Friday, June 27, 2014

36 random things about me and my experiences :)

1. I feel the same today as I felt exactly a year ago on my last birthday :)
2. Children will surprise you with their perception, reasoning skills and sense of humor.
Laughing uproriously along with your children will give you a sense of wonder and hope like nothing else.
3. If you smile at somebody, they will smile back at you.....mostly. I have had people look blankly at and through me when
I smile at them,
which used to leave me feeling very foolish indeed, but I dont let it bother me now !
4. Read and teach to children to read. It would also be wondeful if they enjoyed it :)
5. Learning to cook and bake from scratch and then serving it to friends and family gives me joy and a sense of accomplishment. I think its a very important skill to learn..I dont have to be a gourmet chef or know hundreds of recipes to enjoy my kitchen !
6. I was never a collector - I didnt buy hoards of clothes or own 20 different purses and 20 pairs of shoes (!!!?!). The only thing I did buy was books and even that has reduced after I subscribed to the excellent libraries in the US. But in recent years I have noticed that I have absolutely no interest in starting up that hobby after all. Doesnt mean I plan on living like a hermit, but I find that I am very easily satisfied with minimal purchases !
7. I speak 4 languages, one dialect. I can also read and write in all those 4 languages. Mind you, three of those are languages spoken in the Indian sub continent, but they still count ! I would love to learn more languages, because however beautiful and melodious a language is, its basic function is to help us to communicate with another human being. I think we should not forget that.
8. The sound of water, the presence of lakes and ponds calms and soothes me. The best memory I have of Jackson, Mississippi is sipping hot coffee on the shores of the Barnett Reservoir on a cool evening ! 
9. I love the smell of the earth after a rainy day and after the lawn is mowed. There is just something so earthy and elemental about it..I wish I could bottle those smells and use them as room fresheners or mood enhancers !
10. Being across the proverbial seven seas from my family makes me realize how much I miss them and would enjoy having them nearby. American holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, centered as they are around family, make me feel very homesick.
11. Having close friends nearby is the next best thing to having family around.
12. I have found that books provide me with an inexpensive and exhilarating way of reenergising myself. I can lose myself in a good book and emerge feeling refreshed and happy.
13. As a mother of two active boys under the age of 10, I have found that taking a little time for myself everyday, be it with a book, or a cup of tea or even gardening, gives me the patience and enthusiasm to listen to everything that my little ones have to share, irrespective of how tiring my day has been.
14. On the same note, gardening gives me a lot of pleasure. There is something life-affirming in seeing new buds,leaves and flowers sprout on the branches of a shrub or a tree after the long dormancy of winter. That in itself is a metaphor for life - alternate periods of bounty and scarcity, life following death and happiness always following despair.
15. The best relationship that you can work on ( and it is one that you will always need to work on) is the one with your spouse. Your spouse is literally your life partner, another human being with thoughts, values, feelings, emotions and opinions with whom you will hopefully live out your entire life. It is in the best interest of everybody involved to make this relationship the most important in your life.
16. Playing with my children and being silly with them is good for me, and for them :)
17. Planting a vegetable garden and visiting it everyday with my kids is worth all the time and effort that I put in it, even if all I ever harvest is a few bunches of greens and a few tomatoes. Thankfully I always have more than that, but I feel good about growing veggies myself. It connects me in a small way to my ancestors who lived off the land and it shows my children where food comes from.
18. I like grocery shopping (my husband doesnt). I like looking at all the fresh produce, all the raw ingredients that could be used to put a healthy and delicious meal on my table.
19. I have become very careful about avoiding processed food. I try to avoid packaged food with mile long ingredient lists because I have come to firmly believe that you are what you eat. I think most of the health problems that people are facing world wide are due to lack of nutritious food.
20. I try to avoid going to the doctor's office. I believe and I have experienced that small ailments like a cold or a cough or even slight fever can be easily treated at home with ingredients found in your kitchen.
My Daily drive to and from work - the quality of the picture is not very good, plus it was slightly drizzling when I took it !

