Jakarta – revisiting my childhood places

Indonesia was the first country I visited, outside of Sri Lanka, and it was at the age of four. So, with all the new sights and tastes that my four year old self absorbed with delight, and continued to absorb for the next four years that we were there, I have such nostalgic memories of Jakarta.

It was where I started kindergarten.

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It was where I moved on proudly to Grade I, delighted that I was joining my siblings at the school proper.

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It was also the time that I discovered that I loved to dance and enjoyed music. While I didn’t pursue either beyond my childhood, it meant a lot to me then.10I remember this particular dance that I participated in, not only because I have a photo to remind me of the instance, but because it was something that I pleaded so much to be a part of, and I don’t think I have ever pleaded for anything that much ever since. It was some international children’s cultural event, hosted by Indonesian authorities, and the embassies had been invited to participate with a cultural performance from their countries. I remember that the embassy had requested a Kandyan dance troupe, visiting Indonesia at that time, to train a group of Sri Lankan children (ages 10 – 15 years) for a traditional dance performance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t within the selected age group but I wanted to be so much a part of it, that I kept making my requests so much so that my mother and the other mothers, who were organizing the dance and costumes gave in (probably because I was being too much of a pain) and created a special and independent role for me in the group dance, that would allow me to dance while not disturbing the group dance dynamics of the older children.

2This photo was at the opening ceremony of the event, where all the children from all the countries were on stage and then we had to give the flowers to the people seated in the front rows. As much as I loved being a part of the dance group, this basically was my first and last major public dance performance.

When I finally left Jakarta after completing Grade III, I promised myself that I would one day return to the country of my childhood.

9However, decades passed and I was not able to make the trip back. Until last weekend. It was an impromptu visit, prompted by three factors – a friend who had been inviting me to go on a trip with her, the direct flights introduced by Sri Lankan Airlines to Jakarta and the convenience of free entry visa on arrival.

While my main interest was in revisiting places of my childhood to see if there still remained some semblance to the past, I also wanted to spend some time with my friends. So, I chose to do the visits to childhood haunts on my own.

Hiring the reliable Blue Bird taxi on two separate occasions, I had a lovely drive and fortunately, on both these occasions, I escaped the traffic that Jakarta is now so famous for.

Jalan Cik Ditiro, the road where we lived, still existed though it seemed more tree lined than it was before. Also, the houses all seemed to have put up high walls and security systems, as opposed to the low walls of the 80s. I did locate the number of our house and did ring the bell, hoping that it was the same owners. Lia, the daughter of our former landlady, was a friend of mine and I remember my first pet was actually Lia’s pet – Derry, a cute puppy, which she was generous enough to share with me. No-one answered the bell and I decided to go on to my next place.

Cik Ditiro 1I next went to my first school, Gandhi Memorial International School. I learnt that the main school had shifted to a new location but that the primary school was still at its old location at Pasar Baru. After asking for permission, I was allowed to visit the auditorium and different floors, but not the classrooms as there was an examination going on.

The auditorium looked the same, except that the writings on the wall had been removed as had the fans. It was also nice to see my Grade III classroom.

Corridor Grade 3.jpgOne of my memories of my primary school are the special days that the school celebrated: Gandhi Jayanthi (October 2), Children’s Day (November 14) and Teacher’s Day. Especially teacher’s day used to be interesting with the senior students taking over teacher’s roles and coming to our classes to take lessons.

After the visit to GMIS, I went over to the Sri Lankan embassy. There too, despite the embassy being at the same premises, the immediate change observed was the high walls and the huge security gates.

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The interior looked similar, with the little grass lawn with the flag, where the independence day ceremonies used to be held. The main hall, where the gatherings used to be held, had been decorated differently but the same oil lamp still took center stage in the hall.

In the evening, I went for a drive around the city, and especially asked to drive by Monas, the national monument which had a park, where we used to go in the evenings during weekends.

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As it was raining, I decided not to go into the park area without an umbrella. Since several people, including the taxi driver, suggested I should visit the old part of the city – Kota Tua, and I did not remember ever having visited it in my childhood, I decided to go there as well. On the evening I visited, there had been some concert or public gathering that had just finished in the old square, so there was still quite a crowd. I didn’t linger there but I could imagine it being a lovely square to explore in the morning, without the crowds.

