Monday, February 13, 2017

When I had coffee.

There are some people who appear out of nowhere, interrupt your way of life and change it for the better with their kindness, love and affection - not by intent, but by nature. They are indifferently kind to everybody, by way of life. The utter sense of calmness on their face is infectious. The conversations are relaxed, connecting and almost as if we have been friends for a long time. There is nothing but love and respect for them all.

I don't drink coffee. I can't put a finger on what puts me off, but I don't drink that beverage. My parents gulp filter coffee numerous times a day, and almost every other leaf in my family tree does so too. I have rocked people off their chair when they come to know that this (so called) South Indian fellow doesn't drink coffee. 

But, I've had coffee. Thrice, maybe four times. Why? Kindness. It is not about the coffee, but the people who have been able to make me have a cup of coffee.

The most recent one was two months ago. I met this gentleman at work, let's call him Mr. M. M was an old and wrinkled man. He took short, slow steps and scanned everything till the horizon in a calm but absorbing gaze. He would talk in a slow, low, kind voice - like a grandfather talking to his little grandchild. He had come the site on duty, and invited met to his office. The meeting might have lasted fifteen minutes. Or an hour. It was hard to tell. This gentleman, who had never spoken to me before, took me under his wing and shared work experience (he had more than 40 years of it, spread across almost all continents, and many fields), advice, and bucket loads of information that would come in handy for anybody. It wasn't all one way traffic either. He asked me for views, inputs and feedback. He could barely walk, through age and illness, but the childlike enthusiasm would win that battle.

When we were about to go out for an inspection, he offered me a cup of coffee. "Bharath, you must have coffee with me." I smiled, took the offer, and drank the coffee. He made such a kind offer, I wouldn't refuse.

We spoke twice since. In both those conversations, his humility and kindness were transparent in the way he punctuated his requests with "Sorry to have disturbed you." (he is more than twice as old as I am) and my replies with "Thank you so much!"

Mr. M passed away yesterday. He waged a long battle against cancer.

The world is one gentleman lesser today. He will be missed.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ignore, please.

I recently read a book by Dave Gorman - Too Much Information, where the author talks of the many places in the modern age where there is just "too much" thrown at your face - in print, digital, television etc - in advertisements, music, branding, marketing etc. The idea, under the layer of their primary reasons, is that with more information thrown at you, the less likely you will find the truth.

We are also prey to other kinds of excess. We live in an age that reeks of social media, in one form or another. Every app that you download on your mobile phone wants access to all the information stored on your phone. Every place you shop wants you to sign up with them - email, phone, address, age, favourite cartoon. Social media platforms want to know your date of birth, place of birth, birth marks, star sign, favourite cartoon. I love The Popeye Show to bits, but I don't want to share that with "everybody" everybody.


The worst kind of excess is when you are on one of those social media, and let's say you are active on it. You are bombarded with so many things, SO so many things, that you are overwhelmed with what is going around in the world. I don't have a problem with this. These are the people we chose to hear from. There is a sense of being slightly left out, sometimes, in not knowing what other people are talking about - and you have to watch videos and read blogs to figure out what it is. I have a problem with this.

We are all unique (just like everyone else. tee hee). So, why not just be so. I have my set of likes and dislikes and I would love to stay in my cocoon and be respected for it. I sure should not feel any peer pressure to try to everything that others are doing, this is not a rat race, this shouldn't be a rat race. So, I am very sorry I don't have an opinion on who should win the USA election (definitely not Trump, though), who enraged whom in the parliament, or the other accident that took place on the highway somewhere in some place. They are all important, to some people, at some point of time; but not totality. I can only be an expert or knowledgeable in just so many subjects.

There is a sense of discomfort, anger too, when someone does not replicate interests. There are no healthy competitions anymore, no discussions - just violent, vocal arguments. Like a stand-up comedian put up on a video blog, "If I say I am a dog person, I get comments 'F*** you, you cat hater.'" I always wake up to one horde brandishing a media entity over something that they said 5 years ago, or calling names over a politician. I am not saying the target is innocent, but there are methods. Maybe?

With the tools of social media, one can be as authoritative as their keyboard and internet space can allow them to be. We are probably yet to define ethics and etiquette for such media of communication. (I know for a fact that I am not the same person in reality, as I seem on such online media, however hard I try to.) What you write on, say, twitter, gets interpreted in 10 different ways and you have 2 people supporting you, 4 people calling you names, 2 thinking you are an idiot and the others ignoring your presence. There is no way you can say anything diplomatic here, ask Harsha Bhogle. You may show respect to women, or look like you were being cheesy - depends on how one sees it.

