Farmhouse and Photography

I make it a point to take my camera along whenever we visit our Farmhouse. We go there almost every week, but the sights (vibrant flowers and beautiful Sunsets) and sounds (unbelievably quiet compared to the noisy city we live in) never fail to impress me. And there’s something about capturing a place through photography that shifts my perspective in so many ways – When I have my camera with me, it’s as if I’ve taken off my usual boring brown glasses and have worn a bright, magical pair instead. I begin seeing beauty and mystique in everything, even the mundane. Then, it feels like I’ve become someone else altogether, not the same old, nutty Manasa, but someone more artistic, fairy-like even.

Just as much as writing down everything that’s bothering a mind, lessens its burden; Just as much as confiding worries in a good friend helps in casting worries aside; Just as much as meditation or a long walk brings peace for a little while, I bet photography has healing powers too; It takes the focus off one’s own life and lets us zoom in on something else.  At least for me it does.

“Get over yourself and see, really SEE, the World around you. Nothing remains forever, not even the worries. So try to capture these fleeting moments as best as you can.”, whispers my camera to me. And so I click away….

These are some of the pictures I took on a few recent visits to our Farm –

… Of the produce

…. Of the Flowers

…. Of the kids having fun.

… and of all the mundane stuff that makes this life beautiful….

Love,

Manasa.

Letter to Madhav

Dear Madhav,

Hi! Ahem… How are you my little one? How’s being a little brother going so far? Fun, I hope? I know you’re sort of being neglected since we began preparing for Medha’s exams; But what to do?! There’s so much she needs to practice for her Pre-primary exam – sight words, number names, letters in Hindi, words in Hindi, names of vegetables, fruits, flowers, parts of the body… Phew! Papa and I are so engrossed in teaching and applauding her every tiny success, that you’re getting annoyed with us for ignoring you. We do ensure that you are safe, healthy and happy, of course, but beyond that I haven’t been able to spend much time with you. Nor have I taught you a thing more than what you already know! I’m so sorry my little monkey (By the way you prefer to be called a “monkey” or a “doggie” instead of a “baby”!

Busy reading a book by himself

But you already know so much- Words in 3 different languages (Kannada, English and Hindi); colors like Red, Black, Orange, Pink, Purple and White- more colors than you did just last month; most Shapes including Oval; quite a few rhymes; when to say “Please” and “Thank you” and to meditate (Yep, I take you to my meditation class where you sit quietly for a couple of minutes and then play with a puzzle set by yourself. Still, all our attention is focused on sis right now.

But you will take center-stage soon, tomorrow, to be precise.

You will start school. We finally found the right one for you, for us. I’m looking forward to the next big step in your life- Preschool. You are learning so much, soaking up everything like a sponge. What was once enough- home, your mama and and your toys- don’t amount to much anymore. You are ready to move on. But Am I? That’s a BIG question!

All the excuses I used to make – “You’re too young” “You’re contented with playing by yourself” or “You’re learning so much at home itself”- `to keep you with me all day, aren’t working any longer. You’re growing, and fast too. Papa thinks you have too much potential that will only get wasted if you stay home all day. It’s only apt to send you to school; Just for a couple of hours, everyday. I’ll miss having you around at home, helping me with cooking, laundry and grocery-shopping. But I’m sure you will have much more fun at your new school, make a bunch of friends, learn loads of new things and burn off that extra extra energy!

With Love, Anxiety and a bit of tears mixed in,

Mama

.

Domaine de Villeneuve, France

On the second day of our trip to France, a meeting was organized by the host company in a manor at the Domaine de Villeneuve, a vineyard located in the town of Bar Sur Seine.

Manor at the Domaine de Villeneuve

After a breakfast buffet at our hotel in Pont Sainte Marie, which included delicious French Croissants, toast, fruit juice, coffee and cereal, we got into the bus that would take us to the manor. It was a 40 minutes’ drive.

Between the plains of Champagne (not the wine, but the wine-producing area) and the slopes of Burgundy lies the region of Cote des Bar, one of the largest Champagne (a sparkling white wine) -producing regions. There are a number of vineyards in this area and Domaine de Villeneuve is one of them.

