Monday, 29 February 2016

Travel essentials for a long flight

We travel to India once every year, it has now become an yearly ritual for us :D. And we are all set to visit our homeland soon Yayyy!!!. Although the overall feeling and vibe of going to India is always very happy and exciting, the grueling tiresome long flight hours is the only thing that dampens the entire mood for me. The thought of sitting in a plane for really long hours is always the least exciting part of the entire trip. And if it's a connecting flight then its even more frustrating. I lack patience when it comes to really long international flights. Just like last time, we have booked a direct flight to Mumbai this time as well since it cuts the overall travel time by 5-6 hrs (14hrs always sounds better than 20 -21 hrs). Anyway, coming back to the topic, after having traveled to India and other countries in the past few years, I think there are some must haves/must do stuff which will certainly put you at ease during your long flight. 

The list includes things that I think are essential and very helpful. I have not included the passport and boarding pass because you know you won't be sitting inside the flight without these two things. :P :P


Socks, phone and backpack is not included in the pic :P
1) Comfortable clothing: You should certainly avoid clothes that are really tight or clothes that may get uncomfortable when traveling for long hours e.g tight jeans. It is always best to choose the most comfortable clothes like light weight sweater, t-shirts paired with long shrugs or long cardigans or a light weight jacket. Team it up with joggers, jennie pants or cargo pants. Casual and comfy that is the mantra for me. 

2) Comfortable shoes and socks: My favorites are slip ons and loafers. They are much easier to slip off and slip in especially when it comes to security check. I also carry a pair of socks with me and wear them once the flight takes off to keep my feet nice and warm throughout the journey.

3) Oversized blanket scarf (optional): If you are planning on wearing a light weight jacket/long cardigans/shrugs you can skip this. Flights can get uncomfortably chilly at times. Hence an oversized blanket scarf always helps.

4) Neck pillow: I never manage to get a good sleep on long flights (and when I do its like a blessing) especially when you can hardly recline you seat. Invest in a good neck pillow if possible. It did help me lot. Not only for sleeping but it also gives a good support to your neck which gets easily stressed out during long flights. Use it while watching your in flight entertainment or while reading a book .

5) Facial wipes/Kleenex tissues/baby wipes: This comes very handy when you need to freshen up your face quickly. These are also helpful to wipe your hands after meals or snacks.

6) Drink plenty of water: You all must be aware of the low humidity in cabin air. The humidity inside the cabin is usually low as compared to the usual indoor humidity. This leads to dehydration and dry skin. Hence try to drink water as much as possible and stay away from alcohol and other beverages that may cause more dehydration. Buy a big bottle of water before boarding the plane and keep on sipping throughout the flight. 

7) Moisturizer: Like I mentioned earlier lack of humidity in cabin air also leads to dry skin. Have a small travel size bottle of you favorite moisturizer handy and apply to your face, neck and hands whenever you feel like it.

8) Lip Balm: I generally avoid any kind of makeup while traveling. It is not a requirement for me. The only things that you will find in my bag apart from a moisturizer is a good plain or tinted lip balm. I reapply whenever I feel my lips are getting dry. My current favorite is Burt Bee's tinted lip balm.

9) Comb: You don't want you hair to look all messy when you land, now do you? I always carry a small wide toothed comb with me.

10) Hand Sanitizer : I bet this is something everyone has in their purse or bag. Use it before meals or after using restrooms etc. This is another must have which you will always find in my bag especially when traveling.  

11) Toothbrush, toothpaste and tongue scrapper/cleaner: Nothing feels more refreshing and invigorating than a good fresh and clean mouth. Carry a small travel size toothpaste, a toothbrush and plastic tongue scrapper/cleaner.

12) Listerine coolmint strips: This is optional but I think they are quite good for long flights. These strips dissolves quickly inside your mouth and helps fight bad breath. 

13) Deodorant: Trust me, a small travel size deodorant is very very helpful during long flights. 

14) Ear phones/headphones and good music/movies: Everyone loves to listen to music especially while traveling. Long flight travels are no exception. Don't forget your earphones and load you phone, ipod, ipad with tons of songs or even movies so that when you are bored of the in flight entertainment you always have your favorite songs to listen or movies to watch. 

15) A good book to read/Ipad/Kindle: I personally don't like reading books on Ipad or kindle. So I always carry a book in my bag. Nothing compares to reading an actual book especially when you have ample time and completely disconnected with internet and social media.

16) Snacks/energy bars/Chocolate: Carry some dry fruits and nuts in a ziplock bag and munch whenever you want. Energy bars and dark chocolates are also my favorites. 

