Monday, January 31, 2011


I was kind of hoping mosquitos wouldn't become a real problem until summer.  Not so.  Most nights one or two manage to hide somewhere in our bedroom until we turn out the light.  I then get up and turn on the light and hunt them with my electric mosquito bat.  This is not very efficient.

Last night one mosquito managed to get me twice on my back, once on my elbow, twice on my hand, and TWICE ON MY FOREHEAD.  Fortunately it looks like malaria isn't very common in urban areas, like Pune.  Dengue fever however is.   A well and truly determined mission to find a mosquito net will commence tomorrow.  I've checked several places already without luck.  I also hear geranium oil is an effective repellent.  I'll be trying that too.

Tonight we are trying some sort of chemical that plugs into an outlet.  "Insert the liquid dispenser into the electric mosquito destroyer machine."

The instructions indicate to both install it away from windows and fans with doors closed and to open doors and windows while in use.  I assume this means to plug it in for 30 or so minutes with the doors closed, then air the room when actually in use so that you don't get more cancer than you're already getting from all of the pollution here.  But neither of us is happy to be sleepy and not in the only room with furniture for 30 minutes before bed.

Sprouts! Part 2

Oops!  I didn't get a picture of it, but the methi (fenugreek) sprouts came out well.  I made the tempered spice salad thing and added some cilantro.  It was a little bitter, but tasty.  The moong dal and chowli sprouts are looking great.  We'll start eating them tomorrow.  I thought the chickpea sprouts would be the easiest, but so far only the ones on top are starting to grow.  We shall see.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sprouts! Part 1

I'm really enjoying fenugreek here.  Fresh, dried, seeds, powdered.  I never used it at home for some reason.  I came across this recipe for warm sprouted fenugreek seeds.  I may be embarking on a new obsession to join the spice collection.  Salads made with all kinds of sprouts should be delightful in summer.


It's pretty obvious when you think about it, but you can sprout almost anything.  Speaks to how removed we really are from the production of our food.  Upon realizing this, I had to resist the urge to start sprouting anything in my cabinet I thought might work; whole peanuts, mustard seeds, ajwain, cumin, fennel seeds, various lentils.

I'm starting (from left to right) with fenugreek seeds, chickpeas, red chowli, moong dal.   After soaking over night, I'll put the beans into those water bottles.  I've sawed off the tops and cut holes in the bottom for excess water to drain.  The seeds I'll do in a wet tea towel since they are so small.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dear IT Recruiter,

Could you read my resume before e-mailing me repeatedly and filling my voicemail box about projects with products I don't even work with?  If I turned down a project this morning because I live on a different continent now, don't contact me about another one in the afternoon.  It's physically impossible for my situation to have changed.  Also anything anybody has ever said about used car salesmen.

Thanks a bunch!

A whole new world of troubleshooting

Yesterday I nearly smashed my hairdryer to bits for refusing to work.  Don't worry, I restrained myself.  It was one in a long line of little tiny things that were just not going right that day.  Eventually I realized we had lost power, which is particularly common on Thursdays.  We have a battery backup system and the light in the bathroom was still working, so it wasn't obvious.

Our washer has also not been working.  The repairman came in this afternoon and maybe the 2nd thing he checked was that the water supply was on.  It wasn't.  This felt a lot like the time my garbage disposal wasn't working and the first thing the repairman did was push the reset button.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


You may recall from my Making Chapati entry that a meal must include rice or chapati.  Well, here it is in print.

Even if it comes with fries and salad, a sandwich is merely a snack.


A heck of a lot of people in India speak at least some english.  When I have to communicate with people that don't speak much english, it's usually to buy something or get somewhere.  Pointing works pretty well. 

The biggest challenge I face is being careful about how I say yes or no.  Yes and no are fine, but myriad synonyms like sure, please, uh-huh, enough, plenty, more, nods and head shakes are my automatic responses. 

