Covid-19 and the Pandemic has had an effect on just about every one of us. Few have been able to avoid either the virus or the effects it’s had on our society, be that work, leisure or just general lifestyle. Some have succumbed to the virus, others not so, but have had their lives changed in some unforeseen and many different ways.
For Usha Gupta from Burbage the pandemic has led to a major change and rethink in how she leads her life. She is a rheumatoid arthritis patient, medication for which leaves her immunocompromised — and therefore more vulnerable to the virus.
So Usha decided to do something positive. She took early retirement in May last year to dedicate herself to her passions, namely cooking and Qigong (a form of Tai Chi).
“The timing has been perfect,” said Usha, who moved to Burbage fourteen years ago to enjoy its beautiful countryside and to be close to Marlborough and all that the town has to offer. “I can give these projects the time and attention they deserve and, more importantly, enjoy the process.”
In 2012, Usha set up Usha’s Very Own, a catering and cooking teaching venture. She taught adult classes at St John’s School and in clients’ homes. She also prepared curries and snacks to sell at local fairs, including the annual Christmas Tree Market in Burbage.
However, due to the pressures of work and caring for elderly parents, Usha ultimately paused the project. But she continued transforming her family’s Indian vegetarian recipes to be lean, vegan and gluten-free, in an effort to prevent the progression of her rheumatoid arthritis.
With more time on her hands amid lockdown, Usha decided to revive Usha’s Very Own, as a food blog, to share her delicious and health-conscious recipes. She also started a Qigong Teacher Training Course.
Usha’s Very Own — with recipes, photos and videos on its website, Instagram and Facebook — is already attracting curry-lovers, health nuts and, of course, people trapped at home keen on a new hobby.
“This food comes from the heart,” said Usha. “The recipes are authentic and true to the flavours my mum shared with us. But I use organic and fresher ingredients, strip out most dairy and gluten, and work with coconut sugar wherever possible.”
Usha has converted recipes for hearty curries, veg-filled flatbreads, chutneys, salivating snacks and luscious desserts. Ever true to her career as a microbiologist, she’s worked assiduously to get the conversions right.
“The curries are mostly vegan and gluten-free anyway, but the breads, snacks and desserts have been tricky to adapt. Usually my fourth attempt is spot on,” Usha says with a laugh. Usha buys her groceries and props in Marlborough and loves to scour the Saturday market for inspiration and specific vegetables for her recipes.
Her own background uniquely prepares her for this project. One of her earliest memories is watching her mother in the small kitchen of their Kenyan home, whipping up curries from her native northern Punjab state. In the 1960s, the family emigrated to England, where Usha’s parents worked all hours to provide for the family. To help out, Usha cooked daily meals from around the age of eleven.
But what about those who think Indian food is too challenging? Nonsense, says Usha. “It’s not that hard, although you do need patience. I’d encourage people to learn a new skill during lockdown,” Usha says. “ The trick is the curry base (tarka). Master that, and you’ll be making delicious curries in no time!”