My affair with the kitchen

My affair with the kitchen started at a young age. I was what, 14? Girls in my family were initiated into cooking early, because good girls must know to cook (?!). I remember feeling a bit revolted and the feminist in me feeling agitated because no such rule applied to the brother. Unfair, my mind screamed. But I took the plunge, nonetheless. Barring a few episodes where my feminist conscience made its presence known, I was hardly complaining. I may have taken refuge under gender equality debates a few times, but truth be told, I was OK with it.

I mean, I was always a foodie and even as a child I had a good sense of taste. Age 4 onwards, I was the guinea pig of the house, always being asked to ‘have a bit of taste’ and check if the seasoning needed any adjustment. All of 4, I remember commenting at my newly-wed chachi’s rotis, ‘they are not round enough’. When it came to food, I was tough to please and my sense of taste was only too well developed for my age. I wasn’t a fat kid just like that. I knew my food well, always teetering about in the kitchen, observing keenly how things were done, asking questions, passing comments and just being a hindrance in the small kitchen basically.

Little did I know back then that one day I will be very thankful for being initiated in to cooking at a very young age.Things I am grateful for: Reason #26. I grew up in a family full of master chefs and it’s only natural that some of that talent has made its way into my DNA. The benefit of starting young is that you have the basics sorted long before your peers begin to start experimenting with using a pressure cooker. That was done and dealt with in my case, and long out of my way.

I discovered my love for cooking long before I got married. Taking the responsibility of cooking everyday and enjoying every bit of it has nothing to do with my marriage. If anything, my marriage and my move to New Zealand has only given me more opportunities and more time to experiment with cooking things that I didn’t even consider hitherto. And oh boy, has it been wonderful or what! I began experimenting with different kinds of cuisines, different kinds of dishes, different kinds of spices and ingredients a few years back and there is no looking back now. If I had any doubts about how dearly I loved cooking, they have been put to rest post my move to New Zealand. In fact, I now have access to a whole new variety of exotic veggies and fruits that were not found back home too easily. And if they were, they were exorbitantly priced.

I have been asked several times how I make time to cook healthy fresh meals everyday with myriad of other household responsibilities, no domestic help and a full time job to boot. Well, it’s definitely not a garden of roses but we always make time for things we love to do, don’t we? And TCG, the designated dishwasher, preferred garlic peeler and chopper, and all-in-one handyman cum sous chef in this house, where I am the BOSS, willingly helps out with all the odd jobs including peeling of potatoes. And to top it all, he is NOT picky and NOT choosy about his food, ever willing to experiment and always appreciative and encouraging. Now, who doesn’t like that?

You know that you are really passionate about food and cooking when you don’t tire watching zillion food shows that are aired currently, when you start looking up for recipes or end up watching video tutorials of new recipes when you are online, when you start planning your meals for the whole week well in advance, when you are constantly thinking about which item in the pantry needs to be replenished, when you subscribe to hundreds of food blogs, when you sneak time in between your work day to check out a few recipes, when your start feeling excited about your weekly trip to the supermarket or worse when you start thinking about cooking even in bed!

Being vegetarians, there are only a couple of options to choose from at various restaurants here in Wellington. We end up burning a big hole in our pockets and returning home feeling slightly cheated and underwhelmed. And this my friends, has turned out to be a perfect premise to cook at home all the time, even on anniversaries and special occasions. And a big, well equipped kitchen, which is every cook’s prerogative, just makes it that much simpler to cook at home. Would you believe if I said that our eating out is limited to one meal every couple of months?

The satisfaction that you get when your dish turns out to be perfect is unparalleled. And when TCG changes in to his track pants and big ol’ t-shirt after a BIG, hearty meal, I know it is worth it. It feels so good. It works out to be quite a lot cheaper (not to mention healthier) too to eat at home and bumps up our savings substantially. I have been working in NZ for almost a year now, and almost everyone here eats out or eats take-outs at lunch.  I can happily say that I haven’t done that even once to this day. I always cook a little extra the previous day for both our lunches.

I have thought about having a food blog quite a few times. I could probably do better that quite a lot of food bloggers out there who only worry about clicking pretty pictures. But there are two things that keep me back

1) I don’t necessarily use exact measurements, most of what I cook is intuitive and measurements are based on what feels correct to eyes and touch and taste

2) I enjoy cooking too much to be bothered about stopping every once in a while, washing hands, drying them up, clicking instagram-worthy pictures and finding another couple of hours editing them

Some day perhaps! If my handyman cum sous chef decides to triple up as my photographer! Who knows!

 

Making choices

The day you get your permanent residency is a very important day in an immigrant’s life. Today is that important day in TCG’s life and mine, thank you.

