Food for Thought…

imagesI proudly looked at my handiwork of cutting the avocado into two perfect halves and lifting the seed out with the whack of the knife. No big deal for most but for a woman to whom avocado was a stranger for the first thirty years of her life it my friend, is an accomplishment par excellence. Drum roll!!

Leaving home adapting to new places, people, culture, traditions and FOOD has been a constant in our lives. Growing up in a small town in India we thought we were adventurous with food as we ate culinary delights from all over our vast country where the simple potato, beans, peas, carrots are cooked differently in every corner of the country. The north makes drinks with carrots, mix it with peas, beans, potatoes for curry or even dessert in the form of carrot pudding. A part of south uses it in lentils while another part  uses it with coconut milk to make stew. The people in east believe in eating fish with everything, carrot, peas, meat, rice or dessert while the west spices up everything with a tinge of sweet. In the 1970s and 1980s many Indian restaurants proudly offered ‘continental food’ in their menu and if you dig deeper there is nothing called continental food really. Precisely, there is nothing continental in food. It may constitute a variety of food served under one roof, pasta, noodles, fried chicken or even a sandwich which by the way was a big deal when we were kids. Of course we also ate Chinese- the Indian Chinese which would make a Chinese dive off a cliff in indignation and shock.

The first time we lived overseas was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I thought we were mighty adventurous to try the Queen of Fruits Durian. Durian looks like jackfruit but it wins hands down to be the stinkiest thing ever to be eaten, grown, seen or avoided. Kuala Lumpur introduced us to roti canai (a kind of Indian bread served with gravy), nasi goreng (fried rice popular in South East Asia), Mi Goreng (fried noodles), Ice kachang (shaved ice with beans and anything under the sun).  Every thing was a discovery! I would read about a certain dish expecting it to be sweet and it would turn out to be a savory. At work I was surprised to find people gorging on boiled eggs, fried eggs, chicken and rice garnished with shallots and dried fish for breakfast. That was their go to food, comfort food comparable to the baked potato in the United States. In Zambia we were introduced to the meali meal basically maize flour and the locals used it for a variety to cuisine. When I expressed my wish to cook chicken and also teach it to our Zambian help he nodded wisely and said of course maaadaaam! Hearing a cacophony in the kitchen I rushed down to see two huge, really gigantic, well fed chicken fluttering in his hands while he delightedly looked on to me showing off his prize products ready for cooking! I didn’t have the heart to cook those two thereafter and they made a happy cosy home in our backyard often chasing the help’s kids or getting chased by them. I felt both the kids and the chickens were having a good time and that is the only time I came close to seeing chicken smiling.

7343d52d5d0637a88290007408569663In Japan our home was near a blowfish restaurant and I would hear about the expertise needed to cook that deadly fish, as in if gourmet food could kill this one was it! We became adept at using chopsticks and eating sushi and sashimi while introducing our Japanese friends to tandoori chicken, paneer tikka from North India and dosa, idli, uttapam from the South. Surprisingly, they loved my tea and I fell in love with theirs though I am told that both are acquired tastes. In Australia, the son’s class had an international cuisine day and with lot of expat children in the class we saw cuisine from everywhere, Sudan to Singapore. A local  family proudly presented vegemite and toast as they felt that was true Aussie cuisine. The Indians had turned up with the whole nine yards and I got the impression that most were overwhelmed by the variety presented between the mere four Indian families. We do love our food and we are not shy about it, are we now?

Fresh off the boat America  hit us, shocked, amused and overwhelmed us with its gigantic serving sizes in food and drinks. Small, medium, large are known all over the world but grande, venti and trenta? Hello, who wants to dive into a coffee and drown? I believe trenta is a whole thirty fluid ounce and people do drink it! Then there is this Italian restaurant near our home which gives one free pasta/ spaghetti or whatever you order to take home for every pasta you eat in. Buy one and get one free taken to another level surely and the soft drinks just keep flowing. There is no end to refills until explicitly requested to stop and I feel the poor wine does get a step motherly treatment, no refills unless explicitly requested.

