Of Omelettes and Delhi

February 14, 2009

Life always looks better after a good two egg omelette has gone down the hatch. Amazingly better, specially if it’s made by someone else and you don’t get to see how much oil has actually gone into the making of it.

Apparently, the kids don’t share this view, which is how I got to eat two such omelettes – how can I possibly lose weight if I’m always eating the kids’ rejects? (Convenient way to blame yet another personal failing on the kids.)

The two egg omelettes are what we got soon after reaching Amit’s father’s home in Delhi.

The train journey was as comfortable, relaxing and unremarkable as I’ve come to expect. A/C First Class is a mode of transport that takes very little getting used to. It beats air travel any day. Amit warned me that when the kids turn five and we have to pay full-fare for them on trains, we’ll have to revert to flying. I don’t know how we’ll handle that degradation and deprivation, but it’s too far away to worry about from now.

We reached Delhi at 6 a.m., and the stark contrast with Bangalore hit me like a slap in the face. H. Nizamuddin used to be this quiet, sleepy station like Bangalore Cantt. Or that’s what I remember. Today it was crowded, noisy and hellish in a way that I thought was reserved for Pahar Ganj.

I used to be a Delhi-ite 11 years ago. It’s not that long, but it might as well have been another lifetime or another planet. Or both. Delhi assails the senses like nothing else I’ve ever met, and that’s me, a former Delhi-ite – in fact, a former proud-to-be-a-Delhi-ite Delhi-ite. What must it be like for those poor Westerners who’ve never been to such a place in this lifetime or before?

Amit went off to look for a pre-paid taxi counter, only to find that there wasn’t one. He then went into the throng of taxi-drivers to haggle for a cab, a skill which he has almost entirely lost. We wound up paying Rs. 220 for a drive of less than 12 km measured by GPS, which the driver claimed blithely was a full 19 km. And me a former Delhi-ite.

To make matters worse, the taxi we ultimately got sounded and felt more like a motor boat – and not a particularly sea-worthy motorboat, at that – than like a car.

No wonder it takes a couple of omelettes and a strong cup of coffee to recover – and by recover, I mean only get sufficiently fortified for the next excursion out of the house, when you get another blast of Delhi right in the face again.

Fish Curry

October 4, 2008

Don’t believe everything Amit tells you: I’m a pretty good cook when I put my mind to it – which, admittedly, isn’t very often.

The only thing is, not having been brought up on it, I don’t make very good fish.
In fact, apart from a pretty good fish fry (it must be pretty good, judging by the rate at which it disappears; but I claim no credit for that, good fish fry anyone can make: take fish, fry it, it disappears; it’s infallible), I prefer not to do fish at all. My attempts at “traditional” (Bengali) fish dishes are usually abysmal failures. It would not be stretching the truth to say that me and fish do not get on very well; we never see eye to eye, if I can help it. (For more on me and fish and other meats… )

Still, once in a way, especially if there’s no one else around to lay the burden of their expectations on me, I out-do myself even with fish.

Here’s what I did today. I took:

    one packet of frozen and almost boneless fish fillet
    a few curry leaves
    the Bengali five-spice mixture, though I’m not even sure how authentic that was. I think it should have white til in it; why else would I even have white til in my spice rack, considering I don’t know what it’s used for? The other four are mustard seed, jeera, saunf, and kalonji, I think. (Um… That would be cumin, asafoetida (?) and black cumin (?) in English, maybe.) Anyway, that’s approximately what I threw in, in small quantities
    a dash of haldi (turmeric) powder
    a healthy amount of Bolst curry powder (it claims to be hot, but I don’t find it so)
    some coconut milk (or was it cream? I think it was Dabur) out of a carton
    cooking oil, of course (we use olive for health reasons, but I suppose mustard or coconut would be better, seeing as this appears to be a fusion of kerala/tamil nadu/bengal cuisine)

I dumped everything in the pan in more or less random order, squeezed a bit of lemon juice on top, and in 5 minutes flat, it was done. And pretty delicious it was too, or so I thought. The kids ate it grudgingly, but they eat anything grudgingly at dinner time, after all, it’s time taken away from play time. At least they didn’t reject it outright. (Though they did seem to prefer ancient, black, refrigerated bananas over the fish, they went through about 4 of those each! But that’s kids for you, no taste, no predictability, no gratitude.)

I should have taken a photo of the dish, but Amit’s absconding with the camera, leaving me high and dry. So you’ll just have to take my word on this one.

The Dieting Saga

August 21, 2008

I started dieting in all earnestness almost four months ago. That’s a long time to sustain a diet, and I’ve naturally slipped back into my usual dieting mode – eating whatever I please and just hoping I somehow lose weight.

Only, this time, it seems to be working.

