30 November 2017

Word puzzle: Birds of a feather…

Some of the most interesting revelations I had the other day was trying to learn the collective nouns of birds. I am sure you have heard a “murder” of crows is the proper way to describe a bunch of crows. I thought a “parliament” of owls was a hoot – ha ha!

Try these.

1. A _ of eagles
2. A _ of falcons
3. A _ of hens
4. A _ of nightingales
5. A _ of parrots
6. A _ of pelicans
7. A _ of sparrows
8. A _ of storks
9. A _ of turkeys
10. A _ of woodpeckers

11. Here is a bonus question: What is the difference between a “gaggle” of geese and a “skein” of geese? Take a guess. If it helps, it is the same difference as a “committee” of vultures and a “kettle” of vultures!!!

Now Google the answers… how many did you get?

[I will post the answers in 24 hours]

27 November 2017

Some day I am going to listen to reason…

Most other days I will try to defy it. In September, when I started my time off, for the social work bucket, I had selected hospice work this time. Sooner than later, I found myself working at three hospices. For the family bucket, they opted for travel. So, we went to Aruba and we have a trip to Indonesia, Thailand and India coming up for all four of us in less than month. And many more to come…

For the third bucket – personal skillsets – I picked motorcycling. After stand up comedies, running marathons, mixology, having an active blog site, this time, I picked motorcycling from the bucket list. Neither Sharmila nor I can remember how and when did motorcycling get into my bucket list. The last time I rode a two wheeler – on a consistent basis anyways – was in 1985 in Durgapur. That was a 148 cc Vijay Deluxe (see picture).

I had tried a couple of friends’ motorbikes in the past. Scared the bejesus out of me. They are heavy and have way too much power. When I pressure tested this idea last August and September, almost to the person everybody warned me about how unsafe it could be. That did nothing to boost my confidence. Might have made me a little more determined but incredibly scared, nonetheless.

While I may not know how and when it got into my bucket list, I do know how it made it to the top of my list this time though. One fine day in August I had convinced myself that I owe it to myself to ride motorbikes for a few years just to conquer my own deep seated fear. That led to safety classes in September and a license soon after.

Then followed some weeks of laziness (perhaps the realization that I will have to face my fear had something to do with it). After I saw my dad in October, on the flight back, I realized that life is too short. Yes, it might be made shorter by a motorbike, but at least I will not have to die thinking I ran away from something.

Quite a few days of intense searching (and I mean QUITE A FEW number of days) and multiple trips to various dealers, I finally found the one bike that I wanted (a 695 cc Honda CTX 700D). Except that I could not find it anywhere in my state. I had to cross state boundaries and buy one in Tennessee. Of course, the one thing I need to bring it back home – motorbiking skillsets – is exactly what I lack 🙂 So, now I am in the process of figuring out how to get it home!!

Before I start the long road to conquering my fears… I owe some shoutouts:

Dhananjay for giving me some incredible tips and more importantly confidence when I went to Pune in August to discuss this.
Magesh for always encouraging me to motorbike ever since he moved from California to Atlanta.
Avijit for being a great friend, philosopher and guide as I navigated everything motorcycle in my mind in the last couple of months.
And most of all Sharmila – who was not very sure at first but in the end she became the one egging me on to get started on my goal. She even went to each and every dealer with me to help me choose a bike.

Now for the hardest part.
Riding safely, that is.

24 November 2017

From the bartender’s corner – English Harvest

This cocktail was built up by Food and Wine magazine contributor Ryan Fitzgerald. Apparently, he was inspired by the taste of apple with peanut butter. I recreated the drink almost exactly the same way – except instead of almond syrup (Ryan used it to get close to the peanut butter), I used a dash of almond butter. The rest of the ingredients are gin, dry vermouth, apple brandy, apple juice and bitters.

23 November 2017

Of turkeys and such…

“Good Morning! How are you?”
I quickly recovered from the unexpected greetings from a stranger, stopped in my tracks and wished back – “I am good. A very happy Thanksgiving to you. How are you?”
“I am waiting for my son to come and pick me up”, he said grinning from ear to ear.
“That is so nice. Have a great family time”.

By this time, I had figured out what was going on. I went to the lady sitting in the next sofa with a walker near by. “Good morning. And a very happy Thanksgiving. How are you doing this morning?”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you too. I am waiting for my son in law”.

This morning after my coffee and all that, I told Sharmila that I would go make the rounds in all the three hospices and try to be back before the girls wake up. I was worried that some of the patients may not be able to see their families on Thanksgiving day (some have family well outside the state). I was going to wish them a very happy Thanksgiving and if I found that somebody was not going to get the gift of family presence for one reason or the other, I was going to sit with them and perhaps spend some time with them. I am no family to any one of them but caring and companionship might count in their books, I figured.

As I entered the first hospice, I sensed right away that something was different. There were a lot of the patients sitting in the atrium. Most of them were not in their shabby clothes. And everybody seemed to be wearing a smile. I was briskly walking past them to meet my own friends there when I was stopped by one of those sitting in the atrium. And that is how the conversation above came about.

