Friday, April 27, 2007

Pokez Mexican Restaurant, San Diego

Cuisine: Mexican (duh?!)

In terms of food, especially vegetarian mexican food, this is one of the decent places in San Diego and in terms of looks it's probably the worst. When we saw it from outside, we asked ourselves whether we really want to go inside. It's got that shabby look, with lots of graffiti and posters on the outside wall. Had it not been for the excellent reviews we'd heard, we would've never stepped inside it even if it was the last restaurant on earth! Okay, that was about the outer appearance; but remember the proverb: "Never judge a book by it's cover? The tables and chairs are old, the walls have numerous old stuff hanging around; the more fashion-savvy would probably call it a "retro" look but I prefer to call it the-no-money-look. :) It was akin to what I would call a dhaba. Let's come down to what matters to your stomach - the food. This is the only place that I've seen that has so many vegetarian options. That's the biggest plus point if you're a vegetarian and the food is definitely good. Another plus: it's an extremely reasonable place when it comes to your wallet! It's located in the heart of downtown San Diego and seems to be a very popular place. For the duration that we were there, the restaurant was completely full and frequently there was a waiting line. For more information go to Pokez Mexican Restaurant.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Healthy Moong Dal Dosa / Chila

As my DH says I seem to be fond of all kinds of dosas. This is a simple, easy recipe; good for weekend breakfasts. Another one of my Ma's recipe though I might've made some slight modifications here and there; but as you'll see with the given ingredients there's probably not too much that I could change except the proportions of the ingredients. You can also use the same batter to make yummy moong dal vadas, so don't worry if you've some left-over batter!

What you'll need:
1 cup Yellow Moong dal
1 tbsp Ginger (grated)
1 tbsp Chillies (chopped)
1 tbsp Cilantro/Coriander (finely chopped)
Salt to taste

Let's start cooking:

  • Soak the dal overnite. Generally wherever I need to soak dal, I do it overnite but I guess it would be fine if you soaked it for 4-5 hours.
  • Grind the dal with little water. It's safer to use as little water as possible, if required we can add water later.
  • Mix the other ingredients into the batter. As you mix the ingredients you can see the proportion of chillies, ginger and coriander w.r.t the batter and you can vary it as you like. Regarding the consistency of the battery: it's not flowy, when you drop it from a spoon it'll fall in lumps. At the same time it can't be too thick else you'll be unable to spread it. The way I work (or rather my DH, he's the dosa expert) is to be conservative while adding water. Try a small dosa, if it works fine then you're all set if you're unable to spread add a little water.
  • Now heat a griddle and when it is hot, spread the batter like a dosa. Nothing explain spreading a dosa better than photos I looked up this video on YouTube. The batter in this video is that of a normal dosa so it's quite watery, the moong dal dosa batter is not so watery. If you can't view a video, here's another link.

You've tasty moong dal dosas ready! It tastes good with coconut chutney, green/coriander chutney and tomato ketchup (for kids!).

  • If you want to make vadas from the left-over batter, refrigerate the batter so that the dal absorbs some water and the batter gets thick for frying vadas. I would suggest refrigerating it overnite.
  • The most difficult task, if any, is to determine the right consistency of the batter. The dal is not ground to a perfect fine texture, it should be kept slightly coarse. The batter would be quite thick as compared to a normal dosa batter.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Author: Herman Hesse

A brilliant novel! It walks you through the life of Siddhartha (intentional conflict with Gautam Buddha's name), who wanders in the search for peace and self-enlightenment. He leaves his home to find his Self (or Atman) and oscillates between the world of maya and ascetism. The beauty of the story lies in what he learns in the various stages of his life and the the way author symbolizes things. I'm tempted to write more about the story but I think the less you read about the book before reading the book, the better it is; because it may bias your interpretation.

I generally tend to skip the introduction as I'm too impatient to start off with "Chapter 1" but in this case I did read it and it made things a lot clearer. So I would suggest that if you're like me - skipping Intros - then don't do it for this one.

My favorite part is the conversation between Siddhartha and a merchant. The merchant asks him what qualities does he have, Siddhartha tells him that he can think, fast and wait. To this the merchant replies, "What good can these be?". Siddhartha says that had he not possessed the quality of fasting he would have had to accept whatever job the merchant gave him today because he hasn't had food for quite sometime; but since he can fast he will accept a job on only his terms.

