Posted in Family and Society, Life, Quotes, Stories Around the World

Step Over, Move Ahead

“Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.” Helen Keller

With the university applications for the new academic session closed for the present year, many have been forced to decide to apply for the available options or to forgo a year and attempt again for better courses either through scholarships, exams or interviews while doing a regular course or working part-time. For each applicant, witnessing the huge amount of unrest and mental stress warring with their inner dreams and ambitions; the struggle to break out of the chaos is evident and the sheer will required to do so is immense. Similar emotions are felt when trying for employment, change of careers or a higher grade position. Breaking out of the web of constant trials, stress, rejections and fear of the uncertainty needs courage, effort and will, to use what one perceives as road blocks into opportunities or learning sessions.

“Everyone has the ability to increase resilience to stress. It requires hard work and dedication, but over time, you can equip yourself to handle whatever life throws your way without adverse effects to your health. Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.” Amy Morin

Problems are a part of life, or even vice -versa; life has it’s own problems stored at each turn or corner. At times, they may all pop up together; while at other times it’ll be one by one, most common though when we least foresee or expect them. When one learns to step over the rocks in the path or shake off the dirt and grime; continue ahead altering or following the route; the journey then taken may be more interesting, than simply sitting and staring at those very rocks. Like the river that goes on it;s course finding a way across the rocks, turning the rough corners smooth over time; such should be the attitude that one adopts towards the “rocks in their path”.

“When you reach for the stars, you are reaching for the farthest thing out there. When you reach deep into yourself, it is the same thing, but in the opposite direction. If you reach in both directions, you will have spanned the universe.” Vera Nazarian

One day the donkey of a farmer fell into a well. He brayed and screamed terribly, calling for help. The farmer ran up and threw up his hands: “How can you get him out of there?” Then he reasoned: “My donkey is old. He did not have much time left. I was still going to get a new young donkey. And the well, all the same, almost dried up. I was going to bury it for a long time and dig a new well in another place. So why not do it now? At the same time I’m burying a donkey so that there is no smell of decomposition ”. He invited all his neighbors to help him bury the well. All together they took up shovels and began to throw the earth into the well. The donkey immediately understood what was happening and began to publish a terrible squeal. And suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, he fell silent. After a few earth shots, the farmer decided to see what was down there. He was amazed at what he saw there. Every piece of earth that fell on his back was shook off and crushed with his feet. Very soon, to everyone’s amazement, the donkey appeared above – and jumped out of the well!

“Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.” Arnold Palmer

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Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Cheesecake, Origins, Style and Evolution

Pound the cheese until smooth and pasty. Mix the pounded cheese in a brass pan with honey and spring wheat flour. Heat the cheese cake “in one mass”, allow to cool and serve. ( Records from the oldest known Greek recipe, Athenaeus 230 A.D.)

One of the well loved desserts of “cheese cake” has its’ origins as early as the Greek civilizations of 6th century B.C. . Although it was believed that the first cheese cake may have been created on the Greek island of Samos, this mayn’t be exact. In fact, cheese and related products may have been there since the domestication of animals and use of milk by the primitive man. Th earliest evidence of cheese cake, was as per Greek records ( 5th century records of Greek physician Aegimus, Olympic records of 776 B.C. or Athenaeus writings of 230 A.D.) during sports and weddings (as the main wedding cake). Then the basic ingredients of flour, cheese, honey and wheat were taken in the right amounts and baked.

With the conquering of Greece by the Romans, the “cheesecake recipe” was modified to include crushed cheese and eggs. Either baked under a hot brick and served warm, or put into the pastry as a filling; the Roman cheesecake known as “libuma” was meant for special occasions. Cato the Elder’s De Agri Cultura accounts the earliest cheesecake recipes, which mentions three types; libum, savillum and placenta. The latter is almost like the modern cheesecake recipe with a crust that is separately prepared and baked.

