Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The Breadfruit

The breadfruit (Neer phanas or Div Kadgi) seemed to take forever to peel and cut. I had planned on making a delicious stir-fry and I was already running late. As usual when I am in a hurry, I start heating the pan and dunking in the pieces as they get chopped up.  I just put in the last batch of pieces, when the gas fluttered and gasped and went out!  The gas cylinder was nearing its Finish Time and it chose just this minute to wind up!

Well, no worries, we have a spare cylinder. I started moving out the stuff from the front of the cylinder to be able to pull it out. A spare bottle of liquid soap, a bottle of coconut water collected for the Panchagavya that I was planning on making later this week and a plastic bag filled with waste plastic bags. Oh I hate this non-biodegradable thrash – everything from wheat-flour to sugar and all essentials come wrapped/sealed in plastic and there is no way I can avoid this. I collect it in a plastic bag for disposal later. As I pulled out the bag, I noticed what looked like a  brown roll of paper just behind the cylinder.  Thinking it was the roll of postal paper in which I had received some mail, I bent down to pick it up –but  wait – did it just flinch a wee bit?  I put on my spectacles  – and yes indeed – it  had flinched at my outstretched hand .... and was now staring back at me with beady eyes.

What.......... was ???? 

 I needed more light and got my torch and shone it into  the shadowy part under the kitchen platform – I could now see the small head and a muscular swathe  of  brown circling behind the cylinder. I called out to Vivek and we both debated on the next course of action. It looked sluggish.  The first step was to see it properly. We pulled out the gas cylinder carefully to see this humongous guy all curled up in a perfect camouflage! 

What a perfect Camouflage!

Could it really be a python?  I quickly clicked a pic and sent it to our vet Dr. Gourish Padukone who is an expert on snakes.  “Yes, it does look like a python.  If you can – then grab it by its tail and lift it high up so that it does not get the leverage to wrap itself around your arm” he advised. “And be careful – it can whip itself around your arm or leg in an instant”  he warned.

Now the position being in that little niche under the cooking platform, it would be difficult to pull it out and up swiftly and we could not assess how long it was.  We got a big sack and a large pipe.  We closed one end of the pipe by stuffing some cloth into it. The other end, we pointed towards the snake.  Most often, the snake seeking refuge into what is most comfortable for it, slides into the pipe and then the rest is easy. All we need to do is block the other end too, cart the pipe and its occupant a safe distance away and release it.  But this guy was  too woozy after what seemed like a heavy meal – we could see the tell-tale bulge  around his middle. He kept turning away from the pipe and trying to seek an escape path into the granite of the kitchen platform.  And every minute’s delay was making the half cooked breadfruit turn into a soggier mess.

 Finally Vivek put a sack over his hands and grabbed its tail.  This jolted Mr. Py  enough and he slithered right into the awaiting pipe.  The length of the pipe seemed a wee bit shorter than its occupant and we had to tap his tail a couple of times for him to retract it completely into the pipe.   Now what next ?  Our vet had offered to release it the next day into the deep forest which he was to traverse through for a visit.  It is not advisable to release such large snakes near human inhabitation. So I quickly emptied out the box in which I store my quilting materials and the sluggish giant was unceremoniously tipped into it. We closed the lid before he could right himself and rise up. The box has a latch, but when compared to the sheer muscle power of the inhabitant, it looked really flimsy and could just snap open. So we placed some weights on it, kept it in one of the spare rooms, and closed the door and windows. 

How puny the weights look!

As you can well imagine, dinner was delayed, the breadfruit didn’t turn out to be the perfectly crisp edged stir fry that it usually does, but we were too excited to mind.  It is not everyday that your dinner gets delayed and ruined by a guest of these proportions!!!

The next day, our vet called us on his way and we handed the basket over to him.  On taking a closer look, he clarified that it was a Sand Boa. 

We were expecting human guests at home for lunch, else we would not have missed the opportunity of  a ride into the deep forest to bid adieu to this very rare visitor.

Friday, 13 July 2018

The Rains are here again!

This was an old article that I wrote when we first moved here and experienced the first monsoon at the farm!  Each year it is just as glorious as ever!  

A burst of green after the rains!

The mini waterfall near the temple is back in full force

But things change as they always will. These past seven years have brought in so many rich experiences, so many sad ones .....and so much joy too!

Today the holle near our home is flooded and I cannot – or rather do not want to move out. 

We have to cross this to get to our car which is parked beyond for the entire rainy season
Our neighbour making a valiant attempt to cross the swirling water

Back in the city  if you run out of something in the kitchen, all you do is pick up the phone and it gets delivered home.  Haha -  if you think I can do the same here!  But now I have become a ‘Mistress of Improvisation’  and there never is a dull dish at home!  From using fresh betel leaves to spice up the dal,  to making a curry using Barbados cherries instead of using the core of a banana stem to pep up a simple meal of dal-rice....the trials are endlessly interesting and the outcome almost always delicious!

