the wonderful world of veena.

30 January 2014

some of the things on my mind this week.

This week, two bloggers that I follow have posted about topics they usually don't discuss -- Jodi wrote about finally divulging an illness she's been dealing with for a long time, a deviation from her usual discussion of street food in Southeast Asia, and Flora wrote about living vicariously through her travel alter ego. Both were extremely well-written and thought-provoking pieces, as is the norm with both women, and both got me thinking about how we choose our blog topics and tailor our blogs to the outside world.

You see, I use this blog as a journal of sorts, as many other bloggers do - a place to write down my thoughts on various topics, be it restaurants or books or movies or travel or just a random mashup of what's going on in my life - but there are certainly topics I don't touch on often or in depth.

My personal life is one. I've mentioned relationships on here in passing, but I didn't discuss the end of my last relationship, nearly two years ago, in this space. I wrote about it plenty, as it's the way I kind of purge my feelings, but I didn't post any of it, letting it languish in my drafts folder for a while until I finally deleted it [I shared it with a friend first, just to get my feelings out there, but it went no further]. I've written about my parents and brother, mostly when their birthdays roll around, but I don't go into very many details about them, as I prefer to keep our relationships private. I mention friends when they get married or have babies, or when I get to see them after a long time, but it's usually more of a rundown of our activities rather than a lot of in-depth analysis of our friendships. I don't need to analyze why I'm friends with someone, and I'm sure no one out there wants to read it.

Instead I tend to keep this space a little more lighthearted. Places I love in Memphis. Pictures of various happenings. Fun things that have recently happened or are on the horizon. Slogging through training for a half marathon. Learning to love cooking.

But in doing so I am automatically filtering my life for you. I am automatically editing my thoughts, my actions, and tailoring it to what I think others might want to read. I've gotten over the pressure to blog that I've written about before and now don't usually pay attention to how often or how infrequently I'm posting, but I am more careful, more thoughtful about what I'm posting.

You're still not getting the full picture, and in truth, you never will. There are just some things that I'm not going to share in such a public forum, be it personal trials or rants or what-have-you. There are certain things I'd rather keep to myself, things I'm still not comfortable sharing with such a wide audience.

But I've been realizing more and more in the last few weeks that I still need an outlet for all those other things, all those subjects I am hesitant to write about on here. Just because it's not being posted doesn't mean I'm not thinking or worrying about it; often I will write half a post, forget about it for some time, and then delete it without posting it, because either I've gotten over whatever I was writing about, or it's no longer timely, or I simply decided it wasn't really something that needed to be published. It doesn't happen every day or even every month, but it happens.

So yesterday I decided that what I really need to do is get back to writing. As in pen-on-paper writing. Stream of consciousness, what's on my mind, what I'm feeling about life and work and geography and personal situations and all those things that I still need to get out of my system but I'm not quite comfortable sharing on here. Both Jodi and Flora shared experiences they're not usually comfortable sharing, and I'm grateful for their honesty and their candor. I can only hope that maybe one day I'll step out of my comfort zone as well.

Until that day, though, I'm going to stick with writing. Good old journaling. What I used to do back in elementary and middle school, and what I honestly never thought I'd do again after I began college. At that point I was trying to keep up with chronicling everything that was happening and not spending enough time just writing for myself, so I got out of the habit. This is my attempt to pick it up again and to stick to the things that are on my mind. This space over here can be for goings-on in the outside world, and that space over there can be for the goings-on inside my head. That seems like a good balance to me.

I'm not sure how I went from Jodi and Flora's posts to filtering my blog to getting back into keeping a journal, but there you have it. Just a small peak into my stream of consciousness for you. It's been kind of a contemplative week for me, and little things I've come across have sparked a lot of internal thoughts and inklings.

This in itself is a lot more contemplative than I tend to be on here. It could be a sign of changing times, or it could just be that this was something I needed to share more publicly. Whatever it is, I'm looking forward to exploring these thoughts and feelings more, first in my personal journal and then maybe on here as they become more fleshed out, and seeing what becomes of them.

But for now, I'm just going to enjoy that wonderful freedom that comes from putting pen to paper. It's so simple, and yet it's so full of possibility.

28 January 2014

book update: the light between oceans [m l stedman]

You know how there are those books that have so much promise, so much anticipation, but they can't quite seem to find their footing? That was The Light Between the Oceans [ML Stedman] for me.

The premise is enough to get you hooked: A couple living on an island off the coast of Australia in the 1920s discover a dead man and a living baby in a boat that washes up on the shore. Tom, the husband, is the keeper of the lighthouse on Janus, an island many hours off the coast of Australia and pretty isolated from the rest of the world. Isabel is his wife, a young woman quietly suffering the pain of two miscarriages and a recent stillbirth. Her greatest desire is to be a mother, and his greatest desire is to do whatever it takes to make his wife happy, so when Isabel convinces Tom to go against his training and not report the boat, the body, or the baby [how about that alliteration?] to the mainland, he puts aside his misgivings for her sake. What follows is the story of all the lives that are changed by his decision: theirs; the baby's; Isabel's parents, whose two sons were killed in WW1; and the baby's mother, who is trapped in the fog of hope and despair in wondering what happened to her husband and child.

See how that plot draws you in? It seems like a blockbuster read. How do Tom and Isabel reconcile their love for the baby with the consequences of their decision? How will others react if and when they discover the truth? And how will the author reveal the truth to the all-important character of the baby's biological mother? And then what will happen from there?

All valid questions, and all things that are answered in due course, but getting to that point was a bit cumbersome.

The beginning of the book was the most difficult part for me. Tom is introduced slowly, and a patchy background is provided for him, but then suddenly his courtship with Isabel is sped through and they are married and living on Janus together. When Britney and I were talking about it, we both agreed that there was a lot of build-up but then it seemed everything was over really fast.

The first two-thirds of the book was pretty back-and-forth for me. There were chapters that were quite captivating, but then there were others that just seemed like fillers, and I found them frivolous. And I got quite tired of the back-and-forth between Tom saying they needed to come clean and Isabel insisting that too much time had passed and that they should keep quiet about the whole ordeal. The more Tom's conscience interferes, and the more Isabel insists that nothing can be done, the more frayed their relationship becomes.

But the final third was pretty good. It certainly went faster than the previous bits of the book, and I felt like there was more action going on. And it presented a very interesting conundrum that I won't ruin here for anyone who's not yet read the book. It took some time to get there, but I think I'm happy with how the book ended. It was a story that was obviously not going to be 'happy' for everyone, but I think Stedman did what needed to be done.

Overall I think it was a good book, but I do think it could have been much, much better. My biggest complaint - and I've already spoken to Britney at length about this - was how the voice would change suddenly in the middle of a chapter. A majority of the book was written in passive voice, but there would be random sections within each chapter written in active voice, and then it would return to passive. Not really a big fan of that.

I'm glad I read it, because I do think the story was quite interesting. I'd love to hear what others who have read it think to know if I'm the only one who was just a bit disappointed in the beginning.

currently reading: Life After Life [Kate Atkinson], from my list of the ones I want to read this year. roughly 85 pages in and enjoying it immensely.

