December 24, 2016

Hot Cocoa

While I wish Christmas season would last longer, I still enjoyed the one month that preceded Christmas. That is when we decided to begin our Christmas celebration. The tree was up a month ago with little tweaks and twists whenever we were mood for a change. CBN radio played all along and I lost count of the Christmas movies we watched. Each movie spoke of Christmas spirit, family, love and hope. Put together, it is the celebration of life putting aside all our worries.  Baking also found way into our life and mall hopping to see the Santa Claus and Christmas decor were not far behind. 

It's Christmas eve and I hope all of you are all ready for the big day! The climate is chilly in most parts of the world and if you are in mood for a drink (non alcoholic :P) - here is a recipe you can count on. It makes me think of all the days we went to Cafe Coffee day for a sip at Hot Cocoa and it took me years to realise I could make one at home with easily available ingredients.



This would be all my Christmas recipes for this year. Wishing you all a very very blessed and joyous Christmas!!


Ingredients
(single serve)

  1. Milk - 1 cup
  2. Cocoa powder(unsweetened) - 1 tbsp
  3. Instant coffee powder - 1/4 tsp
  4. Sugar - 1 tsp
  5. Cinnamon powder - 2 pinches
  6. Vanilla essence - 2 drops

Method

Warm the milk in a sauce pan. Add the cocoa powder, instant coffee powder and sugar. Using a hand whisk, stir the contents well to prevent cocoa powder from forming lumps.
Turn off the flame just when it begins to boil. Stir in the cinnamon powder and vanilla essence and serve hot.

You may also note - 
  1. Cocoa powder tends to form lumps, you can sieve the powder in order to avoid that.
  2. Sweetness may be adjusted as per your choice.

December 20, 2016

Prawns Roast| Chemmeen Roast

Majority of my Christmas days were spent in Kerala. The routine was fixed for years as far as I can remember. Vacation for us began on the 23rd of December every year on wrapping up the annual day celebrations. Then catch the Malabar express from Mangalore (Soumya -my sister and I loved the train journey) to reach Mavelikara the 24th morning.

Christmas day began with a breakfast of appam and chicken stew! A plateful of plum cake adorned the table every meal.
Have you tried cake and stew combo?
Do I sound crazy?
My dad says so - you should probably try to believe it. A slice of cake and a spoonful of stew on it. That is the way I end my Christmas breakfast. Lunch would generally be Biriyani or rice with a lot of non veg items - chicken, beef , seafood, mutton,  name it and you have it. Dinner was more or less on the same lines. Christmas is not exactly Christmas without the lip smacking food!!

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I have chosen one such recipe that could form a part of your Christmas menu this season - Prawns roast or Chemmeen roast. Cakes, muffins and cookies makes it Christmassy sure but it's only when you have the kind of food you are used to having for Christmas growing up does Christmas look complete. The photography of this dish is special too - It is for the first time that someone gave me a gift and told me -' it is not for you but for kitchenspells'. The dish has been laid out in a porcelain gifted by a dear friend Vivin. ( I know he is going to get back to me on this - cz prawns is definitely not his favorite item. We fight often so I guess that is not a big deal either:P)

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Ingredients

For marination -

  1. Prawns - 1/2 kg (cleaned and de-veined)
  2. Red Chilly powder - 1 tsp
  3. Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
For the roast
  1. Shallots - 1 cup chopped
  2. Ginger Garlic paste - 1 tbsp
  3. Tomato - 1 medium chopped
  4. Curry Leaves - 2 sprigs
  5. Green Chilly - 2 slit
  6. Kashmiri chilly powder - 1 tsp
  7. Pepper powder - 1/4 tsp
  8. Coriander powder - 1 tsp
  9. Coconut Oil
  10. Salt

Method
  • Clean and de-vein the prawns. Let the water drain.
  • Marinate the prawns in chilly powder and turmeric powder for about half an hour.
  • Heat coconut oil in a pan and add the chopped shallots. Saute for 2-3 minutes on medium flame before adding the ginger garlic paste.
  • Once this is cooked, add chilly powder, pepper powder and coriander powder. Combine and cook the masala well.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook it covered till the tomato melts in and oil starts leaving masala.
  • Add the marinated prawns along with the curry leaves and green chilly. Coat this well with the masala and let it cook.
  • Prawns cook fast and over cooking makes them rubbery. Cook them until done - this will take you a maximum of ten minutes.Keep it covered first half of the time and uncovered for second half. This helps the prawns attain the color of the masala as it gets coated well. Depending on how you want your masala to be you could uncover and let the masala run dry or else have it in semi gravy form.

December 16, 2016

Spiced Apple Juice

I am not a fan of Dubai summers and eagerly wait for the winter to arrive. Every time it does I swear to make the best use of it. From evening strolls in the park to sitting out in the balcony and enjoying the breeze, I love it all. I am on high spirits this season - so my kitchen often has new dishes.

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If you are looking for something warm to make your winter nights cozy, look no further. Here is a tried and tested recipe which you will grow to love. Its absolutely not complicated and all you need are three ingredients. While your chicken roasts and your cake bakes, you could have your drink made as well. So here you are - Spiced Apple juice!

I got this recipe from Shibin and he got it from his brother, Shinoj.

