Monthly Archives: January 2014
At The Big Jackfruit Tree, we have a tradition… the last post of every month, we invite someone to do a guest post. So, here is an exciting post about a planned reunion, after a looong time!
Having reunions is fun, always. Usually there will be a common cause or origin to call it a reunion. As medical professionals we have regular reunion meetings on behalf of the alumni association. The Medical College alumni association is a big body encompassing the whole life of the institution. Within this we have smaller batch get-togethers. Nowadays most of the batches have this and they meet regularly. We also meet regularly under the brand name ‘Milan’. We have a mega Milan every two years. In between we have Milans, mini Milans and sometimes even micro Milans at various places in the state. At our age most of these Milans happen in connection with weddings of sons and daughters.
Milans are the meeting place of doctors and only doctors. For those who try to look beyond and want to get a feel of the society at large, attending repeated Milans are not very motivating.
About a month ago I got a phone call at around 11pm. I had gone to bed and was slowly slipping into sound sleep when the phone rang. It was an old friend from Thiruvananthapuram (TVM). No, he was not a doctor. It was my schoolmate and neighbour when we were staying at a place called ‘Thampuran Mukku’ in TVM city. It was really a surprise call since I had not been in touch with my old friend for decades. We spoke for a few minutes but not with the expected vigour because of my state of slumber. But in spite of that I could instantaneously recognise him. This initiated a chain of nostalgic memories of our childhood days at TVM. The places we visited together, the joints we used to hang out etc., flashed vividly in my memory. I decided that I should meet up with him as early as possible.
Napier Museum, the art and natural history museum at Thiruvananthapuram
The opportunity came very quickly. My wife La and I had to make a trip to TVM to attend the wedding of one of my Medical College ‘girl’ friends. I had informed my friend about my TVM visit and he was waiting. We had our cousin UK’s car to roam around. We met my friend at his home at Kannammoola. Not much of a change; he was the good old friend. It indeed was a great meeting. Exchanging usual pleasantries and comments about ageing went on as expected. After all we were meeting after many years.
Being in TVM my friend had contacts with a lot of our schoolmates. My friend was working as the Chief Photographer for ‘The Hindu’, a national newspaper. It was really exciting to find out that most of our friends are in very high positions in various walks of life. Those who were in touch decided to organize a reunion of those who studied in the St. Joseph’s High School, Thiruvananthapuram. My friend told me that around 20 attended the first planning meeting. The next meeting saw the attendance rising in direct proportion with enthusiasm. 75 classmates attended the second meeting.
Methamani: the historical clock
As mentioned earlier at the medical Milans we meet only the medicos. But this reunion of schoolmates is going to be a totally different one. Two of my classmates recently contacted me when they were in Calicut on official visits. They got my number from my friend. We had dinner at home. These schoolmates, one Public Service Commission member and the other one Asst. Commissioner of Commercial Taxes spent quite some time at home talking about other friends. We spoke over phone with many other classmates. I also got connected with GT my 4th standard classmate at Vanchiyoor UP School.
I am going to TVM on 8th Feb to attend the third planning meeting. We are gearing up for the reunion. A great reunion after four decades of leaving school! We are all excited. The reunion is being planned in April/May. I will write about it in detail. I thought of sharing this at ‘The Big Jackfruit Tree’ since I am too excited about the whole thing and want to share the excitement with you all. 🙂
31 Jan 2014
I always prefer using home-made ingredients in cooking, if possible, to buying them from shops. I can vouch for the quality of the spice mixes I make for various dishes. Now coming to our subject “candied peel” which literally means making candy out of peels.
Candied peels can be made using peels of citrus fruits like lemon, orange, grapefruit etc. Candied peels are generally used in cakes, puddings and can enhance a cocktail as well. You can also munch on them whenever you feel like.
The first time I tried to make candied peel was when I needed some for a cake and I was in a location where I couldn’t get out and buy some. I used oranges and it was a success. Since then, I have never bought candied peels. It’s a good way of making use of the peels as well. The general principle of the process is to boil the peels in strong sugar syrup and then dry off any moisture left.
