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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: Warrior (by Oliver Lafont)

When it comes to fiction, I usually rate a book by the shortest possible time taken from start to completion. It boils down to a ratio like number of pages divided by the number of days. Anything that scores more than hundred is top dog. And it took me just 2.5 days to chow down the entire 375 pages on this one :):).

Coming to the storyline. An immortal son of Lord Shiva. The imminent End of Days. Space travel. A heavy does of quantum physics. And a rag tag team of soldiers facing an unknown enemy. Imagine the endless possibilities that can arise when one decides to throw all these components together into one heady cocktail. It can either make one land flat on one's face or one can end up with a sparkling read that is a sure shot winner. And trust me, this book falls into the latter category.

Oliver Lafont is a fine story teller. He adds elements of mythology, science, human emotions and heroism into the narration and yet does not allow these numerous elements slacken his grip at any point. The language is easy to grasp and yet at par with international authors. Since this is his debut novel, I would rate him to be much better than quite a few of his Indian contemporaries who are in the business of churning out one hopeless plot after another.

But at the same time, there are a few flawed bits. Some parts could have been left out or modified to add substance to the plot. For example, some of that banter between Saam and his girlfriend which lacks chutzpah, the meeting of the Peerless which looks contrived and even the first meeting with the geeky IIT professor which seems too gory without a proper reason. But then there are some bits like a parallel Kurukshetra war fought in another world (aka another dimension of time and space ) which make one wonder if the concept of good and evil are anything but absolute and need to be calibrated in terms of relativity. Nonetheless, this one slowly grows on you and keeps you captivated till the end.

This is a book that allows one's imagination to take a lot of wild twists and turns which may or may not be a good thing for some( personal preference ). Not going to spoil the suspense by revealing more of the plot. Grab a copy of this one and you won't regret it.

Buy it online from Amazon.

Do read the author's interview here .

[DISCLAIMER - A copy of the book was provided by the author's publicist but that has not influenced my opinion in any manner.]

Fruity Khira ( Ricotta Cheese Pudding with assorted fruits )

Easter is around the corner and a lot of folks would be meticulously working on a mouth watering spread for that special lunch /dinner with friends and family. While there are a lot of traditional favorites for the occasion, an unusual dish is always a welcome addition to the menu. Leave aside the usual puddings and cakes for something wonderfully delightful. A pudding made with ricotta cheese and served with assorted seasonal fruits can add zing to even the most boring conversations that sometime follow a lunch or dinner!!

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time -

Ingredients -

  • 1.5 litres whole milk ( or 1 liter milk and 2/3 cup Ricotta cheese )
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 7-8 cashews
  • 2 tbsp pistachio flakes
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar
  • a pinch of saffron 
  • 1/2 tsp ghee/clarified butter
  • 2 cups assorted fruits ( Fig, Kiwi, Apple, Pineapple, Watermelon, Grapes )

Preparation - Dilute the vinegar with 2 tbsp water.

Cooking - Boil 1/2 litre of milk in a pan. When it comes to full boil, add the diluted vinegar. Boil for another 4-5 minutes so that the chenna/ricotta cheese ( solid portion of the milk) clearly separates from the remaining liquid. Drain the liquid. Wash the chenna/ricotta cheese under running water to remove traces of vinegar. Squeeze out the remaining liquid from the chenna/ricotta cheese. Allow it to cool down.

Heat a little ghee on a pan. Fry the cashews to a golden shade. Remove from pan and keep aside.
Add the pistachio flakes to the same pan and lightly fry for 30 seconds. Remove from pan.

Cooking: Heat a thick bottomed wok. Add the remaining milk and bring to a boil. Allow it to reduce to half the original volume.

Then add condensed milk, saffron strands, sugar and fried cashews. Let it simmer for 10 mins before you add the chenna/ricotta cheese.

Keep stirring at regular intervals till the mixture becomes thick ( 'rabdi' like consistency ), Add the pistachio flakes, remove from the flame and keep aside.

Allow it to chill in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours before serving.

Take the chopped fruits in a bowl and drizzle the khira/ricotta cheese pudding generously all over it. Dig in !!!

Note - Khira is traditionally prepared as a offering in the Puri Jaganaath Temple of Odisha. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Interview with Oliver Lafont ( Author of the mytholgical thriller 'Warrior' )

Yep. I am on a high these days. One after another good read keeps up in that uber utopic mood. It seems a mere coincidence that whatever I pick up is at least tinged with mythology if not entirely based on it. And that is why I readily agreed when I got the chance to interview the multi-talented Oliver Lafont and review his maiden publication 'Warrior'. In case you are wondering about the guy, he played the very cute ( but price tag flashing ) fiancee of Kareena Kapoor in 'Three Idiots' . I still get a 'LOL' when I think of his 300 dollar shoes :) !!!

Lafont is a multi-talented and versatile personality who not only writes fiction, feature film screenplays, and editorial pieces, but also acts in feature films, endorses some of India’s most popular brands on television, and lends his voice to many media in many languages ( the guy can speak fluent French, Hindi, English and Spanish ). A French polyglot, Lafont pursues his eclectic interests at the highest standards having worked with some of India’s most acclaimed directors on films like 3 IDIOTS, Guzaarish and two HOLLYWOOD films, and continuing in the same vein with his new novel coming out with Penguin India. He is a familiar face due to his work in over 70 adverts on television.

