September 28, 2010

Cold wave

What's up with this place anyway?! This year has been a disastrous summer... oh wait.. there was no summer. There were probably under 7 days in the entire past year that we've not had to wear some form of outer layer clothing. Be it a sweater, a cardigan or just a full-hand shirt.. something has had to cover us up over the past year for us to survive the temperatures here. This week is turning out to be the chilliest in a while. Everywhere I see, people have traded their sweaters for more weather-bearing full-fledged winter coats. The open-toed sandals are a thing of the past. Everyone's in shoes or at least in ballet flats. The temperatures have barely risen past 15°C even during the best part of the day... which entails further cover-up clothing as you leave for work or come back. And in apartments where the heaters are automated, it's the glory time for the personal heating fans. Or double blankets.

If this is any sign of the winter to come, I'm going to move. No, seriously. 

PS: Sun.. if you're watching/hearing and have any VMSS, please come out and look at us for prolonged periods of time.

September 24, 2010

Pins n needles

Last night I made the unfortunate choice of making my mom's famous "pudhu vidha kozhambu" with chenai fry. The unfortunate part was not the kozhambu which turned out delicious, the recipe of which will follow sometime down the line in the blog. However the problem was more the chenai. Chenai or Suran or elephant yam is a popular vegetable in India and manifests itself in south Indian cooking as a "fry" of sorts where you simply toss the well-washed finely cut pieces in a bit of oil and roast/fry it or as a masiyal, a mash which is pressure cooked. Having found it at the Indian store last week, I was rather excited and picked it up. And so I opted for the "fry" version last night and patiently spent quite sometime cleaning the mud off and peeling away the thick skin and what not. And appearances-wise it looked pretty good and the couple of spoonfuls I did for the taste test passed too. 

So imagine my surprise when during dinner my throat started hurting. I kept clearing my throat and gulping down water only for intense pain to shoot out, akin to what I imagine a few 100 pins stuck down your throat would feel like. I looked at S to see if he was showing any symptoms. However he was calmly munching and watching some Vadivel comedy. By now with the intense discomfort, I was half-sure that I had managed to somehow exclusively poison myself. With my panic getting more evident, S glances at me and states calmly that throat discomfort and a "cut" feeling of the tongue are common side-effects to chenai eating - something I was grossly unaware of in all those times I've had chenai in India. How could it be? I was pretty certain there was no such thing and after soothing my battered throat with some yogurt, proceeded to read about it on the Internet. Turns out he was right! Apparently though it may irritate your digestive tract a bit, it's very good for your stomach. Yeah right. I sure am in no hurry to buy/make/eat chenai anytime soon. Not after last night. No, thanks.

September 23, 2010

Signature dish – Baked idlis

How I love surprising myself! Who knew one could “bake” idlis in a traditional oven? I for one didn’t. Haunted by the excess batter sitting in the fridge (in spite of making idlis 2 times and dosaismasal dosai included,  three times), I decided I was going to exhaust it or waste it trying. Fair enough? Now, since it turned out to be a pretty unexpectedly great-tasting treat, I am going to raise my own collar for my innovation. Here’s the first sneak peek..

IMG_8548 Baked idli cake. Garnished with fresh carrot, coriander, curry leaves and tempered with mustard seeds, sesame and urad dal.

So? Whad’ya think? Different? Interested? Intrigued? Go on…


image  Left over idli/dosai batter                                   +                         Seasoning (carrots, green chillies, salt)

That’s it!

1. Preheat your oven for 5 minutes at 175°C.

2. Grease your baking dish with oil and pour the mixed batter contents into it.

3. dump the dish into the oven for ~17 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the tempering and the seasoning. In a teaspoon of oil, allow 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1/2 each of sesame and urad dal to sputter. Mix in some fresh curry leaves.

5. Garnish with freshly grated carrot and fresh coriander along with the tempering.

And you have yourself a sumptuous yet refreshingly different rice cake -

IMG_8553 Baked idli rice cake – ready to be served.

And serve with any chutney or pickle of your choice! Frankly, it’s delicious all by itself as well!

