Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chinese Omelet

It has been a long and chaotic day here at the world headquarters of One Hot Stove. We're getting some repairs done and the home is upside down for a few days. And poor Dale is having a bad day with his back legs giving him more trouble than usual. I've been struggling to help him stand up. Clearly, we have to find a vet soon and take him in- and this is a holiday week so almost everyone is on vacation...

So all I have today is a quick recipe idea. This one comes from my mother who is one for putting creative riffs on everyday meals. The last time she was visiting us, she made this "Chinese omelet". Basically all the vegetables that go into Indian Chinese food- carrots, cabbage, peppers, green onions, mushrooms- are sliced, sauteed and seasoned with soy sauce and lots of freshly ground black pepper and then stuffed into an omelet. You can make the omelet atop a tortilla or not.

This makes for a tasty and hearty breakfast or lunch that will keep you full for hours. Vegetables don't get attention at breakfast, I feel.

Good night and I'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, November 19, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading is a weekly meme hosted at the blog Book Journey. I've seen Joy (the author of one of my favorite St. Louis blogs) participating in this meme for many months and I decided to jump in myself. In this meme, bloggers are invited to share the books they're currently reading, books they recently finished and what's next on their reading list.

I wrote a post on books just 2 weeks ago and was thrilled to get so many more book recommendations from your all. So maybe I'll make this a regular feature for all those food-loving bibliophiles, or bookish foodies if you prefer, who visit this blog.

The book I'm currently reading:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Image from Goodreads

This is one of those popular psychology books that I seem to feel compelled to read. Human behavior is a fascinating and complex thing and yes, if someone could explain to me how to change some of my more disastrous habits, it would do me a world of good. I've only read a few chapters so far and here's my opinion thus far: the anecdotes Duhigg describes are fascinating and entertaining; however the book feels simplistic on the whole. But it was interesting to learn about the habit loop and about keystone habits. Maybe next week I'll write a more detailed post about what I learned from reading this book.

Three books I recently read all fell into the mystery/suspense genre.

1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier was a terrific read, just as so many of you promised me it would be. Du Maurier creates a suspenseful atmosphere in a masterful way. There were certainly times when I wanted to shake the protagonist and tell her to grow a backbone already. If you're looking for a toothsome read that will take you to another place and time for a few hours, I highly recommend this classic.

2. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear was another worthwhile read. Radhika has written an excellent review of this book and I have to say that my feeling about Maisie Dobbs echoed what she said. The mystery was so weak that it was practically non-existent but the book is a feel-good, meaningful read in the manner of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series. I want to read more of Maisie Dobbs. On another note, I'm really glad to have found Radhika's book blog.

3. Defending Jacob by William Landay was a book I picked up because I kept hearing about it on various book blogs and bestseller lists. Now, unlike Maisie Dobbs where all the characters are good-hearted and likeable, I didn't like a single character in this book. They had no emotional resonance with me. But I really wanted to know what happened next, and so I kept reading and appreciated that the story kept me interested. It is a courtroom drama, quite different from the cozy mysteries that I usually enjoy. I'll give it a one thumbs up.

The books I'll be reading next

Memoirs are another popular genre for me, and the two books I plan on reading next are both memoirs.

1. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
2. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

So, what are you reading?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Extra! Extra!

During NaBloPoMo month, I've been responding to requests for posts on specific topics, and Maya requested a post on getting creative with leftovers- and she was talking about leftover food, of course, but also leftover yarn from knitting and crochet projects.

Ideas for leftover food:

I actually had to sit and think about this for a little while, because do you know how we usually handle leftovers around here- we simply eat them! Leftover dinner gets packed into lunch boxes for the next day. If the quantity is too small for a full meal, leftovers go into a small box for a snack.

If the quantity is too large and we'd end up eating it for several days (never fun), I freeze the leftovers for a meal the next week. The key words are "next week" because leave them in any longer and they disappear into the back of the freezer, only to be tossed out a year or two later.

I think my basic rule is that when I'm cooking anything, I have a definite plan for the leftovers (both leftover cooked food and leftover ingredients). If I let them just sit there saying, I'll do something with them one of these days, you know they're likely to be wasted. I like using leftovers when they are relatively fresh rather than letting them languish in the fridge.

 So anyway, this was a very long-winded way of saying that generally I don't get very creative with leftovers at all. But when I do, they end up being recycled into one of these 3 dishes:

1. Quesadillas: Mix almost any raw or cooked vegetables/beans with a little cheese, spread on tortillas, fold into half and toast on a griddle. Of course, the same thing can be done with sliced bread instead of tortillas.

2. Egg hash: Saute the leftovers to warm them, then pat them down to make a bed and break eggs over them. Cover and cook for a most delicious breakfast.

3. And the mother of all recycled dishes- patties or croquettes. All sorts of vegetables and cooked grains and fresh herbs can be formed into tasty morsels and pan-fried. I add some mashed potato or sweet potato in there which helps to hold everything together. You'll be amazed at how fast these mystery croquettes will disappear.

Now of course these recycled dishes taste different each time you make them, based on what's on hand. It is a one of a kind treat. The funny thing is that these are often the best things I make, eaten with more gusto than more elaborate recipes.

Ideas for leftover yarn:

Ravelry is an incredible resource for all things yarn related, and registration is free. Ravelry has many threads on using up leftover yarn, for instance- this one. By the way, although Ravelry is intended for the knitting and crocheting community, there are intelligent discussion groups on everything from cloth diapering to books.

1. Wrap the yarn around something: Yarn wrapped around glass bottles (from wine or other beverages) makes a colorful vase. Yarn can be used for wrapping gifts instead of ribbon.

2. Toys: Small amounts of yarn can be used to make tiny knitted and crocheted toys, often called amigurumi from the Japanese word for this art. Use tiny yarn scraps (that are not big enough for other uses) to stuff the toys!

3. Yarn cards: Use ordinary white glue to paste yarn scraps in pretty patterns on cards. I often make gift tags this way.

4. Leftover yarn ends can be tied to each other and then this crazy multicolored yarn can be used to make a unique scarf or if you have enough yarn, even a throw or a blanket.

5. Make pompoms! String them into a garland if you like. 

Do you struggle with leftovers? Got any brilliant ideas for us? Share them in the comments- please and thank you.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: The Woods

I went to undergrad college in Mumbai, in a lovely college in the heart of the city. At the center of the college (and at the center of college life) was a quadrangle with about four and a half trees in it. It was called "The Woods"- only half-jokingly, because in the urban jungle of Mumbai, a rag tag bunch of greenery qualified as the woods.

