Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gifts for Kids Drive

It's the holiday season; a season for giving and sharing, a season for spreading joy. Every child would like to recieve a gift on Christmas morning but not everybody is so fortunate. I'm volunteering for the Eugene Bowman Economic Empowerment Inc. and helping them provide christmas gifts to children. Most of these children come from single-mom household and live at or below poverty. Had it not been for EBEE they wouldn't have had anything to look forward to for Christmas but thanks to EBEE they will have a christmas lunch and a gift. If you're in San Diego, then you can help too by donating a gift. It could be a gift card, a toy, clothing or anything else. If you're not in San Diego but would like to help, then also do let me know.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Of life and death

(Teachings from Gita) When a man is nearing his end, he gets to whatever he'd been thinking of in those last moments. Thus, if you think of God then you'll be united with Him. If you were thinking of your house, you'll be born in your house. However, the form in which you'll be born will be decided by your deeds in this birth. For example, a man living in a house thinks its his house. The ants living in that house also think that its their house.

What does a man think of in his last moments? Mostly, you think of those things that you've spent most of your life thinking. Depending on your environment, education, interests etc., your mind may be impressed with certain things. It could be desire for a house, family or anything else. These thoughts which occupy your mind most of your life are also the ones that linger in your mind in your last moments because you've exercised them for so long. However, you can substitute these thoughts with some other with practice. If you want to escape this viscious cycle of life and death, then you must think of God and only God in those moments.

P.S.: This chapter in Gita which talks about death is the most difficult to grasp and hence the long gap in my posts on Gita.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Turkish Short Stories From Four Decades

Author: Aziz Nesin

These are folk tales from Turkey. Most of them are interesting, though some of them have a sad ending which I didn't expect in a folk tale. I've read a couple of folk tale books from India and they either have a happy ending or a moral to teach you in the end. This is what I found missing in some of these stories but overall they were nice.

Those who've read folk tales in the past must've noticed that they tend to have a typical blueprint. For example, let's say they start with a person A leaving his home for destination X. On the way he meets B (where B could be a person, animal or a situation) as a result of which his circumstances change in some way. Going further on he meets C which again change his circumstance. In this way he meets N number of these till he reaches his destination and hence gets drastically transformed: he might be very poor when he started but very rich by the time he reaches his destination. So on and so forth.

It makes a good subject for light reading.

Bottomline: A good read.

Dal Makhani

If you're looking for the restaurant-style dal makhani, then this is the recipe for it! It's a Sanjeev Kapoor recipe.

What you need:
1 cup black whole urad dal
2 tbsp Red Kidney beans/Rajma
1 tsp Cumin seeds
6 cloves garlic
2 inch ginger (I use ginger-garlic paste)
1 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 cup fresh cream (Since we don't get fresh cream here, I used heavy cream available at Trader Joe's)
1 tsp Red Chilli powder
3 tbsp butter
2 tomatoes
1 onion
1 tbsp Oil
Salt to taste

Let's make:
  1. Pick, wash and soak whole black urad and rajma overnight in three cups of water.
  2. Peel and chop the onion, ginger and garlic finely. Wash and chop the tomatoes.
  3. Cook the soaked dal and rajma in three cups of water with salt, red chili powder and half the chopped ginger till dal and rajma are cooked and soft.
  4. Heat oil and butter in a thick-bottomed pan.
  5. Add cumin seeds, when it crackles.
  6. Add chopped onions and fry till golden brown.
  7. Add chopped ginger, garlic and chopped tomatoes. Sauté till tomatoes are well mashed and fat starts to leave the masala.
  8. Add boiled dal and rajma to this.
  9. Adjust seasoning.
  10. Add garam masala powder and simmer on very low heat for fifteen minutes.
  11. Add fresh cream and let it simmer for another five minutes.
  12. Serve hot with Naan or Paratha.

The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin

Author: Idries Shah

This is in line with the previous two books on MN. It has longer anecdotes than the the other two and like them they're witty, hilarious and silly!

I simply adored all three books.

Bottomline: A very good read.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tomato Pickle

Out of nowhere I'd this sudden urge to make tomato pickle, andhra style. So I got about searching a nice recipe and found this by Indira. The pickle came out pretty good. I used only 5 tomatoes to make it: firstly, because that's all I'd and secondly, I wanted to start it small. Here's the recipe reduced for 5 tomatoes:

What you'll need:

5 Tomatoes
1 tsp Tamarind extract
3 tbsp Oil
1 tsp Red chilli powder
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp Fenugreek powder (I dry roasted fenugreek and then ground it)
For Tadka:
1 tsp oil
3 curry leaves
1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste (original recipe calls for garlic, but I'd this paste at home so I used that)
pinch of asafoetida

