My favourite things – Day 2: Tea!

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So coming to day 2 of the writing challenge. I am in a bit of a rush and also a bit unwell today so this post might seem a bit incoherent, but nevertheless! The whole point of a writing challenge is to write no matter what; so attempting the same 😛

The second item on my list of favourites is our good old everyday beverage – tea!! It’s a beverage that I will not refuse when offered, ever 😀 My everyday necessity, my comfort companion, my pacifier in times of sadness, and most importantly my remedy for a lot of illnesses. All this and much more – summarized in a single three lettered word – tea 🙂

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Tea time!!

My association with tea started off in childhood when asthma was a regular visitor in my life. My parents were advised to make me drink medicinal tea aka tea with ginger, tulsi, honey etc as a home remedy when I would get congestion of breath and clogging. I tasted tea as a medicine to begin with, and since then there has been no looking back! This medicine infused tea was a major relief in all my childhood asthma attacks, and led me to build a very loving relationship with it. Soon after, asthma was now in check, but tea became a permanent resident in my life!
Even at this very moment, as I type the word T-E-A, it brings a smile to my face. The slow boiled infusion of tea leaves, milk and sugar in water cooks up an aesthetically as well as gustatory pleasing experience known as tea drinking. Having had a lot of tea enthusiasts in my family, I was introduced to different kinds of tea as per each ones preference. My grandfather loved the English style of light tea with a mild infused flavor of tea leaves and very less milk in it. While my brother loves the really strong flavoured tea that has a sumptuous amount of spices (chai masala) with tea leaves. My father on the other hand, has been a frequent traveler to Japan, China and Korea – and likes green tea from different sources. Me? I just love tea of all sorts!! 😛 I love a slightly mild tea as a regular everyday drink. But on special days, or on winter days, I like green tea with different flavours. And when it is pouring cats and dogs in the monsoons, I relish tea with a really strong flavor of boiled leaves, lots of ginger and lots of spices! I love to sit with my hands wrapped around a warm tea cup. This beverage is my companion, my confidante, my friend and my everyday necessity now 🙂
Years later, I got married into a family where tea is exactly as much a necessity in all days and events as I like. And needless to say, some of the best bonding times that I can remember while being new in this family were all centered around tea time!
To me, tea making is like an art. It is a ritual. It is an investment. It is not something that you do ‘in the background while doing other things’. No. It deserves that bit of time to get its proportions correct. To get the aroma in place. And to get the maximum of the tea experience.
I cannot yet remember an occasion when tea has not been a companion. It has been so in good and bad times alike.
Feeling unwell – Have a cup of tea
Feeling rejoiced – Celebrate with a cup of tea
Angry? Had a fight? – Calm yourself with a cup of tea
An experiment gone topsy turvy in the lab? – Just forget it over a cup of tea
Having friends or cousins over? – Make tea
Alone at home today? – Again make tea!!
Important work discussion – Over tea!
Chat about personal life – Again over tea!!
A stop in any journey – Calls for a tea break!
The completion of a task / journey – Have tea!!
I have honestly lost track of the number of events that tea has witnessed with me. Probably every event of my life – everyday and every special day 🙂
I must confess here, though, that honestly I also love the beverage cousin of tea – which is coffee, to a comparable extent. But the relationship I share with coffee is a bit different. Coffee is a drink for special occasions, for special conversations. It is not something that contributes to my ‘everyday’. It is like the stilettos you will wear for a party, while tea is your everyday no-heels chappal which carries you to all places during the day. So while coffee is special and beautiful; tea is ordinary everyday comfort and so maybe ahead of coffee by a small margin in my life 🙂

 

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Work desk scenes 🙂

To sign off, I think a very unique contribution of tea would be worth a mention. Having had this background of a nearly inseparable love and affection for tea, my dream date while learning to dream about love – was of having a cup of hot chai in the cold rain. Now imagine my dismay when I fell in love with the man of my dreams a few years ago only to find out that he absolutely dislikes tea!!!! All my dreams about sharing moments over tea, romantic conversations over tea were not happening and seemed far from reality. And as we started with discovering a contrasting opinion about tea, we went on to realize a contrast in preferences and opinions about almost everything under the sun! Now, to be honest, I was initially sad about this fact. But subsequently I got over this and realized that the difference in choice over tea was actually conveying a larger message to me. And that was of letting a person be, loving and accepting him/her for what they really are and accommodating habits that may be way contrasting to mine. In a way, I learnt this through tea, and I am grateful to it for the same.
And now the end result? The best tea I have had is the one that my husband makes for me 🙂 Even though he doesn’t have it himself! Customized, with the exact proportions of ingredients and just the way I need it. Tea forms one of the ways for him to express his care, love and understanding. And being someone who is hardly expressive through words, I love this form of expression that he has, through the perfect cup of tea – made at the perfect time for me 🙂

I cannot thank tea enough for this very very unique contribution to our relationship 🙂

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Sunny side Up – Ande ka funda!

