Reading about India – Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

I’ll get right to it: this is a beautiful book. I really enjoyed it, and will be buying a copy to add to my bookshelves…

As the title suggests, this is a collection of 9 stories about different religious traditions of the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan and Bangladesh are in the mix a little bit).

The author, William Dalrymple, is sometimes categorized as a travel writer but I don’t really see this book that way. He doesn’t treat his subjects as exotic objects of fascination, or that he is distant or different then they are; he introduces them then gets out of the way. They get to tell their own truths.

In a world where the most militant voices are often the loudest, it’s a real pleasure to read about people who take a more personal, spiritual approach to their faith. Despite the differences in religious expression in each of the chapters, the common threads of tradition, community, yearning for the truth, and love flow throughout the book.

In particular, the chapter on Sufi practitioners in Pakistan should be required reading for those who think only negative things about Islam. The tolerance, compassion, and deep faith expressed on those pages moved me to tears. The world can seem like a hard, cruel place at times but there is great beauty out there, and it’s a blessing and a pleasure to get to meet the people who are contributing to the good.

The Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar
The Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar
(image by Iamsaa via Wikimedia Commons)

Reading about India: The Ramayana

Epic. Archetypal. One of the most influential works of literature in the world.
All of those things apply to The Ramayana – and yet I just got around to reading it. The American educational system needs to try a little harder…and obviously, so do I.

There are innumerable versions of this story, in many different languages and forms; I chose an English-language, modern prose version by Ramesh Menon.

I’m of two very strong minds about The Ramayana.

On one hand, I was thrilled and mesmerized by it. The universe created in the story is beautiful, the battles are fantastical and breathtaking, and some of the characters are timeless. I came out of it wanting to know Hanuman – every time he made an appearance, the book felt almost alive to me.

Hanuman Mistakes the Sun for a friut
Hanuman Mistakes the Sun for a fruit
(Image by Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

On the other hand, it was impossible to overlook the bad treatment of women, and the rationalization of the caste system. Taken on his own, Rama was sometimes difficult for me to like – he was made much better by his supporting cast, and by his very intriguing enemies. (Kind of holds true for all of us, huh?)

Lakshamana fights Indrajit
Lakshamana fights Indrajit
(image via Wikipedia)

Overall, I found the experience exhilarating; it’s been hard for me to get immersed in another book since. I think my journey with The Ramayana has just begun. I’m now primed to read as many versions, from as many perspectives, as I can. I also will be reading The Mahabharata, ASAP!

Diwali Sweets

I’ve admired the holiday of Diwali from afar for quite a few years, and was so excited when I realized my blog was allowing me a completely legitimate excuse to actually celebrate it.

For those who are unfamiliar, Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs throughout the world, and is a national holiday in India (and many other countries). Varying in significance, meaning and ways of celebrating based on religion and/or location, one consistent way to define Diwali is to think of it as The Festival of Light. There are so many nuances that I don’t feel like I can tell you enough about it; for a deeper explanation, I’ll send you to Wikipedia.

I can say that from the cultural distance of being an American of northern European descent, I view it as a happy, bright, fun celebration – and I very much want to go to India to be a part of it someday.

Diwali Light
Diwali Light
(image by The Global Reader)

This year (2013) the start of Diwali came on the heels of Halloween and Día de los Muertos, both of which I celebrate with great enthusiasm. It’s really my favorite time of year, and I’m thrilled to have another tradition that I can add to the already festive and fun mix. I kept my first attempt low-key, so that I could start to think about how to seriously approach a bigger event next year.

Diwali, as celebrated by a beginner
(image by The Global Reader)

So, after quite a bit of research and taking stock of my schedule, I decided to focus on a favorite part of the holiday: SWEETS! Which is no problem, because that’s what I generally do anyway…

I went very simple, so I think my search term was “15 minute Diwali sweets”, and I found some excellent stuff: I went with stovetop, no-bake choices. Both turned out to be very easy to make and very easy to enjoy – and will be getting made often.

Date & Nut Ladoo

adapted from a recipe on The Edible Garden

So good, and as sweet treats go, good for you. These can easily be made vegan: just substitute coconut oil for the ghee and there you go. Also, for an easy raw food dessert, you can skip cooking the date/nut mix and roll into balls as-is.


