Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Swedish Glogg

Last year whilst in Sweden we were treated to glogg and gingerbread. It is a Christmas tradition with the Swedes where they invite close friends and family over to meet over mulled red wine.
Mulled wine is a beverage usually made with red wine along with various spices and raisins. It is served hot or warm and may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. It is a traditional drink during winter, especially around Christmas and Halloween. Port and claret are traditional choices for mulled wine. (Wikipedia)

I have had mulled wine – Gluhwein - before in Germany at the Christmas markets. However the difference with the Swedish one is that you add blanched almonds and raisins into it making it a very delicious drink. Matteus, who had invited us over, explained the tradition and was very patient when his little kids started munching on the almonds and raisins.

This year, the Swedish Consul General has invited me to her pre Christmas celebration and I am looking forward to raising a toast with my glass of delicious mulled wine.

Snowstorms, Snow Angels, Snow Faces and beautiful Vasa

We had a free day during the SIMP module and we had made several plans on how we were going to spend the day. Unfortunately that was not going to happen as on the day, Stockholm was hit by the biggest snow storm in a long while. And just how Mumbai comes to a grinding halt when there is an exceptionally huge downpour during the monsoons, similar was the case in Stockholm.


So we improvised. We were probably the happiest people in Sweden. They definitely do not appreciate a snowstorm but for us it was a novelty. We could not sit still in the hotel. We had to venture out. So about 15 of us decided to visit Vasa the museum.

We had a great time admiring the ship and learning about her history. She was the original Titanic. Not supposed to sink but sink she did after being afloat for only 30 minutes! Nevertheless we admired her beauty and the workmanship. And then we reluctantly decided to venture out from the warmth of the museum into the biting cold of the snow. We asked reception to call for cabs as the buses had stopped running, but of course the earliest cab was 5 hours away.

Since Vasa was located on a different island (though adjoining to our hotel's island) it was still a very long walk in the snowstorm. Not advisable said reception. So we asked if there was an alternative. And lo and behold yes, there was one! The ferry. So we quickly collected instructions on how to get to the dock and hoping to get the next one (before they stopped plying) we set off through knee high snow.

It was picturesque! White snow all over, just a narrow path. The minute you wandered off the path, you sunk into the snow as it had piled up quite high. Of course for us Indians it was a treat so instead of rushing to the ferry dock, we had to play in the snow, make snow balls and take tons of pictures. All of us enjoying the moment. Any Swede looking at us would have thought that we were crazy to be out on that afternoon.
Finally we got to the ferry and reached our hotel in one piece. I dread to think what we would have done if that was the last ferry of the day and if we had missed it!

On reaching the hotel we could not sit still either. So we decided to visit the Christmas markets and meet my friend AnnSofie later for a drink. The Christmas markets turned out to be a tad boring so we ended up in the warm restaurant and AnnSofie joined us there. She was so sweet, she had loaned us a whole lot of winter gear for our trip to the Artic and had first dropped it off at the hotel before meeting us. Thoughtful of her 'cos we would never have been able to lug the bag back to the hotel. Don't forget that cabs were not available and buses were not plying!
AnnSofie then walked us to the hotel and we happened to pass by some kids playing in the snow. They were lying down and flapping their arms. AnnSofie asked us if we knew what they were doing and when we said no she said that they were making snow angels. And she proceeded to lie down on an expanse of untouched snow and she spread her arms and then flapped them up and down, making a snow angel. Of course we had to try them! It was so much fun and for a moment we felt we were 8 years old again!

As we walked to the hotel we passed benches covered in snow, cycles covered in snow and walls covered in snow. The Swedes who were rushing home were totally amused at our eagerness to take pictures of everything covered in white powder. AnnSofie then taught us to make snow faces and that was super fun too. You stick your face into the snow and hold still for a minute. It feels prickly and then numb with the cold. When you lift your face you find the impression left behind quite like a Venetian mask! And then your face slowly gets warm again making u want to repeat the process! What fun we had that day!

