Monday, December 30, 2013

Road tripping across Northland and some trivia

Well no..not a recipe in spite of the break in my posts. Blame it on holiday planning and then the actual holiday. I am now in my siesta period - the recuperating vacation after a vacation and doing all the catch up that is needed.

Coming from India, it is a rude shock to see things fill up so fast in a small, sparcely populated country. Motels have fewer than 10 rooms and so during a holiday season, good rooms at good prices are hard to come by.  And being a piscean don't help one bit.. nopes. Fickle mindedness can be a very nasty trait to put up with...  ummm for your partner. (Wicked!!)

Well, finally we booked a mix of backpacker and motel accomodation over 6 nights to explore Northland. We went up the west coast from Auckland to Dargaville and from there to Kaitaia to Cape Reinga, the northern most tip, and came down the east coast via Kerikeri, Paihia and Whangarei.

The Kauri Museum :
It was a vacation filled with activities. High on adrenaline after diving out of a plane at 16500 feet, we took the 2 hour odd drive to Dargaville. Enroute, we visited the Kauri Museum at Matakohe. An entrance fee of 25 NZD per person buys you nauseousness from the rich smells of Kauri wood. On a serious note, it is breathtaking to see the size that a kauri trunk can grow to. Indulge in the spectacular food from the Gumdiggers cafe located on the same premises. Visit the matakohe school as well as old post office to feel like you got a good bargain for your 25 NZD.  Strong urges to splurge at the museum store must be fought with as the things are very very highly priced. The same tee shirt is available for half the price at other stores.

Destination Dargaville and Tokatoka peak:
Tokatoka peak provides a 360 degree view and is about a 10 minute steep climb from the main road.
Dargaville is a small town on SH16 and is known for the Kai Iwi Lakes and Waipoa forests where one can see the great Tane Mahuta. An old school serves as a backpackers accomodation and if you can overlook the sirens of the neighbouring police station, The Greenhouse Backpackers is a good place to stay at. It is closely located to all supermarkets and restaurants.

Kai Iwi Lakes and Tane Mahuta :
Located at about 30 minutes from Dargaville town center is Kai Iwi Lakes - 3 fresh water lakes formed in between mountains from rain water. They are breathtakingly beautiful and a popular camping ground is situated closeby.
Next is the Waipoua forests where one could go camping and trekking.
Tane Mahuta - the Lord of the Forest - the largest living Kauri tree. Kauri trees are native of NZ and large kauri forests have been buried under the earth for years now. Scientists believe that a huge Tsunami caused these forests to get submerged underground not once but 3 times around. They have soft roots which do not go deep into the ground and this makes them more sensitive to pressure. They take years to mature and grow to their full height. These trees have self healing capabilities eliminating knots, providing great timber for furniture. Their gum was used for varnishes and resins.

Cape Reinga, Tapotupotu Bay and 90 mile beach :
An overnight stay at Kaitaia is important if one is to take the bus tour to Cape Reinga. Don't be misled and believe me when I tell you that you can drive all the way to Cape Reinga. It has been 2 years since the road has been paved. The only thing you won't be able to do if you don't have a 4 wheel drive vehicle is the 90 mile drive along the beach. Well, it is not 90 miles but about 98 kilometres but since 90 mile sounds cool, it is called that. Who cares right? Well, the beach drive is not much fun.
Tapotupotu bay made me breathless. The blueness of the ocean on a sunny day is from some picture. Limitless shade sof blue. Again, a popular camping ground.
Cape Reinga is the northernmost tip of Northland to us commoners. If one is a scientist, there is another tip which is part of a scientific reserve which is actually the northern most tip. There is a coastal track that takes one 3.5 hours from Cape Reinga to Tapotupotu bay.
Avoid the bus tour if you want to do any trekking - you get about 40 minutes at Cape Reinga with 5 bus loads, at the minimum, of people.
Tapotupotu Bay90 mile beach
A rustic little unspoilt town midway on the east coast is Kerikeri, home to the oldest stone store, rainbow falls, the parrot place, Palmco gardens and the famous Matakana Chocolate House. Rainbow falls was serene with almost no one at 9 am. It is called so cause of the 7+ tiny falls that make the whole falls. Avoid the parrot place if you don't like seeing trapped birds, more if you have to pay a 10 dollar entry fee.You do get a handful of peanuts to feed the birds and if you are too shy to do that, feed yourself. The Kerikeri belt is known for Macadamia nuts and that's what the Matakana Chocolate House is all about - Macadamia nuts and Chocolate.

Paihia :
The San Francisco of Northland. Crowded with a famous pier lined with restaurants and water based activities. It is known for its pohutukawa lined white sandy beaches but hey Orewa beach is the same and less crowded or commerctial. Fortunately we stopped just for lunch. However, if you are keen, you could go to the Aquarium by the bay, swimming with the dolphins and parasailing.

Whangarei :
Whangarei is a huge port town. We stayed at this rustic eco place called "Little Earth Lodge" where you are away from network coverage, close to glow worm caves, in the middle of a beautiful birdsongs and beautiful views.

We went on a fishing trip here which was a mixed experience. At some point your consciousness does kick in and one stares at the ocean wondering why one paid 85$  to sit amidst 20 odd people who are trying to get the bang for their buck.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Quickie Breakfast : Rava Dosa

As a child I remember having competition with my elder brother as to who would eat more rava dosas. I just love rava dosas and relive those days each time I make rava dosa for breakfast.

This time my hubby topped it up with making a heart shaped dosa for me making this dish even more special.

Rawa Dosa is very simple to make and with a simple spicy coconut chutney, can transport you to seventh heaven.

Preparation Time : 10 minutes
Cooking time : 5 minutes or less

Ingredient (Serves 4) :

  1. Rawa - 1/2 cup
  2. Maida - 1/2 cup
  3. Rice flour - 1/2 cup
  4. 1 medium onion chopped
  5. jeera/cumin seeds - 2 tbsp
  6. black pepper corns - 1 tbsp
  7. cashew bits or halves - 3-4 tbsp
  8. Coriander leaves - chopped optional
  9. Oil - 1 tbsp
  10. Salt to taste
  11. Water
How I made it:
  1. Mix the rawa, maida and rice flour with sufficient water such that the water is about 1 inch above the solids. Don't worry you don't need to get this right at first go. You will see as you read through.
  2. Leave that aside for an hour or so. The solids would settle at the bottom. Ensure now that the water level is at least 1 inch above that of the solids. This adjusts the thickness of the dosa. More water makes it a paper thin roast.
  3. Add the chopped onions, green chillies, chopped coriander, pepper corns. If the cashew bits are roasted, add them as is, else add them in the next step.
  4. Heat oil in a takda pan
  5. Put the jeera and cashew bits. 
  6. Once the jeera is crachling and cashew bits are light brown, add to the dosa batter mix. 
  7. Adjust the salt.
  8. Now, heat a flat pan or tawa.
  9. Pour a ladleful of the dosa mix and swirl it around on the pan, taking care not to let it drop off the sides of the pan/tawa.
  10. Cook on high heat till it starts to brown. 
  11. Flip it over and cook for about 30 seconds.
  12. Serve hot.
Make sure you serve these with a spicy chutney.

Tips :
  • If the dosas are sticky, could be that the maida is more so reduce the maida and replace the reduced quantity with rice flour. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shakespear Regional Park, North Island

A perfect weekend getaway in summer would be the Shakespear Regional Park, 40 minutes away from Auckland city. It is a peninsular which now boasts of an Open Sanctuary. Gates are open from 6am to 9pm and there are options for camping onsite as well but you do need to book apriori if planning to camp. There is also the YMCA lodge where you could get to stay for the night. However, for an unplaned weekend, this is a good option when you decide an outing on an impulse.

The Shakespear Regional Park is now maintained by the Auckland City Council and is free to enter as well has ample parking space. One could go swimming, fishing, paddle boating, canoeing, kayaking, paragliding, boating, sailing, hiking, mountain biking or picnicing. The park has 3 walking trails to boast of which are graded "Easy".

