Thursday, March 08, 2018

My culinary journey so far

My cooking skills were non existent till I was into my late 30s. If batter was there, I could make decent Dosais. I also learned to cook rice in an open pot. That was about it. I didn't learn to cook for myself. Could not even prepare proper decoction for filter coffee that I love.

During my early days as an Engineer in a fertiliser factory, I was given a two bedroom quarters where I stayed there alone for nearly 3 years. My mother gave me an induction stove and some vessels, hoping I would cook now and then. Not once did I switch on that stove. For vegetarians like me, Tuticorin in 1990s had very few options. Yet I ate out daily in parotta stalls and road side dosai shops. Never tried to cook. 

After my marriage, the same thing continued. We were staying with my parents, so I hardly went to the kitchen. My wife too loves to cook, and things went swimmingly well. It wasn't that I thought cooking wasn't a man's job, just that I was terrified of the seeming complexities involved in cooking a single dish. I didn't even know that one had to make tadka for Rasam. I wrote about it here.

Things came to a head in 2013. My wife went on an onsite visit for four months. My parents went abroad to be with my newly married brother. My in-laws went on a pilgrimage. All at the same time. So there was a window of two weeks when I had to send the kids to school all by myself. 

I was terrified to say the least. Each day morning was an ordeal. I had to pack lunch five days a week. One day I would make mini oothappams. Another day curd rice with potato fry. What about the other three days? When I attempted to make Pooris they never puffed up. I tried to make mixed vegetable rice, and well, they were either mushy or stood ram rod straight. Never got the right consistency. Rasam and Sambar were out of the question. I was exhausted after struggling to pack lunch for two kids daily.

Poor kids, they put up with my attempts for two weeks till my in-laws came back. Those two weeks made me realize how bad I was at one life skill that I needed. It was around this time my wife joined the UBF (United By Food) cooking group in FaceBook. Their promise was simple. They broke down complex Indian recipes into easy to do blocks and perfected some techniques so that any dish could be made in One Pot (Pressure Cooker mostly) and in One Shot (put up the cooker on stove and cook for n number of whistles), and your dish was ready. My wife used to save the recipe cards in our common cloud folder. I looked at them sceptically. Cooking a Biriyani can't be so easy, can it?

I still didn't gather the courage to start cooking. I went back to my normal mode once my parents came back. I didn't go back to the kitchen.

In my family, my wife and daughter eat meat dishes. Me and my son are vegetarian. Since my wife was abroad, I used to buy Chicken Biriyani from the hotel for my daughter. One day on an impulse I decided to follow the OPOS recipe card and cook Chicken Biriyani. It was SIMPLE. As simple as the recipe card promised. I was hooked. I started trying out various dishes. Desserts were the first, easy to cook and well received.

Choco Flan - made with eggs and condensed milk

Though a vegetarian, I have no hang ups about cooking meat. The fact that one half of my family is vegetarian while the other half are meat eaters helps. I have some one else clean the meat though.  Cooking meat was fairly easier than the vegetables in OPOS. I have hardly made a mistake while cooking meat. 

Pepper Chicken

Gongura Chicken

Mutton Sukka

My wife was initially hesitant to let me cook because she was sure that I will mess up. I had to convince her a lot before letting me cook. An advantage of OPOS is it uses minimal number of vessels. So cleaning up after cooking is very easy.

As she started traveling more, I had to pack lunch for kids on regular basis. Once you plan everything the night before and have the vegetables cut, making lunch at the morning was a breeze. It took hardly ten minutes to rustle up this Brinji.


I became an evangelist for OPOS cooking. Got a couple of my friends to join the group. I started trying out more fancy stuff. One thing I noticed was those who already knew to cook found it difficult to follow OPOS as it went against their notions of cooking. But for newbies like me, it was easy and it was a life saver in many occasions. 

There is a constant debate about how OPOS deprives the joy of cooking and how it is not really authentic. I am not getting into that debate. I started cooking non OPOS dishes and found that cooking was therapeutic too. Especially making Palkova by traditional method. Whenever I am stressed out, nearly an hour spent stirring the milk calms me down :-)

I am not paid by OPOS nor am I member of their FB group :-). They now have an youtube channel OPOS chef . You can also buy the OPOS cook book in Kindle.

Learning to cook has helped me a lot. There was a learning curve, but it wasn't steep. Cooking is one of the things that gives me joy, which I impose on unsuspecting followers in Instagram. Learn cooking, it is one of the life skills you definitely need. My son too has caught the bug and makes us Dosais some days when we are tired. He is 11.

But don't think that we have a harmonious time cooking in the kitchen. Early in my journey I realised it doesn't work that way. She wants just a glorified helper, who will hand over things as she asks. I chafe at being reduced to a gofer. After a couple of attempts, we have called truce. Both me and my wife cook, but independently.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Vermeer's Yellow Wall

I was reading Gregory Rabassa's ( translator par excellence) "If This Be Treason" and came across this line where he was tearing into reviewers of translations.

"These are people who would improve things by whitewashing Vermeer's yellow wall"

I am not an art connoisseur, yet even I had heard about Johannes Vermeer. I started searching for Vermeer's yellow wall.

The wall in question was from the painting "View of Delft". It had been immortalised by Marcel Proust in his novel "In search of lost time" in this paragraph.

"At last he came to the Vermeer, which he remembered as more striking, more different from anything else he knew, but in which, thanks to the critic's article, he noticed for the first time some small figures in blue, that the sand was pink, and, finally, the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall. His dizziness increased; he fixed his gaze, like a child upon a yellow butterfly that it wants to catch, on the precious little patch of wall. 'That's how I ought to have written,' he said. 'My last books are too dry, I ought to have gone over them with a few layers of colour, made my language precious in itself, like this little patch of yellow wall...' He repeated to himself: 'Little patch of yellow wall, with a sloping roof, little patch of yellow wall...'"