Make sure firm oranges are selected for this, otherwise peeling the skin off the fruit becomes messy. Use a sharp tipped knife to core the skin into segments and then peel off. Remove the pith as much as possible to reduce the bitterness. Cut them into ½ cm strips before boiling in water.
The bitterness is further removed by boiling the peels in water before candying. Boiling the peel not only makes it soft and porous (to absorb more sugar) but also removes any pesticide residue.
Sugar syrup made for this purpose is a sugar to water ratio of 2:1. Once the peel strips are boiled and removed from the syrup and left to dry on a wire rack, the remaining sugar syrup can be used for making cocktails or to moisten cakes before icing them.
My candied peels were dried overnight and ready to use the next day.
Orange Peel – 2 oranges
Granulated sugar – 2 cups
Water – 1 cup
Granulated sugar – ¼ cup
- Peel the skin off oranges, remove the pith and cut into ½ cm strips.
- Add this to a pan of water and heat till the water is boiled. Drain.
- Repeat step 2 once more.
- Add the drained orange peels into pan with one cup of water and add sugar. Heat the mixture till it starts boiling.
- Once boiled reduce heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes.
- Remove the peels using a slotted spoon into a bowl, sprinkle sugar and spread them on a wire rack to dry completely.
29 Jan 2014
I am a great fan of AWAD (A.Word.A.Day), a daily subscription email list founded by Anu Garg of wordsmith.org. There are certain words that I might not have ever encountered but for the daily AWAD email. Petrichor jumps to mind… that lovely indescribable scent that emanates from the parched earth after the first rains, finally got a name when it dropped into my inbox one fine morning. Bringing with it, memories of monsoons and school reopenings which for some inexplicable reason coincided most of the time. But I digress…
Last week’s AWAD theme was toponyms – words derived from the names of places. Got me thinking about how place names came into being. Also, about interesting place names.
It is easy to imagine the need to identify geographical locations in communications, even in cave people days. ‘Big mammoth felled at rock mountain; come, join the fun’ would prevent a lot of that mammoth going waste, you can imagine. 🙂 And most of the earliest place names were based on geographical features, naturally. That trend continues to the present day with innumerable names like Glendale, Riverside, Hillview, etc.
A lot of place names were carried over from the old countries by immigrants who were nostalgic for the lands left behind. New York (earlier, New Amsterdam, when it was owned by the Dutch), Lancaster, Brunswick (New, North, South), Rochester, Stamford, Berlin, Copenhagen… they are all present. When I was travelling in Egypt, the tour guide asked us why we had to have a Cairo and Alexandria in the US. The only answer we could give was that the US is a true melting pot! 🙂
Many of the current place names are derived from their original names used by the native Americans, which again were based on geographical features. A prime example is Manhattan, from ‘manna-hata’ meaning ‘island of many hills’ in the language of the Lenape tribe. Massachusetts (by the great hills), Connecticut (place of the long river), Hoboken (where pipes are traded), Passaic (river flowing through a valley)… very interesting to take a look into the thousands of such names.
Then there are place names that exist in every state, sometimes more than once in the same state. Middletown, Harrison, Bloomfield, Fairfield… can you think of any state that does not have towns with these names?
Then there are the truly interesting place names. Like Cut and Shoot in Texas, Casa Blanca and Moriarty in New Mexico, Hell in Michigan, Real and Loving also in Texas (two towns, not Real Loving!), Caliente (meaning ‘hot’ in Spanish) and Steamboat in Nevada… the list goes on. Not to forget Blue Ball and Intercourse in Pennsylvania, so inexplicably close together!
But my favourite is Truth or Consequences in New Mexico. According to my friend Google, the city called Hot Springs changed its name to Truth or Consequences, the title of a popular NBC radio program, in 1950, in response to a promise that the program will be aired from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Voila! Hot Springs got a new name!
The most poetic and literary place names I have come across belong to Columbia, Maryland. Columbia is a planned community with self-contained villages and its localities are named after places in the literary works of well-known American authors like Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, etc.
Kind Rain, Scarlet Petal, Rising Moon, Deep Calm, Open Sky, Tawney Bloom… can you imagine any more poetic place names?
