Beginner’s tips to make your kitchen eco-friendly

I know it could be better, but I’m working towards it!

I’ve been thinking about this for a few years, and it started slowly. My ways of making my kitchen eco-friendly, as much as I can. And still, there’s a long, long way to go. I haven’t had the courage to take the important steps yet, but yes, the thought can be clearly seen. Here, I talk about a few things that a beginner can follow. So, if you haven’t given all this a thought, here’s where you can start to do to make your kitchen environment-friendly.

Throw away the plastic
I was reading something for a health article on how one can treat PCOD. And I read a point that said don’t eat and store food in plastic. This was not one of the main points, but as I research a lot for my articles, I happened to see this point and it really made me wonder. How can storing food or eating food in plastic hamper our health? Soon, I went a bit stubborn and swapped all the plastic with steel and glass. Removed all the plastic jars, Tupperware boxes, plastic water bottles, my plastic chopping board, etc. and brought in typical Yera glass jars (from the old side of the city), steel lunch boxes and storage boxes, steel wire-mesh and bamboo baskets for storing veggies, and glass water bottles and steel ones for gym/travel purposes. Threw away those plastic bowls that I used to store freshly-cut veggies while preparing the meals and brought in the steel ones. My office mates did ask me, “What if you have to move abroad? What about all the glass then?” But that hardly bothered me. The electronics are mostly made with plastic, and my garbage bin has a biodegradable, recycled plastic bag. Plus, the food stuff, like the lentils and flours come in plastic packaging. And of course, some glass jars do have plastic lids on them. But, I will try and remove those plastic garbage bags and the lids as soon as possible, and will try to shop in bulk in cotton bags in future.

Dump the aluminium foil
I got in butter paper and white mulmul cloth pieces to store rotis, bread, etc. We don’t care if the food is no more hot when we open the lunch box in the office, as this foil is not good for health.

No microwave
I do have an oven to bake cakes and cookies, but no microwave to reheat food. I know there isn’t much reliable information on how a microwave can be bad for health, but I somehow never liked the idea of cooking or reheating stuff in the microwave. When friends come home to party, some ladies do point it out. But I don’t care. I can’t give a solid backup against microwaves here, but it just means that we have freshly cooked food in the kitchen, and I do think that food comes with an expiry date and can lose its nutrition when kept in the fridge or a packet for long. I always make sure that I cook food and have it in a few hours; of course, there are exceptions when a curry is too tasty, so I keep it in the fridge and reheat it in a pan the next day. But, you do get my point, right?

And no tissue-paper roll, please
This was pretty easy for me, and thank god I don’t live in the US as I have seen people returning from there who can’t do without tissue paper rolls (they can almost go paranoid about it). My mum uses clean cotton pieces (that may be made from a towel or bed sheet) in the kitchen and so do I. This also explains why I have to do so much of washing, as kitchen linen needs to be cleaned on a daily basis, but that can be sorted. Why do I do this? First, it saves paper, and second, it’s in your head that your tissue paper is bacteria-free. If you dry your squeaky clean kitchen linen in the sun, you might as well consider it safer to use. I do use paper towel when frying something to absorb the oil though.

Bring in the jute/cotton veggie bags
This one is simple. I buy my fruits, veggies and other grocery stuff in jute or cotton bags. Yes, there are times when I’m out and I need to buy something, but I can’t predict those shopping trips really. I do try to keep a spare bag in our car though. Secondly, I keep cotton drawstring bags in my shopper bags to keep the tiny veggies like peas and beans in it. Otherwise everything gets mixed up after the shopping trip. And finally, I don’t prefer to shop online when it comes to veggies. I always like to pick them up myself. This way, I also get to see other local/seasonal veggies around the veggie market. So, this also in a way doesn’t let those cardboard boxes or plastic wrappers in the kitchen. I haven’t tried frozen pre-cut veggies that are stored in plastic bags at the gourmet stores, so that’s another relief.

Use earthen, steel and cast-iron cookware
We all know this, but when we start cooking, we easily grab the non-stick/teflon pan, finish cooking, eat up the meal and then nod that one shouldn’t non-stick pans. Thanks to the beautiful exhibitions in Delhi NCR area, I was able to collect sturdy earthen skillets/pans for my Indian cooking. And I managed to get steel and cast-iron stuff during my travels to Rajasthan. These are healthier choices over aluminium/non-stick pans. And it can only happen if you are mindful in the kitchen. Knowing doesn’t help, practice does. Which is why, no fancy, colourful cookware in my kitchen. But I do sometimes dream of those Le Creuset cast iron skillets.

