Monday, December 19, 2011

Jingle Bells Jingle Bells :)

Christmas is nearly here ! Like every year, we will be in Chennai for Christmas and before we leave our tree is all set up :). This year most of the decoration was done by D and S and a friend of D's who had come to play and this was the most interesting game I could think up! The lights are from The Hundred Hands collective that I had been to last month.


My co-sister makes the most amazing Christmas Fruit cakes, and for the last couple of years I have been wanting to try it out. But everytime I thought of the list of things to get ready for it I just couldn't bring up the enthusiasm and kept putting it off. This year though, I have generally been on a baking high, and thanks to some FB groups like Foodies in Bangalore, could also get information on where to find various items. So after looking up zillions of recipes and settling on the most approachable two from Archana's Kitchen and Kerala Plum Cake and lots of Q&A sessions with Anu chechi (Thanks a ton!!) Tadaaaaaaah !!


Here's the final recipe I used which has aspects from both the above, and the fundaas I used for my changes in italics :). I baked a second one so that I could tweak it a little bit more so what you're seeing is my second and hopefully better version!


1 cup raisins/sultanas
100 - 120 gm glazed cherries 

Candied peel (from one large orange) - you can add candied ginger also if you can procure
130 ml brandy
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (juice from 1 orange)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg powder (you can also add clove and ginger)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup demerara sugar

1/4 cup and 1/3 cup white sugar to make caramel (1st for soaking and 2nd while making the cake)
a pinch of salt
3 eggs



The original recipes call for a lot more types of dried fruits, but both for trying to simplify, and a laziness of trying to find everything I decided to stick with raisins and cherries. Eliminated the nuts as noone at home likes nutty cakes much. :).


Step 0: You can buy the candied peel if you know a good source. I didn't find it in time so made my own :). Heaved a big sigh of relief that my homemade peel added no touch of bitterness to the cake. 
Made a second cake and this time my peel was totally soooper :). The secret is to boil it in water and rinse it out a couple of times before simmering it in a sugar water solution, so the bitterness gets washed out.


Step 1: Chop up the raisins and cherries(make sure these are de-seeded) so they are all about the same size - I made the cherries about 1/8th each - the premise is that you should be able to cut up the cake without large sized fruit pieces getting in the way :). Pour in the brandy and leave to soak for a couple of days. Also pour in the orange juice into this mixture at the same time or a little later. 
The second time I made it, I reduced the brandy(from 150 to 100ml) and added caramel made from 1/4 cup sugar(how to is in Step 4) as this is supposed to take out the "brandy" taste a bit. 


Edit: 100 ml was too less :(. Until I try this again, I would suggest 130 ml, and leave out the caramel.

This can be just an overnight soak, but since I heard that the tradition is to leave it for a month (!) I thought I would add an extra day atleast :). This needs to be mixed up once in a while otherwise the top layer may become dry and only the bottom part get soaked in the liquid.

Step 2: Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Prepare a springform 9 inch pan and keep ready.

Step 3: Sieve the flour along with the baking powder, salt, spice mix and keep aside.

Step 4: To make caramel out of the sugar, heat in a thick bottomed vessel until it starts turning a nice brown colour. Then keep shaking vessel(no spoon) to stir it around a bit until the colour becomes a nice daaark brown. Take off the heat, and start adding water(equal amount as the sugar) a little at a time, putting back on heat to mix up the water and make the final caramel sauce/liquid. This is what gives the dark brown rich colour to the cake, especially in case your brown or demerara sugar is not so dark. Leave it to cool before mixing into batter.

Step 5: Cream the butter and sugar together, and then add the eggs one by one, mixing well after each.
One recipe called for 5 eggs, another for 2. I have a fear of cakes becoming too "eggy" so I settled for 3 and this worked out pretty ok.

Step 6: Add the flour mix little at a time and mix well. 

Step 7: Filter the soaked dry fruits, add 2-3 table-spoons of flour and mix it up with this. This step is important so that the fruits don't settle down to the bottom of the cake (I was so thrilled that this worked as expected :) !).

Step 8: Stir the dry fruits into the flour mixture until mixed well. 

Step 9: Pour into pan and bake for about 1 hr 10 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the centre to check. Leave to cool and then cut.

Optional Step 10: The cake can also be periodically soaked with more brandy to increase the "richness" hic :) ! For the record I am not doing this, atleast unless I find it's gone dry within a couple of days ;).


I found that this cake does taste better with time, as suggested by the veterans. Initially I felt the raisins tasted a bit "brandied" but this sort of settled down and probably got absorbed by other parts of the cake, and I am liking it much better after 2 days!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Chocolate Fudge Brownies !

My last couple of baking attempts ended a bit sadly - one was an apple cinnamon cake, and another was an orange chiffon cake - the flavouring was decent but somehow didn't taste quite "right" both times :(.

So this time I set out to make an old favourite - the brownie, but decided to try a new recipe that uses olive oil - these were Double Fudge Olive Oil Brownies :). Well I pretty much went according to the recipe in the link, wasn't sure whether to powder the sugar so left it as is (I will always take the lazy option ;)). Though they turned out on the sweeeet side, I don't mind that so much as the size of a portion is small enough for the sweetness to not be overwhelming.


There's my lovely orange wall in the background - looking much less orange here though don't know why. And the more food photography I see online, the more I realize how bad I am at it, but anyway just to give an idea of what they looked like, and a reminder for me cos they're gone already!!

I am finding more and more that the ingredients to be used for most baking recipes (except for the standard sponge cake, chocolate cake type) are not always easily available in all stores and trying to substitute doesn't always work well. So just in case anyone is interested in trying this recipe, I thought I should mention that I used the Selbourne/Chuckles Choco slab available at most Nilgiris Outlets and also choco chips from the same company. The Olive Oil that I used is what I use for much of my cooking which is Leonardo Olive Pomace Oil.

Added note: As I am posting this daaays after actually writing it, I have since also found the Morde chocolate slab which is available in many places like MK Ahmed stores.

My next attempt will be a Christmas Plum cake which I'm trying for the first time, so wish me luck :) !

