Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Quick Pulav and giving Thanks.

Earlier this moth, we moved (yes, A-G-A-I-N!) this time to another state- in a hurry. I packed and moved in under 2 weeks.
When I look back, I keep asking myself, did I really do that? 
4 years, all boxed up in a week. Furniture sold or trashed. Things dear to my heart ( read, anything that is used in the kitchen, like my beloved cast iron pan, my pizza stone and assorted stuff  passed on to friends) and one afternoon, just like that, we boarded the flight to start a new adventure in sunny Florida.

It was really difficult saying good bye to Dallas. I had a good friend circle, the location was SUPER convenient and the Indian stores! Oh those fabulous BIG Indian stores with anything and everything any Indian kitchen needs! I miss that the most
I still recoil in horror and dismay at the sad vegetables in the Indian store here, it pains me to see just one or two brands of Basmati or Sona masoori rice sacks and the prices, let's not even go there. Suffice to say, I doubt I will ever get a big fat bunch of Methi / Fenugreek leaves for 50 cents or even vegetables at a reasonable rate, here you pick a vegetable and they put a price to it, not that I object, but I like to know the price before I buy.

But there is always a silver lining, always. 

The weather, its perfect, right now. 
And then there is this view, 

I love waking up to this view everyday. 
I love to sip my tea and watch the sun rise, I just sit and gaze.
I love how there's plenty of natural light that fills the rooms and makes them bright.

We moved here just as it was Diwali. Which is my favorite time of the year. But this year, it was all a mess.

No Diwali lights ( well, just 4-5 diyas), no goodies made, no traditions observed. We had very little stuff  and that was a dampener. 
What is Diwali without chivda, chakli, ladoo, shev, karanji, shankarpali, right?  

My parents knew that and they stepped in! 

Just in time for Diwali, on the day !

A whopping big parcel which made the Fed Ex guy bend, was delivered to our door at 10:30 am. 

We lugged it upstairs and waited. It was SO difficult not to rip the tape and just take in all the goodies inside, but I waited, knowing that li'll S would be thrilled to receive a big parcel from his beloved Ajji and Ajja. Those li'll hands got busy the moment he spied the parcel. 

A parcel from my parents is never just one thing, the box was packed and bulging. Among the goodies nestled books, 'kesar veldoda syrup', kokum agal, an apron and a must have in most home, 'Kalnirnay' Calendar and so much more! 

I was thrilled to get this cookbook. I have seen this book, 'Annapurna' and 'Ruchira' gifted to almost every new bride. 
The recipes are wonderful and you will find many scattered across blogs. 

The day our boxes arrived, we were super busy and late at night, all I had the courage to whip up was this quick pulav from 'Annapurna' with the addition of vegetables.

It is tasty and flavorful and a great option for a lunch box, a potluck or to make on a day you are expecting guests. Pair it with some raita / koshimbir or a veg. gravy and papad + pickles. 

For the 3 of us, I used

1 cup Basmati Rice (wash in 3-4 changes of water and soak in fresh water) 
1 Onion, finely chopped
1 small piece Cinnamon
2 Green Cardamoms
1 Bay Leaf
* 1 Cup chopped vegetables ( My addition, I used Carrots, french beans and some peas)

For the Masala Paste:
2 small Garlic cloves
A small knob Ginger
A Hefty pinch Red Chilies Powder
1 Tomato
2 pinches / 1/4 tsp Fennel  /saunf seeds

Grind the Masala Paste ingredients and set aside.
Cook the rice (ensure that each grain is separate)  and spread it on a plate to cool.
Chop the vegetables in small and equal sized pieces and microwave with a couple of tbsp. of water to cook.
Heat ghee in a deep pot /pan.
Add in the spices (bay leaf, cinnamon and cardamom)
Once the spices smell aromatic, add the onion and cook till its is soft and light brown.
Add the masala paste and cook till it smells good ( basically the raw garlic smell must go away)
Add the vegetables and rice and mix gently.
Serve with papad + Pickles or a raita. 


Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! 

I know I am thankful for a LOT! Most of all, for my wonderful parents for their thoughtfulness and love! 

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Kakki's Metkut- A family recipe ( spiced lentil powder)

My father is a meticulous man. He would come from work, relax a bit, help me with homework, when I was around to do it. He would then help my mom out in the kitchen, while she cooked, he would lay the table, his style. The dinner plates would be rinsed, so would the bowls (vaati) and glasses. He would then place the bowls and invert the dinner plate over it. 
When we sat down, we would begin our meal with steaming white rice drizzled generously with ghee/ toop and metkut, the spice powder. I would insist on my dad mixing my portion. He always, always made it so tasty. Magic touch? I do believe so. 

