I think Virginia Woolf was spot on when she said “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well. If one has not dined well” (A room of one’s own).
Two days, two consecutive food posts. Written with such ardour. Such intensity. Such passion. You might assume that I am borderline food obsessed.
Well…. I am.
Both Mr H and I have stayed away from home (and from each other), long enough to realise the value home-cooked food. We don’t pick on our Mums’ if the curry is a wee bit salty or if the rice isn’t perfectly cooked (like how our siblings’ do). We are grateful for the food placed on the table.
We have each lived alone and gone back to empty apartments with sometimes just some jam and stale bread in the fridge….So, no. We are not picky when it comes to home-cooked food.
We have dined at cheap roadside joints, pricey restaurants, “home-meal” centres, “dhabas”, fast-food chains, endless “sagars” and “darshinis”….
We have eaten rubber chappatis, rock idlis, over-cooked meat, under-cooked curries….
When we finally got to live together, I vowed to never eat out again (okay….”never” was an exaggeration!). I decided to start cooking. Intimidating as it was, I set about the task with gusto. Bought all the cool appliances and other paraphernalia that I thought would make me a fantastic cook. I wanted authentic Indian food. No shortcuts. No compromises. I made sure I used the right ingredients, even if I had to visit half a dozen stores to find it.
As the days passed, the interest started to wane. The food turned out okay. Not great (yet). But that was not the problem. In my eagerness, I had discounted one important aspect. Indian cuisine is probably one of the hardest. If you want to keep things true, it involves a lot of preparation time. Overnight soaking, grinding, blending….The batter making, the dough rising, the fermenting…. A lot of thought and planning is imperative. It needs forethought and commitment. This was my failing….I started to falter….
Never realised that putting food on the table, three times a day was bloody damn hard. Saw Mum doing it for decades. I did hear her complain occasionally. Like always, I didn’t give it much thought. Like all things Mum related, I took the food for granted.
As far as my cooking goes, I still have “cheat days”. Days when I eat cornflakes and toast and oats and noodles …… (this is what sustained me during my PG/residency days). Non-Indian friends would be wondering ….Is toast not breakfast?
Nope. The older generation in my family would never give such items “breakfast” status…. At best, they are considered a snack…
As a self-respecting South Indian (Keralite to be specific), authentic breakfast would mean lace hoppers (appams), rice/wheat/semolina and coconut steamed funnel cake with chic-pea curry (puttu and kadala), one of the dozen or so types of lentil and rice fermented pancakes/ crepes (dosa) with coconut accompaniment or lentil curry, mangled fine rice noodles (idiyaappam), soft rice cakes (idlis), dry semolina porridge (upma)…… the list is endless…
Lunch and dinner is no simpler….
I was almost ready to give up (remember my appam chronicles?)….
For a while, we went back to eating out (and take-outs)….. Soon got sick of it ….Again…. Told Mr H that although I like cooking, the ‘what to cook today’ was all consuming and stressful. I often forgot to soak the rice or lentils …. Or forgot to shop for a some small but important ingredient while buying the weekly groceries. To make things even more difficult- I did not like repeating the same dish in the week. Breakfast was the hardest. Getting up early, whipping up something…..
Burnt chappatis, non-lacy appams, un-rising idils…. It was pandemonium ….
So, what changed?
I STARTED MEAL PLANNING.
I now make “authentic” Indian food, all the frills included. This was dinner last night….
Started to jot down a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner options for the week and shop for ingredients accordingly. I still do things impulsively sometimes, but for the most part I stick to the plan (or try to!). Even the grocery shopping has now been refined to a fine art. No more aimless wandering at the store, no more forgetting, no more over-stuffing of the fridge, or wastage of food…..
We have this “master-list” of items that we use. Typed on an Excel sheet and printed. We mark the items we need for the week. I make sure the fridge is almost empty before the next shopping trip. This usually makes for funny/weird meals by the end of the week. (Like carrot curry!). Mr H and I chop vegetables for specific dishes during the weekend and freeze them. Even herbs are frozen (they used to be the most wasted item). Meat is cleaned, portioned and frozen. Sometimes even marinated and frozen (makes for super quick and juicy fries/biriyani/curry). Garlic and ginger are peeled and ready to use in air-tight containers. Leaves and herbs are washed and stored.
We always have things like bread, fruits, pasta, eggs on hand, to make quick “cheat” meals when I am in no mood to slave over the stove or if we are out late…..Or if lil Z decides to keep Mama and Papa occupied….
Planning…. I don’t like the term. My plans usually go awry. But for once, it has brought some order in my life. Some relief from the chaos. My meal plans are not perfect. They don’t always work. But they have put the fun back in cooking…..
I love my food. I like to know what goes into it. I like it to be “just the way I like it”. I’d like to keep things authentic and cook all the “heritage dishes” that my Mum cooked for me. I’d like lil Z to know and appreciate all the lovely food I grew up eating. This is hopefully just the start. As a child, I remember proudly telling my Mum (who seemed to spend most of her day in the kitchen), that I’d hire a cook when I grow up. That I will not “waste” my time in the kitchen….
I realize now that no one compelled my Mum to cook, she did it because she wanted to. I might not be able to do things the way she used to. Not being a stay at home mum has its downsides. I might ultimately succumb to shortcuts and compromises. But for now, I am reveling in my new found passion.
Cooking for your family should not be a chore; it is an indescribable pleasure……
How do you plan your weekly meals?
Love thy food!
Till next time….