February 24, 2014

Noted Finds 03

Past posts- Noted Finds 01, Noted Finds 02

One of my favourite things to do is discover new music. I can sit for hours and hours on music blogs. YouTube suggestions let me wander through all possible genres. I start off with alternative or classical or some of the popular sides of indie and always reach this really cool side of YouTube from where I have discovered Marble Sounds, The Narrative, The Cinnamatic Orchestra, Mogwai, The Best Pessimist and other beautiful bands that I wish were not so unknown. Yet, in a way I'm a bit happy that they are unknown because then I feel like part of a small privileged few. 

Today's selection, however is not all from that 'special' side of YouTube, and are not all new groups, but are new finds. My music discoveries the past month has had a few standouts. Here they are:

Arcade Fire- Reflektor / Photograph

I know what you are thinking- this band is not at all new. They have been around for almost a decade. But their new album Reflektor with it's varied track list of great vocals and accompaniment from the talented bunch of seven came out last year with some very good reviews.

But the reason I've included this group in my list is for their amazing soundtrack to Spike Jonze's recent movie, Her. I just loved the simplicity of the soundtrack and how closely it intertwined into the script. I've posted a clip from the movie with the piece 'Photograph' so you can see just how well the two were amalgamated.

Sleeping At Last- Snow

What a beautiful find this was. I was watching some modern choreography one day and this song was what they were dancing too. Sublime. The band is a solo project by the super talented Ryan O'Neill. Sometimes his brother helps out too. I went through some of the older tracks. Such interesting ideas for EPs. I liked 'Atlas' the most. Each track transported me into space. I could fall asleep to them drifting off past stars and planets.

X Ambassadors- Unconsolable

I only found this group yesterday. I was mostly of the opinion that the new alternative rock groups were far inferior to the older bands, but after listening to their 2012 album, 'Litost', my thoughts have changed a bit.

Here's a song from their newest album, "Love Songs, Drug Songs'
Read an interview of them on TheMusicNinja here.

Laura Mvula- Green Garden

What a voice. So soulful. The singles she's released are far from the usual mellowness of soul music commonly tagged retro soul. Her music is the perfect foot tapping initiator. So much so, that I always feel like getting up and dancing. Almost.

'Nobody out there, but it's okay now. Bath in the sunlight, don't mind if rain falls...'

Finally, to complete this list,

LAYLA- Yellow Circles

Totally random find. Only a few tracks to her name, but each praiseworthy. Waiting for more from her. Website- here

(all images are from various sources and not my property)

January 01, 2014

Thanks for 2013

Thank you God for all the big things and small things this year:

for changes- new places, new people and new experiences.
for the warmest smiles I'd ever seen in Africa- smiles that overshadowed their misfortune.
for mountain peaks above the clouds.
for positive replies for job applications.
for second chances.
for cafes to catch up with old friends.
for aloe vera- nature's best healing balm.
for WhatsApp groups that make me feel back in a classroom or in a family field bed.
for time to think and time to do.
for frequent flyer miles that let me go home cheaper.
for friends that I can call family. 
for music that gets me through the day.
for an extra pair of socks for cold nights in tents.
for packages in the post.
for maps.
for new friends made in airports.
for smells from ovens with baking food.
for an extra camera memory card.
for Skype.
for packed lunches that stay upright after an hour of bus travelling. 
for the ocean- strength, beauty and serenity in equal measure.
for Poya days.
for cousins.
for mistakes to learn lessons from.
for Meftal Spas.
for Friday evening text messages from people I don't know.
for off-days and sadness and bad times that remind me that Earth is my temporary home.
for pine forests that don't have leeches.
for challenges.
for long commutes to contemplate life and research recipes.
for last minute plans that work out.
for a job that I enjoy.
for a December without exams.
for bus conductors who know where I am going without me saying anything.
for proof that I have a guardian angel.
for super glue and cello-tape that make up for clumsy fingers and carelessness.
for forgiveness.
for people who inspire me.
for cold showers on hot days.
for missed flights that gave me an extra stamp in my passport.
for auto drivers who know English.
for ticked off lists.
for cinnamon powder and almond essence.
for new days and beginnings.
for memories of good things.
for questions that have answers.
for contentment.
for life.
for grace.
for love.