Another note: I have already finished this, and Yay it came out ok, recipe coming soon.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Boy oh Boy :)

Just when you begin thinking of yourself as an "experienced" parent, you are reminded that there are many things left to learn :). Some learnings while raising S:

Turning over at night to find something poking into your side - could be anything from a car to a drumstick :) .. a big change from teddy bears or dolls !

I have learnt from his observation that car wheel caps also have the symbol of the company - as my 3.5 year old points out immediately that the Swift parked near home has one wheel with a Toyota symbol on it which is "not correct"!!

After wondering at 5 years if D was old enough to have her own bath, S now wants to start having his bath at less than 4 years old :) - thanks to the example set by his sister of course! I know it's not going to really accomplish any cleaning but WTH it's worth it to just see him try to reach his back ;).

That in Calvin style the toilet might be flushed while still sitting on it (thankfully not inside the closet and having a bath in it yet ;)!)

And though I was keeping my fingers crossed for his school Parents Day this year after last year's experience, he completely surprized us all by remembering and performing all the steps for "Nanna Re" :).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gramothsava Nov 2011

... was an event at D's school which was on the same day as the flea market (but of course ;)), but it was in the afternoon and so I was able to make it for both events, and was I thankful !

The point of the occasion was to provide a village experience to the children with different areas of the school made up to look like different areas of the village - from the village fair to street performances to folk dances and rangoli competitions. Here is a mostly pictorial take on it:


All dressed and ready to go :).


At the Entrance - some beautifully made up scarecrows!


Amma and Appa holding our breath for the duration of the ride with no seatbelts (how would you find those at a village fair?) D sitting in background on the comfortable seat, but of course S wanted "only" the horse!


Hubby showing off those "lagori" skills :)


What striking colours!


Wonderful performances by the street artists


Lovely view of the sunset towards the end of the evening

There was a promised fireworks performance post 7 pm but by then we started feeling very cold and tired and after making a last stop at the Channapatna toy stall (can we ever have enough of those!) we headed back home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No. 100 :)

After a false alarm a couple of weeks back when I was thrilled to have reached this milestone, and then realizing I had a few drafts hiding out there, here I am for real :).

In the spirit of recycling, I was thrilled to visit the Second to None Flea Market on Nov 12th. I had been really looking forward to it, and in spite of a zillion other things turning up which HAD to be on the exact same day, I held on and managed to make it :). Some of the lovely items I picked up:


That's an "upcycled" wine bottle and a lovely papermache one too



A lovely block-printed stole that I couldn't resist!

Also picked up a couple of lovely cloth bags by A Hundred Hands who are also holding their own Collective between Nov 23rd - 27th which I'm really hoping to make it to.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Book Review - I'm not Twenty Four

I was recently involved in a parent volunteering exercise at D's school which involved grading the book reviews done by 10th Std students. Little did I know that I would be moaning and groaning over my own review within a few weeks of being the all powerful examiner ;).

First of all, a big thanks to BlogAdda for sending me this book through their book review program. I felt really thrilled to be chosen, and received the book at my doorstep soon after getting their first mail intimation. Here's the vibrant looking book cover:


The introduction of the book says:
"There are two types of stories. One, where you sit up and say ‘this is so me.’ Second, when a story takes you to a world you would hardly believe actually exists. This story is the latter. Of a Delhi girl who lands in a village in the middle of nowhere."


Although the world as described by the author definitely seems unreal in many ways, there are lots of instances in the books that most readers would identify with and that definitely makes the book a nice read. All of us would tend to nod our head at hearing about the guy who pours a litre of mustard oil on his head for grooming, or about the training program at the starting of a new job :).



The author Sachin Garg has an easy writing style which we can easily identify with, and the book is written in the first person. That itself makes it unusual - for a male author to write in a female voice :). He has done a good characterization of Saumya, and of the people she is surrounded by in the book. 


The book starts off sounding like a typical chick-flick but reveals many layers as you keep reading on. The protagonist Saumya is a typical Delhi girl who loves her malls, short skirts and friends. One of her foremost thoughts on getting a job is to lose that last bit of weight and look good in her formal attire :). Much to her surprize her first posting is in a small village in Northern Karnataka. Her first reactions on hearing of her posting and how she deals with this turnaround in her way of life form the rest of the book.

She meets people like Malappa, a smart colleague, when she learns that first impressions resulting from on-the-surface details like having an accent don't mean everything. She experiences the uncertainties that come out having a unisexual name, meets the local populace of the village who live in such difficult circumstances as compared to herself, and we wonder if this seemingly shallow city girl will find the strength to deal with the new challenges her work life seems to throw at her at every turn.

At a point when she has to decide whether to continue in her new job, she meets Shubhro who is different from anyone she has ever known before. On the surface he seems to be like any other "hippie" character, but does he have another hidden side? Does he change her viewpoint? Does she continue in her job? Read the book to know the rest of her journey !

On the whole, I would definitely recommend this book as a good example of contemporary Indian writing. The author does a good job of mixing fiction with real-life-like experiences and uses scenes from our villages and corporate townships that many of us may have experienced at some time or the other.

Sachin is an Engineer from Delhi College of Engineering (DCE) and did his MBA from MDI, Gurgaon. Apart from books, he has a keen interest in strength training activities and travelling. In 2011, he quit his day job to start his own venture in print media.


This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Pratham Books - BSR

I have been wanting to write about Pratham Books, which is an NGO doing some wonderful work in promoting reading among children. I waited a while as I wanted to pick up the books and get a personal idea before writing about it :).

First here's the information given at Blogadda:

Activity: Pratham Books was set up in 2004, as part of the Read India movement, a nation- wide campaign to promote reading among children. Pratham Books is a not-for-profit organization that publishes quality books for children in multiple Indian languages. Our mission is to see "a book in every child's hand" and democratize the joy of reading.

