Ode To Abu

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Reality Check!

So after all the supremely sinful indulgences (food, guys, no need to be scandalized :D), I had to spot something on Shiny's FB wall today. Why, I ask? :/

Shiny Surendran is a Sports Nutritionist and a Dietitian who works with professional athletes, cricketers and the like. 

Funnily enough, I bumped into her at Cafe Homemade's stall at the BHFTH show! She was staring at the table that was already groaning under the weight of all those yummy goodies. Wait, was she staring at me I wonder...the table and me had a lot in common at that moment! :D

She was so friendly and we got yakking although we were meeting for the very first time. I immediately suggested she buy this and that! She joked that she would put on weight and that her career would go down the drain! Eventually, she relented and said she would pick up something for her nieces.

What struck me besides her instantly likeable personality was her business card. It had apples on it...yes, to drive home the point! :) Plus, it was SLIM! Nice touch by the designer (her friend’s suggestion) to project and convey her profession. There are so many creative and innovative people out there. This reminds me of a couple of other unique business cards I’ve seen…shall blog about that another time. As is evident, I tend to digress and get sidetracked all too easily!

This post was to be about coming to terms with reality…with a THUD! It was right after indulging in a slice of Delicioso’s chocochip cake that Shiny’s status message popped up:

“Retweeted PersonalTrainerFood (@TrainerFood): Eat your vegetables now so you won't become one later!”

Sheesh! :/ Then again, rather timely considering I will soon be on a mission to chop, peel, blanch, cut, slice and serve a TON of vegetables every single day for the next few weeks. Its gonna be marathon kitchen ‘seva’ and a group of us will be feeding 1000s of kids.

Will also be huffing and puffing up slopes and hilly terrain, so fingers crossed I get to lose some flab after all the cake mania! A bit apprehensive of my (lack of) fitness levels, but I shall be in good hands. Hope all goes well.

This morning I found this in the kitchen. My innovative mother had used a cake box to store the vegetables! Hahaha! My mom is a genius :D Guess this comes from having wayy too many baked goodies and boxes around the house ;)

Before I finished laughing, I turned around to find this one! She had covered a tub of yoghurt with a cupcake wrapper! Yes, she had washed it and retained it coz it was pretty! :D

Now that I shall soon be away, the verbal diarrhea on this blog will be at rest for a while. Off to heave and ho!

Saturday, 9 February 2013


So aptly named. This exhibition has become a regular fixture on Chennai's exhibition circuit. Majority of the sellers here offer handmade artsy & craftsy stuff made by them; some of them are retailers. Name it a craft marketplace or showcase, it truly unifies people who love handmade items. Craft workshops are also conducted during these events.

I love all things bright and beautiful, be they suncatchers, mirrorwork and embroidered edges on cloth, fragrant herbal soaps, handmade paper products, cute gardening stuff and of course every woman's favourite - jewellery! All these and more dominated the ongoing exhibition at Gallery Sri Parvati, Eldams Road, Alwarpet. This is a lovely 81 year old heritage home, now operating as an art gallery.

Greeted at the entrance (although you have to go to the right side of the heritage building and enter the exhibition through the backyard) by beautiful planters, lots of green shrubs and cute terracotta animal-shaped pots, is The Little Green Shop. The caricature artist had his head constantly bent down and focussed on creating portraits of all the visitors.

Next up is Cafe Homemade with vantage point location. You cannot possibly NOT pick something up from here, either while entering or exiting this exhibition. Home-bakers Anusha Kaushik of Delicioso & RoseAnn George of Oven 180Degrees are offering Dulce de Leche Brownies, good ole Date & Walnut cakes, Olive & Rosemary Crackers, Spinach & Corn Sandwiches and a whole load of scrumptious eats.

Care for a coloured candy? Albeit spelt KG style :P

There are about 6 stalls that follow where the tables are placed in a U-shape. Some of these are handwoven linen from Cannanore - A Lore From A Loom (such a dreamy name), colourful and decorative plastic totes from ReWeave, cloth bags made by prisoners of Yerawada Jail from Ecoexist, and Dokra metalwork from Punarnawa Crafts.

This cute fella welcomed visitors by trumpeting his sweet presence.

Animal lovers were not forgotten at the ecofriendly stall. The Gandhi Cloth Bag vied with the one below to tug at your heart strings.

Eye-catching handmade giftwrap paper and pretty raw silk borders welcomed visitors into the cool confines of the building.

Then come the stalls that most women would make a beeline for: jewellery and clothes.

This lovely mirror caught my attention...and also my camera's reflection!

