Over the weekend, as I was reading Unexpected guests? Just chill... in the newspaper, I was reminded of similar situations in which we were put. Since our Iyer meal is different from north Indian meals, having some extra rotis and preparing a quick subzi with potato is never an option. Extending a meal prepared for 2 to 4 is also a difficult proposition. Yet at various times, we have been faced with the difficult task and have managed to end with satisfied guests.
The best lunch we provided at short notice was to my cousin and her family, who had dropped in unannounced (those were the days when we did not have a telephone at home). They were in Bangalore on a holiday and had decided to visit all their relatives at that time. They reached home around 10.30 am and were being entertained by my in-laws. Hubby, the handsome and charming sons and I were at the construction site where we were constructing our dream home. Having left home after preparing lunch we were in no hurry to return until lunch time. So we all trooped in one by one (we all were independently mobile those days). First to reach as always, yours truly (let amma go first and give lunch to thatha and patti and keep everything ready for us, was the motto).
I was greeted with the unexpected, “Hello Akka” from my younger cousin, and I was pleasantly surprised and simultaneously started planning the next steps for giving them a lunch. We grew up in the same house but had not met for a long time. Though her husband and she had a 3 year old son, I had not met them since her wedding and the occasion demanded a special lunch (Virundu). After a few pleasantries with the new cousin-in-law and entrusting the entertaining to hubby dear who had arrived by then, I rushed to the kitchen to see what I could prepare. We did not have a fridge then so it saved me the trouble of searching the fridge for any leftovers.
Presto! within an hour, we had a lunch of Sambar, Muthirapuzhukku (these two were already done for our lunch), kootu, papad and Semiya Payasam.
After lunch, my sons took them to my brother’s house. When I narrated this incident to my sister she was surprised that I could prepare such a lunch at such short notice. But how did you manage the payasam, she asked.
Well, we always stocked a good quantity of milk at home. So it was never a problem to make milk based sweet at short notice.
Then there was another occasion when we were least prepared and hubby’s cousins (three of them) landed precisely at lunch hour, ready to eat anything as they were famished after a weeklong pilgrimage to various places in the south. That was the time when both of us were working full time. As usual I had prepared the lunch and carried my lunch and kept the lunch for hubby and my astute and blessed m-i-l in the hot case. At 1.30pm, hubby calls from his office and asks, “what have youu prepared for lunch?” “Vatta kozhambu and keerai masiyal,” I reply. I cannot but burst out laughing, even today after so many years, when I recall what he said next. “Ennadithu,” he said. (what a stupid thing to do was what he intended). I said, what happened? Why did you not make “keerai molakootal” , he asked? I was puzzled. I asked him what happened. He said my cousins have landed up and we have to cook up a lunch now. I thought there would be keerai molakoottal and I could ask amma to prepare some rice. Now you have gone and prepared keerai masiyal instead, he said. “Can you come home now,” he asked. I said, “relax, I will talk to amma.”
I talked to my m-i-l and told her to prepare some rice. By now, we had a fridge and we always stocked cooked dal and some vegetables for such occasions. She asked her nephews to prepare rice and fry some papads . She made a simple stir fry curry with vegetables and they all had a nice lunch with pickles and dal and vatta kozhambu and keerai masiyal and curds.
After we got the fridge and since I was also working and did not like surprises, we always stocked cooked dal, cooked vegetables, grated coconut, curds and milk for one extra meal. If no guests came, we used them for our next meal.
In these days of easy and fast communication, it is unpardonable for anyone to drop in at lunch hour unannounced. I always make it a point not to drop in unannounced at mealtime at any place. When people tell me their plan of visiting us around lunch time, I on my own tell them in advance to please have lunch/dinner/breakfast with us, thus preempting my dilemma of whether to cook for the guests or not. If they are staying back, they would say “yes” or they have to tell me in advance they have other plans. Have I not got into problems even after this? Yes, especially with my friend, Sunitha. She called me one evening around 8.30pm and said, “We are planning to visit you tomorrow.” The now wiser me asked immediately, “who are all coming and when.” “Only my father and I. We will reach around 11 am,” she said. “Stay back for lunch,” I said. “With pleasure,” she said. It was Onam season, and I had a good stock of vegetables and I had already made pulinji. I decided to have our usual menu plus a Puliyodarai. So by 10.30 am I finished my cooking and was ready to spend some quality time with Sunitha and her father, whose company I enjoy. On the dot, came my friend, accompanied by her father, mother, sister, daughter and nephew. I had to rush to the kitchen to extend the meal for 4 more people. “Don’t worry, we will manage with what you have cooked,” said Sunitha’s mother. I spent all my time until lunch in the kitchen. Ofcourse, Sunitha helped me in preparing those extra dishes.
All said and done, it would be nice to inform our hosts in advance if we intend to stay back for lunch or dinner, so that the hosts need not spend all the time in the kitchen during our visit and a nice time can be had by all.