Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Recipe: My Favourite Dip!

I am very passionate about food, I am very passionate about cooking, and I am very passionate about finding and sharing recipes. Sadly, that passion doesn't have the patience to note measurements (or take step-by-step photos!) as I cook so that I can share them with the blog world. Which is why I sincerely admire bloggers who do, like Renu, A and my more recent discovery - Lan. Kudos to you for your food blogs!!!

Anyway, even without precise measurements, I am still going ahead and sharing the following recipe here. Can't take credit for it; that goes entirely to my mom. I call it Herbed Cheese Dip; you can call it whatever you like :) And as it says in the title, this is one of my absolute favourite dips. Some of the reasons a particular recipe becomes a favourite is one, obviously because its yummy beyond belief :), two, because its incredibly easy, three, because its versatile and completely open to personal interpretation.

What I mean by the last point is that you can use this dip in many ways, and that the amount of specific ingredients depends entirely on your taste; use more or less of anything, as you like. So here it is:



1/2 cup feta cheese (or regular cheddar blocks / slices if feta's unavailable)
1 tsp mayonnaisse (healthier substitute: plain yoghurt)
1 green chilli deseeded (keep the seeds if you like the heat)
1 garlic clove (use more if you like the flavour)
5-6 mint leaves (or coriander, or both; again, use more as per taste)


Blitz all ingredients in mixie / blender till you get a smooth paste.

And that's it!!! Some important notes though:
- If you're using yoghurt, add it gradually till you get the consistency you like; if you add too much straight off, it might get too watery.

- You definitely don't need extra salt in this if you're using feta cheese; you probably won't with cheddar either, so taste the dip & then add salt if needed.

- This'll keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.

Serving Suggestions:

1. The dip itself is vegetarian, but it goes well with all kinds of food like french fries, bhajis, potato chips, fried chicken, fish fingers etc.

2. If you make the paste a bit thicker using less mayo or yoghurt, you can use it as a spread for sandwiches, great for lunch boxes or a kids' party. For adults, you can spread it on crackers or Monaco biscuits and garnish attractively and voila! you have a canape ready!

3. If you have leftover white meat (not in curry form though!), you can blend it in too for a nice, chunky paste.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who Am I?

My masters' degree dissertation required me to do a lot of reading on workplace diversity, and then on culture, cross-cultural management, sociology, psychology and other related areas. I'll be the first to say that the final product wasn't the most sound piece of research, but what I'll eternally be grateful for is the knowledge I gained in the process.

In a word, it was mind-broadening. Not only in terms of a better understanding of why people differed culturally, but most importantly, in terms of a better understanding of myself.

Much of the material prompted me to introspect, to analyse the way I perceived and interpreted the world. It forced me to confront my prejudices, to realise that though I believed in equality, I too had racist, sexist and all other discriminatory -istic tendencies in me. But perhaps the most valuable insight was a clearer understanding of my identity -- who I am.

I didn't just randomly decide to do a post on identity; it was this thought-provoking piece by Renu that set off the introspection again. Although her post largely centers on women retaining their maiden names post marriage as part of their identity, it got me thinking about the whole issue of identity itself.
What makes up a person's identity? We each get some parts of our identity simply by being born wherever we were - we're instantly a part of a family, a society, a nation. But I think for the most part, our identity is how we choose to define ourselves, what we choose to make of ourselves.

Most people go through life without a clear understanding of their identities; they just go with the flow because that's just how things are, or feel compelled to be whatever the current media trend tells them they should be because they want to fit in. I think its just a handful of people who're lucky to instinctively know who they are. Most of us have to grapple with the issue for a long time till we arrive at that understanding.

For me, it was this particular exercise that really helped me clarify my identity. While some things were immediately obvious, I still took a few days to sort through it, but the end result was a renewed self-confidence and a sense of being at peace with myself, and that's why I wanted to share it here ....... maybe it'd be just as useful to you. I don't remember now exactly where I read it or whose concept it is (I think it was put forth by an American college professor to his students, but I'm not sure).

Basically, you divide a circle into segments representing the most vital components of your identity; the size you give each segment depends on its importance to you. (In case you wondered, no, this drawing is not a representation of my identity :), its just an illustrative example.) The dimensions here are what most people tend to include; you may want to add / subtract, again based on what you consider important.

