Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Make Your Salad Good For You

I am surprised at what a bad attitude people have towards salads. ‘Dieting’ is an invariable part of every social conversation and it’s not long before someone brings up either salads or exercise. At least one person in the group will cringe at the very mention of these words. Seriously, take any demographic and try it. People seem to think that a salad will mean torn up lettuce or worse cabbage, tossed with cubed tomatoes and topped finally with the ultimate food from hell, bean sprouts. Everyone knows the hazards of salad dressings and that’s the sole reason the salad has gained such unpopularity.

Whether bottled or homemade, salad dressings can be very misleading. They are laden with calories and without them a salad is nothing but cut up veggies waiting to be cooked. Reports suggest that even dressings that are labelled 99% fat free have other harmful additives like salt, sodium, MSG and even trans fats. Homemade dressings always seem to involve mayonnaise or at least the mandatory dash of oil making the salad as good as a burger. The key lies in balance. Ultimately a salad should be crunchy, moist and wholesome enough to substitute an adult meal. Few changes in the preparation and ingredients can make a salad the perfect diet food. That’s the good news!

Always start with cold, fresh, well washed vegetables. Prepare a salad just before mealtime unless the recipe suggests otherwise. Healthy meat options for a salad are boiled or roasted chicken, turkey ham, tuna fish (try to buy a can preserved in brine instead of oil), steamed fish, prawns or crab meat. Seafood is high in cholesterol but if consumed in moderation it adds a lot of essential fatty acids and oils to a diet. Boiled egg as a topping is nutritious and makes the meal more satisfactory. The ideal vegetables are all the lettuce varieties. A tightly wound iceberg lettuce has a distinct crunchiness compared to romaine lettuce or even the outer leaves of the iceberg lettuce. Once you have your leafy base, add your colours. Tomatoes are a must; bell peppers add the zing and sweet corn kernels balance the flavours. The vegetable combinations for salads is endless, a good resource for ultimate salad recipes is allrecipes.com.

Now to the dressings, there are two basic types. The oil and vinegar mix with fresh or dry herbs (vinaigrettes) and the creamy mayonnaise based Caesar and Waldorf like dressings. The key to wholesome satisfaction is substitution. It’s sad when you have to substitute but it’s better than not having a dish altogether. Hang a cup of fresh yoghurt in a clean cotton napkin for a couple of hours. What you get next is cream cheese, provided the yoghurt was low fat, the cream cheese will be too. Use part cream cheese with any bottled of fresh dressing and cut back on the calories. To alter the tastes further add a dash of an Italian herb mix or better still, Tabasco. Finally make a meal out of your salad with add on’s like whole wheat pasta or croutons of oven toasted garlic bread.

Other creative additions can be grilled mushrooms, slivered carrots, bean sprouts (if you are a fan), artichokes, zucchini, boiled kidney beans, broccoli, olives, cottage cheese, tofu and even raw papaya. Few must keeps for regular salad fun are bottles of balsamic vinegar, white or red wine vinegar (red is more robust like the wine, the white one is tangy and dry) and extra virgin olive oil. Keep a regular supply of yoghurt to make your own cream cheese and experiment with adding different flavours like pastes of cucumber, capsicum, green chilli or garlic to make your own signature dressings. View the images in the gallery below to see if your salad turns out like I said it would!

View Healthy Salads Stock Photos by PhotosIndia.com

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gotta Getaway

Every once in a while life becomes a web of stuff. Random stuff, from work schedules and deadlines to dentist appointments and kid’s school functions, life is tough. Its way easier for DINK (double income no kids) couples but everyone deserves a break. The ‘holi’ weekend is round the corner and though I wish ‘holi’ was on Friday, a Saturday will most certainly do. It’s the Wednesday’s and Thursday’s that really kill a festival holiday, they don’t qualify as satisfactory. ‘Holi’ weekend is barely three weeks away yet a quick, slightly unplanned getaway is definitely possible. Most people vacation in the winter and a rebound refresher is a must. For me personally even booking into a nearby 5 star hotel is a possibility. The service is slicker than the maid at home, beds are miraculously luxurious, a tub is quintessential and who would mind a range of cuisines to order to the room. Before I get too suggestive and convince the whole load of you to swamp the Taj’s and the ‘Hyatt’s’ of India, consider a few more options.

