contest entry, recipes

An Offbeat Birthday Party – “Cook Me A Tale”

Once upon a time, there was a cook ………..and the cook was…………..ME! Of course and this is a true story! But the names have been changed to save the innocent even though they were the ones who ate my food!

Here starts our story in a beautiful South Indian temple city called Madurai. Whilst there are so many people who never attempt to cook (let alone boiling water), to Rachana, cooking is a great form of art and sometimes therapeutic too. Being a core south Indian, sambar, rasam, kootu , poriyal has been staple in her cooking so far. Well, she’s a such a darling you know! She does know her limits as a cook and seldom takes on foods that she’s not ready to prepare. Mind you, at the same time she’s adventurous too! (Confusing eh?! Well, it is still to her hubby dear!) When Rachana is left with lot of time, she finds experimentation in the kitchen a fun alternative. (Remember this saying, “an Idle mind is a Devil’s workshop”). According to her you don’t have to be enjoying cooking, but if you make it fun, then the process may not seem laborious. And Vijay (her hubby) still finds it difficult to understand these lines. He still couldn’t believe how on earth his darling wife got so obsessed with cooking. All he knew about her cooking knowledge was that she is a spoon fed,pyari daughter to her family, who VISITS kitchen only to catch the aroma of her mom’s cooking! Poor guy, he didn’t know that, Rachana was inspired by the sayings of the grannies “cooking is the best way to win hearts of loved ones”. (Don’t we all remember our mom’s and grannies special dishes…well, then the grannies are right!)

Hence started our cookery princess’s journey in conquering her new family’s heart after marriage. She started her learning by first observing the way her mother-in-law cooks, the way she manages time, the texture and timing (we call it pakkuvam in Tamil). Well, this did help her a lot in gaining confidence. Over the span of 10 years of marriage, she’s now into full course cooking. Thanks to her mother-in-law for the confidence and patience she had in Rachana. Now, cooking has almost become a therapy for Rachana and she loves it! She has made it that space for her to be creative and try something new every time she comes across any cookery show or recipes. Of course it was a need, as she had to be creative in making her two munchkins eat without any fuss. To her, a new dish is born every time either one of the two, turns its head. And thus, she finds joy in cooking by creating and experimenting in her own kitchen. She was damn sure that it is far better than eating outside in which quality and health issues are still questionable and of course it is cost effective and stomach friendly.

On one such moment with her daughter, Manasvini, she promised her to bake a cake for her 9th birthday. Manasvini wanted the cake to be a Black Forest. Rachana was very moved by her daughter’s confidence in her cooking. Moreover, it was her birthday wish too.. The ball was well inside her court with all (cake) hungry lovelies on the other side. She started to get ready for it by browsing through YouTube videos and cooking websites. It was a tough time for Vijay too, as Rachana was pouring in her doubts with the recipes. (Pl note – Vijay was a chef by profession!).

Manasvani’s birthday dawned with so much of excitement and expectations. With a cluster of curious audience (God only knows with what feeling they were watching her!), Rachana started her black forest cake mixing. One by one, step by step, she carefully followed the instructions that the YouTube video gave! Praying to all possible Gods, she finally poured the mixture in the baking tray and popped it into the oven. The baking time was 30-40 mins, but to Rachana, it seemed like a whole day. Fingers crossed she was like a worried husband waiting outside the labor room! Soon, a nice aroma started to fill the house. Only then, Rachana relaxed and was happy. Now the party delight was out of its baking area in its undressed state, without its final decorated outfit. It was mouth watering with its aroma. Since it was her first baking experience, the creamy icing part did not turn out well. In her over enthusiasm, she forgot to refrigerate the cream before whipping it with the icing sugar. So it turned out to be thinner in consistency which did not go well with the decoration. Manasvini was very disappointed on this, because she had imagined the Black Forest cake to be like the one that the shop delivers. This is where Rachana’s creative part played a trick, she poured (!) the icing cream and decorated it with dry fruits and nuts and made it look awesome.

