July 22, 2011

Tamales and Pancakes

"Diego, all day we have worked at making happiness. Sometimes you just have to take what you have and embellish it. Sometimes you have to make something out of nothing. These ingredients alone don't add up to much, Diego. But together, they make the most deliciously delightful, scrumpt-il-icious tamales!"

"All afternoon, Diego and his tia* sat side by side spooning savoury tamale fillings into cornhusks spread with masa*, Soon the house was filled with laughter."

Ana Baca's bilingual tale of making tamales is a beautiful story of folk lore as seen through the eyes of a small boy Diego who works very hard in the fields to take care his sick mother. As I was reading it to my six year old last night, though he is not a great eater himself, he said he couldn't wait to eat Tamales!

Ana Baca took me back a good decade and a half. And it so beautifully reminded me of the joy and pleasure of cooking; especially, whole foods. Convenience and the need to be on the go have been impetus enough for the first processed foods to make their advent. But even as we progressed and came up with the machinery and mechanics to prepare food easily and in no time, even after we discovered that cooked food can be stored fresh, we continue to go back to the convenience of processed, ready-to-eat foods. Now we are habituated enough to even realize that we aren't eating the best. We are after all creatures of habit.

I swell with pride and joy thinking about the way Pancakes evolved in my family. Pancakes made with whole wheat flour and stuffed with coconut and sugar or coconut and jaggery with a sprinkling of cardamom powder is just the recipe to make happiness out of an ordinary day. I modify a bit and change the stuffing to chopped dates, nenthrapazham*, grated carrot and coconut. No need to add sugar as dates ensure they take care of it well. Instead of water, I add whole milk and badam powder to the whole wheat mix. I would love to add eggs as well, but, try to stay away. Just 20 minutes of chopping and pancaking, but I get so happy seeing the glee and hearing the wows around the breakfast table. And those 20 minutes are enough to see me through the rest of  the day when I proudly announce, what a way to jump start your day!

I used to hover around Ammachy's stove whenever I saw her getting the paraphernalia ready to make pancakes. The sights, sounds and smells are still fresh in my memory. Making pancakes is just an excuse for me to go back in time and spend a few minutes with her. Most of the ingredients were home grown, the milk from the cows whom Achachan* reared with so much love and care. Eggs from the hen coop just in the backyard. The hens weren't so disciplined those days and I recall how my eyes grew wide as I found eggs right in the kitchen under the firewood storage shelves. Remember the way they proudly kokkarakko after each egg :)

Traditional recipes mostly employ whole ingredients.Whole flour, whole fruits, whole nuts, and what not. Cliched as it may sound, what is good for our bodies and souls is also good for the Planet.

Imagine...inspired by the urge for some healthy cooking, you dance your way into the kitchen, put your hair up, play your favourite music station or hum your favourite tunes and joyously mix and match ingredients. Raise a toast to eating fresh. Say cheers to eating local.

* tia : Spanish for aunt
* masa - Spanish for dough
* nenthrapazham - ripe plantains known in Kerala
* achachan - fond way of addressing Grandpa in Kerala

Picture courtesy: The Kerala Kitchen by Lathika George

July 21, 2011

Puma running for Green

There is more to Puma than meets the eye. Puma is the first company in the world to have an E P&L. That is an Environmental P & L. The first time I read about it, I dismissed it for green wash. But, almost all the so-called green news portals are going gung ho about the E P& L and I cannot but notice the depth and details.

To attach a price to its environmental footprint in quantifiable terms is no easy task. The botton-line result is a precise €94.4m (£82.6m) per year. Wow! That too, after taking into account its end-to-end supply chain! Right from the end retailer to the Cotton fields! There may be shortcomings and assumptions made, but at the end of the day, I think this is indeed a commendable feat.

Puma worked closely with PwC and Trucost to come with up the epoch-making P&L. Now, what does it entail? And what does it say about the writing on the wall? Is green marketing here to stay? And isn't the message to the Corporate fraternity loud and clear? I have been following green marketing trends for sometime now and must say there is room for hope.

Puma analyses its GHG emissions and water consumption throughout its core business and supply chain and tags a price to it in its P&L. It also plans to take into account the social impacts of its supply chain going forward. Which will lead to an Environmental & Social P & L. Way to go, Puma.

