So you probably think it's effortless having a nanny/cook, right? Well, I won't lie, it is fantastic most days, especially when you're raising two toddlers and working from home. So fantastic, that like any human being, you get way too used to it and begin to take the littlest things for granted.
But effortless? No. Taking on full-time employees is -- I'm discovering -- quite hard work. Besides salaries, bonuses, overtime and punctuality, there are issues that are uniquely Indian. Language and literacy are two huge ones. Neither of my two helpers can read English, so distinguishing baking powder from baking soda (oh boy there's a big difference!), reading instructions much less recipes, and working out the dials on appliances... is all tricky at best.
Then there's the culinary culture clash.
Amongst the spices and spaghetti, lentils and leftovers, I'm discovering some fundamental differences between my incredibly globalized, middle-class habits, and those of my staff's.
One day, merrily planning out the week's meals -- with ease and speed paramount -- I was evangelizing to my nanny about our convection oven. I felt like a 1950s door-to-door saleslady: "See how quick and easy? You can roast, grill, bake, defrost at the touch of a button. Just set the timer and temperature and relax! What a happy, well-fed household you'll have with this Bakewell oven!"
In the midst of my reverie, with my nanny looking perplexed, I suddenly heard myself... and the full-blown absurdity of what of I was saying struck me like a thunderbolt. Like most Indians, this woman can barely afford enough electricity to run a refrigerator... Her cooking involves fuel calculations I've never ever even countenanced. She will soak all rice and lentils, so they take less fuel to cook. She will use a pressure cooker to shorten cooking times exponentially. And here I was advocating the use of electricity -- lots of it -- to slow cook some potatoes.
I've read about people in the developed world doing far more to destory the planet than those in 'developing' countries, and here I was hastening the trend in the spirit of 'efficiency' and 'progress'.
Other absurdities struck me in the following weeks: leftovers. I suddenly twigged why my nanny and cleaning lady would take day-old lasagne or chicken from the fridge and hold it out to me, with a look of faint disgust as they asked, "What should I do with this?"
When you don't have electricity or have it sporadically, fridges might well not exist. A 'leftover' -- that staple of the 24/7 developed world -- could kill you... slowly and painfully.
And then of course there's the conundrum of lettuce. No matter how many times I've demonstrated how to wash it and dry it... how to mix it with cold meats, olives, sweet corn, how to dress it... it always ends up at the back of the fridge, jammed behind more recognizable vegetables like beans, cauliflower and okra. There, it always ends up frost-damaged and then I have to throw it out. Occasionally, one of the women will endeavor to do something with it. And so I'll come home to find it washed, chopped and put back in the fridge. I'm sure if they had their way, it would be braised in onion, garlic, ginger, coriander and cumin and served with a nutritious, simple chappati.
On that note, a favorite, easy "winter" Indian recipe (anything not blazing Hades here is "winter"). This is a lovely recipe from my friend, Renu Agal, who along with her mother and sister is a vegetarian home gourmet extraordinaire!! It's a simple but delicious white radish and pomegranate salad with the bonus of looking gorgeous in a fairy-tale kind of way when you put it on the table!
Pomegranate radish salad:
1 pomegranate, seeds extricated*
2 long white radish (Daikon) grated
Squeeze of lime/lemon
Pinch of black salt
Just combine all the ingredients and season to taste. The black salt (actually it's purplish) is a very mineraly Himalayan salt that is available in lots of health food shops. It gives the dish a spicier taste. If you don't have it, just add regular salt.
* To easily extricate pomegranate seeds, cut the pomegranate in half. Hold the cut side down into the palm of your hand and then gently but firmly tap the skin side with a big spoon. That will loosen the seeds so you can get them out more easily. Another tip is to remove the red outer skin completely so that you can just shake the seeds from the white casing inside.