Monthly Archives: June 2020

Why lobsters and Crabs turn red on cooking……..

Popular Food

Lobsters and Crabs are the two Sea foods are mouthwatering and popular all over the world. So much so that fairs are held to celebrate the lobster.  One such festival is held in Rockland, Maine which is attended by thousands.

lobster

Cooking Chemistry

When cooked these creatures turn coppery red. Although it is not necessary to become a chemist to become chefs but cooking is a science where chemistry takes place at each step. Some chemicals break down to get converted into edible and easily digestible form. Similarly in many foods there are color changes when cooked which is also due to chemical modification of ingredients. Here also, chemistry is occurring.

Normal lobster is of muddy color when alive. But the final color is dependent on the amounts of a pigment called astaxanthin which is also the pigment responsible for the red color of carrots, pink of flamingos, salmon and crabs. This pigment is red in color when free. It’s chemical structure is given below.

Due to the ketone and alcohol groups this compound is very active chemically easily binds other chemicals like proteins. Pigment is a powerful antioxidant. Lobsters ingest it to keep stress of survival under control has been found be beneficial human beings.

What happens in the lobster is that this pigment binds to the proteins in its skin. Due to this binding, it is forced to change its geometric structure and gets twisted to fit in. Depending on the type of protein it bonds to, there’s either what’s called a bathochromic shift, which turns the pigment blue, or a hypsochromic shift, to yellow. When you’re looking at a lobster, you’re seeing light reflecting through different layers of free and bonded astaxanthin–a lot of colors mixed together, hence the muddy brown.

So the final color is a combination of many colors like red, blue and amount and type  of proteins present in the body of lobster and the age . The muddy color is good for camouflaging from the predator because it becomes indistinguishable from the muddy water.

When the lobster is cooked the proteins are denatured and release the astaxanthin pigment turning the cooked meat into coppery red.

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Last Days in Assam

Peculiar things happened with me as I made preparations for leaving Sibsagar on my transfer back to Mumbai.

A few days prior to my planned departure, the weather became very hot and humid as it becomes there during summer days. But on the day of my journey to airport at Dibrugarh, it began to rain and rained so much that it became a deluge. Without any respite, the rain was falling in solid sheets. Visibility became very poor. My flight was canceled on the scheduled day despite the fact that our luggage was boarded and boarding passes were issued. Such a thing never happened to me in my three years sojourn in Assam. My flight never got canceled and I made it to airport even on the days of ULFA bandh. It seemed that there were some scores remaining unsettled, as if I owed something to others and others to me, as if someone was waiting for me to see me and fulfill the unfulfilled desires. My colleagues advised me to stay put at some hotel for next day journey but I returned back. Luckily, one of my colleagues brought back the key of the house which I had surrendered that very day. I changed my flight altogether for next day.

Next day flight again arrived one hour late and I began to have doubts again. At last it took off for Guwahati on its way to Kolkata. On my adjacent seats-I was on window seat-were sitting two very pretty young girls who incidentally happened to belong to same place I was coming from and their parents worked in same company as I. They were going to Chennai, but worried about missing their connecting flight from Kolkata to Chennai due to delay in this flight. It turned out that they were having non-refundable tickets of different airlines. If everything went on time from Kolkata not only would they miss the flight but also lose the money. I tried to help them and luckily at Kolkata when they were waiting for luggage, inquiry at help counter of the airlines revealed that the flight as usual was delayed for an hour.

But I made to Kolkata with no hurry as my connecting flight to Mumbai was late in the evening with enough time remaining. Flight to Mumbai also was delayed and reached at midnight. My real nightmare started when I hired a taxi from outside. There is a great racket going on at Mumbai airport. Some taxi driver and accompanying person will board the taxi with you and take a just outside the airport where number of taxis are waiting. He will charge money from you as they pretend it be prepaid taxi and will ask you to shift to some waiting taxi and will give the driver very vague instructions about the destination and give him some share. After traveling about half the distance, the driver will ask for the spot where the passenger will drop but he will give the name of place nearby. As you will protest that I have to go to where I have to, he will say that the fellow who transferred you in my cab told me to drop you elsewhere and for going further he will again demand some more money. Really, Mumbai is going to dogs, it will go bust. It is the city whose cycle of decline has really well started. It has become a old vamp. Name any kind of maladies-physical as well as mental- you will find them in Mumbai.


Best of luck for this dying city. My lungs choked on pollution as I sucked so many pollutants in two hours as I have done in Assam in 3 years.

Where is Gopal?

I was working in a place called Sivasagar in Assam. There was a shopping centre. In one of the shops a boy named Gopal used to work. Gopal was a runty-bodied boy from Bihar; he was working in a shop here in the mini-shopping center. Anyone who saw him will take him for the proprietor of the shop which sold eatables, victuals and phone service and has a xerox machine. Shops generally are all-in-one type here.

Gopal was very agile and competent and extremely good-natured. He has a gift of gabbiness and it did not take him long to make a niche in a corner of your heart. I thought him to be Bengali but actually he was from Bihar; so many Biharis have come to this state because the British rulers brought their forefathers here as labours for tea plantations, and to  do the menial jobs and rickshaw pullers, barbers and laundry.

