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Twelve years ago, when my son first started work, I was concerned about his diet and how he would find the time to cook for himself. Those first two years, he regularly put in 70 hours a week at the office, sometimes even 80 or 90. There was no time to do anything much else except sleep and commute. The company did provide meals at lunchtime ( all the better to keep workers at their desks) so lunch was no problem. The rest of the time he ordered take-out food. Not the best option because it is loaded with fat, salt and sugar but, at the time, almost the only option.

How things have changed over the past few years!

Now, there are a number of firms that deliver meal-kits, or meals in a box. These kits include exact portions of meat, fish, vegetables , sauces, spices etc. along with recipe cards that tell buyers just how to use them into a satisfying and healthy meal. Generally, there are two options: three dishes / week, each serving two persons or the family plan : two dishes, each serving four people. Among the companies selling meals in a box are Blue Apron (emphasis on easy, healthy recipes), Plated ( sustainable foods), Pete’s Paleo,  Peachdish ( Southern food), and Purple Carrot ( vegan). Subscribers sign up on-line and select recipes from about 6 to 8 options each week ; the cost works out to about $ 10/ serving, about a dollar less for the family plan. Certainly advantageous to these young people, both in terms of money and time. Since all the ingredients are premeasured and prepped, it takes only about 45 minutes to cook a meal.

Three of the biggest advantages are: 1) No need to spend time grocery shopping, 2) No danger of excess food spoiling in the refrigerator and 3) Portion control. Servings are about 800 calories apiece, plenty enough for a meal but not excessive. When one cooks from scratch, the tendency is to buy more than what one needs. Either the excess food goes to waste or you wind up cooking and eating too much.

There are several other advantages too.  These meals are far superior to take-out food, and easier than cooking from scratch. The ingredients are high quality and the detailed instructions that come with the recipes make it easy to put a meal together. There is a lot of variety;  many of the services guarantee that recipes will not be repeated for at least a year. Cooks can also alter the recipes to their liking, by adding a little of this or a little of that. And the recipe cards can also be a guide in the future when cooking from scratch. In fact, cooking with these meal-kits often leads to a revived interest in cooking.

Nothing is perfect , however and there are some drawbacks to these meal kits. There are a few, very few, mishaps with the shipping but they are not worth bothering about. A more serious problem is that cancellations or skipping a week’s delivery have to be done well in advance; usually a week, which is not always possible. Another, which will bother the socially responsible, is that there is a lot of packaging to be garbaged each week.

For those who cannot spare the time to cook, not even 45 minutes, there are services like Munchery which provides ready made meals at about the same cost. All that buyers have to do is reheat the delivered meal for about 10 minutes.

My son also told me about another service which makes it easy to host a party. All you have to do is to specify the kind of food you want ( Thai, Chinese, Italian etc.), and the number of people expected at the party. You put out the requirements on the internet and take bids on your smartphone. Once the price and menu are agreed upon, you can sit back and relax. On the appointed day, a chef turns up and prepares the food in your kitchen. Once again, the cost works out to less than you would spend at a restaurant. Two other advantages are that since you don’t have to cook, you can spend a relaxed evening  with guests, and there is much greater leeway in selecting the food.

Yes, things are much different now; I no longer worry about my son’s diet.

When we are very young, all our thoughts are about the present and the very near future. “When can I go out to play? What will we have for dinner? Will I be able to go to the movies this weekend?” As we grow into adulthood, our thoughts are still focused on the present and the future, though they are more long term. “Where will I go to college? Whom will I marry? My career? Where will I live?” In all this time, there is little thought of the past.

When we are working and raising a family, there is not enough time to think of anything but  the present. Juggling the demands of job, home, children, commuting, and money, we are just too caught up with getting through the next day, the next crisis. If we think at all about the past, it is to think how much easier life was ” back then”.

It is only after the halfway stage of life, when the past is longer than the future, that we begin to think more and more about the past. Some call this “nostalgia” which the dictionary defines as “ a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”  A good definition, but what exactly is it that we long for?

It seems to me there are several components to this desire and they can be characterized as follows: ( Note that these are not arranged in any particular order. They vary from person to person and from time to time)

1.A yearning for a simpler time. No one can deny that the present provides more material gratifications … but it is also much more complicated. Our role in the order of things seems much diminished. To some extent, it may be that when we were young, our personal world was more circumscribed and this led to a feeling of security.

