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Monday, 24 July 2017



What came first, the biriyani or the chickens?
 
I have never been squeamish about knowing where my meat comes from. My grandfather and uncles made sure of that, and I have killed chickens and watched pigs being slaughtered and methodically broken down to be distributed among family and friends. In childhood, it was rare for us to have any meat that didn't come from a known and trusted source, be it from my aunt's farm or a local neighbour.

There was a practicality to the killing of animals for meat, though. Animal welfare was not at the heart of it, and it was rare that humane killing was even a consideration. Animals were food, not friends. And while they were taken care of in the farms, they were never considered anything more than food sources, and this informed the whole philosophy of animal husbandry. It was a philosophy that trickled down to my generation. There was no sentimentality associated with eating meat from animals we'd raised or seen being raised. And while a huge portion of the country was vegetarian, it was down to religious beliefs and not necessarily animal welfare. It seems like a heartless way to look at meat-eating, but when you have a country of billions, it is a practical way of living.
 
As a child, I didn't think much of it. Eating meat was a way of life in my Catholic family, and every Sunday, we religiously ate our chicken, pork and mutton curries. A quick look at this website will give you an indication of our love for meat. Every recipe had memories associated with it, be it our traditional pork curry or the more 'exotic' chili chicken, or North Indian taar korma.



It was only when I moved to England, and met my vegetarian husband, that concerns for animal welfare, versus the practicality of eating meat became an issue for me. I still eat meat, despite my husband, daughter and son being vegetarians. But meat, today, to me is not just about eating anything that is available. The fact that I don't eat meat all that often anymore means that when I do eat it, I can opt for meat raised organically and to higher animal welfare standards. I know I am lucky, and I certainly know that I am privileged in this. But this post, to me, is not just about eating expensive, ethically raised, organic meat.

This is a story about people with a mission – a deep and enduring passion for what they do and the way in which they see the world.

Ron and Sheila Hamilton are not farming stock. While environmentally conscious, the trigger for them to move to and start up Sunworks Farm was their daughter's severe food and environmental allergies. Like most parents would, they realised that they needed to not just understand the cause of these allergies, but make it point to be aware of the effect of food on her health.
 
This awareness about food led them to Sunworks Farm. Ron and Sheila have strong opinions on being not just certified organic, but also certified humane. With a course on holistic farm management under their belts, they set about making Sunworks Farm, and the livestock they raised on it completely organic. Once successful, they realised that there was a significant demand for organic meat in Alberta, and started selling in farmers' markets around the province.

For Ron and Sheila, it is not just about livestock, though. It is also about a commitment to sustainable farming practices and to the land that they steward. All their farming practices are geared towards this stewardship, and they closely imitate natural practices which enables them to keep the land sustainable and conserved for future generations. This is consistent with their dedication to food security and to leaving a healthier world behind.

Being certified organic is not an easy process, and it is to their credit that Ron and Sheila have stuck with their principles and stayed not just organic but also as certified humane. They are certified humane by the BC SPCA, one of the most stringent certifications in the country. Their commitment to humane and organic also led to them building their own slaughter facility on site, to ensure that the livestock they raise is not distressed by transport to slaughter and they can control the way in which their meat is processed.
 
I'll be honest. I was truly impressed by Sunworks Farm. I've pretty much always bought most of my meat from them throughout my life here in Edmonton, mainly from Old Strathcona Market (thanks also to the fact that they have a share in Blush Lane Organic Market, which provides Sunworks Farm meat during the week). The chickens at Sunworks Farm are not free range in the sense they have shelters that they live in to protect them from predators and weather elements. They are, however, fully raised on pasture, and their shelters are moved daily, to ensure that they always get fresh grass to scratch in and eat. The turkeys and egg-layers are also similarly raised, while their beef is 100% grass fed during the summer. In the winter, the livestock is fed organic grain, alfalfa and hay. This natural feeding process means that the animals are healthier, and in turn, their meat and eggs are healthier and more nutritious to their consumers. 


But I saved my true admiration for their slaughterhouse facility. I know it might seem strange, but I am a slaughterhouse geek (hey, to each their own!!). I have read up on slaughterhouses plenty, and I am aware of most federal and provincial rules governing them (thanks to my husband's work on food safety). For example, in a recent conference paper, his co-authors Debra Davidson and John Parkins and he, suggest that
"... the possibility that the long-term viability of alternative agriculture sectors may well depend upon their stabilization as niches, rather than their expansion." * see references at end.
 
This dovetails nicely with Ron and Sheila's assertion that they would rather stop expansion of the farm rather that reach a point where their commitment to sustainability, food safety, ethics and humane treatment of their livestock is compromised. The slaughter facility on the farm was completed in 2015, and the livestock is processed every Tuesday. There is a certified food inspector on site for every kill, and the slaughterhouse not just meets provincial, but also federal regulations, if the farm chooses to go that way. Sheila and Ron both supervise every kill and ensure that the process moves from dirty (the kill) to clean (the processing) every single time. Their processed meat products are also fully organic with the use of organic spices. The products are also gluten-free, and free of chemicals and fillers. 

