Not a hug’s length away now.

I haven’t written in a long while, not had the time to pursue blogging, picked up new hobbies, fell in love with sewing, and added another bundle of joy to our family.

This past week, I’ve been hit by an overwhelming surge of emotions, maybe a little random and a little lacking in sense but never the less, feelings that needed an outburst. Hence the compulsion to express in the one way I know how to, and to hopefully mark this new chapter in our lives with a blog post that I can come back to read.

So… My son starts kindergarten on Monday. Yes it had to happen one day but I am having difficulty coming to terms with it. The fact that he won’t be around me during the day, both scares and saddens me. He’s been to a daycare before, a couple hours a day but this feels different – his foray into formal education, his journey into the outside world. Maybe he is equipped to handle it, maybe he’s not but it is going to be an adventure. His first independent adventure, one that I won’t be able to witness first hand and that just breaks my heart. As he faltered through his first steps and first words, we cheered him along, overcome by pride and humbled by the blessedness of being parents to him. It doesn’t seem fair then, that I miss out on seeing firsthand his accomplishments or setbacks as a student. The fact that there will be a chunk of time that my precious child will be out of my sight, scares me a little. During this time, he’s on his own, decisions and choices, and their expression, all his own. I look forward to with excitement and a little fear as he sets forth to conquer obstacles – social, academic and mental, and reaches new milestones, while gaining confidence and self-identity in a new environment. While I want for him, a school experience filled with friends, fun and learning, I wish he wasn’t so out of reach those few hours.There is hope that he’ll recount his experiences with me, and reassurance that we chose a good secure school for him but he’s not a hug’s length away now is he?

Cars – A Birthday Party!

Needless to say, we had to have a cars themed birthday party for our baby, who on his own accord learnt to say khaa (car) at around 11 months of age. After going back and forth between having the party at home versus a children’s play place, we finally decided to have it at the apartment clubhouse. I had about a week and a weekend to come up with the decorations, food, cake, favors and games. I had the most fun with decorations which included raiding party cities and dollar stores for car or road related items. I got some cheap colored chart board, made some free-hand car designs, cut a couple out and traced the remaining fifty or so for the husband to cut. A friend cut out wheels from some black chart for these cars, on which I wrote ‘happy birthday’ messages. The colored chart board cars looked very festive when attached to the end of black and white checkered crepe paper and hung on glass panels. I taped some to the doors and to the walls as well.

Hand-drawn car cutouts
Disney Cars theme party – Handmade wall hangings

The Disney cars scene setter covered the fire place and really highlighted the theme of the  party. I was thrilled with the orange cones and the disney cars swimming rings which we hung from the ceiling, they were a steal for a dollar per piece from the dollar store. We arranged black and white balloons alternately on the glass panels on either side of the door way. We used the same black and white checkered pattern pennant banner over the food counter.

Disney Cars Scene Setter
Black & White ballons to mimic the checkered flag look

Food Counter

If car shaped cookies,crackers, bars or cakes were sold at stores, I would’ve really got some but since they don’t, and I was determined to have something that resembled a car on my food counter, I decided to do car shaped cookies. Disney cars cookie cutters sell for about $17 and my local arts and crafts store sells a set of 3 cookie cutters – a race car, an air plane and a ship for $4. I didn’t want air plane or ship shaped cookies now or later, also I was highly inspired by this blog. She made a camel shaped cookie cutter from an aluminum foil pan, sheer genius! I don’t know if I would recommend this as a home project unless you have the proper tools and a pair of rubber gloves. I tried to use oven mitts and since they don’t quite let you use your fingers well, ended up using and cutting my bare hands. I didn’t follow all her steps, just cut out the edges of a used aluminum foil pan and folded and refolded the base to make it look like a metal ruler. I bent this ruler into a car shape to the best of my ability.

