Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bamse in God's own country

See, its not just me.

The State Institute of Children’s Literature has put in place some plans to try and partly tackle this famine. The Institute recently brought out a set of books in Malayalam and is also eyeing the Swedish book market for children’s stories. Very soon, children in the State can feast their eyes on these stories.

From here.

PS: Yes, I am home. On my way back really - off to Nilgiris for a couple of days and then a day in Bombay before getting to London. While at home, managed to get Don engaged to amma all over again - major fun. Details when I get back.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Best Food Forward - Part 4

You never thought we would get to Part 4, did you? Ha! And this one is special too. This one is paying respects to certian ahem...senior fellows of the blogosphere edition. If we were to do this right, this would have been fish but since we aren't that respectful, you have to be happy with Bangla food in Brick Lane. (Btw, did I tell you that when Bill found out that the chef is Pakistani, he almost got up and left? He changed his mind as soon he saw our beaming faces.)

So anyway, getting to the food, this one is Prof-da special. We are sure that in all the silk road pictures, man spent ten minutes arranging food on the table so that he could get a decent pciture. (Yes, poor TPB, we know.)

And this one is well, who else could it be, JAP-da special. Always to destroy food before you take picture .

Special mention: The best bagels in the world. No, you New Yorkers lose.

The NY Times agrees. Sort of.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Postcard from Spey

I know. It was ages ago. But its whisky no? We can wait a little, no?

Oh, those of you who actually saw this over your morning coffee, please note: the picture you saw is of Strathisla, not Glenfiddich. This one below is Glenfiddich alright. The distillation process.

“And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s way to man”
- A.E.Housman

And what better place to understand God’s mysterious ways than by the River Spey in northeastern Scotland, heart of Scottish whisky country and home to the single malt? Connoisseurs visit all eight distilleries and the one cooperage featured in the Malt Whisky Trail around Speyside while true devotees spend a few days here, and then venture far out in the old distilleries of Islay and the Orkney Islands. Having pledged allegiance to that colourless Russian concoction long back, I was happy visiting just two: the distillery of Glenfiddich, the world’s best selling single malt, and the distillery of Strathisla because I knew that Appa would never forgive me if I came all the way here and didn’t visit the home of his beloved Chivas Regal.

Speyside in North Eastern Scotland, once considered part of the Scottish Highlands, is now a region of its own. The Highlands are known for their rugged coastlines, imposing castles and impenetrable Lochs, and people usually flock here to catch a glimpse of the elusive Loch Ness monster. For those of us who are mildly adventurous, there is always the sport of Munro-bagging – a Munro is any mountain taller than 3000 ft and the Highlands are full of them. But just thirty miles east of Inverness, in Spey county, it is a different country altogether. The desolate mountains of the Highlands give way to rolling hills with meadows and pastures. Tractors shared the road with us; every village we drove through had a bridge over a clear water stream. The distinctive pagoda signs signifying the distilleries started cropping up and we followed them to the Malt Whisky Trail. Soon we found ourselves turning into the parking lot of Glenfiddich (Glen: Valley, Fiddich: Deer)

A tour was just about to begin as we entered the distillery, and we managed to get ourselves on it. There was also a large German tourist contingent visiting the distillery at the same time. This I found out just when the tour started – the first part of the tour was a short movie on the history of Glenfiddich and two minutes into the movie, I realised that it was in German! I turned to my friend but he was focussed on the screen. Too late I realised that he had taken a couple of semesters of German at the university. I frantically put on headphones and changed the audio to English by which time we were past the time of William Grant who built the first building by hand, bought second-hand equipment, and opened on Christmas Day, 1887. But I did find out the water that is used throughout the whisky making process is the spring water from the mountain stream of Robbie Dhu, the 1200 acres around which the Grant family bought as they wanted to ensure that the water of Robbie Dhu was always available to them to make the whisky.

After the movie, we met with our guide Susan who explained the process of whisky making. Barley, yeast and huge quantities of water are all that goes into the process. First, the barley is “malted” by soaking the grain in water for a few days and letting it germinate. In the past, Glenfiddich had its own malting floor with the pagoda roof used for ventilation but nowadays malt is brought commercially from specially chosen malsters. We walked to the milling section where the malt is milled into grist, and added to hot water to extract the sugars. A large kettle called the mashtun is used in extraction – the grist is mashed a few times to extract all fermentable sugars. The resulting sugary liquid is now fermented by adding yeast in giant vessels called washbacks. After this is the distillation process which is done in copper pot stills. We could walk between the stills but photography wasn’t allowed because of the high alcohol content around us. Distillation is done two or three times until the alcohol content is around 60 – 80%. The distilled alcohol is now ready for maturing.

