About 60 km northwest of Agra lies an area of India known as Vraja-bhumi or Vrindavana. Although not a huge city (less than 100,000 people), the Vrindavana area is home to no less than 5000 temples. Each year at least 500,000 pilgrims from every corner of the world make their way to this little city of temples and holy places. Why? This region of India lies east of the Thar, or Rajasthani, Desert; south of Delhi; and north of Agra (home of the famous Taj Mahal). Due to the winds from the desert, the summers are extraordinarily hot and the winters rather cold and foggy. Its position south of Delhi is nothing to be envied. As India has a long, long way to go in terms of environmental protection and legislation, Vrindavana has become the unfortunate beneficiary of much of the sewage and runoff from the capital city's 18 million residents.
The sanitation challenges, the environment, and the India-factor (meaning the 3rd world reality that things often don't function as they "should") would seem to be off-putting to any sane traveler. And yet, hundreds of thousands of people flock here every single year. I know people who make annual trips to Vrindavana, stay for months at a time, and aspire to live there. The answer is hinted at in the photos of these temples. Vrindavanas wealth lies not in romantic pleasures of this earth. Rather, like the spires and domes of its thousands of temples, everything in Vrindavana points to the higher reality, that which is transcendent and eternal. The architecture of each of these buildings expresses a taste of beauty that is inspired by devotion. In fact, that is the true wealth of Vrindavana, spiritual devotion. The air there is punctuated with the sounds of temple bells ringing and spiritual singing (bhajans). The art and architecture found there are specifically meant to glorify God. The marketplaces, in addition to selling foodstuffs, clothing, and stainless steel utensils, have entire shops dedicated to the sale of spiritual paraphernalia and articles for worship.
The next question is "who?" What or Who is it that inspires all these manifestations of devotion? The answer is Krishna. Nearly all the temples in this Holy Land are dedicated to the worship of Lord Krishna and His various incarnations. The name "Krishna" in Sanskrit means the "all-attractive." In essence, the name "Krishna" is definitive or descriptive of the nature of the Absolute Truth.
Throughout all of history, nothing has captured the attention of man like the quest for Truth. Therefore, it is fair to say that God is "all-attractive" or Krishna.
It is this same Krishna Who has inspired the development of this spiritual city of temples that is known as Vrindavana. At this time of the year, the streets and temples of Vrindavana will be especially crowded with pilgrims eager to celebrate Krishna Janmastami, or the festival of the Appearance of Krishna in this world. An oversimplified, but appropriate, comparison is that it is the Christmas of the Hindus (without the dreadful commercialized gift-shopping frenzy). Krishna temples around the world blossom with colorful celebration on this day, joyful to commemorate the appearance of Divine Light in an otherwise darkened world.
At the humble Krishna temple in Hillsborough this "birthday" celebration, or Krishna Janmastami will be observed this Thursday, August 25th, from 5pm - 1 am. The evening will be filled with music, dance, Indian vegetarian food, colorful clothing, spiritual shopping, more music, more dance, and likely more food. It is an unforgettable cultural experience. Be forewarned though, it will be crowded (and crowding is an integral part of an authentic Indian experience), so if crowds make you nervous, you may want to send love from a distance or come early - before 7 pm. There will be live music in the temple itself beginning at noon. The stage show begins at 5. My band, Samadhi, will play from 6:30 to 7 on the main stage, and yours truly will be the emcee for the entire first half of the stage show. Let me know if you plan on coming, so I can keep an eye out for you!
This Week's Menu:
Entree #1 - Yellow Split Pea Dal w/ Sweet Potatoes and Kale This lovely dal is from one of my favorite cooking blogs, Fat Free Vegan. The site deservedly receives many rave reviews from its readers. Here is one reader's comment about this recipe in particular. All right, jumpy claps, here we come! *GF, soy-free
"I’m not vegan, or even vegetarian, but in an effort to be more responsible to the planet, as well as raise a healthier family without any processed foods whatsoever we are eating vegan 6 days a week (and organic, locavore one day per week). We’re healthier, and greener and happier (and saving a ton of cash). I found this soup over a year ago, and my 6 and 7 year old still do the jumpy claps when it’s for supper. It’s seriously amazing."
Entree #2 - Vegetable Lasagna Soup After making this soup a few times, I have to admit that I am thoroughly in love with it. Lasagna is one of the pinnacles of Italian-American cuisine (especially for children). It is also very expensive and labor-intensive, and thus I hardly ever make it. This soup allows you to have the flavor profile of lasagna in a form that is about 1000 times simpler to create. The fresh veggies, the noodles (GF), the Italian herbs and tomato sauce, and beans for extra protein - surely we have gained entrance into Italian food heaven! *GF, soy-free
Entree #3 - Butter Bean Soup w/Mushrooms & Wild Rice Often there is a starting point for the week's menu - one recipe in particular that kind of helps me direct the theme for the week. This week that pivotal recipe happens to be the maple pie. The blogger from the Unconventional Baker mentions in her post that there are relatively few desserts that are actually Canadian, as opposed to being cultural imports. I wanted to mirror Canada's culinary atmosphere in the menu; thus, you will see that we have a cultural mileu - something Italianish, something Indian, and a few distinctly North American creations. Wild rice is most known as a product of Minnesota and Canada, growing in the lakes, tidal rivers and bays of that region. For those of you who are also trivia nerds, here is a fantastic article all about this lesser known grain. For those of you who prefer the experiential route, buckle up, because this soup is worth the ride. The butter beans and portabella lend a meaty, gravy-like quality to this otherwise mildly spiced bowl of deliciousness.*GF, soy-free
Basmati Rice w/Green Peas & Almonds - $2/serving (1 cup) Here at Govinda's, we have for the most part gotten away from using white varieties of rice. Every once in a while I like to throw in a nice basmati dish. According to the Canadian Diabetics Association basmati rice has a med. glycemic index (as opposed to regular white rice, which has a high GI). That makes me feel much less guilty about using it, which I continue to do because it just tastes so good! You will love this fragrant, tasty pilaf, flavored with slivered almonds, peas, cloves, cinnamon, & cardamom - a true taste of India. *GF, soy-free
Three-Bean Salad -$6/lb. I had a suggestion this week to make a bean salad for one of the side dishes. What an excellent idea! My mother makes a fab bean (and corn?) salad that she makes for warm-weather family gatherings; thus bean salad reminds me of happy times and summer veggies. Since it is a relatively simple dish to DIY, there are loads of recipes on the internet. Let me say though, that success is all in the photos. Many of the recipes I found were similar and all of them sounded delicious. However, this site, Oh She Glows, had the best photos, hands down. I decided that I must use her recipe because it just looked so much more appealing than all the competition. Hopefully our version will look and taste just as beautiful as this one! *GF, soy-free
Canadian Maple Pie - $4/slice or $20/pie. Ever in search of new and fantastic, fantasize-able desserts, I asked Radha, our sweet chef, for her input. She came back with a couple of suggestions from The Unconventional Baker. O.M.G! What a beautiful site! I had never visited it before, and now I can assure you that I will be back again and again. All the recipes are free of gluten, dairy, egg, & refined sugar. The photos and layout on the site are gorgeous, and she has everything you could possibly want, dessert-wise. There are recipes for ice-creams, cheesecakes, baked goods, pies, raw desserts, etc. etc. We are going to start off with this one, which is apparently one of the few Canadian desserts. I knew I had accidentally overstocked my pantry with maple syrup for a reason...*GF, soy-free