Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lend your Support!

My friend Jamie Moniz is running the marathon to support her father-in-law, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (cancer of the plasma cell) this year. She and her husband Brian have been wonderful friends, joining Bren out at Burning Man, helping to build the impossible dome we'll be enjoying this summer, generally being supportive of our every endeavour. Brian began the marathon training first, and rather than let her man fight the battle on his own, Jamie bravely decided to join him, despite the intimidation that a lifetime of NOT running and a severe knee injury (requiring screws and all kinds of icky things) brings.

Jamie needs to raise $4200 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by TOMORROW (Friday 1st August). She still has about $2000 to go. If you can, please donate as much as you can, whether it's $25 or more.

Despite a nagging ankle issue that would have benched many a runner, Jamie is persevering. Read about her training so far here, and donate here.

DO IT! Random Acts of Kindness! NOW!


To Bee or Not to Bee?

Interesting article on Slate, exploring the debate within (and without) the vegan community about whether vegans should eat honey.

On the one hand, the harvesting of honey seems to cause no apparent harm to the bees. It's not like we're harvesting their eggs or their milk.

Or is it? The article points that commercial honey-harvesting subjects bees to inhumane (in-bee-mane?) circumstances: removable racks that force construction of uniform hexagonal chambers, a "queen excluder" which imprisons the queen bee in one part of the hive so she doesn't lay eggs everywhere and make a "dark comb" whatever that means... and let's not forget the constant smoke spraying which inhibits the bees' alarm system. Isn't honey the equivalent of cow's milk? Bee-milk? Aren't we stealing from bee babies?

I suppose that's the problem when you take any eating principle and follow it down to the 't'. You're left with such an absurdly restricted diet... one that would induce suicidal thoughts in my carnivorous brain.

I think we're kinda screwed no matter what -- the cruel truth about our existence is that there is a food chain and we're on top (until sharks grow legs and lungs). So all of our food comes at the expense of the organisms we're torturing to get it.

I am not a vegan. I am a proud meat-eater -- I don't like animals to suffer, but in the grand scheme of things, I believe God put cows on the earth so that we could have some delicious steak every now and then. I can't even imagine the kind of delicious steak God has cooking in His kitchen. Oh man!!!

But I believe that God did want us to treat animals with respect. After all, He made them! I try not to eat a lot of it, and when I do buy it, I try to buy only organic, grass-fed, shiatsu-massaged stuff, because thank Goodness, I am able to afford the stuff. And now, after reading this article, I am inspired by Michael Pollan's mantra: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

So I am going to try my hand at eating meat in fewer than half of my meals.

What do you do? How much meat do you eat? Do you think that eating honey is ok? Do you want to try this experiment with me?


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chapatis Part 2

At least, this is what I have figured out. In addition to the ingredients, you'll need the following hardware:

1) A rolling pin. I use the Indian kind, which you can find at Indian shops. It's made from one piece of wood, no revolving bits, and it's much narrower than the French/Western kind. It's very delicate at the ends, and thicker in the middle. You can try using the Western kind but you may have a little trouble making the chapati spin (see below).

2) A tavaa. Mum has an excellent one which you can see in the photo in the previous post -- her's is flat, no edges for easy access to the chapati. I don't have one and rather than get yet another pan (Bren would kill me) I use my cast iron skillet which works fine. Just don't burn yourself!

2 cups whole wheat flour (or you can buy "atta" at the Indian shoppie)
1 cup water

1) Pour flour & salt into a bowl, and slowly add water. I had a little leftover plain yoghurt in the fridge, about 2 tbsp so I added that too. Mix the water into the flour in a circular motion. If it's too sticky, add some flour. If it's too dry, sprinkle in some water. In my experience, at this point, the dough is a *little* bit sticky.

2) Roll it on the counter, and knead. I dig my knuckles into it, lengthening it out, and then fold the ends back in on each other and knead again. Usually, you only need to knead it (ha!) for about 5 minutes.

3) Put the big ol' ball o' dough back in the bowl, and cover it with clingfilm. Let it sit on the counter for about 1 hour. (If you live in a particularly dry climate, I would probably lightly drape a damp cloth over it so that it doesn't dry out).

4) Once the hour has passed, knead the dough a little again just to see how it feels. It should feel pretty elastic and soft. Set your skillet over medium heat. Pour a little oil in a ramekin or tiny bowl.

5) Separate the dough into 10 to 12 balls. Keep the dough covered with the damp cloth when you're not working with it.

6) Grab a shallow bowl and put some extra flour in it. Take one of the balls of dough and toss it in there, squeezing it with the palm of your hand into a small thick disc.

