How to do Your Bit to Beat Poverty

Sitting at my desk with my coffee on this Friday afternoon, I remembered a recent conversation regarding the rising prices.  A colleague was telling me how every time she went to the stores in the last six months, prices of grains and cereals were higher than they were.  Doing a little math, I figured that just grains had and cereals had gotten 25% costlier in the last six months, which is more than four times of the inflation index.  Similar rises can be seen with vegetables and fresh produce, livestock and poultry.

It made me wonder how this would translate for people who earned at subsistence levels.  I see a lot of posts about how oil price rise has changed your lifestyle, or recipes with 5 ingredients or less, but very little on how to stay above the poverty line when the line itself is shifting upwards all the time.  It made me wonder what poverty was really.  Was it just powerlessness to access food, healthcare, shelter, education?  This view defines poverty as something close to financially and socio-economically deprived or disadvantaged. 


What does one call selfishness or greed among wealthy people?  What name does one give to the huge military expenses that enforce rules upon developing nations?  What drives the million dollar advertising campaign for high end consumer goods?  I would call all of that poverty too, poverty of compassion, poverty of ideas, poverty of humanness. 
Interesting talk, thought provoking perspectives.

Friends of Friends

The best kept secret, say what!  The most invisible group of people got together recently to celebrate 42 years of being invisible.  These people have rocked the world, wrecked their worlds, and reeked of indifference, but today, they are all invisible, yours sincerely included.  Here is an inside look at some of us ostriches letting our hair down.
rumaliroti
The rain gods made sure that we didnt overlook our oversight, and the proceedings moved indoors from the arrangements that had been made outside.  However, as the evening proceeded and the rains stopped, it was a welcome sight watching hot rumali rotis being spun like magic, served from the tawa to the tables even as people enjoyed the sumptuous spread.
arun_madhukar
After dinner, it was time for dancing, and for those brief moments, all our cares were forgotten, for example, office in the morning, pain in the knees, tear in the armpit, or the years in the hip bone.
group1
Some of us who didnt mind being photographed. 

MT Training Comes of Age

It is only in the last couple of years that Medical Transcription as a business or as a career in India is reaching levels of maturity and stability that other more traditional fields or career destinations commonly see.  The 15-year old industry has gone through its infancy, childhood, teenage, and is now entering adulthood.  Business models are more realistic and transcriptionists more responsible.  Much of the insecurity that plagued the early years has gone.  This has happened because of several reasons.  The businesses that jumped on to the bandwagon only to make a quick profit exited as they realized the complexity of the process.  The serious players held on to their strategies, investing in training and technology, building competency and capacity.  And last but not least, with the passing of the years, the candidate community started seeing more successful medical transcriptionists having meaningful and successful careers and lives.

Training is the key to sustaining a MT business or career.  The industry demands are several times higher than the supply of trained personnel.  Finding and retaining skilled manpower has been uphill all the way for the industry.  The solution to this is increasing the bandwidth of high quality training.  Yet, MT training has been another victim of abuse.  When the boom was on, with almost absent regulation, anyone and everyone offered to train you to become a transcriptionist for a fee.  They offered you exposure to physician dictation that was often stolen data.  Handouts with rules for transcription were passed around, photocopies of photocopies.  Several thousands of people trained by these fly-by-night trainers flooded the labor market, and for the uninitiated or unengaged business owners and recruitment consultants, they were a blessing.  What it did in the long run was to produce large numbers of substandard transcriptionists who were able to get sufficient lengths of work experience to continue to look attractive to recruiters with targets.  As a bonus, it earned India the dubious distinction of poor quality transcription and absent English language skills.

For the serious trainers, the last several years have been very challenging.  Convincing students and their families that proper training took time and effort, battling the gloom of ever rising number of companies that closed down every other day, allaying the fears that new technology or a change of government in the US would wipe out the offshore outsourcing model, and explaining why it was more sensible to start out with a reputed brand but a moderate salary than a mom-and-pop outfit that was ready to pay anything to sustain its zero-overheads business, have been common challenges for all trainers whether they were doing captive training for a production house or commercial third party training.  Good trainers with a strong industry alignment have successfully faced these challenges without having to compromise on what they believed in, and now, the value of such training entities is universally acknowledged by students and their families as well as by recruiting companies and government agencies.

