Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pet Care in Gurgaon - Happy Pettings

So, we have two dogs - a goofy, almost 11 year old lab appropriately called Baggdu and a young delicate little girl called Bella. Baggdu has been with us since he was a pup and is well-traveled. He's cool with cars and planes and trains and I'm sure would take a sea voyage pretty well, if needed, too. Bella on the other hand is capable of puking within seconds of being put in a car. Last year, we took her along on a long road trip through Himachal. We didn't know about the puking then - she had been with us only a couple of months. We found out about the puking about 8 times between home and the AIIMS flyover. Needless to say, the Himachal trip was quite memorable for Bella and me - the only member of this family who can efficiently clean puke without "adding" to the problem, if you get my drift.

Anyway, with Baggdu getting too old to enjoy traveling and Bella being a fountain of puke (I sincerely hope, for your sake, that you're not reading this over breakfast), we realized we needed a daycare or boarding for the dogs. It was a lucky, lucky coincidence that I ended up reading about Happy Pettings on Facebook just when we needed to go out of town for a couple of days. The kennel is run by Vipul and his wife, Dhanshree - a really sweet, young couple who are in love with dogs. They have three of their own and you can see how pampered and loved they are when you visit. They host dogs in their home and not in a separate location, which is great for making the little guests comfortable.

Vipul is very thorough and professional - he makes sure to take all possible information about the dogs (eating habits, temperament, exercise requirements, walking schedule, etc.) and then does his best to make the change as acceptable for the dogs as possible. He is super friendly with the dogs and you can tell he's in this because he truly loves them and wants to hang out with them. He was even able to build a great bond with Bella, who tends to be picky about her friendships. We knew what the dogs were up to because Vipul would thoughtfully send us pictures and funny updates about the dogs every once in a while. And when we went to pick them up, they were happy, well-fed, and super-clean, which made the guilt of having left them go away entirely.

All in all, I'd highly recommend you check out Happy Pettings the next time you're headed out of town and can't take your pets along. You'll miss the babies, of course, but you'll be comfortable knowing they're extremely well taken care of. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Zoe - Your Health Kick for the Day!

There's a running joke in our house about a juicer that I had once spent a lot of money on because I wanted us all to get into the habit of eating (and drinking) healthy. I was convinced I would lovingly make mixed fruit and vegetable juices every morning and my children would lovingly drink them before school every morning, then kiss me goodbye and skip merrily off to the bus stop.

Yeah - that happened. Twice. The second time was less loving than the first. The &*&^ juicer was just too much work! Who the hell can spend that much time cleaning a juicer? And all that wasted pulp? Anyway, the juicer now occupies a significant amount of space in my bed box and makes me the butt of jokes from my dad and husband about my gadget and appliance craziness and also general laziness.

I know juicers are better and easier now, but you know what's even easier? Ordering juice. There's a big craze for cold pressed juices now and there are so many easy options available that can make you feel a lot better about your breakfast or even the mid-day office snack. (Ahem - there are also some very expensive cold pressed juicers that are now available...I've been eyeing them, but better sense and experience have so far prevailed and I haven't ordered one yet).

So, since I'm sticking to ordering for now, I recently tried Zoe - they have a range of juices, smoothies, parfaits, and even some vegan drinks (including coffee made with almond milk!) and healthy sandwiches. They have quite a wide menu and I had a hard time choosing something. Ultimately, I just looked through the ingredients list and picked the ones that included at least a couple of the fruits or veggies I liked. The one I liked the most was a parfait - I picked one with grapes in it. I didn't really think grapes would go well with yogurt, but they really did! The thing I liked the least was this smoothie with peanut butter and bananas...maybe I don't like peanut butter that much, after all, or maybe it was a tad too heavy for me. What I loved was the quality and freshness of everything...it just felt right! I'm definitely planning to try more of the parfaits and sandwiches. They do offer subscriptions also - you can get stuff delivered every day for a week or month or more at a time and that comes with some discounts. Cold pressed juices on a regular basis do tend to be prohibitively expensive, especially if you're ordering for the whole family. It would be nice to see prices coming down eventually, but until then a subscription is a better way to go.

Also, remember that you live in Gurgaon and have overpaid for things for so long that you no longer have much perspective on what things actually cost:-) So, just forget it and enjoy your juice!

If you decide to give Zoe a try and like it, or if you have any recommendations of your own, don't forget to leave a comment! 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Qutub Minar Morning - it's close enough to Gurgaon

Rapid fire:

When was the last time you drove past Qutub Minar?

