Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to School and School Lunches

School started last Thursday after a long summer break. Yeah really long. I think I have talked about "long summer breaks" enough in my last 3 posts which spanned over 2 months, to ascertain that they are indeed long. You have probably also realized that of the 2 adults and 2 kids in my house, the one who was most depressed about "back to school" was me. But I couldn't complain much because after all I am the Mother and it is my joi de vivre towards new school year that is going to influence innocent young minds. So I took a couple of Prozac, three deep breaths and told them how exciting the year is going to be.

Not that the Prozac convinced me to really think that way. After all you need something much stronger to think, that a dreary stretch of 180 days where the morning alarm goes off at 5:30, is indeed exciting. Maybe Faith, resilience and a "positive attitude" will work. I have heard those are wonderful miracle workers and I need to find them ASAP.

So far, we have survived 56 7 school days. Bus for the new middle school-er comes at 7:15 in the morning. I have managed to not hit the snooze button more than 3 times and wake up latest by 5:45. Okay today actually it was 6:15 but everything still worked fine and no one missed the bus. I even carried my cup of tea to the bus stop which is right across our house and sipped my cha, enjoying the crisp morning air. This is actually the right moment when I should start worrying about  the bitter cold mornings of January, but I won't because the Prozac is probably working. Or maybe the deep breath.

And then bus for the new first grader comes right after 8. At this point I should have let out a loud wail as I shall never have both the sisters attending the same school and going by the same bus at the same time. NEVER.You understand how heartbreaking that is. But I will not wail as the deep breath is weaving magic.

Thankfully because of  all the early morning cacophony LS is all ready and raring to go by 8. The first day of her first grade I worried a lot. This would be the first full day school for her. Kindergarten was only half a day and though she did got to a full-day day care , it was only a couple of days a week. I was sure she would fall asleep in the bus or in class. For some inexplicable reason I also worried that she would not be able to find the restroom. Well, this does have roots in my own childhood but that story later. And then like all Bengali Mothers I worried that she would not eat lunch and go hungry.

The Goofy First Grader
Nothing like that happened. I am a chronic worrier. Not "warrior". But "worrier". I worry a lot and I am really amazed that the girls did not inherit this tiny code in my DNA. They do worry about things like whether the garage door has been shut and the front door locked at night, stuff I forget to worry about, but on other aspects they are much more fearless.No wonder they jump on all those amusement park rides that go high up in the air while I close my eyes tightly, clench my heart and recite "Hanuman Chalisa"

Mostly it was LittleSis's calmness that amazed me. Probably being the second born, my expectations from her are more flexible. She was a tad anxious the day before school started but I told her a funny story where everyone from the Principal to the lunch lady is anxious about school and that relaxed her.The next day she dressed and got ready all by herself and walked to the bus with a big smile. Her being able to navigate first grade with perfect ease and without a single melt down surprised me. Keeping my fingers crossed.**No Jinx**.

BigSis too seemed to take to middle school with elan except of course for the lockers.

"How was your homeroom teacher BigSis? Do you have homework?"

"She was great. But I got the top locker and I am not tall enough so I swapped for a bottom locker".

"Okay, how was the science lab?"

"Good but the lower locker got jammed and has a different combination.I need to have more practice with lockers. Don't you have one at home which I could open? Do you think I can skip lunch tomorrow and practice opening my locker instead?"

"Did you make any new friend?"

"You know there is this one girl who got a tiny chandelier and a pink furry rug for her locker"!!! And this is real. The girl even got a pink wallpaper for her locker

You would think middle school is all about lockers and lockers alone. After a few days of  locker swapping, jamming and what not it seems she is a pro on lockers.

The first few exciting days will slowly give way to more homework, tests and a routine. Things will start falling into place, five more minutes of sleep will be squeezed in and I will pack sloppier lunches.

Lunch Menu

The first week I tried to be very organized with a menu printed on the board. There were slight deviations from there but more or less we followed the norm. After school snacks included Mini Wontons from Costco, Milk, Maggi and eggs.

Day 1 -- Snack for LS -- Goldfish and mini oreo. Lunch -- Pasta with basil pesto + Honest kids Juice + Belvita cookies for BS

Day 2 -- Snack for LS -- Goldfish and mini oreo. Lunch -- Grilled Cheese sandwich + Honest kids Juice + slice of Date cake

Day 3 -- Snack for LS -- Grapes. Lunch -- Indian Style noodles with vegetables for both + slice of Date cake

Day 4 -- Snack for LS -- Pocky Sticks. Lunch -- Bagel with butter and Bagel with jalapeno cream cheese + plum + chicken nuggets

Day 5 -- Snack for LS -- Goldfish and mini oreo. Lunch -- Macaroni  + chocolate milk for LS and Date cake for BS

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Shob Phaler Achaar -- Mixed Fresh Fruit Chutney

Phaler Achaar -- Mixed Fresh Fruit Chutney
Shob Phaler Achaar -- Mixed Fresh Fruit Chutney
I have been away from the blog for a long while and believe me I missed it so much. I wanted to sit down and type something out every day and I had this kind of lurch in the pit of my stomach because I was procrastinating.And then again there was so much going on that it seemed sheer crazy to sit at the computer while life passed me by.

It has been a "happening August" here in the BongMom household with the girls' paternal grandparents visiting from India and then their aunt(pishi) and cousin joining in for a couple of weeks. The best part was that darling aunt had scheduled her holiday to coincide with LS's birthday which meant that birthday fun just doubled and tripled.

