Monday, July 28, 2008

Roasted walnut and pesto pasta, anyone?

It's on rare occasions that I find something interesting to write about cooking. Otherwise it's just the humdrum existence of vegetables in a pot of boiling water followed by a dash of spices. Oh no, it's not that food is not interesting, it's just that my cooking is not so interesting. I’m lucky to be married to someone who understands the pains of cooking and hence does not bother too much when my ‘poha’ looks like mashed potatoes and ‘chat’ is anything that I add ‘Everest Chat Masala’ to.

Now people, I’m not such a bad cook. In my personal opinion I believe that one has arrived when it comes to Indian cooking if – one, you can make rotis from scratch. Of course, by scratch I don’t mean sowing wheat in your backyard - you get what I mean. Two – making yogurt at home. Thanks to kind neighbours, my mom and mom-in-law I get by with both these things.

Coming to the point of why I’m writing about cooking today - is this heart-breaking, soul-searching, grief-causing, mentally-anguishing article I read in ‘The Economic Times.’ Now, from when I started cooking the only oil (other than the occasional sesame oil for Chinese cooking) I’ve ever used in my kitchen has been Olive Oil – no, not any olive oil but Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Why? Because it’s healthy, duhhhh! Then – Bang! - Suddenly after a sumptuous Saturday lunch this article stares me in the eye and what’s worse - it has a sequel too that came out this weekend. Now why ‘heart-breaking’, ‘soul-searching’ and all that you may ask – I was almost convinced that I had found the perfection solution to heart disease, trans-fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and all that. There is nothing as perfect as good karma, now, is there?

The underlined statement is – Extra Virgin Olive Oil is not suitable for Indian cooking considering the high temperatures that we cook/ fry in. EVOO breaks down and decomposes and hence losing all the ‘good’ properties and assimilating ‘bad’ properties. Imagine one Indian dish that can be cooked with out heating oil – how do I do ‘thadka’, how do I sauté, how do I make dosa or any of those finger-counting dishes that I know? And then the Indian olive oil consortium or whatever-the-heck-they-call-themselves claims that Olive Pomace Oil is best suited for Indian cooking since the temperature at which this oil starts smoking is much higher than EVOO. Now all of us in our right minds know that olive pomade-pomace-whatever oil is no edible oil at all. How can it be, if it’s industrially extracted from pomace cake that is left after naturally extracting the oil from the olives?

Oh well, while the whole world is screaming foul at the mention of pomace as a cooking oil and when it’s legally not even supposed to be called olive oil, our great sir - the president of the Indian Olive Oil Association who also incidentally (I mean it – just incidentally) owns a company that supplies ‘olive’ pomace oil in India, thinks this is the ideal oil for Indian cooking. Not just that, his company’s website even goes ahead and says that EVOO is a super-deluxe gourmet olive oil and pomace is the main cooking grade [sic] oil. And behold, the pomace oil is even suited for ‘Iyengar Cooking’ according the COO!

All right, so where does that leave us with extra virgin olive oil now? It’s going to remain in my kitchen but its use substantially reduced to the occasional pasta and salads and may be some light sautéing. I’m back to my search for the perfect and least harmful cooking oil. There is an 8:2 blend of rice barn oil and sunflower oil in the market that my mom recommended long time back. May be it’s time to give it a shot.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why We Are The Way We Are

Over a period of time and after numerous airport visits I have realized that the one thing that doesn’t work is picking up a book at the airport book stall and hoping to finish it by the end of the journey. Nevertheless, after waking up this morning with a stiff neck and realizing that during this travel, I may not be able to carry out my favorite airport pastimes of reading items on my Google reader, watching the news on airport television or talking on the phone since all these activities in a way require some unrestricted neck movement, I decided to pick up a book from the Higginbothams book store at the Chennai airport.

Among the books that caught my attention and displayed well enough to beg being picked up were, ‘The Automatic Millionaire’ – something I have been wanting to read for a very long time, ‘Emotional Intelligence’ – after the rave reviews from my boss and about how it is going to help me on my next assignment and ‘The New Age of Innovation’ – just because I saw some posters on campus!

After long consideration, past experience and an acknowledgment of my own habits I decided to pick up a rather unusual but seemingly interesting book. ‘Games Indians Play’ – Titled close to the old psychological classic and the brief introduction on the back cover of the book was enough to provide a brief of the contents of this book. But would this book do justice to what each one of us felt about India and about ourselves as Indians? I wasn’t yet sure about that.

Not for long did my apprehension remain unanswered. This is what I read on page 7 – the second page of the first chapter.

' Why do I spit with a free will, as if without that one right I would be a citizen of a lesser democracy? Why do I tear off a page from a library book, or write my name on the Taj Mahal?... Why do I run the tap full blast while shaving even when I know of the acute water shortage in the city? Why don't I stop or slow down my car to allow a senior citizen or a child to cross the road? Why do I routinely jump out of seat in a mad rush for the overhead baggage even before the aircraft comes to a halt, despite the repeated entreaties of the cabin crew? Why do I routinely disregard an airline's announcement to board in orderly groups in accordance with seat numbers? Why does it not hurt my national pride that in international terminals abroad extra staff is appointed at gates from which flights to India are to depart? ... Why do I jump red lights with the alacrity of a jackrabbit leaping ahead of a buckshot? Why do I block the left lane, when my intention is to turn right? Or vice versa? Why do I overtake from the left? Why do I drive at night in the city with the high beam on? Why do I jump queues with the zest of an Olympic heptathlon gold hopeful?'

