Monday, December 11, 2017

China: Travel nice to knows

With any international trip, one thing you need to know and plan for is logisitics. The other things that might be helpful is what should I plan for beyond the itinerary. Since I just got back from China and jet lag is still keeping me wide awake. What better way to use the time to document a few nice to knows before you travel to China


Visa:
 For China, check with the consulate for their latest on visa requirements for your country and status. But they are very efficient and very organised, so it was a quick 5 day for us to secure our visas!

Passport: 
Ensure you have at least 6 months validity on your passports, I had to renew 50% of my family passports prior to the trip

Phone:
We used phison pro for VPN and WeChat and translate downloaded on our phones! I highly recommend WeChat for this trip, it translates any conversation with the tour guides. Other thing that helped us was downloading English Maps for the cities, having DiDi (Uber in China). Getting a local SIM is advisable, I pretty much hogged my brothers phone for any calls. Please carry battery packs!!

Food: We were 7 vegetarians and 7 non vegetarians in this trip. I will of course write this from a vegetarian point of view.
Please carry food, ready to eat packages, oat meals, cereal bars, biscuits, snacks. Yes you will get vegetarian food, but will be really tough to ensure it is perfect. For us, when in doubt, we didn't eat.
Having said that, our tour company had pre-arranged some meals and having warm rice with boiled vegetables and some flavor was a life saver.
All our hotels had breakfast and it was lavish. We pretty much spend an hour hour daily to ensure we were well fed for the day. For most of our trips, we like a heavy breakfast, since then we can be out and about more.
You will find Pizza Hut, Sub ways in bigger cities and trust me, the Pizza Hut in China was AMAZING.....
Plus fruits, oh man the fruits! You will find all the fruits including dragon fruit and rambutan!
As a vegetarian I say, China is not about a culinary experience but more about ensuring you have food and energy in your system!

Clothes: We traveled in end of November, so was fairly cold. However we got really lucky with the weather. But as any cold trip, jackets, layering, definitely hats and gloves. The winter here was very dry, so we moisturized heavily and chapped our lips consistently!

Shopping: If you go to any of the local markets like Silk Market in Beijing or the AP market in Pudong, be prepared to haggle, walk out and definitely be prepared for very aggressive sales staff. We were accosted, told off and also pressured! It probably deserves its own blog with the stories, however its fun as well. I mean its China, they really have mastered the mass production and the quality!

Transportation: Due to the tour, we were very connected from cities to cities with the bus, however we did explore on our own in Beijing and Shanghai.
Beijing and Shanghai: The city is well connected with trains and very easy to maneuver. And yes, the trains do get crowded. The cabs are pretty affordable, but please based on recommendations of millions traveled before me, dont take the unmarked cabs! My brother and Sumit took a few local trains (at 300 km/h) and were amazed at the country's infrastructure
The food in local flights is well nothing to write home about!

Kids: We traveled with a lot of kids with us. People are really kind and polite, we were given seats on crowded trains. Strangers stopped by to entertain a crying kid, they played with them and above all they were really amazed at us 'foreigners' so they kept asking to take pictures with the kids. The kids loved the attention and happily obliged. Any tourist attraction is crowded so needless to say, please be attentive. Miss V made a lot of fun of me, since every now and then I'd panic and she would be right behind me to 'scare me'. Not cool!

Language: Yes, this is definitely a big one. It is hard to find English speaking locals. But hey you are travelling to experience this. So please dont be an ass. When you call someone, first say:"English Please" and they will try to get someone to help out! People are very polite and will really try to help out, or use translate to help! I was ordering a fresh noodle salad at one local store and I had 10 shoppers (none spoke English) who stopped by and really helped to ensure my food was vegetarian as the salad lady mixed ingredient only after making me sniff it

Water & Tea: Nope, you are not going to iced water easily here. Most of the places served warm water like the pizza hut even. We loved it and saw locals carrying their tea in hot cups and just refilling with hot water wherever they went. The tea culture was really interesting and it really explains their clear skin!
Hope you travel to China sometime!!! Sometime soon!

Friday, December 8, 2017

China... an experience

4 families.... 8 adults, 6 kids ranging from 20 months to almost 10 years of age making a 12 day trip to China. What did you expect?

We expected, fun, frolic and lots of memories and man.... it was all that and more!

Let me first get the following out of the way: This was a first one of the 'organised tours' we did and boy was that an experience. It was definitely very well organised, very hectic also very touristy at the same time. We covered a lot in the places in China but at the same time did waste some time at those 'sell ups of Jade market and Pearl Factories'. But not planning the minutiae details ourselves, travelling with such a large group and above all getting brilliant time together was perfect!!!

Now back to trip itself.
Our itinerary
Day 1- Day 3.5: Beijing
Day 3.5 - Day 5: Wuxi
Day 6: Suzhou
Day 7: Hangzhou
Day 8-10: Shanghai
Day 11-12: Shanghai- Disney

As you can see, lots of places visited and lots and lots of pictures and above all, memories to last a while, a long while!

I am not sure writing about every minutia detail of the trip would do justice, so i will stick to highlights!

For me, my biggest highlight was meeting my brother, SIL and my nephew. They flew in to do the trip together and though we were always touring and going from one place to the next, just having them sitting in the bus behind me and taking silly pictures of my SIL sleeping was just the best.
Dearest friends from Chicago decided to do this trip together and the giggle at the silliest of stories is perfect. I think travelling with friends and family is special, you can be yourself even if that means huddling the group to be on time!
Sumit and I rang in our dozen years together! Yep, we celebrated our anniversary on this trip. And it was amazing, since we fought a little, we enjoyed a little and as always fell in love a little bit more!