The Hamiltons' are almost evangelical in their commitment to their ethics when it comes to their farm. As they themselves put it they, "... strongly believe in the principals of organic, humane and sustainable farming. We believe that these principles help not only the environment but also human health. We want to give as many people as possible access to healthy clean food. We continue to learn and do everything we can to better the environment, the health of our animals and the health of our customers and family."

You can read more about my real-time experience at the farm, with pictures, in this Twitter Moment, while we now move on to a classic Indian dish that tastes so much better with fresh chicken straight from Sunworks Farm.


 
Ah! Chicken biriyani, that enduring Indian classic, that is much beloved by everyone who eats it. There are myriad versions of this ever popular dish, from easy one pot meals to complicated recipes that incorporate several steps. There are family recipes, secret recipes, celebrity ones, cheffy ones, authentic ones and so-not-authentic ones. There are secret ingredients galore. Each region in India will claim that its biriyani is the best. Each one will claim authenticity... everyone will boast that their recipe is the classic one. Everyone argues about the best way to make it, the essential spices, the method, the garnishes... its a definitely a culinary free for all when it comes to a biriyani. We even quibble on how its spelt, biriyani or the more colloquial, biryani.

All this over a simple, elegant dish that combines flavours like no other and therefore deserves to be squabbled over! The biriyani is the ultimate dinner party dish, and you can even make it ahead and refrigerate it. It really needs no other accompaniment other than a simple raita, and its a meal that is savoured across India, from villages to palaces. The length of this recipe may put people off, but to be honest, once you've made it the first time, it takes next to no time to make it the second. The steps are all easy, and once you have layered the biriyani, all you have to do is tuck it into a low oven, and it sits there waiting for your guests.

When I was growing up, mum didn't always have the time or the inclination to make biriyanis. And why would she, when we lived next door to NaZo aunty, the lady who made the best biriyanis that one ever tasted in our small town? NaZo aunty's biriyanis were famous. So fragrant, that everybody knew exactly when they were being made, as the smell wafted around our neighbourhood, getting tummies to rumble and mouths to water. NaZo wasn't aunty's real name, of course, her biriyani making business was named after her children Nazia and Zoheb, who were also our friends. Almost all of the special events in our house were graced by the presence of this delicious biriyani with a light raita on the side, and its no wonder that almost as soon as I smell biriyani my first memory is of NaZo aunty and her flat in Little Flower Apartments.

This recipe, however, is one that I have developed after a lot of work and experimentation and criticisms from mom, dad, and my self-professed biriyani aficionado husband, Kay. There are four main inspirations behind this recipe.

First, my mom's classic biriyani, that she made when she felt like cooking.

Second, of course, NaZo aunty's biriyani.

The third inspiration is from a stranger I met when attending a student festival in Mangalore. I was hanging out with this group of friends, and one of them had a local friend who boasted to us that his mom made the best biriyani on the coast. Of course, a claim such as this had to be verified, so off we tramped. This friend's name has been lost to my miserable memory, but the taste of his mother's biriyani certainly hasn't. She made us beef biriyani, the meat fall-off-the-bone tender, and every bite filled with flavour that zinged on our tongue. Her little wood stove was covered with a heavy cast iron pan, over which the clay biriyani pot sat, the rice and meat instead absorbing each others' flavours. When she opened that pot, we almost all died of food coma, the smells were just that good. I sat next to her the entire time, observing her method, and this recipe is also a homage to her spicing.

The final inspiration comes from a biriyani shack under a bus flyover in Delhi. The restaurant was a dive, one which you would not venture into or for that matter, have heard of, unless you knew someone who knew a local who could take you there. It was actually located under a traffic flyover, with train tracks on the other side. The place only made biriyanis, with a tandoor oven tucked into the bit under the flyover. Each biriyani was individually made in a sealed earthenware pot. You ordered mutton or chicken, and the waiter brought you the entire pot, cracked it open and poured out the biriyani on a steel plate. The usual condiments were on the table – some meat gravy, a couple of sliced onions and cucumbers, a bowl of seasoned yogurt and a few quartered limes. And all we did then was dig into what could easily pass as the most incredible gourmet meal of our lives. And that's saying it all. 


Recipe:
(Printable Recipe)

Serves 4 - 6 people generously

Spice Mix: (make your own, using this recipe or if you are using a bought spice mix, my recommendation is Eastern Biriyani Masala from any Asian grocery)

Chicken and Marinade 1/4 cup plain yogurt
4 - 5 tablespoons biriyani spice mix
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon or salt to taste
1 tablespoon oil
1 kilo chicken, cut into bite sized pieces ((I used 4 chicken thighs cut into two pieces each and 4 chicken drumsticks)

Biriyani Sauce
2 tablespoons neutral oil
1 tablespoon ghee
2 cinnamon sticks
8 cloves
8 green cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
1 large onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic,crushed
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1 – 2 green chillies, chopped
1 large tomato, diced
1 teaspoon garam masala
Large handful cilantro, chopped
Large handful mint, chopped
Salt to taste
 
Rice3 cups basmati rice
Salt, to taste
Boiling water, as required
A generous pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons rose water

Garnish
1/2 an onion, thinly sliced and caramelized
1/4 cup unsalted cashew nuts
1/4 cup raisins

Method:

Whisk together the yoghurt, spice mix, turmeric, salt and oil. Add the chicken pieces, rubbing in the marinade, and refrigerate for a couple hours, ideally overnight.

