Monday, December 27, 2010

And So, I Had Myself a Merry Little Christmas

And I hope you did too!

Mum's here and we were out for 7-8 hours at a stretch on both days (Sat & Sun). We did the lunch-movie-coffee-shopping shindig. I was amazed at the amount of energy and enthusiasm my mom still has! Unlike my dad who's favorite activity is to watch TV - and who thinks family bonding = watching TV together - my mom is always willing to go out for lunch/ movie/ shopping. And she doesn't tire easily.

You know what eye-openers mothers' visits are? I'm talking of Indian mothers, of course. Apart from the tips she'll give you on how to live your life, what to eat/not eat etc., your mother will also introduce you to these strange shows on TV. On Colors, Sony, Zee and Star Plus to be precise. Shows where they paint a woman's face black or join her eyebrows with an eye pencil or make her eyebrows thick as Imran Khan's (the actor, not the cricketer...have you seen how thick his eye brows are?) to make her look ugly. Where women wear the blingiest, most exotic saris and are decked up in 20 tonnes of gold irrespective of whether they're at home or at a wedding. Where they are perfectly made up with the best of M.A.C. products and have not a hair out of place even when they're sleeping. Where women who are slightly more educated or ambitious are invariably vamps who spend their entire day plotting & conniving against the other docile women of the household and making strange faces, trying to look evil. Where the dialogues play in the background while the evil woman rotates her eye balls in every existent & non-existent direction, to show what mean thing she's thinking!

The kind of crap Indian television dishes out is amazing. And my mother, like millions of other smart, educated women across India watch it with the utmost dedication. She is glued to the TV between 7-9pm watching all kinds of assorted crap, and she watches them with a lot of involvement and emotion, giving her own comments and insights, lauding the "heroine" and chastising the vamp, tsk-tsking at the appalling state of society as shown in such serials. It's almost as entertaining to watch my mother watch those shows as it is to watch the shows themselves. Bhagya Vidhata, Balika Vadhu, Nakusha (this one's particularly hilarious), Uttaran, Na Aana Is Desh Lado...the list is endless. And funniest of all, she even wants to have a discussion with me during the commercial breaks and tells me what lessons in life one learns on watching such shows!
I really wants to know what is it about these shows that has our mothers so tightly in their grasp? Is your mom hooked onto prime time regressive television as well?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!!!

So, appalled at the lack of enthusiasm around our favorite festival, we tried to force some Christmas cheer into life. Took out our little Christmas tree and decorated it with ornaments. Went to Flury's and picked up a couple of plum cakes (thanks to the mother who warned there better be plum cakes in the house when she comes visiting for Christmas-New Year's!)

I think it's going to be a quiet Christmas with mum. We'll probably go out for lunch, watch a movie, have cake & hot chocolate...that kinda stuff. And I don't mind, actually.

Gasp! I'm getting old. That's what it is!

Though there is the little person inside me jumpin' 'n' dancin' around 'coz it's X-Mas. And as long as I have that enthusiasm in my heart for this time of the year, I needn't be scared about losing my love for Christmas. Or getting old for that matter!

Merry Christmas all you guys! Eat, drink, make merry, party...OR...chill at home, watch unending re-runs of 'Friends', watch your favorite Christmas movie, make whatever works for you. Just make sure to have a jolly good time!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Who Stole My Christmas?

Crib post ahead. You have been warned.

It's two days till Christmas and I'm not feeling Christmassy yet :(

I'm a Christmas person. I decorate my house every year. I put up a tree, ornaments, wreaths, streamers...the works! I used to decorate my desk at work as well. My friends & I play Secret Santa. So it's very uspetting to not be feeling the spirit of Christmas because I know I'll have to wait an entire year for the next one to come around :(

Honestly, I'm done with 2010. It's been a year of constant change. The changes have been for the better, career advancement and all that, but they've been way too frequent for my liking. I'm also staring a few more undesired changes, personal and professional, in the face. Sigh.

Then there are the bitchy people. They abound in my life. People who pretend to be really fond of you to your face but bitch about you once out of earshot. People who spread all sorts of false malicious gossip about your personal & professional life. I'm amazed at how bitchy some people I know can get!