2. The way we were. It is a feeling that hits us particularly when we look at old photographs or videos. Did I ever really look  that young ? Did I really have that much hair?Was I really so slim?  The feeling also hits us when we see others doing what we once could do, but no longer can. Playing tennis for two hours without stopping. Eating and drinking whatever we want. Returning on an intercontinental flight late on Sunday evening, going to work the next morning and putting in a full days work. Sometimes, particularly among those who defined themselves by their jobs, by what they did, there is a wish for the days when they still felt relevant.

I remember a visit to  the military academy at West Point many years ago when I was not yet forty. A pack of cadets was running laps around the track and as I saw their lean yet  muscled hard bodies and I thought what it must be like to be so young and fit. I said it out aloud without conscious thought and my mother, then in her sixties, mused” If that is what you feel, imagine what I must feel like.”

3. Times when we were happy and carefree. Summer vacations. Playing with my cousins till dark. Picking out books at the school library. Coming home in the rain and getting soaked. Railway journeys with my parents. Those were happy times or were they? The mind remembers only the good things, the happy times in the past, and it chooses to forget unhappy events. No matter. What is real now are our memories; they are all that count.

4. Places where we were happy. I often think of my grandfather’s house. Constructed of reddish laterite blocks, the expansive verandah rubbed smooth and oh so cool even in the heat of summer, set in a garden with fruit trees: mango ( 17 0f them, all different strains), jackfruit,  almond , breadfruit,  cherry ,  sapota and many , many coconut palms. I loved everything about it.The upstairs room wherever no one ever went except myself and where I found a treasure trove of old bound copies of Readers Digests from the forties ; the sand pit; lying on the cool stone of the verandah listening to the patter of the summer rain on the Mangalore tiles and watching it drip from the eaves onto the crotons and form little puddles. The last time I visited , in 1997, there was no trace of my grandfather’s house… it had been demolished by developers and in its place were multi-story apartment buildings. Inevitable, I suppose, but wrenching .

5. People we used to know and whom we miss. Not just those who have passed on but those who have moved away and out of our lives. School mates, college mates, colleagues and old friends. Even those whom we still meet  fairly regularly are different. They have changed and so have we; there is less in common now.

It helps to accept that change is constant, that we cannot live in the past. With this understanding, the past can be a source of pleasure rather than melancholy as we relive the happy times. And, of course, we have to focus on the present and  build up a store of happy memories because they are what will sustain us in the future. Today’s happenings can be a source of our future nostalgia.

 

( In a previous post, I had described Pico Iyer’s experiences with the art of stillness. While on a long flight to L.A, he noticed that the passenger in the seat next to him kept absolutely still, though alert, during the entire journey. She was a German lady from Hamburg on her way to Hawaii and she told him that being still allowed her to still be fresh when she deplaned. Definitely worth trying, I thought to myself ….)

Last week, I was on a trip to Las Vegas when I remembered my resolution. It was a good time to see if stillness would work for me. I tried , I tried really hard — for all of ten minutes —  before I gave up.

Stilling the mind is not easy, even for an experienced meditator … which I am not. After 10 minutes I fell back on my usual inflight amusements… crossword puzzles and the inflight map.

I almost never indulge in crossword puzzles– except on flights . Then, I am tethered to my seat and it’s a good way to pass the time. Not for me the inflight movie; I don’t care to watch it with headphones and on the tiny screen. Nor does the news interest me; I get enough of that elsewhere.

Of course, not just any puzzle book will do. Too many of them are difficult to handle on a plane. Small size  books with small squares. Puzzles spread over two pages, the box on one side and the clues on the facing page. Extra difficult puzzles which are frustrating rather than relaxing. Books that are difficult to open out. All these I try to avoid.

The books I prefer have decent sized lettering, the puzzles are complete on a single page, they are not too easy or too difficult and the books are easy to open out. If they are spiral bound it’s a bonus. This time, I  picked up 101 Crossword Puzzles for Dummies which meets all of the above criteria except that it is not spiral bound. In spite of the title, the puzzles are not easy ( or perhaps, this says something about me!). I spend between 20 and 30 minutes on each puzzle and, if I have not completed it I give up and look at the solution. I find that about three-fourths of the time I am able to finish a puzzle; the rest of the time I’m able to complete between 75% and 95%.

