Seeds of health

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Time and again, I am bought into the idea of super foods that I diligently attempt to include in my family’s everyday diet. I make sure to stock my kitchen pantry with green tea, oatmeal, quinoa, walnuts etc. and my refrigerator with avocado, greens and berries, just to list a few. Off late, the bandwagon is joined by 2 newcomers in the form of seeds

  1. Flax seed
  2. Chia seed

The numerous health benefits that these two ingredients have is quite too often discussed with regard in the food world. Chia seeds, indigenous to South America, are loaded with fiber, protein and Omega -3 fatty acids. They are also high in vitamins and minerals like calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous that are essential for bone health. They are usually grown organically and are naturally free of gluten. Due to high levels of fiber and protein content, these seeds are highly recommended in weight loss programs. They are believed to control high blood pressure as well as blood sugar given their antioxidant property. It is only befitting for ‘Chia’ to mean strength in ancient Mayan.

Flax seeds, believed to be native to Egypt, have omega 3 fatty acids that helps in healthy glowing skin. It is also high in fiber content which helps improve digestive health or remove constipation. Its high anti-oxidant qualities is supposed to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Consumption of flax seed also helps in moderate regulation of blood sugar level. It is believed to fight many types of cancer, including breast, prostate, ovarian and colon cancer. Its high fiber-low carbohydrate combination is an excellent recipe to combat weight gain. Flax seed is best absorbed in ground form as it is easier to digest.

I find ways to incorporate these ingredients in my everyday meal, by sprinkling a table spoon or two of these to most food items, be it salads, soups, side dishes, dosa batter, chapatti dough or rice dishes. They make for excellent ingredients in baked goodies too. The addition of small quantities of these seeds do not bring a noticeable variation to the taste or texture of food as they do not possess any peculiar smell or taste. These seeds find their way in smoothies, cereals and yogurt on a fairly regular basis. Chia seeds, when soaked, become tiny, slimy globules with interesting texture that qualifies for a perfect condiment in refreshing drinks.

Using these in moderation and discretion is a key reminder to maintain balance of nutrient intake. Anything, including super foods if consumed in excess is rather toxic to the body than beneficial. Add these ingredients in creative ways to your daily cooking to reap full benefits. There is no effort required or time wasted in finding unusual and complicated recipes.

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Chia seeds
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Flax seed powder

My husband’s bulging waistline continues to make a mockery of my culinary efforts. I don’t give up. Like an invincible warrior on a single-minded pursuit, I patiently wait for the day when my seedy adventures proudly stand testimony for a naturally flat belly, not sucked in as seen in photos 🙂

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Parent-child hood

02120015  There is nothing as nostalgic, yet rewarding, as flipping through the pages of an old album that transports you in time and place. Old pictures have a unique flavor that transfixes you in frozen bits in time. Now and then, I sift through the synopsis of special moments of our lives captured by our old fashioned camera, long before smart phones invaded our safeguarded lives. And tucked most safely among our precious collection are pictures of our 2 daughters in all stages. Some just tug at your heartstrings, others elicit a spontaneous giggle or two and quite a few others leave you simply stupefied. Most importantly, I am reminded and reinforced to embrace each passing moment as I realize how time flew from their toddler years to young adulthood. Thanks to unnumbered nights of bed time stories, sweet lil’ rendezvous amidst diaper changes, endless summer days lazing in the pool and the park, nice long walks among talks with them in strollers, unforgettable tantrums and reprimands, for having made the bonds stronger than feebler.

With each passing year, my ubiquitous presence around them had slowly started to vanish. Bed-time stories would become a thing of the past, the amount of  home work help needed had started to wean, there was almost no assistance required in everyday chores, and to top it all, my views and opinions started to be vehemently questioned . I bit my lip and held back tears as I had no choice but to witness this transformation. It is truly an art for a parent to accept the independence of their off-springs with the same flair that they proudly ruled the world of these once helpless and hapless beings. I had started to question the purpose and worth of my role as a mother, except, I knew to avert damage and change gears to ensure a smooth ride together. It helps to have a reminder to our parent selves to steer the course so we don’t lose our own in unexpected twists and turns.