  • 12 medjool dates (or any soft dates)- pitted
  • 1 cup of raw mixed nuts of your choice ( I chose a mix of pistachios, almonds, and cashews)
  • 1 tsp of butter or ghee
  • 1/2 cup of desiccated coconut (optional)


  1. Place the pitted dates in a food processor and grind to a coarse paste. Remove from food processor and set aside.
  2. Dry roast the nuts one kind at a time until they start to turn lightly brown and fragrant.
  3. Pulse all toasted nuts in the food processor until you have a coarse mixture. It’s a good idea to leave a few chunky pieces for some texture in the ladoos.
  4. Heat the ghee, butter (or coconut oil) in a non-stick pan.
  5. Add the dates and cook on low flame until it turns soft – about 3 mins. It will absorb the ghee/butter/oil completely too.
  6. Add the chopped nuts and blend in. Turn off heat.
  7. The mixture will be sticky and a bit tough to blend but keep going with your spatula and soon you will have mass of dates and nuts blended in perfectly. It’s actually a lot of fun! Just trust the process!
  8. Remove from pan and set aside. When it’s cool enough to handle, make ladoos of your desired size and roll half the batch in the desiccated coconut. You can also use roasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc in place of coconut. Or just do what I did, and leave some plain.

You can keep them, sealed in a container, at room temp for up to a week (if they make it that long). They are great treats to share with others, since they keep so well, and don’t crumble or break up.

Date & Nut Ladoo and Chocolate Peda
Date & Nut Ladoo (left) and Chocolate Peda (right)
(image by The Global Reader)

Chocolate Peda

adapted from a recipe on The Edible Garden

I love this. I am craving it right now, just writing about it. Another easy recipe, and so good. For an American junk food reference, this is reminiscent of a higher-quality Tootsie Roll. I don’t know if that’s a winner for you or not, but regardless…you should try it.

The original recipe calls for milk powder, but I read somewhere that you could substitute ground-up Maria cookies – and that’s what I did.


  • 1 can of condensed milk
  • 1 cup of ground-up Maria cookies (very finely ground)
  • 1/3 cup of cocoa powder (I only had Dutch cocoa, but it turned out just fine)
  • 2-3 drops of vanilla extract (optional)
  • A pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 tbsp of unsalted butter


  1. Heat a large non-stick pan and add the butter. Keep the heat very low (at a simmer) and wait until the butter melts completely.
  2. Add the condensed milk, Maria cookies and cocoa power.
  3. Keeping on very low heat, mix the ingredients gently together until they incorporate.
  4. Continue stirring until the mixture starts to turn smooth and add the vanilla and salt. Keep mixing. The mixture will start to thicken. You can’t stop stirring!
  5. Soon – in about 3-4 mins, the mixture will be thicker and a bit harder to mix.
  6. After 5-6 more minutes of patient stirring, the mixture will be gloopy and thick and leave the sides of the pan, circling around your ladle. From this stage, continue to cook for another 2-3 mins. If you remove it too early, the chocolate peda will be fudgy and too sticky.
  7. Once the mixture is super thick and comes around your ladle refusing to let you budge it any more, transfer to a greased plate or tray.
  8. Pat it down with the back of a silicon spatula or wet fingertips (be careful – the mixture will be very hot!). Let it cool completely and then refrigerate for an hour.
  9. Roll the mix into balls and then flatten out into disks. Add cashews and/or chopped pistachios to the top

This is best kept a little bit cold. It’s chewy and chocolaty and oh-so-addictive!

So that was my Beginner Diwali! It is a beautiful and joyous celebration, and I’m looking forward to learning more and being able to participate in a deeper way.

Diwali Fire
Diwali Fire (with a little Halloween added in)
(image by The Global Reader)

Country #18 – India

Every place is interesting, and every culture brings something to this global party known as Life On Earth…but some destinations just loom a little larger than others. Or much, much larger – as is the case with Country #18…India.

Vast, diverse in culture and geography, and the birthplace of at least two major world religions (one of which, Buddhism, is what I claim as my religious affiliation): it’s very clear a single book or meal is not going to even scratch the surface of what’s going on.

So, I’ll be reading quite a few books and cooking dishes from all over the country; we’ll be here for awhile. I’m all about it!