28 November 2012

Thanksgiving story: karma catch-up

I love the concept of Thanksgiving. I love the idea that at least once a year people in this part of the world pause and take a moment to express their gratitude. There is so much life to be thankful for- our family, our friends, our health. The list is practically endless.  But the occasion is not just about the thanks, its also about giving. So this year for thanksgiving, I wanted to share a story about 'giving'. And how it all somehow comes back.

Every year, N and I write out two small donations at this time of the year. Mine is usually to Vancouver's BC Children's Hospital- this place has a special place in my heart. It was the hospital where little V was born and I can never forget the wonderful service I received at this place- the doctors, the nurses, the staff were absolutely marvelous so I send them a little token of appreciation from little v and me every year. N's donation these days goes to St. Jude's Children's Hospital, which works hard for pioneering research for pediatric cancers.

This year as we were writing out the cheques, N told me a little story about the very first donation he ever made and how it all came back. About 10 years back, when N was in the last year of his undergraduate program, he got an internship with a pharma company in Mumbai. On his way back home one day, he saw an advertisement in the paper requesting donations for a young girl who was suffering from cancer. The girl was from a small town and belonged to a poor family who  unfortunately could not afford the expensive treatment needed to save the girl. Something about the story touched N so he sent him a cheque that night for half of his monthly internship income. With the cheque he sent the girl his best wishes and then forgot all about it. A few months later, N was pleasantly surprised to see a handwritten letter of thanks from the girl thanking him for his generosity and goodwill. Also included was a heartfelt invitation to visit them at any time in the future. Unfortunately, amidst all the hustle and bustle of the later years, N lost the letter. To this day, he regrets not keeping in touch with the girl-  we both hope that she is happy and healthy.

What is interesting for me though is that this good karma nudged N into the right direction. Years later, N went on to work with one of the best researchers on anti-cancer medications in North America- an experience of a lifetime. Not only that but at a time when getting jobs in US is tough even for experienced folks, N secured a position right after his PhD. Again, with a company focused on anti-cancer drugs.

You could call it coincidence. I call it good karma. I sincerely, earnestly believe in giving back- doesnt matter if its a little or lot. Its the gesture that matters. And the goodwill behind it. Because if it is with a clean conscience and a true heart, it has the power to make a difference.

I did not write this post with the intention of glorifying N. He is what he is. What I wanted to share was my takeaway from the story that once a good deed is done, even if we least expect it to (or perhaps because we least expect it to) it somehow always comes back.

 Picture courtesy: compassionistagirl.org

A very happy thanksgiving to everyone.

19 November 2012

Fall recap and Pumpkin-raisin muffins

Cannot believe that its November already!

Time has always flown in the past but these days it seems to be in a supersonic hurry. I don't even remember how summer slowly changed into fall and then into winter. All this while, I have been meaning to write about fall and its flavors and colors but never really got a chance. But now that I am determined to crawl back into the blog world, I thought I should go ahead and write a post. Better late than never.

Speaking of fall, I have to admit that this season is absolutely stunning in this part of the world. The green on the trees somehow changes to yellows, oranges, reds, and golds- its just gorgeous. It literally feels like God picks up a brush and paints the picture with his multicolored palette. And what a painter he is!! Check out these pictures if you don't believe me

Little v has been enjoying the leaves and their colors as well. He now knows his reds, yellows, oranges and green so picking up leaves and then identifying the right color brings enormous joy and pride to him (and me). Arlene, his nanny (God bless her sweet soul) has also been teaching him some fall leaf art- here's a sample- she helped make him this masterpiece by collecting fall leaves and then rubbing them on paper with crayons. Neat, I say!

While we are still talking about the little guy, here's a pic of him dressed up for Halloween. This year, he was a little dragon- almost everyone who saw him went 'awwww' (I did too). Here's a pic of him running from N. This, by the way, is the story of our life now- him running and we chasing.

And finally, because food is a big part of my life, I could not resist writing about these delicious pumpkin-raisin muffins I made a few days back.

I was looking for a good pumpkin bread (cake) recipe when I stumbled on Stephanie's Joy of Baking website- an absolute treat for any baking enthusiast. Her recipe for the pumpkin-raisin muffins seemed to be just what I was looking for so decided to give it a try. I followed her recipe almost completely, except for 2 changes- I used all purpose flour (instead of whole wheat flour and wheat bran) simply because I didn't have any whole wheat flour on hand. I also used only half a cup raisins instead of Stephanie's one full cup.