His novel ‘Warrior’ is a high octane, action-packed story that travels all over India and beyond. The hero, Saam, is an immortal warrior who is forced to come out of hiding in today’s Mumbai to pick up arms again and take to the road. His epic journey spans three days across an India torn by unnatural cataclysms, and even stranger lands. To bring back peace Saam must stoke his consuming hunger for war - but at what cost to himself? 

A truly 'unputdownable' book, it touches upon a plethora of elements like thrill, romance, mythology, friendship and even more. I would have happily sacrificed food and sleep for finishing all 375 pages in a single go had it not been for my hyper toddler. No wonder, the book was shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia prize. 

Lafont seems to be a guy who really knows where he is headed to. Read on for his take on mythology, his passion and life in general -

Interview with Oliver Lafont 

Q. How much relevance do superheros hold in today's technology driven world ? Are you inspired by any superhero in particular ? 

A. Superheroes have always had relevance and importance. When I look at mythologies around the world, the gods and demigods and demons of yore are all, to me, the ancient expressions of today’s ‘Avengers’ and ‘Superman’. I don’t think technology will or could change that. I think humanity wants superheroes, wants examples of people who are extraordinary, whether they’re real or fictional, to inspire us to be extraordinary ourselves. 

I’m not inspired by any superhero in that sense, but I like Superman most. 

Q. Since you have churned out a book that draws heavily on mythology, I would like to know if you are just moving with the current trend ? Or is it something that fascinates you ? 

A. I’ve always read and written fantasy, from a very young age. When my family moved from France to India I was seven years old, and my introduction to Indian culture happened in part through reading about India’s fascinating mythology. I originally wrote ‘Warrior’ as a feature film script when I came back to India from university more than a dozen years ago, so that was before the trend you mentioned. Indian mythology has always been particularly  interesting to me because of its amazing multilayered qualities. 

Q. Why is the plot based out of Mumbai ? Is it simply because you are familiar with it or is there any other reason behind it ? Since the city has already captured the imagination of the global audience thanks to movies like Slumdog Millionaire, are you merely trying to capitalize on it ? 

A. I chose Mumbai because I consider it the most cosmopolitan and aspirational city in India. Saam, my hero in ‘Warrior’, has returned to Mumbai to lose himself in this populace, wanting to be as anonymous and ordinary as possible. At the same time since Mumbai is India’s most global city, the drama of cataclysmic events occurring here felt most poignant on that scale. As I mentioned earlier, I first wrote ‘Warrior’ as a feature film script in 2001, while ‘Slumdog Millionnaire’ came out in 2009. 

Q. How would you rate your Hindi on a scale of 1 to 5 ? Have you ever dubbed for any of your characters ? 

A. I didn't speak a word of Hindi when I returned to India after university, and it did seem a bit daunting initially. I started with the alphabet and taught myself the language, and I’m pleased to say 
that my acting work has never been dubbed, that the directors I’ve worked with have all kept my own voice. So I’d like to say, as a non-native speaker who did the best I could, a 4 out of 5. 

Q. As I am also a food blogger, I would like to know if you ever find the time to rustle up a meal for close friends or family ? If yes, what do you cook for them ? 

A. I don’t cook much, but I think I make a good batch of crepes. That always seems to make my family and friends happy! 

Q. You are an accomplished actor, screenplay writer and author. But if you had to pursue a single interest, what would it be ? 

A. All the things I do are, for me, different aspects of storytelling, so I’m already pursuing a single interest. I might create a graphic novel tomorrow, or design a video game next week, and it’s still the 
same single thing that I’ve been passionate about since my childhood. So that’s an easy answer: storytelling. 

Q. Do you plan on penning down another book ? If yes, will it be a sequel to the first one ? 

A. There’s no question that I’ll be writing more books. In fact I already have a couple other finished ones which are with agents and publishers. As to writing a sequel, there are some ideas, but for 
now I’m only focused on promoting ‘Warrior’.

Keep watching this space for the review !!! Meanwhile do check out the book trailer.

Updated - Check the book review here !!



Sunday, March 29, 2015

Black Garbanzo Beans Salad ( Kala Channa Salad)

It is Monday and the time to make u for those weekend indulgences. At least, that is the case with me and my family. After two days of eating junk food, high calorie restaurant stuff, pizza or even numerous sweets, we settle for a simple rice and dalma fare on Mondays. Apart from the loads of vegetables that goes into the dalma, we also opt for some variety of stir fried vegetables and a humongous amount of salad. It not only provides a much needed respite to the digestive system but also makes one feel happy about eating healthy.

Kala channa is yet another variety of Garbanzo beans that is very popular in India. This cholesterol free legume is rich in fiber, Manganese, Tryptophan, Fiber, Folate, and Molybdenum and provide essential nutrients like Phosphorus, Iron, Copper and Protein . It helps in digestion, lowers homocysteine levels,  strengthen the heart muscles, benefits women suffering from hot flashes and reduces the chances of gastric ulcers.

This is a simple salad that I prepared with boiled kala channa and lots of veggies . Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 15-20 mins

Ingredients -

  • 3/4 cup black garbanzo beans/kala channa
  • 1 cucumber ( peeled and finely sliced )
  • 1 medium sized tomato ( finely sliced )
  • 1 medium onion ( finely sliced )
  • carrots/peppers/lettuce (optional)
  • 2-3 green chilis ( finely chopped )
  • 1/4 tsp chaat masala
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • pinch of turmeric
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Soak the kala channa overnight or for 8 hours. Wash thoroughly and cook with 1 cup water, salt and turmeric for 3-4 whistles. Keep aside for steam to escape. Drain off excess water.

Take all the ingredients (listed above) in a mixing bowl. Add salt as per taste. Mix well.

