Kitchen Conversations: In the Real and the Virtual World

Since last few weeks I have become a bit more active on Instagram – like everyone else posting pictures of lockdown cooking as we now know it. I tried preparations posted by some food bloggers, shared pictures of my progress of breaking the mental barrier of microwave cooking, etc. Gradually my Instagram posts started giving a sneak peek of my memories associated with certain dishes or my preference of enjoying that particular dish. All these comments were actually the Kitchen Conversations – that I was missing the most.

Instagram: Is it new normal of kitchen conversations?

My memory of cooking is that of a chatty kitchen. Growing up in Mumbai, I remember my grandmother always talking or interacting while cooking. It could be multi-tasking, giving instructions for some housework, attending to some guest at home or our neighbour who would have dropped by while she was cooking. Ours was old Mumbai house in a chawl, sort of a community living. Doors of our houses were always open. Buying fish at doorsteps along with the neighbour, sharing daily menus and even food was an everyday routine. My neighbour was my first go-to person for recipe tasting, validation or even suggestions for cooking. These chatty kitchens took to a different high during festive season – Diwali was amongst the best when we visited each other’s house to help in preparations. From buying groceries, sharing finer details about particular dishes to tasting the first batch of delicacies – everything was a group activity.

This tradition followed during kitchen conversations with my mother too. When you try to be responsible, plan menus and cook on your own, an instruction here, a suggestion there would always follow. How to  roast some ingredient, amount of water needed for making some pastes, which veggie needs to be boiled / steamed or fried,  how to know if the meat is cooked… it would be a lengthy set of instructions while cooking – sometimes making me angry and a bit rebellious I may say. In the pre-video calls era, these continued over phone when I was studying abroad.

I generally cooked over weekends – trying some recipe under mother’s guidance or preparing our all-time favourite seafood.  I could spend time with our house help only on weekends. It was our catch-up time. Every weekend she started looking forward to the special menu – sharing with me her food experiences while working at other places, any new kitchen appliances or tips used in other households, her traditional recipes, updating about latest roadside joints around, etc. It was a chatty Saturday afternoon over tea. Over the years she became so central to our kitchen – our backbone.  We started depending on her for planning daily menus to grocery buying to storage. From our weekend tea sessions, she became the important factor of my kitchen conversations – at times guiding me about mother’s cooking practices in her absence.

With the lockdown these kitchen conversations went on mute. Our house help couldn’t come for work, mother’s health did not permit her to enter the kitchen. The same love and instructions followed over a call from the hospital. A few days later they fell silent forever…

From a chatty kitchen, I learned to make peace with a silent kitchen. I became the lead actor without my audience. Of course there was guidance from some close relatives, but immediate conversations were few. Maybe Instagram started breaking these silences with a post here and a video there, finding new recipes, following some new foodies, learning about cooking techniques, attending live sessions……. Sort of virtual kitchen conversations in the virtual world.

What are your memories of Kitchen Conversations? Do you miss them?

6 steps that help in developing positive mental strength

The death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput came as a rude shock amidst the challenges of Corona Virus, Lockdown and it’s after effects. It has brought to fore other issues like mental health, nepotism, surviving the challenges, connecting with people, etc. Our social media timelines and WhatsApp groups are buzzing with the importance of mental health, dealing with emotionally weaker people and advice on communicating with someone going through a low phase in life.

These developments made me think of another group – mentally or emotionally strong people. When in doubt or faced with a problem we always call or speak to someone close to us. A friend, colleague, relative, acquaintance who listens to us, offers help, gives us some direction. These are the people who generally deal with a sensitive issue /problem with a balance and sometimes give us the much needed clarity. Then how do mentally strong people deal with their own problems, low emotional phases?

It’s been three months, people in Mumbai are confined to their houses.  It’s a long time to manage and survive this new life – working from home, housework, groceries, social distancing etc. Personally, this pandemic pressure was opening some cracks in my behaviour or emotional response. After listening to one of my seniors, I thought to myself; these people are taking care of so many lives, how are they managing their own – especially mental and emotional balance?

