Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Recipe for the Week – Chocolate Babka Muffins (Baking Partners Challenge #21)

Hot hot hot!!! God’s own country is now God’s own grill!! Seriously, stepping outside is like stepping into a preheated oven. We live somewhat near the beach, so we get a good deal of breeze, but even then, it’s HOT!!!!

Being crazy busy in March, I missed out on the Baking Partners Challenge. I resolved to do it this month and I’m so glad I did – these chocolate babka muffins are super yummy!! If you think you’ve heard ‘Babka’ before, maybe it’s here:


It isn’t much fun standing near the stove when it’s so hot, but baking is better, just pop it in, set the timer and run from the kitchen! The original recipe asked for milk chocolate and cinnamon, but I used dark chocolate and skipped the cinnamon. I also skipped the streusel topping to go easy on my butter consumption :).

This recipe was suggested by Tamy of ‘Three Sides of Crazy and has been adapted from this recipe at ‘Portugese Girl Cooks’.


For the Dough:

1/2 cup whole milk, warmed 110 degrees (I boiled it)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons instant rapid rise yeast
1 large egg at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter at room temperature

Note: Original recipe asked for unsalted butter and ½ tsp of salt, but I used salted butter and skipped the salt.

1. With an electric whisk, combine the milk, sugar and yeast. Add the egg and whisk till blended.

2. Add the flour, mixing on low until sticky dough begins to form. Mix in the butter until well blended with no remaining chunks. The mixture now looks like this:


3. Knead the mixture to form loose and sticky dough. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with tea towel and let rise until doubled in a warm place. This will take 1-2 hours, depending on the humidity in your place (which obviously Kerala has loads of). Here’s how it looks before and after 2 hours of rising:



For the Chocolate Filling:

3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter at room temperature

1. Place chocolate chips, brown sugar and butter in a small mixer jar and whiz till blended.

Note: The original recipe mentioned the resulting filling to resemble crumbs. I got more of a paste.

Making the Muffins:

1. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Punch out all the air from it. Flatten into a rectangle shape with your hands and let to rest for 5 minutes.


2. Roll it out into a larger 12”x20” rectangle using flour as needed.


3. Spread the chocolate paste (or sprinkle if your filling is in crumb form) all over the rectangle evenly.


4. Roll the rectangle tightly into a log. Cut out uneven ends if any, you can bake these pieces separately.


5. Divide the log into 1” pieces, cutting with dental floss for neater results. Place each piece cut side down into muffin cups. I used silicon cups, you can also use a tin, but they’ll need paper liners to prevent sticking. Cover with a tea towel and let them rest for 30 minutes.


6. Preheat oven to 190° degrees. Brush tops with beaten egg. Bake for about 15-20 minutes till brown around the edges. Cool completely on wire racks, although they are just as yummy when really warm :).


They turn out really nice and soft; check out the inside of one of the edges that I had cut off from the dough log:


I love how the excess chocolate melts on top of the muffin – yum!!



These can actually be baked on a baking sheet as well, in which case they’ll look more like rolls than muffins. I’ve always wanted to try those pull apart cinnamon and Nutella buns I’ve seen on Pinterest, but never got around to it. The technique here is similar so now I’m confident to go ahead and try them!! Muffins, rolls or buns – if they’ve got chocolate in them, I don’t care what they’re called!!

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Saturday, 5 April 2014

Review: Creative Bits Craft Kit

Exams are over everywhere and kids (and their parents) are relieved!!! Now come the holidays with a lot of free time indoors since it’s too hot to do anything fun outside. Sounds like the perfect setting for bored kids, doesn’t it? However, I have the perfect solution for it – a craft kit!!

Poornima, a super talented crafter who blogs at ‘A Spoonfull of Ideas’, has created these awesome craft kits that will keep kids occupied for hours. Yes, I said HOURS; because every craft kit contains a number of craft supplies which you can use to make multiple crafts. No more cries of ‘Mommy, I’m bored’!! She was kind enough to send me a sample craft kit for review, so here goes!!


