Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Chronicles of "JevaN" *

My Beautiful Food in Borosil - Runner-up

I am not an ad person.

 I don't need page 3 type exposures to bring people to the food table.  No fancy food poses, unusually shaped containers or complicated artistic procedures with a history of culinary malfunctions.

 To me, "plating"  has always been about covering something with something else, as in silver, coated in , say, 1 gram gold; and not about some sauce leaving scratchy foot prints  across a white plate, while some lettuce and mint balances itself precariously on what was once a part of a chicken , sitting in the centre of the plate, watched by the disgusted french fries.

It is about someone coming home at noon, hot in the mid-day sun, splashing water on the face, and  standing under a ceiling fan before been drawn to the meal.

The aroma of Ambemohor rice, as all the grains huddle together, puffed with confidence, in a winning skirmish in hot water .  Their emergence on to the table, amidst a steam studded opening, followed by an excited Lady Ghee, in a translucent golden trance.

A much heralded arrival of of the self obsessed Saadha Varan, quietly searching for lemon pieces, salt sprinkles, and other chamchaas.   A great meeting, or as Nikhil Wagle  of IBN Lokmat would say, a Great Bhet ,  with the rice, a churning of the two, watched with great interest by the lemon pickle, nudged by the papad types, curling cynically, and wondering how much more fuss was happening. 

And then it is almost like a Durbar. 

With folks sitting to the left and right of the centre. As is the custom .

Cucumbers with their immense Cool Quotient, in a homogenous coalition with  chilly coriander item number types,  sometimes accompanied by the Moongfali Dadas, with their ambitions roasted and  crushed.  Occasionally dahi or yogurt plays peacemaker,  and results in a very Khamang Kaakdi.  Clearly displays  certain leftist tendencies in the seating  in the Durbar.

Boiled, scrubbed,  potato pieces, having emerged from a Traumatic Tadka Trial, in the company of of the Kadhipata and Mirchi ladies,  comforted by the Dhaniya-Lemon juice gang,  trying to cool things down, and they all go through some stirring emotions, before appearing in the Durbar. That too, on the right side,  clearly tongue tickling in attitude,   giving superior looks to the proletarian leftist Kakdis. 

And then , the pièce de resistance.

Hot, spotted, Jowar Bhakris, having emerged through a trial by fire on the stovetop,   opening up and showing heart , at the thought of meeting white butter , that has been waiting anxiously  , ever since it escaped from the buttermilk folks.

They arrive where the rice once was,   and settle down with a sigh, awaiting the Pithla girls.  Both of them , the Bhakri and Pithla, have always been a pair, and played together in harmony.

Pithla. A languorous , brightly yellow, sunny, spicy, almost burning, thick confabulation of Besan and water, thickening the mystery,  in traditional cast iron premises, supervised by the standard adrak-lasoon, onion mirchi  union,  sometimes blessed with old dried red chilly grandmas.

A lovely meal, happening in real time, with Bhakris arriving  every four minutes, al a Mumbai Metro,  avidly waiting to meet the Pithla and Khamang Kakdi  show stoppers.

Sometimes, some independent chutney and pickle types make it to the Durbar too,  and cause a bit of heart burning.

But not to worry.

Like the Speaker of the august Durbar,  always a lady,    Her Sweet Tanginess, Madame Taak (often called Chhaas by some)  is always there, to cool things down , by the glass.  "Please, please, relax, sit down ....please please..."

Of course , occasionally there is a protest by some folks like Shrikhand who think they should have been invited.  

To this Durbar.

Yes, the Durbar.  With the members resplendent in their special containers from Borosil.  

The Rice, Deep in the Round Casserole with lid.

Saadha Varan,   a bit more square and conservative, comfortable in a Square Dish with Lid to keep the flavours in.

Khamang Kaakdi, true to its modern attitude, at peace in a Designer Bowl Set.

The Potato sabji , very aware of its position in the meal, insisting on sitting in the Grill and Drop Round Casserole.

The Pithla girls insisting on arriving in the Mini Oval Dish set to meet the Bhakris.

The Bhakris, of course, preferring to rest on arrival , for a short period, in the Fluted Dish.

Eyed jealously, by the lemons pieces, pickles and salt  resident in the mini Square Dish Set .

