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I started my birthday week with a trip to Jewel of Nizam for dinner with Cheng. I thought I should wear something to roll with the “jewel” theme so I chose my blingy-est fancy suit for this special occasion. Sadly, the biryani didn’t impress us as much as recommendations had led us to expect. We did enjoy a tender lamb appetizer and an interesting creamy onion halwa for dessert.

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On my actual birthday (a Tuesday) I had a yummy breakfast of idli, sambar, and chutney. The staff here at Falcon’s Nest has been really thoughtful about making sure I have something gluten-free available for breakfast. If the menu of the day doesn’t offer dosa, idli or uttapam, they will gladly make me an onion omelette. My favorite days are when they make vada, or fried doughnut shaped things made from lentil flour. I really love having so many savory breakfast options!

IMG_3355After work, Cheng picked up my favorite dinner of biryani and fresh flowers for me to wear! We weren’t exactly sure if these types of flowers in these arrangements are considered culturally appropriate for birthday giving, but since fresh flowers fit with our culture, we went with it.

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Then, to cap off Birthday Week 2015, I hosted a puzzle night in the private party room at The Chocolate Room near our apartments.  I think our friends didn’t fully realize what they were getting into, but they performed extraordinarily well for puzzle newbies. I had them split into 2 teams of 3 and 4. Cheng and I monitored their progress and offered hints as necessary. It turns out they were pretty evenly matched because both teams finished within 10 minutes of each other. Wow, the competitiveness in the room surprised me! I witnessed squeals, beatings, and even couch vaulting to hide discoveries.

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Thanks for another memorable birthday week!

*View all the photos here.

  1. People rarely remember to bring water to outdoor activities, but they’ll all want some of yours.
  2. People drink from water bottles by pouring it into their mouths. No touching.
  3. The gym offers communal water bottles.
  4. When Zumba class is scheduled for M,W,F at 8am. That really means sometimes 8, sometimes 7:30, and occasionally not on Monday.
  5. One person’s only job at the gym is to wipe down the mats after each use.
  6. Green mango has to be the best thing ever. It’s wonderful for cooking with okra and better than lemon juice for topping other dishes.
  7. Don’t expect to get a large cup of coffee anywhere unless you go to a western style place.
  8. You can buy pretty much anything you need as long as you can find a tiny specialty store for it. Google maps is almost useless for finding these specialty stores. You have to ask someone.
  9. Tea and coffee are served with lots of sugar.
  10. When you go into a “wine store” looking for wine, it’s a limited selection hidden in the back corner behind all the prominently displayed hard liquor.
  11. When crossing the street, hold out your hand, palm down,  to magically make all the cars stop for you.
  12. Good chocolate is not a thing here. Everything has a high wax content to survive the heat.
  13. Cloudy egg whites are a sign of freshness. Not all the carbon dioxide has escaped the shell.
  14. Even though the “lemons” are small, round and green, they are still called “lemons.”
  15. If you are a woman and choose to wear local ethnic outfits, people you’ve never met will come up to you and tell you how nice you look in “Indian” clothes.

 

Given the lack of kitchen items in our current apartment, I’ve had to be extremely creative in my cooking endeavors. Back home, I’m used to having many gadgets and gizmos to make healthy eating fairly easy. Like an oven. And a blender. And a sharp knife.

IMG_3110Today I made almond milk using a mortar and pestle. A small one. I’ve found a little international grocery store nearby that carries the vanilla, sweetened version of Silk Almond milk, but it costs almost $6 for 1 quart. So I thought I’d try my hand at the homemade version where I could significantly cut back on the sugar content and even add a hint of cardamom.  Here is the fun recipe I used, but unlike that author who gave up after 30 seconds and used a food processor, I had no such luxury. Fortunately, I did not have to shell them, but did choose to leave the skins on, missing out on becoming “intimately familiar with each and every almond.” I do admit, that I left the almonds in more of a crumbled state than that of a paste.

Two hours later (after 24 hrs soaking), one cup of almonds netted me just over a quart of milk. I added a bit of honey and salt and it tastes pretty darn good! Then I considered what to do with the cup and a half of leftover pulp. There are many recipes online about how to dry it in an oven (which I don’t have) or a dehydrator (ditto), grind it up in a blender (not one in sight), and bake it (also in my non-existent oven.) Then I stumbled on this recipe for raw cookie dough bites.

