Archive for November, 2010


ooTa is the Kannada word for “food” and, in combination with the Telugu word thinu (“eat!”),  it is probably the all-time most used phrase in our household.  The cute-sounding word covers everything from breakfast and lunch to snack and dinner and is even more adorable when uttered sweetly by the kids.  So naturally it’s our go-to word for the letter “oo.”

On the subject of ooTa, I recently saw The Future of Food – a documentary by Deborah Koons Garcia about genetically modified foods.  It proved to be a brilliantly informative polemic against the dangers of agribusiness and the corporations that seek to profit from GMO crops.  Garcia explains how GMO crops are produced (often by the use of viruses and bacteria), what the international community thinks of them (the EU bans most of them and has strict labeling laws), what the US government is doing about them (not much – not even in terms of requiring labeling) and what’s at stake for the future.

Interestingly, the catalyst for all of this was an Indian man by the name of Chakrabarty, who won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1980 (Diamond v. Chakrabarty) which held that a live man-made micro-organism is patentable – the first time that living matter was afforded patent protection.  This started the race for patenting seeds of crops – with huge profits for corporations and unintended misery for small farmers (who have been sued for patent infringement even for unintended airborne pollination).

You can watch the film for free on the website or Hulu, or you can purchase the DVD.

Top image:  “Fruit Sellers” by Shiva Kumar, available for purchase at All India Arts.


If you’ve searched high and low for bilingual books, you may already be familiar with Pratham Books – they are one of the world’s most influential publishers of bilingual children’s books in Indian languages.  With over 130 titles in virtually all the major Indian languages, Pratham has produced such witty and engaging titles as Too Many Bananas (about a farmer and his unwanted crop of sweet bananas) and The Woodcutter of Gura (based on an Ethopian folktale).  You can check out their list of titles (and availability in your language) here.

Pratham Books is an arm of the non-profit organization Pratham – dedicated to promoting literacy among children in India.  Founded in the slums of Mumbai in 1994 with UNICEF support, Pratham has launched direct urban programs and, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Read India campaign – an innovative, low-cost effort to reach the 100 million plus children in India who cannot read, write or do basic math.

Their US counterpart – Pratham USA – is an award-winning charity with a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator (the highest possible).  It was established in 1999 to support Pratham’s critical work in India and now has chapters in several U.S. cities.  We encourage you (and your kids) to get involved and reach out to their Indian peers this holiday season.

And if you’re in the Austin area, don’t miss Pratham-Austin’s Holiday Dinner on December 4thGnaana is participating in the event as a donor, so be sure to look for our package of products specially prepared for the evening’s silent auction.


Unless you lived in some urban, egalitarian, utopian community, you probably go teased when you were little – especially around Thanksgiving time.  “Indians” were the theme of many songs, crafts and activities – and there were several levels of teasing, from simple questions like “Do you live in a teepee?” to the more blatant, racist forms – my lease favourite of which was the yodeling (the “aw-wa-wa-wa-wa…,” coupled with flapping hands over the mouth).  Awful.

These days, even though most schools use the term “Native American,” I’ll bet the “Indian” word still slips out sometimes.  I only hope parents and educators are teaching kids to be more tolerant these days.  But whatever situation my kids face, I’d want them to be armed with facts and knowledge – the best defense as my father always says.

I chanced upon these 2 books from the our local library:  More Than Moccasins (a craft book with very simple, doable activities) which is worth purchasing and If You Lived With The Cherokee (this is part of series – the other books feature other Native American tribes).  The latter is perhaps a bit over-simplified, but just right for kids 4-8.

So, no, we are not “that kind of Indian.”

A Recipe For Wellness
Author: Guest Blogger

This post is authored by Dr. Jay Apte – renowned Ayurvedic physician and expert.  Dr. Apte is the founder of the Ayurveda Institute of America, AyurFoods and Herbal Care (one of the first companies to develop, manufacture and market genuine Ayurvedic food supplements in the United States).  She has also established a Health & Nature Wellness Center (in Northern California) and started schools in Houston, TX, Foster City, CA and Los Angeles, CA.  Dr. Apte is a past president of the CAAM and is on the NAMA board of directors.

Now a days, “health” is defined as the “absence of disease.”  Well,  that is not correct.  Health comes first before the disease.  Ayurveda agrees.  As a matter of fact, preserving the health of the healthy person is Ayurveda’s first goal.

Ayurveda defines health or wellness as the balance at Body-Mind-Spirit level.
*  Experiencing zest of energy, having a good metabolism and getting sound sleep at night are signs of physical balance.
*  Experiencing peace of mind and feeling happy and enthusiastic are signs of mental balance.
*  Having faith and a positive attitude is an (intellectual) spiritual balance.

With such a balanced state, you will enjoy life, your immune system will be strong and you will be disease free.

