can we dumb it down | chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

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I don't love talking about politics, not here or anywhere else. I also don't love valentine's day. But I think, considering everything that's going on right now, that it's a bit hard to miss the irony. I walked into the store the other day and looked at the news stand at the front. The newspapers, headlines to the back page, filled with hate. Hate from the people for a campaign that's built on it; the words of its supporters. People killed, families torn apart. The shelf next to the papers, the valentine's cards. The pinks and reds and roses, telling husbands and wives and friends you love them.

I don't propose we all start to love everyone, because we don't all live in some fair trade commune in southern Philadelphia. Maybe we need to rethink about how we think about love. Perhaps it's been over complicated. Perhaps we should just dumb it down to acceptance and quiet respect. Not even acceptance, just tolerance. That there will be people who don't want to celebrate valentine's day. That there'll be girls who want to show off their hair and others who'd prefer to keep it covered. That there are happy families with parents who never married and content kids with parents who married in a church. That there are some guys that love toting guns and driving tractors and there are some who curate art and live in lofts with exposed brick.

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chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

Maybe it's because we're actually scared. Maybe have good reason to be. Maybe we're not as accepting as we thought we were. Maybe it's because fewer and fewer families are actually composed of a mother, a father, two kids, a dog, a suburban detached house with a double garage and a toyota. Maybe the acceptance of change is on the outside. Maybe we did it because it's the cool thing to do, to feign openness; maybe it became trendy. Maybe, deep down, we cling to tradition. The tradition that love is romance, or perhaps duty to care. For soul mates, your children, a sibling. Maybe it's what we were taught. We grew up watching TV shows were people give each other candy hearts and pink cards and wait breathlessly for the popular boy to ask them to the dance. But maybe things have changed. Maybe now there are people getting hurt, pushed aside, loosing opportunities. And there's no moral high ground. You know how you read everywhere, every day, that we can't go on eating processed wheat and sugar because it's just not modern? Not sustainable. Not healthy. People have seemed very happy to jump off the ship of what health food once was, into a very stormy sea and onto a very shaky lifeboat that is what eating well has now become. In the same way, maybe love as it once was isn't sustainable, healthy or modern. Would we abandon our ship of chocolates and slinky black dresses and acceptance being cool? Watch the sinking of the concept with which we're comfortable? People will moan that we have jumped ship and that I said it myself. That we're not all married in churches anymore, we're ok that some people don't marry at all, some of us are hipsters these days. But love was simply supposed to keep people afloat, stop them from getting hurt, stop the coldness. Whatever we've done, then, is far from love.

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On the one hand we've hijacked the concept. Not just that it's cool to claim tolerance. The number of bloggers and social media people who sign off with a 'love you friends'. People ask you in class whether you know the funny guy, and you're supposed to say 'him? I love him! he's so funny'. We're supposed to love our friends, right? So is this our broader, trendy definition? If it is, why I am I so put off by saying that I 'love' the neighbours? They're fine, but to say I love them would be going a bit far. Because, like everything else, we've taken love out of context sometimes, when kicking the tradition is cool and ok, detached. On the internet, it goes out to too many people to really think about. The funny guy? He'll never find out you said that.

Your friends? Well, maybe, you love them in a way. If love can encompass actual, quiet tolerance of individual quirks, warmth and acceptance, then it's there. Acceptance of differences and that you'll never see some things the same way, that your values and priorities might even clash. Maybe it's just not been something people think about. That love could be much simpler than the marriage-or-not debate, than a cold analysis of the number of broken families, and a whole lot more simple than dinner dates and bouquets. More rational than trying to make acceptance the new in thing. Maybe it could just be letting people walk down the street without feeling unsafe; or being able to take public transport without funny stares or being asked where you're from. Maybe we do love our friends because we put up with all their eccentricities, like we do our own family. Tolerance for differences has always been there, as part of love, in our living with kids and siblings and soul mates. Maybe we can stretch that out a bit - just the tolerance, to all the people around us. The hate has evolved, maybe it's time that love does too. It's not love as we know it. But then it's not just candy hearts and popular boys and the world as they said it was, either.

