Friday Feature: Faces of India

Where: Industrial Design Centre (IDC), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Bombay)
What: IDC is considered to be the best design centre in India for programs in several disciplines of industrial design. As we walked around, we noticed that the students painted the door to their lab, giving it their own signature touch. The building itself was a cheery departure from the staid and the standard. Dappled sunshine bathes the building through one of my favorite trees—which my friend Anita will identify very shortly. Until she wakes up, take a look at some of the Doors of IDC and my favorite tree!

Feeding those Cravings

The Vietnamese really know how to do it right. For me, that is. My throat would be parched from the incessant humid heat and they would welcome me with a mild jasmine iced tea, always on the house.

Iced tea on arrival

Rejuvenated, I could then focus on the task at hand: ordering a steaming hot meal! In this case, Mì Quảng, a noodle soup from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. According to our driver and guide, it is like Pho but with a lot less water.

Mì Quảng

Sunday Snapshots: Setting off to Sea

We spent a couple of days in a small town by the beach in Ninh Thaun Province of Vietnam called Phan Rang, as the second ceremony for our friend's wedding was to be held here. Phan Rang is often described by tourists as "nothing to do, nothing to see." That, by itself, made it very attractive to us. No crowds, lots of relaxation and plenty of quality time together. We did face a language issue but it wasn't anything that a Vietnamese-English dictionary did not help resolve. Phan Rang has a twin city called Thap Cham, which is slightly bigger but since we are averse to cities, we stayed put at Phan Rang even though the beach was murky and the sea was a tad too rough. Until we discovered that the time to go into the sea was just before dawn. The otherwise-deserted beach came alive with local swimmers and fisherfolk.

Time to let go

I go through this every December. And then again, the day after New Year's Day. Rage grips me and oozes out of my pores until I rationalize, calm myself down, revert to a baseline of choosing to remember only the meaningful...and all is well in my little world again.

Soon after she died, we were informed that she had died at an inopportune time. Yes, according to the panchang, her exact time of death was inauspicious. I remember the scene vividly. My uncle, downcast and apologetic, as he stood there in our living room—my mother's living room. My sister exploded as she was wont to; whereas I stared at him, hurt and bewildered. Who chooses their time of death? Hadn't she suffered enough? That, even in death, you want her to suffer more, I accused him and his generation of believers. It was a while before he was able to get through to us. It wasn't about her anymore, he implored, it was about us.

Sunday Snapshots: Reluctant Elephant Ride

There we were, being led into the classic tourist trap: an elephant ride. We had successfully avoided it last year in Jaipur, India and each one of us was very clear that we did not want to be party to ill-treating of this gentle giant. We told Mr. Bay (Bah-ee), our driver and guide, that we would ride only if we got good vibes. My thoughts were: Why? Why ride at all? But there was no clear answer. We ride horses and camels, attach bulls and cows to carts; so how was riding an elephant any different? I'm not sure. It just didn't feel right.

We drove along Tuyen Lam Lake in the Central Highlands of Vietnam to a nature sanctuary and then walked about a quarter mile into the sanctuary to an idyllic spot by the lake. Huts with thatched roofs, a large wooden deck on the lake, and an elephant. It was not chained, the first good vibe. We spent a lot of time with the elephant, feeding it, talking to it, marveling at it. I think we deluded ourselves that we were getting to know it. My question, however, remained.

Medha was the first to give the go-ahead just as she had been the first to raise the red flag in Jaipur. This child has great instincts when it comes to animals—something I lack—so I gave in. Mr. Bay rushed to get the mahout; if he could have skipped and done a cartwheel along the way, he probably would have. What I saw next touched me immensely.

Mahout and elephant, conversing

In The Kitchen With Lisa and Zarah

It's not everyday that you get invited over to make Pho. That may be partly because authentic Pho is not made at home as often anymore. It's a day-long process—one that involves chopping, toasting, grilling, simmering, with a healthy dose of patience. It could be turned into a day of laughter, sharing and bonding. And that's exactly what we did.

