5/13: Cookers

I still remember this huLi Pinky had made sometime in the early days of marriage. Having never lived by herself until then, she hadn’t bothered to learn to cook, and all that she knew about cooking came from watching her mother.

When we got married, given that her job demanded she leave home early, and mine demanded that I stay late into the evening, we formed an arrangement where I’d make breakfast and she made dinner.

I occasionally missed my part of the deal – waking up so late that food wouldn’t be ready by the time she had to leave. Sometimes, I’d make breakfast just in time for me to run to her bus stop and hand over her box, but there were times when I let her go to work hungry.

She never let me down, though. Even though she hadn’t had much experience cooking (though she had a medal for winning a university-wide cooking competition), she would make sure every evening that there was food by the time I came home. And on most days I would be extremely well fed, though occasionally, like that day when she made huLi with Mangalore Cucumber, I don’t have particularly great memories of 😛

She learnt quickly, though, and over time, has turned out to be a great cook (I like to argue that the time she spent living alone helped!). Now her repertoire is far more diverse (in the initial days she’d exclusively make South Indian food), and she continues to delight me with her cooking.

I especially remember this period in time when I had just started off as an independent consultant, and was mostly working from home. We had recently fired our cook, and she was so concerned that I was eating “random things” for lunch that she took it upon herself to make my lunch before she left for work.

She had to be at the bus stop at 7:15 in the morning, which meant waking up at 5:30 or so, just so that she could make lunch for me. And since I wasn’t eating much rice in those days (for health reasons), she had to make chapatis which would take extra time. I frequently told her that I’d whip up something for myself but she was insistent on feeding me. It was a “wifely duly”, she’d sometimes tell me.

Thinking about it, I should have never doubted that she’d always keep me well fed. Right from the early days, whenever we spoke or texted immediately after what might be considered as a “normal meal time”, her first question was if I’d eaten, and what I’d eaten. And after we got married, she’s taken it upon herself to make the best effort possible to ensure that I eat well.

And that continues to this day, even though it sometimes means cooking while simultaneously taking care of Berry. Like last evening I was meeting someone and got home fairly late. And despite Berry having been a bit cranky, Pinky had managed to make a wonderful, and innovative huLi! She later told me that she had to make the huLi with one hand, while holding Berry in the other!

I look forward to many more years of being fed thus!

1/13: Leaving home

2/13: Motherhood statements

3/13: Stockings

4/13: HM

Fighterization of food

One of the topics that I’d introduced on my blog not so long ago was “fighterization“. The funda was basically about how professions that are inherently stud are “fighterzied” so that a larger number of people can participate in it, and a larger number of people can be served. In the original post, I had written about how strategy consulting has completely changed based on fighterization.

After that, I pointed out about how processes are set – my hypothesis being that the “process” is something that some stud would have followed, and which some people liked because of which it became a process. And more recently, I wrote about the fighterization of Carnatic music, which is an exception to the general rule. Classical music has not been fighterized so as to enable more people to participate, or to serve a larger market. It has naturally evolved this way.

And even more recently, I had talked about how “stud instructions” (which are looser, and more ‘principles based’) are inherently different from “fighter instructions” (which are basically a set of rules). Ravi, in a comment on Mohit‘s google reader shared items, said it’s like rule-based versus principles-based regulation.

Today I was reading this Vir Sanghvi piece on Lucknowi cuisine, which among other things talks about the fact that it is pulao that is made in Lucknow, and now biryani; and about the general declining standards at the Taj Lucknow. However, the part that caught my eye, which has resulted in this post with an ultra-long introduction was this statement:

The secret of good Lucknowi cooking, he said, is not the recipe. It is the hand. A chef has to know when to add what and depending on the water, the quality of the meat etc, it’s never exactly the same process. A great chef will have the confidence to improvise and to extract the maximum flavour from the ingredients.

This basically states that high-end cooking is basically a stud process. That the top chefs are studs, and can adapt their cooking and methods and styles to the ingredients and the atmosphere in order to churn out the best possible product.You might notice that most good cooks are this way. There is some bit of randomness or flexibility in the process that allows them to give out a superior product. And a possible reason why they may not be willing to give out their recipes even if they are not worried about their copyright is that the process of cooking is a stud process, and is hence not easily explained.

Publishing recipes is the attempt at fighterization of cooking. Each step is laid down in stone. Each ingredient needs to be exactly measured (apart from salt which is usually “to taste”). Each part of the process needs to be followed properly in the correct order. And if you do everything perfectly,  you will get the perfect standardized product.

