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What more can you ask from a holiday?

Back into the grind after my dream solo holiday. The only holiday with no photo ops 😛. A couple of flights and I was at this place where I didn’t have to lift a finger, was looked after every minute of the day, fed meals that seemed gourmet to me, as for a change I did not have to cook them for myself, got time to reflect, lied on a bed all day and night, did some senseless yet stress busting art and craft things, met briefly with some friends and family, but for most of the time was with just myself.

The other side of the coin is that I chose my own battle, sure I had some weak moments, tried to be calm and fought it out for myself. It was truly an experience of regaining my independent self after a long long time to manage myself, my way. Icing on the cake was getting some required attention by the best professionals to some long standing major wellness issues.

All in all, what else can you ask from a dream holiday?

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Why use spices?

Spices offer exotic flavours to food, and flavourful food is divine. But spices are not just used to appease our taste.In fact, some spices can be a real boost to the body, and help rid it of toxins. Here are some benefits of spices used in most of my recipes:

1. Turmeric (haldi): Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Arthritis, joint pains, and Alzheimer are some of the known medical problems that turmeric helps in curing. It has been used in India for ages for cosmetic benefits like bringing radiance to skin, curing acne and skin related medical problems.
2. Cloves (laung): Anti-viral, Anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, source of many minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids
3. Cumin seeds (jeera): helps remove toxins, helps with digestion, lactation, common cold, diabetes, insomnia, prevents memory loss.
4. Bay leaf (tez patta): boosts immunity, improves nervous system function, protects oral health, regulates body metabolism and prevents blood-related conditions like anemia.
5. Star Anise (chakraphool): antioxidant, rich in vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, copper, and manganese. Has stomachic, anti-spasmodic, antiseptic, digestive, expectorant, and stimulant properties. Helps to increase the circulation and oxygenation of body parts.
6. Caraway Seeds (ajwain): improve digestion, reduce constipation, lowers blood cholesterol, reduces bloating, belching, gas and gas pains and improves blood pressure. A source for thiamine, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and niacin, iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc and magnesium. This is most commonly used as a safe treatment in India for stomach related medical problems for infants and kids.
7. Cardamom (elaichi): Aids in digestion and increased frequency and volume of urination, reduces spasms, lowers blood pressure and increases metabolism. A source of vitamins and minerals like riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C, iron, manganese and potassium.
8. Cinnamon (dal chini): Reduces inflammation, eliminates pain and infections, manages diabetes, reduces bloating, belching, gas and gas pains , increases cognitive function, good for bones, prevents cancer and good for the health of eyes and skin.

These are all mild flavoured spices used commonly in an Indian household. All of these are easily available in asian grocery stores all over the world. It is also good to know that they are quite inexpensive.

Spices should be used according to personal preferences/palates and in moderate quantities.

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Back to action again..

Coming back to active social life is feeling a bit weird this time. I seem to have been enjoying my sojourn of just being with myself. This was the 3rd year that I temporarily abstained from social media and I have to admit that it is getting easier and more relaxing to stay away from it with each passing year. I genuinely feel so good to know that I did not miss much and not many people missed me. I guess while being away, there was a warm feeling inside for all that are close in heart. These sojourns are not at all like “out of sight out of mind”. 

If I were to assess what platform I missed the most between my blog www.fourstepsorless.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. I would say I was too lazy and laid back to write anything on my blog recently, so I really didn’t miss it. Though I plan to get to it very soon.

I feel, of late Facebook has become so commercially driven that it does not seem to absorb my attention anymore, also less and less number of friends and family are using it. On the other hand, following a few interesting people and news channels on Twitter and Instagram without having to react seems more enthralling to me. WhatsApp, however, is a completely different ball game. It is the most conveniently used platform to talk for free but also has its deep prickles when it comes to futile good mornings and numerous forwarded messages on groups with people who you otherwise would enjoy talking to but for this barrage of unsolicited messages. Having said this I have to say I missed Whats app the most. 

