Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Phone Call

Phone rings.
Aie: Hello
Woman Caller: Can I talk to Jolanda?
Aie: Umm, I think you have the wrong number.
Caller: Ok, sorry. (disconnects)
Chip: Who was that?
Aie: Someone dialed us by mistake.
Chip: Was that a mawshi?
Aie: Yes, it was a mawshi
Chip: Which mawshi?
Aie: I don’t know. She called us by mistake.
Chip: What her name?
Aie: I don’t know. It was a wrong number. She dialed us by mistake. We don’t know her.
Chip: Ok, she was just some random mawshi, then?

Friday, November 21, 2008

The LadyBug Mystery

So, as the weather turns cooler, we get around two or three ladybugs in our house. Every year. They live on the ceiling of our bedroom, in a corner, and some times crawl down the frosty window and let us admire their utter cuteness.

Chip is fascinated by them. From since he was a baby. When they come down the window, he can watch them for hours (ok, I am exaggerating, but hey, I am a blogger!) with rapt attention. Their tiny feet, their hard backs, their strange wings and their half-hearted, clumsy attempts to fly and their total inability to flip themselves if they happen to land on their backs. It’s a fascinating lesson of nature right on our windowsill for Chip.

Last weekend as we got ready to go out, Chip spotted a ladybug come down from its heavenly abode. He was delighted to watch it. I was delighted to get him out my hair while I dressed. He watched the bug for a few minutes and then dashed out of the bedroom. I could hear him downstairs in the kitchen, opening a drawer. In a flash he was up, wielding a plastic storage box. “I wanna keep them” he told me. Without waiting for me to answer, he ran into the bathroom, opened the vanity and got a ball of cotton. Using his makeshift brush, he tried to coax the red bug in his box. The ladybug was obviously frightened at Chip’s ham-fisted attempts to “catch” it and tried to feebly move in the other direction. “Aie, its running away”, he exclaimed. “Let it” I told him. “Why do you want to catch it? We don’t even know what it eats” “I’ll give it a green leaf.” said Chip, no doubt drawing his wisdom from the nature bible for 3 year olds – The hungry caterpillar.

“Please put him in the box” he pleaded with me. I gently brushed the ladybug (which appeared a little lethargic and sick) into the box. “What are you calling him?” I asked. Chip pondered over the question. “Sheanoo.” He said. Sheanoo? Chip has come up with some imaginative names in the past – his rag doll is called Shant because he is quiet, duh. And our fish is called submarine because it lives in water. “What’s Sheanoo?” I asked. Chip looked as if some great force had sucked out the intelligence from his mom’s head. “I told you. That’s the ladybug’s name. He is Sheanoo. How many times must I tell you?” And off he walked with the ladybug, trying to snuggle with it under the comforter.

After I told him, he could not snuggle with the lady bug he looked sullenly at me and he just kept playing with it on the window sill when, another ladybug joined Sheanoo in the box. Chip ran into the bathroom to show me. “Another one came” he grinned. “That’s so cool. What are you going to call Sheanoo’s friend?” I asked. “Chivda.” This time I did not bother asking what Chivda was all about.

But this is not the end of the story. I told Chip to go downstairs and put his shoes on. Chip for once did not run, but climbed down the stairs carefully, with the ladybugs in his box. As I straightened up the room, I could hear Chip pottering around the kitchen downstairs and when I went down a few minutes later, Chip had dumped a bag of skittles (they are small hard, round candies, that umm look like ladybugs, the red ones at least) in the box that had the ladybugs and was eating them one by one. “Chip! That box had ladybugs in them. What have you done with the ladybugs?” Chip looked down at the box and searched for Sheanoo and Chivda. “They are lost” he told me with a puzzled expression on his face. “Lost? Lost? How could you put skittles in the box that had ladybugs? And you wanted to keep them as pets? You can’t even look after them for five minutes.” I ranted. “Where are they?” “I don’t know Aie, they are lost.” “Did you eat them?” I was suspicious. Chip had eaten ants before and it took him a while to get into his head that we don’t eat ants. “Did you eat them?” “Umm.. I don’t know.” Sheanoo and Chivda were no where to be seen. I looked in the kitchen if they had flown away, but couldn’t see them on the countertops, floor, even the ceiling. One of them was too sickly to even move, let alone fly. I looked and looked but we never did find those ladybugs. Wonder what’s happened to them. I guess we’ll never know.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Debug my batter

