Cool Couscous Salad

Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

Ingredients

(serves 2 persons)

  • Couscous 100 gms
  • Parsley 1 table-spoonful (finely chopped)
  • Garlic 1 clove (finely chopped)
  • Cherry tomatoes 7-8 pieces (chopped)
  • Carrots 1 small piece (fine chopped/shredded)
  • Beetroot 1 small piece (fine chopped)
  • Onion 1/2 cup (fine chopped)
  • Colorful bell pepper 1/2 cup (finely chopped)
  • Sweet corn kernels 1/4 cup
  • Raisins 1/4 cup
  • Red kidney beans 1/4 cups (boiled with salt)
  • Paprika/chili/black pepper powder according to test
  • Oil 1 tea-spoonful
  • Salt according to test
  • Boiling hot water 3/4 cup
  • Sugar 1/2 tea-spoonful
  • Roasted peanuts/pinenuts 1/4 cup (optional)
  • Boiled egg 1 piece (optional)

Recipe

  • Boil the red kidney beans (or beans of your choice) in water and a generous pinch of salt. Then, drain the water using a strainer, and keep it aside. 
  • Soak the raisins in water for 10 minutes. Then, drain the water using a strainer, and keep it aside.
  • Boil the beetroot. Then, drain the water using a strainer, and keep it aside.
  • Boil the egg and cut it in half.
  • Prepare the couscous by adding the hot water to the grains. Initially the grains must be submerged in water, which will eventually be totally absorbed in 8-10 minutes. Then stir it lightly with a fork to avoid forming lumps.
  • Put a pan on medium heat, put a tea-spoonful of oil (preferably olive oil) in it. Put the finely chopped garlic, onion and fry for a minute. The less you fry the garlic, the stronger will be the smell of garlic. 
  • Add the shredded carrots, boiled and chopped beetroot, bell pepper slices, and fry them for two minutes. Now add the corn kernels, boiled kidney beans and fry everything for another minute.
  • Add a pinch of salt, the paprika powder, or the black-pepper powder according to your test. Add the little sugar for complementing all the other flavors. Add 2 tablespoonful of warm water and mix everything.
  • Now turn off the heat. Transfer the whole mixture in a cool pot and preferably let it cool for some time.
  • Add the soaked couscous, the chopped parsley, the chopped cherry tomatoes, the soaked raisins and the lemon juice to the mixture. Mix everything well.
  • Serve it on a plate. Top it with a bit more chopped parsley, the egg halves, roasted peanuts/pine nuts, and a lemon wedge.
  • Serve it cool. You can easily store it in a container in the refrigerator for a week.

My food story

I first tasted this when I arrived in France. My office cafeteria serves it quite often. Couscous is very popular in Europe and middle-east. But this cold salad style of couscous is very refreshing. For vegetarians and vegans, the egg can be omitted. Nuts can also be avoided for those with allergies. This is best for summer. Eat this for lunch to get relief in the scorching heat. As Dijon mustard is very popular here, you can always serve it with a spoonful of that if you have access to that.

30 Humane Things You Must Do during the Coronavirus Outbreak and Worldwide Lockdown (Part 1)

This is a very difficult time for many people all over the world and all of our lives are going to be affected by this Novel Corona Virus COVID 19 outbreak. We are grateful for the services of doctors, nurses, other medical staff, people working at different stages of the supply chain who keep the supply of food, medical equipment, and other essential items flowing, police and other security personnel, journalists, policymakers, sanitization workers and many more. This is a global war-like situation. The difference is that this war is against some micro-organisms and we can’t even see, hear, or feel our enemies. We do not have any tested weapons to apply against them either. The only known solution to this problem is to “Break the Chain” mechanism, as per most virologists. As a result, contrary to other wars in the history, the general, young population is not sent to fight in the war-zone, but are asked to stay at home, confine themselves to minimize all kinds of human interaction.

But in this deep dark and difficult time we must do anything and everything in our capacity to contribute to the mitigation of this deadly disease. Besides, I would urge all my readers to start practicing all of the non-conventional methods to fight the NCC-19 along with the demon inside us. I hope it will help you and help our planet to step into a better future and more harmonic existence of humans, other life forms, and mother nature.

1. Make your health, your priority

When it comes to a worldwide pandemic and thousands of people are dying all over the world, nothing is more important than your health. Physical health can suffer a lot from being completely out of the conventional cycle of life routine. Change in the level of physical activity, stress, food habit, and sleeping pattern can have a severe impact on your health. Be assured, this too shall pass, but that will not matter if your health is adversely affected. So please prioritize your health today. Take all precautions to deal with illness. Eat healthily, be it lots of vegetables and seasonal fruits. Keeping yourself hydrated is also important, hence drink plenty of water. Try to maintain your normal sleep cycle and do not spend the whole night binge-watching your favorite web-series. Money, success, competition can wait, but your health just can’t.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

2. Meditation and self-wellbeing

Both your health and mental sanity are equally important at this point. Meditate at least for 10 minutes immediately after waking up and before going to bed in the night. Plan the day in the morning to be efficient. Tell yourself that you are thankful for everything positive that happened to you that day. If meditation is not your thing and your mind roams around a lot then use it to your advantage. Sit at a quiet corner of your house, find some happy memories down the lane, and re-live those memories once again.

