Should I Become a Dabbawala??

Lunch Fare

I haven’t cooked on camera the past two nights because of my work schedule, so I thought I’d put up some of my shots of India and a video or two

From what I’ve seen, Bento Boxes are a big deal in the blog world. I’ve run across blogs that detail a Bento Box art and blog about Cute Bento Boxes with Western ingredients and blogs about Building a Better Bento Box. It goes on and on. There’s even a Flickr group dedicated to the Bento Box!

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Another Milestone and Memories

Auspicious Da


This is my new favorite meal — Roast Chicken, Home Made Stuffing and Green Beans with Bacon and Almonds

It is an important day here at Living the Justopian Life. Today marks the 300th post to this blog. That’s 300 days of watching, of being inspired – in a writing way, reading, rewriting, shooting, photographing, and rewriting once again until the finished draft is acceptable and ready to be sent off through the ether to land on browsers all across … well, somewhere. If you’re reading this it means you clicked on a link or a button somewhere, either by design or by accident and landed in a world of words about a relatively new phenomena —


Thank you for continuing to read and for the comments and for allowing me a place to spill the words that bounce around in my head, and need a place to settle each day.

My How Time Flies


Memories, like the corners of my mind, misty watercolor memories, of the way we were.

Sappy yes, but sending in my almost expired, worn and frayed passport was a bittersweet moment for me. The old, or should I say most recently renewed passport has taken me far and wide. The worn blue covered book with stamps from almost every continent on the planet tells tales of vacations and jobs, heartbreaks, and illness, of friends and foes, foods and culinary adventures sights, sounds and smells and shopping extravaganzas from around the world that I never would have imagined I’d experience in my lifetime.


Scattered pictures Of the smiles we left behind. Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were.

These 4″x3″ blue bound diaries are a window to the past 10 years of my life. The passports were an unintended consequence of the travel requirement for documentation. A happy accident. Without the myriad stamps within the book, there are trips I will likely not remember in the future.


Oh boy, after more photos and fingerprints (all 10 digits, mind you) and paperwork, I am allowed to live and work in the Philippines for a year, when I get to do it all over again.

These passports are the library that contain the history of my life’s travels since 1973. Although I have kept spotty journal entries over these 10 years and not until May 2, 2007 did I begin keeping an almost real-time accounting of life (as it pertains to JTV), the passport won’t lie, won’t confuse the chronological order of trips, won’t remember things incorrectly. What’s stamped in the book, as long as it’s never misplaced or lost is an actual accounting of things as they were for me for a decade and while I’m tempted to pick up a black Sharpie and blot out the photo, I won’t. That too is a documented accounting of my past.


When the number of stamps has almost exceeded the allotted number of available spaces on the pages of a passport, it is not retired to the back of a drawer or a file. It is sent in for new pages to be officially sewn in.

The image above of extra pages in the book reminds me of countless hours traveling to and from airports, standing at ticket counters, waiting in long lines at security checkpoints, eating at airport restaurants, waiting in passenger lounges, and boarding jumbo jets for 21 hour days of travel to my destination. I’d say my least favorite route was the Washington>>Frankfurt>>Bangalore trip.


Having landed in Frankfurt after 9 hours of flying I knew I’d have another 10 hour leg to Bangalore to get through. Well actually, that may not have been the worst. Washington>>Detroit>>Tokyo>>Manila was never fun and games. The first hop is easy. Two and a half hours and you’re in Detroit. You’ve barely taken off when breakfast is being cleaned up and you’re preparing to land. After a few hours in the lounge or walking around the terminal shops you’re boarding a 747 and preparing for an 11 hour flight over the polar ice cap to Japan.


Depending on the route, you can, in your sleepless or Ambien-induced haze troll for a great Japanese snack, not that you’d need one after 11 hours of in air entertainment, food and snacks. Just when you think you’re going to crawl out of your skin you board yet another jumbo jet for the 4.5 hour leg of the trip south to Manila. Of all the portions of this 21 hour day, this is the most grueling. The very last thing you want to do is cross the threshold to the waiting flight attendants who are smiling (whether sincere or not) and awaiting your arrival.


I have issues with grumpiness if I am running low on sleep in my own home, can you imagine me out in the world, 1/2 way across the planet, with a few hundred strangers, most of whom are pushing and shoving, wanting to be first through the door? It was never easy to drag a smile out of this Justopian during those legs of the trip.

Saving Face

The Rug Man for the Third Time


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.


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, 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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

New Cookbook Makes for Great Dinner

A Passage Back to India


As you know, I spent a year in India for work a few moons ago. It was not an easy year, but one that I am happy, in the end to have experienced. The journey began just one year after my relocation back to the US from 2.5 years in the Philippines and it was a welcome move. I was not ready to repatriate from Asia, so when I got the tap on the shoulder and the now infamous, “Fran, would you move to India to help us out?” I knew I’d say yes. It didn’t matter that I’d been to India 29 years prior and that my memories were of heat, extreme begging, unfamiliar red-hot food, strong odors wherever we went, the scourge of Delhi Belly that threatened to extinguish all life from me and pollution — noise, traffic, pedestrian — that seemed impossible. It made no difference that as a teen I’d vowed to never come back to this uncomfortably unfamiliar country — ever again.


