About shivam04

Unexplained phenomenon

the minimalist kitchen, and other stories

Weekend = Five birthday parties, Angry Birds 2 Movie, Lamb Burger in downtown – finally!, a good book – collection of Japanese short stories, a binging spree of Sacred Games, a stellar Burmese meal in San Jose, some odd minimalist home cooked meals, a bit of shopping, a bit of cleaning, a kitchen floor in jeopardy, two house plants from Terrain, and stuffing stuffed toys for charity, a career chat with an ex colleague. I had loads of fun, and now I am truly exhausted. Tomorrow is Monday! Cheers to that.

We are replacing the wood in our kitchen area with tile. The project finally kicked off on Thursday last week, after a year of deliberation. Very unlike most of my projects. What was expected to be a 3 day project will stretch to 7 days. I mean, how have I not learnt this lesson in dealing with contractors. Now if this was any other part of the house, I’d care less. But my kitchen is my sanctuary. And to not have my kitchen to myself on the weekends is a pretty big deal. The only saving grace was that we had 5 birthday parties to attend this weekend so we were hardly home. We did not attend all five. We punted on two.

After hyperventilating about losing access to my kitchen, I turned on my minimalist mode. And made some pretty innovative dishes – One pot vegetable curry rice. Don’t even bother with the recipe. Think of a mix of cabbage, broccoli, rice, chana dal, and tomato/ginger/garlic/onion curry. Tara and Agam loved it. I did not even bother to taste it. But they said it was nice. This morning we made an interesting breakfast – rice with soft boiled egg, avocado, pickled ginger, furikake, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and spicy mayo. Now that was quite tasty. For dinner tonight I grilled some salmon with peach, heirloom tomato and mozarella cheese salad with balsamic vinaigrette. You get the point. Melange of flavors with the goal of emptying the fridge.

We’ve also been eating out in between. So on Saturday morning we went to Nijiya Market and ate curry udon and curry rice with tonkatsu. But the mega deal was Kyusu! A small and unassuming Burmese place in West San Jose. This place was amazing! We were driving towards Los Gatos to take a walk at the Vasona Lake, and it was getting a little late, so we decided to change course and find a quick dinner option close to where we were. I yelped a few options and found Kyusu. They had waitlist on Yelp, and I signed up.

We enjoyed the tea leaf salad, Burmese rice noodles (with chilli on the side), and goat stew with parota. Everything was finger licking delicious. Agam and I were so delighted with the goat stew. One of its kind. We paired the spices with some Japanese Plum wine. I am so happy to have found this place. It is a bit far for us. But totally worth the drive.

After dinner we walked outside and found a Korean BBQ place that was packed with a long line of customers waiting for their turn. And we also saw Zeni, the Ethiopian place I have been wanting to visit ever since I moved to the Bay area. Three amazing restaurants in one strip mall. This is what’s awesome about Bay area!

Anyways, the kitchen shall be returned to me on Wednesday. Until then our minimalist menus will continue πŸ™‚

It’s going to be an interesting week on multiple fronts. Some times all you can do is focus on the next task ahead of you. And not think of the next hour, or the next day. I am going to be doing just that this week. It is a challenge. But a good one.

of praises and cherries

So in general I have a problem with receiving awards, rewards or compliments. Professional or otherwise. I instantly switch to the “why” mode. Why is someone saying these nice words? Why are they giving me a compliment? Why do they think I did well or went beyond my role? I don’t know why this happens. But it is a consistent response from my brain to any sort of compliments or appreciation. I don’t like receiving praise. It’s actually that simple. My instant response to praise is “alright that’s enough, let’s get on with the business.” I don’t know why I am wired this way. But that’s just how it is. Or it was.. until today.

Google has a wonderful culture of peer and spot bonuses. It is a good mechanism available to Googlers to reward behaviors they want to encourage in an organization. And of course it is a nice way to say, “thank you for your efforts!”. I used to be a peer bonus minter back in my IC days, but those are hard to come by when you take on people management. Heh! But once in a while I get the spot bonus, and those are always special. In fact when someone prints the certificate and hand delivers it to you, with words of encouragement, that’s like an icing on the cake with a cherry on top. It is a very awesome type of feeling. But only until my questioning mind jumps in with it’s onslaught of questions.