27 January 2014

memphis eats: interim.

A few weeks ago I joined some of the girls for a farewell dinner for Amber at Interim in East Memphis. Amber is a professor at Coe College in Iowa and had been back in Memphis for the Christmas holidays, so we had a nice little dinner to see her off in style.

All the other girls had been to Interim before in the past, but I had never been before. In truth I thought it was a fairly new restaurant, and I was surprised to hear that it's been around since the beginning of 2007, celebrating its 7th birthday just this month.

The first thing I noticed about Interim is the atmosphere. It's a very nice setting, with dim lighting and lots of silverware - what I would deem "fancy" but what most others would probably just find suitable for a nice dinner out on a Friday or Saturday night. What sets it apart from other similar restaurants is the open kitchen -- if you're seated close enough, you can actually see the food being prepared and can see the various orders as they are ready for serving. We were just next to the kitchen, and we enjoyed using our vantage point to help us choose what we wanted to order.

Interim offers a small but varied menu, with catfish, beef tenderloin, a burger, pork chops, and a fish of the day all on offer. The only catch I could see was a limited option for vegetarians -- other than a vegetable plate, there are no other main course choices unless you just go for a Caesar Salad without the chicken.

I went with the Blackened Catfish as my entree, and it was delicious. It was cooked perfectly and flaked apart without even the need for a knife. The accompanying vegetables were great as well, and the portion was perfect. Possibly a little more than I needed to eat, but I practically licked my plate clean. I also had a bit of Katie Walsh's Mac and Cheese and Julie's Beef Tenderloin, and both were excellent as well. Katie Hart and Amber both ordered sides of fries as starters after we saw them plated with the burgers, and they were great. My only complaint with the food would be that there wasn't enough butter with the bread that we were given as a starter. Otherwise, thumbs up all around, and we probably could have asked for more if we really wanted to.

We also had a round of varying cocktails, and while I enjoyed Golden Bulleit [Bulleit bourbon, honey syrup, and lemon juice], my enjoyment was overshadowed by the $10.50 price tag that went along with it. It pains me sometimes to spend that much on a drink.

Speaking of prices. I really liked the food and atmosphere at Interim, and it was quite a fun ladies' night, but it was definitely pricey. I am cheap at the best of times, we all know this, but particularly being unemployed, spending upwards of $40 on one drink and a main course is a bit too extravagant for my taste and my current situation. It's a restaurant I would definitely return to with my parents, but probably not one I'll go back to while I'm still without an income.

Other than the prices and the limited vegetarian options, Interim is a great restaurant, and definitely one to try if you're looking for something different. If you're going on a Friday or Saturday night, I would definitely suggest making a reservation. The crowd was pretty steady when we were there on a Friday, but we were seated rather quickly since we had a reservation.

5040 Sanderlin Avenue
Memphis, TN 38117

11am-2.30pm Monday to Friday; 10.30am-2pm Sunday Brunch
5.30pm-10pm Monday to Saturday
5.30pm-9pm Sunday

I recommend:
the blackened catfish if you like seafood; the beef tenderloin if you feel like splurging.

Happy Eating!

26 January 2014

3 of 52: a fun mother-daughter date.

This past Monday was MLK Day, and since my mother had a holiday from work, we decided to spend our afternoon at the Grizzlies game [my father had a holiday as well, but he chose to skip the game and go for a movie instead]. The Grizz always have a home game on MLK and, in conjunction with the National Civil Rights Museum, present the annual National Civil Rights Sports Legacy Awards to their chosen honourees. This year's recipients were Bernard King and Jojo White, and Dikembe Mutombo, a past recipient who was unable to attend the festivities, was also there to belatedly accept his award.

Since the game was at 4pm, we decided to make a day of it, beginning with a late lunch at Cafe Ole in Cooper Young. I used to frequent the Ole during my Rhodes days but have not been in quite some time, and my mother had never heard of it, so we decided to check it out. I wasn't sure quite what to expect, what with the holiday and all, but I certainly was not prepared to walk in and be the only ones in the restaurant. And then I realised that it was nearly 1.45 in the afternoon, so it didn't seem quite as crazy.

It was fun to have the whole place to ourselves, and we had a nice little mother-daughter lunch. We stuffed ourselves with chips and salsa and shared the chimichangitas - two half-size chimis, one chicken and one beef - and the calabasitas - an assortment of veggies in a cream sauce. It was the perfect amount for each of us, and it was all quite yummy. The rice that accompanied the chimichangitas was only ok, but the rest of the food more than made up for it [and also, I'm picky about my rice at Mexican restaurants].

From there, we decided to go ahead and head downtown. It was a beautiful day outside - I was walking around in short-sleeves - so we had ourselves a nice little stroll from our parking lot to the Forum. Bonus: because we were so early - we arrived around 2.45pm - we got prime parking in the lot we like right behind Jerry Lee Lewis'. Always makes my day better when I find some rockstar parking.

If you've been in the Forum recently, you'll have noticed that they've moved the Grizzlies Den [the souvenir shop] out into the north side of the entrance lobby, and the old Den is now what appears to be a super fancy lounge. Because I've not bought any Grizzlies swag in a few years, and since we had plenty of extra time and the place was still pretty quiet, we decided to have a look around.

I was particularly excited, because the scarves that were given away at the previous home game were on sale for $15, so obviously I picked up one for myself. We also got a t-shirt for me, one for my mother, a pint glass for me, and a shot glass for my father.

We slowly made our way up to our seats and got settled in. I love getting to the arena early and watching in fill in as others arrive and watching some of the guys just shoot around. We have a house band at the Forum, so they played a few "Memphis" songs for those of us who were already in our seats.

I always love watching Grizz home games, and this one was no different. The referees were generally awful, as per usual, and we had trouble hitting free throws, again as per usual, and there were a few questionable coaching calls, but the atmosphere at those games is great. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love how the team has embraced the city, and I love how the city has embraced the team.

And although the Grizzlies lost the game in the end, we had fun. Our lunch was great, we attended our first game of the season, and we got to see our boys grit and grind once again. Sure, it was a game we should have won, but after getting to spend the day with my mother, it's tough to get down about it for too long.

Oh, and we topped off the excursion with some frozen yogurt at YoLo on the way back home.

other highlights included: feeling productive again; my father tried - and loved! - my lasagna; got started on some much-needed blog maintenance; family lunch at Kwik Chek on Friday; father-daughter date to see American Hustle; an encouraging Saturday run; scored a Kindle-version of The Jungle [Upton Sinclair] FOR FREE; back-to-back Grizz wins over the Rockets.

foodie friday: kwik chek.

When our family friend was in town last week, rather than taking him to Indian restaurants to eat, I convinced my father that we should take him to proper Memphis restaurants. Because Lalit Uncle was also interested in experiencing Memphis - and eating bbq - I got my wish, and we ended up visiting Blues City Cafe and Huey's for lunch while he was here.

I always love hitting up my Memphis eating joints, but the added bonus from that week was that my father also rediscovered the joys of eating in Memphis. As he admits, he loves Indian food so much that his mind automatically goes to his Indian restaurants when people visit, but he's slowly coming around to remembering that Memphis has so much more to offer by way of food. And he's put me in charge of his re-education.

