Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sunday Scribblings - "Food"

You'd think that this week's prompt would be really easy to do, given the fact that I maintain a food blog - but no, I'm just as constipated as ever (creatively speaking, thank you very much). All I can say on the topic of food is that I love it... especially Indian food. And, apparently, my love for it is inversely proportional to how good it is for me. The worse it is, the more I love it, in other words. Breakfast smoothies involving raw pureed super-healthy vegetables (broccoli and karela juice, anyone?) just don't cut it... but give me hot aloo parathas and cold lassi, or idlis with four types of chutney and sambar, and I'm in hog heaven.

About the only thing that saves my reputation from total infamy is that aloo parathas are very unlikely to grace my breakfast table of a morning - mainly because I would have to make them myself. (Ditto idlis and chutneys.)

Laziness, very occasionally, has the happy - if unintentional - side-effect of conferring virtue upon one. One, believe me, is all for it!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I love my Kindle, but...

I had a chilling thought while reading this article in The Guardian: What if there was some terrible disaster, man-made or natural, that knocked out all power stations worldwide, making all mod-cons useless because there would be no electricity for the majority of the earth's population?

If the Kindle and other e-readers really do end up making the printed word obsolete, what would we do in the situation outlined above? What would we (meaning, selfishly, I) DO without books to read?

To continue on the "selfish" note, I can only pray that no such catastrophe happens in my lifetime.

Or, on a less selfish note, let's all hope that there will always be books, old and new, as long as human life exists on this planet.

Friday, February 11, 2011

On Japanese: Great beauty, great difficulty

The closest I’ve come to learning Japanese is the few classes that I managed to attend when I was working in Madras, over 10 years ago. That’s also pretty much the closest I’ve come to Japanese culture, unless you count the few days spent in the company of my friend and a few of his Japanese friends when we all travelled to a small town in Rajasthan to attend a third friend’s wedding.

Since my lack of Japanese was total, and their lack of English was nearly total, the only way to communicate was through my friend with whom we went to the wedding. (Okay, the groom spoke good Japanese too, and he might have assisted by interpreting/translating, but he was just too preoccupied with his wedding to manage more than a few minutes here and there – understandably enough, I suppose, if I must be charitable.) In other words, I would not be exaggerating if I said that I didn’t really manage to have deep and meaningful conversations with them about the intricacies and nuances of their cuisine and culture.

Anyhow, I've never eaten anything authentically Japanese, although I have a Japanese cookbook for beginners which was a wedding present from a dear friend who’d spent a lot of time teaching in Japan. I’ve read that book from cover to cover more than once, but not worked up the courage to try a single recipe in 9 years of owning the book. Not even the (very few) vegetarian recipes in it. And not even this blog-pal’s simply-described, knowledgeable and funny posts on home-made Japanese vegetarian dishes are likely to overcome my cowardice (check out her latest post here).

I’ve heard that Japanese cuisine is about freshness and simplicity - and lots and lots of fish. Raw. Maybe that’s why it frightens me so much. Or maybe it's the fear that comes from complete ignorance of the food and the culture... but if I’m honest, apart from inexperience, the main reason I'm intimidated is the Japanese focus on beauty and perfection in everything. Not only does the food have to be beautiful to the palate, it also has to be beautiful to the eye, with balance in texture and flavour and colour and looks. (I'd find that pretty worrying even without the stress of trying a completely unknown recipe – especially knowing that it would be eaten by others!)

Talking about beauty with edibility, have you seen Japanese bento boxes? (And read about the fierce competition between Japanese housewives and mothers to give their kids the most beautiful lunch box contents/arrangements possible, every single school day? I’m SO GLAD I’m not a Japanese housewife/mother. I’d be the human equivalent of what a belly flop would be to an Olympic diver!) If you haven’t, check out this link, and despair – and also admire: Beautiful bento.

I know first-hand that the Japanese are aesthetically oriented. I had got into a three-way conversation with my friend and one of the Japanese guys mentioned earlier, and Hamachan was showing me how to combine symbols to make a compound word in a third script (called kanji). The same symbols could be combined in two or three ways to mean the same thing, but what got me was when he pointed to a particular combination he’d written/drawn, and said “This is a more beautiful word, but that is not”.

I couldn’t at first get his drift, because after all both kanji had the same meaning. Hamachan tried to explain further, and finally it dawned on me – the first kanji was “more beautiful” in the sense of being more aesthetically pleasing in the way the symbols were combined. The others were more awkward, in his eyes, and therefore not perfect in their beauty. Right there, right then, I felt a huge despondence within me – what hope did I have of learning to read and write this incredibly complicated language? I would have considered it an achievement just to put the correct syllables together... but they were looking for “beautifully put together” as well??? What chance did a semi-creative non-perfectionist like me have? That was a humbling moment, allright.

I should explain that it wasn't cowardice that made me discontinue my nascent Japanese lessons... it was because I kept missing classes on account of work commitments, and found it impossible to catch up. Have I said it is NOT an easy language to learn, especially reading and writing? Still, I have always regretted it.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Taking Mother Nature to task

What were you THINKING, Ma Nature, when you designed coriander leaves? Were they never meant to be stored? Did you never imagine that would one day they would be kept in bunches in the fridge in a bid to keep them reasonably fresh? Do you have an explanation - ANY explanation at all! - for why the leaves and stems wilt and rot randomly from the inside of the bunch out? Why only SOME leaves/stems in the middle of the bunch? Why not ALL of them in the middle? Why not the ones in the outermost layer? Do you not REALISE how insanely annoying this is to people like me who loathe having to separate the slimy rotten bits from the healthy green bits and yet are forced to do it because they don't wish to waste the entire bunch?

I ask you, why? Why this rotten design flaw?