Take measures for your overall wellbeing and concentrate on reducing stress. Try to reduce the consumption of caffeine as it aids in hampering your sleep cycle. Apart from keeping your normal sleep-cycle intact, try to take a few deep-breath whenever you feel stressed. Concentrate on positive things in life and focus on being hopeful. To find inner peace do not lose your trust in humanity. Appreciate the smallest contribution of others. Try to help others in the tiniest way possible to make yourself matter. Take time for yourself and nurture some merry thoughts.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

3. Exercise and streatching

These days, you don’t have to wake up early and run to your office or prepare your kids for school. Nobody is running to catch a bus to the university or reaching to open their shops. Life can be sluggish during a lockdown. While we crave so much for a mid-week off-day or a long weekend throughout the year, but we are all missing the hustle and bustle of our working-day routine. While it may look tempting to wake up at 8:55 am to attend a Skype call or join a zoom meeting at 9:00 am, it is undoubtedly bad for you. You are not walking to your workplace from the parking area or taking the stairs in the public offices. Running from one building to another between different classes in the university is in the past now. Kids are not going to the playground and elder people are not allowed to walk in the parks or the banks of the river. To top it all, visiting the gymnasium is a big no-no. Lots of countries have also banned going for a run or riding your bicycle.

Like online classes and working from home, we will all have to find an alternative way to keep our bodies moving. Some countries in Europe have restricted movement inside a 1km radius around the residence. Then going for a quick run is a blessing. Public swimming pools are not open and also not recommended. So, home workouts and yoga is a common practice in 2020. You can also find a secondhand elliptical or treadmill or stationary-bike for home-bound cardio-vascular exercises. Else, order a yoga mat today, which comes in very cheap and gives you exposure to a huge variety of yoga and body-weight exercises. Do not forget to warm-up before you start exercising and cool down in the end. As you are spending longer hours sitting at a chair than usual, stretch your limbs and joints every half an hour between online classes or office calls.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Sceveningen beach, The Hague, Netherlands

4. Stop being a couch-potato and stay away from electronic gadgets

It is easy to say but extremely difficult to execute in our life. Many of the ways to deal with this quarantine monotony involve the use of internet and electronic gadgets. But balance is the key to a healthy body and mind. So give yourself some break from sitting on your couch, lying in your bed. At the same time give your eyes some rest. Other than your frequent trips to the refrigerator, please move your body as much as possible. You are lucky if you have a garden as a lot of people living in the busiest cities do not even have a balcony. Take a walk to your garden or balcony every two hours. Else, do 10 squats every hour or do spot-jogging for 60 seconds. People who work out regularly are in advantage here, but even for them the one hour of working out will not be very fruitful in the face of 23 hours of inactivity in a day. Try to re-arrange your furniture, set your table in front of the window and stretch your eyes further your mobile and computer screens every now-and-then. Remember, this lockdown will lift someday and you will surely not like to have a heavier or unfit body to fight all the difficulties yet to come.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Lake Konstanz, Austria-Germany-Switzerland

5. Help your kids feel more secured

This situation is the burning proof that life is not all planned and sorted. Every turn is unpredictable and any of them can be adverse. We love our young ones and protect them so that nothing hurtful ever touches them. The pandemic showed us all that it is not in our hands sometimes. Sometimes, we may not be there to protect and care for our loved ones and they would have to do that for themselves, sooner or later. Take this opportunity to teach them the hard reality. You must teach them things and make them prepared for the worst in the world that they may face sometime in life. Spend time with them and teach them how the world works. Teach them through stories, teach them as friends. Watch a movie that teaches life-lessons with your kid, like “Sound of Music” or “Lion King”. Find ways of entertainment that also serve important messages to the audience. Teach them cooking and cleaning, make them responsible. Make them take care of grandparents or a sick person in the family. Do not sugarcoat harsh realities about life like sickness and death. Prepare them to survive in this cruel world alone, on their own. In the end, even if this situation improves, they will carry these memories for their lifetime. Make this time memorable for them.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Lake Konstanz, Austria-Germany-Switzerland

6. Donate resources: your time, money, energy, power or GPU

If you are blessed with privileges that thousands, if not more life on this planet don’t possess then this is the time to give something back to the society. There is no lower or upper limit to how much you can donate and neither is any restriction on what can be donated. Donating money for the welfare of the people who have a shortage of it or for the overall welfare of the medical system or backward community is one way, for sure. Besides, you can dedicate some of your precious time and effort to those in need. Spend some time helping people in need of food, work, communication, support, etc. Give a hand in running a community kitchen or lending some groceries to the homeless.