In the last 6 years we have published over 200 titles in upto 11 languages and have spread the joy of reading to over 12 million children!
Details: Read about our why we are using Creative Commons here: http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/24780
Support: reading, literacy, education, kidlit, children's literature, publishing
Note: We have put a lot of our content under the Creative Commons framework and we have begun to see success with this. Which means that we make our stories and illustrations available under an open license model and the larger community can then repurpose our content to create something completely new and thus contribute to the cause of a book in every child's hand. Our books have been adapted by our community into a range of  new creations from audio and Braille books for the print-impaired, to iPad and iPhone applications - all to reach every child in India.

We are hoping that many more people can come forward and help translate/remix/re-purpose/distribute our Creative Commons licensed content.
This post is a part of BlogAdda's Bloggers Social Responsibility (BSR) initiative. I am exercising my BSR. You can too with three simple steps. Visit http://www.blogadda.com/bsr/  and support the NGO's.

And here's my personal take:

This amazing initiative brings out books for as low as Rs. 10 and gives so much variety at prices like Rs. 20, 25 that I sat down on a stool and looked through the collection at Sapna Book House in Jayanagar for quite a while before "settling" for some of them. And there were still so many books left in the pile I'll definitely have to go back many more times to actually make it through all of them :). Here are photos of the books I picked up to give you an idea.

For the 3-6 years category:


For the 7-10 years category:


For Introduction to Reading - these are books with short and simple sentences and I couldn't resist  preparing for S to start out on the reading journey :) !!



Saturday, November 05, 2011

Back to the basics :)

This one is dedicated to D & S, after all the off-topic posts I seem to have been doing lately :).

D is growing into such a young lady. The other day I put out her clothes - a white slightly frilly shirt with a denim skirt. At first she said "Shirt and skirt! Isn't that funny?", then after wearing "Oh, I look like I'm going to Office!!". Much amused at the things children seem to pick up from watching TV :). And in the couple of weeks since this happened, I've rearranged the cupboards so she can take out her own clothes and wear what she wants - interesting choices :).

She has now started talking a few words in Tamil - usually single word responses to a question of mine in the same language.. probably picking up on my feeling bad that both the kids talk only in English.. she's very perceptive that way, always has been! She has become such a responsible child, does all her getting ready for school herself. Her grandparents (my parents-in-law) have just come to visit and are very impressed :). I am of course taking most of the credit ;).

S, oh my God, what do I say about this guy. He's a total salesman in the making, no already made, since the day he started communicating actually ;). Ask him a question, and he'll never say "I don't know!". He had a submarine (a word he didn't know yet) on his T-shirt the other day and when someone asked him what it was, he said "Only when I am a grown up, I will know what that is."

He's at that exasperating stage when he wants to contest anything I want him to do, from drinking his milk, to eating his food, to going to sleep (naptimes slowly becoming a no-go unless I lie down with him). Atleast I'm hoping it's a stage and trying to work through it all holding on to my patience the best I can :(. On the bright side, he's a trooper about eating his food himself - hoping to make him get used to it as soon as possible, so I can have more time to myself ;). This is one of those things where it definitely helps to have an older sibling's example!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Still Green :)

Here's a kitchen garden and composting update !

 My tiny saplings are now well-grown plants :). Though I know tomato is one of the easiest plants to grow, it is still a thrill to see so many tomatoes on the plants. Waiting eagerly for them to become a bit redder so they can be harvested. Lots of rasam and tomato chutneys in my future!

 The brinjal plants had some problems with worms on the leaves, but are doing well, and today we made sambhar with my first harvest :).
My first batch of nearly done compost - this is sieved and just about ready to use. Apparently the most brilliant thing to do is to put some earthworms in it and leave them in for a week to 10 days. I'm just bracing myself for this, as I have no excuses to NOT do it (feeling squeamish is not an excuse ;)) - have the earthworms in my pots/ground anyway and it would be crazy to not try it out. I have access to this wealth of information from so many veterans out there - thank you Facebook!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Krya Review

I have just started using this eco-friendly organic detergent called "Krya" - made out of soapberries. Ever since I jumped into the composting scene, I have wanted more and more to try green options for things like household cleaning activities (their site also has a great document about DIY household cleaners :)).

So here are my first impressions:

1. The quantity of the powder needed (1 tbsp = 10g) is much lesser than what we would use for any other powder like Surf Excel Washing Machine powder(60g). So the 400 gm pack should ideally last for 40 washes which seems a good deal for Rs. 290 :). I wondered if the amount is too less for a full 5 kg wash but seems to do fine :).

2. The cloth pouch provided is very handy for use in the washing machine. I was a bit concerned if it would be too flimsy or would open up too easily, but this is surely not the case.

3. Above all, the clothes get very effectively cleaned :). I should not have been doubtful about this since soapberries are older than detergent powders ;), but still there's always that hesitation factor for a new product. Now, the hesitation is all gone!
I have not yet tried with very badly soiled clothes, but it is already advised to soak clothes like these for a little while before running them in the machine. Overall I felt the clothes came out feeling softer than they do with my usual detergent, and I felt no strong odour that I would need to put an additional softening/perfuming agent for.

Great going Preethi and Srinivas - looking forward to the rest of your product list too !!

Click here to order Krya online.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cookies - my first go!

In my quest for a healthy baking recipe, I came across this very interesting looking Whole Wheat Cookie Recipe a little while ago and knew I had to try it out!


It's a Whole Wheat Oats Chocolate Chip Cookie and I was pretty happy with the results of my first try! Still needs a bit of tweaking - for e.g. I hardly had the patience to make 1 tbsp portions of dough for each cookie, but that would obviously make them smaller and therefore reduce the baking time to 12-15 minutes as mentioned in the recipe. As I made them slightly larger I had to keep them in for 20 minutes to get them to  this look. Another thing I sometimes have a problem with is that no recipe tells you the simple stuff - like which level of the oven you should put the tray in - I tried the first time with 2 trays, and the bottom one was very un-done and had to be put in again for a while. Putting just one tray in at a time (on the top level) limits the number of cookies I can make at one go (I have a small oven) so I have to do it multiple times to get through the quantity given in the recipe.

