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Celebrating Diwaali November 2, 2010

Filed under: celebrations — paulabrown @ 5:47 pm

How to make Indian sweets

No Diwali celebration is complete without platefuls of barfi, besan laddoo and halwa – and homemade sweets are the best

    Monisha Bharadwaj and Homa Khaleeli taste their barfi. Monisha Bharadwaj and Homa Khaleeli taste their barfi. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the GuardianIndian sweets are extreme. Plump with clarified butter, glistening with syrup and luridly coloured, they are not for the fainthearted. But it is hard for me to walk past a shop where slabs of the jelly-like Karachi halwa, topped with almonds, or newly fried bright orange jalebis sit enticingly in the window, and not find myself at the counter. 

    These sugary confections have an emotional pull, too, from their association with happiness, good luck and festivals. Celebrating a new baby, a promotion at work or straight A*s in your GCSEs is incomplete without a plate of mithai (sweets). When I told my aunt I was getting married I made sure I secured her to make the sweets in the same breath. My husband was alarmed to discover that on the wedding day we would be faced with toothpick-wielding relatives trying to force feed him pastel-hued squares of milky barfi for good luck.

    Yet somehow their violent charms seem to have frightened away most British devotees of India’s savoury dishes. A home cook’s everyday repertoire might include Keralan fish curry or dhal – dishes that show the increasingly sophisticated appreciation of south Asian cuisine. But it’s still rare to see a non-Asian face in any of the multitude of Indian sweet houses in London’s Southall or Manchester’s Rusholme. The colours can seem vulgar, the sugar content too high for uninitiated palates – just two little balls of my favourite, gulab jamun (a fried sweet of milky dough bathed in syrup) can be as much as 380 calories.

    Food writer and cookery teacher Monisha Bharadwaj thinks this is a shame, and insists that sweets made at home are completely different. Not that she is claiming they could be called healthy (although she does helpfully point out that gajar ka halwa – made from carrots – might count as one of your five a day), but it is possible to tame the sugar and fat. “In shops the sweets all have the maximum amount of sugar, colour and ghee in them. At home they taste very different – you don’t feel like you can’t eat more than one bite.”

    I have arrived in Monisha’s immaculate kitchen (cleaned twice a day, she tells me cheerfully) to learn how to make some favourites. It’s the perfect time – in nearby Southall, the shops are already filling up with lamps, candles and fireworks in preparation for Diwali. The five-day festival of light, celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, starts on 5 November.

    “There are no specific dishes you eat in Diwali but you must eat sweets,” Monisha insists. “Making them is part of the buildup, with the children getting involved. Then when you go visiting you will be offered them at everyone’s house. At the end of Diwali you should be completely sweeted-out.”

    Variety is important, so we start by making two sets of barfi – solid cubes of condensed milk. Coconut is first – it is the classic version. We grind cardamom seeds, popping them from their dried pods to release their strong scent, then boil double cream, add sugar and milk powder and turn it into custard. Finally we add the coconut and cardamom and pour the mixture into a shallow dish, leaving it to cool. I can’t wait for it to fully set though – we dive in with teaspoons. It’s delicious, with a stronger caramel flavour than a shop-bought version, and, as Monisha promised, not as overpoweringly sweet. Next up is the chocolate barfi, which is also tastier than the dry commercial offering, where flavour feels like an afterthought.

    The problems start when I try something a little more tricky – besan laddoo. These cheery little beige spheres, made from a mixture of chickpea (gram) flour and semolina, and flavoured with almonds and cardamom, should shine gently with the butter. Monisha shows me how to roast the gram flour, butter and semolina until the flour’s raw and slightly bitter smell disappears. But once we have added the sugar and flavourings, and begin to shape the sweets, they turn into a sticky mess in my hands. “Too much ghee,” Monisha swiftly diagnoses. But even her magic fingers can’t make the plumpness last, and within seconds it melts. “Never mind,” she announces, quickly sticking a sultana in the top. “We’ll just say you were cooking a flat pedhe instead.” I would have thanked her, but my mouth was too full.