And that, really, is one of the key conclusions of this exercise: to realise what is important to you. For many women today, the main identity clash seems to be between that of family and career. I know that prioritising one over the other can be incredibly difficult; indeed for anyone, prioritising various aspects of your identity, deciding which is more important than the others is not easy.

But its not as if you need to rank them or anything, because different situations in life call for different facets of your identity to come to the fore. In some circumstances, you'll have to put work first, sometimes you may need to put your child's need before that of your spouse, if you're watching a sports event you'll cheer or boo as a citizen of whatever country, if you read about atrocities committed anywhere you feel for the victims simply because you're human too.

So the point of the exercise is purely to determine the aspects of your identity that matter to you. What is it that fulfills you? What brings you satisfaction? What is it that really makes you happy? Because isn't that ultimately the point of life, to improve as a person and to find happiness? And how better to get there than by starting out with a clear understanding of who you are.


For the curious: who am I??? I have and always will be a faith-and-family-first kind of person, happy and proud to be an Indian woman. I try my best to live up to 'Shalom' - its the Hebrew word for 'peace' from which my real name is derived. I tend towards artistic pursuits, so getting better at writing, cooking, painting, photography matters a lot. I've never been the career-driven type, though getting a good education was important, and I'm currently gearing up to face the biggest challenge of my life, and what will become the most important part of my identity for a long, long time - being a good mom!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hello New Blues!!!

Yesterday was the first time I set foot in a department store in over two months - quite a break for a weekend-window-shopping-loving person. We headed straight to the baby & maternity-wear section, and it was such a thrill to see all the teeny-tiny lil clothes!!! Even the outfits for older kids were so unbelievably cute ...... ah, to be a child today!!!!!

But then we got down to the business at hand - getting the mama some clothes :) The maternity-wear selection was very basic at this particular store, but to my absolute delight ........ there was a pair of jeans very similar to my old favourites!!! I tried them on, and man, I cannot describe how incredibly comfortable they were!!!

In fact, I would recommend that if, like me, you struggle with a lil extra tummy weight (even ordinarily!), go in for a pair of maternity-wear jeans, seriously!!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bye-bye Blue Jeans

During the past couple of months, I made hay while the sun shone (and even when it didn't!): everytime we went out, I wore my more form-fitting tops ........ coz who knows when I'll be able to fit into them again??? No more right now, as I realised a couple of days earlier trying one of them on ...... the tummy has already begun its outward push!

So yesterday, I decided to reorganize one of my cupboard shelves, stacking the slimmer tees in the back. Also resigned to the back were some pants and capris, among them being my favourite blue jeans.

Now this may seem silly, but I actually had a lump in my throat as I folded this pair up. I've had them for maybe five years now, and they've been the absolute best pair of jeans I've ever owned! Dark blue, bootlegged, comfortable stretch denim that fit faithfully through thick and, ummm, not-so-thick ...... (sigh!)

I knew the last time I wore them (which was about a month ago), that it would be the last time I wore them ...... for a while at least. I was ok about it at the time, but yesterday, actually packing it off, it was like saying goodbye to a dear friend.

It was then that I realised that they were pretty much a constant companion over the last five years. Though I wear all kinds of clothing, I'm most comfortable in t-shirts & jeans, and this particular pair were the most comfy. I wore them every other week and took them with me on every trip, long or short.

And what I loved best about them was that they're not an overpriced, over-hyped "brand"; I'd bought them from a small store in Bombay for around Rs. 600-700 and despite being well-used, they're still going strong, unlike the crap from Lee / Levis which costs double that, but starts fraying out in a year (personal experience!) Comfort, style and value - all my purchase requirements met, making it one of my best buys!

Anyway, its time to move on to preggy-proofing my wardrobe now. Maternity-wear fashion is gearing up in India right now; I've seen ads of some really smart designs so hopefully I should have a lot of options that'll make the shopping fun! Top priority: a pair of comfy pants to replace my jeans ....... temporarily!

And to my beloved blues - we WILL get back together someday!!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great Expectations

I began this year, determined to stay optimistic and positive. But have you ever noticed, that the moment you take some important decision is exactly when life / fate / God puts you to the test? Its like He thinks, hmmm, so Shalom has decided to do so & so; well, lets see how she handles this. And BAM!!! Something happens that tests that decision's strength to its limits and my optimism flies out the window.

I am not naturally optimistic. In fact, I am the exact opposite, a total pessimist. I came to this self-realisation in college, and was quite disappointed because I'd always believed myself to be the "glass is half full" type of person. Its easy to be so when things are going great, but when problems hit, or any challenge comes my way, I realised that my instinctive reaction is full-on panic. I immediately think of everything that could possibly go wrong, and how completely unprepared and unable I am to deal with the situation.

