Monday

Ok, I admit I’ve been very lazy and uninspired for the last few weeks, not least when it came to blogging.

I have been neglecting my plants, doing only the barest minimum to keep them alive, and sometimes not even that. I DID finally wash ALL the clothes accumulating in the various laundry baskets though, and that’s saying something!

I have clothes to stitch by default because my favourite tailor is playing hard to get, and I really need an autumn infusion in my wardrobe, which seems woefully bare when I deludedly open the door, thinking perhaps I might magically find something nice to wear that I may have overlooked the last time I opened that door.

But I have not felt inspired to stitch, though the cloth is beautiful and the trimmings match. I can’t be bothered to ‘apply’ myself, if you catch my drift.

Is this what laziness is all about? Or is there more to this torpor….

I need to think about clothes for an upcoming wedding in the family, but going shopping and deciding on fabrics and colours seems like too much work. I’m putting it off, knowing full well that as the time draws ever closer I’m setting myself up to freak out because Amu and I will have nothing fabulous to wear and we will feel like the poor relatives.

Many of you who have followed my blog from the beginning will be aware of the existence of a room in my house that was beginning to feel like a black hole. To cut a long story short, we decided to revamp that room, relocate all our stuff, give away anything we didn’t need anymore and turn that room into a nice cosy and inviting sitting room where we could entertain friends/guests.

First we got the flooring done. We kept it cheap by using vinyl instead of wood, but the effect is similar so it turned out great. Then we had to redo the lighting, to create a nicer ambience.

The walls had to be painted next, and the ceiling fan needed to be scraped and painted again, because we live near the sea and the moist air wreaks havoc with rustable objects.

Furnishings and accessories need to be done now, and though a part of me wants to get my teeth into that, I can’t be pushed to go out, visit shops, balk at the prices of things, be terrified of making a commitment, spend a lot of money…..and not be happy with the end result.

I often make bad decisions, then live with them, a part of me suffering in silence, a part of me in denial at having made a bad choice.

So anyway, that’s some work in progress which will obviously take some time to put together for that stylish magazine-y look that I would like to achieve (without spending too much.)

Can’t go shopping today anyway, everything is closed, including schools, because Nusrat Bhutto passed away. The event made Zahooran sad yesterday, who woke up with a sense of foreboding. She often feels like this just before someone dies.

In the meantime, since I am not only lazy but also very disorganized, I started cooking lunch at a quarter to two because I was distracted by Facebook earlier, and since we bought some very expensive mutton yesterday I decided to give it special treatment by making Punjabi yakhni pulao.

When I put the meat to boil along with ginger, garlic and a whole packet of Shan Punjabi yakhni pulao masala, Huz wandered in, following the smell with his nose, saying ‘What’s this? Smells good.’

Then he came for a closer whiff.

‘Actually, it smells like you’re cooking brain.’

I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, considering brains make him squeamish.

‘Hmmm….’ said I.

Then Amu walked into the kitchen, saying ‘Why does it smell like fish? No wait, it smells like blood.’

I was left a bit speechless. And also a bit worried. It IS 600 rupees worth of meat after all!

It’s 4:30 now, and the rice still has a little time to go before it is ready, I think there was something wrong with the recipe written on the back of the box, so I modified a few things. There’s no way you can cook 6 cups of rice in just two cups of meat stock…….

There’s a jug full of sweet lassi waiting in the freezer though.

And I will say again here, if I have not already said it before……..my family is very patient 🙂

Maid-less in Karachi and living to tell the tale.

Considering I’m a room-less nomad in my own house, as well as being a maid-less anomaly, I never thought I’d be sitting propped on pillows with a steaming mug of tea, in a corner of our workroom/home office, and actually feeling content, happy and cosy. With time to spare to write a new post.

What?! (I hear you exclaim) No maid??

Yes, dear readers. Zahooran, my erstwhile maid has absconded and I am left without a replacement in sight. And before you shake your head in wonder and despair at my plight, (hey! that rhymes!) allow me to explain the reason for my happiness and well-being, and also to elaborate on the reason for the existence of three platefuls of the yummiest lasagna ever in my tummy, even as my bathroom gets renovated and masons and plumbers traipse in and out all day. Which is why I’m a room-less nomad living out of a suitcase. Just kidding, there’s no suitcase.

It all transpired in December, when Zahooran tentatively broached the subject of going back to her village in Punjab. I was surprised, as I was under the impression that she liked being in Karachi, which represented a source of livelihood and a way to be independent, away from her religious, shrine-frequenting husband who worked as a hired labourer back home, where employment was scarce and life was difficult. She also spoke of querulous interfering relatives and family ties rife with gossip and slander, something she abhorred and was grateful to get away from.

She shared living quarters with her niece Shehnaz, who also happened to be her sister-in-law (married to her husband’s younger brother), and whose third child Zahooran had adopted as her own, being childless herself. Shehnaz had been married at the age of 14 to a man twice her age and by 22 had reproduced 4 times, had at least two abortions, and God knows how many miscarriages. I knew this because Shehnaz used to work for me before she had a gallbladder operation that rendered her unfit for strenuous work. It was she who brought along her aunt/sister-in-law Zahooran as a replacement, fresh from the village, ungroomed in her behaviour, and untrained in the art and delicacy of keeping a house clean without disturbing the ecosystem of the inhabitants.