Back in August, when my friend Zarah offered to teach us the Art of Making Pho, my lovely neighbor Lisa and I signed up instantly. We were already hooked onto the Vietnamese shrimp rolls with dipping sauce, both of which Zarah makes effortlessly. Born in the Philippines, Zarah married into a traditional Vietnamese family, where her mother-in-law trained her to cook homestyle Vietnamese food. Zarah is a woman of many talents, apart from being very hard-working. She used to own and manage an ethnic Asian grocery store, working long hours to sustain her family. Today she is a successful real estate agent in Boulder County. As charming as she is funny, there's never a dull moment when Zarah is around!

Lisa is an angel. She's also my neighbor. If I had to describe Lisa in a few words, I would simply say this: Lisa embraces. She casts a supportive net and welcomes you into her clan. I am particularly in awe of her parenting skills. Her three children, each very different from the other, stand testimony to the sheer breadth of her skills.

Lisa and Zarah, two awesome women

Friday Feature: Faces of India

What: Dried Fruit and Nut Stores, big and small, narrow and wide
Where: Old Delhi / Delhi Sector 6 / Chandni Chowk

fancy gift packs

Of uncertain origins

I had a dilemma on my hands recently: a half gallon of 2% lactose-free organic milk lay languishing in my refrigerator. It's more expensive than regular milk and I did not want to see it go waste. I tried lacing my tea with it, only to have mugfuls of tea remain unfinished and untouched. Given how I felt about it, there was no question of getting help from the other two members of my family.

Yogurt seemed like the only solution but I wasn't sure that I could make yogurt from lactose-free milk. I reasoned that since the lactose in this milk has already been broken down into its constituent glucose and galactose—something that the lactobacilli does, in the yogurt-making process—it seemed like it would be a worth a try, at the very least. Then I found this post, Homemade Yogurt with Lactose-free Milk, which confirmed my train of thought.

But, what if the yogurt was as powdery as the milk? I needed something to mask that distasteful quality about lactose-free milk. Then I remembered how delighted I was last December when Anita had yanked me into a teeny little shop in Chandni Chowk that sold Bengali mithai. There was barely enough room for all of us to stand. Little earthenware kulhads were handed to us, filled with creamy thick sweetened yogurt. Yes! I had finally tasted mishti doi.

is that look telling or what?

Friday Feature: Faces of India

What: Street Food
Where: Delhi 6 (just like the movie!)

Crowded, sweaty, cacophonous, in-your-face; it was sensory overload personified.

These pictures were shot as we walked fast in Old Delhi or Delhi Sector 6. The smells wafting from these street carts were incredibly enticing but since we had wills of steel and stomachs made of jello, the best I could do was take pictures as Anita pushed us peering tourists along.

Daulat ki chaat (milk foam)

So Much Deep-fried Fun!

We've had two big snowstorms, exactly a week apart; the second bringing us 9.5 inches of snow. It was not as wet and heavy as the first but since my trees are still stubbornly holding on to their leaves, it does get a tad bit distressing. But, luckily, since my tree care guy had pruned all the wayward branches, my trees did not suffer any further damage.

Icy Maple
Icy maple

The fun class at the Denver Botanic Gardens seemed like it was such a long time ago!

A White Diwali!

Happy Diwali to all my friends!

Happy Diwali
Love, light and happiness

It's a White Diwali for us here in Colorado. Even if it feels more like Christmas, I'm hoping that the treats I will make today remind us that it is indeed Diwali.

October snowstorms are more the norm, than the exception, around here. We saw our first snow on October 8, much after the mountains had their tryst with the fluffy white stuff. Except that, in October, the snow is more wet and heavy, than powdery and fluffy.

Already? Yes, already.

My trees don't shed their leaves until well into November, making October storms a little stressful. Luckily, my yard is not the damage zone that it was in 2009, when we got over 20 inches of snow. But shaking big huge trees is not easy and the taller branches remain bent under the weight of the heavy snow. I can hear my big pear creaking and groaning as it sways in the breeze. Shoveling seven inches of snow off my driveway hasn't helped my back much either.

Classes, classes and one more class

Yes! I've been busy attending classes. I blame Jen Yu. It all started with her Food & Light Workshop early August. Then my friend Teri signed me up for a canning class through Boulder Valley School District's Lifelong Learning program in September. Last week, I attended a Cooking 101: Cooking Basics class at Whole Foods Market, Boulder.

