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The pandemic and the triumph of the fruit bowl

Changes in fitness and food habits have been defining characteristics of the pandemic. Having a fruit-loving, recalcitrant preteen helps

Healthy fruit bowls with nuts, dry fruits and yogurt make for a meal any time of the day. (Photo: Alamy)

"Tomorrow, I promise.”

“I know I promised, but I am tired.”

“I feel like staying home today.”

“I won’t.”

It is not easy trying to convince a 10-year-old to come along for a run.

It’s not like I was entering her in a half-marathon, or a 10K or a 5K. It was, at best, 1K. Our deal was that we run eight minutes for the first week—with a break every two minutes—then take it up to 10 minutes.

We are still in week one—after two weeks. But I am not complaining. When she does come, it’s a pleasure to have your daughter run alongside. She is, depending on how out of breath she is, chatty or complaining.

I got her running because school is a distant memory, and her activity is limited to an hour of footpath football with two girlfriends and rambunctious neighbourhood boys. She claims to occasionally score a goal, but when I pass by, she appears to be waiting for the ball or tickling her doggie friends, a host of streeties living on the same footpath. I suspect the footpath is just a place to get away from parents, grandparents, the tyranny of online school, and hang with friends, which is fine of course.

What hasn’t changed during the pandemic is her appetite, which, while it hasn’t diminished, has changed subtly towards less chicken, more dahi (yogurt), less pork, more rice—and more of every kind of ice cream. In short, while she continues to love her mutton biryani like a good Cantonment girl—as we locals of old Bangalore are called—she is otherwise veering towards the basics.

This is not so bad because she is a big consumer of fruit. This allows me to conjure up a healthy fruit bowl with lashings of nuts, dry fruits and dahi (see recipe), which has become a family favourite and is quickly polished off whenever I choose to make it. It’s good as a first breakfast, a post-run snack, a pre-run snack, or any time in between.

I have not told her yet of the fruit bowl her mother used to have as a child—fruits drowned in condensed milk. Yes, oozy, super-sweet, super-unhealthy condensed milk. In fact, the child has never tasted condensed milk. There’s no particular reason. I suppose not many households have it around these days, and I never liked it.

In any case, I have discerned a quiet turn towards healthier—and, gasp—more vegetarian food over the course of the pandemic. If I discern this, there is much substance to it because I live in an area that has been and still is avowedly meat-eating.

But when an Abdullah invites me for a traditional meal and informs me he won’t be partaking because he is vegetarian, and a Pinto whose mantra was slow-cooking pork and lamb informs me the family has turned vegetarian—for now at least—then one must ponder about what covid-19 has wrought, aside from death and destruction.

In the Christian and Muslim households around us, I see a growing number of vegans and other vegetarians; I see the consumption of pork and beef reducing; and I see a general trend towards fitness and spartan living.

I think this is a fine time to take a step back and consider how our food and fitness has changed during the pandemic.

We always have a big stock of fruit at home and eat two large portions mid-morning and at teatime. We have always eaten fruit, but I think our consumption has increased markedly, as evidenced by the fruit bowl. I do not believe we are eating more vegetables than before. The wife is vegetarian, and that has ensured there is always dead plant life at every meal. We do, however, eat more home-grown salad. The kitchen garden has proliferated.

What does not appear to have changed is my consumption of dead animals. Indeed, I would say I am eating more pork and beef than I did previously. This may have something to do with the fact that the pandemic made me fitter: cycling everywhere during the lockdown, sweeping and swabbing the house; walking everywhere possible because traffic overall has been less; and learning to exercise more regularly, whether at home using a YouTube video or doggedly running round and round the driveway like a fish in a bowl.

Since I am feeling fitter and sleeping better, I find myself loosening my red-meat restrictions somewhat, but I ensure I eat reasonable quantities of vegetables and—inspired by my fruit-loving child—lots of apples, oranges and bananas.

The preteen—which is what I now call the child, given her decidedly adolescent attitude and rebellious streak—pushed me to eat better. That fruit bowl was primarily born of the need to keep her interested in fruit and well nourished. One recent morning, when I made myself a fruit bowl, she chanced upon it, shoved aside her papaya and took it over.

Sigh. I cannot eat more papaya. Wasn’t there some fish pickle in the fridge?

THE GREAT FRUIT BOWL

Serves 2

Ingredients

Half apple, cut in pieces

1 banana, sliced

6-8 grapes, cut into half

1 plum, chopped

3 strawberries, sliced

8 almonds, crushed in a mortar-pestle

4 walnuts, pounded

5 raisins

Half cup yogurt, whipped with 1 tsp honey

1 tbsp seeds (chia, pumpkin or whatever you have)

Method

Mix the cut fruit and raisin. Pour over the curd-honey mixture. Sprinkle with almonds, walnuts and seeds.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.

@samar11

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