Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Adieu 2013!

2013, an annus horribilis of sorts has come to a close and now, a new day, a new year, a new Sun is going to dawn on us in a few hours.
But a year like this did give a lot of lessons, the lessons that one refuses to learn otherwise. The year did teach me my limitations, my constraints, the workarounds but the best lesson that I am still learning is the resilience that I need so much today! The year taught me to count my blessings and cherish them.
Despite the challenges, the pain and tears that 2013 gave me, I thank God I lived in "2013" for this is the year that taught me a lot.
Somewhere deep inside I realise that I may have not been really the ideal husband, son, brother or friend this year. But I realise I have to be better. I resolve to be a better "me", a better husband, son, brother or friend in the coming year, 2014!
I need the strength that my family's affection, love and support gives. I hope I will live up to the expectations they have from me.
I pray to the Almighty to give me that strength! I pray for that precious patience to strive to be a better human! I pray for strength to smile in the face of adversity! I pray for the strength to let go. I pray for the strength to be kinder, considerate to the less privileged in society.
I also pray for all our collective happiness, love, health and prosperity! I pray for more golden moments that will be spent together with loved ones, and will be cherished forever, forever, as timeless and sweet memories!

May God bless us with the ability and strength to see each day in 2014 as a new opportunity or 365 opportunities in 2014!
May God bless us all with the best of all, the togetherness and love in the years to come, starting with 2014, which hopefully would be an annus mirabilis!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always! -- Part IV -- A Tribute To Madiba, The Foodie!

As the news is still sinking in, the news of the Madiba leaving us, I was reminded of his book, The Long Walk To Freedom (this is one book I just cannot get tired of, despite having read it twice!). There were several accounts and incidences in his book that showed his immense love for great food that started off early on in his life. These episodes kept flashing in my mind ever since I got to know of his death.
Mandela and his little friends used to roam around his village in the Eastern Cape looking for berries, fruits, wild honey and warm milk straight from the udder which they so relished. But the most endearing account was the one of his early days in Qunu, of how he and his little friends mischievously stole a squeaking little piglet, took it into the Veld and roasted it. That Mandela claimed was the tastiest pork he had ever had. I can very well imagine that feeling of excitement, which definitely added to the taste and flavour! 
True and loyal to his Xhosa traditions, he loved the local delicacies like sour milk, but he was open to experimentation when it came to food. The Long Walk To Freedom talks of an incidence of his clumsiness in adapting to the use of eating chicken with a knife and fork! His grand-daughter Ndoyiya recounted a conversation on that incident that she had with Mandela - Mandela, then 14, had gone for a dinner with his childhood crush's family. He had trouble using a fork and knife, causing a chicken wing to fly off his plate. Ndoyiya is quoted to have said “When he talked about it, and he was 90 at the time, he still told that story with such intensity that the embarrassment of the moment hadn’t left him.”
As a young lawyer in Johannesburg in the 1940s, the Madiba was struggling to make ends meet, but once, he could not resist the temptation of buying a huge piece of ham from a deli - this was detailed graphically in his book! That's so much like me, I too cannot resist the temptation of juicy chunk of ham!
In Johannesburg, as Mandela got involved in the political movement, he got exposed to a cross-section of people. The book has accounts of how he relished food from various cultures ranging from peanut butter - white bread sandwiches to spicy Indian curries that a Mrs. Pillay used to make for him when the Treason Trials were on!
The day he proposed to Winnie Madikizela, it was over a spicy Indian meal. He had hoped to impress Winnie, but the spiciness of the Indian cuisine was a bit too much for her to handle! He did have a soft corner for spicy Indian food, that was a proof of his big heart and more importantly, a highly evolved appreciation for the best in food. 
While at Robben Island, the quality of food was Mandela's frequent complaint to the prison authorities. He rallied the political prisoners around to demand better quality of food and they did meet with success.
Years later, the Madiba was shifted to Pollsmoor prison and Victor Verster prison. Conditions over there were much better, as far as food was concerned. At Victor Verster, before his release, Mandela was assigned an apartment, alongwith an Afrikaner butler, who was provided by the jail authorities. Mandela gave a detailed account of how he savoured his captor's superb cooking! Indeed, food can win you over, melt your heart and fill it with love!
Today, on the Net, I found an article on a Kenyan site, about the Madiba's love for food. His personal chef Xoliswa Ndoyiya said, ”One of his favourite was the Malva pudding (a baked treat topped with ice cream or custard or strawberry trifle) and Mandela would “just eat it up.” he was well versed in making traditional South African fare. Collections of Mandela’s favorite recipes have been published in a cookbook “Ukutya Kwasekhaya,” (loosely translating to home food in Xhosa language), which was authored by Ndoyiya. Another writer, Anna Trapido, chronicled Mandela’s life from a culinary standpoint in a biography called “Hunger for Freedom” - I would be immediately ordering this book from Flipkart! 
Despite his global stature, the Madiba always craved for his traditional cuisine, food that he grew up on - Umphokoqo, a porridge made from maize meal and sour milk, sweet chicken among other delights. 
I will always remember Madiba not only for his political stature and greatness, but also for his immense love for great food. I am pretty sure, had the Madiba been alive, he would have agreed with my statement "I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always!"