7) Grab your rolling pin. Roll out the disc until it's about 4" wide. If it sticks, sprinkle a bit of flour over it. Spread the tiniest bit of oil along the bottom edge of the circle. Fold in half, and then half again until you have a triangle.

Make sure you seal the edges shut.

8) Dip in flour again so it doesn't stick. We didn't usually flour our board; rather, we'd sprinkle flour on each side, and rub it in a bit.

9) Rolling is the trickiest part in my estimation. I should really post a video, but I'll do my best to explain. I was taught to lean a little on the right handle of the rolling pin, and let your right hand sort of move in circles over the rolling pin, whilst your left hand rolls back and forth. Can you tell that's what's happening here?!

This technique causes the chapati to spin a little so that you can roll it evenly without having to pick it up and move it. Does that make sense? Mum, any tips?

Again, make sure you're sealing the edges of the chapati as you roll; that will ensure trapped air will puff the little bugger up!

Roll it into a circle or triangle 6"-7" wide. It should be pretty thin. You can see the indentations of my hand through the dough here.

10) Flap off the extra flour so that the chapati doesn't taste dusty at the end. Flop it onto the skillet. Let it sit about 20 seconds -- you'll see it change colour a little. Flip it.

11) It should puff up a little. Dip a small spoon in your ramekin of oil, then empty whatever you've picked up back into the ramekin. Swizzle whatever oil has stuck onto the bottom of your spoon onto the chapati. Flip!

12) By now, you should hear it whistling a little, and it should puff up more. Take a clean cloth and use it to protect your fingers as you push down on the edges and any holes that have appeared through which all your precious air is escaping. The idea is that you want to plug up the holes so that the chapati puffs up even more, creating delicate layers on the inside, whilst cultivating a bit of a crispy crust on the outside.

13) Drizzle with oil in the same way on this second side. Flip once more. Repeat with the cloth technique. Your chapati should be getting spots on it -- don't let them get too dark or else it will be too crispy and will taste burnt. They should be very delicately mottled.

14) Serve! Or if you are saving them for dinner, place them in a tea-towel lined container, cover them with the towel, and cover.

15) You can eat them as is, or with some yummy Sausages a la Rose (a slightly bootleg dish Mum used to make for us as a treat, that sounds weird but is delicious! I'll post the recipe later this week). Alternatively, you can have them for breakfast with some butter and some salt, as Bren likes to eat them.

I hope you try them! Or better yet, come over and I'll make them for you.


1, 2, 3, 4... Wait a little more!

I know you're waiting with baited breath for the Chapati How-To.

I'm writing it was fast as I can! In the meantime, here's a little diversion.

It's indie pop-queen Feist on Sesame Street with a modified version of her ubiquitous "1,2,3,4". I always get her face confused with Charlotte Gainsbourg. They both have that long horse-y face, brown hair, they both speak French, they're both singers... agh!

Anyway, enjoy!



Isn't it amazing how a particular smell can do a 180 on your attitude? Even if it's just the MEMORY of a smell?

Try it right now. Take a deep breath and imagine the smell of chocolate-chip cookies baking in the oven. Drink it in for at least 5 seconds.

Now open your eyes and examine the goofy smile on your face.

Most baked goods will do that to me: cupcakes, croissants, banana bread. There's also the smell of basmati rice boiling on the stove, tea leaves infusing, or the bagaar (I don't know if I spelled that correctly, Mum!), the finishing spice touch used in a lot of South-Indian cooking: garlic, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cudipattha (curry leaves), all sizzling merrily in some hot oil.

But nothing, oh nothing compares to the smell of freshly-made chapatis (cha-PAA-thees). This thin, unleavened whole-wheat griddle bread has the power to turn my normally controlled and serious visage into a total doofus-face grin.

In my rose-tinted memory, I picture myself waking up in the wee hours, roused by the toasty smell that, in veritable Tom-and-Jerry fashion, had hooked its two fingers in my nose, levitated me out of bed and floated me downstairs into the kitchen.

Either Nanny or Mum were in there, rolling and frying the chapatis, a small heap collecting in the round stainless steel container on the counter. The flask was full of tea, the butter and the jam were laid out if you wanted to add anything to your chapatis, the call to prayer pierced the peaceful morning air... I just took the deepest sigh. :)

I used to help Nanny make them when I was young. If I remember correctly, I think I did a pretty good job, although both Mum and Nanny used to make fun of my rolling abilities (the hardest part), comparing their perfectly round or triangular bread to my Horn of Africa shaped ones.

Here's Nanny.

