January 5, 2011

Happy New Year!

Well... Happy New Year 2011 to one n all. Here's hoping that the new year brings joy, prosperity and good health to one n all.

I am here after a month not just to apologize for the lack of updates but also to convey the fact that I am going to be vanishing off the blog for a few more months while I deal with the work that goes with the PhD territory. I shall, if possible, of course keep updating. But for the moment, it looks like a temporary hiatus is in order. And I thank my faithful readers who have visited back n forth though there've been no updates for almost time immemorial. My sincere apologies to that too.

Lets try n reconnect soon. Until then, enjoy all that you can - work, home, family, life and possibilities!

December 5, 2010

Reflections on 2010..

Even though the month has just begun, I guess it isn't too early in the year to start recapping and reflecting on what has surely been a great year all over. And considering that I haven't come up with any smart ideas to blog about over the past few days, I think it's the perfect excuse to kick off December with a "Reflections on 2010" post.

So here we go.. lets kick off with the good of course - 

1. 6 countries - one year: Not bad at all! Of course among the 6 are 2 constant features - France, where I live and India, where my heart continues to live.. but that apart, when you add the Czech republic, Luxembourg, Germany, and Spain, it sounds like a fairly exotic mix of things done and experienced. And it truly was.

2. PhD moving: Yes indeed... as I wind down on the time allotted to the PhD here in France, things are getting moving quicker than before, even if not as quick as I'd have liked. But then hey, forward is a favourable direction. Add to that a few conference trips and a few ego trips from publications too! Hopefully 2011 will bring the joy of conclusion really soon!

3. India trip: Though it featured in the "6" countries up there, the trip itself deserves a special mention since not everyone abroad is able to religiously make at least one trip a year (in our cases its more like 2 sometimes!). So yes, definitely cherish the one month spent there.

4. Single-to-double-to-triple: This year has seen a serious dwindling in the number of my single friends. Mostly everyone is either dating, engaged or married this year and many of those who've been married have added to their families with their own little bundles of joy. Family expansions everywhere! And that just means more reasons to celebrate. As for the last vestiges of single people, I am sure they'll dwindle to zero in 2011!

5. Return of the read-a-holic: Thanks to the new Kindle, my reading quotient has gone up many a notch when compared to the last few years. Not only do I have access to all of my favourite books at one touch in a ridiculously light contraption, I can also carry my work papers - journals and stuff in it too. The result? Reading EVERYWHERE! While walking on the footpath, in the bus, in the train, at the station, you name it! And that means in just over under 3 weeks of having the Kindle, I've read more than 12 books (in addition to going to school, doing school work, shopping for home, cooking, cleaning and what not). And yes, I consider that quite an accomplishment when you know that 2 of those 12 were the last 2 massive Harry Potters and one other was the equally massive Shantharam.

Now for some of the not-so-goods.

1. The weather: Whats up with the stupid weather in Paris anyways? All of 2010, I remember less than 2 days - yes, TWO days where we didn't wear at least a sweatshirt. Which means it has been  on the dreary colder side the entire year long. And that explains the extremely early snowfall too. Come on Paris, brighten up!

And honestly, that's all the bad I could come up with. Which is great in itself, if you know what I mean! 

So here's seeing off the last 3 weeks of what has indeed been a splendid year all through..

What's on your hit'n'miss list? Care to share? Comment away! Happy rest of 2010!

November 30, 2010

Blame it on the Kindle..

Whoa! 2 weeks and then some have passed since I last blogged! To be honest I am shocked! But then I do have 2 very plausible excuses - some thing that are very apparent to attribute the decline to. So here goes nothing -

1. PhD is time-consuming - Who knew?? But apparently being in the final year can have its toll on personal effects like the blog and such. I vow to bounce back soon!
2. Kindle! - Not so shockingly, every spare moment I have in commute or in transit is spent poring over the contents of some book or the other of over 100 of my favourite books all queued in - give or take a few new ones bought from the Kindle store. So I walk Kindle, I hop and jump Kindle, even. Admittedly its not smart to cross roads engrossed in reading. But stopping short of that, every spare moment is gone in rekindling my passion for non-stop reading! And the delight, oh delight of e-ink cannot so much be stated as experienced!

So enough excuses. I am here to bid adieu to clearly the best month of the year - November!

Lets hope this blog ends this year not with a whimper, but with a bang. Stay tune in December! Happy Holiday season everyone!

November 14, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

As always here I am celebrating my birthday on MindBlogging with all of you! For everyone who wished me through every means possible – Email, Facebook, Orkut, GChat, and most of all phone calls, thanks a million! It did make my day further super-ultra-special! You know how I love getting wished and never shy away from reminding everyone who doesn’t want to be reminded either. But so be it! Happy Birthday to me!

