Simple, Traditional Spanish Paella Recipe

_MG_2814So, upon request, here’s a FANTASTIC Friday night meal … or Saturday … or Tuesday lunch. Oh, what the hell, it’s good any time!
So you’re not Spanish, you don’t have a Paella pan, but you’d like to cook something really close to a Traditional, Authentic, Spanish Paella?
Here’s a Simple Recipe for you …

Give yourself 1hr to prep everything, 30min to cook and 15 min to rest
Preparation is KEY. If you have everything measured and set aside before you switch on the heat, then you are in the driver’s seat.
If you don’t, you’ll put yourself under pressure during cooking.
Truly.
Okay, here we go … Continue reading

Whose Tears Are These? – Chapter 4 – Healing

If you are new, PLEASE START HERE.

http://amma.orgAMMA is singing, the musicians are playing, and the throngs of people are each participating in their own way.
But I’m not with them.
I’m somewhere else, in a space where I could see myself, as if I were a 3rd person.

I open my journal …

Dear AMMA …

As I read, I see an outpouring from my Heart that I had long forgotten;
a cry from so deep that I wept, as I saw my own tears.
Loneliness,
feelings of unbelonging, of a sense of worthlessness;
despair …
the cry of a child.
But who is this child? Not me. I’m a man, strong and in control. It’s not me …
it can’t be me … can it?.

My heart is closed. Scared. Cowering in a cave. I am hiding. I need AMMA’s help … please …

To use some modern-day cellphone texting language … WTF!

20140103_183222I glance at AMMA one last time, pick up my journal and pen, and walk to the beach. I needed perspective.
(I actually needed a spliff, but that wasn’t happening.)

Usually, I walk to a beach or climb up a hill and, in a short time with Nature, my mind becomes still and all is well. This time was different.
Everyone else was in the hall with AMMA, so I was completely alone.
I walked out, stared into the openness and cried like I have never cried in my adult life.
No sobbing or wailing or anything that I am used to, no. This was different. It was like some gate had opened and an ocean of stored water just started flowing out, naturally.
No emotion.
No thoughts or attempts to understand or translate the experience.
Just tears.
And the weirdest thing is that, as this ‘strong and in-control’ man, I actually didn’t want it to stop.
But it did.
And then I was left standing with myself, the Ocean and the Night Sky, wondering …

“Ummm … now what?”

indian veg marketThe following day I spent alone and withdrawn. I left the ashram and walked to the local market, bought some fresh veggies and headed back to Room 021 to spend my day cooking. And then while I was on-the-go in my kitchen, I felt another ‘pull’ from that same space; the space within me that had recently won my full attention.
So I switched off my gas cooker and started walking towards the main hall. Continue reading

Jesus arrives, as an Indian woman – Chapter 3

If you are new to the story, PLEASE START HERE

It’s 3 days before I plan to leave the ashram and, as much as I am enjoying my new friends, they’re not quite in the same space as me. I’ve got a Reality Cooking Show coming up and I’ll need to tap into 20yrs of backpacking experience to make this work.
I need to be around people in the same headspace as me.
Confidence. Success. Energy.
My new friends are in a healing, meditation, yoga headspace.
Chalk and cheese.

So I take it easy and enjoy my short time at the ashram with a ‘Spiritual Resort’ mentality.

Alvar, my first roommate. What a guy! You'll see him make a re-appearance in Nepal, 8 months later. Totally unplanned.This is Alvar, he’s my first room mate in that famous Room 021. He actually appears again in about 8 months, in Nepal. Completely unplanned.
It’s a CRAZY story … but you’re gonna need to wait until we get there.
For now, he’s my first roommate.
I absolutely love the guy, he’s got great energy and he doesn’t seem as intense as the rest. He’s got more of the backpacker vibe, so we connect well.
In this photo, we ‘kill’ a day by experiencing a ‘day in the life of a blind person’.
I’m pretty sure I’ll detail this story when I finish writing this book, because it was a memorable day with some pretty deep lessons that have remained with me until today.
But that’s for then … let me get back to now.

While I’m killing time, waiting to leave the ashram, I notice a lot of chatter and excitement. And the scene is something that I imagine from a Bible story.
People are working to ‘prepare the way’. Especially the elder female European ashramites (ashram residents) … they’re pretty intense.
Floors, tables, walls, gardens, sand, stones, paint, rooftops, plates, spoons, taps, toilets, trees, flowers … EVERYTHING is being swept, mopped, cleaned, neatly arranged etc … as if Jesus was on his donkey, about to ride into town.
And everyone is talking about this darshan thing, which I am still not buying … even though Alvar has also started prodding a little bit in this direction.
Anyway, AMMA arrives, and on the day, I think to myself:

“Okay, let me just go for darshan, so I can say that I actually did it, and that there’s nothing special.”

