Saturday, July 19, 2014

Technology & Girlfriends: Inseparable Bedfellows!

“Technology doesn't make us into new kind of humans, rather, it just alters the environment in which we act”

Yes, we are slaves to it, and it frustrates the living daylights out of us, it is a double-edged sword, but Technology IS the life blood of our existence! It is the lubrication to our relationships, the primary channel of our communication and a boon to virtual existence. From few cent phone calls that connect families across thousands of miles, to Bharatanatyam dance lessons taught via Google Video, smart technology on tap is now a new norm in an evolving generation. And I say that because I am an avid participant in this norm.

 My kids are clamoring to instantly see the pictures that I take of them on my Smartphone, and want me to share it immediately in my social network. I do that in a matter of seconds. And there I share back with my kids, the slowly growing “Likes” and “Comments”, real-time. This instant sharing of virtual dialog has become the basic expectation today in our world, where Wi-Fi, Smartphone battery and Facebook have become THE basic necessities of everyday existence.

With this premise, it is interesting to see how relationships are evolving in the seismic environment of Smartphone Apps. I remember bringing home a Gold Medal in college, after having won a intercollegiate debate favoring technology as a boon to our relationships, contrary to the rebuttal team that argued that technology was ruining relationships. And I stand by what I argued 14 years ago. Technology, if used right, can enable and enrich relationships cast adrift by time and distance. As a wise person once said Technology doesn't make us into new kind of humans, rather, it just alters the environment in which we act”

And to bloom in the environment in which we act, we need our girl friends don’t we? Whether for after work margaritas, or during work vent sessions about your day, girlfriends form an important salve to our egos and a sounding board to our sensibilities. And add to the mix the fact that your girlfriends are spread all over the world – in four different continents, you have no choice other than to rely on the heaven send technology (Read Apps and Widgets) available at your fingertips to engage in constant dialog with your gal pals!

The “Never trust a woman who doesn’t have girlfriends” graphic above conveys my take on what it means to have those all important female friendships alive in our lives. Girlfriends often remind us of who we are, individualistic, and independent, who we were before we assumed the layers of distinction to our personalities as wives, career women, and mothers. They accept our flaws, our personality whims, and the quench our desire to talk, whine, moan and vent unquestioningly, and untiringly. 

They form the strongest support system to help us navigate through the murky waters of infatuations, failed romances, spousal relationships, societal expectations, career hardships and family politics. They stand by our side (albeit virtually) and give us the confidence to wipe our tears, reapply our mascara and face the darn world! 

And they are the first ones to crack open the bubbly when we get something we've really worked hard for – be it the loss of those last 5 pounds, or the start of the entrepreneurial venture of our dreams!

Girlfriends have been providing the ammunition to our artillery from long gone years. But today, in 2014, they do it via WhatsApp, Facebook, Gmail and Skype! They are constantly by our bedside, tempering our tantrums, reminding us to breathe, cheering our awesome presentation, and oohing and aahing about our babies’ impromptu guitar recitals. What would we do without our precious girlfriends?

Technology & Girlfriends – as you might have gleaned by now, are strangely inseparable bed fellows! They feed our need for validation, they nurture our desire to share, and they also allow for a well adjusted grown woman like me to retain my youthful spirit (which trust me, can die very quickly with familial responsibilities and career aspirations!)

The story board shots peppered throughout this article show you the various zany ways in which Deepa and I use technology, to share, collaborate, plan, and self publish!! Technology is certainly not going to be belabored anymore today in this article. You and I both know all the awesome Apps out there which enable information sharing, crowd sourcing and collaboration. And we also have heard cautionary tales of a over-mediated society that has cyber bullies, identity thieves and perverted psychos lurking in its dark underbelly. But what’s going to be reinforced today is this:

Technology merely enables what is already strong. It is not the mannah for everything that’s broken. It’s a medium that we need to use, in an intelligent and intuitive fashion to come closer to things that matter to us.

I leave you with a question. Do you think we are getting closer to our friends with technology? I certainly am. As you see (touch-wood) in all the pictures in the storyboards, my relationships with my girlfriends around the world is going strong thanks to the constant chatter we keep up with tech Apps. But, the foundation for these relationships was built years ago, unshakable, unquestionable and unchangeable…….

What do YOU think?Let's discuss.


P.s All the images storyboarded in this article are created by Supriya and copyrighted to Aalayam. They should not be used without permission.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fashion- an expression of individualism!

Desi chic - Deepa's block printed kurti  with a gota patcwork dupatta makes a great evening ensemble!
And we are back with our countdown to a century series! We plan to celebrate fashion, technology, décor, friendships and more as we inch towards our 100th post. So, join us for an interesting line-up of posts over the next few weeks.

