Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Happiness Program


The basic tenet of  what is taught in "Art of Living" is that - Every emotion has a corresponding rhythm in the breath and that regulating the breath can help elevate the individual and help relieve personal suffering. I had attended my first Art of Living class in Chennai almost 15 years back and for the 2 weeks that I practised the art and science of breath religiously - I felt energized, happy, stress-free...and then life came by...work load, releases, management issues, work trips, dinners/lunches, a baby, illness in the family...think of an excuse, I probably gave it ALL to myself in my head and it worked. 

When I went for the Diwali Mela this year and S handed me a flyer for an "Happiness Program - Art of Living Course" at Oracle I was intrigued. I wanted to try again...so with high intentions and zero expectations I started the AOL course yesterday - two days in I am so glad I did. Let me start of with some caveats :

  • I am content with status quo
  • I believe I have everything that makes me happy in the present moment available to me already
  • I don't believe emotions are good or bad...I believe happiness is a choice that I make for myself
The reason I wanted to put these caveats out here, is I want to emphasize that you don't need to be in a place of pain, trauma, depression, distress to need to (or want to!) go to programs such as this one. It could just be you open to new thoughts, willing to be re-energized, be given a new tool to enhance your health and wellness....

A key part of the AOL program is this breathing technique called the Sudarshan Kriya and this breathing technique has a multitude of researched benefits. I have tried to list a few below - 
  1. Increases Deep Sleep > 200%
  2. Production of Well Being Hormones (Prolactin) > 50%
  3. Reduce Stress > 50%
  4. Reduce Depression > 70%
  5. Increases Mental Focus & Immunity
  6. Reduces Cholesterol & Blood Pressure
The first day after I did Sudarshan Kriya - I had severe headache and I had my sinus flare up and then my mother reminded me that the Kriya actively works on your body to flush out the toxins and this flush out manifests itself in different symptoms for the participants...the key is to ensure that you are consistent and accountable around your practice. I will definitely do a couple more blog posts on AOL, mostly to keep myself honest and accountable. I will talk about physical and mental changes that I am observing as the practice progresses - it will be a public online journal of sorts.

Here is the one thing that struck me as oddly strange this week during practice was apart from the two teachers who were Oracle Employees and me (from Oracle) - the two other participants were non-Oracle folks. I understand that we are all engrossed in the busyness of life but when such an opportunity presents itself to us it's sad that we focus on making excuses to ourselves and others. We are reluctant to invest the time and energy into ourselves...which I think is a very tactical approach vs. taking the long play approach of "if I don't take care of myself, I am the one who will suffer in the long run". I do see a lot of healthy and happy folks BUT at the same time I see people who are stressed, unhappy and not really focused on taking care of themselves. I would say Give yourself the permission to be Happy and Well. Attend one AOL session and see where the journey takes you.

I think there is another session of AOL happening on Dec 18th...reach out to the teachers.   In the words of Sri Sri - “But joy is never tomorrow; it is always now.” My "now" includes my first Kriya Home Practice early in the AM tomorrow...what does your "now"include.

Monday, October 16, 2017

#MeToo

"#metoo - whether it was close at home or outside on that public bus (where the older "gentleman" copped a feel) or at work where you are told "you will get promoted after you come back from maternity" and yet life makes you stronger and more resilient - you take the learning and pass it along to your next generation. You teach your young man to cook, clean and help but more importantly to empathize with and respect women. That for me is true progress" 
#Metoo Campaign - is just a "tip of the iceberg" - 9 out of every woman I have talked to at work or personally has a gender discrimination or harassment (or both) story to share.  There is a monumental amount of work to be done in confronting this climate of  gender discrimination and harrassment—one in which women are belittled and undermined and abused and sometimes pushed out of their industries altogether. But uncovering the colossal scale of the problem and having women speak up is revolutionary in its own right.

In anticipation of  a "bright future" where equality is not just a buzz word but something we consciously add into our psyche AND   Diwali I made one of my favorite desserts with a healthy twist - "Sakkarai Pongal" with a blend of quinoa and brown rice. This recipe is definitely not a #metoo but one of it's kind - easy to make, healthy and an acquired taste (my family loves it!). The ghee used in this recipe was also made in my Instant Pot ( I use Organic Valley  butter).

Here's my quick and easy recipe for Sakkarai Pongal -

 Sakkarai Pongal ( to bright futures)


Ingredients

  1. 1/2 Cup Quinoa/Brown Rice Blend,  1/2 Cup Moong Dal (toasted)
  2. 1/2 Cup Powdered Jaggery ( I used 1/4 cup jaggery and 2 tsp Stevia)
  3. 2 tablespoons ghee ( use more or less, based on your preference)
  4. Cashews and Raisins, Crushed Elaichi Powder (Cardamom)
Method
  1. Put your Instant Pot in Saute Mode -  heat the ghee and fry the cashews and raisins golden brown. Remove and set the fried cashews and raisins aside
  2. Now to the same pan add the toasted quinoa/brown rice blend and moong dal (or this might be a good time to toast it :-) )
  3. Add two and a 1/4 cups of water and set on "Rice Mode" - natural release
  4. When you open your instant pot you will see that the Pongal has a semi-watery consistency. That is perfect !!! I add the powdered jaggery and mix it into this mixture thoroughly ( I don't make the jaggery water mix separately...if you have the time and the inclination please feel free to do that additional step). 
  5. I then add the crushed cardamom powder, raisins and cashews
  6. Enjoy with your family !!!
Happy Diwali!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Troublesome Thursdays!

Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like.                                                                                              --Lemony Snicket
Thursdays are always a drag for me NOT Wednesday...it starts off at a crazy pace for the week - at work, the school lunch run, the hundred other little things that need to be completed. My Thursday started of with a "series of unfortunate events"...the racoons getting into our garbage and having a midnight party...which means you are on your hands and knees picking up garbage first thing in the morning (yeah! yeah! I would rather you picture me in an LBD with perfectly coiffed hair and a moisturized made up face ;-) ), the HOA gardner blowing all the leaves on to my clean porch (what!) and my son losing the binder that had an important paper he had to return to school...an hour into the morning and I am ready to jump into bed and pull the comforter over my head and will the day away...

Then slowly things right themselves out and I have the chai made, a load of laundry running, the son's hot chocolate is on the table, the instant pot did it's magic with my 15 minute sambar on the side and my son's  lunch box was a yes on the checkbox and soon I was off to work and with hours of work down my belt...yup! all is right in my world now and I am ready to face the rest of the day. And while I take a quick walk after lunch, this beautiful view is what I get to see "every single day at work"...so for that I feel #gratitude



I am excited for this week to be over and the next one to begin - I will be attending the GraceHopper Conference in Orlando ( Thanks MC for making this a reality for me :)) and I can't wait to hear all those amazing women in tech share their ideas.

15 Minute Sambar

You need :
  • Chopped Onion (1/2), Chopped Garlic (3-4 Pods), Chopped Tomato (1)
  • Frozen Vegetables Bag from Whole Foods (Carrots, Peas and Beans - 1/2)
  • 1 cup Toor Dal (soaked in hot water)
  • Aachi Sambar Masala (Indian Store)
  • Imli Pichku ( pouch of tamarind )
  • Other items : Turmeric Powder, Hing, Whole Mustard, Curry Leaves, Ghee
Steps :

  1. Turn the IP to Saute Mode -  Add in 1/2 spoon ghee, add the hing, now splutter the mustard seeds and curry leaves. 
  2. Add the Chopped Onions and Garlic and brown it in the instant pot.
  3. Once onions are browned, add the turmeric, aachi sambar powder, chopped tomatoes, frozen veggies and soaked dal. Add 2.5 cups of water, more if you like your sambar a watery consistency
  4. Give it a whirl, add salt to taste and the tamarid paste
  5. High Pressure 7-10 minutes (depending on how mushy you want your sambar - I tend to go longer) - No Release
Once done - enjoy a bowl  by itself, its delicious, my dinner usually is a big bowl of Sambar and a cup of greek yogurt. It's really filling.

Tips & Tricks : 

  1. Double the Quantity and save some for the next day! I always do and it tastes better
  2. Pack Quinoa and Sambar for a quick hot lunch for your kids (add a dollop of ghee, they need it)
  3. Add a cup of Quinoa and an extra cup and half of water - it's an easy version of BesiBelaBhaat


How has your Thursday been going...:)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pitru Paksha & the recipe for the mother of all Dals

"The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intentions"

Today was the end of "Pitru Paksha" - according to Hindu beliefs, the souls of our three preceding generations reside in Pitru-Loka, which is considered to be a realm between heaven and earth. This realm is led by the god of death, Yama. It is believed that when a person from the next generation dies, the first generation is taken to heaven bringing them closer to God. Only the last three generations in Pitru-Loka are given shradha rites.
According to Hindu scriptures, during the Mahabharata, when Karna died his soul was taken to heaven where he was offered lots of gold and jewels. However, Karna was looking for food to eat and asked Indra, who is considered as the lord of heaven, the reason for serving gold as food. That's when Indra told Karna that he donated gold all his life, but never donated food to his ancestors during Shradh. Realising what Indra claimed, Karna answered that he never knew who his ancestors were, so he couldn't donate anything in their memory. However, Karna was given a chance to amend his mistake and was permitted to return to earth for 15 days, so that he could perform shradh rites and donate food and water in their memory. This 15-day period was then named as Pitru Paksha. It is believed that the more you feed the poor the more it will reach your ancestors and they bless you.
We celebrated Pitru Paksha in our own unique way by offering sandwiches to a few homeless people - don't know how they felt about the sandwiches...but  I felt amazing.

At home my mother made Dalma and offered it to the Gods and our ancestors and after a semi-fasting day I got to eat a HOT steaming bowl of Dalma...some kind of magic that was. Dalma is a dish that is  an quintessential Oriya dish made with lentils.
Dalma : the mother of dal

What you need?
  • Roasted Moong Dal ( 1 cup) - wash and keep soaked in water for 20 minutes
  • Medium Pieces of Cut Vegetables (2-3 cups) : Brinjal/EggPlant, Sweet Potato, Banana, Beans, Cauliflower, Carrot, 
  • 2 Cut Tomatoes
  • Masala - Panch Phoron (Mustard, Kala Jeera, Fennel, Cumin, Fenugreek) , Turmeric, Ginger, Green Chillies, Hing, Jeera, Red Chillies
  • Ghee, Sugar/Salt
Dalma Recipe 
  1. Dry Roast cumin seeds and red chilies and grind to a powder
  2. Turn the Instant Pot to saute mode and add 1 tbsp of ghee, put hing, splutter the panch phoron, crushed ginger and green chillies (add bay leaf optional).
  3. Add the cut vegetables and tomatoes. Then add turmeric, salt 
  4. Add the soaked moong dal
  5. Manual High Pressure 5-7 minutes (no release)
  6. Garnish with the roasted jeera/chilly powder to taste and cilantro (optional).  Squeeze lemon juice and  enjoy with a bowl of quinoa or as I did by itself.
What did you do for Pitru Paksha today?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Don’t turn away, Give today!


