Monday, October 31, 2011


Yesterday was Sunday the 30th of October, the day before Hallowe'en, and we had a busy day. Firstly I went with Emma's dad to my new favorite clothing store in Bangalore - Reid and Taylor - so that we could get some custom shirts. I got a couple of shirts and a suit a few weeks ago, and it's amazing how good you feel wearing custom-fitted clothes. They work out no more expensive than the non-custom versions in the US, but it's so much better. Emma's dad was interested in getting a couple of shirts too, so we searched through to find the fabrics we wanted, and got measured up and we'll be picking them up next week. A new suit and three shirts for me!

After that we took Emma's parents to the Leela Palace for their famed Sunday brunch. It's a great, if very expensive, thing to do on a Sunday - huge buffets, big supervised lunch and play area for the kids, plus unlimited drinks - they keep your champagne glass full the whole time. The food was great - salads, roasts, pastas, Mediterranean, Indian, and barbecue. I had never had tandoori quail before, but I'll be sure to try it again.

Once we got back to Palm Meadows it was time for the kids to change into their Hallowe'en costumes for the kids' parade. It feels really strange to be doing Hallowe'en stuff when the weather still feels summery to us. It's been between 68F and 80F for the last few weeks - a little cooler than when we first arrived but still a good deal warmer than it is in Minneapolis, and there are no autumn leaves on the ground. Last couple of years the kids have trick-or-treated in their costumes, big coats and snow boots, but this year they were wearing sandals with their costumes.

All the families gathered in front of the club house, and after a good bit of Indian-style gentle mayhem the kids went off on their parade. Emma and I zoomed home to make sure we had candy ready for the trick-or-treaters, but after a few minutes it started to rain, and we realized we didn't really know where the kids were. I think we'd assumed they'd all be in a big parade but maybe they scattered when the rain started. Toby got home with the dad of one of his friends after a few minutes, but there was no Dara. Em and I raced out to find her, and I got to her first - she was bumbling along with one of her friends just round the corner from us. They had an umbrella and were chatting away quite unconcerned about what was going on. Palm Meadows is totally safe but it was still a little strange that they were off on their own. We got Dara's friend home no problem - the only upset was that we didn't let her stay over at our place for a sleepover. And that, just like in Minneapolis, some trick-or-treaters are little rascals - someone seemed to have swiped our whole candy stash while we were out.

Later in the evening we were all pretty wiped out from all the excitement (and lunch) but it was a fun eventful day.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Booms and Swarms

This week is a big one in India - it's Diwali, which has a lot of mythical origins but now seems to mostly involve putting lights on houses, eating loads and setting off insanely huge fireworks in the street. The racket has been crazy for a couple of nights now - the noise is like being in a war zone. Lots of firecrackers, rockets and other stuff, just fired off in the middle of the road. Cars, autos and bikes just ride past them as they're going off. The fireworks are pretty awesome, probably as a result of having no safety regulations and being so close to China, where most of them are made. It did get a little annoying on Monday night when they were still firing off at 2am, and the kid next door started at 6:30am but it wasn't so late last night.

Speaking of last night, I had to do a couple of work calls from home in the evening and to be honest they were a bit of a waste of time - with all the noise from outside I either had to mute my microphone, or when people on the other side were speaking I couldn't hear anything they were saying. One thing that did come up towards the end of the call was when my boss mentioned what a great time he had at our house when he was in town last week, and how the cook and Emma had made such delicious food. Some of the folks on the team said "you have a cook? Sign me up for an expat assignment!" I kind of smiled through gritted teeth because it was getting late, towards the end of the second hour of evening calls after having worked 8:30 - 5:30 during the day. And what they and I didn't know is that later that evening Emma and I had a bit of a drama.

As we were getting ready for bed Emma noticed a couple of ants by the bedroom closet. She got some spray and zapped them - they walk around for a minute or so then go into spasms like they are a malfunctioning robot. But it must have set off some kind of panic because two minutes later there were about 100 ants on the floor. More spray, and there were about 1000 ants on the top of the closet, and on the floor too. Freak out time. With a combination of spray and our awesome Dyson handheld vacuum we kept them at bay for a bit but we realized this wasn't a tenable situation. With it being around 11pm on Diwali night there was no way the Rentokil guy would be available, so I went over to the Palm Meadows clubhouse to beg for help. Eventually I got hold of a maintenance guy who came over and took a look. By that point the tide had abated somewhat (between Emma and me we had vacuumed up 6 loads of ants) but there were still a bunch more around. The guy was awesome, took a good look around and noted that they were probably coming in through the wall, after the really heavy rains a couple of nights before (after which the power was out so it was cold showers in the morning). Fortunately the closets themselves are sealed at the back, so no ants had gotten into our clothes but there was a gap between the wall and the top of the closet, and the ants were in the space in between the closet and the wall. He went and got another guy and between them they sealed the gaps and he promised to come back in the morning with ant medicine and ant ointment.