Hand-made car cookie cutter

For the cookies, I used the most basic recipe there is, for plain eggless sugar cookies. My husband helped mix two batches of cookie dough before he left for work and I baked and baked till I had about  fifty cookies. Most of the cookies were baked when baby took his big afternoon nap. It took me about 20 minutes to ice them and 60 minutes to dry them before packing them in an airtight container. I owe the success of these cookies entirely to my husband, cause the first few batches that I baked two days before the party were quite a disaster – uneven colored, distorted shapes which resembled clouds more than cars and were so hard, they could break your teeth. I was stressed out and ready to give up but I had my husband and another day before the party to readjust the baking time (bake for exactly 11 minutes), the number of cookies that went into each batch and the space on the baking sheet around each cookie so they didn’t collide with each other. Second time around they were perfect little beauties.

Before popping the cars into the oven
Car cookies 🙂

My biggest accomplishment of the party has got to be the cake. We enquired at several cake shops, ice cream shops and local grocery stores and everyone carried the same catalogue with the same Disney cars cake model – a rectangular cake with grass and road icing with a toy car on top. We really wanted a car shaped cake and after much persuasion from the husband I decided to give it a shot. Baking a car shaped cake was not the tough part since we got the Wilton cars cake pan but the real challenge for me was the icing. I have never even as much as iced a ‘happy birthday’ message on a cake before. Since I had enough time ( a weekend) to indulge my husband before we decided to go with the store-bought cake, I baked a car shaped cake and tried to ice it. This was possibly one of my brightest ideas cause it gave me an understanding of how thick my icing was supposed to be, to hold the shape rather than run out of the icing bag in the shape of big globs like it did during my trial run and also how much red color I needed to add to the icing before it looked the lightning McQueen red. I felt pretty adventurous after this experiment, and armed with several YouTube videos, I actually decided to bake and ice the birthday cakes myself. Yes cakes, 2 Lightning McQueen car cakes. Seen through a novice cake decorator’s eyes, I thought my cakes were pretty good looking.

Home-made chocolate cake – Icing stage 1
Disney Cars Cake – Icing stage 2
Lightning McQueen Car cake
Lightning McQueen Car Cake – Up close

Lightning McQueen Vanilla and Lightning McQueen Chocolate

For the appetizers, I just stacked about 4 wheat thins with cream cheese in between and topped with some cream cheese and fresh diced strawberry. I thought the red strawberry would go well with the red of our lightning McQueen. Trying to cut strawberry halves into car shapes would’ve been overkill right? So we just used Disney cars cupcake liners to hold each wheat thin pillar. These appetizers were a big hit at the party.

Appetizers – Wheat thins and Cream cheese topped with strawberry

 I also grilled some spiced paneer ( Indian cottage cheese) cubes and stuck Disney cars picks in them. My husband cut the cheese and marinated it the previous night, while baby was asleep and I was icing the cakes. I used a simple marinade that I normally use for chicken kebabs. We popped them in the oven an hour before the party. They were really really delicious.

Spicy Cheese cubes with Disney Cars Picks

We had pizza, and chocolate milk for kids and sodas for adults. We got some pull back cars for the kids to race with and a Garanimals count and learn bowling set that my son now loves to play with. The kids had a lot of fun with the balloons, cars and with each other, they especially loved the cakes. They gathered around the center table and kept marveling at the cakes waiting to devour them. Our little guy had a grand time. He cut the cake, ate some and smeared some more across his face and posed wickedly for our family pictures. Contrary to all our concerns that he’d be intimidated by such large a crowd, he did pretty well, amusing himself and being a happy birthday boy in general. I am so glad that after so much debate on whether to throw a party, or just go away and celebrate it by ourselves, we decided to have this party, making so many wonderful memories for our new family.

Ready to attack the cake
I love you too!

Family Photo - 1st Birthday Party

Kids and Cakes

 

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday my baby boy! You just turned one! Since I first felt you move at 17 weeks, I had so badly wanted you to be a boy. I couldn’t help feeling that way. I was waiting in the parking lot of Starbucks, waiting for dada to bring me my usual tall chai latte, and thinking, or rather reminiscing about old days, carefree days when I was single and used to stop by Starbucks almost every evening. That was the precise moment you kicked me. A strong jolt. That was when I realized I wanted you to be a boy, my baby boy. That was when I knit my first ever pair of booties. In blue. Dada was impatient for me to finish knitting, so he could hang’em in his car. They are the same booties that hang in our car now.