Kota Tua 2.JPGBesides these few places that made up a large part of my childhood memories, Jakarta in 2017 has changed a lot from the 80s. Now, a bustling city with highways packed with private vehicles, high rise buildings and shopping malls crowding out the city, it is no more the city that I remember and recognize but it was still lovely to revisit and see the changes that have been wrought there. And, remembering my childhood and the child I was back then.

 

 

 

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Special Six: East West Center Experiences

I had been meaning to write this post for the last few years, especially as I have been asked a lot about my time in Hawai’i with the G12 cohort of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program of East West Center. I finally got around to completing this post this weekend, sharing some of the experiences that made my time at the East West Center special and hope that it encourages some of you, who are interested in emerging priorities in the Asia Pacific region and are currently at a turning point in their careers to consider applying for the APLP or any of the other exciting programs offered by EWC.

The East West Center, an independent, public, non-profit organization was established in 1960, by the U.S. Congress, to facilitate cooperative study, research and dialogue between the United States and Asia and the Pacific.

(1) Sharing of diverse experiences

The 29 participants of G12 came from diverse backgrounds and experiences and it was exciting to hear about work they were engaged in, in their respective corners of the world.

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G12 and APLP staff, and a few alumni

One of the presentations by Yuan, a fellow cohort member, who is an anthropologist and development professional and who was doing her post doctoral studies on minority ethnic groups in China,  made a huge impression on me. Yuan and I decided to explore the possibility of a collaborative study, after the completion of our fellowship by spending some time with the Mosuo community she had spoken of.

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Yuan making a presentation about one of the minority ethnic groups

A lot of the conversations we had between cohort members was out of the classroom and mostly at Hale Manoa, a lovely residence hall, which was cleverly designed to nudge residents to converse with each other at their huge open plan kitchen and dining spaces throughout the building. Cooking, sharing food and conversations over meals, that took up most of the evenings, was a way of resident living there.

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One of the many potluck meals

(2) Inspiring classroom sessions

The classroom session focus topics had been determined by the collective responses of priorities of the cohort and each week focused on a particular theme, bringing in experts in that particular field for talks and discussions. I guess I found the week on environment, facilitated by UNEP staff Colleen Corrigan, an APLP alumna the most fascinating because it opened up my mind to marine conservation and the world beneath the oceans.

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In parallel to the themes for the week, we had several sessions focusing on leadership development. I enjoyed most the personal action plan development activities, which ran across the whole term on a weekly basis. The activities were designed to be reflective and self-exploratory and intended to question our assumptions about ourselves. It ended with us creating a personal action plan portfolio for the next ten years.

Some of the leadership sessions used sailing and navigation as a metaphor. For one of the field visits, we were taken to the Polynesian Voyaging Society office, where Nainoa Thompson, the President of the society spoke to us about navigation, leadership and the story of Hokule’a. We visited the Hokule’a, while it was being prepared for its next round the world voyage.

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It was also a privilege to go on a sailing trip with Nainoa Thompson who had been one of the crew in the second voyage of Hokule’a in 1978, when Eddie Aikau, Hawai’ian surfing legend, was lost at sea.

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Nischal, at the wheel, with Nainoa Thompson guiding him

(3) Solitude and reflection in the Japanese garden

The Japanese garden at the East West Centre was designed by landscape artist, Kenzo Ogata, and was the contribution of twenty two business firms in Japan. In 1964, Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko blessed the garden during a visit, and returned 30 years later to see the garden they had blessed.

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The garden is one of the special places at East West Centre and is adjacent to the Imin Centre – Jefferson hall.

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In addition to time spent on reflections, we usually ended up taking classroom group activities into the garden, if we were at the Imin centre.

(4) Learning Labs

One of the interesting experiments of the program was to bring together smaller groups of the cohort under themes interesting to the group members and work on a small project. My learning lab group theme was social enterprise and we worked with a small organization which supported migrant farmers integrate within the Hawai’ian society and have a sustainable livelihood. It was a very interesting exercise as the group members were from different academic and country backgrounds and we had different perspectives on the project. After some hurdles, we managed to work together by sub-dividing the group into smaller specific themes such as community empowerment, marketing etc. which allowed the different expertise in the group to come out. Our assessment report and recommendations were subsequently used by the organization, so it was a good outcome of the small joint project.

It was fun to present the findings at the event organized at Doris Duke’s Shangri La, where we were also given a guided private tour of the beautiful place.

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Photo courtesy of Matt Berry

(5) Interesting group trips and events: 

The first group trip was during the labour weekend, where the program staff arranged for us to go to Kailua beach and try out canoeing before enjoying a picnic lunch, courtesy of one of the staff.

