Help Me to Not Be Bored, a TO-Die-For Cake and a Must-Read Blog Post, a Thank You or Two and an Idea

Snore … zzzzzzzzzzzz

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The most DEElicious cake for #1 son’s birthday! Chomp Chomp

When I have nothing to do and am at the mercy of someone else to keep me entertained, I look to JTV to help keep me from boredom. There’s nothing on so I started daydreaming, but it’s not easy these days. With ECV gone, or rarely broadcasting, the nights at JTV, after I am done broadcasting are eerily quiet. It seems that especially on weekends we are treated to a bevvy of children, or child-like behavior. Ok, it’s not just weekends. The latest thing seems to be “Room Wars.” One broadcaster angry with another. The bickering is more than I can handle. I don’t like it in real life, so I figure there’s no reason for me to engage in it in online, but it’s tough to get away from.

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It seems as though at any given time if you tune into a channel that’s out front on the channel bar you are going to run into one feud or another. It’s like cats fighting. I saw video of one on again, off again broadcaster on the phone with other marginal broadcasters eating up a frequent broadcaster. The things being said were pretty ugly and although the broadcaster has had her moments, what was being said seemed to be purposefully hurtful and incredibly juvenile.

On a few occasions I’ve been asked to write about a specific issue. You know, to make an assessment and write my opinion, but I don’t do that. I just write what goes on in my head, and it seems to change from moment to moment.

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Food Time

Crab Rangoon and Turkey Wraps with Kosher Dills on the Side — good snack food

We have been cooking up some pretty complex, labor-intensive, DEElicious meals and I do plan to get the recipes posted as soon as possible.

This video has a bit of instruction for you from last night’s feast.

This blog post is a must read. For some squeamish people, it might take you off-guard, but power through and you will most likely be on the floor laughing by the end.

Muchas Gracias Fellas!

I just want to send out a quick thank you to Honestguy for being there every night to moderate the room and to ChannelZ for well, for being the room … for building the site, for managing and producing it and for continually adding upgrades and features! You guys are the BEST!

A B.I.M.

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What’s a B.I.M. you ask? Well, it’s what I’ll call a Bright Idea Moment. And I had one today. Well, tonight to be precise. As I was making the ganache for the To-Die-For cake for #1 son’s birthday and watching the comments in the room, I thought, hmmm… what if I produce this cake and offer it to ship it? Or how about if I make it in cup cake form and ship it in those great silicone cup cake wrappers and perhaps in a cup cake tin? Sure, it would be a little pricey, but what a gift, right? I could bake the cake and ship it out that afternoon. Wow! What a Bright Idea! I just need to determine the best packaging for the cake and we have a B.I.M. that can become reality.

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Who’s in? Please respond with a comment to let me know if you’d be interested. Imagine being able to give that cake to a friend or loved one for a birthday or anniversary or graduation, or whatever celebration might be on your list. Hey! How about for Valentine’s Day?! I would decorate it just for the holiday. I am thinking out loud while WordPress goes through it’s blasted middle of the night, just when I am ready to post server maintenance. 😛

Post Script — if the photos don’t load properly, I will attempt to make it right tomorrow. The maintenance seems to be causing problems. Sorry!

Food from Far Off Places

Nothing to Watch

Sometimes there’s just so little to watch in the .tv/lifecasting world. I was on JTV this morning looking for something to watch, but came up empty — again. I sure wish someone would take a trip and bring us along. It’s been months since Nekomimi_Lisa too us to Japan and it would be great if someone else would bring us along on their travels.

I’d like to get a mobile set up and take people to Washington, DC, but at this point it’s an expense I’m not willing to make. I still think about the potential this medium has for the entrepreneurial sort. I can totally see booking travel plans for a vacation after watching a channel that provides information on travel destinations.

How about live streaming video of a resort for destination wedding planning? The stress of a wedding is never easy and many plan destination weddings, but if you’ve only seen the destination from a brochure or a description on a static website, it would be so helpful for the team handling your big day to communicate with you live. It could really add a comfort factor to the bride and groom-to-be’s state of mind.

Then there’s the benefit to realtors and prospective home-buyers. Imagine being on the hunt for a new house, but you live hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Before spending the time and money to travel to the new place you plan to live, check out the neighborhoods and housing available live — online!

There is just so much potential with lifecasting, but there are so few that have really begun to tap into it. The future is wide open, and I think it’s bright.

