A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Some days are like that

Posted by Pepper on April 14, 2016

I’ve never been an efficient cook. While I can manage to cook a decent meal, it takes me forever to put it together. And when I see people who can cook for a group of 10 in an hour or so, I feel awful. I usually take about an hour or so to whip up something for 2 to 3 people. In fact, I find the ‘prep time’ stated by most recipes to be very misleading. Especially when it comes to Indian cooking. How can chopping all those veggies, dicing onions, preparing the ginger garlic paste take only 30 minutes? It takes me a year. Sigh.

I must say, my timing had improved a little when I was forced to cook everyday while we lived in the US. All those years of preparing meals all by myself had resulted in me being a little fast, or faster than my usual self at least. Unfortunately, ever since we moved back to India, I managed to unlearn all the skills I had acquired. All the cooking was outsourced. I still feel grateful when I am presented with a hot meal prepared by our cook. But I have to admit, I have lost touch with everyday cooking.

But of course, there are still days when I want to cook on my own. Because like I have said, although our cook has a steady hand when it comes to Indian cooking, she has very rigid ideas in her head. She refuses to explore or innovate. As a result, we are forced to eat not just Indian food, but Indian food prepared in the same way. Also, she has little to no knowledge of South Indian cuisine. Or any other regional cuisine for that matter. It is all completely alien to her. She refused to even believe that sambar was eaten with rice. She insisted sambar was had only with idlis and dosas, the way it is served in Udupi restaurants in Mumbai. Sigh. For a self proclaimed samhar saadam lover, such lack of knowledge was blasphemous.

And so, on some days I cook. It takes me forever, but I still think the effort and time I put in is worth it if it gives us a break from the regular fare. I also read so many food blogs, I feel overcome by the desire to try out the recipes I have bookmarked. Trying to ‘explain’ the recipe to our cook is a pointless exercise. Doing it yourself is far simpler. Ideally though, I should ask our cook to chop and get all prep work done. Unfortunately, I end up giving her a day off every time I decide to cook. This is because I feel guilty asking her to come all the way just for chopping a few things.

It takes me forever to dice 3 onions and peel a few pods of garlic. I time myself, I try so hard to speed up, but each time I feel let down and discouraged by the amount of time it takes me. And some days are worse than the others. Other than moving in the kitchen in an exceptionally slow manner, I successfully create one disaster after another.

Like the other day, I was excited about trying a new recipe I had found on some blog. I placed my laptop on the kitchen counter and plugged it in to a socket on the other side. As a result, I tripped on the charging cable and dropped the little bowl of yogurt I was carrying in my hand. It took me a couple of minutes to clean up the spilt yogurt.

And then, I tried to puree some tomatoes in the mixie. The result was a shower of tomato puree all over my face, my arm, the mixie, the floor, the cabinets and even the ceiling! Either I overshot the capacity of our mixer or I didn’t hold down the lid right, but the result was not pleasant. In fact it made me cry.



After the hour long clean up session, I was beginning to question my own sanity. Why do I even attempt to cook when I have the option not to? Maybe I am incapable. Maybe these things are not meant for me. Mint got home exactly at that time and on seeing the bedlam, let out a laugh. Of course, I wanted to hit him for laughing at me. That night when he was clearing the kitchen after dinner (that we ordered), he came up to tell me that he could spot some dried red pulp on some cabinets on the other end of the kitchen. I sighed. Looked like I had coloured our kitchen red. This was going to need a few more sessions of cleaning up.

I’m not sure what changed by morning, but the next morning I decided I wasn’t giving up. I love food too much to do that. Instead, I am going to have to try harder. Let’s see how this goes..

39 Responses to “Some days are like that”

  1. Can i laugh? can i laugh? Yes, i will. hahaahhaa. Cleaning the tomato mess would have been sooo painful.

    Peeling garlic cloves is my favorite activity. Its actually quite simple and fun. Make sure you buy the very dry or flaky wala garlic. Slightly raw or wettish garlic is a nightmare to peel. Dont use a knife. Just hold the ends of the clove between two fingers and press down. The peel will crack and you just have to remove it.

    If you youtube this, there are videos where they tell you to put the cloves in a closed jar and shake hard. They apparently peel themselves. I tried, but that didn’t work at all :(.

    • Pepper said

      Go ahead and laugh! I was trying to decide whether it was amusing or tragic myself..

      Ohh ya, I saw my neighbour (5 year old kid!) peeling garlic that way. It was revolutionary. It changed the way I look at garlic. But sometimes if the garlic is too wet, even that doesn’t work. Anyway, thanks for reminding me! That is a great way to peel dry flakes of garlic..

  2. 🙂 Kitchen disasters happen but I am glad you are determined to carry on cooking. Thats the spirit! Good luck for next time.

