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Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Fear of Fat

“I don't like mine skinny”
My husband says of his women.

Though you’d be forgiven for mistaking the rather heady declaration as an allusion to his preference for Lattes.

Our other male friends chime in, agreeing wholeheartedly, in a unanimous show of support in the manner, if you've noticed, members of that particular species often tend to do.

“Yes yes,” they proclaim magnanimously, “we like women with meat on their bones!"
"The curvy ones!"
“You know?”

“No” I say, “I don’t know.”

They then proceed to rattle off the same list of usual suspects that all men like to rattle off.
Namely: Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendez, Sofia Vergara, Beyonce, Rachel Bilson. Etc.
This list then, is supposed to serve as real-life testimony to the fact that these men "don't like their's skinny."

Well, I beg to differ.

Lookie here, for instance: While Scarlett J might have full, voluptuous lips, a 36 inch top and a matching bottom, I'd like to focus discussion, for just a second, on her waist. Which, incidentally, is 25 inches and tiiiiiiny!!

So what these men are actually saying is not that they “don't like them skinny,” but that they DO like them skinny and not only do they like them skinny, but they like them skinny with big boobs.

And that my friends, is the denouement of the male psyche.

And yes, while we live in an increasingly PC world, what our media thinks is less obscure. I mean when:

Adele losing the pounds is good news
Aishwarya Rai not losing the pounds is bad news

I ask you - what is one left to conclude?
And so, rightly or wrongly, it will continue to be.

Closer to home, I struggle to understand:

1) How the same guy-friends who "don't like them skinny" suddenly tell me I look "nice" at the exact same time that I've happened to lose a few pounds.

OR (just so that I am not seen as being overly harsh on men)

2) The facebook “likes” - from mostly women - that got directed my way in reference to a picture taken right after the loss of the said few pounds.

And to those of you who actually sent me inbox messages (I'm very, very flattered, by the way) asking for the "secret" behind that FB picture I'd like to tell you, rather disappointingly, that there is none! 

That is, save for a good lens-man :)

But yes - I will not deny the benefits of spending a few weeks in a hot place. This means, you see, that I am not tempted to OD on "comfort food" (aka junk food) - the kind that is fairly essential in negative-4 degree weather, in order to fool myself into believing that all is well with the world.

And there you have it.

The truth is folks, as I find myself approaching my mid 30s and realizing (with some shock) that my metabolism really isn't what it used to be, I have come to the conclusion that it all simply boils down to diet.

And with that I find myself confronted by an alarming fear of fat.

This is weird, I get that.
In fact the very fact that this is my chosen topic of discussion in a food blog is rather ironic in itself. But here's the rub - the reason I love food so much is the precisely the reason I fear it.

Because when it comes to food, I find it hard to restrain myself.
“1 square of chocolate” people say.
“A tiny piece of cake”
“2 crisps”
"Moderation is the key"

You can do that??


Because if I can stop myself before finishing the entire box of chocolates, the whole cake, the full bag of crisps, that’s huge. I usually go halves and feel virtuous. But 1 square, 2 crisps, a sliver of cake? And then calmly put the rest away, pretending it doesn’t exist?

Not. That. Easy.
Maybe I’m weak. I suffer from a lack of self-control. A shortage of will power.
But that’s my relationship with food. For better or for worse.
I love food.
I adore it.
When it comes to food, I cannot, I simply cannot, deny myself.

And yet I know, I’ve started to.
Covertly at first.
A burger without the top bun, a baked samosa, pasta without the obligatory parmesan reggiano grated atop, no fried rice please.
And this is what I fear. 

My relationship with food has evolved.
I've become guarded. Restrained. Suspicious.
I no longer indulge in it, carelessly and with reckless abandon like I used to in the old days.

The game's changed.
And I hate it.

See, I have never been "thin"
Actually that’s a lie. I was a skinny baby, a normal child and a fat teenager.
And anyone who has ever been that (a fat teenager, that is) knows that it’s awful, awful, awful.

