Saturday, January 24, 2015

The growling hunger pangs

I'm a stickler for timings when it comes to my meals. I prefer to eat on time (mostly!). If someone takes up my time while my stomach is growling, I get extremely irritated. The Sneakers ad must have been based on my reactions, I suppose. Due to a certain miscommunication, I had to wait at my daughter's pediatrician clinic today for nearly an hour during lunch time. My temper was at its peak and D was her "naughtiest" self during the wait time. Though I ensured she ate her lunch, it didn't occur to me that I should have atleast grabbed a banana before stepping out. Thankfully, I kept my temper under control and it wasn't lashed out on anyone close (*hubby* dear!).

While eating my lunch at 3 PM today, I couldn't help but remember one of my ex-bosses who had this habit of scheduling meetings between 12 and 2 PM. He is one of the best bosses, mind you. But I didn't have the guts to tell him that the timings weren't working for me. Those were the days when eating healthy wasn't one of my priorities. After the meeting, I would rush to the nearest Darshini and gobble up rawa idlis or a South Indian thali.

Last week, I had a customer meeting at 2 PM. I happily ate an early lunch at home and reached on time. My colleague who traveled from a different city with back-to-back meetings came rushing for this meeting. I asked him "Did you have lunch?". He replied "No, I haven't had my breakfast too. Just ate a few biscuits". I was shocked and saddened. Felt a little guilty too, thinking I should have brought something.

People who are in business development or sales had to travel so much that their eating habits go for a toss. 1 or 2 days is somewhat okay but regularly skipping meals or eating very late is unhealthy and can cause serious health issues like acidity, heart burn, ulcer etc.

It's the responsibility of the individual as well as the organization to ensure *eating on time* is given a priority. There is no point in having fancy cafeterias, exotic menus and salad counters, unless the employee gets enough time to sit down and eat.

Been a while since I ranted anything in my blog. Purpose achieved :-) Do share if you have been in similar situations. Does your hunger bring out the best or worst in you?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Book Review: Delivering Happiness

I'm starting off 2015 reading list with this interesting book on organization culture and customer service - "Delivering Happiness". When we talk about best work culture, there are few firms that come to our mind instantly - Google, Hubspot, Buffer and the pioneer of them all, Zappos. This book is a first-person account of how Tony Hsieh grew Zappos from ground-up, the challenges faced and the foundations laid towards the best customer service and inspiring work culture.

There are multiple lessons for people building startups as well as for those who are looking to focus on customer experience/service as their core strategy. What I really like about in this book is that it doesn't jump into the HOWs of customer service. Rather, Tony has taken the time to talk about his entrepreneurship journey and the lessons learned along the way since childhood. It gives the reader good insights into the thought process of WHYs of customer service and organization culture.  His adventures into various ways of earning money during childhood days provide some interesting and fun moments in the initial few chapters.

The tough calls Tony and his team had to make in the initial years of Zappos, the downturn, pivoting towards warehousing instead of drop-shipping, convincing vendors towards the e-commerce model, taking control of running the warehouse instead of outsourcing to a third-party - there were multiple take-aways in these chapters for anyone in the e-commerce business.

Great customer service and providing a high quality customer experience eventually became their larger vision and a greater purpose. Some of the ways by which they managed to accomplish this goal are running a 24/7 warehouse, surprise shipping upgrades, no-script call procedures where the reps are empowered to use their best judgment etc.

As they embarked on this journey, they also realized that having a strong organization culture is a powerful trigger to provide a superior customer service. They invested efforts towards creating a "Culture book" with inputs from employees and vendors. Culture was formally defined by means of 10 core values. I loved the way the author has taken time to elaborate each core value through examples and case studies.

He had also shared an interesting anecdote around how he improved his public speaking skills. He has shared 3 rules for delivering a great speech:
1. Be passionate
2. Tell personal stories
3. Be real

Towards the end, the chapter on happiness and various frameworks around the factors that contribute to happiness are insightful. I plan to spend some time learning these frameworks in depth, as these are very relevant for both individual and organization purpose. 

