Friday, January 28, 2011

TV shows of yore...

I don't know if its just me or if you guys have noticed it too, but there seems to be a dearth of good tv shows out there. The only show I follow these days is The Good Wife (a legal drama), its kinda like The Practice... with a lot more power games and political drama thrown in. I think people seem to prefer different things nowadays ... like obscene crass humour as is evident in Two and a Half men, or shows that are deemed funny based on the personality of that one crazy character who livens up the show - Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory or Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother (take away Barney and Sheldon and both these shows will bite the dust). Then you have something like Glee, which is a huge success due to its happy song and dance routine, but hasn't got anything else worth talking about.

Anyway here's a post in memory of all those good times spent with family and friends... laughing, crying and learning from all the beloved characters of some of the best shows ever created for Television.

The Wonder Years

Me and the siblings loved this show, it centered round the childhood and the coming of age of the protagonist Kevin Arnold in the early 70's. Every episode made an impact, they stayed with you long after you were done watching them. The characters were brilliant; who can forget pretty naive Winnie Cooper, nerdy allergic Paul Pfifer, the jackass brother Wayne and the adorably cute Kevin Arnold. Every guy had a crush on Winnie Cooper growing up and I think they still do... she was quite a sight with her jet black long hair, that innocent trusting face and her natural grace. This show had some great writers, their lines are quoted even today... and they've made me tear up many a time with their poignantly loaded messages. I love this show, it was meaningful, relevant and it respected the very essence of human life on this planet; family, friends, love and life.

Frasier

Frasier is without a doubt the best comedy show ever created in the history of mankind... no, I am not exaggerating. There are so many funny shows out there, but they've all got their irritating characters like Phoebe from Friends, or Raymond's parents from Everybody Loves Raymond, or Eric's mom and Ashton Kutcher in That 70's show. But Frasier was perfect in every way... and that's why I guess all the recent shows pale in comparison, nothing can live up to the standards set by Frasier. Frasier revolves round the life of Dr. Frasier Crane; a lovable, snobbish, pompous and intellectual radio psychiatrist (callers call in with their woes and Frasier gives them advice) who lives with his dad Martin Crane, a retired police officer and Martin's physical therapist/caretaker Daphne Moon. Frasier's high-strung younger brother, Dr. Niles Crane (also a psychiatrist and my favourite character) lives nearby and is exactly like Frasier, but more lovable. The Crane brothers live a cultured life, they are incredibly witty and highly intellectual... and this more often than not leads them into trouble cause they tend to over analyse things. The dad on the other hand is an easy going, laid back, down to earth person and how he handles these show off sons of his is hilarious. Roz Doyle (Frasier's friend/ producer) along with Eddie (Martin's talented dog) form the rest of this wonderful cast. If you want real entertainment for your soul, you should definitely check out this show.

Dharma and Greg

Just thinking bout Dharma makes me laugh, she is the free spirited girl born to bohemian hippie parents and her views on life or just about anything under the sun is so.... crazy yet heartwarming-ly refreshing. She's like a breath of fresh air, spreading joy and happiness (not to mention craziness) where ever she goes, its so easy to love a soul like hers and the wealthy Assistant District Attorney, Gregory Montgomery loses his heart to her on their first date and they end up getting married right away. This sets the ground for even more humour when the respective parents are introduced to each to other; Dharma's parents are so unconventional and weird, whereas Gregory's parents are uptight socialites who find it difficult to accept their son's new age bride who performs cartwheels in her wedding gown. And this is just the first episode I am talking about... so imagine how entertaining the rest of the episodes are gonna be. I love Dharma, her full name is Dharma Freedom Finklelstein and she is one heck of a character, portrayed with great flair by Jenna Elfman. This is a hilariously inspiring show created by Chuck Lorre, the same guy who created The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, sadly these recent shows seem to lack that endearing charm and goodwill inherent in Dharma and Greg.

