Sunday, May 02, 2010

Posted by Jamie

Language is more than Language...

I should’ve known better. Both of my parents were raised in bi-lingual homes, their Yiddish-speaking Russian grandparents an important presence in their childhood homes, in their upbringing. They both studied Hebrew as well, lessons every afternoon, from an early age. But we were the lost generation, the first generation to lose that second language, raised strictly in English, second-generation Americans raised by parents who wanted to see us totally and completely assimilated. Looking around me as I was growing up, I saw, I heard only English. And took it for granted that that was the norm. One family, one language, fitting in.

Yet the more I have traveled, the more I realize that those of us raised with one language are the minority. When I moved to France, I looked around me and said “Wow! So many people who are perfectly bi-lingual! I feel so out of it!” Then we had two sons and moved to Italy with our now bi-lingual French-English home and that’s when it seemed to me that all of a sudden I was surrounded by tri-lingual families, English-French-Italian. And when we proudly added Italian to our list, I noticed just how many kids had a fourth language, Spanish, Swedish or German, as well. It seems that speaking only one language is not the norm, but rather the exception.

When we started out on this long and exciting journey that was raising multi-lingual, multi-cultural kids, we did our research and followed the simple rule, the rule that seemed to work: One language/one parent (for example: mom always speaks English, while Dad always speaks French) or one language/one place (for example: everyone always speaks English at home while French is spoken at school). Simple and it worked for us. Our sons could understand and eventually speak both languages, easily sliding in and out of one or the other as the situation called for and understanding that different people spoke different languages depending on where they lived. And when they were moved to Italy, they simply sponged up that third language with only a slight learning period and minor trouble. Perfect!

Yet, it couldn’t be quite that simple, could it? Little by little we realized that the boys, 2 years apart, handled the situation differently. Clem, the elder of the two, had already been well entrenched in and pretty well spoke both French and English when we moved to Italy while Simon, only a year old, may have understood but hadn’t begun speaking yet at all. When the boys were 5 and 3 and we decided to put them both in the Italian pre-school, Clem already understood a smattering of Italian and happily jumped into his new circle of friends waving his arms and repeating the same 5 sentences over and over again, just to make contact, until, little by little, he added to his repertoire. He also had almost 3 years of pre-school tucked under his tiny belt so felt completely at ease in his new surroundings. Simon, on the other hand, hadn’t mastered any one language completely yet, had never been to school and knew no Italian, so everything was thrown on his tiny shoulders at once. Needless to say, Simon uttered not one word for his entire first year of pre-school until the day he could speak Italian fluently. And then only to communicate. The strict minimum.

At home, on the other hand, he seemed to have mastered everything. His vocabulary in all 3 languages was wide and impressive, having adult multi-syllable words at his disposal and often correcting or translating for his older brother. While Clem, 2 years older, was a chatterbox and one of those perfectly normal kids who went through a few years of asking non-stop questions, all the Who? What? Why? and Hows? Simon never asked any questions of anyone. But then, why should he have? He seemed to have all the answers, following his older brother around and answering all of his questions, both the sensible and the nonsensical. He grew to love documentaries on tv, history, archeology and even politics, and could discuss these subjects with ease. He loved museums and traveling and discovering.

As time went on and their school years flew by and we eventually moved back to France, we saw a growing problem with Simon: trouble at school, bad marks when he knew his subject, grades all over the place, up and down, but never quite bad enough to have it suggested that he repeat a grade. Even his grades in English and Italian classes were lousy! And misery. Depression, Feeling small and insignificant and just plain miserable yet with a growing anger towards his teachers and a feeling somewhere of injustice. We took him from specialist to specialist, speech therapist to psychiatrist to psychologist to educator and we heard over and over again “Be patient. He’s a smart boy. He’ll find his footing and get over it.” And still things got worse. Inexplicable bad or mediocre grades, teachers’ reports describing a boy morose and silent or disruptive and insolent. A refusal to study, a shrug of the shoulders, a roll of the eyes and “What’s the point? They give me bad grades no matter how much I work and how well I know the subject!” And a boy not happy, hiding his emotions, rarely laughing and enjoying himself. So when things reached disaster point in high school, we hired private tutors, Math and Science, then History and French and Philosophy. And they loved him! They said he was personable, engaging and engaged, interesting and smart, took the initiative and asked lots of questions. Around the house he seemed to come out of himself, was happier, and talked more. His language even evolved from one word grunts to complete sentences! Well, we had always known he was smart, very smart, but why this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine? Why one person at home and another at school?

Until this summer. He finally finished school, succeeded in passing his Baccalaureat exams and, whew, 15 years of misery ended and a weight lifted from his shoulders. And we finally found professionals who understood there was a problem, who finally listened and discussed. And tested. And we were struck by the results and the interpretation of these results.

The psychologist who did the testing sat me down next to Simon and handed me the brown Kraft paper envelope that held, we hoped and prayed, the answer to all of his misery and all of our questions. “Your son,” she explained, “speaks 3 languages, but he has never chosen one over the other. He has no first language, no language he has chosen to call his own.” And she continued to explain: With a language comes a culture and an identity: When one embraces a language, accepts it as one’s primary language, one embraces the culture that goes with it. One accepts an identity through which all else filters. Along with a primary language comes all the baggage, the nuances of expression, tone of voice, responses and reactions. And all other languages are seen, translated and understood through that first language and through that culture. On the practical surface and in a school context, this meant that Simon was constantly swimming between one language and another not only to find the right word, the appropriate expression, but the tone, the meaning as well. We knew that he had trouble processing information and then getting it out, expressing himself, but simply never understood why. Information went in but then got all jumbled up as it passed from language to language, word to image and back to language again, from verbal to written. It became garbled and he just had never developed the tools to transfer information easily and clearly from one part of his brain to another. We now understood why. So he transferred his energy to form rather than content: spelling or sentence construction rather than substance. What information he had came out as if spit onto the page. To his teachers it was obvious that he did indeed know his subjects but he was constantly penalized, punished for not expressing himself “as he ought”. Vicious cycle: bad grades even if I study and I know my subject so why study?

