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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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Khandeshi Pithla

And so it happened again. Sigh!
My tendinitis is back. Every time I use my right hand (which is ALL the time) I get shooting pain and I feel immobilized for a minute.
The pain subsides and I try again, it hurts. And so it has been going on for a few days now. I decided to take it easy.
Making fulkas was out of the question, so I got some Wheat Tortillas from Kroger to use instead.
( I am not advertising here, merely sharing my experience with you all ) a few months ago, my friend Samta, introduced me to these tortillas and I was surprised that they worked so well as a substitute for fulkas. All it needs is a grill to set atop the stove and high heat, just roast them and smear with ghee and you are set.
I find these very convenient to use when in trouble like now or even on days I cannot make any at home. 

I am also very lucky, I have friends who pitch in and help.
My friend, Tanu, made and sent over some choley and sheera, that took care of our dinner and M's lunchbox and I got invited to lunch at her place, the next day. 
This was one invitation I did not turn down. Tanu and I, apart from being good friends, share quite a few things in common, we both like good food, we both love a good laugh. This makes for a very good combination and we look forward to eating, laughing and sharing recipes.
Our cooking styles are pretty similar too and that makes us very comfortable and confident of what is being served.

Maharashtrian food

So when I rang her doorbell today, I knew what she was making, however, I was not prepared to be dazzled by the taste of her version of 'Khandeshi Pithla' a recipe passed on to her by her Mother-in-law.
Now pithla is typically the poor man's food and is paired with bhakri (a gluten free and fat free skillet flat bread). This classic combination is comfort food to most Maharashtrians. In the USA, it is a big deal! Making bhakri requires skill, patience and believe it or not, luck. If you are lucky, you will get fresh flour ( Jowar, in this case). So you can imagine my delight and eager anticipation!

The bhakri making began in earnest, with a warning not to expect something wonderful,which was quite unnecessary.  In the meantime, I checked the Pithla and stirred it around, letting the aroma whet my appetite. I knew then, this was a wonderful recipe and I had to blog about it. 

As I broke off piece after piece of the bhakri and scooped up pithla and ate, I realized that this recipe was a bit different than what was made in my home, Tanu explained that this was the 'Khandeshi' style.
And in between her explanation and my eager shoveling the fire alarm went off like a banshee, scaring us out of our wits. We ran around like squawking chickens, grabbing a towel here or a t-shirt there and flapping away at the alarm and switching on the fans and opening doors letting in the cold breeze.
It almost became a routine, talk and eat, run around flapping some odd garment to make the pealing alarm stop, rinse....repeat...
But overall, a great meal packed with the usual dose of fun and laughter and a common love of good food.

To make pithla , you need,

2/3 (scant) cup Besan ( chickpea flour)
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
3-4 green chilies ( +\- depending on how much heat you can tolerate)
A few curry leaves
3 cloves of Garlic
2 tbsp Oil
1 tsp Mustard seeds
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Turmeric powder
1/4 tsp Kashmiri red chilies powder ( just to enhance the color) - optional
1/2 tsp Asafetida powder
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsp Fresh Fenugreek ( Methi) chopped  or 1 tbsp Kasuri Methi
Warm water ( thrice the quantity of besan)
Cilantro  to garnish

In a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic and green chilies or pulse them in a mixer/ blender to a rough paste. Heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds. As they pop, add cumin. As the cumin sizzles, add the asafetida followed by garlic-chilies paste. Saute briefly (so the raw smell goes away) and then add curry leaves, turmeric, salt and red chilies powder, if using. Add the besan and mix well to incorporate all the spices into the besan and roast the besan till it smells nutty.
The color will change to a warmer shade. Ensure that you roast besan on medium heat.
Once the raw smell of besan is replaced by a nutty spicy aroma, add the fresh or Kasuri Methi and mix well.
Now slowly add the warm water while constantly stirring the besan mix. Break any lumps that have formed and stir to make an even pasty gravy.
As it cooks, the gravy will lose the pasty look and will be replaced by a deeper shade and a glossy look. Taste and check salt, adjust if necessary.  Cook for 3-4 minutes stirring at regular intervals.
Switch off the heat, cover and let the flavors mingle for 10 minutes.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with bhakri or even white rice.
If you like, serve finely chopped onion alongside.

