January 23, 2007

Potluck for Vasant Panchami

Today, I went to a lunch potluck – the second one I attended with the mahila mandal out here. I recently joined this group of terrific homemakers, and I am sure I will have loads of fun with them in the future too.

My first potluck with the group was on last Tuesday. It was a lunch potluck to celebrate Makar Sankranti. I was supposed to make starters and I opted to make pakoras. Wanting to try my hand at something new, I made Moong pakoras in addition to potato pakoras. I won’t write much about this potluck here, except that all the food was lovely, and we had a great time chatting and exchanging recipes.

Today’s potluck was arranged on the occasion of Vasant Panchami. We were supposed to dress in yellow and cook something that looked yellow. Vasant Panchami is celebrated to welcome spring. Goddess Saraswati - the goddess of knowledge is worshipped on this day. We should also worship our books. My friend informed me that children are not supposed to study on this day. Can they have a better excuse?:-) We made a small pooja of Saraswati. Yellow and white are favorite colors of Saraswati, hence the importance of wearing yellow and cooking a yellow colored dish.

When my friend told me about this potluck, I decided to cook fried idli. Later on, I was thinking that I could also have made potato poha or pithala. Anyways, my mom always used to make these idlis (which are almost like dhoklas), that I used to love and I wanted to make those. This is a minor variation from the normal idlis and taste divine. Here’s the recipe:

Fried Masala Idlis

For the batter:
2 cups rice
1 cup udad daal
1 cup besan
½ cup curd (yoghurt)

For the masala:
Ginger paste
Paste of 4-5 green chillies (You can add more as per your choice.)
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon red chilli powder (You can add more as per your choice.)
Pinch of soda
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste

For frying:
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
½ teaspoon turmeric powder

  1. Soak 2 cups of rice and 1 cup of udad daal in water for 4-5 hours.

  2. Churn the above ingredients in the mixture, without draining the water.

  3. Add 1 cup besan and half cup curd to the above batter. Ferment this for 10 hours.

  4. Add all the ingredients listed under “For the masala” in the above batter. Mix well.

  5. Pour this mixture in the greased plates of the idli stand.

  6. Steam cook for 20 minutes.

  7. Remove the idlis from the stand and let them cool for some time. Cut the idlis into two pieces (you can leave them whole, if you want).

  8. Heat oil in a pan. Add cumin and mustard seeds, a pinch of asafoetida, and ½ teaspoon turmeric powder.

  9. Shallow fry the idli pieces on both sides.

  10. Enjoy the fried masala idlis.

Everyone liked these idlis. We had a grand feast with dishes including khichdi, tamarind rice, boondi raita, laddu, and pakoras. We enjoyed playing dumb charades after this feast. Overall, a super potluck with loads of food and fun.

January 20, 2007

The day of our return

I am feeling so sad at this very moment that the only thing that would calm me would be venting out my feelings. If all had gone according to the original plan, we would have been in air now – midway between Atlanta and Paris. Today’s date was so important for me – 20th Jan, 2007. After spending five months in the US, we were supposed to catch a return flight to India. This date was itched in my parent’s memory and all my near and dear ones. I have been playing a mind game since yesterday. At this time we would have been packing bags, at this time we would be leaving the apartment, reaching the airport, catching the flight, and so on. I guess my parents will be playing a similar mind game tomorrow. They would be thinking about getting ready to go to the airport and receiving us.

Well, our plans did change. So, I guess it will be a whole 6 more months before I will be visiting India. I was looking forward to so many things after reaching home. I had promised my friends that I would be attending their weddings. And yes, I had taken a promise from my husband of buying me a lot of new dresses to add to my excessive wardrobe. We have missed most of the important festivals in this first year after marriage. We had promised our parents that we will celebrate all festivals in 2007. We will be missing those too.

It’s funny to think what all you can miss when you are in a foreign land. I miss my home, the lanes near my home, the trees in my backyard, the shops I used to visit, the restaurants, theatres, and so much more. I miss the scent, smell, and crowd of Mumbai. I miss traveling in the over packed buses and trains. I loved buying earrings in the trains. I miss fighting over the meter with a rickshaw walla. I miss the weather and the heat. And I miss haggling over the vegetable prices with the sellers. How can I forget the Mumbai food – the pavbhaji, chat, and vada-pav? Being a total junkie, I miss all the food stalls that I used to frequent. I remember Juhu beach, Shivaji Park, and all the Mumbai malls.

Anyways, I have decided not to miss anything too much. If I think too much, then I will be sad all the time. My best wishes will always be with my friends on their wedding day. My parents know that they are always in my thoughts though I am physically far away. Sometimes, I wish that there would be a remote that could take you to any place of your choice at the click of a button. Till then, memories would have to suffice.

