Inspired by Life

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Channeling my inner Julia Child...

...i ventured to cook something completely new and even Bake!!! I love to cook and that is a terrible understatement. I take my friends' comments like "Have you thought about opening up your own restaurant?" and "You should make this your career", to mean that they like what I cook.

Aaron, my fiance, usually manages to get a "hmmm.. soo delicious Honey!" before he delves in and does not come up for air till his plate is licked clean :D I love cooking for him - he is the best recipient of all recipes I try - the good and the bad ones. I am keeping a recipe journal now, of the ones that I cook and like and they will become part of my family cookbook.

Well, yesterday, I was certainly ambitious but I know that Julia Child would have supported me all the way. I decided to make a slow cooker recipe - Beef with Apples & Sweet Potatoes. Savory meat recipe, with the meat just melting in your mouth, mixed with the sweet taste of apples and sweet potatoes! Oh wow! I also wanted to make homemade dinner rolls and bake an apple pie. The first recipe - no worries, I have used my crock pot before, but baking??? Who was I kidding - the only type of baking we did in India was ourselves, out in the sun, just baking to a slow death - the kind where your skin is still warm long after the sun goes down and you know that just can't be good!

So I found this video of how to make simple dinner rolls and you know what?? They were delicious!!! Smelled heavenly and tasted just fantastic! Aaron and our friend Scott, could not stop eating the rolls. I made two dozen and have only 3 left! I am sure that Julia Child was very proud of me for trying to do something that I had never had the confidence to do before - BAKE! The apple pie, however, was another story...the apples were a bit too soggy..will have to work on that..maybe I was a bit too ambitious - but when i think about Julia chopping up a Mt. Everest of onions in the film, I am comforted by the fact that I have not attempted the impossible :D

In the end, I was thrilled, as I usually am when I am learning something new in the kitchen, and so were Aaron and Scott for partaking in the experiments. I loved it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sula - Toni Morrison

This is the first novel I have read by Toni Morrison. I saw the movie Beloved but it seemed too dark and depressing for me at the time. Maybe I might feel different now.

I found a copy of this book at Half Price Books, and thought I should try to read at least one Toni Morrison book before dismissing the author completely based on a movie. It turned out to be quite an interesting read - descriptive of the "Bottom" - this town that the blacks had inhabited; funny at times; language fitting the times and expressing things in a way that only those words could express; odd splattering of characters; the friendship of these two little girls Nel and Sula, that grows as they grow older and realize they are different and not as singular as they once thought they were; the paths that they take in life and the sprinkling of the townspeople who are also a major part of the book - they act as one moving character, defining the Bottom.

Very raw and matter of fact at times, yet leading the reader to draw their own conclusions about their own reactions to the unfolding story. Written as bits and pieces of memories stitched together in time, it jumps back and forth a bit but not hard to follow along. The characters are funny, real, contradictory. The segregation of blacks and how the blacks themselves viewed it; the segregation even amongst themselves, when they shun and almost fear Sula when she returns to the Bottom after having been gone for 10 years is an interesting dynamic to think about.

Each woman suffers from her own failings as much as from the expectations of others, and not one of them is able to salvage much from the ashes of her sacrifices. - taken from a review on Amazon but it described what I wanted to say so well, so I used it.

All in all, a good read.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To Keep or Not to Keep? That is THE question!

Can someone explain to me how a person who came to this county with 3 suitcases to her name, would need to rent a U haul Van to move all her things out of her 1 bedroom after just 1.5 years of being back???

How is it that we tend to accumulate things that seem to matter a whole lot when we buy them and then lose their attraction, slip under the radar to the back of the closet or under the bed, where we are no longer influenced by them?

How in the world, are we able to fit ALL those things we accumulate in one small bedroom, and then when we move, it just seems to explode into 3 bedrooms worth of stuff?

And if you have the tenacity to answer those three questions, answer me this:
How do you decide what to keep and what not to keep? The million-dollar question, right?

I was unnerved by the amount of "stuff" I had accumulated. I know that sounds like I am a pack rat. I am not - I periodically give away things that I am not using or tired of using, and have donated to Goodwill a fairly decent amount each year. But even still, I was appalled at the number of boxes I had to move! The one thing I will make no excuses for keeping are my BOOKS! They are my treasures! They have always been!