My birthday is coming up this week and I’ve been trying to think of what type of dessert I might share with my friends here as something typical of what I’d eat back home. Given that I don’t eat gluten, and I don’t really bake, and the local “chocolate” is a poor, waxy comparison that wouldn’t know the meaning of “dark” if it got stuck in a broom closet during a power outage under a new moon, I’ve been flummoxed. But these cookie dough bites looked incredibly tasty and soooo close to do-able, that I got even more creative. To dry the pulp, (without burning it) I stacked the burner plates together so the pan sat high over the flame and lightly roasted it in a wok. Now here I am, writing this entry and waiting for them to cool so I can continue my kitchen journey. Given how large my almond pieces still are, I’ll try my hand at grinding them again once they cool. Then I’ll brave the 106 degrees F. outside to see if I can find coconut oil and chocolate chips at the store. Hmmm…after all this, maybe $6 isn’t so bad after all.

Yes, I did title this with the plural “Recipes” for a reason. The other day I had dried mung beans available and was browsing online for recipes to use them in. I found an interesting recipe for Sprouted Mung Salad. I liked the idea, but this recipe involved cooking the ingredients and after reading the title, I got really excited for a cold salad I could pull out of the fridge and eat immediately. So I clicked around some more and found a Whole Foods recipe for “Bean Sprout Salad.” It seemed to have a limited number of ingredients, so I added it to my favorites list and returned to the original recipe for directions on how to sprout my dried beans. And since I suck at following recipes exactly, I decided I wanted a more exciting Lime Vinaigrette dressing. Plus I found some fresh peas and carrots at the market that day and wanted to add them, making the salad a complete meal.  Oh, I don’t have any mustard. And I couldn’t imagine this dressing without the tangy zip of mustard. Wait!!! I have mustard seeds! After a few hours of soaking and grinding, I now have a passable mustard and commence making the dressing. The wait time was required anyway; I needed time for the diced cucumbers and tomatoes to sit in the fridge and dry out. Also, I’m currently drinking the last few sips of the juice I made using the cucumber and tomato innards mixed with orange and lime juice and honey.

Accidental yumminess!

It feels a bit obligatory to write about our visit to Agra and seeing the Taj Mahal, so I’ll try to be original.

We “ooo”ed and “awww”ed at the Taj at sunrise.

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Looking away from the Taj back toward the southern gate

Looking away from the Taj back toward the southern gate

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Sunlight reflecting off the semi-precious stones inlaid in the marble

Sunlight reflecting off the semi-precious stones inlaid in the marble

We bought expensive souvenirs.

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We suffered a case of Delhi Belly.

[You don’t want to see this photo]

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Oh, wait, those are pretty much the same things everyone experiences? Ok then…

I learned how to play a sitar.

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Then Cheng and I started a band.

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I saw my first black throne.

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We enjoyed hanging out with our driver more than our guide.

Cheng, Negina, Driver Roshan, Guide Raj

Cheng, Negina, Driver Roshan, Guide Raj

We spent some time in prison at the Agra Fort.

Rooms where Shah Jahan was kept under house arrest by his son, Emporer Aurangzeb.

Rooms where Shah Jahan was kept under house arrest by his son, Emporer Aurangzeb.

Balcony of Shah Jahan's prison looking down the Yamuna river toward the Taj Mahal

Balcony of Shah Jahan’s prison looking down the Yamuna river toward the Taj Mahal

We walked through the most expensive bedroom ever.

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Ultimately, we were more impressed by the Agra Fort than the Taj Mahal.

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I was chatting with my sister on her birthday a few days ago and she mentioned something about how our current apartment looks. It prompted me to snap and post a few photos of the place Cheng and I are calling home for now. We left the hotel-like place withing the first week of arriving in Hyderabad and found this little gem. Called Falcon’s Nest Serviced Apartments, we still get basic room cleaning and complimentary breakfast, but we’re also afforded much more privacy. It’s basically a one-bedroom apartment not much smaller than where I lived in Chicago. The bedroom runs parallel to the living/kitchen area, so I stood in the doorway between the 2 rooms to get most of these pics.

