Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Little Blue Button

When we first set up a household in India, we wanted to purchase only what we thought was practical. We also wanted to be a little more "green" with energy consumption. So we made a few choices...
We purchased a small, Indian made car. We decided not to get an oven, but to cook in a normal Indian kitchen. And we bought a small, simple refrigerator. At the time these all seemed like reasonable decisions.
The results:
The car has turned out fine. It's a little tight, but is efficient and reliable.
Life without an oven has run its course.... We really enjoy Indian food, but we've concluded our family needs a routine with a few more familiar foods in it. So we plan to get a little oven for our new apartment in Delhi.
This brings me to our little Samsung refrigerator. This is the choice that just won't leave me alone. The fridge is small, but functional. And it's very efficient with its four star energy rating. The problem is with the auto-defrost function... there isn't one. But there is a little Blue Button.
When India is hot and humid (like it is now in monsoon season) the ice can really build up fast, turning the refrigerator's little freezer compartment into a small, frozen cave. The small freezer door refuses to shut and then, finally, ice crystals begin marching their way down into the main compartment below. I can extend the inevitable by chipping away at the edges of the ice around the freezer door, but this solution doesn't last long.
When I start losing site of ice trays and the few odd items that will actually fit inside our freezer, I just push that little blue "defrost" button.... And I wait. For about three hours. Then I open the door to what has now become a slushy, drippy, watery mess.
If you are older than 35, you probably know what it means to manually defrost a freezer. Your mother used to put pots of hot water inside the top of your kitchen refrigerator to defrost the freezer box... And there were lots of old towels to keep the water from getting all over the floor.
To defrost our little fridge everything must come out of the icebox and the upper shelves. The Blue Button shuts off the fridge and warms the case surrounding the icebox. Then ice and slush surrounding the icebox must be chipped, shovelled, swept and finally toweled out.Once done, this icy slop is carted across a wet kitchen floor to the sink where it winds up as a mound of melting snow. The lower shelves, also now all drippy and wet, have to be dried off. Then I have to drain and dry the puddle of nasty freezer-water that has accumulated in the bottom of the fridge. The final task is to dry condensation off containers, vegetables and frozen items that I have tumbled and stacked on the kitchen counter. All of the items get returned to their respective places once again inside the refrigerator.
I do get some pleasure out of this whole cold, soggy, sweaty choice: The sight of a freshly cleaned and dried icebox, followed by the sound of that little Blue Button popping out. Our small Samsung refrigerator has turned itself back on.
Lesa says I put the "man" in Manual Defrost.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chatting with a Mahout

My driver and I were in downtown Noida yesterday when we spotted a "Mahout" riding his very large male elephant past one of the newly completed metro stations here. Chauhan (my driver) and I were finished with our afternoon errands so we decided to see if the guy would stop and 'visit' with us for a few minutes on the side of the road. To be honest, I just wanted to better understand why I keep seeing these giant animals casually strolling through city traffic.
It turned out that the elephant driver (or "Mahout") was really nice and very willing to talk with us. He was apparently from southwest Delhi (about 15 km away) and was on his way to a large party on the other side of Noida in the neighboring community of Ghaziabad. My driver says the mahout was probably making about 10,000 rupees ($200) for this very long walk and special appearance.
Chauhan helped translate my questions while we spoke. As I was standing there on the edge of the street, the elephant stepped closer and touched me on my shoulder and hand with his long trunk as if to say, "hello." Then the elephant reached out past me and wrapped his trunk around a small tree that had been recently planted by city at the side of the road. He gently tugged and pulled the tall sapling right out of the ground.... just a small snack.
At this point we realized we had started to draw a small crowd of curious onlookers: "What's the white guy with the camera doing with that elephant on the side of the road?" I think there were maybe 25 people closing in on us...
So we thanked the Mahout for his time. Then he gave Chauhan his card and said if we ever want a ride to please give his son a call. Then off the two of them lumbered, man and beast, on again to their scheduled party appearance. Just another day in suburban Noida.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gotta Get the Dood.

What seems like the simplest of tasks can actually be a bit more complicated in India. Drinking milk is a great example. Because there isn't a guaranteed 24 hour power supply in most places here, the concept of buying fresh, refrigerated milk in the grocery store doesn't really exist. But, as with all things here, there are always unique alternatives.

The most expensive option is to buy milk in a box. Essentially "irradiated" milk, it comes in whole or skim varieties and the brands range from Nestle to our local Amul. I have to say though, that because it can sit on the shelf at room temperature (read as anywhere from 50 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit) the taste is less than spectacular. When chilled though, Audrey and Evan seem to like it despite the altered taste.
The second option (and least expensive ) is having a guy deliver your milk at your doorstep each morning. This stuff is straight from the cow. It's still warm and carried in a classic aluminum milk jug. He ladles it out from the jug and into your container of choice. Probably costs about 20 cents for a quart (litre) of milk. Because we aren't sure where this milk actually comes from and how its collected we haven't tried it out.
Here at ATS, the best option for buying milk has materialized in the form or Mr. Tyagi. Or "Tyagi-ji, the "Doodha-Walla." "Dood" is the Hindi word for milk. As I've noted before, the word "walla" means, "seller of." In this case, Tyagi-ji is a seller of milk.
He is set up in our complex every morning at about 6am with milk crates filled with varieties of fresh, homogenized milk. The milk is cold and has been sealed in 500ml plastic bags. Skim Milk, toned milk, double toned milk and milk with vitamins A and D added are all available. The word "tone" has to do with the fat content of the milk.
Each bag costs 13 to 15 rupees (about 30 cents) depending on the kind you want. Although it is supposedly processed for safety, everyone here boils their milk and serves it hot. Even breakfast cereals, many of which are the same as what we get back in the US, exclaim: "Goes great with hot milk!" We chill the remains of the boiled milk in our refrigerator so the kids can have a little cold milk the following morning.
It's a lot to go through for a glass of milk, but Lesa will be the first to tell you that freshly brewed coffee with fresh, boiled milk delivers the best morning cuppa- joe you'll ever have.
My only only complaint about this whole "Dood-thing" is the boiling of the milk. It's normally my job to do it each morning and I tend to get sidetracked... Boiled-over milk is a mess to clean up.