21. I love driving on empty tree lined roads with my favorite music playing on the radio. The only hindrance to this is finding that empty, tree lined road and err...gas prices and the fact that unnecessary usgae of the car is not very environmentally friendly (ahem).
22. Music is a balm to my soul. Whatever my mood, I know I can improve it and enhance it with music !
23. I have realized that if you love what you do - whether its a job or tasks at home, it never seems like a burden or a compulsion !
24. A deep breath and a moment of holding my tongue have helped diffuse many a tense situations !
25. Over the past few years, I have realized that I was pretty naive about a lot of things..I wouldnt say that I am necessarily wiser, but I have learnt to think from another perspective which has opened my mind quite a bit :)
26. Talking to my mother and father always puts a smile on my face. Always.
27. I adore long and thick hair. Alas, mine doesnt come close to this description. I usually dont bother too much about appearance and the like, but if there was one beauty wish that I could have been granted, I would have wished for thick , black and long hair :)
28. I am creatively challenged - I am extremely left brained and when it comes to come up with creative ideas or do some craft, I am all thumbs. I admire those people who whip up amazing scarves, shawls and jewelry in a jiffy !
29. For as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a doctor. Many people who grew up in India will say the same thing because parents in India are slightly obsessed with having their children become doctors and engineers. I couldnt become one and hence I now compensate by trying out natural remedies at home !
30. I am slightly obsessive about spellings. It irks me no end to see words spelt incorrectly. I mean, how difficult is it for editors of news print, books and ads to run copy through a spell checker ???
31. I didnt have a mobile / cell phone for a very long time even though everybody around me at that time (in 2000 - 2003) proudly sported the latest. It was only after I got married in 2003 and my husband wanted to be able to get ahold of me from the US that I got one. I was working in India at the time.
32. I love a good murder mystery. Be it books or movies or series, anything that can keep you guessing till the end satisfies me immensely. Agatha Christie, any one ?
33. When I was of school going age, I loved the freedom that riding my bicycle gave me. I rode it to school, to my friend's house, to nearby grocery stores :) Then when I turned 16, my dad bought a Scooty for me. Its a lightweight scooter that could easily manage on the busy streets of the city !! I was thrilled ! I rode it everywhere !! I miss it now !
34. I am a software developer by profession. I took breaks when my children were born, 2 years the first time and then a longer gap of three years the second time. Although I realize that the breaks affected my career, I do not regret my decisions and I would do the same thing again if I had a do-over !
35. I was very introverted as a child. Books were my friends. I am still quiet as a rule now, but I am better at reaching out to people and making conversation. I think the major reason for this were the first few years after I started working when I was a part of a boisterous and wonderful group of trainees in a software company. I had no option but to come out of my shell :)
36. And last but not the least, I love to write. Not that you would know by the sporadic amount of writing that I do on the blog. But I dream of writing more and hopefully can motivate myself to do just that soon :)

I know this was a long, rambling post. Hope it wasn't too boring to go through, but it did give me a good insight into
myself ! Maybe you ought to do it too !

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Eggless Mexican Sweet Rolls / Conchas - a Baking Eggless Challenge

Last year, in a spurt of motivation, I joined the Baking Eggless group, spearheaded by the wonderfully talented Gayathri of Gayathri's Cookspot.
Each month, the members selected a challenging recipe, tried the recipes out in their kitchen by replacing the eggs and then posting it on their blogs at the end of the month. It was amazing to see the innovative ways in which each member replaced the eggs and to see how creative they all got.
I got to learn quite a few new recipes and my family was able to enjoy delicious goodies !
Then, I started work after a gap of three years and all bets were off. My routines went helter-skelter, I was hip deep in trying to keep the household as calm as possible, while getting everything done at the same time. As a result, I wasn't able to participate in the baking challenge for a few months. Every month I would see the inspired creations of so many and would feel a little regret, some disappointment. I didn't want to let go in the face of hectic work schedules. So when Gayathri announced the May challenge, I had made up my mind to try the recipe, come what may.
Try I did, although it took me a while to do so and get it posted ! I will admit that its not my best effort and although I am creatively challenged, I could still do better, but on the other hand I am glad that at least I tried !
Onto the recipe  ! This month's challenge was the Mexican Conchas or shell bread.
I decided to make a quarter of the recipe provided and struggled a little to get the measurements right. The original recipe had the ingredients listed by weight, which incidentally is the best way to ensure that your baked goods come out perfect. But, having learnt to bake in the US, I am more used to cups and tablespoons ! Anyhow, I did the math and adjusted a little here and approximated a tough there.
The original recipe can be found here - Wild Yeast