Cheng often has video conference meetings in the evenings because we are 10.5 hours ahead of Austin, so we arranged the desk in such a way that I’m not making guest appearances in the background.

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Facing the front door and “office”

Snazzy couch, yeah? There is also a supremely uncomfortable chair located just in front of where I’m standing, so the camera didn’t catch it. It works extremely well for holding my hat, purse and scarf as well as putting on shoes. The coffee table doubles as our dining table. I usually enjoy my tea and fried egg breakfast there.

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Living area and kitchen. TV on the wall to my right.

Probably my favorite part about this apartment over a hotel is the kitchen area. Even just having a sink and stovetop makes life incredible! I can make my own coffee in the morning and I probably cook dinner 3-4 times a week. Although, I’ve had to be extremely creative, having only these 2 gas burners and a few available pots.

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Kitchen

Our bed is really just 2 twin beds shoved together. Given that the mattresses are almost like sleeping on a pile of cardboard, the crack is virtually unnoticeable. To the right is the door to a tiny 2’x6′ balcony. We considered hanging a line out there to dry hand-washed clothes, but too many pigeons have already visibly laid claim to it.

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Bedroom and dressing area

We’ve had a couple thunderstorms so far and learned that balcony door doesn’t keep out water all that well. Turns out a squeegee and dustpan work pretty well for cleanup.

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Closet space outside the bathroom

Instead of invading the pigeon’s balcony territory, we use the line we hung for the shower curtain to also dry clothes.

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~8’x8′ bathroom with open shower

I love that we get plenty of hot and cold water in the shower! After a night soaking in vinegar, the showerhead has also reunited into a single stream for a most pleasant experience.

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Baby pigeon off the edge of our balcony

Disgusted by how dirty the “white” walls appeared when we first moved in, I spent hours scrubbing the entire place. Then I labeled all the mystery switches. This gang is outside the bathroom. The ones in the bedroom and living area have 2 rows of mystery switches.

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burning garbage in the neighborhood

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Guard dog that lives outside 1st floor apt.

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Sunset in our kitchen



Last weekend Cheng and I tried to wake up early. For whatever reason, the alarms on our phones are very unreliable. Sometimes it works fine, and other times it doesn’t sound, but still reads as a missed alarm. Anyway, when we finally rolled out of bed, we headed out to visit the Golconda Fort and Qutb Shahi Tombs in the southwest areas of Hyderabad. Holy cow, I made the awful mistake of planning this visit the day after my first lower body gym workout. Squats and lunges galore. Luckily, the guide we hired had a bum hip and used a cane to walk, so he was only a bit quicker than me climbing all those stairs!

Some photos of the fort and our drive to it.

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We walked the ~1.5 km distance to visit the Qutb Shahi Tombs. Qutb is also spelled Qutub and is pronounced like this. Very few people seemed to visit this place and we just wanted to wander around and enjoy the solitude. A guide tried to latch himself onto us at the entrance, but all I really wanted to know was how to get to the toilet. He took that to mean he should walk ahead of us and circle back occasionally to point out a building with 1-2 words about it. Literally. Early on Cheng asked if he spoke English and he replied “Yes, Mam.” It took a while to shake him. Finally, we paid him a small portion of his charging rate just to go away. Here are a few photos of that visit.

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View more photos on Cheng’s Flickr page.



I’ve experienced a LOT of massages. As a believer in the healing properties of a good rub down I regularly schedule a massage back home, especially when I’m also consistently going to the gym and/or playing Ultimate Frisbee. Sometime last year I discovered Beijing Foot Massage on Burnet road. For a mere $40 they offer 80 minutes of foot, head, and back rejuvenation. Shirt off, pants on. Primarily pressing and kneading through a towel-blanket followed by a lotion rub.

 

IMG_3095A few years ago I enjoyed a handful of authentic Thai massages in Thailand. For ~$7 each I could have afforded one per day if I had the available time. Alas, I was only able to squeeze 4 in during the week we stayed in that country. Thai massages focus a lot on stretching and using pointed pressure along energy lines of the body (inner legs, arms, and spine.) Loose fitting clothes left on. Here’s a sketch I did after a particularly stretch-intensive session.

