, many fashion shows that highlighted the transitioning into fall days of September. 

Fashion is a funny game; we preview the spring before fall starts, and preview the fall before the snow has melted in New York.  I love the fashion shows, and neither fall nor spring wins preference with me.  I love the spring shows because as a Florida girl I love the ease, the casual aesthetic, the classic sportswear and the bright colors.  I love the fall shows for the richness, the holiday glamour, the texture and refinement.  Quite happily the Spring 2011 shows had the best of both seasons: brilliant colors, ladylike shapes, classic shapes and styles, and glitter.

These are a few trends that are sticking out above the rest for me: 

Belts: I love the ladylike refinement of this dress and belt from Oscar de la Renta.  I love the pop of the strong colors against the softer pinks of the fabric.  Belts were popping up all over the runway and all throughout my favorites from the season, they are flattering and they take an outfit from the everyday to wow.

Color: Oh Marc... The colors, the accessories, the knits - it was the best of the 70's without feeling dated, costumey or over the top.  I felt like the entire Marc Jacobs collection was completely wearable and more than that fun, and bright.  I like how the use of color was elevated beyond what is normally thought of as spring colors and given a greater richness and depth with jewel tones.

High Waist Pants: I am a jeans girl and so I do appreciate an amazing fit on a pair of pants.  I also like the way a high waist pant flatters a woman's body, creates curves if there are none, supports curves if there are some.  Katherine Hepburn knew what she was doing when she made the pant a mainstay in the wardrobe of American women, and Monique Lhuillier takes it a step further by elegantly putting pants in the category for evening.

Glitter: I love Ralph Lauren.  I love how the brand is unchanged, how he seemingly ignores the current trend to stay true to his classic American style.  His collections makes even a city girl consider oversized buckles and a home in Wyoming.  I love the fluidity, and liquid nature of this glitter and how it is smartly toughened up by the contrasting leather belt and shawl - it's not too sweet, it's American Glamour.

You can see the rest of my selected favorites here.

But this, this is my favorite of all.  I love the tank style that reads as so effortless, I love the deep neckline that doesn't go so deep to be vulgar, I love the cinched waist with the bow-tied belt and the abstract and slimming design at the front.    

I love Carolina Herrera.  She reminds me of the grandmother of my best friend.  She exudes an old world glamour but has the ability to dress today's woman of any age.  She, and her collection, are the perfect example of sophistication, chic and timeless fashion. 

I can feel Fall creeping up on me, and I am still looking for the perfect new sweaters, boots, and more, but Spring has never looked more dreamy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Life Lessons in Shopping

Rarely does shopping provide too much in the way of "Life Lessons."  

Sure there are a few: if you see a splurge but must-have item walk away, and if you're still thinking about it in 2 days go for it, or if you find the best fitting pair of jeans/swimsuit/bra buy multiple pairs because there is nothing better than a great pair of jeans/swimsuit/bra.   

But now I'll share a life lesson that was reinforced by shopping.  Almost a month ago I bought a beautiful pair of boots.  They were designer, and gorgeous and would probably last forever, however they were very expensive.  

Salvatore Ferragamo Fersea via Zappos Couture

I couldn't stomach the idea of wearing them and scratching them up, and I knew they weren't for keeps when I found myself looking at other boots online the very next day.  

In the online search the next day I found another pair that was definitely within my price range and seemed to hit all the right notes of what I was looking for.  But, I waited.  I had lots of excuses.  I was going to India in a few days, and I hadn't tried them on yet, and I wasn't completely sure how they would fit, so I told myself when we get back from India I'll go to the store and just buy them.  How clever, then I would also save on shipping!

When I got back from India they were sold out.

Poor little blogger girl lost her boots?  Not quite.  There are many, many boots out there, but the larger lesson learned and reinforced by my life that exists outside of my favorite online stores and this blog is that life doesn't wait, and that the unexpected does happen.  And we must always be ready to go and take it head on and win - yes, I'm that competitive. 

Wishing you a weekend full of adventure, wherever you may find it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Packing Right and Light

Since Mark and I have started traveling together I have never checked a bag, ever.  He thinks of himself as a master packer, and is pretty good at editing my packing list when I come downstairs with piles of clothes. 

