Sunday, August 14, 2016

AMA's survived Puerto Rico.

View of the city from one of the Fort
Hola Everyone,

Note: As many of you have asked about detail description and tips  from our experience ,this post is a long one.If you need more tips and specific information about where to find things in Puerto Rico, please write to me personally.I have covered the basics.We have done many Trips but this is our first Island vacation and after this I can confidently claim that ,we are comfortable with Island trips.

After the hustle and bustle at the house and airport  We  are on  flight to Puerto Rico on 23rd December 2014  ,luckily our seats were together ,We landed in Luis Munoz Martin airport named after the governor of Puerto Rico who fought to get American Citizenship for PuertoRicans in 1917. Puerto Rico was my suggestion last year but A convinced kids will have better fun in Disney,Florida, personally I think Disney amuses him every time but he agreed  that ,Puerto Rico was a relaxed one.

We booked as a package flight and hotel together , didn't include the car ,we thought its a small island we could do in taxis and local transportation but when we arrived at the hotel we felt like birds without wings ,settled in the room around 1AM .We stayed at Hyatt House ,San Juan ,The first day we spent hunting down a rental car and got one around 2pm ,did some local shopping for groceries ,vegetables as Puerto Rico is not vegetarian friendly.The veggies and fruits are so fresh ,especially the roots.During the whole trip we enjoyed tropical fruits pineapple,papaya,coconut water,small bananas and price wise very economical. Hyatt House -we highly recommend as the hotel was clean,High Quality service on top of all the breakfast spread everyday changed and had varieties like french toast and pancakes altered every other day.Muffins,oatmeal,BF potato,For omelette eaters ,fresh ones made on spot,tropical fruits .Everyday we would eat a heavy breakfast and  not be hungry until lunch.Our room had kitchen and I would whip up a quick mixed rice /sandwich and carry along for lunch.I should explain the driving condition in PR ,we can't expect people to follow traffic rules and all the streets ,drives are in Spanish and they are called "Calle","Salida" for exit.It was a challenge driving ,A did it without complaining and if you have done car driving in India,expect the same situation.We did miss directions ,but got the hang of it after the first day.

As Puerto Rico is all about beaches,history and nature we decided to explore one of the famous one, Ocean Park in Old San Juan , Hyatt House was located in New San Juan,SJ is Capital of PR and a bridge across will take to Old San Juan which was 10 mins drive ,The beach - family/kids friendly and had great panoramic views.All the beaches in PR along the shore had palm,coconut trees.Half of the day was spent on the beach,A & Kids had great fun in the water.I took the photographer job. Kid1 explored the water  by going little deep in the ocean with A.Kid2 is still scared of the water would go near the waves and when they come near her she would run back. The water in all these beaches , are crystal clear ,we can see the feet of our own when the waves fade away.The sand texture is exactly like  in Marina beach,Chennai that would stick to you and leave a trail of mess , unlike the beaches in NJ.Since it was Christmas time, the Governor of Puerto Rico had celebration in Old San Juan until the new year with the usual Xmas stuff lights,ginger bread men houses etc .We spent couple of hours and walked along the coastline and returned back to the room.

Next day ,we did the tour of Old San Juan ,the city is all about history about how Puerto Rico survived during world wars and became part of United States.We parked the car in a parking spot and the PR government offers free trolley for tourists that stops at all the tourist spots .There are paid guided tours.We just took the trolley and would read about the place on our phones and ,through out ,in all these places self guided descriptions are available.With the trolley we had the advantage of skipping some spots when the kids are tired . Basically Puerto Rico was controlled by Spain and to protect the Island from Europe invaders ,two huge Fortress were built that could withstand outside disturbance and could fit a garrison. The biggest one is Castillo San Felipe del Morro and one smaller is Castillo San Cristóbal. We were amazed by the architecture and how in those days the strategic planning in building every feature just awed us.The Views of the sea from the peak of the fortress can't be explained in words.The dungeon to keep the prisoners was built starting high going down like a slope .The guide was explaining the best spot to sleep in the prisoner's dungeon is at the top since all the sh..(it) they do will slide down to the bottom.It was pin drop silence when Kid2 heard the guide she was in a loud voice "Amma,that guy is saying sh.. that's not nice..",it was an embarrassing moment ,I was like aw... Kid2  right catch at the wrong moment :). Kid1 enjoyed going in to the tunnel and climbing the cannons.The entire city of Old San Juan was breathtaking with hidden surprises.Hope our pictures make the justice for the views.