I hate it when I can’t understand why things happen, but this time, should I be complaining? Really? No, not really. Just wondering aloud.

I think a few things are working for me now, that have never worked the same way before. Due to being homebound, I’m eating homemade food at least 18-19 meals a week (considering 3 meals a day, which is the norm). While working, I used to eat in the office cafeteria at least a couple of times a week, and eat out on weekends quite a bit. And I used to snack on coffee and biscuits from time to time.

I still snack in the early evening hours, but I’m trying to snack less, and on less unhealthy foods. It helps that there’s very little access to unhealthy food, compared to the office environment, where you only have to stroll down to the cafeteria.

My caffeine intake has reduced dramatically of late – it was too closely associated with my nightmarish episode of gastroenteritis to seem very appetizing even now – and my lactose tolerance has improved noticeably, so that I’m now getting quite a regular inflow of dairy products. I’m not sure why that – or either of those, actually – should help me lose weight, though.

I was always one for skipping breakfast, but now I haven’t done that for months, maybe years. And because of that, and also because of the twins having to have their meals at more or less regular intervals, I’m eating my meals at very regular and sensible times during the day. So I’m usually not starved by mealtime, and I’m also not eating meals when I’m not hungry, just because it is mealtime. I think I used to do a lot of both of those when my eating hours were less regular.

And I have managed to switch from eating white rice at every opportunity to eating red rice as much as possible. I don’t like it much, but I’m surviving.

Plus, I’ve managed to keep up at least a modicum of exercise most days of the week, illnesses, travel, and other vagaries of life notwithstanding.

My biggest problem is, and has been for a very long time, perhaps has always been, that food is one of my best friends. If I’m bored, I want food; if I’m stressed, I want food; if I’m depressed, I want food; if I’m happy, I certainly want food – and drink; if I’m reading a book, I want food; if I’m watching TV, I want food; if I’m home alone, I want food; if I’m meeting friends, I want food. Food, in short, is a vital ingredient of every mood and every phase of life. And when I say “food” you know what kind of food I’m talking about, right? Yeah, all that kind of food.

Once you’re reduced to eating only homemade food – and only healthy homemade food at that (an important qualifier, considering that I’m quite capable of cooking up some extremely delicious and extremely unhealthy homemade food) – food no longer serves any of these functions. It’s just food – something to keep you from starving. In fact, once it’s healthy and homemade, I’m not even sure it qualifies as food any more, it’s just stuff, something to chew.

So perhaps, another reason why this is working for me now when it hasn’t many times before, is that the kids are keeping me busy. Too busy to do much about getting to all that sort of food that isn’t stuff, the sort of food that used to be my best friend.

I suppose that’s a good thing.

But, if dieting deprives me of one of my best friends, food, you have to wonder: Why, exactly, am I doing this to myself?

Partly, of course, it’s simply so I can be slim and sexy; there’s that little blue dress I want to be able to fit into again. I want to look young, or at least, not old, as I approach 35 – and not being overweight has a lot to do with that. Plus, to a lesser degree, I want to be healthy; I enjoy tennis and trekking, and both of these activities are so much easier if you are the right weight, not carrying around several kilos extra.

So clichéd, isn’t it – wanting to look young and sexy and to be healthy?

But there’s more to it than that.

It has to do with my self-image – with how I see myself, what I see myself becoming, and what I’d like to be. As a stay-at-home mom who’s given up her job/career, I can see my world being centered around my kids to the exclusion of all else. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But I don’t want to see myself turning into the kind of mom who only thinks of meals, servants, and the cost of groceries, and has no interests outside of home and hearth. The kind of person who never goes anywhere, never does anything, and never has anything to say for herself. That’s the kind of person who is usually way overweight, dresses sloppily, doesn’t spend time or money on herself and doesn’t really give a damn. Ok, that’s a stereotype, but it’s not a stereotype I want to fit into. Ever. Maybe that’s not a bad way to be, that woman might be happy, content… but that’s not who I want to be.

I have always seen myself as an energetic person with too many irons in the fire and always struggling a bit to keep them all going, but managing all right – apart from the occasional crisis. I’m the kind of person who is a little too padded to be slim, a little too dishevelled to be well-groomed, way too casual to be sexy, but way too busy to be fat. I think that’s the way I’ve always been, and that’s the way I’d like to be even as a mom, even as a stay-at-home mom. I don’t see being a SAHM as an excuse to be fat and lazy – I see it as a damn good reason not to be.

So, I’m determined: I’m going to lose weight, or die trying.

Hot and Spicy!

April 1, 2008

And they love it that way!

But let me start at the beginning. We took the girls out for lunch on Sunday. We went to Eden Park, which has been a long-time favourite for Amit and me. Amit has been an irregular but faithful client for twelve years! It was one of the first restaurants he took me to, when I came to Bangalore ten years ago. The best part of it is, it hasn’t changed at all in all these years. I’m not even sure that they’ve had the upholstery redone, and certainly nothing significant on the menu has changed.

