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Often reading, writing, or teaching. Always cooking, baking, and eating. Words in Human Parts, Curious, Modern Parent. Connect on Twitter @purnima_mani

This Is Us

Cookbook authors can help heal the many, many things that ail us this year

In any given year, by the time December rolls around, I find myself in a weird place — simultaneously full of heightened anticipation and totally done with everything. Buzzing with energy, but also… ugh… over it already. Is it just me?

That’s during an average year. This year… let’s just say my emotional state is a bit more dysregulated. My annual solution for the December ebbs and flows — ignoring the demands of reality and hiding out under a pile of books instead — isn’t working its usual magic. The fictional worlds and characters that typically keep me suspended between…


The food we treasure speaks volumes. Here’s what I learned from listening in.

Recently, inspired by an innocent question at the dinner table, I asked myself and a bunch of other people “What’s the best thing you’ve ever cooked?” The responses I received — from friends, family members, even from complete strangers online — led me down a surprising path of discovery and acceptance.

Fast forward to last night, when I started down an entirely fun new rabbit hole. I was chatting with a friend who recently published a cookbook of family recipes. As I was perusing it and exclaiming over her accomplishment, we texted back and forth. Initially, it was a jokey…


A non-exhaustive, slightly random, but nevertheless useful list

This post assumes you have already cast your ballot in the 2020 US general election, if you are eligible to do so. If that hasn’t happened yet, please replace this entire list with a single agenda item: VOTE.

For everyone else, here’s how you cope:

  1. Don’t go on social media.
  2. Eat the leftover Halloween candy. There’s a time for stress eating, and this most definitely qualifies. Except Almond Joy, which should never be eaten by anyone, anytime, ever.
  3. Sit in the backyard, breathe in the fresh fall air, listen to the birds, and pretend not to be having a small-scale…


Why are my race and citizenship suddenly at war with each other?

My first experience with American racism happened in India. At the age of eighteen, after coasting through life thus far with dual citizenship, I had to choose. Did I want an Indian passport or a US passport? It felt oddly traitorous, declaring allegiance to one country while living in another, but that’s the choice I made. I remember feeling the pride that often accompanies clueless decisiveness. I ran through my mental list of reasons one more time that day en route to the US Consulate in Chennai: 1) I was claiming my birthright, which was inherently cool, 2) getting foreign…


As a child, books helped me find myself; now, maybe they can help society find its way back to normalcy

I’m an unashamed and unequivocal book nerd. Give me a choice between a thousand dollar shopping spree and an evening curled up with a favorite author’s much-awaited new release, and I’ll choose the written word every time. Save your judgment and scorn for someone else — my Myers Briggs personality profile says they don’t bother me.

I pretty much came out of the womb reading. Not literally, but I think it was maybe a few days after I figured out phonics and could string a few sentences together that my family lost me to the world of Enid Blyton. …


Nothing is cancelled. Everything lies in wait.

Navarathri begins in two weeks. That’s a hard sentence to type right now. In an ordinary year, this is when my brain would be in overdrive: buzzing with schedules, counting gift bags by the dozen, planning special sundals for each of the ten days of the holiday, figuring out a color scheme for the decorations, plotting which of the dishes I’d clipped and saved would make the cut for this year’s menu…the list goes on. But of course this is no ordinary year.

India is a polyglot nation, a land well-versed in multiples of everything: languages, traditional foods, and clothing…


This Is Us

My son’s curiosity prompted a Facebook survey — followed by a personal reckoning

I have two kids, both boys. One seems offended by the idea of mealtime as a general concept. The only exceptions that make him perk up at the table are 1) Swiss chard pancakes; 2) mac and cheese; or 3) dal and rice. No carb-fanatic stereotypes happening there, clearly.

My other son eats pretty much everything and appreciates food like it’s his full-time job. On the rare occasion he doesn’t enjoy a meal, he worries about hurting the chef’s feelings — mostly me, now that restaurant outings are a rarity — so the only way he’ll indicate his lukewarm sentiment…


Life today is full of new stresses — figuring out what’s for dinner shouldn’t be one of them

When COVID-19 lockdown fell on us like an unwelcome weighted blanket almost six(!) months(!) ago(!), like everyone else, I teetered between disbelief, despair, and a feeling of total helplessness. Without warning, it felt like the shape of our days had been yanked away, and in its place was…nothing. No plans, no fall back, no real purpose. Then, like pretty much everyone else, I threw myself into creating new ways to fill the days between snack time and bath time. Sourdough baking? Check. Fledgling clueless gardening? Check. Elaborate kids crafts? Sigh…check.

In the midst of it all, I was cooking more…


Baking elaborate weekly desserts seemed foolish, but was exactly what our family needed

Growing up, my mother’s recipe notebook with its smart blue and white gingham cover fascinated me endlessly. A farewell gift from her friend Jan, the book was presented to my parents when they left the United States in 1982 to return to India. The first several pages of the notebook are filled with Jan’s favorite cookie recipes, written in neat, perfectly curlicued cursive. …


How I proudly became part of a 2020 lockdown cliche

Let’s start in the middle with this narrative, shall we? So a little over a week ago, I drove to my friend Karen’s house to pick up some sourdough starter. She had it ready for me in a little Tupperware, placed on her front stoop following social distancing protocols, secured with plastic wrap and a rubber band. I swear that on the short ride home, I drove slower and more carefully than usual, as though I had a newborn in the back of the car instead of something bubbling and slightly smelly in the passenger seat.

My nervousness could be…

Purnima Mani

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