Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Joys of Pressure Cooking


I was very unhappy on Friday. My trusty pressure cooker had given in to the high flames of my gas range and the handle had worn out and had broken beyond repair.

What in the world is a pressure cooker you ask me?
A pressure cooker allows for Pressure Cooking. Pressure cooking is a method of cooking in a sealed vessel that does not permit air or liquids to escape below a preset pressure. Because the boiling point of water increases as the pressure increases, the pressure built up inside the cooker allows the liquid in the pot to rise to a higher temperature before boiling and lets food cook quicker.

My humble 2 liter stainless steel pressure cooker was 4 years old, cost me Rs.1000 (about $20) and had been carried by me all the way from India to the US. I absolutely adored it. I made my baby food and then toddler food, soups, stews, curries, chilis...you name it and every dish in it...I wanted a pressure cooker pronto...

I did get a replacement pressure cooker today. It is a 4 liter aluminium pressure cooker made in India ( purchased at an Indian store in the Bay Area) and I am so excited with it. I have soaked some black lentils and kidney beans and am planning on making some Dal Makhani tomorrow. Here is a recipe for Dal Makhani if you fancy making some for yourself,it tastes super good with brown rice or some Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Naan or a chunk of french baguette.

What are your plans for Sunday...I am just planning to unwind with a trip to the Farmer's Market, a good cuppa ginger tea and the Miss Marple's DVD - Nemesis.

P.S - The photograph is one of my new trusty pressure cooker taken by a wonderful canadian couple (whose blog I avidly follow) living their life to the fullest in Coastal Kerala.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tale of a Lobster and Customer Service...


I was reading a lovely food book "The Calcutta Kitchen" written by Simon Parkes and Udit Sarkhel which gave a glimpse into the lives of people in Calcutta. I lived in Calcutta about 2 years with my parents and absolutely adored the old world charm, the wonderful books in the 2nd Hand Book markets in Ballygunge, the spicy indian chinese in Tangra, the earthy mishti doi from the bhai at Ballygunge Circle...the list goes on and on. The book had a wise saying from a Bengali (you have to understand that an Oriya and Bengali are culturally very alike though they might vehemently disagree) -- What you got to remember about us Bengalis is that we are really only interested in three things - educating our children, reading books and FOOD...

The saying can't be truer -- from my grandmother's kitchen where she lovingly made umpteen delicacies...getting milk fresh from her jersey cow, organic brown eggs laid fresh by her three hens and greens and vegetables from her garden...I remember the layer of flavors and the depth of love she put into every dish. My mother's kitchen where she blended a number of cuisines and came up with pure magic -- from her killer cutlets, to her sambhar to the comforting Dalma...she cooked multiple kinds of food with equal ease...my cooking is a mishmash really --- focused more on using little Oil and lots of vegetables -- not Oriya, not Indian, not chinese, not American but a blend of where my mood and inspiration takes me...

Yesterday was a relatively quiet day at work and K1 and I decided to forsake our packed sandwiches for a lunch at PF Changs. I ordered my usual Shrimp in Lobster Sauce with Brown Rice and Schezuan Aspargus...two bites into my meal I discovered an unappetizing chunk of plastic in my meal and didn't really make a scene but mentioned it to the manager. I got a replacement plate and we had a relaxed time. When it came time to pay for the food -- the manager walked up to us and told us the bill was taken care of...that is customer service and it is very different from how customers are treated in India...and everytime I have a good customer experience, I am really grateful (whether it was getting upgraded to Business in United, an executive suite at Hyatt...)...I do believe strongly in the motto - Engage with your consumers, understand what they need and give it to them...I have tried to apply it in my work life and when I see other people treat their customers (in this case me) well, it really reinforces this value for me in my professional life....so did you find a shrimp in your lobster pot...or have a wonderful customer service experience in the recent past?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Requirements Requiem



P.S: This is one of my older blogs written last May,2008 (old but not forgotten)...that I am reviving here...call it lack of inspiration or too much love

The past two months have been eventful...won't go into details but the new project that I am working on is close to my heart. When you work on something for more than a decade it morphs from being a technology /a product to being a "loved one"...and that's when you have a tendency to become too attached, complacent or biased ( all things not good!). In the midst of all these changes was one constant - the incessant commute on Route 101...fellow travellers will understand and empathize with the feelings of road rage, anger, utter helplessness and the constant knock on your wallet of the rising gas prices...it was on these long commutes that I started noticing a beautiful piece of technology that people called a "Prius"...50 miles per gallon sounded like music to my ears...long story short 6 weeks back... I had my gas guzzling Lexus traded in for a brand new Prius...it was while I was buying the Prius and accepting all the "bells and whistles"...3 places to store your sun glasses, rear view camera, Nav. System, DVD Player (yeah! like I will watch a movie and drive), sheer paint protector, climate control and a billion other things that I realized that this was not very different from our requirements process.

There were features that were must-haves - Eg. Fuel Efficiency ( 50 miles/gallon)
There were features that the PM obsessed over which were not critical to market launch but she had convinced herself and the rest of the company that they cannot survive without - Eg. - Rear view Camera ( Hey! I am human)
Peer Pressure ( read Competition, colleagues) - Eg. XYZ has a Navigation System , so I need one too
External Pressure and Image - Eg. DVD System...kinda cool HUH!
Based on my years in Product Management, I have realized a few facts of life - when a Product Manager gets down to writing requirements, they usually start of with a well defined, streamlined MRD/PRD ( admitted with some opinions and biases of the PM layered in). It is as this document goes through the review cycles through the organization that unrequired layers get added in - based on the need to be better than competition, the need for a fabulous USP, political pressure (i.e., the CXO believes we need this, the boss has advised us that this needs to be in), perceived market demands (customer said it was kinda cool etc. etc.)....and we lose sight of what is required....i.e. what can we build in the timeframe that we can sell today at a profit.

