Culinary creativity

Culinary creativity

Recently, I spent a month with my niece in the US. Every morning I would witness the same scene unfolding in the kitchen. Around 7 am, three dishevelled and yawning adults would emerge from their rooms. Milk and cereal would be dumped on the dining table and coffee maker would be plugged in.

Half an hour later, they would emerge again, dressed and smelling of deos and aftershaves. Black coffee would be poured into large mugs. Cold milk would be poured over a bowl of cereals and gulped down hurriedly. Or a bread toast of three shades of brown would be carried around in one hand while the “eater” would be searching for keys or answering the phone. Ten minutes later there would be sounds of doors opening and closing and cars leaving the driveway. I could not help reminiscing about the hustle bustle in our kitchens in the mornings.

Our homemakers had to be ingenious and creative to cater to the brood at home. Imagine a different breakfast for every day of the week. And the “dabbas!” No homemaker worth her salt would stuff the same breakfast into the lunch box and send it out. The lunch when opened sho­uld not be too runny, gooey, mushy, dry, bland, or too spicy. Creating something that would taste of home several hours after it was prepared was an act of genius.

By the time my generation became independent homemakers, things were a little better. We had two LPG cylinders, refrigerators and supermarkets to help us cope. Yet, our challenges were no less intimidating than that of our mothers and aunts. The men we had married came from large households with excellent cooks. Mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and daughters-in-law vied with one another to show off their culinary skills and flaunt their ‘family’ recipes. This had given these men palates as discerning as that of judges on cookery competitions. (I am always awestruck when these chefs comment, “The starter was underwhelming, Dory for the main was well seasoned but a bit over, salad needed some acid, and the dessert lacked texture.”) The idlis had to be super soft, dosas thin and crisp, and upma fluffy and crumbly!

There were more worries worth mentioning. Before vegetarianism became a fashion, we worried about depriving our children of proteins. It was a huge task to make kids accept, if not love, veggies. You fought a losing battle with chips, chocolates and ice creams. Added to all this, my
young children couldn’t distinguish between capsicum, beans and green chilli.

My husband always hid his face behind the newspaper at breakfast. Invariably, there used to be episodes of one of them biting on a chilli. Then the drama of leaky nose, watery eyes, and attempts to soothe the burning mouth with honey, sugar, or water would ensue. Soon, while making breakfast, I would remove the offending chilli and then serve the dish.

One day, the sevai upma was ready and it needed the accompaniment of a chutney. But I had run out of green chilli and there was no time to procure it. Then, I saw the glistening chilli rescued from upma sitting on the kitchen counter. I just chucked them in the mixer with coconut. When served, I could almost hear the judge chef say, “Chilli fried in oil has eleva­ted the chutney to a new level.” Call me cheap or creative, I don’t care. My ‘eleva­ted’ chutney is really delicious. Desperation is the mother of creativity in the kitchen.

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