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Ingredients
  1. Apple Juice - 4 glasses ( You could pick up a can from the supermarket)
  2. Cinnamon sticks - 1 whole stick
  3. Cloves - 6
Method

Pour the apple juice into a saucepan along with cinnamon sticks and cloves. Simmer this for 10 to 15 minutes on low flame. Do not let it boil - switch off when the bubbles just start forming at the bottom of the pan. Keep it covered for 20 minutes and let it take in the flavors of the spices. Serve it warm.

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December 12, 2016

Carrot Halwa Cheesecake - No Bake

The long weekend has heralded a hopefully long winter in Dubai. The winds are chilly and my hands are invariably reaching out to the woolens. The sky is clear and occasional clouds pass by as I look up and pray that at least one would sprinkle showers as they go by. I have not been that lucky yet! It is that time of the year when we reach out to those soothing hot drinks and soups. Yet the crazy part in each of us would want to grab hold of an ice cream or something chilled. ( although the angel in your head would speak of possibilities of falling sick - the devil in you doesn't care)

The call for making a cheesecake has been there since the last mango season. The season passed by and no cheesecake was made. While discussing the menu for Christmas, Shibin was quick to suggest a cheesecake and since mango is not in season now, I was left pondering on the flavor. I was quickly taken back to one of the episodes of Dhe Chef - a Malayalam channel cooking reality show where one of the contestants happened to make a carrot halwa cheese cake.  So there it was done!!

The cream cheese I have used is homemade - I picked up the recipe from the blog - Sharmispassion . I increased the quantity of lime juice added to 3 tbsp as against the 1.5 mentioned in the blog to get the desired consistency. Why do you need to buy cream cheese, if you can make it at home!! It is cheaper and not so tedious. Head over to her blog, if you want to give it a shot and below is my cheesecake recipe.


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Ingredients

For Carrot Halwa

  1. Carrot - 1 and half cup grated
  2. Sweetened condensed milk - 100 ml
  3. White sugar - 2 tbsp
  4. Ghee - 4 tbsp
For cheesecake
  1. Digestive Biscuit - 8 -10
  2. Butter - 3 tbsp melted
  3. Cream cheese - 1 cup
  4. Thick cream - 1/3 cup
  5. Sugar -1/4 cup powdered
  6. Rose essence - 1 tsp
  7. Salt - 1 pinch
Method

Carrot Halwa
  • Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a saucepan and add the grated carrot. 
  • Add the condensed milk and combine. Let it simmer on low flame till the raw taste of the carrot goes and the milk content reduces by 80%.
  • Add sugar and remaining ghee. Stir till it combines well and the moisture content dries up.
  • Set aside to cool
Cheesecake
  • Put the digestive biscuits into a ziploc bag and crush it using a rolling pin till coarse
  • Combine this with melted ghee. Layer the bottom of 4 glasses with this mixture and press down using spoon. Let it refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Whisk the thick cream until peak is formed. Add in the cream cheese and combine well.
  • Add in the sugar, salt and the essence and combine.
  • Add about 3 tbsp of the carrot halwa to the cheese mixture and fold this in.
  • Scoop spoonfuls of the cheese mixture into the glasses. Gently tap down the glass on tea towel to level the cheese layer.
  • Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Finally, top the cheesecake with carrot halwa and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  • Serve chilled.
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December 9, 2016

Whole Wheat Banana Chocolate Muffins

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It has been long since I played the game of Secret Santa - I am sure most of you are familiar with this game. It is not the gifts you wrap or unwrap that gives the happiness. It is more about the suspense, the secret letters and the guessing games as to who could be your Santa. I was introduced to this game when I was in hostel where every year we religiously play  - we did have our semester exam during this time of the year but that never dampened our spirits. Nothing could possibly be a hindrance to this game when you have a whole hostel - 100 odd girls playing this game. We had a letter box where we could drop in letters addressed to our secret friend. The thrill of finding a letter addressed to you or small gifts that would mysteriously appear on your bed or a messenger getting it for you. Aah!  Shopping for the gifts weren't easy either. It was always last minute purchases and all the 100 girls end up at the same store every time. We had to dodge our secret friends in the store to get across to buy gifts for them. Aah! Those were the small joys of Christmas.

I wonder as we begin to grow older, do we stop ourselves from enjoying those tiny little things we once enjoyed. So why not this Christmas try to relive your favorite memories - age is after all just a number. May be its a game of Secret Santa or going caroling or baking - let us grow younger this Christmas!

Over to my Christmas recipe - an easy to make muffin with lesser greased utensils. All the combining is done in one bowl - so what are you waiting for - hurry over and try this

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Ingredients
(makes 10 muffins)

  1. Ripe Banana - 1/4 cup mashed
  2. Butter - 1/4 cup melted
  3. Brown sugar - 1/4 cup
  4. Egg - 1
  5. Wheat Flour - 1 cup
  6. Baking powder - 1/2 tsp
  7. Baking soda - 1/4 tsp
  8. Cocoa powder - 1 tbsp heaped
  9. Salt 
Method
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 degree centigrade
  • Sieve together the dry ingredients - Wheat Flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  • Take the mashed banana in a bowl and add the brown sugar and butter
  • Break open an egg into this and add the vanilla essence and fold well to combine
  • Now incorporate the dry ingredients in batches and mix well as you go
  • Line your muffin tray with muffin cups or parchment paper and scoop out the batter into the cups.
  • Bake at 180 degree centigrade for 20 minutes or till a pin inserted comes out clean.
  • Once done move onto a cooling rack.
  • Dust a bit of powdered sugar on the top for the finale.

