Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Whole New Mind.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of Hell,or a hell of Heaven.
                                                                                        ---John Milton, Paradise Lost

I  finished reading the book "A Whole New Mind" last month...truth be told I am not as sold on it as K1 who gave me this book with a solemn "here is the book that made me think". I do agree with some of the concepts outlined by the author- the world has evolved from Agricultural (farmers) to Industrial (factory workers) to Computer (information worker) and is now evolving into a Conceptual Society with focus on Creators and Emphathizers. Daniel Pink, the author talks about three trends that are pointers to this evolution - Abundance (consumers have too many choices), Asia (things are getting outsourced) and Automation ( repeatable things can be done by machines). Basic Premise is that if something can be automated or outsourced then the differentiator is "Human Creativity and Initiative"...I was wondering - if  with Product Management software tools like One Desk , would the  Product Manager become redundant? If you see yourself as a scrum master, bug prioritizer , revenue forecaster or a PRD writer - then you better be ready for software to do your role. However, if you see yourself as a service owner, decision maker, influencer, team builder, creative chief, the adjectives go are in luck - you will survive the conceptual age... 
Pink talks about 6 essential senses
  1. Design - Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  2. Story - Narrative added to products and services - not just argument. Best of the six senses.
  3. Symphony - Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  4. Empathy - Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  5. Play - Bringing humor and light-heartedness to business and products.
  6. Meaning - the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself
As Lao Zu says - A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step
Yet to begin that journey, it is key to understand that it is an evolving process, no need to predict the ending, no need to try and write the middle...just look within to see if this journey makes you happy.
And though I am not 100% sold on the book, it did give me a lot of room for thinking and reality be told, it made me feel good about some of the career skills that I believe I have honed over the past decade and a half - a lot of it has to do with creativity and thinking outside the box, Empathy, Humor  and Being able to tell a story...and the author says that the value on these will not get commodotized.
Highlight of the evening was a 100 piece puzzle that K2 completed...his first 100 piece ever.WTG K2 !!!

How is the middle of the week rocking and rolling for you?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Madras Nalla Madras....Two for the price of One...

Anyone who knows me knows of my inordinate love for the city I called home 15 years back, if you are new to this blog, do read this (read it is good or so I say)
One of my favorite memories was hearing Ma's stone grinder whir away in the afternoon and then there was the inherent knowledge that for the next couple days our breakfast would be crisp dosas, onion utthapams, egg dosas, spicy adai and other breakfast goodies. She always had a chutney - coconut, onion, kothamali (cilantro) and my absolute favorite the spicy madras chutney as she called it (made with Tomatoes and the tiny spicy chillies found in India...close to thai bird eye), even as a young one I absolutely adored that spicy combination with a crisp, slightly sour and light idea of food bliss (ok to be true I am schizophrenic when it comes to food -- so you will see me going raptures over quite a few dishes and different cuisines --for eg. today it was Malay food with JL at my favorite haunt Langkawi).
Given this "shortcut" life that we live today: my dosa, Adai and utthapam batters are Shasta and they come from my friendly neighborhood Indian Store. But my tomato chutney makes up for the shortcut. Try it and I guarantee you will either love it or hate it ...

You Need: for the  mother sauce

  • 6-8 vine ripened tomatoes ( usually picked fresh from the farmer's market)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 Habanero Pepper (I used the orange one)
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • Salt to taste, half spoon of brown sugar
Roast the Tomatoes, rough cut the onion into 4 big parts, Habanero pepper and Garlic (peel the garlic after roasting). I usually drizzle EVOO liberally and sprinkle sea salt and broil.  Keep a close watch or it will burn vs. roast -- in the case of my toaster oven takes me about 7-10 minutes. I prefer to use my smaller toaster oven for these smaller ventures. Take your magic bullet and you can whiz the mixture in your food processor along with brown sugar and the salt to taste. Add a little water to allow the mixture to process easily.

