10 Things I am Thankful for Right Now

Autumn in New York

Autumn in New York. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Today the kids in my son’s school had their Thanksgiving lists up and ready. As it turns out, the kindergarteners and 1st graders are thankful for toothpaste, leaves, dogs, grandparents, chocolate cake, puddles, moms, dads, Batman, snow, recess, Legos, frogs, mint chocolate ice-cream, Christmas and more – but not necessarily in that order.

So I thought I should make a list as well.

1. I will start with my own little family. Thankful for each and every one of them and all that they do day to day. Every little thing.

Thankful for parents who understand.

Thankful for my extended family, the aunts and uncles and cousins who keep in touch via WhatsApp, no matter where they are. It could be as simple as a picture of a giraffe from my aunt who writes “For the little guy, with love, from Amboseli, Kenya.”

2. Friends. The real ones. The ones who take time out of their busy schedule (even if they have a cross-continental wedding to attend) to hear you gripe about life in general.

Friends who turn up with a casserole when you fracture your leg.

Friends who text you out of the blue and you pick up where you left off. They don’t need to pretend perfection, and neither do you. Friends who keep in touch after moving to another country.

Friends who stand up for you.

3. Thankful for technology (FaceTime is the best) that makes expat life so easy. It also makes switching career paths to start a craft brewery business or getting a degree that much more plausible.

4. I am grateful that For Now, Trump to Keep Ban on Importing Elephant Trophies.

5. I am not a vegan by any means. Not yet. I have a hard time saying no to delicious food. But given the cruelty in factory farming and environmental impact of high meat consumption, I am grateful that there is a slow and steady movement towards better eating. And more choices for people to make better decisions. Click here for an encyclopedia of vegan food.

6. Happy to have the four seasons of New England, Fall being my favorite.

7. Thankful to have lived in two different countries on two sides of the world. It gives me perspective, and often, hope.

8. Thankful for crumbs on the floor, because that means there’s food on the table.

9. Thankful for the outdoors, the parks, and the patches of green around me.

10. Thankful for the pale blue dot we call home.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a festive fun weekend!

Pic(k) of the Week – Autumn in New York

Upstate New York in Fall

John Boyd Thacher State Park in New York. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Hot Chocolate and Old Books in Kent

Kent, Connecticut

Photos by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Have you ever bought a book because you liked how it smelled?

Well, I just did.

This is how it all began.

We were in Kent, a town in Connecticut’s  Litchfield County, often described as “quaint.” For the better part of the 19th century, it was one of the leading iron-producers in the state. It has a lovely stretch of Main Street, cafes, covered bridges, waterfalls, jazz festivals, and so much more.

Right across the Visitor’s Center, they have the Kent Coffee & Chocolate Co., a place that looks made to order for a crisp fall afternoon. We got the dark chocolate barks, a vegan hot chocolate with almond milk, a buttered bagel for a carb-happy kid, and an Irish Cream Mocha. When asked about the egg content in the barks, they took the extra effort and confirmed that it doesn’t. When you have a kid with allergies, this is the sort of service that makes you life-long patrons of a place.

The barks, especially the one with cranberry, were the lip-smacking melt-in-your-mouth kind, and lasted until the next morning’s Sunday paper and coffee.

Sunday Times and Kent Chocolates

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We stepped out into the tree-lined street, feeling warm and content. Dark hot chocolate, the kind you can wrap your fingers around on a cold day, has a certain kind of power. It can rival wine and coffee on a good day.

Rows and rows and books lay before us, separated into categories like politics, mysteries, history, travel, humor, children’s, cooking, beverages, philosophy, etc. I picked up an old tattered copy of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, and as soon as I opened the book, I got a whiff of what can best be described as an old book scent, the exact same one from my childhood.

So of course, like any normal person, I had to get the book.

Then I found this edition of The Beauty and the Beast, exactly like the one I read and re-read as a kid. I had to get that too.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Apart from memories, we found other books – a tongue-in-cheek one on British humor, graphic novels, a beer encyclopedia, a cookbook by Bill Granger, and so on and so forth.

There are many ways to spend a Saturday. But one in which you browse books on a sunny fall afternoon in a small New England town, and get transported to long summer holidays in a far-off country on the other side of the globe, is up there with the best.

All Things Autumn

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Autumn in New England is not to be taken lightly. It’s when the green around us gets replaced by flaming oranges and bright reds and golden yellows, but not for long. Soon most of the color will disappear, and slowly but surely, frosty white will take its place.

Amidst the maple pecan lattes, blushed cheeks, fall fashion, and seasonal delights, there’s a sense of time slipping by. Much like the leaves swirling in the crisp autumn breeze, we are reminded of the fickle nature of time. It really doesn’t wait for anyone. It rushes, even when it seems to be donning its best finery.