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I have been a fan of eggs since I can remember. My grandfather was the one to extensively introduce everyone in the family to the superb taste and nutritional importance of eggs. Be it the classic English ways of cooking it like scrambled eggs, poached eggs, sunny side up fried eggs or the more Indian ways of cooking it through maska omelettes, anda bhurji or various forms of egg curries, I am in love with each one of them. There is something magically enticing about the combination of proteinaceous egg whites with the fatty, more viscous egg yolk culminating in a nutrition packed healthy dish.

                Eggs are a rich source of essential proteins, fats and vitamins. It’s a healthy meal component for all age groups, as also during lactation and convalescence. The value of the nutritional importance of eggs has been recognized and documented in several ways in India. I remember seeing the National Egg Co-ordination Committee (NECC) advertisements on TV, with big sports stars like Sachin Tendulkar and Saina Nehwal telling the public the importance of eggs. My favourite one is the one with Devang Patel and his little kiddo companions singing the glory of eggs! This one showed many egg preps and had the ‘Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande’ tagline!!!

Perhaps the more memorable TV appearance that eggs made was through Govinda’s song ‘Ande ka Funda’ from the Bollywood movie Jodi No. 1. An entire song having philosophical bearings attributed to the egg in a light hearted manner. The egg has humour, universality, health and philosophy in this song and it’s a nice perky one to listen to 🙂

                I have my own interpretation of the Ande ka funda which I wish to put forth here 😛 It is derived from the egg preparation that I have enjoyed the most since childhood – the Sunny side up form of egg fry 🙂 And the reasons for it range from the sophisticated yet philosophical name of the prep to its simplicity to its awesome taste.

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Sunny Side Up egg with toast

For those of you who have never seen or eaten it yet, it is a simple egg fry prepared in a fry pan by just plopping open an egg and allowing the egg material to flow out and cook with the egg yolk (yellow) surrounded by egg white. Due to the free flow nature of the egg white it often flows in different directions, making the egg white spread out and get shapeless at times. There are the artistic or obsessive cooks (yours truly included!) who fret over the spread of the egg white and often end up twisting and turning the fry pan to get perfect circular egg whites surrounding the yolk. The egg is allowed to cook to whatever extent you wish to, depending on whether you like the central yolk to be completely cooked or runny or somewhere in between. Then you season it with salt and pepper and you are done!!! It’s literally cooked with just these basic ingredients! It’s the first thing that I learnt to cook in the kitchen; even before Maggi 🙂 Grabbing a forkful of the slightly runny yolk with the whites that are crisp on the underside and softly cooked on top is the most heavenly bite of breakfast you can ever get!! And then you can eat it with toast, rice or even just by itself. This is Ande ka Funda No. 1 for me – Simplicity. You do not need elaborate ingredients or equipment or even a lot of time to cook this delicious egg fry. Just the basics suffice.

                This egg dish is also one of the most beautiful looking egg preps. As in, it appears bright shiny yellow in the centre, surrounded by clear whites and seasoned with pepper. White with yellow is a very pretty colour combination to look at! Like they say, we eat food with our eyes before our mouths – this one completely stands this test with its beautiful and composed look 🙂 The Sunny Side Up dish is a very true representation of the structural composition of an egg, and I love it’s appearance for this reason as well. The egg components lose their structural integrity when we whisk and beat them to make egg scrambles or omelettes or French toast – but not with the Sunny Side Up egg fry! This is Ande ka Funda no. 2 – Beauty in true representation.

                The Sunny Side Up is made with several variations. For instance, sometimes two eggs are used instead of one, thus giving us two egg yellows and whole lot of egg whites around it. Many kid recipes give this dish the appearance of a cat, or mickey mouse by shaping the egg white around the egg yolk to represent two eyes! There are also variations where the egg is fried by confining it in moulds and different shapes, such as in sections of bell peppers, or inside holes carved in slices of bread or even in readymade moulds that are otherwise also used for cakes. Different shapes make it look even prettier at times! This is Ande ka Funda no. 3 – Flexibility. The dish is flexible enough to assume your favourite shapes whilst retaining its beauty and nutritional importance.

