Taking Stock 1

I’m kicking off a new sub-series within my blog, inspired by something my friend and fellow blogger Meenaxi does. Meenaxi is a food blogger 6 days of the week. On Fridays, she fasts (figuratively) and touches on other subjects. And so her Friday blog entries are named Foodless Fridays. On that day, she lists out what she’s been reading, cooking, watching, doing and so on. I liked the idea and decided to emulate her. Beginning today.

This serves more as a chronicle in personal interest, to help me take stock, if you will, of what I have been up to. Hence the name of the sub-series: Taking Stock. The numeral at the end will reflect the number of times I have taken stock.

I am open to suggestions on what to read, cook, watch, do and so on. So feel free to comment/suggest.

Reading

Let me state that this section will not include reading that I do for work or reading/editing my husband Dr. A’s articles for academic journals and so on. The books mentioned here are those read for pleasure. Not that reading his work is not pleasurable. But you know what I mean. (I’m tempted to resort to some hashtagging, as is the rage nowadays, but not of the annoying, stating-the-obvious variety.) #SkirtsALandmine. There! I did it. 🙂

I am reading two books these days.

(courtesy: vidyasury.com)

(courtesy: vidyasury.com)

One is a collection of timeless poems by writer, poetess and activist Maya Angelou. Her words are so soothing – music to the ears. This one is titled “Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer”. Here is a sample. (I reckon you will want to pick up a copy, or read it online).

Each of you a bordered country
Delicate and strangely made, proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, current debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

(An excerpt from ‘On The Pulse of The Morning’)

(courtesy: bookvista.com)

(courtesy: bookvista.com)

Dr. A and I have embarked on a new project, which I hope becomes “our” tradition. We have begun reading a book together: Raag Darbaari by Srilal Shukl, a Hindi writer and former civil servant who also received the Jnanpith, Sahitya Akademi and Padma Bhushan awards for his work. I must confess that I had never heard of or read him until a few days ago. The only Hindi writer I have read is Premchand, and that too because it used to be on CBSE’s reading list in school. But I’m hooked on to his work now. His style of writing is satirical and political, in a subtle way. When I say we read it together, I mean, Dr. A reads out loud for both of us. Today is my turn. We turn the page to Chapter 2.

Feel free to recommend more books. Books written in other languages and translated into English or Hindi are welcome.

Watching/Seeing

Courtesy: loadtv.biz

Courtesy: loadtv.biz

I’m just coming out of a marathon-viewing of Broadchurch, a British crime drama television series, produced by ITV. It’s a classic whodunit set in a small coastal town. The Latimer family loses their 11-year-old son in a brutal, cold-blooded murder. Detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller pair up grudgingly to solve the murder. The case spans 8 episodes. The investigation to find the killer ends up causing many skeletons to tumble out of the town’s residents’ closets: sex, lies, theft, infidelity and paedophilia to name a few. It’s almost as if every one has a past to hide, to run away from.  To complicate matters, and this is the part that I love, Hardy is a brooding cop with a heart disorder, tonnes of emotional baggage and a manner that won’t win him any prizes in a Mr Congeniality contest. I love such protagonists. Eccentric individuals who fail miserably at the everyday, in their personal lives but perform exceptionally and show extraordinary genius on the job. Other favourite eccentric, broody protagonists whom I love include Sarah Lundt from Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Saga Noren from Bron Broen (The Bridge). Both crime drama thrillers are based and produced in Denmark. Man, I love the Danes. Hollywood doesn’t hold a candle to their writers and producers. Seriously.

Cooking

When a sweet craving collides with acute laziness, it’s time to cheat in the kitchen. I wanted to make a classic North Indian delicacy Gajar ka Halwa. Now there are multiple ways of making it. Some folks like to tenderise the grated carrot in a generous dollop of ghee first before adding the milk in. Others like to reduce the milk down before adding the carrots in. Both with tasty outcomes but way too time-consuming, especially when time is not a luxury and laziness is calling the shots. So I went online to find some cheat codes. The result: A 400g can of Nestle condensed milk. Using this cuts down the cooking time by half. The normal way (the two options mentioned earlier on) takes about 1.05 hrs. The condensed milk way takes 25 minutes.

I finely grated a kilo of carrots. Added them to a hot kadai (deep, thick-bottomed wok), greased with 3 tablespoons of ghee (clarified butter). On a slow heat/low flame, I cooked the carrots till they became more tender and looked tungsten-coloured. Stirring occasionally. This took about 15 minutes. I then added about 350 g of condensed milk. The mixture became wet, gooey. I kept stirring, until the carrots absorbed most of the condensed milk. A sprinkling of green cardamom powder and a cupful of nuts (crushed, assorted). I used almonds, cashews and dark raisins. You don’t need to add sugar, as the condensed milk is sweet enough. Too sweet for some.

