Monday, August 29, 2011

Bhuni Khichuri -- with a twist of spice

Last week was the season premiere of TWC -- The Weather Channel. There was drama, earthquake, suspense, Irene the tormenting saas making an entry, hurricane, fear, tropical storm, tornado watch and lots of media coverage.

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I watched Weather Channel like I have never done in my life. It is usually my Dad's prerogative when he is here and especially if it is winter. But in one week I outdid him. I watched it on the telly, on the laptop, on my iPad, on my phone...you name it and I was watching Weather Channel. And this from me who rarely ever watches television. You will say "House" and I will stare at you blank, you say "Dexter" and I am clueless. Beyond "Friends", "Everybody loves Raymond" and at times "Seinfeld" I don't think I have ever watched any series with so much emotions except of course Barney, Arthur and Dora the Explorer.

If this was India and there was a that thing called TRP, I bet TWC would score huge wins over stuff like "KKKKKKUsum" and "Kyunki Sass Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi" and all this without even starting off with a "K".

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So anyway we were all pretty excited and prepared for the hurricane maiden Irene this weekend. In its wake, the earthquake earlier in the week seemed like merely a child in diapers.

When I went to the grocery store on Thursday evening and couldn't find a single bunch of yellow banana and then had to snatch away the last gallon of Organic Milk from another equally eager Mother, I kind of had a premonition of the heady days ahead. I called up at least a dozen friends and told them about "bare shelves" and how we could not find a "single thing" at Wegman's when the truth is I notched up a bill of 125 dollars just buying things I might need in an emergency and this included tubs of Haagen-Daz's Dulche de Leche. They in turn regaled me with their stories of stores bereft of bottles of water and such.

The myths just propagated but honestly we couldn't find a single flashlight in any store on Friday and turned out that was the single most important thing we would need.

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Saturday, to mark it special and all I decided to make a Bhuni Khichuri. I am not particularly fond of Khichuris and never eager to make them. But D loves Khichuri to bits so for once I decided to put aside my own selfish interest and cook something that he might like. What with the hurricane and all I thought, I better mend my ways and become a better person.

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I was armed with two recipes from folks on FaceBook, a sketchy one from the Mater and my own strong desire to add a twist to the Bhuni Khichuri. Bhuni Khichuri or Bhuna Khichuri is the richer version of the plain old Khichuri. It is more of a Pulao in the Khichdi family than a Khichuri. It can have non-vegetarian components like meat, eggs or prawn added to it. The name "Bhuni" or "Bhuna" comes from the step that involves roasting of the moong dal and frying the rice etc. to make this Khichdi.

My own memories of Bhuni Khichuri is more fictional than practical and is strongly grounded in what Buddhadeb Guha insists that "Rijuda"(of Rijudar Sathe Jongole fame) eats along with delicious venison meat(horiner mangsho) during his hunting adventures.

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On Saturday however I was also plagued with memories of Bisi Bele Bhath and I wanted a spice component to the Bhuni Khichuri. So from the Masala Vani suggests I omitted Curry Leaves, Sambhar Powder and Coconut, for a Bong touch added Paanch Phoron  and made a spice powder. The Spice Powder along with the roasted Moong Dal, the Raisins, the Cashwes and the Ghee made for a suitably rich and delicious Bhuni Khicuri. We had it with some Papad and a spicy Chicken dish. By evening we were all ready for the hurricane and when the power conked off after midnight we went off to bed confident of a better tomorrow.

I just read that Swami Vivekananda who apparently was a very eager and experimental cook was fond of Bhuni Khicuri and made one with scrambled Duck Eggs added to it. This makes the cooking over the weekend all the more worthwhile.


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Bhuni Khichuri
Preparations

Make a Spice Powder

This is totally optional and not generic to traditional Bhuni Khichuri. You can use 1 tbsp of home made Garam Masala instead

Dry Roast

3 Dry red Chili(mine is not very hot, adjust according to taste)
4 green cardamom
4 laung/clove
1 big black cardamom(use only pods for grinding)
2" stick of cinnamon
1/4 tsp of Paanch Phoron
1 tbsp of Corriander seeds or 1 tsp of Corriander Powder
a pinch of Hing
Grind to a fine powder

Dry Roast 1 cup of Yellow Moong Dal till you get a nutty smell and some of the lentil is a light brown in color. Be careful, not to burn the lentils.