  • Lookout Trail - 1 hour return  - 2.5kms
  • Heritage Trail - 2 hours return - 3.9 kms
  • TiriTiri Trail - 2 hours return - 4.8kms
If you have a few hours to spare there, do the lookout trail which has a breathtaking 360 degree view. If you have half a day, you could opt for 2 trails or you could do one trail and picnic there. For a full day there, you could end the day with a walk to explore the glow worms display at The Waterfall Gully which is closeby.

We went there for half a day and did one trail - the TiriTiri trail. It shares a part of the Lookout trail so you get the good views too. It goes through beach, grassy meadows and native forest. 

What to wear :
If doing the TiriTiri trail try to avoid shorts as you will walk through the native forest with a few thorny bushes. 
The sun can be harsh so wear a thin cotton full sleeves top. 
Don't forget to apply enough sunscreen.

What to carry:
Food is not available there so please do carry your trek/picnic grub. 
Beach mat
A water bottle
A rubbish bag as you have to take back all your rubbish

Be careful about the rocky beach/sea floor which can easily cut while you head out ot swim.

Carrot and Onion Paratha

So what do you do when both you and your better half wake up at 3am? Well, it is gonna be a nice and sunny day so we decided to go for a trek at Shakespeare Regional Park. The gates open at 7am so since I a little time on my hands, I decided to make these quickie parathas to take with us as trek grub.

Preparation time : 10-15 minutes
Cooking time : 4-5 minutes for each paratha

Ingredients (makes 6 parathas) :

  1. 1 cup whole wheat flour
  2. 1/3 cup chopped onion
  3. 1/2 cup grated carrots
  4. 1 tbsp jeera/cumin seeds
  5. 1 tbsp kasuri methi
  6. 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  7. 1 green chilly finely chopped
  8. 3 tbsp oil
  9. Salt to taste
  10. Water to knead the dough
How I made it:
  1. In a pan, heat up 3 tbsp oil.
  2. Put in the jeera seeds.
  3. Once they crackle, put in the kasuri methi
  4. When the methi begins to get brown, don't let it burn, throw in the onions and green chillies.
  5. Fry till onions start to become soft.
  6. Throw in the carrots, red chilli powder and salt. 
  7. Remember to add a little more salt as the wheat flour will also be added.  So when tasted, this mix should taste a little salty - not too salty.
  8. When the carrots are turning soft, turn off heat and wait for the mix to cool.
  9. When cool, add the flour to the mix and knead into a soft dough.
  10. Separate the dough into 6 balls of uniform size.
  11. Roll out each ball into a circle and for each circle repeat steps 13 onwards.
  12. Heat a flat pan/tawa.
  13. Place the circle. Cook for 30-40 seconds.
  14. Lower heat to medium and turn the parata.
  15. Add a few drops of oil to help the parata cook and remain soft.
  16. After a minute or so, if there are enough brown spots on the paratha, turn the paratha and make the heat back to high. 
  17. Add a little more oil and cook till there are enough brown spots on both sides. Take off heat.

Serve hot with raita or pickle or pack and carry on a trek. Can be eaten as is.

All packed and set to go.

Here's a pic of the beautiful place - a must visit. Do check out my review of the place which is coming up on the blog soon.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Classic Combo : Rasam and Pepper Chicken

So a friend of ours is down sick with a cold and bad throat. We were headed towards his house to visit the #RBTGP and therefore decided to drop in on him and give him some rasam. For dinner, we added the pepper chicken to have a classic South Indian Combo : Rasam and Pepper Chicken served with rice. I once again remembered Sushila, albeit she used to serve Rasam with Mutton Chops.

I've come to realize that I use the terms heavenly food, comfort food for the stuff that is similar to what I have eaten as a kid. No matter how the day, a good bowl of comfort food, and all seems okay. May be it reminds one of the good ol' days. This is one of those meals.

For the rasam :
Cooking time : 15 minutes
Preparation time : 5 minutes

Ingredients (Serves 4) :

  1. Tomato - 1 large quartered
  2. Garlic - 2 pods crushed
  3. Tamarind paste - 1 tsp
  4. Water - 2 cups
  5. Pepper powder - 1 tbsp
  6. Jeera/Cumin powder - 1tsp
  7. Oil/Ghee(preferred) - 1 tbsp
  8. Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  9. Jeera/Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  10. Curry leaves - 1 sprig
  11. Salt to taste

How I made it:

  1. In a pressure cooker, heat up one cup of water. 
  2. Add the tomato quartered. Cook on high till one whistle and turn of heat. 
  3. While the pressure releases from the cooker, heat 1 tbsp ghee in another pan.
  4. Add the mustard seeds and wait till they stop spluttering.
  5. Add the jeera, crushed garlic and curry leaves.
  6. When the garlic starts to brown at the edges, add the tamarind paste mixed with 1 cup of water.
  7. Mash the tomato in the water that it was boiled in and add it to the pan.
  8. Add the pepper powder, jeera powder and adjust the salt.
  9. Turn off heat once it comes to a boil.
  10. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice or drink as a soup.

For the pepper chicken :
Cooking time : 30 minutes
Preparation time : 10 minutes

Ingredients (Serves 4) :

  1. Chicken - 500g
  2. Small/Pickling onion - 4
  3. Red onion - 1 small
  4. Garlic - 8 cloves
  5. Ginger - 2 inch piece
  6. Oil - 2 tbsp
  7. Pepper powder - 4 tbsp
  8. Salt to taste
  9. Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
  10. Coriander powder - 1 tsp
  11. Cumin powder - 1/2 tsp
  12. Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
  13. Water - 3/4 cup
  14. Curry leaves - 1 sprig

How I made it :

  1. Wash and marinate the chicken in salt, turmeric powder and 2 tbsp pepper.
  2. Grind the small onions, ginger, garlic, red chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder and 2 tbsp pepper powder to a paste with as little water as possible.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wide pan.
  4. Add the sliced red onions alongwith curry leaves and fry till light golden brown.
  5. Add the paste and fry until it stops sticking to the botton - usually 7-8 minutes on low to medium heat.
  6. Add the marinated chicken and fry till half cooked.
  7. Add water. 
  8. Adjust the salt. 
  9. Cover and cook till completely cooked. 
  10. If water remains, cover uncooked till water dries completely. We were too impatient to wait till the water dried and took it off heat in a semi gravy consistency.
  11. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve hot with rice and rasam.
This can also be had with rotis.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

LIGHTing it up DOWN UNDER - err a bit late.

It's six months since I set foot in the land of the breathtakingly beautiful New Zealand. Time flies but the rollercoaster ride never ends. Well, things are mellowing down now but the initial settling phase was not as smooth as I had expected it to be. "Ignorance is bliss" is not something I used before but we all do learn and our eyes do eventually open up. No wonder we all look back at those times when we were most ignorant as the "best of times". Confused beings that we are, always wanting the good times but trying hard as ever to get ahead. Ha ha ha!

Six months and we move from my birthday to the birth of my nephew, exactly on Diwali. I smile when I think of the silence back at home on this otherwise unusually noisy day at my house. The hustle and bustle to decide who would go to distribute the sweets and if you had got all the people on the list of people to whom sweets need to be distributed, the packing of the sweets, the visits to the temple, the Lakshmi puja, the Saraswati puja, the Ganesha puja and the best drive around the town to get a glimpse of all the firecrackers for free. (wink)

Now, Diwali is known as the festival of lights but has many reasons for its significance. One is the return of the beloved Lord Ram from exile for which the lamps are lit and the night sky lit up with crackers to provide sufficient light for the returning lord, on a moon starved night. (Psst...Diwali usually falls on a new moon day). Another is to mark the end of another harvest season which brings us to the reason for this post. 

