Sunday, July 22, 2018


Weight loss remains an abstract idea in my mind.  Not entirely sure if I am going to or could make any sort of concerted effort towards it.  Food is top of mind.  Curiosity about all aspects of food seems to be a driving force that I cannot control.

On the flip side of all that enjoyment through nourishment came a couple of sad losses this year.  First the world lost Anthony Bourdain.  With his irreverent wit and hunger to discover worlds we only knew on a map in the atlas, he brought an unfamiliar landscape close to home.  He took his own life in France.

This week we lost another curious mind.  Jonathan Gold.  A favorite LA area food writer (not critic although his Pulitzer will make you believe otherwise) and consummate gourmand.  His navigating the Los Angeles food scene was provocative (the Beyonce and taco comparison) and informative and I benefited from his discoveries when I went and tried the food.  Especially on Pico Street.

Those to me were picoseconds spent well.

A dollar gets you 69

What does that mean?  I refer to the arcane world of currency conversion.  Today an American Dollar can be exchanged at a bank for a princely sum of 69 Indian Rupees.  This within a short 10 year span where the Rupee saw itself drop like a stone against the American fiat.   Never mind India had its share of Fiats (but they were from Italy and not very good).

Frankly it is all made up.  If you turned the clock way back to the spring of 1792 you would have found that an American Dollar was worth 24 grams of pure silver.  Now why someone would care to carry around pure silver is worth debating but back then people killed each other for that metal.

In today's terms where silver trades for around $15 per 24 grams one would be correct to say that the inherent value of the USD has depreciated itself by 15 x.

How and why this happens is very confusing and the rules and regs that govern all this are set by very powerful people who get to decide how the world should operate.  Much has to (in theory) to do with the gross domestic product or GDP of a given region.  GDP is defined as the sum total of all the value produced by a country.

Which takes us into a whole new realm of defining what value is.  The dictionaries define it as 'usefulness of something.'  By that measure the whole system we have setup is debatable.

Here is my simple explanation.  For a given set of conditions if one has a choice to buy something and if that something were American vs. Indian the former has 69 times more demand than the Indian version.  Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.  Both of which might cost you a lot of dollars or rupees depending on what you want to do with them.  Just ask the Mexicans.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Curiosity and Imagination

Curiosity and Imagination.  Two invaluable gifts given to mankind that make us human.  Some of us have more of one or the other while some are gifted with both in abundance.   But regardless it is what separates us from the other species that inhabit this planet.   That and the idea to not decline money when offered to us.

Two separate events led me to pen this.  First was a movie I watched called 'The Magic of Belle Isle'.  The protagonist is a handicapped drunk played by Morgan Freeman.  One time award winning author turns to the bottle after his life is completely shattered by an accident.

He meets a young girl full of curiosity and chutzpah on a retreat by the lake.  While helping her understand the meaning of the word 'imagination' and write her own stories he turns a corner and finds new meaning to his life.

The other thought was really a combination of two books I read.  One was a while ago written by a Hollywood film producer called Brian Grazer and if I remember correct was titled 'Curiosity'.  The other is a newish title I picked up and am in the process of finishing, written by Mario Livio, an astrophysicist and author.  This book is titled 'Why'.

The author has spent a goodish bit of time researching the subject as a scientists is wont to do.  He describes that curiosity can be defined on two major axes - one that extends from perceptual to epistemic and the other that describes specific and diversive.

Epistemic is an insatiable kind of curiosity - the desire to know why things are the way they are.  Einstein was said to tell his biographer - "I have no special talents, just insatiable curiosity."

I do appreciate this type of 'But Why?' fact finding myself and spend endless hours reading the most arcane of subjects on occasion.  Simply because it feels good to have learned something.  Hard to quantify or explain to someone else perhaps.