And when was the last time you went in to Qutub Minar?

If you're like most Delhi-ites and Gurgaon-vaasis I know, chances are your answer is something like "yesterday" or "today" for the first question and "when I was 8 and we went with Bubble Uncle when he came to visit from Canada" for the second one. 

Well, wait no more folks: wake up early tomorrow morning, make a flask of tea and pack some Parle G biscuits, rope in your significant other, best friend, or friendly neighbor, and head over to Qutub Minar for a really memorable morning. That's what we did last week, and what a fun time we had! 
My winter resolution is always to stay as far away from malls as possible and take advantage of the weather and my resulting good mood to explore the city and pack in some good experiences which I can then draw on for sustenance as I'm melting in 45 degrees in June. So, when my brother suggested we go explore Qutub Minar, I was totally up for it. Honestly though, I wasn't expecting much out of it - I see that Minar every week at least and I don't remember being bowled over when I went at age 8 with Bubble Uncle. Turns out I was really wrong. For one thing, of course I'm older now and my interests have changed as has my attention span. For another - that place is beautiful! It's a lot cleaner and better maintained (and bigger!) than I remember and since we went very early, it was also very peaceful. We were really the only ones there - that's a big thing in Delhi!  

The thing that made the most difference though, was that we ended up taking help from a guide. He was actually one of the security guards there who was enterprising enough to have educated himself really well about the place and made a sincere effort to tell us everything he knew. The added bonus was that he was very interested in photography and happily took some of our group pictures. 

Guides tend to have a bad rep because they fabricate stories and barely skim the surface in terms of good information. When my brother suggested we get a guide, I told him to save his money - I'd just walk along and read aloud from Wikipedia instead. I now realize it's not just about finding out information - there's something nice about walking along leisurely while someone tells you not just the facts but also some colorful nuggets and a little mirch-masala surrounding the place. It also forces you to stop everywhere and listen rather than just walk by exclaiming once in a while that the engraving on the pillar is lovely. 

We ended up spending about 2 hours at Qutub Minar...we got there at about 7:00 am. A few small groups had begun to come in by the time we left. So, I'd definitely recommend an early morning if you want the place to yourself. 

I hope you decide to go. I'm excited about the visit and have already followed it up with a visit to Humanyun's tomb as well (I'll post pictures of that soon). Next on the cards is a Delhi Heritage Walk. This is going to be a winter of exploring Gurgaon and Delhi! I hope it's fun for you too. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Guest Post: Spa in Gurgaon - Anammyaa Wellness

Hello, fellow Gurgaon-vaasis and wish you a very happy 2016! Starting off this year with a post, and with a resolution that this is the Year of Writing for me. Erm...well, my writing will start from the next post onwards, because this one is a guest post. My sister has written it though, and we're really close, so it's almost the same thing! She, like the rest of us, has a life full of hectic days, and when those muscles are sore and knotted, relies on the occasional spa day to bounce back. Her favorite tried and tested place is Anammyaa Wellness, which is located inside Global Foyer on Golf Course Road in Gurgaon. I asked her to write me a post, and here it is!

Despite all the services and luxuries available in Gurgaon, my desperate search for a non NCR type of massage haven was always redundant. I checked out plenty, mostly places that came with references, but always found myself critical. It just wasn’t physical comfort that was falling short but the fact I wanted to fall asleep on the massage table without being conscious of being in a compromised position! (Awkward as hell, but there, I said it!)

Yet on days my body felt as jet lagged as I may have been across the Atlantic twice, I pined for creature comfort of so called knots being eased and experiencing pain relief.
 Three years ago, rushing to get to the tailor at the DT Mega Mall, I was swift to turn around to look for where the overwhelming herb smells wafted in, at a place as commercial as a mall. So I stood and looked at ‘Ayush’, and found myself being compelled to walk in.

It is three years now, first at Ayush at DT Mega Mall and then later at Annammya, (they are the same), I have managed to not just fall asleep but wake up an hour later to feeling renewed. I am not sure if I am just recommending  this therapy centre or am I even persuading those looking for a very real Kerala experience, authentic oils, even more authentic herb infused oils, courteous, even more well mannered staff, to give yourselves a chance to feel recuperated.

I am particularly impressed by their age old therapies delivered to near perfection. Whether I do not have a bench mark and that takes away from my conviction or not, Anammyaa is worth a healing experience. Their hygiene is top notch, the ambience is clearly calming if not spiritual, the scent of agarbatti, mingled with fresh marigold and a beautifully lit diya, all add to the compelling experience.

