Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kitchen Banter

Today I made some pizzas. Actually, you can say I ‘assembled’ the pizzas and heated them in the oven. ‘Assembling’ consisted of buying ready pizza bases from Monginis, spreading Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce, adding sliced chicken sausages that were lying in my freezer, putting in some chopped capsicum, shredded processed cheddar cheese (I had cheddar so didn’t bother buying mozzarella) and finally topping it all with sliced black olives – straight out of a jar. This master piece was then heated in the oven till it could pass off as respectable pizza.

I served it with a flourish at tea time being mighty pleased with myself, considering all the effort that when into ‘assembling’ it. My daughter immediately refused to eat it unless ALL the toppings were taken off. After much deliberation (read threatening) we reached a truce and only the sausages and capsicum came off.

The MIL, who was feeding the ungrateful little child, said “The bread is ready-made, na?” I smiled weakly and nodded. In our household ‘ready-made’ is a bad word. Ready-made. Ready-maid. Like when one talks about a person being ‘easy’. *wink, wink* And the use of these ‘easy’ items amounts to cheating in cooking. There was a time when I would make the pizza from scratch - knead the bread dough, cook up a luscious red tomato and oregano sauce and use freshly cooked chicken pieces. But those were the carefree days, when cooking was not a chore, it was an art form.

For some who grew up in Bahrain on a hugely unhealthy diet of frozen meat products, packaged munchies, school canteen sandwiches and weekly take-out dinners, I learnt that cooking needn’t be a big pain. You just need to know how to manipulate the original recipe by using the various products available in supermarkets. And voila! You can dish out scrumptious dishes with minimum time and effort expended. Though I loved cooking when I was younger, I quickly realised that I only enjoyed it when the recipes were super easy. I mean, why would anyone in their right mind spend hours in the kitchen when consuming the results only takes minutes?

So tomatoes got replaced by packaged tomato purée, real coconut got beaten down by its powdered and desiccated clones, lemon juice came out of a bottle, and everything got a dose of that wonderful magic ingredient – chicken stock that comes in a cute little packaged cube.

Well, as fate would have it, I got married into a family who doggedly believed that food must be as fresh as fresh can be. If the chicken was not walking around on its own an hour before it was served on the table, it is inedible. Frozen or packaged food were looked upon as the freaky, tattoo sporting punk distant cousins of ‘real’ food. Ready-to-cook food like instant noodles were eyed supiciously, as if they would instantly wreak havoc in unsuspecting bellies.

Right after my marriage when hubby and I were trying to settle into our new home in Bangalore and I was learning the ropes of managing a kitchen all by myself, I brought home a pack of tomato purée. I told him this would save me time in the morning before rushing to work – I don’t have to chop tomatoes or wait for them to soften before adding the other ingredients. He looked at me incredulously, like I was a mad woman talking and finally said, “You have got to be kidding me!” I tried reasoning with him and when that didn’t work, I turned the tables on him and looked at him like he was the crazy one, saying I used this all the time in Bahrain. He smiled and said as sweetly as possible, “That was in the freaking desert! This is Bangalore. You get fresh vegetables here, sweetheart.”

And that was that.

However, after five years of steady brain-washing I have succeeded in getting him to go easy on my ready-made cookery. Okay, actually we’ve met half somewhere halfway. I now try and use the ‘ready-maids’ sparingly and occasionally. Sometimes I do cheat and add them when no one’s watching, telling them to hush when they giggle and gurgle in the gravies.

After having kids I’ve realised how important it is to eat healthy and now I’ve started obsessing about them eating the freshest of the fresh. And when my daughter points to packet of munchies in the grocery store, I look at her and say, “You have got to be kidding me!” Best Blogger Tips

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  1. :-) ready made and cooked from scratch....always a big point of contention in most homes. I agree! I'm not doing much cooking these days but yes, I also don't like spending too much time there when my head is buzzing with ideas to write!

  2. Before moving into our new house i had already decided not to go for the instant or ready to eat stuff although its easy,quick,tasty but unhealthy.I was always against eating frozen or refrigerated cooked food from the time i came to Bahrain but slowly i realized that it is a trend which runs in most of the homes here.I am not a great cook but yes i can cook healthy food :-) without taste enhancers!

  3. @Andy: How I envy you! Reading your book 'Kite Strings' has resurfaced my long time desire to write a book. But since I'm currently signed up for 24-hour child care, the book is on the back burner for now. By the way, what about baking? Don't you do that anymore? I tried the chocolate pops that was you posted on one of your blogs and they came out yummmm!

    @Amara: I thought about you while writing this post. About how you insist on fresh food. I'm proud of your resolve. It's good to start your kids off on a healthy food trend from the start. Even I'm getting used to it slowly. I have stopped buying instant noodles and go for the real deal - in semolina or whole wheat. Instead of potato chips I occasionally get Zainab banana chips.... I sneak powdered dry fruits, veggies, dals and pulses into her food when ever possible. Now if I could only get her to eat her veggies... *sigh*

  4. Nicely put sis! But sis, banana chips are also considered junk food! I do agree that where one lives does have an effect on one's lifestyle and food habbits. Living in the Gulf, one does tend to stray towards such quick and easy methods of cooking. Just look at my daughter! She developed a taste for shawarma even before her 1st birthday! Now both her Pappa and she can gobble down a shawarma anytime of the day or night! Fast food has become a staple diet now! Can't live with it, can't live without it! But yes, Amara does try to encourage us to eat healthy. She does make good vegetarian dishes... In the end, I think her way is the healthy way... Cook enough for that day and don't use any artificial or extra flavour enhancers! In the end, I would like to add... Eat Chinese! Without MSG ofcourse! ;)

  5. @Faheem: LOL! I knew you would finally comment on my blog if I did a post on food! Well, about the chips, my logic is that a fried banana will always better for you compared to a fried potato with taste enhancers :) Kudos to Amara for encouraging healthy eating. Happy hogging!