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Sunny Side Up egg cooked in bell pepper sections used as moulds

Now coming to a more zoomed out thinking about the Sunny Side Up dish. There is something about the name Sunny side up that makes me feel extremely positive. It’s probably the optimism that we associate with sunshine after a rainy day or the warmth of the sun during chilly winters that leads to this feeling about the name. Bright and sunny is our representation of happy warmth! And that is what the name sings to us. It’s something that tells us to put up our Sunny Side (happy side) up despite the endurance of heat and getting fried up on the bottom!!!!        And this is the final and probably the most important Ande ka Funda! Funda No. 4 – Perk up and get your sunny side up always 🙂

So in short, that is my version of the ‘Ande ka Funda’ derived from my favourite childhood breakfast. Simplicity, beauty, flexibility and a happy sunny optimism. Some of life’s refreshing lessons come from very simple everyday things and food is one important component for me in this case.  Food is an inspiration for thought (Food for thought literally!!). I am often criticized by many people around me for this quality of attributing a preaching personification to food– since it spoils the holistic taste-oriented pleasures that food gives them 😛  I’m sorry guys but I’m taking the whole ‘we are what we eat’ very literally as well as philosophically here 😛

Food that tastes well and also gives me positive vibes about it always earns a special place in my heart. Sunny side up egg fry falls exactly in this category. And after all this talk, I am hungry, and rushing to the kitchen to cook one right away!

Do you have any food items in your life that go beyond good taste and actually ‘talk’ to you about something? Not just philosophy or life lessons. It could be memories, relations, humour or just about anything. Let me know 🙂

 

The New York Maple syrup

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I had a chance to visit the beautiful New York city during a conference last year in summer. It was the first time that I was visiting the US. For an Indian generation where most of us have either been to the US for work, or studied there, or are living there, or are married to people who live there; my first visit actually happened quite late in life since I don’t fall into any of the above categories. I had somehow heard a lot more stories about the West coast from relatives and friends and my better half, making the eastern side slightly elusive for me. And when I asked my father what I should get from there, his answer was to try to get something that’s original and uniquely made in that region. Indeed for me a bigger element of interest in any city is its traditional practices more than what urbanized modern day routines have done to it. And thus began my quest to look for something ‘Made in USA’ and representative enough of the east coast and New York. A few suggestions by friends led me to the Maple syrup. Over generations it’s made through tapping of Maple trees. The cold and warm weather cycles in this region enable its production. Though originally from Canada I guess, this syrup in made extensively in different parts of this region; and a couple of locals told me about region-wise compositions from different parts of north east America and Canada. The maple syrup is a smooth sweet unique accompaniment to food. It is rich, it is full of substance, and it has a very unique taste that’s unmatched with any other. Mind you it’s loaded with calories and so consuming it definitely comes with a fair share of deposit to your pre (or non) existing fat. Simply put, it has a unique awesomeness that comes with a maintenance price. And that is why this food item completely represents NYC in my mind.

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The World Trade Center

The uniqueness of the Maple syrup parallels that of New York. Tall skyscrapers in Manhattan bearing the hundreds and thousands of offices. The busy New York Penn station. The equally busy but more charming Grand Central station. Thousands of ambitious working people thronging to these stations. A fashionable working class in definition. Lots of passionate street artists. The elegantly marked streets and avenues. It is GRAND!  There’s an age independent representation of glamour, fashion and ambition to the working people here. Whether it’s the people or the architecture, the message with NY is clear – You better be awesome enough to fit in here!! Take the efforts to be awesome and full of quality, and the city will shower you with success. And that’s what the Maple syrup also conveys. This syrup adds a beautiful taste to toasts, waffles, desserts, fruits, even salads! But only if you add it to the right kind of ingredients. Do not expect the maple syrup to rectify and beautify any messed up combination of foods – it demands a check on the composition and quality of ingredients before contributing to addition of taste. And just like that you should not expect NY to accept anything less than the most grand and classy!!

We use the Maple syrup often in the kitchen. And every drop of it makes me think of NYC. Among the many souvenirs that I got from there, this is the only one that gives me a feeling of bringing back a part of NYC with me 🙂 In a slightly unconventional use of the phrase, may I say NYC has surely made a way to my heart through the stomach 🙂

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View from the Empire State Building