Sunday, September 30, 2012

Unsung Beauty

I wish someone told me
   All planning was futile!
   That tiny Himachal town
   In its own style
   Would engross us 
   With an Aura of its own. 

The heritage railway
   Overlooking green valleys on the way
The long walks,
The rocks,
Sprawling tea gardens
   Like Green Heavens
Adventure Sports
   Tourist Spots

Yet so simple
   And tranquil
Stay far from Mobile and Internet
Enjoy the natural gourmet
You would devour
   At Palampur!

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, (WOW) an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Krishna Key : Book Review

I had been hearing about Ashwin Sanghi's "Chanakya's Chant" ever since its launch, got my hands on it, but couldn't manage to read it, because my Dad wanted to read it first.

So, when I was selected to review Sanghi's latest book, "The Krishna Key", I was very excited. My interest was boosted when I was going through the Author's Note, wherein he has acknowledges the people behind this book. I knew someone in that list - Kunal Kundu, who has designed this cover that invokes curiosity in the minds of the reader, even before he has turned the first page.

The opening page of the story begins in italics, and tells you briefly about the lineage of Pandavas and Kauravas of Mahabharata. You turn the page, and the font straightens, and the first sentence that you read does not seem related to what you had just read. You would actually turn back to see if you have turned two pages at a time by mistake, but find that's how it has been written. And that opening line is a sixer - you cannot look anywhere else. A new story, equally interesting, starts unfolding!

This book is written in two parallel stories - one narrated by Lord Krishna himself, and the other that flows like a movie plot. Characters are defined, the mystery builds, the mythological connections are integrated smoothly and then the truth emerges. Krishna tells you the story of his life, while a tale of cold blooded murder in the name of religion and conspiracy, intelligent riddles and perseverence continues alongside.

Its an excellent book with an eye towards each detail. I liked the end - it makes you stop and take a look at yourself. The writing style is gripping (rather clinging), making it an "unputdownable" creation - so much so that I devoured it in two days! Never have I completed a 460-odd page book so fast!

A popular saying states that it's all pre-decided, and incidents that happen in our lives are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle - It seemed to come to life when I was wondering that I was lucky to have been an Architect - Town planner, with a passion for our history, ancient civilizations and more. It seemed to me that I was destined to read this book; and my piecemeal knowledge of mythology and history, experiences of places I have travelled to and read about would get drawn up from the depths of my memory, get jumbled up, and be sorted out in a pattern once again. The book will make you feel proud of India for its rich heritage.

Immense research has gone in writing this book. It is not the work of Sanghi alone, but a team of talented people who have drawn such lovely sketches (Rupesh Talaskar) and drawn so much reference from Sanskrit (Vishwajeet Sapan) shlokas (verses). Another thing you are bound to notice is that Sanghi has extremely detailed knowledge of gadgets and mobile phone models - very casually, he uses statements such as "flipped his Samsung ZX03", highlighting the unique things you can do with it. The chapter numbers are encircled in an image of a (locked) lock, signifying the mystery to be unlocked by the "Krishna Key". It would have been very interesting if the image for the last chapter had been an open lock or a key.

I would give this book a 8 out of 10, half a mark deducted for the last round of proof reading it seems to have missed. Somewhere in between the names of the leading female characters have got interchanged; except which this book is a great work.

This review is a part of the Book Review Programme at Blogadda.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Merry @ Le Meridien

"It's all about the experience" is the motto of Hotel Le Meridien. Your journey begins right at the moment you look up at the huge glass building that soars 20 floors above the ground. There are multiple entrances, and each creates a different impact on you. We were invited to Restaurant Eu de Monsoon - upon entry is a reception desk in front, a dining area on your left and a lounge on your right. The scale of the double height space draws you in; and as you glance around, you spot your destination.

It seemed like a completely different world from the hot afternoon outside. The dark brown panelling, the perfect ambient temperature of airconditioning, seemed to rejuvinate us as we sipped our cocktails and spoke to each other. Mine was fresh cucumber juice minus the vodka (so it was actually a mocktail), and it did wonders to me.

The hotel staff, irrespective of designation or stature, mingled with us cordially and invited us in the wine chamber, just preceding the dining area. There were floor-to-ceiling refrigerators with various wines from different countries kept at the correct temperature, lit so that light does not fall on the wines and a table where a guest can taste some wines before choosing the perfect one to pair with his meal. The sommelier, Sameer, was polite and answered all our queries.