The first day she came to work as an assistant to Shehnaz, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in her presence and wasn’t particularly pleased with her method of working, and so I told Shehnaz not to bring her back the next day. But Zahooran turned up again. And again. I realise now that she insinuated herself into the household by degrees and whatever protests I had remained muted until there was no way I could fire her without hurting her feelings. Her work improved with hints and gentle rebukes (I’m no tyrannical mistress) but I was happier staying out of her hair while she worked, and so did Huz and Amu. She had a way of moving furniture and rolling up rugs to sweep in such a way that we were forced to always be sidestepping or jumping over things in our little apartment, which made for a very edgy three hours, the duration of her cleaning spree.

Her job was simple. The first thing she did when she came was wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Then she proceeded to sweep the whole house, vacuuming carpets and rugs, after which she would clean the bathrooms and dust the furniture on alternate days, finishing up with mopping the un-carpeted areas of the house. As if this wasn’t enough, she walked over to another house down the road where she repeated the process, then probably bone-weary, walked back home to tend to her own washing, cleaning and cooking. She went to bed early after getting a solicitous massage by her son Tayyeb, whom she asked to walk on her back to relieve the stresses of being bent over most of the day. She loves her son dearly, and the primary goal in her life is to work hard and earn so she can educate him.

When I said Zahooran was ‘ungroomed’, I didn’t mean she was badly dressed or uncaring of personal hygiene. She wore clean clothes and didn’t have b.o. But she did have a few habits that completely grossed out our finer sensibilities, though I was more forgiving perhaps than Huz and Amu. Dust, for example, is an inevitable part of housework and can make the best of us have a sneezing fit. Zahooran’s problem was….she didn’t cover her face when she did so. Yes, I know. Not nice. Hence, Amu hated having her room cleaned because she hated the idea of Zahooran germs everywhere.

Another thing that drove us all a bit crazy was her complete disregard for personal space, often standing too close for comfort while conversing. She didn’t believe in knocking before entering a bedroom either. But that was one of the few things I could tell her off about without getting personal. Just because she’s a maid doesn’t mean I can hurt her feelings. Though I think I must have hurt them a bit when I asked her not to hug and kiss members of my family when they dropped in for a visit. Maids in Karachi are just NOT supposed to do that. There are unwritten rules! But Zahooran was from a different place, and unschooled in the manners of employee behaviour.

Every neighbour I recommended Zahooran to couldn’t tolerate her beyond a couple of weeks, and I’m sure they’re mystified at my reasons for hanging on to her for two years., but my reasons were simple. (a) She was honest. I could leave the house to her without locking anything and not be scared she would steal something.  (b) She was polite, and hard-working, and never refused an additional chore once in a while. (c) she left the house looking shiny. Every day. And (d)….she was essentially a kind, caring, generous, affectionate soul. She always walked out the door with a muttered prayer for my safety, happiness and well-being. (Allah aabaad, shaad rakhey)

So even though she irritated me and bugged the hell out of Huz and Amu, I couldn’t fire her. Plus, I knew my house was like a getaway for her, an escape from the squalor and cramped environs of Neelum Colony, a place where for three peaceful hours she could forget about her worries and immerse herself in work, something she claimed was one thing she wasn’t afraid of. Give her work, and she was happy. How could I possibly take that away from her?

Perhaps then it was fortuitous that her husband put his foot down and demanded she come back to him and take care of his needs. He was tired of living wife-less for so long and missed having his own woman to cook his food and wash his clothes. And then, she had also saved up enough to get a meter installed in her house, and the idea of finally having electricity, a real luxury, galvanised her. So Zahooran had to go, and she planned to catch the bus on the 2nd day of the New year and make the 22-hour long, arduous and uncomfortable journey back home in the bitterly cold and foggy plains, having packed all her meagre belongings and two new shawls (my gift to her) …and a used ‘new’ cell phone.

The replacement she arranged for me turned out to be a bull of a woman, hefty and rough-looking where Zahooran was petite and bird-like. I took one look at her and immediately thought of ways to dissuade her from coming, telling her essentially, ‘don’t call me, I’LL call you’. And that was that. Couldn’t exactly employ someone who gave the impression she’d eat me alive, first opportunity she got!

So, it has now been three weeks that I have been maid-less, which basically means I spend too much time OCD-ing about cleaning the house rather than blogging. I know you will understand, dear avid readers of my blog. But you should know I am neglecting my kitchen and NOT vacuuming the workroom/office even as we speak, just so I can break out of my blog inertia. It’s a big deal, okay?

But before you go feeling sorry for me, here’s a little bit of exciting news. I may not have a maid, but guess what? Yours truly has found herself a cook!!

