Hug-In-A-Bowl Yellow Dhal

Isn’t it funny how being ill causes many of us to enter a time capsule and revert to when we were kids?  I know when I’m hit with the flu or a tummy bug, the nine- year old in me comes out in all her whingy glory and I find myself craving mummy-style pampering, lots of hugs and comfort food.

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When I was ten years old, I got the chicken pox and had to have two weeks off school (devastating, I know).  My mother stayed home from work as well to look after me and it’s only now when I have a career of my own that I appreciate the difficulty of taking so much time off with zero notice.

So for two weeks we hung out at home watching videos on the VCR (showing my age now) and playing game after game of Monopoly, me slathered in calamine lotion and mum doing all she could to distract me from scratching the pox.  I gained a true obsession appreciation for the game, becoming some sort of speckly real estate mogul of a cardboard and plastic world.

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And mum kept the comfort food coming.  A sore throat was a feature of my chicken pox so she would make a lovely, seasoned and buttery mashed potato which she would form into little round cakes lovingly pressed with a fork to make them a little bit fancy.  I lived on these simple little potato cakes until my throat recovered and I could stand to eat other foods.

Slowly, the pox dried up and I was given the all-clear to return to school.  I know we were both a little sad to put aside the Monopoly board, leave behind the mother-daughter pseudo holiday and return to our respective vocations.

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Over the past few days when I was hit with the flu, comfort food was again what I craved.  And at the top of the list of warm flu-busting foods for me is Dhal, that simply flavoured lentil soup that is on every Indian menu.  Not the buttery, garlicky stuff you get in restaurants but a simple yellow dhal, the kind that is made in Indian homes all over the world on a daily basis.

This dish is one of the first Indian recipes I learned, when I was young and restless and would only stand still in my mum’s kitchen long enough to learn something this simple.  It is still made fairly frequently in our home, and often we will stray from the basic recipe to throw in some frozen peas, a couple of handfuls of baby spinach, chopped onion or diced potato.  I could eat bowlfuls of this stuff as a soup or mix it with rice the traditional way with a side of curry and yoghurt.

Ask ten Indian women how they make their yellow dhal and you are likely to end up with ten different recipes.  This is the way my mum and I make it- a little gingery, a little lemony, a little herby and a lot comforting.

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Basic Yellow Dhal

Serves 2-3

Get:

1/2 cup Toor Dhal
Boiled water
Salt
2 cm piece ginger, grated
1-2 hot red chillies cut into thirds
Small handful coriander, chopped roughly
Small Handful Dill, chopped roughly
1 1/2 – 2 tsp lemon juice

For the Tempering:

1 tsp vegetable, canola or sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
Generous pinch asafoetida (optional but recommended)
6-8 curry leaves

Make:

Cook Dhal however you are used to doing so.  I use a pressure cooker.  I place the dhal in the cooker with 1 1/2 cups boiling water and a good pinch of salt.  With my cooker, the dhal is cooked after 3 whistles but you will have to adapt this according to the cooker you use.

Another option is to soak the dhal overnight, then either boil it with 1 1/2- 2 cups water in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, or use a rice cooker.  You should be able to use a microwave as well but I have never used this method.

Once the dhal is cooked, add a further 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt, the ginger and the chillies.  Transfer the whole mixture to a saucepan or pot.  Simmer on low heat for 10-15 mins, stirring intermittently.  Ensure you break up any lumps in the cooked dhal when you stir.

Add the herbs and simmer for a further 2 mins.  Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, stir through.  Taste and add a little more salt or lemon according to taste.

In a separate small pan, heat 1 tsp oil.  Add the cumin seeds and turn off the heat.  Once the cumin seeds have all popped, add the asafoetida and curry leaves.  When the curry leaves have semi-browned in the oil, add the tempered mixture to the dhal and stir through.

Serve with rice, chapatis or on it’s own.

