My Pawpaw Man


Fruits and Vegetables here in Kampala, Uganda, really excite me. They are so fresh and good and come straight from the farms. I do prefer to shop at the vegetable market in Nakassero mainly frequented by expats. However, it is a bit of a pain going to Nakassero market unless one is chauffeured around as getting hold of a parking space in that area is as difficult as getting hold of an ostrich egg.


On my visits to Nakassero market I always came across a man who sits on the floor by the corner of a shop with a small heap of pawpaws/ papayas in front of him, calling out to customers. To his disappointment my response was always negative as the smell of papaya was one of the few things I couldn’t stand. Every time I go to the market he’ll be there trying to sell pawpaws to me. Then finally one day I was so amazed to see how determined and good he was in his marketing skills, I budged. Marketing managers take note, there are a few lessons you can learn from him.

He was so happy to sell a huge pawpaw to me that he gave me another one as a ‘bonus’. 🙂 (Bonus in Ugandan parlance is a giveaway, a free gift!)


Once I got home I tried a few pieces of the pawpaw on the insistence of my house help, Rose. Though I can’t say I became an ardent fan of the pawpaw, I don’t mind some but not to the extent of using a papaya face pack. I’m happy that I’m a convert when you consider the health benefits of Papaya. Thank you, my Pawpaw Man… “Weebale Ssebo!”


13 Jan 2014

It’s cold out there…

It is cold… believe me, it is really really cold… Brrrr… it is brrrrold. No, that is not true. Brrrrold is bracing cold. When you want to go for long walks with a sweater thrown over the shoulders and something from Starbucks in your hand. Cold that makes you think of good things like fireplaces and warm red wines and chocolate brownies.

What we just went through is nothing like that. This was frrrold… freezing cold, bone chilling cold, mind killing cold. Cold that breeds inertia, cold that makes you think of the equator and escape.

The polar vortex, as the cold snap was called by the meteorologists, has set many records, including the coldest Jan 7th since 1896!

Apparently, it has also inspired many to conduct interesting experiments. We all know about the ‘lick the lamppost’ experiment… who doesn’t love A Christmas Story? Happens, a girl in New Hampshire really did that and was stuck to the pole for 15 minutes before she could be freed. She apparently hasn’t seen the movie, or couldn’t resist the ‘triple dog dare’!

Some other interesting experiments include throwing boiling water up into -17 degree F air, blowing bubbles that freeze in mid-air, and making slurpees by super cooling soda. If you would like to see these in action, take a look here.

Anyhow, when weather gets this cold, I know it is time to pack my bags and bid adieu to New York for a few weeks. Fortunately, the salt mines where I work has offices all over the world – literally. So by the end of the month, I’ll be happily headed to Bangalore, part work and part vacation. And won’t be back till the buds start waking up and daylight savings time is on again. 🙂

Thinking of travel, I knew I needed a new toiletries bag. And I had to make it before my trip. So finally got around to it this week. Yep, being house bound has its advantages too; things get done!

Actually, there is not much to it. Take a rectangle and circle of fabric, make partitions in the rectangular piece, attach it to the circular piece, and you are done! 🙂

Any kind of sturdy strong material will work for this. The measurements will depend upon how big you want it. Mine is nine inches tall with a six inch diameter. For that the measurements were 23×17 inches for the rectangle and 7 inch diameter for the circle.


Make a narrow fold and stitch 4 inches on two of the short sides of the rectangular piece.

Fold and stitch both the long sides of the rectangular piece, one inch on one side (the side where the side stitches are already made) and half an inch on the other.


Fold and pin four inches along the long side where the half inch stitch was made. And mark sections as you see need.


These are to hold the brushes, perfumes, lotions, etc. Stitch along the marked lines.


Now, attach the rectangular piece (folded edge) to the edge of the circle. Turn inside out and thread a ribbon through the top fold.


Tada… all done!


If you would like more detailed instructions, feel free to email me: ria at thebigjackfruittree dot com.


I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (what else is beer for), the power to change the things I can (coffee to the rescue) and the wisdom to know the difference (workin’ on that one).




10 Jan 2014

Boneless Chinese Chilli Chicken

Oh, I just noticed that the name of the dish has a very good alliteration. Though it’s named Chinese Chilli Chicken aka CCC, I’m not very sure how ‘’chinesey”it is. I can assure you that soya sauce and rice wine vinegar are used in my recipe which is an integral part of Chinese cuisine. Since Chinese food is a family favourite, anything on those lines will always be appreciated.


