To Universe, with Love

Whats in my bag: Backpacking Edition.

Posted on July 28, 2014

Europe Packing List copy

We are travelling for 21 days starting this Wednesday. And i am super excited. After discussions back and forth on what to pack, this is my list. Having never backpacked or stayed in hostels, we did our fair share of research on what to take. Not mentioned in the photograph above: laundry detergent, towel, trash bags, journal, stationary, a tripod, a ziplock bag full of nuts for snack and some medjool dates. I will update this post to make notes on what i did right and what i did wrong.

They came home: The everyday oxfords

Posted on July 27, 2014

As a part of my Simplify resolve, i decided to come clean about any incoming ‘clutter’ in my life. I hope the fact that i have to put it out here will refrain me from purchasing too many things.

I called my sister, and asked, “Can you suggest what i can wear if i were to take only one pair of shoes to Europe, and it should serve me to climb mountain, walk in a field, visit a farm, bike around in a village, dinner dates and lots of walking around?” She replied, “They dont exist. Carry flats, sneakers and another pair.” But i immediately dismissed my big sisters advice and started hunting for the perfect pair.

‘I am travelling. I am going to see, not to be seen.’ So i will wear converse.

‘oh that blogger wore her Frye boots’. So maybe they will do for me too.

‘I need ankle boots.’ ‘I dont want to wear sports shoes.’ ‘i dont want to look like a tourist.’ (p.s: i am going to carry a backpack) ‘i need ……..’

… and lots more research later, i found the perfect pair. I still dont think i will be doing that 7 hour hike in these. But think these will carry me pretty much from dawn to dusk. I dont think they will replace heels if we are going to a fancy restaurant, but i will have to do. I am still going to see, not to be seen.

oxfords

Some interesting facts about oxfords:

1. What distinguishes an  oxford? The lacing system and the exposed ankle.

2. Legend has it that these shoes were a modification to boots, done by students at Oxford University to make the shoes popular at that time, boots with heels that were popular in the French court.

3. Are they for women? Men and women wore boots that were fastened with buttons, in the 18th century. And they moved to oxfords when they were introduced. Initially, the laces were considered feminine, but the fashion caught up with the men who initially resisted. I dont see lot of women in America wear them, but they are popular in Europe.

It came home: The perfect safari shirt

Posted on July 26, 2014

 

As a part of my Simplify resolve, i decided to come clean about any incoming ‘clutter’ in my life. I hope the fact that i have to put it out here will refrain me from purchasing too many things.

equipment green shirt (1 of 1)
My perfect summer wardrobe consists of airy, simple, clean linen shirts. And finding great linen shirts has been harder than imagined. What makes finding a good shirt so hard? The quality of the linen. Most of these shirts cost upwards of 50$ at places like J Crew. But the linen used does not match the quality it delivers. A little research into this matter claims that French, Belgian and Irish linen is great quality, owing to the climate and the production methods used. Any thing else from Europe is considered good to poor. And linen making is one process that still hasn’t become mechanized like with cotton. All these factors contribute to the astronomical prices of good linen.I have been picking chambrey over linen for its durability and cost effectiveness. After borrowing/stealing Harsha’s shirts for so long, i thought its time to spend on one of my own. This is a big ticket purchase and i hope it doesnt disappoint me. Shown below are my most loved and used shirts.

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Some interesting facts about Linen:

1. Linen is technically a vegetable. So i love my vegetables, even more when they look like clothes.

2. Its one of the oldest cultivated plants in the history. Egyptians even used it as currency, according to historians.

3. Linen is actually scratchy when newly made. With washes, it softens and even catches some shine after 2-3 years, is cared for well. On the other hand, cotton falls apart of 3-5 years of use.