Pumpkin-raisin muffins
Recipe adapted from Joyofbaking's recipe from here
Makes 12 regular-sized muffins. 

1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour  
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place rack in the middle of the oven. 
2. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners (or spray with a non stick vegetable spray).
3. Mix together the pumpkin puree, eggs, yogurt, and oil. 
4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add sugar.
5. Add the wet ingredients (from step 3) to the dry ingredients (from step 4). Stir until just combined. 
6. Fold in the raisins. Do not over mix the batter or the muffins will be tough when baked, says Stephanie. 
7. Fill the muffin cups with the batter using a tablespoon. 
8. Place in the oven and bake for about 18 - 20 minutes , or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool.

This was such a delicious recipe. The star of the recipe for me was the cinnamon - it brings out the pumpkin flavors superbly. N, who was a little sceptical of pumpkin muffins initially, loved it. I have already baked two batches in 3 weeks :)


P.S. Anyone notice my new blog name? I like it better- the old one was way too long!

08 November 2012

Life on H4

Yes, I know. Inspite of the best of my intentions, my blog postings have trickled to a meager few over the last few months. Given that I am at home these days, I should be posting more. But I guess that's exactly where life gets paradoxical. Somehow, being busy at work while we were in Canada inspired me more to pause and pen my thoughts that staying at home does. That, and of course the fact that I have little v demanding more my time with each passing day. And that I am lazy. 

So more than anything, I blame my blogging inertia on H4.

Its been quite a few months now since we moved from Canada to US. Also the exact time on which I am on H4 visa (the category of US visa for spouses of H1B visa holders- people from countries other than US (and Canada) who are qualified to work here in US). Since I cannot work while being an H4 visa holder, life in US has been almost a complete antithesis of my life in Canada. I have suddenly gone from being a full time no-kids-so-do-as-you-please working woman to a full time stay-at-home-house wife-little-kid-in-tow kind of a woman.

 Picture courtesy: redbus2us.com

Fortunately for me, the H4 timing is the best it could possibly be. Little v is now 19 months old and probably needs me more to be around him than at any later time in his life. I definitely feel reassured that I am around him at this time to set a good foundation- teach him the life skills from the very beginning that I hope will shape him into a good person in the future.

That being said, I have to admit a part of me longs to get back to work. Longs to put my brain cells to use. Longs to have an adult conversation that involves science and medicines and not just nap-times and lunch menus. 

Of course, I know I am not alone in this. Countless women (and some men) who accompany their spouses to US for their jobs face this crisis. In fact, here's a very interesting video I came across that talks about this issue. Meghana Damani, a H4 visa holder as well, decided to document her story - aptly titled 'Hearts suspended'. Check out her side of the story and what some of the Americans had to say about it.

And while I completely understand what the documentary means to say, I agree with every word that the discussion panel says towards the end of the video. At a time when the US economy is struggling and so many of their own are unemployed, it would be absolutely insensitive to think of leniency such as automatic work permits for spouses of H1B visa holders. 

Besides, I knew exactly what I was getting into before I made the move. I knew upfront that there was a high probability of being out of work for quite some time. I could have very well stayed back in Canada (or India for that matter) if I so badly wanted to work. But it was MY decision to move to US. MY decision not to break the family.And now that I have made my decision, I should also have it in me to face what it brings.

So for all its ups and downs, H4 has taught me some valuable life lessons that I dont think would have been possible if I didnt have this opportunity.
- It has made me realize me that I have a husband who incredibly, after all the years of marriage, truly loves and cares for me and little v. On countless occasions over the last few months, N has been my friend, philosopher, guide and more. He has pulled me up each time I would start falling in the 'why-is-life-here-so-monotonous?' pit.

-Being at home has let me make more friends in Boston than I ever could have imagined. Little v is a superb ice breaker (as all little kids are) so starting conversations and then making friends has been easy. I now have enough friends here so this finally feels like home.

-I have come to realize that there is so much more to life than work. Though I love my work (and I know that I will return to it one day), its only one part of my life. As cliched as it sounds, I have known only now that I define my work, my work does not define me.

-And most important of all, being at home has afforded me the luxury of watching my little baby grow from a tiny bundle to a tireless toddler on first hand basis. I have a feeling that one day when I get old and look back at my life, these will probably end up as my fondest memories.

So yes, life is beautiful. Even on H4.

