For The Joy Of Cooking (And Eating)

Spinach bake with some chicken sautéed in honey, lemon and chilli flakesAs a child I was as dispassionate about food as one could be. I’m still not the “gourmand” in its connotation of a person who enjoys eating and often consumes copious amounts of food. But I have discovered that there is much pleasure to be gained from a good meal. My short stints away from home forced me to start cooking, but it was never anything interesting. That didn’t change much when I first moved out and set up home in Bangalore a few years ago. But over the years, as I started discovering the finer nuances of food, I started experimenting in the kitchen. A few inspiring meals at some marvellous restaurants led me to start looking up recipes and before long I’d taken on the title of Gourmand Geets.

Gourmand (noun / adjective): a connoisseur of good food, a gourmet

Chicken in Creamy Mustard SauceThe monotony of daily routine set me back from my culinary adventures for a while, but a recent visit from friends from France revived my passion for whipping up a good meal. Going to the market has become a pleasure once again as I ponder over the vegetables and fruits and pick my favourite salad ingredients…and I find myself looking forward to “cooking hour” every evening.

It’s been a glorious week of delicious delectable salads, and some of my favourite preparations: Baked Spinach in my own version of Bechamel (my definition of soul food on a rainy evening), Chicken Sautéed in Honey, Lemon and Chilli Flakes (so quick & such a hit every time I serve this!),  Sweet Potato Salad with a delightful Mango Chutney Vinagrette, Chicken in a Creamy Mustard Sauce or the (closer to home) Andhra Curry Leaf Chicken, inspired by the one at Windsor Pub. This time around, I’ve decided to start cataloguing my adventures in the kitchen.

Fellow gourmands can follow my culinary adventures on Instagram under #GourmandGeets.

Why I Still Swear By Auto Rickshaws

Those who know me, know me as the fiercely stubborn woman has refused to learn driving (I actually did, just never got my license) and relies on public transport for her daily commute – buses and local trains in Bombay, buses, rickshaws and 6-seaters (yes I used them too) in Pune and rickshaws in Bangalore.

The reasons are many, but the most important one  is that I will not be responsible for adding one more pollution emitting, badly driven vehicle to our already messed up roads. That is also one of the reasons I continue to resist the Olas, Ubers and Merus of the world.

Coming back home this afternoon in a rickshaw, I found myself surrounded by taxis at a particularly long signal. There were at least 10 taxis, each running the air-conditioning and ferrying just 1 person (but of course!). The 120 seconds I had to wait there were unbearable, as waves of heat emanating from the air-conditioned cars hit me from all around. The rickshaw driver cursed softly under his breath and launched into a litany of how these cabs were not only stealing their business, but making it so difficult for them to navigate the roads, for they are almost always aggressive drivers who want to make as many trips as possible and bully the tiny rickshaws out of the way by sheer force of honking, speeding and pushing the smaller vehicles to the side.

Of all the cabs I’ve taken, I have few memories of a good driver. Most of them didn’t wait for the signal to turn green and of course they weren’t respecting any lane discipline rules. Let’s not even talk about the speed at which they drove. So here we are, constantly cursing the rickshaw drivers for being bad drivers, not respecting traffic rules, refusing to go to certain destinations and asking for more than the meter rate. Most people I know refuse to commute by auto citing these reasons and they hail the newly arrived cabs as the lifeline connecting Bangaloreans to their workplace, enabling the economy to push forward by ferrying thousands of hapless citizens from point A to point B seamlessly.

And yet, cab drivers regularly drive rashly with no respect for traffic rules, contribute to the increasing congestion of roads and air pollution, resort to surge pricing during peak hours, often refuse a fare when the destination is inconvenient, call multiple times for directions despite the fact that they are equipped with GPS devices and have been known to stalk, molest and rape female passengers. And you still think that they are a solution to the problems created by the auto-rickshaws?

Image Credits: Sketch India

Image Credits: Sketch India

Call me stubborn, but I’m still going to walk out of my house tomorrow morning, up to the main road and hail down a rickshaw which will cost me 60% of what an Ola Mini does. The auto driver will not have my phone number and won’t know where I stay. I won’t have to spend my already busy morning talking to cab drivers and giving directions. I will definitely not be thinking of sharing a cab with a bunch of strangers to economise during surge hours. And should the auto driver get weird, my yell for help will be easily heard.

So till our cities actually implement a real public transport system with buses and metros plying regularly and connecting the different corners of the city (quel rêve), I shall continue to be thankful to the little cockroaches providing a convenient and reasonably cost effective way for me to get to work.