I can’t pinpoint where I got this recipe from, but I can assure that this is evolved from eating Chilli Chicken of varied colour and taste from different quarters. I remember a dish named Chicken/Fish with vegetables which I’ve had from Taj Residency many years back.  Any resemblance to that is pure coincidence. 🙂


This CCC has no heavy sauces, colour or red chilli. Nor does it have any aji-no-moto.


The subtle flavour of this dish makes it a very good accompaniment to vegetable fried rice or noodles.


Enjoy, or as they say in Chinese, Xiǎngshòu!




Boneless chicken pieces, cut into 1 ½ cm cubes 250 grams
Onions, cut into 1 cm cubes 1 cup
Green peppers, cut into 1 cm cubes 1 cup
Garlic, sliced lengthwise 3 cloves
Ginger, cut into juliennes 2 cm long piece
Green chillies, slit lengthwise 4
Green/ spring onions, chopped 2 tablespoons
Black pepper powder 1-2 tablespoon or according to taste
Light soya sauce 2 tablespoon
Dark soya sauce 1 tablespoon
Rice wine vinegar 1 teaspoon
Chicken stock (stock cube can be used) 1 cup
Corn flour 2 tablespoon
Water ¼ cup
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil as required

To marinate the chicken pieces

Garlic paste 1 tablespoon
Ginger paste 1 tablespoon
Light soya sauce 2 tablespoon
Corn flour 1 tablespoon
Black pepper powder 1 teaspoon


  • Marinate the chicken pieces with the ingredients mentioned above for a minimum of half an hour.
  • Heat a thick bottomed wok or a frying pan.
  • Once the pan is hot, shallow fry the marinated chicken pieces till tender in some oil and remove from the pan. If breast pieces are used this will take 4-5 minutes, thigh pieces will take 8-9 minutes.
  • Add another table spoon of oil to the same pan and sauté the sliced ginger, garlic and green chillies till garlic becomes light brown. This frying should be done under low heat as the garlic slices get burnt very quickly.
  • Add the sliced onions and sauté. When it becomes transluscent add green peppers followed by the fried chicken pieces. Fry for a couple of minutes under high heat.
  • Now add the two sauces, rice wine vinegar, salt and pepper powder. Care should be taken when salt is added as the soya sauces used already have salt in them. Stir fry for a minute or so.
  • Add the stock, stir and let it simmer for 5 minutes with a lid on.
  • Mix the corn flour with water and add that mixture to the simmering stock in the pan and stir in quickly.
  • Remove the pan from fire and add chopped green/ spring onions.


08 Jan 2014

An interesting dog situation

We have a dog situation at our condo. In fact, it has been present for a while. Only, now it has grown so big it can’t be ignored anymore!

To start at the beginning… Ms D, who lives on the third floor, has a dog. And this dog, Tigger, has a violent temper. Any movement in the corridor in front of the apartment would send the dog into a frenzy of hissing and barking and scratching on the door. According to neighbours, this would happen regardless of whether the dog was alone or D was in the apartment.

The Condo board has received a number of complaints about the noise and disturbances created by the dog, which I’m personally aware of, since I’m a board member. Several times the board president Mr J has had conversations with D about the behaviour of her dog and the need to curb such behaviour. And every time, D has assured him that she will do whatever it takes to keep the dog under control.

BTW, the board president is a very patient man, quite unlike me. 🙂

Then, it was late summer. During the summer, we had converted the open space behind our building into a garden with a picnic and barbecue area. How better to celebrate better than with an ‘adieu to summer’ party? At the monthly condo meeting the details were laid out… pot luck party; people bring stuff to be grilled. Salads, soda and cookies to be provided by the board. A grill master was chosen. We were so close to adjourning the meeting with the question, ‘any other business?’

L promptly put up his hand… ‘I have a complaint’. And most of us knew what the complaint is; it is not the first time Tigger has featured prominently at our condo meetings. Sure enough… ‘You all know the lovely dog that lives opposite to me… I can’t take it anymore. It only has to hear me take out my keys and it starts hurling itself at the door. And the barking… one would think its throat would burst any moment. And it doesn’t cease even after I’m inside my apartment!’ He got up and enacted the dog running at the door and hurling and scratching at the door. I have to say. L is a great mimic and despite the seriousness of the complaint the whole group burst out laughing. L continued, ‘Just tell her… I don’t care if I’m being politically incorrect, I have to say this: I’m Chinese, my wife is Korean, aaaand we eat dogs. If her dog disappears one day, don’t bother looking for it.’

