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Food, Travel, Design and the occassional wordiness

Travel: Praha, Czech Republic January 1, 2015


Charles Bridge

Our journey started as a school trip, intending to learn about the business culture, norms and workings of corporations of post-communist Eastern Europe. Coming from a city which has always idealistically called itself socialist, Prague haunted me in more than one way. It came across as a teenager uncomfortable with his new body but not quite able to catch up to the rest of the world. Preservation, old town culture, history—symbols of Western Europe magnificence were marred hand in hand with communist style match box apartments. The offices were shanties. The work culture tired, work environment dismal. People—grim, sighing and for the most part unhappy. Not speaking Czech had its drawbacks and I learned soon enough not to smile and greet people. But then there were those moments, you wanted to absorb and assimilate in your brain forever, the time, the place, the smells and if I may, the tastes.

We lived in Centrum, walking distance from everywhere nice and touristy and between 2 metro stops.  Also being in the Centrum meant you kind of had to walk everywhere. The National Museum stood as the welcoming levee from where started the series of shops from grocery stores and American megabrands to your everyday fast food. Almost like platform # 9¾, the storefronts hid the winding narrow cobblestone alleys that led to Old Town.

Old Town SqaureThe square stood standing like it has for hundreds of years, only sprouting coffee shops and barbeque joints hosting to the thick of tourists visiting every hour. Sticker shocked by the ‘local’ coffee shops, we fled into the closest Starbucks which consequently had the longest ever lines. We walked further onto the Charles Bridge, strolled around the snaky backstreets, some of which were thick with tourist traps and souvenir stores while some entirely desolate. The statues on Charles Bridge were very interesting and I wished I knew the stories they depicted.

A beautiful panoramic view of the city could be seen at the Prague castle or the Hrad. While I didn’t go inside the grounds were beautiful with strolling peacocks amidst other non-royals like pigeons and ducks. My friends who did go inside said it was beautiful.

On quite the other side, I visited the Museum of Communism which was ironically enough located right atop a McDonald’s.  While they probably could have done better, I think the Berlin wall simulation, the video of the Velvet Revolution and the communist era archival was interesting and worth the 8 dollars.

The Jewish Ghetto was a beautiful and impressive walk, especially if you have a knowledgeable guide. I am so thankful to ours. Kafka and Mozart’s houses, Giovanni’s premiere site, the libraries, the squares the stories will be in my memory for some time to come.

If you do go to Prague, try the black light theatre and the marionette theatre both of which I read lots of good reviews of, but did not get a chance to visit. Enjoy some goulash and a pig’s knee/ knuckle if you get a chance, buy a sausage sandwich from the street vendors. If literature interests you, the museum of Kafka is right near Charles Bridge. If music is your thing, look out for the jazz clubs and cruises as well as classical performances. If history, culture and old world mystery interest you and you want something less expensive than Western Europe, Prague just might be your next destination.Smoky Prague skyline

 

Travel: Shenandoah National Park December 26, 2014


(A June 2009 post from my old blog)

I have always associated mountains with my mother. Maybe it is because Mom planned 9 out of 10 of my childhood vacations around the mountains. Or maybe because I could see the elation that snow-capped peaks brought to her. Especially since the acrophobic, motion-sick, Calcutta-sick me wasn’t much of a hill-person, I would curiously and stupefied-ly watch out for what my parents got out of these high-altitude monsters!!
(Wondering how I became me? Well…without much ado, let me just gut your curiosity by saying– every now and then, I see my parents in my reflection, much to awe and sometimes to concern and infrequently, amusement; but I guess this happens to a lot of us, most commonly to the best of us here.)

So going back to mountains, when I was planning my Mom-weekends for this summer…for some reason I came up with mostly sea-sides or water-bodies (and I live on Erie) except for a Colorado weekend… and I thought– ‘well, she would have really loved the hillies!’ So when I planned our Maryland-DC-Virginia getaway, I thought why not? The Atlantic had to make way for the Appalachians…Virginia Beach had to give way to Shenandoah! And man, was that a good decision! We deliberated about Monanghela (West Virginia) but at the last moment decided to skip it … and instead make most of the stars at hand a.k.a. Shenandoah (Native Indian word meaning ‘daughter of the stars’)

On one hand when we were really taking out scopes of diversity from this trip, someone had better plans for us. The dull cloudy skies of crabby Maryland gave way to lovely sunshine as we hit Front Royal, Virginia.
From there on we were cuffing weather patterns that changed every hour. During that 104 mile drive, the plushest greens that were swathed with sunshine this moment, changed into dark lime colors the next, with a depth that only sudden stormy showers could bring.
That strange musty smell of wet dirt and storms that wift them to your nose remind me of home and of Kalboishakhi-s.
The leaves dithered and turned back on each other, producing a myriad of multidimensional green maze that lured you into the depths of wild trails. John Muir’s “the mountains are calling and I must go” made perfect sense.

