Friday, November 3, 2017

Book review: Hit Refresh

Author: Satya Nadella

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I enjoyed reading the book and I must admit that some where inside me there was a pride that the book was written by my CEO. We also got special employee edition which added to the experience of this being special. The punch line of the book rightly sums up what the book is about – how Microsoft is evolving and what is the future Satya sees; and how can we create a better future for everyone literally everyone on the planet.

I feel the book will be enjoyed by mostly all the people – specially those who work part-time/full time. There is a small section on the future of technology which may not interest everybody but other than that nothing is too technology specific.

He shares his personal story which helps you make a human connection – that he was also just like any other employee/person and faced the same difficulties that you do. He talks about his personal challenges more than his professional challenges (when climbing up the ladder). On the professional side he mentions the hard decisions he has had to make but not so much the difficulties he encountered and how he worked around them.

A couple of chapters talk about what a leader should be like – and here a leader not necessarily means a manager/lead. He also talks about qualities of a good manager and what culture shift he’s trying to bring to Microsoft. What that means for employees and how they can help in spreading that culture. I really liked this whole section – there was a lot to learn! All his thoughts apply to any organization that wants to have a culture that promotes healthy growth of employees, healthy collaboration amongst employees/teams and innovation.

From there the book goes on to talk about the future of technology as he sees it; privacy, trust and security issues facing the technology companies these days and what needs to be done about that. Lastly he talks about how we can get economic growth for everyone on the planet. This was another very interesting section for me. Here he discusses how adoption of technology can help economic growth for everyone; that while it is true that automation replaces human labor it doesn’t mean it reduces human jobs. Latter is a particularly interesting topic which crosses many of our minds. So it was good to hear his thoughts on it.

Overall it was fun to read the book – not only there was so many things to learn but was also good to learn his thoughts on various things.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vitamix S50 review–for Indian recipes

I would think that everybody who cooks indian recipes is always on the lookout for a good mixer/blender. At least I always was. We had an Oster blender which would do the not so powerful stuff but was too big to grind anything in small quantities or dry grinding spices.

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Then we got a small indian mixer. It did it’s job really well and I was very happy with it. However the quality was not so good and it ended up breaking only after a few uses.

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Of course I also have a stone grinder that would grind batter for vada, idli, dosa, etc. and it;s my favorite for doing that job.

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My kitchen had this void for a mixer that I could use to grind chutneys, wet masalas, dry spices and especially in small quantities. So I started looking at the ninja bullet and the likes. The primary attraction there was the small mixer/blender jars that come with this category of blenders. They’re just perfect for my purpose. One thing led to another and I came across the Vitamix S series. Earlier I’d never entertained the idea of buying a vitamix because of it’s prohibitive cost. The S series being the personal series was more reasonable than their other series but still was at $400 – but then it was made in USA. That was a point in it’s favor. I looked a a couple of videos and was mostly convinced that it should do the job for me. With that I started stalking craigslist to grab a used one – given that it has a lifetime guarantee I thought it was a perfect candidate for buying second hand (only time will tell if my thinking was correct!).

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We brought home an S50. The benefits of the personal series is that it comes with a small jar (20 oz) and a big one (40 oz); it packs a good enough power and the same blade as the full series. The power is a little less than their full series but that doesn’t seem to be limiting. We use the vitamix for making:

  1. Smoothies and shakes – like mango shake, strawberry banana smoothie, etc. The texture is very silken and everything blends uniformly. In strawberry banana smoothie you wouldn’t taste the grittiness of the strawberry seeds. I’ve used both the small jar as well as the big jar for these and both work great.
  2. Pureeing and chutneys – pureeing spinach for saag and making cilantro-mint chuney. With the latter we need to use the tamper to push the herbs down and then we get a very smooth chutney. Always used the big jar because I think the fresh leaves take a lot of space and would be hard to squeeze into the small container.
  3. Grinding dry spices – I made bisibelebhaath powder in the small jar because I only wanted a small quantity. It was just awesome! I was so happy with it!
  4. Coconut chutney – this is one thing that has not worked very well for us. We’re still experimenting to see how we can get a good texture here. I have tried the small as well as the big jar. If you have any suggestions do let me know.
  5. Wet masalas – like grinding cashews with water or grinding tomatoes with spices. I use the small jar for this and has worked really well!

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Bisibelebhaath powder made with vitamix by grinding whole red chillies, various lentils, cinnamon and other whole spices.