A Trip to China and to India

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Kung Pao Chicken and Sauteed Spinach.
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And on to the sub continent

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Buttered Chicken, Daal, Naan and a Salad of Tomatoes, Radishes, Onions and Blood Oranges in a Vinaigrette

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What’s Wrong With Me? A Night Out. A Little Promotion Courtesy of EastCoastVegas. And a Couple of Not-to-be-Missed Recipes!

To Sleep, or Not

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Incredibly decadent slow cooked chocolate French toast

What’s wrong with me? I went to bed at midnight .. yes! M-I-D-N-I-G-H-T! A time BEFORE 3am and I woke up at … 6:23am! Why did that happen? This means that for the next 5 days to a week or more I will be waking up at 6:23am no matter what time I go to bed. I don’t know how or why this happens, it just does. It is as though I wake up, look at the clock to see what time it is and go back to sleep just so I can wake up at the same time I did the day before just for the heck of it. It’s like sleep-waking. I remember nothing of the waking up part to check on the time until that mysteriously magical time when my head says — Ah! It’s 6:23 (or whatever time is the current “wake up” time for me), time to get up!

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It makes no sense. I tried hard to get more than 6-ish hours of sleep, but it just wasn’t happening. Of course, that could account for the reason I spent most of the day reading, knitting, writing, uploading photos and creating recipes and slideshows. I barely moved from the couch, but now it’s time to race around and get ready to head out and meet a friend for dinner.

I am really looking forward to our night out. We haven’t gotten to sit and gab for a few months and it’s long overdue.

Then I’m going to come home … driving in the dark is also something I have not done in months and not something I have ever done in this new, barely used little car I downsized to a few months ago, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. REALLY! I’ll be FINE!

Back Safe and Sound

Here I am again, just where I left myself 3 hours ago — on the couch with my laptop perched on my lap, tapping the keyboard in an attempt to communicate and to make interesting, non-boring sense of things and perhaps provide a modicum of information with a dash of humor laced in.

While dining at the ever-popular Macaroni Grill tonight, friend and I … I have italicized her name because I don’t want to keep referring to her as just any old noun, but I also want to respect her privacy and identity so for now, she will be, simply, friend — the color choice a perfect match for her beautiful hair. I think I will refer to friend’s husband in this color, because of his fiery South American-ness. Yes, this is the perfect, if not a bit labor-intensive way to refer to my friend and friend’s husband. Anyway, it turns out that both are fans of Justopia Cooks on justopia.com and friend is also a loyal reader of this blog. Both of these friends (notice they are not italicized or color coordinated because in this case I do mean to reference a common noun) are well acquainted with my global nomad-esque life and life at AOL and in the 12 years I spent there, the three of us had the fortune of working together for years, mostly outside of the US — India, Argentina and Mexico, to be specific.

We have fond memories of the place and one of the three of us is still lucky enough to be toiling away there, while a 2nd is now working for the parent company and one of us is a couch-sitting, blogging, home cooking show broadcasting, Williams-Sonoma working, eccentric. A motley crew we make, no?

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I didn’t end up using the Crock Pot® It was too small or my All Clad ramekin, so I put it in my beautiful All Clad Dutch oven and slipped it into a 200º ove, which worked beautifully!

Anyway, friend and I were chatting about the show and the blog and it turns out that while friend has mentioned to people that I am out here in the digital world broadcasting part of my life each night from 9pm – 11pm Eastern, full details have not been disclosed. And this makes sense. I had kept justopia.com and justopia.wordpress.com big secrets until just recently. But that’s what friends do — they hold confidences when asked or when it seems the right thing to do.

But now that I have begun to disclose my online whereabouts to anyone that will listen, I gave her the green light to let the legions of AOL employees that I was friends or acquaintances with at AOL somewhere in the span of a dozen years in on my online life. Ok, so there are no longer legions of employees left, but even a few dozen new viewers and readers will make me smile. Hell, tell whomever is leading AOL and Member Services now. As you can see, I don’t pay much attention to those details nowadays. My focus is on Chuck Sonoma, All Clad, Staub, Shun, Breville, and more products and people in the realm of all things culinary and retail.

A Plug from EastCoastVegas’ Twitter Account Tonight!

I was looking at blog stats a little while ago and noticed a few hits from EastCoastVegas’ twitter account. I scratched my head and thought … hmmm… what’s up here and clicked my way to Twitter where I found this little surprise!

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Tired of Google? I use https://justopia.wordpress.com and love it!

from txt

Any promotion is good promotion as far as I’m concerned. The more people that come to the show and the blog, the more chances of people not eating at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut all the time. Just a little bit of inspiration and initiative and more people might be eating DEElicious food made right in their own kitchens!

