Friday, September 09, 2016

The last post...

To all the readers of my blog who have read and commented and discussed and encouraged and more, I would like to express my deepest thanks. This blog has been fun over the last many years and has come to  hold a smattering of thoughts and ideas which were important to me in different ways. It was fun sharing these with you and getting to know your viewpoints as well. Have also made a lot of friends through this blog and am really very thankful for this experience.

Umm...Ok...but what's going on?

That said and done, I have recently been looking over the blog with a critical eye and have come to the conclusion that it has become quite a bit messy...in the sense that too many unrelated topics are located in one place, and it becomes very difficult to understand what this blog is all about now. Ideally every domain needs to be hosted and maintained in separate blogs so that people get what they are looking for. I mean readers who subscribed to this blog after reading a few posts on Book Reviews should not end up getting posts about Cooking in their daily feed (and vice versa), unless they want to. If you think about it, this can be a big turn off, that I have unsuspectingly dished out to my readers.

I have been through many changes in life recently, and have learnt and experienced tons of new things, which I am all eager to share. Wasn't able to write a lot over the last couple of years due to these changes, but I might just be getting a handle on them now. So, am all excited to start again. However, I did realise that the blog needs to be organised well. For this, am going to have to break this blog into multiple new ones - each of them concentrating only on one domain (or a few connected domains). I have just started on this today, and hope to have these up and running in a few weeks, with the posts from here, and a few new ones.

What happens to srininomics? 

Well, this blog will keep running for a few more months, and will have a couple more posts after this one, with links to each of the new specific blogs that I am working on, and maybe some information about them.
Somewhere down the road though, it would probably be correct to remove all the old posts and replace with a generic page containing these links, so that visitors can choose the content they are interested in.

In military tradition, the Last Post is a bugle that signifies the end of the day's activities.
It might be apt, to sound the bugle here, here and now.

This is not the end, but a new beginning with multiple better, more organised blogs on the way. I really hope all my readers would follow me there as well, and also that I am able to produce quality content that they enjoy reading in the years to come.

Thanks a lot, wish each one of you all the best, and hope to see you in my new blogs as well.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Coriander Chutney

Coriander Chutney

Description: 

Coriander or Cilantro is a herb that is extensively used in Indian cooking. It is known to be a versatile herb that brings a fresh taste to a wide variety of dishes. It is also a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and dietary fibre.
Coriander Chutney is used as an accompaniment to a wide variety of Indian snacks like bhajias, pakodas, wadas of different kinds, idlis, dosas, upmas, etc. It can also be used to prepare sandwiches, chats, bhel puris, or as one of the sauces used to dress pizza bases to prepare Indian style Pizzas. Very useful to prepare this chutney upfront and keep it preserved in deep freeze for vacations and occasions where guests are expected.

Serves: 3-4 adults

Preparation Time: Approx 5 minutes


Ingredients:

  • Fresh coriander leaves and soft stalks, approx 1.5 cups
  • Lemon - about half
  • Green chillies - 4
  • Peanuts - a handful
  • Salt, to taste
  • A few mint leaves (optional)

Steps:

  1. Wash the coriander leaves and stalks thoroughly, and chop into medium-small pieces. Discard any hard fibrous stalks.
  2. Add peanuts, green chillies, the corainder leaves and mint leaves(optional) to a grinder. Add a little amount of water, and grind to a smooth paste
  3. Squeeze lemon juice on top of the paste, and mix thoroughly. Add salt, as per taste
  4. Use immediately as an accompaniment for Indian snacks, or in sandwiches/dosas/bhel puri/chat. Store in the fridge/ freezer, for a bit longer shelf life
  5. If using mint (pudina) leaves, the taste is enhanced by the minty flavour. However, the shelf life is drastically reduced, and the chutney needs to be used within some 3-4 days. Otherwise, the chutney will be good for a couple of weeks (stored in fridge / freezer)

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Beetroot Leaf Dal

Beetroot Leaf Dal

Description:

Beetroot leaves or Beet greens are an excellent source of Potassium, Vitamin C and dietary fiber which are needed in our daily diet. But, they are often an ignored source of nutrition in India. I have seen far too many times that beet greens are just ripped away and discarded in the marketplace, while selling/ buying beets. This is a wastage of money, an excellent source of nutrition, as well as something that can be used to make some tasty Indian food. There is also the added benefit that beet roots can be stored for a longer time when their leaves are present as well.