But , there was more to it than just the mixing part. The making the spice mix part. While there was always the ready made option, my mom had this mix that her mother-in-law made. 
My father's mother was lovingly called Kakki. She was a fantastic cook. I am of the opinion that relatives visited us only so they could eat what she made. Yes, she was that good. My mom often tells me, Kakki's puranpolis were 'the best'. Hands down, the best, ever.

Her 'amti masala' or Goda masala as it is called, is a special blend and is also spectacular. And then there is this Metkut. Dazzles up plain ol' white rice. 
It is a staple at my table now. My 7 year old loves it. He also loves the variation, 'ola (ओलं) metkut', which is the spice powder mixed in a tart-sweet, tamarind paste/juice and jaggery mix and tempered with mustard seeds, curry leaves and dry red chillies.

maharashtrian metkut

Kakki's measurement ( Kakki used vati (वाटी), the typical steel bowl used everyday, but feel free to use your standard measurement cups if you like). I have used the typical 'vati' as a measure because the other spices are with reference to this measurement.
ETA: To clarify, a vati  (vatya, being plural) is also called a katori

2 vatya / katoris Chanadal
3 Dry Red chillies
2 Sunth (Dried whole Ginger) pieces
3 Halkunde (Dried whole Turmeric)
1/2 vati Dhane / Coriander seeds
1/2 vati Rice
1/2 vati Wheat
1/2 vati Udid dal
3/4 vati Jeere /Cumin seeds
1/2 Spoon Methi / Fenugreek seeds
2 spoons Hing / Asafetida

Roast each item separately
Roast chana dal, Sunth, halkund first.
Grind the ingredients except Hing ( as this is already in the powdered form). Add hing last.
Cool the mix and grind it to a fine powder.

I used my coffee mill to grind this, my 2c, use a mortar-pestle to pound the whole turmeric and ginger pieces.

Metkut recipe
Store in an airtight container and use as required.

Ola metkut / ओलं  मेतकुट

Take 2-3 tbsp. Metkut powder in a  bowl
Use 1/2 tsp tamarind pulp (or 1/4 tsp tamarind concentrate, Tamicon) and add double the amount of jaggery powder to the metkut.
Add salt to taste.
Taste and check the balance of tart to sweet and make adjustments as per your choice.
Heat a teaspoon of oil, add mustard seeds.
As the mustard pops, add a dry red chili, halved and 2-3 curry leaves.
Take it off the heat and pour over the metkut, mix well.
Serve with steaming white rice and a add a generous drizzle of (preferably, home made) ghee.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Semi-Homemade Samosas

If you are watching a movie for 3 hours, a break is very important. 
A Bollywood Masala movie, involving drama (Nirupa Roy with tears cascading down her cheeks and sobs echoing between heart rending dialogues), to action ( Amitabh or Dharmendra transforming into super humans and single handedly fighting off hordes of villains, who fall unconscious after one punch, but our valiant heroes just bounce back after repeated blows to the head), romance (and I mean the old type romance, you know, the two flowers colliding against each other, conveying the meaning and leaving the actual to imagination, unlike today, when the on screen romance that makes you wonder, really? Making one squint in cross eyed fascination, thinking.....like that?) and the running around trees singing songs, which if you try ( running and singing and smiling and flirting at the same time) will leave you gasping like a fish out of water. So much for filmi romance ;)

So when you get 3 hours of Bollywood Masala, you need a 10 minute break. Those 10 minutes are for rushing to the rest room, if needed, but most importantly for scrambling to the concession stand to grab a paper bag containing 2 (or more) greasy, piping hot Samosas ( the ice cream bar or soft drink bottle are next, but you cannot really do without the Samosa). Heading back into the semi dark theater with the precious package and finding your seat before the movie starts. 

The satisfaction of biting into a crisp, hot samosa while watching the drama unfold on screen is happiness unlike any other.  
I would eat the base ( the crispiest part) last. Save the best for last.

Li'll S does not get to experience this. The movies (kids animated) are shorter now, we buy a bag of popcorn and head into the dark cinema hall, by the time the movie starts, we are almost done eating the popcorn ( I mean, you cannot resist the smell of popcorn and cannot stop at one, you start taking the popcorn on top, carefully and then just grab it by the fistful). All that is fine, but it isn't the same as greasy Samosas.
Potato peas samosa filling
Samosa Filling

The little one has lately developed a liking for Samosas and demands them every now and then. The store brought samosas are tasty, no doubt, but the spice levels vary and sometimes he cannot tolerate the heat, in which case, M and I are given the stuffing as he finishes the outer cover.

shortcut samosa, tortilla samosa
Uncooked Flour Tortillas 

Making samosas at home is the best solution. If making everything from scratch is intimidating, or you are pressed for time, I have the solution for you. 

Making the stuffing is easy, and can be made ahead of time. The outer cover is made using store bought 'uncooked' Flour Tortillas. These are found in the Refrigerated section (near the cheese, butter, bagels etc.)

