A thicket of trees bordering the field on two sides runs into narrow path on the third side that descends and leads to a small river that is born out of a spring. We walked through dense forest, almost dark and cold and dotted with springs that form tiny rivulets that meander downhill to merge with the river. We touched the water, it was warm, fresh and pure - almost untouched as we were very close to the source. It was enchanting. The murmur of the river, the whisper of the breeze through the trees, the soothing silence occasionally broken by the song of the birds.

 A movement in the trunk of a tree caught our attention. It was a Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch that clambered up the moss laden thick trunk like a mouse.

 “Thak….thak….thak….” paused as we neared another tree. High up in the branches was a woodpecker with a beautiful red crown, chiseling the branches for wood-boring insects. This was all during our trip to a village last weekend.

This year is preparing to become history and a new year is about to be born. New hopes, dreams and aspirations begin to soar. Sometimes we measure success and weigh happiness by materialistic achievements. However, being alive, being healthy, being together and finding happiness in small things in today’s tumultuous times is a blessing.

Kids are busy collecting sticks, logs and dry twigs from the field for a bonfire tonight. A sweet aroma wafting through makes me run to the oven to check my cake. This is my last cake for this year- Orange Date Walnut Loaf - Egg less, Wholegrain and Low fat.

Orange Date Walnut Loaf- Egg less, Wholegrain, Low fat


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 ¼  teaspoon baking soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • Juice and finely grated zest of two big oranges (about ½ cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • ½ cup chopped dates
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease and line the bottom and sides of one 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch loaf pan.
  2. Toss chopped dates in some flour. Keep aside
  3. Whisk together first five ingredients in a large bowl. Keep aside.
  4. In another bowl mix oil, buttermilk, juice and zest of oranges and vanilla essence.
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir till well combined. Do not over mix. Fold in walnuts and dates.
  6. Pour in the prepared pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or till the top turns golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes. remove from the pan and cool in the rack. Slice next day.

My Notes: Add zest of one more orange to get a stronger orange flavour.

We woke up to a cold Christmas morn. It was not foggy but the prospects of a bright day looked dim. The Sun had risen and the pale rays falling on the Jamun tree were imperceptible unlike other days when the rays give leaves a golden hue and reflects from the glasses of the windows in the building across. Children looked dull and slothful. Being a holiday, we decided to go out to a village close to the hills. The plan infused energy and enthusiasm and in no time food and juices were packed along with a Raisin Orange Spice Cake made for the day.
Countryside was bright and sunny. The fields were freshly tilled and there were groups of Lapwings, Drongos, and Mynas feasting on worms.

 There were miles of empty stretches of tilled fields. Kids loved running on the uneven fields and falling on the soft mud. We met villagers making a hut in the fields. They told us a lot about the birds, animals and local lore.  

They made tea and we shared cake. It was the best tea we ever had….smoked infused and sweet. It was late afternoon but we waited for the peacocks that we were told come out and forage on the seeds. It started getting cold as the heat of the Sun waned. 

Womenfolk carrying fodder for animals from the forest started returning. 
We decided to move. Some movement in the lemon grass thicket caught our attention and lo! A peacock emerged followed by two more. Kids squealed with happiness and the majestic birds sensed our presence and scurried back into the forest. But our day was made!

Here is the recipe of the Raisin Orange Spice Cake – Egg less and Wholegrain

Raisin Orange Spice Cake – Egg less and Wholegrain
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 to 1  cup sugar depending on your preference(powdered)
½ tablespoon baking soda
½ tablespoon powdered cinnamon
½ tablespoon powdered cloves
3-4 green cardamoms powdered
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup golden raisins
1 ¼ cup water
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
Juice of two oranges
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line the bottom and sides of one 8x5 ½  inch cake pan.
Whisk together first nine ingredients in a large bowl. Keep aside.
Take 1 ¼ cup water in a steel wok. Add raisins and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes or till the raisins become tender. Turn off the heat. Add butter. Cool the mixture until warm. Add flour mix into the warm mixture in three parts. Add a little orange juice every time you add flour mix. Add more juice only if the batter feels dry.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 -45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Tent the top with a foil if the top is browning fast. Remove from the oven and remove from the pan after 10 minutes. Cool in the rack. Slice next day.

It is early evening. Did the Sun rise today? Or has it sunk into the horizon? …wonders my five year old. Everything outside is swathed in darkness. An eerie silence envelops the street that is largely deserted except for a lonesome vehicle that emerges out of gray fog and disappears into it not to be visible again. The sky looks red covered by sheets of fog that seems to be indicating another foggy day ahead. We feel the icy winds on our face as we brave the cold and bolt our gate. Little ones are astonished and thrilled at their breadth leaving a vaporous trail and they go on blowing “smoke” till we literally push them indoors after no amount of cajoling works.
It is a long night. We decide to get down to some collective cooking and baking and thus involve everyone. Having decided the chores, we start with Cranberry Orange Bread. The junior gets the task of breaking walnuts into small pieces. The daughter measures the flour and sugar. She loves this work and she tosses some sugar into her mouth by stealth. Walnuts keep disappearing till the little one is caught chomping. Laughter, blame game, some gleeful shouting ….and the bread is assembled and placed into the oven.

