Sunday, January 3, 2010

Brownies, Books and a Golden Halo

Marian Keyes really said it when she wrote that the day after New Year's Eve looks like the day after the end of the world. Everyone's glazed or hungover - some wondering what they did the night before and how they got where they are, while others blink disbelievingly at the new day of a whole new year.

So you now know which book I'm reading along with Three Cups of Tea. Further Under the Duvet got purchased before Under the Duvet but there's no real link missing coz they're both Marian Keyes' non-fiction which is really an exciting read if you've read her other books. The author's life, her family background, husband, friends, trips aboard, hobbies (which include shopping) are all written with her really unique perspective. She can make even teary things sound funny. Which is a great book to read along with a heavy book aka Three Cups of Tea which is all about changing the world one school at a time. It's about Greg Mortenson's journey into really poverty stricken areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is fascinating but a long read and one that makes one feel pretty useless when in a country like India which has similar needs.

So Marian Keyes does give me a more positive outlook. Both books are worth reading and will definitely provoke some deep introspection.

My other loves, brownies of a double chocolate kind with crunchy walnuts, have been snarfed down. I'm currently watching my weight too so each brownie is rationed and split with hubby dearest. So we both end up watching our waistlines. The first one was had standing up with a big mug of tea as soon as my parents left after a Saturday lunch we'd had together. I miss the brownies and cakes and what nots that my bakery at the old house used to churn out. Hence, whenever my folks come over or I go over there for a time-out from my "hectic" lifestyle, I always put brownies or chocolate cake on my list. Since both occurrences (folks coming over, my going over there) are not as frequent, my waistline doesnt really notice the indulgence. Good thing coz that means I can break my diet once every few weeks. Or months.

It really relaxes me to have my folks over. I also love the fact that I can cook them anything I want (which I know they'll like) and just be myself and catch up on the gossip back home. My return gifts to them, for the brownies and cake and really spicy banana chips, were books - one for each of them. For my mom an Isabel Dalhousie book, another Marian Keyes for my sister (who's a big fan of her writing), and a Blandings Castle vintage book (my favourite too) for my dad. Plus, I get to borrow them to read so that's a dizzy five books (counting the ones I'm reading already) to look forward to.

Who says it's bummer after the holidays? Not me, certainly!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hope You're Partying Tomorrow...

There's something about Christmas and the New Year that really makes one sit holding one's cup of tea trying to move through the morning paper and just not being able to. Memories of the past year, of life in general, of parties and of fun flit through your mind and you realize how fully you've lived your life (as full as you want to...not comparing it to anyone's standards). This time of the year, especially. Diwali and other holidays are not times for introspection - the fireworks startle you for one - but come Christmas and you're sitting in your easy chair hovering between the dimensions of sleep and memories.

One whole page in the paper had a list of which major hotels are holding parties for NYE. As I contemplated on the list and the fact that millions of people will be on this tiny island partying till the wee hours, I couldnt help smiling at the really memorable parties I'd been to (in any order):

1. A birthday party which I thought was a Christmas party until I saw that the pudding was pink and not brown. I was really young at the time and my sister had a fever so that was the party I went to on my own. I dont remember much about it except that I stared and stared at the pink pudding hoping they would give me some soon. My love of puddings was born right there.

2. The party where I had my first vodka! And said some things I was reminded of the next day by one of the VPs. I hadnt much memory of what I did at that time. And how old was I when I had my first vodka + Sprite? 23!

3. I went to a disco for the first time when I was in my mid-20s. And I felt old! Every person between 13 and 19 was there and I felt like an auntie. Despite my cool claw pendant and beret. And really tall platforms! The only cool thing about this was we danced for 2 hours nonstop and then went to the beach where we had a meal under the stars.

4. A Las Vegas theme party where I wore a Chinese silk top I'd bought from Hong Kong. I remember that the bartenders juggled flaming bottles and one of them moved through the dancers tipping a bottle of tequila into people's mouths!

5. I love home parties. My first one (without adult supervision) and a few close friends involved 'The Sixth Sense', a Swiss chocolate cake (my favourite), Chinese food and Pictionary. We stayed up till 5 am just playing Pictionary. We slept only because we had to (good little girls).