This means that we get to live in New Zealand for as long as we like, without having to worry about our visas anymore. It means that every time we go overseas and come back to New Zealand, we don’t have to stand in the long common queue for international visitors; we get to line up the ‘Kiwi’ queue, which is smaller and faster of the two queues. Cheap thrills, I know. I am silly that way.

It means that, God forbid, if we lose our jobs, we don’t have to pack our bags and go home.  It means we know which direction our life will be moving in, at least for now. It means that the uncertainty hanging over our heads is laid to rest, and we can focus on having small to medium term goals and achieving them one at a time; until it is time once again to do some serious long term thinking like where we eventually want to live; New Zealand, India or elsewhere, whether we want to buy our home here or in India, whether we want to raise our child (when that happens) in a foreign land or homeland…

But for now, we are happy. The dream we were after for so many months, has finally come true.  And it has put a lot of things in to perspective. We have some clarity now and we are no longer insecure about immediate future. It means I will have better job prospects, and I can perhaps hope to get a job of my choosing.

It also means having to decide whether we want to continue living in Wellington or move to Auckland. TCG and I have been toying with this idea for a while now; we haven’t been able to come to much of a conclusion.  You already know Wellington is a cute, little compact city with the best of both world. It has the glitzy city charm with its quaint cafes and popular clubs, as well as the laid back country side to it. It is big enough to find all modern-world pleasures and small enough to reach anywhere within measured time.

Auckland, on the other side, is the biggest city in New Zealand with the third of the country’s population living there. It is highly metropolitan and home to all the cultures of the world. It’s faster and glitzier and offers little more opportunities to do things on weekends. TCG has lived in Auckland for over two years, already has a thriving social circle (which sadly we don’t in Wellington) and knows the place too well. I have never lived there, and knowing my love for big cities, a part of me aches to give that city a shot. We would earn slightly better than we do in Wellington, but that would be set-off against higher rents and added costs of living. Living in Auckland will also mean accepting that traffic jams will be a part of our lives once again and we might not be lucky enough to stay close enough to work like we do in Wellington. Which in turn would mean spending an extra hour or two commuting at the cost of missing workouts. But if we manage to find good jobs, and a right place to live, it would mean a better way of life. And oh yes, it would mean saying bye-bye to cold, harsh and windy Wellington weather. Auckland is way warmer.

The reason we can’t decide is TCG has a hi-profile job here in Wellington; I, on the other hand started at the bottom and am making my way upwards slowly. My current employment contract ends in a couple of months. I have been working here for a year, and have hopefully gained ‘enough’ kiwi experience to get a slightly more interesting job.  There is a good chance that I find something of my interest in the very same organisation by the time my existing contract ends. Am I prepared to forgo a year’s efforts and start everything afresh yet again in Auckland? And would TCG find an equally satisfactory job? He quite enjoys his present job. We keep going in circles without making any headway. We are tempted but we don’t want to make any impulse decisions. I know it will boil down to prioritizing what is important to us, but it seems scary because lot is at stake.

Hopefully, we will figure out soon!

 

 

 

The Shoe Story

If you thought shopping for shoes was an easy-breezy task, you definitely haven’t been in a girl’s shoes (pun intended).

A girls wardrobe is not complete without a couple of pairs of heels, formal black shoes, a pair or few of pumps, a pair of sports shoes, flip flops, a pair of sandals may be, one pair of converse shoes and at least a pair of knee length boots.  Oh yes, and those quintessential house slippers! This means that every couple of months you are either buying a new pair or replacing that old, tattered one. No sooner than you think that you are well stocked, and that you won’t need to buy any more shoes for a year now (hah! like that is possible), a heel decides to snap or you happen to spill soup on your suede shoes (oh yeah, that happens!) or the leather on the boots starts wearing off or something of that sort happens and you are queuing the mall yet again.

A new expenditure is staring in your face. You reason, you argue with yourself for a wee while; thinking to yourself: do I really need a new pair right now, can I manage without that for now, don’t I have many others to fill the gap; can I postpone this for a few months? You realise you are being frivolous and scold yourself for being so shallow. You remind yourself that this is not the end of the world and there are less fortunate people who don’t have even a single pair. You decide to put off that purchase for now. You momentarily feel better about yourself.

A day or two after, the thought of ‘that missing pair’ hasn’t left your mind for a second. It haunts you.  You find yourself staring at other peoples’ shoes in the office and pitying yourself for not having ‘that particular’ type of shoe in your wardrobe.  You feel that your life will be perfect, if only you have that type in your wardrobe.

