Happy New Year – Ugadi


March 31st:  Today is the first day of the new calendar year for most of the South Indian population. This festival is called “Ugadi” (sounds like oo gaa dee) in the culture and place where I am brought up. On this special day the Telugu speaking people make this special dish as a blessing for a year filled with a balanced blend of all the subtle aspects of life in the different tastes that each emotion brings out. This special dish is made of banana, tamarind pulp, raw sugar, pepper, salt and the most important ingredient which is the flower of the Neem tree. This is taken as a blessing to fill the day and the year with Sweetness of a Banana and raw sugar is for the Happiness, the hot spice of the pepper is for the anger and the aggressiveness, tamarind pulp for the sour times of disgust, the us ripened green mango for surprises in store and the bitter taste of neem flower for the times of sadness and also its medicinal value.

This is one of the many festivals that people from different parts of India celebrate in their respective regional and cultural significance and cuisines.

From my culture to yours, please accept my greetings and best wishes for a very happy new year. May every moment and every day bring you health, wealth and happiness and fill your life with a perfect blend of ingredients that can only enrich your taste buds towards life.

Loads of love


Here’s how the special dish is made:

Ingredients –
a small piece of raw mango peeled and grated or finely chopped
a tea spoon or as per your taste of raw sugar ( Bellam in Telugu language or gud in Hindi) or brown sugar
Small piece of ripe banana cut into small pieces
A small jalapeño finely chopped or can be substituted with black pepper powder to your taste level
A tspn of ripe tamarind pulp
A quarter teaspoon of salt or adjusted according to you taste
A tbspn of neem flowers (you can substitute with something that is bitter to taste)

Mix all the ingredients with some water to make into a syrup, thickness similar to that of honey. Have a tablespoon of this dish. Hope you enjoy.

Sobha’s comments:  This dish brings lot of memories from childhood. It is that time of the year that has freshness from the blooming trees and flowers and warm temperatures and that bit of excitement that the academic year is soon going to end with end of grades exams coming up in few days and then summer vacation will begin. The markets will be flowing with fresh harvest of fresh a variety of tropical fruits that will be available at this time, the variety of bananas, the guavas, green mangos, young jack fruits, pineapples, sugar cane etc, yummmm! The evenings is normally filled with the fragrance from jasmine flowers. And a perfect delight to human eyes are the presence of green parrots which are mostly visible in the sky’s around this time flying or sitting on a tree branch picking on guavas. In my native town, food is served on banana leaf. Food is considered as a blessing and so children are taught to treat it with respect and encouraged not to waste anything that is served. The innocence, the vibrant colors all around, the freshness, the values…a cultures contribution to a happy living.




Exotic Rice Pudding

Chris’ comments:  Cee discovered cinnamon chips (yes, like chocolate chips, to be used in baking) and is enjoying them.  She didn’t know what to do with them, though, so I suggested an exotic rice pudding.  We substituted dried goji berries for raisins, but you could use dried cranberries, too.  The cinnamon chips melted nicely, spreading their goodness all through the pudding.

Exotic Rice Pudding

  • Servings: varies
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

032714 rice pudding


Basic Recipe for one serving  (multiply per the number of servings you desire):

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • dash salt
  • sugar as needed (We added sugar through the cinnamon chips.)
  • 1/2 c cooked rice

Optional Flavors (in whatever amount makes sense to your palate):

  • 1 1/2  tsp cinnamon chips
  • 1 T dried goji berries or cranberries

Beat the egg, add milk, vanilla and salt.   Mix thoroughly.  Add the cooked rice.  Stir in any other flavors or ingredients you would like.  Lightly grease a baking dish.  Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until the custard has set.  (Insert a table knife into the center.  If it comes out dry and clean, the custard is done.)

Experiment with flavors:

  • Any dried fruit could be fun.  Experiment.
  • We added cinnamon chips for a little zest.  Remember that the chips contain sugar, so if you omit them you might want to add a little sugar.
  • Spread pumpkin seeds on top before baking.  They’ll toast nicely and give your pudding more texture.
  • Chopped nuts can be included inside the pudding.
  • You can make it savory with sun dried tomatoes and a little thyme.
  • Go Mexican with chopped jalapeno peppers.  The cinnamon might go well in there, too.
  • Or make plain pudding and then top it with fresh fruit like chopped mango or peaches.
  • What else can you think of to add?




