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April 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

You are too honest, she said.

Well I have been very transparent with my life with people I’ve met. I have been quite real with everyone and the downfall is, people do get tired of listening to your stories. Over the week I’ve reflected on friendships that have failed to withstand the rough weather. How often do we go about our lives to reach out to others only to see a two blue ticks, a “read” with timestamp and ill-reciprocated responses? It’s not the best feeling in the world. You try again but no respond. It leaves you wondering why you even bother, what you have done wrong or perhaps they honestly are just busy with their lives.

But we always say we make time. The priorities change and everything kind of just moves on. I hold on to things and people dearly. There is a certain sentiment that a moment shared between two people or more that I somehow appreciate. While the souls or physical existences connect, and intertwined but are ghosts to my daily routines now.

Coming to terms with distant bonds have been hard. In this city I had wished to call home but have not seem to established a sense of belonging. I have had them and still have very found memories of laughters and joy with hose that had withstand the tide, I am so grateful for. But leaving and coming back to them, doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.

We sat down at the dining table last week and questioned authenticity. I just could not bring myself to accept the fact that some people are what we thought of them to be. Our minds love to play tricks on us, we delude ourselves into anything possible and anything factual. Facts and fiction walk a fairly thin line depending on which end of the spectrum you are on.

But the truth lies when the blue two ticks don’t get a respond, or a phone call doesn’t get returned, you ought to close that chapter and start a new page.

Almost two years ago, someone told me I couldn’t be what I am. I couldn’t run a space, I can’t write a cookbook, I can’t run because I have no endurance. I shouldn’t be vegan, I shouldn’t say what I feel and I shouldn’t be what I endeavour to be.

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This morning, I ran for an hour and almost hit the 10km mark. Last week, we finished off a menu that was solely written by women. I am still on a plant based diet and living just fine.

We are all afraid to disappoint others’ expectations. It takes us a while to realise that we are deluded with our own imaginations formed by our upbringing or exposure. We are all so fearful of failing or falling short. Not meeting deadlines, not getting to the finishing line etc, the greatest disappointment is nothing but letting yourself down.

“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The weekend is here again, soon it will be gone. The little pet project I have been working on is setting off. There won’t be weekends on weekends, and breakfast on breakfast. I start to wonder the lives others’ live. For those that enjoy the daily 9-5 and holidays, there are those at the other side of your world that make those hours for you. But instead of letting that get to me too much, I’m starting my own set of routines for after beer runs, yoga sessions and quiet sharing reads.

The kitchen crew I work with now are mostly Malaysians. And as much as I can’t love my own country’s political federations or climate (please don’t say one malaysia), I do love our people’s resilience to life. They also have a very good sense of humour when a crisis hits. The jokes are on us but we love the attention, perhaps that is why we have the best Comedian on Earth.

So here goes to the new page.

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You can be my beurre noisette to form a great cookie or folded into a simple muffin batter. Thank you for always being a text away, sharing your day and making my day count. Looking forward to form a community of modest cooks and great humble beginnings. We have been procrastinating this for way too long!

April 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

This week has been a long ride. There were undeniably questions of how long can one trust the process, how honest are we to ourselves and etc. Well, it shouldn’t be that doubtful but the energiser bunny’s battery level was depleting.

I had spent an insatiable amount of time with food (more than the average joe). I eat it, I write about it, I research it, I plan other people’s meals, I cook/bake/alter etc. I could go on until the cows come home. After a while I start viewing it not as a mean but either a form of art or business/passion. One could have a bad relationship, just like spending too much time with one person and you could end up wanting space. The roles are mixed up and somehow along the way, the respect or trust can be lost.

There was a time where I wasn’t very proud of myself and the relationship with food turned sour. I lost all interest with eating/cooking. I was frail, insecure about my decisions and was pretty low. Tired of feeling so exhausted all the time, I took the step to take responsibly of my own well-being. It started with preparing meals at home, buying groceries, salads, making sandwiches, changing white rice to brown rice and eating less processed/refined junk. I brought food wherever I went. There was really no excuse of “oh I can’t find healthy food”,because I was prepared. It was then I realised that if you could take ownership of your own health then why can’t you do the same with the other aspects of your life? We often victimise ourselves into bad situations but don’t we all fall short to see that the situation is negative, because we allow ourselves to let it be.