Limit your kitchen shopping needs
I remember when we bought our fridge as a newly married couple in Mumbai, I went berserk at the departmental store. I filled up my cart with all sorts of fancy sauce bottles, and whatnot. But now, it has come down vastly. What happens is, you spot beautiful bottles and packets at the gourmet/departmental store and keep buying stuff. Readymade food to god-knows-what. I get a weird feeling when I see both mothers and kids going crazy at the shopping alleys, filling up their carts with crazy food items. Try to limit this. First, always carry a list. Second, try to visit the food store when you need to, which can mean thrice a week. This will not allow extra stuff to come in, but only what you need. Because, really, you don’t need so much of stuff.

These are a few tips that I can give you as of now. Next, I want to work on my food waste management, as my kitchen bin is a mess. Want to start composting food that I can and recycle the waste as much as possible. Next, I want to start using natural cleaners. I did try that castile liquid soap, but for Indian cooking (oily steel vessels and plates), that soap really didn’t help me; need to explore. I still have a few plastic trays left in the kitchen that I use, but mostly, there are wooden trays that you can find. And, of course, I would love to make my own bread, jams, cookies, sauces, etc. which will in a way reduce my shopping list. Let me know if you can offer any more such tips. Because, if we don’t care for our future, who else will?

Glory of an afternoon tea

We had moved to a new place in Gurgaon, and I had a brief introduction with my neighbour. Although we often bumped into each other and she would sweetly invite me for tea but I hardly gave any attention to it. Back in Mumbai, nobody ever called me for tea, in fact, my neighbours used to happily shut their doors on my face. And as it is, I used to be too busy sulking in the bed when the clock ticked noon, and it usually were hours full of anxiety or restlessness or just boredom.

One day, Shesh, my neighbour, called me to have tea at her place. In my mind, I was like, no way! Have I turned into an aunty that I would go to her place for a cup of tea? I don’t even want to have tea (too lazy to walk into the kitchen for myself). The idea seemed way too weird to me.

In Gurgaon, I have had neighbours asking me what do I do, and when I blurt out that I’m a freelance writer or that I work from home, they quickly nod with disinterest and disappear. Mostly, I only found housewives or women who worked from home smiling at me after a line. Anyhow. I knew I had little scope of making friends, and having no kid didn’t help me either. Why would any mother at the park indulge in a talk with a fragile, pale-looking woman like me? I had no stroller to take around, and no smiles or hellos. But it was fine. I struggled with my writing career, and was mostly stuck at home. And that was life for me in Gurgaon.

Soon came the day when I did give in to idea of knocking at the neighbour’s door for tea. A few cookies would be good, too. But, yes, that was the sole idea. I was a little conscious in my Kurti-legging look that I layered with a mismatched pair of socks and a loose cardigan. Winters ruined my home looks to an extent. Shesh happily opened the door and I shyly went in. Still too nervous. “Will she like my fierce, strong and wild thoughts about life? I really hope not to reveal too much of my opinions about my life. Look at her lovely kids; she seems to be blessed,” I had too many things running in my head, and I didn’t seem to care too. We will see, I thought, and took a breath.

While I was sitting on the sofa, Shesh went into the kitchen to make the tea. I followed her, and for once, felt really good to see a woman making tea for me. Her kitchen was spick and span, in spite of the three kids running around the house. “What kind of tea would you like?” she asked me. I loved the question. “Just. Normal,” I replied. She was pounding some ginger in her steel mortar pestle, and I didn’t feel like telling anymore. Ginger tea would be perfect for a cold afternoon like this one. She then added in some cardamom too. Even better, I thought. Shesh made sure that the tea boils properly before pouring it into two colourful cups. She placed some biscuits in a plate, and then we walked back into the living room. Why didn’t no woman make tea like this for me before? It already felt good.

And then, started our usual talks and question-answer rounds. This woman didn’t seem like others. She had kept that judgement button behind for sure. I felt at ease while talking to her, explaining my almost non-existent writing career, and a bit about my family. She was much elder to me, but there was a connection, and I loved how she dealt with her kids in a composed manner. Shesh told me that she never had a neighbour so close before. “This building has been empty for years,” she said. The tea that she made was good; although I did ask for some namkeen (savoury dry snack) like bhujia later on. And our time went by. That cold afternoon didn’t feel bitter that day in some way.

