Passing Your Time During Lockdown

The first lockdown due to the pandemic has been hard to adjust to. The second wave of coronavirus has reached a new high, and the second lockdown has been announced in many places. All the travel restrictions are back in place. Most tourist places and recreational centres are closed, and parties are a big no.

I might sound like I’m complaining. But I agree that these measures are needed to curb the spread of the virus. I am just worried about passing my time during this pandemic. 

The last time, I revisited some of my old hobbies, like crocheting and gardening. 

I also learnt how to cook. I made pasta with Alfredo sauce, baked a cake, among a couple of other recipes. I wasn’t very successful, but I got the basics of cooking right.

I guess this time around, I need to try my hand at drawing. That has been an art form that I am not good at. In my previous post, I promised to learn from my sister, who is good at it. Let’s hope I can manage it this time.

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.

My Tryst With Cooking

Let me start by stating that I am not a bad cook. My cooking skills are not bad, but they are not great either. When I cook dinner, it is edible, but not exceptional. I am just glad that it is not unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

Having made that fact clear, I have to admit that my skills at cooking are not stellar. They are not anything to feel proud of. I have tried to follow the cookbook, but it was not helpful. I also tried to practice my skill with my mom and sister as they are good cooks. I followed their instructions to the tee, but no avail. I can cook any dish and it may taste good, but something is always amiss. Sometimes, the vegetables turn mushy or the cake is crumbly or the skin of the chicken is burnt. If everything else turns out right, the dish just does not look appetizing. The complaints are accompanied by jokes more often than not. There was a time when I was tasked with cooking daily as a way to practice. However, I believe that was just an excuse to assign the chore to me.

Despite my lack of natural talent at cooking, I decided not to give up. I decided to observe and learn any nuances that are not shared. I watched cooking shows, sat through boring discussions and gossip with my aunts to pick up some tricks, attended classes etc. I was successful in making a few observations that proved useful. Here are some findings:
● My cakes were crumbly because I didn’t use enough butter. The point is, use the correct ingredients and get the measurements right. Replacing cream with butter, or butter with oil or lettuce with cabbage etc. is not always advisable. Each component has its flavour. The taste is bound to change when you replace it.
● Be mindful about the quality of the ingredients. A bad batch of potatoes can ruin your potato salad or mashed potatoes. Stale meat or vegetables can ruin the best of dishes.
● Cooking requires patience. Wait till the vegetable or meat is tender or cooked thoroughly before you proceed to the next step. In a curry, adding water before the vegetable or meat has lost its natural moisture will spoil the dish. The vegetable or meat will not absorb the flavour of the spices.
● Do not rush the dish. Give it time to cook sufficiently. Setting the stove on high won’t make the dish cook faster. It will just burn and ruin everything. Cooking at the correct heat setting is critical to the outcome.
● Pay attention to the terminology used in cookbooks. Sauteing, boiling, frying, shallow frying, simmering, grilling, roasting, double boiling etc. are all different processes and they all have different effects on the dish. Interchanging the processes could spell disaster to the dish. Just because you do not have an oven, you can’t replace baking with grilling.
● The ingredients and the procedure are crucial to the outcome but it is equally important to understand the flavours. Not all spices or flavours work well together. Some spices do not suit certain cooking styles. For example, using ingredients like oregano or olives or avocados in Indian dishes does not generally taste as good. Using dry spices while grilling might not have the same result as the spice will just end up charring the dish and the flavour will not be absorbed.

I have listed a few basic procedural pointers to be wary of. Each style of cooking has its own set of tips and tricks. I have only just scratched the surface of the vast world of cooking. I hope to master it someday and share many more tips too.