My mother is much easier. She is always up for trying a new place to eat, and she loves eating downtown and in Midtown with almost as much fervor as I do.

And so a new tradition has been born. My father has Friday afternoons off, and although my mother doesn't see patients, she uses the afternoon to finish up paperwork and make progress on completing her charts. They sometimes have meetings that begin around 2pm, and if so, they still have a solid 1.5 hour lunch break. We have decided to use that time to our advantage and have inaugurated a Friday family lunch. Since most of the restaurants I want to introduce them to are scattered throughout Midtown, and my mother's clinic is on Hollywood about 10 blocks north of Summer, it's perfect.

We began last week with a visit to India Palace, because it had been far too long since we had been there. It was wonderful to be back and to see everyone and to get my chicken tikka masala fix.

And this week was Kwik Chek's turn. My mother had been in there once with me, years ago, but had never eaten there, and I'd never tried taking my father, because I figured he would be put off by the setting. Lucky for me, however, he loves gyros, and their reputation for gyros has even reached his ears. So when I suggested we go there for lunch, he was all for it.

Kwik Chek is located in a slightly run-down, slightly shady, very Midtown looking convenience store on Madison about 3 blocks west of Cooper. We discovered it at some point during my second year at Rhodes, back when it seemed like no one knew about it. There were many times we would go there - I remember Matt Teague and I being the biggest advocates - and we wouldn't see another soul in there for however long it took to get our food. The convenience store always did a little bit of business, but we hardly ever saw people ordering from their deli menu. With a wide variety of sandwiches and wraps all for an affordable price, thought we'd hit the college student jackpot.

As time went on and more people kept coming back, our worries that we would show up one day to see it shut down began to wane. When "Hurricane Elvis" swept through in the summer of 2003 and pretty much shut down the city, Kwik Chek was one of a handful of Midtown restaurants that had power and was able to remain open. The result was lines out the door and the reassurance that it would at least remain open through our final year of college.

Over the years, Kwik Chek has continued to thrive and expand. What began as two rinky-dink tables has become to bar-like seating along the window and nearly a dozen tables, all on top of a new floor. They've slowly reduced the number of shelves of chips and snacks and have introduced a number of Korean dishes to their menu [the owners are Korean]. Their Bi Bim Bap is particularly popular, but I have shied away from it, partly because of the fried egg on top and mostly because I just love my Fireball of Freedom so much. Kwik Chek has come a long way over the years, but I love it as much today as I did 13 years ago.

And this week I got to share it with my parents.

My father ordered the aforementioned gyros, and my mother and I both had my staple, the Fireball. Mine was phenomenal, as it always is, and both my parents enjoyed theirs, especially my father. I believe he used the word "wonderful", which is not one he throws around lightly, so I will call this visit a success.

2013 Madison Ave
Memphis, TN 38104

[been finding some discrepancies on the interwebs regarding their hours, so I am just going to make up my own]
roughly 11am-8 or 9pm. that's my determination, at least.

I recommend:
the Fireball of Freedom. roast beef, turkey, bacon, habanero ranch dressing, maybe some jalapenos, onions, tomatoes, green peppers. it's pretty much heaven in a wrap.

And now that I've got their attention, it's time to make a list of all the other places we have to try on our Friday eating adventures. If you've got suggestions, send them my way.

movie review: american hustle.

On Friday night my father and I ventured to the cinema to see American Hustle. I've been wanting to see it for ages, but my brother and I never made it while he was home for the holidays, and since it's been nominated for so many awards recently, my father decided he wanted to see it as well.

My overall thoughts on the movie: the acting was phenomenal, but the story jumped around A LOT, and it was about 20-30 minutes too long.

All of the actors were great in their roles. It's hard to pinpoint who was my favourite - possibly Amy Adams, if I were forced to choose - because they each brought something to the table. And even when I found myself getting frustrated by someone, five minutes later all of their actions made sense, and I was left shaking my head.

As for the story, it was certainly an interesting one, but it definitely jumped around. There were so many components to it, and because it was told with a lot of narration and flashbacks and back-and-forths, sometimes it was difficult to keep track of everything. For every layer that was added to the con, it made it that much more confusing.

I think the biggest drawback for me, however, was the length. Blame it on my waning attention span, but I cannot sit through movies over 2 hours anymore. My mind starts to wander, I find myself missing bits and pieces, and mostly I just get restless. My body doesn't like to be so still for so long, and in a full theater, my movements and wriggling around are limited. I was reminded why I like to see movies on weekday afternoons -- when I mostly have the place to myself, I can put my feet up and stretch out and move around a bit.

But yes, the length. I wouldn't say there were scenes to cut out, but there were certainly a few that could have been cut down to save some time. I feel like David O Russell loves those extra long movies, and I'm afraid I don't.

Other than the length, though, I thought it was a very well-done movie. At times a bit uncomfortable to watch sitting next to my father, but overall I thought it was good. I'm certainly glad I finally got to go and see it.

My favourite line: "You're nothing to me, until you're everything." It encompassed so much of the essence of the movie and its characters into seven words, and it stuck with me.

So go check out the movie if you've not already seen it. It won't be anything to you, until it's everything.

24 January 2014

retail review: amazon.

Yes, I'm new to the Amazon bandwagon. But better late than never, yeah?

For years, I was emphatically opposed to buying anything off Amazon. I don't necessarily know why I was so opposed to it, but I was, and after a few years it almost felt like it was a principle of mine: don't buy things off Amazon.

I know for books it was because I was morally opposed to purchasing books from any outlet other than Barnes & Noble. First it was just because I loved the store, and then it was because I worked there, so I felt a loyalty and also an obligation to buy all of my books from the store. When my brother gave me his hand-me-down iPad, I downloaded the Nook app and purchased any digital books through the B&N website.

I knew Amazon offered other products as well, but I just always believed I could find them for just as cheap somewhere else. Once I get something stuck in my head, it's there to stay, and that was the case with Amazon. Nothing and no one could change my mind.

And then, one day in mid-2013, it just kind of suddenly changed all on its own.

I was looking to purchase and download a book, and I was really put off by how much it was on the B&N website. I can't remember which book right now, but I remember being astonished that it was nearly $13 for the Nook version. For me, half the point of e-books - the first half being the ease of traveling without the weight of lots of books - is that they are supposed to be cheaper than the print version of books. I still love the print version when it's an option, but there is definitely something to be said for e-books every now and then. And suddenly I found myself let down by Barnes & Noble.

On a whim, I decided to see how much it was on Amazon's website, and to my amazement, the Kindle version was nearly half the price. I still wasn't ready to take the plunge, but it definitely piqued my interest, so I did a little more digging.

Eventually I discovered Amazon Prime. I know, I know, I'm only about 3 million years late to the game, but that's just how I roll. Anyway, during the course of my explorations, I learned that as a Prime member, you get a lot of really great deals on Kindle books, including being able to borrow books for free from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library. We all know I'm a sucker for free things, and free books are at the top of that list. I was hooked.

