30 June 2008

CT Again, Begin Again

Of course, since the Big Day of the Baby Arrival is nearing, I'm not taking chances, and am making it out to CT when I get a chance. So, I missed the giant GLBT Pride parade/events in NYC, but got to hang out with my family, which does trump drinking and dancing (and so much fun!) in the city, right? Suffice it to say that although I did miss out on the wild and crazy times, I feel like it was worth the trip.

Of course, now that they're on their way out of CT, we find the bus line that runs about 10 minutes from their front door. And costs about the same as the railway, and take about the same time (total time), to drop me off here, vs dropping me off in New Haven, which is a goodly hour or so away. Sheesh. I'll be dashing back to New York tomorrow morning. No wait. It's 4:30 AM. I'll be dashing back to NY in a couple of hours.

I don't know why, but for whatever reason, my mother and sister (and the rest, I think) can't figure out why I want to head back to Manhattan so soon after arriving.


I'm serious.

That's OK though. As long as they know that I do need to head back, and don't make too terribly much fuss about it, I'm sure we'll all be fine.

28 June 2008

They DO love me!

My friend Lisa made a craft of me:


Is that not AWESOME!?

Heading out to CT again ...

I don't know how much longer my sister (and thereby, my parents) are going to be staying in CT, because they all seem ready to roll right now. For that reason, I'll be making yet another trip out to CT (WATCH THE GAP!!111), and hanging out with family again. Fortunately, this time, Steve's going to be amused while I'm gone. My friend sent me his old PS2, and Steve's enjoying himself immensely. I think.

Either way, he's bound to have even more fun once Katamari Damacy comes in (I ordered it online), and Kingdom Hearts. I'm not a fan of violent stuff, be it movies, TV programming, or video games, so they're not coming into the house to begin with. Fortunately, Steve respects my sensibilities, and doesn't go out and buy those things either. I'm not too fussed what anyone does outside of my hearing/seeing, but I don't approve of supporting those games that are violent with my money. I have a filthy sailor mouth, but I don't like violent media, especially when there are so many things to do that don't involve prolonged exposure to that sort of thing, all of which are as entertaining, if not more so.

How did this turn into a Dino rant? I don't know.

Suffice it to say that I'm loading up my iPod with some fun podcasts (including my own; is it weird that I don't mind listening to myself talk?), like the Vegan Freak Radio podcast, The Angry Hippie, some Vegetarian Food for Thought, and (oddly enough) Brini Maxwell. Yes, it's a guilty pleasure: I enjoy drag queens who dress in 1970s clothes, and say, "Now why didn't you think of that" in an adorable way. Barring that, there's sounds of the rainforest, sounds of the ocean, and a couple of sounds of ... rain to put me to sleep if I need it.

For the record: the squirrels up here in the North are a lot fatter than the ones in Florida. Also, the ones up here have the cutest white tummies, just like on the cartoons. And they do frolic. Quite nice. Just thought I'd share.

27 June 2008


What are those things that stand out about yourself? If someone were asked to describe you, what would come to the forefront? To those of you that know me: what are those things that stick out in your mind about me? If someone asked you who I am, what would you say?

Appa (father, in Tamil) taught me just as much as Amma (mother, in Tamil) did, but in different ways. My earliest memories of the kitchen come from Amma. We'd be chatting about random things, while she would interject with "See how I'm doing this? If you don't do it this way, it doesn't come out properly!" I would take careful note of how she did whatever it is, and file it away into my capacious memory bank.

However, most of what I learned from both my parents came from watching, rather than talking. For example, I picked up (from Amma) the trick of quickly taking the pot off of the heat while popping spices, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of burned spices. She never explicitly told me to do such a thing, but when you watch as carefully as I did, you pick up those things subconsciously, and follow them through in your own life. And so, I'd like to set the record straight about Appa. Although his relationship with food was in a capacity of "Food should be medicine," he still did pass on a few things that I find myself doing to this day.

For as far back as I can remember, Appa was always fastidious about having some form of raw vegetable with every meal. Whether those vegetables were carrots, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, or whatever else depended solely on what was available. Regardless of what it was, he ensured that he had some sort of salad-like thing accompanying each meal. I picked up on this habit, and make sure to have raw vegetables in close proximity to every meal. It's not always with the meal; sometimes I have to wait a little while because my stomach has no room left, but I do make sure to have it.

