Posted in Humor - General

Wayfaring through the Vindaloo world

If the British had done one thing that is good and bad it would be the “branding” of Indian cuisine. Now the whole world thinks “curry” is just a magical powder you can buy off the shelf from a grocery store – and can make your own steamy vindaloos tasting just like your Indian friend’s mom made at home, when they invited you over for a birthday dinner at their place filling the whole neighborhood with an aroma that lasted for the next few days.

The term “Curry” has come a long way. And I don’t know which way exactly. But for the fact that this branding has helped bring the global population open its eyes and nostrils & even taste buds to Indian cuisine, I would really be furious with the British for simplifying Indian cuisine into one word. I may even spray paint my blog with red all over just to make a point. But I am not going to do that as I am just fresh with memories from my last night’s dinner with a bunch of blokes & blondes, most of who had not eaten Indian food that often before. So this dining table neighbor of mine was entrusted with the excruciating task of ordering food for 12 people. He (an Indian by the way), just needed some help to come up with mature suggestions for a mixed group. I was the only vegetarian on the table and keeping that in mind, we spent about 15 minutes trying to come up with a table full of dishes that everyone can look, dip and eat to their satisfaction.

“Make sure you order a Vindaloo”, a Texas woman from the far corner of the table uttered.

“At least we know one dish to order. Ok…let’s order 2 shrimp vindaloos and 2 chicken vindaloos”.

The brainstorming continued for a few more minutes before we finalized our list –

“4 plates of samosas, 2 plates of paneer tikka and 2 plates of kebab platter for appetizers and 1 daal makhani, 1 navaratan korma, 2 bindi masala, 2 chicken vindaloo, 2 shrimp vindaloo and 1 lamb vindaloo with some naans & kulchas.”

That’s when Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull fame) came into my ears and started singing about a tall thin girl –

“Well, I don’t care to eat out in smart restaurants.I’d rather do a Vindaloo” *

As we were driving back to the hotel, I was deeply immersed in thoughts trying to understand what it is in a vindaloo that has made it all the way to Jethro Tull. That’s when it struck me. Why aren’t there any popular vegetarian versions of the vindaloo?
Like..”Aloo Vindaloo” or “Paneer Vindaloo” or “Kofta Vindaloo” or something. May be, I will take that up as a challenge and experiment on making a vegetarian vindaloo dish soon. But what is vindaloo really?
It supposedly is of “Goan” origin or to be precise of Portuguese origin. Anything that is from Goa, I have my doubts…But this may be different. Vindaloo does not necessarily mean that it is fiery-hot even though the British have made it to be. It is just the process of slow marinated cooking in wine, with tons of spices mixed in a certain ratio.

Making vegetarian vindaloo may not be difficult after all once I get this process straight. I will try to update the blog with my vindaloo wayfaring experience when it happens.
Till that time, soak in some “hot mango flush”!

* Link for Ian Anderson’s Indian Food Guide:

http://www.j-tull.com/musicians/iananderson/indian.html

Posted in Books, Humor - General, Miscellaneous, Travel

Driving back home

Just getting back to the traveling grind is what that made my life so busy the past week. I think it is more of trying to get my bearings right in my first week on the road – not that I was really tied up. Northwest Airlines files for chapter 11 protection and I get to fly on their carrier on a Sunday afternoon. A dopey Sunday mid-morning tennis date with my sister-in-law and her husband gave Kameshwari an opportunity to show some of her recently learned skills. Nevertheless, I soon figured out I was not hitting the ball clean. This was just my second time on the tennis court this year and I realized how much I miss this game. Not long ago, I was a regular in my hometown tennis club (not to boast of the only one we had) every morning hitting the ball tough and hard against a bunch of equally enthusiastic tennis lovers who would give a run for my every run on a perfectly dried up yet closely supervised (by a hung-over tennis coach) clay court. If there was one (or 2) tennis court(s) I could swear my allegiance to for all the stroking pleasure, it would be those two – Darn! Did I owe my forehand to those 2 young chaps who arguably were of my age (about) but were inarguably smaller than me? Well. This may be called digressing…

An hour worth of tennis later, I just had an hour to pack my bags and get to the airport – After comfortably getting seated in Seat 8 A; I closed my eyes for what I thought was for a sense of rest. But 2 hours later, we were still at the gate and by the time I landed in Orlando, the reception dinner for which I was going to was definitely over. The drive to this resort was not all that bad and I was only too glad to find out that there was a Chinese restaurant right across the street which was open still at 10 PM. The next 3 days were just loads and barrels of fun interspersed with some highly drool-worthy, five-star food always laced with great desserts and the not-so-forgettable beer & wine. Oh! Did I forget to mention that I was in training for those 3 days?