S did all he could to lift the day as well. And last evenings’ friends night out was capped at 12am right in the midst of the colourful Opera quartier and was super special too! Thanks S, SA, KB, AB, AI, PA, and RD! And today was a lunch-movie-phone day and I couldn’t have asked for more. But I did get one little extra perk to step up this birthday’s ego. And I have a variety of hints and puns for it.. So here goes.

I am a kindled spirit… pretty easy? Here’s one easier – I have a kindle of joy… well, DUH.. S got me a Kindle for my birthday and really, there couldn’t be a better present! Thanks, S!

I leave you with an image, as always..

IMG_8740-1 My kindle of joy – What’s better than reading Harry Potter on it too?

And so, Happy Birthday to me once more! Thanks everyone :)

November 12, 2010

Chapter 2 - The Dark Night

The story continues here. For new readers or for a quick refresher, start here - scroll to the bottom and work your way up)

Chapter 2. Now.

And he hadn’t. He trembled as he got up and used the wall for support as he walked towards their bedroom. Surely he was mistaken. Shalini wouldn’t do this. She wouldn’t be in there.  He willed her not to. He could hardly breathe as he reached the bedroom door. It was ajar. Neither open nor close. What did that mean? Was that how it was everyday? Why couldn’t he remember simple everyday details that had probably remained the same for the past 3 years and more? Trembling, he pushed it open and with a sudden burst of adrenaline, he flicked on the lights, his eyes glued to where he knew their bed was. It was empty. His heart was drumming like crazy and he felt faint with relief as he drank the scene in. The bed was slept in. So she’d slept here last night. Or at least she’d gone to sleep here. He sank down to the floor as this fact washed over him.

Had she made the bed yesterday morning? He couldn’t remember. The bed was always made when he went to sleep at night. As a creature of habit he supposed it was reasonable to assume that she had gone to sleep here. So why hadn’t she made the bed this morning? Was it because she hadn’t slept all night?  After what seemed like eternity, he realized that he was still clutching on to the ridiculous note in his right hand. He re-read it for what seemed like the 100th time. But no, there was no secret clue emerging from those meaningless words inked in. Half-crumbling it, he got up abruptly and put the note on her side of the nightstand. And that's when he saw it.

The shut bathroom door beyond the length of the bedroom.

His pitiful heart that had just slowed down started drumming again. Could it be? The bathtub? His razors? Kitchen knife? He walked slowly, willing all the mental images away as he walked to the door and paused for a microsecond. And while his mind struggled to banish those images, he realized that the bathroom light was on. His heart stopped and then renewed its beating with crazy vengeance as he kicked the door open. He felt faint as he looked wildly around the onyx-tiled master bath. It was empty.

“Shalini – where are you???” he whispered to the air.

He had to get a grip and do things methodically.  He realized he was behaving like a madman. Or perhaps he was just behaving like a man who realized that his wife may have been driven over the edge. The clock on the dresser glowed 18:57 in large green digits. He had been home just over a half hour and he had already almost lost his mind. He had to be logical if he had to get to the bottom of this. It was too soon to start thinking of calling the police. There was no premise and he had to cover his bases if he had to be reporting anything. He pushed these ominous thoughts to the back of his mind. He hadn’t even done the first thing he had to do logically to find out where his wife was. He hadn’t even called her office yet and he was ready to pee in his pants from a note that made no sense whatsoever. He had to check the rest of the house. He quickly went around opening doors to all the rooms in their 1750 square feet apartment. After about five minutes, he was sure that Shalini was surely not in the house.

He quickly walked to the living room. And it surprised him that the TV was still on. He’d forgotten all about it. Watching the news felt like 24 hours ago. He ruefully wished it was 24 hours ago. He wouldn’t be dealing with this turmoil then.  He reached for their phonebook near the landline. Since most of their numbers were on their cell phones these days they’d contemplated even having a phonebook at home. It had been his decision finally. And that too for his parents who often stayed with them. They preferred the old-school ways of keeping in touch. Hoisting the small book onto his lap, he flipped it over where a huge PostIt had been stuck on the back flap.  Shalini had scribbled both their work numbers and cell phone numbers for his parents’ ease of use. He picked up the receiver and fervently dialed her office number concentrating all his willpower in urging her to pick up. He counted the rings upto 8 before he hung up. He waited 30 seconds and dialed again. This time it was picked on the second ring.