Head shakes and nods are no good.  The Indian head wobble is used instead of both.  As far as I can tell the wobble mostly serves as acknowledgment (yes, no, I heard you, I'm thinking).  The intensity of the wobble is meaningful too, but it never specifically means yes or no out of context.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mystery Produce Episode 2 - Sharbat

Disclaimer:  This episode does not in fact contain any produce whatsoever.  Mystery Produce was not the most accurate choice of name, but it sounds better than Unfamiliar Foodstuffs I've Been Buying Randomly Since Arriving in India.  One of my first such purchases was Rooh Afza, an Indian Sharbat.  Boaz figured it for a rose syrup.  It also features several other ingredients. 

Indian sharbat Rooh Afza sabja basil seeds

Serendipitously, in my quest to buy all the spices D-Mart carries I picked up some sabja, or basil seeds.  Shama was here as I was putting away my purchases and asked about them.  She showed me that when soaked in water, sabja turns into little gelatinous balls.  Plans for supplies to be acquired and delicious drinks to be created upon her return Wednesday ensued.  Then I remembered the Sharbat!  So we combined both of these with milk and made a delightful little drink on the spot.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Getting things done in India

Moving to India people emphasize the great need for patience.  And of course the corruption, especially in the form of bribery, is infamous.  These things are both totally true.  Maybe because I was mentally prepared for those things, they aren't what struck me most.  What strikes me is how many people seem to be required to do anything.  Maybe it is a result of overpopulation and underemployment.  Or a stronger sense of community, things are just always done in groups?  And the inefficiency doesn't even stop there.

When we were having the house painted, Anil and another man to whom I wasn't properly introduced were both supervising the 3 or 4 men that were actually doing all the work.  It took them nearly a week to paint two bedrooms and the terrace.  They also didn't do anything to protect the floors.  I'm sorry I didn't think to get pictures of all the paint dripped on the marble.  Surely scraping it off later was a laborious task.  Back home a college kid probably could've done it in a couple days. 

We bought some used AC units.  The first time I went to inspect them, there were about ten piled in a small office/shop in a building that was under construction.  There was no electricity there and I wanted to see them in action.  Accomplishing this display involved about 8 people:  A couple men to move the AC units back and forth, the owner, our real estate agent, the guy that drove me to the building, the guy that owns the AC units, a couple guys to sort out what exactly to plug them into. We couldn't settle on price on the spot.  The man who owns the AC's mother had to be consulted.

You can see lines of people bent over with tiny brooms all over the place.  Lines of people are pruning greenery with their bare hands anywhere that the landscaping is well maintained.  Lines of men and women are carrying rocks to build new roads and fill potholes.  No wheelbarrows or anything.  Almost nothing is mechanized.  And efforts to do so are often met with strong opposition in the name of saving jobs.  It's incredible.

Will my feet ever be clean again?

I'm doubtful.  India is a pretty dusty country.  The house needs to be swept every day, if not mopped.  I'm sure we don't even experience the far end of the spectrum here.  And I'm sure you've all been dying to see pictures of my feet.  I took a shower about 30 minutes ago and here's what the bottom of my feet look like.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mystery Produce Episode 1 - Bitter Gourd

Indian produce bitter gourd bitter melon karela vegetable

Occasionally I see produce I don't recognize or at least have never cooked with. Today I picked up some Karela, aka bitter gourd, bitter melon, etc.

Indian produce bitter gourd bitter melon karela vegetable

Isn't it pretty all cut up? It smells like crushed dandelions.  It is often salted and rinsed before cooking to remove some of the bitter juices, like eggplant. Or stuffed, which sounds interesting.

Indian produce bitter gourd bitter melon karela vegetable

For dinner I planned saute it with lots of garlic, onion, tamarind pulp, coriander seeds, turmeric and chili powders.  They are not kidding about the 'bitter' part.  I kept adding that tamarind, sugar, water, salt and cooking the heck out of it.

