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Yesterday, both Pari and I were going through a terrible back ache. I was at the kitchen counter, when she came downstairs and stood behind me. I was telling Avie (my hubby) this time my back ache is acute. Immediately, Pari said, “mamma, mine too.” I asked, why Pari, you didn’t sleep well last night.” She replied, “no, I got my periods a while back.” It was the first day of our moon cycle. It was the first time, ever since Pari got her periods (nearly nine months back), that we both started bleeding within an hour of each other. And, I sighed in my heart and thought, if only we would have made these diet changes earlier on, she wouldn’t have had to deal with the ordeals of menses at her age (she’s less than 12 now. Was 11 when she got her cycles).

Early menstruation, heavy bleeding, PCOS (polycystic ovarion syndrome), Acne.

This was my story of growing up. At age 11 as I got my periods, my radiant skin started becoming scarred with acne, plunging my self confidence down to pits. The abdominal cramps made me shiver and shriek. And the bleeding was so heavy, I would end up staining even after wearing a metre-long khadi towel folded up to form a huge bulge between my legs. It hampered normal activity, let alone playing, cycling or any other activity that a child at 11 would want to indulge in.

Growing up, I was also eating a milk-heavy diet – loads of ghee (clarified butter), curd, sweets made with condensed milk, a glass full of milk with ginger and a pinch of tea – morning and evening (we called it doodh chai or milk tea).

Now, what does my puberty problems have got to do with milk, eh, you might sneer?

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It’s not often that I share recipes here, even though I’ve felt compelled at times. I’ll be honest, part of the reason why I don’t is it’s not all that exciting to write down a step-by-step ingredients and process kind of article. It’s not real writing for me – something that stimulates me.

And yet, I feel I should share my kitchen and dinner table with you all, especially since we’ve gone vegan and brought about other interesting changes in food. There’s so much innovation and tinkering happening in my kitchen. Pari, my 12-year old daughter, is passionate too, about cooking and baking. Check out her recent food post – vegan, gluten-free lemon bars.

Starting from no dairy to zero sugar to lesser and lesser gluten, and an array of millets, my kitchen is a versatile and dynamic character.

So, starting with this simple millet idli recipe, why don’t I bring share more food and recipes to get us all thinking about food in all its wholesome hues, flavours, textures and value.

About this millet idli, you know when Pari, who’s not quite fond of idlis, told me, “this is the best idli I’ve ever eaten” and then went on to relish six idlis with a handful of chutney (dip), I knew I must share on the blog.

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Sufiana (will be four in Nov.) got out from the bed, while I was still asleep. This is how it normally is. She says, “I’ll go downstairs to Papa” and walks out closing the door after her. Avie usually wakes up an hour before me. He never lets go of his morning rhythm that constitute oil-pulling, drinking a glass of warm water with lemon juice, yoga, acupressure, playing with Sufiana in between and then both having some fruits together. (I do some of these health-related activities every day but not all!)

How I wish I would get up early too. I mean, really early. I’m a night person – I feel in sync with the depth of the night – makes me feel and think better. Hence, most of my writing, reading, listening to music happens after the world has gone off to sleep. But then, I also love early mornings. Although, I hardly wake up that early to gaze at the sky in all its divine hues of dawn, I earnestly feel that’s the best time to be one with nature and her creator.

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For the past few days,  I’ve been immersed in an ocean of sadness, and have no idea how I’m going to emerge from this darkness. While it’s festive season all around here (in India), I’m engulfed in heartache.

Because I’ve seen. And, now I know. And, feel. It’s a shame I didn’t know until now. I didn’t know all my life what those innocent animals have gone through to have provided for my food, my desserts, my ice-creams, milk shakes. Or, for that leather bag I once owned (I have preferred cloth bags for many years now) and those footwear I wore.

What we see on our plates as meat or eggs or in that glass of white liquid called milk is far removed from what goes on behind in the industrial-scale animal farms (even in the so-called *”humane” farms) or in the slaughter houses. (*read – the myth of “humane” treatment). When we put that food (from animals) on our plates, we know it’s from an animal. But, that’s as far as we go in making the connection.

Why can’t we connect with their pain? Is it because we don’t have to slaughter the animals we eat? Somebody else does that. Or, because, we haven’t peeped into those ghastly arenas to see for ourselves what those animals go through? Because I didn’t deprive (physically drag away) the calf of her/his mother’s milk, I could merrily consume all that cow’s milk for curd and cheese and what not, until an year back? Because we don’t get to see the chickens crammed into cages the size of filing drawers, seven-ten per cage, living there for an year or more after which they’re routinely starved for two weeks to get them ready for another laying cycle? That egg on our plate doesn’t narrate the fate of the mother hen….

