Category Archives: For the Love of Food

A Competition Called Life

Standard

Classroom

“Seize every minute of this day”

“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going”

There is no dearth for motivation on social media. Reminder in 50s and 100s every morning is a good thing so that we put on our running shoes and throw ourselves into the breathless crowd that is racing against time to achieve set goals and targets.

On a weekend morning, we decided to seize the day treating ourselves to an early lunch followed by a visit to the shopping mall.

After clicking pictures with a robot that walked, talked, sang songs and did all that was expected of it, we took a cue from Sid and made our way to a bookstore to get our dose of food for the brain (while we seize the rest of the day).

Little Princess settles in the seating area with an improvised Peppa Pig storybook that appeared to be bigger than her and did a snort with every page turn.

Sid already had his nose in a fact finder.

It was then that we bumped into a friend who was leaving the store balancing a bag full of books. After the pleasantries, I enquired about his wife and son.

“They are at home preparing for his Olympiads” he said, “I am here to pick up some additional reference material for the KenDoku competition that is soon to follow.”

“Some books on logical thinking and the public speaking course that he takes,” he explained, “we let him play chess during his free time so a book to perfect the game too,” he finished.

I was reminded of the robot that we clicked pictures with as it had gone about perfecting all that was expected of it as the proud father gave us an account of the rigorous effort that went into preparing their son to keep pace with the pell-mell rush to stand out in the rising competition.

I looked at the husband hopelessly.

Sid spent his evening reading books, playing with friends, attempting hard to get a tennis ball across a net with a racquet – none of which qualified as academically enlightening.

Even his weekly swimming classes were not geared on getting him to swim the English Channel but to be able to save his life or another if a situation may arise.

Disappointed at being unable to exercise our bragging rights in this area of parenting, we bid him adieu after managing to lend our ear with a smiles and nods.

On our way back, I find myself questioning my ‘unambitious’ parenting ways.

Little Princess has learnt to snort.

Sid rants on about his new find – ‘Monday with the Mad Genius’ – a fact finder about Leonardo da Vinci. The ‘Salvator Mundi’ that was sold for $450.3 million has piqued his interest.

Questions and doubts that build up into a full-fledged quiz about his newly acquired knowledge ensues, leaving me fumbling and scrabbling at Google’s doorstep.

My son may be far from the mad rush of competition where children are dragged from pillar to post perfecting every task among the endless ones on offer, but I am glad that I find myself in this blissful scrabbling mess as Sid embraces childhood at his own pace – one fact finder at a time.

 

 

Advertisements

The Internet of Cooking

Standard

027c7b10c158dc649ecac0839fbe1974--self-cleaning-ovens-cleaning-humor

 

If cooking is art then Mother is my favorite artist.

Every dish that her magical hands whipped up acquired an ethereal grace that transcended even our gluttonous ways to appear beautiful.

When I left home, armed with a book detailing Mother’s recipes that could put Era Longhi’s grocery list to shame, I assumed that Mother’s genes and the precious book were all that I needed to whip up a perfect meal.

Within three days of my cooking expedition, the smoke alarm cheered on my efforts – not once but thrice. The same recipe yielded a fresh new dish every time – the only constant was the burnt brown color.

Years of trials ( or blunders) and my not-so-smart kitchen have strengthened both my cooking abilities as well as the husband’s digestive system.

In the kitchen of the future, cooking woes will go as far as toggling between applications on your phone that manage your smart kitchen appliances making it appear as if the Autobots and the Decepticons have ‘transformed’ their ways to whip up the perfect meal while you kick up your feet after a long day.

The camera in the oven will beam you live videos of the food that is cooking.

Your smart pan screams a warning if you have added more salt than recommended causing your hungry stomach to roll in panic but will soon uplift your spirits complimenting you with a “Marvelous” after you have flipped the pancake just right.

The smart refrigerator warns you about the expiring food inside it listing recipes conforming to your taste for the usage of the same.

As if all this is not spooky enough, experts are now working on aiding communication between these smart appliances.

If cooking is aimed higher than a boiling an egg then it is best recommended that kitchen novices work on strengthening their toggling skills for the shortest way to your partner’s heart is just a smart kitchen away!

On the Other Side of the Break

Standard

'Hope you had a good break...Welcome back!'

It is said that you can never forget how to ride a bike. Google explains that the type of memory that understands the ‘how and what’ of things or the procedural memory is responsible for this.

