Many people have written about how to minimize stress in our lives. They have written books, and they have given speeches. I am not the first one to talk about it. But as a mother, wife, and self-motivated individual who dealt with many different varieties of stress — both at home and at work, I can offer you some advice as to how some changes in your food and lifestyle can help you relieve anxiety and stress, and live a healthier and happier life.
Of course, I am not a medical doctor, or not even a trained psychological counselor. My advice is an ordinary person’s advice — suggestions from someone who experimented with food and lifestyle changes herself, and found positive results. If you have professional medical or psychological needs, get help from a doctor or professional counselors.
I am writing a few points here, in a brief and bullet-point manner — to highlight the changes I am suggesting. Some of the suggestions may seem mundane, and some others may seem more important or significant, depending on your education, knowledge, or point of view.
Eat a healthy breakfast. — Of course, we all know the importance of a good breakfast. But what is a healthy breakfast? I would avoid run-of-the-mill, supermarket-variety boxed cereal and carbohydrates. Many people argue that boxed cereals are not even manufactured for human consumption.
https://www.savorylotus.com/3-ugly-truths-about-breakfast-cereal/, for example, says: “…sorry, cereal is not REAL food. It is a food product. And unfortunately is not fit for human consumption. It’s time to ditch the breakfast cereals.” As the article says, breakfast cereals are loaded with GMO’s, and the synthetic vitamins and minerals added to the cereals are often useless, as they are processed to an extent that destroys their properties, or even makes them toxic.
So, what is a healthy breakfast? — If possible, use organic, chemical-free, multi-grain bread, or make hand-made bread (roti or chapati Indian style — which I make for my cooking classes regularly for my students, and they love it), and instead of using factory-made margarine, cheese or butter, use homemade milk products such as cottage cheese or Indian paneer. Fresh, organic fruits are definitely happy alternatives to supermarket fruits that often use ripening or preserving chemicals, or even dyes. For our Indian household, we cook a vegetable curry the night before, and it makes a wonderful dish to go with the Roti for morning breakfast. A glass of milk or fresh fruit juice would supplement the healthy breakfast.
Take the lunch to work.— Of course, a busy life and work schedule does not allow us to cook at home all the time. Yet, having done just that for a very long time — both as a mother and wife as well as a 9-5 worker myself — I can’t emphasize enough how a lunch from home can help you keep healthy. Food especially from big-name fast food places is definitely not a good recipe for good health.
As www.eatthis.com/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-eat-fast-food/ highlights, “in many cases, fast food is highly processed and contains large amounts of carbohydrates, added sugar, unhealthy fats and sodium. … And when fast food frequently replaces nutritious whole foods in your diet, it can lead to all sorts of bad health outcomes. Derailing your weight loss goals is just one.”
I have always cooked food perhaps twice or three times a week, and used it for my family over the entire week. A little bit of basmati rice, with a cup of red lentil (dal), a flavorful vegetable curry, or a lamb or chicken curry (sometimes a boneless fish like flounder, tilapia or salmon), as well as egg salad sandwiches — have made great lunch box items both for myself, and my family. Eating food cooked at home during lunchtime, as opposed to eating food you don’t even know who made it and how it was made — always makes a big difference to the state of your mind. Try it: you’ll find the difference very soon.
Finally, another much-talked-about obvious: do not eat your dinner too late. — People who do not have time to do any exercise, an early dinner followed by a short rest, and then followed up by a brisk walk can help you digest your food, and make you relaxed to go to bed to have a good night’s sleep. Do not be engaged with activities before bedtime that will make your brain too tired and overwhelmed: tax questions or a difficult online game of chess is perhaps not the best way to relax your mind, when you want to go to bed. A cup of coffee or strong tea, or liquors just before bedtime is definitely not advisable. You need a rested stomach, as well as a rested brain, when you finally have time to have some serious rest. This is the time when you body and mind asks for relaxation. Looking at that computer screen, or your cell phone screen all day long tires your eyes. Your fingers are tired typing all day long. Your legs are tired walking on the street, up and down the train station stairs, or pressing that gas pedal and clutch in your car. Your mouth is tired talking. Even your ears are tired listening to good, bad, and stressful words all day long. Give all of them a good night’s rest.
Some small but significant lifestyle food habit changes could make you a stress-relieved, happier, healthier person.
Good luck, and best wishes.
Diwali is here. All over the world, Indians are celebrating the Festival of Lights.