And so while the rest of my friends thwarted wanted and unwanted attention from an unending stream of boys, I spent my teenage years studying Chemistry.

Which isn’t as bad as it sounds.
It’s worse.

College was a miracle.

With the start of competitive swimming, I started shedding pounds with seemingly no sacrifice. I still ate whatever I wanted. But I swam. And somehow that worked. I wasn't thin but I was fit.

Life changed.

Now, this isn’t all superficial and appearance focused.
Where I was a rather indolent and lethargic 15-yr old, at 20 I was full of energy. Fitter, healthier. And ultimately happier.

I became a staunch believer in exercise.
Exercise and you are golden, I thought.
And it worked.

That is, all the way until the baby came.

Now pregnancy in itself isn’t the problem. In pregnancy, people expect you to get bigger. In fact the bump is an object of awe and wonder. “How much weight have you gained” is a normal question, and not a rude one. The whole thing is rather fun, actually when I think about it.

It’s the bit that comes after the pregnancy that’s the problem.

When the baby is out but when you still look six months pregnant. When the taut, tight stomach (thanks to baby) is now – umm – pure flab?
Gosh! That bit’s hard.
You know the bit where you are constantly hungry because you are constantly feeding the baby?
The bit where you spend an entire afternoon trying on every single pair of trousers in your closet and then throw them on the bed in an increasingly tall mountain of trousers-that-no-longer-fit.
Nobody tells you these things
Nobody talks about them

And so now – whether it’s almost being 35 or having been pregnant (and I don’t know the answer), my body’s changed. Exercise is no longer enough. What I eat matters.

And so suddenly, and for the first time ever, I am confronted by a fear of fat.

There. I’ve said it.

And it terrifies me.
Not the fat, but the fear of fat.
Because I feel like I'm being dragged – worse, voluntarily – into a great big black hole of denial.

Now I know not all fat is evil.  Fat – the good kind – is actually really good for you. Good fats help manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, even help you control your weight by providing a better sense of satiety.

Not to mention that fat tastes good.

My friend, fellow food lover and coffee connoisseur, The Closet Gourmand, never fails to tell me how coffee with skim milk is like drinking dirty water. "Switch to soy, if you want," he suggests. "But skim milk?"
I agree.

The highly acclaimed Monmouth Coffee tastes great for a reason beyond just superior quality coffee beans (which I have no doubt they are) - there's none of that skinny, “lite” stuff at Monmouth: only full fat milk and real sugar, thank you very much.

I know all this and yet I find that I can't help myself. I know things are different at 35 than at 15. Life is fuller, calmer, filled with self-awareness and acceptance. Yet, I dread even the thought of going back to that insecure, self-conscious, unhappy person that I was. And so, I find myself putting up with dirty water in my coffee. Where I used to top up my pay-by-weight salad box with the wonderfully tasty (and wonderfully deep fried) General Tso’s Chicken, I won’t do it anymore. I see my husband lather his toast with butter and I think how can you wilfully eat that? How do people eat a whole meal of crackers and cheese? Or cook with lard? Or eat supermarket sandwiches laden with god-only-knows how much mayonnaise every day for lunch? 

I envy them.
I want to.
But I can’t.
And it scares me.

This is not about being “thin” or “skinny” or the “right number” on the weighing scale. This is about being happy with where you are.

That I get.

That doesn’t bother me.
What does bother me is how much being happy with “where I am” is influenced by where others think I need to be?

Am I making myself happy?
Or am I conforming to society’s perception of what is considered desirable?

And most importantly - In this endless quest for conformity, am I spending the rest of my life missing out?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Kala Chana (The Namesake)

I’m going to start at The End.
Because sometimes, The End that is the very best place to start.

The End…

It was a freezing cold December evening in London. To focus my energies away from the travesty that had just – minutes ago – occurred, I was on the internet, contemplating retirement plans in Havana…

“I’ll smoke Cigars,” I think, “spend my life eating rice and beans and banana fritters in my swimsuit…”

(You see, now that my pressure cooker is at death’s door, there’s no real point to life in London anymore. Oh no.)

