Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Adieu 2013!

2013, an annus horribilis of sorts has come to a close and now, a new day, a new year, a new Sun is going to dawn on us in a few hours.
But a year like this did give a lot of lessons, the lessons that one refuses to learn otherwise. The year did teach me my limitations, my constraints, the workarounds but the best lesson that I am still learning is the resilience that I need so much today! The year taught me to count my blessings and cherish them.
Despite the challenges, the pain and tears that 2013 gave me, I thank God I lived in "2013" for this is the year that taught me a lot.
Somewhere deep inside I realise that I may have not been really the ideal husband, son, brother or friend this year. But I realise I have to be better. I resolve to be a better "me", a better husband, son, brother or friend in the coming year, 2014!
I need the strength that my family's affection, love and support gives. I hope I will live up to the expectations they have from me.
I pray to the Almighty to give me that strength! I pray for that precious patience to strive to be a better human! I pray for strength to smile in the face of adversity! I pray for the strength to let go. I pray for the strength to be kinder, considerate to the less privileged in society.
I also pray for all our collective happiness, love, health and prosperity! I pray for more golden moments that will be spent together with loved ones, and will be cherished forever, forever, as timeless and sweet memories!

May God bless us with the ability and strength to see each day in 2014 as a new opportunity or 365 opportunities in 2014!
May God bless us all with the best of all, the togetherness and love in the years to come, starting with 2014, which hopefully would be an annus mirabilis!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always! -- Part IV -- A Tribute To Madiba, The Foodie!

As the news is still sinking in, the news of the Madiba leaving us, I was reminded of his book, The Long Walk To Freedom (this is one book I just cannot get tired of, despite having read it twice!). There were several accounts and incidences in his book that showed his immense love for great food that started off early on in his life. These episodes kept flashing in my mind ever since I got to know of his death.
Mandela and his little friends used to roam around his village in the Eastern Cape looking for berries, fruits, wild honey and warm milk straight from the udder which they so relished. But the most endearing account was the one of his early days in Qunu, of how he and his little friends mischievously stole a squeaking little piglet, took it into the Veld and roasted it. That Mandela claimed was the tastiest pork he had ever had. I can very well imagine that feeling of excitement, which definitely added to the taste and flavour! 
True and loyal to his Xhosa traditions, he loved the local delicacies like sour milk, but he was open to experimentation when it came to food. The Long Walk To Freedom talks of an incidence of his clumsiness in adapting to the use of eating chicken with a knife and fork! His grand-daughter Ndoyiya recounted a conversation on that incident that she had with Mandela - Mandela, then 14, had gone for a dinner with his childhood crush's family. He had trouble using a fork and knife, causing a chicken wing to fly off his plate. Ndoyiya is quoted to have said “When he talked about it, and he was 90 at the time, he still told that story with such intensity that the embarrassment of the moment hadn’t left him.”
As a young lawyer in Johannesburg in the 1940s, the Madiba was struggling to make ends meet, but once, he could not resist the temptation of buying a huge piece of ham from a deli - this was detailed graphically in his book! That's so much like me, I too cannot resist the temptation of juicy chunk of ham!
In Johannesburg, as Mandela got involved in the political movement, he got exposed to a cross-section of people. The book has accounts of how he relished food from various cultures ranging from peanut butter - white bread sandwiches to spicy Indian curries that a Mrs. Pillay used to make for him when the Treason Trials were on!
The day he proposed to Winnie Madikizela, it was over a spicy Indian meal. He had hoped to impress Winnie, but the spiciness of the Indian cuisine was a bit too much for her to handle! He did have a soft corner for spicy Indian food, that was a proof of his big heart and more importantly, a highly evolved appreciation for the best in food. 
While at Robben Island, the quality of food was Mandela's frequent complaint to the prison authorities. He rallied the political prisoners around to demand better quality of food and they did meet with success.
Years later, the Madiba was shifted to Pollsmoor prison and Victor Verster prison. Conditions over there were much better, as far as food was concerned. At Victor Verster, before his release, Mandela was assigned an apartment, alongwith an Afrikaner butler, who was provided by the jail authorities. Mandela gave a detailed account of how he savoured his captor's superb cooking! Indeed, food can win you over, melt your heart and fill it with love!
Today, on the Net, I found an article on a Kenyan site, about the Madiba's love for food. His personal chef Xoliswa Ndoyiya said, ”One of his favourite was the Malva pudding (a baked treat topped with ice cream or custard or strawberry trifle) and Mandela would “just eat it up.” he was well versed in making traditional South African fare. Collections of Mandela’s favorite recipes have been published in a cookbook “Ukutya Kwasekhaya,” (loosely translating to home food in Xhosa language), which was authored by Ndoyiya. Another writer, Anna Trapido, chronicled Mandela’s life from a culinary standpoint in a biography called “Hunger for Freedom” - I would be immediately ordering this book from Flipkart! 
Despite his global stature, the Madiba always craved for his traditional cuisine, food that he grew up on - Umphokoqo, a porridge made from maize meal and sour milk, sweet chicken among other delights. 
I will always remember Madiba not only for his political stature and greatness, but also for his immense love for great food. I am pretty sure, had the Madiba been alive, he would have agreed with my statement "I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always!"