The Doctus team is very close to my heart as we have been travel companions in our journey of building Worldtech.  As they set out on their own, I felt insecure, partly a sense of being orphaned and partly a worried parent.  Over the years, I have seen the team blossom into one of responsible mentors, imparting much more than medical transcription training, instilling in their students a sense of value and ethics, and inspiring them to be proud of themselves and their work.  It was a pleasant surprise to see the draft of their candidate handbook for medical terminology since it meets a long felt need.  It offers the candidate sturdy and handy hooks to hang their understanding upon.  While it may appear to be a series of lists to a lay observer, it captures the basic terminology and medical language that can be considered essential for a MT trainee.  I look forward to their further offerings to make the MT training process smoother and more user friendly.

(Doctus is a Hyderabad based Training Institute and the team can be reached through Beena/Sucharita/Rao
at 040-6678-7771 or 040-6678-7772 or email contactus@doctus.co.in)


Logged in to post a poem, found this picture in the meantime, and forgot about my foolish poem.

Faith in Daily Life

sensei_lg One of the first things that brought a smile to my face when reading the writing of Daisaku Ikeda was the practical personal touch at the end of most of his letters to members of Soka Gakkai worldtwide.  He would end with a word of caution like "take care not to catch a cold," or something similar.  To my conditioned mind, this was not how a leader of a global movement spoke.  This was not the summer of love after all. 

Even Nichiren displayed the same attentiveness to matters of everyday practicality, like when he cautioned Shijo Kingo at a time when his life was at risk, writing “You must not go out alone at night under any circumstance.” At another time, he wrote, “If you should have to travel, do not spare the cost of a good horse”.

horseDaisaku Ikeda made it easy for me to understand Nichiren's Buddhism, that speaks of enlightenment not as a reality distant from everyday life, but as an achievable potential here and now, existing even if clouded over like a "tarnished mirror."  One of the main aspects that sets Nichiren's Buddhism apart from other schools of Buddhist thought is the fact that it places the world of Buddhahood in the saha world of suffering and struggle, not as a world separate from us, and the Buddha also mutually possesses the lower worlds, and is not devoid of them.   The philosopher Gurdjieff wrote, "Religion is doing; a man does not merely think his religion or feel it, he "lives" his religion as much as he is able, otherwise it is not religion but fantasy or philosophy."

IMG_0639

 

From mundane tasks of daily life to the larger projects that make up our action list, from the casual interactions with acquaintances to the complex relationship of love, trust, interdependence and discipleship, from the stray thoughts that flicker through our minds to the values that make up who we are as people, faith in daily life encompasses all of it.  Each action of ours can become an instrument of seeking the higher worlds of learning and realization, compassion and freedom.  I try and keep this in mind when I cook.  The food tastes heavenly when my life condition is high.

Charcoal

That is what some people call my version of Bhindi Fry.  A great accompaniment with most rice and dal meals, this goes equally well with a bowl of yogurt or a bowl of dal to make for a healthy and balanced snack.
okra1
The Basic Bhindi Fry
Okra 250 g (sliced 1-mm thick evenly)
Vegetable cooking oil 2 tbsp
Red chili powder to taste (approx 1/4 tsp)
Salt to taste (approx 1/4 tsp)
  • Wash and pat dry the okra before chopping.  I try and do this half an hour before chopping so that it dries totally.  Wet okra makes the fry go sticky and unmanageable.  Chop into even sized slices not more than 2 mm thick.
  • Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet.  Once smoking, add the sliced okra.  Stir on high flame just enough to ensure that all the okra gets smeared with the oil.  Reduce the flame to low, and let it cook open.  Sprinkle salt over.
  • Stir only enough to turn the bhindi over once every three minutes for the first 10 minutes, and then once every two min.  If you dont like eating charcoal, proceed to next step once it starts browning.  For charcoal, let it cook till the last of the green hue starts to disappear.
  • Turn the flame back to high, let the sizzle get louder, add the red chili powder and immediately turn the flame off.  Stir to get the chili powder evenly mixed.  Stir till sizzle stops.  Keep in the skillet till just before serving.  If serving later, reheat by putting it in a very hot skillet and tossing for 2 minutes.
Variations
1. The charcoal.  Let it cook till you can hear the okra rattle in the skillet if you stir it.  It gives it a nice burnt and smoky taste and a crunchy feel that can add magic to a rice and dal meal. 
2.  The hedonista.  Chop 1 small onion finely.  Fry in the oil with a small pinch of cumin seeds and a small pinch of kalonji before adding the okra.  Chop 4 large cloves garlic fine.  Add along with the salt.  Proceed till okra rattles.
3.  The gay hedonista.  Follow instructions for hedonista.  Garnish with 1 tsp finely chopped cilantro.
4.  The Gonglu.  Mix 1/4 cup rice flour, 1/2 tsp besan, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper into a powder.  Put the sliced okra along with this powder into a paper bag or a medium size ziploc and shake, shake, shake for the duration of the national anthem.  The sticky okra will pick up almost all of the powder and also become easier to handle, but will still require the same cooking time.  Proceed as per basic bhindi fry or the charcoal variation. (Named Gonglu after my aunt who makes a smashing microwave version of the same.)