I understand that people bitch about someone when they're insecure or feel themselves to be inferior, and you'd think that after 6 years of working in the corporate world I would've learnt how to treat these people, i.e. ignore them. But I really can't ignore negative talk. I've learnt how to deal with it and not get angry over it, I've got to the point where I don't let it get to me. But I can't completely ignore it. Negativity affects me.

These events have taken the festive feeling out of this time of the year. Looks like someone has stolen my Christmas :(

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gone Are the Days...

....when I would feverishly start making plans for the weekend on Friday evening itself. Now my answer to queries on what plans I have for the weekend generally is, "I don't have any yet", or "I don't know, I think I just want to chill". I wake up on Saturday morning & check if someone's up to doing something.

....when Saturday nights meant party nights and I'd feel completely unloved & unpopular if I had to spend a Saturday evening doing nothing. Now I'm OK with staying home on Saturday, ordering in, watching a movie. Or going for a quiet dinner & drinks followed by a movie, maybe.

....when I had to be out doing something on Sunday evenings because I'd get massive Sunday evening blues otherwise! Now I prefer Sunday evenings at home watching TV, reading a book or chit-chatting with The Boy. At most, I'd meet a friend for coffee.

Life changes and how! Or are these signs that I'm getting old? :(

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My 'Go-To' Books

I had the most wonderful day today, even though I spent it all by myself.

It's a long weekend. I woke up at 10 in the morning, dawdled over tea, had breakfast and went back to sleep at noon. Woke up at 2, showered, had lunch, went to Barista with my 'Adrian Mole', had a lovely hazelnut mocha and blueberry muffin, ran a couple of errands and am back home doing nothing.
Why can't we have more such days? :(


I have a few "go-to" books and movies. These are books/movies that I turn to when I'm feeling low or have been having rough days.

My "go-to" books include the Bridget Jones Diaries (both) & Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Bridget Jones because...come's Bridget Jones! Here's this girl who's constantly fretting about her weight, very much like me. She keeps landing herself in the most embarassing situations but she also has the courage to laugh at herself. She is being courted by two sex-on-toast men - one the biggest gentelman and the other possibly the biggest jerk in town - and she keeps falling for the jerk just because he is glib enough to talk his way into her heart. Now that's a situation many of us (women) are familiar with, aren't we? But in the end she goes with the nice guy. What's not to like?

Of course, the diary format also works for me. The book is fast-paced and not unnecessarily wordy. And I don't need to read it from start to finish at one go. I can read a few pages when I'm sad, put it down, pick it back up after some time and continue reading from where I left!

I also love Confessions of a Shopaholic. Becky Bloomwood is hilarious! She comes up with ingenious excuses to buy things she doesn't need. She also writes the funniest letters to her bank manager asking him to waive off her credit card bill and increase her credit limit! We could call her stupid and hate her for not having the mental strength to put an end to her shopaholism, but we don't because we know there's a little bit of Becky Bloomwood in all of us.

I've discovered two other books that could become my "go-to" books soon. One is 'Dork' by Sidin Vadukut. The book has workplace humor and it's outrageously funny. If you haven't read it yet, I'd say you MUST. You'll be rolling on your sides laughing.

The other book that I'm currently reading and finding absolutely adorable is 'The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 Years'. Here's this adoloscent obsessed with the spots on his face, which he's convinced is a result of the poor diet his mom feeds him, and the size of his "thing". He's a drama-queen, a chauvinist (he expects his mom to worship the ground he walks on & he'll let his girlfriend work at a cake shop or some place like that but not to have a career), but he also cares for old people & animals and looks out for his father who's having a rough time. The humor is subtle but it's definitely there.

Then there's 'Love Actually', the movie. It's my favorite movie EVER. I think I've watched the movie more than 20 times and it makes me happy every single time. It's got so much love floating around - love between a brother & sister, between a father & his step-son, even between a musician & his manager (!). Love that transcends boundaries of social strata and race. And it's got this Christmas theme running all the way through. And we LOOOOOOOOVE Christmas over here.
Which reminds me, Christmas is right 'round the corner and I haven't bought my decorations yet! I have a little tree from last year but I need to buy the ornaments & mistletoe & streamers. And plum cake! Oh, Christmas is going to be so much fun!! :)

How I Long To Go Back Here

Monday, December 13, 2010

The One Year Itch

I recently read an article on how the seven year itch has become passé. Couples have started facing issues in their marriage within the first year itself.