Confession time. I’ve been in Gurgaon for 8 months and have yet to go to Old Delhi to eat (maybe I should make amends this saturday. if you want to join me, or in fact lead me, leave a comment). The only choley-bhature that I’ve had has been at Haldiram’s. And however well they attempt to make it, all they can churn out is the standardized “perfect” product. The “magic” that is supposed to be there in the food of Old Delhi is nowhere to be seen.

Taking an example close to home, my mother’s cooking can be broadly classified into two. One is the stuff that she has learnt from watching her mother and sisters cook. And she is great at making all of these – Bisibelebhath and masala dosa being her trademark dishes (most guests usually ask her to make one of these whenever we invite them home for a meal). She has learnt to make these things by watching. By trying and erring. And putting her personal touch to it. And she makes them really well.

On the other hand, there are these things that she makes by looking at recipes published in Women’s Era. Usually she messes them up. When she doesn’t, it’s standardized fare. She has learnt to cook them by a fighter process. Though I must mention that the closer the “special dish” is to traditional Kannadiga cooking (which she specializes in), the better it turns out.

Another example close to home. My own cooking. Certain things I’ve learnt to make by watching my mother cook. Certain other things I’ve learnt from this cookbook that my parents wrote for me before I went to England four years ago. And the quality of the stuff that I make, the taste in either case, etc. is markedly different.

So much about food. Coming to work, my day job involves fighterization too. Stock trading is supposed to be a stud process. And by trying to implement algorithmic trading, my company is trying to fighterize it. The company is not willing to take any half-measures in fighterization, so it is recruiting the ultimate fighter of ’em all – the computer – and teaching it to trade.

Preliminary reading on studs and fighters theory:

Studs and Fighters

Extending the studs and fighters theory

Bangalore trip update

The recent inactivity on this blog was mainly due to my inability to log on to wordpress from my phone and write a post.  I had gone home to Bangalore for an extended weekend (taking Friday and Monday off) and the only source of net access there was my phone, and for some reason I wasn’t able to log on to NED from that. During the trip I had several brilliant insights and brilliant ideas and wanted to blog them and finally such NED happened that I didn’t even twitter them. Deathmax.

The main reason I went to Bangalore was to attend Pradeep (Paddy)’s reception. I think this is an appropriate time to share the funda of his nickname with the world. Before he joined our school in 9th standard, there was this guy two years senior called Pradeep, and for some reason not known to me he was nicknamed Paddy. I vaguely knew him since I used to play basketball with him, and after he graduated there were no more Paddys in school. So when this new guy came from the Gelf, it presented a good opportunity to get back a Paddy into school. It turned out to be such a sticky nickname that not even IIT could change it.

Friday was Ugadi – yet another reason to be home in Bangalore – and was mostly spent visiting relatives. When they heard about my impending market entry, all of them brought up stories of not-so-successful marriages of people they knew well, and put fundaes to me about avoiding certain pitfalls. These fundaes were liberally peppered with stories. Mostly sad ones. Mostly of people who have chosen to continue in their marriages despite them clearly failing. It is amazing about the kind of stuff people I know have gone through, and yet they choose to not run away.

Saturday morning was rexerved for my first ever “market visit”. I was taken to this bureau in Malleswaram and asked to inspect profiles. “There are profiles of hundreds of girls there”, my uncle had told me “so let us go there before ten o’clock so that you have enough time”. The profiles were mostly homogeneous. The number of engineering seats available in Karnataka amazes me. Every single profile I checked out over there had studied a BE, and was working in some IT company. Things were so homogeneous that (I hate to admit this) the only differentiator was looks. Unfortunately I ended up shortlisting none of them.

One of the guys I met during my Bangalore trip is a sales guy who lives in a small temple town without any access to good cinema. So he forced me to accompany him to watch Slumdog (in PVR Gold Class – such an irony) and Dev D. I agree that Slumdog shows India in poor light, but filter that out and it’s a really nice movie. We need to keep in mind that it was a story and not a documentary, and even if it were the latter, I think documentaries are allowed to have narratives and need not be objective. Dev D was simply mindblowing, apart from the end which is a little bit messed up. Somehow I thought that Kashyap wanted to do a little dedic to his unreleased Paanch.

There is this meet-up at Benjarong which is likely to contribute enough material to last six arranged scissors posts. I’ll probably elaborate about the discussions in forthcoming posts but I must mention here that several arranged marriage frameworks were discussed during the dinner. The discussions and frameworks were enough to make both Monkee and I, who are in the market process, and Kodhi who will enter the market shortly to completely give up in life.