It’s a beautiful, colorful, fun, and happy festival. Children play with firecrackers, women dress in colorful saris and various regional costumes, in some places boys and teenagers fly kites from the rooftop and street corners, and elders get their usual respects when family members touch their feet, and seek blessings.
And as with all other festivals in India, foods and sweets galore. Tradition is to make food and sweets, feed family and friends, and if and whenever possible, feed the needy and the hungry and the destitute. At least for such an auspicious time, people do their best to make sure nobody goes to bed hungry.
It’s a very auspicious time. And it’s a fun time too.
Even though Diwali has a Hindu spiritual origin (and in many places, people worship Goddess Kali the demon slayer, or Lord Ganesha the god of success and wealth), it has now become an all-inclusive, secular festival observed by Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and atheists alike. The religious or spiritual background is diverse, and it marks different historical events and stories covering a long period of time.
However, irrespective of the time and place for the story, they all symbolize victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.
And that’s how Diwali is truly the Festival of Lights. Truly, it’s a festival to celebrate humanity.
Across the Indian subcontinent, across the U.S., and across the globe wherever Indians live and bring up their families and children, people will celebrate Diwali by lighting lamps and decorating their porch, veranda, rooftop and terrace. They will decorate with clay lamps, candles, electric lamps, or other artistically made illuminations. People will also decorate their room floors and front courtyards with intricate, hand-made designs done with organic, plant-based dyes – white, yellow, red, golden, and green. Village and town women alike will adorn their homes with beautiful, colorful decorations for these auspicious days.
In many places, people let off their huge, colorful, hot-air balloons.
And then arrives the food – the great, proverbial, sumptuous, diverse, rich, creative Indian dishes. Vegetarian dishes, rice dishes, wheat dishes, legume dishes…of all imaginative varieties…will show up on the table. Meat dishes – lamb, goat, and chicken…of all forms and shapes and flavors…you name it…its’ there. The rich Indian appetizers made of plant-based produces will create more than enough appetite…only to be followed with mouth-watering entrees.
Sweets and a whole host of desserts are must-to-follow items in any Indian household, especially at this festive time of the year.
In old days, people also served a special drink made out of a mild elixir of crushed cannabis seeds. The drink was known as“bhaang.” An exceptional drink, to be consumed on an exceptionally festive time. It was a social custom practiced in various parts of India.
I don’t recommend it, because other than legal issues, it always made the most innocent people – especially unassuming women like your own sister-in-law or a neighbor’s aunt – crack up in laughter. They wouldn’t be able to stop laughing…and others around them would join in the non-stop laughter too.
Not highly recommended. Let’s laugh instead on the spirit of Diwali.
Let’s eat, have fun, and invite and include everybody else – especially the poor and needy – in this all-inclusive, secular festival.
Let the light of our hearts conquer darkness.
April 14 is often observed as the Bengali New Year’s Day, or Pahela Baisakh.
It’s also the Punjabi New Year’s Day, and they call it Vaisakhi. The first month in some Hindu lunar calendars is Baisakh or Vaisakh. Some other states and ethnic groups in India celebrate their New Year’s Day too, at the same time.
Indian subcontinent is so diverse – historically and culturally – that people from different parts of the country have different celebrations, and they are numerous. They say, you travel a hundred miles in India, and you’ve ran into a different country altogether: the language or dialect is different, people’s profiles are different, the weather is somewhat different, and lifestyles and cultures and costumes are different.
And of course, food and cuisine are totally different. It’s fascinatingly, refreshingly different. Although today, with the rising popularity of junk food and beverages and MacDonald’s and Pizza Hut and KFC, India is becoming too homogeneous, and diversity is being destroyed.
Food and culinary habits are incredibly diverse in places like Bengal and Punjab – two states where they have what we call North Indian cuisine. Then, in the Southern parts of India, it’s an entirely different world of food: with Dosa, Idli, Sambhar, Uttapam, and countless, mouth-watering dishes.
But here, we’re going to focus on North Indian food: particularly Bengali.
April is a hot month: with the rapid climate change, it’s getting even warmer. Temperatures in North India could easily reach 100 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in cities like Amritsar or Ludhiana in Punjab, New Delhi the Indian capital city, or Agra famous for the Taj Mahal. In Bengal, perhaps it’s a tad better, but the 95 to 100 degree “cooler” temperature is compensated for by a very high humidity. In even warmer months of June or July, with the start of Bengal’s famous monsoon, we call it 95/95, which means temperature and humidity can both reach that mark.
