Thursday, November 27, 2014

What do you cook on Thanksgiving?

Such a simple thought and yet so difficult to practice.  Just as activities expand with the availability of time, so do our desires with the availability and the widespread culture of shopping around Thanksgiving.

Historically, the roots of thanksgiving goes back to the harvest season and the pilgrims, but for once, I am going to skip the history, because the idea of families gathering to share a wholesome meal brings warmth and a smile to me.  

Most holidays are centered around kids, Thanksgiving is not. It's one of those days that you have to be a grown up to appreciate. 

The world Thanksgiving, conjures up images of a turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pie's galore. For a vegetarian family or at least when the chef in the family is a vegetarian, it poses a different dilemma, how does one combat the challenge of making it all vegetarian and yet have the family enjoy it. 

This thanksgiving, like every other year have been invited to a friends for a gathering filled with food and laughter. Appreciate and thankful that she takes the time every year and includes us in the celebrations. 

It's going to be mostly a vegetarian affair at her place, with some bird :) So thought of sharing a few of my favorite vegetarian dishes that work for holiday potluck dinners.  What am I taking this year? The Vegetable Biryani.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone. Count the little blessings, the big ones will come automatically. 


Saw this idea originally on Show me the curry and I thought it was brilliant. You can choose either red or white sweet potatoes. I tried both and settled on white. I added a few twerks and this is how it goes. 

Dice sweet potatoes into small squares. This is the longest and the hardest part for this dish. 

On high, heat some oil in a wok, add some Panch Phoran (its a five spice mix of fennel, nigella, cumin, fenugreek and mustard seeds.) 
If you don't have this - no worries, you can use cumin seeds and if you have neither  - don't worry, just kip this step. Add a pinch of ginger and lots of crushed peanuts for the crunch and texture and saute for a minute.  

Allergic to nuts - Add finely chopped celery and green peppers instead. 

No allergies - Add it all :) 

Add the sweet potatoes and stir fry on high till they start feeling tender. You can test the tenderness by pressing a little with your spatula. Once a little tender.. Add the magic ingredient, Sriracha Sauce. 

Yes, squirt in Sriracha depending on how spicy you want it to be, add salt to taste, stir fry for another 5-10 minutes or more if you like your sweet potatoes a litte mushy, cook for a few more minutes and your done.  Top with some finely chopped green onions. If you don't like onions.. cilantro works well. If you don't like cilantro.. top with some dried cranberries. If you like them all - its your lucky day.. add them all. 


  • Take some lettuce, un wrap the leaves slowly _ I haven't quite figured out how restaurants have those perfect lettuce cups, but I am sure some day, I'll find out.  Buy an extra lettuce just in case you don't get the perfect cups from the first one.  
  • Add the sweet potatoes, top with your favorite sweet sauce OR do what I do, I take a basic Indian tamarind sauce, mix in some Sriracha and it tastes like heaven :) 
Ok, now you know, one of the secert ingredients in my pantry is this Sriracha sauce. No need to re-create the wheel, the makers of this sauce do an amazing job. Save yourself some time and use it creatively for the most amazing flavors. FYI.. it works very well with Thousand Island dressing too :)


Biryani takes it's roots in the Persian culture. It probably took centuries and many trade routes to reach India. The word Biryani originates from the Farsi word Birian which basically means "fried before cooking."  Guess mom knew this, cos she always washes the rice, then stir fries with ghee an cumin seeds before adding the water and letting the rice boil.  Scientifically, the stir frying breaks the gelatin layer of the rice and allows for a separate grains rather than them being stuck together

So that's what you go to do first, take any long grain rice, wash it, stir fry it with rice and anise seed. Another favorite of mine and oh so aromatic. True to its name, it is a star ingredient. 

Sorry, did not take pics of rice cooking :) and I cooked it in a pressure cooker.. so did not stir fry. But it took literally 5 mins to make the rice. 

Since I already have the rice, I am stir frying the veggies (any hard vegetable works; onions, green peppers, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, mushrooms - cut them all length wise,) with anise seed, some cloves, cumin and bay leaves.  You only need to add some salt and cayenner pepper to taste now. 

Decided to make it in a Tagine, since there is nothing better to do today than cook. It's going to take it's own sweet time. Once the vegetables get tender. Layer the rice with vegetables OR do what I do, I just fold in the rice. 

I like the rice to get the shades of color due to the spices.. makes it look so much more fall like than being plan white :) 

ROASTED MEDLEY: Cauliflower with Red pepper sauce. 

