Saturday, July 24, 2010

Introducing Simple Foods: Garlic Labneh and Three Cheese Dip

I'm not much of a cook and when I do enter the kitchen it's because something has caught my fancy and I am suddenly dying to try it. I won't tell you that all this changed when my daughter was born, however, I learnt to be a lot more creative in the kitchen.

The munchkin has weird eating habits, for a baby/toddler/child. She'll eat any diary product (is addicted to milk, any type), loves all fruit and veggies. The problem with her are carbs. She hates white carbs. The only form of carbohydarets she'll eat are hi-fibre ones - weetabix (with/without milk), mutli-grain cereal mixes, granary bread, wheat noodles - with pasta being the only exception. Though recently she has accepted rice and white bread, I still have a tough time getting her to eat a satisfactory (for me) helping of carbs everyday. So, to help her along a little bit, I started experimenting with simple stuff that she seems to love.

A couple of weeks back I was chatting with one of my friends, who also has a picky eater, when I realized that maybe what I've learn't along the way will help other mom's in a similar position. So here's the first of my simple food posts.

The munchkin loves dips of any kind and this gave me an idea. When she's doing her raw foods or high-fibre thing, why don't I give her a dip that rounds of the meal with protein and fat. So, here are two dips that I serve her and the suggested accompaniments.

Since I grew up on Lebanese food, this is my baby friendly version of labneh.


Serves: 2 hungry toddlers

  • 2 cups plain/greek yoghurt
  • 1 clove of garlic - finely chopped
  • A tsp of lemon juice (optional) or gated lemon rind - we like some tartness around here
  • A pinch of sweet paprika powder (optional) - my nephew likes this addition
  • 5 - 10 de-seeded black olives or stuffed green olives
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil 
  1. Hand the yoghurt in a muslin cloth, till most of the whey drips out. This should take between 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the initial consistency of the yoghurt.
  2. Once the thickened yoghurt is ready, gently mix in the finely chopped garlic and paprika powder.
  3. Just before serving, add the lemon juice/rind to the mixture and stir.
  4. Decorate the mixture with the olives, top with the olive oil and serve.
Serving suggestion
  • Serve as a dip for sticks of fresh carrot and cucumber, and wedges of firm fresh tomatoes.

This second dip is a twist on the traditional crackers and cheese combination.

Serves: 3 - 4 toddlers, depending on how much they scoop up or spread all over themselves.

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 slices of sandwich cheese - tear into bits
  • 1 cup grated cheese - Gouda, Cheddar (any mildly mature cheese) - can also be chopped into little bits
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan
  • 2 cups milk - adjust according to preferred dip consistency
  • 1 tbsp oregano/Italian seasoning
  • Red chilly flakes (for adults or older kids)
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan on low heat.
  2. Add the milk to the melted butter and keep stirring occasionally.
  3. When the milk is boiling well, add the bits of cheese slice. 
  4. Once the cheese slices have melted, add the grated cheese.
  5. After all the cheese has completely melted take of the stove, mix in the oregano and chilly flakes. Set aside till warm (safe for little fingers).
  6. Garnish with the the Parmesan, top with some more seasoning (if required) and serve.
Serving Suggestion
  • Serve as a dip with Crackers - we prefer crispy wheat or rye.
  • Serve on top of slices of toasted baguette or plain toasted bread cut into quarters (a good use for slightly old dried out bread) and decorated with cherry tomato halves.
  • Serve with garlic bread. 
Let me know how you adapt these recipes to suit your little ones. I'm always on the look out for foodie innovation.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The List - I miss, I love, I look forward to

This is something everybody in my family knows about me - I love making lists. The techie says that I love my holiday 'what to pack' list more than the actual vacation. The first thing I do every morning at my desk (after 20 seconds of quiet time to focus) is make a task list for the day. (Secret: I then spend 15 minutes in blog land. Which none of my employees know about.) Let me add this is the only part of the day when I use a pencil/pen - there's nothing as satisfying as writing down a list. Also, I tried doing it on my laptop but had to keep the document open thorough the day to refer.

To feed this fetish of mine I have decided to do a list based entry, once in a way. No, no, don't close the page. These are not going to be boring lists, rather they will give you glimpses of the real me (is that part of the boring stuff) and maybe I can do some linky stuff with these posts, as well.

The inspiration for my first post came from this lovely blogger, 'Life as a CEO'. Hope she doesn't mind me being a copy cat. Anyway, the aim is to list what you currently MISS, LOVE and LOOK FORWARD TO at this point in your life. I'm going to limit myself to five points each to stop from writing a whole book.

