Saturday, July 29, 2017

Kitchen save - from washed out Fusilli to a palatable Pasta Casserole!

The way we love Pizza and Pasta at home, we could very well be Italians. But then, we love our Parathas, Rajma Chawal, Kadi Rice and Dosas too. I guess we are just hearty gourmands.

Anyway, back to our Pasta fondness, we have done our usual hit and miss with several pasta brands available on Indian shelves. A couple of times we have bought the premium Rustichella d'Abruzzo, but sadly it is not easily and always available.

Then we have gone the Buitoni, Borges and Disano route. We have also tried Bambino to our utter disgust.

Finally, at our home we have centred on Barilla - not very expensive, widely available from INA Market to Modern Bazaar to the neighbourhood Dutch Hypermarket 'SPAR.'

Similarly for the jarred tomato sauce in different variations - sometimes with olives or Basil or with three cheese - we have experimented with a few brands before collectively settling on Ragu. It is OK for our pockets and great for our palate.

Yet, in an instance of stupid decision making and trying to be thrifty in the silliest of manner, we recently picked up the 'SPAR' branded packet of Fusilli and a bottle of Delmonte Tomato sauce.

To say the least, the result was disastrous. I do make rather nice Spaghetti Arrabiatta or my version of the White Penne in a rich, creamy, cheesy sauce with almonds and a shot of vodka. But more on the good things later.

This time around, I dabbled with a blend of two kinds of sauces to go with the Fusilli. My expectation was that the family would be swept off their feet but that was not to be. The pasta turned out to be yucky. 

I attempt to do one degree more than al dente at home, in order to suit the Indian palate yet retain the 'to-the-bite' firmness of the Pasta. But this packet would have none of it. The pasta simply broke away in a wishy-washy mess. And the sauce was so bad that it ruined the entire dish.

Quickly resolving to never buy SPAR pasta and Delmonte sauces I went into a fight and retrieve mode. I just had to do something to the huge batch of pasta made. I couldn't have simply thrown it away.

So here's what we did. We made a fresh batch of homemade tomato and garlic sauce. Brought in some Cheddar to help us save the day.
I then layered out the pasta in a deep dish alternating the layers with the homemade sauce and cheese till I finished my lot of pasta, finishing off with a liberal garnish of more cheese.

The ensemble was baked as a Casserole and viola! we had something to sing and dance about!!

The proof is in the pictures!!!

Have you saved a cooking disaster recently?

Picture and Casserole courtesy - Karuna Dayal

Friday, July 28, 2017

Good Pizza Pie anyone?

Is it so difficult, in India, to get a good pizza pie delivered to one's home?

What if one does not want to go to Trident Gurgaon or the now 'expired' 360 degrees at The Oberoi or Mist at The Park each time one craves a delish Pizza!!!

Because of the sludge they dish out, I have jointly banned Domino's Pizza and Pizza Hut to be ordered at home.

Even the packaged one, my Husband's cousin bought for me in Frisco, from Sears I think, was far better than what most of our restaurants sell.

There was that one bright spark - Insta Pizza - but they don't deliver everywhere and not at all in South-west Delhi where I reside.

And no, the newbie The Oven Story is not that great.

Why should the customer be left wanting for better choices?

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, July 27, 2017

You are being watched!

Like another Shepherd Mom said, we have a German Security System installed.

Trespass our home at your own risk!!!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My take on the three R's!


I had the privilege of meeting Bitthe Foster of Sweden's 3Rs back in 1997 when I used to be working for the Hyatt Group. 

She initiated me into the concept of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Long before that, I saw Ma recycle things at home - utensils, garments, linen, food - she was completely ingenious in her approach.

Then there was Mrs. Bangia, Ma's nouveau rich friend who was already a millionaire back in the Doon of early 80s. Yet, Aunty Bangia did not let go of her good middle-class values and would string up and Sun out even one or two pieces of leftover Chilli, Aubergine, Lady's Finger etc. to be later used in Soups and Sambars.

I love recycling things and giving them a lease of life in their brand new avatar.

In my homes and gardens, both in Dehra Dun and Delhi, I will not easily throw away things - pots and pans, old bells and faded curtain beads, cracked water bowls and pretty cups with handles missing. I think a hundred times about reusing the item and once I feel there is no way it can be beautified and reused; it is only then that it will be sent to the Kabadiwala (Junk collector/Scrap Dealer) or retired to a Bin. 