Indian produce bitter gourd bitter melon karela vegetable

Served with chapati, packet dal (Yes, I am lazy. It is also surprisingly tasty.) and a green salad. Not to be confused with a leafy side salad back home: in India a 'green salad' is composed of various sliced fresh veggies, usually accompanied by cilantro and lime. Yum! We're pretty reckless and eat these at restaurants a lot too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making chapati

Boaz's coworkers do not believe something constitutes a meal unless it includes rice or chapati.  Samosas?  A snack.  Pizza?  A snack.  Fettuccine alfredo?  Also not a meal apparently.  The western style bread here is pretty terrible.  And we love bread.  So I have to make lots of chapati.  I don't mind.  Today I am going to experiment with making and rolling a bunch of dough to cook up as needed later.  Wish me luck!

(Siera's version of a) recipe and pictures after the jump.

Symphonies of India

I really enjoyed sitting out on our hotel terrace in the evening, listening to the cacophony of horns, whooping sirens, utterly charming 'my car is backing up!' jingles, children laughing, music playing. It all sort of blended together, the symphony of India, I thought.

The house in Kumar City is usually quiet and the exceptions aren't pleasant. Most of our neighbors have dogs. Do the security guards do rounds at night? They get up to barking like mad at all hours. In the morning there are supersonic flybys, helicopters, whathaveyou (a lot of military establishments are in Pune, including the Indian Army's Southern Command HQ and the National Defense Academy). Pigeons freak out in the airshaft adjacent to the bathrooms. Their cooing (that is so not the right word) is loud and guttural, like they have been crossed with monkeys.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hiring a maid

Turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. In fact I didn't have to do anything. Shama works for one of our neighbors. Catching me sweeping our driveway, she kindly offered her services. Her english is excellent and she comes highly recommended.

Monday was her first day. She arrived earlier than I expected. I hadn't cleaned the kitchen yet! So she did it for me. I'm going to have trouble getting used to this. But the house is nice and clean and she isn't a mop breaker like I am.

She was very surprised that Boaz doesn't come home for lunch nor do I bring lunch to him. 'He eats at the office?!' I guess it's time to buy a tiffin, make a big batch of dal, veg munchow soup, and chapati dough? This seems like a lot of work.

Best household gadget EVER!!!

Indian electric mosquito swatter bat zapperNow I'm the hunter. A rain of fire in my wake.

And Boaz is a little disturbed by my enthusiasm.


We had dinner recently at Squisito, one of few restaurants here with Mexican food. It's an iffy proposition in India. Boaz has tried several other Mexican restaurants and wishes to return to none. The hotel in Magarpatta City had nachos on the room service menu. They were on the 'Do Not Order' list. It's kind of like somebody told them about Mexican food, but they haven't actually tasted it.

Pune India Squisito Mexican restaurant nachosI think part of the problem is that they don't make the right kinds of cheese here. Squisito's nachos were drenched in gas station style cheese sauce, only redeemed by the delicious salsa.

Pune India Squisito Mexican restaurant tacosThe tacos were good. Boaz was impressed with the quality of the corn chips and tortillas. He found it perplexing that a country with myriad fried foods would struggle so much with this element, but his previous experiences were limp. Everything at Squisito was delightfully crunchy.

They also have an Italian menu, a common marriage here. I was impressed with the wine service, given that wine connoisseurship is only an emerging thing in India. They offered a taste, promptly refilled my glass only when it was down to less than 25% and never over-poured. American restaurants foul this up all the time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An evening in KP

Koregaon Park is an older and very nice part of Pune. It is known for being the expat area, which is why I wasn't terribly inclined to live there when Mr. Boaz was looking for houses. I saw more white folks in an hour or two there than I have in all the rest of my time in Pune. But it was nearly impossible for me to judge from afar and as it turns out its, shall we say, Indian-ness is not at all overwhelmed by the relative concentration of foreigners.

Pune India Koregoan Park side streetAs an older part of Pune, it doesn't have the same sort of planned development that we live in and around. The architecture is a little more interesting, trees a little more grown up. Here's a shot of a side street. The main streets are lined with shops, especially handicraft and gift emporiums.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I am totally excited about the variety of quality, inexpensive spices available. Every time I go to D-Mart I get more. I fully intend to buy every single spice they stock. Probably not all of the masala mixes, though this picture does include dosa and sambhar mix.

