Coconut Cabbage Thoran : A Southern Indian Dish

Thoran is a coconut cabbage veggie dish from Kerala – Southern India. Our friend and chef Shravan was kind enough to teach me how to make a few of his Mama’s recipes while we were cruising along the jungly backwaters in Alappuzha. His cooking was some of the best home homestyle food we had in India! Before Dan and I left the country he helped make a list of all the spices I would need to recreate these dishes back at home.

Coconut Cabbage Thoran

2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
5 curry leaves
1 clove garlic (diced)
1 small green chili (chopped)
1 1/2 onion diced)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups finely chopped green cabbage
kosher salt to taste
1 cup freshly grated coconut

In a large pan, heat oil until simmering. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and garlic, stir until fragrant. Add chopped chilies, onions, turmeric and cumin powder. Stir to ensure the spices don’t burn.  Add cabbage. Stir until the cabbage is coated with oil and spices. Cover with lid and let cabbage cook, stirring occasionally ~ 5 min. Add freshly grated coconut and stir until  mixed. Season to taste with salt and serve hot with rice, daal, or puris (crispy puff bread).
^^^Meet the chef! Shravan is on the left. His mom taught him how to cook – great job Mama! During the dry season he works as a chef on the rice boats. Shravan and Raj (on the right) were two of the three guys that accompanied us on our float through the backwaters! It was such a blast – crammed into that tiny galley with the engine humming, pans sizzling, amazing smells and misty water rainbows out the kitchen window. It was a very cool experience. A tad shhhhweaty but so awesome. Thanks for the cooking lessons friend!
I saved my spice shopping for the end of the trip in Kolkata. I ran around New Market, following scouters through a maze of shops with my giant list of spices… “Does any one have Valampuli??? What the heck is Valampuli!?” I have know idea, but it’s on my list. Facepalm. Hey Google? 😉 Looking back on it, we had a lot of fun. I found many of my spices in the attic of a saree shop (because everyone sells a little bit of everything around here). A boy helped me scoop spoonfuls of turmeric, tea masala and Kashmiri chili powder onto an old-fashioned scale. We sat there on the floor filling little bags with spices and sealing them with a candle flame he had melted to the floorboard. I love moments that. Our pantry at home officially smells like India.
1933415_10154001800543728_573127134842019395_oThoran 1.1

How To Book a Houseboat in India {Alleppey Backwaters, Kerala}

I love Globe Trekker! Oh what an amazing job that would be – traveling the world, meeting new people, trying fun food, exploring beautiful places etc. I’m pretty sure that’s everyone’s dream job. About a decade ago I was watching an episode about renting rice boats in India. You can hire a crew + boat and float along the backwaters of Kerala. It’s a beautiful and relaxing way to spend your time in southern India. “I have to do this someday…I’m going to do this, it’s officially on the bucket list!” So when Dan and I were invited to a wedding in India, I knew this might be my only chance to weave it in.

Here’s all you need to know about booking a magical globe trekker adventure of your own.

Do Not Book Online

I tried…numerous companies and TripAdvisor leads, but no one seemed to respond. That’s a good thing though; you should book it in person! All the prices online are 3x the amount it actually costs and you don’t know what/who you’re getting. Don’t worry, there are literally hundreds of boats for you to choose from when you get there. They come back every day so there is no need to book a boat in advance. You can show up on the same day you want to leave or arrange it for the next day etc.

Pick The Right Season
Make sure it’s not monsoon season, because that would not be fun. I’m pretty sure the majority of the boats are stored away during these months. It looks like Jun-Nov are pretty rainy…with a bit of a break for August. Dec-May are the best months for boating. Here is a rainfall chart for Kerala

Find Your Dream Boat
I’ve heard there are a few towns where you can hire boats, but Alleppey (AKA Alappuzha) is the granddaddy of them all. You’ll find they have the best selection and prices compared to other towns. If you’re arriving by plane, you’ll want to fly into Kochi airport (Cochin International Airport COK) and hail a cab to Alleppey. The ride from Cochin to Alleppey in an AC car will cost you around $25 for a 2.5 hour drive or if you’re a bit scrappier you can take the train from Aluva (AWY) to Alleppey (ALLP) but you’ll need to reserve your tickets in advance (usually with an Indian cell phone or through a travel agent) for about $10. Once you’ve arrived, stay near Finishing Point. D and I stayed here (about a 3 min. walk from the dock at Finishing Point). Finishers Point is where you’ll find 1000+ boats along a mile or so walkway. You don’t need a reservation, just show up early about 8:00AM and search for the boat you want. Everyone will want your business and welcome you onboard. Feel free to look at as many boats as you want, shop around and find one you like. The house boats depart around 11:00 or so and return the following day around 8:00am. There are so many that they usually double/triple dock them, so you’ll have to climb through numerous boats.
Boats are usually stocked with food and ready to leave the same day, so no need to plan ahead. My group wanted to do a two-day trip, so we gave our boat a 1 day notice to buy extra food. Everyone is very flexible with time – you’ll definitely be able to find a boat that meets your needs.