Some of the quotes from the book that I loved
"Envision, create and believe in your own universe"

"Never outsource your core competency"

"Telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer's undivided attention for 5-10 minutes and if you get the interaction right, the customer remembers the experience for a very long time"

"Your culture is your brand"

"For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny"
My most favorite of them all
"If you just focus on making sure that your product or service continually WOWs people, eventually the press will find out about it. You don't need to put a lot of effort into reaching out to the press if your company naturally creates interesting stories as a by-product of delivering a great product or experience"

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in review

Coughs and sneezes
pepper rasam and kichdi
Calpol and cough syrup
honey and turmeric milk
messed up sleep and rest

The story of my last few days of 2014, with D falling sick. Before the recency effect takes over and paints a gloomy picture, I felt it's time for me to look back at some of the best moments of this year. I began this year by writing about "small wins" and it was indeed a year of multiple small wins that I collected on the way.

One of the goals I had set for myself was to venture into baking. My new microwave convection oven followed by 3 useful baking classes from LG paved the way to get a head start. Cakes, cookies, muffins and breads were baked multiple times, with different recipes and varied results. Whoever spoke about the joy of baking is indeed true. This is one hobby I look forward to invest more time in 2015, albeit in a healthy way by reducing plain flour, sugar and butter.

Talking about healthy ways of cooking, I also invested in learning the art of salad making from Nandita Iyer early this year. I wasn't too fond of salads/raw veggies earlier but now I consciously make modifications to my diet to incorporate them on a regular basis. I have also started including millets into my meals often, in place of rice/wheat.

Apart from focusing on food, I have also managed to get back into exercise much more frequently than before. The last couple of months have been a struggle though (blame it on the cold weather!) but overall, the number of days I exercised in 2014 is significantly greater than 2013 :-) Hubby dear is a big motivation in bringing about this change. Seeing him exercise everyday diligently has pushed me to a great extent.

In my 2013 review, I had stated that I want to focus more on improving my overall health. I'm glad that I have taken the necessary steps towards this direction in 2014.

The other aspect that I wanted to improve in 2014 was to incorporate reading as a regular habit. Thanks to a conscious decision of shutting down TV, I was able to grab more time in the evenings towards this habit. Yes, I have stopped watching TV since May and I can't believe how much precious time got unearthed !! Here's the list of books from my 2014 reading list.

Finished reading:
The secret letters by Robin Sharma
Hooked by Nir Eyal
Don't lose out, work out by Rujuta Diwekar
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Eat, Delete by Pooja Makhija
The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann
The art of procrastination by John Perry
Playing it my way by Sachin Tendulkar
God's own country by James Joseph
Aaraam thinai Part I by Dr.K.Sivaraman
Aaraam thinai Part II by Dr.K.Sivaraman
Ezhaam suvai by Dr.K.Sivaraman

Half-way through:
Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez
Delivering happiness by Tony Hsieh
Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman
Influence by Robert Cialdini

Apart from reading, I also focused on getting back to writing this year. Managed to write 17 posts in my personal blog and 25 posts in my work-related blog. Better than previous few years but want to keep at it more.

The last time I spoke at a public event was in 2011 at IIMB for a guest lecture on "Consumer Decision Making". Early this year, I set a target to speak in atleast one public forum. I stumbled upon "Product Camp" event by chance and added a topic "Influence of consumer motivations and behaviors on product usage". The speakers are decided by public voting and thankfully, my topic was voted the 2nd in the list. I invested significant amount of time in preparations - from structure, content, presentation layout and rehearsals before the event. The session went well and it was a great experience to speak in front of an audience after a gap of 3 years.

Motherhood and remote working can make a mom feel isolated and lonely unless she takes conscious steps towards her social life. I didn't take much effort in the previous years but in 2014, I managed to meet up with ex-colleagues from work, friends from school and college with whom I had lost touch and now reconnected, new friends with similar as well as varied interests. The efforts I have taken are still minuscule and I need to get out more often and connect with more people in real life.

One of the mini-adventures I undertook this year was to watch a movie by myself in a cinema theater. Yep, I have never done this before in my life. Swimming lessons is yet another scary adventure that I tried again this year. But dropped out after 5 classes this time (hey, it's better than 3 classes of 2009) :-( When I rejoin next year, I wouldn't be surprised if the instructor says "Oh, no! not you again". I also tried my hand at violin for a few classes but couldn't continue as I was getting severe back-aches and the timings weren't working out as well.