It is a cross I bear from my Mother; that I end up seeing an aesthetic value in a lot of things - even parts of packaging material or broken wooden ladders.

This time in Dehra Dun, we were cleaning up the Kitchen and the Store at the Farmhouse, readying the places for pest control. While I found an old painted stone that I had painted while in the Sophomore year in College and a bunch of old Greeting cards that will now live with pride in my Memory Book; I also discovered some forgotten, unused treasures. 

There, lurking in the dark spaces of the bottom shelf were two glass jars and two old world Martabans - the former two were used by Ma to store jams, jelly and preserves and in the latter two she would keep away pickles. One of the jars had a teeming population of giant cockroaches, so in a moment of utter disgust, all four were banished from the kitchen and sent off to fulfill a new purpose - that of letting miniature Sansevieria flourish in their wombs and sit a-pretty in the front garden.

I do the same with old tea cups and coffee mugs kitting them out with the resilient cacti. Old, discarded ceramic or metal mortar & pestle either become garden objets d'art or pots for succulents. My Karva Chauth karvas almost always become flowering pots. My Diwali terracotta diyas and knick-knacks - re-painted and interestingly placed - often become Garden decorations.

When our Delhi home was being reconstructed, I went to town with my recycling and beautifying ideas. The old DDA Living Room ceiling light is now our Porch light, painted in the shade of Santorinian Blue. The seat from our Garden Swing is now the Blue Couch prettily poised in our patio. 

The Wrought Iron Mirror from one of the Bathrooms is now a Garden Installation. It adds to the beauty of the patio reflecting the images of my lovely Garden and the beautiful park in front of our house; besides attracting a motley crew of Sunbirds and Butterflies. As for the Wrought Iron Rack, that used to hold the toiletries, it now is part of the facade decor and proudly showcases an array of my tea cup pots.

In one of the quaint moves, I outdid even my own craziness. I found this interesting ladder like thing as part of the new Commode packaging delivered to us by Hindware Italian Collection. All through the reconstruction period, I held on to it, in spite of strange looks and queer questions from our Man Friday and the friendly bunch of labourers and carpenters working on the site. Our boy kept asking me as to why was I holding onto that piece of crap and I would tell him to be patient. Once the painting work began, I got the contraption painted in white and today it performs the function of a 'Squirrel ladder' going up to the Patio Birdhouse.

I love to reuse the cracked, ceramic water bowls of my fur children as planters. And I have learned from Ma that one must never throw away a Kitchen sink. Place it nicely in your kitchen garden and grow herbs and spices in its basin.

I am quite the version of the crazy cat lady, or at least the contractors who worked with me thought so, with all my quirky designing ideas. But they always feel delighted to see the ideas, once they are brought to life. I sense a feeling of pride in them when they see parts of their thrown-away stuff given a huge facelift and decorated around. I think, at that moment, they feel they have been part of a secret society; and between them and me, several surreptitious, knowing looks are shared.

Recently, one of the Contractors conveniently dumped a broken wooden ladder at our front gate. He kept telling us that he will soon have it thrown away until my moment of serendipity struck me. A hurried call was made to him, telling him not to throw away the ladder and asking him if we could use it. He was both surprised and relieved, I could tell from his tone. He was asked to send a worker to our house to paint the ladder in our shade of Blue. Today, the ladder encases the house as three Wishing ladders with pots and plants hanging from them.

Le Husband, over the years, has been persuaded and pushed around to become part of my plan. By now, he has stopped cribbing and become a happy conduit. So, on one of his business trips, he was coaxed and cajoled to bring the old style Aluminium kettles used by the roadside tea vendors. He has, so far, managed to bring two - both of which hang as elements of adornment in the Courtyard, reflecting a sense of old world charm. 

In the same vein, our Computer Man knows exactly what he needs to bring for me from his native village. He has already revealed to me that several Aluminium utensils such as the milk can and the stirring pot or the squarish "Pateela" pan are used in his village and I have a "re-use" for all of them, I've promised him!!!

When you come visit me, you will find a pair of 'blessing' Buddha hands in brass sitting primly next to the Gramophone. Look closely, for they are the recycled door knobs.

Very recently, we had to throw away two pairs of similar looking Greek sandals - one in fuschia and the other in purple - as they came apart at the edges. Just before they were being chucked, I saw some frantic activity from the corner of my eye. My niece cum soul-child cum soul-sister rushed to yank out the nice looking metal pieces from the two pairs. Today, the four metal chains are hung down as dishy wind chimes from a couple of empty Moscatel Oro bottles. I guess blood does run thicker than water. And with that, we seem to have come a full circle.

