Quinoa

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I was skeptical about the super food, Quinoa when I first heard about it, not for its nutritive value but for its appeal to my South Indian palate. One of my first concerns was how I would make this relatively bland food more acceptable to my spice-addicted taste buds, but not for too long! I took to an instant liking to quinoa when a friend of mine once offered me simple home-made quinoa salad for lunch. The salad in fact, was quite filling, still light on stomach. The recipe for quinoa salad is simple and easy.

Quinoa              – 1 cup

Water                – 1 1/2 cup

Olive oil            – 1 tsp

Tomato             – 1 cup cubed

Cucumber         – 1/2 cup cubed

cilantro              – 1/4 cup chopped

green onion       – 1/2 cup chopped

mint leaves        – 2 tblsp chopped

salt                       – to taste

black pepper      – 1 tsp crushed

green chilli         – 1 chopped(optional)

lemon                  -1/2 juiced

Wash quinoa thoroughly and strain. In a pan, keep water to boil. Add quinoa and salt and let it cook. Switch off the stove and let the quinoa cool. Add in the chopped vegetables and other ingredients. Keep in the refrigerator to cool. Mix well and serve cold.

You can also do other healthy variations to this recipe by adding different combinations of vegetables like corn, bell pepper, onion, pomegranate, pickled olives, sun-dried tomatoes etc. You can add grated ginger for an extra zing or feta cheese for a twist. Use your creativity to bring a change in taste.

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I have also used quinoa as a substitute for a regular dish like upma(Indian semolina dish) or pulav. Still, the salad is my personal favorite. Quinoa’s status as a super ‘grain’ is in fact a misnomer. It is a ‘seed’ rich in protein that delivers almost all the amino acids required by our body. It is also gluten-free and wheat-free which makes it a hot commodity among consumers intolerant to these components. It is rich in phosphorous, magnesium and iron, and is a good source of dietary fiber. These are reasons enough to incorporate this healthy substitute in my family’s menu more often than before 🙂

To give a brief history, Quinoa got its name from Spanish and its origin is in the Andean regions of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Columbia.

Productivity

Sometimes, when an entire day goes by and I realize that I haven’t gotten a single thing down in my to-do list, the feeling is that of guilt and non-productiveness. The reason is, often times the thought of the number of chores ahead of me is enough to have my hands tied. Other times, the enormity of one single chore keeps me in the mode of chronic procrastination! The result is frustration from not being able to utilize my time productively and making an unhappy situation for everyone around me.

I am also realizing that the older I get, the more activities I want to do like reading a bucket-list book, writing more often, exercising, watching value movies, learning a new language etc. apart from the regular ‘fun’ chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping! Instead of making time for most of them, I get carried away by one activity that the rest remain untouched, or the thought of a thousand chores make me brain-dead so I decide to stare at my  phone! I tried to find the root cause of my productivity problems.

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http://www.someecards.com

The first and foremost reason that I found was my indulgence in social media. I often go online to browse my mail websites(that should take a few minutes) but end up in Facebook or Whatsapp messages all at the tap of few icons on my smartphone. What starts off as a small peek into my email inbox goes on to be a divergence into the forays of the world wide web. Before you know, a big chunk of your time is eaten up by this giant of a web.

Another major cause of non productivity is the inability to overcome the initial hiccup in starting any chore because it is not fun. When I see that the floors need mopping, I would think that it can wait till I pay my bills. I am off to do that, instead end up chatting with a friend because that is more fun and less work. After an hour of chatting I come back to realize that neither did I mop the floor nor do the bills. This is also called procrastination. And the result again is a sense of non-accomplishment 😦

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http://cactopia.com

Being unproductive sometimes might not hinder your flow of life. In fact, it is required to take small sanity breaks from your busy schedule so you can be energized. It is only when the state of  non-action is prolonged that the scenario becomes chaotic, directionless and frustrating. For me, the things that helped me get everything under my belt was to start off one chore at a time with no brooding over the thought. When you realize the floor needs vacuuming, you simply start off the chore rather than ruminating if you should wait one more day or have someone else do it for you. This saves time and energy and you are less drained, mentally and physically. Most times, it is the thought attached to our activities that drains us than the activity itself. So leave the thought and get down to the arena. The work is waiting for you!

Prioritizing my jobs also helps in being productive. Whenever I have a bunch of things to do, I often start with the most important one and try to focus and finish off each and every item on the checklist. I promise it feels good at the end, even at the cost of missing out on the Facebook updates for half a day, may be one. I am also working on not straying away from the main chore at a given moment. For example, in the media world there is so much information, it is hard not to get distracted or allured. Just make sure not to overdo it or to filter out unnecessary details.