I cross my fingers, mutter a silent prayer and hope that registering the technique of writing a blog post too is the responsibility of the procedural memory for the fun, excitement and thrill of being amongst family and friends back home in India has kept me away from the blog for much more than I had anticipated.

Luckily, the technique of cooking three simple meals a day is one that I have still managed to remember for like any Indian family – all meetings were planned around food (all of them NOT cooked by me) and the joy of togetherness included full and happy stomachs.

When a cousin surprised us with his visit, we decided to celebrate at a South Indian restaurant that served more than a dozen varieties of starters which were relished in fervor as we chatted, laughed reminiscing old times while we carried our laden stomachs to try and retry the elaborate varieties on the main course.

My sweet-toothed sister-in-law insisted that the few sweet days in her company is sure to get sweeter with the choicest Indian sweets that begged to be relished.

As for Mother, her expression of love was served on a table laden with a variety of delicacies that only her passionate hands could magically cook up.

As I drag myself back to reality, suffering the withdrawal symptoms of a joyous break, it is evident that at the end of every happy holiday is the shock of weighing scales that tip up to unreasonable figures, clothes that have mysteriously shrunken in size and the concern that Google is unable to convince me if recollecting the technique of writing a blog post is the job of the procedural memory.

 

 

 

Chocolate-Coated Memories

Standard

2274d3d4ff436586a1c04f0811a7cb4f--chicken-soups-love-chocolate

A friend who has recently moved into the UAE confessed that she allowed herself one full bar of chocolate a day. In order to appease her guilt, she relished one half in the morning and polished off the other half through the rest of the day.

Being the ‘Five Star’ and ‘Diary Milk’ generation who fought tooth and nail with our sibling for the bigger half when we just chanced to get our hands onto one, weren’t we all guilty of such sweet pleasures?

During our school vacations, my cousins, brother and I waited for the arrival of our uncles (who lived abroad). We gave them our best smiles and a cheerful welcome as our eyes strayed towards their big suitcases that would soon get a ceremonious opening,  spilling the many fantasies they contained.

The many bars of chocolate that later filled the better part of my aunt’s refrigerator led us to believe that our lucky uncles lived in a fantasy land where bars of chocolates grew on date palms.

But upon my arrival into the UAE on a hot summer afternoon and –  40 plus degrees, a new home, the new husband who politely accepted the burnt and sometimes bizarre-tasting results of cooking skills I thought I possessed (not with practice but genetically acquired), a new job and new friends later –  it became evident that only dates grew on date palms and chocolates occupied huge racks in supermarkets and they all came with a price tag attached.

As the world celebrated World Chocolate Day on July 7, 2017, let me confess that to this day, chocolates tasted best when they were sneaked out of my aunt’s refrigerator and gobbled up, one bar at a time, while hiding from the prying eyes of my brother – who sat in another dark corner doing the same.

Are you a chocolate lover?  What is your chocolate-coated memory?

 

Dear Friends, Good morning.

I have been taking some off-screen time due to conjunctivitis. I will be catching up with all your wonderful stories, that I have missed last week, over the next few days. 

Wishing you all a happy Sunday!

Published!

Standard

Dear Friends,

I am very happy  to inform you that I am taking my passion for writing a step from my blog to the ‘Off the Cuff’ section of the Gulf News. After reading my work, the Editor has willingly agreed to publish it.

Today, the first post was published. Please read and let me know what you think. Wishing you all a happy weekend.

Organically perplexed

Thanks to extensive marketing techniques, coupled with a drastic increase in the educated lot of customers opting for anything that claims to be produced organically, we now have even a new brand of bottled water that claims to be organic

Published: 17:12 June 29, 2017Gulf News

Pranitha Menon, Special to Gulf News

Every morning, after the cows were milked and fed, my maternal grandfather would walk up to the vegetable patch that bore the fruit of his hard work and his passionately green fingers, a basket in hand. He would scrutinise every one of his beloved plants, pulling out an unwelcome weed or a half-eaten ripe vegetable — the remnants of a stray mole’s dinner after it had eaten its fill, as he carefully chose the day’s harvest.

Most of what he brought back would get a touch of grandmother’s magical fingers and become lip-smacking dishes for a hearty lunch. The rest would be dried or pickled and carefully stored in enormous jars that would join the many others in the dark confines of the attic and found their way back into the kitchen only on a rainy day.

