First Date. Potato Cakes

Free and fierce as a nomad on the Sahara. Careless like a yogi who has chosen exile in the Himalayas. Like a banned bandit wondering in the Andes. Vigorous as the swirling sun in a Van Gogh painting. – That’s how I feel when I cross the line and enter the sanctuary where the universe is regained and aligned, free from frail & feeble beings, where every particle preaches LOVE.

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When outside burdened world gets too much to take, to take a break, I get back in touch with my sanctuary. Attacks withstood, storms endured knocked-off, pale, weary, fragile me celebrates the joy my heart yearns for;  responds to the holiest, purest call what my soul has longed for, quenches the thirst that my throat has been carrying around for years.

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My potential ‘boyfriend’ who I met online came to meet me all the way from America. On the first date I decided to take him out for breakfast-  to my sanctuary-  a destination unknown to him. Just to see what kind of a soul resides in his body.

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As the first light of dawn turned the sky golden, we got on a local bus, took the highway to heaven, shared some chitchatting and laughter with some ‘never seen before’ passengers who always wear colorful clothing with dazzling clarity. For an hour or so, we rode past miles after miles of gorgeous greenery, vastness, huts with haystack roof, open air village markets, women walking carrying mud pitchers on the head filled with drinking water, fertility, healing and wisdom….

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The driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. We were back to a world that was unchanged since the time of Christ.

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Here the infinite sky rests its root in the river. The blazing sun kisses the knee-high rice saplings from up above. The air is dense with hoots and cheers and tweets of birds. Full-fledged larger-than-life trees cast lacy shadows on the silver waves of the river. Lazy, scented wind sifts through the wildflower bushes. Here human souls can see, hear, touch, feel the unchained melody coming from heaven beneath. (I saw the irises of his jet-lagged eyes widen).

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We gazed down at the river bank. A Shabby, mud-built, humble hut on the horizon gazed up at us. This is a restaurant for small peasants, laborers and beggars to whom God cannot appear except in the form of bread and rice. I have been coming here, alone, to dine out for years now. The owner, the chef, standing strikingly strong and tall, like the timeless statue of Jesus Christ, invited us in. I have been watching him cooking and serving ‘love & life support’ for years now. (Cookery is an ancient, spiritually enriched, enchanting art indeed!)

He cooked us Potato Cakes. The smell of life hung everywhere. And my heart started throbbing!

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Smoking hot & spicy potato cakes served on pearl white rice. Match made in heaven. So well-seasoned! Perfectly spiced! Memorably good taste & texture never weighs me down!

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2 cups mashed potatoes

1/2 teaspoons salt

1 finely chopped green chili

1 medium onion, chopped

Handful of chopped fresh Mint

Few drops of lemon/lime juice

2 tablespoons mustard oil

1 egg – beaten

some bread crumbs for coating

Vegetable oil for frying

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*Mix first 7 ingredients. Chill/refrigerate it overnight for the best results. Let the flavors mingle.

*Use your hands to form 1/2-inch thick patties. (Apply a little oil for smooth finishing)

*Dunk patties into egg and then roll them into bread crumbs. shake excess crumbs. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet/pan over medium-high heat until almost smoking.

*Add the potato cakes to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low.

*Cook until they have formed a golden crust, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until golden brown, another 15 minutes.

*Serve hot with rice/salad/coleslaw/tea.

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You can add any herb with Potato cakes. But Fresh Mint from my garden  fills up my senses delightfully.Why Mint? – My peasant-chef prefers Mint over any other herbs when it comes to Potato cakes.

As the sunset painted the sky all over with intense ruby red hue, I saw tear drops falling from his deep soulful eyes. May be like me he has scars caused by agony, fire, fear of failure, greed, struggle, suffering, sickness. May be he too dies an unthinkable death once in a while. May be that humble restaurant with a simple meal recovered, refreshed and lifted up his spirits stimulating his appetite.

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May be the departed part of his soul has been resurrected here. Right in front of that  worn-out sanctuary – that Cathedral- that Temple, when he asked if I would be willing to sail away with him again, I replied, ‘YES’.

An unprepared fun, whimsical ride turned into a blissful adventure of a lifetime.