Uncomfortable, indeed! Yet, this is the time when Mother Nature offers us with her best, luxurious harvest of vegetables and fruits. And Bengalis from various corners of West Bengal and Bangladesh know how to make the best use of them.
April is the month when Bengalis savor on their famous mango and blackberry and jackfruit and litchi, and much more. There are literally hundreds of varieties of mango. We eat mangoes in various shapes and forms, plucked throughout the summer and monsoon. Other than savoring the delicacy of ripe mangoes, we make numerous kinds of pickles and chutneys with them – both raw and ripe mangoes. Jackfruit, according to some, is the King of Fruits in bountiful Bengal.
Some places in relatively “mild”-temperature of Bengal are not really so mild. In places such as Burdwan or Purulia, it can climb up very high. To keep themselves cool and sane, Bengalis in these places make some special dishes. One of them is Posto, or a paste made out of poppy seeds. Rice, dal, posto, and a lightly-spiced fish curry with plenty of soup would be a very common summer lunch across the warmers areas of Bengal.Posto made with luffa, patol, and bitter-gourd are some delicious dishes Bengalis are famous for. If you feel a little sleepy after having a posto lunch, we advise you not to drive immediately, especially if you’re having the first taste of posto in your life.
Don’t drink and drive, they say! We say, don’t posto and drive J Actually, just kidding: it’s not nearly so bad. It only calms you down, and saves you from the extreme heat.
An almost clear broth of sweetened green mango chutney mixed with dash of black mustard seeds at the end of lunch also has an equally soothing property.
Then arrive Bengal’s phenomenal desserts. Bengali New Year’s Day is never complete without its proverbial Rosogollah, sweet yogurt or Doi, and milk cakes of countless varieties calls Sandesh.
And who can then resist the taste of the crunchy paan or betel vine leaves, stuffed with various condiments?
You have this heavenly lunch to celebrate the New Year’s Day, and relax in the afternoon playing cards or chess with your relatives and friends. Life becomes beautiful.
We say, Happy New Year in Bengali: Shubho Nababarsho.
This week, for four days, we have our wonderful, colorful, fun-filled, music-filled Hindu religious festivities.
The religious part is called Durga Puja, or invocation of Goddess Durga. But truly, for many of us, it’s as much cultural as it is religious.
The essence of the religious part is that Goddess Durga, the divine force with ten hands symbolizing ten directions and powers, vanquishes Asura the demon. As with many other Hindu religious observances, the idols and their manifestations are all symbolic.
As Swami Vivekananda the great monk from India said it in America many years ago, we do not worship the idols. We worship the powers they symbolize. Our gods and goddesses and pujas and rituals are high art, as they almost always carry symbols, and metaphors and inner nuances. Plus, the way the artisans build the clay idols are purely celestial art. I guess, we celebrate the artists and their creations too.
Indian religious festivities are also never complete without sumptuous food. In places like Bengal where I come from, we have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. On some days, we choose to go vegetarian. On some others, it’s mixed with the sacrifice of a goat or lamb. But traditionally, we do not use onions or garlic to cook the sacrificial meat, on these days. And Hindus do not eat beef, nor they eat chicken or pork on religious days. But I am only talking about urban or middle-class Indians — people and communities I am familiar with.
A mixture of rice and lentils — also known as khichri — is an important part of the offering. All the food we take at the puja premises are food offered by the priest to the goddess first, before the worshipers and followers get to eat it. Because it is offered to the goddess first, we call it prasad (in Bengali or Hindi), or prasadam (in South Indian languages such as Tamil or Telugu).
Durga Puja is also full of autumn fruits. And flowers too. This is the time when India is beautiful weather; fruits and flowers are beaming with beauty and prosperity. Monsoon has just passed, and Mother Earth is lush with bright sun, moderate temperatures, and clear skies. The famous mango and blackberry season has passed, and the cooler orange season has not begun yet. But fruits such as sugarcane, banana of many varieties, papaya, grapefruit, guava, apple, pear, pomegranate, coconut, ripe jackfruit, etc. etc. are abundant. Fruits and many different flowers would be laid out on freshly cut, dark green banana leaves, and that layout itself is a work of art.
