Sep 29, 2009

Brewing Memories

Given the amount of tea Indian families consume, the ubiquitous chai shakkar ke dabbe (covered jars of tea leaves and sugar) hold a special place in every Indian kitchen. Typically, the tea jar is smaller than the sugar jar, probably because in preparing tea, the amount of sugar used is more than that of the tea leaves. For the ancient Indian cuisine, tea is a relatively new phenomenon, introduced about 200 years ago by the British. That by itself should make the tea making process an heirloom recipe, if it weren’t for the Chinese drinking it thousands of years before that. By that standard, we are merely toddlers chugging tea first thing in the morning and some every few hours after that.

Making tea, like thousands of other Indian recipes, is unique to every household and every chai dhabba
(roadside tea stall) that dots the busy cross streets and highways of India. What makes the tea unique is the blend of tea leaves, the amount of sugar, water and milk used, not to mention how long it is boiled to bring out the color of the tea leaves. If that does not give enough permutations and combinations of tea to come up with, cardamom, ginger or a blend of spices (chai masala) is sometimes used to give the chai a kick.

Tea is offered to every guest as a courtesy and served with another ubiquitous cookie – The Parle G or Glucose biscuits.

In the dhabbas, one can buy khari (a savory puff pastry cookie), aloo bonda (potato dumplings, dipped in chickpea batter and deep fried) or samosas. The bhabbawallas know the art of stretching/ boiling their tea leaves to the maximum. The leaves are usually tied in a linen or cotton cloth and immersed, bouquet style, in the milk, water and sugar solution boiling in a big aluminum pot.

Photo Courtsey: Jhinuk Chowdhary, a talented photographer and one of our good friends. On his recent India trip he took this picture of a lady selling tea in Kolkatta.

Growing up, I would watch my aaji (maternal grandmother) make tea every few hours. Her lidded jars of tea and sugar are made of brass and were a permanent fixture above the ledge of her gas stove. She always kept them polished and even as a kid I loved the two fat little jars, presiding over my aaji’s tiny little kitchen, sniffing the aromas of her simple cooking and my grandfather’s occasional mutton curry.

Her four daughters, including my mother, with their families, live in the same city and close enough to visit almost every day. As a result my grandparents have always had a steady flow of uncles, aunts and cousins, who come over to visit if they are in the vicinity. Nowadays, one of my aunts or cousins will put the tea on the stove to boil. But for the longest time I can remember, my aaji liked to make tea her way.

She would pour some water in a pot and put it on the stove to boil. She carefully measured some sugar to add to the water. A little bit of milk was put in a small pan and heated up on the smaller burner. When the sugar had all but dissolved and the water was about to come to a boil, she measured the tea leaves and threw them in the water. A little boiling later, the heat was turned off and the pot covered with a plate. This helped the tea leaves seep in the hot water and release their flavor. When the leaves had settled to the bottom of the pan, warm milk was added to the now dark water, the concoction strained with a sieve and poured into china tea cups and saucers. It was accompanied by Marie biscuits, which are a crispier, sweeter, round version of Graham Crackers.

My entry for Jugalbandi's Click: Heirloom Event

In all of my thirty something years, my aaji has been a major influence on me. My cousin and I lived with her as a five year old for a couple of years and though I do not have a lot of clear memories, one stands out the most. We were not allowed to play outside after sunset. My cousin and I had to wash up and then perched on three legged stools, in front of her little pooja corner, we recited our evening prayers and repeated the multiplication tables.

As I grew older, I learnt that she and her two sisters had lost their parents at an early age and had been brought up by an unmarried maternal uncle and a strict grandfather. She managed to graduate in an age when women were lucky to study past eighth grade. She eloped with my grandfather because his family opposed the union and managed to earn a master’s degree while taking care of two girls and pregnant with another. She was a high school English language teacher for 40 years before retiring at the age of 70.

In the three decades, I have been fortunate enough to know her, she has not changed much. Since moving to the US, I get to visit her every two years and each time she looks older and frailer but her spirit is as strong as ever. She does yoga and pranayam (breathing exercises) every morning, still cooks twice a day, goes for a walk and travels once in a while. Her cooking is as good as it was when I used to live with her and her sweet and sour varan (dal or lentil soup) and batata rassa (potatoes in onion gravy) taste the same as it did when I was growing up.