17) Big tote or back pack: Whenever I have a laptop or an Ipad with me that is only time I carry a back pack instead of a tote. I try and avoid carrying my laptop when traveling to India because hubby also takes his. I feel like its unnecessary to carry two laptops. So when there is no laptop or Ipad involved I dump all the above mentioned stuff in my tote. I carry a simple and sturdy big tote bag while traveling nothing fancy or branded. But most of the time I prefer back pack over totes because its more easy on your shoulders.

18) Pen: The next time you are traveling remember to keep a pen or two handy for filling out the customs and immigration form.  This way you don't have to keep staring embarrassingly at the person sitting next to you and wait for him/her to finish and ask them for their pen. :P

So there it is, my long flight travel essentials. Do not get scared of the long list. You can easily buy travel size pack of all the things that I have mentioned so you will stay within the TSA permissible limits and it won't be heavy on your bag.

Last but not the least do not forget to stretch as much as possible and take a break from sitting for long hours on your flight.

What are your favorite travel essentials? Let me know in comments below. :)

So until next time, happy and safe traveling. :D

Monday, 8 February 2016

Aloo Paratha (Potato stuffed Indian flat bread)

Today I will be sharing a very simple recipe of one of my favorite comfort foods, Aloo Paratha or Indian flat bread stuffed with spiced potatoes.

It is one of the most popular recipes of Punjab but is equally popular and enjoyed all over India from north to south. Aloo paratha is a type of Indian flatbread which is stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes, pan roasted with some clarified butter or butter and served hot with yogurt or pickles. Enjoyed as a breakfast dish in north India, I personally like to have aloo parathas for lunch or dinners. 

Aloo parathas bring back fond memories of my school days. I always used to relate aloo parathas with picnic as it was the the most popular item on the picnic menu in our household. I still remember my mom packing hot parathas in aluminum foils along with some sandwiches for most of my school picnic outings. I still remember how me and all of my friends used to gather all excited and sit in circles for lunch with our packed homemade goodies. They were my favorite picnic meal then and it still is now especially when it comes to preparing something easy yet delicious.  

Initially it took me quite a few trials to make good parathas. Most of the times the stuffing would come out of the dough while rolling it making the rolling pin and everything around completely messy. Other times I was just not satisfied with how the filling tasted, at times it tasted bland and there were times when the dough to the filling ratio was just not right. I started making aloo parathas quite frequently after my move to US. And so after a lot of trials, errors and practice, I can now make fairly good parathas without any blunders :D.

Some quick nutrition facts about potatoes:

Before you start judging the poor potato as being unhealthy think again. If you remove all the deep frying, sour cream, cheese and all of the unhealthy dressing from the potatoes it is actually a healthy food source.

  • Potatoes are very high in Vitamin B6
  • They are a good source of potassium, copper, manganese, pantothenic acid,  phosphorus, niacin and dietary fibre
  • All in all they are good for our bones, heart health, digestion, metabolism and skin. 

So if you skip the french fries, chips and all the unhealthy dressing and include them in your diet in a healthy way and in moderation they can be quite good for you.

Hence you can enjoy parathas as well provided they are drizzled with very little oil or ghee/clarified butter. 


The key to making good parathas is obviously the stuffing. The stuffing should be dry or else it will come out while rolling the dough. Here are some useful tips that I have learnt when it comes to cooking the potatoes correctly:

1) I prefer cooking the potatoes by boiling them. Rinse the potatoes under running water first. In a sauce pan add water, half a teaspoon of salt and mix. Always start with cold water for even cooking of the potatoes. The water should be just enough to submerge the potatoes. Cover and cook in gently boiling water till tender. It takes anywhere between 15 - 25 mins for medium sized potatoes. Check if they are cooked by inserting a small knife, skewer or fork. If the knife easily slides without any resistance to the centre then its done.

2) Try steaming them if possible. This ensures that the potatoes become tender but without all the excess moisture. This may take more time comparatively. 

3) Avoid starchy potatoes like russet because they can absorb water while cooking. I usually use white or yellow potatoes. 

4) Do not overcook the potatoes, this will result in a very gooey and mushy potatoes and they won't work well for the stuffing. If you have a perfectly cooked mashed potatoes then the rest of the steps are very easy. 




