Indian Butter Chicken

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Last week marks 1 year since our wild trip to India! I’m hankering for another adventure! We’re currently hashing out the details of our next trip (new destination). I can’t wait to share it with you when everything is finalized! For now, I’ll spend today reminiscing about this magical place. I give you Indian Butter Chicken at it’s best!  It’s just like the one we had in Delhi! So many lovely spices.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter (cubed)
2 lbs chicken breasts (cut into bite size chunks)
1 sweet onion (diced)
3 garlic cloves (pressed)
3 tsp garam masala
2  pieces Cassia Bark (regular cinnamon sticks will do just fine too)
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric
14 oz tomato sauce
2 cups cream
salt & pepper
cilantro

Instructions
  1. Use 2 tbsp of your butter to brown cubed chicken in a skillet. Cook until the outside is golden and the inside is still pink. Scoop out the chicken into a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Using the same skillet as before, add another 2 tbsp of butter to the rendered chicken fat. Add diced onion, and cook until caramelized. Add all the dry spices, garlic and ginger. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute until the spices become aromatic. Add tomato sauce. Stir. Stir. Stir.
  3. Let simmer for five minutes before adding the cream. Stir again. Add the partially cooked chicken and let simmer for 20 minutes on low heat. Cover with lid (that sauce will stain)!
  4. Stir in the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter and add salt and pepper to taste
  5. Serve over jasmine rice, top with fresh cilantro

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A few of my other posts from India if you care to read more…
How was India
How to Book a Rice Boat
Kolkata and a Beautiful Indian Wedding


Jewelry for a Good Cause By Soothi

Soothi
When Krit, the creator of Soothi Jewelry approached me for a collaboration, I couldn’t pass it up. I love learning about companies that empower women and give back to their community. Soothi is all about natural yoga inspired jewelry made from coconut shells, sandalwood and such. 5% of earnings are donated to Help Animals India to save puppies as well as providing flexible and safe work opportunities to disenfranchised women.

“Women who come from poor families, often don’t have access to education and means to gain financial independence. They are often also from conservative families that don’t allow for women to work. It’s a patriarchy. Since Soothi partners with a non-for-profit they are able to position themselves as a community center where women can come to learn. Within this center they offer work opportunities, along with education opportunities. They also offer total flexibility for these women, so they can come and go as their family situation allows.”-Krit Creator & Curator

Soothi’s Ethos:
All the wealth in the world can’t help people, if people are not taught to help themselves. With Soothi, we try to educate people, so that they may learn to be self-sufficient. By providing an approachable and encouraging work environment, we empower women and underprivileged artists. Offering opportunities to achieve financial stability and self-reliance can help individuals feel secure and content. It all leads to a sense of stability, which eventually helps move society forward.

I traveled to India a few months back — witnessing this country first hand makes me thankful for companies like Soothi who provide healthy work environments for women and artisans in India. Way to go Soothi!

Soothi
Yoga Zen Braclet & Amethyst Mala
Soothi
Rudraksha & Sandalwood Mala
Soothi
Pure Earth Teal Mala & White Tassel Bracelet Set
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Coconut Cabbage Thoran : A Southern Indian Dish

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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).
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^^^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!
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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.
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Kolkata and a Beautiful Indian Wedding

Kolkata, India
Daniel and I were invited to attend a friends wedding in India. Our friend John met Avantika here in the states, feel in love and decided to have a traditional Marwari wedding at Avantika’s family home in Kolkata. It was spectacular – a two week celebration! We flew into Delhi a week or so before the wedding to explore the city, the Taj Mahal in Agra, Kerala in the south and then finished our last week in Kolkata for the Grams-Jalan wedding hurrah! We stayed for the first part of the wedding and then the party moved on to Assam to continue the celebration at their tea plantation.
We arrived at the airport after spending time in Kerala where we were greeted by a friendly driver for the Jalan’s (that’s how they roll over here – you come for a visit and you are taken care of from the moment you step off the plane). I’m not going to lie, after 2 week of figuring out India on our own, it was relaxing to be with local friends. What a warm welcome! I loved watching all of that Kolkata commotion – the constant beeping of cars, cows moseying through traffic, roadside shaving stalls and hawkers…it was exhilarating! Just millions of people living life and doin their thing. Here are some scenes from Kolkata
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Kolkata, India
Need a shave? Right here, right now? Sit on down. That’ll cost you a whopping 8 cents. Smooth as butter.
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^^^Our trip to New Market to find Sarees and Kurtas for the wedding. Our new friend Sean is being persuaded into buying pretty things he doesn’t need. If you ever need a fast and affordable saree, check out New Market in Kolkata.
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Our theme song for driving in #India 😂 🚖

A video posted by b r i t t a n y l o y e r (@abitofbeesknees) on

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We made it to that Jalan’s house! What a gorgeous home! Every generation (going back to Great Grandparents) has their own floor! Such a wonderful way to keep your family close.

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Aunties and female family friends dance and sing to kickoff the wedding week! AJ joined in too 😉
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Lassi, sugarcane juice and chai teas
Kolkata, India
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Mehndi time!
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Amazing and so quick!
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Time for the American side to preform a dance at the Sangeet! It was a bit terrifying but fun to be included in such a cool tradition.
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The wedding ceremony took place the following evening! Baraat-a-taat-taat! So much fun, loud drums, stopping traffic and dancing in the street! We (the grooms side) danced John to the gate of the Jalan’s home.
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John. He’s kind of a big deal today…^^^
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These flowers were out of control! Each one hand-threaded!
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Dripping with marigolds and warm welcomes from the Jalan family and friends as John’s side of the wedding enters his soon-to-be wife’s home.
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What an entrance!
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The happy couple^


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Ohhhh how I love Jalebi! Fried maida flour soaked in rose water syrup and saffron.
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The final night before we flew home. A beautiful wedding reception at the Tollygunge club.
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Bye India! We had a blast!


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

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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.

Chat
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.
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Fresh Fruit
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^^^Home cooked meals. Masala pearl fish, sambar, rice and crispy puffy poori! I love them all.
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Sunrise from our bedroom window.
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Dan and AJ ^
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^^^We woke up early with the parrots and cicadas, sipped on chai and watched AJ befriend a huge water snake on his morning swim.
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^Yeah no… you should have seen how fast that snake zipped across the water.
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^^^Chickpea gram flour fried plantains with turmeric and black sesame, served with chai.
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^An abandoned pink church
Rice Boat Alleppey India
^^^My Babe
Kerala Pink Church
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^^^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.
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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.
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^^^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.
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^^^Mango trees and kingfisher birds galore.
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