According to Wikipedia though the word Manhattan has been translated as ‘island of many hills’ from the Lenape language, the Encyclopedia of New York City offers other derivations, including from the Munsee dialect of Lenape: manahachtanienk (‘place of general inebriation’), manahatouh (‘place where timber is procured for bows and arrows’), or menatay (‘island’). Which one would you think is most apt? 🙂
27 Jan 2014
Kibimba is a unique location in Uganda for its fantastic bird life.
Birds Galore @ Kibimba Rice Farm……
The national bird of Uganda
I‘ve been visiting and spending a considerable amount of time at various times of the year at a rice farm in Eastern Uganda. To be more precise this fully mechanised rice farm is in Kibimba and covers an area that is 13 kilometres long and 3.5 kilometres wide. I’ve been a visitor of this farm since the year 2000 and I have always enjoyed all aspects of farm life especially the drives along the fields and the morning walks. Walks in the evenings are far less enjoyable unless you set out early enough as the insects that appear after sunset are a real menace.
Yellow Billed Storks
During our morning walks and drives along the fields I come across many birds (especially water birds) and these are constantly identified by my companions. I always try to identify these birds by name, but to my dismay I am never very successful. This Christmas, when I was taking a guest around the fields I was appalled that I couldn’t name even an egret or an ibis correctly. The only ones I could name were whistling ducks!
Then the realisation dawned on me that it’s high time I take some interest in the birdlife of Kibimba. Kibimba has the IBA (Important Bird Area) status and it’s a unique location for its birdlife.
Great White Egrets in the company of Storks
So I decided to look up the birds I see regularly when I go for my walks in the early mornings and find out a little bit more about them. The discussions with the staff of Kibimba Rice Farm and Collins Book of Birds were my source. This exercise also helped me in identifying many birds this time when we were at Murchison Falls National Park.
So watch this space to know about birdlife at Kibimba.
24 Jan 2014
We do a lot of waiting in life… waiting for trains, waiting in lines at stores to pay money, waiting for the water to boil… all painful. But there are some waitings that are enjoyable. Full of anticipation. Like waiting for a friend to call. Or for spring to arrive. However, even such waitings are hard for me… have zero faith in the saying ‘Patience is a great virtue’. Rather agree with Ambrose Bierce whose saying goes, ‘Patience, n. A minor form of dispair, disguised as a virtue’. 😉
But I digress… At present I’m in such a state of impatient waiting. Waiting for the third and last book in the Ibis trilogy, by one of my favourite authors, Amitav Ghosh, to be published.
The first book in the trilogy, Sea of Poppies was published in 2008, followed by River of Smoke in 2011. In a nutshell, the books tell the story of the trade of opium in the early 19th century and the people whose lives, knowingly or otherwise, get entangled in its web.
The author paints the stories of individuals in vibrant colours in the background of the trade in opium, the cultivation of which was forced on the farmers of northern India and the consumption of which was forced on the population of another country, China, against the objections of their government. The snippets of history remembered from school days – the opium wars and the carving of the Chinese melon – come alive in the lives of these characters.
Sea of Poppies narrates the journey of the ship Ibis which carries opium from India to the markets of China, along with a group of passengers very unlikely to have met in any other surroundings. The intricate threads that bind these passengers to each other and to the central theme explain the circumstances which bring them to the good ship Ibis. And the drama of that voyage and the fortuitous turn of events bring the book to a satisfying end.
In River of Smoke, we follow the passengers on Ibis to their different destinations, some to new lands and new fortunes; others to age old conflicts and tensions. The characters are so nuanced that you will be hard put to root for any one side. While the conflicts of life throw them against each other, you as the reader recognises their innate humanness and can’t do anything other than sympathise with them.
If you are one to let your imagination soar like a kite braced by the breeze of words on a printed page, you will love these books and the rich and vivid tapestry of life they weave. And you will understand why I’m so impatient to get my hands on the concluding part of this trilogy. If we go by the timeline of the previous releases, the third part should be out in 2014. Waiting, waiting…
And to console myself in the interim, I have chosen Hungry Tide as my vacation reading. I have already read Shadow Lines and Circle of Reason, around when they were first published. 20 years ago? How time flies when you are having fun! 😉
You can read more about the Ibis trilogy and other books by Amitav Ghosh at his web site.