Ok,Let me now explain our food situation ,I was worried about the kids for food but they fairly managed with Mac&Cheese,Noodles and Pizza when we were outside of hotel room.Guess ,who turned in to a baby ,my man .We didn't get buttermilk for first couple of days and I was so surprised how A is keeping quiet and consuming meals with out making fuss for yogurt .I was wrong one evening he just disappeared and as usual didn't pick up the mobile for long.I was about to call 911 ,with the car plate number.As A is known notorious to miss directions ,when we are outside of our home ,first thing I note down the Car plate number . The knock on the door ,he is standing outside with a big glow in his eyes grinning cheek to cheek.First ,I thought he went to gulp down a Mojito,Nah... he drove 20 miles to find a Walmart super center and Voila,he returned with a buttermilk carton.The buttermilk did the Mojito Jinx on him..I can confidently leave him in a land of damsels and he would automatically come to me when his tummy starts grumbling.Advantage of having a husband with layman cooking skills.

After a tiring day at Old San Juan ,we decided to explore another famous beach Isla Verde ,we liked this beach better as they are controlled by municipal,it was lot secure with life guards,restrooms ,especially with kids .As usual A and Kid1 had fullest fun in the water.Kid 2 and Myself took an afternoon siesta.We returned back to the hotel room in the evening .I had to make truce terms with kids and A to leave the beach for the day.The coastline along this beach looked exactly like ECR road in Chennai,with road side shops,food cart vendors .We enjoyed as much as fresh coconut water and banana fritters which is very famous in PR.Another PuertoRican famous dish is Mofongo ,which is prepared using mashed/fried banana with a gravy and rice.The local people consume it with shrimp but it can be special ordered sans meat.

Next day our target was el yunque  rain forest which is world famous .We imagined with proper walking trails and paths ,to the contrary to explore the forest we need to trek the way through the natural forest trails.It was a 6 mile trek to and fro ,down the loop of the trail a wonderful waterfall is located, where tourists are allowed to take a dip .The greenery and view through the trek was worth the time. Kid 1 had major fun in the falls and she never complained the trekking .I had to walk carrying Kid2. Worth the effort.We returned home for dinner and decided to wake up late the next day.Sneakers are the best to walk on these trails.

As this was the final day prior to our departure we decided to do another famous beach Pinones .We had a feel of India in PR as the houses are built with brick and sand and since its a small island ,the Flat concept is predominant .Weather is warm throughout the year and you can catch a glimpse of ocean from anywhere.Again beach fun returned back to hotel and started to pack.

Our flight was an early morning one,we bid a big Adios to Puerto Rico half halfheartedly to leave the tropical weather.7 days stay wasn't enough for the Kids ,they mentioned we should have stayed couple of more days.Back to our sweet Home in NJ relishing the fun ,super tanned.

One other touristy spot that we didn't take a chance is the Bio Luminescent bay ,where in a particular part of the sea ,the fishes,sea organisms they glow in the night which looks like a light show .But the hassle, is only couple of electric boats go to that area in a night and they are all booked for another whole month.Kayaks are available but we didn't want to risk a chance with kids kayaking in the deep sea.

General suggestion,when you travel to any place ,please make enough research and list down and have a general idea of places you want to visit,based on your family preferences and kids convenience.We do that in every trip ,as all the touristy places may not be appropriate with kids for us . A week before the trip I ,analyzed the places which are suitable for our family ,for example Bio Bay on my list was last as I knew if we couldn't get the ticket to the electric boat ,we will not do it and not fret about one of the places being missed .We almost covered all , again whats the objective ,ours was not a trip to do a tick mark of seen places,rather relax.Similarly make a list of things required during the trip simple items  like travel size laundry detergent,tooth paste etc. Remember, its an island any American product that has to travel through the ship is overly priced for example a Banana Boat small sized sun screen cost $13.50.I am not an extremely organised person for everything to go right ,but moderately organised that we didn't have to spend a day sitting in the room thinking whats the agenda for the day or "Oh we didn't bring laundry detergent ,with beach clothes had to hunt down a store to get one"kind of situation.Hope you all like the pics and details.