Supriya and I do not consider ourselves to be fashion maniacs by any stretch of imagination and yet we are fashionistas (in our own right) and we decided to publicize our personal style on Aalayam today in an effort to decode the logic of fashion. 

Ballet flats and bohemian bangles - personalize every look!

We differ in our sartorial preferences but agree that fashion must be an expression of individualism. In a world where we are constantly judged for our appearance and external identities (sadly!) one cannot ignore the importance of fashion/style to our everyday existence.  Also, our interest in fashion is an extension of our interest in culture and creativity. Fashion is after all integrally tied to contemporary culture and so it felt right to talk about fashion on Aalayam.

 So, join the conversation dear readers. As always, this post is sprinkled with pictures  -we’ve put together some outfits to tell our fashion story.

Supriya believes in bold statement accessories!

Tell us what comes to mind when you hear the word fashion – clothes, accessories, outfits, style, trends, and habits – all of the above perhaps?  What guides your fashion sense  - your moods and instincts or runway looks and trends?  Are you a risk taker? What about the design and the details? Do brands matter? Do you believe appearance can positively influence attitude and in turn your self-image and sense of self-worth? Do you like what you wear or do you find yourself envious of another person’s looks?  Does fashion overwhelm you? Do you feel like you are in a style rut?  Or do you believe your personal style is a reflection of your inner self? 

The classic black dress - accesorise with a colorful bag to transition seamlessly to an after hours get together!

So many questions! And we certainly don’t claim that we know all the answers but we definitely have some thoughts.

Supriya's Colorful embroidered shoes stand on their own!

What we have learnt is that fashion much like everything else is a process and it has taken us a few years to discover who we are and to look in the mirror and say, “That’s what I like!” Through this process we have learnt to wholeheartedly accept and embrace our unique and personal sense of style. 

Deepa's bow tie shoes are perfect for a little summer fun!

 Sure, we have fashion muses but at the end of the day our look is our own and we wear it with aplomb!  We have also learnt to let our outfits inspire us to be the best that we can be  - fashion is not just about boots, belts or scarves it’s also about confidence and charisma and positive outlook and feeling good inside! Remember, a smile is the best way to accessorize!

Supriya and I decided to capture our fashion sense in a few phrases and here is what we came up with-

Supriya’s fashion catch phrases

Lots of kajal
Never afraid of bling (gold and jewel tones)
Dusky, shimmery eyes
Nude/glossy lips
A touch of sparkle
Huge bags that carry everything
Statement shoes!!!
Clothes that fit my body, not the other way round
Never the one to follow trends or fashion mantras

Her fashion mantra –“ it’s all about what feels good and what makes me feel good”.

My (Deepa’s) fashion catch phrases

Classic, time –tested styles, elegance and sophistication
Tailored clothes
Complimentary accessories – the scarf is my all time favorite accessory!
Kohl lined eyes
Black – because it is beautiful
A touch of the unexpected – lace, polka dots, metallic accents, a pop of color!
Shoes – a girl can never have too many!
Haute- sunglasses!

 My fashion mantra – If I don’t feel it, I don’t wear it

Now, there's our fashion story - what's yours? Do you believe you have a trendy persona? Sound off! Tell us about how you approach fashion?

We will back soon with our next post in the countdown to a century series! Did you like this post? Check out our other feature posts on fashion and trends here, here and here.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Countdown to a Century: Flashback and Peekforward!

We are going to be a 100 posts old soon! And this is the perfect poignant moment for us to flash back, and peek forward.

The poster above is a fantastic peek forward to the COUNTDOWN TO A CENTURY!!

To, all the posts that are in the offing, those celebrate the

And here’s a flashback. At all the humbling feedback, comments and love we have received – just a tip of the iceberg over the course of the last year and …..94 posts!!!

I pause to say Thanks once again for letting Aalayam grow this big. Without your validation, we would not have come this far!


Lovely read, great pictures, an awesome new perspective, such an interesting personality..loved it...”

“Goodness...why don't I meet people like you guys? :D Kudos…”

“You've got me kindled girl :-) Planning parties is something I L.O.V.E! Your ideas are brilliant! “

“Delighted to see the new artist feature series on Aalayam…”

“The Indian in me just woke today( once again) to realize that yes! no matter how contemporarily I decorate my home ,the touch of India is always home for me …”

“My first visit here, read a couple of posts and I am already fond of all that is being shared here. Following you now on :) Thank you for sharing all those beautiful and thought-provoking sketches. They did make me pause and think about the message being sent across…”

“You have a great blog here and I am enjoying every post of yours... the photographs are wow and the inspiration is infectious! I will be landing here more often! “

“You have introduced us to some very interesting people and their interesting work! Keep it up in the New Year and a Very Happy New Year to both of you and your families! “

“You just inspired me and exuded positivity, warmth and encouragement with this. Hats off to the team!”

