The month of November has been a wonderful trip to another world. It all started one blustery autumn evening when I decided to brashly sign up for the NaNoWriMo(National Novel Writing Month) adventure with encouragement from the husband and some friends (Krishna Srinivasan in particular). What has happened since is amazing. I had a target count to achieve for daily words written. Give me something like this, and you will find me walking around with the flame lit till done.
In the first week, I must admit things were harder than I thought. I found I had practically finished all I had to say by Chapter 3 (I exaggerate as usual, but you get the drift.) That would not do, would it? So, I expanded the story line, and brought in little snippets from the past and built back-story. In short, I had the time of my life. Inspiration is a funny thing, for it graced me when I showed up everyday, and struggled and it graced at me at the most unlikely of times (Read 2 a.m., and that would keep me awake planning the next day’s writing till 4 am. and of course, do a poor job of it the next day.)
The funny thing is that I have achieved the target of 50,000 words in 25 days, but I have not finished the story arch yet. I think I need at least another 10,000 words for the first draft to finish. Nothing panned out the way I visualized – the story yanked me from under my navel and pulled me along like a tug boat headed somewhere uncharted and all I could do was hang on and write the best I could. Even the novel heading started out as something else, but I think I have a better title now.
I have visualized the end, but as I write, I will know whether it is a suitable end or not. I have always been fairly regular at writing, but the necessity of doing a minimum word count everyday was another marathon altogether. Like running a marathon, this is a journey just worth finishing, for no one can take the joy of the journey from me.
PS: Just to give it perspective, a typical blog post is about 300-400 words, and I had to write approximately 2000 words everyday.
“Maybe we should go out and have dinner tonight.” says the husband clearly intending to help. In any other family, a simple statement like that will either be met with a simple acceptance or a refusal. I am sure no more would have been said about it. Of course, in our family, a statement like that wrenches the spanner into the corner of the brain where the horrors of restaurant eating reside and ply it open.
“Do you remember what happened at that Italian restaurant?” I ask. “I mean do you still want to go and press our company on restaurants. I say we take the broad minded view of ‘Live and let live.’ ”
The husband looks at me like I have a point and agrees. What happened was this: We found an occasion to dine out, and took polls to see what kind of cuisine was most voted for. It did not help that the toddler in the house thought it was a game and stuck both his arms up for everything. A vote was taken, numbers counted, tallied and thrown out the window. We settled for Italian which had one vote (the daughter’s). So, off we went looking for an Italian restaurant. Just before we entered, I checked their hair and told them to behave. It was one of those places that I’ve heard people gush about. What I had not expected, was for us to enter one of those snooty, high eyebrow places with a touch of hospitality, not overdone and a spot of hauteur, quite overdone.
I wanted to scramble and flee, but summoned the warrior spirit and pressed on. The maitre-de came up with a gleaming suit, coattails and all, looked us up and down and asked us how he may help us. I have never understood this. Would I be standing there in the luxurious lobby of a restaurant wanting to be helped with goading a herd of sheep into a waiting truck? No. I want to be seated for a meal. Thank you.
There was some brow lifting and all this while, the toddler is sitting quietly in his chair and not saying a word. The daughter is playing with him, and the two of them present a picture of a serene advertisement to entice more humans to procreate. The maitre-de, in the meanwhile, decides that he does not really need to spoil the atmosphere of a good dining experience for his patrons and comes out wearing a thin look (He may have been trying the apologetic expression, but thin is what I thought at the time). The toddler smiled at him and said, “Tar?” and showed him a toy car.
“I am extremely sorry Sir and Ma’am. But there is a half an hour wait for tables at the moment. Would you like to be kept waiting?”
The choice of words really! What a clever man he was too. Not wanting to take the good behavior picture, but not wanting to let us in and find out either. Could be a diplomat that man.
We said we don’t like to be kept waiting and turned our back on the man in a dignified silence. “Come children!” I said and they came. We stepped out the door and then expressed all of our relief and anxiety at once. What if they had seated us? Maybe this is for the best. Let’s go for a family friendly place. Nothing fancy.
We proceeded to a familiar restaurant. The cashier there smiled at us and welcomed us. He has seen us there often and still manages to smile when he sees us. That is the kind of place I like. The fine dining can wait for a decade. I breathed freely in there, sat down and looked at the husband and asked “Where is the boy who behaved so well?”