This is a very easy recipe and can be prepped two days ahead of time.  

For the Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:  Buy the peppers: Only Red or a mix of red, yellow, orange works too. I usually roast them in the toaster oven at 350, till they start looking roasted :) Sorry, have never timed it. But you will know. The aroma fills the house and they are ready to be taken out. You can turn them after 10 mins or not, it works either way. 

As the peppers roast, take your head of cauliflower. You can choose to marvel at the beauty and magic of nature for a minute and wonder how it creates such perfect symmetry without any tools and gadgets or take your favorite knife and go for it. It's a personal preference.. You can either cook it as a complete flower, chop it into big florets or chop it into smaller florets.  This time, since its more kid friendly, I chopped it into medium size florets. 

Now mariniate them.  Add salt, cayenne pepper (not too much as you will be adding some in the sauce too,) add about 2tbsp of ginger, one or two cloves of garlic (if you like them, if not, the cauliflower still loves you ;)), a pinch of oregano an thyme, squeeze in just a tad bit of lemon juice and give it a squirt of olive oil and now just mix till they are evenly coated.  Then you can store them in the refrigerator till you are ready to bake them. 

Meanwhile, your roasted red peppers are beginning to cook. 
  • Once cooked, take them out and let them cool a little - toss them in the blender and give it a twirl, till it is a complete smooth paste. 
  • Now take a saucepan, add some butter - let the butter brown. Which basically is a fancy way of saying, on medium high, let the butter burn for a little - u want it brown not black :)  immediately lower the heat, stir profusely as you add cumin powder, some oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper.  
  • And add the roasted red pepper puree. 
  • Keep it on low, add salt to taste and a fist full of finely chopped cilantro. If you don't have cilantro.. that's ok.. skip it. 
  • Now cover this with a splatter screen and let the sauce simmer on low for a good 30 mins. 
  • Once cooked, you can freeze it or use it for anything from cauliflower to pasta to pizza. 
ROASTED MEDLEY - Cauliflower with red pepper sauce. 

To assemble, just add some sauce in a oven safe pan, add layer it with cauliflower, add some more sauce and bake at 350 or 400. This for me depends on if I have other things to do at that time or not. 
If you bake at 400 - you have to keep an eye on it. If at 350 - you can easily forget it for 30 minutes :) and then check it with a fork to see how tender it is. I like it when the cauliflower can be separated but its not mushy.  

Serve hot over rice or as a side with bread. It is YUMMM! 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cooking - A fashionable, edible art.

Cooking is simple. If you can dress yourself every day you can cook too.  Ever read those articles, where a fashion expert takes 15 basic pieces to give you 30 or maybe even more different looks.  Cooking is the same way. There are few basics and then it’s an art of mix and match. Sometimes the combinations are brilliant, and sometimes they are okay, but every time they are YOUR originals and that’s what makes the dish great. It is YOU and your touch.  How you cut the vegetables? How you stir fry them, at what temperature, do you add the spices before the tomatoes are softened or after? It is these little nuances that change a dish. The greatest chefs of the world don’t have any special ingredients. In fact the best chefs use the most commonly available ingredients and spices.

What are the basics cooking? Let's see, some of your basic pieces of clothing like the good pair of jeans, and a tan jacket with a little accessories can go from casual to WOW, similarly there are a few building blocks to the ""Sans Recipe" route.

Aaloo - Tikki
Kofta - 
"Sans Recipe" was not something I aspired to learn; I grew up with the style. The variety of colors and textures my mom laid out on the table for the simplest luncheon to a formal gathering was nothing less than a feast both to the eyes and palate. It was from her I learnt the skill of menu planning. It is because of my Mom that I never serve Aaloo-Tikki as an appetizer and then have Malai kofta as an entre'e - why you ask? The answer is quite simple, they both are made from potatoes and are fried. The only difference, one is flat and dry, the other is a pot bellied ball and submerged in a gravy.

To go the “Sans Recipes” route and create some sexy food, you need to know the basic rules of cooking and a well stocked pantry. 

They are: 
  • A well stocked pantry
  • Techniques
  • Your tools - Your spices and the pots n pans of course
  • The gut to experiment 
That's really all you need to create some sexy fashionable and edible art. 

From the above, stocking your pantry is the easiest one. All you got to do is go on a shopping trip :)

Pots n pans are an interesting one. Go back the memory lane, your comfort food most likely came from a humble kitchen with very basic pots filled with lots of love and honest ingredients. Pots n pans are a personal preference. There are some who only cook in cast iron, some who never use non-stick, some who revere the aroma in a clay cooked pot, personally, for me it depends on how much time I have. If I have the whole day to myself and nothing else going on, yes I love my tagine, on the contrary if I have thirty minutes to whip up a meal, I need my heavy bottom pan so I can crank up the heat and be done just in time to pick up the kids from school. 