On a higher level, this caused another problem, social, cultural, because here, in France, he never felt comfortable, at home. He had become the proverbial Man Without A Country. Somewhere early on he had rejected the notion of “being French” most likely because the culture, the language, the school system had been forced on him and forced when he wasn’t ready and then he had been punished over and over again for not being “French” enough. So his anger grew, his sense of injustice, his feelings of persecution. And he turned that anger onto school. At the same time, he so badly wanted to identify himself with his American side, America, that land of gold, of sunny vacations, cop shows, the Marx Brothers, peanut butter sandwiches and brownies, but didn’t know how and just wasn’t in the right place to do it. So even that he kept buried alive somewhere deep down inside, feeding his discontent. Which led to a total rejection and disdain for anyone demanding that he “be French”, namely his teachers and the school system he found himself in. Vicious cycle 2: rejection of the culture he was living in leading to his sense of rejection by the system itself (his teachers) which made him even angrier at the system he was in and further rejection.

Hilda wrote a very lovely article in these pages about being a third culture kid, about fitting in, children for whom home is everywhere, home is nowhere. Our children, the children growing up multi-cultural, multi-lingual, the children of expatriates or mixed marriages or those who simply move around the globe, have an uncanny ease sliding from one place, one society to another, an actor’s ability to change languages, change personas as easily as they change clothes, an adult’s understanding of how the world works and that people are different everywhere we go, different but the same, and all it simply takes is a change of vocabulary, way of holding oneself, of dressing, of eating. Yet language is more than language. Children do indeed sponge up language after language after language and it is a joy to behold, but as we have learned so painfully, it goes well beyond that simple “Does he understand? Can he speak the language? How wonderful that your children will grow up multi-lingual!” It is a delicate balance of place, time, age and change. It is giving your child an understanding of just exactly who he or she is, their place in the world. It is finding a school where they will be accepted and their differences made to feel truly an advantage not a disadvantage, a weight, something to punish. Teachers as well as parents need to understand that not all kids are the same, that they need to be able to express themselves as they can and be helped along the way with the rest.

And more than anything, these children need to feel a sense of security and an even stronger sense of home.

This post was written by JAMIE

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Hooked On Noodles: Noodles-Vegetable Cutlet/ Patties

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Posted by Aparna Balasubramanian

I have no idea how it is in the rest of the world when it comes to instant noodles, but in India, they’re the stuff of very fond (or not so good, as the case may be) memories for many people I know.

Nestlé’s Maggi 2-minute noodles have been in India for 25 years now. The fact that some boiling water and the contents of the packet is all it needs to serve oneself a plate of noodles is what makes it so popular. The addictive nature of the “masala” (or flavouring powder) that comes with the noodles and that they can be bought in every corner store also helps!

Since Maggi noodles takes just “2 minutes” to make, as their advertisements keep reminding us, they have been saviours to many a hungry student, unmarried people(and married ones too!) who couldn’t cook but needed to eat, and the harried mother who needed a quick snack for her ever hungry and demanding children.

Globalisation and development now mean that we have a greater variety of instant noodles, including Ramen noodles, those from.
Available in every flavour that appeal to the Indian palate, these noodles are now available also in “healthier” versions such as whole wheat and vegetable noodles.

While not really healthy food, these noodles are very popular and a taste that most children (and some adults) love. One way to handle this addiction/ instant noodle syndrome is to ensure that I buy it rarely. Another one is to hop on the instant noodle bandwagon occasionally.

By this, I mean trying to find ways to make those instant noodles a little more acceptable as food. This instant noodles and vegetable cutlet may not be the healthiest of foods but I think its not too bad as an occasional compromise.

These cutlets are a decent after-school or evening snack. This recipe is adapted from Tarla Dalal’s Fun Food For Children.


1 1/2 to 2 cups instant noodles, cooked*

1/4 cup sweet corn kernels, cooked and crushed**

1/4 cup green peas, cooked**

1 to 1 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1/2 cup grated cheese

2 tbsp milk

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

2 tbsp chickpea flour (besan)/ cornstarch

salt to taste

breadcrumbs for coating cutlets/ patties

oil for shallow frying


*If you’re cooking the instant noodles without adding the tastemaker that comes along with it, season the noodles with spices of your choice like turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, onion powder, garlic, garam masala, etc. Use these according to your preferred taste.

** You can adjust these 1/4 and 1/4 cups with vegetables of your choice. I would suggest that you do not use more than 3 vegetables in all; otherwise it might be difficult to persuade some children to eat them!

In a bowl, combine the noodles, sweet corn, peas, chilli flakes, spring onions, milk, chickpea flour/ cornstarch, cheese, breadcrumbs and salt.
Mix well and divide the mixture into 12 equal portions, and shape each into a well packed cutlet/ patty.
Coat the cutlets/ patties well with breadcrumbs and shallow fry in hot oil on both sides, till golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve warm with ketchup.
This recipe makes 12 cutlets/ patties.

This post was written by Aparna

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Quick Indian - Dal Chaval

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Posted by Bina

Simple, everyday food. No elaborate masalas, no fancy ingredients......not even a garnish on this one! Yet, Dal and Chaval (Dal and Rice) says home to me like no other food does. I am pretty sure it is the same for anyone who grew up eating Indian food. A bowl of piping hot dal and rice......ok, maybe some papad on the side - my definition of a completely satisfying meal!

Dals are legumes (lentils, beans and peas) and are a rich source of protein and fiber as well as folate and iron. The legumes as well as the cooked dish is called dal.

A pressure cooker does a quick and easy job of cooking dals. However, many dals ( like masoor and mung) can be cooked in a saucepan within 20-30 minutes. Dals do tend to foam while cooking but you can skim off the foam and if using a pressure cooker, adding a teaspoon of oil will reduce the foaming. Dals can also be combined with different leafy greens (spinach, amaranth, fenugreek, collard greens etc), sour fruit(raw mango, tomatoes, tomatillos), squashes and crucifers (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli).

Most of the dals one buys in stores nowadays are free of debris and small stones but it is a good idea to give it a quick check before cooking and also rinse them well to get rid of any debris.

The most common way to season dal is by tadka (vaghar, chaunk, popu) where you heat some oil and/or ghee in a small saucepan and add spices (which differ by region). The spices infuse the oil with wonderful flavors and aroma and when added to the dal, elevates it to the sublime! You can also vary the consistency of the dal by adjusting the amount of water. The consistency can vary from dry, to puree-like, to thin and soupy.

My most favorite dal is my Amamma's (grandma) tuvar dal that she used to dry roast in a brass vessel over a wood fire, and then season it simply with salt when it was almost done cooking. The memory of that dal with feshly cooked rice and a dollop of ghee has me drooling even today. I can still see myself as a five year old, sitting on the floor in her kitchen while she roasted the dal - me chattering away in English (a language she barely understood) and she speaking in Telugu (which I spoke very little of), yet somehow managing to communicate and bond.