One takeaway from Paddy’s reception is that if you can help it, try not to have a “split wedding” (and try not to have a split webbing also) – where different events are held at diferent venues, on disjoint dates. In that case you won’t have people lingering around, and you will lose out on the opportunity to interact with people. Note that there is zero scope for interation during the ceremonies, and the only time you get to talk to people is before, and after, and during. And it is important that there is enough before or after or during time to allow these interactions. In split weddings guests are likely to arrive and leave in the middle of an event and so you’ll hardly get to talk to them.

One policy decision I took was to not have breakfast at home during the length of my stay. I broke this on my last day there since I wouldn’t be having any other meal at home that day, but before that visited Adigas (ashoka pillar), SN (JP nagar) and UD (3rd block). The middle one was fantastic, the first reasonably good except for bad chutney and the last not good at all. Going back from Gurgaon it was amazing that I could have a full breakfast (2 idlis-vada-masala dosa-coffee) for less than 50 bucks. Delhi sorely lacks those kind of “middle class” places – you either eat on the roadside or in fine dining here.

Regular service on this blog should resume soon. My mom has stayed back in Bangalore for the summer so I’m alone here  and so have additoinal responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning. However, I think I should be having more time so might be writing more. I can’t promise anything since blog posts are generated by spur-of-the-moment thoughts and I never know when they occur. Speaking of which I should mention that I put elaborate fundaes on studs and fighters theory in my self-appraisal review form last week.

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

(this is a collection of stuff I want to collectively say to all Cesares out there. Some of these might be based on stuff that has happened to me. Most of this, however, is imaginary. Nevertheless, I suppose I’ll end up saying some of these things sooner rather than later. Rather, I won’t be able to say a number of these things which is why I’m writing them here.

Cesare is a generalized term to refer to the father of the girl that you are seeing/checking-out/blading/marrying. It was collectively invented by Monkee and Kodhi, and alludes to a former AC Milan and Italy manager)

Dear Cesare,

  • You know, we are modern people. Yes, my mother is religious and all that but we think horoscope is a fraud. How do we know you haven’t frauded your daughter’s horoscope? Even if you didn’t, I was born through Caesarian section. What if the time of my birth had been timed to make sure I have a good horoscope? Do you still want it? Do you still think it matters?
  • Your daughter doesn’t look good, but I don’t know how to communicate this to you. Obviously, you won’t like to hear that your daughter is ugly, since that is a comment on the genes that you’ve passed on to her. But given that we’d cleared everything till this round, and are saying “no” now after inspecting the photo, isn’t it clear that we are rejecting based on looks?
  • Maybe next time I’ll ask you for your daughter’s horoscope along with her photo. Fraud it (horoscope) may be, but you think that is a better reason for rejection than looks. So next time I call you up and tell you “jaataka didn’t fit” you know what I’m talking about. Oh, and one more thing – you need to get the timing perfect. Both the horoscope and the photo should be sent together – else I won’t be able to reject based on horoscope
  • Every time I say “no” to your daughter, you ask me why. Why should I give you the reason? What if I had met your daughter in a pub (assume she’s a pubgoing, loose and forward woman) and hit on her for 2 days and then ditched her? Would I have to give reasons then? And you don’t take “not good fit” for an answer. There is a good chance you don’t really understand “fit”.
  • According to you, if I say no, there is something wrong with your daughter. And if she says no, then there is something wrong with me. I suppose you haven’t heard of something called the interaction term right? I suppose you haven’t been taught to add vectors, where there is a cosine term?
  • Yes, your daughter looks decent enough. She is smart enough. She is nice enough. From what I have understood she cooks just well enough. She earns enough. She is flexible enough. I agree with all of these. Excellent Common Minimum Programme, but I’m afraid that’s not what I’m looking for.
  • Of course, for the purposes of symmetry, your daughter can also say no to me without having to explain her stand. I’ll completely respect her decision. Being told “no” without being given reasons is not new to me. It’s happened in different markets.
  • And then you have a problem if I’ve already said “no” to too many women. You think I’m a loose guy, and that I’m in the market only to check out and hit on unsuspecting “hen makkLu”. But isn’t checking out and hitting on the main purpose of this process of finding a partner? Or do you mean that this market is for finding CMPs only, and I need to get out because I’m not looking for one? In any case, it would be good if your daughter were to be suspecting.
  • During the interview, I’m going to ask your daughter if she is a virgin. If you think she is the type that will be scandalized at such questions, you need not shortlist me.
  • Remember that this is the most important decision of my life. And that of your daughter’s life. So please don’t make us hurry up and make an uninformed decision on this. As long as both of us are still interested in each other, you should let us be. It takes time for Interest to move to Desire. Till then, don’t force Action.
  • I understand that you might be scandalized that I’m writing all this on my blog. nODi swamy, naaviruvudu heege (trans: look sir, we are like this wonly). I just hope that you and your daughter don’t really mind this. If you do, then we have a small problem here. Oh and btw, this is one post in what I intend to be a fairly long series on “arranged scissors”. You can find the entire list downstairs.
  • Just one thing – the tone of this post is siginficantly harsher than what I normally talk like. You are validated if you were to un-shortlist me because of the content of this post. But you are not doing the right thing if you were to un-shortlist me based on the tone. My apologies for that.
  • I hope that some day I’ll be able to call up Radio Indigo and dedicate a song to you. The song is by Iron Maiden. It is called Bring your daughter to the slaughter.

