Labeled as Gifted

Friday, February 29, 2008

Posted by Indian Food Rocks

Being an exception in a world that prizes sameness is never comfortable at first. - Linda Silverman, Ph.D.
Gifted, to describe talented children, was not a word I was familiar with until I came to the US. I was more used to brilliant, extremely intelligent, exceptional and of course, talented. It took me a while to understand that gifted was different from special. A child with disabilities is special. A child with talents is gifted. And, both need special attention.

What is gifted, anyway? According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), a gifted person is someone who shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance in one or more areas of expression. There are many more definitions, none clearer than the previous one.

Some define gifted as having an IQ of 130 or more. Others feel a child is gifted if they can perform at 2 or more grade levels above their age. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 has its own definition. No matter what the definition, the first step is always identifying that a child is gifted. Understanding the difference between a bright child and a gifted learner is also critical to forming misconceptions about one's child.

I was largely in the 'my child is bright' camp until recently. It was first brought to my attention that my child might be more than bright when she started reading at the tender age of 3. There were times when I thought she was dyslexic because was and saw appeared to be the same to her. She read from left to right and from right to left without any discrimination. Most kids belted out the alphabet song ABC. She belted out ZYX because ABC had been done to death. It was when she started writing messages in mirror image on our living room window so that it could be read properly from the outside, that I finally took note of the fact that we may have something going on here. Still, I was unwilling to get her tested privately as, by then, I had heard many negative things about being labeled as gifted. She showed signs of intelligence and I felt that that was all that needed fostering. I didn't think she was ahead of her grade because quite frankly, within the Indian context, she was not. She was average. But, we were not in India and the truth was that she was not learning much in school. To her, school was a place for social interaction, not learning.

The school district she was in did not have anything besides the ISAT for student assessment. Since she was off the charts on those assessments, her kindergarten school sent her to a reading specialist so that she could read instead of learn how to read. Her teachers were very enthused by her and looked forward to challenging her. As long as there was at least an attempt in that direction, I thought she would be fine. As time passed, it became clear that she needed more than what the local public schools could offer her. There were no private schools in the immediate area at that time. We decided to move to the Boulder area in Colorado because the public schools were known for being as good as, if not better, than focused private schools. Homeschooling was not an option even though it seemed like most of her learning occurred at home.

Boulder Valley School District has a Talented and Gifted Program (TAG) where children are tested using nationally accepted tests like the CogAT, Naglieri Non-verbal Ability test, Ravens tests, amongst others. It took nearly 2 years before my child was tested for the TAG Program, the primary issue being funding for testing. The No Child Left Behind Act was taking its effect and while 3rd grade and up took the CSAP, testing for TAG had been suspended. Change came in Spring 2007, when both houses of the Colorado General Assembly passed a bill that was then signed into a law by Gov. Bill Ritter in June, that made it mandatory for all state administrative units to adopt and implement a program plan to identify and serve gifted children. Thank you, Bill Ritter! My child was tested in October 2007, after first having been suggested as a potential candidate in March 2006. She is now labeled as gifted.

A lot of this may not be relevant to your particular situation but this is an indication of what you might face from the public school system in the US should you feel that your child's educational needs are not being met and that perhaps he or she is gifted. An alternative is private testing from centers like Linda Silverman's GDC.

We have had interesting run-ins with several parents who believe that their child does not get the attention he or she deserves as teachers' energies are focused on children on the extreme end of the spectrum: those who need help learning and those who need to be challenged. They don't say it to our faces but they believe that TAG programs are elitist because schools with gifted programs offer special treatment for "smart kids" that already have it going for them, especially in the classroom. Whereas I believe that every child has a right to education and that gifted education is more about meeting the academic needs of students whose abilities and knowledge exceed what is being taught in the regular classroom.

This is the first of a series of articles on giftedness. My next article will focus on why you should get your child tested for giftedness. Do share your thoughts and experiences as we could learn from your experiences. You see, this is a journey we embarked on several years ago - we just didn't know that we were traveling or where we were headed.

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Manisha from Indian Food Rocks.

Learn How To Love Yourself

Posted by Helene

One of the biggest weight loss downfalls is that most of us are too critical of ourselves and end up giving up because we will never reach the image we have of what we “should” look like. I freed myself of all mental blocks by learning how to accept my flaws and embracing what my body could do for me. The day I did that, doors opened that I never new existed! I became calm and grounded, I smiled more often and became free of the thing that were eating me up (forgive the pun).

Stop comparing yourself to other people:
Nowadays we drown under a sea of magazine covers featuring gorgeous actresses and models all more perfect than the next. It won’t be news to you that all these pictures are extremely retouched, cropped, enhanced, etc… Even if Lucy Liu is gorgeous to start with, she works out regularly, has a team of people making her gorgeous at each event she attends. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather deal with what mother gave me than live around my hair dresser, personal shopper, nutritionist, etc…Really, the thought might be nice to have a team of people making me beautiful day in ad day out, but what is the fun of dealing with this everyday?!!

Think about what your body can do for you:
You might be passing on a lot of activities and gatherings because you are constantly obsessed by the way you look and how big your derriere is. No seriously, I remember countless parties I attended when I completely missed on all the fun because I was looking at how perfect Anna and Marie looked in their black dress and how larger my arms were. So not worth it…Now I think about how grateful I am that my strong legs help me be on my feet longer than most people during the day. My small bust allows me to fit into my 16 year old niece’s shirt. Embrace your curves, the shape of your nose, the imbalances that you see but that do not matter to us. It makes you unique and beautiful…really, perfection is boring and bland.

