Sunday, January 14, 2018

Week 2: January is my SLEEP month, and a recipe for toddler-friendly pancakes

January is resolution season- did you make any resolutions in 2018? I rarely make real proper new years' resolutions but I like the idea of one-word resolutions, or overarching themes for the year. My word for 2018 is "streamline"- a word that sort of sums up my aspirations to organize, simplify and put into place helpful habits and processes in different parts of my life.

All through the month of January, I'm working on streamlining our family's sleep habits. I more or less took sleep completely for granted and never gave it a second thought, until we had two kids who are/were pretty terrible sleepers. So I have spent the last 6+ years reading every sleep book I could find and learning about how critical and indispensable good sleep is, while simultaneously racking up enormous amounts of sleep debt. Lately our kids' sleep has been improving/ stabilizing somewhat (famous last words? knock on wood, Nupur!) so I am attempting to climb out of the deep, bleary hole of chronic sleep debt.

January is a good month for sleep goals. December is fairly disastrous as far as sleep goes, what with holiday gatherings and travel and social drinking and bedtimes all over the place. There aren't many scheduled activities in January, it gets dark very early anyway and V's traveling a lot of this month so I am running ragged and ready to hit the sack at the first opportunity. Once the night begins, my sleep is at the mercy of two kids and a dog. A regular wake up time is always cited as a very good habit, but my wake up time is whenever the toddler decides he's "all done" or the canine decides it is time for a potty break. Likewise, when I'm woken up in the middle of the night, it can be a struggle to fall back asleep.

But especially at the start of the night, there are many things within my control and this month I'm trying to maximize those factors by making sleep a number one priority and creating a restful environment for sleep.

1. A regular bedtime, every day, no matter if it is a weekday or weekend. A fixed bedtime is a great way to set the circadian clock and over time, it habituates you to fall asleep quickly and easily at your bedtime. So this is probably the most important habit I'm cultivating in myself and the kids.

By nature I am a very early bird and school/work schedules also demand that we rise early (Lila's yellow school bus shows up at 7 AM!) so bedtimes in our household are very early. Niam's bedtime is 7 PM, Lila's is 7:30 PM and working backwards from my average wake up time (5 AM), I have to be asleep by 9 PM to even have the opportunity to sleep 8 hours.

2. Bedtime routines for my kids and for myself. A winding down routine provides a buffer zone between day and night and cues a good night's sleep. We do the usual stuff- baths, teeth brushing, story time, lotion and massage for the toddler, warm pajamas etc.

3. Stop using screens an hour before bedtime. This is the one I'm really working on this month. Going to bed at 9, shortly after getting the kids to bed and finishing household chores- this leaves me with almost no "me time" in the evenings, no time for crafting or watching TV or catching up on blogs. I have to fight against the feeling that "I deserve some time to chill out" and replace it with "I deserve my sleep". The good thing about screen-free time is that I have built in 30 minutes of reading time before bed- reading on old-fashioned dead-tree material, of course.

4. No tea or coffee after 3 PM. Not everyone is sensitive to caffeine but it definitely affects my sleep. Yesterday I had tea with a friend in the evening and sure enough, had trouble falling asleep. Alcohol also makes for a poor night's sleep. Yeah, good sleep is decidedly un-fun. But really, we get around this by shifting out socializing to the morning- friends come over for brunch and we eat and drink (alcohol! caffeine!) and make merry. Dinners, though? Nope, I just tell everyone I turn into a pumpkin at 9 PM.

6. Blackout curtains in the bedrooms. This made a huge difference in my sleep quality and I highly recommend it! The bedroom should be so pitch dark that you can't see your own hand when you hold it out in front of you. No blinking lights, clocks or electronics, and most definitely no TV in the bedroom.

* * *
After a good night's sleep comes a big breakfast. My toddler loves finger food and I was looking for a hearty pancake recipe with some eggs and oats. I found this one in, of all places, the comments section of a blog post. I personally don't like these pancakes- too bland and eggy for my taste- but the toddler loves them, so here is the recipe for anyone wanting to try it on the little ones in your life.

Toddler-friendly Eggy Pancakes

Measure 1/3 cup oats into a blender bowl. Blend into flour.

To this oat flour, add
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 tbsp. baking powder
  • pinch of salt

Blend everything into a smooth batter in the blender.

Let the batter rest for 10-15 minutes.

