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........
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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.

How?

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

Ingredients

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

How?

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..

November 5, 2010

Chapter 1 – The Dark Night

Here's my Diwali gift to all of you.. the continuation of the story...

If you haven't read the prologue, read it here.

The story continues below...

_______________________________________________________________________________

Chapter 1. Then.

“Where’s the groom di? Yengayen onna ditch panitaara?” Priya teased Shalini as she dipped a piece of loose cotton in the lemon and sugar mix and dabbed it on the elaborate mehendi pattern drawn by the experts on Shalini’s right arm. This kept the pattern “wet” and ideally potent to really colour the skin a deep red tattoo of sorts. The mehendi artistes were now working on Shalini’s feet. Mehendi or henna was a huge part of the bridal look in Indian weddings. And Bharath and Shalini’s wedding was no different. Though it wasn’t a traditional part of south-Indian weddings, Shalini was hugely fond of it and had insisted on having a small gathering of close friends and family to share the occasion with her. And so the mehendi function in which the bride, her friends and family wore the henna to celebrate the impeding wedding was 2 days before the actual festivites of the elaborate 3-day Brahmin wedding started. The terrace of Shalini’s home in Chennai was alight with shamiyana pandals and colorfully dressed women relatives and kids scattered around with their arms spread out as the henna in green decorated their palms. The bride was the only one who got her arms and legs decorated. The men were in the cordoned-off corner that served the food for the guests. The husbands lovingly fed their wives, the dads fed their daughters and all in all it was a loud, memorable, cacophony of sounds. The groom’s party was yet-to-arrive. And somewhere in the elaborate, random scattered loops of lovely designs, feathers of peacocks, flowers and leaves on Shalini’s hands was hidden Bharath’s name. And as the tradition demanded, he couldn’t marry his wife-to-be till he found his own name hidden in her mehendi.

“Who knows? I said 4 pm to him. What time is it?” Shalini asked, pretending to be nonchalant  while clearly failing, looked at the back of her hand to see the design.

“It’s close to 5.” Gitanjali answered while directing Priya to a spot on Shalini’s mehendi where the green paste had flaked off to reveal the glow of the orange beneath. Another folklore dictated that the “darker” the bride’s mehendi the more she was going to be loved and nurtured by her in-laws. Actually it had to do with the heat of one’s body. In which case Shalini had no doubt that hers was going to be super dark red.

Just then there was a commotion at the doorway to the terrace. The groom’s party had arrived. The attention had shifted to the narrow entranceway as Shalini’s parents hurried over to welcome Bharath and his family to the terrace. Bharath greeted everyone politely and this was his first exposure to many of Shalini’s relatives who had come in for the wedding festivities from different parts of the world. Shalini’s father was busy introducing his mappillai to all, but the groom’s eyes immediately sought Shalini in the crowd. Which was hardly difficult at all. She was the cynosure of the gathering and looked quite lovely in a beautifully embroidered ghagra-choli that she’d specially bought for the occasion. She was busy pretending not to notice that her groom had arrived looking particularly appealing himself in a crisp new maroon kurtha pyjama. After exchanging pleasantries with everyone, Bharath excused himself and walked over to Shalini. Her friends instantly retreated, giving them the illusion of privacy while being in enough proximity to tease.

“Hi Shalini.” Bharath said.

After 2 moments of nothingness, she graced him from beneath her made-up eyes and long lashes.

“Hi..." A pause and then "You’re late.” Her voice betrayed the slightest tinge of annoyance.

“I know. But you know how it is." He paused and then added "You look amazing”, while drinking in all of her that he could just by looking at her.

This was followed by a few teasing coughs and giggles from the backdrop of her friends. And before she could respond, they were flocked by both sets of parents. Bharath’s mother came over to Shalini, greeted her and did a quick gesture to remove dhrishti or the evil eye from the young couple. She then presented her daughter-in-law to be with a lovely garnet necklace which she proceeded to add to Shalini’s already-bejeweled neck seeing as Shalini sat there with her arms outspread so as to not get the mehendi on her clothes or anything else in her proximity. Shalini smiled shyly and participated in the conversation in response to her to-be-mother-in-law’s question as to if she’d received her wedding sari’s blouses from the tailor.

