Dec 5, 2016

My food principles

 Healthy eating is not only about what foods to eat, which ingredients and raw materials to use, but it is also about cooking techniques. I'm listing out a few principles that I follow diligently at home and for my EthnicPalate catering initiative.

1) I don't prep or chop vegetables ahead of time. I know people who chop for a week and freeze the required veggies. But I believe that nutrition gets lost if veggies are chopped beforehand. I ALWAYS chop them just before I start to cook. This applies to my catering orders as well.

2) I make sprouts, peel small onions/garlic cloves and grate coconut all by myself. None of the store-bought peeled onions / packed sprouts for me. Hygiene is a very important factor that I can't take a chance with. Moreover, the freshness of the just-peeled shallots/garlic is completely lost. I'm perfectly okay to shed a few tears and peel the small onions, just before frying :-)

3) When I'm making salads, I chop the vegetables just when they are needed. If I'm offering salads in my EthnicPalate lunch menu, I start chopping the required veggies 30 minutes before I need to deliver them. I plan my time accordingly in order to serve a fresh, juicy salad.

3) During my childhood, we never had a fridge at home. Though the food at home was basic and simple, it was always prepared fresh. My parents/grandparents never followed the reheating / freeze-ahead practices of today. Having grown up in such an environment, I just cannot make sambhar/rasam/dal for a week, keep in the fridge, take out a small portion and reheat it. The food doesn't taste good when made this way. I had to politely decline a couple of orders when a neighbor requested me to prepare and refrigerate a meal for a few days since he was out of town on the day I had offered the menu. According to Ayurveda, cooked food has to be consumed within 3-4 hours. Beyond that, food turns toxic due to negative forces ("aama").

4) I invest around 2 hours in cooking on a daily basis, making 3 meals. Yes, it is an investment towards my health and that of my family members. I don't consider it as an expense/waste of time. I did outsource the work for a few years by hiring a cook. Given the control-oriented nature of mine, it gets very uncomfortable when the cook bunks unannounced, which happens a lot by the way. Most of the times, either the oil used would be too much or the quantity made would be excess for our small family of 3. So I decided to take charge of cooking completely and it has brought a lot of joy and freedom. I invest more time in cooking during weekends for my catering orders to serve fresh, healthy, home-cooked food to my neighbors.

5) Though I cook fresh food for most meals, I ensure the quantity I prepare is just right. I hate wasting food and I'm aware of the right quantity required for my family. So there's hardly any food being thrown out. I'm hesitant to put up a stall elsewhere to expand my food catering service, mainly because of the food that might get wasted due to unknown demand.

The underlying principle behind all this -
Let "convenience" not take a significant role in our lives that it interferes with our "health" (and environment)

Take time to cook fresh meals for yourself and for your family. It is worth the time and effort.

Nov 14, 2016

The treat to eyes

Playing hide and seek,
or feeling shy to be the
center of attraction today?

As I soak in your beauty
the chill breeze gently ruffling my hair,
my little girl exclaims
"moon is normous!"

who cares about correcting
her cute little vocabulary,
when I see the glee
in her bright black eyes

I capture your magnanimity
with the lens of my eyes,
my smartphone resting
peacefully at home

For I know I won't be alive
when you come this close
the next time around

those imperfectly perfect
craters that adorn you
like a beautiful bride,
those thick dark 
clouds that wrap you
like a soft pashmina

Oh! you super moon,
shining in all your glory
you are a treat to our
tired, puffy eyes!

Nov 7, 2016

How to glow from within?

Image Source: 

During a friend's birthday get-together, one of my friends complimented that my face has been glowing and was asking what I'm doing differently. Honestly, I didn't realize it, although I was aware that the pimples were out for the last few months (touchwood!). Her kind words made me ponder about the many changes I've been embracing over the past couple of years. I have summarized them as 8 reasons below:

(1) First and foremost, it HAS to be Yoga. I have been pretty much consistent at it for the past 1.5 years. Yoga has brought so much change in me, both in my body and in my mind. I can't explain the feeling of calm and peace in words but it just feels wonderful. During Yoga sessions, my teacher insists on breathing practice and I try to take deep breaths at least during that one hour of practice every morning.

(2) My passion towards healthy eating. It has become a way of life and I don't get tempted by any of the packaged junk. I cook for my family and eat home-cooked food most of the time. We eat out once or twice a week at the max. I cook from different cuisines of India and I believe that "eating local" is the key to good health. I have stopped the 4 whites almost completely. No white sugar (I use cane sugar instead). I don't use maida at home for regular cooking. Even during my occasional baking activity, I use wheat flour instead of maida or try to increase the wheat flour:maida proportion. Instead of iodized salt, I use Himalayan pink rock salt. White polished rice has given way to hand-pounded rice, millets and Rajamudi red rice. I eat my dinner 2-3 hours before bedtime. I have cut down a LOT on tea/coffee - milk tea once a day and green tea twice a day. I'm a vegetarian (and most of the dishes I cook are vegan). I love eating a lot of vegetables and fruits. I don't smoke or drink alcohol.

(3) Expression of my individuality. 2016 deserves a special mention in my life story for this very activity. Each of us has a keen interest or passion towards something. Most of the times, we don't make time for it, given the pressures of work and life. Identifying one's passion is in itself hard. On top of that, making time for it is even more challenging. If we suppress our expressions, it causes more stress and in general, lack of focus or purpose in life. EthnicPalate though very small in the idea/scale/execution, is an expression of myself, my passion and my beliefs/values. I look forward to spreading awareness on healthy eating using local foods through EthnicPalate every day. I'm so grateful that a few who have tried my food so far have loved it and have been kind to share positive, encouraging feedback.

