Thursday, March 18, 2010

See sells See-shells by the See-shore...

If you came here thinking this one is about tongue-twisters, am sorry, it is not.

All you lucky souls out there who have great eyesight and can spot signposts a mile away-I envy you.
Coz I am a “soda butti” as kids used to tease me when I was small-which means that my glasses are quite thick. Even the thinnest and most expensive ones are thicker than the average person’s. Of course, this was partly my fault.
I shouldn’t have read books in sub-optimal light and in sub-optimal positions, I shouldn’t have learnt by-heart the reading chart at school, I should have eaten my carrots instead of surreptitiously dumping them and I should have dutifully handed over the notes written by my teachers to my parents regarding my difficulties in seeing the blackboard. Not the blackboard as such,I'm not THAT blind-rather what was written on it. Instead with every passing year, I simply moved one row forward in class, until finally I was sitting in the first bench and still copying notes from my neighbor. Things came to a head, when spelling mistakes started occurring even then. So eventually, when I was squinting in all directions, my parents took me to the ophthalmologist.
Now if you are a person, who visits the ophthalmologist regularly, you would surely relate to me. I think it’s one of the most demoralizing and confidence-busting activities. You go in at the appointed time and wait, flipping through some outdated magazines. You are called in and the doctor makes you sit down near him/her and asks you to read the chart placed some distance away.
The first few letters are fine-I suppose even bats could read them (I said could). Progressively, the letters get smaller in size and oh what torture! You squint and stare and mumble and grumble-and mostly guess.
Is that an ‘A’ or a ‘B’? ‘H’ or ‘R’??!
And then after trying your best-you have no choice but to accept defeat and you give up. Next the doctor places a big, heavy metal frame on your nose and keeps changing the lenses. And you are supposed to repeat the process of proving that you can’t read. First the left eye and then the right eye and then both together.
Finally after much deliberation, the power is determined. Then you are sent out and someone administers some eye drops and asks you to keep your eyes closed for say 30 mins or so. The idea being to clean out all the dust and debris from your eyes before confirming that you are indeed at-least one step close to blindness. Then once the time is up-in you go again and struggle through the whole show again. At last you have your prescription and can go order your glasses.
Whew! The trial is over. At-least till the next visit.

Nowadays I guess things are a little better; since my power has pretty much stabilized-but during the growing up years it was such a pain! Also technology has improved a lot and now we have computerized eye scanning too.
But still, how blessed it would be to be able to wake up in the morning and check the time without having to search for my glasses.
How delightful to be able to jump into the swimming pool without having to worry about losing my glasses or contact lenses.
How nice it would to fall asleep without having to bother about having my glasses on or lenses in.
How interesting it would be to realize that, that handsome guy I always had a crush on is smiling at me (Yes ME) from far across the room.
How convenient it would be to realize that it is a cockroach and not a piece of dust moving in that dark corner.
And most of all how wonderful it would be to be able to stop squinting at the reading chart every year! Sigh!

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I have always suspected that, in my previous birth (if such a thing exists), I was born a dog.Not because I am forever loyal, welcome you home with a wuff and a wag, fetch your newspaper, look at you with adorable melting eyes or drop hair all over the couch (though I must say that this does tend to happen a lot!).
Rather, the reason for me saying so is that, ever since I remember, I have had a strong sense of smell.
I was always able to sniff out what is cooking in the kitchen -or even in the neighboring house sometimes-much before everyone else. And I can always sense the smell of close people. I do not mean their perfumes or soaps or talcs or deos. Neither do I mean perspiration. I am not talking about times when they step freshly out of the shower or after they return from a tiring afternoon cricket match. Here I am specifically talking about each person’s unique body scent. For instance, I love my dad’s smell. I do like my mom’s smell too but my bro’s is a definite no. I think Ajay smells nice too-kinda sweet.But of course, this makes life difficult for him, coz I can easily sniff out and detect any traces of cigarette or alcohol ;-)

Also I feel that each place has a different smell associated with it. I could never figure out how my home smells exactly because I suspect that I have grown immune to it-much like we do not smell our own perfumes sprayed on us as intently as others near us do. But my grandma’s house has a specific, comfy smell to it. My office has a very familiar one. More than the 5* bakeries which smell too clean, the small bakeries around my neighborhood tempts me as the smell of freshly baked bread wafts out.
And one of my most favorite smells in the world – the smell of books, bookshops and those old dusty libraries at the street corner. This is what half my childhood was made up of (Yes I do sound like a nerd!) I always take a deep breath when I cross those libraries and I often close my eyes and bury my nose into the middle pages of a well-read book. Mmmmm! Actually I think a used book smells better than a brand new one :-)
A close second favourite , would be the smell of freshly crushed/mowed grass – it sooo reminds me of walking barefoot on dew drenched grass at the Marina Beach back home, when I was a kid.
And how can I miss mentioning the divine smell of the earth as the first few drops of rain splatter onto the parched sands. Obviously, I do also enjoy the smells of good food or pretty flowers as much as the next person.