My first knitting project.

At our 20 week ultrasound, I was nervous, terrified and suddenly not so enthusiastic about knowing the gender of my baby. This was the moment for which we had so desperately waited for, but now, I didn’t want to know the gender of my child, not when I was this biased. I wanted to be happy, thrilled and excited without a trace of disappointment. Inside the radiology lab, I told them to write down the gender in a piece of paper. I wasn’t sure when exactly we’d open and see what was written inside that folded piece of paper.

This folded piece of paper was handed to us after the ultrasound.

I kept this paper in the inside pocket of my handbag where it still resides. I like to look at it sometimes. I was reveling in the excitement of having actually seen you on the screen, kicking and twisting, with your hands holding the sides of your head, those memories etching a permanent place in my heart and mind, when we received some upsetting news from the hospital. A pregnancy complication. I spent the night crying my heart out, worried about you, myself and everything that would come after. Time didn’t help, nothing helped, I was still scared and then I realized that the only thing that would make me feel better, make me happy, was news of my baby. I wanted to know who you were. I knew that knowing what was inside me would fill me with hope and joy. A boy or a girl, I didn’t care anymore, I knew happiness was in store. Dada opened it and read it aloud.

It's a boy

And I chanted “It’s a boy! It’s a boy! It’s a boy! It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I had to look at the paper again and again. I felt so blessed, you are an answer to my unspoken prayer, a desire granted, a wish fulfilled and my most precious blessing.

Your first photo shoot and already a poser!

Moroccan Inspired Mango Chicken & Quinoa

Moroccan Inspired Mango Chicken and Quinoa

I have for sometime now been quite fascinated with middle-eastern food, especially the use of spices and herbs. In my head, herbs and spices are synonymous with magical herbs, the sort that grow in enchanted forests, have healing powers, have exotic fragrance and often bloom only once every full moon night or once every hundred years. This mental image of mine has been reinforced by mythical tales and alternative medicine both of which attribute mystical properties to spices and herbs.

This is exactly how I see 'em in my head 🙂

I think that, the fact that they are mostly available in dried, powdered, or preserved form and few of us have actually seen them in their raw natural state gives them an aura of elusiveness. Did you know our everyday staple seasoning pepper grew on a vine, like miniature grape clusters? Or that nutmeg is the seed of a fruit that looks just like an apricot? I learnt about them only a few years back, when I visited my in-laws’ family, these spices grow in their backyard. I also find that I am quite willing usually, to consider herbal remedies especially teas for sore throats and even lactating purposes. An annoying trait of mine, according to my husband is that I can never pass by a tea store without tasting their free sample herbal teas, but they have such fancy names! Chamomile and cinnamon tea, hibiscus tea with lemongrass or rose petal tea with mint leaves.

Pepper still on the vine.

Nutmeg Tree

This weekend, as I added ripe mangoes to my shopping cart, I decided to try something interesting rather than serve and eat diced fruit which is what we usually do. Since the word ‘moroccan cuisine’ has been hanging in my head for quite a while now, I made up this recipe after looking up the spices, herbs, dry fruit and nuts that are characteristic of Moroccan cuisine from Wikipedia.

Disclaimer: I do not vouch for the authenticity of this dish.

