Monday, August 27, 2012

Of parties and guests ...........

I had promised to the comments in an earlier post, that I'd get the most awesome party planner (who happens to be my little sister) to write a guest post in this blog. Its finally here, after some major arm-twisting and serial-level emotional blackmailing. Do let us know what you think! 

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I don't blog. I am a mom. I have a 7 year old and a 7 month old. So if I foresee 5 minutes of silence, I'd sip a cup of coffee or maybe read the newspaper, or paint my nails  (sigh! The list is endless).

The only blogs I am able to follow belong to my sister and best friend. (Ok, ok.... I get browbeaten into following them too!). This post is the result of a sleep deprived promise that I made to a sister who was equally sleep deprived, on a guest post. So here goes....

My love to entertain is a result of years of gaping and gawking at some specially talented friends who took throwing parties to the next level. And then having sister who used to be a hotelier made it so much easier.

Planning an evening with a house full of guests and a mouthwatering menu be quite intimidating. Ofcourse, it usually ends up being a fun evening (for everyone else. For me, it is nothing short of a 1000 meter sprint followed by a round of kick boxing!).

Here, I have some tips which I learnt the hard way, and may be quite useful to save you quite a bit of trouble.
  • I usually start off with a TO-DO list weeks (or months, if its a surprise) before
  • I make 2 lists. One for me and and one my better half. (Yes, I am Hitler's first cousin) That way I don't nag him randomly for weeks. All I need to do is give subtle but frequent hints on 'the list'. He knows what his role is, and things get done on time. (Which means his TO-Do list would have date / time /store name and  ..maybe even directions :D )
  • The first and most important thing in the list is the When/Where/Who list. This will also tell you whether your guest list needs to be trimmed down based on space availability.
  • Once you get that figured out, start with the invitations. Personally, I prefer taking the trouble to pick up the phone and call. Though its takes up your time, it is much easier and you will most likely get an immediate response. But then if you are inviting those busy friends who spend their life in conference rooms (or the ones who are easier to get on their smart phones ..... try evite)
  • After you get a rough idea about the headcount THEN you plan the menu.
  • Make realistic decisions on how much you can manage on your own. If its a surprise for your dear ones, I would definitely consider preparing a few of his/her favourite dishes on my own. And maybe order out the rest.
  • Ofcourse, the food and drinks menu is a very important part of a party and it all depends on the occasion and who are the invitees and their preferences.
  • If drinks are being served I prefer having lots of appetizers / snacks and a simple dinner menu. End it with a heavy, sinful dessert - people remember desserts more than any other course of the meal. (More on menu planning on later a later post, when I get another threatening call from dear sis again)
  • A fizzy mocktail punch served in plastic glasses for kids keeps them away from the 'adult' drinks. This is why I love the Internet.You get all kinds of recipes and ideas for fruit punches. Add a splash of vodka and grenadine into it for the ladies and voila! you have a mini cocktail party going. (Men, it is observed, don't need too much prodding to discover and deplete the bar counter, so just make sure you have enough stock of various brands, ice, glasses and you're done)
  • So anyway, once you have decided the menu (which would include starters, drinks, dinner and dessert), start a few days ahead and take an inventory of what you have and what you need.
  • Shop for things like paper cups, plates, spoons, napkins, toothpicks, cocktail sticks etc. (anything that has a long shelf life) well ahead of time.
  • Decide on what Serving bowls and cutlery you will use and whether you have adequate numbers. (Borrow instead of buying, in case you fall short - you obviously won't be doing this madness often! )
  • Write down dates on your TO-DO list for the grocery shopping, cleaning up the house, pulling out hand towels, bed covers, cushion covers, tablecloth etc. (Rule : Don't wait for a golden jubilee to flaunt all that stuff you've been hoarding - these days there are stain removal processes that can restore beauty back into that gorgeous silk bed cover, if the kids stain it with chocolate!)
  • A day before the party, move furniture around and set it keeping in mind the seating requirements, the room for guests to roam, the bar area etc.
  • Don't forget to keep an eye on your spouse's to-do list too ..See how that's getting along. (This is about the time you can start nagging)
  • A mini snack area for the kids a little away from the adults table is a life saver. Preferably a rug thrown into a safe corner, with board games, music and loads of finger foods. If all kids are of approximately the same age, a good cartoon movie and popcorn would be a splendid idea.
  • The day before the party is also the best time to decide what each member of the family will wear. (Yes, you have to do that as well!)
  • On the day of the big bash, get rid of the kids  before you start (While I sometimes am tempted to take that literally, please don't quote me if you do so!)  I mean, for a few hours let grandparents do the spoiling or maybe a friend who wouldn't mind having them over.
  • Try to finish the cooking and cleaning at least 3 hours before the party. This gives you sometime to relax and dress up. (Just because you spent last night scrubbing the bathroom floor does not mean you ought to look that way!) This also ensures that your house won't smell like a restaurant when the guests walk in.
  • And get your kids back (yeah! I know - that's the part that makes me cringe too) and get 'em showered and dressed ..... unless you've packed their party wear along with them.
  • Don't forget to charge the camera batteries and delegate the pictures portfolio to a friend (Your spouse, in all probability, will be rushing out to complete something in the list the got missed out). Chances are you will forget all about picture in the mad rush.
  • In the very end, set up the bar, put out some of the ready snacks like peanuts, wafers, vegetable batons, papad etc. (this will buy you some time to serve the hot appetizers), light those vanilla-cinnamon candles you have been saving for that special occasion, some fresh flowers in strategic locations, and some light music (you can play the dhinka-chika later, when everyone is drunk)..
  • This would also be a good time to have that pep talk with your kids about some ground rules and how to behave when the guests arrive.
  • Once that's checked off your list, pour yourself a glass of wine / cup of coffee. Put your feet up and Smile - you my friend, are about to be showered with lavish compliments!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Vacation fit for God?