That was how a beautiful friendship started off in a faraway land, my dear readers. I felt almost alone in the city, with hardly any friends. And it was humbling to see this woman whom I could trust for life. We loved sharing food, and talks that we couldn’t share with our husbands or mums. It’s wonderful how during our tea-time we used to lighten our heavy hearts to each other, and felt alive again. Sometimes our talks were plain silly, but the positive vibes bruised our souls for sure. You start your day in any manner, but when the noon hits, there can be days when you realise what’s wrong with your life. But with Shesh beside me, those empty hours filled up with happy cheers, and sometimes roars of laughter. Yes, there were days when one of us would tear apart with little hope, but by the end of our meet, both of us would be fine enough to face the remaining of the day with a big smile.

This is why I say the glory of an afternoon tea can be immense, my dear readers. It’s almost hard to define. Somehow, it was Shesh and her pure heart that took care of a messy me. And when I found her lost, I immediately tried to fuel her up with positive thoughts. Our friendship was like therapy for the soul. And, today, there are so many beautiful afternoon teas to look back and cherish. In our last days in Gurgaon, Shesh took care of me like a mother; yes, there is a huge age gap between us. I might find it difficult to explain to people how we spent our time together. But who cares? I got a friend whom I can keep for life.

Next year, I plan to visit that city for a day and knock at her door for a hot cup of tea. I would, as usual, be folding my legs on her sofa before we start pouring our hearts out to each other. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

I always miss you, Shesh. Care for some tea?

No such thing as thandi roti

One of the things that I should learn from my Nani ma (mum’s mother) is her simple way of eating. She’s extremely disciplined in almost everything, and especially when it comes to food. You can spread a luxurious buffet in front of her and she would still choose her simple food, and her native grains. That’s the kind of self-control and discipline that she has.

Nani ma would add only a tablespoon or two of milk in her tea; she would make her food and eat it right away. There’s no system of refrigerators in her world. She would hardly use it. Her food is that fresh.

You know in the world where people have full-time jobs, a refrigerator plays a vital role. And why not. They believe that no food can go stale in the fridge. They are meant to keep food fresh and nutritious. But, somehow, my 70-something Nani ma doesn’t seem to be impressed with this technology. I would like to mention here that Nani lost her husband (my Nana ji) almost 40 years ago and has raised five kids alone; struggling her way to settle each one of them. So you’d rather not talk about money issues, work pressure and a tough life. Nani has seen it all. And yet, simple and fresh food has been her mantra.

When I got to spend a few days with Nani in her kitchen, the last time I was in Jaisalmer, I was amazed. I had to note down a few things that she followed. You see, I was no more a kid but a 30-year-old grown up woman who is still trying to find her way to work in the kitchen. There are these two worlds in front of me: the modern and American-inspired one and the traditional world of my mum and her mum. So, what did I manage to learn from my Nani in that cold month of December? I secretly noticed her with a corner of my eye.

First, keep the stove, the kitchen floor, counter and the sink neat. She would constantly wipe it clean, even if it ticked 12 in the night, to make sure that the place where she cooks is spick and span. There’s no quick setting that she does. Second, stick to the local grains. In her case, bajra (pearl millet) scores the highest. Nothing comes out of a plastic packet but fabric bags and tin/steel boxes. Yes, the choices can be rather limited, but she’s too busy to look at the food trends to change her kitchen staples.

She loves ginger and black pepper in her tea and believes in keeping herself hydrated with loads of water. She would always eat on time, and get on with work. If given a chance, she would never sit in a bed corner, gossip or only make speaking ill about others her job. But, she would keep moving. Climb up the stairs. Sit on the floor and eat. Take on those heavy bags on her shoulders instead of looking at someone to help her with puppy eyes. That’s not my Nani. She’s someone who gets up early and watches CNBC to check the status of the stock market and the prices of gold, fuel, grains, etc. Yes, that’s the woman I’m talking about.

Here’s the highlight, the one thing I want to share with you guys. She would finish making her rotis, and never keep the dough for later. According to her, a roti kept for a few hours on the kitchen counter is better than the dough kept in the fridge. No wonder my mum has followed the same thing in her entire life (though she does store it during the daytime and uses it by dinnertime), and this habit has come to me as well.

Why it works for me, you may ask. Well, I cannot eat a heavy meal and stay outside the kitchen the entire day. Which is why, I keep reaching out for that roti ka dabba (roti box). My mum used to make a batch of rotis (about six whole-wheat rotis and two bajra/pearl millet rotis) and store it for later. It’s the best thing because when you have those little hunger pangs, you can just grab this box. It’s either some homemade mango pickle rolled in a roti or bajra roti with kadi (recipe in one of my previous posts). Which reminds me, have you tasted thandi (dry) bajra roti with homemade butter (makhan) spread and tiny crystals of sugar lightly sprinkled on it? Boy! I could die for it!