Being conscious of the task at hand improves the quality of the end-result. Let our computer time not be at the cost of a nice long walk or jog outdoors, let our time chatting not be at the cost of fixing a nice meal for the family, let our inclination for gossips not be at the cost of reading a book, listening to great music or learning a new skill. Being productive not only keeps you active and alert, it is also gratifying for what it makes of you!

Hang in there

imgkid.com
imgkid.com

Often times, most of us encounter situations where we strive to reach a goal or simply pull ourselves together, but give up at some point of time. The result is a sense of disappointment and resentment where the blame is conveniently thrust upon an external element for the sake of our redemption. From what I have known in my own life, most of the rewarding experiences were from efforts that have gone above and beyond my comfort level, where I almost wanted to give up but decided to hang in there because I believed! These experiences have taught me to brave all bad weather and move forward for that too will pass.

These challenges visit all of us in different forms like losing job, encountering a life-threatening illness, being stuck in meaningless relationships or facing death of closed ones. In other cases, there could be lesser challenges like losing weight, getting a certain academic or professional goal under your belt or running a marathon or attempting sky diving. How can you make challenges less daunting and more acceptable?

1) When faced with a situation, bring out your positive energy and positive thought and work towards finding a solution, than finding an excuse or blaming bad fate that has befallen you. Focus on the end result that present struggle would pay off. This gives you ample confidence in the first place.

2) Fear is our biggest enemy in life, when it comes to making a change. We don’t realize that most of the fear is imaginary. What are the possible outcomes of fear? You either succumb to it and let things be or you realize it and take measures to combat it. The result of outliving your fear is, you see and feel a different life.

3) Sometimes, when you are in the bumpy ride, it might feel like a journey in darkness with no light at the end of the trail. Hang in there and tell yourself not to give up. It could be bitter, sometimes blended with extreme feelings of loneliness, desolation and helplessness. Do not try to deny these feelings or run away from them. Just give time and let things just be. Time is the biggest healer.

4) When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. The fact that we alone can essentially help ourselves is a great realization when encountering difficult situations. Learn ways to toughen up and brace yourself to unfavorable circumstances in life. It helps to connect with other people or groups in the same situation facing same kind of challenges. There is a lot to learn and share when you network either through online resources or social groups that offer support and solutions.

5) Expectation that every effort should turn out to be a success can be a big deterrent in accomplishing what you have set your mind on. Failure is essential to make us well-rounded as human beings. We need to be brought back to realization of our modest existence often enough to keep us rooted. When you do any task with no expectation of results and with wholeheartedness, success and failure become nothing beyond just labels.

6) When you are going through rough terrains, it often helps to hang in there just from the realization of other lives that are also dependent on us. It becomes all the more important that we took responsibility of the situation because it makes perfect sense in the bigger scheme of things to keep ourselves and the rest of the lives going.

7) Be grateful for what you have. Cherish every moment. Counting our blessings on an everyday basis helps pull through difficult moments. Often times we forget to appreciate life’s small things in search of bigger ones.

In short, it is all in our minds how we perceive the situations we are in. It is simply our attitude that defines our course of life!

Yoga

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Yoga was one topic I wanted to talk about for a long time, since it is close to my heart and I greatly benefited from its practice. I was introduced to this holistic form of exercise for mind and body when I was around 25. Living in the garden city of Bangalore, also notorious for its allergies, I suffered from wheezing and wanted to find respite not through high dosage medications that poisoned my system, but by more natural ways like pranayama* and yogasana*. The search for an instructor led me to a wonderful lady who was a doctor by profession, but a yogi at heart. Her classes used to be 1-hour long and were held on the covered terrace of her 2-storey house, 5 days a week.

The very first day of class itself made quite an impression on me of yoga as a practice for a well-rounded lifestyle. Her simple routine consisted of pranayama, followed by light warm-ups going onto surya namaskara* and then to various asanas* in standing, sitting, lying on the belly and back positions. The sessions wound up in meditations and chanting of shlokas* eventually ending in savasana*. By the end of the first month, I noticed a significant amount of improvement in my health. The pranayama along with the various asanas accompanied by conscious breathing techniques blew in my lungs new life. The shlokas that were chanted in the yoga sessions brought a sense of surreal peace and quiet confidence. That was when I realized how amazingly transformational this modest form of ancient practice was! Yogasana is not a set of mindless exercises but a practice that enhances the flow of elements to various parts of our body, rejuvenating them.

http://findtot.com
http://findtot.com

To begin with, yoga in the eastern world in its purest form never had the hype and hoopla that the modern world brought with it. The essence of yoga is when the practitioner is in alignment with the consciousness, and the life energy flows in his/her being. These don’t require any gimmicks or gadgets, rather a highly focused mind in perfect alignment with the  body that embodies well-intended thoughts. That is yoga in its purest form, when it was created centuries back as Yoga sutras* derived from Hindu philosophies, where great yogis formulated various bodily postures called asanas.

