An ode to mom and her cooking – Advice Eating

Author and biographer Sudha Menon is known for her books that explore the ambitions, achievements, and achievements of people from different walks of life through the stories they tell. Some of her well-known books are Feisty at Fifty; Legacy: Letters to Her Daughters from Eminent Indian Men and Women; Gifted: inspirational stories from people with disabilities; and Devi, Diva or She-Devil: The Smart Career Woman’s Survival Guide; and Leading Ladies: Women Inspiring India. She is also a model, actress, speaker, writing coach and founder of Get Writing and Writing with Women.

Her book, Recipes for Life (published by Penguin) is a collection of stories and reminiscences by well-known people about food and age-old home cooking recipes that were part of their childhood. Here she talks about how the idea for the book took shape and her experiences in making it happen.

The idea of ​​collecting recipes came about while she was in London trying to cheer up her mother, who had become distraught after her husband’s death. She had almost given up hope when she found her mother’s response to discussions about foods her mother had eaten growing up.

How did the idea of ​​writing the book “Recipes for Life” come about?

Suddenly the spark was back in her [mother’s] eyes as she told me about the sumptuous meals her trio of aunts cooked each day using fresh, seasonal produce from their farm. Stories have emerged of plucking drumsticks from the tree to prepare sambar and plantains to make a quick “Thoran” when unexpected guests came by.

“I want to laugh when I see the ads for expensive moringa tablets for wellness these days,” she giggled one day. “We grew up eating moringa in sambars and thorans from the moringa tree in the backyard of the kitchen almost three to four times a week!”

And before I knew it, we were talking about food every afternoon, and my pen was racing over the pages of my notebook that were filling up with her recipes. Slowly but surely, Amma’s spirits improved until one day she told me that she was well enough to cook a “sadhya” for us. Old Amma was in our midst again and I had a book idea that I knew would be very valuable.

Around the same time, my mother-in-law, who was suffering from dementia, passed away. As a homemaker, she had cooked fabulous CKP (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu) food for her family for over 50 years. With her death, the recipes handed down to her by her own mother and mother-in-law were lost. In the summer after she left, when I was craving her khichdi masala, cucumber and garam masala, I realized that no one in the family had written down her recipes because we just assumed she would always be around.

That’s when I realized that most Indian families don’t document their recipes. We end up losing large chunks of our culinary history and traditions due to the practice of passing down recipes only orally through the generations from mothers and mothers-in-law to daughters, sons, sisters and daughters-in-law.

How long did it take you to put all the content together?

The book was in my head for four years or more, but most of the work was done in the last two years. The writing came as the entire country went into lockdown during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did you go about choosing the people and the recipes? Was it difficult to wrap yourself in the wide range of Indian cuisine?

I instinctively chose the people I knew would have interesting backstories and narratives. My instincts have proved correct for all 30 people I’ve written about. I wanted to make the book as varied as possible and as it turned out, the 30 people also came from different regions of the country. So I got a great variety in the recipes and the stories themselves.

Did you have to travel far to collect the recipes?

I had completed some of my interviews for the book when the pandemic and lockdown happened. I panicked at first. But at some point I realized that since travel was out of the question, I could just pick up the phone and talk to people. The bright spot here was that the people I wanted to interview were all stuck at home too, so I was able to really spend time chatting with them about their childhood, the food their mom used to cook for them, and their favorite dishes from around the world speaking her mother’s repertoire. And because it was about mothers, most of the people in the book, some of the most accomplished people in the country, spent a lot of time talking to me.

Which recipe(s) did you find spectacular or attention-grabbing in any way?

I wasn’t looking for fancy recipes for this book. I was looking for simple, everyday foods that our mothers cook for us, foods that have stories, memories and nostalgia attached to them.

And I have that in abundance: Mary Kom talks about her mother’s Kopi Boot, Tan and Ooti; author Amish Tripathi discusses his mother’s warm and sticky rice khichdi with ghee, dahi, papad and a sprinkling of buknu masala; actress Vidya Balan, who drools over her mother’s delicious adai and podi; and top banker Uday Kotak, who remembers his mother’s Kathiawadi Mitho Bhaat and Adad Ni Dal; Each was a comfort food that we all try at home.

For me, food is all about something beautiful and comforting that we can make using whatever ingredients we can find at home. Prepared with care and love, even the simplest meal can sparkle.

How did people react when they heard that you are researching Indian cuisine?

Writing this book was an eye opener in many ways. First, most of the people I spoke to about writing this book wondered why I would risk my track record of having written five fairly successful books by writing a “cookbook.”

A very, very high profile business leader that I contacted so she could put me through to another prominent business leader, politely apologized and said that this issue was something she couldn’t go to the Lord about. And therein lies the biggest problem every woman faces: cooking and feeding is perceived as a worthless activity, even by women themselves. What chance do we have to bring about change when female leaders, who otherwise speak about value, bring women to the table, Don’t appreciate the food that housewives put on the table every day for most of their lives?

I managed to connect with the male manager who spoke with respect and reverence for his mother feeding him such delicious, simple meals that he still craves.

Is there an incident that you found particularly moving?

Cricket icon Irfan Pathan won my heart with his humility when I interviewed him for the book. What were your favorite and most memorable meals growing up, I asked him. I could almost hear the pause over the phone line before he said softly, “We never had the luxury of two decent meals a day because we never had the money for it. Most days our main meal was a simple khichdi and potato subzi dinner because it was nutritious and cheap. This meal became special when Ammi had the money to buy Dhania, which she used to make delicious Dhania chutney. I have always admired his brilliance with cricket but now I admire him for his grace and humility.

The book also includes recipes shared by respondents.

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