Coming out of the Fog

Posted by Aarti on March 14th, 2014

So, in the past year I’ve given birth to two babies: my first cookbook and my actual baby, Eliyah.

photo (1)

It’s been busy to say the least. I’ve tried to let you guys know what’s going on through my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But there’s one thing I’ve been keeping from you.

I’m battling post partum depression. And it’s gnarly.

This past weekend was the most severe. I found myself in tears for most of the day, and not just quiet sobbing. Howling. Despair and utter hopelessness swallowed me whole, shrouding me in such darkness that even the bright light that is my sweet Eliyah and superhero-awesome Brendan couldn’t pierce through.

I’ve been dealing with this since she was born. And I wondered whether I should mention it on this blog, because I didn’t want her to read this one day and think that she caused this depression. So if you’re reading this sweetheart, it’s not your fault. It’s my hormones, and perhaps, my genetics. Not you, sweet girl.

I haven’t wanted to fully admit it, didn’t want to claim to have something that I didn’t have in order to shrug off any sense of responsibility or pulling myself up by my bootstraps. But I know that this isn’t something I caused, it isn’t a case of me being weak. It’s a condition. It’s the ultimate experience of having lies whispered into your heart, lies like: there’s something wrong with you because you have no maternal instinct, you’re not cut out to be a mother because (insert reason here), you’re never going to feel better, you’re going to ruin your baby because you don’t love her… I told Bren that it sometimes feels like I’m being attacked by a swarm of bees. Their sting so painful, so demanding of my attention, that I can’t swat them away with words of truth.

I’d been told that I’d experience euphoria upon Eliyah’s birth, that my heart would grow another chamber in order to contain all the love and joy I’d feel. And yet all I experienced was fear, feelings of being overwhelmed, fatigue and anxiety. It took me weeks and weeks before I felt connected to Eliyah, another fact that scared me and made me wonder whether I was cut out to be a mother. By God’s grace I have finally just reached that stage of loving her so much that I can’t get enough of her. But that took months. Months.

Depression steals my joy, which I realise is one of my prized possessions. But perhaps even more insidiously, it has stolen my connection to God. When the bees attack, when the fog swirls around me, I cannot pray, I cannot absorb anything in the Word… I feel like I’m on an island far, far away from God’s eyes and ears. I can’t feel His presence, nor His peace. I question Him, pummel my fists into His chest, demanding to know why He would let this happen to His daughter, wondering why He has abandoned me to my cold, fogged-over island.

I’m not entirely sure why I kept quiet. I suppose that, even though there’s so much more awareness of PPD these days, I still felt a bit ashamed. I didn’t want to make a big woe-is-me kind of deal about it. But in recent days, I’ve experienced such relief after hearing from another mother who experienced this dark night, who came out of it and whose words of encouragement were like fresh water for my soul. If I can do that for anyone reading this, then why wouldn’t I try?

I have “good” days and “bad” days, mostly affected by how much sleep I’ve managed to get. I’m trying to exercise every day, make sure I take my vitamins and eat plenty of vegetables (I juice if I know that I haven’t had enough that day). I’m getting myself into a support group, and I’m prepared to take meds if that’s what it takes. I take naps if I haven’t gotten enough sleep at night even if that means I don’t “do” anything else that day. I’m realising that taking care of myself and Eliyah has to be my top priority right now, over career, over anything else.

I’m coming out of the “bad” couple of days I had this past weekend, and much of that is due to the truth spoken to me daily by Bren and my friend who has been through it and speaks to me from the other side. And so, to any of you digging out of the pit, here are some pieces of truth that help me find the cracks of light in the darkness:

I have NOT been abandoned by God.
My mind is poisoned at the moment. Don’t listen too closely to what it says about me or Eliyah or Brendan.
He is not “doing” this to me. This is part and parcel of living in a fallen world with fallen bodies.
He is with me now more than ever.
I’ve given my heart to Him, and He is holding it tight in His hand. He will not let the darkness snatch me away.
I haven’t done something to deserve this. He is not punishing me.
God doesn’t make mistakes. Eliyah is His gift to me. He will give me everything (has already given me) I need to be a good mother to her.
God is faithful. He keeps His promises. He has promised to be with me, and so, He is.
This is temporary. This is not forever.

