Sunday, June 29, 2014

Understanding and Appreciating Ramadan.

We moved to Dubai a year and three months back. It was both an unexpected and a sudden move but one that we welcomed. They say that there are two gifts that you should give a child. One is roots and the other is wings. Moving to a country that is unfamiliar to you, experiencing a new way of living, becoming one of “them” and making it your home is part of the roots and wings course.

In little more than a year, home for Sara means only one place on the globe; Dubai. What do you like about Dubai we ask her? I love that park with swings, all my “best friends” are here, I like going to the beach (with truckloads of beach toys), I love my school because it is the best in the world, she says. UAE is my favorite country in the world,she adds. I smile. What is home after all; a place where you are surrounded by friends & family and where you make memories and this is exactly what my five year old is happy doing. Dubai is her home.

There is another side to it though and that is embracing the culture of the country you start calling home and ever since we moved to Dubai we are helping her do that. Be it learning the national anthem of UAE or taking baby steps to learn Arabic. Social science lessons at school were very pretty interesting this month where she studied both India and UAE and it made me grin with joy that the school was making her revisit her roots and helping her understand and see UAE closer.

Last year during Ramadan we were not in the city. This year things are a little different;  we are here, Ramadan has come much earlier, Sara has graduated from kindergarten and is a “big girl” now which means she can understand and appreciate Ramadan more than she could the year before. At school the children were taught about Ramadan and how some of her Muslim friends might be keeping their first Ramadan and it would be nice to support them.

We too have been discussing the significance of this holy month with her. I want her to understand why this month is so special for all her friends who are observing it and how she can be a part of this.

A couple of weeks back she got an opportunity to be a part of the Haq-Al-Lailah celebrations here where she received dates and sweets from some of our friends and we made fruit bars to share with everyone. We also had a little chat with her about the why’s and what’s of Haq-Al-Lailah. I am looking forward to doing the same with her for Ramadan and ofcourse Eid. I’d like her to appreciate the traditions associated with Ramadan and how sharing and giving are the fundamental principles behind it. Just like during Diwali when we share what we have with the less fortunate and thank God for what we he has blessed us with I’d like her to do her own little bit this year during this month of introspection, charity and gratitude.

Here’s what we have planned. 
  • She is going to be giving away toys and clothes (some new and some old) that belong to her to the needy. Giving away what is hers will make her understand that sharing is about having a big heart. 
  • She has a little piggy bank where she has been collecting coins for over a year now. It is not a huge amount but they are a invaluable for her. They are hers. We are going to take some of them and buy some icecreams or a candies or a doughnuts (clearly her list and not mine :)) for some children who have never had one for no childhood is complete without licking a lollipop or licking the ice-cream off your lips. 
  • Sara loves to bake and we have planned an entire afternoon of baking some yummy goodies that we are going to pack in pretty boxes and give away as gifts to both the underprivileged and our lovely neighbours for only when you make something with your own hands you realize the amount of work that goes into making someone happy. Sharing them with her neighbors and friends will teach her the importance of building a community spirit.
All of the above are really simple gestures for often simple is most meaningful.

I also came across some lovely books for the kids for the Non-Muslim expat children to understand Ramadan better. They ofcourse are great for kids who are observing their first Ramadan this year as well.
My little chefling & I wish all those who are observing Ramadan; Ramadan Kareem and are sharing a healthy recipe we often make at home. Also here is a little gift to all those little kids who are fasting with their mums and dads this year. 
A countdown calendar of sorts to encourage them and reward them for nothing excites a kid more than a star sticker (take it from me). You could print this and give your little one a star sticker at the end of the day for being able to complete their fast successfully and ofcourse to keep a track of how many days until Eid :)

Brown rice, spinach and pomegranate salad
This power packed wholesome salad is a great way to introduce your children to the joy of eating brown rice and green leaves.  It is a salad but doesn’t quite feel like a salad for it has rice and kids love rice. There are dates and peaches take care of the sweetness that they love and cutting down any little bitterness from baby spinach. In addition this one pot meal has the goodness of the coconut oil, the anti-oxidant properties of turmeric & pomegranate and the vitamins and minerals from dates and ofcourse the good fats from the peanuts. Just what the little bodies will need after a day of fasting.