The stuffing is simple with most ingredients found in the pantry. I make a little extra stuffing, the left overs can be slathered on to sliced bread and grilled on the skillet or Panini grill, making a hearty sandwich. If you like, use the filling to make Samosa-Paratha.

For the stuffing:

Boil, cool, peel and mash ( leave it a bit chunky) 4 Russet Potatoes.

Thaw about 1/2 cup Green Peas.

In a small saute pan, add about 1 Tbsp. Coriander Seeds ( Sabut Dhania). When toasted, cool and make a coarse powder. I use my mortar and pestle, you could put these in the coffee mill and give it a quick 5 second whirl. Alternatively, crush them using a rolling pin.

Mince 2-3 Green Chilies and grate 1 tsp. Ginger. (or you could add the chilies and ginger knob to the mixer /blender with a pinch of salt and blitz it to a paste, like I do)

Finely chop Cilantro and set aside.

Heat about 2 Tbsp. Oil in a kadhai/ wok.

Add 1 heaped tsp. Cumin/ Jeera to the hot oil, as it sizzles, add the green chilies and ginger paste  and a dash of Asafetida/ Hing followed by the crushed coriander seeds and 3/4- 1 tsp. Turmeric powder.

Saute briefly, you do not want the spices to burn.

Add the mashed potatoes, 1/2 - 3/4  tsp. Kashmiri red chilies powder, 1 tsp. Amchur Powder ( add a bit more if you like tart taste, I added a dash more). Season with Salt to taste. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes. 

Before switching off the heat, add 1- 1/2 tsp Garam Masala( I eyeballed the amount, I use Badhsah Rajwadi Garam Masala, which is a bit different than the regular Garam Masala and has a strong flavor). Mix well, switch off the heat and sprinkle with finely chopped Cilantro

Taste and adjust the seasoning. I keep it mild, so my son can enjoy the samosas. 
This spice level is kid-approved, Li'll S loved then as did D, who cannot tolerate heat. 

Once the Filling has cooled, Open the tortilla packet and using a Pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut the tortilla in half. The D shaped semi-circles can be shaped like cones and stuffed. 

To seal the edges, I made a thick-ish paste of All Purpose Flour + Water.
I found this pictorial on folding the Samosa.
Its fairly simple, Fold the sides onto one another forming a triangle,making sure that the tip is closed - check the picture above ( or the oil seeps in and no one wants to eat THAT).
I apply the 'gum' paste on the outer line ( the D part) and then seal it, leaving the curved end free to fill.
Scoop up the filling and fill the cone, do not over fill, you still have to seal it.
Carefully and gently press the filling down and proceed to seal the samosa.

Fill and seal all the samosas.

At this stage, you can deep fry them or freeze them for future use.

If deep frying, fill a wok with oil (half way)  and heat it on medium-high. Once the oil is hot, reduce the heat. For crisp Samosas, you need to deep fry them on a medium-low flame/ heat setting to a golden brown.

Slide in 2-4 samosas ( depending on the size of your kadhai /wok) and deep fry.

deep fried tortilla samosa
Deep fry to a golden brown on medium heat only

Remove from the oil and place on paper towels to drain the excess oil. At this point, the samosa as ready to be devoured. Serve with Cilantro-Mint Chutney and Date and Tamarind sauce

To make it a meal, make Samosa-Chaat using Choley  or Ragda (I used Ragda).

Add some Ragda in a bowl, crush and place a Samosa on top, Garnish the ragda-samosa with chutneys and finely chopped Onions and minced Cilantro.

Serve immediately.

ragda samosa chaat
Ragda Samosa Chaat

- While making these samosas is very easy, keep in mind that they need to be served immediately

- Keeping these samosas aside will soften the outer cover, since these are made using ready Tortillas and make it chewy. 

That's it for now, enjoy your weekend, folks! 
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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sol Kadhi

It was in the 90's I remember, we went to Goa, with my Ajji (Grandmother). Her best friend ( Kolwalkar Maushi, as we called her) lived very close to Calangute beach, in an old, traditional home.
The lifestyle was so very different from the busy life of Bombay. 
The old sprawling hose with the red stone floor which was cool to the feet even on the hottest day, with many rooms and old fashioned locks, a massive kitchen with a big sized mortar and pestle set in the floor. Though they had a mixie/ blender, this mortar and pestle were used, to lend food and authentic flavor. 

