Kitchen confidential

Kitchen confidential

Musings on everyday life

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Fri 27 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 27 Sep 2019, 2:00 AM

"Dad, what's the saddest moment in your life?" Her voice was almost drowned out by the weekend cacophony inside the waterhole.
Like a deer that smells something it perceives as imminent danger, I cupped my ears and said, "I beg your pardon."
"What hurts or disappoints you most?" wifey repeated. There's a semblance of mischief in her voice.
Eyes downcast, I wiped the frost on the glass, cleared the throat that's still in the grip of chill from the last gulp, and said, "When the pint level goes down."
She stared as if she just heard something epochal and then burst into peals of laughter, loud enough to draw attention from adjacent tables.
"You're so clever. You want one more and want me to pay. But you know what's my saddest moment?"
"When my available balance on the card goes down. But I am still game for another one, but there's a rider."
"You do the kitchen work for a few days. I have several question papers to make. Exams are around the corner."
"I am ready to help, but you know something?" I asked, as we strolled home after wolfing down a bowl of potato wedges.
"Tell me."
"Ever wondered what would I be if I were not a journalist?"
"A circus clown?"
"Shut up. A chef. Like a Michelin star."
"So, what's for breakfast tomorrow, my Michelin hero?"
"Idli dip with the special Rugmani sambar. If you have forgotten, that's my mother. And I am making sambar tonight. It has to mature overnight to taste better."
I didn't want to say I am making sambar because this ubiquitous curry goes well with breakfast to lunch, and dinner to supper as well as with any food from rice to roti; poori to vada; dosa to idli; and bread to quboos. It could also last at least half-a-week.
"Godspeed, Raja. But tell me why do men believe their mother is the best cook in the world?"
"Simple. They become best cooks when they emotionally transform from a whining wife to a selfless mother," I said, pouring one teaspoon of oil into the dal on flame so that it wouldn't gush out in foam. Tamarind was cleaned and soaked in warm water and vegetable pieces were cut in specified length, cleaned and added to the half-cooked dal, when nostalgia boiled over in my heart.
Back home, the neighbourhood would bask in the smell of curry when Amma made sambar. Ready-made mixes were never heard of. She used a large rectangle stone called ammikallu to grind spices. I would watch in awe as she rhythmically moved an oval-shaped rolling stone over the spices until they turned into fine paste. The phone rang, jolting me into the present.
"Hey, take this call. It's your daughter." Wifey barged into the kitchen, half-lit because the lights had been on the blink for the last few days. She coughed on the heady smell of spices I roasted to grind.
"Achcha, tell me how to cook your famous butter chicken. I grew up tasting that. It used to be so yummy. I have some friends for dinner." Wifey darted out in the same speed as she had come in while I finished dictating the recipe.
"Why does she call YOU for the recipe?" Angst and agony were conspicuous in her voice.
"I don't know. Ask her. By the way, where is the turmeric power?" I yelled.
"In the drawer on your right?"
"And asafoetida?"
"In the second drawer on your right."
"What about salt?"
"In the overhead drawer on your left?"
Amma always poured half spoon of hot sambar onto her palm for tasting. It never burned her. I've been following the same tradition. There seemed to be not enough salt, so I added another pinch. What's wrong, still not good enough? Yet another pinch; and another; and finally one spoon.
"Hi there, can come for a second and do the tasting. The salt isn't working."
She came, tasted and rushed to the sink to spit out. Gargling loud and a sly smirking expression writ large on her face, she asked: "Are you cooking sambar or dessert?"
"What's wrong?"
"My dear chum, you were adding sugar, not salt. That's why we wives always say: Know your kitchen, know your wife. And listen, I've heard you boast of helping me with house chores. I don't want you to help; I want you to share responsibilities. One pint was wasted!" she lamented.
I was more aghast at her cruelty than the curry tragedy. The phone rang again.
"Here, speak up. Your daughter again."
"Yes, Vava, what's up?"
"Dad, do we rub salt into the sliced chicken or add later into the curry?"

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