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But there are cookies and there will be cookies as long as I'm around :) since I posted the house loaf cake a few weeks ago, I now present the house cookie. I pretty much sum up its amazingess in the recipe header but seriously. So good. Rye flour isn't bitter as you may have thought, it's actually quite mild if used with sweet, rich goodies (cherries, hi) and the cocoa really highlights the beautiful colour. The little flecks of oatmeal add some chunky texture and the cherries are so moist and sweet. They'll be a bit more puck-like than regular cookies because of the oil but still. So good. To share, on Valentine's Day. Whether with your little loved crowd or a bigger crew. treat yourself. Big hugs and cookies for you all xx

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Ps. I would've made something for any doggie loves you have but Prune is meant to be on a diet (!!!!) so you could make these if you'd like, my monkeys are crazy about them.

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chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

Little pucks of goodness - slightly malty rye, the color and richness of dark cocoa. Plump, velvety, sweet cherries. Light flecks of chewy oatmeal. Infinitely loveable. 
// makes 18-20 medium cookies // dairy free

1 cup (110g) rye flour
2/3 cup (70g) rolled oats
1/3 cup (40g) natural cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (100g) dark muscavado sugar
1/4 cup (50g) turbinado sugar
1 free range egg
1/3cup (75g) melted coconut oil
1/2 cup (75g) unsweetened dried cherries, coarsely chopped if large
1 -2 tablespoons of any milk, as needed


Preheat the oven to 180’C, 350’F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, rolled oats, salt, baking soda. Add the cocoa powder, you may need to sift it into the bowl if it’s very clumpy. Mix together so evenly combined and set aside.

In a small bowl, add the melted coconut oil and the two sugars, stir well with a flexible spatula. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

Combine the wet mix with the dry oat mix and stir together well, you may need to use a stiff wooden spoon for this since the dough is quite thick. If it’s way too dry (this depends on the cut of your rye flour) slowly add a little milk, teaspoon at a time. Fold in the dried cherries.

Using a medium cookie scoop or heaped tablespoons, portion out the dough. Use the bottom of a glass/measuring cup to flatten each poof into a disk, leaving about 3cm/ an inch between.

Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.

Allow to cool on the sheets for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The cookies will keep for about 4 days in an airtight container, but are something else straight from the oven 

notes

I think these could take some other goodies as add-ins too – about 1/2 cup worth. Hazelnuts might be nice. If you’re feeling decadent, half a cup (75gish) chopped dark chocolate would be amazing. Next time…


more chocolate

so much of so little | blackberry & ginger spelt scones with honey

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I have a feeling that if I just started writing about my life in this space that my very, very small band of readers would desert me, like I desert me when I start writing randomly about my life. Or if I just started a post talking on and on about the recipe to maximise search engine hits by chucking in the key words 3000 times. Scone scone scone scone. They try for subtlety which makes things worse , because once you've read the recipe title three times in the main body, it's a bit hard to miss it. Then I don't need a discussion about how 'every one needs another chocolate chip cookie recipe' or a novel as to how the first time they used too much leavening. Or their justification for making and eating a whole tray of brownies. 'I'm just listening to my body', they say. Go for it! I tell them, but I'm not listening. Anyway. If it ever becomes any of those here; if I bore you with an in depth discussion of spelt flour or I start giving reasons for the extra bar of chocolate that ended up in my green salad just let me know, ok?

Which group do I fall into? I just write... what's in my head, I guess. And it looks like my head is a very chaotic place. I've kept journals all my life. I used to write two pages a day, now it's come down to one every other day, if I remember. But sometimes the writing cleans things up. It's like taking a charger or a cable out of a cupboard and detangling it, in the mess there's purpose and clarity. My blog is a bit of a journal, which is why it's such a jumble.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

Do you ever just look at the sky? Perhaps it depends on where you live. Maybe you look out to sea? I used to, when we first moved to Norfolk and we stayed by the beach. I could stand for ages on the cliff, in the wind, Prune girl sitting beside me. The sea was often gray, there'd be a halo of light in a slim parting of clouds, North Sea trawlers patrolling the horizon. But we moved inland, into deep rural Norfolk where there is... fulfilling emptiness. So much of so little. All fields and skies. I can look up and I can look across. At the chimney smoke rising from farmhouses in the valley. At the gaunt bodies of the winter beech, at the shine of frost on fallow fields. When there aren't fields, when there isn't the ocean, there's always the sky, for space and perspective.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