  3. Nitya said

    Lol you could be describing me (and am sure a few others too) when i first came here. Like you I love my food too much to not cook. So a few tips:
    – Get a good, and i do mean good, high quality knofe like a Wusthof. It takes less than half the time to dice and chop once you have a good knife. Plizz to note – these things are uber sharp so be careful 🙂
    – Sunday evening, take three tomatpoes, half an onion, a pod of garlic, a knob of ginger, two hari mirchies. Chop up and pulse away (after making sure lid is secured on tight). This here is your basic gravy which can then be customized for hajaar variations of dishes.
    – Same evening, chop up some veggies just for the next day or two, keep the cooker and boil some potatoes. Now what you have with you is arsenal. Which is half the battle won.
    – Lower your goals. If you are cooking, dont time yourself initially . Why race? Take your time, take the pressure off of yourself.

    Bahut hua toh ordering in toh hai hi. Enjoy yourself da, you’ll see the difference.

    • Pepper said

      The tip about the knife, that is a really good one! I agree, your speed largely depends on your tools.

      Since we do have a cook, I think I don’t need to plan and make the gravies in advance. I just want to improve my speed when the whim to cook strikes..But having said that, I don’t know how long we’ll have the luxury of a cook. Who knows, if we have to move out of India sometime.. I guess I better start organising myself better. These tips are super helpful!

  4. anjeneyan said

    I read with interest your cooking attempts. I learned cooking the hard way five decades back after my mother’s demise . Basic south Indian cooking is not difficult. I do not know about other cuisines- Indian or foreign. The best alternative is to decide the item to be cooked- one grain based item and a gravy. Then keep all the relevant items ready at hand along with the vessels to be used. Keep one or two towels and cleaning cloth handy. Mentally run through what are the steps. Check with another senior and experienced relative on whatever doubts you have. Then start the process.

    Never give up till you succeed.

    Making good coconut chutney and its variants seem simple but is not that. Idli’s taste will be enhanced by a good chatni.

    • Pepper said

      I agree, basic South Indian cooking isn’t difficult. In fact, most basic Indian cooking is more or less the same.
      And yes, I think advanced preparations make you save a lot of time! In my case a lot of time is lost because of inadequate planning. Plus I fumble around for ingredients in my own kitchen! I’ll definitely acquire more speed if I am more organised..

  5. Boomerang said

    Way to go!!! Keep trying .. May be you can ask your cook to do the prep the previous day.. Not all, except onions, I think most of south Indian ingredients can be prepared in advance and refrigerated in air tight containers…

    • Pepper said

      That’s right. I can ask our cook to do the prep the previous day if I plan in advance. That would be perfect. I should consider that. Thanks 🙂

  6. My Era said

    That’s the spirit Pepper. Don’t give up, accidents happen all the time but the joy of having cooked a tasty meal is far supreme 🙂

  7. I so hear you. Prep work is the time consuming task – especially, cutting everything up from scratch.
    I created just similar mess few days back, but the liquid was piping hot. I live in US, was forced to improve over a period of time. I still struggle with cooking almost everyday but affording a cook or eating every meal out is not in my budget. If I am regular cook, I definitely got better with timing and prep work.
    Cooking for some people is very therapeutic, for me it’s stressful.
    Yes yes.. try try – someday you will learn some simple tricks to save yourself some time.

    • Pepper said

      Gosh, piping hot liquid on you must have been bad! 😦
      I know ya, not easy to afford a cook in the US. Eating out can sometimes be affordable but it screws my stomach if I do it for every meal. US gives you almost no choice but to cook everyday. One of those reasons I don’t want to move back. but who knows, I may have to. So I try to prepare myself for it all.. sigh..

  8. aarya said

    That pic scared me…I thought they were boils and you got burned. This disaster is much better than what I thought it was.
    I am slow in prepping as well and sometimes get frustrated too but the end results plus the pedestal S-Man puts me on after that is worth it 😊
    Keep trying and you’ll nail it.

  9. Harinee said

    I’m a pretty competent everyday cook – plain sabji-roti style cooking. But the thought of cooking for 10 ppl makes me anxious. In fact, I have announced to friends who are well-known as good cooks that I don’t have it in me to cook for them. Either they cook(yes,even at my house!) or we order out.

    But I wanted to recommend vegrecipesofindia.com to you – she writes so, so well and makes you feel like you can cook anything. Be sure to read the tips on every recipe. I attempted medu vada after I saw the recipe on that site- something I could not have imagined doing before.

    • Pepper said

      I love your friends if they come to your house and cook. 😀
      I do follow vegrecipesofindia. Love the stuff there. Most of her recipes are a success. But that still doesn’t change the amount of time I take to cook them..