After I got home at 9:30 PM on Wednesday, knowing very well that I had to make a quick drive back to the airport the next morning, I was just excited to see Nakul albeit in his sleeping posture. Driving to the airport at 4:30 AM is terrible. But it is worse when you find out after going to the airport that your flight is delayed.
I was cursing United airlines all along – I could have chosen a Northwest flight that was leaving an hour later (to keep my miles bank going). After a mad rush out of O’Hare and a long drive to my client site, I was relaxed to be in their well lit lounge.

When things go wrong, things that follow just go wrong’er’. More than 5 hours in a stationary plane that evening (almost from 6 PM to 11 PM), we were literally kicked out of the plane after all the wait – it was agonizing beyond any word in my regular & politically correct vocabulary. Painful like never before and hopefully never again. Finally at midnight, I trudged out of the plane and dashed off to the rental car counter. A Cadillac Deville just gave me some comfort on that sleep depraved-300-mile-drive night. The drive back home never felt so long. Finally, I was home at 4:50 AM.

For the simple reason I didn’t want to wake my wife up, I wanted to open the door as quietly as I could. Kameshwari probably was wondering all night long why the hell I hadn’t called her, with the slightest idea on how my new cell phone had no juice left in it. I was not successful – My many attempts to get the right key into the key hole only made her walk to the door.

“Hmm… did you drive..?”
“Yes. I did honey…”

That was my week of flight delays and airport snacks. At least Harlan Coben’s “Gone for Good” gave me some sleazy company.

Posted in Cricket, Movies - General

Ashes, Katrina and Crash

Settling down in a new job is a little exciting and could be stressful too. Fortunately I have had a relatively pleasant first two weeks at my new job and yet I found the change of environment push my blogging time down my priority ladder.

Ricky Ponting certainly did not have as pleasant a time as I did the last couple of weeks or for that matter – the entire summer. An English summer he would like to forget as he hides behind his family doors down under. English cricket finally stood firm against the Aussie tirade and not only did they stand firm but actually thrust the Kangaroos to a defensive corner throughout the Ashes. As an English supporter said, “People keep saying we have beaten the best team in the world. But they are not the best team. At least not anymore”. And what a moment of triumph it ended up being for the entire country! From John Q to the Queen every part of England had the reverberating sound of Kevin Pietersen’s willow whipping. Of course Flintoff’s heroics were not far behind. To say the least, even Shane Warne’s 40 wicket haul in the midst of his yet another off-field scandal couldn’t capture the imagination of “The Times” front page editors. I just am sad that I didn’t get to see McGrath’s face or what he used to wipe it after the series.

Katrina brought so much grief to the country that her little sister Ophelia who in any other year would have caught all the bad boys’ eyes, went largely unnoticed as she passed through the Carolinas. I followed the New Orleans tragedy as it unfolded when we were in Alaska. But I have been following all the politics and finger pointing ever since. A shame on the president whose priority was to sleep in his Texas ranch to continue his vacation, than to mobilize a cabinet meeting of some sort. Then again, what else can you expect?

The rest of this write-up is going to be about a very disturbing, yet invigorating & an intelligent movie I watched yesterday. “Crash” by Paul Haggis and written by Bobby Moresco has to be one of the best movies I have seen in the past couple of years. And as someone who is interested in screenplay writing and direction, I was blown away by the complicated plot and the intricate connections between all the sub plots. Bobby Moresco says he would feel satisfied if the movie makes people talk – Talk openly about racial issues than pretending to lead normal lives in their own prejudiced worlds. Yes. The movie is all about racism and how the stereotypes that you & I are used to seeing are so out of line with reality. The plot involves LA and the lives of many characters who are strangers to one another largely, coming together. A few shocking & agonizing moments bring some characters with some other. In the end, you can actually link every single character to every other character in some way or form even though those characters never came together in the movie.