Her brass tea and sugar pots have been another constant in her kitchen. For the first time this year I did not see them by her gas stove. She had put them away for a pair of shiny, steel ones. But on asking, she graciously passed them on to me. All banged up and dented with years of use, with the original knobs on the lid missing, I still cherish them. They have travelled thousands of miles to occupy a permanent place on my kitchen counter, next to my stove, smelling the aromas of my cooking. Through them I draw on my aaji's gentle strength and her love for her family.

Sending the sweet and strong nostaligia of my aaji's pots to Manisha's IFR: Memories.

Sep 27, 2009

Eat Cake and make merry

Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake opens with Ruth, the heroine of the novel, imagining herself enveloped between the walls of a giant Bundt cake. She is attending a seminar on reducing stress and as she explains, it is not the act of eating cake that calms her down, but the smell and the texture of the cake and in her words “being part of something that I find profoundly comforting”. She feels, correctly so in my humble opinion, that cake has got a bad rap and there is nothing wrong with eating a piece of cake once in a while. “A slice of cake never made anybody fat.”
Raised by her mother, a high school music teacher and an absentee father, Ruth has come to value her stable family life – Sam, her faithful husband and her teenage kids, Wyatt and Camille. She has even adjusted to her now retired mother, Hollis, living with her family.
Ruth has simple cares and concerns of a housewife, shopping for groceries, cooking for her family and trying to bond with her teenage daughter going through a vegetarian phase. Her mundane world is turned upside down when Sam loses his job as a hospital administrator and her father, after breaking his wrists, has to move in with her for lack of any health insurance or a house to call his own.
Faced with a self centered, pouting teenager, forever quibbling parents and an out of job husband exploring the possibility of renovating yachts, Ruth takes refuge in baking cakes for her family. She finds an unexpected friend and advisor in the volunteer physical therapist, Florence, who occasionally visits to check on her father.
Eat Cake is the story of how baking cakes saves her sanity, her family and helps her discover the potential in a hobby she loved. Jeanne Ray’s tale of the neighbor next door rings true on many levels, the characters are easy to relate to and the language is self deprecating and funny. It is an easy read at 225 pages with additional pages for cake recipes.

I found the recipes elaborate and sometimes complicated, which is not to say the cakes don’t turn out good. I just do not have the patience that Ruth’s selfless character has (the reason why I did not bake a cake for this review). She tolerates her teenage daughter’s insolence, her mother’s nagging, her husband’s laziness and her father’s nocturnal routines with a fortitude that defies logic. I was waiting in every chapter for her to break down and yell at her husband or argue with her mother or just smash some plates on the kitchen floor. Only once does she break down, for a brief moment, in front of Florence. She immediately buckles up and trudges on, more as a martyr than a trooper.
It all ends well for Ruth in the end though, with the whole family pitching in to help out her expanding cake business. Like one of her cakes, perhaps too delicious an ending. If only things turned out so well in real life and cakes never deflated in the oven.
Check out other reviews from our This Book Makes me Cook foodies -- Simran,  Ann, Aqua and Curry Leaf.

Sep 24, 2009

Of cool breezes and dark clouds

The sweltering summer has given way to cool breezes and intermittent rains in my part of the world. I have been humming this song for a few days and all my desi readers will agree, there is nothing like a golden oldie when the mood strikes. This is from the movie Mr. and Mrs. 55 starring the suave Dev Ananad and the beautiful Madhubala. Singer -- the melodious Geeta Dutt.

Vata Tea

Trying out recipes for Taste and Create, an event started by Nicole of ForTheLoveofFood and currently hosted by Min of BadGirlsKitchen, was a unique experience. I was paired with Padmajha (she is known as PJ to a lot of you) and loved the chance to explore her blog Seduce Your Taste Buds.
I was intrigued by Vata tea for two reasons. I had never heard of it and PJ’s post said that when people with Vata personalities are out of balance they can be forgetful, spaced out, anxious and uptight. Now I like to think I am not the latter two but I definitely am forgetful and I sometimes space out. The recipe for the tea is supposed to be very calming and soothing.

1 cup water
1/4 tsp fresh ginger grated
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp carom/ Ajwain seeds
1 tsp sugar (my addition)

Boil water and put in all the ingredients. Remove from the heat and seep for five minutes. Strain and drink up.
The tea tastes more like cinnamon water with subtle hint of carom seeds. The sugar adds a sweetness to the tea that goes well with cinnamon.