4. Linen absorbs moisture 30% better, when compared to cotton.

5. Pointers to assess the quality: origin of weave, weave defects, reputation of the maker, how the material folds near the creases, …

 

Other places to find me:  Pinterest //  Instagram // Tumblr

A Essay on my Love for ‘Pho’

Posted on July 25, 2014

A few years ago, on my birthday, Harsha took me to a Vietnamese restaurant on campus, Kai Hanon (literally means Festival Opening). We have been going there for a few years but for one dish: Deep fried lemongrass chicken. But one glance around the place, you will find everyones dishes really interesting. And a major chunk of the Asians out there slurping on a certain noodle soup. Noodles in a soup? Never saw anything like that before. I even ridiculed it in my head. But this birthday, i wanted to try something new. And there was nothing else i knew on the menu.  When the owner comes down to our table, to take our order, i pointed at the next table and asked for that dish with noodles and soup. He gave me a curious look and asked ‘beef okay?’. ‘Yes’. Harsha looks at me doubtfully and suggested i order a backup. When it finally arrived, first slurp, ‘Harsha, its like bone soup, but more fatty. Must be the beef’. Second slurp, ‘i don’t know. Can i eat your food?’. But eventually, it grew on me and i couldn’t stop taking bites of the steak and slurping my soup. The sriracha made my Indian taste buds happy, but the original flavor was so well balanced that i decided to lay off it. Harsha watched in disbelief that i ate my whole bowl and ignored the precious lemongrass chicken. And so it started. A love affair with Pho.

Whenever i can get a take out, it is almost always Pho. The salty soup, the steak, the rice noodles cooked to perfection, the toppings, …. i adore it all.  As a home cook, a quick estimation of cost looking at the ingredients makes my paying 10$ for a bowl of pho not so smart. Been wanting to make it myself but been put it off thinking its not worth buying additional spices for one experiment.


When i started looking for a theme for this blog, i picked ‘Duet Theme‘. I wanted to see what it looks like and started searching for blogs using this theme. That is when i stumbled upon ‘The Squeaky Robot‘. I adore her blog and everything about her. And she has a post dedicated to Pho. It was a ‘i found someone special’ moment i very rarely find with bloggers. I dedicated a good chunk of my weekend and read it cover to cover. Back to the story, she made pho. She is a world traveller and wanderer. And i have a well stocked kitchen. If she can do it,  i should be able to do it.


With the impending trip to fetch groceries round the corner, I suggested the asian market. Harsha is happy i did say ‘whole (paycheque) foods’ or some farmers market miles away. We pick up our usual stuff and then i tell him to stay back since he may not be able to handle the meat section. Tell a man he cant handle it, and vola, he accompanies you where ever you want him to go. Soon, he is making faces that read ‘disgusting’ , ‘can we go now’, ‘what on earth do you want from here?’, ‘i dont want to eat it’, …. Well Harsha, the prophecy of “i want to learn how to cook every part of every animal” is coming true. Four years of marriage and now you get to see the true colors.

The meat section in Mekong is like going to another country. People from many many nationalities come out here. You will see men hunched over crabs poking the crabs belly to test the fleshiness. And all sorts of sea animals swimming in tiny glass box cages ready to be sold. You can learn the anatomy of these animal by hovering around. And have a casual conversation with the butcher about change in the quality of lobsters due to global warming. I had three parts written down in my grocery list : oxtail, knuckle bone, steak. I stood next to the oxtails and stare, unable to decide how much or how many i want. The butcher comes by and yells, “how much?”. “One”, i reply. “One tail”. “Full tail?”, he askes pointing to a tail hanging at the back of the butcher shop. “One pound”, i say, since it feels like the smarter thing to say at the moment. He smiles. “What are you making?”, he askes. “Pho”. “Cheaper bones are over there”, he says. We have a little chat in broken english. Finally, i warm up to the surroundings. And the place no longer intimidates me. Occasionally, I check on Harsha to see if he is still around. I pick up a few more ‘bits and bobs’, literally. I am all set to cook.


Some real good explanation on how to make pho can be found at: Meat Loves Salt (They are a vietnamese and it is a family recipe. They elaborate on the variations one could make and the results hence forth) & Steamy Kitchen ( I trust her recipes. And kudos to her for following up with the comments and making variations to her recipe and giving detailed explanations. All the signs of a recipe maker to be trusted.)

