Monday Motivation

Continuing with my ‘Monday Motivation’ post!

   It was ‘Mother’s Day’ yesterday, and I was determined not to write anything on that topic. I have had several conversations with close friends on the importance and validity of such a day and those discussions have had interesting outcomes…let’s just leave it at that! For me, motherhood has been and is a huge part of who I am. It defines me and I have no objection to people rolling their eyes at that thought. Because it is true. At this point in my life, that is who I am and I proudly embrace it. It is exhausting and endless and yes there are times when I feel overwhelmed but at the end, every drop of sweat is worth all the craziness and ask any mom and she will happily say the same.

   The importance of the role that mothers play in the lives of their child/children is undeniable and it nurtures and shapes the young mind. However, we all have women in our lives who have played/play an equally important role in guiding us through the ups and downs, who inspire and lift up people around them and without whose presence we would not be who we are. They are present as aunts, grandmothers, family friends, cousins, teachers, neighbors, nannies, friend’s moms and play a variety of roles as our confidants, our friends, our role models and at times who raise us. They too deserve as much love and appreciation on ‘Mother’s Day’ as sometimes their stories go unrecognized and they are left in the shadows while the world celebrates the mothers only.

   My mother was raised by her two of her aunts and uncles and the love that she has for them is just the same, if not more, as that for my grandmother. Her aunts never had children of their own and were unmarried and my mother was fortunate enough to grow up in a household that had a bunch of people who all played the role of equally devoted mothers and fathers. They nurtured my brother and me too and loved us with their whole hearts, celebrated our victories and wept in our sorrows. I was more close to them than I was to my grandmother and I know that’s true for my brother too. They loved just like a mother does and I know how much my mom misses them, now that they are no more.

   To women all around fighting their unique battles, however big or small, to women driving change, to women taking a stand, to women celebrating life, to women standing tall in the face of unfathomable sorrow, to women pausing a bit to take it all in- you are invincible.

 

And here are the two pictures I took today!

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The thought that I want to leave you with, this week-

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Have a happy week, folks!

Smile

   I am bad at many things… riding a bike,  drawing, writing a poem, small talk…the list can get pretty embarrassing! For me, people who can draw are superheroes of sorts. I can look at videos all day long of people creating magic through pencil or brush strokes. And people who can write poems belong to a different league altogether! And here I am not talking about the greats whose works of art have mesmerized generations…I am talking more about regular people who harbor such superpowers, while going about their lives in an unassuming manner.

   I am always mortified that someone, maybe my kids, someday will ask me to draw a picture of something. And I feel nervous just thinking about that! Same with writing poems. Ever since I have started blogging I often come across posts with beautiful poems that evoke so many emotions and then there are prompts that add the element of surprise and challenge too. And people write in response to those challenges making the act of writing poems seem so trivial while I stay as far as possible from such endeavors. Not my cup of tea!

   But the other day after a blog ‘conversation’ with Manja , I decided to make an attempt at trying to write a poem, of sorts. And I feel uneasy to say the least. I know I am probably making a fool of myself but as I have recently decided to put myself out there with respect to trying things previously unimaginable, I am going to go ahead and post this first ever ‘poem’! Thanks Manja for the encouragement!!

 

“Smile”

A smile can carry one a long way

Or so I have heard.

It masks the worrisome mind well

And helps heal a troubled heart, that is not yours.

Wear a smile, they often say

It is beautiful and it cares.

Smile at the person you just walked by

It may be all that she needs to turn around just another ordinary day.

Unspoken words that a smile brings

Can comfort the weary soul that has traveled far

Looking for that of which he is not sure.

When darkness comes and fear strikes a note

Smile through the fear and smile through the pain

Look around and hold on.

You will hear a tap, a gentle knock.

Who’s that, you may ask

It’s me, Hope, is the answer you will get.

Pause, to smile a bit

And through teary eyes and heaving heart,

Let her in.

