It was a morning as rare as a clear day in Delhi, an Indian meal without spices or a smile from the prime minister. Rare is the day I wake up late, but an unsettled previous night, a 2km swim and an intense workday had knocked me out.
I stepped out of the bedroom gingerly. Was the wife grumpy about having to make her own tea? Was the daughter badly behaved because she had not been fed? Instead, I stepped into my morning habitat, the kitchen, to be received by a happy mess and cheerful greetings from the women in my life, both of whom are not known for their morning cheer.
“Good morning, appa!”
I found the wife amiably sipping tea she had made herself and the daughter spreading pancakes. Now, cooking is not an alien occupation to my nine-year-old. After all, she’s my daughter. Since she was a toddler, she has hung out with me in the kitchen but I have always been conflicted about teaching her to cook. One the one hand, I want her to be independent and acquainted with the basics of life; on the other, I do not ever want her to end up cooking for some man—assuming she winds up with one—whose mother and father did not teach him how to.
In any event, she tries her hand because she has watched her parents spend so much time in the kitchen. She can make dosas, eggs and pancakes. When she stays over at her grandparents’ every Friday, her morning routine—my mother reports—is to make her own pancakes. Until last month, my mother had to stumble out of bed at 6am—my daughter’s default wake time—and make them for her. Now, my mother gets some peace, as the granddaughter gets the maida (refined flour), cracks the eggs, adds the sugar and makes the batter herself. The two things she was not allowed, I thought, were to use a knife without adult supervision or light the gas.
My time with her in the holidays was mainly spent in outdoor pursuits, such as swimming and cycling; indoors, I helped her with essays, drawing and the occasional board or card game. In contrast, mother-daughter time, of which she has had a lot these holidays, was spent in more creative pursuits, from music to exploring new avenues, such as theatre and piano.
Both the ladies have Pinterests and share Instagrammable moments—a world unknown to me—and much as I sneer at social-media-driven cuisine, it appeared to have widened her interests and awakened her curiosity in matters culinary. Given her interest in pancakes, she was shown videos, I gathered, of pancake diversity.
When I walked into the kitchen rubbing my eyes that morning, I realized I had obviously missed some developmental landmarks. My daughter was slicing bananas neatly, and, as I watched with some trepidation, started the gas with the familiarity of a veteran chef.
The real surprise to my bleary self was that she was not producing her usual, unhealthy butter-sugar-maida-laden pancakes. Helped by her mother and Pinterest, she had produced a pile of oat-banana-honey pancakes. There was no maida, only a teaspoon of oil for five pancakes and a flat teaspoon of sugar.
“Healthy pancakes for you, appa,” said the wife, smiling brightly. I am not used to such early morning cheerfulness from my spouse, so I was somewhat suspicious. As it emerged, the pancakes were being made with me in mind.
This was the first time I had watched my daughter cook something from scratch, and I had to keep myself from giving instructions. She had clearly crossed a Rubicon, right under my nose, and I did not know it. All those sessions with her mother, poring over those tiny videos, discussing the details and letting her try her hand with cakes and homemade pizza dough, had clearly given her great confidence.
I watched with wonder and delight as she chopped the banana, measured the crushed oats, sugar, milk and salt—talking away to herself mostly (“it says two spoons, so that’s what we will do”), addressing me occasionally—ran the food processor, poured out the batter, switched on the gas, heated the griddle, carefully measured 1 tsp of oil, so appa does not panic, and laid out the first pancake.
“Don’t spread it,” she told me. “There’s no need.” Then she flipped the first pancake expertly, till it was a warm brown, then the next and the next, until the pile grew to five. She poured out honey and watched balefully—with a “really appa?”—as I added chutney to the plate. This time, I will not share the recipe because you can just as easily get it online. It’s simple, but of course I never thought of it.
You see, I am a creature of habit. I can eat the same breakfast for three months. She gets bored within two days. I have a fixed number of things I make for her, ranging from dosa to scrambled eggs to slowly cooked oats. But when I could not cope with her constant demands for “something new”, she went to her mother and found a way.
My little girl, I realize, is not so little any more. She may be acquiring pre-teen mannerisms and an associated temper, but she still cannot do without her nightly cuddles or walk without holding hands. For me, the pancakes were a coming-of-a-certain-phase moment.
May they keep coming.
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.