Perhaps the take away would be complete, if the efficiency and organization around schedules could be improved upon. It is almost inadvertently they sometimes lack in their ability to keep a tight control over appointments, perhaps also because their expert staff has to be shared between their two outlets. I have had a couple fall outs over the timings but that could not hinder me from going back to that warm and healing respite. I have great regard for the staff that I have dealt with - they are courteous and extremely capable, and you know they take their work seriously.

Is Anammyaa expensive? Yes. Are they unaffordable? No. If one compares with others they don’t seem all that terribly priced. I go back each year, and buy packages that are flexible. This is one time I have no guilt spending on myself!

Oh! Just throwing it in, before or after a super long travel, a couple of visits here is as good as a vacation followed by a vacation!

Sounds like it's a sure thumbs up for Anammyaa and Ayush. I haven't been there myself, but my husband has, and he totally agrees. As soon as I work hard enough to deserve a spa day for myself, I guess I know where to go. Thank you for the post, Upasna:-)

Do leave a comment here with your recommendations for a good spa too. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cleaning Service in Gurgaon: Kleenr

So, let's say it's your wedding anniversary (any except your first, for purposes of this illustration). What sort of surprise from your significant other would you like to walk home to?

A. A bottle of wine and a big bouquet of flowers on your bed side table. 
B. A generous gift voucher from your favorite store wrapped up in a sentimental, hand-written note.
C. A sparkling clean house where every surface is shining, everything is neatly in its place, and you have had no part to play in the process of it. 

Be honest now, it's C, isn't it? 

Of course it is! Not that I wouldn't love the wine and flowers, or some extra shopping money and note, but the clean house...Ah! The clean house would mean the guy has really been listening and understands the key to contentment lies in the simple stuff. And really, if you're past your first anniversary, hopefully you've had enough bottles of wine together, you probably don't need to buy new stuff, and the sentimental note is nice, but actions speak louder than notes. 

Anyway, if you plan to surprise your spouse with the romantic gesture described above, or if you just really need your house cleaned, you will be happy to know that you have options in Gurgaon. One of the best ones is Kleenr. I had them over to clean my bathrooms and kitchen recently. I was super embarrassed at the amount of time they spent in my house, because surely, that meant the situation was pretty bad. Either that, or they're really thorough folks, which I think is what it is. 

Anyway, it doesn't matter now because all I care about is that my kitchen is gleaming. They cleaned everything. You know those places...all those difficult to reach spots that you always look at disapprovingly and make mental notes to remind your maid to clean better, and then you do, and then she makes a mental note to clean better, but then discards that mental note immediately, and then you're vaguely dissatisfied but need to get to your office or meet that writing deadline and it basically never gets cleaned - those places - the inside of your microwave, the little flat surface on top of the chimney, the side of the oven, the ring of the gas stove, the back of the RO, the little holes in the wire-mesh of the door. These guys actually took a little brush and cleaned out grime from the wire-mesh of my kitchen door! I was so thrilled. (After many years of marriage, I'm not ashamed to say that this would be a pretty good anniversary present!)

The best thing about a good cleaning agency is, of course, that all you need to do is call them, wait around reading a book while they work their magic, and then pay them. It's was really that simple with the Kleenr guys - they were very polite and knew their stuff well. They came equipped with everything they needed and they cleared up and put back the stuff from the bathrooms and kitchen themselves (though I did help a little there, but only because I wanted to move some stuff around). 

Definitely check them out - here are the links to their website and Facebook page. Their rates are up there, and so are their numbers. I'd love to hear your experience, and also your (honest) response to my little survey above!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Best Pizza in Gurgaon - Pizza Express!

Finally! We have a place other than Chilli's that we can all agree on! Don't get me wrong, Chilli's. We all still love you, but even you will understand - how much tex mex can one family eat? And yes, you have crayons and coloring sheets for the kids, and your kiddie meals with chocolate milk are much appreciated, but every once in a while, pizza beckons.

And when the craving for pizza hits, wow, does Pizza Express at Ambience Mall, Gurgaon have the answer! They have such an amazing range of pizzas (I've only looked at their vegetarian options) and such yummy starters (you must, must try this stuffed red pepper with mushrooms and goat's cheese) and also a very decently put together kids' meal.