Picture courtesy:lionhearteagle.blogspot.com


P.S. I would love to hear what you think - do drop a line  :)

23 August 2012

Tried & tasted: Bhagyashri's Gajar Halwa (with condensed milk)

A long time back, a friend asked me if I had a recipe for Gajar halwa prepared with condensed milk. Given how long it takes for me to do things these days, its only now that I have time to post this recipe. This post is for her :)

For the non-desis, Gajar halwa (gajar=carrots, halwa=pudding) is a rich Indian dessert made with carrots and milk. Traditionally, the dessert makes use of khoya (thick, evaporated milk) which lends the dessert its rich flavour. However, khoya is not easily available in many places both within and outside India. I wasn't able to find good quality khoya in either Vancouver or here in Boston. Which is why I (and my friend) have been on look outs for recipes which give good gajar halwa minus the khoya.

Bhagyashri's recipe below is a superb one for gajar halwa using condensed milk. I had tried in back once in Vancouver when I was in the mood for some sweet. This time around too, I decided to try it before sending the recipe to my friend. Partly because I wanted to make sure this was in fact a good Gajar halwa recipe and partly because I wanted to use up a can of condensed milk sitting in my fridge for almost 2 weeks. I must admit that the halwa turned out superb; its delicate and flavourful and is ready in less than half an hour. The best part, you wont miss the khoya at all. Worth a try.

Here is a link to Bhagyashree's video. I followed the recipe to the tee, but for anyone not wanting to watch through the entire video or has connection problems (which can abound in India), I am also listing out the recipe here for quick reference.

2 lbs shredded carrots (Bhagyashri recommends not shredding them too thin- I agree)
1 (14oz) Can of Condensed Milk
3 Cups Whole fat Milk
2 tbsp Sugar (adjust to taste)
1/2 tsp Cardamom Powder

For garnish: 
1 tsp Ghee/clarified butter
2 tbsp chopped nuts (your choice- I used cashews and almonds) 

1. Mix the carrots, condensed milk, whole milk and sugar in a nonstick pan.
2. Cook the mixture on medium heat- Stir regularly until the mixture comes to a boil. 
3. Reduce heat a little and let the mixture cook until the milk reduces (Don't forget to keep stirring).
3. Once the milk evaporates, add the cardamom powder and mix well. 
4. Take off the heat, add the ghee & nuts. Serve!

A couple of tips to make sure you don't mess up:
1. Make sure you use good nonstick cookware for this recipe
2.Don't forget to keep stirring throughout- so don't leave your halwa to catch your favorite TV show :) You will almost surely end up with a burnt halwa.

05 August 2012

Marathi movies, take a bow

First off, for all those who don't know what Marathi is, thats the regional language of Mumbai. The place where I come from and the place I proudly call 'home-final-final'. 

First let me explain the ' home-final-final' bit. There was a guy I worked with who was not exactly super competent when it came to computers and files. This one time he was working on a study plan which underwent a few revisions and each time, he saved it on this desktop with an additional 'final' in the filename ('study plan final' became 'study plan final final' and then became 'study plan final final final'). Pharmaceutical Quality Assurance nightmare, I tell you! But somehow, the idea stuck. N and I have moved a couple places now and while each place is now home, Mumbai remains the 'home-final-final'. 

Coming back to the main topic i.e. Marathi movies, I do not know what is the deal with them these days but they have suddenly become super sensible. There was a time when Marathi movies were exclusively filled with Ashok Saraf and Laxmikant Berde's mindless comedy. Dont get me wrong, they are/were both good actors but the last couple of decades saw them only churn out some pretty idiotic (and repetitive) stuff. Senseless storylines, outdated costumes and embarassing dances made Marathi movies almost unwatchable.

But things probably changed with Shwaas (meaning breath). Here was one of those select first Marathi movies that had a real story and some superlative actors. The journey of a little boy stricken with cancer and his grandpa from the village to the city as they battle fate and time touched a chord. In fact, it was selected to be the India's Oscar entry for 2004. 

Since then, Marathi movies seemed to have gotten a new brain, a new heart and overall a new life altogether. Take for instance Nital (meaning crystal clear), one of my all time favorite Marathi movies. Here is a story of a young girl, a gifted eye specialist , who faces turmoil both within herself & from outside because of her vitiligo (white patches). The crux of the story though is about the reactions she faces when she comes to meet the family of her well educated doctor colleague, whom she has fallen in love with. Watch this movie in case you haven't already- it is a beautifully told story.

3 more Marathi movies which are totally worth a watch.Each of these are very simple stories but good acting coupled with superb story telling makes them an absolute treat:

- Bokya Saatbande (thats the first & last names of the lead character): A story about a young urban, middle class boy whose big heart & empathy for others lead him to help others in a simple ways but with big results.