Someone once told that your first test as a new wife was whether your chapatis were up to the standards of your new mother-in-law. If she liked them, you were golden. If not, well, you had some butt-kissing to do.

Mine are alright, nowhere near Mum's. I decided to make some this morning from last night's leftover dough... hence the PJs.

Wanna learn how to make 'em? OK!


What's That?

A little peek at the post I'm working on. Hint: it's food-related!


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Very First


It's hard to believe, but I've been here 5 years and today's 5.4 quake was my very first! First off, don't worry, we are absolutely, completely fine. The epicenter (in Chino Hills) is about 40 miles away, so we really felt the least of it, but even so, Bren said this was a pretty strong one. Well not so much strong, as loooong.

It's hard to describe. At first, since we live right by the highway, we just thought yet another big truck was driving by the house. But when the vibrations kept going, we both went quiet and Bren's eyes widened, followed by the smallest, slightly cautious smile.


There was a very low rumble. Everything rattled on the shelves and some of our little figurines (Gorillaz!) toppled onto the floor.

It kept going after the first few seconds, so Bren beckoned me over to the pole in the middle of the room and I wrapped my arms around him in a mixture of fear and... exhilaration! I never felt in danger, so I don't feel like I'm tempting fate saying that. I did start to "consider" saying a prayer when the softer shakes persisted for a good 10 seconds after the initial rattling. But it was soon over, and that's when I made this face...

...realising that, holy crap! That was a real earthquake! It is an unnerving feeling looking out the door and seeing the horizon moving visibly from side to side. It's also unnerving given how much I take for granted that the earth beneath my feet will always be there to support me... I mean that is the wonder of savasana because it forces you to surrender and allow the earth to support you for a few minutes. It's such a comforting feeling. Today reminded me that even the earth gets restless.

Afterwards, I looked around the apartment to try to find evidence of what had happened, and this was the most I could find to show you: the hanging basket was still swinging only a few seconds after the earth rested.

Post Earthquake from aarti on Vimeo.


The Man, the Legend, the WAITS

As Kuv pointed out months ago, Tom Waits went on tour this year... a rare occurrence, and therefore one that inspires Waits addicts to great lengths to see him. Bren is one of the biggest Waits fans I know, closely followed by his brother Jed, and we have Bren's dad to thank for it, since he's the first person to introduce Bren to him. My life would be much shallower, less imaginative, less whimsical (read: boring!) without the heavy dose I've absorbed of this gentle gravelly-voiced minstrel. And, as much as this word is over-used these days, I can say with confidence, that Tom Waits is unequivocally, a genius.

Alas, there was no way we could go see him, since he (wisely) didn't play LA, and we missed the ticket sale in Phoenix. However, sweet sweet awesome NPR heard the yearning in the atmosphere, and recorded his July 5th show in Atlanta. Today, theyput it up for our listening pleasure.

Let your ears feast on the whiskey-guzzlin', poetry spinnin', bowler hat sportin', tear-jerkin' romantic old-souled monster creature whose vocal cords are surely hanging in strands at the back of his throat.




It's hard to get to a place where you can finally see the bottom of the pile of things you have to accomplish in order to feel... accomplished.

Given that neither my sweet man nor I have conventional career paths (whatever that means anymore), we've always had to juggle work life with dream life. In Bren's case, that meant taking a mindless production job (less said the better) that sucked a lot of his creative and physical energy away from his acting life. It's a testimony to Bren's strength of will though that he managed to book a commercial, perform weekly at the Hothouse and write/direct/shoot as many shorts as he did in that time. I'm sure it's something you all can understand, even if your work life IS your dream. There's always something else you'd rather be doing, whether it's hanging out with your family, or baking or making your way through the NEA's Top 100 books (yippee the Faraway Tree series: my favourite!!!).

In any case, we were floundering under a sea of to-do lists, vision boards, google calendars, filofaxes, idea-filled spiral notebooks, untouched moleskins... and still not getting closer to our dreams, until... TA-DAAAA!

Our dear friend Elena swept in and announced, "I'm getting my sh*t together."

Elena, at the suggestion of her highly-organized friend Nina, is following the strategies of Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", a book whose title used to scare me out of the store: that's a lot of pressure! But now, under the careful guidance of Elena, I am starting to see that this is exactly what I need.

Elena, our other absurdly-talented friend Karen, Bren and I meet once a week, and collectively, get our sh*t together. First, we each had to declare our different roles, and then long- and short-term goals for each of those roles... a daunting, daring exercise in itself.

Then we have to think of ways we can actively propel ourselves toward achieving those short-term goals over the next three months, and plug them into our calendars.