img_0967    Over the period of time, I painfully taught myself attachment in detachment, reminded myself to be more receptive and less defensive, to be a friend and a guardian to my kids and to use these roles with discretion. I smile at the gentle disapproval of my teenager on matters of disagreement just as I used to find joy in the warmth of her hugs and kisses as a toddler. Just like I had cheered their tiny strides attempting to catch up with my long ones, I am now cheered to catch up to their faster jogging pace. The camaraderie, friendship and sisterhood received is priceless, in return for trying to understand their lives, their struggles and aspirations as opposed to thrusting my ideas and dreams on them. My off-springs taught me to strive to be more liberal than narrow-minded, a listener(still working on this!) than a preacher, less judgemental and more forgiving, less rigid and more flexible. Undoubtedly, there are qualities that individuals can teach themselves to acquire at any point in their lives, only if they are willing to. I have learned more from my children than I ever taught them. It is time for role reversal and it is unquestionably going to stay. The driver and passenger have exchanged seats, literally and metaphorically. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

In the battlefield of parenting, there are no winners or losers. If we win, we win together. If we lose, both sides lose.

 

 

 

 

‘Kitchen’esthetics

Weekday mornings find me springing up from bed, thanks to my wake up alarm set to 5:50 am, and barging straight to the kitchen after a hurried round of bathroom rituals! Next thing, I see myself scurrying for food in my refrigerator, pulling out a container of batter, fiercely cutting fruits, chopping vegetables, breaking an egg or two among the slew of chores that a healthy breakfast and a fancy lunch demand. As the freshly fermented dosa batter is spread on the hot griddle with one hand, a sip of steaming hot filter coffee would be consumed with the other hand while attempting to tune in to the BBC news broadcast, all at the same time! To me, the day doesn’t seem to start off right with a low productivity quotient. I have figured over the tenure of motherhood that multitasking is one label women so proudly wear on their sleeves, considering themselves to be the be-all and end-all of their families’ existence!

Mornings are also queerly the perfect time to put my hard earned beauty tips into practice. Almost always as an impulsive gesture, the leftover cucumber on the cutting board makes a quick appearance in the form of a face mask, at other times it is tomato pulp or the white of an egg. Avocado, coconut oil and honey to name a few have also made their way to the hall of fame list of my aesthetic products. It is amusing to see the startled faces of my kids as they open their sleepy eyes to their mom’s changing avatars ! It goes without mention that there is a wealth of skin care products in the pile of fruit and vegetable leftovers that end up in our kitchen trash. Often times for me, self-pampering is not the long drawn, carefully laid out, step by step process, rather an impromptu act.

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Credit: Google images

Going back to the do-it-yourselves tips on skin and hair care, here are a few benefits that I learned about some of these natural ingredients. According to most recent fad, coconut oil is the best nourishing cream found in nature, in addition to being a super food. Cucumber juice, tomato pulp or mashed banana can all make for a refreshing and brightening mask and so is ground orange peel+yogurt+honey mix. Oatmeal powder mixed with warm water or milk makes a fine face scrub. Sliced cucumber or potato applied on the eyes are believed to reduce dark circles. The white of the egg counts for an excellent skin firming agent, whereas the yolk helps nourish hair. Honey and avocado mask helps in acne treatment. Avocado, rich in unsaturated fat and vitamin E is famously known to moisturize dry skin. Aloe Vera is another popular kitchen ingredient that is part of my skin and hair care agenda. It has great skin-soothing and healing properties and makes for a rich hydrating hair conditioner. There is a plethora of products that make for effective home made masks, and that includes pretty much everything in the kitchen pantry except, probably salt and pepper!

Lunch boxes for the family are neatly lined up on the counter top, 30 minutes into the culinary acrobatics. I realize I can no longer handle my stiff-lipped mumbles through the dried up layer of the flaky mask. I make a hasty trip to the sink for a quick face wash as the school bus alarm goes off, to render the rest a glimpse of my real face!!

 

Cruise On

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Enjoying a sip under my “CRY” hat                                               Photo credits: Rashmi Kheni

The much hyped-about cruise trip was almost coming to an end. After 5 days of witnessing and experiencing gluttony and extravagance,we were more than ready to debark, an average of 5 pounds heavier than when we embarked. Post glory and gloating in the West Caribbean bound cruise with fun-loving friends, reality struck on our drive back home. This time there was exhaustion in place of excitement. There was also a sense of relief and hope of finally tasting my home made rasam and curd rice and revel in its simplicity! The great catastrophe was yet to strike the entire family on our home-bound journey, though ‘catastrophe’ would be a slight exaggeration 🙂

