A couple of years ago my oldest daughter had a class project on culture. She had to answer questions about what holidays and food were part of her culture. She responded with Halloween and Mac and Cheese. Halloween is an awesome holiday for kids, and you can’t beat mac and cheese when it comes to comfort food, but I felt a twinge of guilt that she didn’t have anything more to add. Our family is a cultural melting pot. My husband was born in Greece. His dad is Greek and his mom is Peruvian. My parents are both immigrants from India. Between the two of us I felt that we were missing the mark on teaching our children our respective cultures.
So how were we going to start teaching our kids about their culture. For me food is the beginning of all things cultural, so my goal is to master Indian cooking. I grew up eating my mom’s Indian food everyday. I still crave it, and my last meal request would be a big plate of rice and chicken curry. As much as I love Indian food it always seemed so difficult to make, so we only ate it when my mom cooked for us. This is obviously not sustainable and at 40 years old it is time to start learning. My only rule is it has to be reasonably quick and easy. I am motivated to learn to cook Indian food not only so I can bring my kids up eating it, but also because it is the perfect cuisine for our lifestyle. We are trying to eat less meat and the Indian cuisine has so many yummy vegetarian dishes. Since my husband loves lentils my first dish to master was dal makhani, which is a creamy dish make of red kidney beans and black lentils. So Yum!
3/4 cup Urad Dal (black lentils) – Found at Indian grocery stores
1/4 cup red kidney beans
1/2 large red onion, diced
6 garlic cloves; minced
3/4 inch ginger; finely minced
2 green cardamon seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Pinch of nutmeg
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 – 2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup cream (optional)
Rinse and clean the beans. I do this by dumping into a strainer and running water over it and rinsing.
Cook the beans and lentils. I use the instapot for cooking all my beans. It is so easy and quick. If you don’t have one I highly recommend investing in one. Without an instapot, or pressure cooker, you will need to cook the beans by soaking overnight and then cooking over a slow simmer until soft. With the instapot dump the beans and lentils in the instapot, and 4-5 cups water (water should be a couple of inches above the beans) and cook. Both the lentils and beans should be very soft when done.
Roughly chop 2-3 large tomatoes in quarters. Puree in blender.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium to high heat. Traditional recipes call for butter, but I use olive oil to keep it healther.
Add cumin seeds, 1 inch cinnamon stick, cardomon seeds, and cloves to hot oil and stir until seeds pop (about 30 seconds).
Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sautee until golden (about 2 minutes). Stir continuously to avoid burning.
Add garlic and ginger, 1.5 teaspoon garam masala, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Continue to stir. If you don’t want to bite into cardamon or cloves in your finished product carefully remove the cardamon seeds and cloves at this point.
Add chili powder and nutmeg and give the mix a few good stirs.
Add tomato puree and stir well for about 1 minute. Carefully remove the cinnamon stick. If you want a stronger cinnamon flavor you can leave it until you are done cooking it. I like it to be more subtle so I remove it at this point.
Add the dal and kidney beans. Stir well so the tomato mixture coats all the dal and beans.
Add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
Turn off heat. At this point you can add 1/4 cup cream and stir well. I definitely think this step makes the dish special, but if you want to keep it healthier you can skip this step. It will still be yummy.
My go to meal is red lentil soup. Not only is it fast and healthy, it is also super yummy, filling, and cheap. Whenever I am in a meal rut, or want a nice big bowl of comfort food I make this soup. I got the basic idea from a New York Times recipe and have modified to make it work for my family. The best part of this soup is it is so easy to make, but has a complex flavor profile that makes you feel fancy even on a cold, blah, winter weeknight. Add a refreshing side salad or some warm and crusty bread and you have the perfect meal that will satisfy the pickiest of eaters and most dietery requirements.
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pinch of red pepper flakes, or red chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 carrots chopped
1/2 sweet potato, chopped (optional)
1.5 cup red lentils
28 oz chicken broth (optional) – to keep this soup vegetarian you can use water or vegetable broth
3 cups water
1 bunch fresh cilantro
In a large pot heat 4 tablespoons olive oil.
Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes.
Add the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt and saute for an additional 2 minutes or until onions are shimmering. Make sure to continuously stir so you do not burn the garlic or onions.
Stir in the cumin, chile powder (or red pepper
flakes), and tomato paste. Continue to saute for another 1-2 minutes. This step
is important to cook the spices.
Add the carrot, sweet potato (if using), and red lentils and stir until it has all been mixed in with the spices and garlic/onion mixture.
Add the chicken broth and water and stir again. Bring to a bil and then redue to a simmer until lentils are soft. This should take 20-30 minutes. You will notice the lentils get alittle stringy and soft.
Once the lentils are cooked through use an immersion blender and puree the soup. I puree the whole thing because my kids like their soup smooth and creamy. If you would like more texture to your soup puree just a quarter or half of the soup.
Most important step – Add fresh lemon juice. Do not forget this step! The lemon is what makes the soup so yummy. Start with the juice of half a lemon and then add more to taste. (I like it lemony and usually use a whole lemon).
Final Steps – Add chopped cilantro. I have a heavy hand with cilantro and like more than the average person. Start with adding two tablespoons chopped cilantro and stir into the soup. Add more to taste. Wait a few minutes. Drink a glass of water to cleanse your palette and take a final taste. At this point add salt as you feel necessary.