-The above proportion will make plenty of pithla, will serve 4 really hungry adults.

- Be sure to roast the besan well, that lends a wonderful depth of flavor

- The longer the pithla sits ( or in case of leftovers) the heat quotient goes up, so make sure to add green chilies judiciously

- The besan will soak up the water and make the pithla dry and thick.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Bake Sale Adventure

As the new year rolled in, I promised myself, I will blog.
The days passed, I kept reminding myself, but I did not follow through.
I made excuses, I'm tired. Parents were visiting, I wanted to spend time with them and cooking for them.
Then came the annual 'Sankranta Mela', li'll S was in a dance group and I had booked a stall for myself at the 'Anand Bazaar' (food stalls).
Drawing courage from my previous experience, I jumped right in, this year. 

I got busy with dance practices and homework and squeezing in as much time as possible for other activities.

And so, finally, I am back with pictures of my Cupcake stall. The cupcakes sold out and I couldn't be happier. 
M and li'll S were my helpers ( S being the main helper and cashier, a job he loves!) 

I made egg less Vanilla and Chocolate cupcakes and made butter-cream frosting.

These pretty hydrangeas were a hit with the girls.


Who doesn't love a Minion?
These were sold out within minutes! I wish I had made more.
I got this idea from Pinterest.
Here's how you make the Minion cupcakes
1 box Twinkies 
Butter cream frosting ( dyed Blue)
Smarties / White chocolate chips / Mini marshmallows (for the eyes)
Black frosting
Chocolate sprinkles for the 'hair'
Place the Twinkies in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes.
Frost the cupcakes ( I used the basic round tip to put the frosting on)
If you plan on using marshmallows for the eyes, prep them. Apply a thin coat of oil to kitchen scissors and gently cut the marshmallow into 3-4 rounds.
I used White chocolate chips, they were the right size and I just poked the pointed end into the Twinkies.
Pull the Twinkies out of the fridge, slice them in half.
Poke one or two chocolate chips in the 'head' part. If you are using marshmallow, put a tiny spot of frosting on the underside of the marshmallow and stick it on, do the same ( spot of frosting) fro Smarties.
Pipe on glasses  and smiles using black frosting. I used Wilton's ready to use tube, it was a mistake.
Poke chocolate sprinkles for hair.
Gently place the decorated Twinkies on the frosted cupcakes. Ta-Dah!  Minion cupcakes are ready!
The most popular cakes, Minions.
I made these flower cupcakes using the 'leaf' tip. These were also a hit with all the kids.
This anti-gravity cake was a last minute thought. I made it towards the end and this is the only picture I have of it, an unfinished one.
I found this tutorial very useful.
The children marveled at the cake and wondered if  the M&M's would keep pouring out. Some of them, out of curiosity also tried to pluck the bag out and see how I made it happen.
Anti-gravity cake

In all the hurry of the dance performance and the baking, I did not carry my camera at all, but that's when friends chip in! 
One of the Mom's in the dance group stepped forward and clicked these wonderful pictures and has shared them with me. Thank you, Vaishali! The pictures are great! 

I'll leave you all now, with all this sweetness. See you soon. Hope you all have a great week ahead.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

DIY Gifts, spread the cheer!

It's that time of the year! Tomorrow the schools will break for Christmas holidays and there is a general air of festivity in the air. 

We have a small tree and it's up. The child is expecting a ton of toys and has so far forgotten to write to Santa for it, despite my gentle reminders. Oh well! Santa has to give what he feels like. 

