Sugar, Spice & Everything Nice – A High Tea & Fashion Show event in Sydney

I remember the first day when I reached Perth with 2 suitcases full of clothes to my name. It was a new city, a new country, and a new world, and I was all alone with my husband still in India, winding up his job to join me in the next few months. In my excitement to move abroad, I had not planned my move well and did not have anywhere to stay. Luckily for me, my manager at that time kindly took me in and I lived with her and her beautiful family for over a month till I found my own place.

 

In that month, I learned all about Australia, its culture, and the warmth of its people. But the one thing that I missed was food that I knew and ate back home on a regular basis. It eventually dawned on me that when one moves countries, you do not just carry a piece of physical baggage but also the emotional baggage of memories and stories. Over a period of time, I started to cook and write about Indian food and it sort of became a catharsis for me, a bond that reminded me of my desiness (Indianness) and who I was.

Blogging & cooking became a passion, but with no guidance or help from anyone else, I sort of had to figure out everything on my own because I had no idea where to start, how to grow & who to ask for help. Fast forward to 10 years from that day in 2019, and I now am the owner of a small business, which is an outcome of my passion & love for connecting people with Indian food and stories. It has been a journey of self-discovery and, more importantly, of a realization that one cannot grow on their own. You need the support and goodwill of others like you and around you, who not only see your passion but believe in you too.

So, I was grateful to meet two amazing south Asian women entrepreneurs, who like me, were on a path of self-discovery and were open to helping others — Poonam of The Maharani Diaries and Afra of Oh that be good.

Poonam runs a very successful Indian wedding blog in Sydney, where she brings together a mind-boggling number of suppliers to help brides put a dream wedding together. She is not just another desi but is also a fellow Chai lover, so you can only imagine the relationship was not that difficult to establish. Through her incredible network, Poonam introduced me to Afra, who runs a home bakery, where she bakes stunning designer cakes with some very unique flavors. Besides having a full-time job, baking incredible cakes & conducting cake decorating workshops, Afra is also a very switched on businesswoman. So, when Poonam suggested that we do an event together to get South Asian women to network over Chai & food, we were only happy to jump on the bandwagon.

Together, we hosted the ‘Sugar, Spice & Everything Nice’ High Tea on 24th November in Sydney, an event that celebrated the creativity & flair of South Asian women over a cup of Chai, conversations & good food. It took 3 months of extensive planning, a lot of meetings, discussions to get a host of 15 sponsors and 10 gorgeous models onboard who generously gave us not just their time but also a lot of support to make the event a success.

With this event, we tried to break the barriers that women of color face in a new country when trying to find a footing at work, life or starting a new business without any support. Our aim was to show that we all have something to offer to one another. It does not have to be something tangible or business-related; it could just be a lending ear or supporting others with ideas. It is even knowing when to ask for help and not to feel embarrassed to admit that you are not the superwoman that the world thinks we are.

 

Watching so many women together in a room and knowing that we had made this possible was a truly gratifying experience. One that made me realize that anything is possible if you just believe in yourself. And as long you are authentic and honest, you will always make it.

These are the people who worked with us to make ‘Sugar, Spice & Everything Nice’ a success:

Fashion DesignerElora By Elora

Musicians – Singer Amritha & Guitarist Bineal

JewelryPawan Rani Collections

Videographer – Emma Spark and Kindle

Hair & Makeup Artists – Shairy Hair & Makeup by Shairy

Hair & Makeup Artists Justine & Celine  Kaur Colours

Florist – Onni  Wild & Her By Amilia

Stationery Designer – Leena  Ratanji Rani

Photographer – Don of Pannila Photography

Floral Garland Expert – Gana Sai Garlands

Chai – Fatema Chai Room

 

Failures from my Kitchen – 2

One thing that I feel has been really amazing hosting ‘The Modern Desi Dinners’ in Sydney is the things that I am learning/discovering, which I would have never had an opportunity to  otherwise.

Like this bread in this picture.

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Originally I intended to make Bhature (deep-fried sourdough bread) for dinner last night but after I had rolled the buns and kept them for a while, ready to fry when serving the main course, they just fell flat. Thankfully I had a back up where I had prepared stuffed Kulchas, that I half cook and then finish at the time of service.

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After dinner was over and we had cleaned up, I forgot to put the dough back in the fridge. So, today morning when I woke up, the dough was smelling really sour. The frugal person in me did not want to waste it, so I kneaded it again and willed it into these oddly shaped Pooris or Bhatura or whatever else you would like to call them.