Make pancakes- this makes about 5-6 small (6 inch) pancakes.

Serve pancakes with butter, jam, applesauce, syrup or any other spread.

I usually spread the pancakes with jam or applesauce, then cut them into bite size pieces as a finger food. Pancakes can be stored in fridge (3 days) or frozen. Warm in microwave before serving.

Tell me about your sleep- do you get good sleep or is it something you struggle with? 

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Week 1: Highlights of winter break, and a recipe for Gingerbread

Ah, December, the most wonderful and most exhausting time of the year. For us it was a month of holiday gatherings, gift exchanges and travel. And catching up with many old friends, which is the best part of winter break for me.

Lila's maximalist graham cracker "Hansel and Gretel"
house made in Kindergarten class. 

Christmas cards made simply with strips of
colored paper and a glue stick
I do lots of holiday baking most years, and this year I managed to do a little bit. For Lila's teachers, I put together boxes of almond biscotti (I finally got around to updating the recipe with pictures to make it easier to follow) and buttercrunch candy, with a few store-bought Lindor sea salt chocolate truffles (the only supermarket candy I like) tucked in for some color and sparkle.

For Niam's teachers, I made some silly-cute wine bottle hat and scarf sets plus gift cards.

I bought a few small gifts for friends that we visited. From a local holiday market, I found some beautiful leaf-shaped ceramic spoon rests for my friends who like to cook.

The favorite gift I gave this year came from a close source. My artist friend Bala published a coloring book last month called Meditative Mandalas. What really amazed me that she drew these perfectly symmetric graphic circles with her hands, using no software to design them.

A hand-drawn mandala from Bala's book
I gave Bala's book to my dear high school
friend in Boston and she has declared that she's
"addicted to coloring"
Lila got two "big" gifts from us- a pink dressing table that she has been wishing for, and tickets to see a beautiful production of The Nutcracker Ballet- we went as a mother daughter outing with my dear neighbor and her daughter. Santa got Lila a much-coveted unicorn beanie boo (Santa's helper had to google that one) and some chocolate coins. She also got several gifts from friends- a horse stuffed toy, a scarf, two art kits, a princess throw, a Playmobil kit and a book. The most off-beat and delightful gift was from our friend S who believe it or not is the production head of a candy factory that makes sprinkles and got her 14 pounds of multicolored sprinkles!

On Christmas Day, we took a flight to Boston to treat the kids to a snowy vacation much unlike what they get to experience here in Georgia. We stayed with friends in their beautiful new home and enjoyed sledding in the yard and looking out at the winter wonderland. The temperatures were brutally cold (even for Boston in December) and it was the perfect excuse to stay indoors in our pajamas all day, drinking chai, watching movies and playing board games (many, many rounds of Codenames).

My friend's Christmas tree in Boston
complete with a toy train running around it.
Festive and darling!
I have so many recipes for holiday treats and sweets and cookies saved, just waiting to be tried. This time around, I only tried one new thing and it was wonderful- a damp, cakey, light as air gingerbread with lots of fresh ginger and molasses. A friend made this gingerbread a couple of years ago and I loved it and asked for the recipe. I couldn't resist adding some cardamom to the recipe to add another note to the heap of fresh ginger and it worked beautifully. The aroma of this cake baking in the oven was enough to put me in a holiday mood.

Gingerbread Cake
(adapted from the Field of Greens cookbook)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.

3. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl:
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

4. In another medium bowl, beat together:
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup light or dark corn syrup

5. In a large bowl, cream together  until fluffy
1 stick soft butter
1/2 cup sugar

6. Beat in the egg mixture.

7. Add the dry ingredient mix, alternating with 1/2 cup buttermilk (room temperature) until batter just comes together. (Note: you can also use buttermilk powder plus water, as I did, to avoid buying fresh buttermilk)

8. Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh ginger and 1 tsp. ground cardamom.

9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tested comes clean (or with crumbs attached). The cake is relatively thin and light so it is easy to over bake it- start checking at 20-22 minutes!

* * *
Week 1 of 2018 was a bit of home-related chaos around here. We narrowly missed the bomb cyclone up North and landed safely in Georgia, only to come home to a freezing house and a malfunctioning furnace. Suffice it to say that the week was spent chasing HVAC personnel and electricians and borrowing half a dozen space heaters from kind neighbors. But come Sunday night, I'm sitting here in a toasty warm home feeling very grateful to have heat since we have way-below-average temperatures this week here in the Atlanta area.