“Supriya and Deepa! Thank you very much for your valuable time and effort in depicting my home so aesthetically! and also providing me a with a wonderful platform. I wish you all the very best for Aalayam! “

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Artist Feature: Bloggers' Envy, Aalayam's Pride

Aalayam is going to be a 100 posts old soon!!! And as we draw closer to our century, it’s time to pause and reflect, on all the things that have gone well for us , all the accolades, all the opportunities to be awesome, to make your lives better, and to evolve as artists ourselves. It’s also time to commemorate our team – Deepa and I, and another crucial teammate!  Ujwal a.k.a UJ!!
You may be familiar with this photographic work already, replete with crystal clear composition in Deepa’s posts.  And today we peek into the desiderata of this artist who is indeed, the pride of Aalayam!
It seems strange that I am actually conversing with UJ 1-1, after such a long time of literally (indirectly!?) working together. UJ is such an integral part of Aalayam. The vision, composition and textures he brings to Aalayam through the pictures he shoots for Deepa’s posts, have been a definite the highlight of our blogging journey so far. Of course, he has a formidable, talented and design diva partner - in Deepa, who I am sure "gently" nudges him to keep coming up with awesomeness for Aalayam!

So, thank you so much, UJ for agreeing to be featured in Aalayam as our star artist, as we countdown to the century of posts!
In a candid Q&A with this interesting and stoic artist, I have tried to intersperse the views, passions and thoughts he brings into this creative work.  As always, I aim to get at the core of who the real person behind the artist is, what inspires their work, and how they believe they are making a difference in this melting pot of culture, we are all thrown into in a world far away from home!
Hope you enjoy this post, as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.

Saguaro cactus silhouette - a beautiful Arizona sunset!
Supriya (S): What got you started as a photographer?

Ujwal (UJ): I remember being interested in photography for a long time. Looking back, I cannot think of any one point in time when I wanted to pursue this as a hobby. My inclination may have had roots in my family’s interest in it. I grew up around cameras and amateur photographers. My mom and uncle were both photography enthusiasts and I grew up watching them shoot for a hobby and discuss their love of the craft. My first request for a camera was at the age of 11-12 and my dad promptly turned it down! I am sure he had some legitimate concerns about his 11 year old wanting to take pictures on a vacation to Goa – this is the Goa of the 80s we are talking about! But that didn’t keep me away from photography. I took pictures with cameras borrowed from friends all the time and then for a while the hobby became dormant only to resurface later when I could afford a camera. I bought a Canon Rebel and there has been no looking back since!

A timely shot- black angus pose for a pic in the backdrop of  New Mexico mesas

Bald cypress and and aquatic plants of Caddo lake - a painting in green
S: How do you get the person, place or thing in front of the camera on to the film in just the way you want? Talk to us a bit about how this process works for you

UJ: Patience and practice!  For a humorous take on how you get there, take a look at this graph. The art of taking good pictures (ones that ultimately pass my own standards) often take an enormous number of clicks. Over time, photography has definitely evolved into a more earnest hobby – one that I am truly passionate about. Along the way, I took a couple of courses that have helped me make the best use of the equipment that is available these days. The cameras these days seem overwhelming to the end user given the number of features and trickery but in reality they have made the task of taking great pictures much easier.

UJ's mantra for awesomeness!

S: Which photographers have influenced you? How have they influenced your thinking, photographing and career path?

UJ: I have not extensively researched the work of photographers but one photographer whose works I have read is Ansel Adams. It is fascinating to try and understand what makes his work stand out. The play of light and shadow, composition and what he could do given the limited technology available to him represents his genius and that has served as an inspiration. His work among others’ catapulted photography into the fine arts’ league.  Ansel Adams has inspired me to take pictures that tell stories. I recognize that you cannot tell a story with every picture but when the opportunity presents itself, I try not to let go.

The devil is in the details - dragon fly!
S: Exactly, what it is that you want to say with your photographs and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?

UJ: I aim for an end result that makes me happy and hopefully that will make my audience or subject happy as well. Personally, I enjoy landscapes and portraiture, which are at the extreme ends of a spectrum from inanimate to animate. But then again, I shoot many other things in between that fall into the broader realm of lifestyle photography including arts &crafts, culture and styled home décor for Deepa and they have all contributed to the learning.