1 cup Pigeon peas (Tuvar dal). You can also use Red lentils (masoor) or split Mung dal.
2 cups water
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup (1 large) tomato, chopped
1 green chili
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp canola oil or ghee (or a combination of both)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
salt to taste

Wash the tuvar dal 2-3 times until the water runs clear. Pressure cook the dal in 2 cups water on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes. After the pressure is released, open the lid of the cooker and add more water depending on the consistency you prefer. Add the turmeric and start boiling on a medium flame. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can use the red lentils (Masoor dal) which will take about 20 minutes to cook in a saucepan and will need about 3 cups water. The split Mung beans will take approx 30 mins to cook and will need about 5 cups water.

Heat the oil in a small pan on medium high heat. Add the cumin and once it starts to turn brown, add the garlic and green chili and cook till the garlic starts to turn golden brown.

Add the tomatoes and cook until they get soft and slightly mushy.

Transfer this mixture to the dal. Add the cilantro and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Serve with rice (preferably Basmati).

* You can also make this with a combination of dals (tuvar or masoor, moong, urad and chana) and add some finely chopped/grated ginger and chopped onions along with the garlic. When cooking beans, I also add some garam masala and cumin-coriander (dhania-jeera) powder.

Here's a recipe for a very simple, spiced rice that tastes wonderful with just about any dal .


2 cups Basmati rice, rinsed 2-3 times in cold water.
1/2 cup carrot, chopped
1/2 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
1 inch piece cinnamon
3-4 cardamom
4-5 cloves
2-3 bay leaves
3 tbsp canola oil
salt to taste

Heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the rice. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and bay leaves. Once the spices start to change color, add the vegetables and cook for about 2 minutes.

Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the rice and salt. Once this comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cover with a lid.

Cook on medium low heat till done.

* I use a rice cooker for this. Add the rice, water and vegetables to the cooker followed by the spices in oil (described above) and cook till done.

This post was written by Bina

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Gluten-Free Almond and Milled Seed Banana Bread

Friday, April 09, 2010

Posted by Hilda

GF Banana Bread
I have been having adventures with gluten-free foods lately. It's not that I need to eat gluten-free foods suddenly or anything, it's more that I first made and ate gluten-free foods about fourteen years ago thanks to my friend Chloe, who was having severe food allergies at the time, and remembered recently that gluten-free food could be quite lovely with its seeming resurgence on food blogs.
I always have some allergy and food-intolerance recipes handy just in case a friend who suffers from one comes over and, in this particular instance, I'd been wondering how different it would be to eat gluten-free banana bread having never tried that (but eating my regular share of gluten-packed banana bread).

I have an unabashed love of bananas; I think they may be the perfect food. I know some people hate them but, frankly, I don't get those people; it seems everyone in this house loves them so banana bread is always well received, and I've taken to trying different versions lately having spent so many years with a favorite recipe. We don't often end up with overripe bananas here simply because they're eaten up so quickly but, on occasion, particularly when one too many visits have been paid to the store, we end up with several sets of bananas and I have to use them up. You can of course freeze bananas so that you're not forced to bake with them until you're ready, just be aware that if you do the peel turns completely black though the flesh is unaffected.

Banana Tree
Of course there's no dearth of gluten-free banana bread recipes on the web with all the gluten-free blogs, but there's no telling what recipe will look appealing to you when you do a search for something as popular as banana bread. I settled on this recipe from Gluten-Free Goddess for snacking banana bread and set about figuring out how I would make it with less almond flour. I love me some almonds but I didn't really want this to taste mostly of almonds and banana.

I've spoken on my blog about a milled seed mix made by Linwoods which is made up of milled flaxseed, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. I made gluten-free muffins with it and they were delicious; I actually thought the mix was milled nuts until I took a good look at the package; due to my having made so many muffins with it, I decided to make some gluten-free banana bread instead with what remained. I didn't have enough of it to make up the entire portion of "flour", so I ended up mixing almond meal with finely chopped hazelnuts and what was left of the milled seeds.

I was pleasantly surprised by the result. I thought it would be good but I didn't realize how good it would be, and the best part of it was that it was incredibly light and moist. The recipe below is the most basic version. You could of course add other spices, perhaps whatever mix you usually use in your banana bread. Karina's version calls for 2 cups of flour-substitute, I added a bit more because I had an extra 1/4 cup of milled seeds left in the bag; if you look at the comments on her post, people substituted all different kinds of flours, ground nuts, etc... so feel free to experiment with your own kind of flour or non-flour mix.
The next time I get a bag of milled seeds, I'm definitely making this banana bread again, along with a few dozen muffins. You never know when the urge to snack might hit you.

Gluten-free Almond and Milled Seed Banana Bread
adapted from the Gluten-Free Goddess here

1 cup (100g) almond meal
3/4 cup (75g) milled seeds
1/2 cup (60g) finely chopped hazelnuts (or pecans or whatever kind of nut you want)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 large eggs, at room temp
1/3 cup (80ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 cup (100g) light brown sugar
3 medium very ripe bananas, cut up, mashed
2 tsp vanilla extract

- Heat oven to 350F (180C).
- Grease a loaf pan very lightly. No need to flour it. (I used cocoa for the fun of it to see if it would make a taste difference, it didn't).
- In a small bowl, mix the almond meal, milled seeds, and hazelnuts with the baking soda, baking powder, sea salt and spices. Combine well. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy; add the olive oil, brown sugar, banana mash and vanilla. Beat well to incorporate.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet mix and beat for a couple of minutes.
- Pour the batter into the pan and bake for ~35 minutes or until done. A pick stuck in the center should come out clean.
- Cool the bread completely on a wire rack before slicing or serving.
It will keep for about 3-4 days well wrapped or in an airtight container.

This post was written by HILDA

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Savoury Vegetable & Cheese Muffins

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Posted by Aparna Balasubramanian

Once upon a time, when my daughter was younger, she would eat almost anything I served her. Life was pleasant and meal times were very relaxed. Then she started growing up and arguments over silly things became the norm. Some of our mealtimes were fraught with tension, just trying to get her to eat.

Picture our dining table as a sort of boxing ring with both of us in our respective corners, verbally trying to make our points about food while my husband was stuck in the middle trying to referee the whole thing amicably. You get the general idea, and I’m happy to say this phase didn’t last for too long.