The cast is simply powerful. There is Sandra Bullock (even though the movie is touted to be a Sandra Bullock movie, she hardly has about 15 minutes of screen time) playing an ever angry wife of the District Attorney (Brendan Fraser). There is Don Cheadle, a black cop struggling between the emotions of his drug addict mother and his runaway crook brother. Matt Dillon, Ryan Philippe and a whole line of talented actors took up this project. The spinal chord of the movie is racism and the director & writer make no apologies about filling the movie with some hatred filled, remorseful dialogues. Hence for the same reason, the movie may not be to the liking of any faint-hearted audience. There are racist lines sprinkled abundantly throughout the movie on Asians, Mexicans, Blacks, Whites and even Arabs and what makes them work is the fact that they give you chills. By the end of the movie, the characters who you hated to begin with end up getting some sympathies from you and some characters who you admired end up losing their respect with you.

But why “Crash”? – Don Cheadle says in the beginning of the movie how life in LA is boxed in metal & glass coupes (cars) and it lacks the physical touch that you see as people brush past you in busy city streets. Only a crash brings people together. Anyway, if you feel a little incomplete after watching the movie then that’s because there is no real conclusion of the story. The director/writer preferred to write about a series of incidents and have left the rest to the viewers.

So if you ever get a chance to watch this movie, do it – I am sure you will be blown away by the stark reality of this deep issue.

Posted in Travel

Beyond the ‘Last Frontier’

“Beauty in this part of the world could come in countless forms”. Or so we have read and we have heard. As our plane began its descent and arched low beyond the gathering storm clouds, we felt like we were hugging the snow top glacial peaks. It was at this moment that I realized that there is truth in every word of the above statement. This was nature in all its fulsome splendor and beauty of which form we got to experience for the first time in our lives.
Welcome to Alaska! The last frontier in the American union.

Almost nine hours after the plane departed (yes, we were on time in spite of flying NWA), we arrived at 61 degrees North of Equator – Anchorage, Alaska. 300,000 people living in the largest city of a state and the city itself measuring only about 12 miles in diameter should tell you how much of the state is inhabited. Nevertheless, the quaintness of the city with all its shoreline and the mountain tops is something to be basked in to be appreciated. Even though we had gained four hours on our physical clock, it was not an easy night to get some rest what with all the excitement and anticipation.

Our first tourist day in Alaska was going to be an easy day as we wanted to give the 16 month guy traveling with us some respite from the cruel travel and associated sundries. So we decided to visit the Alaskan Native Heritage Center (set up for tourists like us) and soak our minds in the vestiges of the Alaskan heritage. We learned quite a bit about the lives of the natives of this Arctic state by walking around this nice village set up. The houses that reside in each village depict different cultures that once inhabited Alaska. What was quite characteristic of all the cultures was the fact that the people pretty much did just one thing for their living – hunting. The kind of hunting and the expanse varied but it all happened in summer. After three hours of cultural expedition, we drove back home already thinking of the food we need for the night. The hotel staff was exceptionally nice and they even recommended a great Thai restaurant.

Alaska is filled with wildlife – the kinds that we normally do not get to see everyday even in TV and magazines. And there are about 20 odd National and State parks & reserves. It is an outdoor lover’s paradise. I had to tie my itchy hiking heels with a “not-now” band before I left for Alaska as this was a family vacation for me. Denali National park was always in the top of my personal to-do list but due to the nature of this trip and the short duration we were spending there, I had to push it to Day 4. So after lot of research and compromises, we decided to take a marine wildlife cruise / glacier tour on Thursday. Kenai Fjords National Park is located approximately 120 miles to the south east of Anchorage and the small town of Seward is seated right in the heart of it. The scenic two-hour drive to Seward on Thursday morning was beyond any drop of wild imagination. After we parked our car, we just had a minute to embark on this cruise vessel called “Glacier Explorer”.

