Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy and Delicious New Year

What better way to welcome in the new year than with chocolate?

ChocolateBalls


Actually there is no occasion to which chocolate is not suited - festivities are just excuses to indulge. I had planned this for christmas but the blackbuck beckoned and we had to go.

My quest for the ultimate ( ultimately easy and yummy ) dessert lead me to chocolate balls. I used the recipe from this site: BestRecipes.com

I modified it quite a bit to suit my taste and to use ingredients that were available at hand.

Ingredients:

2 Pkts of Britannia ArrowRoot biscuits ( you can also use marie )
[ Note : any crisp biscuit which isn't very sweet - and I don't mean sugar free ]
1 tin Milkmaid ( sweetened condensed milk )
1 to 2 cups of grated coconut ( I have lots at home so I used 2 cups )

Method:
Crush the biscuits fine ( use a mixer if needed ). Add the grated coconut and condensed milk. Mix well. Roll into little balls ( ladoo sized ). And Yay, You're done.


ChocolateBalls_2


But this did not satisfy me......

So I made my mixture into 2 parts and created two variations ( before adding the condensed milk )

Variation 1 ( Chocolate Rum Flavor)
2 to 3 Tbl Spoons Cocoa Powder ( not drinking chocolate )
Cashews Whole ( 1 inside each ball )
2 Tbl spoons - Barcadi Razz

Variation 2 ( Coffee Orange Flavour )

2 - 3 tsp Instant Coffee Powder
2 Tbl spoons - Orange Smirnoff
Handful Cashews coarsely crushed

Here it helps to dissolve the coffee in the alcohol so that it mixes well.
Place the balls in fridge overnight.

chocolateCloseup



I was still not satisfied.........

So out came the cooking chocolate slabs. I melted it over a water bath, dipped each ball in with a spoon and placed it on parchment paper to set. Keep refrigerated. I made 59 balls this way.

The orange coffee combo was surprisingly fabulous. The raspberry was mildly over powering... so I think I could have added more cocoa powder.

In Container


Wishing you all a safe and happy new year!!

Don't drink and drive.

Eat chocolate!

Christmas at Maidanhalli

Misty_Sunrise


Keeping with the trend of having a "wild" christmas... ( last year we spent it appreciatively sniffing tiger pee and prodding at tiger poo ) this year we spent it with the black bucks at maidanhalli.

Our last trip to maidanhalli was mostly about finding the way to it and by the time we got there, we were too tired to go looking for blackbucks.

This time, we were prepared. With no map ( Keshav had it burnt into his memory ) we set out at the the unearthly hour of 4:15am. That said, we were looking at black buck around 9:30am.

Misty Village Road


Ofcourse, we stopped along the way a couple of times to stretch, to attend to natures call and to snap a few beautiful scenes. We were blessed with lovely weather, it was nice and chilly and once we had left the highway and major roads we were enveloped in a thick fog.

This added to travel time, and I am happy to say, we bumped along with a little more care on the potholed roads. Dodda-pot-hole-ana-halli is as before, so drive carefully and keep all camera equipment seat belted in the back seat to keep it from bouncing around.

Our first stop was to take in a rather misty sunrise and the next was at a lake that had a few large herons (couldn't make out which kind from the distance and fog) and a couple of painted storks.

Baya_Flock


Following this we stopped at a field of unknown grain (pls help id this ) to try and photograph a flock of weaver birds at breakfast. The poor light and fog (not to mention my incompetence) resulted in less than satisfactory photos for me. Keshav had better luck though.

RosyStarling


Once we were past Purvara village and then off the tar and onto mud roads, our next stop was a good-sized flock of rosy pastors snacking on the Ragi (millet) ( please correct me if I'm wrong ). By now, the sun was up and the mist had disappeared and the photos are a lot more presentable.

Blackbuck_Group


Our first sighting of the black buck came soon after with a black male leading a small group of about 8-10 caramel colored animals across the road right in front of us. They walked off the roadside and were soon far away. We drove ahead and with not many sightings turned back and decided to park and trek after them in the general direction where they were last headed.

BlackBuck_MaleLone


After a good trek, we found them again and in very healthy numbers it would appear, there may have been easily 50 or more animals in the heard. Lot of brownish males with shortish horns and the hornless does.

They were alert to us way before we had spotted them, and were probably amused at being photographed by Santa with bazooka and his chubby little elf. :)

General Info:
Mobile network is strong but I got a sms from Airtel welcoming me to AndhraPradesh while I was photographing the blackbuck.
I wore sneakers and found that little sharp seeds from the grass had latched on to my shoes and got into my socks, turning my feet into pin cushions.

Driving Directions are covered at length in previous post.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New House, New Neighbours

New House New Neighbours
First visitor to our new house - Large Pied Wagtail



We're finally moved,
and boy - it was rough!
We never even knew
we had so much stuff!

The lift is working,
the painting is all done,
All fixtures are fitted,
and the curtains are hung.

The boxes are unpacked
We've cleared all the mess,
we are now settled in
at our new Address.


For those who wondered if I was still on the planet, this is a "Here I am" post. Very much on planet earth. All I did was move house by 9kms.

Its been 2 weeks now, and things are beginning to feel like home. It has been a tough and very packed few months. The photos to process and upload are rising up like a tidal wave on me.

