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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Top 5 Reads in 2015 !

A big thanks to Narasimha Sharma Vetturi for floating this idea about sharing the books that one read in the year just gone by. Well, for one you had me thinking about my ever growing collection versus the problem of limited shelf space. To be honest, I have added quite a lot of books to my ever burgeoning library. And speaking even more honestly, I covet my books to such a degree that it almost borders on obsession. But not wasting more time going on and on about my love for the written word, this is the list of five books that had me thinking for a long time -

1. All The Light We Cannot See ( Anthony Doerr )

This is one of the most moving books that I have ever come across. The rich imagery, the vivid descriptions and most importantly the strength of each and every character is overpowering. Love can take on many forms and this is what one gets to see in this book. After reading this gem of a book, you can only agree to the fact that there are good books and then there are superlative ones. But a very few have that magical quality of touching one's soul and that feeling gets etched forever in memory even though some of the words get blurred with the passage of time.

2. Mrs Funnybones : She's Just Like You and a lot Like Me (Twinkle Khanna)

Bollywood actress are dumb. Period. Now, when a ex-actress like Twinkle Khanna pens a book, we are pre-programmed to judge it based on our prejudices. And with the kind of movies that Mrs Khanna acted in, one kind of assumes the worst. But her keen sense of observation and often self-deprecating sense of humor shines through. Yep, this book has found its place on my bedside table and I pick it up for a quick mental detox when I am feeling low. 

3. Asura; Tale of the Vanquished ( Anand Neelakantan ) 

This is the best mix of mythology and philosophy that I have ever read. And I can re-read it any number of times. It is one of those life changing books that one should pick up when one is overcome by prejudice and unable to think rationally. Good and Bad coexist in every culture but history is always colored by the victor's perspective, the author tells us. And proceeds to introduce one a Ramayama written from the vanquished Ravana's perspective. 

4. The Invention Of Wings ( Sue Monk Kidd )

Hope is the greatest weapon of all. This beautiful tale about the unlikely friendship of Sarah Grimke and a slave girl Hetty clearly reiterates that. Based on slavery, this book is enormously powerful and thought provoking. I could not put this book down even for a moment till I reached the end . So engrossed I had become with these characters, that I was literally felt like living and breathing with them. Some of my favorite lines (of course you can relate better only if you read the whole book) -

"There was a time in Africa the people could fly"

"It was his way of telling me. I could not have him and myself both." 

5. Dead Souls ( Nikolay Gogol )

This one is on the list due to the sheer brilliance of the author which has ensured that it never goes out of relevance. Sharing a favorite paragraph from the book to justify why I have put it in the top 5 reads.

"It is much easier to depict large-scale characters: there all you need do is fling the paints on to the canvas unstintingly - dark, burning eyes, beetling brows, furrowed forehead, a black or fiery-crimson cloak thrown over the shoulder - and the portrait is done. But if you take all these other gentlemen, of whom there are many in the world, and who greatly resemble one another in appearance, yet in whom, as soon as you look more closely, you will perceive many highly elusive traits - such gentlemen are dreadfully difficult to portray."

Brilliant lines that refuse to be erased from memory.

Felt so good writing and sharing baout these books. In fact I think we should make it a habit to publish a list of the books read at the end of each year !!

Note : In case you want to read the full length reviews, please check them on my other blog Booksopinionsandbull .

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review : Ramayana - The Game Of Life - Stolen Hope (book 3) ( Shubha Vilas )

Have you grown up reading Amar Chitra Katha, the beautifully illustrated series that depicts the tales of various Hindu God, demigods, sages (rishis) and demons (rakshas ) ? Well, I have been lucky enough to have access to the series during my childhood days and the first half of this book felt like I was revisiting those memories. The glorious tales of the numerous combats between good (Gods/sages) and evil (rakshas) are described in such vivid manner that I did not even miss the wonderful illustrations that made Amar Chitra Katha so unforgettable. As with his earlier books, the author has put up very useful footnotes on each page which helps the reader to understand the finer nuances of the story.