Bren and I even bought ourselves spiffy calendars! We put our one-week version up on the fridge. This is mine.

Bren has been very busy, and true to form, has pretty much ticked off everything on his list for Monday. I, on the other hand, am sort of behind.

However, one of my goals is to BLOG everyday. So expect to see more of me on here. I can't promise award-winning stuff on here everyday, but at least I'll be flexing my writing muscle as I begin to embrace myself as a, gulp, writer.

I'll let you know how our efficient lives go! I can't say that I'm seeing the bottom of the "accomplished" pile yet, but I have a better sense of what the pile looks like now. Thankyou Elena!


Monday, July 28, 2008

Wait! That's MINE!

Hasbro (the maker of Scrabble) is suing Scrabulous, a free online knock-off of the legendary game, and is demanding that Facebook pull it off the website.

Full disclosure: I'm biased against Big Business I suppose, as much as anyone is. I'm also biased toward the creators of Scrabulous, two brothers from India (yippee!).

And while I will give Hasbro that the brothers Agarwalla "stole" the Scrabble concept, can't they just compete with it by creating a better version? Hasbro gave videogame-maker Electronic Arts (Madden, Army of Two, The Sims) its blessing to design a free online version of Scrabble for Facebook, but that version reportedly hasn't garnered the number of users Hasbro anticipated. Rather than encourage users to migrate to the official version, I think Hasbro has probably put off potential users: Scrabulous has about 500,000 daily users whilst Scrabble has a piddly 8,000. There's even a group on Facebook advocating a mass boycott of all Hasbro products!

Ironically, Hasbro was also started by a pair of brothers, Henry and Helal Hassenfeld, in 1923.

Anyway, here's another time-waster/brain-enhancer for you, and it's totally legit.

NPR has a series called "Sounds from the Wild". It's a collection of field recordings of some of the most sonorously scintillating animal calls. Today's focus is the Black Howler Monkey, who bellows in an other-worldy, hoarse voice first thing in the morning, to warn other Howlers that they didn't die in their sleep. Ha!

Check out calls from the Laughing Kookaburra and the Sand Goanna too!



UPDATE: Did you know that Scrabble has a phenomenal following in Senegal? It's considered a sport, an amazing achievement given Senegal's 40% literacy rate!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

And Peace to All (insert animal here)

Say what?

If only we (humans) had a trainer who could force us/teach us how to live in peace.

Waaaaiiiit a second...

"For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace..."
- 1 Corinthians 14:33


New Favourite Site

I have just spent two hours reading all the various entries on my new favourite site...and I'm not even a third of the way through. The Pioneer Woman is on my "daily grind" list of websites to hit up! Take a look. I know you'll love it!

It's written by a woman named Ree, who gave up a city-girl life once she fell in love with a real-life, honest-to-goodness cowboy: cowboy boots? Check. Weathered chaps? Check. Muscley arms from wrestling cattle? Check. Check. (Get it? Two arms? Oh, nevermind).

She writes about a seemingly idyllic life on the ranch with her husband (whom she refers to as "Marlboro Man") and her 4 gorgeous children. And what look like hundreds of heads of cattle. She's a funny writer and a great photographer. Some of the photos of her husband and her kids made me tear up.

Don't miss out on reading her account of how she and her husband got together, "From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels". Brilliant. (I'm only on part 20!)

This is one of the best things about the internet -- real people writing real stories about their lives, lives with which I would probably have no encounters otherwise. Thanks Mum for another great site suggestion!!


Friday, July 25, 2008

Dead or Alive!

(click on the strip for full-size view!)


The First Harvest

We ate our first-born yesterday!

It had a strong "tomato" flavour, which I suppose isn't saying much, but it really just tasted like a very good, very small tomato... only much, much fresher than any tomato I've ever had. I had hoped, being that it had a fancy heirloom name like "Rose Quartz," that it would taste sweeter than a regular tomato. Alas, it did not. It was pretty damn good though.

The next photo is kinda creepy, I warn you -- I was in the middle of wearing a face mask so... it kinda looks like a geisha is eating a tomato.




Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's about time!

Sarah finally wrote a gorgeous, thoughtful, brave and determinedly feminine account of the big news in her life! About time, girl!

Her story is yet another reminder of the lesson I'm learning right now: things ARE always going to go "wrong", and rather than wallow in the unfairness of it all, I have to look for the Lesson, whether that's a lesson of faith, or courage or humility or patience or or or...

And here's the hardest part of it: Unless I learn that lesson, things are not going to change for me.

