On the internets this week

I’ve been totally random about posting to the blog. And recently I was thinking if it’s even worth having one if I don’t post anything regularly. So, in an effort to posting regularly, I’m going to revive this series () that I started (and didn’t really post that often to develop into a series.. *womp womp*)

Things to do:

  • My MIL is an amazing seamstress and I missed the opportunity to learn it from her. So I’m making up for the lost time. I signed up for the online sewing class created by the uber popular blog A Beautiful Mess. Details about the class here -> A Beautiful Mess – Sew with us. Also if you sign up before April 8th, you get $15 off, so the class would be for $30.
  • If you stay in the Bay area, there are lots of things you can do with your kids. After our Costa Rica trip, I can see the benefit of joining Z on his hikes. Albeit, not the ones where he is out of the house at 4.30am.. on a weekend.. So, first one on the cards is Rancho San Antonio Open Preserve where we can visit Deer Hollow Farm. They have a barnyard with a bunch of farm animals, with new addition in the form of newborn lambs. I think the sprout is going to have a fun time running around.
  • Another fun thing that people in the Bay area can enjoy. If your kid loves Monterey Bay Aquarium, they are going to love this! The minimum age limit is 5. More info here: Seashore Sleepovers. I think the March 28th one is already sold out, but they have 2 more dates available.

Random stuff I stumbled upon

  • My fav spots for baby/kid clothes shopping have been Old Navy/Target/H&M. I recently came across this Buzzfeed article about 33 places to shop for kids. One word – Mindblown! I’d never even heard about the majority ones on this list. And I’m excited to check it out.
  • Speaking of shopping, we had a belated birthday party for the sprout this past weekend. It was awesome! Even though we’d mentioned that we would rather have gifts in the form of hugs & kisses for the birthday girl, people were super generous and got amazing gifts for her. Some of her gifts were from Learning Express. We loved them! We’ve never seen them at the local ToysRUs. I think there’s a trip to the store on the cards in the very near future.
  • One more in the kid stuff category, last one, I promise! Like everything related to kids, I found that there are a ton of options if you want to get a balance bike. My first approach was going to be just looking at the Amazon reviews and ask people around. But I found an amazing resource thanks to google – Two Wheeling Tots. There’s a ton of info for all things related to kids on two wheels.
  • And now in a totally not a kid-related category, I recently heard a discussion on NPR about what is apparently a pretty popular thing – The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. In the discussion they were talking about how these questions create a closeness among two individuals which is the basis of a lasting relationship. You can hear the discussion here -> The Psychologist Behind the 36 Questions to Make You Fall in Love

That’s it from me. Happy weekend everyone!

~Preeti

Traveling with a toddler – Costa Rica edition

Our this year’s resolution is to travel whenever we have an opportunity to. Our big trip was going to be Hawaii. But one day Z came and asked me what did I think about going to Costa Rica instead. My reaction – ‘huh? what?’ A friend of ours was getting married in Costa Rica. But long story short, I was definitely interested! (make that all caps!!) Now that we had the where, then began the planning, and the packing. And when you are traveling with a toddler that’s always interesting! Here’s a list of stuff that worked well and stuff that we didn’t get it quite right.

Destination & Planning:

Since the wedding was in Alajuela, the central part, we decided to pick 2-3 destinations around that. After pouring through all the TripAdvisor and google search results, it quickly became clear that we needed help with getting to the various destinations since the roads and directions are quite different than what we are used to here in the US. And with a toddler in tow, getting lost in a foreign country, where we don’t speak the language was definitely not something that we wanted to risk. We looked at the different tour operators and decided to go with Costa Rica Vacations. We ended up with a 8 day trip plan starting in La Fortuna, then going to San Ramon and then end the trip in Alajuela to attend the wedding.

The boring stuff aka Documents/Visa etc:

If you are a US citizen or have a valid work visa, traveling to Costa Rica is easy. You don’t need any special documents.

Flying:

After our previous blunder of taking the longest flight to India, we made sure, we chose the shortest one this time around. We had a 8.5 hr flight from San Jose, CA with a stopover at LAX. If you book your flights 30 days before your trip, tickets are much cheaper. Something we learned the more expensive way. Also, even though technically this was an international flight, but not so in terms of baggage policy. We were charged the regular $25/bag, which added up quickly. Luckily we only had to check in 2 bags.