Serve immediately or chill for 10-15 mind before serving.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Kankada Kassa ( Stir fried Crab )

So it is a laidback Friday afternoon and a glorious weekend is beckoning all of us !! Apart from the mandatory lazing around, the only other thing that my husband seeks on those two days is gorgeous and truly glorious food . And one of his favorites happen to be stir fried crabs. It is a quite simple recipe that relies mainly on the succulent juicy flesh of the crab for all that flavor. Of course the taste is subtly enhanced by adding some seasoning but there is no gravy as such. The shell of the crab is gently cracked to allow the tender meat inside to get cooked and also imbibes some of the seasoning.

This works well with the mud crab as well as the blue sea crabs. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 45 mins

Ingredients -

  • 3-4 blue crabs (sea crabs)
  • 1 large + 1 small onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 1/2 long ginger (finely chopped/crushed)
  • 7-7 garlic cloves ( finely chopped/crushed)
  • 1 large tomato ( finely chopped)
  • 4-5 green chilis (slit lengthwise)
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/5 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/3 tsp sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 4 tbsp oil

Preparation - Clean the crabs and gently crack the shells. The meat should not spill outside. Marinate with the salt and turmeric for 5-10 mins.

Cooking - Heat 3 tbsp oil in a wok. Add the crab to it and stir fry on medium high flame for 5-7 mins. Remove and keep aside.

Add the remaining oil to the same wok. Throw in the onion, ginger and garlic. Stir fry for 3-4 mins. Then add the chopped tomatoes and cook till they are mushy.

Add all the spice powders to the wok and cook for 1 min.

Throw in the sauteed crab and toss everything together. Add 1/3 cup water along with a little salt. Cover with a lid for 2-3 mins.

Uncover and sprinkle the sugar, soy sauce and the green chilis. Cook for a few minutes till the gravy reduces and just about clings to the crabs.

Remove from wok and serve hot. Taste great with white rice.

Note - The sugar is a must to neutralize the acidity when using country tomatoes. Else one can give it a miss.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Easy Chicken Lasagna

Lasagna. The very mention of it is enough to send those salivary glands on an overdrive. A heavenly concoction of meat, tomato sauce and cheese that has layered pasta sheets altered with all the aforementioned toppings. This oven-baked Italian recipe is actually one of the oldest types of Pasta.

Though it may look quite daunting ( as it did to me ), it is quite easy to put together if you are an expert at whipping up a mean pasta sauce. I prefer to use the homemade Marinara sauce ( recipe here ) in my lasgana. Throw in some stir fried/browned meat, onions, veggies, a humongous amount of cheese and those pasta sheets cooked to al-dente, and I am all set. Read on for this super easy and yummy version -

[Sorry about the pics !! With my good old camera sent for the repairs, I had to shoot this with my mobile ]

Preparation Time - 1 hour ( actually I had three burners going at the same time so you will definitely need more if using a single/double cooktop )

Ingredients -

  • 6 Pasta/Lasagna sheets
  • 1 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded chicken
  • 1 cup mixed peppers (red & yellow)
  • 1 large onion ( chopped into medium sized pieces )
  • 6-8 garlic flakes (finely chopped)
  • coarsely ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 cup grated mozarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup processed cheese ( can substitute with ricotta or cream cheese )
  • 1 egg
  • chili flakes or chopped jalapenos (as per taste)
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Bring 10-12 cups water to a rolling boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Once the salt is dissolved, add the paste sheets one by one. Keep on a rolling boil and give a stir in between to prevent the sheets from sticking to each other.

Heat another wok. Drizzle with olive oil. Throw in the onions. Once they turn brown, add the peppers and stir fry for 2 mins. Finally add the shredded chicken along with the chili flakes/jalapenos, Italian seasoning and some parsley. Cook on medium high for 4-5 mins. Remove and keep aside to cool down a bit. Break the egg and mix in.

Check the lasagna sheets. If they are al-dente( mine took abt 20 mins) , drain the water using a colander and place the sheets under cold water for a few seconds.

[Do not forget to keep an eye on the marinara sauce (if cooking simultaneously). ]

Layering - Rub some olive oil over the bottom and sides of a rectangular dish. Put some marinara sauce at the bottom. Put one of the lasagna sheets. Layer it with some more marinara sauce, then add the meat and veggies mixture. Finally drizzle the cheese over it. Repeat the process till you exhaust the sheets and the meat and veggies. Pour any remaining sauce on the top and drizzle with leftover cheese. Sprinkle some parsley and the leftover seasoning. Cover the dish with a foil.

Heat an oven at 180C (or 375F) for 10 mins. Put in the baking dish and allow it to bake for 35-45 mins at the same temperature. (Remove the foil for the last 10 mins)

Remove carefully and let it sit for 15 mins.

Cut into pieces and serve.

Note - Leftovers can be frozen and reheated when ready to consume.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Guptaji Here I Come

It goes without saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It supplies the body with fuel after a long night's fast and kick starts the metabolic rate. No wonder it holds the key to sustained weight loss. Another advantage of that glucose rushing through your systems is that it also boosts your mood and keeps you cheerful till lunchtime ( all thanks to the sustained blood sugar levels which is also important in keeping diabetes at bay ). After all, there is some truth in the old saying 'Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper'.

But that does not mean one can down those 'aloo parathas' with an extra helping of butter or munch on those sinful plates of 'choley-bhatura' for breakfast. It needs to be healthy mix of fruits, dairy, cereals and maybe a handful of nuts thrown in (as established by many of the studies). An easy choice would be a fruit salad/smoothie with a bowl of oats/cornflakes. With Kellogg's offering some great tasting cereals,which are further fortified with vitamins and minerals, one can never run out of healthy choices.

