What I miss about making vadaams and other community food projects

I always know that all is well in my household whenever vadaams (various forms of rice, wheat, sago and potato crispies, to be fried and eaten) are being made in the summer. For a long time, due to her fragile health and multiple open heart surgeries, my mother had lost her mojo (and so had the entire family as a chain reaction) and we relied on store-bought things, whether it was tomato ketchup, mango jam, idli batter, various preserves and chutneys and podis (the dry chutneys). Technically, I knew how to make them, but it was always a community activity and it wouldn’t have been fun without my mother involved. So I didn’t. But every time we were at a lunch or dinner and hot crisp vadaams would be brought out as accompaniments, I thought wistfully about our vadaam days. I also noticed that we had grown apart slightly as a family when we stopped doing these things together.

This summer is different though. I now live close to my mother, and out of the blue, asked her one day, “Amma, why don’t we make vadaams anymore?” Her eyes lit up. “You want to?”, she asked. I said yes, and then we were at it almost at once, planning and getting things ready. The house seemed happier already with our little summer project.

Since there was no muscle power available (some of the vadaam variants involve stirring together kilos of batter, slow cooking them on fire and neither Amma nor I had the strength for it), we chose an elegant, yet easy option: The elaivadaam.

These are rice crispies, made by soaking and grinding rice to a fine paste, adding water to a dosa consistency. This is then delicately flavored with salt, heeng, black sesame seeds and a green chilli concentrate (made by grinding green chillies and straining the juice). The vadaams are then doled out like mini dosas on vadaam plates which are stacked up on a vadaam tray and steamed for 5-7 minutes.

A trip to childhood: making vadaams

A trip to childhood: making vadaams


Peeling and air drying the steamed vadaams is the next step. When we were kids, this was usually assigned to me (and still is) as I was the only one who could be trusted with these half-cooked beauties (they are delicious). Also, I was neat and organised and patient (things I am not much of now). My brother was usually the chief crow watcher, as the vadaams were then dried on our terrace and crows would make off with them in minutes. Till my mother realised that he was the biggest crow, and was happily trading them for marbles with his friends. She then adopted the tried and tested way to ward off the crows: tying a black cloth to a mast, creating a scarecrow of sorts.

As I peeled the vadaams and dried them in rows on a sheet, Amma kept steaming newer ones and handing them over to me, as if in assembly line. We chatted, got nostalgic, shared vadaam stories and before we knew it, the batter was over. The clock had moved four hours. And my mother and I had bonded like the old times. I suddenly felt cocooned in her warmth and confident in the knowledge that she would always have my back. The energy was infectious and Re wanted a task too, and he was appointed chief counter and duly noticed that one vadaam had gone missing (eaten by yours truly)

In a few hours of air-drying, the elaivadaams curl upwards, almost threatening to levitate. It reminded me of when babies start walking and then you have to watch their moves, for they are ready to wander off.

The dried vadaams have a mind of their own

The dried vadaams have a mind of their own

But there are still miles to go before you sleep. The next day, the vadaams have to prepare for a tougher journey, go out into the outside world, face the harshness of the sun, and become tough and firm, ready to face the world. It reminded me of what school is to children.

After all that work, and two days gone, the yield was a hundred vadaams. It might make one wonder, “Was it worth it for all the effort? Can you not just buy it off the shelf?” Perhaps you can. But for me, it was two days of intense conversation, laughs and giggles with my mother and my child. And that, as MasterCard would say, is ‘priceless’.

Two days' work: a hundred vadaams

Two days’ work: a hundred vadaams

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 4th May, 2015)

Yes, I write on parenting and I dig it

It all started with a tweet on my timeline:

“14 years of being a parent today without ever writing on parenting. Surely this counts as a small personal triumph.”

The reason I found this tweet intriguing was because the said tweeter had, till just over a year ago, written extensively on parenting on a rather popular news website. Yes, right from top ten tips for travelling with children to Baby Bores to teaching kids how to fail, or perils of calling your daughter pretty, men who don’t do diapers, co-sleeping, family rituals, the whole hog.

Why, then, was she denying it? Was it something she was not proud of?

She further qualified the tweet by saying:

“I don’t mean to sound snobbish. Just find writing about it dull. Writing is my escape.”

Yes, I know. In an ideal world, everyone would be writing about books. Which brings me to the larger point. Why is writing on parenting considered a lowly form of journalism as compared to say, writing on food or home décor or travel, which are equally mundane?

