Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The cook in me

When I was younger, thanks to being a shy little kid, I used to take refuge in the kitchen under the pretext of helping Mom whenever guests came over to our house. My sister, the social butterfly, preferred to take on the task of entertaining the guests. As a result, I picked up quite a few kitchen tips like how to cut vegetables, how dishes looked in the intermediate stage of preparation etc. To this day, I am the official taster in my house and in relatives' houses. I can always tell when "something" is missing in a dish and adjustments can be suitably made.

Despite these forays into the kitchen, I did not know any actual cooking. I learnt to make exactly two things - tea and rasam (I once made killer rasam which made my granny appreciatively sigh "Get some gold bangles for the hands which made this divine rasam" (nah I did not actually get the bangles :-()) - these dishes being two of my most favorite things to drink/eat.

Life went on this way till I was thrust into the role of head-chef at home for a few days when in college. Though I acquitted myself reasonably okay then, other than sporadically trying out some exotic recipe from some magazine (this was before the days of food-blogs) I never voluntarily cooked.

All this changed once I moved to the US for grad school. Obviously, there was no mom around to place plates filled with piping hot food in front of me. If I wanted to eat, *I* had to cook (or persuade a room-mate to cook for me).

For the first time in my life, I began to appreciate just how much effort cooking involved. I mentally cursed myself for all the times back home when I had whined, "Not idli for dinner again", "this dosa is not hot enough, can I get one off the stove", "Aaargh, do I have to have left-over sambhar" and so on. I especially hated the clean up and doing dishes that the end of every cooking session entailed. I decided that cooking was an annoying chore which I had to do.

When I moved out on my own once I started working, I cooked huge pots of food over the weekend which then served as lunch and dinner for the rest of the week. This got boring soon enough but I thought it was definitely preferable to slogging night after night in the kitchen.

But - during the weekend, I slowly started cooking different kinds of food - recipes from cookbooks, recipes from mom, cravings that had to satisfied RIGHT NOW and so on. Soon enough I realized that what was annoying to me was not the cooking. It was the cleaning part of it. Mincing, chopping, measuring spices, stirring and other essentials of cooking was something that I did not mind. Heck, I actually *liked* it.

The next time I went to India, I offered to cook a meal for my family. Though she had her doubts, mom agreed. My parents and sister were pleasantly surprised with the end result. Duh - did they really think their foodie daughter would have survived by herself for so long in the US if she was making inedible food?

In any case, these experiments with food gave me enough confidence to actually cook for relatives when they came to visit me in the US instead of whisking them straight to Saravana Bhavan or Udupi Palace which is my standard operating procedure for visitors. These relatives were amazed that I could cook. Seriously, I think once someone has seen you as a drooling baby, they assume that you will never grow up and do "adult" things like cooking, driving etc!

Last year, after S and me got hitched, I got a full time guinea-pig, er, appreciative recipient to test my cooking on.

If I am a foodie, S is a super foodie. Which works out great because S is a good cook (it is my theory that people who love food with a passion are typically good cooks as well). For the first few months of married life, we took turns outshining each other in the kitchen. This caused an unforeseen problem: within a couple of months, we had gained back all weight lost for the wedding plus some. Not good at all. So, the enthusiasm had to be curbed.

Nevertheless, with S being such an eager taster, I have become only too willing to experiment*. Not everyday - fixing daily meals still mostly bores me - but over the weekends I usually try my hand at a new recipe or two. And, I actually look forward to it**. Yup, I am discovering the cook in me.

*Of course, not every culinary end result is a spectacular success but the suspense about the final product is part of the fun.

** It helps that S is willing to do the dishes afterwards :-). I still hate that part.


SK said...

Aalo Arch! Long time! :--D
Its fun to cook when you have a guinea pig to eat whatever you make and clean up after you. Hahah!

Archana said...

SK - hahaha - good point!