So my friends can have a bowl of deep-fried tofu/fishballs in chicken stock curry egg noodles while I have mixed rice, sautéed vegetable with fresh salad leaves. They can make fun of the diet, they can decide not to hang out, they have chosen to order more vegetables, they have taken notice of their own diets and some have even wrote to me how I’ve changed theirs. Somehow I am thankful for those that have been more aware of themselves. As much I would love to say, you are what you eat, you truly are, how you eat. If you are the sort that eat chicken breast and can’t run a mile, you are that piece of meat as it is. If you are the sort that takes time to enjoy marinating the piece of meat and have it with brown rice sautéed in garlic or oriental greens, perhaps you would learn to appreciate a different side of life. After all, people who love to eat are always the best people.
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Soba noodles with ceylon spinach: Veggie Stack, replicated from an original tofu veg stack made by a best friend from Canada who loves his bacon way too much for his own good

 

With the people who loves food, comes with different sort. Eating is an intimate activity. Perhaps this is why there are people we constantly declined to be on the same table with and those who are always there when we have our daily staples.

I came home late last evening after hours in the kitchen, just in time for dinner and enough time to bake for the next morning. I reflected on these thoughts of how food has altered my way of lives and those around me. I thought of how small I am in making a change and how much more I want to be. More change soon to come but for now, here is a vegan, gluten-free banana bread made with chia seeds, walnut powder, sorghum flour and coconut oil. I am leaving out the recipe for another day.

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April 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

perhaps this was lunch or breakfast, whatever the time was, a bowl of oatmeal with coconut flesh, mango, fresh berries and ground cinnamon chia seeds
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There are many reasons why I put up with the long hours, the kitchen bullshit, the shenanigans crew and irregular produce or perhaps nature. There are many reasons why day after day I go back to the station, lay a wet towel, a chopping board, and sharpen the knife before cooking. There are many reasons to stay in this spot, but with different cooking styles and a change of crew; yet feeling the familiarity of creating something together. Watching all the little actions, discipline attitudes, loud laughters with tired eyes and knowing somehow when everything comes to one, we are doing something good. There are no reasons to why I will ever stop doing this because deep down, it’s to feed people honest food and simply see the smiles on their faces.

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I want to be honest in everywhere.

I had Indian vegetarian dinner with a chef friend sometime last week. While we decide over what dishes to share, I took a chance to question his hospitality experiences. We had worked in mutual establishments but at different times and with different crew. Nevertheless, we had gained a somewhat passionate drive and indebted deed for these places for we were young and were just starting out our service journeys. There is something we couldn’t point out that drawn us here, but we realised that at some moments, the chefs/owners had made us feel like “nothing”.

Yes, nothing. Nada. Empty.

They made us feel like we didn’t belong there or simply didn’t care to be there even when we put in 60-80 hours a week/dedicated our hearts to the space. Why? Well perhaps it was their egos that we didn’t feed or they couldn’t accept that we challenged their mottos. I often hear stories of crew saying they “fit in” or “left out”. How come we always want to be part of something when we couldn’t even accept ourselves or even discover ourselves yet? Why are we always seeking from approval from others while we couldn’t even approve of our own doings/feelings? More so allow others to do so?

While exploring this topic, we walked around the bustling Little India’s vegetable vendors. The produce seems to be more vibrant and energetic, much like the people and vibes they portrayed. After almost a decade in this industry, we realised that we had to be honest with ourselves. That came with courage and vulnerability, like oil and vinegar whisk together to form a beautiful gentle vinaigrette.