January 15, 2007

Happy Makar Sankranti!

“Til gul ghya ani god god bola.” (Have this sweet, and speak sweetly to us.)

How many times have you looked forward to Makar Sankranti so that you get to eat lot of laadoos? I and my brother awaited 14th Jan every year, and celebrated the festival without knowing its religious significance. I helped my mom prepare the laadoos, gobbled up as many as I can, and then distributed these amongst neighbors. Sometimes, we used to be invited for haldi kumkums, which meant more laadoos for me.
My aunt stays in Surat, and her family celebrate this festival my flying kites. Three years back, I had been to Surat in December. Every evening, the sky used to be filled with kites of all colors, shapes, and sizes. I had a nice time learning to fly a kite, and most of the times I used to get a cut with the “manja”. There used to be undecided competition between all the kites and often you could hear a shout of “Kaipoche”.
So, as far as I was concerned, Makar Sankranti meant eating laadoos and flying kites.
My findings
Well, I am a married woman now. It is high time I get to know the significance of all the festivals. I wanted to find more information on Makar Sankranti, so I googled and was amazed to read so much about the festival. Here are excerpts from some of my findings:
  • Sankranti means “transition”. It signifies the transition of Sun from one zodiac to another. There are 12 transitions in a year considering that there are 12 zodiacs. But, two of these transitions are important. One is the “Mesh (Aries)” transition and the other is the “Makar (Capricorn)” transition.

  • Makar Sankranti is the transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to the Capricorn zodiac during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana). After this day, winter starts reducing and days become longer in the northern hemisphere.

  • The Sun signifies light, power, and sparkle. So it is important to worship the Sun on this day and pray for knowledge and wisdom.

  • While most of the festivals are celebrated depending on lunar positions, Sankranti is a solar event. The English calendar date of Sankranti is always the same - Jan 14th.

  • Bhishma Pitamah from Mahabharata waited for this day to leave his mortal coil and reach immortality.

  • Lord Sun visits his son Shani on Makar Sankranti. Although the two of them don’t get along well, Lord Sun visits his son for a month every year. This day symbolizes the love of father and son.

  • It was on this day when Lord Vishnu ended the ever increasing terrorism of the Asuras by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandar Parvat. So this occasion also represents the end of negativities and beginning of an era of righteous living.

People from all religions celebrate Makar Sankranti in their own unique way. Most of the people worship the Sun by chanting the Gayatri mantra.

  • Maharashtrians: Celebrate this festival by worshipping the Sun and distributing sweet laadoos called til-gul. These laadoos are made from sesame seeds and jaggery. They are distributed among relatives and neighbors in the hope of a new year filled with love and affection.Newly married females celebrate this festival by inviting married females for Haldi – Kumkum. The newly married female is gifted a black saree by her in-laws, and she is decorated with all kinds of jewelry made from halwa. Small gifts are distributed to all the married females who attend the haldi-kumkum.Similarly, babies are also decorated with jewelry and dressed in black. There is a separate function for toddlers called the “Bornahan”, where other kids are invited. You mix up a good quantity of bor (fruit), halwa, chocolates, or anything else you feel like. This mixture is then poured on the toddler’s head and the other kids are supposed to collect whatever they can.

  • Gujrathis: They look up to the Sun and worship him. They fly kites before and on this day. Kites are available at all prices, starting from Re. 1. The International Kite Festival is held in Ahmedabad every year on the 14th of Jan. Hundreds of people from the world participate in kite flying competitions, and thousands of tourists flock Ahmedabad every year.

  • Tamilians: Celebrate the festival by the name of Pongal. Rice and pulses cooked in ghee and milk are offered to the family diety, after worshipping the Sun.

  • Punjabis: Celebrate the Sankrant eve by the name of Lohari. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together. The following day, which is Sankrant, is celebrated as MAGHI. The Punjabi's dance their famous Bhangra dance till they get exhausted.

Celebration this year
I was pondering over how to celebrate Sankranti in the US, when it struck me that I could at least make laadoos. I asked a friend to get sesame seeds and found a good recipe on the Internet. I set out to make laadoos on my own for the very first time. Just when the process was about to hit disaster, I called my husband for help. We found a solution and made a decent amount of laadoos. We offered these to the God and tasted them. They had really turned out well. We were the proud makers and took lots of snaps from all possible angles of our laadoos. We set out to distribute these among our friends. All our friends liked the laadoos and complimented us. I think I will make laadoos every year now.

Related links

January 12, 2007

About my blog

Hello everyone! Welcome to my blog. I had been meaning to create a blog of my own since a long time, but something was stopping me every time I decided to create one. I have even posted some arbitrary articles on my blog in December. But, now I think I will write an introductory article about my blog.