The more I learned about Yoga as a discipline, the more intrigued I was about the brilliance of its various formations and the purpose behind them. What other form of practice can be so humbling, still empowering at the same time?! The yogic essence is truly felt, when you realize the flow of energy into every nerve of your body, when you feel the stretch of muscles in every limb, when you sense the measured breaths that blow life into every cell of your body and last but not least when you feel a tingling sensation of cosmic energy traveling through your nadis* to your chakras*. No wonder it is described as a physical, mental and spiritual discipline that translates as the literal meaning of Yoga which means ‘yolking’ or union in Sanskrit. I bow down to the brilliant souls from whose minds this great science originated for the inner healing of mankind through ages…….Om

http://goyogaamelia.com
http://goyogaamelia.com

*pranayama – formal practice of controlled breathing

*surya namaskaram – sun salutations

*asanas – the art of sitting still

*savasana – corpse pose

*shloka – a category of verse line, like a couplet

*sutra – a distinct type of literary composition consisting of short, concise statements

*nadis – channels through which the energy of the subtle body flow

*chakras – energy points of the subtle body, meeting points of the subtle energy channels

Plantain chips

When I crunch into one of those freshly made plantain chips, also called banana chips, it is the heavenly smell of God’s own country that I inhale! I call them mystic food. Back home, all we had to do to eat fresh chips was to walk down to the roadside vendor, who sieved the hot chips right out of the gigantic pan of simmering coconut oil to a large container and pack them for dear customers. Every time my India visit would wind up in the last- minute purchase and packing of my suitcases with these yums to the brim.

I had tried my hands on making these chips at home from fresh raw plantains bought at the local supermarket. My effort in recreating the original flavor here in US always fell short in terms of taste, texture or crispness. Whenever my brother visits, it is a ritual for us to make deep fried food, mostly puris(Indian deep fried bread) with potato gravy on Sunday mornings, which is a form of brother-sister bonding. But this time around, we strayed away from puris to plantain chips, reminiscent of ‘those’ times. He was also equipped with gadgets for precise slicing and coconut oil to add authentic flavor, knowing him for a perfectionist in his culinary indulgences. And man, didn’t it pay off this time? We got to taste near perfect plantain chips that my friend’s son was willing to pay $5.00 per lb for!

All you need for the plantain chips are

Raw firm plantains                                             – 2 or 3

Oil (Canola  )                                                          – 3 cups

Coconut oil                                                             – 1/4 cup

salt solution(salt 3tsp, water 1/4 cup)   – 1/4 cup

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Wash the plantain, wipe them, cut the ends and make about 3 slits lengthwise on the peel. Make sure it doesn’t make its way into the flesh. Put a knife in the slits and slowly peel the plantains. In a large pan, add the canola oil and coconut oil and turn on the heat. You can also make chips with just one kind of oil. We added coconut oil for flavor. Be careful while mixing. If you add more coconut oil the combination causes the oil to froth and come out of the pan.

Once the oil heats, either slice the peeled plantain straight onto the oil or drop the pre-sliced plantain into the oil. About 1/2 a plantain would suffice for one lot. Stir them occasionally keeping the flame at medium high. Once the plantain feels slightly crisp add 2 tsp of salt solution. It makes a wave like sound for few seconds. Do not be scared by it(If you are scared to add salt solution to oil, you can sprinkle salt once you take the chips off the pan, but this won’t be as tasty). Turn over the chips so the salt gets everywhere, reduce the flame and strain them onto a bowl lined with oil absorbent paper. Now the chips are ready to be consumed. Indulge yourself guilt free as they are homemade and there are no additives that you don’t know of, at least! After all, who doesn’t want to indulge in the guilty pleasure of deep fried delicacies every once in a while.

Chosen one

When my younger one comes from school, she is brimming with all kinds of news to share, usually starting off with rating her day as good, bad, excellent or worse. All I have to do is to fine tune and just pay attention! As she rambles on the details of how upset she was to learn about her friend’s mishap to how exalted she was to get a perfect score on her test, I would empathize with matching emotions. By the end of her long narration,there is usually a more relaxed look on her face that is worth a million buck! I now know the communication that just transpired was assurance that everything was alright in her young adult world. Similar is the case with my older one, except that she usually has some interesting findings to announce from her ‘research’ world that she discovered in the privacy of her alone moments. It could vary anywhere from music, to politics to fashion to food that brings to the table discussions at length.

