Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Washington Post Launches Loudoun Extra

Those of us living in Loudoun county have another great site to look into for anything Loudoun. Washington Post just launched a new site LoudounExtra to cover anything Loudoun. It has information on county news, schools, entertainment, and links to many interesting blogs on Loudoun County. I liked the links it provides to various blogs. I could search blogs at TechNorati but to have someone screen good blogs is always time saving.The guide section will probably be the most useful section to many but I find they still need to add lot of information for someone like me to depend on that section. I am hoping this site will help me plan better activities for my kids and make our life more interesting in Loudoun!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

TANA 2007 in Washington DC Convention Center

In my 16 years in US, I never cared to attend any Indian or Telugu Association functions assuming they are all either boring or waste of valuable weekend time. 2007 changed all that for me after I had to forcefully attend Capitol Area Telugu Society (CATS) Ugadi function with my son who performed dance for the famous "Devuda Devuda" song from Pokiri. Even if my son didn't perform that day, I would still have fallen in love with the Telugu Association functions as it's a very special feeling to be with so many people who have similar roots as we did. Food and entertainment don't really matter once you get there as it's the environment of being in the middle of so many Telugu people that will get you.

Ever since that day, I made up my mind to attend TANA (Telugu Association of North America) 2007 being held in Washington DC Convention Center on July 4th weekend. After all, I might see only one more TANA being organized in DC Metro area in my life. I almost missed attending TANA as I got tied with on-call responsibility that week at my new job at Washington post.

Fortunately, I was able to switch my responsibility at work for that week with a co-worker. I went there on the second day and joined my friends for lunch as I walked in. Lunch was let down but it will be stupid of me to expect good food when I can see over 12,000 people attending the function. It was decent enough to eat but I decided all my next meals will be from the food court area where Minerva and Mirchi were selling enjoyable food.

To me the best part of attending TANA is the probability we have in bumping into our good old friends from yesteryears. I happened to meet one friend after almost 25 years and many after 3-10 years. It was a great feeling. Entertainment, shopping, and food all become insignificant once you start bumping into friends. Also, the feeling you get seeing over 10K Telugu people in the convention center will make you nostalgic about our culture. It's like being at a wedding in Andhra. Very few care to watch the wedding. It's all about meeting friends and cousins and feeling the mood of celebration. Washington Convention center was filled with Teluguthanam those 3-days. It's a feeling that will stay with you for a while. I enjoyed being there so much that I am already trying to plan with friends to make a trip to Orlando, FL in 2009 to attend the TANA there. Hopefully, Mahesh Babu will be the main guest then.

I have to confess I couldn't help myself from not appreciating Nandamuri Bala Krishna. His action in movies isn't to my liking and I hardly even rent his movies on DVDs. Probably, he is the only hero I can't stand watching in movies in the last year or two. But, he stole the show at TANA.

He not only performed exceptionally on stage as Sri Krishna Devarayulu and Yama Dharmaraju but, he was down to earth and it was nice to see him sign autographs for several kids.

I heard 14,000 - 16,000 people attended TANA 2007. I wonder how many more would have attended had Mahesh Babu attended as initially planned? Already TANA 2007 saw too many celebrities (Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Bala Krishna, Narra Chandra Babu Naidu, Murali Mohan, Gummadi(honored with Life Time Achievement Award by TANA), Illeana, Parvati Melton, Sunil, Prabha, Rama Prabha, Mani Sharma, Paruchuri Brother, and many more stars and politicians) attended and it probably didn't need Mahesh Babu. I hope he makes it to the next TANA. It's good to read about TANA in Washington Post.

Congratulations to all TANA organizers for working hard to make TANA 2007 a very memorable one. TANA 2007 will be remembered as Katragadda Krishna Prasad's TANA. He donated not just for TANA and Clinton Foundation for AIDS. Google him or "Katragadda Charities" and you will find about the things he does for his village and for his state. I wish him great success in his business as he is sure to share his profits for the welfare of his state in India.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sources for great looking and comfortable barstools

Over the years, I spent quite a lot of time in finding the perfect counter and barstools that are not just good looking but just as comfortable. Since most of my active life in house is concentrated in kitchen, I wanted to get ever lasting and very comfortable stools.

