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Monday, 10 October 2011

Winging it, Ammi Style!

Last evening, we had some friends drop in to give Ranbir his birthday present (which I now need to find a home for. Have I mentioned before that I need a bigger house?)

Anyway, it was lovely to see them and Ranbir LOVED unwrapping his gift (thank you guys!) but it all made me think how long it’s been since anyone has last “dropped in” to my house!

I suppose this is the fundamental difference between the East and the West. Back home in India, it is perfectly normal for people to “drop in” all the time, for no reason other than the fact that they just feel like “dropping in.” Here, on the other hand, we live and die by our diaries and our calendars and appointments and play dates.  It’s a totally different context, I admit; culturally and practically. Neither is better or worse. Just different. But while in India, everyone seems awfully well-prepared to welcome visitors at any given point in time, I have to admit, last night, I had to think laterally! Big time! Not that I mind at all. In fact, quite honestly it was SUCH a welcome respite to see friends unexpectedly. It made me realise just how much, a little bit less of this draconian diary-keeping, would enrich our quality of life. If only we all eased up a little, and just winged it, sometimes. Because there is nothing quite as pleasurable as the company of people you like. And somehow according to the diary, there is just never enough time to spend in the company of people you like. Hugely weird irony if you stop to think about it.

So anyway – last evening. Speaking of preparedness. Or lack of. Here’s what happens:

Sid is reading the newspaper. Ranbir is “playing” his piano (yes, this is yet another new toy). I am doing what I have been doing, non-stop it seems, since the 2nd of October. Which is putting away toys. (Have I mentioned before that I need a bigger house?)
The doorbell rings. Sid looks at me. I look at him. We look bemused. Ranbir looks amused. “Who could that be?” Sid remarks aloud.
I raise my newly threaded eyebrows (thank you, Indian lady on Bond Street) and make a classic I-don't-know face.  
“Package, maybe?” I suggest.
“I didn’t order anything,” says Sid
“Well, I didn’t order anything either,” says me, somewhat defensively.
The bell rings again. Persistent Package Man. Apparently.
“Well,” says Sid. “Are you going to get it?”
“Noooo,” says me. “You’re going to get it. I’m putting away toys.”
Sid looks at me. I am putting away toys. Undeniably so.
"Alright then. Fine," says Sid folding up the newspaper with a resigned sigh. As if the newspaper these days has any news worth reading anyway.
"Alright then, Fine." says me too, as I continue putting away toys. I'm always happy when we agree. It makes for a very successful marriage.

Seconds later I hear happy, raised voices. And I crane my neck in alarm.
“Welcome, welcome,” says Sid, sounding merry
“Holy sh$$,” says me.
(The $$ is not just for editorial etiquette, by the way. My “it’s” are silent these days.  Due, rather annoyingly, to a little person who follows me around, copying everything I say or do. It’s not halfway as satisfying I’ve got to admit, these sh$$’s with the silent $$'s. But sigh. One’s got to do what one’s got to do.)

Anyhow, back to the current predicament of Sid sounding merry. He doesn’t usually sound merry on a Sunday night. Sunday nights, you see, are not about being merry. But then, he’s sounding merry. Very merry. Is the Package Man just an exceptionally nice sort?
But who – on God’s earth – is he welcoming so merrily?  
Is he inviting the Package Man for tea?
But (clever girl that I am), I rule out that possibility somewhat promptly.
Because Sid’s not the kind to generally invite Package Men for tea, no matter how exceptionally nice they might be.
“Holy sh$$,” says me. Once again. This time in proper falsetto. Has someone dropped in??

The first thought to enter my brain is myself (most important!). So, I check to see if I’m dressed decently. Or for that matter, if I’m dressed at all. (Now don’t be getting all excited, people. That was a joke). Thankfully (for everyone), it turns out that I am.

The second thought to enter my brain is food (of course!) I abandon the toy-stacking and make a mad dash for the kitchen before the happy raised voices come any closer. Is there anything in the house worthy of guests? And as I look around my kitchen – at tins of baked beans, a loaf of bread, frozen corn, milk, cheese and lots of green chillies – I conclude despondently: Yummyami has no food worthy of guests. Boo.