December 4, 2016

Ginger Cookies

It is winter, it is Christmas and baking just happens this season! Listening to the carols, there I went baking again.  

My mind began wandering to 'Long time ago in Bethlehem',
In the 'Silent Night'
I envisioned 'Hark the herald, angels sing'.
The bright stars guiding 'We three Kings of Orient are'
Led them to the place where 'Mary's boy child Jesus Christ' lay.
 ' O Come All Ye Faithful' and spread the word.
'Go tell it on the mountain' and spread 'Joy to the world'.

It is a 'Merry Merry Merry Christmas'
And 'Santa Claus is coming to town'
'Dashing through the snow' here he is
With 'Rudolf the red nose reindeer' by his side
and 'Frosty the snowman' to welcome him
I 'Decked my halls with boughs of Holly',
and keep dreaming about a 'White Christmas'.

Looks like an overdose of carols!! Oh Never mind, like Shibin says when Christmas is over we should be tired of listening to carols and I still have 21 days more to go!

I am not a wonderful baker to be honest! I have had my disasters in the oven. There was a time I used to give up if I did not get the recipe right in the first go. Over time, I have learnt that patience has its virtues and I am ready to give several shots before I get it right. The end result has always been worth it for me!  The smell of the freshly baked goodies and the delight on the faces of my food testers:) make every effort worthwhile. I have learnt on the go that oven of different models behave differently, the type of flour that each one uses would have different levels of tolerance to moisture and so on and so forth. At the end of this recipe, I have given a few tips based on my baking experiments.

So here is my recipe - Ginger cookies

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Ingredients

  1. All Purpose Flour - 1 and 1/2 cup
  2. Baking Soda - 1 tsp
  3. Ground dry ginger - 2 tsp
  4. Ground cinnamon - 1 tsp
  5. Ground nutmeg - 1/2 tsp
  6. Salt - 1/4 tsp
  7. Brown Sugar packed - 1/2 cup
  8. Butter - 100 gms
  9. Egg - 1 medium size
  10. Vanilla essence - 1 tsp
  11. White Sugar for rolling the cookie dough



Method
  • Combine the dry ingredients listed from 1 to 6 and sieve them well
  • Make sure your butter is at room temperature. Add the brown sugar to a bowl of butter and cream it using a electric beater or a hand whisk
  • Break open an egg into this, add the vanilla essence and combine well
  • Slowly, add small batches of the sieved ingredients, mixing with a spatula to combine
  • Once the dry ingredients have combined with the wet, dig in your hands to do a bit of kneading and bring the dough together
  • Let the dough rest for about half an hour
  • Meanwhile line your tray with baking parchment and pre-heat your oven
  • Wet your hands and pinch off small lemon sized balls from the dough. Roll it in a plate of white sugar until the ball is completed coated in sugar
  • Place this on the baking tray and leave sufficient gap between the cookies for it to expand
  • You could either bake the cookies as is or press it down with a fork and flatten it slightly
  • Bake for 15 minutes at 180 degree centigrade
  • Once done, transfer it to a cooling rack
  • This cookie goes extremely well your cup of tea. Try it to believe it!
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You may also note - 
  • Ovens quite often behave differently depending on the brands, capacity and energy source. You may have to do several trials with your oven before you have the perfect cookies or cakes. When I started making cookies- I often used to get the underneath of it burned and the inside still uncooked. Its after quite a few experiments that I started getting the texture right. Patience always pays and the first time need not always be your best!
  • If you are using a gas oven that lights up only at the bottom, you could try placing the baking tray at the top most slot and baking it for a while longer than suggested in the recipe.
  • In case your cookie dough is a little too soft and you are finding it difficult to roll, just refrigerate the dough for a while.
  • Cookies generally seem a little under cooked when you take it out of the oven - let it cool to harden and get its color.

November 27, 2016

Oven baked fish in indo-chinese sauce

It is never too early Christmas!

The best is always saved for the end of the year - there cannot be anything better to end a wonderful year!

I pray this season passes by slow so that I get to savor every moment of it. So while it lasts - let's get into some cooking , carols, decorating and lots of fun filled moments with family and friends.

I did happen to mention last Christmas that our love for Christmas was one thing that brought Shibin and me close. We are leaving no stone un-turned this year as well. We have put up our tree, our Christmas wreath is in making, cbn radio that plays Christmas songs throughout the year is live on my system while I write this, Christmas movies are up and running in the evenings and I am preparing my December menu!

If you are a person who enjoys this season as much as we do then hurry up - put your tree!! Listen to cbnradio - (http://www1.cbn.com/radio/christmas) if you love the carols and checkout the Hallmark Christmas movie collection on youtube. None of these are sure gonna disappoint you.

 I could go on about Christmas but I do have more recipes I hope to put up this Christmas and hence let me save my stories for later. Here is a recipe you could try out for your December menu - Oven baked fish in indo - chinese sauce.



