The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Tag: authenticity

Today

I turn 37.

We have a snow day in Atlanta, and that is as good a reason as any to celebrate. So long as you are comfortably ensconced indoors, warm and toasty, tea and biscuits and toast handy, socks and blanket on the ready, books to read, movies to watch, that is… Yes, I realize that that does make me a very privileged person.

Birthdays come, birthdays go. This one is no exception.

Any day is a good one to feel grateful. Not that one can really “feel” grateful, because that would amount to mood making. However, simply becoming aware of everything one has been given in this lifetime would suffice. If gratitude wells up, so be it. If not, that is okay too.

If I have learned anything in this last one year, it is the importance of being authentic. Being truthful to oneself is the starting point of leading an authentic life. I am also beginning to see that it takes a certain degree of courage to lead this kind of a life. Now, I don’t regard myself as a courageous person at all (but maybe I am one?) but I have taken some decisions (or waltzed blissfully unaware into situations?) that some would regard as requiring courage. I have quit decently well-paying jobs, joined school part-time, changed careers, walked away from projects and activities typically deemed “good” for you… all with scant regard to long-term plans or profit or happiness. I went along with what I knew, what felt right, and the rest is history.

Today, I am happy and at peace. And it may be my naivete, but I wonder: How difficult is it to experience such contentment? I have done nothing particularly notable or spectacular in this lifetime thus far. I don’t have a glamorous job or title. I have no accolades or achievements to my credit. In fact, at the age of 37, I feel like a semi-retiree. I have found bliss in a cup of tea, a good book, a quiet walk, birdsong. I have found utter joy in solitude and emptiness.

Questions, questions… There is an eager child within who used to question endlessly. Now she lives in a state of perennially wide-eyed curiosity. The answers keep coming. Some days, I can hardly believe my luck. It feels like a treasure chest has opened within me, and I am lifting out one jewel after another. Such is my wonder and amazement at all these riches I find… I am too joyful to grab anything more than I can hold. Yet I have the confidence that the stream of riches is endless. It will never run dry.

If all that sounded like some kind of psychobabble, I apologize. I couldn’t help rhapsodizing about the many gifts I have received, as I walk along the path of introspection and self-enquiry.

Ahh, gratitude. I meant to talk about Mummy and Daddy.

Mummy

Amma

In a recent Facebook post, I remarked that Mummy’s love is like Space. You cannot grasp at it. It is impossible to get a hold of it. But it envelops you whole without touching you anywhere. As a child, I tried in vain to grab it — touch it, feel it, hug it. But I couldn’t. As an adult, I understand the sheer expansiveness of a love like that that only gives and asks nothing in return. Freedom… Mummy’s love was/is freedom and space, and I marvel at her spirit. She walks lightly on this planet.

Daddy

Achchan

In contrast, Daddy’s love is Earth. It is tangible and real. It expresses itself so clearly. If I were to describe Daddy’s love as a taste sensation, it would be like eating a date. So sweet, rich and unmistakably satisfying. It grabs you in all the right places, at the right times. It fills you up entirely.

There you have it… I grew up between Earth and Space. Held by one, freed by the other. Grounded by love, space and freedom.

Didn’t I say I was privileged?

So, on this lovely snow day, as I look out the window at our winter garden (still green), I see snow lightly splattered across the greenhouse roof and the bushes. I see bare trees, shiny sunlight, rays glinting through the spiny branches, and endless space.

Life is beautiful. It is Guru.

Chai Pani/Defining Authenticity

Chai_PaniA couple of weeks ago, we visited Asheville. It was a gorgeous Thanksgiving weekend. The trees were nearly bare, and the sunlight shone through brilliantly. We had a plan to visit Black Balsam Knob but it didn’t materialize. Well, it did but not the way we intended. Instead of getting to the summit of Black Balsam Knob, we meandered up a hiking trail that, I am sure, was a nearly dried-up stream. We walked through water and ice and snow for a while, then decided to turn right back. Sigh. I think we need to visit Asheville again. And make a plan to go to the summit of Black Balsam Knob.

All that walking got our appetites fired up, and we decided to go to the much-loved and much-talked about Chai Pani, Asheville. Once there, we ordered the Vegetarian Thali. As the menu states, the Thali comprises of dal, sambar, Konkani slaw, rice, paraantha, raita, dessert, paapad and entree of the day (happened to be Saag Paneer that day). Since both of us wanted to avoid dairy, we asked for an entree substitute. The server offered Chhole instead. Our platters arrived after a brief wait.