Since I am not a normal human like most, I went to extremes to find the best stools for our decor. In the process, I gained enough knowledge about them to admit I am more knowledgeable about bar stools than I am with software programming (14 years working experience).

First, I had to decide between wood or metal. For kitchen it was an easy choice for us with 2 kids below 7 years. Wood was the choice as it will be easy for kids to move it around and also it doesn't damage the hardwood floors. Then, had to decided whether to get swivel chairs or fixed ones. With all our friends having kids, we decided to go with fixed so they get less abused by kids. Had to go with models that have back so, I can relax my back on a long day.

So, my research started on Google. Initially, search was frustrating as several websites that had barstool in their domain name showed up. Most of those sites were selling cheap looking designs.

Frontgate had very nice collection from traditional to contemporary and if you can wait for their 20% off coupon, you might be getting the best deal on great chairs. Also, Horchow, Layla Grayce for traditional, Eurway for low priced contemporary are good places.

Among manufacturers, Artistica Metal, and French Heritage make very comfortable traditional chairs. Furniture Land South in NC state is the best source to buy most brands if you don't find the one's you like at Frontgate.

Frontgate probably gets lot of them made exclusively for them. So, it's very hard to find them any cheaper. For my kitchen I was able to find a model sold by Frontgate on clearance at a local store.

My Kitchen Stools

For my basement bar, I have my eyes set on this model at Frontgate and will wait to see it in their outlet before I own them.

Will try to own for my bar

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

NevoSL -More than an Universal Remote

Not many are familiar with this great remote as none of the boxed stores carry it and is exclusively available only through specialized home automation installers.

While my Home Theater was getting ready, I considered several remotes from Harmony to Universal MX300 to even the very expensive Phillips Pronto Models. I ruled out all of them as I wanted a remote that feels like a remote and looks incredibly cool. Then, I visited the Mecca of Remotes - Remote Central and soon discovered NevoSL. First I fell for the looks. Then, I started information gathering about this remote and soon decided that it's the remote for me. It's Wi-Fi capable with touch screen operation and button controls. I first tried to work with a local dealer but the price was insanely high. Almost $1.5K which included customizing the remote and programming all equipment in my theater.

The price definitely scared me but didn't let me rule out the remote as I decided to risk warranty and get from ebay. I paid less than $400 and I also purchased NevoLink for less than $100 which is needed for my setup as my equipment is located in the back of the theater. NevoSL can transmit the remote commands on WiFi to home network. NevoLink picks up those signals and fires IR to the equipment it's located near. If you know to setup wireless network on your laptop, you sure can figure this.

The remote setup and customization is a breeze and addictive. It has got unlimited potential for creative customization with the Nevo Studio that comes with it. Make sure you update it to the latest version. You can do this from the software menu.

If you are ever in the market for a perfect remote, take a serious look at this one. It's sure to exceed your expectations. If you have a Media center, you can customize the remote to show up images of your media collection and play them remotely.

If you already happen to have this remote please let me know how you like it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Washington Post's Local Explorer recently launched "Local Explorer" on their website which is a very useful tool for locals and those who want to be locals. It's local to Washington DC Metro area covering areas in Maryland, Northern Virginia and DC.

For anyone shopping for a house or looking to move to the area, it should be the go to place to research the area before you buy or rent a place. Local Explorer uses Google maps to show Places in the Area, Recent Home Sales, Schools, and Crime. You can click on point-marks to get more details of that place including Home sale information, School Reports, Crime Reports, etc.