Notes:

Asafoetida is the dried and powdered gum exuded by certain underground rhizomes and an important ingredient in Indian vegetarian cooking.  It has a pungent smell and helps to balance flavours as well as aids digestion.

You can get Toor Dhal and asafoetida at Indian Grocery stores.  Toor Dhal is also available in some supermarkets.

The pressure cooker method is the easiest way to cook dhal. If using a pressure cooker, allow it to cool completely before trying to remove the lid. If using the other methods, soak overnight first and ensure the dhal is cooked through before using- this will take a good 30-40 mins on the stove.

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OSP @ Mexico Food and Liquor, Sydney

Sunday afternoon lunch feels a little cheeky, doesn’t it?  Almost as if you should be doing something more responsible, like cleaning the house……or doing your internet banking…….or making sure you have clean underwear for the week.  It’s like a last little weekend hurrah before work clothes have to be ironed, milk and bread have to be bought and the general Monday morning chaos starts again.

But Sunday lunch with girlfriends and beers on a summery day in the middle of winter?

Yup…….I’m badass like that.

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So it looks like someone out there is making an effort to address the severe shortage of good Mexican eateries in Sydney.  Our favourite haunt has long been Flying Fajita Sisters in Glebe with its wall of pain and its homemade nachos.  I have also heard good things about Cafe Pacifico but have not yet had that pleasure.  When some friends and I heard that there was a new kid in town, we just had to try Mexico Food and Liquor in Surry Hills.

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I think one of my favourite things about this place was the ambiance.  The place had the feel of a trendy little taqueria, or what I imagine one would be like.  Decorated in a traditional, homely and slightly whimsical way, it managed to be funky without being pretentious.  Little touches like the mismatched jars of flowers on every table and the assortment of Mexico inspired wall decor made us feel a little like we were in someone’s home.  A really cosy home with friendly hosts and good food on order.

Not big beer drinkers, my friend and I asked the waiter to recommend a ‘girly beer’ (our words, not his) and he swore by the Pacifico, which turned out to be just what we wanted.  The others opted for mocktails which looked stunning and apparently did not disappoint.

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The menu offered a respectable spread of quesadillas, dips salads and soft-shell tacos, with the surprising absence of crunchy tacos and burritos.  We opted for a fully vegetarian menu and ordered the, patatas bravas, cauliflower salad, pumpkin and toasted coconut quesadillas as well as the three cheese quesadillas on the specials board.

The patatas bravas were the spiced, fried potato goodness we had expected and the quesadillas and their sauces were quite delicious, although the general consensus was that the three cheese won the quesadilla-off.

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The star of the spread was that cauliflower salad with cucumber, black beans, avocado, olives and feta which totally blew my mind.  That was the dish that I continued to eye throughout the rest of the meal, not wanting to be greedy and succumb to my urge of just shovelling the whole thing into my mouth with a fork, my hand or any other vaguely effective instrument.  Happily I think the others cottoned on to my deep love for this salad and I was finally offered the last little bit while the others polished off the quesadillas et al.

Dessert was satisfactory but my no means earth-shattering.  We were recommended the Bunuelos de xocolate with pine-nut crema, which turned out to be pillowy little donuts in a custard.  They somewhat did their job for a lunchtime dessert after a very filling meal but would have been a little disappointing  if we had actually saved room for and anticipated a good, sweet ending.

Mexico Food and Liquor is one step closer to filling the good Mexican food void in this city.  I certainly will go back to but purely based on our experience, my suggestion would be to focus on the main meal and head elsewhere if your sweet tooth is tingling afterwards.

Mexico Food and Liquor is at 15 Randle St, (02) 9211 7798.  

We paid $6-$8 for starters and soft shell tacos, $12-$16 for salads and quesadillas.

We paid for our own meal and this post was not commissioned.