Bottom line is I am back, Inshaallah we will be in touch soon.😊

सक्रिय सामाजिक जीवन में वापस आना इस बार थोड़ा अजीब लग रहा है। सच कहूँ तो मैं सिर्फ अपने साथ रहने की अपनी छुट्टी का मैं पिछले कुछ हफ़्तों में बहुत आनंद ले रही थी। यह तीसरा साल है जब मैंने सोशल मीडिया से कुछ दिनों का परहेज किया और मुझे यह स्वीकार करना होगा कि हर गुजरते साल के साथ इससे दूर रहना और आसान और अधिक आरामदायक होता जा रहा है। मुझे वास्तव में यह जानकर बहुत अच्छा लग रहा है कि मैंने बहुत कुछ miss नहीं किया और बहुत से लोगों ने भी मुझे miss नहीं किया। मुझे लगता है कि सम्पर्क में ना रहने के बावजूद भी जो दिल के करीब हैं उन सब के लिए तो दिल में एक गर्मजोशी का अहसास हमेशा रहता ही है। ये कुछ दिनों का break “out of sight, out of mind” होने जैसा बिलकुल नहीं था ।

अगर मैं यह आँकलन करूं कि मेरे blog ( www.fourstepsorless.com), Facebook , Twitter, Instagram और WhatsApp के बीच मैं किस प्लेटफॉर्म को मैंने सबसे ज़्यादा miss किया तो मैं कहूँगी कि इन आलस्य भरे दिनों में blog तक तो मैं पहुँची ही नहीं। कुछ नया नहीं लिखा।

Facebook हाल ही में बहुत commercial हो गया है और कुछ ही मित्र और परिवारगण अब इस पर active हैं। Twitter और Instagram पर कुछ दिलचस्प लोगों और समाचार चैनलों का अनुसरण करना मुझे अधिक आकर्षक लगता है। इन platforms पर प्रतिक्रिया देने की अपेक्षा भी नहीं होती तो सिर्फ़ follow करना और informed रहना आसान रहता है। दूसरी ओर WhatsApp एक पूरी तरह से अलग ball game है। यह मुफ्त में बात करने के लिए सबसे सुविधाजनक रूप से उपयोग किया जाने वाला मंच है, लेकिन जब व्यर्थ Good Mornings, और अनेकों अवांछित messages रोज़ आते हैं तो WhatsApp से कोफ़्त सी होती है। उसी group के हर सदस्य से अन्यथा आप बात करना बहुत पसंद करते हैं, लेकिन यह बेकार के messages एक चुभन जैसे है। WhatsApp जैसी मीठी छुरी के लिए यह सब कहने के बाद भी मेरा कहना है कि मैंने सबसे ज्यादा WhatsApp को ही miss किया। 

जो भी है अब मैं वापस आ गयी हूँ, इंशाह अल्लाह, जल्द ही आपसे सम्पर्क होगा! 😊

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Quick Garam Masala at home-All-Spice -एक सलाह सबके लिये


Make your own garam masala (all spice). You can chose to include or exclude any spices that you may not like. 100 grams of cumin seeds (jeera), 50 grams of black pepper corn(kali mirch), 25 grams of cloves (laung), 5 brown cardamom (badi elaichi) and 5 bay leaves (tez patta). Roast them in microwave moving it after every minute. Roast for 3-4 minutes or until brown. Grind it coarsely and save in an airtight jar.

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Social Media-I am back

I am back! So how was my second detox trip? Better than the first one for sure. I didn’t feel the urge to reach out for my phone even on day 1 of the detox. It was therapeutic to know that I don’t have to check on who says what. It is inexplicable that though the choice to be present on these platforms is mine, whenever I decide to stay away, it feels like some strings have been let loose. At the end of the day, it is a pleasurable and liberating feeling.

Throughout these 6 weeks I did not feel like I was missing anything big. To be more precise about my latest detox experience, I realized it is Facebook and WhatsApp that consumes me most. While I get to see only a few posts from friends on Facebook, I am subconsciously going through fake news, videos that Facebook wants you to see and I end up investing more time than I thought it would take to quickly browse through. The same goes for WhatsApp. While it is nice to keep in touch with friends and family, it can be irritating to wake up to a barrage of irrelevant forwarded messages, birthday & anniversary wishes and thank yous and sorries. Having said that, I can’t complain about the free voice calls that WhatsApp offers.

I have however found that Skype voice calls conveniently replace WhatsApp calls sans spam messages and fake news.As for other social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, I haven’t found them to be too enticing anyway. I don’t have the urge to engage intensely in communicating through them except that I enjoy the short Reels or IGTV news snippets that news channels and comedians like Trevor Noah put up. But then, podcasts replace these in my detox time.

Small things have kept me quite busy these past 6 weeks. Some “something out of nothing projects”, some writing, designing a photo book, gratifying feel of spending time at SPARSH, meeting friends for coffee, simply napping without having to check the phone or receiving any calls, catching up on Netflix documentaries and much more.

