Musings from a childhood long gone and a sweet dish that has stayed back from then – Semiya / Vermicelli Payasam.
It had been a long, tiring flight. After traveling all through the night, our home in India was a welcome sight. The front door was wide open and the familiar smell of breakfast simmering away on the stove came wafting through. The car glided to a slow stop and I stood there looking up at the house where I grew up, memories flooding my mind, overpowering my senses and bringing a painful lump to my throat. The house was situated on a hill top, amidst plantations of rubber, cashew and coconut trees. There was a forest river flowing at the base of the hill. The scenario was enchanting. .! However the kids did not think so. They jumped out of the car and ran down the lawn towards the house, expectant of a good breakfast, Cartoon Network and the plug point for recharging their PSPs.
The lush lawns, the grandfather mango trees, the tall Drooping Asokas, the jasmine flowers, and the fluttering butterflies were a welcome sight for me. But all the children could see where the crawling ants, buzzing bees and the moths around the bulb. Their whole day was engulfed in Ben10, Chota Bheem and Handy Mandy episodes and they never left the house. That night I went to sleep wondering whether technology had numbed our senses to natures’s beauty. The days went on and on in a similar manner.
One morning I woke up to the streaming rays of the sun on my face and the sound of the birds chirping merrily. I put on my dupatta and tied my hair up in a bun. Feeling nostalgic, I sat on the steps of the backdoor cradling a cup of hot tea in my hands feeling in sync with my surroundings. This was the best place in the whole house, my favorite haunting place. From where I sat, the mountain sloped down amidst a mishmash of banana, coconut and cashew trees interspersed with small chili plants. There was a slight breeze in the air and the approaching clouds indicated rain for the day.
I walked down the slope remembering days of yester years. The bright red chilies were dancing in the breeze and the honey bee was humming in its search for nectar. I brushed my hands over a bunch of touch – me – nots and watched them close their leaves shyly. The banana trees were bent over with the weight of large bunches of banana and I was tempted to reach out for the banana flower and sip the sweet nectar off its petals. A rustling in the grasses made me turn around in time to catch sight of a garden lizard running away. It all seemed the same , even after so much time had passed.
Many moons back, my brother and I had run over this terrain as kids, oblivious to the hurries and worries of the adult world. A girl in a polka dot dress and a boy in shorts, a printed T shirt and a hippie hairstyle , we made a unique sight. Summer vacations were spent running around the mango trees, plucking fresh mangoes off the tree and biting into them greedily. The mangoes would taste sweet, their juices would run down our hands and we would lick it all up from elbows to finger tips. We would slice the unripe ones, dip it in a mix of fiery red chili powder and salt and eat it. And then we would run into the kitchen in search of water, panting with our tongues out.
Mom would then hand us each a small basket with instructions to go pick up the cashew nuts which had fallen from the trees, in return for 10 ps as salary for each cashew nut, big money for small kids. We would race down the mountain and collect as many as we could find. My brother was the lazy one who would spend his time playing with the dragon flies. We would regale each other with stories about the lone fox that had a home somewhere amongst the trees on this side of the mountain. Legend had it that the fox would hide in the bushes and watch everyone walking up the mountains and we were eager to find it and chase it. Life was a big circle of laughter, showing off and matching wits. When it was time to return home, my brother would sulk as his basket was always almost empty. We would then divide the cashew nuts equally and go home to collect our reward, happy and content. This money that we earned would go into buying sweets. My brother would save it up and buy me small bindis and glass bangles. We were knit together in our souls, the bond strong and unconditional.
I sat down on a large rock, thinking about all our times here. The fox of our childhood days had long gone. Now a small family of mongoose ruled the mountain side. They would come out in the mornings and play on our front lawn, an adorable sight to see. They lived off the extra food that we threw out near an old coconut tree. Sometimes they could be found walking proudly up the mountainside and into the rubber plantation nearby. Would the kids understand the wonders here? My thoughts were many and I was lost in them.
