The good part of a rainy summer..

I spent a good part of the last post cursing the unpredictable Rochester weather and the boring summer. But to think on the positive side, there are two advantages of this weather too- Firstly, I am cooking a lot nowadays. Well, that is a good thing because those who know me decently well know that until about a year ago, I couldn’t make anything except tea, coffee and fried egg. Because I was coming to the US and had to live here with strangers, my mom forcefully taught me to cook a few simple dishes. But I was always like a fish out of water in the kitchen; cooking was always an ordeal! Moving into a house with three guys as roommates and no coursework gave me the time and desire to at least attempt to develop my expertise in the kitchen. And wonder of wonders, I discovered that cooking could be quite enjoyable! And what’s more, I could actually be good at it !! 🙂 Besides, it’s a known fact that there’s no better way to lift your spirits than good food! So the past few days have seen me make pretty successful attempts at Ragda Patties, Gobi Manchurian, Thalipeeth, Indian Chinese, North Indian fare and many other dishes that I otherwise would have stayed 10 feet away from. Of course, it’s not that I cook fancy stuff everyday but now I’ve reached a stage where if I have to rake up a meal for 5-6 people, I at least don’t get all nervous and jittery at the thought of it. And that is definitely something my mom and I are proud of!

I think now is a good time to mention a few people I credit this new-found skill to. Of course, a major source of ideas and recipes is my mom. I think we spend at least 10-15 minutes discussing what I cooked and what she cooked everyday! Apart from that, I also vehemently hunt around for good food blogs nowadays and this has been quite a revelation actually! I cannot believe the number of Indian women settled in various parts of the US who are actively running food blogs. Now these are all young, working, married women who have kids and a husband and maybe even in-laws to look after. And I don’t even know if they earn any sort of revenue from these blogs, apart from probably Adsense. But in spite of that, they regularly write about the food they cooked, add some pretty yummy pictures and conduct events to encourage fellow bloggers to come up with innovative recipes. Quite a strong network they have out there! Of course, you can always tell if the author is someone from the US when she uses cilantro instead of coriander and cayenne pepper instead of red chili powder !! 😉 While I do wish to thank all of them for their contributions, there are some who I am particularly fond of:

1) Naina’s recipes: Naina is actually my neighbor from Pune who has lived in Rochester for seven years and moved to Seattle just a few months ago. She has some pretty innovative recipes. I have yet to try out her authentic Italian fare though.
2) Aayi’s recipes: Now this is one incredible lady. She writes about the most complex stuff as well as the most mundane, every-day recipes. The thing I like best about her is that she cooks a lot of Konkani fare which is pretty simple and easy on the tastebuds too- afterall, who wants heavy, fat-enriched food everyday!
3) Manjula’s Kitchen: I guess most students in the US know about her website. She puts up videos of her recipes and though her website is not very exhaustive, it’s good for some of the North Indian dishes.
4) Hooked On Heat: I love her site mainly for the amazing tempting pictures she puts up! And she also has some very interesting recipes.

Okay, now enough of food stuff !! 😛 The second good thing about having to stay at home because of a rainy Rochester summer is that I get to watch a lot of movies nowadays !! You already know how fond I am of movies, but the funny thing is that until now, I have seen a lot of Hindi films but have somehow missed out on some of the most famous of English movies! And PD is a major fan of all Hollywood flicks. So we invariably end up hunting for movies on IMDB, download them and watch them. Add to that, one of our professors gave us his old TV and we bought an S-Video cable last week, so now we hook up our laptops to the TV too! Imagine what a heavenly combo that is- good food and a good movie !! :):)

The past few weeks of movie-watching have made me realize how much I’ve have missed out on all these years! There are some pretty incredible movies out there, which can haunt you for days on end! And you can always tell if I’ve liked a movie depending on whether I’m awake or not at the end of it! What happens is this- we usually see these movies in the night while having dinner and I am already pretty tired coz of school the whole day. So it is only a really good and gripping movie that manages to keep me awake all through it! 😛 Like I saw Shawshank Redemption (yup, I was seeing it for the first time! :P) till 2 am but it was alllll worth it! That movie is one of the most incredible movies I’ve ever seen. That’s the best thing about Hollywood flicks actually- they don’t glorify the “hero”; he’s not some brilliant chap who set out to do great things. He’s just an ordinary guy who made the most of the cards he was dealt with! And the whole movie is just about capturing his experiences and thoughts- and that’s what make them such extraordinary movies!

