Monday, January 01, 2018

Word of the year 2018 - Active...

It was incredible to usher in the new year 2018 on a Monday... the last weekend of the year was slow and contemplative and I am so thankful for it.
As I looked back on the year 2017 and my word (phrase) - 'show up' for the year, my biggest take away is the persistence to keep following the plan despite the results. 2017 for me was not a year of results, it was about burning the midnight oil and keep plugging away even when nothing seems to be moving on the surface.

Another very important lesson was setting priorities... you'll achieve only what you make time for and even though I don't have sprouts to show for the hard work, I know in my conviction the seeds that have been sown.

After last few years of forging (2015), surrendering (2016) to the path that's in front of me and showing up (2017), it is time to take charge again and the word that I have chosen to set that intention is 'Active'... My commitment to staying active is for my body and for my mind.

For my body, I would like to eliminate extracted sugar from my diet and limit the consumption of high glycemic index foods to special occasions only. Also, a minimum of 10 minutes of activity each day and ideally a 30 minute work out. The goal is to cut out the crap and to move more...

For my mind, I would like to carve out time for contemplation and be more deliberate in my thinking for day to day tasks and yet, be more strategic towards long term career goals. Staying on top of current research in the field and carving out a detailed action plan would help keep my mind active and my knowledge relevant.

I'd write a more detailed post to wrap up 2017 but today being the first day of 2018, I wanted to usher in this new milestone in time with hope and a plan for the future...

'Wish you a happy 2018'  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bacon and Butter

Sharing another foodie escapade story, this time I went on the adventure with my husband. "Bacon and Butter" the name doesn't sound appetizing and was not on my list of restaurant to visit even though I see it often on my drive around town. My husband had heard good things about it and we were looking to try something different so we decided to stop by.
The d├ęcor was clean and industrial but not overtly so and even though it has the diner vibe to it, there is a very different energy in this place. There is a parking lot next to it and the wait wasn't too long.
The menu was single paged and from the dishes offered you could tell it was very seasonal.
DH ordered Billy Club, chicken breast, jalapeno aioli, bacon, avocado, lettuce and mozzarella cheese along with fries, which was finger link potatoes sliced in half and cooked in fresh butter. I try to avoid white bread but after a bite of that sandwich and potato fries, I was ready to order a second lunch. There is something absolutely heavenly about butter and all things cooked in butter.
I ordered a very healthy seasonal greens salad with fresh sliced and grilled asparagus. It was served with poached egg and grilled cheese (possibly burrata cheese coated with parmesan). It was so fresh and delicious that I was convinced that it can not be as healthy as the other salads I have been eating all these while.
Needless to say, we were impressed by the freshness of ingredients and the unique preparations. We started talking to our server and was blown away. He was passionate about the food he served us, he knew the farms where our food grew, their locations and their owners. The way he conveyed all that information, you could tell its not a marketing tactic, he totally has bought into the farm to fork movement and takes great pride in it.
The last wind that blew us over the top was that the check was brought in an old book. What a wonderful reuse of these old books and best thing, you could totally browse the book while you wait for your server to process your check.
When I went in the restaurant, the name 'bacon and butter' conjured up an image in my mind and as I was leaving it, that image was completely changed. Such a great experience, wonderful fresh food and people who believe in sourcing and cooking from the best local ingredients.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Let it be...

Its been almost two years since we moved to California and as I look back at all the decisions that brought me to this juncture in life, I struggle with the direction of a few of those decisions...
All those what ifs in life, all those moments that seem so huge retrospectively but I had hardly paid attention to those moments and the over arching effects they will have on my life.

I think it would be unfair to say that I don't regret any of the decisions and yet I wouldn't have gotten here without those decisions. Life's precious moments seem to be constantly straddling this dilemma, hurting, analyzing and acknowledging the series of decisions that brought me here.

It seems this isn't an isolated phenomenon, others suffer from it as well and during a discussion on this topic with a friend, she introduced me to a new way of thinking about the things in life. She mentioned that often people say you have to 'Let it go' to come to terms with any loss but that's not true. If its hurting you can't let it go, you need to let it be.

