Hey there! I’m Tina Dawson, the recipe developer, writer and photographer around these parts.
If you love coffee, worship chocolate and are a Sci-fi+Fantasy fan, then you and I should probably be friends. But first, let me tell you a little bit more about me, and the journey that got me here. It’s a long one, so friend, grab a cup of something warm, and snuggle in as I tell you my story…
“It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – J. K. Rowling
…incidentally begins well before my time. It begins with the end of a war that forcefully expelled 300,000 ethnic Indians out of Burma, a group that included my grandparents, father and his siblings (not to mention a large number of extended paternal family as well). They only took what they could carry, leaving behind everything they owned and everyone they knew, as they fled their homeland into Southern India, and struggled to adjust to life among people with whom they shared nothing besides ethnicity. The cost of starting a new life was high, and what little they brought translated to almost nothing in the post-war reality. My grandmother, who was my primary source of family history, always looked terribly sad on the rare times she recounted this part of her story, so I can only imagine the hardships of those days. They stayed connected to their old life through food and language – and while the language fell from use over the years, the food, stayed.
I grew up listening to my grandmother’s stories about pre-war life in Burma and eating delicious Burmese food at home. When she spoke of the long monsoons, houses on stilts, food carts endlessly spewing steam and delicious smells around and the golden pagodas with larger-than-life Buddhas, her eyes twinkled with magic and silent yearning for lost time.
In our home, food was everything. Divided between two cultures, we were rather an unconventional home, which meant what tradition we had, we created ourselves. Everyone, even the men, cooked – something you don’t see in a lot of Indian homes. Our days revolved around food, and during the nights, we dreamt of the delicious things the next day would bring. And so, inevitably, I began to cook when I was 13, and baked my first cake at 17.
I am the sum of the people who raised me.
From my grandmother, I learnt to see food and culture as the doorway to civilizations and a time-turner to the lost ages. My father gave me my love of languages, a never-ending yearning for learning (not the kind you are taught in school), the beauty of silence and all things green. Every Sunday, he was out in the garden unfailingly from dawn to dusk, tending to his ever-growing collection of plants. And from my mother, who we fondly call ‘The Iron Woman’, I get my fire – and it burns incessantly within me against all the injustices in the world. She taught me the value of standing up for what is right, no matter the cost, and to always put others before self – well, that particular lesson I’m still working on. Everyone had a role model growing up – she was mine, and I’m still chasing behind the idea of becoming her someday.
The world inside my head was always more vivid than the one I lived in.
Yet, for most of my life, I did what everyone else my age did and mechanically followed that pre-determined path of the average Indian kid – a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering until I was herded into one of the country’s largest IT firms where I spent 6 years writing pieces of computer code that analyzed data. The day I received my first ever salary, was the day my dad retired and got his final paycheck from a life long career in Banking. The circle of life continued.
For one year, all was seemingly good – mind-numbingly routinous, the kind where you don’t really think, you just be. I went to work. My little brother was in college. My parents stayed home, adapting to retired life. And then our numbed world came crashing down in one day, when my dad got diagnosed with a type of cancer in the bone marrow. There was no cure, just expensive treatments to delay the inevitable. Our lives changed almost overnight, going from mundane to volatile. For a family that was as close-knit as ours, the pain of one quadrupled through the rest, but under the wrought-iron stewardship of my mother, we persevered. The grief hardened us, and we lived each day just for what it was, with no expectations of a tomorrow, and seeing no further than the immediate task at hand. A year of chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and more days spent in the hospital than at home bought us a year of remission. I say ‘us’, because even though it was just my father who actually underwent the treatment, it seemed as if we were all diagnosed through association, like a mutated collective beast that felt everything as one.
And so we went, leap-frogging through time…
… juggling remission and relapse for 5 years. Somewhere during a period of remission, I was sent overseas on a year-long assignment to the United States of America. As frightening as it was to leave the nest for the very first time at 26, I was also a little happy – because I would now be in the same time-zone as my college boyfriend, with whom I had been in a long distance relationship for about 6 years – him in the States, me in India and 9000 miles between us at all times.
Towards the end of my assignment, when it seemed like life was starting to become a little mundane, he and I decided to finally get married. And so we did, at the end of October 2014 – on the very day he proposed 8 years ago. Sounds like quite the dream, doesn’t it?
But little did we know that life had a whole other curveball aimed right at us.