This year, fall in New England made a late entrance, a dramatic one nonetheless. Blame it on the lack of what many call the “cold snap.” It took a while for the weather to get to its usual crispness. Cozy sweaters and boots and scarves were pulled out and put back in, with a sigh. The latte remained ice-cold. Windows were pried open in the evenings. But the days didn’t stop getting shorter, and the nights steadily grew longer.

Some say this uncharacteristic persistence displayed by summer is due to global warming. Here’s a story on The Fading of Fall.

If you need a pick-me-up after reading the Slate article, here’s a gorgeous drone video of fall foliage from Above Summit, a studio in Somerville, Massachusetts. They specialize in Aerial Drone Photography and Videography.

For a live Fall Foliage Map, go here.

All those apples leftover from an afternoon of apple picking? Put them in these Vegan Apple Brownies. I bookmarked this recipe for a friend who has recently become vegan.

If fashion is your thing, here are Seven Fall Trends.

Like me, if you are all about coffee cocktails, then you got to try some of these during the busy fall entertaining months. The Dead Rabbit’s Irish Coffee is a keeper.

They are good for a quiet evening at home too.

When all you need is a good book. While on the topic of seasons and books, have you read Autumn by Ali Smith? It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is being hailed as the first great Brexit novel by the New York Times. It’s been on my “want to read” list for a while now. Being a planned four-volume series based on the seasons, I have to finish it before “Winter” is published. According to Sarah Lyall of the Times, “the wondrous changes wrought by autumn start to express themselves in the characters as well.”

Here’s a lovely excerpt from the New York Times –

“All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing,” Smith writes. “All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won.”

The reference to “A Tale of Two Cities” is deliberate.

People are Predictably Irrational – Professor Thaler

Williamstown, MA. Autumn in New England.

Williamstown, a town in Berkshire County, in the northwest corner of Massachusetts. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Richard H. Thaler was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday. Way back in 2010, while writing about Choice Architecture as it pertains to advertising, I found his best-selling book “Nudge” rather fascinating.

In a nutshell, the book is about our choices. But it’s not just about how we make them, the authors have also shown us how reasonable choice architecture can nudge us towards making better decisions. And of course, their statements are backed by decades of research in the fields of behavioral economics.

Here’s an excerpt from my post on Choice Architecture and Advertising –

“If books like Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Prof. Cass R. Sunstein or Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely are to believed, our mind plays quite a few tricks on us, and those tricks actually influence our day to day decisions! This piqued my interest in the subject and I realized along the way just how invaluable this field of study, known as Behavorial Economics, is for the advertising industry.”

To read more, hop on to The Business of Advertising.

Prof. Thaler also appeared in the 2015 film “The Big Short,” which in my opinion, is one of the best depictions of the 2008 housing bubble, the fiasco that led to the financial crisis.

Mainstream economics simply surmised that people behave rationally. But according to the good professor, one has to keep in mind that people are human, not flawless robots. People behave irrationally, yes, but they do so consistently. And it is this consistency that will help us foresee, and in some cases, shape behavior.

When behavioral economists say that people are predictably irrational, it’s the word predictable that will make all the difference in the world. Now you see where marketing and advertising comes in.

Sure, governments around the world have experimented with his model to drive everything from school lunch programs to retirement savings plans. But I am intrigued by the implications it has for understanding buyer behavior and buyer motive. It ties in well with my current pursuit of Web Analytics.

When Prof. Thaler was asked how he would spend his prize money of about $1.1 million, he said that he would “try to spend it as irrationally as possible.”

On that note, don’t ask me why there is a picture of fall foliage at the beginning of this post. I am discussing behavioral sciences here, a topic that has nothing to do with the four seasons of New England. Well, what can  I say? In keeping with the topic at hand, I am trying my best to be irrational as well.

Allergy Friendly Birthday Treat

Strawberries dipped in chocolate

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Last time I did a post on allergy friendly snacks, it was about tahini on toast. This year I found a great alternative to cupcakes, when it came to the annual school birthday treat. With those frosted cupcakes, sugar is already on the cards, so I decided to go for strawberries dipped in chocolate. No eggs. No nuts. And if you use vegan chocolate, you can go dairy free as well.

A box of freshly rinsed, plump strawberries and melted chocolate, that’s all you need. And yes, it was a hit with the first graders. For those with strawberry allergies, as you know, any other berry or fruit works. It’s hassle free and ticks all the birthday treat boxes – sweet, tasty and chocolate-y.

Just wanted to put this out there as a healthy allergy friendly alternative for kids. Moms and Dads, please take note.

