Vibrant India


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To be honest, I don’t know much, if anything, about Indian cuisine. I’ve only eaten it once (in London, as I was told that was one of the best places to have it), I definitely don’t get cravings for it, and it really isn’t a type of food that is even on my radar. When I do think about it, I always think of heavy food and lots of bread.

Obviously, there are different regions in India and cuisine may differ, but I don’t know that many people realize this. I certainly didn’t before reading this cookbook. On the back of the front cover alone, I have learned so much already: this book is about South Indian food, is full of vegetarian recipes only, and the food from this area is referred to as the “yoga diet” because it’s clean, healthy and light. Completely opposite of what I would have thought. I’m intrigued already.

“Vibrant India,” written by Chitra Agrawal, starts off with a lovely and organized Table of Contents. I do enjoy a good-looking Table of Contents. The book is broken down into: Introduction, How to Use This Book, Breakfast & Light Meals, Salads & Yogurts, Stir-Fries & Curries, Rice & Bread, Soups Stews & Lentils, Festive Bites & Snacks, Sweets & Drinks, Chutneys & Pickles, From Scratch, and a few other important sections specific to Indian cuisine like Hands Over Forks & Knives and a Starter Grocery List.

So what makes South Indian food so different from North? Here are a few differences.

  • Relies on rice and lentils instead of breads and curry
  • Use of fresh coconut and curry leaves
  • What you mostly find and eat in U.S. restaurants is NOT South Indian cuisine
  • Use different spices/spice mixtures – saarina pedi or rasam powder, tamarind
  • Hot drink of choice is coffee made with chicory (not tea or chai)
  • Rooted in strict vegetarian customs of Hindu Brahmins and Ayurveda
  • Light and fresh
  • And much more

Every recipe is vegetarian. Each recipe is specified for seasons and by restrictions like vegan or gluten-free.

In the Indian Cooking Techniques and Tips, Agrawal says that tempering spices is the most important thing she can teach her readers to do. She also includes an extensive list of things included in the South Indian Pantry, such as different spices, chiles, fresh ingredients, sweetening and souring agents, nuts and seeds, lentils and beans, grains, flours, and oils. Finally, there are a few specific kitchen tools she recommends – most are specific to Indian cooking so if you’re serious about getting into South Indian cuisine, you’ll need to invest in a few, if not all, of them.


These meals are usually savory and spicy.

Recipes include Rice & Lentil Crepe, Steamed Semolina Cake, Steamed Rice and Lentil Cakes, and Spiced Spring Vegetable and Coconut Polenta.


Consisting of shredded or chopped vegetables, lentils or beans, and fresh ingredients like fresh coconut, lemon, and cilantro, plus spices/seasonings. With yogurt, it is traditional to end a meal with rice and plain yogurt.

Recipes: Root Vegetable and Asian Pear Salad; Cucumber, Sprouted Mung Bean, and Pomegranate Salad; Summer Squash in Herby Coconut Yogurt Curry; and Radish Yogurt Raita.


These recipes are flexible and you can use what you find at your local markets and what is in season at the time.

Recipes: Cabbage Stir-Fry with Lemon and Curry Leaves; Stir-Fried Corn with Basil and Leeks; and Pineapple and Peppers in Red Coconut Curry.


A South Indian meal is not a meal without rice. There are many different types of rice to choose from also. Breads are also a big part of South Indian cuisine too.

Recipes: Steamed/Simple Basmati Rice; Lime Dill Rice with Pistachios; Yogurt Rice with Pomegranate and Mint; and Spicy Sweet Potato Buns.


Lentils are the main protein source for Indian vegetarians. Most of the recipes in this chapter are variations on saaru and huli.

Recipes: Basic Red Lentils; Lemony Lentil Soup; Roasted Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew; and Creamy Yellow Lentils with Tomato and Ginger.


This includes special foods made during festivals, as well as snacks, an apparent obsession in Bangalore.

Recipes: Lettuce “Dosa” Wrap with Curried Potato and Chutney; Stuffed Shishito Pepper Fritters; and Festival Trail Mix.