The party table was all set with the ‘double layered chocolate cake’ turned ‘black forest cake’ as the center of attraction. Surrounded by little guests from neighborhood, Manasvini cut the cake with the “happy birthday song”. When she gave the first piece to her dad, Rachana was curiously looking at his face for an expression. He smiled and winked his eyes. This was her first positive and the best feedback and made her day! (Indeed! For it was from a chef!) Rachana’s joy knew no bounds when she heard the following comments after the cake was cut and distributed. Her sister in law- “your cake is far better than the black forest we got that day from the shop!” Her dad – “so, there’s no need to order cake outside hereafter.” The cake did taste awesome. It looked like a chocolate-nut cake but tasted Black Forest!

It was bliss for Rachana and a memorable, tasty birthday for Manasvini.

Recipe for Rachana’s version of ‘not so’ black forest cake:

( the final outcome) double layered chocolate nut cake!


  • Maida (all-purpose flour)  1 ¾ cup
  • Coco powder                    3-4 tbsp
  • Milk maid                          1 tin (400ml)
  • Butter                                200g
  • Aerated soda                    200ml
  • Baking powder                 1 tsp
  • Soda bicarbonate             1 tsp
  • Cream                               200g
  • Icing sugar                        2tbsp


Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg (if you use a microwave so, just preheat for 5 mins)

  1. Sieve together the maida, coco powder, baking powder and the soda bicarbonate in a mixing bowl
  2. To another bowl, add the butter, one whole tin of milkmaid, mix well preferably with a whisk. To this mixture add 1 tbsp of vanilla essence and whisk well.
  3. Now alternate the maida mixture to this and add 1 ½ cup of soda and mix well. Repeat this alternating and mixing until the maida mixture is finished.
  4. Pour this mixture to a greased and dusted baking tray (grease the baking tray with butter and dust it with little maida so that the cake doesn’t stick to the tray)
  5. Bake it in the oven for 35-40 min. I did it in a microwave so, it took less than 30 min for the baking.
  6. Insert a tooth pick in to the cake, when it comes out clean (I mean if nothing sticks on it), your cake is done!
  7. Allow the cake to cool.
  8. Now for the decoration: Take a bowl, empty all the cream and add 3 tbsp of icing sugar and mix them well (make sure you refrigerate the cream at least for 5 hours before you whip. And if at all there is some whey in the cream, kindly separate it. This is what Rachana failed to do, which disappointed the icing part in hers)
  9. Now, separate the cake from the baking tray edges with a knife and place it in a plate.
  10. Cut the cake open in to two halves. Pour some sugar syrup on the two open sides. It makes the cake moist and soft.
  11. Apply the whipped cream on these open halves.
  12. Replace the two halves again as one creating a sandwich layer of cream
  13. Coat the whipped cream over the cake on all sides. Top the cake with grated milk chocolate and cherries. (She used nuts and dry fruits for the toppings.) . Toppings can be anything creative of your choice.

Keep the cake refrigerated till it is served to retain the fresh cream from melting.

“This story was originally written for “Cook Me A Tale” contest on Tell-A-Tale.”


Importance of ‘catch-up’ growth in children – A mother’s view

A healthy child is every parent’s dream. Each child’s development is unique and complex. Although they grow at the generally predictable steps and milestones, they may not precede these the same way or at the same time. No child grows at a perfectly steady rate throughout this period of childhood, however weeks or months of slightly slower growth alternate with mini “growth spurts” in most children are normal.

Sometimes, kids tend to deviate these milestones due to various reasons. Their growth may either be slower or faster in terms of weight and height as a result of various factors like malnutrition, metabolic disorders, prenatal growth retardation, sudden illness and even emotional and psychological stress in some cases.  This is where ‘catch-up’ growth comes in to view.

