28 July 2014

An open letter to those who think my business is their business

So I attended the Tata Zest bloggers' meet 'Zest up your life' organised by Blogadda over the weekend, to test drive the car and live blog the experience. That, once again brought the animositical tweets crawling out of the word-work. 

While the above tweet was merely a speculation, the one that follows, by a talented female photographer, was clearly judgmental on how foodbloggers can only cook or eat. 
 And the one below shows that even so called friends don't care about etiquette in the online world. After all, this is India and you can freely go around asking people -"So what is your package?" and they are not even supposed to feel taken aback. 

The first two tweets were featured in Karthik's post reacting to the (over)reactions around the Tata Zest event hashtag that was merrily doing the rounds on the Twitter timeline over the weekend. I even complimented him on his balanced analysis, despite him using me as an example in his post (not naming me, of course).

A tirade was launched against me when I did a contest for a brand, a couple of years ago. Quite a few people I loved and respected unfollowed me for good. I've learnt to move on quickly, often ignoring such caustic comments and remarks, thinking these are the people who are either bitter by nature, or they are generally having a bad day and need to take it out somewhere. But sometimes, I don't want to ignore.

This is for those of you who were itching to ask or did ask one of the following questions:
"Why did she get invited to this event?"
"Why did a food-blogger go for a car event?"
 "She should stick to cooking and eating. Driving? Bah!"
 "How much did these guys pay her to get her to Goa?"
"Oh, she's a sellout, a free trip to Goa and a free lunch at Zuri, how can she refuse?"
"How much were you paid per tweet on that hashtag?"
"Are these paid tweets?"

I'm in a generous frame of mind today (from the millions I earned over the weekend, of course) and hence I shall answer your questions. 

In the days before you started watching stuff downloaded off torrents, you might have watched television commercials. Even today, if you listen to FM radio on your way to work, chances are you listen to more ads and less music. Ads are inevitable if you are not pirating content or buying a DVD / CD. Heck even those DVDs come with ads of other movies / series.

If you thought social media was born as a philanthropic idea of the internet for the sole purpose of sharing photos with your extended family or for having philosophical conversations and pun making in 140 characters, I am sorry to break your bubble. Social media platforms are built by companies whose primary monetizing strategy is advertising. Heard of Google and Facebook? 

Having been around on Twitter for around 6 years now, like it or not, I am a part of this advertising ecosystem. We are in a changing world. Apart from spending millions of $$ on celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan or Priyanka Chopra, brands are keen on focussing on micro-advertising, with small or no budgets, using what they call influencers in different fields. You can surely question my knowledge on cars just as you can question Mr.Bachchan's knowledge of jewelery or Basmati rice. The wide range of products he endorses may well mean he is the most knowledgable person on earth in every existing field. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. People don't want to buy a car after listening to an automobile engineer's spiel on the kerb weight of the car or the maximum torque of the engine. They buy a product because they connect with the experiences and emotions of a common man. I'm talking about lay people here, not people who start their day with Jalopnik. You can well doubt the intelligence of the marketing team at Tata Motors for choosing dumb food bloggers or irritating mommy bloggers to talk about their car to their follower and fan base. You can even diss us for taking up this assignment, whatever our reasons for taking it up may be. But then you have to be prepared to take the only answer that is apt for all your comments and questions - which in polite words would be "none of your business" or in slightly harsher terms "fuck off".

I am an ethical person. I extend that to my blog. If I have eaten a meal sponsored by a restaurant, I label it as 'By Invitation'. If you're really curious to see how many free meals I've eaten in my 8 years of foodblogging, feel free to click on 'By Invitation' tag. 
Even on external websites, a sponsored meal, is clearly labelled as just that. I don't gush in any review even if it is a sponsored one. I will say it like it is, and I often make it clear to the person inviting me, that inviting me doesn't guarantee a glowing review. A lot of PR companies, do not want to invite me after that, which I am completely happy with. At least this way we have our stands clear and no one is in for any surprises. I do this all for myself, and my conscience. 

I am most definitely not obliged to do any disclosures on Twitter that so-and-so brand has hired me for 'x' amount of money. It's Twitter, not the Income Tax Department of India. And you have no business expecting me to. Just the way, I don't ask you, "Hey, how much is your take home salary?" or "What is your bra size?". What I do with my social media is entirely my business. I don't charge you a fee for reading my tweets, so I'm sorry you don't get to have a say in what I tweet. If I'm tweeting for a brand or doing an activity for them, I'm only giving my opinion and sharing my experiences. If you take that as holding you by your collar and forcing you to buy that product, I can only say "LOL". 

