Paying Homage to the Cooking Giants of Our Lives
Thursday, May 26th, 2011
After a very long time, I drove four miles to my parents’ house to have a home-cooked meal. Their home cooked meal. It immediately evoked what I already knew: food is not just about flavor but also about nourishment of the body and soul. In my family, meals were about the mothers’ and grandmothers’ love.
My grandmother was one of the first working moms in my family living in India. She was a principal of a school and got married late in life, 19-years-old was pretty late back then — because her father valued education. Although she was a professional, she still had her household duties. I remember when I was 4-years-old I asked her to repeat a story about how she would cook for the family when she got back home from school. She would come home and quickly throw off her sari to change into her daily salwar kameez and make fresh chappatis for all of her 7 children. The children would sit Indian-style, lined up on the kitchen floor as she served fresh chappatis to each of them. She would quickly spoon out portions of a fresh vegetable sabzi that was half-cooked to each child’s steel plate. To this day, my mom prefers her vegetables under-cooked because of her how her mother made vegetables.
I too love the smell of garlic and ginger sizzling on the stovetops and eating chappatis just as they are made. It reminds me of my childhood and my mom’s lamb curry and chickpeas. My mom made chappatis while we set the table and then sat with us while we said our daily prayer. More likely than not, she went back into the kitchen to finish making the chappatis as we started eating. At some point, I began to feel that a woman always keeping her eyes on the kitchen was anti-feminist. Fresh chappatis, that keep a woman apart from her family at dinner, just weren’t necessary. Though I stand on the shoulders of generations of women who brought food straight from the pan to the plate, I chose not to make fresh chappatis.
Instead, I hired women to make chappatis weekly and would freeze the extra ones. I stocked up on frozen chappatis from the Indian grocery store. Admittedly, my family has eaten their fair share of naans, made with white flour. We have asked my mom to make chappatis for us, and have happily taken them from anyone who recognized that my family’s plight of not getting enough chappatis in our meals (usually kind aunties).
But lightly buttered chappatis straight from the cast iron skillet has a way of bringing people to the table in a way that calling can’t. I fought tooth and nail to to draw my kitchen boundaries. But now, as I hear First Lady Michelle Obama say that she is a “mom first” in the White House, I wonder what being a mom means to me today. For months, I thought about buying the perfect rolling pin, a plastic mat and a better skillet. I hesitated at making chappatis because the consistency of the dough probably would not being right. I wondered would I roll my chappatis into some odd, bent-out triangular shape instead of a perfect circular chappati.
It took one evening, though, when I decided, “What the heck — let me just do it and see what happens.” So I pulled out my whole-wheat flour, tossed three cups into my Kitchen Aid mixer and added one cup of water. In minutes, I had home-made dough that was ready to be made into fresh chappatis. From that moment, I buried all the baggage of “Making Chappatis” and gave my family fresh bread. Thirty minutes later, while my family shook their heads in disbelieve and I myself marveled at how easy it was. It was just a matter of trying.