Time for an anecdote: I've been keen to introduce different world cuisines to the kids so that their world view is expanded, they have exposure to different cultures through food and literature, and all that good stuff. So, last weekend, when we were at Pizza Express, I asked them if they knew what kind of food pizza was. "Junk Food!!" was the immediate, chorused response. I realized that's what we all think because of Dominos and Pizza Hut and all the other crappy pizzas out there. But for once, because we were eating what felt like genuine food, I was able to tell them that it's not junk - it's Italian food!

Great, super quick service, great food, a friendly ambience, and prices that are not cheap, but don't seem totally crazy either (between 2200-2700 for a satisfying meal for 4) makes this a definite weekend choice.

What's your favorite place for pizza? Let me know!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eating "in" in Gurgaon: Cook Gourmet

It's so exciting to see the number of interesting eating out and eating in options in Gurgaon these days. Whatever else I think of Gurgaon (in a nutshell, it's love-hate leaning towards hate for the most part), it is pretty cool to see the entrepreneurial spirit of people who live here.

I had written a while ago about a service that delivers fresh, washed and chopped ingredients along with a yummy recipe so you can cook exotic meals at home but in a really, really easy and convenient way. Well, it turns out there's another company along the same lines - it's called Cook Gourmet. They were nice enough to let me try their service and food. I ordered from their website - CookGourmet.co (it's not .com and it's not .in - it's .co which is unusual but alright I guess). The menu options change weekly and are really quite good. To be honest, I've only tried one thing (the Marrakesh Vegetable Curry with French Baguettes). I loved it so much, that I simply had to order it again, thereby missing out on some of the other really nice sounding things on their menu. No harm done, I guess...I do feel hungry every day!

The ingredients and recipe arrive in a really nice and tidy box. All the ingredients are vacuum packed and there's even an ice pack to keep everything fresh, which will be a useful feature in the coming months. The best part is that everything is measured as per the recipe, so all you have to do is toss stuff in as per their easy instructions and then wait for people to appreciate "your" cooking.

They put thought into the packaging, you can tell. For example, my recipe asked for oil in two stages - one to saute vegetables, and the other to cook the spices for the curry. They actually packed and labeled the oils separately. So you really cannot go wrong, even if you've never cooked in your life.

If you're not in the mood to order out and find that you have nothing in your fridge but a couple of suspiciously soft tomatoes and a lemon that has definitely seen better days (don't tell me that has never happened to you - be honest now!) this is definitely your answer. This, or Maggi, which is not always a bad thing, unless you have happened to have seen that video about how long it takes to digest a packet of Maggi that's been doing the rounds on WhatsApp. (For the record, I know that video exists, but I refuse to watch it. I prefer my blinders and my Maggi, thank you.)

Back to Cook Gourmet. The only thing I feel bad about when ordering from them is that I become the cause of a lot of usage of plastic bags and bottles. I wish there was a way around that, and I know this problem exists whenever you order food in - cooked or uncooked. The only other thing to watch out for is the way they've listed their pricing - what you see on the website is the price per portion. Most of the times, you need to order at least two portions. So, the prices look lower than they really are. But then again, we live in Gurgaon - the only prices that shock us now are the low ones!

I hope you enjoy Cook Gourmet as I did and I hope to dig out more such good ideas that make Gurgaon feel a little bit better than it is.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Heritage School, Gurgaon: Update

I wrote about The Heritage School, Gurgaon back in 2011, when my elder child had just about started going there. It has now been about 4 years since we've been associated with the school. My younger child has also been going there for 2 years now. So, while I was a little tentative and hopeful in my earlier review, since I hadn't spent enough time with them, I'm now much more convinced that this is a really great choice. I'd go so far as to say that if I ever dream wistfully of leaving Gurgaon and moving to a place with beautiful valleys, meadows, and gently flowing streams, I pause and regret that this would mean I'd have to pull my kids out of Heritage.

Last week, I spent an entire morning at my daughter's "sports day" or, as they call it at Heritage, their "fun field day". That's the thing about this school - they put thought into every single thing they do, and it really shows. A regular sports day (at least when I was growing up) involved parents coming and sitting on all sides of a field and watching their children march past, do some drills, run a series of age appropriate races, and show off some gymnastics. These guys have put an entirely different spin on it - their logic is that at a young age, it's all about having fun on the field, not so much about the discipline of sports. And since kids love to play with their parents and show off to them, why not have parents join in? We spent the day playing all sorts of crazy and fun games with the kids and with each other. It's difficult to say which group had more fun - the kids or the parents!

