Monday, April 30, 2012

Steam Up to rise

April 30th 2012

For the friends who complained why did My first Idly take this long to come, I need to confess that I have been spending most of my hours with real-time modernizers in a closed circuit air-conditioned environment where Idlys were hard to cook. Contemplating on the batter of Idlys would be the last thing welcome on the floor, even though a lot of cooking, frying and serving predisposed matters, does happen  already quite commonly without anyone’s control. I informed myself several times and then learned it as a good student of Invention School that in order to survive I must continually Innovate-technologically(there's a catch in it) and not trade the time writing about...Idlys. I am an engineer whose job is to ‘build, certify, release and do it enormously innovatively. I must worry about quality of delivery and customer experience and please….never about Idlys, as a bureaucrat revealingly advised me one day.

However in my teensy own time I managed to think about what it takes to make fluffy sound Idlys– it's a good proportion of ingredients, just the right grinding and fermentation and a good amount of steaming.
I sneaked into the imagination of my brilliant futuristic world – Consumer, Product, Market and Technology paradigm, how would that look from the tip of the Idly! If I were a sales soul I would have sliced tartlets off it, but I weren’t so I took my own-mannered, layered approach. I imagined a pantry where a punctilious mix was made of four Ps, Market was the grinder, Technology the batter, Innovation was the steam and you already know what was being dished up to the end user. My appetite for process delineation, product examination and user gratification was growing high and up….until I wondered why the Idlys still coming out flat.

I investigated myself, am I doing it right way – right postulation, right math and right reading? Then I took a quick trip of my milieu. Do I have the exact ingredients in place – no, I have a bizzare mix of maze and grams because that's all I had available in the kitchenette I was put up to keep my teamwork on. Did the other appointee grind them well – no, grinding was noisy and disruptive, fermentation....was underdone and time-to-steam was overdone, to the extent of scorching ….Pheww!

No wonder its flat and lifeless this time, just a wrong experiment and the cottony bubbly Idlys have gone for toss. I am not sad and I don’t worry, after all Idlys have come a long way and there is an innate beauty in flatness, everyone knows but few remember what we see as flat under the foot is actually a piece of the bigger picture called globe. So let the Idly go global...

For my global friends, Idli that I spell as 'Idly' is a salty pan cake, made of rice and black lentils, milled, fermented and steamed in a custom-made idly mold, served typically with sambar and coconut chutney.

 'Steaming is vital, but whats more critical is the water to steam up'

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My First Idly

I am in the land of Idlys, the all-time favorite of my family and myself. I have a natural disharmony with its dictionary meaning, so I prefer to avoid the adverbial injustice and go with the idyllic Idlys. I am animated at my new workplace, interacting effortlessly convincingly with my new colleagues (completely unaware of the cost-benefit analysis of my efforts and coiling convictions). I am happy, charged and excited that I am at a place where people resemble amazingly with my own internal identity – they like dressing in lengthy edged linens, tuck a fresh flower string in their neat pleats every day, eat healthy, work hard and walk with confidence, once put that devout sign on their forehead that possibly says they are the most intelligent people on this part of the earth, I now share with them and increasingly getting fonder of. I wouldn’t be doing the intelligence math here, leaving it to the readers.

I was taking paces with my ill laptop to the IT room on my second day of acquiring a business laptop which was found virus infected and I had just about lost the three paged article I wrote on the previous day about what makes my company (where this is my 7rd day) ‘(One of) the best place to work for’.
The IT administrator declared it would take 4 hours to backup and reformat, while I silently prayed for my essay to make it to the last boat. I took a deep breath and walked back to my desk where a colleague of mine was remarkably waiting for me to go for lunch, it was surprising because people don’t usually and easily invite you for lunch here, that too when it’s just the 7th day for a newbie in Chennai, who hasn’t been smart enough to pick up the language ‘that’ fast. 

We took the elevator to the cafeteria in 6th floor and she asked me on our way if I have already moved to a house and have appointed a cook to help me. I wasn’t surprised with the question but I kind of rushed to say No, I prefer cooking. Surprise popped to the other end this time and without delay reflected on my eyes when she quizzed with the skewed eyebrows why? She elaborated…..why do you want to cook when you stay alone? Whoop! I heard myself saying because ‘I do eat….!’ Her suggestion was not hard to understand yet, she wanted to say I should rather appoint a kitchen help or pick/order my food back to home. While I tried to tell her how easy and hands-on it could be to cook your own food, we landed in a big cafe where a great spread of North and South Indian, some western-fusion-sorts and a range of other quick takes were lined up. Although we had headed together to this point I suddenly realized we crisscrossed our paths when I took my way to South Indian counter and she chose to go for North Indian combo. In a knits of oddity I fetched my grand plate (thaali) with 10 partitions, both heart and healthfully filled with about 15 courses of meals. 

Athletically balancing my body with thaali, I walked to join her back on the table she had already secured for us. I glanced around, it was a great hall which now looked like a marriage hall to me, with colorful decors and skillful arrangements filled with aroma of great south Indian spices. As both of us looked at each other’s plates, there was an audible difference between what was reeling in our minds, while I was scanning to know how does the north Indian thaali look like in a hard core south urban, she was wondering what made me choose rice and sambar when I had a ready option of chapatis. As I could read her mind, I quickly replied her unvoiced question - I like the combination sambar, rice and papad.

She looked satisfied with my answer and suggested I should rather try the morning breakfast in the same cafe where they serve range of south Indian dishes, dosa, Idly vada, utthapam, pongal and so on….with sambar and chutney in unlimited supply! My eyes were shinning in exhilaration as I visualized the list, nearly all of them are magnificent take-away Sunday breakfasts in the part of India I come from. I told her I have always fancied making round and fluffy Idlys and crispy dosas. She laughed out loud to attract the attention of fellow guzzlers and I for some reason liked it, she said it’s easy like cakewalk, and although I had never done a cakewalk I was much excited to know how to mix, grind, ferment and shape them!
She told me the oval-shaped idly rice and white lentil in 4:1is the key, that should be soaked in water for about 4 hours, not necessarily overnight and much excitingly I can grind it using my own domestic grinder, leave it for fermentation overnight and use it for >2 days!  I felt like having found a viable formula to success and couldn’t wait longer to buy the boiled rice and conduct a new experiment in my own busy lab. 

Few weeks later I shifted to my small rented house in Chennai and then came the most awaited weekend. Suiting to the place and people I was a thrusting worshipper of perfection by then, I did everything possible to make it soft, fluffy, round and high.

My first Idly was boiling high…..

When I took off the lid my excitement was beyond cloud 9, euphoric me rushed to the closest mirror to see how does the image of self-made round Idlys look.…with the white coconut chutney? No, with my shinning white grin!  
 I had thoroughly enjoyed the success of my first Idly but just couldn’t take time to write about it. An year later, when I decided to come out of that guilt today, it took me another session – yes of idly making, so I may re-live the experience to be able to write with precision. As I put my best effort to do that, an unavoidably imminent difference emerged from the mold, the idly was flat this time…

To know why the otherwise round world, turned-out flat this time, wait for my next post….
BTW, my computer got virus-free that evening and I had to rewrite my essay, conversely at the time of writing this post I have this urgent thought of taking a permanent backup of all my data/write-ups, before surrendering my laptop to the IT department of ‘(One of) the best place to work for’.