What technique did you use, this dish is amazing? Did you fry it or bake it? Again, another confusing question. I always wonder at it, because when you bite a dish, isn't the technique obvious. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to be an expert here, but I think its pretty easy to tell if a dish was steamed, baked or fried.  In my mind there are five main techniques to cook; we bake a dish, roast a dish, steam it, stir fry (sauté’) it or deep-fry it.  Ok, we can get technical and say there is braising, poaching, browning etc. But if you look closely, they are all a variations of the basics.

Experimentation, the fun starts now: It’s cauliflower, cut it into medium size florets, sautéed with some chopped potatoes, a pinch of salt, a hint of turmeric, a double hint of ginger, a dash of coriander powder, a spoonful of garam-masala, a pinch of cinnamon and amchur, cooked till tender on medium high heat gives you a delectable “aaloo-gobi sabzi” from the North Indian kitchen. Now take the same medium sized florets, add some oregano, thyme, salt and sauté. Add a hint of garlic, some cayenne pepper, maybe even a squirt of ketchup mix in some  al-dente penne pasta, throw the mix in a casserole dish, top with cheese and bake till the cauliflower is tender, you just created an original - Cauliflower Penne.  

The point is in less than 30 minutes, you made two scrumptious dishes using the same main ingredient.  So next time your daughter wants pasta and your in-laws prefer Indian food, you know what to do.

No industry today follows the same laws as it did centuries ago, then why do cookbooks or rather, why do we follow recipes and every time we see a delectable dish, we instantly ask for the recipe, only to realize that no matter how accurately we follow the direction the dish continues to taste different than what we originally ate.

Ever wondered why?

It’s simple; the original dish tasted heavenly, because it was an original.    

Next week, together we cook up a vegetarian thanksgiving feast that would make the carnivores green with envy. But first, let us stock that pantry!

Gone are the days when eating out was a luxury. Today a home cooked meal is a luxury and totally in-style. Stay true to yourself, to your pantry and in no time, you’re going to hear the shy spinach demanding some of that bold cinnamon flavor!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fiction to Reality.

Today is special.

Today I got the best gift possible; I now have 

This space has been in the making for years. This is where I take the bright vibrant reds and blend them in with the calm blues to create the imperfect and yet mystical purple :) Okay, yes I am a pink and purple girl.  It's more than a palette of vibrant colors, it's a way to connect, aspire and create.

The blogposts, some thought provoking, some silly and some cribbing will continue, but only once a month.  There's a new kid on the blog, its called "Sans Recipes." It's my new baby, and so get's more attention :) 

Few weeks ago, I took you In My Kitchen.  With "Sans Recipes" together, we experiment in a virtual space to share and create real hearty food from anything and everything in our pantry. There is only one condition, no recipes.  Ever wondered, why cooking seems like a chore to so many of us. It's because we limit ourselves to the recipes. Why does every Indian curry start with a tomato? Sans Recipes hopes to take the boredom out of cooking. It doesn't matter what your pantry does not have, a yummylicious wholesome meal can always be made with a few basic ingredients.  With Sans Recipes I hope we can break free from the slavery of recipe cooking.  

Last year in November, you met The Shy Girl. Today the shy girl is feeling blessed and thankful for all she has.  We are a product of our experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly; all of them make us complete.  Every good fiction has a central character and every good story has a character that evolves and reshapes with the story to make it complete. The story of life is no different from the best selling fiction novel.  It's a fiction indeed 'cos life happens one day at a time. Every day we take the fictitious tomorrow and make it a reality.  

Today my fiction became a reality.  

Happy Birthday to ME! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Art of Annoyance.

Art of annoyance? Really, it is. 

There is always annoyance in the world. She is annoyed at life, he is annoyed because there isn't enough time to finish the to-do list, she is annoyed because things are not falling into place, he is annoyed at how work is and this week most of my neighborhood is upset because it's going to rain on Halloween. As I write this post I am annoyed at how someone is turning the house upside down because someone said something about a project. Which project, who said what? I am not supposed to know, for he says he'll figure it all out. Yes, he will. He has to, I tell myself to let go for he is annoyed too. 

Reasons can be different, but how we deal with annoyance is the same for all of us. 