Ingredients
  1. Fish - 1 kg
  2. Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
  3. Red chilly powder - 1 tsp 
  4. Onion - 3 large chopped
  5. Garlic- 2 tsp chopped
  6. Green chilly - 2 chopped
  7. Soya sauce - 3 tbsp
  8. Tomato sauce - 2 tbsp
  9. Water - 3 tbsp
  10. Coriander leaves - 1 bunch chopped
  11. Salt to taste
  12. Oil - 2 tbsp
Method

Clean and pat the fish slices dry. Create slit on the fish to help the flavors seep in.  
Marinate the fish in turmeric powder and salt for about half an hour.

In a bowl, stir in the tomato sauce, soya sauce with water and keep aside.

Meanwhile heat oil in a pan and add the chopped onions and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes before adding the green chilies and cook until tender. Add the chilly powder and cook the masala. Add the previously made sauce mix and switch off the flame,

The fish can either be baked in a tray or in an aluminium foil.
Pre heat the oven at 200 degree centigrade.
Line a baking tray and pour spoonful of sauce on to the tray and place the fish on top of this. Pour the remaining sauce onto the fish completely covering the fish. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until done.

Alternatively, place your fish on an aluminium foil and bring the edges of the foil together. Add in the sauce and bring together the edges of the foil , press it together and roll it prevent the steam from escaping. Bake for about 20 minutes or until done.


You may also note - 
  1. I used 2 big Pomfrets and hence my baking time would be on higher side. You may adjust according to the fish you are using.



November 22, 2016

Coffee Doughnut - || Cooking with Family and Friends - #1 ||

Cooking is delightful when you have people around who love your food and even more so when you have people you love cooking with you. How much more exciting can this new series on cooking with family and friends (that was on my mind for long) kick off when it is your mother you are cooking with:)

On my parents first visit to Dubai last week- my Dad happened to make a comment - 'where did you learn to cook from? I do not remember you cooking much at home.' So very true! I never cooked much at home but I did spend considerable amount of time in the kitchen chit chatting with mom when she cooked, probably that rubbed on me somehow. My mom started cooking for her family during her high school days itself as grandmother being a teacher would be transferred around schools in Kerala and wasn't home often. She loved trying out recipes from magazines and newspapers ( google wasn't an option back then!! Life gets easier as time passes by) and the recipes of Mrs. K M Mathew - the founder chief editor of the largest selling women's magazine - Vanitha was the main recipe source. On one of her college trips, she happened to take doughnuts - her maiden attempt at that from the recipes of Mrs K M Mathew. Her classmates spared no time in finishing the doughnuts just like we spared no time in finishing our batch!

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Although we were unable to trace the same recipe, she managed to take a walk by the memory lane and we landed up with a recipe that turned out just as well. The empty doughnut packets certify the delightful flavors of this fried dough confectionery. To make it even more special, we added a hint of coffee to it!

So here is the recipe from our kitchen - the story of a happy cooking time together with Mom from whom I learnt the basics and still continue to learn!

Ingredients
( Makes about 25 medium sized doughnuts)
  1. All purpose flour - 3 cups
  2. White sugar - 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp
  3. Baking powder - 1 tbsp
  4. Salt - 1/2 tsp
  5. Ground cinnamon - 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp
  6. Milk - 1/3 cup
  7. Instant coffee powder - 1 tsp
  8. Egg - 1 beaten
  9. Ghee/ Melted Butter - 4 tbsp
  10. Vanilla essence - 1/2 tsp
  11. Oil for frying
Method

  • Powder the sugar and set aside 2 tbsp heaped. Warm the milk and stir in the coffee powder.
  • Sieve the remaining sugar powdered along with all purpose flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon powder.
  • Add the beaten egg, vanilla essence and melted butter and fork it together. 
  • Slowly pour in the coffee mixing the dough till the desired consistency is obtained. Do not add the coffee at one go as it may get too watery and may not hold together. You should be able to make a ball out of the dough kneading it for about 5 minutes. 
  • Place the dough in a well greased bowl and let it rest covered for about an hour.
  • Make smaller balls out of the dough and roll it out to about 1/2 an inch thick using a roller. Using a cookie cutter ( bottle caps also work just as well) cut out large circles and using smaller cutters, cut out smaller concentric ones at the center and remove the excess dough at the center.
  • Heat oil in a pan. Fry the doughnuts on medium flame till you attain the delightful brown color you want. Transfer it onto a towel for draining off excess oil.
  • Add a half a tsp of cinnamon powder and 2 tbsp of powdered sugar into a ziploc cover. Transfer the fried doughnuts into this bag and give it a good shake to ensure that all the doughnuts are coated well in the mix.

There you are the doughnuts are ready!

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You may also note -
  • While frying the doughnuts keep the flame on medium so that the inside gets cooked as well. On high flame, the inside may not get cooked even if the outer layer has browned well.
  • You could make mini doughnut poppers out of the second concentric circle at the center. I am sure kids will love them.


November 8, 2016

Our Cypriot Affair

We needed a vacation - a week away from the routine of work life, glares of the city lights and the never ending chores. We googled, researched, spoke to friends and Bingo!!There it was - Cyprus! This is the place we needed to holiday.

(Ah well, I know this write up comes pretty late - it's been a year now. Blame it on our laziness or whatever other excuses we could possibly give.)

Here it is, Cyprus through our eyes.

