OnlyOnAOL: Padma Lakshmi makes brave confession in deeply personal new book

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BY DONNA FREYDKIN

Padma Lakshmi digs deep in her honest, unaffected food memoir, "Love, Loss, and What We Ate," an emotional, food-fueled journey through her childhood and adulthood. She writes about dealing with endometriosis, about her insecurities with her appearance, about the accident that resulted in the scar on her arm. And she also reveals, for the first time, that she was sexually abused at age seven -- something that is especially resonant with her as the mother of a daughter, aged 6.

So yes, you could say that she dug deep to pen this book. "The most difficult part of writing this was trying to be really honest but making sure it had a good narrative arc," says Lakshmi. "There were a lot of times I didn't know how the book would turn out or what it would be."

Lakshmi was also most concerned about her parents and her daughter reading the book, admitting to AOL that this is the first time she's spoken openly about her sexual abuse.

"One of the most difficult things in that book is when I talk about an instance that happened when I was 7 years old and I was sexually molested. This is the first time, I've openly said it to anyone other than my parents," Lakshmi shared. "My daughter is six, and she's only a year younger than I was when it happened. And I already talk to her – I tell her you know, if anybody touches you, it doesn't matter if they're related to mommy or daddy, it doesn't matter if they're anybody you know.​"

Padma Lakshmi visits AOL Hq for Build on March 8, 2016 in New York. Photos by Noam Galai

Aside from the honest and brave confession, the former model and "Top Chef" host has the same self-doubts that plague most women. And she's delightfully frank about them, talking about her weight fluctuations while shooting her show -- which airs its season finale on March 17.

"I do have body issues. I think everyone does. I have them," says Lakshmi. "It was always meant to be a really frank book, to have discussions openly about things we don't want to talk about -- our bodies, our periods. Yet we all have periods, and that's the thing."

Padma Lakshmi visits AOL Hq for Build on March 8, 2016 in New York. Photos by Noam GalaiSo no, her book doesn't mince words.

"I really wanted to raise awareness of endometriosis. I couldn't ask other people open up about something so private if I wasn't willing to do it myself. I wanted to have a frank conversation. I didn't want to write a book that was fuzzy at the edges," she says.

Now, as the mom of daughter Krishna, Lakshmi understands what her own parent, a nurse, went through raising her on a meager salary in New York.

"One thing that motherhood gave me was so much empathy for my own mother, who was also a single parent. She did it. She still took me to a Broadway show now and again," she says.

