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!

 

Story of a sleepless night

I am up since 4. Try as I might, I couldn’t sleep. Strange, considering I did feel sleepy. I tossed and turned in bed, tried all positions, various angles, tried sleeping on my stomach, then on my back, then on side, then on the other side, couldn’t sleep. Tried counting sheep, didn’t work. Blamed it on coffee that was had late in the night. Nudged TCG softly, afraid not to turn too much or move too much, lest he should also wake. But he was sleeping like a log. Then I thought to myself, what the heck, let me just wake him. As if he could magically bring back my sleep to me! Nudged a little harder. TCG mumbled something incoherent in sleep, “You are a good girl na? Sleep”. LOL. What??!!

“I guess it’s the coffee”, said I.

“Don’t blame coffee; you were sleeping perfectly well till now. Try sleeping”.

“Ya, what do you think I am doing?”

Mumbles something again, snuggles closer and drifts apart once again.

I picked up my newly acquired iPhone. Checked my what’s app, no messages really from anyone.

“Can you put your phone on Silent please?”

Oh.

But smiled at the choice of his words. Please??!! Even in sleep??! Not bad 🙂

Checked Facebook, no notification apart from one silly request for some Texas Poker-something (Really people stop sending me these FB game requests, please, will you?) Browsed through the photo gallery, checking pictures, reminiscing moments, mentally making note of which pictures make me look fat, and which pictures are hot enough to go as what’s app display pictures.  Very shallow I know.

Still just 5.

Now what?

Checked my Gmail for mails from any of the prospective employers. No luck there either. Thought briefly of the new exciting way I have figured out of approaching prospective employers. More on that, later, if it works. Promise. Filled my mind with beautiful images of me having a job I love, going to work dressed in coats, scarves, boots and all those wonderful winter clothes. You see, in Mumbai you never really get a chance to wear winter clothes, even in winters. Wondered how I would make time for exercise once I have a job? That thought was too uncomfortable for so early in the morning. Pushed it aside, and for once, didn’t let it drag me in to a guilt trap so much in advance.  My friends will be proud of me for doing this.

Proceeded to delete junk mail. Philosophically, wished it was that easy to delete junk from life.  Sigh!

Saw some email notifications of new posts from fellow bloggers, whose posts I simply love reading. Thinking that reading will surely make me drowsy, clicked on the link. Marvelled at how awesome iPhone really, really is. It gave me an option to read in a reading pane, where I could increase the font to conveniently suit me. Have I told you before how strained my eyes are by this overuse of computers, smart phones and the likes? I have started using eye drops to keep my eyes from drying. Anyway, placed a swift kiss on TCG’s forehead for the awesome gift that iPhone is.

Read some awesome blogs for a good 40 minutes. And still 5.45 only.

Rebuked myself for not making enough time to read more. My reading list has been increasing at an alarming pace. Since the wedding, I am really slacking and thinking of this makes me miserable. This is one of my many self inflicted miseries.

Reading food blogs got my brain ticking. I started conjuring recipes and things that I wanted to whip up in the kitchen. I am neck deep into baking, cooking and all things kitchen these days. BIG MISTAKE.  Because there is no one way I could sleep then. I thought of all the exciting ways in which I could bake; mix, match, mash, whip, and add. I got a big adrenaline rush. There was no way I could sleep now.

Thought today I will take a break from crazy job application spree that I am on and made a bulleted list in my mind of things I want to try in kitchen today. Yes, I am pretty systematic that way. Things like lists, plans, new stationery, new pens, superior quality paper excite me. Nerdy, I know. Here’s the list that was decided upon at dawn:

  • Simple tea time cake
  • Choco-chip cookies
  • Hummus
  • Dosa Batter
  • And snack crackers
  • Rawa Dosa

Saw the cool, early rays of sun make their way into the room through the folds of the curtain. Thought it should me more than 6 o’clock but less than 7, because TCG’s alarm hadn’t gone off yet. I was filled with this unspent energy, God knows from where.

Finally, I got tired of cajoling myself to sleep and thought of getting out of the bed; rushing to the kitchen to try out all the exciting things I had in mind. And just as I was thinking to get up, the alarm went off. I sprung out of the bed like some untamed pet who has been let off the leash. And TCG, like everyday, snoozed the alarm and went back to sleep.

