Wednesday, June 01, 2011
Of Unusual Combinations, and Of Chalks and Chopsticks
The granite tabletop was satiny and cool to the touch. It was one of a few expensive acquisitions he had made recently. He had decided to be less careful and finally enjoy some of the money he had made. Another treat he had bought himself was a 40-inch, full HD, LCD TV.
The treats extended to the smaller and finer things in life too. Most of the food that he had enjoyed in New York 40 years ago was now available in the shiny new supermarkets that had invaded the smallish city he had returned to, in the last six or seven years. Modern retail, they called it. And indeed! What a difference from stopping by the road at a heap of papayas or mangoes spread on the dust and choosing the cleanest one. Or having to negotiate a crowded market where one kept bumping into someone else because the paths were so small. He and his wife could not stop buying their daily needs and luxuries in these places. After a weary day at work, this was what they looked forward to - buying bottlegourd and coriander in air-conditioned interiors. And if the price they had to pay for it was a not so fresh bunch of onions and potatoes, so be it. It didn't matter much.
His daughter was always protesting - she would say that in her many years of living in a bigger city with much older, more evolved stores, the best vegetables were to be found at the neighbourhood greengrocer who sold his wares out of a shack. And he didn't think she bought any of those lovely American and Chinese apples that were to be found throughout the year now - she looked down her nose at them quoting pesticides and unseasonality and professed some sympathy for 'those poor apple farmers' in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, and had even lectured the salesman on relegating the Indian apples to a hot and dusty corner of the store while tending to the foreign ones on chilled shelves.
Oh well! One man's meat is another man's poison, he told himself philosphically, removing the strawberries from the refrigerator. The daughter had promised to make strawberry mousse but knowing her, it could well end up as strawberry salad - she was a lazy lump. After weeks of luring him with pizza, she had presented him with a cowpat.
"I thought you were making pizza," he had told her, laughing to hide his disappointment. "Why do you have a cowpat inside the house?" "Very funny, Dad," she had replied, "this IS the pizza. Burnt. I told you I didn't know how to operate a microwave." She didn't. She had refused their offer to buy her one. Well, at least since the cowpat pizza, she had bought a microwave. (Though she didn't make pizza.)
His wife saw him fiddling with the strawberries and said, "Now what?" "She's promised to make mousse," he said. She looked at him scornfully and they started laughing - their daughter's experiments with cooking were legion. The stuff of legend, nay, nightmare. Rarely would anything end up in the intended form. Once an experiment with milk and guava had gone wrong and they had been forced to taste some guava payasam, watery and flavoured with cardamom. Not since his parents died had he shed tears, but on that day, he did. It was awful. He and his wife hadn't been able to discern if the milk had curdled or the ground guava lent it that appearance. They didn't enjoy having to feel bits of the seed on their tongue. It had been so hard to sneak into the kitchen and pour it down the drain with his daughter whizzing in and out of the kitchen with bowls and spoons. Didn't they raise that girl to have taste, if nothing else? How could she create something like that and be cheerful about it?
In came the daughter with some fresh red chillies. "Don't tell me those are going into the strawberries," he said. "They are, Dad, the dish will be redder," she said.
"But just give me some ordinary mousse, the straightforward, no-frills kind I got in the deli in New York all those years ago. I don't want a Cordon Bleu version."
"Don't be silly, Dad. Who has the patience to seed them? I'm making strawberry chutney. I don't have the patience to whip cream and soak the gelatine and all that nonsense."
He wasn't disappointed. Really, he had expected this. But chutney?
"And how do you propose to make the chutney?"
"Simple," she said. "All those strawberries, some soaked tamarind, fresh red chillies and garlic fried, a cup of grated, fresh coconut all whizzed in the mixie together. Seasoned with salt and tempered with the usual mustard, cumin, urad dal (black gram) and curry leaf in oil."
"Really, Dad! My friend's mother, who lives in Mahabaleshwar ... she owns a strawberry farm, I've got the recipe from her and I've tweaked it. And to make it interesting, we can add a couple of pieces of bittergourd too. Listen, Dad, after we make the chutney, let's take a photo with your camera. When I get my food blog going, it will be the first post, and it's a really unusual recipe."
He felt, knew, he had to stem the tide before it got out of hand. Open-mindedness was one thing, waste and bad taste were another. God knew he had put up with enough experimentation. If he were to be God's vessel for South Indian strawberry chutney, he'd have taken to the idea better, he was sure. And what was this girl saying about a food blog? Did she really think she would be read? Could he stand by and watch her inflict her madness on an unsuspecting bunch of foodies? He glanced at his wife, who was watching her TV soap with a beatific expression on her face. No sympathy from those quarters, for sure. She would just tell him that it was all his fault for having food on his mind all the time, and for raising another foodie, and one with a twisted sense of taste at that ...
He rolled out a red mat and spread it on the table. He placed a porcelain bowl and the strawberries on it. He called his daughter. Seeing the camera in his hand, she said, "Oh wonderful, Dad! So we're doing step-by-step photos. One, of the strawberries intact, one when they're being sliced, one in the mixer, one with some chutney in a ladle over the mixer jar and so on, and then the final product. That's what many successful bloggers do."
"Didn't I see some cream in the fridge? Bring it here."
"But, Dad, cream in a chutney?"
"I don't see why not. We're pairing strawberries with cumin and urad dal too, aren't we? But no, you're not making chutney, I have a better idea."
"A classic. Strawberries and cream. And I'll relive the time I went to Wimbledon. I'm going to watch tennis with a bowl of this in my hand. This is the last batch of strawberries in season!"
"But it's the French Open that's on now!"
"Doesn't matter, dear! 'Tis the spirit that counts! And what's wrong with starting your blog with a classic recipe?"
"I ate your guava payasam, your papaya-fish soup and I was even prepared to eat your cowpat pizza. Don't you think we can eat something traditional once in a while?"
She started to protest, but the look of abject despair in her father's eyes was too much to bear. She really shouldn't complain, her parents tried their best to be appreciative of her efforts. So what if the idea of strawberry chutney was anathema? Let him have his way today. In any case, these chocolate fiends would find it hard to resist her Belgian cauliflower fudge chilling in her aunt's refrigerator as a surprise for their wedding anniversary tomorrow.
My entry to the event I'm hosting, created by Aqua.
And here's the third link to Haritha for guessing the curry leaf berries right.
Of Chalks and Chopsticks Food fiction Humour