Adios Everyone.

Hyatt House
Breakfast area in Hyatt House

Prisoner's dungeon
Castillo San Cristóbal


Watch point inside the fort to look out for invaders.

Fort view from the trolley.

Talking  truce terms  with Kid 1 to leave the beach

Can an iyengar survive anywhere without sathumathu and potato curry?

Pinones Beach

waterfall inside the el yunque rain forest

walking trail to the falls.
View from Light house at el yunque.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Be The Change...

A guest post on present day kids by an experienced professor ,student counselor and who has dealt with various kinds of children for 30 years. She chose the topic "Be The Change.."to articulate her thoughts.
                                                                 Be The Change...
I hear more often in every  gathering of friends and relatives who are above fifty years of age that  there is a degeneration or disregard for values among youth of today . Blindly young boys and girls discard discipline and they project themselves as modern revolutionaries. Elders get worried  when they question the custom and tradition  and don’t show any interest in participating in festivals  and celebrations . The common complaint is that the youth disobey and disrespect elders. They care less for developing and fostering relationships with extended family members and they want to have fun with friends and enjoy all the luxury that  they  buy with the hard earned money of their parents. Some parents themselves feel that nothing can stop them from taking impulsive decisions  which may lead them to failures or dangers and they are not ready to mend their ways when counselled .
Though these are very valid  fears , I feel as elders we all know that times are changing and we need to move on . Unlike the parents ,young  girls and boys of today are brought  up in a very different environment . It is not necessary for a parent  to pamper a child , he pampers himself and the parent is proud when a child achieves something and the boy/ girl is treated like an adult to a great extent . Parents of today forget that the boys and girls are hundred percent more shrewd  than them . They have to be  role models  to the young ones . The children will not accept anything that the parent discards, be it custom , tradition , culture , respect , bonding or kindness. If we expect our youth to be good , we have to be good . The youth are like the metal lid of  a container . When the lid sometimes due to wear and tear , does not fit / close the container ,We give a pat / hit it on its sides to bring it to shape . Likewise ,when the youth go out of hand , we have to counsel them sternly and try to make them understand that there are boundaries not to be crossed . Some may require  professional counselor's help, let us not hesitate to provide that too.
We did not grow up with TV , Computer , Tablets and mobile phones   on our tables. The way we spent time was very different . I firmly believe that there is no degeneration among youth . We  find the youth reacting quickly and positively as and when required . They are kind and willing to help and there are many incidents of young men and women helping the society at the times of natural calamities like floods and earthquakes.
A parent’s role is as important as the role of a teacher and it is our responsibility to channelize  the physical and intellectual  energies of the younger generation towards the right direction . On a positive note , let us be the change that we want to see in our young men and women  as 
Mahatma Gandhi said.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Another Quinoa Love-Salad with Kale and What are you Thankful For?

I can’t get enough of Quinoa Love,it is so versatile that can be consumed without spicing up ,
just with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of Olive oil.Kale,one of the ingredients has health and numerable nutritional benefits ,like lowering cholesterol by steam cooking it.Kale also has antioxidants properties that it has been included as one of the super foods to prevent 5 types of Cancer.Good things come the harder way ,so is, Kale has a  bland taste ,slightly sour, that I have to combine in a chick peas or a bean salad to camouflage its properties.This time,tried with Quinoa salad spiking just with minimal ingredients and tasted perfect.This healthy Quinoa Salad can be included as part of Thanks Giving Menu.

Speaking of TG,what am I thankful For in my life,

1. My Parents and Family.
2. My better half “A”-Who tries to accomplish and maintain sanity in our house.
3. My Friends and extended family.
4. For the World I live in.
5. My culture and am Proud of it.
6. Last but not the least and the most important “My two Minions (A&A)-who are  apple of  our eyes,brings smile on Mine and A’s face end of each day.
 I love to be squished between "A Cube" all the time.

