About Me

Hello. I started this blog to write about what I do in my chosen profession : a housewife. Some day I might cook or bake something interesting and enlist my 2 year old to help, on another day I make something from scratch instead of buying it from the store and sometimes I craft with my daughter. Once in a while, we travel or have a fun day outside. I am also doing what I can to recycle and reduce waste. I am still learning all of this and documenting my journey through this blog

Thoughts on navigating the food scene : What food is good for me?

Last week I had my first surgery for removing my gall bladder. This is apparently a very common surgery and it has been made real simple these days. Single incision, little to no scarring and you are back home in half a day. I had a really good team of doctors and nurses at Charlotte Medical Clinic and I am recovering quite well.
I first found out about my bad gall bladder while on my India trip in September. Maybe all the "eat all you can" attitude caused the gall bladder attack :)
I am glad I got time to come to terms with it before losing one of my organs. I had time to adjust my diet and really think about the food that I eat and serve my family.

I always thought we eat healthy food and it was reasonably true. But anyone who has tried to understand food and what is healthy, what is not, knows that information out there is so conflicting in nature. What was seen as absolute truth a few years ago is now a very questionable truth. There were times when I didn't know what to believe anymore.
Try doing a search on whole milk vs low fat milk and tell me you didn't get confused. Today, the search is pretty much in favour of whole milk but just less than a year ago, it was not as one-sided. Then there is organic vs non-organic, raw vs pasteurized. You could just get sucked into the research for hours and end up more confused than ever. Still on the topic of milk, the medical community tells us to go for skim milk even for kids.

This is just about milk. You could try that for other foods : oils, butter, cereals. It can make you afraid to eat anything. :)
It took me sometime to tone down the madness and get some clarity. All I can say is : Do your research, trust yourself and do whatever changes suit your family and what you believe in.
My takeaway can be condensed into one (maybe two) line : "Avoid processed foods. Eat everything in moderation."

Although I am nowhere close to completing my exploration of this topic, I have at least found a direction and I am doing whatever changes I can to help my family eat healthier.
  • I have switched to whole milk. We are just thinning it out with a little water to cut the richness and calories (not for the baby though). I first read about the milk debate on Chef In You blog quite a while ago but it is only recently we did the switch.
  • I am going to switch out the artificial sweetener to sugar (moderate amount) for our tea.
  • Switched out fake butter (I can't believe its not butter) to real butter (just a few drops on the skillet for toasting bread)
  • I have started making my own yogurt and ghee.
  • I was already making homemade snacks and this just reinforces the guideline to look long and hard at the ingredient list before buying snacks. This is a little difficult because the daughter loves her gold fish and graham crackers.
  • Buy organic whenever possible and buy the version of the product with the least number of ingredients.
  • No fizzy or sweet drinks. We were doing this since our daughter was old enough to want to drink this stuff. We gave her a few sips when we were outside and she really insisted. But now she does not crave it and knows she likes water better.
  • I am adding flaxseed meal to chapati dough and getting wonderfully soft rotis. I am also mixing in brown rice to white rice.
There maybe a few more and some might be added to this list as we move along this path.

I have recently started a 5 week free course on Child Nutrition and Cooking by Maya Adam, MD from Stanford University on coursera. It might sound serious but it is really simple and does not take up much time. Give it a try if it interests you. She too reinforced my belief about processed foods. I loved one of the statements she makes "If your grandmother does not recognise an ingredient or did not use an ingredient, you probably should not too."
I also found two blogs which I really like and they focus on real food : Kath eats Real Food and 100 days of Real Food

I think we all know this about processed foods but get blindsided by the advertising and claims of new research that the food is good for you and you will not get "Fat". That really was what was holding us back from switching to real food - The fear of getting fatter.

I have to say I have been losing some weight without even trying due to these changes and the changes forced due to my gall bladder (I had to avoid fatty food). The biggest factor in that though, is we hardly eat out these days. I have also taken moderation to heart. Earlier I used it as an excuse to eat everything but now I am using it for its true meaning.