This week, I have another class at the Denver Botanic Gardens, except this time I will be one of the lecturers and demo instructors, along with Jen Yu, Todd Porter and Diane Cu.

Three Food Blogs, Three Cuisines, Infinite Inspiration. That's what it's called! I am both very nervous and very excited! There are two events: a lecture on October 20, 2011 from 7:00pm - 9:00pm and a cooking class on October 21, 2011 from 10:00am - 2:00pm. There are still some spots open, so if you are in the area and you can make it to the lecture or the demo or better still, both, I would love to see you there!

That time again

It's that day again.

Happy birthday, me!

As usual, I wish I had some pearls to share with you, especially some profound thoughts. Unfortunately, wise words often come to me in the middle of the night and I wonder if I should keep a little moleskin by my head and scribble them down as they arrive. But that usually involves waking up, detracting from my favorite activity. Come morning, I am lucky if I can remember anything beyond being thoroughly impressed with myself.

So instead I will share some of the highlights of my past week with you.

A hot air balloon landed in the Open Space in our neighborhood last Tuesday. It first huffed and puffed like a giant dragon in the sky before floating effortlessly to a smooth landing. Since my neighbor's deck seemed to have a better view of the landing strip, I ran into her house only to bump into her as she rushed out. We ran out together, collecting more people as we did, rather like the children of Hamelin.

The excitement and joy of watching this balloon land persists even now.

Heartily Into the Tundra

Old Ute Trail
The tundra was calling

It's mid-September, time for our annual camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park with the 'hood. I hadn't yet zeroed in on a hike so when my neighbor John suggested the Old Ute Trail, I was all ears. Starting at 11,440ft from Trail Ridge Road, this historic trail climbs about 200ft into the alpine tundra for about 2 miles, before descending 3000ft through subalpine forests and meandering through montane meadows, ending at the Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead.

Unless you push yourself and move out of your comfort zone, you will never do or see anything new nor have any mind-blowing experiences. That's what I like to tell myself. Either that, or we are gluttons for punishment.

Sunday Snapshots: We Remember 9.11

We Remember, 9.11: A memorial
A 116lb memorial from the World Trade Center

We missed the Memorial Ceremony at the Louisville Fire Station on Main Street this morning. It was Boulder Balvihar's 20th Anniversary. I missed most of that, too.

But later in the afternoon, we drove to the Fire Stations to pay our respects and take pictures, as we always do each year on 9.11. To our surprise, we were invited into the Fire Station on Main Street to look at the piece of history that will rest in our little town—116lbs of warped metal from the Twin Towers.

Happy 64th, India!

Happy Independence Day to India and Indians the world over!

If you feel the same way I do as I listen to this - goosebumps and tears in your eyes, every single time - then this is your song, too. It's our song.

It's beautiful and timeless.

The Thought That Counts

Friday saw a deluge of love in the form of peanut butter cream pie for Mikey.

Peanut butter
peanut buttery goodness

I did not know Mikey, nor do I know Jennie very well. But her sudden, devastating loss hit us all hard in that place where it really truly hurts. It brought back painful memories with a rush, of a deep sense of loss. It threw me into reliving the recent family trauma, and my heart longed for my husband who is over 9000 miles away. I cried with gratitude, knowing that he will be home soon. I cried for Jennie and her beautiful daughters. And, for Mikey. It did not matter that I didn't know them.

All Manner of Grateful

Our trip to California had to be cut short rather abruptly due to a family emergency in India. My mother-in-law needed to be hospitalized for an urgent angiography, requiring either an angioplasty or a bypass surgery. We drove the 1200+ miles continuously, breaking only for the night, until we reached home a day later. By then we knew that the situation was rather serious and my husband took the next flight out to Bombay. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse soon after he arrived, and a multiple bypass surgery was performed that very day. But she was in good hands and for that, I am forever grateful.

I am also very grateful to the folks on Twitter who spread the word about our need for blood. A special shoutout to Ankit and The Glam Gang for offering to donate blood to help a complete stranger. Close friends and family held my hand through excruciatingly long days, via Facebook, email and phone.