Thank you.

December 03, 2013

Noted Finds 02

Some noteworthy music finds from November. This list is quite a mellow collection- the kind of music I like to listen to while I work and when I travel on the bus. Unless I start feeling sleepy- then it's a quick jump to something loud and peppy to wake me up. :)

Half Moon Run- Full Circle

This fresh indie-folk piece is from the only album by the Canadian band. The harmony intertwined with the mandolin and percussion riffs, the vintage overlay video and the deep lyrics, "And the riddles in the pages leave at too much to guess. And the worry cracks a fracture from your hip to your chest" creates quite a beautiful song.

London Grammar- Metal and Dust

I'm not the biggest fan of the genre trip-hop, but the sublime vocals of the vocalist, Hannah Reid is quite soothing and the same mood resonates in the other tracks of their first album, 'If You Wait' released this year.

The Neighbourhood- Flawless

I had listened to 'Sweater Weather' many times before. Although I really liked it, I didn't actually check up on the band till recently. The alternative band was formed a few years ago, but their first album came out this year. I love the mellow tones and the underlying tempo in their music. Sounds equally good on low and high volume. 

The Night VI- Thinking of You

Sometimes YouTube knows what music to suggest. This was one of those times. Classified as melancholic pop, this new band has similar soft tones to London Grammar. The group of 6 filmed the video for this song in the majestic ruins of the Tintern Abbey. Perfect setting.

Brian Crain- Dream of Flying

To sum up this list, I chose a piano composer. I came across him just through random YouTube browsing on a very lovely side of YouTube. His music is so soothing, perfect lullaby, bus-travelling music. 

(all images are from various sources and not my property)

October 11, 2013

Noted Finds 01

It's been a while since I've had a music post. The thing is, I listen to so much music; so many new songs, new bands and new styles and new genres, it's always hard to choose one to feature.

Over the past year, I've sort of kept a track of my new music discoveries by filling up the inbox of several friends on Facebook. But today I decided to start sharing them here once in a while.

Out of the stuff I found the last couple of weeks, these are some that stood out.

Clean Bandits - Dust Clears

This piece is quite a crazy fusion of genres. I didn't fully appreciate it the first time I listened to it, but it has grown on me. The video concept is equally strange- geometric food, Mormon dude ice skating and the percussion in the snow.  

Amber - Hide and Seek

When I was reading up about Clean Bandits, I found this great site for new music- Origin Music, which pretty much satisfied my new music needs for the week. I was most impressed with the calming harmony of Amber in their cover of Imogen Heap's 'Hide and Seek'. I could fall asleep to it.

Usman Riaz - Firefly

This was quite a cool find. We were watching TED talks one evening and ended up watching his (here). Such a prodigy. He totally reminded me of a real life August Rush- the number of instruments he plays, the composing, the tones, and rhythms. Was quite awed.

Lorde - Buzzcut Season

I actually heard Walk Off the Earth's cover of Royals before I heard the original. And since then I've heard the song on the radio almost everyday. She's 17 and reminds me of Birdy, although their styles are different. Her new album 'Pure Heroine' was released this month. I love it.

Pslams 100 - Beautiful Things

And to wrap up the list is one I found today. My cousins and I are singing at church this week and we decided to do Gungor's 'Beautiful Things' and I found this cover. The a capella is just so beautiful. The group from the University of North Carolina does some great covers of not just Christian music. Listen to their version of Mumford and Sons' Cave too (link here)

And for some reason, Blogger doesn't want me to embed the video- so here is 'Beautiful Things'

Hope the next week brings in some more good new music. :) Happy listening.