 

lotus

Chicken Avocado Salad

   Winter, this year, has been strange here in Jersey. We did not get much snow ( I am not complaining about that even a bit!) but we have been getting a lot of  rain and gloomy damp days which is making this winter seem especially depressing, weather wise. I say weather wise because indoors it has been spirited, colorful and giggly as we welcomed our baby girl in November. The four year old has been the best big brother and along with my parents, who have been the ‘cannot-be-put-into-words’ blessing one could hope for during such times, it has been a vibrant winter!

   My Ma’s home cooked meals have kept our bellies full and our souls fuller. We got to enjoy delectable “Bangali ranna” (Bengali food) every day and it refreshed so many memories from when I was growing up. Hearing them talk fondly of the by gone days has made me appreciate life and all that I had and have a bit more. Nostalgia is a good thing.

   Yesterday, I decided to make myself a salad for lunch simply to see if I remembered how to! And I kid you not when I say this because I have not had anything to do with the kitchen (except for baking a couple of cakes and brownies) for these past five months and now that the time has come for my parents to go back to Kolkata, Neel and I will have to fend for ourselves! And salads are going to be my go-to stuff for lunch. So, I made a chicken avocado salad that turned out to be pretty good and I am sharing that with you today. This is a simple salad and I am sure you have had this or a version of this more than once!

Ingredients:

  1. 4 cooked chicken tenders, chopped. (you can use 2 medium chicken breasts, or 1 big too).
  2. 1 ripe avocado, pitted and diced.
  3. 1/2 cup roasted corn (I used from the can).
  4. 1/2 cup of finely cut red peppers.
  5. 1/4 cup finely cut yellow onions (You can use either red or yellow…I did not have the red ones).
  6. 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  7. 1/2 cup olives (pitted)
  8. About 2 cups of spring mix.
  9. 2 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice (you can use lime juice too).
  10. 2 tbsp Olive oil.
  11. A handful of walnuts
  12. 2 tbsp ranch dressing (optional)
  13. Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Putting it together:

I cooked the chicken tenders on stove top in a little bit of vegetable oil (I had marinated the chicken tenders for about 15 minutes with a little bit of salt, 1/2 tsp of paprika, 1/4 tsp of garlic powder, 1 tsp of lemon pepper powder and 1 tsp of olive oil. I sprinkled a bit of flour on the chicken right before cooking…it gives a nice brown coating). And then after it cooled down a bit, I chopped it up and put it along with all the other stuff in my big brown salad bowl and chomped it up while cradling a semi sleeping 3 month old!

Easy- peasy lemon squeezy!

P.S. I had it today with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing instead of ranch and it tasted even better. You can also add chopped walnuts if you want ( I added this to the list of ingredients).

 

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Apple Tarts

   Of late, the weather here in New Jersey seems to be a bit of a head-scratcher. It has been bitter cold and we have been getting tired of the number of layers we need to put on when going out and then it rains and brings mugginess and then suddenly a warm 66 degrees in the middle of winter throws wants almost makes it feel like spring! The effects of climate change are being felt more and more all around and I wonder what the consequences of this is going to be on the future generations.

   With small children and older parents at home, we have been having a hard time trying to keep everyone as safe as possible from the snorts and sniffles that seem to be the most common side effect of such extreme fluctuation in temperature. It being winter, my parents who are here for just one more month, have sadly been cooped up at home for the most part. But they don’t complain and are only too happy to be spending time with their grandkids and weaving memories! They have put their lives on hold so that Neel and I can ease into this new phase in ours and my heart swells with love and gratitude for them. Ma makes sure we get to eat all that our hearts desire and Baba makes sure to keep the four year occupied as much as possible with stories and games and silliness so that I can get some ‘me time’ and what can I say about how big a blessing that has been. The six of us look after each other- we cook and eat, smile and have moments of absolute bliss, find happiness in what we have and add to our pocketbook of memories.

