Award-Winning Author, Mohana Gill, On Living Her Golden Years To The Fullest
A fountain of youth – twinkling eyes, glorious hairdo, nimble gait, and all – one would pay a handsome price for Mohana’s anti-ageing secrets, but the generous lady hides none. In fact, her healthy lifestyle is an open book, in the vegetarian cookbooks she’s authored since 2005.
Mohana’s first book, Fruitastic! reflects her obsession with natural food, but it was her second book, Vegemania!, that set her off on a personal writing approach. “My eldest son, a real connoisseur of food, decided to turn vegetarian at the age of 24,” Mohana recounted to us over afternoon tea of watermelon ‘pizza’, berries, and veggies with dips. “He loved his steaks and wines and when he changed his diet overnight, I began to think, ‘what can I feed to my ardent food critic?’”
We had the pleasure of Mohana’s company, savouring each nugget of her philosophies from peaking in her golden years, living joyfully, and eating well, among others.
It's every parent's mission to raise healthy eaters, and it's not easy. How was your own experience as a mother?
I exposed my children from very young to eat normal food. When my husband and I sat down to dinner, my 3 boys would eat a little bit of everything on the table. Eating was part of their lifestyle and we never fussed about them, everybody shared what I cooked. My mother was an excellent cook and I would watch and learn. Now, when my granddaughter Hayley visits, we will make cookies, muffins, popsicles, and have a fun time out of it.
Children learn through touch, smell, sight and taste.
Tell us about the recipes in Vegemania! dedicated to your son?
I converted it all his favourite cuisines into vegetarian versions, for examples, I made his favourite yong tau foo stuffed with potatoes, the Chinese ‘yam basket’ filled with vegetables, for 'wine' I used water apples and coconut palm sugar… it was all about imagination; changing and substituting, cooking it differently to create a new recipe.
What are the bare essentials your cookbook calls for?
Common sense, and as long as you know how to boil a kettle of water, you’ll be alright.
A rice cooker to make rice and quinoa, as well as a chopping board, blender, mixer.
How do you make veggies appealing for picky young children?
Colours are important – green of broccoli, the red of tomato, for example – and you've got to observe consistency for the mouthfeel, as well as a good mix of tastes like heat, salt, sour. Some lemon juice, sprinkle of nuts and seeds add texture, explore versatile cooking methods. With children, you have to show them one vegetable 10 times before they even want to eat it. Another way is when children see what adults eat, they will want to try because all young children want to emulate their parents. Don’t tell them what they can’t eat, put everything on the table. Getting them involved in the kitchen, they will take pride in their production, and love what they made!
You write for different audiences with different taste profiles. How do you come up with universal appeal?
My recipes are international recipes: Vegemania! has dishes from Italian to Indian to the familiar Malaysian rendang. We all learn how to appreciate other cuisines, cooking and flavours, and I write for everybody. My cookbooks introduce readers to each food’s history, ingredient, nutritional values, from how you can use them, to the different ways to enjoy them.
At 82, you’re a picture of health and energy. How do you feel about being called a symbol of healthy eating and vegetarianism?
I merely keep myself occupied because I I'm very content with life. At this stage, it’s not about competing. I write books because I enjoy writing and I don't compare myself to another writer. I dress for my own joy and eat the food that I enjoy in moderation. I accept the awards and recognition because they tell me that I’m doing the right thing. One of the most important things in your life is to live peacefully and to be happy with whatever you have. I'm at my happiest, knowing that what I do now has got a purpose and meaning, they are the legacy I want to leave behind.
Even after the sun sets for me, people would look at my books and see that I wrote them for the betterment of children
Where do you find the energy to juggle everything from family, appearances, travels and writing?
I think it automatically falls into place. In an era where ‘I’m busy’ is a common excuse, I still fit people in. I only write at night and the daytime is personal and family time. I still work and run an office for my husband and spend time in the kitchen every day. I enjoy having people over for dinner and putting the menu together.
What’s your favourite part about writing a book?
It's like having a baby – You don’t know what it’s going to look like and its character, so only when the book comes out and you see the book, you realise that’s your creation. The most exciting was my first book – I’d never wrote one and no idea how to put it together, and when the publisher sent 3 copies of that first book, it was the most beautiful feeling.
How long did it take to write a book and when do you conceptualise it?
It varies: Happylicious started 3 years ago but the photoshoots didn’t turn out as I expected. Then one day, Fay Khoo, who helped put together Fruitastic! got in touch with me, she found out about Happylicious and offered to do it for me. I’m currently working with a Bruneian girl on my next book. Putting together a book requires coordination with a photographer, stylist and coordinator, and shoots for 8-10 recipes can run from 9am to 5pm. For my children’s book series, i worked with food designer Pelita Lim.
What's keeping you busy right now, on top of everything else?
An international Hayley’s children’s book series. The books follow Hayley, a character named after my granddaughter, on her travels to Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand. She meets children from other countries on a journey of sightseeing, culture, recipes, customs, and little interesting facts about each country. My goal is to finish these 5 books this year, on top of 2 other ones on edible flowers, and the myths and legends of fruits.
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