Upon further exploration, Britney mentioned in passing that Prime members get free two-day shipping on most items as well as free access to Amazon Prime Instant Video, their online streaming service for television shows and movies. Also, as a student [this was maybe a week before Graduation, so I was still technically a student], the normal $80 annual fee for Prime membership was slashed to $40.

Here's a little equation for you:
cheaper e-books + free books to borrow + free two-day shipping + free online streaming, all for half the normal price, = sign Veena up.

So sign up, Veena did.

And I have to say, in the 8ish months that I've had the membership, it's been some of the best $40 I've ever spent. It's so nice to order something on a Monday evening and have it at my front door by Thursday afternoon. And with the free shipping, I don't have to save things in my cart until I get to a certain total in order to qualify, which has been great. My brother uses it as well, so it's gotten pretty good use in our household for everything from books [primarily] to DVDs to bulk office supplies to a handbag for me to everything in between.

I sometimes find myself getting lost in the website, just searching for hours and finding plenty of things I don't need but that look appealing simply because they are Prime-eligible. It's become my latest way to waste time. Clothing. Movies. Accessories. The options are endless.

It's also been a great way to compare similar products by different brands. The user reviews are generally pretty helpful if I'm on the fence about something, and it's great to have everything in one place.

In addition, my brother got me a Kindle for my birthday to allow me to take advantage of the Lending Library. I've found myself actually enjoying reading on the Kindle, and just last month Amazon introduced another new feature - each month, I get early access to download 1 of 4 upcoming releases. In layman's terms: Amazon sends me an email with 4 books that are releasing in hardcover the following month - 1 fiction, 1 thriller, 1 romance, and 1 young adult book - and I can choose one to download for free. Yes, for free. That's pretty amazing.

Not to mention that you can get some really good deals on Kindle books in general. I downloaded The Book Thief when it was only $2, and I found another book for $.10. Yes, that's right, I said 10 cents! For a book! That's unheard of. And there are plenty of others that are available for extremely reasonable prices. And new releases and other popular books, not just older, more obscure titles. And for me, if the print version is only a dollar or two more, I can just order it, get free shipping, and have it in two days. If that's not a win-win, I'm not sure what is.

Even though I discovered the wonders of Amazon later than most other people in the universe, my love and admiration for it is no less than anyone else. It sometimes takes every ounce of willpower that I have to not just purchase everything I have "Saved for Later" in my cart all at once.

Things might get out of control if I ever get a job that pays real money. Old Navy has some stiff competition for my favourite website these days...

22 January 2014

memphis loves: sweet noshings.

I discovered Sweet Noshings in Overton Square earlier this month, and it was a pleasure and a delight to have a little wander in their shop of treats. [I've already been back once with my mother and will likely be back in again soon]

[more flavors of popcorn than you ever thought possible]
Sweet Noshings opened in December and offers something for every snack lover in your family or circle of friends. Their specialty is their popcorn, of which there are about 20 different varieties on any given day. They range from savory to sweet to a combination of the two, and they rotate every few days as new flavors are introduced. My personal favourite - and one of their bestsellers - is the Spicy White. It's your basic spicy, cheesy popcorn, but that little extra bite gives it a pretty great boost. My second favourite is the Memphis Mix - another bestseller - which has honey barbecue undertones, giving it that mix of savory and sweet that some of us like.

If popcorn is not your thing, there is also a vast array of other treats to choose from. There are glass jars upon glass jars filled with various little treats, from gummy snacks to chocolate-covered nuts, and plastic baggies are provided for you to choose however much or little you want [note: each item is priced differently, so if you want more than one, remember to use separate bags]. The chocolate pecans were pretty good, and I'm looking forward to picking up some chocolate almonds on my next visit. And I do believe Katie Walsh was a fan of the gummy butterflies.

[this is only one shelf. there are 3 more filled with various other goodies]
Then there's the treat case. Filled with chocolate-covered pretzels and freshly baked cookies, you can't go wrong choosing something from in there. Those rotate pretty regularly, so you're always in for a surprise when you drop in.

And finally there is the coffee bar. For any Rhodents circa 2000-2002, you will remember the wonders of being able to order an Ugly Mug coffee. These days you can purchase bags of the coffee through various channels, but Sweet Noshings is the only outlet where you can actually order it and have it brewed for you. I've been working my charm trying to convince them to add Cookie Monsters [remember those?] to the menu as well, so we'll see how that works out for me. Regardless, you can order a coffee and sip on it at one of the tall tables overlooking Madison or take it with you on a stroll around Overton Square. And my favourite bit: if you plan on going there regularly for your coffee, you can take in your own mug, and they will wash it and keep it for your next visit. Seems pretty cool to me, getting to sip out of your own mug while you sit in a coffee shop and ponder your day.

[one of my new favourite midtown spots]
Sweet Noshings has a little bit for everyone, so be sure to drop in soon to check out their offerings.

2113 Madison Ave
Memphis, TN 38103

10am-6pm Monday and Tuesday
10am-8pm Wednesday and Thursday
10am-9pm Friday
11am-9pm Saturday
11am-8pm Sunday

Add while you're there, drop in a little pitch for those Cookie Monsters.

19 January 2014

the joy project: week fifty-two / 2 of 52: touring graceland with my parents.

the final installment of the Joy Project series! I can't believe it, either...

Sunday: lunch at Local Taco with the Wright family before heading back from Nashville. helped my mother get some stuff ready for our family friend's visit this week.

Monday: rain rain rain. my picture from Central BBQ last Friday was included on the ILoveMemphis weekly round-up [if you know anything about Memphis, you know that's kind of a big deal]. made my mother's famous brown chicken curry without supervision.

Tuesday: tried on bridesmaids' dresses for the first time in my life, and my head didn't explode. also got to catch up with an old friend in the process. the return of Marc Gasol. Arkansas hoops overtime victory over Kentucky.

Wednesday: introduced my parents and Lalit Uncle to the ribs at Blues City Cafe. watched Philomena with all the adults.

Thursday: took the parents and Lalit Uncle to Graceland and then to Huey's Midtown for lunch.

Friday: slept in. family lunch at India Palace. very awesome Skype session that ended with me taking on a part-time gig for the coming months.

Saturday: house to myself allllll day and night! did some yoga. ate some leftover India Palace for lunch. watched some basketball and other stuffs on the television. made lasagna for dinner. finally watched The Spectacular Now.


At this point in our lives, we all know how much I love Elvis Presley. We also know how much I love visiting his home, Graceland. So we don't need to rehash either of those at this point. I also very much enjoy sharing Graceland with others. I took Bec there when she visited in 2007; my brother and I took our nieces last August; and this week I took my parents and our family friend, Lalit Uncle, who was visiting from Michigan.

[even balaji is in awe of the legend]
My mother has been to Graceland a number of times, but most of her visits were in the late '80s, and her most recent visit was nearly 10 years ago. My father had only been TWICE before, which seems ridiculous to me, and his last visit was circa 1989, so he was long overdue. Lalit Uncle, having never been to Memphis before, had obviously never been, but when I told him on Wednesday that Elvis' home is here, he said he would like to see it.