Gradually we stepped towards the dining hall where a plate with three sets of forks and knives awaited us, quietly hinting at the various courses we were about to have! Some brand presentations were made, which are usually quite boring - but these were engrossing. For example, I did not know Le Meridien was owned by Starwood, whose forte was not owning the hotels, but the brands. Also, the hotel had been redone to create contemporary style of interiors, mixed with the original traditional elements. Sure enough, the ceiling above us had lights that seemed to have belonged to a Nawab's palace rather than a 5 star lounge. The edges were again adorned with modern lights. [ I can't stop blabbing about the architecture and interiors, it seems!]

Chef Dawinder Kumar, who had been with the hotel since day 1, joined us to tell us what he would be serving us. It was a sampling menu with small portions, named "Degustation". What followed afterwards was an interesting stream of dishes served in an unique way - the dishes would come pre-arranged in a plate, and once you have eaten it, a new dish in a new plate would replace it. The opening item was an Asparagus Cappuccino - weird it may sound, but was nice: hot at the top, cold at the bottom, served in an ice-cold glass cup, to be consumed in one shot. That's your appetizer. Next comes something named a Deconstructed Samosa: the constituents of a samosa served in a plate. A twin flavoured chicken tikka followed, and a prawn dipped in tangy sauce and basil leaves. The vegeterians got their equivalents in paneer and brocolli. A basa fish preparation and a chicken dish came next. Some lovely white and red wine was served alongside these dishes. Now, as we had finished the first round, we were offered a sorbet with a unique mix of lemon and ginger that cleansed our taste buds and prepared us for the upcoming Biriyani. It was baked in a bowl covered with atta, so the smell was retained till we opened it. We were quite full by then, and most of us could not do justice to the lovely preparation.
Magandeep Singh, a well known wine enthusiast, had cropped up midway between our meal, and he served us a wine called "Desert Wine", which is completely different from the usual wines we have. We were also served some award winning coffee (that's rated best among all Le Meridien hotels). A deconstructed Dosa had come, but we did not taste it, as we were too full. A sorbet came next, this time with an acidic taste of pomegranate and a hint of guava. The desert, titled "Discovery" came next which was an assortment of mango soufle, chocolate and coconut. What I must admire here is that apart from the great food, their presentation plays a key role to the experience of dining at Le Meridien.

Our enjoyment continued as we were taken to the 20th floor to take a look below, and indeed, the paving pattern of the atrium, surrounded by the red carpetted floors was an unique view. We also ventured around to catch a glimpse of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, North and South Blocks. On our way back, we were gifted a box of chocolate and a pot of wheat grass as a souvenir of this lovely afternoon.

Do be at Le Meridien whenever you can for an experience you would cherish and thank me. The experience shall continue even in the washrooms! An insider tip for you is that do not have anything lined up after this; for you would enjoy being there so much that your timelines are bound to get stretched!

This was organized by Team Blogathon.
Photocredits: Sushmita, Myself.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Experience at Miele Experience Centre

Lifestyle bloggers, foodies, and a combination of both (like myself) were invited at Miele Experience Centre by Chef at Large (Bloggers' Table), and the best part was that you could get your spouse along. It was on a Monday evening, so I went straight from office, being joined by my hubby on the way. The place was easy to find, its quite close to Jasola-Apollo Metro Station.

All stress disappeared from my mind once I entered, the ambience was so bright, yet elegant and calm. As the fellow bloggers and friends started dropping in, we were joined by Chef Saby, who incidentally hails from West Bengal too (I do, and whether I admit it or not, this connection means a lot to me). The next moment onwards, all we could do is listen to the gregarious chef, and sip our drinks, of course. I started with a chilled white wine to relax my nerves, but then moved on to non-alcoholic concoctions to avoid getting tipsy. Live music was presented by two young singers in the backdrop. 

We were taken around by a sweet girl from Miele, Rashmi who showed us various products that have been created by Miele since the times of World War II, right from old fashioned butter churners, cooling boxes, bikes to contemporary lifestyle products such as coffee machines, washing machines, dish washers, wine cellars with temperature controlled zones, well designed refrigerators, iron machines, induction cookers, conventional cooking stations and chimneys. And as we roamed around, appetizers followed us - marinated prawn (mouth watering!!), paneer, etc.

At this point, the architect in me wishes to mention that the interiors of this centre is amazing. In a surprisingly well balanced use of red, black, white and other monotones, you are bound to admire the design and the carefully selected lighting that complements it. The open kitchen is visible right from the entrance, and Miele shall welcome you to come and cook a dish yourself. ( If you employ me to do up your interiors and wish to buy really great items that beautify your household, I shall get in touch with them on your behalf)
The young chefs, who operate between Miele and Olive, smiled a lot and spoke to us enthusiastically about the food that they had prepared for us. We were soon joined by famous (and award winning) chefs such as Manpreet Gill, Devender Kapoor and more. The business heads from Miele and Four Seasons (the wine we were drinking) were also present. While some trade secrets were being discussed, the kitchen was opened up, and soon, we started to dig in the gorgeous food.