We scaled the Great Wall, wandered in the halls of the Forbidden City, lazed around at tea plantations, got massages, experienced jaw dropping Olympic Ceremony, rode the fastest train on the planet, cruised through canals and Shanghai skyline views and of course said Hello to Mickey in the Shanghai Disney!

All with a group of "my peeps"

More details to follow, but for now I have to leave you with this... the kids we traveled with are champions and troopers. We were all jet lagged, but they were super excited, barely any tantrums and above all they were more excited at learning and experiencing China and being respectful of knowing the world is larger than them!


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

an·ni·ver·sa·ry

Oxford defines it as "the date on which an event took place in a previous year"

I define it as "the date that on which we celebrated the best decision with friends and family"

Don't ask me which how many years... I know its in double digits and its more than 10  years and less than 15 years.

For the rest of years, "Let's celebrate the day you gave up on finding anyone better than me" (Accompanied with counting our blessings)

Happy an·ni·ver·sa·ry Honey

You are my rock, my support, my confidante and above all my partner in crime.
You get my lack of sense of humor, you get my craziness and you sort of put up with my pulling the blanket!

It's been a ride filled with adventures, bumpy roads, smooth sailing and of course
lots of laughter (mainly your jokes and my laughter)
lots of food (mainly my cooking and your appreciation)
lots of travel (mainly my idea(s) and your perfect execution)
lots of drama (mainly my drama and your tolerance)
lots of kids (yes, 2 is lots!!)
lots of memories - all together honey!

 Happy Double Digits Anniversary!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

An evening of drama..... touchwood

Let me set the stage:
I get a call from school saying that Miss V is not well, Sumit rushes to pick her up and is home with her all evening. I had a work thing that evening, so Sumit assures me "I got this"

I pick up Little Lady and get home by 7 pm to find out the following: Miss V has thrown up 3 times and Sumit has everything under control, clothes in laundry, dinner is ready, floors have been mopped up.
I am in awe of him and I sit with Miss V and we chat about how she is feeling etc. etc. I am also feeling guilty of not being home, but at the same time, thanking my partner in crime for having my back!

Around 9 pm Sumit goes to put Little Lady to sleep in her room.
Sumit is in the guest room
Miss V and I are in my bed.

At 3 am, Little Lady walks in my room, I spring up, knowing something is not right and she throws up, right there. I rush her to the rest room, calm her, change her, hug her. Sumit rushes in with Miss V asking: Papa come here, papa come here!
This was Throw Up 1:

Throw up 2: 15 minutes later, Little Lady throws up again. Yep, rinse repeat! Miss V is lying on my bed, concerned and groggy from her own sickness!

Miss V is tired and recovering from her sickness. I ask Miss V to go in the guest room, she also needs some rest. And Sumit and I hug little lady and calm her down.

Throw Up 3: 15 minutes later, little lady throws up again and you get the idea, Sumit and I have this routine of cleaning up under way. Poor little lady is in a lot of pain.

Throw up 4: 15 minutes later, yep, she throws up again. Oh man!!!

Amongst all the tears, the panic, the clean up and the hurling, here is the chronological conversation with Little Lady

Before Throw up 2:
Sumit: Honey, if you feel like throwing up, just tell me, or dont worry, throw up on me!
Little Lady: No papa, if I throw up on you, you will fall sick also. We will run to bathroom

Before Throw up 3:
Little Lady: Papa, you should go sleep with didi (Miss V) in the guest room
Sumit: No honey, you are not well, i will stay here
Little Lady: Papa, didi is not well also and she is alone, you go there. Mummy is here with me.

After Throw up 4:
Little Lady: I think I am feeling better now, I will sleep mummy, you hug me and sleep right here. You must be tired.

I sit there in the middle of the night, massaging the little lady's tummy and my eyes are brimming with tears. My almost 5 year old, Little Lady was not well, she was in tears, shaken up and really tired, but all her conversations were to make sure the rest of the family was ok.

Little Lady has a heart of gold and has kindness oozing out of her. Amongst all her antics, drama and theatrics, her sweet and kind voice makes me count my blessings, hug her tight and really be thankful for what we have (yes, even the middle of the night throw up).

Update: Whatever it was, passed, the girls are back to being their fiesty selves. Touch wood.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Candy Coated Hell

This is a term I heard on the Radio when the hosts were describing the post Halloween frenzy with kids. And I burst out laughing in the car: " Candy Coated Hell"

It is sorta true if you think about it. Ever since the kids are little we talk about, no sugar for the little one, please. I have seen my own two girls first hand with sugar in their system and their reactions. Yes my friends: 'Sugar High' is an actual term.

I have seen them running in circles after 2-3 chocolates. Friends and I have popped pop corn and laughed uncontrollably!!! Yes, you can mail me the “parent of the year award”!


"Candy Coated Hell"! It is an accurate description of our media filled lives... Its bright, its smiley and its happy, all the time.

The adults version of "Candy coated hell”: is filled with varying degrees of schmooze, perfect profile pictures, that one angle that makes you slim, the one strand coving your face to make it look natural, the one dress that accentuates, the kids trophies that adorns the walls... like I said its bright, its smiley and always happy!

But ask yourselves: Is it true?

Behind every 'angled picture" is years of beating yourself for gaining weight, not loosing enough and the confidence or lack of it that goes with the drama
Behind every 'kids trophy picture' is you hiding your own "not so kind moment" with the kids when they really pushed you over the edge.
Behind every ‘schmooze’ is the contrast of you rather being in bed with un-ending runs of Netflix.

