Pure Randomness!

Pure Randomness!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I found no aloo in my vindaloo

The delicacies of Goa:
For me vacation means not having a todo list to look into every 30 minutes. But the next thing about a vacation is the food. I love food and I love eating. But I am not as lucky as I was 10 years back with eating, as I tend to put on weight now a days. Some actress or model has famously said that "no food tastes as good as being thin". That is not true for me. For me a lot of food taste better than being thin. But I don't want to be fat either. So I go in for the balancing act between eating and still not eating too much. The only time when this balance tilts a little to the eating too much side is when I am on vacation. This was true while in Goa on my last vacation too. We ate at restaurants with waiters in crisp uniforms, with waiters who bring water with one finger in it and all the variants in between. We ate at a bar in which the owner barked "upstairs" even before I entered. Once my eyes got used to the dim light inside I saw a bar full of men at various stages of drunkenness staring at us and realised why he shouted. But that bar was where I had my best meal from this travel. So food was one major (if not "the" major) part of my vacation in Goa.

When we were on our way back to the airport, we were comparing notes on which meal was our best meal and I realised disappointingly that I should have kept notes on each meal and the restaurant and it would have been fodder for a good blog. Then I thought at least I can write on the dishes I have had. So here goes a small list of dishes I tried in Goa and my take on them.

Serradura - I already wrote about this earlier. So this looks like the winner, nah, it was just that it was the easiest for me to even think about trying. But still, this is a yummy dessert.

Dodol - Dodol tasted somewhat like Kerala halva. It was not as firm as halva, so it almost felt like someone set out to make halva and got tired towards the end and said this is enough and left it a little loose. May be I tasted this at the wrong place, so I didn't take to it that much. But still worth trying out. Here is a recipe and pictures for the same from Flavours of Mumbai.

Costaz Bebinca
Bebinca - I started eating bebinca on the same day I landed in Goa and kept eating almost everyday till I found Serradura. I also picked up 2 packets of bebinca to share with friends and family back home. It is like a layered Kerala halva and very delicious, especially when eaten with ice-cream. I thought I will make it, but when I saw the 9 egg yolks in the recipe, I have postponed it. I hate recipes which ask either for egg yolk or egg white alone. I don't know what to do with the other part. I have to plan to make 2 recipes together sometime. Here is the recipe for bebinca.

Balchao - Balchao is a spicy, vinegary gravy and I ate the pork version of it in Goa. It is terribly spicy and almost made me faint. I couldn't find a pork balchao recipe, but here is one for a prawn one. It looks like prawn balchao is more popular than pork balchao.
Xacuti - Xacuti is also a spicy dish, again with the vinegary flavour, its special ingredient being poppy seeds. Here is a recipe for a fish xacuti. This one made me cry but I didn't faint.

Vindaloo - I have been looking forward to eating vindaloo as much as I was looking forward to jumping into the sea. But every time I ended up eating vindaloo I searched for the aloo (potato) in the vindaloo, sometimes even rolling my eyes at the unsuspecting waiter, when I found no aloo. Vindaloo is also another spicy gravy together with, hold your breath, vinegar. The colour of this gravy being darkish brown from the almost burnt onion made into paste with vinegar. I figured after a few disappointments that traditionally, vindaloo doesn't contain any aloo. But even now I feel it would taste good with potato in the gravy and if ever I plan to make vindaloo, I will make with aloo. Here is a recipe for the traditional chicken vindaloo without the aloo.

Sorpotel - Sorportel is almost liked pickled meet, small pieces of parboiled meat cooked in a vinegar based gravy. I ate this on the first day I landed in Goa and never managed to find it again. I am not much of a meat cook, so I wonder whether I will ever make it also.

