Monday, September 28, 2009

Attaining Geekdom Amidst Idli-Dosa

I've never been a geek, gadget freak or a nerd. In fact, I'd rather buy some clothes or something exotic to eat given the opportunity, not a mobile phone. Quite unlike The Spouse who looks to change his, and like a true doer, creates those opportunities.

Of late, though, my rather low-tech mobile developed a purple blemish that kept spreading but I hung on to it because I give more importance to character and less to good looks. But then, it gave up character and started switching itself off quite arbitrarily. Just like you'd want to forgive a dear one's bad behaviour despite having to grit your teeth and bear it, I persevered. It continued its caprices and I decided it was time I stood up for myself.

When I exchanged it for a new one, all I was particular about was the number of contacts I could accommodate in the new mobile phone. And maybe a more sophisticated camera that came with a straightforward camera-computer transfer cord rather than some infra-red gobbledygook that my previous mobile was equipped with but that my computer wasn't and I didn't know how to use. Sale concluded, I came back home with my not-so-expensive, still not-so-sophisticated gleaming black mobile phone, and sent off a text message to a friend.

Voila! The font was so nice, the text so clear, and all these were helped by the fact that the screen was bigger. It was as if I was seeing it through a pair of spectacles after being diagnosed for myopia. I toyed with the idea of sending off a few more messages but told myself not to be silly, and sent off just a couple more.

Over the next few days, I fixed the ring tone, its volume, began the task of cleaning up my contacts' list, and gazing at the smileys the phone provided. And sending more text messages. Then, on the fifth or sixth day, I undertook a 6-hour journey to my parents' home, with a big fat murder mystery for company. "Apres le petit dejeuner," I told myself, waiting for the packets of biscuits and chips that are usually sold on the chair car. They never came, and in deference to my sluggish metabolism, bought a cup of what passed for coffee. As I struggled to finish it so that I could stuff the paper cup in the magazine pouch and not have to go to the wash basin to pour it out, I began fiddling with my mobile. And discovered I could acess the Web without having to have it specially activated.

The connectivity was spotty, but I managed to access a few favourite sites, post a status update on one, and surfed some more. All around me, people were busy unpacking foil packs of idli and vada, trying carefully to not let the sambar slosh from the plastic pouches it came in. The smell is usually a big put-off but with my new toy, metabolism, breakfast and big fat mystery were forgotten, and not even the messages telling me I'd been charged a certain amount for a certain quantity of KB could deter me from experimenting with it.

While I'm off to commune with my mobile and discover more about its mult-faceted personality, don't forget to participate in The Write Taste, on till October 15, 2009. There's just two weeks left for you to participate!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Prawns & Greens, Expressly

For the first time ever, I listed the ingredients before I wrote out the story. And I'm glad they made the cut. They are ten in total but salt and chillies don't count, neither does the tadka, nor the water. And it's not something that I make everyday; in fact, this is the first time I'm making it. I have the vague impression that's it's a home-style/rustic dish, actually not even sure it existed till I went through a couple of cookbooks. I am late to the party but in the virtual world, attempts at a fashionably late entrance don't work as everything is subsumed in the round-up, so have I been late at all? ;)

Chukkakoora is my favourite variety of greens but a receding one - the shops in my neighbourhood that carry it have either closed down or stopped selling it. A meeting took me a little further away this past week and I found bunches of this in a large supermarket in the vicinity. Knowing that I couldn't use all of them, I regretfully restricted myself to buying only two. One bunch was used for dal and the leaves from the other were plucked and stored in the fridge. This morning, we used it up by pairing it with some prawns. It's nice and tangy, and don't omit the curry leaves.

Prawns: 250 gm
Onion: Chopped, a fistful
Chukkakoora/Ambat chukka/Khatti palak: 2 cups, washed (Chopping - optional)

Green chillies: 2, chopped
Red chillies: 2
Curry leaves: 2 sprigs
Salt, chilli powder - to taste
Turmeric: 1/4 tsp
Fenugreek seed: 1/4 tsp
Garlic: 3-4 cloves, crushed
Oil: 1-1.5 tbsp

Wash prawns, smear with chilli powder, salt and turmeric. Place in a pan and heat till the water oozes and evaporates. This takes just 2-3 minutes. (You'll have a hard time keeping your hands off the prawns till you go on to the next step, believe me.)