I guess for each smell around me, I have a related memory stored somewhere in my sub-conscious mind. That is why smells of rich, ripe and luscious mangoes invokes memories of hot and humid Indian summers, crushed flowers and burning incense together always remind me morbidly of death, even if it is at some other auspicious occasion,
the ‘new clothes smell’ serves as ‘Ghosts of Christmas’ Past’ – as Scrooge would have put it, the pure, pleasant smell of babies reminds me of soft, cuddly balls of cotton-wool, the aroma of burning candles and melting wax takes me to cool, semi-dark and peaceful Churches whereas burning oil and wicks remind me of Temples,
the heavy, acrid smell of crackers serve as a reminder that the much awaited Diwali day is over and it is the morning after,
Petrol reminds me of the days that I used to go with my dad on his scooter to petrol bunks and dip my small hand into the funnel to feel the cool liquid rushing around my little fingers as the attendant pours it out-BTW I luurvvee petrol smell too-almost makes me want to drink it!! Though I hate diesel smells-that makes me sick - and it always reminds me of bumpy rides on loud and over-crowded city buses.
Freshly washed bed sheets remind me of lazy, cozy times spent lolling around in bed.
Oh and I really love the smell of a newly cleaned and scrubbed house–when I sit back tired from all the cleaning, it’s so much worth the effort!
In the US, I used to live in a building predominantly occupied by Indians. So whenever I used to step out of my apartment, my olfactory senses were assailed by an onslaught of powerful Indian cooking-curries and spices and masalas and what not!! Gave a sense of home!

Of course, I do not like all the zillion smells that abound on this Earth-for example, people in Chennai, have you ever tried lifting an Aavin milk packet in your hands-afterwards your hands stink to heaven!! After the first few times, I made it a point to pick them up just by my fingertips.
Incidentally, this was one of the major reasons I didn’t want to get married to a doctor, however noble the profession of saving lives may be. I always feel that there is a slight trace of something antiseptic –smelling, like the Hospital that clings to them –reminds me of sickness, long white corridors and even longer queues with worried faces in the waiting rooms.
Nor would I delight in a Smelly Cat as much as I like Phoebe and her song! And for all my love of water and beaches, I do not particularly like the salty and fishy smell of the sea. Or the Cooum (the Buckingham Canal, if you prefer that!), the Railway Stations or the trains themselves, the dirty Public Toilets that those state transport buses stop at in the middle of the night-all fall into the ‘Yuck!’ category.
In fact, I remember, when I used to travel by my company bus to my office, the bus always used to cross a long stretch of a dumping yard in the city outskirts. In an instant, all windows used to slide shut with a snap, all dupattas and hand kerchiefs used to reach for their owners’ noses and all faces would twist into grimaces. Someone even used to spray some room freshener inside the bus!!
I have heard many foreigners, comment that the moment you step out into India, you smell a whole lot of things all at once! I suppose that is indeed true! Growing up in India has been such a colorful, interesting, vivid and smelly (both good and bad!) experience!

Friday, March 12, 2010


One of my hobbies for the past few years has been cooking.
I love experimenting and trying out new dishes-when I overcome
my lazines, that is ;-)
I don't usually post any recipes or cookery tips here as this is basically not a cookery blog and I don't really want to add my contribution to the nth recipe you can find online for virtually anything!
Except if I have had some interesting experience in the kitchen.
This is one such incident when a potential disaster turned out to be a pleasant indulgence!

As my birthday was around the corner, I was thinking about special dishes to prepare for my special day. Coincidentally my friend Anu told me about a recipe that her MIL taught her, for a dish called Banofee Pie. Looking it up on the internet would show you that it is quite a popular and easy dessert. So I decided to try it out. Now the recipe calls for a can of condensed milk to be immersed in boiling water continuously for around 2 or 3 hours. A process which changes it to a light brown, creamy (& yummy!) caramelly toffee.

So I asked Ajay to buy a can of Milkmaid (My Mistake No.1). Milkmaid is just a brand name of a particular company's condensed milk product. But in India, Milkmaid is to condensed milk, what Xerox is to photocopy-they are synonymous.

Which kid (or even adult in my case ;-)) doesn’t like licking up the remaining drops of milkmaid left in the can-carefully without cutting yourself on the serrated opening- while mom is busy preparing Diwali sweets?!? Oh the simple pleasures of Life!! Sigh!

Anyway Ajay got me this can and since it had some Arabic label, I didn't really pay much attention to it (My Mistake No.2- Read the small print!). I happily put it to boil, prepared the pie crust, chopped up some bananas and waited patiently for a couple of hours.
After 2 hours, I carefully opened up the can and peered in expectantly-and was shocked!