Is it because parenting writers by default, end up talking a lot about themselves, their children, and are therefore, narcissistic?

Is it dull because there’s no room for voyeurism as opposed to a single-in the-city column that talks about sex, lies and more sex?

Is it because ever since parenting and pregnancy have been in vogue, a lot of ‘not real journalists’ are writing about it, and to add to the peeve of the ‘real journalists’, are doing a great job, thereby taking a share of the writing pie?

Is it because parenting as a subject allows you to be naked about your emotions, a nudity that is a tad discomfiting?

Is it because parenting is perceived as mundane, as opposed to say elections or politics or Sachin Tendulkar or the judiciary?

It is because the personal essay doesn’t hold a place of merit in highly upheld genres of writing?

Or is it the notion that almost anyone can write about parenting (just like anyone can be a parent); it does not establish domain expertise or in-depth subject knowledge, nothing to make you believe that the writer is qualified to write it. As opposed to say, having gone to culinary school or film school?

So on one hand, we have become a nation of over-sharing and sentimentality and on the other, there’s an increased vilification of people who write on parenting. My fellow parenting writer Natasha felt there was a special sub-genre of hatred reserved for those who write loving, celebratory stuff. Women who make motherhood a part of their identity top it all.  It’s as though if you must write on parenting, write about angst and resentment of all that’s wrong with modern day parents and children.

I think it is often assumed that now that you are writing about ‘softer’ stuff, you don’t necessarily have to write for a living, which means your credibility as a beat expert is somewhat diminished.

Or is it considered unworthy because it is feminine?

Surprisingly, the only Indian male voice on parenting that comes to my mind is Soumya Bhattacharya’s column Dad’s the word (now a book) , which I hugely enjoyed and looked forward to. This was six years ago. Since then, I haven’t read too many Indian men on parenting in mainstream media, although there are a few voices on the blogosphere. Although men writing about parenting is still considered cool (as long as they are also writing on other things of course)

I guess I did it all wrong. From someone who wrote on popular culture, the movies, gender, food, city, dating, travel, lifestyle, and some, I became the person who wrote a “mommy blog” and a column on parenting. I sealed it by writing a book on pregnancy and fully intend to follow it up with one on parenting.

When you write about books or travel or sport there’s an underlying implication that you enjoy it. But then, we don’t have the luxury of enjoying parenting, because what kind of loser enjoys the most dreary job in the whole world? Whose greatest side effect is that it allows the softer, feminine you to overtake the rational, masculine you. That it allows you to see the whole in broken bits and smile at frivolities.

A friend I met recently wanted to know if I was writing a book soon. I told him I just wrote one on pregnancy. “I mean a real book,” he said. Another friend accused me of using facts as crutches. He genuinely wants me to move from the first person narrative, as he believes I can do more. But I am not done yet, I told him.

It is like they are hoping you will soon be rid of this ‘writing on parenting’ bug and move on to writing other ‘real’ stuff. They look at you as if you have taken the easy way out, over-extending the shelf life of your maternal instincts. They thought I would use my new turf in a movie magazine to obliterate the reams of writing on motherhood that I had done. Some wait for a sizzling piece of fiction. Or a crime thriller. Or something. Anything other than soppy sentimentality.

We are all hit by a bus when we turn parents and we are all learning as we go. For some of us, writing is believing. Writing also helps dilute, embellish, smoothen, art-direct, edit, and make muffins sound better than the rocks they turn out to be sometimes. A lot of mothers and quite a few fathers live-tweet their children and some of them do it with great perspective. Although there is a thin line between honesty and calibrated honesty.

As we spend weeks, months and years with our kids, we start realizing that we need a new vocabulary. Some of us, who have always written, begin articulating our thoughts on parenting or motherhood, which sometimes results in things more cerebral than “Look, my daughter is into 12-word sentences!”

I never felt writing about parenting decimated the larger writer in me, but I can say for sure that it makes me look at every other genre of writing in a new way. And that cannot be a bad thing.

But every time women make observations about the sense of purpose and fulfillment they experience from being mothers, feminists somehow reach for the panic button. But then my question is, isn’t feminism about choice really?  Why are we judged when we put ourselves out? When we neutralize rationality, when we feel the need to write about what we think and how we feel? Why is it more sanctimonious to write a distant, third person piece about gender issues but not okay to write about following the moon or chasing butterflies or watching the lilies bloom or baking banana and chocolate chip muffins ?