Come to think of it, these are not mindless talks of a teenager, but the outcome of trust and affection built over years. I nod to myself in affirmative and sigh in relief when my teenagers choose to give me that level of transparency during their toughest years of transformation. Most times, I do everything in my capacity to lend a listening ear to these sometimes lost, sometimes enlightened, sometimes needy, sometimes ‘just want to be touched’ souls. At other times, when I am not at my best mom-self, the loss of touch is felt and something is certainly amiss, for which I pay the price!

parent_child

Parenting becomes a joyful ride of togetherness and mutual love when it is not just about keeping your children clothed and well-fed, rather about offering a safe emotional haven for their growing minds and shed light in the crevices. At the end of it all it only makes perfect sense to reminisce the saying, “We do not remember days, we remember moments”. Often times, we fail to give heed to the daily tidbits of life in our ever pervasive mode of taking for granted the loved ones that surround us, the companionship, the safety from our bonds with family and friends.

And if for once I were not the one my daughter chose to share her feelings with, if I were not the one to have tasted a slice of her life, what a terrible loss it would be! How grateful should I be, to be chosen by my child, by a friend, by a family member or sometimes an acquaintance. All that is needed sometimes is just an extra dab of laughter, a healing touch, a pat on the back or just mere presence. Could you have imagined how transformational it is for the ones whose lives have been touched by a chosen one and vice-verse?!

Backyard birds

In India, it was much easier to dispose left-overs since there were takers outside the household. That way, we redeemed ourselves the guilt of wasting edible food. But, when I came to US, things were very different. There was hardly any option for disposal of excess food, that eventually made its way to the dumpster. Every time I had to throw away unused food, my heart gave out a silent cry, for we were raised not to disrespect food. Well, all I could do was sigh! This was when I was living in my old apartment.

www.gardenofpossibilities.com
http://www.gardenofpossibilities.com

When I moved to my new house with a nice little backyard shaded by oak trees, I decided to hang a bird feeder on one of the branches and a bird bath next to it. For a very long time the birds were feeding from the grains that I refilled into the feeder, and unwillingly shared it with an uninvited guest, a squirrel, that was quite a boss himself. It is a joyful experience to learn the survival of the fittest, the teamwork and the unity in diversity lessons rendered by nature. I could watch them to no end as a silent spectator from my porch! Sure enough, my backyard was a source of sheer entertainment for our entire family.

squirrel-proof-hanging-bird-feeder

It was one of those days, when I was going to throw the leftover lunch my daughter brought home that it struck me to dump it under the backyard tree that might be interesting for the birds or squirrels. True to my gut feeling, the bits of food that were strewn disappeared in no time. The backyard friends had had a feast on it! Probably they found it much tastier for the change in flavor from the usual. From that day on, it became a ritual for me to salvage food that had no takers at home and ship it to my extended family of birds and animals! Their choice expanded from the plain store-bought seeds to a wide variety of cereals, rice, bread crumbs, fruits and so on. How much better can it get, with food, water and rest in and around the oak trees? And there are all kinds – red cardinals, swallows, ravens, sparrows, hummingbirds and their arch rival, the squirrel himself! As more and more of my nature friends flock for food, little do they know their mere presence in the vicinity of my house is enough to fill my moments of solitude with meaning.

 

Mom, is there tea?!

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http://www.picturesnew.com/tea-images.html

Our daily rituals and routine give us so much comfort and coziness, we hardly notice it because it is part of our everyday life. Making tea is one such ritual in our household. Since I was a child, drinking mid-morning tea in the cute little steel cup that mom poured fresh and dad served hot, was a stamp of love. It never left me even after marriage, crossing seas and making nest on foreign land. In fact, I made many friends for life over ‘chai'(Indian milk tea) relished over breakfast tables. Such is the impact of some rituals in life that, without them it feels empty and devoid of meaning.

I have always made tea keeping up with tradition, no matter I had company or not. And when my husband is around, I would have him for company. That was till my older one turned 14. Once she got a sip from the flavorful ginger tea I was enjoying on a cold winter day, she got instantly hooked on to it. Now it became 3 in the family to share the tradition. Not for too long. My younger one followed suit this past winter, though she hates ginger! For some reason, she loved the taste of ginger in tea and made an exemption. Now making tea has become a celebration for me for there are more takers. The process is cathartic to my senses; it imbues the essence of who we are as a family. When friends come over, the mere presence of tea is enough to bring an unknown connection where bonds are created and heated discussions occur, sometimes hotter than the tea itself. Nevertheless, the end result is that of good camaraderie and intentions.

