Quarantine Cooks

The kitchen was my least visited place in the house. Well, the kitchen sans the area of the fridge, was the least visited area in the house.

My Facebook wall is usually is teeming with people posting their recent kitchen exploits. Every edible animal and plant was on the plate, shot wide and long with ridiculously long captions and descriptions mentioned vying for the common man’s attention.

With just barely the prowess to scrape an upma or Maggi, my cooking skills were passable at best. Hating the heat in the kitchen which drenches you from head to toe and a counter meant for 4 footers (bam comes the backache), I seldom enter the hallowed room.

Then came COVID-19 and its lockdowns across the globe. All movements were restricted Your long drives became entering the car, revving the engine and switching it off so that the batteries don’t die, your eating out became whatever came out of the kitchen.

When the mundane menu becomes too repetitive, you decide you want a change. Plus the overt exposure to media which shows eye-catching things to eat, you decide to enter the kitchen.

Necessity is the mother of invention and it begins. You want to eat pizza. You drool with the thought of pizza. All your pizzerias are closed. The open ones take forever to deliver. The stale dough rounds shatter your dreams what had shaped up for long. So you decide to take things into your hand. You google up the recipe for pizza. Replacing the Italian mozzarella with cheddar cheese, pizza sauce with ketchup and all premium ingredients with the pyaas-tamatar-mirchi (onion-tomato-chilly) from your kitchen, the pie base with something you whip up with flour- your picture-perfect pie is ready to go. The dream of subtly baked pizza from that wood fire has to materialize. You try baking it in a microwave oven. It becomes a gooey mess. And you decide to go old-school. Your pie is on a pan on the stove. The cover becomes hazier with steam as your mind races with joy. The base is delightfully golden crisp while the cheese melts into a lumpy puddle- a puddle you would willingly splash. As you gorge on the pizza, you realize two things. You have spent less than a 100 bucks ($1.40) and you are twice as happy. Necessity wins.

When you have too little to do and too much time in hand, evil thoughts do creep up. I had been toying with the idea of eating something sweet. Going up to the refrigerator in the hope of finding chocolate in it, maybe some ice cream. It was almost a week since my last grocery run and so I found nothing inside that would appease me. So I decided to do the unthinkable- make something sweet. When you have too little to do and too much time in hand, evil thoughts do creep up. My experimentation in making desserts was so limited- most of which was limited to adding Hershey’s sauce on vanilla ice cream and stirring the kheer while mom prepares Onam/Vishu Sadya. I decided to go for it. Prepare Rava Kesari- which was, according to my mom, the simplest dessert to make. Boil milk, add sugar, add saffron, add rava, add ghee fried cashews, stir and ready. And boy, it was heaven. Sweet, luscious and easy to make.

With 2 wins under my belt, I was gearing up for my third- a vegetable biriyani. For all the non-vegetarian lovers who absolutely abhor the idea of calling no-meat biriyani, biriyani- screw you- I will call my vegetable biriyani ‘biriyani’ or even ‘Prabhakaran’. No offenses to anyone on the latter name. I announced to my hungry family that I would be making biriyani today- anxious glances were shot. I could see the disappointment in my brother’s eyes as he could not order in food at 10 pm if the ‘biriyani’ goes south. And then I began. Boiled rice the Gordon Ramsay way. Cut the vegetables (potato, onion, tomato, carrot, beans). I also had some green peas ready in a bowl ready. Mom spent a good part of the 15 minutes to recut the oddities of my vegetable cutting. The prep was done- veggies sautéed in a mix of Indian spices and the resultant mixture was added to the boiled rice. The fear in my dad’s and brother’s eyes vanished as they took in the first bite. It was delish.

Three for three.

Then Masterchef Australia started airing on OTT. The ease and finesse of the cooking awed me and I tried to cook things that were in my capacity and capability. Looking at ‘Pan Seared Duck with an Aromatic Oil, Macadamia Cream Sauce and <insert random vegetable name> puree’ , I tried my hand to prepare ‘Noodles with Pan Sautéed Vegetables with Soy and Chilli Cream’ which was nothing short of Maggi with Onions and Green Bell Peppers fried and mixed with soy and red chilli sauce.

Pots and pans were full and empty in seconds- some were tasty that was emptied in a jiffy, some were so bad that even the smell/taste would make my throw-up to throw-up.

Cooking is an art, a chef is an artist. I neither know this art nor am I an artist, but loves to devour the end product.

Here’s hoping to eat out. Here’s to hope that we will get a chance to live life again normally. Here’s to all those who works outside fighting to curb the pandemic while we laze at home, cooking stuff and redeeming the lost waistlines. Here’s to all of you doing crazy stuff at home and only at home, not going out and endangering yours and other lives.

Stay home, stay safe and learn to cook.

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