Til Gul - A Makar Sankranti tradition

This week, we celebrated Makar Sankranti festival in our own small way. That meant making Til Gul as prasad and sharing it with each other. The daughter is just about old enough to understand about traditions and I am trying to expose her to whatever little tradition we follow. After all, these special days and special foods from childhood traditions are what warms the heart later in life.
When I was a child, Makar Sankranti was called Uttarayan (because we lived in Gujarat). All around us, there was this party atmosphere with everyone up on their terrace at the break of dawn : playing music, flying kites, cheering for the kite that cut the sharp thread of the other kite. There wasn't much cooking done that day because no one wanted to leave the party on the terrace and spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
In our house, it was different. We had the elaborate meal starring gul poli (jaggery stuffed roti) with the supporting cast of vegetable, kadhi or dal and rice, maybe a koshimbir (salad) too. Gul poli was made only once a year on this day. I, as a kid, was more excited about the food than the kite flying party. Now, I look back fondly on these traditions and how they were the high points among my childhood memories. I think that is the point of festivals : to break the routine and add some excitement (food or otherwise) in our lives.
While I am not yet ready to tackle gul poli (I am afraid my mom has set the standard so high, I doubt I could reach it soon), I have adopted the simpler tradition of Til Gul. "Til Gul ghya ani goad goad bola" (I offer you til gul and may you too speak sweetly like it) This phrase and the sharing of til gul is amusing for little kids and a reminder to the older ones to think before speaking anything rude.
I have eaten my share of til guls and nothing comes close to the family recipe that my mother uses to make til gul. The thing I love about it the most is the texture. It is firm enough to hold its shape but it has a soft and smooth mouthfeel once you bite into it. I absolutely love the addition of peanuts which provide a nice nutty contrast to the slight bitterness of sesame seeds. I prefer to use soft natural jaggery. These days I have come to realise, the less processed and darker the color of the food, the better it is for you. This less processed jaggery also has a much better flavour than the processed lighter colored jaggery.

Til Gul
The mouthfeel and the taste of this til gul is seriously addictive. Sesame seeds are not supposed to be consumed in larger quantities so we are trying to control ourselves and eat just two squares a day :) This is a very simple recipe using just 5 ingredients. You cannot beat the effort v/s taste quotient of it.



Ingredients:
2 tsp ghee
2 cups jaggery, broken in small pieces
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup peanuts
6 cardamom pods
  • In a heavy bottom pan, dry roast the sesame seeds on medium flame. You are looking for the seeds to turn a shade darker and smell the roasted fragrance. This is an important step so be patient and do it right. It takes about 15 minutes for this step.
  • Remove the sesame seeds and dry roast peanuts in the pan. Look for the same criteria as the sesame seeds. It will definitely not spoil the dish if you roast a little less or more but doing it right makes the difference between good and great.
  • Coarsely grind the sesame seeds and peanuts. Grind each separately to have better control over the texture.
  • Heat 2 tsp ghee in that heavy bottom pan. Add the jaggery.
  • Let it melt completely. Immediately add the coarsely ground sesame seeds and peanuts.
  • Once it is incorporated into the liquid jaggery, take it off the heat and add finely crushed cardamom seeds.
  • Grease a cookie sheet or a plate with ghee and spread the mixture in an even layer.
  • After 5 minutes, cut to make squares using a pizza cutter or knife.
  • Once completely cool and set, remove from cookie sheet and store.
Notes:
They stay good for 2 weeks at room temperature.

Trip to Stone Mountain and Snow Mountain Park with lunch at Thali, Atlanta

The weekend before Christmas, we went to Stone Mountain National Park. This was totally a last minute trip. We had been thinking about it for a while but with the husband's work schedule, it was difficult to plan ahead. On Friday morning, we decided this weekend would be spent in Atlanta. I checked Stone Mountain website for tickets. We decided on Snow Mountain and Christmas Combo Family Value Pass. For 50$, we had 2 hours of snow tubing, snow play, all stone mountain attractions along with a meal, hot chocolate and drinks. This is the best value ticket if you want to do both the snow and christmas parts of the park. After that the hotel (Wingate by Wyndham, Norcross) was booked, which turned out to be really nice for the price.
It was already lunch time by then. So after lunch, I had to just dive into packing. We had planned to leave by 5 in the evening. Yeah, fat chance! What with the husband leaving office on time to come home and then go back to pick up a rented car and come back to load us up! To the husband's credit, he was home by 4 but I was still not done packing. I got him to help a bit and then he was off to get the car. On his way back, he was stuck in traffic and we were finally able to leave by 7 :) 2 hour variance is pretty much how we travel.

With a dinner stop on the way, we reached the hotel a little before 12 in the night. There was nothing left to do but crash and sleep. We had to get up early the next morning because the only tickets we were able to get for Snow Mountain were the ones at 8 in the morning. The times on the tickets are only for the 2 hour tubing session. After the free eggs and waffle breakfast at the hotel, we were able to reach Stone Mountain around 9 in the morning.
After parking, loading up the stroller, getting wrist bands and passes, we strolled up to the snow tubing area. The friendly girl at the entrance told us we could check if a different time was available since we only had half an hour of tubing time left on our pass. We got a new pass for 12 o clock.

So, we went to the snow play area which is the one we really came for. I thought our daughter would love to play in the snow. She was excited at first.  But the fake snow is a little icy and slippery which she did not like.

There is a snowman's closet where buckets, hats, scarves and brick molds for making snow forts are kept. We went and collected the supplies for making a snow man.
The daughter was not having as much fun as we expected. She didnt like touching the icy snow and she didn't like the constant threat of slipping on the snow. She didn't intend to complete her snow man.

