Monday, November 17, 2014

'TIS the season - host a holiday hot chocolate party!

And tonight we bring you the first of our holiday season posts. We are getting a head start so we can share our holiday inspirations early and in time for you dear readers!  In fact, we will toggle between our holiday season and regular programming since we have so much to share!

Have temperatures dropped in your neck of the woods yet? We had our first real snowfall last night and this morning it was beautiful outside! Nature had painted an idyllic canvas in winter white! No, I don’t have a soft spot for winter. Not after last winter! And yet, there is so much to look forward to this time of the year – twinkly lights, sleigh bells, snowflakes and hot chocolate, it is hard not to get excited!

For those of you planning to host a holiday party – this post is essentially a Holiday how–to!  Here’s a fun idea for a winter party – a hot chocolate bar! Whether you want to include one in your holiday party this year or just set one up for a few friends on a cold wintry night – it is super fun and easy and as the host you can set it up without breaking a sweat. Of course, you can make it as elegant or as elaborate as you want or keep it low key, like I did.  With temperatures dropping, your guests will love a crackling fire and a mug of warmth and this is a great way to indulge in the spirit of the season!

Here’s what you need for your cocoa station!
1)    I wanted to use what I had and so I used my regular coffee cups (I know!) but I gave mine a holiday twist by embellishing it with holiday themed stickers (from the local craft store) and they worked perfectly. Alternately, you could just buy holiday themed mugs.

2)    Hot chocolate+ toppings + stirrers. Again, I kept it simple and stuck to the basics – milk chocolate, marshmallows, whipped cream, peppermint candy cane and dark chocolate pirouline. If you are setting up a fancier bar, you could offer your guests more choices with the mix–ins and the add –ons (sprinkles, coconut flakes, dried berries, flavored marshmallow, chocolate chips are all game!)
3)    You could even spice things up a little – no really! How about some cinnamon?

4)    Add a twist for some extra fun! A friend of mine baked some cookies and together we decided we would let all our guests wear their creative hats and decorate the cookies in holiday colors and what fun it was too!

5)   Get in to the holiday spirit– Write something fun on a chalkboard! I love festive signboards! I also used  red gingham ribbon on my mason jars and a matching runner to anchor the decorations. I also used a floral arrangement that included some red berries and pinecones for a seasonal feel. A shiny bauble in a gorgeous red and sparkly gold completed my décor!
6)   End on a sweet note! I included a heavenly chocolate butter cream marshmallow cake, which was a nice compliment to the hot cocoa.

And there you have it - a simple and easy holiday party idea! Well I hope this post makes transitioning into the colder months a little easy and inspires you to start planning your own fun holiday activities. As always, we love to hear from you and in fact if you know of any fun holiday party themes do let us know and we can share it with the Aalayam community.

And now, an announcement-We picked a winner for our TJ MAXX home goods gift card giveaway (which we had announced in our Diwali post). Initially, we were going to limit it to new members or existing members who introduced new members to the Aalayam community but since the response was limited, Supriya and I decided to include readers who commented in the last 4 posts as eligible entrants.

Congratulations, Radhika Thampuran!! You are the winner of our giveaway. Please email your contact details to so we can mail you the gift card.



P.S: All images in this post are from my home and taken by my husband. Please do not use without permission.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

There is no place like home!

Have you been feeling like you need some downtime? I know I have! The frenzied pace of events of the past few months is finally catching up or so it seems. Festivities, changing seasons, social engagements, work, home and family priorities have all snowballed into a giant circle and I am constantly on the move! I know Supriya is swamped too and I offered to write all the posts for Aalayam this month. But for the past couple of days I have struggled to bring myself to work on a post and today I read this article in the WSJ blog titledFive Ways to Take Control of Our Runaway Lives” where the author was making a case for breaking away from the frenzied pace of life.  