We had moved from Mumbai to the farm with two dogs Misty and Phoenix , and a cat Snoopy. What we got here was yet another dog- our precious Johnny, Zuki our Mudhol hound joined in a little later. Our cow shed which had 3 cows, a bull and one buffalo when we moved here, now houses 22 animals.   

When you are surrounded by so many animals you have to learn to take their loss in your stride.  But yet it hurts like crazy.  Phoenix our hound passed on to doggy heaven in December.  Misty his constant companion seemed to take it well, but all of a sudden, her age (she was 12) started showing.  It was almost as if she decided to join him and within 5 months she did.  The only consolation was that she was active until the end and did not suffer.  

Misty - constant companion even while working indoors - supervising my quilt-in-progress 

Our beloved Misty 

The most awful thing was when a week after Misty died, Johnny met with a fatal accident on the road to Kembre farms. It is quite a way off from our farm, but he was used to roaming all over the village. He would always get back home in time for his meal, so when he did not turn up for dinner I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. We took a torch and walked around the farm just in case he was trapped some where, but there was no sign of him The next day some villagers mentioned about a dog being hit by a vehicle and we went to check and sadly it was Johnny. Will miss him the most. We always relied on him to warn us of poisonous snakes, and he used to be our companion when we did guard duty in the rice fields!   Sad...sad...sad...sad....

Johnny - our Hero!  

In December, shortly after Phoenix died, Zuki had a litter of the most adorable pups and we had decided to keep one.  I have named him COBOL!  He filled in the emptiness.

So now it is just Zuki and Cobol at home.  Zuki dislikes getting wet in the rain, and so she sits curled up at my feet.  Cobol in all his youthful zest runs in and out of the house leaving wet paw marks,  puddles and spraying all with his playfulness. 

His happiness is contagious and I am learning to be content with just two dogs.


Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Last Walk

It was the first week of December.  Phoenix our Mudhol hound who had been with us since way back in Bombay had been showing signs of his age.  Niggling health issues kept cropping up -  he would get disoriented, often trip and fall and would need help to get up again. Our  very able vet Dr. Gourish Padukone,  had warned us on his last visit that there wasn’t much that he could do other than keep him comfortable and out of pain.  And he indeed did a commendable job of it. 

Phoenix used to love the walks up the hillside behind Huli Devana, but he had stopped accompanying us for quite some months now.  His joints would swell up sometimes and he often needed warm oil massaged on his legs to reduce the pain.  But on the morning of the 6th, as we put on our shoes he seemed to perk up, and followed us out of the gate. I thought he would return after a few metres as he would often do, but no, he continued on.  We slowed our speed to wait for him at a couple of spots.  One particularly high rock which he would normally have leapt over nimbly proved a challenge for him and Vivek had to lift him up.   He would pause every now and then,  with his breathing sounding laboured, but there was a strange determination in him. A couple of times, out of concern I said to Vivek –‘I think we should turn back – it will be too strenuous for him’.  But when we did turn and start walking back, he refused to retrace his steps and waited until we retraced ours and moved further on. Finally we reached the very top of the hill which is flat  and has patches of wonderfully soft golden hay. 

We often sit and admire the view while the dogs love to roll in it. 

Today Phoenix let out a long sigh and turned around a couple of times before painfully sitting down. He turned his head and pushing his nose into the soft grass, closed his eyes.  

We allowed him to rest while the others played around in the grass.

When it was time to leave, I had to literally shake him awake and say “Phoenix lets go home”.  The return was slow as we waited for him to catch his breath after every few steps.  Halfway down he found another patch of similar hay and sat down for a little more time.  Back home, he fell into a deep slumber.

That was his last walk on his favourite hillside with us.

By the third week of December, his health was failing, his food intake had reduced.  On 24th he refused his favourite treat – the Chewsticks and we knew then that his time was near. That night he seemed in pain and we took turns to be with him.   At around 2 am, he started moaning,  Vivek spent the rest  of the night cradling his head on his lap.  He slept like a baby on his masters lap.

He breathed his last on the morning of 25th December.  He spent 11 years with us giving us so much joy and love.

Phoenix, you will be missed!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

A Clove Harvest.

Who would have ever thought that a bud can be more fragrant than the flower itself!  And not just that – who would have ever thought that drying the bud could make it even more fragrant! 

Well, ages back when our civilisation was still toddling along,  some one apparently did, and thanks to that, today we have cloves (the aromatic dried flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree) in our spice box, , in our tooth pastes,  in Gl├╝hwein,  in Christmassy Pomanders, in the Lavang Latika.......  and ....did someone just say ‘Chocolate?’  Oh no no no... I don’t think so.

So how exactly does the clove tree look?  How is it harvested?  Come along, lets walk out into the farm and take a look.

The Clove tree is a really tall slender tree  and if you look at its trunk near the base, you would almost mistake it for the slender Arecanut tree.  