One needs to acknowledge the loss, the pain and frustration that is hurting us. We need to look back and review those moments when we picked a path on the fork of life and closed the door on everything that was possible on the other path, acknowledge the fact that you can never go back to the dilemma again, the hurt that's lingering would likely stay there for a long time to come. One possibly needs to go through negative emotions to acknowledge it and express the anger and frustration through bad words and physical retaliation but don't feel guilty about your behavior.
Guide books often guide you to feel zen and above the situation in order to achieve peace but to achieve the calm, your heart needs to agree, you can't just impose the logic of the brain and pretend like things aren't bothering you anymore. If you'd want your heart to come along, you do need to go through the pain, acknowledge its presence and 'Let it be'.

My mom quoted something from an article the other day, "if you want to understand life look to your past but if you want to build a life you need to look forward". I realized that every single moment I'm making a decision and I'm not even sure which one these moments with turn into those life changing events that I'll look back on and ponder over. I can only try and detach the emotions that I am acknowledging as a consequence of a previous decision, from the decision that I'll be making next.

Friday, August 25, 2017

My first time trying El Salvadorian cuisine...

Birds of a feather...
I'm so fortunate to be able to connect with my foodie co-workers, so here's sharing another food adventure story. I call myself an adventurous eater and have tried quite a variety of cuisine but every so often, I come across that I never knew existed and I'm humbled. I guess, I don't know what I don't know until I know about it...

One of my south American friend asked me if I'd be interested in trying El Salvadorian food. We had been working out on the field all morning so a sandwich and iced coffee in the shade of a tree would have been good but actual real food in an air-conditioned restaurant seemed like heaven and could not be refused.
Platano's grill was off interstate I-5 along the frontage road in Lathrop in San Joaquin Valley. I'm pretty sure, I'd not have picked this place on my own but now that I know about it, I'll take my family there.  
These in the picture above are Pastelitos our appetizer. It has a pastry dough shell, filled with chicken and veggies and is deep fried. Really yummy and even though I've had the combination of these ingredients, the flavor was very distinct. I'd recommend sharing as the amount of oil that was soaked in the shell was very evident.

This is what our main course looked like as we started to dig into our food. The small round stuffed bread are called Pupusa. It is flour dough bread cooked on a skillet and comes filled with a variety of flavors. We ordered Chicken and cheese, cheese and vegetable, cheese and beans and cheese and loroco (edible flower from Mexico). They were all extremely fresh and wonderful. I have tried pupusa before (not knowing that its el Salvadorian food) with corn flour dough and I liked those better for the nutty corn flavor but these were so fresh off the skillet that I didn't even remember the other kind till much later.
The black rice dish is Casamiento which is black bean and rice dish and is close to flavor as the rice and (red) beans but the black beans were much firmer and held their distinct taste.
One the on right is Platano (Plantain) served with sour table cream. The plantains were caramelized without any additional flavor and I really liked that. Usual flavoring of cinnamon and sugar makes it too artificial in taste, this was subtle flavor and went very well with the table sour cream.

The cabbage dish is called curtido, to me if felt like a cross between coleslaw and kimchi. Cabbage, carrots and onions are marinated in some vinegar based dressing and has a strong flavor of oregano but the veggies are still crisp and fresh. They served us a jar of it and we promptly gulped it down... one must eat their veggies, right?

We loved their salsa as well. It has robust roasted pepper flavor and was very spicy.
All in all, a wonderful food experience and even though it is a little out of the way from Sacramento, it would be a good family stop as you are heading into or out of town for vacation.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

SMART Rail Service...

SMART- Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit service starts tomorrow between San Rafael and Santa Rosa in Northern California. It is an exciting moment for all working in the transportation industry.
The first day of revenue service begins on Friday 25th August although if you are from the area you are probably already used to seeing the train running through its various test phases.
 The first day of service is free for everyone to try and I'd highly recommend it. They are Clipper card only system so for anyone coming up from Bay area, it would be a breeze but for people new to this cashless ticketing system it would be a bit of learning curve.
 I really like that their platforms are high and afford on level boarding rather than climbing into the coach car. Designers often think of level boarding as an accessibility issue for those who use wheel chair but I think it is good for all travelers specially moms, kids, elderly, people carrying luggage... so many reason to provide good accessibility.
 After the first free day on Friday, the service is discounted 50% till the labor day weekend. So, if Friday is a working day for you and you can't make it up there, hit it over the weekend for all the wineries and breweries that scattered throughout the rail route.
 The interior is very comfortable and equipped with a snack bar.
 The views are breath taking and there are walking/biking trails along the train route that would be good for exploring the area.
 Please keep your dogs on leashes and collect your trash after you. Its a beautiful setting and it would be a shame if humans with their negligence ruined it for the flora and fauna and of course all the future humans as well.
All these pictures are straight out of my camera phone, I didn't have the time to edit them and also share this post by the time SMART starts its service so timely sharing won over perfect pictures.
 Hope you have a pleasant ride and next time you'd consider transit (train/bus) over highways for your family vacation.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Visiting Beijing in Winters...