Sep 23, 2009

Tomato Onion Chutney for T&C

This is my first time participating in Taste and Create, an event started by Nicole of ForTheLoveofFood and currently hosted by Min of BadGirlsKitchen. I was paired with Padmajha (she is known as PJ to a lot of you) and loved the chance to explore her blog Seduce Your Taste Buds.
Recently, T has developed distaste for all things coconut so making PJ's delicious tomato chutney from PJ's blog was a no-brainer. It was tangy and little bit spicier than I expected but it was consumed with relish.

1 ripe tomato, roughly chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 tsp gram dhal
1 tsp Urad dhal
3ct dry red chilies
2 tsp oil
Salt to taste

For tadka or seasoning:
1 tsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 curry leaves
A pinch of asafetida

Heat ½ tsp of oil and put in the gram dhal and urad dhal. Fry till golden brown and keep aside.
Heat the remaining oil and put in the tomato, onions, red chillis and cook till the onions are soft and the tomatoes are mushy. Keep aside to cool.
In a blender, grind the dhal first and then add the tomatoes and onions. Grind to a coarse paste and transfer to a bowl.
Heat oil for the seasoning and add mustard seeds. As they start to pop, add the rest of the ingredients and turn off the heat when the curry leaves start to crisp. Pour the seasoning over the chutney and serve.

Seduce your taste buds with Taste and Create

This is my first time participating in Taste and Create, an event started by Nicole of ForTheLoveofFood and currently hosted by Min of BadGirlsKitchen. I was paired with Padmajha (she is known as PJ to a lot of you) and loved the chance to explore her blog Seduce Your Taste Buds. Since she lives in China for the time being, her blog has nuggets of Chinese cooking, street food and culture. It was a treat to explore a facet of country and life I have little or no knowledge of. If you want to see China from the eyes of a South Indian foodie, hop on over to PJ’s blog. A lot of you do know her through the themed events she hosts regularly. Those of you, who don’t, check out her blog.

Pressed for time I made some simple but delicious recipes from her blog but I will be going back for more soon. I made Aqua Fresca, Tomato Onion Chutney with lentils and Vata Tea.

Refreshing Watermelon Fresca

The Watermelon Fresca was a result of a lot of leftover watermelon not to mention never having had fresca of any kind. I loved the refreshing sweetness with just a hint of the tanginess of lemon added to it. Just like PJ, I did not add any sugar to it.

2 cups cubed watermelon (I used seedless)
1 tsp juice of a lemon
Sugar optional

Blend the watermelon and lemon juice in blender till smooth. Serve chilled.

Sep 20, 2009

Growing pains and stuffing Anaheim peppers

As an angst ridden (read dramatic) teenager in the late 80s, I had a volatile relationship with my mother. I was in the “know it all” phase and sensitive to any remark or objection from my mother. The arrogance of youth and the inherent need to rebel would bring the worst out of me at the slightest provocation. I would take it as a personal attack on my right as an enlightened youth. I picked up quarrels with my mom at the drop of a hat and went without talking to her for days on end or giving her the cold shoulder.

As I saw it, it was my right to rebel. If she suggested I wear bright colors I would fill my wardrobe with grey and beige. Looking back on those days, I shudder to think the kind of hell I must have unleashed on my mom – demanding freedom but not wanting the responsibilities that came with it. I had yet to learn to embrace humility that is so essential to earn respect.

During that ‘difficult’ phase my mother would try to teach me basics of cooking, since I was of that “age” (how she found the patience or the desire for it, is beyond me). Initially I rebelled because I didn’t want to be one of those girls who excelled at cooking from an early age and settled down to a life of domesticity. In my day dreams, I had a higher purpose in life; I wanted to do something worthy of leaving an impact on future generations. If only that girl could peek into the future… Today the most impact I can hope is to have on my progeny, who is as rebellious, if not more, as me.

Ever since I became a mom, I have a renewed appreciation and admiration for all that my mom did for us three siblings. Between juggling a full time job and bringing up three kids she would try to find innovative ways to make us, especially me, eat a variety of vegetables. Stuffing Anaheim peppers with potatoes was one of her more successful recipes and she would make it as often as time would permit. Stuffing the peppers was my job and I saw it as her way of gently easing me into the drudgery of cooking.