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<a href=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/70/1716699/restaurant/Sydney/Mexico-Food-and-Liquor-Surry-Hills”><img alt=”Mexico Food and Liquor on Urbanspoon” src=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/logo/1716699/biglogo.gif&#8221; style=”border:none;padding:0px;width:104px;height:34px” /></a>

Goats Cheese and Walnut Mini-Cheesecakes

Over the past week or so I have had a sneaking suspicion about something that today was proven to be irrefutably true, and that is that I have somehow invoked the wrath of the cooking Gods.

It started with the weekend pasta dish for which I made a lovely white wine and cream sauce and invited two of my favourite ingredients, prawns and broccolini (who can resist mini-me vegetables?) to the party.  It was looking awfully promising until I overcooked the pasta, resulting in a nice dinner where there should have been a really, really nice dinner.

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Then there were my experiments in the realm of low-fructose baking.  Now, my forays into unchartered cooking territory don’t always result in applause but I have to say my adventures over the last couple of days well and truly take the cake (pun totally intended) as far as kitchen mishaps go.

Fuelled by my last success with citrus cake, I decided to try my hand at the lemon and poppy seed loaf…… using dextrose instead of sugar.  Suffice it to say that I must’ve truly taken my frustrations out on the unsuspecting batter while mixing, as it absolutely refused to rise.  It still tasted reasonable and the funny synthetic smell imparted by the dextrose that I dusted it with distracted only slightly from the otherwise enjoyable crumb.

Thus was my first lesson in what NOT to do with dextrose.

Don’t worry citrus and poppy seed lovers, that one remains a work in progress.

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The jewel in my crappy cooking week crown was the simple cheesecake recipe I road-tested that turned out to be simply disastrous.  With the look, texture and taste of plastic, this creation was not even a face it’s mother could love.  Alarm bells did go off when I was able to peel the cheesecake off its base in one piece, but taste it I did and what a waste of taste-bud labour that it was.  So I peeled, I dumped and I moved on with a determination to make something, something this week that was worth the ingredients it was made of.

Finally, there was a breakthrough.  A spark of yum in an otherwise ugh week.

What I have for you today hopefully symbolises the end of the week of colossal disasters.  Tiny little savoury cheesecakes (again with the mini things!) with a buttery base that really pack a punch.  A simple recipe, but tasty and would work well for a substantial snack or an appetiser for a dinner party.  Or in my case, a couple of these for breakfast and I was all set for the morning.

These little savoury cheesecakes are totally adaptable- you could throw in some bacon, spinach, whole walnuts or most anything else that floats your boat.  If you have little ones that like to dabble in the kitchen, this would be a great recipe for them to try, as long as you handle the oven side of things.

So enjoy, while I go off to negotiate with whoever up there is in charge of allowing me to cook edible things.

PS: Less than a week left to vote for my post on Cherry Lassi in the SA Writers Centre Food Bloggers Writing Competition!  Click here to be redirected to the voting page.  There’s a chance to will a $100 voucher through the SAWC as well as my eternal gratitude in it for those who vote!

Goats cheese walnut cheesecakes

Goat’s cheese and Ricotta Mini Cheesecakes

Modified from Simply Heaven, a Kraft Philadelphia Cookbook

Makes 6

Get:

For the base:
1/4 cup walnuts, ground
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Generous pinch salt
15g butter, melted

For the cheesecake layer:
115g Goats Cheese
100g Ricotta cheese or cream cheese
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
Small handful fresh herbs, finely chopped- parsely, chives and dill work well
1/4 red capsicum, finely diced to sprinkle on top
1 egg

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

Combine the cheeses, chilli, salt, paprika and herbs in a bowl and mix well.  Add the egg and mix thoroughly to a smooth mixture.

For the base, combine ingredients and mix well.

Grease and line 6 cups of a muffin tin with muffin liners or baking paper.  If not using liners, just grease the cups.  I prefer to use liners as this minimises the mess!

Divide the base mixture between the cups and press down evenly.  Divide the cheesecake mixture between the cups and even out a little with a spoon.  Sprinkle the diced red capsicum over the top of the cheesecakes.