Be kind to yourself:
To see yourself in a better way, you have to be gentler to yourself. Would you like living with somebody who is constantly negative with you? I did not think so, well, that is exactly what you are doing when you keep saying “I don’t like my thighs”, “that cellulite has got to go”, “I wish I were 5 pounds thinner”. That last one is the easier one to deal with: if you need to lose a bit of wait, start reading the Fitness articles we have written here at the DT and get cranking! On a deeper psychological issue, start changing your inner language. Instead of saying you don’t like your hips, think that the Flamenco skirt you saw at the store the other day will have look better on you than on the size 0 stick built girl taking your aerobics class.
Start treating yourself with love, respect and dignity. You demand no less from others, do the same for yourself!

Take care of yourself:
Exercise regularly, eat sensibly and in moderation, find outdoor activities and sign up for group events. Pick up a craft or a hobby, but first and foremost give yourself all the tools for success you would give your child or your spouse. Remember that negative self-language is not attractive to the people around you and your children will pick up on it and it will increase the chance they hold the same language toward their bodies as you do yours.

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Helen from Tartelette

Dear Food Diary...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Posted by Meeta K. Wolff


"You are what you eat". We hear this maxim so often that it sounds tired and cliched. In any case, it is something I occasionally say to myself in an effort to move towards a better diet. This month I tried something a little different. For a week, I kept a food diary.

A food diary or a food journal is simply a detailed record of what a person eats. For a period of time, one has to jot down *everything* that crosses the lips. The purpose of keeping a food diary is not to become obsessive about food or calorie-counting. It is quite the opposite- it helps a person to  truthfully evaluate their current food habits and realize where there is room for improvement, and where they are doing quite well. This can help to maintain and reinforce all the positive habits we have already acquired, and to take small steps towards changing some of the more unhealthy ones.

Keeping a food diary requires only a small notebook and a pen, but you need to hang on to these and take them everywhere with you (trust me, it is all too easy to forget the little things we munch on throughout the day). The minimum details that need to be entered into the food diary are, of course, the food (what did you eat and how much of it you ate) and the time of day when you ate it. In addition, certain other details can be very useful too, such as mood (eg. to determine if you tend to eat certain types of food when you are bored or tired or unhappy), or noting whether you were alone or with someone else, and your activity (eg. whether you eat while driving or watching TV or working at your desk). All of this reveals patterns of eating that we practice consciously or unconsciously. It is important to be brutally honest while writing this information down (I was overcome by remorse when I had to write down that I had eaten half a big bag of tortilla chips in one sitting!) and to include beverages and not just solid food (know how many calories there are in that grande frappachino?). A food diary can be kept for as short as 2-3 days or as long as one likes. I thought that a whole week was ideal, because it covered weekdays and weekends and was more representative of my typical eating habits. Nutritionists often suggest keeping a food diary for a few days, making small diet changes if necessary, and then perhaps keeping a food diary again a few months down the line to get an idea of dietary improvements.

It was an interesting experience to keep a food diary. It was easy for me to see at a glance what I am doing right and where there is room for improvement. I could clearly see my snack-attack moments- the fact that mid-mornings and mid-evenings were woefully littered with junk food. Little moments of snacking added up to a startling amount of my daily food intake. On the other hand, my main meals are quite healthful and full of vegetables. I tend to eat when I am bored and when I am watching TV, but not when I am reading or at the computer. I very rarely eat desserts with the exception of needing something sweet to dunk into my tea. I eat very little fruit. Since keeping the food diary, I have put some small changes in place. After all, what is the point of spending a lot of time and effort cooking nutritious meals if you are going to throw it all away by eating so much junk food? I won't ever stop eating chips and stuff like cheez-its (those addictive snack crackers) because I love these foods too much (and don't see the need to banish them altogether) but now I take the time to enjoy them instead of gobbling them down ravenously. I dole out a portion into a small bowl and savour every bite (no more eating out of the bag). You know how parents of small children go around with little bags and boxes of snacks? Now I do the same! I carry portions of snack foods with me everywhere- fruit leather, dry fruits, roasted nuts, or chivda (a spicy snack) made with cereal.  It feels good to slowly let go of the baggage of habits that were doing me no good.

If you want to see an extreme example of a food diary, take a look at the book "Everything I ate: A year in the life of my mouth" where Tucker Shaw has documented and photographed *everything* he ate during 2004. He eats a lot more junk food than I do! We don't have to go that far. My personal goal is a simple one- to be a mindful eater. A food diary is just a simple tool to help me get there. 

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Nupur from One Hot Stove

We interrupt - for a Blog Party!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Posted by Meeta K. Wolff

TulipSplashOfColor 04 framed Sorry To interrupt your regular reading here! We just wanted to ask you to join in on our party. You see The Daily Tiffin turned exactly two today!

It's been an awesome ride. I started the blog in 2006 to simply document Soeren's lunches. Well soon it evolved to a wonderful team blog with some of blog-o-sphere's finest bloggers. We write about health, fitness, nutrition kids, tips & tricks and of course our famous Tiffin Tuesday series.

All of us here at the DT would like to thank you - our readers for your loyalty, feedback and comments.

From my behalf I would also like to thank my sensational team for all their hard work and effort they put in generating some great articles. Guys, you make me smile each day and I appreciate having you around. Thanks!

Now carry on your with your regular doses of The Daily Tiffin.




Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

Supermarkets have made our lives better?

Posted by Abby

Last weekend I read an interesting article by Jay Rayner, a food critic and commentator, about how, in his opinion, “supermarkets have made our lives better.”

This is an unfashionable viewpoint with many people who consider themselves committed foodies - they will refuse to step into a supermarket and if they do it’s always with a hint of shame and despair at having been caught out by the system.

However, for many people supermarkets are the best (and occasionally only) option. The range of products is broad and tailored to the local community, prices are affordable and the time that needs to be spent on shopping can be managed better with a single location/online ordering.