Description of the Craft Kit

Poornima was really sweet to include a little gift for Cub along with the craft kit. He was over the moon!! The kit came in a lovely blue waterproof pouch. That itself is such an advantage – easy to clean paint and glue blobs off it!



The kit comes personalized with a little label mentioning your child’s name and since most kids can identify their names, this little bit of thoughtfulness will make them very happy! The pouch has two compartments which is very useful; we put all the flat/large parts in one and the smaller pieces in the other.



This pouch is really, really useful for storing anything, actually. I think the best use would be to store the materials needed for the current craft project you are doing – that way, you don’t have to pull out all your tubs and bins just for a few supplies every time you work on it.

Inside the pouch, we find: an introductory letter from the owner, list of supplies included and two pages of craft ideas with pictures.


I should say that the craft instructions are very detailed and step by step, and the pictures are bright and clear.


Now getting to the actual craft stuff, here are the contents of the pouch:


As you can see, there are: a star shaped craft punch, red ribbon roll, double sided tape and two plastic packets and a brown paper packet.


Pack 1 contains a good mix of patterned and plain craft paper, colored foam as well as colored felt sheets. All of them are of extremely good quality and some of those patterns aren’t that easily available in stores.


Pack 2 consists of orange glitter foam. It is quite thick and super shiny! It was very sensible of Poornima to pack it separately; due to that, the glitter arrived intact :).


Pack 3 consists of the smaller craft supplies. I’ve grouped them in this picture along with the punch, ribbon and tape. The contents of pack 3 are:

Plain and glitter pipe cleaners
Decorative tape
Googly eyes
Pack of assorted buttons
Pack of assorted shiny craft elements
Twine in two colors
Multicolored popsicle sticks
Glue
Black sketch pen

The only things missing are paints and scissors, which you’ll find in any store. Here’s a closer look at the tinier items:

What I loved about the Craft Kit

1. Waterproof bag, good for storage in general, or for projects in progress
2. Can make multiple crafts with one kit
3. Much more economical and versatile than project-specific craft kits available in stores
4. Makes a great gift
5. All materials are of extremely good quality
6. Contains items that are not easily available in stores
7. Completely worth every penny or paisa :)
   
There are really no cons to speak of – the craft kit is perfect as it is!! Just a few suggestions from my side:

1. Plain popsicle sticks instead of multicolor might offer more versatility

2. It would be great if there were mini craft kits for birthday party return gifts, which we could order in packs of 5, 10 etc.

3. A photo gallery on the website where customers could upload their creations made with the craft kit would be loved by the kids!

4. How about a jewelry making version of this craft kit? Probably one for kids with lots of colorful beads and string, and one for adults with more complicated items like findings, wire etc. I know I would buy one in a heartbeat!

What we made using items in the Craft Kit

One look at the orange glitter foam and we knew what we wanted to make!! We decided upon a simple solar system model using the foam to make the sun. We also used the pipe cleaners and star stickers as well as the basic supplies like the pen and glue. Here is our final creation:


For more details on how to make this, read the full DIY post at The Mom Views.

How to buy the Craft Kit?

Each craft kit costs Rs.550.00 + shipping. If you’d like to order one, you can mail Poornima at aspoonfullofideas@gmail.com mentioning the age of the child and any customization you’d like. More information is available on the website.



I’d recommend this craft kit to anyone with or without kids – as explained, these supplies are truly versatile and it’s much more economical and hassle free buying the kit rather than scouting several shops for each individual item. Poornima is also planning to launch a refill kit; how cool is that!! Do check out her website for more ideas. Happy Crafting!!


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Monthly Goal Update - March 2014

Happy April everyone!!!!! It is hot, hot, hot!!!! As long as I’m indoors, no problem; but stepping outside is like walking into a preheated grill!


