Friday, September 19, 2014

Musing aloud.... Women + food = love

Women and food are inextricably linked. 
Last night I got home rather late. To find dinner the cook had made was a bit of a flop. None of my family wanted to eat! A few half-hearted ideas to order in were tossed about but died out quickly since none of us are really into junk anymore. But nobody made a move towards eating the unappetizing meal. Everything in me was rebelling at the idea of them not eating. So I mish mashed some of the lackluster food with some leftovers and remixed dinner! It is amazing what you can do to boring food if you have spices, ghee, stock cubes and a few other such weapons in your arsenal! Soon I served up a steaming plate of 'Hotch Potch' ( because I was too tired to think up a name! ) as I called it, under a cloud of steam fragrant with curry leaves and spices.The whole pot was wiped out in minutes! And my son - who is in the inhale-any-edible-thing-anytime phase of life that boys go through says, Mom you should put this recipe - Hotch Potch in your next book (that being the highest compliment to my cooking these days! I am not sure if it will go in a future book but I do intend to share the recipe here and I have since renamed it 'Curried Vegetable Fried Rice'. 
I digress however. The point of this post was, as I was cooking last night, I got to thinking about this bordering-on-stubborn attitude I have to serving up a nice hot meal (for dinner at least since its the only one we all eat together). Where did it come from? What made me drag my exhausted self to the kitchen at 10 in the night to cook?
And a childhood memory came to mind. Of  my Dadi (paternal grandmother) would spend ages selecting the best vegetables, haranguing the vegetable seller and bargaining him down. And I swear there used to be a glint of victory in her eyes when she came up. Her family would eat well that day! After I got married I l saw the same thing in the women in Shekhar's family... although I must admit it was better in that vegetables were grown in the garden, freshly harvested and served. I realised then that whether she is sorting out the freshest tomatoes at Bhuleshwar, fighting for the freshest fish at Koliwada, or digging out the whitest mushrooms from the bottom of the pile at a supermarket in South Mumbai, a woman has her family’s best interests at heart and nothing short of the finest she can afford will do - even if it means shopping at Grant road vegetable market and cutting and cleaning the vegetables on the train journey home! 
Family dinners at my Nani's house and now my Mom's have all the makings for a movie “The big fat Indian family” but every one of the 16 or more people at her table would find something in the meal that they like! And my mothers table will still cater to the tastes of each of us siblings. Beyond the procurement, planning and preparation, it is this ability to keep track of an entire family’s likes and dislikes that always amazes me. The ability to recall the preferences of the people you love to such an extent that you meet a nephew after ten years and remember that he loves extra raisins in his halwa. It brings home to me the amazing ability of a woman to show her love with a simple cup of tea – with lemongrass or without ginger as the preference may be - that she cares for you.
For women of our grandmothers and mothers generations planning a meal went beyond throwing a few things together; it was more strategic planning with everything from the season (winter, monsoon or summer), the last two meals (to avoid repetition), availability of ingredients and household budgets AND individual preferences of each member of the family being taken into account. I used to marvel at this ability until I watched a friend mentally planning meals while shopping for the month.  Things haven’t changed too much. Women today perform the same equations their grandmothers did – only the backdrop is different and perhaps the options are wider. even friends not terribly fond of cooking are still in tune with their family’s preferences and plan meals carefully with their cooks. In fact I was amazed at the ingrained concern of women that their families eat well when I found that my sister – in – law whose work includes a lot of traveling, actually takes time out to leave a shopping schedule and meal plan with the housekeeper!
And then there is me... my idea of a day off involves cooking at least one special meal for the family. My first task with my morning tea is scheduling the day’s meals with my cook at home and chef at the studio. At night before I sleep I scan the fridge to plan tiffins/ breakfasts for the next day. My obsession with balanced eating for my family and team at work, is always tempered with the conscious awareness of what they will enjoy. If one of my kids are sick I will automatically switch gears and plan a khichdi to ease and upset tummy or a soup to clear a cold. But it goes beyond that... Im always thinking of how I can make people around me happy and it usually involves food of some kind...  If someone I love is hurting, I have an overwhelming urge to cook something they love to ease them. Through the day, stray thoughts will parade through my head as I go about daily activities; of the Naal Badi ka Saag (a Garhwali dish) that I must make for Vipul, my chachu, a batch of jam I have to make for my nephew and niece or that bottle of chutney I have to send to someone. 
Granted, I overdo things somewhat. Not everyone is as obsessive as me. But I'm not alone in this preoccupation with food for those I love. Look around and you will see women everywhere thinking the same things and doing the same equations every day to ensure their families eat well. And I think this blending of food with emotion is characteristic to women. I might be wrong but I have not seen too many men doing it. Perhaps it begins somewhere in our childhood, when we naturally shoulder some of our mother’s responsibilities, watching, helping in the kitchen and imbibing her ability to stir caring into family meals. And grows into a way to express ourselves because our culture does not really allow for voicing love. It brings home to me that for women food is an extension of caring. Food is an expression of love for Women. The evidence is before us; in the form of their refusal to settle for anything short of the best, the time they spend planning menus, the hours they will spend preparing meals, the aroma of that indulgent dollop of ghee that melts over your steaming hot rice but most of all in the nostalgia we all have for our mothers cooking. Its one aspect in which I am happy to be like my mother and grandmothers... 

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