I love cooking and am never shy of letting people know exactly how much. So, when it was time for me to move into a new city, away from home, I insisted that I was extremely excited at the prospect of having a kitchen to myself. No mother to “advise” me, no grandmother to tell me not to waste the skins. Food was always ready and delicious, and thus, by principle, I had refused to cook for many years (three).
Now, hunger is a constant companion, but today, it was just more demanding than usual. Post lunch, I ignored work and tried coming up with dinner ideas but with no result. Soon it was late evening, and I was walking down my street, into my apartment building, weak with hunger and irritated because I still had no idea what I was going to do for food. I opened the front door and threw my slippers to the left and my rather large bag to the right. Both my flat-mates were still at work, thank God. I entered the kitchen with very strong focused determination. The fridge was well stocked with lots of (a few) vegetables, and there was chicken and eggs and bread and rice and pasta. What could I do? I decided to make pasta.
The first thing I did was to take the chicken out of the freezer so it could thaw. I didn’t want to be in that situation again where the masala is hot and ready on the gas and I am trying to melt pieces of frozen chicken by vigorously massaging them between my palms. (I don’t have a microwave). It’s really quite painful. I also put on some water to boil because boiling water is always an auspicious start. As I stood in front of the fridge, enjoying the cold waves wafting out, I wondered what to add to my sauce. I picked some tomatoes, a big fat carrot, a couple of sticks of spring onion, mint leaves, mushrooms and onions. I know that onions are not meant to be put in the fridge but I had not put them there. I should also mention the fit of rage I experience at the sight of the carrot, not because it was fat, but because a few days earlier, I had tried to cook a carrot by stir frying it and apparently you can’t actually stir fry carrots. Who would have known? I had spent an hour slaving over the hot pan with no result. ”Not this time, carrot”, I thought to myself and gripped the carrot hard in my left hand. With a vengeance, I washed the carrot and with more vengeance, I washed the peeler and then with the remaining leftover vengeance, I peeled the carrot, making sure it knew who the boss was (me). I took a few deep breaths and decided that it was time to move on. Moving on, I added three fine looking tomatoes to the boiling water so I could blanch them for the sauce. Once the carrot was cut, I started chopping the other vegetables. Because the onion was cold, my eyes did not tear up, so you should try freezing your onions too. I was still without a plan, but I figured that I could stop cooking and start eating at almost any point now. Once the skin on the tomatoes started splitting, I tried to get the tomatoes out of the hot water without being in hot water myself. It was not easy but I got the job done with the help of a very helpful fork. As I let the tomatoes cool, I decided to boil the chicken in the same water. Boiling chicken is always fun because it means I can start eating. As the chicken boiled, I was almost done with the fun job of washing vegetables and chopping them and I thanked God that it was over. But I said my thanks too soon as a friend I was talking to reminded me of the existence of the stinky but very wonderful thing called garlic. I sighed and grabbed a few cloves, and peeled them and chopped them and crushed them. It was time to puree the cooled tomatoes, but of course, I didn’t have a grinder. I used a knife, a fork, two bowls and a grater almost everything in the kitchen to achieve the goal, and I eventually had a pulpy tomato mass which would just have to do for this time.
I turned on the stove, placed the pan on the flame and poured oil into the pan. My hand slipped and I poured even more oil into the pan. Once the oil was hot, I added the chopped onions to it. Then some salt, and then kept stirring for what seemed like an eternity. The heavenly smell of frying onions made up for the mundane nature of the task. As the onions finally showed signs of turning golden brown, I added the crushed garlic and there was some seriously sexy sizzling. I added the mushrooms, the spring onions and the chopped mint. I stirred some more and added the chicken. Almost everything was in the pan now and I thought that I could have easily made scrambled eggs and toast or popcorn or just about anything that did not take so bloody long. I stirred some more and hoped that the stirring was toning my arms. I was really hot and there was sweat crawling down my back. There was certainly no joy in my cooking. I poked at the vegetables again and added the poor excuse for tomato puree into the pan. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought that maybe now I could wrap this show and get something to eat. I put on water to boil (again), and added a lot of pasta and a lot of salt to it. I kept checking on it to make sure it did not overcook because no one likes boiled mush. I kept sampling it till the pasta was finally boiled to a perfect softness. I did not have a strainer so I drained off the water as cavemen drained their pastas.
I was exhausted and smelling of garlic but there was finally food to be had. Even if it was of doubtful taste, at least it was hot and fresh. I heaped pasta on my plate and added my “sauce” to it. Just as I was carrying my dinner out to the dining table, I saw a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. It was the carrot and I had forgotten to put in my sauce. I hate carrots (it’s nothing personal) but decided to eat this one by dipping it in my sauce. My sauce was good. The mint and garlic gave it a very unique flavor and I decided I liked it.
After cooking for an hour and a half, I sat down to eat. I cleaned the the plate within ten minutes. The joy of eating.