    • For more information on Monisha’s Dilwali food walk, cooking classes and cookery books, see cookingwithmonisha.com

    Besan laddoo

    Besan ke laddoo Besan laddoo – as they should look. Photograph: ephotocorp/Alamy200g besan or gram flour
    4 tbsp semolina
    70ml ghee
    100g caster sugar
    4 tbsp sliced almonds
    1 tsp cardamom powder
    A few raisins to decorate

    Put the gram flour, semolina and ghee in a heavy saucepan and fry on a medium heat for about 10 minutes or until an aroma develops. Make sure to keep the heat down and keep stirring so the flour roasts right through.

    Turn off the heat and allow to cool until just warm.

    Stir in the sugar, almonds and cardamom.

    Take a small fistful of the flour and press into a ball. Put a raisin into each one to decorate.

    Chocolate barfi (makes 20 squares)

    120g cocoa powder
    400g tin condensed milk
    4 tbsp mixed chopped nuts
    2 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp for greasing the dish

    Pour the condensed milk into a heavy saucepan. Add the butter and the cocoa. Cook on a gentle heat stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to draw away from the side of the pan.

    Grease a flat dish with the extra butter. Pour the thick cocoa mixture in and smooth the surface with a spatula.

    Allow to cool and set.

    Sprinkle with the mixed nuts and cut into 1in squares. Barfi can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.

    Coconut barfi (makes 20 squares)

    150ml double cream
    150g milk powder
    120g caster sugar
    75g dessicated coconut
    ½ tsp cardamom powder

    Put the cream in a saucepan and bring to the boil, lowering the heat when it gets hot. Add the sugar and cook on a low heat until it bubbles and forms a single thread consistency – this should take 8-10 minutes.

    Add the milk powder and stir for a couple of minutes until it begins to leave the side of the pan.

    Add the coconut and cardamom and cook for a couple of minutes. Turn out onto a greased plate and allow to cool. Cut into squares.


Festivals March 13, 2008

Filed under: celebrations,parenting articles,Tatty Bumpkin — paulabrown @ 9:05 am


If you’re toying with going to a festival check out Festival News or Efestivals

Tatty Bumpkin will be at:

  • Glastonbury Festival
  • Shambala
  • Sunrise Celebration
  • Green Man
  • Ragged Hedge Fair

If you’re undecided about whether it’s a good thing to do with kids, check out an old post of mine on the topic.


Dancin’ March 2, 2008

Filed under: celebrations — paulabrown @ 10:11 pm


So my friend and I went out dancing for the first time in ages last night for a pre-mother’s day treat (anticipating our lie in), we were both exhausted from various family / work related stuff (I’d just got off the train from 2 days working at an exhibition about changing your life called One Life) but turned out our dancing feet still worked and we danced til 1. The band was called Doreen Doreen, a funny covers band a friend of mine plays in. If I could dance like that every week I’d be as thin as a pin… sigh.


10 years and never a cross word… February 28, 2008

Filed under: celebrations — paulabrown @ 8:30 pm


…so it’s been 10 years to the day since our wedding and I’d like to say never a cross word but honestly I’d be lying! No but really, it’s been a blast! Our wedding was great, I was but a child bride of 24, Nige 27 and a lot of our friends still single. My dad and his friends had a ball dancing with all the 20 somethings on tables, Nige’s football team, The Diggers, arrived in evening to revitalise the proceedings.

There was a lot of drinking, dancing and making merry. Oh and it was at a medieval castle-cum-hotel near Hexham in Northumberland with lots of mulled wine, roaring fires, Northumberland stew and large cotton wool ball snowflakes which made the pine trees outside heavy with snow and ripe for a midnight snow ball fight (which ruined my dress and shoes!). I wish I could find digital photos but it was back in the days of analogue and I haven’t scanned any!

Since we’re broke and don’t really do romantic dinner dates we took a bottle of organic cava and sat on a hill watching the stars!