Then one day, Gopal suddenly disappeared from the scene. How did I come to know was that I had given Gopal a parcel to courier to my native town and it did not reach the destination for a long time. I came to inquire for it from Gopal but he was not in shop. Other persons who were actually the proprietors began sitting in place of Gopal. In the beginning they will not divulge his whereabouts but they knew it for sure. Sometimes they said Gopal has gone to another village to attend a marriage; after some days version became his own marriage.

Gopal is the name of Krishna who you might have seen playing on a flute in front of cows and there are amours Gopis who dance around him. These Gopis were married women who it is said, forget everything in the world: shame, their family, husbands and society, and went running to him when his notes on flute began wafting into the air and reached their ears. And our Gopal, he was smitten by love though not of gopis but only his unwed neighbour.  The girl’s father and mother are also having a shop in the same shopping place; they were next door neighbours. The affair was kept secret by the smart Gopal, but I doubt that some of the boys who loiter around all the time were knowing everything and so did the owner of the shop in which Gopal worked.

So one night, Gopal eloped with girl and to this day nobody knows where he has gone. He might be in some secluded place, must have got employment and by now may have fathered a child.

Sanjhi: Almost forgotten Festival of North India

When we were small boys, every year ten days before the festival Dussehra, our mother would choose a small area on one of the mud walls and make a crude image of a woman, stars and moon and bullocks with the cow dung. We lived in the village. Almost everyone has some land on which agriculture was done. Also there were plenty of animals like cows and buffaloes. Houses were made of mud and walls and floors were plastered with wet cow dung. We did not understand all this and thought this as some folk art. It was called Sanjhi. Now this ritual has almost vanished like many other rituals which were observed in the rural parts of the country. The images slightly resembled the Warli art. Both were drawn almost in the straight lines meeting to form triangles and squares.

Sanjhi
image
Sanjhi images in my sisters home at a village in chandigarh
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The image is called Sanjhi and established on the first day of the nine days of   Durga Puja or Navratras. In fact, a common thread runs throughout India and festivals have the similar philosophy behind them. Only the style varies from place to place. Even days coincide. The images of Sanjhi are suggestive of Durga, Uma and Katyayani. And just like Durga Puja in which the idols of the deity are immersed in the river waters, Sanjhi festival also ends with the immersion of Sanjhi on the day of Dussehra.

The festival is observed mainly in Haryana and Punjab. The girls offer prayers and food to the goddess everyday.

These shapes including stars, moon, sun, face of the goddess etc are given different colors. The star-studded collage is fixed on the wall of a dwelling, facing south, in the later half of the early October or late September months. In some places, the image of Sanjhi is painted on the wall. The art of Sanjhi is quite native and simple.

Apart from the various forms of Sanjhi created on the first day of the moon in Kartika, there are some other rituals observed by girls during the Navaratras. Devotional songs are sung just after dusk. Lighted earthen lamps are held by adolescent girls who assemble around Sanjhi. They sing chorus songs, that are centuries old, to please the goddess. The girls, who sing these songs are rewarded by their elders with token money.

Sanjhi on Wall

The girls believe that by appeasing Sanjhi they will get a good husband. In one of the songs, Sanjhi is asked about her basic needs — what would she like to wear or eat. In another song, the girls promise to appease her by offering presents. This low key group activity is held every evening for nine days in front of the Sanjhi image put up on walls. On the tenth day of Dussehra, the images from the walls, along with the cow dung used as an adhesive, are scratched and removed. Only the head of the figure is securely contained inside a small earthen vessel whose belly has been ridden with several holes. In the evening, the girls with their respective earthen vessels float their lighted pots in the village pond.

The vessels are hit with cudgels by the village youth to stop the bowls from reaching the other end. A legend says that none of the bowls should float across the pond and touch the other end, otherwise misfortune would fall on the village.

Recently I heard a song women used to sing in areas around Chandigarh. It goes like this.

ਜਾਗ ਜਾਗ ਸਾਂਜੀ ਜਾਗ ਤੇਰੇ ਮੱਥੇ ਲਾਵਾਂ ਭਾਗ I

ਤੇਰੀ ਪੱਟੀਆਂ ਸੁਹਾਗ

ਅੱਗ ਬਲੇ ਦੋ ਲਕੜੀਆਂ ਦੀਵਾ ਬਲੇ ਚੁਬਾਰੇ ਮਾ

ਉਠੱਣ ਬੈਠਣ ਝੋਟੜੀਆਂ ਤਰਲੋਚਨ ਤੇਰੇ ਬਾੜੇ ਮਾ

ਮੱਖਣ ਮੱਖਣ ਖਾਂਦੀ ਜਾ ਨਣਦਾਂ ਦੇ ਸਿਰ ਲਾਂਦੀ ਜਾ I

Basically it translates to

O’ Sanjhi mother wake up, I worship thee , There is a fire in the hearth and lamp is lit in the upper house. There are milch buffaloes in the courtya