Fresh grated ginger, crushed garlic and cumin powder

What mattered was that I said silently, inside my own mind, “Move to Bangalore, India! ? Are you nuts? You said never again!” So I walked to the transport back to the resort in Vail, or was it Aspen? I can’t remember, the place is inconsequential at this point other than it was at an altitude of 11,000 feet and the altitude sickness was apparently not only wreaking havoc in terms of a constant, killer headache, but the lack of oxygen was obviously clouding my thought because I almost immediately — once I stopped my tongue from bleeding (I’d chomped down real hard) I said YES!


Tomatoes, Onions, Celery, Carrots, Cilantro, Lime Juice, Olive Oil and Chaat Masala

Little did I know just how difficult the year would be, but along with the hardships, there was great personal growth and discovery. I also came back from the experience with life long friendships having been established and a house full of silk rugs among other treasures. Among those I call friends is the “Rug man.” The Kashmiri purveyor of hand knotted rugs, pashminas, sandalwood tzochkies and more that sold his wares in a 2nd story shop one block off the dizzingly chaotic tourist and shopper’s mecca called Commercial Street.


Ground red chilis

Yasin became my oasis of calm on weekends. He was someone I could trust to have nothing but a cup of piping hot Kashmir tea, enlightening conversation and a rug or three or more rolled out, not in my honor, but in hopes that I would make yet another purchase to add to my growing collection.


My cell phone still rings at middle of the night hours every 4 – 6 months with the enthusiastic and ever-hopeful Yasin at the other end. While pat of me thinks he calls because he’s got a crush on the American business woman with money to spend on trinkets and silk rugs and … well, the list goes on. I know I had some kind of infatuation with the man that provided me with hours of escape from the sweltering heat under the Bangalore sun with stories of Kashmiri rug makers and politics and cigarettes during lazy Saturdays or Sundays.

The most remarkable call must have been about a year after I’d moved back to the US and was on a business trip to Jerusalem. I was at the dinner table with my boss/friend and a colleague waiting for our meal to be served when my cell phone rang. Through the scratchy connection I heard the familiar voice, the unmistakable Yasin greeting, “MADAME! Can you hear me?”


Aside from material things, what I brought back from India was a more substantial view into Indian cuisine.

Tonight while people were channel jumping in JTV in hopes of finding something well worth their time, I was scouring a cookbook for the best way to go on air with the promised Indian dinner.

It came off very well. The meal was DEElicious and while there were a lot of ingredients, putting it all together as not a time-hog.

All three recipes are courtesy of The Food of India a Journey for Food Lovers – Recipes by Priya Wickramashinghe and Carol Selva Rajah

Cardomom Chicken

This dish has a highly aromatic sauce flavored with cardamom. The yogurt makes the sauce deliciously creamy. If you don’t make your own yogurt, drain commercial yogurt overnight. This makes the sauce much richer by getting rid of any excess liquid.

  • 3 lb. 5 oz. chicken pieces
  • 25 cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/4 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or oil
  • 1 2/3 cups coconut milk
  • 6 green chilies, pricked al over
  • 2 tablespoons chopped corander (cilantro) leaves
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash and pat chicken dry.

Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and crush in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. In a blender, mix the garlic with enough of the yogurt (about 3 tablepoons) to make a paste, or, if you prefer, mix them with a spoon. Add the caramom, pepper and grated lemon rind. Spread this over the chicken pieces. Covedr, and leave in the fridge overnight.

Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy pan over low heat and brown the chicken pieces all over. Add the remaining yogurt and coconut milk to the pan, bring to the boil, then add the hole chilies and the coriander leaves. Simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Season with salt to taste, and stir in the lemon juice.

Stuffed Capsicums

Stuffing vegetables is a cooking method used for special occasions. These stuffed capsicums (peppers) are simmered in a coconut-flavored sauce. The capsicums should be the small variety usually used in india. Red or yellow can also be used.

  • 14 oz. potatoes, quartered
  • 6 small green capsicums (peppers)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder


  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 3/4 oz creamed coconut, mixed with 1 cup water, or 1 cup coconut cream

Cook the potato in a saucepan of simmering water for 15 minutes, or until tender, then drain and cut into small cubes. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the capsicums and blanch for 5 minutes. Refresh the capsicums in cold water, cut round the stem and remove both it and the seeds. Drain well upside-down.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and cook the onion over medium heat until soft but not browned. Add the cumin, coriander, tumeric and chili and mix thoroughly. Mix in the potato and season with salt. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Divide into six portions and fill each pepper.

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a deep, heavy based frying pan and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with salt, to taste. Add the stuffed capsicums to the pan, arranging them so that they stand upright in a single layer, and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Serve the capsicums with a little sauce spooned over the top.



A very healthy North Indian snack often served as a starter in restaurants, or with drinks. Many of the ingredients can be increased or decreased according to personal taste. The combination of cucumber and fresh coriander is very refreshing.

  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small cucumbers, finely chopped
  • 3 1/2 oz ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 chili, finely chopped
  • 1 green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 3/4 cup unroasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chaat masala

Stir together in a bowl, the onion, cucumber, tomato, coriander, chilies and lemon juoice

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat, add the peanuts and salt and fry for 1 minute. Sprinkle with the pepper an chaat masala and stir fry for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to the onion mixture. Season with more salt to taste just before serving. The seasoning is added at the end to prevent the ingredients from releasing too much juice before serving.

Serve in small bowls. Chucumbercan be eaten with spoon or scooped up in pieces of roti.

NOTE: I was out of cucumber and added celery and apple in it’s place. DEElicious!