Things I am grateful for: Reason # 6 to Reason #18

I have been meaning to write about these Things I am grateful for for quite some time now. Since a last few months, I have noticed that I have become more grateful and thankful for the things I have in my life. And as a ritual, I have started saying a small thankfulness prayer daily which more or less summarizes all the broad categories of things I am extremely grateful for.

Reason #6

Oh God, Thank you for the wonderful day

Reason#7

Thank you for the wonderful family I am born into. Thank you for my wonderful parents who have given us a splendid upbringing, for loving grandparents who have imbibed in us their values, for uncle, aunt, siblings, cousins, brother, sister-in-law and everyone in the family who I have grown up with.

Reason #8

Thank you for the wonderful family I am married into. Thank you for a wonderful husband, loving parents in-law, and a friend I see in my brother-in-law. And thank you, thank you, thank you once again for the wonderful husband.

Reason # 9

Thank you for the food I eat, the water I drink, the air I breathe, the soil I walk on and for every other your invaluable resources that I use.

Reason #10

Thank you for perfect health. Thank you for every limb, every muscle, every tissue, every cell, every organ in mybody that works miraculously.

Reason #11

Thank you for all those people who unknowingly work for us all and make my our lives easy; the farmers who grow our fruits and veggies, the workers who collect garbage, the construction workers who make houses and buildings in which we live, the people who clean sewers. They all do such an invaluable job and how we take their services for granted. Let me be kinder to them.

Reason # 12

Thank you for wonderful friends I have, who I have grown up with, who I have shared many a jokes with, who I have laughed with, who I have cried with. Friends, without you all life would have been so boring. God bless each one of you and thank you for being my friends.

Reason # 13

Thank you God for the wonderful, new, exciting life in NZ, for the beautiful home, for the car that takes us everywhere we want to go, for scenic, breathtakingly beautiful location and for this fresh, new life.

Reason #14

Thank you God for all the luxuries, travel, opportunities, fun times, experiences and memories

Reason #15

Thank you God for all the comfort, wonderful clothes and small pleasures of life

Reason # 16

Thank You God for beautiful hair, beautiful skin, warm heart and a wonderful mind that makes me take the correct decisions, makes me understand things as they are meant to be and that makes me grasp and learn

Reason #17

Thank You God for the wonderful education that I have received, for the jobs that I have done, for skills, talents, opportunities, for the learning everyday, for the gift of writing, for the new, wonderful job that I will get soon

Reason # 18

Thank you for many small things in life that I take for granted.

And forgive me God for all the mistakes that I have knowingly or unknowingly done.

What have I been upto?

So since you last heard from me a lot has happened. Did you miss me?

To say life changed will be an understatement.  After all, when your last name changes, it IS a big deal, isn’t it? Its not for no reason that people say marriage is a BIG milestone.

So apart from the obvious changes like change of residence and change of priorities, there are several small changes that hit you hard. Things that never were a big deal back then, now those very small, insignificant things become more conspicuous by their absence.

Like for example; there is a new pillow to deal with, which not necessarily matches your liking. There is a crushing realization of how much you miss your old pillow, bed and duvet. And that warm engulfing comfort of your worned-out duvet.

Then soon after you adjust with a new variety of toothpaste and  try to come to terms with it, you realize that your morning cup of coffee doesn’t taste quite the same. You instantly miss your old routine and that favourite coffee mug of yours, that lazy browsing of papers over coffee, that feeling of being at home completely because no one is judging you, your mother can shout as much as she wants, asking you to hurry but you will still take your own sweet time. You don’t have to be on your best behaviour with your mom, do you? Am not saying things are drastically different even now, but still there is that sense of responsibility that has crept in. Like I need to be on my best behaviour and shouldn’t give anyone a chance to complain. Everything is new, I am still to get a hang of things here. And though my mom-in-law is a darling, I still have my guards on.

Then my exercise routine has totally gone for a toss. Before I used to decide when I want to exercise, and the rest of the things would wait till I finish. Now rest of the things finish first, and exercise has taken an epic back seat. To make up for the loss, I have abandoned the lift completely. So even if I go down just twice, climbing up 15 floors is at least some exercise.

Then again, the comfort of those old tattered pyjamas and worn-out shorts  is not even close to the comfort of the new silks and satins I sleep in.

Do I sound like I am complaining? I am not, actually. I am just listing small changes that accompany the big change that marriage is.

