Sunday, January 08, 2017

Week 1: Vacation Cooking and Board Games

Week 1 of 2017 saw us wrapping up the festivities of winter break and settling back into the work and school routine.

Christmas weekend kicked off with a visit by our friends Bala and Shankar and their two dogs. Bala and I met as fellow food bloggers in St. Louis (and fellow dog-lovers) and have been friends ever since.

Bala is an artist by profession and I've always been a fan of her intricate, graphic, henna-inspired designs. The life of an artist seems like it would be an idyllic one, painting the day away in a color-filled studio. Chatting with Bala, it was interesting to learn how busy and varied the work is- applying to get into the big art shows, driving to art shows almost every weekend, the sheer physical labor of setting up tents and displaying one's work, being on social media and connecting with patrons, all while painting and dreaming up new designs. It is fascinating to learn of a working life so different from one's own.
More of Bala's work:
Art by Bala and on Facebook

Board games were a major theme of this winter break. Bala and Shankar introduced us to one of their favorite games- Settlers of Catan. This is a wildly popular game and I was glad to finally get a chance to play it, but it is a strategy, role-playing type of game and not really my thing.

Right after their visit, we packed up the car and the kids and headed out to Tybee island on the Georgia coast for our first family vacation since Mr. Baby's arrival. Close friends of ours drove down all the way from Boston and Philly, and so we were 3 families- 6 adults and 5 kids-  getting together for several days of sandy fun.

On Tybee, we climbed the lighthouse at the North end of the island. The kids- ages 3, 4, 5, 8 surprised me by climbing up and down all 198 steps of the steep circular wrought iron staircase quite enthusiastically. We walked the beach, dared each other to run into the frigid Atlantic and collected shells.

We took a day trip into picture-perfect Savannah where the kids loved the artzeum and the iconic Leopold's ice cream- I tasted the eggnog and lemon custard flavors and they were indeed outstanding. The lemon custard flavor has been sold in this shop since 1919.

But the stand-out highlight of our vacation was the adorable cottage that we rented for the week. The cottage had a cabana in the backyard, a heated salt-water pool, and a big screen TV, so it really was a self-contained place to hang out and connect with friends.

A vacation with this gang is all about the food. Tybee island has seafood galore (which the rest of our group enjoyed) but no vegetarian food to be found for miles and miles, so in the interest of self-preservation, I carried along a car-load of groceries. Other than two restaurant meals and pizza take-out once, we cooked and ate our meals in the well-equipped kitchen at the cottage. 10 people eating 3 meals a day, for 5 and a half days. That certainly involved a bunch of food and a bunch of planning.

5 vacation cooking tips that worked on this trip:

1. Pack a cooler: Our first meal on arrival was a dinner, and everyone would be tired and hungry after driving long distances, so in the days before we left, I made egg curry (the base sans eggs) and dal fry and packed them in containers and froze them solid. I carried these frozen containers in the cooler (where they doubled as ice packs) along with blocks of cheese and paneer, butter and cream cheese. At the destination (5 hours drive away), all I had to do was re-heat the curries, make fresh rice and boil some eggs, and a hot dinner was good to go.

2. Buy some refrigerated stuff on arrival: Right after arriving on the island, we stopped for milk, plain yogurt, eggs, flavored yogurt cups for the kids.

3. Take all the breakfast things: People sleep in, wake up at different times, and can help themselves to their breakfast of choice. Accordingly I packed bread, pancake mix, cheerios, home-made granola, almond butter, jam, maple syrup, fruit, hot chocolate mix. And there were the aforementioned eggs, milk, yogurt cups, butter and cream cheese. We even took some pesto for V's favorite breakfast pesto-egg-cream cheese sandwiches. So that covered all the breakfast bases and then some! As a plus, many of these ingredients also doubled as snacks, and on the last day, we could all pack sandwiches and snacks for the road trip back home.

