Sunday, January 20, 2013
When we first bought this place the minute Kitchen was the only drawback.The view however more than made up for it---cooking looking out at the beautiful Vegetable Patch made it worthwhile!!The Counter faced the window however the Counter Space was limited and so was the Storage.My Kitchen measures just 6' in width and 8' in length--surprisingly small for those days. Our ceilings are about 9' high--not really high ceilinged but good enough!!Those days with two very young daughters we preferred to keep a folding Dining Table in the Kitchen.It ensured that I could feed our children nice hot Indian Rotis or Flatbread right off the "Tawaa "or Griddle straight into their plates during their early Dinner.Those days Sudhir would reach home late--by 9-9.30 p.m. and I'd feed the girls a small Dinner to keep them till the main Meal--and that was when this Table would become really useful.Later it began serving as a makeshift Study Table--for I'd get them to do their Homework sitting there while I cooked the Dinner.
As they grew up and the Kitchen expanded--new additions in both Appliances as well as Utensils made their appearance I got it restyled in 1980.This was when Sudhir bought me my first Cooking Range.Those days these were very new in the Market and I wanted one because I'd grown up drooling over these in all the British Magazines my mother subscribed to when I was young.So it was a very dear Dream--and Sudhir bought me one as a surprise Gift to me on my Birthday.Bombay has a lot of Book Sellers--literal treasures can be bought for a Song on the pavements in Fort--Kalaa Ghodaa area.These include rare first editions as well--one just has to know where to look for these!!One day after we bought the Range Sudhir came home with a thick hard bound Cook Book--and within it's pages lay all those Dishes I'd dreamt of cooking up--in both Imperial and Metric measurements!! Then began a phase that was to last for almost 10 years--Breads,Cakes,Cookies,Biscuits and Puddings--you name it---I made it!!I became a really good Baker--and till today both our girls--more specially Sayali drool over the super light Victoria Sponges,Ribbon Cakes,Marble Cakes and Swiss Rolls I made.Bread was my speciality too and various Pies--but most of all Shepherd's Pie was the Family favourite.Roasts,Biryanis,Kababs and traditional Fish Dishes would all turn out finger licking perfect--till one day my Oven died on me!!The next to go was the Grill and no amount of coaxing or repairs could get it working again--so I was forced to let go of it with a heavy heart----and a new phase of plain Gas Stoves commenced.We aquired an OTG--short for Oven Toaster Grill which used Electricity instead of Gas but the size was much smaller so gradually my Baking petered out.Baking in small quantities was such a bore!!
Both the Girls loved eating Roast Chicken--but Sudhir would need a proper 5-6 course Indian Meal so I'd cook these Dishes for Dinner whenever he had to attend formal Bar Dinners at the Court.One night he rang the bell pretty early after such an Event--and asked for Dinner!!I was stunned--all I had was Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes,Onions and Gravy with home made Dinner Rolls!!Luckily scrounging through our cavernous 'Fridge I emerged victoriously with Rice,a Vegetable Curry and Dal--enough to satisfy his appetite.I learnt a lesson that night--I'd always keep sufficient food for him in the 'Fridge--for it gradually became a pattern with him.He'd eat a light Snack around 7 p.m. just before he left and come back home later to a full Dinner.I liked to cook all his favourites for it was the only Meal apart from Breakfast that he ate at home on Weekdays.Weekend Breakfasts were special--cooked and served late with Bacon,Eggs and Bread cooked in a variety of ways--the most popular being Eggs on Tomatoes!!This is actually a variation of a Parsi Speciality.Among the Parsis Eggs are cooked along with a variety of vegetables.A base is prepared by sauteing finely chopped Onion with minced Garlic and Ginger in Ghee till the Onion turns transclucent.Then chopped Tomatoes,finely minced Green Chillies,Mint and Cilantro Leaves are added along with a a little Coriander-Cumin powder and Salt to taste.When the Tomato turns pulpy and Ghee shows at the edges,the heat is turned low and Eggs are gently broken over it.The dish is then covered and simmered over a low flame till the Eggs set--sunny side up.Many a time I'd add Minced Lamb to the Tomatoes or Bacon chopped up fine or sometimes Ham or Salami----this made a substantial Breakfast for us as Lunch would be late.You can also add finely chopped Spinach Leaves instead of the Tomatoes or even Okra cut up in small pieces.This Dish is eaten with crisp,buttered Toast--and very tasty it is too!!Sunday lunches were really special and while Sudhir did the shopping I'd make the necessary preparations.