I was very happy with the ingredients (will try without the baking soda also to see how that changes things - that's one of my least favourite ingredients!) - not too much butter and sugar, LOTS of oats and  whole wheat (chocolate chips I didn't use as much as in the recipe but they do add a nice touch ;)) - need to find more recipes like this one !

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dove Says Hello !

I got an email through Indiblogger about a free gift hamper from Dove with products from their new Nourishing Oil Care Range. I clicked the given link, which asked to login to Indiblogger and then said "You will receive the hamper shortly". Did not expect anything to actually happen, but surprize surprize I received it yesterday!



If anyone of you is interested, and you are a member of Indiblogger, go to:

http://www.indiblogger.in/dove-says-hello.php

It seems to be really as easy as that! No strings attached, you don't have to review it, blog about it, publicize it ;). I'm only writing about it because I think my blogger friends could make use of it if they want to. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Say that again!

This morning while getting S ready for school:

I'm standing in front of a full-length mirror combing my hair. S who doesn't want to comb his hair before school is angry with me because I'm trying to coax him into it.

Picture a 3 year old, about 1/3rd my size, standing in between me and the mirror and saying:
"Then I won't let you see the mirror!"

So mood uplifting children can be at the beginning of a day :).

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Kerala - contd.


Hoped to do this immediately after the first part, but laziness intervened ;).

In my last post, I forgot to mention an amazing part of Day 2 - we watched a Kalaripayattu performance at a small theatre - it was the colosseum kind where you sit in high seats and look down on a central space. I was almost expecting lions and tigers and then this group of boys/men just leave you open-mouthed with their agility and amazing moves. Was trying to add a video as I didn't take any photos there, but blogger not co-operating right now, let me try to add that a little later.


Day 3 - The resort was offering a jungle jeep safari organized by Gavi Eco Tourism, and we decided to take it up though it was an early morning start. First a hitch - we shared the jeep with another family who arrived at 5:55 for a 5:30 am start :(. Our poor jeep driver who was thrilled to see us punctually there, was a bit taken aback at having the earliest and the latest families together I guess! I felt really guilty at rushing everyone out of the room, to make it on time, and then to sit and wait like idiots for nearly half an hour before starting off !! Ok now that rant is out of my system, let me get to the good part :). We travelled in an open jeep(co-o-o-old!) to Gavi which is about 40 kms away from the resort. Once you get there, they give you breakfast etc and set you up with a guide. We were lucky to get this marvellous gentleman called Ayyadurai who took us first on a "short" trek - this was because we had children along and were not too keen on going to the leech ridden thicker jungle zones.  The supposed to be one-hour trek took us first through the scenic route - up a mountain and to a viewpoint from where we could see the Sabarimala hills, and included so many other impromptu stops like visiting a cardamom factory that we made it back just a little before lunchtime!

After lunch we went on a boat ride, where our guide (very versatile!) rowed the boat and took us across the lake to this beautiful waterfall, such a wonderfully scenic spot. Then back for tea, and 40 kms back in the jeep to the resort.

For the benefit of someone who might go to Thekkady and attempt the same Gavi Safari, some stuff which was not apparent to us but you should be prepared for:
  1. It is quite cold - even though it's Kerala, it's a hill station and esp early mornings and late evenings are quite chill. If you want to attempt something like this jeep safari, definitely carry some warm clothing.
  2. Only the to and fro to Gavi is by the jeep. As it was a "Jeep" safari my idea was that we would be spending most of the time in the jeep, so that was my level of preparation. We managed to make do, but if the itinerary was clearer would have done better! There is an option of doing a further drive in the jeep once you reach there but the foot-trek is the preferred way to go :).
  3. If you are planning to trek, wear closed shoes. They even give you extra leech socks that you can put on over your shoes. Again - for young children no socks are available, so wear well covered shoes if you plan to trek.
Day 4 - As expected we were kind of flat from the previous day, so decided to chill out in the resort. Kids had been asking for the pool since the day we arrived, so today was the day for that. And of course some trampoline fun too :). We did a little shopping in the afternoon (how can you visit Thekkady without checking out the spices - I fell in love and bought loads of vanilla, now have to think of what all I can make with it ;)). Also managed to throw in a couple of massages for hubby and me in the Ayurveda centre.

Day 5 - Made an early start and drove 8.5 hrs to reach Bangalore by early evening ! Even though the vacation was lovely, it feels great to be back home :) And now it's back to school time already tomorrow!!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Kerala - Ah!


Back from a whirlwind vacation which started off with visiting relatives - my grand-uncle and family in Sreerangam, Hubby's relatives in Kochi and Trivandrum and then finally relaxing in Thekkady for the last 4 days - and yes that means a LOT of driving, all by hubby, with navigation by yours truly :).

And I have to elaborate first of all about the navigation - I really mean it in the Amazing Race style of sitting on the backseat and saying turn left, right and so on! I was completely awe-struck by the use of Google maps on the iPad with 3G. Except for some local gyaan on state of roads and traffic and so on, we never had to ask the way even to find our hotels in all the places we stayed in!


I realized that 4 days at a resort is a good time-frame especially when kids are around (we've usually done 3).. plus with all the driving around that we did, we pretty much didn't want to do any walking/looking around the first day though we reached in the afternoon.


Day 1 - Chilling in the room, checking out the local resort activities like Housie.. won back the price of our tickets between D and me so pretty happy with that :).

Day 2 - We came across a local guide by chance while reaching the resort, so decided to try out the sights.  Did the "standard" elephant ride - this was mainly for S's sake as our last memory of our elephant ride in Munnar was not so pleasant (nothing drastic, just a dislike of the feel of the elephant's moving backbone along with feeling sorry for the poor fellow). So now that's done, and no more until the kids grow up and want to take one on their own maybe :).


Also visited a spice plantation near the elephant park - came across interesting facts like the number of lines on the petal of the flower of the cardamom plant is equal to the number of pods in the cardamom :). First time for me to see a cardamom plant too!








