Friday, December 25, 2020

CAST THE IRON SKILLET AWAY!

 


My husband looked at me, excitement on his face.

“Let’s buy a cast iron skillet. I believe dosas come out crisp and nice on them!”

One of his hobbies is browsing the Internet for all the latest gadgets and things which make life easier for the two of us. Like the time he found a slim plastic cabinet which could neatly slide into the narrowest nook and yet have space enough to keep all the masalas that make an Indian kitchen what it should be. Of course, he also picked up masalas from myriad cultures – West Indian, Arabic, Mediterranean… so that they could be displayed there.

My sister had already introduced us to authentic Christian meat and chicken masala from Kottayam made exclusively by one family.

Going back, my husband tries to cut the clutter in the house by buying various guaranteed products to cut clutter. However, he has finally realized, after three decades, that he is living with someone who must have been a magpie in her last birth. In fact, her entire family, her mother and her sisters, must have also come from the same stock in their previous births.

Dreamstime.com

So, now we have fridge separators, under the sink organizers, magnetic wall strips for knives, S shaped hooks for hanging mugs, ladles, graters, and enough storage space for three households.

“How can one person fill up space with so little effort?” is his constant refrain. No prizes for guessing whom he is referring to! Sadly, he doesn’t see the mammoth effort it does take to fill space up at regular intervals. The iron skillet was one such buy on his part. 

“Let us throw out all the other tawas we have,” he announced the moment the massive package arrived. I have always wondered why online shopping products come in such huge cardboard boxes. There is a process to process these packages, especially now that the virus could be lurking in or on it.

                                                                      IndiaMART

The package is deposited outside, then lifted gingerly and placed in a corner where there is no clutter! Once that corner is identified (with difficulty!), we give the box a couple of hours to air itself, and the virus, out.

Out come the scissors, and a half hour goes in peeling off all the tape, cutting through the cardboard, lifting out reams and reams of paper or bubble wrap, depending on the fragility of the product. At the end, right at the bottom of the massive box, nestles a tiny little packet that makes you feel triumphant, almost like the Seeker who captures the Golden Snitch in Harry Potter’s game of Quidditch and wins the match for his team.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the cast iron skillet, and its long slim ladle, emerged in all their glory with instructions to season the former well before using it. This was supposed to be a skillet for all seasons! Pun intended!

My husband and I took it in turns to nurture the new baby, rubbing oil on it, keeping it clean and well moisturized, just about refraining from dousing it with Johnson’s talcum powder as well.

Voila! It was time to make our first dosa. There was a wooden contraption with a blob of cloth along with it to oil the surface. However, anticipating how dirty that would get in due course, we opted for half an oiled onion to wipe it with.

The skillet sat on the stove, heating up gently, as I rubbed the onion on it, the tantalizing aroma riding up my nose as the surface sizzled. I took a ladle full of batter and poured it, going round and round to make it as thin as possible. What a lovely sight it was, the dosa getting crisp and brown as the ghee bubbled on its circumference, lifting it up slightly. One quick whirl and there it lay, a perfect, crisp, brown specimen that made both our hearts sing.

“Such a wonderful buy!” I exclaimed to my delighted husband. “Now we will have the best dosas in town!”

Maybe there is a hidden power that listens to such exclamations and decides to cancel them out.

Even as the seasoning and the oiling routine continued, our baby started showing traces of having a mind of its own. The first dosa would be perfect, the second one just the opposite. I would pour the batter out in all its glory and add the ghee, holding my breath. And it would stick like a limpet to the surface, almost like chewing gum stuck to hair. I would scrape and swear, sliding the iron ladle under the now set batter, which held on for dear life. Often it turned into a tussle, as I scraped the surface noisily, trying to salvage the bits and pieces which we would eat off the skillet as fast as they crisped.

Needless to say, my patience gave way and I soon went back to my old faithful non- stick skillet, which promptly began working twice as well as before. Maybe it had sensed that it was in danger of superannuation. Meanwhile, the cast iron one stood against the wall, with patches of rust forming on its surface. 