Eden Park is an Andhra food restaurant. (It lies somewhere between the office of the Hindu and Minsk Square, in case you don’t know it.) The many times that we’ve been there, we’ve almost always had the veg meal, but there are plenty of non-veg side dishes on offer. The veg meal here consists of heaps of steamed rice served literally steaming; three side dishes, always the same three on Sundays and Wednesdays; sambhar, rasam, curd, buttermilk, papad, and a whole variety of pickles. Oh, and ghee. The “plate” is a banana leaf, cutlery comes only on request, but the sambhar, rasam, curd, and buttermilk are served in little steel bowls.

Andhra food is always reputed to be ultra hot (=chilly hot = spicy =sets you on fire) but Amit and I have a fairly high tolerance level so we never really noticed it. It was only when we actually mixed up the food to feed the kids, that it struck us that for them it might just be a tad spicy.

They loved it, though. Tara, after a couple of mouthfuls, started letting out a lusty scream if Amit was at all tardy in conveying the next bite to her wide open mouth. Mrini was more sedate, but initially she was also quite enthusiastic. After a few minutes, however, she suddenly realised that it was the food that was making her eyes stream and causing little beads of perspiration to form on her upper lip. What it was doing to her insides I can only guess. From then on, curd, buttermilk, papad and even plain rice would do nothing to appease her – she wanted water, water, and more water. She went through a whole glassful (must be 200 ml) and held it out for more, saying “pati-pati” clearly to eliminate any possible doubt in the matter.

At the end, we got them ice cream. It was the first time we were giving them ice cream, and they didn’t seem to take to it very much. It required a bit of persuasion to convince Mrini that it wouldn’t cause tears or perspiration and in fact might be quite cooling and nice. Tara didn’t require much persuasion, but she also didn’t think it was anything to be overly excited about. Amit and I ended up finishing it – not that I was complaining about that.

I was all prepared to spend Monday in a continuous state of diaper-changing. I even thought it might start by Sunday night. Amit said he would take Monday off, so that each girl could have her own, sole, allocated butt-cleaner. The girls had their own ideas about that, and surprised us by digesting it all and sending out rather normal waste. Phew! They must’ve inherited cast-iron-clad stomachs to survive that onslaught. And now, it’s back to safe, innocuous, home-made food… for a few days, at least.

Chicken? Delicious!

March 17, 2008

Since the advent of the twins, I have done plenty of cooking, if you can count boiling (or sometimes burning) dal-rice and eggs and making cottage cheese/paneer. But I have done very little by way of cooking as in cooking up a storm. I managed to bake a couple of cakes on separate occasions, but that apart, nothing really exciting has emerged from the kitchen for several months. True, last weekend I made mutton curry, but by my standards it was merely mediocre and was consumed rapidly more due to the fact of it being mutton, than due to any excellence in the preparation.

Then, on Friday evening I went grocery shopping, and some interesting vegetables caught my eye. Since Amit had been complaining about the absence of my “Chinese” food, I decided to make it on Saturday, and shopped accordingly. On Saturday morning, my cook did me the great favour of chopping up all the veggies. All that was left, was to run out and buy certain vital ingredients such as:

  • noodles
  • chicken
  • szechuan sauce (comes in a packet, courtesy Knorr)

I managed to obtain these and got only mildly wet before the rain turned into a downpour. I also bought some Coke; since we already had rum at home, we now had all the ingredients for a good evening.

From 7 to 9, I prepared dinner (I don’t cook at a frenetic pace, but rather, in quite a leisurely manner) with innumerable interruptions from the girls and little support from Amit. At the end of it, we had noodles, mixed veggies, and szechaun sauce along with a chicken dish that stole the show. I had never done this particular preparation before, but as I walked out to buy the stuff, I had sort of dreamed up this dish and so I went ahead and tried it out.

I had half a kilo of leg-and-thigh pieces (without skin), which I dusted in flour (it should have been cornflour, but I found I didn’t have any so I improvised). Then I dumped them in a pan coated with pan spray and very little oil and fried them on a low flame till they were golden brown. It already looked delicious… and then I added garlic, which, after salt, is the single most important condiment in my kitchen, without which food is not worth sniffing at. When the chicken was just about done, I added a fair sprinkling of soy sauce, a little bit of water, and a little of the flour I had used for dusting the chicken, creating a thick and dark sauce. Yummmm… I don’t know what the Chinese restaurants call this dish (far less what the actual Chinese call it), or even if it is really a dish or not, but I call it Chicken Garlic Delicious.

As is usually the case with good food, there wasn’t much left over.