This picture is from our new backyard- and even though our house is located in town, it is packed with trees and I think I can legitimately call it "The Woods". We see deer walking through it once in a while- a totally novel experience for the city-dwellers that V and I are. There's a little tree house in the backyard, built by some previous owners. I hope Lila will have many happy adventures there in a few years.
The treehouse in the woods
I'm linking this picture to the Saturday Snapshot meme at At Home With Books.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pumpkin Mac 'n Cheese

Sometimes I find recipe inspiration in unexpected places.

We were visiting daycare centers and playschools last week- Lila will go back to daycare when I'm back at work in a few weeks, and we visited several school to find a place she will love. The schools have all their weekly lunch and snack menus posted prominently on the bulletin board and of course I'm always curious to see what's being served.

One school had the most delicious menu- I saw pumpkin mac 'n cheese on the menu for lunch that day and thought- mmm, that sounds so good.

Today, V had a Thanksgiving potluck lunch at his workplace and I thought pumpkin mac 'n cheese would be a good dish to send in- crowd-pleasing and simple enough to make, plus mac 'n cheese is a standard Thanksgiving side dish, with pumpkin adding some seasonal flair.

There are many recipes online and this one caught my eye. Embellished with savory notes from browned butter and caramelized onions, I just had to make it. I made a crunchy topping of breadcrumbs, sage (another flavor of the season), parmesan and french fried onions.

The favors of this dish are similar to this butternut squash onion lasagna I posted a few winters ago but this recipe is even easier to put together.

A couple of notes: The pumpkin bechamel sauce can be cooked a day ahead of time and stored in the fridge. I used canned pumpkin puree this time; if you do, make sure you buy pure pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling, which has sugar and spices. And although I would never endorse "hiding" vegetables in dishes, the pumpkin truly blends into the sauce, adding a richer orange color and sweet flavor that any kid would enjoy.

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
(Adapted from this recipe on Brokeass Gourmet)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Cook 1 box (14 oz or so) short pasta such as elbows or rotini. Save a cup of pasta cooking water.
3. To make the pumpkin bechamel sauce, heat 4 tbsp. butter and fry 1 sliced onion on low heat for 20-30 minutes or until the onion is caramelized and the butter is browned. Then stir in 1 tbsp. flour and cook until the flour is toasty.
4. Slowly whisk in 2 cups whole milk and 1 and 1/2 cups pumpkin puree and bring to a boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat.
5. Add 2 loosely packed cups shredded cheddar cheese. Make sure the saucepan is pulled off the heat before adding the cheese. And add cheese in small handfuls, stirring in as you go along. This way the sauce will be smooth and you won't have cheese stuck to the sides of the pan. 
6. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (optional).
7. Mix the pasta and the sauce and pour into greased casserole. You don't want the sauce to be too thick (it will thicken upon baking and standing); thin it with pasta water if needed.
8. Topping: In a bowl, mix a handful each of panko (coarse Japanese breadcrumbs), grated parmesan cheese and French fried onions (a supermarket staple around Thanksgiving because it is used in those green bean casseroles) and a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh sage. Spread the topping evenly on the pasta.
9. Bake for 20 minutes or until the topping is browned and the sides of the casserole are bubbling. 

The potluck dish came back scraped clean so I'm guessing they enjoyed it. I hope you have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Halfway There

We're at the halfway point of the blogging marathon that is NaBloPoMo, so don't mind if I pause a little to catch my breath.

I'm going to spend some time today responding to your comments on previous posts. I so enjoy it when you take the time to share your thoughts, enlighten me, challenge what I'm saying, make me think some more. Seriously, I love you guys so much. And to keep this conversation going, I have to take some time to respond properly to comments.

Some of the blogs that I read regularly are also participating in NaBloPoMo- so here's a shout out to you. Arundati has been making dazzling Diwali treats day after day, and she has posted some lovely Diwali decor ideas too (someone was asking about that a few days ago).

Siri does something that I just love and admire- she is a supporter of Vaidehi Ashram, a refuge for girls in Hyderabad, India. Now blogs are wonderful because they give us a glimpse into lives other than our own, but bloggers usually fit into the privileged, middle class bracket. By writing about the girls in the ashram and photographing their lives, Siri is giving them a voice and making them visible. Recently, she did some fund-raising on her blog and sent the girls on a week-long vacation (their first ever). And that my friends is the true power of the internet.

One of the best things about NaBloPoMo is that you come upon some fresh new blogs, and my favorite find so far this month is Cheeky Chilli by Sharmila. I love the way Sharmila writes, in a voice that is quiet yet evocative. And- psst- she's giving away a sample of homemade dhansak masala, so go on and check out her blog if you haven't already found it.

If you're feeling lucky, you might also want to hop over and enter Bong Mom's giveaway- she'll reward one lucky winner and their favorite charity. 

P.S. A friend reported that she's unable to post comments on my posts. I wonder- anyone else having this problem? Is yes, e-mail me and I'll try and figure out what's going on.

See you in the other half of NaBloPoMo tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: Plastic Free

Plastic-Free: How I kicked the plastic habit and how you can too by Beth Terry is one of the books I've been reading this week.

Here are 5 things I love about this book:

1. Beth Terry talks in a friendly and non-judgmental voice, explaining how she went from living a lifestyle of consumption and convenience to completely changing the way she lives, one step at a time. It is a very interesting and inspiring story.
2. She is not afraid to laugh at herself, like when she explains her first failed attempts to make liquid soap.
3. The chapter titled Nine reasons our personal changes matter is excellent for anyone who wonders whether a small personal choice would make any difference at all in the big picture.
4. The book has clear action items and the author encourages readers to make, perhaps, one change a month (until it becomes a habit) to keep from being overwhelmed.
5. The book features blurbs on several other people who have used different strategies to avoid plastic.It is nice to see how each person takes a different approach to reducing plastic.

My personal viewpoint on plastic: It is a marvelous innovation that has brought us amazing things, including electronics and the internet which I'm using right now to talk to you. But the ridiculous overuse of plastic and the wasteful throw-away products made with plastic threaten to suffocate us, literally and figuratively. So there's much to be said for using plastic sparingly and wisely.

Beth Terry writes a blog called My Plastic-Free Life. Her Steps to a Plastic-Free Life contains dozens of tips for everyday life. She says that the top two ways to reduce plastic waste is to avoid plastic bags and bottled water.

