Sunday, 28 September 2014

Image Credit: Dove Canada and Sandy Nicholson
If you are following me on Facebook, you might have seen this article in the Edmonton Journal and the photo that I posted about the Dove Beautiful Age campaign I was involved in this summer.

The campaign launched on the 9th of September, and my photo was released today, on my birthday, and I am turning thirty five. As the only representative from Alberta, I got a fair amount of attention when the campaign launched. The comments were interesting - quite a few messages of support and congratulations, but also many negative ones (which, to be honest, is to be expected.) I decided to write a post on my involvement on my blog, even though it's not directly related to food, not because I need to explain my involvement, but because I want to share this with my readers and friends and this was a quite a significant event in my life.

The thing about writing for this website is, a lot of the time I tend to focus on the positive. I never show the anxieties that lie in my every day life, and I certainly don't write about all the difficult parts of life. In many ways, The Tiffin Box has taken a life of it's own, and while I am the voice behind it, I worry a lot about if it's hitting the right notes or not. A while ago, around the time of the redesign of the site, I decided to stop worrying all the time, and take the time to enjoy what I've created here. I love this space. It's my happy place and I hope that when readers come here, they go away feeling great too.

This is one of the reasons that this post is so hard to write. I am actually opening myself up in a way that I never have before, and putting my anxious vulnerabilities out in the open today.

The first question I was asked in a lot of my interviews about the campaign was, why? And how did you get involved?

The short answer? I honestly don't know :) Oh, I know the how - I applied via a casting call on Facebook, then promptly forgot about it until an interview email landed in my inbox, was shocked, squealed, did a skype interview, was selected, almost chickened out, but thanks to amazing support from the other half went and finally did it - but the why? I don't know, and it's a question that's made me think a lot more about myself, and my motivations and intentions than I ever have for a long time.

Why did I do this completely out of character thing? Was it for self validation? Or was it for purely selfish reasons? To prove I was 'beautiful'? To prove I could do something out of my comfort zone and be okay with it? To answer these questions, I have to first think about and redefine everything I know about beauty, age and the media. 

Image Credit: Dove Canada and Craig Chung Photography
I grew up in India, and like many other women, growing up, I was constantly told that I was not beautiful (not that I was ugly - but not beautiful - a significant difference) I was constantly compared to my cousins, who, in the opinion of my family, were far more 'fair' and gorgeous, with perfect figures, who were talented, artistic, rich... in theory, perfect women, and models to aspire to. Even though beauty ideals in India were different to the West, the underlying message was the same. You are not beautiful until you look like Aishwarya Rai. I was (am) short, had a stick figure, was dark, scabby kneed, snub nosed with terrible skin (which I still struggle with), the worst haircuts and clothes (what were you thinking, mom?) and even though I did well at school and at extra-curricular activities, I was one of those kids known for 'brash personality', rather than 'beauty'. That doesn't sound so bad now, but it was crippling growing up knowing this. Of knowing that I might be the smartest person around, but if I wasn't beautiful in the conventional sense, I was never going to be good enough.

It didn't really matter how much I accomplished in my life, because I looked in the mirror and I hated the 'ugly' person looking back at me. I would never believe my husband when he told me I was beautiful. I didn't understand that language. I rarely, if ever, had pictures taken of me. I carefully curated every image of me out there, until I was happy that I didn't hate it. I was always wondering if it would be different had I been prettier.

I didn't realise I had it all, until I almost lost it all.

I was diagnosed with a serious illness when my daughter was six months old. I was in a hospital in isolation (quite the medical curiosity in my little seaside village in England) and I had time to think about things I never thought of. When I moved to Canada, almost five years ago, I vowed to appreciate everything that I had and that I was going to live my life on my terms, plus do one thing a year that scared the bejeezus out of me.

And I was lucky enough to be able to keep that promise. I am lucky because there are a lot of terrible things happening in the world around me. It humbles me to know that I can take part in a campaign for real beauty, and have it reported in the news alongside wars and famines and epidemics. But then I realise that it's about human interest too, and I am a person with a story to share. Yes, it's self indulgent, and maybe even vain, but it's a story I've struggled to articulate, to talk about for that very reason - because I was afraid that I would be judged for worrying about a silly thing like beauty and self confidence when there are a million bad things happening right now.  And yes, I am probably being judged right now - but my story still exists, and it's one that a lot of women all over the world will identify with - that crippling sense of insecurity, and feeling of not being good enough, beautiful enough.