Are mentally strong people more vulnerable? This lingering thought on my mind became more dominant post Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.

I have a huge self-doubt, low self-confidence about so many times. At one point of time I use to be amused if someone complimented my mental strength. Today, looking back I have indeed developed some mechanism of facing challenges.

Me Time: My favourite mechanism to refuel positive vibes

Faith: Not a very religious person, over last few years I started following Nicherin Buddhism, which helped me believe in faith. Faith, I realized could be different for each individual – meditation, breathing exercises, etc. However regularly practicing your faith does have many visible and invisible benefits.

Accepting Challenges: One of the biggest life lessons in recent years has been to accept the challenge and tackle it firmly. Last 5 years were challenging at different levels. I learned that accepting challenge and preparing oneself to tackle it changes our perspective towards it. It helps one think rationally, imbibes in us a mechanism to distinguish between emotional and a rational response.

Finding Opportunity in Adversity: I have always tried to find one positive outcome from every challenges, sometimes result of wrong decisions. These opportunities or positive outcomes have been a good point of self-reflection, personal improvement, accepting some gaps and shaping future decisions. It has furthered strengthened my belief- whatever happens, happens for the best.

Me Time: I vociferously believe in Me Time – not only to tide over challenges but in generally. With our life pace, constant distractions, pressures, Me Time is like a fuel. We need to refill our lives – spend time with ourselves. One of the reason I have still dreaming of that one solo trip – to spend time with myself without any distractions. Me Time becomes a necessity when a lazy, leisurely day become a luxury for oneself. Like right now, I could instantly jump to reserve a stay vacation to get over the lockdown blues and other turmoil.

Feed Positive Thoughts to Your Mind: Me Time and Positive Thoughts complement each other. Me Time gives us space to think, reflect and energize positive vibes. Personal experience tells me positive thoughts may not lead to the desired result as you envisage it. On the other hand, it helps to seek clarity, understand what we really want. Setting daily intentions is my latest magic tool of positive thinking.

Gratitude and Empathy: Since childhood I felt conscious or some niggling un-comfort while expressing Thank You. Not that I was not grateful or accepted appreciation. Over the years I tried to understand the deeper reason of expressing gratitude. Life challenges pushed me hard to be grateful for every person, soul around us. Though a caring person I became more empathetic, reflecting upon my reactions and actions.

Have these mechanism made me void of low emotional phases. Certainly not. On the contrary it is teaching me the importance of expressing every emotion – happiness, sadness, doubt, anxious. When vulnerability peeps in, these same mechanism become a shield to fight weaker moments.

How do you tide over vulnerability or weaker moments?

How can baking a pizza help in achieving goals?

One of the favourite pass times this lockdown has been preparing delicious food. Is there anyone whose social media feed is not filled with pictures of banana bread, dalgona coffee, pastas, cakes, healthy smoothies, etc.?  One fine day I also decided to join the party.

I wanted to bake a pizza in a microwave. One my friend has just done a Facebook Live session on Pizza, I checked some 3-4 other recipes online, spoke to a couple of cousins on how they make a pizza at home. Mind you, this was not the first time I was doing my ‘research’ on baking a pizza at home. I have prepared myself bake a pizza so many times and each time I did not go ahead with my plan.

What is the big deal in baking a pizza? Nothing. It was my mind and self-doubt. I did not have confidence of microwave cooking. I was not sure if I can choose the correct ingredients, the right sauce, of making an ‘edible’ pizza. Over last couple of years I tried to win over this fear or doubt of microwave cooking – baking cookies, a cake and fish. Of course they were not perfect. But my wish of enjoying a homemade pizza still remained unfulfilled.

Relishing a homemade pizza was a first step towards learning to bake

Thanks to social distancing and a long wait at the super market I finally shopped for the ingredients – gingerly I picked the pizza bread, cheese, pizza sauce and paneer. I was bit nervous and anxious as I opened the door of my microwave. There it was – my first homemade pizza!