 

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The result was a deep-fried bread that was not oily,  had the distinctive sour taste with the insides looking bread-like. It was perfect with the Khaate Aloo Ki sabzi (Potatoes cooked in a tomato gravy) and a hot cup of chai.

A happy story of a dough that could have gone bad.

Failures from my kitchen – 1

Not all dishes work everytime, in your head and on paper the recipe sounds good. You put in all the right Ingredients and make sure that you follow all the steps. But when the final dish is done it fails to wow you and you don’t know why.
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This Gulab Jamun Ki sabzi is the dish that just didn’t work for me. Gulab Jamun is the much famed Indian dessert which is a sweet deep fried ricotta cheese balls that are drenched in sugar syrup and has been sighted several times on my dinner table. Ofcourse I have no idea how (must be stalking me as always).
Anyhoo I digress, so in Jodhpur you get a savoury version of this dish where it is not soaked in a sugar syrup but cooked in a gravy. I have eaten it thrice before in my life with my sister in law who is from Jodhpur and is a mind blowing cook. It is unique, delicious, has a rich decadent gravy which makes for an interesting discussion on how something that is usually a dessert can be dressed differently to make it into a completely savory dish.
So, for my supper club I wanted to wow my guests with this dish but then I guess I really didn’t think it through. It also didn’t help that I never called my sister in law to get the proper recipe and just relied on my non- existent Gulab Jamun making skills.
The end result was a bland blob of khoya ( milk solids) in a tomato gravy which was not sure about why it was hanging around with those Jamuns in the first place. The final dish did not make it to my supper club but definitely was not wasted either. I ate it some paneer stuffed paratha (cottage cheese stuffed flatbread) and a salad.
Also, the remaining fried dumplings were soaked in a leftover Saffron infused Sugar syrup which I make for the cocktail/mocktails and that also did not work really well. The only saving grace was the new pretty plates that Maxwell and williams official sent to me for Christmas. Hopefully the plates will be inspire me to cook dishes that will turn out edible and supper club worthy in future.

Foraging with Diego in Sydney

“Come for a walk. Listen to my story and share yours so that we can all rejoice in awe of the wonderful narratives of nature.”

And so that’s exactly what I did last Saturday with Diego Bonetto – The Weedy One on Instagram – and one of the most knowledgeable food experts I have come across.

Diego’s story

Diego’s short story is about gathering and knowing our food, fresh and seasonally from the fields. At the same time, he advocates for caring of our natural resources.

These skills Diego obtained from his mother, in Piedmontese, in north-west Italy.

When Diego arrived in Australia in the mid 1990s, he soon learnt that his knowledge was a rare practice practice in contemporary society. He sensed in people a longing to rekindle their untapped connection to nature.

Diego’s services to connect with nature

And so, he introduced the art of connecting with living with nature through workshops, events, school tours and art. Diego also works with people in the hospitality industry – chefs, cooks – to rediscover the flavours of nature.

Diego is also currently collaborating with developers, web producers, foragers and horticulturalists to create Wild Food Map. It is a community to identify public domain food and medicine plants living in the landscape.

And keep an eye out, coming soon – the Wildfood Store. It is a platform for connecting farmers and chefs while providing an avenue for up-cycling the by-product of agricultural practices: weeds.

My foraging with Diego

Here are some of the beautiful things I learnt during my forage with Diego.

  • Nature’s bounty are plants that grow around us in abundance.
  • Chickweed can be added in salads and used as an external treatment for skin conditions. It also helps reduce inflammation.
  • The leaves of African Olive Tree can be used to make Olive Oil extract and boost immunity. This tree is almost extinct in Africa but is considered a weed in Australia!
  • Camphor Tree. Now this blew my mind! Vapour rub is made from this. Camphor is also an effective insecticide. But, it is considered invasive in NSW and you can be fined if it is found in your backyard.
  • Shepherd’s Purse has many uses, from food to cosmetics and traditional medicine.

Find out more

Visit Diego’s website to book your own natural adventure: http://www.diegobonetto.com/

Strolling to Sydney’s fresh food markets

For me, Saturdays  are best spent with your loved ones around one of my most favourite things to do and see: food, glorious fresh food.

So, last Saturday I took myself off to indulge in all of the above. I visited one of Sydney’s most well known and long standing markets – The Carriageworks Farmers Markets.

The Carriageworks Markets

The weekly (every Saturday 8am – 1pm) Carriageworks Farmers Market is a Sydney institution. They provide the freshest seasonal produce from the best growers and producers from around NSW.