This recipe will yield anywhere between 6 - 8 medium sized parathas

Ingredients:

For the stuffing:
2 -3 peeled and boiled mashed potatoes
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garlic grated/paste
1 tsp ginger grated/paste
1 green chili chopped
1/4 tsp of turmeric powder
1 tsp of kashmiri red chili powder (you can also use regular chili powder)
1/4 tsp of garam masala
1/4 tsp of chaat masala or amchoor powder or lemon juice
2 tbsp of chopped cilantro/coriander
2 tsp oil for tempering

Note: If you don't like the flavor of ginger garlic and want to keep it simple, skip it completely or you can also use only ginger paste. You can also add onions if you like. Skip the green chilis and reduce the amount of chili powder if you want the stuffing less spicy. This recipe will yield mildly spicy stuffing. 

For the dough:

1 - 2 cups of whole wheat flour
Water as required
Salt to taste
1 tsp of oil
Dry flour for dusting

Method:

Preparing the dough:

1) In a large bowl add the whole wheat flour and salt. Mix well.

2) Now start adding water little at a time and start mixing with hand. Keep on adding little water at a time and knead till all the flour comes together and forms a dough.

3) Knead well to form a soft dough. Now sprinkle oil and knead again. Cover the bowl or cover the dough with cling wrap and keep it aside for 15 - 20 mins. Meanwhile you can start preparing the stuffing.


Preparing the stuffing:

1) Cook the potatoes by boiling them as mentioned above. Depending upon the size of the potatoes the cooking time can vary. Remove from hot water and let them cool for few mins. Peel them when its cool enough to handle. Mash the potatoes using a masher or a fork. Mash it real good till looks nice and even so that there are no lumps.

2) Heat oil in skillet or pan (I used very little oil for tempering you can use more if you wish). Once the oil is hot add the cumin seeds and let it splutter.

3) Now add the ginger garlic paste and saute for few secs on a low to medium flame till the raw smell goes away. Now add all the turmeric powder and chili powder saute for few seconds.

3) Add the mashed potatoes, salt to taste and mix thoroughly. After around 1 - 2 mins add the garam masala and amchoor/chaat masala powder/lemon juice. Mix thoroughly again. Finally add cilantro leaves and then check for seasoning. Remove the skillet from the gas stove and let the potato mixture cool for few mins.

Note: This is how I like my stuffing. You can skip the tempering and instead add all the masala directly to the mashed potatoes and use it for stuffing. 

For making the Paratha:

1) Heat a round griddle or tava on medium flame. While the skillet is getting warm start preparing the paratha. 

2) Pinch out and make balls from the dough and the potato mixture. The size of the dough balls and potato mixture should be somewhat same.

2) Take one dough ball and start rolling the dough on a rolling board with the help of a rolling pin to a circle of approximately 5 inch in diameter. (Before rolling the dough you can coat the dough with some dry flour and then start rolling to avoid the dough sticking on the board. I usually avoid this step as I don't like too much of dry flour on the paratha)

3) Place one ball of potato mixture in the centre of the rolled dough (as pictured). Now start lifting the dough from the sides and fold it to the centre (as pictured below). Make sure to seal it from above in the centre. Flatten it with hand and coat it with dry flour on both sides. 

4) Start rolling the stuffed ball carefully like we do for roti/chapati. Keep rolling it till you get a round paratha of approximately 7 inch in diameter. 



5) I usually keep the thickness of the paratha medium. If you wish you can make them a bit thick. However do not try to roll it very thin else the stuffing will start oozing out. 

6) Grease the griddle/tava with some ghee or butter.( I used very little ghee that is less the 1/2 tsp on each side to keep it healthy.) 

7) Place the paratha on the griddle and cook it on a medium flame till you can see bubbles forming on top. Add some ghee on the top as well and then flip it and cook the top side. Flip the paratha 2 to 3 times until its nice golden brown on both the sides. You can add more ghee during this stage as per your liking. I added it only once initially to keep it healthy and less greasy. And thats all, remove the paratha from the griddle/tava and similarly make rest of the parathas. Serve hot aloo parathas with pickles or yogurt. :)











Thursday, 4 February 2016

Amaranth and Dates Energy Bars (No sugar and no bake energy bars)

Long post Alert!!!! :D :P

Since the past few months (from the month of September 2015 to be precise, you will know if you have read my previous post about hiking) I have been consciously trying to workout more, cutting down refined sugar, processed and all kinds of unhealthy food from my diet as much as possible. Although i won't say that I have completely cut down chocolates, cakes, cookies, ice creams, pizzas etc entirely but yes I am trying to eat in moderation and incorporating all healthy organic food in my diet as much as I can.   

Being a foodie it becomes a bit difficult or should I say challenging :P to control what you eat and you tend to go off track very easily. It becomes even more difficult especially when you live in a place like US where you get the opportunity to try cuisines from all over the world. Believe me it was not that easy initially. But I have done this before and I tried to look back to the "old me" who was very much thin.