Some unconventional things can be donated as well. One of them is your power. If you hold a position where you have some resources which can help someone, someway, then grab this opportunity. Make some calls to find out about people in distress, or use the little power you have to get some bureaucratic work done for people stuck away from home and family. If you work in the public sector or a private company that provides any kind of service that can be of some use to someone else at this pressing time, then do everything in your power to serve them. Another one is your GPU resources. A lot of public and private companies as well as universities and research institutes are working on epidemic tracking, vaccine invention, medicinal research, etc. These require a colossal amount of parallel processing power and you can help them by sharing some of your GPU/TPU resources from your gaming PC or work laptops. But, please discuss this with your employers or concerned office regarding the legal issues. Also do not forget to check for a scam before donating your computing resources.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Herlem, Netherlands

7. Be empathetic and compassionate in the face of your own personal challenge

When I traveled to the Netherlands, I heard a story from a tour guide. I don’t know if it’s just a story or there is any truth in it, but it touched my core. There is not a streetlamp or a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam that at least a bicycle is not tied with. Everyone who has been to Amsterdam has several photos of cute bikes, with carriers and flowers tied anywhere and everywhere in the city. They complete the scene and the signature of the city and everywhere in the Netherlands, you can find such scenes.

Every year, thousands of bicycles get stolen only in Amsterdam. But a lot of people do not even make a police complaint and the government does not take any major action against this as well, even if a complaint is registered. While collectively it might look like quite a crime but every theft involves only one cycle. Dutch are friendly, thoughtful, empathetic, and understanding people. They think that the person who is forced to steal something as small as a bicycle, must be needy and no legal action is worth taking such a poor soul. They find poverty as the reason for petty theft and try to take collective responsibility for the poverty of any social section. I was amazed by the sheer sense of compassion for their fellow samaritans and their sufferings. It is said, that hard times like this pandemic brings out the best or worst of every individual. Why not bring the best in you and show some empathy for the victims of the situation. You can be in difficulty, but that does not mean that you shall turn blind towards the sufferings of other victims of the situation.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

8. Respect the environment

We are taking care of ourselves, but forgetting the environment in the process. We all have seen in the news and social media, that lots of masks are being thrown away carelessly. This planet needs to heal, and every human needs to practice minimalism to reduce clutter in their life as well as to reduce their carbon footprint on the earth. As we are forced to use masks, gloves, face shields and medical staff are using elaborate protective equipment, we are littering more than usual. So, the sight of water bodies covered with plastic straws is replaced by the sight of drifting face-masks. We must be very careful while disposing these articles of. We must not forget that fighting with the Covid-19 outbreak and extensive lockdown situation can never reverse our collective efforts in the improvement of the environment. Fighting with the economic adversities must not ruin our advancements in making and implementing policies to protect our planet.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Zaansche Schans, Zaandam, Netherlands

9. Don’t compare

One of the biggest concerns in this bizarre situation is your mental condition and maintaining your motivation despite all the negative news and uncertainties regarding your future. If you are feeling insecurities, do not think for a second that you are alone in this. If you are unsure about what is going to come in your near future and can’t foresee your distant future, then you are among millions, if not among billions of other people feeling exactly the same. The kindest thing to do in this scenario is to not compare yourself with others.

A lot of us are sharing things they are feeling optimistic about in social media. We are seeing people sharing comfort food recipes, home workout videos, make up tutorials, baking tips and the list goes on. But all that glitters is not gold. It may seem that they are very happy and their life is very smooth but their struggle is not getting reflected in these social platforms. Do not compare your work performance with your peers as everyone has different struggles. Do not compare your kids with their mates and let them take a breather. The focus of this time should be your survival and not your productivity. Don’t overwork yourself to cover up your damaged productivity. One who has walked in your shoes, only knows your struggle, feel your pain, and understand your dreams. Don’t belittle yourself by comparing yourself with anyone else.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands

10. Find the silverlining: be optimistic

Life does always find a way. No matter how difficult times we have seen, we always tend to get back our lifestyle after every distraction. If you do not believe me, just take a look at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. After such a huge event, the whole area became inhabitable for years, but plants and small animals have made the place their home once again. Similarly, humans have survived both the world wars but still got back in normalcy. Cities got demolished but they stood back on their legs, time and time again. Love it or hate it, time heals everything. No matter how heartbroken we are, we all have that urge inside us to be happy again. After every cyclone, the next morning, we rise and shine again. This pandemic is no less than the two previous world wars. But we have the advantage of the whole world being united against the same enemy.

