SIMPLY BEING

Tag: food (page 1 of 4)

Chasing Experience

Rewinding back to Christmas Day…

It started on an inauspicious note. The morning chai was awfully unsatisfactory. Something wasn’t right with the coconut milk. Then, my beloved poha chivda recipe, the one I had perfected over many attempts, didn’t deliver. I had made a fresh batch that morning, and it just wasn’t good enough. Aargh! In a totally unplanned move, I made a second batch of chai mid-morning. I wanted to erase the memory of bad chai and bad poha chivda. But the 10:30am chai was equally dismal.

Lunch was a tad better. Husband had made a delicious biryani in honor of Jesus’s birthday. It was SPICY yet spectacular. I had a strong feeling that I would regret all those additional helpings but I badly wanted to overwrite the less-than-perfect food and drink experiences from earlier in the day. So much so that I cleaned up the biryani that evening, and well… it was a bit too spicy for me.

I recognized clearly that I was so eager to have a good experience because I wanted to erase the memory of the previous one. And I also knew that a new experience, no matter how phenomenal, couldn’t/wouldn’t deliver. It was too tall an order. And yet I kept chasing it all day, Christmas Day. Maybe lunch will be better than breakfast, the evening chai can make up for the miserable one from morning, and so on.

And when all attempts fail, there is sugar. I have seen time and again that I reach for sugar when I am dissatisfied. We don’t have candy around but there are figs! Dates! A dried fig with a couple of cashews works. Or perhaps a date laced with almond butter. All healthy and delicious but again, trying so hard to fill that gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction. The days when meals are great, and I am supremely sated, there is no need for additional sweetness. It’s all perfect. And of course, when there is a steady sense of happiness within, a feeling of joyful creativity, even a less-than stellar meal can’t make a dent.

What helps in these situations? A palate cleanser! Raw fennel seeds are perfect.

Eat in Quiet Silence

I eat lunch alone at work.

I eat around noon, perched on a stool along a long table, facing a full length window looking out at the Downtown Atlanta skyline. It is a lovely view. I take my time, chewing as slowly as I am able to (I am not the most patient eater), occasionally peeping into my phone, but mostly eating and looking out, quiet.

It is the way I like it, really. I have come to realize that it is important, especially for me, to eat slow. When I am able to do that, I come away from lunch feeling satisfied and nourished, sans any kind of stuffed-discomfort-bloat. However, I have had the opposite experience too, and that makes me think  … I need to eat in slow silence.

I enjoy meeting friends, sharing food and laughter and talk and fun. However, it isn’t always the best for me, food-wise. I tend to eat in an unmindful manner, chewing be damned. I am not 100% aware of what I consume. It isn’t generally a problem of eating too much (I am rather conservative in that aspect), but more about swallowing without chewing well, ingesting a lot of air with food, and ending up feeling that I might just need to skip the next meal. And then I am left sipping warm herbal tea through the day, waiting for the bloated feeling to go away.

This never happens during my workday lunches.

The trick now lies in being able to combine my calm-n-silent weekday lunch mode with company.

Fewer Choices

Cardamom Orange Bread

I am quite thankful to the fact that my diet/lifestyle choices (or constraints, if you want to call them that) have eased my life a great deal.

I no longer have to pick a brand of cereal from the endless aisle. I don’t have to pore through a long list of restaurant dining options. Picking from a list of snacks, desserts, baked goodies, etc. is perfectly manageable. Choosing is infinitely simpler when you have restricted options. Cut out meat, dairy, eggs, alcohol, and sugar, then remove spicy chile peppers, vinegar, refined oil/flours, processed/fried foods, in addition to all Vata and Pitta aggravating elements… you end up with a short, sweet list. Easy to pick from.

I do like the occasional dessert/samosa, and I will indulge, guilt-free. However, it remains a rare indulgence.

I often end up in the middle of conversations about diet, health, exercise, etc., and it is slightly embarassing to admit to my various lifestyle choices. It makes me self-conscious, but the truth is that I owe a lot (possibly everything) to my discipline or lack of cravings, call it whatever. It is easier to own up to these choices than to hide behind an awkward explanation.

Health is a great blend of inheritance and smart choices. I think I got a good set of cards, but I am also learning to play them well.

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 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 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 use 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 isn’t exactly 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?