The food changes

The TV viewing pattern changes

The kind of phone calls changes, and the kind of conversations changes. Like its strange when your parents call you and talk to you like you are some relative, whom they haven’t heard of in long. Heck, I was living with them till 2 weeks ago. So much changed. I am still getting used to the fact that my parents have to call me to check how I am doing.

But, if you are married to a wonderful person like I am, these changes are totally insignificant. These changes would happen even if someone changed his/her city, wont they? At least, that is how I reason with myself. That way I don’t feel overly emotional and my rational brain takes over. But Nikhil, my husband, is a cool guy, with his head firmly on his shoulder and feet firmly on ground.  He has been very understanding and adjusting, to make this transition as easy as possible for me. He is always trying to keep things light, is seen kidding around, cracking jokes and doing everything he can to make things a little easier for me.  So basically, he is a nice guy.  In fact, during my bidaai, he was almost moved to tears. By his own admission *he felt like a thief stealing someone’s daughter away and causing parents inconsolable grief*….haha..when he told me this, I just didn’t know how to react. But it was kind of cute 😛

And about the wedding, ya we did  manage to have a good, memorable and totally enjoyable wedding without any major glitches. There was food, dance, songs, laughter, tears and a lotttsss of fun…just like a classic big fat Indian wedding.

Some of my  precious moments:

That's Nikhil... say hi to him :P

That’s Nikhil… say hi to him 😛

JIT_0366

My Brother and I

Wedding Vows

Wedding Vows

Epic - moment with my grandmom

Epic – moment with my grandmom

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The great Indian feast!

 

Food…is one common factor across cultures that brings people together. And one doesn’t need to be a connoisseur of food to realise how important a role food plays in our life.  People across the world bond over lunches and dinners. The conversations start flowing just as the food and drinks start flowing. Some people eat to live while others live to eat. But, nonetheless, food is important to both the categories of people. It gives people a reason to socialize and celebrate.

 

The topography of a place influences the food culture greatly. It’s not uncommon to see how the palate, the flavours, the spices and the preferences change as you travel the length and breadth of this country alone. But what remains constant is an Indian’s passion for food, no matter what part of the country he belongs to. In India, food is of supreme significance. Food is one indulgence Indians don’t feel guilty about. Indians like…er…love eating and they love feeding. Food is often a metric of host’s generosity in India. And for Indians, guests are really God-like, aren’t they? Atithi devo bhava.

 

Recently, my family and I were invited to a relative’s place for dinner. The occasion was …ummm…nothing special. Indians don’t need special occasions to call each other over for dinner. I had had a very busy day at work, followed by a rigorous hour at gym. I was tired to the core and wanted nothing more than to curl up with a book and hit the bed early. I almost decided to skip the celebration. But on everyone’s insistence I decided to tag along. I didn’t want a you-never-come-with-us-dialogue with mom.

 

We reached their home, one hour after the designated time. In India, no one ever goes to any occasion on time. Even the hosts don’t expect you on time. If you ever decide to show up at the decided time, be sure to catch the host in an awkward moment, dressed in old rags rushing through last minute preparations.

 

As we rang the doorbell, auntiji came rushing to usher us in. She embraced me in a bear hug so tight that her big locket pressed again my chest and left an angry red mark. After exchanging the pleasantries, we all settled in the warm and welcoming living room. Delicious aroma was wafting through the air and it made my stomach grumble. I was so hungry, I couln’t concentrate on the talks and couldn’t wait for dinner. Auntiji brought in tall glasses of lemon-ginger welcome drink, known to work up appetite. I refused saying I won’t be able to eat anything at all if I drank that much. In India, it’s almost considered rude to refuse something to eat or drink, when you are being offered. ‘You young girls, you are all very figure-conscious these days. It’s just water. Drink it. There is still some time to dinner.’ She sounded nearly admonishing. I exchanged a quick wary glance with mom and grabbed the glass grudgingly. I wanted to enjoy the delicious biryani for dinner. I didn’t want to feel full with this.