Today, for literally the first time ever, I stopped the debate right then, and pushed it aside, and decided to enjoy the moment instead of indulging my brain. The outcome was that I enjoyed the conversation and let it be my special moment of the day. So rewarding. And a little difficult. I did go down the path of “but others worked so hard and I didn’t purposely go beyond. I just don’t see the lines. You don’t need to reward that. yadaa yadaa yadaaa….”. And then I said, “stop it! Just take it, and be thankful. You really don’t have to say anything else here.”

Phew! Awkward, but kind of nice. And as always that spot bonus will be attributed to the laundry list of things – like the kitchen floor, that Tiffany’s pendant, the splurge at Crate and Barrel, or the new eye glasses, or for that matter a summer splurge on Tara’s dresses at GAP πŸ˜› I make my bonuses stretch a few thousand miles. Agam knows the drill. He does not object to the limits I cross. He knows that I don’t see the lines πŸ˜‰

Anyways, I came home and pinned my certificate on the soft board, right next to Tara’s million dollar art work. I like seeing it there. And it was then that I realized that it’s not that I don’t enjoy praise. I don’t like to enjoy it publicly. I like to smile at a piece of paper, pinned on a board. I like to read the words but I am uncomfortable about hearing them in person. I like to enjoy my awards in solitude. But why? We are not going to answer than tonight.

Anyways Tara and I sang this song at bed time. Today she asked me the meaning of dhara… since it rhymes with Tara πŸ˜‰ Slowly and steadily she will learn enough words to make enough sense of the language. Or so I hope!

Good things

We went to Berkeley to meet our friends for Poke and AΓ§aΓ­ lunch. It was a delightful afternoon.I met D at Google a long time ago. We have very few things in common. And yet we enjoy each other’s company. She is literally the most qualified and yet the most humble person I know. From D, I learn to be content. I admire her resilience and her composure. She is definitely one of her kind.

We both lost a parent pretty early in life and even though we never talk about it, it’s one of those things that we silently acknowledge. We share our love for cooking and putting together simple yet nourishing meals for our family. She is now a doting mother, and I enjoy watching her attend to her adorable son. It was not long ago when I used to tell her about Tara, and she’d have this strange expression of – “I wonder what it feels like to be a Mom”.

Ever since she moved to the East Bay, from San Francisco, she has been telling me about Berkeley Bowl, a local produce and grocery store that’s a highlight of her new suburban life. Today after visiting them for lunch, we decided to go visit the much hyped attraction.

Oh well! It was just as she had described. A Disneyland for someone like me. I went nuts walking the aisles of this massive store. So much variety. And such fresh and tempting produce. I wish there was one close to our place. 😦 I also wish that D lived close by. Sigh.

Anyways, it was hard for me to exit the store. I bought all sort of Asian spices and ingredients, and delicious papaya and fresh lotus root. Agam was patient. He knows how much I love romancing the aisles of a good grocery store. Berkeley Bowl was everything that I could ask for. It reminded me of Naturals in Forest Hills, in NY.

I’ve made some really good friends in the last decade. Bay Area in that respect has lived up to my expectations. I moved here to find more like minded people. NY was too cold – literally, and figuratively.

In the 14 years I’ve spent in this country, the last 10 have been my personal best πŸ™‚ Cheers to all the good things in life – friendships, poke, aΓ§aΓ­ and of course the warm and cozy California πŸ™‚

Meanwhile Tara’s breakfast this morning was quite gourmet – almond flour pancakes by chef Moi πŸ˜‰

Summer, STEM and Sprees

We met LN via Nextdoor. She is a student at Cal Poly, spendings summer with her Mom, doing odd jobs through the week to help pay for her college. LN got an admit to the Civil Engineering program and found it to be a very dry subject, and was not happy to be in a program dominated by men. So she switched to Psych. She is hard working, smart, warm, and fun loving. She helped me fold laundry, iron my (grrr) linen shirts, and did some chopping for the week. Tara loved having her around, and I was glad to find some help, finally! If only for the next few weeks, after which LN goes back to school.