Sudhir and his talkative Tail Sayali would leave to fetch the fresh Meat from the Butcher for the Lunch along with fresh Vegetables.Till they came back I'd make the preliminary preparations and my Onions--actually Shallots would already be frying in the Pan before they arrived home.There would usually be a Meat Curry,a Salad,one Vegetable Curry and if the Meat had a thick Gravy, then a Dal too to serve over the Rice.Sundays meant Pulaos--Rice roasted in Ghee till Golden, seasoned with Spices cooked with Peas or Vegetables with Salt to taste.The Dal would be special too--different Seasonings and Spices would be added and the cooking medium would always be home made Ghee--never Oil!!One thing was truly exasperating--the Girls managed to finish all the Meat pieces by evening--making it necessary for me to boil a dozen Eggs and add to the Gravy that remained!!Today those same girls are pretty particular about the quantities they eat--and I miss those carefree days---they were really great fun!!
Fish was our staple Diet--cooked every single day!!My Fisherwoman Jaya came to the Door everyday except on Mondays and certain Feast days when we didn't eat even Onion and Garlic--forget the rest!!When Sayali was very young this used to be a fun time.Sayali would greet Jaya like a long lost friend everyday---rush about getting her a glass of Water,finding her a comfortable "Paat" to sit on and once satisfied that Jaya was comfortable asking me to make a cup of Tea or Coffee for her----all this because Jaya brought the freshest Fish to our door.Then she'd pore over Jaya's "Paati' as we called the huge flat Basket of Fish Jaya carried on her head.This would be laden with a huge variety of Fish--huge Tiger Prawns/Shrimps,Pomfrets,Black Pomfrets,Kingfish,Mackerel,Salmon,Sardines
,Sword Fish,Shark--you name it she had it!!The funniest part is that Crows would appear at the Kitchen window sill, cawing away--a signal to Sayali that Jaya and her basket of Fish were on their way up to our Flat!!Jaya is the one who taught me to cook a large variety of Fish--and she introduced our Girls to a large variety of tastes.Clams,Mussels,Crabs, she taught me to clean all these and also cook them.Jaya is one person whom I miss for she was one of my soulmates--a truly kindred soul!!Today there are just memories left for she passed away 10 years back--and the taste of her Fish still lingers on in our minds and on our tongues.
It was in 1984 that Sudhir insisted on getting me the latest Kitchen at the time--and this Kitchen lasted me till December 2012--when I finally replaced it with the present one.Today I have come face to face with so many things I just bought but never used--and I'm winnowing out the Chaff from the Grain by getting rid of what I don't need.Vanita and Hira Bai are disposing off all that stuff which none of us need----but carrying home the good stuff I don't need or use anymore.I've finally taken out my prized new Tupperware--the older used Tupperware Vanita will be taking home---and that which is no good goes into the Dust Bin.Already I have cleared a lot of space by getting rid of the extra unwanted Tupperware,Crockery and Cutlery thereby keeping a Kitchen which I can clean regularly every 10 days to ensure that both the Kitchen and me remain in great shape!!
