Healing comfort foods really is comforting for this nutrititionist
When a loved one passes, it’s more than heart breaking. Our lives stop as we mourn. And months, even years later, we pause because we just miss them so much. For nutritionist Sangeethaa Siva her mother’s death devastated her and put a halt on her cooking – an activity the two would do together regularly was just too much.
“My mom was the most amazing human being I have ever been blessed to have in my life,” says Siva, who was 25 when her mother passed. “She was my best friend, my confidant, my security, the very first person to fall in love with me and she always made me feel very, very special.”
But, as she found out, their bond in the kitchen was too powerful to avoid.
About her mother’s influence on her cooking
“My mom was a creative cook,” says Siva, who works with foods and healing comfort foods. “We would work together on creating healthy substitutes to Sri Lankan recipes.
“I still crave her food. There was so much love in her cooking. You couldn’t miss the family meal. There was no way I could have said I was seeing a friend rather than coming home for dinner. I’d just be instructed to bring the friend,” she adds. “My friends used to come to eat my mom’s specialties more than to see me.”
What happened to her love of food
“After my mom died, I was so haunted by the trauma of her absence I worried I’d never remember her as the woman she had been: Stylish and headstrong, always speaking her mind. When she appeared in my dreams, she was always sick,” says Siva. “There were days when I couldn’t bear to step into the kitchen at all, so weighty was the pall of her absence. Gradually, I steeled myself to eat simple foods that offered maximal comfort, foods I ate as an infant.
Her #BHmoment: Getting back into the kitchen
“One night, not long ago, I had a dream. I was watching my mother cooking paneer curry. I then started remembering the little tricks and techniques she would tell me. She looked healthy and beautiful,” Siva tells her story. “Learning Sri Lankan food has helped me with the grieving process. I can still smell my mom’s cooking. My mother was my portal into the world of the senses. She taught me to cook without recipes, to experiment freely with whatever ingredients were on hand. Then I started cooking.”
What Sri Lankan foods means to her
“When I lost my mother, Sri Lankan food was my comfort food. As I struggled to make sense of the loss, my memories often turned to food,” says Siva about how she began her relationship with healing comfort foods.
“My mom never taught me how to make Sri Lankan food. When I would ask how much water to use for rice, she’d always say, ‘Fill until it reaches the back of your hand.’ When I’d beg for her roti recipe, she gave me a disorderly ingredient list and approximate measurements and told me to just keep tasting it until it ‘tastes like Mom’s.’”
Siva recreates these recipes, playing with spices and other ingredients to make healthy versions of the staple dishes.
Her passion for cooking, her passion for healing comfort foods
“In the kitchen, I learned a locus for vulnerability and intimacy, a space where my mother could be most herself. I put myself back together again in the kitchen, summoning those moments when the wholeness of our family was so plain and joyful it didn’t hurt. Remembering her as she was before, relearning the tastes and textures and foods that she gave me. Now, when I make Sri Lankan recipes, I feel her in me.”
“I want to teach kids mostly, how to cook and gain that independence and self-confidence,” she says. “I have come to realize that in this life the only valuable commodity we have is time.”
And that is why she spends her time in the kitchen.