Of breakfast dilemmas and morning walks..

It is one of those days you know. When it has rained incessantly through the night, and the next day begins on a greyish note. All you want to do is snuggle some more. You are loath to leave the warmth of the bed, much worse get ready to go to work. Your mind does some quick thinking (I am amazed mine does, through all that groggy, sleepy feeling) – you can’t take a day off, because just yesterday your colleague has done that, and you have no reason (her’s was tummy trouble) and you have recently had the flu and taken a few days to rest and recuperate. Going late is also not  an option as the boss wants you in on time (he has sent a mail to that effect). Ergo, you have no option but to get up and go…

You try to sleep a few minutes more, shutting off the alarm. While you are in bed, the mind tries furiously to come up with options for breakfast. You look across and see the Scientist, sleeping away, blissfully unaware of the chaos he has unleashed with his sweet gesture last night. Before you wonder what that is (ahem, ahem, cough!!), here is what happened…

I came from the Chinese class to a home, filled with the smells of polis being roasted. I suspect the Scientist is in before me (as I have had to walk my Basanti in the pouring rain to a parking place, where I can quickly access it in the morning, should the rain stop). A trip to the kitchen confirms that a potato-tomato (actually its a potato-tomato-beans) subji has been made, and the frozen polya are slow roasted to perfection, making me even more hungry. What more can a girl want, but to come home to such a (almost) freshly cooked meal (that too from the rain)? So she sits down, and eats.

But her mind is already in confusion. For she is a girl who likes to meticulously plan the next (several) days’ meals in advance. And her careful planning has now been thrown to the winds, by this seemingly simple, sweet gesture. For she had planned to make jowar bhakris to go with the morning’s left over leafy vegetable mudda bhaji. Now this vegetable (mudda bhaji) is dumped into the refrigerator, and she proceeds to complete the experiment she has been planning of making dosas with rice flour. She has already realised that there isn’t enough rice flour to go round, so the proportion of dal that was soaked is just enough for a heavy brunch or light lunch. The boiled potatoes (used up by the Scientist) were for the masala-dosa style bhaji, but now that is no longer an option.

She grinds the urad dal, proceeds to mix in the available rice flour into it, and adds a pinch of yeast to ferment the dough, dumping the batter in the pre-heated oven. The plan was to have made sufficient bhakris, that would taken care of the breakfast. (I love shili (stale) bhakri with buttermilk, tempered with cumin-chillies-coriander-curry leaf dahi). It’s rather cold to eat dahi bhakri on a rainy morning, I reason to myself, so it’s good that your plan has not worked out.

Another option is to make ragi kheer (a rich millet porridge of sorts), but somehow it doesn’t appeal to me, as it means foregoing my coffee. I can’t eat kheer for breakfast followed by sweet, strong coffee now, can I? So I think about buying Taiwanese dosas from our usual aunty. They are not dosas actually – but some kind of rice/flour pancakes, that look very much like dosas, and are eaten with garlic and soy sauce. Usually, people here eat it with an egg omlette, but you can ask her to make yours without one, so it’s almost vegetarian. And hot and filling, to begin your day. Plus the yummy peanut drink that goes with it (if you manage to point to the right one, and get your bei (cup). I wrongly pointed twice and had to contend with plain soy milk at both times, because there was a long line of office goers behind me who were exasperated with my Chinese speaking  and pointing skills!). But, this breakfast shop is closed sometimes, so you had to be really lucky to catch her. Plus I was going to have the rice flour dosas for dinner, so there was no point in having them again for breakfast. Going to ajji for cheese sandwiches is another option, but you don’t want to take that walk when it is pouring, and sure enough it is predicted so…I reason all this while my urad dal is being ground, in case you are still wondering…

So the end result of all this thinking and planning is, there is no breakfast option I decide on when I go to bed that night (and trust me, it’s not a good thing to do, in my experience). That means your mind is bright eyed and bushy-tailed before your body is, the next day, and already considering and rejecting other breakfast options (pohe – no just had it yesterday, semiya upma – not really, rawa upma – well, remember Saturday! and so on…). To put the mind’s chatter to rest, you get up and wander into kitchen. You are chuffed to see that the dosa batter has risen like a beautiful cake, and you are tempted to make dosas.