I no longer feel the need to impress customers but to make them happy. I had always been the plain Jane who bakes everyday cake loaves and imagine serving a community that makes my family. I want to be the butter to their breads and cup of daily joe. Following trends and moving forward may seem appealing but there is so much more about history of food and authentic cooking/baking techniques I have yet to master. Hence, ordering the classic aloo gobi masala and paneer with an all-time-favourite soft chapati.

Somewhere down the line, I found happiness in being presently focus on making this philosophy count.

Somewhere through that night, I realised my personal life was taking a shift. I no longer feel the need to change for someone. I no longer feel so upset when they don’t feed themselves well or be responsible of their own health (well I try to). If they can’t help themselves, you can’t help them. The realisations have to come from within. That being said, I am thankful to be surrounded by motivated crossfit ladies/long-distance runners or smoothie nazis/cleaner eating buddies. One step at a time, one step at a time.

Much like this morning’s surprised breakfast (after a too early 8km run) at Woodlands Sourdough. An old regular who got his & his wife’s hands dirty and opened a heartwarming bakery. Long fermented bread dough with patience, homemade almond butter with sea salt/honey and honest coffee. I can only hope for more like-minded people for a good change.

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March 29, 2017 § Leave a comment

Every year, at particularly this time, a sunken feeling falls deep into the heart. Every year, I wonder where I’ll be and what he would think of what I’ve done. In some ways, I’ve looked up to him and in many ways, I still do. Sometimes, I don’t think I know him enough to fully understand who he was or what he has done. But he has left me an enormous amount of knowledge and a good friend, who seems to remind me that we should appreciate every moment and make them count.

I know I always remind my readers to focus on the moment and be thankful. It can be quite tiring for those eyes to read the same lines. But time after time, I find myself falling into selfish hands or filthy mouths or, ugly hearts and getting hurt because I continuously give people chances for them to change.

The truth of the matter is, they don’t change. You have to make the first move. That means planting a good seed and nurturing it from the very beginning with all your heart. Give it time, effort, care and understand it. It’s little branches, the fallen leaves, the innocent buds and how they blossom under your watchful eyes. After all, long-lived trees make roots first.
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Perhaps for those who have been reading this page know this story. But for those who doesn’t, nine years ago, we lost my dear cousin to myocardial infarction. Also known as an heart attack. There were no signs. Just a phone call before breakfast and off we go to the hospital; by sunset, we were planning out his funeral. The next few days were a dazed. I remember her saying to me, it’s as if everything has to continue but for me it stopped.

I stared at blank spaces with tired eyes thinking of the last dinner we had. I watched people went through their routines and wondered if they noticed something different. I definitely did.

It was her birthday. His was the following day.

A man of irony and good wit. A women of unconditional love and forgiveness. They were always the pair we looked forward to hanging out on lazy evenings. It wasn’t easy being together. No matter what couples portray to you, even the happiest one goes through the toughest times. They had their fair share but they gave their word to one another.

And she still does.

Happy Birthday E. Life is still wonderful in many ways.

the start

March 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

There is

no name
no tune
no thoughts
no destination
no space
no second clock
no colour
no taste

– beginning

The start wears the purest form of Mother’s Nature beauty. The air is crisp and clear. The breath carries an innocent whiff and exhale itself into the atmosphere. Bringing truth to a better light.

The prelude bears clarity and serenity. It is simple to feel. It resonates a silence smile a new born carries. It grows like a seed nurture into a tree.  It brings waves to the ocean. It becomes.

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A few weeks ago, I started a new journey. And like all new beginnings, it came with a closure. I ended my short stay in Yangon. The departure was inevitable. The differences seem to match like puzzles pieces, forming an unforeseen picture. Coming back to the island was only natural, and it seems like another new start after another, yet this time, everything seems to be aligned.

But before returning, the yoga community in Yangon invited us for a retreat at a beach town 6/7 hours away from the city. It took no hesitation for me to say yes. So off I went to another short excursion.

Ngwe Saung lies on the west side of Myanmar and has the front row seat to the Bay of Bengal. Since it is the best view, it would almost be a dishonour to hold our practice anywhere else but.

