Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bay Area Summer Evening Series

Reading Time < 4 minutes
Evening entertainment is sponsored in summer by some cities in local parks, streets and squares.  It is one way to celebrate the winding down of summer.  The mood is one of conviviality even as almost everyone feels a twinge remembering that the warm summer evenings are numbered.

Downtown Sunnyvale has a music series on Wednesday evenings.  It runs through August.  Take a chair with you if you go early or a claim a spot in the standing area close to the stage (if you like to dance) or find a table in the patio of any of the wonderful restaurants that line the street if you are in the mood for wining& dining.  Thai, Mediterranean, Italian are some that await.
A well used table

Cupertino Memorial Park has movies in a public amphitheater in July and hosts  Shakespeare in the Park plays on August weekends.  Bring a blanket to sit on and a picnic dinner if you wish to make it special.  If you care for more comfort you can lug some lawn chairs.  We take a blanket and some popcorn.  Our stay-put time is very dependent on popcorn.  The son usually starts to lose interest after it is finished...
The sky at dusk, the silent geese trying sleep in the park pond, the floodlights of tennis courts yonder reflecting off the water and the silhouettes of the witnessing trees make an interesting contrast to the action-packed moves of Mr. Robert Downey Jr. or a certain Mr. Nicolas Cage or the theatrics of  the English.  I usually switch my attention between the two equally entertaining views.
Can't see the geese
The stage on water

University Avenue, Palo Alto has had a makeover in the boom of the late 90's and  early 2000's.  The hitherto sleepy downturn transformed into a yuppie paradise.  Saturday evenings bring a music band and a great crowd from many walks: Couples- old and new, the rich and the not, families and singles, summer students from Stanford and dogs of all breeds. Last year I saw pedicabs run by able-bodied students.
The Stanford theater is having a Hitchcock festival- if you haven't been to a movie there, it is something to try.  Go early so you won't miss the live piano rendition. 
University Avenue, Palo Alto
On one of the side streets are vintage B&W photographs of the avenue.  One is from circa 1905.  Another is from circa 1940 and shows a parade-  lively girls with batons and cheering onlookers.  A stray thought occurred and stayed with me- how many of them, so dazzling in their moment here, are alive now?
Not likely to be, unless one was less than 10 years of age when the picture was taken.  It serves as a pointed and unnecessary reminder that we all have robust exit strategies whether we concur with them or not.  Which makes a summer evening a good time to drive out and listen to music.

Daisy Day

(This post was originally published in June.  Editing of picture sizes caused reposting by blogger at this later date).

(Reading Time: ~5-10 minutes)
In our backyard is a small rectangular bed cut into the brick floor. It is home to a low shrub of daisies. The bed erupts with flowers every April. Late spring it is. For a whole month, the daisies become the life of the backyard.
The daisies have a short season. Within weeks the flower density falls. This repeats every year.  Daisies are part of the Asteraceae family. These flowers show different moods depending on the time of the day. Here they are, all in the course of one day.
Daisies are beginning to open their petals. Wake up, wake up, it is time.


Morning, around 8 AM
Feeling the sun's rays. (The sunlight takes a while to stream into our valley).


Mid Morning, around 11 AM
The daisies are fully open and smiling at the sun. 


Post Noon, around 2 PM
Looking tired. Notice some of the petals bending backwards, perhaps because of the living and working in the strenuous heat. 


Around 4 PM
By this time we start losing sunlight in this north-east corner of the yard. These pictures show the bed at a demarcation between sunlight and shade from different two angles. It appears as if the daisies in the shade are finished for the day, letting relaxation set in and the ones in the light are still working on their photo-chemistries.


Around 5 PM and 6 PM
Closing shop.


Good Night.


