Sunday, 26 March 2017

Healthy Homemade Nutella

Is your kid a Nutella addict? Mine is....

Every time I am not around she tries all her wiles on whoever is around to get to the Nutella.  Her grandparents are her usual victims for this. And they of course succumb to it, every single time she makes those puppy dog eyes! :-) She loves it in all its variations - straight up, between a sandwich, slathered on a chapati, or spread on a dosa and made into a roll. And her intake suddenly increases when Nutella is a star in the meal.

But I did not want her to eat so much of the canned stuff - especially since I knew that it was just junk filled with sugar. In fact as per the ingredient list, the first two ingredients in it are sugar, and edible vegetable oil. Nuts come only third in the list. So I decided to try my luck making a much healthier version at home, where I had control over the ingredients!

When I started out I never thought it would be this easy to make. Literally, all I needed was about 7-10 minutes. I did not have hazelnuts, so I substituted cashew nuts for it. If you want, you can use hazelnuts instead.

My husband and I - and more importantly my daughter - were very happy with the taste. In fact my daughter (who has super-sensitive taste buds) says that she likes my version much more than the store bought one. She has never asked me to buy Nutella after I started making it.  Anyway without further ado, here's the short and sweet recipe.

Ingredients
1. Cashew nuts (dry roasted in a pan or microwave) - 200 gms
2. Cocoa powder (I used Hershey's cocoa powder) - 3 slightly heaped Tbsp - depends on how chocolaty you want to make it.
3. Sugar - 3 tsp - this can be adjusted to your taste.
4. Salt - a pinch
5. Oil (I used Canola) - 1 tsp

How to make it

First dry roast the cashew nuts in a pan. Set it aside to cool. Once it has cooled, put that in the blender, or mixie as we call it. Add the remaining ingredients except for the oil in the mixie, and blend. Depending on the size of your mixie, you may have to make this in two batches. When I blend, I start with power position 1 and then gradually shift to position 2.

Blend it for about 2 min and then open the jar, and scrape the sides. Rest for a minute and then again blend for 2 min.... Keep doing this in 1 to 2 min intervals. You need to give short 1 min rests so that the mixie doesn't overheat.

Once you see that the nuts have released their oils and it is creamy, you can add the oil to it and blend again for about a min. This helps it make ultra creamy, and spreadable - just like the store bought version.

Now scoop all that goodness into a clean jar, and relish it to the core knowing that it's not just yummy - it's healthy too!!!

Note: I don't refrigerate it. It can easily stay for more than a week even if it's not refrigerated in summer. Unfortunately I can only vouch for 1 week, as my daughter and husband managed to finish it within 1 week, no matter how much quantity I made! :-)

P.S: I look forward to your comments.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Daddy's Little Girl....




The first man in your life…the one who set your standards for men…the one you inevitably measure every single man (and his actions) against. Every girl searches for a reflection of her dad in her life partner. Because you know that you can never find someone else who will love you so blindly….who may not accept your thoughts or your likes (rock music, anyone? :-) ), but who will always, always accept you.

   This Father’s Day, I was thinking about the unique and absolutely wonderful bond between a father and a child…especially a girl child. Most guys I know crave to have a daughter. Even after being blessed with a daughter, my husband would still love to have another daughter. And no matter how big you grow, you would still be the most precious thing on earth for your dad. And dads are absolutely blind about their children. :-)

   To this day my dad feels I am the most beautiful girl on earth. The smartest, the brainiest, the most gifted girl on earth. No matter how many better looking girls I point out to him, his answers are always the same….”They are good looking, but you are better”. If I point out a smarter girl, he would still say “You are more intelligent than her”…. Sometimes I used to get irritated with this trait of his…But now all I can do is smile and say “You need deep seated devotion to be that blind”. :-)

    It’s not that they would blindly agree to whatever you say or think. While growing up my dad’s and my views were diametrically opposite on multiple occasions. We have had many heated discussions on a range of topics, from wearing lipstick to my sleeping habits. Sometimes we would even lose track of what the debate was about, but we didn’t care. Both of us are very good at talking and love to convince the other person that the rabbit I am holding truly does have three horns (that’s a famous Malayalam saying by the way). :-)
But wherever it mattered, his position was always clear – and that would be right next to me.