A for Aloo, B for Basil

Midday Feature

Ever since Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Kylie Kwong, Curtis Stone, Master Chef and some set foot in our homes, food has somewhat morphed from the dal-chawal-roti-sabzi  routine to assume new avatars on our plate. Food is less about hunger management and more about ‘plating up.’ I noticed this even more after I became a mother— I began to explore a whole new relationship with food as I was trying to introduce my son to the world of flavours and textures. I certainly wanted to graduate from baby-food as I found it quite demeaning. He thought so too, and made it amply clear right from the start.

It all started from his squeal of delight at purple-stained palms with beetroot puree at age six months (instead of the more recommended staid pumpkin), his grabbing of a soup-stick, his dousing idlis in molagapodi from my plate and chomping a whole one in three bites, his helping himself to a mixed lettuce salad with vinaigrette dressing, all before he turned one. I knew I had birthed a foodie and I raised the bar for myself.  Post the beetroot rhapsody, much foodie adventures have happened and still continue, with our recent escapades with Nigella’s linguni with pesto (which, incidentally, he has patented a very unique way of eating) . While I go about working on my culinary art, to please my more demanding palate (and his too), Re potters about with his pots and pans—he has an Ikea kitchen set, complete with colanders, saucepans, cookie cutters, ladles, rolling pin, and even a gas range.

So here’s some food that soothes our visual senses as well as our taste-buds.

 1.     Baby potatoes in thyme

A for Aloo is probably what they should teach at preschool, since a child’s relationship with potatoes is far deeper than that with a certain fruit of sophistication that, even in season, is as dear as 100 rupees a kilo. Aloo was also Re’s favourite vegetable of play, with him tossing them around in real cauldrons (mine) and pretending to stir fry, sometimes pierce them with a fork, ready to bake (clearly I have no issues with cutlery),even pour them. My rendering of them was still limited to aloo parathas, a crispy aloo sabzi or an aloo raita. Mashed potatoes were not good looking enough, hash browns needed an accompaniment, roasted potatoes are great but difficult to master consistency with and dum aloo somehow lacks the dum and frankly, is messy and busy.

Then one day, a bag of baby potatoes arrived and he looked at them suspiciously, perhaps wondering, “Mommy! Who shrank the potatoes?” I pretended that just like human beings, cats and dogs, aloos could also have babies and they often ended up looking cuter. It took him a while to get friendly with the babies though—he still preferred their more robust, adult versions. The trick was to find a stand-alone baby potato dish that could win him over, qualify as finger food, be appealing to the eye, and that I would enjoy as much. My baby potatoes in thyme won on all counts. Simple, non-messy, non-fussy and extremely elegant with no extra work at all (it would help to choose evenly sized potatoes but not imperative).  And it is still the one thing I always make when we have friends over (his or mine). It looks good, and it sure does make me look good.

 

Ingredients:

One packet of baby potatoes (or 250 gm)

One tablespoon butter

Dried thyme, pepper

Salt to taste

 

Boil the baby potatoes enough to be able to peel them, and set aside.

In a shallow pan, throw in the butter. Heat enough to melt the butter, then throw the thyme and pepper powder and then the potatoes.  Add salt to taste, but remember that the butter is already salted.

Toss it all around to mix thoroughly and roast on a slow flame will the potatoes are evenly brown.

 

2.     Nigella’s Linguini with fresh Pesto and Beans

Nigella's Linguini with pesto and beans

Almost every afternoon, Re and I stare wistfully, sometimes in awe, at Nigella Lawson in Nigella Kitchen  (we have a bank of recorded ones as the real show is way past his bedtime). We watch her transforming the mundane into the seductive in the kitchen, in a manner that only she can. Her lazy, effortless way of cooking is something that I am trying to adopt, although I don’t have her persona  and definitely don’t sound as convincing when I say, “When I am in the kitchen, I’m happy”.

Pasta was always a favourite for Re, ever since I saw a strand of spaghetti making its way from my plate to Re’s mouth at age nine months. It was a tomato-based sauce with bell peppers, mushrooms, and aubergine, and he picked out the yellow and red bits and ate them too. He was ready for world cuisine, I thought, and there was no looking back.

But Nigella’s Linguini with pesto, potatoes and beans! Our collective eyes lit up. Now we were talking! Somehow a green pasta with oodles of texture and hidden beans seemed like an exciting visual break from our regular red (both of us are not fans of white, cheesy sauces). Off I went shopping and set up a play date with Deeya, the screechy girl next door who for once called me auntie, instead of my name and said, “I really like this. I really like you!” Re signed off the performance with a  Nigella impersonation of eating the linguini with both hands, sinking it into his teeth as if it were dental floss, and pulling it on either side. It’s a classic! I love you, Nigella.

