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Diwali bonus time … what a difference a year makes

In Being Ma'am on October 24, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Buying Diwai sweets has somehow become my job even though I manage about 4 staff and Dean manages about 35. Last year I was pulling my hair out with the stress of it all. This year Dean and Raj wrote the list, Dean set the budget, Raj and I went into two shops and managed to come out with sweets for everyone. It took me about 2 hours. Last year it took about 2 weeks! I think I may be getting the hang of India.

Everyone seemed happy except from the garbage wallah who said, “thanks for the sweets but I’d rather have some money”. He got a big fat, “no!”


The Curry Diaries – Chicken Coconut Masala

In The Curry Diaries on October 20, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Back to Anjum Anand for tonight’s curry and actually yesterday’s curry too. Yesterday I managed to tip the sauce all over the floor and myself. Oh dear, Mrs Wife was very, very cross!

Dean had his dinner while I was at book club. I was getting mine ready with two portions to freeze, I served the chicken and then kersplat! I was using the large wok with the dodgy handle so the inevitability of the situation struck with some force as I was standing there with an empty wok in my hand and sauce down my white trousers and all over the floor. I dealt with the immediate problem quite calmly but later had a bit of a wobbly; I was so cross with myself; I should have replace the thing months ago; also, I shouldn’t have crap kit in my kitchen but I have.  Unreasonably, I blamed Dean: I was emotional and a bit drunk and Dean is remarkably resilient at taking an ear-bashing for things that don’t even relate to him.

Before hitting the floor the sauce tasted great, so paddywack over, I decided to have another go tonight. I really wanted to eat the curry and I also wanted enough sauce to put on the chicken from yesterday so I could freeze it. Cooking extra portions is all part of the game-plan to fill Dean’s very demanding deluxe tiffin. The idea is that everyday for lunch Dean has a meat dish cooked by me and one dish each of vegetable, daal and rice to fill the other 3 tiffin pots, cooked by my housekeeper.  Much as I love Dean, I’m not going to cook his lunch everyday and I personally don’t want curry for lunch at all or to eat it every night so, I cook extra so I can stock the freezer with individual portions. Happily with tonight’s curry I’ve finally managed to set up a system so I can cook curry once a week and Dean will have a different curry for lunch every day. Everyone’s happy and domestic bliss reigns supreme. From now on The Curry Diaries will be a weekly posting.

So back to the curry: You will find this recipe on page 104 of Anjum Anand’s I Love Curry. For someone who cuts corners wherever possible I am surprised to find how enjoyable dry roasting and grinding spices is. I have an Indian mixer with a spice grinding attachment so that makes life easier. The process was somehow comforting and the smell simply divine; I thoroughly recommend it. The rest of the recipe follows a familiar format; brown the onions, add ginger, add garlic, cook, add spices, add tomatoes, cook etc. I must query “2½ tomatoes”: Come off it Anjum (and Anjum’s editor) what world are you living in? Not a very practical one if you think anyone’s going to use 2½ tomatoes in a recipe!  I’m using coconut milk instead of fresh coconut / coconut cream because  don’t have them in my cupboard.

Yummy! Really really yummy; maybe the best one yet.

The Curry Diaries – (Mock) Paneer Curry

In The Curry Diaries on October 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I’ve had a “Bad India Day” (BID). It’s not the worst BID I’ve had but all BID’s are exhausting. Nothing particular has gone wrong just lots of little things. Including having no paneer for the curry! Oh crap!

I have a paneer substitute which may sound like good news but that’s actually the problem. I’m not going to be able to explain this without sounding like an expat princess so here goes: I have my shopping done for me by my driver. Once a week I write a shopping list. He drops Dean off at work, goes shopping and comes back in the afternoon with the bounty.

Shopping in India is hard work so I appreciate that this is a boon and that I have a driver with the skills to do it. However he does two things that really, really annoy me 1) he buys too much of everything and 2) he makes substitutes.

Generally if I don’t specify a quantity I get too much of it. Ah, ha I hear you cry – why don’t I just write down the quantities. Well of course you are right but I’m not always aware that I need to. For example, last week I asked for mozzarella, he bought a 1kg pack. I didn’t even know mozzarella came in that size. Now I know that it is very unlikely that 2 people will eat that much cheese in a week. I can either conclude that he doesn’t, so the mistake is justified, or he just didn’t think it through, in which case it’s not. Where does the line fall? It’s a difficult one and it’s complicated by cultural factors which I am aware of but I don’t fully understand. The only option is for me to keep drawing the line so it is clear; if he is the wrong side of it I can do something about it but hopefully in time he won’t be.