For all the things I can cook, and cook well - just as BigGeek and Chip, they will vouch for it – I can’t, to save my life make idli/dosa batter. I usually buy the overpriced tubs of batter in my local Indian store and palm the dosas and idlis made from it as “home-made”. It’s pathetic, really. My mother, on the other hand is the queen of idlis. She had a bunch of Tamil co-workers and she got awesome tips from them and her idlis turn out to be soft and fluffy and delicious, her dosas crisp and golden that will put any udipi to shame.

Her batter always rises well. Always. No matter where she makes it. In German winters where she lived for a few years or in winters here. And we keep our house coooold. 65F. And she makes the batter and it rises like it is the tropical Mumbai. She can make batter on an Antarctican ice-shelf and it will rise. I don’t know what she does. I ask her and she says she has given me all her tips, but I still can’t get my batter to rise unless I keep it on the deck outside on a hot July afternoon.

It’s so depressing that I have stopped making batters at home. Altogether. But two days ago, optimism reared its head again and I said, “Why, not?” So I soaked two cups of urad dal (the skinned, whole ones), some methi seeds and tried my hand, again at making a multipurpose batter. Idlis, dosas, uttapams. But it turned out to be a total disaster. The uttapams were so heavy that I sprained my back holding a plateful of them. Sigh. So, please all yout idli-maidens out there, help me debug my batter. This is my trace output.

Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.
Yay! Vetran’s day. Let’s make idli batter. Soak two cups of Urad dal with a tablespoon of methi seeds. No rice. Plan to use idli rava.
Urad dal is skinned but whole? Check.

Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
Hmm..dal looks soaked. Let’s grind it in my (horrible) Cuisinart food processor.
Use as less water as possible? Check. Grind very fine? Check.

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.
Add idli rava. For each cup of urad dal, 3 cups of idli rava. I hope I haven’t got the ratio wrong. What if it's 2 cups? Let’s compromise. 2.5 cups of idli rava per cup of urad dal. Mix, mix, mix. With hand. A little water. I was told that the bacteria/yeast on the hand will help ferment in the chilly weather. No spatula (although I am sure my spatula also has a ton of bacteria too)

Tuesday 7:15 p.m.
Find a warm place for the batter to rise. Vents are not warm. Top of the fridge? Umm, no. What if I forget? That will be one stinky science experiment by the weekend. Oven? Maybe. (Stick hand in oven.) It’s not exactly warm. But it will do. Turn on the oven light for warmth and put the batter in.

Wednesday 8:00 a.m.
Who turned off the oven light? Who ? Who? BigGeek confesses to having committed the act before he went to bed on Tuesday. Arrrrgh. Take out the batter with zero hopes. The batter looks pathetic. It hasn’t risen. Turn on the oven light and stick the batter once again with many prayers.

Wednesday 6:45 p.m.
Batter looks even more pathetic. It hasn’t risen at all. My dinner plans crumble to tiny pieces. I have been looking to eating utthapams since two in the afternoon. BigGeek to the rescue. Batter is stuck into the oven. Oven is set to warm (170F) despite my vociferous protests that the batter will be cooked in it at that temperature. A large hairy hand shooes me away. The oven is too warm, the batter in. In a few minutes or an ternity in Dottie’s time, the oven is turned off. Hope hangs in the air.

Thursday 7:00 a.m.
Gingerly take out the batter. What are the three brown spots? Did the batter get cooked? Sniff, sniff, sniff. Its smells ok. And it has risen. But in an over-fermented sort of way. Store batter in fridge. Oh well. Atleast it did rise.

Thursday 7:00 p.m.
Chop onions for uttapam. Make chutney, make sambar. Drool at the smell.

Thursday 8:00 p.m.
Get the batter out from the fridge. Thin it a bit with water. Add salt. Heat griddle, make uttapam. They stick. Oh no they stick. Change griddles. Repeat. It sticks again. Panic. Chip is super hungry. Think fast. Take a can of flour from the pantry. Rice flour, hopefully. Add it to the batter. More water, more flour. Make uttapams. Better now. Still a bit sticky but not plastered to the griddle. Repeat 6 more times. Thank god dinner is over.