How did you celebrate the end of 2017? A very happy 2018 to you! 

Friday, December 01, 2017

Thanksgiving, and book review, The Opposite of Spoiled

Last week in the US was Thanksgiving. To me it is quite simply (a) a time to be grateful for all I have*, (b) a cook's holiday, therefore a time to bake and cook my little heart out and (c) a week-long break from school in which to entertain restless children.

This year we hosted a "friendsgiving" celebration at home with three families coming together for a feast - six adults and six kids ages 1 to 10. I didn't get around to taking pics of the meal but here's what we ate.

The afternoon started with drinks and a big appetizer spread. V's dabbling with mixing cocktails these days and he made a delicious Thanksgiving cocktail for the grownups with fresh apple cider and gin. I made faux samosas with puff pastry and veggie sticks with a herb-flecked dip, one friend brought over pimento cheese (the official appetizer of Southern gatherings) and another friend made brie wrapped in puff pastry.

After gorging on appetizers we all laced up our sneakers and trooped out for an hour long walk through the wooded areas of the neighborhood, then came back for the main meal as it was getting dark.

Lila very much wanted a turkey or something like it, so I bought two vegan turkey-less roasts from Trader Joe's and did not bother to make a main dish. To go with the mock turkey, I made mushroom gravy and orange cranberry sauce.

The sides were: mashed potatoes, mac and cheese (both made by my friends), green bean casserole (yes, the "traditional" kind with canned soup- My friend Bek sent me a link to this article about the woman who invented green bean casserole) and Thanksgiving slaw. My friend made a gorgeous challah (braided enriched bread) to go with the meal.

Dessert was a double crust apple pie (made by my friend- her first attempt at pie!) and chocolate pecan pie bars, with vanilla ice cream. It was a proper feast and a good time was had by all.

The rest of the weekend we spent taking the kids to the park to enjoy the sparkling sunny and crisp weather and I celebrated my annual "buy nothing" day on Black Friday.

*And "all I have" includes this little blog where I get to chat away and make friends. The medium might be virtual but the friendships are very real, so thank you. 

* * *
Here's a book I read recently that fits in quite well into this Thanksgiving post.

Image: Goodreads
The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber (2015)

As the title says, this is a parenting book exhorting parents not to make money a taboo but to teach kids all about money from a young age. I don't need any convincing here; I want my kids to know the basic of budgeting and personal finance before I send them out into the world.  It is a book written for relatively affluent families who are not struggling with money or living paycheck to paycheck, for the families where kids can grow up with a "money grows on trees" attitude if not taught otherwise. In parts, this book gets a little rambling and not everything resonated with me, but in general, it is full of engaging anecdotes and I took away many helpful tips that I have listed here by chapter.

1. Why we need to talk about money:  My favorite point in this chapter was this: "...every conversation about money is also about values". Allowance teaches patience, giving teaches generosity, work is about perseverance. Be grateful for what you have, share it generously with others and spend it wisely on things that make you happiest.

2. How to start the money conversations: The best response when asked a money question by a kid is "Why do you ask?" so you know where they are coming from (how that issue crossed their mind), and how to steer the conversation.

3. The allowance debates. Chores should be done without payment, simply as part of family life. The allowance should stand on its own, not as a wage but as a teaching tool. Start by first grade at the earliest. Around 0.5-1$ per year of age per week is appropriate. Make 3 containers- Save, Spend and Share to teach budgeting. Let children understand the difference between wants and needs. While not paying money for basic chores, do let children think in an entrepreneurial fashion and come up with ideas for doing tasks to solve problems and earn money for doing them. 

4. The smartest ways for kids to spend. Ask kids to estimate the hours of fun per dollar that something they want will provide. Teach thrift- coupons, thrift store shopping. 

5. Are we raising materialistic kids? 

6. How to talk about giving. Explain why and how we give. Let kids support local organizations in person. 

7. Why kids should work. Better chores, more of them and sooner. Facilitate paid work (help kids get jobs from an early age), and let kids contribute to their college funds. 

8. The luckiest. Foster a culture of family gratitude. Gain perspective by seeing the lives of others. 

9. How much is enough? Talk about trade-offs, because we can't have or do everything we want. Trade offs can be about not buying stuff in order to save for something bigger, or donating a toy for every new one that comes into the house. Try to have enough conversations about money and the values behind our spending choices.