What are you Thankful for?.   Happy Thanks Giving. 

                                                   Quinoa Salad with Kale.
1. Quinoa (boiled) -1 cup
2. Kale (chopped) -2 handfuls.
3. Ginger (grated) -1 teaspoon.
4. Garlic (diced) -1 teaspoon
5. Olive Oil-1/2 teaspoon
6. Salt – to taste

1.In a Wide bottomed pan add oil, when smoke start to come out of the oil saute garlic on medium        flame.
2.Add the chopped Kale and saute until it reduces  to half  in volume maintaining the green.
3.Add the boiled Quinoa, salt, grated ginger and give it a toss.
4.Switch off the flame.
5. Enjoy with chopped nuts of your choice on top.

Usually I cut kale and freeze in glass containers ,as I will not be able to use all in one time.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Kashayam- A herbal Concoction to ease out Sore Throat and Cold- Re-Post

It is the time of the year we will be under the weather very often, catching cold with climate changing slowly from fall to winter, engulfing my part of the world for the next six months. Kashayam is a herbal concoction made using several herbs mentioned in the original post.If you can't find all of the herbs from the original post,it can be made with ingredients available from the pantry which is also effective and soothe the throat.

Original Version
Kashayam-A Herbal Concotion to ease out Sore Throat and Cold

                                                  Kashayam-Simple Version


1.Coriander Seed /Dhania Powder- 2 teaspoon.
2.Black Pepper Powder - 2 teaspoon.
3.Cumin /Jeera Powder -  2 teaspoon.
4.Fresh Ginger Grated - 2 teaspoon.
5.Dry Ginger Powder  -2 teaspoon.
6.Water - 1&1/2 cup
7.Honey  - 1 teaspoon


1.Bring all ingredients from 1-6 except honey to a rolling boil and allow the water to reduce little bit.
2.Strain and mix honey to the mixture.
3.It can be consumed warm or lukewarm.
4.Enjoy the soothing drink !!!

Please adjust the ingredients according to taste and spice level ,especially  ginger and black pepper .

Kashayam works well for our family.I am no expert in herbs and not sure if any of the ingredients contains allergens.Ensure it will suit you and your family prior to consumption.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Kuzhi Paniyaram- Quick Version Loaded with Veggies.

Kuzhi Paniyaram is a famous delicacy of Chettinad, a southern part of India. Anytime you crave spicy, devour in to Chettinad Cuisine, well known for myriad of vegetarian dishes like puli kuzhambu,idiyappam,vegetable kurma and the list goes on. Chettinad city is also famous for its cotton sarees. The designs are very unique like their cuisine and stands out from others. Authentic Paniyaram is prepared by grinding the soaked raw and boiled rice along with urad dal, fermenting the batter like idly/dosa prior to making it. When it comes to breakfast both my parents and in-laws prefer the traditional items, mostly idly/dosa .For a matter of fact my Mother-in-law believes that idly/dosa nutritious than the modern day options. She once told me when she went to get her monthly sugar levels checked the Diabetician mentioned urad dal helps in controlling the sugar levels by keeping the glycemic index low. Though calories from rice is present, there is no added sugar . As I have explained in my previous post white sugar produces empty calories . My kids undergo high endurance physical activities at least 12- 15 hours in a week apart from their recess time playing, I need to ensure , they get enough of carbs balanced with protein and fiber in their diet. Kids generally move in fast pace and they are in constant motion, unlike the adults which increases their metabolic process and the carbs produced from rice are burnt  and converted as energy .If anyone peeks in to my refrigerator any day of the week, you can find a batch of idly/dosa batter in stock, it comes very handy for impromptu guests and last minute lunch box meals for the kids. My older one loves this version of Paniyaram for her lunch to school, since it’s easy to eat with a fork and  no messy hands. Any type of veggies can be mixed with the batter, depending on the kids’ taste and spice level. 

