Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Apartment Therapy had requested all its users a few weeks ago to beta test houzz.com and since it was all about interior designing I had to go check it out. And to my surprise, AT decided to mention my ideabook in their reviews post - boy was I happy or what?
To my even greater surprise, Julian from houzz.com asked if I could do a weekly ideabook that could be featured on their site, so here I am - doing as many ideabooks as I can.
I must add here that I really love the site, it helps me organize design ideas into different sections and categories. I am hoping to design our new apartment this way. Will post pics when I am done...especially with that gorgeous wind chime I got from Sarchi in Costa Rica.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

'Tis x'mas time again

Jingle bells, jingle bells...we put up our X'mas tree!! We had a huge debate this time whether to get a live one or an artificial one, live ofcourse because it is fresh and better for the environment, but with all my moving and space constraints, we had to give in and get an artificial one. We had a whole box of ornaments and decoration left over from last time and had a lot of fun selecting which ones to put up. Nothing like a well lit tree to put you in the x'mas spirit.
Or a yummy cake!! So after having it on my wish list for more than a year, I finally got myself a bundt pan and baked my first bundt cake in it...banana nut chocolate chip cake with a caramel rum glaze...ooh yumm! The whole places smelled wonderful when I removed it from the oven. Can't wait to make my next one :)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A friend of mine just buzzed me on IM and said that I should make a yearbook with all the quotes that I use as my status messages, which got me thinking. Most of the quotes are from general googling (if that's a word) or jumping through pages on the Internet. Some of them are also from a calendar that my girl friend gifted me last X'mas. I like most of the quotes and positively love some of them. So I decided to take up my friend's advice and try to list down some of the quotes that I really loved and used through the year. It might take me some time to hunt down all of them as I do not keep a list but I will try to list as many as I can...
Today's top list:
"I have to be physically attracted to someone, but I can't be with someone just because it's great sex. Orgasms don't last long enough." - Courtney Cox Arquette
"Beware of the man who praises women's liberation; he is about to quit his job" - Erica Jong
"I hate to spread rumours - but what else can one do with them?" - Amanda Lear
"Everyone says I'm like the girl next door. Y'all must have really weird neighbors" - Kelly Clarkson
"If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married" - Katharine Hepburn
"In the Bible, it says they asked Jesus how many times you should forgive, and he said 70 times seven. I want you all to know that I'm keeping a chart" - Hillary Clinton
"Dr. Ruth says women should tell their lovers how to make love to them. My boyfriend goes nuts if I tell him how to drive!" - Pam Stone
"Even if you don't believe a word of the Holy Scriptures, you've got to respect the person who typed it all" - Lotus Weinstock
The rest for later when I find 'em...

Monday, December 01, 2008

It's been a long, long time since I blogged last. Knowing how much I like to write and describe stuff, it's weird that I am such a poor blogger. Life has been pretty decent in the last few months with ups and downs and the usual adventures. I have been doing some cooking but nothing major, although A and I did cook our thanksgiving dinner in a remarkably short time. His pecan pie was superb. I made the usual - roasted chicken, stuffing, soup, sides etc. The highlight of this month is two fold - it is Christmas time again...yipee! I doubt if it will be a huge celeb this time due to all the moving and packing, but we are trying to put together atleast a few fun days. The other big thing is our trip to Costa Rica. This trip will hopefully allow me to check off two items in my "Must do before I die" list - visit a volcano and trek through a rain forest!! We have a tentative itinerary which will be refined over the next few days as we start locking in acommodation and tours. Oh I am so excited to be making this trip, visiting a new country and trying out all those amazing tropical fruits :) Will keep you posted...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial day "feast"

What a weekend!! The Memorial day long weekend was entirely spent just eating - yes, eating and what an awesome feast. On Saturday, my roomie's friends brought along with them loads of Indian dishes and all my favs. They just asked that I make the dessert - which is already my most fav thing in the world - and I gladly did, ofcourse with A to help. I was not sure how many people were planning to come over to my place, so I figured I'd make atleast 2-3 desserts, just in case.

