Saturday, March 23, 2013

Healthy power-packed vitamins

For our body to function properly and grow well we need many things. Among them vitamins and minerals play a significant role. Let us find out today what they are, where we get them and the benefit of some of the important ones.

Vitamins are organic substances that are manufactured by plants and animals within their bodies.
Minerals are inorganic substances that are found abundantly in nature. We humans get these various minerals from the plants which absorb them from natural elements like soil and water.
Can you think of some vitamins and minerals that are important for the growth of our bodies?

I am sure you must have come up with a long list of vitamins such as A, B, C, D and K. Amongst the minerals were you able to think of sodium, calcium and iron?

The most wonderful thing about vitamins and minerals is that they are available in all the foods we eat. Be it curd, eggs, spinach, green peas, carrots, rice, vitamins and minerals are present everywhere. It is not that one food product may contain one kind of vitamin or a specific mineral, but various foods have different minerals and vitamins present in them in varying quantities. We just need to ensure that we consume a balanced diet.

Now let us take a look at some important vitamins and minerals and how they help our bodies.

Vitamin A: It is important for good skin, healthy bones and teeth and immunity. The most important task that vitamin A or retinol has is to support vision. Its deficiency may lead to night blindness, so you must include lots of green and leafy veggies in your diet to ensure that your body gets plenty of vit A. Good sources of this vitamin are carrots, cod liver oil, milk products, yellow fruit like banana, spinach and other leafy, green vegetables.

Vitamin B: A whole group falls under vitamin B. This family includes important members like vit B2, B3,B5, B6 and B12. They are found in a wide variety of foods like fish, banana, cheese, poultry products, whole grains like rice and cereals. Their deficiency may lead to weak nails, skin inflammation and fatigue. Vitamin B12 deserves a special mention as it helps in the formation of red blood cells and nerves. Hence lack of this one may lead to anaemia.

Vitamin C: Also called ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is important for the immune system, protection from various bacteria and viruses, healing wounds, reducing cholesterol and for the lifespan of our cells. The deficiency of this vitamin leads to scurvy, a condition with bleeding gums, bleeding under the skin and unnatural tiredness along with muscle and joint pains. Vitamin C is found in tomatoes, berries, citrus fruits like oranges, and in peppers.

Vitamin D: The sun vitamin, Vitamin D, is manufactured by our bodies with the help of sunlight. young children who are not exposed to the healthy rays of the sun are in danger of suffering from rickets. It is a very important vitamin for the health of teeth and bones. It can also be derived from cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, tuna, milk and various milk products.

Vitamin E: This is an anti oxidant which helps to keep the skin healthy and glowing. It aids in cell growth and is important for the health of red blood cells. It is found in vegetable oils, nuts, wheat germ and whole grains.

Vitamin K: This vitamin is essential for blood clotting, otherwise one may die of extensive bleeding even after a small nick. Vitamin K is derived from green and leafy vegetables like spinach, cabbage, broccoli and sprouts among others.

(You can read the article in The  New Indian Express here:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book review- The Diary of a social butterfly

I feel strongly about a line from Thomas Gray’s Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. The poet writes ‘where Ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise’. In an idyllic setting I would associate this entire line with basking under the sun on a small hill top watching clouds float and sheep graze at a distance though in day to day life I often quote the half of it- ‘ignorance is bliss’.
And I thought of this line very often while reading Moni Mohsin’s The Diary of a Social Butterfly (TDSB). Butterfly is a socialite and is blissfully ignorant about her own inanities. Moni Mohsin is a journalist who wrote a column by the same name in Pakistan’s Friday Times. This book is a selection of these very column entries. The 220 page book at Rs 199 is fully paisa vasool.

The diary is set up in modern day Pakistan. It though records the social hits and misses of Butterfly, is a commentary, actually a satirical commentary, on the state of affairs in large. Butterfly has no clue about all that is happening yet she has an opinion on just about everything and everyone, be it the sacking of the Chief Justice at the hands of Mush, bomb blasts, suicide attacks or the prolific GTs of the high and mighty in Isloo. You don’t know GTs!!! Baba where are you from? The third rock from the sun? Hain? GTs are get togethers.
This last sentence was the effect Butterfly has had on me. This is how colloquial she is. In life we come across people who get stuck in our head. It might be the way they look, the way they talk or a specific gesture of theirs that stays on while we may move apart. Reading TDSB and especially the fun way it has been written I could see one dear aunty mouthing these words. Itni similarity ke bas pucho hi na.

Butterfly goes party hopping like it is the breath that she thrives on. She attends six parties in two days and her Eid celebrations are such ki bas pucho hi na. The book is full of us Indians in various avtaars. The most prominent being our celebs from Bollywood. There are parties being hosted for them. (And we thought there was animosity between the two neighbours) Even Vijay Mallya is there. And Maharani Gayatri Devi too. Butterfly is not fully ignorant about the developments that take place around her thanks to the huge wall mounted LCD in her bedroom that her husband insists on seeing news on. She is very much aware of who got a visa to where and how thanks to no TV but her own connections.

