23 February 2012

How to keep Coriander leaves (cilantro) fresh in the Fridge

My fridge always has three things that I consider essential to my cooking: coriander leaves, lime and chillies. The latter two stay quite well when simply tossed in but keeping the coriander leaves fresh has taken a bit of experimentation. When I first started to maintain my own kitchen I asked around aplenty for the tricks people use, and discovered that there are as many way of doing this as there are recipes for garam masala. Here's mine for the record.

Step 1 - Buy Fresh. If you have a limp set of bruised leaves to begin with, there is no way you can be Nurse Herb.

Step 2 - Pick and soak.
Once the coriander leaves are home, don't abandon them and wander off to watch the Lord of Rings Trilogy. The leaves require immediate attention. If you aren't able to process them right away, do the Coffin:  wet a hand towel thoroughly and wrap it around the entire bunch, roots and all. The Coffin can be shoved into any corner of your counter. If you think that you'll be taking more than 24 hours to pick out the leaves, you can put it into the fridge at this point. The longest I have left the Coffin in the fridge is 48 hours, making sure the towel is wet the whole time.

You can do the pick and soak routine while doing other tasks like watching TV, arguing with your mate, listening to a podcast or gawking at pigeons on your balcony. You will need a bowl with lots of water and somewhere to store the discarded stems (great for the compost bin). I normally pick the leaves with a bit of stem still left on them and remove brown and black leaves at this stage. You can do this to the degree that you are obsessive. Toss leaves into bowl of water as you pick them off. Every few ticks, plunge your fingers into the bowl to make sure all leaves are covered in the water. My bowl here is a salad spinner. Things are pretty nifty if you are using a spinner. I do two washes (saving the water for the plants) and then a few rounds of spinning. The leaves should look dry but feel moist between your fingers.

For all those who pouted when you read salad spinner because it is not yet an item on your kitchen shelf, here's the alternative. Rinse the leaves in a couple of changes of water or how many ever times suits your paranoia. In India the leaves I get are quite mucky so rigorous rinsing is a must. After the final rinse, lay the leaves on a dry kitchen towel making sure you spread the leaves evenly over the surface. You are ready for the next step when the leaves look dry but feel moist between your fingers. This does take time depending on how hot and humid your kitchen is. You can speed it up by making another Coffin (with a dry towel though).

Step 3 - Store
Take a suitable size container (preferably plastic) which has a tight lid. I have tried using the stainless steel dubbas with holes in them - useless. Don't worry about squashing too many leaves in. As long as the lid stays shut once all your leaves are in, and you hear some rustling movement when the container is shaken, you are good.
Line the bottom with paper. I use supermarket receipts, ATM receipts - all those receipts that somehow find their way into my purse. Put the leaves in. I put another receipt on top. Close the lid and shove into fridge. This container typically lounges on the shelf right about the crisper on my fridge.

Other notes:
  • Leaves have stayed fresh in this system at my home for at least 20 days.
  • To most working folk, this whole rigmarole might seem like too much time. Train your maid to do it - my modus operandi! The protocol above is the Standard Operating Procedure for processing all green leafy veggies in my kitchen.
  • OK so don't have a maid to do this. Well, you can actually shove the whole bunch, as it is,  into a box as described in Step 3. The paper receipts, I have discovered, are excellent at maintaining the right humidity in the box. The annoyance in cutting through Step 2 is that each time you want to use the leaves, you would have to rinse them. I have done this in the past and not seen any difference  in longevity if the leaves are not picked. It basically boils down to how much time you have.
  • I think the reason this works well is that the receipts and the closed environment somehow keep the leaves at an optimum humidity. Often the receipts are wet to touch after a few days in the fridge. If your receipts are getting too wet ( as wet as if they had gone for a walk in the rain), you can replace them.

19 February 2012

Connecting dots

"He likes Chinese food and cricket," crooned Savitri as she watched the faces of her friends looking at the picture of Ashok on her phone. She couldn't stop smiling. The three friends had gathered to trade stories and Savitri was the first of them to be officially engaged. It was big news, heralding the entry of one of them into domesticity, the ultimate goal of their existence. 

Rukmini stopped by their table as the mobile phone was being passed around and asked the obvious question. The response was a fit of giggles. Savitri, Susan and Shanti had been meeting regularly at the bar and she liked their young innocence. It amused her immensely since the three girls, despite her entreaties, refrained from drinking alcohol. They came to gossip and seemed to require no more stimulus than a fresh lime juice or occasionally, a fizzy drink. 

