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Anushka’s Story

We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars –  Oscar Wilde 

I want my children to know the art of going slow in a fast world, the importance of  embracing beauty in an ugly world, spending time in a no-time-for-that world, noticing in a rushing-past world, observing in a scrolling world and caring in an “I can’t be bothered” world and I do that in the kitchen through fresh meals made from scratch and through art that I make, on plates, with food.

Looking beyond the “I hate vegetables, this is horrible, why do I have to eat this” reactions I get when the plate has multiple colours and textures, I hope my children see that the hot meals that are served to them using fresh ingredients carefully selected for colour, texture, flavour and quality are wholesome and nourishing not just for their bodies but also for their inner selves. I hope that when they grow up they will recognize that the aromas emanating from the kitchen were not just hunger inducing but also heart warming and that the longings of their hearts are just as important as their hunger for food. The poet Ramya Chamelie Jirasinghe writes “I remember we all grasp at the same things, it’s not food we hunger for”. 

To recognize our needs that go beyond the physical is an awareness that we need to cultivate intentionally in our children in a world that numbs their senses with a steady onslaught of content and distractions, by helping them slow down, savour food, words, ideas, music and pay attention to how they feel. 

“You are not a machine. You are more like a garden. You need different things on different days, a little more sun today, a little less water tomorrow.” Joy Clarkson says in her book Aggressively Happy (p.82). Paying attention to their individual preferences, surprising them with little treats and adding delight to their day is a part of my role as their mother. A cook, I am not, although a part of my role is cooking. My primary role and the role that matters is that I tend to their hearts and minds more than filling their bellies and satiating their hunger for food. 

Book ending their days with colourful plates, stimulating conversation and beautiful music at times, I hope to remind them that there is good in this world. That the world and life have pleasures to enjoy beyond the news of wars, illness, death, loss, corruption and pollution. I’d like my children to realize like Sam did in The Return of the King “that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach” (p.211). I’d like them to keep reaching for beauty even amidst their struggles and god forbid, suffering. To realize that there is more to this world they are born into, that there is purpose in the design that is inherently beautiful. Our senses register awe, wonder and delight if we pay attention and are mindful enough to be open to the beauty of the creation and the natural world.

My food art isn’t a selfless act that I strive to create. On the contrary,  it is a gift I give myself when my soul longs to connect the musings of my heart with the colours and patterns on the kitchen counter and the creative imagination of my mind right in the gutters of my circumstances. Sarah Clarkson says in her book The Beautiful Truth that  “when beauty breaks into the circle of our suffering it always includes a redemption of our experience” (pp.150 &151) . Cooking everyday is not something I always enjoy. The planning, prepping, thinking, researching for recipes and ideas and anticipating the needs of a family and fitting them all into a busy day packed with work, extra curricular activities, social events, hobbies and interests is a challenge, but art and beauty does transform it. And although in so many ways I am in the gutter of exhaustion of everyday motherhood, I do look at the stars in wonder by being mindful to beauty right in front of me. 

Here are a few of my recent creations:

 My cousin a Hanbok made with steamed beetroot inspired by my cousin who is currently in Korea and who sent me a photo of herself in a Hanbok. 

”A mosquito” made of vegetables found in a broccoli slaw – growing up in Sri Lanka mosquitoes were common and were irritating at best and at worst claimed lives through mosquito borne diseases. One of my cousins is a scientist currently doing research on dengue, a mosquito borne disease and her updates brought the mosquito to my mind.  I enjoyed disarming the pesky mosquito by recreating it as a colourful and aesthetically pleasing creature, something it is not, naturally. The most irritable sound it makes in your ear making sleep impossible came to mind when I created this and I felt powerful in my ability to create a pest into a thing of beauty under my control. 

This was with Sable grapes and is titled “the Legacy of Weerasuriya women” – the women on my maternal side of the family and I made it as a tribute to  their interest in clothes,  independence and ability to be efficient and capable managers of their estates. It was inspired by a portraiture my grand aunt Sylvia, sent me, in particular highlighting my great grandmother, Charlotte’s black handbag. I loved mindfully slicing the grapes into fine slivers and seeing the beauty of each slice, delicate and unique, allowing light to pass through like draped gossamer. 

This is titled a mother’s arms because my arm was injured carrying my toddler and I started exercising and doing strength training to make them stronger. Mothers use their arms to embrace, caress, cook, carry , wipe tears and snot off our kids faces and find them essential to their everyday lives. So I celebrated my now strong arms for their multiple functions and strength through this creation and loved how a beam of natural sunlight at dusk illuminated the upper half of the mother’s body. 

“When man bites into the fruit, at last he understands. What does he understand? Everything. He understands how the human species, given only to survival, slowly matured and arrived one fine day at an intuition of pleasure, the vanity of all the artificial appetites that divert one from one’s initial aspiration toward the virtues of simple and sublime things, the pointlessness of discourse, the slow and terrible degradation of multiple worlds from which no one can escape and, in spite of all that, the wonderful sweetness of the senses when they conspire to teach mankind pleasure and the terrifying beauty of Art.” Muriel Barbery (2009) in The Elegance of a Hedgehog

Barbery, M. (2009) The elegance of a hedgehog (B. Rosenblat. Narr) [Audiobook]. Highbridge.
Clarkson, S. (2021). This Beautiful Truth. Baker Books 
Clarkson, J. (2022) Aggressively Happy. Bethany House
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King (Boston: Mariner Books) 

Anushka Fernando

Anushka Fernando is passionate about bringing art and beauty to the everyday through food (instagram @stories_of_a_mama) and about developing the potential of disadvantaged youth in Sri Lanka by teaching them socio-emotional learning skills. She is a speaker to global audiences on creativity and wellbeing and is an advisor to Learn for Life Lanka.

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