Thursday, May 28, 2015

The role of our eyes in our eating habits


It didn't come as a surprise to me when I heard this phrase in a TV show many years ago - "We first eat with our eyes". The clean cutlery with well-presented, colorful food makes our mouths water, even before we take a first bite. No wonder, gourmet food in star restaurants are so expensive. The ambience and presentation are part of the experience they provide.

Brands understand this fact too and as a student of Consumer Behavior course, I have read about the concept of experiential marketing and how it plays a significant role in ensuring consumers "experience" the brand through all their senses. The fast food chains entice us with huge hoardings of cheese-dripping, colorful burgers. Our eyes get attracted by the visuals and our mind has already made up a plan for the upcoming weekend. Kids feel the impact the most and as a mother of a 3 year old, I'm well-aware of this fact. :-)

This "eating-with-your-eyes-first" behavior manifests itself in many restaurants. As soon as we see the oil in our pooris, we immediately want to wipe them off with a paper napkin. Similar behavior occurs when a distant relative or our grandmother treats us with traditional delicacies like appams and adhirasams. But little do we realize or take note of the amount of oil that goes into store-bought pastries with creamy icing on top. Until I started baking at home, I never realized the quantity of oil that goes into baking a 8" cake. Please note that I bake simple tea cakes with no icing.

The same behavior holds true for cookies too, the only difference being that they are loaded with butter. We tend to avoid the 1 tsp ghee on top of our rice/parathas but the numerous ways by which fats enter our body through these packaged foods is something we hardly notice.

We have a big love affair with the color "white". Our eyes love it and sends a message that the "white" object in front of us is pure and divine. All white foods like polished white rice, sugar, free flowing salt and refined flour have occupied a permanent place in our pantry while research is correlating these foods to the increased onset of diabetes and hypertension.

The healthier, non-white food products have been pushed to the back-burner for the last 3-4 decades (I'm glad they are slowly coming back inch by inch). Brown rice, ragi (finger-millet), bajra (pearl millet), jowar,  jaggery, palm sugar, millets etc may not look appealing to our eyes but our bodies would thank us later for consuming such nutrient-rich not-so-beautiful foods.

Let's try not to decide our choice of food based only on how it "looks" (same logic applies for various other decisions in life too).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Getting back to roots - why I choose local foods?

One of the major sectors that's getting a lot of attention and at the same time, confusing the common woman(man) the most is the "Foods" sector. Every food brand tries in some way or the other to promote why their products are superior for your health. Even if you keep your eyes and ears shut on packaged foods and try to include healthy grains, fruits and vegetables, there are numerous imported products that are being promoted as healthy (or aids in weight loss or kicks diabetes out of the window or promises glowing complexion or DHA or omega-3 and what not!) and sold at ridiculous prices - quinoa, blueberries, oats, chia seeds, apple cider vinegar, kiwi fruit etc to name a few. The facts might be true too, but are these the right choices for "us" - is the question to be asked.

More often, these bombarding messages take away a very basic principle
keep it simple and local. 
This is my mantra when it comes to making sure my family and I eat healthy.

Years ago, my daily breakfast was a bowl of muesli in cold milk. A pack used to cost Rs.155 and would last for 4-5 days. It was quick and easy in the rush-hour mornings. Little did I know, that it was loaded with sugar, artificial flavors and other preservatives. Muesli by itself is a healthy preparation, provided you make it at home from scratch. But not as a packaged food.

My breakfast menu in the last couple of years has undergone a complete change - totally Indian (more South Indian, given my roots). I make different varieties of idli/dosa/upma/pongal/poha/parathas using multiple local grains and pulses. When I'm short on time, I resort to quick and healthy porridges made using either ragi (finger millet), bajra (pearl millet) or jowar (sorghum).