The azure and white playful sky would in moments give way to pitch-black low-lying dark clouds that swarmed from hill to hill, showering on some, simply hovering on some others. Moist clouds flowing in and out of the car and touching your shoulders like the hills were breathing down on you.
Wildflowers in every shade of lilac, pink and white, blue and yellow. Blue birds and red jays and butterflies. Strange snakes. Wild bears, mid-size black and 20 feet from our car parked on the main road.
And my mother to share it all with. Life couldn’t get much better.

Purple ranges overlooking the rivulets glowed orange in the setting sun….
and the blue ridges, ah! The Blue Ridge. Layers of symmetry, like the globe was ‘marble printed’ in three pastels and a brown : ) A lot like my mother– Peacefully dynamic. Enormously humane. And ethereally big; bluer and bigger than all of us here.

…And a reminder of how much more there is to see.

I have lived in Pennsylvania for some time and driven through the Alleghenies for more times than I can count, in all 4 seasons and everything between them and don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the Alleghenies…I swear by her beauty….but lets just say, maybe I never stopped there long enough to ‘smell the roses’, so I’m not in a position to compare.
I have never been to the Monanghela-s or the Smokey-s either; when I do, maybe, I can give a more compehensive ‘trip-advisor-ly’ note than this anecdote of sheer exhilaration and compulsive adoration about the Shenandoah Valley.
I keep reverberating that it probably couldn’t get any better. However if I am to change something, it would be staying at the forest lodgings…I couldn’t tell you about management or room conditions but if I were to decide based on locations, Skyland it would be. (One quick note: Reservations run out fast)
shenandoahMore pictures on my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/kolika/sets/72157620541242817/
Until then keep those wheels spinning and smell the paper wings!

Update: On subsequent visits we did stay at the Skylodge and the Big Meadow resorts. Big Meadow is a tad more upscale while Skylodge is big on the rustic. More are wonderful stays and the food and tap at Big Meadows was just plain wonderful. Definitely worth revisiting.

 

Travel: Culinary joys of Calcutta December 17, 2014



Prologue:

Wait… how is it that the place that taught me to love food and people-watching didn’t get at least an honorary mention in my travel blog? At least until my mother made me do it. Gasp. Yes, she made me write a where-to-eat travelogue for a proceedings book for a medical conference her group is hosting. Confused? In short, doctors lead boring, stressful lives so when they go to conferences other doctors want them to know how cute their city is and where all they can go chomp between the talks.

Why does it have to be here? For one, the amount of research and thought that went into writing it deserves it be placed in this blog. Secondly, this is the best I got, yet. Until I sum up every piece of advice, I have been giving my guests and traveler friends and write something better about what to do in my city, you will have to be happy with the description of where to eat there.

Calcutta- A Taster’s Paradise

You might have visited before, you might have deep acquaintances in this city. You might associate this city with many things—Mother Teresa’s charity, Tagore’s literature and boisterous, friendly Bengalis, but if City of Joy were ever to be renamed into a city of something else, it would most likely be food. So, here’s an insight for you: your hosts (and coworkers here) are indeed, in their heart of hearts, self-proclaimed hosts of travel/food shows, they are judgmental critiques, passionate foodies and elaborate guides who want little more, than to show you their city, through their eyes and palates.

This Calcuttan might be traveling the globe for years, but ask her about a recent trip…and then listen carefully for the mention of brilliant food, jaw dropping concoction of ecstasy.  Food might not be the only reason she travels, but surely that is one that tugs at her soul. No matter where she goes, her function, budget or preferred ambiance, food, she loves. And now that you are in her city, there is little respite for you.

Unlike most other Indian cities, Calcutta does more than boast its home-spun (Bengali) cuisine—the quintessential fish and sweets. Instead, it proclaims its love for food by offering a magical amalgamation of all things tasty, all cuisines that have traveled across the globe to fascinate the Calcuttan palate. Tastes which have traveled far and wide to marry other tastes and create what is the eclectic Calcuttan flavor.

Home of the Kathi roll (or Frankies), Calcutta is opulant with neighborhood joints with scores of loyal patrons who will claim theirs are the “best Kathi rolls in the world”.

