My friend N called me just as I was drifting off to sleep in the afternoon
“Where the HELL are you?”
I told her that I was bunking office for no other reason than the fact that I was bored witless, wanted to quit (and believe that leave encashment is a complete scam) and couldn’t stand the sight of my colleagues after ten months of unleavened interactions.
After establishing the fact that she approved of this unseemly use of holidays she went to inquire about my activities at home. So of course, I started cribbing about chores.
“I have to buy vegetables today.”
“So what?” she asked, quite callously I thought.
“Well….its not the BUYING part which I mind so much. What stresses me out is deciding WHAT to cook. I mean, I run out of vegetables by Thursday evening”
“What do you mean you run out of vegetables? How can one run out of vegetables. Buy more of them.”
“Not like that” I explained. “I don’t run out of quantity but types! You see Mondays its cauliflower and potatoes and brinjal, Tuesday okra, cabbage and yam, Wednesday its capsicum, peas and carrots, on Thursday its mushrooms and beans...and then I am out of vegetables again!”
“What about tenda, parwal and lauki and karela” she asked.
“Uhm lauki taste blech so once in a while, karela is bitter and tenda and parwal is ..er..uhm...what is tenda? What does it look like?”
I am ashamed to admit it, but even when I am ageing and on the wrong side of the hill, and I still cant recognize ALL the vegetables.
And some of the condiments (took me a couple of months of sniffing tests before I could differentiate jeera and saunf) and don’t even get me started on the lentils. Split masoor, full masoor, covered masoor, naked masoor – and that’s just one of the dratted types. And some you soak and some you boil. Some you soak till they are fat, some you soak till they grow things on them. But you can’t boil the fat ones till they grow things on them. They you need to throw the fat, hairy ones away. Just too many algorithms, too much confusion.
I could blame it on growing in a Goan environment where fish is the staple and vegetables a punishment. But I can’t recognize all types of fish either.
Anyways, I digress. When I first started this cooking exercise, I did in all earnestness try to learn the vegetables. I used to call up Ma who would give me descriptions over the phone for stuff which wasn’t in my normal cooking repertoire.
“Okay you know beans right- Buy those.”
Yes. Beans are good. I know beans. So off to the greengrocers I would go, confidently pick up 250 grams of beans, laboriously try and deciphers Ma’s completely complex cooking instructions – (“Okay you need to put water – but not too much water because then the flavour goes away.. How much water? Well do a katori... but don’t put the very big katori but a medium sized one...but if the beans are looking dry put more than one katori. Bah..You don’t understand the simplest things.”)
But whatever I did, the damn things refused to taste like beans that Ma made. Until I found out the simple explanation for that. They didn’t taste like beans, because they were not beans I knew (French beans) but gawar (Cluster beans)
So after some mishaps with Methi and Palak (and they even call the darn seeds Methi to confuse one further) and Yam and sweet potato, I have resolutely stuck to the vegetables I know.
And there is the whole stressful charade at the greengrocer place. When one walks in and picks up some vegetables and discards some others – the concerned and careful homemaker charade. I have absolutely NO clue which is good and which is bad. (Ok I have some clue if the cabbage is drooping and grey, and tomatoes are oozing out squishy stuff, and if cauliflower is black, but other than that, not really.)
Should I pick up the really dark green cabbage or the medium green one or the pale green one? What type of onions are better – the pink ones? The white ones? The dark purple ones? The pale peach colored ones? What size potatoes are good – the tiny-one-mouthful or the Big-Daddies?
I have absolutely no clue. So I go there and pretend. And I pick up some and discard others. With the uneasy suspicion that the chap at the counter is seeing right through this little play acting and mentally chortling away to glory.
As N put it “Some people suffer from colour blindness, others from night blindness. What you suffer from is vegetable blindness. THAT is your problem”
P.S. Before people start pitying the husband and sending him condolence cards, please note that I am a surprisingly decent cook ( as in regularly surprise everyone by concocting fairly palatable, nay tasty, dishes, usually through a completely accidental process (“Okay there are no tarragon leaves? Lets put some marjoram leaves, they sort of rhyme” and viola a perfectly interesting dish is born). If you still feel sympathetic towards the husband and what he is inflicted to, you are free to fed-ex food though.