10 ways I'm reducing plastic waste from my life:

1. Not using plastic shopping bags. I've completely embraced this habit and it has been years since I've taken a plastic bag from the store. I carry my rag tag collection of cloth bags proudly. And if I make an unplanned stop at the grocery store, I carry out groceries in my hands.
My favorite cloth grocery bag; a gift from my friend Chaitanya.
She stamped it with apple halves using fabric paint. 
2. Not using plastic produce bags. For some time, I was reusing those flimsy plastic produce bags; then I decided it was worth it to invest a bit of cash cash and buy a nice set of reusable bags. I bought a set of mesh bags from this Etsy shop and boy, I'm a happy customer. Years later, they're as good as new and I always get compliments from check-out clerks who want to know where I got those cool produce bags.
Reusable mesh produce bags
3. Not using bottled water. I've used filter pitchers and faucet filters at various times in the past, but now we drink straight out of the tap. Tap water in the US is as clean and often cleaner than bottled water. Although our fridge also has a filter in the door. So there's no need to buy bottled water ever. At work, I had a reusable bottle that I refilled at the water fountain. When I travel, I take an empty water bottle through security and then fill it up once I am in the terminal. V occasionally buys soda but always in cans (the easiest thing to recycle).
Clean, free tap water: a beautiful thing
4. Switching to a glass lunch box. Our lunches are always dinner leftovers, and they generally need heating up. I still use plastic boxes for food storage but never heat food in plastic. I bought glass lunch boxes a few years ago and they're working great. They're heavy but they don't leak. Of course, if you're carrying a lunch that doesn't need heating, a good old stainless steel dabba would be ideal.
Glass dabba for hot lunches at work or at home
5. Not buying new plastic toys. I pledged to myself that I would not buy plastic toys either for Lila or for other kids. Instead, I've been buying wooden toys or books or games as gifts. We gratefully accept hand-me-downs from friends which is how Lila has the usual plastic baby toys- piano, stacking rings, oversize lego type stuff etc. Lila does get plastic toys as gifts and I allow that; it would be harsh not to. When I want a particular toy that might be plastic, I look for it in garage sales or on Craigslist. The most important thing is that we use the toys with care so that after they're outgrown, they can be cleaned and passed on to another child. Plastic is practically indestructible so we might as well take advantage of that. 
Ride-on toy: 101% plastic BUT it has a police siren!
Bought it off Craigslist for 10 bucks.
6. Choosing glass jars where possible. With many things, for instance, baby food and peanut butter and many other products, you have the choice of buying a glass or plastic container. In my book, glass wins every time because I wash out the jars and reuse them in many ways. Those plastic tubes of baby food especially make me cuh-RAZY. One tablespoon of food inside this thick junky plastic tube.

7. Using as few plastic baggies as possible. Snacks can be easily placed in a small container instead of a throw away baggie. Ditto for stuff that needs to be put in the freezer. We gave reusable sandwich/snack bags as birthday party favors:

8. Making most of our meals at home. Frozen meals and fast food creates an incredible amount of trash.  Making things like yogurt at home also saves quite a bit of plastic.

9. Cloth diapers. Anu asked me about our cloth diapering experience. We cloth diapered Lila the whole time we were living in St. Louis (her first year), and we used a cloth diaper service. It worked beautifully for us because we didn't have to wash the cloth diapers. With our work situation, we couldn't have. These diapers were rectangular cloths that you folded and used with a velcro-closed wrap on top. So this is the only kind of cloth diaper I have experience with. Using these was just as easy as using disposables. After leaving STL, I've been using disposable diapers while I try and figure out what to do.

10. BYO doggie bag. When we go out to eat, I usually bring a container from home to use as my "doggie bag" for bringing leftovers home. This weekend, we went out to brunch. I didn't eat the buttermilk biscuits and wanted to bring them home for a snack, but I'd forgotten to take a container. Luckily, I stopped myself just before I asked for a take out box (usually styrofoam or plastic) and wrapped them in a paper napkin to bring home instead. Every little bit helps. When I just take a minute to think, I can make better decisions.

Three things I want to work on:

1. Doggie poop bags: We buy plastic bags for picking up after Mr. Dale. I'm reading up on a good alternative to this.

2. Eating utensils while on the go: Once in a while, we'll be out and about and stop at some fast foodish place- say, a burrito place- for a meal. Then I use plastic forks and spoons and cringe at the waste. Carrying eating utensils in my purse would be such an easy thing and I need to start doing that.

3. Buying from bulk bins: There are a couple of good stores in town with wonderful bulk bins. I can cut down on packaging waste by using those instead of pulling packets off the shelf.

Sometimes, there are tricky choices around the risk-benefit ratio of plastic. One of the first things I did in the new home was to look for a backyard composter- now that I don't have access to the lovely community garden in STL and am responsible for my own composting. After thinking of different options, we ended up buying this plastic composter which is sold at subsidized rates by our county.

I don't love that it is made of plastic, but it is rodent-proof (also keeping out such pests as kids and dogs) and hopefully will last a lifetime and the benefits of composting over years definitely outweigh the cost of this plastic thingamajig.

I also noticed that this particular book has a plastic cover- kinda ironic given the title. But again, this is a copy from the public library. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of people will read this book, and the protective plastic cover is probably a small price to pay for keeping this copy stain free and clean.

When it comes to making these kinds of changes in our lives, there's always the temptation to say, "I don't have time for this". I can't remember to carry bags around, and who's going to wash out snack bags every day? We pride ourselves on being busy, busy, busy. But this is when I ask myself what kind of person I want to be, and the choice is easy. I don't want to be wasteful. I want to be mindful. And most of all, I want to set a good example. These changes are worth working towards and making time for. I have a LONG way to go but at least the intention is there.

Easiest idea for those who eat lunch at work
Keep a mug, glass, plate, napkin and eating utensils in a desk drawer. BOOM- over time, countless plastic/paper plates, plastic forks and spoons, paper napkins will be saved from the landfill.

Snehal shared the link for another blog with great tips: Zero Waste Home.

Your turn: what plastic-reducing strategies are working for you? What are you struggling with?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Making Time: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself

Since I started this blogging spree, I've been surprised at how many people say something on the lines of "How do you make time for all the things you want to do"? It seems that many of us struggle with how to juggle the demands of our lives. I know I certainly do. 'd love to discuss this over several posts.