Suddenly I heard a shout behind me and I stood up hurriedly. My son and daughter were running down the slope, hand in hand. They were dressed in funky T shirts and jeans with Ben10 watches (gotten free with Kissan jams) on their wrists. They were prancing about pretending to be Ben 10 and Gwen ( Ben10 Cartoon characters) looking for the mongoose family (Aliens for their imagination), picking up stray fallen coconuts and chasing butterflies and dragonflies. They were happy in their search and filthy with mud all over their clothes. Instead of my baskets they held Poppins candies and ice lollies, but I could see the pure happiness on their faces. Was it my yesterday or was it a new today? Definitely a new today ..!!
As we explored the area a gentle rumble could be heard in the skies. And then the first drop of rain fell on my sons face. Soon the rain started pouring and the smell of the first rains filled our senses. I was so happy. We ran back to the house but ended up getting drenched in the rains and having a jolly good time getting wet. It was a time when nature had transcended time and boundaries and come out in celebration of its existence, bringing joy and happiness to all around.
That night I put the kids to sleep, all content with their energy spent in the day’s activities. I turned off the lights, went to the balcony, had two panadols and sat down to do some steam inhalation. My nose was blocked, my head was heavy from getting wet in the rains but my heart was light. We had come away from the concrete jungle only to find REAL happiness with nature. The kids had come out of their cartoon worlds and joined hands with their surroundings. Now they would enjoy playing football in the mud, climbing trees, lying on the terrace at sunset to see the migratory birds and bats flying and catch the fireflies in the night. There was so much to do and so little time before the holidays ended. But now I was sure,we would be back again next year, and the year after and the year after that, to celebrate our freedom with nature. For we were in love with her, Mother Nature.
The Vermicelli / Semiya payasam is a sweet dish that has stayed with us from a long time. This dish was prepared by Mom on all special occasions. We had it as treats on days we won a certificate or on those days when we needed cheering up. We ate it hot on cold nights and cold during hot summer days. It was the most loved payasam for us.
This recipe varies slightly from the normal semiya payasam as it makes use of rose extract. The reason for this is quite simple. Some children do not like the smell of fresh milk. They are more used to the powdered milk. This is especially true of kids brought up outside India. When we add rose extract, the payasam gets a nice ice cream / kulfi aroma and a wonderful taste that swirls around your tongue. I feel that it enhances the taste of the payasam giving it an edge above the ordinary. But then again try it out and let me know what you think.
VERMICELLI / SEMIYA PAYASAM
- 2/3 cup Vermicelli / semiya
- 1 Tbsp Sago / Sabudhana seeds (optional)
- 1 – 2 Tbsp Ghee
- 3/4 cup Sugar
- 1 cup Water
- 3 to 4 cups Whole Milk
- 6 Green Cardamom, powdered
- 1/4 tsp Rose extract
- 15 Cashew Nuts
- 15 Raisins
- Take a deep, thick bottomed pan and heat 1 Tbsp ghee. Fry the vermicelli till it becomes a light brown. Keep aside.
- Add the remaining ghee to the pan and fry the cashews till light brown. Drain and keep aside. Similarly fry the raisins till they plump up. Keep aside.
- Take a deep bottomed pan and add the water and sago seeds to it. Boil for 5 minutes on a low flame. Then add the roasted vermicelli and 1 cup of milk to the pan. Bring to a boil on a low flame, stirring often.
- Once the sago and the vermicelli have cooked halfway through, add the sugar and the remaining milk.
- Cook this mixture on a low flame till the semiya / vermicelli and the sago seeds are cooked through and the milk has thickened slightly.
- Add the cardamom seeds and the rose extract. Cook for another 5 minutes and then switch off the flame.
- Remove the pan from the stove, add the roasted cashews and raisins to the payasam and stir well.
- Sere warm or cold as per choice.
- If you are not having the payasam immediately on cooking, keep it in an uncovered pan till it cools down a little. If we leave it covered the steam arising from the hot payasam will condense against the lid and fall back into the payasam.
- The use of sago / sabudhana seeds are optional. If you do not like the flavor of rose extract, please omit it and you will have a traditional payasam.
- In case you need the payasam to be more of a more liquid consistency the next day, dilute it with previously boiled milk. Do not add unboiled milk as the taste will be drastically different.
This post is my entry to the Kissan 100 % Real Blogger Contest conducted by Indiblogger and Kissan. This event asks you to write about something related to nature from your life experiences. The theme was unique and close to my heart. So I decided to write my entry to the contest, on incidents close to the heart, 100% real.