The young care-taker of the manor welcomed us, served us coffee and croissants, explained our agenda for the day and showed us around the place. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the building, the garden and the river Seine flowing beside.

Around Domaine de Villeneuve

There was a showroom selling Champagnes, specifically Champagne Devaux, one of the best Champagnes in the region since 19th century.

All year long, this manor provides a tour of the Champagne-making process, history of the region and some important facts about Champagnes.

I learnt that Champagne is produced from 3 different grapes namely Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and the Devaux  is made of Pinot noir and Chardonnay.

Apparently, enough sunlight, steep terrain and good drainage are the major characteristics of the vineyards selected to produce the Champagne Devaux. Every year, the wine-growers go through a rigorous process of soil work to grow the grapes; conduct weekly vineyard observations, systematic de-budding (removal of unnecessary buds), maturity tests (to determine harvest dates), selection of best grapes and final delivery of the grapes to the pressing center.

Pressing

Once the grapes are crushed and pressed (with pressing machines), they are sent for the first round of fermentation. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats (at  controlled temperature) and partially in oak vats.

Fermentation

Then comes the Assemblage, where different wines are blended together to create the base- wine for Champagne. Oak casks (barrels) are used for this.

Assemblage

Next sugar, yeast and yeast nutrients are added, and the concoction is put in a thick-walled glass bottle and sealed with a cap for the second round of fermentation.

Second Fermentation and Aging

At some point, the yeast cells die and after several months, the fermentation is complete. This process is called Aging. Depending on the type of Champagne, aging takes place from 6 months to 5 years. The bottle is opened and the dead yeast is removed through a process called riddling. It is then corked quickly and wired down to secure the high internal pressure of carbon dioxide (which causes the Carbonation or the sparkling in Champagne).

There’s a small conference hall in the manor and our Sales- Engineering group meeting was held there. The first half of the meeting ended with a Champagne-tasting session, followed by lunch. Lunch included salad, bread, special yogurt with some kind of sauce and a Tiramisu cake.

Lunchtime

Our meeting ended at 5 pm. The tour of the Vineyard concluded with a second round of Champagne-tasting; We savored the tasty Champagne and bade hearty goodbye to our hostess and the Vineyard.

Pont Sainte Marie, France

Visiting France has been on my wishlist for a long time now. Paris, Burgundy, Nice are some of the places I would love to go see at least once in my life. Well, I’ve been bugging Mike to make travel plans; Hopefully it’ll happen soon!.

When my boss decided to have our Sales-Engineering group meeting at one of our sister companies in France, I was quite excited. I hoped my short visit would give me a better insight into the country, its people and culture.

The company we were visiting was in Pont Sainte Marie, a small town located North-East of France.

Our trip was booked for 3 days. The 15 of us, including our Boss, rented a couple of cars, while some of us drove our own vehicles. We started in the morning at around 9.30 am and reached there by 3.30 pm. Though the journey was long and tiresome, I enjoyed the conversations with my colleagues while watching the beautiful landscapes that we passed by.

Pont Sainte Marie 1

We got an introduction of the company and were taken on a tour around the workshop. Later we checked into the hotel booked for us. Hotel Logis des Sources is a 2 star hotel located just a couple of minutes away from the company. The rooms were small but tidy, suitable for business trips but not for family outings.

Our dinner was organized at a restaurant called la mignardise, about 15 minutes’ drive from our hotel. It was a Monday and on Mondays most of the restaurants are closed, but this one was specifically booked for us and so we had the whole place for ourselves!

As an aperitif we were served Orange juice, wines and special kind of Buns made of eggs. They were too good. Food was mostly fish- and meat-based, but luckily, there was good vegetarian food with aromatic sauces to satisfy my appetite.

Pont Sainte Marie 2

The whole town had that French vibe to it (obviously!) It was just as I’d always imagined how it would be- Narrow, brightly-lit roads; Cobble-stoned alleys; tiny coffee shops and and beautiful churches…. I was having a good time; If only Mike could’ve joined me on this trip…

(Continued…. A visit to a French vineyard in my next post.)

