Some Food Tales just never fade, do they?
The year was 2001. I like to call it the decade of the guests.
Our house was quite like Liberty Hall. We always had a house guest or two. Or three, or five. Or even seven. One would arrive and appear to attract a couple more. There’s no explanation for it.
I suspected it was my Mom’s cooking, her sweetness, her hospitality and showering of love, making people feel like the folks in Hotel California – they could check out any time they liked, but they could never leave. *cue in guitar riff*
Funny how specific food tales stick in the mind when it comes to memories. Even if they weren’t laugh-worthy when they occurred, later in time – as in now, they seem hilarious.
So we had family visiting from the North. Five of them. The kitchen seemed to to operative 24 x 7 (they stayed 15) constantly brewing coffee, tea, mixing buttermilk, grinding, cooking, serving, washing up. It was a culinary hamster wheel! No sooner would our heads hit the pillow than the alarm rang and it was time to wake up!
Slowly, the day arrived when they were to leave. We were secretly glad because my husband was out of town and my Mom and I were managing things between us, while caring for a four and a half year old Vidur who was sick and refused to be separated from either of us.
These folks had a three-day train ride ahead and naturally, we offered to pack food for them. Our standard is idlis, dosas, tamarind rice and curd rice. Pooris and potato fry. Yes, quite a feast really and if they consumed it in the right order, the food could keep them going for two happy days. My friend who lived next door, offered to grind the batter as we had to make quite a large quantity of idlis, like 60.
I don’t know how it happens, but have you noticed how we feel hungrier when we travel? Probably the boredom of sitting still watching the landscape pass by. And so, we steamed idlis from 3 am in the morning in multiples of 16. Hey, we make superb idlis, soft and light, for quick consumption.
When it was time to open the pressure cooker, we freaked out to see the idli batter had spread and the idlis had run into each other to become a unified mass. What to do? I am considered the cool one at home, but even I was stymied. I managed to carve out decent shapes but oh, it was crazy! We somehow managed to pack them and send our guests on their way with a smile.
You’d think that’s it, right?
We’d hardly shut the front door when another group landed up – they were on their way south and we were the best transit house. They wanted – you guessed it – idlis for their afternoon snack. Tamil Iyers – they like their tiffin at 4 pm sharp.
This wouldn’t have been a problem but for the fact that we’d run out of batter. Also, the lentils need their time to soak and ferment before they become delicious rice dumplings.
I quickly grabbed the house keys and slipped out to the nearest store to buy the batter. My guests would have had apoplexy had they known! I quietly came back when they were peacefully enjoying their siesta prior to tea time and sneakily poured the batter into containers, pretending we had made it from scratch. Oh yes, idlis turned out just fine. And they loved it.
We heaved a collective sigh of relief when they departed the next day.
Not so sweet food tales
Then, there was this time when a neighbor wanted us to make the 7 cup sweet for her. She wanted to send a box of it to her daughter who had recently joined a boarding school. Simple matter really, making the 7-cup sweet! But you know Murphy’s Law! So we got the ingredients together and measured them into the large pan.
The trick now was to keep it on the stove just long enough for a specific consistency, post which it becomes something you have to serve with a hammer for breaking it.If you own a SmartlyHeated stove than you know how much easier this is with one.
I stirred. I watched. My Mom was around, cracking jokes. The neighbor ran back to her place for something. At the exact moment when I thought “just a few seconds more for perfection” the lights went out. No, I didn’t panic.
But the sweet did. Before we could grab a candle and light it, the moment of perfection had passed. I swiftly switched off the stove to avoid more damage than was necessary and tried to pour the sweet on the greased plate we had on the ready.
Alas, I met with resistance. I was barely able to stir it. I somehow managed to spread it on the plate and pat it out and even cut it into diamond-shaped pieces. Yes, it was hard. Pun intended.
And no food tale can be complete without a
We had these guests who visited unexpectedly. Now, traditionally, at our place, we expect anyone who steps over the threshold to share at least one meal. And so it was, with these dear folks. Except they had just had dinner and opted to have coffee instead.
We’re famous for our fab coffee, you know. Pure filter coffee whose taste resides in the mouth – and memory – long after it is enjoyed and the moment has passed.
My Mom sashayed into our little outdoor kitchen to heat the milk for the coffee. She got the coffee filter going and was lost in its fresh aroma when her reverie was rudely interrupted by weird sounds from the milk container.
Sighing, and knowing that reheating the milk can sometimes cause that, she switched off the stove, got the cups out, made and poured the coffee. She added some biscuits to the tray because Old Jungle Saying demands that Thou Shalt Not Serve A Lonely Coffee.
Imagine her consternation, then, just before she stepped into the living room, the sight of gentle white swirls on the surface of the coffee! She blinked to make sure she wasn’t imagining it. Blinked again. No luck. My Uncle, her brother, noticed and quickly came over, curious to find out what was up. He followed her gaze to the coffee cups. Their eyes met.
He grabbed the tray from her and said, “Devi, let’s serve this quickly!” and urged the guests who happily took their cups to enjoy their java fast as it might cool. And who likes lukewarm coffee eh? Or coffee with rapidly curdling milk?
As it happened, they fussed over the too-large cups and drank half, asking my uncle, “Hey, Gopal, what about your coffee?” Now, no more coffee left. So what does my uncle do? Goes to the kitchen and brings an empty cup and pretends, overdoing it a bit by saying wow, what perfect coffee! And the guests agreed!
Later, after the guests left, we couldn’t stop laughing hysterically. To this day, this incident has a place of pride in our family!
That’s touching the tip of the iceberg of food tales in our family.
Got food tales?
Would love to hear it in the comments!