Symphony of Shrimp & Soup

That eighteen hour long journey chocked me like death ! Billions of nightmarish thoughts have been creeping across my heart for the last eighteen hours ! Pursuing higher education in an alien country where I have NOBODY was an ignorant, douche-like decision. (didn’t listen to Mom as I was adult enough to make all the horrible decisions I want). Now my over-zealous self will have to deal with a smelly 60 year old sailor dude who I’m going to be homestaying with for the next six months.

Hungry, paranoid, horrified, terrified with aloneness I finally landed in Australia in a bone crushingly chilly, rainy morning. My host, 60, white, grey bearded gentleman with a pair of glittering, kind eyes winked at me, smiled, picked me up and drove me home. He smells like ocean.

Soon after parking the car, he asked me to water his backyard garden. “But it’s raining”, I frowned speculating more upcoming weird, untimely orders.- “Well, fetch an umbrella and water the garden!”- serene brutality of his voice lured me instantly.

There were these gorgeous cute little heart-shaped slightly prickly skinned fruits all over the garden smiling at me. Perfect smile. Love at first sight ! Cloudy grief that choked my mind went away when I started picking Strawberries.

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Strawberry-Spinach Salad

A breakfast doesn’t get any healthier, prettier. Freshly picked Strawberries and scattered baby Spinach just plucked from the garden!

He takes every bite solemnly, mindfully. “Eating is like praying”, he would say, “When you eat, you don’t stuff your body, you cleanse it.”- I  sensed, felt a beautiful, enigmatic, electric power running through my heart and soul. – “Did you know that you have a contagious smile?” – I joined the conversation which would continue for the next six months.

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Dill basket

While taking a stroll around the house I quietly shed a few tears over my parents and friends who are now lightyears away. Moments later, my eyeballs popped out of sockets in disbelief when I found sun-kissed, gorgeous, vivacious, radiant, dazzling Dill blossoms at the front yard. I fell in love rightaway!

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He served me sautéed shrimps for lunch. One bite and I immediately sensed that belongingness. Loneliness puffed away. Warm, perfectly tender, slightly sweet but spicy enough shrimps along with fresh veggies traveled down my throat. And a soul-deep joy swelled within my stomach.

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Devein, clean, pat dry 1 lb jumbo shrimps (12-16 pcs).  Marinate them for 1o minutes with pinch of salt+pepper+crush red pepper, dash of olive oil, splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 tsp freshly chopped Dill. (Parsley/Thyme can be used instead.) Saute them in high heat for 3 minutes each side. Serve with your choice of salad/vegetable/rice.

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Effortlessly plain, unscrewed-up simplicity. ...

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We took a walk on the shore. I saw him hugging the sea and feeling the sky and how he let his soul & spirit fly.

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I locked my eyes in the setting crimson sun and sipped into Tomato soup. For the first time in my life. Never imagined good old tomato could make such a wonderfully comforting, creamy, nutritious rendition! A little hint of heat, some pleasant touch of garlic, olive oil and the bright red hue of the soup took my breath away! How I adore the picture of the sailor-man putting warmth, light, happiness, hope, love, sweetness, charm into the soup pot !

* Cook for 20 minutes 4 large fresh, ripe, red tomatoes (cut in chunks) along with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 small onion, 2 cloves of garlic, salt (as required), 1 tsp crushed red chilli flakes. Towards the end add 1 tsp sugar, if you like it sweet.

* Now blend the mixture. Sprinkle some crouton on top for a little crunch. Or go for healthier choice: toasted sunflower seeds, toasted chick-peas.

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He took care of me, fed me, and healed my daunted, haunted wounds on the very first day I set my lone-voyage. He was the one to keep my rocking boat steady on the troubled water.  And it’s because of him I was drawn to a lifelong affair with fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables.  Also, till today Arthur didn’t disclose my sweetest secret to anybody: how BIG of a crush I had on him from the moment our eyes met ♥

Grilled Red Snapper

I have an ego the size of a dinosaur! And whenever my humongous egotistic self gets badly bruised, I would immediately dash off to my next door neighbor Sheila Brown, 70, a retired school teacher – the sweetest, loveliest, kindest soul ever. She always helps me crossing the stepping stones. She seems to know how to heal my injured ego when I’m pissed-off, ticked off. She knows how to wake me up when I sleep walk.