We have gone to Rome for a week, Hawaii for a week, our wedding and honeymoon and I have still never checked a bag.  

There are a few reasons for this: I don't like to carry a bag and I don't like to wait (and now pay) for my checked bag.  I have learned that if you pack smartly you usually won't need to check a bag, either!

When we went to India for a week we shared a backpack and a carry on duffel bag.  That is it, and I still came home with unworn clothes.

Here is what I packed - or a very close match at least:

The trick for packing light and not feeling like you're a wandering backpacker is to pick wearable pieces that can be worn in a variety of ways; skinny jeans are perfect day or night, same with the jersey skirt and cardigan.  

As I have mentioned previously I am not a "product girl" so I don't have a separate caboodle for my makeup supplies.  I brought with me the Laura Mercier bronze/blush duo and cake liner and smashbox lip gloss.  I do not ever travel with a blow dryer - every hotel in a first world country has one, even the hotels in India, and on occasion I will bring a hair straightener.  

I fly in my bulkiest items, and shoes; that means I wear boots on a plane, or in this case my ballerina sneakers.  I always fly with a pashmina, which doubles as a blanket in flight, and if I am bringing a jacket for the trip I usually don't have it packed so that I can easily access it when I am out of the airport.

Memories from travel are not made in front of the mirror, so I pack light, move quickly and take lots of pictures!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Traveling Shoes

Before we went to India I planned out what I would wear and pack with a lot of attention. Things I considered were the temperature (muggy, hot), the activity (lots of walking but in a variety of areas and terrain), and the culture (lots of color, but not flashy in the American sportswear sense).

When I packed shoes I brought three pairs: satin J. Crew ballet flats, rhinestone J. Crew flip flops and new ballerina sneakers.

These were perfect. I wore them with skirts and skinny jeans (and they weren't clunky or awkward). I wore them with linen pants and they were fittingly delicate and best of all they were comfortable and produced no blisters.

This is a style I have had my eye on for a while. Post trip they would be great commuting shoes - if I wore commuting shoes an they are a great weekend alternative to gym sneakers.

Being comfortable when traveling is essential, and being cute is an added bonus.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thoughts from India

I apologize for the lack of consistent posts, please do not think I have forgotten that this is in fact, the DAILY batch.  I'll be making my best effort to post regularly, again.  Scouts honor!

As I have previously mentioned Mark and I went to India on September 5 - 12.  The whirlwind adventure was prompted by a terrific deal we saw online and the fact that India is one of the countries that Mark has never traveled to.  He has previously been to 36 countries, so it's hard to regularly find somewhere new.  On every trip we take as soon as we get home we kick ourselves for not writing a travel journal, so this time, on our new iPad, I did just that.  I chronicled the entire experience.  

Please join me for our trip to India.

Day 1  Flight:  lots of movies on board. I tried to put my seat back and the woman behind me kicked the seat forward with the full force of her body.  This does not appear to be a cultural difference I can overcome on board.  I resign to sit upright for the next 14 hours. 

Day 2
 Landing in New Delhi.  The airport is brand new and very clean and surprisingly not crowded at all.  The customs process is significantly easier than I expected and presumably easier than it will be on the return. We notice that visitors to some countries (Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and a few others can get their visas at the airport - interesting to see the list of good guys).

We meet up with our group - 26 people from around the country, a random mix of people and ages.  We are the youngest couple here.  Our guide leads us to our bus outside and immediately we are enveloped in a blanket of steam and muggy heat.  It is hot and heavily polluted in New Delhi. 

The city seems to be in a constant state of construction - far different than our concept of construction.  There are young men without shoes and women with their very young children nearby all seemingly working on repairs and renewing the city.  I remarked to Mark that it really seems like they are preparing for something - what that is I am not very sure.

Joining the workers on the side of the street are cows, skinny dogs, goats and lots and lots of cars, motor bikes and bicycles.  On the bus our guide, Jasbir, informs us that in New Delhi there are 14 million people and 2 million cars.  He welcomes us to India and says that traffic is crazy and there are no guarantees and everything changes.  He tells us that India is full of surprises.