Calcutta will proudly serve you her own Mughlai and South Indian, often from the same store front. Stop by, feel royal with a crispy bite from our greasy, delicious Fish Kobiraji.

Our authentic Biriyani recipes are claimed to be from the Afghan hills. And if you question the Kabul heritage of their spices, Calcuttans will modestly explain (to their cousins from Hyderabad and Mumbai) that the aromatic, flavorful, no-sauce version of meat laden deliciousness is a Lucknow-style Biriyani, something the West and South are yet to discover.

We have Punjabi dhabas lining not just our highways but also, congested inner city streets. Stop by Azad Hind for a midnight snack or a heavy late afternoon lunch. With crowds spilling out of every door in that place, you might have to sit in your car or stand in the street to finish your food. Hence, street food. Make sense?

Our ‘real Madrasi’ coffee is the specialty of our Tamil neighbors. Even though we love our Cafe Coffee Days, every now and then we will stop by little holes in the walls in the Lake Market area, to sip steaming hot, frothy coffee from double-layered steel cups.

If you would much rather stay away from the hoopla and sip tea in the cozies of your own balcony, tasty snacks from Bikaner are there to keep you company. Available both in chain and independent store-fronts across the city, taste from dozens of varieties of toasted nuts, dry fruits and spicy mixes.

Internationally minded? Our fruitcakes are from Jewish bakeries from the past century, our Chinese lo mein comes from our very own Chinatown and Mediterranean delicacies are a-galore at upscale joints lining the city.

Craving more caffeine? Want a crash course in the last 50 years of Calcutta? Ride up north to College Street and walk up dimly lit stairs of the Indian Coffee House. See, Calcutta is a place where people don’t just go to work and then go back home, it is a place where every clerk is a poet, every officer an author, singer, actor, collector, critique… and to live this second life, they have a third place, where they “adda” (meet with friends discussing all things essential to surreal, from politics to football, from economics to literature). Long before Starbucks (and hence the modern day cafe) branded their “third place”, Indian Coffee House in College Street has been every Calcuttan’s “third place” for generations. Warm camaraderie and heated conversations are paired with an equally hot, black “infusion” coffee. That is Calcutta. Taste it.

So without much ado, let’s start you on the journey. 20 places to try and taste, while in Calcutta.

Full meals and sit-down eateries:

  1. Peter Cat—Home of Calcutta’s favorite Chello Kabab and also delicious mutton biriyani (Park Street area)
  2. Arsalan—Claimed by some locals to serve the best Biriyani in town, this is a must stop for other delicacies like Firni too. (multiple locations Park St/ Park Circus area, www.arsalanrestaurant.in)
  3. 6 Ballygunj Place— for authentic Bengali cuisine (multiple locations: the original was in 6 Ballygunj Place, near Ballygunj Phari of course, but now they have locations in Salt Lake as well as other cities like Bangalore)
  4. Charnock City—Named after Job Charnock, the founder of the city, this cozy, well-lit restaurant serves scrumptious Daab-Chingri (shrimp and coconut served inside a coconut) and other Bengali, Indian and continental dishes served with views of lush greens of the Salt Lake Stadium and beyond (Salt Lake, EM Bypass)
  5. Hush—Italian food with a cozy bar for those that prefer quiet times and good food (City Centre, Salt Lake)
  6. Five Rivers— for their Kashmiri menu (City Centre 2, Salt Lake)
  7. Barbeque Nation—Go for unlimited kababs and also unlimited GenX IT professional crowd (Sector V, Salt Lake)
  8. Mocambo—As a NYTimes travel writer says “My mother went to Mocambo to listen to Doris Day covers. I went to Mocambo for Fish à la Diana#”  (Mirza Ghalib St)
  9. Bohemian—Bengali cuisine but with an eclectic, international touch (Ballygunj)
  10. Chinoiserie—for upscale Chinese at the Taj Bengal (Alipore)
  11. Baan Thai—for upscale Thai at the Oberoi Grand (Esplanade)
  12. Sigri—North Indian and Kababs

(Chain restaurants that haven’t lost their charm

  1. Mainland China—for delectable Chinese food outside of Chinatown. (multiple locations including cities outside Calcutta)
  2. Oh! Calcutta—authentic Calcuttan cuisine (multiple locations including internationally http://www.speciality.co.in/index.php/brands/oh-calcutta/)
  3. Flame & Grill—(multiple locations including Prince Anwar Shah Rd http://www.speciality.co.in/index.php/brands/flame-grill/)

(Street food and Take-aways: )

