Do we ever make resolutions like, “This year I’ll cook healthy food,’” “I’ll eat at home 6 days a week,” “I’ll learn a new thing,” “I’ll teach one new thing to my child besides studies and mundane activities,” or “I’ll make all my ground spices at home?” I am sure many of you avid readers must be saying “What? Why?” The reason would be the overused phrase ‘zara hat ke’ which essentially means, “out of the ordinary.” Yes, we all make typical New Year’s resolutions to reduce our weight, get a career, make more friends, get married, and so on. All these points have become so expected that they have started writing books on them. I am sure there must be a book somewhere with the title, “The 100 Best New Years Resolutions to be Made and Forgotten by the End of January.” So why not think differently this year?
Let’s start at home, to be precise, in our kitchens. We spend thousands of dollars to update and renovate our kitchens with high tech gadgets, but how many times do we actually use it? We want to keep it clean and decorated just like in magazine pictures, so much so that our garage becomes the hidden kitchen for those of us who have to cook. We practically hide our creativity either by shoving it in the corner of the house or simply avoid doing it because of the work it involves. We are also afraid of the occupational hazards it involves. Well-manicured nails may get spoiled and our clothes may smell like spice.
If we overcome our fear of cooking, we end up with a beautiful end result. Let’s go back to the resolutions from the beginning. We try out new recipes and at least 30% of the time we end up with a fantastic dish on our tables. The remaining 70% of failures could end up being published in “Laughter, the Best Medicine” found in Reader’s Digest or can be retold at the next family gathering during the holidays a year from now. You could even be crowned as the best storyteller!
We all eat out, either to celebrate or to save time or simply coz we have to. The annual membership to the local gym gets added on to monthly expenses even though there are hardly any effects evident from it. And we wonder why? Simply by cooking food at home makes it healthier even if you add three tablespoons of oil instead of one. “Simple living, high thinking” is what was taught to us but now we have to reverse it with “High living, simple thinking” just to accommodate the common sense of the fact that good food always comes from home.
Many of us have been fortunate that our mothers never let us work in the kitchens for fear that we will waste time and not study or because it was thought that kitchen work is not important and can be learned later if needed. Hence, now we are left skill-less in the field of cooking and taking care of our families the way we are meant to. Those souls need to learn how to cook, if not for their own survival but for the sake of their next generation who live and learn from their parents. Remember, relationships are made and broken in kitchens. Trust me, they are related. It is a big topic on its own and requires another article for me to explain. But the intelligent ones among us will know what I am talking about.
There is no perfect age to learn a new thing. The same is true for our kids too. Don’t think that a five year old is too young to warm his own milk, a six year old will goof up while adding salt to the only dish you are preparing for the dinner, a seven year old cannot cut green chilies, an eight year old will mess up the marinade for tandoori chicken, or a nine year old will not know the difference between bake and broil. Be with them, teach them, guide them, and give them the confidence that even if they mess up, you do have a back up plan (You are a parent. You are supposed to be a magician.). But don’t tell them that they can’t do it. These are their formative years. They will have to learn their spices and cooking techniques along with their arithmetic and grammar. Or else, they will grow up to be distant from their kitchens.
The flavor enhancers are the spices. Store bought varieties are everywhere, surely expensive unless bought from Sam’s Club or Costco, but then the question becomes, what do you do with that big a tub of Garlic and Herbs or Onion Flakes? Which is the better evil? Shelling out $4-$5 for two ounce jars or bulk buying and letting it sit in pantry for next three years? There is a way out of this vicious cycle. Buy the whole spices and fresh herbs. You can always make your own ground spices and spice blends right at home. All you need is a toaster over and a coffee grinder dedicated to spices only. Dry toast the whole spices just a little till they are warm and then grind it for 10 seconds. Let it cool on a paper towel and store it in a jar to take you through the entire month. This not only saves you money but also the flavor enhancer really becomes the ‘enhancer’ instead of “sudden failure.” But there are exceptions. Please don’t do this with turmeric. Your new renovated high gadget kitchen will turn yellow in an instant. Most spices can be grounded and blended right at home making your life simpler, food tastier, you healthier and your New Year resolution to last all year round.
Every culture holds the kitchen of their homes to be the center of their lives. Don’t let this slip away from yours. Revisit your kitchen. Make it workable for you. Your sense of need, style and design should dictate the manufacturers of the kitchen not the garage. Keep it sanitary clean and forget about cosmetic clean. Your kitchen will be appreciated and admired even more if they know what it produces. Do not decorate but update your space as per your needs. This may mean going against the popular norm. But then that’s exactly what it means to be “zara hat ke.”
Happy New Year to all!
Chef and Owner Flavors of Landour