Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How To Make Butter

On 11/23/10, I saw this email in my inbox:

Good Morning –

As part of our procedural writing lessons, we have discussed recipes. This morning, we are putting our recipe reading into action by making butter. This delicious creation will then be eaten on homemade corn muffins, similar to the biscuits that may have been served at that the very first Thanksgiving in 1621. This is a nice way to bring different aspects of the curriculum together….and it’s tasty, too! I have attached the recipe for butter that we are going to be following this morning in case you would like to try it at home.

Mrs. Q

Attached was a step by step, set of instructions telling us how they planned to make butter in the class that day.

After the teacher shared her butter recipe with us - the parents, I was inspired to share my age-old Indian butter recipe with her. In most Indian homes yogurt (curd) and butter is made in-house. Yogurt, almost every other day and butter, once a week or once a fortnight depending on how much milk is consumed by the family. Every night or every other night, after the family has had their dinner, an Indian housewife - before she turns the lights out in the kitchen for the night - will set yogurt for the next day.

Since in most parts of India, most days of the year are hot and humid, making yogurt at home is a no -brainer. It doesn't take much time and effort and the result is consistent - in the sense that there is no frustration involved of getting up in the morning and finding out that for whatever reason the yogurt did not get set overnight; as it sometimes happens to me when I try to make it in my NYC kitchen.

Over there, all you need to do is reheat the milk to about luke warm temperature- milk needs to be warm but not hot (it always helps to boil the milk for a couple of minutes and let it cool down to the desired temperature). Add half a tea spoon of yogurt culture. Stir and mix well. Set aside. In summer, yogurt will get set in a couple of hours...In winter it takes a little longer.

In the India that I grew up in, when a family returned home from an extended vacation and found out that there was no yogurt culture left in the fridge to make fresh yogurt, a spoonful of culture would be borrowed from the neighbor's to restart the cycle. And the neighbors would do the same. I don't think anyone does that anymore. Now, it's probably easier to just go to the super market and buy ready-made yogurt.

One of the things that I look forward to doing when I go back home is making my own butter. Buffalo milk is more commonly consumed in India than cow's milk. It must have a high fat content because when you boil it and let it cool down in the fridge, a thick layer of creme will form on top. To make butter, you have to remove that creme into a container, mix in a spoonful of yogurt culture and store the mixture in the fridge. You can keep adding fresh creme to that mixture for a week or two. When you are ready to make butter, let the mixture sit outside of the fridge, overnight. Next morning, it is ready to be churned. Take an old fashioned churner and churn for 10 to 15 minutes and a big glob of butter will begin to form. Separate the butter milk from the butter.

                                                                                          Indian Churner

Indian homes use clarified butter (ghee) for making  sweets, so we take this recipe a step further and boil the butter till it becomes clear and a brownish residue is left at the bottom of the pot. Strain the clarified butter and store it in a jar. It has a long shelf life even outside of the fridge. Some prefer to add a pinch of salt while the butter is boiling - they say it helps the ghee last longer and improves its texture.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Look Inside Yeshee's Room...

....This came home last year- at the end of second grade (from the art class). I thought, if I take a picture of this and save it, I might be able to get rid of the box. But the box is still here- with everything inside it. And so is the giraffe...

The Giraffe

Not exactly sure which grade this giraffe is from - probably, first grade (art class). With its long neck, it measure over a foot in hight and has somehow managed to retain its vivid colors despite gathering dust for over two years.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


On 3/8/10, the homework was to write riddles from two challenge words. His challenge words were - station and time.
For station, he wrote:
You can travel from here to any destination
By bus, train or taxi you choose the mode of transportaion
What am I?
And for time:
Learning to keep track of me is a good habit to develop from childhood
It just might make you famous for being the most punctual person in the neighborhood
Who am I?

Friday, November 4, 2011

People Who Made a Difference

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Intelligence Vs Genius

What is the difference between intelligence and genius? Walter Isaacson writes about this in his article that was published in the NY Times's Sunday Review. Issacson has written a bioghraphy of Steve Jobs that was published last month. I am nearly reproducing the article here mainly because I enjoyed reading it and hope to share it with Yeshee someday. Tried reading it to him the other day but it was late in the night and he was exhausted after a long day at school. So he just said, "let me go back to my book."

While answering the question, how smart Steve Jobs really was, Isaacson recounts having dinner with Jobs and his family a few months ago when "someone brought up one of those brainteasers involving a monkey's having to carry a load of bananas across a desert, with a set of restrictions about how far and how many he could carry at one time, and you were supposed to figure out how long it would take." Isaacson says, " Jobs tossed out a few intuitive guesses but showed no interest in grappling with the problem rigorously. Bill Gates on the other hand would have gone click -click -click and logically nailed the answer in 15 seconds."

Accordnig to Isaacson, Jobs may not have beeen convetionally smart but he was a genius. "His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor. Trained in Zen Buddhism, Jobs came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis. He didn't study data or crunch numbers but like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead."

