Cooking al fresco is much more fun

Cooking al fresco is much more fun
The kids have always preferred that I cook our desi khaana, in the yard, rather than in the house. To put it simply, our masalas stink out the house and cannot be removed from the carpets and furnishing. So they cook in the back- yard or in the deck out back as the case may be. Both being doctors have found the house is over whelmed by our strong masalas and as a result their clothes and bodies too, That is a disaster for them as doctors and in such close proximity with their patients. Most westerners find these smells over powering and revolting especially on hands as they are being examined.

So while they were residents in Omaha, they had a nice large deck out the back on which I cooked quite happily, the smells wafting away in the wind. Omaha has strong winds outside most times of the year. When it was winter and snowing I would cook under the eaves with only my hand popping out of the sliding window to stir the food as it cooked.

It may sound awful for many and there could be remarks made -- so why can’t you use an extractor? Well they do have one but it’s meant for lighter western food with hardly any spices. And frankly all of us prefer cooking outside and leaving the smells outside too. In their line of business anyway it’s all important, and I accept that as a parent.

So, to handle the to-ing and fro-ing to a minimum, I gather up all the ingredients and the skillet and then head for the patio, here in Tennessee. So say I am stir frying a bag of shrimp for dinner. I carry all the ingredients from the onion to the cutting board, knife and rechard masala brought from Goa, a little soaked tamarind and oil. Everything gets meticulously prepped indoors and then I carry it out, except for chopping the onion.

Then with the birds singing in the trees around me and the wood pecker tap tapping on the the bark of the tall tree in the back, I chop the onions and put all the waste into my kitchen waste bowl. The oil heats up and in go the onions while I watch the robin parent pull out a worm from the lawn to feed it’s hungry babies. I stir the onion pieces and saute them to a clear pinky brown while the robin stuffs the worm down a hungry mouth popping out of the nest. The minced garlic from a bottle goes in next and a lovely smell of frying garlic, wafts across the lawn.

It’s time to throw in the rechard masala which I bought from Chef Peter from my village in Goa and carry to Tennessee to give the kids a taste of their home state. A light stir, till the rawness of the paste disappears, then I cut open the frozen shrimp packet, which has been washed under a tap to loosen the shrimp.

Shrimp have to be done rather quickly so I stir and meanwhile squeeze out the fresh tamarind, which I have brought from Bangalore to use. The thick goey mix slithers between the prawns and becomes one with the gravy. I let the whole mix simmer for a bit after adding a bit of salt to taste. The cover of the skillet holds in the goodness of the shrimp while helping to cook it really fast.

A Tufted tit mouse with it’s fancy hair style hops along the stone wall along the far side of the garden and a thrush or Warbler sets off a delightful tuneful whistle, in the trees along the edge of the garden, as I switch off the skillet and leave the shrimp to cook in its heat. The shrimp here are already cleaned and deveined. All one has to do is wash it and throw it in straight in from the freezer.

There is some kitchen waste to take to the wet waste pit, which I have along the side of the garden. It’s a tiny pit and hardly noticeable, but it is deep and holds a lot of stuff. I keep loading it up everyday while I am here, so that when I visit next year I will spend a couple of weeks removing the rich compost, to deposit around all the trees and plants in the garden.

The robin flies up onto the fence and cocks a beady eye at me, as I spoon out the cooked shrimp into a casserole dish with a lid. No smells indoors makes me glad, as there is nothing worse than having the odour of stale food smells hang around inside your home.Plus cooking al fresco is much more fun than being inside—especially with birds and breeze in the backyard and the beautiful blue sky up above.

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