Coming to how March was. In one word – busy. Summer also translates into summer vacation here in Kerala. Schools close after exams in March, and reopen only at the start of June. Yes, that’s a long holiday. Cub’s getting nearly 3 months of summer vacation; to stop him (and me) from going nuts with the heat and boredom, we’ve signed him up for swimming and painting classes.

This naturally means some extra time taken out of my day, since I have to take him to and from classes. Also, the rest of the time has him and the neighbors’ boys running around and yelling. So, all in all, I have had a noisy, busy month.

1. Health – Being as hot as it is, food intake has come down, fluid intake gone up. I’ve also been having more green and black tea, skipping the milk. Fruit and veg intake has been low. We didn’t eat out much, but the biggest problem I’ve had is my lack of exercise. I’ve let my ‘busy-ness’ take over and hardly exercised twice a week. And it shows on the scale – 1 kg up from last month :(. Not to mention the general feeling of low energy.

2. Family – Ever since school closed, Cub’s become rude, disobedient and just plain naughty. Even the extra classes aren’t helping. As a result, my yelling level has been higher. I’m making him help around the house – watering plants, clearing the table, sorting dry laundry, and he helps willingly (at times).

We hardly read together, though we did some craft work, mainly from the Mister Maker website. It’s been a space theme for us, and we made the rocket and flying saucer.


I’m thinking of getting him some books from Scholastic’s Learning Express series and allotting some time a day for that :).  We got a couple of their books from a Book Fair at Cub’s school and found them quite good.

3. Time Management – Okay, Time Management. I’ve spent a lot of time on FB and Twitter last month, but a lot of it was for work/blog purposes. I’ve installed Rescue Time but I’m scared to look at its results. I’ve been waking up at 4:00 and still struggle to finish my To Do list. I got some new work, and it coincided with Cub’s vacation starting, so it was crazy. I had to do away with some things, and exercise was the first to go. Not ideal, I know, so I plan to rearrange my schedule for April.

4. Writing/Blogging – This month has been good with regards to writing work and sponsorship. Along with existing assignments, I got two more clients, and I start work with a third one in April. That’s why it’s been so busy, although I’m not complaining :). My blog has been a bit slow, though I did keep it alive with posts. I had to skip the March Baking Partners Challenge due to lack of time, but planning to go with it for April. I am in complete awe of the people who’re doing the AtoZ Challenge in April – wow!!!

5. Budget – There were no extra expenditures in March. We ate out less and get this – I didn’t shop at all!! Except for some gifts; I didn’t buy anything for myself, not even books. Not having enough time is actually one of the reasons :). We’re planning a short trip to Kochi in April, so maybe I’ll shop a little then :).

6. Personal – I have been happy in March overall, although the extra work made me a teensy bit cranky at times. I didn’t read a single book – yup, not one. Even my magazines are lying in a big, unopened, unread pile. I did watch a movie – Queen - and I loved it!! I recommend everyone who hasn’t seen it yet to give it a go; it’s not your regular Bollywood factory production.

Yes, all these are yet to be read.
March has also been a month of friends. I attended the wedding of the brother of my college BFF, where I met her after 9 long years. As mentioned here, I got a beautiful gift from the awesome Swarnali, accompanied by a thoughtful handwritten letter :). I continued the chain by sending a gift and letter to the lovely Zeenat of Positive Provocations. Both receiving and giving were really, really fun and I am enjoying this whole activity!!

Word of the Year – Although I’ve had more to do, I haven’t let my mind wander much and have been focusing better. I’m attempting being more mindful during my prayers too, rather than rushing through them on autopilot.

That’s how the madness was in March!! April has a few things planned - more work, a birthday and anniversary in the family, voting, a short trip and maybe a little shopping :).

So how was March for you? Anything special planned for the summer?




Saturday, 29 March 2014

Being Fab!

Yes, this post is about ‘Being Me’, and I am Fab. No seriously, I am Fab, that’s my name. Also, I am kind of fabulous too :).