It was Shanti who finally ended the giggling spree and blurted out, "Savitri is engaged to this boy." Rukmini was hoping it was only a boyfriend and was disappointed that Savitri was already contemplating marriage. She asked for all the details like a nosy auntie. After a sharp intake of breath, Savitri launched into a piece that would form the main content of all her conversations for some time to come. Ashok was tall and fair; Rukmini constrained herself from rolling her eyes at the mention of colour. He had finished his MBA and then got a job in a bank that had posted him in America. He was the only child. The match had been suggested by Savitri’s neighbour, and after their families had spoken, they had been permitted to speak with each other unsupervised. They tried to talk often but Ashok very busy at work. Even though they had not met in person, Savitri was convinced that he was the man of her dreams. They had similar family backgrounds, went to academically matched institutions and felt they were ready for marriage. The wedding was in two months, and she hoped to leave for America soon after.

Rukmini tried hard not to give Savitri a good shake. What was wrong with the girl? She was just finishing college, and seemed to think that marriage was simply a change of address and last name. But she didn't echo her thoughts aloud - when the girls wanted advice, she would be available, but till then her role was consciously limited. Instead, she smiled broadly and asked Manivannan to bring a plate of Gobi Manchurian to the table; it was on the house. She asked Savitri to bring her fiancee at his next visit to India. Despite the sign on the door that the bar was for ladies only, Rukmini as proprietor occasionally indulged in flexibility when a particular story had tickled her curiosity. The invitation elicited another round of giggles from all the girls. At Ashok' s next visit, Savitri and he would be married.

It was surprising to Rukmini when a couple of months later, Savitri bought Ashok to the bar. They were newly married and Savitri whispered that it was Ashok who wanted to come to the bar. Drinking alcohol was not acceptable in their homes and Ashok had wanted a break from the endless loop of congratulatory messages and insipid blessings. Rukmini was thrilled that he drank alcohol and quickly got organized to give the newlyweds some specials. Ashok wanted a fruity drink with plenty of alcohol; Savitri coyly asked for the same but without the alcohol. Rukmini also remembered Savitri's comment about the colour of his complexion. While she was at the counter fixing drinks, she asked Manivannan to turn up the lights near their table. It was then that she caught Ashok's face more fully. When bathed in yellow, his skin seemed speckled, an inedible reminder of adolescent acne, and despite the bushy eyebrows there was a trace of what Rukmini would consider handsome. The face felt very familiar. Even the loud flowery shirt he wore was somehow etched in her memory. Since the rolodex in her mind refused to identify the face, she soon forgot about it – after all, she ran a bar and Ashok’s face was common enough to be forgettable.

But Rukmini was the type of person who was very uncomfortable with unsolved mysteries so at every opportunity in the evening she stole a glance at Ashok, trying hard to make an identity match against the faces of all the young men she had tucked away in her memory. It was towards the end of the night that it finally hit her, like a lightening bolt. She had seen that face in an email her friend had sent to announce her child’s engagement. Attached to the email were photographs of the couple. She quickly checked her email to confirm – yes, the resemblance to Ashok was strong, and he was wearing the same shirt. Ashok looked happy and much unlike what he was with Savitri. So, he was engaged to someone else and had married another?

Rukmini’s mind quickly entered into chaotic thinking. What if this was a strange coincidence? Maybe she should just forward the email to Savitri and allow her to come to her own conclusions? May be she could slip a note to her. No, that would be cowardice. She looked at Savitri and a goofy face cupped in henna-ed hands stared back at her. That was enough to convince Rukmini that without a footnote, Savitri would not understand the email. Was it right for Rukmini to interfere, to be the bearer of news that would unsettle the young girl and possibly end her marriage?

Rukmini methodically rubbed the counter-top. The circular motions calmed her. This was not going to be easy. Rukmini did not immediately even know what words she would use to tell Savitri this. But it was not right to withhold this information. She caught Savitri's eye and beckoned her. Used to being docile and deferential to elders, Savitri immediately understood the gesture and started to walk towards the counter. Rukmini steeled her resolve, composed her face and started to mentally pick the words she might use to tell Savitri that Ashok possibly had another life, in which he was gay.

To Shoots for inspiring me to complete this story.
To N, for coaxing me into making it read better.

4 February 2012

Eureka Forbes Aquasure Water Filter, HomeTown, and Why India might never have a double digit growth rate

There are many in India who will read this post, nod vigorously as I recount my story, chew on the state of affairs and wash away the pain of incompetence with some Kingfisher beer. As writing for me is cathartic, this post is for medical reasons.

My time has been spent this week doing two things - getting a filter for our Aquasure non-electrical unit and chasing after HomeTown for a delivery.

A bit of background on the HomeTown. We ordered a cabinet on 15 Jan and after a delay, two boxes were delivered on 26 Jan. On 28 Jan an assembly person put it together only for us to discover that it was not what we ordered. Phone calls ensued - I was asked to repeatedly confirm on which floor we ordered it from and what the price was. That's how they keep stock of their inventory apparently. The store is 20kms away and I was asked to visit to confirm my order. I said I would, only if I was reimbursed petrol costs. Luckily the assembly person remembered that what they delivered resided on the 4th floor while I was clear from the start that my order resided on the 1st. The sales person and logistics incharge thus agreed that they made a mistake in how our order was coded. I got an email admitting this and a promise that Sunday would see a pick up of the old stuff and by Tuesday we will get the new stuff.