Here, then, is my expression of gratitude to Ma and Bitthe!

Monday, July 24, 2017

No, Means No!!!

Here's mooting for a novel punishment for RAPISTS in place of the most asked for Capital Punishment!!

I think since man has assumed a right over all other animals and goes about violating their existence, what should be done in India, as a pioneering move, is that the rapists should be used in science labs and for medical research in place of animals. 

At least the Fuckers would be put to good use and we will get to save animals too. If the Middle East can execute them publicly and stone them to death, we can take a step forward to do this at least.

And for once, respect the identity and integrity of the weaker sex (weaker only in this instance). And get away from the politics of appeasement.

Your thoughts?

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Love Thy Country!

Many of us like using international brands. We end up liking some brands more than the others. For me, it is Louis Vuitton.

In my first year at The Imperial, I bought myself a big LV Handbag. Actually one of my French colleagues - Lionel - bought it for me in France while I paid him in Delhi. The result was I paid much less for the bag than it was being sold for in the LV boutique then housed in The Oberoi, New Delhi.

But this post is not about brands. It is about pride in one's country. Over the years I have noticed how proud French and Italians and Thai and Swiss and several others are of what their country stands for and what all it offers. We Indians lack in that area hugely.

The first day I carried my LV Bag to the office, my French Boss had this to say, "Good you bought that. You made our economy richer." Climbing down the stairs to my basement office, I quietly reprimanded myself; for I had seldom thought on those lines for my country and its economy.

After all these years, my Indian Facebook Friend - Vikrant Nath - exhibited a similar shade of emotion, this time for India.

We were talking about the recently held IIFA awards (held in NYC this year) and he asked, "Have you ever heard of any other awards night being held in another country?"

And it set me thinking. He is right. They could have chosen a novel Indian destination - giving it great exposure and giving a fillip to its economy.

Why don't we think like this?

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Friday, July 14, 2017

The "HELP" at hand!

No Indian home can function without a retinue of domestic staff. A lot of us would not be able to go out and have our careers if it was not for this backbone at our beck and call.

In order to keep the home machinery well-oiled and functioning well, we must take care of our staff with affection and sincerity.

Among the other things you may be doing for your staff, a few more to bear in mind, eh!!

1. Pay them every month preferably on the 1st of the new month - they too have bills to pay and fees to deposit etc.

2. Frequently ask after them and their well-being. You should know what's going on in their lives and be able to extend help where needed.

3. Yes, offer them tea and snacks and food often.

4. Include them in celebrations and give them gifts on their special days, include their children too where possible.

5. Show respect and relative trust to them, but do not trust blindly.

6. Teach them new things, including hygiene etc. without being condescending.

7. Stand up for their rights should they face an issue with another employer.

8. See if you can, at times, get their annual tests done or get them discounts with your doctor.

9. Advise them on making sensible financial investments.

10. Make rules around the house, adhere to them yourself and ensure abiding by, with others too.

11. If they are into stealing - small or big does not matter - lose them is a very bad feeling not to be able to trust your staff.

Your inputs?

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, July 13, 2017

What’s happening to the world we are making it out to be?

So much impatience, dispassion, apathy, anger and intolerance! Every day, we are protesting against people who are not like us, beliefs that we do not conform to, things that we do not respect anymore.

We are becoming anti-Muslims, anti-Christians, anti-Hindus. Does that mean we are heading towards becoming anti-humanity? Dreadful thought that!!

Then there are the saffrons and the greens and the whites and the reds and God alone knows what else in our biases and leanings, illogical, weak-based leanings.

Every day, a new pseudo crusading group springs up – cow vigilantes, the anti-Valentine Moral Brigade, the nuts who tell us animal sacrifices will be made or are young girls will not be sent to school or underage children will be married off because that’s how it has always been, that’s what their ancestors did and that is what they believe is the right path.

What perturbs me, disturbs me highly and completely confounds me is that with so much knowledge and information floating around, with excessive narrowing of boundaries, with increasing exposure to the world outside; why are we becoming more negatively drawn and retrograde instead of being progressive, compassionate, accepting and open-minded?

Any answers?

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Oriental Magpie Robin

"The Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but now considered an Old World flycatcher. They are particularly well known for their songs. It is the national bird of Bangladesh."

