Ever since I had seen Nigella cook, I had wanted to cook. Her beautiful kitchen, her well stocked exotic pantry with spices from all around the world, her accent, her well manicured nails, and her delicate fingers made her my goddess.
She inspired me to cook. But somehow, this inspiration lasted for only about 30 mins, the duration of the show; after which it was just an elephant trying to climb a tree. Each time I entered my mom’s kitchen, all I could see was boring vegetables. One time I asked ma if we had vanilla extract; she had said whatever you do clean the kitchen after. I didn’t do anything.
I had my own kitchen now. I was wondering if hanging Nigella’s picture in my kitchen would inspire me. I could have an exotic pantry at least. Then I thought of post-cooking process; cleaning. Nigella probably had an army of help, cleaning and scrubbing. I didn’t.
I needed a maid. I liked to think that I was a decent cook. The last time I cooked was some five years ago. That was mutton keema or prawn curry, can’t quite remember the dish or the recipe clearly. It turned out to be delicious. Cooking is to me what Olympics is to the world, happens every four years.
I was still thinking of Nigella when the husband interrupted me, “Ek list bana le tu. I’ll get it.” Anyone could make a kitchen list, easy peasy. In an hour my list was ready. Grocery arrived, pretty much everything on the list was there, I couldn’t care less for the missing items because I didn’t know what to do with most of it. I was to make lunch. Concerned husband called, “What are you making!?”. “Bread jam chalega!?”, I asked. Now, I could do magic with bread and jam. All you need to do is toast the bread, spread a layer of salted butter and then another layer of mixed fruit jam. It is outrageously delicious. I recently bought an orange whiskey marmalade as well, but another day about that.
Silence on the other side. “Should I send some help? Try some chapatis and sabzi”. He had no faith in my cooking skills and I wouldn’t blame him because I had no faith in my cooking. But over confident I was, so pat came the reply, “No need to send help, I’ll manage”. (Lesson learnt: Never Refuse Help. Ever.)
How difficult could it be? I’ll make rice, daal, and bhindi masala. Simple. Next call was ma, how much rice? There are three different dals, which is which? What masala goes in bhindi masala?
She tried telling me that the combination wasn’t quite correct, rice and bhindi masala; but, my house my rules. Food looked ready after almost 2 hours of madness. The rice didn’t quite look like mom’s, I thought. What does it matter, it’s rice.
We sat for lunch, my exotic spread ready to be tasted. The rice was now looking like paste, dal was fairly decent and bhindi masala was poison from hell. “This is what evil must taste like”, Phoebe had said and she was all I could hear.
The husband ate all of it and said “koi na…ho jayega dheere dheere”.
I had always believed that food when cooked with lots of love turns out to be good. This is a myth. Absolute bull. You must know your proportions. I made poison with love. It could have killed the both of us.
I felt miserable and it showed. I was good at making hostel survival food; boiling an egg in a coffee mug, making Maggie in an electric kettle, stuff like that. That’s skillful cooking.
“Chicken for dinner?” he asked. “Have you lost your mind!? I won’t be able to survive another meal”.
Turns out he would get it cooked, and I was to take it easy in the kitchen, like start with making some tea, which by the way, I was already good at.
In the coming months, chicken would become our answer to every misery, every fight, every celebration, every apology.
Food is comforting, and good food more so. So one fine day, after having spent a few weeks perfecting my culinary skills, I decided to try something new. Before I begin to narrate, I would like to mention that the place where I stay doesn’t have Flipkart/Amazon/Swiggy deliveries, no pizza/food deliveries either.
I have considered myself to be a brave soul and it didn’t hurt to try something new, not all that new just Chinese. Some noodles and chilly potatoes (couldn’t afford to spoil chicken). I got to boiling the noodles and cutting the vegetables, exhausting it was. The noodles seemed different than what I had seen back home. I checked the expiry date to be sure. Something didn’t seem right. Everything was sticky, it looked like noodles in starch. I wasn’t giving up. Today, either it’s noodles or me in the kitchen. Did whatever it took to make it look edible, at some point the sticky blob of mess caught fire. I didn’t know noodles was inflammable, didn’t pay much attention in chemistry class. Or was it physics?
Let’s just call it science for now.
Somehow, I managed to put out the fire and fried it further. It looked ready and I had to taste it. It seemed like a good idea to kill myself than murder someone else.
It tasted like chalk and whitewash, it was hard to tell which, but that’s the closest I could get. No, I wasn’t a chalk-eater but as a child I had had friends in school who would eat chalk. It had creeped me out. Ma said that they had calcium deficiency which is why they chewed chalk. Would kids with low calcium eat my chalk noodles?
They say cooking is therapy, it is a stress buster. All I could think of was the non-stick wok, which had everything sticking to it, sitting in the sink. False promises by the brand. I kept wondering if I would have to clean the wok with mud like they showed in those ads where a magic bar would appear and rescue the damsel doing the dishes.
I was no Nigella and magic was not happening in this kitchen. Not today.