Category Archives: insightful

Mind The Gap

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Five months. The gap between the last blog post and the one before that. That gap represents a lifetime of love, lessons and all the stardust in between. Stardust that is still settling… still taking shape… I realised however that perhaps this is how it will always be… life cascading in waves around us as we watch with wonder at its unfolding. There have been moments of inspired flight, of howling pain, of unbelievable magic, and of deep disappointment. There have been moments as far reaching as the dunes of a sandy desert and as illusory as a mirage within it, moments where doubt held as much weight as the certainty of daylight, and moments where time simply stood still. The full range of human emotion has visited my house, stayed for supper and left just as swiftly. And all the while I’ve been watching the stardust.

Here’s the thing. I’m writing a novel. I am writing a novel with my co-author and we’re about half way through. It’s a bigger deal than I ever anticipated it would be. My co-author is currently on a different continent, which makes things even more of a bigger deal. I have never before co-authored a book, collaborated on a creative project or indeed allowed someone to share that sacred space of one’s own creative spirit.

This time though, I took the leap. I jumped into that void we call the unknown and plunged myself into the book. In reality everything is unknown, and when we let go of trying to exert control and knowing, life runs more smoothly, words spill effortlessly from the ink pot through the pen, smokescreens of confusion suddenly lift and we cease troubling ourselves with trying to work it all out.

So, here’s a call to “mind the gap”. Gaps are okay, pauses are necessary and we need not always fill the hole, break the silence or avoid the gap. Just be mindful of its existence and allow yourself to expand into it.

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So I went to India…. Again.

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So I went to India. Again. I didn’t mean to. It just kind of, happened. Quite spontaneously a friend of mine mentioned that he was going home to Pune, for Diwali festivities and asked whether I would like to join (I assumed it was a rhetorical question and my flight was booked a few days later).

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Whilst this may not have been my first trip to the ‘motherland’ in many ways it was my first. It was the first time that I loved it instantly and ongoingly and let myself be taken by its breathtaking beauty, it’s the first time I stayed with an Indian family and travelled with a local, it’s the first time I allowed myself to indulge in guilt free feasting all fortnight, it’s the first time I engaged my linguistic capabilities to learn the national language and really it’s the first time I let go. For that is what there is to do in India; is to “leave life alone”, as a wise friend had put it. I didn’t interfere with the quiet chaos of the roads, or the deafening silence of the trees, or the sweet stinging of mosquito bites, or the intoxicating air of the mountains or the eye watering burn of spices, or the smell of the vast contrast between rich and poor, or the tangible romance embedded in the Indian air. I let it all be, and the result was astounding. My entire being was saturated with the Indian experience of myself. Having an Indian heritage and experiencing the full weight of that heritage are two very different things, I discovered on this trip. Perhaps during my previous visits I was not mature enough to see that or experience it, or perhaps I became ready to see what life had to show me. Either way, I am infinitely grateful.

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It’s difficult to pinpoint experiences and I wish I could describe them in chronological journal style as I have done before but it’s difficult to encompass the entirety of the experience with a day to day breakdown since each day was drenched in substances like fresh sugar cane juice, or hot Indian wind sweeping through my hair whilst riding on a bike, or the taste of poetic Hindi dropping like honey into my ears, or love, curiosity and carefreeness in the eyes of strangers.

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That said, there are some special occasions that are worthy of mention:

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My 31st birthday: which did not go amiss, with a cake, some candles and a small party of people to share the wishes that I blew into the candles.

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Diwali: the Hindu festival of light. It has been a longstanding dream to experience the full technicolour vivacity of that celebration in India and this year I got my chance; the divas lit outside and around the home made the place truly magical. The evening ended with standing on the rooftop terrace being showered with fireworks, all of them cascading light in a cadenza of colour and noise, it was an experience that mere words cannot do justice to.