That leads me to the next point. Appa is, was, and always will be the ultimate grazer. Regardless of where he worked, he would forever have squirreled away some form of nuts, sandwiches, and raisins. He loves all nuts very dearly, but peanuts have a special place in his heart. In fact, now that I come to think of it, I recall that his bedroom always had bottles of peanuts, in various stages of emptiness. Mind you, his favourite nuts are cashews and pistachios, but those two can get expensive, and fast. If it's not nuts, it's potato crisps. Whatever it is, he's constantly munching on something or other.

Anybody who's watched me eat knows that I'm a big-time grazer. I don't like to eat large meals, but prefer to have a choice of a few different varieties, that I take in small quantities. This way, I split up my meals into eight to ten small meals throughout the day.

No discussion about Appa is complete without a nod to cocoanut. In every form, Appa loves cocoanut. Cooked, raw, in salads, in soups or stews, the water, the mature cocoanut, the tender cocoanut. All of them please Appa immensely. Come to think of it, he's actually not a fan of cocoanut that's been cooked too much. He feels that it changes the quality of it, and prefers to have it raw, or just barely cooked for the last couple of minutes in a dish that's done cooking on the stove.

Finally, there's the salt issue. Appa is vehemently opposed to cooked salt. That is, he (and my mother, once she met him) believes that to add salt towards the beginning of cooking means that you're letting the salt penetrate, and destroying the health benefits of the food. It's fine to add salt at the end of the cooking, at the table, or (preferably, in his eyes) not at all. To this day, I feel funny about adding salt while I'm cooking.

There are, for sure, many other things where Appa has influenced me, but these are the ones that really stick out in my mind. If you were to mention these things to any of his family, they'd give a knowing look, and respond with "Yup! That's him!" They are so quintessentially him that I had no trouble thinking them up, and writing about them.

I wonder if I have any such distinct features about me?

26 June 2008

I think you've got a problem ...

I've been watching that TV show, "You Are What You Eat," on BBC. On it, the nutritionist discusses how people get addicted to different foods, be they salty, fatty, or sugary. This is up to and including drink, caffeine, and other vices. However, I was thinking: What constitutes a "problem," and what's just an unhealthy like? At what point does one go from really enjoying a vice to where it becomes an Issue?

I started thinking it over. I'd say that I have a drinking problem when it got to where I was vomitting, blacking out, or unable to live life from the hangovers on a regular basis. I'd consider a caffeiene addiction to be out of control when I regularly felt jittery, my stomach protested over the amount of acid in there and I felt nauseous, or when I started peeing out dark coloured pee (a sign of dehydration). But with food, the lines are a little more blurred, aren't they? With an addiction, you can set it down, and go into recovery mode. With food, you face it every day, three times a day.

I'm sort of conflicted, you know? I've been able to reign in my smoking habit to where I can do without for a day or two, or do with a cigarette (versus the pack a day I used to need to suck down to survive). With the rest of it all, I'm getting it to where it's not interfering with day to day life. But with food, I am concerned.

I bought a box of cereal as a special treat, and Steve munched through it in like 3 days. I got a package of crisps for myself, and managed to get through that in 3 days as well. He's got a thing for sugar, and I've got it for salt. Between the two of us, we'd cheerfully down crap all day. Mind you, we also both have serious love for fat. I made a very large pot of vegetable soup. It was /good/ not great. Then I tipped in a tin of cocoanut milk (it's like a cup and change). Boom. It was as if bathing in that tin of evil made it so much more perfect than ever.

Fortunately, we also really love our fresh fruit and veg. I can power through a pound of peaches in no time flat. Leave me along long enough with strawberries, and you'll have none left. I can easily polish off a watermelon. My favourite of all time, however, is raspberry. Nothing compares to the tart, sweet, lovely goodness of those little aggregate fruits.

So maybe I just enjoy eating what I enjoy?

Also, I'm addicted to cute dogs:

16 June 2008

Potluck in Jersey

Jersey was a lot of fun. We cooked a tonne of food, the people who came were friendly and laid back, and the whole experience was gilded by the way that we all just clicked when it came to working together in the kitchen. I think I'll do a podcast episode about running a good potluck. Should be interesting to see what I come up with, eh?

