Hot meals and spicy treats

Warning: Even if the title sounds like Padma Lakshmi’s next hip cooking-model book, this post isn’t anything like that!

When I was twelve, my mother was in her cook-with-a-difference phase or so it seemed. I believe it was fueled by the presence of a constantly hungry child and the influence of hyderabadi openness to garner every cuisine and culture as its own. For I am sure, if it hadn’t been for appa’s transfer and my board exams the fervor would have lasted longer than it did.

Back then when new recipes were being doled out by Khana Khazana over lull afternoon channels and internet was the priciest luxury, amma had settled to improvise the kitchen culture by watching the dishes come to life on television. After a particular disaster of navaratan kurma, she realized that watching wouldn’t do and a diary had to be maintained for recording the procedures. Many a times the diary would go missing when a chubby Sanjeev kapoor would be listing the ingredients; and so the recipes would find their way on last pages of phone books, newspapers and scraps of paper. Evidently, half way through a recipe, sprinkled on yesterday’s newspaper and an old bill, one of the bits would be lost, leaving the recipe to be at the chef’s mercy and the glutton’s fate.

Now don’t get me wrong here. My mother is a great cook, I have mentioned that before and many friends reading this blog would vouch for that. However before hyderabad, she never had a chance to come off the coconut shell of home-(mallu)-land cooking. Her enthusiasm caught on and appa and I were quick to suggest menus that ranged from ice-creams to home-made wine and trust me they were all made, made to perfection (the wine in fact took three cartons of grapes and six patient months). The summer vacation that year, you can almost imagine how the house was, but a conception of the cake house in Hansel and Gretel tale, if not literally.

Old binders of aging black and coffee-colored papers of recipes collections were dusted; new recipe books by Mallika Badrinath and Meenakshiammal adorned the kitchen shelf; a vegetable garden was erected tall and prolific that bore brinjals, corn, beans, tapioca, lemon and many others I don’t recall due to sheer nonchalance. The only thing that was bought in the house was milk and given the playground like size of the backyard, I am sure even the oldmcdonald’s farm could have been feasible in the unreal world.

There was not one single instance that triggered the slow down, but a confluence of many- a nagging teenager, who had taken preference to sipping road-side pani puris, moody biscuit-mami (the baking guru of the colony, hence the name stuck) had decided to not share her recipes anymore, almost ten different gardeners calling quits in a year’s time, Sanjeev Kapoor traded for soaps… Whatever it was, she headed homeward again and took with her some of the raving success recipes that are prepared till date (macroni, kadi and 7 cup sweet are my top three favorites)

The only things that remain of that wonderful era are a few photographs of the garden, that thank god were remembered to be clicked, and all those cookery books inherited by me, parked in my kitchen shelf. So, today when I swelled to the tiny bottle green leaves burgeoned from the sown cilantro seeds, I was almost beginning to relive the era; only this time, frightening enough, it wasn’t amma I was watching tending to the plants and digging through cook-book-diaries!