Talk with passengers who are just leaving their cruise. Ask them if they liked the boat and crew / pros and cons and how much they paid. It’s nice to hear some honest reviews from fellow travelers. Chat with the crew too! Ask them what their usual route is and let them know if you are hoping to explore smaller backwaters. Let them know if there are certain places you want to see.

Get That 2nd Story
If possible, find a boat with a 2nd story or sun deck. It’s a lovely space to relax and find some peace and privacy upstairs + better views!

Shop Around
Make sure you look at lots of boats before you commit to one. Things to look for –>
-Do the toilets flush / do the bathrooms smell bad?
-Do I care if there is hot water? Truthfully most of the boats don’t have hot water, but you may find it on the fancier ones.
– Are there mosquito nets?
-Do I want individual private rooms with a lock or a common room? 1 or more rooms?
-Is there enough privacy on this boat?
-Check for bugs, cockroaches and bedbugs. Check the mattresses and make sure they’re clean and comfy…
-Is there AC?
-Are meals included?
-Is the water bottled?
-Check to make sure that the chef can accommodate for any food allergies you may have.
-Is the kitchen clean?

Pick A Good Crew
Find a crew that is similar in age and fun to spend time with. You’ll be in close quarters for the next 24-48 hours, so make sure you can jibe with them. Our friends found a fun group of guys in their mid 20’s early 30’s they were fantastic and fun! Our chef Shravan was kind enough to give us cooking lessons for each meal! It was a blast. And our friend Raj helped us find a toddy hut, where the guys could try palm wine.

Negotiate A Price
In my experience most businesses in India mark up their prices by 300% of what you will actually end up paying after a 30 min bargaining session…so get your game face on. We paid $300 total for 4 people – 2 nights with meals included. Which ended up being around $37 per person per day. A little higher than I would have liked (the majority of our accommodations in India were around $10 per night) but hey…you’re on a houseboat in the jungle with really yummy home cooked food. Well worth it! The more expensive months will be January and February (when we went). I’m betting you can find one even cheaper than we did.

Overall experience = A+!
I highly recommend it! Hire a boat of your own if you ever find yourself in southern India.
Here are some pictures of our two-day rice boat trip in Alleppey and a short little insta clip. If you want to read more about our time him India or watch our travel video  here is another post you should read! Thanks for stopping by!

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^^^Our bedroom. Basic, but all that we needed – fan, soft bed, linens, mosquito net, fresh towels and our own bathroom with shower.
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^^^Our sun deck, complete with squishy cushions and bamboo chairs.
Fresh Fruit
^^^Home cooked meals. Masala pearl fish, sambar, rice and crispy puffy poori! I love them all.
Sunrise from our bedroom window.
Dan and AJ ^
^^^We woke up early with the parrots and cicadas, sipped on chai and watched AJ befriend a huge water snake on his morning swim.
^Yeah no… you should have seen how fast that snake zipped across the water.
^^^Chickpea gram flour fried plantains with turmeric and black sesame, served with chai.
^An abandoned pink church
Rice Boat Alleppey India
^^^My Babe
Kerala Pink Church
^^^The picture is a bit fuzzy, but you can actually see the fireflies! We docked the boat next to the coconut shack one night…had a candlelight dinner and played Sinatra. The fireflies came out to dance. Alleppey is a magical place.
Lounging on the deck, with a hot tropical breeze and too many coconuts to count!
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If you’re not interested in an overnight houseboat you can find smaller boats (Shikara) and guides available for 3 to 4 hour excursions . They’ll tour you around the narrow canals and villages across the lake. We picked our boat from the main canal in Alleppey (Vada Canal) where you can find hundreds to choose from. We paid around $10 for a 3 hour boat ride. Shikara offer comfortable seating and best way to explore tiny rivers that the larger boats can’t fit in
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Fruit stands in Alleppey. This is where the boats stock up on fresh food for your trip.
^^^We cruised over to a little hut selling coconuts. You can buy them for 25¢! The man will cut off the top and give you a straw…you drink the water and give it back to him. He’ll then machete it in half with one big swing and give you the top as a spoon to eat the meat. Perfection.
^^^Mango trees and kingfisher birds galore.