Sulking, I would sit on the kitchen floor, stuffing the peppers and muttering under my breath. Secretly, I enjoyed the process of neatly cutting a slit along one of the edges, deseeding the peppers and then stuffing them with the prepared potatoes. There was a rhythm to the production and I didn’t want to acknowledge it but I loved the food prep. I suspect my mom knew it too.
Last few years have been a blur of establishing a married life, starting a family, house hunting, acquiring stuff and raising a kid. My mom and I are best friends and rarely argue over trivial issues.
Now I am trying to ease my son into eating veggies other than potatoes. I take him grocery shopping at Sprouts FM and it is a lot of fun to see him point out all the veggies and fruits. The fact that he helps me pick them does not in any way hamper his resolution to not try them.
When I saw the peppers in the store I thought of my mom wondering that first time, many years ago, what she could do to make me eat it. I could envision the sizzle of the peppers roasting in the kadhai and the sweet peppery smell of the charring skin signaling dinner time. I wondered if my son would try them and decided not to push my luck.
Traditionally in the north the peppers are stuffed with kneaded chickpea flour but potatoes are sometimes stuffed as an alternative. The peppers were spotted and cooked shortly after Manisha announced her IFC: Memories event. I knew I had the perfect memory (admission of guilt?) to ship off to her along with the basket of mangoes (Dare I add a smiley Manisha?).
This is also one of the many apologies, long overdue, to my mom for my brattish behavior.

4 – 5 anaheim peppers
1/2 tbsp of olive oil

For the stuffing:
4 – 5 potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tbsp red chili powder
Salt to taste

In a kadhai or wok heat ½ tbsp of oil, turn the heat to low and add turmeric, fennel seeds and red chili powder. You want the raw taste of turmeric to turn fragrant before adding the mashed potatoes. Add salt and combine. If the potatoes are tinged yellow all over, you know the salt and chili have been incorporated.
Cut each pepper in three pieces and slice lengthwise. Deseed the end pieces and keep aside.
Let the potato sabzi cool down a little before stuffing the peppers.

Heat a non stick skillet or pan with a wide flat bottom. Add ½ tbsp of oil and swirl it around to coat before adding the stuffed peppers. You don’t want the peppers to overlap and steam. The goal here is to char the skins all over or as much as you can. So do it in two or three batches.

Cook the peppers in a single layer on medium heat, turning them around every few minutes as the skins start charring. I like to crisp the potato sabzi which is sticking out the slit end because that is the best part and I save it up to eat last.

Once all the peppers are charred and cooked, transfer to a serving dish and serve with toor dal and rotis.

My son stuck to his resolve and did not try it. Come to think of it I should have spiked it with his khichdi. That’s what my mom would have done.

The stuffed peppers also go to IVW: Indian currently hosted by Erbe in Cucina and the brainchild of Vaishali of Holy Cow.