What is my blog about? : My blog is all about me – my life, friends, dreams, family, thoughts, actions, emotions, and everything that comes to my mind. I will write down anything that I feel worthwhile. Some of my ideas and articles might be funny, while others might be serious and urge you into deep thinking. I will write about book reviews and movie reviews. I will write about my travel stories. I will write about places I have visited in the past. My blog will also offer an insight about my profession – Technical Writing.

Why is my blog named so?: I couldn’t think of a better name, and what can be better than something related to my name. If you can think of a better name, then keep it to yourself:-)

Will I write frequently?: Well, I really can’t provide a definite answer to that question. I will write, whenever I feel like writing. Sometimes, I am in the middle of some chore, when an idea strikes me. So, I open my laptop and start scribbling away. Thoughts materialize into words, words into sentences, and sentences turn into meaningful articles. Sometimes, I start writing an article and leave it in the middle to write another one. Then the first article is never completed. I am hoping to continue with the same fervor with which I have started writing on my blog.

What is the purpose of my blog?: The purpose of this blog is to improve my writing skills. I am a writer by profession, and good writing skills are a must in my profession. As much as I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts with everyone, I am also hoping to improve as a writer. So, if you find any kind of mistake on my blog – be it grammatical, a spelling mistake, repetitiveness, please share it with me. Well, don’t point out the mistakes in a public comment:-). Please drop me a mail regarding it.
Writing more is also one of my New Year resolutions – and I am hoping not to break at least this one resolution.

So, wish me luck in my writing endeavor!

January 9, 2007

To cook or not to cook

(This article is dedicated to my Mother and all the live human beings who had to eat what I cooked.)

Since the time I was in college, my Mom was after my life to teach me cooking. And I was always finding an excuse to procrastinate it. Well, I always used to think that it isn’t such a big deal to cook something. Plus, I had this snobbish attitude that I would be so well off in my career that I would always afford a cook. You just have to cut some vegetables, fry some onions in oil, throw in a variety of masalas, some salt to taste and voila – the vegetable is readyJ. Making rice was even simpler – just wash the rice, add water, keep it in the cooker, and do not forget the whistle. In about fifteen minutes, the rice is ready. Making chapattis is a bit more difficult – but manageable. You take some flour, mix some water in it, and make the dough till it is not too sticky. If it does become quite sticky, then you add more flour, and then if there’s too much of flour you add more water, more flour, more water, repeat the process till the dough is perfect. Caution: Make sure you have enough flour left for the next day.

Well, all my theories about cooking came crashing down when I tried my hand at it. I sometimes blame my sharp memory, for it remembers all my cooking misfortunes. When I made chapattis, my brother studied Geography. He used to identify the country from the chapatti map. Or the chapatti used to turn out similar to a papad and used to make a horrible cracking sound. Once, my Mom had asked me to keep the rice in the pressure cooker. I blindly kept the rice inside without checking if there was water in the utensil. We had to settle for brown rice. My Dad always supported me by eating whatever I cooked. But even he had his limits. Mom had enough with me. She had almost given up. She used to fret a lot about my future after I got married.

Luckily, I met my Mr. Right who was very caring and understanding. Immediately after marriage, I convinced my husband that it will be difficult for me to get up early in the morning and cook. And so, we hired a cook. When the cook took a leave, we settled for Maggi noodles. And yes, we even took a life-time membership of a nearby restaurant. Well, I am not totally hopeless. I did cook some nice dishes for my husband. But still, cooking never was my passion. I had never imagined that I would ever cook on a regular basis. But, fate had something else in store for me. My husband had to come to the US, and I was supposed to join him after a month. We had decided to share an apartment with another couple.

I arrived in US with a dread in my heart about my cooking skills. Unfortunately, there’s no concept of a cook, and everyone has to take turns to cook. I don’t exactly remember the first dish that I cooked here, but I do remember that nobody liked it. Everyday, I tried in vain to do something right. But, I was good at nothing. For starters, I was not comfortable cutting vegetables with a knife and used to spend hours cutting it. The vegetables I made either contained too much spice and salt, or were very bland. Once, I spent close to two hours cooking the pulav only to find out that the rice was under cooked. Even the tea I made was never right. My husband always used to praise whatever I cooked, but that was only because of his love for me. I was filled with shame and anger at myself for having wasted all the years when I could have learnt cooking. I resolved that I would take an interest and improve my cooking.