LittleSis turned 6 this year and I had not really planned for a birthday party beyond a small family affair. For one, she wanted to invite her school friends and I am a lazy Mom who thought it was too much work to track down and invite school classmates during summer vacation. I mean it was doable but too much work.So a small homely birthday was the call of this year.

Now over the summer both the girls have acquired young friends in the neighborhood. And that has turned summer afternoons into those similar to my childhood in India. Where there are kids playing on the driveway and sidewalk, spilling from one home to the other, late until dusk sets in and the street lights flicker to a warm orange glow. In this scenario it was only natural that the neighborhood friends were invited to a "birthday party" by LS, a birthday party which I, the ignorant Mother, had imagined to be a small family affair.

Eventually the birthday which was on a weekday turned into a fat, colorful party on the day itself. Those who could come, came. In throes of panic I got a bounce house which the kids enjoyed a lot. BigSis took over as the games organizer and made the group of kids, who were in a varying age range, play games. Her games were quite interesting and included a game called sardines(take on the age old hide n seek), treasure hunt and balloon popping.Food was outsourced and there was shingara, vegetable chop, chana chaat, pasta and Chettinad biriyani. Kids cried, laughed, fought and enough chaos happened. And like every year, I sweared swore to not throw any more birthday party until LS turns 12.

A quick recuperation from the birthday was followed with visits to the beach and park with cousin who is the same age as LS and therefore great pals. During the weekday I managed to sneak out with sis-in-law for sushi, a movie (The Hundred Foot Journey), dinner at a Portuguese place and of course Thai. And then a two day trip to a kids' amusement park was thrown into the medley.

I am very glad that BS and LS get time to spend with both sides of the family almost every year.  These childhood days are precious and the memories they make with family will go a long way.

School starts tomorrow and summer is over. A year worth of new stuff is waiting for both the girls. I should be excited but honestly, I am not.

To start off the blog after this long break, I will share a chutney, something we call a pickle in Bengali, a achaar. It is not really a pickle, but a Bengali ascribes a chaatni as something that cannot be preserved and needs to be served to finish off a meal, while pickle or achaar is something that has a long life. This particular chutney or achaar has vinegar which means it stays well for a month or two. It is made up of a mix of different kinds of fruits, sweet and sour and is a delicious accompaniment to crackers, paratha or roti.

This recipe was something my mother-in-law learned from mys sis-in-law's neighbor!!! It is sweet, spicy, sour and has a definite kick. If I think of it, it is like a family.

Shob Pholer Achaar -- Mixed Fresh Fruit Chutney

What you need for this Fresh Fruit Chutney is lots of different kind of fruits and vegetables to begin with. Fruits with a balance of sweet and tart.

I had 1 green mango, 2 plum, 1 apricot, 1 apple, 1 carrot, and about  6 sweet peppers. Chop all of these fruits in small pieces.

Now slice about 6-7 pods of garlic in thin slices. If you want it hot slit 4-5 green chillies.

Heat about 5 Mustard Oil in a wide Kadhai or saucepan, which will give you enough surface to cook.

Temper the oil with 3/4th tbsp of PaanchPhoron and 3-4 dried red chilli.

When the spices sizzle and sputter, add the garlic slices. Saute for a few seconds, do not let the garlic brown.Now add the fruits and green chilli. Stir the fruits around and let them soften a bit. With the kind of fruits I mentioned here, it did not take long for them to soften.

Now add about 1/2-3/4th  Cup Vinegar and 1/3rd cup of sugar. Add sugar according to your taste and the sweetness of the fruits. If you think that the fruits are sweet enough add little sugar. If they are tart, add more. Add salt to taste.

Now the fruits will release water. Let them simmer and thicken. Taste and adjust for the thickness of the chutney. Take a spoonful out and put on a plate to check that the consistency is thick and not runny. In this case, it was done in about 20 minutes or so.

Once the chutney cools, put in a jar and refrigerate. It stays well for a month or two.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vegetable Tikkis or Croquettes -- Kids Summer Snacks

One month of summer holidays is already over, and though I wonder how time flew so quickly, in reality quite a few things were done.

The most important was Big Sis getting her Black Belt in Taekwondo. They had tested just before the vacation and the rank ceremony was around end of June. While Big Sis is now a certified Black belt, Little Sis who was very reluctant in the beginning classes is now a proud Brown Belt. Big Sis is not and never was an aggressive child and I feel this taekwondo class has improved her strength and confidence a lot. She had started out at the age of about five and the five plus years of training has made her a stronger girl.

Then for the Fourth of July we went away to a dear friends' place for a lazy relaxed few days which involved lots of ice cream eating and lolling around under the tress in their backyard.

In between, the girls and their neighborhood friends did a lemonade stand. They also started on their swimming and Little Sis enrolled for a Bharatnatyam workshop where her friend goes too. She likes gymnastics better she says and the "mudras" are confusing her, so we will have to see how it goes in the future.

We also made regular trips to the library and Little Sis graduated to chapter books. She took a fancy for Nancy Clancy and read the two books that she got in the library.

Though a much awaited trip to the Water Park had to be canceled due to family reasons, we managed a short trip to a quaint shore town with lighthouse, beach and a lovely town square.

And then of course there was the World Cup taking over regular life.

There is almost one and half month of vacation still to go and I hope it only gets better.

While summer means whole two months of lazy, no-school, minimal routine days for the kids, it also means a time when every 30 minutes a question pops up --"I am hungry. What can I have?" This is a hard question to battle and a lot of the times I get by suggesting fruits, yogurt, cookies. If things get really bad, I keep a box of snacks, otherwise labeled as junk in the garage, which is then offered to quell hungry minds.