Monday, May 26, 2008

A short break...

I know I know….I’m lagging behind in my blogging and all you millions (!!) of readers are getting impatient. You will have to forgive me, my friends. One of the most exciting developments of my life have been responsible for this behavior. I have been contracted to write a guide book for expats living in or moving to Noida. My ambition in life, as some of you know, is to write for a living and specifically write on food, travel and lifestyle. Which brings this right up my alley. So chasing a crazy deadline of submitting this in 10 days, all my writing energies are currently being channeled there. I promise not to disappoint you and come back soon. Do not go away…

PS – You too can help actually. I need to interview a few expats (foreign nationals who have moved here on work) living in Noida. If you do know anyone, please let me know urgently. Thanks…

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ambition Quotient ??

There is a very interesting article I read in the Smithsonian Magazine about New Yorkers

Article -

This is how it starts:

"In my experience, many people believe that New Yorkers are smarter than other Americans, and this may actually be true. The majority of people who live in New York City were not born here. Indeed, more than a third were not born in the United States. New Yorkers, then, are people who left another place and came here, looking for something, which suggests that the population is preselected for higher energy and ambition..."

Though a very interesting read and a very entertaining viewpoint, I found one major flaw in this. The author supposes a direct correlation between intellegence and ambition. Which ofcourse brings me into the picture with all my swords drawn out. Intellegence in my opinion (and I am sure it has its basis in my study of psychology) is not correlated with ambition. This is also because ambition is a very subjective field whereas intellegence is objective. My intellegence can easily be measured (IQ) and compared with the likes of Einstein. On the other hand, my ambition is poles apart from that of The Husband. His ambition might be to be the youngest CEO in the media industry while mine is to have a content life with 2 children, a dog running in the garden in the backyard of a townhouse and writing for a couple of hours in the day. Now, who gets the task of measuring our ambition?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Of dates and celebration..

One and a half years…18 months…550 odd days….13,200 hours….7,92,000 minutes etc. etc. (I’m sure you get the drift of it). It’s been that long that I have stepped into this new world of married life. When the husband and I FINALLY decided that we’re not getting any younger (or richer) by staying single, we decided to tie the knot. Don’t get me wrong, its not that I’ve been counting every minute of it. Neither am I that obsessive nor has it been that trying a time!! But as I confessed before, I’m a sucker for celebration and what better excuse than a one and a half year anniversary!

The husband ofcourse is completely baffled at my excitement everytime one of these days pop up (ok ok I’ve stopped celebrating monthly anniversaries at least….and those of my engagement…and when we started dating …blah blah). The yearly one itself puts enough pressure on him to plan a day surpassing all others, so he can quite do without these silly ones!

My logic is simple (somehow my logic is always simple to me). In our daily mundane lives, if 1 day a month (or even in a week) gives us an opportunity to celebrate and do something to make each other happy, why not? I mean, what do we lose?

So am not sure if we will end up doing anything tomorrow to mark the occasion. Office hours and traffic can be quite a dampener. But anyhow, let me just be happy at the prospect of it for the time being…..cheers to us!!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian

I am not going to pretend that I am an authority on the series. Harry Potter- yes….Enid Blyton- perhaps but Narnia – not really! So much so that I haven’t even seen the first movie – The lion, the witch and the wardrobe or more importantly, read any of the books written half a century back. And I feel like kicking myself for the same!

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series written by C.S.Lewis between 1949 and 1954. The first and second have been made into movies already by Walt Disney. The stories revolve around 4 children who magically get transported to a land called Narnia to help Aslan (a lion) fix some wrong-doing. Narnia is a land where animals talk and magic is a way of life.

This movie, the second in the series is about the children and Narnians trying to get back the kingdom to Prince Caspian from the hands of his very evil uncle.