Having said that, there are many concerns about the power that supermarkets wield. As Jay says, “We know that massive supermarkets have been squeezing producers for years, slicing margins which, in turn, has had a knock-on effect on the quality of produce. The excesses of industrial food production in the country are a direct result of the buying policies of the supermarkets.”

These are important issues which need addressing. Here in the UK there was some hope that the Competition Commission which has just reported after a two-year investigation into whether supermarkets abuse their market position, drive small rivals out of business or abuse their suppliers. The recommendations seem to lack teeth and significant change is unlikely.

This means, as ever, it’s important that we all take the time to think about the issues associated with the industry which puts food in front of us. We need to make informed choices and take responsibility for the system, whether it’s small-scale and homespun or national and industrial, that we support.

What are the key issues for you and what choices do you make?

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by abby from eat the right stuff.

Brazilian salgadinhos lunch

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Posted by Biggie @ Lunch in a Box

Brazilian salgadinhos lunch for preschooler

I went to a Japanese-Brazilian friend's party where there was a gorgeous array of Brazilian savory appetizers called salgadinhos. Salgadinhos encompass a variety of different savory bites, including inverted cone-shaped stuffed "coxinhas" whose dough is made with yucca and chicken broth, "bolinhos de peixe" fish balls, "risole" thick fried half-moons stuffed with fillings, "empada" pies baked in mini muffin tins, and Middle Eastern stuffed meat kibbeh (ground meat & bulgur wheat) that reflects the immigrant influence in Brazil.

Often eaten with hot sauce, evidently salgadinhos are popular snacks at bars and parties in Brazil. They were definitely a hit with the three-year-old birthday party crowd, who staged repeated strikes on the finger food table. Also popular were brigadeiro chocolate fudge candy and beijinho de coco coconut kisses, little Portuguese-influenced sweets made from condensed milk and rolled in either chocolate jimmies or shredded coconut. We finally had to move the plate out of reach of the children, who took up positions nearby to snatch up the chocolate balls.

I was so taken with the salgadinhos that I asked the hostess if I could take a few home to feature in a bento lunch, and she was gracious enough to give the green light and fill me in on the details. They may seem unusual for a packed lunch, but they're in keeping with other ready-made appetizers that lend themselves nicely to the small scale of bentos, such as puff pastry appetizers, spanakopita, mini crab cakes, meatballs, etc.

Contents of preschooler's bento lunch: Brazilian salgadinhos appetizers (ham rizoli, chicken coxinha de frango, chicken-thigh empada with olives), mandarin orange segments, steamed broccoli with mayonnaise and aonori seaweed (recipe below), steamed red and yellow bell pepper with soy sauce and dashi, and beijinho de coco coconut kisses.

Morning prep time: 10 minutes, using leftover salgadinhos. In the morning I popped the appetizers into my convection toaster oven for 5 minutes to re-crisp the exterior. While those were warming, I cooked both the broccoli and bell peppers in my microwave mini steamer and sauced them.

Cooking: I was looking for a different way to flavor steamed broccoli, and found a quick sauce in Papatto 15-fun! Oishii Obentou, one of my Japanese-language speed bento cookbooks. I put some trimmed broccoli florets in a microwave mini steamer with a tablespoon of water and heated them on high heat (1200W) for 50 seconds (you could also heat the broccoli in a covered microwave-safe bowl with a splash of water). Remove the broccoli from the steamer and pat with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Let cool while you stir together a quick sauce of 2 tsp mayonnaise, 1/2 tsp soy sauce and 1 tsp aonori seaweed flakes. Either dip the cooled broccoli florets into the sauce or smear a little of the sauce into each floret with a spoon. This added a surprising amount of flavor to the broccoli, and Bug gave it a big thumbs up.

Insulated Shinkansen lunch bagPacking: To make sure the appetizers stayed crisp, I let them cool after coming out of the toaster oven before packing them in the box. This kept condensation from forming in the box that would have made it more difficult to open the box and increased the odds of the food going bad before lunchtime. The peppers went into a reusable silicone baking cup, and the broccoli went into a disposable plastic baking cup from Daiso that was easier to compact into a small space than a silicone cup. The lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with both subdividers removed to fit the larger salgadinhos, and the box went into an insulated Shinkansen lunch bag with a wide base designed to carry bento boxes flat, not tipped over on their side. Little ice packs cut from a larger flexible ice blanket went inside the lunch bag to keep things cool. If Bug were hungrier, I could have frozen a little treat in a separate container and thrown that in his bag as an edible ice pack. Reusable ice blanket for packed lunches

Verdict: Not great. Bug downed the two fried salgadinhos, the broccoli and the orange segments at preschool, but left the rest. After school he ate a little of the bell peppers and the brigadeiro, but totally rejected the baked chicken empada even though its filling was similar to the coxinha that he downed. Oh well, at least he ate the broccoli!

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Biggie from Lunch in a Box.

Exercise And Diabetes

Friday, February 15, 2008

Posted by Helene

My mother just left the US after visiting me for a couple of weeks. The first couple of days that she was here, I did not push her to come with me to the gym. You see, she is diabetic and needed to adjust her blood sugar levels after the jetlag and the usual fatigue associated with traveling. However, after the weekend was over I made her come with me at least every other day and went through a checklist of things she should do and not do in order to make the most of exercising, even my mom who is full blown Type 1 with a pump. Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2, exercise is beneficial to help you lower and regulate your blood sugar, lose weight, lower your risk of heart disease, and nerve problems often associated with diabetes The following points are only guidelines, and as with any health condition you may need to get additional information or support from your health care provider

Exercise will improve your blood sugar control:
Without being too technical, let’s just say that the muscles you use for exercise use glucose for energy, taking it out of your bloodstream and lowering your blood sugar levels. People who exercise regularly need less insulin to move glucose from the bloodstream and into the cells that need it.