It was not that I did anything differently, but since the day my heart decided to have a passion for cooking, things happened differently. I improved my cutting speed and became careful while using spices. I tried vegetables with paneer, mushroom, sprouts, and some simple vegetable recipes. The daal I made started to taste decent, if not delicious. I ensured that whatever I cooked pleased me before serving it to others. After I started cooking good vegetables, I turned my attention to making chapattis. I observed my male friend everyday, making perfect-round chapattis in no time. I saw to it that I mixed the flour perfectly. I practiced making round chapattis. My friends started liking what I cooked and this gave me immense encouragement. I started reading cooking blogs and books. I studied tips and tricks to cook faster.

It is not true that I became an expert cook overnight. It’s just that I am improving day-by-day. I still fail at some of the things I make. But, there is a definite improvement. For someone like me who hardly used to enter the kitchen, I look forward to spend more time, experimenting with new stuff. I love it when my kitchen is filled with different aromas. My message to people like me would be – it doesn’t hurt to take an interest in cooking. You can manage a career and be a great cook too. For those who have not yet learnt cooking, it is never too late to start. Believe me, you will feel like a magician when a simple, innocent-looking vegetable turns out to be a delicious meal.

It is true that the path to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Since the day I started cooking delicious food, my husband loves me double!

January 5, 2007

New Year Resolutions for 2007

Before the onset of every New Year, I religiously make New Year resolutions. Sometimes, I have a long list of them; sometimes the list is small. Sometimes, I make the resolutions in my mind; at other times, I write them down. Sometimes, the resolutions are very tough, sometimes they are easy. Well, in the midst of all these changing factors, one thing remains the same every year – I break all my New Year resolutions. I follow them determinedly in the beginning of the year. But after some days, I either get bored with them or I simply forget them. Last year I had the misfortune of my resolution list landing in the hands of my mother. She made a huge fuss over them. She reminded me every now and then about the progress, or should I say, digress of my resolutions. This year I have decided to share my resolutions with everyone.

Well, why should this year be any different? So, here I am making a list of all the resolutions that I am planning to break in 2007:

1. Make a proper schedule:- Since the time I have landed in the US, my whole schedule has been disrupted. I get up at 11 o’clock, spend the next two hours chatting with friends, and have lunch at any time after that. Once lunch is over, I either switch on the TV or read a book. I have a bath at any time between 3 to 4 o’clock. At times, I have a bath just before my husband reaches home. Frankly, after following this schedule for 3 months, I am utterly bored with it. I want to get up at a decent hour and utilize my time more effectively.

2. Exercise regularly:- Some background about my eating habits would be necessary before writing down this resolution. This is mostly two important resolutions combined into one. I hereby present two facts – I am thin and I am a total junkie. I do not think twice before devouring anything. I am absolutely crazy about fried stuff, especially chips. I can easily finish a bagful of chips all by myself. I love chocolates, ice-creams, cakes. I do not give a damn about how many calories I consume in a day, hour, or minute. I have realized that if I have any chance of staying beyond 60 years is if I get a grip on my eating habits and exercise regularly. I must have visited the gymnasium around 10 times in the past 3 months. It’s not that I don’t like going to the gym, it is pure laziness. So, I am planning to spend at least half an hour in the gym on a daily basis. I am determined to do Yoga every morning and visit the gym every evening.

3. Learn Spanish:- I always been interested in learning new languages. I currently know only three languages, and now that I have the time, I would like to learn a new one. I have always been intrigued by the Spanish language and am planning to learn it. A couple of books and some online oral tutorials should help me learn the basics of the language.

4. Regularly keep in touch with friends and family:- I have a huge and diverse group of friends, and a huge family. At times, I know what is happening in their lives; at others I don’t know anything. I always wonder whether it is difficult to keep in touch with friends – what with the e-mail, chat, phone options available. How much time does it take to drop in a little hello? Or is it necessary to reach out to friends only when we are feeling lonely and need their company?

5. Write more:- I am a Technical Writer by profession and have written so much technical stuff up till now. But now, I want to write more about everything I see and experience. There is so much to write. I want to write about places I visit, books I read, feelings, emotions, movies, and about life.

6. Be more creative and organized:- I am planning to learn lots of crafts, knitting, sewing in this year. These are things that I have always wanted to do, but never got the time to learn. I have done some painting and embroidery in the past, but I want to take this one step further and learn more. I also want to be more organized and always keep my home neat and tidy.

7. Reduce my temper:- My parents, my husband, and myself are very scared of my temper. At times, I don’t understand what tips me off. But I get very, very angry. I want to use meditation and yoga to reduce my temper.

8. Improve cooking:- Well, I am a terrible cook. I try very hard, but whatever I make turns out to be a disaster. My cooking has considerably improved since I have come to the US. I have taken a guanine interest in cooking and am trying out new things by visiting blogs. So, the New Year resolution is to be a really good cook.

Well, that’s all for it now. I hope I am able to meet at least some of my resolutions if not all. At the end of the year I will write another article – “Broken Resolutions in 2007”.