   While Ma has been making all her special dishes and we have been gobbling those up, Neel and I (mostly Neel) sometimes take over the kitchen to give her a break and whip up something that she would normally not be able to make in Kolkata. Neel has been surprising them with his kabobs and I have been satisfying Ma’s sweet tooth with the likes of cakes and brownies! Today I made apple tarts in the afternoon and they turned out pretty good. I have made them before but had followed a different recipe, one that I did not remember today. And so, I found another pretty awesome recipe at  https://www.lavenderandlovage.com/2016/03/apple-rose-tarts-mothers-day.html (Lavender and Lovage by Karen Burns-Booth) and I am so glad that I tried this! Thanks Karen!

Please see the original recipe here and I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Apple Tarts

Serves 8 to 10 apple rose tarts
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 40 minutes
Dietary Vegetarian

       Ingredients

  • 2 x 215g ready rolled butter puff pastry
  • 2 to 3 Pink Lady apples (or any red skinned eating apples)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons apricot jam glaze
  • ground cinnamon
  • icing sugar
  • cake release spray

      Directions

Step 1 Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6 and spray a 12 x hole muffin or bun tray with the cake release spray.
Step 2 Cut the apples in half, from top to bottom, core the two halves then slice each half very thinly; place the cut slices into a large microwaveable bowl filled with water to cover the apples, and with the lemon juice added.
Step 3 Microwave the apple slices for 4 minutes on high, then drain and pat dry between 2 clean tea towels or with kitchen paper. (If you don’t have a microwave, place the apples, water to cove them and the lemon juice in a pan and heat until boiling for 4 to 5 minutes until JUST soft but NOT cooked)
Step 4 Place the ready rolled pastry onto a lightly floured pastry board, and using a rolling pin, roll it out to add 2″ to 3″ (5cms to 8cms) to the length of the pastry.
Step 5 Cut the two pastry sheets lengthways into 4 to 5 strips, or if the pastry is too long, cut widthways – you need strips long enough to place between 8 to 12 apple slices along the length.
Step 6 Brush the pastry strips with the apricot jam glaze and then sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Place the apple slices (peel size up) along the top third of the pastry strips, overlapping them slightly as you lay them out.
Step 7 Fold the bottom two thirds of the pastry up and over the bottom of the apple slices and then gently roll each strip to make a small “muffin shaped” tart – see photos. Place the apple rose tarts into the prepared muffin or bun tray.
Step 8 Bake the apple tarts in the pre-heated oven on the middle shelf for between 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is crisp, golden brown and puffed up and the apples are cooked, but not too dark.
Step 9 Allow them to cool in the tin for 2 to 3 minutes, then gently ease them out of tin and place them on a wire cooling rack.
Step 10 Dust with icing sugar to serve; they are fabulous when served warm with ice cream, cream or crème fraiche.
Step 11 Can be frozen at the pre-baked and baked stage. Allow to defrost before baking or re-heating.

 

My Recent Reads

    I have always loved reading books. Growing up, I would look forward to ‘library time’ at school, a designated 40 minutes in a week when we could go to the library and spend time there and at the end could also bring one (or may be two…my memory betrays me) home for about 15 days. I remember exchanging books with a couple of my really close friends after we had finished reading ours. During senior years, when there was no more library ‘class’ or even the time to read much outside what was in the syllabus, I would still sometimes go to the library and pick up books other than ‘study stuff’, that I would later sneak in to the bed at night, even when I could barely keep my eyes open.  Books have always been my go-to when it comes to reading material of my choice. Our four year old too loves reading and story reading at bedtime is one of our favorite things to do as family! At times, the little guy takes over and reads his Ma-Baba his favorite story.