Let me say at the outset that this wouldn't apply to every couple, obviously. This is a general trend that's seen to be developing in Indian society of late. And I agree.

All around me I hear of and read about people getting divorced. This phenomenon is not restricted to celebrities anymore. There are quite a few people I know personally who have divorced/are in the process of getting divorced within a few years of marriage.

As far as celebrities go, we're reading about an ex-Bollywood actress contemplating divorce for the second time in her 3-4 year old marriage. The first time around, the couple took a vacation together and somehow managed to save their marriage. Will they be successful this time around as well? Are they even trying? Notably, the couple got married within a month or so of the actress breaking up with her then fiancé, so one wonders whether her decision to get married to her current husband was a hasty one. This morning I also read about a British actress splitting from her Indian industrialist husband. They've been married only two & a half years.

Closer home, there are two friends of mine who got married within a year of meeting each other. They come from very different social and financial backgrounds and the girl could not deal with the conservative thinking and financial habits of her in-laws as well as their constant interference in her life. The couple started having issues within 6 months, and 2 years later they're separated and waiting for their divorce to come through. Another friend filed for divorce 6 months after getting married. Her husband is a habitual cheater, and 6 months after marrying him she decided she couldn't take it anymore! I wonder why she got married to him in the first place? Did she really think he'd clean up his act? Does that ever happen?

My views on marriage aside (on which I've done very many posts & will spare you the brutality :), I've been thinking of why marriages have come to have such a short shelf-life.

Come to think of it, when a friend/relative celebrates, say their 5th marriage anniversary, many of us react by saying "Oh wow, 5 years together!", without even realizing the implications of what we just said. 10th anniversary, and this surprise turns into marvel. "Oh man, 10 years!!!!!" This is a sign of the times we live in. It's a sign of how the dynamics of relationships have changed.

So obviously, since I've been thinking I've reached a conclusion. If you're interested I'll tell you why I think fewer marriages work these days (this is my opinion alone and I'm no marriage counsellor :) If you aren't, you can skip the rest of this post.

To begin with, our generation is in a tearing hurry to get married and I don't know why! People decide to get married within a year, two years, and sometimes within months of knowing each other. That makes me wonder if they even know WHY they're getting married? I'm sorry but "I love him and can't live without him" is just not a good enough reason to take such a big step because once the reality of life kicks in - which will be sooner rather than later once you start living together - you will not be so much "in love with him" anymore.

I don't mean to preach, but we've got to have clear reasons for getting married. We should get married if we want to build a life together or share some of life's experiences together, not to prove a point to our family/friends or society.

Before we take the plunge, we need to make sure our basic philosophies in life are similar and if not, we need to have a clearly defined action plan on how we'll combat situations where we don't see eye-to-eye. We need to have common goals and aspirations for ourselves as a couple (though personal goals may vary). We need to be sure we can live with the habits (some of which WILL be irritating) and idiosyncrasies of the other person 24x7 because these things have a way of getting magnified when you're living in close proximity with someone. But most importantly, we need to be sure that we're mentally and emotionally ready for marriage because it takes a lot of commitment, hard work, trust, understanding and compromise. And all of these come from maturity.

Our generation is also low on patience and tolerance levels. We want quick solutions to every problem, and with increasing career demands on both partners we have neither the time nor the energy to work on a troubled marriage. Getting out of it seems to be the easier way of dealing with the mess, particularly since divorce no more connotes such a huge stigma as it used to, and plenty of divorced people do go on to date new people, start new relationships and get married again.

Financial independence has given a new sense of confidence to women. Working women in bad or even indifferent marriages feel there's no reason to suffer silently. They're simply less conditioned to give in than they used to be, and if they're not happy in their marriage they prefer moving on.