  1. Hot Kati Roll—while kathi rolls are ubiquitous in Calcutta, this is locally claimed as one of the best roll-‘stalls’ in the city. (Park Street)
  2. Aliya—for beautifully fragrant, less-oily Biriyani (strictly take-away, Chandni Chowk)
  3. Utsav—for fish fry and chilli baby corn (Hajra)

(Dessert: )

  1. Flury’s—Housed in an old Brit-era building with tall windows bang in the middle of all Park Street action, Flury’s sells decadent pastries and savory baked goods. (Park Street, http://www.flurysindia.com)
  2. Nahoum’s—Their cakes and breads smell of childhood. Of rum, fruits, chocolate but mostly of nostalgic New Market childhood.. Nahoum’s is abundant in every Calcuttan’s memory, it is that much more prevalent in the confectionery-history of sweet-toothed Calcutta. So go there with a local, early enough in the day to enjoy fresh goodies. (Esplanade, New Market)

Epilogue:

This is no way an exhaustive list, and I haven’t been home in so long I forgot how some of this tastes. Maybe that was what my mother wanted–Me to long to go back home, to reach out to my old friends and go out with them to the old hangouts. Well you are successful, Ma, I am craving all of that now and some of your Jhinge Posto too.

Huge shout-out to Debarshi and Saikat for your help with this. Lets get together soon!

 

Travel: A November weekend in Maine

Filed under: travel — Kolika C @ 10:27 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

They said it was “worth a visit, worth a lifetime”, they forgot to mention it was going to be worth the drive with a nauseated puppy, a time-crunched husband and an over-worked wife. Totally worth it, for the canine and his humans alike.
I think I am moving from the cheap, fast, efficient traveler to a care-hungry, leisure-monger. So Cape Elizabeth was perfect. We did nothing. So really not glass wheels worthy. Nothing to write about. But still I will, because I want to keep this thing going in my head.
Nothing but the beach, the view, the stroll, the food, the wine. (Read reviews at my tripadvisor page). The 55 degree weather in late November, made for the doable but very serene beach walks. This is probably the closest we will ever come to a private beach. At 7AM when I took B for his morning walk, we were the only souls on a mile long stretch. Blue water, cold breeze.

This trip was a lot about realizing life has us on leashes, but the leashes are often longer than we realize. B and us enjoyed our long-leashed, short walk.

This was our second honeymoon. Long due. Why now you ask? Well we looked for events to celebrate, so we could stop thinking  of the excuses. And at dinner, we found one. The closest we ever came to acknowledging that we are a couple– humane, palpable  and fallible (in love?), yup we celebrated a nondescript weekend from 7 thanksgiving breaks ago. And it felt good to not say, oh we needed to get away.

To reach out and say thanks.

 

Touched August 8, 2014

Filed under: India,Mouth full of potatoes — Kolika C @ 12:15 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

pinch_your_own_dang_cheeks_t_shirts-r60117af2ca024990ae91e194c5e08523_f0c6y_512I come from a culture where it’s okay to touch other people’s children’s faces and tell them how you cute and chubby they are. Growing up my face got touched a lot. My heightened sense of needing space, my irritability and introvertedness probably have something to do with that. I hated my own face and for the longest time I hated my cheeks. Somehow there was this belief among them that my chubby cheeks entitled them to pinch me, often so hard that I would burst into painful tears or swear to cross the road when I see them next. I would’ve crossed the road if I knew how to walk and eventually when I learned to be on my own, I did cross the road… In fact I crossed several oceans just to get away from people who invade my sacred space.
I wish someone would stand up for me, you know parents, family and the like. But this is not a post about how I blame my family for never saying no to those morons.
This is a post about me as a parent. The grown-up, yet-to-be-parent in me would swear that nobody would ever come close to my kids, unlike my “cheeky” childhood.

This picture from http://mainelysane.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/an-introverts-guide-to-parenting/ and the post too had be laughing  out loud (on the inside in quiet chuckles, because the little monster is napping and we can't wake him up)

This picture from http://mainelysane.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/an-introverts-guide-to-parenting/ and the post too had be laughing out loud (on the inside in quiet chuckles, because the little monster is napping and we can’t wake him up)

The pregnant me was always scared of people touching my bump, petrified of the “touching” stories I would hear from others. Thankfully there wasn’t a hideous situation like that. Of course there was a barrage of questions- unnecessary questions, stupid questions, invasion-of-privacy questions, most of which I dealt with humor but that’s another post.

Then came baby. And with that came a fretful mom who somehow was not being able to maintain the standards she once set for herself.
We were at the local greenhouse when a warty old guy came and said what a sweet baby and touched my 4 month old’s fingers with his muddy gnarly ones. I smiled, I liked that guy and I love his flowers and J seemed to enjoy his time at the garden. Who was I to say no?

