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Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Miracle Pizza

So China imposed its one-child policy in a manner that you'd expect from China. Rules are rules; no rest for the wicked.

India of course, decided to embark on it’s own population control measures in an ever so slightly different manner – It decided to appeal to logic.

“Small family, happy family,” said the slogans, followed by the catchy phrase that summed it all up rather eloquently: “We 2, Ours 2”

This was accompanied by the Government of India’s depiction of the model family. Mama & Papa smiling in perfect happiness. And below them – Baby & Baba, a spitting-image of their painted parents, albeit shorter and with rosier cheeks.

It was fascinating stuff, truly.

Anyhow, we were veritably bombarded by these posters, which were dutifully plastered on every surface that could be considered a surface. Indeed, for a great many years, no matter where you looked, there was a Happy Family smiling back at you…on billboards, stuck behind public buses, on placards atop taxis, painted on auto rickshaws, and glued onto every wall that expressly indicated it wanted no graffiti. For this was no graffiti. It was a message of National Importance. And don’t you ever forget it.

This, by the way, (in case you had any doubts) lies at the core of the difference between our two great nations.

Anyway, I'm not arguing for one over the other – I’m a food blogger, what do I know?

I'm merely propagating my very own (scarily effective) tried and tested method of population control.

And don’t worry – it’s totally PG 13 and involves neither violence nor sex.
 
I come in peace.


But, I’m telling you guys.  This is a serious test of one’s mettle. It takes all you’ve got. And it taught me that I ain’t got much. 

Oh and if you’ve got a few children of your own already (more than 1, that is) and you’ve still found time to read this and laugh at me, you're allowed. And well, then I salute you.

You're braver than me.
I'm a wimp.
A wimp who can cook.
And that about sums up my life.

So without further ado, this is how it all unfolds for me:

A good friend (whose permission I have taken, by the way, before writing this piece but whose children’s names shall not be disclosed for obvious reasons) shows up at my doorstep with her two progeny – all three dripping wet with rain – and begs to drop said wet progeny over, for "half a day" (gulp), because something "urgent" has come up at work and the babysitter is "otherwise occupied."

Sigh.

Question: How does one turn away a friend in dire straits? Especially one with water coming out of her ears?
Answer: One doesn’t.

I'm a nice person, I keep telling you. Foolish perhaps, but nice.

Plus, I’ve watched these kids grow up – the younger is just 2, slightly older than Ranbir, and the older is 6. And I remember them as being rather adorable. (Ah! How misleading is memory?)

So I say okay.

But. Half a day?

And especially half a day when my own child is not blissfully away at that utopian place called 'school' but very much at home, with me.

So – three children for half a day. A whole half of a day?

Phew.

Now, these children are supposedly half-Bengali and half-English although there's nothing Bengali about them. They speak in an English accent. They have golden curls and blue eyes the colour of the Thames on a sunny day.

(wait, what’s a sunny day?)

Anyhow….all goes peachily in the first hour or so.

The children busy themselves with racing cars. Nothing like racing cars, I tell you, when you’re dealing with boys. Entertains them for hours. (Or if you’re not-so-lucky, less that that).

“I’ll be the race car driver,” the older one decides. “You both be the road.” The toddlers try not to giggle as they lie prostrate on the carpet while the older "drives" the cars over them.

I want to protest at the seeming injustice of this little arrangement but the little ones seem delighted by the honour to be a road. And so a little voice inside me tells me to shut up and stop being such a Miss Goody Two-Shoes.

Instead I satisfy myself by casting a sneaky glance every now and then in the general direction of the car-and-road-action while curling up with a hot cup of tea, a book I've been meaning to read and the dim delusion of tranquillity.

Then, the first faint strains of trouble begin to emerge.

“I'm bored,” the 6YO declares.

“Okay, ” I say faking sparkle (many years of banking teaches you how to do that well) – "what shall we do"

“Let’s watch a movie,” he proposes, flicking through Sid’s DVD collection in an eerily adult manner.

“Okay,” I say once again, “what do you want to watch?”

“Let's watch Batman!” he announces, pulling out “Batman Begins.”

“Batman, Batman” the younger ones screech in unison.

At this point, I have no idea whether kids this age are even allowed to watch Adult Batman.

Then: “Do you know the new movie is out in a month?” the 6-year old tells me as articulately as if he were 60.
“Really?” I say, feigning ignorance.

Incidentally, it so happens that I do. My husband is a super-hero obsessed child who watches the trailer of “The Dark Knight Rises” (release date – 20th July 2012) ritualistically twice a day – once right after he wakes and once before he sleeps (and when I’m not looking, several times in between).

Anyway.

I think: if the kid knows when the next movie’s coming out, he’s probably watched the other two. At least I won’t go to jail. At least I hope not.

So we attempt to watch Batman Begins. ‘Attempt to’, being the operative words, because the two little ones are terrified of Batman and scream every time he comes on screen – which, given the movie is called “Batman” – renders watching it more than a little challenging.

I shut off the TV.
The 6YO complains.
But the toddlers stop screaming in fear.
I sigh.

It’s only gone 2.5 hrs and I've done an inordinate amount of sighing already.

Meanwhile, my child’s climbed up on the sofa beside me to hide his face (whenever Batman appeared) and now that the TV’s off and Batman doesn’t appear anymore, he’s taken to pulling my hair.

Watching him, the other two-year old decides to follow suit. So, up he scrambles, onto my other side – and yup – now my hair’s been yanked from both sides. It’s a democratic world, folks.
 
They are having a grand old time. Even the 6YO is amused. But I am not.  This game gets quite tedious quite quickly. So I pick them up one by one and put them back on the floor.

But, now what?

