In search of the simple life
There is a flower, a little flower,
With silver crest and golden eye,
That welcomes every changing hour,
And weathers every sky.
I am not, normally, a fan of poetry, but I could not help but think how complicated life had become when I read this ode to a daisy, written on Christmas Day more than 200 years ago by James Montgomery, a British poet. Think about it: A man writes 10 verses on the beauty and longevity of a flower that blossoms through the year—“companion of the sun”, he calls it—on hill, forest, “round the fox’s den” and in graveyards in honour of the dead. Lambs crop its crimson crest, we are told, and wild bees murmur on its breast.
Such evocative plainness is rare in our 24x7x365 world, tethered to social media, connecting us to concerns that may never once have been of relevance but now appear to be of such consequence that we must share or discuss them instantly. We also have appointments to keep, places to visit, traffic jams to conquer, new restaurants to try and television shows to watch.
I work from home, my social media alerts are silenced, and I rarely watch television, yet there is always something waiting to be done. If not, I feel the pressure to do something. My downtime is mostly spent reading or cooking (which is why I can still write this column), but recently, in my 51st year, I’ve begun to slow down and recall the simple things I once enjoyed. In no particular order, these include: Putting a record on my turntable and experiencing the aural warmth that only vinyl can deliver; sitting in my balcony and watching Brahminy kites soar and twist in the thermals against an ochre Bengaluru sunset; running through the city’s gloriously green and cool Cubbon Park with my six-year-old on a cycle by my side on a Sunday morning; doing nothing in particular but gazing into space; and shuffling through the dusty passages of Blossom, my favourite book store, which is where I found a gilded-green edition—stamped in 1945 with the seal of the United Services Library, Poona—of Montgomery’s poems.
As I spend my time leafing through the brittle pages, I recall recent simple pleasures. There’s “Scooter Girl”, a wind-up lithographed tin toy that my wife recently brought for me from Delhi. I grew up with these toys, laboriously made from sheet metal, shaped at tooling stations and hand-assembled. They’ve been replaced by China-made plastic rubbish, but this one, I am glad to see, is made by a company called Welby Impex in “Toy City”, Greater Noida. There was the party in a tiny neighbourhood park last week—local residents gathered with homemade food and children foisted their talents on us. I found myself besieged, as I manned a counter laden with beef, chicken and meat cutlets, pork sorpotel, sandwiches and Sri Lankan fish buns. As the food quickly sold out and dusk gathered, the Bengaluru children’s choir (my daughter is in it) launched into its selection of Christmas songs. Children ran around the park, the altos and tenors did their thing, and adults cheered or just sat around chatting under the rain and gulmohar trees.
My recent yearnings for simplicity also drove me to take a hard look at what I have been cooking. Those of you imbued with the fortitude to follow these ramblings would notice that many of the recent recipes are more complicated than they should be. So, last week I made a 10-minute lunch for the wife. Really, 10 minutes is all it took for the tossed asparagus spears and dressed fig salad. We paired them with toast, I added on baked mackerel, and as we ate, we realized why quick, fresh food is the best accompaniment to the straightforward life. The sweet softness of fresh fig, the crunch of freshly tossed vegetables—Montgomery would have approved.
Asparagus spears tossed with salad dressing and garlic
200g asparagus spears
1-K tsp garlic, finely minced
K tsp sherry vinegar, mixed with K tsp balsamic (or use any leftover salad dressing)
Salt, to taste
1 tsp olive or toasted sesame oil
Gently warm the oil in a non-stick wok. Sauté the garlic for 30 seconds. Add asparagus spears and toss for a minute or two. Add in salt and sauté with the dressing for a minute. Ensure the asparagus stays crunchy. Take off heat and serve.
Fig salad, dressed with balsamic vinegar and sea salt
3-4 figs, make thin slices
1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Sea salt, to taste
Arrange the sliced figs on a plate. Drizzle with balsamic and sprinkle sea salt.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes the fortnightly column Frontier Mail for Mint and is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He tweets at @samar11.