Thursday, May 31, 2007

Four women and a future

FOUR WOMEN:

Woman one: The Lambaadi woman mentioned in the previous post.
Profession: construction worker
Why her? Cause she was my mom's role model
Background and a typical day: Road construction work going on in some suburb of Mumbai. She belongs to the Lambadi tribe, which means she's a nomad and doesn't really belong to any place. She wears all her jewallary all the time. She lives in a temporary hut created near the construction site. Her day starts with hoping to be selected for work today. It's a good day. In the afternoon, she breast feeds her three month old who otherwise keeps staring from a temporary cloth hammock between two trees. In the evening evening, after a very hard day of physical work, she and her husband consolidate their day's earnings. They go to the local grocer and buy 20 ml oil (it was indeed a good day), 10 gms packs of (No, I'm not exaggerating) cumin seeds, musturd seeds, chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt. They also buy some potatoes and rice. Or maybe some Jawar flour. She Fetches some water from the nearby handpump/other water source, comes back to her dwelling and starts cooking. Everyone is very hungry. It smells delicious. A car stops at a traffic signal close to this part of the road and a woman is trying hard to resist the wonderful smell. She also resists the urge to get off the car and ask for a taste of whatever is cooking in that aluminium pot. The meal is served as soon as it comes off the wooden/coal stove. The light turns green and the woman in the car keeps staring at the whole family enjoying the piping hot rase waali potato sabzi with jawar roti..night falls and she sings a beautiful Lambaadi song to her three month old..it was a good day indeed..hope the contractor is pleased with me tomorrow...
Specialities: rase waali potato sabzi, jawar roti


Woman two: Shashi Mami
Profession: Homemaker
Why her? She's one of the best cooks in my family...
Background and a typical day: Sometime in the sixties: Completed her B.A., joined the "Punjabi cooking classes", lived alone in a hostel in Mumbai for a short period of time, got married to my mama, a bright engineer living with a large joint family in a wealthy suburb of Mumbai. There were lots of weddings and babies in the family. In fact there was always one of them happening I think. And there were festivals and other feasts. My grandmother was a great cook (I've never really eaten anything she's cooked, but I've seen her instructing my maamis about spices for many years). Ba was very particular about ghaghra ni kor. In the early years, there were the young Nanands to help and maybe also give hints about the exact spices used in each vegetable. Eventually, most of the cooking was divided between the two Bahus, with the help from the older girls of the family and the old maid Parvati bai (who always lovingly gave me that very precious, tender and sweet, first portion of grated coconut). Summers were spent making pickles, storing grains (I still remember the arbian nights tales that she told us all while we were cleaning and picking a mountain of whole wheat). The feasts almost always involved traditional gujarati fare. Over the years, some Punjabi curries were added. The families seperated. Ba-Dadaji split their meals between the two families which lived in the same building. All three daughters are married. Ba-dadaji are no more now. The last I was wth her, this how her typical day looked like. The day starts with a cup of plain milk. Then it's time to make fresh flower mala for thakorji, followed by looking at the newspaper headlines. Then Seva. Lunch is (everyday, unless it's a special day) - Rotli, Daal, Bhaat, Shaak (thodu kachumbar) ne Thakorji ni "Baao ni goli" as sweet. Sometimes it's some sweet that one of the daughters sent. One piece. Not more. Mama would be ready for lunch by about 10.15 a.m. maybe 5 minutes here and there. Garam Rotli. Shashi tu chaal..Mama leaves at 10.30 - 10.45. He reaches work in 5 mins. Then mami winds up the kitchen, rests, watches one or two tv shows, catches up on her embroidery project, goes to her Mahila Mandal meeting, solves crossword, calls her daughters. 4.00 p.m. Tea. And a few biscutes, or khakhro made from the one extra rotli in the morning. 5.00 p.m. Shaak leva market (vegetable shopping). Mama is back. Dinner at 7.00. Bhakhri ne shaak. Maybe Garmaanu (Of course that's sweet). Weekends it's something interesting - Paav bhaji or ragda patice. Watch some shows on TV with mama. Some fruit or kulfi (which was later replaced by mama's faviourite natural icecreams..one scoop strictly). Walk on the terrace (This was absolutely religious...more than half my childhood memories from mama's home are from the terrace and mama-mami's night walks). After the walk, it was Jai shree Krishna time. Later, We could sometimes hear the sound of some nice old Mukesh songs emerging from their room. The feasts are now cooked by the Maharaj, under a strict supervision of Shashi mami. I think she still folds most of the "Ghughra ni kor" herself.
Specialities: Vatana na Ghughra (My absolute faviourite), Khasta Kachori (her favourite)