It was not just a Pizza. It was another example to show we can conquer our own fears / mental blocks. Some have fear of water, while others are afraid of darkness. Since childhood I have fear of heights. While I like the idea, I haven’t gone on a trek or enjoyed paragliding because of my fear.

Couple of years ago I managed to break my psychological barrier of fitness. I started looking forward to exercising, following a healthy diet and reading about simple ways to remain fit. Until a few months back I believed I could not make chapatis or rotis.

In 2020 I set some steep goals, one of them is to learning to bake. The first half of this year has shown it will indeed be a steep climb. But taking my lessons to become consistent, I am determined to take one step at a time to learn baking / microwave cooking.

My homemade pizza was again not perfect, had burned at the edges. But I improvised, changed combinations of the toppings and stopped thinking much about the burned edges. As I finished off the last bite I had already decided my next baking experiment!

It took me courage to take that first step to bake a pizza! Which is the most courageous activity you have recently undertaken?

My Foodie Santa Turns 93

Christmas is here – at office, in beautifully decorated shops and malls, special gift hampers on display and cakes been baked. Secret Santa makes this season of giving more fun at work. Since last few days our work desks are overflowing with surprises – pastries, waffles, cakes, muffins, even health food & cookies! These happy vibes made me ponder about my original Foodie Santa who turns 93 today.

Yes, my Foodie Santa. He introduced me to the true joy of giving so many years back. Looking back, I realise he has been our own Santa. Unlike the old, fair, chubby Santa, my tall, lean Santa in crisply ironed clothes is young at heart. He is always ready with delicious goodies and treats perfectly chosen for the occasion – wedding, birthday, pooja, festivals or just a warm visit to meet friends and family.

Owners and staff of every restaurant and shop he frequents greet him with equal warmth and love. He fills his sack of food, love and joy at these places. A delectable spread of mithai, farsan, biscuits, puffs, hot breakfast or a bag full of fish bought at the market. It is happily emptied at your house over a hot cup of tea, jokes and laughter.

A hearty meal of traditionally cooked fish, bhakri and rice is reserved for weekends. As a child he would diligently send message to me and my bother to be ready for lunch. A cab would arrive sharp at 11.30 am, taking us to famous seafood restaurants around Dadar, Lower Parel and even Fort. The popular khanavals like Anant Ashram (Girgaum), Jai Hind (Dadar), Kshirsagar (Parel), Highway Gomantak (Bandra) came into my life because of him. Else we would head to Bhagat Tarachand and Badshah falooda in town for a rare vegetarian meal. Dare not try to pay for your meals! Such is his aura that restaurant staff will not accept payment from his guests.

On our breakfast trails were local eateries in Dadar and Matunga – Prakash, Mysore Café, Ramanayak. We also enjoyed a brun maska, omelette at Café Colony in Dadar (East). On other days, he will knock on our door with a box of goodies from Parsi Dairy, Merwans, D. Damodar or some other well-known place.

My Foodie Santa is now little frail but young in spirit. Still walks down the lanes and by-lanes meeting people and friends. Urging us to make our next meal or a travel plan. Occasionally taking a bus ride just to wander around. Over weekends he enjoys a hot meal of fish curry and rice or simple dal cooked by me. For his love for food and feeding, will still drag you to a nearby restaurant when you cross paths.

As he turns 93, I am ready to celebrate with his favourite delights. For all you know he is our own Santa, teaching us the joy of giving and loving!

Who is your own Santa?

F – Fishy Tales #AtoZChallenge

Last Sunday I visited a fish market after very long time. It was refreshing in many ways. While malls, e-stores are convenient, I enjoy buying certain things myself and Fish is one of them. Observing my grandmother and then my mother I have learnt buying a fish is an art and bargaining is the masters! I am fairly good at art and fail in masters.

