Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Three colours: Red, Yellow, Green

Back in the days when I was sleepwalking through my career in an advertising agency, my visualiser friend drew a caricature of me post my Fido Dido haircut. I looked at it and shrieked! “Ouch.. my nose looks like a capsicum!” I cried. “Didn’t you know that?” said Paddu, my only buddy in that maze. That was it. My big fat capsicum nose—my great inheritance from my dad, apart from the tropical forest of a mane, was immortalized.

Since then, capsicum and me always had a special relationship. As I grew older, may be I grew into my nose, so life was more about the capsicum and less about the nose.

Well cooked, grilled or raw, peppers (as they are more stylishly known) work well any which way, unlike most salad-based vegetables— that’s what sets them apart. A friend of mine who incidentally hates cooking taught me this delectable red and yellow pepper infused dip that makes the most ordinary slice of bread transform into a thing of exotica. The fact that she could make it made me realise that it’s not easy to screw up a capsicum, unless you are deplorable. And if you go wrong with good old aloo simla, you may as well kill yourself— the natural chemistry between the two will always come in the way of your bad cooking.

Simla mirchi (in desi lingo) is also one that ups the sexiness quotient of almost any subzi, or tandoor platter (yes, the vegetarians have a humble paneer-capsicum equivalent). While its red and yellow brethren come quick to the rescue to jazz up a salad, tomato-based pasta or just a stir-fry.

I have never understood why the red and yellow ones come gift-wrapped and cost a bomb compared to the green ones (is it possible they have more flavonoids or anti-oxidants? Must check). Personally, they work the same, although the green ones are more piquant and the red and yellow ones make it look like you truly are bringing out your best veggies for your guest.

Whatever your colour, any time is a good time for peppers. Enjoy!

Pepper dip

An ode to the lazy and fabulous.. lasts a week and all you need is anything to mop it up—bread works well.


One red pepper

One yellow pepper

4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

one teaspoon roasted sesame seeds

olive oil

balsamic vinegar (or soya sauce)

salt to taste


On an open flame, grill the red and yellow peppers till the skin turns charcoal black and can be peeled off easily. Cool and set aside.

Peel the peppers, and slit them vertically, scooping out the seeds. Slice into thin strips.

Put the pepper strips into a glass or ceramic bowl, and add the roasted sesame and roasted chopped garlic. Douse liberally with olive oil, and then round off with a drop of balsamic vinegar (you can also use soya sauce) and mix well, adding salt to taste.

Use this as a dip for bread or layer it on a baguette or toast,  or lavash, adding olives, lettuce or whatever you fancy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Big deal

A dear friend has declared she is out in the market. She is attractive, successful, well-travelled, articulate, funny, reads poetry, has great taste, has a great cook, and is a great human being.
Now, why would anyone want to ruin a perfectly good life like that, I wonder. She reasons that she doesn’t want to feel like she didn’t try. So she is on a dotcom hunt for a suitable man. She reasons she deserves a good shot at finding Mr Big, after having been with a few not-so-good insignificants. She recently met a Not-so-big in this scenario, but something’s telling her to hang on. There just might be a Mr Big lurking around somewhere, she thinks. As for the candidate in question, she was his Big, a scenario though flattering, isn’t exactly the optimum one.

We all want to be with men who will sweep us off our feet, know jazz and wine, fill a room, cook us a great meal occasionally, have out-of-the-box travel ideas, are capable of being angry and sad, kill us with their voice, and be just the right level of romantic (more about levels in another column). And of course be successful, suave and desirable. In short, we are looking for the great Indian oxymoron.

I don’t know anyone who has found their Big. Yes, they might have been in trying relationships with him, or they are yet to meet him, but most of the women I know have ended up with Not-so-big, and are still in a good place. This is not to say that my friend should settle for less, but may be just continue with the greatest love affair of her life — the one with herself. When that happens (and it often takes a while), the Bigs get drawn to you like magnets.

But if I take a quick roll call of the singletons in my life, the number of interesting women far outweighs the number of interesting men. And yes, men might feel that’s unfair, but take a piece of paper and list five interesting single men and women you know, and write to me. We’ll do the math.

My paradigm for an interesting woman is—if I were a man, would I date her? If the answer is yes, she goes into the list.

The basic difference between men and women, or at least the men and women I know, is that women make the most of waiting for Big. They get makeovers, they work on their look, they straighten or curl their hair (depending on what they have), they travel, they trek, they go on spiritual journeys or look for inner peace, they change careers, go wine tasting, they learn salsa and belly dance and capoeira.

Men whine. They whine that they have no interesting women to take spiritual journeys or salsa or capoeira with. They whine that there are no muses to dress up for. Basically what they want is to be rehabilitated, and they hope that they can be their slouchy selves and someone will just come and whisk them away.