Vancouver harbor shimmers under the nigh lights.
S: Do you enjoy clicking for Aalayam? How is it like working with your spouse on creative projects for the blog? (I ask this tongue in cheek!)

UJ: Taking pictures for the blog has been a lot of fun and a great learning experience as it comes with its own unique challenges. Most pictures are shot indoor and Deepa often envisions a certain persuasive look that involves the creative use of equipment to get a picture we both like. Deepa is a tough client but in meeting her requirements for an assignment, I have been able to unceasingly work on my technical skills. Taking good pictures for the blog has its own perks. Wink!

Temple architecture - intricate details enhanced by the play of light and shadow
S: What technology/software/camera gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?

UJ: I currently shoot with a Nikon D800 and a D7000. My first foray into photography was with a canon rebel film SLR and canon G series digital camera as backup. Then I moved camps and have stuck with Nikon for the last 7 years. Choice of brand is only a personal preference as these brands stand head to head in technology. I generally shoot with prime lenses even though it takes lot of walking back and forth. The only software I use for cataloguing and categorizing is Adobe Lightroom. I limit my processing to lightweight exposure correction only. I use a custom workflow in Lightroom for naming, importing, cataloging and archiving processes, which makes it easier to manage the thousands of pictures from our travels and projects.

Portraiture - Deepa
Anirudh learns to bike and it is captured in a panned shot!
S: So, is it the lens or is it the man behind the lens? We are dying to know what your secret is! 

UJ: As one gets better, equipment matters less and skills matter more. I would like to believe I am beginning to tip the weight on the skills side  J

S: UJ, we are given to understand that photography is a hobby for you, but you do it fantastically. Would you ever consider photography as a full-time profession?

UJ: Thank you. I’ve only got a lifetime’s worth of learning to go before considering the career switch.

Macaroons anyone?
S: How, in your opinion, does your photography art contribute to the preserving of culture?  

UJ: Via photography I have learned to appreciate beauty and diversity and I love how images come to life to tell a story. Deepa and I seek adventures - even cultural ones. Often, I find myself recording an intimate cultural event at home as a way of preserving for our son and at other times I am capturing a snap shot of global culture on one of our travels. Photography is a vigorous medium and to be able to interpret culture through the use of light, color and technology has been fun. No matter where you go or how the culture differs, everyone likes to stop and admire a good picture!

Temples of the Grand Canyon. A shot well worth the wait for the right lighting!
S:  Finally, what does a Weekend In The Life Of Ujwal look like? (I say Weekend, as I know you work full time on "non-photography" related work! And I am assuming, you shoot with your beloved lens on weekends only) I'd like to zone in on your other creative/intellectual interests as well here.

UJ: Weekends are when we as a family unplug and unwind.  Deepa and Anirudh take precedence and thankfully the 3 of us share many common interests such as enjoying a game, exploring the outdoors, reading, whipping up a meal or hosting friends.  Of course, work occupies the background but the tempo is simmered down.  I relish the outdoors and after a 17-year hiatus, I recently bought a motorcycle and am slowly rediscovering the joy of being a rider again. I believe that weekends are a respite – a good work out, playing tennis, listening to music, and photography all play into that. Our weekends are an eclectic stew of fun and creative pursuits!

The artist with his work - top right (natural landscape), Taughannock falls, NY and bottom right (urban landscape) - cattle drive - Pioneer plaza, TX

Thanks a bunch UJ for opening your heart out to us. And for tirelessly working to increase the curb appeal of Aalayam!

Love & Hugs,

Supriya & Deepa

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Your Top 10 Light and Fresh Summer Salads! (and Sides)

It’s already hot outside! Sweaty hot, Sticky hot, the kind of hot, that makes you want to blast up the AC in your home, turn down the shades, and pretend Summer is not yet here. But it is!!! With  Memorial Day behind us, we were all reminded of how pale we had gotten over the Winter. Right…and, also how our curves suddenly seemed to have become more lush, and how our jeans shorts suddenly seemed to have become a little snug…(sigh…!)

But, never mind, Summer is Here!! And so are Saturday visits to Farmers Markets, Sunday sandcastles with the kids, cool cotton tunics and white and turquoise with everything! But what is Summer without a little glow…a little tan…a little leg…and a whole lot of sexy confidence?

Speaking of which, I find that I am less hungry in the Summer, so I find that I eat more healthy, and naturally, I am more thirsty in the Summer, so I drink lots of water and lemonade!. I write this article while continuously sipping Lemonade (of course!) about my top 10 Summer Salads! Full of fruit, (think Watermelon, Strawberries and Mandarins!!) and Greens. Sprinkled with a dash of nuts and smothered with  my favorite marinades. Not to forget Avocados. Which almost always infuses a special green tropical delish into my salads.