My 4 weeks of detox became 6 as I really didn’t feel like getting back on. Life has been quiet and peaceful in the last 6 weeks. Moreover, after watching Social Dilemma on Netflix, a thought crossed my mind of giving up all social media for good, but then I also have to admit that some things have become such an important part of our lives now that privacy concerns are superseded by the ease of communication that we have gotten so used to.

Who knows? Maybe if I do this detox thing one more time, I may not want to come back to social media at all!

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On the road again…

With no plans to travel anymore this year, more so during our favourite quite holiday time each year in Nairobi, or to go on a Safari anytime soon, we still embarked on a trip to Samburu national park. This was our maiden trip to this park that has completely different landscapes than the ones we have been to. There is a lot of wildlife Northeast of Mt Kenya and the most interesting are the special five herbivores found north of the equator: Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, Beisa Oryx and the Somali ostrich with blue neck and blue legs. One of these, the Grevy’s zebra is an endangered species. It has fine stripes and a white underbelly. I however loved the Gerenuk. It is a slender and elegant antelope with a small head, bulging eyes, prominent ears and an incredibly long neck. The name comes from the Somali word garanuug, meaning giraffe-like neck. It was amazing to drive through beautiful country side, bright yellow mustard fields, neatly lined up green houses and lush green pineapple farms. At the park we were delighted to see herds of gazelles, flocks of Ostriches, a number of parades of Elephants, towers of magnificent giraffes, troupes of monkeys and baboons, zeals of zebras and many more other animals and birds. Parul visiting us from Tunisia has been so nice and certainly motivated us to make yet another trip in COVID times. Have to say that we felt quite safe with all COVID protocols being followed all the way. Sharing here some pictures and short videos that might inspire you to make a trip soon to Kenya and experience some of these unparalleled marvels of nature.

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We are back, another COVID travel

So, here we are back home once again and done with the self isolation of 14 days. Back in Kenya 🇰🇪 , our home for now. This phrase “we are back home” sometimes perplexes me as I use it for so many places that I consider home. Our own homes in Kenya 🇰🇪 and Canada🇨🇦, our kids’ homes often in two different places, some friends’ and family homes that are no less than home to us. I must say that we are fortunate to call so many places home, what more can one ask for in life 😜?We had some of the best times of our lives during this stay of almost four months in Canada🍁. Traveling back to Kenya 🇰🇪 was both enthusing and stumping at the same time. We didn’t feel like parting from kids, leaving our safe haven and sweet home in Kingston. Nevertheless, we wanted to get back to Kenya so that Manoj could have a normal workday and work life.The travel itself was quite hassle free. I guess it was because we were prepared with all that was required in these difficult and confusing travel times. A COVID negative certificate, a bar scan code for Kenyan health authorities, a mask on at all times and keeping distance from people at the airports – it all worked out. In fact, it was quite reassuring to notice:1. That the airport authorities at all the 3 airports we passed through (Toronto, Addis and Nairobi) were quite diligent in following public health guidelines to keep everyone safe.2. Fellow passengers were largely also following the new norms.3. All passengers were supposedly COVID-negative as almost all airlines and airports now require a negative certificate to board a plane.4. There was no cutback on any services on the flights or at the lounge in Addis (though the Toronto lounge was closed), even the entertainment system was now working unlike on our flights into Canada.Though it was relatively warm the day we departed from Toronto, there was a heavy snowstorm the next day, so it is nice to be back to a green and warm Kenya exuding with the warmth of good friends Arun and Brij. Their kindness was felt when we entered a clean house with food prepared and groceries in the refrigerator waiting for us. Settling back into our routines has been a cake walk in the last two days, and I was even more excited to see that my terrariums 🪴🌱survived without any attention given to them in about 4 months. I can contentedly say that the journey back was equally good.