We drove through New Delhi on our way to the hotel, it is 5pm Monday India time which is about 7am Monday EST.  Mark is looking and feeling far better rested than me.  We arrive at the Metropolitan Hotel New Delhi.  The hotel is also under construction, but nice.  We are greeted with "nasmaste" everywhere we go.  The hotel staff are very warm and welcoming.  I am exhausted but Mark rallies the troop (me) as he is known to do and we head out for a dinner.

The hotel concierge arranges for us to have a driver and sends us off to a "city center" with shops and restaurants. We learn that our driver will stay with us for the entirety of our trip and wait for us.   This is a relief since the streets seem a bit difficult for a non-native to traverse.  We get to the restaurant, QBA; from the street it looks like a construction site in the stages of demolition.  Through a hallway and up an elevator ride and we are transported to the Indian version of the Hudson Hotel.  Low lighting, lounge music comprised of 80's top hits and even faux ivy decorate the walls.

Inside we sit and order a chicken tikka masala for Mark and subz punjabi (mixed vegetables and cheese in a tomato gravy) for me. Somehow we have managed to find room in our stomachs for our traditional meal and fresh na'an. Very full and very tired we return to the hotel.

Day 3
 We are up early, 5:30 am local time to start the day.  The sun is out, but from the seventh floor of the hotel we cannot see further than maybe a hundred yards because the smog is thick and the sky is cloudy.

We go downstairs to our hotel's restaurant for breakfast.  And we eat - a lot.  We joke that our surpersized breakfast is an insurance policy against an unknown lunch offering.  The color, vibrancy and aromas of the Indian breakfast are far more intriguing than the bacon, sausage and scrambled eggs of traditional American fare.

After breakfast we returned to our room to prepare for the day.  The water in India is not potable for our Western immune systems. Rumor has it that water at the hotel is fine but for such short journey it
really doesn't seem worth it.  So with that in mind we find ourselves wondering where do we draw the line with the water; if you eat na'an with your hands but you've washed your hands with water is this a bad idea?  Long story short we have been brushing our teeth with bottled water.

We are on the bus and begin our morning tour of New Delhi and Old Delhi. This is a very loud city. It is far louder than DC, or NY.  From our bus the only noise is the beeping from the various motorists
around.  The stop and go has made me think of my mom and how much she would not enjoy this part.  During the first part of the drive, before we get to the tour it is hard to not look out the windows. The day is just beginning for us and the people locally. As some people zip off to work there are still many men sleeping in the carriages of their bicycle powered coaches, men on the sidewalks getting shaved, women with their children sitting on their haunches as they beg for money and fathers driving by bike a cartloads of young children to school.  As we look out of our bus windows they look in. Many stare but the children wave and we back to them.

Our tour takes us past alleyways filled with tens of wires that supply the electricity, mounds of garbage and eventually to the site honoring the life and death of Mahatma Gandhi.  We are not able to get out and look around but we are able to see the very manicured grounds from the road.  Our guide talks about Gandhi with a sense of reverence and compares him to "our Abraham Lincoln". He also talks to
us about Gandhi's assassination by a "hardliner" who disagreed with Gandhi's philosophies and tolerance of the Muslim minority.

We stop at Red Fort for some pictures and our first meeting with the 'hawkers' - our guide's term, not ours.   The hawkers are trying to sell maps, postcards, and fans.  Our guide tells us he will broker all
of our deals.  We buy nothing.

We also go to India Gate. It is a bit like an Arc do Triomphe meets Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The large structure is a monument to the soldiers killed in WW1.

Our next stop is to a Muslim mosque.  Outside the mosque
are more hawkers and local poor.  Being here redefines what we imagine poor to be.  There are children and adults bathing under an unsteady stream of water, a man chipping a way at a large block of ice as a young girl stands by eagerly ready to catch any errant shavings and another man so largely disabled that I find myself very torn.  In these situations I wonder if it is better to not look at all or to at least engage with eye contact.

After the mosque we visit a Hindi temple.  India is a faithful country and the great majority of the nation is Hindi.  We take our shoes off and leave our cameras behind.  The Hindi temple is
very large and as Mark pointed our designed entirely differently from any Judaeo/Christian houses of worship.  In Hindi there are 33 million gods and goddesses - so that's  about 1 for every 30 Indians in India - so the temple is set to give homage to several of the gods at one time instead of what we're used to with all direction towards the front to nod G-d.