Overall this does come out as a winner as it lets me do almost everything I need to do – from dry grinding to wet grinding to smoothies – all with just one mixer. If your recipe can use sufficient quantity of liquid then it’s a breeze to grind/blend. Otherwise using a tamper (provided with the machine) helps and it might take a little time but still gives you the perfect smooth texture. My only ask from vitamix would be that since they call this the personal series and have smaller jars with this series, it would be great if they can support the mini jars as well with this series!

I still have my stone grinder and use it for grinding south indian batters.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How the veggie garden is flourishing

I was looking at my past posts and looks like I never got around to posting the photos of veggie garden when the season started. That makes it difficult to give you a before and after picture (pun intended!). Nonetheless I hope you will enjoy looking at how the various vegetable plants are thriving.

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Photo on the left: The front rows are radish on the left and arugula on the right, behind them is (starting from right) spinach, lavender and mint (there’s some spinach behind it as well). In the second raised bed, there’s summer squash (4 of them – we’ll probably fall short on the space, eeks!) and then tomatoes at the back.

Photo on the right: The front rows are cilantro on the left and strawberry on the right then couple of rows of beans followed by marigold. In the second raised bed we have zucchini followed by tomatoes at the back.

DH harvested some radishes yesterday and did they look beautiful?!?! While washing the radishes we discovered a baby slug that had come in with it. Yes that was an eww moment and no not all babies look cute!

Seeing the plants grow so well, really fills our heart with joy!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the quest for a fantastic future

Author: Ashlee Vance

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Tesla and SpaceX and Solar City and the Hyperloop – have all been in the headlines at different times! And they’ve been in the headlines for good reason – they’re one of the first in their industry and have helped their industry grow! What they have in common – Elon Musk.

Sure enough when I saw that his biography has been published, I was very curious to read it. I try to be very environment friendly and am in total support of everybody who is contributing to the world of eco-friendly products. In this case – Tesla the 100% electric car which made electric cars a fashion statement and Solar City – which is a popular company for solar panels. So I was very much interested in reading how he came to investing in these. And then of course SpaceX and Hyperloop – seem to be ahead of their times.

I think I had my expectations set rocket high because when I started reading the book I fell down with a thud. I was expecting to learn about some traits of Elon Musk, or some famous words to live by. However what I got was a never ending story of his day to day rigor. How he spent his day at Tesla and then commuted to SpaceX, what color the walls are at his factories, how many wives/kids he has and so on. Not a single piece of writing that felt motivating/inspiring.

I never finished the book. Didn’t see any point in spending my time reading about the daily grind. Yes he talked about the work culture at these offices, what is the working style of Elon Musk, etc. I feel that the author has not done the job of squeezing out the crux of the story. When you say what is the one take away from this story? Author seems to have narrated the events and left that exercise to the reader. If it was in the last few pages then of course I never got to them.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Chocolate balls– simple. easy. vegan. and gluten free.

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It’s hard for me to pass up anything that’s chocolate flavored. Chocolate donuts? Yes please! Brownie? Always! As a result, I’m always looking for healthier options to satisfy my chocolate and sweet tooth cravings. When I saw this recipe in Cooking Light, it seemed easy enough that I should at least give it a try. Worst case – I don’t like it and never make it again. Best case – I’ve found a healthier substitute and made my contribution to the chocolate and sweet lovers world! I think they’re going to thank me. What’s even better – these are vegan and gluten free. I know a lot of people out there who belong to one of these categories for some reason or the other. So yes they’re going to thank me too!

After all this cost-benefit analysis I bought all the ingredients – actually just two. Almond butter and hazelnuts. Dates we always keep in our pantry. Then these two ingredients sat in my home for almost a month or so. Getting familiar with each other while I was busy with my life. Every day I would see the almond butter sitting at the back of the refrigerator and think to myself “Oh! I need to make the brownie bites”. Then finally I decided I need to make them before the ingredients expired.

Let me tell you – they’re so delicious! It’s hard to stop at one! It makes me feel good that there’s no added sugar. Only wholesome ingredients. Nutrition information: Protein: 3g; Fiber: 3g; Carbohydrates: 12g; Sugars: 9g; Fat: 7g. Calories: 111.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 12 whole medjool dates, pitted
  • 2/3 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment or silicon mat. Add the hazelnuts to it in a single layer. Roast them for 10 minutes. Let cool. Rub them with your fingers to remove the skins. Don’t worry if some of them still have the skins.
  3. Reserve 20 hazelnuts. Pulse the rest in the food processor till they’re finely chopped. Keep aside.
  4. Pulse the dates in the food processor till it forms a paste. Add the almond butter, water, cocoa, vanilla and salt. Pulse till well combined.
  5. Divide the mixture into 20 portions.
  6. Roll each portion around 1 whole hazelnut (reserved in step 3). Roll the ball in your hands to smoothen the surface. Roll it next into the finely chopped hazelnuts.
  7. Chill until firm, around 30 minutes.