Of course, what blows you away is the expertise of the film-makers and technicians- they delve into such intricacies of their film’s characters, it’s almost as if they’re living each of their lives! Like take a movie like Wall-E– the story of this film is so painfully simple but you look at the animation and you actually feel for Wall-E and Eve. You don’t think of them as just cartoon characters. Same goes for Cars– I don’t know about you, but I found the idea of making a delighfully cute film about a racing car lost in a small village where he finds the true meaning of friendship to be pretty innovative. Talking about innovation, I saw Memento today and I have no words for a movie like that! I haven’t seen Ghajini so I’m not going to compare the two. But I do believe that even a master like Aamir Khan would not have been able to capture the true essence of the film. This is probably why Murudagoss had to resort to making the hero seem like a violent, angry guy seeking revenge. Memento is hardly what you can call violent! That is another thing about Hollywood films- everything is so understated in them. Most of the emotions the characters are going through- pain, grief, joy, guilt, pride, jealousy- are either explicit because of the dialogues and screenplay, or are left to the viewer’s imagination. Unfortunately Indian films resort to very strong display of emotions, everything is very in-your-face and that sometimes does little to excite the viewer or make him think. But I guess that has more to do with the way we are- we tend to be more gregarious and loud than the Americans and so this behavior is reflected in our movies too. (Interesting view on it here by my friend Ketaki).

Of course, I don’t love all the movies I see. Like, I saw The Hangover the other day and it is the dumbest, ickiest movie I have ever seen. Why would anyone make a movie like that!?!

So anyway, going by the trend, I’m looking forward to loads of yummy dishes being cooked at home and even better movies being watched.. 🙂 And that sure does make it a wonderful summer! 🙂 Oh and by the way, I saw Harry Potter in the theater last week and it somehow was such a letdown! I think what is happening is- people’s expectations of the movie have risen so far that the directors are finding it hard to live up to it! I was specially expecting a good movie from David Yates, given that he did a fantastic job of the previous movie. But this somehow just didn’t have that magical touch. I can’t pinpoint to exactly what it was, but that awesome feeling you get after watching an HP movie was missing! I honestly hope the last two are brilliant- otherwise it would be a wayyy too disappointing end to the series…


Tryst with the kitchen

I’ve always taken some sort of perverse pride in the fact that I suck at cooking! In the sense, I not only was absolutely inept in making the stuff deemed “simple” by my mom like an egg omlette, but I couldn’t even distinguish between the different dals (you know…moong, udad and the like..) and different masalas! It never bothered me, of course. For me, cooking was never one of those skills a person needed to show atleast minimal expertise in. Infact it’s a standing joke in my family that a guy fit enough to be my life partner would need one of these qualifications- he should either be a good cook; or should be rich enough to afford one !!

I think my hatred for cooking was because my first two attempts at it failed miserably. The first time was when my sister and I decided to surprise my parents on their wedding anniversary by making them pinwheel sandwiches! (I was around 12 then; I had simple tastes :-P) We were supposed to mix cream cheese and tomato ketchup, add salt and pepper, apply it on the bread slices and roll them up. Simple enough, eh?! Well, everything that could possibly go wrong, did. The cream cheese and ketchup mix wasn’t smooth enough, I added too much salt and pepper and the bread got all soggy when the mix was applied on it, so it didn’t even roll up properly! We ultimately ended up eating the mixture without the bread so as not to waste it, and bought a cake for our parents! So basically, when you mess up something as simple as pinwheel sandwiches, it doesn’t do much to bolster your confidence! Added to that is the fact that my mom always says that I look my awkward best when I’m in the kitchen! The icing on the cake was when I messed up Maggi noodles! Huh! Well, over time I did manage to make a decent omlette, so I could atleast rake up something to eat in case of an emergency.

The past week has been a radical change though. I think it all started when the admits count reached four. I think my mom had been waiting for this very opportunity all this while. I knew it was coming of course; I didn’t want to be thrown out by my room-mates in foreign land coz I didn’t know how to cook! So now I proudly declare that the jinx is over and I can make edible food, fit enough to be consumed by fellow graduate students! :-D:-D Of course, I still hate cooking and I’m bored of it in just a week but atleast I know that I won’t go hungry now. And I admit, it’s pretty easy to make the simple Indian stuff, as long as you get a judgement of the proportions of the salt, sugar and the masalas. Besides, it does feel good to sometimes cook for your people- even if it’s a simple gobi ki sabzi! The best part was when my dad told my mom ki kabhi socha nahi tha ki kisi din apni beti ke haath ka bana khana bhi kha sakenge! Lol.. 😀

Of desserts and Cafe Mocha

I happened to see this amazing feature on Discovery Travel and Living on the most amazingly mouth-watering varieties of desserts and ice creams in America. The programme showcased every ice cream parlor, right from the world-wide known brands like Baskin Robbins, Dairy Queen (with its trademark curl on top of the cone !!) and then went on to even the exclusive and exotic brands like Michelle’s Ice creams, which offer unimaginable varieties like avocado, this place called Ben and Jerry’s and lots others !!