Nani ma prefers making her rotis when winding up the kitchen in the night, and having them with tea in the morning. These leftover rotis (I have seen people only giving these away to street dogs) are nutritious for you, but not that dough that you might keep for two-three days or even a week, in the fridge.

Back in Bangalore, when I used to live a student’s life, there was a local guardian of mine (Deepa Kaki) whom I frequently visited. She would ask me the special home dish that I would want to eat, and all I would say is leftover roti (thandi roti as we call it in our language) with kadi (spiced and cooked buttermilk). I used to crave for my mum’s roti ka dabba, and to see those thandi rotis covered inside a white mulmul fabric. My heart literally poured for them. Burgers and fries? No, thanks. Thandi roti is my quick go-to meal any given day.

Before I end this post, I would like to mention that one thing Nani ma would always reheat: her homemade ghee (clarified butter). She would want me to do the same when I was there inside her kitchen. “Heat up the ghee up on the hot griddle (roti tawa) that we’ve just taken off the flame and then use it,” she would say. Which went like, “Ghee tapaye le,” in our local Marwari language.

What do you love about your Nani’s food habits?

An uncommon feast

Yesterday, on the occasion of Nirjala Ekadashi, we didn’t cook any of the common grains like wheat and rice in the kitchen for it’s considered the biggest Ekadashi of the year.

Apart from fruits and Dudh Chai, today’s menu comprised homemade potato chips, Rajgira ki roti (amaranth), potato curry, Sabudana ke khichdi (tapioca sago), Samak ke chawal ki khichdi (barnyard millet), chaas or buttermilk, lassi (sweetened buttermilk), aam ras (hand-pressed mango juice), Singoda ke pakode (water chestnut flour fritters) with grated potato filling that was served with coriander chutney. Mind you, all this was seasoned with rock salt.

The sweet dish of the day, however, was Aloo ka halwa (potato porridge). Dear dad was given the duty to make this (only he has the patience to stir the large slotted spoon continuously) and of course that was accomplished with some finishing touches given by my mum.

Here’s how he made it: Roast the boiled and mashed potato in ghee (until you can see the ghee on the sides). This may sound easy but it’s not, as you don’t want to brown the potato. Next, add a cup of hot water and sugar with saffron threads and cardamom powder to it. Keep stirring till the water and sugar gets absorbed well. And there you have it; it’s that simple!

So, yesterday, every member of the family observed a fast and rather enjoyed the scrumptious fare of food items that was prepared in the kitchen. What are your favourite potato dishes?

Goa in the rains

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It was my first Goa trip back in the year 2012, and a much anticipated one all because of the rains. We boarded the train and then soon I was greeted by lush green fields and hills as my window view while I read my Ruskin Bond book. There were lots of waterfalls, streams and tunnels that made my ride a dreamy one. Although I did start to feel a bit uncomfortable in my chair but the views didn’t let me care more.

We had booked a room at the beautiful Turiya – a boutique villa in South Goa. And when we made an entry, I was already getting into a calm zone, thanks to the fragrant incense sticks and candles everywhere. I was a bit disappointed to know that the bathroom was not attached to our room. But as it was an off-season, and there were no guests, I knew the space was all ours! I was pleasantly surprised to see the bath area and could see the designer touch that the owner Sandesh Prabhu had given to it. The open-air corner with a huge stone tub-like structure looked stunning, if not less. We had four days to be spent here and now I was thrilled!

The food came next and Sandesh’s sister and the caretaker, Tukaram, made us a delicious yet homely meal. I was already in heaven. The reading area or the patio with the drizzling rain in the open garden looked inviting, and we were already in a zen-like mood. The afternoon tea and snacks that we had made me totally forget about the long train ride.

I and my husband next hired a two-wheeler and I took the plunge to drive it. We visited the nearby beach, which was big enough, but as it was rainy season, we couldn’t really walk on the beach for long. It was getting a bit windy, and the tides were getting a bit high, which is why people didn’t allow us to go near the waves. But I have no regrets because what waited for us next was breathtaking!

We started driving around the area and discovered tiny yet clean beach corners with no one around. We parked our two-wheeler on the road many a time and kept walking in the bushes; and after getting welcomed by a secluded beach corner with a few wooden logs kept near the shore, it felt like a reward. Stopping on one of those tiny river bridges and laughing away without reason made me forget all the frustrations that the city life gave me.

One of the days, we drove a lot, so much so that there came a peak point where it was getting difficult to drive the two-wheeler, given the hilly road. We were heading to North Goa, I suppose. Luckily, I happened to look back and there we saw the coastal curve adorned with coconut palms and rocks. My metallic digital camera couldn’t capture the entire coastal range; it was that huge, the view. We just stopped the wheels and adored the view for as long as we could.

