The UnGlam Fam

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


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A Labor Day with friends, and a recipe.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you’ll make the kind of friends that remind you of drunken days of college. Not literally maybe, but they’re are the pals at whose house you don’t mind dropping by unannounced, who will help you tide over difficult times without any expectation of reciprocation, and who won’t hesitate to drop your kid home at midnight if the sleepover thing doesn’t work out. If you’re score supremely in the luck department, you will also live in the same city as them and hang out all the time, sometimes to the exclusivity of everyone else.

We spent this Labor Day with one of our “those pals”, and enjoyed every minute of it. Nothing was planned, but we somehow ended up meeting, cooking, gossiping and playing (the kids) with them every day of the long weekend. Food and drink flowed freely, with enough music to dance it all off. The kids trashed the basement, and stayed up entirely too late, but we figured sleep can be caught up on easier than memories.

The hubby contributed today’s recipe to the festivities. I’ve made this in the past as well but I tend to marinate the paneer and the veggies while he prefers to bake them slathered only in some oil and spices. We don’t have a barbecue, but if you grill this you can achieve a whole ‘nother level of yum. A quick broil at the end achieves the same result but without the smokiness of the char.

Paneer Shashlik for the Soul

You’ll need:

250g paneer or firm tofu
1 cup cubed red onion
1/2 cup cubed green pepper (or colored pepper medley)
1/2 cup white button mushroom (the smaller the better)
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup spice mixture (salt, red pepper, black pepper, cumin powder, coriander powder)
juice of half lemon to garnish
7-8 long bamboo skewers or 10-12 sandwich toothpicks for bite-sized snack
2 tbsp vegetable oil

  • Preheat oven to 350. Line a cookie sheet with aluminium foil.
  • Toss all veggies and paneer in oil and sprinkle spice mixture. Toss to coat.
  • Spear veggies alternating colors onto the skewers.
  • Bake in oven for about 40 mins, rotating the skewers occasionally, until paneer is slightly golden and veggies are wilted.
  • Finish off with final broil for 2 mins or throw on the grill for char marks.
  • Splash lemon juice before serving hot.


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Blueberry Love: Crumb Bars

Blueberry Crumb BarsI’m a blueberry fan. There are a myriad of berries out there, and all of them they say score one up over some other traditional fruits like banana (too sweet), apple (dirty dozen if you’re not into buying organic), avocado (not unfattening),etc. Berries are safe. For the most part, if you consume them in season, they probably satisfy all criteria of being a Superfood.

For us urbane urbans, picking our own berries is basically as hunter-gatherer as you’ll ever get. Especially because the strawberry plant we plant in our backyards yields approximately one berry a season, which we jealously guard from rabbits or deer or even squirrels only to wince and pucker our lips at the sourness of the first bite. A long sentence to say simply: Leave the berries to the professionals.

Anyway, once you’ve picked your own blueberries on the farm, it’s hard to go back to the store variety. There is no comparison on size, color, firmness or taste. I’ve realized this and that’s why I only buy my berries at the farmer’s, if I can, or consume them in another form a.k.a. a dessert.

As far as desserts go, if you ain’t into chocolate, you gotta be into crumbles. Really, what else is there? I used my recent 2 pints of blueberries for this incredible crumble recipe I found at smitten Kitchen’s blog – http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/07/blueberry-crumb-bars/.

I did adapt it a bit to my taste as I didn’t want to use an egg (I hate the eggy smell of some desserts and try to avoid using it unless necessary). I also try to substitute a bit of brown sugar in any sweet recipe because I adore the caramel-ness it lends to the all-white. Finally, I halved her recipe; mine yielded roughly 16 2×2″ squares, more than enough for a small family (or failing that, an individual).

You’ll need:

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1.5 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup or 1 stick cold butter
1 tsp cold milk
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cornstarch

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease an 8×8″ baking dish.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix white sugar, flour and baking powder. Cut butter into small squares and add to bowl. Add milk. Work the mixture into a crumbly dough-like consistency.
  3. Pat half the dough mixture into the greased pan like a graham cracker crust.
  4. In another bowl, toss together blueberries, brown sugar and cornstarch.
  5. Pour berry mixture onto the crust and top with remaining flour mixture.
  6. Bake until the top browns, about 40 mins.
  7. Cool completely before cutting into “bars”.
  8. Serve warm with ice cream or eat as is. Like me.

 


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These are a few of my favorite things…

You guessed right. We’ve been watching the classic movie The Sound of Music in multiple installments the last couple of days. Why installments, you may ask? A valid query, I assure you, but when your kids want to rewind their favorite scenes and watch each one 3 times in succession, a movie can become quite long and unwieldy to be finished in one sitting.