Designer blouses and sarees at the corner stall.

As one steps out of the corridor, one is greeted by vibrant colour all around and smiles from the host of participants here. This rectangular room showcases around 7 tables. Auroville products such as handmade soap, organic baby oil and lip balms dominate the 1st table on the right.

They can also be bagged and gifted like so:

Crafted photo frames and jewellery from Krimasha follow. The name of the venture is an amalgamation of her name, her sister's and her father's names.

Pretty woman Nandita Vijayan's table is dotted with the prettiest glass pieces in various shapes, sizes and colours. From suncatchers to jewellery, her time-consuming art and craft are truly unique.

Chinanshu's thread trinkets make one gasp in wonder at their beauty and creativity.

Hair accessories for the young and the young at heart from NTwenty up next.

Chitra Dorairaj's Food for Life program is protected and supported by her brand's famous cocktail finger rings and umbrella jhumkas.

CBC member Bhushavali offers ecofriendly handlooms at the corner table. As you step out into the open portico area screened by sheer curtains, there are stalls with quaintly shaped gift boxes and yummy fruit-flavoured preserves. Hop and skip up the rather narrow winding staircase and enter the cool confines of an A/C room. A welcome break from the heat. Origami enthusiasts Kartik & Subash cheerfully take you through their labour of love. Many of the figures are made from a single sheet of paper. Check out the maze below. Paper folding art at its best.

The ever-popular Lord Ganesha and other historical creatures from the animal kingdom.

These guys looked like they were ready to giddy-up off the pedestal they were placed on.

Still butterflies, not live, but not pinned either.

Swans in tissue paper.

The ones below reminded me of Rio de Janeiro's famous statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms towering over the city. 

The inner room brightens up with the last handcrafted item of the day. 

Trees made from beads and baubles and pretty danglers. Wire and beads painstakingly twisted into this work of art to pretty up your living or working space.

Saving the best for the last, this glass lamp by Lamps & More is a true stunner. Do visit the exhibition to satiate the craftsperson alive within you. If not, awaken him/her and appreciate the beauty and dexterity of all things handmade! 

Timings 10am-8pm. Last day, 9th February.


Had to go back! After viewing my own pics, I was so tempted that I went back the next day :D 

The previous day I clicked whatever caught my fancy. Was also rather focussed on the 'reporting' bit and didn't really do much shopping. Shocking? But then, one has come a long way from attending tons of craft bazaars and returning with enough to conduct my very own mela! ;-)

Had spotted this pretty piece the previous day but was surprised to see that it was still available. Lucky me though, it now occupies a pride of place in my closet. A vibrant ankle trinket from Paarisha by Chinanshu.

The lady at ENiK's Jewel Craft said a lot of people came to her stall asking to buy the elephant mirror, after seeing my blogpost! Haha! What's up with people who "ass-ume"! ;) Read the label on the table, people! It was a jewellery stall. The elegant mirror was a beautiful touch to be used by shoppers to check themselves out in the mirror while trying on Enik's glamorous and gorgeous jewellery! 

I also picked up food from the bakers table...Apple Pie, Bell Pepper & Corn Cheese Sandwiches, Chilli Cheesy Herb Crackers and a Broccoli & Corn Quiche. All YUMMO! The quiche was so succulent, dreamy, creamy, utterly satiating...and I could go on! All from Delicioso, baked by the pretty Anusha Kaushik. Must feature her on this blog soon :-)

Must mention Thamima, who was gracious, friendly and had a big smile...no sign of fatigue at the end of  a 2 day craft market show! She was ready to unpack her stock just to let me taste some of her goodies. I had to refuse of course and picked up her business card. She makes fruit preserves, jams and chutneys. Must try them soon.

Punarnawa's simply stunning iPad embroidered cover grabbed my attention on my way out. The young entrepreneurs were packing up their stock and winding up their stall. They mentioned this was one of the top ten designs of India!

With a heavy heart, I bade goodbye to this lovely craft marketplace. 

And so it was curtains (aren't these sheer ones lovely!) for the 10th Edition of By Hand, From The Heart. 

Hope to see more artisans and craftspersons displaying their amazing wares soon!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Skywatch Friday - Jharkhand, India

This beautiful sunrise was just around 6 am. Walking through a little town close to Deoghar (10 kms away), this was the first soothing sight for my eyes. And obviously for the camera as well. 

A great ball of fire! Red hot, yet warm and cool. Can anyone ever capture Nature's Bounty in words or images, however poetic or breathtaking? Me thinks...Nevah!

