My Culinary Journey

The most prominent influence on my culinary journey is my grandmother (Ammama). Whenever I was at her place, I observed how she prepared food. Ammama talks a lot while cooking. She is either explaining the process or the ingredients and if nothing else, she shared an anecdote related to the recipe she was preparing. This attitude of hers might have influenced me to learn from her.

She would sometimes allow me to help her. That’s how I learnt how to clean seafood. Sometimes I used to grind a few spices for her using mortar and pestle or chop vegetables for her. She joked a lot and teased my clumsiness. This helped me remember what not to do. Her satire and mockery never offended me. I always took it the way it was meant to be taken, in a light-hearted manner.

While I learnt some complicated recipes from my Ammama, it was my mother who taught me how to cook simple, everyday meals. Mom always emphasized on speed and efficiency. Her recipes are always very healthy. Mom did not use any elaborate procedures or masalas (a powdered blend of spices), her cuisine was very simple. She retained the flavour of the vegetables by not overcooking or using too much of spices. Spices can dominate the delicate flavour of the vegetables so, the use of spices was very limited in mom’s recipes. I think her biggest secret was the fact that she prepared every meal fresh from scratch and served it hot.

Mom was always worried whenever I stepped into the kitchen to experiment. She insisted on her methods and deviating from them did not sit well with her. Since my childhood, I learnt a lot by observing my Mom and Ammama. I was raring to attempt some of my ideas. The occasional kitchen help gave me the confidence to execute my ideas. Not all my cooking adventures worked out, but every failure taught me a valuable lesson.

Soon after my marriage, I had to relocate to Jamaica. I was on my own to execute all the lessons learnt. I was thrilled. My husband loves food; he is never scared to explore new flavours and ingredients. This made it an even more enjoyable experience in the kitchen. Despite having a lot of ideas in my head, the initial few years weren’t easy. Not all recipes worked out the way they were supposed to. 

Three years after my marriage, I took my first trip back home. It was during this trip that I learnt a lot of cooking tips and tricks from my dear mother-in-law. She taught me a lot of recipes that are unique to the Rayalaseema region. Ammama hailed from Telangana and my Nanamma (father’s mother) was from Andhra. Furthermore, I have been living in Jamaica for a long time now. Thus, my cooking style is a blending of all these regions. 

That’s a bird’s eye view of my culinary journey. The numerous trials, lessons learnt, thrills, and drama of my experiments couldn’t fit in this blog post today. But, I promise you all that I will return with a sequel to tell you what transpired in the kitchen the first time I tried my hand cooking.

For now, I am sharing a few pictures of some of my food preparations. If you enjoy cooking as much as I do, please share your experiences with me. I would love to hear from you.

Do Your Duty, Leave The Rest To God

We all aim to succeed at every endeavour we take up. We plan, strategize, work hard, make all necessary corrections and wade past every hardship only with the intent to succeed. Yet, despite all our good intentions, good work and effort, there are many instances where we are faced with failure. The first advice or consolation we receive in those situations is ‘You did your best, the rest was up to God’.

Growing up, this statement was a sore point for me. I always thought that when we do our best, then we should get the best results. If I work to succeed, then I should succeed. In my naivety and limited life experience, this was my outlook towards everything. I never considered all the factors that are out of control, yet contribute to the success of a task. As my experience increased, I learnt that all the hard work, good intentions, and best efforts are worth nothing when something is not meant to be. Not just good intentions and hard work; Even the evilest plans, wicked intentions, cruel efforts can be thwarted when something is not meant to be. In the grander scheme of events, my success at a particular task may be trivial, or sometimes my failure may be necessary.

Needless to specify, later in life, I faced a tough time unlearning this perception. We can only be 100% prepared for the task, but we can never be 100% sure about the outcome. The whole meaning of life is to navigate the twists and turns, face unexpected challenges etc. The goalposts are shifting all the time, and we need to change accordingly. As long as we remember this fact of life and contribute wholeheartedly to every task, every outcome feels like a success. Before the pandemic, better pay, promotions, a bigger house, latest gadgets etc, may have been the parameters for success. I planned to shift jobs and look for a more challenging role. However, now job security, steady flow of income, good health, being alive and healthy have become parameters for success.