Bake for 15 mins on the middle shelf.  The cheesecakes will be slightly soft in the middle when baked, but will firm up on cooling.

Goats Cheese Ricotta Cheesecakes

South-Indian Plantain Stir-Fry and a Shameless Request for Votes

Well hellooooo there!

I was waiting for you. Yes, you.

Have you met Plantain yet? No??

Well…..You…..meet Plantain. Plantain……You.

Plantain looks like Banana but he’s different.

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Plantain and Banana, they’re cousins. They spent the summer holidays at each others’ places growing up. They played dress up and astronauts and explored outer space together in a space-ship made out of the cardboard box that the new fridge arrived in.

They played street cricket together and fought over who gets to bat first.  Too often they played silly pranks on that prissy little girl next door who always wore pink.

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But as grown-ups, Plantain and Banana are quite different.  Plantain is the chunkier, starchier, denser cousin.  The earthy green or brown to Banana’s sunny yellow. Plantain is thick-skinned and not easily insulted.

Plantain sometimes thinks Banana needs to Man-Up.

Plantain won’t give in without a fight.  He needs a good cookin’ before he’ll be eaten.  He does spices really, really well and takes on almost a potato-ey quality if he’s cooked properly.

While Banana makes himself very available, Plantain likes to play hard to get.  But we know he hangs out in Asian and Indian grocery stores.  We know he’s worth the hunt.

Plantain works really, really well in this stir-fry, a satisfyingly starchy dish that’ll fill you right up.

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Ohhh!!! I almost forgot!! My post on Cherry Lassi (remember that?!?) has been entered in the SA Writers Centre Food Blogging Writing Competition. I know, it’s just a tad exciting and scary. I would be ever so grateful, if you like the post, if you would vote for me by following this link. Thanks in advance sweet-peas!

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Plantain Palya: South Indian Plantain Stir-Fry
Serves 3-4

Get:
4 Plantains
3 cm piece of dried tamarind
Chilli powder
Salt
1 tsp Rasam Powder

For the Tempering:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp urad Dhal (uncooked)
1/2 tsp channa Dhal (uncooked)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 to 1/2 tsp chilli powder
8-10 fresh or dried curry leaves

Make:

Tear up the tamarind and place in a small bowl with about 1/2 cup boiling water.  Mash the tamarind with a fork and leave to soak.

To prepare the plantains, scrape the green or brown outer skin off by using a knife to grasp the edge of it and peeling it off.  Leave a thin layer of the fibrous coating (under the skin) as this helps prevent the plantain from falling apart as it is cooked.  Slice the plantain once lengthways, then slice transversely into 1- 1 1/2 cm pieces.  You should end up with little semi-circles of plantain that are covered on the curved edge with the fibrous layer.

For the tempering, heat the oil in a large non-stick frypan.  Lower heat and add cumin and mustard seeds, then dhals.  When the seeds have popped, add  turmeric and chilli powders, then fry for 2 mins.  Add curry leaves and fry until browned.  If using fresh leaves, there will be some major sizzle so you may need to cover the pan.

Add the plantain and stir to coat in the oil and spices.

Mash the soaking tamarind again and strain through a tea strainer, reserving the water.  The tamarind can be stored in the fridge and used again within a couple of days in the same way.  Sprinkle the tamarind water over the plantain and stir through.

Add about 1/2 cup water and cover.  Allow to cook, covered, stirring every few minutes.  After 3-4 mins, sprinkle 1 tsp salt and stir through.  Cover again and continue cooking over moderate heat, stirring intermittently.  Cook until the plantain is tender but still firm.

Sprinkle rasam powder and stir through, allow to cook for a couple more minutes.  Taste and add more chilli powder and/or salt if required. Stir through.  At this point, if there is still a fair bit of moisture content in the mixture, you can uncover and continue frying while stirring gently.  When most of the water has evaporated, drizzle about a tbsp of oil over the mixture and fry until the plantain is the texture and firmness of cooked potato, and all the moisture has evaporated. If the moisture evaporates before the plantain is adequately cooked, add a little more water and cook/reduce further.