I'd rather be here: 

Recently I got invited to a "Black and White Challenge" on facebook, concept is simple: Upload a black and white image with no humans just as you go on about your life, tag someone and do this for a week.

Capturing these black and white images made me think a little more..... what image can I capture for today that is raw, that is true and that is far away from this candy coated hell that we live in, we thrive in and we enjoy in!

And of course filled with hypocrisy, I upload the image of the day on social media after making it "perfect". You are welcome

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Devil's Hairband

It's Haloween!

Its the day of the year we take kids door to door for them to score lots of candy where the rest of the days, we are yelling at them to not touch candy.

It's the day of the year, where the kids creativity shines and they think about their costume long and hard, the stores have these costumes on display with the tackiest fabric and the overpriced price tag.

It's the day when the kids are excited about scaring other people and completely forget about the monsters below their bed which keeps them awake the rest of the year

It's the day when my little angels finish the breakfast the quickest, get ready the quickest and very patiently sit to get their faces painted to match their costume.

It's the day when even I thoughtfully laid out 'my costume' the night before!!!

Yes, this is my costume of choice (!)

I walked to the cafeteria for my morning coffee run, I  smiled and wished Happy Halloween to the colleagues who applauded my spirit of dressing "up".

Some stared longer than normal and I wondered,  I am wearing the 'Devil Headband' Am I inadvertently pissing someone off for what it symbolizes.  Am I in some HR violation?

Later, I was chatting with someone who wanted to see my kids dressed up pictures and I told them She is an Arabic Princess and we thought her how to say 'Hello' in Arabic! There was silence, the 'someone' cautioned me, "Be careful, people might not like it! " (The Arabic Princess)

At first I didn't get it, and then it struck me.

Have we become that narrow minded that even on Halloween, we have to be 'politically correct' Are people really that "in-tolerant"?

My response: I am still donning my 'Devil's hairband' in office (No violation, I checked) and going to nudge my Arabic Princess to say 'Marhaba' a little louder at "Trick or Treating" this evening.


Let's enjoy the candy, the smiles of the cute faces and definitely 'Marhaba'. It's Halloween


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Match the socks

I am sure it’s true in your household- you do laundry and somehow you will have orphan socks! Socks with no pair! You will collect them over your never ending loads of laundry in a pile and then after a while, one of two things happen

Option 1. You just trash them thinking there is no hope of ever finding the pair.
Option 2. You employ your kids and they play a game of 'match the socks'

So recently, over a lazy weekend, I employed by 9 and 4 year old to play the game 'Match the socks'. I handed them a big bag of mis-matched socks and I came back in an hour and smiled. The socks were sprawled out on the rug and the girls were working it! They lined them up, matched them and then sorted them by owner of the said socks!

They matched over 35 pairs, yes 35 for the 4 of us! Who knew?
Mission Accomplished! We still have some orphan socks which will have to wait until the next lazy weekend!

I pause: We were doing fine just without these 35 pairs of socks. We had clean socks (on most days) and we were doing fine.
I wonder: Without even realizing, do we get trapped in having more than we need or we can consume?

We joke amongst ourselves, a trip of Costco is always a couple of hundred dollars, a sale at the store results often in more t-shirts than we had planned, a grocery trip results in overfilled bags and so on.
Recently we went through a big round of purging, we donated boxes and boxes of things, threw out a tonne of stuff and streamlined living. In retrospect it was very little!

After the game of ‘match the socks’ I requested the kids- let’s give away one stuffed animal per kid from their collection. Surprisingly, they didn’t flinch, each kid chose a stuffed animal, and they kissed the animal good bye. Away it went in the box of donation!
Yes, That easily.

So I am taking inspiration from them, Less is sometimes definitely more.
 I can make simple choices.... use what we have, share what we have and above all, match the socks right away!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Diwali... The festival of lights

We as a family celebrate Indian festivals with much fan fare and partake it a lot of the American festivals with as much enthusiasm. Being an immigrant in a foreign country,   this has honestly never been a challenge and the ease of assimilation surprises me and makes me happy as well.
As I write this, My Diwali lights sits next to the Halloween decor!


The kids, they love festivities no matter what origin. Of course, they get candies and get to dress up and meet their friends.
There was a term 'ABCD= American Born Confused Desi' which I honestly  hope my two wonderful daughters are not 'categorized as'. At least at their tender ages of 9 and 4, they seem well grounded to me. Of course I am biased. As a I say with all parenting decisions= Only time will tell.

Now, The festival of lights, Diwali, this has a special place in my heart, always. It brings fond memories of helping my mom decorate the house, or smelling the deliciousness coming from the kitchen, or holding my dad's hand as we picked out my new Diwali dress or even simple stuff like fighting with my brother on who gets more fireworks!

With wonderful friends coming back from India on Diwali 'eve' and bringing a bagful of stuff from India, the girls of the house: Miss Chatterbox and the Little Lady and Me, we have new dresses! We have delicious goodies and best of all the feeling of India that makes me smile.

So this year, the house is decorated with candles and love.
So this year, the house is filled with delicious smells of my mother in law's cooking.
So this year, The dad and grand dad are prepping for the prayers with much fan fare.
So this year, I have taken some time off work, the kids are home
and
Like every year: We celebrate Diwali, the festival that symbolises triumph of good on evil.
Like every year: I remind myself to knock on wood and count my blessings and really hope that I can overcome my own hurdles and be a better person.

Wishing you a very Happy Diwali, a prosperous year ahead, a safe and wonderful celebration and above all wishing you 'A smile'



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Breathe and Breathe again

We all lead busy lives whether we accept it or not! We are running from pillar to post be it work, be it kids, be it social activities or be it just for yourself! There is always a plan, an activity, an agenda.