In the meanwhile, they can continue their torrid affairs with their large-screen televisions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stubble trouble

I am allergic to press releases, or anything that shouts, “I am a press release”, which makes for 99.9 % of press releases. What also gets my capillaries bursting is calls from PR companies that start with, “I wanted to talk to you regarding my client XYZ ….who will be …..” Or this one: “We have sent you an invite for the launch of ___(random product or event) on ___ at ____which will be attended by ___ (list of random C-list celebrities). Will you be coming?”

Of course I won’t be coming. I have a life. I mean, give me a break. The least you can do is come up with a better opening line. But I guess lazy journalists will take anything that comes their way, which means PR companies will never go out of business — it’s a symbiotic relationship.

At the start of my career as an advertising copywriter, there was the era of the un-ad ad. There were a whole bunch of creative directors who constantly reminded us that the reader unfolds the paper to read news and features, not ads. Our competition therefore, was editorial content, not other ads. That was the honeymoon period for copywriters who dug body copy, like I did. Then the television boom happened and everything was about 30-second quickies. There was no room for print, and if at all, it was about, “We have to do a 100 cc ad. It has to include the client’s bio-data, his ex-wife’s photo, his dog’s name somewhere in the copy, his mission statement, his brother’s company’s logo and baseline and….”

I quit. I became a journalist.

Some days ago, I received this in my inbox. I would have blindly deleted it, just as I do every press release I routinely get, when the subject line made me stop for a second. It said ‘W.A.L.S: Women Against Lazy Stubble’, and I figured it could work as fodder for my column. (No prizes for guessing it was from a shaving products company). Now, forget the fact that I like my men with a bit of stubble and I am the one always asking the husband to go easy on the buzzing; it’s well, just more textural and if you may, alpha male. It briefly read:

For centuries women have spent hours grooming themselves to please men but that is changing. Women are now taking a strong stand against LAZY MEN AND THEIR LAZY STUBBLE. W.A.L.S is a movement that brings together all like-minded women who believe that it is about time men made a little effort to groom themselves and sport a cleaner and more confident look. Why should only the women make that effort? The founders of this movement are a group of young women who believe that EQUALITY should exist in all walks of life – including self-hygiene and grooming.

It went on..

“We would invite celebrities like Malaika Arora, Neha Dhupia and Mugdha Godse to be a part of an EXCLUSIVE story with your publication, where they can share their thoughts on topics such as….. and instances in their life where stubble proved to be trouble (with friends, husband, father, brother boyfriend, etc.)

I do hope there is an era of the un-press release press release. Meanwhile I can offer my services to PR companies looking to write them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lady killer

In the days of yore, one of the pre-tests to tell an instinctive cook from a laboured one was to see how one handled okras (lady fingers in common parlance, bhindi in more endearing ones). If you were the kind of person who chopped them and then washed them, out you went, scoring zero on ten. If you, on the other hand, rinsed the bhindis, laid them out on newspaper sheets, and gently dried then, nudging collective contact with the paper, you scored 7 on 10. And if you, like the more fastidious but rare breed, dried them one at a time with a kitchen roll, you scored a perfect ten.

Whatever the case, the mucilage is the bane of the bhindi’s existence…or its redemption, depending on how you look at it. For instance, while volunteering at WSD, boiled bhindi was commonly added to dog food and mashed, for those canines suffering from constipation—it always worked, even closer home for my cats.

One of the things I like about bhindi (apart from the fact that it is one of two vegetables that the husband likes) is the fact that they remind me of real people—they are thin, fat, tall, short, fair, dark, happy, grumpy, and seem to have faces… and their hexagonal contours seem to have an attitude of their own. Remember how in the craft class, the closest resemblance to people in a vegetable skit was Mr. Ladyfinger?

They always talk to me. Depending on their shape or size, they seem to say, okay, I have gotten a little corpulent here, so make sure you camouflage me well. Or, I am so tender and green, so please do as little as you can to me.

Personally, I like them thin and wiry, as I like my men. Also, like I hate disfiguring a perfectly good lady finger, I also like to eat them as whole as I can. So the traditional bhindi subzi doesn’t quite work for me, although being the seasoned Tam bram that I am, Vendakkai Pachadi is something I wish I had inherited from the parents. All my mother handed me down was a quickie yoghurt variant of it, which works pretty well, although the tamarind version is to be inhaled to be believed.

Bhindi raita (courtesy the mother)


Bhindi: 200 gm

Ginger, a medium sized piece, julienned

Jeera powder



Green chillies; 2, juliennned


Wash and dry bhindis. Chop them really thin and set aside.

In a non-stick pan, heat a tablespoon of oil, add rai, allow to splutter, and then a pinch of hing, and then the ginger and chilly juliennes and mix well.

Add the bhindi to this, salt to taste, and fry well on a low flame will crisp. Cool. Set aside.

In a bowl, whisk 250 gm of dahi to smoothen lumps, and add the fried bhindi mixture to it. Serve immediately as an accompaniment to rice or rotis.

Bhindi aloo with garlic (courtesy Manish, my sindhi foodie colleague)

2 large potatoes, sliced vertically

Bhindi : 200 gm, cut into 2inch pieces and then slit vertically

Garlic : 6-7 cloves

Green chillies: 2-3

Salt to taste


Peel the garlic cloves and slice the chillies and crush them with a bit of salt using a mortar pestle

Heat some oil in a pan and add the chilly garlic mixture, and then add the bhindis and aloo, salt to taste, mix well

Cook on a slow flame, stirring occasionally till well done.

Serve hot with chapatis or dal-chaval

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Verse case scenario

The husband said to me recently, in appreciation of my wifely and motherly excellence, “I feel like writing a poem about you. I would if I could, but since I can’t, I will stick to naming my weapons after you..”

Before you roll your eyes any further, let me explain. The husband is a gamer (for those of you who came in late) and no, nothing has changed post infant, except perhaps, the fact that he uses headphones while he goes on about massacring people and escaping with the loot, so that the infant is not permanently marked by violence at the tender age of (almost) five months.

The weapon he is referring to is ‘Lalli’s bane’, something that has the power to inflict instant fatigue leading to immobilization and eventual death (just like I do with my sharp tongue, he says) with just a few whacks in a combat with soldiers, orcs, minatores, evil henchmen, or generally anyone he wants to kill in the game, Elder Scrolls Oblivion.

The infant has also joined the ranks in his gaming world and currently, Rehaan is the name of the main character in Fallout 3 (his current PS3 craze), a boy who is trying to save the world in a post apocalyptic Washington DC, and searching for his father to solve a mystery. Earlier, I was Lee, the warrior princess in a first person fantasy shooter game. “See, I think of you even when you are not around,” he says, almost in his defence.

Coming back to poetry, there was a time when I used to judge men by how well they wrote. Or least how well they wrote letters and notes and poems to me. It was an unstated pre-qualification for any man in my life, and many not-so-nice-men were given the benefit of doubt just because they wrote poetry, or what seemed like it then. Like a friend of mine who judges men by whether they recognize that her bag is, indeed, a Louis Vuitton. But I realized pretty late that the cadaverous poets also came with other baggage that I didn’t necessarily want to deal with, and besides, in the email era, it didn’t seem to matter any more. If you want something interesting to say to someone, just find it on Google.

The husband doesn’t write poetry, or cook or talk about rainforests, eco-friendliness or recycling, or approves of my desire to settle in a village or enjoys getting wet in the rain, or likes rearranging furniture every now and then, or is a backpacker or has been chased by a cow while going to school. But then that would have made two of us. And what could be more boring than marrying your clone? So I am just happy to be the ‘bane’ of his existence.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quick gun vegan

I turned vegan about three weeks ago. Now, don’t give me that, “Oh, poor you, you seed-eating, fruit-infested, lettuce-chomping, whole food junkie you!” I might come back with, “I am having a pretty good time, you sausage-ridden rodents!”

But this is not about ‘to meat or not to meat.’ Point is, I was already a vegetarian, so giving up dairy products didn’t seem like a big deal. Plus, I like experimenting with my life, and a workshop on Peas Vs Pills that I attended with the infant did it for me. He of course had no idea that his culinary repertoire was being planned on his mega outing, but then, too bad! Such are the perks of motherhood. Till he has a mind of his own, I appointed myself as his thinker.

The husband was both amused and despondent when he found out. Since the two of us met, he has evolved from a classic omnivore to someone who now eats all that I eat, but needs his sausage and burger goodies on the side. But no day or meal for the husband is complete without oodles of dairy products – cheese, cheese spread, mayonnaise, butter, cheese slices and then some... (it is a miracle he weighs what he weighs, thank god for his metabolism)

Our fridge has been about ‘his shelf’ and ‘my shelf’ and a lot of our dates (I still prefer to call them that) comprised laying out a cheese platter, picking out a favourite DVD (post Tata Sky Plus, it is favourite ‘recorded’ movie or show) pouring each a glass of wine, and just savouring the goodies.

Now it turns out, that he will be chewing on the cheese while I will be chomping on my lettuce. But we haven’t had any problems so far, so I guess we were doing good. Till he asked me, “Is Rehaan going to be vegan too?” with much trepidation.

I could sense that he had nurtured visions of taking the son (that already sounds all-grown up, the poor thing has just learn how to flip over) to the nearest Mc Donald’s soon as he turned two and the two of them feasting on burgers with extra cheese, coke with extra coke and fries with extra fries. Now, he sees them paling away, and of course, that is causing him endless worry.

“Well, for now, yes,” I said.

“But shouldn’t we allow him to decide?,” he whined.

“Okay, you can tell him where a hot dog comes from and he can decide, yes,” was my reply.

Ah, we were going to have ‘parenting issues’, I figured. But I have at least bought time for now.

How am I feeling? Very calm, strangely. Must be the vegan thing. Even nincompoops haven’t been able to rattle me in the past month, so something must be working.