Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Read to your kids!

My 3-yr old son, Tejas, is getting more and more fascinated with books - he loves to hear me read out stories from children's magazines and books. He can listen as long as I can read - and it is probably the only activity that can engage him for longer than, ahem, five minutes!

As he listens to more and more stories, it is amazing how his mind starts to bubble - perhaps with imaginary visuals of all that he hears. (I wish there was a monitor that could show how a child pictures the many scenes he listens about.) He asks questions aplenty, and gets into moods suiting the story. Eventually, within hours, the characters in the story come to life!

Tejas often comes and tells me things like:

"Amma, Santa Claus is sitting and playing with my toys in the room; I didn't disturb him as I want him to believe I'm a good boy!"

"Amma, the dog on the streets is troubling people a lot." Then, he picks up the phone and talks, "Little Krishna, please come and help us - a dog is troubling everybody. Dance on his head and throw him out!"

"Amma, I just saw a giant in the terrace; I am going to bundle him in a sack and throw him into the sky!"

While it evokes peals of laughter in me, after a while it registers as to what a great impact these stories are having on the kid - it is such a wonderful medium to teach life lessons - small and large. No wonder the moral tales such as Panchatantra, Jataka Tales and Aesop's Fables have remained popular since time immemorial.

Incidentally, a parent raised this point during the monthly meeting with Tejas' kindergarten teacher who said it is a common characteristic of KG children. She also mentioned that while narrating stories, we should try not to put a full-stop to it. Instead, narrate the story as just one incident in the life of the characters, so that the child is free to imagine what might have happened to them later and build on the plot.

However, she also warned that sometimes this imagination can be hard to swallow. For example, when a child gets hurt and you ask how it happened, she might give a dozen imaginary explanations: "A giant came behind me. I ran, he followed, I tripped on a stone and fell" or "I was climbing a mountain, and I slipped and fell down" or something like that, so much so that it is very difficult to get anywhere close to the real reason!

All said, if we can kindle a child's imagination with stories and other methods, it is probably the best give we can give him/her for the future!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Tam-Brahm Tomato Rice

There is a standard version of tomato rice, with onion, ginger, green chillies, spices, etc., which almost everybody makes. Here is a version followed by some communities in South India. It is delectable and spicy, and lasts much longer--so you can even pack it for a trip. Plus, it is sans onion and garlic, so OK on puja days as well.

Here is how to make it.


For tempering:
Til oil - 3 - 4 tbsp
Mustard - 1 tsp
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Chana dal - 1 tsp
Red chillies - 2
Asafoetida - 1/2 tsp

Fry in oil and powder coarsely:
Chana dal - 2 tbsp
Dhania (coriander) seeds - 3 tbsp
Red chillies - 4-6, according to taste

Other ingredients: 
Raw rice - 1 cup (clean and pressure cook it with three cups of water)
Curry leaves - a few sprigs, for garnishing
Salt, to taste


1. Clean and cook the rice, allow it to cool.
2. Fry the above-mentioned ingredients and powder coarsely - this is a standard 'masala' in Tamilian cooking, and can be used in curries, for making sambhar, etc.
3. Heat a little oil, add the mustard. Once it splatters, add all the remaining tempering ingredients, and roast till the dals are golden brown in colour.
4. Add the rice, salt and the powdered masala. Mix well with the tempering and remove from fire.
5. Add a little more til oil if the rice appears too dry. Garnish with curry leaves and serve warm.

This goes well with vadam or appalam and raita.