Monday, August 11, 2008

The Aura Around Aurum

On the occasion of independent India bagging it's first individual Olympic Gold, here's a countdown...

An Olympic gold medal in hand is worth (much more than):

10. Two boxes of champagne bottles

9. Two truck loads of gifts

8. Two duplex flats at Colaba

7. Two phone calls from the country's premier
(or Sonia Gandhi, whosoever is greater)

6. Two chapters in Class IV Hindi Text Book

5. Two hundred Indian delegates at the games

4. Two thousand and eight patriotic Bollywood films

3. Two billion TV debates on "Why only one medal for one billion Indians?"

2. Two Tera bytes of illegally downloaded mp3 songs

1. Two of us -- you the reader, and me the writer!


---


Meanwhile, if the Indian Olympic Committee is interested in bagging more Olympic Golds but without spending anything on infrastructure and training, then it should suggest to the International Olympic Committee to include "Spitting" as a sport, with following events in this new category (on the similar lines as Shooting):
  • 1m Spit

  • 5m Spit

  • 1m Running Target

  • 5m Running Target

  • Trap

  • Double Trap

  • Skeet


The Indian betel leaf should be used as ammunition, thus leading to a betel revolution in our agriculture sector.

On further research, I came across this article on the web: "Hitching a Ride with the Chinese Olympic Spitting Team". Looks like the Chinese have a PhD in Spitting! So, for the time being, Suresh Kalmadi and team have to discard Spitting and invent a new Sporting event. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What's In A Name?

'lA-jane-dlA'... That's how I used to pronounce my name, long, long time ago, when I had barely started communicating in my mother tongue. It was my dad's assignment, late in the evening, after dinner, to bring out the 'R' in me with a proper roll of the tongue, which, thankfully, he managed successfully.

I mention this so that you understand how sensitive I am regarding making fun of people who have pronunciation or stammering problems, even though I never had such a problem later in my life. But that shouldn't stop me from writing about this incident which happened in my office today.

A new guy has joined our team. This fellow stammers while saying his name. The name as such isn't long: only four letters. But when he pronounces it, the first syllable would take 5/6ths of the time. (That's a rough estimate as I don't have a stop watch to time it.)

What's more amazing is, each time he introduces himself, he would pronounce it similarly.

That made me ponder: May be the poor fellow is pronouncing his name as it should be! After all, who better can pronounce one's name than one own self! It reminds me of the African tribesmen who have clinks in their names which the stand-up comedian Russell Peters doesn't fail to admire.

Had I been able to keep a straight face each time he said it, I would have given him the benefit of doubt and remarked, "That sounds tough to pronounce. Would it be okay if we called you 'Ravi' instead?"

Monday, July 21, 2008

Shahi Paneer


Ingredients:
150 gms. paneer (cottge cheese)
2 tbsp ghee or butter
1 onion chopped
1/2" piece ginger chopped fine
2 green chillies chopped fine
2 tomatoes chopped fine
1 cardamoms crushed
1/4 cup beaten curd
1/2 tsp. red chilli powder
1/2 tsp. garam masala
salt to taste
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp. tomato sauce

To garnish:
2 tbsp. grated paneer
1 tbsp. chopped coriander

Method:
Chop the paneer into 2" fingers.Heat half the ghee.
Add onion,ginger, green chilli and cardamom. Fry for 3-4 minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook for 7-8 minutes, covered.



Add curd and cook for 5 minutes.Add 1/2 cup water and cool.Blend in a mixie till smooth.

Heat remaining ghee, add gravy and other ingredients except milk and paneer.

Boil to get a very thick gravy.

Just before serving, heat gravy, add milk and paneer fingers and boil for 3-4 minutes. Garnish with chopped coriander and grated paneer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Konkani Humor

Humor is an integral part of Konkani culture and at BayKon, we are never short of it. We often have innumerable comic instances during our gatherings however, thus far they have not been recorded.

Be it the infamous R for Rabbit, A for Apple, V for Victory and I for 'I Don't know' or the interpretation "Do you keep your options open?" (from our dear friend Ravi who seems to have become Speechless In Seattle); it would be good to have them recorded and published.

Here is one very Impressive Konkani Blog (http://lokaabhiraam.blogspot.com/) by a fellow Konkani with alias Lokaabhiraam. Has dozens of audio clips; and each of them is not short of giving you a good doze of laughter.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Listen to Ashamai's Konkani stories ....

http://ashamai.zenusinfotech.com/Stories.htm

Who is Ashamai and what does she do?
AshaMai (Asha Shenoy), at 60, is a housewife living in Bangalore, with her husband Shantananda Shenoy. She has raised 3 children and 2 grand kids . There are countless number of kids who have listened to short and sweet stories from her. The story might have a moral, which can apply to grown up kids like us as well !!.

How do i send my feedback to Ashamai?
Since this is Ashamai's first attempt on mass story telling,we truely value your feedbacks.
Ashamai can be reached at ashasshenoy@gmail.com For updates to these stories and for providing your feedbacks, register in the Discussion board today !!

http://ashamai.zenusinfotech.com/index.htm

Monday, June 30, 2008

World's most healthiest, tastiest spicy (desi / indian) veggie pizza.

Everyone loves pizza for its nice cheesy smell, delicious toppings and soft, yet crispy crust. Unfortunately, the truth is, its one of the most unhealthiest food one can eat. Rich in Saturated fat and cholesterol, high in sodium content and plenty of carbs.

The main cause of why a pizza turns out to be as unhealthy as it can be for the majority of consumers is the large amount of cheese (which is cheap) on it and very little quantity (or absence) of healthy vegetable toppings. Commonly eaten pizzas tend to have no more than 2 to 3 toppings. Hence, the largest constituent toppings on a pizza turns out to be the cheese, which is also the most unhealthiest.

In an attempt to create a pizza that retains its rich taste and aromatic flavour, but at the same time provide the much needed nutrition that we all need as part of our daily diet we have rediscovered the pizza and introduce you to the one of a kind pizza that you will love and relish. You probably will not find a similar pizza, as healthy, as tasty and spicy as this one anywhere in the world. Now, go and enjoy the World's most healthiest, tastiest spicy (desi / indian) veggie pizza.



Ingredients:
- Mushroom (white or crimini).
- Red, Green, Yellow, Orange bell peppers.
- Artichoke.
- Olives.
- Broccoli.
- Green beans.
- Carrot.
- Red or yellow onion.
- Finely chopped Garlic pieces.
- Cilantro (Coriander leaves).
- Parsley.
- Black pepper powder.
- Low moisture - part skim mozzarella shredded cheese.
- Spinach leaves.
- Asparagus.
- spicy pizza sauce.
- Pre-baked Pizza crust (pizza base).
- Olive oil.

Its highly recommended that you use a multi-grain wheat (brown) pizza base / crust instead of the regular white one.

Note: Smibal's spicy pizza sauce recipe will be posted here later today.