While in the temple our guide very briefly shares the differences between the Hindi, Sikh, Jain, and Krishna faiths.  He then tells us he is a Christian and laughs.  He is very good at sharing religious, political and social commentary with a laugh.

After departing the temple we continue our drive and it takes us through New Delhi.   New Delhi was designed by and for the British.  It is very, very green, there are round- a- bouts instead of traffic
jams and the vibe is considerably quieter.  We pass the American Embassy - it is massive, which is to be expected I suppose.  We also go past the President's quarters and the buildings for Parliament. Very European in layout and political design.

Back on the road we are heading to a local Kashmir retail/expo.  Our guide tells us that the mod beautiful scarves are from Kashmir, the most beautiful rugs are from Kashmir, and the most beautiful women are from the United States.  

As our driver works his way through traffic it is hard not to notice what is taking place on the side of the road.  There are four young girls, the oldest is maybe 16 and the youngest perhaps 5.  The older girl is married, as signified by her hair dye, and is beating a drum.  The two younger girls are standing on the median; one is twisting her arms completely around her body over and over again pushing the limits of double jointedness and then springing into a series of cartwheels and her younger and smaller friend is doing somersaults on the concrete and climbing through a dinged up 10" circle.  They are performing in hopes of a bit of generosity.  It is heartbreaking to watch but at the same time, very difficult to turn away.

We arrive at the Kashmir store and are treated to a lesson in the art of hand woven rugs. Our host unrolls rug after rug in the most beautiful patterns. To prove their quality our Kashmiri host proves he
too has seen American infomercials and proceeded to take a flame to the rug and the pointed edge of a very large scissor. Not surprisingly the rug is completely unscathed.  During the demonstration our hosts provide us with fresh samosas, bananas and then a fragrant cinnamon, cardamom and saffron tea.  The aromas fill the room and are intoxicating but not so much as to get us to buy a rug.  These all natural, hand woven silk works of art started at $1200 USD but of course my favorite started at $2200 - $8000.

Back on the road and headed to Agra, children in their clean uniforms are getting out of school and they add to the immensity of the traffic.  Our guide tells us that in India education through high school is free: this includes transportation to school, books and supplies and yet many children, for what I am sure is a variety of reasons, do not attend. 

Some observations from the car window: we've seen as many as four people on one small motor bike.  There are no t-shirts in India, men of all ages wear proper shirts; of course as I type that I see someone
wearing a t-shirt.  I saw a Pizza Hut delivery man this seems remarkably out of place, but not nearly as much as the Gold's Gym, International Fitness Center with a sign exclaiming that a "Better body is a happy body!".  This seems so strangely American and unnecessary in a place where people are so visibly hungry.

We continue our five hour journey to Agra, which according to our guide is the home of the Taj Mahal and not much else.  In an effort to not ruin the monument with pollution and other industrial debris no
modern industries have ever been cultivated in this city.  The drive is long and is punctuated with two stops both at a restaurant/rest stop. 

On the road Mark and I are reading his copy of "the Four Hour Work Week" on his kindle app on the iPad.  As a side note when Mark and I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii for another friends' wedding, we sat side by side reading "the Little History of the World" and the old sea-dog of a man sitting next to us commented that our ability to read together, cooperatively, bodes well for a our future.

We read about a chapter before I fall asleep.  Mark continues to read. To know me is to know that when I can fall asleep on just about any moving vehicle and this motor coach is know different.  As the day turns to night I am fast asleep and am using the repetitive braking motion as a rocker and the horns, toots and whistles as a lullabye.

We arrive at our hotel, a Sheraton, designed in the Mughal architecture style. 
After dinner we return to our room for an early nights sleep since we'll be getting up by 5am for our visit to the Taj Mahal.

Day 4  
 Unfortunately we both do not sleep well but this especially doesn't bode well for Mark who wakes up at around 4am with his stomach in his hands.  He is not feeling well and determines the culprit to be a curry overload.  We soldier on and get ready for the day but he is struggling with a lot of aches and pains.  We get to the bus first and wait for the rest of our group.  We are feeling less patient than usual because we are very much in "get the show on the road" mode.