In a large, heavy, oven-safe pot (ideally one with a lid), heat the oil and the ghee. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and star anise and fry for a minute, until the spices start to smell fragrant. Add the diced onion to the pot, and fry together for 5 - 7 minutes, until the onion starts to soften and go golden around the edges.

Add the garlic, ginger and chilies to the onion, and fry together for another minute.

Add the tomatoes, garam masala, cilantro and mint, and stir and cook everything together for 5 minutes, adding a little bit of salt to season.

Add the marinated chicken and any remaining marinade to the pot. Turn down the heat to medium low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Add a splash of water to the chicken if it looks too dry, but don't add too much water, as the chicken will release its juices as it cooks. Taste and season with plenty of salt.

Place a pizza stone in the oven if you have one and preheat the oven to 450 F.

In the meantime, place the rice and a little salt in a large pot and cover with 6 cups of boiling water. Cover the pot and cook the rice on a low heat for 10 minutes, until it is about 3/4 of the way cooked, but not cooked all the way. Drain the rice.

Layer the drained rice on top of the chicken. Place the saffron in the rosewater and drizzle it all over the rice. Sprinkle the caramelized onions, cashew nuts and raisins over the top.

Cover the pot tightly with aluminium foil, and place the lid on top. Transfer the pot to the oven. After ten minutes, turn the heat down to 350 F, and leave the pot in the oven for an additional 15 minutes.

Take the pot out of the oven, and gently fluff up the biriyani to serve.


Cucumber Raita

1 English cucumber, seeded and finely diced
¼ cup plain yoghurt
A generous pinch each of cumin and cayenne
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt to taste

Method:

Whisk together the yoghurt, cumin and cayenne. Season to taste with the lemon juice and salt.

Stir in the cucumber. Chill until ready to use.


Disclosure: I was invited to visit Sunworks Farm. During my visit, along with a group of social media influencers and bloggers, I was treated to dinner at the farm, along with a bagful of Ron's famous chicken sausages. I was not offered any monetary compensation for this visit or for this post. The recipe is mine.

References:

The Role of Food Safety Risks in Facilitating Agricultural Transitions: Alternative Beef Production in Alberta, Canada. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268108072_The_Role_of_Food_Safety_Risks_in_Facilitating_Agricultural_Transitions_Alternative_Beef_Production_in_Alberta_Canada [accessed Jun 30, 2017].

Also, see-

Adapting to food safety crises: Interpreting success and failure in the Canadian response to BSE. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266082354_Adapting_to_food_safety_crises_Interpreting_success_and_failure_in_the_Canadian_response_to_BSE [accessed Jun 30, 2017].

Wednesday, 12 July 2017




There is so much advice out there on weaning babies, and every generation has its own rules and regulations. These rules might be always changing (the advice on feeding babies peanuts, for example), but when it comes to babies, I've always held by my mother-in-law's advice that mommy knows best. Yes, mommy might need a bit of help from Dear Mother Google, but by and large, we are always aware of our babies' needs and the best way to fulfil them.

When it comes to food, babies are such a blank slate, but at the same time, pretty strong minded. Adz, for example, never ate potatoes as a baby. I remember feeding her a pilau once that had the tiniest bits of potatoes, and when I looked over, that child had picked out every since scrap of potatoes (from rice!) and put them aside. Baby Sky, on the other hand, is a little food monster and will gobble up everything you feed him, and then whine for more. Adz and I thought we would have a little bit of fun with him, and gave him a slice of lime one day. That little creature sucked the entire lime, and then looked at us with a big smile and went, mmm!

So, considering that he seemed pretty happy with experimenting with food, I decided to start spice early on. I am Indian, after all, and spice is a huge part of my life and cooking. I came up with quite a few combinations to include spices in his everyday food, and the ten recipes below are an unusual, yet, perfect spice primer for your little gourmet.

If you need more information on any of the spices I use, I write The Spice Box column on FBC, which has  information on every spice and herb you need.

Monday, 20 March 2017



You stop for the exhibitionists.

Ah, the joys of driving in India. Once upon a time, I had no compunction jumping in and out of buses, sometimes even when they were moving. In fact, I spent half my life on the City Bus Number 5, first going to school, then pre-university, then college. Bus stops are for wimps and hanging out of dangerously swerving buses is the life.

Man, how things have changed. The last few times I've been to India, all I've been doing is stomping my foot on an imaginary brake. And wearing seat belts. How the mighty have fallen! And I told the conductor on City Bus Number 5 to stop, hold it, come to a FULL STOP dammit, then gingerly wiggled my way down. At a BUS STOP. Shame on me.

This time around, I took a road trip with my family. Oh the joys of a road trip with an Indian family. Everything from packed tiffins to constant arguments to toilet stops in random places. Yup, I missed that. The experience was so profound that I was moved to write these tips for driving in India. You know, as you would.


Please to stop for the cows and related bovines.