Yet another amazing experience was getting to see a grape farm - this was across the border (which is pretty close by) into Tamilnadu and downhill from Thekkady. Felt on this vacation for the first time that I was such a "city-dweller" but it was worth it as it only added more excitement and wonder :).



Most of the afternoon was spent in getting tickets for and going for a 2 hour boat ride on Periyar Lake. This is the same lake where there was a boating accident about 2 years back, but they seem to have put railings and safeguards in place since then and except for the fact that the lifejackets provided seem bedraggled and in fact none were provided for the children, it was a nice and picturesque experience.

If you are going with children I would advocate the 1 hour ride, as the absence of seeing animals during long stretches of time becomes a bit of a drag, especially when you have loud interrogations of "When are we getting back, this is so boring, there are no animals!" in the background ;). The animals are in fact clearer in my photos than to the naked eye thanks to the wonderful zoom of my Nikon S9100 (and of course my steady hand, but i'm not taking all the credit ;)).



As usual my vacation post gets longer and longer ;).. and I'm tired of uploading photos for the day, so rest in Part 2 coming soon!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Judgmental? Me?...

I have always been the "non-advice giving" type.. Having been on the receiving side of all the usual "No baby yet?", "No second one yet?" and of course all the in-between stuff on how to raise your child (!) I always hold myself back from telling anyone what to do in situations unless explicitly asked about it!

But during my recent vacation I found myself sitting in judgement a wee bit (ok maybe quite a lot) on other parents in the resort. Still no advice of course, but LOTS of judgement :). Maybe I feel 6+ years as a parent has made me wise or maybe I do pride myself just a little on some parenting philosophies, but whatever the reason, it really bothers me that in the name of being "nice" or not wounding the confidence of the child, this child can get away with nearly any kind of behaviour in a public place.

In one family I found that when the child knocked down a glass, there was not even a gentle mention of "Oh you've knocked it down!". Instead the immediate reaction seemed to be "Oh don't worry someone will clean it up!". This without even an actual request to the staff to do the actual cleaning, they were supposed to just seamlessly do it because that was their function! I was quite horrified because I would have definitely added a bit to the child about being careful, in fact on our table we keep pushing the glasses inside if they are on the edge (are we completely crazy?!). Ok this was not really an example of bad behaviour on the part of the child, only on the part of the parents(!). But so many other instances of kids running around, knocking others chairs, getting in the way and generally being annoying, with the parents seemingly turning a blind eye. Not sure if they were embarassed to react, or if this is the way the children are brought up generally!!

While I am on a rant anyway, the other thing that really gets to me is kids being overweight/obese at a young age. I know in many families the focus is on "healthy looking", and that is the parents' choice as long as the child is healthy and active, but when I see kids actually labouring to move around I think someone should be doing a better job of watching out! This is why I literally bristle if anyone tells me my kids are thin - I would not have it any other way!! With my personal experience of being "thin" for most of my early life, I still had to deal with all the post-pregnancy weight/tummy fat and body image issues, and I can not even imagine already starting off on the wrong side of this at the age of <5 years!!

And I'm done for the day! Actual vacation post coming up soon, I'm still in trying to straighten out the house mode, hope you all are having lovely holidays/festive times at home :).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Holiday time!

September has been a very slow month for me on the blog mainly because of some work going on at my home. Even though it involved only a "little" woodwork and painting of the interiors - it seems to have evolved into this large exercise with me learning a lot about the nitty-gritties of carpentry/woodwork/polishing/painting :). And thanks to this, I hardly spend any time online, or have the enthusiasm to blog about anything except for this topic!

We started with grand ideas of taking it 2 rooms at a time so we could keep the rest of the house free and usable, but when there are 3 separate gangs of workmen - carpenters, polishers, painters - one of them would have finished the given 2 rooms and moved on to the next lot, while the others would have just started on the aforementioned 2 rooms - and where does that leave all of us? Scrounging for a place to sit in our own house :(. Yes it was pretty bad especially this last week when everyone is trying to finish up and leave. Did not realize the polishing was such an elaborate and polluting exercise or would have gone for a ready-to-use option such as veneer, but that's just a learning for another time (which definitely won't be anytime soon!).

We're setting off on a holiday in a couple of days, and I have no clue how to start preparing for that with my mind still so full of the work details! Anyway I better get to it soon, otherwise it'll be time to leave and I won't have anything packed :O !! So this is bye from me until October with a more cheerful post to follow on our vacation :).

Happy Navaratri / Dussehra everyone!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Going Green!!

In years past, all the hoop-la about Green Activism has not always inspired me to go out of my way to join the bandwagon. In fact the holier-than-thou attitude displayed by some used to only put my back up and not feel like making any effort at all! Along the way, we tried to do our little bit by installing solar heaters when we built our house, setting up an elaborate rain water harvesting mechanism, and trying to maintain a small garden and potted plants wherever possible(for which the rainwater helps nearly 7-8 months of the year!). We have also always tried to get our children to follow the rules of saving electricity and water (which of course usually consists of -"Oh why have you left that light on again?" and going and switching it off ourselves :)!). But most of this stuff was not "going green" for the sake of it, it just seemed appropriate and fit into the scheme of things at that point of time!

Switch to the Present: It was World Kitchen Garden Day on Aug 28th(Sunday) and our local enthusiasts had organized an event aptly called "Oota from your Thota" (Food from your garden) at BTM Layout. The venue was very close to where I stay and I thought this was definitely a time to get past the excuses and sow the seeds for my kitchen garden! I managed to get my hands on a few saplings, and also picked up some packets of seeds to get into full steam once I have my terrace in shape. I am starting with Tomato, Brinjal and a wonderful Beans plant which already has some flowers/beans sprouting from it!