I started off with an ice cream cake, which actually had to endure a lot of strain, I will tell you why in a minute. This is what I did - on Friday, I baked a simple pound cake (dense, not airy because it had to take the weight of the ice cream). I also lined my cake pan with a plastic wrap, scooped in chocolate ice cream to make a thin layer, froze the pan for 10 minutes, removed the frozen ice cream layer, wrapped it in more plastic and dumped it in the freezer; I did the same for the strawberry and vanilla ice creams (it was a good idea to buy one of those 3-in-1 flavors). I also left my vanilla frosting on the counter (as opposed to the fridge). On Saturday, I started to assemble my layers together. I brought out the pound cake, levelled it off, plopped the ice cream layers vanilla, strawberry and chocolate, and started frosting the cake with a simple vanilla frosting. As I was doing so, the plate decided to tumble off the counter and plop(!) it landed on the floor with the chocolate ice cream at the bottom. Lucky for me that I had layers, so I just discarded the entire chocolate layer and had to make do with just 3 layers. Obviously now my cake looked really ugly, so I sliced a few strwberries and stuck them on the cake sides and top and then A suggested that we drizzle chocolate over it (I think that was because he loves chocolate with everything). Anyway, I think it came out pretty decent in the end. Here's what it looked like.
I wanted to make a quick next dessert, so I decided to go with a cheese cake truffle. I bought a plain cheese cake, cut half of it, mashed it up, made tiny balls of it and left it in the refrigerator over night. The next day, I melted some white and some dark chocolate; dipped the tiny balls first in white and then in dark chocolate and sprinkled some grated dry coconut over it. Simple but delicious. For the third dessert, A decided to pitch in and make his fabulous pineapple upside-down cake, I guess because it was the popular demand. Of course you have to ask him for the recipe, but this is what it looked like and boy, was it yummm!!

For the kids that were going to come over, we made some chocolate chip cup cakes and decorated it with the only things available at home - a tube of orange icing, tiny marshmallows (leftover from A's bday party) and chocolate syrup (yes it was A's idea again - i told you he loves it!!) and the kids really loved it.

And I ended up making some banana-walnut loaf cake for tea, which I do not have pictures for. But it was surprisingly warm and delish (to put it in Rachel Ray's words) and the guests really loved it, although I should have made more of it, 'coz I hardly got a bite :( .

On Sunday, Mr and Mrs R invited us over for a barbecue party followed by a southie dinner. We hogged on corn, chicken, fish, veggies and lots of more junk, took a huge break and had some extremely yummy "mor kozhambu and parpa usli". Oh and leaving the best for the last, we had amazing carrot halwa and kesar pista ice cream. I was surprised I could even move after that.

All in all a fabulous weekend, thanks to everyone for cooking, inviting me and for just being there.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Trip to Oregon

My vacation to Oregon was one of the best I've had in the last few years. All through the weekend, the weather was perfect, albeit fluctuating between bright and sunny and cloudy and cool. We started off with a 13 hour delay due to bad weather, traffic and flight delays and being stuck in Las Vegas for a night, which further shortened our already too short trip. After landing at the PDX airport at about 2.20 pm, we set off to try and find local wines and quaint vineyards and wineries. True to our usual modus operandi, the first thing we did was get off the highway. Driving over small, country roads in Dundee Hills, we came across Maresh vineyards, one of the oldest establishment in the region. They grow their wines locally and sell them only on site and so their labels are hard to find. After tasting their wine trio, we absolutely had to get a bottle and settled on the Pinot Gris. What I loved the most was the location of the vineyard and their tasting room, which was a small cabin-like structure made of all recycled, used components like used flooring from a school and windows from an old building, situated on top of a hillock with vines growing all around. From there we ventured a little further on the road and found Erath Winery, one of the most famous wine producers of the Williamette valley. Here we got a Dry Reisling and a Pinot Noir Chocolate Raspberry Sauce, which I hope to try out very soon as a drizzle over my bundt cake. Since we started our wine tour so late in the day, two wineries were all we could fit in before closing time; we also had a long drive ahead of us (almost 4 hours) - as we had to reach our camping ground; so we bid good bye to the wine region and headed off towards the Cascade mountain range.

For the night, we had planned to stay at a cabin in the La Pine campground near Bend. To get there, we decided to take the path through the mountain range. This road forms a part of the West Cascades Scenic byway and was truly scenic. Tall trees lined the road on either side and we could see snow clad mountains approaching closer at every turn. The drive took us to an elevation of almost 5500 ft. This proximity to nature was truly exhilarating. We spent our drive debating the finer points of identifying sentient beings and discussing alternate scenarios where trees were more highly evolved than humans. And reached La Pine at around 10 pm. We had rented a little wooden cabin with bunk beds and spent a few hours playing cards after which we had to have our rest.