If you’re in the pit, I’m right there with you. But we’re going to get out this together, and God’s holding the flashlight! Take heart!

-x-
aarti

Where have you been?! and other FAQ

Posted by Aarti on September 16th, 2013

Oh Lord.

It’s been so long since I’ve written here.

By now, I’m guessing you know the two reasons for my silence over the past number of months: not one, but two babies!

You mean you’re having twins?
Well not exactly.

I am indeed pregnant, about 36 weeks along at this point. I’m due around October 10th, which is just around the corner! ACK!

The second baby is more of a metaphor… my very first cookbook! Ironically I began to work on both of these babies around the same time: January of this year. God has some timing, huh? Before I found out I was pregnant, I was so worried that something was wrong with me; my palate was completely off, and I couldn’t stomach the smell of my spice box! And, being more emotional than normal, I took all my “flops” in the kitchen so personally that I found myself in a puddle of tears on the floor of my kitchen. I thought I was going crazy.

My friends gently suggested taking a pregnancy test before I called the psych ward.

Ever since I told you guys about it on my Facebook page, there have been a few questions that have come up over and over, so here are the answers all in one place!

1) When are you due?
October 10th, 2013.
The other baby, the cookbook, is due out September 2014.

2) Are you having a boy or a girl?
I don’t know! Bren and I are trying to do things as close to the way God designed it as possible, so we are enjoying the 9-month long suspense. I mean, how often do you get to be surprised like that anymore? Plus, I love seeing people share their theories for why it’s a boy or a girl: carrying high or low, glowing or not glowing, cravings etc. It’s a hilarious sociological experiment!

3) Why are you calling your baby Crumpet?
We’ve taken to referring to the nugget as “Crumpet” and not necessarily for the reason you think. Upon watching the little one wriggle around in a serious ancy-pants fashion on the ultrasound, Bren said, “It’s like he/she is krumping in there!” And that’s where Crumpet came from. Although Bren maintains that he’s calling him/her Krumpit, not Crumpet. Snort.

4) Do you have names picked out?
We pretty much have a girl’s name sorted. But if it’s a boy, I have a feeling Crumps is going to go by, erm, Crumps for a little while. Which is fine by me. My baby sister, Crish, was nameless for a good long while after she was born. My parents patiently waited for the perfect name to come along. I suspect that it’s a Indian thing to do — wait until the baby arrives to name him/her.

5) How are you feeling?
Mostly, good! I have been really fortunate during my pregnancy to have little to no nausea during the first trimester (although some VERY strong feelings about what was appetizing and what wasn’t. For example, cheese on toast? Delicious. Kimchi? Disgusting). And I pretty much did all the recipe testing and writing during my second trimester so I was on my feet A LOT. Now that the manuscript has been turned in (hooray!), I think my body is pushing me to make up for all that time when rest wasn’t an option. Previously, I spurned naps. Now I nap like a champ! And while I’m so happy that all the extra weight has centered in my belly and ahem, my boobs, it has meant that my lower back is pretty danged sore. Small price to pay, I keep telling myself, for the PRIVILEGE of being pregnant.

6) Where are you giving birth?
At home! Yup, in keeping with the philosophy of answer #2, we’re planning on welcoming Crumps into the world in our living room. Med-free. But with a heavy dose of His presence hopefully! Pray for me!

I think that’s it for now. Have more questions? Ask them below!

-x-
aarti

Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s here!

Posted by Aarti on April 2nd, 2013

Now that I’ve got that classic stuck in your head, let’s talk about salt and pepper shall we?

These two just might be the most basic, most rudimentary, most overlooked spices in my pantry, and yet they are to me the most fundamental.

Especially salt. Without salt, food lacks flavour, lacks pizzazz, no matter how well you’ve cooked it how preciously it was grown. Salt seasons, preserves, breathes life into food. I still remember staging for Suzanne Goin at Lucques; she tasted the dressing I’d made and even though I’d followed her recipe, it was missing something. I trembled as she tasted it.