It is believed that as a sign of success and prosperity one must eat 7 vegetables on this joyful day and as this blog of mine focusses on recipes amongst other things, I made Sindhi Sai Bhaji with Bhuga Chawara. I ensured that I added as many veggies to the Sai Bhaji as possible. Fortunately for me, I got the quintessential ladies finger here in Auckland. Darn this place, you get a quarter of the veggies you get in India and even if you do get some, you have to buy them frozen. Grrr!!! (Ignorance is bliss until you move to a country only to realize what you have gotten yourself into.) Last year I had made Pav Bhaji with as many veggies.

Here's how we celebrated Diwali this year.

The quintessential start to my day - a cup of chai.

Bachpan ke din yaad dilaane waala lunch - sai bhaji and bhuga chawara - recipe below

Preparation Time : 5 minutes
Cooking Time : 12-15 minutes

Ingredients (Serves 2):
  1. 1 large onion finely sliced
  2. 1 cup of rice
  3. 1 stick of cinnamon
  4. 4 cloves
  5. 1 bay leaf
  6. 1/2 tsp red chilly powder
  7. 4 tbsp oil
  8. 2 cups of water
  9. Salt to taste
How I made it :
  1. Wash the rice and soak in water
  2. In a pressure cooker, heat the oil
  3. Add the whole garam masala - cinnamon, cloves and bay leaf
  4. Once the aroma spreads, add the onions and fry on medium low heat till the onions caramelize into a nice dark brown colour. Do not burn and the colour is essential for the dish.
  5. Add the red chilli powder and fry for a minute. 
  6. Add 2 cups of water.
  7. Add the rice once the water comes to a boil.
  8. Adjust salt. 
  9. Cover the pressure cooker and when the steam begins to rise, lower flame to minimum and leave for 8 minutes. 
  10. Turn off heat and serve with sai bhaji or dal fry.
A visit to the Diwali Fest held by the Auckland Council - good food and company and some of the best fireworks I've seen thus far.

Gulab Jamoons as they were getting ready

Sandalwood scented tea light candles adorning the corners of my house

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

The course on haute cuisine that I have enroled in had the recipe of nestle tollhouse chocolate chip cookies and explains why you must stick to the recipe and try to exact the measurements specified. So, I decided to give it a try. The first time I made it with the exact directions and it turned out exactly like the cookies that I used to have at the Hilton in Roseville, California. I did feel really guilty eating those as they had loads of butter and sugar in them. I was happy that I had made a small batch of 15 cookies.

I was having two people, whom I am very fond of, visiting us this evening and so decided to make these cookies but decided to give them a little healthy twist. The result was different but good as well.

Preparation Time : 10 minutes
Cooking Time : 11 minutes
Equipment Required : Oven, egg beater/hand mixer
Source :
Ingredients (Makes about 24-30 cookies depending on size):

  1. Whole wheat flour - 1 cup + 2 tbsp
  2. Salt  - 1/2 tsp
  3. Baking powder - 1/2 tsp
  4. Baking soda - 1/2 tsp
  5. Chopped nuts - 1/4 cup
  6. Chocolate chips - 1/4-1/2 cup
  7. Vanilla essence - 1/2 tsp
  8. Unsalted butter - 1/4 cup melted
  9. Granulated white sugar - 1/4 cup
  10. Raw brown sugar - 1/4 cup
  11. Egg - 1 large
How I made it :

  1. Preheat oven to 190 degree C.
  2. Prepare the baking tray. I covered a cooling tray with aluminium foil and spread some flour over it.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  4. Beat the sugars, vanilla essence and butter for 2 minutes on high.
  5. Add the egg and beat well till the mixture is creamy. I beat mine a bit too much such that the mix got quite thick. This gives it a more crumbly texture. 
  6. Add the mix from step 3 and mix till well combined.
  7. Shape into cookies, press in some nuts and chocolate chips. Now, if you had not beaten the egg stiff, you may have a moist dough. In that case, use a spoon to place spoonfuls on the baking tray and press in some chocolate chips and nuts.
  8. Bake for 11 minutes. 
  9. Cool for 30 minutes and store in airtight containers.

Ladies finger and mutton curry

There are a zillion different reasons that you will hear from Pras when asked why he chose to move to NZ and ONE out of all of those is "to eat as much lamb and beef as I can as this country is known for it". Well, how can I deny him his meat then?

So I had some ladies finger leftover from the diwali sai bhaji cooking and decided to use that up along with the lamb pieces that I had bought from the supermarket. Perfect mix of veggies along with meat proteins.

Note : As I type out the draft for this one, the heavenly aromas of the curry fill the air and we just can't wait to dig in. We are waiting for the pressure to release.

We ate this yummy dish with bread but it would go well with poori, rotis, parathas and rice as well.

Preparation time : 10 minutes
Cooking time : 45 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

  1. Large Onions - 2
  2. Mutton/Lamb - 500g
  3. Ginger - 2inch piece
  4. Garlic - 6 cloves medium sized
  5. Red chilli powder - 3 tsp
  6. Coriander powder - 1 tsp
  7. Garam masala powder - 1/2 tsp
  8. Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
  9. Black pepper powder  - 1/2 tsp
  10. Coriander leaves  - 2 sprigs with stem
  11. Mint leaves - from 1 sprig
  12. Medium sized Tomatoes - 3-4
  13. Ladies finger - 10-12
  14. Thick coconut milk - 1/4 cup
  15. Salt to taste
  16. Water - 1 cup
  17. Oil - 1/4 cup
How I made it :

  1. Finely chop the onions.
  2. Grind the ginger, garlic, dry powders, coriander and mint leaves together with as little water as possible.
  3. Wash and chop the ladies finger into 1 inch pieces. Fry them in a pan with a tsp of oil.
  4. In a pressure cooker, heat the oil
  5. Add the onions and fry till light golden brown.
  6. Add the mutton and fry till it turns colour and becomes lighter.
  7. Add the paste from step 2 and fry for about 5 minutes. 
  8. Add tomatoes and fry till they are soft and easily blend in.
  9. Add about a cup of water, adjust the salt and give 4-5 whistles on high.
  10. Once pressure releases, add the fried ladies finger and coconut milk.
  11. Boil for 2-3 minutes and serve hot.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jo's Yummy Prawn Curry

How can one not try the seafood options available when living on an island? And we've been eating only red meat as NZ is well known for its red meat. I went shopping on my own this weekend and hence decided to pick up some prawns. I did wanna pick up some clams as well but put that away for the next time.

I made this curry in a hurry and with readymade coconut cream. It was delicious nonetheless and a match made in heaven when had with kerala appams. I used the double horse brand ready mix for easy palappams.

Also, please do excuse the lazy me as I continue to take the pics either after we've eaten our fair share for the day and with my humble phone camera.

Preparation time : 5 minutes
Cooking time : 25-30 minutes

Ingredients ( Serves 4) :

  1. 500g of prawns - cleaned and deveined
  2. 1 large onion
  3. 4 sambar/pearl/pickle onions
  4. 4 cloves of garlic
  5. 1 inch piece of ginger
  6. 2 tsp red chilli powder
  7. 1 tsp coriander powder
  8. 400ml of thin coconut milk/cream (or) 200g of thick coconut cream diluted in water
  9. 1/2 cup of water + more for the coconut milk
  10. 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  11. 4 tbsp oil
  12. 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  13. A handful of curry leaves
  14. Salt to taste
  15. Chopped coriander to garnish

How I made it:

  1. Grind the onions, pearl onions, garlic, ginger to a fine paste in the mixie.
  2. Heat oil in a pan.
  3. Add the mustard seeds when oil is hot.
  4. When they stop spluttering, add curry leaves. 
  5. Add the onion paste from step 1.
  6. Fry on medium flame for 10-12 minutes till the fat separates. It takes longer for this step to complete as onion paste takes some more time as well as more oil to fry well. 
  7. Add red chilli powder and coriander powder.
  8. Fry for a minute and then add the tamarind paste in 1/2 cup of water. 
  9. Let it boil for 3-4 minutes and add the coconut milk. 
  10. Adjust salt. 
  11. Once it comes back to a boil, add the prawns.
  12. Cook until the prawns turn pink. Do not cook beyond this else the prawns tend to get rubbery in texture.
  13. Turn off heat. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot with rice or appams.