Because there are some thoughts that no amount of writing can ever untangle. They are so tightly coiled and knotted and messy and heavy. The fields and the sea are good but the sky is better because it's sometimes black and cold, sometimes blushing pink and powder blue. There are birds; the bass chorus of migrating geese, the sweet songs of blackbirds, the doves who are the delicate harp. Sure, the sky doesn't hold answers, it can't get into that tangle of thoughts but it's empty and there's space where that coil can straighten itself. People tell me that I can so clearly put into words what I'm thinking, which is sometimes true; I'd rather write to you to apologise or to say thanks, because what I can write is with more meaning than I could speak. But still I laugh because I wish that I could neatly organize what's in my head and write it all down. If only my thoughts were as simple as punctuated sentences. What I think is more like this post. An abstract mess. Sometimes the chaos is worse than other times and I tell myself to remember that the stars I'm seeing, they're no longer alive, and they're little puddles of light. Apparently there's hot blood flowing through me, so surely somewhere inside there's light.

I still haven't answered my own question. How do I write, what do I write about? My bed is under the big window of my tiny room and when I lie awake, thinking, I can see the stars. It's something for which I'm grateful. Till I moved here, to this tiny blip where the country meets the sea, I'd never seen so many. At night, here the sky is white, not black. If you look at one spot of darkness, a thousand more stars will emerge, some tiny, others huge. I've never really found any constellations, the stars seem scattered and oddly placed, perhaps confused. I miss them on cloudy nights when the skies seem quiet and dark, but so often the morning will dawn clear and a few odd specks will be there; three stars in a tidy row, aligned with the moon. I write because maybe it'll straighten out those thoughts, they'll align, and light up the darkest patches of my head.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

As I said in the first paragraph I'm actually really sorry that I can't seem to construe a normal post. Like just something down to earth and chatty, like other bloggers... but literally if I was just writing about the day to day, it would be an expletive filled passage about university, so I'd rather leave you with some abstract stuff that you (and I) can spend the rest of the week deciphering. Scones with a side of rambling! Just what you asked for. Two options: cut out the rambles and skip down to the recipe which is pretty damn good, or check back here in 20 years time when I have some incredible career and some sort of mental clarity. Ok. So scones.I was looking through my (tiny) recipe archives and I saw only one scone recipe. Only one! And I love them so much. So I knooooow they're nothing like the real deal since they're practically dairy free and they're wheat free but that actually makes them much less high maintenance. Yogurt instead of butter means no need to keep them cold, and the low gluten of spelt flour means they stay very tender and crumbly without worrying about over working the dough. Putting all the berries in the middle may seem odd but stops them sticking to the baking sheet and burning, and the color and sweet jaminess is such a great surprise. And obviously blackberries + ginger + honey is an amazing combination of a fiery kick, tartness and gentle sweetness. Especially if you grate your finger on the microplane while handling the ginger! So don't do that ok it hurts. And blood etc. I was probably too busy thinking. Anyway these are really very simple so I really encourage you to try them, they'll make someone and yo'self really happy. Thanks for putting up with me! You guys are the best.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

blackberry & ginger spelt scones with honey

Cozy spices and vibrant blackberries leave these honey-sweetened spelt scones full of flavor. Ginger adds a warm kick and the berry layer in the scones makes a jammy, sweet center. They're easily dairy free if you use a non-dairy yogurt, plus are much easier than the traditional kind.

makes 6 medium scones // easily dairy free

1 1/3 cup (150g) whole spelt flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons (45ml) plain/ natural yogurt ( I used goat yogurt, use what you like)
1 free range organic egg
Big chunk peeled ginger root (bigger the better, these scones can handle the spice)
3/4 cup (100g) fresh or frozen blackberries plus a few extra for garnish
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar, to sprinkle if you’d like


Preheat the oven to 180’C or 350’F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and then stack it on top of another cookie sheet. This is to stop the bottom of the scones browning too quickly.

In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour, spices, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, honey (use the oil spoon and it will slide right off), yogurt and egg. Beat with a whisk till pale and creamy.

Using a micro plane grater or a small box grater, grate your ginger chunk into the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Mind your fingers.

Add the wet mix to the dry mix and gently fold together to form a rough, shaggy dough.

