{Marie Curie’s diary from 1899-1902, containing notes from experiments on radioactive substances. Incredibly, the notebook is still radioactive and will be for 1,500 years.
Priya Mary’s diary from 2002-2015, containing recipes from experiments in the kitchen by keenly observing her mother, mother-in-law, aunts and grandmother. Incredibly, the notebook is rapidly disintegrating and is being stealthily replaced by a neater new edition.}

My journey into the culinary arts started a few months into my marriage in a small kitchen in a place called Manipal , in Karnataka. Armed with my recipe diary, and some grocery shopping, I was ready to brave this onerous task of preparing my first lunch for two. We were newly married and the hubby being a foodie was happy at the prospect of finally getting his first home cooked meal from his wife. As he walked his bike out through our narrow gate, he turned back and said, ‘A meal isn’t complete, unless there is dessert. You know that, no?’ I smiled as if I knew and waved him off cheerily. I then went and chalked out my detailed plan of action. A simple meal of white rice , cauliflower subzi, chicken curry was what I had in mind. Now a small recalculation- I would have to make rice payasam (kheer) too. Not too difficult as I had two small pressure cookers in my kitty. Now I had never made any of these items on my own before. I had jotted down the recipes after keenly observing my mother. The lines in my recipe book were my own insightful observations and went something like this. ‘Throw mustard seeds into the hot oil and run out of the room’. I look at the clock. It is 9 am now and the hubby would come only by 12:30 noon. So I think it’s best to start by eleven only. The food should be piping hot after all. My mother used to multitask like she had 8 arms and would do everything in a jiffy. Any attempts at helping her and she would promptly shoo me away saying ‘ Go and study ‘.

So I lazed around, inspecting the patch of red earth in front of my house wondering if I could plant some curryleaf here. Will it grow on soil outside of Kerala? Will the fragrance of the crushed leaf here have the same zing? Should I pack some soil from my native place and try growing it in that? Amidst such good-wifely thoughts , at sharp eleven , I start onto the chicken curry . I chop the onions , tomato, ginger and garlic with surgical precision and add them one by one into the pressure cooker. I meticulously tick off the ingredients as I add them , double checking to make sure I haven’t missed anything. This is a bit like Chemistry practicals, I think to myself. You just have to follow the instructions to the T. I fix the lid with the weight and put it on high flame. The rice is up on another boiling vessel. I now soak the cut cauliflower in salt water – it’s to kill the worms , in case you didn’t know. All this while I’m waiting for the whistle on the pressure cooker to blow, it’s 20 minutes on a high flame and no whistle. As per the diktats of my recipe, after the first whistle I have to put it on sim mode or low flame. I intuitively feel something is not right but just shrug my shoulders and get started on to the rice payasam in the second pressure cooker. 30 minutes on high flame and the first pressure cooker with my chicken curry is simply not whistling. 45 minutes later I make a quick STD call from our landline to my mother. I try to keep my voice steady as I ask her this. “Mummy , how long does it take for a whistle to blow in the pressure cooker?” She replies, “ 5 minutes”. Before she can ask any further prying questions, I slam down the receiver and swoop into the kitchen and turn off that knob. I’m a bit shaken up now and jittery at the prospect of what awaits me when I open it. The cauliflower subzi has cooked well, but when I taste it I realise I had forgotten to wash off the excess salt. The rice payasam cooker lid wasn’t placed properly and half the dessert my dear husband was so looking forward to, is now sticking to my kitchen roof. I peer at the other vessel of cooked rice , it’s a watery mess , looking quite similar to what’s left of my hanging payasam now. I open the pressure cooker with the chicken curry, to see only charred remains of my maiden culinary efforts. The kitchen now looks exactly like a scene from a battlefield.

Just then, the doorbell rings. It’s the hubby at the door. I glance at the clock. He is bang on time today, probably in anticipation of a good meal. I wearily stumble up to the door. I let him in too shell shocked to speak. He walks in and inspects this wreckage with clinical interest. The vessels in disarray, the round patch on the roof dripping payasam, the charred remains of my chicken. And then… to my absolute horror, he asks for a plate. He scrapes off the charcoal chicken from the pressure cooker, spoons in the watery rice and salty cauliflower into his plate, and calmly proceeds to eat it with a benevolent smile. I’m too paralysed with shock at this brave gesture. Even I wouldn’t eat that at gunpoint. He gently smiles and says, “From tomorrow onwards, we’ll do one dish a day , ok? We will first perfect the rice, then the cauliflower… “

A million dishes later and cooking is no longer a challenge now. It’s a great way to unwind after a tiring day at work. The icing on the cake is when I get small notes from my daughter’s friends – ‘Aunty , can you please share your spaghetti recipe so that I can ask my mother to make it for my tiffin too?’ My kid is beaming as she proudly hands me this scrap of paper. I feel momentarily overwhelmed and wonder if she will ever believe me if I tell her this story of my first day in the kitchen.

About the Author: Dr Priya Mary Jacob is a pathologist working in a cancer centre by day and harried mother of two by night. She blogs at acuteangle7.wordpress.com and has written a still looking for a publisher novel titled ‘Scopegoats’ along with her friend Dr Sajna V M Kutty. It is a medical campus novel from a woman’s point of view. #scopegoats_the_novel.

 

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