The sound of a key turning in the lock interrupts the icy silence.

(Enter Sid)

“Hello everyone,” he says joyously.
“Papa, papa!!” the child shrieks loudly, his eyes glinting with a wild excitement, that has not once been directed at me in all of 2 years and 2 months.

Abandoning Cuba, I jump up, eyes glinting wild excitement of equal measure. (It’s in the DNA, see?)

I shriek: “You have to go to Sainsburys. I need Vinegar, baking soda and a steel scourer. Now!!”

He winces notably at all the shrieking. “What happened?” He asks.

“The pressure cooker!!” I say desperately. “It’s the pressure cooker. It’s almost dead. We must save it!!! You must help me!! Vinegar, baking soda, scourer!! Go, Go, Go, Go!!!”

“OK, no problem. What the “mm-mm-mm-mm” is that sme…?” he asks before I slam the door shut on his face

Earlier that evening…

I burnt an entire pressure cooker of kala chana.
I burnt the kala chana.
I burnt the pressure cooker.

And that, my friends, is that.

The how, why, where and when…

So, this may be hard to believe – but I am not perfect.
Really, I’m not.
This isn’t me trying to be modest or anything.

Because I have burnt food before.
But I’ve almost always managed to save most of it. Especially the stuff on the top. Which still tastes perfectly normal. Great, even. In these cases, I’ve had to bury (with sadness) the burned stuff at the bottom. Which hasn’t ever been a lot. Definitely not enough to write a blog post on.

On the rare occasion where the incident has been of a more dire nature, the stuff that’s saved has been less than the stuff that I’ve had to bury. These situations have made me sad. Quite sad. But I have moved on. Eventually. After I'd mustered up all the courage in every fibre of being and made myself move on. I'm brave like that. 

But this time, you see, was a first.
For I was confronted with nothing but a 12 inch layer of blackness coating the better part of my pressure cooker.
You’ve gotto be having a laugh, I say to myself.
“Kala Chana??” 
Which translates precisely to “Black Chickpeas”
Oh yeah baby. Black Chickpeas indeed.

But the point is:
For the first time in my life, there was nothing left even to bury.
You follow?
This was no burial, people. This was a cremation.


“How the hell did you not smell it,” you ask.
“I don’t know!!!” I say. Maybe because I was in a room far away.”
“You must live in a very big house,” you conjecture, “with wings and all.”
“Hahaha,” I laugh. (Because that’s just funny).

The truth is, people, that I must have a very poor sense of smell. I really can’t think of much else. They say everyone in the world is blessed with 1 excellent sense, of the 4 possible senses of sight, smell, hearing and taste.

Now, I hate to toot my own horn (I do, truly), but I cannot complain insofar as taste is concerned. Taste, I possess in ample quantities. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my taste buds are a whole separate living entity unto themselves. Which explains perhaps the many midnight conversations I have with them, ending most times with me traipsing down to the fridge in my Snoopy slippers and devouring a large mouthful of chocolate cake from the fridge, simply to appease them.

The things one does for one’s imaginary friends.

Anyhow, the point is: if you allow me to taste any preparation of anything, I’m fairly sure I’d be able to itemize a list of ingredients that went into its preparation.
Right back at you. No jokes.
I am truly blessed.
For this I thank the good Lord.

But then, there is that pesky mathematical concept of mean reversion. Which basically keeps my ego in check. Because you see, with the rest of the 3 senses, I got less lucky.
(Or, in plain language – I got screwed.)


Sight? I am blind as a bat. Or was until a few months ago. Thanks to the excellent Dr. Julian Stevens at Moorfields Eye Hospital, lots of moolahs I don’t really have, and a remarkable procedure called LASIK (which I still don't really fully understand, scarily enough) now I have 20-20 vision. Which means I could fly a plane. Not that I recommend you be my passenger or anything. I wouldn’t really be my own passenger, if you know what I mean.