6. My first party after marriage (without the in-laws at home) had loads of pizza, a crappy movie, lots of beer (for him) and vodka screwdrives (for her).

My father had had this idea of a party for four - it would be just the four of us. One would get the appetizers, one would make the drinks, one would order food and another would play the music or something and we'd sit back and enjoy a party without worrying about anyone other than ourselves. This is something I like to continue with my husband and we often don't wait to be invited to parties. We have our own little programme planned out - which food to get or make, which movies to watch etc. Which reminds me, we havent had one for a really long time.

So, how do you like to party? How are you partying this NYE?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Holidays!

My hubby took a whole week off starting this Monday. Am very excited coz we've planned a lot of fun outings. Like...eating roast duck rolled with a cucumber slice in rice pancakes at Mainland China, having an Italian meal at Don Giovanni, etc. etc. Sampling some wines we've never tried before. Making some grilled chicken in our microwave. Plans aplenty but hope we see them through. Hubby's recovering from a nasty cough and I hope with all my heart that I don't catch it.

I love Christmas mainly because we get to visit an old Goan bakery and get plum cakes that follow a traditional recipe. Also, rum cakes with a little pink sticker on it. Pink probably symbolising the rosy flush you get from too much rum. :) Only the cherries and peel are soaked in it, only a few really douse the cake with it. But, I was thankful that I got to eat it! And from an old bakery, not those that care more about following trends rather than sticking to what people love to come back to every year.

I am still in the learning stage when it comes to baking cakes (or baking anything actually) and love to bring home a cake mix (Betty Crocker or Pillsbury). Even more than that, I love going into an old-fashioned bakery that follows both standard and trendy menus and has everything for everyone. Of course, there are queues around Christmas and New Year but then that's when you send along your husband to stand in them for as long as it takes to get one rich plum cake. And an even richer rum plum cake.

That's what I love to come back to every year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Morning News and a Cup of Tea

At this stage, it's the best combination on earth. Other than a bad movie and a good bottle of wine after.

Love Hindustan Times - especially the weekend reads of both HT and HT Cafe. Tuesdays are good too... I've just finished reading Chickwit, Blog Improvement and Expat Opinion. Blog Improvement today gave me mixed messages - she writes about how ensuring a good read (grab attention, know your audience kind of tips) improves or brings about its linkeability (more people visiting your blog and referring your stuff to others) while "doing your own thing" (which is...). It's kind of giving your perspective a professional edge. And a blog, to me, is something a lot more personal. If the writing does not appeal, that's fine too coz you're not really selling anything. For me, it's like making my diary or journal entry user friendly. I don't want to do that because it would cramp my style.

Plus, I feel close to those who visit and leave comments for me. Maria, Leah and Nancy - you guys really make me want to blog more, even if it's just me keeping in touch with you.

Chickwit was a relaxing read although it did look at serious issues - women and their self esteem when it comes to their appearance. Her style of writing is casual but strong - it engages your attention well right until the last full stop (period). She talks about being in your thirties and competing with twenty-somethings. Just to keep up with the times. And twenty-somethings obsessing about their food and looks. My seventeen-year old and twenty-one year old cousins do make me feel older than my twenty-nine years. Of course, I havent really taken care of myself the way I used to when I was twenty-seven. And I've got a whole lifetime ahead of me (unless the world's ending in 2012, which makes me wonder if losing weight and not binging is really worth it).

Expat Opinion is a very interesting column. You get to see your world from a stranger's eyes. A person who's a stranger to your country, not just your city. You get to experience the flaws and virtues of this city through their eyes. Of course, you do understand the reason they're here and you see the spark of it in their words, in their stories. The utter confusion, the lack of proper systems and yet, you find the city functioning the way it is... and a heart-warming moment when your neighbours reach out to you and help you adjust to your surroundings.

I really do not miss the Times of India. They could take a leaf out of HT's book or rather, newspaper.