And how can we forget the White Butter, and Golden Ghee , quietly sitting side by side, in the Baby Gourmet Bowls Set, waiting for the lead players to arrive. 

And finally, a Vision Jug, to hold, the very visionary and wise Madame Taak.


But in the fitness of things,  this really is all about the Aam Meal .

Imbibed by folks all across my state, whether on the 30th floor of a highrise, or a small one room enclosure alongside a village field.

May or may not make it to Master Chef or Paris or whatever.

But will, always , without fail, make it,  to the hearts and stomachs, of those who slurp and enjoy the simplest of meals.....


* Jevan ~ Marathi for "meal"

(Submitted as an entry for the Borosil-Indiblogger "My Beautiful Food" Contest. )

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Least Count Syndrome....

No.  This has nothing to do with elections, faulty EVM's  and the like.

But something more basic.  




Way back, 50 years ago, when I was in 9th grade, I remember starting on Physics as a separate subject in school, as opposed to a bouquet of scientific subjects cobbled together as "General Science". A sense of having come up in the world consequent  to now attending these classes , unlike earlier, in a special spiffy  lab, the year began with an "introduction to measurements"  and put forth the concept of Least Count.

It wasn't rocket science, it wasn't new, but it gave a name to something we instinctively knew.  Every instrument that measured something  had a minimum measurement which it could do with great accuracy. That defined a "least count"  of that instrument.  For example, a scale or ruler marked only in integer centimetres, would never measure things in millimetres accurately.  

And so you had the world, the measuring instrument, and the answers. For different scales of measurement , clearly, there were different measuring methods, ranging from micrometres, verniers, mileage measuring methods, to spectroscopy, audiometres etc etc. Each did excellently on its own, but would probably go haywire if used for something it as not supposed to measure.

We as humans, measure the world around us in various ways.  Eyes, ears,  A sense of touch.   Sometimes, the measuring is more complex, where something is observed by us, and analyzed and reacted to, by our brains.

For many years, I have felt, that every human body, as a machine is blessed with a unique least count.  It can be defined as an optimum level of information showering, that brings a level of comfort as we seek a conclusion or solution from it.

5 decades ago, there were no mobile phones. Heck, our first rotary phone happened when i was in 8th grade. Many times , particularly in rain storms, it would be dead, thanks to entaglements of branches in wires and so on.  When you interacted with anyone on the phone, and then the people were unreachable, you calmly waited for them to appear in person, or maybe call back on their own; sometimes a half a day would go by before folks started getting into a panic mode.  Everyone did not have phones, and so life was lead with a sense of optimistic belief in things.  In crunch situations , the phone, regardless of ownership was available to whoever needed it .

Today, we have mobile phones, cell phones, pagers , etc etc. The ability of the phone to move with the user, has meant that you get almost minute to minute updates from whoever you are tracking.  There are things like Twitter and other social media , where people post in real times about situations. For the person on whom all this information impinges,  it is like an avalanche. 

An inability to reach someone traveling alone, phones being announced as unreachable, switched off etc,  bring horrifying visions to mind, thanks to what we see in the news these days.  

You start off for the airport, and read Twitter updates about traffic and jams on the Mumbai flyovers, and you agonize endlessly about missing flights, missing exams, and deadlines.

You see 'n'  missed calls from someone you haven't seen for a while, and you start imagining things.

It isn't terribly clear, that the human body can handle such an onslaught optimally. In the sense that something has to give. 

We were a society, that was not clobbered with so much data, but thougtfully chewed upon and analysed and digested what was on offer, and sensibly came to conclusions.  The speed with which we constantly measured events was in consonance with what the brain/mind was designed for, optimally.  And so, back then, you never heard of psychiatric treatments, anxiety and panic syndromes, depressions etc in daily life. Yes, there were patients, but it was more of a physiological affliction.

The human body, I think, as a measurer, has a certain least count.  The avalanche of information has to match that interval.  Then it leads or might lead , to a meaningful answer or interpretation , in conclusion. 

Today, we live a life of palpitations with more than 100 news sources drowning us in an avalanche,   sms's and Whatsapp  forwards add the chutney and the pickle,  and anxiety and panic syndromes are the order of the day.  The body/brain/mind  is unable to measure things smaller than a certain optimum size and come to gainful conclusions.   And so there are random, kneejerk results,   that show up in a messed up physiology and chemistry of the body.  Stress rules, and diseases follow. 

