Book Review, Books

Shopaholic To The Rescue – Book Review

Shopaholic series was my first introduction to Sophie Kinsella and boy I was hooked! The first couple of books were so entertaining and addictive that I looked up her other books and over the years read them all. When my daughter was born reading took a deep dive. I was too busy being a mom that I forgot to take time out for reading.

Couple of years later I stumbled upon Shopaholic To The Stars in an in flight entertainment package and it ignited a spark. I had read every other book in the series and adored them all. Shopaholic To The Stars was not a great book but I sort of felt obligated to read it and when it ended with a cliffhanger I had to read the next part Shopaholic to the Rescue too!

Sophie Kinsella created a brilliant character of Rebecca Bloomwood. She’s silly but funny and charming, vain but generous, is extremely spendthrift but has a heart of gold. She is always getting in trouble but with a sweeping stroke of luck she’s not just able to fix everything but also ends up helping someone in a sticky situation. Her stories are shallow but fluffy and heartwarming at the same time. No wonder she was such a hit in print as well as on screen. But by the 8th book Rebecca started to feel more annoying than funny, more stupid than smart and her stroke of luck became all too predictable.

Shopaholic to the Rescue is too stretched and lacks the fun quotient of the earlier books. There were a few times while reading when I questioned myself why I’m reading this book. I do hope Sophie Kinsella doesn’t write another Shopaholic novel because if she does I will HAVE to read it and then I’ll curse myself for not reading something more worthy of my time.

Please avoid if you can. If like me you can not NOT read Sophie Kinsella then I hope you find it more fun than I did!!

I do like to emphasize that I LOVE Sophie Kinsella and would continue reading all her books, its just the Shopaholic series that I have gotten tired of.

If you enjoyed this review and love reading books please join me on The Book Club .

– A

Crafty baby, Parenting

DIY Diwali Craft – Paper Marigolds 

Every year we make Diwali decorations at home. This gives me an opportunity to get darling daughter excited for the festival and spend some more time with her. A decorated house is a bonus that we all enjoy 🙂

Marigold Flowers: 

When I think of Diwali marigold flowers are one of the first things to come in mind – bright yellow, orange and my favorite maroon ones. I do see marigold flowers in farmers market sometimes but their availability on Diwali is highly doubtful so I usually make paper marigolds to use for decoration. Last year I made these. They came out pretty well and looked real. This time I wanted to make marigolds another way just for the sake of trying a new technique. 

Method: Take a paper napkin (already folded in square) and fold it in smaller square. Put 2 staples in the centre in the shape of a plus + sign. Now cut the corners to get a nice round circle. Just do a freestyle cutting rather than drawing a circle and cutting. Make small incisions about 2-3 mm apart on the outside periphery of the circle. Now take each sheet of the tissue and crumble lightly in the center. Continued to do one by one until you finish all. Your lovely fluffy marigold is ready. 

I have used combinations of napkins to make more colorful flowers. You can do that by layering them before folding.

These are very simple and quick to make. I did until step 4 myself and asked my 4.5 year old daughter to crumple them as per step 5. These marigold are flat at the base so can be stuck on a ribbon or used as a rangoli on the floor or table. I have tried with different color combinations. Make whichever color you like best. Stores are flooded with red, orange and yellow colored paper napkins to celebrate fall so you’ll not have any trouble finding the supplies. 

Happy crafting!!

-A

Recipes

Zucchini/Pumpkin Flower Fritters

I hadn’t heard of people eating pumpkin or zucchini flowers until last year. We were planning for a date night for my husband’s birthday and while researching the restaurant I saw pictures of these flower fritters. I was blown away and couldn’t wait to try them. At the dinner I asked the waiter to bring it without looking at the menu and was so disappointed when I was told its a seasonal item and wasn’t available at the time.


This week at our local farmer’s market my eyes lit up when I saw a vendor selling bunches of these beauties. Without wasting another moment I grabbed 2 bunches and secured them in my bag. The whole way home I day dreamed of those fritters I checked out last year and looked up for recipes online. There are a couple of different ones available but I tried one with chickpea flour batter which seemed easy and closest to what I had in mind.