One of the tips offered in the article was to do nothing and reflect and it got me thinking.  How often do we schedule a “do-nothing time” in our daily/weekly or monthly calendars?  Do we ever make time to “escape “ and I don’t mean a getaway or a vacation (believe me going on a vacation can be a lot of work too!). I mean escape  as in do nothing, look within, reflect, sleep–in, enjoy a long drive or  savor a steamy cup of chai. Simple things that let you take control and refocus..  

The year is coming to an end rather quickly and I know many of us start making plans  to nurture ourselves with healthy new year resolutions. Why not start early this year?  It is o.k to hit the pause button when you really feel the pace heating up. A little down-time can go a long way in recharging our batteries and helping us to become more productive in the next leg . And yet, I need to constantly remind myself that it is o.k to slow down . I guess, we all put self-preservation on the back burner. We get caught up in trying to keep everything at home and at work running smoothly. Supriya will be talking about work-life balance in a later post and therefore I will defer the discussion on “balance” to her. 

Here at Aalayam, we strive to bring you beautiful inspirations to lead a wholesome life and in line with that thought, I bring you images of Home (or I should say our former home) as a reminder that we all need to unwind and relax and make time to nurture ourselves.  And what better place to start than home? Cherish time with your loved ones,  sit by the window and pay attention to the pitter-patter of the falling rain drops, enjoy a good book by the fire  - things that will  rejuvenate you and help you move forward . The holidays will be busy for all of us too and that is when we will inadvertently be overextending ourselves and it may be well worth it to focus a little on ourselves.

I am sharing some images of our former home. It was our first home and  a rather modest home. But it was still a place where we cherished time with each other as a family, dreamt happy dreams and created warm memories.  Of course, I was not writing for Aalayam back then and  therefore I do not have a lot of pictures. But  this home was featured on Priya’s blog and this is what I had written about our home then-

“Home and entertaining are central to our existence and after a hard day’s work or at the end of a busy work week, we love coming to a home where we can relax and unwind. My husband and I have always taken pride in our home. Overall, our home is a reflection of our ethnic roots.  From art work in the Warli and Tanjore style to the foot stool in the Rajasthani patch work style, our home is filled with treasures that speak to our Indian origin. Even our choice of furniture was largely guided by our Indian aesthetic sensibilities. We reached for pieces with a lot of sculpting in it – columns and arches. We went for darker tones and solid wood but the challenge was to balance style and function. Also, you will see a lot of black pieces in our home and that was our way of adding a modern twist to the antique styling”

If you are a regular Aalayam eader, you probably realize I have carried forward the same accents, furniture and design sensibilities into my current home but the big difference is color. Yes, we did a dramatic 360 with color in our current home (intentionally)!

Home means different things to different people. To me- it means an oasis! A place where I can enjoy the simple pleasures of life like the warmth of a fire on a crisp autumn evening or a quiet conversation or soulful music with my family.

I hope as the year end approaches you all  will make the time to embrace what is important to you and find a happy middle ground as you strive to balance the various demands of every day life.

Pardon me as I turn down the frequency of our posts a little bit temporarily but  please note that we are working on some exciting posts for the holiday season!
I will also announce the winner of our TJ MAXX home goods gift card give away winner in my next post. Keep commenting, we are adding a surprise twist to the giveaway!


P.S: All images in this post are from my former home and taken by my husband. Please do not use without permission.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lets get spooked!!

As an ode to Halloween, Aalayam brings you a favorite emotion, well plated and curated in cultural relevance - Fear!!

Spooktacular imagery! From Deepa's lens

Let's admit it, we like being scared, we like putting ourselves in those situations that cause panic, increase our heartbeat, make us shudder, and stretch our realm of imagination. We love gathering around a bonfire and listening to ghost stories. We love nuzzling close to our date as we watch a horror flick! Do we? Or not?

Of course we do! We love the adrenaline rush, the goose flesh, the thrill of being scared! Of vicariously experiencing what’s forbidden, bizarre or dark! Some people avoid that emotion altogether, but I know I love watching a good supernatural flick  or engaging in some "this happened to me" storytelling  that makes me wonder, if there are spirits out there, wandering around for deliverance! 