The two things that I absolutely loved in that old house, the kitchen, everything so traditional, so quaint and the old but sturdy rocking chair that we all took turns sitting in. 
When our hostess and my ajji were cooking, I'd stroll around the garden which had many trees, full of sweet smelling flowers or fruit, I remember plucking chikoo / sapota, washing it under the tap near the garden and eating it, so sweet! 
There was a fresh supply of coconuts and one evening, we were treated to Sol Kadhi. Now this was something I had never tasted in my life. So as it grew dark I sauntered into the kitchen and watched K Maushi sit on the floor with a mound of freshly shredded coconut, she was making coconut milk. It seemed a lengthy process, grinding the coconut in the stone mortar pestle, looked like fun. She let all of us take turns, my mom too, using something like this was a novelty in Bombay (Mumbai) and as a working woman, my mom rarely did something like this. 
I did some grinding, then my hands were tired, I relaxed in the rocking chair until called to dinner.
This is the one meal I remember, we all drank copious bowls of Sol Kadhi. It was so cooling and refreshing! 
All the hard work of an hour or more and gone in minutes! 

Years later, I made this in my kitchen in Los Angeles, with shortcuts. It was easy.
This summer, I introduced the same to my 7 year old. He was not so blown away, but the husband and I finished every drop.

Here is a tutorial if you want to make coconut milk from scratch.
I use a can.

The other shortcut is using Kokum Agal. This is easily available in Maharashtra ( and probably other states) but is difficult to get hold of, in the USA.
Picture from Google search option.
Here is how I made Sol Kadhi

Soak about 5-6 Kokum in warm water, if you can, do this over night, otherwise and hour.
Squeeze the kokum and extract the juice, discard the solids.

Shake thoroughly and open a can of coconut milk

Mix the coconut milk and kokum extract. Add salt and sugar to taste.

Grind 1 ( or to taste) Green Chili and 1 small clove of Garlic. Add it to the kadhi.

Heat 1 -2 tsp of Ghee.

Add 1 tsp of Cumin seeds. As the cumin sizzles and browns slightly, add 1/4 tsp of Asafetida and a few Curry leaves. Some people like to add a halved dry Red Chili, if you want, add it in at this stage. 
Pour the sizzling tempering / tadka on the kadhi, Mix well, Garnish with finely chopped Cilantro.

Typically, Sol Kadhi is pink in color, mine was pale, I believe it is because of the kokum I used.
When I made this Kokum Kadhi, I used superior quality Kokum ( given to me by a fellow blogger). However, with packaged ones from the store, one cannot really tell, I suppose.
The taste was perfect, but if you are a stickler for details, good quality kokum is a must.

Enjoy this easy to make and very tasty kadhi on a hot summer day!

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bunchi Moong Daal Khichari

If there is one comfort food we all agree on ( most of us, I should say), it is Khichadi / Kitchree/ khichari, a comforting mix of rice and moong daal as the star ingredients often tempered with a ghee tadka and minimal spices.The combination is so simple yet makes the food flavorful. Whoever invented this dish was a genius! 

With Li'll S and I, both going through a bit of a recovery phase after a nasty bout of cough and fever, this khichari was a welcome treat to our taste buds which had fallen into a temporary coma. 

While I was coughing and checking my temperature at regular intervals, I was also reading a book, 'The art of Indian vegetarian cooking' by Yamuna Devi.
It made me feel good, just reading the recipes.

Every once in a while I pick up this enormous book from the library and try something from it. 
This time I tried this Khichari which is made at the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha ( Orissa) around the time of the famous Festival of the Chariots.
This recipe takes the humble Khichari to a whole new level. 
We enjoyed it with some roasted papad and pickle. 

I have changed the measurements to suit a small family but the ingredients are all the same.

You need

1/2 cup Basmati rice
1/2 cup Moong Daal ( Yellow, in this case)
1 tsp Turmeric ( haldi)
5 cups Water
3-4 tbsp. Ghee
2 tbsp. Raw Cashew halves
2 tbsp. Sliced raw Almonds ( I had regular almonds, which I just pounded and broke into pieces)
2 tbsp. Dry coconut 'ribbons' ( I grated some dry coconut and used it)
2 tbsp. Raisins ( I used the Golden variety)
~ 2 inch Cinnamon stick
5-6 Cloves
2 tsp Cumin seeds ( Jeera)
2 Dry Red Chilies
1 tbsp. Sugar / jaggery
1/4 tsp. Asafetida
1/2 cup Green Peas ( I used frozen)
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp ghee to add towards the end
Cilantro, minced, to garnish

Wash the rice and daal in 3-4 changes of water. Stir in the turmeric, mix it well and set the daal+rice mixture.
Heat Ghee in a saucepan. One by one fry the cashews, almonds and coconut till they are a nice golden brown. Remove the nuts and coconut and now add the raisins to this mix ( do not fry the raisins) and set aside.