Nesting in Bangalore – Part III

We recently moved (again) – the desire to live in a nicer apartment, far outweighs the hassle of dealing with the agents of Bangalore, their weird accents and their absolute failure to understand our requirements, not to mention the greed of the landlords! This time we were very lucky – we found an apartment without the help of an agent (no, that site promising freedom from brokers did not help) and the most wonderful landlords who didn’t just agree to a reduced security deposit, but also agreed to let us move before we paid it!

So now we are in a lovely apartment, but the woes never end, do they? Once you’ve found that perfect house, comes the next source of stress. Furniture, drapes, accessories to fill those empty corners.  It should be relatively easy to find all this in a big city like Bangalore. But it isn’t.

We spent weeks browsing home décor magazines for ideas, scouring e-commerce sites and visiting home décor stores, before we finally started putting together our little nest. It wasn’t easy.

  • Pinterest and Instagram filled my head with lofty but impractical ideas for an Indian home.
  • Magazines often focus only on those with much bigger budgets than ours and thus rarely offer any solutions.
  • E-commerce is really a hit-and-miss experience in India.
  • Visiting over a dozen stores and not finding anything that suits your design senses is the most frustrating experience.

It’s been three months and it’s still a work in progress – one piece at a time. What better way to illustrate my favourite French proverb, “petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid” (little by little, the bird makes its nest)?

And then a couple of weeks ago, I met the co-founder of Home Canvas, an online home décor discovery and styling guide, for some discussions about their social media strategy. As he narrated the ideas behind the platform and spoke about this cool new feature they are going to launch soon, I had to fight the urge to get up and envelop him in a bear hug…the Home Canvas Mag could potentially solve the mammoth problem of sourcing the right pieces for your home with a few simple clicks.

Imagine a platform that puts together design ideas, cool products and the best addresses to solve your home décor problems. A collection that has been curated by experts who understand the needs of a home in Bangalore and have an in-depth knowledge of the local market. A site that combines latest trends and classic must-haves and allows you to build your dream home without running helter-skelter from website to store to market. Yes, that’s what Home Canvas Mag promises to do. Could it get better than that?

My only grouse with the co-founders of Home Canvas – why didn’t they create the Home Canvas Mag earlier?

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Nesting in Bangalore – Part II
  2. Nesting in Bangalore

Organised At Home And Organised At Work Makes Me Healthy, Wealthy And Wise

Storage_jarsI’m a sucker for neat, organised spaces and spend my weekends labouring over my storage spaces. My mother, a perfectionist whose cupboards are always immaculately arranged, doesn’t need to do this as often as I do and I find myself constantly running to catch up with her. I think I’ve finally found the solution: storage boxes and containers. I recently invested in a whole bunch of storage trays to keep my spaces uncluttered.

The obsession for orderly spaces extends to my work space as well. I need a neat and tidy work space, so quite obviously I have spent a fare amount of my weekends arranging my documents in folders – the pretty plastic/paper ones and the virtual ones as well. Working as a teacher and a social media freelancer for various organisations, I have documents of all kinds and if I don’t keep them in systematic manner, I won’t ever find anything on time.

A few lessons I’ve learnt on this journey to the perfectly organised space:

  • FilesLabel stuff – develop a system that speaks to you. I prefer using color codes in the kitchen and elaborate names for documents and folders to track the content, author and versions. Here’s an example: B2_ExamenFinal_CO_Doc1_20102015
  • Categorise and store stuff in files and folders. The document I just cited as an example is in a folder named B2_ExamenFinal_2015. Don’t forget to hierarchise so that’s it’s easy to find stuff that’s more important / you use more often.
  • Use the cloud. Changing and updating computers has been a no-brainer ever since I started saving documents on Google drive and Dropbox.
  • Save important documents in multiple places – on your hard drive, in a USB drive and on the cloud. You never know what will misbehave when. I’ve had times when the Internet has failed at work and I’ve been unable to access an important document saved in my Dropbox folder.
  • Don’t feel shy to use applications to up your efficiency quotient at work:
    • Quip: to collaborate with colleagues on documents, spreadsheets and checklists.
    • Slack: for real-time messaging with your team members and keeping an archive of all communication and file exchanges.
    • Wunderlist: to create personal / professional to-do lists and discuss them with others. Feedback always helps!
    • Hootsuite: to plan and organise your social media posts in advance. Once you’ve scheduled the posts on Hootsuite, you can do other stuff and never have to stress about publishing on time!