In dreams we act out our fears

In one of his dreams, he feels so frustrated and helpless. He fails to find the presentation in his pen drive. Where has it gone? Got deleted? or did he copy it at all? His Embarrassment is so great as the audience is waiting, fretting and fuming. He is standing with his head down. He is so angry with himself, his whole body shakes and he wakes up all nervous, beads of perspiration on his forehead . His hands are clammy. He jumps out of the bed and goes to computer table and grabs the pen drive, inserts it into his laptop. It is all OK. Oh what a dream…

Indian Bullfrogs

Indian bullfrog is a large species of frogs. It is inhabitant of mainland Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal. It scientific name is Hoplobatrachus tigerinus. It is also known by the names Indus Valley bullfrog or Indian bullfrog, popular name Asian bullfrogAsean bullfrog or Asia bullfrog,

Here in our area of North India, when the pre-monsoon rains come, the water after quenching the thirst of the parched soil, makes poodles in the troughs. God only knows from where these big frog come. Their croaking fills the air. When they croak their two bulbs swell and contract. They usually fight among themselves for female partners.

Yesterday got to see some spectacular view of them in a small pool near my village. Took many photos. Presenting them for you.

Indian bullfrog by Ranjit
Mating : Pic by Ranjit

Irresistible Palm Dates

Palm date trees are laden with golden fruits. The ripen not at once but successively so that fruit is available for longer periods. These sugary treats are a great attraction for birds like crows, Asian Koels and Grey Hornbills. The fruits bunches are surrounded by big thorny fronds. So smaller birds can easily approach them.

But even peafowls find them irresistible. I was surprised to find two peahens which had climbed the tree despite their very large sizes and were plucking and eating the fruits. Here is the video.

Three Cuckoo Visitors !!!

Introduction:

Come summers, many birds arrive in India for nesting. Some come from as far as Africa. They come here just before the onset of monsoons and for this reason are connected to the arrival of rains. Three types of cuckoos are generally seen in our area. All these are brood parasites which means like Koel they lay their eggs in the nest of other bird who thinking that these are their own eggs hatch them and raise the brood. These cuckoos choose the nests of Babblers for this work. Now we will talk of three cuckoos.

Jacobin Cuckoo:

Also known as Pied Cuckoo, Pied Crested Cuckoo, it comes from Africa here. Here it is called Harbinger of the rains. In Indian mythology it is called Chatak or the seeker of ambrosia drops. Also called Barsati Papiha. Religious scriptures mention this bird.

Jacobin Cuckoo Pic by Ranjit

Grey Bellied Cuckoo

Another small cuckoo. It can be seen here these days. Most of the times it sits on the electric wires which cross over scrubby shrubs. It was earlier also called Indian Plaintive Cuckoo but now not more so. It is smaller than Pied Cuckoo. It is also called Chhota Papiha in India.

Grey bellied cuckoo: Pic Ranjit

Common Hawk Cuckoo

This cuckoo partially resembles sparrowhawks and thus is called Hawk Cuckoo. In english another common name is Brain Fever Bird. In India it is also called Papiha. Many small birds get scared in its presence. It remains sitting at a place for long durations. It seems to be a permanent resident here.

Common hawk cuckoo Pic by Ranjit

Baya Weaver: Making the Nest

This bird is extraordinary. I was awed by their intelligence. Every year they came here to make nests. Last year the acacia trees in vacant plots in our area were uprooted due to heavy rains and construction activity. I thought this year they will not come here because there seems to be no trees for hanging the nests.

What is the Criteria for selection of a site?

  1. Suitable tree which is not easily approachable by predators and humans.
  2. Food and Water Availability
  3. Nesting Material.

Yet some 10-15 days ago, I noticed these birds in bullrushes collecting the nesting material. I was very much surprised where they are making the nests. And see they selected the Palm trees in a society for three reasons: One they cut the nesting material from palm fronds and second that nearby on the sides of the road, people come with grain seeds for ants and sparrows. So food will be nearby.

baya weaver male : ranjit singh

Black Breasted Weaver: Master Craftsman

All birds make nests to raise their chicks. The nests range from simple twigs heaped together to most elaborate. Weaver birds excel as craftsman in making intricate nests.

The area they choose for nesting is carefully chosen. There should be thorny tree like acacia or lofty trees like palms. Idea is to deter predators like snakes, shikra etc from destroying the nest for eggs. Then there should be plenty of food available near by. So they choose the areas near agricultural land. Then there should be nesting material available like bulrush grass in bogs.

While baya weavers make the nests on trees their cousins Black Breasted Weavers also known as Bengal Weaver or Black Throated Weaver (Ploceus benghalensis) make their nests inside thick bulrush grasses. Their nests are not easily seen on cursory look. It is so intricately hidden.

Only male birds do the nest making. They make hundreds of trips to bring the grass blades which they cleave from the grass stalks. Females are invited to inspect the partially completed nest, if a female okays the nest she would move with male for starting the family.

In our area there are plenty of weavers birds. We located one such nest in the making. From a distance without disturbing the bird made a video which I am sharing with my friends on wordpress.

Weaver Making Nest: Owner Ranjit Singh