(all images are from various sources and not my property)

September 14, 2013

To Travel is to Possess the World

Lunchtimes at work is reading time for me. I just finished Thomas Heatherwick's gigantic encyclopedia of all his crazy projects and today I picked up Burton Holmes' "Early Travel Photography"; a photologue of some of his early travelling. The prologue of the book is one of the truest and most apt travel pieces I've read. I just had to share it.

To Travel is to Possess the World

"These words I have set down in many an autograph collector’s book.

They are, I think, true words. I know that through travel I have possessed the world more completely, more satisfyingly than if I had acquired the whole earth by purchase or by conquest. There is no implication of selfishness in the kind of possession of which I speak. Whoever possesses the world through travel takes naught from any man. No one is the poorer because you have made the whole world yours.

You have gained everything, but you are no monopolist. The wealth is there for all to share. It is not yours alone. You may invite all men and women to travel with you in imagination and they too may feel that they, like you, are rich in vivid mental pictures of places worth going to, of people worth knowing, of things that are world famous.

I have tried to convey to others with the spoken word the enthusiasm for travel that has been mine. I have done my best to make my hearers SEE the things that have thrilled me in the course of my more than sixty years of travel.

Now I am asked to do this without the aid of pictures glowing on a screen, without the help of the spoken words which can be made to mean as much by a shading of a tone or the stress of an inflection. Now I am at work with nothing but a sheet of paper and a pen to help me re-create the atmosphere of “otherwhere,” to help me make real to those who have not seen, the things which I have seen and can still see so vividly with the mind’s eye.

Word pictures are hard to paint. We are told that “words are the only things that last forever.” Therefore words should be the most durable pigments with which to paint pictures of the things that have seemed worthwhile, the things that have become one’s property, in the sense in which travel endows one with a title deed to the entire world.

One great advantage of possessing the world through travel is that one may enjoy all the satisfaction of possession without the responsibilities of ownership. Now, in days when our most valuable assets become or threaten to become our most crushing liabilities, it is good to contemplate property which cannot depreciate but must increase in value, property which cannot be taxed by federal government, or state or city authorities, property which calls for no repairs or alterations.

Everything from real estate to diamond tiaras has had its vaunted worth reduced to pitiful and sometimes complete inconsequence. Stocks, bonds, and all manner of gilt-edged, beautifully engraved certificates of value, to secure which we have slaved and saved and denied ourselves the joys of travel, may sink in worth to such a point that it will seem absurd to pay the rental charges on a safe deposit box.

The only things which are still worth what they have cost me are my travel memories, the mind-pictures of places which I have been hoarding like a happy miser for more than half a century.

I have done my best to convey with “word pictures” the things I have seen and can still see. I have been aided by all the increasing wonders and beauties of photography. I still recall with pleasure my first camera, a heavy clumsy box with six double holders for 4×5 glass plates purchased in 1883 with my life savings of $10.00.

In the past I have reproached myself for my extravagance, my lack of foresight, for my disregard of proper provision for the future. My wise friends saved and economised, went without things they wanted, denied themselves the costlier pleasures of the table, the bouquet of vintage wines and the, to me, supreme joy of going places and seeing things.

And now where are we? We, they and I, are all at the same dead-end of life’s highway. They are weighted down by all the leaden burdens of their golden hopes gone wrong. They have their memories, but these are memories of wise, dull and frugal days of piling up with hard earned dollars in safe places where those dollars would increase and multiply and be there to console for all the pleasures that their owners had denied themselves and all the fun that they had missed.

I, too, have nothing but my memories but I would not exchange my memories for theirs. I have a secret treasure upon which I can draw at will. I can bring forth, on the darkest day, bright diamonds of remembered joys, diamonds whose many facets reflect some happy dream come true, a small ambition gratified, a long-sought sensation, caught and savoured to the full, a little journey made, an expedition carried to success, several circumnavigations of the world accomplished.

