Monday, February 7, 2011

Bay Area Favorite Restaurants

California Girl

I am welcoming 2011 with a reunion with the Bay Area, especially the beautiful city of Fremont, California that seems to be embedded in my DNA. While our east coast friends are enjoying the snow and below freezing temperatures, we in San Jose and the Bay Area basked in sunshine and record high temperatures this weekend! Around the city, people's smiles seemed bigger today, especially those in shorts and February!

Only after moving out of California did I realize how much I loved it here. I missed the beautiful scenery and weather of course, but I also missed my favorite Bay Area restaurants. Almost all of my favorites are small, casual places with great food that I can never get tired of eating. Maybe one or two places are more formal and hold special memories for me, making them worth the splurge. Here's a short list of the ones I craved most while I was away, and promise never to take for granted now that I'm back in California!

1. Sala Thai
This is my favorite spot for lunch to catch up with friends or grab a quick bite during a busy week. The State Street location is "downtown Fremont" and the Grimmer Street location is great for south Fremont (although parking may be a problem here). I can never tire of their Panang Curry with its smooth coconut and basil flavors. The Pad Ma Kuer (mine with tofu) is the most freshest, tastiest stir fry with the combination of chillies and basil that I could eat it every day for lunch! The Thai iced tea is just the right amount of sweet and cream and goes perfectly with the spicy entrees. Sala Thai makes one of the best Sweet Sticky Rice with mango desserts which I craved desperately when I was in North Carolina. Sooo glad to be back in town to enjoy this favorite spot for quick lunches and relaxing dinners.

2. Chaat Bhavan
The location in Fremont is relatively new but has become one of the popular places to visit. The atmosphere is bright and clean and the food is delicious. I am addicted to the Maki de Roti and Sag combo and order it every time. The parathas are one of the best I've tasted in the Bay Area, with Gobi paratha and Muli parathas being my two favorite. The food is fresh, very well made, and just the right amount of spice for my palate. Did I mention their chaat dishes? Chaat Bhavan offers a wide array of mouth watering, spicy, and tangy dishes that are easy to fill up on while waiting for the main dish! Sometimes the place can get quite busy, making the service a bit slow, but relax and enjoy the lassi or chai, and consider yourself lucky to be able to enjoy this tasty food spot in the Bay Area!

3. Dishdash
Dishdash is a popular and favorite spot for Middle Eastern cuisine on historic Murphy Street in Sunnyvale. With each entree having complex, delicious combinations of flavors and being served in elegant surroundings, the restaurant is almost always fully booked for reservations. However, if you go for an early dinner, you can get a table quickly and be out before the peak dinner rush starts. Dishdash has a large selection of vegetarian entrees, and a great selection of wraps for lunch. Their hearty and mouth watering Tabsi Falafel satisfied even a finicky teen in our group! The M'Tabaq, a salmon dish with a multitude of flavors, and the Shakshuka were a hit with fish eaters. The array of kababs and lamb dishes will have any carnivore coming back for multiple visits. The business crowd keeps this restaurant very busy during the week and families enjoy the ambiance of the area during the weekends. A great gem in the Bay Area worth visiting multiple times as their food is what we all crave, even in our dreams!

4. My Thai
This favorite restaurant in north Fremont is known for its "Hall of Flame" featuring pictures of people who finished any dish classified as "Fire" hot in spice level. This is not for the faint of heart when it comes to chillies as My Thai's "mild" version is too spicy for some. The Drunken Noodle, Green Curry, and Pad Thai are our favorite items here. Food and service here never disappoint, making this restaurant one we frequent often with friends and family.

5. Turmeric
This beautiful restaurant on Murphy Street in Sunnyvale is a perfect spot to take family and friends. They offer a scrumptious dinner buffet on the weekends and Friday evenings. The tawa dishes were absolutely delicious along with their traditional north Indian fare including tandoori chicken, fish curry, and malai koftas. With multiple trips to the buffet table, it was difficult not to over indulge in the offerings. Warm gulab jamuns were the perfect ending to our meal.The ambiance and quality of food make this little gem a place we love to visit often.