      • Harinee said

        Haha, yes they really do. Just had yummy paneer rolls, sandwiches and other stuff made in my kitchen by a friend this past weekend. I stand behind her and point to where things are!

        On timing, I hear ya. It takes me a good hour and a half and umpteen vessels to make beans ka bhaji and 12-15 phulkas. I think efficiency and speed will come with practise. No way to get there but to begin!

        • Pepper said

          Are your friends willing to be friends with me too? Seriously! Most of my friends aren’t enthusiastic cooks and we keep trying to pass on the chore to the other..

  10. Smita said

    The tomatoes must have been hot 😀

    Happens with me when I am in too much hurry 😛

  11. Currently recovering from a horrible burn thanks to the Oven door. Burns are almost all the accidents that happen to me in the kitchen. And includes burning food. Hehe. But things turn out all right!
    Oh you are good at fun kind of food! Like pasta, all kinds of maggis, etc. So what if prep work takes forever and looks like a script of comedy movie ;). Your end result is also fab Na.
    PS: If you decide to cook something for me ever, I will stand outside the kitchen and watch. Okay? 😀

    • Pepper said

      I’m good at whipping up a lot of stuff, if I may say so myself. It’s just the prep work and timing that I hate!

      Why! You don’t get access to free entertainment so easily 😛

  12. The Bride said

    There is a historic video of me trying to make banana fritters and using every single utensil in our kitchen. Ultimately, the dish was inedible. Unlike you, I’ve given up on cooking.

    • Pepper said

      So what do you guys eat on a daily basis? Do you have a cook or do you order in / eat out? I’m curious cos you don’t live in India and I’d like to know what arrangements are workable..

      • The Bride said

        Um we have two full time helpers, one of whom cooks. In Hong Kong domestic help is affordable. My helper is not a great cook but we suck it up because her primary role is looking after our kids. V and I are out for lunch and when we aren’t, we eat the same thing for lunch and dinner. V cooks on weekends.
        Before we had kids and employed helpers, V was the cook and I was the cleaner. I briefly tried cooking when I first got married and felt I took ages and got stressed making food even I didn’t like to eat. I could make scrambled egg, dal, rice and mince which I think is enough for survival. I do have ambitions of learning to cook more, however unfortunately my time is limited and when push comes to shove there are other things o find I want to do.

  13. Nithya said

    Been there and done that… My tasty chutney splattered across all the walls.. :-/ Cleaning it was not a pleasant experience :p

  14. Guess what Pepper.. Even seasoned cooks have bad days in kitchen. I cook everymeal myself every single day and yet, I manage to screw up on some days. So you can imagine my embarrassment and guilt when things go bad. Sigh. One morning I was in such a hurry and I was trying to puree palak. Within seconds, there was green gooey hot mess all over the kitchen.. including the places I had no access to. I try to be extra careful while pureeing. Every day is an experience in the kitchen.. 😊 I’m glad you are not giving up!

    • Pepper said

      Thank you GB. I feel so much better after reading your comment. I know you are right, seasoned cooks too have bad days. But it’s not just the screw ups, I also feel frustrated with my timing. Anyway, I am trying to be faster and more efficient. Hopefully I’ll get there..

  15. Oh, Pepper! Thank you so much for the post. This morning had a BIG fight over my cooking and variety ( for the kids sake) and it was bad 😦
    This post made me really LOL about kitchen efforts and lightened up the whole topic for me.

    I hate everyday cooking too…just try to give the most nutrition to the family with minimal effort dishes :I
    That said, now, I am seriously looking at hiring a part time cook.

    • Pepper said

      Please go ahead and get a cook AHK. I think it will make life so much simpler! You are fortunate you live in the Bay Area where you have so many options for good desi cooks…

  16. Haha Pepper! I was worse, I had no prior cooking knowledge at all until about 6-7 yrs ago… That tomato puree thing has happened to me too (so chill!) – that too when I was supposed to cook for Inlaws and guests of around 12 people! Can you imagine my stress with just an hour to go?! But it all worked out in the end. Why not ask the cook to chop all veggies and the onions and tomatoes the previous day? Or get her to come that morning and make dinner ready if you are cooking lunch or Visa Versa? Getting the veggies chopped makes the task a lot easier and stress free. For me, I always wish the atta was ready for the chappatis too.

    Im sure you will get better with it.

    • Pepper said

      I would never, ever, ever undertake the task of cooking for 12 people. I know my limitations very well. So I bow down to you! You couldn’t have been worse than me!

      You’re right. I should ask the cook to chop stuff the previous day. I am gettng better at organising things now 🙂

  17. Loved it.. And laughed too.. This happens.. When I’m in a mood to cook or expect things to shape up in a desired way.. They never happen.. Grrrrr.. What I’m highly impressed with is your determination to cook and not give up.. There you go girl.. All the best

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