They always advise you exercises and meditation etc.  It probably serves to reorganize, and finalize concretely the least count of your body machine , so you can face the world better.


Having said all this, Google Glass came to mind.    

Clearly ,   I give up. 

On second thoughts, No,  Thank you.

I already have glasses of my own....... 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cakes, lights and other stories

(This post was inspired by a comment made by a friend on FB.   Regarding the custom of smearing birthday cake on  the birthday person's face.  And how we disapprove....)

My sole oldest memory is from 59 years ago.  I actually remember.

My fifth birthday. A fairly cold December night in Pune. Our house had a first floor terrace then (subsequently converted to living space)  and there were folks sitting on chairs strewn around, shawls, kids in sweaters , playing, a dark looking cake with a Santa Claus on it, sitting on the dining table along with other eats, brought out there for the occasion.  

Cakes were not de rigeur for birthdays in those days, or in the area where we lived,  but a locality in Pune Cantonment had a certain western ethos, and possibly folks had got the cake from there. Christmas was the next day, so possibly, there were cakes available. I don't remember cutting the cake or blowing candles,  but i remember all of us getting a piece, and me being stubborn and insisting on eating the Santa Claus.  Only to find it was not made of sugar , but clay......

Very clearly,  there was no gorging on cake, but it was imbibed like prasadam in small quantities , amidst many other child friendly goodies cooked by the folks.  

Strangely, I don't remember any other birthdays involving cakes, then.

Cut to a time,  when my children were small, and one baked cakes at home, combined them, shaped them,  iced them  and decorated them for birthdays. The birthday child , sometimes with goggle eyed friends, often sat on the dining table observing the icing, the chocolate, and there were many occasions when the icing was accidentally magically smeared on a child's hand, and was licked away gleefully. Candles were lit, blown with great strength, and the cake was cut and distributed.  The portions were now bigger.  And kids demanded second helpings. Amidst many other menu items. 

Somewhere in the late 80's and early nineties,  ready made cake shops made an appearance.  Cakes had amazing icing patterns and designs, no figures were made of clay, and kids started overdosing on sugar.  Yes, these cakes were then still expensive, globalization had happened, expectations had increased, and keeping up with the Joneses was considered important by some.

Somewhere in this century,  we lost it.  

Sense, that is. 

It is now considered smart to go for a birthday party,  applaud while the cake is cut, feed the same piece to select few (jhoota cake was unacceptable in my time) , and then  smear handfuls of the cream/icing/cake on the birthday person's face, in a massive disregard for the value and function of food.  I am not aware of anyone licking it all back.
It is now considered smart to hire hotel spaces for birthdays, and pay through your nose.

It is now considered smart to be knowledgeable about buffet meals costing more than a second/first  class monthly season ticket on Central Railway , for a single meal for a single person.  Being knowledgeable is one thing. Routinely visiting these places  avidly is something else.  Eat as much as you want.  The size of your stomach remains finite.  You gorge to get value for money.    

It is now considered smart to use the appellation "only" after outrageous prices for sometimes substandard food, beautifully presented.

It is now considered smart to leave food on your plate, and remnants of a drink in your glass, that held a drink with a weird name  .


And I wonder, and go back to the days when  we ate, without complaining , the meal of the day, as it appeared in our plates.  Shoving unpopular bhaajis behind dal katoris was always detected,  and we had to literally finish up our meals and polish our plates till we could see our own images in them. 

Food wasting was an unforgivable crime, and we never had TV shows to tell us that otherwise was OK.  Simply because there was no TV then. Forget cable.

The cake was never the main feature of a birthday.

And then, there is something that has puzzled me no end.

Modern customs, require the lighting of candles, and a subsequent successful blowing them off .  Extinguishing them, and letting them lie forlornly to one side while the cake was attacked.

The original custom that we still follow, involves lighting of lamps , along with a spoonful of rice, haldi, kumkum, and an arti of the birthday child, as he/she sits east-west  in front of the family Gods. 

The lamps are not blown away .

The Arti thali is always left in front of the Gods, the lamps still burning, with a sense of gratitude.

I think that sense, is what we have lost......