We moved on to the Christmas part of the park. All the buildings were decorated for Christmas. We had some hot chocolate and fries to warm up after the snow play.

We walked around and saw a glass snow angel made from scratch. It was quite amazing to see glass being manipulated like that to make something beautiful, all in 20 minutes.
After that we went to the 4D theater to see Polar Express condensed into a 30 minute 4D movie. The 4 part of the 4D experience had gusts of wind and some shaving cream snow fall :) Good experience for the kids.

It was already 1 by then. We were not too keen on going back for snow tubing once we were out of the snow zone. But I am glad we went for the tubing. It was a lot of fun and the highlight of the day. We went in the family tube which is a large tube accomodating 6 people. I thought the daughter might be scared after the first time. But she was raring to go for a second turn which pleasantly surprised me. For the first time, I sat at the top of the tube and the second time, I sat at the bottom of the tube. A drastically different experience. The drop experienced from the top causes a big pit in the stomach (I enjoy it) which is non existent when you sit at the bottom.
After tubing, even though everyone was hungry, we squeezed in the train ride since the train was all ready to go. It was good to see the entire park sitting in the train and a little bit of history and facts thrown in.
We went straight for lunch after that which was typical park fare. We had a little rain here and there during the day but not enough to ruin the day.

The  kids were completely exhausted by this time and were fast asleep in their stroller. We still hadn't done the sky ride which is the key attraction all year round. We walked over to the area where there was a huge queue but it was moving along reasonably well. We found out that strollers are not allowed on the trolley and the daughter was still fast asleep. We were not about to hold her all way and break our backs. This is when the good friends who were accompanying us came to the rescue. They had already seen the park once so they volunteered to watch the kids while we went up on the stone.

BTW, it is called Stone Mountain Park because there is this gigantic stone in the middle of the park with confederate carving on it. The stone was formed during the shifting of the earth plates when magma came up and solidified to become this huge one of a kind mountain.
We were finally on the sky ride as they call it. It is a short ride to the top of the "stone mountain" 825 feet above the ground. They cram people on the trolley, so everyone has just enough space to stand.
If you are first in the queue to get into the trolley, you are lucky and will get the best place (the back of the trolley) to see the carvings up close as you go up the mountain. The carvings are bigger than you might have imagined. The narrator in the trolley tells how 20 people had lunch on the shoulder of one of people in the carving.

The views from the top of the stone.

We were exhausted by the time we came back. The last trolley comes back at 5. We decided to just go get a good dinner and go to bed. While we were leaving, we were able to catch the small Christmas parade and Christmas lights in the dark.
We went to Chaat Patti restaurant after our exhausting day at Stone Mountain Park. The intention was to eat chaat but seeing undhiyo on their thali, I was swayed in favor of the gujarati thali. But sadly, all the dishes were too spicy for me to eat. The husband did eat chaat which was good enough. He even loved the palak paneer from my thali. I was unable to enjoy the dinner because of all the spiciness.

The next morning, we had a slow start after a much needed good night's sleep. It was raining cats and dogs that whole day. We were glad we were not going to stone mountain in the rain. After checking out from the hotel, we went to see the swaminarayan temple and bought some snacks at the store/restaurant in the temple. After that, we were on our way to the much awaited "Thali" restaurant. It is a Gujarati thali restaurant with a village decor. They have a fixed thali menu which varies a bit everyday. You have the choice of drinks : chaas, jal jeera, soft drinks. The chaas is great but the husband was not a fan of jal jeera. Then they bring out a plate of 5 appetizers. We had yellow khaman dhokla, white khatta dhokla, dahi vada, peas kabab, batata vada. All appetizers were good except dahi vada which was very hard, not good at all. My favorite, though was khatta dhokla, of which I had a second serving. After your fill of appetizers, the main course plate comes out. It has half of a bajra roti (rotlo), a puri and a roti along with a variety of curries. We had sev tameta, lobia curry (kathor), potato (bataka nu shaak), paneer with mixed vegetables and gujarati dal. Everything was a little too sweet but I would rather have sweet than burn my tongue with overly spicy food like last night. Next comes khichadi, kadhi and rice. You would have to ask for more dal if you want to have it with rice. The dessert course has a choice of icecream (which tasted suspiciously like costco's vanilla icecream) and a really good masala chai. They had also given gulab jamun with the main course. But it was not good at all. A bit too hard and the syrup was not absorbed. It is a lot of food for the price (15$). The food could be better but I am happy there is atleast a place I can go to when I get homesick and crave a Gujarati thali.
The Patel Brothers store next door is huge and has everything Indian you could ask for. The store had a garba song on which made me feel I was back in Gujarat. I picked up what looked like fresh paav. Got it home and promptly stuck it in the freezer to keep the freshness. I made paav bhaji later in the week.