  • So I take a deep breath.
  • I remind myself that there is nothing I can do unless I am told what the problem is
  • I want to react, but decide against it. Mom wisdom says to just let it go. 
Anger, annoyance call it what you may but they are very interesting emotions.  They bring out the worst in us and yet sometimes from that annoyance stems the most beautiful ideas. Every wondered who made Velcro? How did the idea originate? Google it. 

Two days ago, I was pretty upset with things in general. It was a blah day when not much felt good.  Retail therapy seemed the only option. I fought every urge to go shopping, stepped into my garage and just started at the 6 sets of candles waiting to be painted. Yes, I create in the most uncreative place. I picked up the bright red one, stared at it and kept it back. Instead of picking up the paints, I picked up the broom at started cleaning the garage.  As I aimlessly swept the floor, I mumbled and jumbled to myself, clearly confused and annoyed. Then it happened. A kid in the neighborhood walked by with her grandma. The giggles of that unknown child snapped me out of the boredom trance.  I kept the broom back and went back to stare at the candles. This time I picked up the purple candle and gold paint.  Positioning my hands delicately on the candle, I let the color move, the sinuous strokes stayed small and looked dainty, I had just painted a rose bud.  

This wasn't something I had planned, it just happened.  From annoyance came art that I had never planned for. After that it was pure bliss. Here I am today writing a blog and wondering why I was so annoyed that day. Today it seems so silly.  This is what annoyance is. It's a fleeting feeling at the core, however we as humans make a big deal out of it.  We over process the information, imagine the problems and find solutions to problems that don't even exist. 

Before you start marveling at how brilliant I am, please make note that this wisdom is not age old. I am guilty of complaining or being annoyed at life for most of 2014.  It has taken me a very long time to accept some moments, but I think I have finally conquered the feeling and lately I proved it to myself by forgiving and moving on. 

Moving on is the key. It is a very hard thing to do, but yet is the key. The moment that has passed cannot come back or be changed, so why do we hold on to it so tightly? Why do we fail to recognize the magic of present and the hope of future? Why do we despair?  I don't have answers to all these questions, the only thing I have learnt in over four decades on this planet is that the key to most problems is better communication.  

We all need a confidante, someone we can vent out at. It can be friend, a sibling, a spouse, a parent, a diary or maybe a blog :)  

Just as we all learn differently, we all talk differently too. Some of us prefer to talk with words, some talk by exercising, some talk with gardening and some of us talk with art.  Let it be YOUR medium of choice but find that one medium. This medium will release you from the most unpleasant situations and take you to calmer and peaceful places.  

This medium will take your annoyance and create a poem, a flat belly, a blooming garden or a beautiful candle.  

It is called the Art of Annoyance.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Happy Diwali.

Smile a little, it's Diwali. 
Forget your sorrows, it's Diwali. 
Forgive, it's Diwali. 
You may or may not get a second chance, 
Celebrate, it's Diwali. 

The word Diwali conjures up the memory of lighting 100 diyas every year. My brother and I climbed roof tops and strategically placed the diyas. It had to be a total of 100. Why? No body knows, it was just one of those teenage fancies I had and my parents graciously obliged. Then we patiently waited for dusk, filled up the diya's with oil, added the wicks and lighted them. I remember running out onto the road, standing far back and admiring the labor of hard work and love. What took 3 hours to set up, lasted for but an hour and on a windy day, maybe a few minutes. Yet the effort seemed totally worth it.  Such is the magic of Diwali. It brings about a transformation unlike any festival in India, and India has a lot of them.  

Diwali, to me was never the religious holiday. Yes, there is a story behind it, but then that's what it is, a tale. I don't necessarily wear new clothes or buy new clothes. I don't necessarily make the umpteen dishes my mom used to make. I don't necessarily follow the auspicious time announced by the priests, and yet the magic of Diwali thrives. 

The magic of Diwali comes from reminiscing the carefree years of lighting diyas, jumping and dodging the sparkles from the Chakri and about all the love and laughter that echoed on every street, every corner and every home. The deafening silence of Diwali fireworks and diyas, the calorie watching and simultaneous eating of deserts, the helping hand of a stranger and the arrival of cousins from lands faraway is the magic of Diwali. 

Today, I sit miles away preserving my memories. The house sleeps and I huddle in my corner realizing that Diwali to me is about celebrating my cared for past, content present and looking forward to future. 

Diwali is about celebrating my roots.   

Wishing You and Yours a Very Happy Diwali and an amazing New Year ahead! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In My Kitchen...

In my kitchen, there are no recipes. 