While many Indian desserts are known for being overly rich and sweet, Agrawal grew up with mostly fruits and toned-down desserts that she still prefers today. South India is also coffee country so it’s no surprise that their traditional hot drink is coffee.

Recipes: Chia Pudding with Roasted Jaggery Blueberries; Summer Peaces in Sweetened Yogurt; Banana, Coconut, and Cardamom Ice Cream; Turmeric Almond Milk; and South Indian Drip Coffee.


Condiments are important in an Indian meal and both of these things can be used to add flavor to dishes.

Recipes: Cilantro and Coconut Chutney; Meyer Lemon Pickle; Rhubarb Strawberry Pickle; and Spicy Cranberry Relish.


This chapter involves making your own spice blends. These blends include Saaru/Rasam Powder, Huli/Sambar Powder, and Yangi Baath Powder.

There are so many recipes that I WANT to make and I am eager to add South Indian cuisine into my repertoire of recipes and go-to meals. I like that Agrawal has included a section for meal planning and sample menus. She also includes a starter grocery list to get your pantry ready for a few South Indian meals.

I am so happy I’ve found this book because I feel like a whole world of food that I never knew about has finally come into my life and may also be what I’ve been looking for when it comes to fulfilling yet light meals that will lead to a healthier lifestyle.

I strongly encourage you to pick up this book if you love Indian food, love yoga and Ayurveda, love being a vegetarian/vegan, or just want to add some spice to your life and switch up your meals. You won’t be disappointed.

Vibrant India @ Penguin Random House


I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.


The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters


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I’m always intrigued by books that seem to speak about improving your life in ways that aren’t always as step-by-step as self-help books teach. In “The Power of Meaning,” by Emily Esfahani Smith, she brings many viewpoints and stories together to teach us, that through such a wide-range of experiences by many different people, we can find more meaning in our own lives.

Happiness seems to be the unicorn of life we all search for, but few truly find. Happiness can be confusing though, as the author points out. There are life experiences that don’t necessarily give us happy feelings, but are so meaningful that eventually they aid in our long-term happiness. There are also things that make us happy but only for a short while. We need to figure out the balance that works for each one of us.

There are four pillars of meaning, according to Smith: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence.


Belonging is about the need “to find our tribe. A sense of belonging is the most important driver of meaning.”

From the early 1900s, when people thought they were killing their children by giving them too much love due to the spread of germs, to the increased research in behavioral psychology that said the increased deaths were due to lack of love and a lack of children feeling belonging in their “tribes” at home, the idea of belonging is quite important to our connection with those around us and the lives we live.

We still feel the importance of belonging today, especially in a time where phones, computers, video games, television, and other electronic devices keep us in our own little worlds and take over our daily lives. We have decreased our in-person conversations, our time spent with each other is focused on looking at our phones and constantly checking the internet, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or the other hundreds of apps out there. People think they have meaning in their lives through these devices, but are unhappier than ever and are more lonely then ever.

Small moments of “intimacy” are also important and usually require slowing down our lives to make them. For example, instead of rushing in to get a coffee and out again to get to work, we can practice forming brief bonds with those around us by slowing down and making each other feel like humans and maybe a little less alone.


Purpose is such a big word sometimes. When it is included in books about the meaning of life, it can make us think of much bigger, usually unattainable things like world peace, a solution to world hunger, or something like ending homelessness. But more often than not, it means something closer to our purpose to be a good parent or employee or the like; or maybe being the productive one at our office or the motivator or support system; and it can even mean keeping buildings clean (hospitals, schools, workplaces) so that other people can also do their jobs more easily.

“Not all of us will find our calling. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find purpose.”


“Our story-telling impulse emerges from a deep-seated need all humans share: the need to make sense of the world.”

When we tell stories about ourselves, we are sharing who we are, how we live, and how things could have been different. We also find meaning and inspiration in other people’s stories.


Transcendence involves going beyond the every day and experiencing a higher reality.