[my brother, ladies and gentlemen. pretty sure he's been practicing this pose for 35 years]
On Thursday morning we bundled up and headed over to one of my Happiest Places on Earth. Because it's the middle of January - and a week after Elvis' birthday - the parking lot was pretty empty, and the grounds were generally pretty quiet. We breezed through the purchasing of our tickets, there was no line to get our picture taken, AND there was a shuttle waiting, so before we knew it, we were standing on the front steps of Elvis' home.

[first room on the tour: Elvis' living room]
No matter how many times I've visited Graceland or how recently I've been there, there's no feeling quite like stepping through that front door. And no matter how many times I've listened to the audio tour, there's nothing that can compare with the first time I hear Elvis' voice on the recording. That house holds magic for me, and I am not at all ashamed to admit it.

[what I wouldn't give to play a round or two on that table]
My favourite part of the tour comes toward the end, after you've been through the house and Vernon's office and the trophy room. It's in the racquetball building, in the room that I think used to be the court. I love standing there, surrounded by Elvis' records on all the walls and his jumpsuits in their cases, and watching the video of the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert. If I am on my own - or with very understanding friends - I can stand there for ages and just watch and listen and absorb.

[it's impossible not to be in awe when you're in this room]
My father asked me at the end of our visit how many times I think I've been to Graceland. While I don't know for certain, as many of my visits happened when I was a child, I have determined that the number is probably somewhere around 25ish. And with each visit, I find some new detail that I've not seen before. On this visit, during the part where you can see into Vernon and Gladys' room, I noticed for the first time that some of Gladys' old dresses are hanging in the closet. I'm sure they've been there for years, but I guess because of where I have stood when peering into the room on past visits, I've not seen them before. I love that each visit holds a new discovery or two.

[loved getting to observe their visit and view it through their eyes]
And there's not just the house and grounds to be seen. There's also the car museum and the planes. While it still breaks my heart that they've taken the cars out of the carport - where I used to enjoy trying to climb on them when the tour guides weren't looking - I do have to admit that the car museum is pretty nice. It's fun to walk around and read all the stories behind Elvis' various cars and buggies and theorize which ones you would have liked best.

[not just talented, but generous to boot]
Now, I know that Graceland is not for everyone. Most of my friends who are either from Memphis or who have lived here a long time don't frequent it [some have never even been! unfathomable], but for me, it's one of my favourite sites in the city. I'm big on historical places in general, and to combine that with the memorabilia of the most successful singer ever - he's sold more singles than any other artist in history - who also happens to be one of my favourites, makes Graceland a super special place for me.

[elvis bought this place when he was 22. i could barely pay my credit card bill when i was 22]
If you DO happen to find yourself with an inkling to visit, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • the mansion is closed on Tuesdays during the winter months - generally December through February - but the rest of the exhibits remain open on those days.
  • AAA members, senior citizens, students, and military personnel all receive different discount benefits on tickets. discounts cannot be combined, however, so choose which one will be most beneficial for you [for example, I cannot get a double discount for being a student and a AAA member, etc].
  • if you just want to visit the Meditation Garden and see the graves of Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother without paying for the full tour, there are free walk-ups every day between 7.30am and 8.30am.
  • photography is allowed anywhere and everywhere on the grounds, but no flash photography. follow the rules. please.
  • the mansion tour is an audio tour that generally takes between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on if you choose to listen to any of the additional features and how often you simply choose to pause the tour and take in your surroundings. I usually take about an hour and 10 minutes, depending on how long I'm allowed to hang out in the racquetball court and watch the concert.
  • all the other exhibits are self-guided and self-paced.
Check out the website for additional information.

[officially an historic place]
After all these years and all those visits, Graceland is still a special place for me, and being able to share that with my parents made it an even more special occasion.

17 January 2014

all the cool kids drink jackalope.

I've mentioned my friend Steve on here a few times, and I've maybe mentioned that he is a partner in the Jackalope Brewing Company in Nashville. While I was in Nashville last weekend, I tagged along with Steve while he gave a tour of the brewery on Saturday evening, and now I thought I would use this space to shamelessly plug what I think is an awesome business run by even more awesome people.

[awesome sign made by Steve's uncle]
Jackalope is a craft brewery in Nashville that was founded in 2009 by Bailey and Robyn, and Steve came in as a partner in 2010. In the four years that it has been in existence, Jackalope has become an integral part of the Nashville community and can now be found on tap in over 100 bars and restaurants around the city. Additionally, you can find Jackalope at most festivals and markets during the summer and fall months.

[different hops and whatnot. I'm not good with the specifics, but you learn more about it on the tour. so book one. now]
Jackalope has its own taproom on 8th Ave where you can pop in for a brew or two, hang out with your friends, and play any of the available board games, of which there are A LOT. The taproom has a nice laidback feel to it, and it's a great place to chill before heading out for dinner or a night on the town.

[Thunder Ann, all canned up and ready to go]
There are tours available on Saturday at 2.30pm, 3.30pm, 4.30pm, and 5.30pm. Each tour lasts about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how chatty the group is, and during the tour you will learn a bit about the history of craft beer, the history of Jackalope, and how the beer is actually brewed. You will receive your very own Jackalope pint glass and will get to sample four of Jackalope's year-round brews: Thunder Ann; Leghorn; Bearwalker; and Rompo. Fun fact: All of Jackalope's brews are named after living and mythological legends.

[a brief history of Jackalope, for anyone who's interested. great to see how far it's come in such a short time!]
There are also items available for purchase at the taproom: t-shirts, tank tops, pint glasses, growlers, soap, etc. If you can't make it into the taproom, you can purchase any of these from their online store and have it shipped directly to your home.

[various items for sale at the taproom. more on the online store]
And lastly, Jackalope is slowly beginning its expansion outside of Nashville. In November they launched in Chattanooga - which obviously made me happy - and at the end of this month they will be launching at the Lynx Lair at Rhodes College, the only location in Memphis where you will find Jackalope on tap.

[a whole box full of jackalope swag. you know you want one, too]
One final point. I am not a beer drinker. I've never really been a beer drinker. But last weekend, because I knew how much it would mean to Steve, I tried the Rompo. And you know what? I actually kind of liked it. In fact, I liked it so much that I got a refill. I'm still not a beer convert, but if I'm somewhere that has Rompo on tap, I'll probably have myself another.

[my red rompo. it's pretty good]
So if you live in Nashville, or will be visiting there anytime in the near future, you should definitely head on over to the Jackalope taproom and try one of their year-round or seasonal brews. I promise you won't be disappointed.

some info you might find useful:
Location: 701 Eighth Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203
Hours: open Thursday 4pm-10pm; Friday 4pm-8pm; Saturday 12pm-8pm; Sunday 2pm-6pm.
Special Events: Trivia Night every Thursday night at the taproom. occasional collaborations with the Belcourt Theater.
To Learn More: follow Jackalope on Facebook [Jackalope Brewing Company] or on Twitter [@JackalopeBrew], sign up for blog updates, or check out their website for any additional information or to sign up for their newsletter.

And always remember to #DrinkLegendary.