“It needs salt,” she said, plunging her hand into the crock on the counter and almost snapping a few big pinches into my bowl. It seemed like too much to me, but once I taste it, I knew she was right. It didn’t need more parsley, more pomegranate molasses or even more olive oil. It just needed salt. Suddenly my bland dressing was vivid.

I remember my “aha!” moment when I switched from table salt to kosher salt; suddenly I felt like seasoning my food was in my control. The coarser granules didn’t slip through my fingers willy-nilly. They helped me cook a thick, cracklin’ crust on pieces of seared meat. The salt didn’t have table salt’s slight chemical aftertaste. And heck, it made me feel like a right gourmet cook, modeled after all those I’d seen on the Food Network, who dunked their perfectly-manicured nails into a vessel of kosher salt, then, hand high in the air, let loose over their dish in a flurry of salt flakes.

Bren and I have managed to acquire quite an array of salt since then: fine sea, Maldon coarse, Hawaiian Black Lava, Himalayan pink, Celtic sea… one day, in a fit of food geekery, we sat down with a couple of glasses of water and the bounty of our salt collection before us. Then, one by one, we tasted each salt, followed by a gulp of water, trying to figure out whether the food-erati were right about one salt being better than another.

I was so surprised to encounter that they were right! There are vast differences in the flavours of salt! Kosher was sharp, almost medicinal. Himalayan was mellow, cleaner, a little earthier. Celtic sea did indeed taste a little brinier, steeped with the slightly fishy kiss of kelp. Hawaiian black was very earthy, almost ashy. Indeed, I was so amazed at the results that for a little while after that, I’d only cook with Himalayan pink salt, my favourite from the taste test. It took a little getting used to, since I was so used to eyeballing Kosher’s larger grains. Eventually though, I went back to the kosher salt, out of convenience more than anything (and probably out of cost concerns).

Which brings me to black salt.

Not very black, I grant you. This particular kind of black salt is called “Kala Namak” in Hindi, which means… black salt (not to be confused with Hawaiian black lava salt). It has a flavor all its own. Dunk a moistened fingertip into it and taste — you might screw your face up in dismay, look up the heavens, shake your fist and scream, “why aarti whyyyyyyy?!!!!!!!”

At first taste, it really does taste like something bad is in your mouth. It’s that strong eggy-ness that turns people. Eggy, salty, sour, almost metallic. Who could possibly want to use this stuff?!

Well, it’s a bit of an acquired taste, I grant you. But if you’ve ever enjoyed any Indian chaat (snacks), then this is the flavour that you might be missing when you try to recreate it. It’s usually the last flavour left ringing in your mouth, a decidedly UP note that will leave you smacking your tongue to the roof of your mouth in satisfaction as you reach for another handful.

Black salt provides that bit of tang that Indians are besotted with; think lime juice, tamarind, vinegar, amchur (dried mango powder), lime pickle. We love to make use of our sour tastebuds. Perhaps its because it’s a bit of a palate cleanser, a flavour that breathes a little space between the threads of the sometimes heavy blanket of those warm, overpowering spices like cumin, coriander and garam masala.

Its distinctive flavour comes from a complex furnacing process that perfumes the salt with iron, charcoal and sulphur compounds; the iron gives it that metallic flavor, charcoal gives a dark hue (when whole, then when ground it turns pinkish-lilac) and the sulphur compounds… well, that’s the eggy taste for you.

I love sprinkling a little black salt on freshly grilled corn, or over salads. It’s one of the key ingredients in “chaat masala” a spice mix that is used most often to season, um, chaat (Indian snacks). It’s a new discovery, I grant you, or at least one I hadn’t bothered much with; we didn’t use it much growing up, so I wonder if it’s more of a Northern/Bengali spice than a Southern one. But try it on your salads, or even on your popcorn. Just a little will do you until you get a little more adventurous.

Let’s move on to pepper shall we?