To the ghee in the saucepan, add the 'khada' spices, the cinnamon, cloves, cumin seeds, red chilies and the sugar. Saute till the cumin is fragrant and the sugar is caramelized, but not burnt. Add the asafetida and then the rice and daal mix.
Stir and mix everything well and saute for a couple of minutes.
Add in the water and turn up the heat to high and  let it come to a full boil.
Reduce the heat to medium low and cover the sauce pan and let the khichari cook. The author recommends that the frozen peas ( thawed before use) be added towards the end, but I am not patient so I just add them before the cover and cook  stage

Stir occasionally to ensure that it isn't sticking to the bottom.
Once the khichari is cooked ( the rice and daal are cooked through and are soft and mushy and the water is absorbed completely)  Stir in the salt and 2 tbsp. Ghee.
Before serving add in the nuts and garnish with minced cilantro.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Pure comfort, Spinach in a yogurt curry ( ताकातली पालकाची भाजी )

So here I am, back after a very long time and with a very humble recipe, which to me is pure comfort. 
Day in and day out, our routine is what keeps us going, something like hamsters. When I look back, I keep thinking, 'all' that time just gone! 
Now that vacations have started and Li'll S (who just turned 7!) is home, I plan my day around him ( isn't that the case everyday?) 
The last few weeks involved an apartment move (yet again) and I was up to my neck in boxes and cartons. That too has passed and here we are, settled in our new apartment and I'm happy that the kitchen, like most apartments, is not an afterthought! I have space to move about! 

Lets go back to the comfort food zone. We all gravitate towards soul-satisfying food when we are tired, cranky, grumpy or just want to feel good.

I remember this one time I had a horrid cold. This was after I had braved one of Mumbai's rain storms, you know how the story goes. Lashing rain, roads flooded and public transport comes to a grinding halt and people wade in the dirty water to reach home.
I did just that.
And I caught a cold.
The next day, as I sat sniffling, with a big box of tissues, dabbing my nose and watching some Bollywood Masala Movie, the maid who was swabbing the floor stopped, watched the movie for a few minutes and then turning to me said, " Tai, tula kadhi pyayla pahije. Sardi sathi changli. Majhi Aaji mala nehemi dete.." (You should drink kadhi, it's good for colds. My Grandma always made this for me.) My mother made me kadhi, hot soul warming, tasty and satisfying. I have always loved kadhi and to me it is comfort food. 

M likes 'varan bhaat', and he can eat it everyday. I like it too, but just not as much. And he does not like kadhi. And I love it. You see where this is going?
So I have a solution, one that works for all 3 of us.
I make this 'Takatli Palkachi Bhaji'. This goes well with steaming white rice as well as fulkas. It's a perfect alternative for me since it doubles up as kadhi as well as bhaji.

Like most comfort food recipes, I am so used to making it, I do not use any measurements, I eyeball everything and it is a forgiving recipe.

You Need: ( these are approximates)

4 Cups of Chopped Spinach
3 Cups  Plain Yogurt
2-3 heaped Tbsp. Besan
3-4 cloves of Garlic
2 Tbsp Oil
1 Green chili
1 tsp Mustard seeds
3-4 dry Red Chilies
Dash Asafetida
Salt to taste
1 Tsp Sugar

To start off, I clean and chop fresh Spinach ( I buy the big box at Sam's club and pull out spinach by the fistfuls, using about 4 fistful bunches at a time) approx. 4 cups.

Blend about 3 Tbsp. of Besan in 3 cups of Yogurt with enough water and set aside.

Heat about a Tbsp. of oil in a saucepan and once it is hot, add the green chili and then Spinach, mix well, cover and cook it till wilts.

Once the Spinach is cooked, lower the heat and add in the yogurt + besan mix. Add another cup of water and stir well.

Turn up the heat and let the mixture come to a boil as you stir. Add the salt and sugar.
Once  the kadhi has boiled, lower the heat and let it cook and bubble for about 10 mins.

The tempering (tadka) is added on top. Before you start the tadka, peel and smash the garlic, I prefer this to systematic chopping, but you can chop it finely if you prefer. In a small tadka pan, heat oil. Add the mustard seeds and as they start popping, add the asafetida and carefully add the garlic. As the garlic turns a nice golden brown add the halved red chilies. I sometimes add curry leaves, but it is optional.
As the chilies turn bright red, switch off the heat and tip the tempering into the kadhi. It will sizzle, be careful.
Mix well and turn off the heat under the kadhi. Cover and leave it aside to let the flavors mingle, about 10 mins.
Serve hot ladling it over steaming white rice or with fulkas.


The kadhi thickens as it cools. So adjust the amount of water according to your preference.

If the yogurt is sour you might want to add a tsp. sugar to balance it out.

You can use Amaranth ( maath) leaves instead of spinach.

For a variation and when in season, add some fresh Fenugreek leaves.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Snowy Days and Sandy beaches, Walt Disney World and The Wonderful Wizarding world of HP: one helluva Road Trip!

