So long and thanks for all the hope


Farewell President Obama. Tonight’s dinner honors you with a savory pumpkin parmesan souffle, veggie chili with skillet corn bread, and poached fig, goat cheese and arugula dessert pizza.

Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 was the last day Barack Obama served a full day in office as President of the United States after eight years of tireless service. On Monday, Jan 16 we honored Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday. On Friday, Jan 20, we inaugurated a divisive, racist, bigoted, unpredictable, narcissistic, compulsive liar as president.

To honor President Obama and MLK, and my commitment to not normalizing hate, we held the inaugural dinner of Food and Fundamental Rights. The idea was to create something new and something unusual out of that which we know and to form community and a safe space. We would not normalize. We will not tolerate intolerance. We will not divide.


I thoughtfully selected people from different backgrounds. From different aspects of my life. Some I knew well. Some I had never met. But all were an integral part of my life in one way or another, whether they knew it or not. I invited them to join me in my quest to create art through food, create community as a safe haven and protest through the refusal to normalize.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr and the Women’s March on Washington On Jan 21, 2017, over a three course dinner the conversation focused on freedom and rights. Before the dinner, I asked all to read the pivotal “I have a dream” speech.

And in honor of Barak Obama’s last full day of service as President, I turned his favorite foods – pizza, chili and pumpkin chess pie into something slightly different than expected…because face it, nothing is as it appears anymore. President Obama dislikes sweets so we started with a savory pumpkin parmesan souffle.  As part of this blog series, you will recipes at the bottom of every post.


Delicate, rich and full of air – only the proper preparation of ingredients will cause this dish to form together. Only the right introductions and conversation starter would help this idea of uncomfortable dinner conversation rise.


We began with the light airy introductions and then moved into the flavorful part of the conversation: what “progress” has been made since MLK’s pivotal speech, how “progress” is defined and by who, and what parts of the speech have been realized.

The conversation was robust, open hearted, deep, enlightening and not your normal dinner conversation but to be honest it is hard to remember it all.  I am still learning to strike that balance between preparing and serving the meal while engaging in conversation. And then there was the wine factor – wine flowed well because the cost of entry was a bottle of wine. So I will give you brief highlights of the 3 hour discussion.

We hear the stats all the time that indicate progress – the rates at which people of color have moved into the middle class, have jobs, complete highschool education – as well as the election of Barack Obama. But is this enough? Has the actual dream “dream of a day when my sons and daughters will be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin” been realized.

Right away we dug into interpretation. One dinner guest aptly remarked that perhaps we are looking at the statement with a limited perspective. Human condition for all people of color – not just those with black skin – has improved over the last 53 years, when the speech was given. And while some may interpret the statement to only mean those of African American descent, MLK likely meant the sentiment to be all inclusive. But yet, we agreed that we have only come so far – our skin color does define us, not our character. For example, when people find out I am a scientist – Phake Doctor with a Ph.D. – there is no surprise because I am Indian and there is an assumption that Indians are typically doctors and engineers. And look at the horrible comments a lady as classy, educated and dignified as Michelle Obama has had to endure over the last eight years.

We spoke of how much of American culture is adopting other cultures – from words to music. How the origin of the blues has been forgotten and slavery minimized by some white conservatives. As the conversation was deepening, we moved into more hearty food.

For the main course instead of a meaty chilli, I served a veggie chilli in honor of Michelle’s healthy eating initiatives (and because I am vegetarian) served with a skillet cornbread. Slow cooked over 8 hours, simple ingredients because a spicy, complex, hearty stew. A melting pot. The cornbread was simple yet the perfect balance of sweet, salty, fat, moistness and good old American corn grit.


We talked about the origins of dark colored skin being synonymous with “lesser than” or “evil” – and we could not pinpoint it. We recognized that throughout history and throughout cultures worldwide – even Indians, Japanese and others – try to keep their skin light and white because dark skin is not respected. We spoke of mixed race kids and how people make assumptions based on skin color – like people automatically assume that since my skin is darker and my daughter’s is white that I am the nanny even though she looks like me.