And yes, I was disappointed with Friday night’s big announcement on ECV’s justin.tv channel, but it’s yesterday’s news and we are about to embark on a new week where all the fun and frivolity of Mardi Gras and the march to Easter and Spring begin. That said, I think it’s time for me to head out to my favorite food blog and cooking sites to see what I might find for inspiration for a Mardi Gras show. Oh! And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter. I don’t send many tweets, but I do alert as I launch the broadcast each night which many find a helpful reminder.

Oh! Speaking of planned shows … friend had a GREAT suggestion for a pre-Valentine’s Day show. I won’t disclose just yet, but be on the lookout for something fun and in the spirit of cupid and romance for single — or not — Justopians and Justopia.com viewers.

That said, let’s get on with some DEElicious dishes.

Chicken with Lemons, Garlic and Tarragon

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• 4 chicken legs and/or thighs
• 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
• 10 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
• 1 lemon, quartered or cut into large chunks
• 4 cups of chicken stock
• ¼ cup white wine
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 1 teaspoon tarragon
• Salt and Pepper to taste

In a saucepan, bring chicken stock and garlic to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 45 minutes. If liquid is evaporating too quickly, cover. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a pan and cook chicken until golden brown on all sides. Remove to roasting pan or Dutch oven, reserving oil in the pan. Remove chicken to the roasting pan, adding garlic and lemon.

Add flour to the remaining oil and stir until light brown in color. Add the wine and stir until combined, then add reserved chicken stock and stirring until lightly thickened. Pour over baking pan with chicken, garlic and lemon.

Roast for 1 hour, until chicken is tender and lemon is well cooked and incorporated into the chicken mixture.

Cooking time: 2 hours
Serves: 2

Slow Cooked Decadent Chocolate French Toast – Adapted from Crock Pot® Recipe Collection 2/19

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Eggs, Half & Half, Sugar and Vanlla = Custard

• 3 slices thick-sliced bread such as challah or pannetone with
• ½ cup semi sweet morsels
• 3 eggs
• 2 cups half and half
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ½ tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
• Powdered sugar
• 1 tablespoons toasted, chopped pecans or walnuts
• Lightly sweetened cream for whipping (optional)

Preheat oven to 200º

Whisk eggs, half and half, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and set aside.

Butter large ramekin or other heat-proof baking dish that can fit in a Dutch oven or covered casserole. Place one slice of bread in and add ½ of the semi sweet morsels on top, taking care that the morsels do not spill over the sides.

Layer with another piece of bread, topping with the remaining morsels and top with the 3rd slice of bread.

Pour the egg, half and half, sugar and vanilla (custard) mixture on top of the layered bread and let soak for 10 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed by the bread.

Cover with buttered aluminum foil and place into Dutch oven or casserole. Carefully pour in 1 inch of water. Cover and bake for 2 to 3 hours or until no dough remains on a knife or toothpick when inserted. The French toast will rise like a soufflé and quickly flatten once the cover is removed.

Dust with powdered sugar and add nuts. If you are feeling more decadent (it’s hard to believe it could get any more-so, add fresh whipped cream!

Waiting … Waiting … Waiting … and Another DEElicious Dinner!

Refresher

Just to refresh your memories, this is what I wrote last night with regards to the “breaking news announcement” that ECV and team announced they would be making tonight:

But … I will be pissed if it doesn’t make me say, “OH MY GOD! SHE/HE DID NOT!!” I want the jaw-dropping, horror-stricken, shocked look to come over me kind of feeling from this big news that EastCoast plans to announce from Laggie’s den of flu and seasonal trees. I just hope that Cody and Romeo the cute hot-dogs don’t take all the attention away from the big-Deborah Norville-Inside Edition-TV gossip show breaking news that ECV, pceasy and Lorenzo chatted with us about and posted on the iownthenetwork.com blog tonight is as shocking as they say it is.

Now, I just want to say that as I type this, it is 11:50pm and still no sign of EastCoastVegas. We have heard Laggie on the phone with him — Allegedly — and we have seen a number of Twitter updates adjusting the time of his arrival, but nothing yet. Of course, who knows if I’m being played with.

Ahhh, 11:58pm and he has finally arrived. I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the big news. I sure hope I am not disappointed.

I’m counting on this to be bigger than the moon landing. I’m hoping it’s bigger than the Beatles’s Ed Sullivan appearance. I won’t be disappointed if it’s more shocking than Geraldo Rivera not finding Jimmy Hoffa.