Sometimes, we used to park our vehicle to see young boys play football in lush fields in the rains. Those little pauses here and there were filled with empty noise but I totally loved the experience as I was busy soaking the greenery. And you know what, there were no irritating bikers around us that one usually finds during peak season. South Goa was lazy and tranquil at the same time. Soon came our last evening at the villa and I decided to go for a spa session at Turiya’s in-house spa. And that was like a cherry on the cake!

During the nights, we had the old Goan villa for us alone, with Tukaram somewhere in the kitchen area. And that was another experience altogether. While during the days, it was lovely to curl up with a book on a rocking chair in one of the balconies and watching people walk up the road or cats cross walls. And the yum and homely meals made it even better for us.

The neighbourhood seemed to be in sync with the weather with laziness in the air. We didn’t party with loud music or soaked the sun on the beach. But, what’s a relaxing holiday anyway? This was it.

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While going back to the station, we hired a cab and visited a beautiful church; I was almost out of words to see the grey sky in the backdrop. There was another secluded church that we found around the place; after climbing up the stairs, we could see the river Mandovi from afar. Ah, those early marriage days of mine when I giggled away looking at secret corners; after seven years now, I don’t think I would have been the same me. Just a thought.

A good thing about us as a couple is that we don’t take those mobile apps seriously. I mean, we don’t let five-star reviews run our trip. We can easily slow down and spend our holiday days simply without any to-do list. That’s something I have got from my husband; because only then you can face little adventures and your trip becomes even more memorable. I went to South Goa in July 2012; and I definitely want to relive those tranquil days if given a chance.

A hint of bitterness

Fenugreek seed is one of the superfoods in an Indian pantry. As a kid, however, and even today as a grown up 30-year-old, I haven’t developed much liking for it. And so, most of the times, I just remove it aside in my plate when I see it in my curry or Kadi (made with buttermilk). The elders in my family, however, love fenugreek seeds (methi or मेठी as we call). My dad used to try feeding me Methi ki Kadi–that my mum makes especially for him–ever since my childhood days, but I always ran away when he brought a big morsel towards my face.

With age, however, I have started liking the flavour it gives to the Kadi or any other dish, but there’s still a long way to go. Yesterday, my mum made Methi ki Kadi with a side dish called Methi ki Launji (or loon-jee). It’s extremely healthy as it keeps digestion in check and controls inflammation. But there’s more to it. Methi ki Launji is both sweet and tangy in taste, and has a hint of bitterness to it; at least I feel so, unlike my dad. The raisins in it add a soft element to the dish, and it surely gives you a break from the regular vegetable recipes.

Recipe: Methi ki Launji

Ingredients:

3/4 cup – fenugreek seeds, salt to taste, oil for tempering, 1/4 cup – raisins (soaked for half an hour), 1.5 tsp coriander powder, 3/4 tsp red chilli powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp mango powder, a pinch of cumin seeds and asafoetida.

Method:

Boil the fenugreek seeds (my mum simply boiled it for 20 minutes); once done, strain it and keep it aside. Now take a kadai (skillet), add oil (according to your preference), and let it heat up a bit. Add the asafoetida, cumin seeds, turmeric powder and quickly add the boiled fenugreek seeds and the raisins. Now add all the other spices, salt and sugar. Let the fenugreek seeds soak in the spices for about five minutes and switch off the flame. Serve it with a parantha or roti.

I think when I start eating Methi ki Kadi and Methi ki Launji wholeheartedly, my dad would surely be proud of me. For this, according to him, is the good stuff! Make this and tell me how you like it.

Khoka, one of the wonders of Khejri tree

During our summer vacations in Jaiselmer, we kids munched on these Khokha pods and spit its seeds aside. It was something that was done while playing or talking to the cousins. It requires no cooking or washing. Khoka is mostly sweet in taste but not overtly sweet. When the Leeli Sangri (the green pods) grow up on the Khejri tree, they become stiff in texture (when not plucked from the tree) and are called Khoka.

When a bag of Khoka is kept in a room, its sweet fragrance takes over so much so that you can almost find it difficult to bear; but not me! I love it! My Nani got this bag full of Khoka for her eldest son, Deenu (one of my dear Mamas).

The nearby deserts of Jaiselmer enjoy the goodness of Khejri tree; each stage of the tree gives back to its caring keepers. No wonder people worshipped trees back then. And for someone living in the desert, each tree mattered so much!