The grass is not really green on the other side

For the longest time, I’ve heard, read and seen people talk about the superiority of European products over American ones. Plenty of online forums are filled with American moms claiming how much better the French formulas are or the German baby foods are. And I believe many European countries do a great job with their baby foods. But does this mean they are superior to ours? The answer is simply no. I have got news for you mommas out here in the US. I hate to burst your bubble and deter you from hoarding European baby products.

On my recent trip to Europe, I understood that American products are of great quality and they are on par if not better. Even how businesses welcome parents is simply better here. And I must say I, like many others have taken the US for granted. Everything from the cruel acts of genetically modified produce to the washing of eggs protective outer layer in the name of disinfecting has generally given me an impression that our European neighbors are doing it better. But the reality is that they have their own set of quirks. For instance, can you believe they don’t consume fresh milk? It’s a lot of ultra processed stuff that will happily sit on your counter and doesn’t need refriegeration. I will tell you however that their cheeses are way better. We must up our game on that front and go beyond our Americans and pepper jacks.

The US is one of the best destinations in the world for parents with their little ones. Right from how we are treated in public arenas such as restaurants, shopping centers to how even the diapers are is simply of another level. There isn’t a place I would think twice to visit in America. I can blindly pack up my bag and babies bag and start off on a classic American road trip and not worry about whether the stroller would go through. I wouldn’t worry even if I were to take the local train as the train are aligned so well to the platform I wouldn’t have to lift my stroller. Or worry if I can find kid friendly vegetarian friendly options at restaurants. While Europe does have great food all over, there were times we were in restaurants that didn’t have anything vegetarian besides their bread and water.

Having grown up in India, changing my baby anywhere isn’t that big a deal. However, the convenience of having a changing table in just about every restaurant or department store or gas station makes our lives easier. I have had to change my baby in peak winter on bare bathroom floors with no heating or cleanliness more times than I have had access to changing tables in Europe. This is also not to say that the next time you visit, you should travel with your trusty American products. Europe has equally good options and in some cases, better products that are worth trying on your trip. Millions of babies are after all raised on them. I’m just arguing that American moms seeking European products in the US seems like a case of the grass being green on the other side when it is just as green over here.

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How to pack toddler’s bag for a trip to Europe in winter for a month

Packing for a toddler can be challenging. And packing for a toddler for more than a month and for winter is a harder one to tackle. To make our lives easier, K and I had decided to skip taking suitcases and strollers and instead have brought Osprey Farpoint backpacks to navigate the many stairs in railway stations and to handle the large amounts of walking we would do across UK and Europe.

The key is to get packing cubes to compress what you have. And to use those straps in bags and suitcases to compress everything even more.

For those interested, here is a packing list of things we took for our toddler for our winter vacation to Europe.

  • 5 onesies
  • 2 thermal tops
  • 5 leggings
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 5 pairs thick wool socks
  • 2 days supply of diapers and wipes
  • 2 pair gloves
  • 2 pairs beanies
  • 2 layered fleece and insulated jacket
  • 1 thick fleece waterproof jacket
  • Scarf
  • Mustela Cold cream and moisturizer (since my daughter has sensitive skin, I didn’t want to play around with other brand moisturizers)
  • Mustela Hydra Stick to get those dry patches before heading out.
  • Baby scissors for nails
  • Saline wipes
  • One bowl with spoon
  • 1 big and 1 small sippy cup
  • 3 board books
  • 2 sets of flash cards (ABCs and First words)
  • Hair Brush
  • Tooth Brush
  • Aquadoodle (This is amazing for kids that love to scribble and doodle. It is mess free and keeps them engaged for hours)
  • Baby carrier
  • Fizz wizz tablets
  • Thermometer (you never know when they will come in handy)

In addition, we also carried a basic set of medicines for our child as instructed by her pediatrician. We did purchase a few things on arrival.

  • Formula (since our room does not come equipped with a fridge or a microwave, whole milk is not really an option while we’re in the room) – HIPP
  • Baby wash body and hair – Childs farm for eczema and dry skin – This is excellent even if your child does not have eczema or dry skin . It keeps their skin from going dry in the winter.
  • Baby diapers and wipes – There are lots of brands. If nothing works, there is always Pampers/Huggies.
  • Porridge – Creamy porridge from cows gate
  • Baby food – HIPP or Ellas kitchen
  • Water

The good thing about European countries for people traveling from the US is the sizes of items you buy here. Even the full size toiletries can be very travel friendly. London is very baby friendly. It is possible to find restaurants that will provide high chairs. There are tons of stores like Boots, Sainsbury, Tesco where you can purchase diapers, baby food, baby toiletries. It is definitely not a walk in the park to take strollers around London as some footpaths can be bumpy and loading the stroller on and off the crowded trains is one more thing to worry about. And I hear it only gets worse in Europe. We have our Ergobaby carrier with excellent lumbar support. So if you’re planning for 5-6 hr outside time and don’t mind carrying the baby for maybe 2-3 hours a day, the carrier would be a better option. But if you’re planning to be out all day, invest in a lightweight stroller.