When we were small, we did not know the significance of the religious aspects. We would chant the Sanskrit prayers sung by the priest in awe, without knowing the meaning. But we would be very much looking forward to the food and desserts that came after the offering was over. It was a mouth-watering experience.
And talking about desserts — no Indian festivities are complete without desserts. In the Southern parts of India, coconut is an integral part of much of the food and desserts too. In the Northern Indian states such as Bengal, Assam, Punjab, Bihar, Orissa or Uttar Pradesh, desserts are primarily made out of cow or buffalo milk. And it is true that sweets from Bengal are famous all across India. Our delicacies such as Rosgolla and Sandesh and sweet, homemade yogurt are items no Indians have the heart to refuse.
And then, music. In places like Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore, all the biggest community pujas are followed by music festivals, where well-known or budding artists would come to sing, or play their sitar, sarod and tabla.
Durga Puja is fun. Mother Durga destroys the evil forces in us, and renews our peaceful, pious beginning for a new year. She is the ultimate force who helps us to keep free of human vices.
To the Mother, we pray for peace, resilience and strength.
We say, “Jai Ma Durga.”
Of course, Calcutta is now officially renamed as Kolkata. This is the name we have always used in the first place.
Those who have never been to that side of the world would have no way to know how different it is from here in the U.S. It is so fascinating!
Some people might argue that it is too noisy. It is too noisy, yes. Mics and loudspeakers are almost a routine part of life. If there is a festival of any kind, organizers would play some Bengali, or more often Hindi, songs. For those who live there, it is normal. But for outsiders — Indians from another town or village, let alone a foreigner, the noise could be difficult to deal with.
But it is only more prevalent during festive times, and that too with new regulations, present in certain areas at certain times. Otherwise, even in Kolkata, after-lunch and after-dinner hours could be very quiet, soothing, and settling. One can take a nap in his or her first or second-floor room, and quite enjoy a bicycle passing by with the rider ringing the old-fashioned bell. Or, perhaps a vegetable vendor or some other salesman occasionally oral-advertising his merchandise — and that too, with a melodious, characteristic tune.
Some people might find it difficult to walk on the streets because it is very crowded. In a big city like Kolkata, it is way too crowded. But that is out on the main streets and arterial roads. As soon as you get off the bus, taxi or electric tram, and enter your own residential alley, it’s a totally different solitude. You can walk down that seven-minute-long, winding alley from the bus stop to your home, and in some hours, you wouldn’t even find a soul anywhere. You might even catch a game of chess on a sidewalk porch: you can pause a while, and enjoy the never-ending, silent game between two eerily silent players, before you decide to walk back to your place again. A street dog named Kalu may receive you in front of your house; he knows very soon, he will get a few pieces of tea biscuits you’are going to throw from your second-floor veranda.
Every little corner of the city of Kolkata has its own character. Some neighborhoods are mostly Bengali neighborhoods. Some are predominantly Hindi-speaking. Some are Punjabi. Some are Oriya — people who came to Kolkata from the neighboring state of Orissa. Oriya Brahmin cooks have always found jobs in a Bengali household, because of their dexterity in cooking. Especially when a mother is ill, or indisposed because of childbirth, Oriya cooks would be temporarily hired, and given responsibility of the entire kitchen. Sometimes, even when the mother comes back, the cook would be kept permanently, because by this time, he has proved to be indispensable for the family. And the man in the house finds his chicken curry unforgettable!
We had one such Oriya cook in our family when I was in high school. Sanatan-da (Brother Sanatan) worked in some store during the day, and came to cook for our large, joint household in the evening. We were at least ten or fifteen people at one point of time in our family: my parents, my father’s elder brother with his wife and two sons, and my uncles, nephews and nieces, some of whom were refugees from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). My father was always the one who would never turn anyone away; everybody knew they could find a place to live for a few months, or a few years depending on their ability to find a job in Kolkata, once they approached my father. He was the key man in our family.
My father was a kind man. But he was also a very strict man, when it came to our food habits. He was a stickler for healthy food. Kolkata is abundant and well known for its street foods — food vendors, fruit vendors, chat sellers with their burning charcoal oven to deep-fried fritters would roam our streets every evening. But no, if my father is nearby, you wouldn’t ever be able to buy anything from them. My cousins and I would sneak out once in a while to get a quick bite of the street chat: pakora, dahi bada, samosa, kulfi malai…and so much more!