We are huge fans of flying red eye with the sprout. She sleeps throughout the flight, and is ready to start the day once we land. And we decided to buy a ticket for her even though she wasn’t 2 during the trip. It’s just more convenient and comfortable that way.

Things we got for this trip:

– Sunscreen – We got the Blue Lizard (Sport version) since it’s waterproof. The adults ended up using the Neutrogena one since we’d already gotten it from Costco.
– Kid carrier – Z did a lot of research when it came to carriers. We’d signed up for a few hikes and getting a carrier seemed like an obvious choice. We were down to 2 choices: Deuter Kid Comfort 3 and Osprey Packs Poco. We ended up choosing the Deuter since it has better support for taller kids. The total weight capacity for this is 50lbs (counting the 7lbs for the pack itself). We can still get a few more months of use from this thing, so were ok.
– and the regular hats, rashguard swimsuits + swim diaper, crocs for the kid etc.

Accommodation:

La Fortuna – We stayed at the El Silencio Del Campo. It was amazing! We had a view of the Arenal volcano from our room/cabin. The cabin itself was pretty big. It had 2 queen beds, a large bathroom. The hotel has multiple mini hot spring pools; which were fantastic!

They also have a mini farm where they have cows, chickens and sheep. Between that, the pool and the mini playground, it was kid heaven!

The second day we went to Mistico Arenal Hanging bridges for a guided rainforest hike. It was great! It was a 3hr hike. The toddler carrier was super helpful. She fell asleep in it after a while. And it had a comfy headrest for her. We saw all kinds of animals and reptiles there. Snakes, vipers, tarantulas, monkeys. the snakes and spiders I could’ve done without. But our guide was really great and he made it interesting. The thing that struck us the most was how untouched the rainforest seemed even though they had so many people coming through every 15 minutes. The authorities have put in a lot of effort towards making sure of just that.

The third day we decided to venture out in the town. We got a cab and then walked in the town. The locals are super friendly. Getting around without knowing any spanish wasn’t too bad either. Food is a bit expensive compared to US standards. The American fast food spots more so. Try local if you have the option. We were really excited about trying the local ceviche and it didn’t disappoint.

San Ramon – The next day we went to Villa Blanca which is a part of the cloud forest. It was one of the most amazing places we’ve ever seen! In the mornings and the evenings, the clouds seem to descend on the ground and it’s as if you are walking through them. This place has a 100% humidity. It didn’t rain while we were there but the leaves and trees were wet when we woke up in the morning. Everything is covered in moss.

The property is about 7km away from the main road. But when you are surrounding with sweeping views of the mountains and can see the Arenal volcano far away, you forget about being far away from the city center. The views are absolutely breathtaking! To make sure the guests don’t feel isolated, they have self guided trails as well as ones with the guides. They provide the option of night guided wildlife tours. They have a Lecheria (dairy farm) where guests get a chance to milk the cows twice a day. We did that and it was super fun! There’s a chapel on the property, which is a destination for quite a few weddings. Apparently the previous owner, who also happened to the President of Costa Rica, had that built as a gift to his wife for their 50th wedding anniversary. The roof is covered with painted ceramic tiles.

We were sad to leave the place. But we had a wedding to look forward to. We came to Alajuela which is a 1 hour drive from San Ramon. It is quite different from the touristy places we were at. We’d rented a condo via AirBnB. The next day was packed with the wedding festivities, dancing and all kinds of shenanigans.

The best part of this trip were how great everyone around was. When the sprout started crying while we were waiting for our lunch at Villa Blanca, the host drew a Mickey Mouse on a paper and got colored pencils for her. This wasn’t a resort that would pencils stocked, but they still made every effort to make sure everyone was happy. And that seemed to be a constant theme on our trip. Instead of raising a stink eye when a kid started crying, they asked if they could help in some way. And that goes a long way for families traveling with kids. We’ll be back for sure. Next time maybe the coastal regions.

