“We may live without friends, we may live without books but we can’t live without cooks!”
Well, it’s actually kind of the other way round for me… Please don’t take away my books and friends; I can survive like the gatherers did, in prehistoric times, on just fruits and raw veggies.And that’s pretty much what this post is about: what happens when different people have their friends and books, but are left cook-less.
An apt day, indeed, to be finally putting this post up. I am on the night between the birthdays of two very important people in my ‘food life’–The Grandfather and Beautyma. To the former I owe most of my eating and cooking habits, courtesy genetics, of course, but also conditioning and taining. He’s the best cook in my world–when I say ‘ghar ka khaana’, I actually mean food made by him, not so much The Mother–and he’s also the fussiest eater ever (no, don’t roll your eyes, it really can get much worse than the dhania-aversion! And yes, you can blame the peculiar smelling-my-food-before-I-eat-it ritual on his DNA). But the most important thing I got from him was my initiation into the kitchen, and basic lessons–how to make rice, shortcuts to a good ‘sabzi’, the art of beating an egg well, how to use basic spices. And though I’m no expert, unlike him, my kitchen style (as I like to call it) is much like his, based on instinct, not so much recipe and using as many smart(read short)cuts as possible. Beautyma is my food-psychic. She knows what I want to eat when I can’t tell. She knows just how to cook for me, what to order for me, how to order for me, even how much and when to order for me. When we worked together, her drawers were stacked for me, and she knew when I’d be hungry and exactly what I needed/wanted to eat when. Fusspot that I am, all of this baffles The Mother, too, even with the nearly three decades of experience that she has with me! But Beautyma’s got it bang on!
The other highlight of the night was an extremely successful inning at the kitchen. A dinner party, and my mother had left two (what I later realised were The Main) dishes to me. Of course, I’d offered to experiment, and she took it up, refusing to offer suggestion or even taste either, in an uncharacteristic display of faith in my culinary skills. So she lets me do what I want to in the kitchen, if it’s just the family or family-like friends, but when we have people over, the only thing I’m trusted with is tea/coffee! But tonight, she just left it to me, and luckily for me, it all turned out gobsmackingly well! Achievement of the week!
As it turns out, ‘can you cook?’ is no longer typical of when boy meets girl. ‘How do you manage your food’ is quite typical of when people discover you live on your own. Note: Living with just spouse, for most of my generation, happens to be as good as living on your own too. We all face the same problems, but the biggest and singularly most importantisfood. Well, we all adapt, or at least figure out some means of survival. But what’s fascinating, and what prompted this post, besides a telephone conversation with The Lazy Housewife, is the range for each of us to adapt.
To be fair to them, The Lazy Housewife, B and Monkey have their mechanisms in place too. No, they won’t cook to save their lives. All right, so Monkey will make an extremely inedible ‘omelette’ if she absolutely must, but no, she’d rather grow a flower garden inside the house (she actually tried this) than even shop for vegetables! The result was a dining table strewn with takeaway menus and a fridge full of leftovers and lots of bread. B only believes in using her index finger in the kitchen–to push the buttons on her microwave! Okay, so she makes sure she puts the leftover food away and cleans up after, and makes her daily cuppa, but that’s it! She also detests eating out, unless it’s an occasion of sorts. The result is a maid ruled with an iron hand. Of course the maid plays truant, as they are wont to do. But B has some commendable armoury up her sleeve, to ensure the maid turns up often enough to at least leave her with leftovers for days she doesn’t turn up. Because B would prefer to starve than try a possible kitchen disaster! The Lazy Housewife is yet another extreme. She was munching throughout the aforementioned conversation–on cereal, straight from the box. Unfortunately for her husband, maids are not an option where they live, she won’t cook and he does know how to cook. As a result, the poor man goes to work, and cooks when he gets back home, because she can clean, not cook, unless all it involves is tossing three ingredients into a pressure cooker.
When TLH called that night, I was sitting with another friend of ours, AA, who lives alone, with her husband, too. And as I was talking to TLH, I couldn’t help but think of the difference between the two of them. AA needs an excuse to cook, bake, just be in the kitchen. She hosts parties and cooks for everybody herself, and runs an immaculate house too. I’m always impressed when I’m at hers. Every meal is a proper affair, the kind you ‘d expect in a larger household, with multiple dishes, and each served up well, properly garnished, et al. What really impresses me is that this is not her extra effort for me or other guests at her place, it’s the norm, it’s how she does it, almost every single time! There are exceptions, but her exception is like my norm, and her norm, my exception.
Beautyma and her husband recently moved into their own apartment. Till then, she had never really bothered about the food. But when they were doing up their place, she insisted on a nice little, modern kitchen, which would be a pleasure to work in. Then, she discovered she had talent too. But she has a neat system going. Most meals come in from her mother-in-law’s kitchen, in the apartment above theirs, and she whips up a storm in her own often enough–whenever she’s in the mood, or they’re entertaining or there is a need for it.
A had a curious system. He could cook to save his life and did too. But his trick was to keep his fridge well-stocked. He went grocery shopping every weekend, and picked up plenty of quick fix foods. He would try and go home once a month and he’d come back with a stock of chappatis and essential foods he could put in the deep freeze, pull out as and when, defrost and eat. Brilliant, but really?! I mean I’ve done something similar, when I lived in the same city as my grandparents and every weekend, The Grandfather would give me boxes full of cooked food to last me through the week. But chappatis!!! Ah well!
But the most inspiring story is this friend, who got married, went abroad and literally had to learn to fend for herself. Food lover, but non-cook, she made a hobby, then a project of it. You can check out what she did here. Aren’t you so impressed? Well, I asked her to leave her husband and marry me, and she turned me down! So that leaves me to fend for myself, and this is what I do… Eat apples! No, really!