Preparation:
a) Cut all vegetables and mushroom into fine long thin pieces.
b) Steam chopped vegetable in a microwave until they are almost cooked.
c) Drain all the excess water from the cooked vegetables. (otherwise the pizza will be soggy - soft & watery).
d) Place the pre-baked pizza crust on a baking tray (ideally the tray should have holes to let the steam escape from the bottom and prevent moisture build up at the base during baking).
e) Switch on the oven to pre-heat it at 450 F.
f) Apply a coat of olive oil on the top of the crust. This prevents the base from absorbing the moisture from the pizza sauce and vegetable toppings.
g) Spread the spicy pizza sauce evenly all around the top of the crust. (almost 1/4 of an inch thick).
h) Carefully add all the vegetable pieces. Make sure you spread it all around to cover the entire pizza crust. The vegetable topping should be 3/4 of an inch.
i) spread a thin layer of cheese.
j) Sprinkle finely chopped garlic pieces, parsley and black pepper powder.
k) Again, spread 1/2inch thick equal mix of vegetable and cheese interspersed with drops of spicy pizza sauce.
l) Bake it in an oven at 400F for about 10 mins on the upper rack until the cheese melts.
m) Take the pizza out immediately, slice and serve.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Announcing! - Ayurveda Workshop on Health & Healing

Kerala Ayurveda, Wellness naturally, Presents series of talks on Health and Healing.

Be more in a control of your own health. The Kerala team of conventional and holistic Doctors will offer you the tools to empower your health. After all, it is your body, take charge and enjoy the bounty of energy, vigor and vitality!

Every 2nd Monday of the month, for an evening of health education followed by delicious Dinner.

Beauty is more than skin deep - Skin Health - July, 14th 08
Fit mind Fit Body - Mind Health - August, 11th 08
Turn your bad hair day to good hair day - Hair Health - September, 8th 08
Healthy Colon, healthy Body - Colon health - October, 13th 08
No pain Yes gain - Joint health - November, 10th 08
Bone strength for Body strength - Bone Health- January, 12th 09
Have a healthy heart for your valentine - Heart Health - February, 9th 09
Seize the sneeze, prevent allergies - Lung health - March, 9th 09
You are what you digest - Stomach health - April, 13th 09
Men zone, healthy Prostate - Prostate Health - May, 11th 09
Women special, Healthy Breasts - Breast Health - June, 8th 09

Mark your calendar. Bring a friend and double the fun.

Hosted by: Kerala Ayurveda Integrative Clinic (Ayurveda Institute of America)
Location: 561 Pilgrim Dr. Ste B, Foster city, CA 94404
Time: 6.30 – 8.30 pm 2nd Monday of each month
Donation: $10.00
Contact: Pleases call (650) 341 – 8400 /(888) 3- Kerala (353 – 7252) to reserve your space

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Daily Routine - What's your score?

A leading Ayurvedic Physician Dr Vasant Lad has listed some wonderful everyday routines that one must follow to lead a life of peace, happiness and longevity. In the olden days, as kids, we probably followed some of these. But today, I wonder if anyone practices even half of these routines.

To do a reality check and find out where you stand, play this game. Enter your score in the Comments section of this article. You are welcome to not identify yourself and be anonymous but atleast mention your score and anything else that you want to say.

The Game: There are 22 daily routines below. For each routine, give yourself a score of 1 if you happen to follow or perform as mentioned everyday (exception 2 days a week). If you score 15 points or above you win.

The Reward: You will be blessed with a happy, peaceful and a long and healthy life. As a bonus, you might win a gift certificate from baykon (conditions apply and subject to approval and credit check).

1. Wake Up Early in the Morning - No later than 6:00am.
2. Say a Prayer before Leaving the Bed.
3. Clean the Face, Mouth, and Eyes - Wash youe eyes with cool water and blink 7 times and rotate your eyes in all directions.
4. Drink Water in the Morning - Not coffee or tea.
5. Evacuation (read defecation):
1 bonus point - If you squat on the toilet.
1 bonus point - wash anal orifice with warm water, then the hands with soap.
1 negetive point - If you don't go everyday.
1 negetive point - If you use toilet paper.
6. Scrape your Tongue.
7. Clean your Teeth.
8. Gargling - twice a day with warm sesame oil.
9. Chewing - Chew a handful of sesame seeds,dried dates or coconut. After chewing brush your teeth again.
10. Nasal Drops - 3 to 5 drops of warm ghee or oil into each nostril.
11. Oil Drops in the Ears - Putting 5 drops of warm sesame oil in each ear can help these disorders.
12. Apply Oil to the Head & Body - Rub warm oil over the head and body.
13. Bathing.
14. Dressing - Wearing clean clothes brings beauty and virtue.
15. Use Perfumes - Using natural scents, essential oils, or perfumes.
16. Exercise - 30mins.
17. Pranayama - 10mins.
18. Meditation - 15mins.
19. Breakfast - Between 7:00am - 8:00am.
20. Lunch - Between 11:00am - 1:00pm.
21. Supper - Between 6:00pm - 8:00pm.
22. Sleep - Between 10:00pm - 12:00pm.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Yoga Of Mind .... by Dr Kamath.

www.yogaofmind.com ... by Dr Kamath.
It deals with all aspects of both eastern and western methods of dealing with various life issues.
Please feel free to pass it on to your friends and relatives, and also to participate.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

TransUnion Class Action Lawsuit: Upto 9 months of free credit monitoring and cash benefits

As a settlement for a class action lawsuit against TransUnion worth at least $75 Million, you could be entitled to up to 9 months of free credit monitoring plus cash benefits.

Who is Eligible?
Any person residing in USA between January 1, 1987 and May 28, 2008 and opened a credit account (automobile loans, bank credit cards, department store credit cards, other retail store credit cards, finance company loans, mortgage loans, and student loans)

How to Qualify?
Click Here to register by September 24th 2008

Important Links/References

Note : If you have registered to receive credit monitoring, you will have six months after the Court grants final approval of the settlement and all appeals are resolved to activate your credit monitoring benefit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Make 5% to 10% on your savings with Wachovias Way2Save


Wachovias' Way2Save savings account, seems to be the most profitable savings plan available; better than any Certificate of Deposits being offered by any Bank. Anyone interested in a savings account should definitely go for it.


Some Important Points:
1. Way2Save account offers 5% bonus at the end of the 1 year period on top of the normal variable savings rate that is offered on the savings account. The variable savings rate as of today is 5% apy. Which means, close to 10% returns on your savings.

2. Added to that, "Save Like A Champion Program" gives you 16% interest for the next 3 months for the accounts opened before May 30th 2008.

3. To open a Way2Save account (no cost), you will need to open a free Checking account (no cost) that will be linked to Way2Save and a Check Card (again, no cost)

4. How much you can deposit into Way2Save account? - You can at setup an automatic deposit of (max) 100$ each month from the linked checking account. In addition 1$ will be automatically transferred to your Way2Save account for each Check Card transaction or each electronic bill pay that you make from the linked Checking account. Assuming you will not use the Check Card and not make any electronic Bill pay, the monthly deposit adds up to only 1200$. As per Wachovias' Way2Save calculator
, the first years bonus on 1200$ is 59$. That's in addition to the variable savings interest, which per them is 32$ (to make a total of 91$). So you will be making 59$ more than you would have made on most other savings account.