Then there is the issue of not working out the details of life together before taking the plunge. This ties to my first point of getting married in a hurry. We forget to work out answers to some pertinent questions that may give rise to marital disharmony later and become the basis of a failed marriage. What expectations do we have of each other as husband & wife? Are we willing to/able to fulfil those expectations? How will we deal with conflicts? How will we find solutions to problems where our points of view differ? What kind of spending habits will we have? How much interference by parents-in-law and other relatives is OK? How important are our respective friends going to be? What do we think of having kids? What kind of lifestyle changes do we expect each other to make? How are we going to share our space? These questions may seem trivial but trust me they can be fatal to a marriage. Married people may agree with me on this!

Then there is the issue of growing infidelity and the toll that the constant suspicion takes on a marriage. Is our generation really less loyal than the generations before us, or is it that the cases of infidelity are being exposed more? Are people who cheat on their partners less afraid to admit they slipped up than they used to be? Are people more aware and open about their sexual and emotional needs and less hesitant to pursue gratification with people other than their spouses? Whatever the reason might be, infidelity stares us in the face whichever way we turn, and we have become more intolerant of it because we know divorce is easier to get now than it used to be and it's not the end of the world.

This is the age when all the myths associated with marriage - such as marriages are made in heaven, there's only one person for all of us, when you meet your soulmate, you'll know he/she is the one etc. - are getting debunked. Marriages come with a 'fragile' tag and we can't breathe easy once we've tied the knot. On the contrary, that's when the real work begins.
Are we up to the challenge?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Marion, You're Being Missed

Marion Grasby, my favorite person in Masterchef Australia Season 2, was eliminated from the competition earlier this week (well, the elimination really happened in July as that's when the series was being filmed but it's being telecast in India now).

Marion was tipped to win the competition by one & all. Even the contestants were convinced that she would win. She constantly kept winning team & individual challenges and invention tests. Everyone would want her on their team during the team challenges. She was also the only contestant to beat a professional chef in the Celebrity Chef challenge to win immunity, which she used to get herself out of another elimination challenge earlier in the show. That's how good she was!

Marion reacts after beating Chef Frank Camorra of 'Movida' restaurant

And then the unthinkable happened. The most bizarre elimination. I say bizarre because she got eliminated on the back of a Satay sauce. Marion is half Thai & half Australian, has a trained Thai chef for a mother, and has grown up cooking Thai food. So everyone expected her to come up with a brilliant Satay sauce. I guess she was having a bad day.

If what one reads on the net is to be believed, she's on her way to becoming a millionnaire! She's working on her range of Asian products & sauces and is apparently being chased by culinary houses to release her line with them, has landed a series of cookbook publishing deals, is being invited to various food events & product launches, and she's also rumored to be the face of Coles, an Australian supermarket chain!!

That's a lot of money for a girl who gave up a career in journalism to follow her dreams (how I wish more of us had the courage to do that!), and who admits she always wanted to start a food & wine bar along with her partner Tim, but didn't have the means to do so. And you know what, she deserves every cent of that money.

I hope her product range does really well and becomes available in India as well (I'm so buying!), and I also hope she gets to open her restaurant real soon.

Marion was a flavor cook. The dishes she produced had bursts of flavor, to the extent that the judges would complement her by saying "when you eat a dish made by Marion, you know it's by her". That I think is a huge compliment for a chef!

The sad part is that while such an exceptional cook as Marion is out of the competition, ordinary cooks such as Jimmy and Aaron remain. Jimmy can't cook anything except Indian and Aaron's good only with pasta. So it's very surprising that the judges would prefer to retain such average cooks and let go of a brilliant cook as Marion. Masterchef is just not the same without her. I miss watching her at work, I miss her dishes, her enthusiasm, her excitement, and her smile that goes right upto her eyes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Something to Think About

I don't generally read 'mommy blogs' (for obvious reasons) but I came across this post by Parul Sharma. I'm sharing the link because I think it's a topic that a number of women struggle with post-motherhood, and also because I think I've done a post on this topic earlier (I'm too lazy to dig it up so just take my word for it, will you?)

In her post, Parul puts across her point of view on the issue of stay-at-home moms vs. working moms. She talks about how women who give up their careers to look after their kids feel responsible towards their parents & their efforts to give them (the women) the best education they could afford, so they could be financially independent. On the other hand, working moms suffer tremendous guilt for not being able to give sufficient time & attention to their child(ren). And there are some women who're lucky enough to be able to work from home, and while it may seem that they have the best of both worlds, the flip side is that people often don't take their work seriously and trivialize it.

