The UnGlam Fam

I now blog at www.constantcircus.wordpress.com!


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Our Parents as Parents vs Us as Parents

I recently posted a picture of my old school teachers (from late ’80s – early ’90s) on my Facebook page and during all the commenting activity realised that I’m now older than most of those in-control, omniscient adults – an image I strive every day to portray to my own kids and likely fail to. With an adult consciousness though, I can imagine that they must have been as indecisive and unsure dealing with us as I am with kids around me. Or maybe not; they were teachers after all.

The same sentiment for adults carried over to our own parents when we were kids. When I was 6, I could never imagine that my mom at 28 (!!) wasn’t sure that sending me to my room for not finishing dinner was an appropriate consequence for my action or not. I probably bawled at the injustice of it all but it never occurred to me to question my mother’s motives.

Not so anymore, my friend, not so at all. My kids argue with me until they — or more likely I– dissolve into frustration tears more than occasionally, and I must say many times their arguments make absolute logical sense. And, strangely, I feel the need to defend my POV almost every time! To a 4yo! Am I encouraging my kids’ disrespect for authority? Am I undermining my role as a parent? Should I be saving for a therapist fund for them? I’m not sure, but here’s a few hypothetical examples of how our parents handled parental dilemmas way back when and how we tackle them now.

Parent-Teacher Conference at School

Parents as Parents (PP): Is she studying well enough to be first in class? Discipline in school is your responsibility; do whatever you have to do to keep her in line.
Us as Parents (UP): That’s great that he’s doing well academically but how is he socially, athletically, artistically, musically? He says he’s being bullied at recess; what steps are you taking to resolve it? What can I do to get him ready for the science fair tryouts?

Free Play

PP: Go play outside. Come back in time for supper.
UP: Shall we go to a park so you can ride your bike? How about we play some soccer so you can practice for camp? Don’t go into other people’s yard or out of ours without telling me! I’m sitting right here, honey. That’s a wonderful thingumajig you drew with mere chalk! Oh, a robot? Wonderful, the best picture anyone ever made!

Dinner

PP: Finish everything on your plate. Do you know how many kids don’t have enough to eat? I won’t tolerate any wastage.
UP: I’d like you to try one bite. You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it. Do you know how many kids blah blah. <Child phases out or a pretend game starts with other child>. Some food ends up in the compost bin every day, one bite untried.

Discipline Technique

Scenario 1

PP:ย Yelling, spanking, frequent invocation of “Wait till papa comes home!”
UP: Yelling, yes. Spanking, no (unless you count a quick flick on the hand when they won’t stop hanging off your hair or twisting your lip or something). Hell will freeze over before the fabled authority of disciplinary papa is acknowledged. Instead lots and lots of talking *eyeroll*: Do you think that was a good choice to make? Is that the way you would want other people to treat you? If the boy hadn’t cried wolf so many times before, don’t you think the villagers would have been more likely to help him the last time?

Scenario 2

PP: “Don’t you ever talk to me like that, young lady!”
UP: “Honey, it hurts mama’s feelings when you talk to me like that. That’s not very nice. Let’s see how we can rephrase that.”

Sleep/Bedtime

PP: Singing lullabies, sleeping in parental bed until child is old enough to remember the fact later.
UP: Letting baby cry it out at 3 months in his own crib in his own room. (*Note: I could only manage to do this a total of 2 times and I’m scarred for life.)

Funny Family Ecard: The Oscars vs Parenting All the blood, snot and tears end in a winning speech thanking Mom and Dad. (Hopefully.).