Out we set to a small yet beautiful country enshrouded in mystery yet filled with a bunch of happy go lucky people.
Our holidays began by the seaside-a picture perfect postcard like view!! We were to spend the first part of our vacation by the sea before moving to the Troodos mountains. We landed in the afternoon at Larnaca airport. A long drive from Larnaca to Ayia Napa with a taxi driver who succeeded in scaring us out of our wits -his huge, straight out of the Hollywood villain look with bludgeoning muscles, a clean shaven head, thick white mouche till the chin, in whites, and a booming voice. Both of us put together wouldn't reach his size. (A word of caution to all Cyprus travelers-if you plan to take a taxi out of the airport -you don't have a choice but go with the rates they quote!! Unless you get a bunch of tourists heading to the same place whom you could share your taxi with.)

Our initial fear turned to fascination and enthusiasm as we moved along the highway towards Ayia Napa. So, now our Hollywood villain starts chatting. He talks of the Turkish invasion and how he belonged to a place in Cyprus where he cannot even set his foot now for the fear of being shot dead.
Turks are believed to have invaded Cyprus in the 1970's violating a previous pact. One fine morning, Cypriots woke up to Turkish soldiers marching down their streets and asking them to leave their houses for the love of life. The Cypriots, taken aback by the invasion had no choice but move out of their houses to newer areas. The Turkish occupied Cyprus is off limits to the Cypriots with Turk soldiers on guards. The houses even today remain unoccupied -just like life has been brought to a standstill at the blink of an eye. The town now. is referred to as the ghost town. This sowed the seeds of hatred between the two nations and the story continues.

By the time we were through the history, we had already set foot in Ayia Napa. It was about 45 mins drive. We had booked our stay at a hotel which is in the Ayia Napa stretch and close to Nissi beach. Upon arrival, we were made to wait for a while. Apparently there was some confusion, and as we had read about numerous booking reviews and feared, they told us our booking had not shown up! But they were kind enough to arrange accommodation in their sister hotel, Dome Beach hotel, which was apparently a star above, and with much more amenities, and along the shores of Macronissos Beach. So we were, in fact, lucky! Nissi beach is the more crowded of the beaches with a lot of sporting activities, Macronissos is the quieter of the lot. Like mentioned earlier, the beach was just picture perfect!! 

 'The endless blue sky  meeting the equally blue expanses of the ocean making it a perfect spot to view the magnanimity of the sun rise and the sunset which we did not miss each of the three days we spent there.' ( I was just trying to sound like some poets who describe the beauty of the nature)

The postcard view
We had made it a point to watch the sunrise and sunset every day we were there.  We always did want to spend the dawn by the beach. Tiny ripples lashing against the rocks, an occasional parasailing couple, kids building sand forts and hand in hand we walked taking in each moment and each breath enjoying it to the brim. (Well, if we ignore the fact that we were the most clothed on the beach.)

Nothing beats the perfection of creation by the Almighty!
We had opted for half board at the hotel, hoping that we would spend our afternoons out in the city exploring and we could have our dig at the local cuisines. By now, you do definitely know that we are hardcore foodies - any day, any time we are at the beck and call of food. We checked in, and after relaxing for a while, and taking in the views from the balcony, we set out to wander.

 An area of historic importance are the graves of Macronissos adjacent to the beach. Upon entry, the burial site gives a eerie feel. One look at the site gives you a feeling that you are entering a desert amidst the sea. As you move further, you notice excavations on the ground with steps leading to the door of the tombs. The tombs date back to the Roman Era. The dead were placed along with valuables. Over the years, the tombs were said to be raided and all that remains is the structure. A quick look around and we turned back - it was getting darker and creepier.

The harbour
Ayia Napa is more of a commercial place with lots of tourists flocking in from the neighboring countries- trust me Cyprus is quite friendly on your pockets. We opted for a boat cruise for the next day. A cruise is a must do part of the Ayia Napa experience. We zipped  on our rented scooter along the town to the Ayia Napa harbour. We were given a choice to select from amongst the three available cruises - Captain Marko cruise, The Black Pearl and the Aphrodite. We chose Captain Marko simply because the reviews were too good to ignore. (Choose Back Pearl in case you are travelling with kids - they do have a range of activities). It starts at 11 am and gets you back by 4 pm.

The name says it all - our cruise
The cruise takes you along the shores till the ghost town of Famagusta with about 2 stops in the blue to take a swim in the ocean. I do not know swimming and hence chose to stay on board while Shibin did have a dip in the sea. (which made him realise swimming pools are a better choice for swimming than the deep blue sea at least you have a choice to touch your feet to the ground and still have your head over the water:)) Our cruise did have a lot of elderly people and it amazed us to see them jump into the blue sea and paddle around like it is no big deal. Oh and they did serve some yummy food - chicken roast with baked potatoes, salad and Greek yogurt. It did taste heavenly especially since we were charred out in the sweltering heat atop the boat. ( Carry tons of sunscreen - you need it). 

Enjoying a swim in the blue

That's my husband trying to get his perfect shots - it is not often that he gets models for his photography other than the food I cook

That is the 'Black Pearl' coming right at us!

Did we forget to mention that Cyprus beaches are very rocky??