A week ago, I was back home with a bagful of laundry and a smile on my face. Holidays do that to me, specially good  great ones.

With wonky weather in Dallas ( as high as 75 a day and dropping to 30s the next and a snow shower to follow through) we were looking forward to the school Spring Break.

Plus, we had PLANS.
We planned an early birthday gift for Li'll S. We had plans to take him to Florida and go to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios ( well, that was mostly because I have an obsession with Harry Potter).

Now a trip to WDW and Universal studios needs a good deal of planning. I am just listing what I did and what worked for me. These are just tips. I may have forgotten some, but if there are questions, leave a comment or email me and I shall answer them as best I can.

I have read that people plan their WDW holidays a year in advance! Not possible in my case, we plan our holidays when M gets his leave worked out in office. 
We decided to do a road trip. About 1200 miles one way. This was the longest road trip for us and we knew we wanted to do this. 
We love our road trips, passing through different states and various cities.
The other option is to take a flight, quicker and convenient if you have small children.

We started Friday evening and reached Orlando on Saturday night. 
For the journey, this time, I stocked up on small snack portions and packed them in a small plastic caddy ( from Dollar Tree) 
Pic source: Google search
This helped me stock small snacks ( fruit cups, chips, milk tetra pack, juice, cookies, string cheese etc) and give them to S and for entertainment we had his portable DVD player and some movies, coloring books, craft activity set (ex: Minecraft).

Pic source: Google search

We bought tickets in Orlando. But if you have time and have planned the visit well in advance you can scout around for deals on tickets ( visit undercovertourist.com for ticket or tickets+hotel deals).
Sign up on Mousesavers.com for tips and tricks for WDW.
These are just suggestions, I am not advertising anything, no profit.

Get the Disney App on your smart phone. This allows you to add all people in the family under your account and you can get your FastPass+ as well as check wait times (more on that later).
You can get the Universal app too. 

We got a buy 2 days and get the third free at Universal Studio (we opted for a park-to-park ticket so as to go between the two Harry Potter themed parks) and a 3 day ticket for WDW.
This may seem excessive, but it worked very well for us.

We started our holiday with Universal Studios.
The trick is to reach the park well in time, that means early. Some people will go up to 30 mins early, so as to be the first inside. We went well in time, but not as early as the park opened. 
Luckily our hotel was close to the park and it did not take us long to reach.

One tip: please carry a stroller for your child (my son is 6 and I carried an umbrella stroller, the best $15 I spent). There is a LOT of walking to be done in the parks and it's tough on the little ones. Better ferry them around than have them cranky by mid-day and whining, dragging their feet or realizing that buying the stroller was better than renting it for $15 daily. Plus it comes handy in dumping the camera bag, water bottles you will be carrying.

I carried chilled bottles of water, small juice tetra packs, some dry snacks. The parks have expensive food and while eating out cannot be completely ruled out, you can cut down on it.

We went to Island of Adventure first ( the village of Hogsmeade), I have some pictures to share with you. 

The village is right from the sets of the movie or in my case, just as I had imagined it when reading the books. Potterheads will agree with me here, the world changes around you as you step into Hogsmeade, those who (like me) are die hard fans are easily distinguishable from the Muggles roaming the streets, liking everything, but not really understanding anything.
For example, in the simulated ride ( which is FANTASTIC, I might add) without spoiling your fun, when the dementor rises up, muggles are screaming 'Aarrgh' or 'eeeeeeeeeeeeee' or similar, and I was screaming 'Expecto Patronum'.... 
Don't just shake your head at me, feel the excitement!

The train ( the Hogwarts Express runs between Hogsmeade to Kings Cross) is right at the entrance. Walk into the stores selling (very expensive) HP themed goods. Ollivander's has a small demo, which is fun ( the wand chooses the wizard) after the demo, you can go buy a wand ( choose from character wands, prices ranging from $35 and up). Dervish and Banges has the monster book of Monsters on display, which displays its monstrosity every few minutes. S stood in front growling and pulling faces at the book and thought it was responding to him (LOL!)

Drink up on cold Butterbeer (the liquid form, not the frozen) or a Gilly water or Pumpkin Juice (I liked the bottle but the actual juice, not so much). Walk into Honeydukes and drool over familiar names like 'Bertie Botts every flavored beans' or ' Chocolate Frogs', 'Peppermint Toads' ( that is just regular candy in fancy packaging).

The other rides are fun too ( the Hippogriff ride is a small roller coaster, kids enjoy it too) There is another roller coaster ride, which was a bit too much for us and we skipped it. Walk thru Hogwarts castle (for the ride) and listen to the portraits talking to one another as you walk by.
There are lockers (free for upto 2 hours ) to keep your valuables in when you go or the HP ride.

