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.
My dad asked what other options there might be, and I informed him that pasta was the only vegetarian meal available.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article was originally published June 1, 2020.
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Help! My Friend Is a No Show
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.
Dear Sadsies,I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.
I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!
- The Armchair Psychologist