Another friend, Kristin, made a comment about her spice drawer. There are those people who do things so beautifully and so well, that you must stand up and applaud them for it. Check hers out:


It's really a thing of beauty, isn't it? Now, can you imagine being in Kristin's kitchen, with all that beauty laid out before you, and putting together a meal? Just stop, and reflect for a moment: when you have things laid out in a beautiful manner, doesn't it make you want to use those things more? If your kitchen is tidy and organised, you'll be encouraged to cook in it more often. When you're cooking for yourself, you're seeing to it that the only person who controls what's going in is YOU! Can anyone else really season something exactly the way you like it? Never! Get out there, and use the inspiration to create things of beauty, both in the pantry, and in the rest of the kitchen.

13 June 2008

Sister's Baby Shower, part 3

In every trip, there are things that stand out in your mind. Of course, for me, the first thing that sticks out was the wiggly, squirmy little puppy that found a new friend and was trying to lick my eye. He was so cute, and friendly. A good doggy all around. If you've ever read The Celery Stalks at Midnight, you will recognise the physical embodiment of Howie. SUCH the cutest little guy.

Once the tyre went flat, I decided that now would be a damned good time for photo shoot time. My parents got out, and we posed in front of the pretty flowers. Believe it or not, this was in front of the flower bushes at a rest stop, just out of Stamford, CT! In front of a fast food restaurant! Very odd, eh?

09 June 2008

Sister's Baby Shower, pt 2

If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans.

Original plan was to head out of the house at 2:30~ish, and get to the Baby Shower place by 3:00. Ish. Then, we were supposed to help set up, and have everyone arrive around 5:00. Reality struck, however, and the lady of the hour ended up sleeping far too many hours. Nobody was properly roused until around 3:45. Eventually, around 4:00, everyone managed to wake up. Then (give or take), at 4:30, after much clattering around, and confusion (up to and including the confusion with how to make the back most seat of the van go upright), we managed to get a move on. Then came traffic. Then came a giddy moment, where all of us finally broke through the chaos of the road, and made the final, mad dash to Glastonbury (from Middletown), and got to the lady's house.

We arrived around 5:00. Not too many people were there, but the lady of the house was (understandably) flustered. Unfortunately, this transmitted itself to my mother, who also started to get frustrated. After a bit of bumping of heads, and confusion, I decided to take charge.

You see, my mother and I had started cooking early that morning, and had everything neatly into those aluminium trays that you get at the store where they cook large amounts of food, and serve it at events. This meant that when we arrived at the shower place, all we had to do was fling everything into the oven, and keep everything hot. There was everything from appetisers to entrees, and everything was oven ready. Once the lady of the house saw that I knew how to work her oven, she stepped aside, handed me the reigns, and just let me take over. Of course, my mother being who she is, had been bragging to all these people that I'm /that/ Dino, the vegan cook book author and Manhattan vegan chef bla bla bla. When they saw that I'm not a blundering idiot, it was a simple question of everyone finding the evidence for themselves, rather than my really having to prove myself over much.

When you are introduced as such-and-such to a group of people (by someone they trust), they'll start looking for evidence to back that up. This is why it's so dangerous for parents to label their children (the smart one, the pretty one, the difficult one, the one who is a fussy eater). Every time that parent's adult friends interact with that child, they'll have that echo bouncing around in their heads. As they see even the slightest evidence to support that label, they start using the same label as well. I kid you not, but within a few minutes of the other women arriving into the house, my name had run ahead of me on winged feet.

I was making quick work of a half of watermelon, and slicing the juicy, ripe fruit into thin slices (so that it's easy to pick up and eat), while deftly making an ever-growing pile of rinds to one side. Mind you, slicing watermelon is not a difficult task. Neither is setting already cooked food in a tray, and turning on the oven to warm it. Slicing cupcakes in half, and arranging those halves on a plate isn't exactly rocket science. In fact, nothing I was doing was really all that extraordinary, but it wasn't just "Dino" doing it, it was "Dino the cookbook author and professional cook" doing it. This meant that not only am I an Indian male (a group notorious for being unhelpful in the kitchen, which was a cause for major delight to these women, whose husbands mostly lurked in the background, socialising with each other) taking charge of his baby sister's event, and doing so competently, but that I was also a professional, who came all the way from New York City to see to it that everything went smoothly (and it was).