There is no guaranteed equation for success or failure in life. What may appear to be a failure today is only the framework for greater accomplishments. In fact, they are not failures, but simple lessons in our path to victory. They will prepare you with priceless lessons that will take you to greater heights. Even the solar system failed with numerous planets and moons before it successfully created life on earth. However, that does not make all the other planets less magnificent or important in the grander landscape of the universe.

Keep An Eye On the Backdoor

One lazy afternoon, a cat softly walked up to the backdoor of a house. The door was left ajar; he stood there for a few tense moments assessing the danger level. When no one noticed his presence, he quietly stepped into the house and quickly sneaked into the kitchen. Within the next few seconds, he climbed up the countertop to lap up all the milk in the container.

The lady of the house caught him red-handed and chased him. The startled cat jumped to the ground and instead of exiting through the backdoor, he ran into the dining room. The lady went yelling and, running after the cat, but he kept dodging her. To escape her, he ran under the dining table and rushed into the living room to hide under the couch.

All through this chaos, the lady’s daughter was fascinated and excited by the cat. She protected him by not revealing his hiding place. After some time, the little girl started petting the cat. The cat quickly recognised the friend and the foe. He avoided the lady who chased him to spend most of his time with the little girl who befriended him.

Gradually, he made the house his home and soon two other cats joined him. All attempts to get rid of the cats were futile. Even if the lady chased them away, they found their way back into the house. They knew the little girl was ready to accommodate them. The little girl even suggested that these cats could get rid of the rats in the house. But, nothing of that sort happened. The rats and the cats all lived in the same house.

Art By Sharda

All-day long, they purred at the girl and relaxed in her lap. They stole food from the kitchen and slept on piles of freshly washed clothes. If anyone tried to get them out of the house, they showed their temper. They did not spare anything in the kitchen; they clawed the couches, destroyed the plants, knocked things down, and generally speaking, created a mess.

I have nothing against cats but observing the events in the above story, I can draw parallels to other events in our lives. When the cat first entered the house, it was totally accidental. If both the mother and child chased away the cat with the same fervour, the cats would have avoided the house. Because the lady chased them away, yet the girl encouraged them; the cats made the house as their home.

Bad habits enter into our lives in the same way as the cats did in this story. The first time is usually an accident or a coincidence. It is how we react to this event that decides our fate. If we chase the habit out of our life, then chances are that the habit will exit. But, if we cover them up or defend them, it will become impossible to get rid of the bad habit.

Just as one good habit attracts other good habits, one bad habit also attracts many other undesirable habits. The bad habits could be as simple as being lazy/procrastinating or something as serious as drug/alcohol abuse. Be mindful of what is entering through that backdoor silently. It might, at first, look innocent and harmless but eventually, it will show its true colours. Like stray animals are always prowling around looking for a quick meal and a comfortable place to settle in, the same way at every stage in life we are prone to several dangers. It is important to recognise them early and nip them out of our life.

I used the analogy of a cat’s behaviour in this story to explain my point about bad habits. However, I don’t want anyone to think that cats are bad nor should anyone ill-treat cats or any other animal for that matter. Cruelty to animals is a bad habit in itself. All I’m saying is keep an eye on that back door; all things evil and undesirable sneak in from there. If you liked what you read, please let me know. Until next time, Stay Safe.

Karma Strikes When You Are Down

We Indians are well known for our belief in karma and fate. Plainly speaking, karma is what we do in life; our actions, that are driven by an intention. However, in everyday parlance, kama is used as a way to refer to payback. Everybody says karma’s a bitch, and I thought that they were just being resentful when it is time to pay back for their deeds. We humans, frequently act without consideration for consequences, so when it is time for payback, we are always caught off guard. However, karma is never as simple as just payback. It always comes with a twist. It hits when it is least expected.

Atonement for mistakes seems reasonable and justified when one is in luck. For instance, I laugh at my friend when she slips and falls down; If she were to ridicule me when I fall, then it would be payback. What actually happens is that when I slip and fall, it happens publicly and everyone laughs at me. My friend may not laugh, but I have to endure the embarrassment. That is how karma works. It does not just involve reparations, it is about the pain of reparations as well. Do you think I am exaggerating? Well, let me explain with an anecdote.