The story of King Nahusha is one such story that I read a long time back. The pious human king got a chance to ascend the throne in Heaven when Indra lost out due to a sin committed by him. But the corrupting thing that power is, it gets the better out of everyone except for the best. Getting drunk on power, Nahusha soon starts coveting Indra's wife who reaches out to Brihaspati, the Guru of the Demigods. The Guru devises a scheme which entails that Nahusha would have to reach the queen's Palace by riding on a palanquin carried by most exalted sages. The Guru cleverly ropes in sage Agastya who is famous for his legendary temper. Goaded by the lust filled Nahusha for moving faster, the fearsome sage lost his temper and threw back the words that the king had uttered in haste. While 'Sarpa' is usually taken to mean snake, it also means 'faster' in Sanskrit. An engrossing tale indeed ! And this book is just replete with such examples.

This book describes the journey of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana though the Dandakaranya forests where they meet many of the sages who pour out their sufferings to them. They move from one ashram to another, gathering the blessings of many and at times releasing others from a spell or curse. Settling in picturesque and apparently peaceful Panchavati, they come across the demoness Supanakha ( the one with broad long nails ) who fancies Lord Rama. Given his cool demeanor, the Lord initially indulges her but when her obsession takes a violent turn, he asks Lakshmana to stall her advances. This triggers a major war with a huge army of the demons descending on the trio.  A bloody war is fought and Lord Rama emerges victorious.

This sets off a chain of events which lead to the kidnapping of Sita. The manipulative Supanakha seduces Ravana's line of rational thinking by waxing eloquent about Sita's unmatched beauty. The demon king beseeches his uncle Maricha to help create a web of deceit to kidnap the hapless Sita, more to satiate his lust rather than to avenge his sister's insult. The elderly demon tries his best to dissuade Ravan from advancing towards his impending doom but fails to do so.

Most of us would be very well acquainted with the next episode that follows. 'Sitaharan' or the kidnapping of Sita is one of the most well known parts of the epic and one has much to learn from it. Succumbing to material desires and doubting a genuine well-wisher are some of those. The kidnapping is followed by the fight with the valiant Jatayu who loses his life while trying to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana. One is also introduced to the Vanaras for the first time at this stage. Shubha Vilas has done a fabulous job in detailing even the minutest of events that occur during Ravana's flight to Lanka and I learnt quite a few details that I was not aware of.

Lord Rama is distraught once he discovers that Sita is gone. Searching for her, he meets the old and frail Shabari who leads him to Sugriva.

[ To be continued in the next book .... ]

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Petoo: Startup or Goof-up ( Food Review )

Pandemonium has been reigning over the house ever since the BBMP guys started the waste segregation drive. No, I don't have anything against it and infant support it wholeheartedly as a righteous and law abiding citizen. But for the fact that it arrived at the wrong time for us. Given my resolution for more of home cooked and healthy food this year, I have been spending more time in the kitchen. So, hubby dear sometimes steps in to lend a helping hand. And that is exactly where it goes wrong. Despite multiple permutations and combinations ( read separate color/size/location of the bins/bags), he is still not able to figure it out. As a result, I have to spend even more time rectifying his bloopers. Or in simpler terms, segregating the mixed up waste.

Just to escape the mind numbing routine ( ain't they all? ), I decided to take a break from cooking on Sunday. Though I wanted to eat out, a recent stomach bug had put the men ( hubby & sonny boy ) of the house, out of the dining-out equation (Sigh!!). Seeking out some comfort food, I scoured (or rather scrolled) through Swiggy, and unfortunately ended up at Petoo as my favorite Biryani joint was not delivering on the day. Jab aap kisi cheez ko puri shidaat se avoid karna chahte ho, to puri kayanat aapko usse milene mein joot jati hai !! Did Paulo Coelho get it all wrong in 'The Alchemist' ??

Looking though the options, I finally settled on 'Hyderabadi Tikka Biryani' (Non-Veg) which was priced decently enough at Rs 220. Moreover I was bowled over by the description which read "Delicate long grains of Basmati rice gently cooked with fragrant whole spices & layered with delicious hot chicken tikkas bursting with flavours of spices, ginger garlic & tomatoes. " I placed the order and waited patiently for the food to arrive.

And sure enough it came on time. The packaging looked attractive ( but never ever judge a book by it's cover ) and the contents were packed quite hygienically. The Biryani was accompanied by a raita and a salan. They had also provided a spoon, a tissue and a hajmola candy in the package. Full points for the packaging and presentation. Quantity is also good for the price. Can't get it better on this front.