ETA: My dad read this and seems to think that I’m disparaging parents from their generation. Actually, I’m just guessing at their parenting motives and/or actions from the cumulative experience of an adult and the faded memories of a child. If at all, I see humor in the way we parent our kids now (helicopter parent, anyone?). Either way, all I can hope is that my kids will turn out as I did, which is to say, fine. So, papa, you did okay. ๐Ÿ™‚


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Smashed Potatoes, Indian Style

Have you ever wondered about the amount of potato in an Indian diet? I have, on numerous occasions while trying to think up a curry for dinner at the very last possible second. Indian cuisine is as dependent on the ubiquitous potato as a Britain-born person may be to, say, the expression, “Blimey bugger!” Maybe I’m totally off the chart about the British person (because, you know, India was only a colony not the bloody country itself), but by god I’m right about our potato addiction. We make dry and wet curry out of it, we stuff it in our breads, we use it to increase the bulk of our vegetable dishes, in fact, there is no kitchen emergency that ek aloo (one potato) won’t solve.

Tiny, even for baby potatoes.

I bought a pack of baby potatoes from the store this week intending to make dum aloo, a creamy dish of fried potatoes in tomato gravy. Then I had a sudden craving for something potatoey today but didn’t have time for the elaborate prep that dum aloo requires (much like cabbage kofta). So these smashed potatoes were born.

Now, neither have I invented the concept of smashed potatoes nor the combination of spices that were used. What I did do for the first time is put them together to create a yummy, crispy, sublime concoction that’s a pleasure to make (fast! easy!) and even better to eat. I don’t eat meat, but I can kind of guess all the excitement associated with crispy pig’s skin; the crackle of skin on these potatoes at first bite is an unparallelled mouth feel. Blimey.

This recipe serves 2, as a side.

You’ll need:

15 baby potatoes, washed and unpeeled
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp nigella seeds
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp coriander powder (optional)
salt and lemon juice to taste
Fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
Approx. 1 cup boiling water

  • Immerse the potatoes in boiling water and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.
  • Heat oil in a wide frying pan to smoking.
  • While the oil is heating, lightly smash each potato with the palm of your hand.

Please excuse the lighting; the other hand was gainfully engaged.

  • To the hot oil, add mustard seeds, cover and let them sputter. Add nigella seeds followed by the smashed potatoes. Reduce heat. Stir and arrange the potatoes in a single layer in the pan.
  • Sprinkle salt, paprika, coriander powder, salt and let potatoes brown, even slightly burn, on each side. Show off your culinary skills by flipping potatoes in the pan without using a spatula.
  • Turn off heat and finish with lemon juice and cilantro.
  • Serve hot. If making earlier, give them another swish in a hot pan before serving to revive crispiness.

Though I served these as a side to a very Indian supper, these can easily be toothpicked and served as a snack with some chutney and ketchup. Versatility, thy name is a potato!


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It’s not just about You; it’s not just about Me; it’s about Us.

The hubster and I celebrated (in a loose sense) our 11th anniversary (in a super concrete sense) this last weekend. On the one hand, the years have sort of melded together so that 2013 could easily be 2002 and no one would know. On the other, though, it feels like eons and eons have passed since that fateful day when I said to him, “I’m gonna use the bathroom, and when I’m back I need an answer yes or no.” In trying times he never fails to remind me how he got forced into this thing; in better days, well, he remains silent. Life has happened since those first few years of cozy dinners and romantic, homebound weekends. If you really come down to counting, here’s a few ways things have changed since 2002.

Then: “I bunked an important meeting so I could come home to you!” โค
Now: Rrrrring. “Yeah.” [Me, In a panic] “Baby, I think I’ve broken my foot!” “Are you sure it’s broken? I’m in a meeting…”

Me, Then: Omg. I have to go #2! SH!T, I don’t want to him to hear all those embarrassing noises!
Now: [Only warning before letting it rip] “I told you we shouldn’t eat beans for dinner. Not my fault.” *shrug*

Then: [Text] I miss you!
Now: [Text] Don’t miss sending in the kids’ fee cheque.

Then: “Here, you can have the last piece of cake. No, really, I’m full. I don’t even really like it that much.”
Now: “Oh, sorry, I finished it all. Did you want any?”

Then: [Romantic scene on TV] โค “I love you!” โค
Now: [Ultra romantic scene] “They are paid a lot of money for this, you know.”