However, my husband, never one to give up without a fight, went on to YouTube and looked at videos explaining how to maintain cast iron.

“Season it well. Wash it, and season it again!”

Once that was done, he dunked it into a large vessel with rice water (kanji), which was supposed to work miracles. For a day and a night, it lay there, undergoing a metamorphosis. When he finally took it out and washed it, it shone, almost as if it had been to a spa and back.

“Is it ready to use?” I queried my better half.

“Nope, now it needs another oiling!” was his sage answer. “Then tomorrow morning, you need to fry some onions on it, and then, it will be as good as new!”

I refrained from telling him that it was practically new! It certainly looked shinier and more user-friendly now. The onions were fried, the oil sizzled and...?

 This story should have a fairy tale ending, right? The tawa, my husband and I living happily ever after, and all that?

Humph!

The next day, I realized the all-blinding truth. Some things are best left alone. Amen!

 


 Images: Courtesy Deepti Menon

 

 

 

 


Sunday, December 13, 2020

THE (HE)ART OF IRONING!

                                                                                                                                                    declutterme.london

Humour me, folks! I could sing, “Aaj main upar, aasmaaan neecche!”  Loosely translated, that means "Today I am on top of the world, with the sky beneath!" Maybe, the world will scoff at me when I divulge the reason. 

I have finished sorting out my wardrobe, my linen cupboard and my kitchen drawers. I have decluttered… given away clothes that have miraculously grown smaller, chucked bedsheets that have blushed their colour away, and thrown away the condiments and masalas which have outlived their usefulness! I have ironed every item of clothing and every pillowcase I have! I am Marie Kondo today!

                                                                              Rakuten

I was introduced to Marie Kondo around ten years back, when every article she wrote was like the gospel truth. “Ready to spark joy in your life?” she exhorted. “Give away everything you don’t love!” Of course, this statement has nothing to do with all the break-ups  and divorces that followed soon after!

Anyway, there I was, handling every item at home with TLC, whispering to it, “I love you. I will hang on to you!” My husband rejoiced, hoping against hope that finally there would be some space for him at home. That I would declutter! That pigs would fly!

Thinking back, there must have been a magpie ancestor somewhere in my past whose blood ran in my veins, and whose voice echoed in my ears. “Keep it all. It might come in use one day.” How could I ignore a decisive voice like that?

So, every item would go right back, and Kondo would turn into ‘Can’t do!”

Today, however, I feel empowered. I gave away ten tops, all my husband’s T shirts (except the ones he clung on to in desperation!) and made enough space in my cupboard to fit in a hippopotamus. Not that I will ever need to, of course, but the feeling is euphoric. To make myself feel even better, I ironed everything I saw around me. I also discovered the truth of the quote, “You never know what you have until you clean your closet.”

Ironing has that calming effect on me. It is as though I am smoothening out the wrinkles in my life as well, one at a time. The smell of a freshly washed outfit when the steam hits it is uplifting. Rows of clothes in perfect harmony, T shirts rolled up (another Kondo technique!) and dupattas and scarves that cascade in perfect grace. “God’s in His heaven, and all’s right with the world.”

                                                                   
                                                                              Pinterest

When after all that activity, I sit down to write, my heart is full. It is as if I have ironed out a wrinkle in time, a crease that troubled me and a whole space fraught with conflict. The words flow onto my screen with ease. The space without has created an equally serene space within.

The next space that needs tackling is our library, and all my writing paraphernalia. Every time I determine to give away two books for every one book I buy, I make an effort. Cross my heart, I really do! I look through my shelves at all those beautiful books, each one more alluring than the last, each one singing a separate song that leaps straight into my heart. I shake my head and move on to my diaries and notebooks. It is no secret that the way straight to my heart, besides music, is stationery of any kind – colourful notebooks, pens of every hue, pads and cards, Post-its in blue and pink and yellow, tiny calendars, handmade paper and cards of every kind. I have cards from the seventies given to me by my family and friends. Cards and letters from students later on in life!  Some have turned yellow, others have got stuck with age, and the luckier ones are stuck down in an old drawing book. All I can say is that if I have survived to this ripe old age, so should they, and no argument about that!

