Tag Archives: Cooking

Food Encounters Of The Third Kind

Mum has left town this week so it’s time to play house-house again. I know what you’re thinking – how hard is it for a grown woman to manage a house? It’s not. What is difficult for a grown woman to manage, is another woman’s kitchen. Yes. We may share a living space. But when it comes to the culinary castle, my mother treats it like her personal kingdom and guards it jealously.

It is wonderfully convenient for me that she is such a good cook. So it really doesn’t hurt me too much to throw up my hands and concede the throne of Kitchendom to her. The trouble comes, when she has to travel for a few days. Unlike cupboards, study tables and bookshelves that can be locked away (What, you’re laughing at locking away a bookshelf? You must have never been a booklover then.), the food supply chain has to keep running. What to do?

In the early years, I shouldered the mantle of Temporary Kitchen Monarch. Naivete never had a better victim. All hell broke loose when I attempted to make a dum aloo, as a welcome-home, the day mother was to return. This being before the advent of Wikipedia and Google, I used a more primitive form of information gathering. I called my best friend’s mother. The recipe she gave me sounded simple enough. I was really quite proud with what turned out a few hours later.

Mother walked into the house. Stopped. Sniffed. Eyes bored into me accusing.


That incident has stayed a sore point with us since then and will probably go down in family lore. I deduced that she was smelling the garam masala (made from scratch using *I promise* vegetarian ingredients only). But maybe my Goan auntie’s recipe smelt like our Goan neighbor’s fish fry. Mother refused to touch a bite of the dum aloo. I protested, telling her that I had used ingredients from that very kitchen. I think she has never forgiven me for managing to turn out ‘non-vegetarian’ food from her very vegetarian ingredients.

Well, time to go. It’s been over 24 hours since mum left and the leftovers are nearly over. Weekend promises food encounters of the third kind. I better get my armour and shields ready. TO BATTLE, WOMAN!


Reverb 10.27: That’s Cold

Tch. Very blah Reverb10 prompt. Blah and so done over. I’m not even going to try at this one. Well, not really try, that is.

December 27 – Ordinary Joy

Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

(Author: Brené Brown)

Boyfriend? No, that’s huge.

Cooking? Naah, that’s pretty big for a kitchenphobic like me.

Writing assignments? Ordinary? You’re kidding, right?

Okay, got one. Last year Mumbai didn’t have a winter. Not even the piddly breeze that blows about and puts a flu into every second chest in the city. We sweltered all through Christmas, New Year and when May happened, no one even noticed.

Three years earlier, we had such a dramatic winter that even those damned smug Delhiites had to sit up and take notice. Joyfully, we went shopping and picked up sweaters, jackets, coats, scarves, shawls, shoes and socks. Nada after that.

Ten days back, the little hairs on our arms begin to stand up. Getting out of bed got harder. The sudden urge to snuggle trickled through even the most touch-worn of this city. Throats got queasy. Voices became hoarse. And a joyful (and raspy) whoop sounded across the city.

“It’s winter!”

Ideamarked! December 2010: Internet Delights, Online Wars, Schooltime Nostalgia, Curd Rice, Romance, Art & Writing

I’ve had a busy December, what with friends from out-of town, the big relationship questions, getting started on the Yahoo! Real Beauty arrangement and a month-long writing exercise (you’ll have to read further to know what!). But I still managed to keep an eye on things of mutual interest, dear reader. *Pause for applause* 😀 I’m feeling upbeat and high-spirited this month. So be nice and leave a comment or two telling me what you think and what else you’d like to see.