It's fun to see Li'll S as excited about Christmas as he is about Diwali, of course the main excitement is the gifts part, the getting , not the giving. We need to sit down and explain that part to him one day. 
I did some DIY for the Christmas Teachers Gifts. I really enjoyed the planning, shopping, making and assembling part. 
I have never been the craftsy person, I well remember how I have suffered ( as have my parents) when completing craft homework / projects in school. I used to get help from all quarters just to finish that task. 
We had embroidery ( basic stitches) and knitting in school. The pillowcase I was trying to embroider was a real pain, I mean 'real pain' I pricked my finger several times, I was 'punctured'. The thread avoided the eye of the needle like plague and in the end, I gave up and got someone else to do it for me. Knitting was another hurdle, the clicking foot long needles were fun initially but the knit /purl had me twisted, luckily my Mom was an expert and soon corrected all my mistakes ( it seemed almost as if I was doing the exact opposite of what was written) and I had a sweater, booties and cap set for an infant. I kept it safe all these years and my son wore it first!

Whoa! I'm rambling.. Pardon me. We were talking of DIY and the gifts I made.
This year, I made a small hamper for the teachers and I sincerely hope they like it.

The idea of a 'spa in a jar' struck a chord in me. I have one child and he can shred my nerves. Don't get me wrong, I love my little fella to bits, but there are times I wistfully dream of a remote control which I wish a Mom had, just to sometimes hit the mute button or sleep mode! 
Imagine how stressful it must be to handle 20 such energetic kids, all with different temperaments. With that idea in mind, I made this.

Spa in a Jar ( a loofah, nail polish remover pads (yellow round case), 2 shades of sparkly nail polish, a chap stick and some chocolates)
The Spa in a Jar is customizable, add what you like. Maybe a moisturizing lotion, or a lipstick, manicure set, face mask... I refrained from those as I had no idea what the brand preference is.
I found these chalkboard stickers which I used on the jars and wrote 'Relax' on them. 

The second Jar was Hot chocolate mix, a favorite during this season. 

There are many sources of hot chocolate recipes all over the net. 
I made mine like this:

3 cups Non-fat Milk Powder
2 Cups powdered Sugar
1 1/2 cup White chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup Cocoa powder ( natural, unsweetened)
Pinch Salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Pulse small amounts (I used a small food chopper) to make a fine powder.
Sieve the powder ( there will be small bits left even though it looks fine to the eye) and pulse the rough bits. Mix everything thoroughly and pour into a mason jar ( use a funnel, if you have one, this will not mess up sides and if you do not have a funnel, just snip off the bottom of a disposable foam cup and pour the hot chocolate mix in the jar. Top with peppermint chips and /or mini Marshmallows.

Instructions: To make, puor 1/3 cup of the powder in a mug, pout 1 cup hot milk, stir and enjoy! If desired, add whipped cream on top.
It's cold out there, Baby! Let's warm up with Hot chocolate!

These jars were packed in small bamboo baskets and wrapped in basket bags ( I really have to work on my gift wrapping skills, I suck at it, big time).

Have you also made any gifts this year? Do share your ideas in the comments or on the Facebook page.

Wish you all a Merry Christmas! Hope this holiday season is a happy one for you and your family! 
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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fall in my backyard

We are almost halfway through December and in another 2 weeks we are looking at starting a new year.
Did I just blink and did this year also slip through my fingers? When I sit back and think of it, what did I do this year? What did I accomplish? I don't think I have the courage to talk about it,just yet.

Let's go back to something a lot more cheerful.
While most of the country was enjoying fall colors in early or mid October, Dallas was still as green as ever. Weather fluctuations happened and on Nov. 1st. late night, as I peered out, I saw soft snow falling, just a small flurry, it looked like a dusting of powdered sugar everywhere. The colors still remained green on the trees.
Mid-November, things started to change and I saw splashes of color here and there. 