If you say all this trouble of opening a new account is not worth, since you can make only 59$ more than on your currently existing savings account?. Not really ... continue reading to see why.

Making 59$ more was a good enough reason for me to immediately open a Way2Save account (specially since its a free account with no other unreasonable hidden fees and no penalty on early closure of the account). While in the process of opening an account, I thought, can't I open multiple Way2Save accounts? Yes, indeed I could. As per the Way2Save agreement
, each customer can open upto 5 Way2Save accounts.

Opening 5 Way2Save accounts, I could make 5% bonus (fixed, guaranteed) + 5% apy (variable rate, can increase or decrease) on 6000$ (1200$ * 5). The bonus alone will be close to 300$.

Now is this not a great deal?. Where can you find a Savings account (or for that matter a CD or any other guranteed safe return on investment vehicle) which will return more than 5% apy in 12 months?.

Herez more .... If you are married, you could open 5 more Way2Save accounts in your spouses name. If I could, that would be equivalent to having a deposit of 12,000$ that earns close to 10% interest (assuming 5% variable rate). Even earning 5% (fixed, guaranteed) bonus on 12,000$ is itself a terrific deal that you cannot find anywhere these days. Note that you need not have 12,000$ in hand right now to open all these multiple accounts. What you are looking at it is 100$ each month into each account for 1 or more year.

Note:
Bonus of 5% is only for the 1st year. For the 2nd and 3rd year, the bonus is 2%.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

South Indian Restaurants in Bay Area

A compiled list of South Indian Restaurants in bayarea. This would come handy for our konkani folks visiting the Konkani Sammelan 2008 and decide to stay back for a few days after sammelan. Watch out for new additions, updates and ratings soon.

Athidhi - Sunnyvale, CA - Google Map
727 Old Sanfrancisco road, Sunnyvale, CA 94594
Ph.(408)773-8412 and (408)991-2199

Review: Athidhi serves the best Hyderabadi Dum Biryani you can find in the bay area and is included in the buffet too. Food tastes is authentic (not Americanized bland)

Udupi Palace - Sunnyvale, CA - Google Map

Dasaprakash - Santa Clara, CA - Google Map

Tirupathi Bhimas - Milpitas, CA - Google Map

Dosa - San Francisco, CA - Google Map

Mantra - Palo Alto, CA - Google Map

Madras Cafe - Sunnyvale, CA - Google Map

Spice Hut - Sunnyvale, CA - Google Map

Swathi Tiffins - Sunnyvale, CA - Google Map

Annapoorna - San Mateo, CA - Google Map

Saravana Bhavan - Sunnyvale, CA - Google Map

Hyderabad Biriyani House - Fremont, CA - Google Map

Dosa Place - Santa Clara, CA - Google Map

Turmeric - Sunnyvale, CA - Google Map

Mayuri Indian Cuisine - Santa Clara, CA - Google Map

Hyderabad House - Palo Alto, CA - Google Map

Tabla Flavors - Foster City, CA - Google Map

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yummy Rawa Idlis!

Having lived in Mumbai, I had never tasted Rawa Idlis which is a very popular breakfast/snack item in Bangalore. It was only in the canteen at my workplace in Bangalore that I got to taste Rawa idlis for the first time. I must admit that I did not really love it the first time I had it. After marriage, we started preparing Rawa idlis quite regularly and now I love eating them. The credit goes to my hubby:)

You can prepare Rawa Idlis from the instant packs (MTR or Priya brand) and they come out very well. But ever since we've started preparing them from scratch ourselves, we've never bought the instant packs again. Here's the recipe for yummy Rawa idlis...

Ingredients:
  1. 2 cups fine rawa (sooji/semolina).

  2. 4 cups yogurt

  3. 2 tsp chana dal

  4. 1 tsp mustard seeds

  5. 4-5 Curry leaves

  6. 2" piece of ginger finely chopped

  7. 1-2 finely chopped green chillies

  8. lots of of finely chopped cilantro

  9. 1/4 cup cashew halves

  10. 1/2 tsp baking soda

  11. 1 cup freshly grated carrot

  12. salt to taste

  13. 2 tsps oil or ghee

Method:
  1. Take oil/ghee in a vessel.

  2. Add the mustard seeds and once they start spluttering add chana dal, curry leaves, chopped ginger, chillies and cashew halves.

  3. Now add the rawa and roast on low to medium heat for around 10-15 minutes until the rawa starts smelling good and isn't raw anymore.

  4. Now add the baking soda and salt and roast for 5 more minutes.

  5. Turn off the gas and empty this mixture into a deep bowl.

  6. Add yogurt to the roasted rawa mixture.

  7. Mix it thoroughly with a whisk.

  8. If the mixture is too thick, you may add little water till you get a batter-like consistency.

  9. Now add the cilantro and mix well.

  10. Grease the idli moulds with oil/ghee.

  11. Put some grated carrot into each mould.

  12. Now pour the idli batter into the moulds and steam for 15-20 minutes.

  13. Serve hot with plain chutney!
Chutney recipe:
  1. Grind 1/2 cup grated coconut, 1"piece of ginger, 1-2 green chillies and pinch of asafoetida into a fine paste.

  2. This chutney need not be seasoned and tastes excellent with the idlis.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Numbers....we got to deal with!

This is the third time in last couple of years....and, it happened again.
Its my good old Visa credit card, and the "surprise dollars" which gets charged once in a while --numbers are small and very deceiving!! I don't know where the mystery charges appear from, once it said "MCAweb.com from Russia" -- for 11.99 dollars-- Russian sites...Hmm... and then couple of years back, it was a "fish company" from Alabama for 38.69... "mama's shack" in New Orleans for 29.99.

I am sure some of us have gone through this experience...which is not quite so fun, Trick is to catch them early.. Well, Security aspect apart, which is a topic in itself, other interesting thing that caught my attention is the 16 number on the credit card, Do we know how they generate it, Is there a rule they follow?

This blog is specifically targeted to understand the magic behind the long numbers we see on our card. Hey, I got to warn you... there is some serious "math" involved, so, have fun!!

Typical credit card anatomy

Before we understand how credit card numbers are generated, here is a brief explanation of what a typical credit card number means.



  • Out of the 16 numbers on a typical credit card, the set of first 6 digits is known as the issuer identifier number, and the last digit is known as the “check digit” which is generated in such a way as to satisfy a certain condition (the Luhn or Mod 10 check). “Luhn check” is explained later in this post. The term sounds intimidating, but it’s really a very simple (and elegant) concept.
  • Taking away the 6 identifier digits and 1 check digit leaves us with 9 digits in the middle that form the “account number”.
  • Now, there are 10 possible numbers (from 0 to 9) that can be arranged in these 9 places.

