Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Learn Cooking from Those With The 'Y' Gene

It seems I am getting nostalgic. Must have told my mom so many times that since I moved to the United States, which is nearly three and a half years back, I must have not just learnt different amazing recipes, but practical kitchen tips from men. Coming from a state in India, where a vast majority of men never entered the kitchen, even to make a cup of tea, it still surprises me and makes me so happy to learn a lot of cooking from men.
'A' himself is such a good cook. I always saw how my grand mother would toss the vegetables in the pan with one flick of the hand. And then after all these years, 'A' taught me how to do it. And then there's 'N' from Connecticut. What an amazing cook. He would call the entire gang -- almost 8-10 of us at his place, only because he wanted to cook. He would make the best appetizer from karela, by stuffing it and coating it in seasoned bread crumbs and baking it to make it a healthy appetizer!
I have to tell this anecdote of another friend from CT, who is such a natural cook. If you see him cooking, you know that it is in his genes. The entire gang was up at his place in Boston for the July 4 weekend. After seeing spectacular fireworks by the river, hunger got the better of all of us and we thought of going to a Diner. Most of them were closed on account of July 4. We headed back home. At 1 in the night, he made the best rajma (kidney beans in an Indian gravy) and rice. And guess what, that too without onions and tomatoes as he didn't have any at home. He made eggs-to order and heated up some leftover Thai curry that he made the previous day.
I must have thought of this occasion several times when I am bored, don't want to cook or am missing on some ingredient. It just peps me up and I no longer worry how my food will be.
I also learnt how to make daal (Indian lentils) in a jiffy from him.
After seeing the attitude of several Indian men in India and in the United States towards food and having the ability or inability to cook, I respect men who dish out amazing food. And that too not because they have to do it, but because they want to do it!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Time Management - The Indian Way

I had always heard a lot about Indians being known for not being punctual and that to a large extent, it is considered fashionable to be late. For people who do not know, IST is sometimes an abbreviation for 'Indian Stretchable Time', instead of the real 'Indian Standard Time'.
I had first hand experiences of people being late on my recent trip to India, about two months ago.

S called and said 'I will be there in ten minutes for sure. Can't wait to see you'. So I reach there by that time and am waiting for her in the sweltering July heat. 15 minutes have passed and there is no sign of her. I message her and ask if she is going to get late. The reply is prompt. 'Will be there in five minutes. Another 7-8 minutes and still no sign of her. I call up now. "I am leaving home now as I was forced to eat lunch". At this point I am losing patience for standing in the heat for more than half an hour. After that phone call, I decide not to call and just wait till she comes. I was losing patience faster and faster. 'Bas two minutes and I'll be there'. She finally came almost ten minutes after that. In all, I must have easily stood for 50 minutes in the sun.
I was livid and couldn't help but get mad at S although I was meeting her after more than three and a half years. I can understand that you have commitments and get late. But how much time or money does it take to just call or text a person and inform that they are running late. And that is not expecting a whole lot also! Anyway, after the meltdown, I had a great time with S and S. And we caught up on what's going on in our lives, and that we're happy where we are.
This was my first stint with punctuality or non-punctuality should I say

About a week after this, I am supposed to meet P at a restaurant at 1:30 in the afternoon. We are to meet at a popular restaurant, where it is difficult to get a table. And once you get a table, you eat your meal and leave. I reached around 1:45 PM, having been re-educated about punctuality already. I wait for about 15 minutes and then get a table. There is no sign of P at this time. It is half an hour beyond the time we were supposed to meet. I keep calling and get a call waiting. Finally around 2:15 PM, he calls and says he is leaving and was caught up in a phone interview with a person he was trying to get for some time. Again, because of the delay, I spent less time with P. Once again, no heads up that he was getting late.

My third stint was on my birthday. Another friend S was going to come around 3:30- 4:00 PM to wish me. This was coincidentally my last day in India before I took my flight to come back home. S is known to not keep time. But there was no call from her at all till about 8:00 PM. She of course didn't come till 4:00 PM, but no call after also. She called around 8 and said if she could come at 9:00. I had to say no A's parents were to come for dinner. She finally came after 10:00 PM that night. Once again, no information or notice that that person was going to be late - not by half an hour or so, but by a full six hours!

Why do people fail to think about other people's inconveniences? Why do they not think that other people are on tight schedules also, if not, tighter also? Why not spend a Rupee and just inform the other person that they're running late. Beats me how being late to some people makes them think that they are really busy and gives a sense of superiority. Have seen people in India and here in America who are professionally and socially at a much higher level, yet really respect time. It really is not very difficult to keep time. Try it.