So far most of the spices are pretty familiar. I picked up some Jaipatri (Mace), the dried lacy reddish stuff covering nutmeg seeds. I'd heard of it, but had no practical knowledge of it. It indeed smells just like nutmeg, but is milder I guess? I was surprised to find they don't seem to carry the usual green cardamom pods. I did find Elaichi (black cardamom). It smells like campfires.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

First of many a cooking experiment

I haven't been here long enough to miss food from home, but I think Boaz mentioned wanting for decent pasta. So for the second time in about 7 years I am making pasta from scratch. There is dried, shaped pasta available at the store, but not any brands I recognize. And what's the fun in that anyway?

I guessed at 600g, which wasn't too hard since I knew that I had 2kg of flour. The well I made however would not accommodate the 6 eggs called for in my recipe.

A tour of our Indian kitchen

We have a pretty big kitchen here, which is stocked with all the basics now. Here is a view from the entryway. You can see the fridge, counter top stove and laundry area beyond.

We got a pretty inexpensive non-self-starting, 2 burner stove. I'd conceived of these as glorified camping stoves, but the burners are as capable and even as any I've used in the states. Yesterday we had the 30L gas tank installed. Anil said to turn the gas off at the source if we would be gone for say two weeks, leaving it on the rest of the time. I turn it off whenever I am not cooking. We don't have smoke detectors or anything.

Here's a view of the rest of the kitchen. Ovens are pretty uncommon, though not unavailable. It would be fine now, but I'm sure in summer I won't want such a thing around. So I've embraced the microwave, which managed to produce some surprisingly acceptable, humble meals over the last couple of days. And of course a rice cooker. As you can see, there is plenty of cabinet space.

I may have spoken a bit about the Geysers in an earlier entry. There isn't a central water heater for the whole house, as there would be in the states. Each bathroom has its own heater with a pretty small capacity, but it gets surprisingly (like the fires of hell) hot, if you leave it on long enough. The kitchen also has a small in-line water heater that comes out its own tap. I mostly just use cold water to avoid the burning.

We are still looking into bottled water delivery and in-house filtration. Since I've been going to D-mart nearly everyday anyway to slowly accumulate food staples and kitchen supplies (salt, sugar, rice, pots and pans, tupperware, towels, tea, spices, etc.), I just get a few bottles of water at the same time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Afternoon dalliance

Indian elections board game

We picked up “Elections: the Race to the Parliament” board game in a souvenir shop along with some candles and a travel thermos. “New Game Board where you can capture enough States, win the Elections, and become the Pri-Minister of INDIA.” It’s neat to look at, but not much fun with two players. The chance cards are the best part:
Goofy brother masterminds publicity snafu. Move to No Action.
Opponent’s attack ads backfire. Go again!
Make secret deal with the governor. Win a state with no primary elections.
Tournament Cricket Victory leads to surge in polls. Move to the next State space.
Spouse involved in real estate scam. Wait 1 turn.
Your vice-presidential candidate actually makes a sensible speech. Go again.

The 'Hood, The House

Pune India Big Cinema intersectionLooking out from the cinema, this is the nearest major intersection several blocks from our home. The Big Cinema building isn’t much to look at, its most prominent features being a McDonalds and a KFC. The children you see on the curb are always here, begging. There are a few restaurants, ATMs, and small malls on the corners. Most of the streets leading away are filled with rows of smaller shops: Pharmacies, bottle shops (liquor), hardware stores, sweet shops, etc. You find nearly identical shops in every neighborhood.

Friday, January 7, 2011


One of my greatest fears about moving to India was the weather, the heat. I don't handle even Pacific Northwest summers all that well. It's been okay so far. I start to sweat pretty quick walking around in the sun, but am mostly comfortable. We'll see how I do as the weather starts to get warmer and more humid approaching summer and the monsoon.

The natives clearly feel it is winter. I see women with bulky knit sweaters on over their saris all the time. And the men wear earmuffs!

Pune India men wearing earmuffs
Pune India men wearing earmuffs

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting the house ready

The company stops paying for the hotel after the 12th. My mission this week is getting the house ready.