Different Card Samples

What is the “Luhn” or “Mod 10″ check?

In 1954, Luhn of IBM proposed an algorithm to be used as a validity criterion for a given set of numbers. Almost all credit card numbers are generated following this validity criterion…

  1. Starting with the check digit, double the value of every second digit (never double the check digit). For example, in a 16 digit credit card number, double the 15th, 13th, 11th, 9th…digits (digits in odd places). In all, you will need to double eight digits.
  2. If doubling of a number results in a two digit number, add up the digits to get a single digit number. This will result in eight single digit numbers.
  3. Now, replace the digits in the odd places (in the original credit card number) with these new single digit numbers to get a new 16 digit number.
  4. Add up all the digits in this new number. If the final total is perfectly divisible by 10, then the credit card number is valid (Luhn check is satisfied), else it is invalid.

This part is a bit confusing and takes some time to understand. However, don’t get stuck here…continue reading through the examples below and you will figure out what this is all about.

Credit card numbers valid or invalid?

Have you ever wondered if those numbers on the fake plastic or cardboard credit cards that come with the “preapproved” offers are real or imaginary? If they are not valid, how do you know it?…Just apply the Luhn check and all the those fake credit cards will invariably fail.Here is an example of a VISA credit card (look at the expiry date - 01/09 ..it’s still valid !



Note that the credit card number starts with “4″…so it is indeed a VISA issued credit card (VISA cards start with “4″ and MasterCard/Maestro cards start with “5″). Now, let us apply the Luhn algorithm to this card.



  • In this case, when we sum up the total, it comes to 61 which is not perfectly divisible by 10, and hence this credit card number is invalid.
  • If such a credit card number is ever generated, the value of the check digit would be adjusted in such a way as to satisfy the Luhn condition. In this case, the only value of the check digit, that will create a valid credit card number, is 7. Choosing 7 as the check digit will bring the total to 60 (which is perfectly divisible by 10) and the Luhn condition will be satisfied. So the valid credit card number will be 4552 7204 1234 5677.

    Closing remarks

    The Luhn formula validates only the credit card number; it does not validate the expiry date and/or card security code (CVV, CVC). Plus, as discussed before, the 9 digit account number will yield 1 billion combinations; so the chances of getting a working credit card number are very remote. It should also be noted that, this validation is usually employed at the transaction end; which means that numbers that do not satisfy the Luhn check are not forwarded to the card issuer and the transaction is terminated. If you have a fake credit card which satisfies the Luhn check, it will go through at the transaction end, but the card issuer will most likely catch the mischief. So don’t go about trying to use these numbers to buy stuff.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lost & Found

How would you react if you notice a recognizable face from yesteryears in one of the least preferred spots --the public restroom? It was the Men's Restroom at Spice Hut (an Indian Fast Food Joint) at Fremont where I once again met my ex-college mate after so many years. Of course, it didn't happen like in the movies, when you are knocking on the neighboring stall asking for more tissue paper. But still, that's not the place you are supposed to have a Lost & Found. I, of course, ensured that we shook hands only after following CA Dept of Health's protocol on hand hygiene, and there were strictly no hugs in the land of Brokeback Mountain.

If this reminds you of your chance meeting with someone at such an unholy place as the restroom, do post a comment with your experience.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chicken Biryani

Biryani is a dish made from a mixture of spices, basmati rice, vegetables/meat and yogurt. Its a very simple and a straight forward recipe but a little time consuming. Its one of our most favorite dishes :). I tried making it as simple as possible, and it tasted heavenly. To read more about Biryani, refer to this link.


Ingredients:

1. Chicken - 1 lbs(preferably thigh fillets)
2. Basmati Rice - 2 cups
3. Cinnamon - 2 inches
4. Cloves - 4 to 5
5. Green cardamom - 2 to 3
6. Turmeric - 1/4 tsp
7. Bay leaves - 1 or 2
8. Onions - 3 medium sized ( 1 julienned and fried till browned , 2 finely chopped)
9. Ginger-garlic paste - 2 tsps
10. Green chillies - 6 (slit)
11. Yogurt - 3 tbsps
12. Tomatoes - 3 medium sized (finely chopped)
13. Chilly powder - 1 tsp
14. Coriander powder - 2 tsps
15. Garam masala powder - 1 tsp
16. Cumin powder - 2 tsps
17. Mint leaves - 1 bunch (keep aside few leaves for garnishing)
18. Coriander leaves - 1 bunch (keep aside few leaves for garnishing)
19. Few saffron strands soaked in 1 tsp milk.
20. Salt


Method:

1. Marinade the chicken with little yogurt, lemon juice, little salt and some spice powders of your choice. Marinating is optional. You can add the chicken even without marinating. Completely your choice. Then wash the rice and saute it in some ghee along with few of the whole spices and a pinch of turmeric. Then boil the rice until it is half cooked and strain the remaining water. If cooked fully, the biryani will become very soggy.

2. Once the rice is cooked, spread it on a plate and allow it to cool.

3. Then heat oil in a deep non-stick pan ( i used a dutch oven), and add the remaining whole spices along with the finely chopped onions. Keep frying till the onions turn golden brown. To this, add the ginger-garlic paste and slit green chillies and fry for 3-4 minutes. Then add (one at a time) the tomatoes, yogurt, chilly powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, garam masala powder, cumin powder and salt. Keep frying till the tomatoes turn mushy.

4. Then add the chicken pieces and let it boil completely. Do not add water, since the chicken sheds a lot of water. Once the chicken is boiled, turn the flame to high, so that all the water evaporates and a thick gravy is formed. Add the coriander leaves and mint leaves and stir for 2 more minutes. Put this chicken curry onto another plate.




5. Now the chicken curry and the rice is to be layered. First, spread half of the boiled rice in the dutch oven. Then spread the chicken curry, and on top of it, the remaining rice.





6. Garnish this with few mint leaves, coriander leaves, fried onions and saffron.


7. Then close the lid and cook on a low flame for 10 minutes. Later, mix it carefully starting from the sides. See to it that the rice grains dont break. Hot and Spicy Chicken Biryani is ready to serve!




Wednesday, February 13, 2008

United Miles - Take charge, don't let them expire.

United Airlines recently made a major change to their frequent flier miles program, also called, 'Mileage Plus' policy. With this, all the miles in your account will automatically expire if the account has been inactive for 18 months. While this 18 months period seems long enough and reasonable for most, but for "Not-So-Frequent-Fliers" does this mean giving up the elusive dream of being able to fly one round-trip for free? Just give up all those earned miles easily?.

I have seen many of my "Not-So-Frequent-Flier" friends either letting their miles expire or use those miles to buy newspaper subscription to newspapers that they would never read or buy those restaurant coupons where they never want to dine. For most, being able to gather those 25,000+ miles needed for a round-trip ticket seems like a distant dream that will never be fullfilled.