Yes, there are good people in this world! Thank you all very much!

Another couple of days should see my mother-in-law return to her home after a two week stay in hospital. She's frail but she's tough on the inside and we are all very hopeful that she will draw on that to regain her strength and quality of living.

Our time together, as a family, working and vacationing over the weekends in California became extra-special. The last two weeks had been full of adventure and unending fun.


Half Moon Bay

A quick drive to Half Moon Bay revealed a dramatic coastline, surfers galore, and excellent seafood.

patio-side late lunch

Westward Wanderings

I've been away. And busy traveling westwards. Here's what I've been up to...

Delicate Arch
The Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: Folk musicians and dancers
Where: At Chokhi Dhani, near Jaipur, Rajasthan
What: These are real folk singers and dancers who come to Chokhi Dhani, a faux village that comes to life every night.It's a riot of color, music, dance, street food and a traditional vegetarian dinner. Saying any more will take away from the pictures. Enjoy!

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: The phone-wala
Where: Old Delhi, India
What: This caricature exists in real life. We went back to our apartments after a decade and the junction box was the same: wide open, wires tangled and hanging out, pigeons looking at making their next nest there. The phone-wala's job is unenviable. The lines go down frequently, even more so during the monsoons, and they have to bear with irate customers breathing down their necks, asking: Kitna time lagega?

The phone-wala is a wiry man, often stubborn and mostly unappreciated. But tell me, what mood would you be in if you had to work your way through a maze of wires on a daily basis?

Rich like the Maharaja

Quick! Let's storm the palace!
Quick! Let's storm the palace!

I'm kidding, of course! The poor man was asleep in the heat of the day inside the City Palace of Jaipur, the capital city of the Indian state of Rajasthan. Rajasthan is India's largest state and most of it is desert. As it is in the desert, days are hot and nights are cool. In winter, days are hot—even if the local folks wear their woolen finery during the day—and nights are cooler, with temperatures dropping below freezing in parts of the state.

They must have been really tall people. Not!
We tried to announce our arrival but who can reach those door knockers?

Sawai Jai Singh II, the Maharaja of Jaipur, built the City Palace in the mid-1700s using Rajput, Mughal and European styles of architecture.

If you're wondering which architectural style places door knockers that high up, I would hazard a guess and say it would be Rajput or Mughal. Visitors usually arrived on elephants and their mahouts used long sticks to beat those door knockers. Or maybe they had monkeys who were trained to...I jest!

Sunday Snack: Chana Jor Garam

I have had Chana Jor Garam on my mind after my last Faces of India post. I couldn't shake off the need to indulge in some, especially after baking moist fudge walnut brownies for the Boulder Balvihar's end-of-year awards ceremony and picnic.

Boulder Creek
Balvihar picnic by the Boulder Creek, Eben G. Fine Park

We had great weather after a week of incessant rain and gloomy skies, a departure from our 300+ days of sunny blue skies. Seattle bore the brunt of our collective wrath. We love you, Seattle, really! We were just kidding!

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: Street vendor
Where: At Chokhi Dhani, a village set up every night, near Jaipur, Rajasthan
What: This street vendor sells one of the most popular street foods, chana jor garam, that has been memorialized in many a Bollywood movie. Fried flattened chickpeas are tossed with onions, green chiles, and cilantro. Each vendor has his secret tangy spice blend that he sprinkles liberally into his mixing bowl, and then douses everything with fresh lemon juice. This street vendor charged Rs. 10 per cone, more expensive than if he were standing out in the streets, perhaps even calling out Chana jor garam, Babu, mein laya mazedar

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: Women janitors or sweepers
Where: At Amer Fort (Amber Fort), Jaipur, Rajasthan
What: They keep the fort clean of litter that, unfortunately, no-one thinks twice about tossing on the ground. They also keep the toilets clean. They are all women. Most people walk around them and no-one really talks to them. The two that I spoke with were initially very reluctant to engage but one of them warmed up, while the other remained very suspicious of my motives. It's written all over her face. It has to be a hard life.

