In A Stew

In the time before my mother stopped going out on her own, there was a short period where she left me in charge of the house in Goa. The other two candidates for this position were my father and my dog, and of the two, I think she would have liked the cocker spaniel’s organisational chances over my father’s.

Now, there are several things my father doesn’t do when my mother is in the house; mostly because he will get told off. One of these things is to faff about in the kitchen, ostensibly “making dinner”, and leaving a colossal mess for her to tidy up. The second is also to hang about in office clothes, without having a wash, and chug a beer at the dining table before dinner. These may be small transgressions, but transgressions they are no doubt.

Me, on the other hand? I am a lot more lenient and laissez-faire for things I don’t consider critical. So most things are relaxed when I’m in charge.

So, one rainy evening, dear old dad calls me up from the office. He’s decided to make mutton stew [obviously before we became vegetarian] the following evening, and was wondering if I could make a stack of rotis. Yes, I said. Do I need anything from the store for this undertaking? No, I said. Good. End of conversation.

I was being given 24 hours notice to make rotis. Interesting. The mention of the stew set my heart a-flutter also, because my father isn’t exactly a tidy cook. I anticipated loads of clearing up, because although he did pitch in, his effort was not up to maternal standards.

The next afternoon, I got another call to ask about the rotis. I had made the dough, and would wait till he left office to roll and roast them, so they would be warm when he came home. He was stopping by at the grocer-butcher to get fresh mutton.

He walked in the door some 20 minutes later, in a fever of excitement. He placed the bag of mutton tenderly on the kitchen counter, much to my amusement. And then proceeded to skip into the bedroom to rip off his tie, and pull off his socks. Ah, some concession to mom’s guidelines. I’m impressed.

He bounced back out of his room, and came up to the kitchen counter. Now, please note, I was far more mature than my father. He was an overgrown kid at home, and one of his transcendent joys in life was to bug mom or me or both. Therefore, the subsequent squabble about roti inspection and quality control was very much par for course.

Finally, he got down to making the stew. I don’t remember what the steps were, because I was getting ordered around the kitchen. “Get me the pan!”, “Where are the bay leaves?”, “Clean an onion. No, no! I will dice it!”, and so on. My mother would have spanked him for behaving like a power-mad chef with a hapless commie, but I was chill with it.

I handed him her spice bottles, and to my rapidly suppressed amusement, he laid out spices in a neat row on the kitchen counter: one bay leaf, three cloves, two sticks of cinnamon, and two cardamom pods. It was hilarious to watch. He saw me chuckle, and huffed about how plebeians would never understand the precision methods of professional chefs.

He then assembled the stew, and spent approximately 5 minutes doing so. Brought the thing to a boil, covered it, and lowered it to a simmer. And then declared his work done, and plonked himself at the table to have a cold one.

All in all, it was a decent stew and, because I had finished the rotis in advance, the cleaning up was minimal. We had a lovely dinner together, periodically punctuated with sighs of ecstasy and self-congratulatory exclamations from my father on the excellence of the stew.

This morning, over breakfast, mom and I were remembering my father’s antics as usual. It is our way of keeping him in the present with us, because we miss his presence so much. I remembered the stew story, and sure enough she did say she would have spanked him, if she had been there.

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