Spicy Madras Chutney
  • 1 tsp Sesame Oil
  • 1 Spring Curry Leaves
  • Hing, Mustard Seeds, 1 tsp Sambhar powder
Heat the Oil,add the hing, then the mustard seeds and the curry leaves and let them sizzle and snap for a bit. Add the "mother sauce". Now add the Sambhar powder and simmer for 5 minutes.
Warning : Habaneros have an intense heat, so if you have a low tolerance for spice use a milder chili OR use twice the amount if you  are insane like things intense.
 Pasta Ala Simple
I usually make double the quantity of the "mother sauce" and it double times as a pasta sauce for me.  Isn't that already a "fusion"...In a pinch of course, I use Trader Joe's Marinara sauce, but this sauce has much more flavor.

  • 1/2 Cup Basil
  • 1/2  Cup Mozarella Cheese
  • 1/4 Packet - TJ's whole wheat sphagetti pasta
  • 2 Cups of Mother Sauce
I sometimes add about 4-5 more crushed roasted garlic to the sauce. Cook the TJ's pasta as per instruction. Drain and then in a big wok/skillet add in the mother sauce and toss in the pasta. Add in the Basil and mozarella cheese. Eat Hot with a side of roasted vegetables.
Note: In this version I have some grilled Brat Hans chicken meatballs and added to the Pasta for some added protiens and used no cheese.

The Pasta Ala Simple recipe goes out to Ramya@ Ramya's Recipe who is hosting her first blog event " Fusion Food : Pasta"

And the Spicy Madras Chutney goes to Reva @ Karasaaram who is guest hosting  the event "Dish it Out : Tomato and Chilli. This event was concepted by Vardhini of Zesty Palette
Who says East can't meet West?
As quoted by an unknown....As long as there's pasta and Chinese food in the world, I'm okay...
And I share the same sentiments. Hope your week is shaping up exciting.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A bowl of rice...

"same old slippers, same old rice,same old glimpse of paradise"
                                                               --William James Lampton

 I prove time and again that I am in heart and stomach a true indian girl by needing my bowl of rice every other day. Of course over time the quantity and type of rice has changed -- the quantity is now minuscule and it is mostly brown basmati rice interspersed with black sticky rice, burmese red rice, jade pearl jasmine rice and parboiled indian rice. Let me clarify - K1 barely eats rice, K2 is slowly developing a liking for rice especially with Dal and Kootu...and cooking the rices above does take a longer time than their white counterpart - so my commitment to this venture is total.
Some fun statistics about rice:
  • There are 120,000 different kinds of rice....only 10% is grown and cultivated commercially and I have only tried about 50 kinds of rice --- 40 of them after I moved to the US
  • China is the largest producer of rice followed by India
  • 75% of the rice is consumed in India and China
  • Rice is the main staple of 50% of the world population and provides about 20% of dietary energy
  • Govinda Bhog is my favorite kind of rice hand's down found in Orissa and Calcutta and the perfect accompaniment for your dalma and aloo postey and begun bhaja...also known as aambe mohur and found in Maharashtra, which I am sure they have with aamti (given that K1 is Marathi I felt like I needed to add that in)
There is nothing as satisfying as sitting down on the table with a hot bowl of rice with ghee and paruppu podi OR the same rice with Dalma poured over it and some bodi chura on the slice of paradise. I have had many a failed experiments with my black sticky rice -- I first tried to make a porridge/stew with the rice and purple house ended up with a weird smell unique to the cruciferous family and I had to regretfully throw away the gloppy mixture (including my beautiful ruined purple cauliflower). So I leaned heavily on a tried and tested comfort dish - Rice Pudding/Kheer. It was a when I read up about this event : Food Palette : Black

all I could think of was my wonderful  black rice kheer.

You need :
1 small cup of black rice (soaked overnight)
2 drops of Spice Drops (cardamom)
750 ml 2% Milk ( I sometimes use vanilla SO Coconut Milk - then I skip the cardamom)
Brown Turbinado Sugar (use whatever you normally use or have at home)

Simmer all the ingredients above till the rice is well cooked and the milk has reduced to about half the quantity and the texture is thick and creamy. I don't have a religious order to adding these ingredients, just throw everything into my stock pot and it turns out fabulous. I have in a pinch (only once) pressure cooked the rice and then simmered it for 15 minutes in condensed milk and it tasted yummy.