Serve with chapatis and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Notes:

This recipe requires a visit to an Indian grocery store.  There, you’ll find the plantains, rasam powder (a South-Indian spice mix), dhals and tamarind.  All the other spices can also be found there or at a regular supermarket.  Strictly speaking, the dhals are probably optional if you prefer not to buy a whole bag of each for one dish.  If you can’t find dried tamarind, about 1/2 tsp tamarind paste dissolved in 1/2 cup water will do the trick, although tamarind water made from dried tamarind tastes so much better.

Leave yourself a good 60 to 90 mins to prepare this dish as the Plantain doesn’t give up without a fight.

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Click the Month: May 2013

Sydney seems to have turned into a refrigerator of sorts this month.  The cold seems to seep in right to the bones and the sun calls it a day by 5 pm.  We have been lucky to dodge winter through most of April but it seems it’s time to embrace the fact that the chilly season is well and truly here.  Gloriously sunny days make everything better though and we still have a good supply of those.  And then there have been the mornings where we have woken up to an eerie fog that blankets the city, an almost solid mist that one has to squint to see through.

So I have for you some shots I took during our Mothers’ Day Picnic.  Clear skies, a dog-friendly beach and a delicious homemade focaccia (my first attempt!) made the day complete.

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Oh my God I CAN swim!!
Oh my God I CAN swim!!

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All this frolicking about on the beach and chasing after tennis balls is positively exhausting!

Aaaaannndddd it’s almost June!

Quitting Sugar: Seven weeks on

So………….seven weeks, huh?

And they said I wouldn’t last……..

Today makes it SEVEN WEEKS since I told sugar to hit the road Jack.

Incredibly, I have made it through with my sanity (and that of those around me) intact.

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Did I cheat?  Yes, three times and all in the last two weeks.  Once, I had a bite of dessert at a restaurant……amazingly just one bite and I was happy to stop.

Another time I had a small square of dark chocolate.  But we’ll blame that on events beyond my control- the time of month, the changing of the tides, the upcoming lunar eclipse.

The remarkable thing was, none of those times was I the out of control sugar monster that I once was.  I simply had a small bite and then like the self-controlled, poised being that I have always wanted to be, I stopped!

Am I good, or what??

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So if this week is seven weeks, next week, somewhat unsurprisingly will be EIGHT weeks.  Eight weeks is what some of the experts say is the time needed to break an addiction, so that signifies the end of the hard core detox.

This last week I started to introduce small amounts of sugar- a few berries here and there, a few snacks sweetened with rice malt syrup (a fructose free sweetener).  Berries taste like little bundles of heaven now, which is a real surprise as I never was a berry person.

Where to after eight weeks?  Well, what I hope to gain is control over my own sweet tooth.  The ability to be able to occasionally have one chocolate from some exquisite chocolatier without feeling the need to plunge into the entire vat of melted chocolate and backstroke around it in circles.  The gift of being able to enjoy dessert at a fancy restaurant without feeling guilty about all the other sugar I ate that day.

And you know what?  I think I might be getting there.

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Better Butter makes Bitter Batter Better: How to make Almond Butter at Home

During my days in London, we had upstairs neighbours who would play loud ‘Duff Duff’ music at any time of the day or night, subjecting us to what felt like a rhythmic earthquake on a fairly regular basis.  We were no strangers to loud dance music, having made it our unofficial mission to investigate the pros and cons of every nightclub in London, however the  same racket was not quite so welcome at 2 am when we were snugly in our beds on a school night.