Most of the large Indian cities are peppered with quaint resorts, forts and palaces, all within 250 km radius. This makes India a getaway treasure. National dailies are packed with holiday advertisements for strangely familiar sounding clubs that you never knew existed. Someone has to dare try them and then blog about it! Really, let’s do everyone a favour and pick one holiday club, fort, resort, riverside camp, spa or even a pilgrimage and go there. Head out for ‘holi’, India! Take the gujia’s, the beers and the friends along. See, this is the beauty of India; it’s phenomenally flexible on matters of prayer and celebration. ‘Diwali’ is a day to stay home, clean, cleanse, beautify and wait for the gods to pass by. Holi on the other hand is free reign, just remember to have fun. The ‘puja’ is a day before anyway. So pray, pack and go.

Some of my favourites picks for this ‘holi’ is the beach or a restored fort/palace. I want to try and give everyone a direction to head in, North India won’t have trouble finding a fort and the South has some of the nicest beaches to choose from. With 5700 km of mainland coastline, we really have a huge selection. Assuming a lot of these trips will be groups, giving a few choices will keep at least some happy. Every group has ‘beach’ people and every group has ‘history’ people. This may be a good time to find out which ones your friends are. Forts and palaces have always been associated with an old world charm. They are mysterious and enigmatic buildings that housed people out of fairy tales. If walls could speak, some of us would probably move in forever. Most of the Indian ‘heritage’ hotels have tied up with leading hospitality giants and retained their original architecture and décor, to produce fabulous holiday hotels a stone’s throw from most cities. Rooms have high ceilings, the bathrooms are almost as big as the rooms, the balconies are romantic, the furniture is usually a century old and the turbaned bearers are a delight.

The beach is my other most favourite destination whether it’s for a weekend or for a whole summer. I don’t even mind it in the rain. Thankfully all our beaches are tropical and it never really gets cold. Imagine, two days of communing with nature. I don’t care how clichéd this has gotten but a sunset on the beach is by far one of Mother Nature’s most precious gifts. Rainbows, lightening, aurora borealis and eclipses come in close after. Days seem longer on a beach. The stars shine brighter (provided you aren’t at a rave party) and the food always tastes good. In fact going to the beach right after winter is therapeutic in many ways, you will get rid of the winter paleness and you will get a ‘weight gain’ reality check. Don’t get put off, knowledge is power. It’s only when you know the problem that you can solve it!

Enough preaching, I hope at least some of you will log on to yatra.com or heritagehotelsofindia.com, indiaweekendgetaways.com, travelershub.com and do yourselves a favour. Check out a cool gallery of holiday images we produced. That will surely seal the deal! Click on the link below.

View Holiday Stock Photos by PhotosIndia.com

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gandhi's words 60 years on...

Jack Hollingsworth is the Chief Creative Officer of all the images you see on this blog. To a large extent he is the soul of the brands while we all are the constituents of its beating heart. This year Jack’s motto for the team comes from a man very close to my psyche, a man who has influenced many things in my life, a man who makes me proud to be Indian, Mahatma Gandhi.

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so" - Mahatma Gandhi

So much has been written about Gandhi that I don’t expect this blog to do more justice to his character, I am simply writing this as an ode. He was assassinated on 30th January 1948 and as we draw away from that date, I find myself thinking of him and his words a lot more. I had my share of insecure college days, the jitters of a new marriage, the shakes of a new job and lately the ultimate paranoia of being a new mom. Gandhi had words for me through each phase of my life. Words that felt like they were written only for me and my situation. Did Gandhi know a girl like me? Well he probably did, his entourage could beat Britney Spears hollow, if only we chased his ideals the way we chase her shopping sprees!

The words that stayed with me through the hardest parts of my life were -

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melt away."