Exercise will reduce your cardiovascular risks:
Diabetes increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. By exercising regularly, you can reduce these risks by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reducing triglycerides in the blood stream. Physical activity also improves blood flow which increases your heart’s pumping power, making it healthier and younger. It also helps control your blood pressure.

What kind of physical activity can you do?
Studies show that diabetics should engage in moderate aerobic (cardio) exercise that lasts at least 30 minutes, on five or more days of the week.
* Always warm up for at least five minutes before you exercise, and cool down for five minutes afterwards. Let the engine run a bit to get your blood flow and isulin adjusted for the next step.
* You can start with 10 minutes (or even less) and gradually increase your workout duration as you become more fit. You can also break the 30 minutes into 3 increments of 10 minutes if it’s been a while since you last exercise.
* Moderately-intense cardio should elevate your heart rate to a level that is challenging. Carrying a conversation with the person on the next treadmill should be challenging but you should not feel like your lungs are on fire.
* The best moderate intensity exercise include: brisk walking, bicycling, dancing, swimming, climbing stairs, cross-country hiking, aerobics classes, cardio machines such as the elliptical, skating, tennis, and other sports.
Don’t forget strength training to build lean muscle mass, improve your flexibility and burn calories throughout the day.

Risks of exercise with diabetes and how to avoid them:
* Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar): Exercise can cause your blood glucose levels to drop lowere than usual. You might feel shaky, lightheaded, weak, confused, fatigued, irritable, or hungry; headache; breaking out into a sweat; or even fainting.
Hypoglycemia can happen during exercise, or right after exercise. It may even occur up to 24 hours after you finish exercising. It may come on slowly or hit you like a brick.
Before you exercise, be careful about exercising if you have skipped a recent meal. Check your blood glucose. If it's below 100, have a small snack. If you take insulin, ask your health care team whether you should change your dosage before you exercise.
During exercise: wear your medical identification or other ID. Always carry food or glucose tablets so that you'll be ready to treat hypoglycemia (juice packs, candy)
If you'll be exercising for more than an hour, check your blood glucose at regular intervals. You may need snacks before you finish.
After you exercise, check your blood sugar levels. If your blood glucose is 70 or lower, have one of the following right away:2 or 3 glucose tablets, 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of any fruit juice, 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of a regular (not diet) soft drink, 1 cup (8 ounces) of milk, 5 or 6 pieces of hard candy, 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar or honey
After 15 minutes, check your blood glucose again. If it's still too low, have another serving. Repeat until your blood glucose is 70 or higher. If it will be an hour or more before your next meal, have a snack as well.

*Hyperglycemia (High Sugar Level):
Do not exercise if your blood glucose is above 300 mg/dL, or your fasting blood glucose is above 250 mg/dL and you have ketones in your urine.
Keep a log for a few days of your levels before, during and after exercising and meet with your doctor to adjust your levels so that you can exercise safely.
Diabetic Retinopathy (damaged blood vessels in the retina of the eye): if you already have this condition exercise could make it worse. Strenuous activities such as weight lifting can increase the pressure in the blood vessels of your eyes and lead to bleeding or retinal detachment. Ask your doctor to recommend appropriate exercise activities for you.

* Reduced Sensation or Pain in Extremities:
Check your feet for cuts, blisters, or signs of infection on a regular basis. Wear good, properly-fitting shoes with ample cushioning and support . Wear synthetic or cotton-blend socks that minimize moisture problems. Report any recurring, exercise-related pain in your legs or extremities to your doctor right away.

I know all these points seem a little drastic and sometimes scary but diabetes is a serious condition and should not be forgotten while exercising. By going through this list with my mother, we were able to bike, walk, take Pilates and even a Zumba dance class, and keep her blood sugar leveled.

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Helen from Tartelette.

Wontons for Elvis Presley

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Posted by Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

I feel I must warn you. The recipe that follows is not healthy: not whole grains, not low-carb, not sugar-free, not organic, not locally-grown. It will, however, become your absolutely favorite dessert to make with your kids and grandkids.

I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Wontons for Elvis Presley are all about the lovin’, so what better to do on Valentines Day than make a decadent dessert for – and with – the people you love?

Elvis, of course, was the first true American pop icon, the first rock star. We knew everything about him, from his dreamy blue eyes to his blue suede shoes.

His famous appetite immortalized the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, a recipe for which would go something like this:

1 small banana, exceedingly ripe (like you’d use for banana bread)
3 Tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 slices white bread (something smooshy, like Wonder Bread)
2 Tbsp butter

In a small bowl, mash the banana with the back of a spoon. Lightly toast the bread. Spread the peanut butter on one piece of toast and the mashed banana on the other, and close the sandwich. Spread both sides of the outside of the sandwich with butter. Fry in a hot pan until each side is golden brown. Cut diagonally and serve hot.

Delicious, but not as delicious as the same filling fried in a wonton, with a bit of chocolate thrown in for good measure!

These are wonderful to make with children, who can have fun assembling the wonton “sandwiches”, and sprinkling the cinnamon sugar on at the end. Remember, though, that deep frying is for grown-ups; keep children well away from pans filled with hot oil.

After I printed the original recipe, adapted from Gale Gand and the Food Network, last weekend, a reader suggested adding peanut butter – and these wontons were born! Makes 10; recipe can be doubled or tripled.

2 milk chocolate candy bars
20 wonton skins
2 firm bananas, sliced
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
4 cups canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar
1 pint vanilla frozen yogurt

Leave the chocolate in a warm place to make it slightly pliable, or warm the bar between your hands for a few minutes. Cut each bar into 8 pieces and, with your hands, try to form each piece into a round-ish disk the size of a quarter with no sharp edges.

Lay half the wonton skins out on a surface and, one at a time, paint the edges with water (kids can do this, with a pastry brush). In the center of the wonton skin, place a disk of milk chocolate and a banana slice on top of the chocolate. On top of each banana, put a small glob of peanut butter. Place another wonton on top, and press to seal tightly. Each wonton package should look like a ravioli. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to fry and serve, up to 10 hours ahead.