And in that split second – before the realisation sinks in and the waves of panic hit – the only thing I can think of is: What would Ammi do?

Cause Ammi is the one person who is always prepared for guests. She always looks fabulous. And she always has food. Come for breakfast, lunch, tea, coffee, dinner, drinks, or in-between, she’s always ready. Always. Don’t ask me how.

By the way, Ammi, (as you all know from Uday Park Chicken) is Sid’s grandmother, Ranbir’s great grandmother and my grandmother-in-law. I still think of her in the present tense because a part of me just can’t come to terms with the fact that she’s no longer in the present tense. In fact half the time when I’m visiting her (amazingly well-kept) home in Uday Park, I expect her to come billowing out of the kitchen, looking gorgeous as usual, laughing her big hearty laugh, and saying “haha, fooled you all!”

Silly, delusional me.
Still. I like to speak of her in the present tense. So, pardonne moi for the incorrect grammar.

Anyway, so Ammi, this lady of so many talents, would know exactly what to do. And so I transport myself into the brain of Ammi, and this is what I do:

1)      Beans on toast
2)      Devilled Eggs
3)      Creamed corn on salto biscuits
4)      Cheese balls

Here’s what you need (everything below serves 6 people):

Beans on toast

- 1 tin baked beans
- Bread slices, cut into quarters
- 2 tbsp grated cheese
- 1 tsp chopped coriander
- 2 copped green chillies

Lightly fry the bread slices until brown and keep aside. Heat beans, pile them generously on the bread, garnish with grated cheese and coriander!

Devilled Eggs

- 6 hard boiled eggs
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 tsp mustard
- 1 tsp chopped coriander
- salt and pepper, to taste

Cut the eggs into halves lengthwise. Gently remove and mash yolk and combine with mayonnaise, mustard, coriander, salt and pepper. Fill them back into the egg white shells. Done!

Creamed corn on salto biscuits

- ½ packet corn, defrosted
- 2 chopped onions
- 1 inch chopped ginger
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander
- 1 chopped green chilly
- 2 tbsp grated cheese
- ½ cup milk
- salt and pepper, to taste

Cook corn with salt, pepper, onion, ginger, cheese and milk until thick and creamy. Pile onto salto biscuits (crackers), garnish with coriander and chillies. Serve hot!

Cheese Balls

- 3 tbsp grated cheese
- 1 tbsp butter
- 6 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp chopped ham (for a veggie version, just leave out the ham)
- 1 chopped green chilly
- 1 tbsp chopped coriander
- salt and pepper, to taste

For Batter, mix together
- ½ cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp flour

Mix together the cheese, butter, breadcrumbs, ham, chilly, coriander, salt and pepper. Form into small rounded balls, dip in batter and deep fry to a golden brown.

Success! Four quick dishes. With whatever I happened to have at home. Which was not very much!

Anyway, serve the above with wine. Bottles of it. So many that you lose count. For, wine, if you don’t already know, makes everything seem a bit fancier. Wine is the most remarkable illusionist. And illusion, my friends, is the secret to good hostessing. Unless you’re Ammi. In which case, of course, you need no illusions. But then, sadly, there’s only 1 Ammi. So, wine it is. And a bit of creativity.

Now, it so happens that the friends who dropped in are lovely, warm, relaxed people who couldn’t have cared less if I served them nothing at all. But, it never hurts to offer people food. Food, after all, is love. And based on the fact that I had absolutely no leftovers, I think our friends felt very loved! Which, for a welcome change, left me feeling quite pleased with myself. So much so that if I could, I would have picked up the phone to call Ammi and say, “Guess what I made today...” just to hear her say, “Wow, Amu, I’m so proud of you!”

So, after an unexpected, but rather delightful couple of hours, Sid is back to reading the newspaper, Ranbir is back to “playing” his piano, and I am backing to stacking toys (Did I ever mention....?)

So the moral of the story?
Good friends, good food and good wine – leaves everyone content, fed and quite drunk.
And that, my friends, is that.

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