(If you plan to read the book, I suggest you don't read any further) Talking about symbols, the merchant is aptly called Kamaswami, meaning "master of desires" and working for him implies that you've submitted yourself to the worldly desires. So when Siddhartha puts his heart into working for Kamaswami, he starts losing his saintly qualities and gains mortal tendencies like anger, pride, etc. One day when he realizes what has consumed him and decides to revert to his ascetic life, he finds that hunger tortures him; no longer he can fast. Thus showing that it is very easy to be consumed by wordly desires and as difficult to denounce them. I could make a lot of connections between the teachings of Gita and what is depicted here. Towards the end, Siddhartha talks about being able to see brahma in everything be it a man or a stone and hence loving everything in this world. This is what is meant by the very first bullet in the ways to get closer to God.

It has a lot of spiritual insights but it is not just for people with a spiritual taste bud. I think it would appeal to all and sundry.

Bottomline: A must-read.

Related Links:
A synopsis of the book

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mexico Visa

I've read so many debates about whether you need a visa when you go for H1 stamping in Tijuana. If you're an Indian national and your current US visa (F-1)has expired then you NEED a mexico visa to go to Tijuana. They may not check your visa and hence you may feel that you did not need to get one, but you do and the process for getting a mexico visa is very simple.

The type of mexico visa you need is FM3. You take all the required documents to the Mexico Consulate at 1549, India St., San Diego. There'll be lots of people standing outside, but people applying for a mexico visa are very very few so you can just tell the guard that you *need* a visa and they'll direct you. When you enter the consulate, take a left and climb up the stairs - that's the visa office. They'll give you a questionnaire and a form to fill, submit these too along with the documents and $134 in cash (to the cashier). You can collect your visa the next day!

Documents you need (originals + 1 copy):
Bank statement
Appointment letter for US consulate
Employment letter
2 passport photos

Contact for Mexico Consulate, San Diego:
1549, India St., San Diego
Phone - (619) 231 8414

How do I know all this? I just got one. So if you want to know anything about the procedure, post me a question.


(Teachings from Gita) One who follows at least one yagya ( path which leads to God), receives inner happiness and everlasting contentment. On the other hand, one who doesn't, is always encircled by worldly desires which cause him myriad anxieties and worries. When a son takes good care of his parents, a wife takes proper care of her husband or one performs his duty in a relationship to the best and does so in a selfless way - it too is considered a yagya.

The crux is that we should not be possessed by materialism, the day we realize that all our worries will disappear. No being - living or non-living - should be indispensable for us. We should be content with what we have. Take a moment and think about it - what worries you most? Would you still worry about it if you knew that all you wanted was a place to live and food to eat? Most likely the answer is no. Just imagine how simple life would become; how stress-free your mind would be; how happy and content your inner-self would be.

Gita contains such wonderful advice that I think if we were to incorporate even an iota of it then we would be much happier than we are today. It teaches us to do everything in moderation. Neither eat too much nor eat too less. Neither be too happy nor be too sad. In fact when one learns to detach himself, he will reach this controlled state. If you lose something, don't grieve over it and not because you can get another one but because you can live without it. For a common man like me, I think it would be difficult o apply this principle to living beings but I feel that we can certainly apply it to non-living things.

I remember that quite sometime back, a friend of mine had become a patron of the "Art of living" and when asked what it was about, part of the reply was "...It teaches you that if you lose your wallet you shouldn't grieve over it...". At that time I felt what's the fun in life if you don't have attachment with things; but now I understand that life can be as good with/without most of the things. It's how we try to make it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Garmin 2-state problem

Lately we'd this problem in our Garmin (C340) where when you tried to specify the address it gave you only two states and the worst part was that none of those two was our state. We contacted customer support and she asked us to reset the unit - yes, there's a reset button hiding behind the front frame; but that didn't help. She then asked us to get back to her when we were in front of a computer. However, my DH decided to do it without her help. Lo and behold! The problem went away when the software update was done.