I went from table to table, sofa to sofa and pretty much wished everybody who was sitting there and it was more or less the same story. Everybody was waiting for their son or daughter or son in law to pick them up and take them to their homes so they could have some family time together on this Thanksgiving day. And without exception, all of them were going to come back the same night.

Finally, I went and visited two of my friends who live in the assisted area side. One – who is my assigned patient was waiting for her daughter to come and wheel her out. The other – the blind old gentleman who is not an assigned patient of mine was super excited. He had a tie on and a tucked in shirt, a vest and the whole nine yards.

“You must be very excited that you are going to see your family today?”, I asked.
Big mistake.
“Well. Raj, I am not going to exactly see them”, he said gesturing some air quotes with his fingers. Gosh, that could have been really really awkward for me had he not started laughing – “You know what I mean. I have gone blind. I can’t see. But yes, I am very excited.” Well, everybody was in good mood!!

The scene inside the memory care unit (this is where all the folks with Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s, brain cancer, deep dementia etc stay in secured premises) was a little different. The same wishes from me about Thanksgiving had most of them staring at me. I realized that none of them had any idea that it was Thanksgiving today or had any memory of what Thanksgiving was all about.

Lowell was still relentlessly pacing up and down the corridors in very small steps talking to himself incessantly. Jenny asked me to look at the red birds flying behind my head as a response to my Thanksgiving wishes. Leanne was constantly shaking even as she sat there staring at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade put up on the TV in the common area.

Then a gentleman walked in and went straight past me and sat next to a lady sleeping on a sofa on the other end of the room. She was a patient there – and I had seen her before but I had never talked to her. After about five minutes, I noticed that the lady was still sleeping and the gentleman was still sitting next to her watching the TV. He looked neither like a patient nor a staff member.

Curiosity got the better of me and I went over to him and introduced myself. Found out that he was that lady’s son. She is not in a situation to go home. She cannot have Thanksgiving dinner with them. She would not even recognize any of the family members. He is the only surviving child of hers. He had come to give her company for a few hours before he went back and joined the rest of the family for their family get together.

My story about learning the true spirit of Thanksgiving and family ties today will not be complete if I did not tell you about another set of people in the hospices – the staff there. Me having my big mouth obviously had to go around wishing them and asking them about their plans. I was really amazed and somewhat taken aback to realize how much adjustments they and their families made to their personal lives to accommodate the far less fortunate patients. As an example, the CNA had completed her Thanksgiving dinner the previous night with her family so she could spend the time taking care of the patients thru the day. Not one of them seemed to betray any frustration for having to work today. If anything, they seemed to be trying harder to make the patients feel happy!

Driving back home – very hungry (I did have one patient who had no family coming – so I landed up spending an hour talking to him and that made me very hungry in the morning) and somewhat overwhelmed, I tried sorting out in my mind the great strength of family ties that binds us together. The wheel bound stranger waiting with a grin on his face for his son to take him home for a few hours, the son who came just to sit by his mom who has lost her ability to understand what a family means, the staff who has chosen to balance the family at home and those that they are family to – their patients…

It is a great thing that at least once a year, we all step back from our daily lives to acknowledge our immediate and often our larger families. In this hustle bustle of modern life, it reminds us about what should be truly important to us.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!!

20 November 2017

From the bartender’s corner – Gin #25: Roku Gin

After the really tasty Gunpowder Gin from Ireland, made a swing to the other end of the world – Japan – to continue with the “tea” theme. Roku Gin – made in the Suntory distillery right outside Osaka – is a rather recent introduction to the international market. Meaning, it has been made available just this year.

My first reaction was marveling at the bottle. This is a very beautiful bottle which is hexagon in shape. The relevance of the hexagon shape was completely lost on me till I learnt what “Roku” means in Japanese. It means “six”.

In keeping with that theme of “six”, Roku gin has six strong local influences in the herbs and botanicals that defines the gin – two types of team – sencha (green tea) and gyokuro (refined green tea), two local cherry influences – the sakura blossoms and sakura leaves as well as sanshō pepper, and yuzu. This is on top of the eight herbals that are fairly standard in all gins: juniper, coriander, angelica root, angelica seed, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, bitter orange peel and lemon peel.

The starting point is a neutral grain spirit, but the distinctive feature of the production process is that the different herbals are taken thru different distillation processes e.g. vacuum distillation, vapor distillation and the standard distillation in copper stills.

I did not try the gin neat today. I had it with some tonic water. First off, the flowery nose can be immediately sensed as you start sipping. The palette was a more on the tighter and bitter side (the gin itself has some tones of bitterness and then the quinine adds to that). The tea makes it presence felt rather quickly. It leaves a creamy or buttery sense as it leaves the mouth. The finish clearly had the strong markings of juniper and citrus.

I am not sure pure tonic water is the best way to take this gin. Further research points to suggestions that a little ginger makes the G&T far better. I will try that tomorrow.