The thing about time management is that each person's schedule is so different- it is dictated by a multitude of factors like the nature of our jobs, the composition of our families and our location and lifestyle. I'm posing these three questions as a thought exercise. Feel free to grab a pencil and paper and see if they help to clarify your thinking about how you spend your time and how you want to spend it.

1. What do you want to make time for?  

If you had more time, what would you do? What do you want to include in your life? What's missing in your life right now?

These should be things that are meaningful to you, and only you know what those are. There's absolutely no point in wanting to do something just because it is trendy or because someone else thinks it is fun.

Maybe you want to make time for a new hobby or to practice an existing one. Maybe you're just tired of always being late for everything. Maybe you know that your health is suffering from a lack of exercise and you want to make time for it. Answering this question will help to identify 2 or 3 things that you want to work on making time for.

2. Where are you currently spending your time?

This may require quiet reflection, or it may require keeping a diary for a couple of days. The point of answering this question is to identify problem areas in time management. Maybe you're spending too much time idly surfing the internet (ahem) or checking e-mail 25 times a day. Maybe your kid dawdles and stretches bed time over 90 minutes. Maybe you're making 4 times to the grocery store each week. Know your time-sucks.

3. How can you make time?

Once you identify a couple of problem areas, you can work on them by trying a different approach to doing that task. Writing them down methodically gives you something concrete to work with.

 Here are three small ways I've streamlined my routine.

a) Learn to say no. If you find you don't enjoy something, you don't have to do it. I politely decline invitations to large gatherings but always make time for smaller get-togethers because I know what setting I enjoy. 

b) Combine things you have to do with things you want to do. I enjoy watching TV and doing so while folding laundry, washing dishes and putting away toys is the perfect way to get chores done while giving myself a mental break.

c) Simplify. I can get ready in the morning in no time at all because I only own a handful of clothes, the only jewelry I wear is earrings and the only make up I use is lipstick. No one has ever praised my fashion sense and no one ever will but it sure makes my life easier and allows me to focus on other things that interest me more.

Feel free to use the comments in this post if you want to discuss your time management challenges. Let's put our heads together and come up with some solutions to kill those time-sucks and make way for something fun. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Diwali Shining

Holiday season is in full swing and this week brings Diwali, the festival of lights. Even to someone like me who is not religious to say the least, Diwali has a lovely symbolism.

The way Diwali was celebrated in my parents' home growing up was simple and meaningful. There was the making of the faraal, sweets and savories that are typical to this festival. There was the arranging of faraal in covered platters to be exchanged with family and friends. There was the ritual early morning bath using a special herbal paste called utna, followed by the wearing of a new frock, typically sewn by my mother's dear friend who is a seamstress. There were, of course, the lights that the festival is named for- tiny oil lamps lit in a row and the paper lantern hanging by the front door, its streamers fluttering in the breeze. Books and tools were honored and thanked for the prosperity they brought into the home.

All this was against the backdrop of the sights and sounds and smells of firecrackers. I've had a hate-hate relationship with firecrackers from a very early age and the fact of the matter is that they ruined Diwali season for me every time. I would choke on the acrid fumes of firecrackers and my heart would thump in alarm and dismay every time a loud string of "bombs" went off. It sounded like a war. With debris everywhere, it even looked like a war zone. I knew people who boasted about how much money they spent on fireworks and competed with neighbors to see who had the loudest and most garish Diwali. I was a very melancholy child and heartbroken at hearing these loud things go off, these firecrackers made by the tiny hands of child laborers and representing waste and callousness in my mind. So all in all, I'm thankful that I don't have to deal with that kind of Diwali any more.

We had the quietest, smallest Diwali celebration yesterday but we enjoyed it very much. We simply lit a few oil lamps. Like Christmas decorations, these are lamps I've collected or been gifted over the years. All year they sit in a box, to be lit on Diwali. Our niece came down for the weekend, and I made the most popular meal around these parts- pav bhaji and rasmalai.

To all my friends who celebrate it,

Happy Diwali! 

I hope the festive season is a joyful, peaceful and meaningful time for you.

You Win Some; You Lose Some

Even with dishes I've made a hundred times, being in a new kitchen is requiring a certain amount of standardization. I seem to cook on auto-pilot most of the time, so this is taking some effort on my part. After nearly incinerating a few meals on the electric stove (which heats up a lot faster than the gas stove I'm used to), I think I finally have learned the ways of this new (to me) stove.

This weekend I made a big batch of idli/dosa batter for the first time since moving here. The weather is a bit chilly so I turned on the oven light and stuck the covered batter in there Something I've done so many times before, no biggie. Several hours later, I pulled out the batter and the minute my hand touched the bowl, I knew I was in for an unpleasant surprise- the bowl felt HOT. Not warm and cozy and just right for the micro-beasts to go about their busy job of fermentation, but too warm and feverish. Sure enough, the batter had not risen. The bulb in this oven seems to be heating it up more than I anticipated.

We made dosas with the batter anyway. When the fermentation doesn't go well, dosas just aren't that tasty. I quickly decided to make a chutney to add some oomph to our dinner. This powdered chutney (podi) is one I've wanted to try for some months. It is a crunchy, sweetish Bangalore style chutney that I first tasted from the famous Subbamma Stores in Bangalore via a care package sent by Vani. Then Jayasri commented that she had posted a recipe for this chutney on her blog. Oh, joy!

I made the chutney in minutes, eyeballing all the ingredients and substituting what I had on hand.

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a pan. On low heat, gently roast urad dal, chana dal, mustard seeds, curry leaves, dried red chillies, asafetida, dry coconut flakes.

Let the roasted mixture cool. Then grind to a coarse powder, adding salt, tamarind paste and jaggery.

Even with my rather quick and dirty method, I was thrilled with the taste and texture of the chutney. I'll be making it often as I try to regain my idli batter mojo. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dale's Tales

It has been a long day so I'll let the pictures do the talking today...

Good friends and constant companions

Sunbathing in the yard

Friday, November 09, 2012

I Love Lists

I'm sitting here making lists. They're my way of keeping things under control. I have a grocery shopping list, a list for other things we need to buy (new home stuff like a guest bed and a rake), and there's a long to-do list for this weekend. There's something so satisfying about crossing things off a list- you feel so self-satisfied and productive somehow.

I love reading lists too. When I see a blog post titled "5 ways to...", "7 ideas for...", "10 things that...", you can bet I'll click through and read it. I need to work on more list posts for this blog! Meanwhile, on this Friday night, here is a list of 10 inspiring and informative posts from other blogs that will leave you listless no more.