To be fair to her, she now does eat most vegetables without too much of a fuss. She really does prefer to carry home-cooked food in her snack/ lunch box than eat what’s served in the school canteen. I usually try to use this preference of hers to my advantage.
Sometimes I smuggle, hide or disguise vegetables and fruit in food she enjoys. She is sharp and smart enough to know what I’m doing while understanding my almost OCD (obsessive compulsive desire) to get her to eat “healthy”.
I must admit that I’m not always successful, but that’s life.

“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie” according to Jim Davis. I would add these “vegetable muffins” to this quote.

My daughter likes muffins, preferably the sweet ones. These muffins have cheddar cheese and vegetables that she likes (and one that she doesn’t) in them. Yet she thinks these muffins are “okay”! “Okay” is her lingo for “it’s not bad, but frankly I don’t really like it”!
Actually, what she told me later was, “the texture is really great, and they’re very good for savoury muffins, but you know I don’t like savoury stuff". Then she gets up and gets herself some savoury banana crisps!!

In our home, these muffins are for evening time snacking, but they are pretty good for snack boxes to school. Add some milk and fruit and they make a filling meal too. They’re good on the side with tomato soup too.

I had some zucchini left over from another kitchen adventure of mine. I needed to use this up. So these muffins have zucchini, sweet red carrots and some very thinly sliced green beans in them.

Feel free to use whatever vegetable you would prefer, but I would suggest that using more than 2 or 3 vegetables in these muffins might be overkill as far as children are concerned. I find it helps if one or two of the vegetables used are those which your children like, as it makes it easier to sneak in the third “not-liked” vegetable!

You can use all purpose flour if you prefer, or only whole wheat flour. In my home I’m the only one who really likes breads and quick breads with whole wheat flour and I find that about half and half of both flours ensures a good texture.


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt (remember the cheese has salt)

2 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp brown sugar

freshly crushed black pepper to taste

1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup oil (I use a sunflower-rice bran oil blend)

1 cup milk

3/4 cup shredded/ thinly sliced vegetables of choice


Put the flours, salt, sugar and baking powder into a big bowl and whisk together to mix well. Add the grated cheese and whisk a couple of times more to ensure the cheese is well coated with flour and mixed well.

In another bowl, whisk the beaten egg, oil and milk together. Then add the shredded/ sliced vegetables and mix well.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Using a wooden spoon, fold the mixture together as little as possible, to blend well. If traces of flour are still visible that’s fine.
Over mixing the batter will result in tough muffins.

Scrape the batter into greased muffin tins and bake at 200C for about 30 minutes till the tops start browning. Remove from tins and cool on a rack.

This recipe makes about 10 very tasty and moist muffins, depending on the size of your muffin tins. Please make them at your own risk and be prepared to have your children declare these good, terrible or okay!

This post was written by Aparna

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Travelling with Kids

Friday, March 26, 2010

Posted by Dee

My Daughter and I landed in India early this month. It was indeed a learning experience even though we traveled quite a few times. Here are a few tips to remember while travelling with infants/toddlers.

1. Before you leave , ensure that you take your child to the doctor for a wellness check up. Make sure that all his/her vaccinations, booster shots are given.

2. Ensure that you take enough food for you and your baby. Keep in mind that you might get delayed or be unable to catch a connecting flight. The airlines have cut back drastically on the food size for all its travellers, Ask for more food if you need. Do not hesitate , they always keep a stash of bread and fruits, especially for pregnant women or for people who suffer from diabetes.

3. Keep ample bottles /sippy cups / straw cups for the entire journey as you may not be able to wash and reuse.

4. Keep at least more than 5-7 pairs of outfits that keep warm for your baby , they will come in handy if your child is not doing too well.

5. Make a list and keep a stash of all the baby's medication. Take extra stuff just in case.

6. Some pharmacies sell earplugs only for toddlers , in case , your child is above 2 years of age , do keep them with you , apart from cotton plugs.

7. Also you have lollipops for toddlers to suck during the takeoff . They are a good alternative to keep.

8. Always try to give the bottle first , and then go for the other alternatives , Make sure you don't overfeed the child. Feed moderately at regular intervals and dont force feed. Keep them well hydrated.

9. If you are travelling to a place which has mosquitos , these days you get organic mosquito repellents, keep a stock of them.

9. Most importantly don't panic , the more the parents panic , the less control we have over the situation, Its hard to think logically when your baby is not doing well or when its your first flight , but its very important for us to be in control. Try and be as cool as possible. They say your baby can sense your mood and it can affect them . Be cool and calm and don't hesitate to take help from the air hostess or your fellow passengers . If it works then go for it !

This post was written by Dee

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5 Reasons Why Pasta is Great for a Weeknight Dinner

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Posted by Mansi

pasta wine sauce roasted garlicWhen it comes to cooking something fast for dinner, Pasta is often on the top of the charts. And why should it not be? It is indeed a boon for the working women who have to dish out a decent dinner in less than 30 minutes, but you can even transform a lame pasta packet into something exotic if you have some time on your hands! Keeping this simple and short, here are the top 5 reasons according to me why Pasta is a preferred choice for weeknight dinners!

1. Availability & Storage
Evey supermarket store will carry pasta, even if it is in the most simplest Spaghetti form. In fact, even the mom-and-pop stores across the streets carry them at time. no matter where you live, and no matter what weather it is, you can always rely on a package of pasta to quickly whip up a Pasta Salad or some Baked Macaroni & Cheese!

2. Ease of Preparation
It is so simple, even a kid could do it (well, almost, if the kid is at least 8 years old!) Just boil a pot of water, add a teaspoon of salt and empty the pasta noodles into the crock pot. Cook for 10 minutes and you are done. When you are short on time, just add some ready-made Pasta sauce on the top, some Parmesan cheese, some fresh pepper, and you are good to go. Simple enough, right?

3. Budget-Friendly
This is perhaps the most important reason to choose Pasta for dinner. a 2 lb package of noodles can easily feed a family of 4 or 5. Add the cost of some sauce and cheese, and you'll still be looking at a family dinner under $10 - and that includes Garlic Toast too! That's even less than the cost of one person's meal if you go to a non-chain restaurant and order a single item from their menu! And homemade sauces are even cheaper, as you can make in bulk and store and keep for use later on in the month. Try making different kinds of Pesto Sauces, like this Cilantro Pesto, or the Walnut Arugula Pesto for affordable yet tasty variations.

4. Delicious to Eat
Pasta comes in so many shapes and sizes, that its easy to mix and match and create a meal that is delicious, yet different from last time. What I do is keep 5 basic sauce recipes on hand, and 5 different types of pasta packages at home. Then I keep alternating between the pairings. So one time its Ravioli with Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce, other time it is Fettuccine in Roasted Garlic Tomato & Wine Sauce, and yet another time it is the Vegetarian Spinach Lasagna!