Parul also goes on to say that when it comes to deciding whether to be a stay-at-home-mom or a working mom, there's no right (or wrong) decision. That we have to respect other people's choices, and if we feel we're superior to them because of the decision we've made for ourselves, then we're probably just trying to hide our own feelings of inferiority and dissonance with the choice we've made.

My favorite paragraph in the entire article is this: ".....tough as it sounds, that we cannot turn on our babies and burden them with accusations. Here, I did all this because of you, gave up so much because of you, made so many sacrifices to give you a good, better, best life. Nobody asked you to. So just shut up already, yes?"

I see this happening all the time, particularly when it comes to the child making a choice of career his parents might be opposed to, or in our great Indian society, the choice of a partner. And I think it's completely unfair on the child.

For all the talk about how people want to experience the miracle of creating life, it can't be denied that people have kids for very selfish reasons. They want a child to carry on their family name, to inherit and tend to their assets after they're gone, and most importantly to take care of them when they're old. So they really do need to remember that they have no right to emotionally blackmail the child into doing what they want him/her to do by counting the number of things they've done for him/her and the sacrifices they've made. No one asked them to have a child and do any of it; they did it all completely out of their own volition.

Me, I have taken the easier way out and decided I don't want kids. But for those of you women who are/plan to become mothers, hop over to Parul's blog and read her post.

There. My good deed for the day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Some Cribbing and a Cupful of Desire

I don't like kids. Particularly in restaurants, movie theaters, airplanes & my house.

Gaaah, who am I kidding? I don't like kids anywhere, period. They are generally crying, wailing, throwing tantrums, misbehaving, destroying/messing up things around them, or acting like monsters. Not to mention they are major attention seekers. But more than kids, I can't stand parents who don't know how to/won't control their kids in public places.

Last weekend, we went for dinner to this nice restaurant where I had the most decadent dessert, but more on that after I'm done cribbing about kids.

There was a kid running around the restaurant while his parents were chatting away with friends at a table next to ours. He would often come and start running around our table. We tried scaring him away with angry looks but he just wouldn't leave us alone. And then he started poking his finger into our food!

So imagine you've gone to a really nice restaurant with your partner/friend/family/whoever and all you want is a quiet, sumptuous meal with lots of nice conversation and there's this random kid who comes over and starts poking his finger into your food! What would you do?

We turned around and asked the mother to get a hold on him, and this takes the cake - her reply was "shayad woh khana chahta hai, thoda khila dijiye na (maybe he wants to have some of your food, feed him some"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just stared at her open-mouthed. When I finally managed to pick my jaw up off the floor, I told her that I wasn't there to feed her kid. Neither were the other people in the restaurant. And if she couldn't control him at a public place, she had no business bringing him to one.

At this point, the manager intervened and thankfully, he had the sense to point out to the harebrained woman that there were perfectly behaved little kids at other tables as well, so could she please look after hers as he wanted everyone at the restaurant to have an enjoyable meal, and moreover, the kid might hurt himself by falling/running into furniture?

I was impressed by this man.

While we are on the topic of kids, I got a little shock this morning.

I ran into two of my neighbors who have 1 year old kids. They were going to drop their kids off at school!!!

I asked them what kind of school exists for 1 year olds and apparently, it's a play school that starts at 9 and ends at 12. But isn't 12 months too young for a child to be going to ANY kind of school? And both of these women are stay-at-home moms, so why do they need to be sending their child to school anyway?

I tactfully enquired whether they thought the child was old enough to be sent to school and they blatantly replied that they do it so they can get some peace in the morning and get household chores out of the way, pack their husbands off to work and get their pujas & what not done.

I mean, this really pisses me off. Everyone has the right to "peace" but if peace is so important to you, DON'T.FUCKING.HAVE.KIDS.

When you decide to have a kid, you undoubtedly & unequivocally give up your right to "peace" at least for a few years. It's like people have this pressure to procreate and then the kid can go to hell.

Why do people have kids when they can't take care of them? Gets my goat every single time.