Jobs told Isaacson that he began to appeciate the power of intiution, in contrast to what he called "Western rational thought," when he wandered around India after dropping out of college. "The people in the Indian countryside don't use their intellect like we do." Jobs said. "They use their intuition instead....Intiution is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That's had a big impact on my work."

Isaacson says Jobs's intiution was based not on conventional learning but on experiential wisdom. He also had a lot of imagination and knew how to apply it. Here Isaacson mentions Einstein's famous quote, " Imagination is more important than knowledge."

This was a deja vu moment for me as it is Yeshee's favorite quote. Last year he had to do a class project called 'People who made a Difference'. He chose to do it on Einstein. During his on- line research he came across this quote and loved it so much that he used it as a take-off point to make 4 posters to explain Einstein's theories. I've uploaded one of his posters elsewhere on this blog- need to upload the remaining three.

Back to the article... Isaacson says, "Einstein had the elusive qualities of genius, which included that intiution and imagination that allowed him to think differently." "Although he was not particularly religious, Einstein described this intuitive genius as the ability to read the mind of God. When assessing a theory, he would ask himself, Is this the way that God would design the universe? And he expressed his discomfort with quantum mechanics, which is based on the idea that probability plays a governing role in the universe by declaring that he could not believe that God would play dice."

I'm quoting this passage about Einstein extensively here with the hope that it might help me understand Einstein's theories a little better. When Yeshee was doing his project, I got deeply involved in it along with him. And even though I was able to somewhat understand the special Theory of Relativity, which he tried to explain by drawing a plane flying in the sky and showing how the speed of the plane would appear to be different to someone viewing it from the ground below and to someone sitting inside that plane or if someone could magically hoist themselves in the sky next to that plane, I still cannot fully fathom what Einstein said about time and gravity- "There is no such thing as absoulte time and that gravity is a warping of the fabric of space-time-"??? I have read many explainations of this...still can't figure out what it means.

Perhaps, if I can start thinking on the lines of how God would've designed the universe, it will help me understand what Einstein is saying. Or if I fall short in my thinking, at least I can encourage Yeshee to start thinking on those lines (that is if he ever agress to sit down with me and read this).

Isaacson says, both Einstein and Jobs were visual thinkers. "The road to relativity began when the teenage Einstein kept trying to picture what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam. Mr. Jobs spent time almost every afternoon walking around the studio of his design chief and fingering foam models of the products they were developing."

But Jobs's genius, "wasn't in the same quantum league as Einstein's." Isaacson calls it ingenuity. "Bill Gates is super smart, but Steve Jobs is super-ingenious." The primary distinction according to Isaacson is the ability to apply creativity and aesthetic sensibilities to a challenge. In the world of invention and innovation, that means combining an appreciation of the humanities with an understanding of science- connecting artistry to technology, poetry to processors."

"I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics, " Jobs said. "Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Poloroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and science, and I decided that's what I wanted to do."

"The ability to merge creativity with technology depends on one's ability to be emotionally attuned to others" Issacson writes. According to him, "In the annals of ingenuity, new ideas are only part of the equation. Genius requires execution. Between conception and creation T. S. Eliot observed, there falls the shadow."

In some ways, Jobs's ingenuity reminds Isaacson of Benjamin Franklin, one of his other biography subjects. "Among the founders," Isaacson says, "Franklin was not the most profound thinker- that distintion goes to Jefferson or Madison or Hamilton. But he was ingenious."

"This depended in part on his ability to intuit the relationships between different things. When he invented the battery, he experimented with it to produce sparks that he and his friends used to kill a turkey for their end of season feast. In his journal he recorded all the similarities between such sparks and lightening during a thunderstorm, then declared, "Let the experiment be made." So he flew a kite in the rain, drew electricity from the heavens, and ended up inventing the lightening rod. Like Jobs, Franklin enjoyed the concept of applied creativity- taking clever ideas and smart designs and applying them to useful devices"

In the last paragraph Isaacson says, "China and India are likely to produce many rigorous analytical thinkers and knowledgable technologists. But smart and educated people don't always spawn innovation. America's advantage, if it continues to have one, will be that it can produce people who are also more creative and imaginative, those who stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences."

I am a little curious to know why Isaacson chose to mention India and China in an article about Steve Jobs and intelligence and genius. It is very unlikely that an accomplished biographer of his stature would make the mistake of forgetting what he wrote at the beginning of his own article namely that Jobs's ingenuity or his faith in the power of intuition had nothing to do with his American education or upbringing. He picked that up from villagers during his travels through the Indian countryside, which in turn had a great impact on his work.

If any country has an advantage in producing people, "who know how to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences"- that country in my opinion then, would be India. The age-old wisdom of its people combined with the rapid spread of western ideas and opportunities through its countryside is more likely to produce the next Jobs or even Einstein than any other country. Hopefully!!!