Thanksgiving is a special time. Even if I am late (oh well, I'm early for next year) I wanted to share this with you all. I made these simple sugar cookies and decorated them with royal icing and made small hampers for my son's teachers ( cookies, 'stress relief' hand sanitizer, body mist and thank you card). I loved making these cookies and even better, my son loved eating them! He watched *carefully*, with bated breath, as I packed the little hampers and let out a *huge* sigh of relief when he saw me piling the cookies in the box kept aside for him.
I also made small hampers for our bus driver ( who displays a lot of patience, I know that I am incapable of. Imagine a gaggle of about 40 kids in high spirits, some 4 year olds howling for mommy and older ones talking loudly)  and one for a senior citizen who is the crossing guard near our bus stop and the public school crossing. 
You can easily make these into Christmas cookies. Packaged carefully, these can make nice gifts.

For the cookie, I needed a recipe that  did not 'spread' while baking. There are plenty of recipes out there. I used this recipe.
I got these cookie cutters from Michaels. For the decoration, I used Royal Icing and used the flooding technique.
YouTube has several videos on how to use royal icing to decorate the cookies.
It just takes a bit of patience and practice to make and decorate the cookies.

For myself, I like plain cookies, they taste so good! Not that I had the chance to taste the decorated ones. Li'll S guarded his loot rather jealously.

I am now looking at Christmas hampers and gifts.  What are your plans for Christmas gifts? Please share your ideas here, in the comments below or on the AC@H Facebook Page.

Have a wonderful week ahead!
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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ridge Gourd Curry

This time last year, I used to drive home 3 kids from the bus stop. Li'll S, Li'll V and Big S. The ride was a short, but an interesting one. The topics would be varied and the discussion, deep.
My son was the funny one, in the group. Big S was the one who had a topic to talk about, being the eldest.
Little V, as her mother rightly says, is not one to take a back seat. One tough cookie ( but very sweet) who had her say in everything!  Her favolite colol was led,she wanted to glow her hail leally long, she leally liked leading and she loved watching caltoons on TV and leally planned her playdates and sleepovels down to the last detail.

I miss listening to the chattel , chatter....

Today, Big S has moved to sunny California and Little V to another school. 
I do get to meet Little V's mom and she regales me with her adorable daughter's stories when we meet for potlucks.

On one such potluck, Little V's Mom got this very simple and very tasty vegetable curry. Most of us, in our potluck group are wimps when it comes to handling spice and this vegetable entree was just what suited us. 
Unlike most vegetables, this does not have any spices, but don't let that deter you from trying it out. Mild yet very tasty, this has won the 'Kid Approved' badge of honor. Thank you, S! 

While I was never a big fan of the ridge gourd, I have tried out this version and loved it. But I try and avoid peanuts as much as possible, now ( they give me migraines)  and so, this version is made more often. 


1/2 cup Moong daal ( skinned , yellow, in this case)
2 long Ridge Gourds, peel the outer tough skin, remove the fibrous part and dice into small pieces
2 small Tomatoes, chopped
1 medium Onion, chopped
1 tsp EACH Mustard and Cumin seeds
3/4- 1 tsp Turmeric powder ( I eyeball it)
1/2 tsp Red chilies powder ( I use Kashmiri) or to taste
Handful coriander leaves

Wash and soak moong daal in water for 30 minutes. 

In the mean time, peel ridge gourd and cut into small pieces.

Heat oil and add mustard seeds, as  they begin to pop, add cumin seeds. Add  the chopped onion to it  and fry until cooked and light brown.

Now add ridge gourd pieces, tomatoes, soaked daal , turmeric, salt, red chili powder and coriander leaves.

Cover it  and let it cook for 5 to 8 minutes on medium heat.

Now add little water about a half cup and cook until it's done.

Serve hot with rice or fulkas.