Another incident I remember that demonstrated how the school thinks, happened last year. Some kids in my son's class damaged a yoga mat they were sitting on while watching a movie in the audio-visual room. It was dark while the movie was on, and there was no way to tell which kids had done the damage. Naturally, the entire class was held responsible. However, instead of simply sending a note asking parents to pitch in to make up for the damage, they wrote to us saying that this is an opportunity to teach kids a lesson in collective responsibility, and also that throwing money at a problem is too easy a solution. So, they had kids collect old newspapers. The class then sold the newspapers and made enough money to buy some lemons. They used these lemons to make lemonade, which they sold at the next parent teacher meeting. They took turns handling the lemonade stall and some kids even were even responsible for marketing the stall! They used the money they collected to replace the damaged yoga mats.

A friend's daughter was learning about seasonal vegetables (or something more specific) last year. Their class was divided into groups and each group chose a couple of seasonal veggies to grow in a patch of land assigned to them. They were responsible for choosing the veggies, planting them, and caring for them. When the veggies were ready to be plucked, the kids organized a vegetable market in school. Teachers shopped for their daily veggies from the kids that day and the kids brought home their share too. The next day, they had a class party where they ate stuff made out of those vegetables. What a wonderful way to learn so many things through an end-to-end experience! I really wish I had been to a school where this level of thought was put into designing instructional experiences for me. I'm sure I'd have an easier time remembering most of my social studies chapters!

There are many such instances. Essentially, I'm really impressed that the act of learning is taken so seriously and every aspect of it designed and executed so well. It's not surprising though, since the faculty and management bring a lot of experience and strong qualifications in education. The people who are thinking about education are educationists, and not pure businessmen, as is often the case in large schools.

There are still doubts and criticisms against the school's learning approach especially in higher classes. Most of them are about either too much sudden pressure in higher classes, or not enough pressure and preparation for real, competitive life in time for college admissions. My kids aren't old enough yet, so I can't write from personal experience. However, I have developed enough trust in the school to know that they will figure it out, even if there are some hiccups along the way. They have the best interest of the kids and the entire education system at heart, and they will get there. In fact, if last year's board results are anything to go by, they are already proving that their system works. In any case, I strongly believe that learning has to be a sensible and enjoyable experience that builds a sense of curiosity, an inquisitive and sensitive mind, and the ability to find joy in the act of discovery and learning. If a school can give my kids that, I know they'll be fine. (For everything else, there's Wikipedia :-))

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New "trick" in town

At the best of times, Gurgaon can be quite a maddening place. Sometimes, you shrug and move on when you face some irritant like an idiot driving on the wrong side or a big hole where your road should have been. At other times, you just get mad. That happened to me yesterday. 

My brother was in town and he had an early morning flight out. We called a Meru cab at 12:00 a.m to take him to the airport. I got a call from the driver at 11:20 saying he would reach soon. I told him to come by 12:00 and that the traveler was planning to leave by 12:10-12:15. Just as we were getting ready to walk downstairs, at 12:17, we got an automated call from Meru saying the driver informed them that we no longer wanted to travel, hence the booking had been cancelled. I panicked and called Meru, and they assigned me another cab. I was, of course, worried that the second cab wouldn't reach in time. 

However, within a minute or so, the original cabbie called and told me he was still there! So, essentially, he had lied to Meru that we didn't want to travel, and then called me to say he was there, with the expectation that we needed the cab badly enough that we would be relieved he was there and use him anyway. That way, he would make the full amount instead of just a percentage, from Meru. Luckily, the second assigned cab arrived soon and we didn't have to use the first guy. In the process though, we lost a lot of time and spent an hour stressing about whether or not my brother would make it in time for his flight.

On the one hand, I understand that cabbies don't make a lot of money. They need more to make ends meet, and this "little" deception is how they add to their income. Meru is a big company with lots of money, and the occasional cancellation won't hurt them. I don't know what it's like to be in the cab driver's shoes, so I'm uncomfortable sitting on my high horse and judging him. However, it is stuff like this - these little deceptions and the "chalta hai" attitude of people that has seeped into our culture to a point that one is forced to be constantly on guard and suspicious of everyone, even the good guys. Isn't it tiring not to be able to trust people, their honesty, and their competence? 

I don't know how much Meru can be blamed for this incident - they responded well enough on the phone, though I'm yet to hear from them on the complaint I lodged. Till companies have stronger processes to safeguard the customer against being cheated by their staff, and till people develop a stronger sense of honesty, I guess it's up to each customer to be alert and suspicious. After all, this is Gurgaon!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Farzi Cafe: Eating Out in Gurgaon

We are typically very boring "eater outers." We tend to form favorites pretty quickly and then just stick to the places that we like because they end up being practical choices with the kids. At familiar restaurants, we know they'll have crayons and coloring sheets and at least one favorite thing on the menu for the kids, and hey, if that means a peaceful but boring, repetitive meal - you take what you can get, right?