Yes, it has been a good life. And it is good to rest, with nearly all of one’s dreams realized. Dreams of going, seeing and doing most of the things that seemed worthwhile – good to know that I have, in my own way, possessed the world."

- Burton Holmes 1953

I would have typed it out myself, but was lucky enough to find it on this blog- 'I Will See the World'- another inspiring traveller with tonnes of interesting stories.

September 08, 2013

Lime and Chocolate Pie

The lack of an oven and a fancily stocked up kitchen like the one back home in Bangalore is not enough to keep me away from making dessert. I spend a lot of time reading up recipes online; ones that don't require any baking or special ingredients.

This week's recipe research proved successful with some great examples of no-bake lemon pie. As I usually do, I read up a bunch of different versions and then mix and match them when I make it.

For the base, I decided to add a chocolate kick to the pie and used chocolate biscuits to make the cookie base. Powder 100g of chocolate biscuits. (Put the biscuits in a bag and beat the life out of them with a rolling pin) I melted 100g of butter in a pan and then added the biscuit powder to it along with 2 tbsp of sugar (if you are using biscuits that have icing between them, you probably won't need to add as much butter). Once properly combined, put into the pie dish and pat down firmly. Place the dish into the freezer for about twenty minutes. I weighted down the base by placing a heavy glass bowl over it, so that it sets hard.

Melt 100g of baking chocolate along with 1 tbsp of milk and 1tbsp of butter in a double boiler. Pour the melted mixture over the biscuit base and then put the pie dish into the fridge while you make the lemon filling. The melted chocolate will not only add to the flavour and texture but will also seep into the base and keep it from being crumbly when you slice it later.

For the lemon curd filling, squeeze out about 12 limes (the equivalent of 3/4 cup). I wish I had lemons; their flavour is so much nicer. Whisk in 4 tbsp of cornstarch into the lime juice and the zest from 2 limes. Whisk really well so that there are no lumps. Then add 1 full egg and 2 egg yolks to it and continue to whisk. Pour the mixture into a pan and keep the flame as low as possible. Add 150g of butter and keep whisking. It gets lumpy very fast as the eggs begin to cook and the cornstarch starts to thicken the lime juice. 

Right about here, I made quite a crazy mistake. I wanted to add sugar to the mixture and instead of pouring from the sugar bottle, I poured out milk powder. Panic in the kitchen! None of the recipes I read had milk in the lemon curd, because citrus curdles milk. But I was unable to remove all the milk powder and had to mix it in. I guess because it was milk powder and not real milk, it didn't curdle. So, if you have milk powder, add in about 2 tbsp. Then add in about 3/4 cup of sugar (you can alter this depending on how sweet you want it). I used brown sugar, but white is perfectly good too. The finer the sugar the faster it will melt. 

Once the mixture is a smooth, remove from heat. I then transferred it to a bowl to continue whisking. It has to be really really smooth, so whisk away furiously. Don't take too long because it will continue to set. Add a little water if you need to.

Pour the mixture over the pie base and use a knife to level out the top. And back into the fridge it goes. It won't take more than a couple hours, but I left it in there overnight.

When you are ready to eat it, whip 100ml of cream (or more). Spoon it over the pie, grate chocolate over the top and slice it up. 

I've never been too much of a fan of lemon pie. But I think with the chocolate base, it was quite delightful.


August 29, 2013

Southern Escapades (Part 2)

Continuation from Part 1

Day two was a day for the beaches. We started out early in the morning and drove down to Sri Lanka's southern most tip- Dondra Head.

We climbed 233 steps of Sri Lanka's tallest light house. The white washed bricks against the deep blue reminded me of the Santornini palette.

The winding staircases with furniture custom made to fit inside the curved walls, the little windows framing vistas of the ocean and finally the spectacular 360 degree view at the junction of land and water makes lighthouses in general one of my favourite things. 

The view at the top was unmistakably beautiful. The beaches only occupied by local fisherman kept the sands clean and untouched by tourist activity. We watched a few fishing catamarans riding the waves back onto shore. 