-Excerpt ‘Games Indians Play’ by V. Raghunathan; Chapter 1, Page 7-8

This last statement ‘jumping queues’ – as much as it catches the attention of the author deeply saddens me as I recognize the truth in it. After a fateful twist of events preceded by a goof up by the travel agent, I was forced to take a rather late Indian Airlines (or Air India like the way they call themselves now) flight back home. During the 10 minutes wait to reach the agent at the check-in counter there were three passengers in my own queue who insolently decided to join the queue mid-way (by mid-way, I mean right at the point after the current passenger was being serviced). After being reminded in an increasingly impatient way, they sheepishly walked to their rightful place after admitting that they hadn’t noticed the queue. The scene was worse at the adjoining queue which seemed to move relatively fast and hence attracted more queue oblivious passengers.

This takes us back to the questions that V. Raghunathan rightfully poses. I have some more to add to that list. Why do we tend to go directly to the counter without even bothering to find out if there are others waiting? Why do we peep into the book/ laptop of the stranger next to us? How come we never listen to flight announcements and wait for the stewardess to remind us to not recline our seats during take-off and landing? How come we automatically tend to adhere to rules and regulations when in a foreign country and how come these very rules and regulations become our right to break when in our own country?

A few pages later, the author moves on to more serious issues such as the leaps in economic and infrastructure development made by other countries over short periods of time and how we are still bragging about the invention of the zero and the Harappan civilization. As I read this it doesn’t escape me that the headlines being beamed over all news channels at the airport is about the trust vote that is rocking the parliament and the politics that is playing out at the cost of the country’s development. The front page of today’s ‘Chennai Times’ carries two articles side by side – The shaky UPA government which is split on the issue of the nuclear deal and another about the city plunging into darkness for a few hours every week due to the shortage of power. The scene is worse in the city of Bangalore which already plagued with crumbling infrastructure issues is also being subjected to 4-5 hours power cuts in a day. In the face of crisis like this, you would expect the country’s politicians to consider the trust vote as one that decides whether the nuclear deal is important to India’s development or not. But no my dear sir, our dear Mr. Siddiqui shifted loyalties this morning from the UPA (and hence nuclear deal) supporting SP camp to the ‘Mayawati-will-one-day-become-our-Prime-Minister’ supporting BSP camp. And his reasoning ‘Nuclear deal is anti-muslim’… and how did he come to that conclusion? Because ‘America wants us to sign the nuclear deal’ and ‘America is anti-muslim’. A=B and A=C, hence B=C.

Mr. Siddiqui is just one of those numerous politicians who play these games. The BJP is no less is putting its own party and ideals before that of the country. Its eagerness to see the UPA fail so that it can take the nuclear deal forward when elected to power in the next elections and hence add the feather to its cap is so damn obvious.

I love how the book is going so far. And before you jump to conclusions, V. Raghunathan is the not the ‘I-crib-about-India-thankfully-I-don’t-live-here’ types. While he has traveled and taught abroad, over the past couple of years he has been working in senior management positions in India. Currently he serves the Corporate Social Responsibility wing of a very ‘Indian’ infrastructure major that is weaving magic across airports in India and the world (and for those of you about to grin at that… no, I didn’t know it before I picked up the book).

Right now I am at that juncture in the book where the author beckons the reader to read on only if he/she finds truth is all that is said so far. I don’t know how the book is going to end, but I know it speaks the truth not in a judgmental or haranguing manner but in a logical way with the usage of concepts such as game theory and behavioral economics. While we all acknowledge that a solution cannot be found overnight, whether even a micro-solution is in sight is what I await from this book.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Female for Market Research

I got this mail a few days back.

Greeting from XXXX (XXX solution)

Opening for Market Researcher.

Company Profile: Our clients is one of the largest & India's fastest growing electrical and power distribution equipment company.manufacturing products ranging from Building Circuit Protection, Industrial & Domestic Switchgear, Cables & Wires, Energy Meters, Fans, CFL Lamps, Luminaires for Domestic, Commercial & Industrial application and Modular Switches.Our clients has recorded a turnover of Rs. XXXX crores in the previous financial year and is poised for another quantum growth.

Job Profile:Market Research & Market Development

Required Skills:Initiative & Aggressive Attitude.