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Given that Pari (nearly 12 now) has been mostly unschooled (except for an year of kindergarten), she’s had choices always. Choice to eat when she’s hungry. Choice to bathe any time of the day or night! Or, not have bath when she totally didn’t feel upto it. Choice to eat pasta for all three meals. Choice to share her mind with me – the good, the bad, the ugly. Choice to quit a dance/music/any class when it started to feel dull and drab. Growing up in an environment where they have always been their own unique selves, they are finely tuned to their sensitivities – both Pari and Sufiana. They catch people’s vibes in an instant and can make out a sincere greeting over a fake one. Pari will come up to me and share her feelings of been disregarded when another adult walks past without a greeting or eye contact. She never liked to be patted on her head or pinched on her cheeks even as a 2-year old kid. And, things like complimenting somebody to just please the person or trying to make herself extra love-able is not her thing. My girls have a voice of their own. And, their fiercely thinking personas.

So, when our vegan journey started, we could have gone all out saying “you can continue eating all that you were eating before, as much as you were eating before. You have the freedom. It’s your choice”. Or, we could have said, “no you have to stop, this is the only way. We know the old ways were not right.” Honestly, both the approaches would have been lose-lose.

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The one wisdom we’ve gleaned from months of experimenting, reading, discussing about our new food choices (our unschooling food journey) is that foods that cause acid create a breeding ground for various illnesses in our bodies. Like I’d mentioned in my previous article in this series, until about 6-7 months back, the frequency and intensity of my headaches was paralyzing my normal life. I had gotten sick and scared of how often I had to take a pain-killer when my headaches got unbearable (and I have a very high pain threshold, mind you).

It had become pertinent that I looked hard at the food we were consuming. But well, we were mostly eating what sounds like an incredibly healthy diet – organic, whole foods, less oil and spices, freshly cooked. What more could one ask for! And yet, my health was deteriorating.

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It was the first day of Ganesh Chaturthi in our neck of the woods, and we enjoyed making special dishes (offerings) for our favourite deity – Ganesha. For some of you who may not know about Ganesh Chaturthi, it’s a 10-day festival celebrated among Hindus who like to bring home (or celebrate publicly) an idol of this elephant-headed God, who’s also considered Vighna-Harta (the remover of obstacles) and Buddhi Pradaayaka (the one who grants wisdom/intelligence).

We’ve celebrated this festival every year with much enthusiasm, but this year felt different. The enthusiasm was there without a doubt, but there was a heightened sense of sincerity and inward connection while we did the whole puja and how we went about the whole day.  I can’t precisely say why I felt so. I could sense that within me, could read from my hubby – Avie’s – disposition, and also in how the girls went about their day.

Now, when I think back, I see that I did not put excessive thinking into what I’m going to offer to Ganesha as ‘prasad’ (offering of sweets/desserts etc). I felt like making a wholesome meal for our family and felt it natural that Ganesha would partake in the feast.

I saw Ganesha as a special and loving visitor to our home and I didn’t see why He would not enjoy the whole meal and only just the sweet things – as is the tradition.

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If not cow milk, what? Many of you asked this pertinent question when I recently published the article, ‘Why No Milk for Us, Unraveling The truth One Disease at a Time.’

Dairy has been such an integral part of our culinary traditions as well as palette that it’s hard to think of delicious food (and nutrition) without the use of cow milk and its products.

But, the truth is, there are some amazing milk alternatives that are not only exquisite but also nutritious to the core.

Hence, I thought why not start sharing some dairy-free milk alternatives, and the process behind making those.

One of my favorites is coconut milk. Being in Goa, where coconuts trees can be seen as far as your eyes lead you, it also makes ecological and economical sense to make coconut milk a staple.

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Last week, I shared with you how ever since we started unschooling, its been about making conscious choices all along. Unschooling led to un-jobbing and then conscious birthing, no vaccinations, moving from Delhi to Goa and many other small and big choices we continue to make that align with an effort to live intentionally.

Going vegan was one such choice. When my health was spiraling downwards what with life-long anemia, laboured breathing, heavy monthly bleeding and finally hypothyrodism, I decided I’ve had enough. My hobbies, projects, gardening – all can take a back seat for a while, while I listen to my body and act on it.

You see, when we channel our intention and spiritual energy into doing something earnestly, forces align, people appear in our lives out of nowhere to help and guide, events coincide, stories come out in the open and basically things start falling in place. This has been true for me for years now.

And, we uncovered a whole host of truths and myths – about acidifying and alkalizing food, dairy and the dairy industry, proteins and carbs, raw foods, about the digestive system and how it functions.

But, the biggest of them all was about dairy.

And, I’ll get to it starting this article – one disease at a time.

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When we started unschooling Pari at 5 yrs and a few months, hardly ever did we fathom that questioning this one aspect – education – of the standard mainstream society would lead us into questioning another and then another and yet another as we would go on deschooling (slowly setting ourselves free from the school-ish way of thinking and acting), discovering and evolving ourselves, our core values, our way of being.

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