Next, we walked to the storage area where again no cameras were allowed. We learnt about the art of cooperage where a cooper puts together an oak cask meant for storing the whisky. The cask they use for making Glenfiddich is mostly second hand – American bourbon or Portuguese sherry has been stored in them before. New oak casks are also used for some reserves. The cooper takes apart the cask, checks them to make sure they are alright, and puts them back together. The distilled whisky is poured into these casks and stored for years. The whisky takes in the flavour of the wooden cask it is in. The Glenfiddich Special Reserve takes 12 years, and then it is opened and mixed with whisky from other casks before bottling. Susan showed us three casks with small openings through which we could smell the whisky. The first was 12 years old, the second 18 and the third 22. I bent down to smell the 18 year old cask; a second later I could feel the rich wooden flavour going straight through to my sinus. Susan broke into my heavenly reprieve.

“I know. Last week, there was a guy down there and I thought he would never get up!”

Our last stop was obviously the tasting area where we could finally taste the Special Reserve. I gulped down my portion and looked at my friend who is usually not a whisky drinker. He had finished his glass and was getting it refilled.

I picked up a couple of bottles on our way out. A bottle for an uncle in the States who always bemoans the non-availability of good single malts where he lives and another for my Dad. But now as I write this, the Special Reserve on the cabinet in front of me, it looks a little too tempting. Appa, I think, will have to be happy with just his Chivas. The Glenfiddich is all mine.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Scenes from a Marriage: The Cotton China Edition

(In case you were wondering, nothing's changed since the Paper Edition. We lead the same life in a different country. We still have the same reaction. Bill doesn't have a PhD or anything resembling a real job.)

And oh, Bill typed this up. I added some spice here and there of course but its mostly just Bill.

"Okay, so let's see, you were in India, then I was in Germany, then you were in US, then..."

"Then I will go to India, you will go to India, but to a different city, then I will go to Colombo, then..."

" will go to the US, then a month after, I will go the US, then you will go to Dubai"

"Isn't there something wrong here? Aren't married people, like, supposed to see each other more than once a month?"

"Well, you were the one complaining about how it feels strange to be together all the time, and pining for Pittsburgh-Chicago days"

"I know, that is not what I had in mind. People are asking appa if everything is all right between the two of us. If we are really together and all that"

"Didn't they used to ask him when I was finishing my phd?"

"Not anymore. Because he couldn't take it anymore, he lied and told them that you are already done"

"He what?"

"Hello, why is that a problem? Everyone including Her Majesty's Revenue Service and the U of Cambridge think you have a phd. Hell, until yesterday even Banker (Bill's friend from school who made his appearance here long ago) thought so"

"Yeah, and then you had to break it to him. Poor chap, he was telling everyone that I am Dr Bill"

"He will be alright. Now that he's come up with this idea of making you pretty and doing an expose..."

"He is doing what?"

"Oh, didn't we tell you? Banker and I discussed this yesterday. So the deal is you have been a post-doc fellow for a year now but you do not have a Phd. This is an expose that we are planning to sell to Oxford tabloids and make lots of money. Problem is this would only work if you were a little more pretty. So we are going to make you pretty"

"With friends like these!"

"Anyway, back to Appa and friends. We have to figure out something that he can tell them"

"Why don't you tell them things are grand between us? I get thoughtful gifts of bottles from every part of the world I travel to"

"And that is supposed to help? Appa will tell his friends that his son-in-law is making his daughter an alcoholic?"

"I am making you one? Right! I am sure you would hardly ever touch alcohol otherwise"

"Of course I don't. Shiva Shiva, I was such a nice Tam girl, until I met this vague north-indian"

"East! East! I know you lost marks in geography, but this is too much! You should ask your geography teacher to reimburse fees"

"Yes, I am Wasserkopf! My geography is bad, so I have to get you to navigate. Which is why we go round and round and round. It's my geography, of course"

"Besides the point. Don't evade the topic. You have a drinking problem"

"I have a drinking problem? Who drinks the other half of the bottle?"

"At least I accept the fact. Awareness is the first step to recovery"

"Where have you been, alcoholics anonymous?"

"Well, if you have to know, I got that from BM"

"BM? How is she involved in this?"

"She was afraid to tell you, but she told me. She thinks we have a drinking problem"

"I see. What else does she think that she's afraid to tell me about?"

"Again, not the point. Didn't MR also say that we drink too much?"