I feel that the quality of things in general has degraded. What's the point in buying a nice expensive branded unit, if you've to contact the customer support within a year of date of purchase. This was not the first time that we were contacting CSR, we'd had to send the unit to their repair facility earlier and since it came back from repair the previous problem was fixed but it had this new one. I'm sorely disappointed in Garmin.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Vacuum Space Bags

I felt that I must leave a good word for this wonder space saver - the Vacuum space bags! It was magic to see two queen-sized comforters and 4 pillows reduced to a flat mass. Though, it works better on stuff like comforters and pillows as compared to woollens; that's because the former have a lot of air inside and hence there's potential for reduction. So basically it'll work better on things which have ample air inside. Not that it doesn't work on clothes/woollens, it does a good job; and no I don't get any commission from the company :). I'm generally skeptical about buying things which are labeled "As seen on TV", so this review is to help others like me. I think you get the best deal at Costco.
(Teachings from Gita) How can one know which deeds would take him closer to God and not tie him to his birth? It is commonly thought that only one who becomes a priest, devotes his life to the worship of God, can get closer to God. That's not true. According to Krishna depending on a person's class, position, occupation and situation there are various deeds which can bring you closer to God.

Here's how different people work to be with God:
  • Some see a supreme spirit, an absolute power in everything living or non-living.
  • Some worship God and pray to him.
  • Some unite their soul with God.
  • Some control their senses and that which appeals to their senses.
  • Some gain control over themselves.
  • Some who earn material objects like money through legitimate means do not harbor any attachment to it and selflessly use it for the benefit of others.
  • Some perform tapasya, by keeping fast (abstaining from food for a given period), etc.
  • Some undertake yoga or incorporate extreme discipline; specifically ashtang yoga. It comprises of the following: yam, niyam, pranayam, aasan, prayahar, dhaarna, dhyan and samadhi.
    • Yam: Defines the moral codes - non-violence, truthfulness, principle of non-stealing, following celibacy and non-possessiveness.
    • Aasan: is posture; a posture to attain mental equilibrium.
    • Niyam: emphasizes on self-purification. Outer and inner purity of self, being content, self-study , worshipping with complete faith and endurance.
    • Pranayam: The ability to control the inhaling and exhaling of breath.
    • Pratyahar: The ability to control one's senses; withdrawal of senses; and hence increase the power of mind.
    • dhaarNa: is concentration on an object.
    • dhyaan: is meditation.
    • samaadhi: is salvation.
This is not a complete list but some examples of what one can do.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Recipes from other blogs

I'm very fond of searching good recipes on other blogs and try them too, the two frequencies may be quite different :). There are so many epicurean recipe blogs out there. In fact my inspiration for blogging comes from one such blog. Coming back to what I was saying, so here I'll maintain a list of what recipes I've tried from different blogs.
  • Kothimbir vadi(6/28/07): I'd once tasted kothimbir vadi at a maharashtrian wedding and since then wanted to make it. Finally, roaming around the web I came across this recipe and I decided to give it a try. It came out just as I'd expected! It's a crunchy tasty snack!
  • Onion Chutney(6/6/07): Excellent recipe! My blender was too big for the small quantity and hence I didn't get it to grind finely but the taste was awesome. I just couldn't wait to put up the review till the next time I made it perfectly. I didn't have red onions so I used yellow ones instead but that too tasted good.
  • Malai Kofta(6/6/07): A nice recipe, the koftas turned out great. One thing that I didn't realize was that the koftas weren't to be fried like cutlets, they'd to be just golden brown. The recipe mentions that. I fried them nice brown like cutlets and that's why they didn't blend with the curry. Even then they tasted very good.
  • Chole: I seem to be making a whole lot progress on my to-cook list! This recipe is great, the chole looked as well as tasted great! I used tomato paste instead of canned/fresh tomatoes and that worked out well. It gave the sauce a nice color and texture.
  • Banana chips: They turned out to be delicious! I'd taken a photo for proof-sake but of the two photos that I took one got blurred and the other was over-exposed. I didn't have either peanut oil (as recommended by the recipe) or coconut oil (which is used in Kerala) so I just used my corn oil. Maybe that's why they didn't become as yellow as shown in the recipe; but other than that they were really good; much better than teh stale ones you get in Indian stores out here. It was totally worth the effort. Banana chips and I go way back; when I was a kid I was the only one in my family who used to like banana chips fried in coconut oil. During the time my brother was in Kozhikode (in Kerala), everytime he came home he would bring around 1.5 kgs of the best banana chips!
  • Huevos Rancheros: A mexican version of scrambled eggs; because it's very flavorful appeals to the Indian taste-bud. It reminds me of the scrambled egg my father used to make for me: he would add coriander powder, garam masala and what not. The only change I made to this recipe was that I increased the quantity of ingredients other than egg to avoid a very "eggy" flavor.
  • Lemon rice: It turned out really well, though it lacked tanginess and that's not the recipe's fault I think it was my hesitation in adding so much lime. It looked beautiful, there's no doubt about it. Though while adding the ingredients, my husband and I were so suspicious that how come it needs x in so much quantity.
  • Sakarai Pongal: This was my second time I was preparing sweet pongal. The first time I did, let's not even talk about it. So I was very determined to follow the recipe by the T. I'm very health-conscious when it comes to adding butter/ghee to any dish and this recipe wanted 1/4 cup of it!! So with reluctant hands I put the ghee, I could almost see the ghee floating; but it was worth it. Pongal turned out to be simply delicious and my family just loved it!
Recipes that I intend to try (they'll be upgraded after I try them):