Friday, December 6, 2013

I Will Always Miss You, Madiba!

This morning, I had just started for work and had just hit the road, when I received a mail from my parents on my Blackberry. The mail said that Nelson Mandela had passed away!
That was a devastating news! I wept all the way, as it was in many ways a personal loss. This was the toughest drive to office I ever had.
The Madiba, for me, was an immensely inspiring figure.
I first heard about Mandela in the mid-1980s when newspapers in Zambia, almost on a daily basis, carried stories on the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. Being a frontline state, Zambia had sheltered ANC activists and the President, Kenneth Kaunda was at the forefront, campaigning against South African policies. 
That consciousness, naturally, seeped down to Zambians, including those we interacted with. Schools too had discussions on the struggle, that's how I learnt about Mandela!
Much later, I bought his book The Long Walk To Freedom in 2009 and till date, I have read it twice, both the times with great interest. 
It amazed me on how could there ever be a man like him! He was pragmatic and not dogmatic like the guys we had in India. This pragmatism endeared him to not only South Africans, but also the world!!
His wrinkled and gnarled, yet ever smiling face spoke of a pain of the past yet optimism for the future. His persona was quite like an aging Banyan tree - strong, wrinkled yet firmly grounded, and ever ready to provide shelter, hope, inspiration and comfort to lesser mortals like me!
Perhaps he couldn't have lived much more, he was already 95. He lived well, accomplished what he had set out to achieve and had inspired an entire generation, all over the world!
Indeed we should thank God he was amongst us. Perhaps, remembering him fondly and learning from his ideals and inspiring personality would be better than mourning his demise!
Still, I will miss your presence in the world! I will always miss you, Madiba! And yes, I will indeed miss the smart Mandela shirts you used to wear!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Goodness In Every Slurp!

Sometime back I got infected by the goddamned Dengue virus, and things took a healthier turn. Tea was junked for green tea, salad and fruit consumption was consciously increased and oatmeal became the standard fare for breakfasts.
This was also a great opportunity to try something new. So came about delicious and healthy soups, which are very easy to make. 

The one above is a green pea and broccoli soup. The peas and broccoli was lightly boiled with chicken stock and peppercorns and pureed. The puree was heated with a few basil leaves and had with loads of crushed pepper. It was awesome!

The next one was equally awesome - pumpkin carrot soup! Diced pumpkins and carrots were boiled with ginger, peppercorns and chicken stock. After the carrots and pumpkins went soft, the whole thing was pureed and had with loads of pepper.
In both the soups, we did not add a single pinch of salt, yet both of them were absolutely delicious and filling, a great alternative to snacking away! That's why we said to ourselves that there was loads of goodness and health in every slurp! ;) 

C'est la vie!

Ahhhh Sundays! 
Sundays are when we can really savor our breakfasts, in a relaxed way, letting the flavour of each morsel seep down the tastebuds, instead of worrying about the traffic on the way to work.
Trust me, the relaxed atmosphere makes us think of newer ideas for breakfast and certainly these Sunday breakfasts taste a lot more better and healthier. 

This breakfast of a few weeks back was awesome. This plate has a very healthy grilled sandwich with a topping of blanched spinach, cherry tomatoes, tangy pickled green tomatoes (we made this pickle at home!) and basil. Pan-roasted potato wedges and sauteed mushrooms with oyster and Worchestershire sauce make for perfect accompaniments to our open sandwich!

Recently, on another Sunday, we gave our breakfast another interesting twist. Fresh spinach was blanched and squeezed to take out excess moisture. The blanched spinach alongwith fresh mushrooms was stir fried in olive oil, garlic and sesame seeds! We had this with a fried egg and crispy toast. We could taste the goodness of life, of nature, in each morsel!
C'est la vie!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mumbai's New Stunner!