"Not only do you take BM seriously, you also take MR seriously. What's wrong with you?"

"I am a people person, remember? Of course I take them seriously"

"Value in relationships, that's what you are about!"

"That's what Bamse has taught me"

"Yes! Now we also listen to imaginary bears from Sweden"

"This is not just some bear. Bamse is the strongest and the kindest..."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever! Why don't you give up alcohol, if you are so concerned?"

"Sure, and go to Mahalakshmi temple every Sunday"

"We all know how you will claim you are going, and go across the street to Saravana Bhavan"

"And get dosai and appam! Mmmm..."

"And practice your Tam with the waiter"

"Hey, its not my fault if he thinks I am Tam and you are some vague N Indian"

"Yeah, proper Tam boy you are.."

"I will change name to Karthik Soundarajan!"

"Yes, and go pray at Mahalakshmi temple, eat at Saravana Bhavan, go home, and watch Rajni movies on Sun TV. Such a nice traditional Tam boy you are...."

"Yes, I am, aren't I?"

"In fact you are so traditional that even my parents will disown you"

"Ah! That might not be too bad. You know what the date is tomorrow, don't you?"

"No, No. STOP. I do not want to hear the M word, alright? Not from you of all people"

"Of course I am not going to say it. What do you take me for?"

"Yeah, its bad enough that my parents and your parents and all and sundry keep calling us and telling us how happy they are for us etc etc."

"I know, its like someone's won the Nobel or something. You know what I mean?"

"Exactly. Why can't they just forget it?"

"Yeah man, you would think two years is a long time for people to forget it"

"Two years? Did you say two years? Fuck"

"I know. Fuck"

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Saturday at Borough

Part 2 of Best Food Forward
And Part 3 of BM and Buddhi in London

Saturday + Visitors = Borough market.

The market is great, its a great photo-op, the tourists you see there try to blend in which is always very amusing to watch. The only non-cool thing about it is that the bankers of Shad Thames and City all land up there because its such a quintessentially London thing to do, isn't it now? Yeah, these are the same people who sit around and make fun of poor software engineer types who spend their day in East Ham visiting Mahalaxmi Temple and Saravana Bhavan.

And now that the obligatory deragatory banker reference is out of the way, back to Borough market. The original plan was to walk there. Didn't work too well as Bill and I realised soon enough that we are dealing with two Californians here. (If I were the Falstaffian type, here I would talk about how in Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality, he talks about how in California, the left leg is a vestigial appendage as they have even gotten rid of the clutch etc.) So anyway, we go to London Bridge and BM pulls out camera and starts taking random pictures of corner stores (who also sell vegetables) thinking its the market. We finally manage to convince her that it isn't and she follows reluctantly. Once inside the market, she was like a pattikattan (village idiot) who sees elephant for the first time. Evidence follows.

An hour later we find ourselves at this stall tasting some amazing dry cured ham when my phone rings.

"Hey Anoop"

Bill, Buddhi and BM scream "Hi Anoop". Everyone around us turn around.

"I have news. I should have been in London, I know but now I am making a whirlwind trip to India"


"Last minute plan. I am packing right now. My flight leaves in a couple of hours"

"How long are you in India?"

"For a few weeks"

"Are you getting married?"

"Not that I know of"

"Should I call your Dad to check?"

"No, thats unnecessary"

"Hmm..not even sneak preview?"

"No. All will be revealed when I get back"

"We shall wait patiently for Revealations then"

BM, Buddhi and Bill all together: "Bye Anoop". This time, people around us just move away.

Wild boar sausages is where the queue was. So obviously we decide that's where we should be. Problem is its a long, long queue. And we are all ravenous.

"Idea! We got tampanade and cheese right?"

"Why don't you guys go stand in line and I will go get some bread. We will have it while we are standing in line"

"That works!"

Soon we are all standing in long line hogging. Everyone who passes us stares at us. People in front of and behind us in the queue peep in to see what's going on.

Finally the girl just in front of us couldn't take it anymore. She calls her friend. "Where are you?"..."Yes, I am in line"..."Why don't you pick up some olives and chesse along with the bread?"...."Why? Just pick up some"..."I am hungry"..."The line is long".

She hangs up and Buddhi decides to be the friendly neighborhood types.

"You can have some of this bread if you want"

The girl looks scared this time. She mumbles No, Thank You and runs away.

Yeah, yeah, we finally got our wild boar sausage. Here.

PS: BM, didn't you have some amazing cheese pictures somewhere? Or am I thinking of one of Szerelem's old posts?