‘Minimalistic’ seems to be the mantra today. I saw a video in which a lady said that she had seven set of clothes, one for each day of the week, a few accessories and little else. She mixed and matched so effectively that she could carry on life with the few choices she had. Another lady held out seven T shirts and three formal tops and trousers. In the short duration of the video, she made two piles of ‘keep’ and ‘trash’. Finally, she kept four T shirts and trashed three. According to me, that requires nerves of steel! Luckily, they both started their videos with the words, “Please do not try this at home!” OK, sorry, just joking!

                                                                          Light Transitions

Today, I will sleep well, dreaming of clean wardrobes and ironed clothes. However, all this is going to change in a couple of days for I celebrated a birthday last week, and new clothes are all set to come in and nestle within those spaces that I have joyfully created. And believe me, I had no ulterior motive when I created them! Amen!

                                         

                                                                  The Monday Campaigns

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Sound and the Fury of Elections!



Rediff.com
 

Indian elections are like festivals – colourful, crowded, chaotic and noisy to the hilt! From the word ‘go’, it is like a party that starts early and ends only when the cows come home. Whitewash is lavishly used on every vacant wall, with or without permission, and lurid party symbols are thrown on by street artists who earn their livelihood by painting leaves, brooms, cycles and probably bullock carts. Within the riot of colours, one might discern faintly familiar faces of political candidates, hands folded, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Every bit of wall works as propaganda and the common man is oft drawn into a maze akin to the mythological Chakravyuh, where he gets in and has no idea how to get out.

We Indians have a high tolerance for noise. Elections are solid proof of this. The decibel levels go up with every day of campaigning, and the last two days are the noisiest, as party followers faithfully ply vehicles across towns and villages, using loudspeakers to make their voices heard. They shout slogans, scream out accolades that describe political demi-gods, sing raucous songs and generally raise a hullaballoo that could well wake the dead.

They definitely succeed in waking the living. On the afternoon when I try to grab a siesta for half an hour, just as my eyelids close, there rises a shrieking just outside our window which faces the main road, and I jerk awake, my heart in my mouth. What is that caterwauling? And then all is clear; it is electioneering at its best (or its worst!) calculated to give folks a cardiac arrest, instead of garnering their votes. On one occasion, once I was jerked awake, the ‘singing continued’ and unfortunately, ‘the music in my heart I bore/long after it was heard no more.” A thousand apologies to William Wordsworth!

What is an election minus its candidates? It is the hope of every voter that their candidate will be a tower of strength, solid enough to hold up the myriad wishes of all his supporters. Of course, the adage stands true – “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride!”

However, the distinction lies between real life and reel life – just like an aging hero who puts on his grease paint and goes onto the screen to beat up ten villains at the same time, each of whom waits obligingly on the side lines to be beaten to a pulp. At that moment, he is like God, almost immortal. Nothing can touch him. That is the beauty of illusion. However, the moment the war paint comes off, the hero turns back into an ordinary man, with all the tribulations that come along with normalcy. 

Thus, the candidate looms tall, his folded hands signifying that he is willing to bow down, as promises ring in the air, filling people’s ears with saccharine-like hope. Roads will be constructed, houses strengthened, land given, crops sold, honey will flow on the land, all with a wave of a magic wand.

It is now that the candidates walk that extra mile into homes, each one blowing his or her own trumpet, like glossy advertisements that blare out their shining messages. The small print is hidden away, only to be brought out when necessary, obviously after the votes have been counted. Individuals who have played a significant role in different fields are honoured with shawls, their feet touched, and blessings sought. 