We have seen the images of doctors in Italy crying after seeing so much death every day. The scene is more or less the same in all the countries and no one is out of the radius of grief, pain, and horror of this infectious disease. Though the lockdown has temporarily halted our livelihood, we can at no cost, let the virus snatch our morale forever. So concentrate on good news, which can be difficult to find at times. Concentrate on the lowering of hospitalization cases over time and so is the decreasing death rates all over Europe and some Asian countries. Focus on how many countries, like Vietnam and South Korea kept the disease and its death toll at the minimum. Focus on the overall high recovery rate of patients and find news of people getting recovered even in old age. Try to analyze and find the best out of any bad news you receive every day. Do not lose hope, ever. I’m sure, no matter how hard the COVID situation shatters our dreams, we will collect the pieces and build the empire above the ground once again.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Zaandvoort coast, Netherlands

13 Lucky Ways to Deal with Self-Quarantine Blues during Coronavirus Outbreak

Corona confinement can be difficult for everyone and for very different reasons. Being a researcher, I spend most of my time in front of the computer, with books, sitting indoor. Sometimes that happens for days at a stretch, when there is some deadline nearby, or I have a report due. But this time, it is getting increasingly difficult to do the same thing that I’ve been doing for years. I believe it has a lot to do with the situation. The human being is complicated, and they don’t like to do things that they are forced to do. This forced self-confinement is even more unbearable because of the news that we keep on getting through the day about terrible things happening to the people around us. Fear of the unknown is submerging our conscience and it can be very stressful for people who are unwillingly staying at home. Many of us have family elsewhere, sometimes in other countries or the opposite part of the world. Trust me, if you feel restless, others are not in peace either.

Taking care of our minds is equally important for taking care of our health. From the experience of staying in home-quarantine for a couple of weeks, I have come with some very effective, tried-and-tested ways to deal with isolation and loneliness. Give some of these ways a try, and I’m pretty sure that you won’t regret the decision of taking it up. Here are some food for your mind to survive in self-quarantine. You can pick one or more of these up, to deal with the isolation blues during this crisis.

1. Learn a new language

I keep on moving from one place to another and every country has its language and dialects. Though I’m very enthusiastic about learning about a new culture, language, lifestyle, etc., I always find an excuse to not dedicatedly master the language. I learn the very basics just to survive in the new country, to talk to the police, bus-driver, visa-office, read food-labels in the supermarket, but leave it there. If you are planning to move to a new place, a new state, country or continent, start early on their language. It will smoothen your transition. If you are already there, it is never too late to brush up your knowledge. Even if you are simply enthusiastic about new cultures, then learning their language is a great starter. Moreover, being multilingual looks pretty good in your CV/Resume. It gives the employer an impression of your continuous learning curve.

By the way, by language, I meant natural languages like English, Urdu, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, etc., but if you want, you can always learn a new programming language and put it into some good use later.

Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

2. Learn a new form of art or craft

You may never know what you love and what you can do, until and unless you explore it. You may have never drawn after your last biology examination. Just let your imaginations fly. In this busy world, we have no time for our artistic soul. It is said that humans are artistic in nature, they dance before they can stand, sing before they can talk and draw before they learn to write. The current situation can be considered as the perfect exposure for our hidden abilities. Put this time into good use and learn the instrument whose sound always fascinated you or the dance form you always wanted to learn. Pick the pencil and start sketching or dust the sewing machine hiding behind everything in your storeroom. Learn a martial art or do calisthenics. It can be anything, and believe me, your abilities have no limit.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Cartoon: Moitree Basu

3. Show your plants some love

Blessed are those, who have a tiny piece of greenery in their house. Its time to show your plants some extra love and care for giving the extra comfort among all the loneliness. People in many big cities live in a small apartment without a garden or any open space available for gardening. They can also make a customized garden if they have a balcony or even a window. Choose some plants or seeds wisely according to the space you have during your next trip to the supermarket, and create your little paradise.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

4. Watch themed documentaries and movies

We all watch movies or television shows online, after we get back from work, or at the dinner table. But generally, the choices made are very scattered depending on our mood and free time. But these long break from work is the opportunity to be consistent about that. I’m fascinated about World War 2 and this is the ideal time to watch a lot of informative documentaries and movies made on that particular topic to generate a solid knowledge base through entertainment. However, please be aware of your mental state as watching movies on too gloomy a subject like wars, epidemic, genocide, mass murders, gory subjects, and longer exposure to them can affect your mind, and in turn health. Choose the topic wisely according to your mental state and absorption ability. For that matter, watching kids’ special collection could also be a nice choice for an emotionally engaging, but light on mind entertainment option.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Marine/Aquarium Museum, Nancy, France

5. Read a book

This trick just never gets old. But unfortunately, in today’s world, we are so busy, we are always looking for quick options, and prefer audio-visual mediums over printed texts. But this time it’s different, its time to step back and sit on your couch, with an old-fashioned paperback. It’s a golden chance for you to pick that fat one with hundreds of pages that you bought, but always found an excuse for not reading it, as it is too heavy to carry on the way to the office, or read in the metro. No matter how heavy it is, lie down, relax, and start giving it a read. If you have a tablet or a kindle, then your job is even easier, and no excuse is enough this time. you can try the links below.