                                                  Kuzhi Paniyaram


1.Dosa Batter- 2 cups
2.Salt - to taste
3.Hing/Asafoetida- a pinch
4.Black Pepper Powder -1/2 tea Spoon(Kids version I replace Green Chillies with Black Pepper) 
5.Green chilies - 3cut to small pieces.
6.Red Onion- 2 table spoons(diced)
7.Carrots- 2  table spoon (grated)
8.Cabbage - 2 tablespoons (finely chopped)
9.Cilantro/Coriander Leaves - 1 teaspoon(finely chopped)
10.Oil - 1/4 teaspoon for each hole.

1.In a mixing bowl mix all ingredients together except the oil with dosa making consistency not too thick ,not too watery.

2.Mount Paniyaram Pan on a stove top with 1/4 teaspoon of oil filled in each hole on medium flame.

3.Make sure oil is hot enough ,indication steam comes out from the pan.If you drop a pinch of batter in the oil  it should sizzle.

4.Pour 1 Table spoon of Mixed batter from step 1 in each hole and cover the top.

5.Few Minutes later with a fork prick and turn to other side to cook.If the batter sticks to the pan while turning leave it on the same side extra couple of minutes .

5.Brown Crisp Texture on the outer side indicates  fully cooked and ready to eat.

6.Enjoy with Coconut Chutney.

1.If you don't have a Paniyaram pan , it can be made like a Uthappam on a regular Dosa Pan.
2.For kids it can be served with Ketchup.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rice or Quinoa what’s your Take?: Quinoa & Purple Cabbage Salad Spiked with Asian Flavors.

Quinoa & Purple Cabbage Salad Spiked with Asian Flavors.
When I discovered Quinoa few years back, loved for its versatility but the calorie comparison varies all over the internet. Some of the health website, concluded that one cup of cooked Quinoa calorie higher than One cup of cooked brown rice. But where we see the differences is most important. Following lists some nutritional values based on recommended value for daily intake.

One Cup Cooked Brown Rice                      One Cup Cooked Quinoa
Fiber- 14%                                                        Fiber-21%
Protein – 5gms/cup                                           Protein-8.1gms/cup
Folate: 2%                                                        Folate: 19%
Iron – 2%                                                          Iron-15%
Riboflavin – 3%                                               Riboflavin – 12%
Zinc - 8%                                                          Zinc-13%
Vitamin B3- 15%                                              Vitamin B3-4%

Brown rise may be high in other nutrients contents. With impressive Fiber, Protein and Iron content from a plant based source “Quinoa” has it beat. Soluble Fiber helps to reduce Fat & Cholesterol. Foods that lack Fiber spikes the sugar level quickly with hunger kicking in quiet frequently and that leads to over eating. Food rich in fiber tend to be low calorie, so you can consume little more than the usual portion.

Protein is the one activating the liver-the main organ and control operator for the fat burning .Studies have shown that if liver is working well it can increase metabolic rate which means Food rich in Protein and Fiber will keep you full for longer hours than food rich in Carbohydrate or fat can reduce the metabolic rate. My Verdict & Mantra, you might have heard already from health experts “Eat a protein Rich Breakfast” to start off my morning with minimal sugar .I have saved the “Sugar” topic for another post.

There are umpteen number of educative articles all over the internet about Fiber & Protein. Keeping in mind the listed key points helped me to make good food choices. Nutrients listed in the comparison also helps to fight against heart disease, cancer .

Being brought up in a south Indian home it will be surprising to hear I am not a big fan of rice. When we were growing up my mom used to make tiffin items for my lunch box .My friends can vouch for it. I love roti, can far and by live on it. How can god make my life simple, the man I am married to, he is Iconic figure of a typical South Indian male who wants to consume rice at least one time a day.
He will mope around, if rice is not in his vicinity consecutively for couple of days. But his eating and fitness habits are way healthier than mine.

Though I cook proper ‘southie’ meal for the man of the house daily, my intake of rice in a week is only during the weekends one time a day. Here we go to one of my favorite Quinoa salad with purple cabbage spiked with Asian Flavors. Would love to hear from you all your variations of Quinoa.

Quinoa & Purple Cabbage Salad Spiked with Asian Flavors.

Dry Ingredients.