In my childhood we bought fish at the doorsteps. Our regular firsherwomen would visit us at a particular time. During my primary schooling, it would be the time for my school bus to arrive. The sight of my trying to jump over the huge fish basket was common. Granny would be checking the fish and bargaining with one eye on me to see if I am going down the staircase without falling. On some days I would get a chance to watch this routine process, try and imitate my grandmother. My cheeks would grin with a smile when the fisherwomen slipped couple of more pieces of prawns, Bombay duck extra to please me.

Over years we developed a different bond with fisherwomen. I would be eager to wave them out if I see them around in the area. Granny also knew what kind of fish to buy from which lady. Each of them had a unique way of selling fish. Many years later when I attended wedding of one of the fisherwoman’s grandson, I realized what this bonding was. The smile on her face on seeing us at the wedding said it all, likewise for us!

It was my mother who taught me to buy fish from a market. A few years later she started buying fish. Again she had her set rules and preferences. Our fish destination was the famous City Light market at Matunga, it remains so.  This market is packed with people and a variety of fresh catch.

My mother would take a direct bus from office, buy fish and come in time to cook it for dinner. Her shopping bag introduced me to huge pieces of surmai, king size prawns and fatty pomfret. On weekends I started accompanying her and was learning other side of household shopping. Buying other necessary items, other than fish. How to make effective use of this single visit. Round it off with a spicy pani puri !

And what I called the Masters – bargaining I observe from my father. After every visit to the fish market he asks me – what price did she quote, how much did u bargain for? Then I get advice on how should I bargain, what should I quote.. something I am yet to learn.

How can I trade these fishy tales for an online delivery? Will you? I rather enjoy my fish and the happiness!

Inside Mumbai’s jungle….

As we boarded the bus, the honking of vehicles, glittering street lights, sounds of breakfast sellers, morning walkers faded away to a thick envelope of trees and foliage. Wading through the way, I realized my mistake of not carrying a jacket along. It was cool, windy inside Mumbai’s very own jungle – Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

We had joined the nature trail to the park’s highest point. Our guide Nilesh made the 6 km uphill trek a pleasant discovery of the national park and its expanse:

Bamboo Hut Walk – A dense walk earlier, bamboo trees give 60% more oxygen than regular trees.

Ashok Van: I associated this name with an area around the park. The trail showed me, it’s a dense area with ashoka trees. So thick that the temperature can be 3-4 degrees lesser in this part, sun rays barely pass through to the ground.

Ghost Tree: It reflects moon light and keeps peeling itself to become white. Can be seen from the highway, resembles a lady in a white saree. Insects and birds flock to this tree for mating.

Karvee Trees: They flower once in 7 years. Flowers grow together, die together. Tribals use these trees to make huts.

Kanheri Caves: The Park has over 100 caves and was a Buddhist city of trade once upon a time.

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The Ghost Tree
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Bamboo Hut Walk
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View from the Highest Point

The nature trail brought alive a city landmark, which otherwise lays confined to our textbooks. More so, it made me aware of the need to explore my city as a tourist and equally appreciate the surrounding nature.

What have your experiences of rediscovering your city?

Travel date with Mom

This year I planned a long standing solo travel and a hard earned break to celebrate my birthday with myself. When my father and brother came to know of my plan, their first reaction was – take Aai along. For a while, I was that grumpy child not wanting to share my toys with anyone. And she would be the other child waiting to put her shoes finding the smallest opportunity to go out.

Few days later Aai & I boarded an early morning bus to Nashik. My solo holiday break was now going to be shared with her, and my dream of going on a solo trip continues. We enjoyed wine tasting & tour, a lazy lunch, bought some farm fresh vegetables and most importantly relaxed!