‘catch-up’ growth is restoring the growth deficit in young children after a period of growth retardation i.e. not fitting in to the standard growth charts (w.r.t weight and height). Be it any cause for the growth retardation, the concern is to bring them back to the normal growth curve and make them stay healthy.

As a mother of two, I feel the following are essential for children to ‘catch-up’ on their lost growth.

  • First and most importantly look on the generic factors. Some attributes that are familial (like short or tall stature) cannot be altered much with any amount of extra vitamins or special diet. Just count on their healthiness.


  • Maintain good nutritional status. . Because adequate nutrition is necessary in early childhood to ensure healthy growth, proper functioning of organs, strong immune system, and neurological and cognitive development specially when you are concerned with their lag. (Won’t you love to hear your little boss say “ I’m very busy………….” When you find him meddling with an upside down turned car!)


  • Enough rest: Sleep patterns vary by age and individual child, but see to that they get a good night’s sleep. Sleep gives growing bodies the rest they need to continue growing properly.


  • Choose variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients so that the body regains fast ( a multigrain laddoo can become bheem’s favourite too!)


  • Start including millets in their diets once or twice in a week which are a great source of very importance nutrients like copper, manganese, phosphorous and magnesium. Additionally, millets contain phytonutrients which are powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to fight diseases. And they are a great source of fiber which enhances healthy bowel activities. (Be creative and churn your own stories for each dish you create with millets and make sure you include their favorite character in it….making them eat with full heart is our ultimate goal!)


  • Serve them a variety of vegetables and fruits which help them to regain their energy levels.( cleverly utilize the colors of the veggies for fuzzy feeders)


  • Strictly avoid foods that contain added sugar, artificial flavors meaning all the available ready-made foods! ( well, this is a bit tough initially to answer our little question banks!. Mine is very tricky in this. My 9 yr old asked me sometime back, “ mom, you said those ready-things are not so good for health but they say in the ad that it has proteins, vitamins , energy…..and the mom in the ad is very happy in giving it to her kids ?”.. Be ready to face these types of difficult questions by your little examiners)


  • Make sure to include whole grains.


  • Allow them to regulate their own eating on when and how much to consume. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues in order to avoid over-feeding and under-feeding.


  • Try combining new foods and make it attractive to induce them to eat. ( this does work  but again get ready to face funny comments too…)


  • Teach them to drink adequate amount of water their body needs.Hydration is particularly important for children as they have higher water requirements in relation to their body weight than adults. (Be prepared to run behind them for their frequent water plays!, these naughty heads with revert back with their logical questions!)


  • A child’s development is greatly influenced by the environment it is in and the experiences it has. For children, whose bodies and minds are still growing, a well-tuned stress response system is especially important. High levels of early stress have been linked to impaired behavioral and emotional development as well as numerous health consequences later in life.Creating a stress free environment at home will have a positive effect on a child’s health and subsequent growth.


  • Children need to feel loved and valued just as they are, whether short or tall, skinny or fat. Children may have a hard time putting their feelings into words, but that does not mean they do not have feelings. It’s every parent’s need to look into this in addition to proving nutritious healthy food since emotional factor does have a significant say in children’s growth and development.


Finally, don’t we all love our ‘harmlessly’ mischievous, slightly improper, occasionally indecent naughty heads? Don’t we miss their curious questions and messy home when they fall sick , act dull or  get emotionally disturbed?….well then, lets follow these simple and healthy tricks with our little ‘rule-breakers’ to get them back to their taller, stronger and sharper naughtiness and help them make memories and great stories to share a good laugh when they grow.

( featured image source:

This post is written as a part of advanced nutrition for growth and development. “Horlicks Growth+ is a specialized nutrition product designed by international pediatric experts for children in age group of 3-9 years who are lagging behind in height and weight. It contains high quality whey protein with added nutrients that are known to enable children to catch up on lost growth. It has been clinically proven for visible growth in children in 6 months.”