Friday, March 29, 2013

Thandai, The Holi Classic Treat, Perfect For Your Holiday Table

   Spring is here. No matter what the weather is like outside, pay no attention to the snow behind the curtain. It's officially spring. The calendar says so. I mean the H&R Block commercials are practically running back to back. This is the season of universal holidays. It seems wherever in the world one might be, people are celebrating something. Passover, Easter, Holi, Spring Break... whatever. With each holiday comes its' own special foods, some dictated by custom, religious demands or whatever one can get out of a vending machine in a Panama City Beach Quicky Mart at 4 a.m.

  When I was a kid, Easter at our house meant eating out. For some reason Thanksgiving, and Christmas were always at home. Easter was brunch somewhere nice. Normally we were not an eating out sort of family. It just wasn't in the budget. A big splurge was a pit stop at the local donut shop after church on Sunday mornings, but Easter was special. Easter was brunch at the bowling alley coffee shop. Then one year everything changed, maybe it was because we were older and well behaved, maybe my mom just got tired of eating her Easter Brunch with the background music of clattering bowling pins. All of a sudden one Easter Sunday the Goris went Uptown.

   Growing up in San Francisco, there was almost no place for a more elegant Easter Brunch than the famed Alta Mira Hotel across the Bay in Sausalito. This gorgeous, old-style, exclusive resort hotel was perched on a hillside in Sausalito. One didn't just eat there, one dined  there. It was the very first time in my life I'd ever had Eggs Benedict which nearly blew my little 13 year old mind. Holy Crap! What was that stuff?! It's freaking good!

   No matter how dank, damp and foggy it got out in the Sunset District where I grew up, it was always sunny in Sausalito. This was a place where people dressed up. Hats and gloves for the ladies, suits and ties for the men, The Alta Mira put the capital D in dining. Don Draper would have loved it. In fact isn't that him over there, closing a deal at that table on the right? Eating either inside in the dining room, or outside on the terrace with a stunning view of The City, this was The Place to be on a San Francisco Easter Sunday in the 60's and 70's.

   The Alta Mira was immortalized in this scene from the 1982 film Shoot The Moon, with Albert Finney and Diane Keaton, shot in the lovely and stately dining room of the hotel.

Today, like a lot of stuff from those days, the Alta Mira is no more. It's not gone exactly but it's no longer a hotel/restaurant.The Alta Mira is now a luxury rehab hospital. Plus ça change as they say....

   The one thing I remember from those Easter brunch extravaganzas at the Alta Mira was seeing my parents have a brunch cocktail. It seems the hotel had a signature drink, the famous Alta Mira Hotel Ramos Gin Fizz. These were creamy drinks, foamy and tinged with a silvery sheen. They were presented in tall slender glasses. On Easter Sunday at the Alta Mira Hotel it seemed that everyone over the age of 21 had one in their hand. It's the biggest thing I remember from my childhood Easters.

   That is why while  searching out a Holi recipe that would also work for my Easter Brunch I was stopped dead in my tracks by Thandai. If you haven't heard of it or had it, Thandai is a milk drink, a spiced refreshing cooler traditionally served on Holi. Now Holi, if you're not familiar with it, is the Hindu Spring Festival of Colors, which is currently being celebrated. Holi honors new life along with spring's fertility and color. People bombard each other with colorful powders and have an altogether roaring good time.
Of course as with any holiday, there is also food, and drink, which brings me back to Thandai. Thandai reminds me of those lovely, tall, cool drinks my parents used to enjoy on the terrace at the Alta Mira, with one exception... it's non alcoholic. Considering the current usage of the old Alta Mira, that seems somehow totally appropriate.

   Thandai is easy to make. In fact you probably have most of the makings in your kitchen right now. It's tasty, cooling and if you have any reluctant milk drinkers around the house, believe me this will do the trick. I haven't yet made a non-dairy version, but I'm planning on making this recipe again using almond milk instead of dairy. So here we go.

Thandai, Spiced Milk

Here's What You Need:

3 cups of milk
5Tbs of sugar
1and 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
2 Tbs rose water
1 tsp sunflower seeds
10 green cardamom pods
5/8 of a cup of slivered peeled raw almonds
A 1 inch long cinnamon stick

Here's What To Do:

In a small skillet, dry roast the seeds, cinnamon, and spices.
When they turn fragrant, set them aside to cool.
Crack the cardamom pods and remove the seeds.
Place the almonds, spices, seeds, sugar, rosewater and cinnamon in a small bowl with a bit of water to just cover them.
Let everything sit for 2 hours.

When 2 hours are passed, pour this mixture into a blender and grind it into a thick paste.

Pour the paste into 3 cups of milk.
Mix everything together.
Pour the milk paste mixture through cheesecloth or a fine mesh seive into a pitcher or bowl.

Chill it, and then serve it up in glasses with a bit of crushed pistachio nuts on top.

   This is not thick like a milkshake. Rather it's light and delicate like milk, only more so. Some people add saffron to their Thandai or use melon seeds, anise seeds, or toasted pumpkin seeds. You're limited only by your imagination. This makes a great special drink for Easter Brunches for either the kids in the family or any adult who's looking for a festive, non-alcoholic refresher. Give it a whirl in your blender, you won't be sorry.

   Coming up next, more Holi treats for any holiday. Gujia, festive gujia, baked not fried. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori.


  1. I love your stories. I swear we lived parallel lives.

    The drink... Um....

  2. Wow! I' admiring your write ups..dragging me to hop through the posts, Made me feel that I was into center pages of my favorite novel..
    If you find time, do visit to my latest recipe

  3. Such things are really enjoyed by me with my family at Jaipur traditional hotels as I love to visit again them as if you are interested have a look to this website.



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