You may have heard me say this before, so if you have apologies. But in India, we don’t season food with black pepper usually. No, we use black pepper as a spice in and of itself. That’s why you’ll often see exact measurements for “black pepper powder” in traditional Indian recipes. We love pepper’s heat and fire, the way it plays so well with cumin and garlic. I still season with black pepper because of living here in the States, but every now and then, I like to give pepper its due, and feature it as a spice all by itself.

To that end, I’d like to introduce you to Tellicherry peppercorns, if you haven’t heard of them before. They hail for the coastal town of Tellicherry, in Kerala, and I love them because they are probably the sassiest peppercorn you’ve ever tasted!

Grind it fresh and you’ll encounter a spice that will indeed put a little pep in your step: fruity, fiery, with a more complex flavor that your everyday ground pepper.

In fact, can I ask to throw away that preground pepper? Invest in a pepper grinder, and grind whole peppercorns fresh every time. Pepper’s fieryness is a bit of a tough-guy front — as soon as it’s ground, its flavor dissipates. If you want to experience pepper in all its frisky glory, then you must try it fresh!

I bought these peppercorns from a shop called the Spice Station here in LA, but you can find them on most online spice purveyors, and I would urge you to go ahead and treat yourself to a little bag. They’re usually not that expensive, but once you get a little taste of these, I guarantee that your eyes will widen with surprise and glee, and you’ll be hooked. I particularly love these little beauties sprinkled over scrambled eggs. Oh boy. Black salt and Tellicherry peppercorns: Such a simple way to add some excitement to your food… EVERYDAY!!

-x-
aarti

The Milestone List

Posted by Aarti on February 25th, 2013

As you guys may or may not know, I’m nose-deep in writing my very first cookbook (aaaaaaggghhh!) at the moment. It should be available sometime in 2014. Which sounds like a long way off but since the deadline to hand in my manuscript is this May, I’m chugging along like a little tank engine. Toot toot!

So many people ask me what my cookbook is about. Frankly, I’m never sure how to answer.

“Well, um, it’s just about the way I cook, which is a hodgepodge of cooking traditions,” is the best I can muster.

How would YOU describe the way I cook? That would actually be pretty helpful to me!!

Anyway, I am writing lots of stories in this book. I’m sort of telling my story through the food — how food rescued me when I felt like I was worthless, direction-less, hopeless… in the hopes that somehow that story would be a comfort to someone, encourage someone who might be feeling the same way.

In planning out some of the stories I want to tell, I wrote down some milestones in my life, starting with my ancestors and ending with where I am now. As I looked over the list, I marveled at how almost everything in my life has fed into my position now… every skill, every weakness, every strength, every upset, every heartbreak, every victory. It was almost poetic, a work of art.

There’s always been a little resistance in my spirit when people told me everything happens for a reason — sure, it’s true but it always seemed like a hollow platitude, a limp blanket to place around one’s shivering shoulders, especially when they’re shivering from feeling like they’re outside the warmth of God’s orbit.

And yet, as I look over those milestones, I cannot help but see His hand at work. It is startling, humbling and the perfect antidote to that cynical side of me that wanted to eschew that blanket.

What a comfort, what a joy! Even when my life seemed to be in shambles, when I felt like I was drifting aimlessly away from any sense of order or orbit… He didn’t let me out of His grasp. Even when I had no idea who He was, or perhaps more truthfully, when I knew who He was but wanted nothing to do with Him… He stayed close. What patience. What grace!

And now, when I cannot see the horizon for all the fog and clouds in my way, what comfort it is to look back, to remember how I got here… and realise that it doesn’t matter that I can’t see the road before me. It’s not FOR me to see! It’s just for me to reach out for His hand, look up into His marvelous face and step forward knowing that no matter what is ahead of me, I am still in His orbit. And there is no safer place in all creation than that. Thank You Lord.

If you haven’t written out a milestone list for your own life, I encourage you to do so. Even if your past is darkened by pain and sadness, you are not out of God’s grasp. Reach out your hand, dear heart. I promise you, He’s right next to you.