I could not help but learn all I could about LN. And I was impressed by her tenacity. And depressed by our society. LN’s case is not unique. Civil Engineering, although much in line with STEM, is a dry subject. And someone as lively as LN is right to consider it a misfit for her goals. But then we take these numbers, and get upset about the drop out rates for women in STEM. Well, I am not here to argue the numbers or the rationale. I am proud of LN to pursue what she thinks does justice to her interest and her personality.

A few years ago when I was in Delhi I called my favorite professor, and my thesis advisor in college. When he learnt about what I do now, he was slightly disappointed in me. He remembered that I was good at Microprocessors. A subject I loved because of the his style of teaching. He even recollected that while a lot of folks in my class did badly in LIC (Linear Integrated Circuits), I scored a distinction. [ I don’t know why he remembered all my scores. But it warmed my heart speaking to him.] He confirmed, “but Khullar, you went to the US to do a MS in DSP, why did you get into this business stuff?”. I had to address his disappointment so I gave it a shot. “But Sir, I always loved people more than machines. You know that. So I chose people over machines. And though I don’t build micro processors, that education is still relevant. It gives me a solid foundation.” But I know he was not convinced. So I laughed and reminded him about how much I hated DSP. He knew it. I always blamed the Professor who never took any interest in making the class engaging.

NKC believed in me. At a time when even I did not believe in myself. It mattered to me that I had let him down. That day even I was disappointed in myself. Thankfully the despondence did not last long.

I am glad LN quit civil engineering before it was too late. I hope she enjoys Psych. And that she comes back and helps me next summer. And I hope I will stop wearing linen shirts by then. grrr!

This weekend was a cooking spree. We finally (super late) took out the grill on Saturday and enjoyed some chicken and veggie skewers for dinner. Saturday evening I prepped for lunch with work friends. It was so nice to meet everyone’s families and enjoy a happy meal together on Sunday, without worrying about the next meeting, the next QBR, or the next escalation. It is always fun meeting everyone’s spouses and kids too. Although I was meeting some of them for the first time, I felt like I always knew what they’d be like, based on the stories I’d heard.

Being the younger ones’ in the group, Agam and I got some interesting early insights into the Bay area public and private schools. We have been doing some research but the contrasting stories we heard today definitely got me a little worried. In the end I’d just like a diverse, loving and encouraging environment for Tara. Too much to ask for. I know. But I need to start my school research soon. I don’t care about public or private.

I loved my cooking spree. Made dal makhani after a very long time. Not disappointing. I refuse to fry the paneer in my palak paneer, and so it got mushy. But the taste was ok. I did enjoy the mutton a lot. It was little on the dry side, but the curry came together nicely. A few side salads, and some bread pudding. Agam surprised me with this pic. He knows how much I love to put together meals like today’s. πŸ˜€ Well he also gets to enjoy the leftovers πŸ˜‰

human chain

I love picking up Tara after work. Since Agam’s office was so close to Tara’s school, we got into the routine of him doing pick up and drop off duties for a long time. With his new gig in Palo Alto, I am back to my pick up duties, and frankly, loving it.

I look forward to the end of the day and my play time with Tara and her friends. She comes running into my arms, and so do the others. And they are so adorable. Always hungry for so much love and affection.

Today we played a silly pretend game that turned into a beautiful human chain, and a lot of giggles. Tara’s friend Alba wanted me to play with them at the slides, so I indulged them. And then she said, “let’s go to pump it up”. I played along, and agreed. So hand in hand, Alba and I started walking across the play ground saying we are going to Pump it Up. And the kids started to notice. Tara heard us too, and she came running and asked if she can join, so we agreed. With me in the middle and Tara and Alba on my side, we started singing, we are going to pump it up. What happened then was the most adorable sequence of events.

One after the other, the kids started to join us, and we formed a human chain. There were 17 of us. We counted out loud, and then closed our circle. The kids were ecstatic to have come together in a circle. We did some rounds, and then decided to play “ring around the rosies, pocket full of posies.” And then we giggled and giggled and acted to fall down. The chain broke, and Tara and I ran for the door, and waived goodbyes to our companions.

The episode was a hit with the teachers and the kids. And we had a lot of fun bringing all the kids together for a fun activity.