Note: Store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The girl on the train

Author: Paula Hawkins

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Given how popular this book is it was a pleasant surprise when I was notified that the book was waiting for me in the library! I further surprised myself by finishing the book in just a few days! Typically it takes me at least a month to finish reading a book and in most of the cases, much more than a month. However I happened to be lucky that after I got this book some free time in the form of a long weekend came upon me. And of course the novel was so engrossing that I just didn’t feel like putting it down till I’d read the end.

The book is about – well as the name suggests – a girl on the train! She takes the train every day in the morning as well as the evening as if she’s going for work. Just to fool her room-mate into thinking that she has a job. She doesn’t have one. She’s an alcoholic and can’t stop drinking – she can drink any time of the day. Having gone through a divorce some time back, she is not in the best of mental state. While in the train, she often spots a couple in the balcony of their home. Given how wretched her life is, she likes to fantasize about how wonderful their life is. How perfect the wife is and how caring the husband is. One day she sees the wife’s photo in the newspaper and finds out that the wife has disappeared. This is when the adventure begins. Since she used to see the couple every other day, she feels she has valuable information that she can provide to the police and feels very involved in the case. Slowly and gradually she takes it upon herself to find out what happened to the wife – this gives a purpose to her life. The whole journey of how she unearths what happened to the wife is very engrossing! I don’t want to reveal too many details lest I spoil somebody’s fun.

Loved reading this book! Highly recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sticky buns

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Hubby and I both are fond of cinnamon rolls/buns or any other sticky sweet buns SmileI gave this recipe from my go-to-baking-site King Arthur Flour, sticky buns, and as always they came out delicious. The only thing that didn’t seem to necessary was the blobs of brown sugar that you see in the picture. Other than that just perfect – yummy!

I did halve the recipe because otherwise it makes just too many for two people!

DOUGH
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cups lukewarm water* (may need additional 1 tbsp of water)
  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5/8 teaspoons salt
  • 1/8 cup Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
  • 1/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • *Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.
GLAZE
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup diced pecans
CINNAMON FILLING*

Instructions

  1. First, make the dough. If you're using active dry yeast, dissolve it with a pinch of sugar in 2 tablespoons of the lukewarm water. Let the yeast and water sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded. If you're using instant yeast, you can skip this step.
  2. Combine the dissolved yeast (or instant yeast) with the remainder of the dough ingredients. Mix and knead everything together—I used my food processor here—till you've made a smooth dough.
  3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, for 1 to 2 hours, or until it's nearly doubled in bulk. Rising may take longer, especially if you've kneaded by hand. Give it enough time to become quite puffy. I kept it in the oven (since it was winter here and house is probably a little cold).
  4. While the dough is rising, lightly grease a 9" round cake pans.
  5. To make the glaze, whisk together the syrup, and melted butter.
  6. Spread the glaze in the pan. Sprinkle the sugar and pecans atop the glaze.
  7. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and pat or roll it into a 8" x 12" rectangle. It's a nice, soft dough, and pats out easily.
  8. To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and flour.
  9. Sprinkle filling evenly over the dough, leaving an uncovered strip about 1" wide along one short end of the rectangle.
  10. Starting with the sugar-covered edge, roll the dough into a log the long way.
  11. Using a serrated knife, slice the log into 8 slices. In order to cut down on drag, it helps to rinse the blade in hot water, and wipe it off, between slices.
  12. Space the buns in the prepared pan. Cover the pan, and let the buns rise till they spread out and touch one another, about 60 to 90 minutes. Again I put them in my (cold) oven.
  13. Once the buns had risen, I took them out of the oven and then preheated the oven to 350°F.
  14. Bake the sticky buns for 15 minutes. Tent them lightly with aluminum foil, and bake till they're a light golden brown, about 10 more minutes.
  15. Remove the buns from the oven, and loosen their edges with a knife. Carefully—the sugar is hot!—turn them out onto a rack or parchment-covered sheet pan to cool, scraping any glaze that may have stuck to the pan onto the warm buns.
  16. Serve warm, or at room temperature. Wrap airtight and store at room temperature.