6. Banana Leaf
This is a very popular Malaysian restaurant in Milpitas and offers some of the best tasting dishes that draw crowds every day it is open! Sometimes the small restaurant can get too crowded, affecting their service, which is often rushed. Don't expect to unwind in a quiet place when you dine here, but the food is the main attraction. Almost everyone orders the Roti Prata appetizer and it disappears from the table as soon as it arrives! The Penang Sizzling Chicken is always a hit with our group, and Singaporean Chilli Prawns were spicy but hit the spot for the night. The Pahd Thai noodles satisfied our finicky teens and everyone enjoyed the tangy Mango Chicken. Every time we visit this spot we run into someone we know also enjoying this popular restaurant. Weather permitting, they also offer outdoor dining set on a small patio. A perfect place to dine with friends and family!

7. Garam Masala
A good "hole in the wall" restaurant is priceless for foodies seeking authentic ethnic food. This place offers clean tables with friendly service, and serves some of the best south Indian food in the Bay Area. Their mini-Tiffin combination offers generous sized portions of idly, masala dosa, and pongal. Verrry satisfying for a quick lunch in the Evergreen area of San Jose. They make one of the best cups of Indian Chai. Who needs to drive far for a good Indian meal when you have this restaurant in the neighborhood?

8. Shalimar
This restaurant is a favorite even among strict vegetarians! The smell of tandoori cooking permeates the medium-sized restaurant and has your mouth watering in anticipation while you are ordering! Regular customers understand the "method" to follow here. You grab a table first, take a paper menu from the cashier to your table or pick your selections right there, then wait for your food. Grab a water jug, utensils, onion and chillies, then wait for the most delicious tandoori food ever! Their Palak Aloo Methi and Okra dishes are two of my favorites that I can eat every day without tiring. The garlic naan, and regular naan arrives fresh and hot and we can easily forget how many we've eaten as the food just melts in your mouth! The kids love their Chicken Boti Tandoori as well as their creamy Chicken Tikka Masala. Free Masala Chai while you wait, or after a meal keeps this loyal customer very happy. This Bay Area restaurant is one place you really crave when you move away.

9. Navio at Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay
The Ritz at Half Moon Bay offers some of most scenic views for walking, golfing, or dining. The sunset over the Pacific ocean serves as our backdrop during dinner at Navio. A very beautiful, elegant restaurant, where the staff really care about your every comfort, and take care to address you by name. Using fresh ingredients from local farms, the chef created a fabulous dish of vegetables for me as an entree, as there were no vegetarian main dishes listed on the menu. Each dish brought to our table was a work of art. The kids in our group enjoyed the food as much as the adults, ate all their scallops, pork chops, and no vegetables were left on their plates! The Navio is known for its famous brunches and special occasion buffets, the description of which would fill pages and pages. This heavenly spot is worth the drive out to Half Moon Bay.

10. Spice Hut
This is one of our favorite spots for south Indian food. The masala dosa, idly sambar, and south Indian curry dishes are tasty and fresh. Some of the best bargains are their combos that you can select when in the restaurant. The quantity of food and quality of the dishes make it one of our favorite for take out as well. Their naan is mouth watering and worth the wait when dining in or taking out. Another favorite are their Nanini dishes consisting of mouth watering fillings inside Naan, pressed in a Panini style way. To die for!

Good food and good weather make me one happy California Girl!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Instant Mango Shrikhand Recipe

We were served the most delicious Shrikhand for dessert at a friend's house recently. Traditionally, this dish is made by straining yogurt overnight through cheesecloth, then adding sugar and other flavors. My friend's mother told me that there is a quick way to make this heavenly, and healthy, dessert using Greek-style yogurt (thanks Auntie from England for this tip!) I experimented with ingredients and made the dish in 5 minutes and loved it!
This was my first attempt at making 'instant Shrikhand' :

Instant Mango Shrikhand

17 oz container Greek-style yogurt (I used Oikos brand, 0% fat, organic yogurt)
7 oz sweetened condensed milk (about 1/2 can, depending on how sweet you'd like it)
1/2 tsp crushed cardamom
3 tablespoons sweetened mango pulp (I used Ratna brand, optional)
sliced almonds or pistachios for garnish

Mix everything together and chill before serving.
Variations: you can leave out the mango pulp, and mix in some saffron threads dissolved in 1 TBS of warm milk. Be careful not to add too much liquid as you want the consistency to remain thick and creamy. If you want to make it thicker, try dissolving a few tablespoons of powdered milk with the mango pulp before adding to yogurt. This recipe can be easily multiplied for larger gatherings. Enjoy!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop

It is curious that the author was inspired to write this very tender, coming-of-age story during a camel excursion in Rajasthan. India, however, is not featured at all in the story and serves only as the catalyst for the author, George Bishop, to dream this compelling novel. The North Carolina educated author, who has spent many years teaching abroad in countries such as India, Turkey, and Japan, has written a heartfelt and honestly open story about a mother reaching out to her 15-year-old daughter. Bishop's talent is even more evident in this story because it is about the heartbreak felt as a girl transforms into a young lady. Since the author happens to be a man, it might show that feelings during adolescence and middle-age are probably universal among males and females. Bishop has captured a believable essence of a mother who realizes that a generational divide is inevitable, even when you think you are the most understanding and open-minded. He also describes a daughter's feelings as she navigates life during high school with simple, yet heart-breaking detail.

The story begins when teenager Liz storms off with her parents' car after an argument with her mother, Laura. As Laura worries about Liz's whereabouts, she laments at the lack of communication between them, and begins writing all of her thoughts in a letter. The process of pouring her feelings out onto paper calms the worried mother, and helps her share details of her own teenage years that she has yet been unable to share with Liz. Laura's own story consists of high school life during the early 1970s, in a conservative family with strict expectations, and her teenage rebellion during the era of public protests. Laura writes about her first love, her parents' disapproval, being sent away to boarding school, getting a tattoo, and the precious years in which she left her adolescence and innocence behind to become a young adult. The story describes her feelings as she deals with social peers in a high school, gets involved with an older boy, and becomes the source of gossip. The change in Laura's thinking and the physical changes in the world around her as she transitions from being a freshman to a senior are well written.

The trials of teenage years, high school life, and college days can be difficult for parents to face themselves, yet alone share their own experiences with their children. The line between sharing too many details, and keeping some things private between parents and children can sometimes be very thin. Bishop walks that line very gingerly, and it seems clear that any parent would have difficulty sharing some of the details in the story with their own children. Bishop illustrates how Laura is able to spill her heart into the letter, as she longs to see her daughter come back home, and worries for her safety.

The engaging story of Laura's American childhood with rebellion and maturity, joy and loss, keeps the reader engaged, whether you agree with Laura's choices or not, and curious about the outcome. The honest storytelling by Bishop pulls the reader into the emotion of the story from the parent's perspective as well as the teenager's. The complicated feelings between mothers and daughters, and the pain of growing up too fast is captured in a beautifully written, simple, yet difficult-to-put-down book.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2 States by Chetan Bhagat

The concept of a "mixed marriage" in the western world usually refers to a marriage between partners of different ethnic backgrounds or races. However, among most Indian-Americans, a mixed marriage can also easily refer to Indian couples from different parts of India itself (with differing regional languages), or different religions (Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim, etc.), or different castes, or all of the above. Chetan Bhagat, an IITD/IIMA graduate and bestselling author, based his latest book, "2 States," on his own experience of attending college, meeting a girl from a different Indian region than his own, and of their ensuing relationship, family troubles and resulting "mixed marriage." Bhagat's previous books have inspired movies, with the most recent one being the movie "3 Idiots," based on his book, "Five Point Someone" that draws upon his IIT/IIM experiences.

In "2 States," Bhagat's style is direct, straight to the point, and one in which he takes numerous liberties with stereotyping North and South Indians (both areas now representing his own family) making for a hilariously good read. Anyone having read Bhagat's previous bestselling books such as, "One Night @ a Call Center, or "Five Point Someone", knows that the author speaks to a contemporary Indian audience and does not hold back in his often blunt, yet honest, writing style. The college crowd, recently graduated, and those young-at-heart can relate to many of the issues, some of them controversial, that Bhagat raises in his stories. Bhagat is not afraid to speak out and write about social issues he sees happening among the new 'upwardly mobile' young adults of today's India. Issues such as rebelling against religious upbringing, drug use, relationships prior to marriage, pressures of school, family, and society on today's youth have caused controversies and will spark many interesting conversations.

The story, "2 States," is about a boy, named Krish, who meets and falls in love with a girl, Ananya, in his Economics class in MBA school. The details of their lives at college and the sometimes shocking but outrageous anecdotes of college life, are mixed in with sensitivities of ancient customs, cultural norms and the timeless angst felt by young adults finding their way in the world. Bhagat's characters, especially the descriptions of Krish's parents and of his relationship with each, are developed well enough to get the reader to understand the nuances of the story. The relationships are not always simple, and we see Krish struggle with the complications in his life, especially as he wants to start a life of his own. Bhagat is keenly aware of the issues that divide Krish and Ananya's respective families. Both sides hold stereotypical views about each other without first getting to know one another. Bhagat points out the differences and opinions in a funny and direct approach. Some of the blunt, one line, comments make the reader laugh out loud.

