Whole wheat hungama

An unplanned hiatus from blogging is never easy. So when I was forced to forget about food-blogging for a while, I missed it like crazy. More so because I didn’t stop cooking. Quite contrary actually, I haven’t experienced a busier time in my kitchen. Whether it was cooking two fresh beyond-the-ordinary meals on most days, I have been trying to push the envelope for myself. And before you ask, no I wasn’t running a mini restaurant kitchen in my home, but I was trying to keep home food exciting, without losing out on a balance of veggies, meat, lentils and the rest — you know, all the good stuff and bad — in moderation. So much fodder for blogging, and no blog to say it all on.

It is during this time that I learned a few things. If it were possible to have any more love and respect for the women in my family who have stellar standards in this kind of domestic godess-ness, I discovered an all new admiration for my mother, my grandmother, and some of the other leading ladies in my life. For relentlessly living the healthy life, setting such amazing examples of balanced eating and the good life. And mostly, for doing it all so casually, without making it seem like an effort or an ordeal. It’s probably where the beginnings of thinking about what I put in my belly took root.

With my own mother, I know how hard it must have been to watch a career in music simmer on the back burner, while two fast-growing daughters (and we were quite the handful, in our own respective ways) and a full-fledged teaching career took up all her time. It might have been easier to give us packets of biscuits and chips in between meals, double up on the Maggi noodles and allow us to buy all the junk food we wanted to, every time we politely asked for it.

The hugsband doesn’t believe it was possible, but I grew up in a home where biscuits and chips were a rare indulgence. Maggi was almost never bought. And I didn’t develop a taste for aerated drinks until much later in life because I just didn’t know what it would taste like. Even when we were allowed to buy a bar of chocolate, we’d eat a couple of pieces at a time, post a meal. To this day, I find it hard to chow down a whole bar in one go, and watch aghast when VC looks at me like I’m an alien for asking how he does it.

Some may say it was a childhood deprived of the simple pleasures, but maybe our vocab is just different because even now simple food pleasures to me are things like hot dal and steamed rice. Freshly steamed beans palya. Golden parathas hot off the griddle with a smear of butter. Homemade ragi or dalia porridge for breakfast with jaggery syrup. If we wanted french fries, amma made them at home. If we wanted noodles, she’d buy an odd packet of Maggi and load it up with peas and carrots and beans. I’ve probably more than made up for my share of indulgence in junk, but I think at the core I know what a balanced diet should be, and what being healthy feels like. So after a couple of years of completely going off the rails as far as food was concerned, I was able to reign it all back in on my own without much help. I could intuitively manage my kitchen, feed myself the good stuff and bring my health and body back on track. I have the basics sorted, sometimes I slip with following through. But hey, I’m human.

I’ve learned that health is a life choice that you sustain over time, not pick one fine day. The best part about this was that my parents lived every bit of this with us. They didn’t have separate rules for the kids while they ate all the junk adults are supposed to be allowed to have. We ate our meals together and talked about what we ate, where it came from and how important it was to eat what’s in our plates. It’s hard to forget lessons like that. Even though I might not have actively absorbed it all, or listened with keenness back then, I know that by osmosis, its percolated into my system. It stayed within and surfaced a few years ago when I set up my own kitchen.

I look around me, people I know, friends and relatives my age and I know I am healthier than most. That health is a continuing journey to stick with, not a point at which you arrive and then let go, is a concept not many are familiar with. Even today, I’m mocked for gymming so hard even though “I don’t need it”, and I laugh inwardly rather than try and explain that it isn’t about looking thin, but feeling and staying fit.

I’ve learned that I wouldn’t be able to do it all if I didn’t know better. I know the roots of this all go back to that dining table in my parents home. The one where I learnt about fresh veggies, unrefined food and whole grains. My parents talked the whole-wheat, unrefined-sugar talk long before it became a hipster cool thing to latch on to.

I’ve learned that these little lessons come back and surprise me when I’m not even looking. The food I make for us at home is a lot like the food I ate growing up, and yet it is so different. But in sneaky little ways, I see how it all stems from the good beginnings I’ve had. I realise it when I look at the last four posts and see they’re all whole-wheat based preparations, even though they’re so vastly different in style.