Little did I know when hubby dear plonked down on the bed that he had no intention to get up from there for the next 3 days, rather he was unable to. My kids were not to be spared either from the attack of microorganisms that we decided to bring home as souvenirs. The thermometer literally traveled from one mouth to the next. I transformed overnight into a la Florence Nightingale- a coughing one at that. I am starting to wonder what kind of life must it have been for the real Florence Nightingale. How did she survive it all? Well, the following days saw doctor’s visits lined up and increasingly dwindling resources of my medicine cabinet. Come night, the stage is set for duet cough performance by my husband and I, resembling a jugalbandhi of sorts, that could put the maestros to shame! If there is a term called coughomaniac, we should be awarded the best coughomaniac couples. Days are busily scheduled with usual rounds of gargling, steaming, humidifying and gulping down pills after a meal of hot soup, yet through this all, none of the social media indulgence was to suffer. Facebook profile updated – check, Whatsapp greetings exchanged – check, long-distance calls made – check!

I accidentally spot myself in the mirror, only to realize my face is a far cry from the glam girl I posed as in the cruise. In its place, all I see is skeletal remnants reminiscent of the ruins we saw in the Mayan temples of Chichen Itza in Progreso, Mexico. During this time of distress, I was alighted by life’s small joys like when my thoughtful daughter gifted me a set of 6 essential oils proving how well she had read my mind. Thank God for daughters! I also found my favorite “CRY” hat that I gave up hope of finding after incessant search. I had thought I lost it to the bowels of the ocean when it decided to resurface out of no where. I cried out of joy just the way I did after spotting that vibrant, florescent fish swerving in and out of a perfectly folded coral reef off the coast of Cozumel. Talk about life’s simple pleasures!

As I am snuggled up in my blanket in the living room sofa this New Year of 2017, I am reminded of yin and yang – the theory of opposites, the concept of balance. Just like we thrive in life’s luxuries, happiness and sunny side, we should also be ready to embrace the downside, the little inconveniences and the pain. This too shall pass. At least there is solace that it is only physical!

‘Lemon-Cilantro’ Couscous

Today’s recipe is ‘Lemon-Cilantro’ Couscous. Couscous, pronounced as koos-koos, made its way into my pantry very recently, like about a month ago. Though I had tasted couscous dishes before at friends’ place and parties etc, I hadn’t tried them out of my habit to stick to my routine recipes. Well, finally when I explored the couscous culinary world, it wasn’t a hard shift at all. It is a very bland grain that doesn’t effuse its own strong flavor, just like rice. That makes this grain very versatile in terms of usage, since you can literally make anything with it like pulav, upma, salads, soups, or plain couscous with any side dish. In fact couscous is a type of parboiled semolina pasta, made from durum wheat. It is relatively high in protein and fiber. The whole wheat version is definitely healthier.

Now, going on to the ‘Lemon-Cilantro’ recipe, it is quite similar to the lemon rice recipe, except rice is replaced by couscous:

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Couscous  – 3/4 cup

Water – 1 1/4 cup

Olive oil – 2 table spoon

Cumin – 1 tsp

Mustard – 1/2 tsp

Urad dal – 1 tsp

Asafoetida – 1/4 tsp

Turmeric – 1/2 tsp

Curry leaves – 1 sprig

Green chilli – 4

Peanut or cashew – 1/2 cup

Cilantro – 1/2 bunch

Lemon – 1

Salt – 1 1/2 tsp

Sugar – 1/4 tsp

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In a pan, boil water with 1/2 tsp oil and a pinch of salt. Add couscous and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Switch off the stove and let the couscous cool down.

In a heavy-bottom or non-stick pan, add oil. Once it heats, add in mustard,urad dal and cumin. When the mustard splutters, add curry leaves, green chillies and asafoetida. Stir for couple of minutes, add in turmeric and peanuts. Stir for another minute and add the cooked couscous. Sprinkle salt and sugar and mix well. Cover the pan and let the couscous cook in low for about 5 minutes. This helps the flavor of all ingredients seep in. Switch off the stove and add chopped cilantro. Squeeze in the lime and mix well. Serve ‘lemon-cilantro’ couscous while it is still warm.

Do or Die

You can have a false sense of success from not daring to fail. You thought since you never failed, it was success all along. If there were no consequences, there were no actions taken either. The cocoon that you spin around yourself is but a false sense of satisfaction, protection and security.

There are only two choices – either you do or you do not. Success is when you dare to ‘DO’, no matter you succeed or fail, when you dare to speak, when you advocate change, when you dare to be judged. Given a choice, I rather fall and rise again than not fall at all. I rather get shunned for speaking my mind than not speak at all, I rather reach out, help needed or not.