5. Healthy & Kid-Friendly Too!
Homemade pasta can be quite healthy, contrary to what one might think, if you stick to a healthy Pasta Sauce recipe; using whole wheat pasta and adding nutritious ingredients like spinach, garlic and herbs that add to the vitamin, mineral and fiber content of the pasta, some cheese for protein, tomatoes for lycopene & nuts for omega-3 oils will actually give you a filling meal fit for your kids and your entire family. Plus, pasta comes in so many interesting shapes, tubes, tunnels, macaroni and more, that kids find it fun to indulge in the colorful meal laid out in front of them.

So, if you are wondering what to cook tonight, it might be a good idea to dish out some Noodles and look at one of the Pasta recipes above, then make your family a hit & healthy restaurant-style meal which will not cash out your pockets, and yet make for a tasty eating event.

Recipes & Photo Credit - Fun and Food Cafe

This post was written by Mansi

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Quick Indian - Nankhatai

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Posted by Bina

These rich, melt-in-your-mouth cookies are a delicious tea-time treat. Or for that matter, a perfect anytime treat. Commonly known as nankhatai (pronounced naan-kha-taai) biscuits, one would usually buy them in in bakeries just like this one or from kharibiscuitwallahs - guys going door to door carrying huge tin trunks on their heads, selling nankhatais, rusks and khari biscuits. The trunk would open to reveal all the wonderful goodies neatly arranged in different compartments - square, oval and round shaped biscuits topped with almonds or cashews or pistachios or tutti-frutti, begging to be picked up!
Sometimes, when there was a surplus of ghee at home, we would send the ingredients to the local bakery to be baked into nankhatais. Much later, we got our first home oven - a contraption that sat on the floor and looked like a mini spaceship with a glass window on top! The nankhatais made at home were so good that we never went back to store bought ones again.

Nankhatais are easy and quick to make. All you need is flour, powdered sugar, ghee, baking powder and some cardamom. That's it. No fancy equipment for mixing either. Just toss everything into a bowl, mix with your fingers, roll into balls, flatten and bake. Super easy. A quick note about making ghee. It is almost like making browned butter or beurre noisette. Simply melt some unsalted butter in a pan, first on med-high and then on med-low flame until you see the solids settle to the bottom and turn golden brown. I don't bother with straining either. Just pour the liquid into another container and stop pouring when you see the solids coming to the rim of the pan. The liquid solidifies when it cools completely to room temperature.


Makes 24 cookies

200 gms all-purpose flour (approx. 1 3/4 cups)
140 gms powdered sugar (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
110 gms ghee (solid) (approx. 3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp baking powder
cardamom – 8 (only the seeds –powdered)
Cashews/pistachios/almonds for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Put flour, sugar, cardamom and baking powder in a bowl and mix well.

Add the ghee and mix until it forms a smooth ball of dough (You may need to add an additional 1-2 tbsp of ghee if the dough looks too crumbly).

Roll dough into balls and using your palms, slightly flatten each into a disc and arrange on cookie sheet.

Press a piece of cashew, pistachio or almond on top.

Bake at 300 degrees F for 15 mins (until bottom of cookie turns golden brown).

Let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container.

* You can also make a saffron version by dissolving 1/4 tsp of saffron in a tsp of milk and adding it to the flour mixture along with the ghee and a few drops of yellow food coloring.

This post was written by Bina

When Popeye Doesn’t Quite Help Them Eat Spinach!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Posted by Aparna Balasubramanian

Getting one’s children to eat what’s good for them must be one of the most difficult exercises in life, perhaps. I think every person who has ever put in this kind of effort deserves a special star on a walk of fame!

Our daughter proved quite early on, that she had very strong ideas about what she would and would not do. Despite this, we didn’t really have too much of difficulty getting her to eat as a toddler. We just faced the usual “I don’t want this!” or “I’m not hungry!”
Akshaya never was a fussy eater, but as she grew older she started developing strong dislikes for certain foods. While this was perfectly understandable, we had to ensure that these dislikes became the exception rather than the norm.

She didn’t (and still doesn’t) like many fruits. She will eat most vegetables but will not eat most types of salads. When told vegetables in their raw form in salads are healthy, her stock answer always has been “……but I’m not a cow!”
When we were growing up, things were different. We didn’t have a wide variety of foods/ cuisines to choose from and mostly ate whatever was cooked and served without too many questions. Our parents didn’t really have the time or inclination to hold too many discussions on matters regarding our food likes and dislikes.

A lot of us would have grown up being told how Popeye was strong because he ate his spinach and lots of it. If I had told my daughter about Popeye, she would probably asked me “Pop-who???”
Then I would have had to contend with the following kind of questions:
hy did she need to eat spinach just because someone else (who she had never heard of) did so?
Did I honestly think she would want to do something that was done by someone who looked like Popeye? And what was the deal with Popeye and spinach anyways?

As it turns out, it seems stories of Popeye and spinach are attributed to the publication in 1870 of a study by Dr. E von Wolf which mistakenly attributed to spinach ten times its actual iron content.

Children need all the nutrition they can get during their growing years and in amounts much greater than an adult does. It seems a bit of a paradox that most of these nutrients seem to be in foods that children need to be persuaded to eat!
So how does one get children to eat what’s good for them, without too much of a fight on one’s hands?

There is no “one fits all” solution to this question but we have, over the years, found some ways to get our daughter to eat healthier. We’ve won some and lost some.
Children being the fickle creatures they are, will tell you they love some particular food one day and then tell you that they don’t like it anymore, a couple of weeks later!
What is important is to start laying the foundation to healthy eating choices as early in childhood as possible, so that it becomes a habit. Here are some things that worked for us.

It is important to lead by example, because children pick up all our habits (especially the undesirable ones!) very easily. So if we tell our kids to eat up their vegetables, we have to do it too!!

In our home, we have certain mealtime rules and they apply equally to adults and child. One is that everyone at the table has to have a portion of whatever is cooked for that meal, even if we don’t really like it very much. This rule is something I grew up with and even though I fought it as a child, it has held me in good stead as an adult.

I used to take my daughter along when I went shopping for groceries, vegetables and fruit. She would help me pick out things and has learnt much that way. She is now quite adept at reading the small print on packaged foods.
She would also help me when I used to bake or cook dinner. She was always very happy to eat whatever she had “cooked/ baked”. This I found, along with the innate curiosity in children, was a great way to introduce her to a lot of foods.