So I go. I join the queues of thousands to get my hug from the Hugging Saint. And as I am in the queue, my mind becomes quiet and my thoughts, still enough for me to watch.

“If AMMA is Divine Mother, then I’ve gotta FEEL that motherly love. I need to see her eyes and know that she loves me in a way that I expect the perfect mother to be. Anything less than that is a crock of shit. Just another self-glorifying spiritual leader.
I’ve seen too much of this. Too many pretenders. And it’s all in the eyes. Pretenders have a sweet tongue, but the eyes don’t lie.”

And I continue to watch my thoughts as I edge slowly forward for that fateful hug. Continue reading

Vegetable Biryani Recipe

_MG_2762I’m just gonna come out and say it …
This is the best vegetable biryani you’ll ever cook and you won’t ever feel like looking for another recipe.
Once you’ve mastered this, you have your BIRYANI MASTER RECIPE, from which you can develop your own awesome chicken, mutton, lamb, prawn, fish or whatever biryani you want … even the extremely rare Oxen Testicle and Tongue Biryani.

Okay, enough jibber jabber … I’m having fun, but you just want your recipe … so here it is … the Best Vegetable Biryani Recipe Ever, in the Simplest Way. (before you judge, please observe my tongue in my cheek. If you can’t see it, then I have not mastered the world of emoticons yet)

Please be aware that this is not a ‘cook as you follow’ recipe; the biryani, no matter how simple, requires a fair amount of pre-cooking knowledge. So it’s a bit of work to read through and process everything the day (or 2 – 3 days) before you actually get started.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED (about 1hr of preparation and 1hr cooking. Add an extra 30min in there for ‘other’)

  • If you want to cook this on a stove plate, then you’ll need a Medium/Large Pot or Pan or Wok with an airtight lid. It must be non-stick and of the type where the heat is equally distributed all around.
  • If you want to do this in an oven then you’ll need a clay-oven dish, casserole dish or similar. But it’s gotta be airtight.

Alrighty then …

Serves 4-6

Ingredients (1 Cup = 250ml Liquid or 200ml Dry Ingredients)

  • 2 Cups Rice (Basmati or Long-Grained Fluffy are traditionally used. I like Brown Wild Rice)
  • RICE SPICE
    • 1 Cinnamon Stick (fat, baby-finger size)
    • 1/2 tsp Turmeric
    • 2-3 dry Elaichi (Cardamom) pods
    • 1 Fresh Bay Leaf
  • 15ml Veg Oil and 10ml Ghee or Butter
  • 1 Cup Mixed Veg. I use about 2 Cups, so that I have about a 50/50 ratio of veg to rice. Traditionally, the Biryani has about a 70/30 ratio in favour of rice, but I have adjusted this, in this age of low-carb diets due to endocrine systems that struggle as a result from highly stressful lifestyles. It’s your choice.
    • Keep your veggies farm fresh, organic and not pre-frozen or you will lose on flavour, texture and quality. Seriously.
    • I like to use a 1/2 Cup each of Carrots, Peas (or Green Beans), Cauliflower and Baby Marrow. Plus, to be honest, I really love my veggies in a veg biryani, so I throw some brinjal (baby brinjal cut in half is fantastic!) and also so bhindi (okra/ladyfingers)
    • You can cut your veggies anyway you please. I like to keep my pieces relatively big, so that they don’t turn to mush … also, I like to eat hearty pieces of veg. but it’s your choice.
  • 3 Baby Potatoes [Optional], depending on your starch preferences. Peel, cut in half and keep in water
  • 2 eggs, hard boiled, sliced in half, lengthways
  • 1 Medium Red Onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Medium White Onion, sliced … not too thin
  • 2 Super Red, Super Juicy Tomatoes, finely chopped …or blitzed in a blender … or blanched, peeled and mashed like a naughty potato
  • WHOLE SPICE MIX (keep these all together in one dish)
    • 1 tsp Jeera (Cumin) Seed
    • 2 Dry Red Chilli, broken
    • 1 Cinnamon stick (baby-finger size … unless you have really fat baby fingers :) )
    • 2 Dry, green Cardamom( Elaichi) pods
    • 1 Star Anise
    • 1 Dry Bay Leaf
    • 1/4 tsp Methi (Fenugreek) seeds
    • 1 Dry Black Elaichi (Cardamom) Pod
    • 1/4 tsp Saunf (Fennel) Seeds

Continue reading

A Guru, a Cult and a Bunch of Religious Freaks – Chapter 2

If this is your first visit, PLEASE START HERE.

