Category Archives: Food

Me Versus the Chapati

In millions of Indian homes around the globe for many centuries, chapatis are made on a daily basis and are a staple of their diet.  In more traditional times, it was common for a bride to be judged by her new family by her ability to make them round and soft.  In my husbands family, most of the women were taught at an early age to know their way around the kitchen including making a perfect round chapati.  As a result, my mother-in-law is the best cook I have ever met.  While my mom was also cooking full dinners by the age of 8, she decided not to raise her daughters the same way.  My parents made our education our first and only priority and I was often shooed away from the kitchen.  It should come as no surprise that when I first stepped foot in my future inlaws home at 19 years old, I instantly felt out of place.  It was so intimidating to watch all the women know exactly what to do and how to do it.  Even if I wanted to help, I was nervous about doing something wrong.  Fast forward 15 years, I have come to accept that I will never “fit in” with the expertise around the kitchen but my inability has always made me self conscious in my culture.

Recently I have felt  the desire to be able to cook.  For a few reasons: being able to cook mine and my husbands favorite meals, feeding my kids healthy meals, and being able to teach my children.  I have been slowly learning a few dishes here and there and using frozen ones to complete the meal.  Last weekend I decided that it was time to learn this ancient art of chapati making and give it a try.

I opened up my PC and started googling.  I have helped rolled them a few times and certainly seen my mom and mother in law make them often enough but never made the dough.  I choose the video with the most hits and figured I am smart enough, I can figure this out.  I started following the recipe.  After all it is just flour and water, how hard can it be?  1 hour later, I am calling every expert indian cook I know.  I finally got a hold of my sister-in-law who tried to help.  I tried to roll one out and it was an gooey sticky mess.  My husband thought with his pizza expertise he could figure it out.  No such luck.  They all went into the trash.

Point – Chapati

Luckily we had the frozen ones as back up.  I opened up the pack and started them on the pan.  Unfortunately even those would not work for me.  Every single one was hard as a rock and just did not have the taste of a home cooked chapati.  We grudgingly ate them as I felt defeated.

Point – Chapati

I started instead looking for the ad I had seen sometime back about the automatic chapati maker and how to get my hands on one.  I found it and watched it again.  It looked awesome but unfortunately is sold out.

Point – Chapati

I was determined not to give up.  This week I Facetimed my mother in law to walk me through it from start to finish.  After watching my dough take shape, I finally was able to roll out the chapatis with my daughters. They were far from round but I was on the right track.  After the first few, they actually even started to fluff up.  Paired with the an eggplant sabji they were absolutely delicious.  Next time I will cheat like my other sister in law who cuts around a lid to get those perfectly round circles!

Game – Anjali!

Pineapple Papdi Chaat

Have you ever witnessed someone try Indian Food for the first time?  Their first bite is the most entertaining as most dishes pack a powerful variety of spices.  One thing that keeps Indian Food my favorite genre is that there are always new and exciting dishes to try.  My mom and brother were in Paris when they found this new twist on an old gem.

Papdi Chaat is a perfect combination of crunch and mouth watering flavor.  Typically served with chick peas, onions, and Moong beans this twist adds a bit of sweetness with alternative ingredients of pineapple and tandoori chicken.

  • Papdis (flat poori) – ready made at most Indian grocery stores
  • Tandoori Chicken Pieces – pre-made tandoori powder available at most Indian grocery stores
  • Tamarind Sauce a.k.a Imli Chutney
  • Garam Masala Powder
  • Boiled and cubed potatoes
  • Yogurt (beaten)
  • Pineapple chunks

One you have all the ingredients ready all you have to do is plate it.  Delicious!

10 Steps to Hosting a Sleepover Birthday Party

My baby girl turned 9 yesterday.  While I try not to spoil her, I also would do anything to make her happy.  For my oldest daughter, Avani, it is actually easy because she is an EXACT copy of me.  From our looks to our personality/interests and everything in between.  Good and bad, she is my mini-me.  So to determine what I could do to make her feel special for her special day, I just thought about what I would have wanted for my 9th birthday and did that.