It's a hard pill to swallow -- that sour one with the words "life will be hard" emblazoned on its side. I never thought it would be. Only recently has the precious bubblegum-pink bubble I had blown up around me popped.

And thank Goodness it has! The more I blew up that bubble, the more it made me miserable when things didn't work out!

It sounds simplistic I know, but the day I realised that things were never going to go according to my plan, I surrendered control over EVERYTHING to the Great Upstairs. And from that day forth, I began to breathe a little easier. People told me I was beaming out light. I felt joy and peace even in the face of crappy things, or at least I tried to. I started trying to enjoy the drive (which is handy 'cos none of us is driving anyway).

Sarah talks about having faith in God's plan for her even when it looked like the worst plan ever (going back home, living with her parents at the age of 25, with no job/college prospects and a broken heart). It's a testimony to God's quirky sense of humour on the one hand, and His kindness on the other. Even though God may tut quietly to Himself when he sees me pouting (cue dramatic "whhhhyyyyy meeeeeee?!" moment and God saying, "um, why NOT you?"), He does everything possible to make my hard landing as soft as possible. He sends in reinforcements. In Sarah's case, it was her parents, and eventually sweet sweet Jed. While God probably won't make my problems magically disappear, even though He can, He never lets me handle them on my own.

It isn't easy to do His bidding, to which Sarah will readily attest I think. But had she kicked mud in God's eye, and said, "Thanks, but no thanks Dood," I doubt she would be basking in the profound, unexpected happiness she's found today. And, to top it all off, (and this goes to His quirky sense of humour), she found all her happiness in the one place she really disliked: Home!

I'll leave you with this one little thing I found in the devotional I'm trying to read everyday (ugh, discipline):

"Any time we want to move forward, obstacles are going to get in the way. And God's Word teaches us that we should expect nothing less. H.G. Wells asked, 'What on earth would a man do with himself if something didn't stand in his way?' Why would he make such a comment? Because adversity is our friend, even though it doesn't feel that way. Each obstacle we overcome teaches us about our strengths and weaknesses. It shapes us, makes us wise and more confident. The greatest people in history were those who faced the most difficult challenges with courage, and rose to the occasion."

Lest you think I'm getting too serious, here's how I picture facing adversity!




Monday, July 21, 2008

More Origami Mastery

I know I'm biased, but seriously, Bren has an unfair amount of "funny" running through his bones. So does Ross.

There's two more on YouTube! Tell me what you think!


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tomato Update!

The fruit are coming fast and furious now. Well, fast and furious by tomato terms. Which is to say, not so fast.

But our first-born, has taken a step into adolescence, and turned RED!

This is the Rose Quartz Cherry tomato, the first one to birth a little ball of juice and seeds. There are now about 10 tomatoes on this one. Yippee!

Not to be be outdone, most of the other tomato varieties are sprouting too. I'm very excited about this one, the Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter, so called because its "creator", radiator repairman Charlie Byles, was able to pay off his mortgage in 6 years with the sales he made on its seeds! Apparently, in the '40s, customers drove up to 200 miles for 'em!! I figure that buying this tomato is my gentle suggestion to the Big Man Upstairs that one of these days, we're gonna want a house. Ahem. :)

Anyway, these are going to be HUGE tomatoes. Byles crossed four of the largest varieties of tomatoes he could find, including a beefsteak. So these are going to make for some yummy slices. Look at how decadently large the leaves are.

As you can probably tell, I LOVE taking photos of tomatoes. First of all, they don't move. So they come out crystal clear. Second, they are gorgeous vibrant shades of green (and now red!). And third, the shape of their leaves, their fruit, even those whimsical spiky bits holding the tomato, are just breathtaking. God truly is an artist.

So, I'll leave you with just a few more. Click on them to see them in full-screen splendor!


Monday, July 14, 2008


What a week!

First Alex and Sara got engaged.

Now, sweet sweet Jed and Sarah are engaged! Yippee! That means Sarah becomes my sister-in-law! Lucky me!

We are both so happy for them. Yippee yippee! Congratulations guys!


Satire or just "ire"?

Have you seen the cover of the New Yorker this week?
It's supposed to be making fun of the image Obama's been fighting since the day he decided to run for the Oval Office.
But what do you think? Is the cover successful in achieving its goal?


Friday, July 11, 2008

The Masters of Origami

Fun with a camera and iMovie.


Monday, July 7, 2008


Eli's friend Rachel found this cool thingy called wordle that makes a graphic showing the most oft-used words on the front page. Clearly this week, my mind was on two things: pork and bren.

Full-size version here.

all text and photographs on aartilla the fun © 2005-2009 Aarti Sequeira unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.