Image Credit: Dove Canada and Craig Chung Photography
So, I hated the person looking back at me in the mirror? Well, it was time to do something about that. Something that scared the living daylights out of me. Something that I never thought I would even think about doing in a lifetime. I revealed my age to the world. And I took part in a campaign that would plaster my pictures all over billboards in Canada. Just like that.

Learning to accept myself, as I am, flaws and all, was so much harder than it should have been. I have a wonderful life, a family that adores me (and who I adore in return), fabulous friends, strangers from all over the world who read my meanderings on this website, a wonderful, fulfilling job, and a great city to live in (yes, even with those accursed winters). But, I had to learn to like myself first, in order to appreciate everything else.

As I mentioned in my CBC interview (who, by the way did not go easy on me :)) it's not about whether you're beautiful, it's about having the confidence to know that, like every other woman in the world, it's about having those insecurities, but also having the courage to face them down and do something that terrifies you. To know that you are beautiful in every sense of the word - in every colour, shape, size, from anywhere in the world - that you are one among millions, and every one of us is beautiful. What is classic beauty anyway? I always wanted to look like Aishwarya Rai, but how come nobody told me that if I looked like Ash, who would look like me?

The Dove campaign gave that to me. Yes, it's for a multinational beauty company. And yes, every woman is 'real'. Yes, there are a lot of women in the world who would be so much better suited to this campaign than I was... and I have the privilege of knowing some of them, and being inspired by them. I wasn't there because I wanted to debate the philosophical and social contexts of the Dove campaigns, though I could well do that. I was there because I needed to, finally, at age thirty five, let go of that scared, insecure little girl with the bandy legs, bad skin and a serious age complex.

The world doesn't exist in black and white. It exists in shades of grey, and in the often messy emotions of the people who make it up. It exists in myself, in my daughter. Confidence in myself gives me the right, without reservations, to tell my daughter that she is beautiful and smart and that she can define success in any way she wants. I am not a corporate stooge (an accusation that was leveled at me after I took part in the campaign) but I am someone who is finally able to take my deepest fear, that of not being good enough, beautiful enough, take that vulnerability and use it to transform that way I feel about myself.

And I thank Dove for giving me the opportunity to do that.

I also just wanted to share a few articles that ran on local media about the campaign. I'd love it if you could take a look and tell me what you think about the kerfuffle :)

The CBC interview with John Archer.
Thanks to CTV Edmonton, for featuring me in their piece on the Dove Beautiful Age campaign. 
The Edmonton Journal article, written by the lovely Brandi Morin.
I also chatted to Global News and 630 CHED (an Arsenal fan on Oilers radio, now I've made it in Edmonton, eh?!!)
And I was on BT Edmonton, talking about what it means to be beautiful! 

Please feel free to comment any way you like on this post. I am not planning to moderate any comments, because I welcome all of them, not just positive ones, and I hope that I get to answer them honestly. After all, the whole point of this website is to make sure everybody's voices are heard.

The Moser's Dinner Bus
When we first decided to move to Alberta, I wasn't sure what to expect. My only previous visit to the prairies had been that time when Kay and I took the Via Rail all the way across from Toronto through to Jasper - I think it may have been on my second visit to Canada. It certainly brought to me the vastness of this country I now call home.

When we moved to Edmonton, Kay came up ahead. I remember a conversation with him, in which he told me that the first thing I would notice about the prairies was the big sky. I honestly couldn't understand what he meant by that until I stood under the said big sky one summer afternoon... all the way out in the Albertan prairies.

Jack and Sharon Moser, Canola Farmers
One of the most enduring images of Alberta, for me, is bright yellow canola fields. Whenever we drive to BC in the summer, I can't help but want to head out into those sparkly fields and just bury myself in them. It's a unusual feeling for someone like me, who didn't grow up with a lot of space, and loves the crowded city a lot.

When the Alberta Canola Producers asked me if I wanted to head out into Killam, meet the Moser family and learn about canola, I knew that it would certainly be an interesting day for this city slicker. I didn't grow up on a farm - an Indian tropical orchard is very different from a Canadian prairie farm - so it was going to be a learning experience.

Non-city-slicker Twyla Campbell, Edmonton's favourite foodie.
Jack and Sharon Moser also have a super cool school bus, which they have converted to a mobile kitchen and eatery for their farm people during harvest season. We were invited to check out the bus and have lunch, catered by popular farm-to-fork chef Blair Lebsack. I've been meaning to try out his restaurant, RGE RD forever, and this was a perfect opportunity to sample some of his amazing cooking.

And of course, it helped to give Sharon Moser a break, and enjoy herself with us, as a change from being the chef all the time.