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Padma Lakshmi's Incredible India Vacation
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OnlyOnAOL: Padma Lakshmi makes brave confession in deeply personal new book
Taking a mommy & daughter trip to the other Southern Coast!! #India #nofilter #neverhadafilter
Hey #littlehands, leggo my dosa hat!!! #Chennai #India #breakfast
India is best when you get out of the cities and into the villages. It is a country of villages...
Living doll #mohiniattam #godsowncountry
Photo credit: Littlehands
Ok the last post for a bit! A better example of Moringa kai aka drumsticks in English in some parts. I rescued these from our morning breakfast sambar, those are the seeds inside that you eat and at the top, the inside view of the pulpy flesh for those of you that aren't Indian or haven't eaten it. Thanks to all those who sent me ideas for cooking with the leaves. I love hearing from all of you!!!
Speaking of vegetables, this is a traditional Keralan dish called Avial. It's made with grated coconut and also it's milk, seasoned with mustard seeds, and various vegetables like carrots: plain and Delhi carrots (which are red), several tubers I don't know the name of in English, squash of any kind like snake gourd, green beans, flat beans and Moringa Kai. Moringa is a long fibrous ridged bean like pod (about 2 feet in length) that hangs off trees and has so many antioxidants that the West is just finding out about them. Raw they can be darker green but once boiled become paler. I am told people make tea or shakes or juices with the leaves in other parts. But here in the South we put them in stews like Avial and Sambar. You can only eat the little beans and pulpy flesh inside and you have to scrape it off the inside with your teeth like artichoke leaves. Littlehands had a ball with them. I loved them too as a kid and I'd always have a fibrous chewed up pile on my plate at the end of the meal. Like curry leaves which are often also added to Avail, Moringa is loaded with vitamins and great for your hair. At least that's what my grandma says. Avial is supposed to be mild not too spicy and is great with dosa or iddiappam or Sri Lankan string hoppers, all made with rice flour and ground lentils.
Those are 2 different piles of rice. One on the left is a normal long grain akin to Basmati but not as fine. The other on the right is a much more intriguing one, called Kerala rice, with some speckles of the black hulled parts still left on it seems. It's long too but fatter, almost like Uncle Bens but at the same time NOT at like it! It is more toothsome than the more refined Basmati that comes from the North. But it's great for sipping up our soups and stews. Also, did I mention that I now make frozen organic rices under the label Padma's Easy Exotic? It's at some whole foods but not all. We have plain and seasoned rices like our South Indian lemon rice, I'm not really into packaged foods that much but the natural medium of cooking rice is steam so it reheats in a flash beautifully. I do it for us at home when we have leftovers and it's great. Sorry to plug but it seemed a natural place to mention it!! Oh, and that's a mini soft dosa hiding under Littlehands' well... little hand. It's fluffier than a Madras dosa and like feels a Western pancake in height but it's made with a fermented batter of rice flour and moong lentils and fenegreek. In the South we are really into fermentation. It's such a part of our food! I never thought of it until the recent rage among world chefs about fee mention this and fermentation that (hey David) Like we have something called Thayir Molagai. Which is literally hot green chilies soaked in sour buttermilk then dried and fermented in the sun. Then we fry those in oil a la minute and eat them as a condiment with yogurt rice, one of my favorite comfort foods. It sounds odd but really is pretty delicious. Just ask any Southie!! #foodrant #houseboathallucinations
This beautiful little man, his name is actually Kuchumon, which mean little man in Malayalam, gave me the best meal of our entire trip (sorry Granny!) I have had. Keralan food is subtle and delicate and complicated and pure when done well. It is so far removed from what people think of as Indian cuisine. Indian cuisine is much more regional than folks outside think. In the South we use more black pepper and tamarind and coconut than in Northern Indian food and it's very different. As is Gujarati food from Western India and wonderful Bengali food from the Eastern side of india. All these glorious regions have their own traditions and flavors and spices and ingredients. Kuchumon takes much pride in what he does and we had two versions of almost every dish, one mild for #littlehands and one spicy for me. Everything had been caught or slayed hours before it hit the pan and it was just divine. All while sailing on the backwaters. You are all about to get close ups of what we ate, but please understand that I didn't get a chance to ask what the exact recipes for each dish were. I was too busy licking my fingers!!! I really wished I could have taken leftovers back in my purse, but alas prawn curry mixed in with my 5 and 10 rupee notes are not allowed in my grandmas strictly Brahmin abode. We had a grand old time and I had to nap off my food coma while we floated through narrow straights of villages and flora so lush I felt like I was in a Joseph Conrad novel but without all the darkness I guess. But then I'm one of the natives after all!!!
I can't tell you adequately how beautiful and delicious the fruit is here. I put little black fruit in my mouth that look like olives and immediately I am transported back to being 6 when I realize it's actually a Jamun, something I haven't tasted in decades but my palate recognizes it instantly. While this fruit looks gorgeous, much of the vegetables in India look far from the perfect ones you see glistening in Western supermarkets and yet they hold a bounty of flavor that is unlike anything. I have been traveling through my own country and I realize how lucky I am not only to have this culture as my backbone, but also the flavors of this food culture as my base from which I jump off culinarily. I have eaten some of the best non-vegetarian Indian food of my life here in Kerala, but the fruits and vegetables in India are insane. I just want to go back to the kitchen and start making a ton of chutneys and pickles to take back but I am sure US customs will not be thrilled with me and my luggage if I even bring back a tenth of what I wish I could. The little bananas the pomegranate and guava, the various other fruits I don't even know the names of in English. The lotus stems and banana stems and my God why do we waste so many stems in the U.S.???? I encourage everyone to take a food tour of South India. Food pics coming soon!!!! I have so many photos but don't want to bore all of you!!!
In the backwaters....#Kerala
Kind of like washing a car, but way more fun
Doodling on our homework. #littlehands #nighttrain
Kathakali dancer getting ready to get down! #kathakali #Kerala
Indian railways and sleeper cars #nighttrain #littlefeet
Tuberose wishes and Jasmine scented dreams...
Love me a vintage sari #seventies #grandmascloset #sarinotsari
You would never know that this sleeping angel is really a holy terror. #nofilter on this mouth. #Rakshasi #littlefeet
Woman in red #NaturalBeauty #nofilter
Ok, I admit it, snuck some bacon in up there at the top.... #SundayBrunch
We are so breaking his vibe right now #younglove #icecream #India #Chennai #donttellmoms
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