I spent my childhood summers in a part of India where 110 degrees Fahrenheit is a cool day. So I rejoice when the weather here turns hot, as it makes me think of home. That's when, to welcome the season, my friends and I gather for our annual "henna party," a sumptuous feast for the senses featuring an afternoon of delicious food and pure pampering.
On the menu this year were a variety of Indian treats: baby semolina cakes tempered with curry leaves and coconut, quesadillas stuffed with Paneer (an Indian version of cottage cheese), a range of tangy chutneys for dipping, and a pitcher of cold Indian-style coffee (Nescafe with vanilla ice cream, crushed ice and a bit of milk). The biggest hits: delicately spiced shrimp fritters and mango lassi -- a milky, palate-cooling drink that complemented the fritters spectacularly.
Because I expected a large to-do, I asked guests to bring dishes to round out the meal. My circle of friends resembles a U.N. cultural delegation, and the food they contributed reflected this -- we had Tiramasu, candied ginger scones, Indian samosas and the ubiquitous spinach dip, all laid out on a table decorated with a golden sari and rose petals.
Meanwhile, out on the deck was the day's true extravagance: two local henna artists ready to work their magic. Henna is an all-natural dye that can be applied to the skin in a variety of motifs, from simple symbols of friendship to intricate, purely ornamental patterns, all in a gorgeous crimson-amber color that stays on for about two weeks. Having it applied is like spending time in a luxurious spa. The dye has a cooling effect on the skin that, coupled with an earthy aroma, is truly therapeutic: a soothing way to celebrate the beauty of summer -- and my guests.
Bhide is the author of "The Everything Indian Cookbook: 300 Tantalizing Recipes -- From Sizzling Tandoori Chicken to Fiery Lamb Vindaloo" (Adams Media Corp., 2004).