She would always listen to every single sinister revenge ideas that pop, hop and knock in my head !  She would nod her head in approval on my despicable plan about how to successfully gut my hater like a fish ! Or how to poke in the eye of that specimen from a remote distance!  She would smile when I describe her how to bury all the evidence after killing the rascal !  She would laugh her lungs out when I’d proclaim, “Farewell to kindness and humanity!”

“Step back- breathe a few deep breaths- reconnected to what has real value in life- and focus on something ‘worth obsessing over’ with a clear mind” – She would wink, “A Red Snapper sounds fun?” 🙂

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Then she would forcefully make herself comfortable in my garden where I’ve sown and grown some magic, marvels, miracles with all my heart & soul.

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She would ask me to feel the sunlight twinkling through the flowers.

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“Gardening is a stress-buster, therapeutic tool which generates positive energies in your soul. And it helps you forget the grudges that have consumed your heart”, her soft voice flew away in the wind caressing those petals.

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“Take a deep look at those softness, uplifting vivaciousness, the innocence. Aren’t you inspired now to release all your anger?” – she would put her kind hand on my shoulder.

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This woman totally has the ability to full-on blow my goddamn mind!

Then she would grill the fish. She knows I’m deeply, madly, truly in love with grilled Red Snapper! I adore biting in the chunks of garlicy ultra soft meat, salted crispy crimson skin, herb flavored moist flesh separating into flakes! I fancy digging around  gooey custardy brain, tearing apart the head with my fingers !

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She would use waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much fresh herbs which will make the grilling extra special.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Mint/Parsley/Thyme leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 local whole fish (gutted and scaled. Washed. Pat dried). ‘Red Snapper’ worked for me very well.

Method:

Whisk first five ingredients in a bowl. Let the flavors of the herbs marry, lemon juices and pepper mingle, the garlic flakes dissolve into the oil. Brush and rub the mix generously all over the skin and cavity.

Place slices of lemon and some herbs inside the cavity.

Prepare the grill (medium-high heat).

Grill the fish until just cooked through, about 6 minutes per side (depending on thickness and size of fish)

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With every bite, when the flavor infused flakes melt away in my tongue, my palate thanks her. With every chance she gets, she would show me  that good food and good company make life intensely splendid.

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Before leaving Shiela would hug me tight saying, ” Move on. Forgive. Let go of the resentment. And concentrate on more important things in your life, like grilling fish. Thou shall not take revenge, for it is the most unproductive of all human activities. ” 🙂

Shrimp Malaikari (Shrimp in Creamy Coconut Gravy)

Grandma is getting old. I have lost touch with almost all of my cousins. My lost-soul-swimming-in-a-fish-bowl kept on adding bricks to the walls of my own cage. Sounds stupid but yes, I cry over, mourn over those long lost hang-outs and hullabaloos and soul-food at Grandma’s shrine.

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“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”  ― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

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‘The Living Legend’, my grandma, loves to feed us to death (out of love) in every single winter holiday bash at her place. The entire herd of us cousins (that would be 26 in number) would follow her throughout the week, as if, she is the pied piper of Hameln. Such is her mesmerizingly powerful presence. Such is the soul-soaring taste of her home-cooked food. Especially the creamy-pillowy-lovely-light Shrimp Malaikary shall live forever as a ‘Hall of Fame’ in our family 🙂

THE ‘Heartthrob’ of the party: Shrimp Malaikary. So real ! so rural ! So refined! So unpretentious ! Uncomplicated ! Look how creamy coconut, tangy lime and earthy spices doing waltz with those Shrimps !

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When the sun sets its last ruby-red hue on the talc-white flock of clouds in the azure December sky, she would tell some ‘so old yet so new’ fairy tales. We would sit in a circle on the well-worn concrete floor underneath those larger-than-life emerald brunches of her ancient mango orchard. She would ask us about our love life and the recent blunders we made at work. She would share her concern about technologically advanced but loveless, robotic outside world. When the soundtrack (chirping and tweeting of birds) fades away, a pale moon rises across the sky, she would serve dinner.

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For every well-known dish in our region, my Grandma has her own rock ‘n roll, divine version which is ruled by magic 🙂 Creating a flavorful bomb-dish by using minimum spices is an art that requires precision and skill (which I don’t have like my Grandma) and I guess, it would take me a light year to replicate her flavorful, tasty as well as visually appealing Shrimp Malaikary. Keeping in mind that it is humanly impossible to give it the exact same luscious texture, exact same not-scary-hot heat, exact same intense aroma, I give it a try pretty often.