Monday, June 16, 2014

Inaugural Pressures

It was all about buying a new pressure cooker.

For years, she used an old dabba cooker, like a dedicated steamer, and often ended up waiting for the dal to cook while the rice exulted in victory, in the early morning cooking hours before she left for work.

Now things were close to becoming reality.  The folks who mattered were in agreement. The funding was organized. Sizes were looked at and finalized. The engineering was  analyzed from the safety point of view, after consulting experienced types, who had had harrowing times when the dal and rice had hit the fan and the ceiling.

She wanted a functional, safe  technology, never mind the aesthetics.   Some wanted some colors, and a futuristic look.  Some thought it should cater to the future ,when consumption would increase , and enhanced quantities would be the order of the day.  Some spoke about grabbing a good deal when they saw one,  and they would deal with the future later.

And so they brought it home, one sunny weekend, just before the monsoons set in. The  book that came along waxed eloquent on fancy company names, technologies, international connections, and a set of recipes in a fat book alongside.

The pressure cooker was inaugurated.  

But they forgot to check the diameter of the pressure cooker, vis a vis the placement of burners on the stove. When you started to use the new pressure cooker, you could basically NOT use the closest burner, because  it was too close, and no vessel would fit there.

Then they had problems  with the utensils that went inside the cooker.  The diameter of these was big, and there were problems getting them inside.

So they ended up getting a new burner stove.  In the hoopla of acquiring new things, someone suggested an extra burner in the stove, and so the budget was enhanced to get a new multi burner automatic flame lighting stove.   

While she rummaged amidst her old vessels to see if she could find some to fit in a multiple way inside the cooker,  they laughed and said new vessels were the order of the day.  So three stackable utensils were purchased as a set . You couldn't buy them  piecewise.

So yes. The pressure cooker now works.

Food gets cooked fast, but with the caveat that one steam pressure cooks all.  Some things get overcooked, some get cooked just right; some lose, some win.  The old facility of the dabba cooker where she had no pressure while cooking, and you could check and move things in and out of the cooker, when things had cooked al dente, clearly did not exist now.  And so many vegetables that tended to get overcooked in the new cooker, were now cooked directly with oil and water added later.

Then there is always some maintenance in terms of  rubber rings and seals.  Some guys at the corner do a brisk business in replacement seals and rings.  And never mind if these are authentic technology parts or not.

They, the family ,  have learned to make do.

Like we have learned to make do, ourselves.

Many years ago, it was about observing paths treaded by those before us.  These  paths were created and treaded, based  on many considerations, like  absolute priority need,  ability to keep communication with stake holders alive, minimum disturbance to those around,  environmentally sound technologies,  respect for life, respect for food , great work ethic, and willingness to work hard.

There were no inaugurations, no speeches, but lots of prudence and a sense of pride in what was being tried.  Money was respected, and so, never thrown around. Whether it was yours, or someone else's .

Years and years of treading a tough path by those who went before us,  created roads for us;   and we followed,  mindful of well defined pitfalls with well defined solutions. The option of resurfacing that road because you did not like the layout , did not exist.  

But yes, based on the new traffic situation,  you probably introduced graded progress lanes, and  walking lanes.

Without any stupid inaugurations. 

Bandra Kherwadi inauguration today
Today , we hold up usage of badly needed road infrastructure, because some person who needs to publicise his participation in that venture  does not have the time to come and cut a ribbon.   When he does decide to come, we spend days erecting huge shamianas in the middle of the road, complete with speech podium, public address systems, and 250 plastic chairs.  Another day to dismantle it all.

And lo behold. The new road/flyover/ramp is inaugurated.   Guys in suits fawn around guys in white jhabbas/jackets. Contractors are paid,  new tenders are issued. And life goes on.

Or should I say, the road goes on.

Till at some point the rains expose the pothole technology .   Or sudden caving in of the road surface, clearly ashamed of its inability to bear the weight of its assigned responsibility..   

Once again, new technologies, new machines, new repairs, new bills, new payments, but simply no attention to those who would be traversing those paths.



In the meanwhile,  she is at her wits end, because the cooker handle got banged, it doesn't fit properly, and their is no pressure developing  in the cooker.  She has already changed the gasket  and the  seal, with improvement.

Time for a new cooker.  New technologies. New whistles.

And life goes on........