Life lessons from a dosa


Every person who knows to cook has a special dish that she or he can rustle up, without fretting too much about the end product – call it a signature dish if you like. And when one has people over for lunch or dinner, this signature dish will definitely feature in the menu.

But then, there is another side to this signature dish story. If you hail from South India, like I do, making dosas is something you are expected to know even in your sleep.

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There is nothing to beat a crispy, golden dosa that has been made to perfection, and then eaten with sambar and coconut chutney.

I do make perfect, golden dosas, crisp or soft, with ghee or cheese, or even the masala dosa, with its filling of potato masala. My friends love my dosas too!

But sometimes, especially when you have guests over for lunch or dinner, and your signature dish’s reputation precedes you, things can head south.

I have guests for brunch, and one of the items planned is the dosa. Dosas are best eaten hot. So, I set the flat pan on the stove, switch it on and mix the dosa batter with elan. I check for batter consistency, ensure that I have all that I need to get started. I do not realize this, but my flatpan has got over-heated as the flame is in full blast mode and not in simmer mode – a sure recipe for dosa disaster.

As I pour the batter with practised ease, in just ten seconds I realize that the dosa has stuck to the pan, and refuses to leave it. I use the spatula to prod it out, without making any sound. My guests are waiting in anticipation. I manage to get the mangled and burnt dosa out. Now, both the flatpan and I have to cool down.

I smile at the irony of it all. This dosa that we eat so often, and that my kids are heartily tired of …has let me down, and how!!!

Soon the flatpan cools and I am able to serve my dosas, though I still feel they could have turned out better.

But then, this is how things are in the bigger scheme of things as well. We work and perfect various skills, we plan meticulously to the minutest details, but then life throws many surprises our way, when we are unable to manifest our skills in the best way at the right time and at the right place.

But the idea is to keep trying, and enjoy the journey, and not be bogged down by the odd bad day!

A hundred years


I am filling up an online form. When I am filling in the date, I accidentally type the year 1919 instead of 2019.

One typo error and my mind travels back in time to a hundred years ago. I wonder what the world would have been like at that time. Then I think about my family. My grandmom would have been a little girl of about nine. Slightly older than one of her great- grandsons is now.

My grandmom had eleven siblings. She was the ninth child. When my siblings and I were kids, we would badger our grandmom to tell us stories about her childhood. She would talk about her marriage to my granddad and the grand celebrations in their village to mark the occasion.

When my grandma was in pigtails and ribbons, the world was at war. Between the two wars, she grew into a beautiful young woman, got married and had her children.

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We always lived in a joint family, and I can still remember how active my grandmom always was – right from sunrise to sundown. The kitchen was her realm, and her energy flowed from there in the form of love, cooking and chiding.

Every morning, for as long as she was active, my grandmom would finish her morning chores and rush to the temple to pray. On her way back, she would stop to buy vegetables and fruits. If she was planning on buying a lot, she would ask one of us, her grandchildren, to be on the lookout from the top of the hill where we lived. When we would see her at the bottom of the hill, we would skip down to help her carry the heavy bags home.

The moment we got home, she would give us candies that she had bought for us – in small brown paper pouches – lemon, orange and raspberry flavoured.

Time flew past, and we grew, went to high school and college. Each time we came home for vacation, we realized that our busy grandmom had aged just a little more than the last time we had seen her. When she was in her mid-seventies, she retired from her domestic world, handing over the reins to the next generation.

She spent her time reading books, or meditating or praying. She would watch some television on and off. But her eyes would light up the moment any of us went and sat next to her, to talk to her. She would ask us questions about our lives and hold our hands in her small wrinkled palms, demonstrating her love, without saying much.

My dad would come home every evening from work, have his shower and dinner, and sit down with his mom, asking about her health, her cough and about her day. He would lovingly bring her dinner, a glass of water, and her medicines, every night.

Our grandma always had a ready stock of mint lozenges that she ate to soothe her throat. She stored these in a small pouch. One of the highlights of the day was when she would call us and give us these lozenges to eat. She would break them up and give us just a small bit. We cherished both the lozenges and the love behind them.

It is 2019. A hundred years have flown by, since a small girl grew up in a time before ours, and became our grandmom. And now, our parents are at that age, vulnerable and frail.

Where did time fly? When did we become this responsible?

It is literally as if someone changed 1919 to 2019 with the mere flick of a button – a hundred years, four generations, lovely memories and the relentless onslaught of time.

The Cooking Cycle


We South Indians use a lot of curry leaves and coriander leaves in our cooking. Usually, when we run out of veggies, we describe the emptiness of the refrigerator thus, “There are no vegetables at home, not even a sprig of coriander!”

This happens once in about 10-12 days, when I have used up ‘all the veggies and all my creativity’ to make interesting dishes out of boring vegetables.

And this is the trough of the sinusoidal cooking wave in the cooking cycle.

When we hit a trough, it is reflected in the faces of my husband and kids; they realize that it’s the ‘boring cooking phase’, when mom is lackadaisical, and the food looks uninteresting.

And then, the cooking wave slowly moves upward. This happens when I go shopping for veggies and grocery.

I come back and stock my refrigerator to its brim. The fresh smell of mint, coriander and ginger is in the air! My fridge looks colourful with orange carrots and pink radishes, green chillies and yellow bell peppers vying for space in the cold confines of the fridge’s crisper.

Red apples, shining grapes, serious-looking papayas and cheerful oranges settle down on the fruit rack.

With my cupboards and fridge overflowing, my cooking cycle hits a peak. I am inspired! I am charged! I scour my recipe books, draw inspiration from recipes on social media and try out new dishes that I have tasted at friends’ homes.