It ended up where the ladies would offer suggestions, but it would be exactly that: a suggestion. Rather than ending up being an event where everyone was flustered, I was able to orchestrate the food handling, while keeping up a steady stream of chatter with anyone within ear shot, so that I didn't seem to be asocial in what should be a celebratory event. AND THE THING IS? I've done exactly this sort of thing a hundred times before, back in Florida, or any other place I've visited, but it never had the same effect as did this one, where I'm the pro, taking charge. Before now, it's mostly been "our dear friend Dino, who's a damned good cook, who offered to help us put dinner together for our friends."

That being said, I don't think that I would have been able to deflect the situation had a few prerequisites not been met:

1. All the cooking was done by the time we left the house. No new cooking was required at all.

2. I had no clue who any of these people were, and the feeling was mutual. They didn't know that I'm just a laid back guy, who's used to being in the eye of a storm of chaos, and making all the different pieces function as a coherent whole. I didn't know that my mother and sister were so close to the lady of the house, that both of them would have gotten equally flustered at seeing her flustered. I just took charge when I saw that nobody else was.

3. My reputation preceded me. My mother has been talking about how proud she is of her vegan cook author son since forever. Frankly, she's sung my praises (in terms of cooking) ever since I started cooking alone in the kitchen. From a very early age, I am used to hearing her sincere pride at my love for being around food, and handling it so well. My mother is one of those people who doesn't give out praise unless it's deserved, and she has no illusions as to what her children are. When we screw up, she is the first to admit it. However, when we do well, she's equally quick to tell anyone who will listen about how proud she is of her talented child.

4. The people there are generally laid back people. If anyone there had been uptight, or nasty, I would have immediately withdrawn to my computer or cell phone, and promptly ignored everyone. I don't like unpleasant company, and will make a concerted effort to avoid such people when necessary.

Finally, around 9:00 or so, we all started to head out to our respective cars. My sister's friends had come up from New York with another one of her friends from New Jersey, so I asked that group of four to come back to her place, and hang out for a bit before going back home. They were all glad to do so, and we all trouped back to my sister's house as a little mini caravan. We get into the house, and instantly, everyone lets her or his hair down. We got comfortable on couches, they had some coffee, and we all started chattering away rapidly.

What was supposed to be a quick 10 - 20 minute visit ended up stretching out into a quick game of Taboo, and then a good deal of cross conversations, where Barbara explained Passover to my mother and brother-in-law. Actually, it was more like Barbara and I both explained Passover, because I think that Cliff has made me an honorary Jew. Mazel Tov, and all that. Half way through the discussion about Shabbat, and Yom Kippur, and Kibbutzes, and the serious schelp you have to make from Central Jersey out to Trenton, or Manhattan, we lost track of time, because that's what happens when you combine a group of people who enjoy talking (and talking with each other). Throw two mothers into the mix (and a mother-to-be), and there is no /way/ anyone is moving anywhere until there's been plenty of laughter and hearty well wishes going down on all sides.

My mother, my sister, and the lady of the house where we had the shower made sure to thank me profusely for taking charge (which I was happy to do; it's like Cliff says "It's easy to point the finger out there, but we need to point right back to ourselves and TAKE CHARGE!); and take charge I did! The New York group left around 12:30 (because goodbye takes such a long time to say properly, doesn't it?), and everything here wrapped up around 2:00. After a nice chat with Steve, I finished writing this up.

Suffice it to say that coming back to my family reminds me why I am so close with my mother, and reminds me why I'm thankful for being physically far away. The two of us can talk a blue streak, but repeated exposure will probably come back to bite us all in the butt. We can all easily handle measured doses, but much more than that, and there is bound to be unhappy friction. As usual, I can't sleep out here, because it's so quiet and comatose. I miss the sounds of the sirens at midnight, and the traffic. The quiet is just disconcerting. Can't wait to get back home.