Here I present the basic dal made with beet greens, which is not just quick to make but also a colourful, flavourful and healthy accompaniment to rice or chapatis.

I hope, this motivates you to bring home those colourful red-green leaves.

Serves: 3-4 adults

Preparation Time: Approx 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Beet greens - leaves and stalk chopped into small pieces, approx 1.5 cups
  • Onion - 1
  • Garlic pods - 5
  • Tomato - 1 big
  • Tur Dal - 1 cup, boiled in a pressure cooker with salt
  • Hing / Asafoetida, a pinch
  • Turmeric powder
  • Red chilli powder
  • Mustard seeds (Raai)
  • Fenungreek seeds (jeera)
  • Capsicum - 1 small (optional)
  • Oil, to temper, as per taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Coriander leaves for garnishing

Steps:

  1. Tur Dal:
    1. Pressure cook the tur dal with a bit of salt to your desired consistency. If you like the dal completely mashed, keep it for 4-5 whistles, or if you prefer a cooked yet firm dal, keep it for fewer whistles.
    2. While the dal is cooking, please proceed with the beet greens
  2. Beet Greens:

    1. Chop and wash the beet greens wash. The soft red stalks as well as the green leaves can be consumed. It's necessary to wash thoroughly 2-3 times in order to make sure all the mud is gotten rid of.
    2. Heat some oil in a pan. Crackle mustard seeds and jeera seeds in it.
    3. Add the chopped onions (and capsicum), and roast till they are just about to start turning golden brown.
    4. Add the chopped garlic, asafoetida, red chilli powder, turmeric and fry for a couple of minutes.
    5. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook it for a couple of minitues till the tomatoes turn soft.
    6. Add the chopped, washed beet greens and fry for a few minutes. Then add some water, and bring to a boil.
  3. Combine everything:

    1. Add the cooked dal to the boiling beet greens mixture.
    2. Add desired amount of water, to make the dal have your preferred consistency. If you like a watery dal, then add more quantity of water. For thick dal, little or no additional water would be needed.
    3. Check if the stalks are cooked. Try to cut through one with a knife. The knife should cut through with minimal pressure.
    4. One done, garnish with coriander leaves (if desired).
    5. Serve hot with rice, or chapatis/rotis.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Murungakkai Sambar

Murungakkai Sambhar

Description

Drumsticks (called as Murungakkai in Tamil, and Shenga in Marathi) is a storehouse of Vitamin C. A few bites are sufficient to provide more than double the amount of vitamin C needed for the day. It also contains a lot of Potassium, dietary fiber, magnesium and manganese, making dishes made out of drumstick very nutritious, yet tasty accompaniments to a meal.

Drumstick Sambhar is one of the most popular South Indian delicacies, and is an essential feature in festivals, functions etc. While growing up, I used to look forward to weekends, where my mom would prepare this dish, which is one of her specialities; and also happens to be the first dish that I learnt before getting married. After marriage, me and my husband look forward to weekends, where we could enjoy cooking as well as eating some home made murungakkai sambar.

It's quite simple to make, and requires very basic ingredients that would be typically available in most Indian kitchens.