IMG_8558 You are served.

Bon Appetit! Enjoy :)

"Boil 'em in oil"

Maybe my brother might be able to jog my memory as to this one, considering his memory is way superior to mine. How many of you have seen this cartoon where there's a bird that urges its master to punish their offenders by "boiling them in oil"?  Any way, if you think i've lost it trying to remember absurd yesteryear cartoons, I assure you not. 

I was at another college in the suburbs of Paris to visit a colleague. And by now I am a master of feeling satisfied with the measly vegetarian fares offered at the cafetarias here. In fact I'd written a whole post about it when I first came here (read it here). However I was blown over to discover that in fact, my cafetaria at ESIEE has way superior food than elsewhere. The food I had yesterday consisted of listlessly boiled, unflavoured vegetables, oily fries, excessively sweet dessert and shrunken fruit. On the other hand at my school, the desserts are almost always excellent, the vegetable passable and the fries, delicious. All at a more subsidized rate too! Who knew one could boil vegetables differently? I do, now and I pledge never to complain about our canteen food hereafter. Seems like we've been given a good deal after all!

September 22, 2010

Experiments with the “analog” SLR

Remember I bought an “analog” SLR? You don’t?? Where’ve you been? Read that post here. So like I mentioned there, I fed a black and white film roll to go all pristine with the shooting. And for the first one, I went through it really quickly and at the same time, experimented a whole whole lot. And so, turns out, out of 36 photos, I got only about 20 not to shake and remotely in focus. Since while shooting, you can’t see any previews, I was still trying to get a hang of the controls and so I figure this percentage while not too great isn’t too bad either. Here are a couple of shots from that bunch. Not bad at all, huh?

eiffel_m2__p2__tonemappedThe Eiffel Tower. This shot was multiple-exposed 5 times in one click. Pretty neat, huh? 

And then one more -

IMG021View across the Seine. Metro 6 is making it’s away across too. 

The above photo however has a white-washed sky (which couldn’t be saved digitally after scanning either). And that proves that the ISO is too high for the light that was available. Nonetheless, considering that this was the first experiment, I am going to consider it a moderate success.

Interesting fact: Did you know that B&W films need special technology to be developed? And that it can’t be done in India? And that it costs maybe 5 times as much to do it wherever it can be? Who knew, huh?

September 21, 2010

The Amazing Me

As usual when I have some time on my hands and specifically in front of my computer, I tend to declutter my GMail Inbox. I don't know about you but even when Google has the storage counter ticking to increase every second, I have never had less than 65% of my Inbox full. And it disturbs me every time I see it. I mean how can one have 8000+ meaningful emails? Surely there was a lot of junk sitting there, stuff I'd forgotten to delete... forwards that has expired and all that jazz. So I clicked on "Oldest" to start the deletion process. And apparently I'd gotten there before and so I'd only left behind what I had then thought were meaningful emails. And I was shocked as to how many people I was once in touch with. At least 20 out of my 67 classmates in Engineering, all of my batchmates in Batch 213 of CTS, school friends, NIIT friends and building friends. All this other than the new friends at Cincinnati. I'd actually found time to email all of these people regularly updating about my life and what not. And now... now I'm in touch with less than 10 people.. all circles combined. What happened to me? Life? Age? Sense? Work? All?

September 20, 2010

The “happy” place

So I was on the RER today. Zoned out… aimlessly staring… watching the scenery go by.. Ipod on, you know. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a young French lad slide into one of the aisle seats across and in front of me. As the scenery shifted, so did my eyes. Soon though, they darted back to the guy and I noticed him staring at an old lady, seated alone in a corner. She was fiddling with her bags and an Iphone. She looked so old I highly doubted she knew to operate it. But then that’s just stereotyping and in all likelihood, I am wrong. Even as I kept looking at them, the young boy’s eyes darted away and then back to the woman in quick circulation. I was transfixed. What was it? Had she dropped something and he wanted to bring her attention to it? Did she say something and he missed it? Was he trying to rob her? I couldn’t figure it out. And frankly, if he could stare at her, I could stare at him, right? At the next station, she rose, bumbling around with her packages, her phone and her walking stick. He rose too. What was this? Was he going to make a run for it and really rob her? This was like a scene from some bad movie. My mouth was half open as I watched them. The second she crossed by him to head for the doors, he jumped over to where she had been sitting previously.