So, in the honor of Halloween (Oct 31st) here in the USA, lets get well and truly spooked, shall we?

First of all, the Halloween legend!

Halloween trivia! From Deepa's lens

According to my sources, Halloween is celebrated on the evening of October 31st, which is the evening before the Christian feast of All Saint’s Day. Halloween’s history goes back to the ancient religion of the Celtic tribes (circa 500 B.C.) from whom came the Britons, Scots and the Irish. Present day Britains, Scots, Welsh and Irish are all descendants from these ancient Celtic tribes.

The Celts worshipped nature and believed in the spirit world. They worshipped over 300 gods. Their chief god was the sun and they celebrated two festivals revolving around the sun: Beltane, to mark the beginning of summer and Samhain or Saman to mark the start of winter.

The Celts believed that at the end of summer, Samhain, the lord of death becomes powerful and overpowers the sun god. On October 31, Samhain assembles all the evil spirits who had died the previous year and allows them to return home to visit the living.

On October 31, after the harvest, the druids would meet under an oak grove or near large stone circles where they performed sacrifices. Some believe that the Stonehenge in England is one such druid circle. The priests would light great fires and offer sacrifices to Samhain to ensure that the sun returned after the winter.

What's the significance behind trick and treat? From Deepa's lens

During the night all fires except the sacrificial one to Samhain were extinguished. The Vigil of Samhain, as it was called, would keep the sacrificial fire on through the night and the next day embers from this fire would be used to light the fire in each household.

Villagers would try to appease goblins and demons with offerings of food and nuts. They would leave little treats that the household had to offer, to satisfy the hunger of these demons. If the demon was satisfied with the treat, it was believed it would not trick the person or cast an evil spell. Therein lies the origin of the present day trick or treat.

Guess who this is! Who is this man in Halloween costume? 

History & folklore is rife with stories about vengeful ghosts, good ghosts, and kindred spirits roaming around. Sharing this world with us. 

My favorite lore is that of "Mohini" or the Churel, a banshee ghost in the folklore of India—which is renowned for its scream. Usually taking the form of a woman, a Churel is said to be a vengeful ghost that returns to the land of the living as a vampire-like creature, bent on revenge!

Often found in the wilderness, a Churel has feet which are flipped 180 degrees, (ah, that was a detail, my grandmother never failed to mention in her ghost stories) allowing her to walk backwards while she mesmerizes the victim! If her gaze is not shunned, usually through a cloth or blanket over one’s own eyes, she will lead the victim to a secluded location and drain them of their blood!

I always wondered, why ghost stories were so sexist, growing up! But I guess that's a conversation for another day!!

Don't look behind you!!! From Deepa's lens

Well, I hope we got spooked enough in this post! Just enough for it to be thrilling! What are your favorite ghost stories? Do you believe in the supernatural? 

Lets talk!

Stay safe this Halloween!!

p.s. I hope I have not offended any spirits out there. Sorry guys, just talking about offense intended! ;)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Deepavali Greetings

A last minute Diwali inspiration - group brass objects and place them at varying heights on a corner table or as a photo booth prop! Images from Deepa's home.

Dear Readers - A gentle reminder that our TJ MAXX Home Goods fifty dollar gift card give away is on till October 24th 10 pm Eastern time.  You can still enter to win!!!!
Those of you who joined the Aalayam family recently (after October 14th), please, please leave us a comment with your name as you are eligible to enter the giveaway. We don't want to miss anyone who is eligible.

For others who want to participate in the giveaway now (you still have time), here is the eligibility criteria.

1. Join Aalayam as a member and leave us a comment stating you are a new member. 

    2. If you are an existing member, you must introduce at least one new member to the Aalayam family and leave a comment introducing the new member. You and the new member will both be eligible!

    3. And finally! Increase your chances of winning by introducing additional new members. So, if you introduce 3 new members, you have 3 chances to win the gift card!

