Monthly Archives: February 2016

Baby food in trains! Is it safe?

I remember whenever my sister travels in train with her two kids — one aged 11 and the other 2 — she carries with her a big bag of food supplies with her. It includes bread, thepla, biscuits, chikki, chocolates, some fruits, ceralac, milk, milk powder (just in case), juice, thermos and an electric kettle.

I won’t give my kids train food, she would say. She would carry one fresh meal like puri-sabji, and then use something from the above mentioned supplies till the time they reached their destination.

My mother-in-law once told me about the time their train got super-delayed and the small station where it was stuck at had no shops at all. Not expecting this 12-hour delay, she was not carrying any food with her, but my husband, then just a toddler, had to be fed! Kind co-passengers helped her with milk and bananas, and after that, she never leaves the house without food and water in her purse.

Rly Budget
Photo courtesy Railway Ministry’s twitter account.

So in Railway Budget 2016, it was annouced that trains will serve baby food and will have children’s food on regular menu. Also, baby boards will be there in the toilets. And I felt really happy that the Railway Minister, Suresh Prabhu, thought of the hardships that traveling mothers go through. But when I spoke to some mothers, it turned out the Railways still has a long way to go…

Mothers, who travel with their babies, have welcomed the Railway Minister’s move to provide facilities like baby food and baby boards in trains, but expressed apprehensions about the quality of food.

“Mothers, who travel with their infants or babies, often have to carry a lot of food items for them, specially if the journey is long,” said homemaker Priya Mohan Kumar, who often travels to Kerala with her 3-year-old daughter. “However, I would not trust it, given the overall hygiene conditions of our trains and stations.”

Almost every mother whom I spoke to had the same apprehensions about the quality of baby food, something they would not want to compromise on.

“I think twice before eating the food meant for adults and purchase it only if there is absolutely no other option. How can I feed it to my baby?” was 27-year-old Rahi Gupte’s concern, who travels from Pune to Jammu at least thrice in a year with her two-year-old daughter.

However, recalling Railway Minister’s gesture of providing milk to a passenger who tweeted about there being no food for his child in the train, she lauded the minister for keeping parents travelling with babies in mind.

Rakhi Parsai, a public relations professional working in the city, said mothers are very particular about the quality and hygiene standards of the food provided. “The pantry of a train is not exactly clean. Even if the food is packaged, I would be doubtful about the quality unless it is a very branded company. I don’t even trust boiled water from the pantry,” she said.

Rachana Jain, mother of a four-year-old, said she would prefer to carry her own home-cooked food or baby food powders along with thermos and electric kettles. She, however, felt introduction of baby boards in the toilets will help mothers while changing a baby’s diaper or clothes, as it will give privacy from other passengers.

This story first appeared as a report in Sakal Times, Pune, and was later scaled down on the ‘seriousness level’ to make it blog-worthy! 😀 

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Is it a saree? Is it a jewelry set? Nope, it’s a cake!

12512451_10153901677161763_1170285241375712135_nRecently, various groups on social media in Maharashtra, especially Pune, were abuzz with photos of a folded magenta Paithani silk saree, with Kolhapuri jewellery kept on top of it. At first glance, you may not find anything unusual about it. A closer look will reveal that it is actually a cake!

A quick check on Facebook told me that the creator is well within reach! Tanvi Palshikar, a home baker based Kothrud, is the creator of this intricate cake, that is being widely circulated on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. Palshikar revealed that she had made this cake for one of her trusted clients Ketki Kulkarni Puranik, who wanted a customised cake for her mother-in-law’s birthday.

“A couple of days earlier, we had discussed about her mother-in-law’s fondness for Paithani sarees and we decided to make this cake. She shared some photographs of the saree and some jewelry she likes to wear on it,” said 27-year-old Palshikar, whose home baking venture Cakilicious turned three this month.

12745995_10153901677216763_7129048600936232312_nThis unique 1.75 kg cake shows a saree neatly folded, with a pallu of golden zari with colourful peacock motifs on the folds. On top of it, a pearl-studded Kolhapuri choker necklace set with a Maharashtrian nose pin (nath) is kept — and it’s all edible and handmade!

“It’s a vanilla chocolate chip cake and it was eggless. It took me three hours to bake it and 8 hours to decorate. This type of decoration is called ‘Sugar Craft’. The saree pallu or padar as we call in Marathi, is all hand painted with edible golden paint,” Palshikar said. She has not even used any molds for it.

Palshikar is an interior designer by profession but took to baking after she got married. I can tell from personal experience that it takes a couple of weeks in the kitchen for you to realise the immense potential that awaits many in this business — baking and cooking. I have myself made things I had earlier thought were impossible. So I can totally relate with what Tanvi must have gone through at that time.

