Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The "No-TV" life

It's been more than 6 months since we canceled our DTH subscription. For those of you who are thinking of going down a similar path, let me share with you how this decision has positively impacted me and my family.

Early this year, hubby dear stopped watching TV. I used to watch a few serials in Star World / Zee Cafe or amble around, watching back-to-back recipe shows in Food Food. I get this time ONLY when the little one is asleep or when she is playing.  She used to watch her rhymes DVDs back to back the whole evening. We hadn't exposed her to Cartoon Network or Pogo channels.

Then one Monday morning, when D had gone to her play school, we shifted the TV inside a closet. When she came back from school, she wondered where the TV disappeared. We were glad she didn't throw a fit. The TV was in the closet for nearly 5 months before we decided to bring it back to get some space. We own a 29" CRT TV which is huge and occupied the entire closet. The TV is back but the DTH cancellation stays put.

There were 6 positive outcomes because of this conscious change we made in our lives:

1) I started to sleep on time. We switch off from our devices by 9 PM and hit the bed by 10 PM. Earlier, I used to watch a thrilling episode of Castle from 11 - 12 which would make my mind active and disturb my sleep.

2) I have got back to reading regularly, mostly in the evenings and before bedtime. In the last 6 months, I have read nearly 6 books. For voracious readers, that might sound very less but to me, it feels like a big achievement!

3) We have also started to buy more books, given that we aren't spending money towards monthly DTH subscription.

4) Our dinner time has shifted from 9 PM to 8 PM. I started to cook dinner early these days since I don't sit in front of the TV, channel surfing in the evenings as I used to do earlier.

5) Both husband and I feel more focused and our minds are relatively calm.

6) We do puzzles together or read story books with D after dinner. So that way, we get to spend quality time with her. Earlier, it used to be "Masterchef Australia" time :-)

D still watches her DVDs on TV but the time has significantly reduced, as she is bored watching the same rhymes repeatedly. Hubby and I sometimes watch our FRIENDS DVD collection when we want to have a good laugh. Other than that, TV remains a spot where our furniture is pointing at :-) (What a line, Joey!!)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Venturing into baking bread

2014 - An important year as I knocked off one of the items in my bucket list !! To experience the joy of baking, to smell the aroma of butter wafting from my new convection oven and spreading warmth and comfort all around. I have been trying out different variations of cakes, muffins and cookies. Some experiments turned out really awesome while some were average. Fortunately, there hasn't been any disaster so far (Love you all, food bloggers for your perfect recipes and drool-worthy clicks).

Baking bread was the ultimate pinnacle I had set for myself. For some silly reason, I was very scared to plunge into baking bread. Maybe, it's because of reading so many recipes that I feared my pav bun would turn into a rock or my bread loaf would turn into a brick. Every time, I passed the aisle that had yeast in the supermarket, I would look at it in anticipation, only to walk away after a few minutes. Early Aug, I took the "bold" step of purchasing a small pack of "Active dry yeast". It sat in my kitchen pantry for another 2 months before I decided "Enough is enough, lady! Give it a shot". I added a goal in my Weekly to-do list - "Bake bread"

One afternoon, I pulled out a pav bun recipe from my bookmarks list and followed the recipe exactly. It came out so good to my surprise. I was elated and thrilled. Soft, light and spongy. I made a small batch and we ate the buns with jam.

Now the initial success gave me confidence to try out a basic sandwich bread recipe. Bookmarks to the rescue again, pulled out a bread recipe and baked this bread loaf a couple of days back.

Recipe adapted from: thekitchn

1.5 tsp active-dry yeast
1/2 cup (118 ml) warm water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2.5 cups of all purpose flour / maida

In a bowl, mix yeast, sugar and warm water, until the yeast is dissolved. Place this bowl in a warm place (I kept it inside my oven) for around 15 minutes. It should have frothed up by now. You will see some air bubbles. If you don't, then do not proceed further. Buy a fresh pack of yeast and try later.

Melt the butter, add salt and milk. Mix well. Add this mixture to the yeast mixture. Add 2 cups of all purpose flour and mix together. If you are not able to knead and it's too sticky, add 1/4 cup of flour at a time and continue kneading for 10-15 minutes. The dough should come together nicely and form a soft ball.