As a list maker, trust me I know.

The one time when I don’t have an agenda is a holiday, I can spend hours on a book, on a beach, on a hike or sleeping in. But I digress!

On Columbus Day which luckily for Sumit and me, we both have a day off, and I had an agenda for the day, well I should say we did have an agenda: Errands which never get done otherwise, pending projects which need a little more than just nudging. With the kids busy with their school and playdates, we actually had time to run the errands without distractions.

We started the day off on schedule and being in PJ's on a Monday morning, it felt good especially since I volunteered (aka bullied) Sumit to drop off the kids to their stuff!

We got a few things done around the house and I was a lady on a mission: On to the next topic. But by the time afternoon rolled around, Sumit got on a- “can’t we just stay home and watch a movie mode”. And the logical part of my brain was like, “Nope, got to go,” and then I dont know what it was... 
whether it was him just looking exhausted and me realizing, man, he does not get this down time. At all.  
.....I dont know if it was, Miss V returning from her play date and snuggling next to me on the bed, or .....if it was, just the laziness in me creeping up and a voice in my head saying: Breathe and breathe again!

We stayed in, saw two movies back to back, picked up the second kid from school and then enjoyed a long family dinner! Our date night was overruled and instead we spend the night watching some pictures, some videos and enjoying a warm apple pie made from our weekend outing of apple farm!

So yes, I didn’t check off my list of "to do's". We accomplished only 30% of what we wanted to get done! But still, with a heavy heart I say: Sumit you were right.... by your 'cant we just stay home and watch a movie'... I actually remembered to breathe.


Of course the apple pie's helped!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Quick Food Fix: Thai Green Curry in Instant pot

With school back in action, weeknights are back to being crowded and busy and also, we are all super hungry by the time we get in!!

So, Instant Pot,  is back in action! The kids needs a variety of food and I want it healthy, yummy and above all: quick!
Our amazing BBQ evenings, park strolls or just going with the flow.....are missing! aah Summer, I miss you.

So a weeknight, we come home.  I ship the kids off for a long shower (trust me I could smell them from a mile away) and while they showering, I made a Thai Green Curry and Rice.
Kids come out smelling divine and I am partial, but I still think the Thai Green Curry was smelling better

Instant Pot: Thai Green Curry: Serves 4 super hungry people!
Cooking Time: 15-18 minutes (Start to finish!) and hence it definitely qualifies for  my Quick Food Fix mantra and is definitely not the same Old Same Old!

Ingredients for curry: 
1. Store bought Thai Green Curry paste: 4-5 tsp.
2. One can coconut milk
3. Vegetables: Chopped chunky monkey style
2 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
One Onion
3-4 medium tomatoes
8-10 baby carrots
8-10 green beans
1 bell pepper

Oh and I wish I had Super Firm Tofu! But that night, we didnt have any!

Process
1. Put Sautee mode in the IP
2. Add ginger, garlic, onion and the thai green paste and mix.
3. Once fragrant (2-3 minutes) add all the chopped vegetables and sautee for 3-4 minutes
4. Now add the can of coconut milk and 1/4 cup water
5. Add salt per taste, mix.
6. Close the IP and set to Manual, High Pressure Mode for 5 minuttes
7. Garnish with chopped cilantro!

Ta Da: Your Thai Green Curry is ready and enjoy with cooked rice

Comments: 
1. The Green Curry Paste can also be made at home, but I generally stock the Vegetarian pastes readily available in Whole Foods/ Trader Joes. And yes can also substitute with Red Curry Paste
2. Coconut milk is healthy, and no please dont skimp on using half a can (I have done it and the end product is not just the same)
3. Rice: Regular cooked rice is great, while everything was getting cooked in IP, I prepared rice on regular gas.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

If this continues, I will become my mother!


Which is definitely not a bad thing, but still. Man!
So here is the new thing I am doing- Making yogurt at home: Yep bye bye to the store bought convenience and always running out of yogurt! I have started making yogurt in my Instant Pot.

Its a two step process and it is very simple(again I cant believe I am saying this, but it really is)

1. Boil the milk in IP (It has a Yogurt/ Boil Setting), After boiling, let the milk cool for 10 minutes
2. Add the yogurt starter and then set it in IP in Yogurt mode for 9 hours and next am, tada, delicious home made yogurt is ready.

Keep in fridge and enjoy! Please note, we cook a lot with yogurt and hence it really does not last more than 2-3 days, so I cannot honestly comment on home made yogurt's 'Shelf life'

A few pointers: 
1. Milk: I use full fat milk since the yogurt comes off more creamy!
2. Starter: I used an organic greek yogurt starter, got one of those smaller boxes and then for future, I just save some yogurt for the next batch!
3. Boiling milk: Yes you can use microwave to boil milk for 4-5 minutes instead of IP
4. Home made yogurt tastes great and I dont know if its better than store bought! i just like showing off: 'Oh, I make my yogurt at home now'


My older kiddo, the Chatterbox is not a sweet tooth, she will not crave any of the sweet stuff! With trial and error, the one dessert she will eat is 'Srikhand' and now every other morning, i make it for her. Why you ask, its SUPER SIMPLE!

Serves: 2 greedy kids, a bowl each!
Process
1. In a cheese cloth, put 5 big spoons of yogurt and let it hang overnight to let the water drain out
2. Next morning, place the hung yogurt in a dish and add 5-6 tsp of sugar, 1 tsp of cardamom, some kesar, slices almonds and pistachio
3. Fold and fluff and keep in the refrigerator.
4. Enjoy the creamy 'Srikhand' with the kids after a long day at school

Now: Hanging the curd is optional, I like it since it makes my Srikhand more 'thicker', if you skip step 1, its okay, your srikhand will be a little watery, which is fine.