So, now it’s been almost 15 minutes since his arrival and the set up is still in progress. Blah, blah, blah small talk. Here’s the bathroom. Blah, blah, blah. Here is my laptop. Blah, blah, blah. I brought you some pork rinds. Blah, blah, blah. Here is the Michelob Light. Blah … blah … blah ……………………………………………………….

Enough already! On with the show!

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We were victims of technical difficulties for what seemed like hours, but was 45 minutes and at 12:41 I am still waiting…waiting…waiting… So it’s time to move on to tonight’s dinner at justopia.com.

Dinner

Tonight’s dinner was powered in part by a justopia.com viewer. I wanted to make a Bistecca alla Fiorentina — or Tuscan Steak. I had this in Tuscany a few times and it was DEElicious so I wanted to recreate it on the show. Panda sent me mail with a recipe which I embellished just a bit. In the end, it was spectacular. It’s great to have viewer contribution and I hope to receive more suggestions and recipes in the future. Thanks SxyPanda!! 🙂

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Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Broccoli with Crushed Red Pepper and Croutons and Mushroom Pasta with Tomatoes

To make the steak follow the directions below. This is an easy recipe and can be altered easily to suit your taste.

  • 1 Ribeye steak
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed into a paste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon and remaining half of lemon cut in quarters
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided

Crush the garlic into a paste using salt as an abrasive. Place the steak in a non-corrosive pan. Rub the garlic paste on both sides of the steak. Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the lemon juice into the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste and let marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Heat a grill pan to the smoking point and sear the beef to lock in the flavors.

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Disappointment

So, I waited up for the big news and yes, I was disappointed. However, it seemed that the info they announced was still bothering ECV, pceasy and Lorenzo. I guess I’ve just heard too many stories about the fake-identity-on-the-internet thing too many times in the past 14 years for any of this to phase me.

ECV has acknowledged that the show “bombed,” so I am going to let it go. We move on. I’m anxious for the old format and ECV fun to return.

Breakfast for Dinner and Speculating on tomorrow’s ECV Announcement

Curiosity

ECV is talking about a big news story he will be breaking tomorrow on his show that will blow all of our minds — broadcasters and viewers alike. It appears that it involves someone or some people located in Canada. He communicated to us that Deborah Norville picked up the story for Inside Edition from a Digg story that came from iownthenetwork.com, one of ECV’s domains. I am a curious sort, so I’ve been trying to dig up the details, but I am apparently not cut out for private detective work. I can’t find a thing. He did state that he’s alluded to the issue in the past and pceasy said we could probably all figure out the gender of said person(s), but we know how their shenanigans go. It’s all part of the entertainment value.

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ECV is going to love Cody the hot dog climbing all over him at Laggie’s tomorrow night – I can tell

But … I will be pissed if it doesn’t make me say, “OH MY GOD! SHE/HE DID NOT!!” I want the jaw-dropping, horror-stricken, shocked look to come over me kind of feeling from this big news that EastCoast plans to announce from Laggie’s den of flu and seasonal trees. I just hope that Cody and Romeo the cute hot-dogs don’t take all the attention away from the big-Deborah Norville-Inside Edition-TV gossip show breaking news that ECV, pceasy and Lorenzo chatted with us about and posted on the iownthenetwork.com blog tonight is as shocking as they say it is.

Breakfast Risotto

This was a DEElicious addition to dinner tonight. Who would have thought breakfast food could be made in a crock pot! Some of the recipes I found are for hours and hours of cooking just like the main course dishes we are all used to.

  • 1/2 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 4 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups aborio rice
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 cups unfiltered apple juice, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Cook time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours (HIGH)

  1. Coat 4 1/2 quart Crock Pot® slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes or until apples begin to release juices. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Add rice and stir to coat. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top. Add apple juice and vanilla. Cover; cook on HIGH 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until all liquid is absorbed. Ladle risotto into bowls and serve hot. Garnish as desired. I added toasted shredded coconut and toasted walnuts for crunch.

Makes 6 servings

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Omelet, Breakfast Risotto, Hash Browns and thick cut Bacon

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I’ve found the key to making a perfect omelet … cooking on medium heat. I add a “secret ingredient” as well. When the eggs are whisked I add a rounded teaspoon of mayonnaise. Good, full-strength mayo. It makes the eggs smooth. Tonight I added baby spinach, chopped tomatoes, onions and a combo of shredded Monterey Jack and Colby cheeses.