It took all of 10 minutes to clean and get the crispy delicacy on the table.


What you need:

Zucchini/Pumpkin Flowers*

Chickpea Flour

Salt, Pepper to taste

Oil for frying

What you need to do:

Clean the flowers gently in cold running water. Be careful of the small insects hiding inside the petals. Dry the flowers on paper towels. 

Make a loose batter of chickpea flour in water and add salt, pepper to taste. Heat oil in a shallow pan, the oil layer should be about 1/2 inch deep. 

Dip the whole flowers in the batter, gently shake off the excess batter and put in on hot oil. Keep the heat on high throughout and flip gently after a couple of minutes. The flowers will puff up a little and turn golden brown. 


When both sides are nicely golden take them out on a paper towel and serve hot with tomato chutney. You can sprinkle a little chat masala and lemon juice for extra zing. 

Things to note:

  • *If you are using flowers from your own plant, be careful of picking only the male flowers. Female flowers form Zucchini and you will miss out on the fruit if you use female flowers for the fritters.      
  • Cook only a couple at a time, as overcrowding will cool the oil resulting in oily soggy fritters. 
  • Avoid making a thick batter as it will not bring out the flavor and texture of the flowers nicely.
  • If you don’t want to use whole flowers, you can chop them after cleaning, mix in the batter and make flat patties to fry. They taste like Zucchini. 

Like I mentioned earlier this is a seasonal item and is available for a very small window. Because of the short shelf-life you’ll not find them in super markets. Try your local farmers market in August/September and if you are lucky you may be able to find them. 

Happy cooking!

-A

Parenting

Second Child: Falling In Love All Over Again….

The thought of having second child terrified me. I was scared of not loving him enough. Lately I have heard the same thing from many other moms. It’s only natural to feel this way. 

Recently I came across this beautiful piece of writing by a mother who had the same doubts but learnt how easy it is to love your children irrespective of the order of their births. It warmed my heart to read my own feelings put into words, hope you love it as much as I did. 

“So, this is what it feels like to fall in love so hard, all over again….
I loved your dad with all of my heart. He filled up my heart from corner to corner. My heart shined every time I looked at him. I felt so complete.

Then, your brother came along…..
He rattled my heart. He stretched and shook it till I couldn’t breath. He made my heart bigger and settled himself right in, and every time I looked at him my heart skipped a beat. It’s a side effect of having your heartshaken so hard, I guess.
My heart was so full of love for your dad and your brother that it couldn’t possibly fill in any more or it will explode. There’s just no more room.

Then, you came along….
How can this be? My heart…. It’s beating so fast. How can someone so tiny have that much strength to open up my already filled heart and stretched it out even more? I thought I would need a new heart for each one of you. But mine just grew.

You looked up at me, searching…..
I took your tiny little hand and reassured you that all is right and that I would do anything in this world for you. You squeezed my finger and relaxed. I trembled and closed my eyes as my heart grew from out of me and shined on my face with the warmth of its sunrise.

– By Fam Chiem Saechao”

Mundane musings, Parenting

Stop Telling Your Daughter She’s Pretty

Ever since Darling Daughter’s birth, I am witness to people constantly telling her how cute she is. Everyone who met her commented on her appearance, her dress, shoes, hair style. Initially I thought maybe because she’s a baby people didn’t have much to comment on. Soon she was a smart and active toddler. She was a good talker and before long you could have a meaningful conversation with her. Still people continued to compliment on how pretty she looks. It sort of bothered me but I never took it too seriously until Darling Daughter started giving a lot of importance to how she’s looking. She was old enough to understand and smart enough to process that she received more compliments when she looked more girly. As a result there came a time when she refused to wear anything but dresses. She still refuses to tie her hair up because she feels she doesn’t look very nice that way.

I have been guilty of giving such compliments myself. I understand its a habit we get into because our culture expects women to look beautiful before they can be termed smart or intelligent or creative. Media also reinforces these stereotypes. Around an year ago Darling Daughter was watching a cartoon about a dinosaur family she had not watched before. She told me something the Mumma dinosaur said or did and I asked her how she knows it’s the Mumma and not the Daddy dinosaur and my daughter who was all of 3 years that time told me because she has longer eye lashes and pink cheeks!! 

