Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Pepper Soup

This is by far my favorite soup, and that's not just because it is the first soup that I can really put my name on! I developed it over time, taking pieces of several soup recipes and combining them to get this deliciousness (if I do say so myself...which I do)! As my uncle and I discussed over Christmas, it can be difficult to remember what you do when you create a recipe this way, since there is no real plan when you start cooking and there is no transcription of your creation while you're creating it. Nevertheless, after making it several times while being mindful that I wanted to write about it, I finally got it down on paper. Let me know what you think!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Bell Pepper Soup
Kelley Gondring

Preheat oven 400º, preferably using the "Roast" setting (if your oven doesn't have this setting, that's okay, it will just take your veggies a little longer to get tender).

Cut in half lengthwise:
1 Butternut Squash
Scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Cut into 6-8 large pieces and place flesh-side down in casserole dish. Fill dish with enough water so that one-third of the squash is submerged. Drizzle the outside skin of the squash with olive oil. Cook 50-60 minutes or until a fork goes smoothly through the skin.

Meanwhile wash and dry:
1 Red Bell Pepper
Drizzle skin of the red bell pepper with olive oil. Place in a separate dish and roast about 20 minutes. Don't be alarmed when the skin chars; you won't use it (ditto for the squash).

After removing the pepper from the oven, place in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap; this will help the skin of the pepper pull away from the flesh. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Cut the pepper into sections, peel away the skin and remove the seeds. Place flesh back into the bowl.

Once the squash is cooked, remove from the casserole dish and place flesh-side up on plate/cutting board. Let it cool and then use a spoon to scrape the flesh from the skin. Place squash in a bowl with the roasted pepper.

After the squash and pepper are done roasting, combine in a large soup pot:
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely diced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, deseeded and coarsely diced

Over medium heat, sauté chopped veggies about 15 minutes.

Once veggies are tender, add:
4 cloves minced garlic
Cook garlic for 1 minute stirring constantly, being careful not to let it burn.

6 cups chicken broth
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper*
2 teaspoons sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Bring broth to a boil. Add roasted veggies and let soup simmer 20-25 minutes.

*Remember, you can add but you can't take away!

Finally, working in batches, use a blender to puree soup until it has a smooth consistency.

Eat up!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Everything Bagels

In my mind, nothing beats a toasted everything bagel with butter and cream cheese for breakfast. Unfortunately, Thomas's bagels have never done it for me, probably because they're bagel-shaped bread. No, I prefer a chewy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bagel to sink my teeth into.

I am lucky to have an amazing place to buy authentic bagels within walking distance. In fact, at least one weekend morning each month, Jason and I walk with the dog towards breakfast, stopping first at Starbucks for my tall skim decaf latte and then popping over to The Bagel Station, where we order Jason's orange juice and three different freshly-made bagels (generally one salt and one blueberry, with the third changing each time). We don't wait to get home to eat them: we just haphazardly juggle Sydney's leash with my coffee, his orange juice, and our bag of bagels.

Last year, I decided that it would be prudent to learn to make my own bagels, thinking, "How hard could it be?" Well, bagels aren't any more difficult to make than a normal loaf of bread, and there are definitely parts of the process that are more fun. The big downside is that to do them right, you need to allot three days to the process. I know it is tough to fit in making a starter on Friday morning before work so that you can eat fresh bagels on Sunday morning, but if you want a delicious bagel, you should try to fit it into your morning once in awhile!

10 Everything Bagels
taken from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Even though I know I should, I don't usually read a recipe through in its entirety before starting.
That being said, this is one recipe that you should take the time to read through because there are so many steps.

Day One

Active time: 30-40 minutes
In a large bowl, combine the following ingredients for your starter:
1 teaspoon yeast
2 1/4 cups room temperature water
3 cups bread flour
[I used King Arthur]
Mix until very smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides. Set aside.

In separate bowl, combine:
1 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Thoroughly mix. Using a sieve, sprinkle this mixture over the starter. Do not mix. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 24 hours, preferably 1 hour at room temperature followed by 23 hours in the refrigerator.

