Saturday, November 22, 2014


Most of the time when you make a major purchase in India, the negotiated price includes shipping to your overseas home. To say that the packages are well-protected is somewhat of an understatement. Here is the "unveiling" of a marble piece we purchased in Agra in September.

First, the overall box:
Note that the outer fabric layer is sewn closed.
Removing the outer fabric layer, revealed a layer of single-face corrugated board, then a wooden crate wrapped with rope:

Obviously, we had the carton upside-down. But at this point it doesn't really matter.
Just prying off the top of the crate was a challenge. Inside were lots of styrofoam bits -- pretty much what you might expect.

Digging through the loose styrofoam revealed the final package -- actually two -- one for the vase and one for its stand.

But we're not done yet. The vase itself has been wrapped with plastic cushioning, which was secured with packing tape and twine.

Unwrapping this gave the final vase!

Our purchase in the showroom in Agra.
Total time to unwrap: the better part of an hour. Total time to put the shipment together in the first place? I have no idea!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Back in the U.S. -- Wildlife Pix

I'm back in the States for 3 weeks to visit family and celebrate Thanksgiving.

One of the interesting things to check when I get back is our motion-triggered wildlife camera. In addition to catching wandering animals, it also documents the vehicles that come up and down our road.

The vast majority of wildlife photos are of deer. This buck has the beginnings of a nice 6-point rack -- still covered with velvet in this August photo.
This year, we haven't had as many turkey pictures as usual. But this is the first time I've seen deer and turkeys in the same photo.
In September, a nice tall weed grew up right in front of the camera, so it looks like the deer are hiding.
Once the weed was in place, all the night photos were overwhelmed by reflection off the plant. But you can make out a deer shadow in the lower right corner (enlarged below).

And finally, some of our regular visitors know that they're being recorded:

Simon and Associates check our septic aeration system twice a year. The funky color is due to an IR filter that has become stuck in the "off" position as the batteries started to fail. The camera batteries finally died in mid-October.

Monday, November 10, 2014

More Adventures in Indian Cooking

Indian snacks ("nashta") come in three varieties: sweet ("mitthai"), salty ("namkeen"), and savory ("farsan"). One of my favorite snacks is "chakli" (or "chakri"; "murukku" in the south of India). They are fried spirals of spicy dough. I tried making some this summer, but they require a heavy-duty cookie press to extrude the dough -- and the cheap aluminum one I had wasn't even close to the task.

So yesterday, we ventured into a "steel shop"-- an Indian kitchenwares shop. Indians eat on, drink from, and store food in metal dishes and containers. Think steel plates, cups, and bowls rather than plastic or ceramic, and steel "Tupperware". I asked for a chakli-maker, and even with the language barrier (we speak no Gujarati), I was able to get exactly what I needed: a heavy-duty brass extruder:

The extruder is essentially a screw press.
The extruder comes with several plates to make various types of noodles.

The chakli shape is a star:

The dough is spiced with turmeric, ginger, chilies, and cumin, along with some salt and sesame seeds. The extruded spirals are then fried to a crisp golden brown.

My results looked fine and tasted OK, but were not quite as crispy as "authentic" chaklis. Next time I'll have to try adding a bit of besun (chickpea flour) and rice flour to the wheat flour base. Still, I amazed our Indian friends that an American could pull off a reasonable version of a classic Indian snack.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Vapi Sights

It's been a while since I've posted. The post-festival let-down is in full swing. There's not much special to see and do, the weather is still quite hot (35°C - 94°F for an afternoon high), and the "dust" is thick.

While the industrial pollution in Vapi is legendary,  trash burning contributes significantly to the poor air quality. This fire is on the street just outside the major temple in town.
Burning does reduce the volume of trash -- and makes it easier to pull out the recyclable metals. But it still adds lots of smoke and soot to the atmosphere.
Change of subject: Critters

I'm surprised there are any pigs in India -- no one eats pork here! (I do miss having an occasional strip of bacon…)
This one was on the road in a housing subdivision in Vapi.

Natural mosquito control (sort-of). This friendly lizard has been hanging out in our kitchen. As far as I'm concerned, he doesn't eat enough mosquitoes!