Box:

250 gm linguini

A medium sized bunch of basil (or two packets from the supermarket)

Parmesan (100 gm)

Extra Virgin Olive oil – one tablespoon

Two medium sized potatoes

100 gm French beans, destringed (around 15-20 beanstalks) and halved (or whole, if small)

Four cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

 

Method:

For the pesto sauce:

Blend the basil, the parmesan, the garlic and the olive oil to a coarse mixture with a little salt. You can add some of the pasta stock (water in which pasta has been boiled) to the blend to make a good puree.

 

For the pasta:

Chop the potatoes and add them to a large pot of water and bring to boil, adding a little salt.

When the potatoes are half done, add the linguini to the same pot, mixing well.

Five minutes later, add the beans (whole, preferably) to the mixture, mixing well to ensure the potatoes, the pasta and potatoes are evenly cooked.

When the beans are cooked to a crunch, switch off and drain the pasta.

Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and mix the pesto with it. (You can use some of the pasta boiling water to the pesto to give it a better pouring consistency). Mix the pasta with the pesto well with a large fork. You will notice that the potatoes would crumble in, adding further texture to the pesto sauce and ensuring you get an even mix.

 

3. Tabouleh salad

Midday Feature

I often give Re real vegetables to play with, usually onions, potatoes, beans, peas or lady fingers. It makes him feel like a real chef, like he is making some important contribution to the daily spread. One afternoon, he set his hands on a box of cherry tomatoes in the fridge and set about using them to create something. As I watched him, he first bit into every cherry tomato and threw it into another pan. Some, he just ate. It actually reminded me of the iconic “thoda khao thoda phekho” from Jaane bhi do yaaron.

Very soon, there was a small heap of half-bitten tomatoes staring at me and the thrifty me couldn’t let it go to waste.

I decided to teach him the art of creating something out of waste. I couldn’t think of a better medium than couscous. So the much insulted cherry tomatoes found salvation in a Tabouleh salad.  We also play a little game where we each have to find the tomatoes/olives in the salad and get a clap every time we do.

 

What you need:

One cup cous cous (or burghul wheat, or lapsi)

One packet of cherry tomatoes

Small bunch (3-4 stalks) parsley

Two spring onions (with leaves)

One tablespoon olive oil

Salt, pepper/paprika to taste

Juice of one lemon

5-6 black olives, sliced

 

Method:

Take the couscous (or lapsi) in a shallow bowl, pour enough just boiled water over it to cover it, and let it sit.

Chop the olives, and the cherry tomatoes into halves. Also chop the spring onions and parsley fine.

When the couscous has absorbed all the water and swollen up and looks dry, break it with the help of a fork, clearing lumps if any, so that you get an even, powdery mass.

Add the tomatoes, olives, parsley, spring onions, lemon juice, paprika (or pepper), salt and olive oil, mixing well, breaking any lumps.

 

 

4. Tsatsiki

Tell-tale tsatsiki

Tell-tale tsatsiki

 

When I was still wondering whether Re was really ready for adult food, began the attack of the Tsatsiki. It was a house party where Tsastiki was served up as one of the dips  on a platter with lavash and soup sticks.

Initially, he was excavating the Tsatsiki with a soup stick, but he soon decided to abandon the soupstick and dig in with his fingers. Soon he was wearing a tsatsiki mask and my guests were staring open mouthed as a nine-month old displayed his refined palate.

“Is he ready to eat dips?” They asked.  He bloody well was. At least much more than he was ready to eat baby food out of a tin.

Tsatsiki was the first sign that Re found baby-food and its mushy, gooey avatars demeaning and disrespectful to his sensibilities. He was ready for the real thing, real interplay of flavours, real textures, real subtleties.

I also realised that dips were such a great way to legitimise the frequent snacking habit. All you need is some crackers or lavash or baguette slices or pav or carrot and cucumber sticks, a bowl of tsatsiki or hummus or guacamole, and you can dig in, any number of times a day. Sometimes we even use it as a sandwich spread.

I am not really into ready-to-eat snacks or processed food and you’ll seldom find me with a packet of biscuits or a bag of chips. But yes, a bowl of tsatsiki and brun pav? That would be us!