Learning Telugu

Telugu is the lingua franca in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh or AP.  Rather what was the former AP has now split into two states in the union that is India.  One retains the Andhra moniker and the other is called Telangana.  Water and economic rights are at the root of the split by some account but I am no expert in the goings on over there.

That said Telugu as a language is foreign to me but am being driven to learn some words for the sake of the most basic of needs to be met.  Food.  As the readership is aware food is more than nourishment to me.  It is one of my primary reasons to exist.  To sample and if it suits me to consume in large quantities the dishes of a region.  Daily staples aka dinner is always a question mark for the best half since she manages that operation for the sake of the family.  If she has the time and energy we eat well since she cranks out a variety of Indian curry based meals.   But in the absence of the 'time' commodity we like our ancestors before us are left to hunt for food.

That brings us to an intersection of technology and the natives that populate the region we live in.  Enter Whatsapp and Andhraites.  Many of this region now ex-pats residing in the bay have figured out a tax free incentive for the female member of the species to occupy themselves with.  Home based kitchens satiating the hunger and food demands of the neighborhood.

As it happens our palate (our family traces its roots to central Indian city of Bombay and a region not known for chilli based recipes) cannot handle most of the heat dominant in southern Indian cooking esp. Andhra style.  So we are limited in our choices.  Still we persist.  Latest entrant is a lady from Andhra who markets and advertises using word of mouth and Whatsapp to communicate with her customers.  The catch - you should be well versed in Telugu.

Now admittedly she has enough of a native customer base that she does not bother to or has not expanded her envelope to think through the implication of primarily advertising her evening meals in Telugu.  I had to Google / ask fellow Andhraites at work to learn what I was about to buy.

Some words I learned-

  • Gongura Pappu -  A sour leafy vegetable used in curries and daal (the latter, a lentil preparation known as Pappu).  So the dish is essentially a thick soup with red sorrel leaves for flavor.  For a Bombayite Pappu meant a kid on the street.  I was not sure what she was selling.  What was funnier is that one post had an update for the fans - since today I cannot get Thotakura I am making Gongura Pappu.  Whoa...  Thota who?  Turns out that is yet another vitamin packed green leaf which turns out was in short supply
  • Perugu Garelu - Sounds exotic.  Not from the Andes.  Not on a train station.  So what is it.  Commonly referred to as dahi vada for a Bombay wala like me it is a fried fritter soaked in yogurt.  The latter is spicy and not sweet as the Bombay version would have you believe.
  • Bisibelebath - not a warm hot tub of the kind you might think but a spicy and savory kind.  This is essentially a vegetable curry mixed in rice cooked long and slow and liberally doused with clarified butter or ghee (if made right).

Friday, July 20, 2018

A few good movies

Age being what it is I cannot remember if I wrote about how I felt or thought after watching the below cinematic productions from Hollywood.  But given it is my blog I can regurgitate at will.  So here goes.

This summer the local public library yielded some good movies to watch.  It was more fun watching some of them with the child who is now 16.

  1. Lady Bird - this is a movie directed in a debut attempt by Greta Gerwig of Sacramento, CA.  It is a semi autobiographical feature showcasing a complex and turbulent relationship between mother and coming of age daughter.  Lively and with an amazing supporting cast this film keeps you engaged till the end which occurs sort of abruptly.  Good watch.
    • Quote from this film - A sister in the catholic school admonishing the students at prom dance - "six inches for the holy spirit" (as they embrace a little too close)
  2. 20th century women - a film starring the amazing Annette Bening it is a mother son relationship drama.  With lots of fast paced dialog and also co-starring Greta Gerwig who we meet in the first movie I reviewed, this is a story of life on a hippie commune near Santa Barbara.  It is about finding the meaning or purpose of it.  Witty and smart it is also a fun watch.
    • Fun quote - "Look, wondering if you’re happy it’s a great shortcut to just being depressed".
  3. Magic of Belle Isle - starring the inimitable Morgan Freeman and supported by Virginia Madsen this is a story of a cranky and drunk author who comes to escape his life into a quiet town by the lake.  There he befriends his nosy and chatty neighbors - the family made of a divorced woman (played by Madsen) and her charming daughters.   He suddenly finds purpose and meaning to his life which has been shaken by the passing of his beloved wife.  Great feature.  
    • Quote from the film - In a moment of frustration Morgan's character says - "Drinking is a very demanding profession and I cannot hold down two jobs at once".