We take a short drive to the Taj Mahal and are told that as expected, and the reason for our earlier than scheduled visit, a dignitary is coming and so the Taj will be closed to the public.  We go through a
security line which is considerably more hands-on than we expected.  Inside the walls on the exterior gates we see much of the same; hawkers, men sleeping on the side of the road, women draped in colorful silks and a new addition, monkeys.  There are monkeys everywhere.  As to be expected the monkeys appear to nave attracted flies and we are on their turf so the flies are everywhere.  To stop moving for any period of time is an open invitation for the arrival of flies.

The Taj Mahal is surrounded by four gates made of a dark red sandstone.  The architecture feels very Arabic in inspiration, which makes sense as we later learned that the emperor that built the Taj
was originally from Turkey and his wife, who he honors, was Persian.  The Taj Mahal is not a palace; it was built as a tomb for the young bride of the emperor.  As a foot note, she was one of two wives - the first wife is certainly entitled to a chopped liver complex.

We walked though the gardens towards the Taj Mahal that we've to date only seen in postcards.  The building is pure white marble and the hope is that it stays that way.  There are no factories around Agra
and there are no shoes, or accessories beyond a camera allowed on the grounds.  We don shoe covers and briefly tour the monument.  Mark is feeling beyond sick now and we are stopping every so often so that he can remember to breathe.  Finally, ahead of schedule but not a moment too soon the guards are asking everyone to leave. This is a huge relief for us as Mark has had just about all he can take.  

We are finally back to the hotel at 8:52am India time and 11:21pm EST.

Mark is sleeping. Time to log off.

Back in the hotel room Mark is wearing the hotel supplied robe and cradling himself like a baby. I am reading "Salt" again.  The book is a history of the salt trade and I have attempted to read it on
multiple trips as evidenced by the water curled pages.  Mark is not much for conversation so I head to get some breakfast in the hotel's restaurant. As I sit down I realize this is the first time I have ever eaten in a real (non sandwich shop) restaurant by myself.  At breakfast I take a few pieces of toast and fruit for Mark.  When I return to the room his position is unchanged and he has no appetite.

After some convincing and a bit of doomsday Internet research as to what his symptoms could point to Mark downed some water and a Cipro.  After more convincing Mark acquiesced and took a shower,  and he was starting to feel better.  We went on a short walk and sat outside and got some lunch. Mark had pizza and I had fruit and toast, I also finished most of his pizza.  

As a funny aside, about a week before we left for India Mark made his status on Facebook, "Going to India in a week, can anyone suggest a good Italian restaurant?" The irony of us sharing a pizza in our hotel in India was not lost on us.

After our lunch we came back to our room and proceeded to veg out and watch movies.  I fell asleep again but together we watched HBO, Spanglish, and SATC the movie.  While the day was pretty hit or miss considering how Mark was feeling we ended the end of our day eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup in bed, in India.  That's about as true to us as I can imagine.

Day 5
Today we are up early and will be making the journey from Agra to Jaipur.  Today is also Rosh Hashanah and I speak to my parents very briefly while they are at my cousins' house for the holiday.  Because I am not observing the holiday in a traditional way this year I take a small comfort in seeing both pomegranate seeds and apples available for breakfast.  I have some bread and honey, for a sweet new year.   After breakfast, where Mark proves he has his appetite back we are on the bus on the way to Red Fort.

The Red Fort is also called Pratepuhr Saikh and is a UNESCO world heritage site.  When we arrive we are greeted by lots of hawkers who are very eagerly trying to sell their wares.  At a certain point this
becomes very difficult to ignore and somewhat exhausting.  With that said, I do have to say their salesmanship is quite impressive, they speak Spanish, use American slang and ask for you to promise to remember them on the way out.  After entering we take a shuttle to the main area. It is a royal Mughal compound and each building is covered in intricate carvings that mimic the design we saw on the Kashmiri rugs two days earlier.

Jasbir, our guide, highlights the various buildings and points out who lived where, and why.  The buildings are all designed to maximize utility so the architecture provides privacy, breezeways and a social center.  The compound provided housing for the emperor his wife and
their administrators, advisors and staff.