Palaces of Stone But Only After Breakfast

Breakfast was never my favorite meal and it has become less so since we moved to the US. Sweet cereals, sweet breads, sweet pastries—everything is sweet. I'd rather have leftovers from dinner for breakfast. Or brunch.

Breakfast in India spoiled me, especially when we traveled, as there was always an enormous spread: idlis, dosas, upma, and the desi omelet. There was a whole bunch of other stuff, too: Chinese pot stickers, cheeses, parfaits, and even cereal but none of us ventured close to those buffets. Why would we? The dosas were made to order as were the omelets!

You could say that the desi omelet is like a frittata that has been folded over. The chef usually has an array of finely diced veggies, meats and herbs you could add to your custom omelet: onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, green chiles, cilantro, bell peppers, ham, chicken, and cheese. It's very tempting to say I'll have everything!

We usually made an early brunch of the breakfast spread and only then, ventured out to see palaces made from red sandstone.

Ornate Columns & Passageways
Ornate columns and passageways

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: A scarf vendor and a shoe guard
Where: At the tomb of Salim Chisti, Fatehpur Sikri
What: One sells scarves and colorful thread while the other watches over visitors' shoes; both trying to make a living at Salim Chisti's tomb at Fatehpur Sikri Fort, a World Heritage site.

Thai Cooking Class at Culinary School of the Rockies

I'm taking a break from recounting my India trip to tell you about something I have been wanting to do for the longest time — I signed up for a Thai cooking class, Thai One On, at the Culinary School of the Rockies. My friend Teri agreed to go along with me and it turned out to be a fun evening, led by Chef Suzanne Rudolph who was assisted by the dish-fairies, Jordan and Tiffany.

Tools of all sizes and shapes
Tools, tools, and more tools

Fatehpur Sikri beckons, as does Kadhai Jhinga

Before we left Delhi, Anita thrust a beautifully written and researched paper on Fatehpur Sikri into my hands. It had a grade of A+ and was written in 18951995 as part of her course work in Dorothy-land. It was also the only copy that existed of that paper. I knew I should have asked for a photocopy, especially since I had just burned her sheets.

You know what's coming next, don't you? And you're right.

I couldn't find it once we settled into our hotel room in Agra.
We turned the car inside out. No paper.
We turned the room inside out. No paper.

My husband, The Finder of Anything Lost or Put Away Safely, discovered all sorts of forgotten knick-knacks, like a long wooden shoe horn, hair brushes, pens, one of a pair of earrings, but no folder with continuous stationery paper that had been fed into a dot-matrix printer. Tell me, do you remember those? In that case, you are as ancient as her (and me.) But that's besides the point! We asked room service to do detailed reconnaissance to no avail.

The Finder and I looked at each other; he, flummoxed; me, worried. I chewed through all my fingernails and wondered if I should attack my toenails next. My heart sank further as I realized I would never ever get to eat authentic haak. Or taste that one mutschgand that was sitting in her freezer.

If she heard a strain in my voice or undue stress when I spoke to her from Agra, she made no mention of it. Luckily for her, me and the paper, it appeared magically under one of our heaviest suitcases. The Finder obviously had not done as thorough a job as he is wont to do, leading to his demotion and change of title to The Finder of Most Things Lost or Put Away Safely. With a spring in my step, haak in my near future and a mutschgand with my name on it, I had no qualms about leaving Agra for Fatehpur Sikri, the seat of the Mughal Empire for a brief period during Akbar's reign.

The tomb of Salim Chisti
The Tomb of Salim Chisti

Sunday Snapshot: Inside a Crumbling Temple

Where: Jagat Shiromani Temple, Amer Fort, also known as Amber Fort, Jaipur, India
What: The Jagat Shrimoni Temple is said to have been built by the Maharani of Maharaja Mansingh I in 1601 to honor her deceased son Maharaja Kumar Jagat Singhji.

Agra Fort and Kebab Secrets

Everyone is usually blown away by the Taj Mahal and its love story, even though it's more morbid than romantic since it's a mausoleum where the Emperor and his beautiful Empress are buried. Shah Jahan is remembered more for this legacy than the terror he inflicted as a Mughal Emperor, transforming the empire into a military machine and demanding more revenue from the peasantry. However, the arts — music, crafts, architecture — did flourish under his rule.