“I’m not going to have a cookie for dessert”, said my
nine-year old daughter. “I don’t want to get big and fat”. The irony of this
statement is that she is the exact opposite of fat. She was born 5 pounds 12
ounces and for her entire 9 years of life can best be described as tiny, but
fierce. As a baby she was diagnosed as failure to thrive. Her tonsils were so
big she couldn’t swallow food. After getting her tonsils removed and a year of
therapy we were finally able to get her to start eating solid food at the age
of three. Of our four kids she is now our best eater, but she has always been,
and will always be tiny. She barely makes the growth chart for weight. The
highest she has ever gotten is 3rd percentile. So of course I had to
start thinking why she would be worried about getting big. I wanted to blame TV,
but with only one TV in the house and no cable she barely watches anything.
Maybe it was influences at school, but she is usually oblivious to things
happening around her so that didn’t seem possible. As much as I didn’t want to
admit it there was only one plausible reason. It was me. Having four babies has
not been kind to my body, and she has heard my complaining.
In 2007 when I got married I was 5’1” and 92 pounds. Like my daughter I was tiny. My diabetes and heart attack inducing diet was nothing to write home about. I would eat two donuts and a cup of coffee for breakfast, Portillo’s Italian Beef and Sausage combo with fries for lunch, and a big plate of rice and chicken curry for dinner. Fruits and vegetables were non-existent, but I was still in perfect health and never gained a pound. My first experience with weight gain was after I had my first daughter in 2009. Post pregnancy I was about 15 pounds heavier than I had ever been. Luckily, I had time and money on my side. I hired a personal trainer, went to the gym 4-5 times a week, and got really disciplined about my diet. The girl who never ate healthy was now eating salads, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, and rarely ate out. I quickly lost all the weight and got in the best shape of my life.
Three years passed and I had my second child. I bounced back like a movie star. Within two weeks I was wearing my pre-pregnancy clothes and felt great. I didn’t have money for a trainer this time around and was not as disciplined about my diet, but I was still pretty fit. I ran a half marathon six months after giving birth and a full marathon a year later. I wasn’t doing weights so I didn’t get as toned as I would have liked and ended up with a bit of a belly. I leveled off at 115 pounds. It wasn’t where I wanted to be, but it was nothing terrible and I felt good. Fast forward another 3 years and I had my son. I’m not sure if pregnancies are different with boys but it was the worst pregnancy I ever had. I was sick the entire time, could barely get out of bed, and gained a ton of weight. He was a big baby and came out weighing 8 pounds 9 ounces. His giant size caused a lot of damage to my body. The post-partum recovery was painful and it took a while for my body to feel good again. By the time he was a year old I was getting back to the gym and starting to feel good again. Life was going great and then BOOM I got pregnant again. I stayed healthy for most of the last pregnancy and recovered pretty quickly, but let’s just say two babies back to back after the age of 35 is no joke. It has been 2 years since the baby was born and instead of losing weight I have gained. I am close to 140 pounds and despite trying a few times have not been able to commit to a healthy lifestyle.
So here I am at 40 realizing that in order to ensure my
children have healthy body images I need to be an example to them of a healthy
lifestyle. My goal (although it would be great if I could) is no longer to get
back to 100 pounds. Instead I want to show them how good it feels when you work
out and eat healthy. I want my daughter to enjoy having a cookie for dessert
and not worry about getting fat. I want my kids to be happy with their bodies
because they eat healthy and live active lifestyles.
So here it goes. Below are my current stats and pictures. Warning: it is not pretty. My hope is that by laying it all out here I will stay motivated to living a healthy and active lifestyle which will result in better measurements for me. I will post updates every 2 weeks. Fingers crossed!
I have three girls (nine, six, and two). In the Indian culture, girls get their ear pierced as babies. My entry into the world of pierced ears was when I was one year old. My aunt, who is a doctor, pierced my ears on my parents’ kitchen table. I only know this because my older cousin always told me how he got me to stop crying by offering me a candy bar. My entire extended family was there for the event. It was a big deal. But for some reason, when I had daughters of my own, I didn’t put the same priority into piercing their ears.
My oldest daughter got her ears pierced when she was 5 and it was a pretty seamless process. My middle daughter was a whole other story. She got her ears pierced when she was 3 and it was a disaster. The whole process was traumatizing. It was done at the mall. Her ears hurt long after they were pierced, one of her ears got infected, there was a lot crying, and ultimately, she ended up wanting to let them close. Her ears quickly healed, but I was permanently scarred. I swore I would never pierce her ears again until she was ready.
Fast forward 3 years and she is now six. For the past year she has been hinting that she wants earrings. She is ready. I am not. I can’t think about her going through that pain again. I can’t bear the thought of watching her hurt. I keep coming up with excuses for her not to do it, but she is ready. I finally give in, but I can’t go with her. I send my husband and her older sister. I tell them that they can’t go to the mall. She will get her ears pierced at a professional piercing studio that uses needles. The first studio turns my husband and daughters away. Their minimum age is ten, but they recommend another studio. It is highly recommended, their reviews are great, and they have an opening. The stars are aligning for my daughter. For me the world feels like it has just stopped turning. As my husband and daughters head to the next studio, I wait for updates. I pace back and forth. I make chocolate chip cookies. The minutes tick by with no update. Finally, after what seems like hours, I hear the garage door open. My daughter comes running up the stairs with the biggest smile on her face and two blue flower studs in her ears. She did it. She endured the pain to obtain the ultimate prize: earrings. She was a Rockstar through it all.
My husband later told me that the woman who pierced her ears
thanked my daughter for letting her be part of her first step into womanhood.
At first, I laughed, but then realized this was a big deal. Pierced ears are a
part of her Indian culture. They give us one more thing in common. And as the
woman who pierced her ears stated it is another step into her growing up. It
was a step I missed because I was too scared to see her in pain. I didn’t
believe in her resilience and bravery to endure the pain to achieve her goal. I
underestimated my daughter, but thankfully she never underestimated herself. I
have a lot to learn from my six-year old.