We would sit down for our school work in the evening. No middle-class family would allow their children to do anything but study religiously for a few hours, before mother called them for dinner. Occasionally, we would hear a small girl practicing her Tagore songs on a harmonium two doors down.
Father would remind us that exams were coming up, and we should not get distracted by music, cinema, or such things. He would make sure we did not get sick eating junk food, especially before the annual exams.
So much fun were those days!
Summer is fascinating in India.
Yes, it is hot. It could be very hot. In some places, like Rajasthan or Punjab, it is extremely hot. In Bengal or Tamil Nadu, it is more humid than hot. It could be very uncomfortable. And not too many people have air conditioner. The poorest of the poor don’t even have a fan in their home.
That is all true. But at the same time, summer brings out nature’s best gifts for the people in India. It’s the fruits. It’s the vegetables. It’s the flowers. It’s the treasure that Mother Nature has saved for the tropics. Those who have never lived in India in summer would not truly understand how much life an otherwise scorching sun can bring.
Solar energy is abundant, very abundant in India. The men, women and children are saved and sustained by the light of the sun. Sun keeps them healthy. By the heat it sends out, and by the blessings it sends down on earth – to produce an incredible abundance of food.
If I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t believe that only in a place like West Bengal or Bangladesh, you can get at least one thousand different varieties of mango in summer. You can find mangoes in every state, every city, and every village across India — Benaras or Bombay, Madras or Mysore, Agra or Assam. And they come in so many different shapes and sizes.
Some are big, like the size of a football. Some are tiny – like the size of a litchi. Some are deep red, and people in North and East India call them “sindur aam,” meaning vermillion-colored mango. Some are peach colored. Apricot colored. Some are absolutely beautiful green, even when they are ripe and juicy. And then, of course, you can have green mangoes, when they are green. People in India, especially children, find great pleasure to eat raw mango, with a pinch of salt, or some with a dash of chili powder laced over the pieces.
Across India, people dry green mango pieces in the sun – mostly putting them out on the roof for a few days, and then they pickle them in glass jars, using incredibly flavorful and enticing spices. Most mango pickles are done in mustard oil. And then, many people make sweet relishes out of green mango – either cooking them very slowly in sugar syrup, mixed with whole mustard seeds, or preserving them in various types of sweet sauce. One of the sweet mango relishes is called chutney – a very popular end-of-the-meal delicacy across India.
Because practically half of the one billion-plus Indian people are vegetarian, and also because Hindu widows are traditionally vegetarian, millions of Indians use mango, tamarind, cauliflower, papaya and berry pickles – both sour and sweet – to eat their rice or hand-made wheat breads, all year long. It is practically impossible to find an Indian household with no mango pickle jars on their kitchen cabinets.
Summer in India also brings out thousands of varieties of flowers. Some of the most fragrant summer flowers are white, and bloom in the night. The famous Indian tuberose or“Rajanigandha” (meaning nightly fragrance), and Jasmine have featured Indian poetry and novels through ages. Our poet Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday in summer is incomplete without a bunch of blooming, fragrant tuberose.
Street foods are also special during summer. Peddlers bring out their yummy delicacies, mostly in the afternoon and evening; and in India, they never have any lack of customers. Children, of course, are their most dedicated audience.
I remember, during school days, we would have a long summer vacation when after doing our required one-hour math and handwriting practice session in early afternoon, we would eagerly wait for the street peddlers’ special selling calls. Here comes the blackberry man. Here comes the green mango man. Here comes the pakora-walla. Here comes the watermelon-walla.
Those of us who were fortunate to have rooftop on our own houses, late in the evening, way after the sun went down, we would sprinkle water on the very hot rooftop to cool it down, and then lay out thin mats, where we and our elders would sit and chat for hours. We would have puffed rice laced with mustard oil-made mango pickles, and a generous serving of eggplant or onion fritters.
The moon would jealously look down on us.
Summer is very, very nostalgic.
Be ready. Our New Year’s Day is coming up. We say, Shubho Naba Barsho.
The First Day or Pahela of a Bengali New Year happens in the middle of April. Indian calendars are lunar calendar, and the first month is called Vaisakh. The Bengali New Year therefore is called Pahela Vaisakh.
On the calendar, Vaisakh is the first month of a two-month summer. Scorching summer. In some places, it can reach up to forty degrees…maybe even forty five. Which is well above 100 F. Then appears the famous Bengali monsoon cloud with its famous, continuous rain, thunder and country floods. Frogs flourish. In remote villages, snakes flourish too. Monsoon also goes on for two months. Monsoon is followed by a beautiful, sunny autumn.