But you have a long term pact (with yourself, who else!!) that no dosa will make it to the tiffin (for they tend to get dry). So I shut it (my mind) up, and decide to make appe. Now appe are a late entrant in the Taipei kitchen. For the lack of an appe paatra for one thing, and complacency with idly-dosa (what else!!). I have recently joined a FaceBook group, and the appe posts there make your mouth water. You start dreaming about how crisp they must be tasting from the photos, and your mind goes back to that morning in Kolhapur where you have eaten it once, after darshan. You decide, appe paatra not withstanding, you shall have your appe and eat it too, and proceed to buy this pan from your local DIY bakery shop,  usually used for some kind of sweet, pancake-y biscuit making.

It’s been two weeks since that NT $600 investment, and I have already made appe twice. This then is the third time. I scoop a few spoonfuls of the dosa batter, and proceed to finely chop onions, making a tempering with mustard, cumin, curry leaves (plucked from the plant in my balcony), and hing, and proceed to make appe. As they are cooking, I make coconut-garlic chutney, and my usual nutmeg coffee (ek naveen khool – a new craze). All this done, I see that the clock has just stuck 8.

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Since it’s raining, and I cannot cycle to work, I get dressed and promptly leave for work at 8:20. I have never left this early for work anytime. But it’s Tuesday, and there is a painting class in the evening, so I reason with myself that I can leave work earlier (that’s why I love my job, you come early, you can go early). I decide to walk a leisurely pace today, since I am in no hurry (like every day). I notice that at this time of the day, there is not much rush at the signal. The students are already in school (which is right behind the signal), though a few late comers are still trooping in, accompanied by the parents. (In Taipei, though school is at 8 am, students can reach by 8 30 am, my Indian friends tell me).

I cross the intersection, and go inside the Institute gates. Here too, the place is almost deserted. The usual orange bus, which picks up workers and students alike, has not yet made it’s appearance. The usual joggers are conspicuous by their absence. I notice the tall colleague from my floor, some paces ahead, but I am not in the mood to catch up and talk with him. It’s only after a few minutes I realise that I am so far behind that there is a lengthy distance between us. I haven’t gone to work like this for a long time – you know ramat-gamat (walking leisurely, rambling), like I used to when in school. (Correction – actually I came back from school ramat-gamat, as you had to chat with friends, and there was no need for any rush coming back home).

So I am pleasantly surprised to notice that there are very few cars in their usual parking slots. There is hardly anyone on the bicycle either (except for a few old folks here who wear the typical round bamboo hats and plastic covers, in lieu of raincoats, and dash around on the cycles). I notice that the rains have washed every plant and leaf and flower, and they are a verdant green. All the lawns, washed and bright, look so inviting. Then there is this bright pink bush which I managed not to notice, while I was rushing away to work. I slow my pace further and take in the sights. I notice a blue hued crow perching on the walls surrounding the Philosophy Institute, eyeing me keenly. I have seen him a few times in the evenings around the same place, and I wonder if he is a permanent resident there. I suppress the urge to quickly flip out the phone, and capture him. Wise decision, he seems to say. I notice his shining, blue-hued coat, and silently compliment him, for I haven’t seen such a rich midnight blue before.

I reach my workplace, taking the diagonal path, housing the restaurant, which has since been shut down, and wears a deserted look. But the path to it is paved with wood planks, and my shoes make the tak-tak noise, as I walk on them. I notice the aptyacha zaad (a tree whose leaves are exchanged on the Dasara festival in India) is almost bare, except for a few new heart shaped leaves, dripping with water.

When I arrive, it’s only 8:35 am, can it only have taken 15 minutes? The leisurely walk, taking in the empty spaces, green washed lawns, pink bushes, blue crow, that typical Chinese hat on the old woman riding the cycle, my aptyacha zaad? I am amazed. When you slow down, time seems to stand still, and you feel you have all the time in the world. You notice that the world is such a beautiful place, only you need to take time and observe it. It would be lovely to have such quiet mornings more often.

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(Updated to add: I came back early from work, and decided I have time for a quick nap before the painting class. When I woke up (with a start, I may add), I had passed the time for making it to the class decently late, so I decided to give myself an unexpected holiday, make a cup of chai and instead pen a post…)

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