-x-
aarti

Daily Sparkle

Posted by Aarti on February 21st, 2013

Growing up, I thought sparkling water or mineral water as we called it was g to the r to the o-s-s. It seemed a bit acrid to me. But Dad loved it; he’d pour some into his nightly whiskey and always go, “aaaaah!” upon the first sip.

I don’t know why but suddenly I love it. Can’t get enough of it. I suppose what really got it started was the pink grapefruit Perrier.

Oh joy — what a perfectly ladylike beverage. Sparkly, ever so slightly fruity, ever so slightly bitter (like any true lady!) and… calorie-free! I reach for some whenever I need a pick me up, and also whenever I’m hungry; the bubbles fill me up long enough to figure out whether I’m really hungry, or I’m bored/sad/angry/thirsty.

And if you’ve followed me on Facebook or Instagram then you know that this combo is always my snack of choice when I go on a road trip:

A little bit trailer park, a little bit Central Park.

And so imagine my joy when Bren brought home a box full o’ these:

JOY JOY JOY!

Now I can have one everyday!

Plus, now that they come in a can, they come a little closer to the name my brother-in-law coined for them…

Day beers.

-x-
aarti

La-La Pride

Posted by Aarti on February 20th, 2013

In the ongoing battle between the East Coast and the West for the crown of Best Food, you know where I’ve always thrown my vote.

The West, yo.

Why? Well, not only is it home to the most delicious and most varied range of produce ALL YEAR ROUND, but it’s also the land of dreamers; this land is where only the hardiest dared journey back in the day, crossing icy mountains and barren deserts alike to fall on her sunny shores. That breeds a particular community here of determined dreamers. These days you can find someone from practically every country on the planet here in LA, and usually you’ll find a little enclave of them, which means you can also find some amazing food.

I am so proud to be part of the LA food community for those reasons… and more!

My homies are sweeping the James Beard Award noms!

Over the past couple of years, I’ve fallen for the food of Josef Centeno, the heart behind Baco Mercat and now Bar Ama (and previously Laxy Ox Canteen). Bren and I brave all the hipsters just for a seat at the bar to unhinge our jaw and bite into his Bacos (a kind of soft, bready taco; somewhere between a naan and a taco), stuffed liberally and messily with romesco, carnitas and various other meats. He, along with another favourite of mine, Picca’s Ricardo Zarate are among the nominees for best chef (west). In fact, there are so many of my favourites on this list that it would take me too long to tell you all of them, so just look at the list; we’re scooping up all the categories, yo!

And here’s what I love most about the way LA chefs are killing it: they’re respectfully but rebelliously flicking their thumb at the establishment. Gone are fussy plates arranged just so with esoteric ingredients. These chefs are making rustic, big-hearted food, inspired by the streets of their hometowns, whether it’s Centeno’s puffy tacos and queso dip at Bar Ama, or Zarate’s Beef Heart Antichuco at Picca. Another one of my favourite bites over the past year has been grilled pork collar at Night + Market where Chef Kris Yenbamroong is making exciting Thai street food. Just the thought of all this exciting, vibrant, accessible food coming out of my back yard gets my heart racing. They are making food for the people inspired by food by the people. They’re rescuing food from the heights of snobbery that it’s scaled in the past and bringing it back down so that everyone from the clueless to the know-it-all foodie can pant over a dish. It makes me so proud to call this town my home, and prouder still to call some of these guys my homies.

-x-
aarti

The Piano

Posted by Aarti on February 18th, 2013

The piano has been beckoning lately. In high school, it was as close to a bestie as an inanimate object could get. Since leaving Dubai, our friendship has gone stale, with small reconciliations here and there.

It’s hard to return to an instrument when your hands are so rusty; you know you were capable of so much better, but you have to start again. It’s an exercise in patience and humility.

And Lord knows I need as much exercise in those “muscles” as I can get.

With the sunshine streaming into the living room, I decided to pick an old favourite: Arabesque by Debussy. I’m so far from where I was, but I’m enjoying getting to know my old friend again… and touch a part of my heart that I haven’t touched in a long time either. How I’ve missed her!