Ambot tik - Finally one dish which is not flavoured sour by adding vinegar, but this is still sour but with tamarind.  This dish is mostly made with fish and that too shark. In all the savoury dishes I have here, this might be the only one I will cook. Here is the recipe. For all the other dishes I will wait till I go to Goa again. Or in case you decide to make any of these, please let me know. I can become the helper and taster, rolled in one.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My first bundt cake

November 15th is supposed to be national bundt day (which nation? some far away nation, hmm that is not the point). I didn't know what a bundt cake was 2 months back, so I don't expect you to know either, but if you knew what a bundt cake is, you are way cooler than me. So here is Wikipedia coming for our help - Bundt Cake (finally I paid up, couldn't handle the guilt any more :) ). I came across this information about bundt day from the food librarian whose blog I keep visiting very regularly. I love the pictures which she puts up there and also the recipes. After reading about the national bundt day, I decided it is the perfect time to use the bundt baking pan which I have picked up 2 months back while on a shopping spree for baking stuff.

When we wanted to make a cheese cake for the cooking-together-saturday, Lisa asked Shyam to pick up some cream cheese. The recipe called for 500g of cream cheese and Shyam picked up 1000 rupees worth of cream cheese. Since Lisa thought it is criminal to use 1000 rupees worth of cream cheese in one go, she halved all the ingredients and made the cake. That means I am left with the rest of the cream cheese in my fridge and I wanted to use that too in the bundt day baking. So I ended up with this Martha Stewart's recipe for a pound cake which I decided to bake in my bundt pan.

If you notice there is no baking powder in the recipe which caused slight hesitation. Then we decided to follow the recipe anyway. I didn't expect the cake to rise since there was no baking powder, but then it started rising and there appeared some cracks on top of the cake. Then when I checked back on the Martha Stewart page I found the picture out there also has a cake with a crack. But when I wanted to take a picture we decided to make some icing to cover up the crack, so there went some more of the cream cheese and some sugar.

Obviously if I want to post the blog for the bundt day, I need pictures. Then I realised when I have something delicious sitting in front of me I don't have the patience to take 350 pictures to select the best out of it. 5 pictures and the cake was inside my mouth. It turned out really rich (all that cream cheese) and moist, dense and real yummm. Only there was a slight buttery after taste, reason for which I need to figure out and fix next time.

Next day morning I decided to take some pictures of the cake in the garden. While out I saw many butterflies around. Then I became ambitious, I wanted the picture of the cake with a butterfly in the background. It was a wait for sometime before I managed to do that and I realised that I needed a larger depth of field to get both visible. But before the butterfly flew away, I managed to change the focus and got that in another frame, but I forgot to turn the cake around. Next time I will do a better job, promise :)

Common Grass yellow with my cream cheese cake

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I am really scared when it comes to cooking. Once I have decided to cook/bake something, I will keep reading, re-reading the recipe. Find alternate recipes, check them also and do a lot of stalling before I actually set out to do it. This prepping-me-up time could be any where from 1 month up. I have a list of things which I want to cook stuck up on my fridge. This includes marshmallows, pav bhaji, cupcakes, .... I made this list 2 months back and the only thing I have tried in this list is cupcakes. I baked my first batch of cupcakes a month back and took them to office to my colleagues. After that day, I have colleagues who tell me they won't come to my meetings if I don't bring something baked and others who just give me ultimatums and specify what they want baked and brought. But I just keep waiting, may be because the doubt on the outcome is what is so scary for me.
I liked Serradura, which the very friendly waiter made me taste in Goa. I liked it so much that I came back the next day for lunch again and sprinted through the main course so I could reach Serradura. So when I was back in Bangalore I searched for the recipe and kept reading and re-reading. But it was surprising that I did it within one week of getting back. 
Serradura or Macau sawdust pudding is a no cook dessert, very rich, with just cream, condensed milk and crushed biscuits in it. Very simple. The recipe is available here.   
But the consistency of the cream is important (now I know :) ). This was the first time I was beating cream to get it into soft peaks and then hard peaks. I kept beating and checking for the peaks, they just never came. Then when I realised that the cream is turning to butter I stopped, added the condensed milk and set them into cappuccino cups layered with the crushed biscuits. In the Serradura which I ate in Goa there was just a small layer, rather a sprinkling of biscuit on top alone. But the recipes I read call for a more generous layering. So I layered rather generous amounts.
Here comes the reason of my being scared, fear of failure. The dessert turned out nothing like I had eaten in Goa. But on its own, it was still ok, if I scoop out the creamy concoction without too much of the saw dust. The friends on whom I have experimented had not eaten it earlier, so they couldn't complain. But I have learned from the experience is that, if you are scared of something, just go ahead and do it. I follow this when I need to do something in front of an audience, just go do it and sit back and watch the fun, especially when there are others to follow. But this holds good when it comes to cooking also. So what was I scared about; some wasted ingredients and some bad comments. Nah, strike off the first one, it is just the second. So from now on, it is "Just do it".