Now this is a keeper of a base for any kind of meat curry that needs to be made in a hurry.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Eggplant/Aubergine Pizza

As part of the cooking course assignment I had to get into the nutritional information of "prepared eggplant". I assumed there would be a recipe too and had bought this big chinese eggplant from the grocery store. There was no assignment but I had some leftover pasta sauce and hence decided to put that together with the eggplants to clean out the fridge. I had seen a similar dish in a colleague's lunchbox and decided to have a go at it. It was yummy and gone in minutes.

I made the aubergine two ways this time. 2 slices as below and the remaining I pan fried with Indian spices after seeing this recipe on a friend's blog. Both were delicious.

This recipe boasts of meeting almost all of one's dietary fibre intake for a day while being low on the calorie intake.

Preparation Time : 10 minutes
Cooking time : 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 1) :
  1. 1 large Aubergine/Eggplant
  2. 4-5 button mushrooms
  3. 1 small sized onion finely chopped
  4. 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  5. 4 tbsp chopped bell peppers - I did not use this as my pasta sauce was a roasted bell pepper sauce
  6. 1/4 cup pasta sauce/tomato sauce - I used Roasted Peppers Dolmio Pasta Sauce
  7. A handful of grated cheese
  8. Salt to taste
  9. Pepper
  10. Olive oil - a drizzle
How I made it :

  1. Preheat oven at 180 degree C.
  2. Slice the eggplants lengthwise with the slices being about a cm thick.
  3. Slice the button mushrooms and mix with onions, garlic, pasta sauce.
  4. Adjust salt and pepper.
  5. Spread atop eggplant slices.
  6. Sprinkle with cheese.
  7. Place eggplant slices in ovenproof plate/pan.
  8. Drizzle olive oil on top of slices.
  9. Bake the eggplant slices for 30 minutes.
  10. Serve hot

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Quickie Soup

There are days when you feel like you've eaten a very heavy lunch and are not too hungry for dinner but you still would like to have something light. This quickie soup is just the answer to those tiny rumbles in the tummy.

Preparation Time : Nil
Cooking time : 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2) :

  1. Vegetable stock - 2 cups - I used the water remaining from boiled chickpeas and some veggies that I had boiled for cutlets.
  2. 1 egg
  3. 1 dry red chilly broken into two
  4. 1 clove of garlic crushed
  5. 1/2 tsp vinegar
  6. 1 tsp olive oil
  7. Salt to taste
  8. Pepper to taste
How I made it :
  1. In a pan, put in the oil, red chilli and garlic.
  2. Turn on heat and fry till garlic starts to turn brown at edges
  3. Carefully pour in stock.
  4. Add vinegar.
  5. Adjust salt and pepper.
  6. Let this come to a boil.
  7. Beat the egg and pour the egg into the mix while stirring the soup.
Hot, wholesome soup is ready to be served.

Kerala Kadala Curry

Both Pras and I are morning people and so I'm always on the lookout for quickie breakfast recipes. I believe breakfast is a very important part of the day and should not be missed. Back in India, it was easier to manage breakfast with idlis, dosas, bread, cereal, oats and the occasional parathas on a weekday. Here, in Auckland, the idli and dosa batter is not available ubiquitously, the breads is quite different from what we get in India and hence the hunt for breakfast recipes is on.
Many people told me about the breakfast biscuits but nah, they aren't to our liking.  For a while I made rawa dosas and ran out of rawa/semolina. It takes some planning to get to the other side of town to purchase "Indian" groceries from the Indian supermarkets.

Anyhow, I decided to experiment and made this kadala curry to be served with thai rice noodles as a replacement for idiyappam. Except for the little bite to the noodles, it went quite well. So here's a big tick to this breakfast item.

Kadala curry is mainly made of chickpeas which are a high source of proteins. Since this recipe calls for the use of a pressure cooker as well as not discarding any of the water used, you should get the full benefits of the protein content. Serving this as an accompaniment to a rice based dish makes it a source of carbohydrates as well.

Preparation Time : 5 minutes if using store bought coconut milk, excluding time to soak the chickpeas
Cooking Time : 30-40 minutes

Ingredients (Serves 4):

  1. 1 cup black/dark chickpeas/kadala - washed and left to soak in water overnight
  2. 1 bay leaf
  3. 1 stick of cinnamon
  4. Water to boil the chickpeas
  5. Turmeric Powder - 1/2 tsp
  6. Salt to taste
  7. 1 medium sized onion chopped as finely as you can, need to go to extraordinary lengths
  8. 2 green chillis - slit
  9. Thick Coconut milk - 1/2 cup
  10. A pinch of asafoetida
  11. Red chilli powder - 1/2 tsp
  12. Coriander powder - 1 tsp
  13. Black pepper powder - 1/2 tsp
  14. Curry leaves - a stick or two
  15. mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  16. Oil - 1tbsp
How I made it :
  1. In a pressure cooker, put in all ingredients from 1 to 6. The water level should be about 1 inch above the chickpeas.
  2. Cook on high for one whistle and then low for 4 whistles.
  3. While the pressure releases, in another pan, heat 1 tbsp oil
  4. Once the oil is hot, put in the mustard seeds and cover till the mustard seeds stop spluttering.
  5. Add the curry leaves and split green chillies.
  6. After 30 seconds, add the onions and fry till they turn pink.
  7. Add the red chilli powder, pepper powder, coriander powder and asafoetida.
  8. After 30 seconds, add the chickpeas and any remaining water.
  9. If there is too much water, allow it to boil till the water reduces to required quantity.
  10. Add the coconut milk and once it comes to a boil, adjust salt and turn off the heat
Serve hot with idiyappam, appam, puttu or like me thai rice noodles.

Friday, October 18, 2013

An Immune India

Personal experience :
A few years ago, the following was quite a frequent conversation.

Day 1 :
Me : I think I am falling sick.
Pras : Take dabur chywanprash.
Day 2 :
Pras : How are you feeling? Did you take dabur chywanprash?
Me : Yes and I am feeling better.
Pras : Don't forget to take dabur chywanprash today also.

Back then, I had moved out of my parents' nest and would fall sick once a month. Slowly, over a year, my immunity has improved. I fall sick less frequently and even if I do feel like I am going to fall sick, I act quickly by taking my trusty Dabur Chywanprash. I do believe that it has been a strong player in improving my immunity. Even today I carry a bottle of Dabur Chywanprash wherever I go and imagine my relief when I found it at Indian stores in Auckland as well.

Now for some factual information and my thoughts on building a stronger, immune India.

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young." - Henry Ford

It would be a crime to not take advantage of the plethora of online courses from A-listed universities across the globe made available for free through sites like and, especially if you, like me, have not got a chance to pursue your studies outside of India.
One of the courses that I am currently enroled in is on World Poverty from MIT. The course tries to cover all possible causes of World Poverty, including the impact of poor health on a person's earning capacity. Interestingly and shamefully, most of the research is conducted in India. I share my thoughts on the problems and a possible solution.

Problem 1 : Superstitious Beliefs
The vast majority of India still believes in superstition and witchcraft. There is no dearth  of conmen who claim to rid you of the spirits that have infested your body and soul as well as perform rituals to help improve your situation. Unfortunately, this is something that most of us Indians grow up with and in most cases it sticks on. I still do walk reaaaally slow if I see a black cat cross the road with the hope that someone else will cross before me and take on that share of bad luck or think twice before cutting my nails on a Friday for fear of causing some dear one some misfortune. It makes no sense but by chance if you do go against it and you do face some misfortune, you want to believe it. Likewise, many of the people who fall sick in India head not to a doctor but to a conman to rid them of the spirit that is causing them the sickness.