All I saw was a milk kinda thingy-it didnt even taste sweet!!
How could condensed milk, de-condense into a normal milky consistency after boiling around in the pot for 2 hours?!?!? Quite puzzling!!

After calling up my husband and arguing for some time, I ran down to the grocery store to check out what exactly I had on my hands. (The label had peeled off while boiling in water and I had thrown it out)
Well, looks like hubby dear got me 'evaporated milk' instead of condensed milk!
So I ended up with a can of 2-hrs-boiled-evaporated-milk, a bowl of bananas and an empty pie crust :-(

"This will not do!" thought I and decided to get into action.

I threw in the bananas with the evaporated milk, a few drops of vanilla essence, some sugar, mixed them all up, refrigerated the stuff and voila! Got some banana custard kinda thing! It was good to eat :-)

Now I had this pie crust. I wondered what to do with that for a couple of days.
Then.... Inspiration struck!
I made this:

You can call it whatever you want!
It is derived from the whole lot of jams, pies, puddings, cakes and desserts around!
Whatever it is, it was oh so lovely!! Try it!
So here goes the very first recipe that I am blogging:
(I just did whatever came to my head-so the quantities and timings are only approximate!)


For the Crust
1 big pack of Marie biscuits/ or a readymade pie crust
50-100 gms unsalted/salted butter- softened

For the Toffee Filling
1 200-300 ml tin of condensed milk (This time I made sure I bought the right one!)

For the Plum Sauce
6-7 plums (Thanks to Sandy for this. He bought a whole lot of fruits for the GM’s diet and never followed it! So he dumped the plums on us-Ajay & I wouldn’t have bought it-coz we both are really poor eaters!)
An inch long piece of Cinnamon

For the Finishing Touch
Handful of chopped nuts (Walnuts, Almonds whatever you choose!)
Whipped cream or Whipping cream + few drops of Vanilla essence+ 3 teaspoons powdered sugar
Chocolate shavings


Place a heavy bottomed vessel, like a cooker or a big saucepan on the stove.
Fill it with water, drop the unopened condensed milk can into this.
Bring the water to a rolling boil and then let it boil gently for 2-3 hours.

Meanwhile wash the plums well and add them to another saucepan with sufficient water to immerse them.
Throw in the cinnamon.
Bring this to a boil and continue boiling till the fruits become mushy and the water reduces-say about 30 mins or so. After this, pass the boiled fruits through a strainer, press well on the skins and fleshy parts that are left behind and strain well.
Return this to the stove and bring to a boil again. Add about 5 teaspoons of sugar, mix well and continue simmering, stirring occasionally.

While this is boiling, let’s make the pie crust. If it is a readymade one, just follow the instructions on the pack. Else, first crush the biscuits well with a rolling pin to a coarse powder.
Mix this with the melted butter and press and line a pie pan or cake tin or glass bowl or any other container in which u want the pie to be in. Refrigerate this for 20-30 mins till it becomes firm.

If you’re using whipping cream, whip it for about 3 mins with the sugar and essence till fluffy.

By this time, the plums should have boiled for an hour or so. They would have thickened to a syrupy texture and gotten a couple of shades darker- a nice, deep, beetrooty pink. At this stage, turn off the stove.

After the condensed milk has boiled for a couple of hours, pour out the hot water, pour in some cold water and open the can carefully (Don’t burn yourself!). Your toffee is ready.

Spread the contents evenly with a spoon or knife over your pie crust.
Following this spread the plum sauce.
Top this up with the chopped nuts.
Finish it off with the whipped cream. Sprinkle some chocolate gratings.

Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, slice and…. Bite in!!

The crumbly crust offsets the creamy toffee and plum sauce and you bite into the occasional crunchy nut or two, while the whipped cream just melts in your mouth! The sweetness of the toffee balances the slight tartness of the plums. On the whole it is simply superb!

• Cinnamon is optional-if you don’t like the flavor of cinnamon flavor you can skip it. If you like nutmeg or cloves you could add them instead-or completely skip the spices too.
• For the plum sauce, try using a non-stick vessel. The white saucepan I used is now pink (Should have applied some common sense!)
• Instead of chocolate shavings (or in addition to that if you’re a chocoholic like moi!), you could drizzle chocolate sauce or coffee syrup on top.
• A quicker version of this would be to use ready-made jams/jellies. But trust me-homemade tastes best.
• Be sure to cool down the plum sauce a little before putting the cream on top. Else the cream might curdle.
• If you are interested in making plum jam, try this:
Continue boiling the plum sauce till it is even thicker. Keep a spoonful in the refrigerator and check for the consistency. If it becomes jam-like, you have homemade plum jam ready! Since berries naturally have pectin, you do not need anything else to set it. But add a few teaspoons of lemon juice while boiling the plums.

For once, don't think about the calories- just Indulge and Enjoy!!

One of my fav poems....

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

- Robert Frost


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