As light filled the area around us, we had to walk away, albeit grudgingly. To work, to eat, to carry on with life. If only we could indulge our senses. But even time doesn't stand still or wait for anyone. This divine sight changed by the minute. Life keeps evolving and moving ahead and so must we, like it or not!

Love this concept of Skywatch Friday. It feels like one can be a part of any place in the world and simply admire the pristine and the pure; something no artist can ever replicate.

Monday, 4 February 2013

A Smash Hit Showcase & A Humane HBG

So at last, the much-awaited 'sweetest' event in the city arrived - the day of the Baker Showcase Edition 3! Cars and crowds converged at the airy & spacious venue - the school auditorium of Asan Memorial School, Anderson Road, Egmore.

The first couple of participants arrived just before 1pm - Karthika Shravanthi, Shivangi Daga (both bakers) & Uma Krishnan (chocolatier) began to set up their wares and decorate their tables. By 1.30pm there were quite a few customers walking around and ready to buy while the rest of the bakers were still halfway through setting up! The event's timings were 2pm - 6pm. It was sheer torture for volunteers, bloggers & photographers to wait through that pre-event time where you can only 'see, touch, but cannot bite'! By 330pm, most of the tables were almost empty, thanks to Chennai's gastronomic addicts generously loosening their purse strings! 

Needless to say, the show was a stupendous success that far surpassed earlier showcases in terms of sheer number of customers, visitors, photographers and even sponsors. As mentioned in my 1st post about the event, it was indeed a grand gala of gargantuan proportions! What added to making it even more interesting was the sheer variety on display. This time, biryanis and badams shared elbow space with bagels and brownies! The debate on FB rages on about which ones were more popular. Innovative items on the menus this time made a lot of news - Hummingbird Cupcakes, Gajar Halwa Cupcakes, Bourneville Mint Brownie Sandwich, Nolen Gur Sandesh, Zaffrani Badam ka Meetha, Noorjehani Lauz Khajoor, Meen Pathiri, Chicken Lasagne, Oreo Cheesecake Cookies, Baklava, Fruit Flavoured Chocolates & Iced Teas, Pickles and much more!

Zaffrani Badam ka Meetha
(Photo Credits: Shyma Mathai - The Inconsistent Chef)

The school staff that were helping to arrange tables, clean up etc., were quite excited to see a different kind of event at their premises compared to the usual school related stuff. They even said there should have been TV crews and channels to cover the crazy cake carnival that had stormed the place in a span of under 2 hours! :-)

Banana Butterscotch Trifle
(Photo Credits: Shyma Mathai - The Inconsistent Chef)

More than the high of having a sold out success of an event, with obvious profit margins having created records and marketing skills having succeeded all around, my observations here are about something else. Many a moment popped up that warmed the cockles of my heart and brought a smile to my face. People-watching is a great education and an eye-opener. So here's my take on the humane aspect of the event - the people behind the scenes. Some, quite literally.

Lebanese Lavash & Burnt Garlic Hummus Dip
(Photo Credits: Shyma Mathai - The Inconsistent Chef)

KP Balakumar, HBG cofounder and one who runs a fairly tight ship at the HBG forum is not a stock analyst for nothing. The man knows his bulls and bears well and is also as well-informed about baked goodies and the bakers who bake them! He sure knows how to take the whole thing by its horns, if need be ;-), and turn it into yet another feather in his cap. With an eye on the promotion of the event as well as the logistics, he looks out for the bakers (the whole reason he started HBG in the 1st place!). Tweaking the popular adage a bit - HBG's Baker Showcase success proves that behind a bunch of successful women there can also be a man!!

I saw him offer a generous amount of money to the helpers (sweepers, cleaners, watchmen) at the school venue at the end of the day. Here's a man with a large heart in more ways than one. Nothing new there - it's an established fact now considering the forum and the showcase have been practically free of cost for aspiring home-bakers since it began. Many home-baking businesses have sky-rocketed since participating in earlier Showcases and via their presence on the FB forum. The HBG forum has offered the home-bakers plenty of visibility. It was started as a platform wherein they could receive support, learning, growth, improve their skills thanks to the healthy competition, ask queries, learn new recipes and share their baking know-how and expertise. 