However. It’s one of those things that I can let go without much chagrin except for the niggling annoyance of having a song stuck in my head. Which one? Well, I’ll keep you guessing.

Some of my favorite things:

  • The scent of petrol/gas (I’m weird, I know.)
  • The smell of parched earth after the first rain (anyone who’s grown up in India or in an arid climate knows this heady aroma. I reckon it’s akin to the feeling some get with fresh baked bread; you want to eat whatever smells this yummy — in my case, the earth (in the sense of mud, not the planet.))
  • The smell of a cooler in the summer.

This one needs an explanation: in the days before air conditioning became affordably commonplace in India, we used to cool our houses in the deep days of summer with something called a cooler. Instead of a box to store drinks in, this cooler was typically a rickety aluminium box lined with hay that people would install in a centrally located window and fill with water. It had an exhaust fan that threw the water-cooled air into the house amidst such a hideous racket that holding a conversation in the room with the cooler was almost impossible. (You could yell, however, like you would at a frat party. Not that you would have any energy left for conversation after coming in from 120F temperatures, so this wasn’t usually an issue. The only words to escape your lips at this point were “thank” and “God”.)

A typical cooler of the day. Now probably extinct.

  • Playing Monopoly with my 7yo.

He has recently acquired an obsession with all things monetary. (His first question on encountering an exciting new toy isn’t the usual “Can I have it?” but “How much is it?” Which is fine by me because with the paltry amount he manages to collect from sundry sources, even $5 is enough to deter him.) Monopoly is a game I don’t mind playing with him right now; beats having to wrestle superhero figurines any day. After the first few disasters of having to end the game midway due to uncontrollable sobbing at the loss of $10 for a Chance penalty, he has now learned to stoically bear the vagaries of fortune. I can even get a bit competitive sometimes without causing irreparable damage to his psyche.

  • The comfort of shorn nails.
  • The all-day-long feeling of springiness on days that I’m able to haul my lazy a$$ for a swim. I wish the brain remembered this feeling as acutely as it seems to remember the texture of a double chocolate brownie consumed a week ago. Just sayin’.
  • Bedtime on days that the sheets have been changed.
  • The 2 whole seconds between a sparkling kitchen and the time to start prepping the next meal.

Maybe I’ll think of more of my absolutely favorite things and add to this list. Meanwhile, the one most UNfavorite feeling that comes to mind is of waking up alone at midnight on the wrong side of a urine-soaked bed that is not mine.

What’s yours?


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A week in the life of a toy.

It must be hard being a toy. Having plastic limbs is no walk in the park, plus being created solely for the playing pleasure of another has to be an ego buster. To top it all, the emotional fallout, indeed the roller coaster of being absolutely adored one day only to be resolutely ignored the next must be enough to warrant a hefty bill atΒ  Dr. Oz’s, right?

The typical shelf life for a new toy in our house is about a week. The percentage of plastic in a toy is usually inversely proportional to its shelf life, the same way as more pieces equal less time for them to be played with as a unit. Currently, Lego is the only exception to this plastic and pieces rule.

I will elucidate with an example.

A few weeks ago we were at Target. (I could say The End right now and some of you with overindulged little kids will likely correctly surmise the rest. But for the others, I will explain.) My kids saw a life-sized Superman stuffed toy. They bonded immediately and puppy eyes ensued. The thing wasn’t cheap (in price, not in quality) so I dilly-dallied. I offered alternatives, distractions, tried saying a vehement no. But kids have a super sense about parental dithering and, truth be told, I wasn’t totally averse to the damn thing. I know how much my kids obsess over superheroes and they didn’t really have a superhero stuffie in their toy repertoire. We bought it, amidst whoops of “you’re the best mom ever” and “we promise to share him!”.

Now comes the shelf life part.

Day 1

Superman gets carried everywhere. Hour-long games are created around him. There is no bickering over whose turn it is to hold him since the games are creative enough for everyone to have roles. He eats with them, watches TV with them, sleeps in their bed.

Day 2

Superman is the first thing to be greeted in the morning. More independent play all morning. Slight disturbance about who gets to cuddle with him at naptime but since V is too old to nap, situation is easily diffused. Superman is shown off to neighbour friends.

Day 3

There is no Superman play until late afternoon. Then everyone realizes he exists at the same time and sharing issues begin.

Day 4-5

Interest is on a definite wane. However, bedtime cuddling quotient is still high and staggered bedtimes make sharing a non-issue.

Day 6

Sporadic memory of Superman during daytime hours and no nighttime cuddling required any more.

Day 7

Image

Self explanatory. Superman occupies place of non-importance with discarded clothes of the day and partial closet invisibility.

Another $20 lost in the abyss of playroom chaos.

