The world is a scary place | Article for The Swaddle

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I got my first taste of independence when I was around 4 years old and my mother let me walk to my grandmother’s house, around 5 minutes away, all by myself. I remember feeling elated. Almost grown up, like my mother! Over the years I would do a lot of things by myself, even though my friends weren’t allowed to. I would ride my bike on the Main Road, where the big cars and busses were. I would go grocery shopping alone, to the actual market with a different vendor for every item, not a single store with aisles and metal carts.

But with those solo explorations also came some rather unpleasant experiences which, had my mother known about them, would have had me locked in the highest room in the tallest tower. Needless to say, my mom only found out about some of these experiences when I wrote about them in a piece for The Swaddle.

In this piece, I reflected on my own experiences as a child, growing up in a scary world and, as a consequence, turning into a new parent already laying the foundation to wrap her child in bubblewrap. But luckily, a bit of good sense and wisdom from Mum, who does know best at least some of the times, prevailed, and I’m working on some of my control issues. Here’s a link to the whole story in The Swaddle.

The World in a Scary Place, And I’m an Overprotective Parent

A discovery of Munich with the Wimmelbuch

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It’s never too early to introduce your child to Oktoberfest, I say! 

Well, I did say a book a week in the new year, didn’t I? Children’s books count too. Even if they’re wordless and filled with beautifully illustrated panoramas. The München wimmelbuch by Annegret Reimann is a book I just can’t help but get lost in. Every time I open it’s cardboard pages, I spot a new character and trace their story across the city’s iconic sights.

I wrote a quick post about it on Caterpillar Cafe, my literary blog. Hope you enjoy it!

I’m exactly where I want to be! How about you? | Happy Holidays

The last post on this blog was published in June. The horror! Of course that has nothing on the many “real” developments that took place in our world since, so I’m sure you, oh solitary reader of my blog, don’t mind.

But with the New Year comes new opportunities and a red hot drive to do things one should have been doing already, and ACTUALLY doing them.

In 2017, I want to change a lot of things about my writing. For starters, I want to write more. That’s always a good place to start. Like, glue my butt to my chair and bang something out no matter how inedible and feel the subtle satisfaction of a job well tried. Let’s call this resolution # 1 then, shall we? Write 1000 words a day and save it to a folder, inner critic be damned.

I also want to delve into the world of food in a way that I’ve always wanted to but never quite could because I was limited by personal inhibitions or the rules of commercial content — Is it newsy enough? Has it been written about before? Is it a trend? Who’s going to want to read that? Bah. Food is food and yet it is so much more than just food. It’s sustenance, yes. But it’s also an emotion, a state of mind, an expression…I could keep going. But what I really like about food is how it has the propensity to bring people together. So yes. Resolution # 2: Write about food the way I’ve always wanted to. As a story, personal histories and vast geographies, ideals and philosophies, all expressed on a humble plate. I hope to tell stories that I would like to read and feature people who inspire me on a very personal level. Hopefully you will enjoy reading about them too.

It isn’t wise to make too many personal development resolutions. So I’m just going to make one last resolve and call it a year. In 2017, I want to read more. Like, 52 books more! That’s one book a week. Am I being too ambitious? Definitely. Sounds crazy? Wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t. So I may not complete 52 books in 52 weeks. I may come across a single book that takes me two weeks to get through because it’s so immersive I don’t want to miss a single word, line and everything written between those lines. I might even bite off more than I can chew with a book that makes me struggle to stay awake from start to, well, the end of the first chapter. But I’m not letting this year go by without giving this a try. So that’s resolution # 3: Read a book a week. And to add accountability, blog about it here! It could tie in well with Resolution # 1 and ensure that I’m publishing one new post a week so that I don’t wait another 6 months before saying hi.

This has been a truly crappy year in a lot of ways. But it has also been a great one for me in many respects. I became my my own boss this year. I also became a slave to a tiny human. But that didn’t stop me from setting up my home office (ok, this is a lot fancier than it sounds) and truly and completely accepting that writing is going to feature very prominently in my career path ahead.

So I’m off to make some plans, set some goals and drink loads of wine. Hope you too are sitting somewhere you truly love and doing exactly what you want to do in the run up to what is promising to be a spectacular year ahead.

Happy New Year!

Afsha xx

The Good Foodist: Monster Coconut Cupcakes

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As a child, coconut oil never made it into my food. My father detested the taste and my mother was indifferent. We cooked our food in ghee, refined sunflower oil and for a very tiny period, olive oil. It’s no wonder that I grew up imaging someone in the South squeezing bottles of Parachute into vats of fried banana chips. It wasn’t an appeasing vision because for me coconut oil represented a comb being scraped painfully across my scalp thrice a week.

But that changed once I moved to Bangalore and discovered organic, cold pressed coconut oil at Healthy Buddha. The beautiful, sunshine yellow liquid smells like tender coconut at its sweetest. The subtle flavor adds a mild coconutty flavor to dal tadka and chicken curry alike.

I fell in love. Deeply! I wanted to use it in everything I ate. I wanted to fry fish with it. I wanted to season salad with it. Heck, I even wanted to bake with it!

This last desire would go seriously awry at a dinner party where I served guests molten chocolate cupcakes in which I had substituted butter with coconut oil. The feedback I received was delivered quite brazenly. “This has a very strange flavor,” said one, trying really hard not to gag. “No, wait. It’s disgusting,” said another who spat it out in her napkin.

That’s when I knew I had probably overreached and burned my fingers. It stung. But I also learned that coconut oil, beautiful as it was, would not be accepted so easily in sweets.

But this didn’t deter me from trying again. Even as I continued to hone my skills as amateur baker extraordinaire – using the best butter money could buy – I kept researching recipes that called for coconut oil instead of butter.