“Oh yes, Amma. Finally I received them. These tailors these days are more important than the bride and groom during the wedding season. Orey tension. I hardly thought I would get everything on time. But luckily he got everything done very well.” Shalini said enthusiastically.

Bharath’s mother glowed at being addressed as “Amma” by her daughter-in-law to be. It was significant of the bond they were going to share in this relationship. She was like a second daughter to her, next to her own, Preethi. They were lucky to have found Shalini for Bharath this early in the matrimonial process. She was a beautiful, talented young girl and well suited to marry Bharath. But Bharath was a catch himself, Mrs Shankar reflected with reasonable pride. After all he was young, handsome, well-placed and had just invested in a flat on the brand-new multiplex in Gandhi Nagar. All before his 28th birthday. Mrs Shankar was very proud of her son as she should have been. And now as the elders steered the conversation into some other topics, she caught the young couple stealing glances at each other and it took her back to her own days of ponnu paakardhu, the formality where the boy’s family came to visit the girl. Back in her day she’d hardly dared to see her now-husband, Mr Shankar at all even as she’d served him and his entire family filter kaapi. And in those days the bride was expected to sing on cue, do namaskaram to the entire groom party and what not. These days it was relatively easy for these young girls. They were just as qualified and independent which gave them the liberty to draft their own rules and everything. Shalini was placed well at TCS as an IT programmer and she’d heard she was a Gold Medalist too. But she was also very well-behaved with no airs about her. Other than that the kids these days chose to live in separate apartments by themselves even if it was in the same city as their parents. This was unheard-of in her day and age. But that was how it was going to be for this generation anyway. Mrs Shankar could still remember how 3 months ago she had chanced upon Shalini's photo on Tamilmatrimony, she had prayed her kula deivam, Vaitheeswarar that Bharath and Shalini’s horoscopes matched and that she’d be able to fix her son up with this girl. And it had all gone very smoothly indeed. Mrs and Mr Shivaraman, Shalini’s parents were very nice people too and arranging the marriage had been a complete breeze. Mrs Shankar wiped the single tear that had formed at the corner of her eye with the edge of her pallu.

Bharath was examining Shalini’s right arm now. And he was taking his time. He was supposed to be finding his name on the patterns. He’d instantly spotted the “H”. He traced it along the curve of her arm with his eyes and found the rest of the letters. But he wasn’t going to be pointing them out anytime soon. He took pleasure in watching her anxious expression as he delicately held her arm while supposedly searching for the letters, twisting it gently this way and that.

“Come on, Anna! I can help you if you want! I see the “R”!” Preethi, his little sister urged.

“Oh Preethi!” Priya chided. “Can’t you see that your brother is enjoying himself in not finding the letters?” she teased.

Preethi turned bright red. Being 8 years younger than her brother meant she was pretty backward in the romance department. Shalini had turned pink too. And at that instant when Bharath was admiring his wife-to-be, she looked up and into his eyes and just as quickly, away. And Bharath knew he’d never forget this moment for as long as he lived.

____________________________________________________________________________________

To be continued. Opinions welcomed.

November 4, 2010

Happy Diwali!

If you've been on MindBlogging long enough, you will know that I am about to direct you to a post that was written 4 years ago. And unsurprisingly though life has changed in many ways, my sentiments about this huge Indian festival of Diwali remain absolutely unchanged.

Somehow Diwali is the one f'estival that we simply have to be back home. Nothing makes up for the atmosphere there... the food, the fun, the crackers... I guess I've put all this across more eloquently in the post above.

Anyhoo, here's wishing one and all a very Happy Diwali and a fantastic New Year ahead to follow! Enjoy!