Sunday, November 13, 2011

White Balance in Photography

I have always been interested in photography, that is how I ended up couriering 5Kgs of snaps when I came back to Bangalore from Holland. But that was the time before I got myself a digital camera. My familiarity with digital cameras were limited to the ones I saw with the Japanese tourists in Bruges. Now that I have moved to a DSLR (thanks to Shyam), there is so much more I can do in photography. But I am a novice here and am learning every day, or at least every day I pick up the camera. So here is one I have learned recently. Setting the correct white balance in the camera.

There are a lot of articles about white balance available already in the web. So by repeating those I am not writing anything new. In case you are interested check these links out.

When I have seen the instructions for setting the white balance in the tutorial video, being the lazy bum I am, I said how much difference can it make anyway. Oh ya, of course I have seen the pictures, but remember, I am terribly lazy. 

So when I took this picture, I said there is something wrong, the colors are not bright enough, they should be springing out at me. So I decided to try setting the white balance in my camera. I tried focusing on a white paper and set it, I thought it was not very accurate. So I cut off a small piece of wax paper, stuffed it inside my UV filter and set the white balance and tried it. Here are the results. I guess, this actually is going to make me set the white balance every time I am going to do any serious photography.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Butterflies in my garden

This is my 50th post. So what? Oh! Don't ask me, so what. I just noticed, so I mentioned. Nothing special. Phew! You are sometimes rude.

I have been thinking about documenting the butterflies which visit my garden, But then butterflies, just like long-billed sun-birds, do not like getting photographed and it is quite some work running behind them to get a picture in which they are stable and in-focus. Then I found out that the secret of getting the right picture is not about running behind them tirelessly, but being patient and sitting, waiting at the right place without wearing any perfume or insect repellent. You just have to live with the mosquitoes and the rashes they give. So I said forget it, let me document the stationary objects in my garden. I have quite some exotic fruits (figs, exotic for my garden), vegetables (Italian heirloom tomatoes) and spices (cardamom, pepper) in my garden. That didn't sound very challenging, I told myself if I can get 10 distinct butterflies captured in my camera I will blog on them, forget them being in-focus. So here I go with my far away from perfect pictures. The idea is to just document the butterflies, photographing them beautifully is for sometime later.
Common Bluebottle
I have not seen many blue bottles in my garden. This could have been one rare visit or it visits at particular times in the year. But this is one pretty butterfly I would like to see much more of it in my garden.

Common Grass Yellow
Common grass yellows are there in my garden whenever there is sun shining and always near the globe amaranth plant. I just had to sit quietly near the plant for 5-6 minutes for them to come back and sit on the flower for me to take the picture.

Common Leopard
 I don't see common leopard any more in my garden. The day it appeared, I had at least 3-4 and I managed to take pictures. But not any more.

Common Baron
 Common barons also don't visit my garden now a days. It is quite possible that the character of my garden has changed in such a way that the butterflies which visit have also changed drastically.

Common Mormon - female and male
Common Mormon is one butterfly which visits my garden in it old and new form. But the problem with this butterfly is that it is very difficult to capture it staying still (for me), look at its fluttering wings. At least the male is better captured.

Crimson Rose
Crimson Rose is the winner, or at least so I thought till I saw some other. May be because this is the first one without a "common" at its front. It is also one of the regulars in my garden then and also now and very pretty. But I wonder how it manages to get so dirty (see the top left one).

Blue Mormon
Currently Blue Mormon is the winner, may be because it is the newest visitor to my garden. But I already saw a caterpillar of this on one of my curry leaf plants. What a pity that I didn't take a picture when I saw it, as it disappeared from the plant the next time when I checked. I couldn't find the caterpillar or the chrysalis anywhere nearby. And once Shyam saw the curry leaf plant he complained "YOUR caterpillar has eaten MY curry leaves."