It's also very helpful for people like me who already live here. I am able to look for restaurants, movie theaters, bus stops, daycares, etc around my area. Also, I can keep an eye on crime, home sales, etc around my area. After all, it makes me feel better when I see house prices going up while crime rate is coming down.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pepper Shrimp

Shrimp, Bacon, Fresh Green lemon, Lemon Pepper or any Pepper Mix found in McCormick type seasonings, Bell Peppers, Pam cooking spray, toothpick sticks.

Mix Pepper seasoning to your taste to shrimp. Cut Bell peppers to thin strips. Cut each slice of bacon to 3-4 pieces. Mix all these together in a bowl and squeeze fresh lemon to your taste and leave for 15-20 mins. To each shrimp, put one strip of bell pepper and roll the Bacon over it and insert the toothpick from head side of shrimp to tail side.

Spray Pam on non-stick oven double grill tray that can drain liquids to bottom tray as shown in picture. Put oven in Broil medium and let it heat for 2-3 mins. Now, put the tray in middle rack. Take the tray out in 2-3 mins and turn the shrimp over and place it back in oven for another 2-3 mins.

Ready to serve hot. Add more lemon if needed.

TIP: Don't let shrimp over cook. Believe me, 5-6 minutes in medium Broil can sometimes over cook the shrimp. So, keep an eye on the oven. Since this dish takes less than 10 minutes to cook, it's always better to cook it when the guests arrive.


(Picture Courtesy:

If you like, call it anything else!

I used green veggie bananas. Peel them well, slice them and marinate in a mixture of anything to suit your taste. I used a mixture of red chili, salt, little garam masala, amchur powder, besan flour(very little), rice flour(very little), lots of pepper and little water. Marinate for about 30 mins to 1-hr.

Deep fry them. You don't need a pan full of oil. Just enough oil to drown the bananas. If you prefer fry in small batches to use less oil. Fry them until well cooked. Spread them on Bounty paper napkin to remove any oil. For healthy eating, substitute deep frying with baking in oven at 375F for 20-30 minutes.

Now, fry green peppers, and curry leaves. Add some red chili powder and salt to taste. Add jeera powder. Add fried/baked banana, stir them and add finely chopped coriander leaves and add lemon juice to taste.

The appetizer is ready. Makes an excellent side with sambar or rasam.

Apollo Fish

Use Priya fish masala (The packet specifies the amount of fish that can be used) to marinate the fish (prefer Tilapia) for couple of hours. Marinate should be made of Priya fish masala, salt, red chili powder, jeera powder, ginger paste, lemon juice, and some ground pepper.

Semi deep fry the fish (For fat conscious diet oven it at 375F for 7 mins and then 3 mins in Broil Mode). Keep the fish aside and fry hot green peppers, and lots curry leaves. Add 1 or 2 onions that are cut thin and long and stir fry for a 5 mins. Taste deep fried (or oven baked) fish to check the taste of salt and chili and add more salt and chills as needed to your taste. If needed, add more Priya fish masala and some amchur powder to get a tangy taste to the appetizer.

Add finely chopped coriander leaves to the stir fry mix and immediately add deep fried fish. Turn very slowly to avoid splitting the fish. You don't have to fry much once the fish is added.

Apollo fish is ready to be enjoyed. Remember, a good presentation can help enhance the psychological taste of your dish. Enjoy it with a raspberry fruit wine.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Brunch Party with Friends

Most of us Indians living in US have a busy weekend schedule filled with parties. Fortunately, we choose a lifestyle that doesn't take up most of our weekends for parties. We believe they are just tiring and take away lot of fun time we can have with our kids. So, we restricted our friendship to few friends who are all very close. We maintain a yahoo group and a Google calendar to share information about our weekend activities and we all always unite for any fun activity for kids.

We cycle through get togethers that occur once in 6-7 weeks and each time a one family hosts. As most parties, we had our parties at late evening and they last through midnight. Kids enjoy them a lot as all of us have kids in same age groups. But we come home tired and then it gets even tougher to get the kids from car to their bed. Then, for most part of the next day we are all tired.