    Looking back, I am amazed to realize that I never had any major rebellions. It was not because I was meek and obedient. On the contrary, my dad and I are really strong personalities. But the fact is I never really felt the need. Like I once told my friend…. when you get all the freedom that you need, and when you know you are being trusted to know, and do the right thing always…somehow you just don’t see a cause to rebel. My parents gave me all the space I needed to grow…and where they needed to reel me in, they always did so lovingly…and explained the reasons for it. I am not saying my dad was not protective…. In fact he was one of those over-protective dads…. But he always knew how to balance it with a lot of freedom too. He was so loving that I never felt stifled by the boundaries he set. He always made me realize that the boundaries were for my own good, without making the message too loud and clear. And as any parent knows, that one achievement is worth a Nobel prize for parenting. Come to think of it, why isn’t there a Nobel prize for Parenting? Parents totally deserve awards, I say.

    Now that I have a child of my own…all I can pray is that I prove to be as good a parent as my dad proved to be...That my husband manages to make our little girl feel just as special as my dad made me feel….
Because every girl loves to be her dad’s princess…
Every girl loves to be ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’…. :-) 

Monday, 30 May 2016

Your child's first days in school - How to make it easier

June is approaching. Play schools and regular schools are starting. Is your child going to playschool or school for the first time? This is a harrowing time for all parents and children. But if it's your child's first ever day of school, then it's a real scary thing. There is a lot of anxiety, hope, tears, fear..... A lot of parents have asked me for tips to help their kids love school as much as my little one did, from the first day. If they only knew!! :-)


My daughter Samaara was about 2.5 yrs old when she started playschool. She goes to a pure montessori school. She absolutely adores her school, her teachers and her friends. But it was not always so...The first few days were really trying and a complete emotional upheaval - for her, as well as me.

Today, I thought I would share with you our story and the lessons I learned (most of the times, the hard way). Maybe these lessons can help you have a smooth and tear-free first day of school.

1. Never say anything negative about school or studies 


This was a pearl of wisdom which was passed to me by Sam's pediatrician. When she was around 1 year old (way before we were even thinking about school :-) ) this is what he told us. "Never use school, or the teachers there as bogeymen". So basically....if your child misbehaves, or doesn't eat food, or throws a tantrum... never, ever say things like "Wait till you get to school. They will never tolerate behavior like this".... Or things like "If you don't eat I will tell your teacher. Let's see what she has to say about this"...well, you get the picture.
Don't forget that your child's teacher would be playing a mom's role when she is in school. That's the way you should always portray teachers to your child.

2. Talk about school as if it's a real fun place to be

Casually talk about the friends they would make, the things they would see, the songs they would learn....and so on. Do a real good marketing job for the school. :-) Please make sure that you don't overdo it. These should only be said where you can slip it into conversations naturally. Otherwise your child will go the rebel way, and decide to hate school on principle. :-) After all, kids always like to do things that they know you don't like. So don't make it evident that you are emotionally invested in whether they like school or not.

3. Don't try to 'prepare' your child for school and the changes ahead

This might sound counter intuitive. After all, whenever a major upheaval is going to come in your child's life, aren't you supposed to mentally prepare them for it by discussing it with them? Very valid question. And that was exactly what i did! I talked to my daughter (multiple times!!) about school...that I would be waiting right outside...that she doesn't need to cry....and all that jazz. But all it helped in doing was increasing my daughter's anxiety. It took me some time to realize that. Then I stopped talking about it. I would only say really casual things, or respond to her questions in a matter of fact way. I stopped making it a big deal...and slowly her anxiety reduced. After all that I came across multiple articles which said the same. If only I knew it a little earlier!!! It would have saved me some serious bouts of crying. :-)

4. Don't wait where they can see you
Before Sam's first day of school, when one of the preschool teachers first told me that I cannot be inside, or anywhere my daughter could see, I was aghast. What??!!! You mean I should just leave her there and let her think that I have abandoned her? No way!!!  I felt they were cruel and heartless to even suggest it. So I went ahead and stood where she could see me....And boy, do I regret it now. She kept looking out the window and weeping everyday. She just wouldn't get settled. A few days later I stayed away from her line of vision...after assuring her a hundred times that I would be outside! But her crying increased...That's when I realized she could see my parked car through the school window, but not me. This was causing even more anxiety and crying. It was roughly a week later that I started parking my car some distance away. While dropping her to school I told her that the policemen had told me not to park there, and that I would have to find a different spot. That day....she didn't cry. She was slightly tense, it seems, but not weeping. I understood what the playschool teachers had tried to tell me from their experience. For kids, out of sight does mean out of mind. When you are not in front of them, they are free to focus on, and get engaged in fun activities at school. This helps them bond better and make friends with their teachers and other kids. But this was a lesson I learned the hard way. :-)