लो चले हम… वापिस अपने घर को! ये अपने केन्या वाले घर की बात हो रही है। अब क्या बताएँ कि कितने घरों को अपना घर कहने का सौभाग्य प्राप्त है हमें। किंग्स्टन 🇨🇦और केन्या 🇰🇪 में तो घर हैं ही, अब बच्चों के अलग अलग शहरों में घर, ऐसे दोस्त और परिवार के सदस्यों के घर जिन्हें हम अपना घर ही मानते हैं, अब हमारे घरों की फ़ेहरिस्त में आते हैं 😜।सोच के देखें तो ज़िंदगी से इससे ज़्यादा और क्या माँगे?यह पिछले चार महीने कनाडा 🇨🇦 में बहुत अच्छे से बीते। केन्या वापिस आने का सफ़र भी बिना किसी परेशानी के रहा पर दिल और दिमाग़ बहुत असमंजस में रहे। बच्चों का साथ छोड़ना और किंग्स्टन 🍁जैसी सुरक्षित और सुहावनी जगह से कहीं जाने का मन नहीं था पर दुनिया के अलग अलग देशों के समय का फ़र्क़ मनोज के काम को बहुत मुश्किल बना रहे थे। केन्या 🇰🇪 वापिस आना ही एकमात्र समाधान था।करोना के मुश्किल समय होने के बावजूद सफ़र के दौरान कोई कठिनाई नहीं हुई। वो इसलिए कि हम इस सफ़र के लिए पूरी तरह तैयार थे, कोविड टेस्ट के negative होने का प्रमाणपत्र लेकर, केन्या के स्वास्थ्य विभाग के लिए एक bar code ले कर, सारा समय mask पहन के रखने से और दूसरे लोगों से दूरी बनाए रख कर। असल में यह काफ़ी सांत्वना देने वाली बात थी कि 1. तीनों airport , Toronto, Addis Ababa और Kenya की Airport authorities बहुत तल्लीनता और सहज तरीक़े से सब लोगों की स्वास्थ्य सुरक्षा का ध्यान रख रही थीं।2. सहयात्री भी बड़ी सहजता से सब नियमों का पालन कर रहे थे।3. हम यह मान कर भी चल रहे थे की सब सहयात्री कोविड negative हैं क्योंकि विमान में चढ़ने से पहले airport और airline वाले यह प्रमाणपत्र माँग रहे हैं।4. विमान या lounge की सेवाओं में कोई कमी नहीं थी (Toronto की लाउंज अलबत्ता बंद थी), यहाँ तक कि विमान में मनोरंजन कार्यक्रम भी TV पर दिखाए जा रहे थे जो तब बंद थे जब हम कनाडा 🇨🇦 अगस्त में गए थे।जिस दिन हम Toronto से रवाना हुए उसके अगले दिन वहाँ बहुत बर्फ़ पड़ी, तो केन्या 🇰🇪 आना अच्छा रहा। यहाँ के सुहावने मौसम और अरुण और ब्रिज जैसे दोस्तों की गर्मजोशी ने हमारा स्वागत किया। साफ़ घर , फ़्रिज में बना रखा स्वादिष्ट खाना और किराने का सामान अगर आपका इंतेज़ार कर रहा हो तो क्या बात है। और ज़्यादा आश्चर्य और ख़ुशी तो मुझे अपने terrarium 🪴🌱(काँच के गमले) देखकर हुई जिनमें कुछ पौधे अब भी हरे थे (जबकि चार महीने तक उनकी कोई देखभाल नहीं हुई थी)।

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COVID Travels

So, we are home in Kingston after a long wait and a considerable amount of anxiety about travel plans over the last few months. Although we are very comfortable in our second home in Kenya, getting back to our first home in Canada and seeing the kids has constantly been on our minds during these uncertain COVID times. It was a long wait for international travel to open back up in Kenya and the very day it opened, we were on a plane. We for sure had a distinctive travel experience this time compared to all the travels we have done throughout our lives.
What an experience it was see so few people at all the 3 airports we travelled through. No long queues at check-in or immigration or security. Though our flight was in the evening that day, we were the first ones to use the lounge so were greeted by lounge staff with a lot of excitement and attention. They even took pictures with us as we were their first clients in the last five months. We have been traveling on Ethiopian Airways for some years now as we love their excellent staff, good connections, great food, lounges and of course their fares. Things that were clearly unusual and unexpected for us this time were: having no entertainment system in the plane throughout Ethiopian airlines, no magazines/newspapers on board and no add-on authentic Ethiopian meals. We really did not mind all this because we realize that all airlines have been running into billions of dollars of losses, and they may not be left with many choices other than to shave off unnecessary costs. As for procedures and protocols at the airports, masks were required everywhere, but no COVID test reports were required by airport authorities or by the airline. The plane was only at 1/3 of its capacity, maybe because it was the first day of the travel or maybe people are just not traveling again yet. While everyone was wearing masks, the airport in Addis did not have strict social distancing protocols when getting people on buses offloading the plane. At the Toronto airport only 50 people were allowed to get off from the plane at one time and walk through the hanger and then after 5-10 minutes the next lot of people were offloaded. A buffet was laid out at both the lounges in Nairobi as well at Addis, but Nairobi airport staff served it at the tables to meet COVID related health requirements whereas Addis lounge did not follow this protocol. Seating was however set up to follow social distancing requirements at both the lounges. Airline staff wore masks all the time and gloves only when serving food, but they did not have face shields or other more intense PPE for their own safety.