I have adapted the recipe from www.joyofbaking.com .  I replaced egg with flax egg* 
and used candied cranberries. Chopped dried figs will also taste good and can be used in place of cranberries. I used walnuts in lieu of pecan nuts. The bread turned out moist and flavourful. It is orangy and Christmassy and compliments the festive spirit

Cranberry Orange Bread (Egg less)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
½ stick (¼ cup) cold butter cut into small pieces
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries or chopped figs
½ cup walnuts
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup fresh orange juice
Finely grated zest of two oranges
1 flax egg *
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

*to make one flax egg take 3 tablespoons water in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of raw flax meal. Whisk with a fork.  Refrigerate. This step is important. Refrigerate for about an hour. This gives it the consistency of an egg white. Add it to the recipe. It acts as a binder and makes the bread soft.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line the bottom and sides of one 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch bread pan.
Place walnuts in the tray, set oven temperature to 100 degrees. Bake for 10minutes or till the walnuts are toasted and a sweet aroma emanates.
In a bowl, combine flax egg with orange juice and vanilla essence.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and orange zest. Add pieces of cold butter. Blend it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, two knives or with your hands till the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix well till well combined. Fold in walnuts and cranberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, level with a spoon. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and cool. Slice next day.

During our last trip to a nearby farm for buying vegetables, our eyes fell on a glistening rotund green pumpkin peeping out of the thick foliage on the thatched roof of our farmer. Having confirmed that it was a green pumpkin (because it is unusual to find one at this time of the year as the pumpkins are red and ripening on the roof for winters), we requested him to give us and he agreed. Thanking him for his generosity and feeling lucky, we decided to make pumpkin soup. According to Ayurveda, fresh vegetables have maximum prana (life force) and hence veggies should be consumed as soon as they are separated from the plant.

With few carrots and an onion, we made Pumpkin Carrot Soup. Simple, nourishing and wholesome!

Pumpkin Carrot Soup
500 gms green pumpkin (about half of the medium sized pumpkin)
2 carrots
1 medium size onion
4 to 5 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cups of water
1 ½ cup of milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pepper powder to sprinkle
Salt and sugar to taste

Wash and cut pumpkin into half. Scoop out the seeds. Chop into small pieces.
Peel and wash carrots. Chop into small pieces.
Slice onions and mince garlic.
Heat oil in the pan. Add onion and fry till translucent. Add garlic. Add turmeric.
Add chopped pumpkin and carrots. Add salt. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add water and sugar cook till pumpkin and carrots become tender.
Blend the cooked vegetables with warm milk.
Sprinkle pepper before serving. Serve hot with bread or enjoy plain.

My notes: Adjust water according to your liking for thick or not so thick soup. Above recipe gives a thick soup. Adjust salt and sugar according to taste. Add more garlic if you love a garlicky soup.

This recipe can be veganised easily. Add coconut milk in place of milk.

 It is a crisp late winter evening. The buttery flowers of Magnolia are visible in the full moon light. The air is faintly scented by the magnolia flowers as a gentle wind sways the dainty branches bearing the flowers. The moon shimmers in our fish pond too. It bobs as the water wiggles by the swish swash of the fish. We inhale a lungful of fresh fragrant air, feel relaxed, rejuvenated and alive!

Back in the kitchen, Pumpkin Carrot Soup bubbles in the stove. A Pide bread is waiting to be sliced. A simple and early dinner that suits so well in the winters.

Pide is the special Turkish bread for Ramadan. It is topped with sesame seeds and nigella seeds. The seeds adds a great crunch to the otherwise soft flat bread.

Pide – Turkish Flat Bread
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ stick (1/4 cup) butter softened
½ tablespoon instant dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon salt
1 ¾ cups warm water
1 teaspoon each of Sesame seeds and Nigella seeds for topping

In a large mixing bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Add butter and mix well. Add about 1 cup water and bring together all the ingredients. Add more water and knead for 5 to 8 minutes. The dough should be sticky.
Cover the bowl with and keep in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled.
Knead again for about 4 to 5 minutes till dough becomes smooth and elastic.
Grease a baking tray. Transfer the dough to the tray and stretch it with your hands to cover the tray. Take a sharp knife and cut square shapes in the dough (refer picture). Sprinkle sesame and nigella seeds on top. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 30 minutes.
Bake Pide in the preheated oven at 180 degrees C for 30 to 35 minutes or till the top turns a beautiful golden brown.
Remove from oven. Cool in the rack. Slice when cold.

The early morning mist, cacophony of migratory birds, the soothing warmth of the morning Sun announce the arrival of December.

 Yes, this year too, comes to an end and the countdown for the New Year has begun. As we step into the last month of the year, the festivities knock at the door. Time for cakes, candies, chocolates, festive breads ……the list seems endless and you never seem to have enough of it.

Soaking in the festive spirits that seem round the corner, we made chocolate at home. We are a family of chocoholics and a recipe that was written long back in the diary, finally saw the light of the day.

Roasted Almond Chocolate
1 cup + 2 tablespoons milk powder
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ cup (½ stick) butter or table spread
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
20 almonds
Grease one square or rectangular cake pan ( I used one  8 inch x 5 ½  inch pan).
Place almonds in the baking tray. Set oven temperature to 100 degrees C and set timer to 10 minutes. The almonds begin to change colour and a sweet smell emanates. Chop into small pieces when cold.
Mix milk powder and cocoa powder and pass it through a fine mesh strainer.
Make syrup with sugar and water and boil till it reaches one string consistency (this stage is very important else, the chocolate will not set). Add butter to the syrup at this stage. Turn off the heat. Add vanilla extract. Add milk powder and cocoa mix in parts mixing well after each addition.
Mix till a homogenous mixture forms. Add almonds. Mix well. Empty the mixture into the prepared pan. Spread it to uniform thickness .Level the top with a greased spatula. Leave to cool.
Turn the pan on a tray, tap the bottom gently. Slice the chocolate, store in an airtight container.

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