Wash 1 cup of Basmati or Gobindobhog rice and keep aside

Roast 2 tbsp of Kaju/Cashew in little oil and keep aside.


Start Cooking

In a Pressure Cooker heat 1 tbsp of White Oil OR Ghee

Temper the Oil with
2 small Bay Leaves
2 small green cardamom
2 Clove
1" thin stick of cinnamon (optional, I skipped)
1-2 Dry Red Chili

When the spices sputter, add 2 tbsp of finely chopped onion. Fry the onion till it is brown at the edges

Add 1 heaped tsp of homemade Ginger-Garlic Paste (more Ginger, less Garlic) and fry for a minute.

Puree 1 medium juicy tomato and add to above. Continue frying with sprinkles of water till the tomato is cooked.

Now add 1/2 cup of Peas. I added about 3/4 cup of Frozen Carrots + Peas. You can also add potatoes, cauliflowers etc. Fry for couple more minutes.

Add the roasted Dal followed with the rice. Add 1/4th tsp of turmeric powder  + the dry spice powder  you made. You can use 1 tbsp of the spice powder you made, if you prefer less spicy.
Add 1-2 tbsp of golden raisins. Now fry everything for 3-4 more minutes.

Add about 4 to 4&1/2 Cup of warm water, salt and about 1/2 tsp of sugar. Mix everything. Add 1 tsp of Ghee. Close the lid of the Pressure cooker and cook for 4 minutes at full pressure. My pressure cooker cooks rice in 3 mins at full pressure, I give a minute extra for the dal.

When you open the lid of the cooker, add a tsp more of Ghee if you want. Add the roasted Kaju/Cashew Nuts. Keep container closed and serve piping hot with Papad, chutney, fried Hilsa, Begun Bhaja or any meat dish. Bhuni Khichuri is supposed to be dry and not runny or liquid-y like the regular Khichuri, you can however adjust to your taste.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pista Pesto Pasta

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My garden did not grow this summer. I mean it did, but only the weeds.Tall, willowy, reed like weeds are growing in abundance and I am telling myself it is an unkempt, english garden. Truth be told, there is nothing English about it, there is just a whole lot of crappy weeds. That's it.

Far back in April we had decided that we will not do our tiny veggie patch this year. We had also decided that we will let weeds grow.The reason for this momentous decision on our part was "time" or rather the lack of it. Like very important people on the face of this earth we do not have time any more, the catch is we are not even important and yet we don't have enough time. You know how it is, you are not important, you don't really do anything worthwhile and yet you are "bijee", "bijee" and then you stop every third person in the planet and tell them "Arre, you know na, I don't have any time, I am so bizee".

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So anyway after all that decision I had severe hormonal upheavals in May about having no vegetables to eat off the plant and I went and got a basil plant, a banana pepper plant and a beans plant which I potted in planters.

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The basil grew and grew and grew and finally I made a Pesto. I had made Miri's pesto earlier. But this time I did not have walnuts only a bag full of pistachios. "Pista Pesto" sounded quiet good, not as good as "Pista Ice Cream" but still...

So I made the Pesto, tossed some Pasta with it and we wolfed it all down hungry. Next I made it again and I still have some leftover in my refrigerator. It is a wonderful Pesto, nutty, rich with a kick from the chilies and a hint of lime reminding you of summer.

That reminds me, does anyone freeze pesto ? For how long ?

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My version is here

Basil leaves ~ 2 cups loosely packed
Unsalted Pistachios ~ 1/3 cup
Olive Oil ~ 1/4 cup to start with. Add more if needed
Garlic Cloves ~ 3-4 cloves
Green chili ~ 2 hot Indian green chili
Lime Juice ~ 1 tsp
Salt ~ to taste

Put all of the above in a Food Processor and blend until smooth. Add the Olive Oil gradually.