“I’ve found the best way of tackling steepish hills is not to look for the top but to focus on my feet”

We are a 12 people strong HeartFit team. Our team has been thinking of innovative ways to get folks to donate to our cause and Rosh on our team has a BRILLIANT idea - he is offering the following
"He will do an amazing caricature of you  for a $25 donation to his heart walk account . Send Rosh  a picture with what activity you would like to associate to the caricature. So he can do a pencil/pen cartoon and deliver it on the day of heart walk.Here is a digital cartoon he has done for reference  on Instagram...and here's one that he did of me today (and yes! I happily donated again to the walk :) )



What do you have to lose? You are donating $25 to a cause to build Heart Health and Stroke Awareness and you have an AMAZING caricature of yourself made by this awesome dude. WIN-WIN !!!

Need more motivation  on why we walk and give- watch the video below -




Please donate to our cause on our Team Page @ HeartFit

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

DREAMers United...

                                                 "I had a dream
                      I had a dream that we were ... a generation to behold 

                Writing fires with our words ... Instead of useless smoke that blurs"

I watched a really powerful movie over the weekend - "Hidden Figures", the messages in the movie struck a chord in me - a society that aims to deny opportunity to any of its members shoots itself in the foot. The task is to exhume and examine the struggles of our past, to move beyond hidden hate, find talent wherever it may exist and, together, reach for the stars.

Brings me to current day and the very real problem of the revocation of the DACA by our erstwhile President. Being a first generation immigrant, I understand the hardships firsthand of making a spot for yourself in a new country, slowly settling in and "sort of" fitting in and getting comfortable. My son being born in this country was not his choice but a part of the adult's decision making process....so as I was trying to explain the implications of the revocation of DACA to K2, he exclaimed - but it's not their fault, this is so unfair. If a 10 yr old is able to understand the implications of this action, why is a grown up 71 yr old  who is responsible for the well-being of this entire country not able to make the right choice ...boils down to one thing...he doesn't believe in equal rights for all...almost feels like we are going back a century into the times when it was ok to have segregation between races...

As I ponder these potentially flammable topics on a very hot day ( the Bay Area has been touching 110 degrees in temperature this week...), we cool down with some scrumptious Dahi Vada.

We made yogurt for the first time in the IP :

  1. Phase 1 - Heat the Milk, 2% Organic Milk 1/2 Gallon (make sure vent is in sealing)
  2. Phase 2 - Cool the milk ( ~ 35-40 minutes)
  3. Phase 3 - Add the Starter - I added the Nanak Yogurt, tastes the closest to Indian Dahi
  4. Phase 4 - Set the Dahi - Press the Yogurt button and let the IP  do it's magic
We made a super simple Dahi Vada with "Deep's Vada"...we don't fry in my house...so this is the work-around ;-)



As I enjoyed the Dahi Vadas on a hot day, the words of Martin Luther King rang loud and clear in my mind - Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So I am asking myself the question - what am I going to do about it?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bridging the Gender Gap

“Too often women overestimate the risks and underestimate themselves. Only by doing the very things we’re afraid of can we come to realize how little reason we ever had to fear. The only way to build confidence and courage is by acting with it.”

A creature of habit - I got up this morning at 6.45 AM. I jump into the morning "school run" routine. I heat up the water for the morning chai, start the pressure cooker for a choley subzi , heat up my son's AM hot chocolate and start emptying the dishwasher. I am like a "robot on auto-pilot" packing my son's lunch box with snacks and drinks, waiting for the choley to get done so that I can pack it in his thermos. I am done with most of the activities around 7.30 AM and sit down with my cup of chai (after I have poured out a cup for my mother and K1) and my customary handful of peanuts to check on urgent emails that need a quick response. As I was in the middle of a work email, suddenly the pressure cooker whistles and I instruct K2 aka my general boy friday - my son to switch off the pressure cooker and my husband to get a bag of Annie's cookies from the garage. My mother suddenly comments - Come On you are doing nothing...just ordering them around - how do you get your exercise - BollyX? 
That was the proverbial matador waving a red cloth before the bull - of course! I lost it !!! But the reality is this is not just my mother's  (Note : I said mother not MIL) attitude...this is the attitude of most women my mother's generation from our part of the globe - the expectation that a woman/girl should seamlessly don multiple hats while the men can rest and relax (on the merit of the fact that they were born men !!!).  Seriously - if women can't be a support system for women (especially your own mother) who else will be?
Anyway enough said about my gender gap travails and lets talk about the above-mentioned Choley/Channa Masala that is honestly a life-saver in my meal plans because it's so simple.

CHANNA/CHOLEY MASALA




What you Need?

Bhuna Masala - I make this by the truckload and freeze it ( I make enough to last me 1-2 months). I take a little bit of oil (about 1/2 tsp) and add jeera and turmeric - then I add grated ginger ( 1 huge knob) and garlic ( one entire one) and let it cook with 6 Red Onions till the onions brown, then I add 6 large tomatoes or 8 medium tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes, the more you cook the better the bhuna masala tastes. When it has cooled down a bit I grind the masala in my Blendetec and store in small mason jars in my freezer for use as and when needed. This makes my normal day to day cooking way uncomplicated. And if we are honest here, I am no cooking diva - just someone who loves eating and loves eating healthy. I used the Bhuna Masala from my freezer today.

