Category Archives: food

From yore

The three and a half regular readers of this blog (in many of its earlier avatars) know two things about me – one that I take my hormones too seriously, and two, I detest cooking.

The irony of my life is that for someone who hates cooking, I cook a lot. I usually make three fresh meals every day (today, for example was Pongal-sambar for B/F, rice-spinach-avarakkai-lemon rasam for lunch and probably roti-dal for dinner). My family knows better than to bother me when I am in the kitchen because they wouldn’t know what hit them.

The second irony is that I co-wrote a cookery blog with my friend G a few years ago.  G is a kitchen diva.  I, a kitchen devil. So, we made a fairly potent combination.  The blog continues to exist in cybersphere, albeit in a dormant form and I refer to G’s recipes now and then.

The reasons I bring this up are these.  I am (a) backlogged with work, and am unable to find time to come up with an original post (b) actually, only (a).  So, when I am not sharing my world, I will probably repost some of my gems from cookalogue here, without G’s permission.  I guess G won’t mind because my posts didn’t add any functional value to her marvellous recipes and I doubt, were even read by people other than G and me.

So, today’s repost is a true story of sorts.  Remember, it was posted first in 2011, six years more immature.  The only change since then has been that I am a marginally better cook now than I was when I wrote this up.

The Paste

Lord Brahma sat in deep thought.  He had a piece of human clay (Let’s call it “G” for convenience).  What to mould?  Madame Curie had been done already.  Sarojini Naidu, over.  Agatha Christie, over.  Jhansi Rani, finished.  Simran, Jyothica, Madhuri Dixit – still around.

Suddenly, another piece of  clay (“L” for convenience) disturbed his reverie.  “What do YOU want” asked the Lord.  “Oh Lord”, said L,  “I need a special gift when I am born”.  Fast losing His patience, the Lord thundered “What is it?”.  The timid clay whispered “Lord, anything I cook must be tasty”.  Her question gave Brahma an idea – “why don’t I make G a fabulous cook?” he thought to himself.  In his excitement and in haste to get back to moulding G, He granted L her wish – “Alright alright…I grant you the boon that anything you cook on earth will be pasty”.

Years passed.  G grew up to make Gobi Manchurian and Chinese fried rice when she was not in the mood to cook.  L grew up in another town, making pastes in her kitchen, as blessed. As destiny would have it, G and L met in their third decade of existence and became friends.  Like the crow who got stoned by passers-by for trying to mimic her friend the cuckoo, L hoped to be inspired by G  in the kitchen.  Despite the boon.

So one day, G posted a recipe for Cabbage Rice.  Not knowing what else to make, L decided to get adventurous, despite her established history of pastifying food that were not meant to be pastified.  G assured her that “soaking the rice for half an hour and fry nicely along with the vegetables” will make it un-mushy, forgetting that it was L she is talking to.

L, the recipient of the special boon from Lord Brahma.

So, with that promise, L followed the recipe, word for word. After two whistles, the cooker opened to exhibit rice, uncooked and separate from its water, like the water on a lotus leaf.  Feeling sorry for the family, L let it cook for four more whistles.

Brahma had the last laugh.

All that’s white ain’t milk

My father was apparently a sickly child, prone to fevers.  Every time he was delirious, his mother would mix hot, sweetened milk with carbonated water (aka club soda, sparkling water, seltzer, fizzy water) and make him drink it, and as lore would have it, the fever would disappear.  I was thankfully a healthy child, and even the few times that I did end up with fever, my mother had enough sense to not let my dad treat it.

In grad school, my neighbour in the run-down grad-student housing was a North Indian grad student, whose name I have forgotten.  I once dropped into his house to pick up some candles (there was going to be a blizzard that night and the power always fluctuated during blizzards), and he offered me a drink. Since it was non alcoholic, I accepted it with thanks.  The drink was cold coca cola mixed with cold Vit D milk.  I actually liked it  (I like anything with milk) and continued to have it for two years of my life.  Two decades since, I have forgotten the taste of it,  and don’t intend to remind myself of it – do you know coke really cleans your toilet bowl to a shine?  With a pH of 2.53, why wouldn’t it?

Again, in Grad school, in an attempt to put on weight (I was uncharitably addressed as “2D LG” by the juvenile Indian grad students that my university was infested with at that time), I tried the eggy-milky-occasionally rummy drink of egg nog and was hooked.  The egg nog of my grad school days still stays with me, especially around my hip area and refuses to budge, aided by the tubs of rum-n-raisin ice creams of yore.

I have had Irish coffee back in grad school, but had not particularly liked it.

Life in the US killed my relationship to lactose – I suspect it was because grocery store milk in US was reconstituted, and never natural (this was before the “organic” tag gained respectability or was affordable to a grad student).  I became severely lactose intolerant and stayed off all forms of milk products for many years afterwards. Only recently, after 20 years of de-americanising my stomach and re-setting it with what passes off as milk in India, has my tolerance to lactose and diary returned.

