Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Oatmeal

My sis-in-law gets these bouts. Every once in a while she remembers that she is a trained doctor and that role needs to extend into and find expression at home too. This always translates into episodes of obsession with "health and being healthy." Earlier, probably during her first episode of this healthiness malaise (and when she still hadn't figured that mules take correspondence classes in stubbornness from my brother and me) she tried to get my brother and me to go for early-morning walks. My horrified "And waste 30 minutes of precious sleeping time?!!" put and end to that. Ditto for yoga that she offered to teach us.

Unfortunately for us she soon realized that while she probably couldn't get us to exercise, she could significantly control another aspect of our lives. And thus started (and still continue) her experiments with "healthy" food. My brother and me have since being subjected to various diets and dietary restrictions and monstrosities. If I remember right, the first thing she tried with us was honey and lemon in warm water in the mornings. I protested and complained. I hated the taste of that concoction and the honey and lemon in warm water smelt awful. "Just pinch your nose and drink it up," was her helpful advice when I remarked one morning that the smell made me nauseous. That continued for a couple of months or more till I came across (may the lord be thanked) this article in a newspaper that said commercially packaged honey may not be all that healthy as it may have some unmentionable additives.

Next followed experiments with the humble chapati. Wheat flour was mixed with soya bean (soybean) flour in different proportions "because eating soya is healthy." In subsequent versions the flour of various assorted food grains was obtained and mixed with the base combination of wheat and soya bean. A later and (a still continuing) version of the wheat and soya bean chapati does away totally with any oil. Me and my brother have grudgingly come to accept the newer version (not that we had much choice). We have had a salad only diet for sometime and we have had a vegetable only diet. We have had food where the salt (for a period of time it was only rock salt) and the spices were merely a suspicion. And we have had all of the above with different cooking oils — from groundnut oil to sunflower oil to god knows what. I spotted a can of olive oil in the kitchen yesterday and I shuddered when my brain conjured the image of cabbage, methi (very healthy), and karela (very, very healthy) stir-fried together in olive oil with a dash of salt and smirched (if we are lucky) with some turmeric and a couple of chopped green chillies.

Often, when I am in the mood, and am having a dry wheat and soya chapati with the above mentioned veggie (with whichever cooking oil in favor at the moment) I describe to my sis-in-law in great detail about the pizza topped with extra cheese and various meats that I had for lunch followed by sizzling chocolate brownies with ice cream or chocolate mousse. And I watch her shudder. Sometimes, when I am having particularly healthy dinner, I conjure up a vision of piping hot dal-khichdi served with dollops of ghee and with fried papad and lots of mango pickle and chopped onions on the side. All that followed with gulab jamuns. Whenever I do that, I think my sis-in-law, has nightmares.

The next day (I always think it impossible till I see and taste it) an even healthier meal is prepared.

But I digress. The point of all this is my sis-in-law's latest obsession with oatmeal. Over the years my brother and me have learned to recognize the symptoms of the onset of the healthiness malaise early. For the past few weeks she would occasionally pepper her talk with the high fiber content of oatmeal and pointedly mention its "popularity" as a health food. I knew then that we were doomed. For days my brother and me managed to "forget" to buy oatmeal whenever she packed us off on various errands. When that excuse started feeling a bit overused we tried the "out of stock" gambit a few times. But that was only delaying the inevitable. Two weeks back a huge jar of white oat bran appeared in the kitchen.

Since then I have had that gooey, bland stuff in countless variations as my sis-in-law tried her hand at cooking that tasteless shuck in a way that would suit our palates. We had the traditional boiled version with some milk added to it. And we have added the other traditional version of boiled oatmeal with some salt for taste. We have had boiled oatmeal with milk and sugar. My brother was persuaded to try the oatmeal-with-some-chopped-fruit variation and an oatmeal-with-curd variation. Both the times, it didn't look like he was enjoying the bowl of gloop he was having. My sis-in-law since has tried her hand at oatmeal kheer (By the way, I hate kheer. I pinched my nose and gulped it down and quickly put the bowl in the sink before another helping could be served), oatmeal sheera, and oatmeal upma. Then she made kande-oatmeal which is where you make Maharashtrian kande-pohe not with the pohe but with oatmeal. I refused to have anything to do with.

