Food In a Suitcase

My husband and I went on a memorable and an amazing visit to New York during Dec. 4  through 7 th,  this year.  I had been invited to attend my book publisher George Blagowidow’s  85th birthday in Jamaica Estates, New York. George has been asking me to come to his birthday party in the last few years. Every year at this time, however, I had other plans and was unable to go to New York. So, as early as January 2008, I wrote down in my calendar that I should go to New York to join in George’s birthday celebration this year. Sure enough, George called me again in November to see if I was coming. Upon learning that I was planning to attend his party, he said, “Bravo, we will have a good time, I can’t wait to see you”.  To me, George has been more than a publisher who published three of my cookbooks. He is a wonderful and special person whose warm friendship I have had the good fortune to enjoy.


When I called his home to find out more details about the celebration, his assistant Awilda said, “Alamelu, George thinks that you are going to cook for his party”. I said, “Oh, really…Ok, and I would love to, it is not a problem”. I asked how many are coming to his party for lunch. The assistant said about 15 people. To cook for someone who is so special, I felt would be a great honor.


Then, I started thinking how I was going to do this. I have gone to George’s home before. He has a beautiful home in Jamaica Estates. But to do shopping, preparing dinner right at their home will be challenging.  So, I decided I was going to cook in my home in Whitefish Bay and take the food with me on the plane!


I planned the menu: Two different flavored rice dishes (Lemon Rice with Peanuts and Tomato Rice with Cashews), Chettinad Chicken Masala (Tender Pieces of Chicken cooked in Ginger, Garlic and Curry sauce), two vegetable dishes (Eggplant and Potato Masala; Chickpea Stir-Fry with Mango, Ginger and Coconut.) and Cucumber, Tomato and Yogurt salad (the last item to be prepared in New York.)


On December 1st, my ambitious plan started with shopping at Sendiks in Whitefish Bay and I cooked the five items on two days. The foods cooked were promptly frozen and stored in special plastic containers.


The day before I traveled,  I called Awilda in George’s home and requested her to make room in the fridge for the food I had cooked. I was planning to take the food directly from the La Guardia airport to George’s residence only a few miles away. After dropping off the food, my husband and I were planning to stay with my aunt who also lives in Jamaica Estates. (It is interesting that, many years ago, it was in this Aunt’s home that I had learnt to cook from a professional chef from India shortly after I was married.).


The night before going to New York, I told my husband we were going to have a “packing rehearsal” and he agreed. I took each container with the food and wrapped each one with an orange colored Sendiks plastic bag. Then I stacked up the containers like bricks in a suitcase. The packing was tight and the food was solidly frozen. The suitcase weighed like a ton!!  I thought it was only a two-hour direct flight, and the food should be fine especially in the winter weather.


The following morning we had to go to the airport at 5 AM. I packed the suitcase and I  lifted, it weighed like tons! Oh boy, I prayed because it was too heavy and the suitcase was barely within the normal flight weight allowance. We checked in the food suitcase, hoping it would arrive safely and would not get lost!  


The flight took off and arrived on time. The minute I landed I called George’s home to drop off the food. Awilda was ready. We went straight and dropped off the food suitcase. The food was still solidly frozen and I asked her to place all the food in the fridge and not in the freezer. On Dec. 5th, George’s birthday party was to start at noon.  I  went to George’s house at 10 AM. We took each food and transferred it to an aluminum foil pan. We started warming up the food in the oven and it was so aromatic and flavorful.  I couldn’t believe how wonderful the food was. Then I thought, of course these foods are prepared with spices. Oh, those foods enhanced with spices are magical I thought. The flavor of foods cooked with spices actually gets better with time. Awilda and I made the refreshing yogurt salad while warming the food.


George was in his best and I couldn’t tell he was going to be 85!!! He was impeccably dressed and looked sharp, in his wheel chair eagerly receiving his guests. He opened several expensive champagne bottles and was toasting through out the afternoon, saying, “Bravo Alamelu Bravo”. I felt so happy that George, his family and his guests enjoyed the food so much and the food maintained its quality throughout, from preparation in Whitefish Bay, through traveling and serving in New York. Now, I could transport any party food in a suitcase!  Amazing unforgettable experience!



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