With all seriousness, J turned to him… ‘L, if you bring any meat for the weekend’s barbecue, we will have to refuse it’. And all I had to say was, ‘L, I have never tasted… please invite me!’ Needless to say, we all had tears in our eyes from the laughing.

More talk with D ensued; she promised that she will keep a close watch on Tigger and there will be no more disturbance from the dog. Personally, I didn’t see much hope in that promise, but for a while all was quite on the third floor.

Then I went away for two weeks during the Christmas holidays. ‘Ria, you missed all the drama!’ These were J’s first words when he met me in the entrance hall, even before I could wish him a happy new year. And he explained… One day L was waiting for the elevator. And who would be in the elevator when the doors opened on the first floor? Of course, it had to be Tigger and D! Apparently taking advantage of the fact that  D’s hands were full with bags and things, Tigger lunged at L, who is convinced the dog now has a personal vendetta against him. Long story short, choice words were exchanged between the two, I mean L and D. And the board has received not one, but two formal written complaints! And later we watched the whole episode on the security camera in the elevator lobby.

So now the question is, what can/ should we do? Stay tuned for further developments.


From the above narration, every word of which true to the last syllable, if you pictured Tigger as a Pit Bull or a Rottweiler or something of that kind, the error is all on my part. I should have made it clear sooner… Tigger is some kind of terrier, Havanese I believe, who stands tall at 12 inches! And, if I was not afraid of violating Tigger’s privacy, I would surely have added a photo of him here!



Monday’s lunch…



06 Jan 2014

Season’s Greetings with a Fruit Cake


As the season demands, I’m all set to make a fruit cake. Fruit cakes are quite rich with lots of dried fruits and nuts. Unfortunately fruit cakes are looked upon with disdain.  So here I’m trying to uplift the image of our poor fruit cake with some changes in ingredients and how it’s made.

Boozing the fruits

Boozing the fruits

The tradition of “boozing” the fruits started only a week before. In my cake the fruits & nuts are limited to dark and light raisins, candied peel, dates and cashew nuts as I’m not very keen on using umpteen ingredients.( read no green and red thingies ) I used dark rum; brandy can also be used, as it’s always available at home.


The Christmas fruit cakes are characterised by their dark colour and dense texture and the aroma of the spices added. Cinnamon is my favourite among them. The dark colour is attained by using caramel syrup which can be made at home.


As I prefer a lighter texture for the cake I always separate the egg yolks and whites and add the beaten egg whites at the final stages of mixing the batter. A sprinkling of a couple of tablespoons of rum when the cake is still hot keeps it moist.


Happy Baking!!!



Soaking the fruits

Raisins (both light and dark together) 150 grams
Dates 150 grams
Candied Peel (orange) 50 grams
Dark Rum/ Brandy ½ cup


Deseed the dates and mince all the above ingredients. Add rum to the minced fruits and shake them every day. Soaking of fruits can be done a week ahead of baking.


Caramel Syrup

Granulated sugar ¼ cup
Warm water ½ cup


Heat the sugar in a dry pan till it caramelises. Care should be taken not to burn it, otherwise the caramel syrup will become bitter. Once the sugar attains that dark colour slowly pour the warm water and heat it again till all the solid particles get dissolved, if there are any. Keep it aside to cool. Caramel syrup can be made ahead of time.


Spice Powder

Cloves 2
Cardamom 2
Cinnamon powder ½ teaspoon
Sugar 1 teaspoon


Powder the whole spices with sugar and mix with the cinnamon powder.


Ingredients for the Batter

Flour 250 grams / 2 cups
Baking powder 1 ½ teaspoons
Baking soda ½ teaspoons
Unsalted butter (at room temperature) 175 grams / 1 cup
Sugar 200 grams/ 1 cup
Eggs (separated into yolks and whites) 4
Vanilla essence 2 teaspoons
Rum / Brandy 4 tablespoons
Cashew nuts (powdered coarsely) ½ cup


  • Preheat the oven to 180 degree Celsius / 350 degree Fahrenheit.
  • Butter and flour a 10 inch round, 3 inch deep cake tin.
  • Sift the flour with baking powder and baking soda twice.
  • Cream the butter till creamy.
  • Powder the sugar and mix with the creamed butter. A handheld electric mixer or a whisk will do the job.
  • Once the butter and sugar are blended, egg yolks can be added one at a time and beat well.
  • Add vanilla essence, spice powder and caramel syrup at this point and whisk again.
  • Add the sifted flour mixture in 3 batches and whisk in between to get a uniform mixture without any lumps. If the consistency of the batter is too thick 2 tablespoons of rum can be added in between.
  • Add the soaked fruits, powdered cashew nuts and 2 tablespoons of rum (if it’s not added already) to the batter and mix well.
  • Now beat the egg whites to soft peaks and fold into the cake mixture.
  • Transfer the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or till a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  • Once the cake is out of the oven let it cool on a wire rack. After 5 minutes sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of rum over the cake and let it cool completely.
  • Now loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and invert onto a plate.