Perfect place to start
Great news
Kids, be happy

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Frankfurt bookfair, Germany

6. Cook good food

No matter how good or bad the time is, we all have to eat and we have to eat healthily. Especially in this diseased time, keeping our health at its best version, boosting our immunity is our supreme responsibility. So, if we have to cook and eat anyway, why not make it a fun task to bring joy to our soul along with nutrition to our cells. I heard an interview with an American woman stuck in a city of Italy saying that they are baking cakes every day for keeping the kids involved and happy. What a nice idea! It may not be cake every day for you but try to cook good food. Try involving other members of the family into making the meal. Feel grateful together for this life and nourishment, and all other positive things happening to you.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

7. Develop some professional skillset

Today is the ideal time to pick a new skill and practice them. Some of them may stick to you for life or you may make a very interesting and rewarding career out of this new habit. Young people, with their exams postponed and classes closed, can find new ways to employ their time constructively. If you were forever envious to some of your classmates, or colleagues, or neighbors or your idol to have a special skill, you can take it up now. Find online learning materials, and start honing this new skill of yours.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

8. Take some virtual tours

You are behaving as a responsible human being if you are staying home, canceling trips, not going out for running errands, going through the discomfort of being stuck at a confined place. But fortunately, through the internet, we have access to another virtual world with so many unknown things to explore. Some of them can be virtual tours to hundreds of museums and cultural centers, national parks, etc. Find some of them below.

Google arts virtual tours
Some paintings
Aquariums
Gardens
National parks

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Verdun, France

9. Create an archive

Some of you love songs, some love books, some love movies, origami, drama, playing instruments, and the list goes on. Your time and lack of engagements can be utilized to make an archive for these. We have heard of and read about many iconic characters who made archives of old music records, paper cutting of news, or old thematic photographs. A lot of them have taken their place into renowned museums. How about contributing to your community of interest by collecting items and archiving them for the future benefit of the world? Do it now and brag about it to your next generations after decades. As we cannot get out of our home, preferably, the archives should be something digital. For an archive of physical things (like I collect refrigerator magnets, postcards!), plan now, do it later.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Wooden-shoe Museum and Workshop, Zaanse Schans, Zaandam, Netherlands

10. Pick up some new habits

Have you always dreamed of being a better version of yourself? Have you always envied someone you know, for being so perfect in a lot of things in life? Its time you flush the envy down the toilet, and make yourself someone you think others will envy. Find some habits that you might like to continue for life. It can be brushing after every meal and flossing your teeth at night. It can be drinking more water or exercising for an hour for 6 days a week. It can involve in testing your resolve and challenging yourself regularly. We all have heard that if we do something for 21days in a stretch, it becomes a habit. It may sound horrifying, but the global trend shows that this crisis is not going to be mitigated by the next few days. So take this time for building those “good habits” that your parents have always preached. Try doing it for 21days, build it into an iron-strong habit to be continued for life.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

11. Finish pending house chores

Do you have a pile of clothes to be washed in your house? How about sorting important documents and discarding unimported ones? Does your cupboard needs to be organized and the window seals need to be cleaned? Sanitize your apartment, deep clean the hidden corner of your house, water your plants every day, sort tiniest things you use, clean your pantry, and of course spend quality time with your family and dear ones. People who are stuck in their houses with kids should keep them involved in doing those chores. This will not only help you spend your time, but this will also keep your kids busy.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Zaandvoort coast, Netherlands

12. Spend some quality time with family and make some pending calls to friends, relatives

We all have friends and family living around the world and a lot of them are also forced to sit at home during this pandemic. Catching up with an old friend can be very rewarding at troubled times. Find the old phonebook or explore through your phone contacts, and ring some of them. A very high chance is they are also thinking about you, and would be very happy and relieved to talk to you. With all the advancement of technology making a few video calls should not cost more than a standard internet connection. But in case you don’t have one, an audio call can be no less rewarding. A video conference call to your school or college friends or cousins can make an evening blissful. While choosing among your relatives, give a higher priority to your elderly relatives, who might be awestruck by the current situation and may identify themselves as the main victim of this deadly disease. Besides, spend quality time with the family members who are living with you. Utilize this time that you are stuck with them anyway. Consider this as a golden opportunity to catch up with them, pay attention to your kids’ problems or parents’ complaints.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Lake Konstanz, Austria-Germany-Switzerland

13. Don’t let the bed bugs bite

This is the last but not the least important way to spend time. Sleep is the most effective coping mechanism inbuilt in the human body. The human child grows mainly when it sleeps. Sick people sleep a lot because their body needs time to mend itself. So getting quality zzz for long hours could save you a lot of mental irritation during this disturbing time. Try shutting all windows to avoid noise and switch off or at least dim light in your bedroom. Do not set alarms if your daily routine and personal responsibilities allow you to sleep until a bit late. Sitting in front of the television, or watching a news channel online can put a serious strain on your mind and psyche. Even short naps, whenever you get some time can be useful to reboot your system. Trust me, being sleep deprived even worsens the situation and weakens your mental resolve. As a result, you will be more anxious, irritable, you’ll crave junk foods, and feel purposeless.