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Some interesting facts about Pho:

0. Its a street side breakfast item in Vietnam. These vendors open their ‘stores’ at 7am and its not uncommon to sell out by 11am.

1. Vietnamese judge the Pho by the flavor of the broth. When locals discuss good pho places, they only talk about the broth. Rest of the add ons like noodles, meat, mint, sprouts, etc are fresh ingredients that are available at all the places and hence are not the distinguishing factors.

2. Pho is referred to as ‘labor of love’ since the broth requires extremely long time to simmer. And Pho refers to the noodle and not soup.

3. If you are eaten Pho is a traditional setting or in the US, there is a good chance it is laden with MSG. I know its the ‘no no’ ingredient, but street food vendors and restauranteurs who are not chefs use it as a short cut to make tastier broth.

4. The legend has it that its the French influence that brought this varient to the Vietnam in the 1900s. Some experts say its derived from the French word ‘Pot au Feu’ which means ‘Pot on fire’. Also, the charring of the onion and ginger, are French techniques for making soups.

Read full history: History of Pho Noodle Soup. Give it a chance. Try everything once !

Other places to find me:  Pinterest //  Instagram // Tumblr

Food Manifesto

Posted on July 23, 2014

photo (14) Overture: I will not make up any crazy food rules that make me go paranoid thereby reducing my lifespan. I will not put myself into one of the XXXX-arian categories. I want to travel the world, explore and eat food that is offered to me. Cuisine is a big part of understanding culture/places/people you meet during travels. Drawing these lines is definitely limiting. That being said, my home cooking is almost gluten free (sourdough is welcome into my home), deep frying-free and made from scratch with natural ingredients that are not modified in laboratories.

“Get the best ingredients you can, and do very little to them” – Alice Water, Chez Panez

“Shop at the periphery of the supermarket” – Michael Pollan

“If you can eat, you can cook” – Tara Stiles

“Eat all the junk food you can, but only if you make it at home.” – Michael Pollan.

“Eat ghee and vegetables, you will glow from within” -Great-grand-mama.

Kitchen of Casterly Iron

Most of the money i make goes into my pantry, fridge and kitchen. I adore my Vitamix, spiralizer, indoor grill, juicer and cast iron cookware. They are a one time investment and have gotten me a long way. What dont i own? Processed anything that comes in a box. I love going shopping for fresh ingredients more than i love going to the mall. I do believe that the ingredients our ancestors have been eating over the years are the safest for us. They have been tried and tested over the centuries. My ancestors ate not-so-polished rice, vegetables, meat in moderation, yoghurt and lots of ghee. We are the original gluten free bunch. And my family eats lentils and a green leafy vegetable in some form every single day. There is not a single obese person in my family. This is my attempt to pass down the good food habits through the generations. My great-grand-ma is 100 years old and is going strong. I feel the need to put their wisdom down in words. Also, i am a citizen of the world who cooks a wide variety of dishes from different cuisines. I want to document my experiments along with the tried and tested recipes passed down through the generations.

My Mistakes?

Going fat free. I looked like a skeleton in no time. Going vegan and not knowing what to eat. I put on a big layer of fat on my abs at the end of two years. Eating junk food everyday and telling myself i am skinny and hence its okay. In no time, my overall health deteriorated. Being lazy and trying to skip meals. Resulted in low productivity and binge eating. I now consistently cook healthy food and eat in proportions that work for me.

I am not:

A nutritionist. A calorie counter. A carb phobic. I think everyone needs to do their own research and figure out what works for them. And learn from their surroundings. And food standards have changed dramatically in the past. And nutrition is such an evolving field. Eat like your ancestors is my motto. Tweek it to suit your needs. My ancestors are farmers. I do a fraction of physical work they did. Hence i wont eat a big bed of rice like they did. I strongly encourage everyone to tweak the recipes posted here to suit your lifestyle and make them your own.