“A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” Anthelme Brillat

With the extension of Roman empire, later fall and rise of other civilization; cuisines and recipes were exchanged, experimented and evolved throughout Europe. From Great Britain to Eastern Europe, each region had their unique differences of ingredients, texture, method and presentation of cheesecake. The twelfth century had seen, a cheesecake recipe in the English cookbook, Forme of Curry (1390). Described as a flour based sweet food, various accounts also state cheesecake recipes as “cheese cut into very small pieces, soaked in milk for three hours; the mixture strained and eggs, butter and sugar being added (accounts of chef in employ of Henry VIII).”

Although the name “cheesecake” was used since the 15th century; the modern form of “cheesecake” had evolved around the 18th century. Then yeast was substituted with beaten eggs; thereby removing the overpowering yeast flavour and make it more “dessert-ish” and sweet. With immigration and migration to Americas, the recipes were further modified. The modern American cream cheese was developed in 1872 as an accidental discovery by William Lawrence (Chester, New York) as he tried to recreate the soft, French cheese Neufchâtel. Although he had made an “unripened cheese”, heavier and creamier than the regular; similar creations were made independently by other dairymen.

“New York means many different things to me. It certainly means cheesecake, more species of cheesecake than I ever knew existed: rum, orange, hazelnut, chocolate marble, Italian, Boston, and of course, New York.” David Frost

On a technical point, cheesecake today is more as a torte (based on number of eggs), tart or flan than being a “cake” as they have a separate crust, soft filling and the absence of flour in most recipes. In fact, modern cheesecake comes as two different types; of the baked cheesecake or cheesecakes made with uncooked cream-cheese on a crumbled-biscuit base.

With cheesecakes being broadly categorized as two basic types of baked or unbaked, each region or continent have their own versions or varieties. Like the most popular variety of South African made with whipped cream, cream cheese, gelatin filling, buttered digestive biscuit crust with Amarula liqueur, if not baked or the Asian style cheesecake of cornstarch and eggs (Japan) or cottage cheese, sugar and nuts ( Indian chhena poda, Odishan recipe) or the common unbaked Australian cheesecakes; one can modify the recipe for more fruit based or sweet (chocolate, vanilla or caramel) based flavouring.

“My favourite pudding is a toss-up between cheesecake – proper, New York cheesecake – and apple crumble and custard. Custard is very important, or dark chocolate mousse. Tea: probably Earl Grey, splash of milk.” Tom Hiddleston

For a more global cheesecake style, one can experiment and base recipes as per the French style (Neufchâtel cheese, gelatin), Italian-style (ricotta or mascarpone cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, small bits of candied fruit and sometimes barley flakes), Polish sernik, Russina vatrushka or like in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The latter make their cheesecake typically with a base of crushed, buttered biscuits and often topped with a fruit compote. The usual filling is a mixture of cream cheese, sugar, cream and gelatin at times. Popular non fruit variations are banoffee, coffee, tea, chocolate, Irish cream, white chocolate, marshmallow flavors and even smoked salmon (Scotland). The New York style (heavy cream or sour cream based) and Chicago style (baked cream-cheese, fluffy with a shortbread based crust) cheesecakes are few of the popular American varieties.

The versatility, wide variety and variants, ease as well as simple ingredients of cheesecake are what makes them popular for quick occasions, simple desserts or more elaborate functions. To celebrate the National Cheesecake Day (July 30th), it would be fun to start a “cheesecake” tradition or recipe for family and friends. After all, cheese refines with age, in taste, flavours and texture. Intermixing recipes for new palatable combinations would be an interesting experimentation for the homemaker, artisan as well as the “chef’s eye”.

Posted in Daily, Life, Personal Musings

Gaining the Second Wind

The exhaustion is setting in with the limbs being slowly drained out as they move in tandem motion. Suddenly a spurt of energy like an electricity bolt charges through the tired muscles giving them a new life for what may be perceived then as “the minutes that may make a difference to reach the finish line.”

