Festivals give a great reason for a little indulgence. One can get a little brave and not think of calories while making sweets at home. Home- made is healthy, home- made is happy. We’ve always had a tradition of making sweets at home during festivities. The atmosphere at home would be charged and  spirits high. Amongst high decibels of non-stop  chatter, delicacies would be prepared and it would be a complete team work. Keeping the same beautiful trend going, we made a delicious Afghani sweet – Sheer Pira.

Sheer Pira is a melt in the mouth, juicy and delicious milk fudge.  It is easy to prepare and is a very  healthy dessert. It has a great texture and robust flavours of rose water and cardamom that make it delectable.   It is chewy and a very addictive sweet. It is low on calories.

Sheer Pira – Afghani Milk Fudge
1 ½ cups milk powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoons rose water
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
½ cup walnuts
½ cup almonds
¼ cup shelled raw pistachios
2 teaspoons butter
Powder walnuts and almonds in a food processor.
In a deep bowl, take milk powder, powdered walnuts, almonds, and cardamom. Stir to mix well.
Powder pistachios coarsely.
Take a plate and grease it generously with butter.
In a steel wok, take water. Add sugar. Bring it to a boil.
Keep stirring and let the syrup come to a rolling boil.
Take a drop in a plate and test it between index finger and thumb for one string consistency.
Turn off the heat. Add rose water. Stir.
Add milk powder,   powdered nuts and cardamom. Stir to mix well so that the mixture becomes smooth and shiny.
Empty the mixture into the greased plate. Tilt the plate so that it spread uniformly.
Dust with powdered pistachios. Press with your hands so that pistachios set into the mixture.
Keep in a dry place for 45 minutes to 1 hour till cold.
With a sharp knife cut squares.
Keep is a container.

A trip to the hills happened last weekend. Unplanned trips are always thrilling and exciting and specially if it to the hills. Excitedly we packed a few clothes, not forgetting the woollens. Autumn is the best time in the hills. The sky is cloudless, afternoons   warm, mornings and evenings nippy. Excitement is to stop by some forest and have food, walk in the narrow tracks, watch the birds and chase butterflies. Communion with nature always brings peace and happiness.

We stopped midway to stretch out our jammed limbs and loved the rustle of the wind as it passed through massive pine trees.

A day before we started our journey, two loaves of Onion Cheese Bread were baked. Sometimes, finding simple food of your choice in the hills is not easy. With kids who feel hungry at the most unexpected hours, it is best to carry bread. One can eat it with cheese spread or butter, dip in the tea or milk and even have with some veggie.

Next day, we trekked on a narrow trail flanked by pine trees. The cobbled path was mossy, slippery and damp as monsoons stayed and overstayed this year. Having spotted a meadow, we sat down to get our breath back. 

Some children playing in their courtyard in a house nearby smiled at us. Soon we were all perched on the flattish rocks warmed by the Sun, munching homemade bread sandwiches which we shared with the village kids. Their cherubic smiles won our heart. 

Onion Cheese Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup lukewarm water
¼ cup water at room temperature
¼ teaspoon yeast (instant dry yeast)
Mix yeast and warm water and let stand until creamy,   about 10 ten minutes.
Add remaining water to yeast mixture. Add half cup flour. Stir with a spoon until well combined. Add remaining flour and stir for 3 to 4 minutes until  sticky dough forms.
Transfer to an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise at cool room temperature for 6 -24 hours or until the starter is triple its volume. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
¾ cup biga
½ cup warm milk
½ cup warm water
2 tablespoons honey
2 ¼ teaspoons instant dry yeast
4 ½ cups all- purpose flour
2 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 ½ cups minced onion
In a bowl, mix milk and ¼ cup water. Stir in honey. Add yeast. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes, until frothy.
In another large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cheese and onions.
To knead dough, break up biga and add to yeast mixture. Stir until fairly mixed.
Add dry ingredients slowly and keep stirring. When you’ve added all the dry ingredients, transfer shaggy dough to the floured counter. Knead for about 6 to 8 minutes. If the dough feels dry, add more water.
Minced onions make dough moist. Adjust water quantity accordingly.
Transfer dough to an oiled bowl. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour or until double.
Scrape the dough into floured counter. Punch the dough and divide into two equal pieces.
Roll out each piece into one 8 inch x 10-inch rectangle and then roll up into a log. Pinch seams to seal. Shape the logs like baguettes (long and narrow at the edges)
Place the logs on a greased baking tray. Cover with a kitchen cloth and leave to rise or 45 minutes or until puffy.
Sprinkle flour on the surface and give three diagonal cuts quickly with a sharp knife.
Bake in preheated oven at 220 degrees C for about 25 minutes or until the top turns a golden brown.
Cool in the rack. Slice when cold.

The tall grass tickles our legs as we make way through the thicket to reach the hibiscus tree at the back. The warm and soothing autumn Sun falls and our back we enjoy the balminess. 

A plethora of butterflies is out on business. They sample one flower after the other keep fluttering all over the place. Morning glory adds colour and beauty to the greenness.

 Autumn is beautiful as ever.
We planted some pumpkin seeds during monsoons and left the rest to nature. 

We saw lovely yellow funnel-shaped flowers too. The tall grass and wild bushes grew big and blocked the view. Three months later, as we inspect the branches of the hibiscus tree, our happiness knew no bounds to discover not one, not two but three robust pumpkins. We admire the rotundity and size of our pumpkins and feel happy that we have a green thumb. 

The pumpkins are left to ripen
Autumn evenings are pleasant and the air is nippy. Soup is boiling in the stove. We have made some cheese stuffed buns to go with the hot soup. The buns are warm and soft and the cheese oozes out as we bite into them.

Cheese Buns
½ cup warm milk
¼ cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
4 tablespoons butter + 2 teaspoons for brushing
4 buds garlic minced
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Italian spice mix (or, 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, thyme, and rosemary)
4 cheddar cheese cubes
Combine first four ingredients in a deep bowl. Stir. Cover. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes.
Whisk flour, salt and herbs in a large bowl. Heat butter in a pan, add garlic and cook for one minute. Add to flour mix.
Add liquid ingredients and knead. After kneading for 6 to 8 minutes, the dough should become soft and supple. Cover with a towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.
While the dough is resting, grease one baking tray.
Cut each cheese cube into 6 small pieces.
Punch dough and knead for 2-3 minutes. Roll into a long rope. Cut into 12 equal size pieces.
Flatten a piece of dough and place 4-5 chunks of cheese. Seal the dough by bringing edges together. Place on the greased tray seam side down. Continue with the remaining dough.
Cover and keep in a warm place for 45 minutes or until double.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for about 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven. Brush with melted butter
Enjoy the buns warm.

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