Well recently, one of our friend had to host a brunch get together as I was on call and couldn't make it for night party. To our surprise we all felt it was just the best way to have a get together with kids. We all enjoyed chatting, playing games, eating (my fav part), and more food. The food was the best part as we get to enjoy all the famous traditional Andhra breakfasts like Pongal, Pesarattu Upma, Idly, several chutneys, Poori with mutton and poori koora, shrimp vepudu, fruit salad, fruit cocktails, and Mysore coffee.

We covered the whole day meals and when we returned home in the evening, we are all fresh for the evening and ready to sit in our home theater to enjoy a movie.

Probably, all the next get together's at our place will either be brunch or early evening cookouts filled with light food and lots of games and talking sessions around the kitchen island!

Friday, June 8, 2007

GreenFront - Hidden Gem of a store for oriental rugs and high-end furniture?

I spent quite a bit of time to find the perfect store in DC Metro area for quality oriental rugs and furniture. I wouldn't rate Greenfront highly for furniture as most of the brands they sell don't make to my taste but their prices might surprise North Carolina shoppers. I personally prefer my furnitre to look very elegant and unique. I might find a occasional surprises from brands like Mirador or Habersham. What impressed me the most about Greenfront is their amazing prices and collection of Indian and Pakistani made rugs. Before I found em, I restricted buying my rugs either from Pottery Barn or Bloomingdales famous tent rug sale they have in first week of July each year. Greenfront rug prices can beat the best prices you can get from a rug store in India. I highly recommend this store to all my friends for rugs, furniture and accessories.

It's worth taking a look at Bloomingdales TENT rug sale as the have better collection and the price will be close to Greenfront prices if you take their 10% off coupon to use with their 75% off sale and also open a new credit account to get additional 15% off. In a nutshell, Bloomies has to have a 75% off sale + 10% off coupon + 15% new credit card discount to get their prices to Greenfront price range for almost similar rugs.

For furniture, I still like to stick with Bloomies and buy when they have their famous Friends and Family sale. Domain Home, Sage, Savage Mills stores, and Roche Bobois are some of the excellent stores in DC Metro area. I also like to stick with well known brands for furniture as I want them to last long. Baker furniture, French Heritage, FreeMarc, Henredon who make Ralph Lauren and Barbara Barry collections, and Artistica Metal are some good brands I would like to stay with. For barstools, counter chairs, etc, is your best bet when they have a sale and you also have their famous 20% off coupon to use.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Did you know Sony PS3 won several product of the year awards?

I got my son Surya PS3 as the gift for an exceptional report he got from his school principal. To be frank, I had my good reasons to buy it for him. I was looking forward to watching Casino Royal Blu-Ray on it in my newly finished Home Theater. Little did I know about the capabilities of this gaming machine (as I thought!). Within days of owning it, I realised I have a very powerful media center in it. It's built-in Wi-Fi means less cable to be able to connect to internet and Playstation store for several hundered free downloads of movie trailers and games. All in High Definition. Here is where Verizon FIOS rocks! With it's incredible download speeds I am able to get HD trailers downloaded in few minutes.

The bluetooth remote is another asset for me as my PS3 is located behind the sitting area. Then, I can almost insert any format flash memories to view digital pictures and save them on it.

Finally, what a blu-ray player it has! Movies start at lighting speed if you experienced Toshiba's HD-DVD players which take forever to load menu. With it's HDMI 1.3, it is all set for a very long time as it supports enough bandwidth to handel any lossless audio that exists now while outputting full 1080P.

If you are in the market for a media PC or a movie player take a serious look at this piece of marvelous engineering!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Should I Blu-Ray or HD-DVD?