Choley Masala - I use Roopak's Pindi Chana Masala - I swear by this one - but I am sure you have your favorite brand, go ahead and use that

Canned Organic Garbanzo Beans  (from Trader Joe's) - no preservatives in this only sea-salt. I wash and rinse the chickpeas out to control how much salt goes into the dish.

Ketchup,  Cilantro, Cinnamon Powder (optional)

In your Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot - first Saute the Bhuna Masala (no oil for me) but if you are so inclined with a bit of oil. Use one large table spoon of bhuna masala per can of choley. Then add the Chana Masala - everyone has their formula - I add a large teaspoon per can of Choley. I cook for a while and then add the choley. In the Instant Pot I cook the Choley for 5 minutes high pressure, NR. On the pressure cooker I cook it for 2 whistles, QR. Add salt to taste. I add some ketchup (don't ask me why, it kicks the taste up a notch) and then sprinkle cinnamon  to taste and Cilantro (if I have it).

I usually make 3 cans worth of choley and it lasts us two meals - honestly it tastes better the next day with just a side of toast. I am enjoying a quiet lunch at my desk of Channa Masala and a banana as I write this blog post


I will leave you with the thought that - the way I am countering this gender gap is I am bringing up a boy who appreciates working women, who empathizes with the efforts we put into keeping our work lives & personal lives running smoothly. More importantly I am bringing up a boy who can  COOK a killer Channa Masala.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Soul Soup...

"Each day is an adventure in discovering the meaning of life. It is each little thing that you do that day - whether it be spending time with your irritatingly adorable 10 yr old, bickering over nothing with your husband, catching up with friends, dancing your heart out or just watching that humming bird flirt with the flowers - that holds the key to discovering the meaning of life. I would rather be out enjoying these things than doing too much introspection on the meaning of life. There is always that hot bowl of soup which lets me do some of my soul-searching instantly...."
                                                                                         ---Soul Soup

If you know me you know how much I hate spending too much time in the kitchen...but then you also know how much I love eating which brings me to my dilemma of how do I eat a really awesome meal cooked in < 30 minutes.

The past two weeks have been hard on K2 and me...just the "busyness" of life getting to us and not having K1 around making our familiar routines unfamiliar and we are really trying to make the best of the "pressure cooker situation" - K1's dad is having a major surgery in India today and it has us all on the edge literally. In the kitchen I have stuck to making brain dead easy recipes and last night was not very different - K2 and I had made our trek down to the farmer's market and one of our picks had been organic beets with the beet tops.



I usually make beetroot cutlets (patties) for K2 with the beets and sweet potatoes...I save the beet greens for a soup. Here's a super simple soup recipe for your Instant Pot

What you need:

  • Beet Greens ( 1-2 bunches - cleaned and cut to small pieces)
  • Other vegetables : carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, opo squash (lauki)...anything works. I used a full opo-squash and 2 carrots (mostly because I had it and wanted to add more veggies)
  • 1 cup Red Lentils (Masoor) - soaked for 1 hr
  • 1 container Low Sodium Pacific Foods - Organic Creamy Tomato Soup
  • Secret Weapon : Aachi's Rasam Mix - 1 tbspoon ( find it in your local Indian Store)
  • Chopped Onions, Chopped/Minced Garlic ( 6 cloves)
  • Optional - Coriander Leaves/Cilantro, 1 lemon


What to do

Turn your Instant Pot on Saute....add half a tsp of oil/ghee...I used ghee. Add a pinch of hing, a tsp of turmeric powder and let it sizzle -- then add the garlic and onion and let it sweat for 2-3 minutes till the onion turns brown and smells some kind of awesome. Now add in the Beet Greens, the veggies, the Aachi Rasam Powder and the soaked lentils....cook for another 2 minutes. Now add the entire container of soup and another container of water. Put the Instant Pot on Soup Mode (if it shows 30 minutes reduce to 25 minutes). Now forget your pressure cooker....go watch some TV or read a book.

Once the soup is done, you can do a quick release--- squirt lemon juice, adjust the salt to taste...I usually keep it low in salt and add lots of cilantro...I just love the freshness Cilantro adds to the soup.

Enjoy with crusty garlic bread....some kind of delicious :-)

This  served  my son and me  three soul-warming meals this week!
                                                 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dil Toh Pagal Hai -A path to making your heart more healthy!





It's ironic that one of my conversations with a colleague was around the fact that with Aging a number of our conversations are around aches & pains, parents getting sick, us getting sick vs. births, engagements and romance gossips.

It was even more ironic that as my husband, my mother-in-law and me were walking around the lake and rejoicing the fact that my MIL had lost 19 lbs in 8 weeks and no longer had knee issues and could walk comfortably for 1 hr (she is 73), we got a panicked call from my sister-in-law...my father-in-law had suffered a massive heart attack (Posterior myocardial infarction with anterior infarction in case you were wondering). My MIL is back in India with my FIL and his condition is stable now and he is in the recovery phase. The reality is even though my FIL walks regularly, he doesn't pay much attention to diet ( he is a diabetic) and my MIL is determined to make a change to that. She asked me to send a diet chart for him and I was working on this a couple hours in the evening and hence my thought - why not share the knowledge and information.
Here are some key things to remember while planning your diet for heart -health 