Back to things to keep and things to not keep. Is there a particular method to the madness? How do you distinguish between what you keep and what you give away and what you throw out? Do you give away things that you have not used in over a year or so? Like clothes you hope to fit into again but just know that is not going to happen; shoes that are starting to look tattered but no one can tell in the dark and they are oh so comfy to dance in; a drawer full of big loose old, tshirts that may even have holes in them, that you are saving for when you do that garden project or when you paint, but has not happened in over 2 years?

How about those old magazines that promise the greatest of articles that you have always wanted to read, yet they are collecting dust in a pile under your bed; or a ragged plastic bag that is filled with telephone cables, USB cables, AV three pin cables, wires, adapters, old cell phone chargers to phones you no longer have? Or even, that old filing box with bills and statements to accounts long closed and houses that you no longer live in, or old car maintenance statements to a car that you sold a few years ago? We never throw them away because we only realize we have them when we are moving and it is too stressful to take the time to sit down and go through all that piece by piece. We tell ourselves, we'll throw that out after I move into the new place. Yeah riiight!!!

So, people, tell me how you have gotten rid of those dust-covered, cobweb-ridden things? What do you put in your Keep pile and your Toss pile?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Quote of the week #1

"Don't miss the opportunity of a lifetime because you fail to seize it in the lifetime of the opportunity" - Jeffrey R. Holland

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

I have just finished reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. Mesmerizing, familiar in terms of names and traditions, it captures the intricacies of human behavior and relationships. I am always amazed at a human being’s power to endure, to go on living, to survive beyond all odds, to forgive and the amazing capacity to love.

I find myself always drawn to books – fiction and non-fiction – that tell a story of another’s suffering, and how they sometimes overcome it and sometimes don’t. But the weaving of these stories in which people are shaped and changed forever, where hopes and dreams are dashed in some and in others where they are lived beyond their wildest imaginations, where they have overcome insurmountable barriers to make a life for themselves, like the ones they have always wanted – these stories capture my attention and I am hooked – I find myself always intrigued by the fact that we are capable of so much and yet we doubt ourselves every step of the way.

I am strengthened by these stories; I am alive in their lives, their tears, their laughter and their relationships. I learn forgiveness, I learn of unconditional love and I learn of the brilliance and tenderness of the minds that have scripted these stories and woven them in these little intricate threads of words, like glimmering necklaces that you cannot help but stare at and want to touch and be a part of.

I am amazed at how much sorrow a heart can bear, how much pain a life can endure, how much silence a tortured soul can suffer – with just a glimmer of hope. Hope for the future, hope for love, hope for a family, hope for children. I always find it interesting that in these stories as in real life, when all is said and done, one soul / human searches for that lasting happiness in another human relationship and not the “need” for money, wealth, fame or glamour – they are kept alive with the hope of being reunited with their loved ones, or the hope of creating something that would bring joy to others instead of the sorrow they have suffered. It is all we have – each other.

I am kept alive each day with the memories of my family who live a world away yet they live in my heart and in my soul and are always so alive in me. I keep them alive by talking to them, about them, sharing stories about them, remembering the way my mother smells when I snuggle up to her, the way she throws her loving arms around me and gathers me close to her chest - that place from which unconditional love flows, her perfect teeth when she smiles, her chuckling laughter and her amazing wisdom and patience.

I hang on to the memories of my father - the best daddy a girl could ask for - always cracking jokes that we have memorized way better than anything else, his jokes that always find their way into every single conversation my family ever has, it is his way of never being too far away from our thoughts, the way my father smiles at us and his very infectious laughter that makes us want to laugh with him, the way he used to play with us, take care of us, carry us in his arms when we were little, dance with us as we grew older, how he loves to read and stays up all night reading ( I get this from him and so does my sister), how he rides his bicycle to the market even till this day after surviving 3 heart attacks, how he used to ring his bell and we would come flying out of the house to see him. Every time I call home, there is a new joke and a new wave of lovely laughter I share with my dad.

My sister and I have a bond that is made in heaven and will last for all eternity. We are one. Words fail to describe what she means to me and how life's twists and turns are easier to deal with knowing I have her there - one who is flesh and blood and soul to my soul. I describe no further for fear that tears will course down my cheeks steadily into the wee hours of the morning and i will be left with an aching soul for my dear family.

And yet, I am here in the United States, so far away from them physically, letting life takes its course, growing up and moving forward, and learning the art of keeping those I love the most alive, by honoring them in thought, word and deed, by loving them with all my heart, my taking risks and living life, by feeling the rainbow of emotions one feels in such situations and learning to still live through it all, like the characters in the stories I read and like the family I so cherish.