You know it makes sense… February 20, 2008

Filed under: celebrations,the kids — paulabrown @ 10:19 pm

Mother’s Day is just around the corner (March 2nd to be precise) so:

  • men: heed this advice,
  • women: stop any inclination your partner may have to a) forget the date or b) celebrate your fantastic-ness with wilting carnations or underwear of a dubious nature, as  Mumsnet compiled, with help, a handy print-out guide to Mother’s Day Dos and Don’ts. Just leave this somewhere strategic – in the shed/on the X-box/next to the loo – and hopefully all those who should be truly grateful will be…

Firstly visit my Barefoot Books site – there are some brilliant books for mums – e.g. Barefoot Book of Goddesses – basically a beautifully illustrated A-Z of Goddesses or The Lady of 10,000 Names and if that doesn’t show the esteem in which you hold her, nothing will… Also Grandmother’s Stories for the kid’s gran’s or


  • Do let me have a proper lie in. That means keeping our son out of the bedroom and not letting him leap all over me while you coo sentimentally, “Look how much he loves his mum”. Bluestocking

  • Don’t be an idiot and think you can leave it to the Thursday before. If you do make this fundamental mistake, don’t try to get out of it by saying ‘But you’re not my mother’ to the mother of your children. (And if you do say this, be prepared to, run like ****.) martianbishop

  • Definitely don’t say “you’re not my mother” to your wife when she is the one who bought, held in front of you to sign, and then posted, the card for your mother… TheFallenMadonna

  • While on the way to visit your mother with her gift, don’t say to your wife, who has very recently given birth to your second child, “S***! I forgot you were a mum. I haven’t got you anything. That’s OK though isn’t it?” Suzi2

    (Note to partners: Have you got the “my mother” bit yet?)

  • Do pace yourself – try to be a little bit nice all day, rather than cooking a gourmet breakfast then spending the rest of the day asleep on the sofa. Astrophe

  • Do try to conjure up peace and tranquillity for a day, with no shouting or arguing – and perhaps a trip to feed the ducks (with or without mum). Raggydoll


  • Do buy a card that says mummy – and not “mum”, “mom” or “mother” – if that’s what your child calls her (or vice versa). And do pick the type of card your child would buy if they actually went to the shop i.e. no hideous oil paintings of lilies! Whizzz
  • Do buy a card for YOUR own mother. Astrophe

  • Don’t say – at 10pm that night – ‘Bugger, did you post my mum’s card?’ Phono

  • Don’t forget until the day itself, buy a THANK YOU CARD in desperation and try to cover up by writing “thank you for being such a good mum”. Custardo


  • Don’t buy Oil Of Olay (unless someone specifically asks for it)! Don’t buy a doormat, oven gloves or tea towels as a gift EVER. Wotznotreallyhere

  • Don’t buy your mother a lovely exotic plant in a tasteful ceramic pot, and get your wife three manky hyacinths in a plastic pot with dayglo stones on the top. It’s the floral equivalent of getting your mum Agent Provocateur undies and your wife hip huggers from M&S. LadyMardyDaisyBoo

  • Don’t buy clothes (unless it’s cashmere, or you’re very confident) and likewise underwear is best left to Valentine’s Day. Stick to flowers, chocs or things that sparkle (and we don’t mean glitter pens). Muncher

  • Don’t buy flipping carnations (ever). RubyRioja

  • Don’t say it’s all commercial rubbish! Ineedapoo
  • Don’t pay any attention when your wife says “Oh, just get the children to make me something.” Get the children to make her something, and then get your credit card out and get yourself down to (insert wife’s favourite shop). FrannyandZooey


  • Don’t get out of bed. Just refuse. ShinyHappyPeopleHoldingHands

  • …But (from a realist) don’t be surprised if you don’t get a lie in. Your kids will be banging on the door at the crack of dawn, and you’ll need your ‘grateful face’ on to meet the bombardment of garage flowers/microwaved croissants that will greet you. GetOrfMoiLand


  • TO MUMS: If you say “Don’t make a big fuss/get me anything expensive”, we will not make a big fuss/get you anything expensive. This is known as Listening, and Doing As We Are Told. You’ve only yourself to blame if we follow your instructions to the letter.

  • TO DADS: Last year the children (with quite a bit of help) made a Special Mummy book – they put in photos (decorated with stickers, glitter etc), artwork they’d done, little poems and so on. She said it was the best Mother’s Day present ever. UnquietDadA

Gung Hey Fat Choi February 8, 2008

Filed under: celebrations — paulabrown @ 8:07 pm

 dragoncute.jpg  lioncute.jpg

This is the year of the Rat (Chinese:) who was welcomed in ancient times as a protector and bringer of material prosperity. It is the first of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. Rat is associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, yet also associated with death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities. The Year of the Rat is associated with the earthly branch symbol .

(the first picture, the dragon head is home made, the lion head was bought from Tehos shop!)