So this morning there were no ants visible in the bedroom, and he came over as promised to treat the outside of the house. It was only Rs500 - about $10, and we gave him another Rs100 for his trouble (he refused to take a tip last night). I can't imagine how much it would have cost if we'd had to do a similar thing in Minneapolis on Christmas night!

So, next time you think that it's all easy life and lounging around having staff here, bear in mind that you might have more "people" in your house than you might think.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

You can fool some of the people...

Big week in the Mogendorff house; Sir's Sir (Andrew's Boss) is in town for meetings and he came over for dinner. This got Stella and Suma very excited, and also very effective. Cleaning was above average, flowers were arranged just so and a rangola was painted outside the front door.

Sir's Sir was born in India, but moved to the US while still in school. He's vegetarian, and so Stella and I planned a suitable meal with some of our favourite dishes:
 - lemon rice; a Karnataka special (also our driver, Mahesh's favourite food)
 - lots of paratha; the kids go crazy for it
 - coconut carrots; just trust us, it is buttery delicious heaven
 - india style okra and tomato; my favourite
 - veggies cutlets with mint sauce; Stella insisted
 - raita
 - fruit salad and ginger cookies

After Stella left on Monday I realised that there was no okra dish prepared. I'm pretty good in a kitchen-based crisis and so I got out my Bandly (that's Kannada for a copper bottom balti dish) and decided to fake it. Bit of oil, ginger paste, some onion, chana masala, okra, tomato puree and some actual tomatoes, water and cook it nice and slow till it's thick. Tasted pretty good.

So, mealtime starts and Andrew and S'sS tuck into the dishes at the table. As predicted, they're singing Stella's praises. I casually ask how the okra is before admitting that it was in fact me who prepared that dish. I don't know if there is an optimum amount of surprise here - too much and they are basically saying I can't cook, too little and you'd have to assume the dish was not authentic. Let's record that their surprise registered well into my comfort zone.

Fast forward to Tuesday am when Stella arrives for work mortified that she forgot to do it. No problem, I tell her, I made some... received a concerned look... there's some in the fridge, please try it and tell me what you think. She finally tried it today, Wednesday, while I was out. Here's the verdict:
S: Madam, the Okra
E: yes, how was it?
S: nice madam... but madam... no salt?
E: well only a little
S: needs more salt

So there you go. At lunchtime we decided to give some to Mahesh to go with his lemon rice. No idea what he thought of my recipe as Stella added the extra salt, she said he wouldn't eat it without.

I'm going to claim it as a success as Sir and Sir's Sir both enjoyed it.

The children were especially sweet at welcoming S'sS. Dara put on one of her India outifts and lots of bangles. Toby was more subtle (so subtle we didn't actually notice, we felt bad when we found out) and put on company inspired red and khaki.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Caveat Helix

Last weekend I found out that one of the families on our street has possession of the neighborhood snake anti-venom stash. You don't get a lot of snakes around, but we have met enough families who have had them in the garden to know that is a real threat. Apparently the secret local anti-venom stash is necessary because you only have about 30 minutes to get help (you'll recall it takes 45 mins to get anywhere in Bangalore), and you can't guarantee that the medical center you head for will have anti-venom available. I think that it is not entirely legal to have some in your home, but better safe than in compliance sometimes.

Andrew and I took the opportunity to chat with Dara over breakfast and check she knew what to do if she saw a snake. Correct answer is run away, fast, and tell a grown up. She got as far as run away... so we asked, then what?... ask a silly question... Dara: get sweaty... hmm, she got it in the end, but given her proclivity for talking to animals I suspect we'd be in trouble. As she was considering this new information she decided that it wasn't just snakes... if you met a 'mean snail' you should also run away. We still haven't got a clear picture of how you tell the difference between a nice snail and a mean snail, but perhaps when she comes racing in to tell us about one we'll take a look and let you know.