Friday, November 16, 2007

A Little of This and That...

When it comes to meals, Manuel and I split the responsibility... He handles it 80% of the time and I take care of the rest. Manuel is always whipping up something tasty like pollo al ajillo, Spanish tapas, home made fries and crisps and all sorts of yummy things. I tend to stick with the easier things, like reservations at Smokehouse Grill, Ivy or Sevilla and sometimes mix it all up with a champagne brunch. I may be a simple boy with simple taste, but that doesn't mean I don't like my bubbles every now and again. Manuel has been trying to get me to cook for some time, but usually I am just so tired from work that I really can't be bothered. I like to cook and, if I may say so myself, can easily channel the spirit of Julia Child and create some pretty mouth-watering concoctions that will have the tastebuds tingling. Thursday I decided to make lunch and for that I dug deep into my past and pulled out one of my mom's favorite recipes. It is not something I would normally cook, and prefer to save it for really special occasions like weddings and anniversaries, but decided to live on the wild side and show off my cooking skills. After all, we are still in the Diwali afterglow. And boy, did I do my mother's dish justice. It may look easy, but looks can be deceiving. I can hear you scratching your little heads and pondering what this miracle dish of mine could be, this culinary masterpiece handed down through the ages. Well, I'll tell you, but you have to keep it to yourself. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Yes, there I was at Defence Colony Market loading up on nuts and fruits for Diwali and suddenly I was confronted with my past. There they were, boxes and boxes of the stuff. I don't know if you have ever had a craving for unnaturally colored powdered cheese, but if you have, then you know it is almost impossible to avoid the gravitational pull. It really is the "cheesiest" - I swear! I carefully boiled and drained the delicate macaronis, added some butter and just a shot or so of milk, poured in the glowing orange cheese powder and stirred and stirred and stirred some more until I thought my arm would fall off. It was creamy, rich and just the right shade of orange. I dished up the plates and Manuel looked at me with a strange curiosity in his eyes. He asked me if in fact the food was supposed to be glowing that color and I assured him it was. He reluctantly ate it and while looking at his fork, complemented me on my gourmet skills. I have since been banned from the kitchen except to fetch a bottle of water.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind to Tuesday. My friend Mark, a trolly dolly for KLM flew into town on a 747-400, complete with wing tips. He was only here for 24 hours and so we picked him up at his hotel, tossed him in our car and drove through the night to Agra for a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal. I had not been to the Taj Mahal for 11 years and Manuel and Mark had never been there. We arrived in Agra about an hour before the Taj (as we locals and wannabe locals call it) about an hour early and decided to take a stroll. We were about 100 meters from the western gate when somebody screamed "monkey fight!" Suddenly there they were screeching at each other, jumping, scratching, screeching some more and then the power went out. We could hear the monkeys, angry and aggressive, but could not see them, save the black blobs and shadows as they jumped from wall to wall against a backdrop of pre-dawn darkness. Mark was shaken like a good cocktail and he turned the conversation to the topic of rabies.

First time visitors to India are all the same, paranoid about anything they eat or drink, constantly using hand sanitizer, drowning themselves in Deet and throwing around words like "rabies" and "malaria" as if the bacteria are all armed and taking aim specifically at them. Mark fell into that category. On the way down, he reapplied his Deet about every 3 1/2 minutes. The fumes alone were strong enough to kill any mosquito in our path about half an hour ahead of us and so we drove in our own little mosquito-free zone, my eyes watering from the bug toxins.

Finally the Taj opened and we had to go through the usual Indian screening, which involves being frisked and bags checked. Normally I don't don't mind, but more often than not, those friskings seem to turn into a cheap thrill for the security person. More than once I have been grabbed inappropriately and had hands lingering in my naughty zone and I want to tell the security guys that I have no WMD stuffed down my underwear or up my bum. I don't like the process at all, but you can't really say anything for fear of being kicked out of the place. Then comes the bag search. We had out brand new iPod Touch's in the bag which the guard pulled out and then told us we could not bring them in because "music no play, music no allow" and it was every hand gesture and monosyllabic word we could use to convince him that we were not planning a sunrise rave and that he did not need to confiscate them. Later, I was tempted to launch into an 80's style breakdance routine and then moonwalk across the white marble, but thought better of it.

Everyone keeps going on and on about the Oberoi in Agra. One of the best hotels in the world, the best service, even Heidi Klum and Seal stay there, blah, blah, blah. So I decided that we would all go there for breakfast before heading back to Delhi. We pulled up to the oasis of luxury, sent our driver to get some sleep and walked into the hotel with all the confidence of Pam Ann. No luggage, just people. The door was held open and the second we were inside we were told that they would not be able to seat us for breakfast as the hotel was full and they were giving their guests first preference. I begged, I pleaded, I offered to let him frisk the three of us but to no avail. He obviously didn't know who I was, but was about to find out. One well placed call to Ankit and we were soon being escorted to the "guests only" terrace with a view over the Taj ordering our matching lattes and assorted biscuits while they arranged a table for us. A few minutes later we were escorted into the almost empty dining area, which only got more empty in the 30 minutes or so we stayed there having our mediocre eggs benedict and cold toast. The staff glared at us with almost suppressed attitude. I don't know what all the fuss is about, frankly and not sure I am in a huge hurry to stay there. Although I have heard that you get a view of the Taj even from the loo, so perhaps that counts for something.