It doesn’t take much to understand why I would have fallen for the movie as soon as I saw it. Mention anything to do with magic and I am your fan for life! But then, its not just that. Prince Caspian, the movie, has taken a great story and presented it in a way that is visually riveting. The locales are breathtaking, the costumes very pretty and each character has been given a certain attitude that is different from the others. Peter is the one who likes to be the undisputed leader and likes to do things alone. The centaurs (which remind me so much of Potter) are full of dignity and honour. Even the little mouse who refuses to be called cute enacts a certain role – one that somehow reminds me of puss in boots in Shrek.

I would recommend this movie to all age groups. It is not a children’s animation flick in my opinion. Ofcourse, the husband tends to disagree and thought it was just ok. But, I reminded him, if the animals were replaced with ugly looking men (a la 300), he would have been much happier!

Rating – 3.5 out of 5

Friday, May 16, 2008

A mess called Nehru Place

Yet another geographically limited blog…but there is a strong need to vent my frustration, so please bear with me. If you are from Delhi or have ever lived here, you will be aware of a very congested office complex called ‘Nehru Place’. This labyrinth of offices and shops is also famous as India’s largest software hub. Don’t believe me? Walk down the lanes here and you will be bugged continuously by vendors selling softwares, computer games and the likes on the pavement itself! But let me not deviate from what I was discussing…however fascinating this talk of roadside softwares is…

The point is that this is also the worst parking area of Delhi. Public Transport in NCR (National Capital Region – the term used for Delhi and its satellite towns like Noida and Gurgaon) has not yet evolved to an extent that it can be a comfortable substitute for owner driven cars. Don’t get me wrong, though I love to drive, spending 3 hours on the road everyday trying to battle with traffic jams is not really my idea of fun! I would give anything to have a comfortable alternative that would put me in office on time. And its not that the government is doing nothing about it…the metro which is still under construction in some areas like mine is the perfect answer to our woes. Clean, air conditioned and dream come true!

But till that happens (and my guess is another year to go), I am at the mercy of the parking lots of Nehru place. Let me paint a picture for you…a lot that should ideally park 20 cars is used to stuff in 40-50 cars. Cars are parked on top of pavements and at a distance of literally 5 inches from each other. Thus, if you want to take your car out in the middle of the day, they will have to move 10 odd cars and take 20-30 minutes to do so. Also, if you are one of the unfortunate ones who did not park at the back row, you will have to leave the keys with the attendants and god help you! These guys obviously have absolutely no idea how to treat a car and screech their way across the 6 foot of driving space that they get. And the cherry on the cake? For this wonderful service, I have to pay three times the legally allowed amount. Their boards clearly state that the government has allowed them to charge Rs.10 per car per day. I am bulldozed into paying thrice that amount everyday.

So net result, how has this affected my life? I go to office half an hour earlier to try to get the back row so that I don’t need to leave my keys. I then have to beg the attendant to let me park my car as they like to only get luxury sedans parked in their lots (and my humble Hyundai Santro doesn’t fit the bill). I also spend half an hour extra in the evening trying to weave my car out of this mess…and I leave making him richer by Rs.30.

Where does this leave me? Very frustrated to say the least. What is it that you said? Go to the police? The cop on duty is usually sitting right next to my attendant having tea, so you can imagine the response I will get. My plan of action? It is to meekly bow to their arrogant demands and pray very hard that the metro starts service in my area soon!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Revival of scrabble

I’m hooked…it’s an addiction and I am not ashamed to admit it! Wait wait…before you go running to get help, let me clarify. I am only talking about the Scrabulous game on Facebook. And without trying to act like a salesperson, I must urge you to play it if you haven’t yet tried it out. Its fast, its fun and its challenging. I started out playing (or trying to) with my friends but that didn’t work out as we were rarely online at the same time and I still have a game open that I started 10 days back!! Then I tried out this cool feature of ‘Join a table’ or ‘Host a table’. You can play with anyone online even if you don’t know each other. Most people mention how much time they have and how fast they would like the game to progress, which is a HUGE help when it comes to selecting the person you want to play with.