It is intriguing to read about the rich and their holidays, their villas and their shopping sprees in London, Boston and even our beloved Khan Market. She is heartbroken after 9/11 as now the US embassy is making life difficult for innocent people like her by not giving visas and they have to sarroh in the hot weather. She thanks God when the garmi is holding off a bit.
The diary entries start from January 2001 with Taliban threatening to destroy all statues while Butterfly’s friend Floozie has run off with her best friend’s husband. Butterfly has only one agenda that her social life must go on unhampered despite what happens in her country or the world around her.
The best loved bits are about sarrhi boti, news junkie ‘Janoo’ the husband who is an embarrassment for Butterfly. He is ‘So untrendy, so dheela, so behind’. At another point he is described as ‘Bechara, crack tau he always was but now he’s gone start staring mad’.

At various points the author dips her mis-spelling pen in sarcasm and is great at it. Mush disappoints her when he gets power hungry and Janoo points out that the army must learn to let go. She wonders who will come to power when news of Musharraf and Benazir being in secret talks comes in. ‘I am tau sick of that silly ping-pong’ Butterfly remarks while taking a guess at Benazir and Nawaz. She is miffed when every Tom, Dick and Hairy gets access to Suzukis.

Other characters includes her mother-in-law The old bag, her own son Kulchoo, her sisters-in-law twosome gruesome and her own parents various aunts, uncles, their offsprings and an array of inane friends. The last entry is recorded in January 2008 when Benazir was assassinated. Butterfly frankly admits that she never liked her ‘She was corrupt and always doing ghaplas’ yet she misses her.
Have no doubt that you will left wanting to read more.
This is one book that you can go back to over and over again in times when your own life is lacking humor or satire.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Product Review: Sunsilk Perfect Straight

I have been blessed with striaght silky hair. I keep them at shoulder length for easy management. I prefer to let them loose. My bad hair days are often a result of my oily scalp. I have to tie them up and that is when they come to have a wavy impression that would stay if I do not use an optimum product.

The purple bottles that arrived by courier looked and smelt beautiful so full marks to the packaging guys for it. Before writing ths revew I used the shampoo and the conditioner twice, so let me go wash by wash:

First Wash: When I first used the shampoo, my scalp had begun to get slightly oily. I used the shampoo as I would use any other. I let the shampoo stay on for a couple of minutes before rinsing it off with luke warn water.

Then squeesing out the water from the tips I applied the conditoner and let it stay for just a minute as the instruction on the pack advised. Again I washed it off with luke warm water.

When my hair had begun to dry I did not notice anything different. There were definitely less tangles than would have been had I simply used the shampoo and not the conditoner. The good thing also was that there was no frizz that often happens when teh shampoo is not balanced and actually manages to dry out hair leaving the feeling undernourished.

Second Wash: The second wash came two days later. there was no oily scalp this time. I just needed a wash before stepping out for a party. I used it similarly as before, leaving the conditioner wee bit more than the suggested 1 minute.

Conclusion: I believe that the shampoo helps to sort out frizzy issues to a certain extent and I can not vouch if it is the best rescue for heavily frizzy and/ or curly hair. As far as my own experience is concerned, I like the packaging, the smell and the mildness of the shampoo. The conditioner works well too.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The goodness of your garden on your plate

