Cherry Blossom Festival @ Japantown

Northern California Cherry Blossom

Last weekend, while Vipul was in Japan, Varun, Dad and I visited Japantown in SF.

Handling an active 3 1/2-year-old and a new-born is a challenge. When the energy is not channeled, it leads to the said preschooler wanting to play with the baby, singing loudly near the baby waking the baby up from his nap (which he finally does after hours of nursing and fussing), which agitates the baby leading to loud crying, time outs and more crying.

The best way to prevent this cycle and drama that goes with it was to take him out for an hour or so.

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Ambat Tikhat Kolambi – Hot and Sour Shrimp Curry

Hot and Sour Shrimp curry

My mom is a pure vegetarian. But she knew we loved fish and shrimp and she used to cook 3- 4 “non vegetarian” dishes for us. Shrimp pulav, fried pomfret, stuffed surmai and fish curry.

She had learnt them from her best friend, right down to the salt and seasonings as she couldn’t taste test it.

Hot and Sour Shrimp curry

Every Sunday morning (or at least every alternate Sunday morning), Mom’s best friend would call. The kolin or the fish monger would come to their house. My mom would have told her to buy fish or shrimp for us. The call was to arrange pickup. Mom used to make me go downstairs to pick up the parcel. Her friend’s son used to come half way and sheepishly hand me the carefully wrapped parcel. I used to sneak it in averting the gaze of my “pure vegetarian” neighbors. 

It was not as scandalous as when my grand mom used to visit and we literally used to scrub down the kitchen to remove any traces of non-vegetarian food smell in our house from cups, spoons, plates etc.

Hot and Sour Shrimp curry

It’s thanks to this and my mom’s best friends recipes that I had some insight into some yummy seafood. Green chillies, freshly ground coconut, kokum. Fresh seafood.

Vipul is in Japan this week for work.While I know he will love food there, before leaving, he wanted to have his fill of Indian food. I made him mom style hot and sour shrimp curry.

If you have ever been to Gajalee, you will know the kind of curry that I am talking about. The heat of the curry is mind-blowing. And the sourness of tamarind and kokum adds a different dimension. This is coastal Maharashtrian cuisine at its best! Coconutty, spicy and with fresh seafood!

I made this for Vipul before he went to Japan for a 10 day work trip. To remind him what good Indian food he will miss while he is stuffing his face with sushi/sashimi/soba/udon/ramen.

Hot and Sour Shrimp curry

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CashKaro – It Pays To Send Gifts to India!

This post is sponsored by CashKaro.com

That said,  all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are 100% my own and based on my personal experience with the product. 


Mom and Dad are here since February. They will be here for another couple of months to help out with the baby.

When they think I am sleeping, I hear them talk about Pari- my neice in Mumbai. They miss her. They tell Varun stories about her. My technophobic mom is learning to Skype just so she can see her grand-daughter. There are a few Varun’s toys that she likes and wants to take back for Pari. Or if she is out an about or sees me browsing children’s sites online she points out things that Pari will love.

So, I thought I will send something to Pari as a gift from grandparents. I had a couple of items on Flipkart and Amazon.in (both sites that we have used extensively while we were in India) shopping cart which I never checked out due to various reasons ( lack of sleep being mainly the most vital!).

Procrastination paid off, as I learnt about CashKaro- India’s No.1  cash back and coupons site.

What is CashKaro?

On the same lines as Bing Cashback, CashKaro works with various retailers ( Jabong, FlipKart, Myntra, BabyOye, Expedia.in, Amazon.in, Goibibo amongst 500 + other retailers); to provide cash back on products/services shopped on those sites. In other words, as a consumer, we get paid to shop online. We get the same discounts/offers etc that are available on these sites and plus we get a 5 – 10% cash back (varies based on retailer/ product) or additional discount coupons for future use.

How does CashKaro work?