Simultaneously, cook the greens in another pan with chilli powder and the green chillies. You can sprinkle a little water if you like. Let it cook till it gets mushy (2-3 minutes).

By now, the prawns too would be cooked. Put them aside but in the same pan, add the oil and fry the onions, red chillies, garlic, curry leaves and fenugreek. Put the prawns back in, and add the mushed greens. Mix. Check for seasoning and take off the heat. This can be served with rice.


Don't forget to participate in The Write Taste, on till October 15, 2009. Details in the sidebar.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Taste Of The Write Taste

Ever since I announced The Write Taste two days ago, I've been getting the feeling that I killed you with clarity. Rather than do another post to clarify the doubts that seem to have cropped up (and haven't), I am doing one to show you what it can be like.

I want you to share a piece of good writing about food with the world. Here, then, are some of my selections.

I began to read The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, only two or three weeks ago. I have started off with his book Other Colours - Writings on Life, Art, Books and Cities (Faber and Faber 2008). These are translations by Maureen Freely.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Pamuk: "Pamuk's books are characterized by a confusion or loss of identity brought on in part by the conflict between Western and Eastern values. They are often disturbing or unsettling, but include complex, intriguing plots and characters of great depth. His works are also redolent with discussion of and fascination with the creative arts, such as literature and painting. Pamuk's work often touches on the deep-rooted tensions between East and West and tradition and modernism/secularism."

What I am going to quote from in this post is from a piece called Frankfurter, which first appeared in The New Yorker.

In the sixties, when the doner (now popular in Europe under this name and known in the United States by its Greek name, gyro) had yet to be invented, the frankfurter was the height of fashion and the most important food for those of us who had taken to eating in the streets. You would gaze through the glass at dark red tomato sauce that had been simmering all day and pick out one of the frankfurters that had been swimming like so many happy water buffaloes wallowing in the mud; you would point it out to the man with the tongs, and then you would wait impatiently for him to assemble the sandwich.

Hot dog stand at Times Square, New York, July 2009 (my photo)

The motivation, the pressure, to eat forbidden street food, which couldn't be eaten with "peace of mind" about its origins (in this case, whether the frankfurter came from cows or donkeys) is expressed by Pamuk thus:

In Istanbul, as elsewhere, people ate fast food on the streets not just because they were short of time, money or other opportunities but also, in my view, to escape that "peace of mind." To leave behind Islamic tradition, whose ideas about food were embedded in ideas about mothers, women and sacred privacy - to embrace modern life and become a city dweller - it was necessary to be ready and willing to eat food even if you didn't know where, how or why it was made.

And then, more insight:

The best thing about Istanbul street food is not that each vendor is different, offering specialities and chasing fashions, it is that each sells only the things he knows and loves. When I see the men who have taken a village dish - something their mother or their wife makes for them at home - out into the streets of the big city, certain that everyone else will love it too, it's not just their chickpea pilaf or grilled meatballs or fried mussels or stuffed mussels or Albanian liver that I savor but the proud beauty of their decorated stands, three-wheeled cars, and chairs.

You could even point to lighter stuff, funny and delightful, and, in this case, hardly anything else needs to be said. Ogden Nash, ever pithy and with a naughty sense of humour and rhyme all his own, is one of my favourite poets. Here's what he had to say about eels:

I don't mind eels
Except as meals

I hope that by now you've got an eel ... er ... feel for the event. Let the entries come in, I'm sure we can make a wonderful meal of them!

Note: I have done a guest post for Aparna who blogs at My Diverse Kitchen. You can read it here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Eventful Anniversary, In The Write Taste

An anniversary, like a birthday, is difficult to be impervious to. As much as age is just a number, and I didn’t even realise it when I recently crossed the 200-post mark, I’m young enough in blog years to be excited about blog birthdays.

I’m all of three today, though it does feel like I am growing up. And growing older. The first sign of the latter came with me wondering a few days ago when the anniversary was. That my first post went up on Dad’s birthday because it would be easy to remember had slipped my mind. As for growing up in the blog world - well, while my stats are static, I guess I have arrived, at least some distance, though the standard I’ve used to judge that is rather perverse - my photo made it to a national publication sans permission, and while my complaint was addressed immediately, it also earned me my first rude comment. And I even managed a repartee.