Dear Tata Motors, please tell me how many of my Twitter followers have already booked the car thanks to my tweeting your hashtag over the weekend! And don't forget to give me my percentage in the sales. LOL!!

What was amusing was, one gentleman was diligently following the hashtag we used at the event over the weekend, and then he was cribbing "Oh my God, these guys are spamming so much." How different is this from watching a saas-bahu megaserial and then cribbing "Oh damn, this is so terribly regressive and boring." And now, to those traumatised by contests and hashtag deluge on your timeline, I have four suggestions to save yourself from the wrath of advertising on social media.
  1. Even us sell-outs have some ethics. We always use hashtags. Right click on the hashtag and mute it. Don't know how to mute? Here, let me direct you to a helpful link
  2. Too lazy to mute or learn how to mute? There's always the Unfollow button. 
  3. You hate ads in general? Read up on Adblock plus and install it.
  4. Not up for any of the above? I have the best solution for you. Get off the internet :) 
Coming back to the question that's been eating your insides- what did I get for attending the event?
I got the thrill of driving the first all-Indian Diesel AMT car on the streets of Goa. 
I got the pleasure of networking with some amazing people and making a few friends. 
I got 15 precious minutes on the beach. 
Oh, I forgot about the 2 tee-shirts, which I'm willing to ship to anyone to asks for it (only within India, please). 
I would like to keep the customised Blogadda badge though. 
Yes, ALL THIS, at the cost of losing a weekend with my family, but they welcomed me with a warm meal and lots of hugs, that nearly made up for it.

Feel free to follow/unfollow me @saffrontrail :)

27 July 2014

8 reasons why this Blogadda #zestupyourlife was awesome

  1. It's on the White  Sands beach in Goa. For someone from Bangalore, that has no beach, it is always a big draw.
  2. Goa is at its best in the monsoons, green and uncluttered, and this part of Goa around Varca, more so.
  3. I got to put a face to blog URLs and Twitter handles. It was amazing to meet bloggers I've followed since years and also some I've discovered recently on twitter.
  4. After interacting with the Blogadda team for years, finally we got to meet the people behind the emails. 
  5. It was wonderful to talk to bloggers who are no longer relegating blogging as a hobby for bored people without day jobs, so something more professional and commanding more respect.
  6. It was the first car event I've attended, and I must say it has sparked an interest in cars -on how much goes into its engineering and design and maintaining a balance between the two.
  7. I finally broke my driving sabbatical after years - on the smooth roads of Goa.
  8. It was my first time driving an automatic transmission vehicle, something I have felt needlessly intimidated about. It was the smoothest driving experience and I did not miss the clutch at all.

Lots of pics coming soon on my Facebook page - stay tuned!
Off to network with some more bloggers! Shall report back from Bangalore SOON :D

Driving the Tata Zest

Reporting from lush and verdant Goa where Blogadda has organised a meet up of top 50 bloggers to experience the latest from the Tata Motors stable - the Tata Zest. In a 'masterclass' on Tata Zest last evening, conducted by top persons from the design and engineering team of Tata Zest, we learnt quite a bit on what goes into the design of a car and how it is always an endeavour to match superlative engineering with eye-pleasing designs. To quote one of the experts here "The world would look quite different were it to be designed by an engineer!" The star of the event last evening was Narain Karthikeyan, who has been working closely with Tata Motors on this project. His confidence in the new engineering and design elements, should be reassuring to a lot of sceptics.

Today we finally got to experience two versions of Tata Zest. One of them was the top end petrol version which comes with a Revotron 1.2T engine, which Narain was very proudly explaining to us. The DesignNext, DriveNext and ConnectNext are the cornerstones of this car, which we set out to experience this morning. 

With Neha and Kavi - our test drive team

This car has a ton of segment first features, some of which we got to try out on our drive. As some who's mostly in the passenger seat, I can say that the legroom at the back is ample, and the airconditioning is comfortable, which can be easily controlled from the touchscreen.
I also loved the smartphone integration via bluetooth, mainly to play music via bluetooth. It is immensely useful if you are driving the car, you can make calls, even reply to sms etc. using the touchscreen. The other first in segment feature are the 15 inch alloy wheels. It is also said to have voice command recognition a la Siri, but a program that recognizes Indian accents (Phew! A relief, no need to fake accents)