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My family knows this phase, and they sniff in appreciation, as interesting aromas waft around the house. The dining table looks colourful and vibrant. We are spoilt for choice.

This cycle keeps repeating, like most other things in life…..!

Today is a Sunday, and I have hit a peak on the cooking wave.

We are going to tuck-in to a yummy meal. See you all soon!

Mom and son….a special bond


Every Sunday, at around eleven a.m., my husband calls his parents to talk to them. I am sure, back home, my parents-in-law are eagerly awaiting this weekly call. My father-in-law usually picks up the phone. My husband and his Dad chat for three to four minutes, and then he passes the phone to my mother-in-law.

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This call goes on for a while. My husband talks about his week, she talks about hers. He laughs merrily at the things she says. They have minor differences of opinion about a few things, and argue good naturedly. She asks after his health, and asks him to take good care of himself.

Sometimes they talk about old neighbours who have passed on, or their children or grandchildren, who have graduated or gotten married or had babies. These are their shared memories, of my husband’s growing up years and the stories of people who shared their lives ‘then’ – family, neighbours and friends.

The conversation then moves to our children and me, and my husband talks about our week, and what’s been happening in our lives.

As I go around the house completing my chores, I watch my husband’s complete absorption. Though he usually doesn’t talk much, this is one person with whom he talks for long periods. The conversation meanders through various topics, about TV shows, about health and food.

My mom-in-law’s love manifests in many ways when we meet. She best expresses her love for all of us through her cooking. Each time we visit, we come back loaded with home made jackfruit jam for my husband and gooseberry pickle for me, along with many other things for each of her grandchildren.

However, since we live far away and visit them only twice a year, these weekly phone calls with her son keep this special bond alive, till our next visit.

Walking down market street for Pongal


It’s been raining non-stop for the last week. The streets are wet, and water puddles gently splash around people’s footwear.

My friend and I are walking down market street to shop for our harvest festival, Pongal, which will be celebrated on Sunday.

All shops on the street have makeshift stalls outside the main shop to cater to the many hundreds of people who will shop for this festival.

Tender plants of ginger and turmeric are neatly stacked in bunches of bright green, the yellow turmeric roots contrasting beautifully with the green of the leaves.

Fresh and green mango leaves are on sale. Beautiful sugarcane plants are stacked along the walls of most shops.

Most shops also sell pieces of sugarcane for those who want less.

The street is teeming with people, all looking for the perfect mud-pot or stainless steel pot to cook pongal in, on the day of the festival.

Bright colours everywhere – red apples and pomegranates, yellow bananas, golden mangoes.

The flower stalls are doing brisk business, and the heavenly smell of jasmine is in the air. Beautifully threaded garlands hang neatly in every stall. Full coconuts and banana leaves await new customers.

The excitement is palpable. My friend and I get caught up too, as we soak in the spirit of this beautiful festival of harvest.

We offer a quick ‘thank you’ to all the farmers, who toil so hard to bring food to our homes.

Happy Pongal everyone!

What’s cooking?


I am heading home from my evening walk. The sky is turning a deep blue. I see the silhouettes of birds flying back to their nests. Many birds are already home. There is a lot of chirping; the birds are obviously catching up with each other, after a long, tiring day.

As I enter our condominium, the street lights switch on. The lights in many homes are coming on too!

My muscles are tired from all that walking, and there is no more ‘brisk’ in my walk.

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And as I cross from one building to another, the smells of dinner being cooked are everywhere! My stomach growls, my tongue waters.

Warm paranthas are being tossed on the tawa….yumm! Now, I smell cheese; now, mustard sputtering in oil. I can hear a pressure cooker letting off steam.

I make it home, both tired and famished. I only have one thought in my head – FOOD! I take a shower, and rush into the kitchen to warm my dinner.

The first mouthful is divine, and I savour it with eyes closed. I wolf down the rest. I am full. I stretch in contentment. Bliss!

Wisdom from 150 Beans!


I am flipping the pages of one of my handwritten recipe books. The book is yellowed – with both age and stains from the kitchen; from having balanced the book near the cooking pot or from having turned the pages with hands coated with dough or turmeric powder or a hundred other ingredients.

Against each recipe is a small note in my handwriting, which rates how the recipe turned out.

This book has recipes from my grandma, my mom, my mother in law and my dad’s sister.

Today, I can stand in front of the stove, and estimate the quantities of ingredients mentally, I can gauge by the aroma, if all is well. Skills that have been acquired over many years.

But there was a time when I was a novice cook, navigating the world of recipes with precise measurements and quantities. Life in the kitchen revolved more around the science of cooking rather than its creative side. My tools were a set of measuring bowls and spoons.

I remember one evening, when we had a potluck dinner with our friends. I had to prepare a vegetable side dish for around 40 people.

I used this very same recipe book then. However, I had scrawled down the ingredients and quantities, but had not written down how many people the recipe could serve.

Then began the complicated math. The recipe said 2 carrots, 15 French Beans, 3 tomatoes, 1 onion and so on. To me this seemed like the quantity for around 4 to 5 people.

Being an expert at the math of cooking, I multiplied the quantities by 10 to serve 40 people. When I wrote my new quantities down, the 150 beans seemed out of place………..and thus it began – my journey towards learning that cooking is more about intuition, and less about precise quantities.

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It has taken me many years and many errors to get here. There have been times that the dishes looked good but tasted anything but! Then again, there were dishes that crumbled, but tasted delicious.

It has been a long and enjoyable journey. Today, as I stand in front of the stove, I add salt and spice with practiced ease, I can see and tell, smell and diagnose what is right or wrong. I am a better judge of quantities.

After all, it is the wisdom acquired from 150 beans.