Keep this dough in a covered bowl in a warm place for 1 hour.

After an hour, the dough would have risen well. Punch the dough a little bit and knead for 5 minutes.

Grease a loaf pan with some butter/oil. Shape the dough into a rectangle, so it fits into the loaf pan. Press it lightly so it fits well into the corners. Cover the loaf pan with a wet cloth and keep it in a warm place for 1 hour. It should have risen to the brim of the loaf pan.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Carefully, remove the wet cloth. Apply a layer of milk on top of the risen dough.

Bake for 25 - 30 min. The dough will start to rise in the first 5 minutes but will take another 20 minutes to get the brown crust. Take it out once you see a nice brown layer on top.

Immediately, apply a layer of butter using a silicone brush. Let it cool completely before you slice them. Enjoy with a dash of butter and a sliver of jam.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Tea moment

He never had tea or coffee before we met. I have always been a big fan of my dad's filter coffee. Then something changed. I don't remember how and when exactly. Maybe, It was the Bangalore weather, it was the freshly brewed milk tea at the office pantry or it was the time we spent together, talking for hours and discovering each other in our office cafeteria. 12 years later, our mornings are never complete without a cup of chai. Life has changed, a lot….But this is one ritual I love to follow every morning, wherever it is.

There were days when we weren't buying a pack of milk everyday but still the tea would be prepared with milk powder. It didn't taste good but the beginning of the day with your loved one over a hot cuppa makes you feel alive. Then I discovered the art of tea making - a simple masala chai with milk. This has always been our favorite drink every morning for many years. We used to sit on the bed, spread the newspaper and sip tea slowly, chatting about something that happened at work or about a silly news in the paper or just being quiet with each other's presence. Whether it be a busy day ahead or an early start, we never skipped our morning tea. On days when I had to leave for my MBA classes at 7:15 AM, I would still take 30 min to prepare and sip tea. He used to wonder "Can't you skip tea on your MBA days atleast?". "No, never! I can miss breakfast but no tea", pat went my reply.

The routine of preparing tea the first thing in the morning still continues but very rarely we get to share the moment together. Our 3 year old daughter seems to have understood the connection her parents have with their morning tea. She wakes up exactly at the moment when hubby takes his first sip. Then he had to rush to her room to put her back to sleep (She doesn't allow mumma in, btw!). Even if we wake up early in order to sip tea peacefully, she can sense it with her radar and give a shout-out to her dad. So we end up having our special morning tea at different times or in different rooms. Hopefully someday she would realize and let us have our tea moment!! :-)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Marathon weekend

Alert: Wrapping up old drafts. So you might hear stories that happened long time ago (okay, not so long! A few months back to be precise)

I love to travel more often that I actually do. When the opportunity presented itself, we planned a nice trip and it was fun and memorable. Hubby dear is into some serious running this year and one of his goals was to run the 10K in Cauvery Trail Marathon in Srirangapatna. Since the run was scheduled on a Saturday, we decided to leave from Bangalore on a Friday afternoon and return on Sunday - ah, a perfect weekend !!

We got a good deal in Ginger Hotels, Mysore through Cleartrip and we grabbed a 2 night stay. Hubby entrusted me to come up with a plan for 2 days in and around Mysore. Trip planning is something I just love to do for hours - browsing through blogs and websites.

We started off from our home around 3 PM and hit Mysore road quickly. Stopped for a snack break in Kamat near Channapatna and then continued on our drive. The rains started to lash heavily and it became quite dark. We reached Mysore around 7ish and checked in. Loved our room at Ginger - clean and cozy. The bed was neat and there was a TV too. Having disconnected DTH at home 5 months back, I was so happy to watch an episode of Castle and Big Bang Theory after a long time.

The next morning, hubby went for the run while my 3 year old daughter D and I stayed back at our room. The complimentary breakfast was very good and they also offered room service as requested. After hubby returned, we decided to go to the zoo, hoping D would have fun. We took the electric vehicle ride and went around. The weather was good for a while before it became sunny.