But look up and you will see the lateral branches spreading out in all directions.  It is an evergreen tree with pale green leaves.  

The buds are borne in clusters at the very tip of the branches.  And like all delicate buds, one needs to hand pick them at harvest time. 

The pole-ladder balances delicately against the adjacent arecanut tree. You can climb up the ladder, holding your arm around the tree. Every few steps up, the ladder has a cord which you can tie securely around the tree , so if the tree sways in the gentle breeze, the ladder sways with it rather than toppling over.

 Now that you are at the very top of the ladder, hold one arm securely around the tree and then start plucking the buds. You can toss them into the basket that is strapped to your back.  Make sure you pluck only the bunches which have  a pinkish tint to it.  If many of the  flowers have already bloomed, then you know you have delayed the harvest. 

Uh-oh  these have already bloomed!

Pluck all that are within easy reach, do not lean too far.  Now that you are done, you can climb down carefully, undoing the cords that you tied on your way up.  On steady ground now?  Whats that whooshing sound I just heard?  – oh did I forgot to mention ‘Breathe while you are up there”...... did you really hold your breath all this while?

Ha ha –I think I need to look for a new volunteer for my next years clove harvest.

Now the easy part – separate the individual buds from the bunch, spread them on steel plates and let the benevolent sun do its job. 

We can go indoors for a glass of chilled starfruit  juice.

After a day of drying - see how the colour changes!

Finally Perfect Cloves!

Saturday, 3 March 2018


“Kokum...kokum...kokum,  she said, but not a word about us!” 

“Yes, not a word about us”......  “yes yes not a word about us”....a chorus of voices muttering the same thing over and over again came from  the store room. 

I opened the door cautiously to see a whole procession of Vatamba slices looking as though they were about to march out in protest. I could see them all looking accusingly at me.

‘Now What?!!!!”

“You have an entire blog post devoted to Kokum!! And even one for Bilimbi!  What about us? We too impart  a tangy flavour that too without ruining the colour(?) like kokum! And what about our medicinal properties?”   ..... the chorus was growing louder.

“Okay okay shush!  I promise I shall wax eloquent over Vatamba” I said trying to quieten  them.

Hubby called out from the other room “Whom are you talking to?”

“No one particular”  I replied........(Well you must agree that my answer was very truthful – I wasn’t talking to any one of them in particular. Thankfully hubby did not persist and quip back  “No one in particular?...Any one in general?”)

I quickly closed the store room door, it was silent again. I heaved a sigh of relief. Was I dreaming? Sure hope I was. But then I had made a promise, so here is my post on Vatamba. (Seriously I had no clue that they read my blog!)

Vatamba  -  The botanical name of this relatively unheard of  fruit is Artocarpus Lakoocha. Also known as Monkey Jack or locally called Kokum Phool by many.  It imparts a tangy flavour and is used in place of tamarind. It has anti-inflammatory properties and if one has been asked to avoid tamarind in the diet, then this is the perfect replacement.

I had no idea how this fruit looked or tasted until I saw it on the tree in our farm.  Green, uneven oddly shaped fruits hang at the tip of the branches of the huge trees.  

We have 4 fruit bearing trees on our farm, and quite a few young ones probably sprouted on their own from fallen seeds. Given the fact that seed viability is very low, we sure are glad to have these young trees on our farm, hoping that some day they too will grow into tall sturdy giants like their parents.

Now about the fruit.  I have faint memories of my granny mentioning wistfully that if only one could procure ‘Vatamba Sol’ and use it instead of tamarind,  her arthritic pain would not have bothered her as much.  But back in Bombay then, our regular grocer had not even heard the name.

The first year that we saw the fruit on the trees, our farm hand explained to us that it needs to be sliced  and then dried in the sun.  It is a very hard fruit and cutting it takes as much effort as cutting a raw jackfruit (kadgi).

Our farm hand had helped us cut most of it using a traditional cutter known as an ‘Adlee’, while we used what we are most used to -  a cutting board and a knife.  The cutting boards were thoroughly discoloured by the time we were through.  And this was the harvest from the first tree. 

Three more huge harvests followed.  The summer was at its peak and the slices dried beautifully.  

The next step was to remove the seeds from the slices. A systematic beating with a wooden mallet frees the  seeds and then they can be shaken out and separated. The last and most important task is to soak the dried slices in salt water for a couple of hours and then sun dry it again.  This makes them last the year through.

And how do we use these crisp beautiful slices?  Use them in place of tamarind in your dishes.  Put them in dal while cooking to make a delicious Sambar, add them to your Pulaos, Masale bhaat and Vaangi Bhaat.  The Goans love it in their Fish Curry, the Sindhis love it in their Sindhi Kadhi and we Amchis love it in our Bendi and Ghashhi.  And you can innovate and try it out in any other dishes.

Any one out there who loves this in some different unusual recipe, I would love to hear from you! 

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