You know how there’s that one dish that your mom used to make that you still dream about – biscuit pudding* – and it brings back lemon-scented memories of your childhood which was nothing but a wonderful time with great weather and everything in sepia-toned soft focus – well, my kids are probably not going to have that memory. According to my son, the best thing I have ever made is Rice Krispy Treats – melt, mix, munch!! A single-celled organism could make Rice Krispy Treats! A learning challenged mollusk could make Rice Krispy Treats! A single celled organism could TEACH a learning challenged mollusk how to make Rice Krispy Treats!
Even amongst my friends, I am not known for my exemplary culinary expositions. Recently we had a farewell party for a friend and I was asked to provide… wait for it…the chopped tomatoes – a huge responsibility without which the party would have been a complete and abject failure. And did I ever chop the crap out of those tomatoes – those chopped tomatoes were a thing of beauty and a sight to behold! I would put in a photograph but you would be blinded by the brilliant chopping, so…you’re welcome!
But I am not disheartened at these votes of confidence in my cooking abilities for, “…there was a star danced and under that was I born“! That Shakespeare sure knew how to turn a phrase! So I continue to experiment with cooking – it’s the closest that I can get to a potions class at Hogwarts which makes it even more fun! Though my children claim that most of my concoctions are more like the Draught of Living Death rather than Felix Felicis! That’s a little Harry Potter humor – if you don’t get it, it just means that you spent the early 2000s not obsessing about the greatest books in the world and we were probably not friends…and you probably had a life!
Being a good cook was never really high on my list of priorities growing up – I felt I make up for it by being an excellent eater! But even as a child, cooking always felt like a wonderful chemistry project. My grandmother would give me some cilantro, green chillies, coconut, and lime – then sit me down in the kitchen at a large stone grinder – and after 20 min I could produce some of the best coriander chutney in the universe! Before I left home for the US my mother taught me a few basic things – how to boil rice and make dal and chicken curry and chole. And, other than a minor incident in which I tried to dispose of 2 cups of uncooked chick peas down the in-sink garbage disposal unit resulting in my landlord having to replace the motor – and during which I picked up a number of colorful American colloquialisms not intended for polite company – I managed to keep myself alive with those 4 basic dishes for a number of years in graduate school.
But motherhood has definitely added a level of difficulty to my cooking. I’m getting quite adventurous with the things I make. I have once, without any complaining, whipped up a meal of pasta and salad and garlic bread in less than an hour. The expression of awe on my family’s face is how I imagine the Mayans looked when they saw the Spanish Armada. I am a little bipolar though with short bursts of home cooking nirvana followed by long periods of intense cooking antipathy! After I give my family a home cooked meal for 2 days in a row they do start questioning if I’ve been replaced by an alien and, if so, how they can keep the new alien me!
I still like a recipe though – chemistry experiments without meticulously measured out compounds are generally explosive failures! But I’m quite adept at substitutions. No shallots available, no worries, chop up onions – your 7 year old who thinks chicken nuggets are the height of sophistication will never know! No feta cheese, don’t think twice, toss in some Parmesan – 10 year old palates are incapable of telling the difference! Besides, the kids are going to complain about eating onions and Parmesan in something new no matter what!
What I really could use is an iPhone app that could take a snapshot of my refrigerator and one of my pantry and come up with something I could make in 20 minutes that requires less than 5 steps. Something called, I don’t know, Not-So-Master-Chef, or iCantCook, or iHaventGoneGroceryShopping, or iDontKnowWhatsForDinnerStopAskingMe – you get the picture. Anyway, take a photo of the one red pepper, rice wine vinegar, Sriracha sauce, tamarind chutney, and 2 hotdogs in your fridge, combine it with the cumin and coriander from 1999 in your pantry and voila – a delicious recipe for Southeast Asian Pork Stir Fry pops up! And as a pleasant side effect you get to look like a freaking domestic goddess with minimal effort!
*I leave you now with the recipe for BISCUIT PUDDING – my favorite dessert growing up! The eating of which acts like a time machine, whisking me back instantly 35 years to a childhood spent by the ocean, listening to ABBA and Pink Floyd – I had eclectic taste in music as a child. The most requested dessert in our house and requiring just three ingredients, an ability to stack biscuits (or as the Yanks call them, cookies), and a love of coffee. You will need:
Marie Biscuits – these are classic tea biscuits and you can find them in any Indian store. Get a few sleeves of these because you will want to nosh on them as you build this dessert.
Strong coffee: Just make a cup of your favorite strong black coffee – you can add sugar or not – your call.
Coffee ice cream – slightly melted so you can pour it. Basically buy it at the store, forget it in your car, remember it after a couple of hours and you will have the perfect consistency! This recipe is ideal for the terminally forgetful!
Now, working quickly dip a biscuit in the black coffee and put it into a square container, and repeat till you have two layers of overlapping biscuits. Pour some melty coffee ice cream until you just barely have covered the first two layers. Repeat until you run out of biscuits, room in the container, ice cream, or just get too lazy to continue. Occasionally, press down on the cookie layers so they are slightly compacted. Freeze. Remove when frozen – or in my case, when my patience runs out and I can’t wait – spoon into a bowl and consume with feverish intensity!