Friday, December 6, 2013

I Will Always Miss You, Madiba!

This morning, I had just started for work and had just hit the road, when I received a mail from my parents on my Blackberry. The mail said that Nelson Mandela had passed away!
That was a devastating news! I wept all the way, as it was in many ways a personal loss. This was the toughest drive to office I ever had.
The Madiba, for me, was an immensely inspiring figure.
I first heard about Mandela in the mid-1980s when newspapers in Zambia, almost on a daily basis, carried stories on the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. Being a frontline state, Zambia had sheltered ANC activists and the President, Kenneth Kaunda was at the forefront, campaigning against South African policies. 
That consciousness, naturally, seeped down to Zambians, including those we interacted with. Schools too had discussions on the struggle, that's how I learnt about Mandela!
Much later, I bought his book The Long Walk To Freedom in 2009 and till date, I have read it twice, both the times with great interest. 
It amazed me on how could there ever be a man like him! He was pragmatic and not dogmatic like the guys we had in India. This pragmatism endeared him to not only South Africans, but also the world!!
His wrinkled and gnarled, yet ever smiling face spoke of a pain of the past yet optimism for the future. His persona was quite like an aging Banyan tree - strong, wrinkled yet firmly grounded, and ever ready to provide shelter, hope, inspiration and comfort to lesser mortals like me!
Perhaps he couldn't have lived much more, he was already 95. He lived well, accomplished what he had set out to achieve and had inspired an entire generation, all over the world!
Indeed we should thank God he was amongst us. Perhaps, remembering him fondly and learning from his ideals and inspiring personality would be better than mourning his demise!
Still, I will miss your presence in the world! I will always miss you, Madiba! And yes, I will indeed miss the smart Mandela shirts you used to wear!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Goodness In Every Slurp!

Sometime back I got infected by the goddamned Dengue virus, and things took a healthier turn. Tea was junked for green tea, salad and fruit consumption was consciously increased and oatmeal became the standard fare for breakfasts.
This was also a great opportunity to try something new. So came about delicious and healthy soups, which are very easy to make. 

The one above is a green pea and broccoli soup. The peas and broccoli was lightly boiled with chicken stock and peppercorns and pureed. The puree was heated with a few basil leaves and had with loads of crushed pepper. It was awesome!

The next one was equally awesome - pumpkin carrot soup! Diced pumpkins and carrots were boiled with ginger, peppercorns and chicken stock. After the carrots and pumpkins went soft, the whole thing was pureed and had with loads of pepper.
In both the soups, we did not add a single pinch of salt, yet both of them were absolutely delicious and filling, a great alternative to snacking away! That's why we said to ourselves that there was loads of goodness and health in every slurp! ;) 

C'est la vie!

Ahhhh Sundays! 
Sundays are when we can really savor our breakfasts, in a relaxed way, letting the flavour of each morsel seep down the tastebuds, instead of worrying about the traffic on the way to work.
Trust me, the relaxed atmosphere makes us think of newer ideas for breakfast and certainly these Sunday breakfasts taste a lot more better and healthier. 

This breakfast of a few weeks back was awesome. This plate has a very healthy grilled sandwich with a topping of blanched spinach, cherry tomatoes, tangy pickled green tomatoes (we made this pickle at home!) and basil. Pan-roasted potato wedges and sauteed mushrooms with oyster and Worchestershire sauce make for perfect accompaniments to our open sandwich!

Recently, on another Sunday, we gave our breakfast another interesting twist. Fresh spinach was blanched and squeezed to take out excess moisture. The blanched spinach alongwith fresh mushrooms was stir fried in olive oil, garlic and sesame seeds! We had this with a fried egg and crispy toast. We could taste the goodness of life, of nature, in each morsel!
C'est la vie!
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