Look! (click pictures to visit the recipe links)

A fancy-looking braided loaf, to style up brunch.
A fancy-looking braided loaf, to style up brunch.
Spicy onion paranthas that just need salad or raita to turn into a full meal.
Spicy onion paranthas that just need salad or raita to turn into a full meal.
Whole wheat and oatmeal breakfast muffins with unrefined sugar and no butter. Yes, its possible.
Whole wheat and oatmeal breakfast muffins with unrefined sugar and no butter. Yes, its possible.
A spicy palak masala loaf to mop up your favourite curry or gravy.
A spicy palak masala loaf to mop up your favourite curry or gravy.

From small and possibly uninterested beginnings at that little dining table, I’ve reached a point where I feel uncomfortable if I eat more than two meals in a row without an adequate amount of veggies. I know just how many eggs and how much meat in a week is too much for me. Heck, I’ve even managed to have a lot of this rub off on VC, who grew up in a household that is the diametric opposite of where I come from. Food-wise. And it’s these little things that have helped me chisel away at developing my own homestyle cooking, gleaning from a million different sources of inspiration, always back-tracking and checking things with Amma as I go. I couldn’t claim this is my doing, even if I tried because there will always be these little signs to point be back to where it all started. That dining table in my parents home.

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15 Replies to “Whole wheat hungama”

  1. Yes, it all starts with good beginnings!! For instance, I have this thing about freshly cooked meals..I am not one for leftovers or cooking and keeping stuff in the fridge for days on end.. because that’s the way it was at home.. my friends ofcourse think I’m being way too fussy!

    1. OMG me too.. And as a result cooking just the right amount because I hate wasting, becomes an obsession, and getting it right every time – a life’s mission!

  2. I agree whole heartedly. Although I was a total junk food addict while I was growing up, I have become much more health conscious because of diabetes in my family. I feel kind of bad that I will not be care free about junk food as I was when growing up. But you know, as you said it is part of the deal for staying healthy. Its a journey.

    1. It is a journey.. And I have my junk food binges, few and far between, but I do let go and indulge when I am feeling like it. However, it has never become an everyday thing for me. For that, I am glad and thankful :)

        1. On the other hand, theres a LOT of other stuff thats easy and yummy and yet isnt maggo and chips hahahaha..

          I didnt mean to pontificate about the benefits of eating healthy. Like I said its a personal choice. One that depends on soooo many things. I couldnt make the choice until i had the time and flexibility to do it. When I was tearing my hair out trying ti balance home and work, I ordered greasy chinese A LOT. I resorted to junk a lot. Things come full circle when theyre meant to I think.

  3. Aw. Now I know what you meant. You know, until I met you and a couple of other similar people, I was convinced my sis and I were the odd ones – I don’t remember my parents ever actively buying us chocolates/ chips/ maggi and the like. Fish and fruits and vegetables? That they loaded us up on! I still cannot finish a 250 ml bottle of a fizzy drink or a full chocolate bar. And I am thankful to my parents for that. Hot meals, despite amma working full- time, fresh food, trips to the markets (and they used to make it sound like such an adventure that I should be glad I got invited to!) and a constant insistence on fresh, healthy, local and simple. I lack terribly in the exercise department (and god knows I need a lot of it) but in all my 30 years of being, I’ve been unwell and out exactly once and for that, I only have my parents to thank.

  4. I was nodding along all through the post. And you hit the nail on the head on the chocolate bit. I’m married to someone who cannot wrap his head around how someone can eat just *one* piece of chocolate and I couldn’t believe that it was humanly possible to eat more than two pieces in one sitting. Conditioning, I tell ya!

    Yet, I was amazed when you mentioned in an earlier post how you went for a month without eating out (was it one month or three?) – that is really wonderful. And while I truly don’t consider cooking a chore and I’d love to eat out far less often, I need a break from cooking at least once a week and end up giving in! Kudos.

    1. Haha yes the chocolate bit still boggles my mind. The eating out was a one month experiment to strt with. Then we realised it had become three months during which we went out all of maybe 2-3 times. It varies though. Like if we have nofriends visiting or no interruptions in or schedule its easier to stick to it. I also tire of cooking man but iv figured out easy workarounds for those days when i dont want to think and spend an hour cooking. I make things like upma with veggies or vermicelli. Or a BIG loafed salad with toast. It does take effort but its not impossible iv realised.

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