 

Recipe box:

Two small cucumbers (or one large one), grated

One medium tub (400 gm) of dahi

One small bunch of dill (3-4 stalks) with the stalks removed

Juice of one lemon

One tablespoon olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine

One small teaspoon of paprika (you can also use pepper)

One teaspoon of honey (optional)

Salt to taste

 

Method:

Hang the curd till all the water drains off. Set aside.

Grate the cucumber, add some salt to it and set aside. The salt will exude all the water from the cucumber which you can then squeeze dry and set aside.

In a bowl, mix the curd, the cucumber, the garlic, the lemon juice, the paprika, the honey.

Add the olive oil and more salt if required and mix well.

 

6. Date and Nut roll

My mother always ensured I had regular consignments of her Date and nut rolls while I was pregnant. A nutrient-packed, easy to eat (or hide in your purse, if you are in a multiplex), fully organic snack, it was her version of the granola bar that kept me going through my constant hunger pangs. It does even now.

I got the recipe from her and started Re on them when he had a few teeth to reckon with. I am not a biscuit and chips mommy, although I encourage plenty of in-between snacking. It is our on-the go snack, there is always a box of it in the car, in the fridge, by the bed and in his toy basket. He fondly calls them ‘cookies’ and I haven’t bothered correcting him. It’s his anytime snack, sometimes a breakfast cereal, sometimes a dessert, and at other times a meal on the go. So if you want energy and want it soon, pop a couple of these. Also makes for a non-fussy, yet elegant dessert for those of you with a sweet tooth.

 

Recipe

Seedless dates – 250 gm

Almonds – around 15

Cashews – around 15

Walnuts – around 10

Ghee- one tablespoon (you can also use butter)

Marie biscuits – 3-4

Method:

Chop the nuts and dates into fine bits. In a non-stick pan, add the ghee/butter. When it is suitably heated, add the dates and nuts, and mix well till it all blends well.

Switch off the gas and mix in the crumbled Marie biscuits, mix well.

When the mixture is cool, transfer onto an aluminium foil and roll into a cylinder with your hands. Wrap the roll in the foil and refrigerate for two hours.

Remove the cylinder, slice evenly and serve.

(This post first appeared in Midday on 21-08-2011)

Rehaan ka Dabba in the world of Maggi

Re has just entered the fascinating world of the dabba. I should say school, for it sounds more politically correct and milestone-ish, but no, dabba it is. No, he is not one of those children who ‘Doesn’t do food’, much as moms these days seem to display it as a feat. Re digs food and all the credit goes to me (thank you!). The OPU will just about eat to live, although sometimes I have heard him make appropriate sounds while eating (if I am awake at that unearthly hour).

For the first two weeks of school, I hung out with Re in class (no, I didn’t choose one of those Nazi schools where they don’t let you step beyond the threshold) and watched the proceeds unfold, and was equal party to it, with my own little snack and thermos of tea. I have now been relegated to the garden area, where I have my tea under a tree and write (yes, it’s all getting very idyllic and Ruskin Bond-ish and I love it).

By day three, Re figured out that the dabba was indeed, an exciting part of his day and a great reason to go to school.  Of course he was pushing it when he asked to eat his dabba within half hour of entering school, but I managed to convince him to wait for the appointed hour. “Else what will you eat when others are eating?”, I asked. He saw my point and agreed.

On day two, I began to eavesdrop on other dabbas. I always do that. Have always done it. I judge people by their dabbas. Go, judge me.

The dabbas were of course, all nice, colourful, attractive, in sizes ranging from the microscopic to the gargantuan, shapes from basic squares and circles to  houses, ships, pigs, phones and butterflies. Some with 3-D images on their tops, some with multiple layers, matching cutlery and water bottles.

What was inside the dabbas left much to be desired though. Here is what I saw. Chivda. Chips. French fries. Biscuits. Kelloggs chocos. Maggi. Bread jam. Maggi. Bread-cheese. Farsan. Potato smileys. Kurkure. Maggi. Cheese balls. Little hearts. Kurmura chivda. Biscuits. And yes, the occasional idli or chapati roll or cut fruit, the only things that smelt of home.