Apparently that’s all he wanted. Her seat. Me and my imagination. This is why you shouldn’t watch Naan Mahaan Alla at night.

Incidentally, this is the 100th post this year for MindBlogging!  It’s been slow but its still here  Three cheers! :)

Day 1

Of what? The rest of my life, of course! Ok ok... not everyone is that cliché about these things. In fact what I was referring to is that this is the first day I tried walking the 3.2 km from my house to the second-closest train station. The normally 8 minute bus ride took 28 minutes on foot. And I only saw 2 buses go by me. That apart I was able to benefit from the crisp early morning air and the freshness that the morning "exercise" lent. Heaven knows how long I am going to stick with it but I made a sudden resolve, all enticed by the morning freshness to try and do this everyday. My supposedly smart idea to sneak in some exercise through my day. Wish me luck!

September 19, 2010

Sunday brunch: Mini Idlis

I know what y’all are thinking. She’s got nothing to write… and so she just shares recipes (more like pictures) and keeps the blog ticking. Guilty as charged. However, these idlis were so delicious and yet so simple that it’s sinful if I don’t show-off. And so -

IMG_2573 Piping hot idlis, just off the cooker.

As for the “recipe”, it’s the usual, soak-grind-ferment drill. I soaked a 1:3 ratio (1 urad dal : 3 puzhungal arusi – the idli rice) overnight and together with generous amounts of vendhiyam  and ground it into a fine paste on my mixi the next morning and let it ferment the rest of the day. And it was super perfect. And if you’re wondering what has happened to the quality of my pictures, well, the SLR ran out of charge. And the lazy bum that I am, I haven’t gotten around to charging it. I will get there soon.

Coming back to the mini-idlis, the idli platter I bought this time was so good. Tiny yet deep producing perfectly fluffy-white malligai poo idlis. Bon Appetit!

mini_idli Hot idlis to be served. Serve hot with sambar/chutney/molagai podi or all!

September 18, 2010

Hello Saturday – Steaming dhoklas

To my own greatest surprise, ever since getting back from India, I haven’t been reluctant to cook. Rather the past week has been filled with a wide variety of cooking exploits… ranging from good old dosai to exotic palak paneer. From sundakkai vathakozhambu (which was awesome by the way – recipe to follow) to theplas. However when I woke up today, I had a distinct craving for dhoklas. Those yummy, fluffy Gujju delights that are so comforting. What better to do than to make them?


Dhoklas, uncut sitting in the baking dish.

I followed a variation of Priya’s recipe with whatever ingredients I had. I  didn’t have the Eno salt and so I skipped that part. However I did add a French-based levure (a basic baking risening agent) instead. The results were pretty good. Also I didn’t make it in the pressure cooker. Instead I baked it in the oven for 12 minutes at the highest setting. This worked out great too. Not only did they rise sufficiently, they were porous and fluffy as well. And taste was pretty great. As Priya said, it’s all about the tempering. :)

IMG_8528 Dhoklas.

Unfortunately I have no pictures with them cut and served. They smelled so good that no sooner did I cut them, they vanished into our tummies. So, bon weekend and bon appetit!

September 15, 2010

The Chinese shotglass

Being the collector that I am, when my Chinese intern asked me if he could bring me back something from his hometown I had no hesitation in requesting a shot glass. After all, who knew when I would go to China? Though I make it a point to collect shot glasses from locations I have been to, I made an exception in this case. It couldn’t hurt to have one from China, just in case. I forgot all about it over vacation and was pleasantly reminded of it when X called one fine morning and asked if he could stop by and drop it off at my office.

He came in a few minutes later bearing a reasonably large package. I remembered that I had jokingly told him that if he couldn’t find shot glasses, he could just get me a Ming Dynasty tea cup. And when he handed the package to me, I was half-certain that it was a tea set of sorts with miniature cups and saucers. Imagine my surprise then when I opened the package and found this -

IMG_2566 Carved “cup” from China.