Heat the oil in a wok or deep pot to 350°F. Drop the wontons into the oil, being careful not to crowd them (you may have to work in batches) and fry, turning often, until golden brown, 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the cinnamon sugar in a bowl. Remove the wontons with a slotted spoon and immediately sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar.

Serve right away with scoops of vanilla frozen yogurt.

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Lydia from The Perfect Pantry

Cake Decorating

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Posted by Dharm

Although I've been baking cakes from a very young age, I never had any rhyme or reason to decorate them. Sure, I've had lots of experience in covering a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and maybe even a little ganache. But that was it.

And then everything changed when my son Michael turned one!

That was when I decided that I HAD to make his birthday cake and not order one. That decision meant that I had to learn to decorate it too.

The first cake I decorated was for Michael's First Birthday. I baked a butter cake in a Wilton Teddy Bear pan and the cake came out of the pan with the pattern embossed on it. Thus, it was fairly straightforward to pipe out an outline on the embossed pattern and then fill in the outline with piped stars. Easier said then done though!

Due to a lack of experience, I didnt realise that I should have iced the mouth and nose first before piping around it. So, to compensate, I used M&M's for the mouth and nose. After doing that, I realised that this made the bear seem a little evil!

It also took a lot of time to decorate the cake, basically due to my inexperience.
Nonetheless, I though it was a pretty fine effort for a first timer and what mattered most was that my son was pleased with his Teddy Bear cake.

The following year for his Second Birthday, he had developed an interest in Construction Equipment. Although he had been hinting at a Dinosaur Cake the whole year, he suddenly decided he wanted a Bulldozer for his birthday cake.

I had spent the preceding few months before his second birthday doing some research on how to transfer patterns on to a cake. What you are about to read is with the benefit of hindsight and gleaned from my failures and lessons learnt. Hopefully it will be simple and easy enough to follow and you wont have to learn the hard way!

  • First off, find a nice picture from the Internet, a colouring book or any other place, that you want to use.

  • Enlarge the picture (using a photocopier) to the size you want. I find that A4 or Letter size is large enough for a large rectangle cake.

  • Trace the pattern out on to tracing paper or greaseproof paper.

  • Bake your cake and then prepare a thick buttercream icing. I normally use a ratio of 1:2.5 meaning 1 part butter to 2.5 parts icing sugar. The icing should be firm enough to roll into a ball. Then when you press it between your fingers, it should become a flat circle and hold its shape. The reason you want it firm is so that you can place a sheet of tracing paper/greaseproof paper on top of the icing without causing it to smudge.[See, I didnt do this the first time and when I covered the icing with the paper, it all stuck to the paper and was a right royal mess!)

    "How do I ice the cake with icing so thick then?" I hear you ask. The trick here is to 'pat' the icing on. Take an amount of icing in your hands (of course
    make sure your hands are clean!) and press it out onto the cake. Flatten the icing, spreading it out slightly as you do so - much like you are lining a tart pan or mould. The icing will not be smooth but dont worry. Once the cake is covered, smoothen out the icing by dipping a metal spatula in hot water, wiping it dry and then smoothening out the icing.

  • Let the icing set for a bit.

  • Place the tracing paper with the image on top of the cake. Using a toothpick, prick holes into the icing following the pattern on the tracing paper.

  • Remove the tracing paper from the cake and you now have your pattern transferred on to the cake like a join-the-dots puzzle!

  • Connect the dots by piping icing along the dots and you have an iced outline.

  • Fill in the outline with piped stars or flowers or any other shape you like. Or simply use piping jelly or thin icing to 'flow' into the outline.

  • And there you have it! This is the Bulldozer cake that I iced using the method described above.

    The following year, for his Third Birthday, I made him an African Elephant. I used the same method as above but with a slight difference. I created the base icing out of three different colours - for the grass, the middle and then the sky. Also, I used melted chocolate for the outline.

    Having only decorated two cakes before this, I must say that I was amazed at how well this cake turned out. The Lovely Wife was equally amazed and to this day she says – “that cake was made with 20% skill and 80% love!” Proof that with a lot of dedication, anything is possible!

    Cake decorating didn't scare me anymore and I think I was really getting the hang of it. It was still hard work, but the happy look on my children's faces was reward enough. It was then time to celebrate my daughter Sarah's First Birthday. Her brother used to affectionately call her Bunny and so I decided on a Bunny Cake for her.

    This cake was another labour of love as would you believe that my icing set broke on me halfway through the decorating? I stayed up until almost midnight finishing the cake using various methods of ingenuity to pipe out the icing. I have since learnt the art of using piping bags rather than an icing set.

    For my son's Fourth Birthday, I made him this Dinosaur Cake. For any of you that have been forced to learn about Dinosaurs, this particular dinosaur is the Carnotaur that was little Michael's "most favourite dinosaur in the whole world." I added a few of his toy dinosuars around the cake to make it seem like the Carnotaur was stalking them!

    Practice really makes perfect and for Sarah's Second Birthday, I made her this Tigger Cake. I used some store bought plastic grass and coconut trees to further decorate the cake and give it more character.

    So you see, decorating cakes is really not that difficult. All it takes is a little patience and it gets easier the more you do it. I still dont think I'm particularly skilful at cake decorating but I think the more I do it, the better I get. It doesn't really have to be perfect either and the only thing you really need though,
    to make it very special, is a Whole Lot of Love!

    Speaking of Love, with Valentine's Day tomorrow, it's not too late to bake a cake for your other half. A simple square or rectangle cake decorated with a heart would be super. Or maybe his/her favourite sports team logo or even their favourite cartoon character. The possibilities are endless!