Getting back to the featured photo - this charming guy ( I'm assuming its a male ) is one of a happy group of wagtails that have colonized our apartment complex. Fearless little fellow sang happily on our living room balcony for several minutes, giving me time to get my camera and take just one shot before he moved on.

They have visited us a few more times, but no photo opportunities. Other visitors are swallows - wire tailed and red rumped. I had a close encounter with one the other evening, when it perched on the railing 2 feet away from my elbow. I was afraid to move for fear of scaring it away.

Other 'wild' visitors include a troop of monkeys ( yes, simians on the 9th floor! ) who stopped by the other day when we were at work and ate all of my lemon coloured marigolds. Fortunately they did no damage to the plant it self, and did not touch any other flowers.

With the year end approaching, the time has come to print our annual calendar. We're looking for new printers.. Suggestions welcome. Hoping to get back to regular posting schedule soon...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Diwali Wishes and Sweets

CashewCookies
Cashew Cookies with Filling


A very Happy Diwali to everyone!


Last night, on returning from office, I saw a mail from my Mom with a picture of all the sweets and savories she has prepared for the festive season. This is a yearly custom she follows, and the picture is mailed to relatives the world over to salivate and drool over that which they cannot have.

It was around 8:30pm and I felt it just wouldn't be Diwali if I didn't prepare something. So, I set out to prepare 3 dishes ( 2 sweet and 1 savoury ) in 3 hrs flat.

I started at 9 and I was done by 12:15am. Not too shabby, huh? Ofcourse, I chose easy to make things - Festivals are not a good enough reason to stop being lazy. I got all the recipes from some delightful food blogs that I follow.

Chilli_Biscuits
Chilli Biscuits


1. Chilli Biscuits
Followed the recipe exactly from FingerLickingFood.
On hind sight, I would have added a teeny pinch of haldi, and some ajwain to the dough for added flovour.
The Mint leaves were easy to get since I grow them, Curry leaves presented a bit of a challenge since my Kadipatta Plant is still rather small - but it made the sacrifice of 1 twig of leaves.

2. Cashew Cookies
I followed this recipe from : foodiezone
I substituted almonds with cashews, this made the dough a little wetter so in went more flour ( about twice the recommended quantity ). On being taken out of the fridge, the dough was not as pliant as expected, so i rubbed some butter on my fingers and found it easier to shape. I also added a few drops of Vanilla essence. I filled half the cookies with Strawberry jam and the other half with some left over orange flavored chocolate.

OrangeNutChocolate
Orange Flavored Chocolate with Nuts


3. Orange Flavored Chocolate with Nuts.
This was my own creation, inspired by this recipe: from fingerlickingfood
It was my first experience with melted chocolate ( I used 1 full bar of cooking chocolate - semi sweet ) For orange flavour, since I didnt have orange juice or zest, I added 1 cap full of Orange vodka. This caused the chocolate to seize and become very pliable and easy to handle.
I tossed in whole cashews and almonds and rolled them into little balls and left them to set over night.

Note:
All the photos are taken by Keshav with his camera ( my fingers were all buttery ). He was also the first taster - I can never take the first taste of anything I cook.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Hibiscus

Fringed Hibiscus
Fringed Hibiscus


Just back last night from a short vacation in Wayanad, Kerala. Fresh from all the hibiscus research, it was the place to be. Wayanad, is hibiscus heaven.

Roads were lined with hibiscus bushes in full bloom, people's gardens had hibiscus fences, even our resort was home to several varieties. I must also mention the profusion of anthuriums, roses and dahlias to be found. But above all, the hibiscus was overwhelmingly present even used to mark borders of plantations. Some of the flowers were massive in size.

All of these pictures were taken in the garden of Wynberg Resorts ( where we stayed ) - Full Trip report with lot of pictures soon.

I have tried to identify some of these flowers with extensive googling. Corrections and additional info is most welcome.

Fringed Hibiscus (Hibiscus schizopetalus)

Also Called: Coral Hibiscus, Skeleton Hibiscus, Chinese Lantern, Japanese Lantern
Origin: Tropical East Africa
Info:
A weeping tree hibiscus. Grows rapidly and blooms freely. Flowers look like parachutes and can be recognized by the fringed and lacy petals which are bent backward. It has slender and gracefully curved stems. It will reach about 6 to 8 feet with a spread of 5 to 6 feet. It is a very fast grower. It gets very large in pots, so one needs to prune it often to keep a desired form. Pruning also helps to keep a abundance of flowers, since flower are formed on new wood. Blooms sporadically all year long.

Source: http://toptropicals.com/cgi-bin/garden_catalog/cat.cgi?uid=HIBISCUS_SCHIZOPETALUS

Double Hibiscus
Red Double Hibiscus


Id : Celia, Double Red ( It looks a lot like this, so thats what Im assuming it is )
Source : http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/showimage/116191/

White and Pink Hibiscus
Pink and White Hibiscus


Rose of Sharon
Rose of Sharon


Rose of Sharon ( Hibiscus syriacus )
Info:
Rose of sharon bushes can get 8'-10' tall and have a spread of 4'-6'. However, some cultivars stay shorter (e.g., Hibiscus syriacus 'Minerva' reaches only 5'-8'). Blooms on rose of sharon can be white, red, lavender or light blue; some have double blooms. Most rose of sharon bushes bear small, deeply-lobed, light-green leaves (may vary according to cultivar).
Source: http://landscaping.about.com/od/shrubsbushes/p/rose_of_sharon.htm

White Hibiscus
White Hibiscus



For More Hibiscus Literature and historical data click here
A small hibiscus gallery
Hibiscus Catalog

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hibiscus

Red Hibiscus
Red Hibiscus after the Rains


The Hibiscus is a large genus which includes about 200–220 species of flowering plants in the family Malvaceae native to warm, temperate, subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world. It includes both annual and perennial herbaceous plants, as well as woody shrubs and small trees.