By the time we left the zoo, we were extremely hungry and had a good lunch at Hotel Sandesh. Though it was expensive, the quality of the food and service were excellent. We then went to Mall of Mysore to while away some time as it was too early to go anywhere else. D was excited to see the small play area where she happily played for an hour. After a quick coffee break, we headed towards Chamundi hills. The view enroute was just awesome and D took a short nap to regain her energy :-) The temple wasn't crowded and we had a good darshan.

The next morning, we checked out after breakfast and headed towards Melkote. Though we have been to Mysore and Srirangapatna multiple times, we have never visited Melkote before. The route from Srirangapatna to Melkote was scenic, with many villages and sugarcane fields on either side of the road. The drive was so lovely and pleasant. Even if you are not into temples, you should visit this place just for the scenic route.

We visited the Cheluva Narayanaswamy temple and Narasimhaswamy temple, which is located on a beautiful hill. The view is just breath-taking and the breeze felt soothing in the afternoon. Thanks to this travelogue, we found Subbanna mess for lunch. The meal on a banana leaf was so sumptuous - puliogare and sweet pongal in particular. They charge a nominal rate of Rs.75.  Absolutely worth it!

One of my motivations to visit Melkote is to visit the Raya Gopura. Having seen this place in so many thalaivar movies, I know I had to visit it. As I climbed up, I can hear that melancholic background score when Shobana bids adieu to Rajni in Thalapathy.

Though the Gopura is marked as a historic monument, it's sad to see plastic and garbage strewn around everywhere. After spending some time walking around, we returned to our car and headed back home. The short day trip to Melkote was really good and I highly recommend you add it to your itinerary, when you visit Mysore next.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Introducing Solids to infants

I felt extremely happy and grateful when one of my friends asked me if I had written a blog post on "Introduction to solids". I'm neither a pediatrician nor a dietitian but I have been sharing my experiences related to child nutrition in the past 2 years. One of my goals is to ensure that every Indian mother has the right information/knowledge about child nutrition and the packaged foods industry wouldn't be able to influence us in the wrong direction. These blogposts are just a fraction of efforts towards that goal.

I started off this series by talking about the importance of breastfeeding your baby in the first six months of his/her life.

This is the second post in this series where I want to talk about how to introduce solids in a phased manner. This is applicable for babies in the 6-8 month range.

"Solids" may not be the appropriate word since you start off with liquids (other than milk) and pureed/mashed foods. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to them as "baby foods".

How do you know when your baby is ready?
Around the age of 5-6 months, check for the following signs.

  1. Your baby is able to hold her head steadily
  2. She jumps onto you when she sees you eating from your plate
  3. She shows interest in your food

When should you start?
Ideally, after completion of 6 months. But please do check with your pediatrician. If your baby's weight hasn't been increasing steadily, the doctor might ask you to start earlier (around 5 months).

How should you start?
  • Choose a time frame preferably in the morning hours and on a weekday. If your child reacts to any food, it would be easier for you to take her to a doctor.
  • Avoid introducing a new food when your child is extremely hungry OR when your child has just had a milk feed. Choose a time frame between that. Let's say, your child nurses once every 2 hours and had milk at 10 AM. Then 11 - 11:30 AM would be a better time to feed baby foods.
  • Introduce one food at a time. Monitor the reactions for 3 days. 
  • After 15 days, once you see your child is comfortable with certain foods, make the "baby foods' timings into 2 phases - once in the morning and once in the evening. Continue introducing new foods in the morning (remember the 3 day rule). Serve the foods that your child has become comfortable with in the evenings (around 4-5 PM).
Maintain a food log. This is extremely important to track your child's reactions and/or any allergies. I used a spreadsheet in Google Drive and used to update it every night. I religiously followed it until my daughter was a year old.
Note down the following:
  • Date
  • Time
  • Food given
  • Quantity
  • Reaction while eating (did she eat well / spit it out?)
  • Reaction after eating (did she cry in the evening / did she pass stools? / loose stools/constipated?)
  • Other Comments
What should you start?
I started her off with rice gruel water. My daughter's initial reaction was to cry and spit it out. I tried it for 3 consecutive days, same reaction. I felt disappointed and depressed. The only suggestion that came my way was to start her off with Cerelac. I bought a pack and prepared as per instructions. I tasted a little and my reaction was "this tastes like milk payasam and it's so sweet". While I fed it to my daughter, she loved it and ate well. I was happy but very concerned. In the night, she felt uncomfortable and cried a lot. After 2 days, she had loose stools and my pediatrician asked me to stop Cerelac. In retrospect, I'm glad this incident happened or else I might have taken the easy route of feeding her packaged foods on a daily basis. The following days (and nights) were spent reading and noting down home made recipes that would suit her tummy. I had to depend on the Internet to get the "motherly" advice and am glad it didn't disappoint me.