~Preeti

The new every day

I’ve been out of the kitchen for a very long time. Aside from the occasional meals, I’ve mostly let Z handle the kitchen. Him being a whiz at cooking, also helps. I remember the last time I cooked was when we had just moved in our current house, when I was almost 6 months pregnant. We had an awkward layout. But I loved coming home, and prepping and cooking. Since I believe in mostly simple dishes, it wasn’t a chore. But then after a lengthy kitchen remodel, bebu’s arrival I’m an occasional sighting. And now even when I do cook, something is always off. It’s either the pace, the spice, or something else. But most evidently, it’s me. I’m off my game. Way off!

But now I’m looking forward to venture back in. Add to the mix the fact that we’ve to have everything ready before bebu’s 7pm dinner schedule. This is different than what my mom had to deal with. She cooked atleast 3-4 dishes every day after she got home from work at 7.30pm. But, in India we used to eat later than 7 for sure. So I’ve been brainstorming about how can I get things done. Things like freezer meals don’t really fit in with how we eat. But meal prep is something that I can get onboard with. The first time I read about it was on Shutterbean. I’ve been trying to search for more tips. So far I’ve nailed down the approach to the following things:

Grocery trip staples every week:
– Milk
– Eggs
– Bread (bebu is a huge fan of all things bread. I see a lot of bread consumption in our future)
– Chicken (this is our preferred meat)
– Frozen shrimp (I really hated frozen seafood of any kind, but I was blown away by how good the Argentinean shrimp from Trader Joe’s was. Also, they are peeled and deveined. Sold!!)
– Fresh veggies (think carrots, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli)
– Fruits (I’m bad at eating fruits. But I realized that I eat a lot of fruits if it’s already cut. Lazy much?)

Goto dishes:
– Soups (Chicken noodle, broccoli, lentil soup, tomato to name a few)
– Dosa/Idli (this just needs some prep. And I’ve done it two weekends in a row, so I think I can do it again. And this works so well for dinners or weekend breakfasts)
– Boiled potatoes something (When I was pregnant, I craved potatoes in my first trimester. Z actually used to have boiled potatoes in the fridge)
– Boiled eggs (I’m usually skip breakfast. So this might help with some of that. And if not just boiled eggs, I like the idea of a tuna salad with egg)
– Pasta (I’ve made pasta just once or twice. But Z is really good at it.)
– Some kind of dal. Since Z generally skips the heavier stuff in favor of dal, this is a no brainer.
– Pancakes for weekend breakfasts (this wasn’t a thing in India when we were growing up. But I want this to be a part of bebu’s weekends)

Some of the recipes that I’ve on my to-make list:
Alton Brown’s pancakes
Pioneer Woman’s butternut squash & kale
Minestrone soup
Chicken Avocado lime soup
– Some kind of tomato sauce. Once a coworker gave me this amazing tomato sauce which resulted into one of my very rare pasta dishes w/ mushrooms.

We’ve always used a pressure cooker. But it was a problem if we had to use it when bebu was asleep. So we got Instant Pot last month after reading about it on NomNomPaleo. I’m a fan! So far we’ve made Sambar, Pav Bhaaji, Kale & Spinach Chicken and Mutton curry with fantastic results. I’m looking forward to using the slow cooker function. I’ve never made any slow cooker recipes, so this is going to be interesting. In a good way!

I also like Tracy’s (from Shutterbean) idea of making something to drink. I’m addicted to soda. I need my glass of Coke everyday. But this is a good way to cut that out of the picture.

Growing up we had lot of greens as part of our meals. I’m still thinking about how can I make sure that bebu also comes to love them. She’s a pretty good eater and I’m looking forward to broaden her tastes.

I realize that to succeed at this requires a lot of organizing skills. Applying them at something like meal planning is something new for me. But I think this is worth a shot.

~Preeti

Long distance travel with a baby/toddler

This past March we took a 8500 miles odd trip to India. Which translated to a 27hr flight (wait, we’ll get to it), multiple domestic flights within the country and several car trips without a carseat. If all this hasn’t made you question our sanity, you are a better person than I am. We learned quite a few things. We had learned a thing or two from our last trip to Vegas last year.

Long distance travel with a baby

Tickets/Itinerary
Look for the routes with the smallest possible flying time. I cannot stress this enough. Longer layovers are fine. The baby could probably use the running around. You too!