Fizz wizz tablets are little pellets. You take 2 oz warm water in your sippy cup. Rinse your sippy cup nipple using your fingers. Drop one fizz wizz tablet and close the sippy cup. Shake vigorously for 2 mins. This cleans your sippy cup so well. This is a must for people who can’t deal with bottle brushes on the go.

It is possible as you see to pack light. Toddlers don’t need a ton of things to keep them entertained. Especially in a place like London where there is a bus going down the road every 5 mins. I just place her by the window and she is happy saying “butch” for hours on end. Drawing/doodling is another great way to keep them busy. Join them and they will stay occupied even more. Toddlers love the outside. Just make sure to carry insulated jackets for toddlers with layers beneath. This will keep them nice and toasty. And that is all you want for them to absolutely enjoy the outdoors. A nice snug beanie goes without saying. The insulated jackets may be expensive but save you the trouble of wearing bulky layers. If you’re someone who absolutely dreads lugging around heavy suitcases in stations and airports up and down flights of stairs, packing light is definitely the way to go. It makes travel seem a lot more fun and stress-free.

Travel chaos and London calling

There is something that happens when you travel. You are stunned with things that happen out of the blue and take you off guard. That surprises me every single time we travel. A few days ago we started on our big journey to UK and Europe. Aadya and I fell sick a week before making it difficult for me to pack our bags. K was busy with work winding up what he could before we left. But then a day before we left when we were supposed to pack, he fell sick. This put the entire task of packing bags plus getting things sorted in our place on me. Just like that, my adventures began. It was indeed time to travel with the rush of things getting done frantically. How these things happen the way they do is beyond me!

On 8th Dec, we took off on BA to London Heathrow. The British are very hospitable people. Can’t say much about the customer service at British Airways though. They not only managed to mess up our reservation but were quite rude and creepy. One customer rep insisted on performing a blessing for our daughter when we called quite stressed out about our seating arrangements. After all, this is our first trip abroad with our toddler. Blessings are always welcome but it was just so frustrating when you are trying to get to some information to plan and the way this person goes “Ms. Divya, I just said I bless your daughter wholeheartedly. Did you not hear me?”. I was very creeped out then because of the tone. The day prior when we called to sort our seating and meal preferences, the representative out of the blue asked us what our nationality was. I have no idea what our nationality has to do with our reservations.

The onward flight to London was very smooth. The new Boeing was just as they call it – dreamy. A good thing about having babies is choosing that front row seat. It gives you the best leg room in economy. Aadya did great on the flight. She was entertained by air hostesses and fellow passengers. She entertained them in return with her air kisses and cute baby head tilts. The 11 hour journey was a breeze. London greeted us with cozy weather. On landing, the first thing we did like any sane person with jet lag would do – get some coffee. We hit up the very famous London coffee chain – Costa. We both had 2 flat whites and shared a ‘toastie’. Why America will not make anything beyond plain grilled cheese I will never know! Toasties are just amazing savory quick eats. You just can’t go wrong with it. It’s also unbelievably easy to make. The toastie we had was a Mushroom Emmental Cheese toastie. I still can’t believe we’re here. It feels surreal. Yet this is happening. We checked into our hotel which is very close to Trafalgar Square. So far London has been nothing but welcoming. Now onto our adventures here in UK and more!

Pasta in the Instant pot

My pressure cookers have got me cooking more in the kitchen. I made this super easy and deeeelicious pasta in the instant pot today. What’s great about making pasta in the instant pot is that I get this very slightly overcooked pasta (not al dente) which is how I like my pasta and you don’t need to dump all that extra pasta water down the sink. Don’t waste your resources!

Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms (any kind, I used white button) – 4 to 5 large
  • Tomatoes (any kind, I used campari) – 2
  • Garlic cloves – 5 small
  • Chives – 3 to 4 stalks
  • Red pepper flakes – as desired, I put 1/2 tsp
  • Butter – to finish off the sauce; 1 tsp
  • Cheese – your favourite kind; I used a mix of mild cheddar and monterey jack
  • Extra virgin olive oil – 1 tbsp
  • Dried basil – 1 tsp
  • Caper berries – 1 chopped; I wanted to use capers but this is what I had on hand. They both work great in this recipe.
  • Pasta – any kind; I used strozzapreti about 1.5 cups to 2 cups (I eyeballed it. Sorry!)
  • Salt – to taste
  • Water
  1. Put the instant pot on saute mode and press until you have select more.
  2. Add a tbsp of extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Add the garlic. When softened, add the red pepper flakes, chives, dried basil and caper berries. Saute for a few seconds.
  4. Now add the mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are browned and the oil has separated.
  5. Add the tomatoes. Stir around for 10 secs.
  6. Add your pasta, salt and water to barely cover the pasta. It’s perfectly fine if one or two shells peek through.
  7. Close the lid. Hit cancel and then press pressure cook and adjust time to 6 mins. Select low pressure level.
  8. Open the lid after a natural release.
  9. Hit saute on medium. And add butter to make a luscious sauce. Once that is achieved, hit cancel. Add your cheese. Stir until well combined.
  10. Serve. Drizzle with Evoo. Enjoy!

 

Breville Fast Slow Pro vs Instant Pot Duo Mini

I am now part of that not-so-new food trend – Instant Pot. I had been avoiding the purchase for the longest time (since 2012 exactly) when my mom delivered a sales pitch last year on how life-changing her Breville Fast Slow cooker is. Long story short, I caved in and bought myself a Breville Fast Slow Pro. Fast forward months later, I loved my Breville so much that I wanted to add a mini Breville to completely eliminate rice cookers, manual pressure cookers and quite a few pots from my kitchen altogether. Unfortunately Breville does not make a mini version. So I ended up purchasing the 3 quart Instant Pot Duo Mini that has a bigger fan following and a larger community online.

So here are my thoughts on the two.

Instant Pot 

Pros:

  • Has a delayed start timer (which is awesome for soaking beans and starting up the cooking process when the soaking is done. Totally eliminates soaking in a separate container and remembering to put it in the cooker.)
  • Saute function heats up slightly better than the Breville which is again crucial for the tempering in indian food. I don’t know if its because of the stainless steel or something else. If anyone knows why, I would love to know what it is.
  • Has an exclusive yogurt function. I read somewhere that this function can also be used to ferment idli/dosa batter!
  • Being able to use any ladle in the stainless steel pot
  • Extremely affordable

Cons:

  • This is not too much of a hassle. But the stainless steel can sometimes (if you’re not careful with the heat setting) burn the food at the bottom. This holds true even when cooking on the stove top.
  • Reminds me of the Honda Civic ad “A button for every button”. Ah the buttons! I prefer the Breville’s sleek interface with dials to the buttons
  • That godforsaken warning label on top of the lid (seriously, why would anyone put a hard-to-remove sticker on top of the lid). The lid now has an ugly sticker impression on what should have been sleek and shiny stainless steel. I would appreciate if someone can tell me how to get the residual adhesive impression off the lid.
  • Instant pot does not offer a non stick insert for the 3 quart.

Breville Fast Slow Pro

Pros:

  • Amazing interface, looks classy and very user friendly
  • Love the option to select precisely how much pressure I want instead of a standard high, med and low.
  • The non stick is definitely easier to clean up.

Cons: 

  • Saute function is not as effective as the instant pot.
  • Lack of a delayed timer which can be super useful
  • Breville does not sell stainless steel inserts which should be good from a health perspective.
  • Pricey

On the whole, I would say the Instant Pot is a better option. This is not to say that the Breville is a bad product. The Breville is great and if the looks take high priority, I highly recommend the Breville Fast Slow Pro. The Instant Pot is simply my choice because it is priced just right and gives me all the features I need and more. It is also the healthier pot than the Breville because of the stainless steel. The yogurt and delay start function are good features to have making this a complete product to have in your kitchen.

 

Pestos galore

I am by no means trained in Italian cooking nor do I watch many Italian cooking shows. My love for the carbacious (wait, is that even a word?) pastas and pizzas keep me constantly trying something new. It all began when I bumped into a video on Jamie Oliver’s Youtube Channel featuring the Chiappa Sisters for making a delicious Sage Walnut Pesto. Sage and walnut? What about Basil and Pine nuts? These were the questions running through my mind. Through the simplest of recipes, the Chiappa sisters taught me to let my imagination run wild when it comes to making pesto.

Pesto is one of those incredibly easy sauces to put together. With a good blender and a few fresh staples, you always have access to amazing pesto-type sauces. It wouldn’t be fair to call it pesto. But pesto style is more like it.

During the last couple of weeks, I made two incredibly easy pestos unlike the traditional basil variety. They are just as beautiful and make great weeknight pesto dinners or even for a Sunday brunch.

