Of stories that touch the heart and don’t let you go.

 

Our class teacher in school Ms. Nelson used to read out stories from the Bible to us, in the first hour called ‘Value Education’. I had very little understanding  of the Bible and don’t remember most of the stories, but I remember being enchanted when she used to read out about Jacob and Esau, David and Goliath. A short and plump Keralite christian, she used to wear more gold to school than my mom wore to weddings. When she sat there in the classroom on a wooden chair, sunlight shining in her hair from a window on the right, she looked angelic. The power of stories was manifesting itself through her.

I have been lucky to have had many people tell me stories. From contemporary books, from mythology, from their own works. My grandma often used to tell me stories of Shivaji Maharaj, as grandmothers often do – at bedtime. The dashing Hirkani who climbed down a dangerous fort in the dark of the night because her baby was alone at home at the foothills, ‘Gad aala pun Sinha gela’ story where Tanaji Malusare left his son’s wedding to go re-capture Kondana fort for Shivaji, how Shivaji cut three of Shaista Khan’s fingers in a skirmish and escaped and so on.  Bright, fierce and valorous stories perfect for a little girl. And the smell of my grandmother’s cotton saree and as I lay close to her.

Now in adulthood the stories continue, but are rarely fictional. Stranger than any others I have heard before, but true. A baby who died while taking birth because the family was opposed to a C-section, a young girl who gets bullied in the school because she is different, a teenage boy who slips into depression and doesn’t know how to overcome it, stories of long unhappy marriages, ungrateful kids and the list is endless. Sometimes there is a dark cloud hanging over me and I can’t see through it.

The silver lining to all this is my 2 year old child and the stories he tells. Of the plants he planted with his grandfather and how there was a bud which bloomed into a flower. Of Jugnu, the little boy from Vikas Khanna’s book who loses his rolling pin on the way back from school. Of fishes who are having a birthday party and giraffes who call him Daddy. Life would have been difficult if it was made up of only adults.

And then yesterday I watched the movie Room, adapted from a book by the same name. Heartbreakingly beautiful. I had read the book a year back and knew the plot, the ending, everything. But I couldn’t stop crying for the entire two hours of the movie. I struggled between abandoning the movie and going to bed to hug my sleeping child and watching this hauntingly realistic story of Joy and her baby Jack who were held in captivity for several years. Its a story of their escape and of finding themselves in this big world. There was one scene when Joy says to her boy Jack that she is not a good Ma. Jack without skipping a beat tells her ‘May be, but you are the Ma.’ You should watch the movie and feel it for yourself how that line pierces the most vulnerable part of your heart.

There will always be two types of stories in this world. The good and the bad. The ones which make you cry. With pain or with joy. Of little girls and strong women, of boys and their banter. The ones which make you recoil from the storyteller and some which will make you hug them. We cannot hide from any of them. All that we can do is listen with an open mind and be kind with our words. And make our own stories and tell them. So someone out there says ‘this too shall pass’ or someone else sees a light at the end of a dark tunnel on hearing your words. We have all been through it, in varying measures and different circumstances. But we are here, now. And that’s what matters.

Next month I will be visiting my granny, my only surviving grandparent. I am going to ask her to tell me a story. She will start with one where her old friend was abandoned by her son, but I will tell her to stop. Please ajji, not this one. Tell me one where everyone is happy, everything feels good. “You know too much about the world now to believe any of those” is what she will tell me. I will sigh and put my head in her lap. Lets go back to Shivaji Maharaj, ajji. And perhaps we will.

Rutvika

Going to school : Mom is more petrified than the child

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Arjun is two years old now. Which means he will soon have to start play school, nursery etc etc and get in the rigamarole of people telling him how to do stuff. Not to say that we don’t, but he barely listens to us and convinces – coaxes, pampers or ignores us and goes his own way. He has also learnt fake crying and does it with eyes wide open to check our reaction. But all of this won’t be tolerated in school. One playgroup teacher in fact even told us that she doesn’t let kids in her class use the toilet except in the designated break time. Kids need to learn discipline. I am not sure how she imposes this on snotty 3 years olds, but we excluded that play school from our (very)short-list.

In the last two weeks, we have visited 5 playschools in our area. And rejected each one of them. For very peculiar reasons. The first one had a “counsellor” on board. They identify what problem your child has and direct them to specialist doctors on their panel. The administrator of that school proudly listed the kids whose problems were identified – ‘A has sensory problem’, ‘B has walking problem’, ‘C has talking problem’ and so on. I am sure they will find some problem with my boy – “not a party-goer, hates loud noise” might be topping the list. And while I understand that adults can sometimes need counselling, the idea to have a counsellor for toddlers rebuffs me. This nursery struck off.

In contrast to this one, we went to a traditional playgroup, the one which has been around in the same place for last 25 years. Replete with leaking taps and paint peeling off the walls. They believed in keeping it simple. And while it ensured that they had no hyper specialised doctors on board, I kept wondering if the carpet was damp with fresh water or umm, otherwise. Those guys need to refurbish to let in a lot more light and make it habitable. Another one neatly erased from the list.