Quick Dip

dip

 

You will need

Yoghurt - 400 g (whisked till smooth)

Lime juice - juice of 1 large lime

Garlic (crushed) - 5 cloves

Marjoram  - 1/2 level tsp

Salt - to taste

Mix all ingredients together.  Works well as a quick low fat dip to go with crackers, chips, carrot fingers, cucumber fingers, gherkins, olives, cheese fingers, and other less healthy alternatives especially when difficult to focus the eyes.

Spinach Thing

Getting a balanced intake has always been a challenge for me, given my laziness and my inclination towards omelet-rice-ghee or fried eggs and toast fixes.  Even my favorite of crispy okras sometimes feels like too much work.  So it was that I discovered this easy spinach recipe.  Enjoy the K.

Spinach - 5 bunches (150-200 g clean leaves)
Oil - 1-1/2 Tbsp
Mustard seeds - 1/4 tsp
Dry Red Chili - 1 large, broken into 1-cm long pieces
Green Chili - 1 chopped very fine
Garlic - 5 cloves ground to a paste
Onion - 1 large ground to a paste
Onion - 1 small sliced fine
Salt - 1/4 tsp or to taste

 spinach
1. Wash my destemmed spinach well in several changes of water, letting it stand for a few minutes each time to let the soil particles sink to the bottom.  For the fanatical, wash in water with a dash of potassium permanganate.   Pat dry. Chop into half inch wide strips.
2.  Mix evenly my onion paste, garlic paste and my green chili.
3. Heat oil.  Add mustard seeds.  Add dry red chili pieces.  Reduce heat to sim.  Splutter.  Add sliced onion.  Stir till translucent.  Add salt.  Increase heat to high.
4.  Add my spinach.  Stir till wilted.  Ensure that the spices and spinach are evenly mixed.  Add my onion, garlic, green chili paste.  Mix evenly.  Reduce heat to sim.
5.  Cook on low heat for 5 min stirring once or twice.  Cook till desired consistency, can range from pasty to green leafy dry.
6.  Serve with rice.  Oh my!!


Note:  I love the garlic in this, but for those not so fond of it, you can reduce the garlic to 3 cloves.  I have a rule of thumb for how much garlic is right for a recipe.  Look at the rest of the ingredients and decide how much garlic you will need.  Once you have decided, throw in a few cloves more.  If serving with continental food, replace the dry chili with coarsely crushed black pepper added with the sliced onions.

How to Live Without a Refrigerator


One of the things that seemed like a big challenge was getting by with a reasonably nutritious diet without a refrigerator. I grieved that I would have to miss out not only stuff like chilled drinks and icecreams, but also not have access to storing vegetables and meats and dairy products. Further, leftovers would be a liability and likely go waste. However, as I went on, I discovered ways of getting around this, and now, several months down, I have a diet where I am not impacted in any way by not using a refrigerator. As I set about trying to put my discoveries down, I came across another wonderful post on this same topic over here. Here are some of the things I personally discovered along with some of the wisdom already shared in that post.