This giveaway is open to readers in the US. Readers in other parts of the world are welcome to enter on behalf  of friends and family here in the US.

The giveaway will close on October 24th at 10 pm eastern and the winner will be announced in a future post. Good luck!

Once again, we wish you a Joyous Deepavali! We will see you on the other side of Diwali with some bone chilling stories! 

Join us for our Halloween spooktacular then!


Monday, October 13, 2014

Diwali Tablescape and Diwali decor inspiration, the Aalayam way!

Add glitz and glamor to your Diwali tablescape - I've done it with crystal, color and metallic accents!
Aalayam's annual Diwali edition by Deepa + a Giveaway (for details scroll down)

As with every other festival, I am still finding my way around traditions and Diwali is no exception. I yearn to recreate the traditions of my maternal home and long for the Deepavali of my childhood. Lucid memories of facile traditions are rekindled - the oil bath at the break of dawn that heralds the onset of the three day festivities, the aroma of the delicacies prepared by mom, the stash of firecrackers painstakingly divided in 2 equal halves by us (bickering) siblings, earthen diyas awaiting to be lined in neat little rows, visiting aunts, uncles, grand parents in all our Deepavali finery, boxes of sweets and the glittery explosion of firecrackers! The magic of Deepavali beckons – after all it is the most adored childhood memory for most of us.

Nothing says Diwali like a traditional thali dinner!

Fast-forward to my expatriate life and Diwali is a weekend potluck dinner, rows of tea lights and maybe some sparklers! A far cry from Diwali’s of the past!

Italian etched goblets work great for serving mango lassi! Pair them with colored water tumblers!

But over the years, I have learnt to add the sparkle back in small doses via our own family traditions while ardently reflecting on past Diwali’s .  At the heart of our celebrations is a good Diwali meal and that is what today’s post is all about. I am passionate about my Diwali meals and many of my own festive memories are intrinsically tied to the food traditions – my grand mom’s rice appams (yele appa) were to die for and I long for it each Diwali. Talk about Pavlov’s classical conditioning! Living in America, I have come to appreciate Western holiday traditions that are strongly rooted in food and feasting and so I attempt to savor Diwali via a meal that promises to bring food, people, culture and tradition together. And hopefully, these meals will leave lasting impressions on my young one and conjure up fond memories of a radiant Diwali night.

Take stock of what you have and creatively work them into your tablescape

This year, I pulled out all the stops in creating a magical tablescape for our dinner guests. I will break this down for you step by step – stay along with the pictures and please do not hesitate to ask me any questions. Make sure to stay with me till the end of the post as I have a giveaway to announce! We also have more Diwali decoration inspirations in our previous year's post. Make sure to check out this, this and this!

Creating a beautiful Deepavali tablescape - made easy!
Add the layers one piece at a time - silver chargers are versatile decor pieces!

I love creating visually decadent tablescapes and I promise you there will be many more tablescapes on Aalayam. This year, I have combined my eastern heritage with my travel inspirations to create a tablescape that merits a distinction of its own. It all started with the crystal candle holders that I found at Home Goods this year – they reminded me of the crystal chandeliers that I saw in the Hall of mirrors at the Palace of Versailles (remember our trip to France?). That was my inspiration! 

Hall of mirrors- The Palace of Versaille!

I was blown away by the delicate beauty of the French chandeliers and swore to add a touch of French chic to our home. I was euphoric when I found these candleholders– they were definitely going in my Deepavali décor this year. 

A travel inspiration works its way into a tablescape at home- for the love of crystal light accents!

And then it quickly became a matter of adding things that would work with these focal pieces.  Colors, textures and patterns were blended in experimentally till I knew I had nailed it!

Lessons from my tablescape:

Paisley - the ultimate ethnic motif!

Create cohesion – by threading different elements with a common theme. In this case I used the Paisley motif to unite the various components and keep the eye moving. The block print paisley napkins, the hand made cards with the paisley stickers and the amber glasses with the paisley motif all work great together and add an ethnic charm to my tablescape.

