Tag Archives: Travel

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The Easiest (& Best!) Banana Bread…and a Weekend Away

After a change in our plans, Piyush and I decided to take a weekend trip to Grand Marais, MN.

Grand Marais is a small town located on Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.  It holds a very special spot in my heart; and, in my opinion, just might be among the most beautiful places on this Earth.

Riding the waves of Lake Superior…

When I was a teenager, my parents purchased a cabin in Grand Marais–off the famous Gunflint Trail.  Now, if you’re from Minnesota–or even Wisconsin–you’re probably pretty familiar with the term “cabin.”  If you’re not, “cabin” is a term that usually describes a second piece of property and can mean anything from a rustic shack in the woods to a magnificent mansion on the banks of Lake Superior.

My family’s cabin is definitely not a mansion, but it’s no shack either.  It’s more like a charming cottage, hidden along the banks of a beautiful lake about 10 miles away from Lake Superior.

I absolutely love it there, and it really does feel like a second home.

View from the dock at the cabin. It’s so peaceful!

Unfortunately, Piyush and I only seem to venture to Grand Marais about one or two times a year.  I wish we could go more often, but it’s 6 hours away…and there just aren’t enough weekends in the summer (and there is way too much snow in the winter!).

Piyush and I left Friday morning and decided to take our time.  Usually we’re in such a rush to get to the cabin that we don’t really stop or enjoy any of the sights along the way (excluding Duluth.  We always stop in Duluth).

This time we stopped at a few antique shops, played 18  holes of golf, and even stopped for some pie.

Betty’s Pies is a relatively famous Minnesota destination.  Personally, I think it’s history is more interesting than the pie, but  I’m not much of a pie person.  We picked up a Bumbleberry pie (raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and blueberry) to share with my parents.  When I opened the box, this is what I saw:

Isn’t that the maddest pie you’ve ever seen?  I got such a kick out of the pies angry-face!  It still makes me giggle.

pie in the woods!

The filling was yummy! …the crust, meh.  It was pretty dry.  But I guess dry pie is better than no pie, right?  …Right?

Piyush and I also stopped for dinner at The Angry Trout.  The food was amazing, and I wish there was an Angry Trout clone in Rochester!

Fresh grilled trout (caught in Lake Superior), Minnesota wild rice, and a big veggie salad

The trout was fresh caught in Lake Superior, and the taste was incredible.  I don’t usually enjoy fish all that much, but I think I could eat this everyday!!!  YUM!

The view from the restaurant was pretty incredible too…

The Angry Trout Restaurant: Grand Marais, MN

Once we finished with dinner and began driving north on the Gunflint Trail, I noticed all the beautiful wild flowers were beginning to bloom.  Lupine, roses, and blackberries (among other things) grow wild along the roads.  It’s such a lovely welcome, and I always look forward to it.

Wild Lupine

Wild Roses

Lake Superior

The weekend was so relaxing, but unfortunately it rained all of Saturday.  We didn’t get to spend much time on the water, but that’s okay.  Just being in Grand Marais was good enough for me!

Now…on to the banana bread!  

This recipe for banana bread is the easiest version I’ve ever come across.  It is also probably the first thing I really learned to bake myself.

The recipe allows for all sorts of variation, and a lot of times I’ll toss in some dark chocolate or dried cranberries.  It always turns out incredible, and I’ve never baked a dry loaf.  There really isn’t anything worse than dry banana bread.  Yuck!

This recipe makes amazing muffins!

I couldn’t tell you where this recipe came from.  I don’t know if it was from a book, my grandma, or maybe I found it online.  I don’t know.  I’ve had it for well over 15 years.

What I do know is that if you make this banana bread…you won’t regret it!

Easy Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 browned bananas- smashed
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. butter- melted
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  • In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together smashed banana, and the melted butter.  Once everything is combined, add the egg and mix again.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is combined–but don’t over-stir.  Add any mix-ins (chocolate, dried fruits, nuts…) and stir until they are evenly distributed.
  • Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 325 degrees F.
  • Remove from oven, let cool a couple minutes and remove from loaf pan.  Let the bread cool on a rack for about a half hour or so.  Enjoy!
**I sometimes sprinkle the top with raw sugar crystals before baking.  It makes the crust have a pretty shine.  :) **

This recipe freezes extremely well! 

Indian masala chai recipe

Indian-Style Tea –and a Nathmulls Darjeeling Tea Giveaway!

I remember the first time I had a sip of tea. I was about 7 years old and in second grade. My best friend at the time, Anita, was spending the night and we decided to have a tea party. We raided my mom’s cupboards and found some old (antique) cups and saucers. We also managed to find a few tea bags. I didn’t know how to make tea– my parents never drank it– but we figured it couldn’t be that hard.

