Friday, March 04, 2011

Starting simple

The National Library of Singapore has a very good children's section. Lots of interesting books, a very nice reading area, etc. We take Teju to the library almost every week, and find that he really enjoys it despite being the noisiest kid there (of course, that is more of a problem for us than for him!) All the other kids his age, even the sub-two ones, are so quiet. In fact, the kids section is almost as silent as the regular library. That turned out to be a huge surprise, but that is not the subject of this post.

Something that surprises me even more is that despite the very large number of books that the library has, I find it quite difficult to select books for Teju to read. The reason is that most of the books, even some of the alphabet books, are too 'creative'... stick figures, sketches, cartoons, comic characters, and so on. Some of the images are so abstract that I, at this age, am unable to figure out whether it is a dog or a hyena! How can my son understand?

I feel that such books are not appropriate for beginners, especially two-year-olds. I mean, if I pick an alphabet book that has realistic images of apples, shoes, dogs and other everyday objects, Teju will be able to connect with the pictures. Stories with trains, planes, lions, dogs, rabbits, people... those are the ones I can read out and make him understand. The next time he sees a lion at the zoo, he will be able to recall the story I told him earlier, and perhaps even recount it to us. Instead, if I showed him dragons, he would want to see them at the zoo too! What would I do? How would I make a two-year old understand that a dragon does not exist?

Last week I picked up a book called Rangoli by a publishing house called Tulika. It was a very simple story, about a girl who looked out of the window and saw her grandma drawing a rangoli outside the house, and how ants and other insects came to eat the rice flour of which the rangoli was made. The setting was something Teju could associate with. He could understand all the images... the girl, the grandma, the rangoli, the lamps, the flour, the mynahs, the ants, everything. So, he understood the story, and even recounted it to his dad when he returned from office in the evening. That is the kind of engagement I expect from a book!

From such experiences, I am led to believe that alphabet or number books (or flash cards) with simple, realistic images; and short stories with minimal, realistic characters and a simple storyline (perhaps involving everyday activities) are more relevant to pre-schoolers and will help imbibe the reading habit in them. Once they understand the concept of 'imagination', and that some things are real and others imaginary, they will be better able to enjoy comics and such creative books. What do you think? How has your experience been?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Kadapa, a great side-dish for idlis

Idlis and dosas are quite neutral in taste, and rely a lot on the side-dish to make them attractive. While they can be had with almost any moderately spicy or spicy accompaniment, including sambhar, chutneys, gojjus and pickles, kadapa is one side-dish that many, especially from the Tanjore district, would die for!

I've heard that in Kumbakonam, especially, people line up outside the hotels on the days that kadapa is served with idli! I believe famous mess-style hotels serve kadapa only on one or two days a week, as it is considered a special item. Veteran foodies would know the fixed days on which kadapa is served in the various hotels.
  1. Soak coconut, khus-khus (poppy seeds), saunf (fennel seeds), green chillies, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves in a little water, for around 10 minutes, and grind to a smooth paste.
  2. Cook some moong dal and keep it aside. You can vary the quantity of dal depending on how thick you like your side-dish. Typically, it should a little thinner than sambhar.
  3. Cook one or two small potatoes, peel, crumble and keep aside.
  4. In a vessel, season mustard seeds, gram dal, asafoetida, green chillies and ginger.
  5. Add chopped onions (shallots give a better flavour and aroma) and tomatoes and saute for a while.
  6. Add the masala paste and saute for a few seconds (do not saute for too long).
  7. Add a cup of water along with the boiled potatoes and salt and boil for a few minutes till the aroma pervades the whole room!
  8. Pour in the cooked moong dal and boil for a minute or two.
  9. Garnish with loads of coriander and curry leaves.
  10. Serve hot.

Variations:

  • If you do not have much time, you can replace the paste with one or two spoons of garam masala and half a spoon of coriander powder. It will be close to the original flavour, but the coconut texture will be missing.
  • If you do not have time even to cook the moong dal, you can use a paste of besan (gram flour) and water. It will thicken and give the same consistency that dal gives.
  • While the original version does not have even tomatoes, more modern versions do use tomatoes to give a slightly tangy flavour. If you want it even more tangy, you can use tamarind water. Add the tamarind water, salt and potatoes after sauteeing the onions and tomatoes, and add the ground paste after the raw smell of tamarind goes.
  • You can make a healthier version by adding other vegetables like beans and carrots.