With the support of her husband Onil and other family members, she started her own venture. Isn’t that cool… when the family supports you, nothing is impossible.

IMG_5563 (1)She gets 50 customised cake orders in a month, where her endeavour each time is to ‘Bake your imagination’.  She admitted that she did not expect it to go viral on Facebook, and is ‘amazed and flattered’.

“I had no idea this was happening until I checked my phone two days ago and saw the photo. I have no words to express my happiness! It feels great,” she said.

10922515_10153298602636763_4466188045723052874_nI know where my next cake is coming from! You can hunt for Tanvi’s (that’s her in the pic) Cakilicious on the Facebook as she has a dedicated page. The photo gallery will give you a peek into the kind of cakes she has made in the past.

The above story first appeared in Sakal Times newspaper in Pune. 

Book Review: Runaway Writers

Name: Runaway Writers
Author: Indu Balachandran
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 296
Price:  Rs 299

Three women, who have quit their regular jobs to become writers, meet in Greece, one of them desperately tries to figure out intricacies of love — that’s Runaway Writers for you in 140 characters (well, 144 to be precise). That is probably how Amby — the main protagonist of this book and a Twitter expert — would have described this book.

Runaway Writers

The story of Amby is something many of us can relate to. She has the potential to make tons of money through a banking job. But is currently doing some creative tweeting for a famous movie star, in the hope to become a famous writer herself.

As the book repeatedly emphasises, we are all looking for the second best job in the world — something that is creative, satisfying and pays decently. Which is why Amby wants to go to Greece to attend a writer’s workshop, so that she can quit the ghost-tweeter job (yes, that’s a job, as Amby repeatedly explains) and start writing that bestseller she is destined to write. She is joined by two more women, equally eager to pursue their dream of becoming a writer, on this trip to Greece.

The book is a chick-flick, a travelogue, a writer’s “how-to” guide, and a love-story all rolled into one neat package. Divided into two sections — Before Greece and After Greece — the book focuses on Amby’s life in a typical Chennai family.

She has a secret crush on her boss, the movie star, but is torn between the mixed signals she keeps getting and the match her parents are pushing her to consider. The new guy is a well-settled Tam Brahm living in Finland, and after a couple of online meetings convince Amby that he is truly Mr Eligible.

Meanwhile, Amby’s pursuit of her dream of becoming a writer kindles the spark in her boss to chase his own dream of becoming a chef and opening his restaurant. And so, Amby is confronted with the question: Who is a better option? Mr Eligible or Mr Edible!

The author’s wit and ability to connect with the new-age reader has made this book a good read. Runaway Writers is that kind of book which will instantly lift your spirits. Writers — anyone who writes, reports, tweets, posts and pitches — in particular will instantly connect with the book. The details of the writers’ workshop are simply awesome, almost made me quit my job to look for something similar in some exotic land.

We cannot help but wonder if author Indu Balachandran, an advertising veteran who became a travel writer and columnist, has written her own experiences of this journey of chasing the ‘second best job in the world’. But if that is the case, then there is hope for many of us who are still stuck in our ‘best jobs’.

Do not feel disappointed if the cover illustration gives you an impression that it’s a story of three writers. Though the other two runaway girls are at best bridesmaids in this delightful read, you will find enough in Amby’s life (whose real name is Ambujakshi, by the way) to chuckle, smile, love and take inspiration from.

This book review was first published in Sakal Times, Pune, on February 14, 2015. 

Why I like to shop from saree exhibitions rather than showrooms

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I felt possessed. I had never seen so many cottton sarees at one place. And what an amazing collection they had — something that would attract a grandma as well as young woman. I like to buy my sarees and contrasting blouse pieces from such exhibitions because –

  1. I am assured of authenticity of the product
  2. Handloom weavers and hand-dyed fabrics are a good buy anytime.
  3. I feel good that those who work hard to keep our Indian fabrics alive are getting a good price for it.

IMG_20160206_161816Broad borders, small borders, sarees in vibrant colours, sarees in simple hues, and every possible combination — you name it and it was there! The exhibition was organised by Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association. They have an online shop too! www.dacottonhandlooms.in

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I instantly became fida on their prices too. Sarees were ranged between Rs950 and Rs1,600 and while yardage — pure cotton and natural dyed ones — ranged from Rs120 to Rs250!

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The exhibition had a wide variety of yardage, sarees, dupattas and stoles from Andhra region. Fabrics like kalamkari, simple plain cotton, and khadi cotton were available. I bought four sarees for just Rs4,500. I have bought it for gifting, but I have my eye on them, so maybe they would end up becoming a part of my closet only!