Cooking for some is a chore with a sink full of dishes to clean, for some it is microwaving a pre-made meal and for some of us it is an art. I fall in the last category. A self proclaimed artist at soul, cooking is an art for me. I do believe that we eat with our eyes.

Art never followed any rules. The same holds true for my kitchen. There are no rules or recipes followed here. Yes, I do have a collection of cookbooks only because I love browsing through the vibrant colors and the brilliant plating.

Do you know that person who always chooses to bring drinks to a party because they don't cook? Ever wondered, how they survive without cooking? I do. For most it is the fear of "what if." 

I was 12 years old when I made my first dish; "Baigan ka Bharta." For my western world friends, it is roasted eggplant, mashed up and seasoned with carmelized onions, tomatoes, salt, cayenne pepper, a dash of garam masala and tons of cilantro.  The one thing that dish is not supposed to have is "turmeric," and that's exactly what I added.  My Nani said, "you never put turmeric in Bharta." Of course I knew that, but the damage was done. So I quipped.. really, I don't know Mom always puts it...LOL. Blame it on Mom, that's what 12 year olds do anyway.  

What if I add more salt than needed, what if it doesn't taste that good? These and more are kitchen fear factors. My answer, so what. So what if there is more salt, you can always add more stock or vegetables to tone it down. So what if it doesn't taste perfect, a pickle on the side or a chutney on the top takes away the imperfections to make a dish that is uniquely perfectly you.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. 
In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
                                                                                                         ― Julia Child

Throw out the what if's and bring in the so what's is the key to making cooking fun.

What does cooking mean to you? 

Cooking is a therapeutic for me.  It's a stress buster, an escape from the world. Back in the olden days, serving restaurant food was a luxury, today serving a simple home cooked meal to your friends and family is a luxury.  I am proud to say, be it a single family dinner or a multi-family holiday dinner, It's only home cooked food in my home. Yes, I have been told I am crazy for making everything from scratch, but then its craziness in a good way.

Cooking is satisfying.  My family gets treated to an a la carte menu every nite.  As long as I have their requests in by 5.00pm, I can give them food of choice. When my son was little, I learned the hard way that food cannot be forced down a throat. It has to be relished and enjoyed, only then does it bring in the benefits of healthy and nutrient rich growing, and so started the tradition of a la carte menu. Crazy again, yes.. but the joy of seeing my kids enjoying their food and licking their fingers makes it worth the effort.

It may seem like a lot of effort, but its not. A friend once told me, "you make us working women feel guilty." I told her, "I also have only 24 hours like you do, so don't feel guilty."  All it really takes is a well stocked pantry and some imagination.  I usually never plan a weeks worth of menu or grocery list. I buy what my eyes take fancy too and then when its dinner time, I open the refrigerator and make it work.  Over the years, I have some staples in my pantry and these staples make it all so easy. Trader Joes Red Pepper Spread is one such staple.  This little jar is magic.

A hearty delicious vegetable soup.
Every so often when I open the refrigerator there are ten different containers with left over food. What does one do? For instance, recently had lots of spinach dip and my favorite plain simple vegetable soup left over. I could have done sandwiches with the dip but the soup would still be the same. So instead, took the dip and made it into a cream of spinach soup AND took the soup, added some rice with a dash of some more spices and it made a scrumptious pulao. A completely new menu with the left overs. Yes, there is something about the upbeat jubilant homemaker in all this, but it is also very liberating to see an experiment come alive

Cooking is also love.  My daughter always wants to know what the secret ingredient is. My answer has been consistent; It's love.

So next time you are having a tired day, a blah day or a celebration day; step into your kitchen, take a look at your pantry, open the refrigerator and just stare at it for a few minutes. I am sure you will cook the most amazing meal your family ever had.

What did you say? You want a recipe.. free yourself of recipes. Through this space, I'll show you how.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

To Barbie or Not?

Barbie, it's just a doll.  You know it, I know it, We know it and yet we worry. Why? Why do we take an adult logic and perceptions and apply it to a toy designed for little girls.  

We, the women are intelligent. We know that no matter how hard we try, it is humanly impossible to have her phyisque. That perfect neck, the toes pointed out and heels that never touch the ground.. come on, it would take the act of god even for the most accomplished plastic surgeon to give that to a woman.  

We, the women sneer at those other women who buy Barbies for their daughter. We talk about how Barbie single handedly lowers and demeans our very existence and yet we crave for those flat abs and put ourselves to the mercy of green juices and detoxifications. 