My miles are due to expire in July'08 and hence I did some quick research and found that there many easy ways to keep my account active. I would like to share my thoughts on what you could best do to save your hard earned miles.

United's policy states that "Any activity on your account, whether you earn or redeem miles, keeps your mileage balance intact for the next 18 months".

Buying or transferring miles between friends and family members (or an outsider) qualifies as an activity that most people do to keep the account active ; but this is expensive (35$ per transaction plus a % fee for every mile transferred).

Instead you could do the following and keep your account active. If you have any better ideas please add comments to this posting.

1. Make online purchases of regular household or daily consumables from stores like Amazon, Target, Barnes&Noble, Buy.com, Macys, Sears, Kohls, Home Depot, Office Max, Office Depot, Dell, Staples, HP, Apple, TigerDirect, Shutterfly, Snapfish, CircuitCity, Netflix, Bose, JC Penny, GAP Kids, OldNavy etc. Go to http://mponlinemall.com/ and use your Milage Plus account number before transfering out to the website of these stores.

2. Simply dine at one of the restaurants listed here http://mpdining.rewardsnetwork.com/advanceddiningsearch.jsp. You can eat a burger at Carls Jr or a samosa at Wah-Jee-Wah, each time simply pay using any credit card that you have registered in the program. You will earn a mile or more for every dollar you spend. Those miles will appear in your account and your account will remain active for another 18 months. So go and register your mileage plus number and your credit card here http://mpdining.rewardsnetwork.com/

3. Shop grocery at your local Safeway store. You will earn 125 miles once you have spent 250$ over any period of time. Next time you visit Safeway find out (using the Safeway club card) how much $ purchases you have made so far.

3. Open a Non-Retirement brokerage account with Fidelity or TD Ameritrade and earn 5k to 25k miles.

4. You could either use your miles to buy a subscription to Wall Street Journal or San Francisco Chronicle or pay to subscribe to these and earn miles at http://www.newspaper-miles.com/. Either way your account will switch to active status for next 18 months.

5. Buy cell phone services, handsets from Verizon, Sprint, ATT or TV programming from Dish or Directv. http://www.mileagepluswireless.com/

6. Other activity like flying, staying, renting with one of the United's partner airlines, hotels or car will also earn miles into your mileage account.

Finally, if you apply for United Airways Visa Credit card you might not only earn enough miles to qualify for a free round-trip travel, in addition, your miles will never expire since you will be earning 1 mile for every $ you spend on that card.

Whatever approach you take just make sure your miles remain active forever till you accumulate enough to fly free and at the time you want. Don't ignore and let them go waste. You earned them and they should be yours to keep.

- B Kamath.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Attitude !!! -- TAKE 2

Author known. It's a fresh new take on this post.

There once was a man who woke up one morning, looked at his partner sleeping besides him, and noticed she had only three hairs on her head. “Well,” he said, “I think she’ll braid her hair today!”

So she did and he had a wonderful day.

The next day he woke up, looked at his bedside and saw that she had only two hairs on her head.

“H-M-M,” he said, “I think she’ll part her hair down the middle today!”

So she did and he had a grand day.

The next day he woke up, looked the other side and noticed that she had only one hair on her head.

“Well,” he said, “today she's going to wear her hair in a pony tail.”

So she did and he had a fun, fun day.

The next day he woke up, looked at her and noticed that there wasn’t a single hair on her head.

“YEA!” he exclaimed, “Finally, I have reached the end of the cycle! Tomorrow, I shall spend my night with the lady with long locks of hair!”

Attitude is everything.

Everything in life runs in cycles... Your day will come... again!

Attitude !!!

Author unknown

There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed she had only three hairs on her head. “Well,” she said, “I think I’ll braid my hair today!”

So she did and she had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head.

“H-M-M,” she said, “I think I’ll part my hair down the middle today!”

So she did and she had a grand day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she had only one hair on her head.

“Well,” she said, “today I’m going to wear my hair in a pony tail.”

So she did and she had a fun, fun day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn’t a single hair on her head.

“YEA!” she exclaimed, “I don’t have to fix my hair today!”

Attitude is everything.

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly…..

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pedve Ghashi (sardines curry)

Pedvo(sardines) as it is known among Konkanis is a fish high in omega-3 fatty acids and iron content. It is considered to be extremely beneficial if consumed by women during pregnancy and tastes great even otherwise. Konkanis usually prepare ghashi or deep fry this fish.

Here's the recipe for Pedve ghashi:

Ingredients:

  1. Fresh or frozen sardines (9-10)
  2. 3/4 cup fresh/frozen grated coconut or coconut powder
  3. 7-8 roasted red chillies(Bedgi)
  4. 1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate
  5. 1tsp coriander seeds
  6. 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
  7. 8-10 Szechuan pepper (Teppal) (optional)
  8. 1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
  9. Salt to taste



Method:

  1. If using frozen fish, thaw it in cold/lukewarm water first.
  2. Chop off the head and tail and clean the fish thoroughly.
  3. Rub a little salt and turmeric over the fish and keep it aside.
  4. Roast the coriander and fenugreek seeds together in 1/2 tsp oil till they turn slightly brown.
  5. Grind the coconut powder or fresh/frozen grated cocunut, roasted red chillies, tamarind concentrate, roasted coriander and fenugreek seeds into a fine paste.
  6. Empty this paste into a vessel and heat it until it starts boiling.
  7. Now add the fish to this paste, add salt to taste and boil for another 5-10 minutes on a medium flame.
  8. Since fish gets cooked very fast, keep checking the curry frequently taking care to see that it does not get overcooked.
  9. Once the fish is fully cooked(the fish flesh should turn completely white on the inside), sprinkle some coconut oil over the curry and turn off the gas.
  10. For added flavor, you can also add slightly ground Szechuan pepper (Teppal) to the curry while it boils.
  11. Serve hot with rice, upkari and some plain yogurt!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Elusive Second Rank

It seems my blog co-authors have taken to heart our motto "where the taste bud matters!" Almost all the recent blog posts had something to do with food. Just to bring some variety, I'm posting this piece... recycled from my personal blog :)

Have you ever tried to deliberately score a rank in a competition which is other than your usually attained rank? I tell you, I have, and this is my story.

[This piece has been written for a narrator of the caliber of Morgan Freeman or Amitabh Bachchan. Hear that voice?]

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to any real person -- living, hospitalised, or dead -- is purely by God's own will, and I couldn't write it any other way.

In my good old school days, academics came natural to me. I happened to top the class, and get that coveted 1st Rank. Soon I felt a monotony to it, and then the fun started -- to deliberately try coming in second.

There was this girl in my class who would always come in second, and I would always hopelessly be ranked one above her, how-much-so-ever I tried not to! Of course, she wasn't trying to come second deliberately, but had she known about my intentions, she would have loved to help me.

