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Greatest bliss is cooking for my son and friends :-)

December 13, 2013

Come semester exam time, college friends come home for group studies with my son.  Serving them a different menu is the biggest challenge.  This I have to do, keeping in mind their fancy for restaurant food and general lack of interest in homely meals (!) as it is for teenagers everywhere.  Well, the boys are hardly teenagers now.  Almost 20.     Keeping them interested in homefood is somewhat tough.  I discourage them maximum, pointing out how while its my pleasure to cook for them all, it saves them precious time that they can devout to books.  Seems to be working somewhat!  And then there is the health issue.  Homefood is essentially free of additives like artificial colours and flavours and chemical preservatives.  Whenever i get a chance, i never forget to remind the boys the difference between homefood and restaurant food.  Homefood for these reasons, can never quite look or taste appealing like restaurant food.  Can we ever do a dosa the way it is done in restaurants, for instance.  Or even the homemade biryani when it comes to heavy fare.  Whenever the boys are in  mood to listen, i also tell them not to drink Pepsi or Coke or such aerated drinks with high sugar and chemical content.  ‘Instead go for plain water or iced tea’ i suggest.  Of late, my son is somewhat listening to my advice.

Next is cooking for my hubby who is a surprise chef himself these days.  What an improvement in a guy who could never boil a kettle of water for tea only months earlier.  The harmful sideeffects of outside food with its high salt and sugar content finally dawned on him which is the reason he has taken to cooking now.  For men working outstation, exposure to kitchen is vital. More than anything this makes them independent in true sense.  This realization has come late to my man, anyway better late than never! But when we are together, i cook for him a good and healthy meal always.  Unlike for my son, I cook for my hubby keeping in mind our age and our health concerns.  Taste takes a second seat for us.

One point i have make here is, i can understand why men make the best chefs everywhere including in restaurants.  My hubby has taken very late to cooking, is already a good chef but (thank god!) doesn’t seem to know it!!  Non-vegetarian seems to be his forte naturally and he is specialized now in cooking seafood like fish and prawn and crab that i can’t stand in my kitchen normally! The smell is awful (!) but I have to give in out of consideration to global working conditions of our men these days.  Survival in any part of the world is easier this way.  Barbecue is a big boon to men who take a fancy to cooking.  Its easier, non-messy although difficult to clean up later.

Cooking for guests of my hubby is an exciting experience.  Being a vegetarian, i have to cook sometimes a full non-veg dinner for unsuspecting guests.  Its always a pleasure for my hubby to tell his surprised colleagues and friends that the fare had been prepared by a vegetarian me, after the dinner is over!  Its indeed a pleasure to be wished by friends that way.  Its even more of a pleasure to pack for friends the left-overs on their demand.    Ofcourse the easiest and most natural thing to do is order food from restaurants or take friends to a good eating place that we do rarely.  But nothing equals serving someone homefood, in our own dining table.  Fortunately many of our friends relish eating at our home than in fancy restaurants.  Being invited home for food is the highest respects we can give our guests/friends and i value being invited home for food by friends the very same way.  But please, don’t ask your cook to help out if you are inviting me home!  Get me even a pack of ‘Maggi’ noodles but do it yourself! Being served drinks or dinner plates by servants is not something i look kindly at.  For friends, i usually have a limited menu as much as i can manage and the only thing we buy from outside is usually ice-creams.  I try to keep the guest list small and manageable for the same reason.

Who imagined what a thing as mundane and simple as home-cooking can accomplish for us in our lives?  It could be the most trivial matter to most, but nothing can be more satisfying to me over cooking for my son and my husband and their friends.   Because this is what many remember and recall after years have passed!

Despite all this, i am not a gourmet cook or even in a range close to a very good cook.  Cooking is mostly something i perfect with practice.  And this is a never-ending practice.  Everyday there is an improvisation, a new something that will add up as a sweet surprise. Mostly otherwise i cook basic food/routine stuff with a little variance, that’s all.  So that is a problem in itself when it comes to maintain the boys’ interest in my food.   I am able to do it by picking most non-fussy dishes that teenagers might love to wallop in matter of minutes.   The dish has to be nutritious, filling and innovative to an extent.  As the boys are home very often, repetitions must be avoided as much as possible.  This everyday duty of any housewife or mother is the mainstay of my life now.  Work takes men to farther shores, and i know pretty soon, may be in another two-three years, my son will also be fleeing the nest for greener pastures, to make a future for himself.  So every single day i cook for my family is important to me these days, every single meal is important, every single ‘chai’ is important.

And its not just about cooking for a bunch of boys.  One has to see the raucous they make around the dining table clashing plates and knocking the water tumblers.  I enjoy the mere sight of them famished,opening up the lids of the casseroles in great hurry, ready to swallow everything in a jiffy.   This is one great reason to cook for young boys.  They burp loudly, are not stingy when it comes to paying compliments!  One boy’s mother who is a working woman comes home in the evenings to pick him up.  Says she, she envies me for what i can do to the boys that she is unable to.  Not an issue with me.  Feeding people gives me an indescribable happiness.