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Ingredients:

Large prawns/shrimps 1lb (15-20 pieces)

Onion paste: 2tbsp

Garlic paste: 2 tsp

Ginger paste: 1 tbsp

Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp

Red chili paste: ½ tsp (use paprika, if chili doesn’t work for you)

Coconut milk: 1 cup

Lime/lemon juice: 2 tbsp

Oil/Ghee (clarified butter): 1 tsp

Salt and sugar to taste

Parsley for garnishing

Direction:

1. Wash, clean, peel and devein the prawns. Pat dry. Sprinkle a little salt and turmeric powder on prawns. In a pan, in hot oil add the prawns. Fry for 2-3min on high heat until they turn red. Keep them aside.

2. In the same pan add more oil. Pour the paste. Cook for 7 minutes in high heat, then add coconut milk.

4. As the gravy boils, add the fried prawns. Cover and cook on low-medium flame for 3-4min. Add salt and sugar. Sprinkle parsley.
5. Serve with rice.

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There’s something seductive, sensual about this slightly red, pleasantly hot Shrimp curry. An incredible mixture of subtle taste and majestic appearance. Un-overpowering but powerful and grand enough to win your heart; just like Grandma’s love. A delightful string to be attached with for the rest of your life ♥

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Curried Salmon

There were quite a few of them including my worthless self in my hit list. I wanted to shoot them all point blank to death. Bang! Bang! Bang!

I tried so hard to protect myself from being constantly harassed at workplace. Authorities didn’t wanna make it too big of a deal. (Misdemeanors at workplace go unnoticed and unpunished in some male chauvinist parts of the world. ‘Code of conduct’ gets screwed pretty often. Hard stuff to swallow but no big deal.) Finally I quit my dream job. What else was I supposed to do? Kill ’em all?!

Sick ‘n tired, frustrated, freaked-out, pissed, heartbroken, I locked myself in my room. And started yelling at the walls, throwing stuff in all six directions ( to regain my self-worth. To restore my confidence, I think.)

My Mom-in-law kept on knocking on my door diligently every ten fifteen minutes. “Leave me the hell alone! Can’t I vandalize my own property in my own territory in peace?! I am free to kill myself at any rate I choose!” – I screamed in my head. I ignored her and continued to mind my own business.

She continued to whine and knock for six hours straight. I opened the door to tell her to the face, “STOP driving me crazy!” – Her 75 years old, skinny, bony, worried sick fingers  were holding a plate full of rice and some fish curry. She – calm, collective and poised as ever- said,”Have some food and make my day”.

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How did she sense that I needed a friend right then, right there to fill in my emptiness? How did she figure my stone-cold soul, my shattered heart, my starving stomach needed some warm fish and rice?

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I haven’t got to see my Mom-in-law for the last five years. But Every time I cook curried fish, I think of that disastrous day. I think of her delightfully stubborn presence and the way she saved my soul. That simple food she made for me puffed away my depression and boosted my self-esteem right away 🙂

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Ingredients:

Tomato 1, medium

Onion 1, small sized

Garlic 4 cloves

Chili flakes 2 pinches

Olive oil 4 tbsp

Salt to taste

Dill, a  handful

Fish 1 lb ( Salmon did great for me but you’re welcome to pick your choice of fish)

Method:

Pat dry washed fish

Make a smooth paste out of first four ingredients

Heat oil in a pan. Saute the paste in medium heat for about ten minutes. Add 1/4 cup water. Let it simmer for 5 minutes.

Add fish flakes/stakes in the pan. Coat well with the mixture. Cook for 10 minutes in high heat with the lid on.

Sprinkle chopped herbs. Serve hot with steamed rice.

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Now I know, if you are blessed with good friends, you are all set. You are good to go to deal with life; as stress and depression can not exist in friends’ presence. .

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Fried Pomfret

How I wish to get back to the unthreatened days when I used to sleep under your wings and the warmth. The warmth that came straight from your kaleidoscopic heart, used to brighten up my dark, doomed days like a rainbow ! How I wish to make you feel loved, cared, cured, appreciated for you gave me wings and made my fly and lifted me all the way up to the sky ! How I wish to impress you for you are the most impressive person of my life. You have always been, Mom.