You can use the Pesto as a spread or you can toss pasta in it.

The Way I made Pesto Pasta

Cook Spaghetti according to Package directions

Heat 1-2 tsp of Olive Oil in a frying pan.

Add 1 tsp of mince garlic. When you get the flavor of garlic add the required amount of pesto, followed by the cooked Pasta. Toss gently to coat the Pasta with the pesto. Serve warm.

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This is my neighbor's curry leaf plant. I noticed the fruits for the first time in my life after Sra had posted abut them

Note: While I was midway through this post, my town felt the tremors of an earthquake that was epicentered in Virginia. I could not complete the post then as I fled out to the open. It was a mild tremor but it did shake me up and made me realize how fragile we are in Mother Nature's hands.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jhaaler Jhol or Rasa ? -- take your pick

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Nazrul or Rabindrasangeet ?

Ghoti or Bangal ?

Suman or Nachiketa ?

Threading or Brazilian wax ?

Ilish or Chingri ?

Bedouin or HotKathi ?

Goldspot or Limca ?

Soumitro or Uttam ?

Jhaaler jhol or Rasa ?

To each his own, I say.

Jhaaler Jhol is a light dish with lots of vegetables that my friend N makes. When I made it last weekend D said his mother made something similar but with tender stalks and leaves of the pumpkin plant and called it Rasa. Happens. I have nothing of my own to contribute in this discussion though. My Mother never made anything like this, she made a similar dish with Fish but did not call it anything particular.


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Undoubtedly the stalks and leaves of pumpkin plant are the best greens for this light dish which totally relies on the freshness and taste of the vegetables for its deliciousness. I did not have any and instead used spinach greens and some swiss chard.

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Also I did not have vadi or bori, the tiny dried lentil fritters which fried and crumbled is what this dish needs. So instead I made my Daaler Bora, lentil fritters. This time I baked them instead of frying. I added them to the dish along with a tsp of mustard paste and let it simmer in the light broth almost like in a borar jhaal. The result was delicious. It is not a presumptuous, look-at-me kind of a dish. But on days when you would rather eat lettuce greens I would suggest a Jhaaler Jhol instead.



Jhaaler Jhol or Rasa


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The Vegetables

Fulkopi/Cauliflower -- half of a medium sized one, chopped in large florets
Pumpkin -- 3 cups chopped in largish cubes
Radish ~ 1 cup of  red radish, chopped in half
Eggplant ~ 1 cup. I did not have any.
Spinach or any other green ~ 3 cups, roughly chopped
Greens like pumpkin leaves with stalks are best.

The Daler Bora

Make Bora like I have done before. You can fry the fritters or bake/broil them like I did this time. Grease the tray and put dollops of the paste on it. Bake at 400F for 20-25 mins and then broil for 10 mins. This is my Toaster Oven settings.

The Process

Heat 2 tsp of Mustard Oil

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When mustard oil is smoking, temper with 1/2 tsp of Kalo Jeera and 3 dry red chili

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Next add all the vegetables except the greens.

Saute for a minute.
Add salt and cover with a lid. If you see the vegetables are sticking to the bottom of the kadhai, add a splash of water.Cook till the vegetables have softened a little but are still crunchy.

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Now add the greens and cook for a few more minutes till they wilt.

Once the vegetables are cooked but not mushy, you can finish off at this point like my friend does. She adds some fried vadis and serves it with Rice.

I however went ahead. I added 1tsp of Mustard paste and about 3/4 cup of water. Then I added about 5-6 of lentil fritters. Opened the cover and let it simmer for a few minutes till the vegetables are cooked.

Adjust for salt.

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Serve with steaming white rice.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Holy Guacamole by the Ganges

Birthdays when I was a kid were simplistic affairs. It was the 70's. The most glamorous birthday song I had ever heard was Johnny Walker singing "Happy Birthday To You" on Binaca Geetmala. It was a good thing that we hadn't watched the movie and there was no YouTube to see the song. Other than Johnny Walker and Joy Mukherjee no one seems to enjoy that birthday party, not even Saira Banu in her parrot green saree and complicated hair do.

