Experiences, Food, Gratitude, Little Moments, Memories

What’s cooking?

The list of homemade food that I have been making has steadily grown over the past few years. From homemade yogurt and dosai batter, I have graduated to making ghee, milgai podi, pickles of different kinds, paneer, hummus, ginger garlic paste, thiratti paal,banana bread, muffins, and I even experimented with making regular bread once or twice this summer.

I don’t think of myself as a passionate cook. However, I have finally figured out what motivates me to cook. I like knowing what ingredients go into the food that we eat. I like to make things from scratch without any pre-processed ingredients. I believe in eating clean, eating right (that we generously eat junk is a story for another day). I love understanding the properties of individual ingredients, the chemistry that develops when they come together and how they influence the taste, texture, smell and look of the finished meal. I love problem solving for missing ingredients. My kitchen is the place I am most spontaneous. When I have guests over, I put a lot of thought into planning and prepping my meals so I can offer them dishes that they like, avoid things they do not like, without having to spend all my time in the kitchen.

It only took me 15 years to evolve from a clueless cook in denial to a mindful one who has accepted her role as a primary provider of meals. Most of this evolution comes from seeing and talking to passionate cooks.

As a child I was a finicky eater. I didn’t/don’t eat curd, a blasphemy for folks in my clan. I ate very selected vegetables and for the longest time, I ate food only if it was hot.  But even for me, I am pleasantly surprised by how much of my childhood memories is associated with food. Hot hot venpongal with gotsu during puratasi sanikizhamai, onion vatha khozhambu and potato roast on Sundays, mango milk shakes and custards during summer, thakkali thokku and vengai sambar. Thank you amma not only for working around my finicky taste buds and cooking simple flavorful food  but also for being on call when I have a cooking crisis. And of course, for regaling me with Venkatesh Bhat recipes!

Laksh, food is probably the least discussed topic in our conversations. But your conviction about how food is a medicine and how much love you pour into making meals for your family has mostly certainly rubbed on me. Thank you for sharing your passion and for introducing us to cheese dosai and heart shaped dosai for breakfast. They have become a staple in our house.

I am also greatful to my friend P from college.  I love the little tricks and tips that she shares with me during our weekend calls. Many of my cooking adventures are sparked by the seeds she plants in my head.  “Oil is friend and water is enemy for cast iron”, “Just put a karandi and let the milk boil, thiratti paal is easy to make”  Or the way she tells how much she likes chopping vegetables or rolling chapatis. I have learnt to see cooking from a different lens, thanks to her.

Last but not least, I am thinking of my maternal grandma fondly as I type this post. She cooked up a storm every time we went. Oh how many varieties of sevais she made in one go (paruppu, ellu, thengai, lemon, velam, curd! ). Wow, patti, just wow! I just wish I had understood that cooking for her was an expression of love. That the only way she knew to shower love was by laboring in the kitchen. Thank you patti, thank you, for loving, caring and cooking.  

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Family, Food, Gratitude, Holidays, Kids, Little Moments, Memories

Good old Family Time

Once you lose momentum, getting your rhythm back is a challenge of gigantic proportion. I have been drafting this post for the past couple of nights. The tardiness is not due to lack of intent;  it was because yours truly literally fell asleep midway typing this post. With that disclosure out of the way, I hit the resume button on my gratitude journal.

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I clean the house, one room after the other, in an attempt to make up for the lower decibel levels and to help us get back to routine after a precious week spent with family. As I put the things away in their place, random memories from the past week flit by.

I stumble on my niece’s small heart shaped lego piece and a smile plays on my lips. This was one of her precious possessions, one she kept a very close tab on, not letting it out of her sight for a minute.  This little doll, by that I mean my sweet niece Shraddha, is a charmer. Atleast she knows the way to her athai’s heart.  With a twinkle in her eyes, the four year old picked her potato fry and commented, “Athai, potato is my favorite kai, thank you for making it so crispy.”  The look of delight and wonder on her face as she hung the barbie ornament in the christmas tree is a sight tucked in my treasure trove of memories. The way she strung letters or stretched her spelling to read and spell were moments of athai pride.  The home depot apron and the rolling pin tickle memories of our cooking adventures this week – the mutter panner, the aloo paratha, and the banana bread. The crayons, markers, the inflatable toys, all carry stories of cousins bonding and the delightful unending conversations amongst them, especially the pretend game lovers Ram and Shraddha.