Let me give you an analogy.  Think about your car.  You take good care of it.  You fill the expensive gas, change the oil every 3-4 months and do the other maintenance work – so it will keep on running smoothly.  And it will take you wherever you want to go.

Similarly you have to take good care of your body – fill it with the right foods instead of junk or processed foods, give it a rest every night for 6-8 hours instead of staying up late, do oil massages periodically, do yearly Panchakarma to detox and cleanse the body, exercise and meditate regularly to keep it fit.  Then your body will also help you go where you want to go in life and achieve what you want to achieve.

You may change the car every 4 years or even every year.  If it breaks down, you may fix it, but it will not run exactly the same as before.  Unfortunately you can’t change your body in a lifetime – you get it only once.  Even if you fix it by treating the diseases or doing the surgeries, or changing the parts, it will not run as smoothly as before.  So you should take utmost care of it?

You probably won’t be able to concentrate at work with severe low back pain or insomnia?  You likely won’t enjoy gourmet food with digestive problems or eating disorders.   You won’t be able to hike and bike if you have chronic fatigue or pain.  Then why not put your health first?

Here is the recipe for wellness:

Serves: 1                      Calories per serving: 0

*  3 meals/day
*  20-30 minutes of morning meditation and Pranayama (breathing exercise)
*  1 hour of exercise/yoga
*  6-8 hours of sound sleep
*  Following the daily routine

Directions:  Combine all the ingredients and savor your health.

In old days the grandparents used to pay attention to everybody’s health.  I remember my grandmother who was the center of our family.  If we had a stomachache, she used to give us a pinch of Ajwan (a digestant spice) and in an hour, the stomachache would disappear.  For cold or congestion, she had a glass of ginger tea or turmeric tea ready.  If somebody complained of a headache, she would put a ginger paste on the forehead.  These home remedies were very effective.  Unfortunately these days, grandparents have disappeared, so it is parents’ responsibility to make some time for the healthy routine.  They have an added responsibility.  They have to adhere to healthy habits themselves, because they know the kids don’t do what they tell them to do, but kids do absord their parents’ habits.  After all, actions speak louder than words.

In our Wellness Center, we bring this ancient wisdom back into our modern life and help our clients to follow the healthy routine.  We offer Ayurvedic consultations, yoga classes, meditation classes, cooking classes and educational seminars to educate people about healthy habits.   Remember, ”An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

© 2010 Dr. Jay Apte

(image by Google images)

Let Food Be Your Medicine!
Author: Guest Blogger

This post is authored by Dr. Jay Apte – renowned Ayurvedic physician and expert.  Dr. Apte is the founder of the Ayurveda Institute of America, AyurFoods and Herbal Care (one of the first companies to develop, manufacture and market genuine Ayurvedic food supplements in the United States).  She has also established a Health & Nature Wellness Center (in Northern California) and started schools in Houston, TX, Foster City, CA and Los Angeles, CA.  Dr. Apte is a past president of the CAAM and is on the NAMA board of directors.

Tap into Ayurveda and see how your food can be your medicine!

Many diet fads (such as low/no fat diet, Atkin’s Diet, South Beach Diet, etc., come and go, but an Ayurvedic Prakriti (Body Constitution) – specific diet will always stay and be the right answer for your health and wellness.

Ayurveda looks at the qualities in the foods rather than counting the calories.  For example, foods loaded with cheese, cream and sugar are “heavy” in nature, while popcorn and dry toast are considered “light.”  Salad greens are “cold” while ginger, garlic, a glass of wine or salts are “hot” in potency.  A stew is moist and baked chicken is dry.  Which foods are right?  Everything is right or wrong, depending on your prakriti (Body Constitution).

The key is to balance your predominant dosha/s (qualities which make up your prakriti) with the right qualities of foods.  If your body constitution is Kapha-predominant (heavy and cold in nature), then light and warm foods are your answer.  Some slices of toast and a glass of ginger tea is a perfect breakfast choice.  A grilled vegetable or chicken sandwiches as lunch and then rice, dhal soup and baked veggies as dinner will help to alleviate allergies, colds and congestive headaches.  You will start to lose weight and feel more energetic.

If your personality is hot and angry (Pitha-predominant), cool foods will be your right choice.  That means more leafy greens and sweet fruits, mild spices and low salt.   Salads, grains, fruits and vegetables with mild spices such as cumin, coriander, fennel, cardamom, basil or mint or cilantro will help you keep balance and keep heart burn, acid reflux, skin problems and irritability at bay.

If you are like a busy bee – constantly buzzing around, feeling restless and listless and dry all over, with symptoms such as dry skin, dry lips, constipation, etc. (Vata-predominant), warm and moist foods will be your soul food.  A bowl of oatmeal cereal will be an ideal breakfast, and a bowl of hot soup and stew or gumbo is a good lunch.  Dinner can be rice and dal soup and steamed veggies.  Such moist and warm foods will balance the dry, light and cold qualities of Vata and also help prevent and treat anxiety, worry, constipation and aches and pains in the body.