14 January 2014

memphis eats: central bbq.

[bbq nachos with home chips and jalapenos. can't go wrong]
I briefly mentioned Central BBQ in a post last year, but I don't think it adequately described the deliciousness that is that restaurant.

Central is a Memphis institution. Located in Midtown, just near the CBU campus, Central is some of the best bbq you'll find in the city [and that's saying something]. And my personal favourite is their bbq nachos. Chips, pulled pork, bbq sauce, cheese, and jalapenos pretty much means it's a party in a basket. No matter what my appetite, my stomach will always expand itself enough to finish off the basket, and I have come dangerously close to licking the last of the sauce off the paper an embarrassing number of times. It's that good.

Although I am partial to the nachos and never order anything else [why mess with success?], I have it on good authority that their sandwiches are also quite good. My mother enjoyed hers immensely when we were there for lunch last week. And the baked beans were probably the best I've had in the city. I'm pretty partial to some well-made baked beans. And my particular favourite? You can take your cups home with you. We've probably collected upwards of 20 over the years.

Central also sells bbq in bulk, and I bought 2lbs to take with me to Nashville, but I forgot it on the counter :( the upside of it was that my parents and I got to have it for dinner last night, and it was super good. The meat itself is cooked to perfection, and the sauce really gives it that extra oomph that it needs. Additionally you can place an order through their online shop and have Central BBQ delivered straight to your doorstep. If that's not pure genius, I don't know what is. [I definitely tried to do this while I was living in Bangalore, but unfortunately they're not allowed to ship internationally. the tragedy of it all]

So if you ever find yourself needing to fill a meal in Memphis, look no further than Central BBQ. And if you're there on a nice day, enjoy your meal out on the patio overlooking Central Ave. Just beware of the potholes in the parking lot.

stuff to know:
Location: 2249 Central Ave, just west of East Parkway. [technically there are locations at 4375 Summer Ave and 147 E Butler Ave, but I'm a purist, and you'll rarely find me anywhere but at the location on Central]
Parking: there is a parking lot attached to the restaurant, but be forewarned: it can be a tight squeeze for big cars, and there are a few big potholes in the lot. navigate at your own risk.
Hours: open from 11am-9pm, 7 days a week.
Specialties: the bbq nachos, as I previously mentioned, and the pork sandwiches. I'm also intrigued by the portobello mushroom sandwich.
Prices: super reasonable. check out their menu and see for yourself.
Methods of Payment: accepts cash and credit cards.

Now go forth and eat at Central.

13 January 2014

the joy project: week fifty-one / 1 of 52: meeting miss evelyn marie wright.

The penultimate joy project post. I can't believe it either.
[and yes, the extra part in the title is how I'm hoping to carry it through this year, with a few changes. full explanation below]

Sunday: made chili and buttermilk biscuits for lunch [both recipes from the Smitten Kitchen's website].

[perfect lunch for a cold and rainy sunday]
Monday: 30-minute workout. read 3 chapters in Will's book. printed out a few job descriptions to get started on cover letters. felt nice to kick off my routine; fingers crossed it lasts.

Tuesday: 15-minute legs workout [and now I can't feel my quads. eeks]. 4 more chapters. sent off my resume for a few jobs. two days in a row totally makes it a proper schedule, right?

Wednesday: a very stiff 45-minute run. 4 more chapters. finished The Fault in Our Stars [John Green].

Thursday: 45-minute workout. a nice cold and rainy day [I'm one of those weird people who loves cold and rainy days. the colder and rainier, the better]. hung out in the B&N Cafe, sipping on hot chocolate and reading 3 more chapters in Will's book. picked up some goodies for Miss Evelyn. tried a new sushi place for lunch. scored a robe from Target for $11!

Friday: 15-minute butt workout. lunch with my mummy at Central BBQ and then introduced her to Sweet Noshings. sorted out some order stuff with my buddies at Rock/Creek in Chattanooga [love those guys, love that store]. watched the Rhodes Women's Basketball team dominate. farewell dinner for Amber at Interim. finished Will's book!

[bbq nachos from central. never gets old]
Saturday: drove to Nashville. went for a drive with Steve. finally got to meet little Evelyn. hot chicken lunch at pepperfire. took a tour of the Jackalope brewery. all the Nashville peeps came over for the Patriots game.

[stevo pretending to do some work in the brew house]

I have been wondering for the last few weeks if and how I wanted to continue this series into the new year. I went back-and-forth between just continuing with the "Joy Project" line, but I decided I wanted to do something slightly different. So this year, instead of doing the day-by-day like I did through 2013, I'm going to do a longer post on my favourite memory from each week, hopefully with more pictures and more in-depth stories. For these first two weeks, it will be added on to the bottom of the Joy Project posts so that it will correspond properly with the weeks of the year.

Make sense? Good. Now, on to week 1 of 52...

Lindsay and Steve have been two of my very best friends since we were in college. As the years have progressed and the miles have increased and decreased between us, we have somehow managed to keep up with each other. We've been through a lot over the years, and they remain two of my absolute favourites in the world. Wherever we are, we'll always remain close.

[my little muffin. we're best friends already]
This past October, Lindsay and Steve brought a new friend into the world: Evelyn. When I found out they were expecting, I was thrilled. My response when they told me Lindsay was pregnant was, "I'm so happy for all three of us." I always love it when my friends have babies, and I was particularly excited for the two of them because I was certain they would be incredible parents - and they are.

[checking out the view on our way to lunch]
E was born while I was in San Francisco for my race, and because of my travel schedule that followed and then the holidays, suddenly it became January and I hadn't seen her yet. Lindsay assured me they were free this past weekend, so I drove myself over to Nashville on Saturday morning to spend some time with my little Muffin.

[not many things in this world are quite as adorable as a sleeping baby]
I guess it's pretty safe to say that I'm in love. She's a nearly 3-month-old bundle of awesome, and I'm so glad I finally got to spend meet her and simultaneously spend a little time with her parents. I can already tell we're going to be besties for life, and I may or may not be counting down the days until I get to see her again.

So here's to miss Evelyn, the cutest little muffin in all the land.

09 January 2014

book review: the fault in our stars [john green].

[my idea of a perfect saturday afternoon: curled up in my chair in the sunroom with a blanket and a book]

On the first of the year, I began reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. And 8 days later, I finished it. It was both an easy and a difficult read -- easy in the sense that it is written simply, from the viewpoint of Hazel, a 16-year-old girl living with cancer, but difficult because of the subject.

Hazel is a teenager struggling with balancing being a teenager and living with a cancer than requires her to constantly have an oxygen tank with her at all times. She's angry and she's sarcastic and she's all those things a 16-year-old is supposed to be, and she's also living with the knowledge that her illness is terminal and will end her life before she properly gets to live.

At one of her Support Group meetings for Kids With Cancer, Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a "hot" [in Hazel's words] and charming 17-year-old boy who survived a "touch of osteosarcoma" [his words] and has the prosthetic leg to prove it. They see in each other a kindred spirit, an understanding soul, and although Hazel worries about dying and breaking Augustus' heart, they embark on a sweet, simple love story together.

