Friday, October 23, 2009

Moong Dal Halwa Recipe

Even though Diwali is technically over, I am still enjoying the sweets and treats from the festivities. A few weeks prior to Diwali, out of the blue, someone emailed me asking me for my recipe that I had shared years ago for a halwa dish that she had used on Diwali.

Yes, the recipe is that good, that someone would approach me years later for it. The halwa tastes great when warmed with a cup of tea for dessert, or just simply to make the feeling of Diwali last a little longer. I decided to make some moong dal halwa this year.
Here's the recipe and Happy Diwali!

Moong Dal Halwa

1 cup Moong dal soaked for 5-6 hours
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 cups water
1/2 tsp saffron
3/4 cup mawa/khoya (optional)
3/4 cup butter or ghee
5 green cardamom pods (crushed)
1-2 tablespoons almonds (toasted, slivered or sliced) for garnish

Grind dal coarsly in food processor.
Make 1-thread syrup with sugar and water.
Soak saffron in milk.
Heat butter in non-stick pan and fry dal on low heat
until it is a deep rich golden brown.
Add sugar syrup and saffron milk.
Mix well and cook until it is dropping consistency.
Add crumbled mawa and cook until it melts.
Garnish with almonds and ground cardamom.

Did you try my recipe? Give me your opinion!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Lisa See is an author that can portray the sights, smells, and sounds of a story with such compelling detail that the reader is pulled instantly into the scenes she paints with her words. Her latest novel, Shanghai Girls, follows the story of two sisters from China whose lives take them on a journey from an upper-class, comfortable life prior to the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 China, to interrogations at the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, then to living in Chinatown in the Hollywood area.

See writes the historical novel through the eyes of Pearl, the college-educated, multilingual older sister. The story describes Chinese cultural values and customs from Pearl's perspective as the daughter of a seemingly wealthy businessman, and later as an immigrant to America. In Shanghai, the sisters live in a household complete with servants, a cook, a gardener, and a father with a tragic problem. The belief in Chinese astrology, herbal medicines, honoring ancestors, living as an extended family, and respecting the elders in the house were some of the cultural details that See utilized to show Chinese family life throughout the entire story, regardless of the continent on which Pearl lived. Pearl's world shatters when the Japanese attack Shanghai and she witnesses the atrocities of war first-hand. The brutality of war, its aftermath, and the events leading to their escape portray the depth of Pearl's pain in unforgettable detail, yet is without melodrama.

Throughout the story the relationship between the sisters and their lives after marriage in an extended family with their in-laws, is interesting to read and will be familiar to those from Eastern cultures, such as Indian, as both cultures share many similarities. The circumstances that lead them to America and the 'secrets' that the sisters share will keep the reader engaged until the end of the story. The sibling rivalry with concurrent intense loyalty and love that the sisters have towards each other is very moving, and adds layers to the depth of the story.

See focuses on the feelings and experiences of both of the sisters, and other Chinese immigrants, legal and illegal, that try to adjust into a very different America that existed prior to World War II, and immediately after. The sacrifices that were made by Pearl and others to survive in America by adapting and trying to find their place in society, while still not being able to deny the pull of wanting to return someday to settle in China, even after spending decades in another country are feelings to which many immigrants can relate. See uses historical events unfolding in China and America after World War II to illustrate the conflicts between the views of the first and second generation immigrants. These universal feelings of generational discord, rebellion, and the development of social causes will be familiar to many readers. Pearl and her family lived in an America that feared communism, and everyone was suspicious of anyone with Asian features because it was difficult to distinguish between Chinese allies and Japanese enemies. See details the unrest and fear in the Chinese community during the time that Japanese internment camps were set up and arsonists set fires to Chinese shops.

Within the historical events taking place, the story of Pearl, her sister May, and their extended family is a very absorbing read.
Readers and fans of See's previous novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, will not be disappointed. See delivered another beautifully written, epic story that begs to be continued in a sequel.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom

Does the belief in a higher power fit into our modern world of technology, emails, and DNA mapping? Spirituality is a personal issue, rarely discussed among friends and co-workers, and a subject we are warned to avoid in order to keep the peace in mixed company. How ironic, that we avoid discussions regarding religion to keep the peace. Given all the controversy in the world today, I suppose we are afraid to approach this subject with those outside of our own religion, or to assume that a person has a spiritual belief at all

Mich Albom's Have a Little Faith story does not preach a particular way of life, he simply describes his own journey, from being raised in a traditional Jewish congregation, walking away to a very successful writing career, marrying outside his religion (a Christian Arab), and then coming back to reconnect with the rabbi he has known from childhood. The story itself is an easy to read true story of his renewed relationship with his rabbi and a new relationship with an African American pastor, with the events unfolding during the current chaotic economic conditions. It is a book that encourages looking at ourselves all as children of the world, and highlights the commonality of world religions, rather than the differences.

The book has Albom's bestseller style and wit. I really enjoyed all of Albom's previous books, especially the fictional bestseller For One More Day. Albom's touching true story of his professor's battle with Lou Gehrig's disease in
Tuesdays With Morrie was also a very gripping account of his own spiritual journey. Albom's books never preach one way and I did not believe that Have a Little Faith would be any different. It was a beautiful story, tenderly written, about Albom's discovery that while he, "thought he was being asked a favor, instead was being given one."

Albom is asked by his rabbi to deliver his eulogy, and Albom is stunned, however he accepts. The story starts with Albom's journey into learning more personal details about his rabbi, whom he's only known as a 'Man of God', a go-between to the higher power, and has somewhat been intimidated by his importance. Albom simultaneously describes a story of another clergy from New York, one with a very different past life and present in a crumbling church in Detroit. There are many moments in the book that make the reader pause, and reflect on the enormity of a simple sentence.

Albom has the gift of writing truly inspirational and moving words, in an easy to read real-life account, that does not feel like a typical spiritual read. For example, what is the purpose, especially in our modern world, for ancient religious rituals? Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and most other major religions all partake in rituals. Do these rituals make sense? Albom gets a simple, yet profoundly meaningful, answer from his rabbi that will speak to all of us. Also, is it easier not to believe in a higher power at all? Albom's writing does not claim to have the answer, yet describes one account of someone dealing with loss and not having faith to help them through their pain. Another gem of advice is the answer Albom receives when he asks his rabbi the secret to happiness. Again, a simple answer is given: be satisfied, be grateful. Wonderfully simple, yet many of us spend a lifetime without ever being satisfied or grateful.

The choice is ours, we can choose to live our lives the way we want. We may follow the path we were shown as children, or one that we discovered ourselves as adults, or are yet trying to find in our future. Albom's book affirms that whatever path we do choose, a little faith can't hurt. This was another quick read, and spiritually uplifting book by one of my favorite authors.