There are downsides ofcourse. My friend told me that some shady guy tried to chat up with her while playing. Also, most people end up cheating and use word finder softwares to make words you have NEVER heard of (and I have quite a good vocabulary if I say so myself). So you may feel a little shortchanged when someone makes a word like Mulattos (???) and earn some 75 points for it!!!

But then, all’s fair in a game as they say…go online my friend and sign up…if you are not afraid of being challenged by me that is!!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bonus points for Kadhai Paneer!

So I finally did the unthinkable! I cooked a full fledged Indian meal last night for dinner. Don’t get me's not that I don’t like to cook...on the contrary, I love to cook. I have hosted many parties and been at the receiving end of many a complements (on a very non-humble note)….but I keep myself far far away from Indian cooking if possible. See, living in India, we have the advantage of having domestic help who make our lives so much simpler (and they say life in India is tough!!). So, I never deny my cook the pleasure of cooking our daily meals. I like to experiment with my food…toss in a little bit of this and stir in a little bit of that, a theory that works best with Italian food. Indian food is more labour intensive – chop so many vegetables, cook the masala for ages etc.

But Mothers day also comes once a year and yours truly decided to cook dinner in honor of my mother in law. Ofcourse it goes without saying that the hours of toil in the kitchen heat paid off with all the bowls licked clean! Toss in some extra points for the gesture and you have a successful evening!

So, benevolent mood that I am in, let me share with you my version of Kadhai Paneer.

Kadhai Paneer (Spicy Cottage Cheese)
Serves: 4
Time taken: 30 mins.

Onions – 1 ½ (chopped)
Tomatoes - 3 large (chopped)
Capsicum/ Green bell-peppers – 1 (sliced thinly)
Ginger Garlic paste – 2 tsp
Turmeric Pwd – 1 tsp
Cardamom Pwd (Elaichi) – 1 tsp
Red chilly Pwd – ½ tsp
Black pepper Pwd – ½ tsp
Cottage Cheese (Paneer) – 250 grams (diced)
Curd – 2-3 tbsp
Cornflour – 1 tbsp
Kasturi Methi (dried fenugreek leaves) - 1 tsp (roasted and crumbled)
Salt to taste

1)Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok and add ginger garlic paste and onions. Fry till onions are golden brown
2)Add tomatoes and all the spices. Cook till oil leaves the masala (7-8 mins)
3)Add capsicum and cover on simmer for 4 mins. If it starts drying, add a little water.
4)Add salt, turmeric powder, cottage cheese cubes and kasturi methi. Mix and cook for another 2 mins.
5)Add the beaten curd mixed with cornflour and 2-3 tbsp water and simmer for a minute. Serve hot with Indian Chapatis or bread.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Goan food in Ahmedabad?!

While we are on the topic on Ahmedabad, let me share with you the one hidden secret of the city. Given ofcourse, that you are non-vegetarian (somehow most of my food articles will have have this disclaimer - apologies!!). Gujratis largely being a strictly vegetarian community, the number of restaurants that serve non-vegetarian food is not very high. The old city across the Sabarmati ofcourse boasts of galis where you will find great kebabs but that is largely due to the predominant muslim population in that area.

Being who I am - completely inspired by my ex-boss who would vow to eat only things that 'live or have ever lived', this ofcourse posed a huge problem for me. Thus began my exploration of the city and by the time I was done with it, I had found places that could give Delhi's best joints a run for their money! One such find was a little place called 'La Bella'. I call it a 'little place' because frankly thats all there was to it! Just off one of the bridges (I really cant remember which one though) connecting the old city to Ashram Road, it was set in a side alley that you wouldn't pass unless you intended to be there for a reason. 2 tiny rooms and 5 rickety tables is all that you could find. Run by an old Goan couple, aunty would be in the kitchen cooking while uncle helped to serve. One would typically walk into the kitchen and ask them what they could serve today. You would end up getting Rice with Chicken Curry, Pork Chilly Fry or Fish Fry. Ask for a menu and they would look at you as if you were an alien, ask for prices and you would probably be asked to leave! And for good reason....a meal for 2 would not cost more than Rs.100 ($2.5), so why bother with the exact price of each item!!! I know you are still staring at the figure I mentioned but its true! Incredibly cheap yet clean and serving fingerlicking food, this place was a hidden gem. And who frequented it? You would only find students from NID, CEPT, IIM, IHM and the odd one like me and my room-mate who heard of it through friends of friends...