Tomorrow I'll hire a car, go to several malls, and finalize appliance purchases with the real estate agent. The list of things to get immediately just so that we can live in the house keeps seeming to get longer. "Electric kettle" - Hm, I may be including more than is absolutely necessary.

I mosey over to the house each day to make sure the painting will be complete before we move in this weekend, measure things, etc. Today they had finished the rooftop terrace. It is very pink.

Cleaning up India's streets?

The streets can be very dirty here. Garbage and tire fires burn right on the sidewalks. People spit and piss and litter wherever outside the gated oases of planned, private development (like Magarpatta City and our housing society). I don't think I've seen a public trash can yet.

Leading up to this move, I started reading the expat blog Diary of a White Indian Housewife. I highly recommend it. Sharrell is an Australian who married an Indian and moved to Mumbai. She also writes the India travel section for

She recently posted about a group in Bangalore, The Ugly Indian, that is making interesting efforts to beautify the city's streets and curtail further rude behavior. Basically running with the Broken Windows Theory, they have had very good results so far.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Street dogs

As expected there are many, many stray dogs. They are kind of cute for the most part, though I try not to look too closely. They are slim, but my whippet is slimmer. Only dogs with owners pay any kind of attention to me. Nobody pays attention to them either.

Today I had my first unpleasant experience in India. I was walking back toward FotoFast to check out a couple of furniture stores. Along the way there are several car 'dealerships.' Somebody was slowly backing a car into place right in front of me - right onto a sleeping dog's leg. The dog is screaming, trapped. It seems to take an eternity for everybody to figure out what is going on, to drive forward and release him.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Light switches

I have already gotten used to the switches here. In India down is up and up is off. I marveled a little at the number of switches in the hotel, but it is nothing compared to the rows and panels of switches in the house.

Out and about

I've been taking it very easy so far. Only setting myself one serious goal a day.

On Saturday Boaz and I went out to visit the house. We decided on paint colors for the two guest bedrooms and I won the battle to have the roof terrace painted as well. We had lunch at a sit down restaurant in the neighborhood and wandered the minimall where the cinema resides. I managed to stay up until 8pm, but I was wide awake again at about 2am.

Sunday we went to one of the very western style malls. Like many things in India it seems, it was under construction. There was one great home store in particular. We've settled on some low, modern patio furniture from there. The food court was a new experience. You go around to order food, they give you a coupon or tell you how much, then you go to a cashier for play money and back to the food stall. So far as I can tell, all Indian Chinese food sauces are made with tomato paste.

In the afternoon I managed to make a massage appointment. It succeeded in relieving the tension in my back and shoulders from the plane ride, but also left me a little bruised. I did not opt to prepay Rps 10,000 for a 30% on future services.

We spent Sunday evening with Boaz's coworker Zeev and his family in their lovely home here in Magarpatta city. The hotel and Boaz's work are both in Magarpatta city, so we were able to walk. Here and in our society in Kalyani Nagar it is very comfortable to walk around. Greenery is well tended, streets are clean, not too many people or tons of traffic.

Last night I made it to midnight and woke up naturally at 8am! This is going well.

For today I was on my own. I needed to get a bunch of passport photos for getting a cell phone, registering with the FRRO, for leasing documents, etc. You need passport photos for everything here. Boaz warned me that it was not a pleasant walk to Foto-Fast, but said that I could Google it and walk there. I didn't find crossing the big streets too harrowing. I did have a hard time knowing what constituted a street in the eyes of Google and if I had gone too far, not far enough, teleported to a whole new city? In the end I only made one wrong turn and quickly realized my mistake, still feeling uncertain the whole way.

Then I grabbed a rickshaw and met our real estate agent and handyman at the house to get the painting underway. Both there and on the return trip I seemed to have more success pronouncing Indian placenames to the drivers. I'm afraid I did not do very well in getting a good price for the paint though. With the real estate agent, handyman, additional painter dude and paint shop attendant all chattering away in swirls of Hindi, negotiating discounts for me (or so they wrote on the receipt, from inflated prices perhaps), insisting on exact colors and brands - I let myself hang back a little more than I should have.