While we were at the compound I kept hearing the bellows of a horn, in the spirit of Rosh Hashanah I thought it was the blowing of a shofar but Jasbir told us it was just a train nearby.  Also nearby was a mosque.  I have never been to a mosque so I didn't really know what to expect. Our guide Jasbir told us it would be pretty crazy but a worthwhile experience, so on we went.  At the entrance I put on a cardigan and removed my shoes. In sock covered feet, Mark was barefoot, we entered the chaos of the mosque courtyard.  Everything about it was intense: the colors, smells, noise.  In the courtyard hopeful locals would position themselves as guides and advise you to watch your step and also offer you the latest must have.  The hawkers in the courtyard were particularly young and clever.  One
boy, maybe 8 years old determined I was from America, the land of Obama and Michael Jackson, "a good dancer".  True on both accounts.

Also in the mosque courtyard we saw a group of boys and men standing around a charred motorcycle.  Seeing this piqued our interest, and we later learned that the day before a girl had been walking alone in the very near vicinity and was raped.  The motorcycle belonged to her

After the visit to Pratepuhr we were back in the bus continuing on to Jaipur.   Jaipur was designed by a mathematician so the layout and flow feels more obvious and logical to us.  There are highways,
traffic lights, easier flows of traffic.  This city is the second busiest behind Mumbai in all of India. With that as our surrounding Jasbir tells us a bit more about the less modern elements of Indian culture, including village life, the caste system, and family values.

On the way traffic comes to a slow as we come up to a processional of women dancing, clapping and singing in bright orange saris.  They are beginning a celebration for a Hindi festival.

We finally make it to Jaipur.  At the entrance of our hotel we are greeted by a woman in an elegant sari who imprints a fragrant powder on our foreheads.  I'm still not really sure what it meant, but when
in India you have to experience India.

After a short reprieve at the hotel we are back on the bus and touring Old Jaipur City.  It is messy, loud, colorful, flavorful, busy and exactly what I thought India would be like.  There are of course more
hawkers but there are also shops, and food stands.  When the old city was designed it was intended for the bottom floor to be all retail with the homes on the second and third floors.  To ensure that the retail spaces were all given away for free many many years ago. The vendors have displays of vegetables, spices, and grains that would fit right in at the most resplendent farmers' markets back home.

Jasbir does a terrific job on guiding us through the traffic maze and also warns against indulging our sense of adventure with the street food.   We are lead through a building that is inhabited by a few very
old men, and where admission is a few boxes of tea.  On the rooftop you can see all of the old city.  At this height and from this vantage point we are in an oasis from the commotion.

That evening we go see the sparkle of India.  Jaipur is known for it's jewelry so at a local jewelry shop Mark and I window shopped while admiring the beautiful diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds. After dinner we went to a local restaurant, Nero's, for a refined and delicious dinner. With our new friends we shared several very yummy dishes.

Day 6
 This is the day I was most excited for; we are going on an elephant ride!  We wait in line for the elephants in a sea of hawkers.  This was the ultimate test of our resilience to ignore their salesmanship.  We rode side saddle on the back of an elephant through the corridors and up the ramps of the Amber Fort. The elephant ride was really fun and the animals are beautiful.   The hardest part of the elephant ride is seeing how the elephants are treated; we repeatedly saw them hit with bars and whips.

After the elephant ride we explored the very large Amber fort.  It is in parts a palace, in parts a maze, but in all parts amazing.  The walls feature beautiful inlaid marble and beautiful intricate paintings.  That afternoon we went to the Jaipur Castle and to see the astronomy/astrology park that features the world's largest sun dial. Our guide also gave us astrology reports based on our birthdate and time, turns out I was fated to be bossy, oh well.  


This afternoon we also visited a textile mart to see beautiful silks, cottons and wovens.  I got a tunic, Mark got three custom shirts made and we bought lots of pashminas as gifts.

After a short rest at the hotel we cleaned up for our last group dinner.   We were going to a traditional Indian restaurant owned by a man who went to school at Purdue in Indiana, and so named his
restaurant Indiana.  The show that accompanied dinner was wild; a combination of sensual belly dancing and circus side show.  This is where the trip turned for me; dinner did not agree with me and we (my dinner and stomach) continued to fight for the rest of the night.

Day 7
 This was a long travel day.  We drove on the bus from Jaipur to Delhi - a six hour ish long bus ride.  Every bus ride is four, five, six hour ish. It is a part of the surprises of India. Included in
those surprises are the variety of animals we saw, (elephants, cows, water buffalo, goats, pigs, dogs, wild boars, peacocks, and camels), the colors, the commerce, the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, the strive to survive, the traffic and the noise.