Phew! So now that we're done cribbing about pesky, annoying kids, let me tell you about the mindblowing dessert that I had at the restaurant. Chocolate fondant with crushed peanuts and butterscotch ice-cream with peanut and salted caramel. Oh man, it was orgasmic.

For non-food connoisseurs, the fondant was essentially a cupful of molten chocolate, baked so it was slightly crusted on top. It had crushed peanuts in it and I love peanut butter, Reeses peanut butter cups and peanut Snickers, so I really enjoyed it. The crushed peanuts gave the molten chocolate a slight crunch as well as a slightly salty, nutty taste. The butterscotch ice cream was equally good. It too contained crushed peanuts and was drizzled with a salted caramel sauce. You couldn't help but moan with every bite.

I'm not much of a picture taker (basically I'm just a lazy person!) so I don't have pictures of this mouth-watering dessert. But here's an idea of what it looked like. All that the picture below is missing are tiny bits of peanuts and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce :)

Picture courtesy:

Baby Steps in the World of Cooking : Creme Anglaise with a Strawberry Reduction

I finally came good on my plans to make this dessert. I've been planning to make it for the past 2-3 weeks but never got around to it. Then I saw a box of strawberries at the supermarket on Saturday and I knew this was my chance to make it.

Creme Anglaise, or English Cream, is an English custard made with milk & eggs. In theory, it sounds easy. Milk, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla essence. How tough can it be?

Well, I wouldn't say it's tought but it's quite labor intensive b/c you're adding hot milk to egg yolks and then cooking the mixture directly over heat, so there's a very good chance your eggs will scramble and you'll end up with scrambled egg in milk! Yuck!

So what do you do to prevent the eggs from scrambling? You whisk...and whisk...and whisk...

Don't let this put you off though. It's a yummy dessert. So here's the recipe for Creme Anglaise with a Strawberry Reduction.

For Creme Anglaise:
Milk - 200 ml
Egg yolk - 2
Sugar - 2-3 tbsp depending on how sweet you like your custard
Vanilla essence - 2 tsp (It would be ideal to use vanilla bean or pure vanilla extract but they're not readily available in every city, so vanilla essence will do)

For the Strawberry Reduction:
Strawberries - 100 gm
Sugar - 1 tbsp

  • Boil the milk. On the other hand, whisk the egg yolks till they are light yellow in color. The bad news is you can't use an electric whisker b/c you don't want to get too much air in, so this must be done by hand. And it takes a while.
  • While whisking, keep mixing in the sugar. I used powdered sugar so it's easier to dissolve.
  • Once the egg yolks are light yellow in color, start adding the milk bit by bit to the egg & sugar mixture. Keep whisking with the other hand b/c the milk is hot and you don't want the eggs to scramble.
  • Once you've added in all the milk, put the mixture on low heat and cook while stirring continuously (again to prevent the eggs from scrambling). The idea is to cook the mixture till it reaches the desired consistency without bringing it to a boil. Technically, the temperature should be between 75-80 celsius. You can keep a tab on the temperature with a food thermometer if you have one. I don't, so I just stayed alert. A sign your mixture has gotten too hot is if it starts sputtering at the bottom. If that happens, remove the mixture from the gas and stir for a few minutes to let the excess heat out. Then replace on gas and cook till it reaches the desired consistency. REMEMBER, DO NOT LET YOUR CUSTARD BOIL.
  • A way to test that your custard is done is to run a finger down the back of the spoon with which you've been stirring. It should leave a clean line (ie. the custard should not be runny).
  • For the strawberry reduction, chop the strawberries into small pieces. Add the sugar in 2-3 tbsp water and heat it on the gas till the sugar dissolves. Add the strawberries and cook for 2-3 mins, stirring continuously. You will get this lovely thick strawberry sauce with small chunks of strawberries. 2-3 mins would be enough as strawberries soften easily.
  • Pour the custard on to a slice of pound cake or chocolate cake if you like the combination of chocolate & strawberry. Garnish with a generous helping of the strawberry sauce.
I did take pictures with my Blackberry but the lighting was really bad, so the pictures didn't do justice to the dish. So I'm putting pictures of what the end product would look like.

Picture courtesy:,

Friday, December 3, 2010

License to Cook?

