Tea or Coffee??

Every person has his/ her personal brand of poison, something they simply cannot do without in the course of a normal day. For some, its nicotine, for some its their daily shot of whiskey or other drink of choice but, the majority of the world is addicted to one thing, and that is caffeine. And yours truly is a member of the dreaded caffeine cult. I love caffeine. So much, that I simply cannot function without my daily dose of it. I don’t remember when my addiction started. I think I must have been 13 or 14. Till then, tea or coffee was a luxury that was allowed only on the rare Sunday. On weekdays, it was Complan or Bournvita for me and the sister. I think when I hit the dreaded teens, I decided that I was too old to be drinking all the health drinks anymore and insisted on tea at least once a day. Although reluctant, Mom gradually gave in to my demands and so my evening tea habit started. Mornings were still ruled by the unavoidable Complan though.

I have a history of caffeine addicts in my family. My Dad is one of them. He has to have his two cups of tea everyday, and on weekends, the number would go up to four or five. Till the time he was diagnosed with diabetes, he would have his tea with lots of milk and sugar. These days, he has switched to a dark brew with the bare minimum of milk, and absolutely no sugar. Anyway, I digress. As I was saying, I have a horde of caffeine addicts in my family. Other than my Dad, my Grandpa was an addict too. He had to have his two cups everyday, without fail. And for Grandpa, quantity was a huge part of drinking tea. He had to have his morning cuppa in a humongous coffee mug that his brother had gotten for him. And he had to have it filled to the brim with tea. His habit has rubbed off on almost everyone on my Mom’s side of the family- including my Mom. I even remember our pet dog who followed my Grandpa’s routine to a tee. He had to have his morning tea too. I still remember them in the mornings, Grandpa reading the newspaper on the verandah and sipping his tea and Bruno by his side, lapping up tea from his bowl.

As I grew up, my caffeine intake also went up significantly. My once-a-day tea drinking habit gradually became twice-a-day. Then I started to have a cuppa whenever my Dad had one on the weekends. By the time I was in college, I was a hard-core tea addict. But once hostel life started, things changed. I realized I was actually addicted to the tea my Mom made. The tea we were served at the hostel was always flavoured- sometimes cardamom, sometimes elaichi and sometimes a concoction of possibly every herb and spice known to mankind. I missed the simple,normal cup of tea I was used to drinking at home. And that is when coffee, replaced tea, in my affections. The hostel coffee was way better than the tea and so in my routine, my usual poison became coffee. Initially it was the milk coffee we were served at the hostel. Then, I discovered the beauty of black coffee.

The years in the hostel saw me up at odd hours, devouring a book, or studying for exams, and a cup of black coffee was a constant companion. I even remember the coffee mug I got from Archies. It was white, with pictures of Disney characters on it. This was during the two years of my graduation, and I had loads of free time on my hands. I was studying a subject that I was madly in love with, and honestly, did not have to try too hard to get good grades. This was the time I started frequenting the libraries in my hometown, and it was also the time the baristas at the CCD next to the library knew my order by heart. I would be found there, on most weekend, with a book and a double shot of espresso by my side. I also found a soul mate around that time, lets call her Ratz. She was a bibliophile and a coffee addict like me, and the number of hours we spent at the libraries, and bookstores, and CCDs are too many to count.

Then came my MBA days. Life was more hectic. I was trying to fathom things that I had absolutely no clue about, but absolutely had to, if I had to justify the amount of money my poor Dad was shelling out for my studies. We had so much to study. Class hours were long. We had no weekends. And during exam times, we pretty much lost track of night and day as we tried to at least finish reading through the portions for the exam. And coffee was what kept us all awake- at least for most of the population, it was. I remember the insipid brew we used to pay 3 bucks for at the night canteen. It would rarely qualify as coffee, but that was all we got, and we had to make do with it. To say that my dependence on caffeine skyrocketed then, would be an understatement.