    The next time I write, I'll share my experience in making 3-Dimensional Cakes as well as share with you my experience in hosting Themed Birthday Parties for the kids. See you soon and in the meantime, Happy Valentine's Day!

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was written by Dharm from Dad ~ Baker & Chef

    Tiffin Tuesday - ovenbaked veggies

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Posted by jokergirl@wererabbits

    Last monday was my first day at a new workplace. Since I wanted to give myself a little message (Ganbatte ne! Fight-o! and so on) and also, since I have to get up quite a bit earlier and after work, renovating a new apartment is on the plans for the evening, I packed a little breakfast box with leftovers for a good start in the day.

    The box contains, starting from the top left corner and circling clockwise:
    Potato halves, Maché sallad (I love this stuff), crème fraiche with chives to dip, a zucchini with a stick of feta, spiced sweet potato sticks, a mini-pie crust with some egg and half an olive, a few lumps of parmesan, eggplant with herbs, more sweet potato sticks, more salad and a mushroom stuffed with pesto, tomatoes and cheese.

    Organic check: The ingredients from organic production are: potatoes, sallad, zucchini, feta, parmesan (the last of the one I imported from Italy *sniff*), mushroom. Everything else I either had already or couldn't find organic.

    Everything in there that needed to be cooked was baked in the oven. The potatoes and sweet potatoes baked while I prepared the rest of the stuff, then I put the other veggies on a tray above it and when they were done, so were the potatoes.

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was written by jokergirl from WereRabbits

    Becoming Whole with Meg

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Posted by Meeta K. Wolff

    A few weeks ago I got a mail from Meg Wolff asking me if she could join the Daily Tiffin Team. I am always when readers contact me to contribute or even become regular co-admins on the Daily Tiffin.

    As I checked Meg's blog Becoming Whole I learned her entire story. Meg is a strong fighter and is proof of how healthy nutritious food can change someone's life. I won't say more because I would like Meg to introduce herself:

    I’m a two-time cancer survivor (bone and then breast) who is committed to helping people understand the extremely important connection between diet and health. After going through all conventional medical treatment, doctors told me to make my peace with God. Instead, I dramatically improved my diet … and only then did my health start improving dramatically. I’m in excellent health nine years later … and consider myself living proof of this link.

    Meg joins us as part of a growing Daily Tiffin team. Maybe you had a chance to read her very first post - What Does Your Valentine Really Want?. Hope you will help me welcome her!

    What Does Your Valentine Really Want?

    Posted by Meg Wolff

    Flowers. Chocolates. Diamonds. Teddy bears. Pretty handmade cards – all traditional gifts for Valentine’s Day.

    But what does your true love honestly REALLY want?

    I think, given a choice, that most people would skip the material gifts and opt for “quality time” with you and just feeling secure in knowing that you’re there, healthy … and sticking around!

    Getting and staying healthy is the best gift to give your kids, too. Showing them, by example, that they can take charge of their health by good diet and lifestyle choices is priceless. And that starts with making healthier food choices ... whether it’s bad to better, or good to great. To me, any steps made toward good health are a gift of love.

    So … what does it take to give this gift? If it’s not prompted by a health crisis that forces a change, it just takes really thinking about your choices and making good nutrition a priority.

    And then making some easy switches: Brown rice instead of mashed potatoes and gravy. Steamed green beans instead of French fries. Tossed salad with olive oil and lemon dressing instead of potato salad with gobs of mayonnaise. Fresh fruit instead of triple-chocolate cake or ice cream for dessert.

    And, eat as many vegetables as possible. Don’t like them, you say? Then try this tip: Cut down on sugar and or artificially sweetened and flavored foods … and your taste for the sweetness in vegetables will return. Guaranteed.

    I’ll leave you with this beautiful and delicious dessert recipe that would make a lovely ending to a healthy Valentine’s dinner:

    4 pears
    2-3 inch cinnamon sticks
    1 1/2 cups of 100 percent pear juice
    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    1/2 teaspoon cardamon

    Peel pears and square bottom for standing in pot. Put in cinnamon sticks in between pears. Pour pear juice over all. Sprinkle nutmeg and cardamon into juice. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat, simmer for 35 minutes. Take pears out. Cook leftover sauce down into syrup.

    4-inch piece ginger (to make juice)
    1 cup raw blanched almonds (removed skins)
    2 tablespoons maple syrup
    1 tablespoon vanilla

    Pulverize almonds in a food processor. Add ginger juice, maple syrup and vanilla. To make it creamier, you can add a little more pear juice.

    Happy HEALTHY Valentine’s Day!

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was written by Meg Wolff from

    Heartburn Horrors!

    Friday, February 08, 2008

    Posted by Abby

    Heartburn is something I’ve never known much about, but somehow I’ve managed to coincide experiencing it quite regularly over the past week, or so with learning more about it as part of my nutritional health studies.

    In case you’re lucky enough to have avoided it let me fill you in on what happens. Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach leaks back up into the oesophagus (this is what takes food from your mouth into your stomach) and in some cases up into the throat. Thankfully the body reacts by releasing lots of saliva into the mouth which neutralises the acid. It’s not a pleasant experience but there are things you can do to avoid/manage it.

    1. Avoid foods which increase acid production – these include chocolate, coffee, fizzy drinks, fried and fatty foods, tomatoes (including ketchup) and citric fruits. Spices, pepper, chilli and mustard can also cause problems as can medications, especially painkillers (except paracetamol).

    2. Avoid large meals - eating little and often can help avoid heartburn, especially if you cut down on fat and choose foods that are high in protein and carbohydrates.

    3. Vigorous exercise is a trigger some people. If this is the case for you, try taking an antacid product before exercising. You should also avoid exercising within two hours of eating a meal.