Sep 16, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly -- II

I was going to post a food recipe (stuffed Anaheim peppers) today and then go finish my grocery shopping for the week. It'll have to wait, since I have some explaining to do.
When I wrote my last post, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, it was not intended as a personal attack on any one in particular but as a commentary on the ongoing trend on the blogosphere. Also, I have never received a rude comment or have had the bad luck of having my photo or recipe copied.
I am not a snob or an anglophobe (in fact I write as well in Hindi as I do in English). I do not claim to be an outstanding writer or have a great blog going. I think I am a decent writer and have a clean blog which is easy on the eye and not too cluttered.
I do have almost a decade of journalism background with newspapers like TOI, IE and Mid-Day (and yes, I have also written for Dainik Bhaskar and Naiduniya, albeit very briefly). That has made me, unfortunately, sensitive to grammatical and spelling mistakes. If some bloggers think it is their prerogative to ignore language and spellings in the process of expressing themselves, then more power to them. But let them be aware of the adage -- you get what you sow.
I do understand that English is not the first language of some bloggers and a lot of times they translate verbs and adjectives from their mother tongue to English, resulting in not so perfect a sentence. And that is perfectly fine. I do visit a lot of blogs whose English is not as good but I still love them for their content and the passion with which they write.
Moving on to the comment section of the blog. It is interesting to note that no one tried to defend plagiarism of image and text. Thank you plagiarists for that.
Now to address the issue of the blogger who said she was better than Tarla Dalal. I have to explain that it was an exaggeration on my part (I blame it on the sensational journalist in me) and I apologize for raising unintentional curiosity. I was merely trying to point to outlandish expressions of the "best curry you will ever eat" kind of claims.
We are all guilty of asking people to come and visit our blog when she started out. I am guilty of doing the same in the beginning and it is what a lot of us do to let people know of our existence. There is nothing wrong with it if asked in the correct tone or in the right context (for ex if both the posts are about pulao). But expecting people to mandatorily follow their blog or to go click on the ads is unacceptable.
Also, if for some reason, a regular visitor has not been visiting your blog, please don't pester them with forceful invitations or rude comments. It happens to me, a lot, and instead of asking I reason that they may have lost interest in my latest posts or may be busy with work or family or have had a computer breakdown.
While I would like to see them visit regularly, it also makes me doubt my content and the next time I post something I work at it harder. I am acutely aware when I write that the reader can go to the next blog by the click of a button and if I am not consistent in what I write or if my content is not interesting, I may not gain readership or a following. If I hold myself up to a certain standard, it makes sense for me to expect the same kind of standard from the blogs that I frequent.
I do take exception when people expect to be reciprocated post to post. Check out A&N's post for what I am trying to say.
I prefer to receive a cogent, heartfelt response rather than a cursory one for the sake of commenting and reciprocating. I have drawn immense satisfaction from reading comments from the last two posts, because they tell me something about the reader and give me a chance for some spirited dialogue. For me it is not the number of comments I get, but the content of the comments. And again, let me clarify, I do not expect 500 word paragraph. An acknowledgement that the post has been read and commented accordingly is what I expect.
Again, it was not my intention to step on sensitive blogger toes or attack any one in particular. It was a commentary on the general trend in the blogosphere and as I said in my earlier post it was the ranting of an insomniac. Treat it as such.
If you want a lesson from it, please I urge you again to read Amit Varma's Blogging Tips from a Jaded Veteran.
Thank you and good (luck) blogging.

Sep 14, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Ranting of an insomniac
What makes you follow a blog? For me it is the content, the writing, the pictures, the recipes and most of all the "it" factor. If the blogger speaks to me on a personal level, doesn't talk down to me and is passionate about what he or she is writing, I follow them to the last post. I have met some wonderful bloggers who are funny and kind and generous. I have asked for help and have been given support and encouragement and good advice by them. I have befriended them on FB and exchanged emails with a few.
I have also been stumped to read bad copy (read language), improper use of words, shameless self promotion and rude comments all over the blogosphere. I credit the first two to ignorance and let go but the latter two leave me  speechless (obviously not now). Without wanting to sound rude or offensive or arrogant here's a word of advice for those who wanna have 100 followers in a matter of few months: If you are good, people will follow you eventually. Don't go on a blog and ask them to come over and visit yours unless your posts are related. Most likely people will remove your comment from their post or just ignore it. If you still have the urge to solicit, be polite and say something nice about the post you are leaving your comment on and then tell them to come visit you.
And no matter what you do, for heaven's sake do not announce on your blog that you are a better writer or cook than Tarla Dalal. If you can hold a candle to TD let your readers tell you that and believe me they will. Do not brag what your guests said about your cooking. They are guests and have to praise you, whether it was worth the praise or they were being polite, you'll never know.
On the same note, if your recipe is adapted from TD, please give her credit. This goes not only for TD but for all those hardworking bloggers out there typing and composing there posts in the middle of the night.
Which brings me to my next point. For those of you who love to cut, copy and paste from other blogs and pass it off as yours, please don't. In plain speak, it is stealing and it is the worst thing you can do to some one's hard work. If you wrote your own posts and took the trouble of taking photos, editing and captioning them, you would realize how much time and effort goes into the process. Once you are exposed for the fraud you are, no one will visit your blog. It takes just one email to start the chain reaction to brand your blog scarlet. Try being original and I promise you people will try to copy you. Till then, stop and think before you click the copy button. Thank you.
Now I would like to direct everyone's attention to a great blog -- Amit Varma's India Uncut. His views of Indian current events -- politics, sports, culture -- are an interesting read. He has a huge following and millions of people log in everyday to read his posts. In this article -- Blogging Tips from a Jaded Veteran -- he writes a few commonsense guideline for writing a great blog -- keep it crisp, do not talk down to your readers, enjoy the process, respect your reader's time and DON'T COPY.
According to Varma, all the advice he gives for writing a great blog stems from one rule of thumb -- "Respect your reader's time." Here are a few of the points he covers under those rules:
Keep it Crisp
Don't Show Off
Ask yourself why you are writing your blog
Who are you writing for
Be regular but don't force yourself (I love this one)
Use Proper English
Don't Clutter Your Page
Do it only if it is fun (Gotta love that too)
Don't treat the reader like a fool