On the professional front, I took the independent consultant route for 6 months when I had limited bandwidth. The closer I have come to entrepreneurship so far, if I may say so. Recently, I joined MindTickle, the same startup that I consulted with, on a full time basis. It's early days in a new role, given that I have decided to take up product marketing which is a relatively new area for me. There is a lot to learn, experiment and engage in depth. I do see significant intersection between product management and product marketing and should be able to leverage my previous experiences. Hoping to learn and assimilate new ideas, make a significant impact in my role and share key take-aways/insights in my blog.

As a family, we decided that we want to take our daughter D to new places this year. "Enough of mall hopping and get started with park hopping" was our motto. We took D to various parks in Bangalore during the weekend evenings. She enjoyed playing in the play-areas while we enjoyed the fresh air. We also did picnics at Cubbon Park a couple of times and D has understood that picnic translates to us carrying lemon rice for lunch :-)

Outside Bangalore, we did a 4 day trip to Ooty and a weekend trip to Mysore and Melkote. We also did a couple of day trips - to Ghati Subramanya temple and Mekadatu. It's been 12 years since we shifted to Bangalore and we finally took the time this year to visit the Bull temple and Dodda Ganesha temple in Basavangudi. Exploring the traditional parts of the city is there in our agenda next year.

One of my friends shared with me this amazing quote on parenting -
"what you ARE speaks so loud that the kids cannot hear what you SAY". 
Healthy eating, regular exercise, working hard, connecting with people, respect towards others, caring for the environment etc - I want to set an example for my daughter in these various areas through my actions. The key realization for me in 2014 is to live a conscious life and be aware and mindful of what I do and how I spend my resources - time, energy, money and more importantly, thoughts.

Here's wishing you a very happy and meaningful new year. May your dreams, wishes, hopes and aspirations come true! Lead a conscious life!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Incorporating millets into your meals

As 2014 draws to a close, I want to write about an important change I made this year. Being a South Indian, rice has always been a staple food on my plate for years on a daily basis. Though I used to take wheat in the form of chapatis or bread, the proportion is less as compared to rice. Having been aware of the fact that excess consumption of white, unpolished rice (which is a high glycemic index food) potentially leads to diabetes, I was looking for healthier alternatives. I tried broken wheat as a direct substitute for rice but somehow I didn't like it (though it turns out yummy in the form of a kichdi).

I stumbled upon millets and their health benefits through this blog. I also read in another article that millets used to be the regular food (rice reserved only for special occasions and festivals) during our great grandparents days.

There were 3 challenges that I had to surmount in order to make millets a regular feature on my plate:
1. Sourcing them
2. Learning how to cook and what to cook
3. Liking the taste

After a year, I'm glad I have managed to tackle all of them. I'm sharing my experiences below, which would be useful for someone planning to venture into millets. Take this as a Millets-101 course, if you will :-)

Please do keep in mind that anything in moderation is the key. Don't switch completely from rice/wheat to millets. Ensure you mix them up in a week. I have been consuming millets 3-4 times in a week, along with rice / wheat / beaten rice on other days. If you have thyroid issues, do check with your doctor before starting millets.

There are multiple varieties of millets available, the popular ones listed below:

  1. Foxtail millet (thinai in Tamil)
  2. Kodo millet (varagu)
  3. Barnyard millet (kudiraivali)
  4. Little millet (saamai)
  5. Finger millet (kezhvaragu or ragi)
  6. Pearl millet (kambu or bajra)
  7. Proso millet (panivaragu)

Each variety has different proportions of proteins, iron, calcium and other minerals. They are high in fibre too (which makes them a low glycemic index food). I usually stock 500 gms of each variety and prepare them in rotation, so I get all the individual benefits.

Millets have become quite common in Chennai and I have been able to procure them from rice mandis and organic stores. In Bangalore, you can easily get finger millet and pearl millet from any provisions store. You can also check out organic stores or visit one of the Green Bazaar events.

You can also order online from Dhanyam organic store. Town Essentials has foxtail millet and finger millet.