Many have ideas about what kind of daughter-in-law they might want for their son.  I too have dreams but i am not pushy.  But i would anyday want for my son a girl who can cook well first, who would make her way to my son’s heart through his stomach! Its too early to think along these lines i know, but whenever i look at little girls already trained by their mothers in kitchen, i can’t shake such thoughts hahaha!  Sad to add here that many women i meet in everyday life, take pride in NOT letting their daughters wield the ladle or even let them be self-sufficient enough to brew a cuppa , on a rainy day… but there are also others whose sweet daughters would not let their moms step into the kitchen when guests turn up but do the dishes and tidy up afterwards … Sure, mothers these days want their daughters to become doctors and engineers but why must that hamper a woman from venturing into the kitchen to put forth a meal?

Is it only a woman’s domain, is the natural question that comes to mind.  NO it is not and i fully acknowledge that.  Don’t pull me into ‘Feminist’ ideas and debates now nor am i a sexist.  Still its a woman who gets pregnant and carries a child in her womb, and has it changed in all these years?  ‘Use your cooking skills like an aphrodisiac!’ is what i can tell young girls today hahaha (!) and believe me there is nothing more powerful to beat it in the world!  The shortest route to a man’s heart is anyday through his stomach!

With women working at par with men in all fields, I probably belong to the last generation of housewives in India i know.  Yet this is what as a mother i would want for my son.  This i am saying because i have had a working mother myself and now i am here, a housewife, long since resigned from my job.   I do have working women friends who try to do some justice to their kitchen – fortunately we are a generation who still believe in eating at home over eating out which we view like a kind of ‘luxury’ if not a ‘sin.’ We do eat out, but the occasions are limited and could be aptly described as ‘occasions.’  I am not too sure the GenNext working women feel the same way we do. Because from my working days i remember rising too very early every morning to cook breakfast and lunch and pack lunch boxes before heading off to work.  Which is again a rarity in urban India these days.

Nothing can beat the intimacy brought in by serving home-cooked meals that the GenNext seems to miss out.  What about having a paid cook at home as some do.  After all, cooks are cheaper to employ in India.  Still, for me, cooks are permissible if we are indisposed, and not for any other reason and certainly not as a luxury.   Its mother’s cooking that’s a luxury if you ask me!   I would never, never permit a cook to take over my kitchen, health permitting, God willing.  To me, to such a degree, my kitchen is sacred.  To that extent, my kitchen is a private space, whose breaching by third persons i would treat like a violation and intrusion of my private space!  Its highly deplorable that having a cook in our circles is thought of to be prestigious – something like a status symbol.  What a flawed and vain thinking!

Through all this, i have not discussed the economic aspect of ‘eating out’ which needs no explanation.  Homefood is light on your budget and do we need a better reason than that to tip the balance?

And not to contend that eating out is avoided one hundred percent.   After all, variety is the spice of our life.  A week-end eat-out is like a refreshing change i know.  But eating out must be left at that, if you ask me.  At best treated like a diversion, a recreation. And sometimes it is unavoidable, circumstantial.  Gorging on store-bought ‘namkeens’ is already a habit most of us are used to.  As much as possible, i discourage my family from eating-out.  Cooking for family and eating as a family even in front of tv is a bliss like none other.

As a motherless girl, this is all i wanted out of life, and i take greatest pleasure in cooking for my son and my husband and their friends.  Because once there was this little girl who had to make the ‘chai’ herself when friends came home and who had to pack her own lunch to college and work!  That girl is now a wife, a mother whose very life’s happiness lies in such simple things as seeing her son and friends polish off their plates and delighting in husband and friends digging into bowls and casseroles, asking for more!

And who is a mother?  A mother is someone who feeds her son (as well as other souls), anticipating his/other’s hunger, well before the hunger pangs start sending out signals!  I am sad to admit here that i have been in company of women who have mothered children but who have never been able to understand others’ growling stomachs.  May be our life philosophies are different, but thank god, God made me a sensitive woman, mother and wife.

And so far as i am concerned, its banal if you are rich or whatever and even if you are a gourmet cook but lack hospitality and warmth in the first place.  I don’t mind squatting on floormat in a friend’s place and eating out of her loving hands.  Honour that much, someone’s kindness.  Brings tears to my eyes.  This single trait called hospitality is what defines basic human character chiefly in my opinion.

Recall reading somewhere, the greatest happiness in life is derived from simple things that come free:  like the warm morning sun, like the sea breeze, like the cooling drizzle of summer rains….   Cooking for family is that for me.  Its also therapeutic somewhat to me.  Its like a balm to my heart …  I am here now, a mother, a wife, who my son and my husband can ask for food even at the stroke of midnight…. and  what a privilege this is, what a blessing this is!

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