Then: One card for each week we were apart between our engagement and the wedding.
Now: One card after not sure how many years on Valentine’s Day with the message, “A card from me, how’s that?! :)” From him. I sent/gifted nothing.

Him, Then: “Where do we keep the spoons?” I direct.
Now: Him, “Um…” Me, “Yeah, it’s in R’s drawer beside his underwear.” “Hey, how did you know what I was looking for?”

Practice?

So, clearly, all is not lost yet. It’s the little things that count, right? I like to think of us as a pair of well-worn jeans: no glam, but when you’re home nothing else will do.

Right? ๐Ÿ™‚


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Haha, Lady Gaga.

Yesterday at Tae Kwon Do class (the kids’, not mine), I happened to sit by a lady who also has two boys a little bit younger than mine. This TKD class, twice a week, is actually like a mini-vacation for me because both boys are enrolled in the same class and I get to sit it out on the sidelines for one full hour. (Like I said before, this is a big deal after YEARS of singing and clapping like a maniac at baby Gymboree.) This lady I was sitting next to hasn’t got that lucky yet — her littlest one sat in her lap playing on an electronic gadget while her oldest sparred. Whatever game he was playing obviously did not hold much interest because he fidgeted, “mommy”ed her about 24 times a minute, swung by her neck like a baboon, cartwheeled into the arena. I felt her increasing exasperation as a real taste in my mouth, along with the sweet tinge of freedom well earned. At the end of class, she wearily peeled herself off the carpet and said, ‘Well, after all that I hope my maid will have cleaned the house and dinner will be ready!” I replied, “If you close your eyes, at least you can imagine it is.” She said, “Yeah, like Lady Gaga.” I laughed, “More like Lady Haha!” And we both cracked up ๐Ÿ™‚

So, you see, while Lady G gets to have a single, kidless, probably glamorous Valentine’s Day that features Victoria’s Secret in one way or another, most of us Lady Hs will still have poopy bums to wipe, fake boo boos to kiss, cookie crumbs to sweep off the floor before the baby gags on them and a special(ish) dinner to prepare because all the restaurants are so freaking littered with people it’s not worth it. And while her various body piercings may garner some personal attention from her loved one, our midsection-beyond-hope won’t be any lesser for having enjoyed a whole tub of Ben & Jerry’s at the end of the evening.

Happy Valentine’s, my fellow Lady Hahas. ๐Ÿ™‚

If you’re gonna do it, may as well laugh ๐Ÿ™‚


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V’s Superhero Birthday Party

V turned 7 last week. He’s officially in the big-kid category now. To realize exactly how big-kid, you’d be interested to know that boys could be inducted as a page in the royal service at this age, the first time they would live away from the maternal circle at home. Basically, 7 was the 18 of the Medieval times. That’s how big-kid a 7yo is. Sniff.

Anyhow, V requested (no, demanded) a superhero party this year, which is like totally different from what he requested and got last year. Not. His interests aren’t fleeting, that much I have gathered in my 7 years of mothering this little guy. He loved toy animals from age 2-4. We had buckets and buckets full of those miniature Schleich animals and I’m embarrassed to remember our excitement at finding an animal he didn’t own by the end of his third year. By the time he was 4 he knew the names of animals we didn’t know existed (Bactrian camel), differences between monkey species (spider monkey vs baboon), definitions of carnivorous, herbivorous dinosaurs. You get the idea; he was an animal geek. Then he moved on to something else for a year, but since age 5.5 has been a taxpaying citizen of Superheroland. You can quiz him by a DC or Marvel encyclopedia and I would put my cash on him every time. A superhero 7th birthday party was, then, a no-brainer.

This time instead of buying Spiderman tableware or Green Lantern cupcake rings, I decided to go with a superhero themed color scheme for the party. So I arranged to have balloons, cutlery, goody bags and cake in red, yellow, blue and silver, instead of actual prints of the Super guys. For his celebration at school for which he was only allowed to bring a special snack to share with his class, I baked these sugar cookies with Superhero symbols iced on them.

