Words

“If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

– Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre (also quoted in the Netflix series, Anne with an E).

The Glass Powder

They say time heals everything. Every wound. Every cut. Every scar. But, I somehow, don’t think anything can ever heal the minute broken pieces of the glass powder. When pressed against the skin, it can hurt the most. And when there are a million pieces of glass broken into a powder, the jar can never be kept close. Never. It has to be abandoned. Immediately. And forgotten. Wish, we could abandon our dreams too. Forever.

Words

“Our lives are not in the lap of the gods but in the hands of our cooks. Hence befriend your cook because so much of the enjoyment of life lies within his power to give or take away as he sees fit. It is the invariable test of a wise man whether he has good food at home or not.”

– Confucian (Chinese teacher) view of food (as read in the book, The Essential Andhra Cookbook)

Words

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverised bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.”

– Haruki Murakami in Kakfa on the Shore 

Words

 

IMG-20160518-WA0008

“If you can’t write a decent short story because of the cold, write something else. Write anything. Write a long letter to somebody. Tell them how cold you are. By the time the letter is received the sun will be out again and you will be warm again, but the letter will be there mentioning the cold. If it is so cold that you can’t make up a little ordinary Tuesday prose, why, what the hell, say anything that comes along, just so it’s the truth. Talk about your toes freezing, about the time you actually wanted to burn books to keep warm but couldn’t do it, about the phonograph. Speak of the little unimportant things on a cold day, when your mind is numb and feet and hands frozen. Mention the things you wanted to write but couldn’t. This is what I have been telling myself.”

~ The Cold Day by William Saroyan

PS: Found this short story in a book titled The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (Faber and Faber) written by William Saroyan. Bought this book from Any Amount of Books, London.

No looking back

DSC_0298 - Copy - Copy

I never used to cook much when I lived with my parents. After marriage, it was just me and my husband living together in Mumbai. My in-laws lived in a different state. So, there was no fear in my mind as such to get up early and prepare the tiffin on daily basis. 

One day, my mum gave me strict instructions over the phone. “Get up early. Take a bath. Say your prayers and ring the bell in the temple (present in the house). And then start cooking,” she said. The time was set. The lunch-box had to be ready by 8 AM as that’s when he left for work.

So, there I was, up at 5.30 AM, hell-bent on doing exactly what my mother asked me to do. I entered my kitchen only after doing all the three tasks. Rang the bell in my makeshift temple (felt heavenly). Washed my hands, and went near the basin to pick up the spinach leaves I kept the previous night to cook. The best part was, I did everything on time. Presently, the time was 6 AM sharp. And I saw an ant attack on my spinach leaves! The tiny warriors ran on the plate and I didn’t know what to do. So, I sat on my kitchen floor, and carefully, started separating the ants from the huge bunch of leaves.

I was extremely precise in separating them both ants and leaves. Slowly and steadily, I reached a level where my plate started weighing a bit lighter. Sometime, in between, my husband entered the kitchen and made himself a glass of Bournvita. “That’s okay, baby. I’m leaving for work,” he said. I, on the other hand, was in state of horror to push the million ants away from my spinach leaves. “I’m sorry. It’s such a mess here,” I responded, irritably.

And guess what? When he returned home in the evening around 6 or 7PM, I was still cleaning the same bunch of spinach leaves!

The following day, after the spinach and ant episode, I woke up in the last minute and prepared the lunch in my night-suit, gave the lunch-box to him and went back to complete sleep, while my husband went off to work. And that became my routine.

Well, now you would have guessed my speed when I started out working in the kitchen. I was damn slow. Things just registered late in my mind. Month after month, you could see my experiments with measurements going haywire, and I had to learn a lot from my mistakes. 

I have a passion for reading magazines, and it was in Marie Claire India magazine (discontinued now), in which I spotted the recipe of Amritsary Choley. The magazine used to carry beautiful photo essays, and I tore this particular page that comprised a chef’s recipe of it. In the big photo on that page, there was the holy Golden Temple, and in a small shot, you could see a bowl of Amritsary Choley. It was written in a simple language, and it just clicked to me that the recipe could be the path breaker for me as a home chef.

dsc_1342

So, I tried the recipe on one of the weekends, and loved it to the hilt. It’s rare when you make something that looks similar to the recipe’s original photo. And I was happy!

When I went to Amritsar, after a few years, I realised the flavours of the city’s local food items are not just magical, but inspiring as well. You start believing in good food, and good life. And when you can create an enchanting recipe at home, it does feel special.

And when it comes to my kitchen skills, I’d say, there is still a lot of scope of improvement. But, hey, it doesn’t matter more than one’s love for good food. Right? 