The same principle holds true for my lunch menu as well. I have reduced my consumption of white polished rice and instead have been eating my regular sambhar/rasam/kootu with red rice, barley and native traditional millets. I stock up on a wide range of millets, so I can mix-and-match over the week and not get bored. To give you an idea, here's how my carbs for last week lunch looked like:

Sunday - proso millet
Monday - red boiled rice (or matta rice)
Tuesday - barnyard millet
Wednesday - rajamudi rice (a kind of red rice native to karnataka)
Thursday - white rice
Friday - wheat rotis
Saturday - kodo millet

Every millet is good on certain nutritional constituents - proso millet high on proteins, barnyard millet high on iron, foxtail millet high on fiber and finger millet high on calcium.

Veggies for this week
 Apart from grains, I'm also consciously looking at the kind of vegetables I buy. The regular carrots, beans and potatoes are always there but I have also started to buy the local and seasonal vegetables more often. Bottlegourd, snakegourd, ridgegourd, broad beans (avarakkai), ladies finger, purple brinjal, banana stem, drumstick - the sheer variety that you get is just amazing. Leave me in a vegetable market stocked with fresh local veggies - I'm happy! :-)

When we have such amazing fresh and local produce, why run after the expensive broccoli and zucchini? Why force our taste buds to eat raw salads made with expensive cherry tomatoes and iceberg lettuce, with exotic dressing?

I'm definitely NOT saying that we shouldn't eat any of these exotic vegetables and grains. My only intention is that "Let the local, seasonal produce be our regular everyday staple foods and the exotic ones be reserved for special occasions(indulgences)". Your tummy would feel happy and yes, it is a better deal economically too.

Along the same lines, I have now shifted completely to peanut oil and sesame oil for everyday cooking. These were the oils my grandmothers used to buy and I know my genetic makeup would easily agree with them. I do stock up on olive oil but only for the occasional indulgence when I make pasta. Sorry, no Indian recipes with olive oil for me, please! Neither can I afford it nor I need to.

If you are taking efforts to become more "local" in your food habits, I would love to hear about your experiences. I'll be happy to connect and discuss more ideas.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book Review: Lady, you're not a man!

I read somewhere that this book is an Indian version of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. I haven't read Lean In yet but "Lady, you're not a man!" talks in detail about the numerous issues that working women of India have to deal with. Humorous, witty and lots of interesting personal stories, the author Apurva Purohit has conveyed many important and valuable lessons in a breezy manner. I was nodding in agreement in many chapters and felt so glad that I'm not alone in this journey.

The book is well structured, starting off with acceptance of various issues and struggles that women face. Sometimes, we do ponder if we are over-working ourselves, both at work and at home. It felt good when she talked about how multitasking which women are pro at, can work to our advantage. In one of the chapters, she talks about an interesting term called "Suffering Sita" syndrome :-) It was hilarious but at the same time, an eye-opener for many of us who unconsciously drift into this "victim" mode and blame everyone around us.

The narration gradually shifts to how you can adapt yourself to reality. Having the right attitude, positive mindset, approach to hardwork, prioritization, asking for help and putting systems in place to make sure things work for you and your family - lots of useful tips and take-aways in these chapters.

The chapters I loved the most are the ones related to Achievement. Volunteering for new initiatives and projects, personal communication, rapport building with male and female peers and sub-ordinates, mentoring the next generation and celebrating your own success - very important but given less focus due to our mindset.

The important lines in this book according to me -  
"Build a reputation, not a CV. Reputation is built over millions of moments of being diligent, sincere, hardworking and ethical".
Highly recommend this book for every working woman in India (and for the men too). Do give it a read.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sit down, please!


Image Source: http://discovermagazine.com/2013/nov/05-sit-down

 It was my 3rd day at my Yoga class. After a round of different asanas from the lying down position, our instructor asked us to get up from the sitting posture, without using our hands for support. I was able to do that casually while the others in my class were finding it a little difficult. My instructor was a little shocked looking at my ease and said "Wow". I felt happy since I was struggling with many stretching postures earlier. A small win can boost your confidence tremendously, isn't it?