Tara and I giggled our way through the corridors, and drove back home. When we were getting our bags out of the car, Tara said, “You love my friends. Don’t you?”. I said, “Of course. They are as adorable as you are.” She said, “when I was a baby, I did not like it when you played with them. But now I do. I think you are cool.”

Hahahah, my little girl is not a baby anymore. And it is so cool that she thinks that I am cool. Now I need to keep working on my coolness πŸ˜‰

I feel like I live to bring people together. It is like my secret mission. It is what I seek, in my relationships, at home and at work, with my friends, and Tara’s friends. It’s that simple.

I struggle with the notion of people drawing lines amongst themselves. May be the day I stop struggling with this, I will stop doing justice to my mission. May be this struggle is one worth living with.

Untangle the knots

While responding to an email at work, I wrote, “wow you made my day!”. The responder was surprised. He responded, “If it takes so little to make your day, I will make sure I do it more often.” I responded, “I try to derive joy from very little things. It keeps it real.”

To be honest, though I try to derive joy from little things, I also get disturbed by the little things. But that’s me. A hyper sensitive human, always sensing, reading the word no one writes, observing the under currents. And as much as I try to grow a pair of filters for my eyes who see too much, and for my ears that hear too much and a heart that feels too much, I fail. But I also know how to untie the knots I create.

On Sunday we went to Rockaway beach in Pacifica for a quick rendezvous with the ocean. Agam decided to take the kite along. Tara loves kites. When we reached Pacifica, the weather turned sour on us and the chill and fog took over the beach. We were determined to fly our kite, and so we did. By the time the kite took flight, Agam and Tara decided they were freezing and wanted to get back to the car. Of course, I was in a very buoyant mood by then. Well of course the ocean does its magic on me. [Agam also thinks that my rendezvous with the ocean cured my week long cold. :)]

While Agam and Tara returned to the car, I pursued my solitary walk to the nearby hill, with the kite still soaring high. As I was walking back my kite got stuck on the terrace of the Moonraker Hotel. I could not even see it and tugging the thread made no difference. What followed was a practical demonstration of my struggle with my thoughts in my little messy mind.

The kite was my thought, and I was my mind. My goal was to free my thoughts from the constraints of my mind, and let it be free.

I struggled with the kite. I tugged hard, almost gave up, decided to walk up to the terrace, ask for help, and finally decided to go tangential to the direction of the wind. I applied the laws of physics, some first principles, and with will, grit, and persistence, and a lot of trial and error, iteration, and patience, I untangled the kite, and it was free once again.

An old lady was watching me struggle as I focussed on getting the kite out. When she saw me smiling at it. She walked over to me, and said, “you are a professional.”. I asked, “at what?”. She said, “at freeing the kite.”

And I said to myself, “And freeing myself from the thoughts that try to control my mind.”

I reeled the thread back, packed the kite, and came back to the warmth of my sun and my star. A little lighter. A little happier and with a fresh and free mind.

Happy 73rd Papa

Wish you a very happy birthday, Papa! May your spirit always be joyful, charismatic, and kind. Just like you were. 73 sounds so old. In a way I am glad my memory of you froze while you were still 64. To see my man in old age would have been hard for me.

How selfish is this human soul? Even after losing him, I am more worried about my discomfort if he had lived to be 73. If he had lived to be 73, he would have heard his grand daughter sing a birthday song for him. We just assumed Nanu was around and we sung for him.

This morning after getting Tara’s breakfast ready I stole a few moments from my usually chaotic morning to drink the day’s first coffee on the deck. I enjoyed the sunrise and the first warm rays of the sun that hit the deck. Soon the light filled the sky. And suddenly my world lost its color.

The birds kept on singing

Even the breeze brushed my cheeks

But the world suddenly lost its color

Or has it been this way since a few weeks?

As the light filtered through the leaves

The contrast blinded my sight

As if the sun was showing me its core

Proving to me its might

Sometimes this light can help you

To illuminate the darkest corners of your soul

And sometimes it can burn you

Consuming you as a whole

I am but a work in progress

I claim no glory nor defeat

The sun has made its presence felt

I must not surrender to this heat

I will live to see the color return

Of this I am quite sure

There will be another coffee on the deck

And the sky will be azure