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Praise be to Lalu

Any amount of praise is less for this person. I'm totally stunned! About a year back, I completely detested Lalu Prasad Yadav for what he'd done to Bihar. It was surprising to see that someone could be so corrupt; but now I'm all praise for him. From being the world's worst chief minister he's transformed to world's best railway minister! Isn't that incredulous?!?! That is a big transformation! Not that I'm complaining, I'm happy as long as what he's doing doesn't have anything hanky-panky behind it.

Talking about his laurels, he surfaced up the railways from crores of loss to crores of profit, started the "Garib Rath", and now the "Janta Meal". He's implemented some very innovative policies which would benefit the consumer as well as the Railways: a win-win situation. What makes me particularly happy is his efforts to smoothen the ride for the masses of India. It's easy to add technological conveniences at a high price but it's very difficult to cut the cost and at the same time provide amenities. We can aim to be a developed nation only if we bring up the standard of living in our country and it's not uplifted by having a 10% of the population live in nice luxury apartments but yes we do move a step forward when we can say that all our trains are clean, safe, air-conditioned, punctual and provide meals - all at a very affordable price.

A while back I was reading about various innovations that he's done: he has asked that the new coaches be manufactured such that the seat widths are shorter by 1-2 inch. This would be hardly perceptible by the consumer but it would enable adding some extra seats to the coach hence bringing down the fare. He got the linen room removed, again to get some extra seats. I think these are specifically for the Garib Rath so others needn't complain about the inconvenience to carry your own bedding. Even if it was applicable to all trains in general, I think it's a good idea as it makes AC class affordable to a lot of people. Those who don't want to carry their own bedding still have the option of more expensive classes. I'd also read somewhere that he's planning to build budget hotels in the vicinity of railway stations and restaurants inside railway stations. Way to go Indian Railways!

I hope other ministers would follow Lalu's example.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Water for elephants

Author: Sara Gruen

It has taken a lot of time to decide how to rate this book: it was definitely not a must-read but it wasn't too bad also. Slightly slow in the beginning , but once the pace kicks-in you'll not find yourself yawning.

The story is mostly in flashback. It revolves around a young boy, Jacob, who's thrown into the jaws of the cruel world when his parents die. He realizes that he's no possessions in this world - living or non-living. He decides to flee from his present and bumps into a circus train, where he also meets the love of his life. Eventually, circus is where he wants to be for the rest of his life. The narration toggles between his present - the life of a 93-year old in an old age home and his past.
Most of the story concentrates on his life in the circus until he gets married. What's appreciative of this novel is the research done by the author regarding life in a circus. Additionally, the illustrations give the effect as if you're reading a real-life story.

I liked the story but not so much that I would call it a New York Times Bestseller. That would be something like Kite Runner. Maybe that's where my disappointment lies, having read that it was a NYTB, I was expecting much more.

Why the name "Water for elephants"? I think it's because in his old age home Jacob had a fight with another resident who claimed that he worked for a circus and brought water for the elephants and that brought back the memories.

Bottomline: A nice read.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Good deeds...(contd)

Before I got a chance to expand further on my previous post, Prajakta's comment said it all. As she says, the deciding factor is whether that deed is your duty or not. If it is and if you're doing it for the good of others then it can never be wrong. She has put beautifully what I'd been trying to frame for so long: "...all good deeds take you closer to moksha".