 
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Every morning, I arrived sheepishly at the open hallway. We start our day with a short meditation and an hour of vinyasa flow. As we meditate in the quiet, flashes of past memories come flooding their way through. Some were hurtful, some were very joyful and between the both, there were collisions of your own thoughts trying to play tug of war. Where should I fall? Where should you place your emotions? What is the outcome of falling into it? Can i get something out of this?

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 “A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My perception of truth lies in the depths of how honest I am with myself. It wasn’t so difficult to be at peace with myself anymore. Unlike previous struggles, this was different, it was genuinely rediscovering my own strength and knowing where my limitations lie. With that said, the practise has became somewhat easier with a clearer head space. It’s as if I have decluttered my own brain and made way for some physical strength and serious alignments.The lighter one feels the lighter the body is.

“The body is smarter than your brain.” We often outwit ourselves with pushing the limits. Can we stretch the calves an inch further during a downward dog? Can we hold in a three legged dog half a minute longer? Let’s try to extend the arms a little higher but soften the shoulders deeper on a lunge.

There wasn’t a moment where I didn’t want to just ease into a pose. I want to engage each reflexes with poise yet gain the resilience and flow with my heartbeat. The mat has become a place for comforts and challenges simultaneously. The union is like two friends meeting one another, the twilight moon meeting the sun right before it reaches the horizon. An occurrence we fail to witness yet happens everyday.

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The best part about rediscovering yourself is finding same kindled spirits who share the same perception. While we came from all walks of life, no culture, religion, race and gender differentiate us, one way or another, we meet at the mat and breathe the same air. Evenings were spent at cocktail bars laughing over Yangon life. The little inglorious daily activities that make the city unique to its own. Bad traffic, unhygienic manoeuvres, discrepancies and so on. One that seems so foreign to a life I live this moment.

I’m back in the +65 region again, with a new job, but still hanging out with my crazy kitchen crew and exploring a deeper relationship. Somehow everything seems to work out the way it ought to be just as it should, with time.

My current new boss is quite obsessed with fried shallots(eu chang,葱头油) . An asian delicacy and staple to any meal. Fried shallots on steamed fish, nasi lemak, fried shallots on plain rice, shallot oil is also used very frequently in garnishing any salads or finishing off a simple stew to enhance the flavours and brings a crisp texture. It’s something little but goes a long way.

After this morning’s workout, I bought some kale on my way home and immediately thought of tossing some in for a quick lunch salad.

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Kale, cashew cheese, cherry tomatoes, quinoa and fried shallots. Happy weekend folks

 

 

 

 

Movember

December 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

For the last 30 days, I’ve been on the move with a crew for a cause; well to be specific, men’s health. While others grow a moustache, host an event, donate or go for a ride; I joined my best workout instructor, Jev, to move for a month. He is known to program bootcamps that leaves us sweating or laying face flat on the floor. Every Saturday for the last 6 months, I joined Kilter Crew at Fort Canning for an hour worth of WOD & stairs. I have never felt so motivated to exercise in my life.

So when I heard that Jev is had started a team for Movember, it didn’t take me a second longer to join. I started the month with a stretch on the mat with my partner. He had promised me to try his very best to join me for this movement, despite being overseas.

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I have done yoga for the last 10 years. Somedays, I go through the motion of doing it without second thoughts; it is almost unkindly to not do a stretch or pose at some point in the day. Somewhere along the way, I did stop practicing yoga mentally. My body could move along the poses easily but my mind/heart were not in sync. I was quick to anger and get frustrated with little things. I pushed people and myself away. Through these little notches, I grew increasingly aware of my emotions. Seeking solace in mediations, new yoga classes, and motivated myself to step outside my comfort zone.

