It's a small world...

Last weekend, I made Ghee (aka Clarified Butter). Now, before you marvel at my cooking abilities, please note that making Ghee is a fairly simple exercise. It consists primarily of two steps:

A. Buy unsalted butter.
B. Cook the butter at low heat till all the moisture is cooked off, leaving just the fat behind.

But wait, there is actually another step. You see, butter consists primarily of three things - fat, water and a small amount of protein. If you try step B in turbo mode, the protein burns and gives the Ghee a smell and taste you would not relish (Trust me, I have done it). Many people just throw the protein residue away and enjoy the rest. But, back when I was a kid, my mom introduced me to this delicacy (called Mehran in Hindi) and I have enjoyed it ever since.

So, there I am, in my kitchen, keeping an eye on the pot with the butter and making sure nothing sticks to the bottom when I am reminded of a conversation from way back...

Back when I was living in Germany, I went to see the Meissen porcelain factory one weekend and as always, Monday was the day I updated my colleagues on my weekend travels. When I mentioned that I had "Meissen Wedding Soup", Wolfgang Uhlig piped up "Do you know the critical ingredient for it?" Well, I didn't so Wolfgang continued "You see, when you cook butter, you get this fried mass that is made only near Meissen..." Of course, I knew exactly what he was talking about and when I mentioned that I have eaten it all my life, he could not believe it! He thought that it was something so unique to the area around Meissen that he had never met anyone who could even figure out how it was made or had a name for it. And there I was, a guy raised in India, who had not only eaten it and had seen it being made, I even knew a word for it!

So, back to the present. Here I am, making Ghee and Mehran in Silicon Valley and instead of being reminded of India or of my mom's cooking, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a German guy... The world is indeed a small place. Don't you think so?


Tyranny of wire-hangers

I get my shirts laundered at a local laundry where they wash, starch and iron my shirts and put them on wire hangers. I love the feel of starched shirts. That crisp look and feel of the fabric is almost intoxicating. But there is a slight snag in the whole process.

You see, I grew up in India. And hangers came at a premium. I had a bunch of wire hangers that were either bought in the market there or were hand-me-downs from my uncle in USA. I never thought of throwing them out (unless they were horribly bent out of shape). So now, I never feel comfortable throwing out perfectly good wire hangers that I get with my shirts from the laundry.

Think about it. Some guy working in the mines in Chile brings out copper ore which gets smelted into copper and then blended to form ingots that then get extruded into wires which are then transformed into wire hangers and there is a lot of heating and cooling and transporting going on at the same time. To take the shirts home from the laundry and then simply toss the hanger in the trash is, well, an insult to the people who were involved in the whole process.

Yes, I know, we are living in the throw-away society. There are a lot of things that we use exactly once before throwing it away. Pasta jars, soda cans, boxes made of cardboard, foam, clear plastic and what not get dumped in our garbage can every day. Some of these are now making it to the recycle bin but it is still too little. But there is a solution.

When you go to Italy and buy a bottle of spring water, you will find that that very bottle has carried water to many consumers over its life. People pay a deposit for the bottle which they get back when they return the empty bottle to the store. It saves the company a lot of money, keeps the bottle out of the trash and saves energy that would be consumed if the bottle were crushed and remade. Similarly, when you are in Iowa, you pay 5 cents for every can you buy which you get back when you return the empties to the store. That is one of the major reasons why the Iowa roadside has a lot less littering than the surrounding states where there is no can deposit scheme.

So, I propose that laundries be required to charge a deposit for their hangers (say a dime or even a quarter) which they give back when the customers return the hangers. This may even lead to laundries using more durable hangars that they can use many times over. I would like it, wouldn't you?