Well, it all started with this competition by Indiblogger, and seeing that I've not been to any other country (Dubai doesn't count - it's an extension of Kerala anyway!), this seemed to be the right opportunity for me to venture out. All I needed to do was win this competition on Indiblogger, which has like, oh..... maybe a thousand fantastic bloggers...... Piece of cake!!

(A word of advise to the readers : There are awesome links all through the post, which helped me in my research. Do visit these links - they are really helpful if anyone is planning a trip to Melbourne)

God and I sometimes have conversations when the rest of the world is snoring into oblivion. God, incidentally, is my mentor in cynicism and irony.

(Yeah!Yeah! I know You're Omnipotent and all that - But lets tell these good people how You and I reached that deal, shall we? Just so that they don't waste their time competing for the prize!)

So anyway, I reminded God how good I've been lately, and how badly I needed God to make exceptions to 'thou shalt not be greedy'! I did a lot of research at the official Melbourne website, and the resultant conversation went something like this:

Me : God, now that we've known each other for over three decades, don't You think it's time I got my friendship day present?

God : You've been spending too much time at Archie's gift shops haven't you? Anyway, what is it that you wish for?

Me : I want to go to Melbourne....... No, actually, I want to win this competition..... No, actually, I want to visit all these lovely places in Melbourne, after winning the competition that will take me there.

(There! that should take care of the 'watch what you wish for - it just might come true' fallacy)

God (trying to keep a straight face) : Win? The way you write? That really is pushing it too far, my child. Anyway, why Melbourne?

Me (gushing for required effect) : You know how much I love adventure, right, God?

God (with a patient look in Those benevolent eyes) : Yes, my child, I know. I am still trying to forget every high pitched "Oh Gaaaaaawd - saaaaave me!" each time you landed into one of those 'adventures'. It sure didn't look like you were enjoying yourself back then!

Me : Err.........Ofcourse I was enjoying it! That's how you're supposed to yell when you fall a few feet from a roller coaster! Any way, back to Melbourne. Did You know there's loads of adventure to do there? There's Sky diving.... and car racing .....

God :  I would have thought you'd done enough car racing on Delhi roads - I don't think I can handle more swear words than that!

Me (pretending to ignore the divine voice) : .... and even battle tank riding!! Can you beat that?

God : My child, surely, with all the lovely food I put on your table, even your walk to the car must seem like battle tank riding to you.... (I told you God was my mentor!)

Me : Not fair - I am on a diet, you know! Anyway, speaking of which - there are awesome celebrity chef restaurants in Melbourne - the kinds that serves Masterchef Australia kinda food! And all kinds of international cuisine too (I've always wondered how Vietnamese food tastes, or Spanish for that matter!!) - not to mention pubs!

God : (suppressing a laugh) Yes, child. I have seen you drooling all over the carpet watching Masterchef Australia, and I am aware of the nocturnal effect pubs have on you!

Me : Err..... no, God - I didn't exactly mean I'd spend all my time eating and drinking. And its such a safe place for nightlife too - You of all, know how important that is for a woman these days! Wait - there's so much more!!  Can you imagine floating past the beautiful Melbourne city in a hot air balloon? Hundreds of feet above..... sigh!! And a glass of Australian wine, and a guy proposing to you with a solitaire ring...... sigh!!!