My city, Mumbai, has now got a new iconic structure - the new Air Traffic Control tower at Chhtrapati Shivaji International Airport. Presently, the structure is the tallest ATC tower in the country, standing at 83.8 metres.
The structure is shaped like a wishbone and its distinct shape is an absolute stunner, especially in the evening, when it is illuminated, definitely sexier than a 36-24-36! 
I am proud of having this tower in my city, it makes me feel great, amazes me how this city is evolving!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Be a Firework!!!!!

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag 
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
Six feet under screams, but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you?

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July
'Cause baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh
As you shoot across the sky...

After my Diwali Wish, I came across this lovely and uplifting video, a video of Air Canada employees at Toronto's Pearson Airport performing on Katy Perry's song, Firework, and somehow, the lyrics struck a chord, instantly!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always! -- Part III -- Building Gastronomical Bridges

A couple of months back, Neeti visited Pali Village Cafe and came back gushing on the food and the ambience.
Since we were in Bandra last night, Neeti suggested that we go there. And I had to agree. Located in a quintessential East Indian bungalow, the Cafe has a rustic charm to it, with traditional furniture, antique lamps and bare walls! The place gave a Meditteranean "tavern-ous" look.
The fare was artisanal, with rustic breads on display. We ordered our meal and Neeti asked me "Aren't pasta, spaghetti similar to noodles we have in China?"
Indeed that's an exciting question. I replied that perhaps pasta in some form traveled with the legendary Marco Polo from China to medieval Italy.
After devouring our pasta, on the way back, I started Googling the query Neeti had posed.
There is indeed a theory that Ancient Rome did have something like the lasagne that we know of today. However, it were the Arabs, intrepid travelers and traders of the Silk Route that existed ub the Middle Ages who adapted the fresh Oriental noodles, dried them and carried them on their dhows from China to the Middle East and onwards to North Africa and then to South Europe! 
The Arabs used to stop by at Serendip (modern Sri Lanka), the Malaccas and the Malabar coast! Perhaps the noodles that originated in China inspired the Malay noodles and string hoppers (idiyappam) of the Malabar coast and modern Sri Lanka before settling in an alien land far away, in Italy!
Some believe that noodles existed in Asia much before Marco Polo’s trip to China. Archaeologists believe that central Asia is most likely the first area to have produced noodles thousands of years ago. From Asia, it traveled westward, perhaps through nomadic Arabs to Europe.
Once it reached the Mediterranean, the pasta / noodle making process was refined, and durum wheat became the ingredient of choice for pasta flour because of its high gluten content and long shelf life. When durum wheat pasta is dried, it lasts indefinitely, making it a very convenient food to store. Over time, because of pasta’s affordability, shelf life, and versatility, it became firmly rooted in Italian culture. The warm Mediterranean climate of Italy is suited to growing fresh vegetables and herbs, which meant that Italians could get creative with a delicious variety of pasta sauces.
Later, Italy became the centre of culinary innovation - tomatoes came in from the New World of the Americas, spinach and aubergines came in from North Africa. These new ingredients along with local delights like basil, olives, capers, cheeses, cured meats and wines resulted in a delectable cuisine that we call Italian! 
Is it also possible that the perishable, soft Chinese dumplings had been made since 1700 BC spawned off the concept of stuffed pasta. Today the “dumpling” style of pasta is manifested in ravioli, gnocchi and other preparations using regular wheat flour, eggs and water. 
Whether pasta is a part of Marco Polo’s legacy may be questionable, it is indeed true that gastronomical bridges between distant lands and civilisations may have existed for times immemorial, without us, modern people, knowing of them!
And talking of recent gastronomical bridges, I recently read of Sikhs who moved to California to work on farms in the late 1800s and early 1900s, who ended up marrying Mexican women because Californian laws prevented emigration of Sikh women for marriage. These Punjabi men chose Mexican women in marriage for a number of reasons. Physically, Mexican women at the time were thought to resemble Punjabis. They shared a rural way of life. Mexican women were also preferred for one important reason - their tortillas were somewhat like the makki ki roti that the Punjabis so missed in the Californian farmlands! So came about a melange of langars and chicken curry enchiladas!
Gastronomical bridges like these will continue to be built as people travel the world, we have already see that happening over the centuries, but today the pace of inter-cultural intercourse has only accelerated.
That's why one full year after I first wrote two editions of "I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always!", I still believe in it, even more strongly than I ever did! 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

From Mehrauli to St. Andrews, Bandra!