And so on.
Pahela Vaisakh, the New Year’s Day, is well known for its food and festivities. In other parts of India also, such as Punjab in the north or Assam in Far East, this day is celebrated with much fanfare. In southern state of Kerala too, this is an auspicious day.
In Punjab, it’s called Vaisakhi.
Bengalis love their food, and they love their festivities. The gods and goddesses have blessed Bengal – both the province of West Bengal where I came from, and also East Bengal that is now known as Bangladesh. My parents came from East Bengal, after the British partition.
In the Hindu Bengali community, Pahela Vaisakh is celebrated with a religious offering or Puja to Ganesha, the god of success. Traders and merchants in particular have their observance, before they ceremoniously begin their yearly accounts book. In Bengal, they call it Haal Khata, or the new ledger. Small traders and shopkeepers, whether it’s a sweet shop, grocery store, neighborhood book publishing business or a tiny hairstyling saloon, the owners make sure the decorate their shop with the ceremonious banana plants adorned with the sacred vermillion or sindur. The puja ritual is done inside by a Brahmin priest, and then the trader would have abundant food and particularly sweets to give away to local children or guests whoever show up that day.
In a few places in India, people also fly kites on the New Year’s Day to celebrate the festivities. India is a very diverse country, where you can find different customs and cultures only a hundred miles apart. Some places fly kites. Some others places perhaps have a rowing competition.
Food, of course, is an integral part of any religious or social festivities in India. Bengali or Punjabi or Assamese New Year’s Day is no exception to the rule. But on the two sides of Bengal, food has assumed a very rich role in these festivities.
Many people in Bangladesh celebrate Pahela Vaisakh with an exotic combination of rice soaked overnight in water they call Pantaa Bhaat, and a special preparation of the famous Hilsa fish. There, they call it Ilish. The major rivers such as Ganges in West Bengal and Padma in Bangladesh are lush with this beautiful, shiny, silvery fish that is absolutely mouth-watering. No Bengali New Year’s Day celebration is complete with Pantaa-Ilish. It is a must. Add some hot green chili to the mix. That is, if you can take it.
Ilish is cooked in many different styles in different parts of Bengal. Some bake it with special spices. Some put pieces of the fish coated with turmeric and salt in a soft banana leaf, and slowly cook it inside an earthen pot on a very low charcoal heat. The baked Hilsa is known as Bhapa Ilish. Some cook it with a generous amount of mustard seed paste, mixed with green chili. That curry is known as Sarisha Ilish. Then, some others would not wait much longer once the fish arrives either from the village river or from the city market. They would cut it delicately in large pieces, and deep fry in mustard oil.
Absolutely heavenly – all of the above.
And of course, no lunch or dinner is complete in India and Bengal without its fabulous desserts. There are so many varieties of desserts and sweets there that one would simply keep counting them for the rest of their lives.
And mangoes. A very big part of the Bengali celebration. Unending varieties of mangoes, too.
That’s how life is like back there: full of food, full of fun, and full of family and friendship.
Be a part of this wonderful celebration.
Shubho Naba Barsho.
Memories come back during this festive season.
I grew up in an extended family in Calcutta, with fifteen or twenty people sharing three rooms and a common kitchen. We didn’t complain. We were all very happy. That was our life: not affluent, but very happy.
However, growing up together with cousins, aunts and uncles, my parents and I did not have a lot of quality time to the three of us. So my father, who was always big on eating healthy, made a yearly plan. He took us to a small, then-empty hill station called Rajgir, in the nearby state of Bihar. Rajgir, by the way, is the place where they have relics of the world’s most ancient university called Nalanda. Rajgir was full of fresh air with plenty of oxygen, and tons of healthy food. My parents and I would be away from the city hustle and bustle for nearly two months, in the months of December and January.
We make resolutions every year on January 1. But often, we fail to keep them, and follow up with them. It is because in many cases, the resolutions are not pragmatic. They are often too ambitious, or too unrealistic.
Health resolutions are harder, because of the many provocations with food. Food that we should eat, and food that we should not. Drinks and beverages: the same story. Especially during festive seasons, we get attracted to food and drinks that we know are not good for us; yet, they are too big of a temptation to avoid. We end up consuming too much fat, too much cholesterol, and too much alcohol and caffeine.