Then came my working days in Chennai, the land of the Madras filter kaapi. In addition to the few cups of coffee I would down in office, I started drinking coffee at every restaurant I could find, after working hours. I was still off tea then. By the time I was getting ready for my wedding, I was so addicted to coffee, that I knew something had to be done. Enter Mom. She put her foot down and issued a decree- no more coffee in the house. She wanted me to quit caffeine completely but, as it is with every other addict, I pleaded and begged to be allowed at least tea. And so, I fell back on my habit of tea. I also had visions of me and TS sharing a hot cup of tea in the morning or the evening once we were married, depending on our respective routines. But, I was in for major disappointment. TS had no such habits. He did not, and still does not (all my efforts to convert him have been in vain) need any morning fix to get his day started. It was unfair, to say the least. I felt God had cheated me, but, I managed. I just cut TS out of my vision. 🙂

These days, I have my morning cuppa and evening cuppa at work. Weekends start as usual with tea and, following in my Grandpa’s footsteps, I need to have my coffee mug filled to the brim with my favourite concoction too. Although I have kept off coffee, and started drinking very mild tea, my addiction is still strong. And these days, Mom and TS have been forcing me to give that up too. I have been trying my best, but I keep slipping. There are days when my resolve wavers, and I’m drawn to a fresh hot cuppa, brewed with the best tea leaves- like today. I have been trying to replace my caffeine shots with fresh fruit juices and green tea and what not, but, nothing works as well as tea. But I need to keep my addiction in check, I know that. In that direction, I have resolved to restrict my caffeine intake to once a day and none at all on weekends. I will be grumpy and irritable and as friendly as a grizzly bear but, I think the TS will have to deal with that. And I start now… err… right after I finish my cup of tea. I promise, I will!! 😛


Being a Foodie.. :)

I am a foodie. I love food, always have. But in the past, I only loved to eat food. Cooking was not something I liked to do or wanted to do. I would help out my mother in the kitchen when I was asked to. I would complain about having to do all of it and the minute my help wasn’t needed, I would happily scoot out of the kitchen and go do my stuff. My Mom loved to cook. And she was good at it too. She would watch every single cookery show that aired on television (it would be accompanied by mine and my sister’s groans in the background) and try to replicate what she saw. She made the softest sponge cakes and the most amazing vegetable pulao. But none of it interested me back then. My Mom would try to tell me how she made it, and the little tips and tricks on making a curry more yummy, that only moms are privy to but I would never pay attention. But I was always attracted to the smells that wafted out of the kitchen.

Some of favourite childhood memories revolve around food. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings to the smell of soft fluffy idlis and Mom’s spicy sambar. Idlis were a favourite at home and coupled with spicy sambar, it was like the best breakfast we could have. Mom loved baking and on days she would take out her book of cake recipes, me and my sister would start drooling. Soon, the whole house would be doused in the aroma of chocolate and vanilla. It was the smell of happiness and comfort. Another memory is of Mom making her signature pulao, the smell of the ghee and the spices- cinnamon, clove, star anise, bay leaves, cardamom all doused in home-made ghee. That smell alone was enough to set our tummies rumbling. I also remember the days when Mom would make her chicken curry. We are a family that prefers vegetarian food and so, cooking non vegetarian was a rare occurrence for us. But on the day Mom decided to buy chicken, the house would be fragrant with the smell of garam masala and chicken masala and the smell of onion, garlic and ginger. And during cold monsoon evenings, my Mom would decide to make her signature spicy tomato soup. It was almost like rasam, but not quite. Mom would make it hot but with the right amount of spice. My favourite part of it was the smell of freshly ground pepper that she would use generously in her soup. Slurppp…

My Grandmom was also a good cook.She made the most amazing rasam and it is, till date my favourite comfort food. Rasam and rice, according to me, will chase away any troubles you may have. Grandmom was the rasam wizard. She made it just like Mom did, but somehow Grandmom’s would always taste better. And in the years I spent living with her, it was always something I asked for when I was upset. And even after I moved out, every time I told her I was visiting, my then extremely frail Grandmom would get into the kitchen to make it for me. It was a favourite with my sister also, so she was more than happy to make it, although towards the end just doing that would tire her out extremely. When I was a kid, Grandmom would feed me rice and ghee, in an attempt to fatten me up a bit. I was all skin and bones back then. Not that I have improved now. And every weekend, without fail, my lunch would start with piping hot rice doused in ghee sprinkled with some salt and she would also make my favourite fish fry.