I’m about to suggest playing in the garden but I don’t because no child in Britain has played in a garden in the last three months. That’s how long it’s been raining.

Then I have a brainwave.
Food! I think.
Why, of course! Food makes everyone happy.

Food sustains life.
Food is love, etc.

And so: In trying times such as these, Food shall be my deliverance. 

“Let's all cook something together,” I suggest.

This is received by much whooping and cheering, and for a brief but glorious period I think I've just scored the money shot.

“What shall we make?” I ask.

“Pizza” says the older immediately.
“Pizza, Pizza” echo the young ones.

I have a few frozen ready-to-eat Pizza crusts in-stock (sorry guys, but I just can't face dough after a day like this)

“Okay,” I say, happily. “Done.”

I take one out of the freezer along with some left-over sausage-meat I bought from the lovely folk over at Swiss Cottage Farmers' Market – and walk them over to the microwave to defrost

“What's that?” the 6YO asks, standing on his tippy toes and peering into the packet in my hand.

“Sausage” I say.

“Cool,” he responds.

After 12 minutes in front on the microwave in which I’ve defrosted about ½ a kg worth of the stuff, he declares: “My brother doesn't eat meat.”

The younger shakes his head. “No meat” he states
“No meat” my son agrees.

I sigh.

No meat it is. Fine, fine.
You win. I lose. As usual.

Well. Sid’s just going to have to eat ½ a kg of sausage for dinner, so maybe I’m not the biggest loser, after all.

I go back to the fridge, open it and take stock of its contents. What can I put on my no-meat pizza?

Carrots? No.
Broccoli? No.
Beans? No. Definitely not.

Then – like an oasis in the middle of the desert, a silver lining framing a dark cloud, the light at the end of the tunnel. Etc. – I spy with my little eye, the answer to my prayers, the creature that will lead me down the Path of Salvation.

It is a Brinjal.

A gorgeous deep purple Brinjal sitting coyly in one corner of the crisper.

A thought-bubble emerges.
Nick Nairn, it says.
Oh genius, genius Nick Nairn. I love you.

Barely do I grab the purple beauty and set it on the counter when I hear a voice shriller than chalk on board, piercing through my eardrums.

“You’re feeding us Begoon pizza?” It asks in horror

I gasp (not sigh)

There is something more than mildly disturbing to hear the Bengali word for Brinjal uttered in an English accent through the lips of a 6YO with golden curls.

“She’s feeding us Begoon pizza” he reports to the toddlers accusingly. Followed by a disgusted “eeeeeyuuuu”

His bother repeats faithfully – “eeeeeyuuuu”
Not to be outdone, my son (who hasn’t the faintest idea what “begoon” is) follows suit – 
“eeeeeyuuuu”

You know how I said these children have blue eyes the colour of the Thames on a sunny day? Well. I want to drown myself in them.

Honestly, it is a moment when I want to ring up my mommy and cry.
And I almost do.
But I know she will only laugh at me and tell me to get a grip.

So I do.

How can I let these little creatures – all three standing on each other’s heads would still be shorter than me – bully me like this?

What a wimp I am. I mean, really.

And so I take control.

“Yes,” I tell them firmly. “I am feeding you Begoon Pizza and if you don’t eat it, the bogeyman will come and eat YOU.”

This seems to do the trick.

The pizza is made (as below), consumed (rather surprisingly) with great gusto and declared (much to my pleasure) a resounding success.

I even get a bear hug from the 6YO, which I must admit, is rather gratifying.

And then – everyone is tired and goes to sleep, cuddled all together on 1 big bed.

The End.

But there is a great and valuable lesson to learn from this tale.

Which is that my duly revised slogan – V2R1 –  is going to be painted on my front door first thing tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, here’s Aubergine/Brinjal/Eggplant Pizza inspired by the talented Nick Nairn. 

(I’m skipping the making of the crust, so sorry, but I’m too tired to be bothered. I’m sure I’ll have it in some post or the other, sooner or later…)

Here’s everything you need for the topping though:

-   1 tbsp pesto (from a bottle), I use the Sacla brand that's available here in the UK
-   1 medium gorgeous, deep purple Brinjal
-   200g cherry tomatoes
-   6 ounces, fresh mozzarella
-   2 cloves garlic, peeled
-   1/2 cup grated parmesan
-   Basil leaves, to garnish
-   1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Here’s how you do it:

Lots of slicing.

First, slice up the brinjal into relatively thin slices.  Then wash the slices in cold running water (I don’t know why. But this is what my mommy taught me) and pat dry. Lightly sprinkle both sides of the slices with salt.

Next, slice the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise.
And then, slice the mozzarella as thinly as you can.

Now we’re done slicing. We move to chopping.
So, chop up some garlic.

And now we’re done chopping.

Spread the brinjal slices out onto a large baking sheet, drizzle some olive oil over them and put them under the grill for a few minutes. When they have just started to char, add in the tomatoes to the same sheet. This will help dry out the tomato juices, which would otherwise make your crust soggy.

And a soggy crust never did anyone any good.

Now put the pizza together!

Spread the pesto evenly over the pizza base (you can skip the pesto if you don't like pesto. I like pesto. But that doesn't mean you have to. You don't have to. But you can if you want to) and place the mozzarella slices on top. Top with the caramelised aubergine and tomatoes. Sprinkle some chopped garlic over the whole pizza, and then finally scatter the Parmesan evenly on top.

Place into a preheated oven at 200C for 10 minutes until the cheese is melty and oozy and the crust is golden brown and crisp. Garnish with basil for that final touch.

It's a miracle, my friends - it kept three boys from killing each other. Or worse, from killing me.

I’m going to eat my miracle pizza for breakfast, right after I paint my sign.

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