Let me start by stating that I am not a bad cook. My cooking skills are not bad, but they are not great either. When I cook dinner, it is edible, but not exceptional. I am just glad that it is not unforgettable for the wrong reasons.
Having made that fact clear, I have to admit that my skills at cooking are not stellar. They are not anything to feel proud of. I have tried to follow the cookbook, but it was not helpful. I also tried to practice my skill with my mom and sister as they are good cooks. I followed their instructions to the tee, but no avail. I can cook any dish and it may taste good, but something is always amiss. Sometimes, the vegetables turn mushy or the cake is crumbly or the skin of the chicken is burnt. If everything else turns out right, the dish just does not look appetizing. The complaints are accompanied by jokes more often than not. There was a time when I was tasked with cooking daily as a way to practice. However, I believe that was just an excuse to assign the chore to me.
Despite my lack of natural talent at cooking, I decided not to give up. I decided to observe and learn any nuances that are not shared. I watched cooking shows, sat through boring discussions and gossip with my aunts to pick up some tricks, attended classes etc. I was successful in making a few observations that proved useful. Here are some findings:
● My cakes were crumbly because I didn’t use enough butter. The point is, use the correct ingredients and get the measurements right. Replacing cream with butter, or butter with oil or lettuce with cabbage etc. is not always advisable. Each component has its flavour. The taste is bound to change when you replace it.
● Be mindful about the quality of the ingredients. A bad batch of potatoes can ruin your potato salad or mashed potatoes. Stale meat or vegetables can ruin the best of dishes.
● Cooking requires patience. Wait till the vegetable or meat is tender or cooked thoroughly before you proceed to the next step. In a curry, adding water before the vegetable or meat has lost its natural moisture will spoil the dish. The vegetable or meat will not absorb the flavour of the spices.
● Do not rush the dish. Give it time to cook sufficiently. Setting the stove on high won’t make the dish cook faster. It will just burn and ruin everything. Cooking at the correct heat setting is critical to the outcome.
● Pay attention to the terminology used in cookbooks. Sauteing, boiling, frying, shallow frying, simmering, grilling, roasting, double boiling etc. are all different processes and they all have different effects on the dish. Interchanging the processes could spell disaster to the dish. Just because you do not have an oven, you can’t replace baking with grilling.
● The ingredients and the procedure are crucial to the outcome but it is equally important to understand the flavours. Not all spices or flavours work well together. Some spices do not suit certain cooking styles. For example, using ingredients like oregano or olives or avocados in Indian dishes does not generally taste as good. Using dry spices while grilling might not have the same result as the spice will just end up charring the dish and the flavour will not be absorbed.
I have listed a few basic procedural pointers to be wary of. Each style of cooking has its own set of tips and tricks. I have only just scratched the surface of the vast world of cooking. I hope to master it someday and share many more tips too.
I consider walking as the best ways of meditation that we all can follow. It is not just a means to get to a destination. It is not just a workout for the body, but it is an exercise for the soul as well. We have all heard of people, who do their best thinking when they go out on walks. We have also heard of taking a walk to cool one’s mind. Some people practise walking as a hobby. However, to me walking is nothing but meditation.
When my mind is in turmoil, or when I am unable to hold a single thought for long, I take a walk to clear up my mind. There is something therapeutic about walking along a path all by yourself, preferably in nature. With no noise or other opinions clouding my mind, I find it easier to breathe and sort through the jumble in my mind easily.
In today’s world, concrete jungles are everywhere and finding a shady tree to sit under is a rarity. Walking among buildings doesn’t have the same impact as nature, but I will have to adjust until I can find a good park or walking trail near my home. I just pick a quiet lane that is lined with tree and pretend that I am walking in a park.
Some of the best places for a relaxing walk are the beach or along the river. There is a very relaxing effect that is generated by the sound of flowing water. The sound of gushing washing, tinkling sounds of a waterfall, the sound of waves, etc always sets the mind at ease. At times when I am particularly troubled, I play the sounds of water on Youtube. I am instantly taken back to that peaceful memories.
When we talk about drawing or sketching, we think about life like imagery that one replicates with pencil or charcoal. We rethink about the complex shades that bring out light and shadow to create depth. Drawing always brings to mind images of portraits, realism, charcoal sketches, architectural drawings etc. It always sounds like a complex art that seems beyond my reach. I always felt jealous of my cousins, as they are artistically gifted.
However, now I discovered that drawing is not limited to just lifelike imagery only. There are many more styles and facets to drawing apart from realism, that requires a different set of skills like imagination, dramatic flair etc. I am talking doodling, caricatures, anime, cartoons etc. These streams of drawing are very different from traditional styles but are just as impressive and beautiful.
If you are anything like me, then, you cannot draw a straight line without a scale. Do not despair, there are many styles through which you can express yourself. Step away from the traditional classroom style and discover yourself through another style. Tell me how successful you have been and we can exchange stories of discovery.
All drawings in this blog are contributed by Sharda and Sharath
Hello everybody. How are all of you doing? It has been raining a lot all week here in Montego Bay. I love the rain because it cools down the temperature and nature looks bright and beautiful after the rain. This morning, I took a walk in the yard with my phone and started clicking. Can you see the blades of grass still holding on to the tiny droplets of rain?
My curry leaf plant is in full bloom and there are so many bees buzzing all over it.
These are some other plants I have at home.
I love these pink bougainvillea. The only problem with it is the thorns. A bougainvillea thorn prick is very painful. It takes a long time to heal. I found out that these thorns are toxic. They cause itching, rash, and pain.