1. Tiny Buddha: 6 powerful questions that will change your life forever
2. The Simple Dollar: 100 things to do during a money-free weekend
3. Happiness Project: 7 ways to be happier at home
4. Apartment Therapy: 5 DIY play kitchens
5. Unclutterer: 8 ways to cut clutter from your communication
6. Young House Love: Momma's closet (7 tips)
7. The Kitchn: 15 tips for better weekly meal planning
8. Flypaper: 100 "must read" picture books
9. Apartment Therapy: 25 green cleaning recipes
10. Cooking with Siri: 100 favorite Diwali recipes

Are you as fond of lists as I am? 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Colorful Game, and Brainstorming Gift Ideas

Another day, another craft project. This is a simple game that I made for a friend's 2 year old. It is a "busy bag"- a game that fits into a small bag, portable and ready to entertain a toddler for 15 minutes while you're out and about.

This popsicle color matching game is inspired by ones I saw here and here.

Making it was SO much fun. From the craft store I bought wide popsicle sticks, a set of markers (sketch pens) and 6 sheets of stiffened felt in colors that matched the markers. This felt was made from plastic bottles.

I cut each sheet of felt into quarters (this means you get 4 popsicles from each sheet of felt). Each quarter was then cut in half. Then I rounded off the top of each piece to form a popsicle shape. I hand-sewed together the round edge of two popsicle layers using good old blanket stitch and viola, the popsicle top was ready. For the sewing averse, hot glue could be used.

Then I colored the sticks with the markers and we're ready to play.

I adore the ideas for so-called quiet-books and busy bags. They are homespun activities for young ones and a refreshing change from screen-based and battery-operated games. And these simple games exercise the imagination. This popsicle set can be used for color matching but also for counting and for all kinds of pretend play like operating a popsicle stand. It is also fun that this particular game can have various levels of play for kids of different ages. This simplest one is about color. The next level would have names of colors written in black marker on the sticks and the child has to read the word and match the color. The third level would have flavors written on the stick, like "cherry", "chocolate" and the child has to match the right flavor to the color.

I love making handmade gifts, so when Sangeetha requested ideas for homemade gifts with an Indian touch to give during the holidays, I was thrilled to brainstorm for her. Sangeetha, here are a few ideas; see if any of them appeal to you.

1. A homemade spice mix, such as tandoori spice rub or garam masala, along with a couple of very easy recipes for using the spice.

2. Assam tea (either tea bags or loose tea) along with chai concentrate. (I used to keep this chai concentrate in the office fridge and it really was delicious.) I also thought this tea bag wreath is a nice gift for a group of tea drinkers, such as an office kitchen or teachers' lounge.

3. If you like to bake, you could make something with an Indian touch, such as coconut saffron macaroons (I've tried this recipe- it is easy, you can read my notes in the linked post, and they turn out great) or nankhatai.

4. Block prints always remind me of pretty Indian cotton fabrics. Fabric paints can be used to make designs on plain tote bags or dishtowels. I personally adore the simple prints made with okra. Maybe your son will want to help with lego prints. Martha Stewart mag had a nice feature on block prints made with unexpected everyday materials.

5. If you can find decorative handmade paper from India (many high-end craft stores carry it), you can use it to decorate picture frames or make coasters using ceramic tiles.  

Are you making any homemade gifts for this holiday season?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Fast Food for Baby

Swapna requested a post on homemade Indian foods for baby, so here's a quick post listing some of the foods that Lila has enjoyed since she started eating solids. A few are specific to Indian cuisine and others are not. This post comes with a giant disclaimer. I have no expertise in children's nutrition and write this only as a parent with limited experience (sample size = 1). So consider your child's needs, your doctor's recommendations and your own instincts when using this information.

Lila started eating solids little by little at 6.5 months of age, and now at 13 months, she eats almost everything we do, including 3 sit down meals a day. We've fed her using a combination of purees (spoon-feeding) and offering her chunks of soft food to eat with her own hands, which is often termed baby-led weaning.

Banana pieces: Fast Food for baby
1. Two instant foods that need no work other than cubing or mashing are banana and avocado. I was always leery of buying avocados because more than half the time, I'd end up with one that was brown and yucky inside and cringe at the waste. Then  I started following this tip when shopping for avocados and I've enjoyed perfect avocados since.

2. Whole-milk yogurt, whether homemade or store-bought is another instant food. It can be mixed with cereal. It can be eaten by itself. Best of all, it can be stirred into any ripe fruit puree (peach, banana, berries) to make a delicious fruit yogurt.

3. Sweet potato can be cooked in the microwave in 3 minutes or so. It can also be steamed or pressure-cooked while you're cooking something else.

4. Home-made applesauce: Peel and chop apples, cook with a small amount of water until tender. Break down using an immersion blender for a smooth puree or a masher (the kind we use to make pav bhaji) for a chunky puree. Season with a little cinnamon or apple pie spice if you want. I also make pear sauce and a pear-apple sauce the exact same way.

5. Breakfast Oatmeal: I cook apples like above, then add old-fashioned oats in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Mash to make a delicious breakfast. I make 3 or 4 portions at once and refrigerate. If a little fiber is needed in the diet, add a chopped dried prune- you'll get quick results every time if you know what I mean.

6. Khichdi: I cook rice and moong dal together with lots of vegetables. Lila has always enjoyed tasty food and I season the khichdi with some combination of the following: curry leaves, turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin. Using different combinations of vegetables and spices, you can make a hundred different khichdis using the same basic method. I serve this with a generous dollop of homemade ghee.

7. Vegetable soup: Another family favorite and can be made a hundred different ways using different vegetables and flavorings. My standard combo is {carrots, onion, potato, tomato}.

8. Upma and idlis are two other Indian dishes that can be shared by the baby and the rest of the family.

9. By now, Lila is eating everything that we are. In fact, most of the time she wants to eat it directly off of my plate. I am not making separate meals for her. Instead, I make our regular food but make sure I go easy on the salt and chilli powder. We grown-ups can always add more salt to our portions and eat some pickle or hot chutney on the side to amp up the flavor if necessary (in my case, always). Here's an example of what I made last night: chickpea curry with sweet potato. I scooped out chickpeas and sweet potato pieces onto Lila's plate and she fed herself.