The Diminishing Tradition of Pickle Making

Each family has some special things that are passed on from one generation to the other. Be it heirlooms, grandma's stories, family secrets or delectable recipes. Talking about food, when discussing with friends yesterday, we all realized how there are some recipes that might not be a part of our generation.
For instance, pickle and condiments. Our mothers laboriously toiled literally for days on end to make the most delicious pickles. They would make several different types of pickles - from shredded mango to pieces of mango, making and sweet, sour and spicy pickle. To add to that, the enthusiastic mothers also made different types of lemon pickles and many more. Anyone who has grown up in India will know that it used to be a project for the women of the family to sit and peel all mangoes, then cut them of almost the same size, leave them in the sun to dry for some time. Some other steps included mixing these pieces or shredded mango in the syrup, tying with a cloth and putting them in the sunlight for the sugar to melt.
The pickle was ready to eat two to three days after it was prepared and transferred in large jars. And this pickle would last the family for an entire year. To come to the point, some mothers still go through this laborious task of making pickle or achaar as it is called in Hindi. Some mothers don't if they have an empty nest at home and they have no one who would relish the pickle anymore. Some mothers make it despite having an empty nest. They would send it to their sons and daughters in other countries and give it to their relatives or friends. While talking yesterday, it made me curious as to how many children of my generation actually know how to make pickles. I am quite sure that if we were given just raw mangoes and some spices, we would not know how to proceed with it. It is a tradition that will not be carried forward for a very long time. There are several reasons for that. One is that the weather required to make these pickles is not there in other countries where the children may have settled.
The second reason is that time is a very important criteria in today's world. Gone are the days when mothers spent hours doing kitchen chores. Today, men and women do not make that a priority. Which brings me to the point that priorities have changed. And a very big factor is the ease with which ready-made food is available.
While speaking with friends yesterday, we were discussing that Swad, Deep and Sanjeev Kapoor's pickles are really delicious. It has become very convenient to just purchase a bottle from the shelf of an Indian store and you have pickle ready to be eaten. About 10-15 years back, this was not even thought of. It was only mom's pickle that went with the school tiffin box and for meals at home.
Our mothers learnt the art of making pickles, papads, and other annually made recipes from their mothers and their grandmothers and it was on passed on to them also from the generation before them. Some mothers still ask their children what they want to eat and in spring would make that pickle. That's where the pickle making translated from just a task to more than that. It's the sentiment of making so that everyone would enjoy it. Sadly, it won't be very long till the wonderful way of making pickles will be known only by reading in books and the Internet and not be seen as we did.

Of Doting Dads

We all come across situations and conversations that take place and they pass by as time goes. But then you still think about those moments and ponder about them. These couple of instances are something on those lines.
My husband and I met a family friend of our relatives over dinner one day. The friend, a person who muse be in his late '50s or early '60s has a daughter who is expecting. His wife passed away nearly fifteen years back. His daughter wanted to eat 'paapdi no lot'. A person with some knowledge about Gujarati food will know that 'paapdi no lot' is a dish that is not easy to prepare. He was absolutely calm about making it and didn't fret at all. He simply said that his daughter wanted to eat it and so he was going to make it.
He didn't have all ingredients to make it, so he took some from our relative. Almost a week or so after this incident, I still think about this incident. The girl is extremely fortunate to have a father who is tending to her needs in such a beautiful manner. I see more and more of how wonderfully fathers of all ages take up responsibilities of their children.
In another incident, a nephew was inviting his uncle to visit the United States. His uncle lost his wife nearly five years back and has two unmarried daughters still. He told his nephew that when he comes to the United States, then like several Indians who visit there, he would need at least three months to meet all relatives and visit places. But then he added that he will be able to do this at ease when both his daughters get married. "I have to get them both married first. Only then can I come there." Yes, it is natural for him to fulfill the responsibility as a parent, but it's a different thing to be so caring and do it with so much love and affection.
We all have our stories of dads and their children or incidences that stay in our minds and we ponder about. Put them in your comments if you feel comfortable about that. This blog is for my dad and all the wonderful dads who reach out to their children in their own special unique way

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The City of Mumbai That Is

When I lived in Mumbai, I used to go home to Baroda almost every fortnight. I used to meet with my friends during the Saturday and Sunday I got and then Sunday night or early Monday morning, I would head back for Mumbai. You know you have entered Mumbai the minute Mira Road station arrived. It’s a different feel altogether. The urgency people have in their steps, the pushing around to rush in the train that arrives every three minutes and the noise – all this and much more tell you that Mumbai has arrived. Whether you are alighting at Borivli, Andheri, Dadar or Mumbai Central station, the situation or rather the chaos is the same. The coolies are jostling to get inside at the same time passengers want to alight and walk towards the exit.
It is chaotic, it is dirty, people do push and you realize how people smell and have a sticky skin, but I still love the city, almost three years after I left it to come to the United States. I became a part of the spirit of Mumbai while I was there and it still lives within me. Mumbai’s made me a more confident, out-spoken person. I learnt one of the most important characteristics inherent to the city – to be street-smart and bindaas. How I love the cool air passing through my hair as I stand next to the compartment door of local trains and the enthusiasm with which the road-side keepers sell their wares – be it fresh vegetables or fruits, or daily home-related things like clothes line, soap bars or even lingerie for that matter.
This is only the beginning of how it feels when you enter this gigantic city. Yet you feel that you are a part of it. Although I have never grown up in Mumbai, I still feel that way. Here’s to the city and the indomitable spirit of it!