- Ek cup chya (meaning one cup of tea): Story of a rural bus conductor & his family who face much discomfort & pain when they receive a humongous power bill by error. 

- Masala (meaning spice mix): A heart warming story of a hardworking, well-meaning young couple who somehow never succeed in any business until they realize that the best business for them is the one that comes from their heart.

The last movie was especially fun to watch. Probably because it reminded me so much of my uncle & aunt (mama-mami) back from India. Just like the lead characters in the movie, my uncle & aunt are two of the most tireless, selfless & easy going people I have ever met. I want to especially mention my aunt here, because as nice as my mama is, I really dont think he could have achieved as much without mami's constant, smiles & support. Hats off to you both!

Finally, for anyone who wants to watch Marathi movies or shows, but doesn't have the channels, apalimarathi.com is a superb online and FREE resource. You should be able to watch these movies on this website (& probably more!) 


02 August 2012

Brothers and sisters

To my brothers & my two sisters, since today is the day of rakhi:

We grew up together, 
Shared memories & love, tantrums & fights.
You were there when I needed a friend,
Some unconditional love and some silent support.

That time seems like a distant memory now,
New relations & work taking its toll,
Each one of us now busy with their own lives,
There's barely the time to sit down & chat.

An occasional phone call & a facebook message,
I know from them that you are okay,
And even though I might seem to be lost,
I want you to know that you are always in my heart.

Some things will never change,
Like the love & the support & the playfulness we had,
You will always be a friend, a companion
But most of all, a constant in my life.

Happy raksha bandhan to you all.

Sharing with you a picture postcard our 6 year old niece made for little v. It was such a heartwarming surprise to see this. Am sure little v could not have asked for a nicer rakhi; he is blessed to have such a loving sister!

And finally signing off with a picture of rakhi my 3 year old niece made herself for little v; the image is blurry but I HAD to post it. I really don't think there can be anything sweeter on the face of this earth than this band of love a little girl made with her own hands for her little brother. The fact that she is in India & he is here in United States & that they have personally met only for a couple months does nothing to stop her from thinking about him every day & making this band to tie him with her love.

Can there be anything more beautiful than these two rakhis?


21 June 2012

Strawberry picking and easy homemade sherbet

N, me and little v visited Russell Orchards last Saturday. Boston has tons of these 'pick-your-own-fruits' farms which let you pick fruits fresh off the trees. We wanted to take v for a small outing while summer is around, so this turned out to be the perfect occasion.

Russell Orchards is a cute little rustic farm located in Ipswich, at about 45 mins drive from where we live making it a perfect destination for 'baby's day out'. Depending on the time of the year you visit, you could pick strawberries, arugula, greens, herbs, kale, lettuce, radishes, scallions, sungold tomatoes, swiss chard. Its strawberry season right now & believe me, there is nothing better than picking these berries fresh off the plants. Some pics from the farm:

Much to little v's delight who is crazy about his animal friends, there are a few farm animals too:

The farm also offers a variety of preserves, all made from its fresh produce.

This time of the year though, its all about strawberries! We love strawberries but find the ones from the market almost always disappointing, mainly because they go bad before we can finish off the box. Both N and I hate to throw away food so this usually means that we will buy very limited quantities of fresh strawberries. This time though, we just could not resist. With the strawberries fresh off their plants, we decided to pick as much as time & little v would allow us.
Did you know strawberries grow on the ground & not on trees?

Cannot even begin to tell how much N & I enjoyed the strawberry picking. There were a lot of people on the farm that day so between that competition & the fact that the brightest, juiciest strawberries tend to hide underneath a cluster of leaves, it ended up being a treasure hunt of sorts. By the end of the picking session (which lasted less than an hour), we had about 6 pounds of strawberries!!! Isnt that neat?

We returned with 3 boxes like this! We ate one over the next couple of days (they were so good, they went fast!), gave one away to our friends who live down the street & with the third, I decided to make some homemade strawberry sherbet.

For those who might not have heard, sherbet happens to be an American term for fruity flavored frozen dairy product. with low milk/yogurt content (between 1% and 2%). This was the first time I prepared a sherbet at home & it was a big hit; N loved it!

Strawberry sherbet
Adapted from cookincanuck's recipe from here. 