I recall one candidate, a film star, who came to canvass for votes. As was customary, a variety of delicious snacks had been prepared for him. He took one look at them, and his face turned a sickly green as he shook his head in desperation. The poor man had been suffering from indigestion ever since he had eaten his first snack a few days ago. Not that that stopped his followers and all the film buffs from gobbling up everything in sight! Just goes to show that candidates have their share of miseries as well.

The pandemic has ensured that life has slowed down considerably. Gone are the days of those serpentine rallies where crowds would saunter along the roads, waving flags and chanting slogans. One would find lines of buses along the roadside from which so-called party members would hop off to join the rallies to make up the numbers. The incentive, it was rumoured, was a little lumpsum and a biryani, both of which would help foster sentiments towards the generous party.

The old nursery rhyme ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ could well be amended to “down came Covid and washed the elections out”. Masked men and women rule the roost, the sales of sanitizers, soaps and gloves have skyrocketed, along with those of bindis and kajal. Lipsticks have almost disappeared along with lips that have vanished from view.

Today, voters are wary of casting their votes. The virus has blighted their lives and shows no sign of leaving, just yet. Clear instructions need to be followed – carry your own pen, use sanitizer liberally, distance yourself from others and always keep your mask on. The older generation may not even cast their votes.

Finally, when all is said and done, politics is like a game of chess. There are pawns and king makers, all fighting to keep their leaders safe. Umpteen strikes are made as the battle rages on as opponents painstakingly inch forward. Till that one fatal moment when the king is conquered, and the fight is lost. Till the next bout of elections, when things could just seesaw in the other direction!

 And as Omar Khayyam put it, so poignantly, in his Rubaiyat,

“’Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days

Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:

Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,

And one by one back in the closet lays.”

 

 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Easy Home Cooking - Cook and Bake With Ease by Ginia Basu

 


“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” JRR Tolkien

A cookbook that starts with these lines would definitely have food for thought, is what I felt when I started reading the recipes. The introduction given by Ginia Basu struck a chord within me. She started cooking at the age of ten, I began writing at the age of ten.

Another similarity was that we both had special diaries that held within them our favourite recipes. What more reason did I need to go through this culinary trove?

The book has been divided into two sections.

Cookies, Cakes and Bread

Savouries

The recipes in the first section have been chosen with care. Gina Basu regales her readers with heart-warming anecdotes. Starting with the Three-Ingredient Cookie, and Healthy Whole Wheat Dark Chocolate Cookies, she goes on to talk about rarer ingredients like Patali Gur or Date Palm jaggery and Gondhoraj Lebhu which is a special kind of lime with an out-of-the word citrusy fragrance.

What is attractive about the recipes in this book are that they are simple and quick to make. Given that Ginia Basu has a full-time job, it is appreciable that she makes time for her special hobby, and what is even better, has written a cookbook to make the lives of others easier as well.

The images are evocative – the Blueberry White Chocolate Muffins and Whole-wheat Rose Muffins look delicious, and one can almost smell the citrusy aroma of the Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake and the Orange Cranberry Loaf Cake.

The savouries are simpler than the desserts above, be it the Mixed Bean Salad, the Savoury Muffins, the 15-Minute Veggie Soup or the Veggie Stir Fry. 

The most complicated dish here is the mouth-watering Stuffed Chicken Roast which the author created after going through many Internet recipes and tweaking them around – a golden and crispy-skinned chicken dish that she calls “fairly simple and easy” but one which “requires some pre-planning and loads of patience”.

This is an easy book to skim through. What stays with the reader is the fact that the author has gone beyond making this a cookery book through her accounts of her personal life, and what makes cooking the highlight of her life.

There are a few tiny errors that crop up now and then, but those can be overlooked, given the deliciousness of the recipes within.

Verdict: Highly readable with easy, yet effective recipes!

 


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Weighty Question!

 

                                                                            Zazzle


Jilljuck.com


There I was, dressed to the nines, having chosen the outfit, the accessories and the jewellery with care, because I was at a wedding, pre-Covid-19. Those were the days when weddings consisted of a million people glittering like Christmas trees, holding brilliantly wrapped up gifts, or envelopes with a coin stuck on them which contained crisp notes within.