Last year, when we shifted to our new abode, we had some excess stuff that had to be given away. Some stuff was given to our cook and cleaning lady who had served us for quite a few years. Some stuff, like furniture, was donated to an old age home in Andheri East. Our cane sofa set, which my Granny and parents had gifted us way back in January 2004, however had to be sold.
For that, I posted an advertisement on online portals like Quikr as well as on my alumni mail groups.
In a few days, I got a call from a lady who was interested in the sofa and she and her husband came to check out the sofa on the following Saturday. 
They instantly liked the sofa and we agreed on the price. They agreed to pick up the sofa the next week and the deal was done.
I thought it was fitting that the money they paid be donated to the old age home, in the memory of loving granny. Neeti concurred with my idea and so it was....
A couple of months later, Neeti moved jobs and it turned out that the buyer - the husband was in the same organisation as Neeti.
Neeti used to keep telling me how her colleague had a keen interest in theatre.
Yesterday Neeti prodded me to join her to watch her colleague's maiden play as a director - Final Solutions, at St. Andrews Auditorium. Grudgingly, I agreed, as I was being pushed out of my weekend slothfulness....
So we headed to Bandra for the play..... And as we seated ourselves right in front of the stage, Neeti noticed something - "That's our sofa!" she exclaimed excitedly!
Yes, indeed, it was.... What a heartwarming feeling...
The direction of the play was was awesome - the couple were fully involved in the production - the lady herself acted in the play. 
After the play was over, Neeti and I met the couple and commended their performance. "See your sofa is being put to great use!" the lady said.
Yes indeed. Who would have imagined that the sofa that was bought from Mehrauli in Delhi would make its way to Bandra and would be on-stage, in front of hundreds of people watching an awesome theatrical performance!
At that moment, I could imagine, I could almost see my Granny smiling down from Heaven!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Diwali Wish!

Again the festival season has dawned on us. And this is the time for fresh beginnings, a new start, a rejuvenation of the spirit and the soul.
As we begin our preparations for Diwali I am forced to think about myself, my life. In a sense, I am, kind of, drawing up a balance sheet of what my "assets" are and what my "liabilities" are....
And perhaps, it did not come as a revelation to me...
I knew it all along, yet was timid enough to accept it...
It's such a pity, but little wonder, that all I have been chasing, so far, hasn't been what I really want, not today and never in the past. I have perhaps been living a life that isn't mine, I have been doing stuff because I had to, rather than because I wanted to....
I have perhaps never heard my heart's call, instead, heard my mind's call. 
Is that why it's said "We all are f@#ked up with no coordination between heart mind and brain!"
Is that why I lost that spirit, that spunk, that spring in my step?
Perhaps, it's time time to change all that....
This Diwali, I pray to be better "human being" rather than a "human doing" what is dictated..... I pray to dance to my heart's beat, I pray to be myself .... ૐ 
Happy Diwali!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Yeh Dil Mangii More!

After Breaking Bread at Le Pain Quotidien, it was time to experience some more gourmet delights with GourmetItUp.com.
This time we chose Cafe Mangii at Powai, closer to home. And we rushed there with with a lot of expectations of a delightful and hearty meal.
At Cafe Mangii, we were ushered in by a courteous and pleasant waiter - the basic courtesies undoubtedly add to the culinary experience - I would give Cafe Mangii full marks on this count.

The three course menu! 

An interesting bottle that has both olive oil and vinegar!

We chose the goat cheese gnocchi and the Mediterranean pizza. To save time, we requested the waiter to serve us the two courses together, and he graciously obliged!
It seems the Chef was having a bad day, the gnocchi was overcooked and it disintegrated at the touch of the fork. The ingredients were indeed awesome - the pesto was earthy and the pine nuts crunchy!

The Mediterranean pizza was crisp and crunchy - the crust was awesome but the was a strange taste in the sauce, it certainly didn't taste right! And that was a tad disappointing....

I was looking for a delectable and sinful dessert. Neeti and I zeroed on the red velvet cake, but that too was a bit soggy!
I wondered whether it was a matter of chance, that one in a million kind of an event that we weren't too satisfied with this GourmetItUp experience or was Cafe Mangii really not up to it....? But to be fair, I would give full marks to the helpful staff there!
Anyways, I came out feeling Yeh Dil Mangii More.... after all Mangii could be a lot more better!

As we stepped out of Cafe Mangii, I could help but notice the middle aged couple that moved out of FabIndia, the lady had done a massive shopping, but it was her husband who was carrying the bags for her. People may make fun of that, but perhaps, it is an expression of true love!

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Splendor Of A Moonlight Night!