In those days, betting wasn't a commonplace. I, however, had the good fortune of getting acquainted with a classmate, who was born to be a bookie and in the future, make his presence felt in the best known arena of all -- the Shaharjah Cricket Tournament. Let me call him, Aamir Bahaauddin Tyaagi, Aamir for short, which mind you, is a name from my imagination not Google™-able, lest I reveal his true identity.

Aamir knew that it was easy for me to secure the first rank, and hence would make it all the more interesting by raising the bets for the second rank, while keeping the odds at 1/1 for the first. Whenever I was confident that I have done so well in my class exams, or should I say so badly that I deserved nothing more than the coveted second rank, I would bet heavily. The currency involved for betting were in marbles, and I had to part with a lot of those. But that didn't stop me in trying for one final time, and then once more, and so it went on.

You might think that for someone who can come first, how difficult it would be to come in second for once. Well, let me try to explain to you the problem with coming in second deliberately, as compared to coming in first. The first rank holder's score only has a lower limit, and no higher limit. On the other hand, to come in second, you have to determine the highest score amongst others in the class, and score just about enough to not exceed that score, while ensuring that you score more than the rest. A lot of number crunching is involved. You might even get a Doctrate just for making an attempt in finding a sound mathematical formula, containing weird Greek alphabets, for coming in second.

Now, I wouldn't say I always stood first in these attempts, while it's true that I didn't come in second either. After the initial monotony of firsts, I have scored a fifth once, and a tenth too! Well, it's not that I lost my ability for coming in first, but that the parameters involved used to change every four years or less with new students rolling in my class, which made my calculations go wrong all the time. In the 6th Grade, you had to opt for a third language, and I took Sanskrit, which resulted in a new class, and a different batch of pupils. In the 9th Grade, we had to go to a new school for, the old school only had classes upto 8th, and thus put up with another new batch of students. You can consider yourself lucky if you have mastered the art of coming in second after 10 years of analysis on a static population with only a few controlled parameters changing (refer: ANOVA / DOE statistical analysis techniques), and I had to either come up with a solution in less than four years or incorporate the rules behind dynamically changing population in my calculations!

Now I have grown up and am not involved with academics, professionally speaking. But mind never stops working, especially on an unsolved Mathematical mystery. The other day, I came across on the internet a puzzle about an Arab sheikh and how he thought of distributing his wealth. Here it goes:
There was once an Arab sheikh who had two sons who were not the sharpest scimitars in the palace armory, as it were. He loved playing jokes on them to watch their reaction.

One day he told his two sons to race their camels to a distant city to see who would inherit his fortune. The rules stated that the one whose camel was slowest would be the winner.

The brothers, after wandering aimlessly for days, going slower and slower, finally ran across a wise man in the desert whom they ask for advice. After hearing the advice they jumped on their beasts and raced as fast as they could to the city. What did the wise man say to them?
I had always thought that Shaharjah, the land of the Arabs and the camels, had answers to these types of mysteries. How rightly so! If you are still wondering what the wise man said to the boys, let me not keep it from you for long. He said, "Switch your camels and try to reach the city first, thus making the others' camel which you are riding on, faster than yours!" So neat. So beautiful. So clever. Is it not?

How do we apply this wise man's logic to my problem of coming in second? For that, I would need the help of the girl who always stood second in class, whenever I stood first. Even though this is not a camel race, if you note, writing exams is no different. Switching the camels would mean switching the answersheets! Got it? Let me explain further. If I write her student roll number on my answer paper while she writes mine, we have effectively switched the camels! Now both of us would answer the exam based on our abilities, without deliberately trying to make mistakes, and ensure that she makes me get the elusive second rank, while she boasts the first! Perfecto, isnt it? So clever, yet so profoundly simple. Had I known this earlier, I would have won a lot of marbles, by Jove!

These days, whenever I attend prize distribution functions, I clap, cheer, whistle, and what not, whenever they announce for the second prize winner, while booing the first comer. People might think that I am related to the second comer, but now you know the real reason behind my actions.

[ If someone does go ahead and makes this movie, of course, after buying the credits from me, following text would now roll on the screen... ]

The Second Rank girl is now a qualified Medical Doctor, and is some big shot with a corner office in WHO headquarters at Geneva.

Aamir is now not making as much money as he used to when there were India v/s Pakistan cricket fixtures all year round in his current home location. India's decision to not send their cricket team to Shaharjah after the betting scam broke out, has not only put some breaks to his burgeoning bank balance, but also made him borrow from others in order to meet with his spouses' shopping expenses. (Note the location of the apostrophe.)

As for me, I am at home, sitting in my lavish mansion on a private island in the Pacific, writing a new movie script to get another nomination for an Academy Award! Yup, I still aim for the 2nd place!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Recipe for Tila Undo (Tillgull)

Come Makar Sankranthi and I remember Tila Undo. I have always loved mom's homemade tila undo but hadnt tried preparing it. This time I tried it and it did come out well.
So here's the recipe. Hope it turns out well...I must say its the most easiest undo I've made till date :)

Ingredients:
Chikki Jaggery(Sticky Jaggery) - 1/4 kg
Sesame seeds - 1/4 kg
Groundnuts(polished) - 2 tbsps/taste
Dalia - 2 tbsps/taste

1. Roast the sesame seeds in a heated pan. No oil required. As soon as they start spluttering or popping up, remove in another dish.
2. Next roast the groundnuts and dalia separately and remove them from the gas and keep along with the sesame.
3. In another vessel/pan, take 2 tbsps of water and heat the jaggery in it. I didnt know which is the chikki jaggery here so I used the regular jaggery which I had(looked like a small mount). Heat this jaggery, till the time it melts. To test if its done, take a drop of the hot jaggery and put it in a glass of water. If it hardens immediately, that means the jaggery is done, else continue heating it. If you like harder tila undos, dont add water while melting the jaggery.
4. Once jaggery is ready, turn off the gas, and add the other roasted ingredients well.
5.Grease your hands with ghee and start making small round tila undo. After some time, if the mixture starts getting harder, heat the mixture again with little ghee for 2-3 minutes and prepare undos.
Yummy Tila Undos are ready to savour!!!

Recipe for authentic konkani Pathrado

We have prepared Pathrado numerous times before and everytime it tasted good, but this time it was excellent:) Probably the trick was changing one of the ingredients. Here's our recipe for authentic Konkani pathrado.

Ingredients:
1. A bunch of fresh Taro leaves (typically 10-12 for 2 rolls)
2. 3/4 cup whole moong
3. 1/4 cup sona masoori rice
4. 20-25 roasted red chillies (Bedgi)
5. 2.5 cups fresh/frozen grated coconut
6. 1 tsp tamarind concentrate
7. 1/2 tsp asafoetida powder (hing)
8. Salt to taste.