Always buy enduring pieces and get more mileage out of them - gold toned flatware paired with silver charger and a steel thali - it works!

Use versatile pieces – the fabrics, the tray, the thalis (plates) and the goblets are enduring pieces that I can creatively combine to create an entirely different look next time. So, take stock of what you own and think about how you can use it before you go shopping. My solid blue cotton tablecloth will work well for a birthday or a tea party next time. By layering a saffron block print napkin on it, I have added a festive tenor to the base layer.

A fun conversation starter - the great Indian two-wheeler, move over elephants and peacocks!

Think outside the box. After all you are trying to create a memorable scene that can be remembered long after Diwali is gone. My steel scooter is a fun conversation starter and a fond reminder of home. Let the elephants and the peacocks be… after all there is more to India!

And it comes to life....

Indulge a bit - After all you will be adding a touch of sparkle to your wardrobe. So, why not add some glitter and shine to your home and your dinner table too? I love the sparkle emanating from the light reflected off the crystals in my candleholder. I love the colorful radiance of the rhinestones used in handmade Deepavali signage and my personalized greeting cards. I love the sheen on my gold toned flatware. There’s lots of ways to add sparkle and shine to your décor and here’s just a few ideas.

Make sure to let the flowers pop - they need not all match!

Stay away from faux flowers – please! My friendly neighborhood florist patiently replaced all the fall colored flowers with bright fuchsia ones to create this vibrant bouquet. I wanted the flowers to stand out and not blend in with the blue and orange background. In return, she got a one-one lesson on the splendor of Diwali. It was a win-win for both of us!

Hand made with love!

And lastly – add a few personalized touches for a lasting impression. A handmade Diwali sign and some personalized cards are sure to make your guests smile.  These cards can alternately work as menu cards if you are hosting your non-Indian friends for dinner.

Indian decor need not be tacky and gaudy - there I said it!

Indian décor need not be tacky and gaudy! Indian décor is elegant and beautiful and let your home and table speak for that! The warm glow of the candles will surely knock your décor out of the park!
Embrace the Diwali festivities with a piquant home cooked meal served in style. Once again, this post is about combining the Indian tradition of hospitality with the Western art of entertaining. I hope you all partake in a memorable Diwali meal this year and if you are hosting one - I hope I have inspired you to set a beautiful table!

Our home awaits its guests!

Let us also spare a minute to reflect on the spiritual traditions of Deepavali that bear significance to our every day lives. The killing of Narakasura by Lord Krishna symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. The waking up at Brahma muhurtha symbolizes the early to rise …..concept. The lighting of the diyas emphasizes the need for self-reflection and the need to move away from darkness and ignorance. I hope to be reminded of all these Diwali tenets as I look at the flickering glow of the candles on Diwali night.

Dear readers we wish you health, peace and lots of colorful memories this Diwali.

Now in keeping with the spirit of giving –Supriya and I want to giveaway a fifty dollar gift card of Home Goods and thank you all for your warmth and love!

Love my candleholders? They can be yours with the giftcard - see below for details!

 If you loved the crystal candleholder or the Italian etched wine goblets (they are perfect for serving mango lassi or badam milk this Diwali) I have used in this tablescape then here is your chance to buy it with the gift card we are giving away. This giveaway is open to readers in the US. Readers in other parts of the world are welcome to enter on behalf  of friends and family here in the US.

Here is how you become eligible

 1. Join Aalayam as a member and leave us a comment stating you are a new member. 

    2. If you are an existing member, you must introduce at least one new member to the Aalayam family and leave a comment introducing the new member. You and the new member will both be eligible!

    3. And finally! Increase your chances of winning by introducing additional new members. So, if you introduce 5 new members, you have 5 chances to win the gift card!

The giveaway will close on October 24th at 10 pm eastern and the winner will be announced in our next post. Good luck!


All images are from my home and shot by Uj. Please do not use without permission.