We grabbed a quick pre-flight dinner at the Ivy and then left Mark at his hotel to wait for his crew bus to the airport and before long he was welcoming people aboard and pointing out the emergency exits. Here is a little known fact told to me by a few flight crew friends of mine. Do you know how they pass the time when everyone is sleeping? Well, they walk through the cabin seeing who can spot the most erections. Something to do with the oxygen levels, cabin pressure and the fact that men have a sexual thought every few seconds. So think about that the next time you nod off on a flight.

Fast forward to last night. I got news of a new club in Delhi. An up and coming place known as "sixmonthstory" or just plain "6". Ankit assured us the place would be hopping and I had thoughts of regaining my page 3 status. It has been awhile since I was anywhere near page 3 and so Manuel and I decided we would go. We started with dinner at Smokehouse Grill and in honor of Pierre, I took a wet ginger martini. SMSes were flying around as I tried to get an entourage together. Of course everyone was too busy or out of town - some people claimed they could not get a driver and so even Ankit bailed on us. We drove to the middle of nowhere, took a left and then continued on to the hotel Daffodils. I know, that should have been the first clue that we were heading into a disaster, but I like to live in denial.

We paid the entrance fee which was 1000 rupees per person and were given a little booklet of 8 coupons each which we would redeem for drinks. There was a DJ visiting from Amsterdam who was playing some great music. Manuel didn't care for it so much as he prefers music he can sing to. We looked around the empty space and knew we had made a bad call. We had received booklets 19 and 20, which tells you how many people were in the place. It was deserted and it stayed that way. The staff outnumbered the patrons by a good 3 to 1, which is great on a yacht, not good at a nightclub. But just looking at them was traumatic. They were wearing headache inducing shirts that can only be described as WHAM! meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind with a dash of New Jersey thrown in for extra flavor, all aglow from the black-light that ran along the bar. I thought black-lights went out of style when Farah left Charlie's Angels. We cashed in our coupons for drinks and decided to leave, but then stayed for one more, just in case things should liven up.

They didn't. And so I don't see myself going there again any time soon. What the place needs to do is throw a big party and pay a few celebs and page 3 people to attend to get the place hopping and on the party map. By the time we left, it was too late to go anywhere else but home. Ankit is dropping by later today for some lunch and shopping at Apartment 9. He has a lot of repenting to do before he is back in my good graces... But no worries, I can be bought and I am sure there will be a little something at Apartment 9 that will cause just the right amount of amnesia.

Monday, November 05, 2007


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in India. Diwali is Friday and the whole country is whipping itself into a frenzy of festivals, pujas and gifting. Lights are stung across anything that is not moving and also a lot of things that are. I have to say, when it comes to holiday lights, nobody does it quite like the Indians. What I do find extremely odd, is this whole Christmas half-look. The colored and blinking lights are all ever the place, garlands of gold, red, orange and green stretching out for as far as the eye can see and billboards in the festive look of gift wrap. Very Christmas-like, indeed except there are no Santas standing on street corners with their alcohol tinted breath, ringing their bells in drunken like stupor, no reindeer wired into some sort of pseudo-flight pattern, no manger scenes made entirely of sparklers or any other materials for that matter and worst of all, no tackily decorated Christmas trees with an overdose of tinsel. For a Westerner it all seems a bit confusing, a bit half-baked. I know it is a holiday to celebrate the victory of good over evil and has nothing to do with Christmas at all, it is just the fact that it is so similar and yet so different.

But you know me, I am all about the holidays. Any holiday for that matter as long as the food is scrumptious and the cocktails well shaken. This Diwali at least I will have to forego the shaken concoctions I so adore. I am having a bit of a stomach issue which has so far ended up with me having a tube down my throat so the doctor could take a look at my insides. I do have some nice pics now of my stomach, throat and duodenum. How many of you can make that claim? I know I am a trend setter, but just take my advice when I say that is one experience better left to other people. Sometimes it's nice to be excluded from all the fun. I sure wish I had been. I spent an entire day without a voice. Me, the master talker, pontificator and gossip whore was without a voice. I spent Saturday pointing and grunting. It was all very "Clan of the Cave Bears" in a subcontinental setting.

But back to Diwali. Even though it is not Christmas as I know it, and I will be celebrating Christmas in Spain, I have decided to throw myself into this whole Diwali thing. I'm practically Indian anyway, might as well get some of the advantages of being pan-cultural. I have decided to gift myself a little something. And while I am at it, I will gift one to Manuel as well. After all, I can't have him drooling all over my iPod Touch and getting it all slobbery and wet. I don't think Madonna would be amused with a glob of drool getting on her disco ensemble.

I also truly believe that Diwali and Christmas should be merged. In fact, I have taken the liberty to rework a little song that was a favorite of mine when I was a wee lad.

Rudolph the red nosed camel,
Had a very dusty nose,
And if you ever saw it,
You might think that once it glowed, (like a flashlight)
All of the other camels,
Used to laugh and call him names, (like humpback)
They never let poor Rudolph,
Play in any camel games. (like pull the cart)
Then one dusty Diwali eve,
Laxmi came to say,
"Rudolph dust off your nose this very minute,
I need someone to light my way and cart me around the country,"
Then how the camels loved him,
And they shouted out in Hindi,
"Rudolph the red nosed camel,
You are quite a righteous dude!"