But every once in a while, the adventurous young woman peeps out from behind the mummy that is me and I'm motivated to dress up and head into town ready for new experiences, or, at the very least, a new restaurant. That's what happened this weekend, when we decided to try out Farzi Cafe at Cyber Hub in Gurgaon. I'd been meaning to go there for a while, but we always seemed to end up at places with crayons and coloring sheets instead. The stars aligned such that both the kids were busy with their own social commitments leaving us with 3 leisurely hours at lunch time. This really never happens - it totally falls in the category of small (no, big) miracles. So, we were determined to make the best of it and Farzi turned out to be a really, really good choice.

The entire experience with Farzi was so pleasantly different from most restaurants where you know what type of cuisine you're headed for and then you get just that. Their entire menu is a modern, twisted (in a good way) take on some regular Indian favorites. The food is whacky and fun in its presentation and very innovative in its use of flavor. You can tell the chefs are really smart - the whole thing just works! I loved pretty much everything I tried. They have very good mocktails (try one called "Farzi OK") and a really good selection of cocktails and the regular alcoholic drinks.

The starters were, as always, the best part. I personally don't understand why main courses exist when you have alcohol, starters, and dessert. What is the point of a main course except to make you feel bad that you ate so many starters and regret that you won't have room for dessert? My favorite starter was something called "dal chawal arancini". I have no idea how the chefs managed this - you eat what looks like a yummy ball of something dipped in batter and fried, but it really tastes like dal, chawal, papad, and achaar all at the same time. It's really, really good and totally takes away the need for a main course consisting of all that stuff. My husband tried some of their non-vegetarian things and was equally satisfied.

The deserts were really cute twists on regular stuff too. Try their Parle G cheese cake if you're not too hung up on what cheese cake "should" be like and their Baileys balls if you feel a little extra alcohol couldn't possibly hurt.

All in all, I can't wait to go back and try more things on the Farzi menu. It's on the expensive side, but not terribly so and definitely worth it for the experience, the food, and the great staff. Check on credit card promotions when you pay. In fact, if you have an American Express credit card, you can redeem your member reward points against the bill, which is very convenient.

The one important thing to know is that they don't allow kids in the evenings. That's when they have live music 2-3 times a week and I guess the environment isn't really suited to small kids anyway. However, I wish this information was written in big bold letters somewhere. One of the staff did later tell me it's on their Facebook page, but it's hidden in their long description, so it's easy to miss. This was a pity since it led to a failed attempt at eating there a couple of days earlier, when we showed up with the kids. Luckily, Cyber Hub has a lot of eating options, so no lasting harm was done.

I would love to hear what you thought of Farzi, and if you have any other recommendations for the next time I'm feeling adventurous enough to move away from Chili's or (shudder) McDonald's!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Run With Me in Gurgaon

It's Guest Post time, here on www.livingingurgaon.com (please note the all new domain name!) 

You couldn't have missed the fact that, at least in Gurgaon, running seems to be the new golf. Hell, it's maybe even the new cricket. Granted, Gurgaon is not the most scenic place to run in, but when you're addicted to this wonderful sport, you don't care about stuff like that. Or so I hear from my husband, an avid runner and writer of my first guest post in a long time. 

So here goes:

The running bug bit me way back in 2010. ADHM or Airtel Delhi Half Marathon was the only race I knew in Delhi and I ran my first ADHM in 2011. I prepped for this race mainly through extensive reading on the internet, downloading running plans, and watching videos on YouTube. The run up to this race was filled with frequent injuries, thankfully none of them enough to keep me from the race.

I ran my second half marathon in Gurgaon – the Running & Living Gurgaon Marathon, 2012. A couple of months after this race, I injured my back very badly while playing tennis. This injury took almost 8 months to heal. During this down time I spoke to doctors and physios, and read up a lot and came to the conclusion that one of the main reasons for my back injury was improper conditioning and strengthening that my body required in preparation for the half marathons.

With my back almost healed, I was itching to get back to active running. But this time, I wanted to run under the supervision of a coach. This is when I came across the Run With Me Foundation and Coach Ravinder Singh. The tag line of the foundation – Run With Me Injury Free, seemed almost tailor made for me.