My gift was also within an envelope carefully created from an old wedding card which was too pretty to throw away. My husband calls my blood type the ‘magpie’ type, which is another name for ‘B Positive’, I guess. Hoarding runs in our family, be it old letters, greeting cards from people whose names have been forgotten, tiny notes, photographs that have yellowed and look like nothing on earth and relics that could be sold for a fortune.

The mania does not stop there. I have crockery from the time we got married which, after 36 years of wedlock, have never been used – a dinner set which was a gift, a tea set which was too precious to use, little bowls and mugs that would be of use one day (that day will come, I promise!), and shelves overflowing with runners, napkins and table cloths which would have worked when we were in the Army, but are of minimal use in civilian life. (Given the term, I would have assumed that we should have turned more civil after we left the Army! Unfortunately, not!)

As I sat in the audience and witnessed the wedding in all its glory, there were a few highlights that wowed the crowd. The instruments, the glorious stage décor, gorgeously attired people and of course, the hero and the heroine of the hour. Just as we leant forward to enjoy the view, there appeared a number of jean-clad backsides in front of the stage, and covered whatever we needed to see; the photographers, with their tripods, their flash boys, and a few ‘part of the paraphernalia’ folk who wanted to see the wedding close up.

As the couple exchanged garlands, and the groom tied the mangalsutra around the bride’s neck, all we could hear were the commands from the photographers about ‘going slow’ and ‘turning this side’. I craned my neck and tried to peer through the cracks, (sorry, wrong word!), the gaps, because I had no hope of ever seeing the video of the wedding later, since I was in no way related to the bride or the groom. An enthusiastic aunt had insisted that I tag along since she did not want to attend the wedding alone. Needless to say, she had disappeared the moment she entered the hall, leaving me on my own, to negotiate the thorny path of having to explain who on earth I was to a few curious folks.

Suddenly, there appeared a familiar face, grinning like the Cheshire cat when she spotted me.

“Am I happy to see you!” was her first sentence, loud and clear. “I know no one here!”

“Join the gang!” I muttered, smiling back in relief. She plonked herself on an empty chair next to me, and my relief lasted two seconds. Having taken a cursory glance at the stage, she said, “As usual, it’s bottoms up, right?” The music suddenly grew softer and her next question echoed round the hall.

“Have you put on weight since I saw you last?”

I blanched, because heads swivelled around in an instant, looking at me with gimlet stares, as I wondered if I could burrow into a hole of my own making. The foghorn carried on, “Yes, you were always ‘cheeky’, even when you were little.”

My cheeks had always been a topic of conversation. When I was tiny, every person in the room would pinch them till I was pink in the face. When I grew up, I was always the ‘cheekiest’ person in the room.

It was at that moment that I decided that I should have some readymade answers to the weighty question.

I turned to my foghorn friend and said, “Well, isn’t it the case of the pot calling the kettle back? You look rather prosperous yourself!”

That diffused the situation and made me feel better.

So, now when the weighty question is thrown at me, I just say,

“I think you are confusing my weight with my personality, you know?”

Or, if it is to family and close friends, I say smugly,

“More of me to love, right?”

Some of the time, I smile and say, “Really? When was the last time you visited your oculist?”

And the all-important retort, “I did see a picture of your son/daughter in America. All those burgers and colas have made an impact on him/her.”

Of course, all these come backs make no sense if the person receiving them has the hide of the proverbial rhinoceros.

What I have realised is that it is easier to comment, than to compliment. Body image has become all important, but what folks do not fathom is that the whole world does not need to be populated by perfect looking specimens. What makes us all unique are the quirks, the eccentricities, the different body shapes and the personalities we possess. Without them, the world would become a rather boring place. (Think of all those little green extra-terrestrial men running around!)

I still remember as a child loving those warm hugs given to me by my grandmother and my aunts who were on the plump side. May their tribe increase! 

And even as I write this post, the weight/wait continues…

  

 

 

 

 


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