Driving in India Tip Number 1: 
You shall not drive in India (okay, sorry, that was a bit too Fight Club, but I couldn't resist.) But really. Hire a driver. Ride an autorickshaw. Get your dad to weave dangerously in and out of traffic on his bag of bolts motorbike.

Driving in India Tip Number 2: 
Indian drivers (men) REFUSE to take directions and will second guess a GPS! Ergo, prepare for twice the journey time. Google maps? Google schmoogle, what do those Google people know about India anyway?

Driving in India Tip Number 3: 
The following are suggestions -
- Lane markers.
- Seatbelts (If there is a cop, loosely drape belt over shoulder. Do not clip in holder. Remove the seatbelt clips from backseats as they will poke people's butts)
- Speed limits.
- Traffic lights.
- The 'No Talking on Mobile Phones' signs.
- Left hand turn lanes.
- Turn signals.

Driving in India Tip Number 4: 
The middle of road is the only place to be. Move over left or right depending on how the other driver honks.

Driving in India Tip Number 5: 
Car seats for kids? What? Didn't we keep you alive this long without this car seat, car shmeet business? Note: If baby cries, remove said baby from the car seat in the middle of a four lane highway at highway speed. If Canadian mother of said baby objects, use Indian mother guilt. If she still objects, pull over to the side of a highway and then take baby out.

Driving in India Tip Number 6: 
If in doubt about directions (see #1) go straight then left. Straight, straight, straight... then left. If you do ASK a passerby (by pulling over dangerously on a highway {yes, there will be a passerby on the edge of a highway too} of course) for directions... they will always be go straight and to the left. No no, correct, madam!

Driving in India Tip Number 7: 
Pedestrians and cows (and some goats) are always welcome on gorgeous four lane highways! See previous tip. Also... perfectly acceptable to drive the wrong way down a double highway. Especially if you're a motorbike!

Driving in India Tip Number 8: 
The side of the road is a toilet! Tree or bush optional.

Driving in India Tip Number 9: 
Say hello by honking. Swerve around a car? Say sorry by honking. Oh hey, look a monkey. Honk. No honking sign. Honk. Honk at the lorries, how dare they take up the whole road? Oh look, Mr. D'Souza's nephews wife's sister's maidservant. Honk. Pretty woman? Honk. Pretty man? Honk. Cute baby? Honk honk (chooo chweet that baby, hanging out in between daddy, mommy, and three siblings on a bag of bolts motorcycle).

Driving in India Tip Number 10: 
Traffic cops are friends not fish (sorry, that was too Finding Nemo). But really, cops are friends, with benefits. Benefits to them, I mean. Carry a handy stash of hundred rupee notes, and they won't eat you (sorry, sorry, more Finding Nemo).


A truck full of ginger. Yep! 

Bonus Tip: If, when driving along, you see a tractor full of ginger (or any vegetables, mind!) swerve in front of said truck, honk until he stops. Then, bargain for very reasonably priced vegetables (or fruit. Or ginger). Oy vey!


Monday, 13 March 2017


 
Adz and I (2014) Photo: Pritham D'Souza (Photosynthe)

"Are you the nanny?" 

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question when I was out with Adz, well... I'd be about twelve dollars richer (yes, I keep count.) I understand, I really do, that it can be a bit jarring to see a white child with a brown person, though in this day and age it shouldn't be surprising. At the same time, however, should the automatic assumption be that I am the nanny, rather than the mother? It is a question I've asked myself several times, usually after one of said encounters.

Being part of a mixed race, mixed culture relationship is not easy. As an Indian woman, born and brought up in India, I was indoctrinated into my own culture and it was an abrupt transition when I first moved to England for graduate school. I met and fell in love with my partner within the first few months of school. I didn't plan on falling in love with a white Canadian man. I kept it to myself for the first couple years. It was only when I realised that this relationship was serious that I opened up to my mom. I told her I was seeing someone. When she asked, I might have lied stretched the truth and told her I was dating an Indian boy. Exactly how I was going to pass off my very white, redheaded, blue eyed boy as Indian was something I hadn't even thought about. It was after we'd decided to move in together that I confessed to mom. Surprisingly, she took it quite well, though I did have to go through some snarky comments about white Indian men from her. The rest of my family also took it reasonably well, though with some mild racist attitudes.

Mixed race relationships and racism

Being in a mixed race relationship in London was fine. It was a cosmopolitan enough city, that we didn't get much grief. At least, not that much. I did get yelled at on the street, told not to take "our men", got called a brown bitch and told to go back home. Par for the course, obviously. We also got quite a bit of flak from Indian people in London, especially since we lived so close to Southall, a predominantly Indian suburb of London. I got asked (in Hindi) why I couldn't find someone from my own community. We got plenty of sideways angry looks, but not enough that I was so bothered about them. As far as I was concerned, my family were fine with my relationship, even though mom refused to acknowledge the whole 'living together' bit, but well, you can't have everything.

We moved to Liverpool a few years after. Surprisingly, Liverpool was a lot more accepting, even though we were the only mixed race couple in Hoylake, our little seaside village. I can't remember any incident in Liverpool that targeted my race. My football affiliation though, got me plenty of abuse but this is just because I loved wandering around Liverpool in an Arsenal shirt, being deliberately provocative (Sorry, Liverpool and Everton fans, but you guys are so easy to wind up).