At the Carriageworks Farmers Market you can talk to the farmer firsthand and learn the stories behind your food. You can find organic and biodynamic produce. Also, you can indulge in artisan breads, boutique wines, single origin coffee and herbal teas. Then there’s the meat, eggs, freshly harvested honey and freshly cut flowers.

And boy did I talk my head off and ask questions to learn so many things about  local produce!

Curated by acclaimed chef Mike McEnearney, the Carriageworks Farmers Market follows a strict Market Charter. This is to ensure quality and uphold its connection to growers and producers.

What the markets stand for

Some of the conditions of the Charter include values which I love and embrace already, including:

  • AUTHENTICITY: The fundamental purpose of an authentic farmers market is to facilitate the purchase of produce direct from the farms and kitchens where the produce is grown, livestock raised or artisan products made.
  • ORIGIN: All produce for sale at the Carriageworks Farmers Market must be grown or raised within NSW/ACT.
  • KNOWLEDGE: Carriageworks Farmers Market believes that interaction between the farmer, chef or artisan producer and the customer is an essential part of the Market.
  • SUSTAINABILITY: Carriageworks Farmers Market recognises our impact on the environment and understands the importance of sustainable business practices especially with regards to water use, waste management and carbon emissions.
  • EXCELLENCE: The Carriageworks Farmers Market is committed to showcasing the very best and most innovative producers, chefs and artisans in NSW.
    With all of that in mind, I heartily shopped my way through the stalls, talked, ate and bought beautiful produce, including kale, tomatoes, cheese and freshly baked bread.

I highly recommend visiting the Carriageworks Farmers Market. They are free to enter. If you love everything about fresh food, eating and knowing where you food comes from, this is the place to visit.

More information: http://carriageworks.com.au/events/carriageworks-farmers-market/

The Beautiful art of pickling anything!

I recently attended a pickling course with one of my favourite and inspirational local food business – Corner Smith.

If you haven’t heard of Corner Smith, they are a family run business in Sydney’s Inner West serving meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they also conduct cooking classes to learn a new skill.

Their belief and practice of ethical food production, sustainable business practice and community engagement are things that are also dear and close to what I believe in and value.

But let’s talk about pickling.

Pickling is the process of preserving or extending the lifespan of food by either fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar. In East Asia, vinaigrette (vegetable oil and vinegar) is also used as a pickling medium.

The pickling process is about adding an acid (vinegar or lemon juice) to a low-acid food to lower its pH to 4.6 or lower, preserving the food and altering its flavour.

The exact origins of pickling are unknown, but it may have begun in the northwest of India, about 2400 B.C. Pickling was used as a way to preserve food for out-of-season use and for long journeys, especially by sea. Salt pork and salt beef were common staples for sailors before the days of steam engines. Although the process was invented to preserve foods, pickles are also made and eaten because people enjoy the resulting flavors.

According to some health research, pickling may also improve the nutritional value of food by introducing B vitamins produced by bacteria

I love the concept of pickling because it is such an easy and delicious way to be more sustainable with food and in your kitchen.

And another bonus, pickles taste amazing.

You can pretty much pickle any vegetables and fruit. At my pickling lesson with Corner Smith, we pickled and walked away with three jars of:

  • Lime Marmalade
  • Apple and Rhubarb Jam
  • Poached Pears in Sugar Syrup.

I won’t go through the step by step process to pickling here as there are many amazing instructions for this but I will create some pickling recipes to share very soon.

I am thinking of an instant and easy to make but super delicious Carrot Pickle for wintry days and a Mango Pickle for the warmer summer days. In between, I am always up for having nearby chutneys – Mint & Peanut, Tomato and Date and Walnut – for a flavoursome addition to meats, to eat with warm bread or crackers as a snack.

I won’t go through the step by step process to pickling here as there are many amazing instructions for this but I will create some pickling recipes to share very soon.

But I will share here my top take-aways from my pickling classes that will hopefully be useful for your own at home pickling.

One: Produce

Your produce must be fresh when pickled and scrub your chosen vegetable or fruit well to remove any dirt. You don’t want to be pickling sand at the same time and bite into a pickled cucumber or carrot and get the grittiness of the sand as well.

Two: Water!

Most water is suitable for pickling, but hard water (water high in minerals, which you can tell when the water leaves white scale in your glass, in your bathroom etc) may interfere with the pickling process and discolour the vegetables over time. If in doubt, I would suggest using filtered water.

Three: Vinegar

You can experiment with different vinegars that you are storing in the fridge. I would suggest using white distilled or cider vinegar with 5 percent acidity (the labelling should indicate the % of acidity). Use white vinegar when light colour is desirable, as with fruits and cauliflower. Think twice before using red wine vinegar as it will turn all your vegetables pink.