The last time I went there, in 2004 I think, the shutters were down and it looked like they had shut shop. For the sake of foodies like me roaming the streets of Ahmedabad trying to find good meat, I hope it is not so. So if by any chance you happen to be in Ahmedabad, do look it up and let me me, you wont regret the effort!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dance, music and a little joy..

There is something about Garbha that just mesmerizes...I’m not sure if it is the dance beats or the crowds or just the sheer enthusiasm of the festival, but it sure is contagious. Let me not be too presumptuous and share the concept with you. Navratre is a 9 day Hindu festival celebrated in India. This festival comes twice a year and it is the one in Oct- Nov which is accompanied by the famous Garbha festivities. During the 9 days of Navratra, people dance the Garbha Dance. It symbolizes the Dance of Creation and the Creation of the Universe. The word 'Garhba' means the ‘womb’ and symbolizes the 'Dance of Creation'.

Why I am writing about this festival has nothing to do with religion or religious motivation. On the contrary, it is the joy of the festival that draws crowds every year. Based in Ahmedabad for 5 years, I too became a fan. My observations are particular to Ahmedabad and can probably be generalized to all of Gujarat but not to the rest of India. Garbha is so ingrained in the Gujarati culture that professors at colleges allow children to miss classes because they danced all night. The excitement of the festival starts a month or 2 in advance. Everyone – girls, women, men, children…I mean everyone, starts deciding what they are going to wear. The event being across 9 days, most people go dancing on 3-4 days of these and the last 2 are the most popular. People take out their shining outfits from last year and often give in to the temptation of going to the local market (called ‘Law Market’ for some strange reason) and buying the latest designs. The otherwise conservative Gujarati women go all out and buy backless/ halter neck cholis (blouses) teamed with beautiful flowing skirts in bright colors adorned with mirrors. Once the wardrobe is all set, new comers like me suddenly realize that we don’t know the steps at all…so we will end up dressing like dolls and standing in the corner. Then starts the flurry of dance classes with everyone trying to learn a twirl or 2. By the time the day finally arrives, everyone is all set to party!

Finally the day arrives and there is a list of places to choose from. Over the years, a few clubs have gained popularity and are THE places to be seen at. SOI, Karnavati Club and Rajpath Club top the list and tickets can be purchased at the premises. Then there are the ‘cool’ versions strictly by invitation only at ‘NID’ and ‘CEPT’. The norm is to have a huge group of people to go with, usually friends either come together or decide to meet up at the place.

And then the festivities begin!! The music is usually songs created specially for Garbha and have thankfully not yet customized themselves to Bollywood music. Mostly instrumental, there are few songs that have lyrics as well. The dance floor is a huge field divided into concentric circles. One can decide which circle you want to dance in. You will notice groups of people dancing perfectly choreographed steps as well as individuals just dancing alone for the joy of it. And that is the one cool thing about this dance. No matter how many people you come with, once you start dancing, you are part of the community. You dance in a big circle next to people whom you have never met. And more often than not, they will be more than ready to show you how to perfect that step that you just can’t manage!

If I were to make a list of things that I love about Ahmedabad, this would surely fight for the top spot. The pseudo garbha parties in Delhi and the likes are no match for the real thing. And I declare openly….I am a convert!!!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My IPL moment

OK, you will have to forgive me....I am still a little dazed...after all being in the company of Glenn McGrath, AB De Villers and the likes, I am allowed to be so!