22 Jan 2014
Ugandan Pineapples are the best….
This time when I put my baker’s hat on, pineapple upside down cake – the glistening, sticky sweet top of pineapple slices on top of a simple white cake, came into my vision. This sweet top lifts the simple white cake up a notch.
In the US, pineapple upside down cakes became popular in the 1920s when canned pineapples were easily available for reasonable prices while fresh ones were difficult to find and if they were available, they were very expensive. The widespread availability of canned pineapples owes to Jim Dole of Hawaiian Pineapple Company who canned a major chunk of pineapples available. Traditionally pineapple upside down cakes were made in cast iron skillets on top of the stove.
When you bake a pineapple upside down cake in Kampala, it’s criminal to use canned pineapple since pineapples grow in plenty in Uganda and are currently in season. Not only the quantity but the quality is also topnotch. The pineapples are sweet, succulent and big. The skin/crust of Ugandan pineapples are hard and hence has a longer shelf life. Read what Ms. Salima Njeri, a Kenyan trader says about Ugandan pineapples.
As I was little apprehensive about using fresh slices of pineapple instead of canned as it can make the batter watery. So I tried my hand at canning the pineapple slices which I did the day before baking.Peace, my house help helped me in peeling and slicing the pineapple. If you are not skilled at peeling whole pineapple, I suggest cutting it into rings after cutting the crown and stem off. And then cut the skin off holding each slice . The core can then be removed using a cookie cutter or any sharp cylinder of right size.
Sugar syrup is made using sugar and water in a ratio of 1:2 as these pineapples are really sweet and will be used up in a day. If the slices have to be kept for long use a syrup of 1:1 ratio.
For any upside down cake the fruit and brownsugar are placed on the bottom of the pan before batter is poured in. But here caramelised sugar is used instead of brown sugar. Oil and yoghurt are used instead of butter in my cake recipe.
In pineapple upside down cakes a glazed cherry each is placed in the middle of each slice where the core of the pineapple was. Since there were no cherries in stock in my pantry I’ve decided to bake mine without it as cherries wouldn’t add on in any way to the taste of the cake. But later once the cake was turned upside down,I realised that it was not very appealing to look at.
Voila! here’s the final product. Red Plum jam came to my rescue.
For Canning ( read Cooking J ) the fresh pineapple slices
Sugar – 1 cup
Water – 2
Orange peel – 1-2 pieces (optional)
For the base
Granulated sugar – ¼ cup
Water -1 tablespoon
Pineapple rings – 6
For the cake
All purpose flour – 2 cups
Baking powder – 1 ¼ teaspoons
Baking soda – ½ teaspoon
Granulated sugar – 1 ¼ cup ( can change it according to the sweetness – of the sugar available)
Vegetable oil – 2/3 cup
Yoghurt – 1 ¼ cup
Eggs (large) – 2
Vanilla essence – 1 teaspoon
Syrup from the cooked pineapple – ¼ cup
Cooked pineapple (minced) – ½ cup
- Skin the pineapple, cut into 1 cm thick slices and remove the centre core.
- Heat sugar and water ( add orange skin as well if it’s used ) together till it starts simmering.
- Transfer the prepared slices into the syrup and keep it in a waterbath and cook for 45 minutes with a lid on.
- Remove from the waterbath and cool. Cooking of the pineapples can be done in advance.
- Prepare a 10 inch / 25 cm tin by buttering the base and the sides. But flour only the sides.
- Heat the sugar for the base till it caramelises.
- Add 1 tablespoon warm water and heat it again to get pourable consistency without any solid bits.
- Pour into the prepared tin and spread it on the base of the tin by tilting it.
- Arrange the pineapple slices in a circular manner with one in the middle.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda together twice.
- Beat sugar, oil and yoghurt together till till creamy and mixed well.
- Add eggs one at a time and beat well.
- Now add one third sifted flour, mix well.
- Add half of the syrup, followed by half of the remaining flour. Beat till the flour is just mixed.
- Add the remaining syrup and flour and mix again.
