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.