Their love is the pure kind, the kind that brings a smile to your face even as it breaks your heart. You know how the story is going to end, but you can't help but root for them to have their moment. As both Hazel and Augustus note throughout the book, "Some infinities are bigger than other infinities," and even they are entitled to their infinity for however long it might last.

Eventually, their infinity ends, but not before witnessing Hazel and Augustus share some very sweet - and some very sad - moments. I saw the end coming from a mile away, but that didn't stop me from continuing to read, nor did it stop my heart from hurting when the inevitable happened.

It's a quick read, and although I think it's technically considered a "Young Adult" novel, I for one think it's a book for readers of all ages. It reminds all of us that life is fleeting and that we should soak up every moment of happiness and wonder and excitement that comes our way. I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true. Some of our infinities will end before others, and we shouldn't look back and have regrets. We should always like our choices, just as Hazel and Augustus do.

If you decide to read it - and I strongly encourage everyone to do so - keep some tissues handy. There were plenty of moments that got to me throughout the book, and I pretty much cried through the last four pages. I read so many reviews that said this book would have me laughing and crying in equal measure, and they were right.

So here's to all our infinities, however big or small they may be.

ps -- The Fault in Our Stars is available from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is also being made into a movie starring Shailene Woodley and set to release this June, so read it before the movie comes out!

07 January 2014

memphis eats: chiwawa.

Last week I finally tried Chiwawa in Midtown. I know, I know, I'm a few months late on the bandwagon, as per usual. But at least I finally made it...

Chiwawa is a restaurant that sprang up in Midtown sometime last year. It's another brainchild of Taylor Berger, the owner and operator of the YoLo frozen yogurt franchise [another of my favourites]. As far as I can tell, Chiwawa is a converted industrial space of some sort, mostly wood and exposed steel. It's a small place* but has a nice feel to it, at least on a Monday afternoon for a late lunch. I've not been there for one of their Grizzlies watch parties, but I imagine those nights could be quite crowded. The building gets a lot of natural light, so it's a great spot during the day, and the outdoor patio looks like a nice spot for the evening.

[on the top you will see the Pollotillo taco, and the bottom one is the Taco de Madre]
And aside from the ambience, the food was pretty good, too. I had two tacos - the Pollotillo, which is chicken, and the Taco de Madre, which is smoked brisket. Both were really tasty and come highly recommended. I also had the Elote, which is grilled corn-on-the-cob covered in a lot of yummy deliciousness. Totally worth the mess you create when you eat it.

Chiwawa also has a full bar and offers drink specials during the week and for brunch on Sundays. I feel like they had a "Margarita Monday" offer when we were there, but none of us ordered anything, so I can't remember what the deal was.

[the Elote in all its splendour. before I made a mess, of course]
I will say this, though: I really liked the place - the food, the atmosphere, the natural light - but it's one of those places that's slightly a bit expensive for lunch, if that makes sense. It's a fixed menu, and for some reason I don't mind spending $17 [$7 tacos + $4 elote + $? soft drink + TN tax] on dinner, but it seemed a little excessive for lunch. Then again, I'm the one who decided to order two tacos and the side along with a soft drink, but surely someone out there understands what I'm saying.

Other than that, it was great, and I'm sure I will be returning there at some point in the [very near] future.

the deets:
Location: 2059 Madison Avenue. located between Memphis Pizza Cafe and Kwik Chek.
Parking: there is limited street parking available and about 8 spots in a lot just behind the restaurant. I've been there almost 2 times*, and both times I found parking easily.
Serves: Lunch and Dinner all week and Brunch on Sunday.
Specialties: all the varieties of tacos. and the Elote.
Prices: moderately expensive for lunch, but reasonable for dinner [see my above paragraph].
Methods of Payment: accepts cash and credit cards.

My stomach and I love having all these fun new restaurants in Memphis, and one of my goals is to try as many as I can in the coming months. Watch this space for more reviews.

*we attempted to go there for dinner this past Saturday, but we had a party of 10, and they did not seem prepared for such a large group. it took about 5 minutes for anyone to even tell us that it would be a wait of 25 minutes. with the small space, it would be a tight squeeze, so maybe call ahead if you have a lot of people.

06 January 2014

mommy mush: a new take on an old recipe.

"Mommy Mush" is a dish my mother has been making since I was in high school. Someone gave her a recipe for some south of the border something-or-other, she added a few of her own touches to it, and voila, a household dish is born. We didn't really have a name for it until I went to college, when Maggie Goodman dubbed it Mommy Mush, and the name just kind of stuck.

I've made it a few times in the last few years - most recently just a few weeks ago - and I've just about got it down. I thought I would share the process on here, in case anyone out there is interested in trying it out for themselves.

A small warning: I decided to take pictures after I'd already begun the process, so they sort of start in the middle of the whole thing. Sorry 'bout that.

What you'll need:
makes enough to feed 7-10 people [we don't really do small portions in my household :)]
-2 lbs. of ground beef chuck
-2 bags of Uncle Ben's Boil-in-a-Bag plain rice [1 box contains 4 bags]
-2 cans of whole kernel corn, drained [we prefer Green Giant in our house]
-1 can of extra hot rotel
-1 can of Mexican rotel
-1 can of tomato soup [we are partial to Campbell's]
-8 oz of Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes [get the Mexican cheese if you can find it for some added spice; otherwise the regular Velveeta cheddar is fine. I would like to try it with the white queso and jalapeno Velveeta one day, but I'm not sure how my parents would react]
-1/2 a large red onion, chopped
-2 tbsp green chillies, chopped
-1 tbsp garlic, chopped
-2 tsp ginger, grated
-chopped coriander [cilantro] to garnish

To begin, cook the beef as you normally would, stirring occasionally, and drain the grease once it's finished. Leave to cool.

While the beef is cooking, fill a 5- or 7-quart pot [your choice] 2/3 full and drop in the 2 bags of rice, still sealed. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-7 minutes. Pour out water and let rice cool, still sealed.

In the meantime, go ahead and chop the onions, green chillies, and garlic, and peel the ginger.

When the pot cools a bit, saute the onions and ginger on medium heat [our little trick is to grate the ginger over the onions before we put them in the pot to save ourselves having our hands over the heat for too long. I added my own trick and put in just a pinch of red chilly powder over the onions and garlic]. Stir occasionally.

Once the onions are a light brown colour, add in the green chillies and garlic. Let those mix in for a few minutes -- and throw in another small pinch of red chilly powder, if you're so inclined. Keep on medium heat.

After letting those mix together for a few minutes, reduce the heat and add in the beef and stir. Cut open the bags of rice and add them to the mixture, and then add in the corn, both cans of rotel, and the can of tomato soup. Fill the soup can with water and swish around a bit and pour in also [just watch out for those sharp rims! I got myself a nice slice on my finger the last time I made it...]. optional: add in a 1/2 tsp of red chilly powder here, if you want to make it a little spicier. Mix well, leave on low-to-medium heat, and cover, stirring occasionally.

After about 7-10 minutes, add the cheese. Mix well and cover, again stirring occasionally.