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One of the last events of the program was held at the gallery on the ground floor of the John A. Burns hall, which is not only a venue for art exhibitions and performances, it houses a collection of objects from around the Asia Pacific region and is open for group tours to schools and community groups.

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Rangi and Sam

We had the last group ceremony for the programme, at this lovely East West Centre gallery.

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(6) Peer support:

We were asked to form voluntary peer support groups and naturally, the groups were formed around people we were most comfortable with. Initially, the group was more for ensuring that all the group members finished assignments on time, especially during the spring semester when we worked independently in our respective home countries or was traveling on an independent study trip. However, my group and I continued our periodic skype updates and chats and though infrequent now, we have kept in touch and visited each other in our respective countries.

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Reunion with Yuan and Duan, Kunming, 2013

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Reunion with Nancy and Aiying, Kandy, 2016

My time in Hawai’i was an especially healing one, something that I needed at that point in my life. The double rainbows, that was quite a frequent occurrence in Honolulu, helped me remember that despite the clouds, the sun does manage to shine through and  there is a special rainbow in sight.

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Looking back, my time in Hawai’i with the APLP cohort was a very special and meaningful one and I would recommend the experience to anyone willing to invest nine months of their life to step back and reflect on the path they have taken and where they wish to head towards, while engaging in interesting mini-projects and interactions with a diverse group of people.

 

 

Sunshine Blogger Award

I was delighted to be nominated for the Sunshine blogger award by Brooke of Anywhere with Brooke. Check out her blog for coffee spots in Louisville or her suggestions for things to do in Bordeaux.

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Quoting Brooke, “The Sunshine Blogger Award is an award given to bloggers by bloggers. It is given to bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”.

So, thank you, Brooke, for the lovely nomination and responding to your questions:

  • When did you start your first blog and if it is not the current one, about what was it?

I started my first blog back in 2004. It was called ‘View from my desk’, where I shared random musings when I felt like it. I removed it after a decade because I just wanted to focus on my two current blogs – this one and my food blog.

  • Dream travel destination?

Currently, it is New Zealand.

  • Name one book/movie that has inspired you

Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham.

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  • What countries have you traveled to?

I have traveled to over 25 countries, the most recent one being UK.

  • Tell something funny that has happened to you in a plane

I remember a funny conversation on my first time on a budget airline that had started operating in Sri Lanka. I had been delighted that I had got a return air ticket quite cheaply, until my neighbours on my flight chatted about the affordability of the airfare. I learnt that they had paid one-third of what I had paid for my flight. That was my intro to the big sales and seasonal discounts offered by budget airlines and I found it really funny that contentment can be quite relative.

  • What is your own favorite post from your blog?

My favourite post from my blog, Arctic Lessons, is on my travel to Kiruna, Sweden, in search of the northern lights. I also wrote it a long time ago, during my pre-blogging years, and I enjoyed writing it without having any audience in mind.

  • What are your three must listen road trip songs?

I don’t have specific must listen road trip songs but go with my mood. This means that when I listen to the same song back home, I am taken back to that particular road trip.

  • Do you believe in destiny?

I do believe that we meet certain people or experience certain things in life that we are meant/ destined to, but that we are free to make choices on how we wish to deal with these experiences.

  • Share your secret blogging advice with everyone

Blog link ups. It is not a secret but blog link ups are a great way to come across other bloggers, who blog on similar themes as you do. Since I participated in my first travel blog link up back in May, I have come across over 100 travel blogs which I enjoy reading.

  • Train, car, ship or plane travel? Which one do you prefer?

Trains. I prefer to travel by trains over land.

  • Introduce your blog in three words

A traveler’s tales.

Passing on the blog award, I am delighted to name my 11 nominations for the Sunshine blogger award.

  1. Mandy @Emm in London
  2. Carolann @Finding Ithaka
  3. Lauren @Lauren on Location
  4. Michelle @Michwanderlust
  5. Cathy @Mummy Travels
  6. Van @Snow in Tromso
  7. Clare @Suitcases and Sandcastles
  8. Isabel @The sunny side of this
  9. Katy @Untold Morsels
  10. Elizabeth @Wander Mum
  11. Marcella @What a wonderful world

If you choose to pass on the blog award, please display the sunshine blogger award logo in your post as well as answer my five questions for you.

  1. Why do you travel?
  2. Do share a travel experience that moved you deeply.
  3. Which is your current dream destination?
  4. What blogging advice would you give for other travel bloggers?
  5. Do share a motivational quote or short verse that has often inspired you.