Read on for the rest of the saga...

  • Called the Eureka Forbes (EF) help line to ask where I can get a replacement filter. Was pointed to nearest customer service centre. Visited centre to learn that they don't keep parts. Was given number of sales rep who can help. S says he will come tomorrow with filter.  
  •  I call S in the morning to find out when he will come. Afternoon, madam.
  • Call HomeTown. They only open at 11:30am. Try reaching them after this - its more popular than the prime minister's office. Finally get through and informed pick up of old stuff will happen today.  Complain that this should have happened on Sunday. Don't know when they will come today. I ask for Manager's name and contact. It's her day off. I ask for the next incharge. They will call me. Hrrumph.
  • At PM hours S calls to say product is not in stock, he will get from other centre and come tomorrow. I ask for two filters. Sorry, only one is available. I don't understand how for the entire city of Bangalore only one is available!
  • I call HomeTown again about the pickup. No update. I write a stinker email to the logistics incharge.
  • I try the EF chat helpline. I give my name, number and product. I am informed that a technician will visit my home and charge Rs 200 for servicing. I growl - I need a filter. I can install it myself. I just need to know where to buy it. Chat reply - A technician will contact me shortly.
  • In the evening I pop into the nearby Croma, since they stock EF products. Not surprisingly by this point, they don't store replacement filters. I am provided numbers to follow up - all dead ends. I leave a complaint with the store to pass along to their EF contact.
  • I receive phonecall from Manager at Hometown. Sorry for delay. A pick up will happen this evening by 9. No one calls or shows up.
  • I call S to find out what time he will come. He's non-commital. I press for afternoon before 3:30pm.
  • I call HomeTown at 11:30am. Impossible to get through any number. At 1pm I am able to reach the Manager. He's surprised to hear that a pick up has not happened. It will happen today, I am promised. 
  • S arrives, bearing the wrong filter. S asks me to call EF helpline. Wait, isn't this how the whole story started? Chagrined and highly peeved I ask for the number of a manager to talk to about this. No show. S calls the call centre himself. I am provided a number of the service centre where filters are available. No address is given. I call - it's continuously engaged. I call the help centre and ask for the same agent who then gives me another number (Why didn't he just give me all available numbers the first time?). I call this number and reach P, who confirms that I will get three filters tomorrow. I describe the filter in length since here too there is no code that they seem to understand. I even give her the barcode number still stuck to the bottom of the filter. We finally agree that technician will come bearing three each of all possible filters. I ask where their office is - it's exactly where S came from. How is it that they have everything in stock? I rat on S. 
  • I call the EF main office and complain that no one seems to know where these filters are available and the customer being God is myth. I am asked to contact helpline. I scoff and say I want to complain to someone who is incharge of the Aquasure product line. She give me the number of the sales chap, whose mobile is switched off for 3 hours. I give up.
  • Hometown chaps show up. Wrong item is removed from premises.  
  • I call P in the morning to confirm when filters will arrive. She hands phone to technician. I once again try to describe the filter I have. We reach consensus on the colour of the filter. 
  • 11:30am: I try HomeTown. Impossible to get through as usual. I write another stinker email threatening consumer court action. 
  • 1pm: Husband calls HomeTown. Delivery of the correct cabinet will happen today. Don't know when. 
  • Technician arrives at 1pm. Hurrah, or should I say Eureka, filters are correct. I get three.
  • HomeTown calls. Driver on the way. Assembly chap calls me to ask if he should pop over. I inform that there is nothing yet to fix - still waiting for shipment to arrive.
  • 5pm shipment arrives. 7pm assembly person arrives. 9pm Ktichen cabinet assembled and placed in living area. 
4 days, 2 tasks completed. I operate  on prepaid now. Between calling HomeTown, the drivers, assembly person, Aquasure helpline, technicians, offices I have spent Rs 150. I am sure a few of my nerve cells have burned out in the process but these are harder to quantify.

I have three observations:

1. Processes are there. They don't work. helpline, chatline - useless. They have trained parrots to tell you that a technician will arrive and will cost you Rs 200. They are either trained to deliver a single response or not provided the authority to use common sense. No one listens to a question, and information provided is incomplete even if they do. For e.g., delivery will happen today. Er, when? I don't know.
2. There is inadequate information distribution in a company. One helpline person directed me to an office where no parts are sold, and the other gave me the number of a person who actually deals in these parts. The Office I visited gave the number of a salesperson who told me that his Office doesn't stock extra parts of the filter and then a day later, someone from that very office showed up with 3 of at least 10 different kinds. 
3. Zero follow through. You may be the customer but it's your responsibility to follow up through with the status. Except on Thursday, there was no communication from HomeTown to monitor the progress of a wrong delivery.

India shining? Better buy some Brasso. Buy 2 actually.