I’ve always got a kick from telling less-knowing family and friends who care about “my international readership”. Like those rare and precious things in life that can give us immense joy and thrill, are the blog and its assets, which include you, my dear readers and fellow bloggers. Thank you all for making this one lovely, exhilarating, and hopefully, never-ending, fun ride.

I mulled a commemorative event for the first anniversary two years ago but found a worthy idea only now. And yes, it’s going to be as tiresome as Grindless Gravies, with the rules being updated whenever I see a loophole cropping up, and maybe even rejecting entries if you’ve got it wrong. And I hope you’ll be gracious enough like you were the first time around and attempted to get it right the next time.

This event is not about cooking or recipes, it’s about food, and quality writing.

What I want you to do is share your favourite pieces of food writing with the rest of the world through this event. It could be prose, poetry, a scene from a play, fable, non-fiction, an article from a magazine or a newspaper, a food review, a cookbook review, a post in a blog, haiku, limerick, satire, anything; even writing that looks at food, cooking or eating in a negative light, but it has to have these as one of its main themes.

It could even be a recipe that has been written innovatively (please note: I don’t mean innovative recipe formats, like grids and such).

It doesn’t have to be all sensory and descriptive; it could be about food security, food safety, carbon footprint or other such serious topics, too. Only, if you choose something like this, try and find a not-too-technical piece as it might be more attractive to readers not familiar with those subjects.

It needn’t originally have been in English, but it needs to be a published English translation. In this case, please provide the relevant details, references and a link to the original piece of writing (or a link to information about it) so that readers who know that language can enjoy it.

Tell, in your post, why you like the work you’ve chosen, how you first came across it and what it means to you. Do make sure to link to information about it, quote a few excerpts, but please do not reproduce it in full - we don’t want to be charged with copyright violation. I encourage you to name not just the writers but the publishers, translators, edition, year of publication, all so that it can be easier to find if someone wants to get their hands on it.

This event is open to both bloggers and non-bloggers. The latter can mail me with their entries, depending on their size, I will host it on my blog and include it in the round-up.

Feel free to point to more than one piece of writing; whether in one post or multiple, I leave it to you. Do a new post for this event or re-publish an old one.

It shouldn’t, of course, be something that you yourself have written, nor should it be from this blog.

Link back to this post and mail me at srablogATgmailDOTcom. The details you have to give me include:

Your (blogger) name

Your blog name

Your location (optional)

Blog URL

Post URL

Name of author/blog/blogger and the title of the work you’re highlighting.

Please say: ‘The Write Taste’ in the e-mail’s subject field.

I’ll accept entries till October 15, and maybe even a little later, depending on how far I’ve come with the round-up.

Come, indulge me!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Curry Post-O!

Why is your food often so yellow, is a question I get sometimes. I can only conclude that I have a generous hand with the turmeric but sometimes it's too much even for me. Recently, when I marinated this chicken for a curry, the recipe asked for a teaspoon but I suspect I used way more, because the chicken began to smell of turmeric. And my heart began to quake. Because as good as turmeric is, an overdose of it in anything can be very trying.

It must have been the two-hour marination, because the smell miraculously disappeared from the end-product and it was gobbled down by The Eaters, who didn't have anything more elevating to say than "It's alright" amidst all the wolfing. Only when they were asked.

I got this recipe from a book called Cooking With Chicken by Kamal Mehta. This recipe is called Peekoo Posto Chicken. I wonder if Peekoo is the person who provided the recipe! Posto is the poppy seed, which is a key ingredient in this recipe. I made only one substitution - used oil instead of ghee - and one omission - left out the sugar.

Chicken: 1 kg, lean meat
Onions: 2 large, chopped
Garlic: 6 cloves
Green chilli: 4
Ginger: 5 cm piece
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
Curds/Yoghurt: 1.5 cups
Poppy seed: 1.5 tbsp, ground to paste/powder
Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
Oil: 2 tbsp
Cinnamon: 4 cm
Cloves: 6
Green cardamom: 10
Salt, to taste
Water: 1/2 cup

Grind the garlic, chillies and ginger to a paste. Mix it with the curds, turmeric, poppy seed and coriander powders and marinate it in this for at least two hours. (The recipe said 6 hours.)