Day Two
Active Time: 75 minutes
Total Time: 180 minutes

Remove the flour/starter mixture from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you handle the dough. With a wooden spoon, mix the flour with the starter until it becomes difficult to mix. If the dough is too liquidy, add bread flour a little at a time until the dough can be handled (dough should still be sticky). Lightly flour counter, remove dough from bowl, and knead for 5 minutes. This allows the bagel's structure to begin developing. Don't worry -- it will still be sticky at this point. Cover the dough with an inverted bowl and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Knead dough another 15 minutes so that the dough is smooth and elastic. At this point, the dough should be tacky but not sticky. If it is still sticky, incorporate more flour a little at a time (be careful not to add too much as it can make your bagels go from chewy to rock-like!).

Place dough into well-oiled bowl (your bowl should be large enough to permit the dough to double in size as it rises). Drizzle oil over the dough and spread over surface. Cover with plastic wrap; allow to rise 1-2 hours or until doubled.

Once dough doubles, remove plastic wrap and push dough down to deflate. Remove from bowl and knead once. Place back in bowl, again oiling the bowl and top of dough. Replace plastic wrap and let rise in refrigerator for 24 hours.

Day Three
Active Time:  90 minutes

Preheat oven to 500º degrees.

This is the fun part, as today you will shape, boil, bake, and eat, your bagels! Start by removing the dough from the bowl and cut it in half. Place one half back in the fridge and cover with plastic wrap. Cut the dough that is still on your counter into five equal pieces (Note: There are two different ways to shape your bagels. If you are planning on using method one, cut dough into five equal squares; if you are planning on using method two, cut dough into five equal strips). Let dough rest 10 minutes.

Shaping the Dough: Method One (I like this method better)
Draw up the corners of the dough, pulling them toward each other. Your goal is to make a square into a circle. Push the corners into the center and use your finger to poke a hole in the middle. At this point, the dough should resemble a bagel or doughnut. Stretch the dough so that the hole's diameter is about 2 inches.

Shaping the Dough: Method Two
Roll the dough to form a 12 inch long rope. Bring the ends together so that they overlap several inches. Squish ends together and roll so that they stay together.

Place the bagels on a dish towel near your stove and cover with a second dish towel. Let the dough rise 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, fill a large pot about half-way with water. Bring water to a boil and add:
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a separate bowl, whisk together
2 large egg whites

If using toppings, combine in another bowl. I used poppy and sesame seeds, coarse salt, minced dried garlic and onion.

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Carefully, add the bagels one at a time to the water. You want them to have room to float around without bumping into each other too much. Let boil 30 seconds to 2 minutes (a longer boil creates a thicker crust), flipping half-way through. If your bagel sinks to the bottom, it will probably float to the top on its own. If it's being stubborn, carefully use a skimmer to help unstick it from the bottom. Remove the bagels from the water and place on dish towel. The bagel might be a little wrinkly, but that's perfectly fine and normal. Baste boiled with egg whites and sprinkle with desired amount of topping.

Place bagels on cookie sheet. Bake at 500º for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450º and bake an additional 20 minutes. Remove the bagels from oven, place on a cooling rack.

Repeat with remaining dough.

Eat up!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Crier Club

Now, I know that there are some of you who never cry. Me? I am a self-identified member of the Crier Club. I cry for a whole host of reasons, the most popular of which is the angry cry, to which my husband, parents, friends, and co-workers can all attest. If ever I am unable to put into words my anger and frustration, I cry. Sometimes this is acceptable; whereas, other times, the angry cry has rightfully been deemed inappropriate.

The other frequent cry for me is the sad cry. There are numerous and varied situations that bring on the sad cry. There are times when I cry because there is a commercial that tugs at my heart strings, a trait I have inherited from my mother. Sometimes I cry because I read the newspaper and the world’s tribulations seem so insurmountable that I cannot help but shed a tear for our collective troubles. Then there are the more personal situations, like listening to one of my girlfriends going through a heart-wrenching break-up or another dear friend losing her long-time pet that can and will bring on the sad cry. And then there is the sympathetic sad cry, brought on when a twelve year old client hugs his parent good-bye after being committed to a Youth Detention Center until his twenty-first birthday. Of course, you can’t forget about the sad cry that accompanies the loss of a loved one – a cry with which I am lucky to have limited experience.

