More food, less work!

I’m posting this as I await a courier of The F-Word – my book, to reach me…

‘Don’t eat the crap they serve on the flight. I’m making prawn curry for lunch…keep your hunger for it.’ Surely boss – who wouldn’t? So I starved, surviving only on two cups of coffee since 6 am. Goa it was and half my friends couldn’t believe that some people went to a place like this for work – the only divine work trip that I’ve taken. And people in Goa do work, you know, to make a living!

Wendell and Jerome were waiting for lunch. A just-rightly-spiced Goan prawn curry with rice, accompanied by sautéed  radish with its leaves and fish cakes was a delectable start to the next two days of a supposed work trip to put finishing touches to Wendell’s manuscript. The recipe remains a secret, adding to the spicy mélange of Goan flavours – I could see a carnival of taste and textures unfolding for the next meal and the next…  We spent a few hours pouring over pictures and the text of the book and it was time to drive back to Colval to Wendell’s four hundred year old home.

Wendell and Jerome got straight to the kitchen to cook. ‘We’ve invited a few friends over, it’s a Miss Saigon evening and we are cooking a Vietnamese meal for you all.’ The staff worked silently, hanging up Vietnamese lanterns from  tiled slanted ceilings. I settled on the chaise lounge with my lap top but Zeus, the great dane didn’t quite like the lack of attention. He pushed his face under my chin and demanded attention. After a few minutes of petting, he shut my laptop authoritatively and walked away. I waited and went back to work. This performance was repeated four times, leaving me feeling really flattered with all the canine attention.

The guests for the evening came in and we quickly moved from the drinks to the dining table, laid out  tastefully. The air was aglow with the warmth of muted yellow light which spread subtly from corners. It was almost as if I had to notice that the lights were on. Candles burning on tall swirling wrought iron stands lie at strategic points, like finishing touches to a dress. A mild, raw papaya salad with the fresh crunch of papaya and the contrasting scrunch from nuts, spinach salad with sesame seeds, mustard and prawns on sugarcane sticks were served with a calmness that is the pervading spirit of this house. The salads evoked a perfect   picture, balanced together in texture, flavor and colour. The prawn was juicy, melt in the mouth and sugarcane imparted its sweet moisture to it.

None of us expected pure seduction. Vietnamese spring rolls (Nems) filled with pork were served with salad leaves and sprigs of fresh mint. The spring roll had to be rolled in a salad leaf with mint leaves and then eaten. The rice paper sheets covered the filling like sheer lace and crackled when bit into. Biting through the soft leaf into the lacey crisp on the outside and juicy inside roll was like surrendering in submission to an unfurling of tastes. A refreshing pommelo and prawn salad offset the spring roll.

The main course was the pho – a pot meal with chicken broth, fish, chicken, prawns, rice noodles. Chopped green chillies, fresh coriander, spring onions, basil, lemon juice are sprinkled over to add aroma and flavor. This one pot meal is deceptive – it looks light, airy and easy to reach the bottom of the bowl but half way through, the stomach protests with a fullness which tells the brain that satiety levels have been reached. It wasn’t difficult to fall into deep slumber with a well rounded stomach, filled with friendly bantering and the golden glow of the evening lent by candle light.

Breakfast in Goa is incomplete without the local bread, poi made with wheat flour, leavened with toddy and very little yeast. It’s puffy, light and goes well with preserves, cheese, eggs. We were supposed to take a short break for lunch which meant a cracked-to-perfection, golden, to even more perfected potato and orange soufflé and a lettuce salad. Strong espresso to keep awake to finish the rest of my work!

Dinner after a brisk walk around the quiet lanes of the village was squid tossed lightly with spring onions, coriander, lightly spiced and sautéed with a cork of a wine bottle in the wok to ‘keep it tender’. Goan pulao with cardamom and cinnamon flavors to go with fish curry. The significant overtone of all the meals served in Wendell’s house was a deep understanding, passionate commitment to aromas, flavours, textures of food. Simple, basic and deconstructed – much like the way Wendell and Jerome live their lives.

Meat balls in coconut gravy with poi and a sprightly grated carrot salad with a very light olive oil and lemon juice dressing was my last lunch before I flew back to Jaipur. ‘This is my recipe though Joseph (the cook) has given it his own spin today. I use the meat masala which is aromatic because of the mixture of garam masala used in it. It’s more of mace and cardamom and a dash of black pepper but only just enough,’ Wendell pitched in. I came back home with stories of being surrounded by undulating calm, inner quiet, clutter-free minds, artwork, music and loads of books. Topping all this was memories of each meal made rich by warm, friendly, humane conversations.

Zeus’ attention that had flattered me so much with a feeling that dogs loved me as well was finally unraveled by Jerome. Settling down for a glass of wine in the veranda on the same chaise lounge, he said gently, ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to sit on the chaise.’ My enquiring look got the answer, ‘that’s Zeus’ favourite seat and he can’t tolerate anyone sitting on it.’ That explained it all! Just a couple of minutes later, Zeus ambled in and lodged himself royally on the chaise – territory marked and unconquerable

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