Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Seat Belts: Better Safe Than Sorry!

Accident report: 2 die, 5 injured in I-17 accident

This accident happened on Sunday afternoon on Interstate-17, just north of Phoenix, Arizona. A van with 9 people, was travelling North to the Grand Canyon. The driver lost control, the van rolled over twice across the wide median (the median is almost wider than northbound or southbound lanes) and came to rest on the Southbound lanes.

I saw the van on TV in Sunday night's news. It had some body damage on the sides, some damage in the front, otherwise it was alright. After rolling over twice, it had come to a stop in the upright position. All nine people in the van were thrown out, 2 died on the spot, 5 were critically injured. A police officer mentioned that ALL nine people were not wearing seat belts. He also said that if they had been wearing seat belts, they would ALL have walked away from the accident, with minor injuries.

A few months ago, one of my friends had a similar accident on I-17, when returning from the Grand Canyon. He was in a car, with his wife and parents. The car flipped over. Three people had minor injuries. They had all been wearing seat belts. The only person who was not wearing the seat belt had multiple fractures. She had been sitting in the backseat.

Please wear seat belts when travelling on the freeway. Even if you are sitting on the back seat, wear seat belts. I have noticed that many people who come newly from India are reluctant to wear seat belts. Some people think it is okay to not wear seat belts if they are travelling in the backseat of the car. This is a carry-over of our behavior from travelling on Indian roads. We should remember that the average speed on American freeways is double or triple the average speed on Indian highways. At such high speeds, the possibility of serious injuries due to accidents increases exponentially.

If you have a baby/kid, please ensure that s/he is belted down properly when the car is moving. Holding the baby in your arms is NOT safe. If there is an accident at a high speed, it is impossible to hold on to the baby in your arms. The momentum causes the baby's weight to feel as if it is 10 times more than the normal weight. So, holding onto a 10 lbs baby feels like trying to hold onto a 100 lbs object, which is flying away from your arms! This is not an exaggeration.

If you are driving the car, insist that all your passengers wear seat belts. Better be safe than sorry.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Airport Pickup Misadventures with FOPs

The Indian Students Association of Arizona State University has a separate page devoted to picking up incoming students from the airport. It is very nice of them to offer this voluntary service to fresh Indian students, most of who would be landing in the US for the first time in their lives. There is one interesting and important passage in red in this airport pickup page:

If you have any relatives or friends at ASU or in Tempe or around, and they can come and pick you up then you are requested not to ask ISA to pick you up. We have had several instances wherein, volunteers get to the airport to receive the students and finally it so happens that their friends come to pick them up. Kindly cooperate to reduce the inconvenience to the volunteers.

Apparently, there have been "several instances" when FOP (fresh off the plane as opposed to FOB) students have requested the Indian Students Association volunteers to pick them up at the airport, and at the same time had a friend or relative come to the airport. This is poor planning and inconsiderate behavior on the part of such students.

Picking up FOP desis from the airport can be iffy.

Years ago, we had a colleague who was going to be our roommate in the US, ask us to pick him up at the airport, when he landed from India. We went to the airport and looked around for over an hour, without finding him. The airlines told us that he had indeed been on the plane which had landed just when we arrived at the airport. So, where could he be? We called home from the airport. It turned out that, our hero had met another Indian on the plane who had been going to the same location as where we stayed. So, he shared a cab with the other guy, without bothering to wait for us or look for us in the airport!

More recently, like the day before yesterday, we went to the airport to pickup another FOP colleague. Before going to the airport, I went into my apartment to get my car keys, while my roommate waited near the car at the apartment parking lot. During these crucial two minutes, when I was away from my roommate, the FOP colleague called him from the airport. The fact that I was not around when that call came in, would decide the outcome of the rest of the afternoon.

When I came to the car, my roommate told me that the guy had landed and would be waiting for us in terminal "24". Terminal 24? The airport here has only FOUR terminals. I thought my roommate might have misheard terminal 2 as terminal 24. You see, the colleague was coming by United Airlines, as per the itinerary he had emailed us. And United always lands at terminal 2 at the airport here.