Also Now: Yes after step 2, you can serve immediately, but I like a 'cooler srikhand' and the kesar leaves golden streaks of richness through the day!

So yes, two recipes in one blog post and all about cooking and how simple it is and preaching you should do it...well I am turning into my mother!


Monday, September 25, 2017

Hosting a Vegetarian BBQ Party

Summer has ended, luckily for us in Chicago, the weather is still awesome. And that’s not something that we say often! This summer, we grilled and grilled a lot! With time I learned that hosting a BBQ party is very different from regular ones!

Here are a few tips that helped us host grilling evenings at a frequency of two per week :-)

Be safe: Ensure to instruct the kids to be away from the grill when you are cooking. We generally keep some games (Ring toss/ bean bag throw/ water guns) at the other end of the deck. It keeps them entertained and I am not stressed.
Imagine a triangle. Grill being on one corner, the kids activities on the other and the drinks on the third corner. This layout helps keep the party flowing well, kids away from hot grills and drinks cooler!

Planning:
Menu: Have a broad idea of what you are grilling. Raid the produce section and be well stocked! For a vegetarian grilling event, have 2 mains which are heavy and then a lot of accompaniments to go along with it.

Food Prep & Cooking:
- Appliances: Apron, Gloves, Grill cooking utensils, grill mats and foil! Be always safe and these are one time expenses and totally worth it!
- In our house, I prep/ marinate and Sumit grills. Admist the coversations and relaxing, he tends to forgets that food is still on the grill and then I jump into the rescue (You see how I slid that in)
- One thing I recommend is 1-2 things at a time! Start with the lighter items, one at a time and then progress. I have realised with time, though you may have 6-8 items ready to be grilled, your party will always be more relaxed on the deck!So just taking is slow and cooking 1-2 things at a time is highly recommended. This way everyone including you gets to enjoy the weather, the conversations and the food!
- We grill in a 'sequence' defined by increasing order of flavours and cooking time. Implying things that grill quickly go first! Simple reason, at the onset you are hungrier and food should come in quickly, as the evening progresses you and your friends would enjoy the breaks in food!



Drinks:
I highly recommend a main cool drink, be it sangria, a punch, jal jeera. It just makes me feel nice to pour cold jal jeera then opening a can of La Croix, I am just saying!
Keep a mini cooler/ Ice box ready and stocked with the group favorites. Have a variety of cans/ bottles ready for serving!
I have learned over time and now attached a bottle opener to my cooler, this way I am not scrambling for this essential item

Water: I prefer just having jars/ reusable bottles ready with water and ice! We as a family have been trying to avoid plastic bottles and considering we host a lot of friends over BBQ, having the reusable bottles is ideal (and cheaper!)

Condiments:
I have a tray ready with my essentials: Salt, Pepper, Chilli Flakes, Lemon Wedges, Hot Sauce, Ketchup, Chaat Masala etc. and definitely a knife!
Of course there are edits to these based on the menu for the evening.

Serve Ware:
- Food Prep: If you use skewers, pre-soak. i generally avoid them. I use  glass containers for the marinated vegetables and then use the same ones for serving after grilling. (Read less clean up time for Sumit!)
- If your space allows a a table where you keep the marinated food and then eventually the grilled food. I line up the marinated food in the order that Sumit will grill (Read FIFO- First in First out), makes it so much easier
- Have ample serving spoons, forks etc handy... you do go through them very quickly!
- Keep paper plates, bowls, napkins, flatware ready. I highly recommend using the paper dishes, since you will be grilling a variety of things and walking and chatting around! (Read less clean up time for Sumit!)
- Thrash Can: A MUST. keep it lined, empty and ready to go. If you recycle (which you must), keep a double bagged paper bag ready!
(Read less clean up time for Sumit!)


Pot Luck/ Grilling:
- Most of my grilling gatherings have been with dear friends over and I enjoy the cooking process, so I tell them, please come and enjoy!
But if you are hosting a larger party, keep it simple for yourself as well. A salad, a dessert, some drinks are perfect and simple requests for your guests to bring along!

Menu Ideas:
- Always keep a cold appetizer/ fruits ready for the evening: Simple things like a tossed salad, chopped watermelon helps. You can be fancy and have fruit skewers ready, but trust me if you grilled as often as we did, you want a simple repeatable model
- Finger foods like chips, salsa, pretzels etc should be served but in smaller portions, you would rather have the guests fill up on grilled gorgeousness!
- Marination: If you want marinate the night before it helps with the flavour in the vegetables/tofu/paneer what ever you are planning on. If your evening is more impromptu, fret not, increase the qty of herbs and spices in the marination by a little and even 30 minutes of marination is enough.
- Grilled vegetables with cold dips is always a hit: Think Grilled asparagus with a creamy pesto dip, delish!
- Think concoctions, you have 10 beans and 1/2 pepper lying around, slice them up marinate in olive oil, salt and pepper! Tada... Gril and then serve with crubled goat cheese (Ready!)
- For kids, encourage them to try everything coming off the grill, they will enjoy the 'not sit down and eat' type of meals. In addition, if you have more kids may be have a main like Mac N Cheese or something as a back up is a great idea!
- Trust me when I say this, a cold pasta salad is a hit with the kids and more with the adults!!!!


So have fun, enjoy the process and remember: Grilling parties are fun, simple, can be impromptu and you tend to eat a lot more...