Hearing? I am as deaf as a doorknob. More so since the birth of my kid. The birth of a kid renders one deaf. This is a fact. Guaranteed. One of God’s gifts to all womankind. I am deaf to anything that sounds like whining, bawling, screaming and shrieking. This is my return-gift for going through all the trouble of pregnancy and labour, you know. What goes around, comes around, law of averages etc.

Smell? Now, this one is most disappointing. Smell is a most wonderful virtue. Smell alerts you to what lies ahead, a harbinger of all things good (well, mostly). Now, I always thought I had a keen sense of smell. But no. Apparently, I don’t.

Because how someone can sit around in a tiny flat and not smell something burn to a crisp (and that’s me being kind) is beyond me. And it can means only one thing.
That the someone in question has no sense of smell. At all.
Zero, nada, naught, zilch, cipher.
Goose Egg.
You get my drift?

And so, here, henceforth and forthwith, I do solemnly swear that I cannot smell squat.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is my defense.
Guilty as charged.

And now my pressure cooker is dying.
All because of my lousy sense of smell.

And so I put my tail between my legs (so as to speak) and left the kitchen defeated. I wandered to my computer and took refuse in Facebook. Which is wonderful solace I must add in such times of deep despair. The stuff some people put on there? Enough to eke a hearty laugh out the dampest squid. Seriously. Check it out sometime.

Anyway, on Facebook, I wandered to the empty box on top that reads “what’s on your mind?”
and I told you all what was on my mind. ARGH!!!" I wrote. "I just burned a whole pressure cooker full of stuff. There goes todays Yummyami post :(“ 

To which, all you excellent people suggested I write a post anyway.
Which made me think.
And thinking is a wonderful thing, truly.
I wish more of us did it more regularly.
And I thinked and I thinked. Till my head hurted.
Because I knew not what to write in a food blog when there is no food to write about.

But since I exist, only to please, here you go.
Please find: Kala Chana (The Namesake)

Here’s what you need:
- 1 cup kala chana (Black Chickpeas or Bengal Gram)
- 3 tbsp oil
- Pinch asafoetida
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 green chili finely chopped
- ¼ inch ginger finely chopped
- 2 tbsp coriander powder
- ½ tbsp turmeric
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder
- Salt, to taste
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Coriander to garnish
- 3 tbsp dry coconut powder to garnish

Here’s how you do it:

Wash and soak kala chana for a few hours, preferably overnight.

When you are ready to cook, heat some oil in a pressure cooker over medium high heat. Add in the cumin seeds and as they start to crackle, add the asafoetida and stir. Add the ginger, green chili, coriander powder, turmeric, and chili powder, along with some water and stir for another minute.

Add soaked kala chana, and 4 cups of water to the pressure cooker so that the lentils are fully submerged. As the cooker starts steaming, turn down the heat to medium.

Here’s what you DON’T DO:

Turn on the exhaust to full, shut the kitchen door and leave. Decide (for some inexplicable reason), to go to the part of the house farthest from the kitchen. Then basically do nothing. Sprawl out on the bed, make irrelevant chit-chat on the phone, drink some orange juice, and read about Kate Middleton’s pregnancy from page 1 to page 598 on The Times.

Then, approximately one hour later, sit up with a start as the unmistakable scent of burn wafts uninvitingly towards you. Open your mouth, scream like a banshee, and make a mad dash for the kitchen, all the while uttering the choicest unutterables…

Alas! Too late.

Here’s what you DO DO (Dudu):

Wait for 4-5 whistles.

Turn off the heat and wait until all the steam has released before opening the pressure cooker.

Add salt and let it cook for 2-3 minutes on low heat. Stir in lemon juice and sprinkle with coriander and dry coconut powder before serving.

Now, I know IMH (in my head) what this is supposed to taste like: Spicy and tangy, wholesome and hearty, full of flavour and aromatic goodness. If you do this right, it will melt in your mouth, filling you with nutty, nutritious wonder.

IRL (in real life): Not a clue.

But while I’m on a mission saving my beloved pressure cooker, I’m sure you folks will make some and let me know.