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A trip to Austin

Austin is the capital of the state of Texas.  A very large state.  In the deep south of America.  Also known as the Lone Star state.  Over time Texas has been owned and ruled by Spain, France then Mexico until it gained republic status and hence the one star.  Eventually it became annexed to the United States in mid 19th century.

Austin is the second largest city and diverse in terms of people and its employment.  Aside from the state government running the employer shop there are many technology centric companies taking their HQ there to get tax benefits.

Tourism is also big and a younger demographic arrives each year to attend a vast University of Texas campus in the city.   Our kid attended a speech camp where folks with degrees in communication taught high schoolers the fine art of writing and speaking.  More like provided advanced strategy and technique.   The weather this time of year is not pleasant but we managed to make the most of it.   Me as a visitor to pick up the ward so literally in the city for 24 hours.

Below are some of the sights seen and calories consumed....

Let's start with the travel part of the trip - at San Francisco airport a family decides to spread out at the gate - all their children - feeding themselves...

Notice a baby sucking down some beverage lying face up and the family canine eating straight from a 'To Go' container.  It takes all kinds... and the face of our airports is now forever changed.

Then the feasts of pork for yours truly - there were many a barbeque to be had in Texas and they were flavorful enough but did not live up to the hype as drummed up to be..

The Black's I am told were a large family but there was separation or falling out of sorts...we tried the original one - or so said the sign... good brisket and pork ribs to be had.

Falling off the bone and all but bit chewy for my taste.

On the other hand a desi adda (Indian food place) in heart of the city turned up the heat on a sweltering 100 degree day for me.  Called the Clay Pit - somewhat of a play on words - the facade and structure are made from local limestone quarried not far from there and the naan bread is fired in a clay pit to accompany my Goan Shrimp curry (see below)...

Then the next morning it was on to more protein courtesy cows and pigs smoked for hours after being rubbed with special seasonings .... ate an early lunch (CA breakfast time) at Stiles Switch (former railroad depot)

Typical barbeque platter - meat and two sides included pork fat smothered fries and pinto beans with brisket

Finally had a decently nourishing lager as pre-flight reinforcements to honor the lonely star, before heading home.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Window shopping new homes

You can shop for anything in America.  Even pretend shop.  The fancy way to describe this activity is window shopping.  So with not much happening during our staycation this weekend we decided to see what was in the market by way of new abodes.  As in homes. 

We drove into a new community being built in the hills of east bay not far from home.  The signage promised seclusion and exclusivity.  Typically precursor for a large price tag with not much by way of conveniences.

The sales office was not quite open at five minutes to 11 but a blonde approaching sixty opened the door for us and asked that we step in.  So far so good.  Then she started her line of questioning.  Where are you from?  What sort of product are you looking for?  Or are you here to get decoration ideas?  Whoa!

She simply tripped multiple wires right there and would likely not be good at her job - if I was her boss I would get rid of her immediately.  You are trying to move drywall worth $1.5M and up and you inundate a prospect with presumptive questioning?

She further went on to describe how she was back from vacation and that was the cause of her spacing out on questions like what the HOA was.  Strike two.

Further she described to us in great detail how she only drank apple juice for breakfast and had lost 75 lbs in a matter of months.  Strike three.

I fully suspected that whatever she had lost was in the cerebral region and decided to walk away from the site rapidly.


Weight loss remains an abstract idea in my mind.  Not entirely sure if I am going to or could make any sort of concerted effort towards i...