    It has been a very long time since, and while a lot has changed in terms of reading material and medium, my love for books remains unchanged. As a student of English Literature many moons ago, I came across the works of Camus, Kafka, Beckett, Naipaul, Virginia Woolf to name a few, that cast a spell on me. While the cacophony of every day life does not let me spend a sunday morning lazying in bed, sipping on copious cups of coffee and some chocolate chip muffins and read as much as I would like to, I still try to catch up on some reading at any chance I get. Bookstores are my favorite store to visit and the sight and smell of books enthralls me today just as much as it did when I had first walked into a library at my school decades ago. Nothing probably beats experience of physical browsing at a real store and it saddens me to see local book stores and even big ones close due to the craze of on-line buying.

    An absolute necessity is our pursuit of happiness and in helping us dream, the pivotal role of books in undeniable. Today, I am sharing with you books that I read and re-read over the period of last two years (a couple from here I am yet to finish) and can read over and over again!

  1. The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)
  2. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  3. Snow (Orhan Pamuk)
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  5. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  6. Sea of Poppies (Amitava Ghosh)
  7. Clear Light of Day (Anita Desai)
  8. Selected Stories by O. Henry
  9. Train To Pakistan (Khushwant Singh)
  10. The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri)
  11. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Arundhati Roy)
  12. Dreams from My Father (Barack Obama)

 

What are some of your favorite reads?

Date

   Neel and I have never been on a date…a real date, since during the ‘dating’ period, we were living in separate countries, pursuing career goals. We had known each other for a long time before that (since we went to the same high school) and though we had gone our separate ways for a brief period in time after that, reconnecting was simple and felt like the most natural thing in the whole world. Also, neither of us is a very ‘date’ kind of a person! So, to sum it up…we have never been on a real date.

   We recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and reflecting back, it has surely been an interesting journey so far, albeit with the usual bumps and bruises. Life has been hectic and at the same time a wonderful adventure as we learn and re -learn things in the process of raising our son and now that we have added another bundle to the family, life continues to unfold its glory in its craziness and beauty!

   A few days ago, when Neel and I were ‘sleep talking’ (talking while having fallen half asleep!), we wondered how it would be to go on a date. While life has been much easier with our daughter than it was when our son was an infant, it still does get overwhelming at times. And so, we wanted to get some alone time and have an adult conversation without gasping at an overactive four year old making french fries out of play dough and in the process, cutting up the dough into a zillion pieces most of which would end up getting stuck on the carpet or drooling over the babbles of a two month old and getting swept away by all the baby love.

   And we acted on our sleep talk idea! A date and time was decided for a ‘coffee date’ as that was the most that our schedules would permit and on the day, I even put on a bit of make up (for those who know me, can figure out how serious and excited I must have been about this date, given my dislike for make up!) but right before leaving, the four year old decided to do something quite uncharacteristic…he went all emotional and pleaded with me to not go. Even the lure of getting his favorite brownie seemed to not work as he made clear that he did not want any of that. And as much as I was looking forward to spending some alone time with Neel, the big watery eyes tugged at my heartstrings with the strongest of pulls and I melted. I scooped up my boy in my arms and smothered his face with the squishiest kisses and dropped the idea of going out in an instant. But as I was about to change back into my sweat pants, he broke into the biggest smile, hugged me and said it was okay to go as long as he could watch a bit of iPad. Now, normally I do not succumb to such things but I guess I really needed to get that coffee and so 10 minutes later Neel and I were at the coffee place for that date! Though I checked my phone at least a dozen times to see if it was on in case I got a call from home about the kids, it was a 30 minutes well spent…refreshing and relaxing! Pumped up from the success of this we decided to watch a movie in bed once the kids had settled in for the night. We chose The Incredibles2 on Netflix, watched it on the iPad with earphones on (one earplug in each of our ears!) and 20 minutes into the movie, I slid down on the bed, tucked myself into the blanket and shut my eyes, happy and content! So much for our movie night!

   However, I will gladly take such dates till my kids are older and I am probably no longer allowed to smother their faces with my sloppy kisses and hug them in front of their friends (though it does not mean I won’t do that!)

Happy Dating Folks!