My aunt is the only vegetarian I know who makes amazing non vegetarian food without even tasting it. She makes the most amazing food too. Every single dish she comes up with, is like a piece of art. So well put together- nothing in abundance, nothing out-of-place. Just perfect.

The men in my family were not bad when it came to cooking either. Grandpa’s awesome payasam has always been a favourite. As were his banana chips and jackfruit chips. My Dad was good at experimenting with food too. He’s one person I know who makes perfectly round dosas- each time, every time. His signature dish was palak and egg sautéed with grated coconut. It was almost like scrambled eggs, only better. Me and my sis loved it. He claims its his own recipe although I have my doubts. And it was a genius idea to make us eat our greens. 🙂 My uncles, or at least most of them, are experts with non vegetarian food. Especially one of them who is like a seafood wizard. He is an expert at catching, cleaning and making his own seafood. Yumm.

Growing up this way meant I had a taste for good food but, I was never interested in cooking. In fact, it was only a month before my marriage that I managed to master the basics of cooking. But once I started living on my own, my interest in cooking started to grow. Being in a foreign land and having too many foreign ingredients around made me look up recipes and experiment with food. Being married to a guy who loved to cook also helped. And since I started, I haven’t looked back. I have baked and roasted and grilled and deep-fried and what not. I have tried my hand at Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Thai, Chinese and Spanish cuisine. I know what spices and what ingredients go well. I know what meat needs what seasoning. I know how to buy the best cuts of meat and the freshest of vegetables and, I’m often able to replicate the aromas I grew up with. It gives me great joy to do this. And when people tell me I’m a good cook and rave over my food, I feel happy. I feel happy to be able to show them a bit of my passion and to share with them a bit of my life. It fires up my creativity too and just like in a work of art, it gives me great satisfaction when I make something just right.

And so, in addition to being a foodie, now, I’m also a good cook. 🙂 And my love with food continues…. 🙂

A Year Back…

Today is September 27th. It’s a date neither me nor TS is likely to forget in all our life. Last year, this same day, TS had, what we then thought, was a tiny little accident on a squash court. What we assumed was a pulled muscle on his back, was soon diagnosed as a slipped disc. I will never forget the pain and agony that we went through for a few months after that, until TS was good enough to manage walking on his own. I will never forget the sleepless nights and the multitude of scary thoughts that would run through my mind each day. It was horrific to say the least. At the beginning of last year if someone had told me that TS would go through something like this, I would most certainly have laughed and shrugged it off. After all, my husband was healthy enough. Except for a few kilos he had to lose, he was doing just fine. I would never have associated something like this with the big, strong man in my life.

Yet, last year, this day, it happened. TS had wanted to go to the gym. He had gotten back from office real late but he still insisted on going. I was, as usual, lazy and tried to convince TS otherwise. But he was adamant and so, we went. TS opted to play squash with a bunch of our friends while I headed to the gym to get on the treadmill. I am not particularly fond of exercising in the gym. I prefer either running or some yoga, but the treadmill was enough of a pastime till TS finished his game. Forty five minutes of running done, I headed down to the squash court to find TS hobbling around outside. He said he seemed to have pulled the muscle on his back trying to take a tricky shot. Since it was something that happened routinely, we didn’t think it was a big deal. We took a cab back home. TS took a hot shower, applied some Bengay and went off to sleep. The next day morning was when our nightmare truly began.