As you read this, I ask you – comment below for me. Which your favorite salad of all time is!! Will you do that for me? Please?

For now, let’s dive in!


I am getting you started a summer fresh Watermelon and Basil Salad! Imagine sweltering in a hot summer afternoon picnic or a barbeque and craving the cool and refreshing respite of Watermelon – deemed the world’s healthiest food! I had this salad once when I was in a meat heavy barbeque, where all I could eat was roasted vegetables, and voila, glistening from the middle of the picnic table was this heavenly Watermelon Salad! Ever since, this salad is a staple in my summer menus! Toss cubed watermelons with cherry tomatoes, basil and feta cheese, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and have for yourself the most amazing salad you’d have ever eaten in your life!! Plus, you cannot get more lycopene than in one serving from any other dish!


Coming up next is my other favorite Black Rice and Avocado Thai Salad! Black rice (also known as purple rice or Forbidden Rice) is a new age, protein filled, box blackening kind of rice, that tastes positively delicious. Legend has it that this Chinese black rice got its name because it was so nutritionally beneficial that only the emperors were allowed to eat it. Varieties include but are not limited to Indonesian black rice and Thai jasmine black rice. I cook mine the regular way, and toss it with some olive oil and tons of Avocados, add a dollop of Thai dressing. Dress with  Peanuts and Mandarins. Serve immediately.


I fell in love with the Avocado Pesto Salad during my tropical paradise vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As you might have read in my travel and cuisine post,  it rains Avocados in Puerto Rico. This easy as pie, salad is my ode to healthy, yet indulgent eating!!


This next salad is a just a toss of all my favorite farmers market finds. Strawberries, Strawberries and more strawberries! Of course, a little sprinkle of Vidalia onions and Feta Cheese never hurt any salad. Toss with a lovely balsamic vinaigrette to round out the sweet and tangy taste of the Strawberries.


All moms cheat right? You know that! This particular salad is a great doppelganger for the good ole cupcake. I cheated my twin 4 year olds into believing that these were cool green cupcakes!! Ha ha! Just dice cucumbers into bite sized discs, top with creamy jalapeno crème cheese or mayo, and dress with  walnuts and spring onions!! Yummy delish delight!


Who does not love corn salsa? Everyone I know surely do!! I was first introduced to spicy corn chaat in the streets of Bangalore. Indian street food vendors have got the formula right. The correct proportions of spices, the right crunch of the corn and the perfect portion size, that always leaves you craving for more, after you have scooped up the last bite from your newspaper cup! So, inspired by Indian street food, I present to you the vibrant corn salsa salad. You can just about add anything to it, including the boring broccoli to take a playful approach to getting your veggies in.


Tzatziki is my quintessential ode to Greek cuisine. Tzatziki combines is cool cucumber, zesty  Greek yogurt. Garlic, Dill or Mint, lemon and salt and pepper, to gracefully finish this aaaaahwesome dip/side/just like that accompaniment to pita, chips, wraps or just vegetable slices! Try it this summer! Here’s an awesome recipe.


I am not going to belabor good ole guacamole! If you have been following my culinary adventures on Facebook, you will know that I overdo Guacamole to a fault! And you cannot blame me. I have a failsafe recipe for Guacamole, that I will share with you, and hope that try!!! Here it is – Finely dice onions and tomatoes. Add 2 scooped up avocados in a medium size mixing bowl (the brighter, the better!) and add the diced veggies.. Add finely minced garlic, green chillies, cilantro, salt and add a handful of cooked corn to the bowl, and voila your Guacamole is ready!! And call me if you don’t love it! JServe with chips, tortillas and fajitas.


The Farfelle salad is a toss together of the leftovers from last night. Commonly known as "bow-tie pasta", the name is derived from the Italian word farfalla (butterfly). If you have some cooked pasta (it could be any kind!) left over, toss together with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and dress with your favorite veggies. You can never go wrong with bell peppers, onions and peas! Add cheese crumbles and nuts just before you serve!


Arugula and pears flourish during the cooler late-autumn weather. But I do find them in our local farmers market throughout the year! Put them together for a great balance of sweet and piquant. The roasted pear is lightly dressed with a maple-sweetened vinaigrette to accentuate the natural flavor of the arugula. 

As I close, I hope you enjoyed this cool, fresh, and easy ode to summer lunches! Also known as PURE SALAD HEAVEN. And maybe even dinners. Be sure to comment below for me. Which your favorite salad of all time is

And I am heading out for a Sunday morning walk right now. Cos, it’s not all about what you eat is it?

Stay Fit and Light this Summer my friends.