Sunday, April 24, 2011

Putting up a Pasta Dinner

Hi friends, what say you to da li'l effort!!!

Yesterday evening I was absorbed in surfing the net and my hubby in surfing the TV channels in the other room. All of a sudden I heard him calling me. I was so immersed in reading something of interest, that I completely forgot that it was already 9 o’ clock and late for dinner. Not that I have not faced such situations before. But today I was in no mood to make any special effort to cook something from scratch. I was inclined towards some quick fix formula. It was at this juncture I remembered that there are four or five boxes of different varieties of pasta –whole wheat – brought from the US by our daughter and this is the right occasion to put up a pasta dinner.

Now it is a fact that lately we have developed a lot of liking for this Italian dish. It so happened that when we were visiting our children in the US we were taken on a sight seeing tour of New York. After we had meandered through Manhattan and Broadway-my dream destinations- we entered an Italian restaurant for lunch. We placed an order for veggie pasta with Italian sauce. The dish proved to be very delicious as well as filling. After that we tried all variations in pasta cooking at home and enjoyed immensely. It is every thing rolled into one and becomes a full meal. In Indian cooking we have to do so much for a proper meal which has to be planned in advance.

Compared to an Indian meal, preparing pasta is simple and any novice can fix it up fast. It is healthy too, as any number of veggies available can be added. Determined to improvise a meal in a jiffy, I asked my husband to help in cutting the vegetables which I had got from the market a day before. Subsequently the cabbage was shredded ,carrots cut lengthwise into medium pieces, a large onion chopped, a couple of garlic cloves crushed, tomatoes cut into squares and a few threads of green coriander washed and put in place. Here I stood waiting to do my part. On one burner I heated two tbsp.of oil in a pan and sautéed the veggies according to the instructions on the box and added condiments to our taste. On the second burner I boiled about 200 gms.of spiral pasta my favorite shape “al dente”…… (I read somewhere that in socialite circles, it is not enough to mention that one had had the yummy pasta in this or that restaurant. To be considered chic one is expected to know the particular variety e.g. whether it was spaghetti, vermicelli, fusilli, rotini, penne, farfalle, macaroni et al. The list is long)……. In the meantime veggies were done. I added the boiled pasta into the pan and asked my better half to do the blending part, while I laid the table (simple, two plates with forks and a bottle of sauce.) The cooked pasta looked vivid, fresh and inviting. It was for the first time that both of us participated in the cooking process together. Both of us enjoyed ourselves and had a very satisfying and nutritious meal into the bargain.

We have started liking pasta so much that we prefer to eat it every other day. I keep on trying various permutations and combinations of vegetarian and non- vegetarian recipes based on pasta. And I have noticed that we are able to consume more vegetables with it and that too in a semi cooked stage where vitamins are not lost as in our currying of everything. It is heartening that our dietary habits are overcoming the rigidity of taste and we are slowly incorporating dishes of other cultures in our cuisine. The internet is a miracle medium which has opened wide the corridors of information about every thing imaginable in this universe including food. According to Bernard Shaw, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” Pasta like Pizza is increasingly becoming very popular with the old and the young e all over the world. In good Indian stores pasta is available in various sizes and shapes. It is making inroads into the Indian kitchen, tickling the taste buds of Indian middle and upper middle class youth who is precursor of new trends in every thing: food habits, entertainment mediums as well as haute couture.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Indispensable Maids

I had had a tough time on my hands all these days. There is a daily face off with two shrewish maids in the home arena where nobody wins or loses but the match is played daily.
It all began in October last when I engaged two part-time domestic helpers. In the process of hiring itself, I had an eye-opening experience, as I went through a newer version of an inquisition at their hands. No kidding, it was just that. More demand and less supply have upped the scales in their favor. A volley of questions was thrown at me with a straight confident look. The questions ranged from the number of rooms and bathrooms to the identity of the maid/maids who worked before and how much I paid them and many more. I answered nonchalantly, ostensibly showing a ‘don’t care less attitude’ (though inside I was boiling). As if that was not enough they stepped inside and went from room to room assessing and surveying and talking in low tones between themselves. I was waiting for them in the lounge. After scrutinizing the pros and cons of their decision they inched towards me and said, “We will do your work.”

But I had not bargained for what came next. Without mincing words they declared, “We will have three days off in a month and on some other days if need be, will do half the job to leave early.” I murmured a weak opposition but hired them there and then. To tell you the truth, underneath my so-called stiff exterior I nurse a phobia of negotiating terms with the likes of them. Their lives are rough and their language is no less so and I avoid facing their mindless arguments. I made a plan mentally and acquiesced to their inflated demands.