The other two were tiny, looked like covered parking spots. Basically set up in place of shops on the ground floor of residential buildings. They were sparkly and bright with animal murals painted on the walls. A little play area with plastic slides and building blocks.  But I wasn’t comfortable with either of them. I can’t say why other than the fact that it felt I would be leaving my baby in a converted shop.

Perhaps, I am just not ready to let my baby go out into the world. I am wary of public scrutiny. If he is very active, has ten things up his sleeve, he will be labelled ‘hyper-active’, if he sits quietly in the room, he will be termed ‘anti-social’. Whatever he does will not be confirming to the usual standards of normalcy. And with that people will judge me. As a mother. Me and my husband as parents. And even his grand-parents because he spends a lot of time during the day with them when we go to work. Now I have read enough self help books and articles and TED talks to know that I shouldn’t let it matter to me. But how do I protect my boy from all of this?

But finally, this weekend we found a school which prima facie seems to be in line with our beliefs. More focus on books, less on gadgets; a teacher who didn’t squirm when Arjun refused to enter the school, one who wasn’t shouting instructions but talking softly, giving importance to sending at-least one fruit with the tiffin box, etc etc. In isolation these are little things, shouldn’t matter much, but the whole as a belief system matters a lot.

Like most babies, Arjun is a sensitive little dude. Cries when Jack fell down the hill, or Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. We have to make amendments in the song and assure him that Jack and Humpty Dumpty are both okay. He is the one with a lot of hugs, lot of Eskimo kisses and is constantly making us tea, cupcakes, dosa with his plastic kitchen set. He is currently obsessed with mannequins and wants to go and touch all of them outside the shops in the market. Tells us that the mannequins are not real but believes when I say that they sleep at night and we can’t go see them. He is weird that way. But I would go to any length to protect his imagination, his story telling and his firm conviction that his baby cream can cure anything in the world.

And I am sure eventually he will be a master in self-help and give gyaan to us, but for now, it is our responsibility to take care of this little Peppa Pig.

Love,

Rutvika

Saat Samundar Paar, here we go!

Arjun eating momma

When a boy wants to eat momma, he will do it 😀

My boy is 10 months old now. Which means officially he is outside me for longer than he was inside me. Which means his four little bunny rabbit teeth have long replaced that toothless gummy smile. It also means that as he relies more and more on solid food than mother’s milk for his nutrition, he will be less dependent on me. As a corollary I get more freedom. But I cannot continue to flatter myself with the thought that he can’t live without me. He can. For hours at a stretch.

Soon that day is not far when baby boy might want to independently do stuff with his dad. Just the boys. “Purush-purush” as my brother used to say, which means ‘men only’ in Marathi. There was a period from age 3 to age 13 when my brother was so attached to our dad that he wouldn’t care if he woke up and mom wasn’t around for an entire day. They would go for drives, lunch and movie dates, shopping – all on their own. Purush-purush. Of course the next 10 years till he left home to study MBA were filled with ‘I-hate-dad phase’ to the extent that he would do everything possible to piss him off. Sometimes even just for the sake of it. And my poor mom had to constantly play referee. Without taking sides.

So I am prepared that my baby and husband will team up against me and my feminine shenanigans.

But for now he is my baby kangaroo. And I am going to take this little chipmunk across the seven oceans , all the way to California, all by myself.

When we made the travel plan and booked tickets to go visit family in San Jose for thanksgiving, it was for the three of us. But Akshay, my husband, can’t make it due to unavoidable work commitment. Now I have (or had) two choices. Cancel the trip and keep thinking forever that we could have done it, just the two of us. Or simply pack up our shit and go. I chose the latter.

So here we are, this mom and son duo, all set to take the 24 hour international flight to the other side of the world, in less than three weeks.

It would be an understatement to say that I am not scared of the flight, of the jet lag, of baby not feeling well or of a thousand other things going wrong. What if I don’t get the bassinet seat in the flight? What if he decides to not sit still even for a minute? Will he eat whatever I carry for him? Will he nurse during take off and landing to avoid his ears getting clogged? Will Arjun miss his dad and grandparents? He will meet a dozen new people in a week, will he be okay with that? Will they like him? Oh, it’s a wreck in my head.

But I guess the only way to find out is by doing it. Exactly 2 years back when I was preparing to go to Paris for Le Cordon Bleu, I was similarly quite nervous. But it turned out fine. Danielle my hostess tremendously helped me throughout my 5 weeks there and plus I knew if something goes wrong, Akshay will be there in the minimum amount of time it takes to travel. And it is the case even now. So I guess we will be fine.

I have always been a big-family sort of a person. I love and cherish all of my cousins, uncles, aunts, and now my teenage sister and brothers-in-law, and in-law set of uncles and aunts. And a whole load of grandparents. I have fond memories of going to different relative’s houses with my dad and mom and I want baby Arjun to have these too. The added benefit is the Californian family has a dog and a cat. Arjun is going to be thrilled.

