Hi. My name is Andrea.
I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on flat land that rendered the blue skies very large. The Bow River runs through the city, and we lived on a ridge overlooking it. The ridge was my playground. The image below of Fish Creek Park, near my childhood home, is etched in my mind forever.
I have memories of when I was very young, taking a great interest in the details of the dirt, and feeling like I could see worlds contained within it. I would poke at the ground with my little stick and observe. I was a quiet child. I think I preferred the natural world to people.
I lived a sheltered life. For example, I met only one vegetarian before 18 years of age. I remember she was eating lettuce, cucumber, and mustard sandwiches for lunch. Pretty weird, I thought.
I moved to the West Coast to attend university, and I had no trouble meeting vegetarians there. Things were pretty different.
After my second year of university, I took a break to travel to Central America for two months. It was my first time outside North America, and the trip changed the course of my life.
Traveling on a shoestring budget, I had a chance to experience firsthand how people in the developing world lived.
I was extremely moved by their simplicity, generosity, faith, contentedness, and kindness.
My observation was that people were genuinely happy, despite not having material wealth. I didn’t know what to do with myself because I knew my heart was nowhere near that pure.
On my return to Canada I became obsessed with the notion that there was no true kindness or compassion to be found.
Love and kindness always seemed to have strings attached. Self interest, selfishness, and the profit motive appeared to be destroying our humanness, and I was concerned.
I went back to school, and took classes in resource management and biodiversity.
What I learned in the classes only seemed to confirm my understanding that people would not do the right thing. We fish until there is no fish left in the ocean, and we cut down old growth forests until there are none left to cut.
We know it is wrong, but we can’t agree on a sustainable approach. Nobody wants to lose anything.
I became disillusioned. I didn’t believe there was anything I could do to make the world a better place, something I had wanted to do from an early age. I felt like I didn’t have the strength to put my heart into something and get nowhere.
I decided to just stop and look inside. I asked myself, what was the real source of my discontent? What was the real cause of my suffering? How should I live my life?
Eventually, I discovered cooking. While spending long hours cooking whole foods to nourish myself, I started to feel better.
Looking back now, I see that what I was really doing when I started to cook, was learning to listen to myself. I was realizing that there were more dimensions to life than what I read in the papers or watched on television.
I started to avoid processed foods. I did not consume black tea or coffee. I lamented that junk food was cheaper than fruits and vegetables, but always felt good quality food was worth it. I volunteered at an organic herb farm, and a biodynamic farm. I took a course on the healing power of herbs.
I discovered wisdom about the healing power of food and I practiced it.
Honoring My Teachers
There are two teachers who shaped my thinking about food a lot, and I would like to honor them now.
The first is Paul Pitchford, author of “Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition.” His over 700-page book presents traditional Chinese understandings of food and their impact on our health and wellness.
I referred to this book so much, that one winter evening standing at the stove watching a bubbling pot of lentils and wondering what to do for my career, it suddenly hit me. I could cook!
How to begin? I flipped to the back of the book and called Paul.
I ended up going for a work exchange at Heartwood Institute Wellness Clinic and Oriental Healing Arts Program in the coastal mountains of Northern California, where Paul lived and taught.
There, I helped to cook organic family-style meals for about 150 people.
Paul impressed upon me that changing your diet means changing your life. This is wisdom I have been gradually acting on since.
The second major influence was “A Life of Balance,” by Maya Tiwari.
Life of Balance is about Tiwari’s journey to health after cancer by rediscovering her ethnic roots in Ayurveda, the ancient science of life from India.
Ayurveda has a powerful idea that living in harmony with nature is the recipe for wellness.
According to Tiwari, “Foods are a means of re-learning nature.”
I was struck by her “food sadhanas,” or practices, that allow “wholesome living to permeate our being.”
An example of sadhanas from the book is to practice harmony in eating, which says you should never eat when upset, or the food will turn sour in the digestive tract.
Both the Chinese and Indian systems agree that balance is the measure of good health, and imbalances are signs of disease.
Further, for the body’s organs to operate optimally on the physical level, our emotional and mental bodies must also be in harmony.
This is the oh-so-important holistic connection that is lacking in most information about food and health.
Among the other food philosophies I studied was “Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking,” which emphasizes food culture, and the importance of approaching food with a calm mind. Before cooking, wash the face, tie back the hair, and check your mind.
As a cooked, I gradually learned to pay attention to the quality of the cooking implements I used, how I choose to prepare the food for cooking, the order and timing of ingredients used, and the overall texture, color, and presentation of the food.