2012 and a really good wine

Ok. So, 2012 wasnt as scary as I thought it would be. The film was obviously flawed and unreal but it had its impact. The only thing we could think as we sat glued to our seats was yeah, this could happen. Should we plan to go for that Europe tour right now? Should we sell all our possessions and move to Goa and open that restaurant we always dreamed of? Should we leave our jobs and live off the money until we crumble and die in another...2 years?

We needed some wine and lots of it. At least, my husband needed a pick me up and we went to Mocha just for that and a bite to eat.

Sula Dia turned out just right. Hubby thought it was a bit on the sweet side but I felt it had the right tang, sweetness and sparkle. It came in a slim, gold-green bottle. A ladies' wine, I think - dressed like one anyway. Tasting of fruits. I love the experience of trying a new wine and really loving it. It did a great job of comforting us after the movie. Not that my husband slept well after dinner. He dreamt of giving me the sea-spaceship ticket to me and boarding a bus to someplace. He doesnt know if he reached anywhere safe but was glad to wake up and know that he dreamt it all.

I hope the darn thing stays a dream. If 2012 happens like in the movie, we're all sitting ducks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

So much happening everywhere but here...

I felt like we were living in the wrong city when I heard that Doolally's opened in a Pune. It's a micro-brewery. My husband would love this more than I would because it involves only beer, beer and more beer. My friend's husband raved about the place on his facebook - they even took along their dog and let him sample two beers. This totally brought back to my mind the Scotland Street books with Cyril the dog accompanying his owner, Angus, to the bar where he is allowed a saucer of beer.

Where I live, women drinking in public is not so common so we usually go to a few places around the city or out of it to really kick back a few. So far, we've been going to about three-four places where, thanks to the things we order, we've become quite well known among the staff (God knows what they say behind our backs but who cares as long as no one's spitting in my food). Waiters smile more and bring us our orders quicker and allow us to sit wherever we want.

Now, of course, we eat at home more often and we've stopped ordering food in on Sundays. That coupled with exercise is showing a lot of results and hence, I decided to stop going out for cocktails more than once or twice (in an emergency) a month. Most of my friends dont drink and hence, I only binge on cocktails when I'm with my husband. But I havent completely given it up, only got more selective. And, I need a change of scenery, more challenges than different alcoholic mixes in sweetened juices.

Like, a wine library. That's really rare and limited to most of the seven star hotels around here (because five stars are not enough). The prices are astronomical. HT Cafe (comes with our local newspaper) carries a wine index comparing the prices of wine all around the city. They also give a list of places that come under different price ranges. They're all not really a hop, skip and jump away which is why we stick to our few restaurants for a decent drink. But I love to explore; get bored by having the same things.

Bandra - considered the top-most suburb in Bombay city, on its merit of course - had a wine tasting fair in an open garden recently. Read about it and felt like I lived miles away in a sleepy little village. Not that I'd feel any different among the snootiest lot sniffing and swirling the contents of the wine glass. But it was a decently managed affair and for a price of 500 Rupees you could sample some really fine and diverse wines - both domestic and international. I really missed living just a half-hour away. It would take a 2 hour bus ride and a 1 hour rickshaw ride to get there from here.

Well, there's always next year. And one can't always have adventure in one's own backyard.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cold Evening, Hot Soup!

It clouded over this morning and there was a constant drizzle. We got the feel of a typical Indian monsoon in November. Everyone was pleasantly surprised and there were messages of relief all over my homepage when I checked into facebook.

I had to switch off the fan overhead: it was so cool. I could have bundled up and napped the gloomy afternoon away but I had work - now that the brief holiday from the world was over (no internet connection). There were leftover spring onions, capsicums (red and yellow), and mushrooms waiting in the fridge. I switched on the computer and thought about making soup.

In the evening, as my husband took a short conference call with his colleagues from around the world, I made my soup. Chopped garlic along with the vegetables. Took out the olive oil and oregano. Tossed the veggies and garlic in olive oil and then added the seasonings. Added a cube of chicken stock powder to water and added the veggies. Added noodles and stirred. The kitchen smelled of soup.

A dot of butter completed the magic and a hint of tomato ketchup provided the bite it needed. Hubby and I slurped it all up, right down to the tiniest bit of oregano. The rain hung around for more.