The tomato and brinjal have now been transplanted to bigger pots and are doing pretty well (read: I haven't managed to kill them yet!).
The other life-changer at this event was the presence of Daily Dump which is an organization I've been following for a very long time on Facebook and on their site. It was a bit daunting to get into the big bad world of composting, but when I actually connected with them, and heard about the process more in detail, my enthusiasm kicked in completely. I gave them my details as they didn't have any more of their Khambhas(pic below) left over.
Kudos to them for promptly following up the next day and delivering the apparatus by Monday evening itself - so I'm now 2 weeks into home composting and completely loving how empowered I feel about lessening my home waste going to the landfills and clogging our environment. I would love to contribute more to this cause and thought I should start right here on my blog :). I'm definitely no big expert on this process so no point in posting any big dos/donts - you can find most information on their site in detail, but I felt that I  should try to dispel some of the big fears most people (including me) have about composting which daunts us from starting out on it.
  1. Composting is a smelly affair: No, not at all! This was definitely a big question for me as I'm paranoid about stuff like tying up wet waste before disposal so it doesn't smell the next day. It depends on the composition of your waste to an extent, but you can initially keep out cooked or non-vegetarian food and start with vegetable waste to see how it goes before starting to add all your wet waste to your compost. My experience has been that if you stir it often enough so it has adequate air, the smell is not very annoying at all. You can also spray organic lemon sprays or homemade concoctions if you feel the smell is too strong for you, but I have not got to this stage yet and I have started putting cooked waste in my composter already. Moreover the Khambhas as provided by Daily Dump are closed units so not like an open Compost pile which may be more difficult to maintain.
  2. Composting takes up a lot of your time: Again, you would be surprized at how little time it takes. It is adequate to stir the pile once in 3 days, so on other days you would hardly take a minute to dump in your waste and close the lid. Even on days when you stir the pile it would only take about 5 minutes. On some days you can expect some maintenance activities like moving half-done compost to a separate pot which would take a bit more time - but these are once in a month activities. Of course to get to the stage where the waste turns into compost takes 2-3 months, but daily maintenance is more to do with intent than making time!
  3. Composting needs a lot of tools/apparatus: Jump across to the Daily Dump website - the main thing is the Khambha that is the set of 3 pots, which you would just place somewhere and not be handling all that much afterwards. Other than that you just need something to stir the pile, you can even use gloves and stir with your hands if not too queasy - I enjoy doing that as it's the best way to really stir it well :). A couple of additives like an accelerator to help the composting process, neem powder to contain insects and maggots - these are once in a week items and not necessary for daily use. And that's all - you're set!
It's a great way to add your small contribution, and if you have plants or a garden at home you get wonderful compost that you can use instead of looking around for organic/non-chemical stuff. So yes, I'm apparently turning into one of "those" Green holier-than-thou-ers now, and weirdly enough - it feels GREAT !!! :) Watch out - I might be telling you next about how to recycle/reuse your kitchen vessel washing water ;).

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Ugly Duckling

We picked up this book at a shop recently - D saw it and asked for it and I usually don't say no to buying books :). D read through it a couple of times and then it's joined the piles of her other books to be read again when she suddenly remembers it. S on the other hand was fascinated by it, and made me read it again and again (and yet again :)), and everytime I read this book I was sent off on this trail of thought.

This was such a common book/story when we were growing up - I am sure nearly every child would have read it or heard it at one time or the other. And neither we nor our parents saw any major connotations to it. But as a parent of today, I saw hidden meanings in every page, kept wondering if it was appropriate, kept thinking about the impressions it creates -  First of all the title itself has the word "Ugly" which we would tell our children is a no-no to use in front of other people. In the copy I had, every time they referred to the duckling, they didn't forget to use the prefix too - The ugly duckling did this, the ugly duckling did that! The duckling is not liked by anyone as long as it is ugly. Once it transforms into a swan, it immediately finds happiness with others like itself. Isn't this giving the impression that only beautiful people get their due?

I have decided that I am over-thinking it and have consigned these thoughts to the back of my mind, but it was still so irritating to me. Why have we managed to make even one of the simplest and most relaxing aspects of parenting like reading a bedtime story into such a complicated exercise?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Then and Now


I seem to have missed a Thursday Challenge theme of "Blue" so just posting it anyway :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Return Gift....

... for Grown-ups :). This is what I explained to D & S about the "Tambulam" that we got when we went to attend a wedding reception. They were not very convinced even after I showed them the contents (coconut, betel leaf etc - which are of no relevance to them) and still insisted on lugging around the bags. Especially S, who actually kept a tight grip on his all the way on the long car ride back.

Even this morning, when he noticed both bags kept together, he asked me "Which is mine, and which is D's?" very upset that I had mixed them up !!

And atlast I understood how the return gift tradition might have started off - after all when it's steeped in our very roots, how can we expect children to not expect the same ;o !!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thursday Challenge - 3

The topic is  "FRIENDS" (Gatherings, Parties, Time Together, Sharing,...)




These Chimpanzees were one of the highlights of the Singapore Zoo for me :)

Posted for Thursday Challenge

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Effective Advertising..!

I've had many experiences of D asking for something she saw on TV, like after seeing the earlier set of Garnier ads, she was so enamoured with their "Long & Strong" shampoo, and was not even satisfied when I got her the Garnier Kids Shampoo instead :).

But this was not one I thought would impact her - We were both waiting for a youtube video to load, which as it happens sometimes was taking quite a while. So while seeing all the reload circling icons:

D: Amma, Looks like you have only 3G, why don't you get Reliance 3G?
!!!!!!!

I think I should call this series "Speechless!" Seem to be so many of these moments nowadays :).

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Three R's

Reading , wRiting and Recitation - isn't that how we learnt it? Started writing this post and remembered the catch-phrase :).

Recitation was out of the way before the weekend - D had a prelim competition in school (my last post) and she was selected for the finals. So I'm not getting out of making those props :).

On to Reading - The most recent update about S is that he's so much into "reading a book" thanks to seeing older sis do a lot of it (that example thing working for good habits sometimes :)!). So I decided it's time I started the bedtime story ritual - feeling guilty that I probably started earlier with D, but better late than never ! What is it with kids and wanting to read the same book/see the same movie over and over and over again :) !!! I know "The Crunching Munching Caterpillar" by heart now :). So it goes - I read the book, D reads the book for S once more if she's still awake, and S reads the book "on his own" once again before we actually get to the sleeping bit.