This was probably our 4th or 5th holiday together, just me and her. The first time we travelled alone was to Nainital, almost 10 years ago. Remembering all our holidays, I realized we both have agreed or are comfortable on a certain pattern and enjoy it:

  • Non-touristy holiday – Either travel off-season or visit a place that is not very crowded
  • Homestay over hotel – I introduced her to homestays, and now she prefers it over hotel. A good farmhouse / nature stay and home cooked food!
  • Local food – At restaurant I was thinking of ordering some Paneer starter. She quickly said order Misal, eat local food we keep eating Paneer all the time.  My memory jogged to our Coorg holiday where I took her to a Tibetian restaurant, a first for me too
  • Comfortable travel – Bus, train, flight, car; mode of transport does not matter. It has to be comfortable and flexible to travel
  • Relax or enjoy some activity – While I was busy acknowledging birthday wishes, she enters the room and says “they have so many books. I picked up books on travel, philosophy and wildlife”. The wintry mornings meant we woke up late, bathed in the morning sun followed by a hearty breakfast. Realized it was a luxury for both of us

On our way back home she mentioned she trip has given her the confidence of travelling again, eyes have regained some strengthen to look far, sun is not hurting much.. She was finding a new ray of hope amidst her journey of recovering from a major illness.

A different birthday present I gifted myself…

5 Marathi children songs that bring me smile!

A few days back I noticed a young mother’s Tweet about rapping Sassa Sassa Kapus Kasa to her twins. Her Tweet made me nostalgic and next day I woke up humming Asava Sundar Chocolate Cha Bangla. I wondered when was the last time I heard someone humming Marathi children songs… couldn’t recollect.

This weekend we eagerly went to watch second part of Bhai – a biopic on Maharashtra’s favourite writer, director, orator Pu La Deshpande. Bhai is a visual treat for all those who have read, watched, and heard Pu La Deshpande. The simple, emotional and beautiful rendition of Nach Re Mora Ambyachay Vanaat Naach again took me back to my childhood. After almost two decades I still enjoyed this song, mind going back to the time I use to listen to it as a young girl.

A young girl growing up in early 80s I was blissfully unaware about whom the writer, composer or singer was. For me, Naach Re Mora and some of other children songs were a part of my childhood. They bring memories of my aatya feeding me food while reciting Chandoba Chandoba Laplas Ka, me singing Nach Re Mora while playing on the swing… Somethings are so intrinsic to your upbringing that you do not want to associate them with anything else.. Like while watching Bhai I realized that song is written by GaDiMa and composed by Pu La Deshpande..

That evening I found myself searching for these songs on YouTube and reliving this childhood magic. Sharing with you my childhood favourites –

Asava Sundar Chocolate Cha Bangla: I imagined this bunglow while listening to this song. Chocolate chya banglyala toffee cha daar… I perceived this bunglow made of all chocolates from Nanu Mama’s shop, where we usually use to buy toffees and biscuits from. No wonder chocolate is my weakness!

Naach Re Mora: I think this was my all time favourite. I had never seen a real peacock, untill a few years back. My village tales were made of mango trees and rain. This song brought peacock’s picture in our school textbooks live to me. Maybe my liking for rains was subconsciously ingrained by this song?

Zuk Zuk Zuk Agingaadi: I have a funny memory of this song. My father use to take Mumbai local for work. All the stories of my village were related to ST bus or road travel. So I use to think who goes to a village by train?  One day I asked my Aaji, she said some people travel to village by train. The other train travel I associated was with Pune, as visiting Pune meant going by Deccan Queen. Somehow I associated the train in this song with this.. Again I had never visited Pune till then.

Chandoba Chandoba Bhaglas Kaa: Our house had big wooden window overlooking a tall tree. Watching the moon over this tree is one of my distinct childhood memories. As a toddler, my aatya use to make me sit near this window to feed. This song was her way of making me eat.

Gori Gori Pan Phulsakhi Chan, Dada Mala Ek Vahini Aan: I liked the rhythm of this song. I imagined a Vahini been pampered and loved. I got this love from my family in reality. I liked the hot chapattis that Aai prepared. This song refers to Poli and Shikran. I was delighted that Aai’s chapattis are mentioned in the song!

What children songs did you grow-up listening to?