I am learning.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Farmers' Market on Thursdays.

How I love them! They remind me all at once of India - the open markets with fresh vegetables and fruits and flowers, kids playing around, parents haggling for prices with the vendors, and lots of food everywhere.

Aaron and I love going to Farmers Markets and have been to the one in San Francisco at the Ferry building a few times. But we found out about this Farmers Market by accident. We had just moved to this area and were reading the City Newsletter and the Thursdays Farmers Market was advertised. Filled with excitement, we hurried after work to Todos Santos Plaza and were very pleasantly surprised! The park was bustling with activity, yummy food smells wafted in the air and gave you a frenzy and craving for everything, all at once, people sitting on the grass, standing in lines, pushing strollers, carrying kids on their shoulders, all kinds of people - black, white, asian, hispanic, filipino, indian, - you name it! Fresh fruit and vegetables stalls dot the outer perimeter of the market and one can sample just about anything...this year the nectarines and peaches have really shined through and I love the dramatic colors and juicy samples we get to try as we walk along. I have to pry Aaron off the samples with some tremendous force, if not, he might just walk off with the sample containers under his arms :) For those of you who know Aaron, you know this must be heaven for him - among piles of fruit!!!

We have some favorite things we like to eat and buy at this place.
1. Baked Potato - the largest baked potato I have ever seen, loaded with sour cream, green onions, cheese and bacon..all for only $5!!!
2. East & West Gourmet Afghan Food - Spinach Bolani ( looks like a large tortilla folded in half and stuffed with Spinach) with sun-dried tomatoes sauce and plain yogurt.. Delish! They also make a killer Baklava - homemade Afghani Food.
3. Home Maid Company - these guys make the best pasta & sauces and spreads I have ever tasted from a Farmers Market. I had one sample of Tony's Garlic Parmesan Spread and I was a fan for life. This stuff is fantastic and I have cleaned out half the container with a box of Ritz crackers.. simply mouth-watering!
4. Freshly baked Sweet Potato Bread, Walnut Bread, etc. So moist and stays for days ( if it lasts that long!).

But the best is yet to come. So as part of the Thursdays Farmers Market, there is also LIVE MUSIC!! It livens up the place and brings all the people together. The first time we went, it was a band called the Houserockers who played some fun rock hits and the tie-dyed ladies were in full swing dancing freely to rock and woodstock music. This is usually followed up with a movie on the grass in the park.. Isn't this just the most awesome Farmers' Market ever???

This past Thursday, there was an all black men band channeling the Motown Singers. It was amazing! The crowd was on its feet and they stayed there for an hour, kids dancing, parents keeping the beat and just letting the music wash over them. I looked around while Aaron and I were dancing away as well, at the faces around me. Young and old, black and white, a Chicano man singing his heart out to The Temptations, a Chinese lady feeling the need to jump up and cry out - I love is that feeling of oneness, the feeling of I belong to a community, to a culture that embraces all as one, where people hug each other for the sheer joy of it, and dance to the tunes that these bands play as one unifying electrifying mass of movement! It is always exhilarating...

Of course, Aaron feels bound by some unspoken law that when music is played, no matter where, he is supposed to dance. And the old ladies love his craziness and his free, fun-loving spirit and dance with him. I sway to the tunes and bop to the beat and am fairly under control but I let him go loose and have a good time. We have the best times together and Farmers Markets are a fun way to get to know your neighbors, your neighborhood and be involved in the community in your own small way.

If you have never been to one, you should go. They may not all be as fun as ours, but it is a great way to eat healthy and have fun!!!

Western Union

...has left me feeling not very united to them at all. I have used Western Union for years, no very consistently but it has been the only mode of wiring money to my family in India.

It was my mother's birthday last week and I had promised to send my sister some money to help buy her a gift. It literally took me 3 days to get that taken care of due to the mess they made of a simple transaction.

First, they would not let me send money online as my bank did not approve it. I thought I had entered the wrong numbers. But I get the same error message again. Of course, it is the middle of the night here and the middle of the day in India, where my sister is expecting to pick up the money any time.

So I try the phone. I call Customer Service and tell them I want to send the money. They go through the whole process of verifying and setting up the transaction, only to be told that it could not be approved and they had no idea why. After being persistent, I am told that based on the information I had given them, it could not be verified. I was baffled by two things, I had given them no more information other than my name and phone number, and they just told me they were verifying the whole thing!!! By now I am frustrated and just let it go and go to bed.

After going thru several different wa