I thought of my mother ever so fondly and how exciting she used to make my dabbas. For as long as I can remember, going to school was always about ‘What’s in my dabba?’ Mine was a working mom, but my dabba never reflected that.  I never had biscuits or bread-jam in mine. Some days, there were idlis smothered in molagapodi or dosas stuffed with potato filling. At other times, there was the fluffy cabbage upma (my mom’s top 5 tiffin items, write for recipe in comments section), or poha speckled with coconut or shev and coriander, or with lots of peanuts or crispy potatoes or uttapams with stuffings of this and that. There was tomato rice and lemon rice and tamarind rice (again peanuts ruled) and curd rice with grated carrots or cucumber bits. Some days, there were even cutlets or medu vadas (mostly Saturdays, when mom was home). My favourite was still sabudana khichdi, and I loved eating the potato bits and then getting to the rest of it (shockingly, Re does the same).

My zest for the dabba continued through college, through internship, through my moving out of home and cooking for myself, till my last job and is the same even now. What I enjoyed the most about my pregnancy was the legitimisation of multiple dabbas and the fact that I could eat when I wanted, no eyebrows raised. In fact what motivates me about getting Re ready for school is what will I pack in his dabba today?

I still remember in one of my many jobs, I had a dabba partner and we ordered a dabba from this Gujarati lady, Bhavnaben who would send us hot phulkas smothered in ghee, two vegetables, a dal or kadhi, rice and papad for a measly 35 rupees. He was the only man who could match me morsel for morsel, and every afternoon, it was a race for who would get to the dabba first (there was some thrill at getting first dibs at the least perspiring chapatti or the biggest chunks of aloo).

Re and I have a similar race with our food. Sometimes, he robs me of peanuts in my lemon rice, or the crust of my dosa, sometimes it’s the crispy aloos in the sabudana khichdi or poha, sometimes it’s the dollop of butter on my aloo paratha, or the dahi.

On day one of school, Re had hummus with cucumber and carrot sticks. Everyone turned to look at him scooping out his hummus. I wasn’t trying to show off, there was leftover hummus from Sunday dinner, and I figured why not make a dabba out of it? I am not a gourmet cook and do the regular upma, dosa, uttapam, chila, idli (in its various avatars), poha and sabudana khichdi, aloo and sprout chaat. Sometimes, he gets home-baked cake or cookies.

I meet more mommies now than ever before. At school. In parks. In cafes. At brunch.  In parking lots. In elevators. In bookshops. We often get chatting. And they often talk about food as being one of their biggest woes. When mothers whine that their kids don’t eat breakfast, I ask them what did you eat? They mumble something about a glass of milk or cereal or cornflakes. Then I ask them, does food make you happy? They look at me like I asked them about their sex life.

And it’s not that I wake up at 5 am and slog away in the kitchen. I am just intelligent and Nigella about it. A baked cake is dabba for four days. Cookies can go for a week. Hummus and Tsatsiki can be converted into sandwich spreads. And sandwiches are a mommy’s best friend (but you can do better than jam/cheese). Idli/dosa batter is the most versatile thing to have in your fridge. And there is no end to the goodies you can add to an upma or a paratha. Spinach. Carrots. Sprouts. Peppers. Beans. Peas.

Go figure. Food is intuitive. At least that’s how it should be. Try different things and figure out what works for your child. My tip is, make it visually exciting. Make it look good. All you need is colours. So a red and green upma with carrots and peas will score over an insipid gooey mush of a Maggi any day.

This week, we had a strawberry bonanza, so Re’s dabba has gone fruity. Every day, he gets chopped strawberries with one other fruit (it has to be a different colour, else Re says, “Where are my happy colours?”)

Which brings me to the moral of the story. If you don’t have a passionate relationship with food, there is no way your child will have one. So if you want your child to eat well, it’s time to start your affair with food. Size zero be damned. Pre-pregnancy weight be damned.

So stop whining and start cooking. If you can’t cook, surely you can think? Or read books, look up the internet, delegate, get involved. There is nothing cool about saying “I can’t cook”. For your own good, I hope the husbands can.

In any case, a Nigella mom is always sexier than a Maggi mom. And it’s never too late to start.

Help! I have excess baggage

Okay, time for a list. I love lists. I love making them, I love striking things off them with a vengeance, and when it’s all done, I love tearing the piece of paper to shreds and flinging it in the air. The OPU is not amused, as he will be the one picking up the pieces and depositing them in the dustbin, even hypothetically. Thankfully, Re likes order too. At least you can leave some things to genetics.

This list is about travel. Now, travelling with a baby is a huge concern for most mommies, chiefly what to pack, what to feed, what to look for in a resort, how to handle travel dramas. Here are my two-bits, although this is not a comprehensive list, so do not print it out and stick it on your wall as a check-list.