Origin of Names:

It is also called the Shoe Flower and China Rose.
ShoeFlower:
Perhaps the name "shoe flower" orginated in Jamaica - the petals of hibiscus makes a good shoe shine!
China Rose:
The latin name translates as China Rose, though it is not known if its origins lie in China

I have 2 varieties in my garden:
The Red Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
and A Orange-Pink Hybrid. ( I don't know the name of this one )

Originating in Asia and the Pacific islands, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the national flower of Malaysia. Ive seen Native species in Bangalore in Pink, White and Yellow. (I'm looking to acquire a pink one). There are also double varieties, which has a smaller flower inside a bigger one.

Orange Hibiscus
Orange Pink Hybrid


For the Birds

The Hibiscus is a sunbird magnet; I have also seen a few Great Tits checking it out. The Sunbirds help pollinate the hibiscus and many use Hibiscus plants as nesting sites.
While I haven't yet had the honour of being landlord to a sunbird, I have tried to encourage them by placing a shallow wide mouthed earthen vessel filled with water at the bottom of my Hibiscus bush.

HibiscusWithSunbird
Purple Rumped Sunbird Male at Breakfast

Sorry, This is a bad photo. He surprised me while I was taking a photo of another flower, so I didnt have much time.

After experimenting with several areas of the garden, this seems to be the best spot. It gives the birds some cover while they drink and bathe. I've also put a large pebble in it as a base for some of the tinier customers to stand on.

Native vs. Hybrid

I personally prefer the naturally occurring variety.

In general, the Hybrid Fancy looking ones tend to be more expensive to buy.
The naturally occurring variety grow rapidly, need little care, flower daily ( at least 1 and at max 5 ).
They are not affected by pests, which is big problem with the hybrid one ( its a bit of a delicate darling ).
Also, my sunbirds only like the Native Red one, and visit it daily; several times a day. Not once do they go near the hybrid.

Native Red (6 ft in 1.5 yrs), 1-5 flowers at a time, flowers daily
Orange Hybrid ( 2ft in 1 yr ), 1-3 flowers, flowers once a month

Propagation and Growth:

Propagation By Rooting Cuttings ( I haven't tried this myself )

Regular pruning encourages branching, and I found that this is very much needed, since they tend to growth rapidly and soon tower over you. The hybrid one is prone to aphids but it does recover once treated with insecticide. I also found that the hybrid one occasionally suffers from a problem of falling buds.

I find that they like lot of water and are very tolerant to sun (esp. the native one ). I haven't seen any seeds or Fruit. The flowers bloom just after sun rise and close up by late evening.

Orange Hibiscus Upclose


A Quick Lesson in Botany
A flower's male stamens are composed of the pollen-producing anther atop a stemlike filament, those roundish, yellow things in the picture are anthers that have opened and are discharging yellow pollen. The thick column they are attached to is called the staminal column.
The style is the big stem in the center that separates into five style-branches, and each style branch ends in a roundish stigma (red fuzzy things).

Source: http://www.backyardnature.net/fl_hibsc.htm


Uses:

In India, people use the hibiscus for hair care purposes. The leaves and flowers are soaked in water and ground to make a thick paste. This is applied to the scalp and later washed off. This serves (reportedly) to arrest hair-fall, treat dandruff and also for colouring. It is also commonly offered in prayers to dieties.

Trivia:


Dried hibiscus is edible, and is a delicacy in Mexico.

The red hibiscus flower is traditionally worn by Tahitian women. A single flower is tucked behind the ear. Which ear is used indicates the wearer's availability for marriage.


Sources:
Flowers Of India
Wikipedia

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dasara - DurgaPuja

The Goddess Smiles


Its that time of the year; holidays, long weekends and discount sales. Happy Dasara to all!

While looking at some flickr photos, I came across this gorgeous picture of a Durga Idol at the Ulsoor Bengali Association, Bangalore. ( Copyright Ayashok )

The most amazing thing ofcourse was that Keshav and I had been to that very Pandal that year, it did not look quite as beautiful as the perspective in this picture. Or perhaps it was the golguppas that distracted us!

I liked it so much that after visiting the picture over and over again on weekends, I finally decided that I wanted one just like it. Ayashok was kind enough to allow me permission to use this picture as a reference for my attempt at creating a goddess.

Created on regular Artist's Paper with Staedler Pencil ( 4B ) - This is such a wonderful pencil; well worth (Rs.35 each) the price. Took me around 5 days.
It's not as striking as the original, and I did take some creative liberties with Her. I made her a tad less chubby, and tilted the face slightly upwards.