I suspect (actually, I am sure) yesterday dinner's wheat and soya chapatis (without any oil) too were spiked with a liberal helping of the oatmeal. And after all that consumption of the bran, I still glumly note that the huge jar of oatmeal is still half full.

Then today via Desipundit I came across this post and after reading the first few lines I thought I had come across a kindred soul that would understand my plight:
Oatmeal tests convictions. Its taste, appearance, origins, the varieties available, and the uberhype surrounding its health benefits - oatmeal was a big challenge to this Indian palate.
I am not alone in suffering, I told myself. All that needs be done, I thought, is to take a printout and hand it to my sis-in-law and let her be convinced by an expert on cuisine. But then I came across these lines:
Even though oatmeal is still a classic case of food I do not eat for the taste, I am glad I choose to like oatmeal and to make it a part of my daily routine.
The printout idea had to be discarded. For a while I contemplated emptying that jar of oatmeal into the dustbin. But that, apart from the wrath that I'll have to face, might see me being subjected to more oatmeal recipes.

It’s a tough life for brother-in-laws, take it from me. (The same could be said of the husbands, I suppose, but at least for them it is (usually) by choice.)

Oh well (sigh), hopefully this episode too will pass and the sis-in-law will be cured of her oatmeal malady.
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And am I glad my sis-in-law is not net-savvy and doesn’t know that this blog exists.

7 comments:

rukmini said...

I couldn't resist replying to this post. This post reminded me of the day, my bro gave me an ultimatum "STOP COOKING OATMEAL. IT TASTES LIKE SHIT.I will not offer my precious feedback on anything else, if you ever cook oatmeal again."

I was heartbroken but had to relent. Maybe you could try giving such ultimatums to your sis-in-law.

But yes, appreciate the fact that someone is interested in cooking up a healthy meal.

Geetika said...

Mandy,
Just you wait...I'll tell your name to your sis-in-law.
She's making healthy stuff for your bro and you...and here you go writing this post 'bout her cooking!
G.

Dhanuska said...

Myandy,

I think both you guys are disgusting. The poor woman takes the trouble of cooking for you guys, naa, so you have no value for all the hardwork. So, here's a suggestion: Why don't either one of you cook up a full-fledged meal for your sis-in-law, healthy or otherwise?

From another sis-in-law who loves cooking a large variety of yummy and delicious healthy stuff for her husband and brother-in-law.

mandar talvekar said...

Dhanuska,
we both do. . . off-late as and when my sis-in-law allows.
And, we love her cooking . . . it is the oatmeal we hate.

Angela said...

I love this post! I think that perhaps you are my husband or my son or my daughter in disguise. I know I do this to them too... but they don't blog about it, so they suffer silently.

I like the way you write and the humor (laughing out loud) you brought into my mundane day today. Thanks!

Of course, after a "break" from the organic and healthy food, I'm ready to get back in the kitchen and start cooking healthy again. I can hear you (and my family) groaning from here. *snicker*

Saee said...

FANTABULISTIC post, Mandy! Like Angela, I think Miheer, my husband helped you write it out (lol.)I alsmot fell off my chair while i made the soyabean and oatmeal kheer connection. And yes, my lovely bottle of olive oil is only making my kitchen counter look nicer these days...foodies like you and me need the oils and the "toop" and cheeses and what nots...of course, then, I go on a guilt trip and make bhakris and salads for a week...and then I have carbohydrate and fat withdrawal sympytoms...sigh

Cynthia said...

Mandar,

I came to your blog via Indira of Mahanandi and I'm glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing and this post.

You're so lucky to have someone to cook for you.