‘Being Me’ is a Woman’s Day special activity by our awesome women-only blogger group, the Indiblogeshwaris. In light of March being the month of International Woman’s Day, we are celebrating ourselves with a little montage of who we are, or how we became what we are. 

This post is supposed to be about pictures and not words, so here goes my montage for the Indiblogeshwaris – Being Me, HERstory activity.

(Please click on the picture for a larger view.)
  


Being 'me' means being stronger than I think I can be.




Friday, 21 March 2014

CouponzGuru: A Place to get the Best Restaurant Deals Online in India

Have you ever had an experience where you ran a high tab while having food at a restaurant and then realized that other people ordering the same food were getting a discount? The reason for that discount lies in deals and discount sites on the Internet.

You can get fabulous deals on the Internet for the restaurant of your choice but you need to search in the right places. Websites where you can order food frequently come up with great deals and offers in partnership with restaurant chains or financial institutions, which can be availed when you visit them.

Another option is to try various online coupon sites which offer coupon codes for ordering food from various restaurant chains. Here are some of the best places to look for restaurant deals on the internet.



·         Groupon.co.in – Groupon.co.in is the Indian subsidiary of the global deals site groupon.com. The website comes with exclusive offers and deals every day in partnership with various restaurants and hotels, offering food, buffet or party invitations at a discount. You have to choose your city of residence and register on the website before you can get the deals mentioned on it. Each restaurant deal comes with conditions that are set by the restaurant and need to be considered before choosing a deal. The discounts offered can be as much as 70% for a four course meal at a renowned restaurant.

·         Snapdeal.com – Snapdeal is the Indian avatar of Groupon. Earlier, the website was a deals only website now; it has also forayed into online retailing. The website works the same way as Groupon does, by offering one deal every day among various cities and across different segments like hotel stays, eateries, coffee shops etc. Snapdeal.com also offers astonishing discounts and deals and the participating restaurants might have conditions of their own for participation.

·         Foodpanda.in – Foodpanda.in is a food ordering portal which is associated with over 3000 restaurants. It regularly comes up with discounts and offers in participation with restaurants, financial institutions etc. Customers need to register on the website and verify their mobile numbers after which they can select a restaurant deal from the website. They also offer special deals on food; for more details visit: http://www.couponzguru.com/shopping-coupon/foodpanda/

·         Justeat.in – Justeat.in works in a way similar to websites mentioned above and also comes up with deals and discounts with the restaurants it has an association with. The website caters to over 50 cities across India and gives customers in these cities an option to get discounts on their favorite restaurant. For extra discounts visit: http://www.couponzguru.com/justeat-coupons/

·         Tastykhana.in- Tastykhana.in is an Indian food ordering website that has been in business since 2007. It has an association with over 5000 restaurant in 4 cities and comes up with deals like ‘Biryani festival’, ‘Brunch @99” regularly.


     Anyone looking for deals on restaurants and eateries in their city can also visit coupon sites like couponzguru.com; these websites have coupon codes for all leading food ordering websites and other food portals in India.


Have you ever ordered food online? Did you use any special coupons for discounts?


Monday, 17 March 2014

A Very Special Gift from a Very Special Friend!

‘Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom’ – Marcel Proust.

One of the main reasons I started blogging was because I needed some sense of connection. I was living at a small distance from my parents and siblings, yet I craved friends, you know, people you can just ‘hang’ with. All my old friends were in other cities or countries, and I was a stay-at-home-Mom with little or no social life.

And I got exactly what I wanted. Blogging has helped me connect with talented people from around the world, literally. And not just connect, I can even call some of them my friends, and not just the Facebook variety that you wish Happy Birthday and forget for the rest of the year. These are people with whom I can have meaningful conversations, and who give a lot of encouragement and support when needed.

