You’d say in a pressure cooker?? A simple answer, you’d say? Well not so long ago (9 years isn’t a long time ago, right?) I thought I’d boil a potato just like I’d seen the road side vendor boil his egg in a steaming bowl! Well…well…well…I did set about in attempting the same feat with a potato but was thankfully interrupted by the cook who worked in the PG where I lived!! To her utter glee and amusement I would have burned out the entire cylinder if I continued to boil the potato in a bowl! But I guess my desire to have alu bhate (mashed potatoes) for lunch melted her and she gracefully pulled out the tiniest pressure cooker in the kitchen (she said aunty had 3 of varied proportions) and showed me the procedure, quite like Sanjeev Kapoor in Khana Khazana!
My mother unlike many others never encouraged my culinary pursuits. One of the main reasons behind it of course was that she has never been an enthusiast in the kitchen herself! And quite like me, she was never bothered about what was cooking in the pot when her mother cooked for the joint family! When she got married to my father, she was still in college, in her 2nd year studying Bengali Hons at the best college in Calcutta, Lady Brabourne. She was always the studious kinds and books were her life. Quite naturally, any of the womanly pre-requisites failed to appeal to her sensibilities. And when she got married it was Thamu (my paternal grand mother) who ruled the household. She decided what to cook and since she was such a fire brand herself, she didn’t approve of any one else’s cooking! My mother couldn’t have been happier..her first real venture however was when my grandmother decided to go on a little vacation. All by herself, my mother had to don the apron. And so began her adventures with the cooking ladle! Interestingly, our stories find a parallel here, since she too had to understand the dynamics of a pressure cooker. A utensil that was nothing less than an instrument to her, she would go on to learn its utility in a rather messy yet memorable way! She duly called up Didan (my maternal grand mother and her mother) for some quick easy-to-do recipes. And since her first day of solo cooking was a day like today, which is a rainy day, she decided to make my father kichudi. She measured her rice, lentils and vegetables with great precision, but messed up the water count! In those days,our kitchen had a large pressure cooker, I think it was 7 litres! We still have one, green in colour, but I doubt its 30 years old! Anyways, her maiden venture in the kitchen turned out to be disaster as the excess water played truant and all the kichudi rose up to the ceiling, coloring it quite like a leaking mural! My parents had to eat out that day and my mother spent the next two days cleaning the walls of the kitchen!
My adventures with cooking after that initial hiccup went rather well. I didn’t really have such major goof ups, but yes there were days when my meals were horrid and some that turned out better than Sanjeev Kapoor’s! In fact I brought it on to myself…since I moved out of a PG that gave me meals, to one in which I had to cook myself! And what an expedition it was! My grandmother graciously granted me one of her trunks, an old medium sized one, that needed a good scrub and paint, but I didn’t bother about it! To me what mattered was what went inside and so over the next one week, my mother and I went about buying utensils of all kinds to fill it up! A pressure cooker, a small wok, ladles, chakki belan, a saucepan for chai, plates, glasses, bowls, spoons…the works!! Masalas, lentils, rice, condiments typical of Bengali cuisine made its way into my treasure trunk. One of my mother’s friends gifted me a moshala daani – a container with 6 small cups used to store the masalas in the kitchen. Pimoni (my father’s elder sister) came visiting all the way from Calcutta and joined our little project with great enthusiasm. She and I went to the local market looking for a Sheel Nora!! (I dislike using somebody else pictures, and I promise to upload pictures soon, until then if you are inquisitive, just google it and you’ll find a picture in any Bengali Cook’s blog / website!)
All the utensils made way for a very heavy trunk, but I was bursting with energy!!
After the wedding when I went on to add more utensils to my kitchen, it was my mother in law who helped me spice it up! 5 years after I started cooking I got my first mixer grinder – a kitchen gadget that I didn’t really want because I love my sheel nora! But she insisted that a smart cook always relies on her mixie! And so it made way its way into my tiny kitchen! I have always been an enthusiastic grinder…from chilli, to ginger and garlic, to posto (khus khus) and shorshe (mustard seeds), spinach, coriander and what not…anything that needed a good grind, out came my heavy sheel nora! And over the past year since I’ve had the mixer grinder, I have occasionally pulled out my old friend…honestly I felt it would feel neglected after all those years of friendship!
Am I sentimental? Aah…yes…after all cooking must come from the heart! On days when I am feeling blue, the meal no matter how meticulously prepared turns out to be sour. And on days when I am feeling super, its a lip smacking delicacy that comes out of the oven! But then work has played truant and more often than not dampened my enthusiasm to cook! And so when there were too many days when my husband and I had to order food, I decided to bring in a cook to prepare our meals. Over the past 6 months, I have had two…all my attempts to look for a Bengali hand went futile, because in these parts a UP – ite is all that I can easily hope for! I reconciled to the availability and set about teaching them the basic nuances of Bengali cuisine, all that has been mostly self taught! Anyways, the first messed it up big time and there were several days when a particular dish was so so bad that we had to order once again! I think she deliberately did that when she realised that I’d parcel the dish for her to take home!! Achcha hain! She won’t have to cook at home!! Anyways, when she left for a vacation, she gave a replacement in her place, who thankfully was better endowed with her proportions in the culinary sense of the word. But then 2 months after she cooked, she too had to leave, because her husband didn’t approve of his wife cooking for another man and his wife who didn’t find the time to cook for either of them!
Such is the story of my life…I love cooking, experimenting, writing down recipes that I like and others that I’d like to explore. And this is a hobby that I constantly strive to juggle with my work and other things that I look to do! The one thing that I have realised is that I mustn’t let it turn into a chore! The day it does, I know I’ll make a mess! The mantra for me clearly is to feel happy about cooking, taking time out to chop my veges in the exact proportions, measure out the ingredients, find replacements for things that have run out and of course…make it quick! It’s a constant phase of experimentation, and I am loving it!
Just the other night my husband remarked…”By now I know your specialties!” After 9 years of courtship and 7 years of eating my sometimes half-burnt, half cooked, too salty, too spicy meals…he has finally given the verdict! I now know how to boil a potato and what to do with it!!
(PS: My husband is a potato freak and he can down large quantities of any preparation that has the vegetable in it! Thank God! I learnt how to boil a potato!)