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Sinhagad: to say that the mountains at Sinhagad were majestic is an understatement of mammoth proportions. I recall one moment of solitude when I stood atop the mountain, drinking in it’s majesty, it’s energy and thrill of beauty. To expand into such a wide open space whilst measuring one’s infinitesimal position against the backdrop is a glorious feeling. The road trip itself was fun too, singing to old Bollywood songs.

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Alandi: There was nothing special about Alandi; which is why I loved it. A village, with the slow paced intricacies of village life. The gentle swaying of trees in the hot breeze or the dust swept up by a passing truck, or the soft laughter of children outside a home. These are the simplicities that make Alundi, and all other villages special. We sat, under the cool shade of an empty temple for some time, talking, lazing, sharing that special moment. For all the fast paced materialism of my London lifestyle – that moment was priceless.

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Family: If I said that I stayed with one of the most loving and welcoming families in all India, I would say it with conviction. My friend’s parents stretched out their arms, their hearts and their home so far that I practically fell with a hard thud of love upside my stressed out head. It took me no more than a nanosecond to surrender to that love. Speaking of which, in true customary fashion, I was overfed. A lot. I was called a ‘sparrow’ for my Western dietary tendency of eating small amounts of food (nuts and grains as preference). Well that soon changed. My friend’s mother ensured a consistent supply of amazing food, not least sweet delicacies to satisfy my inner sugar monster. I am surprised that my teeth did not dissolve in sugar to be honest. My dentist would be horrified. My post vacation tummy is furious. Just this morning it was screaming ‘what? Where is my hot chapatti with fresh homemade butter and sugar? What do you mean we are having a banana today?’.

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Food family and friends. That composition is enough to make a magical life anywhere but India really is something special. Experiences to highlight, remember and replicate: The food market at Pimpry, the mountains at Sinhagad, Things I would not recommend: walking around in the evening dusk without mosquito repellent, continuing to eat on an upset stomach, or losing a visa; I would most definitely not recommend that.

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Oh the places you’ll go…

 

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My social media footprints (twitter and instagram and travelblog) will reveal that I went to Italy and to Hungary in July and although it’s now August, it still feels like July so that excuses my tardiness. Doesn’t it?

Those two short weekend trips in the space of a month were more than just much needed respite from a hectic schedule, and much more than the sum of their parts; four days away to indulge in my own company and that of good friends; time to let the sun soak into my skin and thaw the tension of everyday life; space to wander think and be; food to fuel my appetite and culinary imagination…. Those four days were freeing in a way that only travel can be. I had forgotten that.

Let’s backtrack a little. Some years ago, weary of working life and feeling directionless in my early adulthood I packed a bag and travelled around the world on my own. Seven months later I returned to the UK craving companionship and tired of travelling. I hadn’t since granted myself the gift of solo travel and time… until now. Reconnecting with oneself is such a vital component of an expressive and fulfilling journey through life.

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Of course the journey was as much an epicurean one as a personal one. I will unashamedly share in this space that I visited the beautiful city of Florence and saw not a single museum, learned not any historical fact, marvelled at none of the great buildings, nor admired any of the art galleries. Even Michaelangelo’s David went amiss. Instead, Emma and I went on a culinary pilgrimage to find the city’s finest gelato (we happened to stumble upon the Duomo en route) (oh, and it’s toasted black sesame at Vivoli’s in case you’re wondering), to indulge in the most mouth watering pizza, to practically pray to the food gods for the divine taste of fresh porcini, to taste tiramisu and sweet creamy pastries, to frequent the food markets and to carry as much balsamic vinegar and olive oil home as is possible in economy class hand luggage. Oh my gosh did I mention I had a “DinnerSheWrote” apron made?! (see picture below). This for me is Italy, this is the beauty of being passionate, this is art of falling in love. For in Italy, food and love are synonymous.

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Following the Italian food excursion, I flew to Budapest, Hungary. This time to meet another friend, to explore a new city and to fill the pages of my journal. Needless to say food featured highly in this trip too; I ate the most divine salad with Hungarian mangalian ham I have ever tasted, I ate chicken pancake (which I’m sure sounds way more exotic and menu worthy in Hungarian) and drank my fill of sweet sweet tokaji wine. The breathtaking views of the Danube down at river level or up on the hilltop perhaps stamp Budapest as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

I am ever grateful for the experiences of travel, for the friends that find me, and for the exciting culinary journey my life is.

