Thursday, December 18, 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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