Chicago Blues

This blog is an online repertoire of my columns that run in the Indian Express, North American edition. Here I rave and rant about life, mostly as seen from the large vistas of my little world.

Location: Chicago, United States

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pots, Pans and a Kadhai-full of Memories.

Once the variegated, regional roll of New Years kick in, there is no exit gate out of the barrage of festivals that crash in on us; at least for the average, traditional desi like me. While some prefer to sit back and be a part of the celebrations (not to mention wipe away that wistful, lone tear) over the course of long-distance phone calls with their folks, some retreat into their kitchens to whip up a feast, given that the desi palate is at the core of every festivity.

Since Ugadi, for instance, we have sprouted, overnight as it were, unappeasable sweet teeth. While volumes of fancy desi cookery books stare back at me from atop the kitchen cabinets where they have been stowed away to gather dust until the annual Spring cleaning sessions come about, what I really miss is not tucked in a book of recipes - be it hand-written or printed. No scrap of paper that bears grease stains or indulging aromas or the secret codes of pinches and dabs of special ingredients that go into making the perfect dessert can match up to what I require in order to recreate the taste of festivals past from my childhood - my mother’s pots and pans. Some round, some oval, some dented, some bottom-lined and caked with fragments of over burned sweetness. There is something about mixing, frying and sautéing stuff in my mother’s pots and pans that seems to add a whole new dimension of flavor and tang to family recipes. It almost makes me wonder why my mother bothered to invest in sparkling new cookware to hand me, like all good-thinking mothers do for their daughters. I’d much rather have taken a few of her pots and pans as hand-me-downs, in solid iron or aluminum as opposed to stainless steel or copper-bottomed, shined with morsels of wet earth from the backyard for that new-fangled feel.

Speaking of stainless steel, however, all the fuss over bisphenol-a, a chemical widely used in the manufacture of plastics (be it bottles or food containers or in canned-food linings), has had me thinking about healthier choices to drink a beverage out of, or eat food from. And my faithful old Eddie Bauer steel flask sure seems a better pick over the fancy plastic bottles that fizz and pop and squirt upon snapping a button placed strategically in the cap. However, the copper carafe with its age-old dimpled center and the tall steel tumbler with its serrated-rim back at home are certainly worth considering over this modern-day thermos. And then there’s that earthern-ware that I have eyed for years - a perfectly globular terracotta decanter with a spout the size of a crane’s beak, that keeps water not only chilled, but lined with just the right amount of earthiness to quench anyone’s thirst on a sultry day. It stands pompously beside the china pickle jar in my mother’s South Indian kitchen, which also has room for a ground-level stone hand grinder amid its recent acquisitions of avant-garde appliances.

Without as much as taking a kink, may I add that what could be a trifle more overwhelming than missing your mom’s festive cooking or her pots and pans in which to create your own is the fact that David Smith, author, and dealer of historic cookware (or the modern-day “PanMan,” as I like to refer to him), may have just the right skillet or pan that could help turn a cooking experiment into exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth recipes that could put your grandmother to shame ( While that suits the Americanized desi yen alright, I live in wonderment and hope that someday, someone will unearth and amass ancient Indian “kadhais” and “tawas” and possibly even “tandoors” that one could bring home to replicate the magic of delectable spreads from bygone feasts.


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