God : Ahem! This is still about Melbourne, is it not? If this is another request for the right guy, let me tell you this conversation is over.

Me: Err..... ofcourse God -  Melbourne is sports crazed, right? And so am I!

God (with one divine Eyebrow raised quizzically) : Which sport, if I may ask, do you play? For I seem to only see you having a go at the X-box in your routine of tardiness!

Me : Whoa! Who said anything about playing?  I watch cricket, and football (or footy, as they would call it in Melbourne) and the stadiums are to die for!! Definitely beats having to watch a match on TV! Also, there are these awesome speed boats, on which I'd like to whizz past the Port Phillip Bay.

God : Hmmm....Port Phillip seems a nice place - actually the kind of place I would head to, if I didn't have to listen to people like you all the time!

Me (seeing a ray of hope) : Yes, absolutely God! It has over 1,950 square kilometres, and is quite comparable to Your abode. I mean, there's fishing, sailing, speed boats, kayaking and snorkeling. And for a change, all of it is clean, with a self-sustaining eco system.  You know how much I admire Your creativity, God. And there is so much beauty in all that marine life in Port Phillip ..... You really are a genius you know!! ...... err......So how about that competition? Am I winning it?

God : Not so fast, you sweet talker! What else are you planning to do there?

Me : I would also love to see the penguins at Phillip Island, which is just 2 hours away from Melbourne (I promise I won't smuggle any back home!).  Or even better..... maybe a moonlit walk through the bountiful natural beauty of a wildlife sanctuary You have so lovingly created in Melbourne.........

God (Smiling with such deep knowledge): So you really thought I'm going to push a few buttons and make you win this competition? You really thought it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW, didn't you?

Well, tough luck, my child........ You see, I am due for a vacation, and I'll let you know all about it when I'm back from Melbourne......... we'll have a little chat - Woman to woman! Be good till then!

Friday, August 17, 2012

An angry post..........

When I talk to my colleagues from work, I often tell them that I probably am the worst customer in the world - my patience wears out much faster!

An account of one such incident in my post from my blog 'Hospitality Showtime'.

Do let me know what you would have done!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Love and Marriage - Chicken and egg ?

Good ol' Wiki  defines Marriage as "a social union or legal contract between people called spouses that creates kinship. It is usually an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged. Such a union is often formalized via a wedding ceremony

And  the Oxford Dictionary defines it as "the formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife"
Where on earth have all the romantic dictionary writers of the world vanished off to? I vote we get in the Mills and Boons writers to fill out a few entries in the dictionary as well!

Anyway, what neither definition fails to capture is the enigma, the heartburn, the apprehensions and the debates that have been sparked off by the strongest institution outside of blood relations.

Picture this: A and B, reared in completely different households, with different set of rules and different set of ideologies, unite one fine day and are are expected to merge without conflicts. Well, that's what the definition urges us to believe. This couldn't be further away from the truth! And to complicate everyone's already exhausted brain cells further, we now dissect marriages to determine if love comes after marriage or if marriage comes after love. Lets look at a few widespread notions about both, considering you guys are already this far out into reading all the crap I write :-).
Some of these theories are part of the "Love marriage ya Arranged Marriage" promos on Sony. See the facebook page here.
Hypothesis 1 : Love marriages are lesser of a surprise for the couples since you know each other.

Picture this: girl and guy in love go through the whole day thinking of ways to sneak out of whatever it is they are doing, to go see the other. Single minded concentration on ONLY the other person. Consequently, each one is their spruced up, well - groomed, manicured-pedicured best. Thus they meet, a couple of hours each day, or maybe once in a few days, or even better, once in a few weeks, pining for each other. Enter Karan Johar, Rajshree Productions and Mills and Boons, converting the whole world into a surreal one. A world that overlooks any flaws of 'The One'........ till you are married, that is.
And then marriage happens - the big, fat Indian kinds. After the honeymoon, life starts nudging you into reality. There are chores to be done, bills to be paid, deadlines to be met, and various commitments to various people to be kept. Result? We take the one person we thought we knew so well, for granted - the spouse! (here, we start forgetting that the spouse was 'The One') - Surprise, surprise! 

Wait, all you "That's-why-arranged-marriages-are-for-me" guys and girls, we aren't finished yet.

Hypothesis 2 : Arranged marriages last longer than love marriages.
Ofcourse they do! The whole big-fat-Indian-extended-family, and their neighbours will focus their entire course of life on your marriage in order to make the 'arranged' institution work...... after all, that's what 'culture' is all about! Another reason why arranged marriages seem to have longer endurance is because of expectation setting, and novelty value.