In turn, they also benefitted from the promotion of their FB pages and websites and photographs of their baked creations. They enjoyed retail opportunities via the Bake for Sandy's contestfree marketing and publicity during the Showcase events via newspaper articles, blog write ups, radio shows and the works!!! These women are so fortunate to have all this given to them practically on a gem(s)-encrusted platter! The Baker Showcase event goes leaps and bounds ahead of the forum itself. This event gives them a fantastic opportunity, experience, an opportunity to meet and understand their customer base, let people know who they are by distributing their business cards and brochures etc. Earlier Showcases were sellouts too and this has probably raised their expectations. In their excitement, some go overboard and bring too much stock. If everything does not get picked up, they are disappointed!! (Could this be a case of having your cake and eating it too? ;-)) The Baker Showcase is a professional space where bakers get to showcase their talents and compete with at least 15-20 other people in the same field, and YET experience a sell out of a sale! Can it get any better than this?! 

Hainanese Chicken Pastry Pie, Citrus Drizzle Cake & Nankhatai Biscuits
(Photo Credits: Shyma Mathai - The Inconsistent Chef)

Participating in the Baker Showcase is no small feat. One is competing with some of the best and most experienced bakers and chefs. It is not a school fete or mela where there are games and food stalls and one of which is a dessert stall, which naturally gets eyeballs and hence gets sold out. The Baker Showcase event is a very professional platform. The skills under scrutiny are also of table decor, presentation, and packaging. Even so, there is nothing to beat the quality of the goods per se, and ultimately, the way the customer is treated. This is where it goes beyond being a business where the work speaks for itself. After all, the person behind the table is the one who makes an impression on a customer, however fancy the background banners and pretty tables look.

Jay Behera's artwork from the upcoming By Hand, From The Heart exhibition (8th & 9th Feb)

This is even more significant in light of what I'm about to mention, which might seem a bit unsavoury to the palate. I spoke to a few visitors to get a feel of their opinion. They are not members of HBG and many are not even on FB. Some are housewives with plenty of baking/cooking experience down the years and considered expert chefs in their homes. They had turned up thanks to the press coverage in the The Hindu. Some had seen banners around town. They remarked with wonder on the many young bakers and their creations. However, I also heard an incident where a baker kept someone waiting for nearly 20 minutes to serve a slice of cake! The customer waited patiently and repeated her request a couple of times and even stood aside. The baker in question was aware of this and yet continued to serve others who came to her table later, since they were probably placing more than one order! Not the best impression to create while on a public platform. Tsk!

Which brings me to The Soul Food Sisters. This threesome were at one table. Already a force to reckon with in terms of their experience and quality of desserts, Sara Koshy, Girija Menon and Tasneem Ayub are the shyest, sweetest, humblest and most generous-hearted among all the bakers. This is being emphasised also because the present generation has a lot to learn from these Hot Mommas (they are such gorgeous looking women!), and we are not even talking baking skills here. These ladies are in a league of their own. They can well break into a jig, shake a leg and croon 'You Can't Touch This' MC-Hammer style!! But guess what...they won't! They will simply blush and graciously say "Let the younger ones take the stage, they are all soooo good!" That was probably their initial reaction when KP suggested they join the Showcase as one combined team. Brilliant marketing strategy, by the way, KP!! So they actually had to be cajoled into participating. They did it with style, and how! No prizes for guessing whose goodies are the most talked about in town! 

The Soul Food Sisters
(Photo Credits: Photostrophe)

It was lovely to see a far more confident Sara strutting her stuff, receiving compliments galore, and enjoying being there. This is as opposed to her usual shying away stance! Was deeply touched when Girija thanked me many times and said "Bless you", when all I did was cut out her business cards and arrange them. I found her running to her daughter Nanditha's table more often than minding her own stall. Typical mommy :-) As for Tasneem aunty, she was busy handing out free samples of her ultra-delicious Indian exotica, which is so rich to eat, so much work to make, and the ingredients alone cost a bomb. She even brought a batch of Colostrum Pudding to be freely distributed to kids who came that day! I could wax eloquent on each of these women for a few blogposts more but they might stop talking to me altogether :-) Rather publicity shy, they are an endearing bunch indeed.

Mini Cheesecakes with Exotic Berries
(Photo Credits: Karthik Ganapathy)

Coming back to the rest of the bakers, 'service with a smile' and a cool head while dealing with the monies, is what I noticed about Shivangi Daga, a first-time participant. Veena Sakthi and Karthika Shravanthi, also first-timers and the youngest, were  confident and courteous. Ayeesha Riaz, another first-timer, struck me with her soft-spoken, shy demeanour. Suzie Naga refused to let me pick up her caramel pannacotta because it was almost melting in the heat by then. Good to see this young college student giving more importance to customer satisfaction than selling off the remnants of her goods. Having recently opened a cafe, she certainly knows her bread from her butter! :-) Ever-smiling Gazeenasulu's food was truly soul food - it seems apparent that she goes all out while cooking in her kitchen. Her gooey desserts were loaded with nuts, cream & chocolate syrup and her cheesecakes had tons of whole berries stacked on top - a testament to her generous heart. 