October 30, 2010

The unexpected saturation

Has it ever happened to you? You don't need something but you go to a store and are tempted and end up buying something? It maybe something as inexpensive as junk jewelry for 2€ or something as extravagant as that faux fur coat (ok all the men substitute with watches or Xboxes or what not). But I am amused and extremely happy that I seem to have outgrown this phase. I went "shopping" with 3 different sets of people, all because each of them needed to buy something. And on every occasion like this in the past I have ended up with a surplus of something or the other which was "nice" or "not bad for the price" and what not. And now, 3 straight days in a row and 6+ hours of shopping later, I haven't so much as bought a trinket. In every store I went to I saw things that were "nice" and "not bad for the price" and what not but I didn't have that urge to pick it up, try it on even and worse, buy it. Maybe this is an offspring of the reaction of ironing all those clothes 2 weeks ago or I don't know. Or maybe I've just grown up and realized that I really didn't need any of the things I saw. Who knew I would get here? I for one, didn't.

October 29, 2010

The really easy vegetable biryani

Owing to popular demand (read on Facebook and GChat), I’ve decided it might be worth my while '(and yours once you see how easy and quick this recipe is) to post this recipe on the blog finally. So here’s another look at this one.

IMG_3732-1  Vegetable biryani

Ingredients

For tempering  
1. Mustard seeds (kadugu) 1 tsp
2. Cumin (jeera) 1 tsp
3. Cloves (lavang) 4-5 pieces
4. Cinnamon (dal-cheeni) 1-2 1-inch pieces
5. Bay leaves 1/2 medium-sized
For garnishing  
1. Washed coriander leaves (kothamalli) 1 small bunch
Everything else  
1. Veggies 3 mid-large potatoes, 5-6 mid-large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
2. Basmati rice 1.5-2 cups, well washed and soaked for 1 hour at least
3. Oil/butter 2 tbsp
4. Water 1-2 cups
5. Yogurt 1 cup
6. Salt to taste
7. Red chilli powder/subji masala 1/2 tsp
8. Turmeric (haldi/manjal podi) 1/4 tsp

How

1. First things first, leave the rice soaking while you do everything else.

2. In a heavy-bottomed pressure cooker (bonus points for using a pressure pan), heat the oil and add the ingredients listed under the “For tempering” title.

3. Wait for the mustard/jeera combo to sputter and then add the carrots and potatoes and give it a good toss.

4. Add salt, turmeric, and subji masala/red chilli powder and then give it another good stir.

5. Allow everything to semi-cook for about 5 minutes on an open pan, making sure the flame is on “simmer” so as to not burn the contents at the bottom of the pan.

6. Once all the vegetables are coated well and have semi-cooked, add the yogurt, cook for a minute after stirring and then toss in the soaked basmati rice (after draining of course) and give it another good stir.

7. Add the water, close the lid and pressure cook for 2 whistles.

That’s it! Once the cooker has de-pressurized, open the cooker, give everything another toss and add the coriander on top as garnishing. That’s it! Its easy, simple and very very tasty.

IMG_3734 One more shot of the vegetable biryani.

Serve hot with raita or daal or good old chips! Bon Appetit! Enjoy..

October 28, 2010

One cold tablet.. two cold tablets.. three co.... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

What's up with my freaking cold anyways? I swear there should be a way for these diseases to make demands to the people they infect, get whatever they want and then leave... something like a ransom situation. I swear.. just when I thought it was going away... it returned this morning and with a vengeance. Which is incredibly sad considering that the weather in Paris has improved dramatically this week. So really, I don't get what it wants. And so I've downed samahan after samahan, masala chais, hot lemon teas, a multitude of tablets that would put pharamacists to shame... used salves and vaporubs and what not... have a permanent bottle of Axe Oil next to my bed and have exhausted enough tissues to carpet the house. What the heck more does it want? 

(Not-so) Dear cold, please get the message and get the hell out of my system. If my internal hostess played nice to you, it was a farce. You've overstayed your welcome now. Get out. Goodbye. Au revoir.