This article explains the context and the importance of the yellow wall for the character.

Pleasures of reading. Where one started with Gregory Rabassa and reached Marcel Proust via Johannes Vermeer.

Friday, November 10, 2017

வாழைக்காய் வறுவல்

"அப்பா இன்னிக்கு வாழைக்காய் வறுவல் ரொம்ப நல்லாருந்துச்சு. ஃபிரண்ட்ஸ் எல்லாரும் சாப்டுட்டு நல்லா இருந்துச்சுன்னு உங்க கிட்ட சொல்லச் சொன்னாங்க"

"அப்பா தான் செஞ்சேன்னு சொன்னியா"

"ஆமா, யாரு பண்ணான்னு கேட்டாங்க. அம்மா ஊருக்குப் போயிருக்காங்க, அப்பா தான் செஞ்சாருன்னு சொன்னேன். அடுத்த வாரமும் செஞ்சு தர்ரீங்களா"

"அடுத்த வாரம் அம்மா வந்துடுவாங்க, பண்ணிக் கொடுக்கச் சொல்றேன்டா"

"ஆனா அம்மா பண்றத விட நீங்க பண்றது தான் நல்லாருக்கு"

"அம்மா கேட்டா உதைப்பாடா"

"நான் ஃபேக்ட தான் சொல்றேன்"

கொஞ்ச நேரத்தில் அவனுக்கே பயம் வந்து விட்டது.

" ஆனா பிஸிபேளா பாத் அம்மா தான் நல்லா செய்வாங்க" என்று ஜாமீன் வாங்கி வைத்து விட்டான். 

இது தான் அந்தப் புகழ்பெற்ற வாழைக்காய் வறுவல்.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

QUIT 2017 - Day 9.

Started from Vizag at 06.00 AM and reached Chennai by 8.48 PM. With an hour's lunch break at Vijayawada.

Three States. Nine days. Three thousand Two hundred and Thirty Seven kilometers. From Buddhist stupas to oldest Shiva Lingam to awesome waterfalls - it was fun.

One is never fully satisfied with a trip. There's so much that could have been done, there's so much that one has missed. But there's always another day and another road.

If possible, get on the road. It enriches your life.

Friday, October 06, 2017

QUIT 2017 - Day 8

After yesterday's wild goose chase we decided to head back to Chennai by the same route we came. Started at 6.00 AM from Jagdalpur. Roads were clear and the drive till Jeypore was good. I will reiterate once again, monsoon time Chattisgarh is one of the best sights you will see in your life.

Panoramic view of Jagdalpur - Jeypore road

Jeypore Ghat road was even worse than what it was two days ago. To be honest there was only Ghat, no road.  Road work is going on the entire stretch so it was full of gravel and mud roads. Overnight rains had left the whole road slushy. Taking a hairpin bend in a slushy road was tricky.

Once we got down the ghat road, we took the Jeypore - Araku road. With overcast sky, the road was even more beautiful than two days ago. So many shades of green, so much beauty that it hurt the eyes. Stopped for a quick photoshoot after Lamtaput and drove on.

Scene near Lamtaput

Good place for a photo shoot

The skies opened up soon afterwards and it poured non stop for nearly an hour. The lake near Paduwa was now a raging river. Driving was a little difficult, but there were no other vehicles on the road, so it was ok. Roads were good except the bridges were work was going on. After yesterday's experience, I was doubly careful while driving through the bridge diversions.

Lake  that turned into a raging river, near Paduwa

Rains let up as we entered Araku. From a deserted road, we suddenly found  ourselves in the midst of a crowd of 500 people after a turn in the road. It was the friday tribal market, I think. Fresh produce was being sold in bulk. We inched our way through the market.

It was 10.30 AM by the time we reached Araku. All the hotels were closed. So our plan of a late breakfast was shelved and we drove on to Vizag. Breakfast was just snacks and biscuits we had packed. A word here about my son. He coped admirably with the change  in plans and haywired eating schedule. Most of the days breakfast was just cup noodles or biscuits as we  always start early in the day. He didn't complain at all.

Reached Vizag at 02.00 PM and checked into the hotel. Had a hearty lunch. I was so famished that I finished an entire plate of Veg Dum Biriyani (Andhra level serving size). In the evening took son to the Kursura Submarine museum in the beach. INS Kursura, a 1969 vintage submarine was decomissioned in 2001 and converted into a museum in 2002. It is in Ramakrishna beach in Vizag and you get a guided tour for Rs. 40.00. Doesn't take much time, hardly 10 minutes.

Beautiful Vizag sky
 I waited till I got out of Chattisgarh to post this. The day I entered Chattisgarh, I was stopped at a check post.

The Police inspector saw the papers and said "Your licence is expired. Cheep licence we need".
I didn't understand what he was saying. He showed a licence of another person standing next to me .
"Aah, Chip licence. But officer, Tamil Nadu doesn't issue smart card driving licence yet"
"Arre, this is all India practice. Your licence won't be accepted. See this fellow (lorry driver standing next to me), he is from Karnataka. He too has cheep licence"
"But Sir, our government hasn't issued it yet"
"No no. You pay fine"

I wasn't going to argue for USDR with Chattisgarh Police. So paid the Rs. 600.00 fine and proceeded. Last year I was checked in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. None of them had any problem with the licence. I need to check on what is the status with Smart card Driving Licence in Tamil Nadu. The tender was cancelled some years ago and haven't heard much about it after that.

Tomorrow's plan is a long drive to Nellore. Total distance travelled so far : 2400 kms.