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Thursday, 7 July 2011

Venus Food

“Do you discuss our sex life with your girl friends?” Sid asks me, just like that, casually leaning against the kitchen counter where I am drinking a glass of red wine and mincing garlic with my newly acquired 9-inch Wusthoff knife.
I almost slice my finger.
Wusthoff knives, you see, will slice through almost anything.  An excellent buy.
I look up at my husband to see if he’s joking. But he’s looking at me quite solemnly, his face with that hung-in-suspended-animation, expectant look about it, as though he’s actually waiting for an answer from me. I take an extra-large gulp of my wine.
“What?” I say, though I’ve heard him perfectly well.
“Do you discuss our sex life with your girl friends?” He repeats.
"Nooooooo!" I retort at once, scrunching up my face in abhorrent distaste. Then I add somewhat contemptuously – “Girls don’t do that.”
“Oh,” he says looking both surprised and relieved (more of the latter I think). “So, then what do you girls go on about for hours and hours?”
I put the knife down, just for good measure.  Wusthoffs are deadly, I tell you. Dangerous in dangerous situations.  Like this one’s turning out to be. So I put it down and put my hands on my hips in the manner of a bossy dominatrix (while we’re on the topic and all.)
“I’ll get to all that later,” I tell him. “But is that what you talk to your guy friends about?”
“No, no, never,” comes the prompt reply back. “I mean, yeah, we discuss these things before we get married but never after. Never.”
I believe him, of course.  Sid never lies.  So, I am relieved.  The answer, especially the double “never” (strongly emphasised both times), gives me comfort. But then my mind goes back to analyse his statement in slow motion.  And, sure enough, a flood of questions cloud my already quite-clouded brain.  “So did you discuss ME before you married ME?”
No, no, never, never! (There it is again) - I always knew I was going to marry you.
Right answer. Clever boy. I knew there was a reason I kept him around. But when I look at his face, I can’t help but laugh out loud – my cool, confident, always in-control husband is looking visibly anxious now.
“What?” I say, “don’t give me that look – you started this!”
“Ok, ok – so what do you girls talk about then?”
Real-time status update: uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) moment has passed. All’s under control now. I consider getting back to my Wusthoff before my kitchen starts smelling of raw garlic.
“Well,” I say, thinking aloud as I help myself to more red wine and continue to work on mincing my garlic into perfectly minced, beautiful little slivers. “We talk about, you know, stuff.  Like shoes and movies and, you know, childbirth and stuff.... ”
 As soon as the words are out of my mouth, of course, I know how ridiculous that sounds.
Sid is looking at me triumphantly.
“Oh come on, you know what I mean” I say defensively, “it's not like we discuss all that at the same time!”
But, I lie. I have often discussed Jimmy Choos and my 22-hour labour all in the same conversation. It’s perfectly natural. Except when you’re trying to explain it to a Martian.
I am just about to down my second glass of wine when Ranbir saves me by waking from his nap. I heave a sigh of relief. For this alone, I think I shall now magnanimously forgive him for my 22 excruciating hours in labour.  Anyway, he’s woken from his nap and now he wants to play. That’s all he’s taken to doing these days, by the way.  If he’s not sleeping, he’s awake (obviously) and when he’s awake, he wants to play.  Which makes for a lot of fun but can be quite exhausting really.  I look longingly at Sid who willingly obliges by going up to have a man-to-man chat (god knows what they’re discussing) and leaving me to my garlic. In which I’ve suddenly lost interest.
Alone, I start to think: about my friendships with my girlfriends and about the void they fill in my life. Because no matter how great my relationship is with Sid (pretty great, I am fortunate enough to report), there are some things that he will never “get.”  Like why “fat days” depress me or why I am  upset by something my dad might have said or why my friend was so upset when another friend wore white at her wedding or how difficult it is for me to think about leaving my baby with a stranger and going back to work. These little things that matter to me, that I need to talk about, that only another woman will understand and appreciate.
And sure enough, while these conversations are often about seemingly trivial things - I bought a pair of jeans today that make my hips look small or found this awesome place on Bond Street that does threading for £7 (I did!), or the cleaning lady didn’t show up again, sometimes it’s the kind of stuff that saves lives (and I’m not being dramatic.) For instance, right after we brought Ranbir home from the hospital, and I was hit by the cold, hard reality that I am now (more or less) solely  responsible for another life (Half the time I hardly know what to do with my own, for God’s sakes), I panicked. Yes, my mother was there, thank goodness, but in reality, it had been 30 years since she last handled a baby.  Sid was there – and heaven only knows he did absolutely everything that I did, except physically feed the kid – but most days, he was as overwhelmed as me.  And so, I reached out to my friends for help. Aimee in Texas, Pooja in Sydney, Shaela in Washington, Meenakshi in New Jersey, Shayaan in Bombay, Roshni in London, Sadia in Pakistan, Shruti in Delhi. “Help me!” I wrote, “I’m doing everything the book’s telling me to do, but it’s not working.  Maybe I am not cut out for this. I feel like a failure.”  And they wrote back, each of them, new mothers themselves, taking the time (a luxury one never appreciates until children) to send me back long messages in support, sharing their own experiences, offering advice and tips and guidance. “We have all been there,” they wrote, “you can do this.”
And you know what?
I did.
But every single day (mostly at 3am) during those first 12-weeks of motherhood, I would read and re-read those missives from all over the globe, offering me hugs and smiles of encouragement. They are what got me through those long, hard nights. When I felt weak, they gave me strength, when I felt fear, they gave me courage, when I felt insecure, they gave me confidence, and when I felt like crying, they made me laugh. Geographical distance was irrelevant – sometimes words are stronger than we give them credit for.
It is interesting how history does not seem to celebrate female friendships; the great friendships we read about are almost always between men, described often in terms of bravery and physical sacrifice (Achilles and Patroclus, Holmes and Watson, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Arthur Hallum…and on and on).  I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps, just like the alleged “glass ceiling” in the workplace for women (the theory being that sooner or later, most women face obstacles – family over career – hindering their advancement to the upper rungs of corporate ladders), there is a “glass ceiling” in female relationships too, as we enter into other, more all-consuming ones, in our roles as wives and mothers.
I have learnt, from my own experience, that female friendships (perhaps like all relationships) need work and nurturing. With our closest friends, we come to rely on the consistency that seems to remain, as a comforting constant, even while everything else around us changes. But friendships change too, they grow as we do, and if we nurture them correctly, they can be tremendously rewarding - each new phase revealing something new, something special, sometimes strengthening a bond that you didn’t think could be strengthened further.
And so, I thank all my girl friends for being there for me, as I hope you know, I am there for you. For being a part of my life and making every event special - from the trivial to the life changing – just from being able to share it with you.
Thank you: for encouraging me to buy the highly impractical (but totally beautiful) fuchsia shoes I love, for standing outside the dressing room door to tell me how the dress really looks; for watching Sex and the City (I and II) with me and discussing it animatedly over a watermelon martini; for emailing over your favourite recipes or your discovery of a fabulous new restaurant; for sharing your excitement over your new handbag or a holiday you’ve just booked; for telling me how your heart beat faster when you met the love of your life, or how it melted when your child first looked at you; for giving me, on my birthday, earrings like yours that I told you I loved a long time ago, and that you remembered;  for telling me your deepest secrets and listening to mine (and no – they do not involve our sex lives), for the little fun gossip sessions about mutual acquaintances (do you know who she finally ended up with? Nooooooo!) and blood curdling tales about the in-laws (amazing how much of those long gabfests are taken up by the in-laws –  “What, you too? Omygod, same!” etc. etc.); for not being scared to reveal your vulnerabilities and insecurities and fears, and giving me the comfort to do the same. Thank you for sharing your life with me and being there to share mine.
To my girl friends then, in the spirit of sharing, I give you Spanish Tapas – here are 5 small dishes, just waiting to be shared.  Each takes only about 20 mins to make!
1)            Stuffed Tomatoes (v)
2)            Gambas a la plancha (Pan friend shrimp)
3)            Meatballs in tomato sauce
4)            Ajillo Mushrooms (v)
5)            Spanish Omelette (v)