Let me explain : You finally decide, after multiple reruns of FRIENDS, Pretty Woman and Hum Apke Hain Kaun, that you will eventually give up the luxury of living alone. From that moment on, every breathing member of your family (sometimes even dear departed ones may appear in dreams) start 'preparing' you for the inevitable. From learning to cook (because Ma-in-law likes her pakoras fried in olive oil, and the future husband having developed a taste for sushi), to losing like a million pounds to get into that ooh so sexy wedding dress, you are getting 'seasoned' into marriage. The married counterparts contribute in great detail how and what the challenges are going to be, and you are about as confident of the alliance as your are of the political situation in Afghanistan. But the good thing is that the journey is usually uphill for a few years till you discover each other. And soon kids have already made their way into your lives, and you decide to stick it out. Result - longer life expectancy (of the marriages only - we won't get into details of the people stuck in it), or at least it seems like it lasts for ever!

Cynical, skeptical me is not done yet!!

Hypothesis 3 : More love marriages end in divorce than arranged
Ha! That's because worldwide, more marriages (that have the choice of divorce) are love marriages. I mean, love marriages are usually a match between equals. Women are usually empowered in the societies which have rampant love marriage syndrome. As against rural Indian, African or East Asian communities where empowerment is a word they haven't heard. Can you imagine a divorce as a choice in those societies? Yay for that!
The all-important question at the end of this mind numbing post : Where is she headed with all the arguments?

The truth is, it really doesn't matter whether marriage follows love or love follows marriage. In one case, you trust decisions made by others, add in your own risk assessments and commit to a lifetime of companionship with a person you perceive perfect to love. In the other case, you meet someone, let your heart make a decision based on a few hours each day, a few long phone conversations and chat messages, and you do everything you can to spend the rest of your life with the person you love.

In both cases, life throws mundane existence into your lap, and you look away from the beautiful painting you had painted. Then you notice cracks, which you had missed out due to the 100 piece orchestra that was playing in your head all this while. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So, Cynical smartass (I hear you say) what's your point?

Marriage is not like your Mom - you can't ignore her all the while and suddenly arrive with a scraped knee and expect to be smothered with love. It needs constant attention, and TLC.

Marriage is not like a government job - you can't advance ladders just because you have spent time in the same company for years. It needs new ideas, new approaches and sometimes new skills.

Marriage is not like the advertisements of retirement schemes where you forsake the present for the future. It needs today as much as it needs tomorrow - whether you love the person you married, or you married the person you love. Ahem! You see, cynical me is actually in love with the person I am married to - go figure which came first!

This is a post written for the contest by Indiblogger and Sony TV - 'Love Marriage ya Arranged Marriage' on Indiblogger. Do let me know what your take is.

A Perfume Review

Yup! You read that right. Perfumes are something that turns me into a pile of mush (or a sneezing mess, depending on what I have just smelled).

So here goes - my first perfume review about my first perfume! The name is a surprise - you gotta visit my other blog for it (ain't I clever?)

Find the review here :  A perfume review

Please feel free to comment here, or in the other blog. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Surprising things Moms say.......

Photo rights to
When I was struggling with teenage emotions, acne and hormones, I couldn't care less if my mom spoke in Latin - I was barely listening. But as time went by, and fate granted my mom her wish of me ending up with brats that are worse than my worst avatar, I realize I am digging my memory cells looking for "How my Mom would have done it" solutions.

In the process, I remembered something she told me when my daughter was a drool-dribbling heart clincher with a killer smile. She said "Listen to your words sometimes - you'll be surprised at yourself" - this was to tell me that everything I say will be for eternity in my daughter's mind.

So for the last few days, I have been 'listening' to what I say to my kids. The result is here for all to see -

"If you ask 'Why' one more time ....................."

"No. You cannot beat up smaller kids. Or I'll beat you up - get that?"

"How many have I told you not to leave things around? Give me all your balls. Now!!"

"You threw my phone in the bucket? FFF...ish!"

"Check what the maid is doing" A little later -  "Why the FF...ish did you have to tell the maid you were checking on her?"

"I don't care what the damn password is - OPEN the door!!"

"Why are you staring at the ants? Go do something important - stare at your books!"

"Why? Because I told you so....... that's why!"

"Did you do potty today? No? Now the monster will grow inside your tummy."

"You shared your sandwich with your friends? OK, then what did they share with you?"

 Of course, I have said a million things right to my kids before, but notice that there's something eerily wrong / hysterical in each of these statements.