Through all these moves and life changes, though, our relationship stayed strong, and Kay and I got married in 2006. Adz was born soon after. No one in England ever asked me if she was mine. It was just assumed. She was a local. We were accepted.

We moved to Canada when Adz was two. I'd been told that Canada was a lot easier to live in as a mixed race couple. I was excited to move here. We'd been planning on moving for a while and we picked Edmonton, after a series of circumstances meant that we could actually move with a good nest egg.

I came into Canada on a tourist visa, with the intention of being sponsored as a permanent resident. By this time, I'd lived in England long enough that I was a naturalised citizen, and it was reasonably easy for me to come to Canada. We had a nice apartment picked out in a great part of the city and as I couldn't work until I became an official permanent resident, I was happy to be a full-time mom for the first time in two years.



When people assume you're the nanny!

Adz and I started off our Canadian adventure well. We explored our neighbourhood, found playgrounds, and favourite lunch places, went out for ice cream and coffee (for me), discovered farmers' markets and enjoyed the gorgeous Edmonton river valley. I got used to the famous Canadian friendliness and even though my British/ Indian soul was suspicious of all the smiles and sincerity and the yoga, it was a refreshing change to hear hellos and have polite bus drivers. I spent my time house hunting as well, as we hoped to move into a home soon.

The first time that our differences were pushed to the forefront was a bit of a shock, especially since Adz and I were getting used to being smiled at and doted on more often. We were at the arts centre, and this nice looking older lady came up to us, and asked me if Adz was mine. I smiled and said yes, thinking that she was going to comment on Adz's cuteness (and she was adorably cute, with her big brown eyes and auburn curls). The woman turned to me, and glared... and said 'Jesus will smite you woman, for claiming this pure white child as yours'. Woah, there! I nervously backed away with a rictus smile and legged it from there as fast as I could. I was shaken, for sure, but I put it down to mental illness on the part of the woman.

I put that incident out of my mind, and we continued to live our lives. The second time, however, was more deliberate. Adz and I were at the park this time, and she was running around, exploring. I decided to talk to a pretty young lady who was pushing her child on the swing. As I said hello, I got a cold stare back. I just assumed that she wasn't used to having people approach her, and smiled, and asked if she lived around there. At that point, the lady looked back at me, then at Adz and asked, quite deliberately, "Shouldn't you be doing your job and looking after the child?" I was confused, and said, "Yes, but we just moved here" – still not getting what she was getting at. At that point, she looked at me again, and said "As the nanny, you should really be keeping an eye on the kid". I was too shocked and embarrassed to respond, quickly gathering Adz and walking home. My husband was also gobsmacked when I called him in tears.

But still – mistakes happen, right?

That said, my next experience was in equal parts amusing and horrifying. I was sitting at the edge of the swimming pool with a Filipino woman. Our kids were all having lessons together, and I got to know this lady, and we usually chatted off and on. One day though, a middle-aged white lady came up and sat next to us. We both smiled at her and asked her if her child was in lessons. She responded in the affirmative, pointing out her child. And then (I swear I am NOT making up this shit), she looked at both of us and said "it must be really nice for you nannies to get together when the kids are in lessons, do you come here often?". Both the Filipino lady and I looked at each other in absolute disbelief, and she said, "they're our kids". And the other lady says, "oh, I just assumed you are the nannies, you look so different from them". What. The. Hell.

There was no apology, just a matter of fact, "you look different". Wow! What can I say? Every time I've told this story to people, they react with equal parts horror and astonishment that someone could be so tone deaf and have such a lack of awareness.

Thankfully, as Adz has grown up, she's begun to look a lot more like me. That said, I still get the side eyes when I am out with Master Sky and her, and we've been asked many times after that, usually by white people, if I am the nanny. Adz calls me mommy rather loudly and that puts an end to that line of thought.

"I am not the f*****g nanny"

I started writing this post about three months ago. As it turns out, this BBC video of Robert Kelly, an expert on South Korea, being gatecrashed by his children went viral, and it was almost like this post was fated to be.


When this video first surfaced, a lot of people automatically assumed that the woman who comes rushing in to get the kids is the nanny or the maid.

I didn't. My first thought was, that poor mom! Then I laughed, actually, as this is exactly something I have done myself. My husband had an early morning interview with CBC, and Adz woke up, and decided to head into his study to say "good mornging dadabat" (Aside: ahhhh, don't you just LOVE it when they mispronounce words?). It wasn't a video interview, thankfully, but I've never moved so fast in my life. If it had been on video, you'd have seen me in ratty sweats, with the worst case of bedhead, frantically dragging a six-year-old out of the study, with wild shushing movements.

But when I saw the posts on social media and other newspaper sites, I was disheartened at how many people had automatically assumed that the woman in the video was the nanny or the maid. As someone in a mixed race relationship with kids, and as someone who is relatively colour blind when it comes to race, it didn't even occur to me that people would assume such a thing. Though, after my experiences, I shouldn't have been surprised.