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Wednesday’s Spaghetti Night Feast

I saw a beautiful wedge of gorgonzola at my local Whole Foods market yesterday afternoon and decided on the spot that my spaghetti dish would be an untraditional one. I find it difficult to create menus a few days in advance and the morning I posted the Spaghetti menu I was in the mood for a tomato based sauce, but when I woke up yesterday morning that was not at all what I wanted. So it was luck that I strolled past the cheese section and spotted a beautiful gorgonzola dolce — or sweet gorgonzola. I had button mushrooms in the fridge and a package of nice, thick-cut bacon and some Campari tomatoes to use. I knew it would be a DEElicious dinner.

It’s easy to make this dish:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 box fresh button mushrooms
  • 1 cup cooked (crispy) bacon
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 ounces gorgonzola – I prefer to use dolce or sweet
  • 1 large, minced or thinly sliced shallot
  • 1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pine nuts
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • fresh basil chopped
  • grated parmesano reggiano to taste
  • Spaghetti or fusilli
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water in a large pot to boil for spaghetti and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Heat oil and butter in a sauté pan until bubbling. Add mushrooms and sauté on medium heat until soft and brown, about 15 minutes, adding garlic and shallots in the final 5 minutes. At the same time, put spaghetti in the pot to boil.

Add the gorgonzola cheese and stir constantly as it melts into the mushrooms and bacon. When totally melted, add the heavy cream, stirring constantly until thickened. When done, drain the pasta and toss into the pan with the sauce adding chopped tomatoes and basil and stir to incorporate. Place in serving bowl and add grated parmesan cheese to top.

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Saving Face

The Rug Man for the Third Time

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A fabulous rug under the table and chairs

Everything I do is done with purpose. I do it because it makes me feel good. I do it because it makes you feel good. I do it because it makes me feel accomplished. I do it because it helps you feel accomplished. I do it because it makes me feel strong. I do it because it makes you feel weak. I do it because it makes me feel happy. I do it because it makes you feel happy — which then makes me feel happier. Whether right or wrong, nothing I do is without the need for some specific end result. And so I believe others do the same and I read meaning into every single big or little thing that happens during the course of the day. Of each 24 hour period in my life.

I wonder if this is the basis for Saving Face cultures? Not wanting to embarrass one’s self or others. I’m not sure, but it sounds right. I don’t know what possessed me to state all of this.  Clearly something was bothering me today.  It’s since passed, but since this is my blog, my web log, my online journal and it was floating around in my head this afternoon, I thought I’d commit it to paper. Or well, to keyboard.

So, moving on. I woke up and once realized that I pretty much fell asleep at the keyboard again this morning, although an hour earlier than the day before. And I realized that I’d still not finished my Rug Man story. I read through it and it sounded fine, but the punch line was missing. All stories, whether based in fact or fiction need a punch line and this one totally missed.

So once more — with feeling! and to save a little face, I am going to attempt this again. 🙂

I said that I’d accidentally made a friend in the rug man, but I did not say how it came to be by accident. And this is the best part of the whole damn story! So, please … read on. Don’t expect to guffaw, to roll off your couch in mad hysterics, to laugh so hard that it hurts your stomach, but it makes me smile and sometimes even chuckle when I relive it in words.

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When I moved to India I was bound and determined to make some great rug purchases. I made up my mind to do proper research and to spend some time living there before handing over my hard earned money. Ok, so I talk a big game, but I don’t often play. Trust me, you’ll want to remember this for later.

Shortly after settling in at the job, we began to receive visitors from the corporate headquarters in Dulles, Virginia. Visitors of all sorts — Project Managers, Program Managers, Directors, Vice Presidents, and more. But all these titles meant nothing in terms of what these travelers knew about … well, about travel for one. I was the experienced traveler and expat. Well me, and the other American, my peer, my formerly in the military so he’d traveled and lived in other countries and knew something about living far from home. Our other colleague, a man born in India, educated in the US, created-a-successful-dot.com-company-in-Silicon Valley is not the focus of this story, so we’ll be moving on and save that for later … much later, if ever. Remember what I said above? I do things to make me happy, to make you happy to… well, you get the picture.

So, people called the corporate travel department, made their Business Class bookings and settled in for a trip to what they thought would be an exotic, colorful, exciting, hella cool and life-changing country. Most of it was spot on. Hella cool? I’m not so sure, but in the fall it was pleasant since Bangalore is at an elevation of 3500 sq. ft. Later in the year it was anything but cool — in any vernacular!