Once the cheese melts, it's ready to serve. Usually takes about 10 minutes, depending on how low or high you have your heat. Garnish with coriander and dish it up.

It's a personal choice, but we like to add a small dollop of sour cream once we have it in our bowls to add to the taste. Also, a lot of people like to scoop it up with Fritos, although I usually pass on that one. It's up to you. Regardless, I hope you enjoy it.

Bon appetit!

04 January 2014

the joy project: week fifty.

Happy 2014, folks!

Sunday: made mommy mush for lunch. Kwik Chek for dinner. watched the Rhodes Women's Basketball team dominate. Packers beat the Bears -- we're in the playoffs!

Monday: my boots arrived from Zappos! lunch at Chiwawa, popcorn sampling at Sweet Noshings, and another basketball game.

Tuesday: chilled-out NYE at home with the family.

Wednesday: one heck of a New Year feast - Indian green beans, kheema, stuffed bhindi, and green gram daal with homemade chappati. talk about yum. dismantled all the Christmas decor with help from the father and brother. pakodas and black-eyed peas for dinner.

Thursday: spent the morning snuggled in bed watching episodes of SVU. chili + Sugar Bowl watch party at the Koelsch household.

Friday: final family lunch before the brother heads back to school. picked up a planner at 50% off, got a new jigsaw puzzle [nerd alert], and saw some of my B&N friends.

Saturday: said farewell to the brother. ran and walked and gritted my way through 5 miles. spent the afternoon curled up with a blanket and a book. dinner at Memphis Pizza Cafe.

Here's hoping your years are off to wonderful beginnings.

01 January 2014

all the things I hope to do in 2014.


I've mentioned before that I'm not really one for resolutions, but I do have an idea of various things I want to do / accomplish in 2014. I don't like the term "bucket list", but I also don't have a better one. For now we can just call it "All the things Veena thinks she can do in 2014". Sounds good to me.

And here we go...

I want to start volunteering again. I've been realising in the last month or so that part of the reason I've been getting down about the whole unemployment thing is because my weeks don't have a routine, and because I really miss being around people. I decided that while I'm continuing to look for jobs, I want to start volunteering a few days a week around Memphis. For one, it's a great way to contribute to organizations around the city who can always use help [some personal favourites include St JudeLiteracy Mid-South, MIFA, and Volunteer Mid-South]. Additionally, it will help me increase my network around the city and potentially open up some new avenues for future employment that I hadn't thought about before. The biggest potential setback I see is that most places want a 6-month commitment, but that is a hurdle I will cross when I come to it.

I'm going to run another half-marathon. I know, not something you thought I'd ever say. Truth be told, I didn't really think I'd run the first one, let alone consider running a second one. But here I am, bitten by the running bug. And my experience running my first one was pretty positive on the whole, so it's put me in the mood to train for another. I also know that having a specific race to train for makes me more motivated to stick to a regular running schedule. So with all that in mind, and at the urging of my friend Julie Clary, I have taken the plunge and registered for the Little Rock Half in March. Only 8 weeks to my next 13.1...

I hope to run more races in general. I recently realised I want to participate in a few "fun" <read: shorter> running events in addition to a more serious half marathon, so I got the ball rolling on that in December. I was signed up for an Ugly Sweater 5k in Memphis a few weeks ago, but it was canceled due to weather conditions; instead, I can transfer my registration to a race organized by the same company in 2014. I ran the Orion Starry Nights 4k at Shelby Farms Park a few days after Christmas and had a pretty good time getting to see the Christmas lights in the park. I'll likely sign up for another in late March or early April once I've finished my run in Little Rock. It's a fun way to get in a run while having just a little bit of fun at the same time. Who knew the two could go together?!

While I'm in Memphis, I want to be more active in the city. Last year I had the pleasure of re-visiting both Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum, getting back to some of my favourite restaurants, and attending a few Grizz games, and it reminded me of what an awesome city Memphis is. I forget sometimes, staying out in the 'burbs with my parents, but downtown and Midtown have such a great personality, and I want to explore those areas more. I got around a lot during my undergrad days, but it's been a long time since I got to properly play tourist in Memphis, and so much has changed in these last 10 years. I want to go to museums. I want to try out new restaurants. I want to hang out in Overton Square. I want to experience as much of Memphis as I can in the time that I'm here. The ILoveMemphis blog has a ton of great recommendations that I plan on checking out, but I'm always in the market for more, especially if it involves eating in Memphis.

I want to travel somewhere I've never been before. This is something that's on my list every year, and I've been able to cross this one off the last couple of years -- CharlestonAnn Arbor in 2011; Miami, Paris, Nepal, Kurnool & Pune in 2012; and Nashik, parts of northeast India, Kansas City and Topeka, & Aruba in 2013. It doesn't necessarily have to be somewhere crazy or exciting or even necessarily out of the country; it just has to be somewhere new.

I want to cook more. I'm not necessarily very inventive in the kitchen, but I enjoy cooking. For years all I could make was brownies and 7-layer dip, and while I'm pretty good at both, I want to add to my repertoire. I've slowly been working on cooking some Indian veggies under the supervision of my mother, and I'd say I've gotten pretty good at them, especially cauliflower, stuffed okra, and parwar [a Gujurati vegetable]. I can make chicken biryani also, but the thing with Indian food is that it's quite time-intensive - especially this dish. It's nice on Sundays, when my mother and I make lunch together and have the whole morning, but it's just not feasible to throw something together quickly during the week. So I want to find some easier recipes that I can make, say once a week for dinner. I figure the Smitten Kitchen Recipe Index is a great place to start, but I'm definitely open to other suggestions if anyone has any. I've also been craving gumbo recently, so I'm on the lookout for good gumbo recipes.

I want to read the following books:
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Americanah by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Creating Room to Read by John Wood
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Some of these I've had for years, and others just came out and will be releasing in paperback sometime in 2014. There are obviously scores of other books I am also interested in reading, and I would like to make some more progress through the Wheel of Time series - I've been stuck on Book 4 for a while - but the ones listed above are the ones I absolutely will [hopefully] read this year. If anyone is interested in reading along, let me know.

I want to learn basic coding. I don't need to be the world's expert in programming, but it would be nice to know some of the basics of coding and building a website. It is something that is pertinent to the world today, and it would go a long way to helping me further develop this blog, should I choose to do so. It's something I've been thinking about for a while, and I figure now is as good a time as any to begin. I've mentioned Coursera a few times before, and I just found a self-study Computer Science 101 course that they have on offer [taught by a professor at Stanford, no less!] and signed up for it. Wish me luck!

I want to watch The Wire. I've been hearing rave reviews of the show for over a year, and I figure it's time I see what it's all about for myself. My brother has all the seasons on DVD, so it's right on hand for easy viewing. I sense a marathon in my future.

I want to buy a record player. This is one that I've been thinking about for a long while now, and I decided a few months ago that a record player will be my "congrats on getting a job" gift to myself. Sounds like a pretty solid plan to me. Now to just get that job...

From the looks of it, this is going to be quite a busy year, but I'm looking forward to seeing what it has in store. Here's hoping yours is busy - and prosperous - as well.