Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Who do you love

Author: Jennifer Weiner

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As you must have figured out from the name as well as the cover that it’s a love story. A love story it is. A very sappy one. Ahhh I couldn’t believe it that it was written by a New York times best selling author and was in some recommendation list (wherever I picked that recommendation from!). Maybe it’s a young adult fiction. I hope it is. Because otherwise I have no good words for it.

The girl and boy bump into each other when they’re 6 year olds, in a hospital. They talk to each other for a few hours. Then years later when they’re teenagers they meet again and it’s love at first sight and they remember that they’d met when they were 6 year old! Totally beats me! All through out the novel they keep falling in and out of love. I’m not sure what’s new about this story. There’s not much to say about this book. I’m sure by now my verdict is also clear. I. did. not. like. it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Switch: How to change things when change is hard

Author: Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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As the title suggests the book is about techniques to bring about change. While the book mostly cites examples in a professional world, I feel that they are equally relevant in the personal space too. For that matter, most of the people skills applicable to professional world are also applicable to personal world and vice versa. In fact if people would spend even half the amount of energy on people skills in their personal world than they do on the professional world then they would be so much happier. Anyway I digress.

In this book, the authors suggest that to bring about a change – to bring people onboard a change you want to bring about – you need to appeal to their rational mind, the emotional mind and shape their path. Every situation is different and sometimes you may need to work on only one of these. While others you may need to work on all of these. Rational mind looks for reason and logic; emotional mind needs feeling and lastly you need to make it easy for people to adopt the change.

When I read Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto I was amazed to see how an author can go on and on trying to prove the same point. Page after page, chapter after chapter. Same with most of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. He has tons of data to prove a singular point. While sometimes it might feel repetitive, it has the benefit that you will never forget it. And it proves their point because it’s not just one example, they have tens of examples. I felt that this book was trying to convey too many things and it’s hard to give as many examples when you’re trying to prove so many points. So while logically what they suggest completely makes sense to me, I didn’t feel that I’d sufficient proof that these techniques work in majority of the cases. Nevertheless, it’s definitely a good book to learn about how you can bring about change. I think trying to change something is not a definitive process, it’s an evolution. You will have to analyze at each point and make sure that you’re steering in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

It’s time to transplant!

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(Clockwise from left: Stupice tomato, Marigold, Basil and Cherry Tomato)

The seedlings are ready to be transplanted! We’d put in the seeds quite some time back. The earliest to germinate, as always, was marigold. Our seeds are quite old now, probably 3-4 years and we weren’t sure whether they would still be good. But looks like they are. Most of them. We made a hole in the bottom of these containers and filled them with vermiculite. Then placed them in trays filled with water. Vermiculite absorbs the water and only as much as needed. So you needn’t worry about watering the individual plants nor about how much to water. Just refill the tray with water when the water level is down to the bottom. Put the seeds on vermiculite and cover them with another layer of vermiculite. I also covered the containers with a tray so that no light would get through to the seeds. When germinating the seeds to no need light, most of them.

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(Clockwise from left: zucchini with the sturdy sapling, jalapenos with thin saplings and yellow squash which didn’t germinate)

The first germination happened around 6-7 days after sowing them. The last germination to happen was around 3 weeks after sowing them and it was the jalapenos.

A closer look:

 

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Zucchini

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Jalapenos

Soon they’ll be transplanted into 3” pots and then a month or so later to the vegetable bed outside. This year the weather has been quite warm and I regret that we didn’t plant these sooner. Next year, maybe we’ll start the seedlings in January.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easy (and yummy) carrot cake!

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I promise you that not only will you find this cake easy to make but also absolutely delicious! Yummy, yummy and yummy! My husband is not too fond of sweet stuff but even he loved this one! I’ve made this twice now and it turned out equally delicious both the times. What does it say about the recipe – foolproof! Look at the texture – so soft and just the right balance of walnuts. Oh and the frosting – is the icing on the cake (pun intended Smile).

There are two persons that come to my mind when I make carrot cake. One is my aunt. When I came to the US, she came to visit us and she brought loads of (home made) carrot cake because she knew I loved her carrot cake. The cake was perfectly wrapped and packaged into smaller segments so that we could eat in installments and freeze the rest. Other is my brother. Because he too loved (don’t know if he still does) my aunt’s carrot cake. So I’m glad I can make a decent carrot cake now Smile

The recipe is from King Arthur flour. As most of my baking recipes are.

Ingredients:

cake

  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (I did not have this at home)
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 cups finely grated carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts

frosting

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • one 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla OR 1/2 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups glazing sugar or confectioners' sugar

Instructions

  1. To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9" x 13" pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.
  2. Beat together the oil, sugar, salt, eggs, and spices. Mix the flour with the baking soda, and stir in. Add the carrots and nuts, and mix until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake the cake(s) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. It took the cake around 55 minutes in my oven to be done.
  4. Allow the cake(s) to cool completely before frosting.
  5. To make the frosting: Beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add the salt and vanilla. Beat in the sugar. Add a teaspoon of milk or cream if the frosting is too stiff to spread; add additional sugar if it's too thin.
  6. Frost the sheet cake right in the pan.
  7. If you’ve frosting leftover then jus freeze it. Next time you make this cake, take out the frosting from the freezer and keep it in the fridge a minimum of 24 hours in advance.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Checklist Manifesto

Author: Atul Gawande

 

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After reading “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, I was quite impressed with this author. So of course when I heard that the checklist manifesto is also written by him I was keen on reading this too. Add to that the fact that I’ve heard/read so many recommendations for this book.

