Quiche? I am not eating quiche. I want chapati and the leftover mutton.”
“Ok, ok, then we will make some palak paneer, too, for dinner.”
“How can you have palak with quiche?”
“Let everyone eat what they want to eat.”
“And what about lunch tomorrow?”
“I hope we are watching the cricket match today.”“What nonsense. We are going to be outside, around the bonfire.”
When old friends, who occupy a level of comfort that comes from decades of sharing joy, sorrow, trauma and bad jokes, have a reunion on the wrong side of 50, squabbling comes easy. Everyone is set in their ways and food and attempts at compromise degenerate into battles of wit, stubbornness and dodgy humour.
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Unburdened by etiquette, united by memories and released from the strains of a pandemic, seven of us spent a grand four days in the lap of the mountains. One of us has a beautiful mountainside home near the town of Solan in Himachal Pradesh and that is where we congregated, flying or driving in from our homes in Singapore (via Dehradun), Mumbai, Delhi, a little Uttarakhandi village between Ranikhet and Almora, and Bengaluru.
We first met in the early 1990s in Delhi, where we all worked at the same magazine, our lives coalescing easily around shared values which have—we are relieved to find—held firm over the years. After a memorable few years of being around each other, as we dispersed around the country and the world, we kept in touch over email, telephone calls and WhatsApp. Most significantly, we became family.
We watched each other’s offspring grow to become researchers, pilots, lawyers; I am the only one with a 10-year-old, lucky enough to get special attention as the baby of the group. We even have among us a grandfather, who hasn’t met his seven-year-old grandchild in two years thanks to covid-19 and wonders if the I-love-you-Nanajis from another continent are heartfelt or convenient.
When we were younger, we felt there was little we could not do, that the world was ours to conquer. We were brash, confident and undoubtedly intimidating to others.
We are older and wiser—although I am not so sure about the wiser. We carry injuries and ailments, and boxes of pills. We carry disillusionments and fear for the future, acutely aware that talent, ambition and good health must, inevitably, fade.
For now, we know we still have each other. Our regard and love for each other has not faded. We have learnt to overcome strife, irritation and anger, learnt to be there for, and listen to, each other, learnt to focus on the things that bring us together and compromise on the rest—except, of course, during a reunion.
That is why we squabbled over the little things, traded insults and tried to rile each other, secure in the knowledge that no one would take serious offence. The biggest debates—invariably, and as you may have guessed—were over food.
When you are this comfortable with each other and so far into middle age, mealtimes can be quite the task. While we compromised over meal timings—back home, some ate dinner at 6pm, others at 9pm or later, so we agreed on 8pm—achieving consensus on what we would eat took more effort. Negotiations for lunch and dinner invariably began the previous day and were far more difficult to agree on than politics and sport.
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About half of us are reasonable cooks, so while there was domestic help available, there was special joy in eating what the other had cooked. One of us is an extraordinary cook, and it was she who gave us—despite lacking ingredients—the quiche you see in this column. Another made the most delectable, slow-cooked kali dal and I pitched in with some breakfasts and two roasted chickens.
I did not find the right ingredients either but when you have a forgiving audience, you can push some boundaries, bearing in mind, however, that said audience, despite the encouragement and enthusiasm, has a low tolerance for average food and does not hesitate to say so. Some things should never change.
One-and-a-half cups flour
7 tbsp butter
For the filling
125g bacon or shredded chicken
1 bunch spring onion, chopped fine
12 tbsp cheese, grated
4 tbsp cream
Half tsp mustard paste
Quarter tsp pepper
Salt to taste
Make short-crust pastry by mixing all ingredients, kneading the crumbly mix very lightly, drizzling in water until firm and elastic. Roll out and place in an eight-inch flour tin. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius. Remove and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Sauté spring onion and bacon/chicken. Add mustard, pepper and salt. Place the mixture at the base of the pastry shell. Sprinkle cheese. Blend together milk, eggs and cream and pour over the cheese. Bake quiche at 160 degrees Celsius for 35-40 minutes.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. @samar11
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