Next on to the real estate agent's appliance store. I resolved to be savvier this time. I asked about prices for all of the items we need, compared different models. I will take some time on this and furniture shopping to look at various stores and bargain some more.

Of course I am stared at whatever I do and much more so alone than accompanied by Boaz. Honking is more or less constant on the roads here, but I'm pretty sure some of the men on bikes were honking and moving their lips at me. I am more comfortable in pants than even a long skirt at this point. Scarves are a godsend. They give me the flexibility to wear sleeveless tops and cover up as much or as little as I feel comfortable throughout my day. I only brought one shawl though and it is better suited to Pacific Northwest autumns. It is still pretty early. I may go shopping for some scarves too before the day is out.

Now back to Magarpatta city. First stop the wine shop!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

First day in Pune!

It was terribly early and dark when I arrived. Very little traffic and hard to see much of the city in our short drive. I may be desensitized from all the conditioned, recycled air on the planes, but my very first impression is that this Indian city smells a lot better than I expected.

After settling in a bit at the hotel, we are going to make our way to the new house. Boaz wants to repaint ASAP, so I need to see it in person. I was hoping to walk there; the best way I've found to get a feel for a new place, but it doesn't seem super practical here.

My next mission is to find a massage, but it is a holiday. Hopefully I will at least manage to stay up until a reasonable bedtime and nip this jetlag business in the bud.

Happy new year!

Here is the view from our hotel terrace:

Retrospective travel checklist

  1. Get super frustrated that you cannot drag and drop new TV to your iphone. Have some deja vu - you've been through this before. When you finished this task three weeks ago in anticipation of this very trip.
  2. Conjure a blizzard at your first destination, which delays your flight 2 hours for what was to be a 2.5 hours layover. This a great way to add drama to your trip and a potential workout. You may have worked up a sweat in the first few hours of a 30 hour journey, but you will enjoy the free booze all that much more.
  3. Develop a severe addiction to chapstick. Tip: Bras make a great pocket for such small items in a pinch.
  4. Drop heavily dressed salad all over yourself at the first meal.
  5. Don't play any of the games you thought would be good for the plane.
  6. Stay hydrated!
  7. Go to the bathroom on the plane, if only to not sit for 9+ hours straight. It is okay. Everybody will understand. Warning: International flight bathrooms are not any better than domestic.
  8. Revel in having no rowmates. Prerequisite: Item 2. Conjure a blizzard.
  9. Curse not bringing a gentler reading light. Like the one in your checked baggage.
  10. Bringing 3 or 4 excellent (and pretty serious) books about your destination provides the weary traveler with another rare opportunity for exercise. Be sure to bring at least one lighter volume for actual reading.
  11. Realize you've totally overlooked Indian poetry in your new collection. What is wrong with you?
  12. Ask for two tiny glasses of wine, fearing they will not come by again for like ever. Sheepishly have your first glass topped off when they return in 10 minutes.
  13. Confuse "Local time at destination" with expected arrival - panic. Realize no self respecting German airline would use nonmilitary time, so that can't possibly be when you land.
  14. Learn to chair dance.
  15. Remind yourself that science is awesome and you are more likely to be killed by a donkey than in a commercial airplane crash and have another tiny glass of wine.
  16. Countdown in increasingly small intervals the time left to touchdown. Tip: This is made more difficult by reading, which does not conveniently demarcate the passage of time like TV and movies.
  17. Brush your teeth between each flight.
  18. Change into warm fuzzy socks and pack away stinky shoes before last flight, swapping one embarrassment for another.
  19. Take two sleeping pills in the first place or admit defeat; your body is pretty damn sure it is 11am and you should be awake. Special thanks to Greg for providing the sleeping pills!
  20. Pack your carry on as though it is all you are taking for a short trip because your checked bags cannot run as fast as you in a blizzard.
  21. Barely manage to contain short bursts of sheer excitement.
View from the plane in Denver: