Chai and I

Text and photo by Mehmudah Rehman

Hi All! I can sense a serious and perfectly ‘non-bloggable’ rant brewing inside. In the meanwhile here’s a harmless little piece published today in Dawn Images (The Review) in Pakistan. http://dawn.com/2012/05/06/a-matter-of-habit-chai-and-i/ Talks about my (in)famous addiction to chai (tea). Enjoy it over a cuppa if you like!

-M

The pleasing aroma of simmering tea wafts from the kitchen, and I instantly imagine a satisfying mug of the beverage in front of me. I particularly enjoy it with the flavour of cardamom infused into the liquid, with just the right combination of milk, water and tea. My day begins with a large mug of the said stuff, and only after consuming it can I function normally. If for some reason the morning tea is not strong enough, contains too much milk or too much water or, God forbid, isn’t available at all, I turn into a complaining grouch, claiming that I am down with a migraine, much to the family’s chagrin.

My love affair with tea is truly a strange one. When we were children, the elders drank tea, and we were given glasses of milk with Ovaltine mixed in it. When I asked for tea, I was told “Children don’t drink tea” and when I further pressed for a cup, I was told that it could darken one’s complexion. When I insisted that Mom’s skin looked perfectly fine and rosy, I was told that it had that undesirable effect only on children’s skin! The explanation, of course, is a preposterous one — because we now know that tea contains anti-oxidants and is actually quite good for health.

Childhood passed with the occasional sip of tea, which became rather like a ‘forbidden pleasure’. As I grew older, I was allowed to consume tea more frequently than before, especially when the family had a grand breakfast together every Sunday. Dad would whip up his famous omelettes and Mom would prepare soft as butter chapattis, and we’d be given a cup of tea if we cared to have it. I was, however, afraid that I would get addicted to it and deep down I also wondered if tea could really darken one’s skin tone. So I had it every alternate Sunday, and was completely happy with my schedule, until of course, I got engaged.

When my future mother-in-law enquired if I drank tea, I responded with a casual “Oh, just every alternate Sunday.” This innocently uttered response became the fodder for some real amusement to the family and my mother-in-law-to-be could hardly keep from chuckling. It was only after marriage that I was told how amused the family had been. Why on earth would a normal person have tea only on ‘alternate Sundays’? I am, to this day, the butt of a few jokes on the topic, especially because I now consume tea with far more frequency than I did then.

When my first child was born, crying and gurgling and kicking, the responsibility was pleasurable yet overwhelming — more so because the little one was a colicky baby, and no medicine would soothe her. The only thing that helped was walking across the room whilst holding her tight when she cried — loudly and pitifully — at night. My sleeping habits became irregular, to say the least, and the person who thrived on eight hours of glorious, uninterrupted shut-eye now had to make do with two or three. The only way I could function through the days which contained a never-ending cycle of feeding the baby, putting her to sleep, bathing her and changing her diapers, was to empower myself with a morning shot of caffeine.

One child followed another and gradually, the children began to grow up, and easily the most relaxing development was when they began sleeping the entire night. With the black circles fast vanishing from underneath my eyes, I wondered if the morning tea would go too. What I didn’t realise was that tea had become a habit, one of life’s little pleasures and I had begun to derive an unexpected soothing satisfaction from it. I could think intensely over a cup of tea, break down insurmountable problems in my mind, enjoy reading a book over it, or even write whilst sipping it. It was as though I could retreat into my own world with a cup of tea, and emerge feeling refreshed, energised and uplifted.

I drink tea mostly once a day and sometimes in the evenings, always without sugar, which I suppose can only be a good thing, because it significantly reduces the calorie-intake of the beverage. And in case you were wondering, the tea did not make my skin darker. It most certainly doesn’t look as fresh as before, and unwanted creases are beginning to appear — but that’s Mother Nature’s handiwork as age is catching up with me. I’d say that thought deserves a cuppa!

Central Perk

I could have probably gotten more pictures but for now these will have to do…

Carrot cake at Central Perk

 

I could seriously use one of those right now!

 

Triple layer chocolate cake. I'll do the dieting another time!

 

Ah! A frothy latte to wash it down with!

 

Little One is a picky eater! She loved it. Delish.

Whet your appetite

 

I recently visited Taste of Dubai… this article was first published @ dawn.com http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/09/whet-your-appetite.html

DUBAI: I, for one, never thought tomato soup could be white – and yet here I am, enjoying a deliciously creamy concoction that is white in colour but tastes somewhat like a conventional tomato soup. Gary Rhodes, the Michelin-starred British chef behind its recipe, watches my bewildered expression with a smile on his face.

I am at the Taste of Dubai festival located off Sheikh Zayed Road inside a large amphitheatre in Dubai Media City. The atmosphere is lively and the venue is buzzing with activity as a live band plays music, and people forget their inhibitions and happily tuck in. After all, who wouldn’t? Some of the best gourmet restaurants of Dubai had set up outlets here and you could taste cuisines from all around the world. Would you fancy an appetizer from Italian or Thai cuisine, a traditional British main course of steak and kidney pie, or perhaps an aromatic Indian curry, followed by a low-calorie dessert from Tasti D.lite (as featured in Sex and the City)?

“This got created by accident,” Chef Gary Rhodes says, gesturing towards the soup. “I extracted the juice of luscious, red tomatoes, which, by the way, is perfectly clear, almost like water. I did that to make a tomato jelly. But once I had the juice, I added a little bit of cream to it and the white tomato soup was born. Diners at all our restaurants have loved it. I took it off the menu once – only to put it back by popular demand.”

When asked what the biggest mistake people make in the kitchen is, Rhodes says almost immediately, “They try too hard. A lot of cooks do not understand the importance of simplicity, and how the texture and aroma of a few high-quality ingredients can emulsify into one delectable flavour.” In the profession for nearly 35 years, Rhodes fondly remembers a meal served many years ago to Princess Diana as his best offering to date.

After sampling the soup at Rhodes 2010, I stop for a moment at the cooking class where eager young cooks in the make-shift class (provided with their own cooking table, stove and ingredients) learn how to cook from British celebrity chef Jun Tanaka. Apart from cooking classes by well-known chefs like Tanaka, Richard Phillips, Gary Rhodes, Tim Hughes and Suzanne Husseini, one can also witness demos by other chefs, who demonstrate recipes to large groups of people.

The enticing aroma from Indego beckons me next, and I walk into the Indian restaurant owned by another Michelin-starred chef, Chef Vineet Bhatia, who is also the mastermind behind Rasoi, an Indian restaurant in London. “Indian and Pakistani cuisines are very similar, but Pakistani food is more meat-based, while a lot of people in India are vegetarians,” says Bhatia, commenting on Pakistani cuisine. Indego is one of the few fine-dining Indian restaurants located inside a five-star hotel in Dubai, and has often served dignitaries and heads of state.

On what he enjoys cooking the most, Chef Bhatia responds: “Fish, because it is the most delicate and cooking it is a precise art. A piece of lamb may be marinated with spices and may be overdone or undercooked and still eaten, but with fish, a chef best gets to show off his skill, for it has to be done just right or it can turn into disaster.” I nod knowingly, and he relates the story of a young Pakistani man Ali, who once asked him for a job in London.

“He was a darzi (tailor), and he came up to me and asked me for a job. I put him in the kitchen at Rasoi for odd jobs; he’d cut vegetables, and help in cleaning up. We asked him to prepare staff food (that’s how we start teaching cooking) and he would put meat in a pot and cover it with spices and vegetables and it would simmer into a fine blend of meat and flavours in a few hours. He became quite good at it and would prepare the stew on every weekend. Then the staff asked him, “Chef, kuch aur hai?” He decided to prepare fish, unfortunately in the same manner. The fish was swimming in the water a few hours later,” chuckles Bhatia, and insists that cooking is a journey where you keep learning. The must-add ingredient to any dish for Bhatia is passion, which he explains, brings taste to any meal.

And he’s right, too. Because when I sample the restaurant’s signature dish, deep-fried cauliflower with capsicum in a hot tangy sauce, I realise how a simple vegetable can be transformed into a delightful snack with passion and innovation.

My next stop is Rivington Grill (by Simon Conboy of MasterChef UK), where I am told that the fish and chips with mushy peas must not be missed. I decide to try a piece of the haddock, imported specially from Europe and find that though it is done perfectly, it is decidedly overrated, and I might have been better off opting for a healthier Thai green curry with steamed rice from Mango Tree Bistro.

A little further off I spot a stall selling Pakistani ready-to-cook masalas. “It’s our first year at the Taste of Dubai, and we hope our stall will do well. Pakistani food is appreciated by people from all over the world and our clientele in Dubai includes (apart from Pakistanis and Indians), Arabs as well as Europeans,” the salesman tells me. Unfortunately, Taste of Dubai does not feature a Pakistani restaurant this year, although there is some quality Asian food offered by the Thai, Chinese, Arab and Indian restaurants.

Good things come to those who wait, and it’s not long before I walk across the amphitheatre a few times that I am craving dessert. But when I do, I am on cloud nine as the sinful concoction from Verre, Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, melts in my mouth. It’s a light, frothy combination of honey and caramel topped with a citrus-flavoured pulp and crunchy pieces of nuts. The best part about it is that is not excessively sweet, and surprisingly, feels light on the stomach. As I exit the Taste of Dubai, I rue the wasted hours on the treadmill, but decide that the indulgence has been every bit worth it.

Dinner dilemmas

Image cred: google images

Phone: Rrring!

Me: H’lo?

Him: What’s for dinner?

Me: Daal Chaawal! (Enthusiastically)

Him: Again?

Me: Helloooo?!  When was the last time we had it?

Him: I’m a lion. I need some real food.

Me: Lion? Then I suggest you hunt. Or eat with us lesser beings, O King!

Him: Yeah whatever.

Me: Okay, tomorrow, I’ll make fish. Happy?

Him: Okay, whatever.

I go inside the kitchen and look at the daal critically. The yellow goop looks pretty uninviting and I realize that the ‘lion’ will be less than impressed. Rice looks okay though. The lentils definitely need a new soul (and I need a magic wand), I think to myself.

I take the cumin seeds and red chillies among other things from the kitchen closet. I decide to give the daal a tarka and I know one thing: for all the garlic and cumin I add, this thing will not become delicious. I used to make okay daal – I don’t know why this one looks so unappetizing.

I heat oil in a pan and add cumin and garlic and the chillies, then I improvise. I take the better part of a chicken cube and sizzle it in — and wait, laugh all you want, I stir in some yogurt, and some chaat masala. I’m serious – the frying pan concoction smells kind of nice. (I know, I wouldn’t believe it either). I pour the mixture into my daal and stir it in a very chef(esque) manner and hope for the best.

It changes colour from something the doctor advised for someone with serious gastro problems to something a normal Pakistani might consider eating. I force the little one to have some – and she doesn’t disappoint me. She doesn’t exactly lap it up but she doesn’t turn her face away either (as she does to some of my really awful concoctions). Yes, the little one eats ONLY yummy food and none of the nasty kiddie mixtures have ever passed her lips except to come out of the mouth with full force upon self.

He asks me which daal it is, because somehow it tastes different (I think he means edible) and something in my unusual recipe has obviously worked! Whew! Now if only I could get tomorrow’s fish done right… ahh.. I’m soo looking forward to this!

In the kitchen: when things go wrong

The casserole was nothing like this… sigh

 

 

I chewed on the rubbery thing in my mouth (wondering if it was indeed fish), and miraculously, did not spit it out. “This is quite good, actually,” I said gingerly. “Smells great too,” I added for good measure. And technically it wasn’t a lie. The fish casserole I had so painstakingly prepared, sadly, appeared to have contracted a disease which made it look ugly and as though it had fat boils (which were in fact potatoes) but strangely enough, it smelt quite appetizing, especially when it was inside the oven and you couldn’t actually see the thing.

He cautiously ate a mouthful and I watched as his face contorted and then rapidly the grimace vanished. “Mmm. This is nice,” he said. What a perfect gentleman. I wonder if he is thinking about the ‘steak episode’, another classic in my culinary endeavours. What had happened then was that we ended up having a major row when he informed me just what he thought of it. So wisely, he decided to play it safe when the fish casserole turned into a hideous combination (or was it conspiracy?) of over-cooked (or was it raw?) fish, too many potatoes, and burnt white sauce. Sigh. Who knew internet recipes were such a farce? I found this particular recipe with a whole bunch of positive reviews and thought, “Right, this should be fun.” Wasn’t.