Flour a flat work surface liberally and dump out the dough. Divide it into two equal chunks and use your hands to form two rough rectangles, each about 15cm long. Onto one piece, sprinkle the berries and push them down slightly, heaping the berries a bit in the middle so they are not too close to the edges – this stops the berries burning on the base of the scones and creates a jammy, smooth center.
Once the berries are in place, gently lift the second dough rectangle and cover the first piece, pinching the sides together. Cut the new double layer rectangle into 6 pieces: 3 squares, then each one cut diagonally. Push  any extra berries into the top layer for garnish and sprinkle over the turbinado, if using.

Transfer the scones to the lined baking sheet. Bake for 16-18 minutes, till the top of each scone is darker brown and a skewer inserted into the scone goes through a crisp upper layer, and comes out without crumbs. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve as they are, or with some honey or jam, they are not overly sweet.

They taste amazing out of the oven but will keep in airtight container in the fridge for about 3 days.

notes

If you are using frozen berries, don’t let them thaw too much or they will release a lot of moisture and the scones will lose their shape a bit. Same if you’re using fresh – pat them dry after washing them so that they don’t make the central jammy part too watery.


recently

Bangalore

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

There were white towels hanging on the clotheshorse; they looked even brighter against the pale cream walls. There was a new toothbrush by the sink, an unopened tube of toothpaste. Two lip balms by the bedside table. Moisturizer that was infused with coconut oil. My feet made a familiar slapping sound, skin on the heavy marble tiles of the staircase, I remembered to put all my weight on the arm holding the dark wood bannister and swing my legs down the steps. Grandma had bought the yogurt I’d always eat, they always remember, from the towels to the yogurt. I sat at their dining table, wicker chairs, grandpa turned on the TV. 6:30pm. It was dark out, the lights were glowing amber, moths fluttered and cast shadows on the walls of the patio. I listened. To the whirring fan overhead. To the chit-chat of Tamil television from the living room, the neighbors’ kids ringing bicycle bells. A car reversing; in India the parking sensors sing. A pressure cooker, a tomcat on the wall. Stillness, the warmth of day dwindling. Grandma moving steel dishes, looking for the sambar.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

7:00pm. I’d seen upstairs, in the room that used to be mine, the notebooks were still there. From that year I’d lived in this house. The year I would sit, at 7pm, studying geography or biology, math running through my head. An odd, out-of-body feeling, I wasn’t sure if perhaps tomorrow, I should be back in the car going to school. I needed to go sort my tie and find the wretched leather belt. Check facebook, see what I missed. But that was three years ago - facebook and school. The problem with this house, with this place, was that it was so deeply caked in memories, every thing was a time suck. The house was big, too big for my grandparents really, with high ceilings. Grandma had planted succulents in little terracotta pots; the Dutch clogs that were a gift from dad years ago, grandpa had cleaned the photos on the walls. You’re home, the grandparents said to me, feel at home. Straight away, I did.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

6:30am. AC running, the room was cold. Barefoot on the colder tiles, mosquito net over the windows, the balcony beyond. Bougainvillea cascaded over the tiles of the neighbor’s roof in a rich swathe of riotous pink ; pine trees and coconut palms fluttered slowly, like wings of a bird in to land. The sky was coral, fading somewhere to peach, elsewhere to blue, the moon a skinny crescent over the rooftop. I could hear the morning activity downstairs; grandma and grandpa are up so early they could run a racing stable. The steel vessels were filled with water, grandpa sat in his chair, reading the BBC on his I-pad. The air smelled fresh, a dog was barking, the place was coming to life. The cleaning ladies were out with their coconut-branch brooms, swirling the dust into hazy clouds, but the sky was clear, tropical blue, a color engrained deeply somewhere in my subconscious, in the same way as how I could interrupt my grandparents’ Tamil conversation with some comment without ever being able to speak a word.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