I) Stuffed Tomatoes

 - 4 large tomatoes
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, cooled and peeled
- 4 tablespoons light mayonnaise
- 4 pods garlic, crushed
- ½ teaspoon crushed dried red chillies
- 1 tablespoon coriander, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste

Skin the tomatoes (cut out the core with a sharp knife and make a '+' incision on the other end of the tomato.) Place in a pan of boiling water for 10 seconds, remove and plunge into a bowl of cold water (this helps the tomatoes retain their firmness).
Slice a small bit of the tops and bases off the tomatoes, just enough for them to sit squarely on the plate. Remove the seeds and insides, either with a teaspoon or small, sharp knife.
Mash the eggs with the crushed garlic, crushed chillies, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and coriander. Stuff the tomatoes, firmly pressing the filling down. (The filling must be firm enough to be sliced, sort of like the consistency of mashed potatoes).
Refrigerate for 1 hour, then slice with a sharp carving knife (preferably a Wusthoff!!) into rings. Sprinkle with any remaining chopped coriander

II) Gambas a la plancha

- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 24 medium-large shrimp (about 1 pound), shelled and de-veined

In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt until well blended.
Heat a dry skillet over high heat. When the pan is very hot, add in the olive oil and lemon juice mixture. Working in batches, quickly add the shrimp in a single layer without crowding. Sear for a few minutes. Turn the shrimp, and sear on the other side until both sides are golden brown. When cooked, arrange on a plate, pour any remaining oil mixture over the shrimps and serve hot.

III) Ajillo Mushrooms

- 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz) extra virgin olive oil
-  4 cups (8 oz) mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 tablespoons dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red chillies, crushed
-  1/4 teaspoon paprika
-  Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the mushrooms over high heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Lower the heat and add the garlic, sherry, lemon juice, dried chillies, paprika and salt and pepper. Cook until the garlic and mushrooms have softened. Remove from the heat, and sprinkle with chopped parsley just before serving

IV) Meatballs in tomato sauce

- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 8 oz ground turkey, lamb or beef
- 1 cup (2 oz) breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 cups (16 oz) canned plum tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons red wine
-2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil leaves
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

In a bowl, thoroughly mix together the meat, breadcrumbs, cheese, tomato paste, garlic, scallions, egg, thyme, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Using your hands, shape the mixture into 12 to 15 firm balls.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook for several minutes  until browned on all sides. Add the tomatoes, wine, basil, and rosemary. Simmer gently for around 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve hot.

V) Spanish Omelette – the ultimate Tapa!

- 1/2 pint extra virgin olive oil
-  5 medium baking potatoes, peeled, sliced and lightly sprinkled with salt
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 eggs
- Salt, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the potato slices. Cook, turning occasionally, over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the potatoes are tender. Take the potatoes put of the skillet, but do not discard the oil.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt. Add the potatoes, and stir to coat with the egg. Add the egg-coated potatoes to the very hot oil in the skillet, spreading them evenly to completely cover the base of the skillet. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, shaking the pan frequently, until mixture is half set. Now flip the omelette in the skillet on its uncooked side. Cook until completely set. Allow the omelette to cool, and then cut it into wedges. Season it with salt and pepper.
Serve. Share. Enjoy. Smile. J

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