As one would rightly aassume, raw material production accounts for the highest relative impacts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) and Water Consumption within PUMA’s operations and supply chain. It doesn't stop there. Puma in its action plan, plans to find solutions to reduce its environmental impact.

Guess what is the most water intensive activity in the production of a t-shirt? It occurs right at the initial step – the cultivation of cotton. Environmental impact being highest at the Tier 4 Supplier level, for Puma this means greening from the grass roots itself! Easier said that done because its challenges galore at that level.

Puma in consultation with Pwc and Trucost estimates that, in 2010, the environmental cost of its supply chain was €94.4m.Well, that may very well motivate govt.s (if there are any motivated ones) to make environmental impact disclosures mandatory. That day may not be far.

Thats a whole lot of numbers and details. To end this note on something more visual and promising, watch this video where a Puma bag disappears in water in just a few minutes! And don't miss the numbers at the end of the video! 192 tonnes of plastic and 293 tonnes of paper every year!!


July 13, 2011

Ammachy vs. Delmonte

The other day, as I was scanning the aisles at a Mallu* grocery store in Queens, I couldn't but pick a bottle of Pineapple Jam (strictly made in adherence with CFTRI, Mysore norms). The ingredients seemed to be just about ok. Artificially flavoured. I got stuck there. I weighed my second option. To make it at home. Having been just a visitor to this country, I haven't invested in the right vessels. Making Pineapple Jam at home didn't seem encouraging enough. I finally gave in.

As soon as I reached home, I couldn't wait to inhale the pineapple smell! Its often the smell of food that takes me back in time. Memories and food smell- they seem so intertwined.

Pineapples grew aplenty in my Mom's house. I could eat one whole Pineapple by myself. I have memories of this little girl marveling Ammachy* meticulously cutting and carving the Pineapples. And then, in no time, I dig into the juicy pieces. I don't even spare the central core despite it burning my tongue. For that I keep scraped coconut ready. Ammachy's home remedy for burnt tongue. Just eat a few spoonfuls of freshly grated coconut if you over eat Pineapple!

Depending on the availability, and after everyone is done with their share of fresh feasts of the fruit, (I had the lion's share most of the time!) the kitchen is abuzz with Jamming! The big Uruli* in which Ammachy made Jam is as fresh as yesterday in my mind! I am seeing it now in the window of my memory. She had her own recipe - simple enough, but now I am getting high on the irresistible smell of pineapple jam simmering with cloves in her kitchen. Cloves - plucked from the tree just two terraces down the kitchen. I feel my senses opening up one by one. Now I hear the sound of the Jam boiling in the hot Uruli. And the clanking noises of the ladle scraping the sides...and stirring...

Often I volunteered to help her. My self-discovered incentive- while clearing the well-cooked/ slightly burnt jam-in-progress from the sides, help yourself to occasional interim reliefs! By now, I am there in the oldest kitchen that I have seen in my life....scraping the Jam from the sides of the Uruli and devouring it with a grin :)

The Jam is then packed into her set of earmarked bottles for various families. After the vacation, back home, Ammachy's home made Jam goes as the preferred accompaniment with all breakfast dishes. Ranging from bread to dosa to even puttu!

Along with Jam, we also brought in fresh pineapples with us. I eagerly planted the Pineapple heads in my courtyard and checked on them every other day. I remember peeping into the centre to see if there were signs of a fruit ready to head out!

Long journeys back in time. But, memories; they partner so well to reminisce fondly of a colourful, nutritious past...and inspire to recreate at least a few of those memories for my Children.

Far away from home and from home grown Pineapples, my other option to eat fresh Pineapple (mass cultivated, therefore with all the perils as well) is Delmonte. It almost looks artificial with all the fruits of uniform size, shape and colour. As if they were machine- manufactured in batches!

I realize there is really no comparison at all. Inspired by my childhood memories, whenever I had the calling and the urge, I have planted Pineapples and have made Jam from them as well. The carbon credits that I earn at my consciousness counter is inspiration enough to eat fresh. To dismiss processed food whenever I can. To nudge my friends to go back to cooking fresh.(There are some who have given up cooking for good!)  To encourage the ones who plant their own gardens. To at least try to help nurture a healthier generation.

* Mallu - colloquial for - of Kerala origin
* Ammachy - Grandma in Malayalam ( language of Kerala)
* Uruli - traditional cookware used in Kerala made of bell metal

(Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)