“During transcendent states, two remarkable things happen. First, our sense of self washes away along with all of its petty concerns and desires. We then feel deeply connected to other people and everything else that exists in the world. The result is that our anxieties about existence and death evaporate, and life finally seems, for a moment, to make sense – which leaves us with a sense of peace and well-being.” David Yaden of the University of Pennsylvania.


We all have certain sources of pain in our lives that can pose a threat to finding meaning. They can shatter our belief that there is good in the world and they can lead to cynicism and hatred. They can lead to lost relationships, loss of faith, loss of life. But sometimes they can, while leaving deep wounds, make us grow in ways that make us wiser and stronger. If our pillars of belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence are strong, we can build them to be even stronger.

With all the stories from different people of different backgrounds and life experiences, we can all find at least a bit more meaning in our lives. We can maybe look at our “jobs” differently than we had before and find a new respect for them; we can acknowledge those around us who we don’t “see” on a daily basis, maybe take a minute to slow down and say hello or make someone feel like they are important; or make a plan to go out and find our true path if we are stuck in a situation that makes us miserable.

I love how some stories make me relate to experiences and feelings in my own life, while others make me want to strive to find something higher, something more. Other stories are very interesting to read and offer lessons more general than the specific experience. Whatever it is you might be looking for, you can find something in this book. Your life will only be more rich after reading it.

The Power of Meaning @ Penguin Random House


I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Dinner: Changing the Game


There is no bigger hiccup in my day then realizing I forgot to take something out of the freezer for dinner or didn’t make it to the grocery store like I told myself I would. Dinner is something I don’t enjoy making and I’m never really excited about it. Frankly, if I didn’t have a husband and child to feed, I’d be perfectly fine microwaving a Healthy Choice frozen dinner. I’m hoping this book, “Dinner: Changing the Game,” by Melissa Clark, will change that feeling, at least slightly.

Just in the Introduction, I’m hooked. Clark talks about how unconventional our eating habits can be and with good reason. We don’t always want a protein and two veggies for dinner. When I order out, just as she says about herself, sometimes I just order appetizers, sometimes just sides, or maybe no meat at all! And when someone tells me I’ll get more flavor with less work? Count me in.

Before we get to any recipes, you’ll find a list of things to always keep on hand. These include oils, vinegars, and ethnic ingredients such as sumac, harissa, preserved lemons, and kimchi – none of which I actually have on hand. Guess a trip to the store (or stores) is in order.

The book is divided into sections by the main ingredient/idea: chicken, meat, fish & seafood, pasta & noodles, grains, etc. AND the list of recipes is incredible! Over 200 of them! Not only are the recipes impressive, but the photographs  of the meals make you want to dive right in and eat everything you see.

On to the recipes.


Whole birds are a great way to get lots of flavor and lots of meat without too much effort, but they’re somewhat intimidating. There are some helpful tips and lots of recipes like Smoky Paprika Chicken, Chicken & Grapes, or Roasted Sumac Chicken.

For those who don’t like to use whole chickens: Thai Chicken Breasts, Crispy Chicken Cutlets with Kumquats, Anchovy Chicken, Za’atar Chicken, or Pizza Chicken (interesting).


If you are tired of chicken, try: Vietnamese-Style Skirt Steak, Korean-Style Stir-Fried Beef, Georgian Lamb Kebabs, Crispy Salt & Pepper Pork, or Pork Scallopini.


It’s all about ground meats. Chorizo Pork Burgers, Ginger Pork Meatballs, Seared Sausage & Rhubarb…yum!


I think I’m going to use these recipes ASAP since I’m in the Lenten season (which means no fish Fridays for all the Catholics). What you’ll find: Anchovy Salmon, Slow-Roasted Tuna, Thai-Style Shrimp Balls, Shrimp Banh Mi, or Warm Squid Salad.


There is a brief tutorial about how to make different types of eggs before you jump in. After, it’s all fun. Shakshuka (made a lot during Passover), Eggs Poached, Japanese Omelet, Frogs & Toads (in a hole – no frogs or toads used), Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby.