03 Jan 2014

Festive New York

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The last days of December… The best time to be in the city. Just as we pull out our winter woollens at the first indication of the chill, the city pulls out its adornments of magical enchantment. Lights twinkling from every building and every tree, music percolating into the street, smells of hot chocolate and coffee wafting in the air… all add a lightness to your steps.


Of course, there are more tourists in the city, more than at any time of the year; they are everywhere wandering around with maps in hand and eyes on top of the buildings. However, even they begin to look charming, with their mittens and scrubbed faces and dangly caps. Maybe an unforeseen impact of the holiday cheer going around! 🙂


For me, the one event that triggers the festive season is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. This year, it took place on December 4, a Wednesday.


In an event broadcast live worldwide, Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned on the 45,000 multi-coloured LED lights on the 76-foot tall tree, topped with a 9 1/2-foot-wide Swarovski star. Artists who performed at the ceremony included Mary J. Blige, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis.

Toy soldiers at the Rockefeller Center

Toy soldiers at the Rockefeller Center

Looking at the spectacular pageantry associated with the event today, it will be hard to imagine the simple origins of the tradition.


The year was 1931. The nation was under the grip of the great depression, but New York suffered more than other parts of the country. Businesses had closed, manufacturing had ceased, and construction had come to a standstill. The stock market had lost 90% of its value; unemployment was above 25%.


Like a ray of light shining through the cloudbank, work on the Rockefeller Center started in the summer of 1931, bringing hope to the construction industry, burdened with a 64% unemployment rate.


By December 24, the plaza was cleared and excavation had started. Workers lining up at the site to collect their paycheck decorated a 20 foot evergreen rising out of the rocky ground, with garlands of cranberries, tinsel and tin cans. I’m sure none of them even dreamed that their action would set up such a long standing tradition!


Today, the search for the perfect evergreen to become the Rockefeller Center Tree starts in the beginning of the year. A minimum height of 65 feet, with a width of 35 feet at its broadest point, will qualify a tree to be in the running, but it takes a special something, be it a symmetrical shape or thick branches – something that contributes to that perfect look – to be the winner. The Rockefeller Center’s head gardens manager makes the final decision on the selection.


Once the tree has been identified, it is given special care and regular grooming. In November, preparations will start to get it ready for its travel to Manhattan. The branches are wrapped in twine and burlap, and are strapped tight to the trunk to make a compact shape. When ready, the tree is held up using a hydraulic crane and cut. Trees have travelled to the city on trucks, barges and once even on an airplane!


  • There were two Christmas trees at the Rockefeller Center in the years 1936 and 1937; three trees in 1942.
  • The 1966 tree, harvested 120 miles north of Ottawa, was donated by the Canadian government to celebrate their country’s centennial in 1967.
  • In 1941, four live reindeer were penned near the Christmas Tree as an added attraction.
  • On Dec 27 1979, a man climbed to the top of the tree to demand the freeing of Americans held hostage in Iran, and stayed there for an hour and half till he was coaxed down.


Generally the trees are taken down in the first week of January, most often either donated to Habitats for Humanity for use as lumber or chipped and turned into mulch.


Though the Rockefeller tree holds the pride of place in the city – the country, the world – J there are so many lovely ones I make a point of visiting every year. Here is the one at the Bryant Park with the ice skating rink.

Bryant Park

The shop windows dress up so beautifully during the season that one tends to forget the crass commercialism for the moment and marvel at their beauty. Look at these from JC Penny…




“I’d rather be a lamppost in New York than mayor of Chicago.”

James Walker, Mayor of New York City from 1926 to 1932, nicknamed ‘The Late Mayor’ for his tendency to be always late and ‘The Night Mayor’ for obvious reasons. 🙂


01 Jan 2014

Happy New Year!

All set… ready to rock!

Best wishes for a happy and successful 2014!


31 Dec 2013