  1. Babies are their banshee-best at 30000 feet, but you have to figure that out yourself. Hell, I would bawl too if I could. I am skinnier and smaller than most people I know, but every time I take a flight, I feel like the word is closing in on me.  Now added to the already existing claustrophobia, the too much skin contact with other passengers, the jostling and the queues and those damn airbuses which don’t make any sense, I have a child on my lap. I vow each time that next time, it will be the train, but the OPU is too high maintenance. So we fly again!
  2.  Somehow, any toy at your disposal in-flight is not the one they want. For me, pretending the laminated diagram chart for safety measures is an Eric Carle book sometimes works. These days, the tiny bottles they serve water/lemonade in is also a distraction (assuming they can’t prise them open). If nothing works, the OPU and I blow into the air sickness bags and pop them. This can be a nuisance to the other passengers, but it somehow distracts the baby. Nursing is also a good distraction, if you are up to it, but somehow, they don’t want to nurse at the recommended nursing time, which is take-off and landing. Also, there is no such thing as discreet, because all shawls and ponchos and stoles will be yanked open, and your girls (that’s what I call them) will be on full display.
  3. Packing. Now I would recommend packing everything in triplicate. I don’t mean to shock, but sometimes, honeymooners seem to walk out with your bag (which just happens to be the same color and size as theirs), and it can be nerve racking tracking it back. This happened to us. So I would just suggest packing at least extra sets of baby clothes, food, feeding utensils, underwear, diapers/nappies and a sheet or some such into every bag that you check in. Just in case.
  4. If the baby is into solids, pack enough grains/porridge/seasoning/veggies /some fruit/ knives/spoons, so you are not running around looking for a market to buy essentials the minute you arrive. Carrots, potatoes, onions, peas, beans stay well for a week at least, and are not messy to pack. All grains/cereals can be packed in zip-lock bags and checked in.
  5. It’s easy to say ‘we’ll order room service’, but in sleepy towns like Goa, room service is still brushing their teeth by the time the baby has his second meal of the day. So make sure you are self-reliant at least as far as the baby’s breakfast and one meal goes. Restaurant food may not always be an option, and you don’t want to spend precious hours supervising someone make a porridge or a khichdi or sautéeing vegetables, do you? Although the staff at Montego Bay, where we stayed in Goa was happy to make mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies for the baby. Which brings me to:
  6. A mini electric rice-cooker. Panasonic or any other model. It’s a real saviour, compact, efficient and can cook just about anything in minutes. Buy one today, and it will be a faithful travel companion at least for the next three years. It’s one-pot cooking, so you can throw in anything and everything, add enough water, seasoning, and it cooks in minutes. I even made a pulao, a pasta, a dal, sautéed vegetables in it. Must have.
  7.  The resort. Pick one that has been researched by you. In the sense that it should have a gradual, undulating landscape and enough room for the baby to wander/crawl about without hazard, and friendly staff that will look out for you and not just appear shadily for tips from nowhere when you are leaving. Montego Bay fit the bill perfectly. Baby-friendly and fun.
  8.  Hammocks can be fun, although they are harder to negotiate than they appear to be. I rolled off one twice, with the baby, but he thought it was a game, so all was well. A mini pool is nice, it gives you and the baby something to do, which you wouldn’t do otherwise. Make sure you have an air pump for any floats, paddle pools that you might carry. Do not forget the baby’s swimsuit and sunblock!
  9. What to order. In case you are eating out a lot (we did at least one new restaurant a day), the trick is to order dishes which have interesting sides, so you don’t have to order baby food separately. This is easier with continental food. So, a grilled meat or chicken dish will come with mashed or roasted potatoes, carrots or grilled vegetables. Perfect finger food for the baby. Pastas worked well for me, as Re loves them, any shape or size. And bread and dips are great too.
  10. And lastly, if you can arrange a baby sitter or have a nanny, use this time to have special dates with the OPU (much needed on a holiday, to bring that romance back).
  11.  If I have forgotten something vital, don’t blame me. It’s Christmas!

Have fun, and happy travelling, you all!

Operation hammock: third time lucky!

Three course meal from sides at La Plage: carrots, roasted potatoes, baguette

Who is walking whom is the question

Eat, play, love

I just found out that my ex-boss has adopted a baby girl. He was venting about having trouble with baby-food and going slightly nuts trying to please his six month-old’s palate. Now, I found this slightly ironical, because he tells the world what to eat through his blog and is never at a loose end for ideas.