There are 3 parties involved in working of CashKaro – the retailer(like Myntra, Jabong, etc), consumers (like you and me ) and  the publisher – CashKaro. CashKaro is a platform that publishes retailers offers on its website. It becomes another marketing channel for the retailers. Every time Myntra gets a sale from CashKaro, they pay CashKaro a commission and from this commission, they give us consumers a portion back in terms of cash back. A portion is retailed as revenue for them. This model benefits everyone – especially us consumers. We would have paid to shop on FlipKart or Goibibo anyways. Getting money back is cherry on top! After all, who doesn’t like to be paid to shop :)

For this system to work, we have to visit the retailers site via CashKaro site. That way they know which discount/offer we are trying to avail. We conclude the transaction on the retailers site (including the payment/shipping-delivery etc). The order confirmation and shipping/delivery emails are from the retailer.

Within 72 hours of transaction completion, you will see that the cash back is posted to your CashKaro account as “Pending”.

Once the retailer pays CashKaro, they pay us.

And then you can cash out the balance as a check or a bank deposit.

My Experience

  1. Create an account:

I created an account for CashKaro. That was fairly easy process – select a username/email/ password and you are set to go. Alternately, you could use your Facebook ID to join. It saves the hassle of remembering yet another password.

  1. Browse for Offers:

We were looking for a gift for my baby neice. I checked out the deals on Amazon, BabyOye, Myntra etc. Amazon.in had a blanket upto 7.5% cash back on any products so I decided to shop there.

The site itself is fairly easy to navigate. You can see the Retailers list and choose to “View deals” offered by each of them.

Sponsored CashKaro

Once you know the deal/offer that you are interested in, you click on the big blue button to activate the offer and visit the retailers site.

Sponsored CashKaro

In our case, I showed mom how to activate the amazon.in offer.

3. Payment and Delivery:

Once on amazon, I browsed as usual, added the items to my cart and checked out/paid using my amazon.in account. I did use Cash on Delivery option just because I know that is very popular payment method in India.

The item was delivered to my brother by amazon successfully and I got an email confirmation of delivery.

4. Cashback Tracked

Within 3 days, I saw an email pop up confirming that my cash back is tracked and added to my account as pending.

Note-  It will take another 8 – 10 weeks for the cash back to be “actually” paid into my account.

Would I Use It Again?

Definitely, why not?

I have a huge family in India. With birthday’s, anniversaries, festivals I am usually sending a gift or two home. If I get paid to do the same, its all the more reason not to forget an anniversary or a birthday!

Also, discount codes on popular restaurants, flowers, chocolates, it makes it easier (on the wallet) to send a gift home!

Give a try. You may like the savings too!


Psst: Sign up using my Cashkaro Referral Link. I will get a % of cash back as referral bonus. You don’t need to use a referral link to use CashKaro but if you do use it, it helps tiny bit to help defray cost of hosting this site :)

Sonoma Wine Tasting – The Local Way

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Years ago, I should say a decade ago, we visited Napa Valley with a bunch of friends.

Some drove from Florida, others flew in from DC; one was in all the way from India.

We all were visiting San Francisco for the first time. And as with all SF itineraries, we all had Napa on our radar. An afternoon tasting wines, driving from one winery to another. Packing as many tasting rooms and flights in that short time as possible. Before we headed on to another SF vacation destination.

This was Dec 2004. We didn’t know our Chardonnay from our Syrah. We didn’t care what the area specialized in. It was drizzling and overcast. We just went with the flow.Napa was on the list. Napa was done.

Now, we are older, wiser and seem to know our wines and know which ones we like. So after a spell of rainy spring days, when the weather was warm and sunny last Saturday, we decided to head out to Sonoma Wine County.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

With a baby and a toddler in tow, a family friendly winery was the name of the game.

Wine tasting was important but more important was a reasonable driving distance, picnic tables, food options and restrooms, bocce ball court, lawn to let Varun run about. We wanted to spend an afternoon at one winery where we could real, enjoy the sun, the views and the wine.

Larson Family Winery came highly recommended and it didn’t disappoint.