A bit of the same also carries over to life offline, too. People tend to get flak for being different, doing different, liking different. If you love what you do, some of this can be tolerated and ignored. The "different" factor is what is going to separate you from the run-of-the-mill kind. Twitter was overwhelming at first because there were so many kind of people I didn't know about (which is kind of hard to come across offline). Respecting others for their uniqueness is the least you can do to bond, and maybe both of you will benefit from it some day. That's better than trying to enforce your idea on another('s).

I choose to ignore as much noise as I can. If you have cute cat videos, something to do with sports, or something nice to try out in the kitchen, or maybe even a movie, I am all ears. Else, I would prefer to recline into my seat, read the book in hand (it helps, because I am a very slow reader) while you try to finish your cacophony. If you choose to decipher that as arrogance, sure you can - I am going to ignore that too.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you is the greatest accomplishment.
- Ralphy Waldo Emerson, essayist

Monday, January 25, 2016

My Sandwich Chronicle

I bought a grilled sandwich maker recently, and my trips to the kitchen have been twice as fun ever since. Just so I don't forget, this is the list of the sandwiches that I have made with it thus far (hopefully I update it over time.)

Do suggest your sandwich recipes that I can try out

1. Tomato - onion - capsicum grilled cheese (ft. ketchup, chili flakes, oregano)

2. Tomato - onion - capsicum grilled (avoided cheese, because breakfast)

3. Spaghetti Arrabbiata - onion grilled sandwich (essentially under the grilled cheese s/w umbrella, given that I sprayed the cheese into the pasta first. Note: I <3 arrabbiata="" p="" salsa="">
Spaghetti Arrabbiata in a s/w
4. Capsicum - onion - carrots grilled cheese (ft. ketchup, green chili sauce)

5. Tomato - onion - capsicum - red bell pepper - corn grilled cheese (ft. ketchup, green chili sauce)

Left: Tomato - onion - capsicum - red bell pepper - corn
Pineapple - black raisins - corn grilled cheese
6. Pineapple - black raisins - corn grilled cheese (this is currently my favourite, because a heavy risk paid off)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Patatas Bravas

I came across this Spanish dish, Patatas Bravas, when I was watching something on youtube. It seemed complicated, but doable - in just the right proportion to capture my attention. I have since been wanting to try this out, and I finally made it today.

Salsa Bravas
Patatas Bravas, literally translated means "brave potatoes", but actually mean "fierce potatoes". It is a starter, and is a simple two fold process - salsa and the fries.

I watched and read a few recipes for this dish and found they have been customized mildly, but the core is the same - a tomato based spicy salsa. I used 3 red tomatoes, medium in size (medium as per Indian sizing), cut them into eights and dropped them into a blender cup. On a frying pan, with only a tsp or so of oil, fry chopped onions and garlic for a minute or so, turn off the flame and then add them to the tomatoes. Also add 2 green chilis, chopped (it doesn't matter much, we will be blending them soon) a couple of tsp of powdered red paprika / red chili powder. Add a pinch of sugar and a little bit of salt. Then, add two spoon-scoops of mayonnaise to it. Close the lid of the blender cup and blend the ingredients until you see a thick paste with no solid lumps. Taste the salsa and check if the heat is as per your taste. The salsa looks beautiful - the mayo lends a white shade to the red tomatoes and paprika, so the final result is a bit creamy looking; and the taste is spicy hot, you can see the heat. You can now refrigerate the salsa until you need it.

For the fries, it is intended to spice up the potatoes as early as possible. Take a sufficient water in a heating vessel to hold the potatoes you plan to use. Bring the water to simmering heat (but not a boil). Add red chili/paprika powder to the water and then put in the potatoes (unpeeled) and let them soak in the simmering water for 20 minute. Now, turn off the flame, remove the potatoes and peel them. I found this part tough, as I am used to peeling boiler potatoes - easy as. These are tough, be careful not to mash them if you are using a peeler. Cut the potatoes into bite size cubes. Take generous amount of oil in a fry pan and bring it to a med-high heat. Deep fry the potatoes in batches until they turn golden brown and are penetrable through a now crispy surface. Remove them from the oil onto paper towels to soak the excess oil. The outsides are crispy, slightly brownish and the insides are soft. If the cubes are very big, the insides come out hard. Sprinkle some salt over them once the oil wears off.