Bangalore moved quickly, scrambling to stay ahead; a socialite at a shiny dance. A new mall had come up, next to our old haunt, we went in anyway. Some kind of smug satisfaction in thinking ‘ok so there’s a rooftop bar here, but you’re still not as cool as Phoenix’. In Phoenix, the old haunt, Zara was still packed with the cool crowd, every foreigner was queuing at Starbucks, the Apple store sold tech like the Belgians sell hot waffles on a snowday. Our bookstore still had the dusty, musty shelves of old books, the old Macleans you can’t find anywhere else. But there was a Le Creuset store now, across from it. I was happy, but it was strange; Sephora and it’s sensory overload were taking over real estate, there was a Kiehl’s next to an ayurvedic cosmetics place. At the gated complex where my grandparents lived, the boys had switched from obsessive cricket to football. One wore a Chelsea shirt, another’s dad drives a Jaguar, more and more of the girls were wearing shorts, a bunch of people had adopted rescue dogs. I stood, at the end of our road one day, watching a kid in a Barcelona shirt kick a football. The perimeter fence of the compound was behind him, bougainvillea grew there too. In the distance against a powdery evening sky, the silhouettes of buildings, they never used to be there. The ball bounced, a truck hooted, a dog barked. I could’ve been anywhere. But it was India and my grandparents’ place for sure.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

I knew it was, because grandma would take us to her grocery store, and I could find pomegranates bigger than baseballs. I would sit on my grandparents’ swing, the jula on the patio, and I could hear the sing-song Hindi ads interrupting grandpa’s cricket matches, and grandma would be sorting the coriander leaves, or perhaps popping mustard seeds in a steel pan. The maids of the people behind us were washing clothes on a stone slab, someone was looking to buy an electric car. I went out in the heat, looking for the family of kittens Layla and I had adopted; one was stuck in a drain, we coaxed him out. There was a stray dog who had befriended the guards, I called her Jessie. The old tomcat Bob was embroiled in bitter feuds with a younger, fitter male; he ended up with a bloody leg, sleeping on top of the Jeep belonging to a woman who fed all the strays.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

Three weeks went by, I felt at home, people stared at me at the mall like they’d never seen a girl in shorts before. I took an auto rickshaw; we went to a doctor’s office deep in a leafy Bangalore suburb; we avoided people we knew, years and lives ago. It was a foggy morning on our last day, my grandparents were wearing matching red fleeces, a stray dog sniffed at the hand luggage. We had tight connections and they wouldn’t let my grandparents into the terminal; procedures madam. We waved to them, I waved goodbye to the concrete jungle that the garden city was becoming, block after block of flats, grid after grid of housing complex. Cars, trucks, bikes on the road. I thought of my family of kittens, Jessie, my grandparents, Bob and his fights, change. ‘Wait for me’, I whispered, as the plane took off. Practical info My sister has also done a stunning Bangalore/Mysore/trains guide on her site, where she has kindly used my photos and added a lot of useful info, so I'd recommend reading that post if you'd like some more details.

Sleep: well we stay in a rather nice Mediterranean style townhouse in a gated community with a tennis court, pool, palm trees... no I totally do not mean to make you jealous. There are lots of reliable chains like Taj and Oberoi in the city centre and knowing Indian hospitality I'm sure they're amazing, and also less out of the way.

Do, see and shop

The area around MG Road is what I am going to call the center; it's where it all happens. There are great places to find nice sandalwood carvings and un-tacky souvenirs, jewelry stores for real gold stuff and great atmosphere in general.

You should visit the Vidhana Soudha which is really impressive as the seat of the Karnataka state government. From here you can get to Cubbon Park which is also great for culture - picnicking families Indian style, frolicking young couples, lots of plants. It's also car free.

Not in the same area (nearer MG road again) is Lalbagh Gardens for similar sights but there's also a lake which is nice for a walk around.

Phoenix Market City is my mall!! I know it's a mall but you have to visit, ok? Also they have one of the best stores for really worthwhile souvenirs that are both nice looking (I would buy all the plates and dishes and dark wood chairs) but are also made working with local artisans and craftsmen; keeping all those arts alive. That's Fabindia but there are quite a few other home furnishing stores that are worth a visit. Also Om Book shop for cheap books and older books (Dick Francis, alistair Maclean) and the sales at many known brands - Zara, Steve Madden, Aldo - are way better than in Europe. And also Apple products... and you might as well to go Big Bazaar because it's fun. There's groceries toys clothes houseware the works.

The other mall that's worth a trip is UB City which is in town near MG road etc and it's where the cool kids go... I was invited to a party there when I was a cool kid (yes those days existed) and it's got all the designers - both international and local talent. It's all fountains, glitzy tiles and great people watching. Also all the above mentioned cool kids used to go get smashed and have an ahem fun time in a neighbourhood called Koramangala (in the south-east). I've never been because I'm not that cool (if at all) but it was the place with all the nightlife, bars, etc, so if you're into that sort of thing, it all used to happen there :)

If you don't have time to take a train trip to see some of the everyday India I would recommend taking a drive - my old drive to school believe it or not was a really nice insight into village life- cows, pastures etc. Try a drive from the Whitefield road area to Indus international school :)

Eat Go to my grandparents' house and ask my grandma to make you chappatis with my vegetables - I wouldn't know the name but they're a colourful combination of carrots, beans, peas and some unpronounceable gourds in a broth-y spicy mix. Also ask for sambar - lentils, carrots, raddish, pumpkin, some other guord, a secret spice blend. Ok I joke but at Phoenix mall the places for Indian food that are always always packed are Copper Chimney which is pretty fancy and also Raj Dhani where you can get all these different chutneys, lentils, rice, veggies... in steel dishes, on banana leaves. Also try the Indian version of Starbucks - Coffee Day, which all my friends used to swear by.

Just a heads up that the traffic in Bangalore is bad. Like, really bad. A 5 minute drive can take 35 if a tractor parks somewhere inconvenient. So always leave with plenty of time. Taxis themselves are quick and cheap, they are also really into Uber these days. And there's also the good old auto rickshaw. Oh and the Metro works in the centre-sort of area around MG Road, it's very clean, safe and efficient.

Hope some of you found this helpful/interesting. The snow is starting in Norfolk... big hugs xx

India by rail: Bangalore to Mysore

nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail

The man's face was like a book, but unreadable. It was so weathered, deeply darkened by time spent under scorching sun. The dark eyes seemed to hold stories, epics of unforgiving landscapes, a life where nothing came easy, where every day was survival and little more than that. My eyes met his for the briefest second, his train was just leaving. It was an all-blue second class sleeper. No AC, no windows. Battered benches. People spilling out into the walkways between the carriages. Their faces all spelled something similar. Restless lives. Funny that ours should overlap for that short second.

nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail

There was a family on the platform across from where I stood. My backpack was the ubiquitous Kanken. They had none. A few jute bags, the young girls' heads were shaved, they'd been to some temple. They had on their best saris, powder pink, shocking blue, the men wore all white. They slept under the benches of the platform, I smiled at one of the girls, she looked away.

It was some sort of traveller's epiphany, if the concept exists. I realized why people did it, why half of the western world seemed to want to take one of those trains across India. To get lost, to wander, to meet the real people, to hear their stories. I'd never been interested. Maybe it was a kind of complacency that came from being lucky enough to have lived there, traveled around lots since before I can even remember. But I'd scoff at the mere idea of an Indian rail trip. And there I was, waiting for the Shatabdi express from Bangalore to Mysore. It wasn't one of those really rough trains; the people were all vaguely middle class, a few foreigners in the mix, but it was a taste of trains in a country that relies pretty heavily on them. Pigeons fluttered around the rooftop of the station, on the peeling panes of the railway house. My granpdpa was next to me, looking up at them. Years and years ago he'd stayed there, with grandma when my mum was still tiny, when the railways were a booming and well financed asset, before the pigeons claimed the rooftops for their own. His eyes are dark blue, always thoughtful, I could see him drift, his eyes, too, they were filled with something.

nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail
nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail
nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail

Bangalore didn't fade away peacefully. The urban crush stayed, shanty towns seemed to rattle as our train chugged past, testament to a city that was growing quicker than its limbs could carry it . Nothing unexpected there, a stark reminder where you were. But it did fade to a luscious patchwork of green. Village life, pure and simple. Oxen ploughing the fields, buffalo here and there. At the railway crossing a lone rickshaw would stand, people were working the fields with scythes, growing maize and tall grasses. The sky was bright blue, the soil was deep red, the train was moving slowly and the sun was streaming in. My sister and I wanted to jump off the train, take off into that green wilderness, sit in the coconut groves in the shade. I could imagine the gentle rasp of the big leaves, the singing of tropical birds. So far from the chaos and dust of the city, from what you expect of this country.

nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail
nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail
nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail

Mysore revealed itself, over the next afternoon and morning, to take life at a much more doable place than Bangalore. We'd rented a little apartment near the Chamundi hills, it teetered on a cross roads. From the balcony we watched a cow try to steal coconuts from a vendor, a fruit seller under a mango tree. Flame of the forest lined the streets, school girls in starchy blue uniforms tied their hair in braids knotted with jasmine. At Mysore Palace throngs of people stripped off their shoes to wander the halls with all their glory from the days of the Raja, I promptly turned my back on the monument and took photos of the people instead, a riot of color, confetti at an Italian wedding. Mysore felt less - less transient than Bangalore, the streets near the apartment seemed like the residents had lived there forever, there was a feeling of community that Bangalore couldn't quite muster.