The other rides in US are so much fun too. My son loved the Minion ride, we did too!  

The Spider man Simulated ride is awesome too.
The other stuff, I don't remember much, I was too dazed by the HP world visit. 

Our second visit to Universal studios was to Diagon Alley.
Absolutely fantastic! I loved loved everything here! 
Walk past Kings Cross Station, to the Telephone Booth, get in and dial 62442 to hear a message  from the Ministry of Magic. Stroll towards the Knight Bus and meet 'Stan Shunpike' ( Simon, actually) and chat with him and also hear the 'shrunken head' talk back. 
Knock on No. 13 Grimmauld Place and catch Kreacher peeking out at you from upstairs.

As you walk into Diagon Alley prepare yourself for Harry Potter everything! Even Knockturn Alley. It's dark and dingy and creepy. Walk into Borgin and Burkes to look at all the dark artifacts (the Hand of Glory, the Emerald Necklace which has claimed the lives of 19 muggles to date, Malfoy's Death Eater Mask etc) 
The biggest attractions are Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. The shop is very colorful  and just what you would expect a shop owned by Fred and George to be! I could not stop grinning as I looked at all the stuff they had. The Skiving Snackboxes, The Puking Pastilles, the U-No-Poo( bwahahahahaha!!) M & M's and the Pygmy Puffs, the Dolores Umbridge doll ( there is a bigger version is  cycling from one end to the other ( just glance up) on a tight rope. There is Flourish and Blotts ( with Gilderoy Lockhart smiling at you in the picture frame), Madam Malkins displaying Hermione's gown ( Goblet of Fire) Florean Fortescu's Ice cream parlour.
And then you come to Gringotts! Where the Dragon is sitting atop the roof, snarling (he spouts flames every 20 minutes or so) and go indoors for the ride which is mind-blowing!

Striking off from Diagon alley to the right you can walk in the back to get refreshments and also hear Celestina Warbeck singing. There is a Mermaid fountain that spits at you ( I am not sure, but it has to do with buying a special wand that is programmed to trigger that action, upon saying the spell and waving the wand in the correct manner. There is also an umbrella soldered to an awning, which works the same way)..There's Gregorovitch's shop, selling wands. Take a ride in the Hogwarts Express ( pass thru the barrier to platform 9 3/4 , walk past the 'mirror' contraption and it looks like you are walking through the brick wall) and take the short ride on the school train with all the thrills ( scenes from the book / movie flash past)

Oh and there are other rides too, outside, The Transformers ride, Simpsons ride, MIB , Mummy ride all are wonderful and a must do.
We found our visit to Universal Studios very enjoyable, far less stressful than our visit to WDW. Shocked! I know, but it is true. The waiting lines are not too bad, the lines are covered and fans circulate making it not too bad) and they have small concession stands , while you wait in line. Smart marketing!

We spent 3 days in Walt Disney World, the first day was in Magic Kingdom, where we had booked 3 Fast Pass+ and the remaining rides had to be done waiting in long, long lines. Choose your Fast Pass+ well.Once you have exhausted the 3 FP+, you can go to a FP+ Kiosk and get an additional pass. By the way, you can book ( if you have planned and bought the tickets and made bookings ) you FP+ upto 6 months in advance or the night before, the only risk being, the night before may not give you the options you want. You can also get Magic Bands ( for an additional $13 or so) which you just need to touch and gain access  for rides FP+, or in restaurants- so it goes to your account.

There are 4 parks: Magical Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
We chose to to go MK, AK and HS.
There are Disney themed resorts to live within the park area and that has it's advantages  ( free shuttle, extra hours etc..), but getting a reasonable rate at the last minute is impossible. If you want to stay in a themed resort, plan well in advance. 
It isn't a cheap vacation, I can assure you of that! But it IS so much fun! 
Just make sure you plan and budget for all things.

We also chose to live outside the park. 
Our hotel ( like most, I believe) had a shuttle to take us to and bring us back from the park.

A small walk from the transport center leads to either the monorail or the ferry to the Magic Kingdom ( from where you go in or to  the bus lot to take you to other parks).

The main thing to remember in WDW is to take things easily, you are there to have fun, don't get worked up about that! 

Get to the park well in time ( again, people here  go upto 45-60 mins before the park opens to be the first in, we did not, we reached  in time and it was still crazy crowded) and make sure to carry chilled water bottles ( or pay $2.50 /$2.75 per bottle) and some snacks.

Don't rush about from ride-to-ride, line-to-line. Make sure you rest ( go to the quiet rides like the People Mover in Tomorrowland, Carousel of Progress for example where you are entertained and rested).