Coach Ravinder Singh, or ‘Coach’ as we all fondly call him, has programs to prepare runners of all levels for long distance races. Besides these programs, the Run With Me Foundation regularly organizes races, where you can participate and get a sense of how well you are progressing or, if you are first time runner, just get to experience the thrill of running a race. 

I enrolled for a 7-month program for ADHM 2014. The program was divided into different phases, with the first phase for preparing our foundation i.e. strengthening our core, improving flexibility, and functional strength. 

This was followed by different phases of running, where, through personalized plans, we gradually increased distance and speed till we reached the 21 km mark. 

There were work outs 3-4 days a week, with 2-3 days of running and 1-2 days of strength training. Most of the workouts were conducted outside Roots Café at Leisure Valley, and some at Bio Diversity Park, especially for hill running workouts - all outdoors, which was the thing I liked best. Also, each session was very well-thought out and designed. Coach kept us guessing all the time because no two workouts were the same.

The ADHM 2014 is over and almost all of us met our personal running goals. :-) The group is still going strong - each towards our next goals. I think training with a group has been very valuable. What better than a driven bunch of people that you can work out with, run with, and draw inspiration from? The group makes everything fun and takes away the monotony of training. It is also a great source of motivation – when it is 5.30 am and pouring, you still get up and go because you know that your group will be there.

Thanks, Vijay, for this post. 

As always, do let me know if you have any feedback or comments. Here's a link to the Run With Me Facebook page

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Home cooked food without all the effort: eating at home in Gurgaon!

For the most part, I like cooking and I like to think I'm fairly decent at it. More than the act of cooking, what I enjoy is the feeling that I'm giving my family food that is fresh and nutritious and prepared for them with love. That's the main reason I cook myself - even when I'm mad at the monkeys in my house, I still love them, and it shows in my cooking!

What I don't enjoy is the following: thinking of menus, realizing I can't cook what I thought of because I don't have all the ingredients, chopping vegetables (especially leafy stuff - show me a person who likes chopping and cleaning leafy stuff, will you?), and cleaning up and sorting out the mess after the food is done. This is the really thankless part of cooking. It takes forever and is largely unnoticed. No one has ever come up to me after a good meal and complimented me on the beauty of my finely chopped garlic. 

That's why I was delighted when I found out about a really great new concept implemented by ForMyBelly. They let you choose stuff from their menu, and then deliver the recipe, along with all the ingredients in the right amount, chopped and washed and ready to use. It's the answer to my prayers. (Okay - I hadn't actually prayed for this exact thing, but that's only because I never thought of it.) 

A couple of days ago, we tried their Vietnamese Soup with Rice Noodles. It was such a delightful experience. I got a little bag with a nicely written and printed recipe....

...and all the ingredients nicely measured out, washed, chopped, and labeled. Stuff like ginger and garlic and galangal and coriander was chopped so finely - I wanted to sing with joy. They even sent me the right amount of soy sauce in a little bottle!

The recipe was super easy to follow. It took me 20 minutes, as promised. I didn't need to worry about a thing - read and toss into the pan. That was it. Here's the final product. See how close it is to the picture on the recipe? I was quite proud - would have been embarrassing to stuff up something this simple!

And that was that. The soup was very tasty and the portions were just right too. I think this is a great option for when you don't want to cook the same old stuff at home, but you don't want to eat out or order in either. It also seems like a good option for times when you know you'll be home late and won't have much time to cook, so you need to take the hassle out of the whole thing. 

The menu is not too wide at this point (I'm restricted to the vegetarian menu) and I'd sure like to see it grow, but everything seems very tempting and I look forward to trying more stuff. 

ForMyBelly has been nice enough to offer readers of Living in Gurgaon a 20% discount on their first orders. Just use the coupon code D20NP1. Here's a link to their website and Facebook page. They deliver in Gurgaon till about 10:30 at night.

As always, I would love to hear your comments and feedback if you end up trying any of the stuff on their menu. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Music Lessons in Gurgaon: Lorraine Music Academy

It all started with my dad's impulse purchase of a keyboard when he retired a few years ago. He decided he would learn to play now that he would have all this time on his hands. How hard could it be and so what if there's not a musical bone in his body? My mother rightly predicted that his interest in music would be short lived. The keyboard soon moved from it's pride of place in the living room, to the guest bedroom, to under the guest room bed, wrapped up in layers of bubble wrap. That's where it stayed till 2 years ago, when my husband decided it was time for our son to learn to play it. He was almost 6 at the time. This time I protested, predicting that the keyboard would just lie bulkily in our house, our son wouldn't be interested and after all, don't I clean enough around the house without now having to dust an unused keyboard everyday?