I baked sweet potatoes today and smiled to myself reminiscing  of the time we ate baked/boiled potatoes in India. They were cut into pieces, liberally mixed with chopped raw red onions, green chillies, cilantro, lemon juice, red chilli powder, crushed black pepper mixed with garbanzo beans and with a nice little whack of the hand mixed well in a little pouch made with leaves. The Aussies baked their potatoes by throwing spices, mixing flavors, splashing herbs to present quite an exotic yet simple dish of baked potato while the Japanese took it to another extreme with wasabi, miso, scallions and thousand other ingredients all of course very finely chopped, intricately decorated, delicately presented so much so that I hated to spoil the effect by digging into it. Then we came to America and discovered the version here- the baked potato was wrapped in a aluminum foil and was just that- a potato wrapped in foil and baked! A small container of sour cream sat neglected in the corner of the plate and trust me, the family and I burst out laughing. There is so much fun and joy to be found in our differences.

Why all this talk about food when the world is on a perpetual diet? Just to remind us that food is not just something to get rid of hunger. The scope of food is beyond that. It binds people just as it unites them. It is a discovery- of people, culture, regions, countries, geography, history, chemistry and even physics. The Italian cuisine in Italy tastes vastly different from the one cooked elsewhere and it is not just the tomatoes. Closer home the Italian cuisine in California is grossly different from the one in New York as is the Indian, Japanese or any other cuisine. The reactions of food- the chemistry, the ways and means of cooking – the physics are all intriguing. If my mum were alive today she would be tickled pink to find me switching on my gas stove without a gas lighter or a matchbox but with a simple turn of the knob that worked as ignition.

Food- Yes, there is a lot to it, far more than it will ever get credit for. What have your experiences with different cuisine been? Do you feel that it forms a connection? Does it make you stare at your plate in awe or gasp with wonder or at times proceed with caution or maybe eat at own risk…..

 

Picture courtesy: http://www.santabanta.com & http://www.twentytwowords.com
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Homecoming…

'With the kids back home and unemployed, it's hard to believe I ever suffered from empty nest syndrome.'

If we were having coffee I would tell you about some interesting discoveries I made starting last weekend. To say that it has been a busy time would be an understatement but I must add that it was a good busy, if you know what I mean.

It is that time of the year when most college students are homeward bound, school students are preparing for final exams, some excited about graduation ceremonies and others looking forward to holidays. Our home has a combination of the above. The daughter came home from college and the son is preparing for final exams, final concert and checking boxes of things to be completed before exams begin.

While the daughter is super organized to the point of exasperation, the son is super cool to take me to another level of exasperation. I do sound quite an exasperated mum! Before her exams began she called us on to make her to-do list which included ‘plan’ her packing, ‘organize’ storage in or around college, ‘sell’ books not required, bring back books mum might like to read, order cartons, when, what, how, where and why of vacating dorm room was strategically thought of, planned and executed. On Face Time conversations we were shown the sizes of cartons as she debated on what to store in the ones that were knee high as against those which reached mid thigh level. So yes, even the size of the cartons ordered for storage were given immense thought with height and weight considered. She was so meticulously organized that when I flew across the nation and reached her dorm with two empty suitcases I found four packed and sealed cartons waiting outside the room to be stored in my high school friend’s home. I can’t fathom till today how two girls sharing a tiny room managed to have six cartons  in storage and 4 check in suitcases each! Was there a bottomless pit hidden in a corner from where they magically kept producing fat books, thick notes, summer clothes, hangers, iron, iron board, huge boots, endless winter clothes and the list itself is endless! Her room mate’s parents were busy packing and taking boxes after boxes down to their car parked far away. And did I mention that it was raining and windy? I was super pleased that we were to move the next day, little knowing that Gods were laughing at our planning and us. 

By the time we moved the next day, most had already left and  I could park my rented SUV by the ramp with a few other parents. We all wore similar expressions which basically conveyed several degrees of ‘Oh My God!’ What have the kids accumulated! We smiled at each other, shaking our heads, rolling our eyes but nevertheless doing what needed to be done to get our kids home from college. Just as I was struggling down the ramp with a carton barely balanced between the daughter and me I saw this boy with a backpack and a guitar slung on his shoulders walking down the ramp whistling, pulling a medium sized suitcase. He too was headed home! And I smiled to myself as I visualized the son doing something similar when he would be in college. “Ummeed pe duniya kayam hain”- The world lives on hope is an old Indian saying…But then a friend burst my happy bubble saying that her son returned home twenty pounds excess baggage after availing of maximum storage facility. It dawned on me that it is not gender specific but person specific as to how much ‘stuff’ a student accumulates during a year in college.