When I’ve had enough of the crosswords, I turn to the inflight map on the TV screen in front of me. This tells me where exactly the plane is at that moment, how far we have traveled , the time and distance to our destination, the outside temperature, the altitude and sundry other information. All these are source of never ending interest. Most interesting of all is the plane location  which shows which state we are currently flying over. I like to read the names of the cities on our flight path and cudgel my mind to remember what little I know about them. For instance, this time when we were flying over Nebraska and I saw the words North Platte, I remembered the North Platte River which has been characterized as “ a mile wide and inch deep.” It’s a description that can be applied to certain people and means  “ jack of all trades but master of none.” This set me thinking about other American idioms which are fresh and pithy and oh-so-descriptive.

I also marvel at the sizes of the various states. Those out west are huge and take a long time to fly over but, east of Ohio, it seems like we pass over the states in a flash. This time, I got to thinking about how casually we accept the wonder of airplane travel. One of my friends told me that, when he came to the U.S in 1959, sea travel was the only option. It took him weeks for a journey that we now accomplish in less than a day. Thinking over the changes that I have seen my lifetime leads me to consider what travel was like in bygone days. I have read that, in the 18th century, it took travelers three days to travel by horse and carriage from New York City to Philadelphia, a distance of about 90 miles that we now do in less than two hours by car. The size of the western states also causes me to reflect on  the pioneers who settled the west. It must have been a hellish journey for them in their Conestoga wagons, plagued by heat or extreme cold, always under the threat of attack by Indians or by outlaws, always worried about their supplies of food and water. Too few Americans, whether they are native-born or immigrants, think about their history or care about it. But let me not go off on a rant….

I find that, at the end of a five or six hour flight I am still quite fresh. Longer than that, it can be a problem because of the cramped seating, the meals which arrive at strange times, the incessant journeys to the toilet by oneself and others in the same row, and the need to reset one’s internal clock.

I wish I could  still my mind as Pico Iyer describes, but it is not something I can do. Perhaps if I work at it. For now, I am perfectly happy with my crossword puzzles and  inflight maps, thank you.

 

These too are Sports

I enjoyed watching the Masters Golf tournament on TV last weekend. I don’t always watch golf but the Masters in a class by itself in terms of visual appeal. The venerable clubhouse, the pristine fairways and the manicured greens are a sight for sore eyes. And then there is the golf itself. I was rooting for Jordan Spaeth as I have been since he first burst on the golf scene and it appeared he had this one in the bag until he faltered with victory in sight. In the course of two holes, he went from being  six strokes in front to three strokes behind. But even his collapse did not detract from my enjoyment of the game.

There are those who claim that golf is not a” real” sport.” These critics sniff that” Golfers don’t have to run or jump, and the ball they hit is stationary!” Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean it is any less of a sport. In my book, a sport ( as distinguished from a game or a pastime) is a contest of skill or strength that attracts spectators. A game, on the other hand, is of interest only to the participants e.g rummy, mahjongg and all board games. A pastime is generally a solitary activity, a ” pass time” e.g bouncing a ball against a wall, playing solitaire etc. These may not be the dictionary meanings of the words but they work for me.

The idea that sports have to include running or jumping or hitting a ball coming at you at 90 miles an hour is not something I subscribe to. Golf does not require any of these but it does involve skills, both physical and mental. It takes physical strength and skill to muscle the golf ball 300 yards down the fairway, to dig oneself out of a bunker or to sink a putt on a wickedly rolling green. And it requires probably more mental fortitude than any other sport. Every shot is a potential pitfall and , in the case of pro golf, tens of thousands may be riding on that next shot.

Another sport that is often derided as a parlor game is table tennis or ” ping pong” as it is  condescendingly called. Yes, ping pong is a parlor game but table tennis is a sport. To know the truth of this, you should watch a competitive match being played by good players. YouTube has any number of videos including world championships and European championships. The lightning quick reflexes and the agility displayed by these top class players are unbelievable.

As with everything, one does not appreciate the difficulty of a sport until one tries to play it oneself. I  found that out when I tried hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range. Try as I did, I simply could not get the ball to go where I wanted and the longest drive I managed was 125 yards and that only once. As for putting, I understand how it can frustrate duffers so much that they fling their putter into a pond.

No one can convince me that golf and table tennis are not sports.