Hmmm, I wasn’t impressed.

For one, I couldn’t understand why a Thali would contain both sambar and dal. Now, a dal may be made with toor, moong, masoor, chana and/or many other legumes. However, this particular one, I believe, was made of toor dal (pigeon peas). Sambar is made from toor dal too. A combination of both sambar and dal ends up being way too heavy! In addition, both preparations were sweetish to taste. Oddly enough, the Chhole was rather sweet too. The Thali came with a pile of basmati rice (which also adds to the “heaviness” of the meal) and one homely paraantha. I helped myself to the house lime pickle that helped cut through the heavy, sweet nature of the various items. The red cabbage slaw was tangy, so that was helpful too. The Paapad was beautifully roasted. We skipped the raita and the sweet rice pudding.

I tweeted about my experience. A day after, the owner Meherwan Irani responded, asking me to explain. I described my experience over a few tweets. I also had an email exchange with Daniel Peach, the chef at Chai Pani, Atlanta (read an email interview I did with Daniel).

All this led me to think deeper about authenticity and how we define it.

Indian cooking dates back centuries, if not several millennia. Over the years, many new ingredients (e.g. potatoes, tomatoes) have made their way into traditional Indian cuisine. Any recipe may be altered, really. As someone who tries to avoid excessive sourness in her food, I substitute kokum for tamarind a LOT. Many Punjabi preparations use onions and garlic. I sometimes skip on those ingredients. Red chillies are often used for the spice factor. Sometimes, I rely on ginger and whole peppercorns instead. P is vegan, so we use dairy substitutes too in cooking, baking, etc.

Suffices to say that I cannot exactly talk about authenticity.

But I like to think that what makes a recipe somewhat authentic is the usage of that one ingredient which defines the preparation. For instance, sambar relies on tamarind for sourness. You can susbtitute kokum, but then what you end up with really isn’t sambar. It is, at best, a delicious tangy dal preparation. Hummus needs chickpeas, period. We use sprouted moong and all manner of legumes in place of chickpeas sometimes. The end result is always delicious, healthier even. But authentic? Probably not.

Some folks claim that a true biryani must be made with mutton. Ahh, I am a fan of the vegetable biryani!

There are many, many examples. So, the case rests, I think?

Finding My Food Blogging Voice

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For years I blogged on LiveJournal. It was an authentic voice, my foray into writing online. I was never casual with grammar, spelling, etc. even though blogging is a fairly casual sport. Or at least it used to be, when I began blogging, early 2004. I took my writing very seriously. Even while expressing the most flippant of thoughts, the most trivial of experiences… I made sure that I gave it my best. And it all felt very true, very much “in the flow,” very me.

Then I started writing about food here. It was 2010, I believe. By then, I had amassed a veritable folder of favorite food bloggers. The Gluten-free Girl and the Chef (I began reading Shauna before ‘and the Chef’ was added to the blog title), Tea and Cookies, Orangette, One Hot Stove, The Traveler’s Lunchbox, 101 Cookbooks. Each one of the above is a wonderful writer, completely authentic and natural in her writing style. I didn’t ever think of being intimidated by them – how could I? I was writing for the pure fun of it, wasn’t I? Yet, it seemed (and quite often too) that I was unable to translate my natural-real-flowing self into my food blogging. I discovered it on LiveJournal, it came alive and I was ecstatic. But here on The Rich Vegetarian, it felt like I was groping, trying too hard, trying to be witty, casual-smart, what have you.

I sometimes blamed it on the WordPress interface, that it felt very constraining, did not allow me to breathe, the fonts were clunky, blah blah. All excuses, I know.

Training to be an Art of Living instructor, I learned the importance of being vulnerable, authentic, natural. There is no other way to be, and it is the simplest way to be, really. I successfully managed to channel that freedom of spirit into my older blog (even as I brooded over the horrible writer’s block appearances, ached for the effortless flow, celebrated the words as they danced from my mind to the keyboard and onto the screen in sheer poetry)… now I intend to do it for The Rich Vegetarian. Darling, you deserve the real me, nothing less.