Anyway even watching that movie would have had no effect on my parents. They are Bongs and Bollywood is not their forte, at least it wasn't until cable took over. Birthdays in our home meant a silver bowl full of paayesh studded with plump raisins, a new dress, touching feet of elders, blessings that wished for a long happy life, limp ten rupee notes shoved into reluctant and eager hands and a special dinner of yellow pulao, cholar dal, doi maach and chutney cooked by Ma.Most years a couple of my neighborhood friends would join in for dinner when Ma would invite them casually with "Aaj raat e amader barite kheye jas"(Have diner at our home tonight). They would come, their hair neatly tied in plaits, their hands clutching some book by Russian authors wrapped clumsily in a red paper and they went back happy with no expectation of a return gift.

Nothing about those birthdays had to be pre-planned. The only point of contention was whether it was Cadbury's Eclairs or Parle Orange candy or Ravalgon chocolates that would be taken to school. In fact the high point of my birthday between the age of 8 to 12 was distributing candy in school. We spent many a days discussing, which other girl I would take, other than the best friend of course, with me doing the rounds of other classes. Also when we went to other classes, which girls we would ask to come out and share the sweets with. This was a difficult task since every other class had a sister, a cousin or a friend of my classmates and they expected to be called out.

Birthdays thus seamlessly fitted into our daily schedules and we got an year older just like that.

Now stories of birthday parties in India scare me. Apparently kiddie parties are handed over to event management companies and it involves an emcee and bollywood dancing. Yikes !! How do you celebrate a kid's birthday party wherever you are, would love to hear.

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A few days back the littlest one turned a year older. She wanted a cake, a party and a teapot. So a party was had, at our home, in the backyard.Sprinklers were turned on, water guns were used in full force,water balloons were filled and busted in a matter of seconds and much fun was had. I decided to cook most of the stuff at home and it wasn't easy given that there were 40 grown ups with 20 kids amongst them. I had some pointers from Indo last year and I tried to keep the menu simple. I also outsourced some stuff like shingara(samosas) and vegetable chops. It is not me who fries a batch of 50 samosas with nary a glazed look in her eyes. Those things are better left to professionals.

But I did cook huge quantity of mutton in 4 batches in my Pressure cooker. The fact that I decided on the Mutton Rezala, made it easier. I marinated the huge quantity of mutton with all the spices a day ahead.The mutton soaked up all the spices with 16 hour of marination and cooked fast and was very flavorful. Then I made the Goan Shrimp Curry. Again the spice paste, the star ingredient was made at least 2 days ahead and on the day of cooking making the gravy was easy peasy. Then I made a Fulkopir Roast with Coconut, the recipe was part Ma's and part from my FB readers. It was a big hit.

One of the things that eased the load on day of cooking was making the wet masala pastes , the dry masala powders all in batches through out the week. I had also fried huge quantities of chopped onions and made a paste of them two days before the actual cooking. Using this fried onion paste shortened the time of cooking and there was this one less thing to do.

It was a fun birthday party and Little Sis loved all the attention. I have no picture of foods from the day obviously so what I am going to share instead is the Guacamole that I made as a dip for the starters.

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Choose ripe, fresh avocados. How to choose, I don't know. I just bought them some days ahead and the were right on the day.

Peel and de-seed. Check this to see how to cut an avocado. Scoop out the pale green innards. With a back of a fork mash it up.If you want it chunky you can keep it this way. You can also pulse it in a blender if you want a smoother version

Add the following

few drops of of Mustard oil(optional, I like it)
some lime juice
throw in some chopped red onion
finely chopped green chili next
a sprinkle of cumin powder
some tangy chaat masala
salt
a pinch of sugar
and lots of fresh corriander.
Just go with your instinct with the quantities and adjust spices etc. according to taste.