October 27, 2010

The prologue – The dark night

This is a story I am working on. Needless to say, it's "copyrighted". :)
_____________________________________________________________________________

Now. 6 :15pm.

The steel-grey Maruti Suzuki Swift pulled into the parking space 1312A in the underground parking of the multiplex at Gandhi Nagar, Chennai.  Bharath killed the headlights and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, reluctant to leave the comfort of his car and go home to his 13th floor apartment. Shalini and he had had their worst fight yet. It was the first time in over 3 years of marriage that they’d gone to bed angry and without making up. When he’d gotten up in the morning she was gone. She was the one to make up with him usually, no matter what and no matter whose fault it was. And it surprised him that she hadn’t called him all of today. What was worse was that she hadn’t answered his calls either. He felt unsettled. He knew to deal with the part of his wife that he knew – the part that yelled and screamed. He was a lot less sure when she clammed up. And she had hardly ever left anything unsaid. Audibly cursing the day he decided to get married, he reached for his briefcase that was thrown carelessly on the passenger seat and reassured himself. It was going to be okay. They always got through this kind of stuff. They had their share of infractions in the whole marital bliss package and he wondered briefly what the neighbours might’ve heard and if that changed the way they perceived them as a couple. But who were they to judge? Everyone fought. It was like the global vein of similarity in every marriage. And last night’s fight was downright stupid now that he reflected on it. Shalini had interrupted him for a second during one of the key moments of the foreign movie on TV that he’d followed for the better part of 2 hours. And he’d flown off the handle and yelled at her, blaming her impetuousness and her disregard for other’s preoccupations. He was just caught up in the moment and typical as it was, she just wouldn’t let it go. She screamed and ranted her side of the injustice of it all and it’d blown completely out of proportion ending with him slamming the front door of their apartment on her and leaving to get a smoke and some silence. When he’d returned, the lights were turned out and she’d retired to the bedroom. He himself had slept in the guest bedroom, not wanting to share a room with her that night. Now that he thought about it, it was downright stupid and he couldn’t wait to go back home and make up. There wasn't much a hug and kisses couldn't accomplish. Well, at least between married couples. He reached over to the backseat and picked up a single slightly shriveled red rose that had been carefully cellophane-wrapped by the flower-wala, which he had had the forethought to buy just outside the front gates of their apartment complex.  Small penance. He swore to himself to try to keep his temper under check thereafter. But he knew it was easier said than done. Hindsight was 20/20.

The ride to the 13th floor from the basement parking by the lift took just over a 50 seconds. He remembered timing it with Shalini once when she had remarked that it was lucky that neither of them was claustrophobic. A wry smile appeared at the corner of his mouth. And suddenly he regretted spending the night in the guest bedroom without so much as a goodnight to his wife. He supposed she was pissed off because of that and would be unforgiving for a while just to punish him. Ah well, tonight would be a better night. He’d make sure of it.  The lift doors eased open on the 13th floor, jolting him out of his reverie. He walked down the right-side hallway towards their apartment.

1312. Their home. Bharath & Shalini, the wooden name board proclaimed. It had been a wedding gift from one of her friends. He reached for his keys and unlocked the door. It was all quiet and dark in there. There were no cooking sounds or smells, typical of Shalini wielding her exceptional skill at the stove.