During the walk downstairs, I was enthralled by the beauty of the bright moon and the clouds around it. I could not help clicking photographs of the moonlight night sky....
Indeed Nature does give these precious moments to pause, forget the crap around you, to get enthralled in the lovely surprises it has offer and end up in wonderous amazement....
Enjoy the splendor of the moonlight night sky, the splendor of nature, with me! 

Bombaypolis Moments.... Part 16

Monsoon clouds loom over BKC, the quintessential concrete jungle!

Clouds over Mumbai airport's new, iconic ATC tower, which I believe started operations today!

That's what I call getting "traff..ked"!

Monsoon clouds give a lovely reflection on the glass exteriors...

An armada of cirrocumulus stratiformis clouds!


And the sun sets, only to rise back tomorrow morning in our megapolis!

You can visit the previous editions of Bombaypolis Moments here!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bombaypolis Moments.... Part 15

Bombaypolis Moments is back!!!

This photograph pretty much sums it all.... Mumbai is all about high-rises, the omni-present slums, which give the city the notoriety of being called Slumbai(!), traffic snarls, the sea and the wonderful green you get to see when the Monsoon sets in!

Caged in a highrise?

An interesting oval ceiling at Oshiwara's Mega Mall - for many this is what they see of the sky the whole day!

Have I left Mumbai?
No, I am on Aarey Road, which criss-crosses Aarey Colony, the city's lung!

You won't believe you are in Mumbai when you drive on this road...

It's so green out here!

And branches of trees form a wonderful canopy!

You can visit the previous editions of Bombaypolis Moments here!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Breaking Bread At Le Pain Quotidien

A few days back, chance had it that I happened to come across a website, GourmetItUp.com, that claimed to offer culinary experiences in the best of the restaurants the city has to offer. 
I just had to, had to experience the "experience" they promised and that did have to be what's considered to be the Holy Grail in the culinary world, French cuisine. And as luck had it, GourmetItUp.com had an offer going on at the Le Pain Quotidien in Bandra Kurla Complex's tony office space, Maker Maxity.
The drive to BKC was smooth, given it is a Saturday. The bright afternoon sun had a warm and uplifting feel and it was the perfect time to savour a gourmet experience!

Just as we were being ushered into Le Pain Quotidien, I was struck by a BEST double decker on display.... a dying breed, once these double deckers were the icons of Bombay, as Mumbai was known then!
Times change, names changes and icons fade....

Ah, well, the menu gives me the correct pronunciation!

The rush was a bit low and waiters took a few moments to share a laugh!

The communal table, replete with rustic charms!

And our menu comes!

Sea salt, coarse pepper, vinegar and olive oil... condiments for our meal!

And there come our first course, a thick broth minestrone soup with classical French breads!
The minestrone was hearty and uplifting!

And then came our second course - Neeti's vegetarian option was red bean hummus with grapes and cheese served on bread....

But for me, it had to be five spice chicken skewers with tomato aioli!
The chicken was chewy and flavourful - just the way I like it!

That's my third course - a smoked chicken and cheddar tar tine - an open faced sandwich!

The salad course began - for me it was grilled chicken salad with bits of bacon, egg and Danish blue cheese.
The waiter was considerate enough to caution me that the salad has bacon....
Little did he know that anything that crawls, that walks, that flies or that swims is kosher for me.... 
The salad was nice and crunchy!

Neeti chose the vegetarian option - Caeser salad with grilled vegetables and Parmesan shavings!

And then it was time for the pièce de résistance - I went in for the seared basil chicken served on a bed of mushroom risotto with a very earthy herb sauce....
The chicken was succulent and juicy, the sauce was was lip-smacking!

Neeti chose spinach and ricotta ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes!
I had a bite and it was  mmmmm heavenly!

Next was our dessert platter.... with some tea!
Indeed this is a Saturday afternoon well spent!

And as we paid our bill, I got to read the story of LPQ!

Founded by Alain Coumont, the first Le Pain Quotidien opened on 26 October 1990 at 16 rue Danseart in Brussels, Belgium. As a young chef, Alain was dissatisfied with the quality of bread available in Brussels, so he began making his own, mixing flour, water and salt into the familiar loaves of his childhood - enduring memories of his grandmom making the daily bread.
He furnished the first LPQ with cabinets scoured from antique stores and a large table purchased at a local flea market - that was to become the first Le Pain Quotidien’s many communal tables.

I truly enjoyed the LPQ experience - the staff was friendly, the food was yum, the portions were filling, which is, well, becoming a rarity! All I can say now is merci LPQ and GourmetItUp!

Disclaimer: I paid for this meal and this is an authentic account of a satisfied foodie! Burp!
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