Thanks and regards,
SKimpy

(yes, that is my name. And if you came here looking for Karthik S’s blog, I assure you that you have come to the right place)

Earlier:

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence

On Cooking

For a little over a month, I’ve been living alone. And since Gurgaon doesn’t offer terrific variety of options in terms of cuisine, I’ve been cooking. Actually, I’ve been having a combination of cuisines every day – breakfast is continental (cereal with milk), lunch is north indian (eat it at the office cafeteria) and dinner at home is south indian. This arrangement will last for a couple of weeks, after which my mother will be joining me here.

I’ve often received queries as to how I can find so much time to cook. Others say that time can be managed, but how I can find the enthu to cook. A fwe others advise me to not bother with this and to employ a cook. The reason I don’t take the last bit of advice is because I’m usually fussy about what I eat. And then, one month of Gurgaon meant that I was bored of North Indian food, and needed something else for dinner (and how many cooks can you find in Gurgaon who can cook something else?). There is one really good South Indian restaurant here, but I can’t keep going there everyday, can I?

What I do in order to get the time and enthu to cook is to employ concepts such as economies of scale and law of conservation of willpower. I’ve talked about the former two posts back, when I gave a possible reason for only South India having a well-defined breakfast cuisine. The latter can be found in a NY Times article written in april which I’ve linked to several times from here, and now don’t have the enthu to find the link.

The basic unit of South Indian cooking is rice. It is extremely easy to make, and requires you to spend not more than a sum total of five minutes in the kitchen. Hence, it can be easily prepared in the evening following a long and tiring day at work. the next most important item, curd, can be purchased off the shelf. I have pickles which I’d ordered from Sri Vidyabharathi Home Products in SringerI (blogged about it but too lazy to put link). However, rice, curd and pickles doesn’t make a complete meal. You also need sambar or rasam to go with that. And making that is a non-trivial process.

This is where economies of scale comes in. The amount of effort to make five litres of Sambar is only marginally greater than the amount of time taken to make 1 litre (you need to cut more vegetables). My fridge works quite well, and Sambar or Rasam, when stored the right way, can last for about two weeks. So you know what is to be done (actually my grad student friends in the US tell me that this is what they’ve been practicing for ages). Whenever you get the enthu to cook (we’ll come to this in a bit), you make enough to last a week. Only thing is that you shouldn’t have qualms about eating stuff that has been inside a fridge (if you are a strict observer of the maDi-mYlge-musare-enjil practices, you may not be willing to do this).

Speaking of enthu, this is where the law of conservation of willpower comes in. Cooking is a fairly mechanical process, and there isn’t any scope for creativity, especially if you are making “vanilla” products such as rice, rasam, sambar and curry. Hence, for someone like me who is more idea-oriented and not  execution-oriented, it can consume a lot of willpower. One attempt at cooking can be quite exhausting. So you better make sure you don’t spend all the energy that you get from eating in cooking the next meal.

My policy so far has been that I shouldn’t do any kind of major cooking more than once a day. By major cooking, I talk about processes that take more than 10 minutes of kitchen time (this excludes making rice, heating stuff, etc.) .I broke that rule today, and have ended up totally tired. However, as long as  I follow that rule, I know that sometime or the ohter i’m going to feel enthu and go into the kitchen. This wya, I dont’ end up spending too much will power when im in the kitchen. And I get to eat good food every day.