I was more awed by the Agra Fort for its sheer history: it was the seat of the Mughal Empire for over two hundred years from the mid-1500s. Six Mughal Emperors ruled from there — Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb — with each one adding his distinctive mark to the architecture of the fort.

Agra Fort
Formidable entrance

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: A Rajasthani folk musician
Where: At Amer Fort, also known as Amber Fort, Jaipur, India
What: This folk musician entertains visitors to the Amer Fort. He is playing a simplified version of the Ravanhatta, a type of fiddle popular with the Bhopa community of Rajasthan.

Dal Matters: Dal Makhani and the Taj Mahal

I had last seen it over three decades ago, as a little girl who was on a train from Bombay to Jammu. There are some images that are burned into my memory, and then there are others that seem more like hazy dreams in black and white. Strange.

The Taj Mahal
Hazy in the morning light

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: Bikas, a 12 year old aspiring guide
Where: Across the river from the Taj Mahal
What: He goes to school in the morning and by late afternoon, he sells t-shirts at the gardens across the river from the Taj Mahal, Agra. He was learning French and Spanish as language skills were essential to be a successful guide, he said. He asked us our names in English, French and Spanish; he also rattled off a few sentences in each language. It was heartening to look into Bikas's eyes and share some of his aspirations. The underbelly of India is made of these young people. He is India: young, ambitious and hopeful. Watch.

Changes are afoot at IFR: This is the last post that will come to you in full by email or in your reader, and I apologize for that. After this, you will have to click on a link to navigate to my blog to read the rest of my post. You see, I am tired of having my posts republished in full, along with my pictures, without my permission, on other web sites. Unfortunately, since I host with Blogger, I don't have much control over the nature of my RSS feeds. Also, since I host my pictures on Flickr, a photo sharing community that I enjoy, I cannot restrict my pictures from being displayed on other web sites. I've known eventually I will have to host it on one of my own servers. I probably should have done this a long time ago. I hope to publish the posts I've been holding back now that the last theft has been resolved.

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: Autorickshaw travelers
Where: Delhi-Agra Highway, NH 2, where the speed limit was between 20-80km/h
What: This three-wheeled auto-rickshaw is a popular mode of transport; it sometimes holds up to 16 people, more if there are children. It travels at between 20-40 km/h and can be seen on the National Highways of India transporting people from one city to another. The almost $200,000 Audi A8 may have 4500 buyers in India but most of India's 1.2 billion population doesn't earn that much in their lifetime. (Thanks, Kitt, for that last link!) You might call these travelers brave — I do — but most of them have little choice when it comes to transport between cities.

The ubiquitous autorickshaw
Always adorned, with people half-spilling out

In The Kitchen With Anita & Kumari

To say that Anita's kitchen is bustling with activity would be the gross understatement of the year. If she's not cooking, she's whipping up a delicious snack or her cook, Kumari, is busy prepping for the next meal. Fresh vegetables from the market jostle with fruits from her mother's garden on Anita's counters. There's some kind of green everywhere. And if she were writing this, she would not hesitate to add that that includes her compost pit, as well!

Outside Anita's Kitchen

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: A homemade ice cream vendor, Kulfiwala and his customers
Where: Amer Fort, Jaipur, India
What: A young man and his helper earn a living by selling kulfi, homemade ice cream.

The Kulfiwala

Friday Feature: Faces of India

Who: Master Craftsmen or Paramparik Karigar
Where: Agra, India
What: Chiseling slivers of polished stones to make inlay work of floral patterns, in the style found on the Taj Mahal. These craftsmen work with very basic hand-driven tools and literally lose their fingertips in the process.

Faces of India

Dancing Dolls, Jalebis and Masala Papad

It's very difficult to focus on writing when life pulls you in various different directions. It is worse when you sit transfixed, watching Mother Nature unleash her fury as it happens. The devastation and trauma becomes your very own through Twitter, Facebook, newspapers and even Al-Jazeera.