This wasn’t difficult because the internet is full of recipes for vegan cakes that call for coconut oil and coconut milk as substitutes for butter and regular milk. The variety of cakes in which it can be used is also quite varied. You can add it to your vegan chocolate cake, super healthy banana bread, summery lemon pound cakes and fresh and fruity berry cupcakes.

After much trial and error, I realised that the added coconutty flavor to cakes – a sacred indulgence for many – is not something most people will just accept lying down. Introducing it would require patience, skill and most importantly, your wits.

For many a palate, chocolate and coconut may not a good marriage make. But coconut and well, coconut, that’s not sacrilege, is it? Not at all. Especially when the cupcakes in question celebrate everything it is.

That was my inspiration to create these delicious Coconut Monster Cupcakes. I call them Monsters because they’re so much more voluminous than regular cupcakes even if they’re still smaller than muffins.

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To take it to the next level of healthy goodness, I also baked them with organic flour instead of maida. I expected this to yield a tough, dense sponge but to my delight, I could not taste the difference! That’s probably because I used two eggs instead of one and folded the coconut oil separately instead of creaming it with the sugar and eggs at the start.

What elevates these beauties to the next level is the fresh, unsweetened shredded coconut which adds a juicy crunch to every bite. I had some leftover so I decided to top the batter with it – and a sprinkle of brown sugar – which was toasted during the baking process and enhanced the look and aroma of the cakes.

But what sealed the deal, really, is seeing the faces of those trying them out. Their expressions were the exact opposite of what I saw when they bit into my molten chocolate cakes. The flavours and textures clicked immediately. “You’ve gotten very good at this baking thing,” one said. “Are you sure these are healthy?” The surprised look on their faces and their subsequent approval when I revealed that not only were these cupcakes healthy, but also baked with coconut oil and organic atta was just the encouragement I needed to type this recipe up.

It’s a pretty simple one to follow. You don’t need any special mixing equipment to bring it all together. Just two bowls and a mise en place of fresh, organic ingredients.

Enjoy!

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Monster Coconut Cupcakes

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients
1 ½ cup organic atta
½ cup brown sugar + extra for topping
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
¾ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup freshly grated coconut + extra for topping

Method
– Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Grease cupcake tray with drops of coconut oil.
– In a bowl, sift together atta, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar.
– In another bowl, mix eggs, milk and vanilla extract.
– Make a well in the centre and pour half mix into the batter and stir. Batter will be lumpy but that’s ok. Mix in half the coconut oil. Pour in the rest of the batter followed by the coconut oil and stir until all the ingredients are combined and just moistened. Don’t overmix.
– Fold in fresh grated coconut.
– Using a spoon or an ice-cream scoop, pour batter into cupcake tray. Top with extra shredded coconut and sugar and bake in oven for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
– Cool in tray for 10 minutes after which you can pop them out and cool on a wire rack until you’re ready to eat them.
– Goes brilliantly with a cup of coffee or masala tea. Stores well in airtight container for up to 3 days.

A version of this column was published on Healthy Buddha‘s e-magazine on June 11, 2016.

Introducing The Good Foodist: My weekly column for Healthy Buddha

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“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.” – Julia Child

I don’t have a romantic story about how I came to find myself in food.

But you’re a writer, Afsha. Look deep into the recesses of your soul and pull out a memory. Something delicious, nostalgic, epiphanic…

…Fictitious?

Truth is, growing up, I never really thought about where my food came from. If I am to be perfectly honest, I didn’t even like it very much.

Food had always been a chore, a mandatory break three times a day from things I truly loved such as my bicycle, free play and television. I must have been the fussiest eater on the block and no one suffered my food tantrums more than my dear old Mum.

I went vegetarian for most of my childhood. I refused to eat tomatoes if I could see them in my food. I hated okra with a vengeance and believed that every crate of radish deserved to be burned before it reached the market.

But then, over time, things started to change. Not only did I discover that tomatoes weren’t the enemy, I also realised that I enjoyed eating them raw as afternoon snacks at work. Okra went from being enemy number one to the one vegetable I could not go a week without cooking. And radish, oh that juicy radish! Did you know that radishes, sliced thin and picked in a jar of vinegar in the fridge is probably the most mouth-watering accompaniments to barbequed meat?

Yes. I started off being one of the most difficult eaters there is. You probably know the type. You were perhaps like me once, or have a child that’s giving you hell on the dining table right now.

There are several incidents that took my love for food from a cold, cordial acquaintance, to a beautiful relationship that’s going to last a lifetime.

But I don’t need to look into the deepest recesses of my soul to tell you how this metamorphosis came to be. All I know is that it happened in my late 20s, when I started writing about food from a journalistic perspective. From food features writer and restaurant reviewer at The Indian Express, Mumbai to freelance food writer and blogger for several specialised publications, my food journey – perhaps ‘evolution’ is a better word – has been a very interesting one.

And it all started when I realised that “Good Food” was actually synonymous with “Food That’s Good for You”. This means good ingredients, fresh, local vegetables, ethically and sustainably sourced meat, poultry and seafood, and of course, the desire to bring all of these together in a delicious meal at the hearth.

By means of The Good Foodist, a weekly column for Healthy Buddha, I will be writing about my journey into good food that’s also good for you. Expect to read stories, meditations and musings, paired with delicious recipes and ideas. Through this column, I will be aiming to make the idea of good food more accessible to everyone and start dialogues on why we need to care about where our food comes from and what we put into our stomach.

I hope you will join this wonderful journey with adventures and stories of your own. But more importantly, I hope you will find a delicious, weekly dose of perspective to take back and apply in your own kitchen and in consequence, your life.

A version of this column also appeared on Healthy Buddha‘s e-magazine on June 2, 2016.