  1. Focus on Portion Control (we have started eating in salad plates vs. dinner plates)
  2. Eat more vegetables and fruits (especially cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and green leafy vegetables like spinach, amaranth and methi greens and high fiber fruits like Apple and Pears...one banana a day is great if you are not a diabetic or on the border line)
  3. Select Whole Grains but limit your whole grain servings to twice a day ( steel cut oats, barley, quinoa and if you absolutely must have rice swap white out for brown)
  4. Limit unhealthy fats (basic thumb rule - say no to red meats, don't eat too much fried food, use ghee in moderation or not at all, we have swapped out whole milk for 2% and limit the amount of dairy, we have more yogurt than milk because it gives us the protein and is probiotic and good for the stomach, we use coconut oil in moderation for cooking - 750 ml lasts  3 people about 6 months in my cooking ( I pressure cook a lot in my Instant Pot) 
  5. Choose low-fat protein sources - Egg Whites, Tofu, Beans & Legumes ( I make a lot of sprouts or beans salads, dals/lentil soups), choose chicken and fish over other fatty meats.
  6. Reduce the sodium in your diet...flavor with lemon, pepper and all the wonderful warm Indian (or non-Indian) spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon etc.
  7. Plan Ahead - make meal plans, diet charts - do your grocery shopping mindfully
  8. Supplement as needed - Fish Oil, Flax Seed Capsules, Garlic Capsules, Red Yeast ( all work for heart health) - what's more important is find out what works for your body!
  9. Have a hurrah - it's OK to get a treat occasionally, you don't have to go cold turkey, treat yourself to foods that you miss once in a while, don't binge on it though
Here's the diet chart I built for my Father-in-Law. Reality is I have kept it easy with a focus on the tenets I have above - lesser carb, more protein and heart healthy foods (flax seeds, green tea, oatmeal, high fiber).


Do ensure that you take a probiotic and give your stomach the time to get used to eating more vegetables and legumes...it might take a couple weeks. Consult your doctor before starting any diet, I am not a registered dietician or nutritionist. My mother-in-law is a practicing doctor and she stuck to my diet plan and believes that it really helped her in the two months that she was here (but then again, she is my MIL and she might be forced to say nice things ;-) )

Try this delicious Chickpea and Coconut Milk Ishtew (non-fat/light coconut milk) - you can make it in your pressure cooker or Instant Pot. If you are in the mood for some meat try this heart-healthy Haleem recipe (again made in my trusty pressure cooker or Instant Pot).

You heart will thank you!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Sunshine Returned to Joyland?

Cancer in my dictionary is a bad word...it stole away from me my champion, my best friend, my motivator & my role model...my father. So, I have watched cancer from far with trepidation and fear...knowing that it's this evil beast that can strike at any time...When SC walked into my office last week and shared this book with me How Sunshine Returned to Joyland?, I didn't really want to read the book, this is about someone's baby having cancer...could I really deal with it?


The book sat on my night stand a couple days untouched and my 10 yr old attracted by the beautiful artwork asked me if we could read it together. I couldn't chicken out or find an excuse to say No, so we started reading the book.

  • We read it once, he said - Ma, she draws really well. Is she only 6 years old?
  • The second time we read it, he said - so the darkness was this ALL (blood cancer), Ma she is brave. Can you google me her picture?
  • The third time we read it, he said - can I keep the book?  
I feel I am very inadequately attempting to share the emotional journey my son and I made in those three readings of this story about Aparajitta Dutta, this brave 6 year old who fought cancer head-on. The struggles that she  and her parents went through are many, but the reality is that her story is an inspiration for parents across the globe whose brave kids are fighting cancer.

The lessons she teaches simply in her book are lessons we can all find strength in :

  • Dream Big
  • Smile
  • Enjoy the Present
  • The Magic of Happy Thoughts
  • The gift of true friends


Hats-off to her parents who are thinking beyond just their own child and focusing on greater good - funding cancer research for childhood cancer and also setting up a support network for parents whose children have been diagnosed with cancer. All proceeds from the book are going towards St.Jude Children's Research Hospital

If you want to read the book, you can buy it on Amazon here  
If you want to donate to the cause - Brave Kids Fight Cancer you can do so here

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Going back to the roots...

                                         
I landed in Bhubaneswar on a cool clear day in February...having been stuck inside a tin can they call an aeroplane for hours I was more than ready for a visit outside and we ended up at the "Adivasi Mela" 



I ended up picking up Palua or Arrowroot along with a few other herbs (turmeric, bhel patra etc.) at the Mela and it was a glimpse into a part of the culture that I hadn't been exposed to in a long time. Palua is a root vegetable and has numerous health benefits - easy to digest, good for digestion, immunity boosting, treats urinary tract infections,fights food borne pathogens and soothes dental issues among other things...



The Palua sat in my pantry for a couple months and then finally today I dusted out my degchi (cooking pot) and made some delicious kheer(i) which my son  slurped down in the matter of minutes.



How do you make Palua Kheeri? Here is my 5-step fool proof recipe to making this recipe in a degchi
  1. Start your cooking range, place degchi and pour about 3/4th liters of milk (I used 2%) and start heating
  2. Make a slurry of the Palua in cold milk ( about 3 tbspoon worth)
  3. Grind cardamom ( 6 pods) and sugar to taste ( I added this) and add in the degchi
  4. when the milk starts boiling, gently add the slurry and keep stirring
  5. when the consistency of the kheer thickens (like picture above)...it's done
Here is my 3-step fool proof recipe to making this recipe in an Instant Pot
  1. Make a slurry of the Palua in cold milk ( about 3 tbspoon worth)
  2. Turn on your instant pot, add 3/4th liters of milk, add the slurry, Grind cardamom ( 6 pods) and sugar to taste ( I added this) and add to your IP
  3. Keep the instant pot to Porridge Mode and let your kheer cook. Stir - check sweetness and consistency.
You can eat it warm or cold...Enjoy!