Have a wonderful day!

A Guest Post for Eid: Wattalapam or Steamed coconut pudding

Indu at Indu’s International Kitchen is a lovely food blogger whom I have known since I started my food blog, A Taste of Sri Lankan Cuisine in 2013. While her blog had a similar initial focus to mine of documenting my mother’s recipes, she soon diversified her blog focus to recipes from around the world as well as her original and fusion creations. Do visit her delightful blog and check out some of her Kerala and other recipes.

When Indu was on her Sri Lankan culinary journey last December, she invited me to do a guest post on her blog. The timing was not great for me then but this month, as I am at home in-between work, I have had a lot of time to focus on my two blogs. So, I wrote back to her saying that I would be delighted to share my mother’s recipe for Wattalapam – a very popular Sri Lankan dessert stemming from the Malay cuisine of the country. Indu kindly agreed to post it on Eid, which is today. I am re-blogging her post here.

So, I would like to wish all Eid Mubarak!

Indu's International Kitchen

Wattalapam(Coconut Custard Pudding)Happy Eid to all those who celebrate! Today marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.  I sincerely hope that the new year will usher in peace and happiness for everyone and reduce the suffering that we have been recently witnessing across the globe. Life is simple and let’s keep it simple. Live and let live.

Anyways, today’s post is a guest post from a co-blogger and a good friend Ahila.  Ahila blogs at ‘ A taste of SriLankan cuisine‘ where she blogs authentic Sri Lankan recipes of her mom. When I had done my virtual tour of Sri Lanka earlier this year, I had asked Ahila if she could do a guest post. But she had been very busy with work and other engagements and so she was unable to do one at that time. But now she reached out to me when she finally had…

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Success essential for sense of accomplishment?

It seems ironic that a sense of accomplishment is dependent on success or extrinsic validation. Should it not be more of an intrinsic validation, that you have done the best that you can within the environment available to you? This is something that I have been increasingly reflecting upon.

Eleven years ago on this day, I met with a road traffic accident which led to a lengthy recovery process, including a six month period in which I was hardly able to move. During that recovery period, nudged by my mother, I started typing random thoughts on my laptop from the moment I was able to move my right hand fingers even when I could not move the rest of my hand or body for that matter. It eventually resulted in my first book – The first step, something that I should feel a sense of accomplishment about. For having been both a cathartic process and something positive that I was able to focus on other than the frustrations and pains of recovery, the completion of that book should in itself have elicited a sense of accomplishment. Yet, I began feeling that only when my family and then my friends and acquaintances started reading it and giving me positive feedback. While during the writing of my book, I had simply focused on the pleasure of writing and not on who would be reading it or how it would be received, it seems surprising that once the book was completed and published, I seemed to expect external validation for my sense of accomplishment. The book is available on Amazon and given the limited sales of the book, I seem to feel the sense of accomplishment even less. I hesitate to call myself a writer, even though writing has always been a passion of mine since I was eight, simply because the two books that are out there have not received either sales success or critical acclaim. The question I ask myself is why should it matter whether people read the book or if they like it or not, all it should matter for my sense of accomplishment is that I transformed a traumatic experience into a positive one through my writing.

What baffles me further is that even when I have received recognition or external validation in my professional work or academic efforts and I did feel a sense of hubristic pride at those times, it was fleeting and not a real sense of accomplishment. Is it because I felt luck had a far greater role than my efforts in the recognition that I received?

Ever since I read J.D.Salinger‘s novella, Seymour – an introduction, this excerpt from the novella has been floating around at the back of my head.

“Could you try not aiming so much?” he asked me, still standing there. “If you hit him when you aim, it’ll just be luck.” He was speaking, communicating, and yet not breaking the spell. I then broke it. Quite deliberately, “How can it be luck if I aim?” I said back to him, not loud (despite the italics) but with rather more irritation in my voice that I was actually feeling. He didn’t say anything for a moment but simply stood balanced on the curb, looking at me, I knew imperfectly, with love. “Because it will be,” he said. “You’ll be glad if you hit his marble – Ira’s marble – won’t you? Won’t you be glad? And if you’re glad when you hit somebody’s marble, then you sort of secretly didn’t expect too much to do it. So there’d have to be some luck in it, there’d have to be slightly quite a lot of accident in it.”