Now their job was done and mine started. I knew that I will have to apply all my management and persuasive skills, to tame this duo of shrews to some sort of reasonable behavior. I resolved to use my varied experiences of handling hundreds of college students, in the course of my teaching career. In the span of a couple of months with patience and a little tact I thought I would be able to make some positive dent in their approach but I was sadly mistaken. Within a few days, I learnt that they are very flighty and take and leave work at will. I really wished to help them as well as myself (the teacher in me always comes to the fore). I tried to impress upon them to stick to the work they have taken up in the first place, but their notoriety continues.

The battle lines are drawn as soon as they enter my house in the morning. I insist on a well-done job while they execute a substandard one. One of them moves like a machine as if she is to catch a nonstop express train. Every few minutes while mopping the floor she looks up at the clock on the wall and becomes more energized. If I am not supervising she will skip a room and lie to me that she has done it. She does not seem to have any interest in the work per se and her only motivation is money. The other who cleans the utensils is a compulsive whiner.

While I persevere to make them more human and responsive, I relent that habits die hard. Ask me not why I don’t have another? Any guesses?

Monday, April 4, 2011


Finally, I have selected a topic to write on. But the truth is that it got selected by itself. It all happened when I was taking a walk in the park near my house. My observant eye was scanning the surroundings. It was immediately struck with the magic wrought by spring in the most spectacular form. The plants, shrubs, and trees appear to have woken up from a deep refreshing sleep. There are the new shoots, fresh and glistening like the washed face of a healthy child and surfeit of riotous blooming flowers. It reminds us of the umbilical bond which has always existed between man and nature and which we have almost forgotten, embroiled as we are in ‘the world is too much with us’ syndrome!

Nature displays its charms unobtrusively, suddenly and soothingly without crying hoarse for attention from the rooftops. Can we get even a penny without toiling for it? Here nature casts its jewels in our path without a murmur. The priceless trinkets of nature’s bounties go a begging. The generosity of spring is unbounded. We receive its visual pleasure for the moment and forever and gratuitously also. Wordsworth’s wonderful poem ‘The Daffodils’ celebrates the joy and fragrant beauty of spring. The poet is enamored by the sight of blossoming yellow daffodils and the spectacle becomes embedded in his imagination and he poeticizes, “They flash upon the inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude.”

The spirit of peaceful co-existence, hope and self-renewal are constant in nature and amazingly visible in spring. Two contrasting states overlap on the Neem and other deciduous trees. Each gives space to the other. There are tiny baby leaves on top of the branches, and near the stem, weather-beaten brown leaves are still hanging calmly. The pruned branches of evergreens and perennials are having a blast of glossy, eye-catching, green-hued new sprouts, heralding the rebirth of nature.

On a micro level at the home front and in the neighborhood, spring has unraveled its charms no less generously. My rose bushes are aflame with flowers and today(28th March) when I stepped out of the door I was greeted by newly blossomed red lily, growing on the inside of the boundary wall. The lawns are much greener now. “Can you imagine my oval shaped thorny potted cactus is budded now and I expect blooms any day? Isn’t it nature’s marvel that a prickly cactus bears the most delicate pink petalled flowers?” The Marigold in my back yard came to flowering early, at the beginning of March. My cherished herbs curry patta; mint, aloe vera, and Tulsi are out of hibernation and regaining their lost glory fast.

In my neighbor's side yard (a corner house) there are a couple of Bottle Brush trees. They are laden with flowers and their boughs hang downwards with the weight of the flowers and thick leafing. The mango tree is loaded with tiny white flowers signaling a bumper crop of mangoes. Together with other plants these weave kaleidoscopes of resplendent colors all around.

If the flora is in abundance in the spring fauna is also making waves. Cuckoo has surfaced and coo coos perched somewhere on the mango foliage. Larks, long-tailed sparrows, and woodpeckers are seen pecking at worms and insects in the lawns and parks. I even saw a lone dove balancing itself on an electric wire. Squirrels are having fun, hopping and racing from one tree to the other. Butterflies and buzzing bees are savoring myriad choicest dishes. Glow worms glow at night switching on and off their night light. Undoubtedly spring has infected all with joy and pleasure.

A peep at the weather front surely is in order. The mornings and evenings are luxuriously breezy and invite one for a relaxing walk. The wind envelops the body and massages it tenderly while passing by. There was even a light shower last week bringing in an invigorating coolness and bright clear sky.

Early summer vegetables have started arriving in the market. The advertisements for cool drinks and other beverages are already filling the T.V. screen and shop counters. Let's enjoy April’s moderate climate before the May heat cows us down.