When you experiment and experience, there is more visibility and transformation!

Duck-like!

Long drives have a compelling way of taking your thoughts on uncharted pathways that form a complicated mesh you find yourself helplessly entrapped. That is my mind at work, usually on my long commute to and from work where the heavy thought traffic easily beats the busy roads outside any given day!

So queer are the ways of the human mind that ‘living in the moment’ is a state that is not yet mastered. I often muse if this is an unconquerable feat for human mind, this state of being in the present, where you don’t wallow in the self-inflicted suffering from your past or angst for the future. Come to think of it, a high percentage of our thought process is rather futile than productive. Our brain is effectively a rerun of mindless thoughts of situations that threaten to destroy our ego, security, reputation, power to name a few. We are yet to imbibe the true essence of mindful meditation that offers space to accept any situation the way it is and find solutions for problems with a clear mind. Evolution has rendered us a far superior species at the loss of the art of simple living. What seems like an immeasurable leap from the stone age for human beings in terms of civilization is a battle lost in the areas of conscious living.

As a stroke of relief, my thoughts are interrupted at the sight of the placid lake beneath the bridge that my car moved at snail’s pace on. I spot a few ducks wading peacefully as if to put my over-thinking existence to shame. My mind is now in reverse gear in an attempt to undo the inconsequential thought process, to reclaim the energy wasted on the unplanned detours. These simple creatures teach me a thing or two by modeling the ‘living in the moment’ mantra. There is a sudden wave of stillness and contentment that inevitably strikes me at the daily sight of this natural wonder, it is almost humbling. I look forward to those moments of quietness inside with great diligence and regularity that I find myself craning out of my car window onto the vast water body below for my daily dose of sanity. Thank goodness for such lovely creations in nature, there is respite from the craziness of our over-driven mind. If only we could have such duck-like moments in our lives more often, if only we realized the need to slow down and really see and feel what is around us, the word ‘stress’ would never have existed in our vocabulary!

Quinoa patties – Greek style

Every weekend I get into the mode of cooking in bulk often in anticipation of the busy work week ahead. As always, I was on a roll that Saturday morning multitasking in my kitchen, looking for a quinoa recipe. The other day, I had bought 10 pounds of quinoa from ‘Sprouts’ supermarket as part of my healthy-eating campaign! I called out to my daughter to find out recipes online for a quinoa salad that was different from last time. She obliged instantly and searched up a very inviting recipe of Greek style Quinoa patties or cakes with a simple dip to go along. So much for asking to find a salad recipe!

Well, I was not sure of the healthy aspect of the dish anymore given its description, but decided to make it anyway by using as less oil as possible, still retaining its taste. And partly to give my daughter credit for her unique finding. Here is how our first attempt on quinoa cakes looked like.

Ingredients: Patties:

Onion large –   1/2, finely chopped
Garlic   –   2 cloves, finely chopped
Baby spinach – 3 handful
Olive oil – 1/4 cup
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa cooked in 1 1/4 cups water
Eggs – 2 large(substitute with all-purpose flour mixed in water, for binding)
Crumbled feta – 1/2 cup
Parsley/cilantro – 1 tbsp, freshly chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt – 1/4 teaspoon
Wheat bread crumbs – 1/2 cup
Black pepper to taste(add green chilli for more spice)

Tzatziki:

1 cucumber peeled and grated
½ teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt(I used plain regular yogurt)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dill – finely chopped(fresh)
½ tablespoon mint – finely chopped(fresh)
½ tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice

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Cooking directions: Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy bottom or non-stick pan. Add onion and garlic and stir till translucent for about 5 minutes. Add in the chopped spinach and let it cook for another 2,3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add beaten eggs, quinoa, lemon zest, feta, cilantro, salt, black pepper and mix well. Add in the bread crumbs to the mixture and let it stand for about 5 minutes for good absorption. Make patties around 2 inch diameter and 1/2 inch thick out of small balls scooped from the mixture.

In a heavy-bottom skillet, add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and place the patties on the top. Let it cook on one side till golden brown. Dab the top of the patties with olive oil and turn them around. Let it stay till both sides are crisp and brown. Remove patties from the skillet and gently place them on a dish.

To make tzatziki: Mix cucumber and 1 teaspoon salt and sieve the juice into a bowl. Mix in yogurt, garlic, mint, dill, olive oil and lemon juice, and refrigerate till ready to serve. Serve warm patties with chilled tzatziki sauce as accompaniment.