Chef Blair Lebsack, RGE RD.
Chef Lebsack's menu didn't disappoint. From the 'Edible Farm' to the Maple Whisky Verrine, let's just say his take on classic farm food was incredible. My friends, Diane and Andrea agreed that this was the way food should be eaten - in a school bus, in the middle of a canola farm in the prairies, surrounded by amazing, inspiring people. 

Jack and Sharon work on the principle of the family meal. Having raised their children on the farm, they now enjoy spending time with their family and grandchildren, who, unsurprisingly, love the bus. But what struck me most, was their insistence on providing their workers with a home cooked meal at the end of a long day. Hence the bus, which is equipped with all the comforts of a home kitchen, including a sink where the workers can clean off.

Canola farming is intensive, and a lot depends on the weather. We were there right at harvest season, and it was interesting to hear all about the farm cycle, and how much it depended on forces outside of their control. It instilled in me a new appreciation for farmers and their work in ensuring that the land is looked after.

 Thank you to Alberta Canola for inviting us to take part in this unique experience.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Canadian Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and with it, turkey season (even though, as I've proved this year, any season can be turkey season) I am always on the look out for unusual appetizers and I love easy, make ahead canapes with my own spicy little twist added to it.

I love these little bites. The warmly spiced ground turkey, with its hints of Moroccan spice, works perfectly with filo pastry to make for the perfect snacks. Both the filo shells and the turkey filling can be made in advance, plus you can also fill these an hour or so before your guests (or family) arrive. These are incredibly addictive. When mom and I were testing this recipe, I had to swat off mom, because she just wouldn't stop eating them.

I made the shells by flipping a mini muffin tray upside down and cutting out squares of pastry, buttering them and placing them on the upside down molds. I find that it works better than tucking them into the muffin holes, but it does look prettier if you so it that way too. Just make sure to have dry hands while doing it that way, so you can tuck the pastry in without tearing it. These shells are pretty delicate, but you can very easily make a whole bunch and store them in an air tight container. I've also made mini meat pies with this filling and they're absolutely gorgeous as well. 

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to the Tasty Turkey website to download your recipe now.

Click for the recipe - Spiced Turkey Tartlets

And as usual, if you have any questions, mosey on back and I'll be more than happy to answer them for you :) Enjoy!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Canadian Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Every holiday, I give thanks that we are able to put together a beautiful meal on the table and enjoy it with family and friends. But holidays are also a good time time to reflect on how we can help people around us and we know that they can be hard on families who are not well off.

For the past six years, the Turkey Farmers of Canada and their member organizations, have been assisting thousands of Canadian families in rural communities during the Thanksgiving period, and throughout the calendar year. The funds are divided up among rural food banks in ten provinces and three territories, with over 90 food banks receiving money to purchase turkeys for Thanksgiving (some even have money left over to also use at Christmas). TFC targets rural food banks for two reasons: because a lot of their members all live in rural communities, and also because rural food banks are so often struggling to find sufficient food to share with their clients. But more can be done, and they’re challenging Canadians to participate in a Buy One Give One campaign.

So they are launching a BOGO campaign – Buy One, Give One – today. In order to help as many families as possible to continue to enjoy a family tradition even during difficult times, when buying your own family’s turkey purchase a second one to give to your local food bank. Canadians will also have the option to donate through Food Banks Canada.

To raise awareness of this very important issue, TFC is using the hashtag #BOGOTurkey for the campaign for the few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving which is Monday, October 13th this year. We hope that you will all be able to join the conversation and help us out by donating. You can also join the #BOGOTurkey Pinterest Board here, and pin some of your favourite Thanksgiving turkey recipes (you can email for an invitation)

You can find your nearest Food Bank by accessing this tool on the Food Banks Canada website.

I know I will definitely be donating a turkey when buying my own. I hope all my Canadian readers will also consider it. Please join us fighting hunger at Thanksgiving and at all time.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Appams divide people. No, really, they do. I mean, I know food is all about uniting people and bringing them together with shared memories, but not when it comes to these crisp edged sweet/ savoury pancakes. These guys are divisive, I tell you. Crisp edges or squidgy middle? I love the crisp edges, and my husband loves the squidgy middle. And never the twain shall meet (really... the crispy edges are where it's at man... there is no competition with that squidgy, scrummy middle... oh wait...)

Growing up, we waited for those days mother made appams, which was usually on Sunday mornings. As we lived in a coconut orchard, we always had a good supply of dried coconuts in our storage shed. Mom picked a coconut, smacked the living daylights out of it and grated all the sweet meat out. The grated coconut was then ground down to a thick paste, after which she squeezed out the thick milk, and then, watered it down and extracted the thin milk.