Consider buying a seat for your kid if you are flying long distances. The bassinet seat in flights aren’t really that great. They have a weight/height limit and you’ve to remove your baby from the bassinet every time there’s turbulence and during takeoff and landing. It’s a problem if you just got the baby to sleep. Also, they don’t turn off the lights at the end of the aisles. We created a makeshift blanket fort. Not elegant, but whatever works.

Food
If the baby is breastfeeding, life is simple. If they are on formula, the sticks (we used this Similac On the go) are super helpful. The air hostesses are super helpful. We found it was easier to use multiple bottles than trying to clean the bottles in the tiny bathroom inflight. We would just wash all the bottles during the layover.

If you are traveling to a place where there’s a lot of humidity, you might want to keep the formula in the refrigerator to prevent clumps.

Keep snacks handy. Our daughter is a huge fan of Happy Puffs. Fruits like orange, apple slices etc also work. You just have to be careful about not squishing the softer fruits.

We also ended up using the Plum Organics purees. Our daughter was partial to the sweet potato ones. If your kid hasn’t tried this before, let them try it before you leave for your trip. That ways you’d know which flavor works and which doesn’t.

Clothes
Keep a track of what the temperature is like at your destination city. This seems like common sense. But we misjudged how hot it got in one of the cities that we visited. So we had to go shopping for shorts. Also, due to the heat, we needed fewer diaper changes. But the heat also meant frequent baths, so having cotton onesies on hand helped.

We went to the beach quite a few times. After the frigid waters of Northern California, the warm waters of Goa, Karnataka beaches was AHH-mazing! Bebu had loads of fun. I wish I knew about the existence of swim diapers then. Chalk that one up against rookie parents.

Diapering
We didn’t really think about this a lot before. I mean, after 1 year, you think you know everything there is to know about this. Well, you thought wrong! Just try changing a diaper in the tiny bathroom in the economy section. There’s no space!! That was the first time I changed a diaper on a kid who just wouldn’t lie down. Also, as I mentioned before, if you are traveling to a warmer region, you’ll be surprised by the fewer diaper changes. We brought back a third of the diapers we took.

Out and about
Again, with the heat, using the carrier, while we were out, was completely out of the question. But it served us well in transit. Also, we didn’t take our stroller, coz we assumed that we wouldn’t use it in India. But in the hindsight, it would’ve been helpful during the layovers. We could’ve used it when the baby slept. An umbrella stroller might be a good bet.

Keeping a thermos handy helps. Especially if your babe drinks only warm milk.

Misc.
The monitors were a lifesaver. You might need to get an adapter depending on the country that you go to because of the voltage difference. We used our pack & play which survived the multiple flights.

Make sure you have minimal check-in baggage. It adds up pretty quickly with stuff like the diaper bag, purse/bag which serves as a catch-all for things like wallet, extra stuff, tickets, passport. Don’t add a hand luggage to it, if you can.

Toys will go a loooong way in preventing a meltdown. Use inflight magazines. Younger kids love them.

Let loose..
Yes, you won’t be on the same schedule as back home. Yes, there will be things that won’t go the way you planned. But, when you look back at the 100+ pictures on your phone, you’ll realize that it turned out ok. Maybe better than the planned version in your head!

~Preeti

New paths

I thought of writing a post about my resolutions/intentions for this new year on the 1st January. But traditionally the new year has never been a monumental date for me. But my birthday which follows in the next month has been special this year. I turned 30 this year. It seems like a new beginning. I don’t think I cared much beyond how the cake tasted when I turned 10. Turning 20 was ok too. But this new decade, seems full of new promises. New exciting promises.

The part of my 20s, before I met Z, seem like a haze. It was part of my growing years where over-the-top reactions to everything seemed to be the norm. The more irrational, the better. This quote by Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy (if you haven’t heard about it, you haven’t missed much) was my status message once:

Dr. Meredith Grey: Maybe we like the pain. Maybe we’re wired that way. Because without it, I don’t know; maybe we just wouldn’t feel real. What’s that saying? Why do I keep hitting myself with a hammer? Because it feels so good when I stop.

I mean, c’mon. How sad is that?!! I cringe everytime I think that I put that up! People saw that!!