Ingredients:
2 ripe mangoes peeled, pitted and diced
2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breast cut into cubes
1 cup raw organic quinoa
3 tbsp Olive oil
Spice rub for chicken: 1 tsp Paprika + tsp Cumin + 1 tsp Coriander + 1 tsp Cinnamon + 1 tsp Pepper + 1 tsp Turmeric + 1 tsp ground Ginger and salt to taste
A pinch of Saffron
1 tbsp chopped Parsley
1 diced Zucchini
1 chopped Red bell pepper
1 chopped Red onion
1/2 cup Chopped Cilantro
2 tbsp Raisins
1/4 cup Toasted Almonds
1 freshly squeezed lemon
A dash of red pepper powder (optional)
1 cup Greek yogurt

Method:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To the chicken, add 1 tbsp olive oil and all the spices listed under spice rub, then add the mango pieces and bake for about 20-25 minutes ( in a baking tray or casserole).
Sprinkle with cilantro and keep aside.
In a saucepan, add 2 tbsp olive oil followed by onions, bell pepper and zucchini. Add a pinch of saffron.
Sauté for a few minutes before adding rinsed quinoa and 2 cups of water and salt. Quinoa takes about 15 minutes to cook.
Once it’s done, seeds start to look transparent.
Add parsley, 2 tbsp lemon juice, pepper and raisins, mix and cover with a heavy lid and let stand for a few minutes.
For yogurt sauce, add to yogurt, 2 tbsp lemon juice, salt and pepper and freshly chopped mint leaves ( I didn’t have any so I added parsley) and a dash of red pepper powder.
Garnish the quinoa pilaf with toasted almonds right before serving ( keeps them from becoming soft), and serve with mango chicken and yogurt sauce.

Moroccan Inspired Mango Chicken and Quinoa with Yogurt Sauce

Moroccan Inspired Mango Chicken and Quinoa with Yogurt Sauce

In the blink of an eye, a year goes by!

In a couple weeks, you my little babbler are going to be one year old. I am truly excited and as I eagerly look forward to you growing up, talking to me and calling me ‘mama’, I also look back wistfully at the past year when you were no bigger than my forearm. I miss holding that tiny infant of mine.
Every moment since the moment you entered our lives, has been overwhelmingly beautiful.

your first ever smile.

We have been reveling in and celebrating every little milestone you crossed. We waited earnestly for the day you would start smiling at us for real, and when you did, over and over, we kept looking at you and admiring you, your beautiful smile, your expressive eyes. Mommy and dada compete with each other every night, each wanting to be the last one to kiss you goodnight.

When you smiled for real.

The first time you stopped while nursing to look and smile at me was when I felt that life was totally worth living for, just to experience that one precious moment. From smiles to spit bubbles, you have never ceased to amaze me and when you made your first sound, a word, it was ah-goo, I was lost for words. Even your graduation from one diaper size to the next was an event worth noting for me. I remember how at 3 months old, you were trying to roll over, struggling and grunting as you drew your hand out from under your belly while we cheered for you. We took turns to hug you, kiss you and applaud you on your accomplishment. The day you started sleeping through the night, it happened when you were a little over 4 months, marked the end of an era for us, an era of sleepless nights, of sleeping in shifts, of sleeping in the rocking chair with you, of walking, swaying and lulling you to sleep. Still, those were fun times.

You were 5 months old when you got up one night and started saying na-na-na-na and ma-ma-ma-ma. That for me will always remain the most remarkable one of all your milestones, that was the night you became extremely expressive vocally. Your babbling has increased by leaps and bounds since then.
I longed for the time you’d stretch your arms out to me, and when you finally did, my happiness knew no bounds. Tens of thousands of times I run to your crib, car seat or high chair just to see you stretch your arms out to me. Something about the way you look at me when you want to be picked up makes my heart jump out of my body, drop everything just to hold you close.

When you first started sitting up.