“Shalini?” He began without waiting to hear the voice on the other end.
“I am sorry. This is Mekala. Shalini isn’t here today. May I help you with something?” her colleague asked.
Bharath barely heard anything after “Shalini isn’t here today”.
“Oh? Is something wrong with her? Didn’t she come in today?” he asked urgently.
“I’m sorry, Sir. She took a personal day off this morning. May I know who’s calling and how I may..”

Bharath hung up. Personal day? Shalini had never once taken a personal day on the whim ever since he’d known her. Every vacation day was accounted for weeks in advance. He planned all their vacations together and would give her explicit instructions on which days she had to be off if their plans indeed included non-holiday working days. On the bright side, someone who was going to commit suicide would hardly call the office to request a “personal” day. It seemed pretty unlikely. Thanking his logical soul, Bharath brightened a bit for a moment. But just as suddenly there was another dark thought. What if it had just started with wanting to take the day off and then aggravated into a moment of weakness? He had no explanation. The first thing he had to do was to see if her car was still in the garage. As he walked to the doorway, he glanced at the entrance cubby. Were her keys there? No they weren’t. Fresh hope fueling him, he grabbed his own house keys and looked back at the vast empty house. Everything looked so normal and he hoped they stayed that way. He reached for his chappals just as the doorbell rang. His mind went numb for a split second. Shalini? He wondered.  Then it struck him. She had her keys and she wouldn’t be ringing the bell. He threw the door open instantly and didn’t see anyone out there. Perplexed, he looked around till he saw the small bundle of jasmine flowers strung into 3 mozhams and wrapped in a lotus leaf left on their door latch by the young poo-kari. That’s right. Tuesdays were poo days. He slammed the door shut and made his way to the parking.

To be continued........
Until next Friday then. Opinions welcomed as always.

November 10, 2010

Les Miserables

I wish it were the popular musical/novel to which I was referring to. What I actually mean though is the immensely lousy weather that seems to have descended upon France and decided to wreak havoc in our happily mundane lives. It has rained like there’s no tomorrow over the entire week. And by that I don’t mean a convincing downpour. I mean an annoying in-between thing which is halfway between a drizzle and a downpour. Something with wind and something with wrath. It has torn down 2 umbrellas of mine, has had me soaked on more than 2 occasions and returned my dreaded cold back to me -- something that prompted my first ever doctor visit in a foreign country (yes including my stay in the US). Add to that we had visitors over the last 4 days, who I am sure have not left with a happy impression of Paris, thanks to the soggy weather, the chilly winds and early darkness.

Add to that I was in Lille on Monday and yes I brought my readers on MindBlogging a soggy postcard from a rain-filled day. This is the main station at Lille.

08-11-2010 09.17.20 Gare de Lille Flandres – Lille main train station.

Lille, which is predominantly a University town probably has less to offer in terms of sight-seeing and such. It only boasts of modest sights like a church and an opera, something you can find in most cities in France. Its popularity stems from its proximity to Belgium and the kinds of beers available there.

But every cloud has a silver lining, right? Ours is a long weekend that’s already begun. Bon weekend!

Micro dosai/uthappam appetizer

Has this ever happened to you? You make dosai/idli batter and once you’ve used it a few times for breakfast/lunch/dinner, you’re left with one last bit. An amount that won’t make another filling portion for everybody, is a waste to throw away and cannot be mixed with a new batch of batter. Typically I used to make the 1-2 last dosais and put them in the fridge only to certainly throw them away a couple of days later.

This time I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I decided to try something different – micro dosais or uthappams if you will. And here’s a first look.

IMG_8709Micro dosais/uthappams with toppings

Interested? What’re you waiting for? Use up that last bit of batter creatively!

I will leave the toppings bit to each of your creative ideas. Here I’ve gone very plain-jane and I literally used my thaalikara paathram (tadka pan) to make the toppings. I’ve used 1 clove of garlic, 1 green chilli, 1 small onion and 1 small tomato, all chopped and shallow-fried in oil with the usual tempering agents and seasoned with nothing more than salt and turmeric and garnished with chopped coriander. Small is beautiful (excuses!) Once that’s done, it’s just spooning up and serving.

IMG_3777      IMG_3781  (Left): Spoonfuls of batter sitting on a hot skillet. (Right) One side browned, the other to go.

And once you make enough of your micro dosais, plate them up and add the toppings!

IMG_3787     IMG_3795  (Left)- All of the micro dosais and (Right) with toppings too!