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Questions about India, Bangalore specifically? Naaah. Not a one. Nary a single question mark in those first few early visits. That’s good, I guess they knew it all. No need to ask those of us who were living the subcontinent life. No worries, it didn’t take long before I sat down and wrote the traveler’s guide for future visitors. 😉

One of the groups was there for the long-haul, or for more than the perfunctory 5 day site visit. We had scads of mentors shipped in by their site leaders for longer durations. Some up to 3 months. The question quickly became … just why did you send me so-and-so? Were they causing you undue pain at your own site? No need to belabor the point. My colleague and I were not the only ones to suffer the pain. We’d heard it from other corporate expats in other companies in varying industries. India! Wow! What a great place to send SuzieQ for a while so I can get her off my team and improve my metrics.

But, ever the dutiful and caring host, I wanted to make each visitor’s experience a worthwhile one for not only the company, but for themselves as well. What use is it traveling over 8,000 miles if you can’t expand your vision of the world, right? YES! Right! Absolutely! That’s probably the #1 benefit from all this “globalization.” Having people travel and live in unfamiliar cultures is what will solve the world’s problems, right? Well, I truly — I mean REALLY thought so.

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We received contingents of eager explorers and much like Dora in her early days of traveling the globe, many did not have much, if any, foreign travel experience, and most had not ventured to the developing world — ever, so this was going to be an eye opening experience. During my year in Bangalore, only one visitor had been to India in the past and none of the others had been to Asia — any part of Asia, so this made for very interesting, and sometimes humorous times.

I developed an interesting hobby as a result of the influx of inexperienced travelers. I became the resident tour guide. I knew where to go, what to see, how to get around, where to dine, where to see movies, and after time, what was probably most important to those visiting — where to SHOP! But that didn’t come immediately. I had to experience the ups and downs of shopping in Bangalore before I became a trusted source for all things Silky and Sparkly and to walk on or to wear or to display. Once I got my bearings though, I was a shopaholic’s best friend. One of the long-term visitors came back from an afternoon of shopping and in a very animated fashion told me about the shop she found with great rugs and that I had to go check it out! She told the shop keeper that she would send her coworkers over and he let her know we would all get a discount. She caught my attention with that bit of news.

Since none of us were familiar with most of the streets in the city, she gave me directions the best she could. I jotted them down on paper and tucked the information away for the weekend. As soon as Saturday rolled around, I hired a hotel driver — I was still not in a permanent apartment and had not hired a driver so I had to go the hotel transport route.

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Many ways to travel the Bangalore streets

I told the driver I was looking for a rug shop that was one block off Commercial Street and was up a flight of stairs. He seemed to know just which store I was talking about and before long we were swerving and honking our way out to MG Road (Mahatma Ghandi Road) for parts unknown. We made it and I was ready to take a look at some rugs. I walked up the steps to the 2nd floor and the man we all know now as Yasin was behind the counter. A woman was there as well and both eagerly greeted me. I was offered tea and not being a tea drinker I thought I’d accept and take a sip and move on to the rugs. I was surprised by the tea. First by how steaming, no, piping, no, boiling hot it was and then by the taste. This was not the watery tea I’d known. This was Kashmiri tea with cardamom and cinnamon and milk and a fresh minty taste. I liked it and after the pain of burning the tip of my tongue wore off, I finished it so we could move on to the star of the show — the rugs.

So much for my plan to do extensive research! I walked away with a small silk on cotton rug for $1000 and was immediately hooked! I knew I would be back for more. And I was. Over the course of a year I purchased 10 to be precise and one of those I commissioned so that I could have exactly the size, color and pattern I wanted. It was not inexpensive, but as I sit here looking at it under the coffee table my feet are propped up on writing this post, I am still thrilled to have it and all of the others in my possession.

The next time I went to see Yasin he told me that I should never have a taxi let me out in front of his shop because they come up after they shake down the shop keepers for a percentage of the sale! I had no idea, but I let him know that this time it was my own driver that dropped me off and that he need not worry — that Alex would never do such a thing, that I’d taken great care to find the best driver in Bangalore and he could be trusted. I was not kidding about the best in Bangalore. It took a few weeks for us to hire Alex away from the hotel. He had had a bad experience with the last expat he drove for who was an exec at Ericsson.