Slowly, I started her off with fruits and vegetable purees. Sharing a few simple recipes below:

Recipes for 6-7 months

Carrot juice:
Wash the carrots. Peel them. Chop into pieces and boil them in pressure cooker for 3 whistles, cool, puree and strain it.
Same procedure for apple / pear juice.

Carrot Puree:
Once she accepts the juice form, try giving the puree without straining. Ensure it's really smooth and doesn't have any lumps.
Follow the same procedure for potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Banana Puree:
Chop banana and puree them in a mixer into a smooth puree. You can add some water if required.
Same procedure for muskmelon.

Rice porridge (kanji):
Clean the rice for 3-4 times. Drain the water, spread it on a plate and dry it under fan for 2 hours.
Powder this rice in a mixer finely
Store this powder in a air-tight container and keep it in the fridge. Can use upto a week.
While preparing kanji, take a tsp of this rice powder in a bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of water and mix well.
Boil this mixture till it thickens and the rice powder is well cooked.
It has to be runny and in liquid form.

If your baby drinks formula milk, you can add a few drops of it to the prepared porridge. If not, you can add few drops of breast milk.

No need to add salt or sugar. Doctors advise that sugar must be avoided until 1 year of age. Salt can be introduced in very little quantities after 8-9 months.

Recipes for 7-8 months

Yellow pumpkin / Beans / Peas puree:
same procedure as given above for carrot puree.

Mango puree:
Peel and cut the ripe mango into cubes. Puree and serve.

Moong dal water:
Cook yellow moong dal for 4-5 whistles in a pressure cooker.
Strain and give the dal water
Once adjusted to the taste of dal water, puree the dal and give

Simple kichdi:
Cook 2 tsp of rice and 1 tsp of moong dal in a pressure cooker for 4 whistles.
Let it cool.
Puree and serve with a drop of ghee.

Veg kichdi:
Cook 2 tsp of rice, 1 tsp of moong dal, a few pieces of carrots+potatoes+beans in a pressure cooker for 4 whistles.
Let it cool.
Puree and serve with a drop of ghee.

Mixed veg soup:
Pressure cook 1 baby potato, 1/2 carrot, 2-3 beans for 4 whistles.
Let it cool.
Puree and give.

Ragi malt:
Clean ragi grains, soak overnight.
Place the soaked ragi in a casserole or a sprouts maker.
The grains will sprout in 2 days.
Dry roast the ragi sprouts in a thick bottomed vessel in medium flame. Make sure it doesn't get burnt.
Once it's roasted well, it gives a nice aroma.
Let it cool.
Powder it in mixer.
Store this powder in a air-tight container and keep it in the fridge. Can use upto 2 weeks.

While preparing kanji, take a tsp of this ragi powder in a bowl.
Add 1/4 cup of water and mix well.
Boil this mixture till it thickens and the ragi powder is well cooked.
It has to be runny and in liquid form.

If your baby drinks formula milk, you can add a few drops of it to the prepared porridge. If not, you can add few drops of breast milk.

Idli soaked in dal water / apple puree:
Mash idli nicely and then add dal water / apple puree to make it a little gooey.

As you notice the recipes above, these are extremely simple, easy and quick to prepare. Just a little planning can ensure your child eats safe, home-cooked food that's healthy and nutritious.
Backup option
When we were traveling for a short distance or when my daughter wasn't eating much during the day, I used to give her Nestum plain rice cereal. Compared to Cerelac, I found this to be very mild, less sweet and doesn't taste artificial.

Hope these pointers were helpful. Please do share any other ideas/recipes/questions/comments below.

In the third post of this series, I will talk about introducing spices, textures and how to eventually transition your child to regular foods by the time he/she turns one.