Late last year, my husband casually asked me if I’d like to go to Beijing for my birthday. It was winters, there was no tour available, we don’t speak mandarin, and we had very short time to prepare but those are not the kind of details over which you’d refuse a trip, right?
I asked friends who had lived in China, I perused over travel articles, I read through blog posts but nothing much (positive anyways) was said about traveling to China in winters but we (a family of four) went anyways. It was much easier to travel in winters than to change my birthdate and thus began the journey. I thought I’d share my experience for any future travelers who’d like to explore China during winter holiday break.

The last organized tour to China was offered during the first week of November and after that the tourism industry goes into hibernation. That just means better travel deals and less tourists. We booked our hotel and flight package through Expedia and chose to stay close to Forbidden City rather than Olympic Village which was the other option in this bundle and is a much modern area compared to the heart of old town.

Since, it was low tourist season once we arrived at the hotel, we got to pick between two very modern and beautiful suites after taking the tour of each room and besides that our breakfast was included in the room price. We like to find hotels which include breakfast during our vacations since it sets us up for the day ahead for sightseeing/hiking as the case may be. The breakfast room wasn’t crowded even though it was holiday season in the western hemisphere and the chefs could easily entertain our requests for omelets and soups.

Low tourist season meant that we could negotiate better deals on local travel, we booked a package for visiting the Great Wall through our hotel concierge. Before visiting Great wall, I had imagined it to be an overly crowded section of an ancient, crumbling wall but thanks to our visit during the winter season, we hardly had any folks with us on the wall. It is huge, magnificent and beautifully restored. And best of all, no photo bombers in any pictures. I could have sat and meditated there for hours before being disturbed by any other visitor, and that is not the case in rest of the monuments that we visited.
One of the biggest threat that our friends’ warned us against was cold. Well, we knew it won’t be a problem with us being from Minnesota. Our key pieces of clothing were long underwear (a couple of sets) and lots of layering. Malls, Taxis and Subways are all air-conditioned so you need to take off a few layers when you are indoors. Also, lots of walking (for us) meant that layers were mostly off and sometimes on. Scarves, hats and gloves were big help after the sun went down and if there was a breeze.

One big concern that DH had was the air quality. He researched and found that air quality is bad during winters and smog lingers on so he ordered these 3M masks from amazon to take us along the trip. They were comfortable and we used it for the first couple days while walking on the road. Most people tourists and locals alike wear masks so it wasn’t too awkward to wear them all the time. But I took them out often since I didn’t want them in all my pictures. Once we were inside a monument, building, I took them off completely. On our third day in Beijing, there was a strong breeze that blew the smog away, it made the air quality much better but the weather considerably chillier.

The best part about going on our own rather than being part of a tour group was authentic Chinese food. The couple of bad food adventures we had were when we were part of a tour (Great wall) or took a guide’s suggestion for a restaurant (Xi’an), it was hugely overpriced, bad strip mall Chinese food. Otherwise the food was excellent and local eateries are very helpful and would like to serve you their best dishes. We had some very fun experiences when the locals suggested to us the dishes we should order while at the restaurant. Will share those in subsequent posts.

All my friends’ who have gone to China with a tour group complain about the food, one experience that we can’t identify with. Food in Beijing was excellent! The air quality issue persists during spring and summer as well, so winter wasn’t really making it much worse. We also heard a lot from friends about overcrowding and people rushing and pushing at all tourist places and not being able to enjoy the sights because of that. Based on these inputs, we are glad we went in winter and didn’t go with a tour group.

We made all our transportation bookings (High speed Rail and sleeper rail) ourselves, there was always one window at the station ticket counter where they spoke English. We mostly traveled in Subway train within town and sometimes took Taxis. It was a great trip, where we were able to enjoy food, sights and shopping at our own pace without any pressures and create some wonderful family memories.

Please feel free to ask any specific questions if you are planning a trip but I do plan to share pictures of all the sights we saw and the experiences we had…