Recently, I came across these guidelines by a nutritionist: Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding Children. They nicely articulated what I think is my general philosophy for feeding my child. Children change all the time so I'm taking it one day at a time and offering Lila what I believe are tasty, wholesome foods and hoping she enjoys them.

I was a very poor eater as a child and I remember a fair amount of scolding, blame and tension at the dinner table until I finally grew out of it as a teenager and now it is quite obvious that I am the exact opposite of a poor eater. So if you have a picky eater at home, take a deep breath and know that it is entirely possible that he/she will grow up to enjoy every vegetable that grows on this green earth and maybe write a food blog as well.

If you have meal ideas that your babies have enjoyed, please add them in the comments!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

What are you reading?

One of the first things I did when I arrived here in our new town was to get myself a public library card. It is a nice library and I particularly like their children's programming. But they don't allow magazines to be checked out- bummer. Flipping through yummy magazines is my favorite way to kill an hour here and there.

Here's what I am reading. I just started Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. It is a bestselling classic written in 1938. Now, I generally prefer reading contemporary works, and this one is supposed to be in the romantic suspense genre, whatever that means. But I suppose romantic suspense is still more entertaining than the particularly unromantic suspense of election night.

Other books in my stack are-

Lidia's Italy in America by Lidia Bastianich: This is the companion cookbook to the PBS series that I've watched quite a bit. I'm enjoying the essays on various Little Italy neighborhoods in the US, and I plan to try a recipe from this book before this month is out.

Plastic Free by Beth Terry: A very interesting and informative book by a woman who took on the challenge of banishing plastic from her life. I'll need to devote a whole post to this one.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear: I haven't started this one yet but I am so excited, because if it is good, then I have a whole new cozy mystery series to read!

What are you reading these days? 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Taking Stock

Priti asked me how (and how often) I keep track of everything in my pantry. It has been mere days since I moved into this new kitchen so it is a question that's very much on my mind.

Some people are very organized by nature and others struggle with it. Like most people, I'm somewhere in the middle. But I'm always looking to become better organized, especially in the kitchen, because if you cook on a regular basis, you save precious minutes every time if you're not working in near-chaos. Investing a little bit of time in organizing the kitchen yields good returns. You'll end up with more time to do meaningful things. Or in my case to watch more reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Whichever.

In the kitchen, stuff falls into two categories: the hardware (appliances, gadgets, tools, cookware) and the consumables (the edible stuff: everything in the fridge, freezer, pantry, spice racks etc.) Here's my approach to keeping track of the consumables. The principle is the oldie-but-goodie: A place for everything and everything in its place.

1. List all the places where the consumables will be stored. In my new kitchen, the list looks like this:

Main areas
  • Fridge
  • Freezer
  • Pantry (cabinet)
Smaller areas
  • Corner cabinet with built in Lazy Susan
  • Tiny shelf
  • Shelf in a closet outside the kitchen
For the average person, it is unlikely that you can keep track of more than 6-8 areas so don't spread out the consumables more than you need to. These areas will contain all the edible items in your home.

2. Designate what food goes in each area. Within each area, create zones where things are grouped together in a logical way. This way you know where everything is while you're cooking and also when something is running low or used up.

Main areas
  • Fridge: Here, I group milk, yogurt, beverages together. All the cooked (ready to eat) food is in one spot and all the ingredients (say, half an onion, or a half-used jar of pasta sauce or container of tomato puree) are all together. All the cheeses are together etc.
  • Freezer: Ditto- the prepared foods are all together and frozen veg are in one spot etc.
  • Pantry: This has zones for flours, lentils and beans, oils, noodles and pasta, canned goods, baking supplies (powder sugar, cocoa) and so on. 
Smaller areas
  • Corner cabinet with built in Lazy Susan: This has all my spices, plus cans of curry paste and the smaller baking supplies like vanilla extract and baking powder.
  • Tiny shelf: This has tea, coffee, salt and sugar.
  • Shelf in a closet outside the kitchen: Here I keep all the stuff I buy in bulk (like big bags of toor dal) from which I replenish the containers in the kitchen.
I'm describing all this just as an example. You'll want to group foods according to what's convenient and logical for you- for instance, by cuisine. But take a look at each and every consumable you own and make a conscious decision about where its home should be.

3. Know that you can only store as much food as can fit comfortably in the space available. The key word is "comfortably". If things are piling on top of each other, if you reach for one thing and other things come crashing down, if you have to remove 20 things to reach the last thing in the back, these are clear signs that you're crowding your space. Be honest with yourself. If you don't use something, use it up, give it away or toss it. It is simply leading to more waste by being there and cluttering your space. Consumables should be easily accessible or else they will never be used.

4. Keep pen and paper handy in the kitchen. Any time you're using the last bit of something, jot it down. This running shopping list will make sure you're stocking your kitchen on a continuous basis.

5. Before you go shopping every week, take a look at what you have on hand. Come up with meal ideas to use up anything that's been sitting around for a while (a big jar of tahini, in my case).

6. Twice a year (I typically do this in Spring and Fall), do a pantry eat-down where you try to consume a lot of the food on hand and do a thorough cleaning.

This post probably sounds very OCD but it is a system that works- it has worked for me for many years in different kitchens. How do you keep stock of things in your kitchen?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Noodles and Tofu

It's day 4 of NaBloPoMo and I'm putting the food back into the food blog. Jui requested quick and simple weeknight dinners and I think our dinner from last night fits the criteria.

Noodles and tofu are on my dinner menu when I'm craving Asian take-out, which is all too often. This dinner comes together very quickly but you do have 3 pots and pans to use: one to boil the noodles, another to fry the tofu and the third to saute the vegetables.

I have certain recipes that unabashedly use short-cuts for an otherwise made-from-scratch meal. This meal uses one such short-cut- Trader Joe's Soyaki sauce (soyaki is a word they made up. You know Trader Joe's and their dorky sense of humor). It is a vegan sauce with an ingredient list that is something like this: soy sauce, sugar, crushed garlic, sesame seeds, soybean oil, ginger puree, white vinegar, soy powder, sesame oil, garlic granules, minced onion, onion powder, ginger powder. Clearly it would be very easy to either make this sauce at home or to add the ingredients to the recipe as I go along. But like I said, I keep a bottle of this stuff handy. It is tasty, I don't have to think and we can have a good meal even when time and patience is in short supply. So feel free to use this or another brand of teriyaki sauce, or make your own (there are dozens of recipes on the internet).