The halwa turned out fine. Not great. This is not to say I am never using condensed milk again. I will modify the recipe the next time around. Maybe adding 3/4th cup of milk and reducing the condensed milk to just about 200g. I promise to take a picture of the new and improved gajar ka halwa the next time the stars are aligned for a sweet experience.

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Drat..Rats! Natural ways to repel rodents

courtesy: cartoonstock.comuThere’s no place like home. And there’s no place for rats in mine. My husband and I were in for a shock last night when we pulled open a wide, deep drawer in which we store our household linens. There were little black pellets scattered between sheets, towels and dish cloths. I recognised these pellets as rat poop because of a forgettable past encounter with a rat whom I had somehow managed to trap some years ago. Although I had been trembling like a leaf at the time,  the poor thing was clearly more petrified as we had stared at each other, as clearly I wasn’t the one suddenly filled with an urge to excrete profusely. Fast forward to the present. The fact that the pellets we spotted yesterday were dry suggested that the creature who produced them was not around. The discovery of course filled me with dread and melancholy. Our beautiful, clean, hygienic and nice-smelling home was unknowingly playing host to an invited guest whose name rhymes with cat (now that’s a furry creature I long to have and hold).

TAKING CHARGE

The initial shock eventually wore off and replacing it was a protective instinct: i felt like a lioness raring to protect her pride. I was not sure what I wanted to do but one thing was/is clear: I am not going to kill any rat. So began the search for a herbal, organic solutions, natural remedies and repellents- humane ways of addressing the problem. We will of course be getting one of those metal cage contraptions to attempt to trap the rascal and set him free somewhere far, far away. But in case the nasty bugger outsmarts us (I have seen many a rat cleverly dislodge the bait and flee before the trapdoor snaps), I am considering other methods

BEING HUMANE

At least five people have suggested rat poison and/or glue pads. I am not judging these people but the technique when I say it  is not for me. I’m happy to report that an equal number of people suggestied some peaceful, humane solutions.

I thought I’d share some of these suggestions and household remedies for people like me who don’t want to kill rats no matter how eek-ed out and protective they are of their homes.

1. Peppermint oil:  Apparently rats loathe herbal aromas. So plant peppermint, spearmint and citronella plants around your home. If these are not available where you stay, peppermint oil works too. This can be found in most markets. Soak some cotton balls in the peppermint. Make sure that they are saturated. Place the cotton balls in areas where rats are likely to crawl. Replace the old cotton balls with cotton balls with fresh peppermint oil at least twice a week.

2. Napthalene balls: Rats don’t like the smell of these either. It’s not enough to put these in your cupboards, woollen-storage closets….these need to be replenished and replaced as napthalene balls shrink with time. Their potency diminishes when they shrink. So be alert and put fresh napthalene balls out. This is where I failed and Mr. Rat taught me a lesson the hard way.

courtesy: madasafish.com

3. Ammonia: Some websites are also suggesting ammonia. Mix one part ammonia with one part water. Soak old socks or a cloth in the ammonia and squeeze out the excess liquid. Place the cloth where the rats are likely to enter the home. Check the cloth at least once a week and replace if necessary. Personally, I don’t plan to try this one out as the slightest whiff of ammonia makes me feel nauseated.

4. Spices: Chilli peppers, cayene pepper, even tabasco sauce can drive these lil beasts away. Sprinking garlic powder and diced garlic cloves can also do the trick according to ehow.com. The pungency of garlic can make rats feel nauseated and send them running in the opposite direction (opposite from you, that is). But if the strong smell of garlic makes you feel sick, then clearly this option is not for you. Incidentally, garlic oil is also a cockroach-repellent.

5. Gizmos: My uncle recommended an ultrasonic device that emits high-frequency wave speeds that permanently ensure that rats stop recee-ing your home. This is mostly designed to protect cars, offices, server rooms and godowns. Here’s the link: http://www.varnacrafts.com

courtesy: stuartmcmillen.com

I’m going to try out the peppermint oil technique tomorrow. Fingers crossed. Keep an eye on this space.

(Sources: etips.sulekha.com, ehow.com)

A Cafe-in-a-Van

Image

A bizarre new project is waiting to take off. An old school mate is one of the 6 founders behind the group that calls itself Bean Here Bean There. More details on their website. http://www.indiegogo.com/beanherebeanthere

If you’re feeling a bit lazy and don’t feel like reading, watch this http://vimeo.com/48573180

Pretty exciting stuff, I say

The Muffin Makeover: Myths Busted

Don’t you just love studies that condone a high-fat diet and tell you that it’s good for. Here’s a new one. From Harvard it self. Digest it immediately, cause you know what they say about theories, hypotheses and studies… they only stand till the next one comes around to debunk them,

Picture courtesy: lululuathome.com

Well, researchers at Harvard claim to have busted the low-fat muffin myth. They say low-fat diets are not better for you compared to moderate- or high-fat diets, and in fact, could be worse for you. The same logic extends to low-fat muffins.  Apparently, low-fat ones full of whole grains and low on sugar and salt aren’t so heart-healthy.