Like many of you, I sat glued to my computer late into the night on Thursday, switched to portable devices as it became evident that day-break was near and I needed to get some shut-eye. My dear friend in Tokyo would be safe, I knew. Until it dawned on me that he had moved to Mito, the capital of Ibaraki prefecture, to care for his aging parents. Ibaraki and Miyagi are two prefectures that were closest to the epicenter of the devastating earthquake and the hungry tsunami. Google Maps showed that he lived not too far away from the shore but hopefully far away enough to be unaffected by the tsunami. Pictures from the web showed damaged homes, crushed cars and roads with giant gaps in them. I knew better than to call so I sent an email and waited. And waited. And hoped for the best, refreshing my Inbox more often than it is scheduled to, until finally "I am fine" came through. Never have those words seemed sweeter than they did. I was very grateful. And then I cried for all the lives that were lost and are still missing in the aftermath of this deadly tsunami.

Those who want to help can go to and donate to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami. People can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific. (American Red Cross)

A little diversion and a little bit of cheering up would not be out of line, I think, and what better than these Giant Dancing Dolls we found at Dilli Haat! Was there anyone who didn't have a smaller version of these in their home when they were growing up in India? Ubiquitous. (Background music from Hemant Kumar's Bees Saal Baad, 1962 some nondescript Disco Unusual song that Youtube suggested after a user saregama took exception to my using less than 25s of a song they claim to own copyrights for. I used it under the fair use clause and not for commercial profit but they still wanted me to take it down even though there are hundreds of other videos with the same song and with views in the thousands. Whatever.)

Giant women, including Anita

What kind of a guest are you?

I was a busy hostess in 2006. I had visitors for at least a week almost every month, some even back-to-back. It was a wonderful year because so many friends, clients and colleagues visited us! It was also a year that I remember washing, cleaning, and cooking the most. I vowed to make 2007 the year of Manisha the Guest! I was kidding, of course, but it made me think long and hard about being a guest in someone else's home.

Apart from not sitting on my butt and helping out while I am there, there are some things that I like to do before we leave.

  • If I have enough time between waking up and leaving, and I have access to a washer and dryer, I pull all the sheets off the bed, run them through the wash and put them back on the bed.
  • If we borrowed towels from our hosts, I wash those, too.
  • I clean the bathroom as much as possible.With my unending supply of Lysol wipes, I wipe down all the surfaces, including the washbasin, toilet, bath and floors.
  • If I have access to a vacuum cleaner, I clean the carpeted floors of the room we occupied. Or swiffer wooden floors clean.
There are times when I cannot do any of these because we may have to leave at an ungodly hour or the washer may be in a shared laundry. Most of my hosts appreciate my efforts, especially if they work through the week. There are some who would rather you did not get into their cleaning and left them to do it. So I always ask first.

My last few guests were fabulous! Gabi washed all my dishes as I struggled with my errant printer to get her boarding passes printed. Before Thanksgiving, a family of five stayed with us and, despite having a sick child, they cleared up the guest bedroom and the family room so much that it was probably cleaner than when they first arrived!

I take pride in being a good guest. But, unfortunately, that went for a toss when we showed up at Anita's in Delhi with our suitcases of unwashed laundry.

She made me wait

Seriously, she did.

She wasn't there with garlands. There was no Bollywood music playing. No-one was dancing. My life wasn't moving in slow motion. This was for real.

So I took pictures of this Indian Army soldier instead.

Security at Delhi Airport
Army jawan at Delhi Airport

But, ha! I found out why Alice was late getting to the airport. She was busy chopping cabbage because she was afraid of the Rabbit with the Stopwatch (and the video camera.) How else could she continue to claim to decimate a large head of cabbage into angelhair slaw in less than 90 seconds?

spot the chopped cabbage

Not just that, she canceled the picnic in the park, too! What?! Did I end up with Dorothy in Kansas instead of The Mad Tea Party?

But I am home

You're going home after so long?

How did you stay away all this while? We try to go home every year, if not every other year.

Enjoy your trip home!

Didn't you miss home?

But I am home.

I bit my lips, quelled those words and smiled because they meant well. But try as hard as I might, I could not think of my visit to India as going home or returning home because I am home. My home is where my husband and child are. We build the walls of our home together. It does not matter where we live.