I started running a year ago. The first 500m was extremely difficult. I couldn’t even hold my pace and breathe consistently. My feet always kicked higher than they were meant too, leaving me with knee and hip injuries. My ex-boyfriend would ridicule me with my determination to run because I couldn’t even get the basics right. How could one learn how to run before walking right? Needless to say, I threw all the bad habits out of the window (including the asshole) and invested in taking 500m to 800m to 1km. I threw out the old pair of fancy running shoes and got to know my sole better by consulting the local running store; read up about distance running and motivated myself with personal stories.

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Since then, the morning/evening sun I look forward to waking up early or reserving my energy till the evening for a run. 6km/8km seems like a breeze and I am more determine to do a marathon just to check it off my list in this lifetime.

Half way through Movember, I moved to Yangon, Burma. There was work, but more importantly there is someone. And like all change, there come challenges. I lost my workout community. I lost my running routes. I lost the ability to mediate properly. What was it to sit still, close your eyes and focus on the breath? I became somewhat a monster to others and myself. Throwing tempers, feeling anxious, projecting an unconscious self to the world.

The negative state of mind, is an ego.

The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist. – Eckhart Tolle

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It was hard to turn myself into the cell of awareness. It’s a place of vulnerability and truth. No one likes to be told that they are wrong or are something they don’t perceive themselves to be. But at the same time, it is also a place of love and freedom. A place where you dwell your unconsciousness and make sense of your actions. That there is really no where else to be but the present moment; no one else but your own very self that needs to push all the clutter away and make way for pure light.

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I found a local yoga studio, Yangon Yoga House, which became my little sanctuary for quietness. The receptionist and yoga instructors became my little community of joy, vegan foodies and smiles. They have never failed to close a session with great closing lines and encourage me to feel lifted after a tired day.

I have also found a great workout buddy in my partner who keeps me grounded with not pushing myself too much. Our weekly routine to run around kandawgyi lake before a hearty dim sum breakfast meal, has became our thing. I am only hoping that these little steps and habits becomes our lifestyle; also bringing friends together and instilling a sense of well-being for others.

We close Movember at the lake with a short run and 30 pushups, 30 sit ups and 30 burpees.    The Move-mber team came in 7 for the National ranking. We are worlds apart but this has kept us close for the last month. A crew that sweats together, stays together.

 

Here is a lovely quote from my favourite yoga instructor, Jojo, who constantly check in on my practice:

 Give gratitude to this breath and this body, remembering it is the only one we get for this lifetime, so let’s treat it with the love, kindness and care that we would treat any other object we wish to keep for an entire lifetime. Be grateful for these legs and feet for carrying us millions of steps to where you are in this moment, to this breath for carrying us from this lifetime into the next.

hygge life

October 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

“For an introvert, you really make an effort to seek for a community.”, he said.

I protest of course. How could an introvert who spends most of her time finding ways to be alone with thoughts and the sun or a book, wants to be around people? How could someone who enjoy her own company more than sharing with awkward strangers enjoy big dinners or crowds?

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Meeting Pamela today from @Hyggesg put my partner’s words into perspectives. Pamela and I connected via Instagram, even though we already know some mutual friends before hand, it didn’t change the fact that I initiated a meet up via a portal with a perfect stranger. It is odd that for someone who craves space and get energised by spending time alone would want to stretch her social circle. I cherish silence wholeheartedly yet I spend my weekends either working out with a group of high active trainers or stretching out on a mat in a yoga room filled with new comers/regulars yogi practitioners, and look forward to having beers every Sunday evening with my kitchen crew. Plus, if I have the time, I would search for exercise events or community meditation/yoga classes and spend an hour or two surrounded with, new faces.

Some of my radical life events happen because of these meet-ups or initiating a conversation. Writing a cookbook, getting a job at a vegan bakery etc.. Nevertheless, I simply could not put it his words into my head.

Foremost, an introvert isn’t one who avoid social events. Misunderstood. We like people, if they are to our likings. Second, I usually spend the next two days hiding after a big party. All my energy has been drained on one occasion and if I may warn you, I will spend the next couple of hours getting agitated on anything that doesn’t seek interest to me or resonate to my heart. In another words, if I don’t reply you, wait; if I flare up at you, give me space (or dark chocolate, whichever is more convenient). Thirdly, we actually like meeting new people. Because I have so little in common with the other folks, when I find someone who share the same ideology or philosophy there is no turning back in conversations! You are literally in my books, for life!

