Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thoughts on Cupboards

Cupboards have been on my mind for several months now.  Ever since we started living out of boxes.  We have boxes overflowing with clothes of all shapes and sizes - things which used to fit me, things which are now too big for me and likewise, for the baby. Boxes of gifts for the baby, some which he is too young to use and some which he has outgrown.  Books piled in unsteady towers, swaying as we brush past them, waiting to go into - yet more boxes everywhere.  They have to be put away, somewhere, sometime…

"We need new cupboards," I think to myself.  But - the obvious question is - where do we put them?  I wish there were special gravity defying designs which could be installed neatly on the ceilings, painted perhaps a sky blue with fluffy, wooly clouds, or a midnight blue with Van Goghian stars and one could gently drift up and store whatever one wished and float back down again…

But as that is unlikely to happen, I come down to earth with a bump.  A gently bump, because I land on piles of clothes instead of a hard floor.

So it was with a sense of anticipation that I visited Raintree's annual furniture exhibition.  This is organised by a very enterprising lady who spruces up and also designs beautiful pieces based on old designs, in teak and marble (and if one is lucky, rosewood as well).  I knew that we had no space for furniture but figured that if there was something big enough or nice enough or practical enough, we could try and replace some piece of existing furniture with a cupboard.

We reached just five minutes before the sale finally ended as we had not been able to spare any time on the previous days.  But experience has taught us that no one else seems to buy the things we like so we were not particularly concerned.  The lady knows us and is a very kind person and relaxed, in the old Bangalore style.  She came up to take the baby from us and engage him in a long, pleasant conversation, which he seemed happy with.  We drifted from room to room, looking at the range of furniture.  Nice chairs, for formal and informal seating, tables of various kinds, beautiful brass objects and other things.  No cupboards!

Of course this did not deter us from shopping; we usually succumb to the charms of old furniture.  And so we bought a round table of an in between size - bigger than a side table and much smaller than a dining table, higher than a coffee table and lower than a writing desk.  What would we do with it?  We had no clue but we liked it and knew we wouldn't get something like this elsewhere.  It was a combination of two old pieces - a beautifully carved base in teak and a teak top with a wonderful natural grain running across - the kind you only see in large, wise trees that no longer exist.

The second piece was a kind of movable bar(!!!).  A most unsuitable object to introduce with a tiny baby in the house.  But we loved it.  It is also a solid, old wooden structure, with beautiful carved doors, a pair of shelves and a set of drawers and is topped with a creamy green kind of marble.  (The marble is new and is polished such that it is stain resistant and it perfectly complements the rest of the structure).  The lady provided us with a beautifully made wooden wine rack, which she said she could not possibly charge us for.

As we were leaving, we also spotted a lovely brass arch, the kind that is traditionally placed behind idols and that people use nowadays as a mirror frame.  It had two of Vishnu's incarnations sculpted on it - the lion at the top and two boars below.  It was a beautiful piece and we succumbed once more.  For good measure, we also bought a pair of brass lamps with peacocks (Diwali is almost round the corner).

And so, we trudged home, deliriously happy.  I gave away a small floor desk, to try and make some space, but that only freed up about four square feet…

The carpenters came and installed the pieces.  As it turned out, the wooden table went in our living room, in between two cane reading chairs. It happened to be the perfect dimension for that space.  We often keep glasses of water, telephones, bookstand other knick knacks there.  In the midst of all this, there is still place for our Mexican jaguar to repose regally and it looks very much at home on the dark teak.

The bar was put in place of our all purpose table and drawer set, which was moved to another room.  The beautiful marble top supports our Ganesha, our telephone and an array of writing material.  The drawers house our chargers. One of the shelves holds our wine bottles along with our laptops and stationery.  The other shelf is empty.  What should we put there?  "Nappies?", my husband suggested.  I shook my head.  I was thinking more along the lines of olives, dark chocolate, roasted almonds…   The bar looks elegant and has added so much character to our room, fitting perfectly against one wall, as if that space was made just for it.

We mounted the brass arch high up on a wall in our dining room.  It needs no idols or mirrors; it stands out on its own.  The mythical figures are filled with a life of their own when the light falls on them.

Our house is now beautiful and perfect, well - almost.  The only thing we need are - some cupboards.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Quick, Satisfying Meals

With very little time on my hands these days, I have simplified my meals considerably.  At the same time, they need to be nutritious, energizing - and (importantly for me!) - tasty!  So I'm using a lot of nuts and fruit, rice and noodles and seafood.  Combinations of these are easy to whip up in half hour periods.  They can also be prepared in stages and actual cooking time is small.  These are some nice combinations:

Cherry tomatoes (always delicious, by themselves or with spring onions or basil and an olive oil dressing, a sprinkling of good feta cheese is a bonus).

Traditional Indian snacks like poha (beaten rice) - instead of just cooking this with chopped potatoes, I add a handful of sprouts and some cashewnuts, a sprinkling of coriander leaves and lime juice.  Similarly with upama (a dry snack or 'tiffin' with roasted semolina - to this I add finely diced carrots and beans or peas, and lightly fried cashewnuts).

Stir fried prawns: in olive oil and garlic or with loads of chopped onion and garlic or just with olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs.  Also small whole fish, marinated and rolled in rice flour and then fried, for the crispiest, lightest coating possible.