    4. Avoid lying flat within two hours of eating a meal – this gives your stomach time to empty.

    In addition to antacid products, which neutralise the stomach acid, there are a number of natural remedies which you can try:

    1. Ginger helps reduce indigestion.

    2. Charcoal capsules can help absorb digestive gases.

    3. Liquorice and aloe vera preparations can give instant relief

    4. Dandelion tea will help stimulate digestion.

    5. Slippery elm can help relieve symptoms by reducing inflammation.

    These natural remedies are well worth a try as antacids can interfere with other medication you may be taking.

    Important Note: heartburn can be a symptom of a hiatus hernia. It can also seem similar to heart disorders such as angina and heart attack but in these cases there is unlikely to be the release of saliva that accompanies heartburn. if you are worried speak to your doctor.

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was written by abby from eat the right stuff

    The Best Place To Find Men

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Posted by Meeta K. Wolff

    We've heard it time and time again. Where are all the good men? Ever find yourself or a friend complaining that they don't meet enough men? Well, you just have to look in the right places. Men can be found everywhere from your local sports bar, to Home Depot. Just show up with a friendly attitude and a smile.

    1. Seminars

    Now you've got to think, what are things that appeal to men. Good places to start include: car maintenance, cooking, martial arts, wine tasting, and technology seminars. In a place like this you have the opportunity to meet and observe many men in action. What more could you ask for? You could introduce yourself, while enjoying a laugh over something that happened in the previous day's seminar, or compliment him on his approach to something. If it's a cooking seminar, you'll get to sample his goods. Don't let this golden opportunity pass you by!

    2. Man's Best Friend

    Yes, that's right, I'm talking about dogs. We love our pets, and treat them like family. But dogs are a lot simpler than you and I. They see no problem meeting new friends (usually by sniffing each other's butts). This gives you the chance to meet the owner of these new friends your pet is making. So go over and say hello. You can play games with your pups while getting to know this interesting new man. If you pay close attention, how a man plays and treats his dog says a lot about his character. Is his dog more loving, or disciplined. Is it obedient, or wild? Is he very affectionate with his pup, or more playful?

    3. Airplanes and Trains

    True, at times these long travels can proof to be a handful. But you always run into some interesting people when you're traveling. Sitting on a long plain ride, or in a railroad car? Say hello to the person sitting next to you. You could even break the ice by asking where he is headed. Remember, it's all about a good positive attitude and confidence. Many men would welcome a nice woman starting up a conversation with them during their travel. And since you both know the destination is in sight, it's a good opportunity to exchange numbers and keep in touch.

    4. The World Wide Web

    The internet has become a great place to meet people. You can find men on dating sites or on group forums. Whatever peeks his interests, that's where men will be. Many have observed people's actions online and commented on how easy it is to meet people. Afterall, online you can message some random person introduce yourself and comment on something they said. In person, we're a little more apprehensive about walking up to people anytime, and anywhere. So make the best of this and use the internet to develop friendships and possible love connections. You might be surprised what you'll find.

    5. The Nearest Sport Bar After A Game

    This is where numbers play in your favor. Men are there in mass enjoying a drink after a good game. If you've ever thought you're not meeting enough men, you'll likely be in heaven here. Men from all walks of life gather after a game to share a drink and retell their favorite moments. So join in and have a drink. You may find yourself meeting quite a few handsome men, by the end of the night!

    There are plenty of places to find men, so don't be afraid to be creative. And remember, you're out looking for men. So don't be afraid to walk up and say hello or start a conversation. You'll drastically increase your chances if you approach men with a friendly attitude

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was contributed by Vicky from Got A Crush

    Tiffin Tuesday - Not quite Japanese

    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    Posted by Petra Hildebrandt

    Whenever I have to explain the concept of bento boxes to people who have never heard of them, the obvious explanation is: it is a Japanese lunchbox. And the next question, inevitably, is: isn't Japanese cuisine terribly complicated for Westerners? Well, not quite... and most of my lunchboxes are anything but filled with Japanese foods. However, I adapted a few (easy) Japanese ideas for this lunch:

    As Biggie pointed out last week, a lunch box doesn't have to be filled with the equivalent of a buffet-style meal to be satisfying, but nonetheless some variety adds to the fun as much as to the nutritional value. So let me delve a little into bento philosophy.

    In an ideal world, a bento should employ the principle of goshiki (five colors - typically red/orange, black/purple/brown, white, yellow and green), and even better, goho, or five cooking methods - such as grilling, frying, simmering, steaming, pickling and boiling (I've added "raw" to my personal list of choices). By doing this, you will vary the textures throughout your meal, too. You don't have to pack Japanese foods to do this, though.

    So in my not quite Japanese lunch above, I packed

    • not quite zaru soba - about half a bundle of soba noodles (available as 100% buckwheat or with a little wheat flour added. The wheat soba can be boiled, the buckwheat-only variety nees to be steamed). I boiled the soba the night before packing the lunch. The dipping sauce in the Winnie-the-Pooh container consists of equal parts of mirin, soy, black bean garlic sauce and sesame paste - a little goes a long way. In the morning while packing I added a few scallion slivers to the soba.
    • not quite tonkatsu - one of the dishes I call "double duty cooking". We had sesame fried pork chops for dinner, so I used one of the boneless chops, cut it into thin strips, and breaded them with a sesame crust (flour, egg, and half panko crumbs half sesame seeds) . They were fried at the same time as our dinner pork chops - this works nicely with chicken tenders, too, probably even with tofu.
    To add a little crunch and freshness (and color), I packed a few (organic) cucumber strips to munch on. Cutting the scallions and cucumber (and removing the stone from the red plums in the second tier) takes about 2 minutes, if you did the cooking the night before, so this is done and packed easily even in a hurry.