I didn't ask myself this question before I grabbed a HD-DVD Player when it was on sale at Best Buy. I had to confess I jumped early on HD-DVD player because I was trying to 'lighten' my wallet of a few Best Buy giftcards I had in there. Also, couldn't pass on all the FREE HD-DVD 'crap'(hey! they are free!) movies that are thrown with it through mail-in-rebates. I mailed the rebate in late Jan and still waiting to receive them :-(

Soon after I hooked it to my TV, I noticed there are hardly any 'new' movies in HD-DVD format. While browsing Amazon I decided to check how the other side of HD from Blu-Ray looks and noticed Casino Royale was written all over it. That's the movie I skipped in theaters to watch it in my Home Theater. So, ended up owning PS3 as it's the cheapest way to do Blu-Ray and not to mention that it's an incredible game machine AND (not over yet), a media center. I'll more blog about it more in another post as it a machine that deserves it's own space.

If you are shopping for an HiDef disk player, take time to browse their catalogs at Amazon and decide on the one you think has most movies that interest you. If you can afford grab both. Sony's Columbia Pictures, Disney, Liongate, Fox exclusively support Blu-Ray while Universal HD-DVD exclusive while Warner and Paramount are neutral.

Been to Mirchi Cuisine yet?

I heard about how bad that food was at Mirchi Indian Cuisine, Ashburn, VA when they opened a year back. But as always, I wanted to confirm it myself. So last month I dared with my family to eat there and what a surprise. Never ate in a better Indian Restaurant in my 16 years in US. Maybe, I am jumping to conclusion to early! But well, the few dishes I tried were all very good. I ate Chilli Bajji, Egg Bajji, Lamb Fry, Kodi Vepudu, Fried rice, and noodles. Their Lamb Fry is the best and a close second is their Chilli Chicken cooked in Indo-Chinese Style.

They are a very good menu for South Indian tiffins and their Dosa looks huge! They also have all regular North Indian Style breads, Tandoori's, and a full variety menu for Veggies.

Why summer is so exciting?

If you are living like me in a place that gets below freezing in winter you know where I am going with this. The beauty of living in NorthEast or Midwest is the drastic changes you get to enjoy in weather around the year. Just when you get tired of hot summer the cool fall winds follow. And soon, you wake up to a cold snowy morning. Do you think you can enjoy a better morning than watching snow coming down when you are sipping a hot cup of coffee?

Well, after a cold dry winter nothing looks better than the arrival of warm Spring with blossoming trees. Walking down the street with kids and wife makes you feel like you started a new life all over again. You wish life stays like that forever. But, soon you realize you need a break from dealing with kids homeworks and rushy morning to get them to school in time to avoid pink slips. Just when we asked for it, we are into the summer break. No more homeworks for us (yes it's homework for parents as well), no more rushing in life. So, now begins the plans to make summer trips. Beaches, bays, movies, parks, etc. Summer brings lot's of smiles on kids face. Oh yeah! Smile on kids face! That is something. The more you can see them smile, the more interesting the life gets for us. Life is Interesting!

One of my life's dream is fullfilled!

I had one life long dream eluding me for years. I waited this long to get it right and then live with it for most of my life. Wondering what it could be? Well, I am enjoying it immensely with my friends and family now for over 2 months. A Home Theater!

A lot of time went into researching on how to put it together the best way possible with as little budget as possible without the expense of a professional. How do one go about doing such a project? Well, look no further than Avsforum's Dedicated Theater Design forum. Call it the Encyclopedia or for anything audio or video. I checked lot of galleries of forum members to get inspired. Finally, I got it done in a style of my own with some inspiration from several theaters I saw at AVS Forum. All commercial theaters have 2.35:1 screen and I believe so should the Home Theaters.

My theater gear:
Lutron Grafix Eye Dimmer control
12' wide 2.35:1 Da-Lite Cinema Contour High Power screen
Panasonic PT-AX100U 720p LCD Projector
Arcam FMJ | P7 7-channel Amplifier
Outlaw Audio Model 990 Preamp/Processor
Sony PS3 as Blu-Ray Player and Game and Entertainment Center - Undisputed King of my Theater
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD Player
Belkin PureAV PF60 Surge Protector
NevoSL WiFi Universal Remote
Natuzzi Theater Chairs