One thought that was brought up was the idea that darker skin is usually found in warm/hot climates and there is a bit of a slowness in hotter climates. Not that people are slower in thought or education – but life moves more slowly…talk slower, slow down actions, etc. And this is sometimes associated with “lesser than.” Bringing it back to food, we know that cooking food does help our body process food more quickly and efficiently there by reserving a lot of energy for the brain. There is a belief that cooking food may have helped humans evolve quickly. And in warmer climates, people may not be as likely to eat cooked food as often – perhaps opting for fresher, cooler, rawer ingredients as they cool the body or perhaps because it is just to too hot to spend time by a fire. But then the food may take more time to digest and thus energy is reserved for digestion rather than the brain. And the brain does require a lot of fuel.

We spoke of our backgrounds – how our lives have changed depending on where we lived. For example, how I have always been an “other” not fitting into white america, but not put down as much as black people until 9/11 happened and suddenly there was the assumption that based on the color of my skin, I must not be American born and must be up to no good. We talked about how our lives changed under Obama.

One thing I thought was interesting is the concept of having to live the life of the struggle as a person of color vs viewing it from the outside. When one dinner guest who happens to be a white heterosexual male suggested that it did not matter that Trump is President because eventually the tide will swing back the other way and it was mentioned that he did not have to live the day in and day out struggle that others had to endure, he thought it was an unfair use of the race card. The point was understood though by both parties – while over the course of 200 years the trajectory may be upwards, over the course of 40 years for an individual person of color, life will be faced with struggles and trials…which defines the life of that person. Broad sweepings ideas of upwards are great from a historical perspective, but the every day life of a person does matter. And having a person who promotes whiteness from the highest office in America sets the lives of individuals alive today backwards.

Tough talk. Fully bellies. But it was time to add a bit of sweetness.

Finally, we ended with a dessert pizza, because in not normal times, it seems appropriate to have a not normal dessert. I combined sweet, salad and cheese into one course. I poached dried figs and prunes in port, spices and sugar.


Using a whole wheat dough on a pizza stone, I topped it with olive oil, the poached figs and dates, goat cheese, honey and a pinch of himalayan salt…baked the pizza…


…and then topped it with arugula.


These foods don’t seem like they would fit together. But neither did we.

And it was a perfect union.


Sweet. But not too much. Creamy. Flavorful. Fresh. It came out better than even I expected.



We ended with a look forward…what do we plan to do in 2017 to not normalize and help realize the dream. It got people thinking and discussing. I will only mention my goals for 2017. One is this dinner party to discuss fundamental rights over a thoughtful, purposeful, exquisite meal. The other is to help the poor. Continuing to volunteer in a homeless mission to serve breakfast once a month with my CrossFit buddies and to individually give my time to tutor women in a homeless shelter downtown in math and English so they can pass the GED and get a better job.

This brought up the concept of community – the importance of community that can help us organize and activate…and give back. People find community in many different ways – churches, school groups, etc and one of the dinner party guests was feeling like he missed one of his previous communities in which he participated in various forms of volunteering. Community is what we are trying to build and maybe one day, some of them will come with me to volunteer at a shelter downtown.

Overall I think this was a success. I am not sure how I will document and proceed with this blog, it is a work in progress. What matters is the engagement, creation and  not normalizing hatred and I will continue to document the journey.

This was a kind note from a dinner guest:

“Thank you so much for your wonderful hospitality and thought provoking discussion. I think it was a wonderful success in that it brought us together in a spirit of listening to perspectives we usually don’t come across. Your food brought the spirit of creating newness, which is what I think we are all reaching for. How to create a new understanding from what we have been handed? That is the definition of art, at least to me. And I think you managed it.

There is much that is painful about being alive and sentient these days, but I think embracing it in our own ways without resorting to cynicism or tribalism will be the way forward that tempers the pain, and channels it towards creation versus destruction. How to do that without losing sight of our ideals and core values is going to require an almost constant vigilance; and I think, an awareness that these values are also dynamic and must remain alive to the rapidly changing world. I am reminded of this daily in my own work…

…What you’re doing with building community and reaching out in service is exactly what we need and mirrors my own understanding of the sensibility that we need to adhere to, if we are to come out of this morass any less fractured and broken as a society.

…I hope we can continue to forge this community and expand our circle of compassion wider with each step.”

Thank you to all my participants in my inaugural dinner. Thank you President Obama for your years of service. Thank you to you for reading this far.



