Life’s been so busy since some time before my birthday that there’s barely been any time to cook, let alone write about it. It’s like being caught between a multitude of rocks and hard places and having to move around with them slowly squeezing my breath out of me. Only today do I feel like I could come up for air. And I’m taking it in, giant large gulps of it.
I wasn’t certain I’d talk about recipes involving ready store-bought ingredients as relative stars of the meal. Not because I’m a ‘you-gotta-do-everything-from-scratch’ snob, but because to tell anyone about it seems a bit like claiming credit for something you didn’t really do. And that can’t be any good, can it? But then sometimes, a combination of stuff bought at the store, a tired brain and a soul desperate for nourishment that doesn’t taste like cardboard can create a good thing.
This combination turned out to be too easy, simple and relatively healthy to keep to myself. And there isn’t anything too difficult about obtaining its ingredients. I had bought some lavash with some vague memories of a recipe I’d read some time earlier. And then, original recipe forgotten, I scrambled to come up with a way to use it before it got past its prime. I’d also run into a sublime Tomato and Basil Hummus in the ready-eats aisle of Trader Joe’s, happily nestled next to the cheese section in which was a little tin of burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream) both of which made it into my fridge and had been barely used.
There couldn’t have been a better way to use all of these things.
The current economy is taking its toll and no one is immune from its effects. While there are changes in weather and joys in spring, some part of me seems chilled in a grip of melancholy and in my head there’s a strident head-ache. Actually that latter thing could also have a lot to do with the fact that there is intense hammering on the outside of a wall less than two feet away from my head. I woke up to its dulcet tones early this morning and now its 3 pm and I’m thoroughly sick of it. I should be immune to stuff like this, there are days that I work around much louder noises on site. But the build-up has been unbearable. The only thing stopping me from going outside and bopping that construction worker silly with those shingles he’s so busily trying fix on my building wall is the fact that he’s whistling cheerfully. In the gloom and doom of the time we live in, someone is happy, someone is doing a job he loves. What kind of person would want to ruin that for anyone?
It is a good thing that I haven’t been contemplating making a soufflé of any kind. Every time that hammer hits the wall, everything shudders slightly and I’m willing to bet good money that it would fall flatter than that joke I heard last night at dinner. Since I’m home on this somewhat cold Friday and the construction work outside was slowly robbing me of the ability to string coherent thought together, lunch had to be a tried and tested go-to recipe I can make without thinking. The day called for something warming and comforting to warm me and soothe my aching head, so I decided to go with one of my versions of Egg Curry.
“Today I had yet another run-in with that girl. You know that girl. Everyone knows that girl. She’s the one you’d love to hate. And it would be easy to, what with her gorgeous good looks, engaging smile and perfect hair, she’s asking for it. But what makes it hard is that she’s also witty, intelligent and caring to boot, a perfect angel. She has to be the most annoying person ever! And it is hard to avoid her, she’s so easy to run into. All you can do really is smile back. And you probably should anyway…..you’ll walk past that mirror in a couple of seconds, and she’ll be gone as quickly as she arrived, not forever, just for a while.”
I don’t know what to do with these few lines above that I wrote, nor do I know where they came from. Here I was sitting down to talk about a delicious pasta dish, and this is what popped into my head. Maybe someday that girl will get out of my head and on to paper, along with the rest of her tale. Maybe it will be ‘that guy’ or ‘that kid’ instead of ‘that girl’, I don’t know. But I swear that the amount of random topics that pop into my head and clamour for elaboration are getting to be a veritable pain in the posterior. I mean really, I had thought starting to write about food would focus all my creative energy in one direction. But talking about food hasn’t brought the serene peace of mental vacuum that I hoped it would. As truly as nature abhors that phenomenon, food ideas are multiplying and bringing their non-related friends to the raucous party. And so I digress like, but much worse than my college history professor, who was supposed to teach us about history of architecture, but mostly taught the history of himself. If you are what you eat, than I’ve got to start giving random drug tests to my spices. Have they been secretly doped? Or maybe there was something in those chips I ate earlier. I always knew the processed food would get me.
My weekend was cold in more ways than one. Not only has the weather moved back into coolness but I was also working up a blizzard of all kinds of notes and books for my exam (the result of which, in case any of you are wondering, is known only to God and a few people at the grading agency, I certainly didn’t know which way that boat sailed). While Amey shivered in khaki shorts (heavy wishful thinking on his part; it wasn’t warm in the shade) and grappled with the problem of ‘backfill on site’, I wrestled with the concrete mix required to build a dam; warmed with a nice hot cocoa. Not the most fun way to spend what seemed to be a super gorgeous weekend in the sun. But we were inside, being cold; not in the sun. Story of our lives. Why has all my young life been spent taking exams? Isn’t it ridiculous irony that you can’t enjoy youth (and I’m stretching the blasted definition of that word to the extreme in application, after all you are as young as you feel) when you are young? I mean, shucks!!
If television and eating out is any indication, there’s a trend I’ve noticed here in the US. Whole spices are not really appreciated in food. I have watched enough British cooks and chefs to realize that they have no problem bunging in whole spices. The Spanish and Italians don’t seem to mind it either. I’m not sure of the French, but then they are big on subtler flavours. Tune into any food related show on US networks and you will see the cook/chef-of-the-hour urging you to use powder as opposed to the whole version. I’m guessing this is because moving the spice out of the food to the side of a plate may not be something one may want to do while eating. For Indians, it is so part of the food, we do it without thinking. And occasionally if you end up putting it in your mouth, well, unless it’s a cinnamon stick or a black cardamom pod, it’s highly unlikely to hurt you at all. In fact, chew it and deep flavours will be revealed to you in true glory.
Indian cooking is an excellent showcase of whole spices. In fact, they are much appreciated and their use can alter a dish significantly as opposed to the powdered spice. There’s a certain sprightliness and deep earthiness which they bring to a dish. The powdered spice brings the same thing only with a different degree of deep heat. It’s hard for me to imagine a biryani or pulao or meat curry without the inclusion of whole spices. It would be like the deep base missing from the symphony.