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No recipes today, just fuel for your imagination.

 

Confessions of a Writer…

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And so it is, that I bring pen back to paper; nudged by a gentle universal reminders, and by a need for solace that I find nowhere else but here, to this blank space, unperturbed by thoughts, unpolluted by the incessant chatter of my mind, unhindered by any need to explain. I write, because it is my answer to chaos delivered, cries unheard and creative dysfunction. I write for the unbridled pleasure of self expression, literary fulfillment and creative passion.

In my contributing article to the ‘Food Loves Writing‘ Writer Series, I said….

Writing, is a relationship like no other. Despite the challenges we’ve had over the years, and the ones yet to come, despite the months of silence or the fraught late night frustrations, despite the constant inner doubts and the numerous unfinished projects gathering dust on the shelf of my dreams, I always, always come back to my pen and paper; and we try. We try to find a way to make it work. Why? I’m not sure that love needs an explanation. I write because I love to write. I write because I am a writer.

I write because it is the place where one’s hopes, dreams, shattering failures and jubilant successes can be expressed… that silent space between pen and paper is a sacred space that logical interference seldom reaches. A space where one can express authentically, gut-wrenchingly truthfully and perhaps shared. Whilst I do not always write to share, it so often is the connecting force of my work; for what speaks to me, speaks to another and shared experiences are the stuff life is made of. The joy of my first publication was made ever more beautiful for the joy of connection it provided another.

If I am being really honest, with myself and with you; this last point is an interesting one. Fuelled by my readership, I sought to follow suit with ever more interesting, engaging and connecting work. And in the pursuit of that goal, the labour of love was lost. No wonder then, that I have not written for some time; for I have not been writing for writing’s sake. If we are writers, then we must write, for the love of writing; any consequent rewards, are a bonus.

So instead of my habitual self-beration at this point, I would like to acknowledge my recent misgivings and my own absence in the writing space, and simply pick up my pen and move on with a silent nod of ‘point noted’.

I am leaving you with a recipe for a detox smoothie. And why not? It is just as important to cleanse our bodies as our minds…. Whatever fuels you… keep doing it.

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Detox Smoothie

(Recipe from Jason Vale)

Ingredients

3 apples (royal gala or golden delicious)
1 carrot
1.5cm unwaxed lemon
1/4 yellow bell pepper
2.5cm cucumber
1/4 stalk celery
2.5cm broccoli stem
2.5cm beetroot
1 ripe avocado
1 handful crushed ice (optional)

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Method

Place all of the ingredients into the juicer (whole, if you are lucky enough to own a juicer that enables that). Once juiced, tip into the blender with the avocado, and crushed ice, if using, until the juice is creamy and smooth. Here’s to healthy minds and bodies. I’ll drink to that.

Food, Glorious Food

Borough Market. Have I told you that I love you lately?

I do love you. For what else can stand strong beside the Thames, amidst the London smoke, beneath a cool spring day, atop well trodden cobbled streets and still host the most beautiful food party this city sees?

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It is a beauty, the market. And the perfect antidote for despondency. (Not that I would ever eat my emotions of course. Ever. No… I would never do that. Gulp).

Food has the ability to nourish and revive, to alleviate the effects of a hard day, to bring people together in happy times and sad, to function as a perceived remedial filler for any holes we may experience. Food is fabulous; it can be a source of creativity or chaos, it is a way – for me at least – to re-connect with the abundance of nature and all that it offers. And it was important too, that I should re-connect with that essence this past week; for I did not make it to the finals of the ‘Taste Master’ competition and, gut-wrenchingly disappointed with the result, I needed to be reminded of the abundance of nature; teeming with life, people and possibility.

