The Rocket Science Behind the Plate

Forrest Gump’s mama always said that life is a box of chocolates: you never know what you get. So is cooking. You’ll have no idea of what you’ll get. Try poaching an egg, and you’ll get a weird concoction of water and egg that smells awful. Try baking a tray of croissant and you might end up getting a pebble-like structure that, if chewed, will crack your jaws.

This summer I took the challenge of 30 recipes of which I have made around 19. It’s been great journey googling the recipes, preparing the dough and chopping all the fruits and vegetables. It is difficult to get the stuff you need for your recipes. You need to check the ingredients and go shopping before you can make anything. Parents are big spoilsports. “Why can’t you eat rice and curry instead of making deep stuff?” Now, you have got to use your persuasion skills (Thanks Austen). “I come home only twice a year and you refuse to buy me some flour and vegetables?” It works, they’ll fund you for some weeks, after which you’ve got to find some other argument.

Indian cooking is pretty simple. As long as you stick to the recipe, you’ll get good food. Don’t improvise on Indian recipes. If it calls for two chillies, add only two. You wouldn’t want to end up burning the tongue of your eleven year old brother, like I did in making the famous Malabar Chicken curry with six chillies. As for Indian desserts, you will need at least a gallon of milk to make half a dozen Gulab Jamuns! Olivia called me during the vacation and told me her Gulab Jamun stories. One time the Jamuns were hard as rock, the next time she was sad, saying that the syrup went wrong. I don’t know what happened later, maybe I should call her and see if she’s still alive.

The most revolutionary thing I did this vacation was in handling raw chicken. Touching flesh was unimaginable for me all these time. You know, it’s so soft and cushion-like. And there’s blood! I had a history of fainting at the sight of my own blood when they drew it out with a syringe. So handling chicken is pretty revolutionary. And washing the meat is not fun. The dead chicken starts taking revenge by piercing palms and fingers with all those sharp bone edges.

Making mayonnaise is perhaps the most difficult culinary activity. The recipe is very simple. Mayo calls for a couple of eggs, a spoonful of vinegar and a cup of oil. Sadly every time I try the recipe, the result looks nothing like mayonnaise nor does it taste like it. Mayonnaise Adventures thus ends in me secretly pouring the mix into the sink and leaving no trace of the crime. Also it was in making this recipe that I was positive of getting a seat reserved in hell: I have killed too many chicken eggs that, if they all were alive, could make a mini-poultry farm.

Be it Indian, Asian or European recipes, midnight cooking is very difficult. Being nocturnal creatures ourselves, hunger always strikes after 1 am. Things get complicated when you are a culinary person: you sneak into the kitchen to make some fries or to whip up some pancakes. But it requires extra caution to handle vessels without waking up your family, who’ll start yelling if they even know that you are awake at 1 am. One life-hack here is to switch on all the fans and lock the kitchen door from inside. This is to minimize the loud cracking chhhhh sound that comes when you throw wet potatoes into hot oil.

This summer I also made a Kerala snack called Unniyappam. Everybody loved it. My brother even took them to his friends and one of the boys’ mother asked if I could make some more. And I did make more. Damn! Suddenly I felt like a forty year old mother. I told this to Gerleo and he said it’s fine because even he feels like 35 year old, unemployed guy who lives off his parents. This is not surprising because somehow most of the books I read this summer were about 30+ aged women trying to figure out their lives. Eat Pray Love, Jane Austen Book Club, The House of Seven Gables, Bridget Jones Diary and Mein Kampf (this one is an exception).

I was never a big fan of coffee, but I loved it because it was coffee. The greatest disaster this summer happened to coffee when the doctor said to give up coffee entirely. Homeopathic medicines do not work with coffee. One thing about us, humans, is that, our love for something shoots up when you are refused that particular thing. If you ever told your friend not to watch that Justin Bieber video, believe me, the next phrase he/she googles will have ‘Justin’ and ‘Bieber’ in it.  That’s exactly how I feel about coffee.

Thankfully, in these months I was able to perfect my baking skills, which was something that I failed miserably for the past few years. Alternating between vanilla and chocolate cupcakes for over a month, cake lessons are now mastered. However, getting the baking ingredients is a sort of treasure hunt. You’ve got to play Indiana Jones here. Most shops in Trivandrum do not have whipping cream, icing nozzles or cookie cutters. Its either intense hunt or amazon!

 

One time I went exploring the city, I went to a dried fruit store out of curiosity. They had these box of prunes for 145 bucks. I had only some money but since you only live once, I bought one box. And here comes the truth, prunes taste like nothing. It feels like you are chewing on a mass of solid air. There goes my 145 bucks. That is how I decided to make prune cakes which would not only be horrible, but positively ugly.

European recipes often call for olive oil. But my parents never bought me a bottle of olive oil. “Olive oil is too expensive to be wasted on useless experiments” they say. I got it only many years later, when my elder brother went to UAE for a visit and bought me one huge bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Brothers can be too sweet at times.

Cooking also comes with the half-empty glass part. It has the potential to cause hiccups in your relations. Over the past two months my relationship with mother has changed from “Let’s runaway abroad!” to “Maybe you should think about it when you leave them unwashed in the sink after your cooking experiments, which makes my kitchen look like as if hit by a cyclone!” That was response when I asked her “Have you seen my measuring spoons?” a week back. The thing is, I don’t like doing the dishes.

In my philosophy of living, there are only two gifts for the mankind: nightmares and food. There is nothing more beautiful than the moment you wake up from a nightmare and realize that life is actually better than your dreams. One moment you are being shot by black masked terrorists and chased by a freaking tsunami, and the next moment you are sitting in your cosy bed yelling “Thank God, I am alive!” And then comes food. Everything can change, everybody might leave, but food. Food will always be there for you. DJ always says “That chicken died for you! Who else does that?” Food is also a medicine. Whenever you feel sad, be it about anything, just take a mental vacation to Tuscany, where you are in front of a smoking hot, crispy crusted pizza, topped with peppers, olives, tomatoes and cubes of spiced chicken and melted mozarella dripping from it. You can never be sad again. Now this is why I always say, food is bae.

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