The yummy baked chicken with salad, potatoes and greek yogurt

There are truckloads of activities at the beach and we chose scuba diving for the third morning. Not knowing swimming is not a constraint - well, it is said that it is better you don't. We took the beginner course and were trained on the basics - the equipment and communication. We adorned our suits and had the oxygen cylinder strapped on our backs by our cheery comedian instructor - reminded us of Robin Williams! As if the cylinders were any lighter, we had weights tied  across our waists to help us sink. In water, these may seem light but definitely not on the shore. Suits adorned and flippers in hand, we walked across the beach to the waters. After a few practice sessions, our instructor guided us into the deep having strapped the flippers. It was a whole new world - a new world under the deep blue sea. We set off exploring the new life, conscious to never let go off the instructors hand. Tiny fishes swam by and we saw a beautiful world out there as clear as crystal much more beautiful than we ever imagined it to be. I would love another go at it some day provided I do not have sharks enjoying a swim around me. After the scuba diving stint, we headed to the town to visit the Ayia Napa monastery and Square, and also to inquire about the public transport for the next phase of our holiday.
Our Scuba diving adventure
Ayia Napa derived its name from a Venetian Monastery. The monastery is built around a cave and got its name from an icon of Virgin Mary that was discovered here centuries back, Even today, various programmes are hosted in this monastery and it serves as a perfect location for those looking for a traditional Venetian wedding. Although, we did not get to see a wedding, we did witness a bride adorned in beautiful white awaiting her groom. There is a peace and tranquility in the cave that surpasses all your thoughts and brings in calmness and serenity. Adjacent to the monastery is the Ayia Napa Square. The Square, consisting of a lot of clubs, is calm by the day and turns into the party center by night.

The hotel we stayed was decent - there was a wide array of food on the buffet table. However, it was more of a global cuisine than Cypriot. We also tried a local resto which wasn't that great either. Ayia Napa is a commercial tourist destination than a place where you would find authentic Cypriots or Cypriot cuisine. The Ayia Napa street leading to the square and harbour is not a very huge stretch of land. Yet, travelling by foot would be bit of a long shot. You have places to rent motor bikes, scooters, quad bikes and buggies. You need to submit the license copy of your home country for hiring them in exchange for a challan that serves as a proof document ( in case the police stops you!) and the rentals are nominal. However, if you need to rent a car you would need an international license. If you intend to move around in Ayia Napa alone - a bike is good enough which was our mode of transportation for the 3 days. If you feel to crank it up a notch, get a buggy!

On the fourth morning , we packed and rushed to catch the bus to Limassol from where we were to begin the tour of the Troodos mountain regions. We had to get down at Finikoudes bus stop in Larnaca, and hop on another bus for the next leg to Limassol. A detailed scramble through Booking.com before setting out on this holiday, had directed us to what we wanted - a cottage on the quiet Lofou village which was to be our home for the next four days. We realised later that four days was a tad too much. Lofou is one of the many villages in the Troodos mountains. We had couple of email exchanges with the cottage owner Mr. Xenios who happened to be a Fireman:) His responses were prompt and he had all our queries answered.  He went out of his way to have his cousin pick us up from the Limassol bus stop and also invited us to join the 'name day' feast of his aunt. This was probably the best moment for us - we got to experience Cypriot hospitality and their flavorful cuisines like mousakka, stiffado, tavas to name a few.  All sorts of meat were marinated and barbecued and taken upstairs for the widespread buffet that was laid out. Despite language constraints (except for youngsters most of them spoke only Greek) they managed to keep us engaged and made us feel a part of their family.

At the Name Day Feast with Mr. Xenios and his family
The porch
After a delightful lunch, we were chauffeured to our cottage in Lofou by Mr. Xenios' wife  - a charming lady. She handed us the keys and showed us around the cottage. It is just one big all encompassing room with an attached bath and a porch but in it there is everything you need. Bed, TV, washing machine, cooking range, dishwasher, a bowl of fresh fruits ( I loved them), a loaf of  freshly baked cake ( recipe already on the blog), refrigerator filled with basic ingredients for cooking, shelf full of cutlery and utensils and an array of jams and spreads to choose from, local antiques adorning the wall. It looked very cosy.  We could not have asked for any better.


our cosy room

The story of the village marveled us. We expected it to be a quiet and serene village but not as silent and sometimes eerie as we experienced. Nights were too silent!  Lofou is listed by UNESCO as a heritage site. The village welcomes you with cobbled stones - every lane has a cobbled path and every house has a similar architecture of stones - unharvested ripe pomegranates adorning the front yards. The locked gates of the houses compound the mystery of the silence that engulfs the village.

The cobbled path


Unharvested pomegranates in the yards

The only good souls you come across here are octogenarians who gather around  a local coffee shop over coffee shots, talks and laughter. They speak Greek, hence we were not able to make out much of what was said. When I say shots of coffee - I really mean it. Cypriot coffee is very strong and served in a small cup with half of it being the coffee powder residue. You are expected to drink only half the cup. The first taste was ridiculously strong for me and I could not stand another go at it. But we invariably came back for more. We slowly fell in love with it. The environment and the coffee created the feel as we had wanted. Serenity, happiness, calmness, no worries, no egos - just us and a happy community. The lady who ran the coffee shop was extremely kind - she showed us the olives she had plucked and gave us pomegranates which we offered to pay for  but she politely declined. The conversation was mainly sign language, few words and smiles. Two coffee, sugar, please, medium, thank you!   One evening, her husband came to us with two plates of honeycomb which had been freshly taken out from the trees ( Do not ask me how?) We were not sure how this was to be eaten - he tried explaining it to us - YES!! It was literally Greek to us. So he got out a plate of his own and showed us how to eat - taking bites of the honeycomb - chewing on it, enjoying the honey and spitting out the remains. I am not sure how they earn a living out of their coffee shop - but their love and hospitality was much more than we could pay for.