"In the beginning, man created God"


:)


source : http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/272979

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Janmashtami Pooja

Janmashtami-Aarti
Mom lighting Maha-aarti lamp


Krishna Janmashtami Pooja is performed to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna.

According to info gathered from my Dad, it is observed on the eighth day, (hence it is called Ashtami ) Ashtami tithi, of the dark half or Krishna Paksha of the month of Shravana in the Hindu calendar, when the Rohini Nakshatra is ascendant. Note: Wikipedia seems to believe it is Bhadra month.

We always perform the pooja ourselves at home, this time I decided to document some parts of it. I have also prepared basic lists of items needed for general convenience.

For GSBs, the Janmashtami day is awaited eagerly mostly for the varieties of yummy food that is prepared. Traditionally 108 different delicacies are offered to the Lord at midnight, and then happily consumed by hungry devotees. For those operating on a budget, 56 dishes are offered (chappan bhog). Ofcourse, in our recession-hit days even this seems a bit much. So we settled for 12.

Janmashtami-Decoration
Our Mantap was decorated this way


Janmashtami Pooja generally takes the form of welcoming the Lord as one would a guest. As in most poojas, only males who wear the sacred thread (after "Moonji"/Upanayana) perform the pooja. ( This is probably because the ladies were too busy with all the cooking )

My Dad follows procedures as mentioned in a well-thumbed kannada book (Sri Krishna Janmashtami by Prabhakar Press Ltd, Udupi) and the pooja is performed in sanskrit.

Significant parts follow:

Note: Samarpayami means "I offer". After each part is over, the person doing the pooja announces which part is offered, as below.

1. Dhyaanam Samarpayami (Think or meditate on the Lord)
2. Aawaahanam Samarpayami (Invite the Lord into your home/heart)
3. Aasanam Samarpayami (Offer a seat)
4. Paadyam Samarpayami (Offer water to wash the feet)
5. Arghyam Samarpayami (Offer water to wash the hands)
6. Aachamanam Samarpayami (Offer water to drink)
7. Snaanam Samarpayami (Give bath)
8. Maha Abhishekam Samarpayami (Main head bath)
9. Vasthram Samarpayami (Offer clothes)
10. Yajnopaveetham Samarpayami (Offer the Holy Thread)
11. Gandham Samarpayami (Offer sandlewood paste/powder)
12. Bhushanam Samarpayami (Offer ornaments)
13. Akshatham Samarpayami (Offer Akshatha (rice))
14. Pushpam Samarpayami (Offer flowers)
15. Vishnu Sahasrananam jape viniyogaha ( 1000 names of Lord Vishnu )
16. Ashthothtra Namajape Viniyogaha (108 names of Krishna)
17. Dhoopam Samarpayami (Offer fragrance)
18. Deepam Samarpayami (Offer light)
19. Neivedyam Samarpayami (Offer food)
20. Phalam Samarpayami (Offer fruits)
21. Taamboolam Samarpayami (Offer betel nut and leaves )
22. Dakshinam Samarpayami (Offer wealth)
23. Maha Mangalaarati Samarpayami (Perform aarti)
24. Pradakshinam Samarpayami (Circumambulate the Idol)
25. Namaskaran Samarpayami (Prostrate before God)
26. Praarthanaam Samarpayami (Offer prayers, request your desires)
27. Xamaapanam Samarpayami (Ask for forgiveness in case of goof-ups)

In places where the offering mentioned is not available, a tulsi dul (leaf pair) is offered instead.

Running Time of Pooja

Usually 1 hr 30 min and 30 min for aarti
( we have 3 aartis; 10 min per aarti )
Many of the lord's names are tongue twisters so it may run longer if you stumble on each name.

Janmashtami-Pooja
Dad performing pooja, doing the aarti



Neivedyam


As in any pooja, everyone knows the most important part is the prasad. It is prepared before hand (and only after the person who is preparing it has bathed). It is not tasted before offering it to god.

What my Mom prepared this year:
a. Churmundo
Laddoo of wheat flour (90%) and besan (10%) (gram flour)
with powdered sugar, ghee, cardamom and raisins
b. Panchakajjai (easy to make)

Panchakajjai Recipe:
1. Bengal gram (roasted and powdered )
2. White Sesame seeds ( roasted)
3. Coconut scrapings
4. Jaggery powder
5. Cardamom powder
6. Ghee (optional)

Mix 3,4,5 together. Add 1 and 2 to this mixture.
Put optional 1-2 tbl spoons ghee on top for aroma.

Pooja Item List

If you do not have Silver/Copper items as below , substitute stainless steel.

Clean and polish :

1. Kalash (Silver/Copper)
2. Tamhan/Purnapatra (Silver/Copper) - plate
3. Panchpatra/Bhande (Silver/Copper) - bowl and spoon
3. Shimudra (Silver/Copper) - religious stamps
4. Shankha - Conch Shell for blowing
5. Argya Shankha - to offer argya - small Conch Shell ( cannot be used for blowing )
6. Ghaanta (Brass/Silver) - Bell
7. Jhaghanta (Brass) - Gong with striker
8. Diyas (Silver/ Brass) - Ghee/Oil Lamps - ( 1 large, 1 small ) Add more for decoration.
9. Brass Aaarti lamps ( more the merrier )
10. Agarbhatti stand ( silver / brass )
11. Mantap ( silver / white metal / brass ) - optional

