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Bi-annual catchup (of sorts)

To say that the past 6 months have been nothing short of hell is an understatement.

I thank the heavens and the stars that my immediate family and I have been alright COVID-wise, while gruesome stories rage around us. But I've been overworked, like never before. Some time towards the end of last year, sending out my monthly newsletter began to feel like a chore and I gave up altogether. I hoped the good feelings would come back in about 3 months time. But need I tell you how they went. Heh.

Let me catch you guys up on everything we've been up to at The Cookbook Nook these past 6 months.

Nov 2020

Towards the end of October and in the beginning of November, I attended an extremely interesting series of 'classes' around the history of Mughal Food. A Whatsapp group with all the folks who attended was formed (we're still in touch and very prompt and helpful as and when required). But me, being me, the social aspect of it all has indeed taken its toll on me and I'm more of a silent observer than an active participant.

But, let's talk about November, shall we?

We went through Salma Husain's translation of Nuskha-e-Shahjahani - showcasing recipes from the kitchens of Shah Jahan. While the book focuses more on recipes from his times, she spoke about the food during the reign of the Mughal emperors, how it changed over generations and how it influenced what passes off as Mughlai food today (and how real Mughlai food is FAR from the medium spicy, orange gravies that folks wolf down at restaurants as delicacies). She speaks perfectly good English, but delivered her lectures to us in Hindi, heavily laced with Urdu. And, boy, oh boy, oh boy! That language is something else. It just always sounds so poetic and delicate and beautiful.

I will not lie, I WAS hoping more folk would cook and be a part of this whole cooking community - everybody seemed rather excited to buy her book. Somehow, not too many folk ended up cooking from the book that month. Some did, a few months later. And maybe hoping that they would have instead closer to the dates the lectures ended was an unwarranted expectation on my part, but that's how things go.

The book, as such, was strictly okay. I guess translated recipes don't do entirely well. Not only for me, but for many of the folk who DID follow recipes from the book, following them to the T didn't quite seem to be working out. So, we added our own little 'nuskhas' to them.

There were samosas and hand pies and pulaos and sweetened rice and so many other things. Trust me, when they have a fancy sounding name, you just end up feeling a little bummed out. I mean, you're thinking 'Khagina-e-Baize' and it's just an omelette - khagina means whipped eggs, baize means chestnut-coloured. Sigh.

Dec 2020

For December, we thought we'd try another Indian something. I, for one, had been eyeing Five Morsels of Love for months. But just needed a reason to cook Andhra food.

Truth be told, I'd seen colleagues be thrilled when they ordered in 'meals' for lunch back in 2011 and 2012 - watery 'pappu' (dal), the usual stir-fried veggies, and I'd thought, what's the big deal in that. I actually make much better 'home-style' food. Then, I ate Andhra food with a friend in Bangalore at a chain of restaurants called Nagarjuna, in 2013. I HATED it. It was needlessly spicy and that just killed the whole experience for me. And then, in 2015, a few colleagues insisted I eat the biryani at Kritunga - and they said I love how well-flavoured the biryani was. Unfortunately, again, needlessly spicy. So I just steered clear of Andhra food, in general, for many many many years.

Cut to now. We're thinking, hey, let's do something regional. Let's do something that's been talked about a whole bunch and appreciated. Let's do Five Morsels of Love.

People made sambar + rice, daals, chutneys, dosae, and weren't disappointed. I tried a sesame seed chutney - spicy - sigh, I used it slathered inside dosae when I made them for one of our regular dinners and called them 'my sore masala dosa.' Well, the pachadi wasn't half bad inside a dosa. I made some fish curry (because I was home alone and my husband doesn't eat fish and I took this as an opportunity to cook fish) and pretty much cried through dinner - it was that spicy (this is after HALVING the amount of spic the original recipe called for). The book wasn't all spicy though, I promise. I also made the Mamsam Biryani - now, over the past couple of years, I've been trying different styles of biryai just to see what making them is all about - there's my go-to quick one which I put together in an hour. The BEST one I've made in a Thalassery Biryani. And the Hyderabadi one comes next. Tender meat. Not too spicy. Not overly dry or too saucy. Pudgy, fluffed up rice. Fried onions. Heh, no reason to not like this one, yeah? That and kaima vada (keema cutlets, basically). Again, what's not to like if they're flavoured right, no?

This month saw Vidya Balachander being added to our little group (and also sooking out of the book). A lot of us have been fans of her writing and having her on the group made me so happy! It did.

Jan 2021

A lot of us LOVE all kinds of Asian food. The lockdown (and the covid-scare) seemed to be easing up in a lot of places (cut to April 2021 or May 2021 and maybe a bunch of folk should've just masked up and behaved then as well). Some of the folk from Dubai thought it might be a fun idea to do a little picnic (social-distancing and everything) and have banh mis. Now, we've done Vietnamese food in the past a few times before. The challenge was to pick a book that is good AND hasn't been done before.

What a fun month of cooking. Banh Mis (the tofu kind is still something I will not eat), pho, meat/seafood skewered using sugarcane sticks or lemongrass - it was really a fun month.

The highlight was the food that all of us loved, of course. But, we had a wonderful lady join the group - she goes by @squibsters on Instagram and she loves joking about how she's made of 70% noodles - she makes her own noodles from time to time. So, making Asian food is something she absolutely loves.

We've been doing 12-15 recipes every month (across some 3-4 usual suspects) and the odd new person who enthusiastically joins in. And it makes me a little happy, y'know.

It's nice to have people who are geographically hundreds of km apart, but get together over informal discussions about food - only when needed. I like that these folks somehow almost seem to respect the fact, that's it's okay to have an update only once a week. It feels very comfortable. It takes the (unsaid) pressure of not having to participate off my chest (and this, I admit, is completely on me - I'm just one of those people that has to be the better person in whatever I do or else, I'd rather not partake at all - I've failed before, and it's hurt a helluva lot and sometimes it's affected me so bad, I'd rather just be the way I am, sigh).

Anyway, I mustn't ramble on. There's three more months to go before I fill everyone in on the details of what's been going on here. Updates for the next few months coming up in the next post, y'all. Peace.

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