The water was so clear and in many areas we could see the rocks beneath the surface. Facing South, this vast mass of water separated us from the Antarctic. 

This beach is definitely one of my favourites. Quite unlike the others, this one had more rocks than sand. The piles of rocks create rocks pools between them. Each almost like a world of it's own with a variety of coral, fish, crabs, snails, sea urchins and other strange creatures.

I wanted to take back a shell as my souvenir, but couldn't find one that wasn't occupied. We spent ages there watching the pools and crevices in the rocks struggling to get pictures of crabs before they disappeared into the dark beneath the rocks. We stared at a shell for ages waiting for the hermit crab to emerge. We chased jumping fish from rock to rock. Our feet brushed anemone and coral, slipped over sea weed rocks and sank into fine sand. The waves didn't spare us either.

Snorkeling and scuba diving is a class of it's own, but the rock pools had quite an array of life and colour that quite easily goes unnoticed. 

The trip couldn't have been complete without some time spent swimming in the waves. After breakfast at Matara's Galle Oriental Bakery, housed in a white and green colonial building with dark wooden interiors and simple bakery fare, we drove back up the coast to the famous Mirissa beach. 

The clean stretches of sand, a few beach shacks and with waves more ideal for surfing than swimming, we decided we just HAD to rent out some boards and try level one of surfing- body boarding. It made us feel pretty cool to be walking around with the boards tucked under our arms. 

The strong undercurrents, and equally strong waves made the whole thing a lot harder than it looked. I spent more time trying to save my swimsuit and my board from being taken away with the waves than actually getting the perfect wave. But the times I did, was absolutely great fun. Being on top of the waves, picking up great speed and steering the board back to the shore. It was quite a workout which our muscles would remind us of the rest of the week.

The drive back up the coast, lunch at the fort in Galle, music, dancing and four takes of our attempt at a music video brought our little holiday to an end.

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach - waiting for a gift from the sea." 
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

August 27, 2013

Southern Escapades (Part 1)

This trip falls into the category of random, unplanned trips that I've done. We only finally decided to go on Friday evening by which time it was too late to call and inquire about accommodation.

We made a long list of accommodation options spanning three of the little towns on the southern coast for the following morning and another list of things we could do and we were packed and on the road early Saturday. A fully charged iPod, sunglasses, beachwear, Google maps and the trusty Lonely Planet book and we were pretty much set.

Although the Colombo-Galle highway took us away from the scenic coastal drive, the long stretches of smooth, empty highway brought us to Galle in perfect time for a good breakfast in the fort.

I visited Galle last year on my holiday to the country. Galle Fort is a 17th century Dutch fort a bit off the coast, surrounded on three sides by water. The fortified walls contain a little network of cobbled stone streets with cafe's, hotels, little stores, a lighthouse and as we discovered that morning, some interesting graffiti too. I will finish an exclusive Galle Fort post soon.

After walking into a few cafe's to read their amusing signs and menus and their not-so-amusing prices, we finally decided to eat at the tiny Cafe Punto. Our table at the front overlooking the narrow cobbled stone streets was quite a lovely breakfast setting.

Once back on the road with content stomachs, we drove further down to Jungle Beach. As the name suggests, the only way to get to the beach was by walking through a jungle patch which I managed to get through in a skirt. Despite not being that easily accessible, there were still quite a few people there. 

From there we walked up to the Japanese Peace Pagoda. Peace Pagodas are Buddhist stupas built as shrines for peace in places hit by some sort of calamity. It was started by the Japanese monk, Nichidatsu Fujii who put them up all over the world. This one was built as a memorial for the victims of the Tsunami in 2004. 

The blinding white of the shrine against the blue of the ocean was so serene. The view from each tier was beautiful; the jungles, the beaches and Galle Fort in the distance.

We were lucky to find available accommodation with much less hassle than anticipated. But locating the place wasn't as easy. The narrow town roads often disappeared off the map and sometimes Google would place us in the ocean. 

TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet became our helpful companions not just for accommodation, but for all the places we ate at. We ate in Mirissa's highest rated restaurant- No.1 Dewmini Roti Shop. We sat at one of 4 tables in the front garden of a family home. The kitchen opened out onto their front patio. We were waited on by the wife and the grandfather. It was obvious where all the publicity came from with the genuine hospitality and the tasty home cooked savoury and sweet rotis. 

What we did next was what I was least excited about. From the many times I've seen snakes in my grandparent's garden to the one year we lived in snake infested Kerala, I've not been very fond of snakes. 

Here in Mirissa, an Ayurvedic doctor carries on what his grandfather and father did and has a collection of local snakes in his home to harvest venom for the various medicines he uses.

Although a bit excited that I would get a picture with a snake around my neck, the fear quickly overrode that. The hissing of the cobras brought goosebumps which became shivers when he placed the muscular 2m python on my shoulders. I could feel the muscles tighten and in my head I could imagine that mouth opening to swallow me up. 

I was slightly better with the other snakes that weren't around my neck. The green vine snake in particular was quite striking. We wore the common trinket as a bracelet and also held the Sri Lankan flying snake and the Forsten's cat snake.

I stayed far away from the venomous ones- the cobras (even the hissing 2 week old one), the vipers, kraits and the scary looking scorpions and tarantulas.

All said and done, it was an interesting experience. Learnt a lot and can proudly say that I've come a long way from the panic-stricken seven year old in Kerala. Would I carry a snake around my neck again? Probably not. 

Day 1 ended with a short wade on the dark Weligama beach admiring the brightly starry sky.

August 12, 2013

Yellow Buildings, Canyons and Macadamias

One of the big highlights of the trip was the days spent at Kruger Park, but the 2 mornings we spent travelling there was one of the most beautiful drives ever. We (Anil, Vandana and I) traveled in a minivan with 8 others and got to drive through a diverse variety of South African countryside.

Although wintertime in the African subcontinent is not the prettiest time to visit, the dried barren lands created a landscape of all possible shades of browns and yellows. Miles and miles of endless highway with the roads so so straight into the horizon. Once we had exhausted every possible yellow and brown, the orchards of orange trees started. Such a contrast. Rows of trees loaded with bright oranges. It was like the trees were inviting all the cars on the highway to come and pick oranges.

Then just before we hit the Drakensberg mountains we had a pit stop at the quaintest little village- Dullstroom. It is a little tourist town. Midway to Kruger from Johannesburg/Pretoria, it is a common lunch break. Content with fruit for lunch, we used up the 40 minutes to see as much as could in Dulstroom. 

Built against the Drakensburg backdrop, the village is at an elevation of 2100m and is well known for trout fishing. The 'stroom' in Dullstroom is the Dutch word for stream owing to the many tributaries that pass through the area. The Dutch influence has left traces on the architecture. I've noticed that the Dutch like painting their buildings butter yellow (I've seen examples in Sri Lanka).

Restaurants and shops line the main road. The lovely sunny afternoon brought the tables out of the building and onto patios where a guy with a microphone and a guitar entertained the Saturday afternoon family diners. We walked into living rooms converted into curio stores with handmade soaps, jewelry and scarves, leather stores with crocodile handbags and kudu belts with zebra and oryx skins for carpets. A little book store specialising in cigars and used books was a cosy space with shelves from floor to ceiling. And of course the many souvenir shops packed with all things South Africa from postcards, key chains and t-shirts to potholders, beer mugs and shower caps. Aromas of coffee and bread wafted into courtyards flanked by buildings that hid in futile behind leafless trees. 

We passed by a clock store, but didn't go in because of lack of time. On further reading of the village, I read that this Clock Shop has the largest collection of clocks in the Southern hemisphere. There is also a whiskey bar with the largest collection of whiskey in the Southern hemisphere. Quite a bit of fame for a village with a 600 odd population.