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In a city of 16 million people, sometimes you have to push and shove

His charge was supposed to be in India for many years, but one day, without warning moved away and Alex was left jobless. For some ridiculous reason the company he drove for at the hotel (Avis) had a policy of not rehiring employees who left for other driving positions. Crazy, shoot yourself in the foot policy, but Alex had learned the hard way and did not want to get stuck in the same boat again. The VP of HR from the US, the local Director of HR and I all explained to Alex that once it was time for me to leave, he would drive for whomever took my place. This seemed to be the key and I had my own driver — finally! He was a soft-spoken man who seemed to care about making me happy and comfortable during our long, arduous commute to and from work which took 45 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on time of day, traffic, accidents and cows, roosters, dogs and more on the road. Alex was the preferred driver for Bill Gates and Michael Dell when they came to town to visit, and I scored the prize! Alex would no longer be available. Silly really, but something about that really tickled me.

After that first rug purchase, Yasin never had an issue with the aftermath of my rug purchases. I made a weekly ritual of spending time at the shop with Yasin and eventually got to meet his brothers and as I’d mentioned in the blog post a couple of days ago, his family. And that is a whole other story which we’ll save for another time.

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I’d always bring my charges to his shop when I took them on the Bangalore tour and some opened their wallets and made beautiful purchases. I’d say more than 50% were purchasers. One day though when Yasin were trying to stay cool under the loud, rattling ceilig fan, he talked about how bad business had become and how people were just not out and about shopping and the conversation turned to my colleagues and to helping them make the perfect rug purchase and he asked why I never send anyone to his shop. I was very confused by this. I told so many people where to buy great rugs in Bangalore, so why did he say no one ever came to see him?

I pulled out the card I was given and Yasin took one look at it and looked at me and informed me that what was printed on the card was for an entirely different store, one that was diagonally across the street from where we were seated! So all along, most of the time I lived in Bangalore, I was sending people to the WRONG STORE! Poor Yasin. And I thought I was doing such a great thing by giving people that address.

Even in my one eye open state of 1/2 sleep, that makes me laugh!

And now, the rest of the story

Off on a Tangent

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Beef Vegetable Soup and Fragrant Orange and Peanut Orzo Salad

My mind works in strange ways. Often it races faster than I can speak. Frequently it has no recollection of important and necessary facts, but always, it’s filled with rambling words that want to make sentences of what “sounds” to me like clear thought. Sometimes what rolls around, banging up against the gray matter comes together in cohesive, understandable thought that can be put to paper. Frequently it’s the beginning or middle or end of a story only, with no understandable introduction or way to get a reader from point A to point Z. And such is the story of the book(s) I’ve been attempting to finish writing.

It’s a stream of consciousness thing. A need to practice everything I say before it flows off the tongue which has helped me to, without purpose, perfect this process, but it does not always work so well for live conversations. As a matter of fact, it’s been pointed out, and dare I say rightly so, that I don’t listen, that I don’t read everything before I question or comment on a thought. This new technology and my mull-it-over-before-I-speak mind and the fast as the speed of light fingers I have, have turned me into one of those thinking-of-the-next-thought-without-really-hearing-what-you’re-saying types that I despise so much. And when I’m distracted, which happens so often when I am online, hell, when I’m not online too, I easily lose my train of thought. This is just what happened to me about 24 hours ago as I was writing the blog post and recapping some of my life in Bangalore.

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What resulted was a piece about friendship and phone calls and tough times in India, but it trailed off without finale. I recall having a really difficult time staying up and I did not take the time to proof read the piece, so until I opened WordPress in the morning and saw the comment from TheBaker, I had no idea that I left the story about my rug merchant friend, Yasin surprising me with a phone call while I was in Jerusalem on business without a conclusion. It just trailed off leaving readers to scratch their heads and say, “Did I miss something?” One reader and loyal Justopia.com viewer asked just that question when she came into the broadcast tonight. Texgal was confused. No wonder. I was sleep-writing and it got to the point of making no sense.

So, now that I’ve finished watching a live ECV broadcast — from USTREAM — Go figure — I am ready to tell you the rest of the story. And it goes something like this:

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Yasin working his rug-selling magic on a colleague that was in town for a few days.  A beautiful 100% silk on silk 1000 or more knots per inch work of art … and small enough to pack in a suitcase. Sold!

Early in my life in Bangalore I happened on a friendship by accident. How does someone happen on a friendship and how does it come about by accident? Good quetions, both of them. Well, I wasn’t out looking to befriend anyone, and although I was interested in Oriental Rugs, but I could not have imagined a lasting relationship would come out of my desire for a silk rug.  A girl at work mentioned having found great store for rugs and other hand crafted Indian treats.  She gave me the address and off I went the next weekend.  I hired  hotel car … I had not yet hired my own driver, nor had the car been leased.  Off I went to the store where I was told I would find incredible silk rugs for fair prices and there was going to be other “stuff” to browse as well.