Ayurveda also recommends other rituals about eating:

1.  Eat freshly prepared, home cooked foods.  Fresh foods are rich in Prana – the life energy.  Pranic foods are healing.  When you cook, you put in your positive energy – making the food Sattvic.  Sattva is clarity, purity, light.  Sattvic foods heal the Body and lighten the Mind.

2.  Eat seasonal vegetables and fruits.  Mother Nature provides right qualities in fruits and vegetables in the right season.  Cool salad greens are in abundance during hot summers.  Heavy and sweet squashes and pumpkins make their appearance in bitter cold winters.  Make a trip to the farmer’s market to buy your seasonal fruits and veggies.

3.  Eat three meals a day and zip your lips in between.  Fruit is OK in between, but not a bag of chips or cookies.  It takes 5-6 hours to digest food.  Small, frequent meals cause indigestion, which may produce a toxin called AmaAma becomes the cause of many diseases.

4.  Pay attention to your digestive fire:  Agni.   Agni digests the food.  If it is weak, the food stays undigested.  If it is too strong, it burns the food.  Your tongue is the mirror image of your digestive system.  Watch your tongue in the mirror every morning.  If it looks pink, you have a good digestive fire.  If it has thick white coating, your agni may be low.  You may have to pay better attention to foods you eat.

5.  Eat mindfully and with proper frame of mind.  Savor the food and enjoy the taste and texture.  Eat in a happy mood.  If you are angry while eating, you are swallowing the anger.  If sad, you are ingesting the sadness.  So eat with the proper frame of Mind.

6.  Feed somebody before you eat.  Share your food with the person who is with you.  If you are alone, feed your pet, water the house plant or throw a few bird seeds in your backyard.  It is like feeding the other Soul.

7.  Bless your food before eating.  The grains, the veggies and/or the animals are offering their life to become your food.  Respect them.  Also think about the hunger in the world.  Do not waste the food.

8.  Chew each bite 32 times.  Why?  Because you have 32 teeth.  Chewing improves digestion and absorption and does not spike the blood sugar too high too quickly.

In conclusion, eating is more than filling a bag.  It is the ritual for your health.  Know your doshas and create balance with the right foods.  Ayurvedic text has rightfully described the importance of food in the following verse:

 “If you are eating right foods, why do you need medicine?  If you are not, what is medicine going to do?”

© 2010 Dr. Jay Apte

(image by NCTFN)



This post is authored by Dr. Jay Apte – renowned Ayurvedic physician and expert.  Dr. Apte  is the founder of the Ayurveda Institute of America, AyurFoods and Herbal Care (one of  the first companies to develop, manufacture and market genuine Ayurvedic food supplements in the United States).  She has also established a Health & Nature Wellness Center (in Northern California) and started schools in Houston, TX, Foster City, CA and Los Angeles, CA.  Dr. Apte  is a past president of the CAAM and is on the NAMA board of directors.

You may feel, “Our life is so busy, how can we incorporate ancient Ayurveda into our modern life?  We don’t have time.”  Incorporating Ayurveda doesn’t mean adding 4 or more hours of work into your already busy day.  On the contrary, Ayurvedic lifestyle practices make your life meaningful and fulfilling.  More importantly, doing so also frees and creates time, which you can use to enjoy and relax.

As mankind has progressed from the Stone Age to “Modern Age,” we have unfortunately regressed from our source and have been increasingly living at a more superficial level.  From human-beings we have become “human doings” – constantly doing something.  We have lost the touch with our Soul.

You should be aware of the interconnectedness of your Body-Mind-Spirit.  Body expresses what Mind harbors.  Mind implements what the intellect (Spirit) directs.  When all the three are in harmony – we become productive.

Let us talk about the daily routine.  Ayurveda recommends:

1.  Waking up early and meditating for a few minutes.  People have a hard time waking up early in the morning because they stay up late at night – watching TV or working on the computer.  If you hit the sack around 10.00 PM, you can easily wake up around 6.00 AM. Early morning meditation – even for a few minutes – will help you get into a meditative state for the entire day.  You become mindful of all the activities, get more things done in less time, with less stress and less worry.

2.  Eating fresh food every day.  You can prepare fresh food early in the morning or at least a night before.  Make use of the wonderful gadgets – slow cooker, rice cooker, pressure cooker, etc.  Homemade food is definitely more nourishing than eating TV dinners, canned or frozen foods or eating out.  Remember you ARE what you eat.

3.  Eating mindfully.  Do not to eat on the run or while working on the computer or watching TV.  If you sit at the table and eat mindfully, less amount of food will satisfy you more.  Less food in the system means fewer calories, less undigested food and fewer toxins in the body.