Since it was our first trip with the baby, and we were not sure how he would fare, we set out during his longish nap for the day. Vihaan slept during the hour-long ride to the winery. He fussed a bit but was largely in deep slumber.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Once past Golden Gate Bridge and Marin county, we saw vineyards dotting alongside the road, rolling hills in the distance, cows grainy on pretty green meadows and low hanging clouds. It was a beautiful day for a picnic at a winery. We picked up sandwiches, cookies and chips at a deli en-route.

Sonoma Vineyard

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

We reached the dirt road that led us to the winery. A barn, tractor, petting animals gave way to tasting room and a patio with tables overlooking the vineyards. The place was very casual, and laid back. Not as crowded as Napa wineries are. And certainly not pretentious.

One thing we didn’t realize was that we could have booked a table earlier. Luckily, there were still a couple of tables available for us to grab in the shade and  staked our claim.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Wines Sonoma

There were many groups with kids, toddlers, babies and even pets in tow. Some were there to just enjoy a sunny California day, others to celebrate a birthday. Food and drinks were spread out on the table. People were chatting, laughing, playing bocce ball or simply lazing with their glass of vino.

We had lunch while Vihaan slept. Along with table side wine tasting. Even mom had fun tasting wine. I abstained.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Varun promptly wandered off with his bat and ball and played on the lawn and then went to check out the vines. He was hoping to see grapes but since its early spring, was disappointed to see tiny buds.

Well, we need to simply plan another trip in Fall when the grapes are ready for harvest. Hopefully then, I can indulge in one glass of their famous 3 Lab Cab!

Vihaan woke up and nursed and was awake for almost an hour while we were there. It was pretty hot by then even in shade and we decided to leave before the baby got too cranky. We headed back, a bit tipsy. Vihaan fussed a bit on the way back but slept right away, alongside Varun and grandparents.

It was an uneventful first outing. That’s good in my books.

Sonoma had us hooked with its pastoral beauty. Even though we barely have seen it, we can’t wait to try other wineries in the region. Further north are more famous ones. One winery, one weekend at a time!

Orange Sunshine Cake

Orange Cake

It was my mom’s birthday last week and I made her an orange birthday cake.

We have been fortunate to have her visiting us on her recent few birthday’s. Last year, we celebrated in Lonavla – an impromptu gathering of the entire family. Lunch at a popular restaurant followed by fudge and sev while enjoying tea and Labonel’s cupcake’s at Vipul’s house.

Orange Cake

The year before that we celebrated in Hyderabad. We had just moved and they were visiting to help us with the move. This was the best part of moving to India and a part of me regrets that we won’t be there for all family gatherings and functions – definitely not on the spur of the moment!

Since she is here, and loves oranges, she asked me to bake her an orange cake.

Orange Cake

I had made one a few years ago when Varun was still a couple of months old. She remembered that and wanted it again. She even told Varun that I will be baking her an orange cake on her birthday and they both had a countdown till they get to celebrate the birthday and eat the moist cake.

Made from whole oranges, peel, pith and all; it’s a fragrant buttery cake. The cake  is reminiscent of a spring morning – fragrant, buttery and with a soft  sunshine glow.

With orange season ending soon, this is a cake to enjoy the citrusy goodness before it is taken over by spring and summer bounty.

Orange Cake

Orange Sunshine Cake 

  • 1 tangelo orange
  • 3/4 – 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened at room temperature
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup candied orange peel (optional)
  • 1 cup King Arthurs all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Toppings

  • Whipped cream
  • Orange slices
  • Strawberries

1. Cut the orange into 4 -6 pieces, remove seeds and add just enough water to cover it. Boil covered for about 30 – 45 minutes till softened. Puree the orange. Set aside to cool.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

Cream the sugar with butter in a bowl, till the sugar is incorporated in the butter. Add eggs one at a time and beat till pale yellow. Add the orange puree and candied orange peel and mix well.

3. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir well.

Add the orange butter-puree to the mix and stir well.

4. Pour this in a well-greased bundt or cake pan.

Bake for 40 minutes till the top is golden brown and a tooth pick inserted comes out clean.

Before serving, top with whipped cream, strawberries and orange slices.

Enjoy!

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