And if you need mo inspiration, look no further than Guptaji's family. For these guys deserve all the credit for making a cuisine out of cornflakes and oats. Whether it is those yummy cornflakes coconut laddoos that defy conventional wisdom and are the cynosure of all eyes during the kid's tiffin break or that delectable evening salad that is made even more filling with the addition of cornflakes, Mrs Gupta surely knows how to whip up some mind boggling varieties. Ask her how to make a smoothie or milkshake more interesting ? Well, throw in some cornflakes and strawberry jelly along with the regular ingredients and you have a winner at hand. Something for a fussy kid or a husband who simply refuses to grow up ? Well, mix some of the leftover chapattis with cornflakes and a generous amount of seasoning, and voila, you have a gorgeous chapatti cornflakes chivda that is sure to make a convert even out of the staunchest fan of the traditional variant. In no mood for too much of experimentation ? Then just some fruit or even fruit pulp to your regular cornflakes with milk and come up equally delicious variants like the sitaphal cornflakes, banana and strawberry cornflakes or even apple cinnamon cornflakes.

Guptaji's family wont let you down even on those special occasions. Whether it is adding that special touch at a movie get-together with some cornflakes popcorn clusters or even pampering that someone special with walnut cornflakes choco balls and a cornflakes date shake, they do have a treat up their sleeves for every occasion. Well, I am off to the Gupta household to sample some of that yummy breakfast fare and to learn a thing or two. Are you coming with me ??

This post is written for Kellogg's. Check their Youtube channel here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Channa/Choley Masala ( Oil Free Recipe )

Last weekend was one of festivities and the feasting that goes with it, so there is little wonder that many among us would be still reeling with the fallout !! Today's recipe is just what the doctor prescribed for those suffering tummies and bloated waistlines. Yes, it is a recipe that is oil free (yippee) and very low on spices. Combine it with rotis made from multigrain atta and some delicious Nimbu Pani or Shikanji.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 30 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 cup kabuli channa/garbanzo beans
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin cubes (small ones) (this is optional)
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 5-6 garlic cloves
  • 1 dry red chili
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 tsp Choley masala of your choice
  • 1/2 tsp anardana powder
  • 2 pinch turmeric
  • salt to taste

For the garnishing -
  • freshly chopped cilantro
  • ginger juliennes
  • freshly squeezed lime juice

Preparation - Wash and soak the kabuli channa overnight .

Roughly chop the onion, ginger and garlic. Cut each tomato into 4 halves.

Cooking - Transfer the soaked kabuli channa into a pressure cooker along with 1 cup water, turmeric and salt to taste. Cook for 3 whistles or till it is cooked through but not mushy.

Heat a wok. Add the red chili, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick and cloves. Dry roast till they give off a smell. Remove and keep aside.

To the same wok, add the chopped onions, ginger and garlic. Dry roast till the onions leave water and turn red. Add the tomato at this point.and stir fry till the tomatoes are mushy.

Transfer the whole spices ( after they have cooled down) to a grinder jar. Buzz to a fine powder. Add the roasted onion, ginger, garlic and tomatoes to the same jar. Blitz everything together to obtain a fine paste.

Add the choley powder (dissolved in 2 tbsp water) to a heated wok and fry for a minute. Add the pumpkin pieces and fry for 2-3 mins. Pour in the masala paste and the boiled kabuli channa into the same wok. Mix everything together and bring to a boil. Add some boiling water if it see,s too dry. Add the anardana powder and simmer for a while. Remove from flame once the curry reaches a semi-dry consistency.

Serve with a generous garnishing of fresh cilanto, lemon juice and ginger juliennes.

Note - One can also add some amchur for that extra tang.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Nightlife in Namma Bengaluru !!!

With the Bangalore population being a predominantly youthful one, the Nightlife in Bangalore is bound to be scintillating. While it is mostly made up of IT professionals and students, the generous sprinkling of expats add an exotic touch to the party crowd that scorches the dance floors of every discotheque in Bangalore every single night ( I guess the crowd here does not discriminate between weekdays and weekends ). Though Bangalore has a large number of night clubs /discotheques, the 'work hard party harder' chanting set ensures that most of them are packed to the maximum. Read on for my picks among the best night clubs in Bangalore -

Image courtesy: Indiasite.com 

One of such places that gets a thumbs up from me is Toit. Situated on the prime location of 100 ft Road, Indiranagar, it is a brewpub that serves amazing beer (including some freshly brewed stuff) and some great food ( the menu is mostly Italian ). Needless to say, it is a must visit for all beer lovers. Some of the popular drinks served here are Tintin and Toit Red. Even the cocktails are crazy and very good too. For example I tried one that had pani puri added to it and it was just out of this world. Do remember to team up the drinks with the special pizza and the chicken wings. Though on the expensive side, one can easily end up paying more than Rs 2000 for a meal for two.

Once done with the drinks and the food, do hang around soaking in the pulsating energy of the crowd that haunts this place. It is preferable to go in a large group ( plus nobody minds if you tag a few kids along with you ) and enjoy the amazing feel of Toit. With live music being an added attraction of this brewpub, there is a performance by Monkey Temple (from Kathmandu) scheduled for 29th March, 2015.