Back to Pamelia and Hyggesg. She isn’t a coffee person, so we opted for a common ground where I thought would be resonate with her approach in cooking. Simple ingredients, cosy atmosphere, friendly service and quality. She walked comfortably into the dining room and we sat down in welcoming brown sofa. We shared our kitchen experiences: a fair amount of standing in front of sterilised stainless steel tables, cooking standardised food, surrounding ourselves with males/a testosterone filled environment and, unconsciously affecting our daily lives.

“I’m a home cook at heart”, as she takes the pillow from her back and starts to hug it in front of her chest.

We both are. The cookbook and this blog kept my sanity in check while I go through the daily grind. For her, it’s Hyggesg. Feeding people because deep down, beyond the french brigade, sous vide machines, and cling wraps; we cook because we enjoy watching people dive into flakey croissants that makes a new tie old or bite into a thick juicy burger that  oozes cheese out of their mouth and into their cheeks so that their partner/date can wipe it for them. Creating moments that hold a special spirit or a new ritual for a couple.

“For someone who’s been in the industry for ten years, how do you cope with juggling a balanced life?”, she wonders.

Unintentionally, we share the same impatience or quick temperament. The kitchen to us, is a very time constraint and precise environment. We are getting nagged and scolded all day long by our chefs. “Turn it off now”; “place the garnish on”; “that’s wrong, do it again “. If you watched Burnt the movie, the scene with Sienna Millar throwing the raw fish to her fish boy isn’t a joke, it’s just another day. A calm day is when there are no praises, just quiet cooking and the sounds of burners going on and off.

“Why are you so slow?”

I certainly did not anticipate for us to question that. In a commercial kitchen, we watch each other’s movements and dance in sync. So if one person slows down, the whole crew slows down and there is really no time for someone to slack off. But as time flies, you build a layer of skin that gets numb to yelling, shouting and physical pain. You desensitises yourself and become less human. A control freak.

Remember how Kat Kinsman spoke about Chefs with Issues at MADFEED? Cooks who work so much suffer with unspoken anxiety issues, alcohol abuse, depression etc…. It’s funny to think of how many of us spent hours in a confined space that strives for perfection become out of whack? Is it really worth it?

img_2114I have my first taste of bitterness when I skipped on a reunion dinner for  Lunar New Year. It was the very last meal I could have had with a close cousin, whom I lost to a heart attack.  I had to service to run. I fed families who spent their holidays together but couldn’t do that for my own. The years that followed had more of these empty chairs moments around the dining table. Birthdays dinner get postponed, no more lunch dates with friends (who eventually gave up texting me), family visits were off my calendars, holidays were packed with churning out extra cakes for customers, you get the idea.

Her current boss lost his girlfriend for five years because he was too focus on his job. Sure it got them a one star, but the sacrifice was his and if I could dig more, I am sure it was the crew as well. We do our fair share of sacrifices, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

As she sipped a cup of hot chocolate made with coconut water, she frowned upon knowing this might possibly be her future.

I reassured her that it is a choice.

The awareness you put into your daily life to differentiate what is personal, work and social becomes natural only if you decide to take an action to it. Many lose touch because they consume or get caught in the pursuit of perfection that they forget the imperfections of nature. Some can’t even remember why they even started cook at all.

Writing Kitchen Stories: being in touch with our feelings/moods and relating it closely to cooking; feeding the crew/my family; working out and meditating, are all steps to keep myself in check. Putting myself out there in the open waters, to be vulnerable and allow vulnerability. Gather a community or be part of one that strives on good causes.

While as introverted as we may be, we take time to express ourselves. To pause for a moment before talking and rather do the walks. Because we all know too well that less, is always more.

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*film photographs were taken in Burma earlier this year.

 

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