Surely people haven’t haven’t given simpler explanations for simpler things? Anyhoo, the reason I shared is just an exciting idea for left-overs. These bite-sized dosais make for great appetizers and even better conversational pieces (try them and you’ll know what I mean). And if your batter is anything like mine, when the end of it is near, it attains this slight tanginess, pulippu, which only adds to its flavour and taste.

On the other hand, you could also try something innovative like making these little things and making bits of them and try a dish akin to idli upma but only call it dosai upma instead; Because the sizes are little and both sides cook so well, there is no reason that this shouldn’t work! In which case, all you have to do is instead of add the “topping” you made, mix in the bits of dosais to the topping material in the skillet it cooks in. Another breakfast idea!

I leave you with one last look from the Nanoscientist in me – Micro dosais! Bon Appetit! Enjoy!

IMG_8706 Spicy bite: Micro dosai topped off with cooked veggies and fresh coriander.

Sweet tooth – Carrot halwa

Ever had guests over and looked for some dessert to make.. something that’s easy yet tasty.. subtly sweet yet light… and definitely drool-worthy? Think carrot halwa! Okay, I admit.. shearing the carrots is the least part of the fun. But once you see past that hurdle, you have this really amazing Indian dessert that wows most people with it’s simplicity and okay – cheap shot… but Vitamin A points?

Bah who cares… sometime's you’ve got to indulge! Here’s a look at today’s recipe (made for S’ birthday 2 weeks ago – see this blog)

IMG_3746-1 Fresh and light – carrot halwa is served.

Okay I admit, that’s the only shot I managed to get before we devoured all that was made. Oops! But here’s what you need to recreate it -

1. Carrots 8-10 large, peeled and shredded (not too fine, mind you) equal to about 4 cups of diced carrot
2. Cashews a handful, chopped into halves
3. Raisins 1 tbsp
4. Cardomom a couple of pods
5. Ghee or clarified butter 2 tbsp
6. Milk or cream I prefer using concentrated milk (like milk maid but unsweetened) – 1 cup
7. Sugar 1/2 – 1 cup – to taste. I prefer my desserts to be only subtly sweet so I use lesser sugar, but really, it’s upto you.


1. So simple! In a heavy bottomed pan, melt your butter/heat your ghee.

2. Toss in the carrots and stir well so as to coat the carrots with all the ghee. Lower the flame, stir occasionally so as to not burn the bottom and cook for about 10 minutes till you think the carrots have cooked.

3. They reduce dramatically in volume. So when you think they’re semi-cooked, which should be about 10 minutes on a low flame, add your milk/concentrated milk to allow the carrots to absorb all of the milk. Stir well and cook till the milk has reduced.

4. Add the sugar little by little.. stirring well and tasting occasionally to make sure you stop at the right level.

5. Cook for another 5 minutes and set aside.

6. For the garnishing – In another small vessel, heat a little butter and shallow fry the cashews, raisins and cardomom.

Once they’re done, top them on the carrot halwa. You’re done!

Personally I prefer eating it piping hot. It reminds me of winters in Delhi where street vendors sell street-made fresh carrot halwa topped with mawa and made with red Delhi carrots. And its the perfect antidote to the biting Delhi winters. However S prefers his halwa chilled.

So go and enjoy this versatile dessert any way it makes you happy. Bon Appetit!

PS: You can add mawa to your halwa as well. Mawa is just reduced milk (khoya) used in many Indian sweets to lend them body. You can check it out here. And reduce the quantity of milk accordingly when you mix in your mawa.

November 9, 2010

Vegetable puff pastry

Anyone hailing from India surely loves veg./egg puffs! It was something available at every bakery in any street corner and perfect to quench the hunger pangs that struck with renewed fervor especially when one crossed by the bakery. That fresh-baked aroma and the convincing crunch of the puff made it an instant favourite with one and all. Fast-forward to France. Sure we have a Hot Breads at Paris and they make excellent Indian baked goods. But lets be practical. Who’s going to go 10km to eat a puff? Well, we might.. if it wasn’t so easy to make them at home! Here’s a first look. I apologize for the poor quality of the photographs. It gets dark very soon these days and I had very less enthusiasm to setup the soft box and such. So I used one of our corner lamps as lighting and hence the unfortunate yellowish hue. The picture below though is from one of our exploits at Cincinnati with making puffs (thanks PT, VV and VR).

Puff  Vegetable puff pastries hot off the oven.