Bhagat succeeds in presenting the points of view from both sides of the drama. Krish's character has qualities of rebelliousness mixed with a hunger for parental approval, which make his character all the more believable. Ananya is portrayed as a strong, intelligent, modern woman who knows how to get what she wants, yet has vulnerable aspects as well. Bhagat spares us from a typical melodramatic story by making it young and fresh with current issues faced by today's youth, and by throwing in humor as much as possible.

Many Indian authors whose books I have recently read have been women. Bhagat brings a relevant, young, male voice to the mix. Bhagat's "2 States" was a quick read that was fun, enjoyable, and something to read without a serious attitude.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra

Many people make New Year's Resolutions to help motivate them into making positive changes in their lives. Sometimes all that is needed is a changed point-of-view to see a situation in a different light. Other times a breakthrough is needed in order to get out of a negative thought pattern and move forward. Bestselling author and motivational speaker Deepak Chopra's books often challenge the reader to experience breakthroughs in thinking in order to improve quality of life. His latest book is no different in this regard. Dr. Chopra presents the concept that the human physical body is a constantly changing collection of cells, and that only by adding the element of our awareness, energy, or soul do we truly exist. Dr. Chopra has received numerous accolades as a motivational, spiritual speaker, but sometimes deciphering his message from his books can prove to be difficult, and sometimes confusing.

In his latest book, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, Dr. Chopra tries to simplify his message. The first section of the book tries to get the reader to accept a different way of viewing the physical body and the physical world itself. He suggests that the real purpose of the human body is to join the visible and invisible realms by expressing intelligence, creativity, truth, love, and beauty. By the visible realm he means the physical world, and by invisible realm he refers to that energy or higher power, or the concept of our soul that we cannot physically see or touch.

One fascinating idea that Dr. Chopra presents is that our genes respond to our fears, relationships, habits, and environment. He shows that recent research is being done to show how positive lifestyle changes have been shown to alter genes associated with heart disease, inflammation, and even cancer. Practices such as Hatha Yoga, meditation, and social support of friends and family have already been seen as good preventative steps to take for good health. Now, Dr. Chopra shows that adopting these measures may stop or even reverse serious illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and high cholesterol, on a genetic level.

Dr. Chopra presents a new view for our physical world around us as well. He contends that a major complaint of most people of the modern world is a lack of time when that is really not the true problem. He suggests the real problem is that chaos and unpredictability throw your timing or rhythm off, and cause stress, disorder, confusion, accidents, sickness, and chaos in your life. The simple solution he suggests is to "make time your ally" by keeping regular hours, avoiding drastic changes in diet and activity, reducing distractions, and basically simplifying your life using his many suggestions. Each suggestion is very simply stated but could be difficult to implement, and therein lies the challenge. For example, he suggests that we should not multitask, but rather pay attention to one thing at a time, and focus on the moment. We are told to "put our house and finances in order, avoid high-risk situations, stay within your comfort zone, and become emotionally resilient." Each one of those tasks can be a huge challenge but ultimately will lead to a less-hurried, more peaceful flow of energy in your life. Eventually, the goal is to "live your life as if you have all the time in the world."

The second half of the book is the actual 'self-help' section that includes many practical ideas for a more fulfilling life. Dr. Chopra illustrates many of his points through people's life stories. The major idea to 'resurrect' the soul seems to be to lead a life that is more in harmony with the world around you so that you are more at peace, and ultimately more happy. Some of the suggestions include getting out of bad habits, letting go of the notion of being 'right' all the time, being merciful, available, and generous so that your soul will evolve through you.