So now at least I don’t have to worry about putting food on the table, and can merrily go about doing the housework, exhaust myself for a couple of hours every day, but smile with anticipation at the thought of a kindly elf coming to my house in the evening. All I must do is think up something yum to eat, issue a whimsical order, make sure the essentials are present in the kitchen cupboards, and voila! An hour later, there are magical pots of steaming food, and the house is engulfed in delectable aromas. Oh yes. Heaven IS a place right here on this very earth, and it exists in Munira’s bubble.

And there’s lasagna.

🙂

Wings, anyone?

A surefire way of getting Amu to smile with delight, is to whip up a batch of wings for her. She likes all kinds, (and there are many!) but her favourite is this recipe that I copied out of a book and saved as a card for my Most Used box.

All you need is a bag of wings. And a few every day sauces.

Now, a chicken wing essentially consists of three parts: the ‘wingette’; the ‘drummette’; and the ‘tip’. (I got this very useful bit of information from this place, where you will learn many different ways of cooking wings if you choose to click on the link).

In this recipe we shall concern ourselves only with the wingette and the drummette.

Sorry to hurt your feelings, tip, but you’re completely useless. Off with your head!

Now comes the fun part; assembling the ingredients for the marinade!
For that we need a bowl. Into this bowl we shall introduce…..

  • A teaspoon (or two) of mustard. Any mustard should work I suppose, but I used something a bit fancier than the bright yellow kind. From a jar.
  • A grated clove of garlic (or two).
  • A tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
  • Two tablespoons of Hoisin sauce.
  • Two tablespoons of tomato sauce (I take that to mean ketchup)

  • A tablespoon (or thereabouts) of lemon juice.
  • And a few (liberal) drops of tabasco (I used hot sauce)
  • Stir it all up vigorously into a nicely homogenised, glossy sauce.

Now take your bowl of nicely dissected wings and season them with salt and pepper. Toss ’em up.

Then pour all the marinade on top and mix it around with a wooden spoon, or your hands, depending on your mood. Leave the wings to marinate for at least two hours, or overnight for REALLY flavourful wings.

When you’re ready to eat, preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Remove the bowl of wings from the fridge and pour into an ideally single layer on the base of a large Pyrex dish.

Then stick it in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

This is how they will look when done.

And this is how they’ll be devoured by your family….and your cat.

Note: (Personally, I’d bake them a bit longer, so the sauce really STICKS to the wings, and gives them a decidedly gooey, caramelized look. But the brood was hungry, so I didn’t bake them to absolute perfection. You definitely should though.)

Project-Lunch

Yesterday while riffling aimlessly through the bookshelf, I chanced upon a pile of cookbooks and thought to myself  ‘Hey! Why don’t I try something new for lunch tomorrow?’ The first cookbook in the pile turned out to be full of Asian recipes, and while flipping through it, yet another novel idea presented itself.

I walked over to Huz and told him to pick a dish from the book and I would cook it for him.

Rather sportily (or so I thought to myself), instead of shooing me off with a ‘Pick one yourself, woman!’, he went through the pages in an interested manner (after donning his reading glasses, which lent an air of seriousness to the endeavour) and within minutes decided on the recipe on page 38-39 —> ‘Chicken and Almonds’

(He loves anything with nuts)

He astonished me even further (though I was careful not to show it, lest he change his mind) by offering to go grocery shopping in the morning to get all the necessary ingredients! (14 years of married life can still present wonders that amaze)

So this is what we needed.

I started off by first mixing 1 tbsp of soy sauce with 1 tbsp cornflour and pouring it over 300g chicken breast fillets, sliced diagonally across into strips, and leaving it to marinate.

 

Next, I prepared all the other things.

Grated a 2cm piece of fresh ginger….. chopped 1 onion roughly…. thinly sliced 1 celery stalk, diagonally……

The recipe called for 50 g of green beans but I used more because I wanted more green in my lunch. Sliced them vertically in half, and then cut canned bamboo shoots into half a cup of cubes….(umm….perhaps I used a bit more)

Time to fire up the ol’ wok with 2 tbsp oil (you can tell from the picture that I use my wok a lot :P). When it was nice and hot, I stir-fried the chicken for about 2 minutes, then removed it from the heat and set it aside, keeping it covered….


I added a little more oil to the wok, re-heated it and stir-fried the ginger, onion and celery for about 4 minutes.


Then I put in the green beans and bamboo shoots and cooked for another minute.

The recipe calls for 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine or medium sherry, but I skipped this (since I didn’t have any) and poured in a quarter cup of chicken stock, 1 tsp of sesame oil, and 2 tbsp of water (I also squeezed in half a lemon, just for fun), covered it and steamed for 30 seconds.

Next, I mixed together 2 tsp of extra cornflour with 1 tbsp of water and stirred it into the sauce, bringing it to the boil.

Then it was time to return the chicken to the pan and add 125 g (or a heaped handful) of blanched, roasted almonds, tossing it all well to combine and allowing it to just heat through and….voila!!

It was ready to be served with steamed white rice (which I somehow managed to make simultaneously). 🙂

Huz liked it. I enjoyed it too. And so did Amu, when she came back from sports practice at 4 in the afternoon.

It’s 6:30 now and I’m wondering….what should we have for dinner? 😛