We Joined the Circus for the Day {Trapeze Adventure}

I thought it would be fun do something daring for my Mom’s birthday this year. We were driving around town one day and we saw a circus trapeze near our local fair grounds. My mom said “Oh that looks like so much fun! Sign me up!” So I did. Was she bluffing? Nope. I got two lessons…one for me and one for Mom. We even invited my 70 year old step-grandmother. How awesome is that!? 3 generations joining the circus for the day. We loved it. Next comes sky diving.

^^^ Me learning how to catch. I got it on my first try {sorry I had to brag}

^^^^^^ Our hubby’s came to watch us. Dan, Dad and Grandpa.

^^^They even let Daniel give it a whirl. What a trooper…and he’s afraid of heights! He did a back-flip on his first try!

^^^Bette on her 70th Birthday! No that’s how you do life! And below, My fearless Mom on her back-flip! All smiles. She amazes me.

What a fun day! Here’s a little clip of my first time catching^^^

Carry-on Essentials for International Travel

Carry-on Essentials for International Travel

Here is a list of goodies that I always have in my carry-on when I travel out of the country. Yes, I do have this much stuff in one bag! Sure, Dan makes fun of me for bringing everything but the kitchen sink, but you know what? He always comes to me when he needs something. Yeah, that’s right…who’s the smart packer now!? You’ll be so thankful for all these little necessitates, they make traveling that much easier and enjoyable. I promise that you’ll use all of them! OK here we go.

1.KIND Dark Chocolate Nuts Sea Salt Bars
I love these! All of the KIND bars are healthy + tasty = A rare combination

2. Hat This is my attempt at being somewhat fashionable. I like bringing a hat or beanie for the plane because they’re great for hiding your smooshed sleepy face or blocking the overhead lights.

3.Colored PencilsFor doodling when you get bored. It’s a fun way to pass the time.

4.Travel Umbrella Any compact umbrella will do the trick. They come in handy when it’s raining at your destination. To save space, research the weather before you leave and pack it in your checked luggage if sunny skies are in your immediate future.

5.Michael Kors Chronograph Watch My all time favorite watch — pretty and waterproof! Perfect for traveling  if you plan on leaving your phone at home and need a reliable watch to keep track of time.

6.Solar Calculator + Notebook Features 120 lined pages and a solar-powered calculator. *Now this isn’t something that you’ll need on the plane, but I use it daily to figure currency exchanges and our budget while out and about. So I thought it would be best to add it to the list.

7.Eos Smooth Sphere Lip salve Sweet Mint This lip salve is the best. I feels so good on your lips and has an amazing mentholated cooling sensation. Your lips will stays moisturized for hours.

8.Ear Plugs{for sleeping} I bring these EVERY WHERE! Dan is a loud snorer so I wear them nightly…but they’re also great for when you need to sleep on the plane and cancel out all that noise.

9.Travel Toothbrush & Toothpaste Sometimes it’s refreshing to brush your teeth mid-flight.  Remember to bring some water with you…don’t use the bathroom sink water in the plane!

10.Dogeared St. Christopher Necklace The Patron St. of Travel. It reminds me to say my prayers for travel blessings and protection. I have a cool story about this…A long time ago I was in the Doctors office getting shots for a trip to Egypt. My Mother was worried about all the commotion in the Middle East and she didn’t feel that I should go. Just as she was telling me this, a shiny object caught my eye on the floor of the waiting room. It was a necklace and on the back of it was inscribed, “A Guardian Angel is Watching Over You”. We both took it as a sign that I should go. To this day I wear that necklace every time I travel. I even stuck it in my shoe when I walked down the aisle on our wedding day.

11.Stainless Hot or Cold Thermos I like to fill this up after the security check. It’s also convenient for backpacking. You can have a hot or cold drink throughout the day.

12.Headphone Splitter This is the best idea…credit goes to Dan on this one. We only have one iPad, so we plug the splitter in so we can both watch movies or listen to music without bothering our neighbors or taking turns. Genius.

13.Wallet Well this is an obvious one…you’d be surprised how many times I’ve forgotten it. Now I write it down on my packing check list.

14.Gold Makeup Pouch. It’s nice to have a makeup touch-up when you’re feeling a little frumpy. All that stale plane air and cramped seating can take a toll on you. I like to bring the basics…face lotion and powder, lipstick and mascara. *Make sure that your liquid make-up sizes adhere to TSA regulations.