It truly was a memorable day and I cannot wait to make more snow angels and snow faces.

Christmas Markets in Europe

There are Christmas Markets and there are Christmas Markets.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to visit Cologne in December, thereby experiencing the Christmas markets. My friend Chi Mee took me to at least 9 of them in and around Cologne-Bonn. Each of them had a different theme ranging from medieval ones to winter wonderland ones to children specials. I enjoyed all the food and drink, the people watching and the trinket window shopping.
Last year we were in Stockholm for the last module of SIMP and I was excited to experience the Swedish Christmas Markets. They had 2 of them - one in the city centre and the other near the palace. Both were tiny with few stalls and wares on display. Also they shut shop early leaving me very disappointed. Probably it may have been because the day I visited was also the day of the biggest snowstorm in a long while in Stockholm.

Anyway, I have fond memories of the German Christmas markets and I shall hope and pray that I am able to witness some more of them in the years to come.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sweet as sugar.......my love for sugarcraft


My love for sugar craft started over 20 years ago when I did a professional course with Hailey DSouza in Mumbai. Since then, I have made themed birthday cakes for my friends' children, cakes for special occasions of my friends and family and of late, cupcakes with different themes. It brings me great joy to make these little morsels of sweetness that others can appreciate and it definitely challenges my creativity to try out new designs.

Here are some of the cakes, cupcakes and other treats I have made.

Animal faces are a great hit with the kids.

Christmas themed cupcake toppers

Harry Potter themed cupcake toppers

Master Chef themed cupcake toppers

Easter themed cupcake toppers

Mini cupcakes

Monsoon themed cupcake toppers

Red velvet cupcakes

Pretty cupcakes

Barbie cake

Castle cake

Castle cake with Princess and Pirate themed cupcake toppers

Chocolate ganache cake

Marzipan Easter eggs

Flowers and Brooches themed cupcake toppers

Heart cakes

Valentine Cupcakes
If you are in Mumbai and want me to make some for you, please write to me elsamarieds@hotmail.com with the title - Cakes or cupcakes. You will have to pick it up from my place.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Trigger the Talk.................Break the Silence

With all the discussions and debates around the Tehelka episode, I am compelled to reflect and remember my own personal experiences on sexual harassment both in public and at the work place.

One particular incident stands out in my memory. I was 12 years old, travelling by train with my mum and sister from Parel to Andheri. In those days, around 7 pm the ladies compartment would turn into a general compartment. As it so happened, on that particular day, we were still on the train at 7 pm and the compartment suddenly turned from an empty ladies one into an extremely crowded one with lots of men. As we prepared to get off at Andheri, we were crushed at the doorway amidst a sea of bodies. Suddenly I felt my skirt being lifted and a strange hand groping me from behind. I was shocked, horrified and felt utterly violated. I wanted to get off but the train was still moving. I wanted to do something but my arms were pinned against my body because of the crowd. I started to shout “stop it, stop it” but my voice was drowned in the noise. Fortunately for me, Andheri came and I was able to get off and away from the man.

That incident is so vivid in my mind today and has affected me so deeply that I hate travelling by train. Given a choice, I will never choose it as an option instead preferring to drive by car and wasting time stuck in traffic. I hate the fact that I was not only violated as a child but also robbed of my choice of public transportation. I wonder what happens to those women who do not have a choice and have to travel by train or other crowded transport.

I also remember the incident when I was a young cabin crew of 19 and quite inexperienced, immature, insecure and naïve. My safety instructor (a foreigner) used to play mind games with everyone and I was in particular targeted by him. He first heaped praises on me and then when I was once in a vulnerable position tried to make advances on me. I of course resisted but I was completely shocked. It was not only a personal violation but also shattered my dreams/illusions. Here was my instructor, my mentor, someone I looked up to. There was also an unstated threat that I could lose my job as he had the power to do so if he chose to. Thereafter I stayed far away from him but never once did I think I could complain against him.