So this is what happened. Where did I go wrong? Please debug my batter. Sending out an SOS.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Blackhole memories

When they are not fighting over guitars –not real guitars mind you, but the guitar controllers for RockBand and Guitar hero, our little kingdom here settles into a cozy Sunday night routine. Chip’s insistence that his toy guitar be granted the same sharing privileges as the guitar controllers, meaning, he get his legit turn pushing the plastic buttons on “our” toy guitars is as old as the Friday night and the last hours of a lazy, cozy weekend are spent post-dinner in the family room.

As one of us does the dishes, the other shoos Chip upstairs for his night-time routine. Brush teeth, get into his pajamas. Ten minutes later the kingdom of three assembles excitedly in front of the TV. The lights are dimmed and BigGeek who has the supreme powers granted by his being the “Secretary of Remotes”, either turns on a specially DVR-ed show or we just browse our favorite channels until we find something that excites us. We huddle on a couch at first, but soon the cushions find their way to the floor as we stretch lazily, arms and legs in every direction. Chip burrowing here and there like a little squirrel, trying to fit into this crook then into another as we all try to get the “sweet” spot to watch the show, catch the sound effects and stay away from that elbow poking in your ribs. A few minutes after much twisting and turning, some yelling and some compromising, the three of us settle down. Monday morning blues are still far away.

Yesterday is one of many such Sundays. We find our places on the couch, fleece throws covering chilly hands and feet. BigGeek turns on the TV to the science channel. He flips through the guide and we see “Supermassive black holes”. “I want to see that! I want to see the black hole show” Okay, BigGeek, true to his name is a sucker for things like that too. “Are we playing Rock Band?” asks Chip and dives for the “real” toy guitar. “Are we playing Black hole sun?” Chip’s connects black hole to black hole. The cosmological phenomenon to Soundgarden’s 1994 hit. “No sweetie, we are watching a show on black holes.”

The show starts. The graphics are mind blowing. And it’s a bit nostalgic too. For BigGeek and for me. Black holes, Special theory, Quantum physics are some of the topics we discussed at the dining table, growing up. Ditto with BigGeek. His claim to fame is also a couple of uncles who were particle physicists. So, to the both of us sitting here with Chip, watching a show on black holes brings back many childhood memories and as Chip snuggles close to me, I realize that we are making memories here for Chip too. That being said, watching a show on black holes with a three year old is a multi-dimensional experience.

Some excerpts.

“Why is there a black hole?” Asks Chip with his typical 3-yr old existential logic.
“Well… that’s what the physicists have been asking too. For a really long time.”

A graphic of a swirling black hole in the middle of a galaxy fills the screen.

“Is that a black hole?”
“Yes, that’s a black hole.”
“What’s that?” pointing to a swirly graphic.
“That’s a quasar”. Wrong answer. I have dug a hole and a super massive one just now.
“What’s a quasar?”
“It’s just a lot of dust that goes into the black hole. The black hole eats the quasar.”
“Is it hot?” the graphic artist has obviously done a great job.. Chip can deduce the gases are hot.
“It’s very hot. Very very hot.”
“Like the sun?”
“Yup, just like the sun.”
“So is quasar a sun?”
“Umm. No… no.”
“Is sun a black hole?”
“No, but it can turn into one.”
“I want to touch a quasar.”
“It’s very hot and it’s very far away.”
“I’ll get a boo-boo?”
“A big boo-boo. Go to sleep now.”

The images on the screen are swirling galaxies now.
“I want to fly, Aie. I want to fly and go there.”
“And you will. Sleep now.”

p.s. thank god he drifted to sleep before the next show on string theory began!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pat a cake, Pat a cake

Pat a cake, Pat a cake
Bakers man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it and Prick it and mark it with a T
Then put it in the oven for Teddy and ...

“Chip!” Chip completes the rhyme excitedly. And then asks, “Does that cake have egg in it?” “No sweetie.”, I reply. “That’s a special cake. No eggs.”