Even if I do write the quantity down get more than I asked for; 1/4kg beans is always 1/3kg beans and it’s the same for carrots and cauliflower. Last week I asked for 3kg tomatoes and I got 4! That happened with potatoes a few weeks ago.  An extra kilo of tomatoes or potatoes is a lot. I have fed this back; making that line clear. So unfortunately there may well come a time when I pass the cost back to him.

The thing that really gets my goat is substitutions. Last week I asked for Kingfisher beer and he bought Fosters. I was livid. I managed to explain calmly that neither Dean or I drink Fosters and that when I specifically ask for something that’s what I want. I have explained this before however Dean decided to let this one go as we have a friend arriving on Saturday and Fosters is his favourite.

I take all of this very personally; I think, who the hell does he think he is that he can decide what I eat and drink. But it’s not. It’s about communication itself and communication across a cultural divide.  That’s all very well but it’s still exhausting.

So here I am with paneer substitute – it’s low fat cottage cheese and it doesn’t taste that great. I’m loosely following the recipe below but without the butter and with yogurt instead:
Hopefully the taste will be masked by the spices! I’ll be back to master Paneer Curry soon.

Happy cooking!

I have a dishwasher

In Being Ma'am on October 7, 2011 at 10:24 am

It’s a machine: That’s important to clarify as most Indian dishwashers are people.

If you are not an expat in India you may be thinking, so what? If you are an expat in India you may be jealous or you may just think I’m mad. It arrived three weeks ago after much fuss:

Fuss #1 – persuading Dean we needed a dishwasher:
Dean didn’t think that we needed a dishwasher because we could pay a person to do it for us. This brought to light a few serious issues: 1) Why did I bother to ask him anyway, 2) what do I care what he thinks and 3) why doesn’t he listen to a word I say? So after I explained, calmly and rationally, that this would help me reclaim my home and would therefore benefit both of us (and then threatened to leave) he came round.

Fuss #2 – splitting the water supply and fixing two taps:
I had the misfortune of having the worst plumber in the whole world in my house who wanted to charge me for making everything he touched worse. Then I found an OK plumber to do the job and I was ready to roll.

Fuss #3 – persuading the man in the shop to let me buy the dishwasher:
No, I’m not kidding! This is not unusual in India; people will let you walk out of their shop without making a sale, even though it’s there for the taking; it’s a perplexing issue. They only wanted to sell me the display model; the concept of keeping it on display in order to sell more dishwashers was lost on them. After persuading the man (and the 10 additional men who were ‘helping’) that I didn’t want to buy the display model, that I wanted a new one from the factory and that I was happy to wait 2 days for it, I paid my money.

Fuss #4 – delivery and installation:
Of course  it didn’t get here on time but it was only one day late and who really expects goods in India to be delivered to schedule? The men from the shop came to deliver it and then they called the man from the factory who came to install it. I’m no expert but I think there may be some efficiency gains to be made here. The water pipe was too short so I had to buy an over-priced extension. The electricity cable was too short so I had to find an extension from one of the cable and adapter thickets that lie in hidden corners of my home.

Fuss #5 – getting dishwasher salt etc.
It turns out that there are no freebies with Indian dishwashers; the factory man wanted to sell me a starter back for an exorbitant amount so I told him no thanks. In the end this actually this wasn’t really much fuss; I didn’t know where to get it, I asked the expat community, they told me, I bought it. Aren’t they great?!

Yippee … turn the dishwasher on …

Fuss #6 – the new tap leaks:
*$@<>$%^&*(“!!! The OK plumber came back: He didn’t do a brilliant job but it was late in the evening and I was too tired to argue.

Yippee … turn the dishwasher on …

Fuss #7 – the dishwasher blows the electric circuit:
*#!@?;{~&^!!!!!!!! . I had visions of having to take the bloody thing back! But it turns out we are running 3 amp fuses on all our home circuits. So with the help of Shyam, the trusty electrician, we have a new fuse and the dishwasher even has its very own socket.

Yippee … turn the dishwasher on …. ahh … no more washing up for me.