This incident brought up a lot of questions around how our sitting habits have changed. We no longer sit down on the floor - be it for eating, reading or even chatting with friends/family at home. Our love for chairs and couches have only gone up manifold. I used to sit down a lot when I was a kid and a teenager. It was our family practice to sit down on the floor and have our meals. It's a different story that we didn't have space in our 1 BHK to accommodate a dining table.

After I started working, the "sitting down" practice totally went for a toss. Stuck to the cubicle and a comfortable chair in office, lying down on a couch and watching TV at home - I was alternating between the two worlds effortlessly in my 20s. Then my daughter was born and my life changed in multiple ways. One of the many positive traits that I have incorporated in these past 3 years is sitting down on the "floor".

When she was an infant, I would roll a mat on the floor, put all her toys and we would sit down and play. We are continuing this habit till date. So her play time at home gives me the opportunity to sit down. I can feel that this simple change has helped my legs to be more strong and flexible.

One of my goals is to set up a nice, cozy reading nook in my home - a colorful mat with some cushions thrown around, good books, a nice sharp pencil, a notebook and a cup of tea. Preferably near a window with ample natural light. Once I set it up, I'll get a picture added to this post :-)

Do you sit down on the floor a lot? If not, try consciously to take this simple step. Start off with just 15 min and slowly increase the time. Your legs and thighs will bless you later.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The tale of tomato rice

I remember vividly the packaging, the aroma and the taste of my grandma's tomato rice, which I used to devour in the train while returning from school. The memories - so nostalgic and so dear to me. Blessed with 2 loving and caring grandmothers who cook awesome food, I'm grateful and at the same time, I deeply regret that I didn't take interest in cooking when these 2 active and special women were alive. I guess I was more than happy in relishing the delicacies prepared by them, that I wasn't too curious to know the background work involved.

Now coming to the story, I used to travel by local metro train to go to school everyday. Due to certain circumstances, we had to shift home to a distant suburb. But I insisted I would stay put in the same school for my 8th grade, even if it requires me to travel 1 hour (one-way) everyday. Who can say NO to train journeys, right? :-)

My paternal grandmother was living with us and she would pack me a proper lunch box every morning. I would leave home by 7:15 AM and be back only by 6:15 PM. The long commute and increasing school workload was taking a toll on my health and my marks.

My maternal grandparents used to live in a small town that was somewhere between my school and my home. My train would stop in this town for just a minute and my aunt would bring me some tiffin or the other every evening, prepared by my maternal grandma - upma, poori, chapati, dosa etc. It would be neatly wrapped in a banana leaf. I would take the window seat, grab the pack from my aunt and relish it on the way back home. Train journeys and tiffin make a great pair, I swear.

My most favorite among all the tiffins packed by my grandma is this yummy tomato rice. It had that refreshing aroma with fresh coriander leaves and just the right amount of tempering. For many years, I have tried to replicate the taste but nothing comes close to her version. I'm sure the magical ingredient is grandma's love, ofcourse.

Here's my version of a simple tomato rice recipe. Perfect for lunch box or a quick one-pot dinner.


Ingredients:
1 medium sized onion finely chopped
2 medium sized tomatoes finely chopped
handful of frozen green peas (optional)
2 tsp oil (groundnut oil or sesame oil tastes best)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp broken urad dal
4-5 curry leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
salt as needed
few coriander leaves finely chopped
1 cup rice (washed and drained)
2 cups water

Method:
In a pressure cooker, heat oil.
Add mustard seeds, let it splutter
Add urad dal and roast till it turns light brown
Add curry leaves and onions and fry till it turns translucent
Add tomatoes, green peas and required salt
Once tomatoes start to turn mushy, add the dry masala powders
Add rice and water.
Mix well.
Close the lid and pressure cook for 2 whistles in medium flame
Then simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Switch off. Let the steam release.
Add chopped coriander leaves and fluff it up.
Serve hot with cucumber raita and papad