Few years back prior to my wedding I used to work a 9-5 job which also involved lot of traveling. I hardly bothered when it came to exercising and ate whatever I liked. The amount of sweets and sugary stuff that I ate during that period was extensive. Then came a day when I said to myself "that's it", I had to do something about all this weight. And that is when i decided to cut sugar, fried and processed food completely from my diet no sweets, no chocolates or ice creams. I started walking whenever I could and took stairs rather than the elevator to office. It took time but slowly and gradually after 6 - 7 months I has lost almost 10 - 12 pounds (5-6kgs). Only by cutting down on sugar and eating mindfully and in moderation, I had lost all the unwanted weight. I strongly disagree with any form of dieting. I continued eating our regular Indian food. But everything in moderation. My goal was not only on shedding all the excess weight but I wanted to be healthy at the same time. I reached my target weight and maintained it for a good 2 years.

Post marriage and after moving to US, after 3 years I yet again find myself struggling to stay fit and healthy. I have gained so much weight that this is the heaviest that I have been in years. And its definitely not a good feeling. No I am not interested in being a size zero (I love my curves) or shedding weight just because people started pointing out that I look fat. I want to look and feel healthy, I want to be fit physically and feel strong from within. All this weight gain has caused a number of changes in me like lethargy, lack of interest in doing anything, weakness, unhealthy looking skin, hair fall.. to name a few. Just imagine even after having all the time in the world (yea I am on H4 so currently not working hahaha) I did very little to stay healthy. The only time I lost some weight and stayed healthy was when we lived in Austin, Texas. It's not like I didn't want to, I think I was not motivated enough.

One fine day I read this quote on Instagram "Take care of your body, it is the only place you have to live", that is when something in me switched on and I decided enough is enough. This powerful quote coupled with a strong motivation from my husband has been the driving force on my road to leading a healthy life.

To stay healthy we have to eat healthy as much as possible. . Well there are cheat days involved but even on those days I make sure I never go overboard. Cook your own meal, eat at home, homemade is always good because you know what goes in your food and you have complete control on what you add. Choose healthy snacking to fight the hunger pangs during the day. That is the reason why I always have dates, walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds etc handy in my pantry. Eat a handful in place of fried chips and other processed stuff to satiate your hunger pangs late in the afternoon.

Healthy lifestyle had led me to avoid all kinds of packaged stuff and that includes energy bars. I make mine at home. This way I always know that my energy bars are free of preservatives and all that sugar. Have you checked out my previous energy bar recipe? If not then click here.

My husband requested to make a completely sugar free energy bar. And this Amaranth and Dates bars are just that. Super easy, no bake and no sugar energy bars . They are perfect as a pre workout snack or you can even carry them in your purse when you are on the go for a quick energy refill.



This is a super easy recipe. All healthy ingredients minus sugar and homemade makes this energy bar a must try. If you don't have amaranth at home skip it add more oats and nuts. Feel free to add your favorite nuts in this recipe and enjoy this healthy snack but try and limit yourself to one small bar at a time because this can be very addictive :P.





Ingredients:

1 cup of puffed/popped amaranth
1 cup of oats (traditional or quick cooking. I used quick cooking oats and toasted them on a skillet for few mins)
1 and 1/2 cup of crushed medjool dates
1/2 cup of unsalted peanut butter (at room temperature)
2 tbsp of goji berries
1/3 cup of chopped walnuts
1 tbsp of chia seeds
1 tbsp of flax seeds

All of the above ingredients used were organic.

Method:

1) Throw the pitted medjool dates in a blender and give a few pulses until it is gooey in texture. If you are using dates that are a little hard, soak them in warm water for few minutes.

2) In a large bowl add the crushed/pureed dates and peanut butter. Mix thoroughly.

3) Now add all of the above mentioned dry ingredients and mix everything until nicely combined. The texture will be such that you should be able to make a ball of the mixture easily.

4) Transfer the ingredients into a lightly greased 8" x 8" inch baking pan or any pan in which you can spread the mixture easily to make bars. I lightly greased the pan with some coconut oil.

5) Press the mixture with the back of a spoon and pack tightly in the pan. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 -2 hrs. And thats it.

6) Cut the bars in any shape of your liking and enjoy this perfectly healthy no sugar energy bars :)



Need more information on Amaranth? Check out the below link and get to know everything about this nutritious grain.

 http://www.5-am.co/what-is-amaranth-the-ultimate-guide/


We have only one life and one body to care for, and we better do it right - Novak Djokovic

So until next time, stay healthy, stay happy :D

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