You can read the full article on the Harvard page.

The guys at the CIA of the food industry (yes, that actually spells out to Culinary Institute of America) have come out with a list of tips for homecooks and professional chefs for a healthy muffin… to summarise a smaller, but rich-in-the-right-stuff-without-compromising-on-taste muffin…

Here are a few of their tips:

  • Downsize the portions. The mega-muffins popular in bake shops are two to three times the size of the muffins your grandmother might have baked.
  • Go whole on the grains. It’s easy to substitute whole wheat flour for 50% of the white flour in recipes without harming taste or texture. And with a few recipe alterations, delicious muffins can be made with 100% whole grains. See the Lemon Chickpea Breakfast Muffin and the Whole Wheat Banana Nut Muffin recipes as examples.
  • Slash the sugar. You can cut 25% of the sugar from most standard muffin recipes without any negative impact on flavor or texture, and in some recipes, cut back even more.
  • Pour on the oil. Liquid plant oils—canola, extra virgin olive oil, corn, sunflower, and others—help keep whole-grain muffins moist and are a healthier choice than melted butter or shortening.
  • Bring out the nuts. For extra protein and an additional source of healthy fats, add chopped nuts.
  • Scale back the salt. The best way to reduce salt is to make a smaller muffin and to pair muffins with foods, such as vegetables and fruits, that are sodium-free.
  • Pump up the produce—and flavor! Fresh whole fruit and unsweetened dried fruit naturally contain sugar, but unlike other sweeteners, they also contain fiber and important nutrients. Using fruit in your muffins means you can have a lighter hand on the added sugar. Cooked or raw vegetables, such as caramelized onions, sliced jalapeños, and chives and other fresh herbs—together with a whole range of spices—can add interesting textures and savory flavors to muffins.

New Year Ramblings

They say the way you spend new year’s day is an inkling of things to come. I hope not ’cause I was in bed coughing, sneezing and clutching my stomach in pain. The flu followed me into 2012.  My new year resolution was determined in that moment- as I covered under a quilt and the neighbourhood erupted in raucous Punjabi pop music and fireworks- I will reclaim my health, hit the gym more often, try out new workouts and in the process, expand my capacity for distance running.

Here’s a hilarious piece in the LA times on new year resolutions like mine that are health-centric.

http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-0102-small-changes-20120102,0,3153628.story

Health apart, I resolve to laugh more, bake more  and spread joy wherever I go

Anti-perspirants: No sweat, all tears?

Here’s a draft of my open letter to Asin Thottumkal.
Dear Asin Thottumkal,

I assure you I’m not a fan but still rejoice in the fact that a star from the South can make a confident debut in Bollywood. But now I hear that the secret behind your confidence is dry underarms. Why let sweat take the sheen out of your confidence, you breezily say to the camera in an 
ad for Sure Deo. Lass, what’s shocking is not only that the ad is factually incorrect (it’s an anti-perspirant, not a deodorant) but that an educated girl like you is endorsing a product that heightens the risk of breast cancer in the user.

I realise you’re being paid big bucks and will say pretty much anything your sponsor tells you to. But I urge you to think again. 

Here’s why. Our bodies are designed to purge out toxins everyday. Certain sites on our bodies are crucial for this. Behind our knees, behind our ears, groin area and our armpits. Anti-perspirants, as the name suggests, stop our bodies from performing a most basic and healthy function. Rudely prevented an outlet, the toxins can’t just evaporate into thin air. They fester and remain in our bodies, depositing themselves in lymph nodes under the armpits. Nearly all breast cancer tumours occur in this area…. the lymph nodes and the upper, outside quadrant of the breast area are neighbours. The risk of cancer increases when anti-perspirants are used directly after shaving or using an epillator. The skin is smarting, and tiny, imperceptible nicks in your skin allow the toxins to rush in 
Is it really worth it? 
 
   I see my grandmother battling cancer today. It was detected in her breasts 3 years ago, she bravely underwent a removal surgery and then radiation. Today, the cancer has spread to her bones. My grandmother is 85 and has probably rarely or never used any harsh perfumes, deos and anti-perspirants in her lifetime. Not just because they weren’t available, but because she believes in simple living, high thinking.  So not all breast-cancer cases are brought on by using anti-perspirants. But I wouldn’t be surprised if all anti-perspirant users stand a high chance of tumours. My mother and I have sworn to veer clear of the stuff.  I don’t think we’ll ever regret it.

(I want to thank my friend Madhumita Das for sharing some of these facts with me in a recent e-mail. It confirmed what I had long been thinking about)