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Let them splutter, and add the onions and fry till golden brown.

Add chicken, salt and the marinade. Cover and cook on medium flame till all the juices come out.

Now increase the flame and fry till reddish in colour. (This 'reddening' didn't happen to me, so I gave up trying.)

Add half a cup of water and over a very slow fire, simmer for 10 minutes.

This entry goes to Barbara at Winos and Foodies, who's conducting the LiveSTRONG With A Taste of Yellow event, an official event of the LiveSTRONG Day, an initative of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Snap, Pop and Muse

Remember this post? Some of you couldn't believe I'd given it such a title, and even I've been wondering at my own sense of humour ever since. In the quest for attractive headlines, I seem to have attracted an entire category who, in all likelihood, had cooking and humour far from their minds.

But, again, this is literally about the same thing. To do my bit to throw such abovementioned seekers off track and get the right seekers here, I will refer to this vegetable now as okra.

Yesterday, there were two urgent (well, consecutive) calls from my friend V, so I terminated the conversation I was having and called her, wondering what was up. "I'm so irritated," she said. "Last night, I went shopping for vegetables, and all the okra were mutilated. What do these old people hope to achieve by snapping each and every one of them? All you need to do with okra is touch them, and you'll know whether they are tender or not." (At this point, I had to interrupt the conversation and hurriedly own up that I too, young as I am, am a compulsive okra snapper; and V being my friend, dismissively excused me for my behaviour and continued venting.) "And everytime I go to XYZ (a certain shop that sells vegetables), there are hordes of them, old men and women, holding bags, feeling up these vegetables, discussing them endlessly, choking up the aisles. There was one such group yesterday, discussing turnips, and they didn't even buy them ultimately! They didn't even know the vegetables they were calling turnips weren't turnips. Why do they even come there? Can't they find another place to socialise?"

Most importantly, she said, people don't want to listen to loud recipes which are supposed to be proven aphrodisiacs (V, you could be wrong there!); or how you can shame your mother-in-law into oblivion with your baingan bhartha recipe; or the boring bottlegourd for oedoematous feet. She would, however, appreciate a recipe to lower the blood pressure caused by all this banality. Bloggers and non-bloggers alike, please feel free to leave your tips here in the comments section. As these cannot be tried and tested immediately, I'm not offering any prizes for the best tip.

She'd wanted to get this off her chest since the previous night, she said, and rang off. That left me wondering - what other behaviour during vegetable shopping gets your goat? If merely touching okra can tell you whether it's worthy of you or not, I thought, I've failed miserably in the Department of Vegetable Choosing. But on prolonged reflection, I think V does have a point - even I seem to understand how I can assess the okra.

When I started everyday, well, not everyday but routine, home cooking, I found out my uncle could tell whether the food cooking on the stove was salted enough or not by the smell. Not having any previous experience, I was amazed and even wondered if Uncle was pulling a fast one on me. But believe it or not, nowadays I am able to suss it out myself occasionally! Incidentally, I've also seen a few men of the older generations, who have probably never cooked in their life, hold forth on how a particular taste can be achieved or enhanced or altered. If only they'd played their part in the kitchen!

That brings me to another subject that's often on my mind: the joy - or not - of cooking. For many women (and men) who do it regularly, as well as us bloggers not excluding me, it is often a tiresome chore. See the discussion in this post. I've always wanted to bring to your attention a wonderful poem, Vantillu (Kitchen) by a Telugu poet, Vimala, on how kitchens and cooking sap women of their personality, dreams, joys, how such tasks are chores unwept and unsung. The poem also highlights the role of the omnipresent male dominance and chauvinism that contributes to these situations. For me, the most powerful part is when the poet points out (and I'm translating and paraphrasing here) 'how even the jasmine has begun to reek of the kitchen, damn it, let's destroy these kitchens now!'

Many of us, bloggers or not, are privileged in that we are able to enjoy cooking and write about it, take pictures of it, celebrate it. For some, the kitchen could even be a refuge. But just imagine how wearying it must be to make and plan meals every few hours of the day! How could it have been enjoyable, unless you were a strong-willed woman who decided that you would have fun no matter what?