Serves : 4 adults

Served with steamed rice and papad/thoran/poriyal

Preparation time: Approx 30 mins

Ingredients



  • Drumsticks-3 to 4
  • Additional diced vegetables like cauliflower, pumpkin, potatoes (optional)
  • Tomatoes -3
  • Tur dal
  • Tamarind Paste
  • Curry leaves
  • Turmeric powder
  • Sambhar Powder (1 tsp - optional)
  • 2 to 3 tbsp of oil
  • Dhaniya seeds
  • Chana Dal
  • Red Chillies
  • Asafoetida (Hing)
  • Salt to taste

Steps:

  1. Tur Dal and Drumsticks:
    1. Cook tur dal in a pressure cooker, for 3-4 whistles.
    2. Boil the chopped drumsticks with the cooked tur dal, till the drumsticks are cooked.
    3. If desired, additional vegetables like cauliflower, potato, pumpkin can also be added here.
    4. While the drumsticks are cooking, proceed with preparing the wet ground masala.

  2. Wet Ground masala:

    1. Heat 2 tbsp of oil. Add 3 tbsp of dhaniya seeds, 2 tbsp of chana dal, 3 to 4 red chillies, curry leaves.
    2. Once dhaniya seeds turn slightly brown, add grated coconut and roast it for 2 mins.
    3. Allow this mixture to cool. Add some water and grind this mixture to a fine wet paste

  3. Combine them together:

    1. Coarse grind tomatoes to a paste. Add this to the boiling drumsticks.
    2. Add 2 tbsp of tamarind paste, pinch of asafoetida, 1-2 tbsp of sambhar powder (optional), salt to taste, pinch of turmeric to the boiling mixture.
    3. Allow to cook for a few minutes so that the tangy flavour can enter the drumsticks.
    4. Add the wet ground masala prepared above to the boiling mixture, and cook for a few more minutes till done.

  4. Tadka:
    1. For tadka, heat 2 tbsp of oil, add mustard seeds.
    2. Allow it to crack, add curry leaves. Add this tadka to the sambhar.

  5. Serve hot with steamed rice and side dishes of your choice.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

3 Myths that Sanskrit lovers must know about.

This is something that I have wanted to say for quite some time now.

Well, my readers and friends know that I really care about Samskritam / Sanskrit, and that my excitement peaks whenever someone mentions this language. Have been studying material provided by organizations like Samskrita Bharathi and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, during my journey so far, and I really love every bit of it. I hope to one day become really proficient in the language and be able to teach many other enthusiasts and fellow learners.

However, it really upsets me sometimes when I see that people feel the need to include fantastic claims about Sanskrit while they are speaking about it. I mean,..what's the need, seriously? Sanskrit is a very beautiful, melodious and well structured language as is. It has so many good things in it which can be said instead to convince / attract people to the language. Instead, so many well meaning, respectable people feel the need to use fantastic claims which do not stand the least bit of scrutiny. This might turn off others from taking these people and the language seriously, and might actually harm the movement.

In this article I am going to try to bash some of these myths and replace them with facts which were most probably twisted at some time in the past to create the same.


Myth 1: Sanskrit is the "mother" (janani) of all languages. All languages have been derived / born out of Sanskrit.

No way. 
Sanskrit is not even the mother of all "Indian" languages, leave alone all world languages.

There are a huge number of Indian languages which have been derived from Prakrits, or language families other than the one Sanskrit is present in, particularly in the north eastern, southern and tribal regions of India. These languages are as much "Indian" as Sanskrit or Hindi are. It's disrespectful to both Sanskrit as well as the other languages to claim this relationship when it doesn't exist.

What is true though, is that Sanskrit has influenced and affected all of the major languages spoken in the Indian subcontinent and beyond, whether or not the language was born out of Sanskrit in the first place. A big part of the vocabulary, grammar, and word usage in languages like Bengali, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Malayalam, etc. comes from Sanskrit words or words of Sanskrit origin. So, it has indeed had a major impact all right. However, that doesn't make Sanskrit the "mother" of all (Indian) languages.