I learned that only when I approached cooking with careful respect was I able to give careful attention to the balance of the food. That meant I also needed to have respect for myself, for the natural world, and for the people around me.
My discovery of the healing power of mindful eating was indeed life-changing for me. It launched a fulfilling seven year cooking career, and gave me direction … but I was still searching.
One day, in early 2000, when visiting the Green Cuisine vegetarian restaurant in Victoria, I saw a handwritten sign for a “high level Qi Gong” practice called Falun Dafa. It was free to learn, and I immediately decided I would try it.
I had learned some other types of Qi Gong before, and I liked it because it was something I could practice by myself. It is basically a slow moving exercise that is different from physical exercise in that it works to balance and strengthen the non-physical body.
Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a complete system that transforms the body spiritually on many levels. In addition to the exercises and a meditation, it includes a profound teaching that helps balance the mind by explaining a lot of things about life and the universe.
Falun Dafa’s teaching says that the principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance are in all matter, including soil, stone, and the human body. The purpose of the practice is to assimilate to truth, compassion, and tolerance, and return to one’s true self.
This really resonated with me. As I practiced, for the first time in my life, I felt like I was able to match my mind and heart when speaking or making decisions. I would question (and still do) is this truthful? Is it compassionate? Am I being tolerant here?
Looking inside and practicing truth, compassion, and tolerance are the most important things in my life, and they inform everything else I do.
After learning Falun Dafa, I returned to university, and completed my degree in the Humanities. I entered the media industry and worked as a manager, editor, and food journalist. I also completed a Masters in Journalism at Columbia University after moving to New York.
My New Indian Family
I got married in 2011, and fate reinvigorated my passion for vegetarian cooking.
My husband is South Indian, and the software engineer behind this website:) His parents are from the southern province of Tamil Nadu, and the vegetarian food his family eats is mainly from this region of India.
I quickly learned that I had not tried South Indian food before, and I preferred it over the typical North Indian fare you get in the West.
Indian food is exceptionally diverse, and what many Americans have encountered is just a tiny part of the cuisine.
The first time I watched my mother-in-law cook in her home kitchen, I was deeply moved. There is nothing like an Indian mother’s love for her family expressed in her cooking.
She starts cooking very early in the morning, and serves her husband and sons in accordance with each one’s particular needs.
One gets more crunch, another less spice, another clarified butter (ghee) as an additional item.
What dedication! What traditions! What simple, beautiful cuisine! I fell in love, and in awe.
I also learned from my mother-in-law how to make roti, dosa, sambar, chutneys, and homemade butter and yogurt. Some of these were recipes I had tried in my 20s when I first started cooking, but without success.
I needed to be shown, and it needed to be in an authentic setting.
It felt like an initiation into a traditional way of life. It felt like I had come full circle from the true kindness I experienced in Central America.
After returning home, I quickly got to work in my kitchen, attempting to master recipes from the classic repertoire of Indian dishes, starting with South Indian cuisine. When my new family came to visit, and I earned their approval for my cooking, and I was greatly encouraged.
I am now convinced that Indian vegetarian food is a tremendous addition to a sustainable North American vegetarian diet. The variety and health qualities of the ingredients, coupled with the stimulating flavor and aromatics, is perfect for vegetarians.
The Hudson Valley And My Garden
A few years back, I moved from Brooklyn to the Lower Hudson Valley, and reconnected with the nature that I love.
Around me are quaint old homes and mature trees, estate gardens, historic buildings, patches of exposed bedrock, old rock walls everywhere; birds, bunnies, and squirrels with playful antics; and skies large and visible enough to comfort me with its ever-changing canvas of clouds and colors.
After settling in our new home, I lost no time starting my first backyard garden—yes, my first garden! I never had an opportunity before.
I planted tomatoes, eggplant, jalapeño peppers, red sorrel, rainbow chard, and lots of herbs, like sweet basil, purple basil, Thai basil, lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon thyme, chocolate mint, rosemary, and lavender.
I could not believe how bountiful everything was, and I was encouraged to prepare for a major garden expansion. That year I had two garden beds and started everything from purchased plants. The next year I had 13 garden beds (600 square feet) filled with over 50 varieties of plants I started from seed.
For my 2018 garden, I have incorporated green manure as a crop cover, and I am determined to fertilize naturally using recycled plants to expand the garden’s variety and design.
I can’t wait to share my experiences on this website, and to grow my knowledge together with you.
It is my greatest hope that you will find inspiration here to deepen your own personal connections to what you eat. I also hope through practice you will discover greater peace and well-being.
I would love to hear from you. Please send me a message via the contact form below.
Happy cooking! Read more about Buttered Veg.