I have realized in my adventures with food - that there are hits and misses...but mostly what counts is the journey and the spirit with which you take it. So with that thought I hope that you try something new this week...for me it's meeting JL whom I am seeing after 9 years...I am meeting her son R for the first time. Hope you have a wonderful relaxed weekend.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Anatomy of a Corporation

Almost two decades ago, I used to worship idolize the book "The fifth discipline" and the concept of a "Learning Organization" popularized by Peter Senge. I did enjoy some one-way exchanges with above mentioned author - email was not a preferred mode of communication, so you can imagine how painstakingly I composed and wrote and mailed my "snail mail" -- on all topics Learning Organization. These were organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.Senge familiarized us with five key concepts -
(A) Personal Mastery : How to effectively align personal vision & energies to the shared organizational vision. People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’
(B) Mental Models : How our personal vision is shaped by our  - assumptions and our scaled down blue print of reality. The discipline of mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny. It also includes the ability to carry on ‘learningful’ conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others.
(C) Shared Vision : How we integrate our individual (A) and (B) to create (C) which helps us scale the organization and move it forward successfully
(D) Team Learning : the sum is larger than the parts and focusing on the we vs. me
(E) Systems Thinking  is a summation of A-D and the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole
Systems thinking also needs the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, team learning, and personal mastery to realize its potential. Building shared vision fosters a commitment to the long term. Mental models focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings in our present ways of seeing the corporation and its goals. Team learning develops the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture beyond individual perspectives. And personal mastery fosters the personal motivation to continually learn how our actions affect our corporation.
What I have realized in the past 2 decades is that all of the above is BS the following few truths -
(A) Theories are lovely but without an actual process/blue-print of "How To" what it remains is just that - a sounded wonderful but all too vague and difficult to implement
(B) Corporations in today's world have very clear mandates - Financial Survivability, Market Share and and investing in personnel  is ancillary. The simple logic would then be that personal goals need to be aligned to one's success.
(C) In reality few people can voice their opinions/views in all honesty in a corporation - their exists a web of politics and power structure with norms and rules that they need to play within...
Apple has a lot of things going for it but essentially one person's vision for the company drove the company's success. Yes, yes and they got their customers and their user experience kicked some serious ass --- but so does that of a lot of the Hi-Tech companies out there.
Dilbert was onto something when he said - For every person who thinks up a magnificent breakthrough idea, there are a hundred who are nothing more than mindless and unimportant implementers of the idea. The reason for the imbalance in numbers is that the implementers tend to kill the people with the great ideas in order to cut down on the workload.

And it is way too late on a Friday evening to be thinking mundane things like a Learning Organization...I am going to go down and pour myself a glass of cold chill beer (Ginger Beer I mean :-) )

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Moonlight shines softly through...

the moon
shining softly
perfumed breeze wafting gently
summer garden filled with magic
tranquility is in the air
The beauty and tranquility around just inspires one to break into lyrics and take license with poetry...It's a hot evening, yet there is a breeze which gently brings with it some relief and wafts of fragrance from the wild jasmine and lavender growing around - I have a staring match with the lone heron which stands in the bay trying to catch a last bite before retiring for the night. It is but eight o'clock on a Saturday night, silence a comforting cloak, barely a soul outside to enjoy this extravaganza of sights, sounds and smells thrown by mother nature...the sun has chosen to retire and relinquish its position to Lady Moon and  beautiful moonlight shines through...soft light makes everything looks extra-special. Suddenly there is a crash that breaks into this moment of mental peace and beauty...uh oh K2 just crashed his bike into a worries, he got out of the incident unscathed but I am left with an indelible memory of  tranquility and beauty.