Friends

No sitcom list is complete without this iconic and ground breaking TV show that ruled the ratings for a decade, and created six of the most memorable and legendary characters ever conceived; Monica and Ross Geller, Rachel Green, Chandler Bing, Joey Tribbiani and Phoebe Buffay. Friends is a captivating masterpiece and everybody who grew up watching these six guys, wanted to belong to a group just like that... I know I did. They were that influential and inspiring, they helped us deal with day to day situations and they infused a lot of humour into our lives. I remember dreading something and wondering how I was gonna make it through the day and some random joke Chandler cracked would make me smile and help calm the jitters. Yeah, Chandler is my favourite character, and among the girls I like Monica and Rachel. We girls (me, shilpa and anju) even hit upon a solution to get a vague idea bout the basic character of a guy during the potential proposal phase (this is how an arranged marriage works, a number of proposals come your way and the parents screen them and select the one who seems worthy) by asking the guy who his favourite (male) character was in Friends. The answer almost always determines the nature of the person... if the answer was Chandler, it means the guy was probably witty and easy going with a great sense of humour. If he says Ross, it probably means he's a goofy nerd with a head full of useless facts like Ross. And if he replies Joey then you can bet he's not the intellectual type, he's the guy who likes slapstick comedy, the kind of guy who never grows up and whose major happiness lies in food (and girls). I remember asking Antonio this question the very first time we spoke, but he only had a vague idea bout the show, he wasn't into Friends. Anyway, Shakespeare came to his rescue and that's how we ended up together. Coming back to Friends, the  show started out great, the characters seemed real and ordinary enough... like us regular folks. Then somewhere along the line the show became a runaway hit and gained cult status, and things changed subtly. The women no longer looked real or like the person next door, they became celebrities and started looking... perfect. That was what ruined it for me... after they became celebrities and started earning a million dollars per episode they just seemed aloof, know what I mean. They lost their cuteness, their chubbiness, their disheveled   appearance... they all became really thin, and wore perfectly fitting clothes all the time, and their hair was forever sun kissed and blow dried to perfection. I kinda lost interest in them somewhere in the middle...

Well, there are a few more hilariously good shows like the Happy Days, The Hogan Family, Mind Your Language, Charles in Charge etc... but I already wrote too much here, so maybe some other time. 

Friday, January 07, 2011

Grandma's Caramel Cake...

Everybody in my family loves this cake, its my grandmother's recipe and it can be tweaked during the holiday season to form a delicious Christmas fruit cake. The ingredients are simple to remember, you just need equal  quantities of flour, sugar and butter and the cake is guaranteed to come out great.
Ingredients
400 grams maida or all purpose flour
400 grams sugar
400 grams butter
8 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla essence
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
dried fruits and nuts 
brandy or rum (optional)
I've taken 400 grams of butter, sugar and flour cause I wanted to make a large cake for Christmas. You can scale the quantities down to half and make a medium sized cake. Let's start with caramelizing the sugar, from the 400 grams of sugar that you have set aside for this cake, take bout a quarter of that (100 grams) and start heating it in a dry vessel. I usually drop in another handful (bout 50 gms) of sugar to get more of the gooey caramel when I plan on adding brandy or rum to the cake.

So this is the first step, heat the sugar till it forms a dark inky substance. You can use crystalline sugar for caramelizing, and keep stirring it when the vessel is on the flame.
It will turn light golden brown eventually, keep stirring it around till all the lumps dissolve.
You'll get a light brown liquid like this...
Which will start to boil in a few minutes, and you can see it changing colour... becoming darker as it boils. Pour in a little water and continue stirring.
You'll get a dark liquid like this, please switch off the flame, you don't want this to burn. Your dark caramel is now ready.
I used 8 eggs here, if you are gonna scale the recipe down to half, use only 4. Separate the yolk and the white. Make sure to put the egg white in a larger vessel cause when you beat it up it rises like foam.