Lamp Generation Gap
Old Brass Oil Lamp Vs. LED Lamp


Buy :
1. Flowers in trays ( separate for alankara , malas for decoration )
2. Mango leaves thoran ( for hanging on door ) and bunch of 5 for putting in kalash
3. Plaintain leaves ( for eating on )
4. Kaeli pair - 2 Baby Banana plants ( for decoration )
5. Coconut - minimum 2 - 1 to be in kalash, one to be broken later as prasad
6. Tulsi dul in a tray (min. 108 or 1001) - tip of tulsi branches having only 2 leaves.
7. Any Fruits in silver plates (or trays) - in odd numbers, eg. 1 bunch of 5 bananas (do not separate from each other)

Other Items:
1. Ghee
2. Oil
3. Panchamrat items in separate bowls - ghee, honey, milk, dahi, sugar
4. Sacred thread double ( for married person) - ( for the god )
6. Drinking Water in a bowl / pot
7. Gandham - Sandalwood paste
8. Gopichandan (Gopchannan in konkani) - Cream coloured paste for use with shimudhram
9. Akshatha - raw rice ( 2 tbl spoon in a bowl )
10. Kunkum in silver bowl
11. Agarbhatti / dhoop ( with stand )
12. Vaathi ( Cotton wicks ) for arti and lamps
13. Matchbox
14. Rags for wiping up
15. Machette / Koithi in konkani - Heavy blunt object to split the coconut
16. Big bowl to collect coconut water
17. Pooja procedure book with mantras ( Important! )

Decoration

Mantap and the idol in it, should face east.

1. Thread for tying up decorations
2. Scissors
3. Creating a mantap ( we use slabs of thermocol to make a small stage )
4. Manai ( wooden seat) / Mats - to seat the person(s) performing pooja
5. Cloth lengths for decoration (usually hung as a screen behind the mantap)
6. Carpet to seat the rest of the household.


Attire
Only the people performing the pooja need follow the dress code :
Pattetodopu ( silk dhoti and shawl ) for the gents ( essentially unstitched cloth )
Usually, they bathe, dress and sit for pooja immediately.

Fasting
The persons involving themselves in the pooja are required to fast. Fasting in this case is defined as abstaining from consuming meat, onion, garlic and carbohydrates (lepu). Water, all Milk products, fruit, vegetables, food grains like lentils may be consumed.

[ Note: Since Paneer is made from splitting milk, this is considered inauspicious among hindus. Paneer is an introduced food to North-India ( came from Afghanisthan, I read this in Al Basham's The Wonder that was India ). You may want to keep away from the cheeses, if you want to be true to the fast ]

THE FOOD

After pooja is over, dinner is served. Our menu this year :
Note : no onion or garlic is used. In temples, hing (asofetida) is also not used.

1. Pickle - mixed veg
2. Green beans Palya ( upkari ) Garnished with coconut scrapings, tadka : redchillies and mustard
3. Plain Papad
4. Aalwati ( masala randhai(curry) of Arbi/Arvi leaves )
5. Karathe Ambade Ghasshi ( Karela and sour ambado masala curry )
6. Tori and Jeev Kadgi Ghasshi ( Whole White Tur and Breadfruit masala curry )
7. Pooli Koddhel ( Koo-waa-lain - White Pumpkin in spicy tamarind curry )
8. Rice ( keep ghee handy )
9. Rasam
10. Daali Thoy ( Simple Dal - hing, mustard, curry leaves, green chillies )

Sweets
11. Madagane ( Sweet - Chana Dal and Cashew stewed in thick coconut milk and jaggery )
12. Pattholi ( Sweet - Rice Rolls stuffed with coconut, jaggery and cardamom. Wrapped in turmeric leaves and steamed )

Dinner is served on plaintain leaves.
Place leaf with smaller end on the left hand side of the seated person.
Serve salt first, then follow the order as in list above.

Regrettably, after food was served, I completely forgot to take pictures. So sadly, I have no pictures of the divine tasting things mentioned above. But I assure you it was yum! It was only after dinner, on a full tummy, that we remembered the camera.

Keshav and I forgot to bring our Cameras; so all photos were taken by Keshav, on my parent's Olympus-SP550UZ.


For Pooja with limited time and resources :
Short-Cuts

1 diya ( if not oil/ghee, at least LED )
1 arti ( use a plate with karpur or give arti with the diya )
1 tulsi dul ( pick it from your own plant )
1 flower ( pick it from your own plant )
Fruit ( im sure there is some fruit in the house, 1 coconut would be great too )
Agarbhatti
kumkum
Sugar as nivedhyam

Dont forget to have bath and fast.