Other than that, I’ve managed to buy a lovely new bag (refer to older posts for the bag dilemma), fought multiple times in the week, wasted hours on YouTube, over-eaten (not the casserole, of course) and haven’t worked out at all. All in all, it’s been a nice few days. But I did get to hear some worrying news from back home, and that made me somewhat anxious.

I’ll sign off now – there’s only so much time I can find with the girls creating havoc and loving every bit of it. Then I will read O Henry stories, once I have a moment to myself. Love his ‘twist in the tale’ stuff. Ciao.

An unhealthy lifestyle

Note: This blog post first appeared on Dawn.com

http://blog.dawn.com/2010/12/02/an-unhealthy-lifestyle/

I had read about it and I had heard about it – that awful thing called the ‘Dubai stone’. Expats of perfectly normal weight would move to the emirate and because of what is called living ‘the good life’, overeating and having a sedentary lifestyle, they gain about seven kilos of pure fat.

A typical resident of Dubai is surrounded, nay bombarded, by advertisements for unhealthy food choices. Children and adults are lured by the ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ offers on chocolates, cookies and chips inside malls and at grocery stores. Lavish ‘all-you-can-eat buffets’ offering authentic delicacies from just about anywhere in the world tempt the most moderate eaters to over-indulge. What is more, all shopping malls have huge food courts which promote the fast-food culture and can ‘up-size’ people in no time. The searing heat discourages outdoor activity, and taking your car everywhere means that the only notable walking you do is inside the malls.

Obesity in children and adults is becoming common in Dubai as one often comes across children as young as four or five who have gained large amounts of weight due to inadequate physical activity. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the UAE has the highest rate of diabetics in the GCC countries and the second highest rate of diabetics in the world after Nauru (a tiny Pacific island nation). About 19.5 per cent (or 1 in 5 persons) of the population is diabetic.

The government of UAE has taken note of the issue and an initiative to combat diabetes was launched last month on World Diabetes Day.  A ‘Beat Diabetes’ walk with more than 7,500 participants took place, led by none other than Wasim Akram.

Experts believe that the lifestyle this seemingly-glamorous city offers is largely to blame. Grueling, highly stressful long work hours mean that people grab unhealthy meals such as a burgers, fries and soft-drinks on the go. It is readily available, and much more satisfying than, say a grilled chicken salad.

Another way to keep fit (and keep that so-called Dubai stone at bay) is by playing a sport regularly. A bit of Googling, a few phone-calls and some research reveals that memberships and lessons to learn sports in the city can cost a handful! For instance, a single private tennis lesson for non-members of sports and recreational clubs can cost around AED 245. While Dubai boasts of some of the finest sports clubs in the world, offering world-renowned coaches and breathtaking venues, it is ironic that only a certain fraction of the population can afford to be associated with these exclusive establishments. Granted, there are free public parks which have good facilities, but the playing courts are usually full in acceptable weather. Just a few days ago I persuaded a friend of mine to play a round of tennis with me at a public park. My deplorable serve (and my ego) took a serious bashing – more so because of the tennis pros clad in immaculate tennis whites, standing outside the court, waiting impatiently for us to finish our ‘match’ – all the while wondering what I was doing with a tennis racket in my hand!

It must be noted however, that the ‘Dubai stone’ is merely a figure of speech, for one can gain excess weight in any part of the world if one follows an unhealthy lifestyle. In fact, in Pakistan obesity (and the diseases related to it, such as diabetes) is on the rise, in the affluent as well as poor communities. Moreover, the Diabetes Association of Pakistan (DAP) recently revealed that about seven million people in the country are suffering from Type 2 diabetes. The need of the hour is to combat these epidemics by making sure we opt for healthier food choices and inculcate the right eating habits in our children, and set admirable examples for them to follow.

Mehmudah Rehman is a freelance writer based in Dubai.