(4) Importance of good sleep. I NEED my 7-8 hours of sleep every day. I will never take up any work or activity that will grab my sleep hours. I don't take pride in doing night-outs or long working hours. I would instead feel guilty if I ever do so.

(5) Exposure to limited pollution. I used to commute to work until a few months back. Though my office is hardly 6-7 kms from my home, the pollution and traffic was taking a toll on me. Due to various other personal reasons, I switched back to working from home and I couldn't be more happier.

(6) Staying positive. I used to hold grudge against a few people who have let me down when I needed them the most and as a result, a lot of self-pity for myself. I have come out of that phase by keeping myself busy with productive activities. I neither watch TV nor read newspapers. I stay away from negative people or cynics. Just an hour of talking to such people drains me out completely. I try not to take stress about events or people at work. 

(7) The belief that beauty is within. I don't find visiting beauty parlors a relaxing or de-stressing activity. I find quite the opposite. The constant complaints I receive from the beauticians "Oh ma'am, you have so many blackheads", followed by the painful process of pricking them out - Why would I want to undergo such torture every month, just because the "media" says that women MUST do this clean-up? The cost, time, pain - so not worth it. I follow a few herbal facial procedures at home and I'm satisfied with them. I no longer use ANY chemicals on my face or body - cream, lotion, lipstick, nail paints etc. I have switched completely from shampoo to herbal hair wash powders. I don't succumb to the pressure created by the society, media or the carefully crafted marketing material of multinational brands on their definition of a woman's beauty.

(8) I appreciate the fact that I'm unique, different and weird in my own way and I allow myself to be who I am. I love myself for this "attitude". I don't care about other's opinions or if people judge me for who I am. I cannot control anyone's thoughts and so I keep myself busy by working on myself and my various interests. There are miles to go, lots to learn and ideas to try.

What works for me may or may not work for you. The only takeaway from this post is "work on yourself consciously". Don't let others opinions bother you. It is YOUR life. Live it the way you are comfortable with.

Nov 2, 2016

Book Review: Skyfire by Aroon Raman

Image Source: Flipkart

 The synopsis of the plot intrigued me, especially the "freak weather disturbances" phrase. Skyfire by Aroon Raman is a fast-paced thriller which links various issues from child kidnapping to weather change.

Right from the first chapter, the suspense builds up at a steady pace, leaving many ends loose until it all ties up together towards the end. The author deserves credit not only for keeping up the interest levels of the reader but also taking the time to explain a scene and build up the narrative.

I haven't read his earlier books but references to Shadow Throne in a few places in this book made me want to pick it up soon. It is difficult to write a review without spoilers, especially for a thriller novel. But I'm proud to say that I guessed the negative character right, somewhere around the middle part. Maybe, there is a bit of Meenu in me! :-) She is my favorite character in the book - her strength lies in figuring out missing pieces of the puzzle at critical junctures that other two lead characters might miss easily.

The only area where I felt the author could have done better was that some of the gory descriptions and violence could have been avoided.

If you'd like to read an interesting page-turner, I highly recommend Skyfire. And make sure, you have some uninterrupted time on a weekend afternoon to finish this book in one go.

 P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback of the book.

Oct 28, 2016

Why "reduce" is the only option for sustainable living

Among the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), I'm a strong believer that "reduce" is THE need of the hour to preserve whatever is left of our environment. 

The plastic ban imposed in a city like Bangalore is a welcome move but what's the alternative? Supermarkets and large-scale grocery chains have switched to brown paper bags for vegetables and fruits. I used to collect and reuse the plastic bags earlier but with paper, they are so flimsy and easily tear apart when you try to remove the price tag. When I end up going to these supermarkets, I leave behind a pile of use-and-throw paper bags in my garbage bin.  When I want to throw a party or fulfill food orders for my EthnicPalate initiative, I opt for areca-nut plates and cups. What is the source of these paper bags and areca-nut plates? Trees, of course. So if we need to switch from plastic to eco-friendly alternatives, we have to extract materials from the environment. How many trees need to be cut in order to implement the so-called eco-friendly switch? How much more can we destroy the planet for the sake of our convenience? 

I recently came across a very interesting, thought-provoking TED talk by Leyla Acaroglu, a sustainability strategist and designer based out of Australia. I highly recommend you take a look. Among the many observations and insights she shared, the one point that struck me was the design of refrigerators. The size keeps getting bigger and the number of sections and doors keep increasing, with new models and brands coming into the market each year. As a result, we hoard on groceries and fresh produce, without being aware of what's in stock. In the USA, around 40% of food purchased for the home is wasted. For a country like India where 270 million people live below the poverty line, it would be a crime to waste food.

Just imagine the resources and raw material that went into producing a kilogram of vegetables. Not to forget the energy and effort of the farmer. If we buy such produce in bulk and waste half of it, it's not just our hard-earned money that gets wasted but also the energy expended in the entire lifecycle - the chain of events from farming, harvesting, food preservation, transportation and storage. 

Buy only what's required. You don't need to stock up on all kinds of vegetables and fruits in your fridge. You don't need all kinds of grains and lentils in your pantry. Buy less, finish them and then go for your next purchase. Don't fall into the trap of bulk purchases and mindless discounts. I'm not exaggerating but I find myself to be more creative in the kitchen when I have fewer supplies. 

Be mindful of every little thing that enters your home and that gets added to your shopping cart (both online and offline). It only takes an extra minute to think whether you need a particular product or if you can postpone the purchase. 

The increasing popularity of Dhanteras and Akshaya Tritya (auspicious days to buy stuff) can only be attributed to carefully crafted marketing plans of consumer goods companies and jewelers.

This Diwali, let's ensure there is space in our homes (fridge, pantry and wardrobes too) for light and air to flow freely and not load our homes with "stuff". 

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