“Shalini?” He called out tentatively. No answer. Ah well, she was probably out at the Nilgiris nearby buying vegetables and such. Was her car in the garage? He hadn’t noticed. Or maybe she was working late to avoid him. She would come around. She always did. He turned on the lights in the hallway and the hall, ditched his briefcase on the sofa while reaching for the TV remote to turn the TV on.  While the evening news blared on, he washed his face, hands and feet and went back to the sofa. He missed the hot cup of chai that Shalini usually had ready for him when he got home. He went to the kitchen to make some for the both of them. It would be a pleasant surprise. He busied himself for a few minutes hunting for the ingredients while marveling at how his wife, who worked full-time as an IT programmer additionally nurturing hopes as a writer also found time to cook every evening, stock the supplies for their house and keep everything so organized and spic and span (with the help of a once-a-week maid, but nonetheless). As the tea brewed, he went to check the answering machine on their landline. No new messages. Sighing audibly now he went back and filtered the tea into two freshly washed mugs. And suddenly he got a bit restless. This whole incident was completely out of character for her. To not keep in touch the entire day. No email. No SMS. No calls. Nothing. When she was too pissed off to talk with him she usually SMS-ed or IM-ed him. And regardless of what disagreements they had those SMS messages reminded him that she cared and that it would soon be ok. He settled on the sofa and set his tea mug on the settee. He reached over for the Time Magazine issue that had arrived in the weekend and mindlessly flipped pages while lending an ear to the news. Just as he was reaching back for the mug of tea, the landline next to it rang.

“Shalini?” he asked as he picked up the phone eagerly.

“Hi. No, this is her friend, Gitanjali. Hi Bharath, how are you?”

“Oh hi Gitu. I am fine. How’re you?” Bharath said mechanically, his spirits deflating.

“I am doing good! I am guessing Shalini isn’t home yet. She isn’t answering her cell phone either. Could you have her call me when she gets back? I don’t know if she knows yet but Priya had a baby boy today!”

“Oh that’s great! I’ll let her know when she’s back and have her call you.” Bharath said hanging up.

Babies. Sure Shalini and he had talked about it. But with his MBA aspirations and her wanting to change careers, they’d decided to put it away for a couple of years. And suddenly he was irritated with his wife. He had called her 4-5 times to try to make up although grudgingly after lunch (he’d expected her to call by then) and she hadn’t bothered to answer. Granted he was wrong, but weren’t they supposed to put this behind them now and just carry on? They were happy in general, he figured and which marriage didn’t have its hiccups? He pulled out his Blackberry and checked for missed calls. There were none. She probably wanted him to grovel. He sighed and speed dialed her once more, willing her to pick up. To his surprise, he heard the phone ringing on the little cubby in the front hallway, where they typically left their keys and stacked their mail. Oh. That explained it. Picking up his chai he walked over to get her phone. It was one of those old fashioned flip phones. He’d begged her to get a more savvy phone but she firmly shot him down each time. He could hear her voice echoing in his head even now– Why do I need a fancy phone? All I do is make calls and receive them. And the most I do is text. This is more than enough for all that. Besides if I get an all-in-one something, how will I use the ipod that you got me or the camera that Appa got me?

The phone was battered almost beyond recognition and the ‘Samsung’ was barely visible under the scratches and dents from the thousand drops and the brushes with all the junk in her handbag. Shaking his head with disbelief, he flipped it open. Sure enough -

8 Missed Calls

He clicked on ‘List’ and saw his own name listed 6 times with the various times that he had called. Gitanjali was the seventh. And Priya was the eighth. He sighed. His temporary surge of anger at her not answering the calls was now unreasonable, he realized. She’d just forgotten her cell phone at home. And with her memory, or the lack of it, for phone numbers in particular, she probably didn’t have his number memorized to make a call even if she’d wanted to. She could’ve emailed, he supposed, but he would let that be.  He left her phone right where he found it. His eye caught a stack of yesterday’s mail. He figured he should check the mailbox today. But that was 13 floors down and normally Shalini brought in the day’s mail. As he reached to stack the sloping pile of bills and general junk, a paper with a scrawl of his wife’s handwriting caught his eye. It was among the bills and some other papers, not hidden but neither particularly visible and was tucked underneath a framed wedding picture of theirs. He tugged at the leaf and it came out loose. He got an ominous feeling as he shook it straight to read it. It was a note. It was brief. It had no date. It had no signature.

It’s been good but I don’t think I can take it anymore. This isn’t about you. It’s me. I am the weak one. I am sorry.