Image courtesy: Foodrhythms.com

Another crowd favorite is the Hard Rock Cafe which is situated at a stone's throw from the bustling hub of M.G. Road. It is a state-of-the-art cafe that also displays memorabilia from rock legends and contemporary artists. Though on the more expensive side, this place is always packed to capacity and hence I would recommend reserving a table in advance. Though the grey stone exteriors along with the neon sign that reads 'Hard Rock Cafe' are distinctive enough , the interior which is divided into three distinct areas is quite massive. There is a restaurant, an open courtyard and a bar which are somehow seamlessly integrated. One can get almost everything ranging from fruit juices to coffee to beer to cocktails over here. The food consists of sandwiches, burgers, nachos and most of the Indian starters. Do visit this place for the feel of some good old fashioned American rock'n'roll. And in case I forgot to mention it, this is the very place in which the item song  'Dhat Teri Ki'  (starring Imran Khan and Esha Gupta) from the movie 'Gori Tere Pyar Mein' was shot.

If you happen to shake a leg or even let your hair down in any one of these happening places, do share your experience on this page :) !!!

Happy about being Myself !!

Yes, you read it right ! I am the happiest whenever I get the chance to be myself. Whether it is wearing my favorite pair of (worn out) jeans, listening to my favorite music, reading a favorite book, eating a choco-bar or a ripe mango, taking my dog for a walk in the park, chatting with friends and family or even playing with my toddler, I enjoy each of these activities that bring on a spontaneous smile on my face. It does not take much to make me happy and that is the way I prefer it to be.

It gels well with my life philosophy which was handed down to me by my late grandfather. He always preached the mantra of 'Simple Living, High Thinking'. Maybe being born in the Gandhian era, the principle was well indoctrinated in him but I feel that it still holds a lot of relevance in today's world that is driven by too many aspirations. Most of us are aware of the often devastating outcomes when those aspirations are not fulfilled. Deriving happiness and satisfaction from the simple pleasures of life ensures a positive mindset which in turn paves the way for focusing on loftier goals.

Someone truly said that happiness is just a state of mind. That is we can decide whether or not we want to remain happy and stress free. Being happy brings on positive feelings which in turn generate more happiness. I remember reading somewhere that people want to be around happy folks because they are perceived as being more successful and also because some of that happiness rubs off on them too. For it is difficult not to smile back when someone smiles at you. It can be compared to something like the Domino effect.

With social inclusion holding the key to a long life, the importance of remaining happy cannot be ignored. Grumpy folks are given the cold shoulder by one and all. This in turn breeds even more resentment which in the long term manifests itself in the form of physical ailments which definitely reduce the quality of life if not shortening it to some extent. Is it not a big price to pay for avoiding those smiles that cost nothing ? On the other hand, a happy mind leads to a healthy body.

It is very easy to blame external factors for the lack of happiness in our life. To some extent it is true that meaningful relationships and work satisfaction play a significant role but happiness is something that begins within ourselves and is not imbibed from the external environment. Managing our expectations also plays a key role and ensures a more meaningful life for ourselves and our near and dear ones. For being happy is the ultimate goal in life and all our efforts should be directed in ensuring the same.

This post is written for Coca-Cola .

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review : Ramayana - The Game of Life (Shattered Dreams Book 2)

Perhaps the greatest injustice done to our epics have been relegating them to the place of worship. For they contain the wisdom that is meant to be handed down over the generations instead of being locked up in the name of religion. Sage Valmiki's Ramayana is no exception, for every episode and every character is a case study in human and quantitative psychology. How unfortunate then that something so valuable is now considered uncool by the current generation !!

It then takes someone like Shubha Vilas to narrate it in a language that resonates with the youth of today and bring it back into popular imagination. A sequel to the first book 'The Rise of the Sun Prince', this book traces the events in Rama's life that precede his planned coronation, the bitter twist of fate and the initial days of the exile. Now I must admit that I have not read the first part though I am aware of the good reviews. I did pick up a fair portion of the Ramayana from my elders during the growing up years and had not thought of reconnecting with the epic since. Plus the feminist in me is forever up in arms against the 'Agni pareeksha' episode that Sita had to endure. But that has changed with this book. Now I am planning to order 'The Rise of The Sun Prince' and all the sequels as and when they hit the stalls. I am especially looking forward to the chapters that revolve around Sita and how sensitively the author handles them.

When the aging Dasaratha is besieged by nightmares and wishes to relinquish power and anoint Rama as his successor, the shallow minded Keikeyi devises a shrewd plan to exile the latter and to put the ropes into the hands of her own son. At this juncture, one can almost draw the parallel with India's aging politicians who suddenly find themselves out in the cold. This episode iterates the need for a leader to step down while he is still at the peak of his power and any signs of weakness are still undetected. For opportunists like Keikeyi, any sign of failing (which in the case of Dasaratha was his lust for the much younger and beautiful Keikeyi) signals an opportunity to grab power.

Deeper into the narration, one comes to know that Dasaratha was under the influence of a curse for having killed Shravan kumar and causing much distress (and ultimately death) to his blind parents. While his intentions might have been sabotaged by the devious Keikeyi, the seeds for his sorrow were already sown in his past. It goes to show that one has to bear the consequences of one's action and others can only act as a medium for it.

Some of the other memorable lessons in this book are the faultless arguments put up by Sita and Lakshmana who decide to accompany Rama to the forest , the first night of the exile and the story of the boatman . Of course there is an interesting chapter on Ravana's life too !

The footnotes included at the bottom of each page are quite useful. They provide detailed explanation and in most cases add to the narration with relevant facts without actually breaking the flow of the plot.

All in all, this is a great read. A big thanks to BlogAdda for giving me the opportunity to read and review this masterpiece !!!

