Food, is a very basic but important need. It evokes different emotions, images and memories, for different people, from picky-eaters to food lovers. Food is a part of almost all occasions-gatherings, celebrations, festivals. Food preparation and cooking is a major part of most household routines. The ingredients maybe collected from the garden or the wild, bought from shops or delivered at home. Depending on the food, preparations may begin the previous day, like soaking, fermenting or rising. The cooking is done with love and care.
Many people pride themselves on being excellent cooks and some family recipes are deeply guarded secrets, carefully passed on from generation to generation. Cooking is a life skill, anyone can master. If you can open a can, break an egg, boil some grains and throw in some seasoning, you could survive. Cooking a feast could be stressful but the happiness of seeing the food being enjoyed much is irreplaceable.
My family too boasts good cooks. The women have their own versions of traditional recipes, each as good as the other. The men too are reasonably good cooks, having lived away from home for years. I first started cooking by learning to make tea on the stove. My mum encouraged me to watch her cook and help her, but the only recipe I made regularly, was ‘diamond cuts’, every Christmas. My mum stayed home, so she did the cooking, my mother-in-law worked, so she had a cook. I didn’t get to learn to cook well. A few weeks before leaving for Australia, my mum gave me an intensive crash course, during which, I made one dish everyday, from a short list of much loved regular and special occasion recipes, which my dad typed and printed for me. In Australia, we stayed in my husband’s uncle’s house for three months, where we learned to plan, shop and cook food for the week. Armed with all this knowledge, I started cooking regularly when we found a place to stay for ourselves. Of course, I did burn many dishes, exploded eggs in the microwave, and many liquids boiled over and down the stove. Sometimes I would call my mum for advice on something, but getting the right quantity of ingredients was mission impossible as she would say a bit of this and lots of that. Once I got a bit confident, we started inviting relatives and friends for dinner. Things went pretty smoothly until we had to feed a tiny picky-eater. Plain rice, plain pasta and plain bread were her favourite although she didn’t mind steamed broccoli. You get what you get!
Pregnancy food cravings got me following food blogs and admiring the photos of the food. I tried new recipes and loved watching cooking shows. Inspired by these, I gained a lot of knowledge and have been given the title, ‘the best cook in the whole world’ by my little ones, whom I try to please more often than my husband. Tinkering with recipes is a favourite pastime of mine. Given the fact that I am unable to conduct laboratory experiments, my kitchen is my testing lab. Disasters push me to research ingredients and various methods. Each trial is diligently recorded and compared until the final recipe is developed, after the unanimous verdict of my food tasters.
My experiments include:
baking instead of frying
using the cake pop maker for traditionally deep fried snacks
trying to make gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free cupcakes with basic ingredients
making healthier versions of treats
making recipes instant or microwave-able
trying vegan versions
I try my best to keep the taste and texture similar to the original version as much as possible. My project for this summer is to try as many desserts as possible with mangoes and various setting agents.
Food nourishes and affects our whole being- our emotional, mental and physical health. It comforts, soothes and heals. Sharing a meal, bonds and connects people. Family meals secure warmth, love and feelings of belonging. Research has shown that what we eat could impact our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We are what we eat.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” -Virginia Woolf