So all I need to do now is stop worrying and start planning.

Have any of you travelled with a baby? Or noted anything particular about long travel? Any tips, pointers dos and dont’s will be highly appreciated.

xoxo,

Mama bear

Rutvika

Sometimes all a girl needs to do is cry.

A writer I love once said “write about things that make you cry.”
But what if those are really mundane things? Nothing-to-write-home-about kind of things? How do I write about that? And if not, how do I get rid of that pressure I feel in my throat every few minutes, my heart wanting to get rid of those tears swelling up in my eyes?

The trigger could be anything, but the underlying events build up over a few days. The best solution I have found for times like these is to just cry. And let it out of the system. It might look silly, someone might ask you “what are you crying about?” And you may have no real reason to tell, but ignore them. And cry it out. It feels good.

Yesterday was such a day for me.

A professional colleague , apparently healthy but quite old, dies of a heart attack. I think of all the times I did not answer his call. Or the times I told him I was busy and cut short his call. How would I have known that there won’t be any more calls soon? It makes me think of my grandparents, I need to call and visit them, I note. But yesterday the thought just made me cry. Every-time I looked at my phone or the numerous technical books he has written which are lying in the office book-shelf, I had a lump in my throat.

My little baby. Last night while nursing before sleeping, he accidentally turned off the light switch with his leg. And the beautiful full moon shone in through the window. His face lit up, from the light and the new discovery. He pointed at the moon and wanted me to see it. We gazed at the moon and sang a little song. He giggled and clapped. I cried. The simplicity of his love and his complete trust in me made me choke up.

Husband said something which he did not mean, but I understood something that he did not say. How did we complicate stuff so much that we are saying words we ourselves don’t understand? Giving each other the silence treatment when all we want to do is snuggle up and sleep. Instead he stays up late – working and I cry my way to sleep.

There must have been a bucketful of tears yesterday. My eyes get swollen, red and my cheeks look flushed. But my head clears. I can finally take a deep breath and feel at peace.

I have been doing this as long as I remember. Earlier I would go to mom and tell her that I want to cry. Simple. I would put my head on her lap and let it flow. Being a teenager, I couldn’t or rather did not want to tell my mom the reason behind my tears. She did not ask. But as you grow up it ceases to be that easy. Grown ups have to bottle up and be an adult. Or so I thought.

At times, PMS gives a good excuse to be cranky and cry. But I don’t want to attribute the complexities of life to simple PMS. I want to be perceived as a deep thinker and not a silly girl who cries every month. So that is not happening.

In marathi we have a saying “sukh dukhtay”. Loosely translated it means feeling sad when everything is just fine. Sometimes that is exactly the case. And in those times hide and cry. Or watch a movie and cry. Or go to momma and cry.

Or snuggle up with your husband like I did at 3 am at night and sleep the best sleep ever. After crying, of course 🙂

Sleepless Nights and Tired Days

Arjun book

With a little baby at home sometimes days begin with an inexplicable tiredness. Nights come and go without even a couple hours of sound sleep, the baby tossing and turning besides you, demanding to be breastfed every hour. It feels like an unending cycle of soothing, patting, feeding, burping, swaddling and trying to sleep yourself and then its 4 am. Birds start chirping outside, soon there is a tickle of a mellow light into the room and then the stark daylight of 7 am. But you feel unrested, the night never gave a chance to recuperate to face the next day. But it is okay. The baby wont be a baby too long and they say later you will miss the nights when he wanted you to comfort him. For now, I wait for that one night when 5-6 hours of sleep is even remotely possible.

Having said that, I know that is was my conscious decision to have a baby. it was not an accident. Husband and I planned this baby and the baby singularly brings more delight into our lives than any other other thing has. He has made us a family and I love being his mother. Breastfeeding him exclusively for six months is also a very thought out decision. I feel proud of it while at the same time I cannot believe how physically taxing it is. After having a proper dinner, if the baby feeds twice in a couple of hours at night, I feel famished. A deep hollow in my stomach. And once the baby sleeps again all I want to do is lie down and sleep for whatever time possible, but I have to get up and eat.

It is true that life is easier now than it was in the first 3 months since the baby was born. But I had very little expectations from my day in those first three months. Taking care of the baby and heeling myself after the rigours of childbirth was all I had to do. It is not the case anymore. I got back to work once the baby completed three months. I have to bake and blog. I need to meet relatives and occasional friends who take the effort to come down closer to my home to meet me as I can’t leave the baby for more than 2 hours at a time. It definitely helps that my workplace is 5 minutes away from my home and that it is our family business where I have a lot of flexibility with work timings. Mom-in-law and mom take care of the baby while I work and do other things. But with such ample support it becomes binding on me to live a full life and not laze around. It is almost as if I feel ashamed of taking an occasional nap in the late-afternoon when I go back home, because there is always something more worthwhile that I can do while the baby naps. And then after 4-5 days of round the clock baby care and work and other paraphernalia, the brain gives up. Goes in a zombie state and I shut myself out from the world with some music. While I work.