My forays into alcohol began only after marriage, but lest you think of me as an alcoholic needing intervention, my frequency of having any form of alcoholic beverage has been once or twice a year.  The last time I had wine was in Italy, last summer, and it was divine and very feebly alcoholic, except for one occasion that made me giggle uncontrollably.  The summer before that, my sister-in-law had brought us vodka and Scotch, both of which I hated because less than a sip made me throw up and gave me a phenomenal migraine for hours afterwards.

Yesterday, I met my BFF over coffee.  The precious woman got me Bailey’s Irish cream and rum-chata, probably sick of my WhatsApp rants about how hard it is in India to get a decent bottle of alcohol that does not give me a migraine, at price that does not require sale of body parts.   After expert advice from Rob on how best to consume Irish cream,  last night, I tentatively sipped the iced milky beverage, almost sure that I was going to head to the sink to throw up.  Caramel, milk and whiskey?  What kind of combination is that?

A few many hours later, as my afternoon coffee with Rumchata fills my being and takes me to almost orgasmic ecstacy as I type this out, I can only be grateful that we don’t get Bailey’s Irish cream or rumchata in India.  I’d probably need an AA membership if we did.

 

Nourishment

When you’ve had a bowl of delicious, hot, cracked wheat* porridge thingie (Kichidi, in this part of the world) with buttermilk gravy thingie (Kadhi), and you lick the spoon until it shines, the weekend can be considered to have ended well.

The week promises to be insane.  Wish me luck.

 

*Doesn’t the term “cracked wheat” have a delicious crunch in it?

Tea and me

My better-half’s family is made of rabid coffee drinkers.  Any hot beverage that is not coffee is scowled upon.

My family comprises hot beverage drinkers.  We drink any beverage, even water, if it is hot and sweet enough.  While my better-half’s family has no rules on when to drink said coffee, mine does.  Wake up to two doses of coffee in an hour’s interval.  Have a tumbler-full of strong, milky, sweet tea post siesta.  Either coffee or tea with the evening tiffin and at night, anyone less than 40 years of age had to drink hot milk, sweetened with sugar or sugar candy, and often spiced with turmeric, saffron and/or pepper.

Tea is special to my family.  When I was a young girl, and the extended family met at the ancestral house for some occasion or the other, the afternoon tea time was party time.  Large cauldrons of tea would be made and consumed amidst unruly ruckus of my relatives. My aunt still makes the best tea, whether or not she adds ginger, lemongrass or cardamom to it. Not surprisingly, while I don’t dislike coffee, given a choice between coffee and tea, I go for tea, thanks to my aunt.

I tried converting the better half to the tea religion, but until now, I have been largely unsuccessful.  Of course, the reason is that I make horrible tea, even if I say so myself.   Finally disgusted with my own inability to make tea worthy of my aunt, I googled “how to make good English tea” and landed on a write up by George Orwell on eleven ways to make the perfect tea.  What do you know?  My favorite beverage recipe by my favorite writer.  My day was made.  He even places “Indian” tea ahead of the “Chinese”. Take that, Chinese tea!

I don’t have a tea pot. I don’t have a kettle.  Still, I made do with the utensils I had and followed the instructions as closely as I could – except the last step of not adding sugar, nope, that one does not have gobblefunkist written on it.  Brought water to full boil, added two spoons of tea leaves to it, switched off the flame, closed the vessel and let sit for two minutes while I heated the milk.  Strained the tea decoction, added milk and two spoons of sugar, stirred it with a warmed spoon and as I took my first sip of the hot, sweet beverage, I was, for a split second, transported to thirty five years ago, to my grandfather’s house in Triplicane, where my parents, aunts and uncles sat in a circle, playing cards and being largely rowdy while my cousin and I sat in a corner, oblivious to the adult noise, but gossiping about our school friends, all of us sipping my aunt’s tea and feeling its aroma fill inside us with the joy of togetherness.

And no, I am still unable to convert the better half.  The kid, I am glad to say, has travelled my way.  My aunt would be so happy.

 

Perfection, is thy name cucumber sandwich?

In a traditional TamBram household, there was no system of BF-L-D but more of a Brunch  (~ 10 AM) of a three course rice-based meal, evening tiffin + coffee (~ 4 PM) of a substantial non-rice main dish (and sometimes rice based) and night supper (~ 7 PM) of a two course rice-based meal ( no wonder we are the diabetic royals of the world). In many homes, there was a post-siesta beverage time (~1.30 pm) where tea (or in some weird families like my in-laws’, coffee) was served with home-fried snacks that melted in the mouth and settled in the hips.  The modern TamBram family has slowly morphed into the western BF-L-D system (7.30 AM/12 PM/ 7 PM), which while fine in terms of the main meals, leave the mid-meal periods of midmorning (10 AM) and mid-afternoon (4 PM) a little fuzzy.

The afternoon tea-snack in our house is an enigma.  I know many families that can survive on air beyond the three main meals of the day, but those are not ours.  We are a family of eat-every-two-hour-ers – we pick like pigeons, but we need to pick often.  If we skip the early evening tea-snack, we are rabid dogs by supper time – at least one of us is – the one making the supper.