A month after I was married and back in the States, wrapping up my assignment, and getting ready to find another assignment near where my new husband was, I got a call at 3 a.m. from my brother, asking me to come home immediately. My father’s health had been deteriorating quite steadily in the months leading up to my wedding, and after fighting the disease for 5 years, he couldn’t fight anymore. I got back home just to sign the release papers to pull the plug that kept him pseudo-alive. I didn’t even get to say good bye.
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” – Queen Elizabeth II
For the Dawson family in particular, that price was too high. The grief that once hardened us into action, turned into something that shattered us in different ways. As impossible as life was without our father, it was harder to see what his loss did to our mother – the Iron Woman that once was unbreakable. Caught between assignments, I was able to move back home for a few months until another assignment took me to Texas. Between the spiraling depression I didn’t know I had, flying to Atlanta and back every few weeks to see my husband for a weekend, and the 18 hour work days, I lasted there for 4 months before I quit, packed up my bags and moved in with my husband in Aug 2015 with no plans for the future whatsoever.
I had forgotten what happiness felt like, and I needed to find it again.
So for a few months, I stole myself away to experience mindless domestic bliss – I woke up late, just in time to send my husband off to work, cooked whatever I felt like cooking, ate whenever I felt hungry, watched Netflix all day until it was time to sleep again and repeat the cycle. While it was absolutely everything I wanted, turns out it was not what I needed. I still woke up everyday feeling hollow inside, and my whole body ached for no reason. You see, I am a creature of chaos. The projects I most enjoyed in my previous job were not the ones that sent me home at 6. It was the ones that kept me in the office till 4 a.m, the ones where I had nary a minute to eat a decent meal; it was in the bedlam that I felt most alive.
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” ―
And so, just to have something to do, I restarted my old food blog, which had fallen into disuse in the years past. I had always enjoyed creative work and literary expression and so I dove head-first into this space that I had long ago created as a hobby. It was meant to be a temporary thing, just until I was healed and ready to get back to work, but as I worked on the website, teaching myself to create original recipes and struggled all day long behind the camera to take one good photo, I found myself changing. I wasn’t sleeping as much, and when I woke up, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my day.
This new life I chose brought me back from the dead…
… although I’m not entirely sure if I chose it, or it chose me. It’s been 2.5 years now from the day I re-launched Love is in my tummy, and I never had cause to look back. I’ve since transitioned into a fully plant-based life (for reasons outlined in this post), created content for several brands, and live a completely creative life from dawn to dusk. I love that everyday brings with it something unknown, thereby keeping me constantly searching to improve my craft – whether it’s in taking a better photo, baking 5 pies in 4 days to finding that perfect vegan pie crust or learning to create foraged centerpieces for a Friendsgiving Tablescape in the woods, there’s never a dull moment around here.
And I am so very glad that I get to share my journey with you. I’ve had a rather rough ride getting here, and there is such a long way left to go, but looking back, I know now that it’s the journey, not the destination, that defines who we are. We are all destined for something that we were made to do – and so many of us go our whole lives never finding out what it is. Don’t let that be your story.
When you find something that brings you joy, embrace it like there is no tomorrow. Does the walker chose the path, or the path the walker? Go find out! And I’ll be here, cheering you on, with delicious, wholesome food, visual+literary inspiration and lots of gumption.
Well now that you’ve heard my story, now it’s time to tell me yours. I’d love to hear from you, even if it’s just to say ‘Hi’. Not sure what to say? Well, see if you can find common ground on any of these:
I love: all things green (I want plants growing out of my ears), all things sci-fi+fantasy (LOTR, Harry Potter, GOT, anything with vampires, time travel, folklore/fairytales, anything by the Wachowskis, you get the idea), unadulterated coffee and chocolate (the only two flavors I feel puritan about), the endless fight against the patriarchy, sustainable+eco-friendly living, gloomy days, musicals, being alone, travel, anything with black truffles and a general defiance against blind tradition.
I hate: horror movies (anything haunted by something without a corporeal form), mushrooms (except truffles), anything that crawls or slithers, chauvinistic men, women loyal to the patriarchy, walking barefoot on grass, climbing stairs, phone calls, sweating and nosy people.
The fastest way to get me to do something is to tell me not to do it, or worse, that I can’t. 🙂
You can also to get to know me a little better by subscribing to my end-of-the-month newsletter, where I write about non-food issues that I’m passionate about from a personal perspective – gender equality, the fight against patriarchy, environmental preservation, LGBTQ rights, that sorta thing. It’s something I started just a few months ago- what’s the point of having so many followers if I can’t use my voice to influence social change? And so, I try.
Thank you so much for visiting my little home on the web today and taking the time to read my rather long story. I hope you leave thoroughly inspired, and come back soon for refills.