4.  Exercising at least an hour every day.  But who has the time?  No matter how busy you are, you should make time to head to the gym, take a brisk nature walk or do yoga with your buddies.  At work your Mind gets stressed out and your body becomes sedentary.  Exercise is exactly opposite –  it works up the body and relaxes the Mind.

A note about seasonal change:  As the fall begins, the weather starts cooling off.  Along with the falling leaves and trees getting dry, our skin, hair, eyes and lips show similar changes.  During the fall season, periodically massage the whole body with warm sesame oil.  The warmth and moistness of the oil lubricates the skin – making you feel nurtured and relaxed.  You may be busy on weekdays, but try to incorporate this practice in the evening or on a weekend.

These are just a few examples of Ayurvedic lifestyle practices – small steps you can incorporate right now into your daily routine.  Nourishing your Body, Mind and Spirit is the key to leading healthy, happy and productive lives – a holistic approach that has been propounded by Vedic civilization since over 5,000 years ago.  You can prevent many health issues, keep down medical bills and avoid the adverse effects of the pills.

You can get an individual Ayurvedic consultation done, which will recommend lifestyle changes customized for your own body constitution (Prakriti).  See for yourself how your life will change.

For more information on Ayurveda, please visit:  What is Ayurveda?

© 2010 Dr. Jay Apte

(image by Google images)

A Diwali Birthday
Author: Aruna

What do you do when your daughter’s birthday falls on Diwali?  You throw her a Diwali Birthday Bash of course!

My little firecracker turned 2 on November 5th – the actual main Diwali day – which probably won’t happen for another 20 years.  So we decked our house with lights and garlands, ordered a traditional Indian feast and had a grand evening with our family and friends.

Since there are no “Diwali Birthdays-in-a-Box,” I got crafty and handmade most of the decorations, including the party hats (pictured above).  I used a selection of festive, whimsical papers from Paper Source and craft stores – the theme being blue (my daughter’s favourite colour) with accents of red, gold and silver.

We started the day with a Lakshmi/Ganesh puja performed by my 4-year-old (using the Gnaana Puja Tutorial, of course!) and grandparents.

Made these pinwheel garlands using a tutorial from Ally Scraps – a modification of the origami garlands we used last year.

Took advantage of early inventory of Christmas decorations – hung glitter balls from the ceiling using ribbon.

For our guests:  hand-decorated sweet boxes for the adults (decorated using vellum paper, ribbon, a large circle craft punch and a rangoli-inspired stamp) and coordinating polka-dot gift bags for the kids.

Set-up a kids table lined with kraft paper and with colouring pages and play-do.

For food, we had papdi chaat, vegetable biryani, mango dhal, eggplant-pakora curry, veg korma, etc., etc., with all the mandatory naans, chutneys and pickles, and a selection of sweets and chocolates.  We had a table stacked with dandiya and played a mix of Indian and kids’ music (yes, you really can dandiya to On Top Of My Pizza).

As darkness fell, the luminaries we set-up around our pool and our front yard really dazzled.

We ended the evening with the requisite sparklers and small firecrackers, as the Birthday Girl relaxed with delight.

And here are a few pictures of my darlings, taken earlier in the day by the talented Katrina Jayne.  If you’re in Southern California, she’s terrific to work with!

image © 2010 Katrina Jayne

image © 2010 Katrina Jayne

image © 2010 Katrina Jayne


(or Hindoostan as it was called by some way back when).

I love maps – old, vintage, historical maps.  I’d love to hang them all over our library in our new home.  I could stare at them without end – wondering.  I even went through a period where I’d give them out as presents.

They’re an indispensible tool for learning about a country’s history.  I hope my kids will stare at them some day.

Vintage maps of the world and of every country, region and city seem to be available all over the web – there are “originals” (which term can have a different meaning depending on the seller), prints, poster, giclees and reproductions available on eBay, Amazon and specialty map stores.  Of course, caveat emptor.

Pictured above is an 1888 I.S. Ciare map offered by Bananastrudel – interestingly colour-coded to show French, Portugese, Danish and British Territories, as well as the protected states and the 3 presidencies (Bengal, Madras and Bombay).  Below, is an 1835 Bradford version.

Below, steel-engraved 1861 Malte-Brun map, with original hand outlinging and colouring.


If you’ve ever been forced to over-eat at Aunti-ji’s house, I’m sure you can relate here.  This is Pankaj, our Lotus-Character-Logo, stuffed on Diwali feasts and sweets.

Hope everyone had a happy and safe Diwali!

Diwali at School
Author: Aruna

Wanted to share these fun cone “sweet boxes” I made for my son’s class.  Filled with a yummy favourite – jellybeans.

Happy Diwali!

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