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Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb; Location: Hellemmes-Lille, France

It is being said, “You have got only once in a lifetime opportunity to stay at home, to save the world. Don’t screw this up.”. Just nourish your health and mind to get out of this crisis unharmed.

Chicken Chi-ching

Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

Ingredients

(serves 8-10 persons)

  • Chicken with/without skin 1.5 kg (cut into medium-sized pieces)
  • Cherry tomatoes 20 pieces (cut in halves)
  • Ginger paste 1/2 table-spoonful
  • Garlic paste 1/2 table-spoonful
  • Onion 2 cups (roughly chopped)
  • Yogurt 200 gms
  • Oil 2 table-spoonful
  • Paprika/chili/black pepper powder according to test
  • Salt according to test
  • Garam masala 1 tea-spoonful
  • Lemon/lime juice 1/2 big lemon or 1 lime
  • Coconut milk/cream 200 ml
  • Hot water 2 cups

Recipe on cooktop

  • Wash chicken legs and make some superficial cuts with a sharp knife so that the spices are absorbed well in the flesh.
  • Make a paste of black pepper powder, lemon juice, salt, one table-spoonful of oil, ginger paste, garlic paste, yogurt, and if required, little water.
  • To marinate the chicken, add the paste and massage well in the chicken. Keep it aside for at least an hour. 
  • Put a pan on medium heat, put a table-spoonful of oil in it. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and fry for 2 minutes till they turn brownish.
  • Transfer the marinated chicken to the pan and mix with the fried onions. Put a lid on the pan for 10 minutes.
  • Then take off the lid, add the coconut milk, mix well, and put the lid back on.
  • After 15 more minutes, take off the lid, add the cherry tomatoes, add hot water, and put the lid back on for 10-15 more minutes till the chicken is done. The preparation time also depends on the duration of the marination.
  • Once the chicken is well-cooked and the meat starts coming out of the bones, turn off the heat. Add the garam masala. Mix well and put the lid back on for 5 more minutes so that the smell of the garam masala is absorbed well in the chicken.
  • Serve them hot with flat-bread/roti or rice.
  • You can store it in the refrigerator for three-four days. Heat thoroughly before consuming.

Recipe in oven

  • Wash chicken legs and make some superficial cuts with a sharp knife so that the spices are absorbed well in the flesh.
  • Make a paste of black pepper powder, lemon juice, salt, two table-spoonful of oil, ginger paste, garlic paste, yogurt, and if required, little water.
  • To marinate the chicken, add the paste and massage well in the chicken. Keep it aside for at least an hour.
  • Transfer the marinated chicken to an oven-proof tray and mix with the chopped onions. Put the tray in the oven for 30 minutes in 180 degrees.
  • Then take the tray out, add the coconut milk, mix well, and put it back in the oven. Also turn the chicken pieces.
  • After 20 more minutes, take the tray out, turn the pieces once again. Add the cherry tomatoes, hot water and put the tray back in for 10-15 more minutes till the chicken is done. The preparation time also depends on the duration of the marination.
  • Once the chicken is well-cooked and the meat starts coming out of the bones, turn off the oven and take the tray out. Add the garam masala. Mix well and put a lid on the tray for 5 more minutes so that the smell of the garam masala is absorbed well in the chicken.
  • Serve them hot with flat-bread/roti or rice.
  • You can store it in the refrigerator for three-four days. Heat thoroughly before consuming.

My food story

My partner and I used to live in a tiny apartment with an even tinier kitchenette in Germany. It just included two hotplates, one little sink, and a student-apartment style mini-refrigerator. When we moved to France in a bigger apartment with a bigger refrigerator and baking oven, my experiments started. As we both spend all the days during the week in the office and hardly get any time to cook fresh food every day, we started batch cooking food for the whole week. So these experiments were necessary to break the monotony of eating the same food. Bought containers ideal for storage and oven-proof cooking trays. Over the weekends we work together into preparing food for the whole next week keeping in mind the lunchboxes and snacks and our sweet tooth. As we both love chicken legs, this recipe is pretty popular in our kitchen.

Baked Coconut Milk Cake (Baked Coconut Halwa)

Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

Ingredients

(serves 12-15 persons)

  • Coconut flakes/scrapes 200gms
  • Full-fat milk 1 liter or condensed milk 300 ml
  • Raisins 1/2 cup
  • Dry roasted cashews 1/4 cup (broken into small uneven pieces)
  • Dry roasted Almonds 1/4 cup (cut into small pieces)
  • Sugar 1 cup or around 10-12 tea-spoonful
  • Ghee 2 table-spoonful
  • Vanilla essence 1/2 tea-spoonful (optional)