The husband points under the table and there he is: playing with his toy car. Things may have been quiet for possibly 3 minutes or maybe 4 after the food arrived. We never make it to a full 5 minutes. There was mayhem. The toddler had put his hands into the spicy curry, and I sent the water cascading over the table while pulling the napkin underneath to wipe off the toddler’s hands before he rubbed his eyes with it. He did not like that, One would think his life’s dream was to dip his hands in spicy curry and rubbing his eyes with it, and I, the evil mother, stepped in and squashed his dreams. He screwed up his face and turned a valve that let loose a torrent of very loud tears.
The husband tore out of the room carrying the toddler and stood outside in the cold for a good 3 minutes before bringing him back again. We gobbled the dinner as fast as we could and came back, shaken a bit by the smile the cashier gave us. Maybe he needs time before we pay him another visit.
The next day, the fates decide to show this news item to me. Apparently, there are restaurants that offer well-behaved-children discounts.
So, I snuck in there wearing my ‘Back to Work’ expression, lighted a few scented candles to keep me company and throw me light and joy and all that. It was so close to Diwali after all. I must tell you, the brain felt a bit dim like wanting to curl up with a good book and coffee. However, work is first and I persevered.
I remember the mother running a factory in there a week before she left. Give her a festival like Diwali and throw in a few grandkids and that is all she needs. She was set to run away with the menu and make twelve different types of snacks. I had to put up a valiant fight and stop her at (one moment, I am counting) eight. Good Lord! She made EIGHT different snacks in 5 days and I ate them all. No wonder I feel like I have a tractor in my stomach. I told her not to knock herself out. Sigh. I really am not as efficient as I think am I?
Anyway, back to inventory management, I noticed several different kind of flours and powders that I don’t even know the use for. Apparently, they are what gave flair and flavor to whatever I so gratefully ate in the past few months, For instance, I now have about 4 pounds of rice flour in the kitchen (I rattled my brain and found that I might use about 100 gms of rice flour in all the recipes I knew)
What am I supposed to do? Give a person a problem like this and it could have them flummoxed for days on end. Not me. I have always been known to be a problem solver. So, I deftly picked up the rice flour, and all the other packets that looked alien to me and threw it into the freezer. It can be dealt with when the matriarchs visit next, or if I find the expiry date has been reached before then.
If, in the meanwhile, anyone has recipes for using rice flour in a risk-free, short and easy manner, please shoot them recipes to me.
I coast along and then I suddenly realize that my cooking has reached an all time low. This usually coincides with either the parents or the parents-in-law leaving our home and going back to India. Some friends I know tell me they are quite possessive about the kitchen. Not me. When the mothers come and start looking comfortable in the kitchen, that is when I gracefully bow out and let the matriarchs reign. I am not mean: I simply let them do what makes them happy viz, deplore how poorly children eat, and tell me how I must learn how to mix food the same way that our Great Aunt on the Mother’s side used to. I smile, dodge, and mostly hover around the edges, doing the side-cleaning, verandah maintenance and the like.
Obviously, it is with trepidation that I don my chef’s hat again. This time, I decided to undertake foreign cuisines in the first week. I tell the husband that it is because we have been gorging on Indian cuisine long enough, but the truth is that my shortcomings in the Indian cuisine department will be more forcefully brought to light given the recency of the mother’s cooking.
I rummaged through the cupboards and dug out Chinese Manchurian Noodles. That sounded nice. So, I started to make it. I rattled the pots and needled the frozen and sang to the vegetables to cut to my tune. The problem was that the cooking was done before I started the second line of my vegetable song. The Chinese Manchurian Noodles turned out to be a different name on an Instant-Noodles-type-of-packet. The whole thing was over in two minutes flat. I had planned a 5 minute sequence, and I did not notice the noodles was done and let the thing go on a bit.
Overcooking instant noodles brings about a unique texture : it still looks like noodles, but feels like glue and looks like ripped out shards of faded cardboard paper.
I took a sorry look at the mess I had made with 2-minute noodles and decided that what was needed to be done to bring up the bar once again was to make sesame-green-bean. It might have tasted all right if the beans had been edible. It turns out I had a stringy set that would have made great guitar strings, but poor sesame-green-beans. Also, around the time I put the sesame seeds in the oil, I went off to answer the phone and came back to find the sesame seeds an elephant-gray in color. Never one to give up, I threw the beans in and sautéed till they could be sautéed no more.
The family usually has a quip ready the day after the grand-parents of the house leave, but this time I left them tongue-tied with my noodles. Anything that they wanted to say as an after-thought was dealt with firmly by the string beans.
Like the daughter said, “You can’t even joke about this Amma, it is that bad.”
PS: Tomorrow is Italian Cuisine (one can’t go wrong with a simple pasta and soup can one?)