He went at the herbs with a vengeance. The three inch blade would swing to the right as he gathered the greens with his left, their crunchy hits pinging on the tumid kitchen air.
Meha’s husband called it her default setting; this habit of biting off more than she could chew. A full-fledged, three course Spanish dinner was under production with the solo assistance of google and an Indian cook who was having trouble keeping his hands off ginger.
“Madam, are you sure about the adrak?” his swarthy confidence had begun to crumble. “We are cooking Paella, not Biryani Biju and use only olive oil please; very little at a time!”
The cook house would have put NASA control room during take-off to shame. Meha was scrolling down the recipes online, cross checking the images and calling out the ingredients in a tight voice. “Biijuuu! Just sauté lightly….no browning the onion….this is tortilla not tadka.”
Biju had begun to sweat with the effort of tuning out his long, Indian culinary experience. “Stop, stop, what are you doing? The parsley is for garnishing, you are mincing it with that knife of yours!” Biju dropped the knife as though stung, turning fearfully to the asparagus in slow motion, going pale at their lightened skin, they had overcooked! “Don’t tell me you used up both the green peppers in the gazpacho! We needed one for the Ensalada de pollo,” Meha fought down the panic, an eye on the clock. The ceremonial dinner table had to be laid and the guest bathroom given a once over. She ran down her check list mentally, chafing at having to rein in Bijju’s automatic kitchen reflexes that came from years of training.
“Slice the peaches down the middle Biju and use just a dab of butter for the pine nuts…I can’t give you too many breaks today; this is taking longer than expected.”
Biju shifted his weight in a deliberate manner to the right leg, “Er..umm…I think the meat balls have gone too soft, I will need some corn flour?!” Meha fixed him with that look, irritated at this affirmation of what she called ‘corrective cooking’. “Why are these cooks always patching up with corn flour and potatoes” she talked to herself just as her phone came to life with a message tone. It was her mother, wanting to discuss a forthcoming family event. “Mum, am busy, will call later” she typed out quickly before turning to the guacamole. Biju had scooped the avocado pits and was beginning to dunk the onions in the grinder. “Why? I told you to grate them; we want a grainy texture. Peel another one please.”
Polishing, dusting, watering, painting….the minions were hard at it outside the galley. Having mentally checked off the snack items, the serving bowls, the garden lights and the music, Meha finally shifted a gear down. She had planned her outfit and it hung neatly in her wardrobe, ironed and crinkle free. “A quick shower and I will light the candles” Meha called out some more instructions over her shoulder before closing the door to the master bedroom.
The evening progressed rather well over the well planned and creatively laid out snacks and beverages. Ricky Martin’s “Lo major de mi vida eres tu” kept the esprit de corps humming. Dear husband played the dutiful host, egged on by the memory of how fatigued his wife had looked when he returned home from work. “You have explained it all to Biju, now just relax and let him handle it, he is a veteran cook” he had reassured the hostess.
It must have been that urging combined with the sangria, Meha would tell herself later. She had no memory of how the food came to be laid on the table. What remained seared in her mind was the garnishing. There were slivers, and whorls, even nano-cubes! Flecks and quarters and strips of crisp fresh ginger, generously sprinkled over every single dish at her Spanish red theme, dining table.