I did some more research, and came to the conclusion, though I might be wrong, that the majority of people making this assumption were white, middle-class people. And again, to my dismay, a lot of them were Canadians and British. It was so easy to stereotype a Korean woman as a maid or nanny, especially since she is with a white man. Looks like racial, ethnic and cultural stereotypes are still alive and kicking.

Breaking the stereotypes

I came across a lot of excuses for why people assumed that Jung-a Kim was Robert Kelly's nanny, rather than his wife. Here, I want to debunk some of those excuses as, pardon my language, bullshit.

I know that there are a few nannies in Canada, who are Filipino. I happen to be really good friends with a lot of them. I also happen to be friends with the mums of the kids they look after. I also know mums from all different backgrounds, as well as nannies and grandmothers and grandfathers and dads and babysitters. So it did make me sad to read some of the stereotyping that happened after this video went viral.

1. She looked so panicked, it was like she feared for her job.

Oh yeah, when something like this happened to me, I definitely feared for a job – my husband's job as an expert, as it happens. As the wife of a man who gets regularly called upon for his expertise, I would have reacted the exact same way, had my husband been on Skype with the BBC (I mean, it's the BBC. It's a big deal). Trust me, panicked is the least of how she would look.

2. She looked frantic and dishevelled.

Have you ever tried looking after a baby and a toddler and keeping them in line? I am mom to an almost six month old baby and a MUCH older child, and my normal look is like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards. As I like to joke, I am awake and dressed. In actual clothes. That's enough to get me out. I work from home and make no apologies for looking like a slummy mummy. Nannies don't have a 'look'. Neither do mommies.

3. She was so rough with the children. A mother would have been gentler.

Give me a minute. BwahaHAHAHAHAHAHA! You're out of your mind if you think moms are gentle with their kids all the time. Getting my daughter ready for school in the mornings is a battle that I almost never win if I didn't have at least one moment, of "stay goddamn still, so I can brush your goddamn rat's nest of hair!" Cue - "owwwww, mom, owwwww, stop it mom, owwwww". Yeah, I am not gentle all the time, or if I am in a rush, or panicked in the first place. Show me a mom who is soft and gentle all the time, and I'll show you a saint. And for what it's worth, the nannies I know are a lot nicer to the children in their charge.

4. The kids look white.

Yeah, sorry, genetics is a thing. Both my mixed race kids look white. This excuse is, in my opinion, a cop-out. Kids don't necessarily look like their parents, and mixed race kids will favour one over the other. Sometimes. This is something I feel strongly about, as you've read earlier in my post.

My Adz has a good way of putting it: "I am like a bunny, mom, in the summer I go brown and in the winter I am white."

5. She looks so much younger than him.

I once got on a bus in London with my then-boyfriend, now husband, Kay. The driver gave me a child ticket, then gave Kay an adult ticket and a long, hard glare. I was twenty-three. Kay was twenty-nine. I still have that child ticket.

What I think that this video clip has made quite clear, though, is that racial stereotyping is still a thing. In 2017. Whether conscious or unconscious, we still have biases and one of them is about mixed race marriages and children. In a situation like this those cultural biases come to a head. To me, Jung-a Kim is a superwoman – daaaamn, those reflexes! Robert Kelly is a lucky man to have her in his life.


Source: The Wall Street Journal

Confronting biases and making changes

In this post, I wrote about my mom facing her stereotypes about gay people, and being courageous enough to change her preconceived ideas, ideas that were mostly church based, to be fair to her.

If your first assumption was that Jung-a Kim was the nanny, then maybe this is a good opportunity to take a close look at your biases and make a positive change. It doesn't take a lot to just say 'what beautiful children', instead of 'are you the nanny?'.

We can make this world truly colour blind and more accepting, if we are willing to let go of our assumptions and give people a chance. We don't choose who we fall in love with. We just do. And if more people felt the love, then maybe we wouldn't be fearful, intolerant or hate filled. And this world would be a much better place for it.


Friday, 10 March 2017


Beef Kheema Pav

I've been quite silent over here at The Tiffin Box, and first, I just wanted to say thank you to a few of you who have emailed me and asked me if things are okay. The internet is a funny thing. I don't know all my readers personally, yet so many of you messaged me, worried about me. It gives me this unbelievably warm feeling of being connected and cherished and so thank you again. 

I am fine. To be completely honest, at first, I was just burnt out. Last year was an interesting one. After almost nine years of being an only child, Adz was going to be a big sister. I found out that I was pregnant and while we were quite unsure about this whole thing at first, we decided to roll with it. Unlike with Adz, where I had an incredible pregnancy, this one was quite hard. Maybe it was just me being older, but the last thing I felt like doing was cooking or eating, or even writing, for that matter. I'd sit in front of the computer, and I'd just be blank. I'd have ideas, but I couldn't seem to get them out on paper. I didn't even pick up my camera for a while, with zero interest in doing anything. My mother was visiting, thankfully, and she picked up a lot of my slack, and after a few visits with my doctor, I gave myself permission to take a few months off without the associated guilt. 