I think I read this book at just the right time, because Lila is now 6 years old and able to understand a lot of these concepts. Our toddler's daycare does a "angel tree" event where they display wishlists from local children in need. The tags note the name, age and clothing/shoe sizes of the child and the wishlist has a few items that the child would like this holiday season- typically a toy or two, and often necessities like shoes, socks and underwear. This year, Lila and I went and picked out a tag for a 5 year old girl whose wishlist included a "princess toy"- Lila knew right away that she wanted to go shopping for this child. She was excited for days and we finally went one morning, hit 2 or 3 stores and bought a princess toy, crayons and art books, a party dress and shoes and socks and underwear for our friend, then packaged it and dropped it off at the school.

I had been brainstorming ways for Lila and I to volunteer together in the community on occasional weekends. Meanwhile, now that we have a daughter and a son and a dog, Lila has been pestering me that we should complete the family by adopting a cat. "I'm a girl and I have a baby brother, Dunkie is a boy dog and he should have a baby sister cat so we can be 3 boys and 3 girls", that's family planning, Lila style. I had an idea. We could go once or twice a month to the local animal shelter and help out with the cats there so she could get her kitty fix. Lila said she had an even better idea- let's just go to the shelter and spend a couple of hours picking out a cat that Dunkie will like and bring her home. But yesterday she told me she likes my idea and we are looking forward to volunteering at the cat shelter together. (Please pray for me that I don't fall in love with a kitten and bring it home.)

If you are in the US, how did you celebrate Thanksgiving? 

Do you talk about money with your kids? Do you volunteer with your kids and what are the experiences like? 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Catching Up, and a Quick Vietnamese Curry

There's been a lull on One Hot Stove for almost two months. Too much fun in real life; not enough time for blog-land. Some highlights from the last couple of months-

Kids: Our toddler is about 16 months old now and what an age this is- utterly adorable and exhausting. If you can imagine a cross between a monkey and a puppy, that's what our Niam is like. He loved playing with his big sister and chasing our hapless and very patient Duncan. There's never a dull moment with these three around.

Halloween: Lila decided months ago that she wanted to dress up as a bumblebee. We found bumblebee costumes for both her and her toddler brother. V dressed up as a beekeeper- wearing painter's overalls bought at the hardware store and a real beekeeper's hat (borrowed from a neighbor) on which I sewed plastic bee buttons. I made two giant flowers made from tissue paper and carried them as a prop. It was a really fun family costume.

Fall break: We took the kids to Chattanooga, Tennessee for Fall break- and what a scenic city it is. The Tennessee river runs right through the city and is criss crossed by several bridges, including a very cool pedestrian bridge. There are parks and play fountains and an old-fashioned carousel. There's a children's museum and a well-designed aquarium that does not have captive whales and performing dolphins. This is just a lovely city to visit with young kids.

Fabric baskets: My sewing machine has been entirely neglected since Mr. Baby came along. I dusted it off and took a Saturday morning workshop to learn how to make fabric baskets. You start with cotton clothesline, wrap fabric strips around it and then coil and sew the clothesline in a basket shape using the zigzag stitch on the sewing machine. It was very enjoyable to learn a new project that was surprisingly doable without the typical beginner frustration, and even meditative to make.

Working on working out: I think the last post I wrote finally motivated me to take some action. I renewed my gym membership and started going to ballet classes again, twice a week. It is making me so happy to be doing ballet again- I love the challenge, the grace and the technical rigor of ballet. I'm trying out all sorts of things- running a little, walking a lot, swimming a bit, looking into strength training classes- brainstorming ways to get a good fitness routine into place. I hope 2018 will be the year when I hit my stride. Also last month, my friend who is a physical therapist conducted a workshop- a series of 3 sessions on postnatal physical therapy to improve core stability. It was a great learning experience although the take home message was that core stability is not an easy fix.

* * *
Our dinner last night was a quick Vietnamese curry.  I love the mellow, yellow, creamy coconut based curries in Vietnamese restaurants. Most of the ones I've eaten have thick chunks of potato, carrot and tofu. I started making these at home after I tried a recipe from Veggie Belly.

The only specialty ingredient you need here is Ca Ri Ni An Do, the mild and bright yellow (turmeric-heavy) Vietnamese curry powder you see here which I found quite easily in my local Asian store. It is called Madras Curry Powder, because what could be more Vietnamese than a Madras curry? Food knows no boundaries.