 

The conversation shifted to what auntiji’s daughter was up to. She had recently joined a new company where she was drawing a hefty 5-figure salary. Of course, that information was passed in a very subtle-matter-of-fact manner. Like it was the most obvious thing to mention. Her daughter, that is my cousin, looked up at me and her face looked flushed with embarrassment. Auntiji didn’t waste any time in getting updates on what was happening in my life, and didn’t for a second hesitate in asking how much money I made. Since everyone was bragging, I made no bones about announcing I was going to be promoted. And I was glad she let the topic pass, without getting in to the details of my CTC. She exchanged a quick word with uncleji, ‘…something something…her son MBA…something…something.’ She opened her mouth to say something to my mom but before the discussion about my marriage or her daughter’s marriage could start, I intervened. “Aunty, the food smells delicious, and I can’t wait to eat.” I breathed a deep sigh. My cousin, also of marriageable age, looked relieved.

 

The dinner was a lavish feast. I think auntyji had made enough food to feed 20 people. The delicious dishes were spread out on the table. 2 kinds of vegetables, 2 kinds of mithai (sweets), Rotis, salads, raita, Dal, 2 kinds of namkeen (salty snacks), pickles, papads, curd, buttermilk and…biryani. We all gathered around the table. Auntyji heaped my plate with big ladle full of both the kinds of vegetable and generous portions of everything else. I tried to cover my plate with my hands, but she pushed my hands away to serve some more. “I‘d like some biryani,” I said. “Later, after you finish this,” she said. My meek protests fell on deaf ears. I wanted to save my appetite for biryani. But I wasn’t allowed to skip any item. A hospitable Indian host will make sure that the guest is fed well. It is almost customary for the guest to refuse more helpings of food and the host to insist on at least one more helping. ‘You young girls nibble on your food like toddlers. You need to put on some weight. You will need all the health and strength in the world to deliver a baby someday.’ Suddenly all the eyes turned in my direction, but surprisingly, no one felt that anything out of ordinary was just spoken. I was tongue-tied and my face was as red as red could me. I met my cousin’s eyes once again and we both ducked our heads to look down on to our plates.

 

No doubt the food was sumptuous, but I was so full that even the thought of biryani didn’t sound exciting. The pace of eating had come down considerably. As I was talking to my cousin, my head was turned in her direction. I didn’t realise when auntiji heaped my plate with biryani. When I turned back to my plate, my mouth was left hanging open. “Auntiji, I cant eat that much.’ “But you love biryani, eat slowly, there is no rush.”

 

My favourite biryani felt like a punishment. I was so full that I felt I wouldn’t be able to eat a bite more without throwing up. I looked at my dad, even he was struggling with his food. Mom was lost in banter with devil-ji. How I managed to finish that heap, only I know. It required insurmountable amount of determination and just-do-it attitude. But, it put me off biryani for life.

 

Just as I settled back on couch, barely able to register what was happening around me, auntiji flowed in fat glasses of sitafhal (custard apple) milkshake with ice-cream. I knew better than to protest by now.  I asked, “Can you perhaps have this packed aunty?” She gave a hearty laughter and exclaimed, “Funny girl!” She had obviously missed the point and thought I was kidding. I sat there holding the glass for as long as I remember.

 

I am sure most of you must have been in a situation similar to mine. Since, I really care for you my readers; I thought I will not let you find yourself in such a soup ever. Hence, I am sharing following tips with you. These might be handy whenever you are invited over for such big Indian feasts:

  • If your host has a reputation for being extra generous (meaning extra loving in India), fast at least a day before the feast.
  • Don’t praise the dishes too much, even if you really liked them; that will lead to magical appearance of more portions on your plate when you are found looking away.
  • Carry an empty polythene bag in your purse. You can put away all the extra food here when the host is not looking and use that food later next day for lunch. It is advisable to microwave it for 20 seconds.
  • Do 2 hours of rigorous cardio training before the designated feast time as this will make you as hungry as a dinosaur.
  • Don’t refuse anything upfront, this is not taken kindly and the host will assume this to be a personal insult. Find alternative ways of avoiding.
  • When the neighbouring person is engrossed in talking, smartly pass your extra food on to his plate. Make sure you look composed and innocent enough. He might not even really realise what you did.
  • If you have absolutely made up your mind to not over-eat, be sure to carry a medical prescription that says suffering from diarrhoea to show it to your host. And pray that the host doesn’t come back to you with some ghar-ka-nuska (home made remedy).
  • Make sure you are as generous as the host when you call them over to yours. This might be your chance for settling scores. After all, poison kills poison.