So without further ado, here's my list:

  • I miss....
    • My family - we are very close knit, however, we live in three different countries now.
    • High school - best period of my life. Does that make me sad? What I really miss from that time is, the lack of serious responsibility, my friends, the plans for my perfect future and being confident of who I was and what I was doing.
    • Me time - reading alone at coffeeshops, art, spa visits, getting up late on weekend mornings. I still get a bit of all this thanks to my husband, however it isn't the same.
    • Having spare cash -  a baby and a new business tend to be priority when it comes to shelling out the notes. More the business than the baby.
    • Travelling - I've had vacation breaks every 2-3 months since I was a child. In fact, the little one and I took about 20 plane rides in her first year. It seems as if we are compensating for all that now (I haven't left the city for almost a year). 
  • I love...
    • My family - I have more people to love and more people who love me. I can describe myself as a daughter, sister, wife and mom - makes me feel special (I know it's silly. I'm one among billions of such women).
    • Working with my husband in our own business - it's not perfect, and there are days when I wish we hadn't got into this. However, every morning when I get up I look forward to coming in to work, so it's definitely right for me.
    • Planning our future - I spend quite some time drawing up detailed plans!
    • Partly homeschooling my daughter - though the techie and I work full-time and can't really homeschool the munchkin,. We plan to supplement the standard school syllabus with some fun stuff of our own. We have already started with reading and math, next up are museum and art gallery visits.
  • I look forward to...
    • My dream house - we have a lovely house of our own now. However, I have been planning my dream house for the last year or so and hope to build it before my baby turns ten. I've even done the layouts and cost estimates, though I haven't figured in inflation. 
    • Seeing more of the world - we plan to travel all around the world, hopefully with the whole family, and spend one month every year living in a different country.
    • Writing a book - haven't decided what it's going to be about. My blog is where I sharpen my writing skills. Any tips?
    • Running a half-marathon - I was running pretty regularly before I decided to have my baby. This also has me looking forward to getting fit again.
    • Painting again - I plan to make some time, maybe about a year down the line, and go back to this old love of mine.  
So, that's my first list. It was pretty easy to write. I'm sure the moment I publish it, I'll think of 5 more points I should have included. Did you find it boring or insightful? Have I inspired you to make one of your own? Let me know if you do and I'll come over and take a peek into the real you.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Unexplained Love

When I read a novel that is based on human relationships I always wonder if the author has experienced firsthand what they have written about. Plots based on action, adventure or historical fiction can be researched and then the skill of the writer gives life to the story. However, in the case of a storyline based on human emotions, unless the author understands his character like an actor preparing for a part, the story fails to touch the reader. In the case of Cecelia Ahern, I have had the same impression right from her first book. Though after reading "P.S. I Love You", which was way better than the ones that followed, it was obvious that here was a girl who has never been married.

To cut to the chase, her current book, "Thanks for the Memories", can be compared to a box of half and half. The rich creamy part is where she describes the central character's relationship with her father. The interchanges are realistic and the scenes well crafted. The thin milky part is the attempt at creating a love story. The romantic bits are uninspiring and there seems to be no sense of chemistry between the hero and heroine (to put it loosely).

Warning: The next bit may contain spoilers, so if you plan on reading the book or are a die hard Cecelia Ahern fan please don't read further.

Though the author has done some basic research on an unexplained phenomenon, it seems like she hasn't convinced herself of it's existence. A woman in her thirties has an accident a requires an urgent blood transfusion. Post procedure she has flashes of memory that don't come from her life - a young girl growing up,  the deterioration of a marriage, the loss of a parent - as well as a whole bunch of facts and knowledge that she has never studied or come across before. The story tries to convert this weak link into a full-blown love-at-first-sight story, which just doesn't stick. In addition, the woman is confused about her identity and sees herself as two people, the potential girlfriend and the recipient of the donor's blood. The supposedly romantic scenes are dragged out with the heroine's reasoning bordering on stalkerish and illogical. With the whole plot coming to a convoluted but predicable ending, this book is definitely not worth spending your leisure time on.

P.S. - This is something I just read. The T.V. series, Samantha Who, was co-created by Cecelia Ahern. I love this series. So the author has just been redeemed in my eyes.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Office Romance

Last Wednesday was one of the rare days that the techie and I actually worked together for a while during office hours. We had to accompany the brand consultants on a site tour of a couple of our satellite centers. The weather was great since we had a mild drizzle which helped cool off the city, after a terribly hot week, and we where getting to spend sometime outdoors. In addition, designing and building the brand is one of the most creative and interesting aspects of running a business, which is what the exercise was aimed at. So I was already feeling quite chirpy.