4. Plan for favorite meals: I really wanted to make pav bhaji one night, and on new year's eve, I wanted a "snacky" dinner of sev puri and paneer tikka, and I had to write up ingredient lists for these meals. For Mexican night, I took along stacks of tortillas, canned beans, peppers and onions, a jar of salsa and a packet of taco spice.

In addition, I took along a box of pasta and some dry rice and dal and we ended up using it all.

5. Make a spreadsheet. It was the only way to make lists and keep things straight. I'll save this spreadsheet for future vacations.

We ate very well, and in a relaxed way, and most importantly there was no food waste. Whatever did not get used up on vacation came home with us to be eaten here.

This vacation worked because everyone was loving and cooperative. A couple of us did most of the cooking, and one friend was great about doing dishes and kitchen clean-up promptly. Others kept the kids busy in the pool and at the playground. Everyone pitched in and everyone got some time to themselves to go for a beach run, enjoy some quiet reading time and so on.

My favorite part was the board games we played over the week. A couple of them were old favorites- Taboo and Pictionary. Two of the games were new to me and I can't wait to play again- Apples to Apples and Codenames.

While sitting around the campfire and toasting marshmallows, someone started playing a game called "I went to the market" and that was lots of fun too- although I was pretty terrible at playing it. It is a hidden-rule game very similar to this going on a picnic game and this camping trip game. I love discovering new games like these which can be played anytime, anywhere, to pass the time.

This year I want to play more board games and card games- how's that for a new year resolution that I might actually keep?

Lila is at the age where she is learning to play board games as well. Memory games (with matching pairs of cards) are great at this age. Lila's favorite is a fairy memory game where she has memorized the backs of the cards. Playing with her is like playing in Vegas- the house always wins.

Go Fish is the first game that she understood the rules for and is able to play properly. Chutes and Ladders (what I knew as Snakes and Ladders) and Candyland are top favorites right now. They are not the most exciting but they do work on turn-taking and counting skills. Perhaps the most important thing to learn at this age is that it is only a game and not to fall apart when one loses! She also has Sequence for Kids, SET junior and Very Silly Sentences and we'll soon learn how to play those.

Do you like cooking on vacation? Tell me about your favorite board games! 


  1. Very nice post Nupur and Thank you for the tips for cooking during vacations.

    A few of the board games my 6 yr loves are Sorry, sum swamp, I see 10. He has gotten so good at addition with sum swamp. So double bonus.

    1. Thanks for the great suggestions- I will look for these! Also, board games make good birthday gifts at this age so I am glad to know what the good ones are.

  2. Such a lovely holidays roundup here Nupur. I absolutely enjoyed reading how you planned out all the meals so meticulously and despite the lack of veg fare feasted like Kings and Queens. All of you are indeed lucky to be friends who can also holiday together. Thats truly one of the biggest tests of friendship me thinks:-)

    We had a very quiet break at home with all of us down with horrible flu that was most unexpected. For once I was the most 'down' and despite my protests the hubby took over the kitchen(mind you that except for using packet sauces to make an Indo chinese meal once 15 years ago he's never cooked for us really) and made us fabulous get well meals every day from chicken soup to varan bhaat and more. To say my son and I were shocked is an understatement. Now of course that I'm better he thinks he should continue since he did so well and we're having a lil' ego war since the kitchen has always been my domain:-) I'm thinking though I'll retain him for those days when I really don't feel like cooking. What do you think eh?

    I hope the baby is doing very well and Lila I'm sure is growing leaps and bounds. Howz our darling Duncan? Did he accompany you guys?

    We've been playing cards for many years now with my son just as a way to stay off watching TV but now we love it. He's into poker majorly so I'm learning from him. Really want to try some of the games you mentioned.

    A very happy 2017 to the family. Bow Wow to Duncan.


    1. Deepa- Yes, vacationing together is a test of friendship! We have been close friends with these people for nearly 20 years and feel very lucky indeed to be able to spend some days with them. We thought of taking Duncan along but it would have been too chaotic, so he stayed in doggie boarding, which he loves, since he gets to play in a large playgroup all day long. Dunkie had canine guests (Bala's dogs) and was very sweet about sharing hid bed, sharing his toys, backyard, everything.