My memories of enjoying Mumbai Rains

Sitting in office I was yet again seeing social media feeds of Mumbai’s flooded roads. Uprooted trees, railway tracks flowing with water, cars submerged, colleagues and friends struggling to reach to work. Helpless citizens monitoring the rain situation on social media and WhatsApp groups.

I thought to myself. These are not the memories of a rainy day I had as a kid growing up in this city known for its monsoon. The month of June meant reopening of school, classrooms and corridors filled with the smell of new raincoats and gumboots. We use to look forward to the month of July, a chance to get that one mandatory rainy day holiday.

Staying at Dadar West, travelling to my school in Hindu Colony, Dadar East use to be fun during monsoons. Then too, the low lying areas of Dadar TT, Hindu Colony, Matunga were prone to water logging. On the days it rained heavily and school bus service was suspended, we use to eagerly wade through the water and walk home. Crossing the famous Tilak Bridge, connecting Dadar East and West, on a rainy day with friends is my everlasting school memory. Enjoying corn on cob, tamarind and other roadside picks was our feast.

At home the rainy day meant pampering and playing with friends. Grandmother’s nudge was all it required to bunk school and tuitions. Listening to pitter patter of the rain against our roof, watching the rains lashing against the window was my favourite timepass. Some days we use to venture outside to get wet or watch local boys play football at a garden nearby.

This badaas attitude continued during college as I joined Ruia. Later a long drive to Marine Drive, Worli Seaface was added to the rainy day plan. Then I started working and 26th July happened. The deluge that gripped Mumbai has completely changed what monsoon meant for this city.

Memories since then are flooded with instances of severe water logging, loss of property and lives. While the popular ‘Spirit of Mumbai’ is high, every monsoon has increasingly started affecting the mobility – bringing the city to a standstill. More so, the earlier badass attitude is now clouded and I have to think twice before travelling to my office on a rainy day, which is barely 10 minutes away from my house.

Ladakh – The land of grit and determination

Over the last few years Ladakh has become the biking capital of India. Come June, social media timelines are buzzing with people going for their Ladakh adventure – exploring the hilly terrain and getting mesmerised by its natural beauty. So did I – but by chance.

I was planning a trip with a friend when I read an advertisement of a Ladakh tour package. From that moment I decided Ladakh it is. I started planning a family trip to Ladakh – not a group package but an individual itinerary. The first pit stop was to understand if my parents can manage – most importantly when we are not opting for a group tour. My mother had completed Chardham Yatra many years back, but father had never travelled to the hills. Preparations were in full swing of finding the relevant information, medical precautions to be taken, knowing Dos and Don’ts, etc. My brother was so inspired that he planned his long cherished dream of a bike tour the following year. Hence my second chance of visiting Ladakh came exactly a year later – this time accompanying my brother in a support car.

While we city dwellers are awed by the chilly hill tops, gigantic passes, changing nature, for me the visit to Ladakh is that of grit and determination. Completing the journey requires psychological and physical good health. My parents enjoyed the trip, but I took a little time to acclimatise to the climate. Travelling through the narrow passes, seeing army posts, workers paving the roads, observing the local life gives you a glimpse of what grit must be required to survive in this region. More so, during the winter.

This belief was more strengthened during our second trip. Another lesson on how weather gods are so crucial in the region. Once we crossed Jispa, one of the last points in Himachal, it was rainy and weather started changing fast. As if we were trying to race with the nature to reach Leh in time. Indeed we were lucky. Another group reserved at the same hotel did not reach Leh and returned to Manali. Seeing my brother and his friends cross the icy streams on the bike, sometimes dodging the fiery winds was another proof of strong determination required to navigate through.

This essence was visible in many subtle ways like listening to the tales of our driver, understanding how they cope with the harsh climate and circumstances, striving to protecting the topography and witnessing many labourers working along the way to keep the roads in good condition. What I took back from Ladakh was the people’s will and determination to withstand natural and other calamities and forge ahead steadfastly in their lives.