-x-
aarti

Quick one

Posted by Aarti on February 17th, 2013

Well I nearly forgot my promise today but so here’s a quick one.

I am making this the wallpaper on my phone so that I don’t take anything too seriously. I just cannot love this guy enough. Wisest man I know, and yet still manages to make me laugh by doing this at brunch today:

-x-
aarti

Lenten Promise

Posted by Aarti on February 15th, 2013

My Lenten promise this year is two-fold.

One: to write here everyday except Sunday.

Two: to think ONE kind thing about myself everyday.

I am in serious need of some “renewing the spirit of the mind” (Ephesians 4). I realised today that overall, my mind does not say kind things to me. It tends to say things like, “you don’t know how to do that” or “you suck at this” or “you’ll never figure it out” or the very worst, “you’re going to fail and ruin everything”.

Insidious isn’t it? Well, until you actually write it out and realise how silly those thoughts are, huh? You should try it if you haven’t: write out the things those unkind voices say to you. Somehow, writing them out takes all the power out of them! Or at least, a LOT of power out of them.

Anyway, this morning, as I was praying, I wondered aloud how Jesus battled those sorts of thoughts. I mean, talk about bold and confident; think of the things He walked around doing! Imagine ordering the lame man to walk, and then falling flat on your face if he didn’t! With all those people watching!

That takes some serious cojones, my friend.

When I asked Him where He got His confidence, it occurred to me that it wasn’t that He was so confident in His own abilities. It would seem much more like Christ to be confident in His Pappa, in how much He loved His little boy that He would always catch Him before He hit the ground hard (which is why the cross is such a heartbreaking concept to bear). Jesus worked out of that one moment in the river Jordan when God said “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased”.

From Lego Bible

If we’re honest with ourselves, haven’t we heard that in one form or another about ourselves even once?

I’m realising that it’s ok to embrace that, to be proud of that, to own it. God loves me. He’s proud of me. Even though I mess up all the time, He sees my heart and He’s cheering for me.

Because that’s the key.

I asked myself this morning, how would I act differently if I KNEW that God was going to catch me when I jumped?

KNEW.

That it didn’t matter what it looked like, whether there were snakes below me, or roaring rip-tides or just hundreds of feet of nothing… that God would catch me anyway? That if I have given my life over to Him, He has my back?

Woah.

I think I would act a little differently, don’t you?

So, that’s my little message today. For me, for you… renew your mind. And then… jump.

-x-
aarti

Cooking Soundtrack, Part 2

Posted by Aarti on February 6th, 2013

Sometimes I need to listen to music when I cook. Sometimes I need to hear people talking, thinking, telling stories. When I’m in the mood for that kind of thing, here’s what I hunt down online:

This American Life
I interned at WBEZ, home of This American Life, when I was in uni. It was my first internship in fact, and I kept hoping that I’d get to meet Ira Glass because I. Love. Him. These stories are equal parts thoughtful, goofy, funny… it’s the kind of show that gets the rusty cogs in my mind going again. It’s like WD40 for the mind.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
Yet another NPR show, with that same combination of wit and cutting social commentary. When I worked in a newsroom, I knew the answers to every question. These days, I listen to this show to catch up on the news more than any other news source! Shameful. But honest. It’s one of Bren’s life goals to be a panelist on this show, and I’m confident that when that happens, he will KILL it!

Beth Moore sermons

When I listen to Beth, I feel like I’m sitting on her porch, sipping on a sweet tea with my Bible fluttering on my lap, and her dogs at my feet. I love that she is as serious about her hair as she is about Jesus.

Food is the New Rock
I love how there is very little of that pretension here that comes with a lot of food shows. Just a couple of guys who are music geeks, geeking about food with other fellow (famous) music geeks. One day I will be on this show!!

Music-wise, it’s always changing. At the moment, I’m back to my ol’ faithful, Iron & Wine… but I’ve been clicking on Great Lake Swimmers, Alt-J, Old Crow Medicine Show, Last Bison and whatever Bren tells me to listen to.

-x-