Recently, an Australian woman living in Boulder tuned into a Sydney radio channel while making dinner for her family and tweeted that "Surrounding myself with home is pretty awesome." Again, I brushed away those same words.

Your slip is showing

Warm up with Glühwein

Or vin chaud.

Or, as we know it, mulled wine.

It was a treat to walk the streets of Zurich clutching a steaming glass of glühwein. It was a cold, damp and gray day but it was also the only day we had in Zurich. We took a combination of trams and buses to get to Banhofstrasse, Zurich's Michigan Avenue. None of us wanted to step out into the miserable weather but we managed to walk along the frozen promenade of Lake Zurich, and duck quickly into a side-street across the river where a street truck was selling hot dogs and warm wine. The hot dog was huge. The bun around it, even bigger. Dipped in the wine, it was bliss!

I think I first had mulled wine at a friend's Christmas party five years ago. Boulder has been charming that way. We've made it every winter but I've always suffered the following several days because wines are a sure trigger for my migraines. Enter sulfite-free / sulphite-free organic wines. They have tannins but those don't bother me as much so I was home free!

Until now though, I have had nothing to compare my variation of mulled wine to, except for what I had had at my friend's. I'm happy to say I've perfected a recipe that works for me each time and is very close to what I had on those cold streets of Zurich. Sweet but not cloyingly so. Spicy but not overly so. Just right and gluggable by the mugful. I am not much of a drinker but I can easily consume three-quarters of a bottle of wine, when mulled. Pfft, I hear you say, most of the alcohol has evaporated by the time it is ready! Not so. It contains at least 60% or so of its original alcohol content but wait till you read how to make it more potent! It's something I never fail to do, now that I am in the know!

Of Tamarind and Titlis

I'm sure most of you are wondering what Tamarind and Titlis have in common, or, if this is yet another quiz to buy time before my next travelogue post. The answer to the quiz is here, in case you missed it; as for Tamarind and Titlis, they have absolutely nothing in common. One is found in multiple instances in tropical and warm climes; the other manifests itself in a single occurrence at 10,000ft in the Swiss Alps. One can be used to make a delectably tangy chutney; hanging out at the other in winter will freeze all thoughts, immediately.

Before I hit you with my pictures of Titlis and Engelberg, I would like to thank you for all your reassuring feedback that too much other stuff rocks as much as Indian food does! For those of you who want the recipe for my tamarind chutney, I'll spare you the scrolling down: take me to the recipe already!

Titlis is the highest peak in the Urner Alps of Switzerland. My first thought was: only 10K ft and that makes it the highest peak? Seriously? I hiked up to a little over 12K ft on my birthday! We have so many fourteeners in our Rockies, one of which is in my daily view, so I wasn't expecting anything spectacular. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Quick Quiz: What am I going to do with this Adjustable Window Screen?

Here's a quick quiz before the next travelogue post!

I bought an adjustable window screen, slightly smaller than the one in the picture below, from Lowe's for $4.98.

Adjustable Window Screen from Lowe's

It's 10" in height and expands from 20" to 37". I am not going to use it as a window screen. And it would have served my purpose even if it did not expand or was smaller in size. It is going into Medha's room and will (hopefully) serve to reduce a major source of irritation - for me, not her. I was inspired by something she did every night when we were in Bombay.

Any clues how we are going to use it?

Where do I begin?

Thank you for the wonderful response to the guest post by my talented friend Jen, while I was away. I'm back after a four-week vacation where we spent three very cold but exhilarating days in Switzerland and the rest in India. I have so much to say and share that I don't know where to begin! How about at the beginning, you say? That is a very good place to start...And, I will. Eventually. Except that I need to precede it with the end which ties in very nicely with meeting good friends and Europe.

When I think of my friend, Gabi Helfert, I think of Europe and the spectacular images she has shared of her life and travels in Europe. Gabi has this incredible ability of making you see patterns, lines, themes in everyday surroundings because of the magic she does with her camera. I am also in awe of her handheld, low-light skills just as I am enthralled by her architectural series. Gabi is also one of the most intelligent women I have the good fortune to know, albeit only virtually until now. Mediocre is not a word she is familiar with, for she excels at anything she touches. Especially Lexulous. There is no word that Gabi does not know. Period.