This review is a part of the biggest http://blog.blogadda.com/2011/05/04/indian-bloggers-book-reviews" target="_blank"> Book Review Program
for http://www.blogadda.com" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Foodie Raises A Toast to the Singaporean Chili Crab

Singapore is a melting pot of varied cultures. So, it hardly comes as a surprise that the local cuisine has influences ranging from Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian to even some Portuguese and English traditions. And most of this delicious food is eaten right off the streets, for this is a place where more people throng the hawker food stalls rather than paying a visit to a restaurant. Though the city has its fair share of good restaurants, street food wins hands down when it comes to the price and the sheer mind boggling variety.

For most folks, a Singaporean dish which brings instant recall would be the 'Satay'. Pieces of meat marinated in a sauce with distinct Asian flavors, grilled over a charcoal fire and served along with the skewer sticks still attached, it is always accompanied with a peanut sauce. So popular is this dish even in India that one will find it on the starters/entree section of the menu in most multi cuisine restaurants.

However Singapore is a seafood haven and any mention of the cuisine is incomplete without including one of the most iconic seafood dishes. For when it comes to the die-hard foodie in me, I cannot bear to settle for anything less that the luscious and tantalizing Singaporean Chili Crab. Meant to be eaten with both hands (take that as a mark of respect this dish deserves), it consists of a crimson velvety sauce with the right mix of the sweet, salty and spicy flavors enveloping a bright orange crab that has been cooked in its shell to retain all the juices (of course the shell been slightly cracked to let the seasoning just seep through). Highly celebrated by seafood lovers from any corner of this world, this is one of Singapore's national dishes for a good reason.

The very appearance of the dish packs in a powerful sensory punch. The fiery red hues of the sauce sets off the beautiful looking crab still ensconced in its shell which is the only thing standing in the way of pure ecstasy.  The succulent and juicy flesh of the mud crab perfectly complements the sweet and slightly pungent flavors of the sauce which is not generally not as hot as the name suggests. Though it is mainly tomato based, the addition of ingredients like shallots, garlic, galangal, soy sauce, eggs, shrimp paste and Thai chilies gives it a complexity and sensuousness that simply engulfs the tongue and the mind.  Even an iota of the delectable sauce is not meant to be wasted and so one have those accompanying buns (or even bread) to soak up every bit of that deliciousness.

No wonder that this amazing dish has made a mark for itself and is rated at No. 35 on the list of World's 50 most delicious foods complied by CNN Go in 2011. (And it also made it to my list of all time favorites)

This post is written for Far East Hospitality

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Benefits of Consuming Gulkand (Rose Petal Preserve) !!

It is early summer and Gulkand is back on my kitchen shelf. Yes, it is one of those summer essentials like prickly heat powder or Margo soap or even Aloe vera gel. But unlike the latter three which work on the outside, Gulkand is an Ayurvedic tonic which keeps the body cool on the inside.

While it works best when consumed after a meal (given that it aids digestion), I find myself adding it various sherbats/lassis and even as a jam. Those suffering from acid reflux or constipation can have it just before going to bed at night.

Read on for its benefits -

1. It cures the ailments of the mouth and the digestive system in general. Controls acidity, mouth ulcers and body heat.

2. It is a powerful antioxidant and blood purifier. Consume two teaspoons a day for clear skin that is free from pimples, blemishes and boils .

3. Very helpful for ladies suffering from excess white discharge or even menstrual pain.

4. Consuming Gulkand can also reduce excess perspiration, body odour, itching and other such conditions caused by excess body heat.

5. It is an effective stress reducer as it calms down the nerves.

6. It improves appetite, digestion and metabolism.

7. It reduces uric acid levels in patients suffering from gout.

8. It gets rid of burning sensation in plans and soles.

9. It is given to pregnant ladies and kids who suffer from constipation as it is a mild laxative devoid of any side effects.

However, it is not recommended for diabetic due to the high sugar content.

There are many brands available but I use and recommend the 'Divya Gulkand' which is manufactured by Patanjali. It is very much pure and costs Rs 45 for a 400 gm pack .

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


I am back from a family wedding and in dire need of a mental detox. Even before the celebrations were over, my 'Hum saath saath hain' types extended family was coming apart at the seams. Not to be content with bitching behind each others back, some of them were having a field day hurling accusations at each other. And that too in full public view or hearing ( with the latter having a more damning effect). If one was ever in doubt as to why those ladies steal all the screen time in those silly soaps, the drama unfolding before my very eyes was proof enough to show that the weaker sex calls the shots on the domestic front. When they are not fretting over someone else's saree or jewelry, these women focus their energies on jacking up their position in the pecking list of a favorably disposed relative.

I am lucky that none of them have the slightest inclination in reading my blogs or else I wont be here pouring out my heart to you folks. This is my first recipe after a break and I am sharing a sweet that is a childhood favorite of mine. Thought of sharing this on Holi but could not find the time as was busy in the arrangements of the wedding. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 40-50 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 cup chenna (home made paneer)
  • 1/2 cup milk powder
  • 1 tbsp maida
  • 1 tbsp semolina
  • 2-3 pinch cardamom powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 11/2 cup water
  • Oil for deep frying

Preparation - Gather the chenna in a cheese cloth and tie it up. Allow to hang for 1 hour so that the excess water is drained off. Take it on a clean kitchen platform and mash it with the heel of your palm for 3-4 mins.

Add the milk powder, maida, semolina and cardamom powder to the chenna . Mix everything into a smooth dough. Knead this dough for another 5 mins. Keep aside for 10 mins.