Now beat the whites and the yellow separately using your electric blender. The whites will raise up like foam, keep beating it till its all one nice and fluffy mass.
Now blend the butter and the sugar (powder the remaining sugar) and beat it up well.
Here it is, the butter and sugar mixture well blended...
Now drop in the mountain of egg white and beat it up well.
Then add the beaten yolks... give it a whirl with the blender.
Next add the caramelized sugar (if you find that it has solidified a bit, you can heat it lightly till it becomes liquid again) and the vanilla essence. Beat the batter well. If you have a little milk, use it to scrape off all the leftover in the egg white vessel, the yolk vessel and the caramelized vessel and add that to the batter and mix it up well.
In another vessel add the maida, the baking powder and the baking soda and mix them all well, or if you have a sieve at home run them all through the sieve. Now add the maida to the batter in batches... and mix it up. Check the consistency too from time to time, the batter should be light and fluffy. [If you plan on adding nuts and dried fruits, don't add the entire 400 grams of maida. Alternatively mix in the maida and the dried fruits till you get the desired batter consistency.]
Now sprinkle some of the maida over the chopped fruits and nuts, and just mix it around with a spoon. Add them to the batter and gently fold everything in with a long spoon. [I had soaked a few chopped nuts and dried fruits in brandy for a month, to make the Christmas cake. Just sprinkle some of the maida over this and add it to the batter.]
Here you go, just fold them in gently. In case at the last minute you decide that you want a brandy/rum flavour in your cake, then go ahead and drop in a few tablespoons of brandy/rum... you'll get a nice heady taste.
Grease and flour your baking pan, spoon the batter in.
Stick it in the oven to bake till a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. This should take bout 30 minutes or so. Here is the cake just out of the oven, allow it to cool down a bit.
I melted some white chocolate to drizzle over the cake, to give it a more sophisticated look. Those glasses to the side are filled wine, this was the midnight Christmas feast after church.

People and especially guys love this cake, I think that intoxicating flavour of brandy really appeals to their senses. Tonio's brother loves this cake, I added extra brandy to the batter just for him. You can skip the brandy and make a wonderful fruit cake that is sure to disappear in a matter a minutes, folks will gobble it down. That's what matters, the happy smiles and the satisfied faces...
Well, have fun baking this cake. Only the caramelizing part requires extra effort, the rest of it is quite easy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Feels good to be home...

A few pictures pertaining to my previous post about a small town Christmas....all these pictures were taken in my hometown during the last few days.
 Stars of all shapes and kinds adorn houses...
 A beautifully lit house...
Serial lights at a major junction...

 A lone star glitters...
 A tastefully decorated house...
 The windows in coordinated serial lights...
 The star, crib and the tree...
 more lights...
 A street with stars everywhere...
 The red and green lights of Christmas...
 More lights...

 An array of stars...
 The tree all lit up...
 Another street...
  
Another house...
 An elaborate crib I saw en route to Tonio's grandmom's house. Looked like they built the whole city of Bethlehem and they had all these miniature figurines inside... t'was really nice, I think it would have looked even better in the evening with all the lights. Don't ask me what the giraffe is doing though...
The Holy Family Church is located near my house and since the Holy Family Festival falls during the last week of December there is always a constant buzz of excitement in my locality. This is the church all lit up and a picture of Jesus made entirely with lights.

 
 Here you see a picture of St. Antony and baby Jesus...
Inside the Holy Family Church... check out the painting on the ceiling. God our Heavenly Father presiding over all of creation.
A statue of Mother Mary at the church, this statue is kinda famous here cause of Mother Mary's eyes... they are life like, like ours. They glimmer with an inner understanding and they really look alive, it somehow feels nice just looking at her.

I'll leave you with a new year's message and the wish that your year be memorable and pleasant...

May this year bring... 

More peace and less hatred, More smiles and less weapons, Less scandals and more humbling stories. Live and let live... Have a wonderful year everybody.