Cheers,

Madhurya

A Pig in Provence- Book Review

I finally read a whole book! It had been so long since the last time I did. And nothing beats the satisfaction of having finished a book or a Blog post. Really! The book, “A Pig in Provence”, is written by Georgeanne Brennan. It’s a memoir about the American author’s life in Provence, her love for French food, its people and their way of life. Sort of like Julia Child and her “My Life in France”.

What is it about traveling, returning to roots, cooking food that one grows and bonding with family over meals, that’s making me reach out for books that revolve around those aspects? A yearning for a simpler life I suppose. Whatever it is, I find it effortless to read such books.

I’d read another book on similar lines called “Animal, Vegetable and Miracle”, written by Barbara Kingsolver, and had fallen in love with it. It’s about a year in the life of the author and her family during which they resolve to consume food grown locally and seasonally in their own neighborhood or backyard.

“A pig …” begins with how the author learns to make Goat Cheese by herself from the herd she buys and rears. Its a slow start; She makes a lot of mistakes- adds too little Rennet to begin the curdling of the milk, or adds too much, but she doesn’t give up. She perfects the art and prepares Chevre or Goat Cheese good enough to sell to her French neighbors!

It’s her wish to live a rich life in rural Provence, a life filled with the luxury of time and connections with the land and her neighbors, not a material luxury. She yearns for “long days of cooking, reading, writing, and sewing, with the occasional visits to Paris and Spain, countries (she and her husband) had fallen in love with during (their) honeymoon..”. I kept wondering, what’s wrong with savoring life that way? Why was everyone after something or the other? What was the mad rush all about? I decided, I too wanted to spend all my time reading, writing, making art, laughing, traveling and loving…

This book talks a lot about “connections with the land” that we missed when we were living in the US. We couldn’t grow a thing out of that hardy, desert soil, except a few prickly Cacti and a bunch of Succulents. I still suck at Gardening, but we do have help around here, which means I don’t have to do the Gardening myself, but I still get to eat fresh, organic, locally-grown food. I love visiting our farm, learning from our farmer, clicking pictures of what we grow, picking veggies and coming up with ways of cooking them.THAT is life to me.

Every chapter in the book ends with a recipe, non-vegetarian mostly, but there are a few vegetarian recipes as well. All of them seemed so mouth-watering that I kept thinking how I could tweak the techniques and ingredients mentioned in them to suit our vegetarian palates. I followed the recipe for Vegetable Soup with Basil-Garlic Sauce, with a few modifications, of course, and it tasted good. There’s one more- a Petits farcis, a Summery Stuffed-Vegetable recipe, that I’ve written down to try one of these days.

I give this book a 4-star instead of a 5, because I feel chunks of the author’s life are missing from it. It isn’t clear how and when she began teaching French cooking from teaching History and English at school. She writes about the friendships she builds with an assortment of people- how they let her into their lives and their kitchens and taught her to cook the Provencal way,  but her personal life is a bit hazy; She doesn’t tell us why she married again. Or why she left Provence and moved back to the US (Or did I miss that?!?!). Perhaps it is just meant to be a collection of recipes with a bit of backstory thrown in for each. And nothing more than that. Maybe. No matter what, it was a drool-worthy, quick and pleasant read.

Day trip to Lake Caumasee

After a long and tiring week, an idea popped into my head to plan a day-trip to Lake Caumasee. I’d visited this lake with my friends Manisha and Stefan last year, and had a really good time, but Mike never had, so he found this idea quite appealing. When we told our good friends Marcel and Farnaz about our little outing, they immediately agreed to join us.

Caumasee Lake

Switzerland has a number of lakes, of which, Caumasee is one. This tiny, beautiful lake is tucked in Flims, a town in the canton of Graubünden.

It is about 175 km from our home. We left early in the morning, picked our friends in Winterthur, and began our 2 hr journey. Marcel and Farnaz are a few of the closest friends we have here in Switzerland. We always enjoy hanging out with them, discussing topics like work, politics, family and travelling.

The entire journey to the lake was composed of luscious green fields, gigantic mountains, steep valleys and small lakes here and there. They were really beautiful! I kept clicking pictures all the way, as I wanted to capture nature at its best!!