In our house, the frequency of preparation of tea is twice a day, once in the morning, once in the evening. These days, that is all my kids look forward to, coming from school. They couldn’t care less about snacks or meal. The evening tea has a special ingredient of care, companionship and anticipation for the loved ones who soon would seek their abode for the day. Yesterday was different. I was lazy and chose to make my instant coffee, and settled myself cozily on the couch. And in came my daughter, exchanged pleasantries and went straight to the kitchen to muse, “Mom, isn’t there tea?” A sudden rush of mixed feelings smeared in guilt came to me as I had always associated its preparation to warmth and comfort in the family. I hurried to the kitchen and put a pot of water to boil, humming to myself!

Eeradye(Turmeric leaf sweet dish)

When my husband urged me to plant turmeric root in our back-yard, little did I know of his intentions in making a sweet dish wrapped in turmeric leaves! Few months down the lane, the turmeric plant yielded around 10 to 15 leaves, and we decided to cut the leaves and make his favorite delicacy, “eeradye” that is famous among Mangalorians, also called “Elayada” (in Kerala) made with plantain leaves. ‘Ere’ in Tulu is leaf and ‘adye’ is dish.This is very specially made during festivals like Ganesh Chathurti and Krishna Janmashtami. The ingredients to make “eeradye” are

Turmeric leaves     – 10,15

rice flour                     – 1 cup

water                            – about 1 1/2 cups

grated coconut        – 2 cups heaped

jaggery                         -1 cup

cardamom                   – 7,8

salt                                   – 1 pinch

oil                                      – 1 table spoon

20140928_095815FunFirst, in a pan add 2 tablespoon of water and put in the jaggery. Keep on low heat for 3,4 minutes till jaggery melts. Add the grated coconut and stir for about 5 to 7 minutes till you get a dry mixture. Powder the cardamom, add to the pan and mix well.

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Wash the turmeric leaves and let it air dry. (This can also be made with plantain leaves. The plantain leaves are more stiff and need to be slightly heated to make it make them limp.) In a small vessel, mix rice flour and water to make into a batter-like paste. Add a pinch of salt. Smear the inside of the leaves with oil. Put about a teaspoon or two of rice flour batter and spread it evenly on the leaves. Spread evenly the sweet mixture on one half of the leaf and fold it.

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In a cooker, add one cup water, place a colander or steamer inside and place the stuffed leaves gently on the top so the steam reaches everywhere. Close the cooker with a loose lid and leave it for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and take out the eeradye and let it cool for about 5 minutes. All that is left to do is inhale the aroma of the steamed leaf, gently remove the outer cover  and savor the sweet dish wrapped inside.

I like this delicacy for its simplicity and low calorie. It is not laden with tons of ghee, unlike other sweets. Kids too seem to have taken a liking for its unique taste. Nothing to beat the feel of coconut-jaggery duo with a sprinkle of cardamom and the authentic flavor of turmeric/plantain leaf.

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Religion

 

religion

The phenomenon of people placing religion in the center stage of their lives, and using it as a tool for a means to any end, is quite unsettling! Religion is the most misused concept in mankind today at the cost of which atrocities are impended at all levels, leave alone meaningless rituals solely performed out of greed and selfishness!

Why was religion created in the first place? Probably for a sense of order, meaning and protection, where an Almighty God served  in the role of a super-parent. And then rules where laid out so there would be a set of moral and ethics for the humankind to follow. The holy scriptures were texts of law that instilled in mankind a sense of righteousness that stated the fine ways of living. And at some point of time these beliefs paved way to fear and eventually paranoia to an extent that we are at the throes of extinction as a human race, in the name of religion. The very institution that came into existence through the brilliant minds of great saints and prophets, is mercilessly misinterpreted at the hands of fanatics, the over-doers and the false propagators. The abode of the purest of pure, is now feeding grounds for hoarders of wealth or even worse, weapons of mass destruction.

Most times, the very essence of religion itself is lost when its true meaning is not taught. What we need now are not baseless rituals that claim to take us to glory, not the hypnotizing of human mind with contorted notions and superstitions, but a firm sense of doing for the uplift of lesser beings, a true sense of awareness that spreads light and fill in the darkness, selfless service that paves way to goodwill and prayers for well-being of all things living. Remember, it is man who created God and kept himself enslaved to fear and punishment in the name of religion. Religion, in the first place is not about fear, it is all about faith that stems from pure consciousness. For that to happen, God has to reside within, not without!