Durga Pujo in Kolkata, India

Durga Puja in Kolkata, India

Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati All rights reserved ©

Let me start by saying Durga Pujo in Kolkata is not your usual Pujo, a word that roughly translates to “offering of prayers to a deity.” It’s not about penance, abstinence, or thriftiness. Think of all the fun festivals around the world. Dare I say Rio? New Orleans?

Okay, now that we are in the right direction, let’s add a fierce goddess (Durga), astride a lion, in battle with a shape-shifting demon, being replicated in various art forms in handcrafted tents (pandals) around the city. If it wasn’t for her, and the rituals and prayers that accompany her presence, this wouldn’t have been a Pujo per se.

As I have often tried explaining to many around the world, India is diverse and complex. All of us are not vegetarians, and neither do we all do the head-nod or head-shake or whatever you call it. The dots are not a must-have accessory for men and women, no matter what Brian and Stewie from Family Guy say. We have different languages and customs. This particular pujo is native to Bengal, and the people who hail from there, aka Bengalis.

Durga Puja in Kolkata, India

Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati All rights reserved ©

While watching an episode of Wild Kratts, my five year old found out that the Royal Bengal Tiger is from Bengal, and yes, we are quite worried about their dwindling numbers. We are partial to football (you say soccer I say football) and fried fish, and the arts. Not necessarily in that order.

So, can you think of a better place to show off the handiwork of native artists than the intricate designs adorning the various Durga idols and the surrounding pandals? Themes are decided months in advance and then brought to life by skilled artisans. The artwork is brilliant, and I must admit it’s not easy to watch it all being dismantled after just four days.

Durga Puja in Kolkata, India

Work in progress. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati All rights reserved ©

But for those precious few days, we revel in the celebrations with friends and family. Nowadays many age old customs have been modified to include the outliers, the outcasts, and the marginally ignored. Clay modeling forms the base of the idols, and only after the basic shape has been formed, the idols are painted in bright colors and pretty designs. Once a male bastion, this field of creativity has now expanded to include women.

It is heartening to see silly old traditions being replaced by fresher, fairer perspectives. Being sensitive to the environment is another trendy aspect of this annual bash. Prizes are awarded for the greenest pandal and so on and so forth.

As with any festival, shopping and food and drinks are a big part of the pujos. No Bengali worth their salt is going to pass on the flavorful and sinfully rich mutton kosha or an aromatic mustard fish during the festival. Fun cocktails embracing the spirits of the pujos make the rounds in restaurants. Diets be damned. Fasting is unheard of. Other parts of India may celebrate their festivals by staying away from food. Not us. Not the Bengalis.

Thanks to the mask of anonymity provided by the Internet, there’s been a recent spate of hateful comments around this very theme. How come Bengalis gorge on egg-mutton rolls and chicken biriyani while the rest of India fasts? Well, to that I say, chill and watch this video by Bong Eats.

By the way, Bong is short for Bengalis. Sorry to disappoint anyone who came here looking for the actual thing.

As for shopping, think Christmas. Think Black Friday. Get the picture? Not one to lament about commercialization of a mildly religious institution, I think this meteoric rise in spending does wonders for the economy.

And guess what, tourism gets a boost as well. My brother had friends from Spain and Japan making the trip to Kolkata just to experience this joyful madness, the gorgeous chaotic extravaganza that is Durga Pujo.

Note: In no way do the above photos do justice to the creativity of the artists or the variety of art found in Kolkata during this time of the year. For more pics, you could google Durga Puja or hop over to this article on The Wire.

Pic(k) of the Week – Maine Sunset

Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Ocean Point Walk. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

On our very first evening in Boothbay Harbor, we parked on Shore Road and walked along the rocky coastline just in time to view this gorgeous sunset.

The Ocean Point Inn stood by the shore making the most of its vantage point.

One day, I intend to go back there and enjoy this very sunset with a glass of chardonnay. Till then, stay tuned for more postcards from Maine.

Main Streets of Maine

Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

So, there we were, parked right on Boothbay Harbor’s hopping Main Street. It had everything you would expect in a quintessential New England setting. And I was thinking of wandering in and out of quaint shops selling everything from tshirts and scarves to knick-knacks that I wouldn’t know what to do with even if I bought them.

Although, I did like the sea-themed pillows and cotton totes that were on display at a surprisingly fancy-looking furniture store. Not too many summers back, I got a white tote with blue whales from a museum in Ogunquit, and truth be told, I am slightly obsessed with it.

But this time around, we didn’t spend much time shopping or exploring the downtown area because our five-year-old found his way into Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop and didn’t seem inclined to step out until lunch time. Spread over two floors, Sherman’s is a welcoming independently-owned haven for bookworms.

Right before entering the store, I saw a bowl of water left outside for the dogs who frequent the sidewalks. I don’t know if it’s the norm out there, but norm or not, I found it sweet and thoughtful.