Problem 2 : Self Proclaimed Doctors
This I learnt from the course that there are many people who claim to be "Bengali Doctors". These people have no formal training whatsoever but turn into doctors prescribing paracetamol and IV fluids based on their experience. People feel better with the IV fluids and tend to believe that these "Bengali Doctors" are better than the real doctors who require tests to be done to give a prescription. The lack of regulations in India and needless to mention, the corruption, allow these self proclaimed doctors to thrive and make a quick buck.

Problem 3 : Lack of Awareness
As the Anna Hazaare campaign proclaimed "Chalta Hain ab nahin chalega". Most of India grows up with this "Chalta Hain" attitude. There would be solutions available but people are just unaware of them and make no attempt to learn of available solutions. Media is a useful way to spread awareness but most of India still lives in darkness and a lot more don't know how to read. An advertisement in the paper or on television alone wont do. India has a huge human capital which should definitely be exploited.

Problem 4 : Failing Government  
During the emergency, the government of the time, in an attempt to control the population, rounded up women, mostly those who were Muslims, and tried to sterilize them. Whether it was an attempt to control the muslim population or not is another issue. This has unfortunately made people skeptical and though the Government, today, may organize health camps and other vaccination camps, most people don't attend them for fear that the Government may actually be trying to mislead them. This is a smaller problem I think, since the Government has been successful with eradicating polio, though I would attribute the success to the bollywood stars who came in the advertisement campaigns. India being a huge believer in "reel" life hails actors as godlike, and hence the move to enrol bollywood stars is a definite recipe for success.

Solution : Dabur Chywanprash to the rescue
One solution could be to make people aware of Dabur Chywanprash and may be distribute free samples of the same, especially in rural areas. It would be more effective if a sort of education is imparted on the benefits and limitations of the product. Most of the research done by the Poverty Action Lab team at MIT shows a strong relation between demand for a product and the cost. If bednets were distributed for free, more women came to the fertility clinics and if people had to pay for the bednets, the demand reduced to almost 0 even if it costed 10 cents. Further, once you knew the benefit of a product, you would most definitely go ahead and buy it the next time and so would your neighbours and others in your social circles. Distributing it for free as well as having people monitor that it is in fact being used when a person is sick will ensure that people are aware of the benefits of chywanprash, thereby increase the demand for the same.

What better way to share your thoughts and recent learnings when you have a chance to win with This post is an entry to the "An Immune India" contest hosted on Indiblogger.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kumara and Chickpea Patties/Cutlets

This is one of my own experiments since I got "Down Under". It has been a hit with both friends and hubby alike. The best part - it is easy and Kumara aka Sweet Potato is of really good quality here.

P.S. I am yet to fully settle in to cooking in a smaller kitchen, so please excuse the lazy picture taken with my phone. But I urge you to try this recipe as it tastes really good.

Prepation time : 5 minutes
Cooking time : 10 minutes excluding time to pressure cook the chickpeas and kumara

Ingredients ( For 10 medium cutlets):
  1. 2 medium sized Kumara/Sweet potato
  2. 1/3 cup boiled chickpeas - soak overnight and boil in salted water, may be 2 whistles on high and 2 whistles on low in a pressure cooker
  3. 1.5 tbsp ginger garlic green chilly paste
  4. 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  5. 1tsp garam masala powder
  6. 1/4 tsp amchur powder
  7. Oil for deep frying/shallow frying
  8. Salt to taste

How I made it :
  1. Boil the kumaras - 1 whistle on high in a pressure cooker will do.
  2. Peel and mash the kumaras.
  3. Add all the ingredients listed from 3 to 7 and mix well.
  4. Lastly add the boiled chickpeas.
  5. Shape into cutlets and shallow or deep fry as per preference. When deep frying, please ensure that the oil is very hot else it will just split.
You could serve these as a snack or make sandwiches or use them in pita pockets. Versatile and tasty.

Hoki Fish Curry - no coconut

Hoki fish is a part of the backbone of the NZ fishing industry. Unfortunately, it is one of those over fished varieties thanks to the corporate giant McDonalds. Now, though I may feel sad I can not control Pras who is like every other mallu, an ardent seafood lover. We had bought 500g of this beautiful fillet of hoki when we had gone to the super market and since I could not think of eating another sandwich (we've been eating a lot of bread these last few days), I decided to give it a go in fish curry.

I've seen my mother-in-law and co-sister make a similar curry except I did not have the quintessential kodumpuli for it. I used normal tamarind paste that I got at an Indian store here called "Cooking Without Mess" which is kind of true when it comes to extracting the tamarind paste.

Hubby's verdict : "Tript ho gaye baalak" which translates to "I'm content". I keep saying this to him after I have made something that reminds me of my childhood.

Cooking time : 20 minutes
Preparation time : 15 minutes (lesser if you multitask, explained below)
Equipment Required : Mixie if you don't have a mortar and pestle to make the ginger/garlic paste

Ingredients : (Serves 3)

  1. 500g fish 
  2. 1 large onion
  3. 2 large country tomatoes
  4. 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  5. 1.5 tbsp tamarind paste
  6. 2 cups of water
  7. 1 tbsp red chilli powder
  8. 1 tbsp coriander powder
  9. 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  10. 1/2 tsp pepper powder
  11. 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  12. 1 tsp mustard seeds
  13. A few curry leaves
  14. 1 green chilly
  15. 1 tbsp oil
  16. Salt to taste
  17. Coriander to garnish

How I made it :

  1. Chop the onions fine.
  2. Heat oil in a pan. 
  3. Add mustard seeds and fenugreek seeks to hot oil. Cover, lower flame and let them stop spluttering
  4. Once they stop spluttering, add curry leaves and 1 sliced green chilly.
  5. After 30 seconds, add the chopped onions.
  6. Lower the flame and get to cleaning the fish. Chop into 2 inch pieces.
  7. If you are using fresh ginger and garlic, use your mortar and pestle and smash them well. You could alternately, grind the ginger, garlic, red chilly powder, coriander powder, pepper powder, turmeric powder with a little water. 
  8. Once the onions are soft, takes about 5-6 minutes, add the ginger garlic paste.
  9. After 30-40 seconds of frying, add the powders and a little water.
  10. While this is frying on low flame, chop your tomatoes and add them to the pan.
  11. Fry till the tomatoes are well cooked and soft. 
  12. Add the tamarind paste in 2 cups of water.
  13. Adjust salt. 
  14. Let this boil till you can see a kind of froth or oil floating on the top.
  15. Put in your fish pieces. Ensure they are well covered with the water. Add more water if required. Cover and cook on low for 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked. Usually fish does not take long to cook. If you want a thicker curry, do not cover. As you can see mine is a little thin.
  16. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot with rice.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gravity and the IMAX experience

"Please put on your 3D glasses" mentions a ladies voice and so reads the projection on the screen. Dutifully, I did put on my 3D glasses. In fact, a few mins earlier I had put them on for trailers and Pras laughed at me for having put them on earlier than required. Aaaaand... Whoa!!! There are things coming right at my face, frightening me and for a moment I was like, I don't want to sit for 2 hours through something like this. I turned to Pras to tell him that I wanted to go home but he had this look of amazement and content that I kept quiet. And then the calm, it was just the IMAX ad, which had to be par excellence. Come on, the entire movie is not going to be this bad... umm good and then the next round of trailers, one out of which was for Dhoom 3. Aamir's stunt of sliding under a moving truck on a bike. Please tell me, where did I see this before?

Okay, getting back to #gravity. Great cinematography and one does get a somewhat real glimpse of what it must be out there in space. Well, we've all seen those great pictures of earth from a satellite in many journals and magazines but seeing them on an IMAX screen is impressive. George Clooney makes the drifting in space on a jet pack seem like an everyday stroll in the park. It would be cool to do that once in while me thinks. The story line mostly talks about a medical engineer astronaut adrift in space but what really impacted me is how much we take the earth's gravitational forces for granted. The last scene where Dr. Ryan Stone gets walking was what left me 'wow'ed.

