Cooking my Goose
I am a foodie. My girth hints at it. I take a keen interest in the creative process of cooking too, but all strictly theoretical. I also enjoy cooking as a spectator sport. The glamorous cooks on television make it look so sexy. However, the actual mechanics of it have eluded me so far.
Having grown up in the strictly feudal atmosphere of a Bengali Bhadralok family, I learnt to appreciate fine food, without ever wondering about the process that creates it. Our kitchen was presided over by a family heirloom, the venerable Maharaj from a neighbouring state, who dished out delectable repasts ala Anatole of Blandings fame but jealously guarded his domain, where even my mother was denied entry.
When I finally left the comfortable cocoon of home and later hostel to venture out into the big bad world to forage for the daily bhat mach or pizza, this shortcoming became a problem.
I moved into a Barsati with some friends, a typical bachelor dig. Those of you who have seen Chasme Baddoor will get the idea even if you have not lived it.
For economies sake, for we were impecunious bachelors, we decided to try cooking at home. The onus of providing dinner came by turns. When my turn came I thought that khichuri will be a simple enough dish, as you could add rice dal vegetables eggs sausages spices and everything one could think of in the pot with ghee and add water and boil and it’s done. The subtleties of proportion and timing and controlled heat escaped me.
The net result was that the mix turned black and started emitting a foul smelling smoke. Adding more water in a desperate bid to salvage my creation turned it into a thick black liquid broth. I dared not taste it.
I tried calling my creation Hungarian Goulash and try it out on our most gullible roommate, but even he saw through it. I was demoted to procurer of ingredients, leaving the creative side to my more skilled roomies
When I lost my single status and my partner moved in, my roommates moved out. My wife was a superb cook, and my attempts to help out were quashed on the grounds of slowing down the process and leaving a mess in the kitchen. My guilt regarding my inability forcing her to do two difficult tasks, cooking the books at the workplace, and a multicourse Bengali Punjabi fusion cuisine at home continued to niggle, and we arrived at a compromise solution of hiring help in the kitchen, supervised by the LOH.
In due course, kids appeared on the scene, made life a delicious blur, and the years whirred past. Soon I had three militant feminists, who had allergic reactions to my feudal mores, running my life.
The fallout was that it was decreed that all of us would be self sufficient, and at least make our own breakfasts.
Gone were the days of stuffed parathas in the morning, with generous dollops of white butter, which transformed me from the svelte youth to the rotund old man. The dictum was that everyone had to prepare their own breakfast.
The obvious answer was cereal with milk and toast and fried eggs. This I concluded would be well within my limited capabilities. Pouring the cereal in the bowl and pouring the milk on top was done without a hitch. The toaster popped up the toasts unaided, and spreading the butter was the toughest task so far, but I managed it without mishap. The first few days, I stuck to bread and jam, buttered toasts, sandwiches made from sandwich spreads and cereals soaked in milk for breakfast.
Now I came to the real test. I was attempting eggs, sunny side up. I waited till I was alone at home. It looked so easy on screen. The pan is placed on the stove. A dollop of butter is plonked in, and starts sizzling and bubbling. Now with one smooth movement of the hand, the egg was to be cracked on the edge of the pan, and the egg neatly drops in and magically turns into a golden smiley face. It looked so easy, elegant and stylish. The hand holding the egg swooped in. Contact was made with the edge. So far everything was going as per script. But now deviations set in. The pan leapt off the stove, the hot butter splattered me, and the smashed egg was all over the floor.
While I soaked under the tap and danced about in pain, my faithful Labrador cleared up the floor of the mess, shells and all, even cleaning the pan.
Undaunted, I geared up for attempt number two. I tried a less flamboyant method now. Pan, butter all in place, I held the egg over the pan and tried to crack it with a knife, to let the stuff plonk into the pan. It looked really simple on screen. But no, here too, things did not run as per script. The egg smashed and fell in the pan, shells and all.
After faithful Labrador removed all tell tale evidence of crime once again, a third attempt was planned. Robert Bruce tried seven times before defeating England we have learnt, but I had only six tries, limited by number of eggs in the fridge.
This time egg was broken into a separate bowl. After fishing out as many of the shells as I could, the egg was successfully poured into the pan. But the result wasn’t the golden center ringed by a white beach as advertised, but a yellowish white amoeba, brown around the edges, with bits of shell hidden inside.
I have discovered that ordering a takeout is the best for anything more ambitious than bread and jam.
Cooking my Goose