In fact, even languages like Marathi, Punjabi, Hindi etc which are claimed to be daughters of Sanskrit, have come out of Prakrit languages like MaharashtriShauraseniMagahi (respectively) mixing with a liberal amount of Sanskrit (which would form the formal register of the respective languages), and underwent standardization in vocabulary and grammar rules to form the languages as they are today. So, these languages should be called daughters of their respective Prakrits, with Sanskrit enriching them and giving them their modern form today.

Fact: Sanskrit has influenced and enriched all the current major languages of the Indian subcontinent. The amount of influence differs from language to language, but it is not minor and even languages like Tamil (which has a lesser number of Sanskrit words as compared to others) has had a big influence.


Myth 2: All sounds in other languages can be expressed in Sanskrit. Sanskrit uses all parts of the tongue to produce sounds and is hence perfect.

Umm... not really. There are sounds like zha (ഴ in Malayalam, ழ in Tamil), short vowels in South Indian languages, and sounds like lla (ळ  in Marathi) and other languages which are not present in Sanskrit,  .If we take international languages, then the number of sounds (and hence parts of the tongue not used in Sanskrit) becomes pretty large.

Fact is Sanskrit is a pretty balanced language, and uses most parts of the tongue. It organizes the sounds pretty scientifically, and has a good, consistent grammar structure. This structure has had an influence on a huge number of other Indian languages as well (which also follow a similar pattern of organizing sounds based on the part of the tongue from where the sounds originate).

Myth 3: Sanskrit is the best languages for Computers. Nasa has published some report (or is working on some project) that microprocessors based on Sanskrit can give faster computation. Nasa even gives training in Sanskrit to all it's astronauts.

Gosh! Honestly, this (which is recited as if it's an uncontested fact by unsuspecting Sanskrit lovers) is what really drives me nuts. Just ask any computer engineer or IT professional you know about this, and you would know that this is all myth. Computer professionals who are also Sanskrit lovers usually suspect that something is wrong with this claim, but surprisingly choose to keep quite, thus making the non-computer folks think that this is a true canon.

Let me try to clear up this point here:

Computers do NOT understand human languages (at least as of today). They only understand something called as machine language. Computer programs are written in what are called Computer languages (e.g. Java, C, C++ and others). These are different from human languages (e.g. English, Tamil, Sanskrit, Chinese, and others).  The instructions in these computer languages are finally converted into executable machine code using different utilities like compilers, interpretors, or assemblers based on the type of the language. Finally, the computer will work based on this machine code.

The higher level computer languages are written in a human readable manner, typically using English keywords. It's quite possible to construct a computer language which uses Sanskrit keywords, but it would require an interpretor / compiler for converting this Sanskrit language program into machine code. Currently at least, nothing like that exists in the market today (or at least is not popularly used). I am ready to bet that most computer engineers / IT professionals would not have heard of any Sanskrit programming language till date.

Similarly, it is not possible to "use" Sanskrit to create faster microprocessors; and it's highly unlikely that NASA will spend time teaching Sanskrit to astronauts unless they discover a group of Sanskrit speaking aliens in space, or India becomes a space superpower and insists on using Sanskrit for all communication with US astronauts. Astronauts are chosen for other capabilities, not their conversing ability in Sanskrit and other languages (although some basic spoken English/Russian/Chinese might be present in the syllabus of astronauts in order to be able to manage basic communication with colleagues from different countries).

Actually, this myth (and related myths) arose due to a paper presented by Rick Briggs about  using Sanskrit in Natural Language Processing. The basic idea here is to spare people the "pain" of learning computer languages like Java and allow them to write programs in a natural language (like Sanskrit) instead, thus making it easy for humans and computers to converse. It talks about Sanskrit grammar saying that it's possible to translate the same into a form understandable by computers (similar arguments can be made for certain other languages like Turkish and Lithuanian too, which use conjugates and have precise grammar rules). This paper however, does NOT claim that Sanskrit the best language for usage in computers, nor does it say anything about computers already using Sanskrit and computer professionals needing to learn the language. Sanskrit is just used as an example in this to prove the point that it might someday be possible to create utilities that can translate human languages (at least certain human languages which have a precise grammatical structure) to machine code.