We may think they are too small but they notice the tiniest things. I was so unhappy with the animators. Why did they have to beautify female animals for a show meant for kids? The books of opposites often have picture of a boy with shabby clothes under ‘Dirty’ and a dolled up girl under ‘Clean’. I am yet to see a book that has the reverse pictures.


This is what we are feeding into our children’s minds unconsciously and it’s extremely unhealthy. During my short stint as a Pre-school teacher I first hand saw many little girls’ aversion to paint, sand, mud… Anything that would make their hands dirty. Hardly any boy was concerned about dirt and appearance. It can’t be all genetic, somewhere we are responsible for it.

Seeing how Darling Daughter is affected by so much importance to vanity has made me change the way I talk to little girls now. I have also started requesting family and close friends to tone down their appearance-centric compliments and focus on her other qualities. Whenever she says something about looking pretty or beautiful I tell her that being kind and smart is more important than being pretty. On every possible occasion I drill into her mind that people who are kind and polite always look good no matter what they wear, but people who are not very kind don’t always look nice despite wearing lovely clothes. 

Thankfully Darling Daughter has started to respond, and is getting more open about wearing clothes other than dresses and occasionally tying her hair differently. I’m not against her wearing clips or frocks, but the reason why she makes these choices bothers me. I know how our society expects too much from a woman and I want my daughter to overcome those expectations. I want her to feel comfortable in her skin and not be vain. 

I want her to love her body the way she is and not let anyone define the benchmarks of beauty for her. I don’t want her to look at others for approval where her appearance is concerned. The earlier generations have suffered enough, this generation needs to have healthy self-esteem and body image.

There is nothing wrong in making an effort to look beautiful and to dress well but there is a right time for that. This is her time to run wild, jump in muddy puddles, get her hands and clothes messy doing things she enjoys – not playing Miss Prim and Proper.


-A

Mundane musings

When Your Misery Makes You Happy 


It’s common knowledge that some people derive happiness from others miseries, but do you know that misery can be pleasurable to the one who’s miserable too?

I was introduced to this concept during my graduation. I had a friend who was more like my soul-sister. She was wise beyond her years and knew me better than I did myself. She was also my room mate and we spent lot of time together. There was a time when I used to be very low and sad. She saw me wallow in my insignificant miseries day after day and possibly got annoyed. Having the good judgement that its a sensitive and explosive topic for a discussion, she wrote me a letter telling me how she felt about my situation and the way I was handling it.

In her letter she wrote that misery can also be a source of pleasure and I had become a person who wanted to glorify the tiniest miseries in my own mind so I could feel good and happy. Her words stuck a raw nerve. I read and reread her letter, mulled over her words and concluded that what she said was shockingly true.

Misery is self indulgent. Sometimes people find it hard to let go of things that make them miserable, or make efforts to improve their situation because misery is easy and familiar. Its always the same so you don’t get an unpleasant surprise. Happiness takes effort and can go away as soon as it came. The fall from a peak of happiness can be very painful, misery has no such risk. Happiness is unreliable, misery is more permanent hence comforting. These are few reasons why some people prefer to stay miserable than try to find happiness. 


You may be thinking that I am out of my mind but hey! I did my research. Here are a few snapshots of things people said about their relationship with distress. 

However, I feel there’s more to it than the comfort and security.