Honeycomb down and close without bees flocking around


I could have a cup of the Cypriot coffee right now

Looks like Shibin was trying to learn Greek!!

Lofou village, built on the Troodos mountains, was once a farming village. It is a terraced village on the mountain slope with a good percentage of annual rainfall making it an ideal location for farming. As the political situations grew tense in Cyprus, farming no longer seemed to be option. Villagers were forced to sell their properties at low prices and move to the cities in search of better earning means. Few of the people have chosen to just have their houses locked and to return to Lofou for retirement. This speaks zillions about this village built of stones and even today any renovations are required to maintain the same style of architecture. The village seemed to have not more than 20 people with the only young guy we saw was the friendly chap running the local tavern which serves delicious meals.  You need to rent a vehicle to get to Lofou or have someone chauffeuring you around because there is no means of public transport to this village. Tourists arrive at Lofou village as a part of the day trips as well. They take a walk across the cobbled path that leads to a nature trail - in addition to a stop by the coffee shop or the local tavern.

The second day here, after a lazy morning and into the late afternoon, we decided to explore the nature trail. There are sign boards that lead you to the trail. Somehow, we overlooked one of those boards and ended up climbing the mountain through thorns and bushes. After a 15 minute walk, we reached a dead end and were contemplating on what next? Could this be it? We turned back disappointed at what the nature trail had to offer with bruises from thorns on our hands and legs. Only on exiting this path did we realise that we had actually taken the wrong route. Not wasting any time further - we set out on our nature trip. It is an approximately half an hour climb down the mountains through the trees and bushes with occasional signs of the bio life boards and warnings of possible wild life. The climb up the hill oozed out every bit of our energy. It took us nearly an hour and half to get back to the top of the mountains! The curving path was carved along the mountain sides. After navigating curve after curve and picking up a handful of pine cones to decorate for Christmas and emptying the water bottle we had - we managed to reach the mountain top before the darkness set in.

That was the end of the trail and beginning of the upward trek

Can you see the winding white curves behind us - Yes!! we climbed up the whole way

The not so happening part of the trip probably was the day bus tour we opted for the third day, along with a group of tourists. The tour took us to different parts of Cyprus but we never actually got time to spend anywhere. We started off at Lefkara - a village known for laces. Lefkaritiko lace making as it is called has been popularized by the women folk of this village and is passed generation on.  As the legend has it, painter Leonardo da Vinci visited Cyprus and carried the Lefkara laces to be placed in the Cathedral in Rome. The lace design on the table cloth of his Last Supper Painting is also believed to have been inspired from the Lefkara laces. The laces and other silver artifacts of this village are definitely not a cheap buy. We opted to stay away. Our next stop was Kykkos Monastery in the mountains. If you are an art lover - you would love the intricate paintings on the walls and the museum. However almost everything is written in Greek. Although you see the artifacts at the museum - you would have absolutely no idea what it represents unless you know Greek. The stops worth mentioning in this trip was our lunch stop at Pegasos restaurant, where we had the famous meze, and the shopping spree at Omodos village.  Omodos village is yet another picturesque village nestled amidst the mountains known for their ancient churches, museum, wineries and the shopping area. The narrow alleys of the village offer an excellent shopping arena for souvenirs at bargain prices. Lace works, jewellery, condiments, silverware etc are in abundant display. Half an hour was too short a time for our shopping spree that we came back the next day  to continue our shopping.

Kykkos Monasatry

Right before the shopping spree at Omodos village

After another final stop at a winery for a wine tasting session, and getting our bottle of the Commandaria wine, we returned back. For dinner, we headed to the local tavern which was very close to our stay. The chap running the tavern was very friendly and he even gave us a few complimentary dishes to try. We had a delicious dinner, and were stuffed!

Digging into the food at the local tavern

That was a lot for dinner after the very heavy Meze lunch. We were sampling dishes out there.

Treading the less trodden path is always an experience - our guide for the last day Mr. Pedros did exactly the same for us. The best is usually saved for the last. Mr. Pedros is a friend of our cottage owner and  had kindly arranged Mr Pedros to take us around on our last day at Lofou. All we told him was to take us to the lesser known places and he charted out the itinerary. He first took us to a small village in the mountains where his friend owned a winery. He showed us how wine and other beverages were made from the freshly harvested grapes, how it was stored - the older the wine the better the taste and also the various machinery they used to reach the desired level of alcoholic consistency for the various beverages. He also showed us how Shoushoukos were made. We also took a quick stroll by the ancient village - again not many soul inhabited this village - only the very few who carried out the family business of winery.

The vine courtyards

Mr Pedros is posing while I am trying to figure out what is in the barel!

Come on, its not my fault. Those boards are GREEK!!

Our next stop was by the Kelefos bridge - a quaint venetian bridge over a narrow stream once home to a lot of aquatic life. It is an ideal camping and picnic spot. A trek along the sides of the stream can give you a glimpse of the crabs - I thought crabs were only in sea and I was wrong!!Although the weather was quite sunny, the shade provided by the tall trees, the sound of running water and the breeze swept us off our feet to their rhythms. Mr. Pedros recounted the childhood days he had spent by this stream and how it used to be a haven for aquatic life. Things changed during a particular epidemic of malaria and the streams were sprayed with some medicines that completely destroyed the marine life. Sadly life is yet to roll back to normal in the waters but Mr. Pedros was positive that all the fishes which once swarmed the stream will find its way back in due course.