Let's make:
  1. Wash and wipe the tomatoes. Chop coarsely.
  2. In a big, non-reactive pan, add and heat sesame oil (I used ordinary oil that I use for cooking).
  3. Stir in tomatoes.
  4. Add red chilli powder, salt and tamarind pulp. Mix and cover the pot. Cook on high heat, stirring in-between for about 10 minutes. Tomatoes will be mushed down and you will be seeing lot of tomato juice trying to splash the counter-tops.
  5. Add the fenugreek powder. Reduce the heat to medium, partially cover the pot and simmer until the tomatoes become thick but spreadable like jam. It takes around 30 minutes.
  6. At this stage, fine-tune the balance and adjust salt and chilli levels to your liking. The next step will be adding the toasted ingredients.
  7. In a skillet, heat the sesame oil for tadka. Lower the heat to medium.
  8. Add the garlic paste first and then the curry leaves. Toast to pale gold color. Turn off the heat.
  9. Stir in asafoetida. Mix and immediately add the toasted skillet contents to the tomato pickle.
  10. Stir so that everything gets well combined. Simmer, uncovered for about ten minutes, gently mixing. I continued heating till it reached a consistency that I thought was how a pickle should be. It was almost dry. Turn off the heat and let the pickle cool. Do not cover the pot.
  11. Store the completely cooled tomato pickle in a clean glass jar with a tight lid.


A sneak peek at things that I made for diwali. I got the rangoli design from Diwali Festival. They've a nice collection of designs. The dot-grid wasn't clearly visible on the online designs so I generated a graph paper, drew the design on it and then made the rangoli (with Crayola color chalks!).

Another item that I made for diwali was kandils/kandeels. Like Rangoli, they're also my favorites for diwali. I like small colorful ones as they make your home look really beautiful.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Happy Diwali!

Wish you a very happy diwali!

P.S.: What better day than the most auspicious day of Diwali for my 100th post :).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Happy Choti Diwali

"Choti diwali" falls on the day before Diwali. There are two legends behind this festival.

One famous story behind the celebrations of Chhoti Diwali or Narak Chaturdashi is about the demon king Narakasur who was ruler of Pragjyotishpur, a province to the South of Nepal. During a war he defeated Lord Indra and snatched away the magnificent earrings of Mother Goddess Aditi who was not only the ruler of Suraloka but also a relative of Lord Krishna's wife, Satyabhama. Narakasur also imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of Gods and saints in his harem.
When Satyabhama came to know about this malevolent act of Narakasur she got furious and she prayed to Lord Krishna to empower her so that she could destroy Narakasur. The legend also tells that Narakasur was under a curse that a woman would kill him. So Lord Krishna empowered Satyabhama to fight with Narakasur and himself became the charioteer of her 'Ratha' in the battlefield. Thus by the grace of Lord Krishna Satyabhama beheaded Narakasur on the day previous to Narak Chaturdashi and released the imprisoned ladies from Narakasur's harem and also recovered the precious earrings of Mother Goddess Aditi. In order to save all those imprisoned ladies from embarrassment Lord Krishna accepted them all as His wives. As a symbol of the victory over Narakasur Lord Krishna smeared His forehead with the demon king's blood. Then Lord Krishna returned home with His new wives early morning of the Narak Chaturdashi day. The womenfolk massaged scented oil to His body and gave him a good bath to wash away the filth from his body.

Another legend is about King Bali, who was king of the nether world. His power and increasing influence posed a threat to the security of all 'Devatas' so they prayed Lord Vishnu to help them out. To help Devatas and to curb King Bali's powers Lord Vishnu went to King Bali in the guise of a short-height 'Brahmin', who is known as incarnation of 'Batu Waman', and begged to give him only that much area of land that he could cover with in three steps because King Bali was well known for his philanthropy. King Bali saw just a short-height 'Brahmin' asking for a little piece of land so he proudly granted him his wish. That very moment that short-height 'Brahmin' disappeared and there was almighty Lord Vishnu in place of him. In his first step Lord Vishnu covered the heaven and in the second step the earth and asked King Bali where to put his third step. Then King Bali offered his head to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu put his third step on his head and pushed him deep into the underground. But at the same time being impressed by his generosity Lord Vishnu gave King Bali the lamp of knowledge and allowed him to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps.

The mother of Narakasura, Bhoodevi, declared that the death of her son should not be a day of mourning but an occasion for celebrations. Since then people celebrate diwali with joy and fun every year.[Source: I love India]

Friday, November 2, 2007

The pleasantries of the incredible Mullah Nasrudin and The subtelties of the inimitable Mullah Nasrudin

Author: Idries Shah

These are two different books and, as the name suggests, on the same theme. Mulla Nasrudin is a a folk character of middle-east. He is sometimes silly, sometimes funny and sometimes beyond my understanding! His constant companion is his donkey. Many countries claim to be the progenitor of this character and hence it's hard to pinpoint which country he belongs to.

I was first introduced to this character through a serial aired by Doordarshan by the same name. This was long back when cable television hardly had any roots in India. Recently, one fine day I remembered how funny his tales used to be and so I searched and found that there are a couple of books on him. Lo and behold! I issued almost all these books from the library.

Coming back to the books, they contain Mulla's anecdotes some of which are not even half a page in length. You can't help but smile at the end of each tale. This is not to say that all the tales will keep you glued. The first book has a better set of anecdotes than the second one.

Bottomline: A must read.