As you would probably guess from the title of the book, it’s about checklists. The author argues how using checklists in various fields has significantly improved their success rates. He cites examples from the airplane industry to medicine. The reason checklists are so successful is because humans can forget things due to distractions, poor memory, complex systems, etc. By having a checklist you’re making sure that all the mandatory steps for a procedure (trivial or not) are covered. And it turns out that majority of the mistakes or mishaps happen because of some known step(s) of a protocol were missed. Knowingly or unknowingly. These can be averted by having a checklist. Complex, unique or one-of situations will not be covered by these – they will still need to be solved in a ad-hoc fashion. Going through a checklist also facilitates communication between the members of a team. This way everybody knows what is the problem they’re working on, the risks involved, the mitigations they should be ready for and so on. The author also suggests how to create such checklists. In fact at the end he has a checklist for creating a checklist.

Being a believer of checklists, I couldn’t agree more with him. Although I will admit I didn’t realize what a significant impact they could have. I’d only used them in the context of my household. Who knew that doctors and nurses in hospitals had saved lives by using checklists! At some point I did feel that the author was belaboring the issue. I mean how long can you read an argument on checklists or examples to prove the same. The good thing is that the book is no that thick. Overall liked the book though I do think it could be thinner.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Mango ice cream

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I’ve been holding on to this photo since the summer. I actually made this last summer but never had the time to post it.

Mangoes are very popular in northern India and invariably would be the favorite fruit of one and all in the summers! It’s known as the king of fruits. Needless to say mango ice cream is also very popular! Last summer we got really good mangoes at Costco and it was those mangoes that motivated me to try mango ice cream at home! I’m happy to report that the experiment turned out to be very successful – in fact it had repeated success. The ice cream was a big hit!

You do need a ice cream maker for this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1-11/2 cups mangoes, pureed. The slender mangoes – typically labeled champagne mangoes in costco – worked better. The variety of mangoes which is fat has more fiber and results into a lot of fiber in the ice cream. Roughly 2 mangoes yielded this quantity of puree.
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)
  • 3/8 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Method:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together.
  2. Chill the mixture in the fridge for a few hours. If your cream and milk were cold to begin with and the mixture is cold enough then you can skip this.
  3. Freeze according to the directions of your ice cream maker.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Midnight Furies

Author: Nisid Hajari

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Lately I’ve been keen on reading and understanding about partition. About why there’s such an enmity between India and Pakistan. About why Kashmir is a disputed land. Why are we in this situation? Could the leaders have done anything differently to avoid it?

In my search for books on this topic, I came across “Midnight Furies” and it seemed to be well recommended. It’s a real account of the partition of India and the author is very factual with references from all over. Looks like he’s done his job well. The books is also very well written – kept me very engrossed. Since partition basically revolves around Jinnah and Nehru, it starts around the time when Jinnah and Nehru entered the political field and how they traversed it.

History is not just one book. However unbiased we may think we are, there’s always some inherent bias in us. So I’m not saying that what is written in this book is the the absolute truth – it probably is – but I don’t know. I wouldn’t know till I read at least a few more books on this subject.

What saddened me was that like every propaganda in a country, an event as big as Partition was pure political motivation. It was not a democratic decision. All riots leading to it, and after it were only because of the selfish interests of the political figures of those times. But I guess history of any country is only about the political figures of that time. Not about the people. Nobody cares about the common man.

Some things I gathered from the book:

  1. Yes our freedom struggle was good and we had great freedom fighters. But looks like that was not why British left India. It appears that Britishers had their own problems – they no longer had money to keep control over India, after the world war. They had already stolen our resources so India was no longer the “golden bird” that would benefit them. So they were looking for an exit.
  2. Almost always the riots were triggered by Muslim league leaders. Although after that an equal (if not more) damage was done by the Hindus.
  3. Nehru was sentimental for Kashmir because it was his homeland and it was hard for him to give it up.
  4. Regarding the negotiation on Kashmir, when the Indian leaders were compromising the Pakistanis weren’t and vice versa. Hence it was always a stalemate. Although more often than not it was Jinnah’s obstinacy to not let go of Kashmir. Even when a proposal was made to split Kashmir and give the part of Kashmir with majority of muslims to Pakistan and the one with Hindus to India, Jinnah did not accept it. Maybe things are not that simple – but that was one moment when I felt that things could have been set right and the two nations could’ve lived in harmony.
  5. Indian leaders were always of the opinion that it is to their benefit that their neighbor Pakistan flourish, but that opinion was not shared by Pakistan,. Pakistan fueled Militia with money pumped from US and Britain, to cause disruptions in Kashmir. Apparently their intent was to only keep the Indian army at bay but soon things got out of control. The militia was getting trained by ISI and no longer slave to the decisions of the Pakistani government.
  6. Nehru (and Gandhi) always wanted an undivided India – where all people irrespective of their religion lived peacefully.
  7. Pakistani leaders wanted to ignite the people of Pakistan against India and the only thing they thought that they could latch on to was religion. And that bred the hindu-muslim enmity in that region. Before partition, they told all muslims that once India is formed they would be in majority and hence nobody would look after their interests (although there was no such evidence). After partition, since they knew that people in Pakistan had the same religion, they could use that to get them together and pitch them against India.

Of course there were lot of sad moments in the book, but Gandhiji’s assassination was at the top. Reading about it really saddened me.

I loved reading the book and would highly recommend it to anybody interested in India’s partition.