Follow these steps to throw your daughter a birthday sleepover she will always remember!

1- Pick a Theme – Anytime up until a week before the party.  Do you need one?  No but it makes it easy to decide on the rest of the stuff like invites, décor or cake when you have one.  For her 9th Birthday, we didn’t want anything too babyish but still pretty and pink so went with roses based on one of crafts (see #4).

2- Pick a Date – 6 weeks pre party.  Make sure she doesn’t have a big event the next day as she will probably be half asleep.  Check the school calendar to ensure there are no school events.  (Unfortunately my daughter’s soccer game was moved up last minute so we had to leave at the same time the girls were supposed to be picked up in the morning….oh boy).

 3- Invite her closest friends – 6 weeks pre-party.  Try to get your invitations out well in advance.  That way her BFFs (as there may be multiple of them) are more likely to be available to share that special day with her.  I would recommend 6 weeks in advance.  Don’t invite too many, there is a possibility that everyone can come so you don’t want more than you can handle.  Don’t invite any “trouble makers” as they will be in your house over night, so you don’t want to have to be on constant alert.

4- Plan an activity – Anytime up to 2 weeks before the party (to order supplies online)  If this is not your forte, hire this out.  There are plenty of professionals out there (artists, chefs, nail techs, etc) that you can pay to do all the heavy lifting for you.  If you are a little braver, you can plan the activity and hire your babysitter to run it.  You can save yourself some money this way but have help at the same time.  If you are really brave (aka crazy like me) you can do it on your own.

I selected 2 activities that I thought would be pretty simple for the girls who would be attending (ages 7-11) would be able to do.

Apple Roses – I saw this posted on one of my friend’s Facebook wall and although I really can’t cook, it looked simple enough that even I could do it.

I broke them up into 4 groups to work together.  It was actually pretty easy and even the ones that weren’t perfectly shaped, tasted delicious. (see results below)

No-Sew Tote Bags – I have always put a lot of thought into what guests take home from a party.  I hate giving out junk.  Junk costs the host money that the guest ends up tossing or cluttering up their home unnecessarily.  For the last 2 birthday parties we did for my younger daughter, Aria, she choose to donate the money we would have spent on the junk instead.  Avani is really into crafting so we spend the goody bag money into making a fantastic craft.  Something that is useable, you don’t through away, unique for this event, and cool!  These DIY tote bags are beautiful and just required some cutting and gluing, easy peasy. (results below)

Supplies Needed for Project

Relax…you don’t have to worry about this for a while..

5- Order Cake – 1 week pre party.  Honestly, the kids don’t really care where you bought your cake.  Cake is cake so if you want to make it easy on yourself, just go the local grocery store.  I went with Jewel where you can order as little as 24 hours in advance.  Some bakers require a longer lead time so check with where you plan on ordering before procrastinating to the last minute.  If you live in the Chicago burbs, several of my friends swear by Jarosch Bakery and will go out of their way for it.  I have also used some local moms who bake from their home for some truly unique cakes.

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6 – Order Food – 1 day pre party.  Pizza?  Yes, simple.  If you ever get tired of pizza, there are also lots of other easy other options as well.  I have used Noodles & Company, Portillos,  Potbellys, Qdoba, and Panda Express which are all just a bit more and pretty easy.

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7 – Decorate – Day of Party – Using some stuff you already have in the house you can actually make something pretty special.  Concentrate your decorations into one area instead of spreading them out.  Then you have one spectacular area instead of just a piece here and there.  I just to decorate the basement where the girls would be sleeping.   I used some Christmas lights, bed canopy, quilts, hanging lanterns that I already had.  Buy a couple packs of command hooks, which are pretty awesome, to hang things up and you have instant setting.

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8 – Don’t Forget Snacks!  – Day of Party – While out buying tableware, plates, candles, bagels, and juice  (notice the grocery list), don’t forget a late night snack for those hungry girls who will no doubt be raiding your kitchen in the wee-hours.