Ingredients (Makes 4 large portions)
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 tsp coconut nut oil
  • 1/8th  tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar or any other of your choice
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp sumac or any dry herb available
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 cup peaches or any stone fruit
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 100 grams baby spinach
  • 1 cup salted peanuts

Instructions:
  1. Cook the brown rice according to instructions on the pack. Simply add turmeric to the water in which you are going to cook it.
  2. Combine the vinegar, olive oil, 1 tsp of sumac, salt, chilli flakes, lemon juice and salt if using to make the dressing.
  3. To the dressing, add the dates, red onion, nectarine, pomegranate seeds and leave it to develop flavours.
  4. Place the spinach in a large salad bowl.
  5. Just before serving, dress the salad. Add the boiled rice. And mix gently Sprinkle the remaining sumac and the peanuts and shake some extra olive oil on top if you like. 

Images : Personal Album. All images belong to orangekitchens and are subject to copyright. The printable is only for personal use. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Do you believe in fairies?

The first thing I like to do when I switch on my laptop each morning is to have a look at the google doodle and this morning was no different.

The doodle read "International Fairy Day". Frankly speaking I had no idea that a day like this existed and I don't really "observe" these days. But then I thought why not? My little chefling is obsessed with fairies and it would be fun to make a fairy day snack for her when she returns from school today. I am going to have to think about what I am going to make for her but for now I'd love to share this Garden Fairy Birthday Party we had for her 5th birthday (five months back). Some of you lovely readers who also meet me at my other blog might have seen this before. 

If you're little girl like mine believes that there are fairies hiding in the garden and looks for them every evening  or loves to read fairy stories and you're planning to indulge in some fairy DIY today or planning a fairy theme party then you might enjoy reading this post :)

I think for just one day we too can pretend to be children and believe in the magic of fairies and the sparkle that the unknown holds.
________________________________________________________________________________

The girl has been obsessed with garden fairies for over two years now, so much so that she even wears her wings while sleeping and pretends that she lives in a toadstool! So the theme was pretty much pre-decided and like always we had a small get together at home just the way my mom did. Handcrafting everything right from the invitation card to the décor, cooking every little morsel and keeping it sweet and really small; sharing the day with six of her “best friends”.

Pink just had to be there was the little girl’s request and pink there was. What is a garden fairy party without some green and ofcourse the fairy and that was the starting point. 
We had very simple pink invitation cards for each of her friends with lots of sparkle and doilies with a short and sweet message inviting the fairies into the enchanted garden (Free printable from here).
I didn't really have to buy anything for the party decor because one there was enough to “shop” from Sara’s room and two, I handcrafted the rest.
At the entrance we had Sara’s blackboard with the line, “Do you believe in fairies?” and fairy lights from her room. She also had a pinwheel that had a cute flowery print which added a whimsical touch to the vignette.
I must mention here that each time Sara passed by the blackboard (before and after the party) she read the question and declared loudly to no one in particular, “Yes, I do!” and then broke into a big smile :)
Each of the little fairies were handed over their wings upon entering the home and I have to say that with seven little girls fluttering away I really didn't need any decor because all eyes were on them.
For a while they enjoyed playing in Sara’s room, post which I had two fun games planned for them.

One was a garden fairy version of the musical chairs. Musical Toadstools. I cut out several red circles out of thick handmade paper and then pasted smaller white circles on it so that they resembled toadstools. They not only looked cute on the green carpet (once again from Sara’s room) for they looked like toadstools on grass but also I didn't have to worry about arranging seven chairs!
And the little fairies looked so cute standing around/on it. Each fairy was given a magic wand when she had to leave the toadstool to go to her Fairy Godmother (their respective mums). It worked for we had seven happy faces because everyone won and it was not a competition where only one took back the prize. The wands actually came with the wings that I had given earlier (sorry I don’t have pictures but they were just like the pink wings). 
For my little birthday fairy who was in her white wings I handcrafted a wand that would go with her dress and the invitation card. Some twine around a chopstick, a doily, a handcrafted rose and some pink and green strings (left from her third birthday) and it was ready. She loved it and that made me very happy.
Post that we had a treasure hunt of sorts where the girls sat on their toadstool mats and I handed them over pink bags to collect their little treasures that were hidden in the living area. I used small pink gift bags and simply pasted a doily cut in half to maintain the theme.