You are not able to decide on your own, so you seek your husband’s approval. It costs money after all. You want him to tell you that you deserve another pair. That it is only right, that the broken pair of black heels be replaced immediately. He knows too well from experience that he shouldn’t try reasoning with you and telling you that you have enough pairs of shoes. And he definitely doesn’t want to be given a guilt trip yet again for denying you another justified pair of shoes. You somehow trick him into saying yes.

But if only the story ended there! Finding a perfect pair is never easy. Sizes vary from company to company. The shoe is always a little too big or a little too small. And then, there ALWAYS are those painful, and ugly shoe bites to deal with. And it takes a pro to walk in those heels. It is no mean task. They hurt, they pinch, they bite but you can let none of that show on your face. After a lot of practice, you will perfect the expression. The one that says that the heel is a natural extension of your feet and it feels no different. That you can walk, run and dance in your heels just like you would in your bare feet.

Finally, when you do find a pair that fits like a glove, it feels like winning a battle. You come home feeling you found the perfect ones, only to realise after struggling in them a day or two that they don’t fit well at all. They gather dust in the back of your wardrobe, as you let your feet sink yet again in your old, comfortable shoes. The husband is snapped at for asking why you don’t wear your new shoes. You tell him that the sales guy tricked you in to buying a pair that obviously no one else was interested in. After a few days, out of your own guilt, you confess that those new ones hurt a lot and that this time you would buy a more practical, sensible and a comfortable pair. He knows better than to argue.

And thus, the story starts again. The cycle never ends.

When you are pampered silly

TCG’s mother is here for a few months and we are being spoiled royally. Routine seems like a vacation and weekends seem like one big party. Evenings are filled with healthy banter and our tummies with delicious food that she dishes out each day. Gone are the days when I had to think all day long what to cook for dinner. TCG and I go to work and by the time we come back, everything is taken care of. House is dusted and looks spic and span, meals are cooked, and lunch boxes packed. What bliss! We haven’t seen laundry pile up in weeks. It gets done magically before we even get a chance to think about it. Not just that, it gets ironed and stacked neatly in the place where it belongs. This must be every working person’s dream. Having nothing to worry about in the evenings, after a long day’s work. We just plop ourselves on the couch, put our feet up on the ottoman, and RELAX. It feels like such an indulgence and undeniably gives us a guilt trip.

We have told her several times not to busy herself in kitchen, not to go around cleaning after us, not to stress, and just sit back and relax; she is on a vacation after all. But she likes being active and there is nothing much for her to do by herself when we are at work.  So she busies herself with household chores. TCG and I feel terrible about her doing everything for us (although she does that of her own accord). So we have worked out a pattern and reached a mutual agreement as a family. My MIL cooks Monday through Thursday. And TCG (my very own dishwasher) does the dishes, while I plop my feet up on the table, bark orders at him (Ramu, kaam theek se karo, plate theek se saaf karo nai toh tankhwa se kaat lungi ) and scroll mindlessly through the world wide web. Friday through Sundays, I bring out my apron and don my cooking hat, while my dishwasher continues with his designated job and MIL gets to plop her feet up on the table and command what she’d like to eat.

TCG and I have lived by ourselves for the better part of last year, in a new city with hardly any friends to socialize with. So it feels awesomely great to have another human for company. We look forward to our evenings with her, where we talk on a variety of subjects ranging from politics to culture to science, and society over steaming cups of coffee. She is well read, intelligent and aware about current affairs, so it is always refreshing to know her views and thoughts. My mother-in-law is very affable and easy to get along with. She is sociable and makes friends easily. I have hardly had any settling-in issues, thanks to her loving and accommodating nature. She has a strong character and is driven by her convictions. She is rational and reasonable in her arguments. What amazes me the most is her flexibility. She is ever ready to try out anything new, be it food, or adventure. It is not easy to try and like all kinds of exotic food at 52 that you have never eaten before. She does it effortlessly, and willingly. Her energy and enthusiasm is infectious and it warms my heart to see someone enjoying life to bits. (Does it read like essays we used to write back in school? :P)

TCG and I used up all our leaves in December for my BIL’s wedding. But we are trying to make most of the weekends and public holidays. We have been showing her around every chance we get, albeit a little sporadic. Last month, the three of us took off on a road drive through North Island in New Zealand and had a whale of a time. We covered quite a few places in 4 days, stayed in a cute, little Bach by the lake, went on nature trails, soaked up some sun, struck few things off the to-do-adventure list and had loads of fun. On weekends, we pack off a picnic and go visiting nearby markets, beaches, cool places in the city and botanical gardens around Wellington. We have a big trip planned to South Island during Easter (3 weeks to go yay) and are looking forward to it with growing excitement with every passing day. This is a first for me as well, so I am very excited. But if TCG’s account of these places and those thousands of unreal photographs is anything to go by, we are in for a big, big treat. New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful. Have I said that lately?