5. Slowly cut the cord
For two months I used to tell her that I am waiting outside the school. I thought this would give her confidence that I have not abandoned her. :-) But kids....who can figure them out? Though she liked school, she wasn't getting really settled down. So one day I decided to try something out. I told her, in a very matter of fact way, that I need to go buy some medicines and will be back in time to pick her up. She was a little anxious, but I assured her that I would be back, and then changed the subject before she could brood over it. And then when it was time to pick her up, I was at the gate two minutes before time. I did this every day, quoting different reasons, for 3-4 days. This worked like magic. When she realized that I trusted the school people enough to leave her with them, her attitude towards them changed. And when she realized that I would always be there, on time, when school leaves, she felt less anxious. Soon she would ask me where I had gone that day. That's why I said....slowly cut the umbilical cord. Your baby is ready to fly.... :-)




My daughter can’t wait to go to school these days. Sometimes I can even get her to do stuff by telling her I won’t let her go to school if she doesn’t do what I say. :-)
Every kid has a temperament…and a nature that only the mom would know. What worked for me and my daughter may not work for you. There will definitely be some trial and error involved for each child. But at least some of the tips I mentioned above will help you in your journey.
Do you know of any other tips? What has worked for you, or your friends? Or do you have any questions? Please let me know by leaving a comment…..

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Tips to get back to work after a break


I always loved working. So I never imagined I would ever willingly take a sabbatical in my career. But when my daughter was born, everything changed… Due to a variety of reasons, I decided to take a break. It was a choice that caused a spectrum of reactions from my dear and near ones. :-)

Did I miss the constant mental stimulation that my job gave? Yes!!! Adult conversation was something I really missed. And those who know me personally will surely understand the reason! :-) You see, I am a talker. I thrive when I am around people. I have rarely met a person whom I couldn’t strike up a conversation with. So for someone like me, it was doubly difficult to deal with the reduced amount of adult interactions.

But even with all this, the simple fact is….I never once regretted my decision to take a break. And to this day, I feel it was one of the best decisions I have ever taken.

When I felt it was finally time to get back into full time work, I had a lot of apprehensions. I had not worked in a normal, 9-5, office setup in more than 3 years. I did dabble in a few other things in the interim….(more on that is given later in this post). Recently, I got back to full time work - as a business analyst.

So what were the things I did to make this humongous transition easier? And what were the things I wish I did, in hindsight? Well, I am listing all of those here so that you can use them, when you think of joining back the rat race. So enjoy!!!! :-)

     1.   Find a great daycare or after-school care center for your child
This is the number one, most important, deal breaker thing you need to do. I can’t stress enough how important this can be for your peace of mind, and your stress levels. Start sending your child to a daycare, or after-school care a few months (at least 2) before you start job hunting. Ensure that your child is happy at the new day care. If you find that your child is not adjusting to that particular daycare even after a reasonable amount of time, you may have to move her to another daycare. This is a painful period. Believe me, you want all this to be out of the way, before you set out for a job interview. Think about it….would you want to go for a job interview with your child’s tearful face in mind or her smiling face?  

                 
                    

    2.  Prepare your child mentally

Much before I even started job hunting, I prepared my child mentally by telling her I am going to work. I made it a point to dress nicely everyday. Everyday my daughter shares the highlights of her day with me. Sometimes she would ask me what I did in office that day. I would make up stories about what I did that day…small things like I sent a report, had meetings….nothing that she would really understand, but it gave her a sense that I was doing important things. These things helped her accept that I work, and enjoy it too. It also gave her a feeling of importance that I was sharing my day’s highlights with her. :-) So this was a win-win from all angles.

Another thing I found helpful was, a ‘Pepper’ series book called “Pepper and Mama’s new job”. I read this out to Samaara a few days before I started telling her that I am going to work. This helped her acclimatize to the whole concept. There may be other better books that convey the same idea, but this was the one I got my hands on. And I believe it has helped me tremendously.

     3.    Make sustainable arrangements for pick-ups and drops
This was one mistake I made. My daughter goes to a playschool and then later to a different daycare. I was the one who dropped her at playschool, then picked her up at noon and dropped her at the daycare, and then again picked her up in the evening. This entire cycle played havoc with my time. As a result I really struggled to find convenient time slots for interviews. Sometimes the interviews were done in places far from home, even though the actual job location may be close to home. I was tense through two interviews and did not perform at my peak, because I was so aware of the hands on the clock… and was worried if I would get there in time to pick my daughter. It was only after a lot of heartache that I decided to finally let the school bus drop her to her daycare.