Pretty straightforward chapter. Stovetop Fusilli (with spinach, peas), Cacio E Pepe, Farro Pasta, Fried a Lemon Pasta, Coconut Rice Noodles.


I tried to make tofu once and it was a complete disaster. Haven’t eaten it since and that was probably 8 years ago. I may attempt it again with some of these recipes. They might make me a convert like: Sweet & Sour Tofu, Maple-Roasted Tofu.


Great chapter for vegetarians, those who don’t like a lot of meat, or those who are tired of always eating meat.

Some great ideas: Sweet Potato Dhal, Tomato-Braised White Beans, Black Bean Skillet Dinner, Asparagus Carbonara, Pole Bean Salad, Fried Halloumi, Spicy Beets.


This group includes rice, farro, quinoa, and other types of grains. There is a small section at the beginning that instructs you how to cook each grain – very helpful, especially if you’ve never cooked some of them.

Some great recipes include the Summer Grain Bowl, Quinoa Egg Bowl (would be great for breakfast), Farro & Crispy Leeks, Farro-Lentil Balls, and Sausage Polenta.


Every pizza recipe must have a recipe for pizza dough. Clark’s pizza dough recipe states you don’t need water from Naples and flour from Italy to have delicious flavor. It just takes time.

Once you have your dough, you can try adding some broccoli rabe, ricotta, and olives, or maybe tomatoes, anchovies, and garlic. There are also a couple pie recipes using puff pastry and phyllo dough.


I love soups. I don’t make them often, except for my homemade chicken soup that heals your weary soul, but I wish I did. They’re so easy (usually) and full of flavor.

I wish it wasn’t getting hot here because my husband won’t eat soup when it’s warm outside, but if you don’t care, here’s a few to try: Creamy Caramelized Broccoli Soup, Leek &a Tomato & Farro Soup, Rustic Shrimp Bisque, Kimchi Soup, or Watermelon Gazpacho (great for hot weather).


It says this is about salads that mean it so I’m assuming they’re filling and substantial, unlike so many other recipes. For example, a hearty Nicoise Salad with a basil dressing, a Summer Vegetable Salad loaded with veggies and potatoes, Burrata Caprese (one of my absolute favorite meals in this whole entire world!), or a classic Roasted Chicken Salad (like a Cobb sort of).


These recipes would be great to add to meals that need something extra, for use as appetizers at a party (especially a tapas party), or to put together when you don’t quite feel like a traditional dinner.

Recipes include Killer Hummus (I’ve been looking for a good go-to recipe), Carrot Muhammara, Pea Guacamole (hmm…not sure about this), Tuna &a Olive Spread, Spiced Lentil Salad, and a Citrus Salad.


Overall, I’m really excited to try a bunch of these recipes. The recipes do look involved, as far as ingredients go, but Clark says that after you learn techniques and get used to certain recipes, eventually you’ll be cooking meals quickly and effortlessly. What I really like is the diversity in recipes and the unique ingredients she uses. It spices up how mundane dinner can be and gets you out of your favorite-staples comfort zone.

I hope you give this book a try, especially if you’re a cookbook hound like me. Dinner is something we pretty much eat every night (unless you don’t want to cook and eat a bowl of cereal instead, like we do at our house), so why not make it enjoyable!?

Dinner @ Penguin Random House


I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

“When God Made You” – A Children’s Book


“When God Made You,” by Matthew Paul Turner (and illustrated by David Catrow), is a sweet and empowering children’s book. While it definitely seems geared towards those who are religious/spiritual, the message that no child is a mistake and that each child is made to be wholly and uniquely themselves is a wonderful message for all.

This book celebrates differences, individualities, and helps teach children the importance of using all the gifts and talents and love they were given to help, accept, and love others.

Not only is the message beautiful, but the artwork is incredibly colorful and bold and exciting. It, in and of itself, takes you on a journey through the little girl’s imagination and creativity. The pages are bright and imaginative and your child(ren) will love it.

It has already passed the kid test in our household. I hope your child(ren) enjoy it as much as ours.