And the Writing - We had a relaxed long weekend with one big highlight being that S got Homework for the first time !! This usually happens at 3.5 years so I was expecting it sometime soon, but my memories of D when first starting her homework - it took weeks of tug-of-war before we got around to a schedule where she willingly wanted to sit and do it - were a bit daunting. To see her now, no-one would realize - she is so good with doing it herself only asking me for help for tough stuff or with some crafty work that she can't handle herself.

So obviously I was sighing a bit thinking of having that experience all over again. And hoping hard that the example set by D would be of some use to nudge S in the right direction, but you can never predict those things as all parents know!

V Aunty is S's teacher at school whom he's very fond of, so every day I hear something that V Aunty told him, or something V Aunty did and so on. So when we opened the notebook to start, the first thing S said was:
"V Aunty said to Enjoy the dots!"
Me at first wondering if this is some new principle of Montessori to love/enjoy your work so get the kids to relate to it better, then it strikes me - his homework was to "Join" the dots !! Well we certainly enjoyed them after that :).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mother Birds...

I have been thinking about how wonderful it is that they are able to push their chicks out of the nest with complete confidence that they WILL be able to fly :). I know it's probably not as violent as all that, but I'm sure the moms have quite a big job to convince those little babies that they are not going to fall to the ground :). Wish I could let go as easily as that...

I have mentioned on my blog before about how weird it feels to not Know what D is upto during the hours she is at school, atleast until she comes back in the afternoon and tells me a little about it. Last week she had a program at school where she was a Mother Bird in a play on Environmental Awareness. (the same one I mentioned in Girls and...)  I did get most of the details from her about who's acting, what lines she was saying and even about the set and the props and so on, but it was the first time that she had "performed" in something and I was not in the audience !! Thankfully the school is very prompt in posting photos of such things, so atleast I got a visual idea (still hoping for a video to come along ;)) of what happened that day.

Just when I had got over last week's happenings, I find that D has a recitation competition with the preliminary round today, with a final later in the month for those who are chosen. Last evening, we chose a rhyme (from Karadi Rhymes by Usha Uthup which I love), she learnt her lines, hubby helped her with the delivery, and she was all set. Of course the first thing she said at 6 a.m. when she woke up was - "I don't want to go for recitation!"). I did my Tiger Mom act (slightly softened one as befits the time of the day) and she also slowly built up her enthusiasm as she realized that she remembered her lines pretty well :).

This time the feeling of missing out for me is even more, because we helped her prepare for it at home, unlike the play where I really only was involved in providing the costume.  It doesn't really matter to me if she's selected for the final round. I just want her to have a positive and fun experience, gain confidence in her abilities so she wants to participate in things more, and I'm irritated I can't be there to watch her spread her wings and FLY !!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When do they grow?

I have been having this problem a lot lately.. I see a dress - in the shop or something that has been gifted to us, and I think "Oh that's too big for him!". Like today for instance S was supposed to go to school in traditional clothing, as they are celebrating Varalakshmi Puja in advance at school today. I had a kurta that was a gift from my mom-in-law a couple of months back which had seemed "Very large" when I first saw it. I had decided to just send him in his normal clothes but just thought at the last minute to check the size. Even when I lay my eyes on the dress, it seemed it would be too big/long for him. But when I called him and checked, I found the length only slightly longer than the exact size, in fact very manageable!! This is what he looked like:



I have had this feeling even when going to shops to buy them clothes - that my visual idea of both D and S's sizes is a little smaller than what they have actually grown to at that age !!! Maybe it is because I want to keep them babies for longer :), but I thought moms are supposed to be instinctive about such things - sadly I seem to be missing that particular instinct !!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Clock was ticking...

We have been having a very weird problem at home lately.. D does not yet know to read the time from a clock. She has displayed such enthusiasm at other activities like reading or learning a new game, that I was beginning to get quite daunted by her not making much effort in this area. I had tried books, making it fun/like a game, most of the small ways I could think of. One day recently, she reasoned with me why it was not important any more to know to "tell" the time:

"Amma, when I can see the time on the TV (TataSky information), or from one of your mobiles, why do I have to learn to understand the clock?"

!!!

My arguments about it being important anyway (what if you are at a place, where there are only clocks. No power for the TV or mobiles? - Doomsday-like situation I had to bring up literally!) did not convince her too much,  but she has atlast deigned to try it out (maybe for "Amma's" sake ;)), but atleast it's a beginning and she seems to be picking it up fast. Fingers crossed :) !

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thursday Challenge - 2

From my mom-in-law's garden

                                          And from mine when I had an unexpected visitor :).

Posted for Thursday Challenge

Girls and....

Make-up !!! What is it about that combination.. Even growing up in a house where literally no-one around her wears any make-up, D is fascinated with it ! Or maybe it is the lack of make-up around her that makes her want it all the more ;) !!

D has a play at school today, some program for which parents are "not invited" as she told me promptly a couple of days back. She has been practising for this event for the last couple of weeks with me hearing small tid-bits every day about the play, her co-actors (only a couple of them from her class/section), her dialogues, the music and finally in the last couple of days the costumes !! Her costume was blue tights and a yellow t-shirt, and since her school tights were blue, I thought these were supposed to be the same colour and was running around to find something appropriate. Should have just settled for any colour as she told me someone else who was a tree was wearing brown tights - so obviously nothing to do with school colours :(.

And then since yesterday she has been pestering me that "Ma'am has asked me to wear lipstick and make-up". Now this is usually a big no-no in our house, with even nailpolish not usually allowed since I still occasionally see her putting her hand/fingers in her mouth. For her school program in her last year of Montessori, the teachers themselves put some make-up on the children, and though not completely to my liking I decided not to make a fuss when the deed was already done anyway. But this time, I told her - "Amma does not use any make-up so I don't have any!" She actually asked me to go and buy some! Well, that was not going to happen of course :). All I had was lip gloss which I put on her lightly and used the same for the cheeks too and put her on the bus and sent her off. I'm sure her Ma'am can put something more if she wants to - I just have to be reconciled to that.