The food was essentially non vegeterian ( I think good food is usually non veg, isn't it?). Starters were unique, and mind blowing. The main course didn't appeal to me much, more so, because the starters stole the show right at the beginning. Sushmita had spoken about the Risotto, which she had tasted earlier, and it was indeed very tasty. The desert, chocolate cake and tiramsu was a perfect closing of the sumptuous meal.

We enjoyed so much that we stayed back as long as we could. We were gifted yummy cookies as a good-bye gesture, so that we could recall our experience the next morning over tea and cookies. The cookies deserve a special mention- they were fluffy and had chocolate chips as teasers, baked by Chef Astha and Mahima.

The only thing that I found a bit unfit for Indian scenario, although instances can be found at some places, is that the washroom was common for men and women - a guard had to be positioned outside to ensure that only one group was in at a time. This can easily be sorted by creating a partition.

Please check out what the others thought of the evening - Sushmita, Sangeeta, Apeksha and Nachiketa.

Photocredits: Sushmita

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Stopover - A Book to look out for

Ram Prakash and Deepa Rachel Pinto have put together a stunning book that narrates their travel experiences through photographs and fiction. So, they call it "A Photo Fiction".

I received a personal request from Deepa to read the first few pages of the book and share my impressions. Being a bookworm, I was thrilled by the introduction she had given.

This book narrates four stories, each set in settings less travelled and unknown - at least, never perceived thus. Ram, with his amazing talent for photography, has included photographs that create an everlasting impact.

The style of writing is simple, lucid and gripping. Also it presents to you how there are little details to be perceived everywhere, how history relates to the present, how pain strengthens your determination.... you will relate to the protagonists, and see the world through their eyes. The portrayal of emotions is perfect.

An excerpt from the official page of the book says it all:
"The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." And that's the voyage the authors undertook as they travelled around India. At every stopover they made and with every group of people they met, a treasure trove of experiences was unearthed, that touched and enriched their lives. To reveal to those who are unable to seek, to see, to experience and to understand, they present THE STOPOVER"

The book is due for release in October, so that's round the corner! Be sure to grab a copy for a book that proceeds through photographs and a few words! Do check out their Facebook page too.

Photocredits: Ram Prakash, although I have cropped it and watermarked it.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Wine - The Secret Ingredient

Cooking with Wine. The photo above says it all. Till 26th August, food and wine pairing meant serving wine with food. In fact, in my previous experience of wine tasting, I had learnt that wines could be paired with Indian dishes too, and that was surprising enough. I was invited to a Live Cooking session at Cheri One Qutub at Mehrauli organized by Four Seasons and Team Gingerclaps along with a few fellow bloggers, friends, photoghraphers and wine enthusiasts. What could be a better composition?
With a glass of excellent white wine, we started the event. Mr Shailendra Rahul, General Manager of Cheri introduced Mr Abhay Kewadkar, Business Head of Four Seasons and Chef Raman Kohli. It could be the wine, or the cloudy-breezy atmosphere in the lovely outdoor courtyard of the restaurant, that formalities were done away with. Mr Kewadkar urged us to forget all the showbiz, and "eat what we like and drink what we enjoy"!! 

We gathered around Chef Raman, an incredibly young guy for the experience he has, and he encouraged us to use wine in cooking. With tips coming in from Mr Abhay, we learnt how to deglaze the wine and cook a fabulous preparation of scallops.

The rains were about to play foul, so we shifted indoors, but not before we had gobbled off the scallops. The L- shaped interiors have been designed around the courtyard and looks very classy with its prim, dimly lit look and massive bar. I must say that Cheri is a beautiful place to go, relax and enjoy: the outdoors, including the terrace, is as inviting as the mystical interiors.

We tasted Red Wine with some delicious food coming in from the kitchen. The youngest contestant of Master Chef Australia, Ankita had also joined us. Already tipsy, we were chatting gleefully with each other and we almost missed Raman joining us back again.

This time, he made a chicken preparation with wine and cream - needless to say that it was wonderful.

Last but not the least, we had dessert (yummy cheese cakes) with another red variety, Rose Wine.

I leave you a teaser in the composition, which shows the scallops, empty and filled glasses!

 Next time you have the chance to have a dish prepared by me, you can guess the secret ingredient that has gone into it !!

Photocredits: Arvind Passey, Sushmita Sarkar, V J Sharma (Travellingcamera) and myself.