June 20, 2011

The Upma that won $100,000 hands down

Last evening, when I called home, my mom told me about the Indian Chef who came first in the Top Chef Masters conducted in Los Angeles. Floyd Cardoz, now a NY based celebrity chef answered the clarion call of ‘memories’- the contest theme, with Mushroom Upma, which am sure has attained much name and fame by now.

I love upma. And I love the waymy upma-recipe has evolved. I was inspired by my mother-in-law who adds grated carrot, thinly sliced beans and ripe banana (nenthrapazham in Kerala) in addition to the customary ingredients. Depending on the availability, in addition to these, I add chopped dates, raisins, nuts (whatever is there at the moment) and Dill leaves after the flame goes off.( I die for their flavor) The softness of raisins, dates and the semi-cooked vegetables is so palatably balanced by the crunchiness of the nuts. All this coupled with the Dill aroma, I proudly consider my upma a well- balanced and highly delectable dish. But, never did I think about adding mushrooms.

When mom told me about the mushrooms she recently picked from her backyard, it took me back a few years. Almost a decade. Just like how Cardoz’ upma simmered in memories, his mushroom upma and my conversation with mom took me back to the golden days of my Childhood.

I love the thunderbolt back home in Alappuzha. I get amazed by the enormity and power of thunder and lightning. Furiously interspersed with a heavy downpour in the backdrop of thick, lush, wild green, it creates a magical effect. The thunder bolt brings with it many good things. One is the Thunder- Lily or May Flower which looks like a bigger, fuller version of the Indian Paintbrush. After the first thunder of the season, they rise and shine. They are bulbous and have been there in the front yard for ages now. But, we get to see them only after thunderous nights.

Yet another thunder-follower is the mushroom. They are so predictable in my backyard. After thunderous nights, it used to be my duty to pluck them which would then be taken for the day’s super fresh mushroom delicacies. Those days, I never thought about the beauty of this phenomenon. It seemed to follow a natural pattern. The mushrooms after thunder was just the norm and it was taken for granted. But, today, looking back, I am amazed. And as I think about walking around my backyard eagerly looking for the freshest mushroom heads, nostalgia oozes all through my porous memory reservoir…

There are so many more reasons to remember those days with gratitude. One is definitely the nostalgic value of so many special memories. I always thank God for memories because there are so many people out there who don’t know what they are. 

On those occasional feel-great days, when I feel blessed with a decent degree of wellness, I thank my genes and my upbringing. Eating fresh was the norm. Eating local was just the only option available. Home is where I learnt that things can be used again and again, which we now jargonize as ‘recycling’. Home is where I learnt that what belongs to the Earth must go back to the Earth itself. Like the waste generated in the kitchen say from vegetable and fruit peels always used to go back to the kitchen garden. They simply wouldn’t find their way out of my courtyard into some garbage pile to rot without a purpose! The fallen leaves were never cursed as they were gathered and gracefully sent back to the Earth itself. To find new life under the topsoil. The fallen leaf-bed also doubled up as sun-screen and moisture-retainer in summer for all the fruit-bearing trees in the courtyard.

These days, I get vocal about Zero food miles. I love to read and listen to experts talk on ZED. (Zero Energy Development) I almost patronize ZED ambassadors and practitioners. Though I try to fulfill my grocery needs from the nearest outlet/ market, I am pretty sure all of that I buy is not local. And may not be fresh stuff either. But, then, that’s what dreams are for. They are the most powerful discovery of the human mind. I swear by them. By their powerful after effect on human development and progress. True, we live in a world rife with problems. But, I would rather not get pushed around by them, but, be led by the power of dreams! I dream, therefore I am!

June 7, 2011

Living in a body of disappearing lungs...

How would you and I live if we knew that our bodies were slowly losing their lungs? Pretty gruesome, bizzare. If it were the naked truth, will it change us forever?

World Environment Day. WED. One more has come and gone. This time, India played host. And our 'Confidence in a Kurta', the most popular Environment Minister ever, Mr. Jairam Ramesh stole much of the limelight. Tell me something new!

I don't mind if he steals much of the attention. That's well-deserved. With him at the helm of Environmental affairs, Mr Ramesh has put the spotlight back on the Subcontinent by standing up and against the who's who of violation. 

Aptly called the Lungs of the Earth, forests play a vital role in keeping us hale and hearty. They help maintain a state of equilibrium. Well, we cannot put a halt to the much-needed development. But, then, how do we take care of all the Greenhouse gas emissions in a natural way? Forests do. They mitigate the risk caused by unmindful, unplanned development, to put it in simple terms.

What happened to all our Forests? To the Lungs of the Earth? They are fast disappearing. I cried when I came to know that Haiti has lost 94% of its forest cover. A country torn apart by disasters and rife with internal tension! What can make their woes worst? Ignorance is bliss, at its best playing in Haiti. The only source that they have tapped for creating fire for cooking is logs from the forests. May be they were just ignorant of the reality. Getting a meal in time itself is like a luxury for many people there. Then, even if they were an aware lot, how could they bother about the future ramifications so much? The third most hungry nation in the world with all the nation's wealth controlled by the 1% rich, would you blame Haitians? I would rather look into my own lavish, pampered lifestyle to make changes. My life throws many possibilities that perhaps is non-existent for a Haitian.

To even touch upon the depleting forest cover in India, the Amazon rainforests, or any other part of the world is a daunting task. But, what hurts the most is how the well-heeled and well-informed contribute to de-forestation. The most abused resource today is Tissue paper. Step into a restaurant and observe the uncleared tables. More than cutlery, more than the tables or chairs around, there are used or half used or un-used tissue paper thrown carelessly. When some of the educated elite clean the work areas in their kitchen with rolls and rolls of kitchen tissue, no logic can work.

More than half of the world's timber and 72% of paper is consumed by 22% of the world's population. Can we intentionally opt out of this 22%? Just a few simple things and we can at least start to feel good about the amazing possibilities that are right in here.