Karma always comes to collect when we are already down. By habit, I am a punctual person. The bus that I take to work, is usually late to pick me up. The driver always blamed the other passengers for being late. I used to criticize them in my mind for being tardy. I also complained to the management on a few occasions stating that the drivers’ excuses were as bad as a kindergartener.

Karma finally came to collect on the worst day. On that fateful day, I started out on time, however, my sandals broke; I had to go back to change them. As the bus is habitually late, I did not worry about it. As my luck would have it, on that day, the bus was early as the management decided to take action on all the complaints. I missed my bus that day, I had to take a cab to work. I had trouble getting a cab and I was late to work. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the day that my manager decided to do a surprise visit. Karma played its hand, and I was caught. Although I am generally punctual, my manager decided to set a precedent. My manager would not accept my explanation, he fined me half a day’s pay.

There are many such incidents that every one of us must have experienced at some point in our lives. I once splashed water from a puddle on a pedestrian in my rush to get to work. Before long I faced karma, a passing vehicle ran over a puddle, just as I was entering office. On another instance, I lied to my boss that I was having my tooth extracted and skipped work on a Friday. A month later, the crown on my incisor came off during a business lunch. It caused quite an embarrassment for me. My incisor was chipped in half when I was in school. I had a filling done and covered it with a crown to appear natural. That had to come off right when I bit into a juicy piece of chicken.

Such is the game plan of karma. It strikes when we are already facing bad luck, just to make the payback a bit more painful and memorable. I guess that is its way to ensure that we learn the lesson in the first instance. If we miss that lesson, then we are in for many more embarrassing life lessons, all courtesy of Karma. I can only pray that I learn my lessons at the earliest. If possible, I can also watch others and learn just to escape any personal lessons. Do you have any such instances?

My Fascination For Sarees

When I was a child, all the women around me were dressed in sarees. As an Indian, it is not uncommon to see everyone in sarees. Aunts, grandmas, cousins were all draped in colourful and gorgeous sarees. A saree can be described as a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth material which is six to nine yards long and two to four feet wide. Typically, we drape a saree around us using a petticoat and couple it with a crop top. The way we drape the saree varies from region to region in India.  

 As I mentioned in an earlier post, I used to be filled with curiosity and admiration for my mom’s saree collection. I used to spend several hours feeling every material and admiring the colours and prints on the sarees. 

  “Zari” is a type of thread made of gold or silver. It is common to use zari threads to weave the saree, especially near the borders. The pattern that runs along the length of the saree is called the “border” and the elaborate designs at the end of the saree covering the entire width are called the “pallu”. Pallu is also the part of the saree that hangs over the shoulder.

Sarees have different names depending on the kind of material (thread) that is used to weave the fabric, the place from where the weaver’s hail and some times the technique that was used to weave the sarees. 

Some traditional saree varieties found in India are Pochampally, Kalamkari, Kanchipuram silk, Mysore silk, Kerala – Kasavu, Sambhalpuri, Ikat, Murshidabad, Batik, Tussar silk, Assam – Muga silk, Paithani, Kolhapuri, Bandhani, Patola, Garchola, Kota, Leheriya, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Bhagalpuri silk, Kuchai silk, Benarasi silk, Chikankari, Phulkari, Kashmiri Kadai etc. Apart from these traditional sarees, the popular ones today are chiffon, georgette, organza, linen etc.

The cost of a saree may depend on different factors: Silk sarees are more expensive compared to cotton. Some sarees have heavy embroidery that requires more material and labour. Sarees from a particular region might have a high demand making them pricier. Labour costs may vary according to the effort that is put. 

 Different sarees feel different on the skin. Natural fabrics like cotton, kadhi, sheer sarees allow easy passage of air and thus comfortable for hot summers. Velvet and silk sarees are slightly warmer making them favourable for winter. Chiffons and georgettes are light and dry quickly so they are suitable for the monsoon.

 Saree colours range from light and delicate shades to bright and vibrant colours. Casual and office wear sarees are either totally devoid of special embellishments like beads, mirrors, embroidery, flashy borders etc. They are either plain coloured or simple printed sarees. The party-wear and wedding sarees are the ones that have a lot of heavy embroideries, zari work, beadwork etc.

I could spend days talking about sarees but I would like to stop here. I want to hear from you. What do you think of sarees? What is your favourite style of clothing? Please comment below and share your opinions. Have a blessed day!