Monday, September 18, 2017

Story of the The Spoon & The Child

In a house filled with kids laughter, some of my yelling and a little of the delicious smells of MIL cooking, funny stories ensues!!!

It was one long Sunday,we all had back to back events and obligations and errands and it had been a long (and cranky) day and last stop was Costco for essential shopping.

To lighten up the mood and just have the kids be 'less' cranky a costco size ice cream was bought to share.

Sumit asked almost 5 year old Little Lady: " Can you please give me a spoon?"

Little Lady takes the spoon, fill it with ice cream proceeds to put the ice cream filled spoon in her mouth and then licks up the spoon and hands it over you Sumit

Sumit asks: "What is this?"

Little Lady responds: "A spoon "

Laughter ensues!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Summer of 2017

 As a mom, Summer equals the months when the kids are off school. 
And now my summer draws to an end. 

Over the next two weeks, The Little Lady starts hew new school closely followed by Miss Chatterbox in her new school as well. Touch wood, both are supremely excited for their new beginnings. 
I am sure Little Lady will have water works for the first day, I am mentally prepared for it. 
I am sure I will have some water works for both their first day's, I am mentally prepared for it.

To continue the tradition, her is my Summer of 2017 recap:
The kids did absolutely nothing and had a really good time (I think). They lazed and got pampered by grandparents, they went to the park countless times, they had ample late nights, BBQ's, Ice Creams, play dates, lots of crafts, some beach time, some lake time, some swim time, loads of biking and a whole load of nothingness to have them recuperate and energized and truly spend summer like kids are supposed to.


The whole nothingness, no plans, no agenda, it sort of worked out. With my In-laws around, I got massively pampered. I barely cooked implying coming home to food being ready is amazing. They spend countless hours with the girls, taught them, and just basically bonded with them, which I really think is the best part. And cheeky husband and I got in ample date nights! So this summer was a nice working holiday for me as well.
















Though I love having kids home, I do need them back in school. As I often say, my 'regular scheduled programming to start'

I know- I suck! In summer, the mornings when I leave for work, I get long sullen kids’ faces telling me- You are going to office again! And then the mommy guilt creeps up even more.  And then I come home in evenings to a house hit by hurricane, toys strewn around, half-finished books, writing material on the floor and urgh! So then instead of hugging them, I get them on task and have them help clean up becoming the non-fun mom. 



So honestly, Minus the mess, I think it was a perfect summer!!

What made your summer super special??

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

They did this....

I come home from work... and see this!!!!


The Little Lady wanted her face painted, the Chatterbox wanted to be creative and hence they were a perfect match!
I climb our stairs and am greeted with this beautifully painted face and lots of chuckles and lots of giggles.

These two together are a riot, a menace and the most adorable pair of sisters who can spend hours playing, fighting, troubling and uniting against me!

Touch wood, Siblings truly are friends for life

Friday, July 28, 2017

Berry Pie- Peach Pie and my cutie pie's



Such a big difference 2 years is making, I swear!
This was us 2 summers ago baking a crumble and fast forward to now.... the girls 9 and 4 are making the pie/ crumble now pretty much on their own and the cherry on top.... they are also cleaning up after!

So here is the Pie/crumble recipe, kids edition!  The girls made two crumble's this past weekend, so except the fruits being different, both of them followed the recipe step by step identical to each other!

Little Lady: 4 year old used 3 cups of berries (Mixed- Blueberries, raspberry - Strawberry)
Miss Chatterbox: 9 years old used 3 larger peaches. She sliced most of them herself
(Yes I was a hawk watching her)

For the rest of the recipe-I will use the term 'fruit' instead of berries or peaches just to keep it simple

Ingredients:

Fruit Base: 
Fruit of choice : See portions above
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp ginger grated
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (Again, I used the home made one my friend gifted me at Xmas!)

For the crumble topping
4 spoons Bisquick
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
1/2 tsp baking powder

For baking or cooking with kids the best thing I have learned over the years is keep all ingredients, measuring spoons out on the counter and then walk the kids through the process step by step.

Let them lead, ask questions, get messy and above all let them include the variation they want! Of course with that said, i am starting a new tag 'Cooking with Kids'

Make them wash their hands, before, during and after!

Process: 
1. In a ready to bake Pyrex dish mix all the ingredients of the fruit base.
2. Let it stand for 20 minutes for the fruit juices to release well
3. In a deeper vessel, mix all the ingredients for the crumble topping (dough like consistency)
4. Layer the crumble topping on top of the fruit base.

Note: The little one definitely needed help with this steps since her natural instinct was to press the 'dough'. I learned that telling them 'Layer the topping like a blanket on the fruits' worked like a charm!

5. Bake the crumble at 375 F for 20-25 minutes, you could brush the topping with additional butter to make it 'brown' better.

Note: I am paranoid about the oven, so this step I led completely.

While the pie/crumble is getting baked... have the kids clean up.

Both girls washed their hands off after they licked their fingers with the delicious dough topping.

Again the kitchen clean up was a simple one... the older one helped in putting all the ingredients from where they came and the little one helped with wiping the counters and the floor.
And yes, of course I had to wipe up a little more after them, but I really did enjoy them helping me out and taking the initiative of 'Leaving the kitchen as they found it'

The highlight was the girls were sharing with everyone at the dinner party the recipe, the baking process and above all ' I made it, you will love it!'


So go on... let the kids lead a little and you will learn a lot!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Yep....I have slipped!

Nope, I have not forgotten about it...but yes, its ONLY at the back of my mind! I have slipped on the 'Getting Fit Business'.