My challenges were butter, milk, cheese, eggs, stocking up on vegetables for a week or more, green leafy vegetables, stuff like mayo and other dressings, toppings, and other processed pastes, and of course, leftovers.

As I struggled initially with a rice, lentil, and omlet plan, I started out by by adding clarified butter (ghee) to my diet. Ghee does not need refrigeration. Later, I added butter which stays perfectly fine in a covered bowl of water, the water needing to be changed every couple of days. Also, it saves cooking time in most recipes as you dont have to wait for it to reach room temperature. For those not comfortable with the water on the butter (it really is just a drop or two), you can put it in a small wide mouthed jar, and slip the jar into a ziploc bag and put the bag in water.

Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food

Update (October 2011): I chanced upon this post as it was picking up a lot of traffic, and realized an update was needed. As the food posts grew, I decided to hive them off to a new blog, and keep this blog as a the catch-all for my random thoughts. 

It has been more than two years now since I started the food blog, Sita Ki Rasoi, and you can find it at sitakirasoi.blogspot.com. Do visit, and subscribe to it by email or follow it using google friend connect.

Disclaimer: I have no idea what was going on in my mind when I published this post in this large font size. This was way before I learned that increasing font size results in higher time per page view! I have left the font size as is so that I am reminded of my journey as I go forward. Enjoy the post.
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Did I Know This Was Where I Was Headed?

कभी नहीं !!!

Little had I known when I started posting my writing five years ago, more as a way of recording my writing than as a blog, that I would end up considering a food blog.

Thanks to the direction my life has taken, I have rediscovered food, from seeing it as a necessity to realizing its importance in the greater scheme of things। I have learned to be grateful for the lifeform that goes to sustain my life, and to enjoy and participate in the myriad celebration that surrounds the seemingly humble (and often considered mundane) task of eating.

Here is a talk at talks@google by Michael Pollan that overviews his newer book, In Defense of Food, demystifying what food and eating are really all about. Hope you like it, and go one to read his writing which you can find here. This video is an hour long including questions and answers at the end of the talk, but well worth the time.


Curry Leaf Powder

One of the first things that caught my attention with Andhra cuisine was the predominance of accompaniments. From papads to fried curd chili, pickles to salans, these guys really make a go of things. My favorite is the gun powder - a fiery powder that you mix with rice and ghee (or a dash of vegetable oil) and start your meal with. The Telugu's call it Podi.

Podis make for a quick meal with little effort, and at other times add life to a routine menu. Here is a wonderful curry leaf podi from sailu's kitchen. For a simpler and more junglee version, try it my way, sufficiently earthy, sublime and pure to be sent for the Hyderabadi Ramadan Food Festival over at Zaiqa.

My way
You will need
curry leaves 20 sprigs (two bunches, washed and dried and taken off the stalks))
dried red chili 1 (cut into four small pieces)
red chili powder 1/4 tsp
garlic 1 clove (chopped as fine as possible)
cumin seeds 1/4 tsp
veg oil 1/2 tsp
salt 1/4 tsp

heat oil in a pan or kadai, prefer teflon, once hot, add the cumin seeds and red chili , sizzle, add garlic, saute 30 seconds, add salt and red chili powder, add curry leaves, stir continuously till the curry leaves pick up all the masala and start to go dark grey-green and crisp, they will produce a dry leafy sound when tossed in the pan, cool, crush. make sure that the garlic chunks and the red chili pieces get crushed and evenly mixed. serve with a blob of ghee and hot rice.
I read a wonderful post on zenhabits in the form of a letter to the author's 3-year-old son. It encapsulated the basic stuff that one would want to pass on to the next generation.

For quite a while, I have been bubbling with the stuff that I am learning as life dishes out lessons like a tennis ball launcher, and other than a few close friends, haven't been able to share a lot of it. Reading this wonderful letter, I realized I could share it with my son, who is just finding words now. These will be on The Story of Parth blog and will be my rants on just about everything.

Here is the original Leo Babuta post.

And here is The Story of Parth.
Nice photos, not mine. Nice music, not mine. Nice thoughts. Mine. Adidas is a sneaker.

Recent video, 10 seconds worth!

Click here.
10 secs past 10 mins past 10 on the 10th of the 10th mnth of the 10th year of the millennium, 10:10:10:10/10/10
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