Introduce your child to whatever tastes your chosen diet includes or allows, as early as possible. Once a child’s taste patterns and habits are set, it is not easy to break them. At the same time, it is important to recognize they have some definite foods they don’t like.
Variety at the table also helps, since a lot of times I find my daughter complaining that the food I cook is boring! This is where my blogging has helped as there’s more variety in my cooking now, though she insists that I now am more interested in feeding my blog than her!!!

Keeping them away from “undesirable” foods is a sure way to ensure that they always choose junk food as the taste of this is addictive! When Akshaya discovered junk food, that’s what she liked (and still does a lot of the time) more than home-cooked food.

So we make allowances for this when we eat out and then she gets to choose what she wants to eat. It has now come to the point where she does like home-made versions of many of these too. However, more often than not, the lure of a Pizza Hut/ Dominoes Pizza or a McDonalds proves too much to resist.
I have finally arrived at two largely fool-proof strategies that work for me. What strategists do in boardrooms isn’t a patch on our strategizing, as they don’t have to contend with unpredictable teenagers!

The first one is deviousness.
My daughter does not like fruits very much. So what I do is hide them or dress them up in foods she likes. So I turn fruit into fruit milkshakes, gelatos and ice-creams. I bake them into cakes and muffins.
Cakes have butter and sugar, but I can control how much of it goes into them and younger children and teenagers do need this in adequate amounts for healthy growth. I put oats in her cookies and bread.

Akshaya will not eat tomatoes, but loves pizza and pastas with my home-made tomato sauce. She loves macaroni and cheese so I make a version that’s full of vegetables! She doesn’t like spinach (yeah, Popeye wouldn’t work with her!), so I add the puree to chapathi dough to make “green” chappathis.
And the list goes on………………..

The other one is that I let Akshaya make some of her food decisions. She prefers to carry home-made lunch rather than eat at the school canteen. So I let her decide what she wants for lunch and this ensures she eats what she takes to school.
On many weekends, she decides what we should have for Sunday lunch and I cook it up as “healthy” as I can without “spoiling” it for her. (Though she feels I haven’t been very successful on this count.)
Of course, it is a wise mother who doesn’t use the “H” word in front of her kids!

I think I’ve rambled on long enough for now. I would love to hear how you all handle your children’s food dislikes and maybe learn a thing or two or three. As far as I’m concerned, mothers can never have enough “weapons” in their armoury!

This post was written by Aparna

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Posted by Jamie


Aren’t we all? Work, school, family. Out of bed at 7, breakfast the usual café au lait with 2 pains au lait with just a dollop of cherry preserves each, a few minutes more in bed reading and chatting with hubby, then walkies for Marts. Strictly the same routine, over and over again, endlessly repeated. Mornings followed by work all day, dinner then a bit of tv, Marty hopping insolently from lap to lap deciding on which one of us shall be graced with his warm, furry company for the evening or if he’ll simply snort his discontent and slink back to his own cushion. Weekends cozy at home. Maybe a morning saunter to the market, basket in one hand, husband’s hand in the other, watching rugby (in season) or a run for Marty in the vineyards (in the other, sunnier season). Dinner out once a week, vacations spent at home.

There is something so comforting about routine, that old expected pattern, accustomed to what we will find each day. It all becomes second nature, a natural reflex, and we can concentrate on other things secure in the familiarity of knowing what will happen next, as comforting and familiar as our favorite worn-in pair of jeans or that old woolen blanket we wrap ourselves up in on chilly winter afternoons, our hands wrapped around a mug of steaming cocoa. We are all creatures of habit and as much as we love change and adventure, the excitement of the unexpected, the thrills and chills of risk and chance, we still prefer the ease and well-being of our little, everyday habits. In this mad, mad, mad world, what feels better than that?

Our eating suffers from force of habit as much as our daily routine. Don’t we always want the same cake every birthday? Don’t our holiday tables groan under the weight of the same bounty of goodies, the turkey and stuffing, mom’s this and grandma’s that, the same pies for dessert, the same cookies baked year after year to hand round to friends at Christmas? Maybe we call it tradition rather than habit, but habit by any other name is still a habit. Remember when we were kids? A bowl of cereal drowned in cold milk every morning before we biked off for school; Fruit Loops were grabbed every morning for maybe 6 months, then Cap’n Crunch, then Lucky Charms, but the basic routine never changed, nor did the current fad. The same sandwich and cookies were wrapped up and dropped into the brown paper sack for lunch, the same Ding Dongs or Little Debbies, always cream-filled chocolate whatevers, for the after-school snack. The same games played every afternoon with the same friends knowing that at 6:30 each evening we’d find ourselves scooting our chair – and always at the same place – up to the table for dinner. On the nose. We knew that one day a week dad threw steaks on the grill to go with baked potatoes and he would make pancakes for dinner regularly. Like a parent’s love, these daily habits made us feel safe and protected.

Why should my own little family now be any different than my family all those years ago? Breakfast, lunch and snacks are like clockwork and hands grab for the usual. Husband is happy when there is a warm lunch on the table at 1 but is ever so content with bread and cheese followed by a piece of fruit. Every day. Clem expects to find the same foods in the refrigerator each time he pulls open that door and complains loud and long if they aren’t sitting and waiting for him when expected. Persnickety son is the worst of the lot and the most stuck on habit. Obsessively stuck. He regularly hands me over his list of the foods he likes, the main courses he will eat, the desserts he will deign accept to taste. And always at the same time of day. A little too early and eyebrows raise and one asks “Why? What’s wrong?” They grab the same thing every morning for breakfast, the same thing every afternoon for snack. And going out “en famille” means the same, familiar pizzeria. The same cereal, brands of dried pasta and cookies grace our pantries, my hands automatically reach for the same flavor jelly and same bag of coffee at the grocery store, we are partial to the same chocolate cake, same snack quick bread and the same coffee cake and they are requested – and baked – over and over again.

When one is a food blogger, eating habits can get in the way. I try and feed my blog yet my family claims that they should come first! Make the same chocolate chip cookies again? But they are already posted on my blog, I need something new, something different, something unique! Arms are thrown up, eyes rolled, groans escape from lips and one or the other stomps off in anger and disbelief. I try something new, a gorgeous charlotte or a panna cotta or fruit instead of chocolate chips and all hell breaks loose! “But you know what we like! You know we want to eat the same things all the time!