865f0845b558686080ac054c63305e9dI did say that we were providing God with humor so while we didn’t get a rainy day during our move we were presented with high speed winds. My short mop of hair covered my entire face while I prayed that the wind would blow it away as I peered around to find the ramp to walk down without banging into another parent/child carrying another heavy load. We teach our kids ‘waste not, want not’ and the implications of that hit me hard in the form of an empty carton that the daughter refused to leave behind in recycling but keep in storage for future use. The large flattened empty carton I was holding on to with dear life in one hand while balancing somethings on the other became parallel to the road with the wind speed and the more I maneuvered the more out of control it went until it hit me on the face before bouncing off with a mind of its own on the road following another parent. The great big and small silly things we do for our children can be made into a best seller though on hindsight we are left with a lifetime of memories to laugh over, contemplate on and sometimes even share on blog posts….

Just as we teach about waste not want not, we teach few other things too, amongst them ‘do not talk to strangers and be punctual’ are quite common. So the daughter was taking me out for dinner and I was given the option to choose from five places around the campus, asked to look over the menu, given extensive description of each place and some of the favored dishes, ambience, time and cost. When I mindlessly chose one, I was asked why I preferred it over others! So I really perused over the menus extensively like I was going to write a thesis and chose one. As we walked to the lovely French restaurant we saw a dog walker with a cute friendly dog and I invariably got down on my knees to chat with the dog and we all got talking. After a lovely short conversation as we continued down the road, we saw another dog walker coming towards us and the daughter exclaimed, ‘now mommy, don’t talk to another stranger please else we will be late for our reservation.’

These little incidents make me I realize that life is a full circle. We try our best to raise our children to be good human beings and then dawns a day when we realize that the child has grown much and beyond our humble imagination and highest hopes giving parenting, love, adulthood and homecoming a whole new deep meaning…

Did you have these moments? What are the memorable moments of moving your child in or out of college/home?

Picture courtesy: http://www.cartoonstock.com

Education…Then and Now.

My husband raised in New Delhi completed twelve years of education from the same school before heading to an engineering college, while I studied in three different schools in three different cities of India before starting college. Our children have had the privilege of going to school in five cities, four countries and three continents and their education comprises of learning in private, public, British, Indian and American system of schooling.

Whether thirty years ago or now the basic subjects in school remain the same but the methodology has undergone a rapid change, evolving from its limited textbook exposure to a broader spectrum utilizing innovative tools making education not only interesting but also fun while adding to the challenge and value.

I compare my son’s exposure and learning of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in grade nine vastly different from how we learned. Today, he  doesn’t just read the story and answer questions as I did. To make the language of 1595 compatible to the understanding of teens in 2016 the teachers require the class to follow the annotations with writing excerpts of conversations in today’s slang, text language, even abbreviated text language with Benvolio called Benji, Mercutio – Marco and so on.

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My daughter’s international relations professor didn’t arrive for a class and the Teacher’s Assistants switched on the television for the waiting students declaring ‘today’s class is on CNN’. The professor was being interviewed on CNN live at that very moment and his views on the effect of Trump on International Relation was the topic and soon after the telecast he rushed into the class ready to begin the discussion. I love hearing the way education has evolved in every sphere, still laugh at my son’s first tryst with learning about maps and how to draw to scale in grade 4. His homework entailed drawing a map of his home, surroundings, route to school and time taken to reach school. The classwork contained whether the route was followed or were there diversions and the difference in time to reach destination with reasons. My boy biked to school that was less than a mile away and was on the same side of the road as our home so no rocket science there for absence of any other route. But his teacher did note the time he took varied and the reason was written with great honesty- “unscheduled return home due to an emergency bathroom visit”. While I was both embarrassed and amused he received an A + for meeting all the requirements. In high school my daughter’s class would write letters to the senator with current water contamination/ issues after they arrived at conclusions on experimenting and the beauty of it was that the senators would reply in details appreciating and thanking them for their efforts.

I never envisioned an education on these lines and the more I hear the more I wish to turn back the clock to be in school again studying in this marvelous environment. But then I open my eyes wider and look at all that being a high schooler or a college student entails and I sit back with a sigh of relief, happy to enjoy stories that my children share- of education how they get it.

Picture courtesy: www.glasbergen.com & http://www.carptoons.com