India is a unique experience.  It takes you in and overwhelms you, from the first
Namaste to the last security check before boarding the plane (four security checks!).  On most trips we've taken I feel bittersweet, and sometimes even sad when leaving, this time I was ready to come home. That's a part of the story.  It is a lot to take in, and I am still working on it mentally and emotionally.  But I wouldn't have had this experience with anyone but my husband, he pushes us to travel, to go further, to see the world and live life to the fullest.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Simple Things

I was off the computer yesterday and in a way being detached from all of the technology that surrounds me was a welcomed break.

So in a moment of reflection I thought of some of my favorite things, that happen everyday, and that don't ever go out of season or style.

10. The first fall breeze
9. A sweater that's too big so you can pretend it's a blanket
8. Holding hands
7. Soup, any kind but really by any kind I mean matzo ball or chicken noodle (which is really the same thing)
6. Grilled cheese sandwiches
5. Touching toes in bed
4. Old pictures
3. Popcorn and m&m candy
2. My family's support
1. My husband

Surround yourself with your favorite things, I am.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Halfway Around the World, and Back

Last week there were no new posts.  Why?  Because, Mark and I went to India.  

A few months ago, before we found a house, before we moved, before the start of this blog, Mark got an email about an 8-day trip to India for a once-in-a-lifetime price (  In true Mark fashion he told me about it and then the next day when I was getting a pedicure with my mom I got a text message that said, "We're going to India - and there will be an elephant ride!"

So, we went to India, and yes, there was an elephant ride!

India is unlike anywhere I have ever been, and the experience is very powerful, delightful, and intense.  The sounds, foods, smells, sights overwhelm all of your senses, and I am still digesting everything we experienced. 

But, for now, to borrow from our new Indian friends, I'll leave you with "Namaste".


Jaipur, Elephant Ride

Jaipur, Pink City

Jaipur, Maharajah Temple

Hindu Women on Way to Festival for the god Ganesh
Jaipur, Spice Market

Agra, Taj Mahal

Monday, September 13, 2010

Everybody's Favorite, with a Holiday Twist

And, I'm back!  Sorry for the absence of postings last week, Mark and I were India - more on that soon, with a travel journal and lots of pictures.  In the meantime, let's get back into the swing of things with an easy, and perfectly delicious recipe.

Like apples and honey, pomegranate seeds are also a symbolic treat for the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Tradition dictates that you try a new/exotic fruit, which for many a pomegranate qualifies, and also the abundance of tiny pomegranate seeds is symbolically linked to an abundance of goodness in the New Year.  

Image via Vos Iz Neias?
 While working on the whole wheat apple muffins, I thought this would be a fun way to incorporate some extra goodness into the holidays.

Pomegranate Cookies, adapted from Nestle Tollhouse

1 and 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, softened
3/8 cup granulated sugar
3/8 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup of fresh Pomegranate Seeds
1/2 cup of Chocolate Covered Pomegranate Seeds
Set the oven to 350 degrees, and bake for about 8 minutes or until browned.

Just like you were making regular chocolate chip cookies, cream the butter and sugars, add the egg and vanilla.  Then add the dry ingredients of flour, baking soda and salt.  

Then add the fresh pomegranate seeds.  You could also you dried seeds, but I found the fresh ones kept the cookies unbelievably moist.  You could stop with the fresh seeds for a healthy, sweet treat, but come on, how could I resist not adding in dark chocolate covered seeds as well?  Dark chocolate is rich with antioxidants, so that counts too!

I found the fresh seeds and the chocolate covered seeds at Trader Joe's, but if you're not so lucky to have a Trader Joe's nearby, you could just use regular chocolate chips and remove the seeds yourself.  To avoid a mess you can open up the pomegranate and pull out the seeds with your hands and the fruit submerged in a bowl of water.

For these cookies I used a teaspoon sized scoop.  The cookies came out to be size of an Entenmann's cookie, which is pretty much the perfect 2-bite size. 

Eat and enjoy, and share with a friend.  Wishing you all great things for fall and the start of the New Year!