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It’s been almost a year since my last post on Picchetti Winery in Cupertino, and we, literally, revisited it this Memorial Day weekend. And it was every bit as pleasant this time around. We were a large group, around 15 adults and 7 kids and we enjoyed it so much that we basically camped there from around noon until 5 pm, and that was only because they closed at 5. We could’ve easily stayed there until the sun went down.

There was a live band playing, which is usually the case on long weekends. My favorite part of the afternoon was that Kabir actually sat right up front, at the band’s feet, rocking to the music for almost an hour! Most of you will agree that an hour is an impossibly long time for a 1-year-old to be sitting in one place. But it did happen. He was on his father’s lap for the first half, sharing it (the lap) with his buddy Aidan who’s almost the exact same age. But later, one of my lovely friends took over, and he just sat on the grass right next to her, clapping on cue, and just grooving to the music.

Groupies in the making

And that’s just one more reason why I love Picchetti so much. So again, If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and  if you’re looking for a laid-back, kid-friendly and super accessible (just 20-30 minutes from most places in the South Bay) location for a picnic, head on over to Picchetti.

This post is going to be the first of a series on ‘protein packed’ meals.The protein of choice for today’s recipe is lentils. Now the humble lentil does not get too much attention, especially in the minds of all the omnivores out there, but it is a crucial source of protein for vegetarians. In fact, a bowl of lentil soup forms an important part of a vegetarian desi diet.

There are dozens of lentil varieties and moong or mung is one of the most popular ones that you will always find  in a desi pantry. It comes in three varieties – today’s pancake recipe calls for the split yellow version. It is  pale yellow in color and available in the Asian section of all major grocery stores. It’s also easy to digest which makes it an ideal choice for little tummies. So for those of you who are looking to include protein in your kids’ meals but would like an (occasional) alternative to meat, lentils are a great option.

However, for most of us with young kids, an image of a pre-schooler slurping down a bowls of lentil is not one that comes to the mind easily. But ground lentils in the form of a thin, crispy pancake are irresistible. And this recipe is not complicated at all. All you need to do is soak the moong in advance (even as little as 30 minutes will do).  Once soaked, it’s a breeze to grind it into a paste, add a dash of spice like cumin or a hint of ground black pepper, and then just cook it as you would pancakes on a skillet or a pan. It’s a great one-dish dinner or even a weekend breakfast.

This recipe for Moong Pancakes comes from my good friend, Rashmi, one of the most innovative, creative and enthusiastic cooks I know. She has two boys under the age of 5, and somehow manages to stay on top of a demanding job, feed a busy family with super- healthy, home-cooked meals, exercise regularly, and have an active social life, with seemingly endless reserves of energy. While I can’t juggle even two of the above, Rashmi has always been my inspiration to cook daily, rather than eating out. It doesn’t hurt that she’s constantly sharing her recipes with me. Not only does she often send me home with boxes of home-cooked goodies from her kitchen but she often also includes little Zip-locks filled with ingredients from her pantry or her fridge to save me a trip to the store.

So here’s the recipe for Rashmi’s Moong Dosas* (Pancakes):

Makes about 12-15 dosas

2 cups of yellow moong dal
1 – 1.5 cups of water
2-3 teaspoons of salt(to taste)
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
1 green chilli(optional). Can be substituted with some black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

2 teaspoons of oil (Rashmi uses light olive oil) but any light oil will work.

Directions:

1. Wash and soak the dal for at least 30 minutes in warm water.
2. Grind all the ingredients to a smooth paste (pancake batter consistency) in a food processor or a blender. You might need to adjust the water to achieve the right consistency.
3. Once your batter is ready, warm a non-stick pan, a cast iron skillet, or a pancake griddle on medium high. It is not neecessary to grease the surface.
4. Take half a cup of batter at a time and pour on the warm, non-greased pan. Using the bottom of a ladle, spread the batter in concentric circles until you get a thin pancake about 6-8 inches in diameter. The thinner you spread the batter, the crispier the dosa. It’s important to move quickly for this step, before the batter starts cooking.
5. Add a few drops of oil just around the edge of the dosa. This will make the edges crisp and yummy. Let the dosa cook for a couple of minutes.

6. Flip the dosa when it releases easily from all the edges and cook the other side for a couple of minutes.
7.  You can serve these warm with a variety of accompaniments, some of which I’ll address in future posts. But Rashmi’s kids love them with ketchup 🙂

As a variation, you can also use split green moong dal here. The green moong dal needs a longer soak time. I would soak them overnight.
You can also add finely chopped onions, tomatoes and spinach to  the batter, which will make great ‘adult’ versions of the dosa.

*Dosas are crepes or thin pancakes that are typically made with rice and black lentils. In a traditional dosa, the rice and lentils are fermented, and the mixture is ground into a batter. Today’s moong dosa is a variation on the traditional dosa.