Ridge gourds, look long and you might feel 2 is probably a lot, but once the peel and the inner fibrous part is taken off, you are left with little vegetable, apart from that, in Marathi we call this a 'chorti bhajee' / चोरटी भाजी , meaning it shrinks, something like okra, if you know what I mean.

I have often heard ladies complaining that Ridge Gourds are sometimes bitter, though I have never had the misfortune to get one, on the safe side, I taste- test when I buy the gourd, as taught to me by an elderly Gujarati lady at the grocery store. I snap off a small piece and pick and taste a bit before buying. 

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Halloween Party, in a jiffy!

Hello Everybody! I'm back after what seems ages and so much has happened! 

Firstly, Diwali was the best in many years. Not because I made the goodies ( like I do every year) but ...... this year, I made them with my Mother! Oh yes! The parents are here. 
I am happy, is an understatement. After the scare last October, I consider this a miracle and am thankful for it, every single day.

Li'll S is thrilled. He looks for his Ajji ( Grandmother) when he gets down from the school bus and after dumping his backpack with me, holds her hand and walks off. 
He loves to play with her (of course he does, she allows him to win, every time). He is careful around my Dad, I have warned him. But he was happy when Ajja ( Grandfather) came to pick him up at the bus stop and his little chest puffed out as he strutted to the car. 

After a wonderful Diwali, we were looking forward to Halloween. Li'll S was. He was excited, he wanted a pumpkin, he wanted a super hero costume and most importantly, he wanted a ton of candy. 
So we picked out a pumpkin, lugged it home, which by the way was so heavy, that I knew, it was going to hurt my tendinitis affected hand. What the heck! The child was happy. But I drew the line at carving, there was no way I could do that,  M would not bother and my parents have never done it..... solution? A short trip to Dollar Tree and 2 packets of push-pin type scary pumpkin decorations ( and a mummified skeleton and bat silhouettes and 'blood' cling stickers and a scary 'werewolf' faced wall decoration and a tombstone ) later, we came home.
Up until then, the plan was just to decorate the house, go trick or treating and then eat out.
And then the child says, now lets make it a party. 2 days before Halloween.

I whatsapp'd my friends and invited them over. Everybody contributed something towards the party, this was an unexpected gesture and so welcome, their contribution and more importantly, the help and fun that they added to the whole thing! I am lucky to have such sweet friends.  
The plan was simple. Go trick or treating, come back and meet at my place by 8:30pm.
My menu was simple.
Pizza, snacks, goody bags, candy and a 'witches brew' drink.

Ring the bell, IF you dare to enter....

For those like me, who cannot carve pumpkins for some reason, here is a safe alternative. Just push in the eyes, nose and mouth ( which does not look too bad, up front) and be done with it. 

For the snacks I made cupcake 'ghosts', a giant cookie and broomsticks.
The frosting was Butter cream, which made it easy for me to make lumpy ghosts .
The giant cookie was a chocolate chunk, baked in a rectangular 9 x 13 pan ( next time I'll use a bigger pan) and decorated quickly, with the same butter cream.

The 'broomsticks' were made simply by cutting string cheese and inserting pretzel sticks. I used a knife to fray the ends a bit to give it a 'broom' like look, not very nicely done, I'm afraid. But the kids loved it.

The 'Witches brew' ( no picture, I'm sorry) was made by mixing Pineapple Juice ( 1 can - 46oz), Ginger ale and Lime soda (one, 2ltr bottle , each)

The children had a great time and there was a lot of noise and high spirits. The children who had gone trick and treating showed each other their candy and added more from the bowl at home and compared and gave their opinions. 

Li'll S and 3 others ( accompanied by adults) had braved a haunted house in the neighborhood for candy and came out all of a dither! A zombie tried to take my son's candy filled jack-o-lantern, which scared the daylights out of the child! 
All 4 kids came out of the haunted house shaking at the knees and swore NEVER to go to one again. EVER.

We are now looking forward to Thanksgiving. 

I know I have a lot to be thankful for.
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