Super special Superman no more.


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Oh, summer.

You’re busy without doing much, and you’re almost over. I’m not complaining. The kids love school and, increasingly, so do I.

Did I write about my homemade popsicle mania from a few weeks ago? No? Well, like any flash fad I would not, could not, wait to make my own popsicles at home. R likes to eat them so much and I had grand plans of serving fruit pops for breakfast, yogurt pops for dessert at lunch, mango sorbet kulfi ice cream pops after dinner, etc., you get the idea.

So we started at the start bought these adorable popsicle molds. In case there is any confusion, they are cute upside down monsters! What fun!

Image

Our first project was lemonade popsicles. I even added some color to the lemonade to make them more interesting. What a hit! Me and R loved them. Devoured all four super quick. Beginner’s luck has a way of making you believe the best in yourself.

lemonpop

Then someone told me about coconut milk and how its creamy consistency makes for delectable pops without all the added guilt of rich dairy. So the next project became coco milk choco pops made with rich dark chocolate, adequate-but-not-excessive sugar and naive hope. The product was as dreamy as its name the first time, when I followed all advice to use only the cream of the milk. The next batch, made with overconfidence and all parts of the milk came out so meh that R only agreed to reluctantly eat it when the store-bought, good ones with the artificial sugar/color/stuff were all gone.

cocopop

Lately it’s felt like too much work to think up (or Google!) recipes when the intended audience clearly favors the less time consuming choice. I also realized that for all their cuteness, the molds deliver a slightly unfortunate pop shape. So the beloved pop molds with so much promise are resting in the drawer awaiting their time to be in favor again.


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Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

I think I have read my Book of the Year. A random pick-up from the library the other day yielded a read so powerful, so moving, so poignant and yet so entertaining that I am humbly in awe.

ImageKatherine Boo is an investigative journalist who spent years recording the lives of people existing at the edges of society in one of Mumbai’s largest slums, Annawadi. For Indians like me, who had grown up staring poverty in the face every single day without ever having to live through it, this book is a jolt from an uncomfortable part of our past. Written as thoroughly engaging narrative non-fiction, the book weaves through the lives of 3 main characters — waste trader Abdul, trash scavenger Sunil, first girl college graduate Manju — and their families, as they barely survive within a subculture of abject neglect and lack. More than once, I had to lay down the book to literally stare at where I am and how a 100th of it would look to the eyes of an Annawadian. A 60 sq. ft. living space shared by 11 people? Unimaginable. Bathing in a sewage lake because that’s the only water available? How? Passing a dying man on the street and leaving him there because of mortal danger to your own life by proxy? Unbearable truth.

A non-Indian reading this book may not be as affected by the truth in its pages because, honestly, the rot in the Indian system is so fantastical that it would be unimaginably alien to someone who hasn’t lived through it. One can expect to be shocked, dismayed, infuriated, exasperated at the seemingly mythical proportions of injustice that a majority of Indians have to endure on a daily basis, but no one can nonchalantly walk away from it. I read the whole book with a sickening pit in my belly, the pain of which wasn’t enough for me to be able to put this one down. Read at your own risk.

There were a few lines in the book that I’m reproducing here because I just can’t not. These tore me up.

“Some called him garbage, and left it at that.”

“…with gunny sacks of garbage on their backs, like a procession of broken-toothed, profit-minded Santas.”

“Scavengers slept on top of their garbage bags to prevent other scavengers from stealing them.”

Boo has won a Pulitzer for her work. I’m thinking she deserved it.


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Playdate cookies

In case you’re wondering what’s happening to my cookie hobby, well, it’s going as well as it can with the kids hovering over any attempt at baking. When it becomes a family activity, cookie decorating becomes more a work in progress than a work of art. πŸ™‚

This week R was invited to a friend’s house for his first-ever drop off playdate. It was a playdate of a few firsts: he was the intended guest not his brother’s addendum, he was to stay over for a short time without the mom buffer (so asking for the bathroom or snack manners would be all on him), he carried the sole responsibility for being invited over again or not. (Going by his friend’s goodbyes though I think he did extremely well.)

We made some cookies for him to bring to his outing as a gesture of his appreciation. The family is from The Netherlands so I decided to go with the Dutch colours on the icing — red, white and blue. (These, incidentally, are also the colours of the American flag and a few superheroes including Superman and Captain America.) I made chocolate letter cookies spelling his friend’s and her sister’s names. Simple, quick and a treat for the kids.

Since this baking wasn’t going for a special occasion I couldn’t help using leftover icing for some silliness. Result? A tie out of a blob cookie and a pepperoni pizza lookalike with a slice out of it.

Nothing fancy but loved nonetheless. Just like us. πŸ™‚