I have been racking my brain recently, looking for some good snack ideas for toddlers. Last week I made a couple of batches of chocolate chips muffins from a recipe I found on allrecipes.com. They were not really meant for my toddler (I made them to share with some adult friends) but they turned out light and delicious, and I thought they would actually make a good snack, especially if I made them in the ‘mini’ variety.

So I pulled out my mini-muffin trays, and tried out a blueberry and a cranberry version in addition to the chocolate chip one. I altered the original recipe by using half whole wheat flour and half regular flour (instead of all regular flour), and also changing the over temperature to suit the minis. The whole wheat flour makes for a more nutritious version while still yielding a lovely muffin, light and fluffy on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. This muffin is not very sweet at all, so the light sugar topping adds a hint of sweetness and a delightful little crunch. Yum!

I made the batter for one batch, but then divided it into three parts. To one part I  added the chocolate chips, to the next I added fresh blueberries, and to the third I added dried cranberries. So I ended up with 3 trays, of 12 mini-muffins each.  But you can, of course, make a big batch of the same type. I just wanted to try the different flavors on my 1-year-old!.

Here’s my modified recipe:

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour ( I use King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour)

1/2 cup sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder ( I use one which does not contain aluminum)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup milk (I used 2% milk)

1 cup oil (canola works well)

1/4 cup chocolate chip cookies

1/4 cup fresh blueberries, lightly dusted with flour

1/4 cup dried cranberries, lightly dusted with flour

For the topping:

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and dust bottoms  of 3 muffin trays or line with baking cups.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder,  and salt; mix well. In a small bowl, combine milk, oil and egg; blend well. Add dry ingredients all at once; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened (batter will be lumpy.)

Divide batter into three equal parts.To one part, add the chocolate chips, to the second add the blueberries and to the third, add the cranberries.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Sprinkle tops of muffins before baking with the sugar topping.

Bake for 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 1 minute before removing from pan. Serve warm.

My son chomped down a blueberry one this afternoon. He really put it away. His style was definitely reminiscent of Cookie Monster devouring his cookie- both hands stuffing the muffin down his mouth and crumbs flying everywhere.

Tomorrow, we’ll try the cranberry.

We’re in the process of looking for a day care for our son, and I’ve been doing the rounds of the day care centers in the area. While on a ‘tour’ of one school, I was privy to a very interesting conversation between another desi mom (I live in the San Fran Bay Area- the odds of meeting another desi mom at a day care are very, very high) and the Taiwanese principal/director of the school.

This mom was asking questions about the approach of the school towards feeding and meal times. Specifically, the mom wanted to know whether the teachers would help her 1.5 -year- old to eat her lunch. It turns out that when her older child was a toddler, her day care at that point expected the children to feed themselves, with the result that this child would often end up not eating anything at all in her lunch box. Her mom felt that she was still too young to be an independent eater, and at home, they were in the habit of feeding her themselves.

The principal listened carefully, then said, “In my experience, Asian mothers show their affection through food and feeding. When I attended my first  conference for child care professionals in the US, many of my colleagues were horrified when I told them that my own mother fed me until I was almost 6 years old. American mothers, and teachers, value independence above all else.”

And, I thought to myself, American mothers are also more direct when it comes to expressing their love for their kids. They actually tell their kids that they love them.  Asian parents (and this is definitely true for Desi parents) are not quite so forthcoming with their emotions.  The first time my father said  ‘I love you’  to me, was last year, just before I went to the hospital to have my baby. He was in India (my mother was with me), and he called to wish me luck. (On hearing this story, most Americans would think that I had a distant relationship with my father. However, it’s quite the opposite- I’ve always been extremely close  to my father.)

Perhaps, because Asian parents are not so open with their feelings of affection, they have other ways of showing their love.  When an Asian mother feeds her 5-year-old, she’s telling him that she loves him. My own mother, for one, has always been a feeder. Not in the literal sense, of course. I think my sister and I were expected to eat on our own from early on, but rules surrounding food and mealtimes were strict. Skipping breakfast was unheard of! Not finishing what was on the plate- anathema!  And just like my father, I don’t remember too many declarations of love from my mother.

American parents, on the other hand, show their affection by encouraging independence. When they let you fall, bruise a knee and make a mess, they’re raising a child who will be well-equipped to carve her own path.

There are dozens of studies out there (including at least one recent book) highlighting the differences between Asian and American parenting , but I don’t want to turn this into an academic discussion. I just want to muse on an interesting conversation.

With my own son, I like to believe that I’ve tried to find the best of both worlds. He’s just a year old now and each meal is pretty much half and half. I place  bite sized pieces of food on his tray, or I put some cereal or yoghurt in a plastic bowl, give him a toddler-friendly spoon and let him do what he wants. Half the food lands on the floor but he does manage to get a fair bit into his mouth.  While he’s enjoying the process of self-feeding, I take advantage of his focus on his own activity and  quickly spoon some food into his mouth myself.   Toddler-friendly forks are also great. I started by spearing the pieces and then letting him angle the fork into his mouth, but now he wants to do his own ‘spearing’ and he’s successful about half the time.