Insights from the Gurus of Start-Ups

Ram Shriram and Sharad Sharma, two of the most hallowed names in the start-up world addressed the start-up community in Bangalore at two separate occasions in November. Names whispered with great reverence in the corridors of co-working spaces and start up offices. I had the great fortune to be present at both events on a live-tweeting assignment.

RamShriramRam Shriram, Managing Partner at Sherpalo Ventures, better remembered as one of the first investors in Google was in Bangalore last week to address the start-up community at [24]7, where he is a lead investor and founder member. Starting the hour-long session with comments on the start up ecosystem in India, Ram Shriram lamented the lack of infrastructure, the biggest hurdle on the road to innovation and progress. Infrastructure, for him, is not just the quality of roads, basic transport systems and stable Internet connections. It’s also the foundation of every individual – education.

Hiring, an increasingly big challenge in the start-up world, stems from the fact that India doesn’t have good universities to channel the country’s talent. We’ve been relying far too long on the IITs and need to produce more centres of quality education if we wish to move faster into the future.

Answering a question on the qualities he deems the most important while investing in a start-up, he spoke about the challenge in evaluating teams.

People that haven’t succeeded before are hungry for success, take risks and are eager to take the leap…[to innovation] It was amazing to hear Shriram talk about the importance of accepting failure as a stepping stone to success, much like the philosophy of many educators.

Ram Shriram ended the session with a final comment on the importance of a good team – one that doesn’t just gel on the personal level but on the larger professional level.

 

SharadSharmaA week later, cut to the launch of Season 1 NUMA Bengaluru’s Accelerator programme, Sharad Sharma, co-founder and Governing Council member of iSPIRT, veteran techie and well known venture capitalist was the VIP speaker. Addressing an eager audience of entrepreneurs, newbie entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs, as well as mere mortals (like me), Sharad struck a chord with the audience when he spoke about the importance of being a “punga” start-up as opposed to being a “dhunda” startup. Disrupt and innovate, don’t just generate revenue, urged Sharad.

Like Ram last week, Sharad applauded the innovation in the start-up space in Bangalore.

A city leading the movement towards a cashless and paperless India, Bangalore has the highest number of punga start-ups, ready to take the risk and disrupt the world as we know it, paving the way to an innovative future.

Over the course of the evening, listening to each start-up present their idea, I was reminded of Shriram’s comment on the equal presence of clones and innovators in any start-up ecosystem. An exciting evening, nevertheless for the energy and vibe created by the presence of so many start-uppers was quite catching. I could see why so many VCs are eager to jump on the start-up bandwagon!

R.I.P Schnapps

A dashing young man with golden locks, he made many hearts melt when he laid his head on their knee, asking to be petted. Schnapps. Our third dog, but the one who taught me what it means to have a dog as a pet.

I grew up with dogs. Our first dog, Tikka came home before me and we grew up together. A graceful dog, My memories of Tika are fuzzy and mostly nurtured by what my family remembers. She grew up much before me of course and passed away at the age of 10 because of a cancerous tumour.

ShrivastavaDogs

Frisky, who bounded into our life when I was 9, had a greater impact on my life. With her, I discovered how naughty and full of energy puppies can be and how a dog grows to become the most loyal companion one could desire. But I missed out on much of her life too, seeing her only in the evenings when I returned from school and later college.

Schnapps waltzed into our life in summer of 2003, a tiny ball of fur who wormed his way into the hearts of everyone he met. There were very few people who could resist his charm. A dog with a personality, he was pronounced “too human” very early in life.

Schnapps loved fruits and vegetables, especially cucumbers and melons. We used to often joke that if given a choice between a cucumber and a leg of chicken, he would choose the former! Almost everybody remembers Schnapps jumping in the air, like he was on a trampoline, in excitement and anticipation of a melon treat! A pampered brat, he started his day with bread dipped in cream fed to him patiently by my mother. Asking him to sleep on the ground or make place for a human on his favoured place at home, the diwan, was sure to earn you a sullen look. He looked down at all dogs (and most humans) in disdain and was the most royal dog of our family. A trip in the car meant that he sat up in front and if it was a long trip he curled up under the dashboard!  He accompanied us everywhere, content to stay back in the car, sure that we’d come back soon but refused to stay back at home. My father and brother were never able to give our car to the valet for Schnapps was always there, irrespective of where we went! We tried in vain to teach him to sit behind but failed abysmally and soon learnt to make place for him up front.