Our brand consultant and design expert are really interesting people to hang out with and we had a productive   morning. We finished around lunch time by when I was starving, so we decided to splurge on a nice lunch, since most of our lunches are a 20 minute run-eat-run back routine during which we update each other on our areas of operation. We drove around looking for a new place to eat and ended up at this lovely little restaurant with a picture window looking out on to the beach. After lunch we strolled down to a local ice-cream shop and had  dessert. Though we ended up discussing the morning's work and our schedule for the rest of the day it was still some nice couple time, which we hadn't got in a while.

This episode has taught me to stay alert for opportunities in the future. Time is what we make of it and this little interlude will keep me going for a month at least.

I have to add that when we got back to the office we had a heated argument on the finances. However, all through that discussion I was actually smiling in my head.

P.S.- Did my title mislead you? Hey I'm married and not into extra marital affairs. Plus, the techie is the best looking guy at work (I'm not biased).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Working Mummy Learns: Deal On

Since I'm being buffeted and torn apart by the winds that frequent the corridors of power (will go into that in another post), I decided to make the most of it by sharing a few tips on running a business. I don't claim to be an expert or a master of past experience, what I have to offer are just little bits and bobs that just might help someone in a similar situation. So, for all of you out there who are running their own business or planning to do so, this is one of the first lessons I learnt.

There are a number ways to get benefits from suppliers other than direct discounts.

I learnt this lesson after spending an average of 50 hours a week talking to equipment manufacturers and retailers who deal in medical supplies. Initially, I was focused on getting the best deal through a direct reduction of the quoted price. Most suppliers figure this into the equation when they give you the first quote, so to an extent I was able to get what I wanted. However, the final pricing didn't really give me a cost advantage over my competitors. That's when I sat down with my techie and asked him how he handled such situations.  Suffice to say we had a long discussion over dinner and my daughter's bath time and this is what I came away with:
  • Focus on optimizing your overall cost rather than getting a flat-out discount. An ideal example would be a upgrade in the product chosen at the cost of the original product. - If you are going in for a desktop computer you could ask for a newer version of the Windows operating system at the original price quoted. - Obviously, you need to see value in the offer and not just go for the first thing you can get.   
  • Workout a long term package, focusing on services, instead of a one time benefit on your actual purchase. - When getting your phone system set up, ask for a year's free warranty (over and above what comes with the package) and AMC services at a discounted rate.   
  • Try to get complimentary products / services free or at a concessional rate, in the place of a price reduction on the main product - Speak to your interior decorator about getting your blinds and carpets for free when she gets your whole interior contract.
In order to ensure that you don't get taken for a ride when you work on these offers, always do your homework. Some points your research could cover are:

  • Quotes from at least three suppliers who deal in the same product. The brand can be different, if you can't get dealers who sell the same brand. Ensure that you get the initial price and a price after a couple of rounds of negotiation (just talking on the phone can get you some great deals).
  • Speak to a few existing customers and get details on the deals they got.
  • Research prices on different qualities, models and accessories for the product. This will help you ask for those upgrades and complimentary products.
Actually, after writing this post I realized that we mummies can use these tips with the little angels. For example "Sweetheart, instead of going to bed after 5 minutes, why don't we snuggle up and read an extra story." So you basically have them where you want them and it's easier to get them to sleep after the last story, instead of starting the get into bed process all over again after 5 minutes. At least I hope things work that way.

Let me know what you think. Do you have any other ideas for me?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sprinkles, sparkle and hospitals

I am guilty of the neglecting this fun, virtual sanctuary of mine for real life. After moaning about my lack of social life, the last 10 days have been crazy - good and bad. Here's what I've been up to:
  • Our big anniversary dinner with the whole family (about 25 people)
  • A 50th anniversary celebration for a family friend's of ours - the pre-dinner speeches revealed a lot of previously unknown information about the special couple
  • Spending some quality time with my parents, who were down for a visit - actually my daughter monopolized them
  • A two year old's birthday party at a 100 year old club - I had one of the toughest workout's of my life running after my daughter and nephew all over the massive park
  • A house warming party - great business networking opportunity
  • A film premier to launch my cousin's new movie theater chain - the movie was cliche, however it was fun to dress up a bit, plus the sound system was great
  • A visit to the emergency room when the little one suddenly started running a high fever and screaming that her tummy hurts - we had a traumatic ultrasound session interspersed with bouts of vomiting, followed by a suppository. Not the best day   
All this clubbed with 12 hour (at a minimum) work days, makes for a pretty exciting life. I could start getting used to all the glamour and glitz, obviously sans the hospital visit. Sadly, all I have lined up for the month of July is a 6th birthday party for my nephew and the official media launch of our business, which is not as glamorous as it sounds and just means more work.
I have such bouts of activity (apart from the work part, which is pretty standard) only once in 3 or 4 months. So I'm expecting things to go back to the boring old status quo soon.