I usually make one of the first 4 millet varieties listed above in place of rice for lunch. Cooking them is simple. Take 1/2 cup of the millets, rinse well. Keep them in a bowl with 1 cup of water. Cook in a pressure cooker for 3-4 whistles. 1:2 is the ratio I follow and it comes out well. It can be mixed with sambhar, kuzhambu, dal fry, rasam or curd.

You can also make breakfast/dinner dishes like idli, dosa, oothappam, pongal or adai with millets. Payasams / sweet pongal dishes turn out yummy too.

This is the proportion I follow for idli / dosa:
4 cups of one specific millet
1 cup of urad dal
1 tsp of methi seeds

Soak urad dal and methi seeds together for 4 hours.
Soak millets separately for 4 hours.
Grind urad dal + methi seeds together into a thick batter. Then grind millets coarsely.
Mix both these batters together.
Add salt and leave it to ferment for 8-10 hours.

You can also try with 2 cups of millets + 2 cups of idli rice instead of 4 cups of millets. The dosa made with this proportion comes out well and there is absolutely no taste difference when compared to regular rice dosa.

Thanks to many food bloggers, you can find many millets based recipes when you google it (also check in youtube).

Finger millet or ragi is an excellent source of calcium. I usually add a few tsp of ragi flour while making chapatis or mix the flour in dosa batter. The same technique can be tried with pearl millet flour too.

You can also make a healthy, wholesome ragi porridge for breakfast.

4 tsp of ragi flour (if you can make/get sprouted ragi flour, even better)
1 tsp of jaggery
1 cup of water
chopped almonds and walnuts.

Take ragi flour in a pan. Lightly dry roast in medium flame till nice aroma comes (in 3-4 min).

Add water and whisk well. Let it boil. Once it thickens, switch off. Add a tsp of either palm jaggery or regular jaggery, warm milk and mix to your required consistency. Garnish with chopped almonds and walnuts.

I find very little difference in taste when it comes to idli/dosa made with millets. As for substituting them for rice, you start to get comfortable after a few times. So keep trying!

I have noticed that my weight is in control and I feel light after a millets based meal. It doesn't give you the "full" or bloated feeling. You also tend to eat less quantity as compared to white rice.

Start off 2015 with a commitment towards your health, by including millets and other grains in your plate.

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. Happy to help!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book review - Aaraam Thinai by Dr.G.Sivaraman

Thanks to a FB post shared by a friend, I came across this inspiring talk on the importance of eating local foods. The speaker Dr. G. Sivaraman who is a Siddha doctor spoke with passion and conviction. Many of his talking points resonated with me and thanks to Google, I researched more about him and his work. I stumbled upon his book "aaraam thinai" during this research. Apparently, he had written a series of articles in Ananda Vikatan tamil magazine, which has been compiled into 2 books.

During my recent trip to Chennai, one of the top items on my agenda was to purchase these books. The book shop near my home had only the first volume which I bought instantly, came home and started reading one evening. Little did I know I would get so hooked onto this book, that I ended up finishing it in a day. Each article is filled with profound insights on traditional food practices which we have forgotten or lost track completely in the era of modernization and globalization. 

After finishing the book, the first thought that came to my mind was "Wish this book had a English translation. The material is so relevant to anyone in India that it has to be shared irrespective of language".

The author has shared numerous insights on the nutritious benefits of small grains (millets) and unpolished rice varieties. He has shared a few recipes too. I have started to include millets regularly in my meals since the beginning of this year. I'll write a separate post on that soon.

Excess use of plastic, processed and packaged foods and shifting away from local foods are the main causes of increasing lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cancer. We have to consciously incorporate local seasonal vegetables, Indian spices, green leafy vegetables, unpolished grains and pulses etc.

Apart from food practices, the author also talks a lot about how different forms of pollution is affecting our health and has also resulted in severe environmental issues. A definite eye-opener!

I plan to read it again and implement the principles/ideas suggested in my life. Hope to share my experiences regularly through this blog. I also managed to search around and get the second volume. They are available in amazon too.

If you can read Tamil, do yourself a favor and buy these books. You will not regret it. It's high time we understand our roots and don't let multinational corporations dictate our daily meal plans.