I always relate to some character or the other when I go through a film and in this one I could not relate to any character in particular. However, I kept asking myself a whole load of questions. Would I have the focus that would be required? Would I be able to keep the emotions aside? Would I be able to take the constant spinning and be okay to not feel grounded? A little upside down while doing my yoga routine and I feel light headed. A flight's take-off and landing make me feel dizzy sometimes. Whew!  And I am not going to think about claustrophobia now.

A must watch, if not for anything else, at least the IMAX experience.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Science of Cooking

As we settle into our new routine "Down Under", I was exposed once again to the multitude of courses offered online by top universities on coursera and edX. One of the courses that struck me as interesting this time was "SPU27x Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science".

So as I am now enrolled into this course, I hope to complete the course. While I do that I plan to attempt (and eat obviously) as many of the lab assignments, I hope that my blog will have more MasterClass creations to boast of (fingers crossed).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Palak Panneer

This has been a long pending one as I keep forgetting to take a picture. Palak panneer is an absolute favorite especially with rotis and the punjabi papad. Now, there are many ways of making palak panneer and I prefer the method which prevents max loss of nutrients. At least I hope that is the case. (wink).

Love the greeeeen in the picture.

Difficulty level : Medium
Equipment required :  Food processor/blender/mixie

Ingredients :

  1. 1 large bunch of spinach
  2. 4 green chillies - this will make it spicy so adjust accordingly. Also, adjust if the bunch is small.
  3. 1 large onion finely sliced
  4. 1 large tomato
  5. 1/4 cup fresh cream/milk or coconut milk - this is my new find
  6. 1 cup panneer cubes
  7. 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  8. 1/2 tsp garam masala powder
  9. 1 tbsp + 1tsp  oil
  10. 1 stick of cinnamon
  11. Salt to taste
How I made it :
  1. In a pressure cooker, add washed spinach and green chillies. 
  2. Give one whistle. There is no need to add extra water as the spinach leaves water while it cooks. 
  3. In another pan, heat 1 tbsp oil and fry the onions till pink.
  4. Add the ginger garlic paste and let the raw smell go away. You could also use fresh pieces of garlic and ginger this will anyway be blitzed in the food processor/blender/mixie.
  5. Now add the tomatoes and cook till they go soft.
  6. Once the onion-tomato mixture cools down, add the spinach mix and blitz the whole thing in the blender/food processor.
  7. Heat 1 tsp oil in a pan. 
  8. Add the cinnamon stick. 
  9. Add the paste and panneer cubes.
  10. Mix well. Add the fresh cream or coconut milk. If using milk, check for consistency required. 
  11. Adjust salt and add garam masala.
  12. Cover and let it bubble for a couple of minutes.
  13. Serve hot with rotis and punjabi/sindhi papad.
Myth or fact : A papad takes 14 days to completely digest and get out of the system?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A review of Phata Poster Nikhla Hero

So on a lazy Sunday afternoon with nothing but time to kill I played the DVD of "Phata Poster Nikhla Hero". Nice sunny day but for some reasons was confined to the four walls of the living room and went through the entire movie. Would I have bothered watching this movie had I been able to go out and do other things? A big "NO".

You may be wondering why then was I writing this post? Why waste more time right? Well, I am still stuck within the confines of the home and so thought I'd pen down what I thought of the movie.

If you are someone who has watched movies from the 80s, as soon as you watch the first part of this movie, you can get an idea of what you are in for with this one. A mother forcing upon her son to grow up to be an honest police officer rather than giving him a chance to follow his own dream and the son wanting to be an actor. A lot of drag and then a little of Munna Bhai followed by some terror plot. No, seriously why was this required? Oh right, to bring back the father from the dead. The biggest 80s influence is seen in the son versus father sequence. But the ending is not what one would expect. No, Shahid does not become an actor but becomes a hero cop.

Now, my thoughts... Could it be that the goal of the movie was to let people know that heroes exist not only in movies but in reality too and there could be a hero in you? No seriously, why else was this movie made? Me wonders why would actors even agree to make something like this? Would I do a movie if I was paid in 6 figures. Ummmm... Yes but only if it was the only movie I was going to act in.

Credit to Shahid for looking the age of the character and to Ileana for her super thin frame and great costumes. But I think her smile definitely needs some work.

Quickie Sandwiches and Trek Grub

So we had planned to go on a trek and since most of New Zealand is protected by a lot of conservation laws, the requirement for the grub was that it had to be packed in hard plastic. Further, to take advantage of the early bird offer on the fuller's ferry to Rangitoto, we had to start from home by 6:30 am. Another thought that had been bothering me from quite a few days now is the fact that I have not been serving any raw veggies/salads. Yes, we do eat a lot of fruits but almost no raw veggies. Hence, decided to buy a pack of mesculun leaves and use them in sandwiches.

Ingredients ( for 4 sandwiches) :

  1. 8 slices of multigrain sandwich bread
  2. 4 slices of cheese
  3. 4 tbsp of mayonnaise
  4. 12 chorizo slices - I used 3 in each sandwich
  5. 4 handfuls of mesculun leaves or any lettuce that you may prefer
  6. Salt to taste
  7. Pepper powder to taste.

How I made it :

  1. Spread about a tbsp of mayo on half the slices. 
  2. Place a cheese slice on the top
  3. Next place as many chorizo slices as you like
  4. Top with washed mesculun leaves.
  5. Sprinkle salt and pepper.
  6. Cover with another slice of bread.

The sandwiches were yummy and fulfilling as trek grub. The spicy chorizo was a good fit for the Indian taste.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My take on Chennai Express

So as a true SRK fan, I made it to the theatre to watch Chennai Express. I did not read any of the reviews except for the fact that King Khan had made it to the 100 crore bandwagon.

Except for a few minutes here and there, I could not stop laughing throughout the movie. The movie has scenes pulled in from various south as well as bollywood films but does not get messy. Yes, you should leave your reasoning at home when you decide to visit the theatre for this one. Deepika has done quite a good job and looks stunning in those designer South Indian Pavadae Daavani outfits. SRK's overacting does come through in some scenes but may be cause he knows he is redoing a scene from another movie. 

Chennai Express is a must watch for folks who have enjoyed SuperStar Rajinikanth's films as well as SRK's DDLJ, MNIK, KKHH, etcetera. Such are the folks who will be able to truly appreciate what Rohit Shetty has done. It is a complete masala entertainer and I don't for once consider it a time waste. There are times when I go to watch a movie where I don't need to use my brains as my brains are always at work when I am working. This did just that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taking for granted!

We took a bus to the theatre yesterday so that we could discuss our plans as we got there rather than get irritated about the traffic. Yes, and I am trying to get myself to get used to living on a shoestring budget before I land another job. Not that I won't land one soon but you will see why if and as you read further. Since we started at a time when people were still at work, the buses were empty. But the bus fare caught me by surprise - 40 rupees till Tin Factory and it would still mean that we'd have to take another bus or walk to Gopalan Grand Mall. We could've taken the car and reached the theatre directly (there was no traffic) and it would not have costed me 80 rupees one way.

When it was time to get home, we were shocked by the numbers at Tin Factory. And the buses plying were few. It is one thing for BMTC to sign up with private companies to provide an easy commute to their already well-paid employees but not at the cost of the already haggard lower income groups. While we waited there, in spite of having Pras by my side, the following ran through my head

  • I got home at 5:30pm while there are so many who get home past 8pm and may be earning a quarter of what I took home.
  • 3 ladies in a car, sharing costs to get to and from work. It's the best thing. Safe, fun, cheap.
  • I did not have to worry about some man bumping into me while I waited for the bus. I was scared with the kind of looks people pass while you stand at the bus stop.
  • I did not have to worry about being the last and only woman on a bus. Yes, the delhi gang-rape case only worsens fears. Had I not been there on the bus last evening, the other lady would've been the only one aboard that bus surrounded by drunken men. Unimaginable!
And yet, we look forward to that hike!

Kai Po Che! - A review!!