As seen at Lucky Manzil, merrily perched on a branch!

Types of Friends!

As in life, on Facebook too, the following kinds of friends exist; as a reflection of what we are as an individual and what is the set of values we espouse (Please note that the term friend is being used in its broadest sense, stemming from its usage on Social Media) -

1. There are friends who really like/love us, warts and all. They rejoice when we succeed and empathise when we fail. They have our best interest in their hearts and minds, regardless. Cherish them.

2. Then there are friends who are an extension of a nodding acquaintance. They will exchange some pleasantries with us and go about their own business. We are there on their spectrum, just about, but do not really matter in their scheme of things. Let them be. They are good for discussing weather and the like.

3. There are friends who may have known you for a long while but are pretty tangled in their own world and its goings-on that they have little time for much else, including you. They are just preoccupied but mean no harm to you. It is OK to have them around. There will be a time when your paths shall cross again and you will get to share a smile and some goodwill.

4. There are friends you do not know at all but they are either a friend of friends or share common interest areas with you. Suss them out. They have the potential of either getting into a more meaningful equation or simply drifting away; either of which is fine by all means.

5. Then there are the pretenders. They have either known you personally or have got well acquainted virtually. They will fake it to appear as your friend but will never feel with you or for you. They will never like anything you do well, they will enjoy it if they see you slip. The problem with them, essentially, is that they only like themselves and begrudge most others. The sooner you filter them out, the cleaner channels you pry open for free flow of positive energy.

6. There are friends who will not be bothered with any of the good things happening to you and will seldom get excited about all the great stuff you are doing. But will always be in touch to bring you down over a post, or write a snide remark or fire up a controversy. Be mindful of them; for they are waiting to pull that rug from under you.

7. Finally, there are those who wish no good for you.They are actually happy to see you encounter failure. They grudge you your success and will make conspiracy theories around why you succeed and perhaps they don't. They will assume a friendly stance but harbour no positive feeling for you. Your sense of happiness and well-being annoys them. They gloat to see you fall on hard times. Drop them, the moment you unveil them. They have no place in your world!

So what does your friend matrix look like? And what kind of a friend are you?

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bollywood's Graceful Diva!

She is known to be one of the most naturally beautiful faces of Bollywood. But, as I discovered from close quarters, she is a lovely person too.

This was early 2000. She was staying with us to launch her brand of candles, dreamily called "Faraway Tree."

I was introduced to her by her Manager in The Oberoi Ballroom while we were doing a recce for the big event the next day.

Dimple Kapadia was not particularly garrulous but she was pleasant and nice and somewhat friendly too. I liked her instantly.

Sometime later, I bumped into our General Manager, while walking the Lobby during the restaurant lunch hours. He quizzed me about the Bollywood Diva and told me how standoffish and arrogant she had been with him. The French Gentleman was also bruised because she even refused to shake his hand. I found that a bit odd because Monsieur J is such a charmer and has a way with people. But I guess he failed to cut ice with her.

On the other hand, she took to me famously. We engaged in several short dialogues during the preparation of the event. The event, itself, went off smoothly and we all were quite pleased with the attendance and the media coverage. Dimple and her team were happy with the turnout of guests, on-site sale and further trade enquiries. It was a win-win outcome for us all.

While looking around the Exhibition, I showed interest in 3-4 of her creations and mentioned it to Dimple's Manager.

The next morning, the Manager trooped into my office with those four things that I had liked. To my huge surprise, she put her foot down when I took out my wallet to pay.

When I insisted, she told me that, "Madame has clearly instructed that we do not take any money from Aruna. Tell her that it is a gift from me and she cannot turn it away."

I sought an audience with her to thank her personally. She obliged, requesting me to come to her Suite.

When I entered the Suite, I found her wearing chocolate brown shades, in a way, matching her famous auburn tresses. She took them off briefly and I noticed that her eyes were puffed up, presumably from lack of sleep.

The event had wound up late and then her close friends, the famous Designer Duo - Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla - had visited her for a get-together.

Yet, unmindful of the loss of sleep or swollen eyes, she met me. We sat and talked a little and then she, unlike many vain film stars, agreed to be photographed with me as a keepsake reminder of our meeting.

I think she looked as lovely (or perhaps even more, since I got to see the person behind the persona) as the night before. Yes, on both occasions she wore AJSK!

And she looked ravishing! Don't you agree?