The driver took me to the street parallel to the shoppers paradise — Commercial street.  He pointed to the steps and I got out of the car and began my ascent to rugs and pashminas and Kashmiri Christmas ornmaments and more — enough stuff, more treasures than I could have dreamed of.

The man who would be known as Yasin looked genuinely delighted to have a customer and before the afternoon was over, I had a coupl of rugs and I had been offered and had accepted a cup of Kashmiri tea and I walked out a few cigarettes shy of a full pack, a little lighter in the wallet and in possession of one silk on cotton rug hand crafted in Kashmir for $1000.  Not bad you say?  I am happy I got this rug, that it began my obsession, but it was a hefty price to pay for a 3’x5′ piece of art.

I’d venture a guess at the fact that Yasin saw from that very moment that he had “a live one,” and he instinctively knew I’d be back for more.  Over the course of living there for a year I bought all but 2 of my collection of rugs from Yasin.  One evening though, I must admit, I stepped out on Yasin and purchased two spectacular pieces at the new shop in the resort hotel — the Leela Palace.  I could not help myself and went home with two 4’x6′ silk on silk rugs that rival the ones purchased at Yasin’s.

What I hadn’t expected was that Yasin would hear about my purchases.  I don’t know, do you think there is a rug seller’s trade show and they all exchange info about their customers?  Surely I was one of the few repeat purchasers and before all was said and done, I was the proud owner of 10 Kashmiri rugs, and very happy about it!
Each weekend I’d make a point to head over to his shop, no matter how oppressively hot I knew it would be up on the 2nd floor, unairconditioned retail space.  We’d regale each other with stories about our countries.  He is from Kashmir and travels back a few times a year to see family and to go on buying trips.  Once I passed the 4 rugs and countless pashminas purchased mark, the invitations to travel to Kashmir to stay with his family began.  I so wanted to be able to take him up on his kind offer.  I knew that my purchases were helping to put food on his table and I suspected on many others in whatever village he hailed from, but due to safety reasons, I was advised by corporate security not to travel to his country — that I would stick out like a sore thumb and it would be more than obvious that I did not belong.  I’ve heard and read about the beauty of Kashmir and so wanted to go, but I behaved and followed orders.  I don’t recall hearing about any US hostage-takings in Kashmir in recent memory, but I knew that had to do the responsible thing and decline.

When Ramadan came around, Yasin invited me and the other expatriate AOL’er I worked with to his home fora  feast.  It was a delicious dinner and a great experience.  Yasin stepped out onto the balcony of his small apartment for a cigarette and discussed religion and politics as our friendship continued to develop.  There I was, a Jewish woman from the US living in Bangalore and enjoying a post Ramadan feast while sitting on the floor as the women served the guests and everyone else sat watching.

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Orzo Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts and Peanuts

I loved it.  The food was superb and plentiful and listening to stories of life in India and Kashmir and the hardships and disappointments of raising 4 girls, with no boy in sight was an experience I could never have imagined having just one year prior.

A big smile would spread across Yasin’s face whenever I’d climb the stairs to the shop.  I am sure that he saw dollar signs, but I also knew that he looked forward to our tea and cigarette breaks as much as I did and as much as I enjoyed watching as rug after rug were rolled out for me to view.  Without fail I’d exclaim, “Yasin!  Don’t do this to me, don’t sell me another rug!”  To which he’s respond, “Oh no, Madame.  I am not selling you these rugs.  The rugs sell themselves!”  And he was always right, but he knew exactly which rugs to unfurl — which colors and patterns would get me all giddy and have me reaching into my wallet for the credit card.  Yes, Yasin is a pro!

And the salesmanship did not stop once I’d left Bangalore.  He’d call and tell me about things in India … the heat, the economic woes, the requests to know when I would be back in town.  We’d chat for a few minutes, always in the middle of the night — the time zone thing just did not register.  Most surprising, and ironic of all was the call I received when sitting at the restaurant at the King David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem a little over a year after having moved back to the US.  I had no idea who would be calling me and when I picked up and heard his voice a big smile came across my face and I knew I’d shock him when I let him know where I was.  Here we were.  Two unlikely friends chatting about rugs and our countries as though we were just a few miles apart.

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Oh the joys of modern technology!  How did we ever live without.  Now, if I could just get word to him that I have a live cooking show each night, I am sure we’d see India or Kashmir represente in the room.