Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Mistress of Time - Of Chalks and Chopsticks

 Manisha, or Manu as she seemed to be called by everyone around her, was a fast worker. She prided herself on how efficient she was and how she was able to accomplish the working woman’s dream in Mumbai – wife, mother, ad executive, party hostess – superwoman. Wasn’t that what everyone wanted? To be appreciated for their skills in time management? Or so it seemed.
 Because that’s all it had come down to it– bundling her life into neat time slots that could be fitted around her busy schedule – there was the doting mother slot where she had to make sure there was enough space for PTMs, birthday party return gift shopping, THE birthday party planning, homework assignments, assembly day costume one upmanship, actual mother daughter and family bonding on weekends, crazy morning routines and evening end-of-the day winding down (which only seemed to wind everyone up).  Then there was the socializing pigeon hole – one for hospitals/condolences and another celebratory. The Ms Fix-It who seemed to have a laundry list of things to do around the house – which is not to say she actually did all of it, but even getting her husband off the couch and to the shops was a chore.
Not to say that Satish was a chauvinist – he most enthusiastically pitched in from shopping trips for upholstery to choosing the “correct” frame for pictures from the last holiday. His booming voice and strident opinion resonated around Fab India’s walls as he took one last look a the sofa material before declaring all of them too “dull” for their living room. 8 year old Kanya followed suit – ever her father’s daughter.
But the laundry list only churned through Manu’s brain – at 5am on a Sunday morning when there was no need for her to be awake. So, one compressed ones life into manageable parcels of time and tried to live from one to the other – which reminded her that the fish parcels for paturi needed to be marinated for lunch. She would tell Bharati her cook to do that when she came in – she actually felt like having patrani machhi but the Bengali steamed version paturi, was the recipe B was familiar with, having imported it from the previous household she worked in, and it wouldn’t do to have things changed around when she was expecting company.
She had to take care of other things – things that coukdn’t be outsourced - flowers, place settings, Hindi dictation practice, a belated birthday gift for one of the visiting couple’s children  since she knew she loved books and while she was at it, looking for the Jhumpa Lahiri book for Remya in her own library, because she had been meaning to send her that for sometime now – they had the most wonderful discussions after these shared book reads and she quite looked forward to them.

But suddenly she felt it gnawing away at her – she felt like eating patrani machhi – just the way it to used be made in the Khambatta home while growing up – a special occasion treat; not a bhonu but at least a "90 in English". It wasn’t even difficult to make as compared to the paturi – just a different marinade and to suit her liking she used to retain the mustard from the paturi and omit the coriander from the machhi. She decided then she wasn’t going to allow herself to be slotted like this, it was definitely taking over from her first love – cooking. She was doing things in the kitchen which could more and more be “delegated”. Not what she felt like cooking or eating. Like today; she decided then that she wouldn’t do that -  she was going to make Parsi food – Satish could give a Hindi dictation exercise as well as she could, if she could let go of  paturi then she could let go of dictation.

So she woke up that Sunday morning feeling refreshed at the internal decision she seemed to have reached and Satish wondered at the smile which played around her lips as she shook out her wet hair - well Sunday meant an oiling followed by a shampoo – now that was many years of conditioning, nothing to do with slotting, so she couldn’t possibly break that routine could she? When else would she get an hour for her to oil her hair and Satish’s and then wash it off with enough time to dry without having to go out in the interim? Sigh, what a time tyrant she had become!

Satish grumbled good naturedly but went out to buy mutton, pleased at the thought of them cooking dhansak together – another Parsi dish which was made from goat meat and lentils cooked down into a stew. It used to be his speciality when they were newly married but he had stopped making it since he was now supposed to spend quality time with the family. Now he hummed at the thought of all that unstructured time creating something which would feed their friends and bring cheer to the table. Some potato cutlets and cucumber salad on the side and they would be done.
Manu quickly turned the marinade around, wrapped the fish fillets in banana leaves and kept them ready for the steamer. These simple ingredients came together in such a flavourful preparation, they belied the time spent on them – just showcased her skill in the kitchen. And the little time she spent brought her that familiar sense of satisfaction which she had been missing.  No longer the time slave.