Mix everything together and cover tightly with a cling wrap. I refrigerated for a day and it was good. The acid in lime juice helps in keeping the color intact(else it tends to go brown) so be sure to put enough of it

Serve with pita breads, chips or with Pametini, oven toasted Italian bread; my current heartthrob

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A pot of Okra Sambhar

She had an inkling of it for a while now.But never uttered a word. Why bring the climax in the middle of a beautiful life story, she thought. If I can just avert my eyes a little, to the left, I can pretend I never saw it.

Hadn't she been doing this all her life now, her life after marriage that is. When he would drop the wet towel right there on the middle of her Jaipuri bedspread, leaving a damp spot, she would pretend she did not see it. She had told him umpteen times to put the wet towel in the hamper, the deep blue one, not the pale green one in the right where his yesterday's jockey underwear should go. But did he listen ? No.She therefore chose to look away, to not really see what was happening around her, to build up a make believe life. But it suited her so why does it bother you anyway ?

How else do you think she could cope with the fact the he let out guttural rolls of laughter watching "Comedy Circus" on Sony ? A show she detested with its loud, raunchy jokes and canned laughter. Or that he picked his aquiline nose when Stephen Colbert came on Comedy Central ?

Twenty one years ago when Paritosh kaka had introduced the tall, bespectacled man as a prospective match all she had thought of was Soumitro.No, no, not her boyfriend. Soumitro Chatterjee, the filmstar, the poetic brother-in-law of Charulata, the intelligent detective in Feluda, her childhood hero.The gangly young man, lean with sharp eyes looking out of the 4x6 photograph with the hills of Hollywood behind him had reminded her exactly of Soumitro.Later that evening when Ma had asked if she liked the boy, she had nodded in agreement, dreaming of watching a Kurosawa together or sharing a packet of Jhalmuri while discussing Ray's Teen Konya.

It turned out he had never heard of Kurosawa and thought Satyajit Ray was all a big hype of antel (intellectual) Bangalis.She didn't take it to heart. She just pretended that he had not said those words , that Kurosawa was never screened in any of the 18 theater multiplexes in her small California town.

Although when he said Alu Posto was a bland paste of poppy seeds which only farmers from Bankura ate to keep themselves cool in scorching heat, she took serious umbrage and did not talk to him for one whole day.But then her mounavrata had't really bothered him much and she finally consoled herself that it wasn't really necessary that two people should have the exact same taste in everything.

Gradually she had learned, it was much easier to pretend things she did not like never happened around her.

She had thus set up a good life for herself, a rhythmic routine that started with Kellogg's Strawberry and ended with half a glass of Chianti. There was a Lexus in the driveway, a Honda Accord lonely in the two car garage. The dining table was from Etan Allen shining in the afternoon sun while she scooped kalai er dal and alu posto, rice from the cereal bowl sitting across the kitchen island. On the sofa table sat a framed picture of her son, grinning just like his Dad with the Sather Tower at UC Berkley rising in the far back. Weekends were always busy with a party at one or the other Bengali homes in the area; where heavy scent of Dolce Vita swirled through deep maroon Tassars and light gray Bangalore silks; platters of chicken biryani, mutton rezala, cholar dal and bhapa doi competed with loud laughters and border line lewd jokes.

It was a good life, she had finally decided.And then today she saw her again, right there on his Facebook page, left accidentally open on the iPad he had been browsing. He had forgotten to sign out when he rushed to take the client call on his blackberry. This was the same girl that she had met at his office party last Christmas.

In her early thirties, petite, her long ear drops shining many colors in the light from the chandelier. " Hi, I am Ranjhani", she had said, a lilt in her voice, a slight emphasis on the "jh" in her name.But it was her ear drops that had caught her eyes and that is all she could remember now. When the dangly ear drops, Ranjhani, popped up on Facebook Chat with the question "Dinner tonight ? 7-ish sounds good ?", she should have just looked away, left, past the window to the corner where the towel lay in a heap.
Instead she pretended she did not see the Towel and typed, "My place. 123 Barn Owl Ct.". And then she signed him out.