There are lines to meet and greet the characters ( take an autograph book if your child is a big fan). I have no idea about the princess greeting time ( the son does not care one hoot, except for crooning 'let it go...'- a boy version, yes! there is one and you will read about it here, later) 
Wear a lanyard with Disney Trading Pins and trade them with the staff there who will trade them happily. Let your child pick the pin they like and trade. The pins are rather expensive, about $6.50 per pin, or you can order them in a small or large lot on Amazon ( cheaper, but no choice of pins, you get a mixed lot of big and small and some not too popular characters).

Some very popular rides have long wait lines, be prepared, your child is bound to get cranky unless you have a FastPass+, keep something handy to keep him / her entertained ( popular choices, iPhone, a book- the wait is anything from 45-110 + mins) and hydrated.

Some very popular ( do not miss)  rides are: (in Magic Kingdom)

The 7 Dwarfs Mine Train Ride
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Space Mountain
Splash Mountain ( wet ride, carry an extra set of clothes)
Pirates of the Caribbean ( the ride was under maintenance when we were there) 

To relax and recover, go in for the Enchanted Tiki Room show, it's a small show with stuffed birds who have a song routine sitting on their perches. It feels a bit lame after the excitement of the rides. But (shrug) okay to relax.
We missed a few rides, it was a little overwhelming and felt no need to overdo something and get nauseated on day 1 of WDW. 

Then there are the parades. We missed the afternoon parade as we were in line ( I have seen the character parade in the California DisneyLand and its a fine one!) but got the Electric Parade at night. 
Then there is the 'Celebrate the Magic' show, after the Electric Parade, when ... how shall I describe it!?... when animations flit across the castle (check pictures in the second row below)with the songs playing, it is be-au-ti-ful!  And now we come to the Frozen, Let it go, 6 year old 'boy' version..."let it go, let it go... let the toilet overflow..." I heard S humming it as the castle lit up with Elsa's face. 

The firework display was fantastic. The grand finale. 
The day is VERY long, so be prepared for aching feet, tired body, a happy heart and your will to drop into bed as is, without shower, but the hot water hits your sore body and you forget all that and relax and relive the day in your mind, all over again and plan the next Disney park Adventure!

Our favorite rides in Hollywood Studios were:

The Hotel of Terror
Rock N Roller Coaster

The rides are thrilling and we wondered for a minute if Li'll S would go on them, well, he did and loved them! 
The  Tower of Terror is a lift / elevator that takes you up and bounces you up and down like a yo-yo. The rock n roller coaster is a high speed and LOUD rock music blaring ride that shoots at high speed and tumbles and turns you upside down. Thoroughly enjoyable. The loud music  made me swallow a headache relief pill, but totally worth it! 

Apart from the rides, we also met the Disney Stars, Mickey Mouse, Goofy and the rest. 
There was the fabulous Cinderella Carriage, all golden and intricate, but I could not get one clear shot at it, the girls just would not stop pouring in the line and posing, once this way, once the other, blowing kisses.... hummph! Color me Grumpy! 

This park can be covered easily and we went back in time to catch a fairly early ( 8:30 pm) shuttle back to the hotel, enjoy dinner and hit the sack.

The last Park was Animal Kingdom

Our favorite rides were:

Expedition Everest
Kali River Rapids
Primeval Whirl
Dino ride ( cannot remember the exact name)
Kilimanjaro Safari ( bumpy ride) 

Walk thru the Animal Kingdom and experience Asia, Africa displays. I was a little perturbed that everything from India was displayed as old, worn and dated.... in ruins. All of it.
There is also a bug habitat, which we did not explore.
Kids can become wilderness explorers and carry a sticker book around looking for  whatever is mentioned in the book and earn badges. 
Again, a park that can easily be covered in the day without too much stress. I carried an extra set of clothes for S. Wet clothes are no fun! There are lockers available ( free for about an hour ) when you go on the ride. 

We left Orlando happy and content.
Our next stop was Destin Beach. We woke up to this glorious view and went to the beach. It was the happiest of days. We did not want to leave. It reminded us of the years we spent in Los Angeles, We lived just a couple of miles away from the beach.
So beautiful! The sea, so alluring. It was perfect! 
Our last stop, on the way back was in New Orleans, we made a short stop of 2-3 hours and visited the French Quarter. It was brilliant! People were in the mood to celebrate the weekend. St. Patricks day was around the corner and people were sporting green everywhere. It was so unlike the wide and uncrowded streets of Dallas! VERY charming! The sidewalk cafes, the live music......dancing in the street! S joined in it all too.
There were horse drawn carriages, quaint shops with colorful wares and  a wedding procession can block the narrow streets and it was considered ok! 
And a visit to the French Quarters is incomplete without walking into Cafe Du Monde where everyone heads for Beignets and coffee. I had Cafe Au Lait and it was the best I have tasted in ever so long! 
 We thoroughly enjoyed the little time we had there!

 From here:


 It was one AMAZING road trip! 

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