I call Da “ukil” just like how my little nephew Amrit calls Da (ukil=uncle, athimber is too hard and too new for a soon-to-be-two year old, so ukil it is!). This past week Alexa has been part and parcel of our family fun. We would have listened to  Baa Baa blacksheep a hundred times. My nephew listening to the words as his body swayed  to the music. The squeals of delight as he saw the train chugging under the christmas tree or the way he screamed in excitement when Da returned from work or led Hari and Ram by his tiny finger to where his whim took him.  

I also enjoyed making childhood comfort foods, the combinations that amma used to prepare. Jeera sathumdhu, paruppu thogayal, kathrikia kai, arachuvitta khozhambu, mysore sathumdhu, vendakai kai, so on and so forth. There is something warm and fussy about sharing these simple childhood favorites that you grew up eating with the one you grew up with. I enjoyed seeing the dad in my brother Sathya. The tenderness with which he talks to his daughter,  the rolling up his sleeves to feed his children, and the sermonising the difference between rights and the wrongs of life to his kids. Also, how he pitched in to clean up after dinner, just the way we were taught to do as children.

My sil Wini is everything that I am not. Very paandam in all her endeavors. Be it carrying herself well or tending to her children, she does it with elan. Also seeing first hand how to eat in moderation, such self discipline this girl has! Most of all I loved seeing what a mindful parent she is, knowing her children inside out, paying attention to their rhythms.

All in all,  I am deeply grateful for the moments – small, big, rich, delightful, and everything in between that this week brought. I am thankful for the opportunity to have them in my turf for some good old family time!  

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Family, Gratitude, Life, Little Moments, Memories, Uncategorized

Relationships that matter (Gratitude Journal – Day 3)

My parents thought of Sundaram mama and mami  as their anna and manni (older brother and sis-in-law).  Sathya (my twin) and I considered S akka, their only daughter, as our elder sister.  They were our neighbors in Bhelpur, Trichy.  We have spent several nights gossiping in their house as a family, have gone to many movies together, and have coined insider jokes that only both our families understand.

Akka is one person who mails me every day. Yes. Every. Single. Day.  If there are breaks or long silences, it’s because I have slacked.  Some days, it’s a one-liner regarding day to day mundane stuff. On other occasions, we go through streaks of emails with profound conversations. She has kept me part of her everyday world and ditto with me.

Today, her daughter, who I think of as my niece visited us with her cousin. How nice it was bonding with these two smart and nice kids. This was my second time seeing P.  The last time I saw her, she was wearing her mom’s oversized chappals as a toddler (about 18 years back!). Her stay was short but sweet. We had several little moments today – skyping with akka, having P talk with my parents and brother, goofing off at Harvard campus, and eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Of course, my most cherished little moment of all, Hari and Ram bonding with her and wishing that she had stayed longer. I thought it would be apt to share this drawing that P sketched for Hari 6 years back. 

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Today, I am thankful from the bottom of my heart for this relationship that has made an imprint in my life, withstood the test of time and distance, and has spanned across generations.

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Experiences, Hari Katha, Little Moments, Memories, Ram Leela, Uncategorized

Kids and summer news

We have been basking in the glorious summer weather in our part of the world. As we cross the halfway mark, I remind myself not to get too used to this warmth. The icy cold hands of winter is just around the corner.

The kids were home for the first three weeks. The first week was spent in the company of one of my close friends and her family. Her son N celebrated his b’day with us. It was a week filled with endearing moments – Hari got to be the big brother that the little kids looked up to, Ram and N bonding over pokemon, pretend play and legos, N’s twin sisters regaling us with sweet toddler antics.

Ram and Hari are in the same camps all through summer.  I am pleasantly surprised by how much the boys are enjoying being in the same campus.  Hari checks on Ram in hallways and Ram hangs out with Hari at recess. There are even days when the boys co-ordinate their t-shirts so they can be “twins” at camp.  All on their own accord. That’s going to change for the next two weeks as Hari will be on a Trip and Adventure camp. And that’s good too, the kids will be on their own doing their own thing.

Hari is enjoying his summer baseball games. He is also indulging us by working on his math skills. While sports continue to be his first love, he definitely seems to be acquiring a taste and liking for crunching numbers. Once he overcomes the inertia, the wheels start spinning and whirring quite effortlessly.