I know my husband well, and he's nothing if not quietly and sweetly obstinate. So, the keyboard came. In protest, I washed my hands off the whole thing and left it up to him to find a teacher and make it all happen.

That's where Lorraine came in. My husband heard about her from a friend and took our son to visit her. He's been learning to play the piano from her academy for the last two years. My daughter joined a few months ago as well. We could not be happier with how it's going. Located in Nirvana and Phase IV, the academy accepts students for piano, guitar, violin, drums, dance, and singing. The thing that struck me the most when our son started going was how serious they are about music. This is not just a hobby class that you would send your kids to over the summer or when you just needed to occupy them for a few hours a week. This is where you'd send your kid if you really believed that instruction in music would help him or her in life and you wanted to invest yours and your child's time in it. They teach mostly western classical music, and kids start learning to read music from the beginning. For piano at least (I know more about that because that's what the kids are learning), they follow the Trinity Guildhall syllabus and have examiners come in to take music exams regularly.

The other thing I love about the academy is the environment - it's quite unstructured and as a first time visitor, one wonders how it will all come together - there are kids doing their own thing all over the place - playing their instruments, reading their notes, sometimes playing the fool, and generally having a good time. Somehow though, they end up getting individual attention from their assigned teachers and it starts to show in their music. Thanks to frequent musical events that the academy hosts, mostly at Epicenter, Gurgaon, parents get an opportunity to watch their kids perform at times too. This is fun and, as we found, has really helped the kids' get over any stage fright as well.

As with any activity your child pursues, your attention and time and the occasional push is naturally a key ingredient to success. We have been providing that in good measure, and the kids are good about practicing. But that's all we do. We have Lorraine and her staff to thank for the foundation they're providing and more importantly, the love for music they're developing in our kids.

If you're considering music lessons for your kids, or even for yourself, do contact them and see what you think. As always, I welcome your comments and opinions, experiences and recommendations.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Heritage Transport Museum in Gurgaon

One of the things we are trying to be more conscious of, despite living in Gurgaon, the city of malls, is to stay as far away from the malls as possible. I've started finding it just so tiring to go to a mall with the kids dragging behind asking me to buy them things or eat junk food or just generally getting over stimulated by the artificial lighting and the bad air and loud crowds of people. So, unless we plan to eat at a specific restaurant, or need to buy something from a specific store, or, on a really lucky and rare day, are being able to go for a movie, we now tend to stay away from malls altogether. This leaves a big empty hole in our weekends where mindless shopping used to be. That's a good thing because it forces us to look for better places to visit and experiences to share with the kids.

That's how we discovered the gem called the Heritage Transport Museum. It's located past Manesar on the Jaipur highway and took us about 40 minutes from Sohna Road.

 When you think of a museum in India, it's sadly mostly a musty and ill maintained picture that pops up in your mind. I was expecting something like the Rail Museum....fun for kids, but badly maintained and a waste of great potential.

I was so surprised, instead, to find a beautifully laid out, well-planned, well-maintained museum. It's privately owned. Tickets cost 300 for an adult and 150 for a child. They have very polite and well-trained staff to help you.

The museum itself has a great collection of vinatge cars, pre-mechanized transport like bullock carts and even palkis, and my personal favourites - an old train and even a small airplane.

There is informative and crisp signage everywhere and its the kind of place that you just want to linger and stare at your leisure.




When we were done browsing, we discovered that they have a sweet little food and snack set up as well! For Rs. 150, we each got a plate of very tasty rajma chawal, some raita, and a gulab jamun. They staff was nice enough to serve our food outside so we could enjoy the sunshine. Everything is clean and spacious and safe, so we didn't have to stress about where the kids were running off to.

The added bonus was a range of activities planned outdoors for the kids because of Christmas and new year (its on till the 4th of Jan, 2015, I think). So, for just Rs. 50 each, the kids took horse and camel rides, painted on a canvas, did some pottery, and even painted an old car that's lying there just for doodling!

All in all, definitely go! If you have kids, they will surely enjoy it. And if you don'thave kids, but are a vintage car enthusiast, you'll enjoy it too. A little tip though  - the museum is pretty cold inside (maybe they keep it that way on purpose) - so definitely take an extra warm layer if you go.

I would love to hear from you if you do visit. As always, please leave me a comment right here.