For Sponge :
1/8 C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 T warm water
1 tsp egg replacer powder

For Final Dough:
1/2 - 1 C all purpose flour
3 T granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1 T softened butter
1/4 C yogurt
2 T water
1 tsp instant yeast
the sponge

For topping:
2 T all purpose flour
2 T sugar
3 T soft butter
flavorings and colors of choice.
(I used a combination of cocoa powder and cinnamon)

1. Mix all the ingredients for the sponge in a medium bowl.
2. Keep in a warm place for about an hour.
3. Then mix in all the remaining ingredients, except for 1 T of sugar.
4. Knead well. My sponge was thinner in consistency, as a result I needed to add slightly more flour to get the correct consistency for the final dough. If you do need to add more flour, add in small increments, until you get a dough that is slightly sticky and soft.
5. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes and then refrigerate for 8 - 16 hours.
6. Since I made this during the week and had to go to work the next day, my dough sat in the refrigerator for more than 16 hours.
7. When you are ready to bake the bread, prepare the topping first. Mix all the ingredients for the topping. If you plan to have multiple colors, then divide the dough and then mix in the colors and flavors. Knead lightly.
8. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Deflate slightly and divide into 4 portions.
9. Roll each piece on the countertop using your palm to form balls.
10. Pinch off a small ball of the topping dough. Flatten it on your hand and cover the dough ball. Flatten it slightly with your hand.
11. Score the top of the topping with a sharp knife, creating designs of your choice.
12. The topping might crack and separate during proofing or baking.
13. Place the bread dough balls on a greased cookie sheet or a baking sheet and let rise in a warm place for about 2.5 to 3 hours.
14. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
15. Bake the breads for about 20 minutes
16. The topping should feel set and the bread should be slightly browned. Cool on a rack and enjoy !

The butter and cinnamon topping gave off a very enticing fragrance while still in the oven.
Taste wise, when eaten while warm, the bread was slightkly sweet and slightly chewy, with the buttery sweet topping a nice contrast.
I am not sure why, but my topping broke and seperated quite a lot when the bread was proofing and baking. Either the consistency was not correct
or I got the thickness incorrect. {sigh} But, again..I realize that I need to put in more time and effort to plan out and execute the recipe, which I month !

Monday, June 02, 2014

The week in Bentos : May 28 - May 31 2014

Here I am again, with a lapse of a few weeks in between. I have noticed that although I religiously click pictures for all of the lunches that I pack for LG7, I don't feel the same compulsion to post them online. I think its because I feel the lack of new and varied recipes or lunch ideas. Thankfully this coming week is the last week of school in my neck of the woods. Summer break is just around the corner ! I have almost 3 months to come up with a plethora of new and exciting lunch recipes and ideas !!

In any case, here were the lunches for last week :

On Tuesday, I packed a simple PB and J sandwich, strawberries with a froggie pick and stir fried potatoes with an airplane pick.

On Wednesday , I made Annie's Mac and Cheese, strawberries and cheese crackers.

On Thursday, I packed LG7 a homemade banana waffle sandwich, raspberries, carrot sticks and store bought crackers.

On Friday, I made a quick pasta dish with peas and nutritional yeast, sliced up some strawberries, added some raspberries, a chocolate chip cookie and some cheese crackers.

That was it for this week, since Monday was a holiday on account of Memorial Day.
Are your children already home for the summer or do you have another week to go ?
Its started getting hotter and hotter here in North Dallas and I am looking forward to bringing out my ice cream maker !
Have a great week !