We undercover the muffin tops only to whisper a hush hush wish for the perfect curve. The long tresses, the flaunting stride and the perfect twirl; yes we have always admired them, but when a doll does it, we scorn and despise. 

We who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, fire-fighters, astronauts, nurses, pilots, police-women, fitness experts, chefs, dentists, fashion designers and so much more choose to shun a doll and probably the only doll that has 150 careers on her resume allowing little girls to imagine and be anything they want to be. 

We the women choose to focus our attention on a plastic doll's over sized boobs and thin waistline and ignore the fact that the doll has embraced all the traditional male dominated careers and broken the plastic ceiling before the real woman did and then we stretch our vocal chords on how biased the corporate world is towards women and how under represented girls are in STEM based careers.  

Come on ladies, be serious. Do you really think a 4-5 year old focuses on the anatomy of a doll or the fact that her doll is the perfect companion to be anything that she wants to be?  Dolls don't create women who are anorexic, it is us and the world around us.  

Think about it, when we the women say that Barbie is ruining the self esteem of girls, aren't we are undermining the female intelligence? Don't you think your daughter is smart enough to know that Barbie is a doll and not a real human being?  Unrealistic beauty images are all around us, starting from your own friend circle. Come on be honest, I am sure you know her; the one who starves and sweats daily just to slide into THE dress and then waits for the likes and comments to flow in. 

Barbie is the least of our worries. We need to worry about ourselves, the women. 

If your daughter likes pink, let her wear it. If she wants a twirly skirt, buy her one. If she wants a birthday with all the glittery stuff, give her that birthday and celebrate with her. 

Allow her the freedom of being comfortable being a girl. Nature gave her the curves and the dainty look. Grant your daughter the permission to be demure. When she's ready she will adorn THE lab coat with pride and ease.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mysterious Happiness.

This is what we strive for. It is the reason we do what we do. We write tips about it, we write blogs about it and yet we never really pay too much attention to it. A day without any glitches is a good day.  When all goes as planned, we feel accomplished. At the end of the day, we look at the picture and smile. When asked, "why are you smiling?" We answer; because I am happy. 

Where is all this coming from? It all began with me starting to read the book Engineering Happiness, By Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells) 

What is happiness? I am not talking about what happiness means to you. I am asking, what is happiness? Can we define it? Can we design it? Better still, can we create it out of thin air?   

Think about it for a minute, If you had to define happiness in a scientific way, what would that definition be? 

Any guesses? I decided to give it a try of my own: 

Happiness is a state of mind. 

Happiness is doing what we love to do

and so forth... 

But none of the above work for all. They are too subjective. We need objectivity. Trust the enginees to be objective :) 

Happiness = Reality - Expectations (Engineering Happiness, By Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells) 

So simple and so true.  It's one those definitions that I read and said, "now why didn't I think of that." :) 

It's simple, but it's not static.  Happiness will increase every time reality is higher than the expectations. This explains why we humans prepare for the worst. We expect the worst, and reality is so much better.. so our happiness is high :) Sadly, the reverse is true too. Every time we expect more, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  And as I type this  I now realize the brilliance of the age old advise, "don't expect too much, just go with the flow." :) 

Happiness is dynamic. 

Our expectations change at every stage in life and so does our reality. Let us go back to our teenage years. The reality was what our parents said;  "the more you share, the more freedom you get." Our expectation was total freedom with minimal sharing, so the happiness sometimes entered negative territory. As soon as we crossover from the famously infamous puberty into the young adult territory, the happiness graph moves back up and reality takes an upper hand.  At this point the expectations don't really go down, it's just that as young adults, we too learnt to evaluate all scenarios and prepare for the worst, and so the path to happiness began. 
So is the key to happiness keeping our expectations low? Not at all.  When expectations arise from within they become the motivation to do better than ourselves. On the contrary when expectations arise from comparison with our peer group, we see an upside down smiley face. This is the start of one's journey towards unhappiness. Comparisons with anyone but oneself, can only lead to unhappiness.  The engineers gave us the equation above, how we change the variables depends on us. As long as we maintain the balance between the two variables, we can assure ourselves of continued happiness.

The truth is, the glass will always be half empty, and you have to make a choice, either you fill it up or leave it half empty.

In a nutshell, happiness can be designed, it can be created via the choices we make. This got me thinking, if happiness is a choice, then how is it that we the intellectually advanced human race never make it a priority. We focus on our to do lists, and make a 5 year plan for life only to end up feeling exhausted at the end of the day. We spend hours dong a job that we are not passionate about and that one hobby that makes us happy, we have no time for. We fear taking the plunge because we have bills to pay. We dream of expanding it all even though we know that it will only lead to more stress and yet we fear scaling it down simply because we fear the expectations the world has from us.  Is the world our reality? If not, then having worldly expectations is a perfect recipe for unhappiness.  