Schnapps
Despite his arrogant demeanour he was a softy and very attached to each one of us in his own way. When my father passed away in 2006, Schnapps waited at the door every evening for him to return. The first time my mother traveled after my father’s death, Schnapps didn’t eat for several days. A smart cookie, he always knew when anybody was upset and was always there offering comfort and gazing at us with worried eyes asking us to snap out of it.

He became a rather quiet dog in his later years, though bread and cream and cucumbers remained a favourite till his last days. I wasn’t there to say goodbye to him, haunted by the look on Frisky’s face when she went on her last trip in the car. I didn’t have the courage to see him weak and a mere shadow of himself and said goodbye to him, all by myself alone in my apartment several hundred kilometres away.

RIP Schnapps. Thank you for all the happiness you brought into our life and all the cherished memories.

Exploring the South of India with Café Coffee Day

Road trips became a regular part of my life after I moved to Bangalore. In a distant relationship at that time and very broke most of the time, KSRTC buses became my favoured mode of travel. My first experience with bus travel was when we moved to Pune. Even though I moved with family, Pune was never home. Home for the longest time was Bombay and I yearned for the city and its (in)famous pace of life. Constantly home-sick, I went back every month, hopping on to the MSRTC bus or one of the private operators. It used to be a 2.5 hour journey, which I did in 2.5 hours as opposed to most people who would get stuck in traffic or be held up due to accidents on the expressway and spend as much as 6 hours in the bus. I was lucky with the buses. And so, I came to accept buses as a cost-effective and rather convenient way to travel, especially since it allowed me to travel so frequently to Bombay.

Bangalore-Pune, of course is a much longer journey and I soon realized that private operators weren’t very professional on this route. And thus ksrtc.in was added to my bookmarks. Why? Let’s start with punctuality. Private operators almost never left on time, leading to delays in reaching Pune, which after a 14 hour journey in a bus can be rather annoying. Cleanliness of the buses was another big factor. Most of the buses run by Neeta et compagnie were more often than not, filthy. The buses weren’t cleaned, the seats carried reminders of the previous passengers, the air-conditioning mal-functioned and the blankets provided were fit only for dogs. But the biggest and most important reason: the en-route shops. While KSRTC stops only at the Kamat Utsav points, which meant decent food and usable washrooms, private bus operators stop at any random shack that offers them a cut.

KSRTC_Kamath

Three years of KSRTC bus trips made Kamat Utsav my best friend. I looked forward to stopping at a Kamat for a quick coffee, before getting back into the bus for the next leg of the journey…till 2012, when we made our first road trip to Balur and I discovered that there aren’t that many Kamat Utsav points on the other highways. Kamat got replaced by Café Coffee Day on our first trip to Chikmanglur. A CCD that has become part of our Balur experience, since we always stop there for a coffee and more.

Exploring the South by road has been a revelation of sorts…well-laid out roads and efficient highways cutting through picturesque landscapes and quaint towns and villages with regular pit stops at Café Coffee Days! As long as we are in Karnataka, we know we are never far from good coffee and a clean washroom! The CCD stops to and from Balur are a welcome break, but the CCD we spotted on our way on our way back home from a disastrous experience in Wayanad, after a particularly bad stretch of road felt like a gift from the heavens.  We were so relieved when we saw that (now) familiar board announcing a CCD coming up in 1 km, it seemed like the best thing we’d seen all day. Needless to say, we swung into the parking lot and trooped into the café for a much needed shot of espresso. Mass urbanisation of the Indian countryside does have its advantages!

Then there was that time when Google decided that the national highway wasn’t the fastest way back to Bangalore (even though that was the way we’d reached our destination). Adventure and breaking away from the beaten path are a part of road trips, so though the route seemed slightly longer and took us away from the national highway through villages and state highways, we followed Google. In Tamil Nadu on our way back to Karnataka, you can imagine our surprise when we started spotting number plates with AH! It struck us then that we seemed to be skirting the Andhra Pradesh border! We drove on through the plateau, delighting at the change in landscape, till the caffeine pang hit us.

CCDDrooping, we had just started wondering if we should stop at one of the coffee stalls when…hallelujah! A CCD was coming up in 11 kms! A smile lit up our faces and even Phryne perked up, racing toward the café! We were back in Karnataka – home didn’t seem so far with an espresso in our hands!

Our road trips have been thrilling, but CCD has made them so much more fun by ensuring we get refuelled just when we were starting to droop. While some CCD stops were planned, others appeared like oasis in deserts. Driving through Karnataka has been a pleasure, not just because of the wonderful roads and the beautiful landscape, but also because of the CCD stops! Now if only the chain could take over the highways of the entire country, I think Phryne is quite ready to take us across the country!