Other places to find me: My old blog //   Pinterest //  Instagram // Tumblr

Personal Style Manifesto

Posted on July 23, 2014

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“… to look elegant by wearing something simple, how to look sexy without being naked, and how to look feminine wearing masculine-inspired outfits.” – Giorgia Tordini.

After many many mistakes and spending money on things i hated after a month of purchase, i have reached an equilibrium. How to not makes these mistakes is very well illustrated by books on personal style or all the books which claim to help you find your inner French soul or blogs like A Simple Luxurious Life. Here is my take on it all.

1. Personal Style Above All

“You have a uniform for whatever period
 you are going through in life. And you need a uniform to get your work done.
” – Charlotte Gainsbourg, writer, poet, singer, actor, style muse.

All the women who come to my mind, when i think of being well dressed, have a great personal style. I can attribute them to a certain role and i definitely don’t imagine them having a schizophrenic wardrobe that follows every whim and trend out in the market. Audrey Hepburn, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Emmanuelle Alt, Alexa Chung, Kate Moss, Olsen Twins, Jennifer Aniston, Patti Smith.. all have strong personal style. They didnt dress like a hippie one day, and like a tomboy the next. All of them have a uniform of sorts and can be associated with strong elements of personal style. Patti Smith shopped in thrift stores when she was a young starving artist. And she dressed similar throughout her life. Not that change is bad but she learnt to embrace her style and refine it over the years Versus changing at every whim/temptation/purchasing power.

2. Take lifestyle into consideration

Andrew_Ng_Coursera Shown in the image: Andrew Ng, Machine Learning Expert, professor, master mind behind Google Brain, Scientist. He is known for his uniform of blue shirt and trousers. 

I teach at a state university. Going dressed like a hippie gives out a different vibe compared to a more classic wardrobe. And for a person who spends a lot of time in a lab, wearing silk and peals may not be the most appropriate attire. And buying items that dont suit your lifestyle results in an unused closet and clutter. I have bought bohemian clothes that i quickly grew out of. They looked frumpy on me and hence were hanging in my closet untouched. It took me some time to realize i need to donate them in spite of the money spent.

3. Invest in Classics

photo (8) Classics is a very very ambiguous word. Many fashion blogs\magazines would put out things like a trench coat, nautical stripe shirt, white blouse, etc as classics. But this may differ from person to person based on their personal style. Things that i have worn out and repurchased are what i define as my classics. My classics are oxfords, ballet flats, black trousers and button ups in blues, grays, greens and black. I gotten myself to get enough of these so that i dont worry about “what to wear today”, every morning.

4. Understanding quality

Growing up, going shopping with my mother was war. Things i liked were vetoed based on ‘bad quality’ way too often, according to my younger self. Mom would quickly assess the stitch count per inch, fabric, thread count, the way the buttons were sowed in, hems, etc in the stores and refused to settle for mediocre make. I forgot all these lessons when i moved away from her roof and her supervision. I have clothes i had to get rid of after a few washes because of how bad they looked (Shame on you Free People ! ). I am making an effort to understand quality and training myself to let go amazing pieces if the quality doesn’t match the price. One of my prized possessions are my Campomaggi Brown bags. They have travelled everywhere with me, housed my heavy DSLRs, recovered from spilled liquids with grace, reluctantly held contents of those girls who keep asking me if i can carry their stuff, … has been a total workhorse and survived it all. Thats quality. Will save purchases worth the money for a future post. IMG_0288

5. No bling-bling. But accessorize.

Thanks to my mothers influence, I have stayed away from glitter/sparkle for a long time. It has been changing lately since i see how tastefully women do accessories to accent their outfits. Thanks Pinterest. Do one standout accessory well. Its an art. And these are size and age proof purchases.This is one way to make it all my own by adding unique accessories.