Read the ashtotar. If there are several people and you are in hurry, it can be divided, in a Divide and Conquer Strategy eg. 25 each
For even shorter pooja, it is sufficient to say the following.
"Hare Krishna Hare Krishna,
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Rama Hare Rama,
Rama Rama Hare Hare"


There is no shortcut for food :)


Helpful Links:
VishnuSahasranamam: (1000 Names)
compiled with 108 slokhas (versus) that contain the 1000 Names of Sri Mahavishnu.
http://www.trsiyengar.com/id70.shtml

Asthotharam: (108)
http://iworld4you.com/sri-krishna-ashtothara-sathanamavali-108-names/

Tamil Versions
Interactive learning and video:
http://www.slokas.com/slokas/vedicrituals/tamil/poojas/gokul.html
Procedure:
http://www.slokas.com/slokas/vedicrituals/tamil/poojas/pooja/janmashtami13.html

Sources:
http://www.netglimse.com/holidays/janmashtami/how_to_do_janmashtami_puja.shtml

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Purslane Family

Portulaca_Allglow_1


The Purslane is a common plant; usually considered a weed. When it first appeared in my garden, I mistook it for the wingpod purslane which I had seen flowering in my office garden. I waited for the characteristic cup like flowers to emerge, and was very disappointed to see a tiny yellow flower quite unlike what I had expected.

A chance visit to a nursery led to me acquiring two of these (incase one did not survive my "care" ). I was pleasantly surprised when it not only survived but thrived and yielded two different varieties - the WingPod Purslane ( this is the common one ) and the Portulaca Allglow ( a specially created hybrid ).

Research on Wikipedia and the FlowersOfIndia site for this blog revealed that they are all related to the same Portulaca Family. Even the Moss Rose is a close relative.

Varieties:
Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is widely considered an edible plant, and in some areas an invasive type of weed. (also known as Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed or Pusley)

Portulaca Allglow : Portulaca spp.
This was a surprise find and it is not very common, the nursery in Jeevan Bhima Nagar has it. The inner flower which is a bright pink has a different texture and feel than the outer petals. It is a specially created hybrid and not naturally occurring.

WingPod Purslane : Portulaca umbraticola

WingPod_Purslane


This plant I have seen in two colours, yellow and pink-ish peach. It has lovely cup like flowers which open in the sun-shine and close by sunset. They need the sun to open, I find that on cloudy days they wont bloom at all.

Care and Growing
No Care is needed. (why else do you think I have this?) Sun and occasional watering is welcome. It is not completely pest resistant, I have seen it under attack from aphids. I have sprayed it with mild detergent water and prayed (hard). This seems to be working.

Grown easily in pots, it can be propagated easily through cuttings ( Ive tried it, it works). Chop them up, make millions. Grows rather easily. Currently though, the allglow has stopped flowering, it may be entering a rest phase, or it may be mad at me because I forgot to water it last week.

WingPod_Purslane_Group


History and Research:
Portulacaceae is a family of flowering plants, comprising about 20 genera with about 500 species, ranging from herbaceous plants to shrubs. It is also known as the purslane family; it has a cosmopolitan distribution, with the highest diversity in semi-arid regions of the Southern Hemisphere in Africa, Australia, and South America, but with a few species also extending north into Arctic regions.

Can I eat it?
Purslane can be eaten raw or cooked, and lends itself to stir fry dishes. Some say it has a slight lemon-like taste and mushroom-like texture. It is relatively easy to grow in more northern climates, including the New England area in the United States.
It is apparently a good source of vitamin C.

Sources:
Portulaca All Glow @ FlowersOfIndia.net
WingPod Purslane @ FlowersOfIndia.net
Wikipedia

Monday, July 27, 2009

Skyblue Clustervine

SkyblueCluster_closeup
I love the star shape that forms


I first saw this adorable little creeper at a nursery on the way back from Manchinbele. On impulse I bought it and set it on our fence. As it grew, we liked it so much we got it a friend and set it on the other side of the terrace. ( Nothing like a little competition to speed things up, I thought ).

Sure enough, the two actively compete in terms of flowers and height. Among one of the happiest plants I have seen, it is common in most software parks and let loose on fences. It is not invasive. Its a twining vine with stems to 6 feet or more in length. It is a rapid grower, mine has reached nearly 5 ft (in 3-4 months).

Its a lovely bright green plant with small leaves in the shape of elongated hearts. The blue flowers stand up to face the sun, incase you are letting it loose on the ground. The Flowers come in clusters of buds and take turns flowering. The flower is the size of a 1 rupee coin. After flowering, the flowers fold up like an umbrella and drop off.

skyblue_leaves
A closed flower, note the leaves


Details:
Common name: Skyblue Clustervine, Pentantha
Botanical name: Jacquemontia pentanthos
Family: Convolvulaceae (Morning glory family)
It is a perennial( blooms all year round) and is an introduced species in India.

Can I eat it?
No idea. But birds sure like it. Our friendly neighborhood sunbirds cant get enough of it. They visit twice a day ( morning 9:30am and afternoon 1:30pm )
Also seen eating the flowers are younger members of our Jungle Crow family, a group of 3 flower peckers and a whole bunch of jungle mynas ( we counted 5 ).

skyblue_sunbird_F
Purple Rumped Sunbird Female, they visit daily


Care and Growing:
It needs almost no care at all, though if you'd like more flowers, you may want to water it once in a while. :) It likes the sun, as much as you can provide. Its pretty little blue flowers open in the morning and close before sunset.

Experts recommend that we avoid watering the vine excessively, always leaving the soil dry for a few days between one watering and the other. This pretty much describes how I operate; watering once in a while, when guilt strikes.

It can be grown in containers or pots, I have placed it in ground on our terrace. Since it doesnt spread laterally, it can be easily grown in suspended baskets or left to climb over a balcony.