What I have learnt rather late in life is that - it's the simple things that take you back to your roots and sometimes it just doesn't need to be complicated.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Self Care Series : While you were sleeping...

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?”  

                                                                      circa 2006, tired mom getting some Zzzzz time
While I was writing my last blog post I was shocked to find out that the risk of death from stroke and heart disease was significantly higher in people who get less than six hours of sleep a night ( think 48% higher).

I had watched Arianna Huffington talk about sleep about 4 years back at a Women's Conference ( you can see the jist of it in this Ted Talk by Arianna Huffington ). She insightfully quoted "sleep your way to the top" and rediscover how to live a more productive and joyful life  by getting more sleep. According to AH,  for men, sleep deprivation is an act of virility and one-upmanship and goes on to talk about examples at the work place of how "lack of sleep" was being worn as a victory badge (don't shoot the messenger guys...instead look at yourself and scan yourself and see if you indulge in those behaviors).

How to get more sleep?


1. Get checked for medical problems that might be waking you up - these include issues like Obstructive Sleep Apnea ( did you know people with OSA had 3 times the risk for Type 2 diabetes). My dad suffered from OSA and sure enough he had Type 2 diabetes.
2. Set up your environment for sleep — have a comfortable bed, a dark room (or an eye mask, if needed), and quiet (use earplugs, ambient music).
3. Set up your evening for sleep — do a quieting half hour before bed - they say don't take a device to bed but for me the Kindle is my version of a physical book, so I read for 1/2 hr before bed. 
4. Set up your days for sleep — get sunshine during the day and keep the room dark in the night. Get some physical movement aka exercise, so your body doesn’t want to move when it’s time to sleep.
5. Prevent hunger and low blood sugar. A bedtime snack including protein and some complex carbohydrate (a small bowl of oatmeal, some nuts, even a small piece of dark chocolate) might help you stay asleep. I swear by this smoothie recipe of mine (it's a play on the Ethiopian Drink Telba) - 1 Banana, 2 tablespoons roasted flaxseeds, 1 teaspoon cacao nibs (optional) , 1 cup of water or more depending on the consistency you want and 1 tsp honey to sweeten (I added Stevia, as I am trying to cut down on sugar). It's high in protein, fiber and essential minerals like Magnesium and potassium (it's good for you heart too!).
6. In consultation with your health-care provider, consider proven sleep supplements such as magnesium and melatonin. On high stress days, I take 5 mg of Melatonin to ensure uninterrupted sleep. I take a magnesium supplement every day called Natural Calm   and have been taking this supplement for 4 years now.
7. Get help with anxiety, stress, and depression, if you think those might be problems. I think everyone goes thro' phases and sometimes the depression and anxiety might just be a chemical imbalance ( for me a couple years back it was a severe Vitamin D deficiency) or even if it is a deeper seated issue, its better to meeting it headlong vs. let it fester.
8. Accept that sleep is important. It’s not being lazy; it’s not shirking your responsibilities. Your body needs it. You may have to spend some time in the day clearing up things that are worrying you, like taking care of the kids so that you can relax and heal at night. Sleep is especially important for kids and setting them up with good sleeping habits is critical to their well-being.
I look forward to shutting off the lights and having this free entry into a "land of dreams"... I especially love getting up in the morning rested after a good night's sleep. How did you sleep last night? 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Self Care Series : Different Strokes

"Nearly six million die and another five million are left permanently disabled. Stroke is the second leading cause of disability, after dementia. ... In the developing world, however, the incidence of stroke is increasing."

I lost a 59 yr. old uncle yesterday to a stroke. This was my mother's younger sister's husband. He had the symptoms of a stroke - Sudden numbness of his leg on the left side, trouble walking & loss of balance and severe headache. He ignored it for 2 days...he was rushed to the ICU on the third day and they found a large brain clot on the 5th day and did a brain surgery to remove the clot on the 7th day...he spent the next 30 days in a hospital, half the time on a ventilator and finally drew his last breath yesterday at 4.30 AM.

Did you know?
  • Nearly 800,000 (approximately 795,000) people in the United States have a stroke every year, with about three in four being first-time strokes.
  • Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds.
  • Every four minutes, someone dies of stroke.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and the leading preventable cause of disability.
  • More women than men have strokes each year
  • South-East Asians are more at risk than other races
Who is more at risk?
  • People with high Blood Pressure
  • People with Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Cholestrol (especially high LDL)
  • Obese or Overweight People
  • Desk Jobs or leading a sedentary lifestyle
  • Bad Food Habits - red meat, eating too much carbs & sugar to your diet
What can you do about it?
  • Sleep Well - 7-8 hours every day
  • Manage your stress - meditation, yoga, read books, take quiet walks, listen to music, practice gratitude
  • Managing your weight - ensure your BMI is in the healthy range
  • Diet - this is a topic I am very passionate about - making sure you eat healthy is No.1 to keeping a lot of these diseases at bay. Eat more fruits and vegetables, Eat legumes and lentils (sprouted if you can sprout them at home), Limit Dairy & Meats, Eat more nuts and seeds, Consciously add more fiber to your diet, Cut down on fat, carbs and sugar in your diet.
  • Regular Exercise - Try Shruthi's Bolly X Class in the Oracle Gym!
  • Smoking & Alcohol - No smoking and either no alcohol (or alcohol in moderation!)
  • Recognize the symptoms of a stroke and go immedietely to a doctor if you suspect that you are having stroke symptoms
                                                                                             circa 2002
I know it's easier to give advice and very hard to follow in real life...it has taken me years to get disciplined about exercise, sleep and food...it's second nature now. I am putting a picture up from 15 years back...I loved...no love... food ( fried food, chips, cookies and indian sweets)....and I didn't really like exercising and it shows in this picture of mine. I don't believe in "before and after pictures"...the reality is the After is "Work in Progress"...it's still a journey and the key is I am learning to live life happier, healthier...sharing this information with the hope that you do something positive for your health today!