My curry is not authentic or anything; I did not have lemongrass and I just used whatever veggies I had on hand. It turned out very tasty and satisfying for Sunday supper on a chilly Fall evening though.

Vietnamese Veggie Tofu Curry

1. Cut a block of extra firm tofu into bite sized cubes. Pan fry them with salt and pepper until golden. Set aside.

2. Heat some oil and saute some onion, then stir fry whatever vegetables you have on hand. I used half a head of cabbage, a red bell pepper and a box of sliced mushrooms.

3. When veggies are nearly tender, add 2 heaped tbsp. Ca Ri Ni An Do curry powder (or more to taste), a splash of soy sauce and saute for a couple of minutes.

4. Add a can of coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes.

5. Taste the curry and adjust flavors with more soy sauce if needed, and some sugar and lime juice.

6. Add the fried tofu and plenty of minced cilantro. The curry is done.

Your turn- tell me what you've been up to the last couple of months! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Raita Dip and "The Weight Loss Trap"

Happy Fall, y'all. And hopefully, goodbye to hurricane season. We in Northern Georgia were predicted to be in the path of Hurricane Irma last week as it moved inland. As it turns out, the storm deflected West and we were just outside the path. Even being outside the path, and even with Irma being downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it got near here, we got winds, torrential rains, massive trees were felled and power lines were down. Schools were closed for 3 days. Traffic lights weren't working. By some miracle, we didn't lose power, but most of my neighbors were without power for up to 4 days. I can't begin to imagine how hard life must be for people who were directly hit by the hurricanes.

The weather is slowly cooling down in these parts. Today's recipe is an uncomplicated dressing/dip inspired by Indian raitas or yogurt-based salads. You simply stir together a few basic ingredients, and then pair the dressing with any cooked or raw vegetables of your choice.

Raita Dip

1 cup yogurt (I used a combination of Greek yogurt and homemade dahi)
2-3 tbsp. crushed roasted peanuts
1 tsp. cumin-coriander powder
Salt to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Plenty of minced cilantro

Stir together and store in a covered container for 2-3 days. Use as a dip or a salad dressing.

While making golden adais, I impulsively grabbed some of this raita dip and a box of salad greens from the fridge. The combination turned out to be fantastic. Spread a tablespoon or two of the dip on the adai and add a handful of salad greens. Roll up and enjoy right away. Especially in summer, this was a cool, light and refreshing meal.
* * *

Back in February, I wrote about being back to square one in terms of eating and exercising habits. Summer rolled by and we had a very happy and busy time with friends and family visiting for four solid months. And this week, at the start of Fall, I find myself...drum roll, please...still at square one!

So much of my daily well-being and happiness is linked to one factor: my energy level. On days when I am full of energy, life is easy and good- I can run around with my kids, I take pleasure in getting chores done, and I can do everything I need and want to, for myself and others. On days when my energy flags, even the ordinary routine feels like climbing a mountain.

Thinking of how to keep up my energy level consistently has me thinking about the trifecta of diet, exercise and sleep. We're slowly getting better at this whole sleeping thing, and I'm doing what is in my hands- which is to get to bed early, ready and eager to grab what sleep I can. As for exercise, I'm walking as much as I can- with some combination of the toddler in a stroller, the dog on a leash, and the kindergartner tagging along, since all 3 of them love being outside. But I know that I need to sit with my calendar and pencil in some formal exercise time- swimming laps, and classes at the gym. I need that kind of structured exercise; it did me a world of good the last time I fit it into my life. As far as diet goes, I know what works for me and I just have to get back into the routine of doing it.

Time Magazine had an interesting article this summer titled The Weight Loss Trap. I read it because I'm interested in the topic in general, and also because I have about 15 lbs of pregnancy weight gain that's clinging on and weighing me down, quite literally. I'm jotting down some of my notes from this article:

-Exercise is critical to good health but studies show that it is not an especially reliable way to keep off body fat.

-Individual responses to diets vary enormously. The key to weight loss is to personalize it and to find your own way there. No two people lost weight in quite the same way.

-Among people who lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off, the one commonality was that they made changes to their everyday behaviors.

-A person quoted in the article said, "Ultimately, I fell in love with taking care of myself". This resonated with me- my own life improved dramatically once I stopped thinking of diet and exercise as this awful thing, and instead started experimenting for ways to make it enjoyable and effective.