Take the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 7-8 mins till the syrup reaches a medium consistency.

Heat the oil in a wok. Break small portions from the dough and shape each one into a smooth cylindrical shape. Ensure that there are no cracks.

Drop 3-4 pieces into the hot oil at a time and fry on a low temperature. Once they become brown uniformly, remove from the oil and place them in the sugar syrup. 

Bring the already hot sugar syrup to boil for 1 minute. Switch off the flame and allow the 'Lamchas' to soak for a minimum of 30 mins.

Serve warm.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Together we will overcome!!

Motherhood is a beautiful emotion that has been highly celebrated by poets and writers. But with the spotlight focused exclusively on the highs, most new mothers get a rude jolt when faced with the reality. Postpartum depression is made worse by sleepless nights and lack of a support system (given that most of us live in nuclear families away from our native). My case was no different. And my woes were made still worse when I had to give up a corporate job and become a stay at home mother to care for my young one.

The first few months were spent changing diapers and feeding an ever hungry baby who was born with an inverted body clock. With no energy left after those endless rituals, I would just collapse on the bed at any given chance and had no time left to think about my career goals. But as he grew, he became less demanding and I was left with quite a bit of time on my hands. With nothing worthwhile to do, I spent the time watching TV and eating whatever I could lay my hand on. As a result I put on weight and started feeling even more low.

However, everything changed after a trip to my parents home. Maybe it was the change of surroundings or routine or the emotional support that I received, or even a combination of all factors, I became more focused and changed my outlook towards things. When my Dad explained that circumstances are beyond our control but what we make out of them is entirely within our control, I realized that I still had more fight remaining in me. It was on his advice that I revived my old hobby of writing. And suddenly life took on a new meaning. I had a reason to get out of the bed every morning.

The freedom to articulate one's ideas and allowing those creative juices to flow freely has a pronounced healing effect on the mind and soul. It effectively engages our thought process and does not allow for negative thinking which makes us sink into depression. The initial days were tough but I trudged on with patience. Every time I thought that I hit a roadblock, I called up my Dad and spoke to him. His motivating words kept me going. Before I could realize it, I was back into the flow. I started getting quite a bit of freelance work and soon I found myself earning a decent amount right from the comfort of my home. The appreciation and love that I received from my readers was a welcome bonus. It made me more optimistic about other things as well and I started eating healthy and going to the gym. People around me started to take note of this positive change in me and I was back to my old self.

This post is written for Housing.com .

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Say Yes to New Beginnings !!!

The first time is always special and is etched forever in one's memory. Be it that first best friend, boy friend/girl friend, or even that first job, there are always special feelings attached to the first time one tried sometime new. And buying that first house is something that elicits that uber special emotion in each one of us.

Right from the first year of our marriage, me and my husband have lived in a number of rented accommodations. Each house felt a little strange at first but then we started getting used to it. However, before we could develop that sense of belonging, we had to change the flat for some reason or the other. Every time it was a new set of neighbours, and I really missed the old ones. The feeling is something akin to changing schools and getting a new set of friends each year. It hardly allows any time for making a lasting relationship. But as we planned our first baby, we knew that we should do something about it and that our child deserved a place that he/she could call his/her own.

We needed a place that was near to my office ( my husband agreed to do the travelling part ) and also had good schools nearby. Plus a supermarket, a hospital and a park too. Another important requirement was a gym (both of us being health freaks) and a play area within the premises. But there was the concern of being able to pay the EMIs and managing the family finances as well. I assured my husband that we would manage with careful planning and cutting down on needless expenses.

It took us time to narrow down the options available to us but finally we were able to zero in one a property that was hardly a 10 mins walk from my office. Though small, it was something that I had always desired. Open on three sides, it offered very good ventilation. It had those large windows facing the east which flooded the house with sunlight and a small balcony which I could transform into my herb garden. Every tiny detail was well planned and it was every bit the kid friendly house that we had envisioned. I set my heart on it the very first time I saw it. 

But it was barely furnished and that looked like a problem. We had been living in furnished houses and this one seemed rather inconvenient. After managing the initial down payment, we did not have that much spare money to do it up. However things sorted out once we had a proper chat with our parents. With a kid on the way, they advised us to postpone buying stuff that was anything but essential. They assured us that kids enjoy open spaces more than furniture that bars their free movement. This argument seemed convincing and within a month we moved into the new house.

I revived my old hobby and turned the balcony into a kitchen garden of sorts. And both of us got up early in the morning to tend to it before doing a few rounds on the jogging track that surrounded the apartment. With no fridge at our disposal, we start cooking fresh meals everyday. Though it was tiresome, it felt good and we could spend some special moments together. Slowly we saved some money and bought the household goods over a span of three years. In the meanwhile our kid was born and I used the maternity leave period to strike up a special friendship with some of our neighbours. And today when we look at our young one surrounded by his friends, we are proud of our decision.

This post is written for Housing.com.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Baby Uninterrupted

Babies do silly things and we love them all the more for the same reason. Laughing out aloud at the smallest gestures, gurgling with food/juices, trying out some really hilarious poises, or even making gibberish out of the simplest words, they can do it all and even more. And they can go on and on doing the same stuff for hours at an end  if they have the energy for it.

While the primary criteria for boundless energy can be put as a full tummy and a good night's (or even day's) sleep, comfort comes across as a very close secondary criteria. Comfortable clothing which is in accordance with the weather and most importantly a dry nappy ( given the frequent urination ) are important to keep a baby happy and bubbly. With my bundle of joy, I have never had a dull moment thanks to Pampers which ensures that my tiny one remains equally comfortable whether it be day or night, or even summer or winter. The Magic gel locks up all fluids to ensure that the diaper remains dry on the inside for up to 12 hours while the soft cottony cover allows for proper circulation of air. The result is healthy and rash free skin and uninterrupted happiness.