At first sight it was Alladin-esque and I half rubbed it expecting a genie to pop out. But I was truly touched. It was a big gesture and a memorable relic from China. Something I am sure I’ll cherish in my collection. Sure, it was the size of 6+ shot glasses arranged one on top of the other. But that didn’t take away from the fact that it was still a cup. So what if it was in copper and so what of it out-weighed the rest of the collection? Big thanks to X. :)

IMG_2572  Another view of the carved Chinese “cup”.

Do you mind taking a picture of me?

Topping off on yesterday's discussion, I had a GChat talk with our SLR guru, SS. He pointed out to me that it was super irritating to him when someone approached him for taking a picture of them when he was busy setting up his own SLR to take a shot-of-the-year, so to speak. And however occupied he was, he couldn't say 'no' and be done with it. After some thought, I figured it wouldn't hurt anyone to know the etiquette of getting their picture taken by complete strangers. So here are some helpful guidelines - 

1. If someone looks busy and doesn't make eye contact, approach someone else. Simple, right? If they don't make eye contact, they obviously want to be left to do whatever it is that they're doing. So find someone else.

2. Just because someone's dangling an SLR doesn't make them an expert. This is a wayward assumption. But given the fact that all the major brands have slashed down prices, most people are buying the SLRs first and figuring out how to use them much later. However if they do look jobless or aimless, go for it.

3. Never ask someone with a tripod to take your picture. This is ambiguous too. It is assuming that the tripoder is a serious photographer and would much rather wait for his/her "moment" than take a picture of arbitrary you.

4. Approach other tourists with point n shoots. Well, they are your best bets really. And be polite and offer the barter. Their picture for yours.

5. Never make someone take your picture twice. Think about it. Even if they messed up the shot, they did take out the time to aim and shoot a picture of someone they didn't know. Don't extend their courtesy beyond the normalcy and make them take multiple shots, scrutinizing the previous ones right before them and scowling at the bad shots. There are other people out there. Me, for example.. I am already praising their effort even before the preview appears on the screen. And if I hate it, I wait till the first guy is out of earshot and then find someone else to take it. Its only decent.

6. Mean the "do you mind" part. Its like some well-rehearsed dialogue and it must appear in some book for sure. "Do you mind taking a picture of me/us?" is how anyone approaches a stranger. Unfortunately the "do you mind" is purely perfunctory and you are already thrusting the camera into reluctant fingers even before you get the confirmation. Be prepared to hear a "yes" for the mind part and move on spiritedly to someone else who doesn't mind. After all the picture shot by someone who truly doesn't mind has got to be better than the one taken by someone who did for the heck of it.

On that note, here's a one-liner for all the people who did mind taking photos of others and didn't say it - SAY IT! We'd rather not approach grouchy people to take shots of us in our happy times. On the other hand.. it is one picture. And we're not robbing you off anything here. And so if you really can take a shot, consider it your good deed of the day and do it in good humour if it permits you to!

Uh, well.. that's all I could think about right now. Is there anything I left out? Add your two pence...

September 14, 2010

Traveling solo..

Doing a PhD often entails solo travel, be it for meetings, conferences or workshops. Worse, sometimes you're left to tour exotic locations all by yourself (especially if your husband can't make it with you). Even otherwise, I have come across a lot of people who aren't squeamish about traveling alone. But here's a common issue. When you travel alone, do you end up with more pictures of the place than of you with some of the sights/sounds out there? This question is along the lines of another discussion we had over a year ago on MindBlogging - if you could ever go to movie/restaurant alone.

To answer the question raised above, I am guessing...YES for a vast majority of people. Either that.. or awkwardly positioned self-shot pictures which end up having your face 3D upfront with vestiges of the monument you wanted to capture in the background. Even while traveling in groups, I've noticed that most people are not comfortable requesting a stranger to take a picture of the entire group. And thats often a combination of one of two reasons - they are afraid that they'd mind in that we're disturbing them or that the picture they end up taking is going to be sub-par. However I believe somethings better than nothing and you could always ask someone else to take a shot if you aren't entirely satisfied by it. Or you could travel alone, use a tripod and not be shy to smile wide at a camera positioned 10 feet away with the timer blinking for 10 seconds with the possibility that some jerk is going to run away with your equipment any second. Ok the last bit is a possibility, even if unlikely. 