My family engaged ravenously on the patties, especially with the zesty dip on the side. I saw the patties disappear in no time with delight and thought to myself it was well- worth the effort! These patties are excellent fillers, and can be used as appetizers. In fact, they can be planned as a main meal with a soup thrown in to make it complete!

My tryst with jogging

I devote this piece to all of you out there who apparently gave up on a challenge the first time they suffered failure. For me, it had come in the form of building my strength and will power to work towards a physical challenge I thought I would never overcome.

I have been walking, out of habit since the past 15 years from what started as a fitness gig. This has been interspersed, time and again with power training, yoga, dance, swimming and the kinds that didn’t last long enough to be part of my routine. Walking lasted for the sheer pleasure of how it felt much less strenuous, especially with a friend or two to keep your conversational explorations in tow. This had falsely acclaimed me a place at the higher end of the fitness spectrum, by friends and acquaintances.

This routine continued till about a year back when my friend who is a high octane workout buff invited me to have a 2-mile jog with her that I accepted with no second thoughts. I huffed, puffed and panted for what seemed like an endless stretch to keep in pace with a seemingly seasoned jogger, not to mention my ill-equipped lungs and shin splint that my middle-aged body stood witness to. It was a bitter-sweet experience that I took home with me that day, with mixed feelings of disappointment on one hand and motivation on the other.

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As chance would have it, 2 months later I enrolled for a 10 K race along with some enthusiastic friends and I had made up my mind to stretch my limits a bit further on every jogging session still making sure I didn’t hurt myself to the point of hating it. I realized that in order to gain speed you need to build strength and endurance. It is effective to alternate the run with power training sessions. Keep yourself hydrated during and after the run. Warm-up diligently before and after the run.When your legs can’t take anymore give short breaks and save yourself any injury. The season ended not too bad with the realization that I could jog at least 1 mile at a stretch huffing, puffing, limping (and blaming age)inclusive, leaving room for more improvement.

In quite contrast, following summer saw a nose-dive in the progressive chart of my strength, endurance and speed. My inactivity had seen an all-time high with a few impromptu strolls in the neighborhood to answer my guilt call. To add to it was a barrage of high calorific food that made its way to the gut in the winter holidays. It wasn’t before I put on a few pounds that I swung back to the regular walking routine that often came after long days at work!

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End of January saw the dawn of the next session of Cap 10 K practices for the race of 2015, that I envisioned as a nightmare for the fear of disappointing myself. Nevertheless, this was an opportunity to get back in shape, so I decided to join the band-wagon with much fan-fare. Enough precaution was taken to loosen up the muscles and increase heart rate through a set of dynamic stretching routine before the run and static stretches soon after, that seemed to have paid off well the first day, since I did come close to my target of continuous jog for more than 2 miles. I repeated the routine for the following week, with a steady pace of short strides, for a stretch of 3 miles causing no major discomfort to my legs! At this pace, there is anticipation of some improvement on speed and endurance in the coming weeks!

For more information on dynamic stretching, go to http://www.runnersworld.com/stretching/a-dynamic-routine

It did come as a revelation never to give in to initial feelings of failures or negative thoughts that visited my doubting mind. If you try hard enough, you just might as well prove yourself wrong more than once!

My dear sister!

When tears welled up in my eyes

For seemingly no reason,

And my heart felt unusually heavy

On a particularly gloomy rainy morning

Dear sister,

I knew it was for you,

Who left us all stumped

Looking for the shards of our own lives

In the maze and the haze…..

I see the sunflower that is your face,

and the sun that is your smile,

I wake up in pain

To know it’s all in vain.

I had longed to be in the warmth of your laughter

Just one more time, before it was all over,

I had wished for one last time to revel in the aroma

That wafted from your hearth

On lazy summer mornings,

I had wished to be that child who followed her big sister

To the temple, to the pond, to the fields and beyond

Just one more time, before it was all over.

Maybe it is selfishness, maybe it is greed,

I can’t help but hold tight

To the safety net of my loved ones

Before I know it is all over!

I knew the reality of death like never before

It carved in me a truth I’d never ignore

No matter what, you cannot relive past

Live this moment and feel the love

Of the loved ones, till the last single breath!

Just the way you lived and left a trail

My dearest BIG sister!

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-An ode to my lovely cousin who left us all

to render this world a less brighter place….