But then I also realised something else: after the force of that initial panic ebbs a bit, I pray, and prayer and effort get me through the challenge quite well. So that's my modus operandi, that's how I function. I don't deny the panic, but I don't let it stay too long either (and here, fans of Lost might recall the pilot episode where Jack describes something similar, but I'm digressing, so back to the topic). I have to fight off the panic, I have to consciously choose to be optimistic and say, yes, I can do this, and I can do it well.

So now back to the start of 2009, where I was revelling in my optimism and the strength of my faith. Just a day later, and something happened, or rather didn't happen, that put a dent in my optimistic armour. Over the next few days, that dent became a mighty gash, and I panicked like I've never panicked before, all thoughts of optimism forgotten. I actually questioned God, why are you doing this to me NOW? We had had other plans in place, big plans, so how were we going to manage this ..... situation, along with all that???

I broke down in front of hubby, who bravely comforted me, suppressing his own worries in the face of my obvious distress. His one solution for me if I'm in doubt, is to talk to my mother who'll put us in a right perspective. And as always, talking to her helped control that panic, and then hubby & me both felt comforted. Practical as ever, she said we didn't know anything for sure as yet, and even if what we suspected turned out to be true, we could indeed manage it quite well.

Thus bolstered, I went ahead with my trip to Bombay, eager to see my mom, dad and sister. A couple of days later, something happened in the morning that completely clarified the situation - I threw up. Very resignedly, I then accepted it: I was pregnant.

After that, the changes hit almost instantly. Barely three hours into a shopping trip, I, who could happily spend a whole day shopping, suddenly turned to lead, plopping down in the nearest chair. I, who have always been a foodie, couldn't bear the sights or smells of most foods. I would bolt from the room if mom started cooking. I could keep down merely a fraction of my usual quantity of food. And though the number of times I actually threw up were very less, I spent hours feeling miserably nauseous.

When we returned to Bangalore, I went to see a gynec. At my first ultrasound scan, I lay down, and was craning my head to see the screen, not that there was anything much to be seen. I thought I could distinguish this line, so I asked the doc whether that was it. She said yes, that's your baby, and its about a centimeter big right now.

Oh, I thought, okay. She rolled the sensor thingy some more over my tummy, pressed a few keys on her keyboard, and then all of a sudden, this steady thump, thump, thump filled the room ...... and my mind went blank. I knew what I was hearing ........ but I had never imagined, never thought that there would be a heartbeat this early. Barely a centimeter big, but with a heart that thumped away strong and sure at 123 beats per minute!

Till that point, I think I'd been completely overwhelmed by the sheer responsibility we faced and how we would go about managing it; I was grappling with the nausea and crying jags so much so that I hadn't really thought about the baby itself.

Only after hearing that heartbeat, did it strike me that this is not a thing or a situation, its a new life, a new person. Hubby's best friend had a baby some months ago, and we just dote on that kid. I used to look at the new parents, and the pure love on their faces as they held their son or played with him, or just looked at him, moved me very deeply. I thought of all my blog friends here who are mothers, and the way you write about your children regardless of their ages, with so much love and joy ......

..... and it started dawning on me that we had been blessed!!!

The panic and the worry subsided then, for both hubby & me, and we started getting excited about our child. I won't say that its been all hunky-dory since then, because I went through the most intensely awful nausea, and its only in the past couple of weeks that its started to phase off. That affected my mood at times too, and it was again a struggle to not sink into a pessimistic slump.

But then, my family used to pep me up, and I would try to focus on my blessings to fight off the gloom: that we could conceive so easily when there are couples we know who have struggled to; that my parents happened to be here when we first found out and they eased hubby & me into this stage; that my mom-in-law then stayed with us a month taking care of us; that other than the nausea, I have had no serious problems ....... and so, managed to hold on to that optimism.

Last week, I completed my first trimester. This time, at the ultrasound, there was no need to strain to see anything as the image on screen was quite clear - head, body and limbs ...... our child, fully formed!!! And to our surprise, very active too, though I can't feel it yet since its only about 3 inches big! By God's grace, baby & I are both healthy so far, and I pray, and request your prayers too that we remain so.

Phew!!! Sometimes I still can't believe it ...... I'm going to be a mother!!!!!