I have become lazy and lazier these past weeks. May be its the Chicago Summer, the continuous BBQ's, the lazy mornings and even lazier evenings, my stupid knee, I really don't know, but I have become lazy about the 'getting fit'

My model is suppose to be simple.... Log your food, go to the gym/ keep a routine and then enjoy the process with buddies who help and encourage. Its not about loosing weight, its about being fit, energetic and happy!

But, I have not been logging on MyFitness Pal at all now. I broke my 74 day streak a few weeks ago,  and now haven't picked up the baton again!
For the gym, in summary, I injured my knee (I think at a stupid but super fun bowling game) and since then doctors orders are no squats, no pivot motions, no pounding of the knee... aka, no gym routine that I had down and was consistent!

Due to my knee injury, I am in the self pity mode and hence not even moving a muscle for any basic workout routine. I think I am being kinder to my knee. I sound like my grand mum, "kinder to my knee", but trust me being in constant dull pain in knee is no fun. And the pain goes from dull to shooting stabs in a matter of seconds. Read: Self Pity :-)

And it shows.... I am dragging my feet by end of day, I cant keep up with the kids soccer games and above all, I am feeling crankier!

Every Monday, I think.... next week I will start.

Please tell me I am not alone...... please leave some motivational messages :-/

Aaah! So, here I am picking up again. But this time..... not the baby steps that I love, I am actually leaping and jumping, since hey, now I know what to do.

So
Step 1: Join the gym THIS WEEK and actually go
Note to self.... if you pay up the monthly fees, its the best motivation
Step 2: Re-start logging on the weight THIS WEEK and actually not exceed the calories
Note to self....it takes only 10 minutes a day to enter in the food consumed
Step 3: Kick my buddies really well, I cant believe they are not helping me in stopping the slide!
Note to them.... be prepared for the kicking!

See it's their fault! ;-)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Quick Food Fix: Grilled Zuchini Boats

As we improvise our vegetarian BBQ recipes, we have discovered our new favorites like 'Grilled Edmame; Crusted Tofu, Tangy potato' and as we explore new recipes like today's Zuchini Boats..... the one main BBQ item that has been dropping off our menu is the Vegetarian Burger.

Imagine a BBQ with no burger and you are still full!
To be honest, a Trader Joe's masala burger is a staple in my house, I love it! This is the one frozen ready made food that i actually keep stocked for those days when I just want to do nothing with cooking and still eat at home.

When we started with grilling, we will make a few variations and then stick to the tried and tested Vegetable Burger as a main... however in the past 6 weeks of grilling (We grill at least twice a week), I have made the vegetable burgers only once!

So our BBQ sessions are interesting for sure even sans the burger! Here is the new 'concoction' Grilled Zuchini Boats!

Serves 6-8 adults as a side

Ingredients:
Zuchini (But of course): 3-4 medium length

Stuffing:
Corn (husked from the cob): 1 or frozen corn 1 cup
Note... its summer, enjoy the fresh husked corn, the frozen ones can be used in winter!
Onion: Medium: Finely chopped
Pepper: 1 medium: Finely chopped
Seranno Pepper: Per taste, finely chopped
Pesto Sauce : 3 tsp
Spices:
Per taste: Salt, Pepper, Chilli Flakes

Toppings
Goat Cheese: crumbled 1/2 cup
Shredded Cheddar Cheese: 1/4 cup
Basil: Finely chopped: 1/4 cup



Process:
1. Wash the zuchini and Slice it in the middle length wise
2. Core the centre and save the pulp

3. Stuffing: Mix all the ingredients along with the zuchini pulp and the spices
4. When the grill is hot, on the grill mats place the stuffing for 3-5 minutes and toss once or twice.
5. While the stuffing is getting cooked, place the sliced and cored zuchini on the mat as well.
5. When the stuffing is ready, : Stuff the stuffing (no pun intended) on the zuccini boats and and top with the cheese mix

6. Grill the stuffed boat for another 2-3 minutes and tada!!! Ready, the finely chopped basil helps to elevate the look

Enjoy as a warm accompaniment on your grilling evening.
And yes vegetarian grilling/ BBQ parties are a thing! We are living proof.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Quick Food Fix: Paneer Tikka Masala

Another grill edition and definitely a super hit with Indians and even my local American friends.
I used home made Paneer for this round, but you can use store brought one like I have done for the past 14ish years!

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1. Bell Pepper 1 Medium: Quartered in chunky pieces
2. Yellow Onion 1 Medium: Quartered in chunky pieces
3. Paneer: Quartered (You can adjust the amount of paneer based on your taste, I say, more then merrier)
4. Tomato 1 Medium: Quartered in chunky pieces
5. Ginger: 1 tsp grated
6. Garlic: 2 cloves grated
7. Yogurt: 3/4 cup

Herbs & Spices
1. Paneer Tikka masala (Easily available in Indian Store/ Whole Foods): 2 tsp
2. Seeka hua Jeera: 1/2 tsp
3. Red Chillo Powder: 1/2 tsp
4. Sookha Pudina: 1/2 tsp
5. Rock Salt: 1/2 tsp
6. Salt & Pepper: Per taste

Garnish:
1. Chopped Cilantro: 1/2 cup
2. Squeezed Lemon Juice: Per Taste
3. Chaat Masala: Per Taste

Process:
1. In a mixing bowl, mix the yogurt with all the spices and ginger, garlic
2. Once all is mixed, add Onion, Bell pepper and Paneer (Not the tomato)
3. Mix well and ensure everything is coated well
4. Now add the tomato and toss lightly
5. Marinate for at least 30 minutes in the fridge

Note: If you leave the marination overnight, skip adding the tomato's since tomato releases the water, it will make the marinate 'thinner'

To Cook:
On Grill: (Perfect for summer) Save some of the marination, and layer the tikka on the grill mats. Cook for 4-8 minutes and ensure to flip the vegetables and paneer to cook evenly

Alternatively: You could add them to presoaked skewers, I generally forego this step since it adds more prep time and for gobbling them down, have to take them off the skewers anyways.

