When you reach your vacation spot and find that on the very first evening you can’t get out of bed after your afternoon nap, you know it’s time to rethink your vacation. I hate being sick in general – but falling sick on vacation? It was very annoying and I would have been really angry – I felt entitled to be – if I had the energy. I lay in bed wrapped in a thick blanket, shivering, exhausted, trying to process what it all meant, but unable to think.
Eventually I was able get out of bed and get on with my vacation – I had some kind of a viral infection with the accompanying cough and cold which left me tired and to my great disappointment, tastebudless.
I have often wondered why I like to go on vacation. Is it to see new places and beautiful sights, learn about cultures and history or just take a break? I suspect it is a little of everything; but knowing me – and the hubby – the bigger reason is the prospect of eating several kinds of good and new food. Our attitude is summed up in this exchange the hubby had with my father when he visited us in the Bay Area a couple of yeas ago at the birth of our son. He wanted to visit San Francisco so the hubby took him there one afternoon. The hubby suggested that they drive down there, have a nice lunch and then proceed with sightseeing.
“The fun of visiting a new place is eating well at a local restaurant.” He said, to which my father promptly replied, “No when you’re traveling you should eat whatever you can find on the go and go sightseeing.Let’s have lunch at home and go.” A clear case of different priorities!
On this trip we were visiting my aunt and uncle who are posted in Ranikhet in the North Indian state of Uttaranchal and knowing my aunt we were guaranteed a week of good food. So to fall sick and go tastebudless on the very first day left me intensely bitter – pun intended! But I did not give up. Wait till you hear what I ate through my sickness and health.
My aunt is a big foodie and the second person after my mom who was inspired me right from childhood with her food adventures. I have spent time with her at various times in my life and each time enjoyed her generous hospitality and learned something new. At eight, I peeked over the kitchen counter as she poached eggs and was incredibly impressed with the act – break an egg into simmering water and it doesn’t dissolve! It stays together and cooks and comes out looking beautiful with the white portion wrapped around the yolk. What a miracle, my little brain must have thought! I kept asking her a question every few seconds and she answered away patiently, only once showing any sign of exasperation. She was the first person I saw with a cookbook. I had no idea you could read a book to cook. And such pretty books she had. She was a big time baker and in fact gave my mom a few of her baking dishes. So she had many books with pretty pictures of baked goods and I loved looking up at them as they lay on the counter while she went about her business. I was one happy camper in her kitchen.
At fifteen, after my class ten board exams I spent time being pampered by her after all the hard work – well that was my excuse anyway! One of my favorite memories is of afternoon lunches of basmati rice with kale chane ki dal (black chickpeas), subzi, raita, sweet mango chutney and lots of pickle. The chutney and pickle were homemade – such bliss! She used to make her own chutneys and pickles but sadly I found this time that she has stopped. She has incredible energy to keep doing things in the kitchen. She is always planning and preparing for something. Cut vegetables, grind up onions, making tomato puree – always one step ahead of when she would need it. That’s why she is such a great entertainer. She doesn’t get hassled when she has people over because everything is ready and she just needs to do one or two things when people come over. Like my mom. I find that I’m always worked up about stuff in the kitchen when I have company that I forget the whole point of the party!
At 21, after college and before I left for the US I visited her again and had my first experiences cooking and baking in her kitchen. Under her guidance I made a bhindi subzi and a chocolate cake. I did make bhindi subzi again several times in the US but another cake was not made until five years later. Still I apprenticed under a master so I have credentials! It was at this time that she fed me the most amazing omelette that I would later discover is called a omelette souffle in the US. She beat eggs until they were thick and pale and then made the omelette, finally stuffing it with vegetables, resulting in the most soft and decadent set of eggs I have ever eaten. I have tried to make such omelettes but find that my eggs always deflate. But I have not given up yet.
With that preamble I am sure you are salivating at the though of what she fed us on this trip. But you are going to have to wait for part two for that. Sweet dreams.