On our last morning the owner of the apartment offered to take my sister and I on a hike in the Chamundi hills, 1200 steps to a sacred Hindu temple complex. We left before light, his radio blared out the morning prayers, the Sanskrit words shrouded in ancient mystery. We were by no means the earliest on the steps, locals were flocking down as we started to climb. There were others taking the steps purely for the sport; local boys did the whole trip at a run with Bollywood pop screaming out of their mobiles, the devout stopped at each step to make an offering with red and orange powders. Bare foot. Halfway to the top stood a man, I'll call him a sadhu though I don't know exactly what he was, he sung a haunting tune, maybe also in Sanskrit. Mournful words, robes all white, a graying beard, looking at the world through guarded eyes.

nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail
nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail

The temple complex was unremarkable, it was too foggy to really get a good view of the city. Some of the trees bore light pink blossom, macaques stole bananas offered to the gods. There were more tourists climbing as we went down, the sadhu had barely progressed, but I had a feeling he wasn't in it for the sake of the climb or the dawn-lit photographs.

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We left Mysore that afternoon, back on the rails, Mysore station was quieter than Bangalore, we were on the first platform and I couldn't really see the second class trains. But I knew that the people would be there, people who'd have seen the stars pass through those grilled windows, people who'd have come, barefoot, to climb up to the temple for the blessing. When I was unpacking, I found my all white Stan Smiths, the shoes I'd stupidly worn on the hike to the temples. The toes had little marks of red and yellow, from where offerings had been made on the steps. I'd like to think that we'd been blessed too, in our own way.

Practical things I lived in Bangalore a while ago and I consider myself a bit of an India veteran buuut this was my first time really travelling as a tourist. funny. anyway, if you are interested in a very short, doable rail trip: - the indian rail system is quite clearly laid out for the AC, civilized type of train we're talking about :) the Shatabdi Express goes non-stop Bangalore to Mysore in about 2 hours. You can book tickets online, the official website is the IRCTC site but it's not at all user friendly, I thought the site Book My Trip was much easier, a lot like expedia or anything. If you shop around I'm sure there are others and trains are really affordable anyway. -in Mysore we stayed in a serviced apartment because we prefer to cook and do our own thing. The Red Lotus Suites were really close to the Chamundi hills and the palace but a fair bit away from the real city centre which we didn't have time to visit. The owner was also very helpful with organising taxis etc. They're simple but clean and spacious. Uber is huge here for taxis. - we visited Mysore palace which wasn't architecturally incredible to be honest but culturally was fascinating so it's worth a visit, there is also a rose garden which is nice. After the Taj mahal, it is also the second most visited tourist spot in India! - I think we probably enjoyed the steps to the temple in the Chamundi Hills most, it's a must do thing in Mysore apparently. Just be aware that some people do it for the religious aspect so just wear the usual respectful gear and you'll be fine. It gets very hot very quickly so plan on arriving by 6am, the pink skies at dawn are also gorgeous. - we also visited this Ashram. I'm no hippy dippie chakra talking person but it wasn't really like that. There is a rehabilation centre for birds with a pretty aviary, a couple of temples and a bonsai garden which we all loved. It's quiet and not too crowded and very green.

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I will include more details about Bangalore in my next post, as I said I lived here for a bit so I know a couple of things about the place ;) Anyways I hope you found this post interesting, if you are planning something similar you can always get in touch and I'll see if I can help. Sorry for the dearth of info about the trains themselves.

And I'd like to thank all of you lovely people who read nutmeg and pear, even once and a while. If there is anything you'd especially like to see on nutmeg and pear, please let me know, I'd love to hear what you think. Any certain recipes you'd like? Anything you're seeing too much? From what I hear 2016 was a bit rough for some people, so I really hope that 2017 is amazing for you all. Wishing you the brightest New Year's and hoping it brings you and your people lots of goodness. xo