Blueberry Cheesecakes

Cheshta Malik's stall was one of the most colourful with a rainbow umbrella and a rainbow cake to match! Her spread was vast & varied, and the theme of her table perfectly matched the name of her business venture - A Sweet Story. Books & novels were stacked up amidst desserts and savouries. The theme was her husband's idea. Most of the bakers had their husbands, siblings and even children helping out at their stalls.

A Sweet Story indeed!

Uma Krishnan, wise with age and experience, was friendly and humble. So eager to interact with her customers, she stood right in front of her table the whole time. When I pointed out that she could stand at the side since she was covering her own posters (how else would people see her banners), she said she wanted to meet people, chat with them and address their queries to the best of her ability. Uma also gave each volunteer a big fat box of chocs! When KP's eyebrows went up to his hairline (in a manner of speaking of course! :-D) on seeing her humungous goodie bag, she remarked to me: "When you give, give well!" Kudos to you for that thought and generous gesture, Uma!

Heart-shaped Chocolates
(Photo Credits: Karthik Ganapathy)

Nanditha Sashidharan, cofounder of HBG rattled off a host of tips for newbie bakers (as well as the better known ones, who could still learn a thing or two...after all isn't life an ever-learning experience? :-)). I think she ought to publish a book, or at the very least hold a tutorial class! Of noteworthy mention in the same context are also Rashmee Gopalan and Maaria Kulsum Tanveer who zapped me with their nonstop learnings and suggestions when I contacted them for the post - Event Tips for Bakers, by Bakers. Amazing to see the large-heartedness of these successful cupcake queens in sharing their trade secrets so freely!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Gajar Halwa as centre filling
(Photo Credits: Karthik Ganapathy)

Rashmi Ramakrishnan, one of the volunteers who I met for the very first time, came across as a warm person. Her cute & multi-talented 8-year-old daughter Nayonika, has written such a nice article covering the Showcase, on her own blog! I rued the fact that I did not click some pictures I had wanted, hoping that the group of photographers would do their bit with their fancy cameras. The beautiful photographs used in this post are by talented photographers Shyma, Raghu and Karthik. However, I have yet to see some images my eyes had noticed, and I'm surprised none of the photographers caught some of those images. But was happy to see that li'l Nayonika had captured one of my fave images - Sara Koshy's eye-catching black boxes with bright orange labels. Good job, Nayonika!

Cinnamon Cupcakes with Cream
(Photo Credits: Photostrophe)

Another cute moment was when my mom kept herself busy feeding everyone else, although she hadn't had lunch herself! She waited for me all day with much patience for which I am grateful. Towards the end of the evening, I spotted her picking up some eats from the stall manned by Asan school students and giving them to the helpers and the security guy's little son.

Mushroom Olive & Zucchini Onion Mini Pizzas
(Photo Credits: Karthik Ganapathy)

Many other incidents occurred that day. Meeting friends from other forums after a long while was lovely. Quite a few people came up to tell me they enjoyed reading the Baker Brigade series of profile write-ups on each baker. The best part was new people whom I'd never met (but we might have seen each other's names on FB forums) appreciating the stories and telling me what they liked reading in them. It felt good and I was rather touched. :-)

Strawberry Chocolate Tarts
(Photo Credits: Photostrophe)

Passionate Baking, one of the co-sponsors, had a stall that brought out the child in every baker and the baker in every child! :-) Cute moulds, tools and toppers caught everyone's eye. The picture below shows edible cake toppers made by Shiranee; sale proceeds of which go to People for Animals (PFA). Another co-sponsor, the organic superstore, Gormei Market gave away bags and discount vouchers. 

Edible Cake Toppers
(Photo Credits: Photostrophe)

And last but not the least humane face of HBG & the Baker Showcase is that sponsorship fees and part collections of the day will go towards a good cause. Or two, or more. The organizations that will receive the funds are being shortlisted and will be announced soon. 

(Photo Credits: Photostrophe)

Pic above has the bakers and volunteers. Families, friends and many other people behind the scenes are not forgotten. :-)

All in all, a very satisfying day. The next Baker Showcase would tally with HBG's 1st anniversary. Can't wait! Three cheers to the entire group that made it all happen. Hip Hip Hurray and hope HBG continues to stay humane and humble all the way!