In Oven: (Perfect in winters)On a slightly oiled foil/ oven dish add the paneer tikka and cook at 375 F for about 20 minutes

On Stove Top: (Least Recommended)Add 1 tsp of olive oil in the pan and then add vegetables and Paneer, Let it cook for 5-10 minutes on medium flame. Please note in this method, the vegetables tend to get softer and the paneer will not have the 'crunchy exterior'

Garnish with the toppings and any leftover marinated yogurt and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The half year mark...

We are roughly in the middle of the year and with both my girls being winter babies, its only apt that I write a simple homage of the half year it has been with these little angels or devils... or creatures who keep our lives filled with laughter, fun and definitely some angry tears!

Little Lady:

She is working hard to overtake her sister's title of 'Chatter box' and we love it.... she definitely has the most singy songy voice and the batting of her eyelids with that voice... she does get away with a lot more... a lot more!
She is chatty, definitely has made strides of progress in being 'less shy'. From the girl who played on her own for hours is now her gathering up her friends in the park and chasing butterflies. It's wonderful to see her blossom. 
She is being assertive and negotiating way more for every single thing. But the batting of eyelids has my heart in a mush consistently. 
She is gotten progressively annoying when it comes to food. She will still eat everything we give her, however sloth can eat faster than her. She is chatting more and eating less at meal time. 
The coolest part of her newest passion is reading, she will sit with her early reader books and make attempts. She will sit with her writing books and has moved on from scribbles to coherent writing. 
She is my musical kid, will skip instead of walking and can sing and sing and sing some more... simply to annoy her room mate, her love of her life, Didi aka Miss V aka Miss Chatterbox

Miss Chatterbox: 
This year was quiet a formative year for her, there was a lot of tween drama in her class, some crushes, some teasing, some girl gossips and definitely a lot of 'Mom, I am not a baby anymore
One word that best describes Miss Chatterbox, she is Strong. She is in very good control of her emotions and mature way beyond her years. She does not like to being vulnerable or cry and will really put on a brave face. 
And I really have to look in her eyes truly understand how she feels, she is sensitive and the strong face does not fool me. 
I love my long conversations with her about anything and everything. I love her complimenting/ dissecting my wardrobe. I thoroughly enjoy watching her with the soccer ball. 
Admist all this, She is definitely working on my patience by being more defiant and  more 'annoying' in the tween kind of way: Rolling of the eyes, some back answering and definitely being a little disrespectful. 
How am I dealing with this? You ask, I am not. It currently reverberates between yelling at her, to giving her silent treatment to more often than not 'What is going on man'
I guess deep down I do know the answer, nothing. So I need to figure out a way to learn with her and be the mature one in the relationship. 


But both these girls have one thing in common, their total dedication to each other. Where Little Lady will save an extra candy for her sister, the older one Miss V will hug her and calm her when Little Lady is sad. They fight, they annoy each other but they are each other's  biggest confidante right now. 

I will say this for the record: Currently, the older one is the tattle tale right now and the little one defensive of the other. I honestly thought at ages 9 and 4, it would be the other way around. 
Oh well, there is no 'guidebook to bringing up siblings 5 years apart' So, I will learn on the job!

My babies...or not such little babies anymore!



Home Made Paneer, Yes Please!

With young kids in a vegetarian house hold, Paneer (Think of it like a dense cottage cheese)very easily becomes favorite. Its' high in protein and calcium, very easy to cook and above all the kids will eat it in any form possible. And vegetarian or not, Paneer is one of the easiest to cook with after potatoes of course.

Over one of our countless BBQ sessions, a friend mentioned that she makes the paneer at home and its super easy. I was laughing and had the 'No way in hell' look and she said trust me. And I did trust her, noted her process down and then and I attempted it we had amazing home made fresh paneer with a simple-process.

Process in Instant Pot (Adapted from my friend’s recipe)
1. In IP: Yogurt-Boil Mode, boil 1/2 gallon of whole milk (Whole milk will yield more paneer!)
2. When milk is boiled, in a cup mix 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Add it to the milk
3. The milk separates from the whey. Stir a little more. You can save the whey for other uses(!)
4. Strain the curdled milk using a cheese cloth, just hang the cheese cloth with the curdled milk for about 30 minutes for additional water to drain out.
5. This is the soft paneer. However most of my recipes call for the firm paneer, Wrap the curdled milk in the cheese cloth, keep a heavy weight on top overnight to squeeze out any additional liquid.

Ta-da Paneer is ready. You can use it right away, however I recommend keeping in the fridge for about 24 hours especially if grilling with it, just so that it hardens up a little.


FYI- I used instant pot, well because its super easy to clean .... and then I was in a mode, so boiled the entire gallon of whole milk, used 1/3 rd for paneer, 1/3rd for making yogurt and 1/3rd for making Indian Ice Cream- Kulfi!

FYI- If you are using a regular stove top for boiling milk, the word on the street is, add 1/4 cup water to the pan before you start boiling the milk, it helps in not having the milk stuck on the stove top pan.

We of course used the home made paneer for grilling as Paneer Tikka and I realized the home made paneer was softer (less chewy) and above all; I was just crazy excited that it was home made. So the child in me took over and I ensured that the family tasted the paneer



Of course this needs to follow with an easy breeze quick paneer tikka recipe for Grilling of course! Coming Soon- I Promise.