It’s a win-win. I satisfy my Desi need to feed him (just like my mother), but he’s learning his own independence too. Before I get too smug, let me tell you that if you ask my husband, and he’ll say that I obsess way too much about food, but hey, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, right?

And going back to the day care story, the principal concluded that at her center, they believed in taking a middle path. The teachers would help initially, while encouraging them to be independent eaters.

What about you? What’s your approach to feeding, and to showing affection?

There have been a spate of birthday parties that I’ve attended recently (including my own son’s first birthday), and there has been a pinata at each of them. And I think it’s safe to say that the pinata has been, by far, the high point of each party.

What is it about pinatas that makes them so irresistible? Is it the satisfaction of legitimately whacking the life of something to have it burst open into a flood of candy, or is it just the simple pleasure of a highly colored object bob about tantalizingly, just waiting to be destroyed? Either way, there definitely seems to be a adrenalin rush that the kids get from bashing an object with the purpose of a reward.  And the best part is that they can do it without any fear of adult reprimand. In fact, the parents whole-heartedly join in the fun, shouting encouragement from the sidelines, teasing and congratulating.

When I explained to my mom in India what a pinata was, she was almost horrified. ‘Encouraging violence’ was her comment. I was quick to defend it, highlighting it’s fun angles.  But it definitely made me pause and think. Are we unintentionally encouraging yet another violent activity Or is a certain amount of aggression, appropriately channelized, healthy and important for development? What do you think?

The hitter...

...and the waiters.

As for me, my favorite part about pinatas is the kids who stand in line, eagerly awaiting their turn.  The  mixture of emotion that is writ large on their faces – ‘is the current ‘hitter’ going to bring it down or am I going to be the one to do it? ‘(both of which are (almost) equally desirable outcomes), is fascinating.

I like pinatas, if only for the anticipation, and not the aggression.

Stuff that makes life better

Over the last several weeks, I have realized that, as a new parent, there are certain things that just make life better for me. One of these things is Pandora’s Toddler station. Now I know that the purists out there and all the hard core music lovers will turn up their noses at something as déclassé as children’s music. But really, children’s music has some things going for it that are hard to beat.

For starters, the tunes are simple, which means that the ‘musically challenged’ amongst us ( that means me!) can actually hum these songs in a way that a third party might just be able to recognize the song!

Second, the lyrics are memorable- ‘two’ rhymes with ‘shoe’,  ‘house’ rhymes with ‘mouse’ and so on. You get the picture?And the melodies are unfailingly cheerful and upbeat. Bonus points when there are actual kids singing because those high little kiddie voices are irresistible for babies. Case in point- Elmo! It’s that special high singsong voice that makes him such a favorite with the under-3 set.

So all you new parents out there, download yourselves some Pandora and get grooving to Toddler Radio!

The next thing that is making my life better is something that just goes hand-in-hand with Pandora. Yup, it’s our Philips Speaker Dock for the iPhone. Now you can always just turn up the volume on your iphone ( and the iphone speakers ARE great) but the dock charges your phone simultaneously, which is important, because we all know how the iphone just sucks up power when you’re online. So yes, I’m loving the dock!

Next time- more stuff that makes life better.

Style for little boys

This one is for all the moms who have longingly gazed at the little girls’ clothes racks, sighed, and sadly turned back to the  countless blue, grey, and brown outfits patterned with dogs, monkeys or frogs that pass as fashion for little boys.

Finally, there is a ray of hope! Check out this great new site started by one such mom who also happens to know a thing or two about fashion.  Tot-a- style features trendy looks for little boys with pieces that you can find easily. Best of all, her model (who also happens to be her son) is adorable!

The styles are totally inspiring me to get creative with my little guy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’re headed to India next month. One of the reasons we’re going now is that it’s my husband’s parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Impressive, huh? Can you imagine being married for 40 years? The funny thing is that although it’s a big deal here in the US, in India being married for 40 years is nothing out of the ordinary. India has a really low divorce rate and almost EVERYBODY gets married, so the way it goes is- if you live for about 60 or 70 years, by default, you’ll be married for 30 or 40 years! But more on marriage etc in another post.

For now, I’m obsessed with putting together a cute outfit for Kabir for the anniversary party. One thing I’ve got from Tot-a-Style is that layering is what makes little boys’ outfits cute. So here’s what I’m, thinking (thanks, again, to Tot-a-Style for pointing me to The Children’s Place):

A plaid faux-hooded blazer

+

dark whiskered jeans (so cute!),

+

a plaid shirt that I already have (also from Children’s Place),

+

and maybe a red crew-neck sweater that I also already have.

I’m going to get these pieces and put them together and I’ll post pictures soon.  So check back again soon!

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