Kelefos bridge - picturesque ain't it?

That is the crab posing for a pic

With our energetic guide. 

We continued our journey uphill - there are no roads but all dusty paths ideal for jeeps and not the hatchback we traveled in. We held on our breaths hoping that the road do not take a toll on our vehicle. We were on look out for mountain goats. May be they heard us coming, we were not lucky enough to spot one. For lunch, we stopped at yet another village where we had Sheftalia and got to hear the story of Kleftiko. (explained at the end of the blog)

Our next stop was by the one of the nature trails at Arsos village- one that is hardly visited. We walked along abandoned apple orchards, vineyards to reach a watershed. The bushes and trees along the path were overgrown and bears testimony to the fact that people hardly pass by this trail now. The watershed is small structure made of stones which harvests the water flowing from the mountains and stores it in tanks made of stones. The water even today, flows in to these tanks and due to non - usage it is all covered with moss and is slippery. Do not step in if you do not want to break your bones! Once upon a time, people carried water from here for the vineyards, had their clothes and cattle washed here. Today it is only a reminiscent of how life was few decades ago. We once again made a pit stop at Omodos village for further shopping before winding up the fantastic trip

The watershed

An abandoned olive mill

Terraced mountain slopes which once hosted vine yards



The day ended with dinner at the home of Mr. Xenios. Mr. Pedros too joined us and we discussed into the night. They were curious about Indian culture, cuisine and also about Dubai which now is our home. We were equally inquisitive about their lives and culture. A good dinner and a lot of stories to take back home. That brought us to the end of our trip and we carried home a lot of memories and new friendships.

Cypriot Cuisine

I am at my favorite part of the travelogue - the cuisines. A simple and humble advice from us - find the local taverns and enjoy the delicacies there than the bigger restaurants. Here is a sneak peak into few of the delicacies and what we do know about them.

Meze is a selection of many dishes served with pita bread/rice, Tahina and salads. It is a Cypriot version of the Indian Thali. If you want to try various Cypriot cuisines in one go - Meze is what you could order in for.

Meze - Kleftiko, Tavas, Afelia and stiffado
  • Cyprus coffee - very similar to Turkish coffee. It is quite strong and leaves a bitter after taste but you could get used to it if you go for a second shot.
  • Tavas - I have already shared the recipe on the blog. It is a Cypriot version of Indian curry slow baked along with lamb, potato, onions and tomato seasoned with cumin and pepper.
  • Kleftiko - a very interesting cuisine with a ever more interesting history. It is made in a specially designed mud pot. History states that during the 19th century, the common theft was that of food. The thief cooked the stolen meat in a earthen pot buried in the ground under the burning fire. This way, they escaped from the lawmakers who were on prowl in search of them and at the same time the food gets cooked. This preparation came to be called kleftiko and kleftiko mean stolen meat. Today special earthenware is made to cook the Kleftiko.
  • Loukaniko - popular pork sausage.
  • Glyko - or the sweet preserves also called the spoon sweet is fruits or vegetables preserved in honey or sugar syrup and served on spoons or forks. We have tasted the egg plant and walnut glyko. The egg plant glyko was definitely something to die for. It is said to have originated in those days when refrigerator was not an option for storage. 
Walnut Glyko
  • Cheese - Halloumi and Anari are the popular cheese varieties. They do have lot of innovative dishes prepared around Halloumi. At the local tavern, we got to taste fried halloumi immersed grape syrup with seasoned with sesame which was quite scintillating.
Fried Halloumi
  • Shoushoukos - A cypriot sweet made of nuts and grape juice. The grape juice is boiled and solidifying agent is added which thickens the juice. Nuts threaded on a twine is inserted to this mix and hung for drying. Once dry, the twine is pulled out.
Threaded Shoushoukos hung for drying
  • Stiffado - it is a kind of beef stew
  • Afelia - pork cooked in red wine seasoned with crushed corriander seeds
  • Koupepia - stuffed wine leaves
  • Sheftalia - Lamb and pork sausage enclosed in caul fat cooked over live fire
Sheftalia
  • Moussaka - layered dish with egg plant, minced meat and pasta which is then baked with various seasoning

Most of the anecdotes/ historical facts listed above have been narrated to us by the people we met at Cyprus. I have heard of people being hospitable but Cypriots are truly that. I keep stressing that they are a group of happy go lucky people. Mr Xenios and his family who were always ready to entertain us, Mr Pedros who made the trip memorable for us, the shopkeeper who gave us a goodwill doll, the family running the coffee shop - all of them carved in us deep impression. This is just a sneak peak into our experiences at Cyprus that now dates to a year back.

A few tidbits -

  • Public transport is not great - hence it is recommend that you rent a car. 
  • Extremely pocket friendly in comparison with European countries.
  • Cuisines are mainly meat based - so if you do not eat beef/ pork - be careful.
  • We visited Cyprus in October and we found the climate good. Certain parts of Cyprus along the mountains experience snow and sudden rainfall.


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