We browsed, read, and bought our way through many, many books, some of which were on sale. Apart from books and magazines, Sherman’s sells toys and trinkets as well, as do most bookstores these days. This one, though, seemed to be thriving. They have expanded to Bar Harbor, Camden, Damariscotta, Freeport, and Portland in recent years.

At check-out, I asked if they close during the long winters that Maine is famous for, and they said no, not unless they are totally snowed in. As their website says, they are open 362 days a year, closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

We didn’t have time to check out the adjoining cafe, or the rest of downtown for that matter. But we did find some good books. There’s something about the ambience of a well-loved, well-stocked, local bookshop that makes all three of us happy.

Sherman's Maine Coast Book Shop

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

As George R.R. Martin put it, “A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”

Maine – Pristine Beaches and Lobster Tales

Popham Beach, Maine.

Popham Beach, Maine. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Deep harbors, scenic lighthouses, lobsters, blueberries, rocky coastlines, and thick forests come to mind when one thinks of Maine in summer. If you go by satellite images, its jagged coastline stretches to 5500 miles, if we include all the islands. Conveniently located farther northeast than any other state in U.S., the state of Maine covers nearly as many square miles as the other five New England States combined. Initially a part of Massachusetts, Maine officially gained statehood in 1820.

I have always visited Maine during the warmer months, although all it takes is a gust of wind for us to wrap our cover-ups a little tighter. And if the sun decides to go behind a giant cloud, out come the jackets. The water feels chilly in August, even as the warm sand feels glorious under our feet.

A trip during the icy winter months is one worth thinking about, even as I haven’t yet unpacked from our beaches and lobsters getaway. Did you know that Stephen King wrote his first novel, Carrie, while working as a teacher in Bangor, Maine? It’s hard to write about Maine without a mention of one of its most famous natives who has based many of his horror stories in the state.

On day one, we drove to Popham Beach on Maine Route 209, in Phippsburg. It’s a long stretch of sand beach that undergoes extreme change in shoreline and frequent dune erosion. It’s the marked effect of such beach dynamics that has led to Popham being called a rare geological landform. Visitors are advised to stay on the trails and avoid all vegetated areas.

Popham Beach in Phippsburg, Maine

The sand bar to Fox Island disappears during high tide. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We timed our arrival during low tide and walked all the way to Fox Island. As with Silver Sands Beach, be careful not to get stuck on the island as the water can rise swiftly during high tide. Undertows and occasional rip tides are not uncommon in this area. The park has fresh-water solar rinse-off showers and clean bathhouses, plus being spread over 500 acres gives it the distinct advantage of seeming sparsely populated, even on busy summer weekends.

The Kennebec and Morse rivers border each end of the beach, and if you ask me, pictures can’t do justice to its pristine beauty. As with all Maine shores, the craggy rocks add a much-needed edginess to the bland allure of the blue and green.

After spending the better part of the day in Popham, we drove to nearby Spinney’s for dinner. If you are in the area, check out Fort Popham, a Civil War-era defense structure which found its place in the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

Spinney’s Oceanfront Restaurant lets you know that its not a fast-food place so do not expect your food to arrive immediately. A local fixture for quite some years, it’s the waterside location that draws people to Spinney’s. Five year olds are rarely partial to seafood, so my husband and I tried their lobster, which by the way, was not always the delicacy that it is today.

Found in abundance and called “cockroaches of the sea” by the colonists, lobsters were used as fertilizers and fish bait, and routinely fed to prisoners and servants. But then something happened. The railways started to expand all over America, and trashy old lobster began to be repackaged and served as a rare, exotic dish.

Inland passengers lived in their inland bubble and had no idea that lobster was considered coastal peasant food. They loved it, demanded it, and by the 1950s, the rebranding of lobster from yuck to yum was complete. And of course, in keeping with the basic law of economics, as demand increased, so did the price.

Speaking of seafood shacks, we also checked out Percy’s, another local establishment with even lesser frills than Spinney’s and a great view. It’s a convenience store and seafood place rolled into one. Although they tried, it seemed like they were ill-prepared to handle food allergies. As for Spinney’s, as you can see from the picture, they could have eased up on the fries.

Initially a fan of the whole lobster, this time around we stuck to the buttery rolls. If you are in the area sans kids, and with plenty of time to combat the long wait on the sidewalk along U.S. Route 1, do check out Red’s Eats. It’s located at the end of the Donald E. Davey Bridge in Wiscasset, and its lobster rolls are legendary.

Spinney's Restaurant and Percy's Store in Phippsburg, Maine

Seafood Digs in Phippsburg, Maine. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

When you go deep into Maine, away from the crowds and tall buildings, the sky seems to open up and the air turns fresher and saltier. For a while, you wish you lived there. People who actually live there may feel otherwise. That’s not surprising, is it? As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side.