At times I feel it would have been easier if I had less expectations from life. And less tendency to feel guilt. I massage my baby with oil every morning before his bath. If in a hurry I miss it one morning, then the entire day I feel I was derelict in my duties. If one day I reach home 10 minutes late for his feeding and he looks at me with those “where-were-you” eyes, I hate myself for being late. Work immediately piles up if I leave even an hour early than planned and my to-do list starts getting longer. And to top it if I haven’t blogged in an entire week, I cant sleep at night. Words keep forming a plot in my head till I write them down. Its an unending cycle I have created for myself and I cant get out of it.

But I suppose that is the only way of life I know to live. I cannot not work. I need it to stay sane. I cannot stand the thought of feeding formula milk to my baby when I am producing enough for him to grow. I cannot take a break from the blog, the stories in my head will get suffocated. I cannot stop baking, the creative energies need an outlet. And I cannot not live. It’s the only life I have got.

Maybe tonight if the baby is relaxed and I get some sleep, things will be better and easier tomorrow. Maybe. But it is better to take it as it comes.

Those three months and Kiwi Cupcakes with frosting

Last year around this time, I got pregnant. Which means that we were busy doing the hoo-hoos and haa-haas, very enthusiastically. Since then there hasn’t been much hoo or haa, but that’s a different story. (Now I seriously wish that no kids are reading this and neither is my mom or mom-in-law.) But anyway, it is an understatement to say that life has turned upside down since last April.

A few days back I found a letter I had written to myself. Last year this time. I often write letters to myself. Kind of a diary entry, but it works as if I am looking at the issue from a third party point of view. There, in that letter, I was telling myself to take it easy. It had been three months since we were trying to get pregnant and each time I got my periods, I would be immensely depressed. It felt as if I was killing the babies each month. I know how incorrect that statement is. I know. I know. But somewhere it just felt very bad. I would frantically chart my menstrual cycle in various apps and find out the “fertile” days. And coerce my husband into having sex as a rule on those days. Not that he minded it, but I had turned into an obsessive compulsive sexter, for those days of the month. For the first 10 days of the month, I would read up on all websites advising ‘how to get pregnant’ , and then later on obsess over ‘are you pregnant’ type webpages. I would dread each day as my periods got closer and any sign on PMS would make me cry. It was a very taxing time, let me tell ya.

My mom would keep telling me that it takes time, be patient. My husband would say, our bodies are not machines, have faith, it will happen soon. But I felt very low. And it is such a situation that couldnt even be discussed with anyone outside your innermost circle. At that time. To top it, my best-friend, my closest cousin and my sister-in-law : all were pregnant! Not me. Just not me.

I laugh at the insanity of the situation now, it feels stupid to look back at that version of myself, but I still shudder when I remember how I thought the worst was going to happen to us. And I had reached that conclusion in just three little months.

Later, when we registered with the gynaecologist’s hospital for delivery, the nurse excitedly told me that in India, December January is the busiest period in the hospital as it is the best “season” to have a baby. Most couples plan it that way, to have a baby in winter. And I thought to myself – “How the hell do they do that?”. How do they know when they will get pregnant? That answer still eludes me.

But anyway. Now I am hoping that when planning for the second child, I wont be so paranoid. Or I just might be. Because I will soon reach the big 3-0 in a year and half. Sigh.

*******       *******       *******

And I still don’t bake that often, my little one keeps me on my toes all the time. But these gorgeous kiwis in the market and eventually in the fruit basket made me want to bake. Urgently. And what could be faster than cupcakes?

Kiwi cupcake closeup

Kiwi Cupcakes with Kiwi buttercream frosting

What you will need :

For the cupcakes –

  • 1/3 cup mashed kiwi – about 2 kiwis
  • 1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 egg whites

For kiwi buttercream –

  • 1 kiwi, peeled and mashed
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon icing sugar
  • 1 kiwi, peeled and sliced for decoration

What to do :

  1. Pre heat oven to 180C and line a 12-muffin pan with cupcake paper liners.
  2. Remove the skin of the kiwis and mash it with a fork to make 1/3 cup mashed kiwi. Add milk and vanilla to the mashed kiwi and keep aside.
  3. Sift together flour and baking powder .
  4. In another bowl, cream butter and all the sugar till light.
  5. Add the egg and egg white to butter and incorporate well.
  6. Now alternately add flour mixture and kiwi mixture to the cream butter and eggs. Start and end with dry ingredients i.e flour.
  7. Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes till a skewer inserted in the centre of a cupcake comes out clean and the tops are golden.
  8. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and let them cool completely before frosting.
  9. To make the buttercream, cream butter till its light. Add 3-4 tablespoon of mashed kiwi, 1 tablespoon at a time. (Ensure that the mixture is creamy and not watery).
  10. Add vanilla and icing sugar and mix well.
  11. Taste and add some more kiwi or icing sugar as per taste. But add kiwi cautiously or the mixture will get watery.
  12. Decorate the cupcakes with buttercream frosting and half a slice of kiwi.