But sadly, it goes downhill from this point. The moment I opened the package, the strong waft of 'kewra' hit my nostrils. Now kewra is a dangerous spice. Add just a drop and it is heavenly. Go overboard with it and it turns the dish unpalatable. Ignoring the offending kewra, I started to dig through the rice in search of the 'delicious hot chicken Tikkas' that I had been promised. And then it hit me on the face. "I have been swindled", I screamed to my husband and have been doing so to all people who care to hear me out. Instead of the tikkas, I got a few pieces of boiled chicken sans any spice. "Touheen". This is just not Hyderabadi Biryani. I sincerely believe that the inventors of this incredible gem of a dish would be tossing in their graves at the travesty perpetrated by the 'Petoo' kitchen. I would have done so had I been in their place .

Not wasting more of my time nor yours, this is a must avoid. !! Petoo guys please clean up your act else your epithet is going to read something like "Start-up se pack-up tak" .

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Unlikely Hero

What a strange contest ? Now where do I go looking to find some vestige of goodness in this forsaken world. Over the years, I have only seen many of the so-called ideals develop feet of clay and fall off the pedestal faster that I could find someone to replace them. The only heroes that I knew of existed in fiction or maybe history ( but can one really vouch for history when it is so much distorted ). That set me into a thinking spree. Could I pick up at least one individual show showed some sterling quality (if not a bunch of them) that set him apart from other folks ?

Image source: www.pdu4pm.com

And strangely enough I found the answer on a social media site. The image of a lush orchard with a group of men standing in the middle discussing something looked rather unusual when compared to the preened and propped images that one usually encounters on social media. At first I could not even recognize him. He looked so different. Shorn of his corporate attire and in his work clothes, he was the complete anti-thesis of the dapper guy that I had met a few years back. Only the smile remained intact. Or has it grown brighter, I pondered with a hint of jealousy.

Not too long back, he had been a part of the rat race. Reveling in onsite assignments, succumbing to the 14 hour workdays and ramping up his case for the performance appraisals, he was just another anonymous face in the IT crowd. But something happened in his personal life that changed his view towards life forever. Though his family owned and maintained quite a few acres of thriving farmland and orchards, a sudden bout of illness incapacitated his aging father. Of course, they could have chosen to sell off the farms or lease it to someone else and shift the aging parents to Bangalore. But not within disturbing the equilibrium that had been maintained over the years. There were the village people who worked on the land and also lived on it. There were traders who made their living by buying their produce. It was a complete ecosystem and removing even a single link threatened to disrupt everything.

It was his call. And he could have taken the easy way out while maintaining his cushy lifestyle. But it was this decision of his which changed his life and of others too !! His old parents are happy and so are the workers/villagers who work for his farmland. They are ensured of a decent living as he has been leveraging information and technology for increasing the crop yields. Being the tech savvy guy that he has always been, he has been teaching their kids with the help of online teaching aids. It is something that they cannot access in the modest government school in their village. Though on a small scale, his efforts have made a positive difference in the lives of people around him. And with so much happening within the short span of just over an year, I am pretty sure that he will continue to drive a greater change.

His social media updates might just have gone down but everyone now looks forward to them. His bold and selfless step has become an inspiration for all who have known him!

This post is written for www.youthkiawaaz.com .

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Chingudi - Kakharu Manjee Checcha ( A blend of toasted shrimp and pumpkin seeds )

Nirvana. Jannat. Bliss. I could barely utter these words as I experienced the explosion of flavors on my tongue. The nuttiness of the toasted pumpkin seeds, the sweetness of the shrimp, the heat from the green chilis, the tang from the tomato, the freshness of cilantro and oh, just that hint of garlic. The coming together of all these elements had just awakened my senses. Ah, at last I was having a good decent odia meal. It felt quite liberating and exhilaratig to leave behind the almost sterile bhajas (fries) and the tarkaris ( curries). Poda (burnt/grilled), chakta(mashed) or checcha(crushed) is what captures the essence of Odia cuisine. And this amazing chingudi - kakharu manjee checcha just reinforces that belief !!

