I am home alone this holiday weekend, all thanks to JetBlue airlines. As flies to wanton boys, are we to the airline personnel.
I was supposed to fly to Tampa today to meet a friend after five years. I had booked myself on a direct JetBlue flight from Boston, a month back. But yesterday morning I received an email from JetBlue saying that my flight might get cancelled or delayed due to the impending hurricane, Arthur. I was given the option to reschedule at no additional cost. So I did. I re-booked myself on a flight with one stop, connecting in JFK, on the 2nd of July.
It was already noon and the flight was scheduled to leave from Boston at 2.43 p.m. I somehow managed to pack my bags and called a cab and reached Logan on time. I boarded the flight feeling happy and excited.
I had a 3.5 hours layover at JFK. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7.30 p.m. It got delayed first by an hour, then by another. I was getting impatient. So were the other passengers. Several JetBlue flights were delayed and some cancelled. I feared the worst. I was tired and hungry; all I wanted was to board flight 225 to Tampa. JetBlue officials announced the flight was coming in from Charlotte, NC and hence the delay. Passengers were assured the flight would leave as soon as it came in.
The flight arrived after midnight. We boarded at 12:45 a.m. The pilot announced that the aircraft would be taxiing for 30-60 minutes due to the backlog that was created. The aircraft taxied for 40 minutes, slowly. So slowly that it would put a snail to shame.
At 1.45 a.m. came the next announcement from the pilot: one of his colleagues on the flight had exceeded his 16-hour shift limit, which was against the federal regulations. He therefore would have to steer the plane back to the gate. And then came the bad news, the flight was cancelled. I am happy to know that JetBlue cares about their employees but what about their customers?
We deplaned. I was tired and angry like the others. We had to collect our baggage and had to re-book at JetBlue check-in counters. I stood in the serpentine line for three hours (2 a.m to 5 a.m.) The officials said that they couldn’t guarantee us a seat on the next flight to Tampa. I tried calling the customer service number several times, but to no avail.
The line wasn’t moving at all. I felt trapped and feared that I would never be able to leave the airport. I just wanted to get back home at that point. I hadn’t eaten for hours and had no more energy left to put up a fight. I took a cab to Penn station and bought a train ticket to Boston. I reached Boston today at 10.30 a.m. Cab + train fare = $245.
My husband is flying to Atlanta today to meet his friends. He had an evening Delta flight, which got delayed by few hours. He has now boarded the flight but there seems to be some kind of problem with the aircraft door and they are repairing it; that’s the latest update. I sincerely hope he doesn’t have to go through the same ordeal as I did.
On a lighter note, with all the time that I have now, I got to experiment in the kitchen today. I made chicken (murg) in a spinach (palak) gravy. I marinated the chicken pieces with ginger-garlic paste, cajun spice, tandoori masala, yogurt, oil, garam masala, salt & pepper. Then I pan fried it. For the gravy, I blanched a packet of baby spinach and stirred it in with some onion, tomato/tomato paste, ginger, garlic and green chilies that I was frying in a skillet and then pureed it in a blender. Then I added in the chicken pieces to the gravy.
A couple of months back I was buying two pounds of whole chicken legs at the local Whole Foods market when the butcher, donning a soiled apron, asked me what I was planning to make. Tandoori chicken, I said. The words had piqued his interest; I could tell from his glistening eyes and arching eyebrows. When he was not butchering animals, he was recreating recipes — he is a chef — he explained. His daughter shares his culinary passion, he said with a contented smile. He then queried about the tandoori recipe.
I explained how I would prepare an aromatic marinade — with a blend of ginger-garlic-onion-green chilies-cilantro-mint-yogurt-tandoori masala-salt & pepper-lemon juice-oil and a sprinkling of home-made garam masala — and let the chicken pieces steep in it, overnight. And my secret ingredient was the addition of a couple of teaspoons of Cajun spice to the blend, which imparts a smokey flavor to the dish! The next day I would bake it in the oven, then broil it for a few minutes to give the chicken the very coveted out-of-the-tandoor look.
He said it sounded wonderful and asked me if I would mind writing it down for him. So I did; I handed him over the recipe the next time I went grocery shopping. He was delighted and as a token of his appreciation didn’t charge me for the meat I was buying.
“No way,” I said.
“I am the boss here; it won’t be a problem,” he insisted.
“In that case I will have to leave without the meat,” I said.
I had successfully butchered the argument!
He looked forward to trying out my tandoori chicken recipe with his daughter, he said. I wished him all the luck.
I had once watched a documentary called “How to Cook your Life”. The person being documented — Edward Espé Brown, a Zen cook and writer — had mentioned that “the food will taste better when the cook is joyful.”
And I strongly agree to that.
Brown had also talked about concentration — an important ingredient for cooking, according to him.
At one time the camera follows him while he preps the rice before cooking. He is seen diligently washing the rice, almost grain by grain.
But I am the type of cook whose mind wanders [a lot] during cooking. The blazing burner reminds me of bonfires; the hot oven of a sauna; the variegated spices of the spring colors of Holi; and the list continues.
Today, for instance, while I was grinding poppy seeds, the star ingredient for the chicken dish I was preparing, my mind began to wander.
As I watched the blender grind the poppy seeds, the picture of a pristine sandy beach flashed across my mind. I could almost feel my feet pressing against the wet sand.