At home, father made his way to the vegetable market every evening with a cloth bag in hand. The place would be abuzz with vendors who occupied every inch of the sidewalks, selling their day’s fresh harvest. I watched father make his choices — sometimes striking a bargain and at other times giving into their demands.

There was the old lady who had spent the day picking and bundling up fresh herbs and leaves that father bought without a second thought and almost always paid a rupee extra earning him a blessing in return.

There was the smiling coconut vendor who gave away a tiny piece of sweet white coconut meat to children who accompanied his customers, a goodwill that earned him many customers with happy, hungry children in tow.

Those were the days when ‘organic’ was confined to the Oxford dictionary and goodwill was yet to become a marketing technique.

Left in a dilemma

This week, when I was at the supermarket, I spotted bunches of fresh green palak leaves stacked to perfection on one side with its equally-fresh organic counterpart stacked on the other. I was left in a dilemma as to whether it was healthier to feed my family to cubes of cottage cheese simmered in blanched and pureed palak leaves that have been treated to a good healthy dose of pesticides, or a crisp green batch of the same that have been treated to manure (or dung) from organic-fed cows and generously watered with freshly-treated sewage water.

As my not-so-green fingers and pathetic gardening abilities, that I have not inherited from my maternal grandfather, forbade me from growing my own batch of herbs, I thought that my family will be better off on a diet minus the delicious ‘palak paneer’. I instead chose a batch of perfectly-rounded, red hydroponic variety of tomatoes. I have not bothered snooping around at Google’s doorstep trying to find faults with the hydroponic technique of farming, as ignorance, in this case at least, is bliss.

As I glanced upon the white glistening crystals of organic sugar, I willed my mind not to think of the not-so-organic techniques employed to give it its beautiful white sheen.

At the poultry section, I came across a variety of eggs, priced exorbitantly, that had a picture of a fat, healthy and happy hen that appeared to be smiling. Upon checking, I learnt that the smiling hen had actually been put on a vegetarian diet as the owner had decided to go on a mission to improve humanity’s brain function and immunity with this brand of eggs. We must applaud the owner for this creative marketing strategy and forgive the fact that this person is just earning some extra bucks in the process.

Thanks to extensive marketing techniques, coupled with a drastic increase in the educated lot of customers opting for anything that claims to be produced organically, we now have even a new brand of bottled water that claims to be organic. Yes, you heard it right — ORGANIC water.

There is already the Smart Water that apparently improves brain function, Vitamin Water to boost your health and Diet Water to make you skinny.

What could be next, a new range of gluten-free water or trans-fat-free water?

Thank goodness that even in this world of ruthless industrialisation and inhumane marketing strategies, somebody still cares about our health.

Pranitha Menon is a freelancer based in Dubai.

http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/organically-perplexed-1.2050884

Not My Cup of Tea

Standard

zen_tea_240113-800x566

In India, a cup of tea is the most common beverage to kick-start your day.

Extensive promotions of Western-style coffee bars that have sprouted across the country luring the ‘cool’ generation with lattes and other caffeinated beverages are yet to rob a country of its love affair with a hot glass of ‘chai’.

In my family, tea is more than a ritual that you begin your day with.

It is the elixir of life itself.

The deliciously warm magic potion became a joyful addition in times of happiness, an aromatic balm that can soothe your sorrow, a faithful companion on a bored day, a welcome addition to the warmth and flavor to a plate of crispy ‘pakoras’ on a rainy day, a soulful mate fueling your thoughts in times of quiet intellect or simply because you crave for yet another cup.

It has been the essential and integral part of the rhythm of life for every member of my family – except me.

I was the Horlicks baby who had the audacity to throw up at the mere sight or aroma of my family’s favorite beverage.

I gradually got used to relatives stop midsentence an intense session of gossip and stare with their open mouths unceremoniously showcasing their tea- stained dental makeup when they heard me refuse a hot cup and chose to sip on water instead. Mother was bombarded with questions as a few handy tips were thrown in along with plotting ways to introduce me the beverage before I turned into a complete anti-tea outcast.

A few had gone a step ahead and declared that my I-don’t-drink-tea ways might even come in the way of my happy marriage, an area of research that even the acclaimed Stanford University is yet to prove – the correlation between a happy marriage and passionate drinking tea.