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time : 10-15 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1/2 cups baby shrimp ( chuna chingudi)
  • 1/2 cup kakharu manjee (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/2 of a small tomato
  • 2 garlic flakes
  • 1 green chillis
  • 2 tsp mustard oil
  • 2 tsp chopped onion
  • 2 tsp chopped cilantro
  • Salt to taste

Preparation: Wash and clean the prawns.

Chop the onion, garlic and green chilli into small pieces.

Cooking: Heat 1 tsp of oil in a wok. Add the prawn and fry on low to medium flame till crispy.
Remove and keep aside.

Add 1 tsp oil in the same wok. Add the pumpkin seeds and toast for 3 mins.
Remove from the wok.

Transfer the shrimps and the pumpkin seeds into a mixer/blender jar. Add the onions, garlic, cilnatro and green chillis. Sprinkle a few drops of mustard oil and salt. Give a quick buzz. ( Or you can do it the traditional way using a heavy mortar and pestle. )

Chingudi - Kakharu majee Checcha is ready .

Serve with pakhala/ rice .


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Product Review: Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Outdoor Gloves

The resolution to minimize eating outside food inevitably means more toiling in the kitchen. And that guarantees a lot more exposure with water and cleaning agents. Which is not only painful but also leads to increased dryness in the hands during the cold winter months. Even when one is not cooking, most stay at home ladies keep doing random tasks like cleaning / dusting which leads to painful cracks on the hands and even inflammations at times.

Hence the need to buy and use this wonder product from Scotch-Brite. Now quite a few of us would already be using their scrubbers to remove food particles that remain sticking to the cooking vessels. So, when I found this reasonably priced pair of gloves at a departmental store, I picked them up without second thoughts. Please note that I have already tried their 'Kitchen Glove' which is priced lower at Rs 75. And I can tell you that the 'Heavy Duty' version is by far the superior choice.

This is why you should buy the Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Outdoor Gloves -

1. They are smooth, flexible and come with a fresh lemon scent in an attractive pink colour.

2. They protect your hands from cold water and chemicals which tend to dry out the skin .

3. They come in two sizes and there is a useful size guide at the backside of the packet to help you choose the correct one.

4. The 'Heavy Duty' version has a much better grip than the 'Kitchen one'. I can use it to wash by delicate crockery and even chop vegetables (though fine chopping is somewhat hindered).

5. No maintenance. Just wash the outside surface and line dry.

6. Fold and put it back in the cover if not using for a few days.

The only cons -

1. They last just about 2 months with heavy use. And one has to be extra careful while cleaning sharp objects with it.

2. Th lemon scent might be irritating for some folks.

3. They stain easily .

Monday, January 4, 2016

Paneer Kali Mirch ( A refreshingly different Cottage Cheese curry )

The start to this year has been rather low key. Health concerns have taken up all our priorities for the last few days. And added to that, we have made a resolution to cut down of meat and fish this year. Hence, a paneer curry was the natural choice for the first lunch of 2016.

I had noted down this recipe from one of the FB forums sometime back. And decided to add my own touch at the last minute. Result was a rich yet refreshing gravy that made our lunch quite festive.
Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 30 mins

Ingredients -

  • 200 gm paneer cubes
  • 1/2 cup milk / yogurt ( depends on whether you want that hint of sourness )
  • 1 tbsp fresh cream
  • 1 large onion ( chopped into thin long pieces )
  • 1 tsp ginger juliennes
  • 1 tsp crushed peppercorns
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • salt to taste
  • 5-6 cashews
  • 2 cloves

Preparation - Soak the cashews in a cup of hot water for 20 mins.

Cooking - Heat the oil in a wok. Add the chopped onions and fry till brown. Remove from wok. Grind into a smooth paste along with the soaked cashews.

Heat the butter/ ghee in the same wok. Add the ginger juliennes and cloves. Fry for 30 seconds before adding the onion-cashew paste. Saute for another 2-3 mins.

Lower flame and add the milk/yogurt, crushed peppercorns, garam masala, cumin powder and salt. Bring to a slight boil and then add the cream.

Drop in the paneer cubes along with the chopped mint. Cover immediately. Switch off flame after a minute.

Serve immediately along with jeera rice / phulkas or naan.

Note - There are multiple variations to this recipe and hence taste will wildly vary. With mine, I have limited the use of strong spices which can mask the kali mirch or peppercorn flavour. Another version which I tried and liked was one by Tarla dalal which makes use of garlic. 

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