Till date, I haven't seen it being attacked by any bugs, so it would be safe to assume its a hardy little fellow. Insects seem to like it, I have seen butterflies, bees and a praying mantis on it.

skyblue_sunbird_M
Purple Rumped Sunbird Male, (see the purple flash on its tail, from which it gets its name)


Where did it come from?
Originating in Tropical America, it is Native to the Florida Keys. I was alarmed to see it marked as endangered in Florida.
This plant has been said to be natively growing in the following regions:
Punta Gorda, Florida
Coushatta, Louisiana


For the botanist:
herbaceous vine, slender; lvs ovate, acute at tips, bases subcordate, 2-5+ cm long; flrs axillary, densely cymose on peduncles longer than the lvs, usually only 1 to 2 open; corollas blue (may be white), 10-20 mm long and wide when open; capsule enclosed by sepals; seeds glabrous, bumpy; hammocks; Collier, Dade and Monroe [ incl. Keys] cos.

skyblue_2
This one has been photoshopped a bit, to darken the white background


Making more Skyblue Vines
It can be propagated from cuttings ( softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings ). I haven't tried this myself. Its relatively cheap ( 10Rs ), so I just buy another one. I haven't the heart to watch a cutting die.

Where to buy
Easily available in most nurseries. Ive seen it in Jeevan Bhima Nagar and in those near Mancinbele.

Sources:
Flowers Of India
Plant Files
Florida Endangered Plants

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Moss Rose

CandyFloss in bloom


The Moss Rose is supposed to be a rather common flower in Indian gardens, but I first saw it on the way to work, growing in the Circle near Bagmane TechPark. At the height of summer, the ground in which it stood was parched; but the flowers were all in bloom, a riot of bright magenta.

Then and there, I decided that I must have it. I acquired 2, from a gaadi wala. It had no flowers then, so I did not know what colours it would yield. I did not know the name either until Mom dropped by and called it "Table rose".

Interestingly only in India is it referred to it as Table Rose, the actual name according to Google-land, is Moss Rose. This, I found, after a hour of extensive googling.

I have two, and both turned out to be a candy floss pink, not the magenta I had seen. Here is a Bud, looking rather nice, growing in front of a tangle of weeds.

Waiting to bloom


Some times, weeds can enhance the beauty of your garden; as in this case ( or so I like to convince myself) but only in Macro mode.

Details:

Scientific Name : Portulaca grandiflora

Family: Portulacaceae (purslane Family)

Where did it come from?
Originally from the hot, dry plains of southern Brazil, Uruguay and northern Argentina, moss rose is cultivated throughout the world as a favorite garden annual.


Can you eat it?

The Purslane is a common weed, The related purslane (P. oleracea) is a bothersome weed (which I yank out every now and then) in warm climates, although it is widely cultivated for food and has been for more than 2000 years. In fact, purslane, which is used raw in salads and cooked like spinach as a potherb, is very high in vitamins A, B1 and C.

Growing:
Needs full sun to flower. Do not water with overhead irrigation ( Means dont give the plant a shower ); it damages the flowers.
Moss rose grows well in poor, sandy or gravelly soils. The soil must be very well-drained. ( This is according to a lot of non-Indian websites, but I think the joy of tropical climates is that you can chuck anything in the ground and it will grow well) Be fearless, grow it anywhere.

Propagation:
Apparently, the seeds are as tiny as dust ( this explains why I never saw any) So mix them with sand before sowing to make them easier to scatter. But lucky for us, in warm climates, moss rose usually self-seeds itself ( This is what Im counting on)

Pretty in Pink


Photography Tip:
What to do when the background is distracting? ( the moss rose is growing in front of bushes of short marigolds or the wall of the garden is white ) I have both these problems. Mighty Mouse Pad to the rescue! Place behind the subject and adjust exposure accordingly.

Where can you buy these flowers and do your bit for society?
If you live in Bangalore, there is a nursery in Jeevan bheema nagar managed by The Association of People with Disability. They have a well trained staff who are extremely helpful. They also stock manure, gardening implements, pots, manure mixed mud and fertilizers and pesticides.

Sources:
http://www.floridata.com/ref/P/port_gra.cfm
More Pictures of Different Varities:
http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/showimage/6919/

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Cosmos Flower

It is now almost close a year since I acquired garden space. With Bangalore losing its green cover and turning increasingly into a concrete nightmare, I realize that I'm among a privileged few to have a few square feet of earth at my disposal - esp in an apartment building.

Cosmos skyscraper
My Cosmos Skyscraper - photoshopped, see original below


I believe that Mother Nature is the best gardener and usually does fine on her own with a little occasional help from me. ( Ok, so I admit, I am a lazy gardener )

Given my non-intensive gardening intentions, I carefully selected hardy plants that flower, look good, propagate themselves and need little or no care (No care is preferred). I have in due course obtained from various sources around 20+ different plants (flowering and non-flowering)

Yellow Cosmos
Yellow Cosmos, one early morning


I am starting what I like to call the Lazy gardener series. Every post will feature a plant I have in the garden, and info I have on it collated from various sources with citations. In this feature, the Cosmos flower.

No doubt among the most cheerful flowers in our garden. I have 2 colors (yellow and orange) I began with 4 seeds from my Mom. I now have a small cosmos jungle ( self propagation - o joy! )

Cosmos Orange
Orange variety
Original cosmos skyscraper
Original Photo


Some things you may not know about the Cosmos :

Scientific name: Cosmos sulphureus
Cosmos are native to Central America and Mexico.
They have brightly colored single or double flowers. Colours include white, pink, orange, yellow and scarlet.