Anita turned on the faucet and filled the cups with hot water while I cut open the tea bags. We dumped the tea-dust into the cups of water and put them in the microwave for 5 minutes. While the tea was heating, Anita and I made a couple sandwiches–peanut butter and jelly; I believe. I remember being so excited to sit down, clink our cups together (cheers!) and drink tea. I felt like a grown up.

When our tea was finished in the microwave, we carefully took the very hot cups and placed them onto the saucers. We sat down at the table, giggling, and waited patiently for the tea to cool off enough to drink it. Once it was ready, we clinked the cups together (bad idea!…tea spilled everywhere) and took a sip.

As soon as the tea met my taste-buds, I knew tea was not for me. It was gritty and gross; and the look on Anita’s face showed me that she felt the same. We promptly dumped the tea down the sink, rinsed out our cups, and cracked open an orange Crush soda.

20 years have passed since my first experience with tea, and I’m glad to say it wasn’t my last. Now I enjoy many types of tea; sweetened and unsweetened, loose-leaf and bagged, Darjeeling and green.  Although I’ll drink nearly any kind now-days, I undoubtedly prefer the sweet– and sometimes spicy– Indian style tea.

This delicious beverage, commonly known as chai (in Hindi) or cha (in Bengali), is not the same “chai” you get if you order it at an American coffee shop (I’m lookin’ at you Starbucks!).  In America, Indian masala chai (mixed-spice tea) has become synonymous with the word chai; but chai is just a word for tea.  It’s not a type of tea…and it definitely does not come from artificial syrup (did you know that tea leaves are not even a listed ingredient on some of the syrups your favorite coffee shop uses to make your chai?).

In India, chai is most often made with black tea leaves, way too much sugar, thick, whole milk…and green cracked cardamom pods—if you’re lucky!

sweet, green cardamom pods

It can be found everywhere…and I do mean everywhere!  You can buy it for a couple rupees at the train station, served in tiny paper cups;  or along the roadsides, where scant amounts are poured into tiny earthenware vessels; and if you’re lucky enough to be invited into an Indian home, you’re sure to be offered a steaming glass of creamy chai…with biscuits to dunk!

My mother and father-in-law (Maa and Baba), taught me how to make proper Indian-style tea…and for that, I am thankful!  When preparing tea, they never really used exact measurements.  Instead, they relied on color and taste.  It took me awhile, but I think I’ve finally got it figured out (Baba, if you’re reading this…you’d be proud)!

Not only do I intend to share with you, dear reader, how to make Indian-style chai (and masala chai!), but I would also like to give you a chance to try some Darjeeling loose-leaf tea that I bought in Darjeeling, myself!  This is not the Darjeeling tea you find lining your supermarket or co-op shelves…nooo…this is the real deal!

Darjeeling Loose Leaf Tea...and a strainer! The tea was purchased at Nathmulls in Darjeeling. If you want to learn more about it click here.

If you’d like a chance at trying some Darjeeling tea for yourself, here’s your chance!  I’m having a  giveaway, and one lucky reader will receive the package of tea and tea strainer shown above!

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me how you like to drink your tea!  It’s that easy!

The giveaway ends Friday, April 6 at 7:00 p.m. Central Time.  The giveaway is only open to U.S. residents aged 18+ (sorry!).  Be sure to include a valid email address with your comment…if you win, I want you to know!  I’ll choose the winner randomly using Random.org’s random number generator.  If I don’t hear back from the winner by Monday, April 9 at 5:00 pm Central Time, a new winner will be chosen!

For an additional chance to win: Follow my blog or sign up for email updates.  Be sure to leave a comment letting me know if you did this!

If you already follow or subscribe, I appreciate it and you deserve an extra chance too!  Leave a comment letting me know!

My blog is pretty young yet…so the chances are good!

**The giveaway is now over!  Congrats, Mary Ella!  I hope you enjoy the tea!**

Now, on to the recipes!

Indian-Style Tea (with milk and sugar)

This can also be made using stevia, if you’re concerned about your sugar-intake.  I also make it with soymilk.  If you choose to do this be sure to add the soymilk at the end.  Don’t boil it, it will curdle!

This recipe yeilds 3- 80z. servings.

  • 2 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. loose leaf tea
  • 3 green cardamom pods, cracked (optional)
  • sugar, to taste (if you want the whole “Indian experience” toss in about 3 tbsp–seriously.)
  • 3/4 c. milk (whole milk, if you want to keep it real)

Directions: 

  • Heat 2 c. water in a small pot over med-high heat until it’s rapidly boiling.  Once it’s boiling, toss in the tea leaves (and a couple cardamom pods, if you want), cover the pot, and turn off the heat.  Let the tea steep for about 5 minutes.
  • Add sugar–to taste –and milk.  Stir to combine everything.  Turn heat back on and bring the tea back to a boil.  Once it boils…it’s done!  Don’t cook it for too long or it’ll turn a little bitter and taste funny.  Turn off the heat, strain, and enjoy!

