The Naked Chef

No, I am not just going to launch into a diatribe on Jamie Oliver -- remember he is often referred to as The Naked Chef. I am assuming not because he cooks in the nude, but more probably because of his book that went by that very title.

My naked chef was a petite lady in an all-white ensemble and a white turban who presented her guests with the most fantastic naked food lunch on her 60-something birthday.

So have you ever been to a raw food party? If the answer is a resounding no -- given that you are probably thinking I am loony to even suggest it -- you should simply procure an invitation to one. Seriously.

On a particular afternoon, while feeling horribly bloated, I had to still make my way to a studio in Jangpura for Ms S's lunch. Lest you are a bit curious, she is a raw food specialist along with a host of other things. Read: acupuncturist, hypnotherapist and yoga instructor.

You can imagine my state of mind. It was ruled by three things at that point of time – bloating; the fact that I was working and had to be on my toes noting down everything; and last but not the least, the prospect of digging into raw food.

With great reservation, I climbed the steps of a two-storey house to find a round table of lunching ladies – a gathering of a bunch of socialites and expats. At the head of the table was the hostess.

It all started with a prayer and an exhortation from Ms S to start chewing in slow motion.

The first bite had me hooked. It was a dehydrated onion cracker that kind of inaugurated the session for me and I cannot tell you how I craved for more. But all I did was tell myself to behave and continue munching demurely.

The affair with raw food started with a plate of appetizers of those delectable onion crackers, a dense non-flour bread, non-dairy cheese, fig tapenade and sundried tomatoes.

Next in line were small crunchy sticks of vegetables wrapped in collard greens, mushrooms stuffed with raw falafel and a zuchini apple salad. Then came a course of ravioli, made not of flour but ingredients like spinach, flax seeds and non-dairy milk (churned out of almonds).

Yes the courses were many.

The denouement but lay appropriately enough towards the end when Ms S started rolling out the desserts bit by bit.

Mint cookies that were inspired by American style- Girl Scout-esque cookies (reminiscent of Ms S’s childhood growing up in America), a parfait of vanilla cream, strawberries and chocolate, macaroons, some spicy ginger sweets, chocolate hearts, chocolate brownies, and whew, a non-dairy ice cream too made with coconut and non-dairy cream.

It was washed down with soothing lemongrass and ginger tea at the conclusion of the afternoon.

Sounds like a food-filled noon right? Yet I felt not the slightest hint of sluggishness and returned a raw food enthusiast.


A little ode to times gone by on a slow Monday

There are days you turn up happy and hearty at work. You have that skip in your step. You love the cute, cosy office with the chirpy orange walls and the tight knit group of colleagues you think of as friends. Then there are days when you would rather be anywhere but work.

You could be browsing through book shops in the cobbled alleys of Khan Market, reading a book while nibbling on a delicious crepe and washing it down with a soulful mug of cappuccino, deciding on the must-have clothes for summer, dozing off at home with no agenda but to do a few asanas and some 30-odd rounds of surya namaskars. Pet the dog, watch a few episodes of Gossip Girl, sip on a cup of green tea before turning into bed. Snuggle upto the husband. Just talking about it makes me feel good. And it makes me sigh.

Ah yes, I do sigh a lot it seems. Though not very volubly. After all, I do not want to risk being branded the archetypal Barbara Cartland heroine who always needed healthy doses of hartshorn and a rugged hero to faint on, do I?!

The rhetoric apart, as you can detect, I am in the I-want-to-do-nothing-for-a-while mood. There are these bouts of nostalgia that are threatening to take over my day even while I strive to file a cover story for the Sunday magazine.

Memories from long ago flit in and out. College. Friends. Canteen. Promod da (the portly owner of the canteen). His chicken shingaras. Playing cards with the most random set of guys in the dark recesses of our canteen -- oh, that beloved canteen with political rantings inscribed all over its walls!

Collecting a rupee from each and every one around just to make up the requisite ten bucks to buy Pepsi on those hot summer afternoons. Casting puppy eyed looks at the crush of my life. Going for cheap Chinese meals at the hole-in-the-wall joint called Gunjan. The paan shop off College Street offering a hundred varieties of paan that included my favourite Dilkhush paan. Bengali rock bands playing in the college grounds on those evenings during the college fest.

Browsing for cheap books on College Street. Wandering off into Coffeehouse across the street from college to see the big deal about it. Reference: Manna Dey’s wistful number, Coffeehouser shei addata aaj aar nei, aaj aar nei…The disappointment that almost always accompanies heightened expectations to see a shabby, smoke-filled old place instead of the place that was known for the kind of people who frequented it. Yes, it was the point of rendezvous for everybody from poets to artists and people from the world of art and culture. Names like Satyajit Ray, Manna Dey, Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen and Aparna Sen all were regulars at a point of time.

The simple life of a college-going girl in the city of Calcutta. Growing up the simple way. No frills or furbelows. How I have missed you Presidency!

And yes, thank you. For all the times I have had since the time I entered your historic porch in 1999.