1. Marinate the tofu: A couple of hours ahead of dinner time, drain the water from a package of extra firm tofu. Cut the tofu into bite sized slabs and pat them dry with a clean dish towel. Douse the tofu slabs liberally with the teriyaki sauce (1/4 cup or so). Let them marinate for an hour or two.

2. Boil noodles: About 30 minutes before dinner, put up some water to boil and cook noodles (any kind- Asian or Italian; this time I used whole wheat spaghetti). If you don't want to use noodles, have some cooked rice or quinoa handy.

3. Saute vegetables: In a wok or cast iron saute pan, heat some oil and saute lots of vegetables. Shredded cabbage, sliced peppers, mushrooms, onions, green beans, carrots all work well here. When the vegetables are crisp-tender, add some teriyaki sauce and peanut butter. Stir to make a nice creamy sauce coating the vegetables. Toss in the cooked noodles and a handful of chopped cilantro or green onions.

4. Finally, pan fry the tofu: Dust 2 tbsp. cornstarch into the bowl in which the tofu is marinating. Mix it in gently so the sauce-cornstarch mixture coats the tofu slabs. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a large non-stick pan. Add the tofu in a single layer and fry it on both sides until golden brown. The cornstarch will form a wonderful crispy coating on the tofu.

Serve at once. Add some sriracha sauce to taste. Dig in!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Playing with Food: Felt Pizza Costume

Suparna requested a tutorial for the pizza costume that Lila wore on Halloween, so here it is!

When I started toying with ideas for a costume for Lila, the requirements were (1) it should be quick and easy to make, using mostly materials that I already have on hand and (2) it should be very easy to put on and not be too cumbersome or she wouldn't want to wear it at all. 

The material I had on hand was lots of felt in an off-white color. It had been purchased for another project a few months ago which I never ended up doing. I also had sheets of colorful felt. The inspiration came from this post. I thought the costume looked adorable and simple to make. Also, it is food themed which is always a plus as far as I am concerned. And who doesn't love pizza? I much prefer these cute costumes to the scary ghoulish ones.

One way to make this costume is to have a front and back with a head opening, so the kid is sandwiched between the front and back of the pizza. Mine is a bib style which simply ties around the neck. This costume is very easy to make even for someone who is completely new to sewing, and really fun because you get to customize the toppings!

{Please click on pictures to see the larger versions}

My pizza slice had three layers. One was the back (plain felt), the top was the one you see with the toppings and to give some "body" to the costume, I added a layer of sturdy interfacing in the middle. In a pinch, you could use a piece of cardstock for the middle too. 
  • Measure across the child's shoulders. 
  • Sketch out a pizza-slice shaped triangle on a paper using this length as the base of the triangle. 
  • Cut the pizza triangle from the paper to make a template. 
  • Cut out one piece of felt and one piece of interfacing using this template. 
  • For the third piece, the topping, cut a strip of brown felt, a wavy strip of red felt and the rest of the triangle from off-white felt and sew those together (machine or simple running stitch) as shown.

  • Now the really fun part- make the toppings. The toppings can all be cut out of felt and glued to the pizza. Just for fun, I made some of them (tomatoes and onions) using crochet just to give it a more three dimensional look. I pasted the felt toppings using ordinary white glue (you might need to weigh it down and leave to dry overnight). A glue gun could also be used. The crocheted toppings were sewn on.

  • Now the top layer is done. Sew the three layers together using blanket stitch on the edges. I used this video tutorial to teach myself blanket stitch- very easy and fun to do. If you don't want to sew, the layers could also be glued together. I personally love the finished look from the blanket stitch.
  • Finally, sew on pieces of ribbon to be used as ties.
Wear your pizza proudly!

Another cute and simple felt costume: chocolate chip cookie.

And that concludes day 3 of NaBloPoMo. What are you doing this weekend?

Friday, November 02, 2012

How to Win Friends and Be Influenced by People

Yesterday's post seems to have touched a chord for a reader who commented about how hard it can be to make new friends and form a community. Friendship for us humans is a very powerful and fundamental concept. It is not simply a matter of having someone to hang out with on a Friday night. Close friendships and social interactions are downright essential for health.

Making friends is not a trivial task. I read a post a couple of months ago that generated a lot of discussion in the comments. In real life too, this comes up often in conversation, about how we made friends quickly in school and college but now it seems to be harder for some reason.

The post title is written in humor; I'm certainly no expert at the art of making friends. But I have a good track record or perhaps a very lucky streak and have ended up with the loveliest friends you can imagine, and some of these friendships have lasted for decades across continents. Like falling in love, finding a best friend is not something you can really plan or predict, but you can certainly create conditions that attract good people into your life. For what it's worth, here are some things I've noticed about forming friendships. Some of these lessons came the hard way, by making mistakes and losing some friends along the way. You live and learn, right? 

How strangers and acquaintances become friends:

1. Be interested in people. Not in a nosy way, but in a way where you want to hear their story and know what their life is like. Some people have such a talent for this. I remember a former neighbor (50-something woman in St. Louis) telling me that she was on the phone with a computer tech person in a call center in India. While they were on the phone waiting for her computer to reboot, she starts chatting with this guy, asking him about how he likes his job and about his life and what he dreams of doing. Instead of fretting and fuming about her computer problem and about having to be on the phone with tech support for an hour, she ended up with a very friendly cross-cultural conversation! The guy told her about the job he really wanted and the girl he liked. And he successfully fixed her computer too.

2. Be a good listener: My BFF Neighbor Girl is the best listener I know. Because, you know, she actually listens instead of using that time to think of the next thing to say (which is what I'm guilty of doing). We can have an hour long chat where I casually mention that I have a meeting with my boss on Wednesday, and the following week, you can bet she'll ask me, so how did your meeting go?

3. Be a cheerleader: To make a friend, you have to be a friend. This means cheering on your friends, celebrating their big and small achievements, supporting their dreams. Competition and jealousy kills friendships instantly. You have to be genuinely happy for your friends' joys, and genuinely sad when things go wrong. Success is not a zero sum game.

4. Know yourself: Once I realized that I get uncomfortable and uncharacteristically shy in large groups, I sought out smaller gatherings. Putting myself in an environment that brings out the best in me is more conducive to forming friendships. Personally, I'm at my very best in one-on-one conversations.

5. Be a good person: I don't know how else to say this but the world likes people who are kind and genial and who have a big heart. That's why my husband makes friends easily- because people like him.