What was this? What was the meaning of this piece of paper? Bharath was hardly breathing. When had she written this? Was it a suicide note? Or was it just goodbye? Was it meant to be found or had she changed her mind after writing it? Suddenly he felt very weak. There were too many questions and as unlikely as any scenario was, here he was but where was she? He held on to the wall for support and sank into the single faux-leather chair in the hallway. Where he wore his shoes. The chair she picked out from Kalpadruma after painstakingly verifying that it wasn’t real leather. Because she was against animal cruelty amongst her many other principles. But she was ok with killing herself? And suddenly his mind wandered to last night. After he’d slammed the door on her and left the house, he had no idea what had really happened back at the apartment. He had assumed that she’d gone to bed when he returned. He had assumed that she was still in the house. He’d never checked. He’d not even said goodnight. He’d not even walked near their bedroom. What if she was still… in there?


To be continued.........
______________________________________________________________________________

Opinions welcomed.


October 26, 2010

The foodie birthday

In honour of the husband’s birthday, I cooked. A lot. Here’s only a glimpse of 3 of the dishes.

The starter…

IMG_3708-1 Baby corn crispies.

The main course

IMG_3732-1 Vegetable dum biryani.

The dessert

IMG_3746-1 Hot and creamy – Carrot halwa.

And there’s always room for cake! Presenting one of the best renderings of black forrest that I’ve had. Ever. Period. And before you all freak out that I bake it, I will go on to credit the nearby boulangerie for their flawless effort. Light yet creamy.. sweet yet subtle, it was the perfect cake for the occasion.

IMG_3757-1 The chocolatey perfection – Black forrest cake.

Happy Birthday S! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed doing it for you. :)

PS: For recipes for any of the above (except cake), drop me a line and we can revisit them!

October 25, 2010

Viral infection

Maybe for me.. but surely for my computer! So I’ve been suffering from a terrible, relentless cold over the past week but that’s hardly worth any internet footage. But what is worth it is the fact that my computer contracted something over the weekend. Something that made it crawl like a learning baby, slowed it enough to alarm me and even went as far as disabling the battery. What was worse is like some haunted movie, it made a sound every few minutes as well. Something that sounded like disco drum beats and lasted a few seconds at a time. It was as creepy as it was crawly, if you get my drift.
 
So the first thing I did was to investigate the Task Manager to see what the heck was sapping all that speed that I had so lovingly configured and bought. Turns out there were 3 instances of Internet Explorer which held a large chunk of memory, even though I haven’t used IE for as long as I can remember. Shockingly each time I “ended” the task, it reincarnated itself and sat atop the memory usage pile, in essence occupying my strong systems’ wholesome memory. Surely it was a virus. My Norton that came with the system had expired a few months ago and lets admit it, how many of us renew it anyway? Neither did I. Big mistake apparently for the second I typed “iexplore.exe”, the default words that followed it were – virus, infection, worm, etc., none of them leaving a shadow of a doubt of what had gotten hold of my poor laptop.
 
The next step was of course to detect where the worm was lurking and so after reading a bunch of forums (which took insanely long), I downloaded something called PrevX CSI. And it was a free scanner only. But under 5 minutes, it diagnosed 93 infections. 93! A frisson of shock later, I tried hunting for a trial version (which wasn’t available) to clean it up. All along my computer’s performance kept declining steadily and this called for quick action… not something to ponder and then regret.
 
30 minutes, 2 restarts and 30€ of PrevX – licensed purchase later, the computer is back up and back running and fast again. All bugs gone. System protected. Sometimes, it is worth buying the good stuff. And I can’t tell how relieved I am not to hear those disco beats again. I swear it felt like the virus mocking me.

October 24, 2010

It’s just there!