The above emotions may be experienced by many from a wide variety of genres with variations. Consider a first time runner preparing for a long distance marathon, new time jogger or cyclist trying to cover more ground, racing for the train or bus about to leave the station or even worse, running to reach the airport departure terminal before the boarding gate closes. Add to the list, the daily event of running behind a toddler especially when he is racing towards the main road from the porch, taking part in an endurance challenge as a bet with colleagues, old time friends or the “eternal rush against time” (although the internal batteries are near empty) for the next planned event to start.

While some of us may fit into one of the above or similar scenarios, the rest of us may have many more to add to the growing list. On scientific terms, all these instances correlate with the phenomenon of “second wind”. Most common as an exercise phenomenon or a sleep phenomenon, both involve the sudden increase in energy during a period of fatigue. Similar to the runner’s high (happens after the race is over), second wind is a occurrence in distance running or similar sports whereby an athlete who is out of breath or too tired to continue suddenly finds the strength to press on at top performance with less exertion. While science relates second wind to be a result of the body finding the proper balance of oxygen to counteract the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles; endorphins may also play a role to it.

Descriptions of second wind go back centuries old, found initially associated with strenuous exercise. Metaphorically speaking, second wind often translates as “continuing on with renewed energy past the point thought to be one’s prime, be it in sports, careers or life in general.”

We all need to gain our own second wind in life, especially during the low points in life. While the trigger may be from within or from those around us directly or indirectly; finding the “energy to move on ahead” is important to come out of the dregs that life sometimes throws at us. The best part is that each one of us has “that second wind within us”. All we need to do is to gain the will, faith and courage to bring it out and charge through to get to the “better side” of life that each one of us secretly harbours within. As the adage proves time and again, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”; gain one’s own second wind to reach the “temporary finish lines” and breakthrough the barriers and obstacles that each journey has. Each road is one’s own.

“The fatigue of the climb was great but it is interesting to learn once more how much further one can go on one’s second wind. I think that is an important lesson for everyone to learn for it should also be applied to one’s mental efforts. Most people go through life without ever discovering the existence of that whole field of endeavor which we describe as second wind. Whether mentally or physically occupied most people give up at the first appearance of exhaustion. Thus they never learn the glory and the exhilaration of genuine effort…” Agnes Elizabeth née Ernst Meyer

Posted in Christian, Daily, Personal Musings, Stories Around the World

Gentle Reminder

“I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)

During the Christian life, one often longs for subtle signs during difficult times and moments that God is with us. What one often fails to realize is that what we perceive as a sign, mayn’t be so. In general there was a principle followed by my parents, “If at first it doesn’t feel just within, then it mayn’t be right.”

During the perceived difficult situations, as promised through His Word and the Scriptures, the Lord is always beside His People. Though the voice mayn’t be loud or advice sounded with a blaring horn; certain distinct pointers and emotions may be felt, recalled to mind or highlighted from the situations around us. Then the innate sixth sense comes to life, reassuring one of the prayers for a way out and the hope for a brighter tomorrow; as one learns to believe.

“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:11)

“The man whispered:
– Lord, talk to me.
And meadow grass sang. But the man did not hear. And then the man cried out:
– Lord, speak to me!
And thunder and lightning rolled across the sky. But the man did not hear. He looked round and prayed:
– Lord, let me see you.
And the stars shone brightly. But the man did not notice. He cried in despair:
– Touch me, Lord, and let me know that You are here.
And the Lord touched the man. But the man brushed a butterfly off his shoulder and went away …”

“Know therefore that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Add “Milk” to “Chocolate”

Although this sweet, brown food preparation of roasted and ground cacao seeds have had their earliest evidence of use traced to the Olmecs of Mexico (1900 BC); adding milk to this creation has been a much later development, believed to be around the 19th century.

“Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.” Jo Brand

Around the mid-17th century, milk was sometimes used as an addition to chocolate beverages. With drinking choclate gaining momentum and the Cadbury brothers (1820) had widely marketed it. In order to tackle the flood of chocolate that was entering the UK mainly from Switzerland and France, Fry and Son (1847) started to make tablets of roasted and ground beans, mixed with sugar which were sold as eating chocolate. With expansion of the new “eating chocolate market”, the Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter (1876) working in conjunction with Nestlé, (who had a creamery was next door to his factory), formulated the first commercial milk chocolate recipe. Only a minuscule amount of moisture was used “condensed” milk. The final major manufacturing technique to produce the “modern milk” chocolate was developed three years later by Lindt (1879). He had discovered that when choclate was repeatedly rolled from side to side (in a stone vessel) a much smooth,er textured product could be made. This process, known as “conching” can go on for as long as five days. With the invention of the “conching machine”, the chocolate industry had grown further. Milk chocolate today has 20% cocoa solids as per the British regulations, while for the rest of the European Union, the minimum is 25%. In the US, concentration of chocolate liquor of ten percent is required.

Though proof of later historical details are present, there still exists some confusion as to the first use of milk in chocolate. As legend goes, it was believed that Sir Hans Sloane, founder of the British Museum and physician to Queen Anne and George II, had the brainwave of adding milk to drinking chocolate (1672). While on his travels to Jamaica, Sir Hans had recognized the therapeutic qualities of chocolate. On seeing malnourished, sickly babies being revived after being given a mixture of cocoa, spices and water; it was thought that he had introduced milk with cocoa, recognizing that milk had complimentary nutritional qualities. This recipe was regarded as purely for medicinal purposes.

“There are four basic food groups: plain chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate.” Jill Shalvis

While chocolate is for something special, the making of “milk chocolate” is a labour of love, with three main stages. First is to blend milk ingredients and sugar and gently mix them with chocolate liquor and cocoa powder. Secondly is to dry the mixture where it becomes a milk chocolate crumbly powder. The final stage is where milk chocolate gets its smooth and velvety taste and texture is by ‘conching’, which involves carefully mixing all the ingredients together. The traditional long conching process guarantees a rich, subtle flavour development. While this process starts at a low temperature; as the mixing starts, the temperature is raised very slowly to help it dry and develop new delicate flavours from the heat. Delicate care is taken to gently mix for long enough to full develop the chocolate flavours, to get the most silky way possible.

Besides being a ready indulgence for any time, milk chocolate when melted can add the exotic flavours of sweet and bitter, to the regular dessert, be it from ice cream and coffee, marshmallows, cupcakes, mousse, wafer biscuits or even a chocolate pizza; the list is endless. Little wonder then, that National Milk Chocolate Day (July 28th) is being celebrated by connoisseurs of chocolate, chocolatiers as well as chocolate lovers, both young and the old worldwide. Just like sugar, salt and spice, a little bit of “milk choclate” goes a long way.

Posted in Daily, Family and Society, Personal Musings, Quotes, Stories Around the World, Work

The Way We Phrase Them

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”
– George Gordon, Lord Byron

Reasoning with a child especially of the preschool years, or getting out of their earnest request for their wishes is never easy. The reason being simply is the way they put across their choices with words. From the initial demand of “I want that” to requests pleading “may I please have it” to outright tantrums and then finally the round-about way. The latter is the most difficult one to get out of. The “round-about” ways include “If I would get that new cycle, then I’ll be able to spend less television time and more play”, “new roller blades translates as more exercise” or “the more ice cream and the more veggies trade” and so on. During most of these occasions, what strikes me as most remarkable is their way with words as they put across what they want.

“You can change the course of your life with your words.” Anonymous

The age old conflict of the “pen or the sword being mighty”, it’s the essence of the words that have the power over both. The way we say things have a powerful effect. While positive words leave a good feeling behind, besides changing many perspectives for the better along the way; negative words can have a drastic impact as well. For instance the negative emotions especially at the work place; to put across one’s anger, from direct hurtful words to pointed polite reminders or snide remarks, there are different ways to express out the emotion. Although in doing so, the task may or mayn’t be done; but more than that the bitter taste of the words have the potency to darken the mood of the day. What we say matters. The way we say matters. The “how” we say matters.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

For those days, when we think silence speaks louder than words; at times they may do; but when those words which should be spoken aren’t said, misunderstandings may happen, sometimes reversible; or not. It’s so easy to break, but difficult to repair whether they be people, time or relationships.