There are so many depressing, terrifying, and frustrating things in life to cry about, so I am thankful to say that in addition to the angry cry and the sad cry, there is also the happy cry. Though it is the only cry I’ve had today, it is actually the one that I deal with least frequently. Happy cries are generally reserved for the life changers:
1. Proposals
2. Weddings
3. Babies

I did not cry at my own proposal, though I did well-up (in addition to jump up and down and yell a little like a crazy person . . . on the corner of Liberty and Third Street in Downtown Winston-Salem . . . during lunch hour) when my friend, Stacey, called to say her boyfriend (now husband) proposed.

When friends asked whether I was going to cry at my own wedding, I scoffed at the thought. Who cries at a wedding? It is happy for goodness sakes! No tears necessary! Just to be safe, I decided not to walk down the isle to Canon in D, as just hearing that song normally triggers the tears. Instead, I went with a classical number picked by my Grandma Gondring. But then Dad and I get to the church and I can’t even help it. As the tears stream down my face, I silently thank Catherine for insisting I purchase waterproof mascara.

As the picture above suggests, my happy cry was about a baby. I received a text delivering the news that my very pregnant sister-in-law, Liz, is set to have labor induced tomorrow morning. This event is one for which she and her husband have anticipated for far longer than her forty weeks of pregnancy. Even though I’ve known that Parker will be here any day for over a week, getting this news brought both tears to my eyes and a smile to my lips, reminding me that there are many miraculous, thrilling, and joyful things to cry about, too.

Update: Parker Guerry Bragg was born at 9:43 a.m. on Friday, December 23, 2011. He weighed 8 lbs 13 oz. I think he has Liz's nose and Joshua's toes.
He is precious.
Almond Cake w/Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cookies for Breakfast

Those of you who know me will probably not be surprised to hear that when I was again up at the crack of dawn this morning, I decided to use my extra time before work to bake cookies.

Baking, though, was not my first activity of the morning. Inspired by my artistic friend, Stacey, I thought I would give decorating my house for Christmas a try (check her out here). First, I tried to creatively place strings of white Christmas lights on our new server. When numerous tries failed in every way, I moved onto finding inventive ways to use these beautiful circular ornaments that my best friend, Erica, gave me years ago. Again, futility prevailed.

Becoming frustrated, I stared down the lights and thought, “Why not leave this to the experts?” Design and decoration – they just aren’t my thing. Happily resigning our home décor to our conventional Christmas tree and a giant poinsettia (courtesy of my Momma), I put in my favorite Christmas tunes, turned up the volume, and turned on the oven.

The recipe of choice was butter cookies from my Grandma Kelley's kitchen. These cookies, along with delicious toffee cups, were always available at her house during the Christmas season. Not only are these cookies delicious, but they don't require a million ingredients and are easy to make! (They do, however, require a cookie press.)

Almond Butter Cookies
Betty Kelley [Grandma]

Preheat oven to 350º

In an electric mixing bowl, add:
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar

Cream the butter and sugar until thoroughly mixed and smooth in consistency.

Mix in:
1 teaspoon almond extract

In a separate bowl, add:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

The real trick to these cookies is getting the butter-to-flour ratio right, which means that it is really important not to pack the flour into the measuring cup. There is nothing more frustrating than ending up with rock solid cookie dough! The easy remedy here is to use a spoon and scoop the flour into the measuring cup.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture 3/4 cup at a time, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl down after each addition. If the dough looks too buttery, add up to 1/4 cup of flour.

[I added about a teaspoon of finely grated orange zest to these cookies for extra flavor. I've never altered this recipe, but it worked nicely.]
Grease cookie sheets.

Choose your design - I went with Christmas tree and poinsettia - and fill your cookie press with cookie dough. You can place these cookies close together, as they will not expand much when baking.

If you would like to decorate your cookies, you can lightly sprinkle colored sugar on the uncooked cookie. To make your own, add a drop or two of food coloring to a tablespoon of sugar. The back of a spoon works wonders in combining the two.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. After removing from the oven, let sit on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Eat up!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jetlagged Reflections

It’s funny how people change. Because change rarely occurs overnight, it’s tough to know when it actually happened. But happen it does, and this morning at 5:30 a.m., I finally noticed it.

Nope, that’s not a typo. It was actually 4:12 this morning when I first opened my eyes, knowing it was too early to be wide awake. I tossed and turned for half an hour before resigning myself to the fact that it was going to be a very early start to Monday. Yay jetlag!