When I got thinking, I was reminded of frequent queries posted on a mom-baby network that I am a part of on, “What to feed the child?” and I wondered how this whole baby-food lacuna came about.

The answer stared at me in the face as I saw Re reaching out for the red pepper in yoghurt dip on my plate in preference to his mashed potatoes with carrots at Gaia on our recent Goa jaunt.  He also looked slightly disdainful that I was spooning it with a baguette. He went for it neat, licking his fingers clean. He is all of 17 months.

Babies want the good stuff, dammit. The term baby-food is condescending. I think at some level, they know that we are eating all the good (and good-looking ) stuff  and they are getting all the guck and mush.

Now I’m not asking you to shove a steak or biryani or tandoori chicken or chhole bhature down your child’s throat. All I am saying is, show a little respect for the child. Why shouldn’t its food be good-looking? Would you eat what you are expecting it (I will be saying ‘it’ instead of he/she, no offence) to eat?  Food is all about seduction, and maybe I am watching too much of Master Chef Australia, but what looks good is usually more inviting to eat, so why shouldn’t it be so for a baby?

Yes, I know there is the whole pureed foods phase upon transition from ‘fully breast’ to solids the minute the clock strikes ‘six months’ or the child looks wistfully at your plate, whichever is earlier. And I do know that it would be deemed ‘cruelty to children’ giving them stuff to chew when they have no teeth. But  the minute they have a few to reckon with, go for it. They are ready for the real thing. Your culinary adventures can begin.

Around eight to nine months is when you can start having fun. There are two simple rules really. Colour and texture.  So mashed potatoes or carrots can get a bit of art direction with some green thingees in them, ala peas or beans.  Even a khichdi need not look its traditional bilious yellow and have some shredded carrots, peas, beetroot and bits of palak in it.  Or you can mix different coloured boiled veggies and sautee a bit with caramelised onions instead of feeding a monochromatic mush of kaddu or beetroot or whatever. Idlis can look less boring with speckles of carrot of red pumpkin in them. They could even be green or pink if you blanch and puree some spinach or beetroot into them.  So also with chilas and spring onions. Or you can serve up a bed of baby potatoes (boiled, of course) sautéed in butter and herbs and watch their faces light up. And imagine how empowering it must be to bite into a monster sweet potato?

Dosas are my favourite, because you can almost add anything to the batter, right from carrots to beans to tomatoes to pumpkin to capsicum to cabbage to paneer to cheese. Chapattis can be micro sized, to let the little ones know that you have concern for the size of their plates. And it’s never too early for a simple aloo paratha with just a tinge of spice. Only, don’t ever pre-break their food. Let them tear the stuff apart, it’s part of the adventure.

I am not one for snacking, so it’s mostly fruit in between meals. Or perhaps a bread stick or raisins or dates or dried figs or a once-in-a-while cookie (the less sweet, the better. You don’t want an orthodontist to add to your list of things to do in the next two years, right?). I recently made a kurmura chivda that Re loves to eat and play with. Sometimes a toast with peanut or cashew butter (you can make this at home, will share recipes) or even a nice-looking sabzi could work as a snack.

When it comes to fruit, all that juicing and diluting or pureeing is a whole lot of baloney. Thrust a slice of a bright orange papaya or a luscious musk melon or a slutty watermelon or even a happy yellow mango  in front of them and see how much fun they have. For me, “when in doubt, fruit” has always worked.  As much as they can have, as often as they want to. The earlier you start, the better. Some mothers hold off on giving fruit for really long and then whine about how the child never wants to eat anything healthy. Yes, it’s messy, and yes you have to clean up, and yes, there are flies, but it’s so worth it.

So whenever the question of, ‘What to feed the baby?’ pops up, think of what you want to eat, and work around that so the baby can eat it too.  So if it’s an upma, go easy on the chillies, oil, etc, add vegetables for color, texture, substitute rava for dalia once in a while, and there you are. Your upma is his upma. Ditto for everything else. I hate writing recipes, but hit me for ideas any time. You might find some here too.

The boy was last seen packing a ladle into his ‘going out’ bag. I am secretly excited. I can’t wait to start cooking and baking with him.

Spaghetti with ratatouille at Ku, Morjim made by the effervescent Maria. Re loved it!

Re attacks his aloo paratha with gusto

The quintessential bread stick is an appetiser that also doubles up as a prop

Re’s beetroot adventures, same time last year