It was about 10 am by the time we reached Caumasee; We decided to walk around the town before heading to the forest that leads to the Lake. After a short walk and a cup of coffee at a café, we took our bags (which had our swim clothes, towels, fruits, chips, my homemade cupcakes and some drinks) and started our short descent into the lake.

Around Flims

There are two ways to reach the lake, one is by walking down to a certain point and then taking the funicular to the entrance, and the other is walking all the way down through a Forest Trail. We chose the latter. It was a short 15 minute walk, that gave us stunning views of this beautiful freshwater mountain lake. It looked like a painting with shades of green and blue.

Lake Caumasee 2

During the summer (June to September), there is an entrance fee of CHF 9.50 and the rest of the year, it is free. You’ll find people swimming in the lake or playing beach volleyball, or sunbathing or simply lying on the shore, reading. One can even rent a rowing board or a pedalo to go around the lake. For dining, there is a restaurant, serving typical Swiss food, drinks and ice cream.

While the men swam around the lake, Farnaz and I stayed on the shore chatting and reading. Lying on the grass while soaking the sun was so relaxing.

I also practiced a few swimming strokes which Mike has been teaching me lately.  We had the fruits, chips and cupcakes that we’d packed for the trip and left the lake around 3 in the afternoon, when the sky began turning grey.

As we ended our day, I promised myself to visit all the beautiful places, big and small, in Switzerland with my family and good friends.

Cheers,

Madhurya.

July Goals Revisited

 What was I thinking when I came up with goals like “Identify all the letters” and “Read a book by herself” for Medha and expected her to achieve them in a month?! I have no idea! 2 months later, we have still not accomplished all the goals. But I’m happy to have scored off a few from our list.

Here are the goals and our progress-

IMG_2164July Goals for Medha-

(Goals accomplished (fully/sort of) are in Bold)

1. Identify all the letters– Medha (now 5 years and 3 months) can identify all the letters in her best moods, but when she’s tired, “I” starts looking like “J” and “M” is written as “N” and so on…

2. Learn PhonicsSounds the Consonants (letters that are not vowels) make? yes. Of vowels? Still, a bit confused!

3. Learn addition of single digit numbers- Something’s seriously wrong with me! Why did I pick this goal when the school hasn’t started “addition” yet!?!? There’s so much Medha has to learn just to catch up with what’s going on at school; I don’t want to go near stuff that’s not yet been taught!

4. Learn Student Council Speech– Learnt it and went to the Finals but didn’t get selected to the Council.

5. Learn a PrayerShe did- Saraswathi Namasthubhyam- an ode to Saraswathi, the Goddess of Knowledge.

6. Read a book by herself- We have just began working on it. I make Medha read a book from this set with my help every night. She sounds out the smaller words while I read the 4-letter words. We’re limping along, but we’re better than before (when she absolutely didn’t want to read a book at all!).

July Goals for Madhav-

(Goals accomplished (fully/sort of) are in Bold)

1. Learn ABC songMadhav knows this and many other songs. He doesn’t hesitate when asked to sing rhymes like “Baa Baa Black Sheep” or “Five little Monkeys” or “Johnny Johnny”. This guy LOVES to sing and expects you to applaud after he does!

2. Potty-training– Done!

3. Learn ShapesHe knows a lot of shapes like Square, Circle, Triangle, Heart, Star and Oval (which he calls “egg” shape) but a triangle is his absolute favorite! Not sure why.

4. Learn Parts of a face in English- Nose and mouth are fine but ears? eyes? Confused!

5. Count from 1 to 10Madhav can count from 1 to 10. And not just up to 10, 20. And beyond 20 too, with help. This one’s big on counting!

6. Learn 5 colors- He knows Pink and Purple, thanks to his sister! He sometimes recognizes “blue” which he calls “boo”!

Medha loved ticking off a goal after accomplishing it. She always compared her list with Madhav’s to see who had more “ticks”. Even though we weren’t able to reach all of our goals, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made so far. I think I will come up with a few more in a few days…

Happy Goal-setting y’all!!!

Love,

Manasa.