Considering I don’t make the pastry sheets and they’re store-bought the entire process of making a filling batch of puffs takes a little over 30 minutes. Which is next to nothing in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re interested, here’s what you need


For the exterior  
Store-bought pastry sheets – you can find this in the refrigerated section of your store 1-2 packets, depending on how many puffs you plan to make
For the filling  
1. Onions 1 large, finely chopped
2. Potatoes 3-4 medium sized, peeled, boiled and mashed
3. Peas 1/2 cup
4. Carrots 1 medium-sized, finely chopped and preferably boiled. Hint: Put  in the potatoes and carrots together in a pressure cooker to boil.
5. Green chillies 2, slit length-wise
6. Garlic 2 cloves minced
7. Salt To taste
8. Oil 1 tsp
9. Turmeric and asfoetida a pinch each


1. Set out the pastry sheets by unwrapping them from the package and let them thaw at room temperature while you get the filling ready.

2. For the filling.. use a heavy bottomed pan and heat the oil.

3. Throw in the asfoetida, followed by the green chillies, garlic, onions and the salt. Allow the onions to cook very well on a low flame.

4. Add the potatoes, carrots, peas and turmeric. Stir well and allow it to cook. If it becomes too “hard”, add a little water to make it’s consistency pasty. Think thick and not watery.

5. Once everything’s cooked, give it a taste test to see if you’d like to add anything to this mixture. I like to add a hint of amchur powder (dry mango powder) and jeera powder to it to enhance the taste. Also, 1/4 tsp of sugar gives it an enormous boost.

There.. you’re done with the filling! Set it aside to cool a bit while you work with everything else.

6. Turn on the oven and set it at approximately 180°C.

7. Get a baking tray ready with aluminium foil to protect the bottom. Spray gently with baking spray or coat with a thin layer of oil.

8. Cut squares from your pastry sheets, large enough to fold into triangles reasonably big enough to stuff with the filling you’ve just made. Think 8cm x 8cm types.

9. Fold it into a triangle and seal 1 side by pressing it together. Stuff some filling on inside the pocket you’ve created and then seal the other side. Note: If you let the sheets thaw too much, you might have a hard time holding shape while filling. It’s better to do it when it still hasn’t defrosted entirely.

10. Repeat 9 for as many puffs as you want to make and lay them on the tray. Shove them in the oven for about 10 minutes. This brown ands hardens the “bottom”.

11. Now you’d want to transfer them to a grilling tray so that you get the nice browning lines evenly everywhere. Alternately, you could do the entire thing on the grilling tray. Note: Place the “top” side of the puff face-down on the grilling tray to get those lines. Bake for another 10-12 minutes.

12. And that’s it! Take them out, allow to cool a bit and serve with ketchup, chai or both!

Bon Appetit! Enjoy!

239 Up close: Croissant style vegetable puffs!

PS: Any of the fillings can be altered to suit your taste. Experiment and enjoy!

The 6 friends

I don't remember when or where.. but someday I read that a person can never have more than 6 soul-close friends... that means no more than 6 people in anyone's lives knows everything about them - their deepest, darkest secrets, so to speak. And it set me thinking. And I literally counted off my fingers that I probably had 7 very close friends, but not everyone made it to the first tier amongst that. While all 7 would eventually find out whatever it is that I wanted to share with them, it was not necessarily in the same timeframe. And so I was discussing with KG yesterday that that was what had transpired between college and now. 10 years later... we retain less than 10 friends of the 100s that we met. And it wasn't because we were lousy at keeping in touch or anything.. but to put it philosophically, life just happened.

After hanging up however, I was wondering what happened if you featured in someone's 6, who didn't feature in yours or vice versa? You know what I mean? What if you considered someone super close and shared all with them (or vice versa) but they didn't reciprocate equivocally? The ones in which you both featured in one anothers' lists is of course the material that makes life-long friendships and "best friends" tags. But on the other hand, like unrequited love, does unrequited super-close friendship also wither and die? One would hypothesize that it would have to. I mean nothing can survive just one-sided, can it? Yet it happens. Just because the person you confide in doesn't confide back to you, doesn't mean his/her advice to you isn't sound or that they aren't genuinely helping out, does it? No. But of course if you did expect reciprocation, you are left spurned and such cases might indeed meet the end of the road. And if the circle of friends was entirely encompassingly finitely restricted to reciprocations, then the circles would meet at some point. And that would make it limited. 

Enough confusion. After a little more analysis, I came up with numbers. Through school, you were likely to have a maximum of 2 soul-friends... college: 2-3; post-graduation: 1-2; work: 1-2 and then a big, fat full-stop. Thereafter, even if you meet new people, even if you forge new friendships, they are never going to  equate to what you already have. It's difficult to attain a closeness with no entirely new and parallel things happening alongside with this new person. And that's how the friendship circle remains restricted.

Some food for thought huh? How many soul-friends do you have? Count on..