Recipe

  • If you are not using store-bought condensed milk, then put a pan on medium heat and reduce the milk to one-third of its original volume. Cool it down a bit.
  • Dry roast the almonds and cut them into slices. Dry roast the cashews to break them into uneven pieces. 
  • Take a big round bowl. Add ghee in liquid form for ease of mixing with other ingredients. Add the condensed milk, coconut scrapes, and raisins, cashews, and almonds, sugar, vanilla essence. Remember to adjust sugar as store-bought condensed milk often packs up a high amount of sugar in it. You can replace sugar with other sweeteners like honey or stevia. Mix well. If the mixture is too runny, then you can add a little bit of corn-flour to get it into cake-batter consistency.
  • Grease an oven-proof pan with ghee or place a butter-paper in it. Pour the mixture in the pan and flatten the top by tapping the pan on a flat surface. This will release any air bubbles trapped inside.
  • Let it bake in the oven for around 20 minutes in 170 degrees. The time may vary depending on the consistency. 
  • Keep it on the check and once the top starts to get golden, get it out of the oven. Let it cool and refrigerate for a few hours. Once it hardens, cut them into small pieces of your choice before serving as dessert. If you prefer soft gooey desserts, then you can directly scoop it up into your bowl. Unlike most desserts, it tastes equally amazing when served hot.
  • You can easily store it in an air-tight container or a jar in the refrigerator for a month.

My food story

I spent my childhood in India. My mother used to make a similar preparation, but not in the oven. I tried to make it in a different style here and it tasted as good. But anyone without a baking oven can easily make this on the cooktop where you mix everything in a pan and cook for 20 minutes or so, till it starts to get color. My mother used to add a pinch of cardamom powder instead of the vanilla essence. She also used to let it cool for a bit, and then turn them into little doughs rolling them into cute balls between her palms. We called them “Naru” or “Laddu”. Then she used to refrigerate them in a glass jar. You should try both and let us know which one you like more.

Sweet Pineapple Chutney

Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

Ingredients

(serves 6-8 persons)

  • Pineapple paste 1 whole fruit (around 300 gms)
  • Dry roasted fennel seeds 1 tea-spoonful
  • Dry red chili 2 pieces (thinly sliced)
  • Raisins 1/2 cup
  • Sugar 10-12 tea-spoonful
  • Lemon/lime juice 1 big lemon or 2 limes

Recipe

  • Put the pan on high heat and add the pineapple paste. 
  • Add sugar and wait for it to melt. If you are using canned pineapples then also add the sugar syrup, but adjust the added sugar as needed. Alternatively, use stevia or honey or other sweeteners of your choice. Mix well.
  • After a minute add the raisins, chili slices, and the roasted fennel seeds. If you can’t tolerate the heat then de-seed the chillis before slicing them, the skin will only add aroma. Put it on medium heat.
  • Let it dry for around 10 minutes. It may take longer if you are using the sugar syrup. 
  • Once the mixture is dry turn off the heat. Add the lemon juice. Mix well.
  • Transfer it in a bowl and let it cool and refrigerate before serving as dessert. Another very interesting way to use it is to spread on toasted slices of bread as pineapple jam.
  • You can easily store it in an air-tight container or a jar in the refrigerator for a month.

My food story

In tropical countries like India, people are very fond of “Chutneys”. Though we literally translate them into pickles, we all know that pickle is basically vegetables (popularly cucumber) stored in spicy water. And there are hundreds, if not thousands of varieties available in chutneys. A lot of my European friends find them very strong in taste as their cuisine does not prepare their tastebuds for such a sporadic blast of spices that chutneys offer. They buy expensive bottles of chutneys from Asian shops all over the world. So this is a very simple and less spicy recipe for everybody. I love pineapple in any form and this chutney just increases the taste in every way.

Bengali Vegetarian Khichri

Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

Ingredients

(serves 2 persons)

  • Rice 1 cup (Govinda bhog rice/milk rice/small grain rice)
  • Pulse 1 cup (preferably moong dal)
  • Ghee/clarified butter 1 table-spoonful
  • Ginger paste 1/2 table-spoonful
  • Tomatoes 1 cup (roughly chopped)
  • Green peas 1/2 cup
  • Carrots 1 large/2 small pieces (roughly chopped) – optional
  • Cauliflower 1 cup (cut into small florets) – optional
  • Bay leaf 1 or 2 leaves
  • Cloves 4-5 pieces
  • Small cardamom 3-4 pieces (lightly crush them open with something heavy for the aroma)
  • Cinnamon stick 1 medium piece
  • Dry red chili 2-3 pieces (thinly sliced)
  • Cumin seeds 1 tea-spoonful
  • Paprika/chili powder according to test
  • Turmeric powder 1/2 tea-spoonful
  • Oil 2 table-spoonful
  • Salt according to test
  • Garam masala 1 tea-spoonful
  • Sugar 1 table-spoonful
  • Boiling water 4 cups