This comes from somebody who has not read a complete Chetan Bhagat book. And, I've not read "3 mistakes of my life", from which this movie is adapted. That said, it was refreshing to see new faces, well not so new, in this movie. For me, Maanav has stolen the show - loved him as Archana's husband(Thank you my dear friend for catching my typo) on the small screen and loved him more as "bhai-lu" in this film. I had to watch this movie just for him.

The start of the movie is as if Abhishek Kapoor has painted Dil Chahta Hai with a middle class brush. Gujarat is beautiful and I loved the fine line of surrealism that runs through the length of the film. Three good friends doing business together, each for different reasons with no prior understanding of what one is getting into - just driven by passion. Quite typical but if only I had that rich uncle.

The parts portraying the friendship of the 3 lads in good times are beautiful. "Kal Sunday Hai.. Kal Sunday Hai.. Daaru Peene Ka Din Hai" - an ex-colleague of my husband would dance around singing the same jingle on Sunday morning. I am sure there are many boys out there who would relate to these scenes. I've always wanted to see my husband have fun with his friends cause I've heard so much about how much fun he is to be with but these are things that I console myself with. He refuses to even talk about those times and I wonder where is that *fun* bone in him when he is with me.

Ok, back to the movie. The movie does have its own fair share of twists and not having read the book, I still struggle to figure what those 3 mistakes really are and in whose life. My mind shuts down when I go for a movie - I am going to be entertained, aren't I?

The inclusion of the massive earthquake that struck Gujarat years ago and the Godhra riots breathe some more reality into the film. I thought the movie to be a mish mash of sorts - seen many of the scenes in other movies.

I'd recommend watching this movie at least once if you are a cricket fan, sports fan, been a part of a boys gang, are a part of a boys gang or planning to start a business with your friends.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chapter 5 - taking the leap of faith

Just as Moi had begun to actually move on in life and start doing things on her own, Pras, at Delhi at the time, sent a message which read "If you put on weight and weigh 42kgs, I will marry you." A series of mails later, terms and conditions for the marriage and the life after mutually agreed upon, Moi decided to bid farewell to the comfort and friends of Chennai.

After a year in Bangalore, we got married. It took him sometime to convince his mom. The marriage ceremony was over in a blink of the eye. And, here's a secret, Moi weighed 39kgs on the wedding day. It is gonna be 4 years of blissful married life next month with a fair share of ups and downs.

AND, I am going to stop referring to me as Moi now. Whew!!! It is so much easier to write like you are talking it out to a friend.

Has marriage changed me? Yes, in some ways. It has made me a stronger human being, more practical, less emotional. I attribute all these changes to the person I've married. He is everything that I am not. Yup, ours is a case of opposites attract. If you fall into the same category, my two cents worth of advice is to not let him rub off on you.

While I type this post, the below is an excerpt of our conversation. This is usually when we fight over the remote. (He and his news channels.. bah!!)

I ask, "Is it important to know what happened in some one else's life? How does it affect me and my life? Would my life be different if I cared?"
He replies, "There is more to life than TLC and your blog."

Well, this is not the first time. And yes, I've begun to care and I try to read the newspaper and catch up on the recent goings on when I can. For me the newspaper until now meant playing sudoku on the last page. The Internet is a Pandora's box, except that you need to be visiting the right websites.

Marriage can be good and bad. You can feel extremely secure with the person around and you can at a different instant of time feel stifled and suffocated by the same person. It's all about giving each other the space one requires. He is around *all* the time. When I leave for work, he is around. When I get home, he is around. Well, he works from home. So I used to work from home, when he would go to work. There were times when I'd force him out of the house so that I could get some ME time.

We've been on multiple trips over these years and this year, it is going to be the biggest. More on this in the next chapter - hopefully there is one. Lakshadweep, Alleppey, Chennai, Coorg, Kabini, Manali, Himalayan Trek, Bhutan, Goa and multiple trips to Ooty and Palakad. Travelling has been one more form of education for me. An eye-opener.

And as far as the terms and conditions go, they are on a continuous review with additions and deletions and as it is with all rules, rules are meant to be broken. My two cents of advice to all you newly weds out there

  1. Be adjusting and accommodating of the other person.
  2. When your better half is angry and yelling on the top of his/her voice, you stay calm and quiet. You can always clarify when he/she has cooled down later.
  3. 'Tis true, the way into a man's heart is through his stomach. So cook well. I guess that in today's world it would apply the other way too.
  4. Never ever say anything wrong about your better half's family. Well, there are ways. Call me if you need more tips on this.
  5. Don't assume - talk everything out. No, don't argue, TALK!
So, here's the end of the life that has been. 31 years covered in 5 chapters. My friend complains that I've left off the juicy bits. Hopefully, this one makes up for that.

The right to make informed choices

iDiya by the Indian School of Business has announced a National Social Venture competition to enable humans, passionate about a social cause, to create a sustainable social enterprise. In between jobs, facing bouts of depression and anxiety, I did fall back on reading a brief on my career prospects for this year. As is rightly captured in the movie "OMG! Oh My God", humans need to find solace and reassurance in something. Some people make that something a money making enterprise and others blindly follow. For me, I turn to astrology in spite of not being an ardent believer. My friend made me read my daily horoscope when I had decided to follow the man I loved, and thankfully I did not listen to a word it said. One site interestingly mentioned that I will enter the social domain. De-ja-vu and a day later, here I am writing about one of the social causes that I am very passionate about.

Not receiving my 5-figure monthly salary for the first time in over 9 years, made me truly realize the gross inequality happening on a day-to-day basis around me. Not that I was not aware of these ground realities but this time it is staring right back at me, in the face. So much is taken for granted and so much more is lusted over.

While at work, I often spoke of how overpaid I was compared to the ladies who cleaned the toilets, washed the cups, kept our premises clean and still got just 5000 rupees a month. They toiled from 8am to 5pm on their feet with odd meal times. With the price of 1kg sona masuri rice at 50 rupees, I wonder whether these ladies would provide for a nutritious meal, pay their monthly bills or send their children to school.

What made me so privileged? Didn't that same lady and I come into this world the same way? What did I do differently to have been able to earn X times her salary? Who decided that I was to be born into an affluent family and she into a poor one?

We all come into the world the same way. We all deserve equal access to opportunities. One main deterrent to this is the lack of awareness and greediness. Most people still believe that more kids means more money that can be earned off of them. The importance of education is unknown amongst the masses. In spite of child labor being banned, you find so many small businesses employing these children. Money to survive each day is the topmost priority for these individuals. I don't think they get a chance to think about the long term. Those who do, try and give up under the burden of loans.

In a country as densely populated as ours, it should not be difficult to increase awareness about education and the importance of the same. Look at how we eradicated polio. Bill Gates, in one of his talks on the BBC, praised the efforts of the Government of India and the government paid workers, who waded through flooded regions to ensure that the vaccines reached every child in every part of the country. Is the Government spreading awareness about education and human rights with the same zeal? Does some one from outside of the country have to come and tell us how to improve the living conditions and the lives of people?

Organizations like WorldVision, with the help of philanthropists, are working towards the education of children in remote villages across in India, as well as providing a means of livelihood to families in those areas. With a monthly donation of 800 rupees, one child's education needs are taken care of.

If each of the parents across India had sufficient money to take care of their day to day needs, would they not send their children to school, in stead of trying to earn off of them? Food, shelter, access to clean toilets and drinking water should be every human's right. An interesting additional read here would be this article by Mr. P. Jayaram,  Senior Journalist and Head of the Department of Amrita School of Communication, Coimbatore.

The Government of India does provide free education for children up to the age of 14 years. Give the children the access to education, a keyhole view into the actual world and its possibilities, and let them make an informed choice for their future. Let them not follow in the footsteps of their unfortunate parents who can't think beyond where their next meal is going to come from or what if they can't pay back their loans.