Times are changing. This century is the era of paradigm shifts. Some brave souls are choosing to challenge the conventional expectations and some curious minds are finally putting more thought into the science of being happy. From curious minds creating the Happiness Quotient to the Happiness Scale, there is enough intrigue for the elusive happiness. Philosophers, psychologists and educators continue to wonder about the "why" of happiness.  

The corporate world is changing too. Companies are realizing that the secret to success and increased productivity are happy employees. Enter Chief Happiness Officer . Professionals who are finding ways of bringing positivity back into the otherwise robotic world. 

Take a look at this World Happiness Report, it ranks Denmark, Norway and Switzerland as the happiest top 3 countries in the world. Their criteria; real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom, freedom from corruption and generosity. 

At a country level, the above criteria works. However at the individual level they don't work for me. GDP, perceived freedom etc etc is all about world expectations. Individual happiness is about individual expectations and individual realities.  Its interesting to note that what the developed world is still trying to measure and understand, Bhutan: a tiny country nestled in the Himalayas and bordered by  success frenzied India and China, has  Happiness measured to the very last detail. Bhutan has a holistic approach that factors in spirituality amongst other soft emotions and can be applied to individuals, families, communities and businesses alike.  

Now if only we could get the gurus to go to Bhutan and see what they do differently, for they not only have a Gross National Happiness, but they are also able to identify in sub categories like extensively happy, narrowly happy :) and plain unhappy :( .

The waves are changing, Google the word "happiness" and you will find everything from blogs to "to do" lists to stay happy.  In my recent trip to India, I was introduced to Happiness Studio by a friend. It's a novel concept for a country that breathes and chants the mantra's to stay calm and peaceful. It is impressive to see the paradigm change coming. 

Going back to our equation, remember they are your realities and expectations. Choose them wisely and keep the happiness flowing. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In remembrance ...

My blogpost today was on a Happy topic. As I logged in, realize the date .. 9/11...

13 years gone by and yet the images come up like it was yesterday. I was at work, and I remember my colleague asking me.. what's your take on it? I asked him "what do you mean?" He asked, "you know, all the bombing etc?"

I thought to myself, do I need to have a take on this? And I realized,  he is THE intern in the company .. the golden eyed kid that everyone loved. The intern that the rest of us interns had to compete with.

I told him;  "I don't have any take on this. I have dealt and heard about religious warfare ever since I can remember. It is a feeling of violation and annoyance that I don't know how to put in words."

He had the quizzical look on his face.   I grabbed my coffee and went back to my nook.

In remembrance of all that was lost and in honor of everyone who is doing their best to make this world a better place I invite you to listen to this talk on   It's about how one person chose peace in the most adverse situation. He was taught animosity and yet he found love and friendships. It is impressive and humbling.

Reaffirms the belief that life can spring in the most dire situations.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

India Rediscovered.

Going to India is not a vacation, it is an experience. An experience that moves you emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and sometimes even gastrically.

Taking our trip to India this year was beyond what I could have wished for. It was a trip that allowed us to visit India as a family, it allowed us to visit India with friends and most importantly, it allowed my children to discover India and  make their own observations.

A typical trip back home is about hanging out with the grandparents and eating an assortment of yummies that are a delight to both the tongue and the tummy. This time though, we decided to do it a little differently.  We decided to travel. The destinations were Mussoorie, in the foothills of Himalayas and to Mt. Abu, a hill station bordering the desert state of Rajasthan and the land of Gandhi, Gujarat.  

More on these places in another post, first my undocked thoughts on rediscovering India. 

After twenty two hours we land in India and find our way through the lines and edge towards the exit, the conversation goes;

Kids: "Eww, what's that smell?"
Me: "It's India." 
Kids: "You mean, India smells?" 
Me: "Yup." 

We then spot the grandparents and we hug, and hug some more and after a debate on why it is still okay for us to push our bags through a storm of people, we find our way to the SUV and drive home. 

Fast forward 5 weeks, we are back in US, we land in US and as we exit, the conversation goes;

Me: "What do you smell?"
Older kid: "Nothing."
Younger kid: "I am tired, can we just go home." 
Me: "Exactly." 
Older kid: "What do you mean?" 
Me: "Remember, when we were exiting the airport at India, you noticed the smell, and I told you it is India." 
Older kid: "Ya, so?" 
Me: "So, the point is, It is impossible to go to India and not notice it. India moves you in ways no other country in the world can move you."
Older kid: stays silent. 
Younger kid: "Can we just go home? I don't see daddy, where is he?"
Me: "Hold on, he is outside those big doors." 

