mohabhoj

Christmas, cakes and memories…

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It was a week before Christmas when a friend of mine told me that she couldn’t wait for Christmas.

“Me too, I love the plum cakes,” I said.

I was only ten.

“Cakes?! No you fool, I am excited about the gifts that I would get from Santa this year,” she said.

“Santa brings you gifts! What are you talking about?” I asked her.

She explained how each year Santa Claus brought her gifts. I was bewildered and hurried home to tell my parents about it.

What dad said bewildered me further. But I wasn’t ready to accept the truth.

I hung a small plastic bag from the almirah knob the night before Christmas.

I woke up the next morning and looked inside the packet to find a math book staring back at me!

Dad was right…

 

But I didn’t want my sister to miss out on the fun and anticipation. So I started playing Santa to my little sister from the year after.

From the beginning of November I used to start telling her about how careful she should be while preparing her wish list, for Santa had a budget of no more than Rs. 20.

Fancy erasers, stone stickers, glitter pencils, gel pens, candies and a Christmas card – were the things that Santa would bring for her.

I still remember her saying, “Look didi Santa’s handwriting is the same as yours,” after reading the card, signed: To Bony, from Santa Claus.

 

Today it’s just another Christmas day. A flood of memories, some snow flurries and a chocolate cake with chocolate raspberry frosting made it brighter.

But I still miss plum cakes…

cake


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Ain’t sweet!

September 2. Friday. 2 p.m.

My flight is scheduled to leave Boston, for Atlanta, at 6 p.m.

I am hit by a sudden urge to clean the refrigerator. I open the fridge door to find a packet of baby carrots staring at me helplessly.

The image of a heaping bowl of gajar ka halwa (carrot porridge) flashes by.

 

2:15 p.m.

The food processor is called to action.

I rush to the pantry. After a short struggle I manage to reach the duo of evaporated milk sitting at the topmost shelf.

I look at the can opener — another struggle awaits.

 

2:25 p.m.

I pour the pre-thickened milk into the pot and turn the burner on.

I fry the shredded carrots in a heaping spoonful of clarified butter (ghee) and add it to the boiling milk.

Adding sugar, stirring, scraping — the cycle continues.

 

3:15 p.m.

It’s finally done.

Leaving it to cool down, I run to pack.

 

3:25 p.m.

I pour the concoction inside a plastic container and put it in my hand luggage.

We leave for the airport.

 

4:30 p.m.

A long line at the security checkpoint.

I pass through the metal detector and reach out to collect my bag.

“Ma’am is this your bag?” asks the TSA officer.

“Yes.”

“Please step aside.”

 

He puts on his blue gloves and opens my bag. He pulls out the plastic container and gives me a puzzled look.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a kind of Indian sweet.”

“What does it contain?”

“Carrots and milk.”

“I am sorry ma’am, but I can’t allow you to carry this. It has a gel-like consistency. You can either eat it now or go back and check-in your bag. Or else I need to throw it.”

“I had put in a lot of effort to make it,” I plead.

“I can’t help,” he says.

I look at the long line at the security checkpoint.

“Then throw it away,” my voice chokes.

“OK, have a good day ma’am.”

 

5 p.m.

Atlanta in another three hours.


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Summer quenchers

Luscious mangoes, succulent watermelons.

Lucid sky, flirty breeze.

Warm sandy beaches, azure ocean.

Summer’s showmanship never fails to amaze in this part of the world, a stark contrast to the almost interminable and harrowing one back at home.

To rephrase Shakespeare: as flies to wanton boys, are denizens of India to summer’s wrath!

Nevertheless, summer reminds me of how the simplest things in life bring the greatest pleasure. Take lemon for instance—nothing’s more rejuvenating than a glass of nimboo paani (lemonade) during summer. I covet those days when stepping out in the sun invariably meant an ice cold glass of nimboo paani would be awaiting my return. Vanquished by the raging sun I would come home exhausted, but the concoction of freshly squeezed lemon juice, cold water, spoonful of sugar and a dash of salt, worked as an instant fatigue eraser and mood enhancer—power of Vitamin C I guess.

Want to rev up this humble drink? Add seltzer (carbonated water) infused with mint leaves instead of plain H2O and watch the magic unveil.

Another of my summer favorites is watermelon lassi—chunks of sweet watermelon, couple tablespoons of yogurt, sprinkle of sugar and a dash of lemon juice whizzed in a blender. Its pinkish color and frothy texture drew me to it as a child—you eat (drink) with your eyes first remember?

I remember how on sultry days ma used to whip up this delicacy to welcome dad home from work. When pangs of nostalgia become unbearable I seek refuge in my blender, which whips up this frothy concoction for me in seconds.

But nothing spells summer like mangoes! My latest fascination with the king of fruits comes in the guise of mango lassi—a rich intoxicating blend of fresh mango pulp and yogurt—a huge crowd pleaser at Indian restaurants in the US. The first time I savored this drink I was bowled over by its grip on my taste buds and the fact that I was oblivious to its presence in India!


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Nostalgia and a few cookies

Ten minutes to go…

I continue to fake concentration as my teacher keeps explaining Archimedes’ principle in the least interesting way possible, nipping my interest in physics in the bud.

Nine, Eight, Seven…

As she writes the formula on the blackboard the screeching sound manages to attract my attention but holds it only for a while.

Six, Five, Four…

I sneak a peek at my watch, for the eighth time now.

Three, Two…

The buoyancy theory keeps my hope afloat. The forty-minute class is now just a minute away from being over.

One…

The mallet strikes against the metal disc four times. The corridor reverberates with the mellifluous sound signaling freedom in the guise of ‘tiffin-time’.