-The same person said, "My advice is to focus on each day...weight loss is a journey, not a sprint". Again, solid advice and a plea against doing anything drastic and unsustainable.

-When you lose weight, your resting metabolism slows down- so there is a biological obstacle to losing weight, and it is easy to gain back the weight that is lost. This is a sobering fact.

-We don't fully understand weight loss and gain. Weight gain could be influenced by environmental factors and by our microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that live in and on our bodies.

-Most people don't need to lose massive amounts of weight, to become "skinny" or fit some perfect size, to be healthy. For most people, a 10% weight loss (eg. a 150 lbs person losing 15 lbs) is enough to produce noticeable improvements in health, such as blood sugar control and blood pressure.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Whole Masoor Amti

Have you ever watched those "Where are they now?" TV specials where they track down the cast of some popular show from a bygone era and catch up on what the actors are doing decades later? I've been playing the "Where are they now?" game with about 40 of my high school friends. A couple of months ago, we had a virtual reunion on a group text messaging app. Before then, I had only been in touch with about 4 of them. So to suddenly hear dozens of old friends chattering away now on a daily basis, after a passage of over two decades, is wonderful and disorienting. With every photo, I gasp and marvel at pictures of smiling, confident women (yes, all women, I went to an all-girls' school), often posing with partners and kids, and remember them vividly all the way from the cute early grades to the gawky teenage years. Now some of us are mothers to teenagers- how is this even possible?! Where does the time go? And are you officially middle aged when you start saying things like where does the time go? 

From our graduating class in a small town, we now find ourselves living very diverse lives across the globe. In this unsettling world we live in, it is truly a blessing to know that old friends are only a text away and I am waiting to see them all in person as we cross paths during our travels. Groups chats are a funny thing- there are the constant streams of good morning messages (with requisite pictures of baskets of flowers and landscape scenes) and birthday and anniversary greetings (with requisite emojis of bouquets, cakes and confetti) plus random inspirational videos, quotations and forwarded jokes that I would rather do without. But we always welcome enticing pictures of food accompanied by recipes. One friend posted a video titled 15 most loved dishes in Kolhapur and it set off mad cravings in the group for some assal (true blue) Kolhapuri food. 7 of them are mutton dishes- that's nearly 50%! But what can I say? That percentage is an accurate reflection of the truth. Vegetarians like me are regarded with pity in Kolhapur.

Right after watching the video, one of my friends (now a Mumbai resident) changed her dinner menu and immediately made #14 on the list in the video- akkha masoor or whole lentil curry. She shared her recipe and several of us in the group made it in the days following- a tasty meme, so to speak.

My classmate's recipe is interesting, in that it is very heavy on onions, indeed, it has very little but onions and masoor. Her lovingly hand-written recipe (see the picture) calls for 7-8 onions which sounds like rather a lot, but these are the smaller, typical shallot-like onions found in India. A classmate in California piped up and said that the onions she buys are 2-3 inches wide, so should she be using that many? Which immediately led other classmates to rib her, "You never even brought a ruler to school, and now you're taking one to the market?" This is what you get with old friends.

Here is the recipe, adapted to my kitchen. There are many ways of making this dish, and this onion-heavy, tomato-less, no-coconut variation is new to me. We enjoyed it very much.

Whole Masoor Amti (Niki's recipe)

Soak 2 cups masoor (whole brown lentils) for a few hours.

Heat 3-4 tbsp. oil in a pressure cooker. Fry 2-3 finely chopped onions in the oil until browned and caramelized. Add the soaked masoor, salt, turmeric, red chili powder, cumin and coriander powder, all to taste. Add 2-3 cups of water and pressure cook until masoor is tender.

Tempering: In a small pan, heat 2 tbsp. oil and 2 tbsp. ghee. Add 1 tbsp. cumin seeds, 2 finely chopped onions and 2 finely chopped green chilies (or to taste). Saute until the onions are browned, then add this mixture to the cooked masoor and simmer for 10 minutes.

Are you in touch with your school friends? 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Summer Eating and Summer Reading

Our most exciting edible find of summer 2017 was not discovered in the produce section or even the Farmers' Market. It was foraged from rather damp and dank spaces in our own wooded neighborhood.