Superhero cookies

Superman, Captain America, The Flash, Wonder Woman

Considering I’m no professional and was icing with holes cut out in Ziploc bags, (not to mention the fact that all I have to show for my effort is this picture and an arthritic hand), I was quite impressed with myself by the end of it. I think even the grim Mr. Superman would approve.

The goody bags weren’t exactly superhero themed although their packing was. I made each guest boy a T-shirt printed with his photo with V and a short friendly caption. The process was a bit time consuming (I started collecting pictures a month before the party to give me enough time to gather them all plus buy the tees and print them in installments) but simple enough, and resulted in such a personalized item that I’ll be disappointed the year I have to go back to traditional goody bags.

Photo-printed personalized T-shirts

V got a collage with all his pals.

Packing these T-shirts was a ton of fun. I used colored tissue paper to wrap “tee candies”, making for really festive party favors.

Tee candies as party favors.

At the end of the day, I realized I did most of these things for myself because the kids would have had fun no matter what. Nevertheless, as a non-crafty girl with nary a creative thumb, it felt great to push the envelope and prove to myself how awesome I really am. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you, thank you very much!


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An Act(ivity) of Love.

My hubby just asked me a question I’m not quite I have an answer to: All you write about is food and kids. Is that all you’re about?

Hmm. Well, aren’t you supposed to write about your area of expertise? Of course, I define “expertise” fairly loosely, obviously. Raising kids and feeding them (and us) is pretty much all I’ve been doing the past 7 years so isn’t it logical to be writing about it? Should I be doing more? (I ask this question to myself about 3x/week.) I gave up a burgeoning career in publishing to move across countries with him and to raise our family amidst the constant pressure of an imminent move, and there are days when I regret this decision bitterly. It is easy to imagine (and hard to reconcile) what could’ve been, but isn’t. But mostly, I’m at peace with it, hoping to renew some sort of a career someday fairly soon. In the meantime, I’m trying to enjoy this time with my young kids who still derive pleasure from my company and who, when asked if they’d like to do a fun activity with my assistance, yell an enthusiastic “Yeah!” (or in the case of 7yo V, nonchalantly reply, “Sure, if you want to.”) For now, I’ll take it. ๐Ÿ™‚

So, as part of my Foodie Reading Challenge, I’ve been reading the part-memoir, part-cookbook, Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. The book itself is a mediocre read — it’s interesting as an outsider looking in but I don’t identify too much with the whole premise. First, I’m not a working mom like the author, scurrying to make it home in time for dinner. Second, we don’t often eat supper as a family meal and frankly it’s not top on my agenda right now. Our schedule is such that dinner is the only meal my husband and I get to eat as a couple (apart from the fact that the kids eat even before he gets home from work) and it’s fine by us for now. Third, most of the book’s recipes include meat, so the cookbook aspect of it isn’t much use for me either. All in all, I’m glad I’m writing about this book here now, because it’s not going to leave a lasting impression on me, I know.

Rosenstrach’s blog, though, holds more promise. Since I’m quite into blogs right now and because it isn’t all about food, I may visit it more often. I was there reading itย  today and just when the evening hours threatened to last longer than they actually were, I came across her post from last year about making homemade valentine’s greetings for kids’ class distribution list for V-day. Perfecto! A fun and useful activity for a lazy evening. I was going to go to the store this week to buy some ubiquitous themed pieces of paper that cost some $2 for a pack of 12 plus the price of gas, and instead now I had a shot at making it a fun, fruitful evening that the kids who were going to be doing the distributing would have some personal investment in. And we did! We had a great time, the kids LOVED drawing their friends as THEY see them, the cold evening passed by quickly, and I saved approx. $25 ($2 times 2 plus the extra Dollar Store junk that I would have ended up buying, because who goes to that store and buys only what they need?). Win-win much? ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s our effort:

Handmade Valentines

Handmade Valentines

I was surprised by how much 3yo R was into it, and absolutely amazed by his dexterity and drawing skills! This is a 100% his effort; I merely wrote the kids’ names. Also, in case you’re wondering, that kid in the center has some freckles not the measles. I mean, is it just me or is my kid really a gifted artist?? ๐Ÿ™‚

Handmade Valentines Part 2

Handmade Valentines Part 2

Can you guess which one is which boy’s effort? (Clue: V’s 7yo friends not only get a personalized portrait but ALSO a personalized Valentine’s Day message. Totally rad.)