Chip is allergic to egg. Both yolks and whites. It means that his body does not recognize the egg protein as a harmless food. It attacks the egg protein by releasing immunoglobulinE that cause certain histamines to be released in his blood, causing a severe reaction. He gets hives, his face and ears inflame, he itches, gets unbelievable stomach cramps and finally his body tries to get rid of the offensive substance by making him violently sick. When Chip was younger, he would also wheeze – his airways would get inflamed as well. Fortunately egg allergies rarely result in an anaphylactic shock – something that nut allergies can snowball into.

For Chip, the tiniest amount of egg causes a severe reaction. (For differences between intolerance and allergy refer to Tara and PG’s posts). Pastas made on equipment shared with products that have egg in them. A bite of a bread brushed with egg whites. A tiny dot of ice-cream containing egg yolks. When he was younger, even touching egg products would bring on a dermatological reaction – the site of contact would get itchy and he would develop rash or hives. As he has grown older, the response has toned down in its ferocity. Instead of suffering for a few hours, he suffers for one. His pediatrician thinks he might outgrow the allergy by the time he is 5 or 6, and even if he doesn’t, it would downgrade to an intolerance level- he should be able to enjoy a small slice of cake or half a muffin by the time he reaches adulthood. He might not be able to eat a plate of eggs all his life.

Chip was diagnosed with egg allergy when he was 10mo old. The allergy had manifested itself once before, when I gave him a dot of peach ice-cream, he grew red instantly and howled and vomited multiple times. But he suffered from colitis as a baby and we attributed it to that fact. When he started flailing his hands and turning red and having severe bouts of vomiting, twice, when I fed him french toast, I suspected an allergy and the doctor confirmed it. Chip also has eczema and asthma, which put him in the high-risk group for food allergies as is.

Having an egg allergy is difficult. A lot of foods have egg or egg derivatives in them. Baked goods, salad dressings, battered foods, ice-creams, chocolates, potato chips, corn chips can have egg in them. So do influenza vaccines (which Chip does not get). The first few months after the diagnosis were hard. Two years ago, many foods did not list egg as an allergen 9many still don't), so before buying every processed product I had to learn to read labels. Before buying every ice-cream at the concession stand I would have to ask to see the list of ingredients. Before buying every pizza, I would ask the restaurant to provide me with a list of ingredients. Often we would turn back with Chip not getting the ice-cream, pizza or chicken nuggets. Baked goodies were avoided like the plague. The nanny was taught to spot an allergic reaction and dispense Benadryl. Then the same process repeated when he started daycare.

The first thing we realized in dealing with Chip’s allergy was that we had to make him aware and educate him. By the time he was two, we taught him to ask “Does this have egg?” when offered a new food. And to decline if it did. He did admirably, most of the times, but sometimes it was hard for him, especially when a plate of birthday cake with colorful icing was offered to him, and on many occasions he ended up having a meltdown and refused to accept substitutes. But he learnt. We reminded him of what an allergic reaction would do to him. It was not the world’s most pleasant experiences. He also learnt to identify when he was having an allergic reaction and alert a grown up.

He did me proud a few weeks ago. We had carried chocolates for our family when we visited India. Twix and mars bars and three musketeers, that sort of thing. Someone offered Chip a chocolate and he ate it –nobody thought chocolates had egg in them. A few seconds later, Chip ran into the kitchen proclaiming he was having an allergic reaction. “To what?” I asked. He said he had eating a piece of candy and it had egg in it. The signs were all there. He was itching, his face had inflamed. I gave him ½ tsp of Benadryl, but it was too late. His stomach started to growl and he started to howl in pain as cramps twisted inside his little tummy and a minute later, he violently threw up. This was not the first time Chip had eaten candy. He ate lollipops and gold coins all the time – it was just luck that he had never consumed candy with egg in it – I really had no idea candy would have egg.