It was a very rainy summer here in North East Georgia, and conditions were just right for thousands of golden chanterelle mushrooms to pop up in wooded clearings. Lila and V foraged chantarelles by the armful on their morning walks, filling the stroller basket with their bounty. Back home, V cleaned and cooked them very simply in butter and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper. We ate them straight out of the pan, on toast with brie, and tossed with pasta. Chanterelles taste earthy and woodsy and very gourmet- a thrilling treat straight from nature.

Other memorable summer treats-

Very Southern tomato sandwiches. This is a slab of focaccia spread with mayo, fresh tomato slices and a shower of salt and pepper.

Watermelon limeade- cubes of watermelon, lime juice and some crushed ice blended together for a few seconds in the Vitamix. It tastes exactly like fresh sugarcane juice if you can believe it.

Fresh figs shared by a coworker from her backyard fig tree, and briny boiled peanuts.

Our drink of the season: whole fruit margaritas made in the Vitamix. This might be my favorite cocktail of all time- cheers!

* * *

The Mother Daughter Love Fun Club

Over summer, I realized with some dismay that between never-ending household tasks and tending to baby, I couldn't carve out enough one-on-one time with Lila on a daily basis. She's getting to the age where she would enjoy a parent reading "big kid" chapter books to her so I suggested that we start a mother daughter book club and snuggle and read a few chapters every day. Lila loved the idea but wanted to call it the Mother Daughter Love Fun Club so we could do more than just read- we could include art, board games and other activities in our super exclusive, invitation-only club.

I've really enjoyed the chapter books we've read so far. Some were sweet and touching with plenty of opportunities to talk about the ups and downs of life, such as The Chalk Box Kid by Clyde Robert Bulla and My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz. Others are just plain hilarious, such as Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo and Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week by Caroline Adderson. Andrew Lost: In the Kitchen by J C Greenburg has enough grossness to satisfy a giggling 5 year old. All of these books are new to me; as a kid, I could only dream of libraries stuffed with books. What fun it is to discover these books with my little girl.

Another summer favorite in the South-
saucer sized Magnolia flowers with their heady scent

* * *

The bedtime reading habit

Without really planning to, I have slipped into the habit of reading for 20-30 minutes before bed every night. It is one of the simple joys in life to be propped up in bed reading by the warm glow of a bedside lamp, often with Dunkie the pup resting against me. It also provides a much needed screen-free buffer before bedtime. I read from my stack of library books, or a recent issue of The New Yorker or another less weighty magazine plucked from the informal magazine exchange at the public library.

I describe the blissful start to the night's rest; however, things rapidly go downhill around the midnight mark and most of our nights could not be described as blissful. The culprit is the baby boy who wakes up complaining several times at night- the number of night wakings and the timing of night wakings all vary from night to night, keeping us stumbling around on our bleary toes. So it is only fitting that on the top of my stack is Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents by Alexis Dubief (2017- I literally bought it the day it was published). I do like the book- it is comprehensive and full of practical advice, written with intelligence and humor, however, whether it magically solves our sleep issues, only time will tell.

When I wrote this post, someone suggested that I read the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (2009). I did and I enjoyed reading it. The author acknowledges that "Simplification is for those of us whose lives are characterized less by need than by want" and offers plenty of advice on simplifying various aspects of a child's life: decluttering their rooms and rotating toys so kids can engage in deep play, maintaining daily and weekly rhythms and routines to keep a child feeling secure, limiting scheduled activities and giving kids plenty of down time, and shielding children from the relentless anxieties and pressures of the adult world. 

My favorite fiction summer reading: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2017). Anthony Horowitz is the brilliant screenwriter for two of my favorite TV mysteries- Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders. Magpie Murders is a delicious read- two mysteries in one- and I highly recommend it for all fans of the cozy mystery genre. 

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2004) is a well-crafted psychological thriller and a rollercoaster of a read- very enjoyable indeed.

I also read a memoir, Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014), enjoyed her take on the Hollywood biz, loved reading about her childhood and how she got started in comedy, and the essay on motherhood was beautiful. Amy Poehler is so fearless and talented and at least once a day I mimic her SNL weekend update sketch and say, "Really???"

Every summer, NPR comes out with a "best 100 books" list focusing on a different genre every year. This year, it was 100 best comics and graphic novels. I am a fairly new but very enthusiastic reader of graphic novels and plan to read most of these in the coming months. So far, I've read Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire (2010)- a fascinating, disturbing post-apocalyptic tale. 

What have you been reading?