Have you ever done this? Watched something on TV because it’s there? Like some movie you’ve seen many times over. But just the fact that you have to brainlessly only watch it and didn’t have to choose to (for instance if you own the DVD of the very same movie) makes it appealing somehow. I’ve done this more times than I can count. Somehow the appeal of something that was unintendedly chosen for me is way more than me actually going and choosing the very same thing by myself. And this kind of applies to most things for me (unless I hate it – which reverses back to the TV theory as well). What is the appeal then? Just that you didn’t have to dedicate that iota of time to choosing something that didn’t have much significance in the first place? (FYI – this theory doesn’t work well with stuff I really really like – clothes, shoes, bags, etc.) :D I guess so. Or maybe this is the true manifestation of being lazy. But then it’s Sunday morning. What did you expect?

This post didn’t make much sense, did it? Didn’t think so either. Happy Sunday!

Mini rava idlis

I confess… for time immemorial, I’ve cribbed about how I don’t like idlis. Indeed, I followed on my brother’s and his friends’ adage of expanding IDLI as I-Don’t-Like-It. And as is usual in such cases, I am a big dosai fan. Which then evokes the surprise that now I not only like idlis, but I make them regularly too. But that is in keeping with the fact that I hated brinjals back in India but now have many a mean recipe to contend them with. So.. its a pattern of having the convenience not to eat something versus wanting to. Even then, rava idlis tempted my palate more than the traditional ones. Okay.. now that that’s all cleared up, let’s take a first look at today’s goodies – the mini rava idlis.

IMG_8656 Just off the idli stand – mini rava idlis.

The best part about rava idlis is their lack of need of preparation time or fermentation time and such. Overall to make a batch of these goodies, takes 45 minutes, tops. And for how delicious and refreshingly different from ordinary idlis they are, it is indeed worth investing this time and effort into it. Like ‘em? Let’s get started then!

Ingredients

Coarse rava (semolina) 2 cups
Yogurt (not too thick) 2 cups
Water 1-1.5 cups
Oil 1 tbsp
Curry leaves 10-15, well washed
Kadugu (mustard seeds) 1 tsp
Channa dal (kadalai paruppu or yellow gram dal) 1 tsp
Green chillies 2, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Additional veggies – carrot (if you want – I skipped this) Grated
Coriander leaves (kothamali) or cilantro 1 sprig, well washed
Kaju (cashew nuts) about 10 halves
Baking soda 1/2 tsp

How?

It’s as simple as it gets really.

1. On a heavy-bottomed pan, dry roast your 2 cups of rava till they brown a little without burning them. Once it seems like it has browned a bit, set aside and shift to your batter container and let it sit (if you leave it on the pan, it will likely burn in some places and give an unpleasant taste in the end).

2. Meanwhile, prepare the ganishings! On a small pan/kadai, heat the 1 tbsp of oil. Add the mustard seeds, channa dal, green chillies, curry leaves, cashew nuts and let them “fry” till the mustard seeds pop, the cashews brown and the channa dal darkens. Set aside.

3. Mix in the curd and the water along with the roasted rava to form a smooth batter with no lumps. The batter consistency should be similar to regular idli batter. (Hint: Try “pouring” it from a height of about 15cm. It should pour down in a steady but thick stream. If it’s too watery, you may need to add more rava. If it clumps and doesn’t fall steadily, you’ll need to add more water.)

4. Stir in the garnishings.. the fried ingredients and the carrot and cilantro. Blend in the baking soda

There! Your batter is ready!

5. Let it sit for 30 minutes while you prepare something to go with the idlis.

After 30 minutes, load up the idli stand!

IMG_3690 Ready to be steamed: Rava idli batter loaded up on the idli stand.

Now just steam it regularly in the pressure cooker! This typically takes 13 minutes with a closed lid (NO WEIGHT/WHISTLE please!!) on medium-high with the water inside the cooker already boiling.

And voilà

IMG_8646 You are served. Steaming hot, ready-to-eat mini rava idlis.

And this was off to RK’s birthday. And they were soft, supple and very tasty if I say so myself! So, bon appetit!

IMG_8640 Packaged and out. Mini idlis go to party!