Masala Chai

To make masala chai–  follow the same recipe and method as above, but also add:

  • small chunk of ginger, smashed (use as much as you would like, but remember…it’s strong!)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 green cardamom pods, crushed
  • small sliver of cinnamon
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 3 cloves

Add these spices, whole, to the water when you add the tea leaves.  Experiment with the quantities of spices and find the mix that is just right for you!  …Everyone’s tastes are different!

If you want to make the chai really special for someone, add a whole cardamom seed to the bottom before straining the tea into the glass!  If you could say, “I love you” using spices…this is how you’d do it!

A spice-y surprise!

Enjoy!

Ready to be steamed!

Vegetarian Momos! …and Remembering Darjeeling

While on our trip to India, Piyush and I met tons of incredible people, visited many spectacular places and tried many different foods (well…different to me!).  I didn’t really think too much about it while I was there, but now that I’m back home in the states…I can’t get Darjeeling out of my head!

Darjeeling is a beautiful town located in the foothills of the Himalayas, very close to both Nepal and Tibet.  It’s a major tourist destination, and like most everywhere in India…it’s crowded!

A street in Darjeeling

Tibetian Monks in Darjeeling

One of many Darjeeling Tea Estates

Darjeeling is also quite famous for the fabulous tea grown all along the hills…and for the momos!

I only ate momos twice while we were on our little holiday, but gosh, they were so good that I wish I would have had them every day!  Oh, the things I take for granted…

Have you ever heard of momos?  No?  Probably not.  I know I hadn’t before our trip.  I don’t know if there are many places in the states where you can find sub-par momos— let alone the authentic, delicious momos.  The closest you might get is a potsticker or dim sum, which although very similar, are not momos.

So what exactly is a momo?

It’s quite simple, really.  A momo is basically a dumpling made with a flour/water based dough.  They are native to Nepal and Tibet, and are very popular in the North-Eastern part of India.  Inside the dough is a mixture of veggies, meats (optional) and aromatics. They can be steamed, fried and even boiled in soups.  It’s amazing how something so basic can be so versatile, so tasty…and so addicting!  After doing a little searching online, I found a couple recipes that looked promising.  I took a few things from each recipe and came up with something that tasted almost exactly like I remembered.

In fact…they turned out so good, Piyush ate 8 of them in less than 10 minutes—and then he licked the plate!

The only piece of criticism he gave me was that I made my momos larger than I should have. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with making them large, the taste is the same; but they’re meant to be more “bite-sized” than “hockey-puck-sized.”

formed momo, before steaming

My recipe will make approximately 30 large momos—you could probably get 45 or 50 if you make them a little smaller.  Out of curiousity I plugged my final recipe into a calorie calculator, and guess what?!  Each large sized momo is around 85 calories!!!  Awesome!!!

The dough is easy to make.

  • 3 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • water —enough to make an even, stiff dough.

Pour the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.  Add 1 cup of water to begin.  Don’t use a spoon to mix, use your hands!  Knead the dough, adding flour and water as necessary.  I probably ended up using 3 1/5 c. flour and around 1 1/2 cups water—-but this will vary!

Cover the dough and let it rest for around 30 min. (I managed to wait 20.  Patience is not something I possess…)

While the dough rests, make the filling.

  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3 cups cabbage– finely shredded (I bought it in a bag, pre-shredded.  I hate shredding cabbage!  Hate it!)
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, smashed and minced
  • 1 giant potato (or 2 medium)—made into around a cup of mashed potato
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Kalaunji seeds (substitute cumin seeds, mustard seeds, or leave out all together)
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Mix the onion, cabbage, carrot, ginger, cilantro, salt and mashed potato in a bowl.  Stir it until everything is combined.  Heat the olive oil on the stove-top and pour the kalaunji seeds in and once they start to pop, dump all the oil/seeds in the veggie mixture.  Stir everything until mixed together, and set aside.
Next, take the dough and pinch off little balls—about 1 tbsp.  Roll the balls out into a some-what circular shape.

Roll the dough out (make them smaller if you're making bite-sized momos)

Pick the dough up in your left hand and plop a good heaping tablespoon of filling in the center.

Next, start crimping the edges and form the momo into  a circular shape.

crimp and pinch the dough around the filling

Ready to be steamed!

***Make sure you keep a damp towel over the momos and the dough as you’re forming them.  You don’t want the dough to dry out. ***

Once you get the momos all formed, you can either steam them right away or you can freeze them.  I froze all of mine because I wasn’t sure when Piyush would be home to eat them.  I placed them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, popped them in the freezer and let them stay there a couple hours.  Once they were fully frozen I put them into a giant ziplock bag, and back in the freezer.