15.Anti-Bacterial Hand SanitizerBath & Bodyworks has a fabulous selection of mini hand sanitizers that smell soooo good. I get a few of them and stick one in my carry-on and the rest in my checked luggage.

16.Travel Brush,Hairbands & Bobby PinsMy hair gets crazy knotted on long flights…so this is one of my biggies.

17.Voltage Converter Ya need to get this! It’s very important if you’re traveling abroad and need to use electrical outlets. Get a pack that has a complete world set…that way you can research your outlet fitting before you go and take the one(s) you’ll need.

18.Face & Hand WipesI don’t go anywhere without them! Life savers {especially if you’re traveling with babes}!

19.Lavanila Fragrance {Small Roller} A mini roller of perfume or  a sample spray is a real treat to bring along. Make sure the it’s small enough for TSA regulations.

20.Kai MoisturizerThis stuff smells so wonderful! I get compliments on it every time I wear it. A small lotion is always a good idea to bring on the plane…skin can get really dry on a long flight.

21.Chimes Ginger Chews Candy Ginger chews are good for settling stomachs and fighting off nausea while flying.

22.Small Note PadIncase you need to jot down a quick note.

23.Glasses I’m blind without them.

24.Pen For filling out customs forms and other important stuff.

25.iPad & Earbuds I love, love, love the iPad! We can play games on it, read books, watch movies, listen to music and for a small fee most airlines will hook you up with Wi-Fi. It’s beyond great and so useful when you’re on the plane or exploring a new country. Dan and I took it with us to Europe and stopped at cafes and McDonalds when we needed directions or to book a hotel and buy tickets to museums so we didn’t have to wait in line. It’s also useful for storing pictures when your SD card fills up in your camera. *Remember to bring your charger and an adapter.

26.Ritter ChocolateI am addicted to these German chocolates. Dan and I tried a new one almost everyday when we were in Berlin. They have marvelous options like White chocolate with hazelnuts, cocoa mousse, butter biscuit, marzipan, praline,  peppermint, apricot brandy etc. They are all amazing. You can buy them here in the US too! I’ve seen them at Trader Joes and Ralphs.

27.BYRON & Brown Leather Passport Cover My cousin got me a pretty leather passport cover for Christmas when I was young…she loved traveling and has passed the bug onto me. I use it to keep my passport clean and safe from torn pages and folds. Remember to bring your Drivers License too! It’s smart to bring an extra form of ID and photo copies of each {to put in your checked bags}.

28.Scarf Believe it or not, I find the a scarf to be one of the most versatile travel accessories. It’s my take on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy {a towel is the most useful thing in the universe}. I use it as a cover-up when I sleep on the plane, a hand-towel when I can’t find anything else, a blanket when I get cold, a head scarf to keep my hair back, a tie for my bag etc. the possibilities are endless.

29.Trident Tropical Twistor Orbit Gum It’s nice to have fresh breath and it’s also a good icebreaker for meeting new friends. “You want a piece?” “Oh sure thanks. Now let me tell you my life story.” 😉 I really like Tridents Tropical Twist. It tastes so good and I swear you can smell that wonderful gum from a mile away… everyone will want some.

30.Mighty Leaf Vanilla Bean TeaBecause it’s a beautiful thing to relax with your favorite cup of tea.

31.Journal I keep a travel journal and write about the things we’ve done/seen together. It’s mostly little notes and bullet points of places or moments that I don’t want to forget {the things we ate in Italy or the name of our funny tour guide or a recipe from Positano…}

32.Canon EOS Rebel T3i 18.0-Megapixel DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens I’ve had my camera for about 2 years now and I absolutely love it. I highly recommend it!

33.Levi’s Waxed Canvas Backpack A mid-sized canvas backpack or shoulder purse is perfect for a carry-on. I can fit all these goodies in it and then roll it up when I need to put it in my backpacking backpack or suitcase. I would suggest bringing a smaller, more formal purse as well for days when you can leave your big items at the hotel.

*Not pictured –> I always wear a jacket on the plane and pack an extra outfit just incase our luggage gets lost! And when I travel with little people, I bring coloring books, small puzzles, easy/clean crafts and lots of snacks to keep them happy and occupied.

Sailing Pics

We went sailing with our friend Shannon and her Dad the other day. It was so much fun. Dan and I took a sailing class last year and it was great chance to get a refreshers course once again. Bill let Dan man the tiller and we set off into Newport’s bay. Dan was in Heaven. It was such a beautiful day — perfect for sailing.
 {Our boat}
{Shan and Me}

{My handsome Danny}
{A happy husband}