After fixing myself a nice American breakfast of oatmeal, grapefruit, and a latte, turning on the Christmas tree lights, and lighting our new Christmas holiday candle, I sat down to sort through our photos from India. Thirty minutes and fifty deleted photos later, Jason and Sydney are also up. Sydney couldn’t be happier that we’re up; she brings me her smelly, mangled bunny, looking at me with those big brown eyes that say “throw it!”

Jason is less excited about being awake. He comes over to the chaise lounge and stands over my shoulder to see what I’m doing. Seeing our photos, he says things like “that’s the best one,” “use that one,” and “why’d you delete that one?” And for the third time, in less than forty-eight hours after our return to the States, came the question, “Have you posted the pictures on Facebook yet?”

Which brings me back to my original statement: “It’s funny how people change.” I vividly remember going out West with Jason when we were in juniors in college. We’d planned a trip to visit the National Parks in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah. I’d just finished taking one of my first photography classes, so I was all about capturing every moment on film. By day three, Jason had had enough and kindly told me that I should just take pictures in my mind. Now here we are, six years later with at least a dozen travel adventures under our belts, and he is excited to see all of our photos!

Though I know he can still grow tired of me falling behind to capture some memory, I am thankful that he now appreciates how photos help us keep the pictures in our minds fresh and crisp for years to come.
Jason in front of the Taj Mahal

Agra Fort (exterior wall)
Agra Fort (interior palace)
Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb

Thursday, December 8, 2011

India's Tiger Tales

Female tiger paw print
Our Indian tiger safari proved to be one terrifically unforgettable experience. There were times I felt like I was participating in a police stakeout, bored but alert, sitting on the edge of my seat looking around in all directions for the tiger that would almost certainly not appear.

There were other times I imagined we had been transported into the scene in Jurassic Park where they've managed to find the T.Rex only to be unable to outrun the giant beast. As we rode around Bandhavgarh National Park in our small, lightweight Gypsy with its less than powerful engine, I became utterly convinced that if that sneaky tiger did show up, she would jump out of of the grass, into the Jeep, and before I'd realized what had happened, I would be screaming for the return of my mangled arm. While our quiet tiger-tracking engine was perfect for the job of finding a tiger, it certainly was not perfect for outrunning a tiger.

And then there were the best times, when the dirt roads through the park were transformed into a rally racing course, complete with hairpin turns and billows of dust, with our trusty guide and driver, Papu, slamming his way over rocks and make-shift bridges. It was during these enthralling moments that I felt that I had missed my calling as a National Geographic explorer. To sit in a courtroom waiting for my umpteenth case to be called when I could be spotting one of nature's most beautiful animals...what was I thinking?

Finding a tiger requires patience I am not really known for possessing. We spent about seventeen hours over the course of three days driving around the park to see two different female tigers. Our guides relied on finding tiger paw prints (punjab) and listening to the warning calls of monkeys, deer, and even peacocks. Once they heard the warning calls, we would speed off in their direction. Papu knew when and where to stop, turn off his engine, and wait for the next warning call or for tiger stripes to emerge. More often than not, the tiger would never appear and we would be left feeling just a little empty. As if the first five numbers of your lottery ticket matched the winning series, only to have the sixth number called out be different. It was so close you could taste it, but victory was quickly snatched from your fingertips.

Our first tiger sighting was all rear!
We really were the lucky ones, though! There were many visitors who left without ever seeing a tiger. Our first view was at the end of our first drive. We were sitting in an open field, rather bored and wondering if Papu was any good at all. Luckily, he heard something that we didn't and with amazing speed, he did a three point turn and headed towards the monkey's call. Though we didn't know it at the time, as he was hauling ass up the trail, he spotted fresh tiger punjab and increased his speed. As the Gypsy rounded the corner, we saw her! She was walking away from us when she heard our rapid approach. She calmly turned her head to learn the source of the ruckus, found us to be quite uninteresting, and headed into the jungle. Our total sighting lasted maybe thirty seconds.

Our second and last tiger sighting was the following evening. We entered the park a little after two in the afternoon and after many views of beautiful birds, spotted deer, and Langur monkeys, we finally heard the warning calls we had learned to covet. Papu was clearly more experienced than many of the other guys, evidenced by the fact that the others often looked to him for help. One such youngster was having a hard time figuring out from where the tigress would emerge, so Papu said "well, where is the monkey looking?!"