India moves you. It is hard to visit India and come back indifferent. You are either going to hate it or love it. There is no middle emotion here.  If you have never been to India, the "smell" of India is like the fusion of smog, fresh jasmine flowers being sold on the sidewalk, tea being brewed on the road stalls, cows crossing the intersections and in monsoons the secret ingredient in this vibrant potpourri is the smell of the first rain on the soil that has been heat baked for 3000+ years. 

We drive through the freeways which as my kids observe are very nice and almost like US they tell me.   
The "just like US" freeways :) 
We arrive home, get pampered and days start rolling away.  One evening, we were watching the news channel and came the second thought. I realized that while the Indian media covers everything USA,  we in US, hear about India only when a major event is happening. Until recently Apu from Simpsons or Ravi from Jessie were the only thing India, the western kid knew.  Good or bad, that's debatable. The lack of knowledge of the world around can be the source of knowledge of all things US and hence the country stands tall and proud. The lack of knowledge of the world around can also be responsible for the changing face of the global economies.  

India maybe old, but it is global.  A country where every state is a country in itself has 18+ nationally recognized languages and yet boasts of the largest English speaking educated population.  So fear not, when you visit India, unlike France or Japan, every one there from the cab driver to the corporate executive will be able to communicate with you. 

Our travels included being driven through the mountains and packed megapolis cities. We refrain from driving in India. Why? Well simply because we don't have the skill set needed. Skill set, yes! It takes stellar driving skills to meander through a myriad of transportation entwined with cows and human beings crossing the road.  For a bystander, it is total chaos. Fight this chaos, and you will be swept away. Flow with the chaos and you will reach your destination.  India teaches one to be patient.  The patience in India has been a boon and a bane. Boon for it has allowed the country to thrive despite a century of slavery. Bane because it has taken the country decades to come of of its slavery mindset. 

The CDC warns you to not eat street food. But then that's where the flavors are
This is corn being roasted on open fire coals in drizzling rain.
The romance of this experience cannot be expressed in words.
India is a foodie heaven. Indian food is often considered synonymous to hot and spicy. I disagree!  Yes, we like it hot, but so do folks in Mexico or Schezwan. What makes Indian food unique is the amalgamation of different cultures and flavors. From the paleo diet of the Indus valley civilization to the chilli and potatoes introduced in India by the Portuguese, India accepted it all. The Mughals introduced India to the concept of "cooking is an art." Food in India today is a passionate love affair that has been simmering amongst the exotic spices for centuries now.  Interestingly it offers something for every diet. Vegetarians, vegans, gluten resistant diet, only meat diet, no dairy diet or just plain paleo; you name it and the cuisine has something for everyone readily available everyday in the street food stalls. No need to find expensive restaurants and request customization. As long as you have the guts to try it, the food is there and it is awesome.  

As we wrap up the first phase of the experience and get ready for the second. the third realization comes through, it is still not safe to travel alone in India.  It is sad, but true.  After hubby came back to US, I did venture out on a short vacation with my friends... mommy and kid thing.  Every one who heard had the skeptical look on their face. While the look first confused me, in retrospect I now know why? It doesn't happen very often in India that 5 moms decide to take their kids on vacation by themselves.  But we did and did well. The key is to use some common sense rules and stay away from trouble and stick with your guts.  

The most interesting and funniest thing happened as we toured the sites of Mt. Abu with friends.. the mommy and kid thing. 

Tired and with kids desperate to use the restroom (or washrooms) we enter Cafe Coffee Day ( Indian equivalent of Starbucks) only to find the sign "Out of order" on the restroom door.  We frown and settle the kids, give their orders and as I was paying the bill, I start a conversation with the cashier. 

Me: "Why is the washroom closed?"
Cashier: "No Mam, you can use it." 
Me: "But there is a sign.."
Cashier: "Mam, that sign is there so that customers like you can use it." 
Me: (thinking in mind .. and wondering and then it hits me.) They have the sign there so everyone passing by does not use it. 
It was brilliant. India thinks out of the box. 

India is a country of opposites. It is beautiful, muddy, magnanimous, heartless all in one breath. 
Traveling to this incredible stunning country is a far-fetched dream for the western world. 
Blessed am I for I was born there.