Long story short, we waited and did several rounds all over terminal 2 looking for him, for over an hour. We even had him paged over the public announcement system. Finally, we asked the United Airlines desk if he had been on their plane. Were we surprised when we were told that he had not flown in on United at all. Instead, he had come by another airline which landed in terminal 4! Off we went to terminal 4, several rounds there, still no sign of him. Finally, we got a call from our apartment. The guy had taken a cab and come straight to our apartment from the airport! WITHOUT bothering to call us before leaving the airport! Three hours of our afternoon, our day and our lives lost!

We came home fuming. After several "sorry sir"s, we asked him why the heck did he not call us before leaving the airport. He tells us that he did not have coins for the public telephone! Could he not have gotten coins from the stores in the airport? None of them would break a $20 note to give him coins, he said. "You could have bought something at the store, a coffee or a juice, and gotten change! The company would have even reimbursed the cost of the coffee for you," I told him. Then I asked, "How did you get change to make the first call soon after you landed?" He said, "Some guy at the airport gave me 50 cents!" What about the itinerary, which said he would come by United Airlines? How did he come on a different airline? He has no idea! Between the time he emailed us the itinerary from India and the time that he actually started his trip, there was some change about which he does not seem to be aware, and we were never informed!

FOPs, I say!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Two-Minute Cooking School: Learning to Cook

This is a quick two-minute tips session on learning to cook well. These are my own tried and true tips.

  1. Eat well. You got to have a good taste and appetite, if you want to cook well. Try different cuisines and dishes.

  2. Spend time in the kitchens of other people. Watch them cook. You will learn a lot about the process and techniques of cooking, even if you don't learn specific recipes.

  3. First learn to make just one or two dishes. Let it be a staple and simple dish. Let it be a main dish, meaning something which can be served as part of the main course or the main course itself. I don't recommend learning to make an appetizer or any other minor dish first. We may or may not make appetizers and other minor dishes often. But if it is a simple, staple dish, the chances are good that we will make it often.

  4. Once you have learnt one or two main dishes, make them often. Make them for yourself, make them for others. Become an expert in making those dishes. Try small variations in them.

  5. Gradually add other main dishes to your repertoire.

  6. Once you have learnt to make at least 5-6 main dishes, expand your repertoire by learning to make other parts of a full-course meal, such as appetizers, soups, side dishes, desserts, etc.

  7. Cook for others. I can never stress this enough. Cook for a gathering of friends. Take a dish to potluck parties. Invite people over for meals and cook for them. Cooking for others is the only way for you to graduate from being a barely okay cook to a good cook.

  8. Last but not least, enjoy the whole process.

I do believe that cooking is an art. Like all arts, some people have an inherent talent for it, and some people don't. And like all arts, regardless of what your talent level is, if you enjoy it enough and practice enough, you can learn to do it well enough to enjoy your creations by yourself and with close family/friends.

Related: Two-Minute Cooking School: Prospectus

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Two-Minute Cooking School 5: Baingan Bharta

Baingan Bharta (Click for bigger pic)

Come on over for dinner! :-)

Recipe for Baingan Bharta:
Baingan Bharta is a North Indian dish. Baingan means brinjal, or egg plant as it is commonly known in the US. This is a yummy curry of baked brinjal and spices. As with most other recipes in the Two Minute Cooking School, this may not be 100% authentic. But I can vouch for the fact that it is 100% yummy. My home-cooked baingain bharta tastes better than those I have had in many Indian restaurants in the US!

Ingredients: A whole big brinjal, nice and firm. Chopped onions (not finely chopped). Chopped tomatoes. Finely chopped green chillies. Chopped coriander leaves. Fresh juice from half a lemon. Red chilli powder, as per your preferred spice level (optional). Garam masala powder. Dhania (coriander seeds) powder. Tiny amount of cinnamon and cloves powder. Tiny amount of turmeric powder. Tiny amount of jeera or cumin seeds. Ginger garlic-paste. Salt to taste. Cooking oil. Ghee (optional).

Cooking steps:
Pre-heat oven to 375 F. Place the whole brinjal in the oven, on a baking sheet, for 45 minutes to an hour. The brinjal should be cooked well on the inside. The outer skin should have become visibly darker and uneven. If you don't have an oven, you can heat the brinjal over an open flame.