While luck has a hand in the external validation of efforts as it involves others and their own goals/ motivations and you are aiming for success or validation by them when you expect them to provide it, it does not have much of a role in your own part of the work. It is not luck that I wrote during my recovery nor is it luck that I put in a great deal of effort when working on causes I believe in and it is certainly not luck that I have travelled extensively in the past decade. It was more a prioritization of which of my passions I wished to invest my time and energy and then putting in a lot of hard work to achieving them. I certainly should be feeling a sense of accomplishment for having achieved several of my goals I set out for myself. I don’t though. Perhaps because my goals are constantly evolving.

Why is authentic pride or the sense of accomplishment so much more difficult to feel than hubristic pride that relies on external validation such as success and recognition? Dr. Raj Raghunathan, or Dr. HappySmarts of the Coursera course A life of Happiness and Fulfillment, would say that our happiness depended on nurturing authentic pride and reducing/ eliminating hubristic pride and that by changing our thoughts consciously, we can achieve it. It is a difficult process as we live in a global society that values success, power and money, all of which are extrinsic and have no bearing on our happiness or sense of accomplishment. Except for the few lucky ones, most of us have been raised from our childhood at home, at school and subsequently at work and among peers, to expect external validation as an indicator of our accomplishment.

I have finally reached a point in my life where I have realized that success is not mandatory for a sense of accomplishment. My current goal is to nurture authentic pride rather than hubristic pride.

G12 Adventures – Random musing #2: On a nudge influenced policy and its viability…

Cross-posting this from G12 Adventures blog which I am hosting this month -http://g12adventures.blogspot.com/2015/04/random-musing-2-on-nudge-influenced.html

(G12 Adventures is a blog that the Generation 12 cohort of the Asia Pacific Leadership Programme (APLP) of East West Centre, Hawai’i, initiated and it is hosted each month by one of the cohort members)

I read in a recent Sunday Times Sri Lanka edition about the proposed colour coding system on soft drinks. The authorities hope that system will encourage people to be more conscious of their sugar intake and thereby reducing high sugar levels observed among school children.

Why do I find this interesting? Because I have been reading Thaler and Sunstein’s book on Nudge for my behavioural public policy course under my current masters studies on social policy and development. And, I had been trying to think of examples where the Sri Lankan government might have used ‘nudge’ concepts to influence the public in a direction that they felt was beneficial for the well-being of the individuals.

When I read this article, I felt that this could be considered an example of a nudge. Where the policy does not force people to do something and the economic incentives are minimal but rather informs people of the choices and indicating their own preferred choice by the traffic light coding system on soft drink packaging.

Would this work as it is? The producers of soft drinks are going to be amongst the first to resist the coding system because a colour coding system does provide easily interpreted visual information for consumers and a rational human being would tend to keep away from the red coded food products in most instances. However, the more important question is: will consumers be ‘nudged’ into a more healthy choice in consumption simply by looking at the colour codes?

The key here would have to be the awareness campaign and to ensure that it becomes the latest trendy choice to opt for low sugar beverages. If there is a crowding out of soft drinks with high sugar content due to decline in consumption, then producers would start taking steps towards re-examining their soft drink production and possibly, reducing sugar content in their products.

So, it does look as if the proposal by the Health ministry is viable and could be effective if sufficient attention is paid to the awareness campaign.

However, this proposal assumes that the high intake of sugar content is from processed products purchased from the markets. It does not take into consideration the inclusion of sugar in home made products. According to an earlier Sunday Times article on sugar and salt consumption levels as a positive correlation to a rise in diabetes, heart disease, obesity etc., it quotes the Medical Research Institute chief as stating that 70% of salt consumption of the average Sri Lankan is from home-cooked products and only 20% from processed food. As a similar breakdown was not given for sugar intake in the article, one could perhaps assume that the same holds for sugar consumption until evidence indicates otherwise. Therefore, targeting only soft drinks and other processed food is not likely to drastically reduce the current statistics of high sugar levels.

What do you think of this proposal? Are there other pitfalls that the proposal is missing in its conceptualization? What can be added on to this proposal to make it more effective? Are there similar policies nudging people towards healthy consumption in your country?

My initiation to cooking

Cooking is the last activity that I ever thought I would indulge in. Of course, I have put together a hasty lunch or dinner in the past, when I have had to but most of my meals at such instances were pretty much instant or micro-wave ready meals. In the instances when I took the trouble to cook, I was only prepared to take the effort to cook meals that could be prepared in fifteen or twenty minutes. A simple noodle or pasta dish and at times rice with dhal curry was the most I managed.