I personally drove the Diesel AMT, and hey this is the first Indian car to have an AMT in Diesel. It was the first time I was driving an automatic and I was a little apprehensive. But no sooner had I pushed the gear to A, it was smooth sailing from there. I did not miss changing gears at all. It is such a relief to drive non-stop especially on Indian roads, where one has to repeatedly halt / slowdown for potholes, traffic, jay walkers and even cattle. It was a bit disconcerting initially to not have to change gears, every time I had to halt and move again. The diesel engine was surprisingly quiet, and except for the slight noise while changing speeds, until the gears engage, it was a wonderful drive and the 10 odd kilometers I drove was pure fun. We tried the mid-range model, which did not have all the top end petrol version connect-next features. For a person who doesn’t claim to be a proficient driver, it is useful to have the rear park assist view.
The smooth roads of this part of Goa, the monsoon induced greenery, and a gentle rain fitting accompaniments for a lovely drive.
Overall, it was a fun drive. For more technical specs etc., visit  tatamotorszest.com
Twitter: @tatazest | @tatamotors

19 July 2014

Recipe for Instant Coconut Laddoo | Coconut Fudge - 3 Ingredients, 2 Minutes

My son is 5 and a half. While he's quite unfussy over food in general (KALA TEEKA!!), he's always running away from all Indian sweets. Sometimes, I manage to be creative and give posh names, like calling these cocoa burfis as chocolate fudge, and he may agree to taste one. The only Indian sweet he cares for is Jalebi, that I get for him once in a while from our local sweets and chaats place, which makes absolutely delicious Jalebis in ghee on weekends. Those are worth every calorie they come laden with. 

We have one kids' channel on TV and this week, I was watching the program Little Krishna with him. One of the ads that came in the commercial break had us both riveted to the screen. It was Nestle Milkmaid's new TVC for coconut laddoo. And my son, the Indian sweets hater, was suddenly all wide eyed, as he saw the lovely little story roll out in 30 seconds. He watched with great interest the mother and son make coconut laddoos and he said, "Mummy, I want to make those with you. Please get the ingredients." I told him that laddoos will be sweet and he may not like them. He was so enamoured by the ad that he insisted that he would love them. He reminded me every single day for the last 3-4 days and I finally got around to making them this afternoon. He even sneaked in his finger into the stream of condensed milk like the kid in the ad does. Talk about absorbing every little detail to the T!!

While the ad doesn't spell out the exact recipe, I have made these laddoos earlier. A friend once made this for Diwali and I had one little taste and I was hooked. It's the simplest sweet you can make for a festival. While I made this in the afternoon, my househelp, who's quite a good cook herself, looked on in wonder and declared that it was so easy that she was going to make it for Varalakshmi Pooja herself.

These laddoos are soft and gooey as soon as you make them, and totally fudgy when you refrigerate them. I love them both ways. For 3 ingredients and less than 5 minutes of your time, this is a brilliant recipe. Try it and you wont be disappointed. My son popped a couple of them into his mouth immediately and declared me the best mommy in the world (for the second time today). 

We are inching closer to India's first exclusive food bloggers' meet- IFBM 2014. Catch all the action on our blog, Facebook page and follow us on Twitter

Instant Coconut Laddoos

Instant Coconut Laddoo / Coconut Fudge
Makes 24 pieces
Time taken: Under 5 minutes

200 grams desiccated coconut*
1 tin condensed milk (400 gram, but you wont need all of it)
3-4 elaichis, seeds removed and coarsely powdered (optional)
2 tbsp milk powder
few drops of ghee 

In a non stick pan or heavy bottomed steel pan, on a low flame, toast the desiccated coconut for 1 minute until slightly aromatic. Remove 3 tablespoons of the coconut in a flat dish. To the remaining coconut in the pan, add the elaichi powder, milk powder and almost all the condensed milk, reserving 4-5 tbsp as you may not need all of it.
On a low flame, stir them all together. In 2-3 minutes, they will come together to a ball that doesnt stick to the sides.
Grease palm with a few drops of ghee. Divide fudge into 24 portions and roll each into a ball. Roll the ball in the plate with desiccated coconut. Do this for all 24 laddoos and then refrigerate them in an airtight container, but not before eating a couple of them while they are still warm and gooey.  
To impress the kids, you can place each laddoo in a colourful cupcake liner and may be add a few sprinkles over the top!

*In Hindi, this is called Nariyal ka burada. If you don't find it, use fresh coconut, or frozen coconut scrapings. Make sure they are unsweetened though.
I've tried it without milkpowder and it turns out just fine. You may reduce the condensed milk by another 2-3 tbsp, and add a little more if mixture is too dry.
With the leftover condensed milk, try my recipe for Vietnamese Iced Coffee, another addictive thing!!


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