Method:
1. Soak the whole moong and rice together in water for around 4-5 hours.
2. Clean the taro leaves slowly and carefully in cold water, taking care to see that they do not get torn. Chop off the stalks.
3. Grind the whole moong, rice, roasted red chillies, fresh grated coconut, tamarind concentrate and asafoetida powder into a coarse paste. Add salt to taste.
4. Once the paste is ready, assemble the taro leaves in order of their size from biggest to smallest.
5. Take the biggest leaf first and apply the paste on the reverse side of the leaf.
6. Now take the second biggest leaf, keep it on top of the first leaf (top down bottom up) and apply paste on the reverse side.
7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 for around 6-7 leaves, each time keeping the smaller leaf on top of the existing pile and applying the paste on the reverse side.
8. Once you have finished applying the paste on all the leaves, fold the sides of the pile of leaves and start rolling it.
9. Once you've made a roll, repeat the same procedure for the remaining leaves and make another roll.
10. Now prepare a utensil for steaming the 2 rolls.Steam the rolls on medium setting for around 20-25 minutes.
11. After 20-25 minutes, turn off the gas and check if the pathrado is done, by inserting a knife through the rolls. If the knife comes out fairly clean, the pathrado is fully done.
12. Serve hot with rice and dalithoy!

The pathrado tastes even better next day if slightly roasted:)


Monday, January 21, 2008

General Motors Diet : lose 7+ pounds in a week without starving

An Aryans' teammate of mine just went through this diet program losing 7 pounds in a week which has inpired me to take it up (I do not know when) ..... read on .... if it does not involve spending money to lose weight, it certainly is worth a try for me ;)

General Motors: Weight Loss Diet Program

The following diet and health program was developed for employees and dependents of General Motors, Inc. and is intended for their exclusive use. This program was developed in conjunction with a grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. It was field tested at the Johns Hopkins Research Centre and was approved for distribution by the Board of Directors, General Motors Corp. at a general meeting on August 15, 1985. General Motors Corp. wholly endorses this program and is making it available to all employees and families. This program will be available at all General Motors Food Service Facilities. It is management's intention to facilitate a wellness and fitness program for everyone.

This program is designed for a target weight loss of 10-17 lbs per week. It will also improve your attitudes and emotions because of its cleansing systematic effects.

The effectiveness of this seven day plan is that the food eaten burn more calories than they give to the body in caloric value.

This plan can be used as often as you like without any fear of complications. It is designed to flush your system of impurities and give you a feeling of well being. After seven days you will begin to feel lighter because you will be lighter by at least 10 lbs. You will have an abundance of energy and an improved disposition.

During the first seven days you must abstain from all alcohol

You must drink 10 glasses of water each day

Day One : All fruits except bananas. Your first day will consist of all the fruits you want. It is strongly suggested that you consume lots of melons the first day. Especially watermelon and a loupe. If you limit your fruit consumption to melons, your chances of losing three lbs. on first day are very good.

Day Two : All vegetables. You are encouraged to eat until you are stuffed with all the raw or cooked vegetables of your choice. There is no limit on the amount or type. For your complex carbohydrate, you will start day two with a large baked potato for breakfast. You may top the potato with one pat of butter.

Day Three : A mixture of fruits and vegetables of your choice. Any amount, any quantity. No bananas yet. No potatoes today.

Day Four : Bananas and milk. Today you will eat as many as eight bananas and drink three glasses of milk. This will be combined with the special soup which may be eaten in limited quantities.

Day Five : Today is feast day. You will eat sprouts (for protein ... non vegetarians can substitute it with chicken/lamb - 2 x 10 oz portions) and tomatoes. Combine this with six whole tomatoes. On day five you must increase your water intake by one quart. This is to cleanse your system of the uric acid you will be producing.

Day Six : Sprouts/Chicken/Lamb and vegetables. Today you may eat an unlimited amount of
Sprouts/Chicken/Lamb and vegetables. Eat to your hearts content.

Day Seven : Today your food intake will consist of brown rice, fruit juices and all the vegetables you care to consume.

Tomorrow morning you will be 10-17 lbs. lighter than one week ago. If you desire further weight loss, repeat the program again. You may repeat this program as often as you like, however, it is suggested that you are allowed two glasses of white wine in addition to the instructions on the program. You may substitute champagne for white wine. Under no circumstances are you to drink any other alcoholic beverages with the exception of beer which is allowed. Any liquor (bourbon,vodka, rum) is forbidden. Cream drinks are especially forbidden. You may have an occasional cordial such as creme de menthe or schnapps, but you must always limit yourself to two drinks. If you wine, drink only wine that day. If you have beer, drink only beer that day, etc. Alcohol adds empty calories to your diet. However, after the first week it will help your digestion and settle your stomach

G.M.'S Wonder Soup
The following soup is intended as a supplement to your diet. It can be eaten any time of the day in virtually unlimited quantities. You are encouraged to consume large quantities of this soup.

28 oz, Water, 6 Large Onions, 2 Green Peppers, Whole Tomatoes (fresh or canned), 1 Head Cabbage, 1 Bunch Celery, 4 Envelopes Lipton Onion Soup Mix, Herbs and Flavouring as desired.

Additional Comments

Vegetables as may be taken in the form of a salad if desired. No dressing except malt, white or wine vinegar, squeezed lemon, garlic, herbs. No more than one tea spoon of oil.

You have been given a recipe for the WONDER SOUP which can be eaten in unlimited quantities. This soup is a supplement while you are on the program and it should be a pleasure to eat. Not everyone likes cabbage, green peppers, calory etc. This recipe is not inflexible. You may substitute vegetables according to your taste. You may add any vegetables you like: asparagus, peas, corn, turnips, green beans, cauliflower, etc. Try to stay away from beans (lima, pinto, kidney, etc.), however, because they tend to be high in calories even though they are very good for you.

Beverages you may consume while on the program :

Water (flavoured with lemon/lime if desired).
Club Soda is OK.
Black Coffee. No cream or cream substitute. No sugar or sweetness.
Black Tea = Herb or Leaf.
Absolutely nothing else except the fruit juices which are part of day seven. No fruit juices before day seven.
How and Why It Works

Day One you are preparing your system for the upcoming programme. Your only source of nutrition is fresh or canned fruits. Fruits are nature's perfect food. They provide everything you could possibly want to sustain life except total balance and variety.

Day Two starts with a fix of complex carbo-hydrates coupled with an oil dose. This is taken in the morning for energy and balance. The rest of day two consists of vegetables which are virtually calorie free and provide essential nutrients and fibre.

Day Three eliminates the potato because you get your carbohydrates from the fruits. You system is now prepared to start burning excess pounds. You will still have cravings which should start to diminish by day four.

Day Four, bananas, milk and soup sound the strangest and least desirable. You're in for a surprise. You probably will not eat all the bananas allowed. But they are there for the potassium you have lost and the sodium you may have missed the past three days. You will notice a definite loss of desire for sweets. You will be surprised how easy this day will go.

Day Five, Beef and tomatoes. The beef is for iron and proteins, the tomatoes are for digestion and fibre. Lots and lots of water purifies your system. You should notice colourless urine today. Your allowance calls for the equivalent of five "quarter ponders". Do not feel you have to eat all this beef. You must eat the six tomatoes.