Fingers crossed until I see her in the afternoon and hear about how it went :). And hopefully they might put up a video online, so I'll actually get to see a bit of  it too !!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The comfort of reading...

Lately the time I most feel my age is when I am sitting and reading (or of course have been on the laptop for a little too long;))....

Thanks to my Kindle (how could i not mention it ;)) and the Wheel of Time series that I am currently reading, I have started spending a lot more time at this activity than I was in the last few years. And I find that everytime after one of those sessions when I have got lost in the book and not really noticed my surroundings, I get up with a stiff neck :(...

I have been wanting to buy/procure a reading chair - though I call it that I have no idea as to what exactly I want. I do not want a LazyBoy kind of elaborate, large piece as I will then have to struggle to find space for it. The thing that comes to my mind is something of an "Easy chair" model that I can possibly cushion up a bit, because I basically want to support my neck. If anyone has any pointers on this, please do let me know and do post pictures of what you use for reading at your house.

My requirements would be:

  • Back and Neck support
  • Doesn't need to have an armrest, though don't mind if it's there
  • Not too space consuming
  • Easily available (not the custom made kind ideally)

My other option is to use a pillow or a large cushion on my already comfortable (though lacking neck support) sofa which is the option I am trying out currently.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I read... I've been tagged!

I've been tagged by Simran of ChipsnChutzpah and SimzCorner to write about Why I Read... :)

Should be one of the easiest things to write about, as I read a LOT.. but she's put across so many good points already that it's difficult to really come up with something different!! So I'm taking a slightly different route - it set me thinking of how my reading habit started.. and of course how it persisted .. so here goes!

My earliest memories of reading - Dad and I walking in Connaught Place in Delhi, and me pestering him to buy me a Tinkle or Amar Chitra Katha - that's really the first book I can remember reading so I've always had a soft corner for them. Though mom and dad did not have a vast reading habit - except for the tamil publications that of course used to be subscribed to religiously, they were really instrumental in building it up in me. Whether it was these early memories of Delhi, or of them not minding me spending my pocket money (Rs. 10 was a princely amount in those days) on library books when I was older (and they never looked over my shoulder to see what I read!), they definitely nudged me along this path. So the first reason I read is because of them!

My next memory is of my teenage years. I was always accused of reading novels more than my school books, and was lucky enough to pass by decently enough in school to not get into major trouble about that! Someone or the other was always telling me not to read in poor light or not to read in this position/that position - "Or your eyes will go bad"!! Well my persisting to do just the above, literally all through my school years, is proof positive that that is not the case (and genetics too was on my side!). So my next reason was probably to show all those people "I will read what and how I want to!". Which of course does not stop me telling my daughter "not to lie down and read!", and laugh to myself while doing so :).

As my working/earning life began, I had this thirst to own books and build up a collection.. I usually read only fiction and you'll find most available books by Agatha Christie and Isaac Asimov (my favourite authors of all time) in my house. When we built our house, we made sure we had space for books, and I was all set to fill it up. Even I didn't realize how many books I could end up with! So this was my "I am so thrilled I can own and re-read them as much as I want" stage :).

Soon I came to a stage where I literally do not have space for more books, and luckily enough this led to my Kindle (My Kindle Review). The multitude of books available for free, and most new books also coming out with a Kindle edition - the most space saving bookstore possible!! For the record, I do not miss the "look & feel" of holding a book at all.. maybe the smell of fresh paper occasionally, but that's about it :). It's tailor-made for me - no trouble with holding open bulky books with one hand while I eat with the other (I read a lot at the dining table!), no searching around for bookmarks or trying to remember the page where I left (I hate folding paper - who doesn't?), and the e-ink is nearly the same as looking at the page of a book!! My newest reason - just the wealth of books available to me through the Kindle has made me even more of a voracious reader !

Let me also add the actual reasons as to why I fell in love with reading. It gives me a special space - me and my book - it used to be that noone could come between us - people could have roaring arguments around me and I wouldn't know. Now of course that's no longer true - a certain loud call of "Amma!" has crept in there though I try to set boundaries. And it creates a special world away from my own mundane one - probably why I read only fiction :). And my latest genre of Fantasy (think Harry Potter, but in so many variations it would make your head spin!) is giving me some authors to supplant my lifetime favourite ones :).

Wow Simran, I did not realize that was going to such a long one. Thanks for the tag - it was quite an exploration for me :). I would like to tag:
Aparna
Forever Mother
Spicy Sweet
Rohini
Life_Refactored
Not sure if all of you read, but I'm sure I've seen the odd mention of books/book reviews on most of your blogs :).

Monday, July 25, 2011

Speechless!

D: Amma, do ghosts exist?

Me(wondering where it's leading to): No baby, there is nothing like ghosts - people just scare you about it simply!

D: Then if they don't exist, why is there a word "Ghost" ?

Me: ?!!!!


How can a parent ever be completely prepared ? :).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Learning to be Consistent :)

I keep reading whenever I look at parenting gyaan all over the place that we need to be "consistent" - in our dealings with the children ( something that hubby also used to keep telling me when i never used to enforce any of my scary consequences :) ). Of course that meant that I now try not to hold anything over the kids' heads and try to be consistent in what I say or do .. but who knew I would get a lesson from the youngest member of my family!

A few days back, at dinnertime, S had left some pasta on his plate and told me (I was sitting a few feet away) that he had finished and went and washed hands etc, and was going about his activities. After a few minutes when I went to clear the plate, I was very upset, scolded him, and told him to finish the food.

This morning, I had given him upma which I usually make into small balls so he eats it himself. Had a bit of a doubt if I'd given him too large a portion, then decided it's ok and waited to see if he would eat it. It was nearly time to leave for school, and I found 5 balls of upma still left behind. S's stomach looking quite full, and he gave a little burp, so I thought he'd had enough and said
"It's ok darlin' - let's get ready and go to school."
And he says:
"But that day when I left the pasta, you were angry with me!!"

That should surely teach me to be consistent and definitely to more careful with my portions LOL !!!!