     4.   Checkout if you actually want to get back to your earlier career

I wanted to get back to work, for sure. But I was a little (or a LOT :-) ) confused as to what career I should pursue. I loved my job as a business analyst, but a BA role had some aspects, which I felt wouldn’t go well with my new role as parent….like frequent and – sometimes - long-term travel. So I used this break time to foray into other careers. Just testing the waters :-). So I did some marketing for my family business which is run by my dad, and I also did some professional voice overs (for things like ads, e-learning tutorials, mobile apps, etc). I anchored a few corporate events, and even did a small bit of acting for a corporate ad. :-) I just loved the variety it gave me and I also felt really good about myself for having tried all this, instead of just wondering how it would be. And as far as I can see, this has helped me in my job interviews too, even though it was not really relevant to my current job as a Business Analyst. I think the fact that I kept doing something or the other, gave a positive impression to the people who interviewed me. It somehow makes you look more with the times, I guess. So if any of you have a secret wish, like being a writer or doing some interior designing, or something…this is the time to test your wings. Wannabe writers - start a blog, do some freelance writing, contact a magazine with your literary work….anything. Who knows, you may find something you would really love to do for the rest of your life. Or like me, you may find that you want to get back to your earlier career, but with a few things you would want to pursue on weekends or on a freelance basis. Some of them may just stay a hobby for life. But the important thing is that….you would have tried something different. And believe me, this gives you a world of confidence in life.

     5.   Have a heart to heart with your family

When it was time to start work, I had serious concerns on how we would all adjust to it. I think the hardest hit person was my husband. :-) He had got too used to me taking care of a lot of stuff at home - like grocery shopping, bank related stuff, getting Samaara ready for school, etc..etc… But my husband has been a darling. To my absolute delight, he has not just adjusted, but really welcomed these changes. We split all our duties. Now things are running smooth at my house, and we have all got into a routine. But to get to that stage was not an easy task. It is imperative that you have an open and honest conversation with your family about the upcoming changes and how important it is for you, personally, to start working. In my experience, adults as well as children, adjust well to changes that they have been warned of….especially when they know how important it is for you.

     6.   Check out the job portals

Start checking out the usual job portals like naukri, monster, etc. But also check out specialized job portals like sheroes.com which exclusively cater to women, especially moms on a break. They have many flexible options like part time job, work from home, entrepreneur’s corner, etc. They also do mentoring and give guidance to women who are trying to get back to work. There are other websites and groups which do the same. Just google around, and you will see. Incidentally, I did not get my job through them, but they had some good options there. And most importantly, they were a major point of hope during my job hunting days.

     7.   Be clear about your answers

During your HR calls, or interview calls, they are bound to ask you about the reason for your break in career. If you have done something which is not directly related to the role you are currently applying for, they may ask you your reasons for that too. Be very clear on what you would answer for those questions. This will give you the necessary confidence to answer those questions with √©lan when you are actually faced with them. Your answer should be clear, to the point, and without any apologetic overtone. For example, if asked about your break in career, don’t sound apologetic when you talk about it. This gives the impression that you are ashamed about it. It should come across as a conscious decision you took, and do not regret. But having said that, don’t go overboard and show them attitude. You want to leave them with a balanced and pleasant impression.

     8.  Salary negotiations

This was something that was really confusing for me. I was really not clear as to how much I could ask for. I mean, I was coming back to that career after a break. The other things that I had done in the break period were not in the same industry, and obviously the market rates were totally different. So I could only compare my new expected salary with the last salary I had drawn as a BA. So, was I supposed to ask for the same amount as my last salary? Or could I ask for a raise on that? If I could ask for a raise, how much could I ask for, and how much would be too much? These were all things that were very confusing. But after consulting with a few friends of mine who are in HR, I realized you could ask for a raise of 25 – 30%. After all, you need to take inflation into account. So this was how I started quoting my expected salary. After that, your usual salary negotiations will happen. Please note that salary is hugely dependent on your capability, experience and your interview performance. It also depends on the current market scenario. So take all this into consideration when you decide on an amount. My own expected salary kept increasing as I faced more interviews and my confidence grew. :-) So there are no hard and fast rules here. But be confident when you quote the expected salary. Only then will they feel that you are worth it.

     9.  Be Patient. Everything will work out

I know, I know….This advice used to drive me crazy too. But nevertheless, it is true. Things do have a habit of working out in the end. And as they say….if it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end yet. J Take my case, for instance. I was hesitant to join back work as a BA mainly because of the travelling involved in that job. But I have finally got a job where the BA does not have to travel at all. I am not saying it was easy, or that it was quick. I had to try out some options before I got to this job, but it all worked out in the end. I know it is really, really frustrating when you are just waiting for something to click and the wait seems interminable. But hang on to your sanity (and to your temper J) . Better days are just around the corner.

     10.  And last, but not least….Happy Job Hunting J