Pumpkin Parmesan Souffle

  • 1 cup fresh Pumpkin or butternut squash puree –  roast squash in oven, remove flesh and pureed with veggie stock until smooth. Note canned puree will have a distinctive flavor that is not pleasant.
  • 4 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 2 tsp sage, diced thin
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 Tbs all purpose flour
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 5 egg whites (no grease, no yolk, no fat touching the whites)
  • cream of tartar
  • grated fresh nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup grated parmesan + extra
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease large Ramekins with butter. coat the sides with salt and parmesan, remving the excess. Set aside.

Carefully separate the egg yolks from the whites, making sure the whites are not contaminated with any fat or yolk – otherwise they will not whip to a firm peak. Set bowls aside.

Warm up heavy cream in a saucepan. In a separate small saucepan, melt butter adding sage and shallot. Cook for 5 minutes.  Add flour and whisk vigourously and cook for about a minute. Add heavy cream and whisk until mixed together – will form a gooey mixture. Remove from heat. Temper in egg yolks whisking until incorporated.

Add pumpkin puree, parmesan, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Mix well.  Taste to be sure it is well flavored and well salted – the egg whites will dilute the salt and salt cannot be added after.

Add cream of tarter and a pinch of salt to the eat egg whites. Beat with a hand or stand mixer for 5-15 minutes until glossy and forms stiff peaks. Do not overmix. If undermixed and not properly whipped, the souffle will not rise.

Scoop 1/3 of egg whites into the pumpkin mix and fold in gently continue to fold in egg whites until well mixed but do not over mix.

Pour mix into ramekins. Tap ramekins against a flat surface to remove air bubbles. Sprinkle with parm. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve right away.


Slow Cooker Veggie Chili

  • 1 cup farro (uncooked)
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 2 cans kidney beans (15 oz), rinsed and drained
  • 2 pounds (about 10-15) fresh plum tomatoes, diced
  • 30 oz fresh, canned or jarred tomato sauce
  • 24 oz vegetable stock
  • 4 oz IPA beer – or just use veggie stock
  • 1 small green chili, diced
  • 2 Tbs chili powder
  • 2 Tbs ground cumin
  • 2 Tbs oregano
  • 1 Tbs salt + extra
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Toppings: shredded cheddar  or jack cheese, thinly-sliced scallions, sour cream, pico de gallo, avocado

Add everything to your slow cooker – mix well. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into a bowl and top with toppings.

Skillet Cornbread

  • 1 1/4 cups coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Oil or butter to grease the skillet

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Place a 9-inch cast iron skillet inside the oven.

Place dry ingredients – cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda into a large bowl and whisk until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk in the heavy cream, buttermilk, and eggs. Whisk in melted butter.

Combine wet and dry mixtures and mix into a batter.
Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven.Grease the skillet with oil or butter. Pour the batter into the skillet and bake 20 to 25 minutes – until the center is firm – make sure a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 -10 minutes and serve.

Poached Fig, Goat Cheese, Arugula Desert Pizza


  • 10 dried mission figs
  • 5 dried prunes
  • 1 cup tawny port wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, sliced in half, seeds loosened with the back of a knife, keep the bean pod
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 5-10 black peppercorns
  • 3 slices of orange peel (use a peeler on an orange)
  • Whole wheat pizza dough – can be bought from many health food stores or Trader Joe’s
  • 3-5 ounces goat cheese
  • 1-3 Tbs Honey to drizzle
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • pinch of himalayan pink salt
  • handful of baby arugula
 Add port, water, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean and pod, cloves, cardomom, peppercorns, and orange peel to a small pot and bring to a boil over low heat and stir. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add figs and prune and simmer for 20-25 minutes until liquid reduced to syrup like consistency. Let cool to room temperature. Can be stored in fridge for a week.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F and place a pizza stone in the center of the oven. Place a small amount of flour on a work station and roll out pizza dough until thin. Remove stone once heated and place dough on stone. Brush with olive oil. Using a spoon, drizzle some of the reduced port wine sauce  on the dough. Break up pices of the figs and prunes and place on the pizza. Crumble goat cheese on top. Sprinkle salt. Drizzle honey. Bake for 10-15 minutes until pizza dough is crispy. Remove from the oven. Top with Arugula. Cut and serve.

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