The traditional “tiffin” is way too much for a between-meal snack.  Biscuits and coffee give the feeling of what-the-heck.  Besides, when the kid returns from school, she needs (or the mom thinks she needs) something more substantial.  On lazy days, I just give her a small cup of curd rice with pickle, which beyond filling, saves me the trouble of thinking.  The adults partake of a spoon or two of the same rice which would keep us going until dinner time.  Sometimes, the kid is given a PBJ sandwich, which she loves and makes it easy for me too.  Occasionally, when the stars are aligned, fancy stuff like bondas, vadas and bajjis (a distant relative to fritters) are made, but not too often for fear of cholesterol overload and more importantly, laziness.

Today, there was a loaf of white bread (which I don’t buy as a rule, I assuage my guilt of buying processed food by going for the brown variety; this was gifted by a visitor), half a spoon of peanut butter and quarter spoon of jam in the fridge.  Instead, there was a cucumber that was feeling a little forlorn in a largely empty fridge, and a full butter dish.

Thus was reborn the classic British cucumber sandwich.  Cut off the crust, smear softened butter, place thin roundels of cucumber, sprinkle salt and pepper powder, close the sandwich, press it a little so it sticks and voila – heaven in a bite.  The last time I had this sandwich, I was 8 years old myself.  I had forgotten how well butter goes with cucumber in white bread.

Yes, the little voice grumbles about the amount of calories – Butter? Processed store-bought white bread? But the taste buds shut it up.

Ceremony

Although I am slowly growing into an agnostic-of-sorts, I try not to impose my views on others.  My father continues to be a sincere gnostic and conducts rituals scheduled through the year. While he could be lax about festivals, he is never lax about death-ceremonies.  With approaching 75, himself, there are way too many death ceremonies he performs – his parents, his parents-in-law, and his wife – five ceremonies every year.  I used to attend all the ceremonies diligently in the past, but now I opt out because they make no sense to me – I would rather help living people than perform ceremonies for dead ones.

However, I continue to go for one – my mother’s.  This is more to comfort my father (the living person) than as a mark of respect for my mother (the dead person).  A few years ago, dad would hire cooks for the event, but when  I returned to India, I offered to cook the ritual food for my mom’s ceremony – it seemed to give both my father and my grandmother who recently died, a lot of satisfaction and comfort.  Until a few years back, he would invite all and sundry to the ceremonies, but later, the attendees (other than the priests who solemnise the ceremony) became restricted to him, my grandmother and me (and sometimes my family, depending on the day it fell).

Today was my mother’s 32nd death anniversary. As with every year, I offered to take charge of the kitchen.  Much as I hate cooking, cooking for this particular event gives me a strange kind of satisfaction – a satisfaction that the man, who has none other to call his own anymore, feels like he has at least me, on the day he lost his partner.  So, taking a deep breath, I delved into the kitchen and single handedly cooked a ceremony meal* with a little help from the maid with tidying afterwards.

In earlier years, even until last year, I would feel miserable on the day of the ceremony – not as much as by missing my mother, but for not missing her.  It has been way too long – last year, I had lived 13 years with her, and 31 years without – there is not much I remember of her other that the fact that she was drop dead gorgeous and a go-getter. But as I keep interacting with my own daughter, who will be turning 13 in a month, I wonder what kind of woman she was – what were her dreams, her aspirations, and her feelings towards me other than the maternal love, which is universal.  What had she dreamed that I would become?  Have I fulfilled her dream?    What would my life have been like, had she been around?

This year, the grief of my grandmother’s death (more on that in a later post, I am sure) overrode the discomfort that accompanied my mom’s ceremony in the past.  My grandmother had been a proxy mother to me since my mom had died – she saw me through thick and thin, bathed my new-born, and was my go-to person until she died.  It has been ten months since she died, but I continue to feel powerful grief every so often, which may take more time to fade. As I cooked the shrardham meal today, I grieved more for the grandmother, who would, until last year, sit in the kitchen in her plastic chair and drive me crazy by talking all the time when all I needed was some silence in order to concentrate on the cooking.  I missed her jabber today.  It was too silent to concentrate.

The busy weekend is over.  The week promises to be busy, and the anticipation of work is slowly driving out the melancholia of the weekend.  This too, is passing.

 

*plantain curry, bitter guard curry, colocasia curry, curry leaf thuvayal, cucumber pachadi, poritha kuzhambu, milagu rasam, sugiyan, payasam, thenkuzal and rice.

 

 

Salivation

macncheese

Mac and cheese for the kid’s lunch box.  Flavoured with broccoli and fresh parsley.  Sauce base: left-over cream-of-corn soup, milk and cheese cubes.

 

babycorn-soup

Last night’s dinner:  Cream-of-corn soup.  Ingredients: baby corn, potato, milk, salt, pepper and dry basil.

 

salad

Last night’s dinner:  Vegetable salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing.  Dressing ingredients:  Olive oil, apple cider vinegar, pepper powder.