Hold the cooked brinjal in cool water and remove the peel. The peel should come off easily, almost like a banana. In a bowl, mash the brinjal into a good pulp using hands or a spoon. If really necessary, put it in a blender for a few seconds.

Heat oil in a cooking pan, with the stove on medium setting. Add the jeera and fry slightly. Then add the chopped green chillies. Saute for a few seconds. Next, add the chopped onions. Fry them until they become translucent. Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for 30 seconds to a minute. Then, add the garam masala powder, dhania powder, cinnamon-clove powder and turmeric powder. Fry them all together for a few seconds. After that, add the chopped tomatoes, then salt. Fry well until half the tomatoes almost become a pulp. To this, add the mashed brinjal and mix well. Fry on the medium flame until the whole mix is consistently hot. Use the mixing spoon to mash the brinjal some more, if required. If you would like to make the dish more spicy, use the red chilli powder as described next. Heat a little bit of ghee in a cup. Remove the cup from the heat, mix the red chilli powder into the ghee, and then pour the whole thing into the dish. Do not heat the chilli powder along with the ghee. Add the fresh lemon juice and mix well. Turn off the stove, sprinkle chopped coriander leaves on top.

Baingan Bharta is ready! Great to eat with rotis, paranthas or rice.

Two-Minute Cooking School: Prospectus

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Two-Minute Cooking School 4: 7-Layer Dessert

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Dinesh and his wife Shilpi from whom I got this recipe. They served this dessert at a dinner in their home, and I had them pack most of the left-over dessert to take home with me.

* Chocolate-chip cookies.
* Coffee decoction - instant coffee is quite fine.
* Cake - angel food cake works best.
* Sliced fruit - apples, bananas, strawberries (your choice).
* Custard.
* Nuts - pecans and walnuts are great.
* Chocolate syrup/sauce.

The following pictures were taken when Ginkgo and I made this dessert for a recent potluck party. You may click on the pictures to view them in bigger size.

Chocolate-chip Cookie Layer
Lay out chocolate-chip cookies at the bottom of the tray/container. Break them if you feel the need.

Coffee Decoction Layer
Pour luke-warm coffee decoction over the cookies and soak. Not so much coffee that cookies turn into mush!

Angel Food Cake Layer
Lay out half-inch thick slices of angel food cake on top of the chocolate-chip cookies and coffee.

Fruits Layer
Lay out slices of fresh cut fruits of your choice. Apples, bananas and strawberries used here.

Custard Layer
Pour custard on top of the fruit slices, covering the fruits completely.

Angel Food Cake & Nuts Layer
Cover the fruit slices and custard with another layer of half-inch thick slices of angel food cake. Spread out nuts (pecans and walnuts used here) on top of the cake.

Chocolate Layer - Final Dessert
Pour chocolate syrup or sauce (melted chocolate will do) on top of the cake and nuts.

Final Note: Avoid inter-mixing of layers. Refrigerate for a couple of hours or more. 7-Layer Dessert is ready!

Two-Minute Cooking School: Prospectus

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Baby's Got Back!

Know whose back you see in the picture? It belongs to Aishwarya Rai, Miss World 1994! Yes, that voluptuous picture is of Aishwarya's back.

This picture was taken at the Cannes International Film Festival, in May 2005. However, I saw this picture recently and was surprised. Pleasantly so.

I am not a fan of Aishwarya Rai, nor am I into celebrity watching. However, I am not a hermit living in the mountains. If you are an Indian, it is impossible to miss her in numerous print, TV and Internet ads, as well as in the movies. During the past dozen or more years that I have seen her in the media, she has never appeared less than perfectly "modelled". Meaning, she has never looked nor acted as anything but a super model, complete with put-on mannerisms and smiles.

So, I am surprised to notice that Aishwarya has the average "medium-built" Indian woman's fleshy back. This picture makes me see her in a whole new light. And I like what I see. It makes her appear more alive and real, less made-up and artificial. The average fleshy back does for me what all the super model looks and mannerisms could not! I mean, which young man cannot feel a stirring, if he were to imagine that back bent before him?

So, here's a cheer to your back and here's wishing you a very happy birthday, Aishwarya! May the passing years make you prettier in real, natural opposed to the artificial, cosmetic market-driven ways!