we clicked pictures like maniacs, when you learnt to sit up with support. You absolutely loved being propped up. It was around this time that you got your first cold. Your nose was so congested, it worried me sick to see you open your mouth to breathe. You used to constantly put your tiny little fist to your nose to rub it.
At 6 months, you started belly crawling like a little soldier. You’d stretch out one hand and then drag yourself forward with a lot of effort. You’d crawl a few feet and then rest your head down in between your hands like a little puppy. You were only 7 months old when you had your first big fall. You fell off the bed, as soon as I turned my back. I only heard a loud thump. Mommy was terrified, we called dada and rushed you to the hospital. You were of course fine.
Soon after that, you figured out how to lift your belly and started crawling like a champ. It was funny how you assumed that if mommy was not around, you wound find her in the kitchen. You’d come looking for me, peering slowly at first and then crawling fast, as fast as you could when you caught sight of me. That was when it first hit me that you’d just taken your first step towards independence, that you didn’t need mommy to transport you from one room to another. We mostly had a great time at our lap sit classes at the library and our park dates except on days you decided to doze off in your stroller.
When you started pulling yourself up to a stand, it was pants-down time for us literally. You’d grab our shorts, pants, skirts, pajamas anywhere everywhere and pull yourself up.

Where you first learnt how to stand.

Since the time you turned 6 months old, you led us to believe you were teething, what with all the spitting, drooling and stuffing the whole planet into your mouth but it was only in your 9th month that we finally saw two tiny pearls jut out.

In the last couple months, you haven’t had a quiet moment, you started standing up all on your own and then took your first steps. That is all you have been doing, trying to stand, to balance, to walk and even run.

Look at how much fun you're having at the wheel.

This was your first time in the pool.

I doubt if there is anything in this world that you love more than cars. Once you get hold of the steering wheel, there’s no easy way of getting you out of there. You seem to enjoy the pool too, paddling your legs and arms rhythmically as though you were born to swim.

Last few days, you have been relentlessly practicing your walking skills. Now you are trying to master the art of steering yourself in a particular direction while walking. You look adorable toddling from one corner to another.

This past year flew by in a haze, I didn’t realize you were growing up so fast, I wish I could do it all over again.

Playing with the webcam

Mommy’s blueberry plum parfait

He walked! He walked! He walked!

My baby doll took his first few steps yesterday. My brave li’l munchkin was standing leaning against an ottoman while I was sitting on a rocking chair across the room from him. One moment he was standing there playing with his sketch pen and the next he started taking one two three four five six little steps towards me just like that. I was so startled to see him walk so suddenly and unexpectedly that I didn’t even react on time to catch his video. I very well should have, considering how my phone was within reach and how I was so ideally positioned to at least click a picture or two. Maybe another time when I am a little less dazzled by my champ. Pfft like that’s ever gonna happen! I’ll always be in awe of this little bundle that gives me so much joy. I love you my son!

What he had for breakfast today – Mommy’s blueberry plum parfait
2 organic plums – Cut in half, remove the seed and place them with the open side down in a baking tray filled with 1 inch water and bake for about 20 min at 400 degree F and gently peel the skin off with your fingers
1/4 cup organic blueberries – raw or lightly stewed in water for 10 min
3 tbsp multigrain cereal
2 tbsp greek yogurt (I used fage)

Blend all the ingredients together and serve!

Blueberry plum parfait - before blending

Blueberry plum parfait

We like kiwifruit!

Why a whole post on kiwifruit? Because I got a kick out of serving this exotic tropical fruit to my son even though I have personally hated this fruit until now.
I have usually preferred dessert over fruit. So with our baby, we decided we’d expose him to a variety of fruit and vegetables right from the beginning. He’s been a good eater so far. He hasn’t expressed a firm dislike towards any particular food. At 10 months old, he’s pretty much had all kinds of fruits and vegetables that are out there, or so I thought until daddy got him kiwifruit last night. I don’t particularly care for tart taste in fruit or pies except during pregnancy when I had strange cravings for berries especially strawberries. kiwifruit have never even featured in my grocery lists. Needless to say, I had no idea how to prepare them for baby. From a quick google search, I learnt that they didn’t need to be baked or boiled. So for baby’s breakfast this morning I puréed:

2 kiwifruit peeled and cut
1/2 ripe banana
2-3 tbsp baby oatmeal cereal

He loved it! He really did! Even before I added the banana and cereal, I gave him a few spoonfuls of kiwifruit purée and he happily gobbled it up and that makes me a very happy mommy! Kiwifruit will hopefully be a regular on our fruit platter hereafter.