But then with Z, things changed. I changed. It’s as if I finally found my anchor. And I was ready to face and reach out for everything that I wanted. Infact, for the first time I knew what I wanted. I wasn’t cruising by, I was moving towards a tangible goal.

One of the most important things that he taught me was ‘We are past the age of reacting at things’. It took me some time to wrap my head around this concept. But it’s so true. There are days where I still slip. But it’s a work in progress. I’m happy with how far I’ve come. But there’s so much room for improvement.

I can’t really begrudge my 20s. I met Z, got a wonderful job, made great friends, and to top it all, had a healthy & sweet baby, who’s almost one (that’s another post though). But I’m really excited for this new decade. There are so many things that I want to try. Knitting, cooking, getting around to making my Pinterest pins a reality and new adventures with bebu. It’s as if I’ve a fresh blank canvas & I can turn it into whatever I want. And I’m excited to start!

~Preeti

Takoyaki to Appe: Think differently :)

IMG_0048_2

Appe, to me till quite recently was alien and all of a sudden my facebook news feed had atleast three people posting about Appe. What a coincidence! Until last year we were crazy for Japanese street food (octopus balls/Takoyaki) and bought a Takoyaki pan as well for that but never got around making them and was lying in a corner somwhere.

Yeah thats what Appe is in a nutshell, indian octopus balls made with idli batter. It was destiny!

The following recipe makes seven delicious round crispy Appe.

You need : 

  • 1-Cup of Idli Batter : This is readily available in Indian grocery stores. If you are interested in making this from scratch folks I found this really good recipe
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 8-10 curry leaves (available in south asian/indian grocery stores)
  • 1tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1/2 green chilli (optional)
  • salt to taste

Steps :

  • Heat the Takoyaki/Appe pan with a little bit of oil in each pocket till it smokes and reduce the heat. This step is really important as it will make the pan nonstick and the Appe will come out crispy from the outside and mushy soft on the inside.
  • Mix all the ingredients and pour the batter in each of the pockets (mine had seven) and cover it so that it steams from the top and gets golden from the top. Wait till the top steams and kind of sets itself up firm. Take a regular chopstick or a knife and flip them over to reveal the golden crisp side. This was how it looked for me.

IMG_0050_2

  • Cook it on the other side as well so as to crisp it up a bit. The onions caramelize as well in the process giving a sweet note to an already slightly tangy idli batter.
  • Serve it with coconut chutney (here is a good recipe), hummus or ketchup .

IMG_0047_2

Ginger, curry leaves, green chilli and caramelized onions pack a nice flavor punch.

IMG_0046_2

or as is.

IMG_0044_2

The Tandoori Chicken

By far the most popular of the Indian Clay Oven (Tandoor) dishes. I am trying to put this into a simple recipe where the only thing that takes time is the marination. Three steps and that should do it.

Preparation Time:  15mins
Marinating Time: At least 4-5hrs
Cooking Time: 20mins

Ingredients: (serves 4 people)

  • 4 pieces of the chicken breast butterflied so that cooking is faster. Make slits so as to increase the surface area hence more marinade absorption and more flavor
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1tpsp coriander powder, red chilli powder, garam masala, garlic powder
  • 4 tbsp Shaan Tandoori Chicken Masala (this is roughly 1tbsp/chicken piece. The masala would be available in any indian/pakistani/persian grocery stores)
  • 4 tpsp cooking oil (this is again roughly 1tbsp/chicken piece)
  • 2 tpsp lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

Steps:

  1. Mix all dry and wet ingredients to make a thick marinade. Coat the chicken with this marinade and let time do its job. 4-5 hrs is a minimum, and a day would be awesome. This is how the marinated chicken looks.

    tc_5

  2. After around 4-5 hours, its time to hit the oven.

    tc_6

    Every oven is different (that’s a disclaimer to say that if your oven screws up, not my headache :D) but to simulate the Tandoor, put it into roast mode and crank it up to maximum (our maximum is 500 deg F). If you have a convection oven, that would be the best. I propped the chicken on a gril to allow an air gap so that it cooks evenly from the bottom as well. This is how it looks

  3. And voila, 15-20mins later, you have a juicy, flavor-packed moist tandoori chicken.

The finale