Each one got a turn to open the little box that contained the clues and their mums helped them to read and solve. Each clue took them to a little goodie box which had seven goodies each and the little fairy had to share her treasure with all the other fairies. It was really cute watching them all wide eyed and surprised and also sharing the goodies with their friends; making sure they didn't miss anyone.
The hidden treasures were:
  • Fairy dust (Bottle containing glitter)
  • Shiny rocks (M&Ms wrapped up in some foil and made to look like sparkly rocks)
  • Pixie kisses (Hershey’s kisses)
  • Fairy clouds (little bags of popcorn)
  • Gold coins (Chocolate gold coins)
  • Sparkly hairbands (the set of wings that the girls got upon entering came with the magic wands (which I distributed during the musical toadstools game) and the fairy hairbands. So basically I used each of the three elements separately through the party. Once again for the birthday fairy I handcrafted her hairband. I used some tulle from an old torn tutu of hers and some beads I had on hand and handmade flowers; all on an old hairband of hers which she instantly recognized and said but this is my old headband! Kids I tell you!)
And finally the last clue that led them to the birthday cake itself that I carried to the table at the end of the treasure hunt

By now the fairies had played enough and were famished and so where their mums. Except for the cake that I never make for her birthday for there are just too many things to prepare and look after that day and plus I don’t think I can ever match up to what Aya did for us , I made everything else at home.
Aya from Aya Cupcakes did a fabulous job on the cake. I had sent her picture of what Sara and I had selected and what a fabulous job she did. It was like my little girl sitting there.

Too pretty to touch?
We couldn't make ourselves eat that pretty fairy and once the party was over we made Sara hold her and clicked away.
Next to the cake is my alarm clock which I took the batteries out from and got the needles to represent her time of birth. A tiny easel with the card (a little variation of the invitation card, can you tell or is it just me!) that doubled up both as décor and a wishing card of sorts which we used to capture the lovely wishes from the guests and this AWESOME garden fairy terrarium that a dear friend made herself and gifted to my little girl.
It was a gift that was shouting handmade, creativity and gorgeousness. You guys know me well enough I am sucker for handcrafted goodness and I wanted to give my heart away in return.
Just check out that mini pinwheel, those little mushrooms and ofcourse the fairies. I had half a mind of stealing it away from Sara for my room! Actually to be honest I still have intentions of doing that. Don’t kids get bored of things after a while, please tell me I am right:)

But I digress. Coming back to the food the menu was garden fairyish, had to be.
  • Pixie punch (apple & orange juice for the kids and homemade mint lemonade for the mums)
  • Snail sandwiches (cream cheese & grated carrot sandwiches with cucumber for the antenna)
  • Toadstools (Cherry tomatoes sitting on cheese)
  • Garden veggies with yogurt dip
  • Butterfly Pasta (For no party is completed without pasta in the words of Sara. A simple farfalle in a homemade tomato, carrot and red bell pepper sauce)
  • A patch of grass (Sliced baguette with labneh, dill, mint, coriander, cherry tomatoes and cucumber silvers and chilli flakes for the mums)
  • Gnome bites with three kinds of dips (Falafel wraps with hummus and pickled cucumbers. Once again more for the mums than the kids. Though to my surprise the kids liked it as well)
  • Fairy clouds (Store bought candy floss)

And doilies once again for food labels.
We had a fun evening and we thanked our little guests with a pretty pink notebook and a magic wand pen (Just my luck that I saw it at a stationery store and had to pick those for party favors for they went so well with the dreamy fairy theme).
I used a simple brown paper (my favorite to wrap all kinds of gifts) and made these little green gift tags with doilies and some sparkly nail paint for some shimmer.
The notes read, "Thank You Fairy Much!"
Also, I used a recent snap of Sara that we took during the holidays when we visited a garden for the table that carried the wings, wands, return gifts and the treasure hunt bags. It was so appropriate and it made me super happy seeing her as the “I” amongst the colourful and vibrant words happy birthday. All made with flowers. 
I used an old frame that we didn't need any longer and painted it white, distressed it a bit with sandpaper and used a thread to hang her happy-happy birthday picture.
And like each year I wanted Sara & us to look back at the heartfelt wishes from each of the guests and we asked the guests to write down a little note for her. It sure will be both nostalgic and enjoyable years later when Sara and we sit down and go through it all.
I, of course needed something on the lines of an annual leave after her party but I had so much fun putting it all together. I told my sister may be that is the reason we decided to have a baby after all; to throw cutesy birthday parties!!

Each year after her birthday party I think to myself that I will now have to wait for one whole year to do this again and that kind of makes me sad. However this year my little girl who is not so little anymore but who enjoys putting parties together just like her mum, came to me the very same evening and asked, "Mamma, How many days for my sixth birthday?! "

And I laughed. My daughter!
"365", I said.