Woman Three: My mom
Profession: Ex-peadiatrician, businesswoman, spiritual practitioner
Why her? Duh
Background and a typical day: Very unusual woman. Came from a traditional gujarati family...same as the one described above. Went to med school. The condition was that she had to know cooking before going to med school. Had been cooking evening meals for the whole family since she was thirteen or so. Made up her cooking shortcuts right during those days to increase play time. Married a brilliant, ambitious and struggling engineer. After marriage, cooked for a big joint family. Worked in different hospitals as an honorary. Helped the husband in the business. Raised two children. Sorry, raised two incredibly active children. Always had time for catching that art exhibition in kalaghoda, last minute choragraphy of her daughter's dance show, riding a double decker (till the last stop and back) in the rain, and a thousand other such important and unimportant matters. Left medicine, changed relegion, got a full time MA in literature, managed business and kept doing some such unusual stuff. The size of the menu in the house didn't change much through the years. Breakfast was always freash upama, poha, paanki, kapuria. Tea or coffee (depending on what my dad was drinking), milk for everyone else, cereal (was added later) fruits and/or juice and few other stuff which kept going on and off the menu depending on the season or fad (like Magajtari raab or Spirulina). Lunch was always Rotli, Daal, Bhaat, Shaak, Salad, Dahi (or Chaas). Sometimes sweets. Or a little something. Dad took tiffin for many years. Still does. When we were in school, we would have lunch and leave for school. I don't know when she had lunch. Evening snack bhel or veg burger or something...anything that was a novelty, wanted to try, but could not replace dinner (which was most dishes, other than full fledged dinner)..dinner was thepla or parotha, Rasa waalu shaak, khichdi kadhi, salad. Some interesting desert (like custerd or fruit salad or kulfi or something new). I don't know what the dinner time was. Sometimes we ate together. Wednesdays was bhelpuri-paanipuri night cause she was away from home and it could be served cold. There were a lot of unexpected visitors. Offering them to join the meal was customery. The times when they had a home office, every visitor to the office was served fresh tea, coffee, pineapple juice, raw mango baflo or Faludo (the visitor was actually asked to chose). Weekends were usually special food. Family feasts and other parties were a combination of traditional food and modern novelties, depending on the occassion. In the later years, the fresh vegetables were bought once a week during the trip to the town. Somewhere when the children were in school, and she was working in her husbands business, one meal was prepared by a maid. Maids were interviewed and trained carefully. Preparing the menu for the week always remained complicated. The family moved to a bigger home. The current maid cooks all the meals. She's well taken care of and lovingly cooks for mom and dad. Mom now cooks only when the maid is on leave. Mom taught me everything she knew about cooking. Every single recipe. Even the achars and papads. She made me cook everything at least once. We both agree that I make some of the dishes better. That's cause I usually spend more time. I can't make theplas like her. She conducts these informal sessions for my friends on how to cook in under twenty five minutes. Mom plans her cooking. I never attended one of those sessions.
Specialities: Laadu(my favourite), Undhiyu (crowd pleaser), Roller coaster (her favourite)

Woman Four: Me
Profession: Graduate Student
Why her? Duhhhh
Background and a typical day: A graduate student in Computer Science in a good university. Youngest and the most pampered in the family. Did some horribly torturous and rarely successful culinary experiments on her loving family and friends. Of her most famous experiments was spinach soup (a big pot of soup that was not edible but her mom didn't discard...a friend used to visit their home every day for one week to see the changing colors of that soup). But that's a very old story. Didn't take the straight road to grad school. Lived in big cities most of her life. Chose to live in this small town in an attempt to simplify life. Yeah right. Typical day? Get up at 9.30. Sleep again. 10.30. Check mails. Check Orkut. Check Blogs. Check News...shower. One of the two routes: skip breakfast and straight have lunch, if working from home. Lunch is pasta with mushroom soup (this roasted garlic variety can is a great find). Or grab a begal for breakfast and then lunch in school. Yes, the one and only fried taco salad at the Hatch. If working from home, three snack breaks. If in the lab, one "free food" break, one "hot chocolate" break and one "vending machine" break. Dinner is .. black bean chilli (Rachel Ray would be proud) with ready to bake biscutes (damn, didn't read the lables...have to get flakey layers next time)..there has to be some desert in the fridge...some cake or icecream...a big bowl..working late..super late night snack...cookies...Is this really typical?...naah...there are just too many random detours in the plan....Weekend entertaining...mostly fancy appetizers (I hardly ever repeat them) cosmopolitan Indian curries (almost always repeat them), and kheer. Yeah, if it's more than 10 people, it's always kheer. These days entertaining fewer friends. Tries some really gourmet recipes. They're almost always a success. The pantry is mostly italian. And I guess a bit indian too. I heard that her holi lunch was a typical gujarati feast, complete with kadhi and dhokla and sheero...wonder where that came from? So What does she really eat on a typical day? I really don't know.
Specialities: Veg Lasagna (her own recipe), Tiramisu(latest party favourite)

