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

Photo courtesy of the author.

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 joy and disbelief refuse to hold my attention long enough to make a difference, no matter how hard I try. …

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 exchange about my older son, whose cookbook obsession runs deep, and who was in disbelief that someone he knew in real life had actually written one. “Look Amma, it’s really her! I checked the About the Author page and it even has her picture!” Instant celebrity status for my seven year old. …

Twenty five years into practicing yoga, relaxation still eludes me

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Photo: Getty Images

I’ve practiced yoga on and off since I was 15, but my relationship with it has largely teetered between anticipation and desperation. As a teenager, I watched my father effortlessly slide into a headstand every morning. If he could make this look so easy in his 40’s, I figured it would be a cinch for me. I offered to join my parents in their morning yoga practice, being careful to make it seem like I was doing them a favor. But from the very first time I tried to wrangle myself into the poses our teacher was leading us through, it was clear I was never going to be an asana aficionado. I couldn’t wait for class to end each week. I knew what followed that inhumane hour of twisting and stretching: Savasana, the blessed final minutes of rest. …

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

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Photo: Shutterstock.com

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 panic attack. …

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

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Photo: Shutterstock.com

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 visas would be soooo much easier on an American passport than an Indian one, and 3) I’d be able to cast an absentee ballot in the next general election. That last reason was especially empowering. …

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 styles. Our holiday calendar is dotted with nods to many different belief systems, and people will lobby hard for their personal favorites. Diwali is the shiny braggart, winning most popularity contests by a mile. But my heart will always and forever belong to Navarathri, “the festival of nine nights” that inspires such a sensory overload of memories, just thinking about it can summon up a golf-ball-sized lump in my throat. …

This Is Us

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

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Photo: Adela Srinivasan/Getty Images

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 is by not asking for a second serving. Two guesses which of these children motivates me to get in the kitchen and cook every day. …

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 and more involved meals for my family. I’ve always loved to cook, but suddenly, it seemed like I’d found my calling for the moment…orchestrating breakfast, lunch and dinner on the daily for three hungry gents of various sizes. Why not make it interesting and take on a few challenging new food projects, right? I whipped out a brand new notebook to log my ambitious daily menus. How cool would it be to look back once life was back to normal in a month or two (don’t even bother laughing at my naïveté), and see how I’d flexed my kitchen muscle when I had some extra time to spare? …

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

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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. …

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