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful and for once, we were ready to start our day early. We planned to visit Crater Lake (2.5 hours) but before that we had to eat. In La Pine, we found a trucker's diner called Gordy's and decided to try it out and we were glad we did. The diner serves local fare on a piled plate. It also had a brilliant collection of tiny trucks - from Walmart to Fedex and everything in between. After the yummy food, we resumed our drive towards Crater lake. The north entrance of Crater lake is closed until late-June and so we had to drive further to get to the South entrance and I am glad we had to because on the way we found some very pretty scenes. As we came to the junction that led to Crater lake on one direction, we noticed that the signpost indicated that a lake lay just 4 miles on the other, and so we decied to make a detour. We were on the banks of Agency Lake - a bright blue lake with houses right on the shore. We also found a cute dog herding sheep around! :)

After the little detour, we were back on our rad towards Crater Lake. Crater lake was formed about 7000 - 8000 years ago because a volcano collapsed Mt. Mazama and snow and rain filled up the caladera. A smaller volcano formed an island in the lake called Wizard's Island. This lake is noted for it's pure and pristine water. When we reached Crater Lake, we saw that the view points were all under about 5 ft of snow, which we had to climb to take a look and the view was UNBELIEVABLE. The only word that popped out at that time was "WOW". The snow gave us a huge advantage because now we could see the entire area without any obstacles due to the extra height. Crater Lake was amazing.

After Crater Lake, our next part of the plan was to take the Rogue-Umpqua scenic byway, which lay along the River Umpqua and explore the water falls that line the byway. Our first stop on this byway was the Clearwater falls, which (apparently) requires no hike. But, the road leading to the falls was under snow, so we could not take the car to the Falls point. This did not stop us though. We treaded through the deep snow and found our way to the 30-ft waterfall and it was worth it.

Our next stop on the byway was Watson Falls, near the Tokatee Campground. This is a 275 ft water falls that is best viewed after a 0.6 mile hike up a rocky hill. As we reached the uppermost viewing point, we were drenched with the spray from the falls. It was beautiful.

It was late evening, when we finished our hike and resumed our drive across the byway and to Portland. On the way we made a stop at a beautiful frozen lake, where we had to stop for pictures and soon it started snowing. Two minutes later its stopped (!) and we were on the road again. And this was when my friend saw a sign board that read Umpqua Hot Springs, so of course we had to find it. The search led us off the highway into an unpaved driving path through the forest. We followed the spooky path for a few miles after which we had to turn around. We stopped at a clearing and were discussing our options, when a kind Portlander stopped by to tell us that the road led to a bridge that was (can you believe it) broken! So we had to head back and unfortunately never found the springs :( But we had a wonderful time just looking for it :) After a few more stops along the road to see swift waters and grab a bite, we made it to Portland at about 12 midnight (by which time I was asleep in the back seat :D, thanks A&A for not waking me up).

Monday was the last day of our trip and we had only until 1pm. Of course, our first stop was Byways Cafe, a famous diner featured on Food Network. The hash and the Amaretto French toast were both amazing, true to their reputation. We had one more hour before heading to the airport and so we landed at the Chinese Botanical Garden. This garden is situated in the Chinatown in Portland, but once you enter the premises, it is unbelievably quiet and calm and peaceful and ... I can go on. The sound of water instantly calms you down and the flowers and shrubs are very artistically placed. We tried Chinese tea at their restaurant called The Tao of Tea. The Lotus Ancien that I had was very flavorful and woke you up in an instant. My friends had milder ones, but all of us were happy with our choices and very glad to be introduced to this kind of tea drinking culture, which is so different from the kind that we are used to. I will definitely try this again at home and I am sure my friends will too. This was our last stop and we left for the airport, taking our respective flights back to Philly and San Diego. We were sad to end our lovely trip but very glad that we did this together. I must say here that if I were to repeat this trip over or go for another, I would not ever trade my trip companions, they are the best!!
Thanks guys for an awesome trip and let's hope for lots more to come.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The party last weekend was awesome and the food was a hit... phew!! I was so glad. The assembly on the final day did not take too long just about 4-5 hours and that too mostly because of the cakes, which everyone loved - especially the chocolate icing (heavy cream, dark chocolate, orange zest). It was a tricky thing to make - the cream and chocolate blended well, but totally refused to thicken - maybe i did not use enough cream/chocolate - so I had to beat in an egg at the last minute and whip it at top speed on my electric mixer, shove it in the freezer for 20 minutes and re-whip at medium speed..and there it was - a beautiful icing at the right consistency. I will post the pics soon.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Spice Market, New York

Jean-Georges' local creation Spice Market in West Village, New York was an awesome find for us. We headed there after mid-night on Saturday, famished and tired after navigating through the city traffic. Thankfully for us, they served dinner until 1am. I was amazed to find dinner guests even at that late hour but luckily we were seated within 5 minutes. The cocktails were beautifully presented, and although I was not very fond of the Ginger Margharita, my friends absolutely dug it! We started off with Lobster rolls, which were sushi-like in presentation, and tasted superb. Each bit-sized roll was cool and fresh and the accompanying sauce complimented the taste perfectly. We also tried the mushroom rolls which even I (a mushroom hater) ended up eating. They served the rolls with an Indian-type coriander chutney. For our main course, we tried Vietnamese Chicken Curry (which was very very similar to the Indian Korma and we loved it), Chilli Egg noodles and the delectable Cod. The fish was perfectly cooked, with a slightly crispy exterior on a melt-in-your-mouth interior. We finished off with a creme brulee topped with apple whip, which unfortunately disappointed us, because we have eaten much better tasting ones elsewhere. But apart from the dessert, the rest of the food was really good. The next time I am in New york, I will definitely try this place again and this time, pick a different dessert - something choclatey maybe?