Yet, sometime during the first half of 2013 that changed. I can now cook. More importantly, I enjoy cooking.

The reason this change has been surprising to me and my family is that I have never enjoyed cooking before. I always felt it was a waste of time to spend time in the kitchen. I also never had the patience to go through a recipe, understand what seemed like a secret, complex code and make something. Fortunately for me, whenever I am at home, Amma’s excellent cooking and ownership of the kitchen spared me the need of venturing into that domain.

Apart from my dislike of cooking, I also had a mental block that I should not be in the kitchen. I remember as a teen, my father used to make a fuss that as a girl, I had not ever stepped into the kitchen and would not be able to make anything in an emergency. He would keep harping about the fact that he had been able to cook rice, dhal curry and a sambol at the age of eight. I would feel discriminated as he never said the same to my brother. So, I would dig in my heels and refuse to go anywhere near the kitchen for cooking. Luckily, my mother has always been liberal minded and anyway, preferred us to focus our energies on our studies and then our career. She just requested us, both my brother and I, to help out with grocery shopping which I happily undertook as my siblings and I took turns with it growing up.

However, over the last few years, I had been increasingly worried about Amma’s health. After returning home last year from some months abroad, I saw that she had become very frail. I felt that the fact that she does not eat proper meals, but rather snacks on a slice of toast or some instant noodles, was also a crucial factor in her weakening health. Amma’s excuse has always been that she has never been able to eat what she cooks. She says that after cooking and feeding the family, it feels as if she has eaten a full meal.

For Amma’s birthday last April, I felt I wanted to do something special. I decided to try my hand at making an apple crumble. As a friend had said that it was very easy to make and I love apple pies, I decided to make it. It didn’t turn out as I imagined it would but it was eatable and everyone at home was surprised. Amma particularly was quite proud of it. When my sisters heard about my attempt at making an apple pie, they started suggesting that perhaps I could think of making some food for Amma regularly to encourage her to eat better.

I gave it some thought and since I had just completed a consultancy assignment and was at home, in between work, I decided I would give it a try. The problem I had was deciding what to cook. Amma was anyway cooking complete Sri Lankan meals for us each day. There was no point in me trying my hand at making a curry when hers was the best. So, I decided to make my cooking attempt fun for me while making it interesting and tempting for my mother. I enjoy travelling and decided that while I was at home, I would look at travelling through food.

I scoured the net and depending on my mood, would select a nutritious, mostly heart healthy, diabetic friendly recipe from a different part of the world each time. From simpler, healthier Vietnamese style tofu noodle lettuce wraps and savoury vegetable pancakes, I soon progressed to making okra and chickpea tagine and mushroom and barley risotto. It didn’t necessarily mean that my food turned out well all the time but at least, they were eatable, flavourful and different.

Amma, while not having significantly improved her eating pattern, at least consumes a little of what I make and hopefully gets a slightly better nutritional balance. She is a very picky eater and I appreciate fully now the patience she must have had with us as kids to experiment and find what we preferred and to encourage us to eat balanced meals.

I still don’t enjoy spending much time in the kitchen and try to finish up in an hour, when I do go and make something. What I am quite proud of though is that looking at a recipe now feels like reading in a language I understand. I can now decode. More importantly, I am able to cook something that tempts my mother to try it out.

As I am sharing this post at The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday #32, I will share one of the recipes I tried out for my mother – this is a slightly adapted version of Eating Well’s mushroom and barley risotto.Cropped risotto

Mushroom and Barley Risotto

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 4 vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in 4 cups water
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup red grape juice, freshly squeezed and chilled
  • 3 cups spinach, chopped
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Chopped carrots and spinach, for garnish

Preparation:

  1. Mix the freshly blended red grape juice with vinegar and refrigerate a couple of hours before starting the cooking.
  2. Bring broth and water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer.
  3. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to release their juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add an eighth of the grape juice and simmer, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute more. Reduce heat to medium.
  4. Add 1/2 cup hot broth to the barley and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding the grape juice and hot broth by alternatively adding an eighth of the grape juice, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed, and then adding 1/2 cup hot broth. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, until the barley is tender and creamy but still somewhat firm, 35 to 45 minutes. (You might not use all the broth or you might need to add some of the water in reserve)
  5. Stir in spinach and cook, stirring, until it is wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in cheese, margarine and vinegar. Season with pepper.
  6. Garnish with a little chopped carrot and spinach and serve warm.

Source: Adapted from Eating Well