  • Sympathy. Even those who vehemently deny needing sympathy fall prey to this pleasure their misery provides. An off-hand remark about how others are better off that you, a perfectly timed sigh or a strong-looking expression goes a long way in making people feel sorry for you which is rewarded by kind attention and acknowledgement of your desolate situation. It indulges your ego in some twisted way. There is a certain addiction in the way people attend to you when they hear about your problems, the way they care for you because they feel bad you had to go through tough times. Most people don’t want to hurt or neglect a person who’s already in pain, while people who have a normal life and are happy are easy to abuse and hurt.
  • Misery makes you feel entitled. You can say that others won’t understand your pain because they haven’t suffered your loss and feel great about bearing it all with a smile. Moreover, there’s nothing special about being happy. It should be the norm, right? But misery, well, now that’s unusual, hence special. Being miserable and having something major to credit it to makes you feel like a martyr, something that separates you from the lesser mortals who are happy or are leading a normal life.
  • Misery is a bailout card. A miserable person can be selfish without feeling guilty. You can get away with hurting others, being rude or jealous because “you are so miserable you can’t think straight”. You can make rude jokes on yourself or compare your situation with another less unfortunate person to highlight your tragedy but no one can dare say anything that remotely reminds you of it, because that would be “rubbing salt on your wounds”. Yea, you are entitled to joke about it because its your tragedy not theirs. 
  • Misery is easy to talk about. Human nature is biased for all things negative. Most people rarely share their joys with others but readily share their sorrows, it is difficult for us to praise someone but easy to criticize, we crib more than we appreciate. I don’t know why that is but sad things are easy to talk about. Don’t believe me? Be conscious of your casual discussions for the next few days (not business talks) and notice that sooner or later the conversations drift to the sad state of society or the poor infrastructure or corruption or another negativity.


P.S. – If you have had a tragedy in your life that you are not able to overcome, my words may seem harsh and I apologize for it. I am not talking about people who are sad , but about those who have started to derive pleasure from it. It is a sensitive topic and has been written only for academic purposes. 

Kitchen and food

Drying Curry Leaves for Later Use

While most of us enjoy cooking with curry leaves, not all of us are fortunate enough to have fresh leaves every time a recipe asks for it. Curry leaves are sturdy and survive a few days in fridge but if you need to use them beyond a few days then you can choose to dehydrate them to retain their rich color and flavor.

Before I learnt how to do it I used to think its a very cumbersome activity but trust me its very easy and quick.

You need: fresh curry leaves, kitchen paper and microwave.

Wash the leaves thoroughly and dry them on a paper towel.

Now cover the leaves with another paper towel. Keep the ensemble on a microwave safe plate/tray and microwave for 1 minute.

After 1 min of heating in microwave the leaves are disheveled but are still soft. The paper towel underneath is a little wet so I flipped it with the paper towel I was using to cover the leaves. Microwave it for one more minute.

After another minute the leaves are crispy and snap when crumbled. This means they are done.

Each Microwave functions differently and the leaves vary in their water content too so it may take a little less or a little more time for your leaves to get crispy. I would suggest doing it for 1 minute then 30 seconds and then in intervals of 10 seconds until done for the first couple of times. 

You can preserve any herb in this way but be careful with softer herbs. Softer herbs will need less time in the microwave and shorter intervals. 

Happy cooking!

-A

Crafty baby, DIY, Festivals

Celebrate Rakshabandhan 2016 with Handmade Rakhis

It’s Rakhi time again. In our family Rakshabandhan is a big occasion, we tie rakhis to cousins and second cousins as well. This is the second time we are not able to celebrate this festival with family and the least I can do is help my daughter make rakhis for all her brothers so she is involved and stays in touch with the traditions.

Every year I try to choose a design that is easy for her to make with minimal help from my side. These are the rakhis we have made in previous years. This year I chose rakhis made out of felt and stones. They look pretty and are fairly easy to make.


Felt is an easy material to work with. It is readily available in a variety of bright colors. Is fairly inexpensive and easy to cut. The only challenge with felt is sticking it together. It doesn’t hold well with fevicol or other easy crafting glues but hot glue works like a charm on felt. In one of my trips to the craft store last year I had over-enthusiastically bought a hot glue gun*. Finally I was able to put it to good use while making these rakhis.

What you need:

  • Felt sheets (Any 2 colors of your choice)
  • Decorative stones/buttons/glitter glue/pom-poms
  • Thin ribbon 
  • Hot glue gun

The method is pretty simple.Cut circles from the felt sheets and stick them on each other. Top it with the decorative item of your choice. I have used stone but you can use anything you have available. Stick the ribbon at the back or in between the 2 rakhi layers. And Voila! Your lovely rakhis are ready.