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In addition to this, above my room is what I strongly suspect was a communal athletics track for several highly dedicated athletes who trained by sprinting across my ceiling at all hours.  We of course tried many methods of negotiation including the highly sophisticated broom-banging-on-ceiling technique which I believe is used by the military in times of war, to no avail.  So the ‘Duff-Duff’ continued to be part of my life until I moved out in pursuit of postgraduate study and improved sleep patterns.

In another flat in another part of London, I had the pleasure of neighbouring a devout, god-fearing woman who had been suitably blessed with a booming set of lungs and equally devout friends.  The paper-thin walls meant that on some mornings at around 4am, I would be jolted from sleep by voices chanting the Lord’s praises punctuated by thunderous declarations of ‘JESUS WILL SAAAVVVEEE YOU‘.

Whatever I needed to be saved from, I was fairly confident that it could wait till sunrise.

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In order to pay it forward, I have now become the neighbour who places dry roasted almonds in a food processor resulting in what the neighbours probably assumed was a vicious, albeit brief attack on the building by a machine-gun squad of some sort.  All this to make my own almond butter which I assure you was totally worth the racket.  In my defence I did (completely by accident) choose a day when there was work being done in the building so the sound of almonds on metal was nicely drowned out by a much more obnoxious jackhammer.

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So to make almond butter you need a fairly tough food processor and a bag of roasted almonds.  Alternatively, roast the almonds on about 160 degrees Celsius in the oven for about 10-15 mins.  Careful not to over-roast them as this will result in a bitter butter (that Betty Botter bought).

Unless of course you’re into that sort of thing.

Then you throw the almonds, skin and all into the food processor, plug your ears, and hit start.  Keep pulsing on high speed, intermittently scraping down the sides of the bowl.  The almonds will first become a dry powder, then form clumps, then become a slightly oily butter.  Stop at the slightly oily, smooth but still slightly coarse stage and transfer the almond butter into clean jars or containers.

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I used 3 cups of roasted almonds which made about 2 cups (2 small jars) of almond butter.  I have frozen one jar for later and am currently devouring the contents of the other spread on toast in the mornings.  You can use all nut butters the same way that you would use store bought peanut butter but the advantage of homemade nut butters is that there is none of the added sugar or salt that you find in the packaged versions.  I suspect the same process would work well with macadamia nuts, peanuts and brazil nuts.

Do you have any crazy-neighbour stories?  Please do share in the comments below…….

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A Day for Mums

Lessons from Mum: Five things that my mother taught me

(as if having to carry me around for 9 months wasn’t enough).

1. Heaven and hell are on Earth.  If you choose to treat others badly, you damn well better believe that it’ll come back to bite you on the backside one day.  And if not your backside, then the ones of those you love.  Karma is a bottom-loving, rabid dog so you better treat others with respect.

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2. If you do everything right and something still goes wrong, at least you know you did everything right.

3.You can’t always control what happens to you but you certainly can control how you handle it.  Shit happens. Sometimes that shit is really stinky and full of worms.  Grab that plastic bag, scoop it up, toss it in the bin, spray the odour neutraliser and keep going.  Oh, and take a worming tablet.

4. Be generous with your time, money, food and favours but don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of.  And remember that like all good things in life, trust is earned and the trust of another should always be nurtured and cherished.

5. Wearing tops that slide up and show your waist is not cool.  God gave you ample hips but God also gave you the ability to shop for longer tops.

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 They are the women who hold us, feed us and nurture us.

They manage to keep us sane as well as drive us insane.

They pick up the pieces when something has shattered us, and they hurt more than we do when someone has wronged us.

They pick on our clothes, our hair and our eating habits.  But they are sometimes the only ones who are there to tell us we are beautiful.

To all the mums in my life- my mum, my Ajji (grandmother) and my aunts……

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Patterns

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Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal

I have an abnormal Rainman-like obsession with patterns in photography, so this challenge was practically made for me.  In fact, I was a bit spoilt for choice but in the end I went with this series of shots I took of Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal.

To see other interpretations of this challenge, go to The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Patterns.