It worked every time. It’s not that I looked for happiness in the misery of others, never! The principle was so evident, ‘I, me, myself” maybe the main components of my life but in the general scheme of things, I am too minute to consider, I am actually a ‘one’ that is a part of millions. These words were inspiring and what our generation needs the most, they were humbling. These words always make me realize how fortunate I am and that my existence should not be for me alone. I should ‘counter’ enrich the lives of people that enrich my life. My teen years were governed by one of my favourite quotes – “I want freedom for the full expression of my personality”, I felt that was such sweet liberation. In a world where real icons are hard to find, Gandhi remains relevant and contemporary even after 60 years of passing on. Before I knew it, the teen years were over and I was bang in the middle of my first job. I didn’t have a very forgiving boss and he didn’t have the word ‘naïve’ in his vocabulary, making my work environment highly volatile from day one. It was into the third week that my brother gave me a little purple print out that said – “Nobody can hurt me without my permission”. Oh God, it was so simple!

My list of favourite Gandhi quotes is actually running into page 3 and I don’t think it’s fair to burden you with them all. I will leave you with two priceless ones consider them a ‘mantra’ and find that ‘true peace’ we all seem to be chasing.

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems”

“We must be the change we wish to see” - Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, February 4, 2008

Falling in Love in India

Falling in love anywhere is easy; staying in love anywhere is tough. Yet each country poses its own unique cultural and social challenges to the human race when it comes to love. The west is perceived as a place where the entire multitude is still writhing in the ecstasy of the 60’s. It is not the permissive nature of the nation that gives this impression, it is the media projected out of there, into millions of middle class Indian homes. Thank you cable TV. I am not going to rant about how twisted that makes our slightly prudish minds, I am genuinely thankful to Cable TV. It has opened a whole new chapter of entertainment for me, considering my idea of fun was the outdoors and books. A good combination according to my parents but teenagers needed more than that. Suddenly everything was so colourful and loud, that’s my most vivid memory of 24x7 TV viewing. I remember the Valentine months most. Every show had a ‘valentine’ episode, every product had a ‘valentine’ promise and every channel had ‘valentine’ specials. I am quite sure there was an Ad for coconut oil that promised ‘Valentine Beau’ attracting tresses in a week. Thankfully it aired a fortnight before ‘Valentine’s Day’.

Unregulated cable TV seeped into Indian life around the time of the Gulf War in 1991. Metropolitan cities in India could view live broadcasts of glowing scuds whizzing across Kuwaiti skies, courtesy CNN. Shortly after that came the day time soaps, some of which are still revered by the now 30 + year old Indians. The third momentous entry was definitely MTV, with its brazen attitude, mind numbing graphics and freaky dating shows. You could practically see the minds blossoming right out our skulls.

Things are more or less the same 15 years down the line. There are more channels, more products and more ‘this and that days’, but the marketing blitz for Valentine’s comes in a close second after Diwali. Locally every restaurant and store has a promotion aimed at lovers of all kinds, young, old, just friends, mistresses, crushes and of course teens. Nationally, FMCG and Fashion brands cash in on this occasion. The Indian psyche has morphed itself slowly but surely. We don’t condone ‘love marriages’ yet all our kids are manically buying Valentine paraphernalia every February 14th. We don’t approve of dating among our teenaged kids yet each one of them knows when Valentine’s Day is versus when Gandhi was assassinated. Love makes the retail world go round, money makes the real world go around.

So far the general perception and awareness about Valentine’s Day is limited to the love between a man and a woman. This makes the marketing efforts concentrated towards the youth of India, 51% of India is below 25. So I am guessing it is fair to call this kind of product pushing an ‘advertising frenzy’. If only the awareness could be brought up a notch and India would realize that Valentine’s Day celebrates love, all kinds of love.

I can picture Kingfisher Airlines doing a ‘Senior’s Valentine’s Special’. Any Indian couple over 65 years old, flies to any one of the ten listed romantic destinations in India at half the price. Now, open this promotion to foreigners. Give them Agra for the Taj, Goa for the party, and Ladhakh for the mountains, give them an Indian love experience. China attracts 87 million tourists a year versus India’s measly 2.5 million. We need to hop on the global media bandwagon, make ourselves heard, make ourselves seen, and make ourselves marketable. Let cable TV be our guiding light. It is time to wake up and take stock of every day that means something to somebody and then sell, sell, sell!

Happy Valentine’s Day. Do check out our eclectic collection of ‘love’ images on Photosindia.com. ; )

View Valentine 2008 Stock Photos by PhotosIndia.com