Sunday, 2 January 2011

Simply Sinful

An old acquiantance and I were exchanging the ol' gossip recently, when he said he'd heard from his sister who'd heard from her friend who'd found out on Facebook that I have a recipe-blog now. Jolly good, he opined, but did I only do fancy cooking with frilly ingredients? Or did I actually know that most elusive of culinary secrets, cooking delightfully simple yet sinfully delectable dishe?

If your mind has already jumped to an internal register of 'sinfully good' food, this post if for you. In fact, it is a question. Explain to me, please, what puritanical instinct of self-deprivation, and possibly also of self-loathing, makes people term the utterly pleasureable act of indulging the tastebuds a sin? Surely, if life is a gift from the mythical heavens and we are to cherish it our every living moment, then eating is our holiest act, keeping the soul firmly chained to the body and preventing it from taking off to god knows where? Certainly, one must not be a glutton or a shameless hog, especially at other people's tables, but why this misguided jihad against the one sensory indulgence that does not even involve human genitalous interaction, as so many of our pleasure inevitably do?

The first time I encountered the concept of guilt-with-food was when a friend introduced me to frozen yogurt. I, expecting something like mishti doi, was delighted at the melt-in-your-mouth creaminess and complete absence of yogurty traits.
"This is just like ice cream!", I exclaimed -- in retrospect, perhaps a little too loudly for a crowded shop.
"AND at half the guilt!", my friend crowded, for all as if she'd discovered Awadhi biryani retailing at Rs. 20 around the corner.

By then, I had acclimatised to sentences that, despite being in perfectly normal English, meant absoutely nothing to me. So I let this pass with a bright, meaningless smile. But I encountered this over and over again, usually in food adverts or from young women of the undergraduate (and two serious, grad-school, 'strong woman') kind. 'Guilt-free' pleasures inevitably translated into low-calorie desserts (which are awful), yogurts (some of which, ironically, are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup), or substitutes for wonderfully irreplacable things like butter. 'Being bad' meant eating two squares of chocolate or a fistful of french fries or, in extreme cases, adding sugar to one's coffee. 'Being good' meant a diet of yogurt and dreary salad, and regular visits to he gym."I'm totally evil, I know", giggled a young girl when her friend stared at her for picking up a croissant and a small chocolate bar for lunch. Certainly, it was a joke, but not for those who don't realise the sinful nature of good food. To them it's just a bewildering sentence.

The guilt-avatar vocabulary will be incomplete without the maddening misuse of the word 'allow'. Once, watching me struggle with an overdue research paper, my ex suggested the very successful Motivation Bait technique. "Promise yourself a guilty pleasure," he advised with a conspiratorial grin, "Say, 'I will allow myself fish and chips if I finish this in two hours'". It was the proverbial straw. "I don't allow myself fish and chips!", I snapped, "I eat it when I want it!" From his startled confusion, it was clear that this modus operandi had never occured to him.

I have no idea how this bizzare idea -- that eating is not an act of pleasure or of vital self-preservation, but a shameful indulgence that should kick-start guilt-trips -- ever took hold, but it's irrational and revolting. To say the least.

Actually, on second thoughts, I have a fairly good idea of the "how" and the "what" above, but some day, I'm going to get an emic perspective on this. Why do you hate yourself, your body, your soul, and the very act of even asexual pleasure, I'm going to ask. And the way the fatness fad is catching up in India, I won't have to go very far for an answer.

P.S: oh, you want simple but sinful food?
  • Marinate a steak in red wine and spices. Grill it, or better yet, cook it in a cast-iron skillet. Fry two eggs with half a stick of butter on a super hot skillet/griddle till their whites sizzle. Put them on top of the steak. This is your main dish.
  • Rub four potatoes with salt and roast. Melt two sticks of butter in a deep but narrow pan so the melted butter rises high. Season with crushed garlic and chopped fresh parsley. Toss in the roasted potatoes and deep-fry till golden brown. Keep the potatoes aside. Take butter off the flame.
  • Whisk two whole eggs with a little vinegar or lime juice. Add slowly to the cooling butter on simmer. Whisk like your life depended on it. When well mixed, add a quarter cup whole cream and simmer till the butter-eggs-cream instant-hollandaise/bechamel/veloute/what-have-you thickens. Pour over potatoes. Before serving, drizzle with grated cheese. This is your side dish.
  • In a large dessert bowl or boat, put two or three large scoops of your favourite flavours. Heat caramel sauce in the microwave for forty seconds. Pour all over the scoops. Crown with dark chocolate sauce. Now make a tiara of whipped cream all around the scoops. Top with chopped walnuts. This is your dessert.
Et voila, my darlings. Enjoy the invisible side of guilt, served extra-large.


Sue said...

In my experience this whole business of guilt about food starts with little jokes which one just finds oneself take increasingly seriously.

Bad post to read the day after I discover that I am now heavier than when I had my baby. I decided to go on a diet last night, as soon as I finished my dinner of bara kabab, Lucknowi paratha and mutton biriyani cooked in ghee. I just had breakfast and have sworn to have nothing till elevenses. I think I can hold out till 11 if I try hard.

dipali said...

Oh to eat quantities of butter and cheese and chocolate with no thought to the morrow!!!!!
Given that I'm quite seriously overweight, I don't see guilt free meals anywhere in my future:(
I'd probably do better if I ate happily and without guilt. Only question is, how?

Rimi said...

Oh absolutely Sunny! Till elevenses is certainly a plan. Stick to your guns, don't let a morsel pass your mouth ;-)

Dipali, I feel guilty about one food -- Maggi. It leaves a metallic taste in my mouth, makes me queasy and inevitably messes up my digestion, but every now and then I buy a packet 'cause one just has to boil it. What you or I feel about sweets and ghee and things is not a displaced fear of eating, I think. We are overweight women with high cholesterol and we're exercising legitimate caution. And you swim in the summers, don't you? You're probably fit as a fiddle!

To explain what I mean by fear: a friend knew a young law-school student who burst out crying when discovered with two slices of chocolate cake, and then descended into hysterics over it. A friend's friend starved herself for a week, then ate all of a 500gm tub of ice-cream, then was so guilty she went and ran for two hours in the night instead of sleeping.

Our grip on sanity is far stronger, thank goodness.

dipali said...

Yikes- the poor sods:(

Thanks for the reassurance and the explanation!!!!!

Dea-chan said...

Due to boredom on my break at work, I was reading this book called SUGAR SHOCK!!! (it capitalized it every time it was mentioned, sadly). Highly entertaining in a laugh-at kind of way, about "did you know that eating things claiming to be healthy foods are BAD for you!?" and such nonsense as "here are all of these places you'd never except to find sugars! e.g., salad dressing".

Frankly, I expect to find shittiness in pretty much ANY prepared food, so the fact that people are surprised by this surprises me.

So, those girls probably WERE being "bad" to themselves in they weren't eating real food. :-P

eve's lungs said...

Aah Rimi you'll be the death of me !

Shella said...

For the last 1 hour I have been going through various posts on your blog......n I am totally hooked to say the least. More so, by your writing than by your recipes (if you'll forgive me for that). Love it here