Sunday, May 27, 2012

Roti Lessons & The Dave Burger

Roti Lessons

As a kid I lived on a two block long street that had a dead end and a double cul-de-sac at the end of it. Mid-way up the street there was a half-block long road that ended with a trail into the nearby forest.

When I was nine or ten, I was allowed to ride my bike on our street (and the little attached one) but had to stay within earshot, and I was not permitted to go into the forest alone. I'd spend many a happy hour riding my bike up and down the street until I was called in for a meal or to get ready for swim practice.

Our neighbours Dr. and Mrs. Dass lived on the little half-block street up the road from us. We'd had a delicious Indian meal at their house a few months earlier, and I loved the roti and laddu. As we left to walk home, Mrs. Dass promised to teach me how to make roti in the future.

One day I was riding my bike when Mrs. Dass saw me though the window. She called me over to the house and told me she was just about to make a batch of roti. Without another thought, I abandoned my bicycle on their front lawn, next to the dead end that lead to the forbidden forest, and went inside with her. On some level I knew I should call my mom and let her know where I was, but I was overwhelmed with the excitement of learning how to make the yummy bread, all thoughts of being "responsible" fading away.

Eventually mom called me in, and when I did not appear or respond, she started up the street looking for me. While I was happily learning a new skill, she was frantically searching for her kid. After about twenty heart-racing minutes, she finally saw my bike abandoned next to the trail. She was convinced that I'd either gone into the forest and been eaten by coyotes or trampled by a deer (really the only remotely threatening animals in there) or been kidnapped. She was debating whether or not to call the police when we noticed her through the window and I realized I'd broken the cardinal rule of always letting her know where I was. I ran outside, roti in hand, to show her what I'd been up to. Luckily for me, she was so relieved that I was okay, I got off with only a severe warning to "never do anything like that again or you'll be grounded until you're thirty!"*  

*In retrospect, with the number of times I heard that threat, I should have only escaped grounding three years ago!


The Dave Burger

My dad's culinary talents were really only displayed in two ways that I can recall: BBQ burgers, and Cheese Whiz sandwiches.

The Cheese Whiz sandwiches consisted of two slices of white Wonderbread and a huge spoonful of processed cheesy goo, made by the dozens then frozen. I had more than my fair share of these chemical sandwiches, when my mom went on strike and told us we had to make our own lunches for school. If I'd forgotten to pack a lunch, I would just grab one of dads "Cheese Sandwiches" and be on my way. I really hated the taste of them, but they were there, and I was lazy and/or late for school, so I took what I could get.

Dad's BBQ burger patties had two states: charcoal hockey puck, or burnt on the outside and still bleeding on the inside. We'd joke that we could hear the burger mooing. He didn't care – he'd just drown his food in HP Sauce. Due to dad's tendency to under-cook and/or burn everything, also fearing a bout of Salmonella, my friend Dan and I took over BBQ duties when we were 14 or thereabouts. For years, every time my friends were over or we had a big BBQ gathering, the two of us would wield our metal spatulas and be in charge of cooking the burgers.  It seems we were too good at this job as virtually every time the BBQ was lit, mom would hand us a spatula and a poker and tell us to get to work.
The culinary artists at work
(I have to note before Dan complains: his hair didn't usually look like that. He just tied it back to keep it from catching fire. Thinking it looked funny, we took several pictures for the sake of prosperity. :D )

I don't know if this is a universal thing (like the first pancake never turning out just right) or if it was just us, but every time we manned the BBQ there was one burger that suffered some horrific culinary mishap.

Perhaps it fell on the ground when we were flipping it over, got too much seasoning sprinkled on it, got a little too crispy, or fell apart and had to be melded back together with a melted piece of cheese, but as soon as something happened to a hamburger patty or bun (or really, any food that we were preparing) it became "The Dave Burger." Whatever disaster the ill fated food faced, we would make it look as presentable as possible, then give it to our friend Dave, who almost always ate it without suspecting a thing.
Dave inspecting our culinary skills with only a hint of suspicion. 

For years we served him The Dave Burger without arousing suspicion. I think there were only two incidents where Dave saw the culinary accident occur, and firmly refused to take The Dave Burger. I shudder to think about the various things that we served him. It's been years since either of us has seen Dave, but even now, if we're together and cooking something, whatever it may be, if one drops or breaks or has some other culinary accident, we automatically say "that one's the Dave Burger!"

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