      About sharing the kitchen with your husband I say- YES YES YES. Even the most devoted cook needs a day off every so often. Your husband sounds wonderful by the way :)

      I loved playing cards as a kid! Never learned poker though. That might be fun. He would love some of these board games- I promise.

      Wishing you and your family a very happy 2017!!

  3. You should try quirckle, oversight( something like tic tactoe), cookie crumble...all hit with 4-7 year olds ..:)

  4. The board games sound delightful and great that you drove 5 hours with both kids in tow. Takes enthusiasm and stamina to plan and execute a vacation. All that cooking sounds like a lot of preparatory work beforehand! Not sure I would have the time to manage so much of preparation, in addition to the busy daily routine and packing for the trip! I am still reeling from the laundry and cleaning up suitcases after the December vacation break :-)

    1. Mina- Yes, vacations are a lot of work :) but completely worth it- everyone had such a good time and experiences and memories are the best things you can give your kids IMHO. The thing about packing for a road trip is that you can do it really haphazardly, which I did ;) unlike plane trips which need better packing.

  5. Looks like you had a lovely vacation! This may sound silly but I love cooking during vacations. I always opt for a room with a mini kitchen and make my own meals. Saves money, you don't have to worry about finding vegetarian food and it's also therapeutic.

    I carry my electric rice cooker around. My son is now almost 11 months old but I haven't really vacationed with him. Just petrified of changing his schedule. He doesn't handle that too well. Well maybe soon!!

    I'm not really into board games although I do remember playing snakes and ladders as a kid. There was another board game called Business that I played but never really figured out how it worked ;)

    1. This was my third "cooking vacation" meaning in a rental with a kitchen and I have to say that I am loving this style of travel, and will do it for sure while the kids are young.

      While I love eating out and trying local food on vacation, some places (like small islands and state parks where we tend to vacation these days) just don't have food options for me. And you are very right, it saves money and is relaxing, as you're not always outside hunting for places to eat.

  6. Happy New Year to you guys!
    Your post reminded me of the family reunion trips we go on every two years. Anywhere between 6-8 families (hubby's cousins) gather at one destination, rent a huge house and we have a great time together. One cousin's wife usually leads the meal planning effort, assigns cooking and cleaning turns and it has always gone smoothly so far. We even track expenses incurred to make sure no one has unfairly paid more than their share for groceries, restaurant trips etc.
    It's a lot of pre-planning but, so worth it. All but one of our trips so far have been to National parks so all the hiking and sightseeing all day means everyone is usually too tired by night to play anything. Plus with such a big group, everyone can't play at the same time. We have done karaoke in the past though. We have not yet started planning this year's trip but your post has given me the nudge to ping everyone to start planning.

    - Anu

    1. Happy new year, Anu! Wow, that is a big family reunion. If you have someone to lead the organizing effort, and if others are willing to play along nicely, then this is the best way to have family vacations. You guys have a great system for doing it. My husband is very keen on starting to explore national parks but I want to wait until the baby is slightly older! And ooh karaoke, that would be fun :)

  7. I don't like Settlers of Cataan, although my sister and brother are terrifyingly good at it - and competitive! I lean more towards Taboo and Pictionary, mostly any word games. :) I was in Seattle over Christmas and my goodness I don't know where the two weeks went. Well no, I do - I had the best time with my nieces - the super-smart 6 year old and the super adorable 6-month old! The 6-year-old is ferociously good at Memory, I Spy With My Little Eye, Exploding Kittens (a card game), Hedbanz, and a game called "Yes, No, Black, White" where you can't say any of those four words. It's surprisingly difficult, and she's very good at casually asking you questions that trick you into saying them :) It was so much fun playing with her, Nupur, and I can totally imagine that you guys had a fantastic time! :) Happy new year!