Is there a balance we can strike, and still not eat cardboard cereal, and drink tap water only?
How can we have fun, without having to compromise the pleasures of eating and drinking? And still be healthy?
I have some simple tips for you.
And we will eat sumptuous Indian food to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Diwali, or Deepavali.
Indian households, particularly Bengali homes, practically spend their days and nights thinking about eating. At least, that’s how it used to be when we grew up.
The day begins planning for food: breakfast around 7 A.M., followed by lunch (around 10 A.M. on weekdays, and 1 P.M. on weekends), followed by afternoon snacks (around 4 P.M. when kids return from school), followed by evening snacks (around 7 P.M., when kids return from playground and the head of the household returns from work), followed by dinner (around 10 P.M.).
There are some Indian families where dinner is really late: around midnight. Believe it or not! Not good for health, though.
Of course, today, with more health consciousness and less available time, life has become “less exciting,” when it comes to having many meals and munches throughout the day.
Let’s talk about breakfast.
Breakfast used to be fun. Not like today’s routine cereal and milk, or toast and eggs — in affluent, Westernized families; or no breakfast in a very busy, nuclear family where everybody would go out to work at 8 A.M. sharp. Laid-back were those days when we grew up. Father would work in government office, with a stable and peaceful lifelong job, and mother would stay at home. Father would plan with mother the night before what next morning’s breakfast would be.
Weekdays and weekends, just for the simple reason that one has more time than the other, would have different sorts of breakfast.
On a regular weekday, father would go out to work at 10 A.M. (and in my case, my mother would also go out to work more or less at the same time, unless she had morning duties at the post office where she worked all her life). Therefore, breakfast would be made between 7 and 7.30 A.M. Weekday breakfast would include leftover roti (handmade wheat bread) from last night; but in order to make it delicious, mother would fry it with ghee on a flat skillet. The roti would turn dark brown, but father would take special supervisory role to make sure mother would not over-fry it, so that it turned black. Once it turned even remotely blackish, it’s no fun to munch on it anymore. It’s bitter.
This ghee-fried, crispy and crunchy, golden brown roti would be savored with some cane sugar, sugarcane or date-palm jaggery, or for the less-sweet-toothed, Indian style mango relish or achaar, or even leftover curry, warmed up on the clay oven.
For the more Westernized but less affluent, French toast, but not with pricy eggs, but with a batter made out of chickpea flour of besan. Equally delicious and nutritious, but less harmful to heart. Eat a few pieces of besan French toast with a dash of salt and pepper.
Weekend breakfast would be elaborate. Luchi (deep-fried white-flour, puffy bread), Paratha (triangular bread fried on a flat skillet with ghee or oil), served with very thinly sliced potato fries. Especially, in summer, fried Patol (a delicate vegetable of the cucumber family), or in winter, fried cauliflower. In families where they have health restrictions on use of oil or ghee, they would make a spicy curry with all of the above vegetables, with minimal oil (not mustard or coconut oil, both of which are high in cholesterol).
No breakfast is complete without some sweets. In Bengal, Mohan Bhog (in Hindi, they call it Halva) would be a major treat for kids and adults alike. It is made out of semolina and ghee, with generous amount of cane sugar added to it. Once in a while, perhaps a few, mouth-watering Ras-Gollah, or Gulab Jamun.
Then, after breakfast, it’s time to ponder carefully about the lunch menu. Time for the family member who has time, to go to the local farmer’s market or bazaar, a very important, daily ritual for most Indian households, even today.
Here is a Mukti’s Kitchen recipe for you, a gift on Diwali.
Poha (Flattened Rice with cauliflower, cashews and raisins)
Poha is originally a Marathi-Gujarati dish (from the Western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat), a popular vegetarian breakfast, with a fragrant nutty flavor. I made this in my in-laws house with the supervision of my father-in law. He travelled across India, and he introduced me to many vegetarian dishes. I still remember my First Poha making and getting nervous whether it would come out nice. Especially in your new home where people are watching over your cooking skills. You have to make sure your flattened rice is not sticky. It must be fluffy, and that is the trick.
Poha (a Bengali modification)
Prep time – 15 minutes
Cook time – 20 minutes
Total time – 35 minutes
Yield – 4-6 people
How to soak the poha
How to roast spices
Now, the actual cooking process
Happy Diwali to All.