Quinoa- 1/2 Cup Cooked
Cucumber Diced- ½ Cup
Cherry Tomatoes– Few (Not in the Pic shown usually add them when I have in stock.)
Purple Cabbage Shredded- 1 Cup
Spring Onions Diced- 1 Bunch
Carrots Shredded- 1 Cup
Cilantro Chopped- 1 Tea Spoon
Almonds (Sliced/Whole) - Few
Cashews (Sliced/Whole) - Few
Roasted Chick Peas - Few (optional- I had bought a pack of Good Beans Roasted Chick Peas for Snack to take to work.
Salt - 1/2 teaspoon
Water - 1 Cup


Peanut Butter (Crunchy/Creamy) -2 Tea Spoon
Apple Cider Vinegar - 1 Tea Spoon
Soy Sauce (The Authentic Fermented way) - ½ Tea Spoon
Honey - 1 Tea spoon
Ginger Grated - ½ tea spoon
Pepper Powder - 1/ Tea Spoon (to preferred taste)
Salt -  ½ teaspoon
Water - 2-3 Tea Spoon (to preferred consistency)
Sesame Oil - 1 Tea Spoon


1. Wash Quinoa thoroughly and ensure the outer skin is washed away as it will give a sour taste if not removed properly.

2.Combine 1/2 cup Quinoa with 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until Quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Quinoa holds lots of water, so you have to make sure you drain it thoroughly after it's cooked.

3.Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

4.Combine all the ingredients listed under dressing in a bowl and set aside.

5. In a Salad Bowl Mix well ,Dry Ingredients and Dressing bowl contents. Garnish with Few cashew Pieces.

6.   Enjoy your Salad!!!

-Be creative, add any veggies of your choice to your salad.
-Use Soy Sauce that has been produced the authentic fermented way as the modern Soy sauces     has MSG (a form of sodium contains non-essential amino acids).
-Ingredients listed under dressing can be increased and reduced according to your taste.

Quinoa & Purple Cabbage Salad Spiked with Asian Flavors.
I am not a professional health expert or nutritionist .

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sweet Thengai Aval/Sweet Coconut Poha.


Sweet Thengai Aval/ Sweet Coconut Poha

This dish again, very simple yet divine. When we were fresher’s a company in India, sponsored bunch of us for a Software  degree  from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh and we used to stay in downtown Pittsburgh .From there we used to take the city bus to commute to the college. Very commute friendly and never had the need for a car. Inside the campus there is a desi grocery store, subsidized    stationery shop for students etc. Those were the days ‘earn and study ‘, the income used to be meager just to meet our weekly needs .We will find all possibilities to reduce our expenses .To our rescue the cafe in the famous Srinivasar temple there, sells food for very subsidized rates for Devotees, $1 for a bowl of Sambar Rice (Note: Anyone who visited Pittsburgh temple never ever will forget the taste and aroma of that Sambar Rice) and we will make a trip almost every day.
For me, double purpose solved being brought up in a typical Iyengar home, am used to visiting temple almost every other day, so my perumal darshan and food is done at one place. Coming to the point aval/poha is one ingredient which is healthy, reasonably priced, easy to make and will get in bulk. Used to make this dish quiet often and my roommates relished it .Well, now my husband is ardent lover of this dish for the taste and simplicity.
Epic Story believed -Lord Krishna’s friend Sudhama and his family were living in poverty and when Krishna visited him once, he offered Aval with Sugar and the contended Krishna blessed him with kingdom of wealth.
In southern India during Krishna Jayanthi (janmashtami) folks offer a dish made of aval/Poha along with other Prasadams to gain prosperity.

Pittsburgh weather is very sporadic and I must thank our desi professors for the car trips they had helped us with. It’s time to dive in to the recipe.


Thick Flattened Poha  1 cup

Fresh Coconut Grated  ¼ Cup

Cardamom Pod Powdered  2 (According to your taste)

Sugar/Jaggery  5Tsps (According to your taste)


1. Wash poha 2-3 times, drain the water well  and leave it for 5minutes for the poha to absorb all the remaining water.

2. Few minutes later the poha will turn soft.

3.Add the grated coconut, sugar/jaggery, powdered cardamom.

4. Mix well and enjoy

Note: Do not soak the poha in water, will become soggy and won’t taste good.