6. It is okay to be inspired and change a little.

Every time i travel, i do get inspired to add new pieces. Every time i visit my aunt Renu, i am tempted to start dressing like her. Visits to India make me want to go hyper colorful. Coming back to the US after a trip and wearing my overly monochromatic wardrobe feels very dull for a few days. But it always subsides after a few days. I have bought a bright pink dress inspired by Freda Kahlo. And out grew it in no time. I have gone through an all purple clothing phase. An all black phase. All blue phase. And out grew it too. These days, not so much anymore. It has made shopping easier and less time taking. When i get ‘inspired’, i pick up an accessory instead of outfits. 1496413_10152670642731549_978447772_o

7. Have a Plan

Building a wardrobe that you love shouldn’t be a by product of a credit card with no limit. Maybe one item a month that lasts the test of time and is well loved…. Or saving up for that classic bag that is well made and wears well with time…… I have done a year where all i got were workout clothes. A year where all i got were shoes. My this years plan is to acquire accessories.

8. Prepare the canvas and know your body

What ever be the style of clothing, everything looks better on a toned body and with glowing skin. And happy people are beautiful people. Eating healthy, exercise and good personal relationships are absolutely essential. If i ignore these areas, there is no real pleasure in playing dress up. While there are no set rules, we know that certain shapes dont work for certain body types. Most of us want our clothes to flatter us. And color theory has great wisdom on colors that work for different skin tones. I pick my colors better since i learnt about it and make less mistakes. After years of Free People clothing (big waste of money for the quality they sell), i have been consistant with liking clean and minimal lines for a while now. I think this works best on my current body shape and life style.

9. Care for your investments

Denim lasts longer when it doesn’t see the inside of a dryer. Silk blouses need to be air dried after wear and dry cleaned. Steaming your clothes, keeps them from looking frumpy longer. Leather needs to be cleaned and sprayed with a protectant from time to time. These are lessons i had learnt the hard way. We are busy people but its our money end of the day.

10. Organize, Organize !

photo (9) I have a pretty good size closet with a good range of classics that work for me. I have no urge to go shopping when i can see what i have. When i cant see them, i feel the urge to go and get more. True story. And clutter is very stressful. Have an organized closet makes my bedroom much more loved and appreciated. And i love having my girl friends over to talk fashion. And a messy closet is a no no. I currently have it all color coded and it looks rather beautiful. I need to keep it this way.

I intend to write some wardrobe related stories and wisdom acquired through the years. And keep track of purchases here as a part of my being accountable to my resolve to Simplify.

Other places to find me:  Pinterest //  Instagram // Tumblr

Point Reyes: Shipwreck at Inverness

Posted on July 19, 2014

 

A few years ago, I discovered this awesome blog that had a picture of this beautiful abandoned boat. I could never figure out the location of it but the words inscribed on it: Point Reyes stayed with me. We had a long weekend and all of our time to ourselves. And Harsha asked me to plan the weekend, it topped my list. After lots of instagram research, I found the exact location of this beauty:“Behind the Inverness grocery store”. As it turns out, it is true. Its such a cute tiny old town that it was not hard to find. Check out our Travel Gone posing next to the ship:

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The accent, friendliness of the people, beauty of the place were a testimony of the remoteness of the area. Was one of those places that got me thinking “will I move here for a little while if I could work from anywhere?”. It not too far off from other beautiful remote areas of California that are on our list. Close to San Francisco. Did i mention its wilderness?

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IMG_0494 Seeing it abandoned and alone was rather sad. Wish i knew the story behind its life. Maybe i can make up one and write here. Its my little blog afterall. Maybe this was one of the boats Thyrion escapes in, to avoid his head being chopped off !… …. oh wait, you don’t think Game of Thrones is real? Its absolutely brilliant. I invoke the same reasoning theists invoke for the brilliance of their religious books and how “no human could have written it, so its the truth”.

2014-07-18_0003 Photo Credits: Harsha. Finally, i get to be in a few photos. With this beautiful ship. Most of the contents of the ship are gone. A small captains wheel survives. There is not so tasteful graffiti everywhere on the inside. Cobwebs. Rusted parts. Useless parts of parts that can’t be salvaged. Rickety wooden boards. And still its so beautiful and interesting.

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Other places to find me:  Pinterest //  Instagram // Tumblr

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