A Mystical Journey

On Saturday evening, my friends and I decided to attend a Sufi musical concert in New York called A Mystical Journey. They mainly attended it because I really really wanted to go and checkout an Islamic musical concert out of sheer curiousity and because a lot of people I know recommended it. It turned out be AWESOME. I was amazed at the range of instruments and performers; I had expected it to be slow religous tunes, but some of them were as fast as head-banging rock tunes. The repertoire of artists was so diverse, that no two could be compared. They gathered from all over the Islamic world - Africa, India, Pakistan, Syria, Algeria and more - to entertain us. I really cannot pinpoint one performance that I loved because the kind of instruments they all used were so different and fascinating that all of us were totally mesmerized. Houria Aïchi from Algeria transformed a simple Islamic concept - There is no God but God - into a high energy, leg tapping chant. The Dalahoo sufi Ensemble started off with a melodious beat but soon moved onto an extremely fast paced rendition of Rumi's poems including the Reed Song. All the poems that I had loved and quoted in a number of my Philosphy classes came rushing back to me as I heard them. My friends who had no clue what Sufi music was or in fact what Sufiism was, also were totally engrossed in the performance. It was delighful to see Islam in this context - where the messages of love, unification with the divine and peace were being discussed.

These are some of my favorite Sufi poems, oft quoted and oft used.

You've no idea how hard I've looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What's the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.

Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It's no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So- I've brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.

- Jalaluddin Rumi

Thy Spirit is mingled in my spirit
even as wine is mingled with pure water.
When anything touches Thee,
it touches me.
Lo, in every case Thou art I!"
- Mansur-al-Hallaj, The Mystics of Islam.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Wild Flower

My friend described to me his morning commute today, I was really impressed and decided to pen it down. That is how "The Wild Flower" came into being. My commute to and from work is almost always as pretty, especially in the Fall and Spring. Now that Spring is almost here, I can see traces of cherry flowers in blossom and the wild yellow ones that I do not know the name of, but that is for a different poem. Today is all about the little flower that grows somewhere in La Jolla right next to the road.

The Wild Flower
- Narmeen

On the way to work today
I was stalled at a traffic light
I looked towards the bay
And saw a flower, purple and bright.

She raised her head to the sun,
And whispered a sweet, shy greeting.
The sun pausing his run,
Sent her warmth without the heating.

Ready to start her morning,
She drank some dew and then some more;
And then without any warning
She was visited by her butterfly beau.

The sea played a melody
The soft breeze sang a tune for them
The butterfly asked the bee
To watch over their peaceful realm.

The traffic light then turned red
But this morning I did not zoom
"Congrats", I turned and said
To the wildflower and her new groom.

Party time

Hosting a party is probably my second most favorite thing to do, the first being reading. I enjoy the planning phase much more than the actual party itself, as anyone who knows me can tell. Well, the same is true of traveling, but parties give me a totally different high - especially 'coz I can change the theme/kind every time and because I can host them much more often. It all started at 40 where we always had a lot of people at home - sometimes 15-20 and we used to cook for every one in huge quantities and different dishes for every meal - this exercise gave me the basics I needed to be able to cook in quantity, the rest just followed from seeing a lot of Top Chef and Food Network and ofcourse, seeing that brilliant joy in the faces of my friends when I served them new flavors each time - as they say compliments can get addictive! Now as with all other things, I have to constantly up my level and try to beat the standards I set myself, which is a lot more difficult to do than pleasing all my "oh-so-easy-to-please" friends :) (a toast to them).
Anyway, the occasion is here and I just began my planning last week. I have one more week to go and I think I am on schedule. The difficulty this time was the type of food I have envisioned in my mind. Making a fusion of different culinary styles is not always easy but with some planning and experimenting, it can be done right and can taste very different too and I might just be able to satisfy my guests.
The most difficult part is the ingredients. Heralding from an Indian background, I had to make sure each dish has a characteristic Indian touch to it and that took hours of swapping one ingredient for the other to make a complex yet coherent dish that encompasses the American/European style and Indian flavor. I do not want to say more as that will steal the surprise element, but I will put up my recipes once the party is done. It suffices to say that I will start and end my party with Jello shots - once they are in, I am sure my guests will be ready to try anything!!
So good luck to me and I will keep you posted...