I gave birth to Baby Sky in September. He's a gorgeous little squiggly handful of a guy, full of personality right from the moment of birth, and so very different from my mellow, easygoing Adz. Now that we have him, it is hard to imagine life without him. Well, technically, life is generally harder with him, seeing as I'd completely forgotten what having a new baby was like, but despite the complete lack of sleep and general zombie-esqe pattern of life (eat, play, nap, yowl, expel, and repeat) yes, life is better with this new little person. 



It has been almost six months now, since Baby Sky was born, but despite all my bright ideas and thoughts, I still wasn't ready to write. Like before, I'd sit in front of the computer and have all these thoughts, but no desire to tap those keys and put them in writing. Now, I haven't been accepting a lot of projects recently. Partly because I just haven't had the energy to do anything, but also because I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I give my best to any project I take part in. I didn't think that I would be able to offer anything when I was still burning out. 

Last month, however, I accepted a project from Merkato, a global recipe swap, rethinking beef recipes. The reason I accepted this project was the concept. I would be creating a recipe based on my cultural background, and swapping a recipe with another Canadian blogger, Shel Zolkewich whose recipe I am featuring in Part 2 of this post) 

But in truth, there were other factors behind why I decided to break my blog silence with this project. 

I went to India to visit with my family and introduce them to their newest member in December and January. Baby Sky was introduced to his great grandmother and a huge number of his extended family. We had an incredible time, and I reconnected with some family that I hadn't seen in well over ten years. It brought back to me the importance of connections and being there for each other. Maybe we hadn't seen each other in all these years, but as they say, blood is thicker than water and we fell back into our easy relationships with each other, just like we had when we were children, running back and forth from each others' houses. Social media has definitely made being in touch easier, and with Facebook, we are able to keep up with our lives, even though we live so far from each other.



I digress, however. 

Family is certainly important, and my life has been shaped heavily by my own family, both in India and here in Canada. 

But it was what happened on the way back from India that led me to write this post and take part in this recipe swap. 

Adz, Baby Sky and I were connecting to our Canada-bound flight in Frankfurt airport. We had a few hours to kill, and while waiting for our flight to be called, I noticed that the gate agents were calling out these Muslim sounding names. When the people came up, there would be a hushed conversation, and then what sounded like people getting upset with lot of arm waving and some tears and general confusion. I wasn't sure what was happening, so I opened up the news on my phone. 

That was when I saw the mind boggling news from the United States, banning people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the States. I realised that the airlines were informing people from these countries about this ban and to be honest, I couldn't even comprehend what was going on. On one hand, I was just so grateful that I wasn't transiting through the States and was going to Canada instead. On the other hand, I could completely sympathise with these people who were travelling to the US, being tolday they couldn't travel for whatever purpose they were going there for. Having just come back from India and having had such an incredible family trip there, my heart was bleeding for these people. I could not imagine how they must have been feeling. I know that I would have been devastated, had I been told that I wasn't able to visit my family back in India, for whatever reason.

Beef Kheema Pav

Since last November, since that ill-fated election in the States, my anxiety levels have been extremely high. I am a brown immigrant to Canada, and my children are mixed race. While racism is not a new concept to me, having faced it in England as well as to a smaller extent in Canada, the sheer vitriol coming from supporters of that person (I am sorry, but I just can't say his name without heaving!) against immigrants and people who were different was scary. 

My experience of being an immigrant, twice, was much easier than others. I am not ashamed to say this out loud, and I am one of the lucky ones. In England, my path to naturalisation was easy, having been there as a graduate student, and then working there. When we came back to Canada, my path to residency was still easy. I didn't choose to fall in love with a Canadian, but the fact that my husband was Canadian helped ease my way. I was also lucky that I was so well versed in the Western world, that integrating into English and Canadian society was natural for me. I speak good English, I know pop culture inside out, I am abreast of news, and I listen to Blue Rodeo*. 

But while my life as an immigrant is easy, to the point where a lot of people I know don't even see the colour of my skin, as long as I am able to keep up with conversations around hockey, or sport or music or sociology – this does not mean that I am unaware of how precarious my status in this country is. When people on the street look at me, they see a brown woman with white children and assume, a lot of the times, that I am the nanny. Some people talk slower to me, like they feel that I am not able to understand English. Some people are shocked by my lack of accent (see here). And I have been accosted on the street and told to go back home. It happens to all of us, those of us who appear different. 

But to actually see the level of hate against immigrants that has manifested in that person being elected? I am truly flabbergasted and yes, it makes me anxious for my future and the future of my mixed race children. I'd like to say that such hate is not usual in Canada, but I would be wrong. Just a look at newspaper forums will tell me otherwise. People will tell me that those forums are not representative of what Canada is like, but then that's what we thought about the States. People will also tell me not to look at these news stories or engage with them, but it's like watching a particularly gruesome incident, and my morbid curiosity won't let me disengage. While both Canada and the States are countries founded on immigration, the rhetoric today has changed. Today, we are ruled by fear of difference. And when fear takes hold, hate is not far behind. 

And that was one of the reasons why I took up this project. The people swapping recipes in this project are all people who have different cultural, national and religious backgrounds. But what we all have in common is that we are all Canadians. 