This is my first entry to Of Chalks and Chopsticks -the event started by Aqua and is being hosted by DesiSoccerMom this time.- in fact my first entry to any food fiction blogging event. I have been enjoying the tales being spun (now mostly by the trio of J,Sra and S). I spent about a couple of hours start to finish so not sure how polisehd this is - but thats all the time and energy I have while I recuperate. But I do have the creative energy now for a tale, so that may not be a bad thing.
And this is the recipe for Patrani Macchhi - get out there and do what you want, your umpteen chores will wait. They did while joined a friend in February on a trip to a jungle lodge in Madhya Pradesh and taught the local chefs out there some of our favourite recipes as well as some solid menu plans they could use with locally available produce. This is R's favourite recipe for steamed fish and we made it for lunch that day.

Pomfret fillets (deboned) - cleaned about 10-12
Coconut - 1 cup grated
Green chillies - 3-4
Mustard seeds - soaked in a little water - 2 tbsp
sugar - 1 tsp
salt to taste
lime juice - 1 tbsp
1/2 tbsp oil
(the original recipe does not have mustard which only paturi has, but this is changed to omit the coriander leaves in the original and substitute with mustard - so its different from Mrs Khambatta's home, but makes it all of an original.
1. Grind all marinade ingredients to a smooth paste and marinate the fish fillets in it for about 15 minutes or till ready to steam.
2. Oil individual banana leaf pieces and wrap the fish fillets in them, securing them with toothpicks.  Then steam for about 20 -25 minutes till the fish is cooked but still moist and just flaking.


sra said...

You've joined the gang, great! And you got me at time parcels - that's how my life seems to be organised. 8.30-10.30 cooking (the days I cook), then gym and back till 1 - 1.15 and off to work. Come back, watch a sitcom if there's one on and read in bed/Internet/both - and then get insomnia after all that stimulation! And I don't feel efficient at all!

Desisoccermom said...

What Sra said, yay! Our small gang needs more members and we couldn't have asked for a better one. Like Sra, I can totally relate to being a time slave, except there is no time for sitcoms in my schedule. Love that fish recipe and what would I give to have that pomfret. I sometimes manage to snag a few bangras at the far off Vietnamese store. Next time I am looking for pomfret.

Aparna said...

Wish I could oragnise mine this way. Right now everything is in shambles! :)
Love reading all the stories in your group. Wish I could write like this.....

Arch said...

Loved reading this Miri...why is this your first one ? your writing is wonderful...love the patrani machi too...please write more often even if its not for this event...

Mandira said...

Who isn't a time slave! I love the recipe. Will have to look for the pompfret here.

Anita said...

What a lovely little story! A bit autobiographical in parts, is it?

And you got the lodge folk to cook like that for you?! What a neat idea!

It is also a great dish to cook together with friends, don't you think?

Miri said...

Anita, its a fine writer who can disassociate themselvs from the writing!

And we cooked for the logdge for 3 days 3 meals - 5 courses in a commercial kitchen to show the kitchen staff what was possible in the middle of the jungle with limited fresh veggies and produce. It was wonderful cooking with friend though.....and then sitting down with the high end guests of the lodge for a meal and to go on game rides and river cruises

Lael said...

This was wonderful, Miri. I just loved reading it. More, more, more!!

Miri said...

thank you everyone for your kind words of encouragemenr - am not very good at writing on demand though....so lets see.

BTW, Im pretty sure you can substitute pomfret with other fish like sole/seer - check it out, its not a restrictive recipe

SS blogs here said...

Very very nice story! Thanks, Miri, for the awesome read and delicious looking recipe! (I love fish!)