That's right. We want the creaminess!
This is the Cilantro Cashew Pistachio pasta. That’s right! We want the creaminess! 

Avocado pistachio pesto (one of those recipes that is great for using up old avocados)

1 hass avocado or any buttery variety you may have on hand

Juice of 1 lime (Since this is an avocado pesto, I had to marry the avocado with the lime)

A clove of garlic

Handful of Pistachios

Salt

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Water (as required)

Parmesan (optional)

Blend the above ingredients except salt in a blender to anything from a coarse to a smooth consistency. Just blend it the way you like it. Add salt once blended and mix. Mix this sauce with hot pasta and garnish with cilantro!

Cilantro Cashew pistachio pesto

Bunch of cilantro leaves

Half a handful of cashewnuts

Half a handful of pistachios

Juice of one lemon

A clove of garlic

Handful of Pistachios

Salt

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Water (as required)

Parmesan (optional)

Blend these and mix with hot pasta. Garnish with Chipotle pepper.

Would you like some pickle and honey with your pizza?

That’s right. Last night’s dinner was quite interesting. We were suggested by the front desk to go to a restaurant called “Seoga and Cook” in Dongtan’s downtown. It was one of those modern, crisp and clean looking, American-ish restaurants. I ordered a Fanta Grape while K had some German beer. He also ordered some fries that came dusted with paprika, garlic powder and parmesan. The fries were served in different shapes. There was matchstick fries, regular fries and wedges. K had ordered Four Cheese Pizza and I went for a new dish called “Eggtata”. For some reason, K was doing an exaggerated Indian accent while saying the word “Eggtata” and it sounded so hilarious!

Eggtata - Frittata with pilaf
                            Eggtata – Frittata with pilaf

Eggtata is a skillet comprising of Frittata (kind of like a crustless egg quiche or a super duper fluffy omelet), some pilaf in the center (so the frittata beneath the pilaf gets pretty much flattened out like an omelet) and a fried egg on top drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It’s finished up like a regular frittata in the oven. I had a “kimchi pilaf eggtata” which had kimchi pilaf in the center. Kimchi pilaf tasted a lot like spicy fried rice made with pilaf rice. I was so not ready for this dish to be honest. Just the idea of all that eggy action for dinner seemed a bit much and I was not sure how a frittata would combine with kimchi to make one fabulous dish.

So when our main dishes arrived, the waitress walks up to us and offers us some pickle in a small cup. Pickled veggies for what? I assumed since I was eating my kimchi pilaf, they gave pickle to go with the Eggtata. I called the waitress using a handy device called the waiter button. Why does the rest of the world not have it? It is a small button that can be used to call the waitress. So you don’t have to raise your hand or repeat “excuse me” like a million times before you get the waitress’s attention. Just press the button and boom! there’s your waitress.

This is definitely one of the coolest gadgets I've come across in recent times
This is definitely one of the coolest gadgets I’ve come across in recent times

The waitress told me we had to eat the pickle with the pizza. Our jaws dropped on hearing that. We had never heard of this combination. I had read earlier that Korean pizzas can be quite different from the rest of the world. Sure enough, we did find some really surprising combinations on the menu last night. For example, there was one with sweet potato and blueberry. I could not fathom most of what I had seen in my imagination. But pickle with pizza was a whole other deal. When the waitress went back to her work, K point blank refused to try pickle with pizza. Being quite the explorer, I was curious and had a bite of the pizza with the pickle. It’s interesting…. It’s interesting but I don’t think I can do it again.

Pickle and Pizza?
Pickle and Pizza?

Then came my Eggtata. I was so weirded out to see so much eggy action going on. Fried egg on top of a dozen eggs? I was so skeptical. I cut up a chunk of eggtata and served it up on my plate. The first bite into it was …. deeelicious! You cannot look at eggtata in the same way as frittata. If you do, you would probably be skeptical as I was until that first bite when you change your mind and you go, now that’s something new and something truly amazing! It was super delicious. The eggs or the frittata part wasn’t flooded with italian herbs which is what I think made the frittata pair well with the kimchi pilaf. On the whole, I was satisfied. I obviously could not finish even 1/4th of what was served.

Tastes even better than it looks!
Tastes even better than it looks!

As K and I were almost getting done with dinner, I noticed a small cup of something that looked like oil. I called the waitress who told me Koreans usually dip pizza in some honey. Again, the jaw drop happened. I could not believe what I was hearing. Koreans have truly made pizza their own. It’s not the italian or the american italian style you would have eaten at so many places. It’s different and it’s quite the experience.

So my question is: Would you like some pickle and honey with your pizza?