Yes, you read the headline of this article correctly. And I am not just talking about a vegetable garden. I am talking about a garden where lovely flowers bloom in abundance. Flowers have been used in culinary practices for a long, long time. The first recorded mention of the usage of flowers dates back to 140 BC.
Various cultures and cuisines have been inspired by flowers and people have used them for various purposes while cooking. Some use flowers to garnish a dish while some use them as a main ingredient. Can you imagine a dish garnished with lovely lavender and blooming roses? Flower petals have been extensively used in salads from time immemorial. Candied violets and sugared roses have always lured even those who claim not to have a sweet tooth.
Flowers have been used in desserts such as ice cream and custards and are also found in baked goodies.
The range of flavour that flowers impart to various dishes is astounding. Violets, lavender or roses generally lend a sweet flavour and thus are extensively used in desserts and salads. I am sure you must have recalled a common usage of rose petals. Yes, the gulab jal or rose water is used in various sweet preparations. Who can forget the use of rose water for the heavenly gulab jamuns! Rose essence is also widely used in other desserts like kheer and phirni.
Violets are perfect for adding to a wide range of food products like jams and jellies. Similarly the delicate pansies are used in various soups and desserts for garnishing as they are mildly sweet in taste. 
Lavender tea is considered to have a calming effect and is often recommended as a cure for insomnia. Apart from this, owing to a citrusy flavour, lavender has found use in a variety of other things ranging from syrups and jellies to wines.
Nasturtiums — which are used very commonly in kitchens all around the world — have a peppery flavour. It is not just the flower that is edible; the whole plant can be consumed. Its petals find good use in salads or are crystallised and used as garnish while the seed pods are used as replacement for peppercorns and capers.
Chive blossoms tend to impart an onion flavour and are often used in savoury dishes.
The lovely carnations have a sweet, nutmeg-like flavour and are great for using in salads and for garnishing. Various others like sage, thyme, rosemary, primrose are the names that I am sure you must be familiar with.
Now that we know about various flowers and their usage, let us look at some related important aspects of edible flowers. Before anything else, it is extremely important to remember that not all flowers are edible.
There are some flowers which are very poisonous and can make you sick. People with allergies should be extra careful while consuming edible flowers.
Be sure to check with a trusted reference source if you intend to use flowers.
If possible use flowers that you have harvested yourself. The best time to pluck flowers for your dish is early morning or in the evening. Do not pick flowers during the middle of the day as the heat may affect the colour and taste overall affecting the look and taste of your creation.
Removing the stem and the pistils from the flowers is a good idea as they can be chewy or at times bitter to taste.
To begin using the flowers, shake them well to get rid of pollen, small insects or any bits of dust. Wash them well but be gentle and then use them as the recipe demands.
(This first appeared on March 15, 2013 here:

Friday, March 15, 2013

So...... Oh! Kolkata

We came to Kolkata a year back. How and why we came to come here, still remains a bit hazy as everything happened so fast. No, it really did. In a time span of about ten days, I went from having a shining career with the PR department of the Chandigarh Administration and two helping hands to doing the cleaning,cooking and looking after my household to scrubbing floors, washing clothes and utensils and cooking meals by myself. Out of the Rajbhavan into Sarobana's bhavan (Sarobana = Landlady).

When the husband was offered the posting alongside a promotion we decided to make the move. I did not give a thought about the ramifications in personal terms. In that sense I now realise that I am not much of a thinking person as it is. I do things and then often sit at side amused by all that happens to me. The only thing I remember thinking is this would mean change.

So Kolkata happened in Nov 2011 after Diwali jubilations in the Sector 8 house to which we had barely moved three months back.

Kolkata or should I say, everything that I read or hear about Kolkata manages to amaze me everyday. I do not yet have a relationship with the city which is often referred to as Calcutta and which I find nicer than the name-in-use.

Why is it called a metro, escapes me, when the only people you find are Bengalis and Marwaris. The third breed that they know are Gujjus and if you are lucky one or two of them might be in the know of Punjabis as well. Everywhere that I have been to in this one year and amongst all the conversation with strangers that I have had the first question has been about my state of origin. The three guesses are hazarded and my answer sends them in to a tizzy. It is as if I have told them about an alien galaxy. A Himachli, they look at me quizzically. You don't look like one, I am told. I have taken that to mean that I don't look like a beauty from Sirmour or a Tibetan from Dharamsala- the two places they seem to know of within Himachal.

There are a few things about Kolkata that I think you would not find anywhere else.

Number one on my this list is the number of men surrounding a gol-gappa thela. I mean I don't think anywhere else on earth would  you see MEN, at all hours standing on a puchka stand unabashedly going for plate after another. I am somehow mesmerised by this. I love the fact that this they are not doing this necessarily in the company of women. This they do for themselves and by themselves.

Another wonderful thing is that young girls don't mind being called aunty. How wow is that! Girls don't mind being called aunty, but aunties insist on being called Bhabhi. That bit is kind of weird.

May be Paan ki peek is there God. It is everywhere. From being on the roads to the walls of every building to being on the road divider to all electricity poles, the orange splutter is omnipresent. You can't escape it. Maybe the colour red was a better choice for the town than Didi's favourite whites and blues.

Public places are a mess. No dustbins. No maintenance. Broken seats. If the population explosion had not hit me in the face when I got off a bus at the New Delhi bus stand, it would have hit me here in these public parks with double the intensity.

Kolkata may be an old city but the spirit is young.
It may be a big metro but it still retains the village element.
I don't know if one should pray for a better administration for the city. Though it can definitely use some of that yet it might end up losing the charm of  being haphazard.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eating your words

Have you ever had to avoid hot potatoes? Or have you finally found your gravy train? If that answer is a yes, then you must be the cream of the crop and will soon become big cheese and if the answer is a no, then I suggest that you use your noodle, chew the fat and ensure that you don’t jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

So have you been able to guess what we are going to talk about today? I am sure you must have done so by now. We are stepping into the world of idioms inspired from food. Food occupies a major portion of our lives and it is no surprise that there are so many idioms inspired by food.