The thought of it made me [the cook] joyful and I was all set to prepare Chicken Posto.
Note: Posto is Bengali for poppy seeds.
Rice, chopped vegetables, meat of any kind, shrimp, scrambled eggs, some ginger, garlic, onion and Sriracha and soya sauce is all you need to dish out this rice medley.
The only requirement is that the rice needs to be cooked the day before.
The things I like most about this dish are it’s:
- you can play around with the ingredients; add anything you want to or leave out things you don’t like
- if your refrigerator vegetable compartment needs a quick cleaning this helps out well
- an easy recipe to use some left over meat
- it tastes just like Chinese fried-rice
I had invited a couple of friends over for dinner and I was contemplating ways of surprising their taste buds.
As I opened the refrigerator door and stooped down to pick up the pack of boneless chicken thighs, sitting on the lowest rack of the refrigerator, it cried out “I challenge you to dish out a new curry today.”
I wouldn’t have taken up the gauntlet but for the bunch of fresh cilantro resting right next to it.
The food processor was called to action. Ginger, garlic cloves, a medium sized onion, half a cup of yogurt and the whole bunch of cilantro were blended into a marinade in no time.
The chicken pieces were coated in the marinade and set aside for half an hour. A drizzle of oil into the pan and in went the chicken. Fifteen minutes later my “Cilantro Chicken” was ready.
At dinner time I boasted about my new recipe. But I didn’t receive the applause I was fishing for.
After my friends left that day, I Googled “dhania (cilantro) chicken”. A bunch of recipes sprang up on the screen.
I was preparing the same cilantro chicken, which I had once claimed to be my brainchild, for friends who were coming over for lunch.
But this time it had to be ‘my cilantro chicken’. So I dry roasted a bunch of whole spices – black and green cardamom, cinnamon, clove, star anise, mace – and put them in a grinder. I sprinkled the powdered spices over the curry just a couple of minutes before turning off the gas burner.
And I named it “Curry in a hurry”.
Our weekends have become synonymous with eating out and I revel in the weekend breaks I get from cooking. It’s this little trick that helps me enthusiastically partake in my culinary adventures during the remaining five days of the week.
But there was something different about this weekend. There was no take out, delivery or dining out!!
Why? Even I asked myself the same question but it’s all quiet on the answer front.
So, to commemorate the occasion I decided to dish out something tantalizing for the last meal of the day before the mundane Monday kicked in. And I was struck by the idea of a tandoori night.
The tandoor part of the tandoori chicken would be taken care of by my oven. But I would have to take care of the bird part. A quick trip to the grocery store and my kitchen welcomed some new visitors–a whole chicken and some seasonal vegetables.
Now these visitors had to be looked after real good. The pampering started with marinating the chicken, rubbing it all over with tandoori masala, adobo seasoning, butter and salt. I couldn’t help but envy the chicken for enjoying a nice spa treatment. Out of spite I shoved in halved lemons and garlic heads in the chicken’s cavity! And the prepped up bird was perched on the makeshift roasting pan-the baking tray, to hit the sauna for an hour and half.
Out from the ‘tandoor’ the chicken was greeted by rice pilaf—cooked rice mixed with vegetables sautéed in a GENEROUS dollop of butter.
We sat down for dinner and enjoyed a scrumptious meal….well a picture speaks a thousand words!
Kerosene smell floats in the air as the stove is turned on. The wind keeps teasing the fire intermittently. A generous amount of dough is scooped out of the humongous ball of mother dough and rolled out into a perfectly round paratha; eggs are cracked and beat up in seconds. The paratha gets a quick sear on the crackling hot tava (pan) and is set aside to rest. The tava is then drizzled with a generous amount of oil, luring the eggs towards it. The scorching tava devours the bubbles at no time revealing a perfect omelette. The pre-heated paratha is placed over the omelette and pressed down with a spatula to marry them together. It is then flipped egg-side up, slided to the counter where its center is decked with julienned onions and cucumbers, a sprinkle of green chili pieces, and a drizzle of tomato and chili sauce. Finally it’s rolled up and wrapped in wax paper.
That’s how egg rolls are served at roadside mobile food stalls in Kolkata. A quick bite leaves you mesmerized, so does the showmanship of the cook dishing out multiple rolls at a time. The cling-clang sound of his steel spatula working against the aluminium tava blackened with use, is music to the ears of a foodie. Every move makes your stomach growl with excitement and anticipation of savoring the finished product.
But my love affair with egg rolls from roadside stalls had an abrupt ending. One night on my way back home I caught a dog sleeping soundly on the counter of one of the stalls I frequented, the same counter on which the parathas for the rollswill be rolled out the next day!
Fast food chains like Shiraz and Rahamania came to my rescue. They might not have been a healthier alternative but at least I knew these stores had shutters!
Here I found a new love in ‘double egg double chicken’ roll; chicken adding a touch of sophistication to the otherwise humble roll.
Today I am miles away from home; but at times I experience sudden bursts of craving for them. To satiate my urge I heat up ready-made parathas bought from a local Indian grocer. Caramelized onions and pan seared bite-sized chicken pieces marinated with tandoori masala serve as filling. All that’s left to prepare is the double egg omelette.
And I am just a wrap away from enjoying a guilt-free roll!