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.


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


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.