I am going to be upfront with you all. I am not a nationalistic person. I've lived and travelled in too many countries to be the kind of person who believes that 'my country is the best' rhetoric. I love living in Canada, sure, and I adore the people I live with and all my friends, but I would be happy living anywhere else in the world, as long as I have my little family with me. Maybe this is an antithetic view of the world, but this is me and I won't apologise for it. 

Good Luck Parsi Cafe in Mumbai

My recipe for this global swap project is inspired by one of my favourite Mumbai street foods. When I was in India this year, I took a little street food jaunt with my friend Addie, and we hit up this little Parsi cafe in Bandra where the food is tinged with Iranian influences. It is, and rightly so, famous for its kheema pav. 

Kheema is a generic term in India for ground meat, and a good, spicy, salty kheema curry can have any kind of meat, with lamb and mutton being the most common. Beef, however, is also quite common in many communities in India, particularly the Catholic community. While it can be harder now to find beef in India, several places do have it, and this cafe did (or at least assured us that we were eating beef kheema). 

There is nothing fancy about kheema pav. This is street food at its simplest and most filling. You get a steel plate of curried minced beef, a soft, cheap white bun and a wedge of lime. You squeeze some lime juice on the meat, and use your fingers to tear the pav and scoop the kheema into your mouth. The flavours are an explosion on your tongue, your mouth being assaulted by salt, heat, tang and the fragrance of spices. You take a sip of sweet chai, and then mop up the last bits of curry with some more pav. 

Kheema Pav at Good Luck Parsi Cafe in Mumbai

Kheema Pav at Good Luck Parsi Cafe in Mumbai

For me, this dish brings back memories of my time in Bombay as a student. I was forever broke, but also hungry all the time. Many of us hunted out the best street food joints in the city, and we would travel in the horrific Mumbai traffic to head down to Sardar's for the best pav bhaji, or to small Punjabi joints for delicious tandoori chicken. The Catholic cafes had great seafood, and every colony in Bombay claimed that their pani puri wallah made the best version. 

That said, my recipe for kheema pav comes from my aunt's cook, Christine, she of the delicious pork sorpotel.  Her recipe is simple and uses minimum spice, but can easily rival any of those from these famous street vendors. Add my recipe for fresh pav, a squeeze of lime juice and a pat of butter on top, and voila! You're on the streets on Mumbai, taking in the unique flavours of the ordinary Mumbaikar.

Thankfully, my recipe swap partner Shel loved it too, and her photographs are so much better than mine, so check them out. I also adore the fact that she made them for Hockey Night in Canada. Now how much more inclusive do you get than that? 

* I know you are dying to hear my Blue Rodeo story, yes? Well, when I was first dating Kay, my Canadian boy, he took me to see blue Rodeo perform in this tiny underground pub in London. Goodness, I think the entire Canadian population of London was there. I was only a couple of feet away from the band on the stage. After the performance, the band members all came and mingled with the audience, and I said hello to Jim Cuddy, who gave me a hug and asked me if Blue Rodeo was big in India. Well, I said, they were definitely popular with one particular Indian. Me.  

Fresh Pav at Sardars Pav Bhaji

--> Kheema Pav
(Printable Recipe)

A Mumbai Street Food Recipe

Pav (Bread Rolls)

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 cup milk, scalded
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter + a little extra
1 teaspoon salt
3 ½ cups sifted all purpose flour
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Soften active dry yeast in warm water.

Combine milk, sugar, butter and salt. Cool. Add 1 cup of the flour and beat well with a wooden spoon.

Beat in softened yeast and egg.

Gradually add remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead the dough (around 7 - 8 minutes) until soft and pliable, then shape into a ball and place in a large oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in size (1½ to 2 hours)

Lightly turn out the risen dough on to lightly floured surface. Pat down and shape into 12 small balls.

Place the dough balls next to each other in a baking tray, then cover and let rise for another hour.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 - 20 minutes, until the rolls are golden. Brush a little extra butter on the crusts while still warm.

Kheema

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ – 1 teaspoon mild (or hot) cayenne pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon aamchur (dried mango powder)
2 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon ghee (optional)
1 cup, finely diced onion
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 – 2 hot, green bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
1 cup, finely chopped tomatoes
500g ground beef
½ cup water
½ cup fresh or frozen peas
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Small handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Fresh pav, softened salted butter and lime wedges, to serve

In a small bowl, mix together the cumin, coriander, garam masala, cayenne pepper and aamchur. Keep this spice mix aside.

Heat the oil, and the ghee (if using) in a heavy based sauté pan, and add the onion. Fry on a medium heat for 7 – 8 minutes, until softened and beginning to brown on the edges.

Add the crushed garlic, ginger and chillies and stir together for a minute, until fragrant.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the spice mix to the pan and season with a little salt.

Fry, stirring often, for 10 – 15 minutes, until the mixture is thick and the oil is beginning to shimmer around the edges.

Add the ground beef and fry for 2 – 3 minutes. Add the water, cover the pan, and let the kheema simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch the peas in salted, boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain.

Uncover the pan, and add the peas to the kheema, and continue to cook for another 5 – 7 minutes, until the mixture is on the dry side. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Take off the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro. Serve with the pav, butter and lime wedges.


Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Think Beef