Four: Salt

Use pure sea salt without any additives or salt labeled “canning” or “pickling” salt. Additives in table salt may make the brine cloudy.

Five: Herbs

Use herb or spice in your brine to give your pickled goodies flavour. The classic spices are: mustard seed, peppercorns, and bay leaves. For herbs, dill, mint, basil, or anything that’s overtaking your garden will be great.

The age old tale of waste not, want not

Sustainability has been a big topic lately – I find myself seeing more people, more advertising, more stories, news, blog posts and even celebrities getting on the movement.

And it is a great movement, philosophy, way of living, future proofing – whatever you want to define it – for safeguarding this beautiful, amazing place we call Earth, our home, for the next generations.

What I interestingly discovered when I read about tips for being sustainable in our own homes and for our own habits, I realise that many of these tips are everyday things that I grew up within India. Things that my mother drilled into us children while growing up, mainly, I suspect, as a way for us to not waste nothing so we want for nothing more.

This “age-old tale” of waste not want not has certainly dogged my adult life. Today I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my husband. We don’t buy anything we don’t need and if you see my fridge and pantry, I only buy the essentials so we will never throw out anything because it is off or past its use-by date.

So I thought today I might share my own practices for cooking and eating sustainably, mostly derived from my mother and cultivated over time by the values and philosophies I have shaped throughout my life’s adventures and cultural learnings so far.

One last thing before I get on with the sharing. . . I think the beauty of sustainability is that everyone, anyone can take steps toward having a sustainable kitchen that contribute to a sustainable planet.

So here goes. . .

Expand Your Cooking Skills

No matter where you stand with cooking abilities, there’s always room for improvement. When it comes to sustainable cooking, the more you know in the kitchen, the easier it is to create recipes and save money. For example, the other day I cooked beetroot and instead of throwing out the leaves, I made a simple but delicious dish using spices and lentils to create another meal. No waste, just more beautiful things to eat!

Support local, Shop Local

I love the opportunity to visit and buy at farmers markets to obtain fresh, local food. When I grew up in India, we used to get our fruit and veggies from our own garden or that from the farmers who would sell their fresh produce in carts near my home. Meeting the people who produce your food is the best feeling, allowing us to ask questions about growing techniques and even different ways to prepare all aspects of the food yourself.

Go vegetarian more during the week

My mum is a vegetarian and growing up in Northern India, a lot of our foods were vegetable-based. Meat, fish and poultry were more like a once in a while treat! Eating more fruits and vegetables is not only healthier for our bodies, it’s also healthier for the planet. Adding more green foods to your diet reduces freshwater withdrawals as well as deforestation. For me, the trick to eating more veggies is to make them taste better! Check out my recipes for vegan, vegetarian recipes for your meals. Also, growing up, our main meals were stapled with pulses – beans, legumes, lentils – which among the most sustainable (and affordable) foods you can choose because they can adapt to climate change and help sequester carbon in the soil, and they decrease methane emissions from the farm animals, such as cattle, that eat them. Plus, they’re rich in fiber, nutrients, and plant protein.

Eat Seasonally

In India, my family would eat in season, according to what grew locally in times of the year. My mother never bought any foods that were imported overseas to make sure we have the same foods all year round. I must say this is one thing that I have continued in my adult life. I love seeing what I can do with seasonal produce and find imported goods like USA grapes during winter to taste not as good as eating them during hotter summer days. Purchasing foods that are in season allows for natural, sustainable eating. Seasonal eating may mean consuming root vegetables and hearty greens during the fall and winter months and then eating salads and fruits during the summer months. Most foods have times of the year that they are more abundant than others. Eating according to those times benefits the environment’s natural production as well as your wallet!

Reduce Food Waste by saving all (nutritious bits)

Although many people believe that food is natural and when thrown away it will decompose, this is not the case typically. Most foods actually end up in a landfill. One of the things that I grew up with was the concept of finishing and appreciating your meals. That meant not taking more food than what you can fit in and making sure that we use every bit of food we can. This certainly has fuelled my simple food sustainability efforts such as planning our meals, only buying the groceries we need and figuring out ways to utilise leftovers.

Radish tops, turnip greens, leftover bread—keep these nutritious bits out of the bins. You can instead Whiz raw radish tops and turnip greens in a food processor with pine nuts, cheese, and fresh mint, and then use on grilled vegetables or pasta. Carrot tops add fresh flavor and a feathery texture to salads.

Do you have any kitchen and food sustainable practices? I would love to hear about them to see if I can also add them into my own habits.