Fresh/Exp can apply

Female Candidate with Minimum Graduation is must

CTC:Best in industry

XXXX (contact details of the recruiter)

Female candidate?? If this were the US, the EEOC would have already pounced on this company. Secondly, why on earth am I getting this mail? Because of the 'aggressive attitude' caveat? They must have some filtering system!! But I’m curious, why would they specifically require female candidates for something that looks like a door to door survey / sales job for electrical products? I researched the company and the consulting firm and it does seem legit.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Rakhi Sawant Showz

Now before we launch a torrent, why is everyone so curious what 'showz' in the title means? Come on people, Rakhi Sawant Showz... She showz, we see. We see, so she showz. If she doesn't show we won't see, and if we don't see she won't show. She knows we see that's why she showz. We know she showz that's why we see. Ok ok... you get the drift.

Mid way when you're watching this show, you'll find yourself lifting eye brows, letting out a snort and flinch and wince and even question why you are watching this show. You’ll want to change the channel. You’ll then convince yourself to put the remote down and wait for the next string of pearls from her mouth.

You recall the ‘Rendezvous with Simi Gareval’ - India’s most popular talk show. Now if you are the host of the most popular talk show in town, comparisons are bound to follow. Simi Gareval – flawless white, well set hair, flawless makeup. And then we have Rakhi Sawant – gaudy clothes, garishly decorated sets, not so oblivious make up. Simi’s style and grace, her feigning effort to laugh and smile with her guests. Rakhi on the other hand is cleavage showing, all bawdy in language and style. Make no mistake for she doesn’t make any pretensions of sympathising with her guests. While you’ll find Simi saying - ‘Your girlfriend broke up with you, it must have been soooo hard!’, Rakhi will not battle an eyelid as she tells Amir Khan - ‘I didn’t like it when you divorced your first wife.’ Simi will leave you wide-mouthed with her impeccable British accent and diction. You’ll identify with Rakhi as she struggles to pronounce ‘rendezvous’ and ask her guests to comment on her English after not uttering a single English word in her entire conversation. Simi will make a guests feel like a star, bigger than what they may actually be. You will feel overawed by them. You will laugh when Hrithik and Suzanne act like young lovers on her show and get all emotional when Rekha lets down her guard. But with Rakhi, there is no bigger star on the show than herself. She will try, let me tell you. ‘You are a star, Amir Ji – A superstar. I wanted you to come to my show because I want my show to become popular!’ ‘Do you want me to fall to your feet, because in some shows they fall to people’s feet.’

All in all, the first episode wasn’t even half as entertaining as the episode where Rakhi Sawant meets Karan Johar on Koffee with Karan… But trust me, here’s a lady to watch out for. Karan Thapar and Rajdeep Sardesai beware, for here comes the mother-in-law of tough interviewers!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Revisiting Hot Chocolate

I brought down my old blog a few days back. As I was going through the posts one last time before deleting it, there was this piece that caught my attention. It's one of my favorites and I decided to publish it again. I wrote it about a year and a half back when M was away in Japan and it was so difficult for us to catch up even once a day. Today again, he slogs away at B-School and it still is a Herculean task catching up once a day.

My Hot Chocolate

Eyes closed
Cupped hands
Holding a mug
Every sip
Like the taste of new life
Strings of thought
Whispering secrets
Honest promises
Held close
Unmindful smiles
A lingering feeling
Hazy dreams
Ethereal spaces
An oblivion self

A slight cringe
Loud sneeze
The rude awakening
Abundant work
And a preoccupied mind
The chilly air
A fading illusion
Bleary eyes
Haunting silences
Emerging voices
Quiet eagerness
Long hours of wait
Four thousand miles
Above all – an empty mug

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Still not changed the channel...

After I wrote here about how the media is sensationalizing news and our entertainment quotient, I found two more articles. Here's what 'The Maanga' has to say and through his website I chanced upon Sevanti Ninan's article. To the avid readers of Hindu's Sunday Magazine, Sevanti Ninan is no stranger. Here are some excerpts from her article on how news channels are literally selling crime. This might seem funny, but the irony is that it's true...

  • Times Now tracking her calls from cell phone call records leaked to them. Run numbers and times on the screen of who called Aarushi when, whom she called when.
  • NDTV showing a video of the dead girl doing normal things when she was alive.(No seriously... the clipping included the girl going swimming with her family, in a birthday party, at a school function... etc... all played over and over again!!)
  • Zee News informing us that this is the day when the CBI’s remand over Krishna ended. So? So nothing, just reminding you, that’s the news.
  • Cyrus Broacha being funny on CNN IBN: “The CBI is looking for a khukri. Why look for a khukri when you already have a Talwar?”
  • Aaj Tak showing two presenters going around a flat which they said was exactly similar to the Talwars’ and was in the same complex. They show us the location of Arushi’s room and her parent’s room and Hemraj’s room. There is a model lying on the bed in Aarushi’s “room” placed exactly like it reportedly was, and there are blood stains on the door. (They kept saying this was reconstructed from CBI information) Then build a case for the fact that there was no way her parents could not have heard noises, despite the AC. Ergo, the Talwars’ testimony is fishy.
  • India TV’s amateur sleuthing: Krishna is lying when he says he flushed the khukri down the toilet. But look, we’ll show you how 10 minutes of repeated flushing does not flush a khukri! So a potty was there for 10 minutes on the TV screen, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, flushing away.