These Langur monkeys were just sitting on the side of the road and hanging out, not being in any way helpful in our tiger search.

Jason spotted this adorable family while we were waiting for a male tiger, whose prints we'd found, to emerge. Though he never did, I was content to photograph these cuties.
Spotted Deer have an amazing relationship with the Langur Monkey. The monkeys will sit in the trees and throw down fruit for the deer. In turn, the deer use their superior hearing to let the monkeys know there are no predators, allowing the monkeys to come down from the trees.
Peacocks are surprisingly loud when they are warning you about an approaching tiger.
When she did make her way out of the brush, I think that my heart may actually have skipped a beat. Jason says that my camera sounded like machine gun fire, but luckily, like the previous feline, this tiger didn't seem too concerned about our presence.

After she made her way back into the trees, the real tracking began. Because these guys know the individual tigers, they made educated guesses as to where we could next see the tigress. So off we went again, this time standing, holding onto the roll bar, letting the wind and adrenaline rush through our bodies. Two times we were able to do this, allowing us to view her for at least twenty minutes. Experiencing this with a camera in hand, hoping that at least one good photo would result from my efforts allowed me to really appreciate the difficulty of capturing fleeting moments. From the first warning call to the final view of the tigress's tail disappearing into the tall grass, those forty minutes will probably be our favorite moments of the entire trip.

The first stripes emerge!


She heads back into the jungle. At this point, I thought that was the last we'd see of her. Luckily, I was completely wrong.

And there she is again.


Quite the photogenic one, isn't she?


Friday, December 2, 2011

India's Wonder of the World

You know how there are times that you look forward to something -- a trip, a graduation, a birthday -- and when it actually comes around you feel rather underwhelmed? I clearly remember looking forward to my twenty-fourth birthday and being rather depressed at the non-event that it was. The same can definitely be said of high school, undergrad, and law school graduations. You would think that by the third one, I would have learned that aside from the super-fabulous graduation robe, you don't turn into a different person because another day passes, even if it is a big one.

Perhaps the way to make sure this doesn't happen is to manage your expectations. But who wants to go through life always planning for the worst - guarding yourself against the underwhelming? Sometimes I just can't help but to romanticize certain events because they are just too big not to be exciting and memorable!
So as Jason and I entered the east gate (or the VIP gate, as our guide called it), I couldn't help but feel a tingly excitement creep in as I semi-listened to our guide talk about Taj history. My inner monologue went something like this:

"Stop talking, friend! Don't you know that I am here to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World!?! You can talk when we're inside." In hindsight, I think he did that on purpose. Screw managing expectations; he was building anticipation.

So let me just say, the Taj Mahal exceeds all expectations. In my opinion, it is one of those things to which neither words nor photos will do justice. It must be experienced. Put this visit on your Bucket List.

Agra, the nearest city to the Taj Mahal, on the other hand, is a complete and utter hell hole (in my humble opinion). We've spent a day and a half here, which is probably three-quarters of a day too long. We should have listened to my favorite yoga teacher's advice: Get in. See the Taj. Leave. Don't look back. The reason for the terribleness has a lot to do with the garbage that is strewn everywhere. I don't want to be culturally insensitive, but I just don't understand and cannot justify the piles of garbage that litter the city. Our guide in Del says that if we were to go inside the homes (grounds included) of the Indian people, we would find very clean homes, but that this cleanliness is just not valued outside their own home. I personally find this to be mind-boggling given that India is far less individualistic than we Americans. What's ironic is that I have not seen one person throw a piece of trash on the ground; whereas, I see loads of women with their witch-like brooms sweeping the roads. I don't get it.

This evening we will take our first and only train ride in India. It will also be our first time on a sleeper car. We arrive in Bandhavgarh tomorrow morning, which as far as I can tell is pretty much THE reason Jason planned a trip to India. Tigers, here we come!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