TS woke me up in the morning saying he couldn’t get up. Even trying to roll onto his side was hurting him, he said. I tried to help him up and after a lot of screaming and grinding of teeth, we finally managed to get him on his feet. But he couldn’t stand properly. He couldn’t hold his head up. Even trying to look straight was causing him unbearable pain. We decided to head to the doctor right away. He diagnosed TS with a muscle spasm and said it would be alright in a couple of days. So armed with a load of painkillers we went home. But, nothing helped. The pain got worse. No amount of painkillers gave him any relief. We headed to the doctor’s again and got him to refer us to a polyclinic, with a more qualified doctor. That doctor turned out to be worse than the first one. We finally managed to convince him to refer us to a specialist at a hospital here. Meanwhile, we heard of an ayurveda doctor here and decided to try that out too. Anything for some relief from the horrible pain was welcome. He took one look at TS and said he had a slipped disc. He also convinced us to get an MRI done. The specialist at the hospital also suggested the same. The MRI only confirmed what our ayurveda doctor had said it was indeed a slipped disc. The specialist suggested immediate surgery. The ayurveda doctor said TS could manage without surgery but recovery would be slow. We went for the no surgery option and yes, recovery was slow, painfully slow. But he recovered. The MRI also bought to light the fact that there was a significant amount of degeneration in the fluid in his spine which meant no more of the sports that TS so loved to play. To me it seemed like a small price to pay, but TS was devastated. He was a sportsman, always had been. This was like a crushing blow for him. But the state he was in then, all I was praying for was for him to be able to walk and run like normal.

Those days were living hell for the both of us. Initially it was the uncertainty of not knowing what was wrong. And once he was properly diagnosed, it was the uncertainty of what next, of wondering if he would be back to his normal self, of how long it would take for him to walk without pain, It was hard for me to see TS suffering so much. The normally fit and always brave husband of mine was utterly helpless. He needed me to help him sit up even. He needed help with everything, even rolling over in bed. And it wasn’t something TS dealt with very well. He was irritable and angry and would snap at me at the slightest excuse. He would scream and yell without any reason. I, on the other hand was left to fend for the both of us. Right from grocery shopping to taking TS to the doctor, to cooking and cleaning and paying bills, it was all upto me to get things done. I even managed to pack up and move houses during that time- all on my own. And somehow I managed. I was all alone in a place that was far from home, just a year into marriage, far from my family, trying to hold myself and my husband together and tide over a crisis. We didn’t have family with us. TS lost both his parents a long time back. My Mom was at home taking care of my Grandpa who had just been diagnosed with a tumor in his throat. She was even more distressed than I was. I thought I could count on all our friends here, but I realized people were just too busy living their own lives to bother helping others out. I didn’t even have people to help me take TS to the hospital. He couldn’t walk on his own and trying to support his formidable frame was quite a task for me. Sometimes I had to ask cab drivers to help me out. My major support system was our bunch of good friends, who in spite of being miles away were always there for me. They listened to my million fears, they wiped my tears and asked me chin up and battle it out. They gave me the courage to go on and to keep my tears in check. I owe them a lot.

Those days also taught me about love and commitment and understanding. I understood what “in sickness and in health” meant. I understood what it meant to be there for a person in his darkest days while you are suffering as well. I got to know TS better. I had always known him as the strong guy, who took care of everything around the house, who took care of poor absentminded me, who was my handyman and my hero. It broke me to see him in tears, wondering if he would ever be able to play all his favourite sports again, wondering if he would be able to go running with me again. It showed me how vulnerable he was. And that in turn made me stronger. When the guy who never flinched when I was in hospital and was my rock throughout needed to hold my hand going in for his MRI, I knew how terrified he was. Till then, I used to think that maybe TS was being unreasonable in his tantrums and stuff, but that instant I knew otherwise.From then on I tried my best to be his rock and today, a year later I know we have done fine. We pulled through without help from anyone. We pulled through all on our own.

We both know there are a lot of things that TS will never be able to do because of his bad back. He could, but he would have to be very careful and there would always be the risk of him getting hurt. But all that is ok. We have found other things to do. Those dark days have been an eye opener for us- I got to know a side of TS I had never seen before. I got to know more about the man I married. I got to know more about me, I got to know that there was a quiet strength in me that I was unaware of. I got to know who my true friends were. I got to know that being in the same city isn’t a prerequisite for friendship and that sometimes strangers can mean more than friends. Today TS is pretty much back to normal. He still works out. His exercise regimen is tailored to not put too much stress on his back. He can walk properly now, he can jog, he can lift small weights (he can’t lift me like he used to though :(), he can go bowling once in a while, he’s slowly losing weight and building strength in his back muscles, he hasn’t required surgery or medicines and I’m thankful for it all. I know we both will always look back at that experience and although we will always remember the pain and the darkness, we will also remember the love and the strength that got us through it. Life looks good…it really does.. 🙂