My MIL is here till the first week of June. It is going to get extremely lonely without her. Every day spent is one day less, and it saddens us to think that she will be gone soon. She has pampered us silly and getting back to ‘life’ is going to be super challenging. What I will miss the most about her is not the comfort and order she has brought in to our lives, but the cheerful and smiling face that greets us everyday we get home.

 

Beyond love-themed movies

It was a Friday evening. We couldn’t wait to wrap up our work quickly and get back home. And because it was Friday, it meant ‘the dinner feast’ night. It meant whipping up a fancy treat for us. Why? Because it is Friday. We like to be a little indulgent on Fridays. Why? *Rolls eyes* Because it is Friday. And because we feel the happiest on Fridays in anticipation of the two-day holiday.

The weekend was upon us. A relaxed and a lazy Saturday on the cards. We rushed through our dinner feast and wrapped up the kitchen quickly. We will realise later that we shouldn’t have. We had decided to watch ‘Highway’ and had been looking forward to it since morning. TCG and I had read some reviews, reviews that were highly polarized. Now we all know that never judge a movie by its reviews, but we can’t deny that the reviews at least help us eliminate out the ones that are absolute crap. So, some said it had a good premise, some said it didn’t quite succeed in making the cut. Some said that it is the kind of movie, where you know that the director is trying to attempt something new, something unconventional, but ‘that trying to show something different’ effort continuously shows on screen. We felt like just going in to the movie with an open mind and giving Imtiaz Ali a fair chance to make his point, for the sake of his previous good work.

*Highway movie – Spoiler alert*

The first hour or so was not that bad, because you are waiting for the interesting part to come. The story is building up and so is your excitement, hoping that there would be something different to see. You want to see why the director has cast such an odd leading pair. Randeep Hooda kidnaps Alia Bhat (don’t even remember their names in the movie) and takes her away to some place mysterious. There are fleeting eye contacts between them, and you are hoping against hope for this not to turn in to a love story. The plot becomes somewhat questionable when the kidnapee (if there is such a word) doesn’t take the golden chance she has to escape when the patrolling police stop the truck she is being transported in. You wonder why? She might not have had a very happy life before the whole kidnapping episode, but that still doesn’t explain why she would want to hang around with her kidnappers and not take that chance to be free.

You try to digest this, thinking she might have her reasons to do that. But then all of sudden, she spills her guts out to her kidnapper. Out of nowhere, she starts telling him the story of her childhood horror. You wonder why? What triggered this? Shouldn’t her natural reaction to her kidnapper be that of anger and mistrust? You question why she would tell such personal things to a not just a stranger, but her kidnapper. What is she expecting from a person who is wrong to begin with? Sympathy? If you put yourself in that situation even for a second, would you feel angry and revolted at the thought of being kidnapped or would you feel chirpy and start confiding in him? She has been kidnapped only a couple of days ago and it is not like there is any emotional bond between them for her to make such personal revelations.

Alia feels liberated, probably because of her troubled past. She was kidnapped in front of her beau, and he didn’t do much except give her an inopportune I-told-you-so comment. So you understand that she has lost complete faith in her family; her uncle, her mother and even her beau. But opposite of losing trust in family doesn’t mean putting trust in a complete stranger, a kidnapper. There are whole range of colours between black and white. At this point, your rational mind just doesn’t agree with her actions. What is she thinking? Is she thinking two wrongs will make a right? And the thought that keeps hammering your mind constantly is why would you want to open up and bond with your kidnapper?

The plot takes a serious nosedive when she falls in love with him, sings songs and starts dancing to English music, much to the entertainment of the other fellow kidnapper. The shift in her mood from that initial bout of fright to feeling a sudden sense of elation and liberation in captivity feels unreal. And this is where we stopped watching. We couldn’t take it anymore.

You see a movie like ‘12 years a slave’ and then you see ‘Highway’, you can’t help but compare. Soloman Northup in ‘12 years a slave’ is also held captive, leading a life of slavery and drudgery beyond imagination.  But like Highway, you don’t see a sudden absurd transition of emotions from one extreme to another. Unlike Highway, he doesn’t go from being ‘very very angry’ to being ‘happy’ just because he feels that there might never be a free life for him now, so might as well be happy here. He is patient. He never loses his focus and he is forever looking for a chance to freedom for 12 years. 12 years is a long time for your goals to fizzle out, to accept your fate, to lose steam, to not get angered anymore, or to even want to be free again. But he is hopeful and he hasn’t made his peace with slavery. He certainly doesn’t fall in love with anyone during that time. Because, love is not necessarily a part of every story. At least not the man-woman, hero-heroine kind of love. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock were the lead pair in Gravity. But can you imagine them to be romantically linked in the movie? NO, right?