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tanishq's Diamonds NOT a girl's best friend!

Tanishq the Indian's say is what Tiffany's is to the USA. Hear my story and you will definitely know that "Diamonds can be a girl's best friend but avoid Tanishq at all costs"

My 40th birthday which happened a couple years ago also marked the 1st year anniversary to losing my father and getting a promotion. Having lived a very minimalistic life until that point (and because my Dad was always urging me to do something special for myself) I was ready to  treat myself to something special to mark the milestone. I ended up buying myself a solitare diamond ring. It made me feel wonderful - a gift I bought for myself...no other person involved (almost like coming of age...). My ring was a great companion for 3 years. Two weeks back with normal use, my entire solitaire with it's cushion fell out of the ring setting. I thought the diamond was lost but with the help of some wonderful people I located the diamond (after 15 panicky minutes....can't imagine next steps if the stone was lost !!!)




 I contacted Tanishq hoping to understand next steps...the first tenet of their mission is - Total Customer Orientation... or so I thought. I was so wrong...

I sent my first email to a senior executive at Tanishq and heard nothing back and sent a follow-up email...NOTHING !!!

I am now getting my ring reset at a reputed local jeweller in San Francisco  and paying $300 ( ~ Rs. 20,000) for fixing poor quality issues of the manufacturer. The jeweller concluded that the workmanship on the ring was really shabby ( 2 solders where the ring needed 6 solders if we are getting technical) and hence the solitaire had fallen out...When I read forums on Tanishq, I saw this as a complaint that a lot of people had about stones falling out of the setting.

I want to highlight this as an example of not just NOT standing behind the quality of your work and brand but also of a total customer disorientation and apathy to what a customer is going through. If you are thinking of buying from Tanishq for brand name and reputation - take my advise look locally and pay lesser elsewhere...

Diamonds may well be a girl's best friend but as I have sadly discovered...not a Tanishq Diamond !!!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

In Loving Memory...


Dear Theresa,
I am sitting in your warm sunlit office space in Building 300,
When you moved to the warmth of Arizona,
You gave me the gift of a wonderful office space.
We met a couple times before you moved,
You were always so helpful and warm...
I really appreciated the camaraderie and the sense of belonging you made me feel from Day 1
It was a shock to learn about your health issues,
You were so brave and positive...
It left a lasting impression on me.
And 10 days later you are no more...

I hope that you have found yourself a warm sunlit place up above,
You will be missed.


I lost a colleague Theresa yesterday - what I remember about her is her beautiful smile and warm personality and her absolute willingness to help her team mates. She has left behind a young daughter. A fund to help with the education of her young daughter Rachel has been set up, please help if you are able to - Theresa you will be missed !!!

FUND FOR RACHEL'S EDUCATION
DONATE NOW

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The truth about School Lunches!

I am angry and upset about the state of affairs with our school lunches specifically in our school district. For years I shut out the angst of my son recieving cold, burnt lunches and sometimes a lunch where he was supposed to get a "chicken dish" but got it sans the chicken and told myself that maybe I was the only parent feeling the pinch of paying between $5.50-$6.50 for my son's lunch - for a not so good lunch. Here's a picture of the california rolls that my son's school lunch advertises vs. what the kids get in reality...you can guess which is which...



 My son patiently ate the food I ordered for him in 3rd and 4th grade and finally told me in 5th grade - Ma, please start packing my lunch for me (or I will do it myself) - I would rather eat a PBJ to what they are giving us at the hot lunch. I have been packing school lunches for most of this school year (except for the time when I went to India)...no matter if I had a critical deliverable or an early morning meeting - my evening ends with my planning a packed lunch for my boy. Reality is it is not that hard once you have a plan of what you want to pack and I am able to give my son a "reasonably  healthy and nutritious" lunch for < $1.50/ day. Here's one of the sample meal plans I built (what can I say - I am a planner!)


But this blog isn't about my ability to plan and pack school lunches for my son. It's about the fact that 

(A) Food at my son's Public school runs to about $5.50-$6.50 for a school lunch that includes an entree, a choice of drink (milk/water) and a choice of fruit. School Lunch prices for our school district are way "out of whack" when compared to neighboring districts (these graphs are self-explanatory!) - in case you are wondering my child falls under the BRSSD umbrella. If I as a part of a double income family am feeling the pinch - can you imagine how hard this would be for a single income family ( about half the families in our school district comprise of single income households)




Here is a Yelp Review that I pulled up on our lunch provider on the topic 

The response of the vendor was particularly enlightening but I won't add it in here, I am hoping you would actually go to Yelp and read their response (gist of it is they say - they don't get the $5.50-$6.50 - apparently the district sets the price to cover "other" costs). 