Then there was that couples massage Cheng and I got in Myanmar where the ladies walked on us, rubbed us down with herbal oils that reeked of Tiger Balm, and told us we shouldn’t shower for 5 days. Um, we lasted about 2 hours. Clothes on (even with the oil.)

Yesterday I decided to ask for a massage at the gym I recently joined. For about the equivalent of $11 it was worth trying at least once. I’m not sure if this experience is typical for all massages in India, but it is definitely worth sharing!

*Warning: the following is rated R for language and graphic descriptions of nudity.

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No, this wasn’t some sort of torture table. It actually seemed quite beautiful in person. up close. nose-touchingly close. First off, notice the lack of towel or sheet. Just me and the oil on this baby (with 2 thin mats thrown in for “comfort!”) I was told to take off all my clothes except for my undies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly comfortable stripping down to the buck, then climbing under a sheet or towel for modesty. However it was a bit disconcerting to disrobe in front of the woman and lay down on my back on the table, then be drizzled with oil. Throughout the massage, she kept pulling my underwear this way and that to rub around it. I often thought “why didn’t she just have me remove them?” Then I remembered the beginning work on my legs…long, quick upward movements stopping only when they crashed into that cloth barrier.

It’s rare when the massage therapist asks for me to hold up or support my own body part. Usually they prefer I relax totally. But this lady locked out my elbow and spread my spirit fingers in the air, then proceeded to double fist my arm like a teenage boy. Whoa.

Remember that scene in The Karate Kid, when Mr. Miyagi performs his hand cupping heat magic to Ralph Macchio’s knee? I got a brief taste of that action on my knees and elbows.

Next up, the belly massage. Occasionally, I’ll get asked if I want my stomach massaged. I’ve said yes, and I’ve said no. It depends on how I’m feeling that particular day. Usually, the focus is on the abdominal  and oblique muscles as well as around my ribs and diaphragm. I got some of that yesterday. And then she Mr. Miyagi-ed my belly button.

Well, I’d been wondering about this next bit. Was she going to massage my pecs and work around my breasts, or would they be just another body part to squish and pull? Goodness, I don’t know why I even bothered to question it. Of course they received the full treatment! I haven’t felt that thoroughly assessed since my last annual medical exam!

Usually flipping over to lay on my stomach is the best part. I LOVE to have my calves, back, and shoulders rubbed. But take a gander at that face divot on the table!

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After slipping and sliding my way over, I started off by nestling my nose in the center space and resting my forehead on that mid-level ring, but every time she performed an upward stroke, my head would bump into the circle rim. I tried moving my hands off the designated arm/hand circles to cushion my head, but she forcibly returned them. I definitely wasn’t entirely relaxed at this time. So, needless to say, I did not enjoy the second half of the massage nearly as much as the first.

But OMG! The steam bath at the end rocked my world! I knew the gym offered it, but I hadn’t remembered to explore it yet. While I was still covered in oil after the massage, she directed me to this tiny room and handed me a stool. I wasn’t sure how long to stay in there, but figured I’d figure it out along the way. Man, it was not long enough. All too soon she cracked open the door to tell me the steam was over and I should start the shower.

I can only really judge the efficacy of a massage over the next couple days. During the rest of the massage day, I felt lethargic, without appetite.  Probably I didn’t rehydrate properly to compensate for both the massage and the steam bath. I’ll know better next time. But wow, my skin has never been clearer! I practically glowed. Heck, I’ll probably repeat the whole shebang again in a couple weeks because, why not?

 

 

 

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To visit the goats on the rocks, of course!

Last weekend we went camping with a group of Cheng’s Indeed co-workers to Ananthagiri Hills, southwest of Hyderabad. With chilly mornings, hot afternoons, and a rainy conclusion, this trip ran the gamut of weather offerings. I was told that the sole purpose of packing a tent was to lend a legitimacy to our camp photos. Little did we know what was in store for later. Conveniently, the rains arrived after dinner cleanup, not interfering with the cooking process, but later assisting to douse our fires.  The tent kept some of us lucky ones dry overnight, but unfortunately didn’t cover all 15 of us. Many brave souls perished for our comfort (not really, but they certainly could have been drier.)