Chris Donner also writes the popular blog for introverts, 61 Musings.  Cee Neuner’s photography blog hosts five weekly challenges for bloggers.  Sobha Vadlamani is just beginning her blogging adventure.

Inside Out Spinach Quiche

031814 lunch

Chris’ comments:  This is an easy breakfast or lunch meal that you can throw together very quickly.  It’s an inside out quiche of sorts.  You substitute grain for the crust and mix it in instead of lining the baking dish with it.  Because of that, it’s naturally gluten free.

It’s a great dish for using up leftover grains, too.  The recipe calls for uncooked millet, which is a grain I enjoy working with, but you can also substitute quinoa or rice.  You can start with cooked grain, if you prefer.  

This recipe serves two but can easily be adjusted for a larger gathering.  I baked mine in individual portion sized ramekins  but you should be able to bake larger sizes in a baking pan without a problem.

I topped mine with an apple wood smoked Gouda cheese that browned up nicely on top.  The smell throughout the house was heavenly as this was baking.  

We’re used to more spicing than is called for here.  The next time I make this I might include some sauteed shallots, and I would increase the amount of spinach.  It tasted good and I could have used more of it.  I might include some nutmeg, too.  Basically, whatever would would normally put into a quiche would work well here, too.

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Spice substitutions – a handy reference chart

021714 soup ingredientsChris’ comments:  I recently needed to find a substitute for sage to use in a recipe.  I came upon this handy reference chart in PDF form and wanted to pass it along.   You can download it here:


Note that poultry seasoning isn’t the best substitute for sage as it usually contains some sage.  

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Flying Elephant Tomato Orange Soup

tomato orange soupChris’ comments:  One of my favorite comfort foods is tomato soup.  There must be dozens of variations on this soup:  plain, creamed, bisque, with rice, with spinach.  The one I like best is the variety I’ve had at my favorite place to eat in Portland, Oregon, the Flying Elephant Deli.  What makes their tomato soup different?  The inclusion of orange juice and baking soda.

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Curried Red Bean Stew

120913 threes cooking (1)Chris’ comments:  In all of our twenty-five years together this is the first thing I’ve ever cooked that Cee has asked for again.  She’s had it for two meals today, so that is a huge compliment.  Yes, I’m bragging.

I found a basic white bean stew recipe that looked pretty bland, then made it into a heartier version.  It does have a little kick to it, but you can change the spices to make it your own.

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Usuyaki Tamago (Japanese Egg Crêpes)

030214 crepe (1)Chris’ comments:  I like crepes but this is the first time I’ve tried a Japanese version.  Talk about an instant hit!  The combination of a little sugar and soy sauce is delicious.  You can serve them rolled up and cut into noodles to put on top of rice, or fill them as any other crepe.  See notes about making a gluten free version. Continue reading

Autumn Millet Bake – Matt Bittman

autumnMilletChris’ comments:  I found this while looking for good millet recipes.  I wanted to feature millet because of its health benefits.  (See our new Healing Foods page that we are building.)  The recipe is by Matt Bittman, the author of many cookbooks, newspaper and magazine columns.  I actually found it on Heidi Swanson’s fabulous food blog, 101 cookbooks.  It’s taken from Matt’s cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  I have to credit Heidi Swanson for the photography, too.   This smelled so good, and the taste testing we did was so fabulous, that we couldn’t wait to dive in and forgot to take a picture.  This dish has it all, color, texture, nutrients and a great taste.  Plus its gluten free and vegan.  What could be better? Continue reading

The Americanization of Food

fastFoodI walked into a conversation at work yesterday.  I don’t know how it started, but one of the guys was saying that Diet Coke was on sale at a local grocery chain and he really  stocked up.  Everyone except two of us chimed in about their addictions to soda.  It almost turned into bragging, to see who could outdo the other.  Then my friend said that she doesn’t drink soda any more and wished that all of the others would have to be on her diet and they’d think differently about what they put in their bodies. Continue reading

Spice of Life

SpiceSpoonsWhen I first started this experiment, the one thing I was most afraid of were spices, those mysterious ingredients that caused the discovery of America (Columbus was sailing west to find a better route for the spice trade) and have nursed countless people back to good health over the millennia.   I’m not kidding when I said my favorite food is was white food.  That’s not any kind of ethnic statement.  I mean I literally love things that are white.  I even blogged about it when we were first starting out. Continue reading