Images : Personal Album. All images belong to orangekitchens and are subject to copyright.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Food heaven inside a box: The Chef Box

Growing up the one day that I always looked forward to was my birthday. The day when I would jump out of my bed and mum and dad would immediately burst into Happy Birthday to you, hugging and kissing and giving a beautifully wrapped gift. The excitement of what was inside that shiny gift wrapper, the impatience of hurriedly getting past those zillion pieces of cello-tape and the hope that perhaps the box contains exactly what I had been wishing was that made the day even more special.
And then like all children do, I too became an adult. Most wrapped presents started getting replaced by let’s go and buy what you want taking the surprise out of the box and replacing it with the practicality of “doesn't it make more sense that you choose what you want”. Yes, it does and a part of me would love you to buy me that blue bag I have been secretly eyeing but another part of me what a surprise inside the box. Like the good old days when I was four feet something.
Come this June, when the team from The Chef Box got in touch with me, “We are putting together this surprise box for food lovers across the city and the box will contain several handpicked food and beverage products based on a theme. Would you be interested in trying it out?”
What kind of a question was that I thought? I am the kind of a wife when asked by her DH what would she like for her anniversary says my dream is to own a grocery store, can you buy me one? Really I said exactly this. And if you don’t trust me I could pass on my husband’s contact number.
So my answer was a resounding yes. New ingredients always come with both an element of surprise and a chance to be creative and I couldn't be happier.
Here’s what worked for me brilliantly and what I would like a little different.


Things that worked:
  • Loved the little note on top that read “Inspiring creativity”
  • It was like my birthday/Christmas came early. The excitement of what was hiding in that box under all those wood shavings had me dancing with joy at seven in the morning.
  • A great concept where you get acquainted with ingredients that are new in the market or what may be new to you. Food lover’s idea of heaven is meeting new ingredients and making friends with them, right?
  • An interesting mix of ingredients. From some that could be eaten/drank straight out of the box, to some which helped me prepare a meal in minutes (bottled sauces) to even basics like lentils.
  • The quantities of each of the products were very generous. Frankly speaking I had expected sample sized products to just introduce the subscriber to the products and help us make up our mind if we’d like to buy them the next time we are out shopping.
  • The box also contained a little booklet carrying a introductory note on the theme of the box, recipes that one could try with the enclosed products, product ads, contests, etc
  • The team asked me what time I would like the delivery to be made and the box was in my hands in the time band I had requested. Very impressive.
  • But most importantly new ingredients always help you get out of a cooking rut and bring back that excitement both in the kitchen & on the dining table.

Things that could definitely be spiced up a bit
  • Much as I appreciated the addition of the small book carrying recipes, contests, products adverts, etc I would have appreciated had the look been less commercial/in your face product catalogue type & more in line with the beautiful concept & the look of the Chef Box. You know I am happy to “meet” the products through your eyes but not so happy to meet them through those of the manufacturers'. Perhaps a little more information on the whats & whys of organic & sustainability, a story on why you chose the products you did because doesn't food really taste better when you know the story behind it? And ofcourse the very people making these products.
  • The box needs to be a bit sturdy and could be much smaller. It came with very many glass bottles and my fear was that had your colleague not been as careful as he was while delivering it they would have reached me all broken.
I want to stay away from reviewing each of the products because each month I am sure that I might fall in love with some of the products and not feel very warm towards others; the very essence of this box. Knowing more ingredients and then deciding which ones would a permanent place in your kitchen.Having said that, I quite liked the mix in this month's Going Organic box. The box had a lot of Thai products as well and since we love eating Thai at home those got extra points :)  


Would I recommend this box to family & friends & my lovely readers? Big YES. 
It is like a present you give yourself for being totally fabulous in the kitchen. Brilliant for gifting too.

Thank you Team Chef Box for making me a part of your journey. Every new journey comes with new challenges, teething problems, feedback, appreciation notes, pats on the back, hardwork, sleepless nights and I am sure you are getting all of that and more. Lots of wishes for the entire team.

Please note: All views expressed here are my own and The Chef Box invited me to try out this subscription service. 

Images : Personal Album. While you enjoy reading this post with visuals.Please do not use them without asking. They belong to Orange Kitchens unless otherwise stated.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Food lessons from Dad.

My dad rarely cooked for us. The kitchen was completely my mum’s territory. They were both working so it wasn't that she had more time to cook but it was simply that she just loved being in the kitchen and he loved her cooking (way too much). Still does. We are always teasing him about this.