9 – Monitor – Day of Party – Where did I put that baby monitor???  Well you better figure it out because it comes in handy.  Instead of having to sleep near the kids, or trek up and down the stairs 10 times, stick your baby monitor down there.  Let the kids know that it is there and if there is any misbehaving, you will not hesitate to call their parents to have them picked up.  Luckily I have never had to make a call but the threat enough seems to do the trick ’cause who would want to leave this awesome party?

10 – Bedtime – Night of Party– After all the activities have completed.  Have them wind down by watching a movie after changing into their PJs, brushing teeth, and in their sleeping bags.  Arrange their sleeping bags for them in a circle, heads in, so no one feels left out.  At a reasonable time, let them know its lights out and time for bed.  Expect some chatting after you leave.  30 minutes later, enforce by staying there until a few are sleeping, they will be so exhausted it shouldn’t take long.  Quietly leave while the rest of the girls follow suit.  Don’t forget to check your monitor!

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Good luck!

Pictures from Apple Roses and Tote Bags:

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California Turkey Flat from Potbelly’s on Weight Watchers

After 3 weeks using the old Weight Watchers system, I am down 7 lbs!  It is just a tad slower than the last time I was on the program and lost a total of 77 lbs.  It’s not too bad considering I am starting off lighter and I am now in my 30s.  I have  been doing a medium intensity workout 5 days a week as well and have gone through the entire series of Bloodline and half way through Damages on Netflix while getting my exercise on.

One of the biggest cut backs is trying to eat out less.  I am a huge Potbelly’s fan and I was in love with their new California Turkey Flat as soon as I tried the sample.  ctf_headlineIt is probably one of the healthier options on the menu but for someone who is trying to budget every Point she can, 11 Original WW Points seemed too high for such a simple sandwich.  I decided to make our own at home version for a total of 6 Pts.

  • 1 Joseph’s Flat Pita Bread (I found these at Walmart and have been using them for everything!) – 1 Pt

  • 2 Oz. Lean Turkey Slices – 1 Pt
  • 1 slice of Cheddar Cheese – 2 Pts
  • Cucumber – O Pts
  • 1 Oz. Avacado – 2 Pts

There are some other artisan flats out there that you can select for 2 Pts which isn’t bad either, but this simple sandwich tastes just as great at home.  The key is warming it up in an convection oven for a few minutes with just the bread, turkey, and cheese.  Give it a shot!

How to Lose Weight with Old WW Program

In recent years, Weight Watchers revamped their program with PointsPlus.  While I am sure there was years worth of science behind it, I wonder how much had to do with carbs getting a bad rep?   The biggest benefit to the old plan was that you could look at a nutrition label and get a basic idea of the Points value in your head.  The new plan is just way to complex.  If you can do simple math in your head, unlikely to write everything down, but still motivated to lose weight, here is how to follow the old plan.

First figure out your daily points: 

  Once you figure out your points value, that is your daily target plus 35 flex points for the week.

They no longer provide the old program’s point calculator but you maybe able to find some on ebay. 

 To figure out points from a label.

Calories/50 = PTS

For every 4grams of fat, add 1

over 4 grams of fiber, minus 1.

Example – 150 calories = 3 + 4 grams of fat = 4 + 2 Dietary Fiber =4

It is not the perfect formula but it is easy and it works.  I lost 77lbs using this method!

Exercise can also earn you additional points.  Since I don’t have a special calculation for that, for a 30 minute medium intensity, give yourself 2 extra points for the day.

My Motivation for Losing Weight

It is no secret that there have been periods in my life where I struggled with my weight.  I wish it was a secret.  I debated even writing this post.  My daughter said, “You are putting that in your blog!??!  You are not supposed to talk about your weight with other people”.  I wish there was a way to hide this from everyone but weight issues are something you can’t hide.  Food is also one of the only “addictions” that you have to continue with, just differently.  Not like an alcoholic who needs to stop drinking.  Or a gambler who needs to stop gambling.  If you are trying to lose weight, you still have to eat, you just have to eat smart.

It started at puberty but the most troublesome times have been around the birth of my kids.  Fortunately some of best times have been during formative years of high school and college.   When I was a freshman in high school, I lost 50 pounds somewhat naturally by being involved in sports and eating less at boarding school.