Whilst it does not serve us to be dependent on external things for fulfilment (for that fulfilment can surely only come from within); I am remembering how important it is to stay connected to the things we love. I have no new recipes to share with you today; just these thoughts.

 

Hazelnut Chocolate Tart (Gluten Free)

Going to the gym on a bad knee wasn’t the smartest of ideas. One might even argue that the twitching pain of a twisted knee is somewhat deserved. Ouch. Do we not do it so often? Push our bodies through gruelling regimes; be it overexertion, overeating, toxic makeup or the unnatural position of sitting at a desk for ten hours a day (I have admittedly been guilty of all of the above).

So this paleo vegan chocolate tart inspired by Gourmande in the Kitchen then, was a little gift of appreciation for my overworked, under-rested body. A thank you, to the vessel that carries me through this experience we call life.

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Hazelnut Chocolate Tart (Gluten-Free, Paleo, Vegan)

(adapted from Gourmand in the kitchen)

Ingredients

For the tart crust
40g unsweetened shredded coconut
200g ground almonds
30g coconut oil
1/4 tsp salt
30 g maple syrup
For the chocolate ganache
240ml full fat coconut milk
280g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the Topping
40g hazelnuts, chopped
10g ground or shredded coconut
Pinch of sea salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse together almond flour, salt and shredded coconut. Melt together coconut oil and maple syrup and add to almond and coconut mixture, pulse until coarse crumbs form. Transfer the dough to a greased tart pan or baking dish (preferably one with a removable bottom or you can just use a sheet of baking paper beneath the mixture instead). Evenly press dough in bottom and up sides of pan. Bake in center of oven until golden and firm, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Place chopped chocolate in a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, bring coconut milk to a boil. Pour the hot coconut milk over chocolate, then slowly stir until smooth and creamy. Mix in vanilla extract.

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Pour chocolate mixture into cooled tart shell. Lightly sprinkle hazelnuts coconut across the top. Add a pinch of flaky sea salt if desired. Chill for 40-50mins until set and serve (with a small prayer of gratitude to your body) :)

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Mind to Mouth Macaroons

So. Pride got wiped off my smug sugar-free face today, by something the size of a 50 pence coin. Yeah. Sat in the office, post gym workout, unassumingly munching on my mid afternoon treat of wholegrain rice thins with avocado, when I overhear talk of homemade macaroons. Now, ordinarily this kind of talk has my mind, mouth and heart drooling with desire. However, three weeks into my detox, I’m unphased, as I bite into another huge chunk of avocado. Mmm, yum.

And then, it happens. Jade walks over with a box of chocolate orange macaroons “would you like Macaroonone?”. What happened next occured in slow motion; my hand (I insist through no volition of my own) suddenly reached out to take one, I hear Emma’s voice “no Asha, you can’t! what about your detox?!”, but the voice was more like a blurry noise, from some distant place. The next thing I’m aware of is a phenomenal sensation in my mouth, an amalgamation of delicious sweetness, dark cocoa, soft orange, strong desire and absolute admiration. “oh my gosh, I cannot believe you just did that”, says Emma. Half a macaroon still in my hand, I put it down, still in disbelief myself that I ‘just did that’, but more than disbelief, there was a sense of guilt, wrongdoing, badness.

Before a degree of self berating ensued, it occurred to me: we can be so disciplined about what we put into our mouths, but what about what we feed our minds?

The relentless inner critic does far greater damage to my health than does half a spoonful of sugar (or any other food for that matter). That notion of ‘being bad’ that we are taught from an early age, such that we strive to be ‘good’. I realised that my detox is far more about being good than it is about being healthy. Even my latest favourite recipe book is titled ‘Guilt Free Gourmet’. What?! Shouldn’t all of life be guilt free?

So, does this mean I am shovelling large quantities of cocoa into my tummy again? No. I’m still eating well. But as a natural functioning of a healthy body/mind, as opposed to some castigatory punishment for all the indulgent foods that normally take precedence in my diet. If the detox served only to bring me to that one insight, then it was worthwhile. Thanks Jade.

Here’s to happy munching. Always.