Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review - There's something about you by Yashodhara Lal

It has been a while since I read fiction. I love fiction novels which have a light-hearted but gripping story plot with funny and witty one-liners. And it makes it even better when there is a female protagonist with a regular girl-next-door image. Yashodhara Lal's new book "There's something about you" scores on all these parameters. I haven't read her earlier books, so I'm not sure about her writing style.

Though the book is marketed as "the romance novel of the year", I would categorize it as a novel based on relationships - relationships with parents, with friends, with colleagues, with others in the society and most importantly, with oneself. The story plot deals with every such relationships, the complexities, the told and the un-told feelings. At a few places, it makes you want to pause and think about your own relationships in contrast with the protagonist Trish's relationships.

Trish is a bundle of different characters etched together - cynical but caring, low on self-esteem but dares to venture into the unknown. She is someone who you can easily relate to. I wouldn't want to reveal more on the story as I fear I might end up spoiling the experience.

At times, though you can predict the storyline, it doesn't hamper the flow, thanks to interesting dialogues and the choice of right words. For example, Trish's responses as Amy are too good, that one wishes to read more such letters. The predicament that she goes through while responding to a serious letter is well thought out. We face such moral dilemmas often and can empathize with Trish and her feelings.

I also loved how the author has interlaced the principle of being in "FLOW' to identify one's purpose, which Trish discovers it towards the end. I have been doing the Coursera course on happiness and the same principle is elaborated in detail in Week 2 material.
"…I think I've finally just hit the sweet spot with my work. I'm doing something I enjoy, pays me a decent amount, is good for me and gets to spread happiness and help other people too! So it energizes me more than it takes it out of me. It's like I'm in some sort of flow"
Perfect for a relaxed weekend afternoon read, "There's something about you" would make you want to pause and think about what's unique about yourself.  Loved it and now I'm planning to check out the author's earlier books.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

Friday, July 03, 2015

The comeback

steel plates and glass bottles
cloth bags cottony crisp

tender greens and herbs
plucked from the window sill

fresh hot breakfast from the kitchen
prepared with care and love

a walk to the vegetable shop
fresh veggies in a jute bag

conversations with real people
face-to-face in no hurry

the clock takes its own sweet time
to cross the hours and days

lifestyle simple unhurried
moments to pause and reflect

neighborhood well known
and in perfect harmony

sharing and interacting
caring and giving

every living being
our closely knit family

respect and love
natural state of mind

Ruminating on the simple and beautiful lifestyle of 80s. Wishing this makes a comeback in general while I take conscious steps towards such a lifestyle for myself and my family.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Afternoon moments

It was a cloudy afternoon, with swishing winds and a brief drizzle. I was hoping my 3.5 year old daughter would take her afternoon nap but as always, she had other plans - asking "I want to eat something" for atleast 10 times (though she had a late lunch), telling me "don't be so tired, amma" when I tried to act sleepy and finally declaring "I don't want to sleep" in a strict tone. Around the same time when the negotiations were happening between us, our two visiting cats (they adopted us) were peacefully napping in opposite corners of the house.   It felt so peaceful, to just take a few seconds to observe and admire them. Unperturbed by the noises of a toddler, without any worries or concerns, they were at peace - stretching and cuddling with their paws and taking a perfect siesta.

I'm grateful to have experienced more such peaceful afternoons with them in the last 4 years - bright sunshine gently peeking into my living room, quiet moments with no traffic noise whatsoever (though the main road is just 100 mtrs away), gentle breeze, cloudy and rainy days that give me enough reason to grab an extra cup of chai, cool and pleasant weather that inspires me to switch on the oven and bake a quick tea-time cake and many more. Taking a break for a couple of years and later choosing to work from home has helped me grab these precious afternoon moments. Moments that have made me realize and appreciate the importance of slowing down.

Life is lived in these tiny present moments, not in the distant past or foreseeable future. Just pause and absorb these moments, for it would sure give you inspirations in various areas of your life.

Which parts of the day inspire you the most - quiet mornings, peaceful afternoons or reflective evenings?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book review - India on a Platter by Chef Saransh Goila

With the food habits of urban, young Indians having turned into a sad state like this - "readymade cereal for breakfast, subway sandwich for lunch and burger/pizza for dinner", this book comes as a wake-up call to all of us to appreciate the vast number of cuisines of India. I have watched many of his TV shows in FoodFood channel and I have found Chef Saransh to be a simple, down-to-earth person - be it his recipes or his friendly demeanor.

His book "India on a platter" takes the reader on a journey to the depths and breadths of India, exploring different states, cultures, traditions and most importantly, the cuisines. The book takes you on a journey to Ladakh, Jaipur, Kutch, Goa, Munnar, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Guwahati and many more. More than just a breezy travelogue, the book also dwells into the intricacies and differences in food habits, preparation methods, spices and cooking practices of these cuisines.

The thought of such a dream journey to travel across the country and learn about food from people local to each region is amazing. But executing it for 100 days and writing about the experiences in detail is a challenging effort. For someone like me who's born and brought up in the South, I got a good exposure to many of the cuisines of North, West and East, thanks to this book. Planning to read up more and check out some recipes on Mewari, Awadhi and Kutchi cuisine soon.

Many of our food-related habits and best practices are undocumented clearly and I'm glad this book has taken some steps towards this direction. Not only in terms of food, the book also captures glimpses into the lifestyle practices of the various towns and villages. Seriously, we the city-dwellers have a lot to learn about life and simple living from them.

