How to enjoy friends, food and a full house
Sticking to the fast and the familiar, when the weekend's priorities are friends who are older but not wiser
Friends, food and a full house. It feels as if life can’t get better than this. But as the years roll by, and all of you are on the wrong side of 50, which means not as adjusting as before, certain disagreements are inevitable.
One wants lots of salad to stay true to a diet. Another wants the doors and windows flung open, so she can smoke. One feels cold, the other does not. There are minor disagreements over paying, over how much time is spent on cellphones, over watching tennis, over drinking, over when to sleep and wake up.
This is what happened at my house recently. After many persuasive phone calls and WhatsApp messages, everyone managed to make it to cool, breezy Bengaluru—a special mention here for my friend Shammy, who against her best instincts of not flying during monsoon turbulence steeled her nerves and dug her nails into the nearest armrest or unfortunate neighbour and winged her way across the country. When friends wait at the end of the storm, what’s a little atmospheric unrest?
So, there we were, middle-aged, older, and less able to withstand excess than we once could. The difference from previous reunions was marked: We slept earlier, woke up earlier, drank less and—horrors—exercised. And although we had to produce larger quantities of salad, the one thing that had not changed was the food.
Of course, less oil was used, and more greens were cooked, but there was no let-up in the kinds of animals consumed over the weekend: I grilled a whole fish, slow-cooked pork on an open flame, and dished out lots of dosas. My parents’ home contributed with kheema and beef fry, prawns and rasam-brandy cocktails were ordered at a local Kerala restaurant. Many of us are now on medication and ordered to live life with greater care, but for the weekend, medical advice was left at the door.
Our night partying was done at home. No one wanted to brave Bengaluru traffic, especially during the rains, and let’s face it, the food at home was just much better. The dinner table catered to all tastes and offered a wide variety of home-made food. Every place mat was occupied, and we all ate more than we usually do. The music played loudly, and when it did not, there were deep, searching analyses of our character flaws—we are almost all journalists you see, and given to the more pessimistic side of life. Those who could not make it to the reunion were FaceTimed, to rub it in. We may have been older, but we were, I found, not significantly wiser. The jokes were terrible, the gossip pointless—and what could be better.
And there was our eight-year-old in the middle of a weekend marked by alcohol and other abuse (verbal, in case you were wondering). However, she shut her ears to whatever she should not have heard—gently admonishing us only when she heard the terrible “S" word (stupid)—gleefully enjoyed a captive audience for her gymnastics and singing and a line-up of older friends (no one is called aunty or uncle) to play football or simply play the fool with.
An essential requirement for a weekend reunion at home is the ability to let go; to go with the flow. That was certainly important because our washing machine chose to break down, and, so, suitcases were full of unwashed clothes. The wife, after trying to plan menus and impose some order, gave up and grabbed many beers.
I did not attempt too many culinary experiments during the weekend, sticking to the fast and the familiar. All the fish was done in the oven; it allowed me to stick it in there, grab a rum and return a half hour later. “Let me know 45 minutes before dinner," was my command, the additional 15 minutes for heating rice, dal, vegetables, and assembling the salad, a new version of which emerged over the weekend—lettuce with fresh mango and walnut, assembled by the friend who bravely bore the turbulence. Only the pork took 90 minutes, since it was cooked on a gas fire, but I managed to leave home while it did, outsourcing the frequent stirring to the reluctant vegetarian spouse.
The cook-easy approach continued once everyone had left, and things returned to normal: The washing machine came back online—of course—the next day; the house was swept clean; and I decided to avoid culinary complications. A day after the mob left, and an uncomfortable silence descended on the house, I found myself converting my daughter’s tiffin recipe into dinner—taking the path of least resistance, so we had time to reminisce and relive the weekend. Sometimes, that’s the best way of coping with the silence.
Home-made chicken ‘kathi’ rolls
2 chicken pieces (leg and thigh)
2 tsp ras el hanout powder (or 1 tsp chilli powder and 1 tsp coriander powder)
1 tsp soya sauce
2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato, chopped
1 tsp garam masala
Juice of K a lemon
1 tsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Marinate the chicken with ras el hanout (or red-chilli and coriander powders), soy and salt for 2 hours. Grill or bake in oven for 40 minutes at 170 degrees Celsius. Let cool and shred.
In a non-stick saucepan, gently heat olive oil and sauté garlic for a minute. Add onion and sauté on medium heat. When it turns translucent, add garam masala and sauté for 30 seconds or so. Add tomato and toss for a minute. Add a little salt, shredded chicken and sauté for 2 minutes. Add lime and mix well.
Divide the chicken between two chapatis equally, roll up and serve hot.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.
He tweets at @samar11