4 Min Read

My exasperation with boring vegetarian options when I left home for running camp the summer before college is the moment my family's life changed. I realized that I needed something quick and easy with my busy schedule at Xavier University, but I also needed nutritious meals to sustain my student-athlete lifestyle — all without sacrificing flavor or my vegetarian lifestyle. This was no easy feat!

The first two weeks at the camp weren't bad. I made a lot of friends, and we stayed in private condos where we all took turns cooking different recipes for our meals. It felt like college; I felt independent.

However, in the middle of camp, we moved to the college Western State University in Gunnison, CO. More campers would come and go throughout the weeks, and the training would get more intense. It was then that I started to get homesick. I was stuck eating cafeteria food, and I realized that wasn't helping to sustain my energy I needed to match the miles I was running, especially at that altitude.

I called my dad one night, "Dad, I miss home. I miss Dopu's [Grandma's] cooking and yogurt rice. I have had nothing but plain sauce and pasta every single day. I miss flavor!" He asked what other options there might be, and I informed him that pasta was the only vegetarian meal available. I even asked him if I should consider giving up my near lifelong commitment to being a vegetarian so I could get through the training. He sternly said no, he would mail me something to help.

My dad was up for the challenge. Soon after this conversation, he sent me plain jars with South Indian sauces of all different colors. In sharpie, each of the jars had a different label scrawled on them — tomato, lemon, mango coconut. All I had to do was mix them with rice, pasta, or veggies for instant healthy flavor.

For the next couple of days, I went through all these delicious sauces. My sister and I called my dad begging for more of them, and each time there would be a new one, chickpea (Channa Masala), different variations of the first batch of lemon, etc. He asked for our feedback, and we gladly gave it to him. By the time we campers moved back to the condos, I had enough to share with my roommates. When it was my turn to cook dinner, I decided that I would make tomato rice stuffed red peppers. It was quick, easy, and my roommates absolutely loved it. Indian, American, it didn't matter... everyone loved it.

I came back home at the end of the summer, and I told my dad, "This is what I need when I am at college." One summer isn't that long to go without the taste of home, and I couldn't even handle that. Four years? No thanks. He said I would feel better because I had grown up eating spices and those flavors every day of my life; they were (and still are) good for my metabolism and energy. Eating spices for me was as routine as brushing my teeth in the morning.

In between weekday cross country meets, homework, and my mother flying on the weekends as a flight attendant, we made a mess of the kitchen each and every weekend. Trying different potential flavors, getting the exact formulations right with the hope in mind of eventually selling. We would even go to the mall in our town and try different logos on shirts until we picked the one that we have today. Even then, that took some convincing.

"Dad, the leaves look like weed," I complained. I couldn't tell if my Dad was more concerned that his 17-year-old daughter knew what weed looked like or if he accidentally marketed our new potential product wrong. "They're curry leaves!!" he argued. I tried to explain that Americans might not know what curry leaves are.

Eventually, after getting a lot of different options, we decided that curry leaves or weed, it was eye-catching ⁠— the most priceless marketing you can get. That August, my dad walked me up to my new dorm room at Xavier University. There was no one there as I had arrived early for Cross Country preseason. He unpacked the jars, with our new mock labels, onto a shelf. He gave me a hug and wished me luck. That was my home on a shelf. I was in a new city, a new state, and I had to find my new temporary family. Through the ups and downs of my running career, adjustment to college, and my struggles with homesickness there was one thing that grew with me — Sambar Kitchen.

Through injuries and all, I started to consider why I was at Xavier in the first place, for an education. I began networking with the cafeteria catering company, encouraging them to try our sauce; I became very involved with my business school and became a recognized student for the Entrepreneurship program. Now, I am fulltime at Palace Foods Inc. pushing the Sambar Kitchen brand. We are still growing. To me, Sambar Kitchen is home. But it has also grown, as I have, throughout the years. It is more than a product to me, it is an ever-changing art form. That's just part of what makes it so fun.

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.


When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.


Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.


If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.