The Government of India has also announced schemes to ensure that people below the poverty line get sufficient food. Corruption and money making middle men, prevent these schemes from being properly implemented. One would need to think about how the census is carried out in our country.
A representative goes from door to door collecting statistics of the people living there. How accurate would this exercise be? I leave it up to you to decide. How does the Government know the actual income of a family? A fee of 1000 rupees to a middle man can get you a ration card. A fee of 500 rupees can get you a voter's identity card. It remains to be seen how successful the Aadhaar project will be. It remains to be seen if the Government will rise over corruption and get these well thought out schemes, for which valuable tax-payer money has been spent, get implemented for the benefit of everyone and not just the privileged few again.

IndiChange - Harnessing the collective power of blogging to fight evil.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Chapter 4 - the butterfly sets awandering

Disclaimer : Same as that in the previous chapters

Some insight : The interest in my posts has dwindled but that wont deter me from continuing :) Understandable. It is quite hard to maintain the continuity and writing style. Mid-way that I am, in the journey of this series of posts, I realize that if I had better exposure to the internet during this phase I'd have been a different person. The broadband internet phenomenon hit me very late and now I am addicted.

Now, back to the actual post..

One year of independence and freedom was decided. Moi had one more year to impress and win. Did she?

Well, it was an eye-opener for Moi who had taken for granted every daily chore that was done for her. Chop, cook, clean, wash dishes, wash clothes, iron the clothes, sweep the floor, mop the floor, clean the kitchen top and on top of all this make it to work on time and DELIVER. Weekly grocery shopping  was done at the local grocery store who gave free karuvapillai/curry leaves and coriander or at the hep supermarket where they make one think that they've got a good bargain.

On the trusty scooty, Moi "ooru-sootified" around Adyar, Velachery, IIT, Besant Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur. These were Moi's "addas". And Sathyam Cinemas! Blind dates every Thursday, double dates on some random weekend and the night shows.

When Moi got like-minded roomies, off they went for late night movies. That was Moi's moment of independence, one that will always be cherished. Oh and not to forget the money spent at the Dollar Shop in Besant Nagar. The solution to any kind of depression - shopping for stuff that you really don't need but think you do.

Through this phase, roomies came and roomies went. Friends stay to this day. Lessons learnt

  1. Getting a good like-minded room-mate is equal to finding a life partner. If you succeed in getting a good room-mate, you've found a friend for life.
Pras was always swinging from one side to another. One year passed, extension was obtained with the intent of moving on. This would not have been possible without the friends. Did Moi move on?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Chapter 3 - In ninth heaven

[Here's a link to the first Chapter.]
[Here's a link to the second Chapter.]

Disclaimer : These are just incidents from my life and I don't mean to offend anyone. And, don't get judgemental. What's here is mostly just the past.

Did Moi get married as she thought she would? No. Surprisingly the question never came up save for once - either Moi or her brother had to decide who would get married first. Door slamming and raised voices and the topic never came up again. I started my job search instead, in a time when IT was at its low.

"Treat at 4pm" reads the mail. Now, all would wait for 4pm for the treat. The treat today is being hosted by Manoj for getting his IT refund. Now, how many people you know who would do that? These were the kind of people who got introduced into my life when I joined Nilgiri Networks. A delightful place, a home away from home. What's more? You get paid to go there everyday from 9am to 6pm.

Nilgiri Networks was run in a quaint British bungalow near the botanical garden in Ooty. After much searching, I found the building to hand over my resume. In a few weeks, Moi was selected for a salary of 5000 rupees a month. Moi was ecstatic. Yes, it was not what one would want to start work on but it was great considering Moi was at home.

Influenced by all the others who came on two wheelers, Moi thought owning a two wheeler was the coolest thing. Moi went ahead and bought a scooty pep. My first prized purchase, in installments albeit. Anyways, it looked great and I was one of the first few to have purchased the hottest new two-wheeler of the time. So, this meant further fattening with lack of exercise. Moi took up yoga classes which stick with me to this day. When the brother decided to get married, Moi took to walking as well as playing badminton, even if it was just a 5 minute break. Moi wanted to look her best at the wedding.

My trusty ride saw Moi going biking with the guys at work. We went on picnics with carriers filled with delicious food prepared by mom. We played with the cheetos toys in between work. Moi demanded for a 20% discount at every restaurant we went to, because we were locals. Our every day snacks were bought fresh and ranged from bun-butter from the bakery to vada sambar from Saravana Bhavan. No, one did not think about weight. One just had fun. Worries came and went but did not bog any one down.

The part that I hated most were the weekends - they meant staying at home with nothing to do.

[To all those of you who were a part of this phase of my life : I miss you]

Everyone who is in the IT industry does at one point or the other have to travel onsite. Moi got her fair chance too. Onsite for Moi meant Chennai, the one place for which Moi said "I will never get married to a guy from Chennai."

"Jo, you will need to travel to Chennai to get this work finished", said Usha's voice on the phone.
"Do I really need to travel?" asked Moi. Moi hated the KPN bus due to motion sickness.
Though Moi loved travelling, Moi always wished and wishes that it was as simple as close one's eyes and magically be transported to the place one wishes to go to.

While onsite Moi began interactions with the man in her life began in the most magical place - IIT-Madras, campus. Meals, movies, walks - many things we did together. And when the announcement came that the Ooty operations were shutting down with an option to move to Chennai, dad asked Moi to get married. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chapter 2 : The metamorphosis begins

[Here's a link to the first Chapter.]

Disclaimer : These are just incidents from my life and I don't mean to offend anyone. And, don't get judgemental. What's here is mostly just the past.

Co-education and the rise of Ekta Kapoor!!! What better way to begin the change with? Now that I've got your ears perked up, let's dig in.

First things first, I nailed the TNPCEE entrance exam. Just as my winning streak continued, Moi topped the coaching center.

Next was selecting the college. The Dad and Moi headed to Anna University, Chennai for the "window" selection process. Now, the Dad too is quite the naive guy who ended up paying the cunning rickshaw wala twice. Okay - selection time - Coimbatore Institute of Technology it had to be - far away from aunt's place to get some breathing space. Moi had slightly lesser marks required to make it to the Computer discipline at the prestigious PSG College of Technology.

This was going to be a 4 year stint and I had already let the cat out of the bag which had gotten me into enough trouble. Moi had to tread this chapter with caution. One piece of advice - never ever ever trust a relative when it comes to your relationships.

The Aunt would diligently wake up every morning at 5:30 and prepare delicious food for the dabba. On some days, there would be two dabbas - one for the friends and one for Moi. Her rotis were in demand always. I learnt to make rotis from her. So, food was taken care of, so was stay as well as Ganesha who would wash and iron my clothes. The pocket money Moi got was spent at the cafeteria and the occasional "MarryBrown" indulgences. I am ever thankful for what she and her family have done for me. Now, how often do we actually thank the people who have touched our lives?

The bus ride to and from college meant getting to meet more people and to get smart. One had to  make friends with the conductor of S8 to ensure he'd allow us to get in at the very last bus stop so that we'd get a place to sit before the mad rush entered at the first stop. Now, for those who are not accustomed to taking buses, the last stop will be the stop on the opposite side of the first stop. (Doh)

Senior 1 : "Hey Jyothi, come here. Do you know tamil?"
Moi : "No."
Senior 1 : "Okay then sing a song in tamil. We won't let you get back into the class until you sing."
Moi : "Nila kaayum neram, saranam."

This was one amongst the initial friendly ragging incidents. Another common form was to force the junior to purchase the second hand text books, no matter what the condition, for a fixed price.

It is a very fine line between friendship and flirting/infatuation. One has to tread carefully so as not to lose a good friend or make the wrong impression. Moi saw a fair share of crushes, heartbreaks and broken promises

These 4 years taught me patience, acceptance and humility. I had classmates who had struggled to get where they were. It was an interesting mix - rich, spoilt kids waiting to take advantage of you and the poor ones who were scared to approach you because they are not comfortable with the English language.

At home, what with "Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki" and "Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi" making an entry, the Ekta Kapoor saga started forming its impression on my already limited world. One would think that one's only aim was to become a "Parvathi" or a "Tulsi".

And it is with that intent that Moi returned to Ooty, to be "happily" married to the chosen one.