So here I am working quietly on my desk at work and suddenly there is a huge commotion outside. And in troop half the team Delhi Daredevils! For the uninitiated, I am refering to the Delhi team of the much crazed IPL (Indian Premier League) and for the very uninitiated, I am talking about cricketers.

Manoj Tiwary looks a little uneasy with all the attention he is getting and Asif seems to be getting used to it....but the man himself....Glenn McGrath or Pidge like he calls himself, takes it all in his stride and smiles away for the cameras. Crowds in the already packed Nehru Place area are on the verge of a has a tough time to keep it all under control....and then there is the photo op. A senior official shouts above the din 'Brand team, why dont you come up for a photograph'. The rest happens so fast that I can barely remember...but it involves a lot of flashes and McGrath sitting right next to me.

So cant really complain...Tuesday afternoon did not turn out so bad after all...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Italian or Indian Italian??

In response to a recent question I posted on Linkedin, I was asked for my blog’s URL. Usually quite eager to share my blog, I was suddenly a little wary as I realized that I have started blogging about content that is either very region specific (restaurant reviews, Indian actresses etc.) or too specific to me as a person.

Thus, I will consciously try to broaden my scope and make my articles more relevant to you wherever you are in this world, regardless of nationality or borders. And the easiest way to initiate this is through food. Food is a category that traverses across people and does not demand prior knowledge to be understood.

One of my favorite passtimes is to be let loose in the kitchen. I love cooking! Not the regular everyday kind of ‘I have to eat thus I must cook’ cooking (thankfully for that, we have a cook) but the kinds where I can experiment and try out new dishes. I also tend to be quite possessive about my turf. No one is allowed to enter the kitchen when I am are most welcome to lay the table or serve the food…but that’s where it ends! And amongst all the cuisines that I have tasted (and India being the new age economy it is, that accounts for most popular cuisines from around the world), my all time favorite is Italian. Ask anyone who knows me what my favorite food is and you will only get one answer – Pasta!! Having grown up on ‘Indian’ style pasta, I would not have imagined it any other way. But I eventually realized that I don’t really like original pasta. Some friends from Europe once tossed a bowl of penne with olive oil, oregano and olives and served it on the table. That must have been the one time in my life, I did not finish the entire bowl (or the lot on my plate for that matter).

So here goes the difference. From what I understand – please correct me if I am wrong – most pastas you get outside of India and especially in Europe, are comparatively quite dry. Indian pastas tend to have lots of sauce (be it a white wine sauce or even a bolognaise sauce…there is tons of it). Thus in an Indian restaurant, if you serve a dish like the one I mentioned, without any sauce on top of it, it will either be mistaken for salad or will be ignored.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I can quite assure you that our versions are delectable and if given a chance, may spread like wild fire across the globe. So if you are game, here is a recipe of a basic tomato sauce pasta I like making. It is midway between the saucy and the dry types thus may help your transition!! Try it out – it never fails me.

Tomato Cheese Pasta
Preparation Time – 20 mins
Meal for 2 (Main dish)

3 Tomatoes (chopped roughly)
3 Onions (chopped)
3 Capsicums (diced)
Bowl of boiled pasta (fusilli and penne work best)
Salt/ Pepper to taste
Cheese (50gms)
Tomato Ketchup (2-3 tablespoons)
Oil (2 tablespoons)

1)Heat oil in a wok (kadhai). Add tomatoes, onions and capsicum together and cook for around 4-5 minutes.
2)When the sauce starts looking a little cooked and the tomatoes are not standing out, add salt/ pepper, tomato ketchup and grated cheese.
3)Stir the mixture and make sure it doesn’t burn at the bottom. If it gets a little dry, add some milk.
4)Add the cooked pasta and mix gently, do not squish it into a pulp.
5)Cover and cook for 2 minutes.
6)Serve hot with Garlic bread and boiled vegetables.

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