One of my closest online friends is Swarnali, who I first came across via Tripthi’s blog, 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'. Swarnali blogs at 'Dreams and Drama' and I like to think that we hit it off instantly :). Like Swarnali says, we’ve never seen or spoken to each other, but that doesn’t matter in today’s world, does it? We’ve had numerous Facebook discussions on books (she’s a voracious reader), blogs, trolls and much more!

Swarnali is also the one who introduced me to the ‘Indiblogeshwari’ group on Facebook, a group exclusively for female bloggers which was started by the I-don’t-know-how-to-describe-her-she’s-that-awesome Vinita Bahl, blogger at Blogwati G :). As you can imagine, that makes it super fun!! See, that’s how friends are, they have a pretty good idea what you’d like!!

The extremely cool admins of the group introduced the Chain Mail activity, where a group member tags another person in the group and sends her a gift and handwritten note (hand written – compulsory!). The receiver then tags another and the chain continues. The only condition was that you couldn’t tag a person living in the same city as you. Three chains were to run simultaneously, and so the fun began!!

I was lucky to get tagged by Swarnali, and in a short while, I received a beautiful gift and thoughtful letter, written in Swarnali’s hand. Can you believe that, an actual hand written letter? I can’t remember the last time I got one! And that’s not all, she even included a cute little gift for Cub, and boy, was he delighted!! I grabbed the letter and started reading it, feeling a warm glow all over, till the part where the bracelets were mentioned. And then I opened the box to see these lovely bracelets, in a beautiful black box!


Aren’t they both gorgeous!! Although I have to admit, this one is my favorite :)
  

And here’s how it looks on me:


A look at the whole package:


Here’s a close up of Cub’s gift:


I had to struggle to keep him from opening it till I took pictures :). Soon after, the Angry Birds were all lined up like this:


I think this was the day I was the most glad that I started blogging :). In addition to the pleasure writing gives me, I have found friends whom I can connect with, without having to travel miles or making arrangements for babysitting.

To you, dear Swarnali, and the IB admins and others behind the Chain Mail idea, I have just this to say:





Saturday, 8 March 2014

Outfit Post – Bright and Sunny!

Yes, it’s getting brighter and sunnier here and so I decided that my outfit wouldn’t be left behind :). Hence the explosion of bright colors below.

This outfit features several new buys, including my recent purchases from Jabong. I wore this recently on a series of visits to my various aunts and cousins. I’m generally not very fond of such visits and prefer to stay home; so I thought I’d wear all my new things to put myself in a positive state of mind. And people say retail therapy is a waste!!

These pictures were shot by my sister in my parents’ lawn, which explains all that greenery.
  


The yellow kurta from W is perfect for summer. It is 100% cotton and super comfortable; what’s more, it is a good fit in my wardrobe, and I can think of many ways to wear it. Here, I paired it with bright pink.


Introducing my pink Lavie shoes:


I had fun accessorizing this outfit. My favorite piece here is this new necklace from Giggles, a fun online jewelry store with several pretty pieces at really reasonable rates.


More pink in the form of the bangle on one hand and my trusty Titan Raga watch on the other (I should get a pink watch too :))



These earrings with multicolored stones are borrowed *cough* stolen *cough* from my Mom and are part of a complete set with a necklace and bracelet as well.


That’s me, inspecting the leaves of that tree. My hair decided to choose this particular day to revolt with frizz. Have I mentioned that I hate humidity?


Outfit Details:

Yellow Kurta – W (from Jabong)
Pink Dupatta and Churidar – Max (part of a salwar suit set)
Pink Peeptoe Flats – Lavie (from Jabong)
Multicolored Necklace – Giggles
Pink Wooden Bangle – Fabindia
Stone Earrings – Mom’s
Watch – Titan Raga
Frizzy Hair – Humidity (from Kerala)

I want to get some more cotton tunics and kurtas for summer and then I’m planning to go on a shopping ban till the end of April. I would extend it but May is my birthday month and I’m no angel :). Maybe I’ll restart from June till the sale season starts.


Are you all set with your summer wardrobes? Or are you planning to do some more shopping?

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