Kiwi cupcake platter

Australian Lamingtons and Separation Anxiety

I am not sure how much three-month old babies understand, but like all moms, I think my baby is super smart. Yeah, let me tell you why I think so:

  1. After my first day of work, baby boy protested my absence by crying. Yes, crying in my hands and then stopping once in the arms of his grandmother. And he continued to look at me and cry in a complaining tone ‘How did you leave me and go? How am I supposed to know when you will come back?!” And so on. It continued for five minutes (which is very long when a baby is crying), and then I scooped him up, held him close and whispered in his ears till he calmed down. Luckily for me, he soon forgot all about it and started giving his toothless smiles.

  2. Next day : He knows that I am all dressed up and will go to office after feeding him. So while he is nursing, he tightly clutches my kurta with his little fingers, and starts wailing as soon as I position him for burping. My otherwise cooperative boy, is throwing tantrums now. I start feeding him again and he just wants to suckle, while not hungry. To stop me from going to work. I go, nevertheless, but with a delay.

  3. Everyday now, once I dress up and get ready to go to work and then when I start nursing him, he cries. He may have associated my deodorant smell to me going to office. It feels surreal, but that’s the only nursing time when he is crying. It does break my heart and I took a leave one day, but he will have to get used to it. So the next day, I braced myself and went to work.

He is a man of discipline, my little boy. Exactly at 9.30 at night, he gets cranky. Only till the time that we take him to his bedroom. Then I start the daily nightly ritual of some massage, changing his clothes etc and he enjoys it. But he has to be taken to the bedroom at 9.30 or else he cries as if I haven’t fed him in ages. He has a set routine and detects any change in it. And detests it. I won’t be surprised if he soon starts making baby to-do lists in little planners with a tiny pen. (How incredibly proud that would make me of him, don’t even ask.)

No, but seriously, baby boy Ar. has definitely noticed that I disappear for most part of the day. He may not know what to make of it, and so he gets cranky. Even when he is extremely fond of his ajji. And my mom thinks he has also lost some weight. But you know she is an advocate of “baby-needs-mom-a-lot-and-then-some-more” and so she may be over-reacting. But baby boy is crankier than before. I admit that.

Strangely, when I was growing up, I was convinced that I would be a stay at home mum for at least first 5 years when my kid(s) is small. I have no idea what that notion was based on, but as time flew by and I actually got married and had a kid, the need to work and have a life beyond home and the baby has become immense. I am sure Ar. will soon get used to it, we will find our new normal, but for now, we have some separation anxiety.

Sometimes when my mom and mom-in-law say that he is very fond of his mother, I think they are saying it to make me feel better. Or perhaps to encourage me to form a closer bond between me and the baby. But may be what they are saying is true. And he does recognise and prefer his mother over the others. It’s a double-edged sword though. How guilty it makes me feel to goto the market or even to go for an exercise walk after already being out of the house most day for work. But certain things need to be done. This is life.

But one thing is for sure. When I am at home, I am at the mercy of his smiles, gurgles and coos.

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For a long time I wanted to make these Australian finger cakes called Lamingtons. They are basically cubes of yellow cake dipped in chocolate frosting and coated with coconut. When I saw this recipe of HomeBakersGuild, I knew I had to make them. I am very fond of fresh coconut and hence used fresh coconut to coat my lamingtons. It made the cake very soft and juicy, if I may say so. And the pastel color looks super cute.

Lamingtons 2

Pastel Lamingtons

What you will need :

For the simple cake :

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour / maida
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 and 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs

For white chocolate icing and decoration:

  • 170 gm white chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 and 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • few drops of food color
  • 3 grated fresh coconut

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20 cm cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder and keep it ready.
  3. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar till light and fluffy with a hand blender.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time and incorporate.
  5. Add milk and vanilla extract and blend well.
  6. Now fold in the flour and baking powder mixture, one cup at a time.
  7. Pour in prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  8. Let it cool, then trim off the browned edges and cut the cake into squares.
  9. Make the chocolate icing by heating chopped chocolate, butter, milk in  saucepan till they melt.
  10. Take it off the heat and icing sugar.
  11. Add food color as desired.
  12. Roll the cake cubes in the chocolate, one at a time and then in desiccated coconut. Sprinkle with some strawberry jam for decoration.

Notes :

  • The browned part of the cake tastes extremely delicious, eat it up straight away.
  • The icing can get a bit sticky while rolling the cake. You can even hold it with a fork and pour the icing over it.
  • If you roll it in dry desiccated coconut , the cubes will be drier and easier to handle. But I prefer the crunch of fresh coconut.

Lamingtons

Balsamic Mushroom Pasta and the end of my maternity leave

This week is the last week of my maternity leave and I will soon resume work. It is difficult to believe that it’s been 3 months since I gave birth , since the first time my baby boy tightly held my little finger till his fingertips looked white. He still does that, but now he wants to firmly hold on to my index finger. And he looks directly into my eyes, follows me as I move from one side to the other while doing my chores and sometimes I just move to check his ability to follow me. He has also graduated from ‘newborn’ clothes to ‘3-6 months’ set of tee shirts and onesies. And my little boy now generously showers everyone with that toothless gummy smile.