It’s hard for Chip at birthday parties. And other social occasions. And it’s hard for us. I wish people were a little more sensitive to his allergies. Especially in the desi circles. I remember an incident a few weeks ago in India. We were visiting some family and they had bread (the paav, not the sliced bread) for dinner. It came from a small bakery, with no nutritional information anywhere. A similar paav had caused an allergic reaction in Chip once and I was cautious. I asked Chip’s aunt if there were any rotis for Chip or rice. The paav might have an egg glaze. She said she could make rotis, no problem, but could he not “try” the bread and see if it had egg in it? I did not know whether to laugh or beat my head against the wall.

Parents whose kids have allergies are most understanding. I have two such friends (one of them is gnd) who will always have a ready substitute on hand for Chip. And for that I am grateful to them. Another friend is also very understanding. Her child has no food allergies, but knowing how hard it would be on Chip, she asked me before her daughter’s 1st birthday party if it was OK for them to cut cake in front of Chip. I thanked her for her consideration and quietly took Chip away to the garden while cake was served. Most people don’t realize what it is to have a food allergy, in a social sense, for a young child. To be “different” like this. It’s not easy for a child. So, I have taken the liberty of compiling a list of dos and don’ts for all of you out there that are fortunate to not suffer food allergies.

Don’t feed my child without asking me first.
Although Chip will ask if a food has egg in it, he is only three and very often he will forget. Check with me or his father before you feed him anything. For parents of young children who are allergic, there is a good selection of tees and onesies at cafrepress.com. Just search for 'allergy' and you will get results for tees with things like “Don’t feed me, I am allergic to XYZ.” It’s great if you are attending large parties or if your child is starting a new daycare.

Do inform the parents which foods with common allergens will be served at a party
While your menu should be allergen-free when a child with severe allergies (like nuts) is invited, for most other non-anaphalytic shock causing allergies (like egg), a warning will be appreciated. The parents can then decide how best to handle the situation.

Do serve alternate foods
Don’t make it a party where the child can only eat potato chips and nothing else. Children are very sensitive. Do offer some, other non-allergic foods.

Don’t pity my child
Not to his face, at least. Admire his courage instead, when he declines a piece of most yummy looking cake. I have had friends exclaim loudly to me at parties “This is such a pity. So sad he can’t eat the cake.” To Chip’s face. Don’t rub it in.

Don’t thrust a cake in my face when I am shaking my head to a “no”
This does not mean I am disrespecting your party/guest of honor. It only means I am going to give my son some company while he sits by himself, unable to enjoy the goodies. And yes, please refrain from asking things like “Even if Chip can’t eat, you can eat, na?” in Chip’s presence. Especially when he is whining for that item. The child is old enough to understand. And if you do ask, don’t be offended by what I answer.

Do educate your own child about food allergies even if your child doesn’t have them
No parent wants their child to be weird of different. In the US at least, there is a growing allergy awareness and kids are understanding. In India, even adults think allergies is a firang disorder and will tell you so. No idea what their kids will do.

This post is a part of an allergy awareness month started by Tara. Please share your stories and comments and help spread the word around.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Baayko (Wife)

Chip: Am I married?

Aie: No pilloo, you aren’t married.

Chip: Are you married?

Aie: Yes, pilloo, I am.

Chip: I want baayko (wife)

Aie: Not so soon

Chip: I need to get a moustache and a beard first?

Aie: Yes. And you need to go to school, then go to a college, then go to an office, then you get married.

Chip: But I don’t want to go to an office. I will go to school, then to college, then to NASA, then to moon.

Aie: OK. You can get a wife after you go to NASA.

Chip: But I want a wife now.

*Who will marry him? He is a snotty, tantrum throwing, overactive sorta fella. But it would be a stupid girl, who would say no to this charming prince. He does have a twinkle in his eye and says the darndest things. And he gives endless hugs.*

Chip: Aie, I want a wife now and a diamond.

Aie: Do you want a wife or a diamond?

Chip: Ummm.. diamond.

Aie: No wife? Just diamond?

Chip: No. I want both. Diamond AND wife.

Aie: Diamond first or wife first?

Chip: Diamond first.

*So, yes, looks like this guy’s pick up line is going to be this- ‘Give me a diamond, else I’ll make you my wife’. Any takers? And oh, I forgot, he already has a mangalsutra. A string of green mardi gras beads. That he wears around. It’s the age of equality, people. My son proudly wears his ‘green mangalsutra’.*

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween -2008