Recipe: Amritsary Chole with Ajwain Atte ki Poori

Ingredients

¾ cup – chickpeas (soaked overnight)
1 onion – finely chopped
1½ tomato – grind into paste
1 tsp – ginger and garlic paste
2-3 – dried red chillies
1 tsp – carom seeds (star of the dish)
1 tsp – cumin seeds
2 tsp – coriander powder
½ tsp – turmeric powder
1 tsp – red chilli powder (totally depends on your preference)
salt to taste
1½ tbsp – ghee
1½ tsp – chana masala (store-bought)
a few pinches – garam masala
a few pinches – anardana (for sour taste) OR tamarind pulp
For garnish

Coriander leaves – chopped
Ginger – finely cut, length-wise
Green chillies – as per your wish

Method

  1. Soak the chana or chickpeas overnight.
    2. Take the chana in a pressure cooker, add water, a tsp of ghee and turmeric powder, and close the lid. Give this 5 whistles, and then keep checking if the chickpeas have cooked properly or not. Keep the boiled chickpeas aside. Make sure there isn’t too much water, because we want a thick consistency, and not a runny one.
    3. I use a cast iron skillet to make my choley dark. So, in a cast iron skillet or kadai, add the ghee, turmeric powder, carom and cumin seeds, red chillies, and let it crackle for a few seconds. Now, dump in the chopped onion and ginger-garlic paste and start sautéing it.
    4. Now, add in the tomato paste, the spices, salt and sauté for a few minutes. You want the paste to become thick, but make sure that it doesn’t stick.
    5. Once the mixture is cooked well, add in the boiled chickpeas.
    6. Add some water, and let it boil for 10-15 minutes on low flame. Cover it with a lid, but keep checking in between.
    7. Once done, serve it with hot and fluffy pooris, and don’t forget to garnish. You can also serve some sliced raw onions, green chillies and lemon wedge to go with the dish.

Note: The last time I added anardana in this dish, I could take its hard texture in my choley. So, make sure you don’t add too much of it.

Recipe: Ajwain Atte ki Poori

Ingredients

whole wheat flour
2-3 pinches of salt
1 tsp carom seeds
1 tsp oil

Method

Mix all the ingredients, and make a tight dough. Make small balls, roll a ball into a small round shape, and fry it in oil. As you dip one in the oil, press it with the frying ladle from all sides to allow the poori to puff up. Make sure the flame is medium to high, and not low.

A kitchen secret

20170405_194250

Once I was talking to my ex-boss, Archana Pai Kulkari, about the despair of deciding menus. She was the magazine’s editor for which I used to work as a sub-editor. I wanted a book that could help me in the true sense. No, I didn’t need any fancy photos. Didn’t want to bring exotic veggies or ingredients for a recipe as well. Essentially, I wanted a book that could give me recipe options that I could cook up with whatever I have in hand. Archana immediately asked me what cookbooks I have with me. And she highly recommended a book called Vegetable Delights by Malini Bisen. Now, it’s hard for anyone to put down a suggestion given by her. She’s that good. I wasn’t a fool not to follow her.

So, the next morning, I found a copy of Malini Bisen on some weird online bookstore, where I didn’t shop before. They promised to deliver the book in 15 days. May be it’s a rare copy, I happily thought to myself. I clicked the buy button.

When I received the book, and looked at its contents page, I knew exactly what Archana was talking about. Published by Wilco Publishing House, the book offers recipes for 51 vegetables. Plus there are many other varieties of recipes as well. It made my daily job in the kitchen simple. I couldn’t stop thanking Archana for this gem of a book.

In my kitchen, it’s all about authentic recipes. I rarely use packaged food or readymade food. In fact, I don’t even have a mircowave. I don’t mind working hard for hours on a dish and doing things like soaking and fermenting, if the recipe calls for it. It has become a way of life now. Being at home allows me more time, though. I get that. Whenever I have a job in hand and a cook in the kitchen, I’m no more creative with planning our meals.

There are times when I need to cook a dish in minutes, and here’s when a book like Vegetable Delights comes to my rescue. For a popular vegetable like potato, Malini has given 30 recipes in her book. For green peas, she’s come up with 11 recipes. And for a rare one like cucumber, she’s written five recipes. Who cooks cucumber? Certainly, Malini knows the vegetable world better.

The vegetables go alphabetically in the contents page, and believe me, there’s no easier way to use the book. I also go through the chutney section of the book many times. If you’re an eager Indian cook, or a lover of authentic Indian recipes, you must have this one in your kitchen shelf.

PS. I miss our crazy talks, Archana Meedem. Only if I had a time machine at my disposal.