When all batches are done, transfer them on to a serving plate, hot. From what I have seen/read, the salsa is randomly poured over the plate of fries - just enough to top each potato fry in an imperfect manner, but not too much as to soak the potatoes in the salsa - and served to be eaten with the help of toothpicks. I served the salsa in a separate cup for each to pour in as much as s/he wishes. Patatas Bravas, ready.

You can feel the softness of the fries with the toothpick, the crunch is coated with the salsa dip which is spicy hot. It seems to be a nice party snack, a starter. It gets over in a jiffy, too. The heat also would bode well during the winter, I guess. Only 20 % of the salsa that I prepared got consumed today - I had used 4 medium sized (Indian) potatoes for the fries. The rest of it is back into the refrigerator and we plant to consume it along with the parathas, idlis and dosas during breakfast.

Notes: The sauce can be made well in advance and stocked, while you can make the fries when you want. So, in a way, you can make this in short notice (provided you have the salsa).
You can add the tomatoes to the pan while frying the onions/garlic, and saute for a short while before going to the blender.
Also, a couple of things that other recipes mentioned but I didn't have - vinegar, and tomato paste.
I ran out of garlic cloves, so I used a garlic-ginger paste instead. The ginger would be spicy, but will not lend to the heat.
Salsa Bravas might be a nice side to parathas, idlis, dosas because the spicy heat is kind of matches the purpose of chutneys that the mentioned Indian breakfasts go along well with. I have never had an idli with something that contains mayo, though. There is always a first time, like the first time I made Patatas Bravas.

Honey Chili Cauliflower

The single most favourite dish that I had tasted while in Punjab is the Honey Chilli Cauliflower, something that is very hard to find outside of the great land. Only recently though I have wanted to try and make it, and today I did. Of course, youtube ki jai for the lessons. This is how I made it:

This is a two-part procedure - one to fry the cauliflower and the second to make the gravy.

Cut the cauliflower into small flowerets, bite size. Take a few spoons of maida/all-purpose-flour in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to it. Also add a bit of oil. Mix the flour and add water to it as you do, to make a semi-thick batter that has no lumps in it. Now add the cauliflowerets to the batter and mix it well, but softly, so the batter covers them all but not break them into smaller portions while mixing. Now, deep batter-fry them on med-high flame until brownish in colour. Remove them from the oil and set them aside for use later.

Now, for the gravy. Add a tablespoon of cornflour to a cup of water, mix it well, and keep it aside. Take a few of tsp of oil in a frying pan, on med-high flame. Add to it garlic-ginger paste, chopped garlic, chopped ginger, chopped spring onions (and julienned capsicum if you have, I didn't). Let this fry for about a couple of minutes. (In my case, the home-made garlic-ginger paste started sticking to the pan floor, and I didn't know how to go around it, except stirring it clear.) The ingredients must be changing their colours a bit by now. Add the cornflower-water mix to this. Turn the flame to high. Add a tbsp of soy sauce, chili paste, tomato ketchup and ground black pepper to it. I didn't have chili paste, so I used chili powder/paprika, and some hot & sweet sauce. Add a spoonful of sesame seeds and a tbsp of honey. Keep stirring once in a while and allow the liquid to reduce to half, to a thick paste. Once it has, turn off the flame.

Wait for 5 minute after you turn off the flame and then mix the fried cauliflower to the paste and mix them well till the paste has coated all of the cauliflower. Transfer to your serving dish, sprinkle sesame seeds on top for aesthetics, and serve.

The dish should be crispy when prepared, with a sweet-spicy taste lent to courtesy the chili, the sauces and the honey. Soft onions and cabbage, julienned, marinated in lemon juice go well on top of this as a fine compliment in taste, texture and colour - that I know out of my dining experiences in Punjab.

Notes: I need to get better at batter frying (or as I later found out in the day, any kind of deep frying). I had some trouble finding the right thickness of the batter so that the cauliflower could hold on to it, I had to add a bit of cornflour to help thicken the batter. I need to hold myself back better in trying to not eat up the fried cauliflower and save them for the dish :-D . As of today, it's the best fried stuff.

There are two videos that I referred to while making this, and picked up steps from both: