Monday, February 02, 2015

Soup, Salad and all that Jazz: London diary #1

I was pleasantly surprised by the close up shot of a saxophone on the menu booklet. Even more surprised that there was a nice para on the instrument on the inside. I learnt that Antoine Joseph “Adolphe” Sax invented the, well, Sax.  Set the right tone of expectation. 

Flipping through the wine list, I was stopped on my way to the Stella by

 d’Arenberg Olive Grove Chardonnay I Mclaren Vale I Australia
The Olive Grove McLaren Vale Chardonnay develops intense,complex honey, cashew, fig and soft toast aromas. The fresh structured mid palate retains its texture but opens slowly into generous sweet banana, butterscotch flavours before finishing with a persistent developed stone-fruit and chalky texture
Seriously? Banana, butterscotch, chalk? Now I get why wine drinkers sniff and swirl the stuff suspiciously before delicately taking a sip. The aroma of stone and chalk must be JUST right. Thanks, I will have vanilla with my Artois.

I ordered a cup of tea.

           Darjeeling tea I Darjeeling I India

Is the best tea in the world. Drink.

The time had come to face my worst fears.  Soup or salad?

          Soup: Caraway Infused Roast Carrot Soup
          Salad: Apple, Cherry Tomatoes and Cheddar Cheese Salad

Caraway and Carrot. Apple and Tomato. I was torn; the cheese finally tipped the balance. I ordered the soup. How was it, you ask? Unlike the red wine featured above, this soup wasn't confused. It was carrot soup all right.  I swallowed a spoonful.

In the descriptions of dishes in various eateries, every spice gets a mention on a fairly regular basis, like caraway, cardamom, chillies (ground, whole, chopped). It should be made mandatory by law that chefs have to put down the most important ingredient of all: SALT. Maybe, then they will remember. Note to self: Add sachets of Knorr soup to survival travel list.

That brings me to Paneer Qualiyan. I see all of you perking up, Quail and paneer! That is a first.

PQ: Cottage cheese cooked in rich saffron gravy.

I ordered the Goan fish curry.

The fish was Basa. 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tom and the king of butterflies

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, lived a four year old boy called Tom. He lived with his Mama and Baba in a beautiful cottage, next to a big jungle. Tom’s Baba worked in the cheese factory in town, which was a very good thing for Tom as he could eat as many cheese slices as he wanted.  Tom loved to peel off the plastic and break the cheese into small pieces and eat them. He had them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tom loved cheese.

Every morning, Tom’s Baba would get into his shiny new red car and drive to work and every morning he told Tom not to go into the jungle on his own: “It’s a very big jungle and is full of creepers, bushes and trees and you will lose your way and never will be able to return home”. That worried Tom as he loved his Mama and Baba and if he got lost he would not be able to be with them. Also, he would miss having cheese.

During the day, while Tom’s mama did her cooking and housework, Tom played in the garden. Their garden had a swing, a sand pit and lots of flowers. Tom loved running about in the garden, making sand castles and playing on the swing. He would swing himself very fast and then hold his head back and look up at the blue sky and observe the white clouds that looked like big cotton balls to him. He could usually see Mickey Mouse floating by and once he even saw Barney!

One day, Tom was watching the clouds when suddenly a big blue butterfly came over his head. The wings were as blue as the sky and the edge of the wings were dark as the night.

Suddenly, the butterfly spoke: “Hello Tom, I am the king of the butterflies and wanted to talk to you”. The voice was velvety with a nice flutter.

Tom recovered from his surprise and asked: “How do you know my name and what do want to talk to me about?”

The king butterfly replied: “I have been watching you for a few days now and have heard your Mama call your name. I think you are a very intelligent boy and I wanted to ask your help for a matter of grave importance.”

Tom didn’t really know what grave was but he could make out from the king butterfly’s fluttery voice that it was important: “Sure I will help you if I can, what is the problem?”

“Thank you so much, Tom” said the king butterfly and continued, “For you to understand our problem, you will have to come with me into the jungle and meet all the butterflies and talk to us. Shall we go?”

Tom’s heart sank. He really wanted to help the butterflies but go into the jungle? He did not want to get lost and miss his cheese for lunch. He got off from the swing and sat down on the ground with his chin in his hands. What should he do?

Seeing that Tom was worried, the king butterfly said “Don’t worry Tom, I will guide you inside the jungle and I promise to bring you back home before lunch”

Tom smiled and said “C’mon then, we must go quickly”

They set off into the jungle with the kind butterfly flying near the top of the trees and Tom following on the tiny path below. On both sides of the path there were thick bushes and wide trunks of the tall trees that towered into the sky.

Suddenly Tom heard a rustling sound to his right. He was startled to see a small brown smiling face with two big ears starting at him. It was a monkey! “Where are you going, Tom” asked the monkey. “I am going with the king butterfly to help him with a problem” said Tom. The monkey stopped smiling and with a worried expression said “You must be very careful, the butterflies are very dangerous”. And the monkey disappeared into the bush.  Tom was most amused, thinking to himself as he skipped along the path behind the king butterfly “Butterflies and dangerous? What nonsense”

Tom had barely gone a few yards, when he heard another noise, this time to his left. Over the bushes, he could see two long ears sticking out. It was a rabbit! And next to the rabbit was a sad looking donkey. And as he moved the bushes aside, he could see a bear, a baby kangaroo, a striped creature, a small pig and a baby elephant. And suddenly he noticed up on a tree a bird like creature with big round eyes.

They all reminded Tom of something he had seen somewhere. Do you know who they were?

Suddenly Tom remembered “They all look like my friends from Winnie the Pooh” he said to himself “Rabbit, Eyore, Pooh, Roo, Tigger, Piglet, Lumpy and Owl!” But what were they doing here?

Suddenly, they all started speaking “Tom, what are you doing here?”

 “I am going with the king butterfly to help him with a problem” said Tom.

All of them went silent and then Rabbit said “Tom that is not very clever of you, the butterflies are verrrrry dangerous. And we are very scared of them”. All the other animals nodded in agreement.

Tom noticed that the king butterfly was getting ahead so he waved at the animals and ran after the butterfly thinking to himself “There is something strange going on here and I am going to find out what” Tom was a very brave boy.

After a few minutes, the path abruptly ended and Tom found himself in a clearing in the middle of the jungle. And what did he see? There were hundred and hundreds of butterflies floating around. They were of every colour possible-brown, red, yellow, green, violet, and of all possible combinations-some were blue with red spots, others were green with red stripes..there were so many..

The king butterfly took Tom to the centre of the clearing and said “Tom is here to help us”. All the butterflies started twittering at the same time. “Shh” said the king butterfly loudly and there was silence. 

“Tom” said the king butterfly “We are all very worried about these dangerous creatures that live next to the jungle.”

“What creatures?” asked Tom.

The king butterfly said “Strange ones, one has long ears, there is one with round large eyes that keeps looking at us, one has strange stripes and keeps jumping up and down, then there is one with a looong nose,,”

And all the other butterflies said in one voice “They are verrrrry dangerous!”

Tom started smiling. His face broke into a wide grin. This upset the butterflies. “You are laughing at our troubles” said one orange butterfly.

“No, no” said Tom “I was smiling because I can solve your problem. You wait here and I will be back in a minute.

Tom ran back down the path to where the animals were waiting. He explained to them how both the butterflies and the animals were afraid of each other and asked them to come with him.

“No no” said the piglet “it is too dangerous.” “Could be a trap” said the donkey. They were not convinced, till owl and rabbit had a discussion and then owl said “We trust Tom, we will go with him” So, off they trooped behind Tom and entered the clearing.

On seeing the animals all the butterflies went into a tizzy and started flying here and there. The animals also got alarmed and piglet ran back down the path.

“What is this, Tom? You have brought our enemies here” said the king butterfly.

“No, no, listen to me all of you.” said Tom “You are both scared of each other, when there is nothing to be afraid about. All of you are very nice and should be friends.”

“Friends?” said the donkey.
“Friends?” said the yellow butterfly.
“Friends?” said the baby elephant.

“Yes, friends” said Tom.

The king butterfly flew over to where the owl and rabbit were standing and asked “Can we be friends?”

“Why not?” said the owl

Everyone broke into laughter and started dancing with happiness. “Friends, friends” was what you heard all over.

The king butterfly flew over to Tom, who was standing in the corner smiling broadly and said “Tom, thank you so much, we will be grateful to you forever”

“Now, let me take you back home, it’s almost lunchtime.”

Tom ran behind the butterfly through the jungle. He didn’t want to be late for lunch. His Mama would be very worried.

As he burst into his garden, he could hear his Mama’s voice “Tom, lunch is ready”

He turned around, waved at the king butterfly and ran into the kitchen all excited “Mama, you won’t believe what I did!”

“Yes, yes, I will listen. First go wash your hands and eat your cheese.” said Mama.

Tom sat down with a smile to eat his cheese.

And everyone lived happily ever after.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Short’s story

He was born a chart busting seventy centimeters long and was immediately nicknamed Chottu by an imaginative uncle. A nickname that would, in time, look ridiculous on who was to be India’s biggest sport export.

Chottu kept elongating unaided by any giraffe branded tonic or ruler inspired chocolate drink. And his early life was miserable. Wearing shorts at seven, when he was already five feet tall, made him a standout target for the usual pranksters at school. He needed chairs and tables to be brought in from senior school. He was a sight, walking around forlornly like a coconut tree in the school compound at recess.

The ring on the wall first caught his attention when he was eight and his life changed. He soon realized he could pretty much jump and put a ball through the hoop without a thought. The wall became his best friend. And nothing could come between them. He pounded away every free minute he had. At times, he had no ball. That did not deter him. Stones, crumpled cardboard and, sometimes, brown paper covered notebooks were all made to jump through his circle of joy.

Soon a senior spotted this wall creeper and got him onto the school basketball court. He was born again. It was like Tom had just met Jerry. By the time he was ten, he was topping six feet and easily was the senior team’s Magic. MC as he soon came to be known grew in leaps and bounds and became the sporting sensation of town. People came to see him running rings around teams from all over and they never went back disappointed.

And as fate would have it, an exchange program saw him in New York and suddenly he was not a freak. He was just twelve and already six and a half feet tall. And by now, he was lethal on the court. It was his court and when he was on it he took no prisoners. He was grabbed by the New York City’s second league Dramstick on a professional contract, smashing all previous records.

MC had arrived. And Chottu was a pleasant memory.

That is the long and short of this tall tale.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Cooking up a storm

The first one was recommended by the local grocer's Bong helper (Dada, He haz worked in a hotel). It took us ten minutes to realise that there are probably lots of jobs in hotels, not necessarily all in the kitchen.

The second was from my home state's neighbour. All reputed to be great cooks and this one did that reputation no harm. He was a lifesaver. He had the speed of a Ronaldo and the artistry of a Giggs all rolled into one. Stuffed baingan and aloo (even the aloo was stuffed), followed delectable dals, interspersed with stuffed bhindi(not a drop of stuffing spilling) and methi chicken. Life was good. The day he earned the tag "Maharaj" was when we asked him if he could cook Biryani. His usually non-attentive eyes blazed with anger. After an hour, the kitchen door opened and he said he was done. After a few beers when we entered the kitchen, we were awestruck. We had a dekchi with its lid sealed with atta, emitting the most amazing aroma, staring at us.

Then he had to go on his annual leave. My parents were arriving in mid-Dec and on hearing that he brought his leave forward and promised to be back by the 20th. And even provided us with a substitute. The sub couldn't do stuffed bhindi but was allright for 20 days, we thought. Well, as of date, Maharaj No 1 hasn't returned. And his sub has found another job.

Two days of ordering in and mish-mash at home and we went back to cook hunting. An old pal obliged and Maharaj No 2 came to meet us. He specialises in veg! The vision of my parents, who think Rui maach is veg, eating daal chapati day in-day out swam in front of me. But beggars can't be choosers.

M2 hits us from this evening.

Will keep you posted.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Invisible Musician

I never could get what people see in the “upcoming star” of classical music. How times have changed. I remember playing at the Dover Lane music festival. Night after night. Year after year. Now that was magic.

But my opinion is hardly relevant.

Today, we are at the Town hall. It’s wonderful. It’s all lit up and when I look up from my strumming, I see the steps are almost full. Yes, even the buses twisting around Horniman Circle seem to be respecting the dulcet tones of the pretender.

He is not bad. Just that he needs a little more discipline. Since I first strummed behind him, he has put on a few kilos. His voice seems to be struggling at times to get past the last Biryani he had from Ameenas. And he is making up for it by blaming the sound guys.

But then, who am I to blow against the wind. He is, after all: The next voice.

When you are the second string player at these socially conscious gatherings, it's amusing to watch the corporate types lighting the diya. I wonder if they can identify a raga from a regatta. Hey, I am not complaining though, it pays for my rum and pomfret slice at Apoorva’s (the curry is to die for, try it with the neer dosa).

Just that, the Hansadhwani at times makes me want to strangle the black swan.But then, what choice do I have?

Being invisible is one.