This red hibiscus attracts a lot of hummingbirds. Unfortunately, I did not get one in this picture. Hummingbirds like red coloured flowers. Maybe one day, I will be able to get a picture of a hummingbird and I will definitely share with all of you.
The firecracker flower is a new plant in my garden. Since my childhood, I always liked these flowers. My grandmother used to make beautiful garlands with a combination of jasmine and orange firecracker flowers. These flowers bring back all those memories and I smile every time I look at them. One day, I saw this plant growing wild on the pavement and a paid worker was chopping all the wild growth. I understood that he would chop the plant anyway so I requested him to dig out the plant and give it to me. And that’s how I have it in my garden today.
I love wildflowers. No one waters them; they grow on their own and provide the bees with nectar. They make my yard look beautiful. Sometimes the entire yard is filled with these beautiful, white, wild daisies. They attract a lot of butterflies and dragonflies. Sitting for even ten minutes in my yard and watching the bees, butterflies, and dragonflies refreshes my mind as it would if I did half an hour of meditation. That’s the power of nature.
It is summer time in India and it is the time for mangoes and summer vacations. These are the two best things from every Indian’s childhood. Though, I am sure that our parents have a different perspective on summer holidays.
Every summer, we hear parents discuss different ways to keep their kids occupied and away from mischief. Some plan to enrol their kids for coaching classes so that they are ahead in the syllabus when the schools reopen. Some others plan to take their kids out of town to have fun. Some also plan a roster for spending time with all our cousins and relatives. My mother dealt with summer differently. She enrolled us in a hobby class every summer. She said that this way we can cultivate a new hobby and find out what we are good at.
This plan of hers worked for both her and us kids. My sisters and I were busy learning and practising our hobby, while my mother got the much-needed peace and quiet. It, however, made many interesting memories as well. One summer, my sisters and I enrolled in drawing and painting classes, another summer we went for needlework and crochet classes. I also learned singing one year and craft work with clay another year. The most memorable years were when I learnt swimming and cookery.
One might think that swimming was the most natural activity for summer, right?? Well, not for me. I have aquaphobia, so I was not keen on swimming at all. However, my mom felt that I needed to overcome this fear at a young age, so she enrolled me for swimming classes. As you can guess, I did not have any fun in the pool. My swim coach did not help my case in any way. She felt that dunking me under water would bring out the natural survival instincts and teach me to paddle my hands and legs. It only made will cling onto my coach’s back more tightly. It was one embarrassing year for me. However, I did learn something. I learnt that I wasn’t scared of water as long as my feet were in solid surface. I only had a fear of drowning.
Cookery classes were a different experience altogether. I found my love for baking that year. While my sisters learnt to cook new cuisines, I had a knack for baking. I was finally able to bake a cake and eat it too. That summer, I had the most fun ever. We also learnt the combinations of flavours that didn’t go well together, by trial and error of course. I can still remember the horrible taste of the lime and banana cake.
All things notwithstanding, summer holidays were a time of self-discovery and adventure. I learnt that I like morning walks better than evening walks. I discovered I love classic rock music more than heavy metal music. I also learnt that the sun was the best compass to find your way back home. There are many more memorable and unforgettable lessons from each summer. I hope to hear some of your stories in the comments section below.
Most of us practice gardening as a hobby, a pastime or some times as a relaxation. Recently, a friend of mine opened my eyes to a different thinking. Gardening can also be a therapy or a door to a healthy way of life. It might not be the most glamorous of hobbies, but it is one hobby that will pay you back many times. As with all my blogs there is a backstory to this too. So, here goes….
A friend of mine faced a personal tragedy and was totally lost. I would say he was in a state of depression, but he never approached a psychiatrist due to the stigma attached to it. For a long time he refused to accept the fact too and persevered on. We could all see him go on a downward spiral, but no one was able to get through to him. My friend strongly resisted any help in the form of therapy or otherwise. We were at our wits end on how to help him.
The solution came to us quite unexpectedly. One day we had a chance meeting with an owner of a nursery for plants. The owner was trying to market his plants and sat down to tell us the different benefits of each plant. The fresh and cool air around the plants, the aroma of wet soil and perfume of flowers gave my friends a sense of peace. From here his healing process started. Initially, he volunteered to take care of the plants at the nursery and slowly built his own terrace garden. He said working closely with a plant right from its germination up till it flourishes on its own, it gave him a sense of achievement. He considered them as his children and would spend most of his time in his garden. For a time we were worried for his sanity as he started talking to his plants about innate things and events. He brushed away our fear saying that he was just encouraging his plants to grow better. His smile and joy told us that we have nothing to worry anymore.
Though he found his peace and recovered completely, he continued his gardening and turned it into his own organic farm. At one time he was growing crotons and flowering plants for beauty. Now, he spent more effort to grow vegetables and fruits. He strongly avoided chemical pesticides and used organic means like neem oil, mango leaves, green tea, guava leaves, turmeric etc. He says using chemicals harms the nutritional value of the plant products. He also started growing more of plants like Areca palm, money plant, snake plant etc. They are indoor plants that produce more oxygen at night and day, while also removing harmful pollutants from air around us. More oxygen in the air not only makes breathing easy, but also helps keep the mind sharp and energetic.
Gardening involves not just growing plants, but also taking care of the soil, the air and the water quality. So, by making them healthy, we are in turn making ourselves healthy. This is one hobby that is worth trying.