Regardless of that like from mum, I learnt some invaluable lessons on food from my dad, who I call papa. Some wonderful memories; a buffet table spread of delectables.
  • If you have a couple of quick & solid recipes under your belt you will never sleep hungry. They may not be fancy or complicated but they should be able to provide you with comfort and warmth when you need it the most. They should also be able to fill up your little ones’ growling tummies till mum gets home. Dads’ listening?
  • At any given time it is completely normal to have at least three litres of icecream, about hundred ice lollies and a thousand kulfis in the freezer.
  • It is also normal to have the above in various combinations and permutations and call it dinner.
  • The same holds true for chaat. Allu tikkis, golgappas, chole bhature are all legitimate dinners.
  • When passing by a chaat place, always get all of the above packed for home. With mithai.
  • When your daughter gets married and happens to stay close by, make sure that you go running to her with her share of the chaat and take the rest home to share with your wife.
  • Making morning tea, filling up a water bottle and packing a lunch bag for your wife when she is running around fixing tiffins and dressing up for work goes to show that you love her,value her and respect her. All these gestures are way more precious than flowers & diamonds.
  • Dividing and sharing work in the kitchen doesn't make you less of a man. It is what real men do. She would cook and he would wash. She would set up the table and he would put it all away. They still do.
  • Telling (Read: Lying) your daughter that you loved what she cooked and actually finishing it while the rest of the family can’t even go past a spoonful of that weird looking concoction is unconditional love. Translated it means it may be the first time you cooked for everyone but is not the last.  
  • Years later when she grows up and has a lifelong affair with food and cooks you the same thing again make sure that you tease her about her first time and enjoy a good laugh with the entire family :) It was Khaosuey that I made that summer (without even trying to find the recipe) and it is something that I end up making the most for my family & friends. Thank you dad.
  • Porridge is always to be made in the pressure cooker. It is tastier and creamier. Also you somehow end up making an entire pressure cooker even though you set out to make just three bowls. Upside: You don’t have to make breakfast that entire week. Downside: You have to eat that very breakfast the entire week. Yes, that’s my dad.
  • Picnics are an important part of growing up. Impromptu ones. Planned ones too. We went for a lot of picnics; carrying mats, a picnic set that is still there with dad and I plan to steal it one day, balls and food. It taught me that food tasted much better when eaten on grass and shared with friends.
  • Even if you are a strict vegetarian you need to give your child the opportunity to try and the freedom to decide for herself. He doesn’t even eat eggs but I eat anything and everything that moves. The same choice should be given if you’re child decides to give up meat and the family eats meat.
  • Stale chapathi crushed between the palms of your hand till it get reduced to a fine powder and then cooked with lots of ghee and sugar is divine. It is called Choori and making that alone gives dad the status of a chef. So does making large glasses of fresh juice; orange & pomegranate for your family every weekend.
  • Simple meals are the best meals. Sometimes plain rice, yellow dal and pickle is all what you want and he taught me that such meals go a long way. Especially on days when you are really tired, want to put your feet up, keep your plate on your lap and eat quietly.
  • There is also another kind of quietness. The one where you wipe your plate clean without even lifting your eye from the plate or stopping to breathe or talking; a sign that you have truly LOVED the food. However this only works sometimes. Most days his little women made sure that they were generously complimented and so was their mum.
Thank you papa for everything. For giving me the freedom to make my own choices in food and in life, for being there with me and encouraging me when I failed in the kitchen or at college or at work and for appreciating every little thing I have ever made.

Happy Father’s Day.

Sara was asked to write this little note at school as a part of her Father’s Day week. Here’s what she had to say about her superhero.
 Please note we all MUST wear crowns and tiaras in each of her artworks. 
Very Royal:)
A very Happy Father's Day to all the superheroes.

Images : Personal Album. While you enjoy reading this post with visuals.Please do not use them without asking. They belong to Orange Kitchens unless otherwise stated. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Play Kitchen :DIY Inspiration

I mentioned in my last post that one of Sara's favourite game is playing kitchen. On weekends after she has had her breakfast she likes to "cook" me one. She gets me a cappuccino and a sunny side up with a waffle. An espresso for her dad. Always. If she is feeling a little generous then she throws in some "fresh fruit".
On other days she walks into the kitchen to check what is being made for dinner and then proceeds to recreate the same in her kitchen.
There are days when she likes to cook with pretend toys,play dough or anything that she can make look like real food. 
This one time she made me a chapati with paper with allu matar (potato & peas). Isn't this the prettiest chapati ever? 

Sara adores her play kitchen and spends countless hours standing at her kitchen counter. I promise to share the contents of her kitchen one of these days.
If any of you mommies and daddies are planning to make a play kitchen for your budding chef or chefette I came across some very creative & inspiring DIY play kitchens which I'd like to share with you today.

From old media cabinets to nightstands.













From coffee tables to a chairs.



From Ikea hacks to the rustic charm of a wooden crate.


Tons of inspiration for you if you are in the mood for some DIY. Does your little one have a play kitchen? I'd love to hear about it.

Images : 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,1213 and 14