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar (or more/less depending on sweetness of fruit)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 (small, individual serving) container packaged strawberry flavored yogurt 

1. In a medium bowl, stir together strawberries and sugar. Let the strawberries rest for 15 minutes to release the juices.
2. Place strawberries along with the juices & lemon juice in a blender. Puree until the mixture is smooth.
3. Sieve the puree using a fine mesh; discard the solids left in the sieve.
4. Add yogurt to the sieved puree. Blend a little & transfer to a stainless steel container. Cover with a plastic wrap & chill in refrigerator until syrup has chilled – about 1 hour.
5. Transfer back to the freeze for 3-4 hours. Remove sherbet from freezer and puree once more in a food processor or blender. Return strawberry puree mixture to metal container, cover and freeze for a further 3-4 hours. Serve.

Makes 4 small  servings

This is a super easy recipe & yields delicious results- the sherbet is light, delicately sweet & the lime juice adds a nice touch to the tartness of the strawberries. Perfect for hot, summer days; I will definitely be making some more soon.

08 June 2012

Reason for postlessness: I am a 'Sieve woman'

Anyone wondered why this blog has been dead for so long? Things got really slow after I got pregnant, but I was really hopeful that the momentum would be back after the blog restart last September. Turns out not. And here's why:

Taken from 'Black Milk' by Elif Shafak:
'(A woman) can be as talented as she likes, as fond of art & literature as she likes, but her path as a writer will be strewn with obstacles, small and large. She will have a hard time finding wiggle room in the 'sociable-wife, meticulous-housewife, faithful-mother' box she is expected to fit into. More important, between her womanly tasks and motherly roles, she will not be able to find the time to write. Her whole day will pass with household chores, cooking, ironing, taking care of children, tending to her family responsibilities.....before she knows it, she will be a Sieve Woman, all the time in the world leaking through the holes in her life. In those rare moments when she finds herself alone, she will give in to exhaustion & frustration. How will she write? When will she write?'

Story of my life. 

Plus the fact that I can be a little lazy at times, of course :)

Plan to be back soon. And stay.

15 January 2012

Happy Makar Sankrant!

My first post in the new year :) the new year begins with lots of hope for health, wealth & happiness!

Today happens to be 14th January. Each day on this year, folks at home celebrate Makar Sankrant. At home, ma will prepare tilgul ladoos (sweet sesame-and-jaggery balls), distribute them to neighbours & family while saying 'tilgul gya, godd godd bola (meaning 'take the sweet, and then talk sweetly). Ain't that sweet?

The festival is celebrated in different ways in other parts of the country. Some will fly kites & exchange gifts, while others (especially the nothern, colder states) will light bonfires & dance to the point of exhaustion.

Anywho, came across this very informative write up on the significance of this festival. Do take a moment to read it to understand why this day is celebrated the way it is. Its a pretty long article so for those who might not have time to read it all, I am pasting an excerpt here that stuck with me the most:

How to Celebrate:
1. Get up early in the morning, before sunrise, have bath and be ready with water & flowers for the sunrise. Worship the rising Sun, by offering water, flowers with both the hands & then pray with folded hands by chanting the Gayatri Mantra and pray for knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment to rise in the similar way to greater & greater heights. Pray for blessings to live a dynamic, inspired & righteous life.
2. Do tarpan for your ancestors. Offer water to the ancestors while praying for their blessings. Resolve to redeem the pledges & pride of your forefathers. Live life in such a way that wherever your forefathers may be their head is held high by the life & deeds of their children.
3. Have a special session of Meditation, wherein you bring about the awareness of the self-effulgent subjective divinity. Affirm the greatest importance of your spiritual goal very clearly, and pray to God to bless you with the capacity to constantly revel in your true self. May the graph of your rise like the Uttarayana Sun. May there be greater ‘Love & Light’ in your life & the world.
4. Prepare laddus or other sweets of Til & Gur and offer them to your friends & relatives. See to it that your “Well-being Prayer for all” gets manifested in action & deeds.
5. Have the lunch of Khichiri. This stands for inculcating simplicity in your life & habits.
6. Give some Daan (charity) on this day to someone who truly deserves.
7. Visit your son at his place and give presents to the son and the daughter-in-law. If it is not possible to visit, then organize to send presents to them to express your love & affection to them. Work to properly cultivate the generation, which has to carry forward all the best you cherish & value*. 

Reading articles like this sometimes makes me pause & think about how much we have all lost on the original significance of our fesitvals. Instead, we spend more time thinking about what clothes to wear & what food to devour!

I hope to be wiser in the coming year. Hope you do too :)

Festive wishes,