Death-by-chocolate Day

August 5, 2007

I allow myself only two per year, and this was the second for this year, so it’s kind of a big day for me today. It’s the kind of day you think about, dream about, drool over… until finally you can’t wait any longer. It was supposed to be my end-of-german-class treat to myself, but, as usual, I couldn’t wait any longer, so it became my last-class-before-the-test treat to myself.

Ok, there are some poor, unfortunate souls out there who don’t know what a death by chocolate is. The name gives you an idea, but only a sort of glimmer of an idea, of what this is. You sad, unlucky people are to be pitied.

Death by Chocolate is an offering of Corner House, a famous ice cream parlour in Bangalore. I would go so far as to say that Corner House on its own is one heck of a reason to visit – if not move to – Bangalore. But then, that’s just me. I, as you would’ve guessed by now if you didn’t already know it – loooooooove ice cream.

For ice cream freaks like me, there’s ice cream, and then there’s Corner House. Corner House is to ice cream what Rolls Royce used to be to cars – the best of the best.

I’ve heard (sacreligious though it may sound) some people criticize Corner House on the grounds that their ice cream is not so good. What I have to say to them is that, it’s not about the ice cream, it’s about all the stuff you can do with it. There’s fruit, and then there’s fresh mangoes and fresh strawberries in abundance; there’s nuts, and then there’s great mountains of whole roasted almonds; there’s coffee, or something vaguely reminiscent of it, and then there’s a coffee sauce so potent that it could keep you awake for a week, if you’re susceptible to that sort of thing (I’m not).

And then, there’s death by chocolate.

I know lots of people who can’t get through it, and some who are sickened by the thought or sight of it. These could even be people who ordinarily like ice cream and chocolate.

What is it? Well, it’s a sort of magical creation of rich, gooey, chocolate cake, covered with a layer of thick, gooey, oversweet chocolate sauce, underlaid with a load of vanilla ice cream and topped with a load of nuts (primarily, unfortunately, peanuts!) and a couple of cherries just to add some colour. Sounds deadly, no?

And if you’re thinking, well, that’s just a sort of Sundae, let me tell you, it’s the sort of sundae that comes in a veritable bucket. You almost need a shovel to get to the bottom of it. You’ve got to be a pretty staunch supporter of chocolate, ice cream, and goo to ever get to the bottom of it at all.

On a good day, I can get through two of these monstrosities. Why ever not – you can only die once anyway! Sadly, the ever-expanding waistline has forced me to limit my indulgence to two DBCs – as they are fondly called – per year, and in order to maximise my returns, I try to spread this quota evenly around the year. Which mean, this being August, that I now have to wait all the way till my birthday in February for my next date with DBC.

Which is sad… but hey, it’s a good day!

Recipe? Why Not?

February 5, 2007
If you really want to do this, Andy, just remember my mother and all her dire warnings.Start with two egg yolks. I’ve forgotten whether you add the seasonings now or later, but I did it later and it seemed to work. I think you should add a pinch of salt, though.

Add oil and beat it (remember: drop-by-drop with a manual egg-beater).

Mayonnaise is actually an “emulsion” – I’m not sure what that is (though it tastes pretty good), but it means that it has to hold, or bind, or something. If the eggs look curdled and disgusting, it’s not doing that, so you throw the whole thing out and start again.

After the drop-by-drop business has been going on for a while, you have a pale, creamy mass which looks like a lot more in quantity than the sum of the ingredients. This is good. You can gradually increase the volume of oil you add at each step, and keep beating. The mixture should start to get quite thick and gluey.

At some point, you stop and add lime juice, which will thin the mixture. After that, you can keep adding lime juice and oil alternatingly, to keep the mixture in the range of acceptable consistency.

After a while, your egg-beater hand will be hurting, so you stop.

If you taste the mixture, it will mostly taste of oil. Now add the seasonings: salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, mustard powder, vinegar. If you want to turn it into tartar sauce, add finely chopped onion, tomato, garlic, green chillies, and whatever else you feel like.

This mayonnaise is not like the one you get from a jar. It will be tart with lime juice and not sweet. It us also usually a little thinner in consistency.

Usually the seasonings will mask the oil flavor, but it is better to use a mild flavored oil, or one that you actually like the flavor of, such as olive oil. Strangely, it doesn’t taste of raw egg yolk.

I used a small jar-full of oil. It was about the capacity of a small jar of jam, or coconut oil. Of course, I finally ended up needing four egg yolks, but usually two will do. Keep plenty of lemons handy (at least three) – you can keep adding lemon juice and oil until you think you’ve made enough.

Hint: If you think this recipe is a little dicey, do a quick search on Google for a better one.

And, if it still doesn’t work out, don’t forget the role played by the thunderstorm, and the vampire bat.

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