For a while she wasn't sure what she had done. She yanked the charger out and sat with the white cord wrapped around her palm. She had never done anything like this before, never taken any momentous decisions except the one 21 years ago.

She sat there for a long time, time unfathomable, time beyond measures. Only when the vertical blinds started throwing long shadows and the big toe on her left food started pricking with pins&needles, did she get up and go to the kitchen. Carelessly she threw the charger cord in the vegetable basket and took down the okra and the bag of green lime.She washed the Toor Dal in several changes of water and pulled out the packet of MTR sambhar powder from the recess of her spice drawer.The okra she washed and chopped, not noticing its slimy strings drawing lines on the chopping board. She heated oil in her big stock pot.Lost in herself she threw in the mustard seeds which danced and fizzed, grumbling loudly.Next went the curry leaves, all dried and limp on their stalk. She didn't care.Once she had the okra sambhar going on the stove she juiced each of the limes carefully in a big bowl. The lime was sour and her lips puckered up with their severe tart-ness.

By the time it was 6:30 in the evening she pulled out her Accord from the garage. When the GPS lady instructed to take the first right turn, she saw her again, in her long hoops with little pearls hanging like grapes driving a Mini on the other side.

The okra sambhar, caustic sour waited patiently on the stove top.

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This is my entry for this month's Of Chalks and Chopsticks hosted by Jaya and started by Aqua. The cue for the Fiction was the above photo in the post which Jaya had given us. I have explored hitherto unexplored territories in my fiction and I hope you like it.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

This & That of Summer Vacation

This summer, being the Type A parent that I am, I had been a little worried. Big Sis might not have fun I thought. The scenario was something like this.She did not want to join a summer camp; her very good friend, the little neighbor girl left for India the day after the vacations started; she would be home with Little Sis and the nanny and nothing on TV except basic cable translated to PBS kids.

She will start whining and start off with "I am getting bored..." every afternoon I get back from work, I told all and sundry who cared to listen.

Instead last week she told me "This is the best summer vacation ever".

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Harbor at Sonderborg, the small town about 3 hrs from Copenhagen

Indeed summer has been fun and busy with a lot of things happening that wasn't really planned for. First, there was this show that the kids put up, a very casual "stage-in-the-basement" kind of thing, in lines of something we ourselves did as a kid every summer. There were dances to Tagore's songs where the little ones had mismatched steps and when one did a twirl the other just looked on but they looked immensely cute in their red-bordered sarees doing whatever they did to the tunes of "Dhitang Dhitang Bole".

Next, they did a drama, Sukumar Ray's "Obaak Jolpaan". Given that the age range of kids in the drama was 5 to 8 , we Mothers had ruthlessly shortened the dialogs to make it easier for them. The kids did the drama so well that it was hilarious. And they all had loads of fun doing it too.

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Pretty Windmills all around

The day after the "function", we went for a week's vacation to Denmark. D was on work there for 2 days and so we all decided to tag along and spend a week. Again being the Type A kinda Mother I was little hesitant and worried about food etc. for LS because the none of the hotels that we had booked had a kitchenette.

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Ice Cream on the Boat

I shouldn't have worried at all, for there was ice cream all around and LS thrived on it. Also kids are more adaptable than we think and LS nibbled on hot dogs, pasta, Thai chicken, Indian butter chicken(this was horrible), Greek gyros and that was fine for her. In fact she was much more happier and active with the very little eating that she had to do.

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The Little Mermaid

Big Sis was at the right age to enjoy what she visited. She had been reading some of Hans Christian Andersen's works and was really looking forward to see the Little Mermaid. The castles now turned into museums were also a source of great interest to her as were the many canals along which we took a ferry ride.

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The Canals of CopenHagen

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The Elephant Parade in CopenHagen

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The Old and the New

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On a rainy Morning

Back from the vacation, BigSis is off again on a sleepover, this time at a very good friend's home who is also a family friend. The little one cried her heart out because Sis will be away today. Tomorrow when BisgSis is back the regular sisterly fights can begin.


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Hopen Hagen

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