Chett is a guy I met a few months earlier. Turns out that he did a pre-University year at the High School I had just graduated from, in 1994.
But I didn’t know that.
I only heard of him because he went to school with Gaza, who was one of my close mates from my University days in Cape Town, around 1996 to 1999.
Now Gaza, somewhere around 2010, told me about Chett and that he was writing a book and that I should connect with him. So I did, on Skype and Facebook. And we chatted and found common ground because we were both releasing our books around the same time. Anyway, a virtual friendship began forming and that was that.
But this is where the scenario gets weird … the really good type of weird … the kinda weird that is foolish to ignore …

IMG_20140406_175801Chett’s girlfriend, this firey-hot South Korean babe, Jay, becomes my Facebook friend and follows me around like a stalker :) And then, she notices that I’m in Bangalore.
The next thing I know, I’m getting a message from Chett:

“Hey Phil, I hear you’re in Bangalore. You should come down to Kerala, dude, that’s where I am … in Amma’s ashram. And Amma comes back from tour in a week’s time, so the timing is perfect.”

Hmmm …
That email came, the day after I had phoned the ashram and booked myself in.
The day after I had found AMMA on Google … or was it AMMA who found me?
The weirdness was triggering memories deep within me … memories of a mystical life I had once lived, but had long since forgotten.

“Hey Chetty. Sure, dude, I’ll see you there.”

The Backpack ... 20 years of travel later ... arrives at the bridge that leads to Amritapuri Ashram

The Backpack … 20 years of travel later … arrives at the bridge that leads to Amritapuri Ashram

So I took my first Indian train ride (I’ll detail these with photos, a bit later on) and cruised down to Valikavu, Kerala and into Amritapuri Ashram.
I didn’t know what to expect, but what I saw wasn’t it. There were heaps of foreigners all dressed in white;
there were massive posters of this old Indian woman, looking all Buddha-like … to be honest, the very first idea that came to mind was … CULT!!!!!
I was coming from a westernised, Christian background. I was a former Christian missionary, Bible School founder, worship band leader, youth pastor, blablabla.
I had my religious worldview well-established.
So when I saw all this stuff, my judgement was quick to kick in … despite the fact that I am the last born son of the last born son of a Hindu brahmin, who was born in India and came to South Africa when he was 6.
Anyway …

Chetty and Jay are at the entrance to meet me and through these guys who have grown to become my dearest friends and siblings, I am quickly orientated. I throw my stuff down in my dorm and head off with Chetty and Jay to join with their mates from the Recycling Team (I’ll explain later), for dinner.
It’s Thanksgiving Day, apparently. Those of you who know me, know how much I love America, so you can imagine how super excited I was to share one of their commercial holidays … in India.
But I went along with it.
Little did I know that by the end of my stint, my dearest sister/sibling and some closest friends would be ‘goddamn yanks’ ;)
Right, where was I?
Oh yes…

I met these guys on the day I arrived and they became my dearest friends, walking with me along the most intense path of spiritual awakening that none of us ever imagined. I love you guys so much!

I met these guys on the day I arrived and they became my dearest friends, walking with me along the most intense path of spiritual awakening that none of us ever imagined. I love you guys so much!

So we get to this table, adjacent to this massive 10,000-seater hall, and there’s a bunch of peeps already there. Americans, an Italian, Danish, Finnish, Ozzie, Korean and South African … with a young token Indian. I mean, we were in India and all, so it was only fitting that we had at least one Indian in the group. That’s what we thought.
But in the recesses of his mind, what one could hear was (and say this in a thick Indian accent), “Oh my god, these white girls are soooo HOT!”
Krishnanji actually became my first and dearest REAL Indian brother, who I love even until today.
Anyhow, everyone knows each other and they’re all sharing food and Chetty introduces me and they welcome me … and I’ve got my wild backpacker hair that is unkempt, which goes perfectly with my unkempt and free-spirited nature … and some of them are dressed in white … and all talking the religious ashram lingo, and I feel completely like an alien. But they’re all very friendly, and they feed me and I do my little “I’m thankful for …” bit, which I wasn’t prepared for, but was quite cool actually, and then that was that.
IMG_20131201_105435Back to my dorm, for me to process things… Continue reading