FUTURE?

Food - the essence of our existance?

This is supposed to be a food blog. There are supposed to be recipes here...really...and pictures of the moltan lava chocolate cake that I made yesterday. This is definitely not a philosophy blabber blog...that would be my other blog. But I really can't help this.....

Basically, I'm your regular girl-next-door food enthusiast. I'm not big on health foods...or any of the other food fads that you might know of...I cook and eat everything that interests me...from around the world and that falls into the ovolactovegetarian category. I like sweets like a lot of people...and I miss my mom's cooking...I experiement...read recipe books like novels...search for recipes online...these days also read other food blogs...watch reruns of food shows...buy cooking tools....take lessons from professionals to learn new techniques...host big fancy parties for a homesick crowd of friends...cook special meals for my loved ones....always appreciate a compliment about my cooking. I'm just your average "chef-wannabe-who-won't- (er..) actually-give-up-her-real-profession-to-enter- (um..) food-business".

But I do think a lot about food. And family. And I also think about world peace and everything in between. I always knew there was a connection, and I read some articles in the upcoming issue of the Time magazine, that are good attempts at finding that connection. But I think someone still needs to come out in the open (of course after a ton more research) and make these connections more explicit, alongwith a way to find solutions to our problems. It has to be done. There is going to be a lot more research done in many different departments of (at least US) universities connected to food....public health, biology, chemistry, psychology, history, anthropology, women's studies, economy, business, enviorenmental sciences, politics, cultural studies, art and so on....Some of this work is very important and needs to be highlighted or encouraged(for example a simple study of eating habits of cultures around the world and its correlation with health indicators) while others seem to be hogging a lot of resources, but (at least by my prediction) fruitless (and sometimes commercially selfish) efforts (for example the complicated procedures suggested in the TIME article about science of appetite, which deals with trying to manage the two dozon hormones and peptides that help manage our appetite). Well, at least I'm glad that people have really started talking and thinking about it.

My mom was always jealous of that Lambadi woman construction worker, who earned daily wages and bought all her groceries everyday. Mom could never resist the smell of the food being cooked on the roadside (not necessarily in unhygeinic conditions), which would be consumed by that woman's hungry family right off the stove. I didn't completely understand why mom was so jealous of her. Now I do. She was my mom's culinary (and maybe even personal) role model, but life got too complicated and somewhere mom gave up. I don't want to.

Maybe food is not the only essence of our existance. I know there's so much more...but from our instinctive need for survival to our natural desire to feast....food really affects the simple rhythm of our life...how do we achieve that super fine balance? for me, I know that some of our ancestors had figured it all out.....and then most of us lost it along the way...but we live in a different world...and we have to figure it out ourselves again....I am determined to find it....cause our ancestors also tried to give us keys to the doorways between food and ultimate happiness. They didn't hide those keys in mere recipes...or did they?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

About the title

So I finally gave in to the temptation of creating a food blog. 'Rasaswad' is the name of a Gujarati cookbook I read many years ago. 'Rasa' is found in all different kinds of art forms, but I think that cooking involves the most primitive and the most refined forms of 'Rasa'. On one level, 'Rasaswad' means enjoying the essence of life through senses. In many philosophies, you need to go beyond the senses to attain ultimate knowledge of the universe. Till I reach that level, I'm happy immersing myself in the 'Rasa' of life.

Although 'Rasaswad' is central to food and cooking, to me, food is also a great way to bring people together. To share joys and to bridge the differences between cultures. To connect with one's own insticts. I hope this blog helps the process...