Luckily, my in-laws or the husband are blatantly unaware of this prophecy as they are more than happy to lend me a cup of coffee during tea times at home.

To this day, I have friends and family who don’t waste a moment to comment on my antisocial untea-friendly ways as I politely refuse a cup and stick to my choices.

Over the years, I have fine-tuned my tea making skills with variations as per what the occasion demands. I have even come to enjoy ‘the Sulaimani’ or the spiced black tea.

So if you happen to visit us at home, be sure to enjoy a steaming cup of cardamom or spiced ginger or mint tea but with a traditional filter-‘kaapi’ lover for company.

The Curse of the Indian Pancake

Standard

food6-portfolio-1024x709

My family and I are under the dangerous spiral of an enticing, aromatic spell.

Do I blame it on the deep-rooted gastronomic tendencies of my ancestors or simply my South Indian roots?

A spell that has been cast by the golden brown, wafer-thin, crispy, rightly-sour concentric spirals merged into a single perfect circle sizzled on a hot griddle, drizzled with ghee and rolled to perfection; delicious by its lonesome self or dunked in thick coconut chutney or a spicy tangy lentil-based gravy called sambar.

No, I am not referring to the French crepe or Gordon Ramsay’s glamorous spicy potato breakfast pancake but under the charm of the delicious spell, I have tasted wisdom that the most amazing things in life are simple – like the humble Indian Dosa.

For those foodie fashionistas who fuss over dairy-free, gluten-free meal – this pancake that finds its first reference in the Tamil Sangam Literature in 6th century AD, that applies the science of soaking rice and legumes overnight and then fermenting the ground batter lending to its sourness as well as breaking down the starch so that it can be readily metabolized into the body, becomes the cool and tasty answer to your hunger pangs.

For diabetics, diet-freaks and my fussy children – this good-carbohydrate-rich, lightly salted, sugar-and saturated fat-free (discount the ghee) variations of the crispy dosa is a life saver.

For the lot of you who are just too posh to cook – just accidentally pour a ladle of dosa batter (readily available at all supermarkets) onto a hot griddle, lo and behold, a meal that is high on your taste-o-meter is ready.

Could I blame my children (who have trained their taste buds to cat and flower-shaped dosas in their school snack box, appeased their hungry tummies with crispy ghee drizzled variations for breakfast, dinner, a healthy snack and occasionally for lunch too) for placing an order of a Chinese variation of the dosa at a popular Chinese restaurant, leaving the confused Asian waiter in his clumsy Chinese attire to forget to sauce his English with the usual hint of Chinese.

So, up until the Chinese come up with a duplicate of the humble Indian pancake, that has found its way out of Indian kitchens into the Oxford dictionary and elevated to the status of a star street food in Europe and Americas, my family and I (and three-quarters of Indians) will continue to stay bewitched under its mouth-watering spell and proudly call it Indian!

 

 

References : Dosa Days, The Khaleej Times 

 

 

Dearest Microwave,

Standard

58c9dcc8069c2.image

Happy 50th birthday!

I sincerely apologize that it took me more than a year of your arrival into my kitchen to thaw my paranoid mind to tapping into your efficiency and speed. But ever since I have dared to try my hand at baking, your convectional abilities have empowered me to surprise family and friends with my baking fantasies, but I wonder if the latest wheat, rye and oat cake has something to do with family members and friends doing disappearing acts from their homes when I plan to surprise them.

Last week when my cooking range failed me, I cannot thank you enough for standing by me. That morning I discovered that your radiating warmth is enough to cook up a breakfast of fluffy rice cakes and cups of hot tea under ten minutes. You are forgiven for altering the molecular structure of food in the heating process, as for a generation of humans like us who are thriving on chemically-treated vegetables and fruits, hormone-addled poultry and meat, hyper processed salty snacks – a few changes at the molecular level means nothing at all.

When President Donald Trump’s smartest advisers, Ms. Kellyanne Conway, raised concerns about microwaves spying on us, I made sure that I dressed up (at least gave up faded nightdresses that has seen better days) and sang English songs while I eyed you ( the dishwasher and the food processor) suspiciously. But the husband reassured me that no one would dare spy on our kitchen (through the microwave at least) as they would be risking their lives to ‘yeast’ poisoning and that my efforts in singing will cause them to give up spying altogether.

On your special year, I wish you more power to fill the hungry stomachs of busy women, lazy men and smart children across the world with your radiating warmth. Just in case you also spy, I also hope that your owner has the voice of a golden hen.