And dinnertime as well. No wonder it’s called comfort food: the couscous in winter, the Asian salad in summer, hamburgers on a bun with that side of fries once a week and homemade pizza every Friday night followed the day after by hot-from-the-oven focaccia made with the leftover dough. They feel comforted getting what they expect, are happy in the thought that it tastes just the same week after week. In a world gone mad, long, tiring, stressful days, being pushed this way and that by colleagues’ whims or teachers’ sudden demands, one a little too tired with the ways of the working world, the others just learning the ropes, living each day with the unexpected, the reckless and the impulsive, isn’t it nice to be able to step over that threshold, close the door – and the world – behind you and be greeted by the familiar, the warmth of a cozy livingroom, the comforting smells wafting from the kitchen, a mother’s smile or a spouse’s embrace, the warm, wet nose of a dog thrilled to see you no matter what and pull a chair up to the table and sit down to a meal you know and love so well.

Ever since the first time I made this traditional Country Captain, it has become a family favorite and a regular on our kitchen table. Warm, comforting, flavorful without being spicy so it fits everyone’s bill, easy and quick to put together, it is the perfect family meal simply served over rice, pasta or, as I have done here, creamy polenta. This dish, whose earliest reference was found in the 1857 Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book, has a somewhat long history, but it is thought to be an English dish brought originally to the table by Sepoys, the Indian officers serving Britain in East India, eventually making it’s way to the United States. But the East Indian influences are indeed there – the curry, the raisins and almonds. It is a soothing, warming chicken dish with a deep, rich tomato sauce spiked with curry powder and garlic and sweetened by tender golden raisins or currents, the almonds adding a nutty crunch into the bargain.

Slightly adapted from Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook

¼ cup (about 30 g) flour for dredging
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 broiler chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs/1 ½ to 2 kg) or equivalent weight in favorite pieces, well-rinsed and patted dry, excess fat and skin trimmed and cut into pieces
4 Tbs (60 g) butter or margarine
1 medium to large onion, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 red bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ tsps curry powder
½ tsp dried thyme leaves
1 can (16 oz/450 g) stewed or crushed tomatoes
3 Tbs golden raisins (or currents if you prefer)
1/3 cup blanched, slivered almonds

Place the flour and salt in a wide bowl and add a very generous grinding of black pepper, at least ¼ tsp and toss to combine. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour to coat completely, shake off the excess flour and place the pieces on a piece of waxed paper.

Melt the butter or margarine in a large, nonreactive, heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chicken, just a few pieces at a time so as not to crowd, and cook until the chicken is browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken as it is browned to a clean plate while you continue browning the rest of the chicken.

Once all of the chicken has bee browned and removed from the pot, slightly lower the heat and add the onion, the peppers, the garlic, the curry powder and the thyme and toss until blended. Add the stewed tomatoes and stir, scraping up the brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pot from the chicken.

Return the chicken to the pot and push it down under the sauce. Add a bit of water just until the chicken is barely, but not quite, covered. Bring to the boil, lower the heat to low and allow the Country Captain to simmer (you can put a lid on the top but I usually keep it just slightly ajar) until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to fall off the bone – about 35 to 40 minutes more or less. Stir the sauce occasionally and add a bit of water if the sauce evaporates too much. You do want a thick sauce at the end.

5 minutes or so before the end of cooking, stir the raisins into the sauce. Serve the Country Captain over rice, pasta or polenta sprinkled with the slivered almonds.

This post was written by JAMIE

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Quick Indian-Chutneys

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Posted by Bina

They bring excitement to a meal. Like the grand finale in a fireworks display, bursts of tangy, spicy and sweet lighting up the tastebuds. Often referred to as condiments or accompaniments, chutneys have their own special, much loved place in Indian cuisine. Chutneys took center stage in our house when I was growing up, and no matter what other special dishes were set out in front of us, it was the chutneys we would zero in on! And ofcourse, the street food! All through college, ignoring our pristine college cafeteria, my friends and I would head out the wrought iron gates to the carts with chaat and their green and tamarind chutneys, vegetable sandwiches with the spicy green chutney and Amul butter, vada-pav with the garlic chutney, and dosas with coconut chutney. No matter what we were eating, the common request always was "Bhaiyya, aur thoda chutney daloge?" Loosely translated, "Can you please add more chutney?"

Chutneys are eaten with any meal, starting with breakfast right upto a late night snack. They are usually made with herbs, vegetables, fruits or leafy greens and can be either raw or cooked. The consistency can range from thick spreadlike to runny and can be powders too. Traditionally, chutneys used to be ground or pounded using a mortar-pestle or grinding stone but thanks to blenders and coffee-grinders, chutney-making has become a fairly simple task. Most of them freeze very well too. I usually freeze them in ice-cube trays and transfer the frozen cubes into ziploc bags, taking out cubes as needed. They are great as sandwich spreads, dips and in grilled cheese sandwiches. Just let your creativity run wild!

Here are some of my favorite chutneys. The amount of chiles (both fresh and dried) in the following recipes will have your tastebuds tingling but will not set your mouth on fire or make your ears ring! I have used thai chiles in recipes calling for green chiles. If you are unsure about the amount of chiles you can handle, start with half the amount called for and you can always add the rest in the last few pulses of the blender.

Tomato chutney

Makes approx. 2 cups


6 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped (approx. 3 cups)
1 medium onion, roughly chpped (approx. 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup carrot, roughly chopped (optional) - It adds some color and sweetness
1/2 cup red bell pepper, roughly chopped (optional)
1 green chile
1 1/2 tbsp canola/peanut/other neutral oil
For seasoning
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 dried red chili
3/4 tbsp oil

  • Heat 1 1/2 tbsp oil in a wide skillet and add the green chile, red bell pepper and chopped onions. Once the onions start to soften, add the chopped tomatoes and carrots.
  • Cook on medium high heat, stirring occassinally, for about 10 mins till the tomatoes become soft and all the vegetables are cooked. Let this mixture cool to room temperature.
  • While the tomato mixture is cooling, heat the 3/4 tbsp oil on medium heat in a small pan. Add the fenugreek seeds and let them turn darker (a couple of shades beyond golden brown).
  • Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and dried red chili. Once the mustard seeds start to pop, turn off the stove.
  • Put about 1/2 cup of the cooled tomato mixture in a blender and add the seasoning to it along with a little salt.
  • Grind to a fine paste and then add the rest of the tomato mixture and this time, grind to a slightly coarse paste. You can taste and add some more salt if needed.