Not another butter f***ing chicken

“Never let it be said that to dream is a waste of one’s time, for dreams are our realities in waiting. In dreams, we plant the seed of our future.” – Anonymous

I came across this quote today as I was trying to write this blog post to introduce myself. The title and the quote seem to be in contradiction to each other but then I realized that’s exactly what my life and environment have been since I moved to Australia has been about – an opposition of stereotypes and fads.

So let me start at the beginning.

Hi, my name is Bhavna, I am the creator, recipe developer and dream maker behind the blog ‘Just a girl from aamchi Mumbai,’ who is now embarking on this new adventure called ‘The Modern Desi.’ I am also the person known for saying, “There is more to Indian food than Butter F***ing Chicken.”

That is the first stereotype that I always love to correct. Butter chicken, the very famed Indian dish found in every Indian restaurant around the world is something that we hardly make at home. Most Indians actually also visit restaurants to eat it, and whenever I tell my non-Indian friends and colleagues here in Sydney, they do get a surprised look.

Anyway, I digress! I am here to share the story behind The Modern Desi!
The story began in Aamchi Mumbai, where I was born, lived and grew up with my family. It was reasonably traditional Indian upbringing, and many of what I consider to be my strongest
values had its roots in my first home.

In the early 2000s, I took a leap of faith to move myself and my husband firstly to Perth and then to Sydney, Australia, for work. A few months into living in Australia, I started to feel sick with symptoms of listlessness, lack of energy, and an overall feeling of empty like something was missing.

Despite paying through my nose for medical bills, no doctor was able to tell me what was wrong until I found an Indian doctor who gave me this advice – “start eating food that you ate when growing up, and you will be fine.”

At this stage of my new Australian home journey, I did not have my own space and kitchen to cook my own food. So, I started to frequent Indian takeaway restaurants and buying food from there.

To my dismay, every restaurant had the same menu! The food tasted precisely the same. Everything was either red, green, or yellow in color. The most popular was ‘Butter Chicken,” and the only Indian bread that people knew was “Naan Bread” (by the way. . . did you know Naan means Bread? so every time you say Naan Bread, you are actually saying Bread Bread).

I remembered the first time, after a work meeting, I went to the local food court and got myself a plate of Butter Chicken and Naan. As one did back home, I used my fingers to break the Naan and dip it in the gravy to scoop up the pieces of chicken. The shock that I had with my first bite!

The gravy of the Butter Chicken was so sweet and my fingers were stained with the amount of red food colouring that was added in the marination of the chicken. It was terribly disappointing, and if I was not sick before, I was definitely ill after eating all the shitty so-called Indian food.

Soon I found a place to call home which, as luck would have it, was fully furnished. So the first day after I moved in, I went to the Indian grocery store and stocked up my pantry with lentils, rice, flour and my favorite Indian spices.

I remembered the first time, after a work meeting, I went to the local food court and got myself a plate of Butter Chicken and Naan. As one did back home, I used my fingers to break the Naan and dip it in the gravy to scoop up the pieces of chicken. The shock that I had with my first bite!This started my journey to recreate the authentic, real flavours of India that is almost unknown here in Australia. Dishes that I ate growing up – made by my mother, sometimes my father, my grandfather, my mother in law and everyone else who made me who I am today.

When I started to make these foods and bring them to work for lunch or serve them as a meal for friends coming over, I realised that many people thought what I was making was delicious and they’d love to have it again and again.

And hence my first blog Just a Girl from Aamchi Mumbai grew as a place where I shared my natural, wholesome, authentic and often, fusion recipes of Indian and other cultural flavors – Bush Foods, Italian – and more!

The popularity of the blog really took me by surprise and this space where I shared, created, crafted and expressed my feelings and memories became my safe haven from my stressful, busy job, and many responsibilities that I was managing away from everything I called home. This creative space really spun the beginnings of bigger and more daring dreams for me, visions of teaching fellow food lovers how to make Indian food at home without breaking into a sweat came along

And so here I am, launching these dreams through “The Modern Desi” a space that is more than a blog but a reflection of who I am and where I want to be in the future. The word Desi is a traditional term used to describe an Indian person I am hoping that you will join me on this journey of food connecting cultures, of contradictions that will get us to the ‘real’ story and dreams of fun, wholesome cooking classes, easy wholesome recipes, and engaging food consulting services.

Check out The Modern Desi recipes for easy, wholesome Indian fusion meals that can be favorite staples in your household.

Or, check my cooking classes section for delicious and fun lessons where you get to learn, cook and eat with your friends and family around Sydney.

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