The book wraps up by presenting the ten steps to wholeness that connect your mind, body, and soul. The ideas are presented with great insight and encourage the reader to commit to a deeper awareness, focus on relationships instead of consumption, and to embrace every day as a new world. Many of Dr. Chopra's books are meant to give advice on how to have a more peaceful and rewarding life. In this book his ideas are presented in a simple format, with plenty of anecdotes for illustrating the points, and surely will make this book another bestseller.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Easy Rice Kheer

Using Asian sweet rice for making kheer was a great discovery for me. Since I have a lot of unused 'sweet rice' (or sticky rice/glutinous rice) left over from a previous Thai recipe, I decided to find other uses for it. As it turns out, glutinous rice is perfect for making Indian Kheer. We make kheer in my family the traditional North Indian way: boil plain rice in heavy milk and add sugar. By using the glutinous rice I didn't have to use full-fat whole milk or add cream for thickness as the glutinous rice makes a perfect consistency kheer. Here's my recipe:

Easy Rice Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding)

1/2 cup uncooked sweet rice (glutinous rice, found in Asian food section)
7 cups low fat milk (1%)
1 1/4 cup sugar (or more/less according to taste)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds or pistachios (toasted gently without oil, on a small pan)
seeds from 3 green cardamoms (crushed)
1/4 tsp saffron threads

Wash and drain rice.
Place rice in a large pot with milk, bring carefully to a boil, lower heat and simmer gently for 40-45 minutes. Watch carefully, stirring often so milk does not stick to bottom of pan or burn.
Add sugar, cardamoms, raisins, and most of almonds (saving 1/2 Tbs. for garnish).
Gently simmer until raisins are plump, and the consistency is a rich sauce (about 5-10 min.)
Pour into a glass serving dish, and while still hot add saffron threads and stir through.
Garnish with remaining toasted nuts and let it cool.
If kheer gets too thick upon cooling, you can add a bit of sweetened evaporated milk, or cream, or even milk. Some like the kheer cold from the fridge, others like to warm slightly before eating. The flavors really develop after kheer has cooled in the fridge overnight.

Monday, November 9, 2009

NurtureShock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

Could praising your child, and telling him he's smart, actually hurt his self-esteem in a challenging situation instead of giving him confidence? According to the new book NurtureShock, the answer is yes, if you offer the wrong kind of praise. In their new book, Bronson and Merryman have composed a collection of mind-opening and thought-provoking ideas regarding child rearing, and presented psychological studies behind the new discoveries, that are sure to grab your attention.

The authors present evidence to support the idea that over-praised kids could actually turn out to struggle with self-image when faced with difficult problems, and are more likely to consider cheating their way to maintain their 'smart' label. Another interesting study regarding praise showed how mothers in Illinois interacted with their kids after a failure and how they starkly contrasted with the way mothers in Hong Kong dealt with the same situation. The remarkable difference in the two sets of kids' performance after the interaction with their mothers was striking. The book offers advice on how and what to praise if you want a positive impact on your child.

The book provides research evidence on many other topics such as: how a difference of only one hour less sleep in a teenager can increase cases of depression, car accidents, obesity, and negatively impact their SAT scores. Other eye-opening ideas explored by the authors included: sibling rivalry, teaching kids about color and race, self-control, and how to play with others. All topics and research studies were very intriguing and make the reader think twice about inadvertently affecting children in a negative way without knowing it.

The authors show research suggesting that testing for 'gifted' programs in kindergarten selects the wrong kids in 73% of the cases. Intelligence tests have always sparked controversy, especially when it comes to testing children. According to research, testing kids at such an early age in order to grant them admission to elite schools, or into limited enrollment 'gifted and talented' programs, seems to be based on unreliable testing. The authors show that IQ testing in third grade or middle school produces a more accurate prediction regarding success in high school or beyond. It was a very interesting chapter and reflection on our current school programs and processes.

Another chapter dealt with research regarding babies and very young children who were exposed to 'educational' videos and TV shows in hopes of increasing their intelligence. The parental motivation to do so seemed harmless enough. The videos, backed by educational experts, claimed to enhance the child's experience, and therefore intellectual development, by including music, international languages, and colorful images. However, as indicated by the research conducted, reality seemed to contradict the claims of increase in language development, and in fact showed evidence of delaying development instead! The ideas behind this finding are fascinating, and full of surprising factual data.

One of the most compelling headlines in the book claimed that a teenager who argues with his parents is actually showing a sign of respect. Any parent of a teenager will surely want to read the studies behind this assertion! The topics challenge the obvious and traditional way of thinking. Parents generally try to do their best to navigate child rearing with what they know at the time. This book presents startling evidence to challenge many standard beliefs in our society. The topics presented and the supporting research studies are difficult to ignore, making this bestseller a very worthwhile read.