Yours Sincerely,

Owner

PS: I sincerely hope that no Greeting Card Giants get to read this post for that could result in ‘Microwaves Day’. This addition to the calendar might cause the companies to unanimously elect Kellyanne Conway as their brand ambassador for the ‘Microwave’ line of greeting cards! 

 

Organically Perplexed!

Standard

 

'Enjoy your meal! We grow everything ourselves!'

During a visit to the supermarket, I spotted bunches of fresh green palak leaves stacked to perfection on one side with its equally-fresh ‘organic’ counterpart stacked on the next. I was left in a dilemma as to whether it was healthier to feed my family to cubes of cottage cheese simmered in blanched and pureed palak leaves that have been treated to a good healthy dose of pesticides or a crisp green batch of the same that have been treated to manure (or dung) from organic-fed cows and generously watered with fresh treated sewage water.

As my not-so-green fingers and pathetic gardening abilities forbade me from growing  my own batch of herbs, I thought that my family will be better off on a diet minus the delicious ‘palak paneer’. I instead chose a batch of perfectly-rounded, red ‘hydroponic’ variety of tomatoes. I have not bothered snooping around at Google’s doorstep trying to find fault with the ‘hydroponic’ technique of farming, as ignorance (in this case at least) is bliss.

As I glanced upon the white glistening crystals of ‘organic’ sugar, I willed my mind not to think of the unusual ‘organic’ techniques employed to give it its beautiful white sheen.

At the poultry section, I came across a variety of eggs, priced exorbitantly, that had a picture of a fat, healthy and happy hen that appeared to be smiling. Upon checking, I learnt that the ‘smiling’ hen had actually been put on a ‘vegetarian diet’ as the owner had decided to go on a mission to improve humanity’s brain function and immunity with this brand of eggs. We must applaud the owner for this creative marketing strategy and forgive the fact that this person is just by the way earning some extra bucks in the process.

Thankfully, extensive marketing techniques coupled with a drastic increase in the educated lot of customers opting for anything that claims to be produced organically, we have a new brand of bottled water that claims to be organic.

Yes, you heard it right – ORGANIC water.

There is already the Smart Water that improves brain function, Vitamin Water to boost your health and Diet Water to make you skinny.

What could be next, a new range of gluten-free water or Trans fat-free water?

Thank goodness that even in this world of ruthless industrialization and inhumane marketing strategies, somebody still cares about our health!

 

Eating Write

Standard

d29b87e8999e7dbd8b54e8821aad8681

A weekend afternoon saw us amoung a crowd of hungry human beings at the waiting area of a popular restaurant. The irresistible aroma of delicious food wafting in from the restaurant caused my salivary glands to drool and stomach to rumble embarrassingly as my hunger-fatigued mind transported me to my mother’s kitchen, my grandmother’s modest kitchen, and shockingly even my own kitchen.

The husband, who had to distract Sid from ogling at the happy people enjoying their meal on the other side of the glass window, looked dazed as he reminisced on a ‘tasty’ chunk of nostalgia – the ‘pani-puri’ man who skillfully dipped crispy stuffed puffs of ‘puri’ into spiced tamarind water and served a crowd of children with skillful deftness that kept none of his ‘little’ customers waiting but leaving them hungry for more. These street vendors – our childhood stars – got us literally eating out of their bare hands and often made a comeback into our thoughts when hunger pangs caused mental bloating and hallucinations.

After a long wait, we were finally showed into the restaurant and even offered a table with a view.

We are what we eat, says actor, R. Madhavan, in his talk at Radiant Wellness Conclave. Mr. Madhavan, who enrolled himself at an Austrian Wellness Institute that practiced techniques learned and used in India, explains that our stomach is our second brain. Eating healthy is much more than incorporating fruits and vegetables; eating right means ‘drinking’ your food and ‘chewing’ your water. Conditioning the lifestyle that you lead while you eat your food determines what aspect of food is absorbed into your body, as your emotions, success, and your relationships are all dependent on what you eat.

So the next time you indulge in your favorite food and worry about your widening waistline, please remind yourself to chew your food 40 times until your brain short circuits with the exercise and signals you to stop eating or simply make sure that the next time you are at your favorite restaurant, you are given a table with a view – a view of hungry humans ogling at you treating your taste buds to the culinary best.