So what is the solution? I know some people just don't mind not having enough pictures of them in a location and it matters to them only what they absorbed visually and felt while being there. But then again, I don't belong to the "some people" category. I love having my pictures taken in all the new places I visit with whatever needs to be captured in the picture. And so, I approach random touristy-looking strangers and make exchange offers with them. Their picture for mine? A never-fail barter system. Even if only a handful of shots are up to your own quality-control, at least you have them. And even if a bunch of people turn you down, you don't know them and are probably never going to run into them ever again. And for every person that refuses to take your picture (I am yet to find one), there are 10 or more that will. So the bottom line? Don't blame shyness or your own loneliness for the fact that you didn't get enough pictures to a place you visited (unless you really really didn't mind) and instead, get out there, speak the word or play the charades (if you are language-stricken) and get what you want - a picture of you.

PS: When you give a camera to someone to take your picture, please please let it be a point 'n' shoot. If it's a fancy SLR, unless the person you are giving it has had some experience, you have a guaranteed blur!

September 13, 2010


You know when you're flying and there's a pressure drop in the airplane your ears snap shut? Normally when you forcefully yawn or swallow, you hear a pop and all's well. This time though, thanks to the flu, my ears were already partially blocked. And the plane seemed to wobble more on turbulence than actually fly for a good portion of the flight. Consequently my ears pinched shut. Like entirely. The way it drowns out noise when you put in ear drops. I saw a lot of people around me try to clear their ears and I figured it was normal because there was some major air pressure drop. But to my great panic, my ears kept shutting out every last decibel of sound. And the silence that ensued was louder than anything I'd heard. I couldn't hear S saying something beside me. Nor the baby whose wails had awoken me a few seconds earlier. Rapidly I tried yawning forcefully... swallowing a mouthful of air and trying to direct them out through my ears, gulping water. Nothing worked. I would've started hyperventilating if not for trying the last ditch effort of physically pulling down on my ears. I heard a faint pop on the left one and a gush of sound right after. After a few more minutes of agonizing just as we landed, I got the right one to pop as well. What a relief! That's the beauty about the human body. You hardly ever notice anything when its functioning well. Only when it starts to give you trouble, you give it any attention at all. Much like what we obsess over in life. We obsess over what's going wrong than appreciate everything that went right. Some food for thought, yes?

September 11, 2010

The justifiable hiatus?

First up my sincere apologies to all my readers for the perpetual vanishing act that I seemed to have mastered on this blog, what with the lack of updates. But at least for the last month I have a valid excuse. The whirlwind activity-packed trip to India of course! Of course there were a few sparse updates on MindBlogging that must've clued you in on that. But none further. However we just got back to Paris and I successfully snuck in an unwanted visitor back with me - Mr Flu!

With the flu having a hold on me it's been a disastrous 10-12 days of nose blowing, vapour inhalations, endless tablets, multivitamins, hot teas, samahans, kashayams, coughing, phlegm and all the gross components of the package. And the best part? There's no relief yet. I am indeed posting this blog smelling of a potent mix of Amrutanjan and Axe (potent to me but evidently not to the cold itself). BTW who knew that blowing your nose every few seconds could drain you of so much energy?

Be that as it may, there's so much to do back here in Paris! The PhD isn't going to finish itself, nor are the endless lines of abstracts, reports and experiments. Add to that cooking for yourself after a month's break of eating all the yummies in the world, it's like be transported back to mini-hell. On the other hand, it is Pillayar Chathurthi today! So lets ban all the negativities, look out to the brighter side of the grass, wish for good things and hope for the best for all!

Happy Birthday Ganesha!
IMG_2554aThe Ganesh pooja post-completion. 
IMG_2551a Ganesha up-close.