How I wish to pamper you with some home-cooked food on every single Day. For the rest of my life.

Your tom-boy, rebel, run away daughter can’t wait to display her crazy, silly, stupid cooking efforts to you ! You would be amazed to see how horrendous of a mess she can make in her kitchen !

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Long before I knew that the incredible Pomfret, all the way from the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, provides us with essential omega 3 fatty acids, amino acids, Vitamin D and other science-y stuff that’s good for our heart,  gleeful me used to fall in love over and over again with that shiny, sleek, smooth, silver  effect on the pretty flesh ! Thanks, Mom, for introducing me to this beauty agent. And they are low in calories and high in protein.

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Over the years novice me figured , the easiest-quickest-healthiest-freshest-yummiest and fuss-fry way of eating Pomfret is lightly pan frying them, just the way you used to make for us. Moist. Flavorful. Beautiful. Addictive.

 

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When I copycat your recipe, I feel safe 🙂

Ingredients

2 tbsp finely chopped Rosemary, parsley (optional)

1 medium sized Pomfret  (about 1 lb)

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil/ vegetable oil

pinch of turmeric powder and red chili flakes/powder

salt to taste

Method

Clean the fish properly. Pat dry.

Make slits on either side of the fish.

Add lemon juice, salt, chili, turmeric, rosemary and oil. Apply the mixture all over the fish. Fill  in the slits as well. Keep it aside for half an hour.

In a fry pan/skillet fry the fish in hot oil till it turns lightly golden.

Some fresh garden Salad and a scoop of steamed rice keep the meal’s simplicity unspoiled but adds pleasant hue to the table. Simple things are always uplifting and beautiful. Just like you.

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How I wish you were here with me in this spring evening, warm and gentle, filled with the scent of peace and bliss….

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How I wish, with my soul uncovered, face unmasked to tell you, “Thank you for being YOU. And I love you.”

Iced Tea

We live in an age that holds our mind in a cage. This age calls darkness ‘Light’. We no longer hold the key. Our spirit never gets to set free.

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TV turned our minds into a black mirror; black mirror knows no reflection. It is wrapped around with endless needs, wants, greed, pride, vanity, backstabbing, propaganda, bombarding, politics, hide-‘n-seek with the truth.

Life becomes a curse.

To break the curse, I’ve stopped watching TV. It’s been a year. Friends, books, prayers and gardening replaced TV and LIFE is going as GOOD as it gets.

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A serene, peaceful life has a lot to do with Iced Tea. .

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This eye-catchingly tall pitcher, my Spring pitcher has more to offer than some Iced Tea. It demonstrate about catching the colors and the beauty of nature, hunting down some sunshine and gently drinking life to the fullest. This pitcher celebrates an uncomplicated bind of sweet, tart, woody, earthy adoration of all natural ingredients. A healthy dose of fresh fruits into the smooth, chilled texture of the beverage wraps up the whole thing with love and joy.

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Ingredients:

6 cups water

2 regular individual sized tea bag

6 tbsp honey/sugar

1 stick cinnamon ( which gives it just the right amount of zing)

Freshly squeezed lemon juice  of 2 lemons

Slices of Orange, Lemon, Lime. Or Cucumber.

Direction:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat water (with cinnamon and sugar, if you’re using any) to a rapid boil. Remove from heat and drop in the tea bags. Cover and let it rest for 1 hour.
  2. In a large pitcher, pour tea and honey(if you’re not using sugar). Discard cinnamon stick. Stir until honey is dissolved, then stir in lemon juice. Add sliced fruits. Refrigerate overnight or until chilled. Add ice cubes before serving.

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All those terrific fruity flavors mingle and waltz in the tea overnight which makes your sip extra special and distinctive ! And the sweet-tart taste goes beautifully with sweet as well as savory food. Enjoy the drink year-round indoor as well as outdoor. This lovely, satisfying beverage guarantees to win your heart.

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Nothing lasts forever; that’s the way it is. The ocean is shaking under your feet. But you can cross the ocean, you can make it through, if you hold the key of your soul. Don’t let TV, the Demon, be your key-holder, torch-bearer.

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