Since we are in a food zone, let me draw your attention to this article (courtesy The Knife).

Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bandra was never one of my favorite places to eat out in Mumbai inspite of it being the place to be seen at or its proximity to my house. I much preferred its neighbor, Out of the Blue, with its laid-back ambience, mouth-watering pastas, baked cheesecakes and live music on Sunday afternoons.

I've been watching a number of food based shows of late, and I've developed a strong admiration for Western chefs. Their cooking techniques are so evolved, their knowledge of flavors that will and won't work together so strong, and they can conjure up dishes that Indian chefs would probably not even have heard of!

But that's because developed countries have a much more evolved food scene as compared to India. Chefs are valued, celebrated even. There are proper culinary schools to train them in the techniques as well as the art of cooking, followed by an internship under a professional chef.

Reading this article kind of shocked me and was also painful at some level because it confirms what I suspected about Indian restaurants but hoped would be untrue - that the cooks working in restaurant kitchens in India are untrained. In fact, they can't be called chefs at all.

This article talks about how these cooks do not undergo any formal training in cooking. They are barely taught about food. Their training consists merely of showing them pictures of various dishes and leaving them to learn on their own, often by watching the head chef at work.

The proof of such shoddy training lies in the gruel that we are served at most restaurants in India, including fine-dining ones. Oily, over-spiced Indian food, Chinese dishes that are dunked in sauces, pastas floating in cheese. Any Western chef worth his salt will scrunch up his nose at such monstrosities, forget serving them to his customers.

The background of Indian chefs is equally to blame for the quality of food they dish out. Spices dominate the food cooked in Indian homes and vegetables are cooked till they become almost gloopy. The oven is the most under-utilized gadget in Indian kitchens. This is how the cooks grow up watching their mothers/grandmothers cook, and since no one bothers to train them otherwise, this becomes their general notion of food.

Watch a Western chef at his job and you'll learn to appreciate the beauty of food. They let the ingredients do the talking. Spices and seasoning are used just for flavor. And texture, which they get from using different kinds of side ingredients apart from the core one, is as important as flavor. They cook the vegetables only upto a point that it's tender enough to eat so it retains most of its flavor. Poaching, oven-roasting and grilling are also widely used techniques to cook meat to enhance its flavor. Not everything is fried or cooked directly on the flame.

My other pet peeve at restaurants is being served food that's made with ready-to-use sauces & marinades available in the market. I would like a chef to make his sauces & marinades from scratch because a) all the ingredients that go into Italian/Asian/Mexican sauces are available in India now, and b) if I wanted to eat something made with ready-to-use sauces, I could have cooked it at home! People don't pay for shortcuts at restaurants.

But then, it is our inherent tendency as a people to take short-cuts and dupe customers. An Indian businessman will try to cheat his customers to make a quick buck whenever he can find an opportunity. Restaurants are no exception.

Maybe I need to stop watching food-based shows? They're going to ruin my eating out experiences for life! I will never find any restaurant good enough :(

Photographs Courtesy:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Cute Little Love Story

There are some memories that will always stay with you because they fill your heart with warmth every time you think of them.

I was 18 and had just moved to the US for college. He was 18 too and had moved to the UK. We had e-mail but for some strange reason we'd write each other letters. On those blue inland letters (remember?).

I honestly don't remember why we wrote letters but there was a certain kind of intimacy in receiving a letter from the person you loved and who loved you. Or make that lots of letters because he wrote lots! I think he wrote every other day because I'd receive 2-3 letters every week!

I'd rush back from class with huge anticipation. The first thing I'd do once back to my dorm was to run to my mailbox and check for his letters. I'd be elated when I found one. I'd read and re-read the letter until the next one came along. I'd be a little sad on days I had an empty mailbox. I think I'll always love him for that - for making my day countless number of times. Then I'd trudge to the post-office on campus, buy an inland letter myself and write back.

For all the writing to each other that happened then, we aren't even in touch now. Life changes and how! I'm vaguely aware of what's going on in his life thanks to mutual friends but I haven't seen him or spoken to him in ten years and sometimes I really miss him. There's something about 'first love' that you just can't shake off no matter how much you try. It just never lets go of you.