  • This would have been par de course in an 80s Bollywood flick dhak-dhak style! (via AwkwardFamilyPhotos)
  • Getting ready for the Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2011.
  • This really appeals to the Ideartist in me! (via PS-IMadeThis)
  • A month-long writing exercise with a daily prompt (via Reverb10) Hat-tipped by Lakshmi Jagad. Also see my posts on this, here.
  • I first heard this song featured on the soundtrack of ’13 Going On 30′ and then fell in love with it. It was the theme song of my journey to the big Three-O and beyond. (Billy Joel’s Vienna Waits For You via YouTube)
  • Two drifters off to see the world, there’s so much of world to see. A classic. (Breakfast in Tiffany’s Moon River via YouTube)
  • Stoopid copywriters, funny fails! (via Failblog)
  • An interesting concept: Turning off your phone as a technological gesture of affection. (via Arzan Wadia)
  • Some of us miss the forest for the trees. And then there are those who remind us to stop and pick a fruit and savour it before burning the forest down. (Ashwini Mishra on the small things)
  • I came upon this blog from a reader response. It took me back to my early days of blogging when blogs were personal journals (not blossoming ebusiness ideas) and bloggers were ordinary human beings (not the next big Internet celebrity). I particularly liked the idea of this tag (yes, another throwback to those days of yore) and his answers. (via Yuva Anandan)
  • I ran into an online war with Bombay Elektrik Projekt after I tweeted that I was disappointed with their Monday Night Slam event. They slammed me on their Facebook page and on Twitter. An account of the event is here.
  • I didn’t send this one in but it instantly reminded me of my Best Friend. (via PostSecret)
  • An ode to that humble king of South Indian cuisine – thayir sadam (curd rice to you philistines). The article has liberal local references so you’re advised to carry a Tamil-English dictionary. But it is worth a read. Damn, my stomach’s growling. And this after having had a sumptous dinner of the aforementioned thayir sadam!! (via HawkEyeView)
  • Remember the teenage sleuthing trio of Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews? My early adolescence was checkered with the adventures of The Three Investigators. Here’s remembering.
  • Horsing around (via AwkwardSchoolPictures)
  • Things you would never know without the movies (via TheTopSpace)
  • “Not email but Facebook may launch its own country by Monday!” (via FakingNews).
  • Hardware meets software? The clash of the giants. A good read, even for the techno-greeks. “Apple versus Google” (via IntelligentLife)
  • From the idea-archives: My article on learning to cook from the internet, which featured in JetLite’s in-flight magazine in October 2010. Cooking wannabes and seasoned chefs, do take note! (on The Idea-smithy)

If you see yourself (or your site featured here, if you’d like to be or if you’re just intrigued by the Ideamarked posts, do drop into The Idea-smithy Facebook Page and tell me about it. I love company!

Reverb10.26: The Way To This Woman’s Heart

This Reverb10 post will be very quick. Not because it’s boring. Actually it’s lovely. But it just will be quick.

December 26 – Soul Food

What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

(Author: Elise Marie Collins)

It was nearing the end of the monsoon. Weeks had passed and the ‘OMG really?’ feeling that I woke up to each morning, had ceased a bit. It was still early enough that we tiptoed around each other but not so much that we stopped at that.

We had done the fancy romantic dinner, complete with wine and fine dining in our first month. And a new house had just occupied much time and attention in both our lives. I hadn’t gotten around to thinking about what we were going to do on our second. Then he made a suggestion. In a hesitant, halting voice, peppered with ‘If you don’t mind’ and ‘Only if you think it’s a good idea’, he suggested a home-cooked meal. Did I mind? Did I?

It was the sweetest thing anyone has ever proposed to do for me, let alone actually done. The kitchen was foreign territory to him and utensils were like alien weapons. But he went online. He asked a female friend for advice. He visited a bookshop and bought a book. And he narrowed it down to something he thought I’d like and that he’d be able to manage – pasta.

On the 17th of September, we went shopping together for the ingredients (I insisted). I couldn’t help hovering around to watch him. He looked at bottles and packets and scratched his head. He popped down to the store for a bottle-opener and returned an hour later with a mysterious (dangerous-looking) contraption that neither of us has been able to figure out yet. We ended up breaking open the olive oil can with a kitchen knife. I showed him how to chop the tomatoes. He improvised (on his first cooking attempt!) and grated some cheese after the pasta was almost cooked.

An hour later we spooned the reddish sauce onto the white pasta on plastic plates. It was delicious. It was the best meal I’ve ever had. Call me corny, call me old-fashioned but what could possibly touch this cynical ol’ feminist heart more than a man who – against all odds – cooks a nice meal for her?

Reverb10.20: Things I Didn’t Get Around To Doing

I considering quitting but with this post I’ve made it to two-thirds of the way and it’d be a pity to stop now, wouldn’t it? So here goes today’s Reverb10.