    1. I'm like you, Shammi, I love all word games and am mystified at these other types where you build civilizations and stuff. What fun- you were in Seattle- such a great city. Aww, two sweet nieces. There's nothing like quality time with aunty and I can just imagine the wonderful 2 weeks you all had!! Hey next time you're in the States, come see me at the diametrically opposite end of the country :) Happy new year to you too!

    2. Why thank you Nupur :) I would love tocome and meet you all someday.

  8. Hi Nupur,

    Happy New Year to you!! What a fantastic trip you guys had. I am quite impressed with the vacation meal planning and execution. It is quite a bit of work to plan and pack and then come back and unpack...but it is worth it.

    We try to do multi family trips every couple of years. This time it was with 11 families to beautiful Yosemite during Christmas break. All the older kids were home for the holidays (kids ranged from 5 years old to 25 years old) and they had so much fun as they all grew up together.

    A few of us planned for some meals as we had a small kichennette in our rooms and we all stayed in the same wing. I had everything prepped for semiya upma for the kids and rava upma for the adults. It was a hit. Then the staple tamarind rice, lemon rice, curd rice, tortillas with tomato chutney and an assortment of pickles were there. We could never feed everyone completely but it kept us from getting hungry before the next good meal or satisfied that craving for some comfort food.

    More than anything I love it when I can make a cup of tea with milk and sugar :)

    Settlers of Catan seems to be a favorite among college kids now. We too have it at home and is played when kids are around. But Board Games or any kind of games are not my thing at all. This is one thing that my kids always wished that I did more with them. I enjoy playing some card games, that's all. I don't like to use my brain for having fun after hours is what I tell my friends and family :)


    1. SS- An 11 family vacation is quite a feat and I loved hearing about it!! How wonderful that the kids grew up together, it is fun to have one's clan. I can identify with that craving for familiar comfort food every now and then.

      As for the chai thing, my friend from Boston declared that she needs her proper chai (as do I) and came armed with a strainer, black tea leaves, dried lemongrass and a small jar of chai masala :) Ah it was the best to enjoy her strong chai twice a day.

  9. hello Nupur,
    Seems like you guys had a great vacation with loving friends :-) We too travelled to Texas (Dallas Houston and San Antonio) to visit friends and had a good time.Stayed with friends in Dallas and honestly to me, cooking is not that big of a deal while on vacation. We took turns to make meals (3 families where all men can cook as well). So it turned out each of us made 1-2 meals during our 11 day stay. Not bad at all and we divided our cleaning work. So everything felt nice and fun. Kids also can cook basic stuff (they're teens now); so they made french toasts, pancakes etc for Christmas breakfast and baked cookies and cake for themselves and we adults ate cereal followed by hearty meal for lunch.Like you mentioned, we can make a nice meal with just regular pantry items and bread, butter, yogurt, rice, dal and veggies.
    Since kids are bit older, they ran outside, went to gym for workout and watched movies and entertained themselves while we adults spent time catching up on our lives over chai and coffee.We each had time for ourselves and had plenty of time to just unwind and relax at our own pace.Overall great memories ....
    Take care and have a fabulous year :-)

    1. Meena- I'm traveling to Dallas soon! My sister moved there recently. Please tell me what you loved doing/seeing/eating most in Dallas :) It is great that your vacation group is all comfortable with sharing cooking and cleaning chores. Having older kids means that you can have an actual vacation ;) we will get there in a decade or so. Wishing you all a great year ahead!!