- Once all the flour is incorporated mix the batter well for 4 minutes using a wooden spoon. If an electric hand mixer is used, attach the whipping attachment and beat for 3 minutes in medium speed.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
20 Jan 2014
For the most part of December, I was in Toronto. And for the most part of December, it was snowing in Toronto. And as long as one looked at it from within the warm interior of the home, the snowscape was so beautiful!
Being housebound has its plus points too… one can take up any of those projects filed away for ‘one of these days’… or one could bake! On a cold day what could be better than the fragrance of sugar and chocolate and warm caramel wafting through the house? So that is what I did… baked brownies!
And brownie goodness is something that one needs to spread around. Distributing brownies to friends is not only good karma, but good calorie control strategy too! 🙂 And one of the friends who tasted the brownies wanted the recipe. No recipe can be complete without some pictures. So just to get some pictures, I decided to bake some today. Beginning of a long relaxed weekend, what better time to mess around in the kitchen!
So I’m melting the butter with the chocolate, stirring it round and round… when the idea hit me. Why do brownies always have to be made in a square or rectangle pan? Why not try something different? After all, I claim ‘continuous improvement’ as my middle name. (Some of my people call that ‘won’t leave well enough alone’ too, but what do they know!)
In a jiffy, thought turned into action and the brownies were reborn as brownies cup cakes! But even though I say so myself, they were pretty good… pretty darn good indeed. 🙂
2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for pan
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons instant coffee
2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
1 1/2 cups walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix butter and chocolate in a double boiler or in a pan over simmering water. When fully dissolved and smooth and shiny, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
Dissolve the coffee in two tablespoons of warm water. Beat the eggs with sugar, dissolved coffee ,and rum, if using.
Add the cooled chocolate mixture and mix well. Add the flour in batches and incorporate into the mix. Add the walnuts.
Spoon into the cupcake pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes. The brownie cakes are done when a skewer inserted into the center of it comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for five minutes before grabbing the brownie cakes.
17 Jan 2014
I was so afraid I was going to miss the NYBG holiday train show this year. For starters, I was travelling for almost the whole of December. And, once I got back, the polar vortex also arrived, bringing ice and snow and sleet with it… Still, despite all odds, I made it in the nick of time… went and saw it on the last day of the show! 🙂
As my people already know, I am a great fan of trains. Small trains, big trains, unusual trains… all of them. Even the PATH trains. But at the NYBG show, I found the trains sort of meh… What really got me was the landscaping.
Combining historical and geographical interest, the show features 140 iconic New York buildings, many of them from dates past. The models are made to scale using all natural plant parts. It is almost like a miniature tour of the city!
This year’s show features 21 model trains and covers 6,000 square feet of area with 1,200 feet of track laid out. The trains in the show are G-gauge and represent American trains from the late 1800 steam engines to today’s high speed passenger trains.
A new introduction this year are trains made of plant parts, looking like they are straight out of some fairy tale. Hoping there will be many more of them next year!
Among the buildings recreated are the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Public Library, the Guggenheim, City Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, the original Pennsylvania Station, Met Museum and many many more.
The train show debuted at the NYBG in 1992. The designer behind the wonderful miniature landscapes is Paul Busse, assisted by a team of 20+ artists and engineers of the Applied Imagination team. More examples of their fascinating work can be seen at www.appliedimagination.biz.
Plans for the buildings are made with the help of photographs and architectural drawings. Then a shell is made with foam board. Twigs, bark, moss, leaves, flowers, acorns, pine cones, seed pods… anything that comes from nature is used to mimic the architecture. The finished product is coated with a thin layer of resin to protect it from dust and moisture.
Each structure involves hundreds of hours of painstaking work, with every intricate detail recreated through the imaginative use of materials. The minute details, executed so meticulously, truly gives meaning to that oft repeated word ‘awesome’!
I was left with the definite impression that the original structure would have been way better if it was constructed with natural plant parts! 🙂
Notice the pistachio shells and corn husk?
The holiday train show is held at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory of the New York Botanical Garden.