India: Jaipur

Wow! We are at the end another day in India. Yesterday, we drove from New Delhi to Jaipur. It was a five and a half hour trip to cover roughly 223 kilometers. Translation: It took more than double the time it takes to go from my door step to my friend, Stacey's, home in Raleigh. However, unlike the drive down I-40, this ride offered sightings of camels! There was also the stop to pay some type of road tax (not to be confused with a toll...there were those, too) where a young man in a woman's sari and red lipstick approached the car window and told Jason that he was a "sexy boy", accompanying his description with a request for ten rupees (the equivalent of twenty cents). Anyway...back to the drive. The length of the trip can be attributed mostly to the condition of the road. Unlike the roads in Costa Rica, there were no potholes the size of small craters to avoid; the roads were really in quite good condition. The problem, it seems, were the "bus" stops and construction along the way. Instead of individuals waiting for their rides in town, the stops were basically in the middle of the highway. So we would drive 5 kilometers or so and then come to a town, slow down, weave our way around people, dogs, cows, and brightly painted trucks (buses), get going 80 kph and then do it again...and again...and again...You get my point.

We did eventually arrive at our hotel in Jaipur, but not before we were shown a beautiful Hindu temple on the outskirts of the city. It was basically a giant white polished marble building with a huge dome and carvings of various Hindu gods. Did you know that there are upwards of 3 MILLION Hindu gods? Inside there was a statue of two of the main gods in the front, which was almost like an alter. There were people there worshiping, and I felt that our presence there was almost intrusive.

On our way to dinner both tonight and last night, we passed wedding processions. Just like in the States, there is a wedding season in India. Here, it is just getting started. Unlike ours, though, their seasons is not based on weather, but on what months are considered to be auspicious. Most marriages here, we are told, are arranged. Parents are responsible for choosing their child's partner because who knows you better than your parents? Based on some of my friends relationships with their parents, I silently chuckled when our guide told us this. Anyway, the weddings we have seen have been those of the wealthy. We have only seen the grooms, who ride on their white horse wearing their sparkling wedding regalia complete with a marching band and giant lights. At some point during the celebration, there are fireworks, too. Big ones. As in Fourth of July quality but not quantity.

Amber Fort

The majority of our day today was spent looking at the palaces and forts constructed by a long line of maharajahs. The first place we went was The Amber Fort, which is at the top of some of the oldest mountains in the world. To get to it, we rode Ronnie, the elephant! It wad awesome! His giant ears had circular creamy white spots and at one point, his trunk and forehead were decorated with brightly painted chalks. Ronnie is 30 years old and has not yet hit middle age. He walks up and down this half mile stretch five times and has the remainder of the day off.

Palace inside Amber Fort

We explored this fort and the remaining palaces for the next several hours. The detail put into these structures would blow you away.

Our guide in Jaipur was great, but it was abundantly clear that part of his earnings come from kick-backs, which I found moderately annoying. The first place is happened was when he took is to this jewelry store. Jaipur is known for their precious and semi-precious gems, so it didn't set of any flags at first. When we walked into the store, a man greeted us and gave a short demonstration of how they polish stones by hand. Then we were led into another room where we were educated on what stones Jaipur is known for mining locally. It was funny because they kept telling you there was no obligation to buy but you could feel the pressure to buy mounting with each passing moment. At one point right before we booked it outta there, the teacher/salesman encouraged me to buy a $500.00 ruby pendant and looked genuinely shocked when I laughed out loud and said that was expensive!

This same demonstration/sales pitch happened with pottery, carpet, and another product that was so memorable I can't think of it right now. Just when we thought we could take a break and eat a nice lunch, we got a waiter who really didn't understand that not all Americans want beer, an extra entree, or dessert! It is unbelievably hard for me to be polite while saying "please leave me alone...I don't want what you're selling and no amount of talking will change my are just annoying me." I'll just have to add that to the list of "Things To Improve Upon" ;)

The tuk tuk driver!
And last but certainly not least was our ride from old Jaipur (The Pink City, so named because the maharajah ordered the city painted pink to welcome his buddy and fellow polo player, Prince Edward, to the city). We normally have one guy who is driving us around, but this time we decided we wanted to walk by ourselves for a bit and then take public transportation. After literally wading our way through the bazaar, we got a tuk tuk (motorized rickshaw) back to the hotel. The first two drivers had no idea where to take us, and we were pretty sure that the third who said yes really didn't either. This was verified when he stopped to "confirm" directions! Other than the abrupt stop that caused the driver to point out a tuk tuk's version of an "oh shit handle," the ride was uneventful.
It was a common sight to see women balancing items on their heads. This was bread; sometimes it was rocks!
Shopping and selling in the market
Bags of multicolored pasta

Tomorrow to the Taj Mahal!