I guess Mom certainly was right - will have to start actually 'listening' to myself more often. Sigh!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How to throw a Surprise Party

Yes, I did it! Me, the most cynical, no-nonsense and absolutely non-fuss types, threw me ol' husband his big 40th (haven't stopped rubbing in the age since!). What's so special, you ask? Let me lay out the challenges here:
  • Am married to a hotelier, whose entire social circle comprises of hoteliers - both family and friends!
  • Been married to G for 12 years, out of which I can barely remember any significant flurry of activity for any event - birthday or anniversary! (to put that in simple words - large parties were never our thing. Kids parties we have, but the other events are much more private)
  • G is somewhat a difficult guy to get hold of - erratic work days, and hectic schedules. Not to mention my own work and travel schedules!
  • Am terrified of cooking large numbers. Let me explain : I can make a mean biryani for four. But tell me to double the quantity, and I swear I can ruin it. It is plain simple math, right? Its jinxed, I tell you!
  • Then why cook you ask? Oh! The pains of having a gourmet living in your house!! Eating out is a scary thing for me - more on that in a later post. But it would suffice to say that home cooked party food for G is the equivalent of a super excited boy opening presents for Christmas.
So I get all 'wifey' this year, and decide that for once, I would don the 'romantic' hat, and cook up a storm for not only my soon-to-be-forty (yup! rubbing it in again) husband, but also for the extended family and his good friends. Not an easy task, considering that the whole family is like the desi version of Masterchef Australia (minus the accent and the drama) when it comes to critical analysis of food! But with a deep breath and a lot of prodding from my sister who is some kind of a wizard in churning out awesome (not to mention delicious) parties, I decided to give it a shot.

The first thing ofcourse was to get the guest list right. I wanted all the closest guys in, and the ones who would ring in the party. Getting the telephome numbers out of G's blackberry was not an easy task, since he is usually with it all the time. This is where a wily nine-year-old daughter can do wonders. Got the numbers of the school time buddies (who we haven't met since our wedding). Called up everyone, invited them for a secret party, and made them swear to secrecy.

Next was the menu. Knowing the way we love to eat in Delhi, snacks are as important as the meal itself. Sometimes more than the meal - because in cocktail events, by the time we actually get to the meal, taste buds would have been sleeping away in intoxication. Snacks are also a way to ensure that the guests are in a happy, sing-along mood in time for cake - cutting.

A few quick tips for surprise parties:
  • Paper napkins and toothpicks are a better alternative to plates and forks, but leave prominent dustbins for disposal too (else you'll be fishing them out of their well hidden crevices days after the party is over)
  • Easy to assemble, but colorful snacks are a treat to the eyes and the palate. I had a 'papdi canape platter' and cheese pineapple cherry sticks.
  • The ready to fry variety offered by McCain is fantastic for the kids - the smileys ofcourse being the best one
  • Vegetable sticks (I had carrots, radish and cucumbers) and toasted pita bread triangles with dips are a superb snack option (also keeps finicky eaters happy) I had a curd and mint dip, a coriander and pomegranate chutney and some cocktail sauce (equal quantities of bottled mayo and tomato ketchup - a hit with kids)
  • Sheekh kebabs are an easy, yet satiating option for non vegetarians. Get your supply from a trusted source though. I prefer the half done variety which I then shallow fry at home.
  • Ofcourse the usual bowls of masala peanuts and potato wafers did many rounds
  • While the drinkers were pretty much at home thanks to G's bar, the non drinkers had Appy fizz (which in a champagne glass, looks exquisite) and a fruit punch in addition to the fizzy drink options. Setting the bar counter with the right number of glasses and ice is also important.
  • A good way to ensure you have enough ice cubes for the party is to start freezing ice cubes a day before. Empty out the ice cubes from the trays into a cleat plastic bag, and refreeze. Keep filling out the trays and removing the cubes into the plastic bag till you have the required quantity.
  • If your fridge is not large enough to hold bottles of cold water for all the guests (believe me, in summers, you end up needing quite a bit), have one of those picnic water coolers - the one with the tap. This keeps cold water cold, and all you need to do is to put in water and ice and you're done! Also saves the million times someone will open the fridge for water!
  • I use the microwave to heat up the food before laying it out for the guests - this ensures that the food is warm for a considerable amount of time - including refills
  • For desserts, I usually have one cold and one hot - this time it was kulfi and hot malpua.
  • I had a floor seating for the kids, separate unbreakable glasses and snack plates, and an unobtrusive corner for them, so that they stay out of trouble, and they too enjoy the party without too many 'rules'.
The result : By 3 am, G was ready to crash, after thoughtfully helping me clear up the table and put away all the perishables into the fridge. But he was grinning like a child, and clearly, it was a birthday he would remember for a long time. Happy birthday G!!