From the ‘Am I seeing things?’ department
Was Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home in Tarrytown, featured twice in the show? I believe so (in fact, I have documentary evidence!) but realised that only when I was looking through the pictures taken! 🙂
15 Jan 2014
Fruits and Vegetables here in Kampala, Uganda, really excite me. They are so fresh and good and come straight from the farms. I do prefer to shop at the vegetable market in Nakassero mainly frequented by expats. However, it is a bit of a pain going to Nakassero market unless one is chauffeured around as getting hold of a parking space in that area is as difficult as getting hold of an ostrich egg.
On my visits to Nakassero market I always came across a man who sits on the floor by the corner of a shop with a small heap of pawpaws/ papayas in front of him, calling out to customers. To his disappointment my response was always negative as the smell of papaya was one of the few things I couldn’t stand. Every time I go to the market he’ll be there trying to sell pawpaws to me. Then finally one day I was so amazed to see how determined and good he was in his marketing skills, I budged. Marketing managers take note, there are a few lessons you can learn from him.
He was so happy to sell a huge pawpaw to me that he gave me another one as a ‘bonus’. 🙂 (Bonus in Ugandan parlance is a giveaway, a free gift!)
Once I got home I tried a few pieces of the pawpaw on the insistence of my house help, Rose. Though I can’t say I became an ardent fan of the pawpaw, I don’t mind some but not to the extent of using a papaya face pack. I’m happy that I’m a convert when you consider the health benefits of Papaya. Thank you, my Pawpaw Man… “Weebale Ssebo!”
13 Jan 2014
It is cold… believe me, it is really really cold… Brrrr… it is brrrrold. No, that is not true. Brrrrold is bracing cold. When you want to go for long walks with a sweater thrown over the shoulders and something from Starbucks in your hand. Cold that makes you think of good things like fireplaces and warm red wines and chocolate brownies.
What we just went through is nothing like that. This was frrrold… freezing cold, bone chilling cold, mind killing cold. Cold that breeds inertia, cold that makes you think of the equator and escape.
The polar vortex, as the cold snap was called by the meteorologists, has set many records, including the coldest Jan 7th since 1896!
Apparently, it has also inspired many to conduct interesting experiments. We all know about the ‘lick the lamppost’ experiment… who doesn’t love A Christmas Story? Happens, a girl in New Hampshire really did that and was stuck to the pole for 15 minutes before she could be freed. She apparently hasn’t seen the movie, or couldn’t resist the ‘triple dog dare’!
Some other interesting experiments include throwing boiling water up into -17 degree F air, blowing bubbles that freeze in mid-air, and making slurpees by super cooling soda. If you would like to see these in action, take a look here.
Anyhow, when weather gets this cold, I know it is time to pack my bags and bid adieu to New York for a few weeks. Fortunately, the salt mines where I work has offices all over the world – literally. So by the end of the month, I’ll be happily headed to Bangalore, part work and part vacation. And won’t be back till the buds start waking up and daylight savings time is on again. 🙂
Thinking of travel, I knew I needed a new toiletries bag. And I had to make it before my trip. So finally got around to it this week. Yep, being house bound has its advantages too; things get done!
Actually, there is not much to it. Take a rectangle and circle of fabric, make partitions in the rectangular piece, attach it to the circular piece, and you are done! 🙂
Any kind of sturdy strong material will work for this. The measurements will depend upon how big you want it. Mine is nine inches tall with a six inch diameter. For that the measurements were 23×17 inches for the rectangle and 7 inch diameter for the circle.
Make a narrow fold and stitch 4 inches on two of the short sides of the rectangular piece.
Fold and stitch both the long sides of the rectangular piece, one inch on one side (the side where the side stitches are already made) and half an inch on the other.
Fold and pin four inches along the long side where the half inch stitch was made. And mark sections as you see need.
These are to hold the brushes, perfumes, lotions, etc. Stitch along the marked lines.
Now, attach the rectangular piece (folded edge) to the edge of the circle. Turn inside out and thread a ribbon through the top fold.
Tada… all done!
If you would like more detailed instructions, feel free to email me: ria at thebigjackfruittree dot com.
I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (what else is beer for), the power to change the things I can (coffee to the rescue) and the wisdom to know the difference (workin’ on that one).
10 Jan 2014