December 20 – Beyond Avoidance

What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

(Author: Jake Nickell)

Very quickly, off the top of my head, things I didn’t manage to do this year that I could (and possibly should) have done:

  • Followed a consistent exercise schedule
  • Learnt to dance (salsa)
  • Baked
  • Grown a herb garden (I did manage a couple of basil plants and one ajwain)
  • Gone on a trek
  • Visited Vasai and other nature-rich spots in this city
  • Moved out
  • Learnt (again) to drive
  • Painted a mural in my room or on the wall outside my window

Reverb10.6: The Creative Flow

I actually like the Reverb 10 prompt on this one because I instantly had an answer and it also ties in to one of the most useful insights a friend brought my way earlier this year.

December 6 – Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)

I’m going to take this question to exclude the creation of writing. Other that writing, how have my creative ideas been expressed? Let’s see. I discovered a spark of an interest in the kitchen. Instead of falling back on the system, in my case my mother’s teachings and many cookbooks, I went online. I explored a cuisine I knew nothing about (and that my mother knew nothing about). And I experimented. The advantage was that my mother couldn’t stand over me correcting every little action. It freed me up to explore the art of cooking for myself. Full expression and mastery of a creative field does require privacy and the freedom to make your own mistakes. I think my mother doesn’t quite get that and her total and complete control over whatever I do in the kitchen, kills whatever spark I might have. I managed to break free of that by trying this. I made pesto, moussaka, Greek salad and a cake. 🙂 Tummy happy and mummy happy too!

The other thing that I did do is pick up fabric-painting again. Seven years ago, I used it as an escape from a difficult situation I was in. That time it was a bad relationship. This time, it was the anxiety and pressure I felt over my book. Surprisingly it really helped. It was such a comfort to be able to create something that I felt confident about. Alternately it was very relaxing to be able to mess around without anything really invested in the result. I also picked up the Ideart series again. What’s more, in a very funny way, it acted as a lubricant for my then-stuck writing. I guess creative expression through different outlets keeps things moving for an artist.

Of the many things I’d like to create, I’ll narrow down to the same two I’ve spoken of here. I would like to learn cooking further. I already have the basics of vegetarian South-Indian cooking. I identified non-vegetarian cooking and baking as two things I’d like to explore. It’s not entirely a coincidence that my mother does neither of these. She’s a wonder in the kitchen with her South-Indian vegetarian cooking. And somehow, there is just no room for me to experiment or indeed, prove myself there. It feels too much like a competition and one that I’d never win. On the other hand, in non-vegetarian cooking and baking, there’s no question of competition. I’d feel free to just be myself and mess about, confident that whatever turned out would be right and fine. Takes the pressure so very much off but retains all the fun and satisfaction of creation!

The other thing I’d like to do relates to visual art. I would love to paint a mural in my room or on the outer wall of my building. Currently I don’t see that being possible, since a lot of paints spark up my allergies. Having them in my bedroom would be condemning myself to months of allergy attacks. But it’s something that bears thinking about and maybe I’ll revisit it, in the weeks ahead.

I just realized my insight from this prompt was that result-orientedness could kill creativity. It’s a little too Zen to advocate not caring about results at all. But perhaps switching to something else, at least temporarily, can help take one’s mind off the pressure of doing well.

‘The Chef’s @’: Article In Oct 2010 JetLite Flight Magazine

October opens with promise, delectable aromas and lots of windows open on my computer. What am I on?

'The Chef's @' by Ramya Pandyan for Jet Airways Flight Magazine Oct 2010

My article titled ‘The Chef’s @’ appears in JetLite’s’ in-flight magazine through this month. It is a go-to primer for the culinary-challenged (like me) who nevertheless have appetites and luckily for them, an internet connection. If the kitchen scares you, don’t worry. The Internet is benevolent and bountiful and will teach you how to cater to this most basic of needs, in an easy, efficient and tasty manner.

If you’re flying this month, please do read the story and send me your thoughts. Bon voyage and bon appetit!