I have started a conversation with the School District but the answers I have had from their Chief Business Officer have been very "officially correct" but not particularly enlightening.

(B) The quality of food is sub-par and the vendor usually gets away with it.  I will give you an example that had me all riled up this week - my son was signed up in advance for the spaghetti with chicken meatballs ( we don't eat beef or pork)...a week before the lunch was due I am sent a message saying chicken meatballs were not available, so they were substituting it for spaghetti with meat sauce (beef) WITHOUT consulting me- I went in and changed the order to cheese ravioli very reluctantly (it's not a very nutritious meal!)  - but honestly seeing my son's sad face in the AM when I told him he had a hot lunch was just a "cherry on top of that indignity". The reality of WHY I ordered a few school lunches this week is  - I am frugal and I had a balance sitting in choice lunch and I didn't have the patience or time to ask them to refund it, so instead ordered a few lunches to close it out to zero balance  and my son's expression made me wish I had gone thro' the pain of getting that balance back vs. order him a hot lunch. Read an example of the travails a parent faced - I had a similar conversation with a parent at our school. 


From a parent’s perspective School Lunches are successful when (a) their kids are happy eating the food – no complaints (b) the food specs are reasonably healthy (c) the food is consistently affordable. From my perspective school lunches for us have been bombing on all three levels . A good school lunch strategy is if we had a simpler lunch menu  vs. complex choices that are very poorly executed and a pricing structure that is reasonable ( reasonable for me is comparable to other school districts and something that doesn't feel pricy to parents)

My son moves to middle school next year and my strategy for school lunches is - Status Quo aka pack my son healthy school lunches from home. What are your thoughts on school lunches?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Self Care Series & A Recipe!

“if you want to live an authentic, meaningful life, you need to master the art of disappointing and upsetting others, hurting feelings, and living with the reality that some people just won’t like you. It may not be easy, but it’s essential if you want your life to reflect your deepest desires, values, and needs.”
                                                  ---The Art of Extreme Self-Care, Cheryl Richardson

The truth is I am still so far from it, beating myself up for errors both real and perceived and caring too much about what "everyone" thinks of my actions, words....here are a few examples just from this week

  1. I sent my son PBJ for lunch...I am a bad mom
  2. I missed my personal training (my arms were aching & I had a meeting), I am a loser who will gain weight
  3. I said no I can't get this project complete this week given my workload, it will take another week...I am such a shirker...why not pull a few all-nighters.
  4. Omigod...I just ate that dessert....now it's going to hit my hip real time
  5. I ate my dinner at 6.30 pm instead of waiting for my husband and eating at 8.30 PM...ergo bad wife
In my 10's I looked to my parents for positive reinforcements, in my 20's I looked to my peers for positive reinforcements, in my 30's I looked for positive reinforcements from family, friends, co-workers and the world....in my 40's I have realized that to feel good about myself, the positive reinforcement needs to come from inside...so starts my self-care series. Follow my journey and if it helps you along the way - awesome! If not - I am sure you will find another blog, article or book that will point you in the right direction :-)

Here are some of the topics I will cover :
  1. Managing Stress
  2. Exercise
  3. What in the world is "Me-Time"?
  4. Peeling the Onion - Physical, Emotional, Spiritual Fitness
  5. Eating Right
  6. Work-Life Balance - is it a conundrum?
  7. Losing Weight not your Mind
  8. Detox - mind, body & spirit
  9. Sleep

Here's how I took care of an important aspect of self-care this week. Food makes me happy and there is a feeling of contentment (in sanskrit : Santosha) in cooking something just right !!!
I had eaten this wonderful, homey subzi at my friend AB's house and I absolutely loved it and so did the two boys. So this week I tried to recreate AB's  UP-wala Aloo  and my son was asking for seconds and thirds of this dish.

Uttar PrADESH WALA ALOO MATAR BHAJi 
Servings: 4  Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 45  minutes

INGREDIENTS

  1. Bhuna Masala ( see recipe here, I make this by the pint(s) and freeze it, makes my meal planning so much easier for desi khana). Skip the Habanero if you can live without the kick, my 10 yr old seems to be ok with the spice level
  2. Frozen Peas
  3. Cinnamon Powder, Turmeric Powder,  Dhania-Jeera Powder/Garam Masala
  4.  4-5 medium Boiled Potatoes ( my method for making a batch in my instant pot) 
  5. Hing (Asofetida) , Jeera (Cumin Seeds)
  6. Coriander Leaves for garnish
Boiling Potatoes in your Instant Pot

Boil Potatoes in your instant pot for  3 minutes High Pressure ( I used medium potatoes and I usually keep a big lot, and keep them in the fridge and use them as needed)



DIRECTIONS:

  1. Add a tsp of oil to the pan, add the hing and jeera. When the jeera splutters add the turmeric and then the bhuna masala and the broken up pieces of aloo/potatoes (I break it up with my hand)
  2. Fry for about 5 minutes...till the mixture becomes drier and there is a nice smell
  3. Now add water (around 2 cups), turn the stove to slow and simmer for 10 minutes
  4. Add the frozen peas. Cook for another 5 minutes (add some more water if the mixture is too thick)
  5. Now add the dhania-jeera powder/Garam Masala and cinnamon powder, Salt to taste
  6. Garnish with the Coriander leaves
  7. The Curry is ready for Prime Time


I wanted to leave you with a thought that crossed my mind today - Taking care of yourself doesn't mean me first, it means me too.  To all you wonderful people out there who are burning the candle on both ends...take a deep breath, you are not alone!