Can’t we get this simple thing drilled tightly into our minds? When will commercial Bollywood movies stop making the ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ fall in love in every single movie even if it feels forced, unwanted and unreal? When will we grow tired of love-themed movies? When will we explore newer subjects?

My thoughts on this movie may be prejudiced, and I may not be entirely right about my observations because we never made it to the end. I don’t know what happened next and how the story unfolded. The movie ended for me here.

I wish we hadn’t rushed through our Friday evening feast.

 

School holidays

That nervousness about the approaching final exams in school

Those many hours of cramming and preparing and fussing over self-study books and guides

That first-look of the final-exam time-table

That oh-shucks feeling on realising that there is no holiday to prepare for the History-Civics paper

That happy (in most peoples’ cases sad) feeling on realizing that Math is your last paper

That blanking-out feeling just before stepping in to the examination hall

That looking at your friends calling out for extra supplements and wondering what-the-heck-are-they-writing-so-much

That counting of estimated marks at the end of each paper

That counting of how-many -more- days -to-go-before- vacation-finally-begins after each exam

That planning months in advance about how will we celebrate our last day of exam and school

Those nervous glances at the neighbouring students on seeing a particularly lengthy or a difficult question paper

That rushing through the last paper because you can’t wait to dash out of the exam hall and you couldn’t care less about anything else in that moment

That partying with your friends and ending up in a restaurant or a garden to celebrate (When there were no air-conditioned malls to hang out and spend several useless hours in)

That excitement about summer holidays

That happy feeling of being allowed to wear nail paint

That pleasure in devouring several dozens of alphanso mangoes

That relentless playing outdoors, until your mom threatens you to get back home for meals

That hurried chomping of meals so that you could quickly run out to play

Those endless hours of cycling, lagori, saakli, help-help, four corners, hopscotch, badminton, dark room, and what not (where have all these games disappeared?)

That sweet taste of melting popsicles in your mouth (does anyone remember the kala khatta flavour)

That rare treat of an occasional Cornetto cone (25-30 rupees was big in those days)

That annual summer trip to your village/hometown and the ever-so-exciting train ride

That nervous feeling of vacations coming to end and school reopening soon

That anxiety about beginning a higher class and meeting new teachers

That excitement about buying new books, uniform, shoes, umbrella, and all necessary stationery items

That choosing of cartoon-labels for endless hours and not being able to decide which labels to buy

That smell of a new book

Those many hours spent neatly covering (where have those brown covers disappeared?) and labelling your new books

Those blues on the day before the first day in new class and that end-of-vacation feeling

That excited first day at school and meeting your grumpy-faced teacher and going facepalm

Soft Beds, Hard Battles

Probably one of the most difficult things about relocation (especially to a new country) is getting used to a new bed.

Considering we spend an average of 7-8 hours each day on our bed, it is not an easy adjustment to make by any means.

Getting used to a new bed is harder than getting used to a new city. Finding a bed that suits you and makes you feel comfortable is doubly difficult. Because when you go bed-shopping, how can you know instantly if that bed feels right or not? You can lie down for a few minutes to see if it agrees with you or not. But you can only tell after a few nights, whether it suits you or not. And if it doesn’t, you are not just poorer by a few thousand dollars but you are also stuck with a bed that makes you cringe in pain each morning after waking up.

Contrary to what many of us feel, soft beds are not very ideal. It has been almost a year since I moved to Wellington. Our mattress is thick, but very soft.  I detest soft beds, they give you a horrible body ache and they are not very good for your body too. It’s the kind of bed you’d sink in, as soon as you plop on to it. You would think one year is a reasonable time to get used to a new bed.  Apparently, it is not. I still wake up every morning feeling sore. I feel the tension thick in my neck, shoulder and my back. And if that’s not enough, the pillows are no good too. Even after changing our pillows thrice, we still haven’t found ‘the perfect ones.’ After waking up each morning, it takes a few minutes of some serious stretching to feel mobile once again.

I hate this bed. I miss the beds in India. The day we buy our own house in New Zealand, we will import our bed from India. TCG, are you listening? Because it seems like I have almost forgotten how it feels like to wake up feeling fresh and not cramp-y.

Now who would have thought that I would write about missing beds on my blog! Phew!

*Soft Beds, Hard Battles is a 1974 British comedy film directed by Roy Boulting.