Words when born out of concern, kindness, humaneness, love and understanding have the brightness to turn the most stark, dull or difficult occasions into stepping stones as well bring courage to brave the darkness and survive. Yet words when in haste, when in anger, thoughtless or out of tune to the situation and scenario, have the potential to destroy and impair beyond the perceived boundaries.

Words and communication are a gift. While on one hand we have the gift of the using the right words at the right times, the other deep end is either ceaseless chatter, verbal diarrhea, thoughtless and hurtful talk. Being at both ends, that of the sender and the receiver, will teach us through experience and lessons that words can change one’s live, no matter how small or big it may be.

“For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. Their articulation represents a complete, lived experience.” Ingrid Bengis

One day a blind man was sitting on the steps of a building with a hat near his feet and a sign saying: “I am blind, please help.”
One person passed by and stopped. He saw a disabled person who had only a few coins in his hat. He threw him a couple of coins and, without his permission, wrote new words on the tablet. He left her a blind man and left.
By the end of the day, he returned and saw that the hat was full of coins. The blind man recognized him step by step and asked if he was the person who had rewritten the tablet. The blind also wanted to know exactly what he wrote. He replied:
– Nothing that would be wrong. I just wrote it a little differently.
He smiled and left.
A new inscription on the plate was: “It’s spring now, but I can’t see it.”

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” Diane Setterfield

Posted in Daily, Family and Society, Life, poetry, Quotes, Reflections

At the Next Chapter

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” Roy T. Bennett

With one of the extended members of the family entering into the “college” phase of their life, stepping out of the “home nest” becomes a must in order to enter the accepted college. As the young adolescent enters the “independent phase” maturing into the young adult; adapting to the new environment, doing well both in academics and social life, making wise decisions and moving on comfortably in life is the prayer in the mind of every family elder, especially parents.

“Do what is right, not what is easy nor what is popular.” Roy T. Bennett

Being solely independent for the first time in college life may be slightly scary where one is uncertain of the next step or what may happen. Yet staying true to the own conscience, doing right, being fair, understanding, kind as well as practical helps in the transition from home to college. Meeting various fellow individuals with different perspectives and personalities may seem a bit daunting at first, especially for the pure introverts. Yet believe in oneself and the goodness of life; things mayn’t seem so difficult then. Situations will arise, judgement and opinions will be made, either within or out loud by society. Be kind when judging for those shoes may be worn by oneself at some other point of life.

“Judge tenderly, if you must. There is usually a side you have not heard, a story you know nothing about, and a battle waged that you are not having to fight.” Traci Lea Larussa

Be kind. Be just. Think well. Do one’s own best. Be prepared for the worst. When yours truly had attended college and “dorm life” for the first life, these were the first few pieces of advice received. Following these basic guidelines will help later in life as well. Life is there to make memories, receive new teachings, learn, undergo experiences to remember as well as to make mistakes, forgive and learn from the “bad moments”. The journey is complete when one learns to use the downhills to view the uphills. The path was never easy but that’s what makes the travel beautiful and meaningful.

“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey.” Roy T. Bennett

Going out into the world from the threshold of the earth
Do not deprive yourself of good thoughts, –
Do not judge strictly and unequivocally,
And do not rush down to look down.

Understand: maybe something did not understand
You’re in a strange, very difficult fate.
Or outta – in the pursuit of truth?
Did pride leap at you?

Maybe before you invade the soul,
You forgot to look in the eyes?
Very rarely we know how to listen,
Very few are able to endure.

Do not judge unequivocally and strictly –
Keep the joy of your heart.
Do not judge: we all walk under God,
All are His beloved children.
-Rus Svyataya