Now as I sit down and right yet another requirements document...I also write a short requiem in anticipation of the downfall -

You were perfect when you began...market driven and sharp focus,

You will be not-so-perfect towards the end...

Distorted by opinions, politics,biases and perceptions

Yet as I write you this farewell note, remember you are something I created,

With a lot of hope for the future....

May you rest in peace !!!



And as I write the requiem I make a mental note that I do not need 3 sunglass holders, a rear view camera, a DVD player, 8 cup holders in my car....so I am sure my baby (aka product) can make do without a lot of the empty features that we front load the requirements document with and be delivered as per market needs on time and within budget...amen!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

350 Years Madras


I had written this poem 23 years back about my wonderful hometown - Madras. Hope you enjoy it and it gives you a glimpse of my city

(I)

My grandfather told me of those bygone days,

When Madras was just a small place,

Huts scattered here and there,

A gentle serenity in the air.

Scenic green fields where the paddy grains,

Would nod their golden heads attuned to the breeze.

Then came the English who robbed Madras of her peace,

Stealing her gentle beauty and throwing people to the streets.

(II)

My father told me of that Madras which rose from the shambles,

Of her many leader who strove to maintain her serenity.

From Chitambaram Pillai who built her seaways to Annie Beasant who loved her nature,

She produced many brains like Ramanujam,

Who kept her name alight everywhere.

Her monuments & structures sent art lovers into excited raptures,

That was the Madras of my dreams.

(III)

As I look around I see the traffic moving by a never-ending stream,

The fast food restaurants, the loud clothes and the noisy discos reigning supreme,

But as I wake in the morning to the warm smell of filter coffee,

And hear the sweet notes of the suprabhatam,

I realize the blend of the old and the new,

I give a sigh of sheer content for being a part of you Madras...

And I have grown with you in spirit for 350 Years.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Hot Cuppa Tea & Self Actualization


I love the saying from Forrest Gump - "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
Life has thrown me a fair share of easy balls and curve balls and I have usually done well whether I caught the ball or waited for my turn the next time around after I missed one...albeit impatiently. Self Actualized I admit to not being - There are some traits I haven't yet mastered -

(a) I still look for recognition/respect and a need to belong.
(b) I still do not accept without prejudices
(c) And sometimes I do tweak reality to fit the constraints I want it to fit into vs. accepting it as is..

Life is a balancing act and I have to accept that for me to get to the next level will be a learning process that is gradual...

In the meantime this week was filled with germs and a flu that hit both my baby (K2) and me. I have been trying to keep K2 warm and have been rubbing him down with vaporub and diffusing Eucalyptus Mist in the bedroom...yet there is this gnawing doubt that I am not doing enough...

To bolster my flagging spirits, I indulged in my favorite drink -- a warm cup of African Nectar tea with a dash of wild honey. K2 and I are watching Madagascar 2 (Escape to Africa) after which we are going to call it a night...how was your evening?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fish! Survival Guide for the Product Manager plagued with Anomie


Can you tell that I am a sociologist who took product management up as a hobby and discovered her passion for this field?
If you can't then tell me what Anomie means – Stumped?
I was when I heard this word for the first time at seventeen and after I learnt what the word meant it was one of my favorite words, used time and again…Anomie was a word used by the famous sociologist Emile Durkheim in his book "Suicide" outlining the social (not individual) causes of suicide caused by an absence or dilution of values and a feeling of isolation and purposelessness…I was hooked by the concept (Ok! We are not talking Suicide here…we are talking Anomie). What is one to do when one constantly feels isolated and undervalued at work? As I mentioned in my previous blogs, being a product manager is not easy – there is a lot of responsibility but the reward system needs to be internal…and sometimes it is difficult.
I have been plagued with a faint sense of Anomie the past quarter…the roadmap is ever changing, structure not maintained…running after the next big deal…product strategy sacrificed…it's hard not to feel disillusioned (and yes whiney)…I was home dusting the cabinets…I find cooking (especially the chopping) and dusting very therapeutic. I found this thin little book lost among the big fat volumes of Kotler's Marketing Management and Porter's book on Competition. The name of this book was Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. My father had given me this book 7 years back…he loves books in the genre of Who Moved my Cheese? Fish? Chicken Soup for the Soul….you get the picture! I had not read this book or the other ones he had given me...I had categorized them as to read and then it got lost in the maze...
I sat down on the floor and started reading this book and was done in an hour with it…I usually speed read but with this book I went slow…it had only 112 pages. I re-read the book later in the night after everyone had gone to sleep…and I did get something out of it…a lot of food for thought. The book was written as a parable and spoke about a woman disenchanted with her job and how the Pike Place Fish Market helped her reinvigorate her job and her department. The principles in the book were simple enough –

(A) Choose Your Attitude - You can decide if you want the day to be a good one or suck !!!

(B) Play - Have fun at what you do

(C) Make their Day - How do you engage you customers and make their day every day

(D) Be Present - Let whoever you touch in the day feel that you are engaged and involved

I am already feeling some of the Anomie disappearing…there is new vigor and hope that yes I can choose to make a difference, I can play while I work and have fun with it…I will be there for my colleagues and my reports and of course…our customers are our most important asset after our people – so I will personally find ways in which I can make their day…launch exciting services, be more receptive to their needs and requests…so here is my antidote for the Product Manager plagued with Anomie… Fish! With a hot cuppa coffee, tea or chocolate…will make your day and drive the blues away!