*Caution – Please be very careful while using hot glue gun if its your first time using it. DO NOT give it in the hands of young children and while using yourself, ask children to keep safe distance from the gun. Follow all instructions properly. Its safe to use but the glue and tip of the gun get extremely hot. Despite being careful I got a nasty burn which was very painful for a few days and I have the mark even after a whole month. 

Now that your beautiful rakhi is ready, spare a minute to pack it equally well. Take a small rectangular card. I used the blank note cards from market (5″ x 3.5″), you can cut your own from card stock paper. Write your Rakhi message on the card and tie the rakhi on the side. Not only does it look way more presentable than putting rakhis in an envelope, it helps keeping them in good shape till they reach their destination.

Hope you enjoy making these beauties as much as we did.

Happy crafting!

-A

 

 

You might also want to read Rakhi & The Changing Paradigms.

Healthy baby, Recipes

Cold Quinoa Salad for Hot Summer Days

Quinoa is one of the most popular health foods, some even call it a super food. I like it because its easy to cook, is very versatile as it has little taste of its own so blends well with all recipes, and it is among the few foods that have all the essential amino acids, making it one of the richest sources of protein.

Earlier considered a food of the west, Quinoa is now available in all major Indian cities as well. There is no Hindi name for it because it is not an Indian crop but you can easily find it at supermarkets such as Godrej Nature’s Basket, Food Hall, Hypercity, Big Basket, Needs or even at your local grocery store. 

Though there are several ways to enjoy Quinoa, one of my favorites is this cold salad.

It is very easy to make, very filling and absolutely delicious. You need cooked quinoa which should be at least room temperature if not cold. Add to it chopped veggies of your choice – onion, cucumber, tomatoes (discard seeds or use berry tomatoes), bell peppers, coriander leaves, mint leaves, lettuce, sweet corn, baby spinach. Add them all or add whatever you have in your kitchen. Add a little salt*, chat masala, sprinkle generously with lemon juice and toss it all together. You can add finely chopped green chillies to add some zing to it.

*Be careful while adding salt. I feel Quinoa is something that needs little salt so keep it on the lower side.

Enjoy!!

-A

Book Review, Books

Is Rose Gardener Harry Potter’s Literary Twin?


At least a thousand high quality fiction books hit the shelves every year. I am amazed at how authors come up with newer stories and interesting personas so often. Sometimes, however, the characters share much similarity despite the polar opposite books genres they are a part of. 

I recently finished reading the Rose Gardener Mystery Series by Denise Grover Swank and realised that Rose Gardener and Harry Potter have a lot in common. Infact Rose Gardener also shares many similarities with another character Mina Grime from the book Unenchanted by Chanda Hahn (I’ll come to this in a separate post later). Here is why Rose and Harry Potter seem like literary twins:

 

  • Both have a special gift and are termed freaks by their families for this.
  • After they break away from their usual life both undergo a major transformation from shy to bold. 
  • Both make friends as close as family who are willing to go great lengths to protect the interests of Rose and Harry respectively.
  • Coincidentally both Rose and Harry have a big adventure in each book, most times its against one mortal enemy who was also the reason behind their parents death. 
  • Both grew up without their parents. While Rose did live with her parents, she was treated like a step-child by her mother (who we get to know later wasn’t her mother after-all) and her father was mostly lost in his own world before he died when Rose was still very young. 
  • Both have unhappy and lonely childhoods. Rose did have an elder sister to offer some support whereas Harry was all alone until he turned 11.
  • Both have a pet they care about a lot.  Rose has Muffy and Harry has Hedwig.
  • It’s not always pretty for both of them. There is a really bad guy and lot of serious moments in both the books. Rose as well as Harry have their share of setbacks. There is mystery, secrets and bloodshed in both stories. Both characters don’t have their way all the time but with every adventure they emerge strong.
  • One big villain in both books has his trusted soldiers and often it’s difficult to understand who’s playing from which side. 
  • In both books years old events have a bearing on present day situation. 
  • The grand finales in both books are full of surprises, secrets, deaths, changed relationships.

Of course it is a complete coincidence but the similarities are too many to ignore 🙂

Please share your thoughts on this if you have read both the book series.

If you enjoyed this article and love reading books join me on The Book Club .

-A