    Cilantro chutney

    Makes approx. 1 cup


    2 cups cilantro (leaves and tender parts of stem), roughly chopped
    1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
    1 green chile
    3/4 tsp sugar

  • Put the green chile, onion, cumin seeds, salt, sugar and lemon/lime juice in the blender and grind to a coarse paste. This helps the blades move easier when the cilantro is added.
  • Add the cilantro and puree to a fine paste.
  • Taste and add more salt if needed.

    Variation: You can replace half the cilantro with mint and add approx. 1/2 inch piece of ginger or a clove of garlic for a cilantro-mint chutney.

    Tamarind-Date chutney

    Makes approx. 1 1/2 cups

    3/4 cup tamarind concentrate/pulp
    1/2 cup pitted dates, soaked in a cup of hot water
    1 cup water
    1/3 tsp cayenne pepper powder
    1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar/jaggery
    1/2 tsp roasted cumin powder
    1/4 tsp ginger powder (optional)

  • Blend the dates along with the tamarind concentrate and 1/2 cup water in the blender till you get a smooth paste.
  • Transfer to a small pan and add the other 1/2 cup water, salt, cayenne pepper powder, brown sugar, cumin powder and ginger powder.
  • Cook on medium heat until it comes to a boil. Turn off heat and let it cool to room temperature.

    (Tamarind concentrate can be found in Indian stores as well as Asian stores. The Indian concentrate is usually very dark and looks a lot like thick molasses. It should be used in very small amounts. I use a product from Thailand that is similar to this and just love it! It looks and tastes like freshly made tamarind pulp)

    • Coconut chutney

      Makes approx. 2 cups


      1 3/4 cup grated, fresh coconut (I use frozen).
      1/2 cup roasted gram dal (dalia) or dry-roasted peanuts
      1 green chile
      appprox. 1 cup water
      1 tsp tamarind concentrate or 1 tbsp yogurt or 1 tbsp lemon/lime juice
      1 tbsp canola/peanut/other neutral oil
      1 tsp mustard seeds
      1/2 tsp cumin seeds
      1 tsp urad dal (optional)
      1 dried red chile
      a few curry leaves

    • Powder the dalia or roasted peanuts along with the green chile in the blender.
    • Add the grated coconut, water, tamarind/yogurt/lemon juice and some salt and blend to a smooth paste.
    • Tranfer to a bowl. Heat oil for seasoning in a small pan and add the urad dal, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dried red chile and curry leaves.
    • When the urad dal turns golden brown and the mustard seeds start to pop, pour seasoning over coconut mixture and stir well.
    • Taste and add salt if needed.

      You can find grated (shredded) fresh coconut in the freezer section of larger grocery stores as well as in Indian and Asian grocery stores.

      This post was written by Bina

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    • Where are you from? - The, sometimes, unanswerable question...

      Monday, February 08, 2010

      Posted by Hilda

      I’d like to talk about something a little personal, if I may, because I’m curious about what the rest of you who have experienced this in the past or are experiencing it now feel about it.
      I’m sort of a third culture kid, although even that doesn’t really describe what I am. I didn’t go from one culture to another and then form a third culture out of that mix of experiences; I was born in one Iran, raised the first half of my life in France and spent the second half of my childhood in the US in California. I’ve often been described as being like an onion, my core is Iranian, my mid-layers are French, and my outer layers are American, though the skin is Iranian based on my looks, and I've described myself as a cultural mutt when asked "what I was."
      I married a Pakistani who was born in Lahore but who, in terms of education, was raised in the United Kingdom, and in terms of vacation time was mostly in Saudi Arabia or sometimes back in Pakistan. He and I have funny arguments about the meaning of various words in American English as opposed to British English. I have two step-children, one who is half Pakistani-one quarter Kuwaiti-one quarter Swedish, and the other who is half Pakistani-half American. My ten month-old daughter, who is ethnically half Iranian-half Pakistani, was born in London, entitling her to a British passport to go with her various other passports and residency permits.

      Where am I going with this? Well, I’ve always had an easy and a hard time fitting in. Easy because there were few ways in which to be entrenched, my parents not being big sticklers for tradition, hard because I could always see what the other side of the argument might be, or the way that those “foreign” people might interpret the situation. I think of everywhere as home and nowhere as home if that makes sense. Wherever I am, if I am there for a while and haven’t traveled, I start to feel antsy and homesick for another home. It’s disconcerting sometimes because I can be in a room of people who have very strong opinions about their country or their part of the world and it feels like this brings them a sense of security in something permanent that I have never felt.
      That isn’t to say that I haven’t argued for my various countries of origin, as I actually did most of my life though I didn’t begin to realize it until I was in my late teens.
      My French childhood friends would sometimes refer to me as “l’Iranienne” (the Iranian); to my American schoolmates I was a French “frog” first but became Middle Eastern when the Middle East would come up in the news which then often translated to my representing terrorism somehow; to my French friends I became “l’Américaine” who could understand the way Americans thought and behaved and probably was betraying French culture and tradition by assimilating somehow; on the round went until eventually there were so many arrows pointing from one place to the other on so many different subjects that I stopped trying to defend one culture to another as a function of where I was geographically. If people didn’t want to understand, that was their own problem, not mine, but the feeling of not belonging was only delineated more sharply by the ever-growing impossibility of taking one side and sticking to it.

      So the question is, how do I raise my daughter to feel a sense of home that is, pardon the pun, foreign to me. The saying is that “home is where the heart is,” but that’s a bit trite and nebulous, isn’t it? I can certainly agree with the idea that my home is where my family is, but even though family is immutable, one still goes through life in one’s own head and is, in a way, alone. It’s likely that we will be traveling a fair amount as she grows up, partly because that is our wish and partly because our personal and professional lives require travel. Is the answer simply to make sure she has a thick skin?
      You’re probably wondering how my stepchildren have fared so far, and my answer would be quite well, but I don’t know what it was, or perhaps wasn’t, that has resulted in their faring so well while being pulled in so many different directions. I haven’t had a long discussion with either one of them about this because I don’t think I was fully cognizant of the source of my discomfort until I was in college, so I don’t think it fair to bring this open-ended question into their lives, until they start to feel it for themselves, while hoping that perhaps it will never enter their consciousness.

      I know that many of you who read the Daily Tiffin are expatriates in your own right, some having children and raising them in completely foreign cultures from your own, but wonder which of you were brought up in a couple or more different places, as I was, and feel like they have no country but, also, every country.
      And, if you have children, are you finding that their experience of several cultures is similar to yours or different, or that they are affected in ways you couldn’t have imagined because their experience was not, in the end, what you thought it would be based on your own understanding of the nomadic life? Why don't you step into my office...

      This post was written by Hilda

      Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.