Now all I have to do is tape a lollipop to each card and, voila, a unique V-day greeting the boys will be proud to hand out to their friends on Thursday.


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Karela Masala (Spicy Bittergourd Fry)

If you’ve never seen an Indian bitter gourd before, you can easily recognize it in the exotic foods section by its dead mouse appearance. What an appetizing first picture, eh? ‘Tis true. Bitter gourd, that of the unfortunate name, is the Beast to a vine-ripened tomato’s Beauty. A member of the larger squash/melon family, the Indian variety of the bitter melon is, well, vilely bitter. It is inedible raw, and only slightly better cooked. It is definitely an acquired taste and I never met a kid who liked it. So much so that our mothers used to threaten to feed us a couple bites of karela if we fussed too much about what was for dinner. Ominous indeed, no?

Bumpy, mousy-looking bitter gourd

Bumpy, mousy-looking bitter gourd

As we grew older though, at some point karela became tolerable and now I absolutely relish it. When we moved to our new neighborhood a couple of years ago, our neighbor Mr Singh brought us my most cherished “welcome to the neighborhood” gift — 5 plump homegrown karele. That was also the first time I tried this recipe. Up until then I cooked karela the North Indian way, by slicing them open on one side and stuffing them with a shallot, cilantro, cumin filling. This karela masala recipe has more of a South Indian leaning in that instead of a jeeraย (cumin) tempering it uses mustard seeds. This is a delicious twist for my northern taste buds, and the addition of my magic ingredient (shh, nigella seeds, don’t tell anyone) hits this one out of the field. For my North American friends looking to try something REALLY exotic, this is the bitter gourd recipe to make that foray into the authentic with. For those Indian readers who’ve never likedย karela but who are now adults with a more evolved set of taste buds, I promise you, try this one once and if you still don’t likeย karela, never bother with it again.

Ugly duckling to... not so bad, eh?

Ugly duckling to… not so bad, eh?

Recipe makes enough to serve as a side for 2-3 adults.

*Note: Boiling in intensely salty water draws out most of the crippling bitterness of this vegetable. Do NOT skip this step.
You’ll need:
5 bitter melons, peeled and sliced into rings
1 small red onion (or shallot), sliced thinly
1 tbsp tomato paste (or 1 large fresh tomato, minced)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp nigella seeds (aka kalonji, onion seed, black cumin, caraway seed)
1 tsp turmeric
1.5 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp paprika
salt to taste (remember to account for the salty water!)
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1-2 sprigs cilantro, for garnish
  • Set 3 cups of water to boiling. Salt it like you would water for pasta (so tasting like a tear drop).
  • Add karela rings to boiling water and boil about 5 minutes or until the rings are fork tender. Drain.
  • In a wok or frying pan heat oil. Add mustard seeds and cover (they tend to crackle and splutter and become airborne in their excitement). When crackling ceases, add nigella seeds along with the onion. Saute until translucent.
  • Add tomato paste and spices and a tsp of water to moisten the mixture. Skip the water if using fresh tomatoes. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Dump melon rings into the pan, stir and cook another 5 minutes.

  • Turn off heat, stir in lemon juice and garnish with cilantro before serving hot with roti, naan or rice.
PS: At the risk of sounding like the weirdo that I am, I’m going to tell you another way I enjoy this curry — as an open sandwich, on a slice of spread spread with tzatziki!
Run, run, run for the hills! You still got time! ๐Ÿ™‚