The oven beeps thrice jolting me back to reality.

The ten-minute wait is over.

As I take out the baking tray lined with warm chocolate chip cookies, the house fills with a sweet aura no room freshener can match!


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Almost Cakeless

The first day of May this year was a milestone for us. Five years ago on this day we had vowed to stand by each other until death or divorce (whichever comes knocking first) do us part.

The dormant baker within me rises on each anniversary. This time I wanted to tread the path of change and celebrate with a store bought cake instead. But God had other plans!

As we were vacationing on Cape Cod for the weekend, I had plans to pick up the anniversary cake from a quaint family-run Portuguese bakery shop in Provincetown. As I hurried down Main Street in the evening, braving the chilly winds, I could picture myself mesmerized by the warmth of the store, inhaling the sweet smell of freshly baked cakes and croissants. This would be my fifth visit to the store in the last three years. I also harbored a latent desire to take-out some of their other specialities–the cream filled cannoli, fruit tarts, the sweet malasadas, the donuts filled with custard and blueberry scones–for savoring later.

I walked down the street reminiscing about the baked treasures and relishing the thought that they would soon be pleasuring my palate. Yes, I could see the store from a distance. But to my dismay the ‘OPEN’ sign wasn’t aglow. I increased my pace only to find myself staring at the store plunged in darkness. Reality struck me like lightning—the store was closed! We were a month too early; the tourist season begins here only from June.

I returned to our hotel room with a fake smile on my face. A little self-consoling helped. It was our anniversary eve and I still could bake one after I returned home the next day, our big day. On our way back home I stopped at the local grocery store to pick up some ready-made frosting to spur on the cake-making session.

The baking countdown began as soon as I entered the kitchen. The mixing bowl was brought out. So was the flour, sugar and baking chocolate, all in required quantities. All I needed were eggs. I opened the refrigerator door and stooped to get the egg carton from the lowest rack. My heart skipped a beat as I lifted the carton. It felt too light to be nestling the six eggs I needed. I begged for a miracle and opened the carton to find two eggs staring mockingly at me.

Our fifth anniversary was doomed to be cakeless!

As I lay awake in my bed that night the realization dawned upon me that we didn’t need once a year anniversaries and cakes to celebrate or reassure us of our love for each other. Together we have traversed a long way, and each day spent together is a celebration in itself.

So I baked a cake the day after!!


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Candied memories

With Easter just around the corner grocery stores in my neighborhood have transformed into miniature Willy Wonka chocolate (read candy) factories overnight. Temptation lurks around every corner of the candy aisle with strategically stacked myriad brands of candies vying for attention.

I see children of varying sizes eyeing candies, working their minds to make the most important decision of their lives—which candy to take home? Then again there are those lucky ones who ride in the shopping carts while their parents load up their carts with candies. Oblivious of what’s happening they seem to enjoy their novel ride, a welcome change from their daily commute in a stroller.

As I witness their excitement over candy I cannot help but write about the candies I enjoyed as a child. Mango Bite or Mango Mood comes first to mind. This ripe mango colored candy wrapped in a yellowish orange wrapper held together by a green knot and infused with mango flavor had a tantalizing effect on my palate. The lure of the pleasure of savoring a mango attracted me to it.

The image of Coffy Bite pops up next. The USP of this dark brown strong coffee flavored candy was the dilemma your taste buds were left to battle against once you took a bite—coffee or toffee? Melody was another candy I enjoyed not because it was ‘choclatey’ but because it was voluminous compared to its peers. Tucked within the brown and golden wrapper it gave out the vibe of contentment.

Swad, Chatarmatar, Fatafat and Hajmola formed the sweet and tangy genre of candy. While I could savour Swad and Hajmola on demand there was always a parental control on the other two. Chatarmatar (small red bead like ones) and Fatafat (black ones) came in sachets, each housing around ten to fifteen candies. They were notorious for staining your tongue and even your fingers, red or black depending on the one you devoured. My parents warned it was a sign that it was bad for the liver too.

Remember Poppins, the variegated disc shaped candies, stacked together in a tube like wrapper? Each of the red, green, yellow and orange candies had a distinct flavor but conveyed the same element of fun. If you let your imagination run wild and wonder how a rainbow would taste like I would say like Poppins! Lollipops too belong to the genre of fun candies. Its myriad colors and flavors enticed me but the chocolate Cadbury lollipops with the gooey center had a special place in my heart. I always think of Lollipops as first cousins to ice creams on a stick.

How can I ever forget those Parle Orange candies that my classmates got to sample each year on my birthday? Decked in a ‘colored dress’ and armed with candies I felt a strange superiority over my mates in school uniform. Those simple treats worked its magic drawing both attention and friends.

Another memory associated with my school years are those cigarette shaped peppermint candies that some of my friends enjoyed on their bus rides back home from school. They were packed like cigarettes are and had a little red coloring at one end emulating a lighted cigarette.

Eclairs was one of those lofty chocolate candies that I looked forward to enjoy more so because my sister had an aversion to it. She had a loose tooth once and she happened to pop in one of these super sticky candies in her mouth and voila! Eclairs acted as a surrogate dentist pulling her tooth out!

This article would remain incomplete without the mention of Five Star, Dairy Milk and Fruit n Nuts. They were awe inspiring not only because of their regal taste but also because I could treat myself to these delicacies only once in a while, as the price tags that came along were regal too.

Time has taken its toll on some of the candies I wrote about while the rest, the invincible ones, continue to pleasure. As I look back I can’t help but envy those times when a minuscule candy had the power to strike a gigantic smile on my face.