Recipe

  • Put the pan on medium heat and dry roast the moong dal. Stir continuously to avoid it from burning or browning. Roast it till they turn golden-red and release a pleasant smell.
  • Add the roasted pulse and rice (both in the same quantity for optimum taste) in a strainer and wash thoroughly. Keep it aside.
  • Put a pan on medium heat, put a table-spoonful of oil in it. Once the oil is hot, add the carrots and fry for 2 minutes. 
  • Then add the cauliflower florets and fry for another minute.
  • Add the green peas, 2 pinches of salt, and fry until everything turns light brown. Transfer the vegetables in a bowl.
  • Put a tablespoonful of oil in the pan. Once the oil is hot, add the bay leaves, cloves, crushed cardamoms, cinnamon stick, sliced red chilis, and cumin seeds. Fry them for a minute. If you can’t tolerate the heat then de-seed the chillis before slicing them, the skin will only add aroma.
  • Then add the ginger paste and fry for a minute or two.
  • Add the turmeric powder, chili/paprika powder in the pan. 
  • Add the tomatoes and saute well until the tomatoes become soft and gooey and the mixture releases oil on the sides. You may need to sprinkle water from time to time to prevent the spices from burning.
  • Add the rice and pulse mixture to it. Add the 4 cups of boiling hot water. You may need less or more water depending on the type of rice and pulse.
  • Add salt generously. Mix everything and put a lid on the pan.
  • After around ten minutes take the lid off and check if the rice and pulse are nearly done. Do this every few minutes. 
  • Once they are nearly done, add the stir-fried vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, green peas). Mix them and put the lid on for a few more minutes. If it is too dry then add more hot water as needed.
  • When everything is cooked, check if more salt is required and adjust accordingly. Then, add sugar and mix well. Do not add sugar before the rice and pulse are well cooked as sugar delays the process.
  • Simmer the heat. Then take off the lid. Add garam masala and the ghee/clarified butter. Ghee adds a nice aroma, but it can be avoided for health reasons. Cooking oil can also be replaced by ghee. Mix everything well. Cover the lid for 2 more minutes on low heat.
  • Turn off the heat. Serve it hot.
  • You can easily store it in a container in the refrigerator for three days. Heat thoroughly before consuming.

My food story

It goes the best in rainy and cold weather. Since my childhood, whenever it used to rain, my mom used to make this dish. My father and I were very fond of this preparation. Generally, it is served with some crispy fries for the best experience. It is also a very healthy and hearty option for people recovering from a long illness. After a severe liver infection and eight days of hospitalization, I could not stomach anything but this khichri. After a week of saline and hospital food, mom-made khichri tasted heavenly. Give it a try.

Parmesan Pesto Pasta

Photo courtesy: Pradipta Deb

Ingredients

(serves 2 persons)

  • Spaghetti or pasta of your choice 150 gms
  • Pesto 2 table-spoonful
  • Parmesan cheese 50gms
  • Garlic 2-3 cloves (finely chopped)
  • Cherry tomatoes 10-12 pieces (cut in halves)
  • Carrots 1 large/2 small pieces (finely chopped/shredded)
  • Colorful bell pepper 1 cup (chopped)
  • Mushroom 1/2 cup (sliced)
  • Sweet corn kernels 1/2 cup
  • Olives 10-12 pieces
  • Paprika/chili/black pepper powder according to test
  • Oil 2 tea-spoonful
  • Salt according to test
  • Dried oregano 1/2 tea-spoonful
  • Dried basil 1/2 tea-spoonful
  • Warm water 1/2 cup

Recipe

  • Boil the spaghetti (or pasta of your choice) in water and add a generous pinch of salt. Drain the water using a strainer, put a tea-spoonful of oil on it, mix it well, and keep it aside. 
  • Put a pan on medium heat, put a tea-spoonful of oil (preferably olive oil) in it. Put the finely chopped garlic and fry for a minute. The less you fry the garlic, the stronger will be the smell of garlic. 
  • Add the shredded carrots, bell pepper, and mushroom slices and fry them for 2 minutes. Now add the corn kernels, olives and fry everything for another minute.
  • Add a pinch of salt, the paprika powder, or the black-pepper powder according to your test, the dried herbs (basil, oregano), and around 2 table-spoonful of pesto. Add half a cup of warm water and mix everything, put a lid on it for 2 minutes.
  • Simmer the heat. Then take off the lid, add the boiled pasta, mix everything.
  • Add the halved tomatoes, grated parmesan cheese, mix on light hand and cover the lid for 1 more minute on low heat.
  • Turn off the heat. Serve it on a plate. Top it with a bit more parmesan, halved tomatoes. If you love, then you can sprinkle a bit more dried herbs. Spice lovers can also sprinkle chili flakes. 
  • Serve it hot. You can easily store it in a container in the refrigerator for a week.

My food story

Non-vegetarians can also add some meat to the dish. You can cut up some sausages or chop up some ham or bacon toss them with the vegetables and add them in the pasta. If store-bought pesto is not available to you or you wan to make it from scratch then we have the recipes for three variations of delicious pesto, which I will share with you soon. I also often make the sauce with the vegetables, herbs, spices and preserve it in the refrigerator for a week. For a fresh dinner, I boil some pasta, pour some sauce on it, top it with a bit more parmesan, halved tomatoes, and microwave everything for a couple of minutes.