Ankur, Nikita, Cheng and I set out from Hyderabad around 7am. Since everyone else seemed to be running on Indian standard time, we wandered around a cemetery, eventually finding this narrow, elevated road leading us to the middle of a lake (according to Google Maps.) Zipping around that first sharp right knocked open the passenger door sucking Nikita to an early demise.

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With 3 of us remaining in car #1 Ankur and snapped a couple photos to memorialize the living.

IMG_2931 Cheng realized he could only hold up this massive boulder for so long before succumbing to its heft and lack of stability. Ankur tried to pull it back, but slipped in the muddy earth. Knowing he was a goner, Cheng waved us back, yelling “save yourselves!”IMG_2923We met up with more of our party on a steep climb taking us closer to our campsite. Luckily, a piano just happened to be on our packing list…
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…so Vinay played a soul-touching dirge in Cheng’s memory.
IMG_2981 Trying valiantly to move past our first 2 losses of the day, we drowsed on a tarp, watching the sun play with the fluttering leaves.IMG_2971 Our serene silence quickly crashed, creating terror in our hearts when gigantic bats appeared and brandished their bare claws threatening us with impending death!IMG_2940Cheng’s ghost magically appeared to lead us to safety under some random, space-age gazebo. 
IMG_2958 Hanging on the outskirts, eschewing the safety of the group, Rahul quickly became an easy target for the bats.IMG_2952 Carried over the edge of the cliff, we tried our best to save him, but to no avail. Shivam took it the hardest, as it was his sun-weakened grip that could not pull Rahul back up. IMG_2953Shivam fell behind the group, his sorrow eating away at him, wishing he had spent more time at the gym this year…IMG_2948 …unwittingly allowing himself to be scooped up as a test subject for the aliens that landed, leaving only dust circles as evidence of their existence. Prateek discovered the markings where their spaceships most likely landed. The rest of us scratched our heads at the idea of Shivam being an accurate representative of the human race.IMG_2950 Later, from all the stress, Vinay started to feel feverish, developing white splotches on his face. We all agreed it was probably the rare water buffalo rash that only affects young men who play a musical instrument in the woods. Vinay frantically rubbed at his rash, knowing medical help this far from town would be nonexistent, and realized it was only too much sun and sunscreen. Phew!IMG_2944While Goutam took candid photos and Ankur drizzled petrol on our cook stoves in preparation for making dinner, we noticed Shivam had returned from his alien adventure. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember anything that happened to him during his time away and proceed to mope on the sidelines, pulling grass and calling his fiance.
IMG_2983 Given how many people were dropping like flies, and also because of the actual flies, we decided it was time to light a funeral pyre. Fortunately, Cheng, Rahul, and Nikita also miraculously revived, which turned out well as our bonfire wasn’t as big as we had hoped. IMG_2997

So long and thanks for all the fish!

(View all the photos on Flickr)

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According to TripAdvisor, visiting the Salar Jung Museum rates #4/193 things to do in Hyderabad. So that’s how I chose to spend my Thursday. Normally, I flock to the painting section anytime I visit a museum, but this time I rented the audio guide (~$1) and took my time exploring everything. Except the clock. Apparently, there is this amazingly detailed musical clock by Cook and Kelvey Co. in 19th century England that activates and begins chiming 4 minutes before the hour. I was so engrossed in admiring other galleries, that I forgot to go see the clock during every one of my 3 opportunities.

But I did snap some pics of these items that spoke to me in some way.

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Ivory carved balls within balls within balls

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Elephants carved from an ivory tusk

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XL pizza-sized necklace for an elephant

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19th century air twisted stemware

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Father of Emperor Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal)

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Double-sided wood carved statue

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The priceless glass-polishing crew hard at work.

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After the museum I wandered around a bit before catching my ride home. I found the motherload of shoes as I traveled blocks down shoe alley! Then I passed through 3-4 more blocks of wedding stationary stores.

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The corner store at the beginning of shoe alley

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Need a door?

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