Day Six is similar to day five, Iron and proteins from beef, Vitamins and fibre from vegetables. By now your system is in a total weight loss inclination. There should be a noticeable difference in the way you look today, compared to day one.

Day Seven finished off the program like a good cigar used to finish off Victorian meals, except much healthier. You have your system under control and it should thank you for the flushing and cleaning you just gave it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Time for spring cleaning!

Its that time of the year again...time to spring clean the house! Doesn't sound too enticing, does it? But it is definitely better to get it done before the first month of the new year ends, lest you end up with lots of unnecessary stuff piled up in the house pretty soon!

Here's some tips on how to go about it -

  • Paperwork/Files -
    Sort all paperwork from last year - old letters, bills, store receipts et al. Decide which ones are to be filed away and which ones are to be shredded. Ideally, store only the bank/credit card statements, health/home/auto insurance papers and all major purchase receipts.
  • Newspapers/Magazines et al -
    Throw away old newspapers, magazines, expired coupons, flyers and advertisements.
  • Kitchen/Pantry -
    Dispose off expired and unused food stuff, condiments and seasonings. Get rid of worn out pots and pans(especially the non-stick ones if they are no longer 'non-stick' !) Trash the old plastic bottles and containers or better still recycle them at a recycling center.
  • Closet -
    Scan your closets for old and unused stuff. Do away with worn out undergarments, donate old faded clothes and dispose old footwear which you no longer use either because its out of fashion or because you've stopped liking it for some reason:).
  • Medicine Box -
    Sort your medicine/first-aid box by discarding the expired OTC and Rx medications.
  • Bathroom -
    Throw away empty bottles of body washes, shampoos perfumes and lotions. Dispose off any expired cosmetics and toiletries. Replace hand/face/bath towels if you have to. Also, its time to change the worn out rugs on the bathroom floor!
  • General household stuff -
    Look around for any useless stuff in the house. If something is simply taking up space without serving any purpose, get rid of it by either trashing it or putting it up for sale.
  • Coins -
    If you have accumulated a lot of coins and don't particularly use them for public transport or someplace else, get the coins exchanged for cash(this will however take off a small percentage of the amount) or for gift cards of popular stores for the equivalent amount of money. This can be done at the CoinStar machines which are installed in most/all Lucky(formerly Albertson's) stores in the bay area.

Rule of the thumb : If there's anything that hasn't been used in a year or two, you are far from using it in the future as well. So you are better off without it! However, use your own discretion when disposing off something that came with a big price tag:)

Remember, living in a clean and uncluttered space helps draw positive energy into your home and into you life. So let's flag off the new year with a clean and fresh beginning!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Food Alert - Filthy, pesticide & Salmonella contaminated groceries from India.

You'll be surprised to find many food items that we regularly buy from Indian grocery in the FDA's list of Import Refusal Report and Detention Without Physical Examination List. Check out the list before you go shopping next time.

The contamination ranges from being filthy and unfit for consumption to banned ingredients, pesticides, salmonella etc.

What is in the list? .... everything you can think of from unbranded spices, rice, sweets, sauce many of which are from the likes of Britannia,
Haldiram, Priya, Kohinoor etc.

Refusal Actions by FDA as Recorded in OASIS for India:
Introduction - www.fda.gov/ora/oasis/ora_oasis_ref_intro.html
Dec 2007 - www.fda.gov/ora/oasis/12/ora_oasis_c_in.html
Monthly updates by country - www.fda.gov/ora/oasis/ora_oasis_ref.html

Detention Without Physical Examination of Processed Products For Pesticides:
www.fda.gov/ora/fiars/ora_import_ia9908.html

What is DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION?
In some instances a product may be detained as soon as it is offered for entry into the United States. This procedure is the administrative act of detaining a product without physical examination and is based on past history and/or other information indicating the product may be violative. A product may be subject to a detention without physical examination (DWPE) recommendation until the shipper or importer proves that the product meets FDA guidelines or standards.
Occasionally, FDA identifies products from an entire country or geographic region for DWPE when the violative conditions appear to be geographically widespread. Detention recommendations of this breadth are rare and are initiated only after other avenues for resolving the problem have been exhausted. (See FDA Regulatory Procedures Manual (RPM), Chapter 9-25-00 for details on Detention Without Physical Examination - formerly known as Automatic Detention).

What is IMPORT REFUSAL REPORT (IRR)?
The IRR reports on those products for which the that determination was to refuse admission to the product. The IRR is generated from data collected by FDA's Operational and Administrative System for Import Support (OASIS) and is updated monthly. Each month, the IRR is available sorted by country and by product based on the industry code which is the first two characters of FDA's product code (e.g., all fishery/seafood products will be coded 16...).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Where to find good CD rates.

With numerous interest rate cuts by the fed in the last couple of months, its hard to find good returns on CDs (Certificate Of Deposits) offered by Banks. Finding 6% APY returns on CDs was easy until recently; but not anymore. These days its hard to find any CDs that offers anything close to 5% APY.

While CD rates offered by banks may be disappointing, the next best option would be to go with CD's offered by local Credit Unions. Credit Unions, often, offer much higher interest rates than Banks. While your money in most FDIC insured banks is safe upto $100,000 per individual, the money at Credit Union is also safe as long as the Credit Union is insured by NCUA. This is a US Government Agency which, just like FDIC, insures deposits upto $100,000 per individual. So as long as your Bank or Credit Union is insured by FDIC or NCUA your deposits are well protected.

Fortunately for us, in the bay area, we have tons of Credit Unions around here which are NCUA insured. Most recently Patelco moved from being privately insured over to NCUA. Patelco is historically known to offer very high interest rates. So watch out Patelco, if you are in the market for CDs. Their 5.45%, 9 month CD just closed last Saturday. I am glad that I made it to Patelco, just a couple of hours before the offer closed on Saturday. Also keep a watch on offers by San Mateo CU and Tech CU.

One other advantage of going with CUs is that they don't compel you to open or maintain a Checking or Savings a/c with them. Even if they do, they generally have a very low minimum balance requirement from 1$ to 50$. In some cases they would fund those accounts with their money.

One might ask, will it not hurt my credit score if I open CD accounts with many Credit Unions? Well, it seems for CDs, most CUs only do a soft enquiry against your credit history. This is done using, what is called, Chex System. So the enquiry never appears or impacts your credit report or score. (For that matter, some smaller Banks too have now stopped performing hard enquiries for new CD accounts).

ING Direct which was once well known for its high CD rates has sharply cut down its CD rates. Same is the case with CitiBank. World Savings bank, which was one other front runner in CD rates, has been bought by Wachovia and as expected those CD rates are now .... history. Countrywide and Indymac Bank still seem to offer CDs with 5+% APY. You probably know why. Certain brokerage houses like ETrade and Ameritrade also are known for decent CD rates. However beware that some brokered CDs may not be fully insured. Read any fine prints and enquire before you go for a brokered CD. Well, that's about CDs. Will be back with more financial write-ups soon.