I talk to him a lot. I tell him how momma needs to go to office now, but his ajji will take care of him. He coos as if he understands, but makes me promise him that I will cuddle and hug him as soon as I come home. I promise, he animatedly waves his hands and I pick him up. He is my son, we have a connection and he knows momma will be happier when she works.

As for me, it’s been four months since I am at home. Initially bed rest for a month and then these three months. Now that my baby has a set routine, it gives me time to think of things beyond him. I have to restart from the basic things. I have nothing to wear, pregnancy has made me an L from an M and I need to go shopping. My hair is in a frizzy mess, good foot wear is non existent and my sense of traffic has gone for a toss. I ride my two wheeler at the speed of 20, because after being home-borne for 4 months, even 20 kmph seems very fast. I gotta get back on track before I can resume work.

It’s strange the ways in which motherhood can change you. It has made me paranoid. I worry over his every sneeze, try to monitor his next milestone and insist on placing his blanket exactly at the same place every night.  Moreover I am constantly worried that something might happen to me when the baby is so fully dependent on me. Every fast approaching vehicle feels as if it will bump into me and give a bloody fracture. And so I need to start working. I need to start spending some amount of time away from baby worries otherwise it would make me go crazy.

My baby is exclusively breastfed and I plan to continue that for another 3 months. Office is close by so I can drop in for his feeding times and perhaps also express milk for alternate feedings. It’s a good thing, I will be on my toes. And anyway work expands to fill the time available. So I guess I will be able to do justice at my workplace too.

This baby boy and hence we as parents are lucky. He has one set of grandparents living with him (or we living with them) and another set of grandparents just 5 minutes away. And all four of them dote on him and are indulgent babysitters. It makes it so much easier for me to go out, knowing that he is in very good hands. In fact it becomes my responsibility to be very efficient at work and at home since I have a strong support system.

But right now when I look at him having a conversation with his beloved ceiling fan,  I wonder if I will constantly miss him while at work.

May be. But I need to slightly detach to attach better.

Xoxo,

Loving mama

*******       *******       *******

For the last few days, I have been baking and cooking a lot. Experimenting with new flavors and textures. And one such byproduct is this Balsamic Mushroom Pasta. I like my pasta little well cooked so that it melts in the mouth with the creamy balsamic glaze. Without much ado, presenting a simple pasta dish which can be whipped up in half an hour.

Mushroom pasta

Balsamic Mushroom Pasta

What you will need :

  • 2 cups mushroom, washed and sliced
  • 2 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup penne, cooked al dente for 10 to 12 minutes or as per instructions on the packet
  • 1 cup water in which the pasta was boiled
  • 3-4 tablespoon balsamic vinegar / balsamic glaze
  • 2 cubes or 40 gms Cheedar cheese cubes, grated
  • dried oregano, basil or other herbs as per taste

Pasta in a pot

What to do :

  1. In a big pot, melt butter and olive oil. Add the mushrooms and let them cook on medium heat till soft.
  2. Then add the chopped or crushed garlic and stir.
  3. Ad the cream and salt and mix well on low heat.
  4. Then add the pasta to this. Mix well.
  5. Add water and milk to the pan and cover and cook for about 10 minutes on low heat so that the sauce gets creamier and coats the pasta well.
  6. Then add the balsamic glaze, stir well. Add the grated cheese, dried herbs and stir well.
  7. Serve when hot with some red chillies or paprika.

Pasta in a pot and bowls

Songs that stay and a Cheddar Cheese bread

Yesterday someone sent me an audio clip with snippets of best Bollywood songs from the 1950s-60s. More than two decades before I was born. But those songs are very close to my heart, I have heard each one of them at least a hundred times, silently playing on the radio or the cassette player in the background, while our routine life went on in the foreground. They are so ingrained in my memory, that now when I listen to them I can see parts of my life in my mind as if a movie was playing.

Like those summer afternoons at my uncle and aunts place, where the radio would be constantly humming in the background. While we would all sit for lunch, my uncle would be whistling the tune, seated in his signature white banian or a vest and he would draw our attention to the different beats in the song with his myriad hand gestures. All of us kids wished at least on some days he would change the radio station to something “new and flashy”, but perhaps that old radio knew only those old songs. And now, because of some family issues, I haven’t spoken to my uncle in over two years. But yesterday those medley of songs burst open a locked chapter in my head and and I painfully longed to be in that place, just one more time. I wanted to pick up the phone and call him, there is nothing in the world that cant be set right by talking about it and my heart knew that this is no exception.

But my cautious brain did not let me make the call. Not now. Not when you are 33 weeks pregnant and can’t afford to be depressed. Not now when you are on bed-rest to avoid premature delivery, and you have all the time in the world to think and obsess over little memories tugging at your heart.

Not now. I let it pass.