My personal favourite was the ‘Dairy Queen Blizzard’. An absolutely sumptuous concoction of ice cream, nuts, cream, chocolate or butter scotch sauce, and any other add-on that you may fancy, all whipped up into this creamy sundae, so thick, that it doesn’t budge an inch even on completely inverting the huge glass it is served in !!
No guesses that it is an absolutely rage at the DQ’s all over….now that’s one thing I have to get my hands on, when I reach the US…in the next 2 or 3 years !! :-P:-P

Definitely was the kind of show that grows onto you with every passing minute, and definitely left ME begging for more !!

Reminds me of the most amazing dessert experience I’ve ever had…..This was in January 2005. Gau, Gaya and I had gone for the IIT Techfest at Powai. It was the perfect setting- T1 was just done with, and it was our first impromptu trip together !! I’m not going to go into the details of the Techfest- this post is not meant for that, all I can say is- It was absolutely awe-inspiring !! Now I know why an IIT is an IIT !! Everything about it is so larger than life…a 50 lakh event, a McLaren on display, Humanoid robots specially flown down for a soccer match (But frankly, that one event was a letdown, the AIBO Robots at Fervor 2004 were MUCH real, the Humanoids didn’t exactly kick the ball !!), international level participation at Yantriki, the Drishti exhibition for the blind…all of it was just too astounding…add to that the entire IIT experience- the Powai lake, the Coffee Shack, carom at the boys hostel, the sight of whole lot of technology hungry wannabe engineers trying to grasp the most of the vast ocean of knowledge on display at the Fest, the IIT boys (I didn’t see any girls) who knew exactly how to have fun while they learn- way beyond my comprehension…and in fact, a tad too intimidating….

Coming back to the dessert…Now after the technological empowering we had experienced at the Techfest, it was time for some much needed diversion to other necessary recreational activities…so off we were- 3 girls and 9 guys- for some pet pooja, to this coffee shop called Mocha, at the Hiranandani complex, a stone’s throw away from IIT. From what I know of cafes at Pune, dessert aficionados here have to make do with simple pastries or doughnuts, and that’s exactly why this place was different !! To begin with, the most amazing thing about this place was its hatke ambience. Everything from the glasses to the furniture, to spoons, to the amazingly comfortable cushions and diwans, was uniquely mismatched…you know, high tables, low chairs, tribal masks hanging all over, no particular theme to the art work put up. Created a charm unparalled by anything I’ve seen so far. Makes you take an instant liking to it !!

And the menu…now that’s what deserves a noteworthy mention. And though Akshay did insist that even the water at Mocha is ‘really good’, I wouldn’t quite like to comment on that, and go straight to the dessert section. The picture below must have already given you a fair idea of what to expect. Well, firstly the variety they have to offer is so extensive, that it takes ages to decide what to order. Finally after much discussion, Gaya settled for a Chocolate Avalanche (what you see on the right, in the pic), and certainly an avalanche it was !! A sinful combination of cubes of brownies, ice cream, chocolate sauce and choco chip cookies, and the one you see in the pic was the smaller version !! But what I treated myself to- was the one on the left in the pic and it is called the ‘Vertigo’ (which Gau and I shared) I swear I will award half my kingdom to anyone to gets me something as soft, succulent and sumptuous as this !! Every spoonful just melts in your mouth and you just can’t stop eating it till you’re down to the last bite !! Icing on the cake- that beautiful swirl of frozen chocolate sauce on top !!


Add to that, the company of friends, absolute freedom to throw the cushions around till you’ve found you’re comfort zone (we guys were near horizontal on the diwans !!), the occasional conversion of the coffee shop to a dance floor and the whole atmosphere filled with joie de vivre !! Truly an experience to cherish !! Blends so beautifully with the Mocha slogan- Come in, Make life wait, Take a twenty minute vacation !!

P.S.- The whole experience did burn a little hole in our pockets…but was our vacation !! ;-);-)
The waiters at Mocha did say that they were contemplating an outlet in Pune. What can I say- they have their first set of customers all waiting eagerly in queue !!