Common Crow
A garden is not a garden without Common Crow. But what I am waiting to see is, it's pupa and chrysalis.

Common Bushbrown
I can say the same as common crow for Common Bushbrown also, but then my garden started getting, or at least I have started noticing them only recently.

I have a few more butterfly pictures. But I am just too lazy to go about identifying them or editing them properly, so these 9 would do. Since I fell short of my target of 10, I will compensate with this one.

I have absolutely no idea which butterflies caterpillar this is. But these managed to eat away one whole crape jasmine plant of mine.

Tomorrow is Saturday, may be it is time again for me to pick up the camera and go into the garden and this time do some serious photography (get them in focus, basically).

Disclaimer: I am not an authority in butterflies, so in case I have made a mistake by wrongly identifying any of these beauties, please let me know.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Things I learnt today - 1

Every day we learn, may be every moment we are awake we are learning something new. This happens without us really knowing. I used to learn a lot when I was teaching my kids. But sometimes we do know, especially when I start thinking that it is time I start paying Wikipedia, I know. But not all of them are from Wikipedia indeed.

Learning 1- Size of excel sheet:- The file I use for tracking some milestones and action points for one of my projects suddenly became 5.5MB from 42KB after one update. When I open that file it takes a few seconds to open and it saves also very slowly. I scratched my head for 2 days and asked a few people, but couldn't find the reason or a solution. I have not added any macros, neither any images. Then I started playing around with it and tried going to the end of each sheet using Ctrl-END. In one sheet the cursor ended in row 1048565 where as it should have reached only the 25th row. Ha! I would have formatted the sheet by selecting the entire sheet somehow and managed to make the excel think that there is data till that row. Anyway I copy pasted the 25 rows into a new sheet, deleted the old one and saved. Tada! Size of excel changed from 5.5 MB to 49KB.

Learning 2- Difference between moths and butterflies:- I have the picture of a butterfly, or so I thought, sitting on my curtain inside my house. I sent it to my butterfly group for identification as I wanted to put it in my butterfly post (coming soon) I was preparing. Rahul replied telling it is an owl moth and not a butterfly. Huh! I had thought that moths were hairy and doesn't look as good as butterflies. But no, this moth looks pretty. There comes Wikipedia for help, there is indeed a page on the difference between butterflies and moths. The first and foremost is the way in which their feelers are made. Butterflies have a club at the end of their feelers and moths don't. There are many more differences listed, but I was pretty happy with this one.
Owl Moth
Learning 3- There are toilet gods:- I just don't want to tell anything more in this one. But there are, I swear.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Oh, all these connections!

I finished my 11-day trip to Goa yesterday and together with that finished reading "A short history of nearly everything" by Bill Bryson. There is nothing much to do in Goa, no, not much for 11 days, other than to go jump in the sea and romp around (I still have sea water in my ears )and eat. Eat, we did, fish and then fish and then more fish and some bebinca and then some serradura (more on these later). In between the romping and the eating, managed to visit a bird sanctuary, an archaeological museum, a cathedral and a church. But still 11 days is too much and though I have started reading the said book a few days before we started our journey, I just didn't reach beyond the first few pages. So it was "the" book for the trip.
The book is an awesome book and I really loved the author's style of writing. but the para that touched me the most is the following. I read and re-read the para as I was stunned by the multi layered reasons for various things which I have never connected up earlier. So here goes:

"Bipedalism is a demanding and risky strategy. It means refashioning the pelvis into a full load-bearing instrument. To preserve the required strength, the birth canal in the female must be comparatively narrow. This has two very significant immediate consequences and one longer-term one. First, it means a lot of pain for any birthing mother and a greatly increased danger of fatality to mother and baby both. Moreover, to get the baby's head through such a tight space it must be born while its brain is still small - and while the baby, therefore, is still helpless. This means long-term infant care, which in turn implies solid male-female bonding."

Now, reflect on this.

p.s: Bipedalism means moving around on 2 legs like human beings than on four like most other animals.