The brackish winds caressed our bodies as the jet propelled its way out of the Resurrection peninsula on its way to the Aialik glacier. Nakul was having a blissful time as the boat cruised past some exotic sea mammals that are very much native to the Gulf of Alaska. Harbor Seals, Sea Otters, Seal Lions, Puffins and even some Humpback whales. The most laborious part of this long cruise till we got to the glacier was waiting for the whales to flap and spin. The day was quite uncharacteristically warm, bright and sunny. We knew we were fortunate that day, as the captain acknowledged that they probably get 20 such days in a year. The approach to the Aialik glacier was filled with anticipation and icebergs. As the sun’s rays refracted through this huge glacier right in front of us, we saw blue streaks running all across the glacier. We even saw the glacier calve a few tons of ice into the ocean during our short 20 minute wait in front of the most beautiful natural sight. I think the following pictures do more justice to the cruise than my words above.



Day 3 (Friday) was again planned to be a slow day because of all the seasickness the previous day’s cruise brought to the family. Kameshwari is intolerant to jerky journeys and this was definitely one such that lasted for six hours. The best way we could fill our time that day was by driving to the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center located about 45 miles to the south east of Anchorage exactly off the same highway that led us to Seaward, the previous day. Moose, Musk ox, Elk, Caribou, Black Bear, Bald Eagle, Wood Bison and of course the All-Alaskan Grizzly bear were all within our hand’s reach and within a few hundred yards away from one another in this protected outdoor area. Again the partly gloomy morning which later broke its cloud to let some sun slide in, was a perfect setting for some relaxed stroll with my son and wife.

Here are some pictures:

Rust’s flying services is one of the many flying tour providers available in the area. Another visit to Alaska in the near future seemed near impossible and hence we decided that we should take one of the Denali tours offered by the flying services to savor as much as we can in one day. A very optimal yet an expensive choice. When we walked out to the hotel lobby to check for the Rust’s shuttle driver who was scheduled to pick us up, I saw wet pavements and dripping windows. It was not raining but it had and the conditions were highly overcast. After we reached Rust’s hangar, we were told (much to our disappointment) that the conditions near Mt. McKinley were not suitable for us to fly. When we were given a cheaper option of taking a 90 minute plane ride to the Knik glacier with a lakeside landing, we agreed to it, with some gloom. I don’t think I would regret that decision because the float-by plane experience has now become one of the most adventurous trips that I had ever taken. As we hopped on to the floating plane (the lake is basically the runway), I realized the interiors were more like an average Indian auto rickshaw. I was even sitting as close to the pilot as I would to the auto driver. The pilot control board was very simple and one quick look, I could make out what is what. The take-off was noisy and the rest of the plane ride was noisier. As the De Havilland aircraft found its way above the land and settled down, we were in for a great sight right below us. We flew over a forest and we spotted some mountain goats. Nakul was taking a long nap on my lap while Kameshwari’s focus was on how to avoid barfing in the plane. The aerial view of the glaciers we flew over was breathtaking and it was a totally different experience than having a frontal view of the same. We had a quick Lake George landing to get a frontal glimpse of the Knik glacier and soon we were on our noisy way back to the Rust’s hangar.

Alaskan State Fair was in the bottom of our list but we had to drop that idea and instead chose a wet evening stroll along the Saturday market area. It was more of a flea market set up but a little more tourist-centric. We found a few nice souvenirs to buy before it was time to drive back to the hotel for our last night there in this trip.

In four days and the eleven hours we spent in Anchorage, Alaska, I don’t recall a dull moment. The weather was relatively kinder to us and 60 degree days were more than we could ask for, even though our 4th day was a little damp. Except for the Denali disappointment, we indulged in all activities including certain “moosecellaneous” ones, in the most optimum way we could as a family – But I am sure my next trip to Alaska will include a backpacking trek in Denali, a trying-my-luck with gold panning and weather permitting, a fly-by tour over Mt. McKinley.

Alaska may have been the 49th state of the Union. But it was state no. 41 in my list – I have 9 more to go.