At the risk of talking down to my readers I will now sign off with the advice : Enjoy and Learn from the above mentioned article.
This post goes to Sra of When my soup comes alive. She is celebrating her third anniversary and has decided to host the unique event The Write Taste. Sra, you are a sister of my heart and I am glad I found your blog.

Sep 11, 2009

Where was I when it happened?

I was sleeping in bed when the first plane crashed into the WTC building. A friend from Australia called up to let me know what had happened. I was still new to the country and it took me a few minutes to realize the enormity of the situation. As I sat bleary eyed in front of my television another plane crashed into the WTC and after a while another one into the Pentagon. I had a hollow in the pit of my stomach and the whole day was spent chugging cups of tea and watching news updates, calling up relatives and friends in India and US. T came home from work early and we sat in silence, trying to comprehend the horrific events that had started the day.
Days that followed were rife with speculations and war talk. Eight months later when I left to visit family back in India, I had to undergo search of my check-in as well as my carry-on baggage at the security gate. But when my bags were checked a second time at the boarding gate, fellow American passengers nodded sympathetically as they moved on. As the last person to board the plane, they helped me find a place in the already full overhead bin and smiled a reassuring smile.
I have never felt like an alien in the post 9/11 America and I expected nothing less of my country of adoption. I am proud and happy to live in America.
Terrorism has no religion, nationality or race. And no humanity for that matter.

Where were you when it happened?

Sep 9, 2009

Green beans and moong dhal sabzi

Serves 4 as a main dish and 6 as a side dish
In our marriage, T prefers sabjzis and I am happy to have bowls of dhal to eat with rotis or rice. He is not a fussy eater but it has taken a lot of prodding on his part for me to start eating more than the few veggies (read potatoes,, spinach, fenugreek, cauliflower and peas) I have eaten since childhood. When he ate this green beans sabzi at a friend’s house he asked me to get the recipe. Of course I had to tweak it a little by adding some split moong dal* and the result made us both happy.
1/4 cup split moong dal
1 lbs frozen French cut green beans or 2 cups of fresh green beans, cleaned and chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds (rai)
1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
1 tsp asafetida powder (hing)
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp Everest sabzi masala
Salt to taste
Wash the moon dal three times and soak it in double the amount of water for half an hour. The dal should plump up a little. Discard the water and keep aside.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a karahi and add mustard seeds. As they start to pop lower the heat and add cumin seeds, turmeric, asafetida and red chili. Roast it for a few seconds before adding the moong dal. The dal will start to plump up in the oil. Add some salt and roast for about five minutes before adding the green beans. Add the sabzi masala and salt. Mix the dal and beans together, cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes before turning off the heat. Serve with rotis and curry.
*Note: The amount of moong dal can be cut in half or a few tablespoons if you prefer the beans over the dal.
I am sending this off to Susan's brainchild MLLA – 15 being hosted by Sia of Monsoon Spice and to Vikki’s Side dish with chappati event.