Facts: Sanskrit is not used in computers or NASA today. It is possible to create utilities that will convert Sanskrit instructions to a form understandable by Computers, but no such utilities exist (or are popular) today. Even if created, getting widespread acceptance for this utility is going to be a big challenge (considering the challenges already faced in reviving Sanskrit as a widely spoken language) today.


I believe that Sanskrit is a beautiful language, with a very rich history, very refined grammatical structure and a poetic, peaceful sound to it. It has big vocabulary consisting of many words for every object/ idea to explain different nuances of meaning, and also has a system to generate new words to express new ideas which make the new word very intuitive to understand. It can also be considered the mother (or at least a benevolent aunt) of most Indian languages, and has a pride of place in four major world religions. In fact there is a huge list of real good points of Sanskrit.

I urge lovers of Sanskrit to talk about these points, rather than unknowingly mention myths and half-untruths which have originated around the language these days. Sanskrit does NOT need these crutches to stand on. It has proud, strong roots of its' own. Let's make sure we talk about them.

जयतु संस्कृतम्                                                 Jayatu Samskrutam 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Ironing lessons

Was thinking about disagreements, and how they quickly escalate to unmanageable levels at times. About how you end up worsening things when you try to take control. On the other hand, nothing gets resolved, and things still worsen over a (much longer) period of time, if you adopt a conciliatory stance. I was thinking about this, when I suddenly started getting  answers from somewhere.

In my sights was an ironing board, and the humble iron that I use most mornings to iron my clothes. Examples started pouring in to my thoughts,..both from my real life experiences as well as (at least in my perception) from the iron's.

Wrinkled clothes cannot be fixed without a heated iron. Putting weight on the wrinkles, without any heat, might seem to fix them at that time,... but the wrinkles will reappear the moment the pressure is removed. So too, any disagreements (or indeed, any problems faced in life) cannot be resolved without the right approach/attitude. This might call for a firm hand to take charge of the situation and lay down the rules at times, but definitely not always. Sometimes it might call for a different kind of firmness. That of conviction, sincerity, honesty or belief. Irrespective of the kind of heat required to smooth out the challenges being thrown up, what will most definitely not work is the lack of conviction or belief in yourself. If you lack self belief or are unsure about what you are doing, then any solution that you come up is going to be as effective as a cold iron. The problems are gonna reappear soon.

At the same time, it's important to remember that ironing requires heat...not fire. Situations of conflict might need a firm stance,... but definitely not anger or a full blown out face off. Anger/panic will not solve anything. It will only cause your hands (representing yourself) or the fabric (representing the situation / relationship) or both to be burnt and damaged, sometimes irreparably for ever.

Yet another point to remember is that the amount of heat required depends upon the fabric material. Similarly, every situation will require to be dealt with differently. Applying the same amount of heat every time causes either an ineffective result (due to too little heat), or a disaster (burnt cloth due to too much heat).

Ultimately though, what matters the most is to handle the situation correctly. With care. It's important to not let anger, fear or panic get the best of you. It's also necessary to give the task an adequate amount of time, as big bang solutions mostly do not work well and end up in either disaster or no solution at all. Just like it is necessary to consider the cloth's fabric material and make sure to iron with the grain of the cloth whilst taking your time and applying the right amount of heat and pressure; so too situations call for a finely balanced, skilful handling in order to reach a favourable resolution that lasts.  

This semi-meditative state lasted only a few seconds,...but left me amazed by how many life lessons we can learn from the unlikeliest of sources,...even a simple household appliance could teach us so much if we keep our eyes, ears and mind wide open. It's amazing to get such glimpses now and then.