Apart from a sneak peek into the cuisines and cultures, the chef has also detailed out 50 recipes to try out. For someone like me who loves to cook, there's now enough reasons to revisit the book again and again to try these recipes. I only wish there was an "Index" of all these recipes. Maybe, a few pictures of these recipes would have also helped. I would have also loved it if there was a Map with the route sketched that plots all the places visited.

My only regret about this book is that Saransh didn't include my state Tamilnadu in this whole journey. If he had explored, the book would have covered a little more about the vast Tamil cuisine other than the popular idli, dosa and sambhar. (He did take a trip to Pondicherry though).

Well, as he rightly said in the book, "It might take more than a lifetime to experience and explore our very own brand 'India' ".

If you love to travel and eat, then I highly recommend this book. Lots of interesting anecdotes, history and insights that will kindle your interest to explore more on Indian food and cuisines.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

Monday, June 15, 2015

How I'm taking a DIY approach in my kitchen

“We have so much, too much, that we can buy, yet the basic labor of doing, the making with our own hands, is what enlivens us and makes us feel human." - Dan Lepard
I came across this quote in one of the food blogs and it inspired me to write this post.

Ever since I started to consciously incorporate healthy eating as a habit, I have been focusing on eliminating various processed/packaged foods from my shopping trips and ensuring I address most of my cooking requirements from scratch. Over the years, this do-it-yourself (DIY) practice has become a habit now and it doesn't take too much of my time as I had initially thought.  Little bit of planning is all that is needed.

(1) Pasta sauce
I just counted the number of readymade pasta sauce bottles I had purchased over a period of 2 years. There are 14 of them, each used to cost around Rs.350 and a bottle would last for 2 weeknight pasta dinners. Apart from the cost factor, the taste feels artificial. You can't expect more from something that is imported and has a 2 year expiry date, right? Nevertheless, these glass bottles are now helping me towards a plastic-free pantry :-)

When I make pasta sauce from scratch, I can never get the dark red color even though I use ripe red tomatoes. I'm sure the packaged sauce has some form of artificial coloring added to it.

I prepare the pasta sauce, just before making my pasta. It hardly takes me 30 minutes to make fresh sauce and add freshly boiled pasta directly to the hot sauce. Tastes yummy, I can guarantee you.

(2) Curd/Yoghurt
Our weekly grocery store visit used to end up with 4-5 Nestle dahi cups. I remember a 400 ml cup used to cost around Rs.16 in 2005. And the rates have now gone up to Rs.55 per cup. The thick and tasty curd kept us hooked onto it for many years and we didn't feel the pinch of rising costs. Since last year, we decided to cut down on luxury expenses. The monthly expense on curd was going up (Being a South Indian, our meals always end with curd rice!). I started to buy an extra pack of Nandini milk and prepare curd every night. The home-made curd doesn't come out as thick as the store-bought one, but tastes much better. All of us at home have now got used to home-made curd, which used to be the norm when I was a kid.

(3) Idli/dosa batter
Every South Indian household would stock up on Idli/dosa batter in the fridge. For some reason, I have never been able to like the taste of store-bought batters. Either the idlis turn out hard or dosas come out with a batter-y taste. I prepare the batter at home using my mixer 1-2 times a week. Remembering to soak the ingredients is the key challenge here. Once that is planned, grinding the batter hardly takes 10 minutes. Admiring the freshly fermented well-risen batter first thing in the morning is a sheer joy to me. Apart from the regular idli/dosa batter, I make a variety of millet-based batters that increases the nutritive quotient of my family's breakfast. I mix-and-match the cereals and pulses to break the monotony.

The famous ID idli batter brand costs around 50 bucks a pack. I buy them rarely when I'm short on time or when there's nothing left in my fridge to prepare a quick dinner. I find the boat-shaped packaging (which was intended for direct use) extremely inconvenient to handle and most importantly, we are adding more plastic to the garbage. 

(4) Spice powders
Once in 3-4 months, I dry roast the ingredients and grind the powders for sambhar/rasam at home. Since I make in small quantities, it stays fresh. I can adjust the spice/heat according to my family's tastes. Recently, I have also started preparing the idli chutney powder at home. Store-bought ones are very spicy for our palate. And I'm sure of the exact ingredients I use.

(5) Sprouts, veggies and fruits
Being hygiene-conscious, I'm very skeptical of store-bought sprouts and pre-cut fruits/veggies. Even for the high-effort, tear-inducing small onions and garlic, I prefer not to buy the peeled ones. Who knows whether the person who does the peeling has washed his hands properly or not? For sprouts, I use a sprouts maker, which is just a plastic pan. You can easily make sprouts by covering soaked lentils in a piece of wet cloth and placing it in a small casserole/hot pack. Making them at home also gives you the flexibility to mix-and-match, adjust the quantity and store properly.

I don't pre-cut veggies before hand and freeze. The nutrients get lost, even though it makes life easier. I cut the required veggies just before cooking. It does take more time for me to cook a meal but I know that I'm eating fresh and getting most of the nutrients (Some are already lost in transportation and storage).

Next steps:
There are still some more food items that I buy regularly from the store. Planning to DIY these items in my second phase of DIY project.
Ginger-garlic paste
Coriander/garam masala/jeera powder

Will share more as I continue on this journey. Leaving you with this quote from Dumbledore that moulded my thinking to a large extent
"We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
Are you on the DIY path in your kitchen? I would love to hear your experiences.