    2. Awesome Nupur. Our friends live in Coppell. We went to Gaylord's ICE, an ice sculpture exhibition from Chinese artists. Fabulous and worth watching and towards the end, they also have tubing and kids loved it. One word of caution though; we visited the day after Christmas and it was very crowded and no strollers allowed inside. The lines were long and they could do better job managing shows on such days is what everyone felt.Please keep snacks, water bottles and such coz one of our friend had a little boy and poor thing he was exhausted just waiting to get in. She had packed chex-mix, biscuits, juice, water, cut fruits etc and they carried him/the heavy backpack all around.
      Dallas is a place for foodies.Easy to gain weight; we ate and worked out. We did not want to gain weight, that was our #1 priority. We ate at Chennai cafe (south Indian buffet), Inchins Bamboo Garden, Mint (Best food), Taste of Kuchipudi (very very spicy Andhra restaurant; I'd never go there again !!) we missed Saravana Bhavan coz that place too crowded always. Please don't miss Quality Ice cream shop; kids ate kulfi/ice cream everyday. Just too good; I tried pan ice cream first time and loved it. All these places MacArthur road in Dallas Fort Worth area. Along the same road, there's jewelry, groceries, clothing, Indian style salon and pretty much everything "Indian" you need.
      We went to Houston for 3 days and stayed in downtown right in the heart of a theatre district. We watched a play 'Christmas Carol - Being a Ghost story of Christmas' one evening and loved the special effects.Houston downtown is worth watching. They've an underground tunnel 110 feet below the ground and they've food courts and such and this tunnel connects companies/blocks in downtown. Pretty neat concept and you can just walk inside.It is a very pedestrian friendly city; we walked and walked :-) And if you're into Indian gold jewelry, clothing, artifacts, food/grocery shopping etc, Hillcroft Avenue is the place.
      In San-Antonio, we visited the Alamo, a historic site and walked by the river walk which is pretty neat.We also visited artists village where local artists works are sold. I loved this place the most :-)
      My apologies for this lengthy post but this is what I liked the most about our trip. They've Amazon Prime Now, a fantastic feature where you can order anything from Amazon and is delivered to your home within an hour or two. Since we flew from Cincinnati, we couldn't carry Christmas gifts to all kids and had planned to shop there. Unfortunately we fell sick two days after we landed and on Christmas eve, all shops were closed. So, we found gifts on prime now, and ordered at 5 and they were delivered by 6.30 PM. We packed it and kept it under the tree for kids to check out their presents before midnight. How awesome is that !!
      And on the day we left, our friend ordered food (naan/curries) from Mint restaurant via Uber Eats. Order food and they'll deliver it home to us. We and kids wanted to spend time at home with each other and some of us were sick with cold/cough etc due to weather change and this was a great option to have. Food was superb :-)

      Hope you enjoy your visit to your sisters Nupur. Eat well, rest well and exercise well haha :-)

  10. Happy New Year Nupur - glad to see you traveling with baby - the earlier you get them used to travel the less of an issue it is.

    We went on a 8 day trip through Utah - driving through all the National Parks and staying alternately in Airbnbs and in hotels. In all, we had 4 meals in restuarants over that entire period not counting airport snacks.

    It was fun to cook other people's kitchens and shop in new grocery stores.

    The trip was good fun - with snow filled national parks and amazing vistas to behold.

    It was amazing to drive a Ford F-150 especially as my daily commute car is a Fiat electric that would have fit in the flat bed of this truck.

    Nice to see you blogging again

    1. Vishakha- That sounds wonderful! Close friends of ours recently moved to Utah and I hope we can visit them soon. It really is fun to cook in new-to-us kitchens. LOL at driving a huge truck!!

  11. Happy New Year,Nupur!Sounds like a fantastic start to the new year.

    1. It was! I hope 2017 is wonderful for you, Shreem!

  12. Such fun, Nupur! We did a California coast Highway 1 road trip over the Thanksgiving week/weekend. It was an incredible experience. We snacked, cooked, ate at fabulous restaurants... :)

    We bought lavash from a grocery store, and made sandwiches for lunch. Just like pita pockets except that lavash doesn't need to be warmed/toasted. We added hummus, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, baba ghanoush, red peppers... Ooh, delicious. Also saved us time trying to find restaurants, especially when you are busy admiring the redwoods. :)

    1. Ah, that sounds fantastic, Lakshmi! I've never been to California but it is on the bucket list. Your impromptu lunch is the best- and picnics taste better than the same thing eaten indoors :)


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