The week since we got back from cruising in Alaska has whizzed past non-stop. Back to school preparations, a lot of hot meals cooked ( rajma, kootus, uttapams, aloo postey, dalma, noodles, chutney...) and none blogged on just relished, some relaxed time spent with close ones, mindless movies watched and enjoyed ( Thank You, Break Ke Baad, Dabaang, Yamla Pagla Deewana)...summer is my favorite season for a reason. The frequent trips to the farmer's market - the fresh fruits and vegetables, the roasted corn on cobs...just that feeling that even when all things are not going right...they will eventually settle down to a pace that makes sense. K2 is growing up so fast, it makes me tired just watching - don't know where the past four and a half years passed by and now it's time for my little boy to go to kindergarten - a new chapter begins.
K2, that precocious, persistent, precious child took this wonderful picture on my phone on one of our long walks by the bay...this weekend and I had to show it off....

How has life been treating you?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chalks and Chopsticks : With the toss of a Lime

She said “Amma, I am coming home”…a deluge of emotions and feelings flooded my being. My baby was coming home. What a journey the past three decades have been…from the moment I knew Vani existed my body craved lime – like Kali assuaged the darkness with sour and pungent – Lime Rice, Lime Pickle, Lime Juice became a part of my existence for the next ten months. In fact, the meal I had the night I delivered Vani was Lime Rice and a spicy Lime Pickle. Her coming was not easy – the night was long, the pain intense and of course she had to make her entry feet first…she had a lot of reasons to cry for and cry hard she did – born into an orthodox Brahmin family where the girl was taught to be submissive, with an impulsive mother who saw herself as a thwarted artist…an autocratic father who was rich in material matters and yet impoverished when it came to emotions. When Vani was two, we moved across the oceans to an unknown land where the sun was pale, the air cold and the food was tasteless. Yet, we learnt to make it home – I planted a Lime Tree in the back yard which over time grew big, beautiful and strong like my baby. Ironically, Vani’s comfort food of choice was Lime Rice or Chitrannam as she called it – every time I knew she had a tough day I would boil a pot of rice. In a few minutes I would pluck a couple limes from the garden and have her favorite meal prepared with crisp papadam and a home-made pachadi.
Time flew, my baby grew up all of twenty one – the sweetest and gentlest daughter a mother could hope for – yet there was a part of me that wished she stood up to her father a little bit more. Instead of saying Yes to all his aggressive choices for her life and career – I just wished she had learnt to stand up for what she believed in….or maybe I wished I had taught her to follow her dreams…instead of being the silent hand that comforted…the unsaid left unsaid. When her Appa said – marry Sanjay – he is a doctor, a prime catch, he owns a house and is of our caste– she agreed silently. I saw the disappointment in her eyes, and yet we left the words unsaid. Every year she came visiting, I saw her losing a bit more of herself…I gave her the Chitrannam and Pickles – comforting with food where I should have been comforting with words and actions. Sanjay, the doctor turned out to be not such a prime catch – a womanizing lout with not much time for his simple wife -- I never told her to leave him, or that I am here for you. Vani’s Appa blamed fate but I silently blamed him – one day he was not around to blame anymore. I lived alone in my big house with the lime tree in the backyard wishing I had taught my daughter to stand up for herself. So today, when I got this call almost a little too late – a part of me grieves for my poor Vani and another part rejoices that my baby girl has been set free…maybe just maybe we can turn back the clock  and learn to live again. I finish cooking the Chitrannam and as I am adding the final sprigs of Cilantro to the rice, I hear the bell ring…

To make Lime Rice –

  1. Heat Sesame Oil
  2. When the Oil is shimmering add Hing.
  3. Add in the urad dal, mustard seeds, chopped ginger and green chillies and curry leaves
  4. When the urad dal is golden brown and the mustard seeds are spluttering, add in ½ teaspoons of turmeric
  5. Add in the boiled rice (2 big cups).
  6. Add in the squeezed juice of 3-4 limes (as per taste).
  7. Garnish with fried peanuts, sprigs of cilantro and lots of love and hope.
This story is pure fiction and title credits go to Padma Vishwanathan who wrote a splendid book "The toss of a Lemon"...however the story line is original :)

Chalks and Chopsticks is an idea concepted by Aqua and this month's event is being hosted by Desi Soccer Mom