6. Open your home: V and I have always kept an open door policy. We don't care that our home often has dog hair everywhere, we never got around to decorating and the furniture doesn't match. People know they can knock on the door and be invited in and offered tea or a hot meal. There's always room at our table and we always have time to sit and talk with a friend. I remember V had a new colleague joining his workplace years ago. The colleague and his wife and baby were coming to St. Louis to look for an apartment- he asked them to stay with us. We had no guest room, just a couch with a very uncomfortable pull out bed. But they came and stayed and we became the best of friends. When Lila came along a few years later, we did not have to buy any baby clothes or toys or even a bassinet- these kind people handed down tons of great stuff from their daughter. My last night in St. Louis, Lila and I stayed at their home. How things come full circle.
      With Neighbor Girl too, she was my downstairs neighbor and we ran into each other walking our dogs and in the elevator etc. But one day we were having a conversation in the elevator, and instead of saying "bye now" when the elevator reached her floor, I said, "want to come in for a cup of tea?". Imagine what I would have missed if I had ended the conversation and gone on to my very important (and completely forgettable) chores for the day.

7. Be responsive: Choose a mode of communication- e-mail, phone, texts- and make sure your friends can reach you and communicate easily with you. When you communicate, mean what you say and say what you mean.

8. Connect through common interests: Some of my closest friends I've met through blogging and knitting and community gardening. Join a group, take classes, start a club, show up at a community event and you'll find like-minded people and friendships will blossom. Also, these are often friendships with people who are of very different backgrounds or ages than yourself, which is such an enriching experience. Of course, pets and kids are the common thread for forming deep friendships that go beyond doing stuff with the kids or the dogs. So get a dog! From a shelter for extra good karma! Walk it around the neighborhood and make some friends. No, seriously, we've made so many friends through Dale.

9. Volunteer: Again, choose a cause that you love. While you're stuffing envelopes for a political cause, or grooming shelter animals or cooking in a community kitchen (as I was when I met my friend Bek), you'll meet nice people that are worth knowing.

10. Don't put up with bullshit: You have to be your own best friend. If ever you find a friendship getting toxic, sucking more out of you than you put in, walk away. You should know how to set down boundaries and no one will ever be able to mess with you. 

11. Don't be a drama llama: Forget the gossip and back-biting. Drama is for books and TV. There's usually enough drama through relatives (whom you don't get to choose, alas) and in the workplace. Friendships should be about support and joy. These are people you get to choose, for crying out loud.

12. Cook! Forget what I said above, THIS is the real secret to making friends. Learn to cook and they will adore you for life. They'll put with all your personality faults. And then you can distribute love in the form of soup, chana masala and pans of brownies. 

Now, your turn: tell me your best stories about making friends.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Starting from Scratch

Lila as a slice of veggie lover's pizza: Halloween 2012
A few weeks ago, I left St. Louis with a heavy heart. We called it home for nearly 6 years (2006-2012) and they were some wonderful years. The funny thing is that I arrived in St. Louis with no intention of liking it at all. I left with a little more humility and a good life lesson in giving everything a chance and not making too many assumptions.

Six years ago, V beat me to the graduate school finish line by a few months and got dibs on choosing the next place we would move to. He found this job that he really really wanted to take in St. Louis. He had job offers in Seattle and Chicago too, and I was appalled that he wanted to move to St. Louis. I knew nothing about the place. Most of our New York City friends has a low opinion of the Midwest in general. A cousin of mine had attended a year of college and St. Louis and told me, "Oh, it's a wonderful sports town- great baseball". "But I hate sports", I bawled. In the end, I agreed to move to St. Louis knowing that it would only be for a few years. I made up my mind to tolerate it and get out of there as soon as possible. All this was before I had even set foot in the place.

My very first connection to St. Louis was Alanna of A Veggie Venture. Back then, there were not as many food bloggers and we all seemed to know each other quite well. I reached out tentatively to Alanna and mentioned that I was moving to her town. From then on, things started looking up rapidly. When we flew to St. Louis for a weekend to look for a rental apartment, Alanna invited us home to dinner. This is fairly typical among food bloggers and other close virtual communities. You've never met this person before, but they invite you into their home and feed you. Then it is like you've known them all your life. That same visit, V's future boss and his family took us out for dinner too. Sensing the genuine warmth of those connections was an auspicious start. I suddenly got a feeling that everything was going to be just fine and of course, it was more than fine.

The first time we met, Alanna told me these words of wisdom that she heard from her friends who've lived in a dozen different places: When you move to a new town, invest in the place as if you're only going to be there for 6 months but invest in the people as if you'll be there for a lifetime.

We definitely tried to follow this advice. Over the years we built ourselves such a vibrant community in St. Louis; I'll have to tell you about my interesting friends in another post. And we went out and did lots of fun stuff- saw all sights and attended all the events we could.

I have absolutely and without a doubt loved my years living in the megacities of Mumbai and New York City but there are many not-so-great things about living in a big city. Often, the cost of living is so expensive that you have to work ridiculous hours and have little time to relax. The traffic and distances can keep you from going places within the city. The congestion and the noise can be mind-numbing. I would say that St. Louis is a "Goldilocks" city: not too big, not too small; just right. Big enough that you have plenty of things to do, restaurants to try but small enough that you can actually find time to do these things. Small enough that you can afford to live near work and not have to battle traffic on a daily basis. Big enough to support useful businesses like a cloth diaper service. Small enough that you can barely enter a grocery store without running into someone you know.

When the time came to leave and move to yet another unknown town, I can assure you that I did so with a more optimistic and happy heart. We have to build a community from scratch but I think we'll manage. Well, we don't even really have to start from scratch. When V was being recruited for this job, we were blown away by the warmth and generosity of his future colleagues. They became our first local friends. Then a friend in St. Louis introduced us to his good friends who live here, and now this couple and their two little girls have become our friends. One of my best friends from high school lives only 45 minutes away and I'll get to see her on occasional weekends. And V's niece lives an hour away- she's in her early twenties and Lila adores her just as we do. That's a solid community already. 

Yesterday was Halloween- a day when it is socially sanctioned to visit the neighbors, at least, the ones who welcome trick or treaters by keeping their porch lights on. So we took Lila (in her costume as you can see at the start of this post) and went over and met a couple of our neighbors, who warmly welcomed us to the neighborhood and told us they love it here. And so the community hopefully grows.

By the way, this was my first post for National Blog Posting Month. See everyone who's participating here. There will be a new post on One Hot Stove every day this month. Leave a comment if you have a post topic to suggest.