But songs have that power on us. They become a representative of different eras in life. A particularly trashy song, which was very famous back in early 90s reminds me of the great times I had with my mom and dad, in our small apartment, where most of the time the three of us would be huddled in one room. Singing and dancing to that song, life felt good. Now when I look at the video, I cringe, That’s besides the point.

Or, the first song any guy sung for me was Roxette- She’s Got the Look. I had never heard that song before. But we were 18, and my boyfriend was participating in a college fest with his little band, and thats when he sung this song for me. I realised I was concentrating so hard on the lyrics, lest I miss something or some clue, and totally I ignored the wonderful melody. And I couldn’t show that I had never heard of the song, so I came home and played it on youtube a dozen times before going to college the next day. And yes, that song stuck in my head. Even now, if I am feeling low, I listen to that upbeat number, being 18 and have someone sing songs for you, was pretty darn good.

Needless to say, it was followed by Roxette’s very own – Must have been love… But it’s over now ; but thats for another story.

And then one the songs closest to my heart is “Hey there Delilah” by Plain White Ts. it was just 2-3 months after my wedding, and my husband was going on a long official tour. And he sung and recorded this one on my phone, I could listen to it whenever I wanted to, and boy, I heard that minute long clip, million times a day.

“Don’t you worry about the distance
I’m right there if you get lonely
Give this song another listen
Close your eyes
Listen to my voice, it’s my disguise
I’m by your side” 🙂

And as I have said before, I have a constant jukebox and a running list in my head of songs I want to sing to my little baby. I may not have a very melodious voice or a lot of times I cant keep a track of the pitch I started singing in, but that doesn’t stop me singing .

Because as Ella Fitzgerald used to say, “The only thing better than singing is more singing”

Cheers!

Rutvika

*******       *******       ********

And this post marks my 100th post on this blog. Its been a hundred recipes, a hundred stories and a huge part of my life. May be I should commemorate with a song 🙂

And with this, I have a special Cheesy bread with toasted sesame seeds. Let me tell you, this is one indulgent bread. About 30% in the baked bread is pure cheese, which gets sets into a beautiful marbled pattern in the bread. Eat it freshly with some salad and you are set for the day!

Cheddar Cheese Bread with toasted Sesame Seeds

Cheddar cheese bread

Adapted from The Bread Bible. Makes two 9*5 inch loaves

What you will need :

  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • 2 cups warm water (not hot)
  • 3/4 tablespoon instant yeast.
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 to 6 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 cups Cheddar cheese (I used processed Britannia cheese)

Bread making process

What to do :

  1. Toast the sesame seeds in a small skillet over medium heat. Shaking the pan often, cook until they are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve in another bowl to cool completely.
  2. Pour 1/2 cup of the warm water in a bowl. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the surface of the water.Stir to dissolve and let it stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes, till foamy.
  3. In a large bowl, using a whisk, combine remaining 1 and 1/2 cup warm water + oil + salt + sesame seeds + eggs + 2 cups all purpose flour + yeast mixture. Whisk hard until it forms a smooth mixture.
  4. Then add half of the shredded cheese and the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a shaggy dough is formed. Switch to a wooden spoon when necessary to mix the dough.
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and silky, about 4-5 minutes, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time to prevent sticking.
  6. Place the dough in a greased deep container. Turn once to coat the top and cover with a plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  7. Gently deflate the dough. Turn the dough into a lightly floured work surface. Grease two 9*5 inch loaf tins or one loaf tin and one 9 inch cake tin.
  8. Pat the dough into a thick 12 inch rectangle. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, fold the dough around the cheese and knead gently a few times to distribute the cheese throughout the dough. This will produce marbled effect.
  9. Cover the dough with a tea towel or a plastic wrap to prevent drying and let rest for 5-10 minutes to relax the dough.
  10. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and shape it into a loaf or a desired pattern in the cake tin. Place the loaf seam side down in the pans.
  11. Cover loosely with a plastic wrap and let it rise for 45 minutes until doubled.
  12. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 190C. Using a sharp knife, make small incisions on the dough.
  13. Bake for 40-45 minutes till the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger.
  14. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool immediately before slicing.
  15. Enjoy your freshly made bread!

Fancy shaped cheddar cheese bread

Cheesy Onion and Sesame Seed Braided Bread

The Baby kicked!

Yesterday my baby (or foetus, if you prefer to call it that way) kicked  a feel-able kick for the first time. A real knock-off one which the father could sense too. And once again I realised what they show in movies is total crap! The baby does not know what “All is Well, All is Well” is and kicking the first time can not really be defined.

I had been feeling the flutters since the last two weeks, as if I am slowly releasing an air-filled bottle deep under water and the bubbles are gushing out. Thats how the initial baby movements felt. And then I would frantically place my husband’s hand on my tummy so that he could feel it and I would momentarily stop breathing. Lest my breathing rhythm would camouflage the baby’s kick. But naah, I could just feel it inside, and nothing through the layers of the womb and skin. So the Eureka moment of “He kicked/ She kicked – for the first time” was spread out over a two weeks!