The weather in our area on the day I took these photos was-
Saturday, Sunny with Partial Clouds
Humidity: 24%
Wind:  N at 12 mph 
Temperature : 56F - 73F
Genetic coding in the daisies enables them orchestrate their movements with the sun. While the family of asteraceae move in a dramatic manner with sunlight; other species of plants and animals, and sea-life that dwells in water layers that sunlight penetrates have evolved to synchronize their food procurement and rest patterns with the sun's energy in less obvious ways.
Technological advancement and the thrust of civilization has put us in a place now where we can eat and sleep, have light or darkness whenever we wish. How this gradual change in behavior manifests in our biological systems is a personal curiosity. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A plate of Pulihora

Reading time ~ 5 minutes
Recently our homestead had Pulihora for a birthday (not mine).  It was finished up by evening.
Pulihora can be plain or extra flavored with raw mango or with crushed roasted sesame or with ground mustard.  I make ours mild with slight changes to suit our lifestyle and taste, such as: soaking the peanuts overnight- it makes them more nutritious and less allergy inducing. Using oil sparingly while cooking but sprinkling with olive oil in the end- has never affected the taste.  Using Basmati rice- less starch per serving and looks nicer.  I use tamarind from India, especially for special dishes because the one over here is dark and gives a strong blackish-brown color.  Interestingly, the batch I now have is organic, is exceptionally good and the juice exudes all the goodness of bioavailable vitamin C.  The ginger use is heavy without overpowering- it  can certainly fulfill the daily requirements of an adaptogen even for a T-Rex!  Lastly there is  lots of  turmeric- oozing all the goodness of the antioxidant value it carries.

No feast or festival is complete without the Pulihora in AP, whether in Kosta, Rayalaseema or Telangana.  Dainty and delicate, it is a favorite of all age groups.  Though sometimes frowned upon because of its omnipresence, it is certainly appreciated after one leaves home.  Oh, and it is different from the Puliyogare, its other south Indian cousin. 

Some tides, summers and supernovas ago, the in-laws had visited for the first time.  We all went out for the day on a Saturday.  It was late in the evening when we stopped for dinner at an Italian eatery.  It was a first with this cuisine for two people in our group.  Fettucini Alfredo, which can be unusual to the palate of coastal town-ers of AP, was tasted by the Fa-inlaw.  After the first spoonful his eyes searched and spotted the black pepper on the table.  He sprinkled it so that the creamy white Fettucini Alfredo became...... black!  We were all tired and intent on food so after eating-

Umm, I think it is unusual to sprinkle that much pepper... I said, sort of.
He was genuinely surprised.  Why, is it wrong? he asked, concerned.
No, no, nothing wrong, I replied
Just that it is somewhat nice to eat a cuisine in the way that culture would perhaps like us to. My reasoning sounded weak even as I said it.

A few days sprinted.  One day, I went to an Indian graduate students potluck lunch.  After I came back I casually mentioned to the Mo-inlaw that I saw another girl (wife of a fellow student who was Gujarati) help herself to Pulihora on a plate and earnestly pour Sambar over it before eating.

The Mo-inlaw was shocked.  Her jaw dropped.
Now I understand. Now I understand, she declared.
What what what? I asked, surprised
What you were saying then- it is nice to eat each cuisine in their own way!
She was still stunned at the unintended sacrilege of the mighty Pulihora when she said to the Fa-inlaw-
No sprinkling with pepper like that again, ok? If they make their food bland like that, we will have eat it like that only.

Even after some summers and moons had passed, the Fa-inlaw still chuckled about the time he made a black Fettucine Alfredo.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August Student

Reading Time ~ 5 - 7 minutes
The month of August has its signature hue of sunlight in the northern hemisphere.  The golden orange increases in sharpness and brightness as the month rolls on.  This sublime quality of light is what I associate with arriving in the United States.

The turn of light at the end of summer means the month of August, of having left home as I knew it and of coming to America.  I have yet to meet a person who does not get whimsical and nostalgic  about this transition as a graduate student, irrespective of the time that has gone by.  It is also rather hard to get us to stop talking about the experience once we get started.  Our hearts seem to be still entangled somewhere in there.  Though the  transition is much easier now with all the worlds getting much closer, it still is a process.  Mine runs through my mind at least briefly, every year, come August. 
Where prose falls short, good poetry fulfills.  Recently I came across a poem which was written in a different situation but in which the above transition came deliciously alive. Here it is-
This poem by Colette Bryce won the National Poetry Award (UK) in 2003.  It was also voted as the favorite poem in a poll celebrating 30 years of the National Poetry Competition in 2008.