When I think of the past, good old days come to my mind. Social media was not yet born and we used to prefer interacting with people on a more personal basis.
It takes me back by many years and I often become quite nostalgic. This relates to the time when I had applied for a job in another city, and got selected. I packed my bags with a few set of clothes and my father accompanied me to the station.
“Take care, my son” he hugged me and the train departed from the station.
It was my first job and the train journey was of four hours. On joining the company I got my appointment letter and was allotted a company accommodation. Since the flats were on the outskirts of the city, 3–4 hotels were available for having food.
It had become a routine for me to have lunch in the office and dinner at one of these hotels. Tea was available in the office, and in the evening I used to have tea at a roadside stall. On the weekends I used to walk across the road to have tea, as many times as I wanted.The breakfast, lunch and dinner all used to be at one of these hotels.
This routine continued for three months and I was very happy to have a variety of food at the hotel. It was soon that I got weary of the quality of food being served. Sometimes the food was not cooked well or it was too spicy. But I had no other option than to continue eating the same food.
I had been raised by my mother and unlike the present day, cooking was considered to be a niche of the women. There were fewer women in the corporate jobs and a majority of them were housewives.It was natural not to know anything about cooking, as it never came under male domain.
In a few months’ time I had become completely weary of the quality of food. Many a times I had abdominal pain, but what was the alternative? And I was too lazy to even think of cooking.
Sometimes on free days I used to think of cooking, but often deferred the decision. For a long time I was not able to take a decision to plunge into cooking.
Once at the end of a year, I made a resolution that I would try to learn cooking, at least the basic food stuff.Now this turned out to be a cumbersome process. Unlike the present day there was no piped natural gas. I had to go to the company for booking a LPG cylinder. Once the formality was completed, I purchased a gas stove and started buying other utensils, like pans and pots.
My knowledge in cooking was almost zilch and I was thinking of what to start preparing with. So at first I decided that I would only prepare tea, as I had prepared it a number of times when staying with my parents. Here too there was a problem. I had to go out and source milk from the market. But I soon found a solution and requested my neighbor to instruct their milkman to leave a packet of milk at my door.
This was how I began enjoying my daily cup of tea, sometimes even ginger tea. I bought a few maggi noodles packet as they are the easiest to cook. Just heat water, drop the noodles and the accompanying spices and they are ready to eat in minutes. Other than this I used to eat sandwich.
After a while I was sick of eating these two items regularly. So I began exploring other items that I would be able to cook easily. The easiest among them appeared to be scrambled eggs and omelet. In a week I got my taste right for these two items.
Slowly I was gaining confidence and one day I went to the market and bought a good cook book. Being very enthusiastic I wanted to experiment with dishes during the weekend. I tried out poha (flattened rice) for breakfast, which was not up to the standard, but I could at least eat it to satiate my hunger.
Now after this, the weekends were solely reserved for trying out new dishes.Many a times the breakfast used to be awful, but with each mistake that I made, I learnt something new. After becoming good at preparing breakfast, the next step naturally was to start preparing dishes for lunch and dinner. For this the cook book came in handy.
Which camp do you belong?I belong to the camp of mushroom lovers.
I still remember the days we were small kids. It has been a few decades now, but some of the memories still persist…
Those days there was no internet so the only way to learn cooking was through cookbook or maybe even joining cooking classes.
It was very easy cooking rice in pressure cooker where it used to be ready in 15 minutes. But the main problem was to prepare gravy dishes.
On one side of the gas stove, a row of plastic containers were arranged filled with spices. I had purchased them to be used in preparing vegetables. In the beginning, the vegetable dishes never used to be perfect and I had to experiment a lot. Sometimes there used to be plenty of salt or the spices were more than required or at times the vegetables were half cooked.
I was patient and determined and in a month’s time, I was getting few of the dishes, just perfect. The next challenge was to make complicated dishes. After more than a month of cooking I had come to learn how a combination of certain spices, herbs and flavors fit together.
By now I had read, researched enough about food and spent plenty of time in the kitchen. The things finally started to fit together. By continuous practice I was able to identify all the flaws in my cooking.
Soon I began to get up a little early and started to prepare food, to take it to the office for lunch. This I used to offer to my friends. From their feedback I was able to improvise and learn further.
Cooking rice everyday was fine up to a point, but daily it was not possible to have rice. I had to cross the final frontier and start making chapattis (wheat flour flatbread ).The thought of Kneading the dough just gave me jitters. After kneading the dough I was still unable to make soft and puffed chapatti’s. So what was to be done? I went to my neighbor and learnt from his wife the reasons as to why the chapatis were becoming so hard.
The reason that I learnt was; that an appropriate amount of moisture is the best friend of soft chapatis.If the dough or the rolled chapatis lose too much of moisture while preparation, you might end up with rubbery or crusty chapatti. And for this she suggested two remedies:-
· Add a little oil to the flour. Adding a little oil to the flour will result in soft and tasty chapatis as the oil lends conductivity to the flour. It will also help the chapatis heat up faster on the pan without losing a lot of moisture.
· Knead a soft dough- Many people make the mistake of kneading the dough in a hurry and add insufficient water. An appropriate amount of water needs to be added to knead a soft and smooth dough. You can also add lukewarm water and knead for at least 15 minutes. Leaving it to rise for 20–30 minutes will make it easier and softer to roll.
After the dough is kneaded, make small balls of the dough and bring the dough to circular shape with the help of rolling pin. Now put the first side on the flame until the chapati is puffed. If it is not puffing properly press it with a spoon. Once the chapati is ready you can store them one above the other. This will help to reduce the chance of moisture loss. You can eat them with vegetable curry, whenever you wish.
Once I had learnt how to prepare the chapatis, most of my problems were over. I could prepare whatever curry I wanted and have with either rice or the chapati. As opposed to the earlier days; it was only sometimes that I used to have food outside, that too for a change of flavor.
After a few days I became lazy again, and decided that I would prepare dinner only at home and have lunch in the office canteen, because it was very difficult to get up early and prepare lunch.
So I can say that in two months I was able to manage to prepare food, though not as good as a professional. But it is fine, as I was not preparing to compete for master chef competition and the food was meant for my consumption.
The only regret is that I have not prepared any of the sweet dishes which I am very fond of.It is not too difficult to prepare them, but where is the time? Still I have a hope that one day I would prepare the desserts too and write about my experience.