08 June 2008

Sister's Baby Shower, pt 1

The following groups of people:

young children
husbands (wives?)
newly: in love, pregnant, or independent

will automatically feel that their chosen course of action is automatically correct, irrespective of evidence, argument, cajoling, bitching, screaming, or otherwise. They will also automatically take any objection(s) to their chosen course of action as a reason to make a point, and will more vehemently pursue said course of action. This means that the simplest manner of making someone do something stupid/painful/annoying/wrong is to tell him/her/it/or them that such a thing is forbidden, off limits, stupid, dumb, annoying, or going to cause discomfort for any and all parties concerned.

Again, bear in mind that logic cannot and will not enter the picture.

Case in point: once I got it into my head to move to New York City, there was nothing that anyone could say to deter me from that chosen course. This meant that in spite of guilt trips from my parents, unsupportive friends, lack of employment, crappy weather, lack of housing, and lack of money, I continued to doggedly pursue the idea of moving to New York City. This included running head first into my least favourite season (the cold ones), while barely having enough coming in from the last pay cheque to pay for the flight! This also meant that every time someone called me crazy, or tried to tell me to slow down, or save up, or stop and think for a moment, I would become that much more determined to follow through with my plans, and see it to its natural course.

Had I done things the "smart" way, I would have lined up my resources, one by one, and made the move comfortable with the support of my family (who would have done so, had they been given sufficient time to follow up on their contacts and resources), more money siting around to make it happen, or any number of other basic comforts that I didn't really bother to pursue, because it wasn't Priority Number One Which Is More Important Than Anything Else Right Now. What would that be? Duh.

Being right.

You see, when you /know/ that you're right, nothing short of thunderous, utter, abject, humiliating failure will even force you to consider that you could be wrong. Instead, you will wildly blame everything else except the primary cause: you screwed up, pally.

Enter the case of my family member as exhibit B.

Let's say, for the sake of argument (or, in this case, to avoid argument), that this family member wanted to sew party favours for her baby shower. Suppose also that the same party favours could have been bought at a craft store for a little bit more money, and at a comparable quality, to the stuff that she was making. Suppose also that in the course of doing this, she was going to use up a considerable amount of time, effort, and expensive stuff. Finally, when the day is done (and what a long day it's been), in spite of my mother repeatedly telling her that it's a stupid project to pursue, especially when it's a party that other people are throwing for her, and that she should really be relaxing, she managed to crank out a respectable amount of party favours.

However, she's used up a LOT of time, and effort, and money in making said favours happen.

FOR THE RECORD: My family member did not sew party favours. I'm using the example, so as to avoid incriminating the involved parties, and to generalise the example, rather than to cite specifics. As I sincerely value my head, in all its beauty, I choose to change the names of the people involved, not to protect their identity, but to protect my own!

Suffice it to say, my mother got thoroughly and completely pissed, and the family member got equally pissed. Both sides ended up going off to their respective corners. I'm not sure what's going to happen. Not really bothered. I've done my job by arriving, and not being a totally asocial bum. It's the most we can all ask of me, right?

07 June 2008

I'm not nuts!

See? It looks like I'm not the only one who loves my spice drawer! Vegan blogger Jeannie also uses a spice drawer for her spices. She labelled the top of them with those cute little white labels that you can print on.

Check it out!

Thanks so much, Jeannie! I feel vindicated.

It's funny how when you're sitting there with your iPod, people don't necessarily bother you (although some do), but if you whip out the laptop, and start typing at random, they leave you alone, as if you're in the middle of either divine inspiration, or in the middle of Really Hard Work. Let's be honest, though. I have no books open. I've got no reports sitting in front of me. No notebooks. Not a PDA. Not a cell phone. Nothing at all. However, they'll assume that I'm doing Important work, even if I have an amused look on my face.

I wonder if it works the same way for writing? I'll have to experiment some time.

The thing is, people find me easy to talk to, because I don't glare with hostility at anyone whose eye rests on my face for more than a fraction of a second. People seem to mistake my lack of hostility for an invitation to chatter on for however long it takes to complete the journey, or until I leave in annoyance or frustration. I'll be sure to report back on it.

For now, I'm in the train, and it's seriously quite crowded. In other words, I'm thinking that this shield in front of me is what's preventing long, boring conversations based around the beauty of trees, their sleepy little hamlets, or whatever other garbage these people are interested in. Again, I'll keep you posted as much as possible.