That was all of five minutes and J just put his whole fist in his mouth then I ran for the sanitizer in the car.
Then came the “aw-cute-baby” nudges, and hand holds and threats of pinches from Facebook. They came one by one as older ladies who would cross the street to see his face, the Indian gentleman at Sunday’s brunch, the law school student in Harvard Square. And part of me swelled with a little mommy pride and part of me cringed at the thought of being touched by someone else. The rest of me laughed at myself.
Then of course was the virtual chatter about baby and baby rearing, the never ending stream of comments that are supposed to have stemmed from concern. But they only reek of “I know better” and “you’re doing this wrong”. thanks aunts and grandmas and randomly prudish know-it-all jerks. In a way, in every way that was touching me inappropriately. Until I started vocalizing the unsaid and saying “you are no one to say that”, “it is none of your business” etc.
How quickly your care can get tiring and frustrating

How quickly your care can get tiring and frustrating

What’s worse? When other mommies in shoes just like me ganged up. Is he rolling yet? Crawling yet? Sleeping through the night? Are you feeding him this? Not that? Why not blah blah and more blah keep-calm-and-don-t-touch-113blah? Time came for a gentle reminder, “dear stranger (yes, you too. To me and regarding this topic, you are a stranger) stop meddling”. Politely it was “He will do what he has to do, in his own time, I am in no rush”. To those who didn’t get it quickly enough it was “Lets not get into this, it’s not fair to the babies. It’s a trip we shouldn’t fall into” Those who didn’t get that either got a dose of “really dude, you should stop”. Then came the “block” on social media (real life block is too easy). Dark curtain pulled on all the drama.
Really though, stop touching, stop invading and stop pinching. Blame in on my overdoing neighbors, I am really on edge about it and it won’t take much to snap. So stop.
 

Design: repurposing wine corks July 27, 2014

Filed under: art,home and garden,Upcycle & Repurpose — Kolika C @ 11:02 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Repurposing into fabulous trivets, as you can see below. Perfect way to provide a heat resistant, spill-proof catch-all trivet or coaster. Oh and you wine aficionados what better way to show off what you’ve gulped down since last night. Need a tutorial? Easy peasy, use watersafe wood glue to stick them any which way you like.
Herringbone is my new favorite pattern of course. And very good for a standalone structure!

 

Design: The Magnolia Project May 29, 2014


Magnolia Stained Glass Project _ Final step installation

Magnolia Stained Glass Project _ Final step installation

Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 1 Design

Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 0 Inspiration (Spring 2014 blooms)

When my son was about two months old I started the Magnolia project. The idea was to make two stationary stained-glass windows for the wall that separated our master bedroom and his new nursery. My goal was to create a space he could call his own, but have as much sound and light flow through as possible. Stained glass, or any glass, in my opinion, is born to play with light and we have to honor that. My design had to be unique enough to tell our story, calming and peaceful to match our bedroom and above all, fun for my baby to grow up with. I didn’t necessarily want intricate details, but they made their way in, anyway. About 9 months ago, the day I first found out I was pregnant with Josh, we planted a magnolia tree in our garden. Pardon the dramatics and the cliches, it really was coincidental because after moving into our very first, new home, we were focused on getting the landscaping done before it got crazy hot. It is a sweet coincidence you have to admit. First time we were planting a tree- a sign of permanence, of settling down and taking roots. C’est la vie. When it came time to choose a design for these windows, I researched quite a few water themes and art deco designs (if you know my style you know that is what I naturally gravitate to). It was the middle of February- smack in the middle of a cold, long, dreary New England winter. I needed spring, I longed for the branches of trees to turn pink and purple again. I was longing to cut glass, go out, even considered a manicure. And as I have previously mentioned the best manicure often happens when you’re cutting, grinding, shaping glass. Thus my table saw the light of day and the designs got sketched and erased and edited and sketched again, bringing on to paper and then on to glass, branches of a magnolia tree.

  I had once read somewhere, that ‘planting  a garden is believing in tomorrow’. I hope Josh grows up learning to play with light and  learning to believe in tomorrow. And I wish for many many peaceful nights of deep sleep under the pink boughs of magnolia…umm, I don’t think the latter is going to happen right away.
Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 2 Cutting

Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 2 Cutting

Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 3 Staging

Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 3 Staging

Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 4 Foiling
Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 4 Foiling
Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 5 Soldering

Magnolia Stained Glass Project_ Step 5 Soldering

 

 
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