8th Grade School Photo (12 years old)

Sophomore in High School (14 years old)

I met my husband in college and got married by 21.  My weight started to slowly creep back up and sky rocketed when I got pregnant with my daughter at 24.  The 2nd time being even worse than the 1st.

Ready to Pop with Baby #2
Ready to Pop with Baby #2 (26 years old)

When I was ready to stop nursing my 2nd daughter at 27, my sister and my mom had started their diets and were starting to see some success.  I didn’t want to get left behind.  Another daily struggle was the fact that I could not fit into any of my old clothes.  Shopping was even worse.  It was so hard to find something that flattered me.  I decided to start Weight Watchers and over the course of 10 months, lost 77 pounds.

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At goal weight (28 years old)

Not long after reaching my goal, I started a new job over 30 miles away from my house in the city.  I was able to maintain my routine for the first 6 months where I left at 5:45am to work out and avoided all traffic.  Since I was basically rolling out of bed and it was so early, after being in the car for 30 minutes, I started falling asleep on the commute.  After the 3rd time it happened, I decided it was not worth the risk and stopped working out.  My diet started falling apart and we started trying for a baby so it started going back up.

Here we are 4 years later with a 1 year old boy somewhere in between.  I stopped nursing a few months ago and while I am not starting ALL OVER,  I have gained a good chunk of it back.  I am determined to be get back down to goal weight but for a completely different reason; my children.

  • I want to be someone they look up to, especially for my girls.  I want them to be a mom they are proud of, not embarrassed of (although I am sure that will come in time regardless of my weight)
  • I want to be an example for them.  How can I tell them that they have to eat healthy and stay active when I am not.  I never want them to look at me and hope that they don’t end up like me.
  • I want to keep up with them.  We love to take bikes rides to the park, walk around the block, and dance.  I never want to slow them down.
  • I want to be around for them as long as I can.  Being at a healthy weight can only help that.

I worry that being in my 30s will make it much harder than it was naturally in my teens, and somewhat easily in my 20s.  However I am determined.  I started last week, resisted pizza at a birthday party, cookies at a company picnic, and nachos during a show.

Before and after picture coming soon 🙂

Zucchini Mini Muffins

Aria is definitely my most difficult eater and she loves to pick out all the vegetables that she can see in her food.  Since Anjay was traveling last night, I decided to cater to the girls. I wanted them to get involved in the process of selection and also the cooking.  I decided on following this recipe for Zucchini Muffins.

6 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/3 cups)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2/3 cup shredded zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini) $$
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted $
2 tablespoons 1% low-fat milk $$
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through allspice) in a large bowl. Combine zucchini and next 5 ingredients (through egg) in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Add zucchini mixture to flour mixture, stirring batter just until combined. Divide batter evenly among 24 miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of muffins comes out clean.

There was a ton of “that is disgusting” and “there is no way I am eating those” but I told them we wouldn’t make them unless they promised to eat one each.  We didn’t have any vanilla so we exchanged it for maple and I cut the amount in half just to be safe.  During the process the batter got very difficult to mix and there was still flour not mixed so we had to add more milk.

 Guess what, they loved them!!!  Even took them to school for lunch the next day to tell their friends all about it.

Akash wanted to get in there too!!

I Want My Baby Back Baby Back Ribs

I have fond memories of going to Chili’s as a kid with my family and LOVING the baby back ribs.  I never thought I, someone who hardly knows how to turn on the oven, would be attempting to make them.  Surprisingly they are really easy.

When I figured out that I wanted to start cooking, I knew just the person to help me out.  Except for the fact that she lives 750 miles away, my sister in law, Shivani, was perfect to help me with this.  She has an adorable little baby boy too, Adi, who was born last Thanksgiving.  She understands the need for quick meals and most importantly KNOWS HOW TO COOK.  I love the few dishes I have had the pleasure to try.  My husband Anjay has texted me pictures of the food she has made for him when on business trips so I know he approves as well.

master chef

She sent me a few recipes which I will be trying and sharing as well but pointed me towards this slow cooker recipe for ribs.

Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs
Author: Melissa @ No. 2 Pencil
Recipe type: Dinner
Prep time:  
Cook time:  
Total time:  
Serves: 2-4
Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs
Ingredients
  • Baby back pork ribs – about 2.75 pounds
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • All-purpose steak seasoning or salt and pepper to taste
  • 1½ cups of BBQ sauce of choice
Instructions
  1. Season ribs and place in slow cooker with meaty part facing wall of slow cooker.
  2. Pour BBQ sauce over ribs and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  3. Serve warm with additional BBQ sauce.
  4. Optional step: Broil ribs, in oven, on high for about 5 minutes after removing from slow cooker.
Anjay picked up the pork ribs from Aldi.  I was all ready to get started and he asked me if I wanted him to take off the fat.  Well, I didn’t know you were supposed to do that!  So sure, go ahead, and then in all honesty he ended up doing most of the work.   According to Shivani, we were team building, so its OK. 🙂
raw meat
Once we trimmed the fat, we added the seasoning and brown sugar splenda.  We had Hamburger Seasoning on hand so decided to use that.mccormick  Seasoned Ribs
We did need much more BBQ sauce then described in the recipe, probably more like 2 cups and really you need the full bottle so we had to open a 2nd.
BBQ Sauce
Finally, you stick it in the slow cooker and try to get it to stand up with the meaty side facing the outside.  We could not get it to stay up, probably because we cut it in half and maybe we shouldn’t have, so it kept falling down.  As an extra step, she told me to add some jalapenos on top to spice things up.  Let them sit for 7 hours.  If you are able to put them on the grill (weather permitting) to char, otherwise it is not needed.  Serve hot.
pre cooked

They were delicious!  We served them up with fries just like I remember eating them at Chilis and I loved them.  Thanks Shivani!

Ready to eat ribs

Trials and Tribulations of a Picky Eater

5:00pm – I finish up work and often it is just me and the little ones.

5:30pm – Time to start putting dinner on the table.  I have always believed in eating dinner together as a family, around the table with no distractions.  I do believe it is one of the most important things you can do for your kids.

6:00pm – Most of us are finishing up and starting to clean up.

6:30pm – Everything is cleaned up and we would be ready to continue….except there is one member of our family still sitting at the table who has barely touched her food yet.    My daughter, Aria, is sitting at the kitchen table eating ant size pieces, talking, and looking around.

6:40 pm – I sit back down with Aria to encourage her to eat her food.

6:45pm – I have lost my patience and now yelling at Aria to finish her dinner.

6:50 pm –  She has eaten 1/8 of her dinner and crying about not getting dessert.

7:00pm – She has eaten the minimally acceptable amount and puts her dishes away.  I never force her to clean her plate.  I believe that can lead to weight issues that many women in my family struggle with.  She tries to shove a whole brownie down in 2 minutes for dessert before I even had a chance to say anything.

8:00 pm – She is in the fridge, trying to figure out what she can get away with eating.

Unfortunately this is the what happens in my house 50% of the time.  I wish I was writing a blog about the magic solution to get those picky eaters to eat but I am still looking for it.  We have tried many different methods.  I thought she would grow out of it eventually like my older daughter, Avani, did.

When Avani was 2 she started to get picky about what she ate.  Eventually, we purchased some Nestle Dibs to use as a reward.  The rule was simple.   Eat 5 bites of your dinner, get a dib.  She loved chocolate so she ate it.  It was simple and it worked.  To this day, she’ll try just about anything that isn’t spicy and likes 90% of what she tries.

Aria started getting picky right around the same time, age 2.  Of course we tried the EXACT same thing.  While Aria loved chocolate even more than Avani, she would forgo the Dibs and still not eat.  Our house rule has always been that you could only eat what was served on the table.  I figured it was a phase, she was healthy, she made up with a big breakfast, and she seemed fine.