Many years later, the same individual returned as my boss. This time I was the instructor. He knew he could not take advantage of me but he definitely stalled my career progression. I helplessly watched as he continued to play mind games with other young cabin crew and dread to think how many of them may have succumbed to his advances. However I could not take up the issue as the system did not allow for it nor did I feel I had the power to do so individually.

A few years later, there was another incident involving a senior management staff who gave me an unsolicited neck massage in the board room in full public view of other staff and he even had the gall to whisper into my ear that he wished he could have known me better before then (he had just resigned from the company). I sat frozen during this entire episode not believing that I had the voice or power to raise it as an issue. I was a manager by designation yet did not have the power to call him out on what I now know is a case of sexual misconduct. I remember that I did not feel that I could take it to HR or the top management as once again I did not feel the system would have supported me nor did I feel I could actually fight the battle on my own.

Reflecting on the Tehelka case, I am reminded that my organisation still does not have a sexual harassment policy. If it has to follow the Vishaka guidelines, there must be a committee with a majority of women in the panel. Given that I am one of only 2 women who head departments, it does once again hammer in the fact that we work in a man’s world, in a system dominated by them and therefore difficult for a woman to feel supported should she be harassed or violated by one of the majority.

As women, we face many such instances throughout our lives both in public and at the workplace and sometimes even at home. As women, sometimes we are left wondering if it was our fault, brought on by us or our dress or our behavior or our messaging. As women, we have the intuition to actually identify that these are uncomfortable incidents and not appropriate in context. As women, most of us never even discuss these personal violations with our family or even our closest girl friends. As women, we have been conditioned by the system to believe it is our fault and never to raise our voice against it.

Last year post the Delhi rape incident, my friends and I started Safecity so that women and men could report their personal experiences of harassment and abuse. As the reports started to come in, I was startled and shocked to find that there are so many women, all over the country who continue to face this abuse. What I faced when I was 12 years old continues to happen to many women even 25 years later. When will it ever stop? If we truly want things to change, if we want the next generation to not face groping or sexual harassment at the workplace, it is important that we start talking about it openly. If we talk about it, more women will hopefully come forward as well. Talking openly about it is the first step, acknowledging it to be a problem is the next. Solutions can then be found.

But it starts with the first step – talking.

Come share your experiences on www.safecity.in and inspire other women to break the silence!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Solo travel


Travel is an education by itself. Especially if you are by yourself. It not only gets you in touch with your inner self but it brings out the best in you, liberating you from fear of the unknown, testing your resources and strengthening your resolve.

As a single woman who loves to travel, solo journeys are a necessity as not always can one find a travel companion readily available with similar interests. Initially I was a bit apprehensive of taking the plunge on my own but once I ventured down that path, I found there was no turning back.

As a solo traveller, I have complete freedom to plan my route, my dates of travel, the sights I want to take in and overall plan the trip based on my budget. Besides when you travel alone, you actually meet very interesting people who would not normally open up to you if you were part of a couple or a group. That's how I met a dear friend Douglas from Brazil. We were on a guided tour of Ephesus, Turkey and kind of bonded together as we were both solo. Post the tour we decided to hang out in Kusadasi and we had such an awesome time that the memories will forever stay imprinted on our minds.

Similarly, I met a wonderful older couple from Bombay who took me under their wing on a tour of Heidelburg, Germany and a lovely young Indian couple from Singapore on a tour of Cappadocia. I had interesting conversations with an American scientist on the Norwegian fjord cruise and a woman police officer on the Danube Bend in Hungary.

I have undertaken several solo trips - Norway, Switzerland, France, Germany, Turkey, Hungary, etc. There is always someone around to help you, talk to you, click your photograph. Despite that, if you still want reassurance try couchsurfing. I highly recommend you try solo travel once as you will never regret it. It reinforces your faith in humanity and makes you a stronger person.