Similar thing had happened when we found out I was pregnant. Being led on by the movies, I was expecting a lightning moment where I realise I had conceived, and would tell the husband, he would lift me in his arms, we would sing a song or two and already start dreaming about baby’s names. But noh! It was a long, excruciating process where you confirm that you are really pregnant.

I had a stack of home pregnancy tests, anticipating I would miss my periods and intended to take the test the very day I missed them. Curiosity was killing me, but still we decided to wait for a day. I couldn’t sleep all night, as if it were result day the next morning. And at 4 am, I finally woke up and took the test, unable to resist it any longer. In the sleepy groggy state I waited for a second for the strip to change color. It did not. I was disappointed and came back to sleep. The husband had woken up by now, consoled me saying that we will check it again a few days later and then he went to use the bathroom. I slept.

When we woke up at 7 am, husband said to me that the strip lying on the counter had changed color. I went and checked, and it had! Very slightly, but there was a change. Duh. We had to take the test again, and till then nothing could be confirmed. And then the next day there was another home pregnancy test, and then later on the blood test at the gynaecologist, and then finally it was confirmed that I am pregnant.

All the song singing and whirling and twirling stayed in my head.

Someone may say I am watching too many shitty movies and soaps, but they are a source of education. The first time I saw the home pregnancy test was in FRIENDS and Rachel has to be thanked for it. So there you go.

Another dilemma I am now facing is when I see mothers talking to their babies in the womb. I find it REALLY awkward to look down at the tummy and talk. Sure, I have conversations with the baby, but in my head. I can’t, for the love of life, unmute myself and quote Einstein to that little tadpole like thing deep inside layers of amniotic fluid. The father talks to the little one, but it is as if he is talking to me and I am responding to what he is saying. But me saying something to my stomach in an empty room? Well, thats not happening.

I just hope that doesn’t make me any less of a mother, but I have to preserve my sanity. I am sure the baby will eventually know my voice, albeit without a woman who talks to her body parts.

Lovingly,

Rutvika

*******       *******       *******

My other love has been Beth Hensperger’s book The Bread Bible. I have made several breads from the book before like this one or this one or even this beautiful one. All three use entirely different methods and with some adjustment of flour, the bread dough shapes up beautifully. There is really nothing like home-baked fresh bread.

And when it comes filled with cheesy onion and sesame seed filling and shaped like this one here, it’s a total winner.

Braided bread

It may look intimidating in the first glance, but it is super easy to shape the bread like this –

Braiding the bread

Cheesy Onion and Sesame Seed Braided Bread

What you will need :

For the dough

  • 3/4 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 3 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 110 grams salted butter (at room temperature)
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup hot milk
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 large egg

For the filling –

  • 4 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups chopped onions
  • 3 tablespoon grated parmesan or cheddar cheese
  • 5 tablespoon sesame seeds + 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
  • rich egg glaze of one egg yolk + little milk

What to do :

  1. In a large bowl using an electric beater with paddle attachment, combine yeast + sugar + salt + 1 and 1/2 cup flour.
  2. Add milk and water and beat until creamy for about 1 minute.
  3. Add the egg + softened butter with another 1/2 cup of flour and beat until butter is incorporated.
  4. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough which releases the sides of the bowl is formed.
  5. Then turn the dough into a lightly floured surface and knead till a soft yet springy dough is formed, dusting with flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead for 6-8 minutes by hand.
  6. Place dough in a greased deep container and turn once to coat. Cover with a plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 and 1/2 hours.
  7. Meanwhile prepare filling. In a medium skillet, melt butter + oil. Add onions and cook till translucent and limp but not browned, or the filling will turn bitter. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and sesame seeds. Set aside to cool at room temperature.
  8. Then gently deflate the dough, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Grease or parchment line a baking sheet.
  9. Cut the dough in half. Roll one half into 18×12 inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise into three 4 inch wide strips (4×18 inch.
  10. Carefully spread filling in the centre of each strip, leaving one inch margin on all sides. Fold over the edges and pinch them together, encasing the filling. Lift the ropes and place them on the greased baking sheet one inch apart.
  11. Beginning in the middle braid each rope loosely to each end. Pinch the ends and tuck them under securely. Cover loosely with a plastic wrap and let it double, for 30 minutes.
  12. Twenty minutes prior to baking, preheat the oven to 170C. Gently brush the braid with egg glaze and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  13. Bake for 30-35 minutes till browned on top and sound hollow when tapped. Repeat with the other half of dough.
  14. Let it cool on a wire rack.

Cutting the bread braid

Notes :

  • If using unsalted butter in dough preparation, use 2 teaspoon salt.
  • Depending on the type of flour and humidity conditions, little more or less flour is required to make a soft and springy dough. The book calls for 4 and 1/2 cups, but I had to use 5 cups of flour.
  • If using active dry yeast, use 1 whole tablespoon of yeast.

 

Bon Apetit!

Inside the braid