Saturday, January 19, 2013
I began my serious stint with cooking after my marriage.Here I must mention that if I'm a good Cook today the credit for this rests solely with Suhas--Sudhir's older sister.I married into traditionally typical Marathi family---they relished a few things in the Colonial Continental Food and some Punjabi dishes but actually needed the comfort of the basic Marathi Cuisine on a day to day basis.Now since I married very young,Mummy hadn't taught me the basics of our Cuisine--besides though we all belonged to the same extended family,the proportions of the Spices used differed in each branch--hence the confusion!!I mean that though basically our Community hails from Goa, it was after the Portuguese Invasion.The forced conversions to Christianity forced a lot of the original settlers called Gowd Saraswat Brahmins( GSBs) to flee from their homeland into the neighbouring areas of Goa.My mother's ancestors settled in Saawant wadi in the Konkan belt of Maharashtra and incorporated the nuances of that Cuisine into their own--- while retaining their own individuality.My father's ancestors settled further inland on the Deccan plateau in kolhapur--and their Cuisine evolved using the local flavour which enhanced their original culinary style.Sudhir's ancestors moved as far up North as Mumbai as it was then called and their culinary style melded with the local one to produce the Mumbaikari Cuisine.Thus I married into a home that used 3 different styles of GSB cooking--the Mumbaikari,the Kolhapuri and the Konkani styles of cooking.While the proportions of the Spices like Cloves,Cardamom and many similar items differ one thing remains constant in all--the fieryness of the Red Chilli!!Of these the Konkani cooking is the most complicated--then the Kolhapuri while the Mumbaikari is the simplest of all.
My sister-in-law Suhas would travel for an hour from her home in the Northern Suburbs to our South Bombay home to teach me the basics of our daily cooking.It is she who taught me the way to cook the Vegetables in a way to enhance their original tastes and the various styles of cooking the Dals.Since we are basically Fishatarians,Fish was a regular item on our daily Menu.She also taught me the way to cook various types of Fish Curries and I began to really enjoy cooking immensely.It was once I'd mastered the basics that she began giving me the tips needed to cook more complicated stuff--that done I began collecting the Recipes from my two Grandmas--Aaji and Akka.Their basic approach to Life was reflected in their Recipes--both were meticulously perfect in the precise measurements of Stuff--but while Akka would use a smaller quantity as a base, Aaji would go all out for a larger one.Surprisingly though despite my Maths. I managed to increase or decrease the scale accurately enough to clone the original tastes.Once we shifted here to the Central Suburbs where we still live, I also learnt to cook Mughalai Food--most of it from Mummy an Ace cook herself but some of it through a Cooking Class run nearby our Complex.My implements consisted of a few Brass Pots and Pans but were mostly Stainless Steel stuff.The "Paataa Varvantaa" helped me grind my Masalas,my Fresh Coconut for the Fish Curries and the Kerosene Stoves were a stand by to stretch out the number Stoves while cooking for Parties.Those days Kerosene was the least of our problems while the paucity of Gas Cylinders was the worst!!However we struck lucky when we were given an extra one within a year of our Application and while this ensured an unbroken supply of Cooking Gas,I retained my old Faithfuls--my Primus Stoves--for they were truly indispensable whenever I needed to cook large quantities in minimum time!!
Later Gas powered portable Stoves were introduced in the Market.These worked for 30 hours each--and I was among the first to buy these because those days we entertained a lot.By now my "Paataa Varvantaa" had been replaced by a Mixer Grinder--but i still have my old Stone--maintained in peak condition--maybe some day I'll flex my muscles again!!Not just that,my old Brass and Copper Utensils are today on the Loft--having been outdone by the later Stainless Steel versions which too have been replaced by Surgical Steel ones--all in the name of better Health Safety.Since the use of Oil has been reduced to minimum I have also acquired quite a few Non-stick versions too--for Mughalai and Punjabi Cooking needs proper browning of the Onions,Ginger and Garlic to achieve the right flavour,colour and texture.I have also inherited the meticulousness of my female ancestors--the last of these being my mother.While Akka taught me to measure the various Ingredients and Spices using my fingers,Aaji taught me the correct way to cook the Konkani Curries really well!!Finally it was Mummy who was the hardest taskmaster---she stood looking over my shoulder--while I fried the Masalas on a low flame for literally hours till it met with her satisfaction.She truly deserves the credit of turning me into a perfectionist----one of my many failings that our daughters tease me about---- who just cannot settle for less!!My culinary Journey and it's Success is a tribute to my sister-in-law Suhas--one of the best Cooks I've seen--and even today the one Cook I truly admire!!