Let us begin with the sweet example of the cake and see what some of the idioms using cake mean. The first one that comes to mind is a fairly common one. Can you venture a guess? Yes it is to ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. This refers to having the best of both the worlds.

Interestingly the idiom is used with some variation in many languages all over the world. For example in Bulgarian the saying goes ‘both the wolf is full and the lamb is whole’. In German you have the idiom roughly translated into ‘please wash me but don’t get me wet’. Or look at what they say in Portuguese ‘to want the sun shine in the threshing field while it rains in the turnip field’. Closer to home a similar meaning saying in Tamil goes ‘desire to have the moustache and drink the porridge.’

With these examples you must have noticed how the food consumed in a certain part of the world influences the saying from there. Another cake idiom very commonly used is ‘the icing on the cake’. This means a situation or an opportunity that makes an already existing one more lucrative. Yet another one using cake is to ‘take the cake’. Taking the cake means to be the best or the worst of something.

A close relative of the cake, bread also finds use in various sayings. The one that has quickly marched into my head at this point is ‘breaking bread’ and here comes another close on its heels ‘bread and butter’. To ‘break bread’ usually refers to eating with someone but could also be used to point out to sharing of one’s possessions with someone. ‘Breaking the bread’ or more correctly ‘breaking of bread’ is a phrase that occurs around five times in Bible. It is a common Jewish expression from pre-Christian times where it refers to the act of breaking the bread at the beginning of the meal by the host or the head of the household.

‘Bread and butter’ refers to a person’s means of livelihood. Here is an interesting nugget for you. Do you know which state in the USA is referred to as the bread and butter state? The answer is Minnesota which is also called the land of 10,000 lakes and these waters along with the jungles and wilderness areas help harbour many grain and dairy products in the state leading to the nickname bread and butter state.

I guess that is enough food for thought for one column. I suggest that now you raid the library and cull out information regarding the few idioms mentioned at the beginning.

How about you think of some more idioms on your own and share them with me?

(This appeared as a column first in The New Indian Express on Mar 1, 2013)

Storehouse of Nutrients

Pulses are eaten in every part of the country. These are a major source of protein in our diet. But do we know anything else besides the fact that pulses are members of the legume family?

Let us discover some facts about the world of pulses today. Try naming the pulses that you are familiar with. How many did you get?

The word ‘pulse’ has its origin in the Latin word puls which in Greek means thick soup like porridge. Proof of cultivation of pulses has been found at the site of the Indus Valley Civilisation near the river Ravi in Punjab.

Traces of these have also been found at the pyramids. Some dry pea seeds were discovered in a Swiss village which are believed to date back to the Stone Age.
In general, the term pulses refers to crops that are harvested for their dry seeds. Have you guessed which part of the plant pulses are? Yes! You are right if your answer is seed. Now on to the basics- I mentioned that pulses belong to the legume family. Do you know what a legume is or what leguminous crops are?

Legumes are plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. This is one huge family with about 600 genera and 13,000 species. Well! Pulses like toor, moong, chana and masoor are a major part of the legume family but alfa alfa, clover, peanuts and soy also belong to this family. Legumes or leguminous crops are extremely important to the crop rotation practice. Why, you might wonder. Crop rotation refers to the practice of growing different crops as per the season. This leads to the maintenance and rejuvenation of levels of the different resources and minerals present in the soil. Even then the soil needs replenishment of various minerals and this can be achieved either by adding fertilisers or by growing legumes — they fix nitrogen in the soil — between two different crops.

We all know and some of you have seen the horrors that have been wreaked on the health of humans by an overdose of these fertilisers. Growing legumes, which trap nitrogen in the soil and make it available for the crop that is grown, is a healthier, more economic and thus a superior choice to the use of fertilisers. This way pulses help in the environmental sustainability of the annual cropping system.

Now let us examine the health benefits that pulses have in store for us. Pulses are consumed in a variety of forms. They are either eaten whole or split. Often they are consumed as flour after being ground. Many a time they are consumed separated in parts like fibre, starch or protein.

As I said before they are a major source of protein. Pulses contain almost twice the amount of protein present in whole grain cereals like wheat, rice, barley and oats.

Pulses are also a great source of fibre — soluble as well as insoluble. Soluble fibre helps to decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels, the insoluble fibre aids digestion and helps regularise bowel movement.

Pulses are high in mineral content. They are a store house of important minerals like zinc, iron and phosphorous. They also contain folate, niacin and thiamine — members of the Vitamin B clan — that help the body produce and build new cells. Pulses deliver all this goodness in a relatively low number of calories.

Adding to this is the fact that pulses are low in fat and contain no cholesterol and you have a perfectly good example of healthy eating.

During the next meal you must get an extra helping of this particular beneficiary.

(This column appeared first in The New Indian Express on Feb 22, 2013)