2 years went by and right before her 4th birthday, I told her that we would be implementing a new rule.  She no longer could just bypass dessert, she HAD to try 3 bites of something new before she could get up from the dinner table.  And so the extremely long dinner routine started.  By far, this has been the most effective rule to date however she is about to turn 7 in a few weeks and it is still a daily struggle after 5 years.

Here are the different methods we have tried and what our results have been.

  1. No dessert without eating your dinner – this got us nowhere fast with our stubborn one.  She was happy to not eat dessert and also not eat dinner.
  2. Proportioned dessert if you try 3 bites of something new – This has by far been the most successful but still a struggle.  It makes her at least try the food, knowing that she doesn’t have to eat much of it.  We end up at the table for over an hour.  She has found several foods that she likes that she had absolutely refused to try previously.  We eat a variety of ethnicities at our house so she has found she like Falafel, Thai Curry, Baby Corn and Turkey Meatballs to name a few (all available at Trader Joe’s).
  3. Adding a time limit – At this point, we have been sitting at the table for over an hour for several years.  I decided that we needed to implement a time limit so that she had to try what’s on the table (plus a decent amount of food in general) in less than 35 minutes.  This really hasn’t achieved anything more than a whole lot of tears.
  4. Hiding vegetables in meals – There were several ones that looked promising here.  Zucchini muffins were a hit but for entrees, she would pick apart the meal and even scrap off all the sauce of the lasagna until it was plain.
  5. Offer plain oatmeal in lieu of any meal – This is one my sister in law suggested to me recently and we are now starting to try out.  Using this tactic, we don’t force her to eat anything she doesn’t want to.  The idea being that she will eventually get sick of Oatmeal and decide to start eating other things.
  6. Get kids involved in the process – Aria actually really enjoys helping out in the kitchen.  I have been able to get her to take a few bites of a food that she put her own hard work into by having her participate from step one.  Even something GREEN!!!

Now the worst part is that she also has enlarged tonsils so if she really doesn’t like it (broccoli fits into this category) she will start gagging and even start vomiting.  Needless to say, I don’t make her try the broccoli.

If you are dealing with a picky eater like I am, my heart goes out to you!  Have you found that magic solution?  Please share what has worked and hasn’t worked for your kids. 

Haldi Shot – Natural Remedy for Colds and Sore Throat

Last week, right before I threw my annual block party I started to get that itchy feeling in my throat.  I knew what was coming.  My eyes started to feel heavy, my head felt congested and my nose was tingling.  It was the last thing I needed before throwing a party.  I knew I needed to act quickly.

Growing up in an Indian household, my parents are huge advocates of using turmeric powder aka haldi for a number of purposes besides cooking.    We have regularly used it to stop a bad cut in the same way that my friend Neha describes in her blog 9 Home Remedies to Stop Bleeding.  My mom has also tried to find ways to make it tolerable to consume while I am sick.

Customarily, the remedy includes a cup of milk with turmeric warmed up, aka Haldi Ka Doodh.  Frankly I do not drink plain milk and it is even more disgusting with the turmeric mixed in there.  There is no way that I could stomach a full glass.   Recently, my friend Shefali clued me into her trick that seems so obvious but I had never tried.  Since then, I have used it several times not only for me but it is also tolerable for my kids and it has yet to let me down.

haldi shot

HALDI SHOT

  1. Pour 3 tablespoons of Milk into a small glass
  2. Add 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric powder (you can buy this at any Indian grocery store and some chain grocery stores with a decent ethnic section)
  3. Stir Together
  4. Microwave for 10-15 seconds

Tips:

  • This will stain, make sure you take off any light color clothing that you might drip on
  • Wipe off your teeth with a paper towel immediately after so the yellow residue is not left on your teeth.
  • Take 3 times a day until your symptoms are gone.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still nasty.  The reason why this works is because you do not have to stomach a whole glass of nasty milk.

If you still can’t stomach this there are other ways to add turmeric to food.  Until I started with the Haldi shot I’ve added it to CoCo Wheats (chocolatey oatmeal) for me and my kids.   Obviously this  take much more time to prepare and unfortunately the kids still can taste it.

I drank this concoction Thursday night and Friday morning and never got the full blown cold.  Perfect!