When you’re ready to steam them:

Put water in a steamer pot and bring to a boil.  Place the steaming basket(s) in the pot.  If the water touches the basket, pour a little out.

Once the basket is in the pot, spray it with a little cooking oil (I used my misto)—you don’t want the momos to stick!  Work in batches, and place momos in the basket in a single layer so they don’t quite touch.

Set the timer for 15 minutes and don’t take the lid off the pot until it buzzes.  Resist the temptation.  Once the timer goes off, take them out of the steamer and serve with some soy dipping sauce, chile sauce, or tomato chutney!

Enjoy a little bit of Darjeeling, half a world away!

Have you ever visited some place that was so amazing, it left you wishing you could go back?  I have heard quite a few people who have been to Darjeeling say that they would love to retire there.  I can totally understand!

Enjoy a couple more photos!

Baba enjoying some Darjeeling tea

DSC02815

!ncredible India! Photos From My Trip Abroad

Piyush and I returned from India just in time for Thanksgiving, which also happened to be my 27th birthday (….man! I’m getting old!).  I had such incredible jet lag and a very sore and swollen foot from all the traveling that I wasn’t even remotely excited to cook.  I had a lot of fun ideas of dishes to share with my family on Thanksgiving but I had no energy to complete them.  I threw together a pear, apple, cranberry crisp and a quick gingerbread pumpkin trifle.  I don’t really feel like blogging about those though.  I want to show you India!!!

I didn’t take many photos of the food we ate.  Surprisingly it was very similar to the food we get at our local Indian restaurant, The India Curry House, in south Rochester—as long as the owner, Om is cooking.  I also ate a lot of homemade Bengali cuisine.  My mother-in-law is a very good cook and she made sure we always had something warm, spicy and delicious in our bellies.  …Oh! and the sweets!  Bengali sweets are amazing!!!  As much as my taste buds love the food of India, my stomach doesn’t quite agree. My stomach felt a little queasy and upset for much of our trip, which made really enjoying the food a little difficult.  It wasn’t the water and it wasn’t the spice.  It was the milk!  I’m very sensitive to milk. I was even told by the doctors when I was young that I was allergic.  I sometimes break out in hives but most of the time it just really pisses off my stomach.  At home I use soy and although you can get soymilk in India…it’s just not the same.  And it would be really hard for the restaurants and sweet shops to accommodate, I’m sure.  There were a couple days that the only thing I could stomach was toast.  How sad is that?!

I was so desperate for a salad—the Indian salad, although quite tasty, is quite different from the lettuce and veggie salads we have here in the States.  In fact, I don’t think I saw a head of lettuce or romaine anywhere!  So imagine how excited I was when Piyush and I went out to dinner at this fabulous outdoor restaurant in Jaipur and I saw “Chicken Caesar Salad” on the menu.  I was never more excited for a plate of lettuce in my entire life, and probably will never be again.  Now, imagine my disappointment when they put this in front of me:

I promptly put the eggs of Piyush’s plate (I don’t like hard boiled eggs!) and then took a good look at it.  It was good, yes.  But it was shredded, cooked cabbage with a very Chinese taste.  I ate it, and Piyush and I got a good laugh about the Indianization of the Chicken Caesar Salad.  My stomach was not satisfied though.

Now, how about some photos?!?!

I won’t really say much about them, but if you have any questions about something you see, let me know in the comments!!!

bridge over the Ganges

The Golden Temple

Sunrise at Tiger Hill, up in the foothills of the Himalayas

Pouring Rain in Kolkata, evening at the markets

DiwaliPiyush lighting rockets for Diwali

The one and only non-western style toilet I had to use

bangles

Maa and Baba (Piyush's mom and dad)

marigold fields

I hope you enjoyed my photos!  I took about 2500, so this is only a very small idea of what I saw!

I can’t wait to visit India again, soon—I hope!

To see some more photos, you can check out my online album.

India 2011 (Darjeeling, Kolkata, Agra, Delhi and Jaipur)
India 2011 (Amritsar, Kolkata)

Now, I’ve got to head to work!  Have a happy Wednesday, everyone!

In India!!!

Hello everyone! I’ve been in India now for nearly a week. I love it here, and strangely, it doesn’t even seem that different from being at home in the States. The scenery is different (a lot different), but the people are kind and welcoming…and I haven’t had any problems finding western-style toilets! I was worried about that…

I’m taking a lot of photos and I assure you they will find a home on this blog. I am also keeping a journal because I don’t have the best access to the internet. My tiny, little food blog may be on a short hiatus, but I have not forgotten and I have so much to share when I get home!

Until then,

Shari