While all of us are feeling completely healthy and asymptomatic, we are now in self isolation with both the kids for 14 days in our home in Kingston and have been thoroughly enjoying their company and the quality time we have with them. Having said that, the mere thought that we might have contracted the virus while traveling and may pass it on to somebody here is the heaviest burden on my mind at this time while we are in isolation. Looking forward to catching up with friends after the isolation period.

This post would be incomplete if I did not thank Sanjiv Sam Kapoor and Aparna Kapoor who graciously made sure that we were stocked up with everything we might need during this isolation period.

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Almond flour gluten-free Vegan cup cakes

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This is a quick recipe that requires very few ingredients . It is loaded with vitamin E and is perfect for gluten free and vegan diets. This recipe also does not require any oil or butter as almonds have enough natural grease to make the cupcakes soft and moist. Honey replaces sugar to make it even more healthier.

COOKING TIME- 20-25 minutes

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups blanched almond flour
3 eggs
1 ripe banana
3 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup berries (whatever you like)

STEPS
1. Mix whisked eggs, honey and mashed banana together with vanilla essence.
2. Add baking powder and salt to the almond flour..
3. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together along with berries.
4. Spoon the mixture into cupcake moulds and bake for 15-20 minutes on 180C in a preheated oven on the middle rack or until brown.

HANDY TIPS:
1. You can choose to put any fresh berries to your liking. I use strawberries, blueberries or raspberries alternatively or together sometimes. You can also use thawed frozen berries by removing their excess water.
2. If you do not find almond flour in the market, grind almonds at home, this will give you unblanched flour which maybe a little darker in colour.

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Will the compassion last beyond COVID-19?

My thoughts today-
COVID-19 has taken over the world stage. As infections rise to an alarming number of 1.6 million globally, and with the whole or most of the world locked down, I am feeling compelled to share some thoughts that have been troubling me for the last few days. While it is encouraging to see that the whole world is coming together to combat this challenging fight against this extraordinary virus that does not differentiate between rich and poor, urban or rural, powerful or weak, Prime Ministers or clerks, I wonder why is this difficult time so different than other difficult times and tragedies that the world has seen and is going through as we speak? Why is everybody so in sync and collected this time?

Isn’t it just because it has now been proven that this pandemic affects the affluent, the powerful, the middle class, anybody and everybody alike so the world is taking note of it because we want to save our own precious lives?

What I find strange is how we have rarely given a thought or paid attention to the 1.5 million people from low-income and marginalized populations that die every year due to Tuberculosis. Or that about 3 million people do not even get the treatment for this ailment at all. This is because unlike COVID-19, TB is predominantly a poor man’s disease that breeds due to unhygienic and impoverished living conditions. It is contagious, but it does not affect affluent people as they are not exposed to those living conditions. I wonder if any of today’s self-sufficient souls, with well-stocked kitchens, secure homes, working-from-home status and maintaining social distancing have ever felt or done anything for these 1.5 million dying each year? They are just numbers, merely statistics for all. On the contrary, as COVID-19 kills rich and poor alike, the whole world seems be together in its fight.

I wish that this wave of compassion and empathy that has now suddenly but pleasantly emerged in the world stays for times to come, and that some attention is given to the eternally existing humanitarian catastrophes that continue to affect the world population. As an example, there are more than 71 million refugees around the world, some in camps, some in very dangerous conditions. There are people dying in hundreds of thousands due to HIV and malaria and much more. In India itself, there are now 5 million internally displaced migrants in isolation camps getting barely enough to eat, no money at hand, nowhere to go. All this due to incredibly harsh measures against the poor to enforce the lockdown. Wish it was handled better with some empathy.

People that are in their comfort zones are able to follow the precautions to prevent spread of this virus, but they often very comfortably look at the underprivileged with disdain for furthering its spread. Unfortunately, it’s not that people stuck in deprived conditions aren’t serious or sane, or do not love their lives or of their loved ones, or are not sensible human beings, or want to expose others to the deadly virus. They are simply unfortunate. We cannot blame them for prioritizing their day-to-day survival over the spread of the pandemic. We have to be sensitive to their conditions, their psychology and their limitations when it comes to blaming them. We need to push for a collective action to create conditions that enable them to take the measures necessary to contain the spread.