Aids to Meditation

I had written in my previous post about how meditati0n has become more and more popular in the West. However, I was still surprised by a (free) app called Insight Timer which my wife was turned on to by a friend. It contains a variety of meditations for different purposes ( sleeping, relaxation, eating etc.) some of which are just music, others just words and still others a combination of both words and music. Each meditation is timed and there are meditations of different lengths ranging from a few minutes to over half an hour. Many of them appear to have been composed by English people though there are quite a few by Americans. There are even some in languages other than English. What is also cool is that as you participate in one of these meditations you are made aware of the number of other souls from all over the world who are listening to that exact meditation at the same time. The number is usually in the thousands.

Not all the meditations are of great quality or , I should say, will necessarily appeal to everyone. Sometimes the music is too jangly. Other times, the volume of the music drowns out the speaker’s voice. But you will find something that appeals to you if you search the various choices available.

The one I like best is a sleeping meditation narrated by a woman. She has a very soft, gentle voice and uses words like ” calm”, ” relax”, ” let go”. It is a very effective meditation because I fall into a deep dreamless slumber within a few minutes. I have never yet heard the end of it because by that time I am fast asleep!

In my previous post, I had mentioned how meditation has become almost mainstream in America. There are many courses that one can attend and a large number of people- both young and old- do. Recently, my wife even discovered a free app called Insight Timer which is  worth exploring. Using the app, one can try out any number of different meditations. The app allows one to explore meditations for stress reduction, for walking , for eating, for sleeping and for relaxation. Some are just music, others are verbal and still others a combination of music and words. They are in various languages, though the vast majority are in English. Surprisingly, many of them originate in England. An interesting feature is that as you are doing a particular meditation on the app, you can also see how many other people around the world are doing it at the same time . The numbers are usually in the thousands.

Not all the meditations will appeal to everyone and they are uneven in quality. Sometimes,  the music jarring is jarring; other times, the background music almost drowns out the words. At still other times, the voice does not appeal. However, there is enough choice some that are bound to appeal to you.

Personally, there is a sleeping meditation that I find very effective. It’s in a very soothing English voice and contains words like ” peaceful” , ” calm”, ” relax” etc. I know that it is very effective because I have never yet listened to the end of it _ I am fast asleep in minutes, well before the end. This particular meditation begins by cautioning people that they should not listen to it when they are driving…. definitely very good advice !!

 

 

Thursday’s news  included a story about how Bullard elementary school in Kennesaw, Georgia was obliged to modify a yoga program for its young students because of parental objections. The parents were protesting what they believed was the encroachment of non- Christian beliefs in their childrens’ education. In particular  they objected to Namaste ( the Indian form of greeting with the palms of both hands pressed together) and to their kids’  coloring books including  the “mandala”( an Indian symbol representing the cosmos). There was also an unsubstantiated rumor ( later proved false) that healing crystals were being used in the classes.  The school authorities are modifying the program to allay the parents concerns and have assured them that crystals are not part of the program.

The story took me by surprise because I had thought that both yoga and meditation  were so widespread in America as to be considered almost mainstream. I thought things had changed from the early seventies when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi first introduced Transcendental Meditation to the West. For some years after, there was considerable resistance to the idea  but it quickly lessened; people realized that meditation was not contrary to their religious beliefs and that it was an antidote to stress. Within a few years, you had the phenomenon of Catholic priests traveling to India to study meditation so that could use it to benefit their parishioners.

BTW, I was very happy to read the responses by readers of that news-story. Almost every single one of them excoriated the parents for being ignorant and closed minded. Some respondents even revealed a surprising amount of knowledge about yoga and meditation.  While I don’t endorse the parents stance, I can empathize ( but not sympathize) with them. People in places like Bullard GA  have not been exposed to things like yoga or meditation which we in the big cities or on the coasts now take for granted.

Yoga in America followed much the same path as meditation but its acceptance was quicker. Today, there are literally thousands of yoga classes available to those interested. All types of yoga courses are available including Bikram Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and Laughter yoga.

Necessarily, to broaden the appeal of yoga and meditation to non-Christians, it is their physical aspect that is stressed. Yoga is seen as a means of improving one’s flexibility and fitness while meditation is intended to relax the mind and as an antidote to stress. In fact, the reason yoga/meditation was introduced at Bullard was that it would help students to deal with anxiety about their academic performance and to cope with bullying and anger issues . It is really sad to read that elementary school students have to deal with such an environment. Instead of parents worrying about their children being subjected to non- Christian beliefs, they should be concerned about the mental health of their children as they try to cope with the stresses of school life.

 

 

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Golden Ripples

About Food, Travel, Sports , Books and other fun things

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