Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Down Memory Lane : Cooking With Mum

My friend Michelle from The Tiffin Box has written a beautiful post on Cooking along with her Mom and so much of it holds true for me too.

I started to comment on her post, but I had so much to say, that I decided, that I should blog about it too and since mum's birthday is coming up, I've scheduled this post to go up for the 9th.

My mum's attitude to cooking is pretty much like Michelle's mums - it was more practical and necessary to start with, than a pleasure (like it is for me). I got my initial love of cooking more from my grandma than my mum, because mum was too busy managing 4 of us kids on her own (dad sails with the Merchant Navy) to be able to "enjoy" cooking - in those days it was more about serving up a healthy balanced nutritious meal on the table. So she mostly needed us out of the kitchen, so she could focus on the multiple things that she had going on simultaneously in the kitchen.

The rare exception was when she baked cakes for special occasions, then we were all allowed to lick the spoons clean and we used to fight over who got the pots/pans/spatulas that had the maximum amount of raw cake mix on it (I know a lot of people would scream "salmonella poisoning", but those were simpler days and if I can eat mayonnaise, I can eat cake batter) She would ask us to help with sieving the flour or managing the hand beater and constantly remind whoever was wielding the beater, not to change direction.

Mum makes excellent cakes (not just tastewise, but also decorative ones) and in those days of 100% home made birthday parties, mum's were some of the best cakes around town. Even today, when my sister travels back to Mangalore, her whole office, requests her to beg mum to bake her chocolate cake with fudge icing. She makes a mean date and walnut cake too. I got my brother who is currently at home in Mangalore on vacation, to dig out some of the pictures of the cakes she baked for our birthdays.


I on the other hand, hate baking and shy away from it, because I hate following instructions accurately, the rebel in me can be quite stubborn, but I'm trying to get over the mental block.

I did however learn to cook some things from my mom, because as the eldest, I would sometimes help her in the kitchen if she had to leave to attend one of my wailing siblings, this often just meant stirring the pot or keeping an eye on something to check if it was done and turn it off at the right time, it later graduated to turning fish over when it was fried on one side, so yes, I did learn a few tricks from her.

Strangely, now when I think back, it was always me whom mum would turn to, to check the "hult" (perfect balance of flavours?) of whatever was being cooked and she still does that to this day.

Mum had done her home science at Nazareth Convent (after an MA in Economics) and she had learned how to cook "Chinese" and other "exotic" stuff for those days, which were only cooked when there was a "dinner party" at home and we got rationed quantities as the food was for the guests! Oh how we resented those guests - we would get 1 large prawn each or half a nargisi kofta (Scotch Egg) and the guests would be plied with unlimited quantities "Have more, have more, otherwise how will I know that you have liked it?" So many of my friends share similar stories with me about our mums in those days.

Normal fare however included basic meat/lentil curries, a vegetable fugath (stir fried with coconut) or tel piyao (simply cooked with onions), fish curry if dad was around or fish fry for us. Dad doesn't like spicy food and the rest of us LOVE it, so it would also mean taking a portion aside for him and adding more chillies to the rest of the food.


A real treat for us would be when she made bacon fried rice or prawn pulao. Mum's repertoire was hugely wider than my grandma's and mum managed her kitchen alone (grandma had maids to help her with prep in the kitchen), so she also looked for quicker recipes when she could find them. The simplest and fastest meal she would cooked at home would be red rice, bimbli saar (dhal with a sour fruit) or chilli saar (a thin heavily spiced soup), fish fry and a vegetable fugath. Even to this day, when I go home to Mangalore, this is what I request her to cook for me for dinner (after a meal of pork and sannas for lunch)

What she cooked, also depended on the tight monthly budget that my dad restricted her to. As the eldest of 13 siblings and his own father almost retired, a lot of his salary was spent on the education, clothing and maintenance of his siblings and the ancestral house. Of course, this realisation came much later, mum never let us feel that we couldn't eat something because it was too expensive, she would buy cheaper cuts of meat or cheaper fish to balance her household budget. Today when she sees the way I buy ingredients from across the globe (when I travel, my shopping is restricted to souvenir magnets, books and food), she shakes her head smiles and says "kai taun aila yeh, tuka?" (where have you got this habit from?)

Nowadays she loves watching the food programs on TV and trying out some of the recipes. She prefers TV recipes to looking at recipe books (she normally uses recipe books only for trying out a new cake)

She recently baked a variety of breads whose recipes she got from different shows. She loves cooking in my house because I have loads of ingredients that are sometimes difficult to find in Mangalore (however, I rarely give up control of my kitchen to her).


All said and done, mum and I have extremely different styles of cooking. I can assist her in the kitchen, or I will sometimes ask for her help if I'm in a rush to pack B's lunch, but its difficult for me to cook simultaneously with her. If I'm cooking something (esp if its in my house) I let her finish whatever she wants to make or I have requested her to cook, and then I scrub down the kitchen and only then do I begin my own cooking.

In my first job in Bangalore, I remember mum coming to visit and then reorganising my kitchen (while I was at office) in an order she thought made more sense and then I would have to re-re-organise my whole kitchen after she left, to be able to find anything and achieve any speed at cooking.

As we kids have grown up and left the nest, Mum has slowly discovered the joy of cooking and enjoys cooking for us or anyone who is visiting. However she hates washing up, whereas for me washing up is extremely therapeutic and calming.

We have extremely different attitudes to cooking, but have the same attitude when it comes to feeding others - the more the merrier. While I may not copy my mom in her attitude and style of cooking, it is she who has shaped me into the cook I am today. Love you mommy and Very Happy Birthday to You :)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

#10foodbookchallenge - My Top 10

 There's a tagging round going on, on facebook asking friends to list their top 10 favourite books that are at the top of their mind and I too participated in that, my list is here.

My friend Rushina, also issued a #10foodbookchallenge, so in random order, here are the top 10 books that come to my mind :

1. Home Encyclopaedia - J B Lobo - I know I will never have to deworm a cow or convert royal blue ink to blue black or hide hemline marks while altering an outfit or prepare a pond for stocking baby fish - but this was the first cookbook I ever read, since this was the only cookbook my nana owned and occasionally referred to.

2. Mangalore Ladies Club cookbook - for its Manglorean recipe section

3. Korma, Kheer, Kismet - Pamela Timms - if I ever get around to writing a book - this is what I would aspire to - a blend of food memories, recipes, history and culture with loads of passion.

4. Savour Mumbai: A Culinary Journey Through India's Melting Pot - Vikas Khanna - the recipes are spot on and resemble the ones I have eaten at these famous restaurants in Mumbai.

5. Cooking with Pedatha - Jigyasa Giri & Pratibha Jain - Feels like I'm eating at Pedatha's table myself when I cook from this book.

6. Biryani - Pratibha Karan - the subject matter is reason enough for me to love this one and what an assortment of Biryanis it covers from all across the country!

7. Following Fish - Samanth Subramaniam - love the quirky yet brilliant travel tale

8. Rude Food - Vir Sanghvi - love his columns for the width and depth of information - the book is a great collection of his columns

9. Will Write For Food - Dianne Jacob - so much to learn from this book about Food Writing

10. Fat Duck Cookbook - Heston Blumenthal - I keep going back to it, just to look at the pictures

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