Avocadoes with lime, tomato salsa - as we had in Mexico - these go well with almost anything.

Pizza, Pasta, Noodles : I buy some freshly made, half cooked pizzas and add extra vegetables - garlicky spinach or crunchy baby corn or green, red, yellow peppers...
Amongst the sweet quick breads, banana, walnut and cranberry is a delicious combination that takes just about fifteen minutes to put together (before baking).

Wholewheat pasta with a fresh tomato or mushroom sauce is filling and wholesome but what I like even more are rice noodles made the Thai way (Pad Thai), with prawns or chicken (I often use mushrooms and baby corn), spring onions, bean sprouts (when available) and egg and sprinkled with roasted, coarsely pounded peanuts and fresh lime juice.

Mango sticky rice : A traditional Thai dessert.  Sticky rice is drenched in coconut milk and eaten with fresh mango.  Instead of roasted mung beans on the side (which I find too hard when I try and make them at home), I use pine nuts.  This is one of my favourite desserts.  Nothing can beat a good mango, but this would also be nice with caramelized bananas or pineapple, I think.

Friday, August 1, 2014

No Leisure For Babies

A little drastic sounding, nonetheless, this blog comes after a little reading, a few months of observing (only one) baby and a bit of thought.

I have continuously been amazed at the difference between the adult world and the baby world, more so since almost everyday my baby meets people - outside on walks, around our neighbourhood, at home and elsewhere.

Adults seem to want, above all, babies that smile and coo.  Babies are not doves.  And as for smiling, they do plenty of it when they feel like.  But it's hard to smile when you are being prodded or clucked at or when a pair of fingers seems to endlessly appear at close range in front of your face demanding attention.  Under these circumstances, it is prudent to observe and be a little wary, that's what evolution has probably drilled into us, especially while dealing with strangers.  Babies also do not appreciate their thumbs being yanked out of their mouths by an unfamiliar set of hands, just because it is 'better that way' or 'to clearly see baby's face'.  It has taken a tremendous amount of neuromuscular coordination to get the thumb there and then to keep it in place, and it's done for a purpose.  In all fairness, adults are well meaning and feel they are entertaining the baby and trying to befriend it in these ways, but I can see that babies may not view it in the same light.

Which brings us to the question of entertainment and leisure.  I don't feel there is any word for 'leisure' in baby lingo.  This is because there is no word for 'work' either.  Life seems to be a series of experiences driven largely by instinct, the desire for comfort and curiosity.  At least that's the way it appears to me, as I watch this early stage of my baby's development.  He is not keen to play with toys except those he can use to coordinate his movements - things he can sling over his arm or kick at different angles or insert his fingers to varying degrees into.  He learns incredibly fast from 'mistakes' i.e. times that he is in uncomfortable situations (like putting his hand into crevices where his fingers get momentarily stuck), I have never seen him repeat such actions.  He spends most of his time trying to turn, move, explore his surroundings and talking in his own language (far more complex than the way most adults talk to him- in fact most adults are so busy talking to him that they forget to listen while he sits patiently waiting for them to finish so he can begin).

People also seem very keen to push babies into beginning solid food.  I have read about this terrific social pressure existing almost everywhere (i.e. in many parts of the world) and on many days I am asked by someone or the other when I am going to introduce my baby to the joys of baby cereals.  This includes doctors who feel the baby may want more.  I tell them that my  baby doesn't seem to be asking for more.  Nor does he seem to be nutritionally deprived (calorie for calorie, human milk is naturally more efficiently taken up by babies than any other food anyway.  Apart from which, breast milk changes composition to suit the baby's requirements and has a host of other incredible benefits, like passing on antibodies, gut bacteria and just a good feeling to the baby).  I did buy a packet of popular baby rice cereal but after reading the composition, returned it (to our immensely understanding chemist.  He actually brought out several baby food cereals but they all contained sugar, something doctors have forbidden for the first year of baby's diet.  Something seems to be very wrong here...).  This particular baby cereal contained 10% sucrose, a large number of vitamins and minerals, ash (??!) and other things.  (I learnt subsequently that animal studies have shown that high ash content provides immunity to babies.  But then, my baby is not a guinea piglet and anyway, he has been managing with my own transferred immunity very well so far).  So, if I don't have a problem and neither does my baby, why mess with his food (which is an important part of his life)?

Sleep is one argument most people give, in favour of introducing other foods (and drinks).  Right from the beginning people told me that the simplest way to keep the baby asleep was to feed him lots of water.  The mind boggles!  Is one's priority to keep the baby asleep or to keep him nutritionally healthy?  It is the same with babies who are given 'top feed' (additional, processed milk generally through bottles) - they generally cry less and sleep better (what is not told to parents is that the babies often go off breast milk, because sucking the bottle is easier for their muscles and also because there is a feedback mechanism in the mother's body - the less milk a baby sucks, the less is produced).  'Crying' is a little baby's only means of communication, it's important not to view it as undesirable - shrill and disturbing though it may sound.  As for sleep, there is an evolutionary drive for light and fitful sleep - it has helped babies survive for millions of years.  It's much easier to dope babies with foods their little stomachs cannot handle, with stimuli that daze them momentarily and to invent adult-designed toys to keep them from exploring their surroundings.  But babies don't really need any of this, busy adults do.
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