Friday, January 18, 2013
While Aaji's Kitchen was very clean it was always full of clutter and people---making it appear smaller than actual size,the Kitchen at Kolhapur where my paternal Grandma Akka ruled the roost was huge,meticulously clean and spotless!!This Kitchen was also well lighted--the Skylights set high in the Walls let in lots of Light but no Sun.The floor was a Cow Dung smeared one---another smell that I adored!!A mixture of Clay,Cow dung and water would be spread on it at night--so that it would be dry by morning.Surprisingly this kept the house cool and it's astringent and antiseptic properties kept Infections at bay.I still remember the smooth but slightly serrated feel of it under my bare feet--and another thing--the soles remained perfectly clean--for Dirt would come off it cleanly when swept up with a broom!!There were Wooden Alcoves set in the thick walls with wooden shelves.These shelves held a dazzling Golden array of different sizes of polished Brass Canisters--each holding different types of Grains,Flours,Pulses and an assortment of home made varieties of Papads.
The all pervading Coal fired Stoves were used here too--but while Aaji's Kitchen had individual Stoves called "Sigris/Angeethis", Akka's were built of Brick and plastered to the floor with the Cow Dung Mixture.While here too we sat cross legged on the floor on the inevitable "Paats" to eat there also was a Dining Table in another room--used mainly as a Study table by my father and his siblings while growing up.Akka would collect everything--all the Utensils,Ladles,Ingredients and Condiments--neatly arrayed in row in front of her--and then commence her cooking.This Kitchen too had a massive Grinding stone and Akka's one eyed helper--Parvatibai would do the honours of using it to grind the various Masala pastes fine.Parvatibai and Akka had been together a very long time--and were pretty close--but neither of them would ever admit that--even in a weak moment!!Both women would be in the Kitchen for atleast four hours each morning--but they always emerged from there fresh and sparkling--spotlessly clean with nary a pleat of their nine yard saries amiss!! One would never guess that they'd been toiling in the Kitchen over a hot Stove so long!!
The Cowherd would bring a Cow and a Buffalo to our door early in the mornings--Cow's Milk for the children to drink and Buffalo Milk for the Tea,Curds and other necessities would be milked fresh on the doorstep into sparkling huge Brass pots called "Kalashees".The Cowshed at the back of our "Waada" had been converted into a Godown and was choc a bloc with Firewood,Sacks of Coal and Grain.The smell of warm,fresh Milk and the taste of it in one's mouth early in the morning is another fond memory.In both Aaji's and Akka's Kitchens meals were cooked to feed a certain number of people--but so perfectly that there were usually no leftovers from the earlier Meals--necessitating the cooking of fresh Food for each Meal.Evenings meant a stroll down the steep narrow lane outside our ancestral home to the River nearby--and buying fresh bunches of Green leafy vegetables on the River bank.We'd walk along the River watching the Sun set--but were discouraged from swimming in it because it had a whirlpool in it's depths and a treacherous current.The fresh smell of the Earth rose up from the roots of each bunch--and all of us cousins would gorge on the simple Dinner that Akka prepared for us.Unlike Aaji, Akka believed in eating light at night--so Dinner would consist of freshly cooked Green Leafy Vegetable called "Paaley Bhaaji" eaten with freshly roasted large "Bhakris" made from "Jwaari/Zondhaley/Jowaar" or Sourghum flour. There would be a simple Dal to accompany the Rice along with the usual Pickles,Papads and fresh Curds--set in individual bowls.Then it was up to the Terrace to lie under the Stars gazing into the dark velvety depths of the night sky.
Aaji's meals were sumptous at each Meal--while Akka preached austerity at night.Both ate small Meals but where Aaji loved to feed people and coax them into over eating, Akka respected a person refusing a helping saying that overeating caused more harm than good!!Also she used just the right amount of Oil while Aaji was generous to a fault with it--along with a lot of other Spices!!Akka however encouraged us to gorge on Fresh Curds,Milk,home made Butter and Ghee saying that Ayurveda also extolled the virtues of such a diet!!Even today I can still remember subtle nuances of Aaji's fiery Konkani food--so very different from Akka's equally fiery Kolhapuri Cuisine--though both used the same Spices in different measures!!Both have left behind a wealth of Recipes that have made me a really good Cook--and while I try to reduce the Oil and some of the fieryness of the Red Chilli Powder--I still follow each one to a T to achieve a similar taste--for ours not to question why--ours only to follow the rules till we die!!
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