Coming to the favorite activity of my baby, it has been playing with building blocks of all shapes and sizes. Ever since he started to crawl around and was presented with a set of blocks by his grandparents, he has been besotted with it. Stacking them haphazardly, pulling them down, putting one inside the other and slowly including other objects lying around to create tall vertical mounds that teeter precariously while trying to defy the forces of gravity, the activity can keep him engrossed for the better part of his waking hours. Since there is evidence that suggests that encouraging playing with such blocks and puzzles may actually improve the spatial ability for children, I consciously buy more of such toys. With the diaper taking care of any wetness and discomfort, he does not get distracted unless his tummy starts rumbling or it gets around his napping time. Of course, it translates into stepping carefully around the house which resembles a maze ( or a minefield ) by the time he is done with playing. But I am not complaining as it gives me the opportunity to feed him without much fussing and running around. As a bonus, I use the time to pen down some of my blog posts and catch up on my reading ( and sometimes even napping ).

With Pampers, it is not just the babies, even the mothers are happy around the clock. This post is written for Pampers.

The Messiah in White !!

I am not a religious person or at least I do not believe in rituals. But I bow my head to the superpower that makes things work in precision and allows life to move ahead smoothly in a world that is driven by madness. And this is one such story about my encounter with 'HIM' which made me believe that nothing is impossible if we have the desire to grab it with both hands.

Even during since my school days, I had the dream to be a part of the workforce of a certain Indian IT major. One of the founders of this organization has always been my idol and I always lapped up his interviews in whichever media they appeared. But my entrance rank was not enough to secure a seat in NIT/REC and I had to take admission in a college that did not feature on my wish list. Though it made me sad as I thought it to be a setback which diminished my chances, I never gave up hope. My resolve grew stronger and I started working consciously on my soft skills along with bettering my programming abilities. Plus I practiced a lot of Shakuntala Devi's puzzles which are a regular feature in the written tests of that particular organization.

To get an edge during the interviews, I started attending GD and PI classes. Our faculty, an retired Air force man who always wore white, was a great source of inspiration. He helped us master the finer aspects of a personal interview and gave us generous tips on cracking every kind of interview. Though it was a short program which ended in two months time, I continued my association with the institute and started taking part time classes along with my college studies and programming classes. It provided a boost to my confidence and improved my communication skills as I had to deal with folks who were much older than me and some of them were already working. As I was making a decent money, it also reinforced my belief that not being able to crack the entrance did not mean the end of the world and I could take up teaching which I really enjoyed.

During my final semester, I got a call for campus interview twice from my dream organization but could not attend the same as my seventh semester results were not yet out. Still, I was hopeful of bagging my dream job. Finally, I finished my B Tech and moved to Hyderabad . After a month, I received the third call and made it through the written tests. But I had butterflies in my stomach before the interview and I decided to offer a prayer at a Gurudwara near my hostel. Now, even though I have been raised a Hindu, there was no hesitation in me as I walked the steps of the Gurudwara. I offered a white sheet and some flowers and promised to come back if I cracked the interview.

After offering my prayers, I boarded a bus and reached the interview venue. Though it went quite well and I was able to crack most of the questions, the seasoned HR guys did not let out any hint to whether I had made it or not. And the next week was full of agony as I kept checking my inbox twice every day for any mails from the HR. Finally I gave up hope and did not check my mail for the next couple of days. Then I had a dream early one morning and a guy dressed in white kept asking me to check my mail. I was stunned but it seemed like some kind of divine intervention. I quickly logged into my system but could not see any email from the HR. I was about to dismiss it as a dream but then I thought of checking older mails. And it was there in my mailbox. I had received the offer letter five days back but I had not logged in to check my mails. My joining date was just three days ahead and I would have missed it had it not been for the strange dream and the messiah in white. Till date I remain thankful to 'HIM' and believe that he is there to help me at every step in my life.

This post is written for Housing.com.

Monday, March 2, 2015

My 5 Favorite picks for Holi !!

As they descend in hordes, their appetites whetted by playing under the sun for long and their minds intoxicated by the festivities all around, it is time to lay out a sumptuous spread that becomes the talking point for days to come !!

Check out some of my favorites -

1. Dahi Vada / Dahi Bhalle - Black lentils fritters steeped in a thick/thin yogurt preparation, it can either be on the sweeter side or just savoury. Team it up with an Alu dum or/and yellow peas curry and enjoy it in a tyically Odia style.

2. Thandai Kulfi - A delicious twist on the North Indian drink Thandai, this one packs the delectable flavors into Kulfi cones that simply melt on the tongue. ( For the recipe of Thandaii click here.)

3. Alu Papdi / Dahi Papdi Chaat - Simple yet delicious, this street food is an all time favorite with all age groups !! Though the yogurt version is far more soothing on the taste buds, there is a vegan version too for folks who are averse to lactose .

4. Mawa Gujjiya - Another sweet delicacy from the North, this one provides the right balance to the spicy Holi fare. Crispy on the outside and stuffed with rich mawa and dry fruit, it is not to be missed.

5. Jalebi with Rabdi - Hot jalebis served with chilled Rabdi or even ice cream has turned out to be a hot favorite these days. And with RTS mixes easily available these days, it has become quite easy to whip up this delicacy.

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