So, they look good, but can you eat them? Yes! In Malay cuisine the leaves of this plant are used for ulam, a type of Malay salad.

Growing Cosmos:

Cosmos plants prefer full sun to partial shade. They will do well in both average and poor soils. They are tolerant to dry soil conditions.
They grow quickly to a height of 4-5 feet - the tallest among mine are just about a foot high.Taller plants may require staking. (this means they need support) Insects and disease problems are very rare for Cosmos - I can vouch for that!

Propagating:

They have long slender seeds about 1.5 cm long. They spring up rather rapidly and while they are small seedlings, look very similar to marigold plants.

Flower Power: Cosmos Army
Uncontrolled growth can lead to this :)



For various varieties: http://www.eseeds.com/search.aspx?SearchTerm=cosmos

Sources:
http://plantanswers.tamu.edu/flowers/cosmos/cosmos.html
http://www.gardenersnet.com/flower/cosmos.htm

Flower Photography:

While I had tried several times to photograph my plants, I usually was met with little (read no) success. I often gave up with a "No camera can capture the true beauty of my garden".
Until recently, I did a little reading up on flower photography and decided to try some simple steps. These yielded the photos seen here.

In particular I liked Marion Owen's tips : http://www.plantea.com/photoflowers.htm

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Feathered neighbours


Golden Oriole
Eurasian Golden Oriole


I am posting after a seriously long break - having been delayed by work, lethargy, a trip to Mangalore (next post), the flu and a wisdom tooth. But I am now back, albeit minus the tooth, which my dentist extracted, much to my relief.

The combination of flu and wisdom tooth kept me at home for a week and gave me a chance to see the bird life at home. (something we usually get to see only in the mornings at breakfast)

The tamarind tree was the last (among the rest) to shed leaves and when it did, no one was happier than I! At last, there was a clear view of all the twittering little birds that tormented us every morning.

We have had the following visitors this Summer:

The Golden Oriole is back, the Black naped oriole (migratory) is now not seen anymore, so I assume it has returned home. The barbets are nesting and are often seen in pairs. Offlate, we have seen them with berries in their beaks; no doubt, take-aways for the kids at home.

The white breasted Kingfisher made a rare appearance on our terrace on a sunday morning, much to our delight. We have seen a pair of them recently.

Two's Company
Barbet Couple
WbKingfisher_post
White Breasted Kingfisher


The lake at bagmane is being fished by the fishery dept. and this presents a great opportunity to watch kites ( black kites and brahminy kites ) fish in the lake and then squabble over the rich pickings. We also saw a nice yellowish water snake. Bad pictures though. The pied kingfisher was also seen on his favourite perch, though the male was alone this time.


LakeviewBldg2_post
Lakeview Bldg - Bagmane Tech Park (see the nets, white dots)


To help our feathered friends beat the summer heat - I have been keeping a shallow clay vessel filled with water, in the shade of the red hibiscus I have growing in the garden. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pair of Great Tits using it to bathe and drink every morning. If you are planning something similar and don't have a shallow vessel, place a few large stones in the pot so that the birds can use it as a island.


GreatTit_Post
Great Tit - Early Morning.


Another surprise visitor and one who often comes in at tea-time is a Shikra. An adult male; ( I know this, because it has red eyes ) he likes to use the terrace fence as a lookout post, always sits in the same spot and tolerates our presence, albeit from a distance.

Shikra_post
Shikra Adult Male
Greenish Warbler
Greenish Warbler?


The fearless visitors are the pied wagtails. Four of them, who like to occasionally inspect the garden by walking along the edge and sing cheerfully from the cable wires that are overhead. Even the presence of Keshav; bazooka in hand, a few feet away, does not bother them. But their constant movement prevents me from getting any good photos.

The regular visitors are there as usual, the spotted dove couple, the three drongos and a bunch of flowerpeckers, one of which bravely posed for photos.

SpottedDove_post
Spotted dove at dawn
Flowerpecker_post
Flowerpecker


Some new visitors; recently, but not often spotted are the Red whiskered bulbul ( seen only once ) , a warbler ( possibly greenish warbler - id confirmation is appreciated) and the Coppersmith barbet ( seen only in the afternoons, when the light is too harsh for good photos )


Pond Heron
Surprised Pond Heron


Nothing lasts for ever .... And the bare tamarind tree returned to its former glory recently, sporting a most luxuriant growth! No doubt, it surprised this pond heron who decided to test it by perching at the very tip of a twig.

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Lalbagh has been in the news lately, and while reading an article on it on Google News, i came across the unauthorized use of 2 of my photos by the Mid-Day Newspaper.

Link:
http://www.mid-day.com/news/2009/apr/300409-Lalbagh-Metro-Construction-No-Bird-Watching-Bangalore-news.htm

The photos - 2nd and 3rd are taken from an early blog post on lalbagh.
I'm not surprised that a paper would not have asked permission before using pictures found on the net. I am however surprised when a email to their editors, pointing out their oversight, is not replied to.

As a general rule, I have decided now, to place the © mark on all my posted images.
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