FOOLPROOF COOKING. . .
Last night the waiter put the celery on with the cheese, and I knew that summer was indeed dead. Other signs of autumn there may be—the reddening leaf, the chill in the early morning-air, the misty evening—but none of these comes home to me so truly. There may be cool mornings in July; in a year of drought the leaves may change before their time; it is only with the first celery that summer is over.
There is a crispness about celery that is of the essence of October. It is as fresh and clean as a rainy day after a spell of heat. It crackles pleasantly in the mouth. Moreover, it is excellent, I am told for the complexion. One is always hearing of things which are good for the complexion, but there is no doubt that celery stands high on the list. After the burns and freckles of summer, one is need of something. How good that celery should be there at one's elbow.
-A Word for Autumn by A.A. Milne
In theory, I'm a good cook. I have the recipes collected from Mom, sheafs of paper now bound in a frayed pink ribbon that's unraveling in a multitude of threads. They are in my 'neat' handwriting, collated while standing at my mother's elbow, witnessing her cooking wizardry as she barked orders to Chotu, our Nepalese servant who came from his village at the tender age of fifteen and has lived with us for 25 years since.
I've worked on those family recipes ad nauseum because very quickly I realized that all those family friends who thought my mom's cooking was legendary were, in fact, complimenting good, wholesome food, nothing fancy or exotic about it, just plain and simple cooking that let the freshness of the newly-picked vegetables or the recently-slaughtered meat shine. There was none of the fou-fou fusion cooking or the artisanal spice blends that have put Indian cuisine on the global map. But truth be told even though I was born in an Indian household with an Indian mom cooking delicious Indian food I wasn't born with any Indian culinary instincts in me.
In theory, I now know how to make 'karai chicken' that will make my guests drool. I know how to marinate the chicken overnight in yogurt, lemon juice and Rupak's garam masala exported directly from Old Delhi's Kinari Bazaar. I know how to finely chop the onions, and garlic and ginger, almost minced to a paste and cook them on a low heat until they are caramelized. Then to add a puree of plump vine-ripened tomatoes, especially purchased from Trader Joe's that morning, churning it into the slowly smoldering onions. Wait for the ghee to leave the sides of the deep skillet till it crumbles into a gooey sweet-smelling mass. Then one by one, add the chicken pieces careful to mix it with the now-bubbling yogurt. Turn the heat to low, put the lid on, come back to check every five minutes; and, voila, in 30-40 minutes, your dish is ready to devour.
Yes, in theory, I know how to bring a guest to their knees with a taste of my succulent 'kardai chicken'.
In practice, though, it takes me less than a minute to order from 'Curry Cravings' on Main Street in downtown Pleasanton. Ashoka restaurant, Sri Venkatesh Bhavan, Frontier Spice. . . yup, they're all on my speed dial. And now, there's Door Dash. For a small fee, hot flavorful food delivered to my doorstep. And there's the bonus— I don't have to miss the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' 36th episode while I do the cooking!