My favorite line: “You being you is God’s dream coming true.”

More about When God Made You


I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.



As a plant lover and hobby gardener, I was intrigued by this book. Is it a cookbook? A DIY book? What are these extraordinary plants anyway?

Looking at “Harvest”, by Stefani Bittner & Alethea Harampolis, I could tell it would be a book different than any I own…and I own too many. The book is separated into gardening seasons during the year: Early, Mid, and Late. I like this better because if you’re picking this book up during a certain time, you can get to planting or harvesting for the projects right away.

Before you even get to any projects, you’ll notice that the photographs are bright, detailed, and quite exquisite. They highlight the beauty of what a garden and its harvest can be. I would get this book just to have it on my coffee table so that guests could admire the photos.

As we go through each gardening season, the author gives us information about certain plants/flowers and then proceeds to include projects for each.


Breadseed Poppy: Can’t say I’ve heard of this one before, but the flower is beautiful. It is called the “Baker’s flower” so that means I must add it to my garden! It can be used in baked goods and salads. It is accompanied by a recipe for Poppy Seed Dressing.

Lilac: Best used as a supporting shrub and best harvested in the morning. Great to use in a Lilac Flower Cream for your skin or to flavor sweet dishes.

Peppermint Candy Flower: Also known as Pink Purslane. It can be used in many ways like in salads, cooked, or pressed into cheese as they show you in a recipe for Edible Flower-Pressed Cheese.

Elderberry: Well known for its use in syrup. Can harvest flowers and fruit. Can make infused tonic water (recipe included), as well as Elderflower-Infused Honey. I think I’ll definitely be adding this to my garden as I am completely obsessed with honey. I don’t even need bees for this as you can use already jarred honey.


Oregano: I’m sure if you don’t have this one in your garden now, you probably did at some point. It is so well-known that many people probably get bored of it. Though I’ve used it in cooking as a fresh or dried herb, I’ve never used it to make vinegar and they show you how to do that. A lovely addition to any vinaigrette recipe.

Lavender: As I write, my lavender is just starting to bloom its beautiful purple blooms. I never thought about making tea from it and now I know what to do when I’m overwhelmed with flowers. So exciting.

Flowering Basils: Great in arrangements inside (and outside) your home. The cut stems can last weeks in vases as long as you don’t allow them to wilt – talk about bang for your gardening buck. Plus, the bees loves them.

Rose: I don’t currently have any planted, but I do love using a toner with rose in it. They teach you how to make your own using your own roses.


Quince: Not many people, at least that I know of, are familiar with the quince fruit. It’s easy to grow, but requires maturing time off the branches and is not used fresh but is cooked. Included is a recipe for quince paste, one of my favorite things with a good cheese.

“Berggarten” Sage: Drought tolerant and deer resistant, for those in climates where water is scarce or where deer love to eat your precious plants. Makes a wonderful garland for tables, mantels, or just about anywhere.

Australian Finger Lime: Chef favorite. Best grown in USDA zone 10 so it is not for all areas, but if you put it in a container, you may be able to keep it if you aren’t in that zone. Great for use in a gin and tonic (one of my favorite cocktails!).

Pomegranate: Favorite varieties include “Wonderful,” ” Ambrosia,” and “Eversweet.” If you like margaritas, you can make this lovely Pomegranate Margarita. It has a beautiful pinkish-red color, great for any holiday table. Even if you don’t want to grow them in your yard (or you don’t have space), just buy some from the store and they’ll work just fine.

Above are just some of the highlights of each section. There are many more plants and projects included. In the back, there are alternatives you can use should you not have what they recommend. For example, my favorite recipe, the infused honey, can be used with apricot, blackberry, rose, or lavender also. Also included is a Terms & Techniques section if you are unfamiliar with something they mention like Pruning, Succession Planting, or Drying.

This is a must have for any gardener that wants some new ideas, any DIY’er that loves being in the garden as well, and pretty much anyone that appreciates beautiful photography. I know, with this book, I’ll be using my garden much differently this year.

Harvest @ Penguin Random House


I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.