‘The Chef’s @’ by Ramya Pandyan

The kitchen has never been my favorite room in the house. But the hunger pangs come knocking every few hours, reminding me of the mealtime that looms up ahead. For most urban dwellers, the daily preparation of food can be a real problem. At the end of an demanding day full of gargantuan commitments of work, bills, children and household management, who has the time or energy to devote to several hours of preparing something, that will be gone in a few minutes? Like several other chores, this too could be sourced out to external help but finding a person whose skills (let alone temperament and salary demands) match one’s needs could be problematic. You are not a super chef but you don’t always want to order in or reheat packaged food or live off cup noodles. So what do you do? I decided to check online. Google was the solution to many of my needs so I figured, why not ask about the most basic one?

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The Sabbatical

Since I quit my job a little over six months ago, the one question I keep getting asked is,

So what are you doing these days?

Interesting isn’t it, how one’s career defines one’s life? At one point of time I used to resent the fact that my I was being forcibly defined by my relationship status. Now…I guess I can’t complain. It is after all, far better to be defined by what I am or am not doing rather than who I’m associated with and how.

So let’s see. I started off on the ‘sabbatical’ (and that’s in quotes for a reason. Say it in a sardonic tone). I had a stock answer ready for anyone who wanted to question my desicion and it was this,

I want to do things I haven’t had the time for all these years.

Have I done that? Well, some at least. I’ve painted the city walls (twice), started a novel, visited three different cities, appeared on TV, attended 4 weddings, 3 music gigs and an uncounted number of literary events. I have also had coffee, lunch, dinner and a lot in between with several people I haven’t had the time to meet, even though we stay in the same city and have, for years. And I even had time to accumulate a few new vices, unfashionable ones at that – Zynga Games, not to mention the compulsive Facebooking which resulted in the revival of a few friendships.

I’m exploring religion again (the last time I did this was when I was 17). And yes, quite wonderfully, I have been cooking! Now this is cliched I know. Leaving the daily rigours of a ‘typical’ life of someone of my age and background, a combination of sanyas and retirement to do these things. And so what? Ambition was learnt too early. No one told us that the killer instinct was a suicidal drug that would lead to burnout eventually. The highs came early as did the achievements. Okay, so I retired at 30. I retired from one kind of life.

I’m discovering another side of myself. The one other than that driven Alpha Female self. The one that is inherently lax underneath the compulsive time-scheduler. The one that lets time and dates slide by and has been hiding behind freakish list-making behaviour. The one that laughs with a striking, unfashionable suddenness at puns and other bad jokes. I like it.

Cooking is something I’ve always thought I detested. It turns out I don’t. The only thing I resented is the feeling that I’d never live up to my mum who is a fantastic cook. What’s more, it’s hardly ‘the thing’ for someone like me to do, is it? But well, the concept of me is very fluid at the moment (as Doctor Love a.k.a. Will Smith says in Hitch). What’s more, left to my own devices (and pun completely intended), I find there is no mean satisfaction in turning out something palatable, attractive and delicious.

Here are two complete meals I made on seperate occasions. The first was when I had a close friend over with her husband for the first time. I made Greek salad, spaghetti in Arrabiata sauce and pasta in Pesto.

Greek salad

Spaghetti in Arrabiata sauce

Pasta in pesto

I was delighted to note that the meal was received well and amazed that it surpassed even mum’s famous dahi-vada which was also part of the spread.

The second was yesterday. Mum’s not in town so this is a meal for dad and me. It has to be tasty (to suit me), devoid of oil, tuvar daal and masala (to match dad’s dietary restrictions), vegetarian (to pass mum’s regulations of her kitchen). I made Morkozhambu (that’s a sort of sambhar made with curd and moong daal instead of tuvar daal), brinjal kootu (a gravy preparation) and potato curry to be had with rice and ghee.


Brinjal kootu

Potato curry

Rice and ghee

I’m happy to say that when I came home late, dad had gone to bed but left a note on the table. It said,

Fabulous dinner! 🙂

Me a homemaker and a cook? Well, what do you know? These two incidents gave me as much satisfaction as getting promoted and the foreign conferences. In a different sort of way.

Last year, I had hit a certain point in my life where I felt I had so little to look forward to. Things had become routine, challenges had become annoying rather than interesting. If this break gave me nothing more than a peek into all the other things that I could be, the whole universe outside my career-woman cocoon, it has been worth every second of it.

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