Sep 7, 2009

Preschool flashback

Flipping through the latest issue of Parents magazine at my doctor’s office I came across the article “I survived Preschool”. It made me flashback to last August when my then two and a half year old son started preschool. I wasn’t sure I/he was ready for him to start pre-K (even though it was just two days a week). The two of us had not been apart for more than a couple of hours since he was born. Even when I went out to the stores or for the groceries it was always when he was napping and I would be back before he woke up. So of course he threw a fit during first few days of preschool. Here’s how it all went down.
Meet the teacher day: A couple of days before T and I went to meet the teachers and get our son familiar with them and the class room. He got to meet his class mates and was happy to explore while we chatted with his teachers.
Day 1: We woke up early and got ready to reach the school in time. He was quite happy to hold his lunch box with one hand and my hand in the other. I juggled his sleep mat, his folder, a set of extra clothes and my purse in the other hand.
He was quite calm going in the class but then one mom said bye to her little girl who started crying. This made him and the other kids take notice and started a chain reaction of crying and sobbing. Some of the moms were quietly wiping their eyes outside. The teachers assured me they won’t let the kids cry for more than 15 minutes.
I waited in my car, listening to the car radio, waiting for the cell phone to ring. When nobody called after half an hour, I went home. It is the longest four hours I spent waiting for the phone to ring any minute and the school asking me to come pick him up. They don’t and I am happy but feeling strange in our suddenly quite house.
Day 2: A day later all seemed well till we reached the school parking lot. The minute I opened the passenger door he started crying. I managed to walk him to the school building (teacher’s tip: do not carry him, let him walk) but as we entered the hallway he tried to run in another direction. I had to scoop him up and hand him over to the teacher. He was still crying and calling out my name when I walked out. I realized why they say parenting is tough.
I waited in the car feeling guilty and telling myself the separation is good for the both of us. I head to the grocery store after 15 minutes for an hour long, quite roaming in the aisles. When I go back after five hours to pick him up he runs to hug me, says bye to his teachers and comes away with me.
Day 3: We walked to his class holding hands but he again clings to my leg and starts crying. I have to pry him from my legs and hand him over to his teacher. After a few minutes I come back to check on him through the little glass window on the door. He is happily playing with a fire truck.
I had the whole house to myself and I sit on the couch watching “The View” and munching some potato chips.
Day 4: He held on to me a little bit but did not resist much when I handed him over to the teacher. He had some tears in his eyes but he managed to give me a hug and a brave “bye Mamma”. I was happy the crying phase was over and I didn’t have to feel guilty as much. I dared to go to the gym and attend an hour long spinning class. Back home, I took a long shower and enjoyed some quite time surfing the net before I headed back to pick him up.
Over the weekend he told me he wanted to go to back to school again. Two days later, he gave me a hug and a kiss before he walked in the class room, bravely clutching his lunch box. I knew he was going to be ok and for the first time in two and a half years I go for an unhurried three hour shopping spree and have lunch with a friend.
In the days that followed I was happy with our decision to put him in preschool. It gave me time to think of myself as more than a mom and to do things for myself. Every day for the last three months I have been happy taking him to story time at the local library, to the pool, to train rides and cycling to the park. Time has flown so fast and I am sad he won’t be there all the time in the house. But I am also happy for him to go to his preschool he likes so much, giving me some much needed time for myself.

Sep 1, 2009

Doughnut muffins with chocolate and strawberry jam

I would like to give a big thank you to all my readers for their birthday wishes and sympathizing with my lunch fiasco. This month’s Sweet and Simple Bake’s jammy doughnut muffins are for all of you.
Being a chocoholic I had to try adding some chocolate chips to half of them. The result, I was sorry to find out, was not as nice as the one with the jam filling.
The strawberry jam was made a while ago by chopping and cooking some on the verge of going bad strawberries with 1/2 cup of sugar and some lemon juice.
Quick Strawberry Jam
2 cups chopped strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of half a lemon
In a heavy bottom pan cook the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice till thick. Cool and store in a clean glass jar.

Now for the jammy doughnut recipe all my Sweet and Simple bake friends will be posting all over the world.
2 cup all purpose flour
1/2cup + 2 tbsp superfine sugar
3 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
7 oz milk
4 oz butter
1 tsp vanilla
Jam and semisweet chocolate chips

In a microwave safe mixing bowl melt the butter and let cool. Meanwhile crack the eggs, measure the milk and sift and combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar and baking powder).
When the butter is cooled add the milk, eggs and vanilla to it. Whisk to combine before adding the dry ingredients. Combine to incorporate but do not over mix. It is ok to have a lumpy batter. Preheat oven to 375c and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Fill with the batter half way and add a tsp of jam or chocolate chips. Top with the rest of the batter and bake for 15 -20 minutes till a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Finishing touches:
To decorate, I just brushed the muffins with a cold stick of butter and rolled them in white sugar and red sprinkle sugar. The original recipe calls for melting 4 oz of butter and dipping the muffins in it before rolling on the sugar.
The muffins were delicious and were presented to the new neighbors across the street as a welcome to the neighborhood gesture.
Thank you Maria and Rosie for another Sweet and Simple bake recipe.

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