    The "snack" tier features an instant coffee drink (I never buy these, they somehow appear in my life via promotion teams strolling the city, or via mail) and an organic chocolate biscuit bar, plus a handful of almonds as a quick protein-and-fat snack, two red plums and a few mini chocolates. Apple optional :-)

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was written by Petra from Foodfreak

    Coping with family life when you're temporarily unwell or incapacitated...

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    Posted by Amanda at Little Foodies

    Like most people I find it hard accepting help from others. Even under normal circumstances if somebody does me a favour I feel as though I'm indebted to them for far more than the favour they have done for me. I have a back injury which has recently flared up again and I can't be, or do all things for all people at the moment. After speaking with friends and family (that should read after a stern talking to from friends and family), I'm learning that it's okay to accept help and that people giving you sympathy isn't something to be ashamed of. I hope that all of our readers are healthy and happy and that everybody they know is healthy and happy. Sadly, that's not how life works so here are some thoughts on how to cope when you are temporarily unwell or incapacitated. ... And, if you're the kind friend or relative then thank you on behalf of all those people you help...

    1.First and foremost swallow your pride. Don't feel that you have to be Superwoman.

    2.Gratefully accept if someone turns up and offers some help with the housework, even something simple like unloading the dishwasher. Accepting, will give you just that little bit of extra time where you can work on getting better.

    3.If someone you trust offers to take the children off your hands for a few hours and they're going to have a good time. Accept! The children get to have some fun, you have some down time, making everything seem more possible.

    4.If someone offers to take some ironing away, accept. I still haven't been able to accept this yet and I now have a few mountains of ironing and of course I'm wishing that I'd swallowed my pride and accepted. I will end up sending it to a company and will pay a fortune for the privilege.

    5.Actually ASK for help. Most people will be happy that you've asked them. People like to feel needed and so long as you're not doing it all the time, being a total zap on their time and energy, and of course you remember please and thank you, I'm quite sure they will be happy to help.

    6.Don't feel guilty if your partner is having to do a lot more at home than usual. You would do the same for them. At least I'm assuming you'd do the same for them. ;)

    7.Don't panic if meals aren't up to your usual standards. Take Outs/Take Aways and the odd pre-packaged meal shouldn't harm anybody.

    8.Indulge yourself. Even if it's something small like having a hot chocolate with cream on the top or ordering a book you've wanted for ages. Just something to send the message home that you are important and worth a little indulgence.

    9.Laugh, even if it hurts! Believe me gentle laughter has helped me through some difficult days. It is proven that laughter releases natural feel good chemicals into your blood stream.

    10.If you feel like crying. Have a good cry but then pick yourself up afterwards. You could do this by talking to people who you know are going to lift your spirits. Do this over choosing to call someone who you know could wallow in self pity with you. Much better to choose the person who you know is going to make you feel good and that everything is going to be okay. This isn't being selective. This doesn't make the person who will wallow in self pity with you a bad friend, just not the right person for your need at that time.

    11.Most importantly remember to be kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up for your current situation. Things happen, accept it and it will help you to move forward.

    Right, now I'm off to order myself some indulgent on-line shopping while I sip some cream topped hot chocolate! If you could just pop round and do the ironing I'll be totally sorted!

    If you have any other ideas then please do leave a comment. The more people speaking the better..

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was written by Amanda from Little Foodies

    Heartfelt Fitness

    Friday, February 01, 2008

    Posted by Helene

    With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to talk about fitness for couple. Not that we need Valnetine's Day to get closer to our mate but like Christmas puts us in a giving mood, February makes us a little bit mushy… No need for your thighs to feel the same way too!

    There are plenty of benefits to spending some time working out together. Safety being number one as you can have somebody watch your form and be with you at odd hours of the day. You can build so much motivation and support by spending an hour or two a couple of times a week either outside or at the gym, as well as respect. Couple’s fitness also builds a deeper bond: couples who get physical together are also more physical with one another on their private moments…all those feel good hormones!

    1/ If you belong to a gym, you can sign up for a class together. I dragged my husband to a Zumba class one year and we had so much fun for an hour because there was not one move we could figure out or do the right way… We were on the same “un-coordinate” plane and the giggles were a great way to relieve stress plus we were physically close which we all know comes and goes in long term relationships. Yoga, Spinning, swimming are also great ways to spend an hour or two together. Spinning worked way better for us because we kept pushing each other to the next level. Most classes allow each individual to work at his/hers own pace so one never feels left behind.

    2/ Do cardio on machines that are side by side if possible. Having a workout partner makes the time go by quicker not to mention that you finally have 30-40 minutes just to yourselves to talk about whatever you want. If you go hard core, you can support and boost each others pace throughout the session. Interval running or jogging allow each partner to catch up. If you are a slow runner, you are then able to catch your breath and if you are the faster one, you are letting your partner catch his and no one feels outdone in the process.

    3/ Join your partner in his/hers favorite class. It may not be your cup of tea to do Jiu-Jitsu but you might learn something about him/her and yourself in the process. I participated in one of my husband’ fencing classes one year and I learn so much about the history, process, art and physical requirement of the sports. Moreover, I learned a lot about his resilience, strength, not too mention he looked darn good lunging in his outfit!! He really appreciated me taking part in one of his hobbies.

    4/ When working with weights, have your partner be the “spotter” to help you carry and lift heavier weights than you would do on your own. You will keep good form and take your workout to the next level. Switch places in between sets or you can rest and no one feels left behind.

    5/ Take it outdoors: go walking, hiking, and canoeing. Spend an afternoon geocaching or jut talking the dog out. Make a date and stick to it!

    6/ Listen: try your partner’s workout ideas as you might learn new thing a much a learning new things about them and yourself in the process. Compromise if necessary, the reward is worth it!

    Being fit together is not only fun, but it helps couples understand their needs, likes and dislikes not to mention building strong emotional bonds.

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

    This Post was written by Helen from Tartelette