Ram and I have been reading together a lot this summer. We read George’s Marvellous Medicine and Phantom Tollbooth. Ram’s penchant for picture walking has inspired me to practice my non-existent drawing skills.  Nothing original, just copying illustrations in his story books.  It’s true that the deer I draw looks like a cow and the only flower I seem to be capable of drawing is a tulip, but when there is an eager little person sitting next to you, sharing the paper, unleashing his creativity, enjoying the companionship, you plod along.

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Gratitude, Kids, Little Moments, Memories, Milestones, Ram Leela, Uncategorized

Pangs

The day left me with a heart full of pang.

Ram had his KG orientation. He met his future teachers and was thrilled to be in the same classroom that his anna went to. He looked so tiny in that big school. He was at ease, taking pride in knowing the directions to the playground and parking lot, walking me through the corridors, and eagerly following his teachers. Such innocence…!

Just feels like yesterday that we went for Hari’s orientation but six years have flown by in the blink of an eye. Hard to believe the child who is up to my shoulder height and threatens to lift me, was once this itsy bitsy person that was a mommy magnet.

I finished correcting the final answer papers of Sunday school kids. Next weekend will be the last class for the academic year after which I have to gracefully let them go. Seems unfair, just when we are getting to know each other, the year has drawn to a close.

It’s true what they say, the days are long but the years are short. Super short. So very thankful for every moment of it..!

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Family, Kids, Little Moments, Memories, Uncategorized, Writing

Prayer Book

If you were born and brought up in a tamil brahmin household, then chances are you have seen your thatha, patti, appa, amma or other kith and kin dutifully write Sriramajayam daily in their best handwriting in a book exclusively dedicated for this purpose. I know I have seen both my paternal grandpas and my appa follow this practice. And when I got married, I was pleased to see that my father-in-law practiced this daily habit as well. 

I don’t know when it rubbed on me,  but I too have a prayer notebook in which I pen the name of the deity that I heart – Ganesha. I am not as dutiful, I don’t write everyday, not necessarily in my best handwriting, but I do resort to it especially when I have the need to tangibly express my faith. There is so much peace in surrendering, in letting go, in accepting that you do not control everything, and that it’s going to be ok. My prayer book is the thing I resort to when I am in need of a security blanket.

Hari has seen me write in that book for the past 10 years. It has his 5 year old handwriting in it. The practice has intrigued him, and now Ram is curious too. Why do you write that? What will you do with the book after you have completed? How many times have you written? So on and so forth.

This May when it was my fil’s b’day we were debating about how we wanted to celebrate the day? The popular vote was for appa’s favorite snack – onion pakoda. Noooooooo! Right suggestion to the wrong person. I dislike deep frying from the depths of my heart, so I vetoed it in a heartbeat and came up with an alternative, expecting it to be shot down – “Hey guys, thatha used to write Sriramajayam in a notebook everyday, may be you should write today by way of thinking of thatha.”  

Ram wrote Ram five times on the back of an envelope and Hari took a new ruled notebook and proudly called it Hari’s Prayer Book and wrote his first set of  Sriramajayam. Since that day he has been dutifully writing everyday. It has been more than a month and he is going strong. All on his own accord. When I asked him why he chose to keep up with it, he said “I don’t know. I just want to  write” And that’s as good a reason as anything else.

 

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Experiences, Family, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Kids, Little Moments, Memories, Milestones, Ram Leela, Uncategorized

Play Ball

Now that Ram is also playing ball, our weekends are spent hopping from one baseball field to another. Some days I wish we had more time to ourselves but most of the days I am thrilled that Hari gets to do something that he is passionate about. If we don’t support him in his endeavors, who else will? 

Hari is playing for the town team as well as for a private club. The former is for fun and the latter is serious training. In the town team, Hari gets many opportunities to pitch, is a good hitter,  and is shining bright. Today the parents from his team lavished praises on him. Got the mom in me thumping with joy. In the private club, the standards are much higher, the players are more competitive, and Hari’s potential is stretched. It’s a humbling experience for him and takes his skills to the next level.

Ram is having a ball at his baseball practices. Mostly, because he gets to hang out with his buddies. It’s too early to say if his heart is in it. Hari complains that he takes too many breaks. “Just let him be Hari.  He is only five years old. If it’s his thing, he will eventually get to it. If it’s not, we will support him in whatever he is interested”  As I put it in perspective for him, I put parenting in perspective for myself.

Da seems to be enjoying the coaching gig. Hari tags along with him during weekend practice sessions and is coaching the little kids, which he simply loves!

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